So, London is amazing.
I'm very very sorry for not being able to reply to everyone's reviews this past chapter! I won't be able to now that my internet is very limited. But know that I read and love every single review I got from all of you; thank you so so much for reading and reviewing, and I'm so sorry for not being able to personally reply to you all. I love you all!
"You never used to be so quiet."
Thor does not turn at the sound of his father's voice. He continues observing the newly trained warriors as they spar with dulled blades. Sif barks orders at the young men, correcting their stances and aim. He cannot help but smile at that.
"Perhaps I just was not quiet in your presence," Thor says.
Odin stands next to him. He is so worn than before; age and weariness are catching up to him. Thor sees how they hook onto Odin's skin and drag it. He never realized until now how very worn the All-Father is by now.
"It very well may be so," says Odin. "But I don't think that this silence of yours now is of mere habit."
Thor gives a thin smile. Ever since he awoke again from the damage that Ultron had wrought upon him, he still feels uneasy on his feet. He had returned to Asgard for further healing, but he finds himself restless here. The place makes him itch, and he cannot relieve it.
"It has been a long several months," says Thor.
"Is your health all right?" says Odin.
"Better," says Thor. "Eir says I'm making full recovery."
"That is good to hear," Odin says.
He puts a hand on Thor's shoulder. It feels unfamiliar and heavy.
"And you?" says Thor. "What of your health?"
"As well enough as an old man can afford," says Odin.
Which is to say, unwell. But Thor has known this unspoken fact for a while, seeing how worn and weathered his father is. All these eons of ruling are taking their toll—a fate Thor nearly accepted upon his own shoulders after Odin.
"You should be careful," Thor says. "You wouldn't want to rob Asgard of their All-Father so early."
"It isn't as if you are not ready for the throne now," Odin says.
Thor pauses. He turns to his father, frowning.
"Why do you say that?" he says.
"Why would I not?" says Odin. "You certainly are able enough to take the throne without warning."
Thor stiffens. He doesn't know if maybe Odin has become so old that he has forgotten, or if he has decided to completely ignore Thor's wishes.
"Father," Thor says. "You know I will not take the throne."
Odin is silent. Thor cannot help but feel indignant at Odin for forgetting something so crucial and important to Thor, or even worse—denying it completely, as if Odin has not listened to anything Thor has said.
"I've told you this," Thor says. "Don't you remember?"
"When did you tell me?" Odin says. His voice is strange.
"Not long after battling Malekith," Thor says. "After I…after I searched Svartalfheim for Loki's body. And then went down to Midgard to bring the escaped beast back."
Odin shakes his head, putting a hand to his forehead. Thor counters him worriedly, holding up a hand as if to help steady him.
"No, I don't recall you saying that to me at all," Odin says. "No—I fell into the Odinsleep before you returned home, when I heard of—" He falters. "I don't remember speaking with you."
"I certainly spoke with you," Thor says. "Unless upon sleeping you pulled up a self-model decoy to take messages."
"Nothing." He has been interacting with Stark more than he ought. "The Lady Sif says you fell into the Odinsleep perhaps a month after I had left."
"Many people say different things, none that which I recall," says Odin.
"Could you not see or hear in your sleep as you usually do?" says Thor.
Odin shakes his head. "My senses were clouded. Masked. As if I could not see beyond myself." When Thor gives Odin a worried look, Odin waves a hand. "You should see this coming, my son. I haven't been a young man for a great while."
"I know," says Thor. He scratches at an itch on his chest. Sometimes it feels like something is tickling his lungs. "I just hoped it wouldn't be so soon."
"Did you think you wouldn't be king until much later?" says Odin. "Is that why you say you are stepping down?"
"No," says Thor. "I don't mean to ever be king."
Odin's eyebrows furrow. "You had anticipated the crown ever since you were young."
"I was a fool when I was young," says Thor. "I don't think that is new information to either of us."
"Then why?" Odin says.
Thor walks away from the balcony, back within the walls of their home. Odin follows, two paces behind Thor. Thor doesn't know where he goes, only that he is walking a familiar path, because he recognizes the way he turns the corners, the shadows on the wall as he passes. He recognizes such little and useless details and yet if they had not been here, he would have been so, so lost.
It isn't until he finds himself at the door of Loki's chambers does he realize how lost he still is.
Regardless, he opens the door. The door creaks from being closed for so long. Odin silently follows him.
The greeting room, with its fireplace and seats for accommodating visitors, is darkened. Thor knows every nook and cranny—perhaps not as well as Loki would, but he has come here so many times, just to annoy his brother that he could walk through these rooms with his eyes closed and dodge every obstacle.
With a pop, a small fire blooms in the fireplace. Odin casts a small light in the room.
"You had banished me," Thor says, "so that I would learn the error of my ways, so that I would be more worthy of taking the crown."
He goes blindly to Loki's bedchambers. The bed hasn't been touched for two years. The furs are dusty, the silk covers started and stiff. He remembers how he and Loki would play on the bed, pretending it to be a ship, and they would be pirates of the seas until Frigga would envelope them with the sheets and embrace them tightly. Thor's childhood feels shattered now, pieces missing, irretrievable. He doesn't know how to remember it without hurting.
"But the truth is that I'm not worthy at all," says Thor. He closes his eyes. "The realm and its powers in my hand, and I could not save my brother. My mother. They died to protect and they—they were far braver, worthier, stronger than I can ever be. And they are gone."
"Is this your concerns speaking?" says Odin. "Or your sorrow?"
Thor's throat tightened.
"What difference does it make?" Thor says.
Because his heart is broken. And he doesn't know how it will mend, after watching his mother die, after holding his brother as he passed away, for Thor. And for what?
He sinks into a chair in Loki's room. It is worn and familiar.
"I feel so weak," Thor says. "I'm not strong enough, Father. I thought I was building up myself—I thought I was building myself to be a strong king who will not let his heart rule. But I only climbed higher and higher so I could drop it from a greater height and let it break."
He feels like a fool, spilling all of this in front of Father. Weak, ashamed, broken—but he is all three. He cannot take Gungnir, take the throne and think that he can rule Asgard once Odin passes all alone, to gain the realm and lose his heart, when there are nights he cannot sleep because he cannot help but wonder why he has failed his loved ones so much. If he could fail his family so greatly, how much more can he fail his home?
"Frigga and Loki's deaths were not your doing, my son," Odin says.
"Father, I held him in my arms as he died," Thor says. His voice is thick. "And I couldn't even bring him back. I left him in Svartalfheim, after I let him die, after I failed to destroy the Aether and protect everyone—I had left him there, Father, I—"
And it boils in him again, that shame he wishes he doesn't feel, but he does and it burns and tears because he is (was) Loki's big brother and he had left him behind, had given him a storm for a funeral, had failed to take him home, had left him behind where he would have been so afraid.
Thor lets himself cry. He has never cried in front of his father—not since he was only a very young child, and Odin had scolded him so harshly for nearly destroying the entire castle that he cried. But Thor weeps now, weeps uncontrollably, because he misses his mother, he aches for his brother, and he knows one day he will lose his father, lose his friends, lose Jane, and he can't stand being alone anymore.
I'm sorry, Mama.
I'm sorry I let you die.
I'm sorry I let your little boy suffer.
I'm so sorry—
Odin lets him cry as he places a hand on Thor's back. Thor heaves for breath, choking for air as he tries to press his hand over his mouth that rips with sobs. A moment later Odin grips Thor tightly, his forehead leaning against Thor's head as he shakes.
"I wish you will find your peace in due time," Odin says as Thor tries not to whimper. He feels like a child now, but he also feels so worn and tired and old. "I wish you did not have to suffer so much loss so young, my son."
Thor swallows air. He gasps. He forgets that he is prince, and Odin is king. He is a lost child, and he needs his father.
I didn't do it for him, Loki had said—and Thor wonders if he had not been there, if only Loki did not love Thor as much as he did, maybe Loki would be alive. Perhaps Thor would be dead, but Loki would be okay.
But Loki is dead, and because of that Thor is still alive. Is that good enough of a thing that would have brought Loki to Valhalla? Maybe, just maybe Loki isn't alone—he is with Frigga, with Mother, and they are at peace and happiness together and Loki isn't alone and afraid. And all that pain that he has lived through, all the sorrow that has followed him, is finally put to rest because where he is, nothing can hurt him anymore, and Mother can comfort him and wipe every tear away.
Maybe Loki is happier than here, and maybe that is as close as being okay he can be, than Thor could have ever offered him if he was alive.
Thor just wishes he could be a part of that.
Thor loves (loved) Loki with all his heart, but that still isn't enough.
He closes his eyes. He almost sees them—his family.
Mama, take care of him, please.
Keep him safe and with you—
Let him be happy, Mama—
He'll be happiest with you.
And that is all Thor can ask for.
It's so much harder to breathe.
The air is so cold that Loki swears he feels his insides freeze as he takes in a breath. He shivers uncontrollably. Each breath shakes. He would curl up in a ball just to try to keep warm, but moving hurts his chest. It hurts so badly.
He feels something heavy fall upon him. He moves his head just enough to see Jane spreading a blanket out on him. He would shake it off, throw it away—he needs no one's pity or help or charity—but he's so tired and this blanket is so warm.
He doesn't recall where he is. Is he on a bed? A couch? The floor? He doesn't recall falling asleep either—or waking.
He coughs, and tastes blood. It makes his fingers twitch from the impact of the cough on his body. He wheezes.
"What can I do for you?" Jane says.
He laughs. It comes out as heavy breaths.
"Would…?" She exhales deeply. "Would painkillers even help you at all?"
"I'm surprised," says Loki. "Why have you not kicked me out?"
"What?" Jane says.
"From your…humble abode," Loki says. "You owe me no roof. Nothing." He closes his eyes and feels softness on the side of his cheek. He reckons he is on a bed—her bed, even. He doesn't remember falling upon it, or claiming it as his own. "You're cross enough with me, and comforts don't do anything for a dead man." He opens one eye at her. "What are you doing this for?"
Jane crosses her arms. She seems almost affronted that he even ask.
"I'm not heartless," Jane says. "Do you really think I'd throw you out into the cold?"
"Well, I am a Frost Giant," Loki says. He gives a raspy laugh. "It hardly makes a difference."
"You wouldn't be able to even get up off the ground if I threw you out," Jane says. She swallows hard. "Besides. No one should die alone and cold. Not like that."
"Not even me?" Loki says with a raised eyebrow.
"No," she says. Her voice shudders for syllable. "Not even you."
Loki shakes his head. He can barely move. "If this is some mortal form of pity—"
"It's not pity," Jane says.
She gives Loki a long look before she leaves the room. Loki closes his eyes again, sinking into the pillow's touch. He wonders if he will even know when he is about to die—he had thought he did, when he was in Svartalfheim, but the Norns were cruel wretches.
Somewhere, deep inside, he hopes he will not. He doesn't want to have his mind go into a panicked, instinctive flurry as he feels his life slipping out as it should. He doesn't want his last thoughts to be aware that he is falling fast to Hel, reaching out to try to catch a hold of one last golden memory before it all fades. He doesn't want that golden memory to be of Thor.
Jane reenters. Her arms are crossed tightly, and her lips are pursed like a petulant child trying to refuse a bite of awful medicine.
"You know," she says, "Thor's in Asgard now."
"Is he," Loki says. His lips barely move.
"He's getting better from Ultron's attack," says Jane. "And he hasn't been home in a long while."
"Neither have you."
Loki takes in a deep breath. His chest hitches.
"Astute," he says. "Except I don't exactly have one, so that's a bit of trouble there."
Jane shakes her head. Loki manages to push himself up onto his elbows to look up at her.
"Don't even think of trying to convince yourself or me that this is all wrong," Loki says.
"I don't know," Jane says. "I'm not like you, Loki. I don't keep secrets. Especially not about you."
"You think you know what's best for Thor?" Loki says. "You really think that?"
"Do you only ever hear Thor every time I speak?" Jane says.
Loki shuts his mouth. Jane's jaw twitches.
"Maybe I do know what's best for Thor," says Jane. "Maybe I don't. But you're the one dying on my bed and you're bleeding all over my house and I don't even know what's best for you."
Loki stares at her. Why she even cares about what is best for him, he doesn't know. What's best for him now is that he dies, quickly, so that he wouldn't have to deal with all this damn pain anymore, and this waiting and wishing and wanting. He wants to go back to Frigga. He wants to rest.
"Thor knowing or not knowing will not change anything for me," says Loki. "Either way, I die, and it doesn't matter."
"Is it really that simple to you?" says Jane.
"I would think that you mortals would have it more simply, considering death is so frequent and contagious here on Midgard," says Loki.
Jane's brow furrows. Loki smiles a thin, strained smile.
"Do you think I fear dying alone?" says Loki. "I do not. I've thought I would die alone countless times in the Void, and I would have welcomed it, if only it were merciful."
"Do you really feel that way?" Jane says.
Loki struggles to sit up. Jane reaches out to help him but he pushes himself to lean against the headboard of the bed before she can touch him. Jane bites down on her tongue.
"By all rights I should have died the moment I was born," says Loki. "Death is not a stranger to me. I don't need to welcome it chaperoned."
His birthright is to die, after all.
"Is it hard?" Loki says. "To keep my secret."
"You have no idea," she whispers.
"From Thor?" says Loki.
"Everyone," says Jane.
Loki looks straight ahead of him. Out of everyone, it is only Thor that matters.
"Then let me make it easier for you," he says. "You must promise never to tell Thor, else he will hate you."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jane says.
"I have no time left," Loki says with a laugh. He tastes blood bubbling up his throat, even though there is nothing mirthful in him. "For all we know, weeks, days, or hours. If you tell Thor—if you run to him now, to say anything, he will come just in time to see me die. And he will blame you for not buying him time."
He sees Jane grow pale under his words. He feels the power, the control in his hands of the situation, but it is but a mirage. The more he speaks, the more he feels like he crumbles.
"He will know you knew, and did not go to him," he says. "He wouldn't know why we kept it from him—he wouldn't understand—but he will only know that you knew and lied to him. And then that anger will come and he will blame you for it—because you knew all along and you didn't tell him, and he will think you betrayed him."
He doesn't know if anything he says is true, but he believes it himself and that is enough to keep Jane from going to Thor. Thor will be angry—so angry and upset and broken because Loki is alive but also is dead and he won't have any peace, not unless he gives Loki up finally, gives up everything that ever causes him so much damned trouble.
Jane's jaw is tense, but Loki sees her trembling. He fears for a moment that her idiotic stubbornness will blind her, but no—she is an intelligent woman, to a degree. She will know that this is right.
"Is this all for Thor?" she says. Her voice is hollow. "And me? Is that really it?"
Loki refuses to look at her. If this—any of this—is for him, somehow he knows he wouldn't be doing this.
He wouldn't be doing any of this.
Just as much as he knows how much he hates that he loves his brother, loves Thor that he is afraid to see him, that it would break him, or maybe make him hate Loki, anything that Loki does not want to live to see, even if it will be only a moment.
Hates this love that feels like it came out of nowhere, but truly it has always been in Loki like a tumor, an infection that is slowly killing him. A part of him he cannot cut off without bleeding out.
His eyes burn. He doesn't understand why.
"When you—when you died, or almost did, on Svartalfheim," Jane says, "could you hear Thor when he screamed?"
Loki looks at her. She looks so grave, so tired. He thinks of taunting her, just to distract him from this weakness in his body and in his heart. But he can't. There really is no point in it.
"No," says Loki. "All my senses abandoned me. Maybe I did die—my heart stopped, only to trudge along again." He hates himself for asking, "What happened?"
Jane licks her lips. She takes in a deep, tired breath.
"He held you for a long time," Jane says. "And when the storm started, I don't think he would have left if I didn't beg him."
Loki smiles wryly. He is alive, but he doesn't remember Thor rocking him. Only Thor would be so sentimental that he thinks showing his care to what ought to be a dead body would matter.
Thor loves me better dead, and sometimes he wishes that isn't true. Except it is, and Loki should not mourn that. It isn't like Loki ever gave Thor any reason to love him alive, anyway.
"Before you—died," Jane says. "Before you gave away, you—Thor said you told him you didn't do it for your father. For Odin."
Loki's lips part.
"I did say that," he says.
"Who did you do it for?" Jane says.
Loki knows she knows the answer. Of course she would be a woman of science, that she will want confirmation. To hear him say it with his own words.
When he smiles, his sight blurs.
"Isn't it obvious?" he says.