*handwaves over so many things that are not correct* I've only seen the movies, is the first thing I should say. I looked up a few things on Wikipedia, but I've read like, next to nothing as far as actual comics. Second thing is basically SUCK IT. It's my first and probably only Avengers/Thor fan fiction, darlings. I am not doing months of rigorous research into the Marvelverse for a single story, especially not this one. This one exists solely because crippling emotional issues are my Candyland and I like it when pretty boys cry.
"Your presence is requested at the prison."
Thor jumped, causing Sif to look at him with concern. She didn't say anything.
Sif and his other friends had been nothing but concerned, these past several days. Thor had been with them in that he had been in the same room, but he'd spent most of his time brooding silently, a cup of mead forgotten in his hand and their words to him falling on deaf ears. That this messenger had so clearly startled him meant that he was no longer even paying enough attention to notice when people walked into the room.
Thor knew they were concerned, but he could hardly help it. He was thinking of his brother, constantly. Sometimes of the punishment that awaited him, when they got around to deciding what it would be, and often of what Thor might be able to do to lessen it if it was too harsh. But mostly, Thor just thought about Loki. Thought on how they had come to this, and how long ago things must have gone wrong for it to be this way now.
Thought on why Loki had let go of his hand.
He had been brooding, pretending to drink, wandering along with his stomach tied in knots, ever since they'd returned to Asgard. Mostly, he wished he'd been a better brother. Of anyone, Thor should have been the one to notice that Loki was suffering. He was the one who should have fought harder for Loki to be seen by Father, to feel as valued as Thor always had. There should have been give and take, and Thor should have met Loki on his own terms once in a while instead of always, ever forcing him to come to Thor's. Father had been right about Thor, at least. Vain, cruel, and greedy, even toward the brother he claimed to love.
If he had stopped looking at his own damn reflection in the mirror for five minutes, maybe he would have noticed that his brother was in pain, maybe he could have seen it before the pain twisted him so. Maybe Loki would have held on, that day. But they couldn't know that now, could they?
It was easy now, to see that by the time they'd found themselves hanging over that abyss, it was already far too late. So easy to see now that of course Loki would let go. Even then, even in that moment, maybe if Father could have found a kind word for him—but he hadn't.
That Loki had let go . . . that was their fault. What happened after, the creatures Loki had taken up with and the cruelty he'd shown to the people of Midgard, those were Loki's own choices and they were poor, but Thor could not stop thinking they shared some of the culpability in that as well. Himself, and Father, and all those who had done so much to make Loki believe he was not welcome in Asgard.
Thor missed him. Terribly. Sweet, clever, sensitive, quick—Loki as a child had been the best brother he could have wanted. And now he wanted him back. He knew that Asgard must mete out punishment for Loki's crimes against Jotunheim and Midgard, but after that, Thor had thought, after punishment had been decided maybe there would be some way to begin re-building the love that had once been between them even as they slowly and painfully re-built the Bifrost.
And now his presence was requested in the prison where Loki was being held. Requested by . . . his brother? Thor leapt to his feet, causing the messenger to jerk with surprise much as Thor had.
"Thank you," he said dismissively, and left without the messenger, leaving the concern of his companions behind, grateful to be doing anything other than this brooding and guilt-ridden waiting.
He paid no attention to the grandeur of the shining city as he strode through huge golden halls, past airy windows and fanciful frescoes. The time he'd spent in Midgard had taught him the true beauty of his home, but he had no eyes for it lately. First he'd been mourning the brother he'd thought dead and longing for the girl he'd thought beyond his reach. Now the Bifrost was being repaired, but the joy of his brother's return to Asgard had been snatched away by Loki's actions.
But if Loki had asked for him . . . What did it mean? Thor was nearly running by the time he arrived in the hall where Loki's cell was kept. Even here, Asgard was beautiful, the prison built of white stone walls and gilded edgings. Thor could not help his uncharitable thought that the prisoners held here would have little cause to appreciate beauty when their lives and fate were unknown to them.
Volund bowed to him, although he did not move from his position in front of the cell's door. He had been set to keep watch over Loki until the tribune held trial. "My Prince."
"He asked for me?" Thor confirmed eagerly. He hardly knew what to expect, probably a faceful of spittle and poisonous words, but it would be a beginning, at least—
"No, my Prince."
Thor's stomach dropped. Volund coughed nervously.
"Speak, then," Thor demanded impatiently.
Thor noticed how ill at ease Volund seemed, the stiff set of his shoulders and the nervous casting of his eyes. Had Loki been speaking to him through the door, trying to unnerve him? It was unbecoming of a warrior of Volund's caliber to succumb. Still . . . Thor couldn't think of the madness he'd seen in his brother's eyes without breaking into a cold sweat. He shouldn't judge Volund too harshly.
"I shall not, if you do not speak your mind, and quickly."
Thor had never suffered from an overabundance of patience, which would be no secret to Volund, so hopefully he would not take undue offense. Thor had too much on his mind for more pleasant conversation.
Volund licked his lips and hurried on, stumbling over his words. "I request permission . . . That is, I request, and pardon my pride, that you overturn your earlier command . . . I wish to remove the muzzle from Loki's mouth."
"Remove the— why is it still on?!" Thor demanded incredulously. "He's been here three days!"
Volund gaped at him. "The men who escorted him to this cell told me it was to be kept on. They told me that the order came from you, my Prince!"
"I assure you it did not!"
Thor attempted to rein in his temper when Volund's eyes widened in fear and he took a hasty step backward. But it was difficult to do, knowing that on the other side of this door his brother languished with that muzzle on him . . . It had only been to stop him from attempting a spoken spell to escape until they reached Asgard and had other methods of binding his magic, it was supposed to come off—
"I am curious to know why you sent for me to ask such a thing," Thor managed to say, almost reasonably. For himself, this was his brother. To Volund, this was a traitor he had no love for. He'd always been too stupid to be suspicious of other people's motives (that was Loki's job) but he was learning.
But Volund's face was grim and dark, perhaps even sad. "See for yourself, my Prince," he murmured, and unlocked the door. The heavy oak creaked as it swung just wide enough for Thor to look in, and Volund's hand was at his sword, just in case.
Thor looked inside and immediately reeled back, feeling desperately like he was going to be sick. He looked back to Volund and found that the guard appeared just as ill, and Volund rose in Thor's estimation for that. He stepped forward into the doorway, unable to help the keening noise that caught in his throat.
"My brother," he choked.
Loki had been given a comfortable-enough bed. He was sitting on it, hunched over, pale and small and diminished. His hands were still bound in front of him, as they had been upon arrival, but the fact that they were also locked to a small chain around his ankles was new.
"I did that," Volund said bravely. "This morning. To stop him from harming himself any further. Then I sent for you, my Prince. I did not— I didn't know what to do."
Thor's eyes went to Loki's hands, to understand why Volund had restrained them. His fingers were raw and bloody, his fingernails broken. And around the edges of the muzzle, still locked over his mouth, the skin on his cheeks had been gouged raw. There was a bare patch on his scalp, above his ear, where he'd torn his own hair out. His arms were bared and littered with bruises—from attempts to restrain him, most likely. For all the evidence of violence, right now Loki was still. He stared at the wall and rocked silently back and forth, hugging his knees to his chest.
This, too, was Thor's fault. So busy brooding that he had not even thought to check on the situation in the prison. He knew it would be looked on with disfavour if he visited his brother before the tribune gathered, for they would assume he was interfering, but he should have . . . Should have done something.
Suddenly, Loki's eyes snapped to Thor. They should have been full of malice and glittering bright with his cunning. But Thor could not even find recognition in Loki's gaze. Just fear. Pure fear and panic, just barely caged inside his hunched-up posture. Behind the muzzle, there was a broken cry of an animal in pain.
Volund shouldered him aside and slammed shut the door. Thor ought to reprimand him, ought to yank the door open and go to his brother. Ought to— he ought to—
Thor fell against the far wall, sagging in shock, sickened and numbed.
"Why would he harm himself so?" he asked, hearing his own voice sound strangely hollow.
Volund shifted his feet. "Forgive me—"
"Speak!" Thor roared.
"I think the muzzle gives him unpleasant memories of when Brokk and Eitri captured him."
Thor frowned in confusion. It had been long since he'd heard those names. "The dwarf brothers? The smiths? When did they capture my brother?" A cold feeling crept over him. There had been a story in Erik Selvig's book, but Thor had written it off as nonsense. For one thing, Thor would have known about it when it happened, would he not? How would Volund know something about Loki that Thor himself did not know?
Volund's eyes had gone wide and scared again. "My Prince— I didn't— I never meant to keep this as a secret! I thought you knew! I did!"
"Speak now, Volund, or live to regret it," Thor hissed.
"It was when you were younger, it was— I don't know why you weren't in Asgard yourself, my Prince. I would have told you, you must believe me, only I thought you knew. It was— we all thought it best not to bring it up again after it ended."
Thor again forced himself to rein back his temper. He trembled for control. Volund had done nothing wrong, indeed was helping him now. He made a fist of his hand and felt his nails cut into his palm, breathing deeply.
"Tell me now, Volund. Tell me everything."
It was a royal command with an unmistakable ring. Volund obeyed.
As he was told the story, Thor knew when it must have happened. He and Volstagg had decided to go hunting and adventuring in Vanaheimr. They'd been away almost an entire winter, over two months. They'd meant to come home earlier, but they'd gotten word of a great wolf that was plaguing a village, and drew out several weeks while hunting to kill it so that they could enjoy the village's hospitality. "Hospitality" mostly meaning the affections of the village's greatest beauty, who had been glad enough to unleash her charms on the young prince of Asgard. Both of them in the full flower of youth and drunk with the delight of each other, and Thor had never wanted to come home. Warm, brandied nights around a hearth fire, swapping stories of valour with the men and kisses with Astrid. And while he was away . . . Each fact drove into him like a nail. He'd been having the best winter of his life, while this had happened in his absence.
Loki had been anxious to please the court with gifts.
Loki had gone to the dwarves even though relations with them were already strained to the breaking point. They didn't like the golden giants who thought they could rule the dwarves. Loki had thought he could talk his way into their good graces.
Loki had been unable to help his mischievous nature. It was still unclear what exactly he'd done, but it was clear he was the only one who'd thought it was funny.
The dwarves did not like tricksters.
The dwarves had taken it upon themselves to teach Loki a lesson, far from home and far from help. Thor had been feasting and drinking and making love while Loki had been captured and terrified and alone.
Brokk, leather thread and thick bone awl— Thor tried to flinch away from the images that rose up, but they followed him deep into his thoughts and burrowed in. Heavy brown stitches taut on clever and soft lips. The way Loki's eyes looked when he was in pain; Thor knew that look and he could see it now. Could almost taste Loki's desperation that someone might come to help him even though no one had. Blood flowing heavy when he tried to scream.
Thor shuddered all over. "How long?"
"They had him for a week before Odin stopped negotiating to avoid war and started threatening to exterminate Svartalfaheimr. They insisted that he was not being tortured, he was only being taught a lesson, they even said there was a gap in the stitches so he could eat and drink . . . But when they returned him, it looked as though he hadn't been given anything. He was weakened."
"Father . . .?"
"He couldn't retaliate without starting a war, and he couldn't afford it then, that was when things were so touchy with the Alfar. He set up a trade embargo against Svartalfaheimr, though."
He had. Thor had never questioned the embargo because he'd never liked dwarves and didn't think Father had either. He had never asked why. He'd half-forgotten the threat of a possible war with Alfheimr because back then he'd been too young to care for his duties and had left everything to Odin.
Thor had returned to Asgard in triumph, a giant wolf pelt over his shoulders, with cheers and blowing trumpets and a lingering worry that Astrid might be pregnant. He remembered, now. Among the welcoming faces, he did not see his brother. Loki had spent that entire spring in the great library, claiming to be busy with his studies and snapping at Thor anytime he tried to drag him out into the cool spring sunshine. Mother, her face soft and sad, imploring him to leave Loki to his moods until he was ready to be in company.
Thor's head began to pound with pain as he tried to wrap his mind around it. His parents had shown an overly-calm acceptance of Loki's strange silent dark spring. He would only leave when he would go out on long, solitary horseback rides, sometimes gone for an entire day or two, and always back to his chambers or the library right after. He grew thin and gaunt during that time and something more than his usual paleness—the ghost in the library. Thor had been desperate with concern over the fact that no one seemed to be willing to intervene, and he'd started following Loki around, neglecting his own friends in favour of sitting quietly in the library just to keep watch.
One day Loki had looked up at him quite suddenly, seeming only then to notice that Thor was hovering close and quiet and worried nearby. He'd smiled, closed his book, and asked Thor to join him on a ride. It was as though he'd decided that day that his dark spring was over, laughing and challenging Thor to a race. He'd rejoined them at the feasting table, gone back to sparring and drinking with them when he wasn't at his books or his magic.
It all made so much more sense now.
Thor felt blinded by his headache and his stomach roiled with sickness.
"No one told me," he said in disbelief, looking at Volund as if he could change that. Thunder rumbled outside, and Volund's eyes were wide with fear. "No one told me!" he roared, and suddenly the door to Loki's cell was crashing open and Thor was before his brother with one long stride. "If they had told me, I never would have done this," he whispered, staring at the muzzle, at the bleeding around the edges. Loki didn't even look at him. Thor didn't even remember calling Mjolnir, but he was lifting it in his fist, and using the gentlest tap he could manage to break the lock on the muzzle. Thor didn't pause to wince at the broken skin on Loki's face or the bite marks he'd inflicted on his own lips. He lifted Mjolnir again to break the shackle at his ankles.
He grasped his brother's face in his hands, wondering at his own ability to be tender when he was so very angry. "I am so sorry," he said. "For . . . For all of it, Loki. I am so sorry."
For a moment, their eyes met and Thor thought he was understood. Then Loki gasped in shock and flung himself away, off the bed, into a corner of the room. He hunched down, pressing his back to the wall, his eyes wild and his chained, wounded hands scrabbling at his knees. He closed his eyes and sobbed.
"Brother," Thor said, aghast at this evidence of fear. He crouched down and put a hand on Loki's arm. "I—"
Loki sobbed again and fled, retreating into a new corner, the chain between his hands held out like a weapon.
"Oh, Loki," he whispered, hearing his own voice sound broken. It made only too much sense that Loki was afraid of him right now. He stood and went back to Volund in the hall. "I want food and drink brought to him immediately. I want a healer to treat his face and hands. And I want the names of the men who brought him to you. We will see how they like wearing a muzzle for three days. If they find me merciful enough to allow them to live that long." Thor dropped the offending object to the floor, although he'd scarcely realized he held it, and then he ground it to pieces under his boot. "I will speak with my father, and then I will return. Have it done by then."
Volund executed a deep bow, looking relieved. "You have my word."
Thor grasped his shoulder in passing to thank him. It occurred to him just how brave the guard had been, to send for him and question what he believed were Thor's own orders. Volund would be rewarded for that, Thor would ensure it. Just as he would ensure the men who'd thought to play a sick joke would receive their just reward. He looked forward to that.
He stalked into Odin's informal hall, and found that he was conversing with Mother in private. Even better.
"What is wrong?"
"Brokk the dwarf," Thor said brutally, wielding the name like a club and watching his father wince away as though it had truly struck a blow. Mother closed her eyes, grief sketching deep lines onto her face. "Why was I never told?"
"There was nothing you could have done; indeed I found myself glad you were absent because your hotheadedness would have ruined any chance for peace to continue. I did what I could and then it was done. It was better to allow Loki to forget it. It would only have upset you to know of the matter."
"Upset?" Thor repeated in disbelief. "I was upset when I spent a season hovering over him, worried that he was ill or worse! I was upset that he barely spoke for weeks at a time! And now? Now I am upset that he has spent three days with a muzzle covering his mouth for some guard's amusement!"
"Oh," Mother gasped.
Father's face twisted in fury.
"Who was it?" he demanded.
"I don't know yet, but trust me that when I find them, they will find out just how upset I am! But how can I punish someone, when I was the one who put it on him to begin with! Do you understand? I did it unknowingly, and I should have been told."
"Has something happened?" Father asked, mind sharp as ever.
Thor felt no qualms about telling them what he'd seen in the prison, in the most brutal terms he could spit out, and hearing himself go hoarse and strained when he finished with, "He didn't seem to know me."
Mother had begun to cry. Good. She hadn't done anything to save Loki, either, nor had she told Thor of his brother's fate. She shared the blame for this. Even Father looked like he might be close to tears. Thor was viciously satisfied by their grief, even though he knew it was ungenerous of him.
"We will go to see him now," Mother declared, wiping her tears and straightening her back. "We should have . . . gone before now."
Loki in chains would have been hard for them to look upon, finding something to say to him harder still. Thor was not ignorant of why none of them had ignored the tribune to visit Loki, but now it seemed it had only meant they had failed him again.
So Thor led them down to Loki's prison cell, hoping that seeing Mother would help.
Volund dropped to a knee when he saw them in the hall coming toward him. He was too afraid to address the Allfather directly, but he did speak.
"My Prince. I've had food and water brought, but . . ."
He didn't need to find a way to end his thought, for Father was already yanking the door open, breaking the lock with a wave of his hand. Loki was revealed, pacing the length of his cell over and over like a caged lion, while the tray that Volund had ordered sat untouched on the bed.
"Loki, my son," Father said firmly.
Loki whirled around and cried out, the noise of an animal dying in a trap. He clawed viciously at his own mouth, leaving streaks of blood on his chin from his cracked lips and still-raw fingers. Stricken by the sight, Father allowed Mother to push past him.
"My darling boy," she began, reaching out to him. Loki flattened himself against the wall and hissed at her, baring his teeth. She backed away and clung to Father.
Thor decided to try once more. "Brother, please," he said, remaining at a distance. "It was my fault that this went on. Will you not tell me how angry you are with me?"
For a moment, Thor thought he might. But he only crouched low in a corner again and began to weep softly.
"He's frightened," Father said, his voice strangely toneless, faded. "We should leave him alone. I would also like to be alone right now."
"No," Thor snapped, disrespectful in his anger and following Odin out after casting one last hopeless look back at Loki. "I would have words with you, Father—"
"Thor," Mother said, catching at his arm and holding him back. "Not now."
He stared at her hand on his arm and was startled by how it upset him. He'd never been angry with his mother before, truly never that he could think of.
"You had your part in this as well," he said at last, pulling his arm away with great care, trying to ignore how he shook with the strain of controlling and not lashing out. Trying to ignore the pain in her eyes, because he spoke the truth and did not care if it pained her.
Then he went to the stables and got his favourite mount, and took a very long ride to try to clear his mind. It didn't work as well as he'd hoped, so that night he gathered the Warriors and got very drunk and hit things until he was tired enough to simply collapse into bed and lose consciousness.
Things were no better in the morning.
Three days, they watched.
Three days, he paced his cell. Lay on the bed. Wept silent tears and clawed fresh gouges into his lips. He didn't ask for them.
In fact, he didn't speak. He would not even eat or drink, though sustenance was brought to him. He slept only fitfully and it never seemed enough. There were deep bruising circles under his eyes and raw scratches on his cheeks. He just paced, relentlessly, or at times crouched down in a corner as though to hide himself.
Thor rarely left the stone hall where Loki's cell was located. It frightened and upset Loki if Thor was in the cell, so he stayed outside it. He would wait for the moments when Loki's footsteps ceased, when he went to lie down on the bed. Those were his most lucid periods, and sometimes then he would listen to Thor. Never respond, but in those moments he seemed to know who was speaking to him. Thor could convince him to be still, to stop hurting himself. Once, even, Loki was calm enough that Thor was able to dab medicinal salve onto his wounds. His fingers were beginning to heal now that they had no muzzle to contend with, but he continued to make new injuries to his mouth.
Late on the third day, Father came down again. Thor knew that Odin had been busy in some way since they'd last spoken, but he'd rarely left this place long enough to eat or rest, much less seek out his father. Sif and the other warriors had stopped trying to distract him. Volund had told Thor that yesterday, when Thor had gone to sleep for a while, Father had come here to try speaking to Loki. Loki had become so distraught that Father had to leave again, and Loki had cried himself to sleep. Father and Mother had both stayed away since then.
"What do you want?" Thor asked his father bluntly. He was still not very pleased about the long-ago incident with Brokk being kept from him, and he'd spent most of his vigil reviewing everything he could find in his memory to understand why Loki was afraid of Odin.
"I've been speaking to the tribune, and I have convinced them," Odin said, but it wasn't pride in his voice, it was weary relief. "Loki is not fit to stand trial, and they have agreed to delay judgment. I told them it would be worse than useless to punish him for misdeeds he can't answer for, or indeed may not even be aware of the sentence passed."
Thor also felt relief, but at the same time he was afraid of Odin being correct. If Loki couldn't even be lucid enough to stand trial for his crimes, then he might be lost to them completely. And yet he was glad for the delay. It would lead to a wiser, less emotional decision from them all. Thor felt as though he was still on the beginning end of his journey toward learning to be king, but he had learned to value sound judgment over lashing out. It was a skill he had yet to learn.
"Can he be moved?" Thor was surprised he'd spoken, but the thought had been in his head since this morning and now seemed like a good time to ask. "I think that being in here has been . . . I think if he could see the sky, or have his books—"
"I've already arranged it," Odin interrupted. "I think the same. He will do better if he can be in his own chambers. He will be confined there, and there will be guards at his door. But perhaps, with his own things around him, he will settle."
Father had not always done right by Loki, but Thor was reminded that mistakes did not mean Odin didn't love him. He still called Loki his son, when he could have denied him.
"Thank you, Father," Thor said, and felt as though relief was a weight pressing down on his shoulders. Rather like the way mortality had felt so heavy on his limbs when he'd first arrived on Midgard. "He— I — thank you. Can it be done now?"
"I am here to oversee it," Father said simply, and clasped a hand on his shoulder as if he understand Thor's feelings. Guards were already appearing at the end of the hall, coming to ensure that Loki was moved safely and quickly from the prison to his rooms in the royal palace.
Thor knew there was plenty of suspicion in Asgard that Loki was feigning his madness. Volund had told him as much. The belief seemed to be that this was his trick, to wait until they were willing to move him and then make his escape. They were all fools— Loki hadn't asked to be moved. If he was secretly capable of scheming, he was doing a poor job of it.
Thor and Volund, and Father it seemed, were the only ones who knew the truth of it. They'd looked into Loki's eyes, and it wasn't cunning looking back. It was hardly even Loki. The grief, shame, and fear that they had all seen in snatches as everything had begun to unravel, ending a week ago in Midgard—fear, grief, and shame were all that was left in him. Not that Thor was willing to believe that. He would not accept it. No one could break a mind like Loki's, no one. Thor certainly could not, not merely with his idiotic method of binding up his trouble-making brother. Such a tiny thing that Thor had done so inadvertently . . . it could not be the one thing that put Loki beyond his reach.
. . . Could it?
No. He would not accept that.
But it didn't help when he thought of Loki's appearance and actions on Midgard, and began to wonder if he'd already been beyond reach by then.
Loki appeared in a more lucid state when Thor and Volund coaxed him forward, but he lost what little calm he had when he walked into the open air and saw the long hall before him. He gasped and shuddered and tried to backpedal into his cell. The guards were not patient and laid their hands on him and began to drag him away, marching him along with harsh grips on his arms. Thor couldn't stand the sight of the manacles digging into Loki's wrists when he tried to fight them. He pushed past them all and stooped down, catching Loki's legs. He ignored the shouts of alarm from the guards, and as they passed through the doors and into the open air of Asgard, he slung his brother up onto his shoulder, holding him tight in case he struggled. Loki only whimpered and laid still in his grasp.
Thor led the way to Loki's rooms in the royal hall, a path he knew with his eyes closed. How many times had he sought Loki out when he tired of his carousing friends? How many times had he come here to get advice from his crafty little brother? Not that he ever heeded it . . .
"Stay out," he commanded them all as he came to Loki's door. Odin had been just behind Thor, the whole way here, and now he nodded to confirm Thor's words. The guards obeyed and arranged themselves in the hall outside.
Thor carried Loki all the way to the desk where he wrote letters and studied, where a small pile of books had been gathering dust. Thor saw they were all books written by scholars about Odin's long reign and the methods of rule. Loki had intended to be a good king, hadn't he?
Thor set Loki down in the chair at his desk, and then followed a stray thought and raised one of Loki's hands to lay it on his books.
"See, brother," he said encouragingly, "you're in your own rooms now. You're home. You're safe."
Loki looked down at the book beneath his hand, and then looked at Father. He shuddered and closed his eyes, snatching his hand away. He started tugging at his hair, where he'd already created a bald patch. His breathing was the quick, senseless sound of a rabbit underneath the paw of a hunting hound.
"Father," Thor said cautiously. It wasn't seemly to rebuke him or make demands when Father had done this for Loki.
Father made a frustrated growling noise and Thor wasn't sure whether it was directed at him or inward onto Odin himself. But it made Loki sob softly and curl his legs up into the chair to try to hide his face. Father hurried out of the room.
"There," Thor said, putting a hand between Loki's shoulders. "Now we're alone, back home where we belong." He rubbed Loki's back, and pulled his hand away from his hair before he could yank any more of it out. "It will be better here, with your books and a window. You'll be safe here." Loki was relaxing, just a little. "Loki?" Loki's eyes were opening, looking at him. "Do you know where you are right now?"
Loki nodded so minutely that Thor almost didn't see it. But he did see it, and his heart leaped.
"It is better here, isn't it?"
Another tiny nod. Thor couldn't hold back his grin.
"There you are, brother," he said warmly, gripping his shoulder and tousling his dirty hair. "Will you speak to me?"
For a long agonizing moment, Thor thought he would. Then Loki suddenly whimpered and clawed frantically at his lips. His eyes went sick and lost again. A jagged fingernail drew blood.
"Please, please, Loki, don't do that." He pulled Loki's hands away, and that made his brother scramble up out of his chair and back away from him. Thor didn't try to approach him again. "Is there anything? Are you hungry or thirsty? Shall I send someone to light a fire in your hearth? Can I— can't I help you?"
Loki started to pace the room. It was the same mindless, unceasing tread as the dungeon, but since the floor was larger, he got a better momentum going before he'd be faced with a wall and have to whirl around and head in a new direction. Thor slumped, feeling defeated. He'd thought this would help. He'd thought Loki would feel better here.
"I'll give you some time," he muttered. "I'll come back later."
Loki just kept pacing.
Nothing seemed to work. Not Mother, not Thor, not the few servants brave enough to enter the room could speak to him or help him. After a further four days, Loki's self-imposed fast caught up to him.
When Thor came hurrying at a summons from the guards, he found Loki in bed, shivering and glassy-eyed with fever. Frigga came right on Thor's heels, and Loki was so confused and ill that he didn't even shrink away from their touch as he had been. He no longer had the bindings on his hands, because it seemed certain that he hadn't the presence of mind to attempt escape, but even that hadn't helped. Thor had thought they were making progress two days ago, when he'd allowed Thor to put salve on his face again and had been persuaded to drink a cup of water. Thor had nearly cried at that, more so when Loki had allowed him, in his joy, to embrace him for a moment. Now it seemed whatever had happened two days ago had meant nothing at all.
"Oh my son," Frigga whispered, her hand stroking the greasy tangle of Loki's hair. "What can I do for you? You know that I love you, but I don't know how to help. Will you not tell me?"
Thor had found, in his long brooding silences, that she was not truly to blame for any of this, he himself was the one who should have seen this and stopped it sooner, and it caused him pain to see her distraught. So now he put his arm around her so she could lean on him and cry softly.
"Thor, what shall we do?"
It wasn't as helpless a cry as it seemed. Thor knew his mother too well for that, and he knew she asked it now because she'd seen him thinking of it himself. They both knew that there was only one thing to do now.
"We have to get him out of Asgard. No matter what it takes. There is no way he can recover here, all his memories here are too stained now." He needed to get away from all the people who'd tormented him, whom he'd tormented. All his memories of Asgard were laced with betrayal. In his madness, he showed a child-like fear of them all. It seemed he felt guilt enough without receiving punishment.
"I've only just gotten the two of you back," Mother wept, pressing herself deeply into Thor's embrace. "I don't want to lose you. Not either of you. Not again."
"You won't, Mother," Thor assured her. "This will only be for a short time. I swear to you, I will bring him back, whole again, the little brother and son we remember." Then he looked at Loki again, soaked in fever sweat, lips bloody, hands twisted desperately in his bedclothes. "No. Not like that. When we return, it will be better. He won't doubt us anymore. Because— because he and I were meant to rule together. I should have— even when we were young, I—" Thor couldn't pour out his whole heart to his mother, not when Loki should have it first. "Well. We will come home. If Father lets us go," he said, almost an afterthought. He would go whether he had permission or not.
"He will." Mother pulled herself out of his arms, and her voice had gone hard as cold iron. "I will make sure of it."
"And where will you go?"
They were both startled at Odin's voice, and turned to see him waiting at the door of the outer room, not coming in to the bedchamber.
Thor had not truly thought about that, but there was only one answer in his heart. "Midgard. I know they have cause to reject him, but I also know that their people show mercy to those whose minds are ill. And I have friends there who will listen to my request, and they will trust me if I vouch for his behaviour during our stay."
Odin nodded as if in agreement, but what he said was, "It won't be allowed. The tribune will never accept that."
"You are king," Thor began, hotly, but stopped himself at Odin's disappointed look. He had learned much from his banishment, and he knew that a king could not always simply do as he pleased.
But. He cared more for Loki than for any of them, possibly more than anyone in any of the realms. Adopted he might be, but Thor had known him since before he took his first steps—he honestly could not remember a life before his brother. Thor would defy any ruling council and Odin Allfather as well, to stop this terrifying ache in his chest as he watched his brother slowly dying before his eyes. He would give up Mjolnir again if it would stop the way Loki tore at stitches that weren't real and forgot the ones who cared for him. He'd do anything if it meant Loki wouldn't have to live every moment in abject fear of something only he could see. He'd take on any warrior if a fight could save him. It was his right.
"I will go to the tribune myself and explain," he said.
Father was watching Loki, who moaned in pain and scratched weakly at the scabs on his lips.
"I will call them for you."
Thor went in preparing for a fight, but in the end it was easy. Odin had been wrong that they would be unwilling. They'd all heard enough about Loki's condition, and now it seemed they just wanted the problem to go away. It was hard to object to Thor's plan to take the sick and broken troublemaker far from them and take responsibility for him personally. They tried to be harsh, stating that Loki was banished from Asgard, trying to make this their own idea. But it was still obvious that they were relieved to shift responsibility.
Odin had promised to use his own power to do to Loki what he'd done to Thor. He planned to strip him of power and make him mortal. It was the only way they could be entirely certain the humans would be safe, but it would also give them less time to rebuild his physical strength. If he had his magic and strength taken from him, then he could die as easily as the humans did.
The main objection from the tribune was that this plan would take their beloved and maturing heir-apparent away from home for an undetermined amount of time. Thor couldn't help feeling a little pride at that, but he swallowed it down and reminded them that so long as repairs to the Bifrost continued in earnest, he could return if there was need of him. He remembered to thank them for their wisdom and generosity, even though it stuck in his throat.
That night, he drank and feasted with his friends one last time. They were silent about the state of affairs, preferring to tell rousing stories of their past triumphs and allowing Thor an evening of laughter. They drank until they were all of them legless, putting arms around each other and making weepy declarations of everlasting friendship.
Next morning, as soon as Thor could stand the sunlight, he met with Father and Mother in Loki's chambers so they could say goodbye in a more dignified manner.
Loki was almost lucid, although he was incredibly weak. He acted as though he knew Thor, and allowed his brother to prop him up in bed against his pillows, and then he allowed Mother to caress his cheek and tell him she would miss him. But when Father reached out, he bared his teeth in a snarl. He tried to fight him, but he was too ill for that and he collapsed backward in a faint. Thor would have wished they could have had a better farewell, but he assured himself that things would be greatly improved when they were able to return.
Sleipnir helped Thor carry his brother to the bridge, and Father went with them, quiet and solid at Thor's side. Just the three of them, no guards as an escort. Heimdall's greeting was grave and brief. Thor knew that Heimdall had reason to wish all this pain, and more, on Loki, and it was the respect he bore for Odin that stayed his tongue. Thor was grateful not to have a reason to restrain his temper again. He was full of worry and regret, and wasn't sure he could have restrained it.
Heimdall told them that the Bifrost could place them in New Mexico where Thor had landed before, or in an hour he could drop them into a place called Siberia, which was a desolate frozen wasteland. Thor had not cared for the desert heat, but this Siberia could only make Loki worse. "Get us as close to Puente Antiguo as you can, please," Thor said, feeling weary already at what would be waiting for him. First a desert to cross, and he knew it wouldn't take long before he was being interrogated and possibly even held prisoner. He was certain he could get out of it, in the end, but it was going to be a long day.
He turned to Father. "If I see no improvement in a few weeks, I will come back. He will be . . ." Dead or close to it. "But if he does, if things get better—"
"I will wait for your word," Father said quickly. He wouldn't even need to, Thor thought, feeling foolish. He would be here, with Heimdall, watching. "Take whatever time you need, my son. It is not as though time holds great meaning for us," he added, a rare joke. Then he looked at Loki and his smile fell away. "When he can hear you again, tell him I said . . . Tell him . . ."
"I will, Father," Thor promised. He knew what Father would say. Then he pulled Loki down from Sleipnir and propped his half-conscious brother against him. "Are you ready, brother?" he asked, trying to liven him up if he could. The desert would go easier if Loki was calm.
Loki shivered violently, and Thor tightened his grip. But his eyes were alert right now, and that was a good sign.
"Farewell!" Thor said. And stepped forward.
The Bifrost crackled and groaned alarmingly, but it held. There was a roaring of wind and colour and cold and dark and heat and time and wind—
Thor choked on dust, and looked around himself. Squinted his eyes against the sunlight. They had arrived.
"Brother, we're here," he cajoled, shaking him and trying to get him to stand under his own power. "Can you walk?" He shielded his eyes and caught sight of the town through a shimmering haze of heat, no more than two miles distant. "We're very close."
Loki's fingers clutched into Thor's clothes, and he took a few stumbling steps at Thor's side before Thor decided Loki could not walk. He lifted him up and carried him the two miles into town, telling himself that he had carried heavier burdens and that the desert was not as hot as it seemed. S.H.I.E.L.D. had probably already noted the atmospheric disturbance (he patted himself on the back for remembering some of the terms Jane had taught him) that was created during their passage, and someone was likely on their way already. Thor's wondered if they would give him time to explain before they tried to incarcerate Loki. Tried. Thor did not plan on giving him up so easily.
"You must try to walk," he urged his brother, setting him on his feet when they passed the first of the town's dusty buildings. He didn't want word getting back to S.H.I.E.L.D. of how weak Loki was right now. At least not until Thor had the chance to explain.
Loki stood upright, grasping what was needed, eyes sweeping over the familiar town. Most of the repairs had been completed, although it appeared they'd decided to leave the ruins of the fuel station and rebuild it elsewhere. The scorched earth where it had been was fenced off, now.
Loki's hand suddenly grasped Thor's arm, and his mouth opened. Thor's heart stopped.
The begging tone, the cracked and rasping voice . . . It didn't sound at all like him. But it was the first word he'd spoken since he'd been captured after the battle—two weeks gone, wasn't it? It nearly brought him to tears just to hear Loki speak at all.
"Yes, let's go find some water," Thor said gladly, just as eager as Loki seemed to be to relieve his parched throat. He thought they would remember him at the diner, and they would have no cause to bar Loki from entering since he had not shown his face when he'd come after Thor.
. . . That still hurt. Even realizing now how much pain was behind Loki's anger, it still hurt that Loki had done that. But that was for later, it had to be. He supported his brother's limping steps up the sun-faded pavement, moving torturously slow all so that Loki could be seen walking and not being carried. They were being gaped at by the few townspeople who were braving the hottest part of the day to run their errands. Ah. Their clothes. He should have remembered they favored more simple attire here.
"Izzy, well met!" he bellowed cheerfully as he pushed open the door of the diner. He was happy to see that she was still here. Then his stomach dropped as he remembered the lessons his friends here had taught him about Midgardian currency, which he did not posses. "What would be the charge for a glass of water?" he asked in a low voice, leaning on the counter and trying to call up some dregs of charm.
"I wouldn't charge you for water," Izzy answered incredulously. Her eyes flicked to Loki, who was limp and pale and panting, clutching at a stool. "He got heat stroke?" she asked with alarm. She was already snatching up a glass and pouring from a pitcher of ice water she kept at the counter. "Here, you need to drink this all up, and you'd better lie down in one of the booths. You've got to stay out of the sun and get re-hydrated. Don't drink too fast, okay?"
She handed two glasses of water to Thor. "You don't look so good, either. Nice to see you again, though. You better help him," she nodded at Loki, who was attempting to take her advice and get to one of the empty booths. Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to find his balance and was tilting rather sideways. Thor quickly rescued him and somehow managed to get Loki and both glasses to the booth. He sat Loki down and put the glass in his hands. Loki took it eagerly enough, but actually drinking was a problem. The press of it against his wounds caused him pain, and he couldn't seem to figure out how to open his mouth. He whimpered and water dripped from his chin, pink with dried blood. Thor put a hand on Loki's back to steady him and found him shaking.
"It's all right," he said quietly. "Don't be afraid of these people. Shhh."
After that, the glass disappeared in short, painful gulps.
"Is he going to be all right?" Izzy asked, looking taken aback. "I could find somebody to drive him to the hospital in Albuquerque."
"No, he'll be fine. I hope," Thor sighed. "May we have more water?"
Despite Loki's trouble drinking, he seemed to have developed a quick and fierce possessiveness regarding his glass, and hissed at Thor when he took it to get it refilled. Thor ignored the stares of the patrons in the diner, and was glad that Izzy seemed above such gawking. She was truly a noble lady.
The door to the diner was flung open, and Thor turned to meet the threat. He barely recovered from his surprise in time to catch Jane as she leaped into his arms.
"Thor!" she cried out with joy.
"Jane Foster, you— I am glad to see you, but I thought you were gone."
"Oh, Thor, you should see the facility they set me up in, it's incredible and my work is just taking off, I was just here to pick up some of the things I'd left with Darcy when I saw the clouds and I thought— I can't believe you're here!"
"I can hardly believe it myself," he laughed as he pressed her close and breathed in the smell of her. One very thorough kiss later, Jane stepped back and caught sight of Loki laying his head listlessly on the table.
"Ohmygod, is that—"
"It is," Thor interrupted before she could announce his name to all and sundry. It was possible they had heard his name on their televisions, although he hoped not. There was a great deal that the world didn't know about what had happened in New York, but Thor was hoping to avoid attention just in case. "He is unwell," he said awkwardly. He wasn't willing to explain everything in public. "He— he needs rest. That's why I've brought him here. And I wanted very much to see you, as well," he added, smoothing down a stray lock of her hair and kissing her again. "You look beautiful, my lady." She was sweaty and disheveled and very beautiful indeed. "I fear we won't have long."
He didn't even have to explain himself, because the next sound they heard was the whine of an approaching helicopter, which soon became a roar. They must be landing in the closest open space.
"I knew they would be coming. Jane. I do not know what kind of reception we will have, and I don't want you caught in anything—"
"Here," she said quickly, pulling a pen from her shirt pocket and grabbing his arm, pulling up his sleeve. Bemused, he let her scribble something on his skin. "This is my cell number. Call me when you can?"
"I will," he promised, shoving his sleeve back down to protect the numbers.
One last kiss, and she melted away, Izzy waving her into the kitchen just as the front door opened to admit another strange visitor. Nick Fury himself was the one who strode in, his coat flapping in the leftover wind of the helicopter rotors. The Lady Maria was with him.
"You damn well better explain yourself, because Agent Hill is feeling a little trigger-happy right now," the man snapped.
Loki had dragged himself upright and his eyes were darting everywhere, looking for a place to run. Fury's look held nothing short of utter loathing.
The Son of Coul. Thor could have wished they would send agents who had not loved that man so well as these two had. That was one crime for which Thor could not defend Loki at all.
"I will, but wait a moment," Thor said desperately, and tried to buy himself a moment to plan his words by turning back to Loki and giving him the new glass of water. "Drink," he urged quietly. If they took Loki into captivity, it might be some time before he got anything else. Loki stared at the water like he didn't know what it was, and his hands were shaking again. He shoved himself to his feet and tried to run.
Lady Maria drew her gun to fire and Thor prepared to bring her down. Neither action proved necessary, since Loki made it only a few steps before his eyes rolled back in his head and he listed sideways. He bashed his face on a stool as he fell, the sound reverberating and making them all wince. He tried to scrabble his way back up, but he only made it onto his knees. He knelt there at their feet, his nose bleeding and his broken fingernails digging into the floor.
"I'm still waiting for that explanation," Fury said.
The agent still had her gun on Loki.
Thor knelt down beside his brother and gently dabbed at his nose with a handful of paper napkins. "The shortest explanation is that my brother has lost his mind." He murmured soothingly to Loki to keep him from trying to run again. It would not go well the second time, if Loki even had strength enough for another effort.
"That's old news."
Thor would be humble. He would answer their questions as they deserved. He would. If he could stay under control and find the right words, they may yet leave here as free men.
"Truly, Director, he cannot function beyond his fear. He is not a danger now to anyone but himself. He's made himself very ill, in fact. I have not heard him speak in two weeks." Not counting his plea for water, but Thor thought the more general truth would suffice. "He is my brother still, but he is not the man who came here to bring chaos. He will not harm the people of your world, I swear. He is . . . He has been stripped of his powers, as punishment."
"Why the hell did you bring him back here?" the Lady Maria snarled. She still hadn't lowered her gun, and Fury hadn't asked her to.
"To get him out of Asgard," Thor shrugged, and tried to make them understand his anguish. "I fear for his life, if we cannot convince him to eat or sleep. This is the only world that I know that had made advances in this sort of illness."
"And what is your plan, exactly? You don't seem like you're planning to put him in the psych ward. You're just planning to find a place to stay and play nursemaid to the guy?"
"Yes," Thor said simply. Patience. Humility. He could do this.
"And if he finds his mind roaming around and screws it back in? And decides he's still interested in ruling the earth?"
"If he recovers, I will take him home again. Please, Director. I do not believe that Loki desires the subjugation of your people— every day, I am less convinced he ever truly wanted that. And besides, his magic has been taken from him by the power of the Allfather, our Father. His only weapons now are his mind and his tongue, and you see for yourself what state those are in."
His mind was probably in better shape than Thor gave him credit for—if nothing else, Loki was quite lucid at this moment. He kept to his knees with his eyes on the floor, letting Thor clean the blood from his face with soggy napkins. He hadn't been this still and quiet since he'd been captured, and Thor knew that for at least this moment, Loki was thinking.
Then he suddenly began to whimper, jerking his face away and scrambling backward until his back hit the diner counter, rubbing fiercely at his lips. Was he gone away again, or was it only a show for Director Fury? For the first time, Thor wasn't sure. He had to hide his face, turning away as if in grief, so they wouldn't see how happy he was at the possibility that Loki was coming back. And if he was, he was working with Thor. He saw the fright and pain in Loki's expression though, and he couldn't be sure. Maybe he'd slipped away.
Director Fury and Agent Hill both looked rather disgusted by the whole thing, and the man pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Even his sighing sounded impatient and angry.
"Right now I've got Stark, Banner, and Rogers all in New York City. So that is where you are going. We will find you an apartment to stay in, and make no mistake that we will control that building and its security. You will be monitored. You will have a time limit to prove this to me. Your brother so much as breathes wrong, and I will tell the Avengers to do what they do best."
"I am an Avenger," Thor said in surprise, inexplicably hurt by that. He'd thought that as the heir of Asgard he was above something so petty as having his feelings hurt, but it seemed he wasn't. Then it sunk in, that Fury was threatening to bring the entire power of S.H.I.E.L.D. down on Loki—which was one thing if Loki appeared to be cruelly bent on world destruction at the head of an invading army, but he wasn't. He was sick, couldn't the man see that?
Thor stood up and straightened himself. He towered over Fury. "I care greatly for the people of this world," he said with dignity. "I think I have given adequate evidence of that. My people have protected your people in wars you will never even know, and I have friends in this world. If I believed that Loki meant harm to anyone here, I would assemble the Avengers myself."
He was speaking slowly, evenly, carefully. And yet that last word came out on a snarl, despite his best efforts. Fury didn't even blink, but after a moment of consideration, he nodded. Then he spun around on his heel and headed for the door. "Let's go, then. And call your girlfriend, Thor, tell her where you're going. Unless she's still hiding in the kitchen."
Thor bent to help Loki get to his feet, unsure if he understood that they were meant to follow Fury. And so he was close enough to hear the soft, hoarse sound that Loki released. He laughed, just once, and hope burned ever brighter in Thor's heart. This was going to work.
A simple studio flat was found for them overnight. The bland-looking agent who escorted them to their new and temporary home was mumbling a great deal about furnishings, New York prices, foreign dignitaries getting better flats than him, and something about getting caught with a woman named Cecilia in something called a supply closet and how he was supposed to be fly-fishing instead of dealing with crazy people. Thor took it all in stride, especially since the mumbling agent actually seemed rather terrified the whole time, and kept pausing in case Thor wanted to object.
In truth, he could hardly contain his joy.
They'd run a battery of scans on Loki while they'd been flying to New York, but they hadn't argued with Thor's insistence on being present, and without magic Loki was unable to damage their equipment. He'd hurt one of the agents, but it was obviously the agent's fault. Thor had been standing there telling him that Loki was afraid and to back away, and the man had ignored him and reached in with latex gloves to grab at Loki's mouth. It was his own fault he'd gotten kicked in the gut and that they couldn't do any more tests, since Loki had spent the rest of the flight huddled up in a corner with Thor standing in front of him with Mjolnir in his fist.
Somehow, neither of them were under arrest, even though Thor had half-suspected that he'd spend days locked in some bunker trying to convince them that he was capable of getting a job in Midgard and earning money. Instead, they were being shown around a furnished apartment that had been given to them for a month. He'd also been given a cell phone, which he didn't know how to use but which he'd been told he would need. They called it gratitude for the times he'd defended their realm and said they'd discuss further arrangements in a month. Thor suspected they just didn't want him to get a job because that would mean he would be leaving Loki alone. Convinced that he was unwell, they might be, but they were not remotely convinced he was not dangerous.
Thor probably should be more suspicious of that, himself. He just didn't want to be.
The agent was about to scurry out the door, projecting an air of eagerness to get away from them, but then he gasped and dug into his billfold. He pulled out a plastic square of the sort that Jane and Darcy had called "debt cards."
"This is for your living expenses," he explained. "It should be accepted as payment almost anywhere."
"Living expenses?" Thor asked quizzically. This was a new term for him.
"You know, food, clothing . . ." he coughed awkwardly, "shampoo. That kind of thing."
"This is unlooked for generosity," Thor smiled at him, hoping to put him more at ease. Instead, he went horribly pale. Did Thor frighten him that much? Was he new to this job?
Then a thought struck him, and he turned to Loki. His brother was standing in the center of the room, using one of his untrimmed fingernails to tear a long ribbon of skin from the back of his opposing hand, ignoring the drops of blood dripping onto the floor. That was probably the reason the agent looked uncomfortable. Thor hurried to Loki's side to stop him.
"You're the prince, in your world, right?" the young agent asked as Thor winced at the new wound Loki had made on himself.
"I honestly don't mean any offense, but that makes you kind of scary, to us. You're a lot stronger than us, you know? So it's in Earth's best interests if S.H.I.E.L.D. treats you well. Even if—"
"If?" Thor prodded when he didn't go on.
The agent was looking at Loki again, who was doing nothing this time. But Thor understood. Even if your brother killed some of us. Thinking on what had transpired here usually tied Thor in knots of grief and anxiety—Loki had ever been a trickster, but the malicious rage he'd vented here was not mere mischief and Thor considered it as much Asgard's fault as Loki's that he had fallen so far (and what if Loki had fallen too far to be called back from that darkness?)—but today it only made him feel tired. These past two weeks were taking their toll; Thor was weary to his bones. He hadn't slept at all last night, and not well in quite some time. The agent seemed to believe that Loki was still the man who'd brought that army here, but how could he be when he seemed so much like an animal gnawing his own leg off to escape a hunting snare?
. . . Most of all, Thor was tired of pretending he knew what he was doing.
"Please pass along my thanks to Director Fury," he said as warmly as he could, finally taking the little plastic card. "And our thanks to you for your assistance here." There was likely more that this agent was supposed to tell him, some instructions or rules or restrictions from S.H.I.E.L.D., but Thor was determined that it could wait for another day. He shut the door on the man before he could protest and locked it shut. He turned and collapsed onto a piece of the plain but serviceable furniture, sighing so deeply it was a wonder he didn't blow the walls down.
Loki was pacing. He cradled his injured hand to his chest and stalked the four walls.
"Loki," he called out. He was too tired to get up, too tired to see to the wound on his hand. Hadn't Loki seemed more and more rational since the moment they'd arrived here? "We're alone now. You're safe here. Do you understand me? It's just the two of us here, and none to hurt you. You don't need to be afraid here."
And Loki proved that all of this strangeness and the things Thor had been risking were worth it. He stopped and turned to listen, then he came over and perched on the edge of the sofa where Thor was sprawling. The two of them just looked each other in the eyes for a silent minute, and Thor could see that Loki had heard him. But then his eyes skittered away nervously and he picked miserably at the clotting blood on the back of his hand.
Feeling even more weary, Thor covered his hand and stilled it. "I know that you need time and I know that things aren't right yet. I won't press you to speak to me and I won't take you home before you're ready. All I ask of you is that you stop this. I beg of you, do not harm yourself. I won't have you in pain, brother, not anymore."
Loki jerked away from him, looking ill and frightened and shaken. His throat was moving, his lips were moving, and Thor held his breath.
Loki gasped a desperate breath. "Water."
The same word as yesterday, but a word nonetheless. Thor would take anything Loki could give him. He forced himself to his feet and went to inspect the kitchen, and found plastic bottles full of water in the fridge. It was the only thing in the small kitchen, in fact. He took out two bottles and faced Loki, assessing him with his eyes and wondering how far he could push this.
Loki hadn't slept, either, unless one counted his lapse into fevered, sluggish half-consciousness during their flight to New York. He had drunk what seemed like gallons of water, but he'd still eaten nothing. In this mortal form, what had been urgent was now imperative. Loki had always been rather thin but his deprivation had turned him to a ragged skeleton. Food and medicine for his wounds were incredibly important, because he'd lost much of his Aesir strength. But sleep was even more necessary, at the moment. For both of them. Thor didn't think he could carry on without some rest.
He honestly didn't know how either of them was still standing. He could see Loki trembling with weakness from across the room.
There was only room for one bed, but at least it was a large one. Thor guided Loki to it decisively.
Loki actually tried to acquiesce, but he was so weak that his legs gave out when he started to sit down and he fell. Thor pushed him backward so he wouldn't fall to the floor, and found himself frightened by the way Loki fell obediently back as though commanded to lie down. He seemed to be trying to curl up, but his long limbs were too heavy for him.
This obedient, weakened creature with the silenced voice and the bleeding hands . . . Thor would almost rather see Loki at the head of a ravening army again. He had to clear his throat before he could speak.
"Rest for now, and when you wake, we will go out and try to find food."
Schwarma couldn't be the only thing they sold in this city, and Thor would find something. If there was any mercy, Loki would eat it.
"Here, drink this," he said, holding out the water.
Loki took it, but when he tried to sit up to drink it, he couldn't manage. He closed his eyes and released a small, frustrated sob. Thor tried to find more strength in himself, so he could help. How did Loki not understand that his refusal to eat or sleep had led to this weakness?
"Let me help you," he muttered, sitting down beside Loki and lifting his head, pressing water to his lips and grimacing when he saw that he'd pressed too hard and opened a split in his cracked skin. But it was worth it, because Loki snatched the bottle from him and drank it all down. Anything that he'd take into his body had to be better than nothing.
Thor saw the bones of Loki's wrists jutting out, and when he turned away from Thor and curled onto his side to sleep, his spine showed through his thin shirt. Somehow, Thor had to convince him to stop dreaming about the sewing, about the muzzle, had to convince him that he was safe here, and get him to just eat something. He tried to remember Loki's favourite foods as he watched his tempestuous sleep, but he only lasted a minute or two before he was dragged into sleep himself.