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Freefall

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The shower does much to restore Thor’s outward composure, even if his mind and heart are still in turmoil. He dresses himself slowly, reluctant to return to the others and hating himself for it. What kind of warrior is he, to be so discomfited by a silent man? What kind of brother, to strike Loki so for being unwell?

Loki has always been enigmatic. Thor has always allowed him this. Now that mystery has turned to inscrutable stone and Thor has no practice at getting beneath it. Why didn’t he try harder, when Loki was more approachable?

Thor sighs. He cannot change the past. He can only deal with what is here, before him. It may not be an enemy he is accustomed to, but it is an enemy of his brother’s, and he will do whatever is in his power to defeat it.

Marginally more confident, Thor leaves the bathroom.

He finds a scene of chaos in the kitchen. Loki is senseless on the floor, with Jane kneeling over him. Darcy is a short distance away, white-faced with her taser in hand, and Erik is beside her, gingerly holding a kitchen knife as far away from all of them as possible.

“What has happened?” Thor demands.

“Thor!” Jane looks up, shaken and wide-eyed. “I’m so sorry - I only turned my back for a moment, it was barely a second, I didn’t even realise he was near the knife - “

Thor’s heart lurches in his chest and he tumbles down next to Loki. He can’t see any blood, but his brother is clearly unconscious.

“He’s okay, Thor,” Erik says, his voice strained. “He didn’t do himself any damage. Darcy saw what he was up to and tasered him before he got a chance. He should come around in a moment.”

“Gods: 0, Darcy: 2,” Darcy says, and her words are flippant but her voice trembles badly.

“Thank you, Darcy,” Thor says, compulsively checking Loki over for injury regardless.

“I’m so sorry, Thor,” Jane repeats. She is crying now. Thor pulls her in against his shoulder and kisses her hair.

“It is not your fault. No harm was done.”

That night Thor pushes their beds together and lies behind his brother, one arm wrapped tightly around Loki’s chest. He does not sleep. He is terrified that Loki will teleport away, or encase himself in deadly Jotun-ice, or some other thing that Thor cannot conceive of because he does not think like his brother. The feeling sits like acid in Thor’s stomach. He does not know what to do to get rid of it.

It is a very long night.

The next morning Thor allows himself to be drawn aside by Jane. Loki is seated on the couch between Darcy and Erik, watching one of Darcy’s entertainments. Jane positions them so Thor can watch his brother without having to turn or look away. She looks as tired as Thor feels.

“Thor,” Jane says, very gently. “I think Loki might need more help than we can give him.”

Thor cannot even feel hopeful. “Do you have something in mind? Some magic, or an object that must be obtained?”

Jane’s expression crumples a little. “No, not exactly. On Midgard, sometimes, when we’re upset or there’s something we can’t deal with, we’ll talk to someone called a psychiatrist.”

Thor listens to her explanation, perplexed. True, solving this insidious malady with words does sound like something Loki would understand. “But Loki doesn’t speak.”

“Sometimes people don’t, if they’re hurt,” Jane says, stroking his arm. “I know in some cases psychiatrists will start out having people draw or express themselves non-verbally in some way. The point is, they’re trained for exactly this kind of thing and we’re not. Thor, I want to help and I know you do too, but sometimes... sometimes you have to admit that you can’t fix something by yourself.”

Thor’s very being rebels against this. “He is my brother.”

“I know.”

Thor takes a deep breath and forces himself to think. This is Loki’s threat, Loki’s enemy, and Thor cannot solve it himself. What would Loki do?

He tries to imagine his brother talking to one of these psychiatrists, explaining his feelings and getting advice in return. He cannot do it. Loki has never been free with such information, even to those who know him. In years past Thor would have said he liked playing at mystery, but now he wonders if such measures were more protective than not.

Loki has ever made fun of Thor’s imaginative failings, but Thor is not convinced that this is one of those times.

“Jane... Loki is an immortal god, a being from a place outside the comprehension of most on this world. He has just discovered that he is a monster and he wishes to end his own existence. I do not say this to cast aspersions on the intelligence of your people, I say this as an explanation. I do not know of anyone in any of the nine realms who could understand his situation completely enough to tender usable advice in return.”

Jane’s shoulders slump. “It was worth a try.” She sits back a little, deep in thought. “Thor, what do your people think about this? About - about being suicidal, I mean?”

The word makes Thor flinch - he, who has stood unafraid against charging armies wishing for his blood. “It is... not spoken of,” he says finally, reluctantly. “To die in battle is the most honorable. To die in one’s sleep, or of old age, is less so. We do not speak of other ways. On rare occasions, if a person has suffered extreme dishonor, then s-suicide is seen as a way for him to save his family from any further embarrassment. But it is not thought well of.” He rubs his head - lack of sleep, worry, and what Loki would say were the unusual stresses on his brain of attempting so much thought all at once have given him a terrible pain. “Jane... am I causing more damage to him? Would it be... kinder to let him... If I armed him, and struck him down myself, it would be a warrior’s death and he could go to Valhalla or Folkvangr instead of Hel - “

“No!” Jane says, taking Thor’s hand. “No, Thor, don’t - no. Don’t even think that, okay? Look, we’re all tired. I had Darcy get you some books from the University library - why don’t you sit with Loki and take a look at them, and we can think about this for a little?”

Thor nods, reluctantly. “Very well. I understand your reasoning.”

Jane collects Darcy and Erik (“I just watched an entire movie about talking cars,” Erik moans) and sets them to work, leaving Thor with his brother and a stack of books. Thor eyes them dubiously. Reading has never been a source of much enjoyment for him, and the titles of the books are not enticing. There is an introduction to psychology, a book on depression, and two on suicide.

Thor sits pressed up against Loki so he will feel any move his brother makes and begins to read. It is hard going - there are terms and cultural references that he does not understand, and he is frequently grateful for the glossary in the introductory volume. After half an hour he requests a pen and paper from Darcy, which helps somewhat to keep everything orderly in his mind. Some of the things he reads seem silly, some bizarre. At one point he glances up to see that Loki is looking at the book with him, and feels a sudden impulse to cover the page in embarrassment.

But Loki is looking at something, and so Thor does not. After a few minutes Loki looks away again and Thor continues with his research.

The rest of the day passes quietly. Thor cannot decide if it is a respite or the calm before the storm.