Loki grows up as brother of Thor. He grows up in the shadow of the taller boy, but he does not mind, and the shadows suit him. It’s much easier to get away with mischief when your audiences’ eyes are somewhere else; misdirection is the main component of any trick.
His father tells him that he will one day be king of a realm, and he accepts it as truth, because his father is the All-father, and the All-father does not lie. Loki’s mother tells him that one day, he is going to have to be very strong. She also tells him about how to act around people to get them to do what you want. She tells him how to speak in such a way that people find themselves what they want to believe in his words, she teaches him how to never actually tell a lie. She tells him how to stop bullies from picking on him, how to scare them just enough so that they go away, no more. Loki’s mother teaches him how to do magic, how to conjure illusions of light, to distort space in order to move through it, to weave spells. Loki’s mother tells him that he is not alone, that he will never be alone. Loki’s mother teaches him how to unravel the secrets of the universe. Loki loves his mother, so, so much.
Contrary to popular belief, Loki loves his brother too. People say that Loki and Thor are polar opposites, but people say a lot of things, and Loki and Thor spend a lot of time together, and they love each other, so they can’t really be that different, fundamentally. Perhaps they’re two sides of the same coin. Loki makes friends with Thor’s friends, plays nice, plays a part, and only rarely lets his mask slip. He does not make friends of his own, because if friends are all like Sif, Hogan, Volstagg and Fandral, they are nothing he wants. He has a lot of acquaintances though. They are very useful.
Loki likes to hunt with his brother and his brother’s friends, but even more than that, he likes to practice magic. He can bend light, show people something that isn’t there and make them believe it is. He can weave a spell of protection, or privacy, light or warmth and they work. Loki can bend the universe to his will, in little tiny ways, and he loves it. Loki likes to learn things, to master arts that other people have little to no knowledge of. He likes to spend hours reading in the library uninterrupted, and he likes to be taught lessons by his tutors. Thor’s friends make fun of him for it, but he knows that it is just because they do not understand, because his mother taught him that. He ignores them when they mock him. They do not need to understand him.
Loki likes to play tricks too. He is very good at it. He can organise for his enemies to be humiliated in the most entertaining ways possible, and for himself to remain unsuspected. He has done this ever since his mother taught him to lie, almost since he learned to talk, and at first, he is clumsy and makes mistakes, so people notice, and he gains a reputation as a liar and they nickname ‘Liesmith’. Although he is, in a perverse way, proud of his nickname, he quickly learns to rectify his mistakes, but by then, it is too late, and the blame almost always goes to him. The next skill he learns therefore is to hide all evidence, and this keeps him out of trouble with those who have the authority to discipline him. He knows that most disapprove of his antics when his victims are their children, but not so much otherwise. Most just hide their smiles at the mischief of the young prince, that while they pretend to scold him, they are holding back laughter. He knows that his mother does not mind it, because she does not tell him to stop, so it can’t be too bad.
When he becomes older, the attitudes of some change. They no longer think it is appropriate for a princeling to take such pleasure in the embarrassment of others, that a fledgling king should pay more attention to politics and fighting than tricks and books and lies. His mother tells him that it would be prudent for him to be seen practicing sparring in the courtyards on occasion, and that he may take an interest in the workings of the court.
He resents being told to fight, at first, as he does not immediately excel at fighting, as Thor does, and he very quickly tires of being beaten and mocked for his weakness. He particularly hates being made to beg to get up after he has lost a fight, how it fed the other’s mirth and his own shame. However, he soon learns that there are methods of fighting other than direct attacking, that it is possible win with speed and cunning instead of brute strength. He watches Sif’s methods and learns them, and once he has learned his fill of those, he observes the other, older warriors who always manage to beat Thor and his stronger friends without effort. Loki learns how to use an opponent’s weight against them, how to trip them up and block their blows. He sees how it is possible to trick your opponent, to feint one way and dart the other, how to duck in close beneath their guard and catch them unawares. He particularly likes daggers and knives, and practices throwing them, alone in his chambers, for hours until his aim is satisfactory, and then carries on for days until it is perfect. He practices sparring with those who deign to teach a weaker, younger student, and the next time Thor challenges him to a duel, he trips him to the floor in under a minute, and holds him there with a dagger to the throat until he asks for the fight to end. Loki considers pretending not to hear him, to force him to beg to be allowed to get back to his feet in front of his friends and those who have gathered to watch them spar, as Thor has done so many times to him, laughing all the while. But he does not. Because he is his mother’s son, and she would not approve. Instead, he offers his brother a hand, amongst the cheers of the crowd, and realises that this was indeed the crueler move, because now Thor is in his debt. Loki is greatly cheered by this notion. (Of course, Loki does not beat Thor so easily and quickly again, for his brother improves his skill in opposition to Loki, and visa versa. But that was the first time that Loki realised that it was possible for him to beat his brother in a fight.)
Loki enjoys observing the court almost instantly. The suggestions of this court cannot be ignored by Odin, and he almost always does as they advise, so they hold much power. Still, at first glance, it is made up of musty old men and woman arguing, but after just the first time Loki sits in at a meeting of the royal court of advisors, he begins to sense the meanings behind the patterns of behaviour, speech and tension in the room. After a few more visits, he can tell who hates who, and learns why. He can predict who will oppose or support which ideas, based not least on who proposes them. He can see which of the members of the court have true intelligence and skill at debating, and who are only there because their fathers have been for generations, and it’s what’s expected of them. He starts to see exactly how one could manipulate these people to affect any change imaginable in Asgard, how it is possible to rule the Nine Realms from this room. He knows that he is going to be a king one day, but this is raw power.
Loki does not have a right to a seat on the council of advisors, despite being a prince. A place here is earned, not won. So Loki quickly insinuates himself within the workings of the court, making many allies and a few enemies, and making himself indispensable to most of it’s members. He assists some member’s clerks on the pretense of learning more about their jobs, and uses the knowledge he has access to to gain favour with other courtiers. He uses his wide network of acquaintances to gain details of the private lives of the courtiers, some of them innocent, some not, and blackmails them subtly and expertly. Above all, he makes sure that there is no way that anyone can ever find a way to trace either blame or evidence back to himself. It is in the courts of Asgard that Loki truly learns how to lie. He acts as a willing, helpful, efficient spy, so that, when he begins to work his way up the rankings to his place at a seat on the council, the majority of it already owe him favours. After a year, they all owe him debts.
As Loki grows up, Frigga watches on, but she is not alarmed. She does not try to stop her son from learning how to fight well enough to defend himself against Thor and his friends. She knows that it is only fair, because Thor has beaten him many times in the past, and it was inevitable that one day he should learn to fight back. They are in conflict, yes, but they are making each other stronger.
Neither does she try to stop Loki from gaining control of the court that rules the kingdom. Frigga knows that power corrupts, but Loki was born to be a king, one way or another, and there is no way that it will not find him. If he is to be corrupted, all she will do is ensure that there is good in him as well.
Frigga knows that she cannot stand in the way of the tides of time and expect to hold back an ocean. She knows that she can’t stop Loki from being Loki. His name was part of him before she ever saw him. Frigga refuses to choose a favorite between her two sons.
Odin watches Loki take control of the courts, and he does not try to stop him learning. He does not encourage him, either. Thor is to be king one day, and he will need a good advisor. But still, it is Thor who is to be king.
Thor likes to go adventuring. He’s not a liar, not like Loki, but instead he’s got a knack for persuading his friends to go out journeying, to the dark forests where they’re not supposed to go, on the hunts that they’re really too young to join in with, to steal through the parts of the palace, the museums and archives of the city where rowdy, boisterous young children are not allowed to be. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the adventures almost always prove entertaining, for the children at least. The thing about Thor is, he doesn’t always tell the truth, but he never lies, because he always believes exactly what he’s saying.
Thor says he’s going to be a great warrior king some day, he needs to start practicing his questing skills now. He says one day they’ll all go out to the other Realms and fight great threats, and win honour and glory for all of Asgard. He says he’s going to make all of his friends the most esteemed warriors anyone ever heard of, that they’re going to be known and respected across all the Nine Realms. There’s a slight hiccup with that plan when it become’s obvious that Sif’s parents would rather their daughter became a lady than a warrior, but she manages to help persuade them otherwise, and Thor backs her up wholeheartedly. He’s aware that women are supposed to be wives whilst men are warriors, but no one’s ever been able to satisfactorily explain why, so as far as he’s concerned, if Sif wants to be a warrior, she can be one. It’s not as if there where any reason against it; she’s as strong and brave and loyal as any of them. More so, probably, than Loki. Of course, Loki is a good friend, a good playmate, Thor’s brother - but there’s no denying the fact that he’s as likely to laugh at you as with you. He's strong, and he's brave too, in his way, but he’s not loyal, Loki. His jokes are hilarious and witty, but they’re almost always at the expense of someone else, and you can be sure he’s probably making the same jokes about you behind your back. In an argument, he always knows the thing to say to cut you deepest, and he won’t ever hesitate to say it. It probably doesn't even occur to him.
By the time they’re all almost fully grown, and it’s already fairly certain in everybody’s mind that Thor will be the better king. Loki’s a politician, of course, but he’s not really ruler material. Even after Thor stood up against their precious traditions for his friend, the people of Asgard still trust him more. Thor is still the honourable one, the noble one. He’d sacrifice himself for the greater good if he had to, he’d go to any length to protect his kingdom. He’s a great warrior, and he’s a good man. There is no evil bone in his body. He is worthy of the throne. Everyone says so, and everyone believes it. They are, of course, right. Thor is the only one who will ever lift Mjollnir in defence of Asgard. He will, one day, claim the throne. It is inevitable.
Thor and Loki are very different people. Some in the kingdom say that Thor is the daytime whilst Loki is the night, and maybe they’re on to something. Thor is honest, Loki lies. Thor is golden, Loki’s silver. Thor was born first, Loki second. Loki’s the one that’s good with people, but Thor has more friends.
But Loki will be king one day too.
They both have conflict, war, strength and pride sewn into their blood, they grew together as brothers, and perhaps they are more alike than people think.