summary: Instead of only Thor being banished to Midgard, Loki is banished as well. And instead of merely losing their powers, they are both condemned to mortality.
written for a prompt on norse_kink

warnings: I changed some things around so they worked with the plot, such as the difference of the rate of time between Asgard and Earth. With that said, there might be inconsistencies in this fic, all of which I will be looking over and fixing (most likely tomorrow, as it is nearing midnight as I post this...) Also, there is some RPF towards the end, but it's more of a cameo than anything, I guess.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm getting used to writing longer oneshots, which I'm not sure is a good thing or not. o u o;;

How A God Bleeds

As gods, they were immortal - but that did not mean they could not be hurt. Loki is accustomed to the sight of blood, often from whenever his brother returned from a hunt, worn and bruised, as well as the dull sense of pain whenever it is he from whom the blood is drawn. He has never felt anything, though, like the pain that registers in his mind when he opens his eyes and finds himself staring up at a dark night sky.

His head pounds and his body aches, even when he's not moving. Vaguely, he hears someone calling his name - Thor, he thinks - and then a few seconds later he's hauled up to his feet none-too-gently. "Brother," Thor says, eyes wide and wild, grip tight on Loki's shoulder, "are you all right?"

There is a trickle of blood on Thor's temple, and it strikes Loki as odd; has blood really looked that rich before?

"I am fine," he says, stiffly, and steps back from Thor. His muscles flare in protest. Obviously, the fall has affected him more than Thor.

"Then you must help me summon Heimdall," Thor says, eyebrows furrowed, and Loki bites back a laugh.

"Did you not hear Father?" he says, pulling his sleeves up to his elbows. "We are banished, Thor." He mutters a spell, one he knows by heart, and waits for the familiar sensation.

It does not come.

Loki stares down at his hands.

"Brother, my hammer-"

Realization dawns. "Of course," Loki murmurs. He closes his eyes, inhales. "We are banished." Exhales. "You won't be able to lift your hammer, Thor, and my magic is next to non-existent. Father has condemned us to mortality, I believe."

Things are not going according to plan. Loki planned to merely prove that Thor was still unprepared to assume the throne, he hadn't meant to get the both of them banished-

The expression on his brother's face is priceless, and in any other situation Loki would have laughed. But they are human and thus vulnerable, and Loki does not want to die on the account of his oaf of a brother. So he says, "We need to find a place to stay. It is unsafe to be out here." He takes hold of Thor's forearm and tries to pull him in a direction, but Thor stays put.

"I am not leaving Mjolnir here," the thunderer says firmly.

"Did you not hear me?" Loki snaps, green eyes flashing in irritation. "I- Fine." He drops his hand, too weary to argue. It is a struggle alone just to stay on his feet. "You may stay here all night if you wish, but try as you may, you will never be able to lift your hammer." He turns, and his shoulders droop slightly. "At least not yet."

He's only taken three steps away when Thor's hand comes down on his shoulder. "Are you injured, brother?" he asks Loki, and Loki curses the sincerity that rings in his brother's voice.

"No," he grits out.

It becomes one of those rare moments that Thor sees through his lies. A moment later, he feels his arm being slung around a broad shoulder, then the weight ease on his legs as Thor supports him easily. "Better?"

Loki refuses to gratify him with an answer. He points to a dull cluster of lights, buildings in the distance: A small town seemingly planted in the middle of nowhere. "There," he says, and he becomes aware of just how tired he sounds.

Thor nods, staying silent, thank the gods, and together they begin walking towards the town. Sometime between then and their arrival, Thor mutters, "How long do you think this will last, brother?"

It takes a few moments for Loki to come up with a lie: "Not too long."

. . .

The woman working behind the front desk watches them enter (limp) in with suspicion in her eyes. The apartment complex is dingy, with ugly wallpaper and equally as unappealing carpet, but Loki has decided that it will have to do.

"How much is it for a room?" Loki queries, and the woman replies with an amount. He tells her that they'll take it, and she tosses them the key with a, "Rent's due by the end of the month."

The amount must have been large, in terms of Midgardian currency, because as Loki leans heavily on the stairwell, Thor hisses, "And how exactly do you plan on gaining that money?"

"Show a little faith, brother," Loki breathes - and, oh, his chest is hurting horribly and he would like nothing more than to magick these mundane injuries away and be well again.

But he cannot. Loki presses a hand to his side and flinches when he feels that his shirt is damp. He pulls his hand back out, only to see his fingers stained with red.

He doesn't know exactly what the fall did to him, but it has worsened astoundingly.

Thor is rambling about something. He sounds angry.

But the blood is there and it makes Loki feel uneasy, especially at the prospect of being capable of dying. He clutches Thor's shoulder and rasps in a hushed whisper(so as to not arouse any more suspicion from the landlady), "Just take us to our room."

Thor falters at the sight of the younger, and he can't help the sense of protectiveness as he puts an arm around Loki's waist and helps him up the stairs. "This discussion is not over," he mutters gruffly.

It unintentionally is. The moment Thor figures out how to unlock the door with the key, Loki stumbles for the bathroom. He doesn't come back out until an hour later, and by then he has torn his shirt to shreds and used it for a makeshift bandage around his midsection. Thor has drifted off to sleep on the single bed.

Loki suppresses a snort and lowers himself carefully on the ratty couch. He shifts around uncomfortably until he's found a position that doesn't disturb his crude bandages, but even then, sleep doesn't come easily.

. . .

When Loki wakes up the next morning, someone has moved him to the bed and wrapped him in a warm and oddly comfortable sheet. And there is no one else to be the "someone" besides Thor - who, presently, is struggling with the television.

"May a thousand Ragnaroks fall upon this wretched device-" he thinks he hears his brother snarling. He doesn't hear the rest, because then he's laughing for the first time in a while, hard enough to make his sides ache. He doesn't realize he's attracted Thor's attention until he hears him inquire, "Are you all right, Brother?"

"Absolutely peachy," he says, unintentionally snarky. Maybe it's the sunlight. It streams in brightly through the half-drawn curtains, falling across the bed in golden beams. "By the way, that is a Midgardian television, and the off button is the top-leftmost one on the remote - yes, Thor, the one you're holding."

Thor looks at him dubiously for a moment, then seems to figure that if he's feeling well enough to speak sarcastically, then he's just fine, and re-averts his attention to the TV.

Loki pushes the sheet away from his body, only to freeze at the sight of red pooling around his waist.

"I changed your bandage," Thor decides to speak up at that moment, not turning around from the TV.

Relief washes through Loki's veins; the red is merely the fabric of Thor's cape, not blood.

The god of mischief limply falls back onto the pillows, listening to the silence as Thor finally manages to turn the TV off. There's no sound except for some honking outside, until Loki speaks up, "I need actual bandages." And possibly a doctor, he continues in his mind, but he doesn't need to sound any weaker than he already feels.

"You can't go out there in that condition," Thor says, arms crossed and eyebrow cocked in a stance of pure stubbornness.

Loki resents this aspect of his brother. "And you cannot navigate your way through Midgard to save your life," he counters, but it is a lost argument, and he and his aching side know it. When Thor refuses to budge, Loki relents. "I saw a pharmacy last night, about a block down from here. I have a satchel - I think I might have left it in the bathroom - and there is some Midgardian currency that I keep. There should be enough to last us a few days, at the most."

Thor disappears to retrieve said satchel for a moment, and when he returns, he voices the same concern Loki has, "And what if we run out of money before then?"

Deciding that his brother would most likely not be fond of the idea of stealing, the younger brother replies simply, "We will have to work for it, most likely." He pauses, chewing on the idea, deeming it unacceptable, and spitting it out. "But we haven't come to that yet. Please, Thor. Just buy the bandages and come straight back. Nothing else."

And Thor nods in such a way that Loki actually places some trust in him. When the door has shut, signaling Thor's leave, Loki leans back into the pillows, closes his eyes, and submits to dreams - or perhaps they are memories - of Valhalla.

When he wakes again, it is to the sound of the door opening and then being shut loudly. As soon as his eyes are open, it takes all but one glance to for him to realize that it was foolish to trust Thor.

Thor - who is currently carrying a roll of bandages and a box boldly labeled 'PopTarts' - smiles guilelessly back at him. "I have brought your bandages and our lunch, brother!" he exclaims jovially.

If Loki were able to, he would have risen and smacked Thor over the head. Hard. (Unlike many of the Asgardians back at home, Loki is not afraid to cross the mighty Thor.) "Did I not tell you," he hisses, sitting up to glare daggers at him, "to buy bandages and nothing else?"

That elicits a frown from Thor, disapproving, as if it is Loki who has done something wrong.

"And that is hardly a lunch!" Loki continues, his voice rising into an unnatural pitch of hysteria. "Those are pastries - by the Nine, I could have easily made something from scratch, but you've decided to go and waste the little money we have on...pastries!"

"They are quite delicious, you simply need to try-"

"How much do we have left?" Loki demands. There are still so many necessities left to be bought - more food, clothes(they would not blend in well in their armor), medicine.

Thor hands him the satchel, and Loki counts about fifty dollars left in Midgardian currency. He curses long and creatively under his breath.

"Where did you get these?" Thor asks, leafing through the crisp bills.

"From a previous journey." Loki has no patience to deal with his brother's curiosity, so he leaves it at that.

The situation is doing nothing to help keep his stress level down. Neither is the burgeoning pain in his midsection.

Thor offers him one of the pastries - Loki blanches at it and pushes his hand away, instead getting out of the bed, snatching up the bandages, and heading for the bathroom.

The job isn't as messy as it had been, the night before. The gash has begun to heal, although the skin around it was tender and sore from the texture of the cape. Loki gingerly unwinds the red fabric, then begins covering it again with the bandage. He regrets not telling Thor to get something to clean the wound with, but he will live.

When he comes back out, he has calmed down enough to accept a second offer of a PopTart. However, Loki still resolves to shoot his brother a resentful glare behind the admittedly appeasing food.

Thor goes out again later that day, after many promises that yes, Thor will follow directions this time, and no, Thor will not buy any more PopTarts, but (actual food) for dinner and clothes.

"Clothes?" Thor asks before leaving. "Can we not just stay hidden until Father allows our return?"

Loki doesn't like the answer, but it's the unfortunate truth. "It is so we are fitting to apply for jobs." They will be short-term, of course. They will have to make enough to survive for a few days, and for the rent, should they have to stay that long. "Appearance is everything here."

When Thor has left and Loki is alone again, he walks over to hunch over a thick phone book sitting on the bedside table, flips it open, and begins skimming the pages for any job advertisements.

. . .

Thor looks unhappy. He constantly picks and pulls at the dress shirt that Loki is finishing buttoning. "Stay still, will you," the younger brother chides, and Thor merely grunts.

When Loki is finished, he steps back to survey his work.

"Well?" Thor inquires expectantly, putting his arms out. He glances back at the dresser mirror, then back to Loki with an expectant look.

He is wearing a simple white button-up, black pants, and black shoes(secretly the same ones he wore in Asgard, before they were banished). It, Thor explained, was the best he could find without spending too much. Loki was satisfied.

"It suits you," he finally says with a single approving nod. Then he makes his way over to the table, his gait slightly awkward thanks to the bandages around his waist, and grabs a piece of paper that he scrawled a name of a place on. Handing it to his brother, he tells him, "It's only around the corner, but in case you manage to get lost even despite that, this is what the building is called. Ask for directions. Stay off the road. Do not attempt to stop cars."

"I know," Thor says, looking irritated at being treated so childishly. His expression softens, though, when he sees the way Loki's shoulders hunch as he turns away. "Loki," he says, softly, gently, and puts a hand on his brother's arm.

Under his touch, Loki stiffens. "Yes?"

"Do not worry yourself." Thor tries to sound sincere, because he is: He can't stand to see Loki like this, so tense, eyes troubled with problems that they shouldn't be worried about, not just yet. "Try to avoid any strain, and get plenty of rest. Everything will be okay, and before you even know it, we will be back in Asgard."

Loki's heart lodges itself in his throat (This is the same Thor that he was so ready to betray, just mere days ago. This is the same Thor he's convinced himself he's lost, lost to the prospect of hunts, adventures, and others. This is the same Thor he loved dearly before resentment.) He mutters, "You'll be late for the interview" and walks away from his grip.

Thor watches as he disappears into the bathroom. He waits to see if Loki will say any more, but he doesn't; Thor leaves.

. . .

The lady who runs the diner turns out to be a stocky, bright-eyed, brown haired woman who has taken a liking to Thor by the time they've finished speaking. Her name is Hilda, she said, and she's glad that someone has finally taken an interest in the job opening. "I hope your brother feels better soon!" she calls after him with a wave.

Thor quirks a smile and waves back, leaving with a sense of guilt at having to lie to such a nice woman. All the same, when he returns to his and Loki's apartment with a job.

"When do you begin?" Loki asks over their dinner that night (soup).

"Tomorrow. She wishes for me to be there by nine in the morning, and I finish at three o'clock," Thor replies. He adds, a little furtively, "She has agreed to give me an early pay tomorrow."

Loki raises an eyebrow at this, but isn't entirely displeased. The tension in his shoulders seems to ease, as does the way his eyebrows are furrowed in concern. "What did you say to convince her?" he queries.

"I told her that I have only recently moved here with my brother, our parents having died a week ago. I said that you had a grave injury in the hip, and I was trying to earn money to support us."

"You lied," utters Loki, a response that Thor wasn't expecting. There is a strange curl to his brother's lips.

"Yes," Thor concedes slowly. He meets Loki's gleaming green irises. "I suppose I did."

He doesn't understand until later, when he's lying on his side, on the brink of sleep.

. . .

"Remember not to eat the food. It's for the customers, not you," Loki reminded him mildly before he left.

Thor rolled his eyes at the blatant distrust, but that morning, he had no idea how delicious the food would smell.

It's not Hilda who greets him when he arrives, but a young man. "You're the newcomer?" he asks gruffly, slinging a towel over his shoulder. "Grab an apron and help Eileen out in the back." He jerks his thumb in the general direction of the kitchen.

Thor complies, entering the kitchen and grabbing an apron off a hook on the wall. A dark-haired woman, whom presumes to be Eileen, helps tie it around his neck. Then she shows him how the burner works, where the ingredients are, slaps a spatula in his hand and tells him to make the first order.

It ends in a disaster, as well as a giant mess on the cutting table. Eileen laughs good-naturedly in her thick accent and says, "Why don't you just get the ingredients for me?"

By the end of his shift, Thor's hands are sticky from the amount of raw meat he's handled. Hilda emerges from her office as he's hanging his apron back up.

"I hope you haven't been scared away yet," she says with a small smile, glancing pointedly at the man who first greeted Thor.

"Definitely not," Thor assures. Loki told him to do this, to be as pleasant as possible, even if it meant lying. (Not that he entirely was.) "I think I may grow fond of this job in the future." He adds a grin to look even more convincing.

"Good, good!" Hilda laughs, holding her chest as her delicate frame shakes. "We will see you tomorrow, then," she says, eyes twinkling. She presses an envelope into his hands. "Your payment, as agreed upon."

Thor takes it with a grateful bow. "You are far too kind," he says, but Hilda only shakes her head and tells him to go home to his brother.

He still feels guilty for lying, but the way Loki hugs him when he returns almost makes it worth it.

. . .

One time, about three days later, Thor buys a cake on his way home.

When Loki sees him with it, the younger demands, "What is that?"

"Cake," Thor says jovially, refusing to be deterred.

"Why do you have it?"

"Because there was enough money."

"So you decided to waste it on such an artificial-looking thing."

"We are celebrating tonight, brother," Thor says in a voice that leaves no room for argument.

Loki stops, watching as Thor places the cake on the table. "Why?" he finally says.

With a knife he found in a drawer, Thor begins cutting the cake into slices. "We need a reason to celebrate?" he counters.

"Usually," Loki says, adamant, "yes."

"All right." Thor decides to humor him. He brings over two plates and places a slice on each of them. Offering one and a fork to Loki, he says, "For making it this far in Midgard."

Loki's features darken, the opposite of how Thor thought he would react. "That's trivial." He accepts the plate, though, and pokes at the white icing.

"You musn't take everything so seriously, you know," Thor comments through a mouthful of cake. (He's already two bites in.) "Aren't you glad that we're at least together?"

Outside, the wind howls. A droplet of rain splatters against the window, followed by another, then another, picking up speed in a sure sign of a brewing storm.

Loki doesn't look up at him. "We're together almost every day."

"You know that's not what I mean, Loki," Thor says, a frown pulling at his lips. He has grown used to the coldness in Loki's attitude, but it's never really affected him like this before. It's brings a question that he hasn't bothered to ask before: Why is his brother so cold?

He remembers days of exploring together in the woods, of riding through the glades with the sun beating down on them. He remembers Loki's laughter, warm and uninhibited, snatched by the wind that whipped past. He remembers then wonders what happened.

"I'm not hungry." Loki stands abruptly to his feet. He deposits his untouched slice back into the cake and says in a clipped tone, "Save the rest of that for another time, if you don't eat it all up tonight."

Thor looks at him with something akin to sadness, but Loki clenches his fist and refuses to buckle. He grabs a pillow from the bed and makes a place on the couch.

He spends the next hour lying there, feigning sleep, listening to the sounds of Thor cleaning up somewhere in the background. The storm has considerably worsened, the rain now sharp darts slamming into the windows, and through half-lidded eyes, Loki sees the blinds light up in a flash of lightning.

Thunder rumbles at the same time he feels hands under his back and legs, and he shudders into the undeniably warm hold. He feels himself being lowered onto the bed; that's when he mutters, "When will you stop doing that?"

Thor sidles in next to him, their backs pressed against each other. "Never, I'm afraid," is the reply.

Loki forces himself to close his eyes.

Sometime between when the night and the crack of dawn, Loki shifts around and curls in towards Thor's chest.

So does Thor. Loki wakes up earlier before he does and lies there for a few minutes, until he begins to feel Thor rousing. Then he carefully untangles himself from the other and leaves the bed.

(If anyone asks, he will deny.)

. . .

It has been a week and Loki is more than worried.

Despite the fact that they're doing quite well regarding necessities, he feels useless just sitting there while Thor goes out daily to go to the diner. He envies the way his brother comes home every afternoon, smiling as if he has not a trouble in the world.

"Thor," he says on the eighth day, and there is none of the usual sharpness in his voice, just a weariness that isn't in-character for him. When he has his brother's attention, he continues, "Do you think we'll ever go back?"

"How many times have I told you this, Loki?" Thor says with a sigh, his happy demeanor disappearing. He moves to sit on the couch, where Loki has curled up on. "We will return to Asgard."

Loki isn't sure if he's just hearing things, but even Thor sounds discouraged. "Father should have let us return by now," he murmurs, raking a restless hand through his hair. "Or at least attempted to make contact in someway or another..."

"Time passes much more quickly here, Loki. For all we know, it could have only been a day on Asgard. Besides, Heimdall sees everything, does he not?" Thor reminds. "He is most likely keeping watch for Father."

"Everything," Loki echoes derisively. "I wonder if he sees how badly I injured myself." His voice starts to rise. "I wonder if he sees the things that we, the Princes of Asgard, have done, if only to be able to have food on our plates. Tell me, Thor, do you think that he-"

Then Thor promptly silences him by pressing their lips together.

"I do not know," the older whispers when he pulls away, breath hot against Loki's jaw. "All I do know is that I am safe, you are safe, and I have nothing to worry about when I have you at my side."

Loki is frozen in his grip, stock still with face void of emotions. Finally, he rasps, "Even when you don't have Mjolnir?"

He feels Thor's chest rumble in a laugh. "I have survived this long with Mjolnir, have I not?"

There are more words on the tip of his tongue, yearning to be said, but Loki's throat is dry and he suddenly can't find the strength to speak. "We are brothers," he wants to say.

Eventually, Thor gets up to attend to other matters.

(Loki is left wondering that when Thor leaned in to kiss him, if he had inclined his head slightly to meet him halfway.)

. . .

On the tenth day, Loki doesn't have to wear bandages anymore. There is still a dull ache in his side, but it's more than bearable, and Thor is finally allowing him to go outside a ten foot radius of their apartment complex.

On the tenth day, Loki is reading a novel, waiting for Thor to come home, when the door is suddenly open and the man standing there is not his brother. Instead it's a man clothed in all black, face hidden by a mask. (Although he thinks that for a second, the same surprise flickers across the stranger's visible eyes.)

Loki's first reflex is to perform a spell that would knock the stranger backwards, but he is mortal and powerless now, and so he resorts to the only other thing he can think of: Run.

He makes it three running steps to the kitchen, where the knives are, when a bullet whizzes past his head and embeds itself into the wall with a loud bang.

He has a gun, some vague part of Loki realizes.

"Put your hands up!" the stranger shouts.

"All right, all right, no need to yell," he grouses, feigning calm, but his heart is pounding as he puts his arms up.

"Money, jewelry - everything you've got. Get it." The man gestures with his gun, and as Loki moves to comply, he notices that the man is shaking.

He must be an amateur, Loki thinks.

He never thought he would feel threatened by something like this. The first time he felt fear was when he and Thor once accidentally angered a Bilgesnipe, but then again, he knew that if he got hurt, he could just magick his injuries away. In that moment, he is the most vulnerable he has ever felt before.

And he realizes he's terrified.

"Hurry up!" the man orders gruffly. Loki carefully walks over to the kitchen, moving for the drawer. The man throws a burlap sack at him, then lifts the gun back up and aims it square at his forehead. "Everything goes in the bag."

Loki nods, keeping his lips shut tight. He allows his eyes to wander over the set of knives, then to the clock. Thor was due to come home five minutes ago.

"Don't get any ideas." The gun is waved in his face. "I'll blow your pretty face off before you can even think of-"

Loki moves as quick as lightning. Fueled by rage and indignation (and fear), he lifts a knife from its sheath and swings it blindly at the man's face.

The gun goes off again, sending Loki lurching to the side. Ears buzzing, he struggles to get off his knees and defend himself.

He feels the cold barrel of the gun press against his forehead. I'm sorry, Thor, he finds himself thinking, and squeezes his eyes shut.

A few seconds later, the gun fires for a third time, but it doesn't go through his skull. Loki opens his eyes to see Thor pinning the masked man to the floor and landing a solid punch to his face. The burglar appears to go limp.

Thor climbs off of him and rushes to Loki, hands shaking as he cups the other's face, eyes wild and searching, voice frantic as he asks, "Are you hurt?"

Behind him, Loki sees the man getting up again and he pushes against Thor's shoulder in an attempt to get in front of him.

Thor, however, is as stubborn as ever.

He does turn, he does see the man aiming the gun at them, he does realize what is about to happen. He does not, however, move.

The man's aim is shaky, but when he fires, the bullet finds its mark and shoots straight into Thor's shoulder.

Distantly, Loki's mind registers someone screaming - he realizes it's him, calling out his brother's name, over and over, as Thor's body slumps to the floor. "Don't you dare die!" he screams, hurrying to keep pressure on the bullet wound. He completely forgets about the man, who has scrambled to his feet and fled, and becomes aware only of the sickening sight of scarlet spreading across Thor's shirt. "Don't you dare leave me! You promised we'd return to Asgard together!"

Underneath his fingertips, Thor's heartbeat begins to fade.

. . .

Overhead, thunder rumbles. There's a flash, and Loki is thrown back by some invisible force, eyes blinded.

When his vision finally clears again, Thor is standing there in his old armor, Mjolnir in hand, looking just like he did on his coronation day. (When Loki resented him. When Loki had no regrets in betraying him. When Loki thought he had successfully estranged himself from him.)

"Loki," Thor says, and Loki notices the infuriating tone of amusement, "are you crying?"

Loki grabs him by the chest plate and yanks him down into a bruising kiss that is angry and relieved at the same time. "You imbecile," he growls, "you oaf, you idiot."

He tastes the saltiness of his own tears between their lips.

. . .

He doesn't know how Thor manages to get them away from the oncoming police and crowd of spectators, but he does, and a few moments later, they are back in the forest where they were first banished.

"Don't take too long," Loki grumbles as Thor sets him back on the grass. The markings from the Brifrost are still there, intricate designs carved into the earth.

Thor looks at him, surprised. "You aren't coming with me?"

"You may have proved yourself, but that is evidently not the case with me, Thor," he answers, bemused and bitter. He lifts a hand, as if expecting familiar green sparks to come out; nothing happens. "You must go back to Asgard."

Thor scoops him up into his arms again, embracing him tightly. "I will convince Father to let you come back, Loki," he vows against a slender neck. "And I will come back for you myself. I swear it."

"I don't doubt for a second that you won't," Loki returns, and his fingers curl around the fabric of Thor's cape.

Then he forces himself to step back, just as Thor leans in to kiss him. "Come back to get me first," he says, mildly teasing, but there is also something in his voice that prompts a solemn nod from his brother.

"Wait for me, Loki," Thor murmurs, and Loki nods his assent.

It is when the Bifrost has taken Thor up in a column of bright light, when the forest is suddenly quiet, when Loki is walking back to the town when he whispers, "What else is there to do?"

. . .

On Asgard, a war rages.

When Thor first appears back on his homeland, Heimdall slumps to his feet, a sword plunged in the center of his back.

There is a frost giant, a Jotun, standing behind him, eyes red and blazing. Thor slams him aside with a single swing of Mjolnir.

He doesn't understand what it going on until he has killed seven more frost giants and finally met with Sif and the Warriors Three, holding their own in the middle of a market.

His father had fallen into Odinsleep, Sif explains as she wipes blood off her sword. With Asgard's king unconscious and its princes banished, someone managed to find a way to sneak the army of frost giants into Asgard.

"Where is your brother?" Fandral asks, and that's when Thor realizes that he cannot bring Loki back - not when the Gatekeeper could be dead.

"Loki," he chokes out, and his friends have no time to question this before another horde of frost giants roar behind them.

. . .

It takes two months: Battles against endless frost giants with only himself and his four friends to count on. He doesn't know how much time he's missed, but apparently enough for the frost giants to overwhelm Asgard. The only soldiers that seem to be left are the ones protecting Odin.

Thor takes it upon himself to find Laufey.

When he finally does, something ignites in his chest, and he pours every ounce of his strength into killing, into destroying Laufey, and he doesn't stop fighting until he has him pinned to the ground of Valhalla.

Right as Thor positions to strike the final blow, the Jotun king rasps, "How is your brother - my son?" And then he laughs, a sound that echoes throughout the hall of dead bodies(Aesir and Jotun alike). Thor changes his mind then; instead he reaches back, grabs his legs, and twists until he hears bones cracking.

Then he delivers a harsh blow to Laufey's face, effectively breaking more bones and rendering the Jotun unconscious.

But not dead.

And Laufey's words ring in Thor's ears as he gets up from the lax body, Mjolnir in hand, streaked with blood.

. . .

He meets Sif outside. "Where is he?" she pants, sweat beading across her brow. Her breathing is labored and her skin littered with cuts and bruises.

"Inside." And he wouldn't be getting away any time soon. There are is something else, much more important, to attend to. "How is Heimdall?"

"Alive," is the response, and Thor nearly succumbs to the urge to sink to his knees and succumb to the enormous wave of relief.

But he doesn't, ignoring the way his muscles ache in protest. "Find Volstagg and Fandral, and tell them to take Laufey to the dungeon. Anyone and everyone who is capable is to search all over for any survivors. I promise I will return shortly."

Sif calls after him to wait, but he's already heading to the Bifrost.

. . .

It seems to take forever more until he's finally back on Midgard again. He is still wearing his battle armor and caked with dirt and blood and sweat, but he pays no heed to his appearance.

He immediately makes his way to the apartment building and storms past the gaping clerk, almost tripping over his own feet in his hurry to reach Loki's apartment.

When he wrenches the door open and finds it empty, something in him breaks.

The next place he goes to is the diner. He finds Hilda in the front of the doors, locking up.

"Hilda," he says, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Where is my brother?" He knows it's ridiculous, to ask someone who's never even met Loki before. But he's desperate for anything.

"Thor!" Hilda exclaims in surprise, embracing him. She is much more frail than he last saw her, with wrinkles around her eyes that weren't there before. "Wow, I never thought I'd see run into you again! How are you doing?"

Thor's grip tightens on her shoulders. "Hilda," he pleads, "where is my brother?" (-my best friend, my other half, my everything?)

The woman's demeanor seems to sober. ""

"Yes," Thor says, "Loki. His name is Loki. You may have never met him, but surely you've seen him; he is about my height, with black hair, and-"

"I know. I know what he looks like." She steps back, looking down at her hands. "Oh, Thor, I thought you knew-"

"Knew what?" His eyes are wild.

"I... I remember seeing a picture of him in the news, some months ago." She looks up at him, expression distraught. "There was a murder, and-"

"Where is he?"

There is pity in Hilda's eyes. "He...He was buried in the cemetery, I believe. I am so sorry."

Thor stumbles back.

(I am so sorry.)

. . .

Hilda points out Loki's tombstone to him. "This one," she says quietly, standing beside a blank tombstone. "No one knew his name, so they simply left it blank..."

Thor nods. He's biting his lip hard. "If you would not mind, Hilda," he begins, voice thick. He doesn't have to finish; Hilda pats his back comfortingly before leaving."

When he is finally alone, Thor sinks to his knees in front of the grave and weeps.

. . .

As gods, they were immortal - but that did not mean they were exempt from pain, both physically and emotionally.

He visits every year: Whether it's a year in Asgardian or Midgardian time, he isn't sure and doesn't care. Each time, he brings a flower to put on the grave. Each time, before he leaves, he utters the same broken, empty words: "I'm sorry."

When he sets down the thirty-fourth flower, someone joins him.

"Death isn't always a bad thing, you know."

Thor looks up at the mortal man standing beside him. He grunts, turning away and ignoring him.

"Whoever he or she was, I'm sure they knew you loved them," says the stranger in an accent that Thor can't quite place.

Thor clenches his fist. "Let me be. Have you no respect?"

"Oh, I didn't mean to offend!" The mortal is a brown-haired man with green eyes(sometimes they're blue, sometimes they're green - sometimes they're both, Thor will later come to learn). "I- I really don't mean to sound creepy, but I've seen you pass by here a lot, and I've always wanted to say something..."

Thor lifts his head to give him an unamused stare.

"You always look so upset, and I understand that, the pain of losing someone. But sometimes, you have to think, you know - would they want you to never move on?"

He thinks of Loki, bright eyed and cunning.

(And beautiful.)

The man takes his silence as a sign to leave. Thor surprises them both by saying, "Stay."

There is a bench nearby, perched under a tree. They simply sit together in silence until Thor speaks again, "What is your name?"

"Thomas," the man replies with a small smile. "I'd rather be called Tom, though."

"Ah." Thor doesn't provide his own name, but Tom doesn't seem to mind. A few more seconds pass.

"If I may ask," Tom begins furtively, "what was their name?"

"Loki. His name was Loki." Is Loki. Loki, god of chaos and mischief. Loki, his brother. Loki, the one whom he had sworn to return to.

"Loki," Tom repeats.

Thor nods.

"I hope he's happy, wherever he is," Tom says with a wistful smile. There is nothing malicious or mockery in his tone, just sincerity. He folds his hands behind his head and looks up to the sky.

The first few flowers had been blown away as time passed, the others having wilted, but Thor can still imagine them on the grave. There is something in the back of his mind that tells him Tom may be right.

"My name is Thor," he finally says, although why he says it, he isn't sure.

Tom looks back at him, eyes bright. "I know this is quite off-topic, but you just reminded me of this one movie I've worked on..."

Thor finds himself spending the rest of his visit talking to the lively man. As each minute passes, the weight on his heart seems to lift, and the memories of Loki seem to brighten fondness, rather than darkening with regret.

When he has to leave for Asgard, just like he has to every time, Tom asks, "Will you be back again?"

Thor has to think for a few moments. "Yes," he answers, and continues silently, but most likely not here.

Perhaps he will explore more of Midgard. Perhaps he will start reading that novel Loki seemed fond of. Perhaps he'll buy a cake and celebrate for no reason (or maybe for every reason). Perhaps he will meet Tom again.

There is an almost ridiculous sense of liberation within Thor, and when he returns to Asgard, he borrows a book about the travel of souls from the royal library. The next day, he finds himself going to the Bifrost.

(There is something in Tom's eyes that, he predicts, will draw him back over and over again.)