A/N: So, feeling a little better, so I thought I'd put up the final chapter. Enjoy!
There was no seeing or moving from one's path while traveling through the Bifrost. They landed within the repaired Bifrost machine with Heimdall standing on the platform, staring at them. Thor turned questioning blue eyes to his brother. Loki stood where he had been put, eyes wide with a multitude of emotions playing through them. He gave a small cough as he tried to force himself to breathe and his brother caught him just as his knees gave way.
The first thing Thor noticed was that Loki was radiating heat. Loki never radiated heat. The dark haired prince curled against him, feeling very fragile in his arms as he buried his head against his brother's shoulder and struggled to breathe.
"What... happened?" Volstagg piped up, apparently the only one willing to break the uneasy silence.
Thor wasted no time in curling his other arm under Loki's knees and lifting him. "The quickest way to destroy ice is fire. Not all of us would have returned if he had not orchestrated such an attack. I must get him to the healers."
Loki offered no resistance. "Thor, I can't breathe." he muttered against the blond's neck, his fingers digging into his back.
"Hold on." Thor shushed him.
"I will ride ahead and have them prepare for you both." Hogun offered.
Thor nodded. "Go quickly."
"Does Odin still sleep?" Sif asked quietly.
Heimdall nodded. "He does. But I do not think he will for much longer."
"Thor..." Loki whispered, his breathing harsh.
"I have you, brother," Thor promised, holding him close. The ride down the bridge and towards the healing chambers was not a pleasant one. Loki would make a strange gasping sound and then go quiet for a stretch of moments, the only indication that the worst had not happened in that his thin frame continued to tremble without fail. He was leaned up against his brother, Thor holding onto him with one arm and the other hand clutching the reigns and urging the horse on as fast as he thought the injured god could handle. Loki's pale skin was beginning to turn tinge red as if he'd spent too much time in the summer sun.
Healers met them on the steps. Rowen, a healer that had often looked after the brothers in their youth, stepped forward. "Get him inside. Get him cooled down immediately," he order the others and turned questioning eyes to Thor. "What happened? I need to know if I am to help him."
"I do not know everything that happened. The last of it was fire. He...he unleashed fire unlike that which you have ever seen. It consumed Frost Giants and ice magic alike. What's happening to him?" Thor asked. Rowen frowned. "Magic has boundaries, my prince, and even the strongest of sorcerers must respect the boundaries he falls within, lest he find himself at odds with his own being. I will presume for now that our clever one has pushed outside his boundaries." the healer turned and shouted to his apprentices. "Run a cool bath, the coolest of water you can manage. Bring me ice wrapped in linens. Go!"
A young maiden apprentice appeared at his side with an arm full of wet cloths. "While the water is being drawn." She said, voice barely above a whisper.
Rowen snatched them from her with a thankful nod and brought them to Thor. "Lay him down here." Rowen motioned to a bed.
Loki was still trembling, but his eyes had slipped close. Rowen and his young apprentice began to remove the outer layer of the younger prince's clothing to reveal a deepening red that had begun to snake out across pale flesh. The healer frowned at it and began to wrap the cool clothes around the dark haired trickster.
"Fetch a bucket of water, won't you?" he asked softly and the girl disappeared, leaving Rowen alone with the brothers. He turned bright blue eyes to the blond. "Your father had no idea how to care for a Jotun child when he brought him here," he murmured, "and he brought him to me. I didn't know any more, but I certainly learned quickly."
"You know, then?" Thor managed.
"The Allfather said that at least one healer must, incase anything happened in relation to his... Well, it's good that one of us did, isn't it?"
Loki gave a low moan and his eyes fluttered open sluggishly. "Thor?" he rasped, searching.
Thor grasped his hand and held it gently. "I'm here, Loki. Rowen's going to help you. You're going to be fine." he said, mustering up the most reassuring voice he could manage. What had he said? Fire was the quickest way to destroy ice, and that which his brother had sent out had returned to him viciously. "Fire magic? That was perhaps not the wisest thing you have ever done, Loki." He murmured.
Green eyes glittered, a momentary spark of his usual quickness. "The unwise choice is perhaps the only one when the life of one's brother is at stake." Loki said in a whisper. Thor shook his head with a rueful smile and brushed his fingers against Loki's brow.
"Odin warned you against that when you were young," Rowen said, almost patiently.
"Must have slipped my mind," Loki answered through gritted teeth.
The apprentice returned with the bucket of water. "The tub is full."
The next several days were spent trying to get Loki's body temperature down and keep it down. He moved in and out of consciousness. Each time he woke he searched for his brother in a near panic. Thor would be there, easily taking one thin hand in his own much larger one and offering comforting words. Loki was dozing when Sif appeared at the door, quietly waiting to be acknowledged. Thor stood slowly and approached, instructing the young healers to alert him if his brother needed him. "Your mother is angry because Rowen will not let her in," Sif said when they stepped out of the room.
"They won't?" She shrugged, glancing in.
"I won't be the one that says she showed signs of worry, but..."
Thor nodded his understanding. "Does Father still sleep?"
"Yes. But the queen senses he will awaken soon. Did Lifa greatly injure him?" Sif asked.
Thor shifted, dropping his gaze. "I do not know the extent of what Lifa did to him. He has not been awake much and the moments he is I do not wish to remind him of that from which we have just come."
Sif nodded, hesitation in her usually determined features. "Loki has always been strong in different ways. I have never seen magic reject him in such a manner." she said carefully.
"His strength is illusions. This is known." Thor said.
"He adapted quickly to the temperatures on Jotun." Sif pressed, watching Thor's expression. She had to remind herself that Thor was currently still king and while she was willing to fight him to the ground as her friend, she was not sure she had the same leeway now.
If she had hoped for a reaction of understanding, she was disappointed. Thor shot her a blank look, as if knowing that she was driving at something and not quite being able to grasp what that something was. She glanced into the room to where the younger prince lay sleeping. Her lips quirked downward at the thought that Thor might not even know the answer behind the question she was trying to ask. Hel, she wasn't sure she knew what it was that she was asking.
"I should go back in," Thor murmured.
"I'll sit with him a bit," Sif found herself saying before she could decide against it. She felt guilty for the ulterior motives, but Thor did look tired after all….
"No. It is kind of you to offer but I will stay with him." Thor said immediately.
Sif reached out as if to touch him. "Thor. You must rest as well if you are to take care of him properly. Get cleaned up and take a few moments rest. If he stirs and calls for you I will come get you right away." she insisted gently.
Thor hesitated, glancing back at his brother, who was, for the moment, sleeping soundly. He glanced back at Sif who nodded encouragingly. Thor sighed. "Very well. I will not be gone long. Should he awaken..."
"I will come myself or have Rowen's apprentice run straight away." she promised.
He nodded at last and was gone. Sif took a deep breath and steeled herself to enter. The absurdity of her questions - accusations? - seemed to grow against her as she stepped closer to the injured, sleeping prince. This was Loki, Odin's younger son. He was odd, different from the rest, but that didn't mean that he didn't belong. She found herself at the bed before she realized and nodded that the apprentice should take her leave to another room unless otherwise needed.
Sif sat in a chair, dark eyes trained on pale features. It was silly. He was small, even for an Asgardian. While others had bulked and shot up in height, he had remained relatively small and thin for their people. He preferred books and magic next to swords and fighting. There was no evidence now that she thought about it to point to the idea that he might be of some other land, much less Jotunheim.
"Don't strain yourself, Sif," a raspy voice startled her, and she looked to notice two green eyes filled with subdued amusement and a smile tugging at their owner's lips.
Sif rolled her eyes. "Merely concerned for your health, my prince."
Loki huffed softly, amusement not fading. "Let us not be coy, lady. You would have been just as pleased to leave me in that forsaken realm." he said, not bothered by the fact that it was true and they both knew it.
Sif tilted her head and sat in the seat vacated by Thor. "Pleased is perhaps too strong a word. I do not wish for your misery, Loki."
"You must wish for something otherwise you would not be here."
Sif watched his gaze drift past her and shook her head. "I am merely giving your brother a moment to wash and eat before he returns." she protested, but knew it was of no use. To lie to Loki was to attempt an accomplishment none she knew had overcome. His green eyes watched her, now, careful, but no less amused. "The spell you cast nearly undid you." Sif said finally.
Loki let a long breath out in the form of a thoughtful sigh. He shifted in the bed, wincing as he did so. "Even I have limits, Sif."
"But what? Do you not have physical limits on your techniques? Do I question it every time that someone bests you?"
"Only because no one bests me," she replied quickly and Loki chuckled. Sif's face remained serious. "My techniques don't come back on me, Loki. I know enough about sorcery to know that something else is at play when that happens to a master."
"What are your driving at then, Sif?"
It was a fair question. Even if she derived confirmation for her thoughts, it would gain her trouble and not much else. Perhaps Thor knew Loki's secrets, perhaps he did not. If she knew them, she would then have to decide whether or not to risk Thor's wrath -or worse- his heartbreak. Certainly Thor would not risk every thing as the standing king of Asgard for a man who was of Jotun and not of Asgard.
Sif studied Loki, and allowed herself to be studied in return. His green gaze was steady, almost resigned. "Of course." she murmured. Of course Thor would risk everything as a standing king of Asgard, but not for a Jotun. He would risk it for his brother and that would be all Thor would ever see Loki as, his beloved little brother. "You are more than you seem. You always have been. You are two sides of the same coin, you and your brother. It is a good thing, I suppose, that you became brothers. I shudder to think what reckless escapades he would not have escaped from without your cleverness to aid him."
"As do I," Loki grumbled, shifting himself as if he were thinking of sitting up. He only got as far as to be propped on his elbows, seeming content to stay there for a moment. "He gets into enough trouble and then decides to drag me along."
"You said that you'd call for me!"
Sif nearly jumped at the sound of Thor's booming voice. He stood in the doorway, mouth obviously full of something and a loaf of bread in one hand. Frigga stood by him.
"Maybe she just wanted a few moments alone with me," Loki said with a mischievous grin.
"Oh shut it!" Sif growled, pushing him lightly. He lost balance and let himself fall back against the sheets, letting out an over-dramatized "Oof!" for her efforts. When she began to look nervous he gave a low chuckle, seeming pleased with the attention. "You are more than welcome to have him back," Sif snapped, standing irritably.
"Are you so easily offended, Lady? Or is it only because you can not wield a weapon against me that you are frustrated so?" Loki asked, eyebrow lifted in amusement. "When you are well, my prince, I will be most happy to spar with you. You may even bring Thor and I will best you both at once. As long as you both promise not to speak." Sif challenged with a false sweetness. She bowed to Frigga as she headed out of the healer's rooms. The queen nodded in return and headed to her youngest son, clucking softly at his attempt to rile the young goddess.
Thor touched Sif's arm as she made to pass him and she half turned. "Sif," he murmured.
She looked up at him out of the corner of her eye. "At least I understand now why he is the only one who can cool you down." she said, a wicked smile flitting across her features. Thor's grip threatened to turn vice like and she slipped away before it could.
"Sif..." Thor said again.
"Fear not, my king. My loyalty lies with you."
"I'm fine, mother. I feel much better," Loki was saying as Frigga fussed over him. He shot a pleading look towards Thor, but quickly realized that he would be of no help as he joined in their mother's troubles.
One large hand went to the side of his face. "Your temperature seems to have gone down finally."
"I just said I felt better, did I not?"
Thor glared unspoken threats against potential lies and took a seat on the edge of the bed. "Father is awake."
He didn't miss the brief look of apprehension in his brother's eyes. "And?"
"And he is overjoyed to know you are both here and safe," Frigga cut her eldest off with a tone that said she was not to be argued with. "He will be down here soon, I'd say."
Loki turned, burring his face in the silk pillow and looking very much like he would simply go back to sleep.
"You'll leave me to face him alone?" Thor chuckled.
"I will provide support from here, on the other side of my eyelids." Loki grumbled.
Thor eased himself into the chair next to his brother's bed after Frigga declined it. "Unless you can sleep like father does I do not think it will help you." he said.
Frigga leaned down and kissed Loki's forehead and smoothed a stray lock of Thor's hair. "My brilliant, impetuous sons." she said fondly. "I will return after your father has spoken with you. Perhaps I will go arrange for you both to have your favorite meals in here tonight, as you are feeling better, my darling."
The brothers murmured their thanks. After she had departed Thor said, "We are very lucky, I think."
Loki could not find it within him to disagree. "What did Sif say?" he asked.
"Oh... Just complaining about how long I took..."
"Don't lie to me, brother. You're not very good at it," Loki murmured, cracking one eye open to look at him. The other slowly joined and he was waiting for his answer.
`Thor tried to look hurt, but managed to fail. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I think she suspects something, brother."
"Suspects nothing. She knows."
"She's no fool. The question that stands is-"
"She said her loyalty lies with me, and mine lies with you," Thor answered without missing a beat.
"You believe her then?" the trickster asked.
"I've never had a reason not to."
Loki sighed, thinking. "Then it's settled."
"What is settled?" Loki rolled his eyes and resisted the urge to pull the sheet over his head.
Thor slowly moved his arm and ever so carefully poked Loki in the arm. "I am not very good at lying to you, this is true, and I am not very good at realizing when you are deceiving or withholding from me but when I sense the opportunity I will surely take it. What is decided?"
"Nothing." Loki said, turning his head away.
Thor frowned and poked him in the arm again. "Tell me."
"Would you kindly stop that? I am recovering." Loki said.
Thor rolled his eyes and poked him in the arm again. "I will continue this course of action until you tell me what I wish to know. What is decided?"
"I never said decided! I said settled!"
"Words have meanings, you dolt!"
Poke. Grin. Poke.
Loki tried to swat his brother away and only succeeded in bringing him closer and the continuation of the poking. Thor was laughing loudly with Loki protesting under a deluge of pokes when the door opened. Neither brother immediately noticed and the chaos ensued for several more moments. Finally the Allfather cleared his throat.
Thor ceased his assault on his brother and tried to look innocent, and Loki froze, one hand gripping Thor's wrist. "Father." They said together. They exchanged quick glances, Loki chagrined and Thor pleased. The blond god stifled a last bit of laughter and Loki swatted him.
It took every ounce of will power Odin possessed to keep the smile off of his face. "I am happy to see that all members of this family are no longer unconscious." he said wryly.
"It is good to see you awake, Father. I was ah, making sure Loki was healing properly." Thor offered.
Loki refrained from groaning.
"And how do you find your brother, Thor?" Odin asked.
Thor considered the question. "I usually find him in trouble."
"This is intolerable." Loki growled.
Odin snorted a chuckle. Everything comes around full circle at least once, and the fact that it had landed there, with his sons on the same side, was well worth any price to pay. "I often find you both in trouble."
Both sons went quiet at these words, Loki visibly sinking back against his pillows. He didn't think that their father would fall for his exhaustion act.
"But we get ourselves out," Thor pointed out seriously.
"By one brother offering himself up so that another can go into enemy territory and together they can kill a queen?"
"In our defense, Father, that was not the original plan," Loki murmured quietly.
"There was a plan?"
"You said we needed to postpone the war. It was postponed."
"I did not say that I would like it put off at the cost of my child's life."
Loki was sitting up now, irritation slowly creeping towards anger. "Do you have so little faith in my abilities? I'm not a weakling that must be looked after!" Thor watched his father and brother, feeling everything that might have been put back together before Lifa's demands now unraveling yet again.
"Would you have me congratulate you on reckless behavior?" Odin growled.
The dark haired prince leapt to his feet, shaking with anger and a different kind of pain. "I'd have you know that I did it for you!" he cried, feeling his strength waver after the outburst. "But that never seems to matter, does it?"
Thor shut his eyes, the outcry bringing him back to the moment on the Bifrost when Loki had been lost the first time.
Odin sighed. "That both my sons be fools. No father wishes their children to be in danger, no matter how strong or brave or quick or clever they might be. The reason why you do things does not alleviate the pain in my heart at the thought of having one less son, or two less. Both of you are precious to me, both of you my sons. You did what few men would do, Loki and that is admirable. My hope is that one day you will not feel you must prove this over and over again. Loki, you are my son. I am proud of you."
Loki wasn't sure when the tears came, or even when Odin crossed the distance between them to make sure his youngest didn't hit the ground when he knees gave way from his impromptu trip from the bed, but he felt his father's strong arms around him and he didn't question it. For the first time since was very young, he didn't question his father's love.
A/N: Hope everyone enjoyed it! There will be a follow-up to this one, but we have two shorts to write first. I'm horrible about wanting to connect all my stories. Gabrielle Day is kind enough to allow me my long-running connections. So, the next two stories will be shorter (we think, not full length like the last two), and will be Pre-Thor and Pre-Avengers.
Anyway, we'll have that out ASAP. Much love!