"My Lord!" a guard entered, but Loki waved him out again, not caring what news he bore. Loki had sat in a sulk for almost three days now, eating little and sleeping even less. He spent his time in the throne room, but felt neither the responsibility nor the power the crown should have carried. He felt as if his heart had been torn out and he was left with a bloody, gaping hole he could do nothing about. He was empty, as lost as the day he had discovered he was not of Asgard. Emily haunted his dreams, and at times she dogged him even in his waking hours. He could not seem to push her from his mind- forget her entirely. She had no idea how much she had broken him.
"Loki!" Loki looked up, startled out of his reverie. Thor stood at the end of the throne room, looking healthier than he had since Loki had returned to Asgard.
Loki almost didn't react. Let Thor kill him now. Loki didn't care. Yet, he frowned at Thor when he entered. "So. You wish to challenge me again?"
Thor spread his hands, and Loki noted Mjolnir at his side. "Give this up, brother. You cannot win. The throne was never supposed to be yours."
Loki stood, enraged. "I am king! I faced you in fair combat and I won! By rights you lost your claim to the throne."
Thor grabbed Mjolnir. "Do you wish to face me again?"
Loki spread his arms wide. "Fine. I will face you," Loki scooped up his quarterstaff, holding it in front of him, pointed at Thor. He would win this. He was right.
Three throwing knives shot from the end of his staff, and Thor barely dodged them. Loki cursed. Thor was quick. Loki raced down to the floor, on equal levels with Thor now. He ignored his misgivings, the voices in the back of his mind that told him he could not win this. That he was no match for Thor. No. He was equal.
Thor blocked Loki's staff with Mjolnir easily, countering with an attack of his own. Thor's strength had not only returned but multiplied, seemingly greater than he had been before. Loki began to doubt his own power. Could he really defeat this oaf? Perhaps through cunning and trickery, for where he lacked in brawn and brute strength, he made up for in strength of the mind. He had to outwit Thor rather than out-fight him.
As Loki blocked Thor's strike again, Thor reached out and grabbed Loki's staff, holding him there. "Do you think this will solve anything?" Loki scoffed and tried to pull away, but Thor held him firm. "Do you think fighting me will change anything?"
Loki pulled away and swung his staff at Thor, growling. "You have humiliated me for the last time, Thor. Do not assume I will hesitate to kill you."
Thor easily caught the quarterstaff on Mjolnir's haft, pushing it away. "You have hesitated up 'til now. I doubt it is in your heart."
Loki narrowed his eyes, angry. "It is you or I this time. Only one may rule. The other must die."
Thor grabbed Loki's hands, holding on to the quarterstaff. "You are not a killer. I know it. Do not believe this of yourself, my brother. I do not believe it."
Loki's mind was a roiling beast as he tried to focus on defeating Thor. Even after all he'd done, Thor still believed in him. Thor still saw through Loki Laufeyson, to the boy underneath. The boy Loki had hidden for so long in his shell of cruelty and anger. Loki didn't understand. How could Thor accept him after all he'd done, all the pain he'd inflicted?
Loki's thoughts were so jumbled he didn't see Mjolnir coming until it was too late. Thor had seen his guard down and taken his chance, striking Loki in the stomach and sending him flying, striking one of the walls across the throne room. He moaned, his vision flickering. Loki could see Thor approaching, Mjolnir held lazily by his side. Loki held his head high, ready for Thor's final stroke.
Thor raised Mjolnir high, and Loki shut his eyes, wondering what death would be like. He did not expect to arrive in Valhalla; he doubted if Frost Giants were even accepted into Valhalla at all. And if they were, certainly one such as he would be turned away from the gate. He had done far too much. He only wished he could have made things right with Emily. He couldn't bear knowing she hated him. But what could he say? He was a monster. And she was right to hate him.
A loud clanging rang through the golden hall, and a second later Thor's strong arms wrapped around Loki, and Loki heard his voice. "I cannot kill you. You are my brother, and you will always be. Nothing will change that."
Loki's carefully built walls crashed in around him. A tear slipped from his eye, unheeded as he returned Thor's embrace, a thing they had not done since they were children. Loki felt his heart swell, and this time he didn't stop it. He let all his anger and hatred and guilt and pain overwhelm him, and suddenly he knew who was right and how very wrong he was. He leaned against Thor's shoulder, shaking at his realization.
Thor held him tight, understanding Loki's wordless turmoil. Loki shook, his breath fast and uneven. When he spoke, his voice held none of the power it had. He sounded young and lost.
"I-" his voice shook. "I won. I was right."
Thor put his hands on Loki's shoulders and pushed him away gently, holding him at arm's length. "Loki, I let you win," Loki looked at him, surprised "I knew you would not see your fault had you lost. So I allowed you to win."
Loki rubbed his face with his hands. "You did that? Even knowing the risk you were taking?"
Thor nodded. "Although, I did not expect you to go so far as you did."
Loki looked away, ashamed. His heart was heavy. "I am sorry," his apology came as a surprise, even to him. But as soon as he said it he knew it was true. "I have no excuse for my actions."
Thor stared at Loki, wondering at the change that had come over him. Before, he would never own up to such an honest confession. "What has changed you, brother?"
Loki looked back at Thor, and offered him a wan smile. "I once thought that all the inhabitants of Migard were fools. That they were made for subjugation. But-" Loki's eyes took on a faraway look. "I have met one who has changed my mind. I did not mean to push her away."
Thor frowned. "Is this the Midgardian who saved my life?"
Loki dropped his eyes and nodded. "She showed me more kindness than any other has."
Thor nodded, thinking. Finally, he stood. "I am taking back the throne, brother," Loki looked at him, confused. Thor smiled gently. "You should take back her heart."
Loki nodded. "But I do not know if she will accept me. I have hurt her. She does not deserve the heartbreak I have dealt her."
Thor put a hand on Loki's arm. "I could hear it in her voice. She loves you. And she is good and kind. Go after her."
Loki stood and nodded. He drew a deep breath. "I will try."
Thor nodded and Loki strode out of the throne room, a new purpose in his heart. What would he say to her? Loki wasn't sure. He didn't know how to tell her he'd changed. He just needed to find her, to tell her he needed her.
"To Midgard," he told Heimdall as he strode into the Bifrost. Heimdall activated the Bifrost, and as Loki leapt through, a hint of a smile lit his fiery eyes.