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.
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.”
Regicide. Patricide. Attempted genocide. Attempted fratricide.
The words tumble through Thor’s head as he stares down at the All-Father’s throne room floor, Loki slumped silently beside him.
Banishment. Once the bridge is repaired, of course.
Loki has not spoken since the Bifrost. He eats if Thor coaxes him to, he moves when Thor guides him, but otherwise he stares vacantly at the floor and refuses to respond. Thor is beside himself with worry, and the atmosphere in Asgard is not helping. It is not general knowledge that Loki is Jotun, but everyone knows he tried to destroy Jotunheim and most think he tried to supplant Thor’s rightful place on the throne.
Thor knows better. That might have been a step in Loki’s plan, but it was never the point. Loki does best in shadow, at the edges of sight. He is unsuited to the blinding visibility of rule.
“You are dismissed,” Odin All-Father says, his voice distant and uncaring. “Keep him under guard.”
Thor’s jaw tightens, but he does as he is bidden, ushering Loki to his feet with an arm around his back. He has raged at Odin in private, and their father - his father - is heartbroken but resolute. Loki has committed crimes. He has threatened the safety of Asgard and its people and damaged, perhaps irreparably, Asgard’s relationship with Jotunheim.
Now that he knows about the circumstances of Loki’s arrival in Asgard, this is an irony that even Thor can appreciate.
Thor walks them down the grand hallways to his own quarters. He was able to argue against Loki’s outright imprisonment, but the sacrifice was Loki’s access to his own quarters and the promise of a constant guard. Thor is too concerned by Loki’s mental state to leave his side in any case.
Attempted suicide, Thor thinks, and shudders so hard that he feels it reverberate through Loki’s body as well.
He must get them out of Asgard. Even Sif and the Warriors Three watch Loki with open hostility. They have tried repeatedly to sway Thor against his own brother and Thor has been refusing to speak to them for several days now.
Frigga is waiting for them in Thor’s quarters. Of all Asgard, she seems to be the only one still kindly disposed towards Loki, and she has filled in many details for Thor. She helps him settle Loki by the fireplace - not the window, the very idea of Loki next to such a deadly height makes Thor sick with apprehension - and draws him aside.
“Thor,” she says. “We must find someplace else for Loki. I will attempt to reason with Odin but this is not a suitable place for him until then.”
“I know,” Thor murmurs back. “But where shall we go? And how?”
His mother’s hand tightens on his arm at the word ‘we’. “I am glad you plan to accompany him, Thor,” she says. “I will miss you both but I will worry less if you have each other.”
“Of course we will,” Thor reassures her. He will miss Asgard, especially so soon after being returned to it, but Loki must be his primary concern for now. “I have thought some and I believe Midgard would be the best sanctuary. I have allies there and some knowledge of the customs, but we still must wait for the Bifrost to be repaired or for Jane to find us.”
Frigga’s mouth firms. “Loki knows how to travel without the Bifrost.”
Thor stares. “Loki will not even eat if I do not force him. He responds to nothing.”
Frigga takes a deep, considering breath and turns to kneel down by Loki.
“Son,” she says, brushing Loki’s hair off his forehead. Thor does not know what trick Loki used to keep it back, and so it falls in his face since Loki has stopped caring for himself. “Son, your brother is in danger. I need you to take him to Midgard by secret paths.”
There is a long pause, and then Loki’s head turns slightly in her direction. Thor is glad that his hand is on the back of Loki’s chair instead of on Loki himself, for surely his grip would be painful.
“Son,” Frigga repeats, carding her fingers through his hair. “Do you understand?”
Slowly, Loki nods. Frigga reaches up to take Thor’s hand and places it in Loki’s.
“You must go now, Loki. Take care of your brother. I love you.”
Loki’s hand tightens uncertainly around Thor’s, and everything dissolves into madness.
Thor keeps his eyes closed until the ground under his feet has been solid and sandy for several paces. Loki has brought them to Puente Antigua, out in the desert where the Destroyer touched down. He stops walking, as if waiting for further instructions, and he does not release Thor’s hand.
“Come, brother,” Thor says, trying to sound cheerful. “We will go find Jane.”
The town is still being repaired from the Destroyer’s attack. Loki tenses immediately, and Thor has to put one hand over Loki’s eyes until they make it through the devastation. No one looks at them, which given their Asgardian clothing and unusual stance suggests to Thor that Loki is concealing them somehow. He is not sure whether to be relieved or unnerved by it.
They are still unnoticeable when they enter Jane’s headquarters and Thor has to remind Loki to bring them to the attention of the Midgardians. When they appear, Darcy drops what she is carrying and exclaims “Fuck!”, which Thor is fairly certain is not suitable language for a young maiden. It gets the attention of Jane and Erik, though, and that is good.
“Thor!” Jane says, hurrying towards them. “Oh my god, how did you get here? Did you repair the Einstein-Rosen bridge? We didn’t get any readings - “ she slows self-consciously as she notices Loki. “Oh! You brought a friend?”
Thor smiles for what feels like the first time in weeks. “Jane, it is good to see you! This is my brother, Loki.”
Erik, also making his way towards them, halts in surprise and apprehension. “Loki? As in - “
Thor gestures frantically for Erik to be silent. Loki is staring at the floor again and appears not to have noticed.
Darcy squints. “Is he, y’know, okay?” She wiggles one hand next to her head, which Thor presumes is supposed to indicate mental instability.
“He is... not.” Thor says with difficulty. “He is...” he gropes for a word that means ‘broken’ but doesn’t sound so irreversible. “Not,” he says finally. He smiles again at Jane, and this time it does not come so easily. “I am afraid we come in search of sanctuary.”
Jane returns his smile with one that looks uncertain but determined. “Of course, Thor. You know you’re welcome here.” She comes forward and embraces him, then pauses ever-so-slightly before embracing Loki as well. Loki stands stiffly until it is over.
“Thor,” Erik says. “A word?” His tone does not indicate that this is a suggestion, and the way his gaze lingers on Loki tells Thor that it should be a word held in private.
Thor wavers. He does not want to leave Loki alone, but he needs Erik’s cooperation if not his support. “Darcy,” he says. “Would you be willing to keep my brother company for a moment?”
“Uh, sure,” Darcy says, still looking unsettled.
Thor settles Loki on the couch near the window, makes sure there is nothing sharp nearby, and goes over to Erik.
“Look, Thor,” Erik says. “I understand that what I know about you and your family is extremely interpretational, but you should know that the stories we have here about Loki don’t necessarily paint him in the best light, and given that the last time you were here he tried to kill us all - “
“Yes,” Thor says, cutting him off. “Yes. I... he did. What he did before was - he didn’t mean - “ Thor stops and takes a breath. How to explain that Loki was not in his right mind? How to explain Loki’s agony to a man who has never met him, when even those who know him well refuse to listen? “That was not my brother. He was... betrayed.” It hurts, it hurts to say that about the All-Father, but in his heart Thor knows it is the most accurate way to describe the situation.
Erik’s expression softens, but only just. Thor attempts a different tactic. “I do not know the stories you speak of, but please believe that I would never willingly put Jane in danger.”
A quiet footfall heralds the arrival of the lady in question. Thor turns slightly to include her in the conversation, carefully keeping Loki in sight at all times. “I know that your experience with my brother does not incline you to be well disposed towards him,” he says. “I must ask that you trust me when I say he means you no harm and neither do I.”
Jane puts one hand soothingly on his arm. “I believe you, Thor,” she says. “And I get that we don’t have all the facts here, but your brother really doesn’t look too good.”
“He...” Thor finds it suddenly hard to breathe. “He... tried to...”
“Hurt you?” Jane prompts gently when it is clear that Thor cannot continue.
“Himself,” Thor whispers.
He can feel Jane and Erik exchanging glances, and cannot bear to look at them. Some decision must be reached, however, because Jane rubs his arm.
“We’ll help you look after him,” she says.
“He probably shouldn’t be left alone,” Erik says gruffly, and Thor chooses to believe this is more out of consideration for Loki’s safety than for everyone else’s. “And we’ll have to tell SHIELD you’re here.”
“I understand,” Thor says. “I pledged my protection of this world to the son of Coul and it would be dishonorable for me not to bide by it, whatever my other obligations might be.” Granted, he had not expected to have to honor that promise so quickly - and, in truth, had mostly made it in order to fulfill his previous oath to Jane - but honor it he will. Although Loki is in casual clothing Thor himself is clad in armor and bears Mjolnir still. He is ready for battle, as ever - on Asgard or Midgard, it matters little. It will be difficult to entrust Loki to the care of anyone else if the son of Coul calls him away, but he can do his best to limit his absence and if it is the price to pay for their sanctuary then so be it.
“Well,” Jane says in an amused tone, casting her gaze towards where Darcy is sitting next to Loki on the couch and placing a strange device over his ears. “If nothing else, Loki will come out of this with a thorough introduction to pop culture. Now,” her attention turns back to him. “Explain to me how you got here without the Einstein-Rosen bridge?”
It is more upsetting to see Loki so despondent on Midgard than it was at home. Thor was not expecting this.
When he had been on Midgard himself not so long ago, even in the midst of his own confusion and turmoil, he had been fascinated by the strangeness around him. Many times he had thought to himself of how Loki would enjoy a situation, or be amused by a custom, or turn a quirk to his tricky advantage. He had known, before leaving Asgard, that Loki was badly wounded. He had hoped that relocation to Midgard would begin to help Loki as quickly as it had changed Thor.
That is not the case. Loki does not improve. He does not get noticeably worse, which is something, but Thor finds himself growing increasingly frustrated. Whatever spark Frigga managed to ignite before their departure from Asgard appears to have gone out.
The day they arrive, Jane sends Darcy out in the car for provisions. She returns with Midgardian clothing in appropriate sizes and two devices which turn out to be inflatable beds. Thor is delighted by them - they are comfortable as well as amusing - but Loki does not react.
He does not react to his first experience with Midgardian food, or the drink called coffee. When the son of Coul arrives, in suspiciously short order following Erik’s phone call, Loki appears not to notice. The son of Coul sits across from Loki for nearly an hour and stares at him patiently with no result, finally getting up with a shrug and moving on to other matters.
The others are as good as their word when it comes to helping Thor with his brother. Erik treats him with a wary but conscientious detachment. Jane uses him as a sounding board, explaining her theories and the results of her various tests, which Thor knows Loki would find fascinating under other circumstances. Darcy takes her ‘Loki-sitting’ as an excuse to indulge in loud, colorful entertainment which Erik tells Thor is intended for Midgardian children.
“Nobody can be depressed around the Muppets,” Darcy insists, but it would appear that Loki, as ever, is a law unto himself.
Thor himself spends every possible moment with his brother. Frigga had been able to coax Loki to action by trading on his affections for his brother, and Thor hopes that his presence and the clear reflection of that love will be able to help Loki return to himself. He talks to Loki, asks his opinion, reads to him from Jane’s scholarly tomes, and when his voice and his heart have given out, sits silently and frets.
He finds the inaction distressing. He finds Loki’s apathy frustrating. But he has learned much of patience and understanding since his banishment, and so he pushes his feelings aside and does what he can.
He worries, sometimes, that Jane feels slighted by his preoccupation with his brother, but she reassures him that this is not the case.
“I have plenty of my own work to do, Thor,” she reminds him, smiling. “I’m grateful for the help you’re giving me on the Einstein-Rosen bridge, but honestly, I’d probably be annoyed if you hovered all the time. Loki needs you now, that’s not something to be ashamed of.”
Jane is quite wonderful. Also, she is a marvelous kisser.
From time to time, the son of Coul comes to collect Thor and take him to SHIELD’s scientific facility, where they look at him with Midgardian technology and ask him to perform feats of strength. Erik usually accompanies them, scowling at the son of Coul’s people in a threatening manner and making occasional comments about men in black, which the son of Coul merely smiles at.
“You know, you can just call me ‘Coulson’, Thor,” he says pleasantly. He does many things pleasantly, Thor has noticed - he is as deliberately unassuming as Loki used to be deliberately enigmatic.
“Coulsson,” Thor repeats obediently.
“See? That wasn’t so hard.” As with Loki, it can sometimes be difficult for Thor to tell when Coulsson is teasing. “Could I have a moment of your time? I want to talk to you about the Avengers.”
He hands Thor a file. It contains documents, which Thor mostly ignores, and photographs. There is a man with a mighty shield, and another in full armor. There is a woman with Sif’s assessing, deadly gaze, and an archer and a fearsome green beast.
“We’re putting together a team,” Coulsson says. “People like yourself who can work together to protect us from particularly dangerous or unusual threats. It’s based out of New York. I’d like you to give it some thought, if you don’t mind.”
“A questing party,” Thor says, throat tight.
“Sure, we can call it that.”
It suddenly feels hard to breathe. This, this is what Thor is good at. This is what he does. He rides forth with steadfast companions, slaying enemies and battling foes, Mjolnir humming in his hand, reveling in the tense and stretch of muscles. He is Thor Thunderer, god of lightning. It could be like before - it could be like it was in Asgard, before Jotunheim and his banishment, when all that mattered was the next battle and the next impressive feat. Coulsson is a thoughtful man - these companions will be mighty warriors, capable and steely-eyed. He could ride forth with them, like he rode forth with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three and -
Remembering his obligation to his brother feels like being forced back into a small box after revelling in free air and sunshine. Thor’s shoulders twitch.
“I cannot,” Thor says. “My brother needs me. I am sorry.”
Coulsson is disappointed, although he covers it well. “Of course. I understand. Take some time to think about it - if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
Thor is very quiet on the trip back to Jane’s headquarters. Erik casts worried glances in his direction, but respects Thor’s desire for silence. When they enter the building, he diverts Jane and leaves Thor to his own devices.
Thor paces restlessly. Coulsson’s offer will not leave his mind. His obligation is to Loki, but he did also promise to protect this world. What use is he, sitting around fretting over his brother while Jane and Erik work? It clearly is not helping Loki any, nor is it helping Thor.
Running off to play at war games with Coulsson’s warriors will probably not help Loki any either.
Finally, frustrated, Thor collects his brother from Darcy’s care (“But Loki’s never seen How To Train Your Dragon! It has Vikings!”) and departs for the flat, dusty area just beyond Jane’s trailer. He finds a wooden pole that Loki can use for a spear, and carries Mjolnir in one hand.
“Come, Loki. We will spar.”
He places the pole in Loki’s hands and steps back, readying himself.
The pole falls in the dust.
Thor frowns, then forces himself to smile.
“We may spar with magic if you prefer. I should have asked.”
Loki stares at the ground. Thor grits his teeth.
“Of course. It is unfair of me to be armed if you are not.” He tosses Mjolnir aside. “Very well, Loki. Let us begin.”
Loki does nothing.
Thor scowls. “Loki, I know this is not your area of expertise, and I am sorry to ask it of you. I need to think and as you always remind me, I think with my muscles instead of my brain, so please. Let us spar.”
That had sounded too sharp. Thor clenches one hand and struggles to retain his patience.
“I cannot spar with the mortals here, Loki, I will cause them harm. I must fight with you or not at all.”
Loki stares at the ground.
“I am not asking you to speak with me!” Thor snaps. “I am not even asking you to look me in the eye! I have given up Asgard for you, I have given up my friends and my family, I have become your nursemaid, all I am asking is for you to look at me and react, damn you!”
Thor’s blow hits Loki in the chest. He tumbles over backwards, automatically breaking his fall and absorbing the impact as they were taught in childhood. For an instant, Loki’s shocked gaze snaps up to meet Thor’s own.
And then he looks away, and deliberately goes limp.
Thor throws himself down next to Loki and shakes him, hard. “Look at me again! Look at me again, Loki, damn it, look at me! Why will you not acknowledge me?”
Loki lets himself be abused. Thor shakes him harder. “Is this one of your tricks? Is this another one of your games? Are you trying to drive me mad?” His breath comes shakily in his chest. It is hard to get all the words out. He lets Loki fall back into the dust and sits back on his heels, trembling, his face in his hands. He cannot look at his brother. He cannot take another instant of that blank, hopeless face. He... he cannot.
“Loki...” he tries, voice muffled by his hands. “Loki, you...” he cannot finish. He does not even know what he had planned to say.
It is some time later that Thor collects himself enough to pick them both up and go back inside. He leaves Mjolnir behind in the dirt.
Jane, Erik, and Darcy are in the kitchen area, beginning dinner preparations. Jane looks up in greeting and stops, eyes wide.
“Thor, what happened?”
He knows what they must look like. Loki is dirty and disheveled, Thor is red-eyed and distraught. Thor pushes his brother in their direction and continues on through the room.
“Take him. Please. I - I must go bathe. Just take him.”
He glances back once, as he enters the bathroom. Erik is gently brushing dirt off Loki and setting him to rights. Jane is speaking quietly to Darcy, their heads together.
Thor shuts the door behind him and turns on the shower. He deposits his dusty clothing on the floor, steps into the water, and weeps, shamefully.
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.”
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.
That night Thor lies facing Loki, his hand on Loki’s side, as was their habit as children. He cannot see Loki’s face in the dark, but he can feel his brother breathe and knows Loki is not yet asleep.
“I have been reading, Loki,” Thor begins, and feels foolish because of course Loki knows this already. “About Midgardian psychologies. Jane was hopeful, I think, that I would find some answers there, but I believe I have found mostly questions.” He pauses, conscientiously allowing Loki a moment to respond but not really expecting anything, and continues when it is clear that Loki does not wish to participate. “One of the books said that those who wish to die think that their deaths will solve something that cannot be solved in any other way and I - I am not sure if this is accurate. I have heard things, about our last days on Asgard and about our childhoods, but I have heard none of them from you and I don’t know... I’m not sure what you are thinking, Loki, and I admit that I really never have, but this time I cannot simply ask you to explain and I find that... I am lost, Loki, brother, and I need you to help me find the way.”
Loki’s breathing shallows for a moment, then resumes its former rhythm. Thor cards his fingers through Loki’s hair, as Frigga did when they were young and fretful, and then rests his hand back on his brother’s side.
“Mother told me that Odin All-Father took you from Jotunheim as a baby in the hopes that one day you could unite our realms. She said that Odin refused to tell you the truth and that you found out on your own right after I was banished.” Thor’s voice cracks a little - he cannot help but imagine what Loki must have felt then, bereft of his brother, with Odin in the Odinsleep and a Jotun in Asgard. That the Jotun was Loki himself, Thor knows, was the most horrific part.
“You have always been too clever, brother.” The lighthearted tone is forced but the fondness is genuine. “Sif told me you sent a guard after the All-Father when I took us to Jotunheim. You have always known when I am about to cause us trouble! Did you intend for me to be banished? I am not angry, if you did - it worked out for the best. Sif said you did not want me on the throne, and I must confess that before my banishment I was not ready. So if that was your plan you succeeded admirably, brother, and I thank you for it.”
Telling him the All-Father was dead, though... that had been unnecessary. Thor frowns. He is straying from the point. “I can see, Loki, that from your perspective there have been some things in the last few days that you may not be proud of it. That is one of them, although hopefully a minor one. Your plan to invite Laufey into Asgard and then kill him and the rest of his realm was...” Thor struggles. “I will not lie, brother, it was not one of your better plans, although I am certainly not in a position to make much judgement about it. I have tried to think of it as you would, and I think your ultimate goal may have been to prove your Asgardian nature to be dominant over your Jotun one? I am not certain. I am not certain such a demonstration was necessary, for the rest of us at least... but I do not mean to bring your spirits further down, brother, I - “
He stops, irritated by his own inability with words. “It would be better if our positions were reversed, brother. I am not suited to battle with words. If this could be solved by a quest or a mighty battle, I would travel all the realms and endure whatever hardships or dangers, I would sacrifice whatever was asked of me - “ he cuts himself off. This is not helpful. “Loki,” he whispers. “Brother. I do not fully understand what problem you are trying to solve, but you have helped me on so many of my quests I would beg - I would beg you to allow me to help you with yours. I do not think there is a problem in the world that could be solved by your death.”
Loki’s breath shallows again. Thor tightens his hand on his brother.
“I suspect... I think that possibly one thing that may be distressing you now, Loki, is your very being, and I cannot imagine how painful that is. You are not Loki Laufeysson, and if you do not feel you can be Loki Odinsson, would you consider being Loki Thorsbrodir? It is not conventional, I know, but I would claim you, brother, for we are neither of us perfect and I cannot imagine surviving without you.”
Loki does not answer, but neither does he pull away. After a moment Thor tucks Loki’s head under his chin and holds him close. He does not know if Loki sleeps, but when Thor wakes up in the morning he is still there and still alive.
Loki’s behaviour changes after Thor’s speech, though not in a way Thor expected. He still mostly ignores them, but Thor catches him occasionally reacting to things that go on around him. He also takes to sleeping for long periods of time, wherever he may be and whatever else might be going on around him.
Thor, Jane, and Erik do not know what to make of this.
“On the one hand, he seems to be more aware, and that’s a good sign,” Erik says. “On the other hand, there’s the sleeping. I thought depressed people did that.”
“They do,” Thor says with the authority of Chapter Three of Depression - Symptoms and Treatments behind him.
“And he still won’t talk to anybody. Or look at them.”
Thor sighs. Parts of his speech, he feels, came out very well. Parts of it did not. At any given moment he cannot decide if what he said to Loki was helpful or broke him more thoroughly. Perhaps Loki does not know either.
Thor does not like it when his brother doesn’t know things. It is not the correct order to his universe.
“Have you given any more thought to what we were talking about yesterday?” Jane asks.
“A little,” Thor says reluctantly. “I am sorry, Jane, but I do not think I am convinced. Loki has ever been a private individual, and slow to trust - I do not think he will take well to a stranger’s interest in his intimate affairs. I did find your books to be helpful,” he offers, and Jane looks a little encouraged. Thor is glad he can bring her comfort - he knows all too well the helplessness of not being able to come to the aid of one in agony.
“Excuse me?” A stranger’s voice says from the doorway. “I’m looking for Thor.”
“And you are?” Erik says warily before Thor can respond.
The man comes further into the building towards them. He is tall and well-built, with short sandy hair and a polite disposition. He looks quite familiar.
“Agent Coulson sent me,” he says. “I’m - “
“Steve Rogers, aka Captain America!” Thor says triumphantly. “The son of Coul showed me your photograph and associated documentation. I did not know he would have you visit.”
On the couch, Darcy utters a shockingly high-pitched noise and then claps her hands over her mouth.
“Ah,” the man says, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Yes. I mean, I am.”
Jane tugs on his arm. “Thor,” she whispers, her eyes wide. “I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be a secret.”
“We’ve all signed SHIELD’s confidentiality paperwork,” Erik says resignedly. “Send Coulson over with more if he makes an issue out of it. Come on, Jane, let’s give them space to talk.”
“I apologize,” Thor says, red-faced, as they retreat to the back of the room and busy themselves pointedly. “I did not realize.”
Steve shrugs. “It’s all right. Would you like to take a walk?”
Thor beams at him. “You are one of Coulsson’s warriors! We must spar.”
Steve laughs. “All right. Do you have a practice area?”
Thor leads him out beyond Jane’s trailer. Mjolnir is still sitting in the dirt, undisturbed, and Thor feels a pang of remorse for the reminder of his treatment of Loki just the other day.
“You have come to recruit me for Coulsson’s questing party?” He asks as they walk towards it, pushing the memory away. “I am honored, but I will say to you what I said to him: my duty is first to my brother.”
“Oh, no,” Steve waves this off. “I mean, he probably hoped it would work as a recruitment speech, but he sent me because I might be of some help to you. How much of the file on me did you read?”
“Not much,” Thor admits.
“I’m originally from... an earlier point in time,” Steve says. “I was frozen for about seventy years. I don’t know how things go where you’re from, but here a lot can change in that much time. This world has some similarities to what I remember, but it’s incredibly different.”
“Coulsson believes we may be of use to each other as we live in this new place,” Thor realizes.
Steve smiles. “Yes, exactly.”
“He is a clever man,” Thor says approvingly. It is a worthy plan, and a thoughtful one. Thor is gladdened by it. “He reminds me of my brother in that way. They are both much in love with taking the most circuitous route possible.”
Steve laughs. “That sounds like Coulson, all right. How’s your brother doing, if you don’t mind my asking? Coulson said he was sick.”
Thor sighs. “I am unsure. It is a malady of the mind - he has suffered much, and I fear... it may have undone him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Thor smiles with effort. “But you did not come to hear such distressing things! We will fight, and then we may talk more later.”
Steve is a good fighter - quick and thoughtful. He has been trained in a style most unlike Thor’s own and it makes for a refreshing exchange, although Thor finds himself thinking of how much Sif or Hogun would enjoy participating and has to push the thought away before he loses concentration completely.
They engage in several bouts and then retire, breathless and dusty, to Jane’s headquarters for refreshments. Jane looks up from her work as they enter, smiling, but does not interrupt.
Loki and Darcy are still sitting on the couch - Loki asleep and Darcy kneeling backwards to look out the window and watch them fight. Thor strongly suspects she has been capturing images on her pocket device and wonders if he should mention it to someone.
“So, tell me,” Steve says, when they have discussed the match and commiserated over several bewildering Midgardian customs. “What’s your brother like? Usually, I mean.”
Thor looks towards the couch and has to laugh a little, unamused. Loki now is a tall, thin man with tousled hair and an unkempt appearance. Despite Thor’s best efforts he has lost considerable weight and muscle mass, which on an already lean frame is alarming. His gaze is dull and unfocused. There is little of Loki now to recall the man he once was.
“Clever,” Thor says sadly. “He saw all and understood it, as well. He was ever one for playing tricks and making mischief. There are times - “ he hesitates. It is something he has been reluctant to say to himself, let alone out loud. “There are times when I wonder if this isn’t a prank he is playing on me, a trick to accomplish some end I cannot think of. But Loki’s tricks were meant for amusement - “ he falters. “I admit they could sometimes be mean-spirited, but only if he had been provoked. A trick of this level of cruelty would be...”
Steve nods sympathetically. Thor smiles with effort. “He was a master of magic, you know. He could change his shape, create illusions that were so real you could touch them and think them genuine.”
Steve looks impressed. “Golly. I mean, that might be common on Asgard, but you should know it’s pretty rare here. Magic? Really?” He shakes his head, a smile hovering on his lips. “I’d like to see that, I won’t lie.”
Thor smiles, pleased that Steve appreciates Loki’s talents. “It is not common on Asgard, either. To be honest, Loki’s interest in it was considered a bit unusual. He was very skilled, though.”
“I’m surprised. I would have thought it would be useful.”
“Well, yes, but...” Thor hesitates. “To use trickery to best one’s enemies, to avoid open confrontation and attack through devious means, it is...”
“Dishonorable?” Steve guesses.
“Well... unfair, perhaps. In a practice bout like the one we just had, Loki might have created duplicates of himself, so you could not tell which the true attacker was. He could have blinded you or turned the ground to quagmire beneath your feet. It would not have been fair. Useful, as you say, but not something to be done unless all other means had been exhausted.”
Steve nods, looking thoughtful.
“I fear I am giving you an inaccurate impression of my brother’s character,” Thor confesses, worried. “Truly, he is also a most loyal companion and has a wonderful sense of humor. His advice is often very wise.”
Except, of course, when Loki is pursuing other agendas, Thor’s mind supplies. Unless he has some alternative plan, and then he is... untrustworthy.
Thor pushes this thought aside. Even when Loki is acting to further other goals, his aims are always - frequently - often for the best. Thor’s banishment had been part of a larger plan, and it had been painful, but necessary. The things that had come after it had been... aberrations.
“I believe you,” Steve says reassuringly. “He sounds like a swell guy - I’d like to meet him, someday. When he’s feeling better, I mean.”
Thor smiles, grateful. “I think he would like you, Steve Rogers aka Captain America. I hope you get the chance.”
Loki would probably have a lot of fun with that shield, for one thing.
Jane receives a call a few days later. She answers it, frowns a little, and then holds the tiny device out to Thor.
“It’s for you,” she says.
They are seated on the roof of Jane’s headquarters, enjoying a rare moment of companionship. Thor is disappointed to have it interrupted, but intrigued. He takes the device from her and holds it as he has seen the others do.
“Hello?” He says, looking to Jane for reassurance. “This is Thor Odinsson.”
Jane smiles encouragingly.
“Hiya, Thor,” Steve’s voice says. “Listen, I think I have an idea. Are you and Loki doing anything tomorrow?”
“No,” Thor says, surprised. “Are you planning to visit?”
“Actually, I was going to invite you to come visit me. I have a friend I think Loki might like.”
Thor’s protective instincts surge within him. “A friend?” He asks suspiciously.
“Yeah. He’s a scientist - an inventor. From what you’ve told me about your brother I think they’d have some things in common. He was in the file Coulson showed you - Tony Stark? Iron Man?”
“Yes!” Thor says. “He has mighty armor!”
Steve mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like ‘oh god don’t tell him that’. “Yeah, that’s him. How about it? We could spar again,” he adds temptingly.
Thor laughs. “Cease your arguments, friend - it is an excellent idea! When should we be prepared to leave?”
They depart early the next morning. Thor is beside himself with excitement and worry and a cautious feeling that just might be hope. He pesters Darcy until she agrees to attempt to slick Loki’s hair back in his old manner. She accomplishes this admirably with a gelatinous liquid in a large tube, although he has to intervene to keep her from giving Loki something called a mohawk.
“Not even spikes?” Darcy says, disappointed. “Because seriously - he could rock that look. Straight back? Really?”
Thor is firm. He makes Loki wear the nicest of the clothing Darcy procured for them - a dark green shirt of reasonably fine fabric that fastens up the front and approximates Loki’s old Asgardian garments, inasmuch as possible. He himself puts on armor, and then after a brief but emphatic conversation with Jane changes into Midgardian attire and puts the armor in a large bag to bring along instead.
Loki, unconcerned by his brother’s enthusiasm, mostly seems to want to sleep. He curls up into an impossibly small space once they are on the plane and refuses to be drawn into contemplation of the Midgardian conveyance, which Thor finds to be admirably creative. Thor lets him be - the day is bound to be tiring, and he does not begrudge his brother whatever rest he can find.
Steve meets them when they land and escorts them to a large building surrounded by the bustle of a large city - New York, Thor remembers. He promises himself an expedition into this metropolis at a further date and turns his attention to the events at hand.
Steve takes them down to a large room full of machinery and moving parts. The man Thor recognizes as Tony Stark aka Iron Man is there waiting for them.
“So, Thor and Loki, right? Nice to meet you. Tony Stark. Steve here says you’re interested in this stuff, so let’s do the ten-cent tour. Sound good?”
Tony is an amusing character, energetic and quick-spoken. He does not seem to require responses from his audience but supplies all sides of the conversation himself in a long string of chatter that Thor finds marginally comprehensible but engaging nonetheless. Even Loki appears to be paying attention, his arms crossed over his chest and a small frown on his face.
“I only understand about half of what he says, too,” Steve murmurs sheepishly as Tony manipulates a set of glowing schematics that hover in the air. “It’s the pop culture references, he can’t seem to let go of them.”
“ - so that’s basically what that does, I don’t know if you’re up on engineering or programming or anything but it’s an idea, anyway - “
Loki gestures with one hand, and a second set of glowing figures appears in the air. Thor remembers enough from his childhood introductory magic lessons to recognize magical theory when he sees it. He grabs Steve’s arm, breathless with hope.
“Hey, cool - what’s that, like the magic equivalent of engineering? That’s how you make a spell? Steve said you were all ‘abracadabra’.”
Loki’s fingers flick, and a section of text on each of their screens pulses.
“Oh, I see it - yeah, sure. So what’s this section here?”
Thor realizes, belatedly, that his grip on Steve’s arm must be painful. He releases it guiltily, but Steve just smiles at him.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen him use magic since we arrived,” Thor whispers, feeling oddly near tears. “He is actually reacting to Tony, I - “
“Hey, peanut gallery,” Tony’s voice breaks into their conversation. “Look, go up and hit each other or something, okay? You’re harshing my groove. And send Banner down.”
Steve laughs, unoffended, and Thor would forgive Tony many things right now.
“Come on, Thor. I’ll introduce you to everyone else. Jarvis can keep an eye on the mad scientists for a while.”
They have a pleasant sparring session. Steve’s companions are impressive warriors, particularly the woman Natasha who Thor would love to introduce to Sif, and Thor discovers that he can pause and say “Jarvis? Is my brother well?” And a disembodied voice will say from the ceiling “Yes, Thor. They have moved on to a discussion of comparative physics.”
It is a most pleasant day. They retire for sustenance and trade stories of battles won and lost, and then take a break from sparring to bring food down to Tony’s laboratory. He and Loki have been joined by a quiet man in a white coat who is typing intently on a small computer, Loki looking over his shoulder.
“ - swear to God, you sucker him into some soft hard science like chemistry I will never forgive you, Banner, you bastard - oh, hey, lunch!”
Tony, Thor is amused but unsurprised to discover, can eat and talk at the same time.
The afternoon is spent in contests of accuracy. The archer, Clint, would be a formidable ally in battle, and Natasha is as deadly as Loki with throwing knives. Thor only hurls Mjolnir once before they decide it would be best to have Tony design some more resilient targets - and walls - but Clint and Natasha are both willing to share their weapons and the afternoon passes satisfyingly.
Finally, Thor bids his new companions farewell and goes to collect his brother. Steve offers them a place to stay for the night, but when Thor enters the lab he finds Banner gone and Loki asleep with his head on one of Tony’s lab tables.
“Conked out about half an hour ago,” Tony says. “I like him. He’s smart but silent, and that means I can talk a lot. Let it never be said I don’t have a keen eye for my own preferences.”
Thor decides, reluctantly, that it would probably be best to let Loki have some peace and familiarity after what was likely a stressful if enjoyable day, and departs New York with his groggy brother in tow.
Loki spends much of the next two days napping. Given the excitement of their recent journey, Thor is less concerned about this than he would have been but a few days ago. In any case, it is nice to not be worried about something. Jane’s work has been plagued by a string of recent misfortunes, and everyone is tense as a result. Thor does not understand all the details, but it appears that everything from Jane’s machines to the alignment of the stars themselves have failed to operate as they should.
“There are always days like this,” Jane says disgustedly, tossing down a bundle of papers. “That’s what I tell myself. Days like this make the days when everything goes right seem that much better by comparison. It’s still annoying, though.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to take the day off,” Erik suggests. “It would be nice to have a break and we can come back fresh tomorrow. Nothing here is going to spoil from a few hours of negligence.”
Jane grins tiredly. “True enough. I bow to your superior wisdom.”
“Thor!” Darcy hisses. “Thor Thor Thor Thor!”
Thor sets down the damaged length of metal he was attempting to pry back into shape and whirls, heart in his mouth. “What is it? Is Loki - “
Darcy thrusts a piece of machinery at them. “He fixed it!”
They all stare. “What?”
“The - the whatever this is, I took it over to the couch because you guys were seriously cranky and I thought I might be able to mess with it, and I put it down and went to get pop-tarts and when I came back he was fixing it!”
“With magic?” Thor asks.
“No - I mean, kind of, he conjured up some tools and stuff - seriously freaking cool - but otherwise he did it just like a normal person.”
Jane grabs the machinery excitedly. “And it works now?”
Darcy rolls her eyes. “I don’t know, I don’t even know what it is. But he looked like he knew what he was doing.”
Thor leaves them bickering good-naturedly and goes over to his brother. Loki is curled up on the couch, head pillowed on one arm, his eyes half-closed. He looks thoughtful.
Thor kneels down beside him. “Brother, thank you for fixing Jane’s device,” he says. Loki shifts a little, but does not look at him. “Is that - did you enjoy being in the lab with Tony? Is that what you like to do?”
Loki’s creations have ever been constructs of the mind, but as Thor had explained to Jane so long ago on the roof of this very building, Asgardian technology and magic are indistinguishable. Thor supposes it is not surprising that Loki’s magic should choose to manifest itself this way, particularly given his recent interaction with Stark and Banner.
“Brother...” he hesitates. “You didn’t break the device so that you could fix it, did you...?”
Loki’s frown deepens.
“No - of course not. I apologize, that was uncalled for.”
He makes himself more comfortable on the floor next to the couch and places his hand on Loki’s free arm. “Loki. Steve and the others have offered us a place with them in New York. Is that something you would find pleasing? Would that be helpful to you, to be there instead of here?”
Loki’s mouth twists, and then he resolutely closes his eyes.
“I will let you think,” Thor says, withdrawing.
In the back of the room, Jane has determined that the piece of machinery is, indeed, now working. The stars and a number of other things still are not, sadly, but she seems more sanguine about it than she did a moment ago.
“Jane,” Thor says. “If you are still amenable to taking a break, may I have a word with you?”
They withdraw to the roof, a location which Thor is increasingly coming to associate with feelings of contentment and peace.
“What’s up?” Jane asks when they are settled.
Thor casts a momentarily confused glance at the sky before remembering this is a Midgardian saying. “Ah. Yes. Well, I have received... an offer, recently, which I would discuss with you, as my Midgardian guide and as my - well, as my - “
“Honey bunny?” Jane asks, grinning mischievously. “Sweetheart? Love muffin? Special friend?”
Thor chokes. “I do not understand all these phrases, but I am certain you are teasing me,” he says mildly. Jane is clearly unrepentant. “Yes. As my special friend, I would ask for your honest counsel.”
Jane tempers her lighthearted mood accordingly. “Of course, Thor.”
“Agent Coulson - and Steve Rogers - have offered me a place with their team. I would be a warrior again, and pledged to defend this realm, which I find pleasing. I suspect - I hope - that it would also be pleasing to Loki. I think he is developing a friendship with Tony Stark, or at least an interest in his work, and that - “ he stumbles. “Jane, you did not see him - he still did not speak, but he was engaged, he was responding, it - it brought me much hope.”
Jane clasps his hand. “Thor, that’s great!”
“Yes, and while I cannot predict the future I think that it would be a good choice to take them up on it, but...”
Jane frowns. “You can’t possibly be thinking of turning this down just so you can stay here with me.”
Thor gives her an anguished look.
Jane puts her hand soothingly on his face. “Thor, I love you, and I love having you here, but I’ll tell you what I’ve told all my undergrad students - if it comes to a choice between staying with your girlfriend and going somewhere that will improve the rest of your life, then you leave.”
Thor sighs. It still seems... dishonorable, somehow.
“Look, we managed a long-distance relationship with you stranded in another realm, right? What’s a few states? And besides, SHIELD’s been after me to come consult with some of their guys in New York. I could make some business trips.”
Thor beams, then sobers with difficulty. “I would not have you feeling abandoned - “
Jane makes a rude noise. “Give me a little credit, here, Thor. I’m practically kicking you out. If anyone should feel abandoned, it’s you.” She smiles to show that she is joking, and Thor laughs.
“I feel grossly mistreated, Jane! My flower, my petal, my dewdrop - “
Jane cackles. “Oh my god, never say any of that ever again.”
Thor smiles and holds her close. “I shall attempt to get Loki’s opinion on the matter. Thank you, Jane. My love muffin.”
Jane hits him.
Thor decides to give his brother some time to think about their New York offer, and does not badger him about it. Another day passes quietly - Jane’s project seems to have sorted itself out, and Darcy has run out of children’s entertainments and accordingly starts Loki on something Erik refers to as ‘science fiction’. It appears to involve a lot of characters running down hallways.
Thor watches them from the kitchen and wonders, for the first time, if his brother is bored.
He lies awake later that night, thinking. There are many rooms in the New York building, so they would have a place to stay if it came down to it. The reclusive Jarvis seems very dedicated to overseeing his charges, so Thor might even be able to let Loki out of his sight on a more regular basis, which Thor is sure they would both appreciate. He loves his brother, but he knows that Loki has ever been a solitary creature. The constant attention must be wearing on him, for all that he gives no sign of it.
“Thor, did you look around at all while we journeyed here from Asgard?”
Thor’s entire body tingles with shock. “No, brother,” he says, proud when his voice is even. “I had my eyes closed and I followed your lead.” He turns his head towards Loki as unobtrusively as possible, but all he can see is the faint outline of Loki’s profile.
“There are strange things to be seen on the secret paths,” Loki says quietly. “Other worlds. Other realms. Places where events have gone differently and different outcomes have been achieved.”
Thor waits for a moment, barely breathing. “I am not sure I understand,” he says finally.
“I have seen many versions of this world. I have seen ones where you did not catch me as I fell from the Bifrost. I have seen worlds where we are enemies, caught in endless battle. I have seen you hold me down so the dwarves may sew my mouth shut, laughing as they worked. I have seen worlds where I bring about Ragnarok, where I birth monsters, where I murder members of our family I have not even met. Mother of Monsters, they call me. The world breaker. The father of strife, the god of a thousand masks, Heimdall’s bane. The unquiet thought.
“You asked what problem I was trying to solve. I think I am trying to solve myself.”
Thor rolls over to face his brother. “You think these things will come to pass here?”
“I tried to end an entire realm, Thor,” Loki says wearily. “I am worried I will do something worse.”
“You were not yourself,” Thor says immediately. “You had been betrayed, it was understandable - “ he can feel his brother pulling away, for all that he remains still. “Listen. These things you see, these worlds, they are infinite? They show all possible outcomes?”
“And you have never seen one where we are companions, where we fight together against fearsome enemies and protect others?”
“Then, brother,” Thor reaches over and puts his hand on Loki’s face, turning his head so they are eye to eye. “Do you not see? This must be that world.”
Loki makes a distressed sound. “I do not think the world works the way you think it does, Thor.”
Thor gives his brother a little shake. “Can you prove me wrong?”
Loki gives a broken little laugh. “Given time?”
Thor presses his forehead against Loki’s. “When have you ever let others determine your path for you, brother? You have always walked your own way. Why should this be different?”
Loki’s hand curls around Thor’s arm. “Maybe,” he says finally. “Maybe.”
They lie like that for a moment. “Loki,” Thor says eventually. “Did you feel... unappreciated? On Asgard?”
Loki shudders. “Yes.”
Guilt floods Thor. “I am sorry.” He tugs Loki close and wraps his arms around him.
“You have become entirely too fond of physical affection since we came here, brother,” Loki complains, his voice muffled by Thor’s shoulder.
Thor laughs and hugs him harder.
The next morning Loki curls up on the couch, gaze half-focused and vague, as is his recent custom. He does not speak, or give any sign that the conversation of the previous night ever took place.
But he had packed all of their things before Thor even woke up, and he follows Thor willingly to the plane after breakfast. He stays awake all the way to New York.
Thor is content with that.