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Freefall

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Thor swings Mjolnir, and the Bifrost cracks beneath him. His heart cries out at breaking his promise to Jane and at the destruction of something so beautiful, but his resolve is strong and his duty is clear. He wields Mjolnir again and the Bifrost shatters.

Behind him, Loki’s cry of dismay is drowned out as the force of Thor’s blow thunders around them. Thor and Loki are both tumbled about like so many children’s toys, and then the rush of aether out into the blackness of the cosmos drags them towards the edge. Thor crouches down close to the remains of the bridge and slows his slide into oblivion; Loki skids a short distance past him before doing the same.

There is the heavy thud of boots on the bridge behind them, and Thor knows without looking that it is Odin All-Father. He feels a flood of relief - he does not understand what has happened, he does not understand what is happening, but Odin will know, and Odin will direct him. Odin will pull his sons back before the rush of aether calls them into the universe.

Near the shattered edge of the bridge, Loki raises his head at the All-Father’s arrival and catches his gaze.

Loki has always played at being mysterious. Thor has never understood it, but he has indulged his brother’s foibles as his brother has indulged Thor’s own. In this moment, however, Loki is stripped bare. Whatever he sees in Odin All-Father’s expression brings him no comfort. Thor watches despair and resignation cross Loki’s face, and in the moment that Loki straightens and surrenders himself to the forces sweeping over the edge of the world, Thor is already lunging for him.

He catches Loki’s wrist, sacrificing his footing even as his brother does the same. He endures an instant of deep regret, because in his destruction of the Bifrost he had been prepared to give up his own happiness and even his own life but never his brother’s, and then Odin’s hands pull sharply at his cloak. Aether still rages about them, but here in his realm the All-Father’s stance is solid and unshakeable. He drags his sons out of the storm.

Loki and Thor land hard, breathless, and it is only instinct that allows Thor to keep hold of his brother when Loki attempts to hurl himself once again over the edge into oblivion. Shock keeps his grip strong and horror gives him the strength to pull his brother close.

He does not understand what has happened to Loki. He cannot turn and look to the All-Father without sacrificing his grip. Loki has ever been called Trickster, Silvertongue, Master of Lies and Mischief, but he has never been like this. He has never been without purpose, without control, so filled with anguish and rage. It frightens Thor more than any enemy ever could.

Loki strains against Thor’s grasp, and Thor wraps his arms around his brother’s chest, holding him tightly. He does not understand this, but Loki is in danger and Thor is the eldest and that he can manage.

“Brother,” he says. “Brother, still yourself. We are safe.”

Loki growls and twists hard, nearly breaking Thor’s grasp. Thor calls to him again, shocked and dismayed, and Loki shifts, his form becoming sinuous and inhuman.

Thor has never understood many of Loki’s tricks, but he does expect them. He does not waver, even as Loki’s new form writhes and hisses.

“Brother, please!”

Loki roars and becomes fire, scalding Thor’s face and hands. It is painful but Thor does not relent. He is the Thunderer, a god of elements, and it takes more than fire or pain for him to allow Loki’s destruction.

“Brother, why do you wish harm - “

Loki shifts again. This time he becomes Jotun, and Thor’s armor cracks and falls away under the strain of going so quickly from flame to ice. The cold bites into Thor’s bones but he holds firm. Seeing his brother so badly undone is far more distressing than seeing him as a monster.

“Loki,” he says, as gently as he can manage. “You cannot make me hate you. You are my brother and I love you. Please stop this madness!”

Loki convulses, letting out one harsh sob before going limp in Thor’s grasp. He remains as a Jotun but does not attempt to free himself again. He simply lies there, shaking badly, his skin blue and alien.

Odin finally releases Thor’s cape and steps out into his line of sight. Thor looks at him pleadingly, but Odin’s eye is only on Jotun-Loki. His expression is sorrowful, guilty, and there is a faint undercurrent of disgust.

Oh, Thor thinks, oh, even as his hand rises instinctively to cover Loki’s eyes. Understanding sinks into his heart as so many events of the last few days - centuries - become clear: Loki’s isolation, his difference, his sudden fragility. The desperation and madness of his recent plotting. Thor’s heart swells with sympathy even as his body tries to recoil.

Monster, his mind says. Enemy.

Brother, Thor insists, and repeats it aloud.

“Brother. I love you. It is all right. Brother.”

Loki wails, a horrible hurt sound, an animal crying out in pain.

“Brother,” Thor repeats. He does not know how to fix this. There is not an enemy for him to defeat. Loki is broken, shattered like the Bifrost in Thor’s arms, and Thor’s talents have always lain in action and destruction. Loki is the one suited to thought and creation.

What do we do now? he wonders, looking to Odin for guidance.

The All-Father’s eye holds no answers. Thor feels the ground fall away from beneath him, even as the Bifrost remains strong.

“Brother,” he whispers, rocking Loki gently. ”Brother.”