They waited until after dinner to tell him.
Perhaps Mother had wanted both of them to hear it at once. Maybe she wanted to get it over with at a stroke. Thor was absent – again – and Loki was too distracted by his own smug self-satisfaction to notice anything particularly out of the ordinary until the meal was over, and Father put his hand on Mother's.
"Perhaps," Father suggested, in an undertone Loki did not recognize, "it's better this way."
Curious, Loki straightened on his chair. It had always annoyed him when adults tried to talk over his head. He'd gotten quite good at figuring out what people were getting at in spite of their best efforts. It was one of his favorite games around court. He didn't enjoy playing with his parents as the subjects – he couldn't really hold it over their heads. Be that as it was, situation chose the unwitting players more often than he did. Loki just played along. It paid to know things. Loki was smaller than Thor had been at his age, and less strong, but he was smart and he was fast. He needed any edge he could get in the palace, no matter how he got it. He'd played since he was no more than a little boy, and so far his game had served him well.
It wasn't serving him much just then.
Mother gave nothing away save that she was loathe to follow Father's suggestion. Breathing a soft sigh, she closed her eyes in something that looked to Loki like resignation. Then she looked at Father, and she nodded.
Loki didn't mind that they weren't looking at him. He could get more done when people weren't paying him undue mind. He liked to get things done.
Signaling one of her ladies who waited on them, Mother told her they'd need nothing else, and that the girls were dismissed.
Loki looked out the window, and pretended he wasn't paying attention. Something was coming. The anticipation prickled against the back of his neck, heavy like it got when Thor was too excited and made all his hair stand up on end. The tension had built so slowly that Loki hadn't noticed it before.
The ladies left.
Loki was startled then, to find himself the subject of his parents' scrutiny. He thought back through the past hours, trying to remember if there was anything they might have discovered, but the day had been a mild one, by his standards. He stretched his search to the previous week.
Mother interrupted him before he could get far. "Loki," she said.
Loki's eyes snapped to her face. She sounded…nervous. Curiosity piqued, he tipped his head.
Mother laid her hand atop Father's on the table. "Your father and I have something we'd like to tell you," she said.
And they told him. They told him about the War. About Baldur who was their true son, who would have been of age with Loki if he hadn't been lost to them before he was born. Father told him about a ruined temple in Jotunheim and the baby he'd found there, abandoned by its parents, left to die. They showed him who he was. Who he really was. What he was.
He cried. He sat there, across from his parents with his head between his hands, shamed and sobbing, his world in shambles around him. He was sure Mother would be looking at him, sad and sympathetic. Father's face would be cold. Loki dared not raise his head. He couldn't look at either of them.
He wasn't like them. He wasn't theirs.
Mother assured him of their love. She tried to tell him about her palace at Folkvangar, where she had gone to convalesce and to learn to love this new son.
Loki didn't want to hear her. He couldn't – in fact – make out more than a few words. There was a high, keening sound in his head like the noise that would follow after an explosion when there was too much damage done to the inside of a person's ear. It was too much. He wanted to scream, to block out that terrible sound. His breath wore ragged and he stared down at the tabletop, his hands pressing deep against his temples.
Mother's hand came out and touched the back of his.
Loki sprung back, away from her touch like it burned. His chair caught against his ankle as he moved. Loki flung it away. The vase broke.
Panting, Loki saw the fragmented vase. The water spilling out of it. Tumbled blossoms and leaves drowning in the wreckage. The chair. His hand. His father. Blinking stupidly, he opened and closed his hand. It was as if the hand belonged to someone else. And maybe it did.
He swallowed thickly.
Odin had stood up, anger flashing from his single remaining eye. Mother was holding his wrist. They were alarmed. He'd jumped up and thrown his chair. Of course they were alarmed. Loki himself might have been alarmed. But he didn't have room for that anymore.
Drawing a careful breath, Loki looked at his hands. Father had showed him….
"May I go to my room?" he asked, "Please?" His voice was so soft he didn't know how they could hear him, but it was the absolute best he could do in the moment.
The pause could have meant anything. Loki didn't dare look to find out what it meant.
After an age, Father told him he might, and without looking back at either of them Loki all but fled.
Once he was safely shut up in his room, Loki didn't scream. He was panting for breath, dizzy and hot and cold all at once. It started small. He went to the desk, the paper slipped under his hand, and he pushed it onto the floor. Gaining momentum, he threw the lamp. It made a good sound when it hit.
He'd never thought how satisfying it might be to bring a bookshelf to its knees. He'd never broken so many things so quickly. Loki was calculated, pragmatic. Thor was the one who had a temper. He could afford it. But not anymore. Loki was fire. He was the storm. He was a dragon ravaging a town. He was a monster. He.
He was a monster.
He got sick then, rather suddenly. He barely made it across the wreck of his room before his dinner came rushing back up his throat. For a minute he thought he might become somehow more upset. He couldn't even keep down food, anymore. But what did it matter, really? He sat on the tilled floor of his bathroom, pushing the sweat soaked hair back from his brow with one hand, legs bent at all angles, laughing at something he didn't understand. What did any of it matter.
He got up and went back into his room. Or the place that had been his room. He'd pushed his papers off his desk and onto the floor. His bureau drawers were emptied, flung everywhere. A book cover slid under his foot. The only thing he hadn't broken was the window. He hadn't flung anything down into the garden yet. Dispassionately, he thought that it might be pleasant, to throw something through the glass. It would make a wonderful noise… but the moment rather felt as if it'd passed.
Someone was coming.
Thor came through the door before Loki had time to more than realize the thudding he'd heard was footfalls. Loki couldn't feel surprise or annoyance. Thor was babbling something. To his credit, the golden prince stopped, a look of shock on his wide, open face. His blue eyes flickered across the room and Loki could see the dreadful importance of whatever it was Thor had come telling him dropping right out of Thor's head. Thor gaped at the jagged edges of an end table Loki had broken. His eyes traveled up the line of a fallen bookshelf, then blinked at him. Thor was panting from his run, and too shocked by what he'd found to have remembered his tongue yet. He just stared.
And Loki stared back. He had nothing to say. And what right had Thor to be so surprised? Loki'd come upon him breaking all manner of things when he met any frivolous setback. He'd put a hole through the stable walls, only because the Horse Master had refused to let him ride unaccompanied beyond the walls! The hole was there still, years later. Thor had no right to look at him like that.
"-Father said…" Thor's tongue caught up with him and he shoved his hair back, "…you could tell me." The words came without conviction, slowly, like Thor didn't remember what he'd been saying.
It took Loki longer than it should have to calculate what was meant. What Thor was asking of him. And it took him longer still to find his own tongue through all the numbness and make it move.
Thor was still looking at him, and at the mess, eyes full of worry and surprise. Loki didn't want to look at him anymore, he decided. He wanted Thor to leave.
Father said you could tell me.
Loki glanced over, wondering where he had put his own feet that had gotten him this far into his room without stepping over anything. He didn't remember stepping over anything.
"I don't want to," he said. His voice was steady. Loki wasn't exactly sure how it wouldn't be. The part of him that hurt had gone far away, all that was left was this numb shell that moved and spoke without any feeling. It was better this way. Safer.
To his right, Loki heard Thor make an irritable noise. The debris clattered as Thor pushed through it far enough to fling the door closed.
"Oh, well, come in, then," the shell said lightly.
"You have to tell me something," Thor growled.
Loki didn't know that that was exactly true. And besides, it wasn't possible. Thor might as well demand he fly. It wasn't going to happen. Seeing the path, suddenly, Loki stepped around a sprawl of books. The desk was heavy. He hadn't thought to fling it over. Maybe he should have. But then, he hadn't tried to topple the bed either. Best to leave them both standing. The chair that stood before the desk was an odd oversight, though. A candlestick rolled listlessly on the desktop. He didn't like watching it move. He righted it.
His silence was apparently too much of a strain for Thor as the older boy growled again. "You've ruined your room," he snarled, "Mother's weeping in her library, and Father told me you know why. You have no right not to answer me!"
At another time Loki might have laughed. He was too tired, suddenly, for even that. "Just go away, Thor."
"I'm not going away!"
Other people's preferences be damned if Thor wanted something. "What makes you think you have the right to know?" the shell asked for him.
"I just explained why!" Thor shouted.
"I didn't even know until today," Loki murmured, in his own voice, casually laying the shell aside. He didn't know why he was saying anything. He could feel the bars of his resistance bending under Thor's force, but the process fascinated him, more than anything. "…And I rather think I would be the nearest concerned."
"I'll have it out of you, Brother," Thor growled, "one way or another." His voice was low, dangerous. "What has happened?"
Loki pressed his lips thin. He would tell Thor. He knew he would. But it was like standing at the top of a tall cliff looking down. Even though he didn't care what happened, his tongue still took a long time to obey him. A pen was lying on the seat of the chair beside him. He picked it up and put it on the desk. "I'm not your brother," he said, finally, "And nothing's happened."
Thor's reaction came about as quickly as Loki had anticipated. "Not –" Thor fell back a pace. As ever, his temper saved him. "I'll have none of your lies Loki. Not today."
Somehow, that cut through the numbness and Loki spun to face him. "I'm not." He snapped. "I'm not lying Thor. Sometimes," he shouted, "things are true even when you don't want them to be! Don't you understand?" But he ought not have shouted. Maybe he shouldn't have said anything. He should have told Thor to leave. The flash of his own temper had burned hot. Its sudden loss left him somehow bereft, and cold, and Thor's hurt wasn't worth it.
"Why?" Thor demanded. His voice wavered, bogged down by shock and injury. "Why would you say something like that?"
Loki was leaning backward against the desk. He didn't have the strength to look at Thor, to face the betrayal that was so evident in his voice. Loki didn't even have what was necessary to put his back to Thor. He shrugged.
"Father named you God of Mischief, not Lies," Thor spat, finding his proper voice again.
Loki could feel his hands shaking.
"Well I don't see what that has to do with anything," he said weakly, still too much the coward to even look at Thor. He folded his arms, though that didn't help him feel safer. "…since he's the one who said it,"
"Father would never speak such lies!" Thor shouted. He was going to leave then. He'd go back to Father, complaining of how Loki misused him. Loki knew he should just let Thor go. He wanted to be alone with this. He…he'd been alone already…
His mouth moved without his permission.
"I was born the year the Great War with Jotunheim ended."
That made Thor pause. The fact was indisputable. Not even Thor could tell him he was lying. Thor's hands closed into fists, but he didn't move and he didn't say anything.
Dropping his eyes from the hard line of Thor's shoulders onto the floor, Loki gripped his arms. "Mother –," he said, then, "your Mother." He closed his eyes. He didn't know if he could do this. "She carried a child, that year," the words dragged out of him, "…who arrived, stillborn. A brother you never knew." He swallowed thickly. But the words had to come now. He couldn't have stopped if his life rode on silence. "AllFather found a child. A child who was left." His fingers gripped his arms, tight enough to bruise. "In a temple."
"And you're telling me," Thor said, his voice hot, and quavering with passion, "that you were that child?"
Thank anything that was listening that Thor understood at least that much. Loki didn't know that he could have explained it more fully. His lungs shuddered. The words came awkward, and stiff, but they were steady and that was all he could ask. "What would I stand to gain by lying?"
Thor whirled on him, then, his face terrible. "You'd make me very, very angry." His eyes promised violence. Loki was certain that Thor would have hit him already if not for the wreckage between them. "So angry that I might not know what I did," his voice was a menacing rumble in his throat, "I'm sure I could explain it to Mother."
Thor wanted to scare him. It didn't work. If he could have moved, Loki might have gone around the mess, baiting Thor to do his worst. It would be easier. As it was, the best Loki could manage was to lift his chin. "Your mother," he said.
Thor threw his hands out in an impotent fit of exasperation, "You expect me to believe that you are not my brother? Nor son to Odin?"
Thor blinked at him, and if that name wasn't so horrible, Loki might have laughed. He might have howled on the floor for how funny the blind shock on Thor's face was. He'd surprised Thor before with his games. Never like this. For the longest time, Thor said nothing. Then he finally managed a spectacularly intelligent, "What?"
That did it. "Father and Mother," Loki snapped, "sat me down today to tell me that I am no son of theirs," the words were springing up out of his throat like vomit and his whole skin flushed hot with rage, "but the bastard runt of the disgraced king of Jotunheim! And you, you have the gall to throw yourself into my room and complain of being kept in the dark?" he almost laughed, "Because Mother's crying?"
Thor fell back, not as he had before, in a calculated move, but like Loki had hit him. He caught his heel and stumbled, catching both hands against the wall. He looked up and the anger had gone all out of his eyes. "Loki," he stammered, "is…you're telling me the truth?"
Strong in his own anger, Loki felt that he could stand on his feet again. He looked down at Thor. "Why else would I have told you anything?" he spat.
With an undignified lurch, Thor let himself fall backwards against the wall. He slid down to the floor.
Loki didn't know what else to say. There was nothing more. Thor knew all of it. No explanation was going to make Loki any less his enemy. No protestation of shared past could change what they were. Not that Thor would listen. Once they might have shared some bond. But they'd grown apart recently. Thor had gone to one kind of training and Loki to another. There had been precious few moments of true friendship between them these years. If he was honest, Loki thought, they ought to have bidden farewell to the past long ago.
There was no sound from Thor. Bold as his admissions had made Loki, he wouldn't look at Thor. He didn't want to watch Thor coming to the same conclusions that had been apparent to him from the first. Thor had said nothing yet. Thor always took longer. He railed against the obvious. But get there he would, and Loki didn't want to see it happen.
There was a noise from where Thor had collapsed, and reflexively, Loki raised his head and watched as Thor dragged his leg from the top of the things he'd fallen over. The remains of the end table scraped against the floor. Loki thought Thor might stand, but Thor didn't. He stayed. He wouldn't raise his eyes.
"Thor..?" Thor didn't bend. Thor raged and stormed and exulted, but Thor didn't bend. He didn't… "you're not…"
Thor heaved a breath, "I wish you were lying…" his mouth twisted.
"Thor, stop," Loki begged.
Thor was the strongest person Loki knew, beside their parents. He was brave and strong and he would never break he would never cry. Not in front of his little brother. Not like this. If Thor was lost…
Pressing his forehead, Thor made a sound that was almost a sob "I–" he choked, "I want you to be my brother."
Loki was watching him, panic climbing higher and farther in his chest, making it impossible for him to breathe or to think. He wanted to take it back. He wanted to say something. He wanted to shake Thor or hit him and make him stop. Loki covered his eyes. His chest heaved for breath.
He saw the tears spill onto Thor's face. The older boy hid behind his knees, gripping his arms, rocking, "I don't want anyone else…" Giving in to his grief, Thor sobbed.
Loki had never seen Thor cry before. Not like this. Thor was strong and if Thor couldn't… If Thor was afraid then all was lost.
It hit Loki what Thor had said.
I want you to be my brother.
Disbelief wanted to capsize him, but there was nothing for that. Thor couldn't lie. It was too much. He couldn't see anything anymore, and all he could hear was Thor, choking on his own tears. Loki felt he was going to implode like a great, far-off star. Sinking down, he gripped his head between his hands. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't.
The strain in his chest broke with a sudden snap and his breath came back to him all in one gasp. That was all it took. Once he had the breath for it, he cried like a child with his head on his desk. Lost and scared, there was nothing else. No trick, no legend, existed to help him with this. He was as abandoned as he had been when the only father he'd ever known found him on the ice. There was no pride or shame or contest anymore. He was lost and he hurt and for a while that was all he knew.
Eventually the tears ran themselves out, and all that was left after that was to find his breath, and wait for thoughts to come back to him.
Thor touched his shoulder. It wasn't a summons. The weight of his hand was warm and steadying. Loki didn't move. He felt hollow. Tears had granted him some release. They had solved nothing, but the ache in his chest was less bad, and his head didn't hurt him anymore. It was easier to cry when you knew the person with you was just as scared as you were.
Loki filled his lungs as full as he could, and turned his head. Not quite looking at Thor, with his head still on his desk, Loki asked, "Did you mean it?"
Thor looked confused.
Loki shifted a little. "What you said."
Understanding lit Thor's tear-stained face. He nodded. "It…changes nothing," he decided, his voice roughened from the tears. Then again, deliberately, "Nothing."
Loki's blood flushed cold. He shot up, knocking Thor's hand off him, "It's not up for debate, Thor," he hissed. He would have shouted but the volume wouldn't come. His breath hitched, "Father showed me –"
Thor caught his wrist easily in one big hand, a light like laughter in his reddened eyes. "Easy," he said. "That's not what I meant."
Breathing hard, Loki tore his hand away. He turned so Thor could only see him in profile. Thor's face was still red and blotchy from crying, but already he was making light of it. Already.
Thor took a deep breath. "I don't care who you are, Loki," he said, finally.
Loki's heart skipped and he went very still.
"Or what," Thor continued softly, "Or who your father is. I want you for my brother. No one else."
Thor stopped, and Loki didn't do anything. He couldn't. He couldn't so much as breathe.
"If…" Thor cocked his head, trying to look at him, "…you'll have me?"
If you'll have me. Loki wanted to mock him. It was ludicrous. Thor couldn't lie. He didn't say things just to get a reaction. Thor meant it. Thor was truly afraid that Loki might reject him. He tried to say something, before Thor could spiral from fear to confusion to anger all over again, but the words wouldn't come. He choked on the pressure in his throat.
Thor peered around to look at him, his brow knit in concern. Loki couldn't see him well for the tears, but Thor knew everything, and still Thor could look at him like that. Loki's mouth wavered dangerously and he gave in. He twisted around. Thor closed the distance between them and then Thor's arms were around him. Thor's neck was hot. Loki could feel the pulse of his great heart through the soft skin. Tears stung his eyes as they fell, but it was better like this. Thor's arms were heavy and Thor was strong. His arms were a tether. He kept Loki from flying apart. Loki focused on the feeling of Thor's arms. The beat of his heart steadied him.
Finally, Loki felt safe taking a full breath. It shook, but he didn't start crying again.
Thor didn't loosen his grip. "I'm sorry I called you a liar, Brother," he said. His voice was hoarse.
His laugh came out more like a bark, and his voice was muffled against Thor's arm. "It's not like it was an – unmerited accusation."
Loki was glad he wasn't alone. He dragged a slow breath.
Thor had called him brother. Even knowing everything.
Loki moved to take a step back and Thor let him go. He felt cold, bereft of Thor's embrace. The room was a mess. He shouldn't have lost his temper as he had. He'd regret it soon. Bitterly, he wondered how long it would take for Thor to come to his senses. To regret. He hugged his arm against his body.
"Are you …hungry?" Thor asked.
Loki shrugged. Sentiment aside, Thor was the crown prince of Asgard. How long could he afford to harbor love for one who was his enemy?
Thor touched his elbow and jostled him from his thoughts. "Come on," Thor offered, smile tugging at his mouth. "No one will be about at this hour. We'll get something to eat and then you'll come with me," he glanced away, at the room. "You can't sleep here."
Thor's eyes were still red with weeping. For all his fine words, he had to know they could never remain like this. One way or another, they were not alike. They were born to be enemies. But the make-believe felt good. Loki let his eyes drift shut. When he opened them he dredged up what he could of a smile, "You missed dinner, didn't you?"
"That," Thor leveled a finger at him, "was not my fault – Not entirely my fault," he corrected.
Loki could guess how it had happened. Closing his eyes, he nodded.
"There, that's better," Thor said again. Touching Loki's arm he jogged him back again with a little jolt. "Come on."
Too exhausted to protest, Loki went with him. But Thor's steps were disrupting everything, toppling and cracking. The sound echoed, aching against the back of his eyes.
It was too much. Loki teleported them to the hallway on the opposite side of his door.
Making a choked sound, Thor stumbled. He fumbled in the torch-lit dark to steady himself against the wall. "Loki," he groaned.
He felt more himself when Thor said his name like that. In spite of the weight in his chest, Loki laughed.
"Alright," Thor said, groping for Loki's arm, "you lead, then. I…can't seem to find the floor."
Catching him up, Loki gripped his elbow. "You trust me?" he asked. The question was light, asked on impulse. But Loki wished he hadn't asked it.
"Always," Thor said. He did himself credit with how quickly the word came to his tongue, and the conviction with which he spoke it. Loki wished he could believe anything that firmly. He wished he could trust that Thor would keep his word. Or that he believed Thor should.
"Lead the way, Brother," Thor said. "I'm starving."
Casting aside his thoughts, Loki moved Thor's arm so he could take some of Thor's weight. "Who knew a starving man could be so heavy?" he jested. The words were wrong in his mouth, but he didn't know what else to say.
"That," Thor's arm wobbled, fumbling over to mess at Loki's hair, "…that is your own doing. I could have walked just fine."
"You were making a mess." He regretted it as soon as he'd said it. But Thor didn't press.
Thor was quiet for several moments. He was beginning to find his feet again, lessening the weight that pressed against Loki.
"You know we'll always be brothers, right?" he asked, "No matter what?"
Loki's jaw locked. It took him several minutes to be sure of his voice.
"If you make me cry again," he answered, finally, "you're on your own."
Thor gave a soft breath of a laugh beside him in the dark. He'd found his feet. His steps were more sure, and the weight he leaned on Loki's shoulder was negligible. But he didn't move to walk on his own. He didn't make anything of it, and Loki didn't either.
After they'd found something to eat, fumbling and hissing at one another to be quiet in the darkened caverns the kitchens turned to at night, Thor absolutely refused to let him go back to his own rooms. He finally said that if Loki insisted on sleeping in his own rooms Thor would make a bed of the wreckage on the floor. Weakly, Loki protested the absurdity of that, but Thor remained implacable.
Some time later, in the pressing dark of Thor's room, Loki was grateful for it. In all likelihood, Thor had fallen asleep. Loki couldn't tell. You know we'll always be brothers, right? In the dark, Loki wasn't sure of that at all. And in the dark, it was hard to remember the years of training they both had and the power of their royal lineage. The tear that pooled against his cheek on the pillow startled him. It was cold.
"Thor?" he whispered. Then, again, "Thor?"
Loki gave it up, certain that Thor had fallen asleep. Snuffling miserably, he scrubbed the tears from his eyes and moved to find a dry place on the pillow.
Thor's arm gave a stiff movement beside him. Awkwardly, his hand found Loki's in the dark and squeezed it.
Loki fell asleep holding Thor's hand.