To Dare Hope (8,049 words) by LokiOfSassgaard
Warnings: Major Character Death
Characters: Thor, Loki
Additional Tags: 5+1, whump, angst
Summary: Finding his brother pale and lifeless was becoming all too familiar, and never got easier.
It was a simple competition: see who could climb the highest in the tree. Thor thought Loki would chicken out halfway up the tree, but now they had climbed far too high, and Loki still refused to back down. Thor could hear the tree creaking beneath their weight, and feel the whole thing straining. He looked down, both at Loki just below him, and at the ground far below.
“You’ve proven your point,” Thor said.
Loki strained to reach another branch. “No, I haven’t. You’re still winning,” he said.
Thor watched him struggle. He knew that this had gone too far. Loki was being stubborn and spiteful, and the only thing Thor could do about it was sit in place and hope that Loki would give up once he caught up. It took several long minutes for Loki to reach him, and that should have been the end of it.
“Ha!” Loki said, grinning widely at Thor.
“Yes, good,” Thor said.
He started working his way back down, eager to get back on solid ground before anything happened. But Loki, stubborn and stupid, kept climbing.
“Loki, no,” Thor said.
He looked down again, but he found no help there. Loki kept climbing, higher and higher onto branches that were becoming far too small to be climbed on.
“You made it higher. Let’s go,” Thor said.
“I’m going all the way to the top,” Loki said.
“No, you’re not,” Thor said.
Loki did not listen. He kept climbing, so Thor stayed where he was. He didn’t know what else to do. He knew he couldn’t follow Loki any further, and if he climbed down and Loki got stuck, he’d just have to come all the way back up again.
Thor heard the branch above him snap, and then it was as though time slowed to a snail’s pace. He tried to reach out to grab Loki, but he slipped through Thor’s fingers as he fell down. Thor could only watch as Loki fell down to the ground, barely missing another large bough below before striking the ground. For a long moment, Thor could only stare down at Loki. He didn’t move, and from so high up, Thor couldn’t even tell if he breathed. Suddenly struck by a sense of urgency that hit him like a mule’s kick, Thor scrambled down along the low bough and back to the tree’s truck so he could climb down. Once he was low enough, he skipped the rest and leapt to the ground. Loki still lay in the dirt, eyes open wide and staring blankly above. A tight knot formed in Thor’s stomach as he feared the worst.
He reached Loki’s side and crouched down beside him, too afraid to touch him in case he might somehow further injure him.
“Loki,” he said, not sure what to do. He looked around, but there was no help anywhere near. “Loki?”
Thor dared to reach out and touch him, pressing his fingers against Loki’s chest. He could feel the subtle rise and fall, and with that came some relief. Then, Loki gasped and coughed, and Thor nearly fell over from the rush of relief that flooded him.
“Loki, you damn fool,” he said.
Wheezing, Loki managed to roll over onto his side.
“I won,” he said.
Thor had never had to try so hard to keep from hitting Loki in his life.
It was a long ride to the southern settlements, and after two days, Thor was getting ready to give up and go home. It was no wonder they had not heard from the jarls or received tribute in several seasons, if travelling to do so was such a tremendous undertaking. He looked over to Loki as they rode side by side along the wide trail, taking some comfort in seeing his brother just as tired and grubby as he was. Seeing Loki in any state other than perfectly groomed was a rare occurrence, and one Thor always delighted in, if only because he knew how badly it irritated Loki.
“Are you certain we aren’t being hazed?” Loki asked as he swatted a fly away from his face. “Who gave you this order?”
“Father did,” Thor said. “Directly. And I’ve never known him to be in a hazing mood.”
Loki grumbled quietly.
“Relax,” Thor said. “When we get there you can take a bath and find some maiden to suck your prick.”
“I don’t want one to suck my prick,” Loki said. “I want one to make me dinner. And then maybe suck my prick.”
Thor laughed, doubting Loki would ever follow through. He was surprised his brother had even come along, but he must have run out of people to annoy within the palace if riding out to collect tribute seemed like a good use of his time. Loki fell back into a sullen silence as they rode on, Volstagg in front of them leading the way, while the others all trailed behind. They rode for hours, all weary and sore from long days in the saddle, finally coming to the ridge that marked the edge of the southern settlements as dusk began to fall. The party picked up their pace to cross the ridge, but as they reached the crest they all stopped and fell silent at the sight before them.
“Ymir’s tits,” Loki muttered, backing his mare up a few steps.
The settlements had been razed, and not recently. There were no smouldering fires to put out. No shrieks or wails from those trapped in their destroyed houses. The valley was cold and utterly lifeless.
“Well, that clears up a few mysteries,” Volstagg said.
“And begs a few more,” Loki said.
The pair looked at one another, as all others peered down into the valley in silence. None said anything else until Thor cracked his reins and directed his horse down into what remained of the village.
“We have a job to do,” he said.
They had been sent to not only collect tribute, but to find out why none had been sent. If they could not do the former, they at least needed to do the latter. The rest of the party followed him into the valley, trotting along the path in a straight line, one behind the other as they neared the village. Once there, Thor dismounted his horse and continued on foot, keeping a careful eye on dark corners and doorways as he walked through along the path. The houses all showed signs of rot, with their turf roofs collapsed and caved in, decayed to dead roots and crumbling soil. He stopped to check fresh water barrels, finding them full, but far from fresh. Algae and insects had taken over, leaving a thick coat of slime on the wood that would not have formed quickly.
“When was the last time Asgard heard from them?” Sif asked, stepping up beside Thor.
Thor shook his head. “Spring last year,” he said.
He looked back at Loki and Fandral, where they stood together in a doorway to peer inside.
“I’d reckon that’s about when they were all killed,” Loki said.
Thor stepped over and nudged Loki aside. Several broken skeletons, wearing rotting clothing and with wisps of hair still stuck to their skulls, lay on the floor, tangled in the collapsed roof. Loki nudged past Thor to step inside, crouching beside one of the skeletons and peering down at it. He looked up at the roof a moment longer and sighed tiredly.
“So much for dinner and a bath,” he said, standing.
“Loki,” Thor said.
He grabbed Loki by the arm to guide him back out into the open air. Hogun and Volstagg were coming to the same conclusion in another one of the houses, and soon joined the rest of them in the middle of the path.
“What did this?” Fandral asked.
Loki shook his head. “Not a dragon. There’d be nothing left,” he said. “Trolls, maybe, but they’d have to be some awfully big trolls.”
“We’ll rest the horses for a few hours and head back,” Thor said, already returning to where they’d left the animals. “I don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to.”
One by one, the others followed him to tie off their horses and feed them. Their own rations were slim, having been packed in anticipation of being able to restock for the return journey, but feed for the horses was in even shorter supply. As they got everything settled, Loki pulled his bow from his saddle and strung it up, nodding to Fandral as he readied himself.
“We’ll go see if there’s anything worth eating,” Loki said as he buckled his quiver onto his belt.
Thor nodded as the pair of them left and looked around for anything useful. “Start a fire,” he said, nodding to Volstagg. “Hogun, come with me.”
With a low hum, Hogun followed Thor as he set a perimeter around camp. Nothing stood out in the clearing around the village, but the woods where Loki and Fandral had disappeared to were a very real concern. But with no sign of anything nearby, Thor and Hogun returned to their sparse camp to wait for the other two to finish finding dinner.
As darkness fell fully over the valley, Loki and Fandral returned not with dinner, but with panicked screams. They all stood around where Volstagg had built the fire and turned to see the pair of them stumbling out from the woods. Behind them, crashing through the trees, was a shadow twice the size of any troll Thor had ever seen, though the stench alone gave it away as one. Once in the clearing, Loki and Fandral split up, each darting off in separate directions. Loki paused just long enough to turn and loose an arrow at the beast, landing on its shoulder but barely piercing it. With a roar as loud as it was putrid, the troll struck its clawed paw at Loki, pulling him clear off his feet and darting him away like he was nothing. Thor turned to see where Loki had landed, but there wasn’t enough time to tend to him. Volstagg and Hogun were already charging it, but they would fare no better than Loki had.
Thor swung Mjölnir over his head and launched it at the troll, letting the hammer carry him with it. The hammer bounced right off the troll’s skull, though not at least without sending it reeling. The troll’s unbalance gave the rest a moment to attack with their blades and maces, keeping it distracted while Thor got a better run up. This time when he flung the hammer, he let it sail on its own. And this time, when it struck the troll in the chest, it did not stop. Mjölnir punched a hole straight through the creature, felling it before it even knew it was dead.
“Loki!” Thor shouted, pausing just long enough to catch Mjölnir as it returned to him.
He ran to Loki’s side, where he still lay still in the cold dirt. His bow lay several meters behind him, with a trail of arrows marking the path he had sailed through the air before hitting the ground. Thor dared to reach out to him, unsure if he should try to move Loki, or if doing so may cause more damage. But Loki breathed, and when Thor finally mustered the nerve to touch him, he was met with a low grumble.
“Loki, you damn fool,” Thor said, trying to force himself to laugh. Maybe if he laughed, Loki would too. “You can’t kill a troll with an arrow.”
Loki coughed weakly and tried to wave Thor off. “I’ll do what I damn well please,” he said.
This time when Thor laughed, it was a little more genuine.
“All your fussing about dinner and you didn’t even get any,” he said.
Again, Loki groaned and rolled over to turn his back to Thor.
Thor hated Heyannir. Not on principle, or for what it meant. But because the city was always so damn full as traders from within Yggdrasil and without flocked to Asgard to take advantage of the harvest trading season.
The crowd itself wasn’t even the problem. Loki was. Loki had a way of angering every person who crossed his path, hurling drunken insults and flirting with married women. It had been two days since the start of Heyannir, and already Thor had needed to negotiate Loki’s way out of several duels. If anything, Thor was glad Loki hung off his shoulder, too drunk to sit up properly. He didn’t care how it looked, because it was less work for him. Still, it meant he was stuck babysitting Loki, and not off having fun and enjoying himself like everyone else. He propped Loki up, watching as he somehow still continued to drink despite having clearly lost his wits.
“I hate you,” Thor said lowly, looking over the hall and all the revellers who feasted on Asgard’s bounty.
Loki laughed quietly. “You never were a good liar,” he said lowly, staring into his horn.
“And you never were a good brother,” Thor said.
Beside him, Loki snorted and tried to empty his horn without spilling any. He failed, utterly and spectacularly.
“Damn,” he said, looking down at the mead that covered both of them.
Immediately, a servant was beside them, pressing another full horn into Loki’s hand. Laughing as though he had won something, Loki drank more mead while Thor tried to pretend he wasn’t ready to commit fratricide right in front of everybody. He distracted himself with his own drink and feast, but every time Loki dared move was another reminder that Thor had once more spent an entire festival babysitting his brother.
“I’m going to throw you off the Rainbow Bridge,” Thor said, still watching the crowd. “I’ll do it while everyone’s asleep. None will ever know it was me, but if they did they would throw a feast in my honour.”
Loki continued to laugh as he drank. He picked at snails and strips of boar, but made it clear the only thing he wanted in his belly was more mead.
“Mother will weep, of course,” Thor said. “For about two days, until she gets bored with it.”
“Three, at least,” Loki said, his voice heavy and thick.
“Every maiden in Asgard will rejoice,” Thor said. “For none will have to feign interest in your greasy arse ever again.”
Loki leaned heavily against him, struggling to hold his horn upright. Thor reached out to keep it from spilling on him again, and noticed that Loki had all but fallen asleep on him.
“Loki, sit up, you clown,” he said, shoving him hard.
Loki didn’t sit up. He barely stirred. Thor once more nudged him hard, expecting to at least irritate him, but Loki only leaned more heavily against Thor’s side.
“Loki,” Thor said, looking around for someone to take the horn from him.
He handed it off to the woman beside him and used both his hands to sit Loki upright, and realised immediately Loki had not just fallen asleep. The colour had drained from his face, and he lay limp in Thor’s grip. Thor snatched the horn back, trying not to spill it as he held Loki a bit tighter with his other hand.
“Guards!” he shouted.
At once, a pair of Einherjar by the doors rushed over, hastening their speed as they got close enough to see the trouble. Thor let them take Loki before standing, giving the horn in his hand a suspicious glare.
“Fetch a healer. And a mage,” he said.
He ran with the guards to the healing chambers, met at the doors by one of Eir’s apprentices. Thor handed her the horn, making sure nothing inside was spilled.
“Find out what’s in that. Now,” he said.
With a nod, the girl rushed off, holding her hand over the horn to keep it from spilling. Two more healers joined the guards, getting Loki settled on a long bed against the wall.
“What is it?” one of the women asked.
“Poison, I think,” Thor said. “And before that, half a cask of mead.”
Thor could only stand by and watch as the healers worked, forcing some thick and sticky liquid down Loki’s throat and rolling him onto his side. Moments later, whatever they had forced into him came back up again, along with all the mead he’d drank. Thor turned away, unable to watch, and instead directed his attention to a guard standing nearby. He had seen Loki vomit more times than he cared to count. He had never seen it while Loki lay limp and unconscious.
“Did you see who gave it to him?” the guard asked.
Thor shook his head, trying to ignore what happened just a few footsteps away.
“No,” he said. “I was too busy being angry with him to notice.”
Loki had been drinking poison while Thor joked about killing him. The realisation hit him with a force so great, it nearly knocked him over. He looked around for somewhere to sit and fell heavily onto a nearby chair. If he had paid Loki any less attention, he might already be dead. And Thor knew there still was no guarantee he would live.
As the guard left, Thor dared to look back at Loki, now silent though still on his side as the healers tended to him. The way they scrambled about, mixing potions and fussing with him, Thor knew without a doubt that this was not simply a case of Loki having too much to drink. He had faded far too quickly, and barely seemed to be breathing. Thor watched as he was rolled onto his back once more, and another potion forced down his throat. His face was slack and oddly swollen, and the sight of it alone triggered something visceral within Thor. Again, he had to look away before he screamed or vomited or both. As he watched the floor in front of him, only listening to the sounds as the healers did their job, the doors once again opened as Odin and Frigga rushed in.
“What’s happened?” Frigga said, stopping suddenly as she crossed the threshold.
Thor looked up at her as a crushing wave of guilt consumed him. “Poison,” he said.
Frigga gasped and covered her mouth as Odin pulled her just a bit closer.
“Let them work,” he said.
Thor let his gaze fall back to the floor, unable to look either of them in the eye. “I’ll stay with him,” he said. “In case he wakes.”
“You’re not staying alone,” Frigga said.
She stepped away from Odin, the two of them sharing some silent understanding before he turned away to return to the festival. As Odin retreated, Frigga sat in a seat near Thor, reaching out to take one of his hands in hers.
“You’re here for him, and he knows that,” Frigga said.
Thor shook his head. “I wasn’t there at all,” Thor said. “If I hadn’t been so angry with him, I might have noticed sooner that something was wrong.”
He looked up at his mother, and could see the fear in her eyes. The fear Thor felt in his very bones.
“There was a man. A jarl or something,” Thor said, shaking his head. “He thought Loki was trying to entice his wife.”
Loki had been caught with his hands buried up the woman’s skirt, and it was only Thor’s sudden presence that stopped the feud. But Frigga didn’t need to know that her son was a pervert as well as a drunk, especially while he lay dying just across the room.
“Your father will deal with it,” Frigga said. “You’ve done your part. Let him do his.”
Thor nodded, and once more dared to look up at Loki. He looked dead, but the healers continued to fuss with him. That alone was enough for the moment.
For two days, Thor passed the time in moments. For two days, Loki lay still and silent. For the moment, he was breathing. For the moment, his heart was beating. For the moment, he wasn’t getting worse. Thor filled the spaces between moments catching what little sleep he could. The healers had no more information for him; all that was left was to wait, and so that was all Thor did. He waited, and he watched their mother sit by Loki’s side. He was still far too weak to be moved, so they stayed in Eir’s chambers, Loki laying still and lifeless while no one dared speak of what came next.
Thor and Frigga took turns sitting beside Loki, keeping watch so he would at least have someone witness his death. Occasionally, Odin came to see how the situation progressed, and brought news that the man responsible had confessed. Thor could see on his father’s face that he too knew the full story, and that it was a secret the two of them would take to their graves.
It was while Thor was by his side that Loki stirred for the first time. It was just a little thing, as though he flinched in pain, but it was something new; something Loki had not yet done.
“Loki, you’d better wake up, or I will throw you off the Rainbow Bridge,” Thor said.
Loki said nothing. He did nothing. He only lay still, barely breathing as ever. The only improvement he’d seen since being brought to Eir’s chambers was that he no longer seemed puffed up. Instead, his face was sunken and hollow, already too much like a corpse for comfort.
Some time later, he flinched again, and this time Thor dared hope. This time, he dared let himself believe that maybe everything would be fine. But as time wore on, that hope faded, and it soon became clear that Loki flinched like he was pained, because he was in pain. Quiet whimpers began escaping his throat, and he soon began to shiver and tremble. Finally, one of the healers noticed and rushed over, shoving Thor out of the way so she could reach Loki to tend to him.
“What’s wrong?” Thor asked. “What’s happening?”
He looked over to see Frigga awake from her nap, sitting up and watching with a stricken look about her.
“Enough of the poison has faded that his body is able to fight and try to reject what remains,” she said, draping a wet cloth over his forehead. “Now we must fight the fever.”
That Loki could survive the poison only to die of a fever made Thor feel as though his stomach had fallen out. He watched as Loki trembled as though having a fit, and took a step back to give the healer room to work. She crushed herbs and mixed them into a broth, which she managed to get down Loki’s throat. Whatever it was meant to do, Thor didn’t see it making any difference at all. Once again feeling utterly helpless, all Thor could do was stay out of the way.
Watching was all either he or Frigga could do as Loki seemed only now to get worse by the hour. Ice had to be brought in to keep Loki from cooking himself from within, and still nothing seemed to help. He whimpered and trembled, never once opening his eyes. Frigga was not even allowed to sit by his side, so that the healers did not have to work around her. Once more, time passed by moments. For the moment, he was still breathing. For the moment, his heart was still beating. For the moment, his fever was still manageable.
With an agonising slowness, his fever did subside though. Bit by bit, moment by moment, Loki began to still and quiet, until finally after two more days, the fever broke. Again, Loki fell into an unnatural silence, so still he barely breathed. But this, at least, was better. If Loki were going to die, he at least would not die in agony. He would still sometimes groan and whimper quietly, but no longer to such a terrifying degree.
Finally, on the fifth day, Loki stirred. Thor woke to find Frigga doting over him, petting his tangled and greasy hair, and pestering him to drink a weak broth. Standing back, Thor watched the two of them, barely able to make himself move closer. He feared that Loki might slip away again if he dared believe, but Loki continued to grumble and complain, and Thor had never been so glad to hear it. Still, he waited until Frigga retreated to discuss the situation further with Eir before slowly and carefully approaching Loki’s side. He sat, expecting Loki to go back to sleep, but it seemed Loki had had enough of sleep for the moment.
“What the hel happened?” Loki asked, trying to turn his head to look to their mother.
Thor shook his head and leaned close. “Some jarl from nowhere caught you with your fingers up his woman’s cunt, and tried to kill you for it,” he said lowly.
Loki forced out a weak laugh as he let his head fall back down upon the bed. “I don’t recall anything like that.”
“Of course you don’t,” Thor said, too relieved to be properly angry, even though anger was exactly what Loki deserved. “You were drunk for two days. I’m surprised you remember your own name.”
Infuriatingly, Loki grinned weakly. “How many days did she weep?” he asked.
Thor could have hit him. If Loki hadn’t been so weak, Thor might have wanted to finish him off.
“She didn’t,” he said. “She wouldn’t weep for something that hadn’t happened yet.”
Loki managed another weak laugh, and Thor thought for certain he was going out of his way to be irritating.
It was his prick. It was always his prick that caused the worst trouble, because Loki was incapable of keeping it to himself. How Thor had ever thought Loki was disinterested in such things was beyond him, because every single thing Loki did seemed to be with the end goal of falling into bed with someone.
Thor followed the Álfar guard through the palace and to Queen Aelsa’s throne. Expecting to be shouted at, and to be told to take Loki and leave the realm, Thor was started at the sight of his brother in chains. He was held at each arm by a guard, one hand each on Loki, and the other on their muskets. Most telling was Loki’s state of near total undress, wearing only a pair of woollen breeches which Thor was certain he had never seen before.
“Loki, what have you done?” Thor asked, daring to step closer.
“He has defiled a princess, and for his crime he will pay for his life,” Queen Aelsa said.
Thor found himself stumbling to catch up with the turn of events. He tried several times to speak before words finally formed on his tongue.
“And he’s a prince. We can solve this peacefully,” he said.
“We will not,” Aelsa said. “His actions are distasteful enough. We do not give brides as consolation. Much less when it’s an outsider who breaks our laws.”
Thor looked at her, and then to Loki. He could see Loki trying to remain calm in the face of his sentence, but Thor knew fear when he saw it on his brother’s face.
“Can we agree that if there’s no child, there’s no real harm done?” Loki said quickly.
Aelsa turned her gaze to him, so imperious and cruel that even Thor wanted to flinch away. She stared down at Loki, and then to the guards that held him.
“If there is a child, you will pay with your head, Asgardian,” she said. “Take him.”
The guards began to pull him away, but Thor tried to stop them, standing in their way and making himself as wide as possible.
“Wait. Take him where?” Thor asked.
“To the dungeons,” Aelsa said. “You may allow your accused to roam free on Asgard, but we take no such chances here,” she said.
The guards shoved past Thor, hauling Loki off with them. For a moment, all Thor could do was stand stupidly and watch, his own hands bound by law and custom. Once they were finally gone, he turned again to face Aelsa, not entirely certain what he ought to do. He knew Aelsa had taken Loki’s bargain because executing an Asgardian prince would only cause war, and he had given her a convenient excuse to break her own laws. But he still knew that Loki’s position was tenuous at best if his bargain failed.
“My brother is a fool, but I’m certain he acted without malice,” Thor said.
Aelsa turned her cold glare to Thor, showing no sign whatsoever of relenting. “I shall keep that in mind when I take his head,” she said. “You may collect his possessions and have them removed from here. I’m certain you’ll wish to stay for the outcome.”
Thor nodded. “Aye,” he said. He bowed, just low enough to not be completely insulting. “Thank you.”
He returned to the chambers he’d shared with Loki, finding his bed messed with his clothes tossed carelessly around. The damned fool hadn’t even been careful enough to go somewhere hidden. Just looking at the mess, it was clear he had been walked in upon and hauled away bare-arsed and guilty without doubt.
Thor packed all of Loki’s belongings as quickly as he could, and called for his own servants to have it all sent back to Asgard. There would be no further talks; no further negotiations of trade and treaties. In five minutes, Loki had single-handedly seen to the end of all of it.
Thor sat alone in the chamber, looking over to the side that had been cleaned out, and tried to find a way out of this mess.
“Loki, you’re a damned fool,” he said quietly.
It was three days before he was permitted to visit Loki. Three days of dread, even though he knew Aelsa would at least keep her word and spare Loki until the true depths of his crimes were known. But even that was not enough to ease Thor’s nerves. Everything hinged on chance, and ultimately how quickly Loki had been discovered with an Álfar princess in his bed.
At least he wasn’t chained. It was a small consolation, seeing he was allowed to move freely within the small cell. Under any other circumstance, Thor might have made a joke, but he saw nothing worth joking about when his brother’s life hung in the balance.
“Any news?” Loki asked as Thor neared the bars.
Thor shrugged and shook his head. “No. How long does it take to know these things?”
Loki shrugged as well. “How the hel should I know?”
With a deep breath, Thor tried to form the question that had been burning at him since Aelsa had agreed to Loki’s bargain. It would be the single most important question he ever asked in his life, and he needed a plain and simple answer.
“Loki,” he said slowly, barely able to look at his brother through the bars. “Is there truly a chance for a child?”
Loki didn’t answer. He bit his lip and averted his gaze, which was not the plain and simple answer Thor needed.
“Loki,” he said again. “What have you done?”
Finally, Loki nodded. “There may be,” he said. “We’d spent all week together.”
Consumed by a blinding rage, Thor swung his fist and struck the wall, the stone cracking beneath his knuckles. He stayed that way for a long moment, fist firm against the wall while he breathed slowly and steadily, gaze fixed to the floor.
If this had happened on Vanaheimr, Loki likely would have got a wife out of the whole damned ordeal. But the elves didn’t mix their blood, not even with dark elves. And now they both knew what the price for even daring to get close was.
“You’re a Bor-damned fool,” Thor said finally.
“Yeah,” Loki said.
Thor looked up at him, wanting to reach through the bars to let Loki know exactly how he felt. But he kept his hands to himself and stepped away from the wall, ignoring the ache in his knuckles.
“I hope you have a plan, because I don’t believe even Father will be able to talk your way out of this one,” Thor said.
He wanted to stay, but knew that if he did, he’d only do something regrettable. Instead, he turned to leave, hoping to go anywhere that might help him forget this ordeal if only for a moment. But there was no such place in all of Álfheimr that would allow him to forget, so he wandered and sulked, and avoided spaces where he might cross someone’s path.
Thor did not visit Loki every day. He couldn’t bear to. He had no news, and Loki had no plan. Thor supposed he ought to have known how long it took for a woman to know if she was with child or not, but it had never been a matter that concerned him. He was certain he had his share of bastards scattered across the realms, but none from such ill-advised affairs as Loki managed to get himself into. Thor didn’t even know which princess Loki had been caught with, because as far as Álfheimr seemed concerned, nothing had happened at all. And yet, Loki still remained locked in a dungeon, waiting until Aelsa delivered her final judgement.
Each day that passed was one more drain on Thor’s hope. Each day that passed was one day closer to judgement, and without any information, Thor found himself slowly sliding toward the certainty that Aelsa’s judgement would not be kind. Thor refused to allow himself to believe that each day that passed without judgement was one more day closer to Loki’s favour. Getting his hopes up would only lead to greater heartache.
After the first month, Thor wondered if his understanding of women and children was truly as poor as it seemed. Perhaps, he thought, elves worked differently. Perhaps they took longer to know such things. As time drifted into the second month however, Thor changed his mind. Aelsa was only being her cold, cruel, usual self. He endured two entire months. Two entire months of uncertainty and dread. Two entire months of not being able to look Loki in the eye, because he did not want to see his own fear and dread mirrored back at him. Two entire months of feeling like a political prisoner while he waited for Aelsa to make her decision. And when the guards finally came for him, Thor found himself feeling nothing at all. No dread. No hope. Nothing. He simply rose to his feet and followed them down into the dungeons.
For two months, Loki had sat in the cell, barely fed, with no room to move from his own filth. Thor wondered if he had been allowed out at all, but he knew deep down the cell door had not been opened since Loki was locked behind it.
Thor said nothing as he watched the guards finally unlock the door and haul Loki to his feet. This time as they both gripped him by the arms, it was not to keep him from fleeing; it was to keep him at least marginally upright. He had been worn ragged and thin, and instead of fear or dread, it was a dull lifelessness Loki echoed back. The same dull lifelessness Thor felt watching him.
And then the guards dropped Loki in a heap by Thor’s feet and stepped away.
“Take him and leave,” one of the guards said. “Do not let him return.”
Thor stared down at Loki for a moment, too stunned to act. As it all caught up with him, he nodded and faced the guards.
“Aye,” he said, having no intelligent words to speak.
Kneeling beside Loki, Thor found himself afraid to touch him, as though doing so might cause him to evaporate or shatter into a million pieces. But when nothing happened, Thor took him by the arm and hauled him to his feet, trying to ignore the stench coming off of him.
“Swear to me,” Thor said as he hoisted Loki to lean against him for balance. “Swear to me you will never again put me through this.”
“Get me home, and I’ll swear to anything you want,” Loki said.
The bastard broke his promise almost immediately. It took him two weeks to rise from bed, and he was barely on his feet before he broke his promise.
Though, this time, even Thor had to admit it was not entirely Loki’s fault. Some mad sorcerer had unleashed an army of draugr upon the city, and it took every available body to fight them off. Though he was still too slow and damaged to fight properly, Loki still had his magic. He fought off what he could, while Thor and their friends went in with their fists. But the army was relentless, and draugr not exactly known for retreating, and soon Loki found himself overwhelmed. Thor heard him struggling, and as he turned to go assist, he knew what would happen before it did. Loki was desperate, and when he was desperate he got stupid. And when Loki got stupid, he tended to blow himself up.
Which was exactly what he did.
Screaming in rage, Thor called down every bolt of lightning the heavens had to offer, striking any draugr that dared still stand as he ran to Loki’s side. Finding his brother pale and lifeless was becoming all too familiar, and never got easier. Thor fell to his knees beside him, unable to tell if Loki was even still breathing. His hands and face were badly burned and scorched, and even if he was somehow still alive, Thor wasn’t sure how much longer he might last.
“I told you to stay home, you damned fool,” Thor said, trying to feel for any sign of life.
It seemed Loki still breathed, which should have been a familiar relief. And yet, Thor knew the sensation all too well. He looked out over the remains of the battle, and decided it would be won without him. He gathered Loki into his arms, careful not to make his injuries any worse than they already were, and used Mjölnir to whisk them both away back to the palace.
So many others had been wounded in the battle, and Thor knew every healer in the city would be busy, but he did not care. He took Loki back to his chambers, and would tend to him personally if that’s what was needed. Thor knew nothing of magical injuries or how to treat them, but he knew enough to tend to the burns at least. He also knew Loki was clumsy and careless enough that he kept his own potions and supplies at hand for when he blew himself up on more manageable scales.
As Thor searched Loki’s shelves, the noise attracted a servant. Thor turned to her and spared just a moment before turning back to his search.
“He’s burned, and I can’t remember which one I need,” he said, picking up an earthen pot and finding something resembling black salt inside.
The servant quickly joined Thor in his search, hesitant at first when it came to rifling through Loki’s belongings, but her hesitancy faded quickly. She helped Thor, picking up jars and bottles and pots until finally finding the right one.
“We’ll need some clean linens,” the servant said.
Thor ignored her giving orders and nodded, unsure where to find such things. After casting about Loki’s bedchamber and finding nothing, he rushed out to find someone who might know more about these things than he did. He was lucky to stumble upon a healer rushing down a corridor with a basket full of fresh sheets, and realised they were meant as bandages. He stopped the healer just long enough to pick several of the sheets from the basket, before rushing back off in the opposite direction. He didn’t know how many he’d need, but it seemed best to have more than not enough.
When he returned, he found the servant had cut Loki’s tunic from him and tossed it aside. It had been scorched and singed, and Thor had thought it had taken the brunt of the damage. He saw immediately that he was wrong. If he knew nothing of magical injuries, he knew even less about the magic itself. He had always seen Loki cast with his hands, and had assumed that’s where the magic had come from. But it seemed as though Loki had conjured the explosion from his own chest. Thor stared at him, dumbstruck as the servant quickly tended to him. Realising he was needed, Thor stepped closer, bringing the sheets with him.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“Strips,” the servant sad. “To wrap him with.”
Nodding, Thor began tearing the sheets into long strips, about a hands-width wide. He made a messy pile of them on the bed, paying more attention to the thick poultice the servant rubbed over Loki’s burns. Together, the pair of them worked, cleaning and dressing Loki’s wounds while he lay unconscious. Once they were done, they had exhausted Loki’s entire supply of the thick goop, and almost an entire sheet. For a moment, Thor thought to take the other back to the healers, but decided to hold onto it, in case Loki’s dressings needed to be changed.
“Thank you,” Thor said as they both slowly realised there wasn’t much left to do. “I’m sure you’re needed elsewhere.”
The servant nodded and stepped away. “I’m sure the kitchens are in shambles, but I’ll make sure something’s sent soon,” she said.
Thor nodded back and turned to examine the room. Loki lived like a peasant, with his bed and his work and everything else all crammed into a single chamber, which meant there were at least plenty of places to get comfortable. With nothing else to do, Thor lay down on the long sofa beneath the window and listened to Loki’s laboured breathing. They had done all they could until a healer could see him, but Thor knew there wasn’t much else that could be done even with a healer’s help. He knew the treatment for burns—even those caused by magic—was to wait, and pray that Loki would survive the night. There were others whose injuries could be helped, and they were the ones who got attention first.
Thor knew this, and Loki’s status changed nothing.
After several hours of tense waiting and watching and listening, the same servant returned with a tray in her hands. It was clear she had assembled something from whatever she could find in the kitchen, but Thor took it all the same.
“I’ve told the healers he’s up here,” she said as she settled the tray on the low table before Thor. “But he might not be seen until the morning.”
Thor nodded. “I’m certain there are plenty of wives who would rather see their husbands return home missing a leg than not return at all.”
The servant nodded, and turned to look at Loki. “He’s stubborn,” she said. “It might not always seem like it, but that’s a good thing today.”
Thor let himself laugh. “Aye,” he agreed. “He is.”
With a slight bow, the servant backed out of the chamber before turning to go wherever she was needed most. Thor was exhausted and starving, but he could barely bring himself to do anything other than wait. He picked at the offering he was brought, tearing apart cold pheasant and stale bread, but ate little. Loki may have been stubborn, but it was that stubbornness that got him into more trouble than it ever solved. It was that stubbornness that had dragged him out into the fray in the first place, when he should have been in bed resting.
And yet, despite having gone through this so many times before, when Loki began to stir hours later, Thor felt as though a weight had been lifted from him. The relief was so great, he could taste it as he let himself relax back into his seat. He said nothing as Loki slowly woke and came round, groaning and swearing quietly to himself.
“Oh, what now?” Loki asked, his voice heavy and rough.
Thor picked up a bone from his tray and threw it at Loki, hitting him in the side of the face.
“Ow,” Loki complained. “Bastard. What was that for?”
“For putting me through this. Again,” Thor said. “You swore you wouldn’t.”
Loki grumbled and shifted, and Thor was able to let him for only a few moments before being compelled to get up and help.
“I swear to a lot of things,” Loki said. “I never mean it.”
Thor helped him sit up, careful about where he placed his hands.
“Next time, I’ll kill you myself and get it over with,” Thor said.
“No you won’t,” Loki said. “You’ve never kept a promise in your life.”
Thor watched him fuss with the bandages wrapped around his hands. “Perhaps I’ll start now, and put you out of your misery.”
Whatever Loki hoped to achieve with his bandages, he quickly gave up and let himself lie back against his pillows. “Do it,” he said. “I dare you.”
Thor picked up the blanket that covered Loki’s lower half and dropped it over his face, hoping he might slowly suffocate to death.
He still saw the look in Loki’s eyes, every time he closed his own. There was no fear; no desperation. Only some deep understanding Thor would never know. For a moment, he seemed almost at peace as he let go of Gungnir and allowed himself to fall into the void.
Thor cried out even in his dreams, as again and again and again Loki fell, drifting farther and farther out of reach. Thor would never know what thoughts went through Loki’s mind as he fell, if any did at all.
There was no regret even as the void consumed him. Thor could only watch as he embraced his fate. In some dreams, Loki even smiled as he fell, wide and toothy and sinister. Those were the dreams Thor woke from, crying out into the darkness.
He never let anyone see his grief. When he was out in public, he put on a stoic face and did his job as heir to the throne. Frigga didn’t weep where others would see, so neither would he. But he knew that when she thought no one could hear her, she wept. And some bitter part of him knew that Loki would at least be pleased to know that she did not stop after a mere three days.
There were days where Thor found himself going to Loki’s chambers to drag him out on an adventure, only to remember halfway there that he would not find Loki hiding inside. Countless times each day, he found himself turning to face a phantom by his side, expecting a sarcastic remark that never came. He would find himself wanting to make a joke at Loki’s expense, only to remember just in time that Loki was not there to defend himself. He would never again have to rescue Loki from some horrible consequence of his own demented actions, but they would also never again stumble through the corridors, both too drunk to stand on their own. Thor would never again know the chaotic delight of watching Loki pick a fight he was doomed to lose, and the satisfaction of watching him lose it.
He would never again have that voice in his ear, egging him on to do something they both knew was apocalyptically stupid, and doing it anyway because there was nothing better to do.
As Loki fell, he took a part of Thor with him. With Loki went the part of Thor that could hope for something better. Because nothing would ever be better again. How could Thor ever hope for something that would never come to pass?