At long last, night settled over Asgard.
Thor sighed and leaned over the parapet of his balcony, looking out across the demolished city as its activity quieted down and its inhabitants prepared for sleep. At his return from Midgard, the traditional mourning festivities had commenced and people had grieved their loved and lost ones, rejoicing in their memories and the glorious past once shared, while drinking and eating and dancing, as was their custom. Many nights Thor had walked amongst them, shared their drinks, their fond memories, and accepted their condolences with the smile that they expected from him. Then, after an hour or so, he had returned to the palace, to this balcony, where he had remained throughout the night, grieving in private.
There had been no festivities this evening. It was time to rebuild, to create anew what had been lost, to look forward and march on. Thor knew that, and he knew that while he had resigned any claim to the throne, he was still a leader to the people – as well as a prince. In front of his people, he must be strong.
He just… He just needed more time.
The stone of the parapet cracked under his hands and he released the grip he had had on it. The city was wrecked enough as it was, without him adding further destruction on it. He had done his share of that already.
Well done, you just decapitated your grandfather.
He could hear Loki's voice as if his brother had been standing next to him again. Frustrated, spiteful, excited. Excited, as if it was just another adventure, a two-man expedition, like so many times before.
Only this time, only one of them had returned.
Out of hundreds of words of condolence, not one had been for Loki. Not because the Aesir had already celebrated his death once, Thor thought, and not because they did not know that he had fallen. Not because the Allfather had forbidden it before retiring to his private chambers. No, it was simply because they did not mourn him.
The mere thought was enough to make his hands tremble and he gripped the parapet again, his jaw clenched as if he was bracing himself for a battle, though there was no one nearby to fight.
Two times he had lost his brother. He dared not hope to get him back a second time as well.
He backed away from the balustrade and sank down against the palace wall, a perfectly uncharacteristic slump, wringing his hands as he heard other echoes of his brother's voice.
I could've done it, Father. For you. For all of us!
The desperation in Loki's face, in his voice, haunted Thor more than he could ever have admitted to anyone. It had been the first time he had seen his brother so truly desperate for anything, his emotions so naked and bare, and even though Thor had wanted nothing other than to reach out for his brother and embrace him, he knew it was not what his brother had needed and yearned for. And so he had lost his brother the first time, and it had been as if it was his heart that had exploded, rather than the Bifrost.
The next time they met, Thor had almost not recognized his brother. The loneliness and despair had been replaced by a more fervent determination than he had ever known Loki to possess, and while saving Midgard from the Chitauri had been important, more than anything else, Thor wanted to save Loki from whatever powers pulled his strings. Somewhere in that mania he had seen his little brother and felt the same, inextinguishable need to protect him as ever before.
He still did not know the details of what had happened. He would have asked, had there been the time, but he would not speak of it on Midgard, and they had hardly even set foot on Asgard before the einherjar had removed Loki, brought him in front of the Allfather and from there to the dungeons. Like their mother, Thor had been forbidden from seeing Loki, and thus no questions had ever been asked, and no answers given. And so, with every fruitless battle in the constant struggle to rebuild what had been lost when he destroyed the Bifrost, he had grown to know only the fighting – that, and the loss of his love. He had come to think of Loki as the catalyst of all the hardship and pain, and since he had never seen remorse in his brother's face, that thought had become truth.
Then, when Jane was in danger… As their mother died, as it seemed as if their father's grief clouded his judgment, when every path was blocked, he had seen Loki as a means to an end. A tool. And he had used him as such, only to discover that Loki was still his brother, and then lose him again.
I'm a fool. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. And then, words that caused Thor's heart to break all over again, I didn't do it for him.
"Then for whom?" Thor groaned and hid his face behind his hands. "Why would you do that?"
He felt stupid, sitting there, talking out loud, as if the answers he needed would be given. As if Loki was still there to explain.
"I never wanted this."
I didn't do it for him.
For whom? For whom? That was the question ringing in Thor's mind, because for such a long time now, Loki had been the catalyst of disaster. He had kept Thor in banishment and attempted to destroy Jotunheim to impress their father; he had launched an attack on Midgard in order to exact revenge – on Thor, but most of all, Thor thought, on Odin. An act of desperation, of anger, so much like the actions of a child. Negative attention was still attention after all, and Loki had never taken well to being ignored.
I didn't do it for him.
For mother? Thor had known that revenge would motivate Loki to help him when nothing else could. And with Frigga dead, so was the only reason why Odin had allowed Loki to live. Even so… Thor would have spoken to their father, as he had said. Surely the punishment would have been reduced, at least. Surely…
Surely it was not for him?
This was where Thor's thoughts always came to a halt, and it happened again now. It was an obstacle he could not overcome, not circumvent, nor beat his way through. The question remained, unanswered.
"Please" he said, the word choked with held-back emotions, "please tell me you didn't do it for me."
But Loki was not there anymore. No more jests, no more tricks. No answers, only unresolved questions and the distinct feeling that someone who should be there by his side was gone. Forever.
The night and the cosmos above wrapped themselves around Thor like a blanket while he wept for his brother. On the balcony two levels higher, Loki enhanced the illusion he wore and went back inside the Allfather's chambers.