Hvítá (2,430 words) by LokiOfSassgaard

Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Thor (Movies), Thor (Comics), Loki (Comics), Norse Marvel
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Thor (Marvel), Heimdall (Marvel), Loki (Marvel)

Summary: While Loki is on Jötunheimr, Thor seeks answers from the only person on Asgard who can give them.

Odin may have grown to accept Loki’s terrible habit of disappearing from the Nine Realms, but Thor thought he never would.  For the first ten years of their lives they shared a bed, and nearly every waking moment.  Then they were given their own chambers, and it seemed from that day forward Loki grew more and more distant.  Now, the man who once stood in his brother’s shoes was a stranger.  He spent more time in other realms than he did on Asgard, neglecting his duties while he spent half the realm’s silver in mead halls and brothels.

Thor knew he stole from vaults and store rooms to fund his depravity.  Thor knew he gambled to cover that which he could not steal.  And Thor knew he spent time on his back to cover that which he could not gamble.  So determined to not be a prince of Asgard was Loki that he seemed to go out of his way to defile and sully Asgard’s image to the other realms.  As if renouncing his place in Odin’s line absolved him of his other obligations as a son of Odin.

It was not enough for him to leave for weeks or months on end, either.  He had worn their father down so far that now even Odin himself spoke as if he expected this behaviour.  When Loki returned from Midgard, wholly unlike himself, he had somehow even convinced Odin of his lie.  Loki was many things, but battle weary was not one of them.  What battle with mortals would keep a god on the realm for so long?  What battle with mortals would change a man so fundamentally that all he wished to do was sleep?

Never once, since they were six years old, did Thor recall a single instance where Loki was offered mead and refused.  And yet, he’d had to force Loki out of his chambers only to have him flee the mead hall like a frightened child.

There were rumours.  Thor had heard them just as loudly as anyone else in the realm.  Rumours that Loki was not acting as himself because the man who returned in his skin was not Loki.  The man using his brother’s name did know enough about him to lie convincingly, so he hid himself from view.  To what ends, Thor did not know.  Nor was he certain whether or not he believed such rumours.  For he knew Loki, and his terrible moods and words that cut like steel.  Were the man who returned to Asgard not truly Loki, it would have been a dangerous misstep to attack Týr as he did.  Were the man who returned to Asgard not truly Loki, that monstrous pet of his would not follow at his heels like a lovesick puppy.  Were the man who returned to Asgard not truly Loki, he would not let that monstrous pet of his eat food from his own mouth nor sleep in his bed.

There were many things Thor regretted, but none as much as he regretted that gift.  He had expected Loki to get bored with the animal as soon as it outgrew him and stopped becoming a cute little toy.  But the wolf grew, and with it grew Loki’s attachment to the wolf.  And now it stood as tall as Loki himself, with teeth as long as a man’s fingers and a jaw large enough to bite off a man’s head.

Or a man’s arm, as it turned out.

No.  There was no truth to the rumours, and Thor realised he knew it.  But his brother had much changed in ways he did not and could not understand.  The last time Thor had seen Loki was the day he had finally deigned to be seen in public.  He left Thor with cutting remarks about Sif, before taking mysteriously ill and locking himself in his hall.  Once again, Thor had been instructed to leave Loki to his isolation.  But if Loki were allowed to break rules and do as he pleased, then why should Thor always do as he was told?  He gave Loki his space, as he had been instructed to, but he soon grew impatient.  Despite instructions to stay away, Thor paid his brother a visit, and once again found he was no longer on Asgard.

This time, Thor would not seek answers from Odin.  Loki had convinced Odin to lie for him, and he would only continue to do so.  But there were others in Asgard gifted with sight.  Others who could give Thor the information he sought.

He found Heimdall at his post, ever vigilant as he kept his watch across Yggdrasil.  Thor strode into the observatory, standing tall and regal in a way he hoped would hide the growing anxiety within him.  Heimdall did not turn to bow or greet him as others would have done, but kept his gaze forward into the void of space.

“You wish to know of Loki’s whereabouts,” Heimdall declared.

Perhaps Thor had not hid his anxiety as well as he’d thought.  Or perhaps Heimdall had simply been turning his gaze toward Asgard itself.

But there was no point in denying it.  Thor simply nodded.  “I do,” he said.  “What know you of my brother’s latest escape from Asgard?”

It was a long moment before Heimdall spoke, though Thor thought perhaps he could see the gatekeeper smile.  “Loki is well, but troubled,” he said finally.  “This time he lets me see him.  Each morning, I turn my gaze to Jötunheimr and find him in good health and care.”

“Jötunheimr?” Thor asked.  Loki went to Jötunheimr frequently, but never for long.

“He arrived only two days ago,” Heimdall said.  “This is a quest he must take if he is to find peace.”

Thor let the words weigh heavy on his mind.  Loki had not been at peace for years.  Though what he hoped to find in mead halls that he had not already found, Thor had no idea.  His thoughts returned to rumours of spies and war and subterfuge.  But surely if Heimdall could see Loki, if even briefly, he would know if Loki were up to anything seditious.  Loki may have no longer considered himself Asgardian, but Asgard was still his home.  Surely he would not see it destroyed.

“Thank you, good Heimdall,” Thor said.

The next day, he returned.  And the next day, he received the same information.

“Loki is well,” Heimdall said.

It was all he could say, for it was all Loki would allow him to see.  On the third day the news was the same.  Loki was well.  By then, Thor saw it for what it was.  When Loki had left for Midgard, supposedly waging war with humans, he’d hidden himself completely.  The only glimpses Heimdall got of him was when he had been ill or injured.  Now, on Jötunheimr, Loki was at least extending a courtesy.  A single glance, each morning, as a message that all was well.

On the fifth day, the message was different.

“I have not seen Loki today,” said Heimdall by way of a greeting. 

Loki would not have been allowing Heimdall glimpses if his intent was to suddenly stop.  Something was wrong.

“Then I shall go to Utgard and find him.  Bring him home,” Thor said.

“Loki is not in Utgard,” said Heimdall.  “Nor has he been.”

Thor wondered why he had not been told this before, but then he had never asked.  Loki only ever went to Utgard, and so Thor had simply assumed that’s where he would have gone now.

“Then where is he?” he asked.

“A small village, named Hvítá,” said Heimdall.  “The village is at peace.  I see no reason why the Thunder God should disturb these people.”

Heimdall knew something else he hadn’t been forthcoming with.  He wondered if Odin had got to him first, with instructions to hold his tongue.  He wondered if the instructions had actually come from Loki himself.

Two days later, the message had changed again.

“The magic Loki uses to shield himself from my gaze has slipped,” Heimdall said.  “I see now that he has been injured, but is well cared for.”

Thor felt himself grow hot with anger.  He had wanted to retrieve Loki two days earlier, but had been stopped from doing so.

“Then he must be brought home,” he said, throwing the whole of his weight into his words.

“Waking him now would only slow his healing,” Heimdall said.  “It is only because he sleeps now that his magic has failed him.”

Thor frowned at the void, silently cursing everyone who conspired against him bringing his wayward brother home where he belonged.

Days later, a brand new message again.

“Loki is quite well.  If he intended to return to Asgard, he would have done so himself.”  Heimdall spoke evenly, but it seemed now that even he was taking sides in this matter.

“He should not be on Jötunheimr in the first place,” Thor said.  Why did Loki get to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted?

“Should he not?” asked Heimdall.  “Is Loki not himself Jötunn?  Is Jötunheimr not the place of his birth?”

“Yes, but Loki does not live on Jötunheimr.  Loki lives on Asgard,” Thor said, wishing he could see even those briefest glimpses Heimdall could see.

“And is that not all the more reason for him to be there now?” asked Heimdall.

Thor wanted to be angry, and insist once more that Jötunheimr was not Loki’s home.  But something about Heimdall’s words cut right through him.  He knew, in that precise moment, that Asgard never should have been Loki’s home.  It was no secret that Loki fled to Midgard because he did not feel as if he had a place on Asgard.  Since he returned from his latest trip, he seemed to hate Asgard all the more, and the particularly brutal summer was not helping.  Thor had done all he knew how to make his brother feel more comfortable, but it was never going to be enough. 

Loki had ice in his veins.  It should have come as no surprise that eventually he would tire of Asgard and wish to return to the place of his birth.

Thor remembered what Odin had said last time, that he did not expect Loki to return at all.  Now, he understood as well.  Loki was not of Asgard, and had spent much of his life making sure everyone knew it.

In that moment, all of Thor’s rage and indignation were washed away by a grief that almost brought him to his knees.  A grief he realised had been slowly building for years, ready to burst forth and drown him in sorrow.

“Is he happy?” Thor asked after a long, suffocating moment.

“I believe so,” Heimdall said.  “Although today I think he is too busy fighting a headache to notice.”

The message stayed the same for a long while after that.  Loki was alive.  He was well.  He was thriving in a way Thor had not witnessed in a long time.  Though he only afforded Heimdall brief looks, the gatekeeper could clearly see much from these small windows.  After another week, Thor realised he too noticed something he had not seen in ages.  Loki rose from bed each day, as that was when he afforded Heimdall each brief look.  He did not waste away in his bed, wherever it was in some frozen village Thor had never heard of.  He rose each day, and greeted the world.

Then the messages began to change again.  Some mornings, Heimdall would find Loki in a different house, in the bed of a woman.  Other mornings, Loki played with children.  Occasionally, Heimdall saw Loki not as he woke, but as he went to bed for the night.  Loki was happy there, and though Thor feared he might never get to see his brother again, it brought him some amount of peace to know that he did not have to fight to belong somewhere.

Once, Loki removed his magic entirely, so Heimdall could keep a close watch on him.

“He is afraid that none on Asgard would know of his fate should he fall into the ice,” Heimdall said, still watching the events unfold as Thor stood by.

His words made no sense, and Thor had to turn them over in his head to make sure he had understood correctly.

“Why is he on the ice?” Thor asked. 

Loki was terrified of water, and it was no secret.  He could not swim, and had never gone near anything deeper than a bath since he was a boy.  Sometimes, Thor thought even that was too frightening for him.

“Because this is the best time to hunt seal,” Heimdall said.  He spoke plainly, as if Thor should have already known this information.

“Since when does Loki hunt?” asked Thor.

Heimdall made a noise that could almost be mistaken for laughter.  “There is much about Loki you do not know.”

Thor stayed by Heimdall’s side until Loki cloaked himself from sight again, a sure sign that he had returned to solid ground where he belonged.

Then, finally, the message changed again.

“Loki hides himself from me once again,” said Heimdall.  “I cannot see him, nor have I since yesterday.”

Sometimes, Loki forgot, or was sleeping off a new injury.  Thor was not concerned until Heimdall spoke again.

“None in Hvítá know where he has gone either,” he said.  “Some search for him as I speak.”

Thor felt as though some great presence had gripped his heart through his chest.  He had not exactly accepted that he might never see Loki again, but at least he knew where his brother was.  And now, once again, he had vanished into the wind.

“I thought he was happy there,” Thor said.  “I thought he intended to stay.”

“I believe he was,” Heimdall said.  “But it was not the purpose for his travels to Jötunheimr.  With spring weather on its way, he will be seeking to complete his quest.”

Thor knew nothing of any such quest.  He had thought Jötunheimr itself was the quest.  One more thing that had been kept from him, it seemed.

“So he shall return to Asgard?” he asked, trying not to sound like a hopeless fool.

“I can only see how Loki behaves.  I cannot see into his mind,” Heimdall said.

Thor looked out into the void, trying not to hope.  Their father had learned to accept Loki’s eventual final disappearance, but Thor was not ready.  He did not think he ever would be.