Disclaimer: Loki, Thor, and all other marvelous Marvel characters are not mine.
A/N: I'm pretty proud of this. It's rough in places, but a lot of the writing is some of my best work lately. A thousand thanks to my friend Brenna, who edited it up all pretty for me. Based on a chatplay between me and another friend, Lauren. Enjoy the brotherly angst.
Thor barreled into the medical station, panting, sweating, bleeding. The bones in half the fingers on his left hand were crushed and throbbing. His throat was raw with smoke from the burning city. His cape was torn; frost burns and a vivid black eye marred his visage. The finely crafted armor encasing his body, forged by the most skilled smiths in all of Asgard, was battered and dented in an appalling way. Thor's hammer hung limply from a shaking hand.
Yet he had not come to seek treatment for himself. In fact, the pain gripping his abused body was forced to the back of his mind as he seized the shoulder of a paramedic rushing past him.
"My brother," Thor gasped. "My brother. Where is he?" The paramedic stammered some incoherent excuse and Thor tightened his grip. "Where is Loki?" he shouted. "Where is my brother?"
A hand, protruding from the straight black sleeve of a suit jacket, closed around Thor's wrist. In his characteristically cool, unconcerned voice, Agent Coulson said, "Loki is over this way, Mister Odinson."
Thor stared at him with wild eyes and released the hassled paramedic, yanking his wrist away from Coulson. "Take me to him. Now."
Agent Coulson contorted his mouth into a reassuring smile that came off as a grimace. "Follow me."
Thor stepped on Coulson's heels as he followed him across the crowded parking lot, designated as the infirmary for victims of this citywide Jotun attack. Thor ground his teeth in frustration with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent's deliberately slow pace. Then at last, over Coulson's shoulder, Thor saw of a crowd of medical personnel flocking around a single gurney in the most secluded corner of the lot.
He felt fear shoot into his stomach like a lethal injection. He knew who was lying on that gurney.
He pushed past Coulson and all but ran to the corner. Holding his injured hand near his chest for protection, he muscled through the medics until there was no one left between him and his brother. At the sight of him bloodied and broken, sprawled across the cot like a cadaver in disarray, Thor felt his heart break.
The high-beam floodlights pierced Loki's pale, almost translucent, skin. Blood from a splintered nose masked his face and stained his collar. The horned helmet was crushed around his skull. His leg was contorted and angular; his arms dangled off the edge of the gurney in somber repose. But by far, the crowning glory, the final touches on this work of art that was Loki's struggle for life, the image that scarified itself into Thor's brain and would remain for the rest of his days, was the gaping hole in the left side of his body.
The wound was eloquent. The edges were clean, seared black and cauterized shut, a geometrically flawless semicircle that had fallen short of Loki's heart by the sheer good graces of the Allfather alone. Yet Thor could see that he was fighting just to breathe, battling his body for every precious second.
His eyes were closed and his face was serene. Thor swallowed hard, shoved the horror and revulsion down into the pit of his stomach, and very hoarsely asked the nearest medic, "Is he…."
The medic had no need to supply an answer. At the sound of Thor's voice, Loki's eyes snapped open. His pupils were pinpricks in the fluorescent light. Like a single, individual entity, his eyes shuddered in their sockets, burning in the bright light, moving ever so gradually, intent on capturing Thor in their field of vision.
The second their eyes met, Thor was forced to accept an actuality that he had locked away for so long, that rocked him to the very core of his being.
He loved his brother.
And his brother hated him.
Loki's lip rose in a sneer to complement the sentiment in his eyes. Thor willed himself to speak, with absolutely no thought to what he would say. He was calcified by his brother's stare. He watched the bloodshot, bleak eyes move over his form, appraising the damage, approving of it. He watched Loki pry his mouth open, knew the words that were about to be uttered, felt them resounding through the air in front of him, heard them hammering his skull. He watched Loki trace his lips with his tongue, relishing the bitterness of what he was about to say.
In his panic, Thor forced his host of emotions into one word, a poor, desperate attempt to stop the inevitable devastation of what was coming.
"Brother," he gasped, "brother…."
Loki's eyes shone with agony as he whispered words that only Thor could hear.
Thor crumbled. The feeling of guilt that he had staved off for so long seeped through the cracks in his armor and adhered to his skin, bled through and pierced his heart like frigid water. He could feel himself stagger with shame, and he knew by the grin spreading slowly across Loki's face that he saw it too.
At that moment, Thor would have sacrificed every one of the nine realms to exchange places with his brother.
The heinous grin was still plastered to Loki's face. In the most stately, satisfied manner, his eyes were pulled, puppet-like, back to face the light. Then their strings were cut, and they rolled back in his head, and a strangled sound reminiscent of a laugh escaped Loki's throat before his body began to convulse.
Stunned, Thor stared dully as Loki seized, choking on venom-laced foam. He disconnected from the scene, from his own body, from his role as brother. He watched the medics scramble back in, heard them snap directions to subordinates and superiors alike, observed their frantic efforts to repair the glitch in the brain, and cynically wondered if they knew there would be no way to fix the man on the gurney. It was only when the body stopped shaking, and the voices hit a momentary lull, and the foam dripped wetly onto the asphalt, that he returned to himself and realized that his brother was not breathing.
He took a single step forward among the paramedics rushing in with their arms full of supplies. The motion sent a jolt up through his body that dispelled the numbness, and the words that had refused to fit together before were strung into one long, steady stream.
"What's going on? What's happening? What's wrong?"
The medics ignored him, shelling Loki from his armor, passing around razors and spitting jargoned numbers as they began slicing through the thick leather and cloth of his battle garb. They peeled it from his body and found themselves facing an inner layer of chain mail. They glanced hesitantly at it and at each other, unsure what to do. Every second of inaction echoed through Thor's mind like the toll of a bell.
Again, he shoved his way through them and seized the mail shrouding his brother's lifeless body. Gritting his teeth, Thor wrenched the metal garment in two different directions, closing his eyes against the links that snapped apart and pinged upwards into his face, snarling in agony as his two mangled fingers were bent the wrong way. The mail clinked against the gurney when he dropped it, and Loki was left in his thin tunic. Thor stepped back amid stares from awestruck paramedics. He rubbed his fingertips together, imprinted with the uniform pattern of the links, and looked on while the medics made short work of the tunic. Loki lay vulnerable in the tatters of his clothing, ghostly and still, his wound a sobbing black maw that expressed the scream Thor felt building within his own chest.
A medic began regular compressions of Loki's chest, physically trying to restart his stilled heart. Thor felt someone take his arm; he looked down at the weary woman.
"His helmet!" she said urgently. "Can you get his helmet off?"
Thor nodded, the medic released his arm, and he strode to his brother's head. He gazed down at Loki's face and the smile still lingering on his lips. When they brought him back, Thor would not be praised for this. He would receive no thanks for his assistance. He would be mocked and insulted. He would still be hated.
He accepted that.
Wrapping his fingers around the edges of the helmet, he pried it open. With a groan, the tortured metal split down the middle. Thor pulled the unrecognizable piece of armor away from his brother's head and let it fall. It clanged loudly against the asphalt and the ringing faded to silence behind the shouts of the woman paramedic.
"Get the defibrillator! He's clear!"
Thor placed a tender, trembling hand on Loki's brow. His hair was pressed flat against his skull and his forehead was damp with sweat. His skin was still warm.
Thor bowed his head and murmured softly over Loki's body, knowing his words would be heard through the commotion.
"Allfather, I address you as your heir and your blood."
He knew Odin would not be pleased with his request.
"Allfather, I request that you act out of compassion."
He had to try.
"Allfather, in all your wisdom, I beg of you—save your son."
The woman paramedic took his arm again and pulled his hand off Loki's brow. "Please step back, sir."
Thor scowled and pulled away from her. "No, you can't—"
"We appreciate your help, but you need to stay back." She nodded to a paramedic who moved toward Loki, holding two flat, square objects attached to a box by curly cords.
"But I need to—"
"Clear!" the paramedic shouted, and then he thrust the paddles in his hands against Loki's torso. To the accompaniment of a shrill, unwavering beep, his body heaved mightily, possessed by some outside force, then slammed back against the gurney.
Thor was horrified. "What are you doing? What is this? You'll kill him!"
"He's already dead, sir," the female paramedic said. "We're trying to restart his heart."
Loki's thin body jumped again and Thor felt a moan slip through his lips.
"Please, Allfather," he mumbled.
Loki writhed on the gurney. The paramedic looked bleak as he shocked his body again and again.
"Odin. Save him."
The machine keened its mournful single pitch. Thor shut his eyes and released another prayer with each silent tear that slid down his face, with each jolt that wracked Loki's corpse.
And then there was a change in the machine's wail that gave way to the gasp of one revitalized.
Thor's head snapped up, eyes wet and wide and disbelieving. Loki was staring into the floodlights, disoriented, gulping in air and clenching his fists, gouging nail marks into his palms. His chest heaved and his eyes were bright with pain and fear—fear like he had not shown since their boyhood, since the days of nightmares and scoldings in Odin's rough voice, before he was taken and twisted apart and pieced back together without something vital, something that he could never hope to regain.
Thor saw the small, skimpy, reserved little boy he had spent his childhood with: struggling for life, trembling on the gurney with helpless tears leaking from his eyes, and he wanted so desperately to be his brother again. He moved forward and took Loki's white-knuckled hand.
Loki's gaze met Thor's and his lip curled. He wrenched his hand away and cried out in anguish, shooting Thor a murderous glance.
Loki disappeared in a flood of medical staff. They elbowed Thor out of the way and he stumbled back. He had known that Loki's heart would not change so easily, that his feelings would not be altered by something so simple, and yet the rejection ached like a wound reopened.
He looked on anxiously as the medics worked, ears trained on every moan that escaped Loki's clenched jaw. As the medics began digging scraps of melted leather from his wound, the moans became something akin to the screams of a tortured animal. Thor closed his eyes, wincing, cringing at the sound of obvious agony.
Then the cries shaped themselves into something new—something coherent and meaningful, something that made Thor open his eyes in shock.
Thor blinked as a pale, vein-lined hand punched through the wall of medics, groping weakly for him.
Between the waists of two paramedics, Loki caught Thor's gaze. His face, his eyes, were terrified, and once again he was the little black-haired boy running through the palace halls. Thor saw in Loki's face the plea for help that had darkened his brow and lined his eyes for years upon years, and yet Thor had not noticed. He saw shame and hatred and so much pain, and yet all were softened by the pure and honest request for help manifested in that outstretched hand.
Thor felt himself presented with a monumental decision. Taking that hand would bring only disapproval from those he fought beside, those he loved most. Taking that hand would mean a loss of trust. Taking that hand would indicate a longsuffering loyalty that he could not afford in this fight.
Thor considered the buildings burning around them, the lives lost in Loki's ongoing bid for revenge. He thought of his team members and the bravery with which they battled the Jotun army. He pictured his father, his wishes and regrets, and his mother, and all she had wanted for her sons. All endangered, sacrificed, jeopardized by Loki. Loki, who now lay at the mercy of a Midgardian medical team. Loki, who was too proud and too broken to take back what he had done.
Loki, who needed his elder brother.
Loki, who had not left him a choice.
Thor took his brother's hand. He leaned in close enough to feel Loki's shaking breath on his cheek. He put his lips to his ear and began to speak softly.
"You have caused me quite a bit of trouble. Your tricks have gotten a bit out of hand, it would seem. You've come a long way from turning wine into vipers. But don't think I've forgotten who you were, brother. Who we were. I pray we both survive this ordeal. I pray we are given a chance to reconcile our differences."
"This changes nothing," Loki gasped, choking in pain. "This…changes…nothing."
"I suppose not," Thor lied, because he knew that Loki wanted Thor to agree with him. Because they both knew that it changed everything. "You remain in my thoughts. You remain my brother. You remain my dearest friend."
Loki's hand twitched in Thor's. With more conviction, he repeated, "This changes…nothing."
Neither spoke again. Neither released his grip on the other's hand until a few lengthy minutes later, when at last the paramedics pronounced Loki stable and prepared to move him.
Loki's gaze was locked on Thor's face as he was wheeled away. "You are a fool, Thor."
Exhausted, drained, Thor's only reply was a sad smile. He looked down at his contorted, swollen fingers. They throbbed and ached in a way not so different from his heart.
"No one knows better than you, Loki," he murmured, and turned away with the weight of his brother's stare on his back.
He would see Loki again soon.
But he would not see his brother again for a long, long time.
In case you were wondering, since it's not stated, the nice circular wound was made by Mr. Tony Stark and his arc reactor unibeam. I hope you shed some tears and maybe threw a desk...you should tell me all about it in a review. C: