The youngest prince of Asgard slept for days. The dreams came and went, some completely in his mind and some the shadows of those moving around him in the waking world. He heard their movements, their voices; but the voice the mattered most did not come.
And so he slept. He slept until he heard laughter, a laughter he had known all his life and in the dream he could see the shadow of his brother and he chased the laughter to wakefulness.
Loki woke with a gasp, making it halfway to sitting before hands were on him, easing back against the pillows. "Stay down. I have permission to knock you out if I have to." a female voice said. Loki blinked, and was immediately certain he was still dreaming. Natasha sat back and shrugged. "Everyone's been making the rounds. Plus, they wanted someone in here who isn't afraid to knock the lights out of a prince. And we both know what kind of a prince I think you are."
The unexpected jab helped his mind to focus and he managed a glare. "How long?" he rasped.
Memories flooded him. Arlan, the lightning, the freezing rain. Thor. "Thor?" he whispered.
Natasha hesitated for the briefest of seconds, but Loki caught it. "He lives."
"Then where is he?"
"He's resting, Loki, just like-"
"Don't give me that!" he hissed, eyes flashing in anger. He threw back the covers, ignoring her prior warning. He swatted at her hands as she started to force him back down. She was stronger than she appeared or he was weaker - he would never admit that the former was very likely true - and one well placed hand with just enough pressure on a partially healed wound sent him falling back, choking against the cry that bubbled up in his throat.
"Save it," Natasha grumbled, effectively cutting off any threat he might try to use on her.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, calming himself. Slowly, purposefully, his eyes slid open again, focusing on the Russian woman. "I must know for myself," he said simply.
"I'll get a healer," Natasha said, starting to rise.
Loki grabbed her wrist and she stiffened. He did not meet her gaze. "Your world in the balance and you bargained for one man." he said quietly.
"That was a trick." Natasha replied.
"That was not the trick." Loki dared to look up at her, even though he knew not nearly enough of his emotions were masked.
The agent proved herself to be more of a woman -or at least more merciful- than she generally cared to and relaxed her stance. "Fine. But I'm not helping you get there. I'm not fighting any Asgardian guard set on keeping you here per your daddy's orders." It was more than he had hoped for, all things considered.
Natasha busied herself elsewhere in the room while he managed to pull himself out of bed, get down some water, and dressed in loose pants and what Thor called a t-shirt that had been left for him. His brother had become ridiculously fond of the Midgardian garb and brought many of them home whenever he visited Jane. "I'll try to give you some time before someone comes looking for you." Natasha offered without turning around as he slowly moved toward the door. He couldn't think of what to say that wouldn't offend them both, so he opted for silently slipping out into the hall, the door clicking shut behind him.
The halls were mostly silent as he moved through them towards the room he knew Thor would be in. As he approached, the door opened and he quickly leaned against a pillar, shielding himself from view. He watched as Jane left and was grateful to have missed her. They would have to encounter one another again at some point, but not now. Not now when she had been the one waiting for his brother to wake, and he had not been strong enough to be there instead.
On silent feet, he entered the room and closed the door behind him. Sheer curtains had been placed over the open doorways to the balconies and they drifted in the light morning breeze. His brother lay in the bed, the only movement the soft rise and fall of his chest.
Loki pulled himself forward. One step, another, and another. If he took it one at a time, he would make it.
The dark haired trickster sank down as soon as he reached the bed, sitting on its edge. The motion did not wake Thor, and that in itself did not bring Loki any comfort. The crowned prince was pale, an oddity, and the muscles in his face seemed consistently tense in pain. Loki took hold of his brother's hand, grasping it in his own and willing his emotions to remain in check. "I am so sorry, Thor," he whispered softly.
His voice brought no more reaction than his presence had and he stretched himself out tiredly on the empty side of the bed, still holding tight to the elder god's hand. "You have to wake up," he murmured pleadingly, sleeping tugging on his senses. He had slept for four days, Romanov had said. Why should he be so exhausted now? "I'll do anything if you'd be all right. Anything."
Thor had never been afraid of dying. He had always charged into battles and fights and affairs head on, knowing that the consequences might be great but always sure that the reward would be greater. What he had not considered was that not dying would be more painful. Each muscle and bone and hair on his head ached the deep ache of a fight barely won. It was cool, and he felt a breeze against his skin and the scent of his mother's favorite flowers which convinced him he was not in fact, dead, but still very much alive. While the air was light, his chest felt heavy and warm but not uncomfortably so.
His mind was muzzy and while he knew he had been fighting with a great deal of fervor, he could not recall why. Shifting slightly, he curled towards the warmth, cracking open one eye to see a dark head against his shoulder, and the weight on his chest an arm wrapped around him tightly. Loki. Thor's lips curled in a small smile and managed to get one hand up to cradle his brother's head before sleep claimed him again.
No one required Loki to return to his own rooms. The beginnings of protests were quieted immediately and the princes were allowed their rest in the best way that they could. They slept, mostly, oblivious to the aftermath of the battle. Jane was a regular visitor, though everyone filtered in and out. Even Eric seemed to be a bit more ease around the god of mischief if his presence was balanced with Thor's and he was asleep.
The sun was setting low in Asgard's sky when a pair of blue eyes fluttered open. A smile graced their owner's lips and he shifted, finding his body more responsive than it had been in what felt like a very long time. He was stiff, certainly, but the pain was dulled and Thor wondered how long he had slept.
No one sat in the chair next to the bed, but a cup of steaming liquid was set on a small table along with a scarf he knew belonged to Jane. She was nowhere to be seen, but he could have just missed her and never have known the difference. Loki came into view as he glanced down, seeing his younger brother curled up next to him in much the same way as he had been every time he woke. A worry that did not quite make it to fear grabbed at him and his hand ghosted against the pale face, proving to himself that the young prince was, in fact, still breathing.
Loki blinked sleepily and looked up.
Relief eased him into a smile. "Loki." he murmured.
An echoing relief in the green eyes and smile on his brother's face righted the world. "Thor." he answered.
Thor's fingers gently touched the edges of bandages and over uncovered wounds that had already healed to the point of light red and pink scars. They would both have plenty after this last bout. "You are all right."
"Yes. Better, now."
Satisfied that there was no injury on his brother that would not heal, Thor returned his gaze to Loki's face.
"You are not the slightest bit sorry, are you?" Loki asked.
Minimally Thor shook his head. "I am not." he said softly.
"You lied to me." Loki said, more fact than accusation. He knew he had not much of an argument to stand on with his brother there.
Thor brushed Loki's cheek with his thumb. "I had a good teacher." "An unfortunate way for me to learn you had been paying attention," Loki said.
"I knew what you would do. I knew what you would try to prove and I could not bear it. When I realized what I could do, I made my choice and do not regret it. You are my brother, Loki, my heart."
Loki's green eyes darted away, hiding the onslaught of emotion. Thor chuckled at the reaction and nudged him.
"Did I hear correctly, brother, that you promised to do anything I asked if I would wake?"
"I said no such thing."
"Liar," the blond teased gently.
His brother huffed. "Why does everyone always assume I'm lying?"
"Because you usually are." The crowned prince paused and shifted so that he had a better look at the dark haired trickster. "Anything?"
Loki made a noncommittal noise. "That is-"
"Damn it all, Thor, what is it that you want?"
"I want what I have already asked you for. I want you to stand at my side as my counsel when I am king."
"You cannot ask that of me." Loki said, blinking rapidly.
"Oh, but I can. I will have no one else. Or would you Aegir be the one to lean in my ear and whisper words of wisdom?" Thor asked, almost innocently.
Anger flashed through Loki's eyes. "You would not dare."
"He is the standing council leader." Thor said, acting like he was considering.
Loki shoved his shoulder. He knew perfectly well that Thor would stand without council for eternity before having Aegir advise him, but the thought stung more than he cared for. "You understand the risks, do you not? You understand that I will be a liability to you."
Thor rolled his eyes. "I understand these are the same words you have offered me before. I offer you the same in return: I care not."
Loki's answer hung in his mind. If he refused now, he would not be asked again. If he agreed he set them on a difficult path, one that could not be won with hammer and staff. He looked up at Thor, and he could tell there was uncertainty. He did not know if he would be refused and he was playing the only card he had. Odin's words from long ago stole into his mind. You could have ruled together. "All right." he said quietly.
His brother looked surprised for a moment before a laugh escaped him and he gathered Loki into his arms. The green-eyed prince gasped for air as the hug tightened at an awkward angle and he finally squirmed enough that Thor released him. "You know what this means," he said at last, finally gaining his breath back. Thor only grinned in response and he rolled his eyes. Slowly, a smile stretched his thin lips. "You have to make good on your promise to listen to my advice. Just because I am your younger brother does not mean that you get to bully me into-"
"I do not bully you!"
"Bully me into compliance by traipsing over me. I will advise you and you must at least listen. That is the deal I will make with you."
"Yes, of course."
"As am I," Thor said, his voice calmer now and his eyes meeting his brother's. The door opened and the grin lit his face again. "Jane!"
Both brothers sat up as she entered. Her eyes lit up when she saw them both awake. "Thor!" she exclaimed. She dashed to the side of the bed and kissed them both. "You're awake! I'll get Rowen and your mother and Odin." She hugged them both, Loki more gently than Thor. She kissed Thor again, more thoroughly and dashed back out of the room.
Thor clapped Loki on the back, beaming. "Is she not a wonder?"
Loki struggled to think of a response and finally settled for, "A wonder. Yes."
Minutes later Jane was back with the promised entourage in tow, sans Odin whom Frigga promised would be by soon. Rowen fussed and changed bandages. Soon, the news of their recovery brought their other friends for visiting and soon both brothers were entirely exhausted again.
The next few days passed in a blur of sleep, visits, and more sleep until, finally, the younger prince ducked quietly away for a few moments of solitude as his brother slept. His magic cloaked him for an easy escape as he moved silently through darkened halls into the outer sections of the palace. He stopped, bare feet padding quietly against marble flooring, and looked out over the city and onto the ocean. Their victory had come at a great price to each of them, but it was nothing that they could not recover in time. For now he reveled the breeze and the feel of peace and home.
"I hear a rumor that I should hope is false," a snide voice said from behind.
Well, home at least.
Loki allowed a smile to curve his lips upward. "With the company you keep outside the council, there is no limit on the wild stories that reach your aging ears." he said.
"You believe yourself to be so clever." Aegir growled, stepping into sight.
Loki turned and leaned against a pillar, crossing his arms. With a tilt of his head he said, "Everyone believes me to be clever. It is a true belief." "You carry a false hope to think that Odin will allow me to be replaced. I have served loyally for many years." Aegir said.
"Too many years, old friend. And each king has the right to name his own head advisor. But as Thor is not yet king, I know not why you pester me so."
"Do not think that I don't see your play," Aegir hissed.
"You see no play because there is none. I care nothing for the throne of Asgard or any other place. I've been down that road and it holds no appeal to me any more."
"No, you listen. You do no have to like me. You never have, but you do owe me the respect of my birthright."
The aging advisor snorted. "Your birthright? If it is your birthright's respect that you seek, I'd have you in the dungeon."
The doubts rushed in at him, clawing at his heart and his mind. This time, Loki refused. He straightened his shoulders and dropped his hands to his sides to appear at his full height. "If you are claiming that my birthright is anything other than what my father, my mother, and my brother claim then you should take your appeal up with them. I'm sure they would be delighted to answer any qualms you have as to whose son I am and to which house I belong. Of course, you should bear in mind, Aegir, what happened to the last man to claim me an untrue son. I hear they're still catching his ashes as they rain from the sky in the northern fields."
Aegir paled and his eyes fell to the floor. "It is good to see you well, my prince," he mumbled, voice barely audible.
Loki felt a triumphant smile stretch his lips as the aging advisor slinked away. The cold, unwelcomed presence was soon replaced with another, much warmer. "Was that Aegir leaving?" Thor asked as he leaned his back against the railing.
"He looked as if someone has given him news that did not set well."
"I believe he heard of your decision."
Thor shrugged. "If he does not see my profound wisdom in that, he would have made a poor advisor in the end."
Loki rolled his eyes and joined his brother, leaning so that he was facing the opposite direction and looking out onto the city once more. "Quite an adventure our lives have been," he said at last.
"And will be," his brother agreed.
Loki's smile turned genuine. "I think it may well be."
A/N: Well, as of right now this is the last installment of our series on the back end. We have a couple of ideas floating around for some young Loki and Thor stories, but I'm not sure when we'll have those out. Currently we're working on a bit on one of our original projects and we're toying with the idea of a cross over that will be either very fantastic or very frightening. If nothing else, it will be entertaining.
Thank you all for your patience on this one with the technical issues! We'll see you on the next go-around!