Author's Note: If anyone here has read my Supernatural fic, they may know that AUs of peoples' canon lives are my weakness, and even more my weakness is making people live through AUs of their canon lives. It's pretty great.
That's basically what birthed this fic. And then it kept growing, and then I was running into the problem of how to end it. When I did finally end it, I sat staring at it in apprehension for a while, and finally sent it along to isupportahooker, who informed me that I was probably only so nervous about it because it was unusually optimistic for me.
That is quite possibly true.
Anyway, here it is, and without further ado! Enjoy. The saga of Lise-has-way-too-many-Loki-feelings continues. (Forever? Possibly.)
He found the way of it quite by accident. In the middle of a battle, dueling Thor's mortal friends. He had not been expecting them, and did not particularly find himself in the mood. Reaching to teleport away, he caught one of those blasts from Stark coming for his face and twisted his magic into a new shape to deflect it without quite letting go of the first working.
The world shifted violently sideways in a wholly nauseating manner, and Loki staggered, blinking in the sudden wash of golden light. Asgard, he thought dizzily. How in the nine realms-
"Loki!" He froze. It was his mother's voice, but not angry or surprised, worried. "Loki, where-"
And then she was around the corner and staring at him, but she slumped with relief and was embracing him before he could flee. "My love, you frightened me."
"Moth- Frigga?" Loki caught himself, if only barely. He couldn't be here. He needed to go, but- something was strange. In her greeting, and in him, something nagging at the back of his mind.
"You can't wander off like that," she said, "Not now, not after-" and she stopped, and looked away, her glance at him worried and furtive like she thought he might break. Loki tensed. Wrong wrong wrong, something was-
There was a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach.
"Where is Thor?" he asked, blankly, the question dragged out of him, and Frigga's face crumpled.
"Oh, love," she said. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He could see it in her face. No, he thought. That's not possible. But he could see it, now, the dark color of her clothing, the quiet, the heaviness in the air of grief. And he could see it, too, like his own memories, Thor in Jotunheim, one moment roaring in triumph and the next falling, falling, a spear of ice through his chest and then another through his throat-
He'd been there. Only feet away, distracted by the realization that something was wrong with him, and had only turned in time to see the light go out of Thor's eyes.
"No," he said, raggedly. "That's not how it happened-" But he could see it. So clearly. Remembered lunging over and pressing his hands to the wound, trying to think of something, anything, and it was then, only then that Odin had come. Taken them back, wordless, face momentarily vivid with horror when he saw Thor and then expressionless once more. All of Asgard grieved, and he, Loki…
He had scarcely spoken since. Did not sleep, or eat, but kept to himself thinking, always thinking on how easily he'd persuaded Thor to go, all the while sure that it was his own idea, all part of Loki's plan to show them all how reckless and foolhardy Thor was, how unready for the throne-
Frigga was holding him almost too tightly. "Please," she said, almost too quietly to hear. "Don't let me lose you too." He could hear her fear.
"This is all wrong," Loki said, "This isn't-"
What had he done, somehow, had he changed things, altered things, but he did not have the power for that kind of spell…
And just as he was about to jerk away, he felt the world snap back to itself and was standing in his apartment, swaying. He hung as though suspended for a moment before jerking into motion and over to the TV.
"—Avengers once again fought off supervillain Loki, though he is still at large. Citizens are warned to…"
"Where is he," Loki hissed at the screen, but a moment later the video switched to shaky footage of the fight, and there he was, bellowing as loudly as ever. Alive. He sank onto his couch in abject relief. Alive.
Another world, he thought dazedly. Another universe, like and unlike this. He had read of such things but never put much credit to it, and never thought to find himself in one, slipped across boundaries into some otherwhere.
Well. It seemed it was possible. But it was also done, and this was his proper place, here, now. He an exile and Thor alive.
You killed him,was the murmur at the back of his mind, or as good as. Look what it did to you. Ruined you.
Not here, Loki thought savagely. Not me.
He did not intend to do it again. The experience had not been pleasant to say the least, and he had no desire to know in what other ways he had ruined his own life.
Of course, as ever, the Norns never seemed to care much for his intentions. It was, yet again, an accident, in battle, the threads of two spells tangling together to make something new and the lurching sense of falling just as Barton's arrow exploded perilously near his face.
He landed head over heels in snow to the sound of someone laughing. "Got you," said an unfamiliar voice, but there was something…
Loki flipped to his feet, summoning his knives and snarling. And then blinked. The jotun facing him looked…anything but primed for battle. And young, limbs slightly disproportionate. Then he glanced down at the knife in his hand.
His blue hand, ridged with unfamiliar markings.
Loki could not swallow a cry of alarm and horror in time, and his knife slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers. The word 'no' formed in his throat but did not escape the block that had suddenly formed there.
"Brother?" His frost giant opponent was suddenly there, hands gripping his arms and Loki flinched but there was no burn, only a slight, pleasant coolness. "What is it, what have you-"
Brother, Loki thought dimly, and then he remembered, memories rushing in like a flood. He'd grown up here, in the ice and snow, with one elder brother and one younger. This was the younger, Byleistr, and Loki loved him well.
"I'm fine," he said, too quickly, his voice ragged. "It was only…" This is wrong, his thoughts shrieked at him, nearly hysterical. Look at yourself, look- His thoughts spun and tripped over each other, he could feel sound receding and his head growing light-
"Brother? Loki!" The frost giant – his brother, oh Norns – sounded worried. "Are you sick?"
Sick? He felt sick. Byleistr was holding his shoulders and saying something about a healer. "No," Loki said, raggedly. "No, I don't…I need to sit down." His knees buckled and he half fell into the snow, bending his head forward to try to relieve his dizziness.
The world bled back in slowly. Byleistr was hovering nervously, and Loki fought the instincts telling him to attack, though he wasn't wholly certain why. Perhaps it was the naked worry in his younger brother's eyes. He remembered being looked at like that, and no matter how he'd resented it…
"Loki?" he said, somewhat nervously. Loki forced a smile.
"I don't know what came over me," he said. "But it seems to have passed. I'm all right now."
"Good," said Byleistr, seeming almost relieved beyond words. "Helblindi would kill me if I caused you any harm."
Loki could not keep himself from baring his teeth. "I'm not weak."
Byleistr blinked. "Of course not. You are the best mage in all of Jotunheim, and there are few better with the knife."
As easily as that, Loki thought. All his life he'd spent fighting for just that sort of recognition from Thor, from Odin, from someone, and here his frost-giant brother (frost-giant brother) gave it to him so easily, so thoughtlessly…
He felt the familiar tugging feeling and for a moment, thoughtlessly, he fought it. Not wanting to go back. But of course it was useless, and Jotunheim was gone. He was standing in a densely wooded forest, his skin Aesir flesh once more.
Fool, he thought savagely. You're a fool, why would you fit better there than…
But that wasn't it, was it? It was the whole idea of jotunn having such emotions as care and affection and worry, such relationships as brotherhood. Everything he'd ever heard – everything he'd ever known…
He wondered, suddenly, if his blood-siblings were still alive. Or if they had died in some fight or another.
Or if, he thought, like spider-legs down his spine, he himself had killed them, never knowing…
It doesn't matter. A twist of fate, and what is it to you? In some other world you cared, but not here.
No, not here.
Loki stood alone in his apartment, considering. Perhaps he was being foolish. There might, after all, be risks as yet undiscovered, and was it really worth sating a small curiosity to tempt those to find him? And yet…
He breathed out slowly, and this time tried deliberately to replicate the error that had cast him lurching off course into these other worlds before. This time, in his closer awareness of what he was doing, he felt the hooks of his magic catch and snag on something like woven cloth, and then tear through and-
Loki stood in a desolate wasteland, amid the ruins of what must have once been a great city. Now there was only ash and dust blowing through rubble.
"What now?" Loki asked, feeling a prickle of irritation mingled with unease. "What is this supposed to be?"
No answer. Just silence and the sound of the wind.
Disappointed, Loki shifted and then shrugged, moving to start walking.
"Stay where you are, Laufeyson." Loki fell still. That voice sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite…he didn't move his hands, well aware that any gesture could look like a casting. That name set his teeth on edge. By the tone of voice, it was intended to.
"May I turn?"
"You've got some gall, showing your face here."
"And what does that…" Loki trailed off as the onslaught of memories not his hit him. No. No, he did know this place. And he knew that voice. This was Asgard.
And it was his doing. His hand that had slain Baldr – not merely banished him to unchanging sleep, but killed. His hand that had raised Hela's dead against Asgard herself, and set them against each other in an unwinnable war. His hand-
Loki searched those memories for regret, and found none. Searched them for anything that was not sour bitterness and hate, and found nothing.
"Volstagg," he said. He turned. The warrior had lost much of his weight, but none of his bulk, so his flesh hung loosely on him like a man gone through a long illness. His eyes were hard and utterly void of warmth.
"Come to see your good work?" Volstagg asked. "Not much of us left. Vidar's sworn to have your head."
"And you?" Loki asked, after a moment. Volstagg stared at him a moment, and then glanced aside.
"I'm not that stupid."
Odin was dead. Heimdall was dead. Frigga and Freya and Idunn and- but he could find no record in his memory of Thor. His mouth felt dry, his tongue thick. Loki World-Destroyer. Loki God-Killer.
"Thor," he managed, at last. Volstagg's expression, if possible, hardened further.
"What pains me," he said lowly, "Is that if we had not listened to him, it might not have come to this."
"Dead," Loki forced out, not quite making it a question. Volstagg turned.
"You wish to see him? I think you deserve to."
Loki followed, looking not too far either to the right or the left. Not daring to. They walked in silence, and Loki could not have said how long it had been before he stopped at the sudden, blood-curdling howl out of the dark.
"This way," Volstagg said, without pause, moving toward where the sound had come from. After a moment, Loki followed him, nearly numb. For the first time, he wondered what happened if he was killed in one of these otherwheres.
It was not very much farther before Volstagg stopped and indicated forward. "I will not come further," he said flatly. After a moment, Loki stepped around him and paced forward. There was a strong smell of sickness, of death in the air, and Loki felt his stomach begin to roil.
He didn't recognize him at first. This bloody, mutilated piece of flesh was not, could not be Thor the Thunderer. But…his hair, even dulled by mud and blood, that particular shade of gold. The remnants of powerful muscle.
Then his body bent like a bow, another terrible howl tearing from his throat, and his face was visible even if ravaged and ruined. Thor's face. His brother's…
Loki turned aside, breathing hard through his nose. End the spell, he thought, end it, end it, but… "You can't even look at your own work?" Volstagg said harshly.
He remembered now. Everlasting agony. In this world, that's what he had promised Thor, and he had given it. As long as Thor lived, he would suffer like this. Protective spells would not let him be killed as a mercy. It was a perfectly designed trap, elegantly cruel.
No, he thought, suddenly furious. No. This isn't me, and reached out with his magic, intending to release Thor, at least, kill him, something-
He found himself standing in the apartment where he had just been, one hand outstretched and tears dampening his cheeks, a slight tremble in his hands.
No, he thought. Never again. There was no point, no use, in visiting these other worlds. They clearly had nothing to show him.
He avoided Thor and his friends for the next week, giving various specious reasons for it and not considering what reasons might be the truth. He didn't dare to. Confronting them too closely seemed likely to be dangerous.
Fortunately, Thor's idiot friends did not trouble him either, and he largely remained in his apartment, reading, resting, and trying to empty and clear his mind. Fallen Asgard haunted his dreams. Fallen Thor even more so. But those were not his memories. They had no bearing on him. What did it matter what some other Thor and Loki did in some other world?
He had his own battles to fight.
(Unanswered questions nagged at him. How many were there? How many Lokis wandering through the worlds, each on their own path, each making their own choices to lead them to their separate dooms? But always doom. But that was fate, was it not? That no matter what he might try, he would be brought low.)
You were happy in Jotunheim, weren't you?
A fluke, he decided. An anomaly. And wasn't that just further mark of his wrongness, to be at peace among such creatures?
Loki had never been terribly good at leaving well enough alone, however. And any hypothesis needed testing.
He knew at once that this one was different. His body felt strange, for one; awkward and ill-suited, and for one horrible moment he thought he had been disfigured, maimed somehow. Then he looked down at his body and found it – small. Whole, but small.
And he was not on Asgard.
Every muscle he had tensed at that booming voice, and he started to turn, but a moment later was forestalled by being swept off his feet and into a bone-crushing hug by his – much bigger brother. "What are you doing out here?" Thor was demanding. "You're not supposed to come out this way."
"Not supposed to," Loki started to say, automatically, and then heard his voice. The high pitch of a child's voice.
He fell still, stunned.
"Yes, yes, I know," Thor said, and his chuckle was fond as the oaf mussed his hair. "Loki does not do as he is supposed. But as I have told you, it is for good reason."
Loki reached reflexively for his magic and found…only a flicker. Barely anything. In reaching, though, the memories finally flooded in to fill him.
He'd died, falling from the Bifrost. Died in truth, but because of some strange twist of fate or magic had been reborn into Midgard, a child without name or home or family. And there, hungry and mostly alone, Thor had found him. But he was an exile, not permitted to return to the Golden Realm, despite the fact that his memories of his past were foggy, faded, little more than a dream.
Midgard, then, it was. And Thor had stayed to be with him, an older brother and father at the same time.
He was safe. Loved.
"Loki?" Apparently he'd been still for too long. "Are you well?"
He squirmed, dutifully. "Yes, of course. Put me down."
"I don't think I shall." Thor sounded faintly smug. Well he might. With this difference between them Loki hadn't a chance of slipping free, at least not in a direct fight. But…he did not feel resentful, as he'd expected. Or angry, or…
He searched his memories – not his memories, the memories of this other Loki - for rancor or discontent, and found none. Loki did squirm then, a little, though for unrelated reasons, suddenly feeling as though the ground had vanished under his feet and come back up hard.
"Thor," he said, that childish voice strange in his ears, and forced out, "…brother?"
"Yes?" Loki tipped his head back and up to see Thor's face, trying to read it.
"Do you ever want to go back to - home?"
Thor's embrace tightened, almost…possessively. Loki could not quite hold in a protesting squeak as his ribs creaked, and Thor set him down then, and knelt in front of him so they were on a level. "Loki," he said, suddenly solemn, and Loki had to wonder suddenly if he'd asked this question or one like it before. "I am here – because I wish to be. And I have no wish to go elsewhere, and less desire to go anywhere without you."
Loki reeled. Thor's hands landed heavy on his shoulders and pulled him close, forehead resting against his. "Banish the idea, brother. I am where I wish to be. With you." Truth. Loki could feel it, of that variety that only Thor could quite manage, down to the bone. It made him want to shiver. Too much.
He made himself nod. Forced the words out. "I…understand."
It was easy to love him like this, of course, Loki thought viciously. A child. Thor would tire of him soon enough, and leave him behind all over again. That was what Thor did.
His thoughts broke off in Thor pulling him into a hug, embrace tight and fierce. "Brother," he said,voice low and vibrating with feeling. Too much, Loki thought, with sudden panic. No, it's too much, I can't-
He yanked himself away and half fell to his knees in a little wood. The ground was soft and muddy, and a small creek ran through a narrow course between slender tree trunks. Loki wrapped his arms around himself, his own body now feeling ungainly and awkward, and too keenly aware of the absence of warmth and of safety.
It will not last, he told himself. Even for that other Loki…enjoy it while it does, my other self. He will not stay for long.
And yet perhaps…perhaps…
Half out of some sense of obligation, Loki made a half-hearted attempt at stealing an artifact of power from a famous museum. It would not do for Thor's friends to think he was becoming complacent, though in truth it seemed to him time that would be better spent in further exploration.
When the heist failed, as Loki had known it would, he reached to teleport away, and changed his mind at the last minute.
It was Asgard again. His rooms, to be particular, and Loki found himself sprawled on his own bed, a book open on his lap. This must be before the coronation, then. Although…that didn't seem right. He reached for this self's memories, but as always when he tried deliberately, they eluded him.
Loki barely had time to turn his head toward the pre-emptory knocks on the door before Thor burst in. "There you are," he said, with audible relief, looking a bit wild-eyed. "I need your help."
Well, Loki thought dryly. That, at least, was familiar. "My help?" He kept his voice level with only slight effort. "What with?"
The look Thor cast him was both reproachful and faintly indignant. "You know. The lady Hilde. She keeps insisting…" Loki swallowed the desire to laugh with some effort. He could picture Hilde. Aggressive, persistent – and not unattractive. Which was…an oddity. Thor had never been shy about sharing his…affections.
"Why don't you just give her what she wants?" Loki suggested, and got another of those simultaneously reproachful and desperate looks.
"You know why. Jane may be in Midgard but I have promised her I will not dally with other women – nor do I want to!"
Jane. That name struck him like a hammer. Jane. In Midgard.
(Yes, of course Thor had been banished, his memories belatedly informed him. But he'd returned, and returned a changed man, more thoughtful, humbler – and with a mortal lover. Loki had met her for the first time recently, and found her surprisingly intelligent, and not unpleasant. Likable, in fact.)
But- Loki's thoughts fragmented. I am-
(Yes, jotun. In blood but not in heart. He was angry with Odin, and still felt that, but instead of dividing him from Thor he had gone to his exiled brother seeking…solace. And found it. Somehow, Thor had…understood. Or at least accepted.)
"Loki?" Thor's eyebrows pulled together. He looked worried. "Is everything…"
"Yes," he said. "Yes, fine…so you want my help getting rid of Hilde?"
To his surprise, Thor frowned, looking dubious. "You did not look…it seemed as though someone had struck you over the head for a moment there, brother."
Thor never pressed. Never questioned. He was as adept at reading Loki's moods as a rock would be. That was Thor. That was the way it had always been. "You noticed," Loki said, startled, without meaning to speak. Thor's expression went faintly ashamed.
"I am not very good at it, still," he said, "but I am…trying. To notice when you are upset. Since you never seem to want to say."
Loki stared at Thor, half incredulous, half just…stunned. This was Thor, but transformed, different, wiser.
The thought popped into his head, unwanted – is this what could have been? If you hadn't tried, foolishly, to…if you had let yourself seek help rather than pushing all of them away…
Could it have been like this?
Thor's frown deepened. "Loki, are you sick? You seem pale."
"No," Loki said at once, "No, I'm not…sick." He felt a little sick, though. Unsteady. And he could feel the world, the real world (his world) pulling at him. He fought it, not wanting to go back. Not wanting to leave here. Not just yet.
"But not well either." Thor sounded worried.
"I'm fine," Loki said, and strove to make it convincing. His hand reached out as though it was not his own, fingers tangling in Thor's sleeve. "I only…stay here a moment, Thor. I'll – I'll speak to Hilde. Convince her that you have…horrible boils. Something."
"You are acting very strange," Thor said uncertainly, but he shifted, sat down on Loki's bed. "But then I suppose you always do." Loki tensed, the words almost too familiar, but there was no malice in them, only affection, and Thor reached out and tousled his hair in a way Loki had forgotten he hated.
He only had a moment of it before he was in his flat, alone. If he inhaled deeply, Loki imagined he might still smell Thor, faintly. The scent of his rooms, comfortable and familiar.
It's like a dream, Loki thought savagely. Nothing more. Don't let it hold you. Don't be a fool.
He'd never gone twice to the same world. Always only once, and then they were left behind. Like dreams.
It became a game, of sorts. For when he was bored. When he sat alone, in between schemes, and had too little to occupy his mind, he took that sideways step and found another world, all of them different, all of them strange. In one he was not Thor's brother at all but foundling to some other common family, his life a simple thing. In another he struggled to give birth in the form of a horse, sweating alone in a wood. Yet another gave him a world where Thor had never been exiled, he'd never learned the truth, and the two of them ruled side by side. Never the same one twice. Each as strange to each other as he was to each of them.
This time, he stood in a cage. A metal collar around his neck and bands at his wrists bound his magic under his skin where he could feel it boiling like a sea in storm, but could not touch it. His whole body ached. It had been a bloody fight. They were beginning to work out how to fight him more effectively. When he escaped from here-
Loki blinked. The memories had come back to him swiftly, almost disorienting in their force. He pushed them to the back of his mind and tried to focus. What would he see of interest from in here, after all? He needed to find…
His eyes snapped open involuntarily. Thor was standing there, as expected, but there was something odd to his expression. Something still and stiff as stone. It set his skin to tingling. He knew all of Thor's expressions, yet he didn't know this one. Impossible.
"Thor," he said, coolly. "Come to plead with me again?"
"You know that is not my intention."
Loki blinked, again taken aback. Then why…that was what he did. Thor pled with him to see reason. To come home. To stand down and crawl back into line. But if that was not… "What a pleasant surprise."
"I do not wish to trade quips with you, Loki."
That was another strangeness. 'Loki,' not 'brother.' What was he to make of that? "Then what do you wish to trade?"
"I wish to trade nothing." Thor's voice was dull, almost without intonation. "I wish to inform you that Asgard has refused to take the task of your imprisonment this time."
Loki's surprise hitched a faint notch higher, but he forced himself to raise his eyebrows, to be casual, unperturbed. "You cannot think to frighten me with-"
"I seek nothing from you. I know now that to expect anything from you but deceit is fruitless. Midgard has requested that you be given to them." Thor's expression was impassive, cold. Loki felt the first little twitch of uneasiness.
"You think they will be able to hold me?" he scoffed. Thor looked at him for a long moment.
"They will," Thor said finally, implacable as a glacier rolling over the land, grinding rock into dust. "And they have made it clear that you will suffer for your crimes."
"That I will-" Wait. No. The urge to laugh bubbled up in him, suddenly. "You think to subject me to mortal torture?"
"No," said Thor. "I do not intend to subject you to anything. This is the last time I will see you, Loki. I will leave here and let the humans do with you what they will without lifting a hand or a voice to stop them. You have finally done what you have tried so long to do." Thor took a step back as Loki's heart began to thud in his chest. "I have no brother," he said, coldly formal. "I will hope your death comes swiftly, though I doubt you will receive mercy you never showed. Mortals have a unique brand of cruelty, I have learned."
He turned his back, and Loki could feel the finality in it. The last time…
"Thor," he said, and then desperately, "brother. Wait-"
"I have no brother," Thor said again, his voice dead. "Goodbye, Loki Laufeyson."
No, Loki thought desperately. No. "Thor!"
He didn't turn again. Or speak. As he walked away, the lights went out behind him, and then Loki was blind in the dark. "Thor!" he yelled again, to no answer.
Only a moment later, the pain began, and he lasted only moments before forgetting his resolve not to scream.
Loki forced himself away, gasping, the first chance he had to gather his thoughts. Kneeling in his apartment, he swallowed, half expecting to taste blood.
I have no brother. The memory, not his, but seared into his mind. He would not escape it.
You wanted Thor to give up on you, a cruel voice reminded him. Didn't you? And he did, he had, but…seeing him actually do so, the horrible finality in those words (goodbye, Loki Laufeyson) condemning him to pain and death…
No. Another world. Not this one. It was pointless to act as though the one had any bearing on the other. They did not. Nor ever would.
Thor, the stubborn fool, would never do that. Never turn his back so completely. Loki would always be able to manipulate him, because Thor was weak, unable to sever the bond between them as Loki had. That was truth.
He was on his back, looking up at the sky. For a moment, he floated. Strange, he thought. You should get up. See what it is this time.
Someone was shouting. "Loki!" he heard. Thor's voice, frantic. "Loki!"
Memory rushed in with pain. That moment's pause when he had stared in horror at his own hand transformed into something unrecognizable, and he had not seen it coming. He lifted his head and looked down at his own body.
The spike of ice was thick around as his wrist. Driven through his chest and he imagined that he could feel his heart struggling to beat around the intrusion and oh, oh mercy-
He coughed and tasted blood at the back of his throat. The motion sent a violent spike of pain all through his body and he lost the world in white, everything blissfully gone for a moment, and he expected that to be it, the link to snap. He would return knowing-
This was not so bad.
It came back, though, and Thor was bent over him, the hammer dropped and his eyes full of anguish. The fight was still going on; Loki could hear it. Distant and far away. That look in Thor's eyes, though. How often had he imagined it, how often had he wondered if something happened to him, something truly dire…
He knew now. It gave him no pleasure. "Loki," Thor was saying. "All will be well, look at me. Look at me, we are going back, we are going to Asgard and the healers will-" his voice snagged.
"Thor," gasped Sif, somewhere nearby, "Heimdall isn't answering. We've called three times." Her voice was tight, worried.
"Odin will come," Loki said, and his voice sounded thin and reedy. Thor looked at him in surprise, and then fear. Loki wondered what he saw. The ice in his chest burned, felt as wide as a tree thrust fully through him.
You are going to die, he thought dazedly. In this world, you die here. Right now. Before it gets worse. He tried to suck in a breath and choked on blood.
"Brother, please – Heimdall, open the Bifrost!" Thor roared. "Loki, please – this is my fault, Loki, can you heal yourself, if I lend you my strength-
"Doesn't work that way, idiot," Loki forced out. "You would know. If you ever – listened."
If anything, Thor's panic only seemed to grow. "You'll be all right. Just a little bit longer."
My skin isn't changing, Loki thought. I wonder why. He reached up though his hand felt like lead, and patted Thor's cheek. "It's fine, Thor," he said. A tear splashed hot and wet on his face, startling counterpoint to the numbness leeching out from his chest. "It's fine," he said again, the world shrinking to Thor's face, his bright eyes, his golden hair. "I've seen worse worlds than this."
Loki let his eyes float closed. It hurt, but not so much, and not for so long.
He opened his eyes again looking at clear blue sky, sun warm on his face and grass under his back. He sat up smoothly, chest not even aching. He felt none of the relief he was accustomed to upon returning, only a strange, hollow kind of emptiness.
He wondered how things had gone in that world. If there had been war, over his death. If Thor had still been banished. Did you mourn, he remembered asking, sure of the answer in his own heart (who would mourn you), and yet had just seen it in Thor's face, in his eyes.
Loki sat in the grass, swaying slightly in a gentle wind, and tried to empty his mind.
He curled up in his flat and did next to nothing for the next week and a half. He didn't want to face Thor and his friends. Didn't want to fight or wreak havoc or any of his usual occupations. If he saw Thor, all he would see would be the desperation in his eyes, the pleading in his voice. If he fought, all he would think of would be the memory, not his, of Thor dead, well and truly dead. He felt cold and sick, almost feverish.
I've seen worse worlds.
Loki dragged himself out eventually, just down to the corner store to get some cereal, safely glamored. He was five minutes in the store and when he stepped out there they were, his brother, Stark, and the soldier. Loki sighed.
"Must you?" he said, feeling suddenly and unspeakably weary. At least they looked gratifyingly surprised.
"You look a little under the weather there," said Stark's mechanized voice after a moment. "Got the sniffles, Rudolph?"
Loki didn't bother to look at him. He looked at Thor. Really looked at him, not at his own memory of or expectation of or anything else. Thor's expression was grim, almost bleak. He looked tired too. Tired and unhappy, as he had once when he'd had to do some chore he did not want to do but had been forced to.
Is that what I am?
"Thor," said Loki, suddenly, and then stopped, not knowing what he'd intended to say. Stark held up one glowing hand.
"Shut your mouth and come quietly or I'll-"
Loki bent space around himself and stepped away, out of their reach. He dropped his groceries on the counter and curled up on his couch, pulling his afghan over himself.
All those other lives, he thought. All those other Lokis. Some living, some dead. Some happy, more not. If he tried, maybe he could work out how to shift into one of those other ones for good. Leave this whole world behind and start a new life in another Loki's skin. Steal his own happiness.
You didn't need to end up here.
That was it, wasn't it? That was what it meant. That there was no fate that had led him inexorably down this path, that he had been doomed by nothing greater than his own folly. That there was, in short, no one he could blame but himself.
Are you surprised?
He closed his eyes.
Loki slept restlessly, fitfully, and for most of the day, and woke to a heavy knock on the door. Loki opened one eye, startled, and held perfectly still.
Blast, Loki thought wearily. He didn't answer, hoping that perhaps his silence would chase Thor away. It did not. Only moments later, a more insistent knock came. "I know you are here, Loki. Please open the door. I do not come to quarrel."
You never do, Loki thought bitterly. And yet somehow I come out of our non-quarrels worse off. How is that, do you think? He stood, though, almost as though against his will, and padded over to the door, opened it just a sliver. "Get out," he said.
"I will not," Thor said, with that note of stubborn obstinacy that had always so infuriated Loki. "Not until you speak with me."
"I have spoken with you. See, I am speaking with you now. Now go."
Thor's expression turned pleading. "Loki…"
Thor's eyes, full of desperate fear, flashed through his mind. Thor's eyes with stony indifference. Thor's eyes blank and empty of life. Why is it always… Loki grimaced and stepped back, opening the door just enough to let Thor in and moving so that Thor's attempt to reach for him fell short. They stared at each other for a few moments.
It occurred to Loki that it was closer than they had been without fighting since before he'd fallen.
"You know where I live," Loki said after a few moments, flatly.
"I have known for some time," Thor said. "The Man of Iron puzzled it out. But I did not think you would welcome my visiting, even if I came only in peace, and I forbade the others." Loki stared blankly at him.
"And you thought now-"
Thor fidgeted. "No better, likely, yet I was – I have been concerned. You have been acting strangely lately – strange even for this madness that has taken you, that I still hope shall pass. I wanted to ensure that there was not…some new trouble."
"And if it had all been some elaborate plan to see you dead?" Loki said. Thor did not glance away, brows still furrowed.
"I was willing to take that risk in fear you might have come to some harm."
Loki stared at his brother – not his brother - incredulous. Had he really risked his fool neck to come here on the off chance that his mortal enemy was somehow – was somehow what? Get out, he intended to say. I don't need your false concern, your feigned pity. I do not wish to speak with you. He turned and paced back over to the couch, curled up under his blanket once more. After a moment, Thor followed, settling uncomfortably in an armchair that creaked under his weight. He waited in silence.
"Well?" Thor said, finally, not quite tentative. "Are you hale?"
Loki intended to continue to say nothing. Hold his silence. Wait long enough and likely Thor would leave out of boredom. All he had to do was keep silent.
"I was dead," he said. Loki clamped his lips shut, horrified. Thor's eyes widened.
"—what do you – you look hale, brother, what do you-"
"I am not your brother," Loki snapped, and sucked in a breath. "—not here, you oaf. In another world. A better one for you, I imagine. On Jotunheim, you remember? I died there. Then again, so did you, once."
Thor looked blank, and then worried. "Loki, are your senses with you? You talk madness. I am no more dead than you are, nor ever have been."
"Not in this world," Loki said, and wanted to laugh. He curled more tightly into himself. "Other worlds, Thor. Elsewheres. Things might have been different and sometimes they were, and sometimes…"
And all of those, this world…all those worlds…products of my choices. I damn myself. I have only ever damned myself. He laughed, low and harsh, and Thor took a step closer. "Loki…"
"I am tired," Loki said, and laid his head down to close his eyes. "Let me rest."
"Loki." Thor's voice seemed to boom, and his hand was suddenly a warm weight on his shoulder. "Something is not right. And now you do not even attack me?" He could hear the wavering mirth in Thor's voice, trying so hard to jest. "I know it must be a grave thing indeed."
"I don't want you here," Loki said, and that was all he meant to say but then the words were spilling out of him- "I'm so tired. In another world, I'll keep going on. With you, without you, somewhere out there…"
What does it matter what happens to me here?
Now both Thor's hands were on his shoulders, gripping. "Brother, please. Do not – be calm. Let me help you."
"Help me," Loki said, and let out a stuttering laugh. "How can you? What do you think you can do?"
"I don't know," Thor said, and he could hear the frustration in his brother's voice. "If I knew-! But whatever it is, whatever you need, I am willing to do it. I am willing to put aside all the bad blood between us to help you now, if you will only tell you how I might do so."
I don't know, Loki thought, and just managed to clamp his lips shut to keep the words from spilling out. I don't know. It's not even you, Thor, it's me, always me-
"What I wish most," Thor said, his voice forceful and passionate, "is to know how I may help you. How I may have my brother back at my side, and mend whatever wrong I have done you."
Loki closed his eyes, another laugh strangling in his throat. "The wrong you have done me is in what you are, imbecile. And what I am. There is nothing to mend." I've been a fool. I've been such a fool.
"No," Thor said, and it was that same strident voice of unshakeable truth, I have no brother or I am where I wish to be. "I refuse to believe that. While we both live, I am your brother and you are mine, and that does not change. And so there is something to mend. And I will find the how of it. Even if you do not believe it…I will."
Thor's determination shook him, as it always had. That utter certainty, immovable and absolute. Too much. He felt a shudder move through him, a quavering almost of his foundations. Thor's hands were firm and warm and heavy, like they were holding him to the ground. Ballast or an anchor. "You don't understand," he said, weakly, feeling a strange mingled panic and longing tangled together. "You don't know what I've seen, what I can do-"
To you, to me, how many different ways I've ruined my own life (and the few, so few, ways in which it could be better)-
Loki, reached out, thoughtlessly, and pulled, intending to get away, but Thor was too close, held him too tightly.
Loki slid sideways into another world, and Thor came with him.
It was dark. Utterly dark. There was a faint smell in the air, not foul but faintly chemical. Panic bubbled up Loki's throat and he swallowed it down, but it choked him into silence. No. Not fear. Loki brought his hands up to his mouth and could not hold back a scream that did not pass his lips. His body ached with old pain and his heart began to race.
"Loki," said Thor, lowly. "What have you done? What is this place?"
Be silent, Loki thought frantically. Please, Thor, be silent.
(This isn't real. No more than a dream, and you can wake…)
Loki reached for his magic and hit a wall between him and it. Tried again, with the same result. Threw all his will against that barrier, but to no avail. No, he thought, no no no no-
"Loki," Thor said, more loudly. "I know you are here. Answer me! What is going-" Thor cut off, and a moment later Loki heard it too, even above the roaring in his ears. A clang, footsteps, the sound of voices. The panic was rising in him like bile and the memories were seeping in even as he fought against them, threatening to overwhelm his senses.
(No one will come to help you. But we will keep you. You may be useful to our master in time, Asgardian wretch.)
No bargains here. No offers of Earth or Tesseract or armies. No mercy. No respite. And when they tired of his screams-
And Thor was here. Here to see him scream and bleed and suffer and-
But he wasn't. He'd been close, his presence palpable, and now he was gone. Loki was alone. What had happened, what had-
The door shrieked open and Loki's cell was flooded with light, even its weak beams stabbing into his eyes. He scuttled back, instinctively, in the moment before his muscles froze. They were talking to each other, not to him, but too lowly for him to pick up the words. And something was being dragged-
-along the corridor, towards his cell-
(No. Some beast, perhaps, or the corpse of another prisoner. No.)
One of the Chitauri turned its head and sneered at him. "Your savior's come, runt."
(No, no, no. Please. Not-)
They flung their burden through the door and shut it again. He could hear them jeering through the wood. His eyes were on golden hair strewn on the filthy floor, fixating on small details. Not maimed, he noted. They hadn't…
Thor stirred. Loki lurched forward as he rolled to his side and pushed himself up, but the words (words he couldn't even speak) died on his tongue when Thor turned his head and met Loki's eyes.
Bright, bright, cloudy blue.
Not Thor's eyes.
Loki howled. Not sure if it was rage or despair, not sure whether it was his own rage and despair or this Loki's, this beaten creature with nothing left to hope for save an easy death. Howled in spite of the fact that his lips wouldn't part, burned and cauterized fused together so he could hardly make a sound. It never ends, he thought, wildly, desperately. It never-
He was still trying to scream when the world snapped back into place, sound bursting suddenly from his mouth as he fell to his knees on the carpet of his own flat, Thor kneeling only a few feet away. Loki's breathing came fast and hard.
It didn't happen. It didn't happen. It didn't-
"By all nine realms," Thor said, his voice ragged. "Loki – what…I was…what did you do?" He sounded angry. No. Sounded frightened. "That was – I remember-"
Loki gulped in desperate, deep breaths and didn't answer. He reached for his magic, felt it flood into him with relief and scrabbled for the spell.
"By all that's good," Thor said, his voice rising and Loki could see him reaching to grab and hold and demand answers, to pull him apart and take away all his secrets. "Loki, answer me-"
He lost Thor's words, tearing himself away from there, hardly caring for where he went, so long as it was away.
He hid himself under layer upon layer of spellwork, cast workings of misdirection and confusion and compulsion until he was exhausted with them. The place he'd retreated to was little more than a cabin, scarcely even that, isolated and hardly comfortable. But he would not be found here, and that was what was important. Thor could not track him here.
He sat alone with his humiliation and with sick anxiety churning in his stomach. Over being discovered, he told himself, no more, but it was the memory of Thor's unnaturally blue eyes that he woke with, panting, a scream just barely strangled in his throat.
Wretched, hateful weakness. You should have died. You should have killed him. You should have…
He did not travel. Perhaps, he thought, he could simply stay here. Among snow and ice – like that he'd been born to – and far from Thor and his companions.
The days passed. His dreams of Thor grew ever more vivid, ever more terrible. He woke with eyes dampened and a plea on his tongue. All those other worlds. All those other Lokis, all those other choices.
And here, him.
His week of solitude ended with a tapping at the window.
Loki glanced over to see a large raven sitting on the sill, heavy beak rapping against the glass. He considered ignoring it, but it seemed likely to break the glass if he tried.
He rose, and opened it. The bird hopped inside, and cocked its head at him, examining him with one beady eye. Huginn, he thought. Inescapable, even if he could bear no word to Odin of Loki's whereabouts. Nonetheless, that he'd been sent…
"What does the All-Father wish me to know?" Loki drawled. Undoubtedly this was related to Thor, but what possible reason to send one of his own ravens simply to bear a message? The bird hopped nearer and shifted from foot to foot, head tilting the other way. With a sigh, Loki held out his hand.
Huginn's beak stabbed down into the center of his palm.
The pain was as sharp as he remembered, and then the rush of being swept away, but it was not Odin's face he saw. Thor's. Brows furrowed, his expression one of – fear. Worry. Anguish.
In a realm distant from that of Thought, Loki's body jerked.
"Loki?" Thor sounded unsure. "Brother…Father agreed to loan me Huginn, assured me that he would find you. I have looked, I have asked my friends to look, but…we must speak. I must speak…with you. What you showed me…intentionally or not…I need to understand. I did not know…" Thor trailed off. "—and I am worried. For you."
Loki was still. Perfectly so. Thor looked down and then back up, his expression painfully earnest.
"What I saw…it did not happen, did it? You never spoke of…but I suppose I never asked. Regardless…will you let me speak with you? You may set any conditions you wish, any limits, if you would only let me…" he trailed off. "…I do not know how best to say what I wish to. But I would like to try. If…if you would consider it, brother? Please?"
Another pause. Loki realized that he was holding his breath and forced it out through a throat that seemed to be closing.
"I hope you are well," Thor said, after a moment, and he sounded so strangely subdued, beaten: there was a wrongness to that that shivered down Loki's spine. "And I…I wish you to know that I meant all I said to you. And still do. I will not believe there is no mending our bond. And so I will find the way, somehow. I hope…" He trailed off again. Loki hated the ache in his chest, ferocious and deep and undeniable. "Farewell, brother. I will await your word."
Loki blinked, and was once more looking at Huginn. He wiped the blood on his palm absently on his leg and stared at the raven blankly. It would be so very easy to send it away without a word. Thor had always hated silence most of all, didn't seem to know how to deal with it. Giving him no response would be the best revenge, by many ways, letting Thor stew in his own misplaced guilt and self-righteous grief. Say by his silence that he would not accept – whatever this was.
And that was the question, wasn't it. What was this? What did Thor hope to achieve, what did he think he would gain? To think it a trap was to attribute far too much cunning to the Thunderer, but if it was no trap then what did he think…
Perhaps he just wishes to talk to you.
Of course he did. That was all Thor ever wanted to do, now. Talk. Babble his meaningless platitudes and protestations of love, play the gracious hero willing to extend a hand to the fallen serpent. All Thor's talk and what good was it, what did it change, nothing at all. Everything stayed the same, and he would still remain the same wretched creature he had always been, and it would never end, because he was the disease in his own life, the infection to be cut out-
"Tell Thor I will see him," he said. The raven croaked, rustled its wings, and hopped to the window. Loki watched it take flight, his stomach churning uneasily.
They met on neutral ground. Loki suggested New Mexico, half in jest, but Thor seemed to like the idea. Loki went along with it for lack of ideas for an alternative. His nerves quivered uneasily throughout the intervening time. Every moment he was half sure he would turn back on his word and not go. Why should he, after all? What could Thor possibly have to say that Loki had not heard before?
But somewhere in his journeying between worlds, he seemed to have lost his energy. His anger. Left it behind in one of them, almost, or burned it out, perhaps, so he was little more than a crumbling coal wthout a flame. He felt tired, empty, hollow.
Foolish childishness, perhaps, that thought perhaps Thor would (fix him) say something to wake that life in him again, give him back the will to do something other than curl up under a blanket and sleep, and dream.
Foolish childishness was more potent, Loki sometimes thought, than most gave it credit for.
Whatever it was, though, foolishness did not mean he had to be unprepared. Loki arrived ready to deal with an ambush, expecting Thor's friends to tag along. So he was surprised to land in the place – out in the desert, at Thor's insistence – where they'd agreed to meet and find his erstwhile brother truly alone.
"You didn't bring your friends," Loki said, keeping his tone flat. Thor fidgeted, and looked faintly guilty.
"They do not know that I am here. They would not…approve. I told them I was to be with – with Jane."
Loki pushed down the almost reflexive hot flush of jealousy. "And when she tells them otherwise?"
"She will not."
Somehow, the assurance that this was not a trap did not set Loki much at ease. If anything, the opposite. He took a moment to collect himself, and Thor stepped toward him. Loki stepped quickly back.
"Don't touch me. You said I might set conditions. Yes?"
Thor's expression betrayed his unhappiness – an expression that hurt to look at in ways Loki refused to acknowledge – but he nodded. "I…yes. Whatever it is you need to feel…"
"I am free to leave at any time I wish, whether you feel you have achieved your end or not. You will refrain from making pleas to family sentiment. You will make no demands of me, and insist that I do nothing. In short, you may speak. Do not rest all your hope on results."
"I…will not," said Thor, though his expression looked a little less certain. "As I said…all I wish is to speak with you. I cannot demand more."
Loki gestured, sharply, keeping his safe distance, though an unreliable corner of his mind flashed back to the weight of Thor's hand on the back of his neck, the soothing feeling of it, heavy warmth- "Go on," he said, keeping his voice clipped, his expression disinterested.
Thor nodded, took a breath, and then hesitated. "It is difficult to know where…are you well? I suppose that is as good as any. After…you vanished."
"I wished for solitude it seemed plain to me you were not going to give." Loki kept his tone flat. "And I am fine."
Thor didn't seem soothed. His eyes wandered to the left. "Your…your strangeness of late, Loki, is it – because of this travel you have done? To these…elsewheres?"
"Yes," Loki said, after a moment's pause in which he considered denying strangeness at all. It didn't seem worth it, however. "I suppose you could say as much."
Thor fidgeted. "I have spoken with my friend Tony – the man of iron – and he tells me that there have long been theories that many worlds exist, branching from each other at points where things might have been changed. It is…it is to one of these that you brought me, was it not?"
"Not intentionally," Loki said quickly.
"I – yes." Thor seemed to miss his stride, took a moment to collect it. "But – such it was? And what you spoke of when…when you said that you had died, or that I had, that is – the same?"
"Yes," Loki said, after a moment. "What is your point, Thor, against my better guess I agreed to speak with you, pray reach your argument before sundown."
"I was…gravely troubled," Thor said, after another long, careful pause. Clearly considering his words carefully. What an effort. "By what I saw, last time we spoke. I still dream…" he trailed off, and for a moment Loki caught on his face an expression of profound disgust and almost flinched.
Of course it had been so. Thor had witnessed his utter humiliation, seen him as Loki had never wanted to be seen.
(His mind was overtaken, a small voice murmured at the back of his mind. Wrenched from him, do you not think that is what he remembers? and the flare of anger at the thought, that in any universe Thanos could dare to touch Thor so-) "My apologies," Loki said, clipped, and meant it. "I did not intend to bring you with me."
"That's not what I-" Thor breathed out a low exhale. "—it was…dark indeed, but then I thought that – you have been traveling to many of these, have you not? You seemed to suggest as much…"
"Some," Loki said, frown deepening. "But I still fail to see-"
"But that's dreadful," Thor blurted out, and then looked abashed. "—I should not interrupt. I am-"
"Explain yourself," Loki demanded, interrupting the apology before it could finish. His skin seemed to be prickling.
"If I was so affected by one single glimpse of one of these – other worlds – I realized…when you were so strange, everything you said to me, it – began to make sense. I think. I do not know, of course, and I know too well that I have so often thought I understood you and did not at all, but-" Thor cleared his throat. "You said you were tired, that I did not know what you had seen, that…"
Loki wanted to deny having said any of that. Wanted to snarl and snap and fight and just did not quite feel the fire in him to do it. "I still don't see your point."
"Two things," Thor said, and his voice strengthened. "Two things. First, that I – was suddenly overcome with fear. With worry. That I did not know if you were well, and that if I suffered then you must undoubtedly – and yet have no one to whom to go. I was afraid, and needed to see you. To know that you were still – still alive, if not well."
Loki snorted, a bitter, harsh sound. "As you see, I am."
"And I am grateful for it," Thor said, and his eyes lowered. "For the second…I wondered, in all these worlds – if there were all these different worlds – if any…" His eyes rose slowly, but they rose to Loki's, though he glanced away, unable to meet the longing there. Plain. Naked. (He misses you.)
"Well?" Loki pressed.
"In any of those worlds," Thor said in a rush, "Were we – were we not at odds?"
Loki blinked, entirely taken off guard. Why ask… "Yes," he said carefully, "though as in others I had killed you myself I know not what you think to make of it," but Thor's expression was one of relief.
"Thank you," he said, and smiled a little, the expression strangely uncertain for Thor. "That was…I wished to know. At least then…if I cannot yet fix this break between us, at least somewhere I may know there is a place where we are happy."
Loki stared, almost incredulous and at an utter loss for words. "You mean to – take comfort, in the idea that in all the multiplicity of worlds there is one where I do not loathe you?" he managed, finally, but Thor looked undeterred.
"If it has happened one way," he said, with strange calm, "it can happen another. If it has happened, we are not, as you would have me think, fated or doomed to be enemies. And while I strive to find a way to make us whole again, I can at least know that – if I have failed, here, thus far, another Thor has not."
Loki shook his head slowly, feeling strangely unsteady. "In what way can that possibly…" He trailed off. His voice sounded high and frantic in his own ears. "Did you not hear that I have killed you? Not wounded, Thor, killed, or – I have seen you turn your back on me with utter finality, I have seen all of Asgard fall at my hand, I have-"
"Loki," said Thor, strangely gentle. "Be at ease. Do you think that I would hold these things against you?"
"Why should you not?" Loki demanded. The feeling in his breast was one too much like panic. "How much have I held against you?" Always, some part of him raged, always Thor will prove himself your better, in every possible way, always-
Thor shook his head. "I would not…how can I expect, or hope, that you will let go of your grievances if I were to claim new ones of you, that you are not even truly responsible for?"
His body tried to shake. He felt like a tree trying to stand against a hurricane, a rock being worn down by the sea. You cannot keep him away forever, his heart whispered. Some great burning part of him yearned to simply surrender, to give in and fall to his knees and vomit truth from the pit of his soul-
I am not worthy, I have never been worthy, how can I stand with you when I am what I am and you are what you are, better to play your villain than to fade and be forgotten, what else can I do-
"Thor," he said. He felt weak, hatefully weak. Wavering. "I am not – I do not – I have not forgiven you. Do not think-"
Thor took a step forward, and he didn't step back quickly enough. Thor's big hands clasped his face, their warmth so familiar. His heart jumped painfully and he fought the simultaneous urges to run and to fling himself to his knees. "You died," Thor said. "You said…you said that you died, in one of these worlds. And in…in the one I saw…" he trailed off, and Loki was grateful for that. "It made me realize how easily I could lose you. An infinity of ways, every day. I was struck with such a fear, then, and I…you are my right arm, Loki. I am better with you."
"No," Loki said, the words feeling torn from him, unwillingly. "No, you are not. You are just the same without me. Undiminished. Untarnished. It is I-" He choked the words off, finally tugged free of those warm hands, though it hurt to do so, like pulling hooks from his own flesh. "What do you expect me to say?"
"You need say nothing," Thor said, implacable. "It is what I must say to you. That I love you. That I miss you. That I swear on everything we both know and hold sacred – I will not be at peace until the part of my heart that you own is whole once more. Whatever I must do-"
"No," Loki said again, but louder. "You will not. You will not-" He took another step back. "Do you not understand? Still? They are right, they are all right and always have been. The problem is not in you, Thor. It is in me." In this rotten, festering-
"Then I will find a way of healing you," Thor said. Immovable as mountains. No, more.
"You cannot," Loki said, and his voice rose sharply. "Do you not hear me, you cannot, you cannot fix me, you cannot…"
I must. If I am to change, if I am to be other than I am…
"What can I do, then?" Thor demanded, and at last there was a hint of anguish in his voice. "What is there that I can?"
"Thor," he said, at last, and did not look at him. "I – perhaps. Perhaps someday – perhaps someday, but I cannot. Not now. I will…I will abide, for a time. But do not…do not trouble me."
"You tell me I can do nothing."
Loki swallowed. Swallowed again. He raised his eyes slowly, wondered what Thor saw in them. "It takes time," he said, almost a whisper. Thor stared at him for a long moment, and then slowly bowed his head.
He lifted it then, though, and drew close in two strides too quickly to move away, clasped his hand around the back of Loki's neck, kissed his forehead. "I can wait," he said, then, and stepped back, slowly. "I can wait for you, brother. And I will."
He fled on falcon wings, the sky opening wide before him.