A/N: I'm starting to feel bad about posting things, especially things that aren't relevant to my usual fandoms, or, say, my chapter fics. But it's med school, what can you do. Other than suffer horribly and sometimes write.
Much as I loved the movie - both movies, Thor and the Avengers - the inspiration for this fic came all from a deleted Thor scene. You'll know the one I mean, it's the one goddamn missing part of the movie when you can really see what they were like before the coronation gone wrong. I highly suggest you watch, it gave me the warm fuzzies... as well as the desire to strangle someone. Either the producers for deleting it in the first place, or Loki because he's such an incredible ass.
So I had that scene in mind when I wrote this, because I think it's a priceless piece of characterization. I tried my best to keep them both as true to character as possible here - if you're searching for fluff and easy reconciliation, this is quite the wrong place to look - but since it didn't actually appear in the movie, it's very possible my characterization is off.
In conclusion: Post Avengers fic, Thor and Loki star. Thor is made of win, Loki is made of uh... ambiguous feels. Warnings are for some gore and brothers giving each other a very rough time. Please read, enjoy, and comment if you like.
"You're my brother, and my friend. Sometimes, I'm envious... but never doubt that I love you."
There were no guards.
But then, there was no need. Odin's tower was a tall and gangly spire on the very edge of Asgard, where few ventured and none save the royal family and their trusted companions could lawfully pass. Like a warning finger against the starry sky it had stood alone and empty for ages untold, abandoned by both inhabitants of ground and air. To what purpose it had been built no one remembered, and if they did they never told. Ancient magic still kept most manners of creatures and disasters away, its tendrils wrapped and coiled around the keep, woven into the very stones of the golden structure.
Or golden it had been last Loki had seen. He supposed it might be different now – perhaps brambles and thorns had since climbed its marble walls, warding off the whimsical entrance of passersby, or perhaps it now gleamed a bitter red, a fitting color for the home of a monster.
He would not much mind if that were the case. (Anything but blue would do.)
But there was no opportunity to confirm his hopes; having been kept unconscious for the journey to his new accommodations, Loki had been denied the privilege of such sights as the outside of his lids. The windows of his rooms, albeit present, were useless for determining these matters as they were both much too high and much too narrow, thus limiting his view to the clearing nearby as well as the not so distant horizon.
His quarters were as comfortable as could be desired; spacious and grand and tastefully decorated, furnished with any and all commodities to make one's eternal imprisonment a pleasant one. Frigga's meticulous hand was obvious in the portraits on the wall, the useless keepsakes from his travels, the silk pillows painstakingly arranged on the bed - and all in all the chamber felt not unlike Loki's previous rooms, even complete with a table cluttered with mounds of ink, quills and parchment, as well as books upon books found in any niche that might comfortably hold them.
Most would have thought it considerate. Loki both despised the gesture and thought it his due.
In truth, the one glaring difference between his current quarters and the last was solely the entrance (or, more to the point, the exit) to his chambers, of which there was now only one – an oaken door, teasing him with its nearness, set at the back end of an anteroom Loki could not cross.
Not to say he hadn't tried. The moment his foot had made to venture into the small alcove, however, it had been abruptly impeded by an invisible softness; his hair had ruffled back as if combed through by unseen fingers, and his mind had filled with a gentle white fog that whispered no, Loki and you are loved.
He'd recoiled instantly, suffocated by wisps of tenderness not his own. He did not try again.
There were no guards in Odin's tower. But then, there was no need.
There was plenty to occupy himself with if he so desired; there was an unending supply of ink and parchment, and Frigga had chosen the books well. And yet Loki found himself unsurprisingly restless: however glamorous, a gilded cage remained nothing more than a cage.
God of Lies he might have been, but in this one instance Loki Silvertongue would have preferred the honesty of a dungeon.
And so, as time passed and no one called upon him, he began to turn his thoughts to the somewhat beguiling matter of escape.
It was a delight to find his magic still with him, if, admittedly, much reduced. Loki could divine no reason for it – was it mere thoughtlessness, some remnant of sentiment, or did they really think him powerless inside the prison of Frigga's weavings? Much as Loki had endeavored to disabuse them of the notion, the Aesir ever had a tendency to equate lack of strength with helplessness.
No matter. He rather enjoyed being underestimated.
His great power - for great it had been, great it was - was faint, much of it out of his reach. He could conjure nothing more than a small flame, which, while not utterly useless (as Loki did enjoy a fire at his hearth), had no ability to impact or bypass the barrier. After some attempts he cast aside the idea; Loki generally preferred his quarters unscorched.
In an ideal world - or, rather, in an ideal imprisonment - he wouldn't have even required the use of magic. Liesmith, Trickster they called Loki in Asgard, and indeed it would have been no easy enough to manipulate anyone into releasing him of their own volition. However, the chances for that seemed slim to none at present; Loki received no visitors and no earthly underlings brought his food and drink. Even if they had, Loki had neither invisibility nor the ability to change his form, both of which would have greatly sped the process of tricking a well-meaning servant into releasing the bane of Asgard.
Still, he would have appreciated the opportunity.
So he sought other ways. The windows were too thin for his torso, the walls too sturdy for his fists - crude methods, true, but there was no use for dignity when eternity stretched in front of you like a menacing Jörmungandr - the furniture magicked against breaking, the chimney magicked against climbing.
It seemed as though the only way out was through a barrier he had no power to break apart.
Yet Loki was a student of magic; when force wouldn't do, wile served just as well. There had to be a linchpin, Loki reasoned, a catch, some sort of flaw in the ward's very design which, properly utilized, could make the entire spell crumble. One had only to examine it thoroughly for the back door to present itself.
He stared out the window, lacking though it was, then sighed as he picked up one of many books of magic (it was infuriating, sometimes, how little they thought him capable of) and stepped over a pile of detritus (the byproducts of his sole outburst of frustration, nothing of import) in order to sprawl on the settee. He put an arm behind his head, and nudged the pages open.
He was perfectly willing to work for his freedom, you see; Loki had not become who he was through indolence.
Some weeks after his return to Asgard, Loki's studies were interrupted by the throbbing reverberation of heavy footsteps clanking their way up the stairs.
The sorcerer started at the sudden noise – imprisonment on the edge of the world was, at times, all too quiet – and after a quick moment of indecision, hurriedly jumped over to the sofa, laying his current read open on his lap.
The oaken door opened, and of course, it was none other than Thor.
Loki felt his body stiffen, bu did not allow his gaze to stray from the earmarked page. Nor did he allow Thor to strike the first blow. "Hello, brother," he said, lingering almost fondly on the lie before furtively stealing an assessing glance from under his lashes.
It seemed as though Thor had grown more resilient since Loki had last seen him, however, for no droll change registered on the insipid face.
…Pity. Loki did so love making him flinch.
"Checking up on me? Have you come to bask in the sight of your victory?" he continued, and felt his mouth curl cruelly. "Or would you call it love that draws you here?"
Thor walked gracelessly toward the lone chair on his side of the chambers, expression as inscrutable as if he had exchanged helmets with the man of iron. The massive frame seemed almost ludicrously delicate as it carefully folded itself into the confines of the padded seat, dwarfing it with its mere presence.
It was not until he set Mjolnir on the ground that the mighty prince of Asgard deigned to acknowledge the shameful presence of Loki Silvertongue. "No," the Asgardian said, at last. "None of that."
Loki quickly suppressed the uncomfortable flare of hatred and surprise, as it really didn't do to be caught off-guard by a lackwit. "Well well well, aren't we unusually self-aware today, Thor!" he said, setting his book aside and meeting Thor's gaze head on as he sat up and stretched languorously. "I would offer you a drink in celebration, but then there is this pesky barrier between us. I don't suppose you could breach it for the sake of a congratulatory toast?"
"None but Mother can cease her spells, as you well know," Thor said - literal-minded as usual, wrong as usual. True, Freya's magics were said to be impenetrable, but then Loki had never tried to circumvent them before. Loki was fairly confident in his own abilities - no prison could hold him for long.
Besides, where magic did not work, cunning usually did instead. That he had yet to find a way to successfully use it for escape was but a minor detail.
The presence of Thor was an opportunity, if he could only figure out how.
"Do I?" he mused. "My, my. I've been here so long, it must have just slipped my mind."
Thor and Loki had always had rather differing opinions on what precisely determined success. For instance, where Thor might enjoy sending a spear through Loki's skull, for his part Loki was quite satisfied at the frustration that crossed his guest's abominably dull features as he said, "Enough, Loki. I did not come here for your barbs."
"Oh?" Loki said in delight. "Then what does bring you to my chambers, my dearest Thor? Have you come to enact a touching family moment?" He spread his arms, letting his lips stretch into a shark-like grin. "Shall we bond?"
Thor did not react. If anything, his expression seemed to have congealed, if an expression could be thusly described.
Loki's arms fell after a moment. He cocked his head to the side. "No? Then what is it?" he asked. When no response presented, a frown tugged at his mouth. "You're being remarkably taciturn, brother, it is quite unlike you. I would applaud the effort, had I been better able to determine whether it is by choice or simply the inevitable result of too many blows to the head."
Again he waited, to no avail.
Frown deepening, he walked to the barrier separating them - though he made sure to keep his distance from the blasted thing. "What is this game, Thor?" he said. "I expected you to be at least a touch more forlorn, not to mention talkative. Where are my torn glances? The impassioned pleading? Where's the moving speech where you offer me a path to redemption?"
Finally, a hint of discomfort. Thor's vacuous stare dropped to the floor.
He grasped at the reaction eagerly, however miniscule it was. "Oh I am sorry, your highness," he purred, "did I ruin the surprise? Was I to be redeemed, my soul somehow salvaged from its wicked nature?" Loki clucked his tongue. "Do you truly believe it possible, after all I've done?"
Thor met his eyes. "You would know better than I," he said.
He did not flinch, though it was surely expected of him. "Not a difficult assumption, as I know most things better than you," he said, lightly.
Loki scowled. "Are you humoring me, you great lout?
A raised brow. "Would it please you if I said no?"
He couldn't help a laugh. "What is this newfound wit, Thor? If this is the influence of Midgard, I do regret moving forward with my plans so quickly. Perhaps with more time there you would have at last become a decent conversationalist." His smile was sharp and meant to cut. "Unfortunate you cannot return, isn't it? With the Bifrost gone and the Tesseract in Asgard's possession, the passage to Midgard is quite impossible – and Odin's dark spell could be used only once, in the end."
Thor's face was stony and somber, which was quite disconcerting on one who had always been so quick to laughter and fury. Perhaps this was what passed for devastation on him nowadays, Loki mused, and found himself quite pleased at the thought that his once-brother was broken so.
His smile grew into a smirk.
"Tell me," he said, "do you miss her?"
Thor's eyes widened.
"That mortal girl," he went on cheerfully. "Do you suppose she still remembers you, now that you are forever lost to her? Humans have such short lives, after all, it only stands to reason that their memories are fittingly brief, don't you think?"
For the first time in far too long, a storm brewed on Thor's face. "Do not speak of Jane."
He affected innocence. It amused him to do so. "Oh? Is that her name?"
"I said do not speak of her!" Thor bellowed, fists actually shaking as they gripped the armrests, mouth drawn tight as if the small exertion could have taken its toll on the mighty god of thunder. Perhaps even the memory of her was agony.
What a delicious idea.
"Perish the thought," he said easily. "After all, I'm still waiting for my speech."
Thor gave him a long, searching look. The blue gaze was anything but amused.
"Is that what you'd like, Loki?" Thor said, his speech even and without its usual booming cadence. "A speech? For me to plead with you that you are better than you've shown?"
Loki felt his eyes widen, and so tore his gaze from Thor and fixed it on the nearest window, taking note of Thor from the corner of his eye. It was odd how grim Thor was, he thought suddenly. How lacking Loki suddenly found him.
Odd, how the warrior could seem so small and fragile, when normally he had such presence in all he did.
Was unhappiness truly such a great burden for him to bear?
"Why, no," Loki answered. "What I'd like is for you to leave."
He awaited a stubborn refusal. A retort perhaps, or a hasty, mindless apology. Some pleading - yes, that would be quite satisfying.
The last thing he expected to hear was the high-pitched scratch of the chair on the floor as Thor stood.
"Then good night, Loki. I wish you well."
His head snapped around at the words, but he only caught a glimpse of the red, red cape as it swept away behind the oaken door.
It must be a trick, he reasoned. Some new approach. Thor would never leave so easily. Thor would never give up on Loki without a fight. Thor would never not fight.
It must be a trick.
He stood there for a long moment, ready to whip out a retort at a moment's notice, but the door did not open again.
Well. Mouth pursed, he shrugged to the empty room. Good riddance, Loki thought, and turned to his books. They were, after all, far better company than the golden prince of Asgard.
He sat at his desk, and stared at the pages.
Yes. Far better.
"Good riddance," he said viciously, and forced the disquiet from his mind.
When Thor came again three days hence, Loki refused to indulge him in conversation.
…This would have been far more satisfying had Thor attempted one.
After several such meetings where Thor simply watched Loki and Loki simply ignored Thor, the Asgardian heir at last raised his voice.
"You seem content," he said.
"Perhaps imprisonment agrees with me," Loki said absently, turning a page with his quill.
He could very well imagine his brother shaking his head – slowly, thickly, as he often did, as if what little brain he had might escape him otherwise. And this was to be the king of all Asgard. "No. You have some mischief planned."
How well you know me, Loki thought dryly, but only said, "Don't I always?"
Later, he told himself he must have imagined the small smile on Thor's face.
The next time, Loki was the one to speak, as he'd always enjoyed satisfying his curiosity and patience was not among his favored traits. "You never were one to sit still. How do you bear it? What is it you think of?"
Thor took his time answering. "My mistakes," he said at last. "I think of my mistakes."
He raised his eyebrows. "All of them? No wonder it's taking so long."
Loki did not feel the need to press further.
He grew to expect Thor's visits, for Thor persisted in coming often and with some regularity. He couldn't quite fathom why the Asgardian did so; Thor surely obtained nothing from it, for they rarely spoke and never to any satisfaction. Certainly Loki hadn't given him the slightest indication of regret.
Perhaps it was on Odin's orders. Perhaps Thor was to ensure the prisoner remained in the inescapable cell. Perhaps Thor thought Loki might forget his irritating face did he not come visit.
Perhaps Loki could have asked, but that somehow seemed unsporting.
Sometimes, after a long stretch of silence, Loki fancied Thor was nothing more than a vengeful ghost come to haunt him, kept away only by virtue of Frigga's wall.
It was a ridiculous thought - clearly his isolation was beginning to affect him - yet somehow unsettling all the same. Loki watched Thor carefully, warily, but the prince always seemed as solid as ever, walking as any other man did, both feet firmly set on the ground.
No, Thor appeared to be nothing more than flesh and blood. Loki couldn't quite decide whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Slowly, the days between Thor's visits began to lengthen.
"What took you?" he asked irritably, when Thor finally condescended to cross Loki's threshold after a whole week's passage.
Thor sat at his chair with a sigh - one might have thought he was Odin's age, Loki thought uncharitably - then looked back at him. "Pining, Loki?"
…He refused to talk to Thor for an entire fortnight after that.
Loki had never known Thor to be pale. And yet as he staggered through the doorway with sweat on his brow and a tremor in his legs, the summer prince was white as bone, golden tan fairly leached away from his skin.
"Are you all right?" Loki asked, resting his chin on a fist, reinventing himself as the very picture of boredom.
Truth be told, though, he was rather glad for the interruption. Frigga's selection of books was proving lacking after all.
Lightning flashed in Thor's eyes, the first hint of spirit Loki had seen in a long time. "Spare me your false concern," he rumbled. "I'd rather receive none."
Loki arched an eyebrow. Perhaps Thor was learning, he thought idly. "I assure you, my concern for the carpet you're about to bleed on is quite genuine," he said. "I'm not quite sure how I might clean the stains, you see."
Thor frowned, and then gazed down at his tunic with the stony blankness that had lately become far too familiar. His fingers traced his right side hesitantly, as if one might somehow mistake the location of an injury on their own person, and then reemerged, glistening in the cold morning light.
The bright red on Thor's hand made Loki wonder, vaguely, what color ran through his own. For all their battles, he had never seen a frost giant bleed.
Perhaps they couldn't.
When Thor appeared able to do nothing but stupidly stare at his wound, Loki rolled his eyes. "Go to a healer, Thor, you're no fun like this," he said with a sigh, tapping the excess ink off the end of his quill. "It is beyond me why you chose to come at all."
Thor did not even do him the courtesy of pretending to heed his advice. But then Thor had always been particularly thick.
For the first time in a very long time, Loki glimpsed the beginnings of a grin on Thor's face. "Ah," the Asgardian said, "but I would so hate to deny you the pleasure of my company."
The grin turned blinding. Loki looked back to his notes. "What pleasure?" he said in annoyance, deftly regaining his footing. These were old, oft-traversed grounds, after all, and their banter was but a familiar game. "I much prefer quiet over your senseless bellowing, however diminished it be of late. I can very well live without your dull visits, Thor, never think otherwise."
"I don't doubt it, Loki," Thor said, much too easily. "But the way back is long, and I'm afraid there are far too many stairs in your tower for my liking. It would be remiss of me to exert myself in this condition," he said, voice mockingly grave, eyes twinkling with amusement as if it were all a grand joke, as if blood wasn't running down his shirt to drip onto the floor.
"Is this some sort of performance for my benefit?" Loki wondered aloud. "If so then I assure you, your play at the stoic warrior has long ceased to impress me."
"I did not know it had ever impressed you," Thor replied, and bled.
His eyes narrowed, yet he held his tongue as he considered his guest for a moment. "What happened?" he asked. "Frigga could heal you, why not go?"
Something Loki couldn't recognize flashed in Thor's expression. "'Tis an old wound. Mother's magics would do naught even did she know."
Loki felt his forehead wrinkle. "Meaning she doesn't? This foolishness is new, even for you."
Thor sprawled back on the chair, gazing at the ceiling as if it could somehow better hold his interest than Loki. The trickle of red began to pool anew on a different tile. "There are things worse than physical pain. I would spare her."
It was so beyond the grasp of Thor's abilities to conceal – he lacked the wit, the magic, the tongue for such things – that the mere thought of him deceiving anyone was absurd. And yet what other possibility was there? Frigga would not knowingly let her trueborn son die. Odin would not let his only heir fall. Heimdall would not allow the death of his prince.
It was impossible. "Thor, do you mean to imply no one knows about this?"
…Not that Thor's wounds could be all that grievous, of course. He did have a penchant for exaggeration.
"None but a healer I've sworn to secrecy, and she believes I've made a full recovery," Thor said, volunteering his answer as freely and thoughtlessly as ever, behaving as though Loki could still be confided in and hadn't, in fact, attempted to eradicate him from existence once or twice.
Thor's naivete had always vexed him in their youth, and for some reason persisted despite the many times Loki had berated him for it.
At least now it worked to his advantage. "Your idiocy never fails to amaze, brother," he smiled, shaking his head. "Even I had not dared dream that the mighty Thor would willingly risk Asgard losing its heir. And in such a cowardly fashion, moreover!"
The illustrious prince did not rise to the bait. Perhaps he did not have the energy.
Or perhaps he could not deny what was true.
His expression tranquil, Thor simply shrugged. "I'm glad I was able to surprise you."
Loki scowled. He could put up with much from Thor, but indifference was always unacceptable. "How positively verbose you are when injured, brother," he hissed. "Had I known, I would have attempted it when you first became so disinclined to speak to me."
Thor's grin reappeared, brighter than ever even as he continued to bleed. "Missed my voice, did you?"
His hands clenched into fists under his desk, away from the prince's eyes.
"How could I?" he grit out. When did Thor – brutish, churlish, mindless Thor – grow capable of getting the best of him? "You've visited so irritatingly often."
"Sorry." Thor smiled faintly. "I expect that shall soon not be a problem."
"Oh, and there you go again," he rolled his eyes, instantly at ease once more. Shuffling his papers, he made as if to return to his notes. "Don't think I don't remember Alfheim. Every scrape is a life-threatening wound with you, isn't it?"
The grin disappeared. "I have not your tolerance for pain, I admit," Thor said, his forehead beading with sweat. "Though I grieve that it is so."
Laughable. "That you are not better than me at this one thing, you mean?" he said bitterly. "Of all skills. Isn't that just like you, Thor." Only he would confuse survival with heroics.
Thor shook his head. "That you had to be so hurt to come by this knowledge," he replied quietly. "That you had to come by it at all. That will always be my burden to bear."
A phantom pain pricked Loki's lips, though the scars had long since faded. He refused to flinch, and decided that a glower well served his purposes. "Your burden? Don't you dare mock me, Thor," he said, words oily and pleasant. "I came by my pain through my own choosing."
"Mock you?" the prince said, a puzzled look resting upon his overly large face. "No, that is the last thing I want to – "
He stopped, eyes widening for a split second before he began to snicker breathlessly, shoulders actually quaking with mirth as if he was again but a boy with tousled hair and rosy cheeks who had no greater worries than stealing sweets from the palace kitchens.
"Stop," said Loki, after minutes passed and Thor's helpless laughter had yet to abate. He suddenly felt rather like a child himself – like he had only to stomp his foot on the ground to summon the days when a large hand could pry his fists away from his brother. "Stop it, Thor!" he said, the words spilling out of his mouth for their familiarity. "Just what is so amusing?"
The chortling turned into hacking coughs. Loki waited for them to subside completely.
…Thor was not his brother. Had never been. There was no use in remembering falsehoods that had never meant to be.
He shook his head at himself. Gathering his composure, he said then, "Thor – "
"I was angry with you," Thor interrupted, and from his expression one might have thought he had never laughed.
Loki did not move. Could not move.
"You've done such terrible things, Loki," Thor said. "You've murdered innocents. Made war with Midgard. Forced people to your will, and tried to kill the ones I love." He drew in a long, rattling breath. His face, which had once been so very open to read, turned inwards. "I am not blameless. I - I know I slighted you. Perhaps I made your very life a misery, unknowing, all those years."
Thor paused. The familiar face was cast in shadow, its expression dark and turbulent, and for the life of him, Loki could not tell what Thor was thinking.
"And yet you took your vengeance upon those who did not deserve it. Loki, I cannot… I cannot understand it. I am not wise like our father, I cannot tell what was accident and what was meant, what was trickery and what was truth. I have no way of knowing which actions were madness, which revenge. I am not our father, and I am not you."
Thor gazed at the ceiling. His smile was crooked. "You once told me never to doubt, brother. But now… now I find I cannot help it."
Throat working, Loki swallowed and looked aside, forcing his whitened knuckles to loosen their grip on his notes. Only Thor could sound like that, he thought furiously. Only Thor could believe there was fault to be had for doubting the brother who'd tried to kill him, only Thor would be foolish and stubborn enough to attempt to construe Loki's actions as anything other than the obvious.
Only Thor could sit there, bleeding, and meet Loki's gaze without hatred.
"Why come at all, then?" he said tightly, and meant why keep visiting, why even start, after everything I did? Why do you simply sit there, time after time, and stare at me as though, as though I am both a stranger and your dearest companion still –
"Because you are my brother, and will always be so." Thor's smile turned faint, lonely, and Loki despised him then as he never had before. "And if I am to die, it might as well be here, where I can see your face and you can finally be at peace."
It took him a moment to find his voice, but find it he did. "Such selflessness. You talk too much for a dead man."
"Rest easy, Loki," Thor said. A droplet of burgundy painted a narrow trail down his chin. "It won't be long."
And the worst of it wasn't the condescension, which Loki loathed well enough; but that even now Thor's whisper was laced with undeniable fondness, though he knew perfectly it was not returned, and would never be.
It was sickening.
"Enough with your dramatics," Loki said, suddenly weary of the conversation. Usually Loki enjoyed curiosities, but when it came to Thor he had no such patience. "Go and see Mother if you are indeed so affected."
Thor's gaze traveled to his hand, still uselessly attempting to stem the flow of blood. He made no effort to move, and said instead, "I think that is beyond me now."
Loki found himself standing. "You dimwitted fool!" he said, nails digging into his palms. "Stop this – this pretense! Leave, or you will – you will – "
He faltered. What was he doing?
Thor squinted over at him, and seemed equally mystified. "Peace, Loki."
Loki snapped. "Do not presume to silence me!"
An odd look passed over Thor's brow before his face suddenly cleared of its premature lines. "Of course not," he said quietly, as if Loki might need some vapid reassurance from an imbecile to pacify him.
He swallowed a well-deserved retort. Noticing himself stalking back and forth across the room, he immediately ceased and turned his back on his once-brother.
Loki opened his mouth, closed it. Shut his eyes a moment, drew a breath.
"You cannot mean to die here," he said, at last.
A tired chuckle. "I do apologize for the carpet, brother."
He spun around. This was ridiculous. Thor was laughing – Thor was laughing at him! "You're not even in pain!" he accused.
There was bafflement in his brother's gaze, and for a moment Loki was glad – anything was better than indifference. Than apathy.
…It was a brief moment.
"I am always in pain," Thor said. "Was that not your plan?"
He choked, lies and truths caught in his throat.
"Loki," he said, voice kind. "This is a wound no healer can treat." He paused, and for the first Loki could discern a strange sort of steel in his gaze. "As you should well know, for it was given to me at your hands."
It was in Loki's nature to think ahead.
He'd used to think it was a trait come from Odin, as certainly few Asgardians displayed such abilities. Thor was capable of brilliant leaps of strategy, but far too apt to charge headlong into a situation and trust the might of his hammer to pull him out. Loki, meanwhile, knew how very important it was to account for all possibilities, all paths one might traverse, and his foresight had often come in handy in his old campaigns with Thor, making all the difference between clear-cut victories and the times they'd escape death by the skin of their teeth.
Not that his once-brother had ever appreciated it overmuch, as his inexplicably warped sensibilities rendered the latter a far more enjoyable experience; as he liked to proclaim, the greatest adventures were not well-executed plans, but rather a warrior's reactions to the unexpected.
(I hate the unexpected, Loki would mutter in response, to which Thor would always laugh heartily, and reply, and yet you seem to enjoy springing it on others well enough, brother)
And so when he'd declared war on Midgard and its protectors, Loki had installed certain safeguards in the event of his defeat. Not that he'd planned on losing, despite what certain (dead) Midgardians might have implied - but he did acknowledge the possibility, simply because it'd be poor planning otherwise. After all, it was necessary to think through likely scenarios in order to deal with them appropriately if and when they arose.
Being used as a plaything by the green beast had come as a rather large surprise.
Once Thor made his entrance Loki'd had to improvise quickly. He'd realized during their rather lackluster reunion that with the Asgardian's presence and unmistakable intentions, there was a very real chance that upon losing he would be returned to Asgard.
That was unacceptable, for obvious reasons. Loki would have gladly met his fate in Midgard, in his own times and on his own terms.
But he had not crossed worlds and galaxies, mustered an army and come this far, only to be returned to Asgard to be executed or imprisoned for all eternity.
The Other had offered an amenable and timely solution in the form of sabotage. Chitauri poison could easily kill weaklings and mortals; this Loki knew well enough from his own time with the largely mindless race, for its use was frequent in their frequent wars. In Thor - the mightiest of Asgardians - it should have instead produced a terrible, lengthy illness no Asgardian could cure. Not a healer, not Frigga, not anyone who had not spent a year with the Chitauri.
And so, with no choice left, they would have turned to Loki.
It wasn't meant to be - the idiot wasn't supposed to stay silent -
"You didn't know," Thor observed, and even now his hoarse voice was the very personification of thunder.
The remark grated, yet it was only the stark truth. When nothing occurred, no symptom making itself obvious, no agony making its way to Thor's completely unremarkable features, Loki had cursed Frigga's powers and promptly cast the ploy for his mind. His was a practical nature; he had very little use for failures or the recollection thereof.
To think that it had succeeded, after all... It was nothing short of absurd that he – Loki Liesmith, who prided himself on his mastery of subtleties and deception – could so utterly fall for Thor's tricks. That he who so enjoyed being underestimated could misjudge his brother so badly.
That he might have miscalculated.
Was this Midgard's influence? Were those Midgardian warriors to blame for Thor's silence?
Was this Jane's doing?
"I thought it didn't work," he said. What a wretched failure this escape attempt turned out to be. "It should have taken effect immediately."
"Perhaps the poison of the Chitauri was not meant for Asgardian blood, Loki," said Thor, "but I cannot deny its effectiveness."
Loki looked into Thor's unflinching blue, and for the first time since Midgard did not need to suppress the desire to run away.
If Thor died, Loki's freedom died with him.
"And you mean to tell me," he said, "that all this time, your wound did not heal?"
"How could you hide it?" Loki said, and did not say, how could you hide it from me?
Thor heard it anyway. "I suppose no one thought to look," he said.
The words should not have stung. And so they didn't.
"But you did not think to – " He frowned. "You did not even try to find a cure?"
Infuriatingly, Thor did no more than shrug wearily. "At first."
"You fool," Loki said dangerously. "Why didn't you come to me?"
Thor's pale hand clutched tightly at his wound, trembling. Blood tinged his lips scarlet."I did not believe I could."
...Well. Loki supposed that was fair. "What on earth were you thinking?" he shouted.
"That Asgard will not stand for a king who slew his brother."
Loki's blood froze in his veins.
It must have been centuries since Thor had last managed to surprise him, more since Loki found himself successfully confounded by his childhood companion. Yet this – this, these words, spoken quiet and matter of fact as if they were only to be expected – staggered him. Thor intended not merely to deceive his friends and family in the hopes of sparing them the pain of grief and betrayal; he meant to swindle an entire realm into believing Loki innocent of his death for the sole, misguided belief that Loki would one day be worthy of a throne.
That Loki might someday, of his own volition, choose to come home.
If it hadn't been absurd in its very core, in its very premise, Loki might have admired the sheer gall of Thor's scheme. The very fact that Thor had a scheme in the first place should have been remarkable in and of itself.
But Loki was no pawn; not of Odin's, and certainly not of Thor's.
He stared, then scowled. "Are you mad?"
There was no reply. Thor only watched him, his lightning-bright eyes clouded with what Loki knew now to be pain.
Perhaps he should have been overjoyed. Here was his enemy injured, defeated, practically tossing the crown to Loki's feet. Here was Thor, arrogant, dimwitted Thor, at last capitulating - and moreover, willingly, foolishly granting Loki the victory he'd never even dared to dream.
…Here was his brother, once again foiling Loki's plans with nothing more than the simple abdication of common sense.
"Have you gone mad?" Loki repeated, stepping forward, sorely missing his scepter. Because this was, frankly, insulting. "Answer me, Thor!"
Thor did not startle. "No more than you," he said.
Anger rushed his veins – yet it was an old friend, one who, like Loki, was well accustomed to captivity; Loki turned from Thor and forced smooth the planes of his face, carefully loosened his fingers from their fists.
"You'll never see her again," was what he chose to say instead.
Thor's reply was shaky, but lucid. "I know."
There was no reason why that should have tipped the scale, but for a moment, Loki could not even speak for sheer, unadulterated fury.
"As ever, I have underestimated the magnitude of your foolishness," he said, wrath barely contained beneath his words. "You don't trust me to heal you, yet you trust me with your beloved Asgard? Are you really so naïve, Thor? What makes you believe I would so easily forget an entire realm's transgressions against me when I have yet to forget you yours? You pathetic witling, why should I not let Asgard fall? Why should I not destroy it myself? Who will stop me?"
A soft noise.
Loki laughed cruelly, mercilessly. "Your conceit knows no bounds, brother. You think to give me a kingdom?" he said, smile dripping with that combination of disdain and plastic affection Thor had ever loathed. "What benevolence! As if I have need of your charity, as if I could not take myself what is rightfully mine! You blind, deluded fool, still pretending I am not your equal – more than your equal!"
The words hung in the air like fish on a line, curling and twisting in the resulting hush. Loki was glad he could not see Thor's expression. The draft from the hearth was almost nonexistent, leaving everything stolid and thick and all the more brittle for it, threatening to falter under the weight of past disappointments and triumphs, the burden of words spoken too soon, gestures put forward too late.
And Loki had enough of it all. "No," he snarled, his hand cutting away at the air sharply before once more tightening into a fist. "No, you will not die today. When you die, Thor, it will be in front of all Asgard, and none shall doubt that I have bested you."
When Thor continued to say nothing, he turned his head. "So silent? Are we back to these games, then –"
…It was strange, it was beyond strange, to see Thor so still. His hands, no longer clutched to his side, had instead fallen limp, the rugged knuckles of one barely scraping against the floor while the other curled slackly across his lap. The tension that had always radiated through the coils of muscles was finally, somehow, gone and vanished. Drained. The only movement was that of the rivulets of red, dribbling down to where pools of blood had webbed into one.
There was no color to his face.
"Thor," Loki said.
If his eyes had remained closed, Thor could have been asleep. It would have been a familiar scene, then – Loki might have sighed in comfortable exasperation and turned back to his studies, cursing his brother for the thickheaded dolt he was under his breath, and in a few hours' time Thor would have awoken with a massive yawn, grinning idiotically as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
He could have been asleep.
"Thor?" Loki said, louder. "Wake up."
…If only they had remained closed instead of lingering halfway open, slivers of brilliant blue staring sightlessly from underneath long dark lashes.
Loki might have been able to pretend, then.
His face twisted without permission, but for once Loki did not care. "Thor!" he said again, voice twisting, his fingers raised, reaching for that figure sitting so near and yet so entirely beyond his grasp.
It was a demand. An order.
Wake up, Thor.
But Thor did not reply.
A haze; Loki no longer knew what he was doing, only that his desk was suddenly in shambles and he was running, running – without warning he found himself at Frigga's barrier, the same horrid thrice-damned wall which had terrified him from the first, and yet he did not hesitate, could not hesitate before putting through a hand, a foot, the whole of himself.
There was no choice, somehow. If truth be told, there had never been.
The hated white softness settled over him instantly, pressing its fingers across his scalp in warning. Loki, it said.
He swallowed. "Quiet," he forced out the command, and instantly the world seemed to constrict; Loki's heart beat loudly in his ears, and he knew fear as he rarely had before. "Leave me be."
Loki, it said, gentle and warm as it coaxed him backwards. My son. You are loved.
"Enough!" he yelled, words ripping out of him as he tried to fight his way through, bear past the mindless panic, the gripping pain. His deeper magics were as unreachable and useless as last time, but then again, last time he had nothing for which to fight. He tripled his efforts, tore and scratched at his bindings like a mad beast. "Let me go, you wretched thing, let me –"
You are loved.
The fog was slowly lifting from his sights – he could not be stopped, not now, he could just barely make out the bloody and lifeless hand, the ashen and lifeless face – Thor was just over there, scarcely a foot away – lifeless – "Stop – stop it! Let go of me, let go! Let me go to him!"
Loki, it repeated. Loki, you are loved, you are loved loved youareloved –
"I KNOW!" he screamed, and pushed.
And he was through.
Entirely unprepared for the lack of resistance, Loki fell to Thor's feet with a crash. He struggled to his knees as soon as he was able, made himself crawl to his brother's side. Dignity didn't matter; there was no one to watch.
The infernal hammer was as ever in his way, and so Loki tossed it to the side where it clattered loudly against the stony wall and was promptly forgotten about in favor of more urgent matters. Thor's forehead felt cold and wet to the touch - Loki cursed and quickly grasped the clammy hand, squeezing it harshly.
No response. Barely any warmth was left on the cooling skin, and what had remained was rapidly escaping. The hand itself was far weaker than a god of thunder's hand had any right to be – and if a pulse remained, it was by but a thread.
No. Fingers shaking, scrambling for purchase, Loki managed to raise Thor's shirt, couldn't care less when it stuck at parts to the chilled skin, lifting forcefully regardless of the pain it must have caused.
Might have caused, if Thor yet lived. No protesting cry fell from the colorless lips.
…Foolishness. He tore at the filthy bandages with even less regard, impatiently unbinding them from his brother's torso.
A crumbling chunk of coagulated blood cascaded to the ground as the last was removed, and Loki held back a startled cry. For an endless moment Loki only stared at the glistening flakes of black at his feet, his brother's diseased blood, the thin line of his mouth trembling at the corners, as Thor's could not.
His last meal threatened to rise up his throat at the sight, the smell, but Loki steeled himself with a ragged breath and set aside the shock and revulsion. He could not afford to be distracted.
Loki peered at the injury with an objective eye. It was no shallow wound, though small, its complexity expounded by the process of healing having been prolonged and distorted by the poison. He could not tell which organs were affected - indeed, this late in the game, they likely all were.
Thor's flesh should have knitted itself together long ago, and yet where muscle and skin were meant to be found dark and gelatinous crud persisted instead, inhibiting the body from bridging the gap. The edges of the tear itself were jagged and serrated by virtue of the unique dagger Loki had used, but it must have been some effect of the poison that had caused them to be painted in a cruel necrotic black that made the back of his neck crawl.
A scar was the least of their worries. Loki dug his fingers into the jagged incision, excavating the infected blood and pus as deeply and thoroughly as he could.
Then, at last, raised his other hand, and called forth his magic.
It might have been hours; it could have been weeks. Loki had no way of knowing. He was lost to the ether, the current punishing its way forward between him and his brother, connecting them through a shimmering mist of green. He delved into his brother's skin, pushing to the back of his mind the sense of a body not his - the distinct feeling of wrong, the impression of death, the vast and utter stillness that could not be Thor, would never be Thor for as long as Loki could help it.
Loki could no longer feel his own body, so immersed was he in his brother's pain.
He wove. He knit. He tore. He built. He gave it his all. Only at the very last did Thor's tissues begin responding, sluggishly stirring at his call for aid. It was the first encouraging sign – the only encouraging sign – and he took it as indication to rush forward, summoning everything that was left of his reserves.
…But, all too soon, nothing was left.
The melding broke with a last crackle of spent power, jolting him back to himself.
Trembling from exhaustion, Loki sat back on his heels, placing a shaking palm on the bloody floor in order to keep his balance. He brushed scraggly strands away from his eyes and scrubbed at his damp face with a dirty sleeve, mouth forced ajar as he panted and wheezed painfully. Each breath was a struggle. His body felt like one continuous bruise; his head was on the verge of exploding, while his chest felt exorbitantly tight and ached fiercely, suddenly far too small for the heart it held.
It was as if his body no longer knew how to bear being less than two, and so had decided not to bother functioning for one.
He couldn't quite make himself care.
Wet ran carelessly down Loki's stinging cheeks. He shut his traitorous eyes, throat constricting, but there was no point - there was no point - and so he simply gave in and collapsed forwards, his forehead falling to rest on a cold and unfeeling thigh.
Everything hurt. He stayed as he was, motionless, feeling only distantly as his heartbeat began to slow from its panicked frenzy.
…He hadn't finished. His magic had depleted itself before he could. Thor remained just as pallid, just as motionless as before, the blank eyes yet gazing ahead vacantly, empty of anything resembling worth or honor or kindness. His organs had recovered, the wound had been closed into a blackened lightning bolt of a welt, and yet all that meant nothing.
Nothing, when Thor was already dead.
Thor. The only one to love Loki guilelessly, boundlessly, wholeheartedly. The only one fool enough to always forgive him without a second's thought.
Empty. Loki choked back a noise, not wishing to hear what his cursed silver tongue might sound like with his brother gone. Not wanting to discover whether it was a cry or a scream or a laugh bubbling, roaring behind his tongue. Not knowing if, once started, he could ever bring himself to stop.
Perhaps he shouldn't have bothered. There was no one left to deceive.
All his cunning, and Thor had been in the right. Poised on the very brink of success, and instead – instead –
His head snapped up.
Frigga. Odin. Sif. The Warriors Three. Each one staring, eyes wide in horror.
It was not unlike the sight that had greeted him when he and Thor returned to Asgard. When Odin had pronounced his judgment.
...He'd go back to that horrid day in an instant if he could.
"Loki," Frigga said again, and it was as if his name had been shredded from her throat.
He avoided her gaze. For once there was nothing to say, no explanation to come forth. What did they see when they looked at him? Blood on his hands, crocodile tears on his face. Loki Laufeyson, gone mad at last, weeping shamelessly over his vanquished foe.
Unless, of course, it was a trick.
Sif's heated, accusing glare certainly seemed to imply such thoughts crossing her mind. Thor's other companions yet rested their eyes on their fallen leader, anguish and disbelief both etched unto their faces as they traced the still features, pained and noble even in death. Fandral's knuckles were white as he clutched his sword, his other hand clenched into a useless fist. Volstagg's eyes glistened even as his feet turned subtly into a ready stance, prepared as always for battle.
Hogun only glowered unflinchingly, and yet Loki knew he was the most devastated of the three.
He needed to escape. Use whatever measly scrap of magic was left to him and vanish someplace he could never be tracked to, someplace from which he could never return.
But all his magic had been spent on Thor.
And there was no returning from this, in any case.
...Funny, really. It was only now that Loki felt helpless.
Odin's one eye pierced through him with a glance as it had many times in his youth. As ever he could not tell what the king of Asgard felt, whether it was rage or grief or disappointment at losing his beloved son, his one trueborn heir, but the familiar mouth tightened in pursuit of some inscrutable emotion as his clenched fist fell to his side.
It reminded Loki painfully of Thor.
"My sons," Odin said as if to himself, gaze traveling between them. "My foolish sons. What have you done?"
His mouth opened. Closed. For some reason he could not bring himself to speak. How was he to explain? What was there to explain? Was it not Loki's dagger which had pierced Thor's skin, Loki's poison which had flooded Thor's veins? Was it not Loki's fault that Thor lay dead?
This truth could not be ignored. No lies, no deceptions could withstand it. After all his efforts, Thor's plans would come to nothing – Loki could not even pretend the desire to fight for them.
He had never really wanted the throne.
Hogun stepped forward, heedlessly breaching protocol and clearly caring naught at all. "How?" he said, eyes wild, accent laden with grief. "The queen's warding bound you. Thor should have been safe. How did you escape?"
He met the heartbroken gaze head on, offering no reply. Pride and silence were all he had left.
They were all he'd ever have again.
Volstagg's eyes scoured the room as Loki watched mutely. The sharp eyes noted Thor's wound, the upturned desk, the papers lying about carelessly on the floor. He said, slowly, "Thor could not have breached the boundary himself, and Loki holds no weapon. What could have -"
"Does it matter?" Sif cut in, tears glittering in her furious gaze - she had always been quicker to anger than grief. "He's Loki Liesmith. Treachery has always been his way." She spat in Loki's direction. "And we were fools, respecting Thor's wishes for privacy these past months, letting Thor visit him alone time after time, as if Loki was merely a misbehaving child led astray."
Fandral laid a hand on her arm. "Enough, Sif," he said, staring at Loki far more coldly than any in the court would have believed him capable. "It's over."
Sif visibly struggled against the truth, then ceased, shoulders slumping in defeat. "I," she whispered, voice shattered, and did not appear able to go on.
Loki did not much care for the Asgardians' pain - he had not the energy to spare. They had largely been Thor's comrades, not his, and Thor had been his brother, not theirs. Except... no, that wasn't quite true, was it? As genuine Asgardians, they had more in common with Thor than Loki ever did.
The thought burned.
Fandral directed his next words to Loki. "Get up," he said, and there was no give in his voice.
Get up, and then what? Loki wondered dimly. What new punishment Odin could possibly conceive of now? Surely there would be no well-furnished room or books for the crown prince's murderer. Surely there was nothing but execution lying in wait for him.
But he supposed it didn't much matter, in the end. The punishment could be no greater than the burden of being Jotun.
Of not truly being Thor's brother.
"Get up, Loki," Fandral repeated, grip on his sword shifting. It was clear he would not ask a second time.
His treacherous fingers tightened their hold on Thor's leg for but a moment, then released. He stumbled to his feet, wavering unsteadily before his questing hand haplessly found Thor's shoulder.
It was as cold as stone. He jerked his hand back, eyes burning as he stared at what was, in the end, nothing more than a corpse.
He gritted his teeth, straightened his spine. He would not cower. Everything that had happened was of his own making. Loki's choices were, in the end, entirely his own.
Any punishment Odin sentenced him to would be no less than he deserved. Let it come.
Odin watched him expressionlessly. "Have you nothing to say for yourself, Loki Odinson?" he said at last.
Loki only shook his head, throat tight. It was too late for apologies, and he had none to give.
"Enough, my lord," Frigga said suddenly. "Both your sons require aid."
The lady walked towards him, the train of her dress sweeping quietly across the floor, her steps slow and cautious as if a broken sorcerer and his dead brother could be some cause for concern. Unsure of her purpose, Loki faced her squarely, thoughtlessly blocking her path, attempting to shield Thor from her gaze.
A worthless effort, and a foolish one.
One simple gesture of her hands caused Thor's body to glow a soft blue, the eerie light flickering in slow, unsteady pulses behind Loki's back. He started badly, reached out to Thor on instinct alone. With his magic gone and his head pounding, he could not decipher the spell's intent.
Nothing could harm Thor now.
"It's all right," she said softly, intercepting Loki's anxious hand with a gentle touch to the wrist.
He blinked at her owlishly.
She slowly raised her other hand to his face, grasping him gently by the chin and forcing his gaze for a long and unbroken moment. Loki did not know what she sought, nor if she found it.
"Oh Loki, you daft child," Frigga said at last, before pulling at the back of his head and gathering him close. "I'd feared you would never break that barrier."
He froze against the unexpected embrace, staring bewilderedly over Frigga's shoulder. Thor's friends returned his glances with baffled frowns, seeming as nonplussed as he.
"M-mother?" he stammered.
She released him, patted his cheek. He scarcely felt it. "As if we could ever give up on you," she said, "when all of us love you so."
You are loved, Loki.
His eyes were watering, had never stopped, and so he again squeezed them shut. "But Thor," he whispered, and could not continue.
Her gaze softened. "My lord, please bring your son to the infirmary. We'll be along shortly."
Loki watched dully as Thor's limp body was gathered in Odin's arms. The warrior prince had no more life to him than did a doll.
Odin paused at Loki's side. Loki tensed.
"I await our conversation," his father said, and Loki's breath left him in a soundless, disbelieving exhale. He nodded at Frigga, then gestured for the warriors to accompany him out the door.
After a hesitant glance back at Loki and the queen, they did.
And they were alone.
"My youngest always had such a way with words," Frigga said once they were gone, Loki curbing the panic that had flooded him upon Thor leaving his sight. "Yet like his brother, only actions ever held true sway with him." She sighed, then said softly, "You never were much for speeches, Loki."
His eyes widened. "…What?"
The queen of Asgard smiled thinly. "I am your mother, not a fool. I thought not only of your comfort when I designed this room."
It took him a moment to catch her meaning. "Then you heard," he said woodenly, lump in his throat.
She did not pretend to misunderstand. "I did."
Loki swallowed. Nodded. Thor's plans had been doomed the moment he'd spoken them aloud.
Her eyes were fierce, merciless. "There is a long and hard road ahead of you, Loki. Forgiveness is not easily attained. Neither is redemption." She did not smile nor frown. "But you could not have gone to Thor's side had you not proven yourself worthy of both."
He stared, speechless. As if he might care about such things, as if they were even possible after everything he had done - do you not understand, he wanted to scream, I killed him, I killed your son! Thor is dead, Mother, and I am the only one to blame! How dare you, how dare you even speak of redemption - there is none for this!
Fury and anguish loosened his voice. "If you think I – "
"I knew to come because you broke the wall," she interrupted him. "But it was your father who felt your struggle to keep Thor alive, and bade me hasten my steps. We came in time. You saved him, Loki. Thor is… far from well," she said, voice wavering, eyes glittering, the calm veneer retreating for but a moment, and for the first time Loki saw in her face the grief he'd caused her. "But he will live, thanks to you."
Loki stumbled. The words echoed in his head, live he will live he will live Thor will live -
A tremor ran through him – Loki's limbs abruptly slackened, nerveless, an unseen puppeteer finally cutting loose his strings. As if from leagues away, he felt his face crumple as he mechanically sank to the floor still slick with his brother's blood. "He lives," he said numbly.
"He does," his mother said, hand warm on his shoulder. Her eyes and grin were Thor's.
"Oh, good," he breathed, and without another thought, let the world go.
"Brother," Loki said, upon waking.