“You seem... subdued,” Steve says during their daily sparring session.
Thor sighs, swinging Mjolnir from one hand. “I apologize, my friend. I am not an ideal combatant today.”
Steve slings his shield on his back. “Is it Loki?”
Thor shakes his head. “No. Well, yes, always, but not specifically. He appears to be entering a period of sadness, and that does worry me.” He pauses. Midgardians have unusual ideas about the nature of fate, Thor has discovered. “I had disquieting dreams last night.”
Steve nods sympathetically. “I have those myself, from time to time. It’s pretty common for a soldier.”
“Yes.” Thor is familiar with those dreams, the ones that come after a close call or the death of a companion. He had many after his battle with Loki on the Bifrost. “For an Asgardian, you must understand, there is also the fear that the dream may be prophetic in some way.”
Steve blinks. “Wow. What was it about?”
“Loki was in danger and I could not find him.”
Steve frowns. “But it didn’t make you worry about him more than usual?”
Thor bites his lip. His friend has hit upon the crux of the matter with commendable accuracy. “He was being harmed by Asgardians, those close to me. I pleaded but they did not listen.”
Steve’s eyes widen. “What are the chances of that actually happening?”
“Slim, with the Bifrost broken,” Thor says reluctantly. “And I think that as long as Loki remains here he should be in little danger, but I do not know how matters between Asgard and Jotunheim have progressed in my absence. With the state of their realm and the death of their king they should not have the power to demand Loki’s head, but if the situation has changed it is within their rights.”
Regicide. Patricide. Attempted genocide. Attempted fratricide, Thor thinks, and feels ill. It is not only the Jotuns who may wish to see that Loki receives a punishment more severe than exile to Midgard.
Steve’s eyes narrow thoughtfully. “And as the crown prince of Asgard you have responsibilities there, so you’ll need to find a way to travel between here and there regardless of what danger it puts Loki in.”
Thor feels his shoulders slump. “As you say. When we came here, I was able to place my brother’s wellbeing over the fate of my people. I fear that the time approaches in which I will not be able to make that decision so easily.” There is also a small, selfish part of him that is eager to return to Asgard, where the customs make sense and the people act reasonably. He loves Midgard, truly he does - its people have been welcoming and its habits are amusing - but there is still a part of him that longs to return home. It feels shameful, like a betrayal, and he knows it is something he can never reveal to his brother. Mostly he tries not to think on it.
Steve puts his hand comfortingly on Thor’s shoulder. “Well, it might be a small thing, but the two of you are always welcome here and we’ll do what we can to keep you safe.”
Thor smiles, touched. “I thank you, Steve Rogers aka Captain America. It is no small thing that you offer. Now!” He claps Steve on the arm. “Enough of this talk! We will spar. Jarvis, is my brother well?”
“I am unable to answer that question, Thor,” Jarvis’ smooth voice says. “Loki is not on the premises.”
“What?” Thor demands.
“Jarvis, what do you mean?” Steve asks, alarmed.
“He left the grounds thirty-two minutes ago.”
“Do you know his destination?” Thor asks. “Was he in the company of anyone?”
“I do not know his destination. He left alone.”
“Jarvis, what was he doing right before he left?” Steve asks, already heading for the door.
“He was conversing with Mr. Stark in the laboratory.”
Thor passes Steve in the hallway and arrives at Tony’s laboratory first. He does not bother with the silly little keypad but knocks the door open wide with Mjolnir.
“What the fuck?” Tony cries. He is clad in half of his armor and there are wires trailing from his breastplate to a computer console. They tangle and spark when Thor knocks him back against the table and presses Mjolnir to his throat.
“What did you say to Loki?” he demands. “What did you do to my brother?”
“Hell you talking about?” Tony says, choking. “I didn’t say anything!”
Steve wedges his shield between Thor and Tony and uses it to lever Thor back. “Thor, calm down and back up!”
“He - “
Thor complies reluctantly, Mjolnir held ready.
Steve interposes himself between the two of them, glaring at Thor. “Tony, Loki’s disappeared. Jarvis said he was down here talking to you right before he left. Did he say anything?”
Tony’s expression of ire fades into concern. “No - we were talking shop, it wasn’t anything weird. He wandered off afterwards, like he does. He didn’t raise any warning flags.” Tony turns to his collection of glowing screens and begins making quick gestures at them. “Jarvis, what direction did he head?”
“He departed from the south entrance, sir,” Jarvis says. “My surveillance ends there.”
“Okay,” Tony says, brow furrowed in concentration. “I can hack some security cameras, but it’ll take a minute.”
Steve nods decisively. “Thor and I will head out on foot. Let us know when you have something.”
They split up on the street, Thor going left and Steve going right. Thor’s heart pounds in his chest. Why had he not kept a closer watch on Loki? He had known his brother was feeling despondent. Why had he ever thought that a disembodied voice in the ceiling was enough to keep his brother safe? How prideful of him, to think that he had fixed his brother and all would be well. How selfish, to spend his time complaining about his separation from home while his brother was in danger. The city is fast and hard and vast - there are a multitude of ways in which Loki can come to harm, both deliberately and accidentally.
“Got him,” Tony’s voice says in his ear. “Thor, take a left at the next corner. He looks like he’s okay.”
Thor sprints to the corner. Sure enough, Loki is walking calmly along the sidewalk, holding an armful of books. He grunts in surprise when Thor embraces him fiercely.
“Thor, what is the matter?” Loki says. Thor cannot answer - he is too busy ensuring that his brother is safe. He cradles Loki close - he is warm and alive, his heart beating steadily.
“Thor, has something happened? Are you all right?”
“I could not find you,” Thor chokes. Abruptly, he remembers that Tony and Steve are still in communication. “Steve, he is unharmed. Tony, thank you for your aid - I apologize for my violence.”
“Violence?” Loki says, startled. “Thor, what did you do to Tony?”
“Give me fifteen minutes with Mjolnir and some diagnostic equipment and we’re even,” Tony says immediately. “Tell Loki he’s a jerk for making us worry.” The communication cuts off.
“Tony says you are a jerk,” Thor repeats obediently. They share a moment of silent bewilderment at Midgardian terms of endearment.
Thor knows he should release his brother, but he cannot quite manage to. Loki’s arm is caught between them in a manner that must be uncomfortable, and his books are digging into Thor’s chest.
Loki edges them over to a nearby bench and makes Thor sit down. Whether it is to force Thor to release him or because Thor’s knees are suddenly weak with relief Thor does not know, but he is grateful. Loki puts down the books between them.
“I apologize for causing you worry,” he says stiffly.
Thor nods. “Why did you leave, brother?” he asks, trying not to sound plaintive.
Loki pats the stack of books. “Bruce recommended these to me. I felt restless and went to find the library.”
Thor gives a half-hysterical little laugh. Tony had not even been involved in this fiasco. Of course. He picks up the top book.
“The Lord of the Rings? Is it a magical tome?”
Loki shakes his head. “It is a fictional tale - the fantasy of a Midgardian author. Bruce’s description made it sound very intriguing. I am sorry to have caused you distress,” he adds, looking at Thor sidelong. “It was not my intent.”
“I am sorry for my overreaction,” Thor responds in kind. “The last few days you have seemed so low, brother, I began to worry. When Jarvis said you were gone I feared the worst.”
Loki looks away. “I... have been unhappy,” he concedes.
Thor reaches over and takes hold of Loki’s hand. “Brother, please, for my own peace of mind - and for the state of the mansion’s furnishings,” he adds, remembering Tony’s door, “will you promise me to take no drastic actions? Will you promise that no harm shall befall you by your own hand?”
Loki’s hand clenches in his own. He becomes very still. “I... cannot,” he says slowly. “I do not feel... at the moment I...” he shakes his head, frustrated. “I cannot promise the future,” he says finally. “No one can.”
Thor nods, disappointed.
“I can promise,” Loki says slowly, “that if I begin to feel... if I begin to see that the only solution to my problem is a final one, I can promise to make a sincere attempt to seek you out beforehand.”
It is the best he can hope for, Thor knows, and for his slippery brother to make even such a half-oath is more than he was honestly expecting. “I thank you, brother.”
“Now,” Loki says gathering up his books with a decisive air. “Let us return to the mansion and, I suspect, attempt to repair it.”