It was winter in Asgard and Thor had trouble sleeping.
It was not that unusual, really, since however beautiful the season was during the few hours of sunlight with all of the realm covered deep in pure white snow, the remainder of the day consisted of darkness and night. Therefore, the season was filled with festivities to relieve the Asgardians of the boredom that inevitably caught them in its grasp after a few days of blackness. Odin's Great Hall was ever filled with warriors, mead and singing. Thor joined them every night, and every night he left early, thinking that something was amiss.
Was it the winter in itself? Had it come unusually early, or was it extremely cold? Perhaps it was the fact that it was so long a time until summer that made his entire body itch with pent up energy. Ah, summer. There was no better season for exploring, for play. With all of Asgard alive, full in bloom and glimmering in the ever-shining sun, it was the most wonderful time of the year.
Winter was cold, dark and dull, and brought too much time for thinking.
By the time his thoughts had reached this conclusion, for maybe the fiftieth time since the season began, he had arrived at his chambers. They were large and spacey, fit for a future king, with a large bed and a great view. Not that much could be seen from his balcony at this time of night, only the shimmering Bifrost as it stretched from the palace and towards the border of the realm. Thor leaned his face against the glass of the balcony door and sighed. He longed for the time when the All-Father would let him travel by the rainbow bridge for the first time, but knew in his heart that it would be some time until then. He was still young, far too inexperienced for such a journey, but still…
There was a rapid tap on the door and Thor turned around. He did not expect a visitor but had no reason to pretend not to be there, why he went to answer the door. When he opened it, the hall outside was empty. Only the flickering flames of a torch some way down the corridor showed that someone had recently passed by it.
A grin quickly spread across Thor's face.
"Loki!" he called and it did not take more than a second for his younger brother to materialize before him with a smile that equaled Thor's, beaming with pride. "Have you finally mastered the art?"
"Yes!" the younger replied, almost laughing as he went towards Thor and into the room. "I've wanted to show you all day, but you have been away."
"I suppose I have. But brother, it is a fantastic achievement!"
Loki did not answer this, but made his way to one of the chaise longues. The golden lamp on the table gave a warm shine to his black hair and lightened the still smiling face. It was a long time since Thor had seen his brother this happy and to do so made his own boredom fade. Instead he felt joy and sat down in an armchair nearby, ready to hear his brother's account of his newly controlled magic abilities.
While he asked questions and listened to Loki's replies, he knew at once what it was that he had been missing for the last couple of weeks. It was Loki's company.
His brother had been occupied with his training, just as Thor had been engaged with his own duties, but this… The simplicity of sitting down, talking about what had happened during the day - they had not done so for a considerable period of time, and he realized with a sudden ache in his chest not only that he had missed it, but that they were growing up.
The days of play and fun, of jovial games in Frigga's garden with their friends, were coming to an end. He himself was a warrior as good as any of the fighters that Odin brought from Earth to Valhalla, and it was only a matter of time until he would surpass them. Loki, on the other hand, discovered more and more of his magic with every day that passed and would soon become a master of his trade such as Asgard had never seen before.
It was with this sadness, small as a splinter piercing his skin but just as annoying, that he bid his brother good night some time later. The lights were lowered and he got ready for bed, thinking about the future and his gaze lingering on the rainbow bridge again. What would become of them when they grew up? His own destiny was as clear as the winter sky, revealing millions of stars on its shiny black fabric. He was to shoulder more and more of his father's responsibilities, defending not only Asgard but also the other realms, and he would do it without question or fear. And one day, he would rise to claim the throne of the All-Father.
The mere thought made his skin crawl. Would he be able to live up to the expectations? Could he really become the ruler of the nine realms? A shiver ran down his spine and as every other night this winter, he went to bed wondering if he would ever be good enough.
These thoughts alone were enough to leave him sleepless, but as he stared up at the ceiling above his bed he thought of his brother. He hoped that Loki would be by his side, as a support or an advisor or… just be there. If nothing else, Loki could always make him laugh.
Yes. With Loki by his side he could surely manage.
A sudden knock on the door caused him to sit up, his muscles tense and his reflexes ready for anything that knock might bring. He did not call out, did not rise to answer the door, just sat there silently and watched the door open and close. There was no one there.
"Brother" whispered a voice and as if he had thrown off a veil, Loki appeared. He wore a simple robe, not his usual, emerald green clothing, and there was something about his voice and how pale his face was in the dark room that made Thor think that someone, or something, had scared his little brother.
"What has happened?" he asked, knowing that he sounded much less demanding than when he usually used those words. This was not a battle, this was Loki, and he seemed absolutely horrified.
"I had a terrible dream" answered Loki as he came closer to the bed. "It was as if in another time and everything was dark. Yet I knew that there were others there, and they fought. No one saw me, no one heard me."
Loki sat down on the bed absent-mindedly, looking at his hands as if assuring himself that he was visible now. When his gaze turned to Thor, his eyes were full of hurt and sadness. How different from the pride and mischief those eyes usually held!
"Do not worry, brother" said Thor as he reached out his hand and placed it firmly on Loki's shoulder. He knew these were not the right words to comfort, but seeing as he was not used to a situation like this, he could not be expected to do the right thing on the first try. "It was only a dream, a bad dream."
"I know" whispered Loki. "But I heard Father's voice among them. He sounded… younger than now, and his words… they were the same as the ones he's always told us. The ones he spoke in the war."
"The war against the Jotuns?" Thor could not mask his surprise.
"But why would you dream of that war? It is many, many years ago, brother, long before any of our times."
"I am well aware of that!" exclaimed Loki and rose from the bed. Though fear still resided in his eyes they were now lined with anger. "I should not have brought this to your attention, it is folly. I am sorry to have disturbed you, brother."
Loki turned to make his way towards the door, glimmering faintly in the darkness as his body went invisible. This made Thor leap out of his bed and with only a few steps he caught up with where the younger god must be, gripping his arm and turning him towards himself.
The veil of invisibility drained away in an instant, revealing Loki's face and the faint traces of tears on his cheeks.
"What makes you think I consider this dream a folly? Brother…" he grasped for words, then sighed as he did not find the right ones. "Brother, it scared you, did it not?"
Silence fell between them as they met each other's eyes. It took a few moments before Loki looked down on the floor, no longer fighting against Thor's grip around his arm. He nodded, and at once Thor understood. Though he himself was growing up, Loki was still young. A child would have gone to his mother; a man would have kept his dream to himself. A child on his was of becoming a man had come to his older brother instead.
"Then do not run back to your chambers where the dream still has hold over you. Sleep here."
"But brother…" Loki tried to break free once again. "I am certainly not in need of your bed! And where, then, would you sleep?"
"I have not slept in many nights and I doubt I shall fall asleep tonight. Besides, my bed is large and there is plenty of room for you, little brother."
"I am not little!" cried Loki, but Thor smiled. He knew that his brother was giving in.
"And furthermore" Thor continued, "I am the god of thunder and thereby control the rain and snow, wind and lightning. I am confident that I will be able to protect you against all evil that tries its hand on you this night."
For a long while, Loki was silent. Then, he lowered his arm and shoved at Thor with the other. He did not say anything but made his way towards the bed, where he slipped beneath the covers without a word. Thor followed him there and lay down as well, feeling just as wide awake as all the previous nights.
Outside, the sky was filled with stars and the light from the Bifrost reflected dimly in the ceiling. Loki lay out of reach, his back turned to Thor, but it was apparent from his breathing that he was not yet asleep. Perhaps his mind was as full of thoughts as Thor's.
"Brother?" began Loki, voice barely audible in spite of the deathly silence. "Do you think that dream meant something?"
"No" Thor replied. "It was but a dream and I advise you not to ponder on it any further."
"Yes. It's just…"
"It's just that it left me very cold and I can't seem to-"
Loki's voice was abruptly cut off as Thor once again grabbed his shoulder, this time dragging him closer and putting his arms around the younger brother.
"It is only the winter" Thor said, not paying much attention to Loki's vain attempts to break free. "Pay no heed and try to sleep."
And eventually, Loki did. His even breathing came in small puffs against Thor's skin and he slept peacefully through the night. Thor, on the other hand, lay awake and stared at the ceiling, wondering and worrying what the dream might mean. There was however one thing he knew for sure. He would always be there to look out for his beloved little brother.