Chapter 1: Prologue
The road bends gently, weaving its way through the valley, and the howl of wind on his helmet is drowning all doubts he had when he set off from his flat this morning. The bike leans on the turn and the pleasant thrill of the ride erases the last bits of uneasiness, leaving it off the side of the road. The engine roars as he starts to climb a hill, the forest around him thinning, and not a minute later he reaches its top and the view of the fiord takes his breath away. He pulls to a stop and cuts the engine, his ears ringing with the noise for a while as he takes the helmet off and straightens, contemplating.
The sun is low by now, and the village is already in the shadow of the mountain behind him,windows starting to illuminate, warm sparks in the deep indigo of the twilight. The evergreen forest on the other side of the settlement is dark, its expanse covering the space between the houses and the majestic mount in the background, its steep slopes lit fiery orange with the sun's last rays.
On the other side of the fjord lies Camp Asgard, his destination. By now all tourists are gone and the owner with his family are packing their things, ready to set off to wherever they decide to spend the winter. Three days ago, they were more than happy to fill him in on his forthcoming duties. The old local, who had been taking care of the camp in previous years, was of too poor health to take them up, therefore the Odinsons had to hire someone else. Nobody answered their job offers for long enough to let them grow desperate and he suspected that was the only reason they agreed to leave the camp in hands of a tattooed biker with nothing to do with his life. The grounds of it are dark, only the main building, holding the family's quarters and several hotel rooms along with a restaurant, is brightly lit, visible even though partially obscured by trees. They must be awaiting him, but he doesn't feel like rushing. He silently greets the valley, tunes in to its serenity.
His gaze rests on the fjord. The water must be frigid, but not repelling; he feels oddly allured to the dark teal depth and he drinks in the simple, unassuming beauty of it, and any remainder of the anxiety that he might have made the wrong decision dissolves into nothingness.
The evening chill bites at his ears and he finds himself smiling a tiny bit; a minuscule pull of the corners of his mouth, and the wrinkles around his eyes disappear. With a deep inhale of the air - so sweet and fresh, so unlike what he had been breathing for most of his life - he puts the helmet back on and starts the engine, heading towards the camp.
He arrives some fifteen minutes later, stopping his motorbike behind the giant Land Rover packed to the brim. A blonde girl with grey eyes of about seventeen years, wrapped in a light, claret jacket stands up from the bench next to the hotel's entrance and pulls out the earbuds of her iPod as he dismounts and leans the bike on its support.
"You must be mr. Laufeyson," she approaches him leisurely, wrapping the device with the cord and stuffing it in her pocket. "You do have perfect timing. We've just finished packing."
"I am, ideed." He spares her a look before opening the luggage case he installed on the back seat of his bike to take all his necessary belongings in one trip. "It's good I didn't make you wait."
He feels her gaze on his leather-clad back, but doesn't say anything more. He doesn't feel like he has to. She, on the other hand, must assume otherwise. Such is the curse of meeting bored teenagers.
"You know, makes me wonder," she begins without introducing herself, "why a guy like you would agree to spend five months in this middle of nowhere."
He finally ends fiddling with his things, seeing it will not save him from the girl's attempts at flirting. He pulls his helmet off and settles it atop the seat. "A guy like me knows the value of solitude. May I speak with Mr. Odinson?"
"Father will come here in a few. You will get plenty of it here," she clearly hasn't got the clue, "even the Internet is shit here. Goes at the speed of glacier."
"Thanks for the heads up," he doesn't growl, but the muttered words are as close to it as they can without passing as outright rude. "Mind if I get in?"
He passes by her, not waiting for the response, but she says anyway, "Sure. You can take any of the hotel rooms or the apartment we usually live in, but Da's office is off limits, and so is my room, just so you know, I doubt you'd like it, anyway, but go and see for yourself."
"Didn't you just say it's off limits, why would I go and see if I like it." No, he still isn't growling. He considers slamming the front door in her face, but she spoils his plans by eagerly pacing in front of him and opening the door first. She only giggles in return, holding the door for him.
Relief washes over him as he enters the lobby and sees the camp owner and his employer walking down the narrow staircase behind the counter. "Ah, mr. Odinson-"
"Wodan, please," interrupts the man, conjuring a polite smile on his wrinkled face, "Good to see you. I hope your journey was good? My wife will show you around. And thank you again for your trouble."
"It's not a trouble, really. I will surely enjoy my time here," Loki offers flatly. Of course he will. If only they got away already. The serenity he felt on the hilltop is slowly drifting away, replaced with irritation. He turns to Frigga Odinson, an elegant woman with the ever-present warm expression and motherly air, a perfect manager of a small hotel like this. Against himself, he can't help but like her, as much as he is capable of liking anyone. She sends her husband out to the car and leads Loki behind the counter, where she briefly describes which key unlocks which door, and continues upstairs. Contrary to what the girl outside said, he is free to use the office, tastefully furnished with dark wood and glass and equipped with state-of-the-art computer probably worth twice any sum of money Loki is capable of earning in a year. They go to the kitchen, only slightly less impressive than the office; to the storage, supple with all sorts of frozen and tinned food; to the spacious garage, with more than enough room for his bike. Frigga finishes the tour by leading him along the driveway that encircles the building from the garage to the front yard where her husband has already started the engine. Before they circle the last corner, she grabs him by the elbow and looks up, slightly uneasy, and he raises an eyebrow, confused.
"If you come across any problem, the people in town will help you. Idunn, the shopkeeper, is a good friend of mine, you can trust her with anything. When the fiord freezes, you can use the snowmobile to get across, and Njord will probably clear the road with his snowplough every few days if need be." She looks him in the eyes, for a briefest moment he thinks he saw something like desperation there, but she just smiles, squeezes his arm, and repeats, "Don't hesitate to ask for help."
He puts his hand over hers and twists his lips in something like a reassuring smile, which seems to be enough to satisfy her. She nods and leads him back to the front of the hotel. Before getting into the car, she smiles at him and says, "See you in spring. Stay well."
"You, too." he makes a small bow, which makes her let out a little laugh. "Goodbye."
With that, she shuts the car door and they finally drive off. He waits until the rear lights of the rover disappear behind the gate and realizes he still hasn't removed his large rucksack. With a content sigh he stretches, feeling his stiff muscles ache after the long ride.
Two hours later he is partially unpacked, having shamelessly claimed the owners' apartment, at least three times larger than his own, and lies on the double bed, dozing off. Tomorrow he will familiarize himself first with the camp itself, then with the people living on the other shore. Now he just needs to have a warm shower and sleep. The odd behaviour of Frigga leaves his mind for the time being.
Loki's life was not an easy one.
Oh God, I swear it wasn't supposed to turn out so short and dark and haphazardly written. And I wanted some plot in this chapter.
Damnit, I can't write.
This chapter goes pretty well with A Swan Song (for Nina) by Clint Mansell from the Black Swan soundtrack. At least it kept me a fine company whilst I rammed the thing from my head into the text editor.
The daybreak sees him sleeping soundly, lean figure stretched out on the double bed as the sun rays reach the window and kiss his pale cheeks good morning. The light gently pulls him from the slumber and with a quiet sigh he sits up, linen sheets dragging pleasantly across the pale expanse of still sleep-numb skin. He can't remember when was the last time he had a good night's sleep; his place in the city was permanently noisy with the traffic outside and he never managed to get proper shades in his windows, so his bedroom was never dark. In fact, he can't remember any night he slept through and woke up after without the need to worry about surviving the day. The peace is an entirely new thing to him.
His thoughts wander to his past. The long years of orphanage and foster families, changing like ugly, too-sharp snapshots on a slideshow, the constant fight to earn his place in his environment and the struggle to keep it. Wherever he ended up, he never could fit in. There always were stronger kids to outrank him, to earn their guardians' favour. It didn't take him long to realize his efforts were futile. At that point, being ten or eleven perhaps, he gave up trying to make friends and appear 'normal'.
Of course, that didn't make his life any easier. Trying to gain approval was a fruitless string of humiliation and frustration, but at least it gave him anything to keep himself busy with; it motivated him to act. Remaining idle and indifferent to the world around left him a lot of time for brooding. Thinking. Observing. He let his heart grow cold and bitter, barren of any warm feelings, for no one dared plant them there in fear of getting frostbitten.
Loki shakes his head. These thoughts often haunt him, stirring all the anger contained deep within his mind. More often than not, they swallow him whole for long hours, leaving him with a raw feeling of having no purpose. No one ever needed him, and whenever he felt he needed someone, nobody was there for him. And although he didn't want to admit it, being dependent on someone was uncomfortable; too early he had learned that it always brought debts he rarely was able to pay. He is but a tool to others, one they could do without, but didn't hesitate to use when convenient and discard when not, and the part which enrages him most is that he can never refuse, still craving - even if only subconsciously - any form of acceptance, no matter how temporal. He tried to rebel, of course he did, but the mutiny never brought any elation; by trying to tear away from wherever and whoever he was, he was rebelling against himself and against that part of him which remained warm - his very core he couldn't and didn't want to freeze like the rest of his heart.
In the bathroom he makes quick work of morning toilet, pausing for a second before he pulls a shirt on, catching the sight of his left forearm and the faint, but noticeable line which runs along the veins, straight near the elbow, wavering a little about two inches down to his wrist and suddenly blooming into an irregular, ragged scar spanning almost half of his forearm's length. The memoir of the first time he attempted to take his life as a teenager. His dorm roommate's girlfriend walked in on his silent attempt in the bathroom and grabbed him by the hand holding the blade so brutally that it cut deep, tearing the flesh. He still remembers the physical pain, but more vivid is the earlier determination to get away that came and went like a tide until one day it overflowed and then disappeared for months, defeated by the relief that this time the decision was taken from him, that just maybe something would snap and change and be better. It didn't.
Walking down the stairs, he brings back the months when that relief faded, once again replaced by grief. It took him nearly two years to try to kill himself again, that time with pills. Partially, he did it to make sure that he missed the elation of being forced to live, the illusion that someone cared. And he was terrified to find out that he did.
There were more times he tried to commit suicide, some of them left scars on his body, some didn't. Every one of them poked at that warmer spark in his heart, slowly turning it into a bleeding wound; a tiny hollow in him that could not be filled. He doesn't know why he keeps doing this to himself, over and over again bringing himself to the edge of darkness, dancing a mad dance he doesn't understand but which makes the light a bit brighter for a time.
The kitchen is filled with sunlight. His thoughts are in so stark a contrast to it that for a long minute he just stands there, taking in the room, looking at the shiny metal table in the middle with variety of kitchenware neatly arranged on a shelf hanging from the ceiling above it; at the fridge, oven, kettle, cupboards, then outside the windows, at trees losing their leaves and the sky, blindingly bright. He listens to the silence that fills the building. He is alone in there, but for the perhaps first time in his life the solitude is of the good kind; he isn't alone in the crowd, but alone and away from anyone. And he should want it, he has been chasing it ever since he could make any decisions on his own, but that part of his heart that still bleeds knows better. In his mind, though, he sees that he will never have what he really wants.
At this thought anger rises. He did nothing to deserve this in the first place, he just repels the society for no reason he could possibly see. They made him an outcast, even though his needs were the same as theirs. He is not angry with them, though. He is angry with himself. For not being able to rid himself of these needs. For clinging to that last warm part of him, the one still craving love.
Enough, he thinks decidedly. Nobody will save him here in his hermitage, nobody will give him another chance to go through it all again. Here I could finally end it all.
Making the decision settles his racing thoughts and finally calms his mind. What he doesn't expect to happen is anxiety settling right beneath his sternum. It is because of its presence that he doesn't immediately think of the knives he has for his use.
He has time. Months, in fact.
A crude idea occurs to him, and his lips turn into a tiny, bitter smile; how about enjoying this new setting he finds himself in, all the while achieving what he has planned? He has done this before, although not with such determination. He can starve himself to death. He knows he has enough self-restraint to pull it through, and he can do what he is supposed to do for a while.
The camp won't be neglected for now.
Well, this took a while.
I abandoned the fic for something close to a year and found the drafts for this chapter buried somewhere on my hard drive; beta'd what I had and added to it. Finished the chapter tonight. (And it's longer than the previous two both by good 500 words, hear hear.) The writing process is painstakingly slow, so I'm afraid weekly updates are out of the question with me, especially as I have my maturity exams in under a month, but I want you guys to know this fic is not dead (yet) and I intend to keep working on it, this time faster.
The language feels rough and I can't seem to get it flowing, but I hope I get better at it the more I write. Also, I seem to have a thing for descriptions, which apparently aren't as pleasant to read as they are to write? Sorry for that. *wholly unapologetic shrug*
Any typos and language, grammar, semantic, punctuation and whatnot errors are mine and I am ashamed of every one of them but I haven't found them yet because writing on google drive has the funny disadvantage of being completely useless when it comes to underlining actual errors. It just goes and marks in red every word longer than four letters. Silly google.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The evening chill is unpleasant on Thor’s shoulders, clad only in a dirty jumper and a light jacket of a dull, washed-down colour. The cold doesn’t bother him, though. It has been his only companion for the night for far too long.
Gravel creaks under his feet as he hastily marches the forest road leading to Asgard’s gate. He’s late; he usually arrives three weeks earlier than this year. He fears Heimdall might have given up on waiting already. With a pang of bitterness he recalls their farewell this spring.
“I hope I’ll never see you here again, Thor.”
“Won’t you let me in when I come to live here through winter anymore?” he asked anxiously.
“’Course I will, foolish boy. My hope is that you won’t need to seek shelter here anymore. Best of luck in your travels.” Heimdall squeezed his shoulder.
“Thank you, old man.” Thor grinned and set off.
“Thank me when it’ll have worked!”, came the stern reply, and the young man chuckled to himself.
That had been the kindest Heimdall had ever been to him in person. However harsh he was towards Thor on a daily basis, he cared for the exiled son like he were his own, for which Thor repaid him best as he could, helping around the camp.
The gate is closed when he reaches it. So Heimdall did give up. A sort of resigned guilt wells up in Thor’s chest and he stops for a heartbeat. He takes in the view on the other side, looks hesitantly behind; then, with a sigh, decidedly takes his backpack off and tosses it over the fence before climbing it and landing on the camp grounds with a quiet thud.
He directs his steps to cabin number 8, the one farthest from the main building, close to the treeline and the small wooden pier where a couple of boats are moored during summer, but now, with masts dismounted and hulls cleaned, they wait in storage for when the ice breaks in late spring. From the cabin the view of the fjord is quite breathtaking, even in the half-light of the afternoon’s late hour. Twilight comes fast in the depth of the mountains’ embrace, shortening the day further than the approaching winter solstice, yet Thor has never suffered from depression that this lack of light causes for so many people around. He finds a comforting sort of steady, timeless beauty in the way the village across the water lights up as the shadow of the mountain behind his back slowly ascends the slopes of the one opposite to finally swallow it whole. The sense of belonging with this very land is what draws him back here every year, even if he could fend for himself if he tried and stayed in the city. No matter if the sun or the moon is in the sky; no matter if the stars are hidden in thick clouds as a storm rages on or rain keeps falling in steady, dull torrents, Thor loves this valley and this fjord. He misses the summers here, but knows he is only welcome here in winter now. It is enough, if not what he would wish for.
His feet drag across the yellowing grass of the campgrounds, but his heart is light. The cabin, as all dotting the area, is a bulky but inviting structure of logs and stonework, genuinely traditional unlike in many other vacation spots he knows across the country; those are brick or compound, only pretending to be this solid. The roof is covered with slate; a balcony window on the other side overlooks the water, during the day letting in ample light to illuminate even the bed area on a platform built over a small bathroom and kitchenette, opening above a small but airy lounge. The walls are lined with light-coloured wood, the same as the furniture. The appliances are shut off and not working during the off season, but Thor will only need some firewood to heat the space with the small stove in order to sleep there, as became his custom in previous years.
He bends and sinks to his knees next to the three steps that lead up to the porch facing away from the fjord and feels around under them for the key that Heimdall should have left for him. Surely enough, it dangles from a loose nail out of sight, and Thor lets out a small sigh of relief despite himself. Once inside, he groans and stretches after laying his tattered backpack on the ground and starts to build a fire in the cast-iron stove. It’ll be several hours until the cabin is passably warm for sleeping; Thor will spend this first night in the hotel. He smiles at the thought of seeing Heimdall again, albeit with a touch of sadness. Pulling a change of clothes from his bag, he wonders if there’ll be a little food to spare. Then he walks out and towards the hotel.
He enters the building through the glass door of the restaurant and closes it carefully behind himself. A faint light of the fireplace comes from the lounge, so he assumes that’s where he will find the caretaker.
“Heimdall!” he calls out once in the passage between the two rooms, his voice booming cheerfully in the dim space. The only light comes from the fire dying down in the hearth on the other side of the large couch. Thor briefly wonders how the old man moved the giant of a thing from under the wall before someone entirely unknown to him rises from the cushions with a startled yelp.
For a moment the two of them stand, dumbstruck, when Thor realizes the other is swaying where he leans heavily on the couch’s back, and everything feels wrong.
“Who the f-fuck are,” tries the stranger, his face in the shadows and voice faltering. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I am,” Thor starts, but doesn’t finish, alarmed by how the other’s voice gave out. “Are you alright? And who are you?”
"Not your goddamn business, you’re trespassing. The hotel is closed for winter.”
“Where is Heimdall?”
“Wherever he is, he must’ve heard you, shouting as though to wake the dead here. Get out, I told you you’re trespassing, I’m not being paid for letting stragglers wander into private property at night!” snaps the other and tries to round the couch, but swaggers and nearly collapses when his knee hits the armrest. By the time he catches himself Thor is by his side, reaching out to steady him, but steps back when the other man recoils from his touch.
Up close and without the fireplace directly behind him, his features are for the first time visible to Thor, and he is startled. The dark, longish hair that he has already managed to make out frame a face of striking, if peculiar, beauty. Beauty is not the word, though. There is something repelling in how cold and vaguely glossed over his eyes are; eyes that are neither vivid blue nor bright green, but something inbetween, yet no less intense for that. They’re set dark and deep under pale forehead and over high cheekbones too sharp to look attractive above sunk-in cheeks. Nothing softens the razor line of his jaw, not even his lips, drawn in a tight line of anger. This is a face of a wraith possessing a man. Then Thor blinks and the human before him is nothing more than that. Angered man with too-sharp features that would be beautiful if he weren’t skin stretched over bone.
He literally is just that. He still sways on his feet, however slightly, and his limbs hardly fill the rather tight black shirt and trousers he has on. The tendons on his neck stand out like ropes, the wrists peeking out of the long sleeves seem as though they may break under the weight of his skeletal palms. A question who is the actual starving beggar in the room surfaces in Thor’s mind. He doubts even victims of anorexia look this frail.
“What?” snaps the black-haired man and steps forward, offensive. “I still can use force to throw you out. Explain what are you doing here or I’ll do just that.” He sounds threatening, but he seems to collapse sooner than act on his words. Thor decides to appease him before it comes to blows.
“I’m Thor Odinson, I come by every year to help Heimdall around. Is he not here? Are you on his duty?”
A long silence falls before the stranger deigns to answer, fixing Thor with a searching gaze.
“Explain what? That I’m here and not with the rest of…” he swallows. The not-green-not-blue eyes hold him under unwavering scrutiny.
“Okay,” he caves in and runs a hand helplessly through his greasy, tangled blonde hair. He needs a shower. “Okay. If you think they sent me to check up on you or anything, no. That’s… not the case. We haven’t made contact in six years or so.”
A thin eyebrow is raised expectantly at him and the eyes still glint dangerously in the half-light.
“It’s a long story. I got disowned, told to never offend my father’s eyes with my face, et cetera, et cetera. You don’t want to hear it,” Thor waves a dismissive hand, hoping the other won’t prod. His mood is ruined as it is. “As I said, I come here when they leave and stick around, helping Heimdall with caretaking duties, and basically doing them all for him in recent years because, well, he’s old, won’t carry out whatever repairs are to be made. Is that why you’re here? He finally decided he can’t manage the camp through the winter?”
The stranger nods, but whether it is to answer or to acknowledge Thor’s story is unclear. He tilts his head, crossing his arms on his chest.
“I assume your next question will be whether I’ll let you continue that habit of staying here and volunteering to do my job for me.”
This time Thor is the one to nod, fighting the feeling that he would be relieved if the stranger turned him down. The prospect of freezing to death suddenly isn’t an option much worse than staying here and dealing with this man with an icicle for a soul.
As the silence stretches, Thor’s gaze falls to the floor. Living a beggar’s life teaches you humility, but it never made him submissive; yet now he catches himself cowering a slightest bit in front of a man so frighteningly frail he’d fall over and shatter if Thor pushed him. He forces his eyes back to the other’s face.
“I’d much rather kick you out to whatever sorry ass fate is there for you out in the wild, but stay the night if you’ve nowhere else to go now. Tomorrow go seek mercy in the village. Tidy the room you’ll be sleeping in before you leave.”
The statement, delivered in a flat voice hiding whatever anger or fear may be hiding behind that ice mask, has Thor raise his eyebrows. “Thank you,” he answers quickly, before the offer can be taken back. “I… won’t bother you.”
A short pause. Then, “Good,” and the man promptly walks by Thor and heads out of the room.
“What is it?” the black-haired man stops in the doorway and looks over his shoulder, impatience in the tense line of his shoulders.
“I’ll make myself something to eat. Have you eaten today?” have you eaten this week, is what Thor wants to ask, but he has never had any contact with people who would choose not to eat and doesn’t know what to do. Again, the response is a noncommittal nod, an acknowledgement or an answer, or both. A second later the stranger is gone.
It takes Thor another several moments to gather his wits and go about preparing said meal. He has met many people in his life, but none as strange as this one. He realizes he still doesn’t know his name, nor what exactly he is doing here.
With his mind preoccupied with the new warden, Thor sets about making dinner. To his surprise, the kitchenware seems unused. Then again, he reasons, it only serves as proof that the stranger really didn’t eat a thing in a long time. The storage is full, even equipped with some instant meals that anyone should be able to prepare, so Thor has to dismiss the suspicion that there just wasn’t anything to eat. He heats up three portions of canned chicken soup, because anything else would require time-consuming defrosting which Thor just doesn’t feel like going through, not with his own stomach rumbling rather insistently and mind whirring on a million guesses about the stranger upstairs. After a moment of scouring the shelves in the pantry, he boils some rice to put in the soup to give it more substance.
He wolfs down one bowl and the feeling of a warm meal, even if so simple and moderately nutritious, improves his mood significantly despite his hardly favourable situation. Leaving a bit for later – he knows better than to eat too much at once or believe that one serving would be enough for his appetite – he pours a second one and quietly makes his way upstairs. His assumption that the other man has taken residence in his family’s quarters proves true; the lights are on in his parents’ bedroom and the sounds of water running come from the en suite bathroom.
“Hey, I brought you-”, calls out Thor, hoping to be heard over the sound of the shower, and is cut off by a noise of someone slipping and falling in the booth. Then all noises but the pouring of water cease.
Momentarily startled, Thor just stands in the doorway, then promptly sets down the bowl on the first flat surface and rushes into the tiled room. Sure enough, there is the caretaker, lying down under the shower, limbs akimbo, black shock of wet hair the only thing standing out against the off-white walls around and every rib exposed through the papery skin.
When Thor turns off the water and gently moves around the unconscious man, there’s a trickle of blood from his temple where he crashed against the tap. Thor hisses involuntarily, though he knows head injuries tend to look more severe than they in fact are. If the other’s face looked ghastly before, though, the red only serves to paint a far more dramatic, grotesque even, picture of a death mask. Thor winces and extracts the impossibly bony body from the narrow space, fighting terror and disgust at how sickly thin it is. He barely feels the weight as he carries it over to lay down on one side of the bed, catching a towel on the way and doing his best to dry the other.
He moves him to lay on the side and covers with the duvet. The man doesn't seem to be coming round, so Thor deems it safe to leave for long enough to fetch the first aid kit from the reception desk. As expected, when he comes back nothing has changed and he cleans the wound and fixes a dressing on it undisturbed.
Having done that, Thor is at loss. He looks around, taking in his surroundings, and decides to take that shower he's been looking forward to for a long time.
He takes his time under the hot spray, scrubbing his skin pink. The conditioner left there by the stranger smells of green tea. Thor welcomes the warmth and savours the sensation of being clean again, and somehow this is enough for him to feel optimistic again. When he steps out of the bathroom, dried, clothed and with his teeth brushed, he is met with the sight of the warden sitting on the bed and reaching out to the abandoned bowl of chicken soup on the nightstand. He freezes when Thor stands in front of the bed, eyeing him like a hyena watching a lion approach the corpse it was about to bite into. Out of the blue, Thor feels anger.
“Eat. I brought it for you.”
He expects a biting retort, but it never comes as the man takes the bowl with trembling hands and starts eating the lukewarm stew. After the first two mouthfuls he stops shooting glances at Thor and focuses on the food with hardly enough control to prevent most of the soup from spilling from the spoon all over himself. The sight is pathetic even as he tries to save what dignity he has left; Thor has seen men in similar condition show up in the communal kitchen in the city who, given the food, behaved like animals.
Perhaps his own history, ripe with moments where his mind struggled not to lose control over his body to his stomach, is why he doesn’t leave immediately, disgusted. Instead, he drops his dirty clothes and walks up to the bed, crouching next to it. The stranger notices him once their eyes are on the same level, but barely slows down his frantic eating.
“You’ll throw up if you eat too fast. Take it easy.” he says, noticing a trickle of soup down the other’s chin. It reminds him bitterly what it feels like to eat for the first time in days, then promptly empty his stomach minutes after because he had no restraint. He has to physically slow down the warden’s hand with his own. At that, the sitting man goes completey still, rigid even, and, after a heartbeat, looks at Thor.
“You should eat more slowly,” Thor repeats, unsure whether he got through the first time. “When is the last time you ate anyways?”
He gets a shrug in response and the man looks away. Thor realizes he shouldn’t prod further if he wants to get any answers at all.
“What is your name? I gave you mine, it’s only fair you tell me yours.”
“You’re talking to me as you would to a child.”
So much for answers. Perhaps he didn’t get hit on the head hard enough, muses Thor, but resorts to, “Keep eating,” and withdraws his hand from where it rests lightly against a bird-like wrist.
The stranger doesn’t immediately resume eating, and when he does it’s not as frantic as before. Thor sits on the floor, leaning against the bed. The fatigue from a day of marching finally catches up to him and he nods off for a while, waking only when a hand shakes his arm lightly.
Without a word, he stands up and takes the empty bowl from the silent man. He walks out, gathering his rags on the way, and stops on the threshold. Looks back.
“I’ll be sleeping in room number 1 if you need me. I’ll leave in the morning. Good night.”
If there’s a responding good night, he doesn’t hear it through the creaking of floorboards as he walks downstairs.
Feedback is appreciated. (:
This took a while, yeah (But sixteen days is an improvement with me, hush). I'm not exactly satisfied with most parts of this chapter, considered splitting it into two or three, but since it only encompasses the events of one day and the fic is planned to span several months I decided to post in bulk for balance's sake. Especially since this upcoming month is not going to be very conductive for writing with maturity exams, so I'd like to give you something more to read
which probably results in major drop in quality but slfkhjfkh I never said I'm a good writer.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Just as Thor had warned him, Loki stumbled to bathroom in the dead of the night, barely making it to the toilet before he vomited all he'd eaten. He brushed his teeth, desperate to wipe the horrid taste from his mouth, and tried to sleep despite his rumbling stomach and recurring waves of nausea. Finally he managed to nod off for a while, not long before the sunrise.
Now he sits lamely at one of the tables in the canteen. He still feels hungry, and now sick on top of it, and hates his guts for doing that, hates himself for caving in and eating, and most of all hates Thor Odinson for showing up now of all times. His stomach contorts painfully once again and he holds back a whimper, curling in on himself. No, he realizes, he doesn’t hate Thor for stomping into his supposedly final act of self-destruction; he hates him for causing his current misery with that one bowl of soup. As if he needed to be yet again proven right that life is unreasonably hard and just not worth the trouble.
As though summoned by his thoughts, the blonde breaks him out of his reverie. Thor brings a tray to the table and sets two plates and two mugs for them. Loki looks at the two toasts with honey in front of him apprehensively. Thor seems to ignore him and starts eating from his own, generously loaded with sandwiches, plate.
“I thought you’d be gone by now.”
Thor looks up from his sandwich and blinks at Loki with a mix of irritation and uncertainty. “Would you eat anything if I weren’t here?”
Loki huffs out a laugh. “I probably wouldn’t make it to the kitchen.” He picks up one of his toasts and takes a cautious bite, waits for a while after swallowing to gauge his body’s reaction. When he doesn’t immediately feel like vomiting again, he starts eating with more confidence. He is aware of Thor watching him closely, but ignores him for now. The honey is sweet and thick on his tongue and Loki cannot recall the last time a meal this simple tasted this good.
Belatedly, he realizes Thor was talking to him. “Come again?”
“I asked, why weren’t you eating.” The blonde repeats and gestures vaguely at Loki. “Are you anorexic? You’re plenty thin, if that’s your goal. I don’t think Death has more flesh on him than you do.”
Loki winces, unwilling to explain himself to anyone. Still, he replies, “I’m not anorexic.”
Thor is baffled and falls silent for a while, sipping his tea. Loki stares into the distance, allowing himself to be lost in thought.
He did, in fact, suffer from anorexia at one point in life, back when he was a teenager and hadn’t given up trying to fit in yet. He never brushed this close to death from malnutrition, though. Back then his guardians caught on his disorder and made sure he ate regularly, which for a short while earned him the attention he’d been seeking. However, once he was deemed a solved problem, things went back to normal. Normal being everyone treating him, if not indifferently, either coldly or with pity, of which he had no need. He realizes Thor doesn’t seem to do that: he is angry, understandably so, for which Loki can’t blame him, but isn’t actively showing any disdain. He isn’t trying to be too gentle, either. Even the social workers Loki has encountered on more occasions than he’d like to remember couldn’t quite rein in their over-the-top compassion, which he cynically read as sense of superiority. There is nothing of that in the young Odinson.
“Why are you helping me?” Loki asks, observing Thor curiously.
“Why wouldn’t I?” says Thor easily, as if he hasn’t even thought of a different option up until Loki asked. “For whatever reason, you were - are - about to die.”
“That was the point,” mutters Loki to himself.
He looks up, upset that the other heard him. “Just. As good a way to die as any other.”
Thor watches him incredulously, all but gaping.
“Why would you want to die?”
"Why would I want to live?" counters Loki simply. "Twenty six years and I had scarcely a day in all that time that I didn't regret. Do you know what it's like when everyone around you treats you like you aren't worth anything? When they despise you even before you give them any reason to? When you try to make it your shield but it still fucking hurts no matter how many times you tell yourself you don't need anyone to even accept you?" His voice breaks and he falls silent, ashamed of baring his soul like that to a stranger. His throat is tight and he looks away, draws his knees up and swallows hard. Thor's soft voice doesn't surprise him, he is ready for pity. Thor's words, however, are far from the expected.
"I know." The blonde gives him a sad but genuine smile. "I've been homeless for the better part of the last seven years. I had to beg on more than one occasion. I was condemned, insulted and despised, treated unjustly and like an animal more times than I could count." For a moment he just looks at Loki with more understanding than anyone has ever shown. Than anyone has ever had a reason to. "Thank you for telling me, and I'm sorry. Have you truly not met even one person in your life who was kind to you?"
Something alien and warm crawls under Loki's sternum and his breath hitches. He lets out a small laugh that could as well be a sob and lowers his head, unable to discern this warmth or stop it from flooding his entire being. He wraps his arms defensively around his drawn-up knees.
"There was Sleipnir, yes," he manages. "And Fenrir. They were nice. But it hardly counted."
"Why didn't it count?"
"Animals just can't be a man's best friends, no matter what people think or tell themselves."
There's a quiet oh from Thor, and a large, rough hand rests on his arm. Loki, to his own surprise, doesn’t flinch upon the contact. When did I grow so comfortable around that stranger? he muses. Get your shit together, Loki. You haven’t shown weakness in so long a time. Don’t start now.
For all he chastises himself, there’s still a heavy lump in his throat and he feels helpless. The hand on his arm remains there and he doesn’t know what to make of it; it’s comforting in its own right, but physical contact is something Loki rejected for so long it became strange.
They stay like that for a while, Thor watching Loki with an odd mix of sadness and anger and Loki trying to withstand all the physiological and emotional turmoil he suffers from.
Finally, he takes a steadying breath and lifts his head. Thor meets his eye. "It still hardly excuses your being a rude jerk without compassion." His words sting, but it's nothing Loki doesn't know about himself already. He offers a tight quirk of his lips, a parody of a smile but he feels as though any other reaction would tear his cracking composure to pieces.
"Go upstairs and rest. I'll bring you some food, eat often but little, okay? I'll check around the camp and see if anything needs to be done... I'll leave after that, if you still want me to."
At this, Loki bristles and looks away. "I don't know."
Thor shrugs and gets up. Loki watches his hands as he gathers the tableware, the memory of warm fingers still fresh on his skin. Sluggishly, he gets up and waits out the vertigo that has become an inseparable element of any movement of his body. When his vision clears, he sees his own hands grasping the back of the chair and, not for the first time, takes note of their horrifying thinness and the pallor of his skin. His palms are clammy. Surely if he touched Thor, his fingers would be like worms or rotting corpse against the blonde's flesh. He loathes himself at this moment almost to the point of telling Thor to leave at once, taking the first sharp object he can reach and slicing his wrists open once again, and if that doesn't finish him off quickly enough, his throat, too. The world will be a better place without him; he will be better off without it.
Then there is that dry, strong hand on his elbow again and it feels like a rope pulling him to the surface from the cold, stiflingly dark sea of his thoughts. Another lands on his neck and straightens his slouch and Loki draws a deep breath as his chest expands with the movement. Thor looks at him, concerned.
"Can you get upstairs on your own?"
It takes Loki a heartbeat to find his voice. "Yes, of course. It's just vertigo."
Thor looks doubtful, but doesn't question. He steps aside, but only releases Loki's arm once he's made a few steady steps on his own.
He does make it to the bedroom without much trouble and settles on the bed. His eyes wander to the window, to the overcast sky, and his thoughts wander to the Odinson downstairs. The first person in years to treat him like an equal and without prejudice, at least to some extent. Loki doesn't know what to make of him.
The light breakfast has his stomach churning and his hunger, previously almost ignorable, now is beginning to consume all his attention. When Thor walks in with a tray, he is greeted with loud rumbling. The blonde smiles a little at that.
"Remember not to eat everything at once," he reminds Loki and leaves the tray within his reach. Loki nods silently in thanks.
Thor looks around, perhaps remembering the times when he lived here, and makes to leave. Loki’s voice stops him in the doorway.
He looks back at the raven-haired man. “What?”
“My name. My name is Loki.”
Thor’s expression is one of thought, and of a decision just made. Loki wonders what goes on behind those blue eyes.
The simplicity of the greeting elicits as small smile from him. “Will you stay?” he asks.
There’s a smile in Thor’s eyes. He shifts his weight and says, “I will.” Then he walks away, his steps on the wooden stairs loud in the short corridor.
Left alone, Loki first concentrates on the food. It's not much, mostly sandwiches and some tea in a thermos. Despite Thor's warning, he clears the tray within half an hour. Sated for the first time in weeks, he falls asleep.
An indiscernible length of time later he is jostled awake by the sound of a familiar engine halting. Sluggishly, he gets up and pads to the window in the studio opposite the bedroom. He sees Thor walk out of the garage with a shopping bag in one hand and tossing the keys to Loki's motorbike with the other. He grunts in annoyance and slowly starts making his way downstairs.
Thor has the decency to look sheepish when he sees him descending the stairs as he walks through the lounge and into the kitchen. “I had to get to the village for some grocery shopping. I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your ride.”
“I do, but I can’t do anything about it now, can I,” says Loki, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What needed to be bought so urgently?”
Thor deposits his bag on the large table in the middle of the spacious kitchen. “Fresh things.” He fishes out an apple, wipes it with the hem of his shirt and tosses to Loki.
“Ew.” Loki frowns with exaggeration and cleans the fruit in the sink, ignoring Thor’s rumbling laugh. He bites into the rich, sweet flesh and licks the errant trickle of juice from his fingers. It might be his long abstinence from food causing his delight, but it tastes heavenly nonetheless. With eyes almost closed, he relishes the taste.
When he looks at Thor again, he holds his own apple in his teeth while unloading the rest of the bag’s contents. There’s a variety of vegetables, from cabbage to tomatoes, and more fruits; mostly apples, some tangerines, grapes and pears, and a mix of nuts in a plastic bag. Finally, Thor pulls out a loaf of fresh bread and bites off the piece of apple he’s had in his teeth, chewing enthusiastically. An appreciative hum leaves his mouth.
“They’re good,” points out Loki, trying to avoid awkward silence with small talk.
“Idunn’s last crop,” answers Thor around another bite. “Sorry,” he mumbles when Loki shoots him an irritated glance for talking with his mouth full. After swallowing, he continues. “Probably the last of local apples we’ll see until summer. She actually gave me her last batch, although I protested. Told me to pass greetings to you, and tell you that you should come by her shop sometime. You really weren’t to the village even once?”
Loki shakes his head slowly. “I never had the need. Never supposed I would have.”
Thor looks at him with that thoughtful expression. “You would’ve liked them. They’re a kind people, maybe except Hogun, but he appears moody to everyone and at all times and is well liked all the same. You wouldn't be rejected."
“Maybe,” Loki allows, not feeling like arguing. He has met people who were supposedly kind before; all their kindness only served to make him feel pitiful and pathetic. Thor’s faith in people amazes him.
“Your attitude isn’t really inviting, you know? It would make your life easier if you were nicer.”
“Believe me, I tried. It never worked, so why bother?” Loki shrugs and sits atop the counter even as Thor sets about preparing a meal.
“You probably missed a good deal of chances to make friends, then.”
“At some point I stopped caring. Why are you so bent on running an analysis of my life choices, anyway?” asks Loki.
Thor shrugs, considering. “I don’t understand you, really. I know people who had been through hardships, but you’re different. I guess I’m intrigued, otherwise I’d be long gone, begging someone in the village to put me up through winter, even in a barn.” He catches Loki’s cold look. “Yeah, you’re that insufferable. Last night, when we first talked, I thought I’d rather walk all the way back to the city, hungry, tired and cold as I was, rather than stay and deal with you until spring.”
“Pity you didn’t,” murmurs Loki. “I guess I owe you my life.” There is no gratitude in his voice, only regret. Thor stills and looks at him, once again torn between anger and sadness.
“I kind of expected you would keep refusing to eat and try to carry your mad plan out,” he muses.
“Good for you,” says Loki and slides off the table. He walks out, tossing the core of the apple to trash on his way.
Thor sighs. “Come for dinner in about twenty minutes, okay?” he calls after Loki, but gets no response.
Meanwhile Loki curls up in a chair in the canteen, looking with unseeing eyes at the dusk falling quickly outside. He slept longer than he thought. Thor’s last comment is gnawing at his thoughts.
He feels ashamed at how quickly his resolve to starve crumbled. This was supposed to be his ultimate suicidal act. Yet, as all the times before, somebody stepped in at the last moment. The universe must hate him indeed, to keep him alive so stubbornly. Why, though, couldn’t he just die peacefully now, having picked this desolate place to ensure he’ll be dying alone and undisturbed?
Somehow, instead of making him more desperate and upset, the fact that he is still breathing and is going to in the foreseeable future eases the burden of bitterness that’s been weighing him down all his life. He realizes this situation isn’t dissimilar to all the times he’d been saved before, when the knowledge that someone cares enough to prevent his suicide made living easier for a time, and the odd elation he’s feeling will ebb away once Thor grows tired of him.
He tries to convince himself that he should stop clinging to this illusion of another’s attention, but his heart, the graceless, weak thing that against all his efforts still craves warmth, just won’t let go. Loki buries his face in his arms, folded atop his knees, and can’t help but remember the breakfast and Thor’s understanding, even if just partial. How easily he thawed the ice in Loki’s heart. How he stayed, despite Loki’s initial aggression. Were it because he thought he could relate or for the curiosity he claimed, it was truly unlike anyone else in Loki’s life to go as far as prepare meals for him unbidden.
It’s not like Loki cannot cook for himself; he simply never paid much attention to what he was eating, considering food merely a means to sustain himself. Suddenly having someone feed him out of some ill-placed, if genuine, concern for his well-being and not just duty is so ludicrous he almost chuckles.
Soon enough, Thor calls him to dinner. They sit in silence, Thor wolfing down his portion of spaghetti bolognese, Loki eating with more consideration, still wary of his stomach. When he collects their plates and goes to put them in the dishwasher, Thor seems surprised.
“You don’t need to do that,” he says.
“I’m not disabled, Thor. I can do something around myself, you really don’t need to act like my nanny.”
Thor smiles and follows Loki into the kitchen. “But you’re okay with me being your cook.”
Loki sighs as he arranges the cutlery in the machine. “you aren’t a bad one. I’ve eaten worse.”
Thor laughs. “Thank you. Are you sure it’s not your hunger making everything taste good?”
Loki allows himself a smirk. “I would know. Besides, I have yet to taste your worst. Pasta isn’t exactly hard to make.”
“So you won’t be trying to quit eating again.”
Loki looks at Thor, who watches him with a hopeful expression. He looks away and shakes his head a little. “No, I won’t.” His voice is quiet. “Unless you prepare something horrid, that is,” he adds with a half-hearted smirk that grows into a full smile as he is met once more with Thor's laugh. It sounds so natural, so easy and good-natured; Loki finds himself longing to hear it more often. He rises to his feet, having arranged everything in the dishwasher, and sways on his feet as vertigo gets him. His vision clears quickly and he takes notice of Thor's steadying hands on his shoulders. He feels awkward stepping away from him.
"So what were you up to today?” he asks.
“Checking up the campgrounds, mostly,” answers Thor. “Nothing seems to be out of order, however the fallen leaves should be gathered before the snow falls. Now that it’s dark already we better not get round to it, but tomorrow you could join me if you feel up to it.”
Loki nods, somewhat surprised with how easily Thor accepted his message that he's not helpless. "Oh good, so you got it that a sitter is the last thing I need."
"You did make that part pretty clear, yeah," says Thor, smiling. "And I'm not particularly gifted at babysitting grown men."
"Don't even try," Loki answers, "or you will be begging for shelter in the village, and I will make you swim there across the fjord."
"I'd like to see you try," teases Thor lightly.
"Oh, you wouldn't. I can get persuasive."
"I can get stubborn." Thor steps into Loki's personal space, using his mere bulk and the scant inch he has over the slighter man to make his point. Loki stiffens, made uncomfortable in such close proximity to another. Yet he'll be damned if he doesn't hold his ground.
"Says the man who let himself be driven out of his own home," he snaps. Thor's features turn into stone. He clenches his fists, but steps back and away. "Don't speak of things you know nothing about."
Loki doesn't move or say anything as the blonde walks out of the room, his stride long and shoulders tense. A few moments later the sound of the glass door leading out to the campgrounds being slammed shut reverberates through the empty space.
You knew me for a jerk, what were you expecting, thinks Loki, setting the dishwasher and heading upstairs. He settles on the bed with a book, soon forgetting the guilt nagging shyly at the edges of his conscience.
He falls asleep refusing to acknowledge Thor's absence hours later.
I can't seem to get ao3's formatting for the life of me. How do you get the first line of the paragraph to start a centimeter further to the right? ugh, nevermind. //shoots self in the foot