Some may theorize that Loki’s fall began with a harmless prank that spiralled beyond his control. Others may say that the startling revelation of his origins is what finally pushed him over the edge, and some will inevitably conclude that his villainy was long-seated, born of Odin’s blatant favoritism, or at least his perception of such. But while these all have a kernel of truth to them, and while they all factor in to what became of Loki, and of Asgard, the real seed of destruction was planted many years ago, with a warm hand firmly clutching Loki’s own. It began as it ended: with Thor.
“Why are your hands always ice cold?” Thor asked, rubbing his arm where Loki had touched it. They had been discussing their father’s latest life lesson–joking about it, to be accurate–and Loki had cuffed his brother playfully on the arm, and elicited something that Thor would never admit was a shriek. “Do you go off gallivanting in the mountains when you tell me you’re practicing your sorcery?”
“You’re just too hot-blooded,” Loki replied, only half-joking. He held his hands to his face and felt nothing amiss. “I don’t feel anything.”
Thor laughed. “They’ve probably gone numb!” he exclaimed, and he took Loki’s pale slender hands and clasped them in his own, rubbing them together to warm them. “There, that’s better, isn’t it?” he asked.
Loki said nothing, only stared at Thor’s hands, rough and ruddy against his own. This wasn’t the first time Thor had teased him about this, not the first time he’d tried to warm him, but something was amiss. Thor’s hands weren’t just warm, but searing hot, like he’d thrust his hand into a furnace to watch the skin blister and peel from his bones. The hair on the back of his neck pricked upward.
“Loki?” Thor asked, his face showing mounting concern. No secrets, not with him. Loki pulled his hands away.
“Your palms are sweaty,” Loki said. He turned his nose up in the air, and Thor laughed as he always did.
“And yours are as soft as a maiden’s,” Thor said, slinging his sword over his shoulder. “A little practice with a blade would remedy that, brother.”
Loki wriggled his fingers. “I prefer the hands-off approach,” he said.
Thor shrugged. “I will be in the training ring with Fandral and Volstagg if you change your mind,” he said, waving as he headed out. “If not I shall see you at dinner.”
Loki waved back and watched his brother depart. When he was certain he was alone, Loki held his hands, still burning where Thor had touched them, once more against his cheeks. Again, he felt nothing, no particular warmth or coldness seeping into his skin. It would be a very long time before he realized what that meant.
* * *
Thor was not one to knock, nor, indeed, to ask permission to do much of anything, but Loki had never become quite used to the way Thor would barge into his chambers as though he owned them when few would dare even knock meekly at the door. Of course, Loki reasoned, he would own them eventually, that much had become painfully obvious over the years, but that still gave him little right to walk in and fling himself on the bed next to Loki without some basic formalities.
“Father’s decided to present me with Mjolnir,” Thor said. He cupped his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. “The ceremony will be in two days’ time, you are the first I’ve told.”
Loki contemplated closing his book, but decided to instead needlessly flip the page for dramatic tension before answering. “Are you nervous?” he asked, sneaking a sideways glance at his brother. He was not looking back.
“Perhaps,” Thor said, and then, “No, not nervous. Excited, I think.”
“It is a great honor.”
“So I am told.” Thor turned and propped himself up on one arm, staring at Loki. “You will be at the ceremony, of course.”
Loki glanced at Thor and raised an eyebrow. “Is that a question or an order?”
“Call it a strongly worded request.”
Loki sighed and closed his book, having long forgotten his place, and rested the volume on his lap. “I do little else beside stand around and watch Father give you commendations for one thing or another,” he complained. “Ceremony to celebrate your coming of age, ceremony for your first victory in battle…” Loki paused, and smiled, “Ceremony for being a headstrong prat.”
Thor laughed and rolled over onto his back. “If you have some sort of sorcery commendation I shall certainly attend,” he said. “Ceremony of ridiculous pointed hats, for instance.”
Loki thwacked Thor with his book. “I like my pointed hat,” he said, and then, “Are you planning to sleep here? You’re a little old for that.”
Thor closed his eyes. “I fear I shall not sleep at all if I return to my chambers,” he said. “I have always felt calmer beside you. Do you remember when we were children and I would sometimes wake in the night after dreaming of battle?”
“That was long ago.” Loki nudged Thor with his foot. “Go and tell your news to Sif and the Three, they shall be quite angry with you if they hear it elsewhere first. I do not like to think of what Sif may do.”
“She would likely take up Mjolnir herself and give me a sound beating with it.” Thor raised himself up slowly and stretched his arms above his head. “I will probably be occupied with the preparations,” he said, “but I will see you and your pointed hat at the ceremony.”
Loki smiled. “Of course,” he said, and Thor smiled back and clapped him warmly on the shoulder before he took his leave. Once the heavy oak door closed shut, however, Loki’s face fell into a troubled frown. He drew his knees up against his chest, and he stared at the rumpled sheets where Thor had lain. He bit his lower lip, and his hand strayed to the pillow, and he pressed his palm flat against it and felt it, that elusive warmth still lingering on the fabric. He shifted, and before he knew what was happening he had all but thrown himself into the sheets, twisting, writhing, trying to draw that heat into his body but it wasn’t enough, it was already fading.
Loki opened his mouth against the pillow. “Thor,” he choked out, strangling on it, and just like that it was over, he was scrambling to the other side of the bed with tears pricking at his eyes. Loki took several gasping breaths, and then he stood, and he stripped the sheets off of his bed and flung them across the room. He sank to his knees, his breathing still heavy, and he lay flat on the cold stone floor, and passed the rest of the night there.
* * *
A wave of his hand, and the figure in front of him changed to Thor. Another wave and it was Sif, then Fandral and Volstagg and Hogun, then back Loki, then to Thor again. A clever little party trick, aside from being tactically advantageous. Loki smiled, and the Thor shade looked straight ahead, unblinking.
“I’ll have to work on that,” Loki muttered to himself. Empty puppets certainly wouldn’t fool anyone, not for long enough. He scrunched up his brow and and made some slow gestures with his hands, and there was a flicker in the shade’s dead eyes, and he turned and smiled at Loki. “Better,” Loki said, and the shade beamed at him and swung his hammer around with measured swagger. Better than better, Loki thought with a wry grin. He motioned to dismiss the shade, deciding to work on them further in the morning, but something stayed his hand. He looked at the shade smiling benignly at him. Thor. Of course he’d made it Thor.
Loki stood and closed the distance between himself and his creation. “You don’t know anything, do you?” he whispered, resting a hand on the shade’s chest. It felt solid, more real than he’d expected. The shade stared at him, and Loki moved his hand upward, fingertips stroking softly across the shade’s throat. Even the stubble felt real. He moved his lips closer to the shade’s, so they nearly touched when he spoke. “You look, but you never see anything beyond your narrow gaze, you never step back and see the obvious.” Loki’s fingers twined in Thor’s hair, and he kissed him softly, and then Thor was kissing him back, unprompted. Rough hand pressed into Loki’s back, and he sighed and opened his mouth.
Something was wrong.
Loki pulled back, his breathing heavy, and he looked Thor up and down. Every detail was right, down to the befuddled look on his face. Everything… and then it hit him. Loki pulled Thor’s face towards him again, but this time, he pressed their foreheads together, and he could feel the shade’s skin against his own, but nothing else. “Of course,” he muttered, and then he chuckled helplessly and pushed his creation away, slumping against the table.
The shade made as if to come towards him. “No,” Loki said. “Stay there, I want you to see this.” Slowly, like a creeping madness, Loki placed a hand on the table to steady himself, and the other he slipped down the front of his trousers. He gasped, and he looked at the shade, into Thor’s blue eyes. “See what you’ve reduced me to,” he said, stroking himself. “This is all because of you.”
The shade said nothing. Loki’s movements sped up, his breath coming in heavy pants now. He did not take his eyes from Thor’s the whole time, not until he came and his eyes fluttered shut on their own. When he opened them, the shade was gone. Loki slammed his fist on the table.
* * *
“You’re the one who talked yourself into my bed,” Fandral said. He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, and there was an arrogant smirk on his face. “So don’t go blaming this on me, Loki.”
Loki held his head, the sheets pooling about his waist. “Yes,” he said, and behind his eyelids flashed the desire to choke the smug smile from Fandral’s face. “I remember. I fear I indulged myself too much of the ale. Forget it, and I shall do the same.”
Fandral pushed himself off the wall and walked to the bed, leaning down to place his arms on either side of Loki, their faces close together. “Ale or no,” he said, “You should be more cautious of whose name you call while in the throes of passion.”
Loki, without a moment’s hesitation, picked up the dagger he had left at the bedside and pressed it to Fandral’s throat, drawing drops of scarlet blood that dripped red trails down his neck. Every muscle in Loki’s pale, naked body was tensed. “If you tell a soul I will destroy you,” he hissed. “You, and anything you’ve ever loved.”
“I believe you would.” Fandral stared coolly into Loki’s eyes. “I won’t tell, but I will still know that you are even sicker and more twisted than any of us suspected.”
“That I already knew, Fandral,” Loki said. At this, Fandral smirked again, and Loki narrowed his eyes, and he pulled back the dagger and drove it into Fandral’s shoulder.
Fandral let out a howl, unprepared for the pain. Loki withdrew the dagger with a sickening squelch and let it clatter to the ground. Fandral was clutching his shoulder and glaring, but Loki paid him no mind. He gathered his clothes and dressed, almost leisurely, and left without another word, heedless of the bright red drops of blood spattered across his face.
When Loki reached his chambers, he picked up a glass bottle from a shelf, and hurled it against the floor. Another ceremony tomorrow, the big one, the one that would declare Thor the new king, the one he’d known was coming since they were children. “There shall always be a place for you at my side,” Thor had assured him, and Loki had smiled, “Of course, brother.” He dropped another bottle and shivered a little when it smashed against the stone floor. Thor was about to get everything he’d ever wanted, and never deserved, and what did Loki have? What remained to him? Not even his dignity, not any more, not when Thor’s slightest touch drove him to the edges of sanity, not when Fandral sat in his room nursing a wound that couldn’t possibly make him forget. No, Loki had nothing.
Loki sank to the floor, getting colored oils on his hands and his knees. He could feel bits of glass digging into his shins, but it didn’t matter. He stared ahead blankly, and as as he did, a thought sprung to mind, barely the shadow of a plan, but there all the same. He knew the secret paths that even Heimdall could not see, had stumbled upon them when he was still but a boy. He knew the way into Jotunheim.
Yes, wouldn’t that be perfect? He stood, dripping blood from where the glass had cut him. Why shouldn’t Thor suffer one small fraction of what Loki had suffered all these years? Thor had taken so much from him, had taken all of him, so why shouldn’t Loki take this one thing, this one moment? Was it really so much to wish for?
Loki took up his cloak.
* * *
“And why should we trust you, Asgardian?” the frost giant asked.
Loki met the giant’s probing gaze with one as hard and as cold as he could make it. “Because my greatest desire is to see Thor suffer,” he said, and the giants found this satisfactory. The chill wind blew against Loki’s face, but he felt nothing.