Creeeeeeeeak.

That was what woke Thor. He wondered briefly why he did not ask one of the servants to oil the hinges on his door.

Pitter. Pitter patter.

Oh. That was why. He needed it to wake him up.

He rolled over so that he was facing the door and blinked sleepily. By the time his vision adjusted to the darkness, he was gazing into a pair of wide green eyes; by the moonlight streaming through his window, he could see the tears shining in them and streaking his little brother's pale face.

It never crossed his mind to be annoyed.

"Did you have a nightmare?" he asked softly. Loki sniffled and nodded. Thor eased his way over from the middle of the bed and pulled back his comforter invitingly.

"You can come sleep with me."

Loki hesitated. A year ago he would have leapt right in and instantly buried his face in Thor's chest, and had on countless occasions. He was, however, just beginning to develop a bit of a prideful streak.

But his internal battle did not last long, and his distress won out. He clambered into the tall bed and curled up, allowing Thor to wrap his arms around him. It was a bit of a ritual, albeit a somewhat sad one. Thor continued in the normal manner, pressing his forehead to his brother's and saying, softly,

"Tell me."

Loki did not answer, but Thor knew he was thinking about it from the slight tremors that he felt beneath his fingers and against his chest.

"Was it the Frost Giants again?" Of course it had to be-Loki's nightmares were always about the Frost Giants. Thor was not sure precisely what it was about the monsters that seemed to terrify his brother so. Thor had, admittedly, been afraid of them when he was little, but he had been much younger than Loki. He knew now that there had been peace between Asgard and Jotunheim, where the Frost Giants lived, for several centuries. But though he had assured Loki of this time and again, his brother continued to have awful, vivid dreams about the creatures. Although Loki was undoubtedly convinced otherwise, Thor did not think him a baby for having the nightmares, nor for seeking out his comfort-Loki couldn't help what he dreamt, and after all, what were older brothers for, anyway?

He had to wait several seconds for his brother to answer. That was all right with Thor. He rubbed circles into Loki's back until he heard him whisper,

"It was worse this time."

Thor ceased his ministrations momentarily in surprise. This was something different, something not normally part of the ritual.

"How do you mean?"

Loki swallowed, averting his eyes from his brother's worried gaze to study the wrinkles in the bedsheets. Despite how badly he wanted to help, Thor knew better than to try to force anything out of his brother. Loki had a tendency to enact retribution when forced into anything, and Thor knew that in this case that would mean he would not get a single word from his brother. Therefore, he kept his approach gentle.

"You know you can tell me, Loki. I won't tell anyone. Not father, or mother, or..."

"I dreamt I was one of them." The words were rushed, and suddenly Loki's gaze was upon him again, a mixture of hurt and fear and...self-loathing, perhaps?

"What?" Thor was momentarily confused. "Oh..."

"I had blue skin and odd markings and a scary voice. I didn't like it." The words came out a whimper, and Thor tightened his grip around his brother's small, shaking body. "And I was so cold. Thor, I thought I was going to freeze to death."

The tears were flowing freely now. Though the description had been simple, Thor knew that there had been so much more to the dream that Loki was unable to tell him. The little boy's fear must have been overwhelming. The young godling pressed his brother tighter to himself and rubbed his hands up and down Loki's thin upper arms.

"Does this help with the chill?"

After a beat, Loki nodded slightly. They lay like that for several minutes, and finally Thor began to feel the shaking and tension ease.

"When I am king," he said softly, "I'll make them pay."

Loki looked up at him curiously. Thor's "When I am king" statements were generally made in a much different tone than this. But his next words were of his typical enthusiasm.

"I will go to Jotunheim and slay all the Frost Giants for giving you such awful nightmares. I will make giant thunderclouds strike them all with lightning, and then hit them with Mjolnir!" Thor demonstrated this by punching his fist in the air, and he managed to elicit a small giggle from Loki before the younger prince's face clouded once more.

"But Thor," he asked with concern, "Father said going to Jotunheim was dangerous."

Thor nodded. "Of course it is. But I would ride into any danger for my little brother."

"I know." Loki smiled and buried his face in Thor's chest, pressing himself just as close as he possibly could to his big brother. Thor wrapped his arms around him and kissed his brow lightly, resurrecting the ritual from the ashes of unusually terrifying nightmares.

"Good night, Loki. Sleep well."

He waited for the return "Good night, Thor" to complete their custom, but it never came, for Loki's breathing had already grown even. Smiling slightly, Thor closed his eyes, ready to finish his night's sleep.

He would fight every evil monster in all of the nine realms to protect his little brother. For as long as Loki needed him, Thor resolved unshakably to always be there.