It’s before -- before they’re aware of their destinies, of the undercurrent of tension and competition between them, before anyone points out what actions are suitable, what is becoming of a man; it’s before that, and it’s late, long past the hours meant for sleep, yet he cannot rest, he cannot close his mind to the lessons of the day: the wonders of battle, the stories of travels, of enemies vanquished and victories taken, the glitter of the Bifröst and the inexplicable things that lie beyond: tales of the elves of Alfheim and the mortals of Midgard, and the fallen Ice Giants of dreaded Jutenheim, shamed in their defeat; and he cannot sleep, tucked tight in his bed near the window, with the heavens shining beyond; not as he is, so filled with the possibility of the universe, his heart thrumming warm beneath the blankets, as quick against his ribs as so small a chest can hold, as so young a boy can stand.
He cannot sleep, and it’s only this fact that lets him hear it, lets him notice the sudden motion, the tiny sounds: rustles at first, and then muffled little gasps, coming from across the room -- the pang of it striking hard, sore inside the furious thrum of Thor’s rapid pulse.
It’s only because he cannot sleep that he hears his brother’s sobs.
“Loki,” he whispers, goes to him and runs a hand across his brother’s forehead; Loki is always so cold, always shivering just a bit, it seems -- and Thor doesn’t understand it, because for his own part, the world is always warm; and he wonders, maybe, if it was fated, if this was destined somewhere beyond their ken to keep them close, to make it so that Thor would always be nearby to hold his brother close, and soothe his chill.
That he would always be ready to do this, as he does it now -- without hesitation, without a second thought.
“What troubles you so?” he asks, crawling into bed next to his brother, shushing the small, muted gasps.
“Niflheim,” Loki breathes against Thor’s neck as he nestles close. “What happens,” he starts, and shudders violently from head to foot, his voice dropping even lower, almost inaudible. “What happens there.”
And they’d heard the tales just that morning: dishonor and shame, flame and fear and shivering wrath. Thor had been fascinated, knowing it would never be his fate to dwell in those halls; he aches to see that his brother is not so certain, that his brother doubts himself so.
“You needn’t think on it,” Thor tells him, runs a reassuring hand up and down his brother’s arm. “Do not fear,” he breathes; “that road is not for you, brother, not for you.” And Loki trembles, so Thor speaks again, tries harder to ease him. “And though it is not for ages, still,” he tells him, feels his brother’s shaking start to fade just a bit; “ours will be Valhalla, in the end.” Of this, he is sure.
“Together?” Loki asks, breathless, and he’s so young, so fragile -- he doesn’t act this way in the daylight, under any other eyes, and Thor feels a swell of affection at what that might mean, at what trust he’s earned from his beloved brother to see him this way, to help him through these hours.
“Together,” Thor promises, holds him closer still.
And Loki, he settles: head tucked against Thor’s chest, where his heart is subdued now, saddened but certain, confident in these simple truths; and Thor folds his arms around his brother, breathes deep until sleep comes, until the small form held against him stills, steadies -- grows warm.
And they rest, together. They rest.