Chapter 1: Asunder
The final judgement, as decreed by Odin and the high court, had been permanent banishment, the revoking of all titles, but most importantly, the extortion of his magic. And as Gungnir’s end struck the hall’s gilded floor and the sound reverberated throughout, Loki had but a moment to brace himself.
The pain becomes a slow and steady build as he feels the strands of his magic being shredded from every fibre of his being, the acquired and innate. It feels as if the threads are forced to unravel from their ties to his blood, his heritage. He’s not sure whether or not he should be grateful that they removed the gag so that he could scream freely, straining against the chains. At the same time he resents the fact that anyone should hear his distress at all. His magic bleeds out, tendril by tendril to gather in Gungnir’s own.
When the very last thin wisp leaves his body, Loki sags against the bonds. The guards remove the chains and he nearly collapses on the floor; he’s harmless now. Mortal. Loki spares a moment’s glance upward at Odin, summoning the last of his strength into a glare so vitriol and poisonous – green demanding the return of that which was just stolen, millennia of magic that was his by royal birthright all taken for Odin’s own purposes in an instant. Nothing but a thief and a liar.
However, the glare doesn’t have nearly the effect he’d like, being dishevelled and on bended knees, panting for breath. Loki hates that he’s been reduced to this, as well as being made a spectacle.
Thor has a tight grip on Mjolnir – so much so that his knuckles are white. He looks all tension and taut muscle, eyes going back and forth between the two, trying to decide whether or not to step out and defy his father in court to defend Loki. Not that it’ll make any difference now. Before he can open his mouth to say anything Odin commands for the immediate commencement of Loki’s exile and the guards heft Loki up by the arms, leading him towards the Bifrost. Another strike from Gungnir and the court is dismissed with the rustling of robes and murmurs of gossip on tongue tips.
When it’s only the remaining royal family, Thor shouts “Father please, you cannot leave him like that. Reconsider him if only on my behalf!”
Odin takes a deep breath before sitting back on the throne, and when he opens his eye, his gaze is glazed, staring at a point past Thor and at the doors that closed behind Loki’s heels.
“The council’s decision is final Thor, and had it been up to them, Loki would be facing far worse. As is, he is no longer a threat to any of the realms.”
“You know not of what this will do to him father. He is still your son; surely you can find a way!” Thor implores.
As if finally noticing him, Odin turns his stare. Blue on blue. “I, and therefore Asgard by extension, have only one son now.”
To the side, Frigga lets out a gentle sob. Thor shakes his head in disbelief and turns away, running for the set of doors and ready to chase after Loki in the sweep of a cape, Mjolnir humming in his grip to the hot rush of his blood.
Thanks to Mjolnir’s gift of granting flight, Thor catches up to the guards in no time. They reach the repaired end of the Bifrost at Heimdall’s new observatory due to the unlimited forging power of the Tesseract. Heimdall only stares at him with the ever-present intensity before Thor asks “Where will you send him?”
“It matters not.”
“Then take us to Midgard.”
Heimdall’s eyes narrow slightly at the insinuation of the word ‘us’ in a manner scrutinizing and searching. “Odin would not approve.”
“My father need not know.”
Heimdall’s expression is unrelenting.
“Please. I just need to make sure he’s safe and…a farewell.”
The gatekeeper solemnly closes his eyes, and gives a moment’s pause before replying “Be brief.”
Thor gives a nod in quiet thanks and turns back to the guards holding his brother, dismissing them. Loki, for his part looks even worse for wear than he had been in the hall. He’s drenched in cold sweat and can barely keep his balance on his feet without slightly swaying.
He gives a bitter laugh, “Come to witness my shame have you now Thor? I never thought you the vindictive sort, but I suppose this makes a rare sight. Revel in it while you can.” but the words lack their usual bite.
Thor reaches out to try and steady him out of concern only for Loki to wrench his arm away as if Thor’s touch burned, but not before Thor noticed how clammy Loki’s skin had become.
He leads himself to the dais stubbornly with Thor standing in front of him. Loki casts a final glance at the golden city and Asgard’s spires before both of them are sent shooting across the stars.
Thor manages a steady landing on two feet firmly planted in a familiar desert. The force of the impact however, as well as the speed of launching sends Loki to his knees, one arm held out against the ground with the other clutching around his side. This time when Thor moves to steady him, Loki has not the energy to refuse it.
“You…should not have come…”
Thor’s injured look is the last thing Loki sees before he succumbs to unconsciousness.
Chapter 2: Charred
“Well, from what you’ve told me, chances are his body is in shock. I’m not too certain on the possibilities since it’s magic we’re dealing with, and not something like nutrition, but travelling through the Bifrost likely made it worse.”
“What happens now?”
“His vitals are stable. We can’t administer dosages of magic like one can with medication, but at the same time magic isn’t essential to bodily functions either. Mostly it’s probably just that his body needs to adjust to the sudden change. Give him some time.”
Thor has to remind himself how frail mortals are. It’s fortunate that S.H.I.E.L.D. had that particular spot under surveillance for whenever he makes unannounced landings. Thus, within minutes, they’d been surrounded by black vehicles, agents armed, and Nick Fury’s unamused expression.
Thor gave his own of “Help him now; ask questions later.”
Bruce Banner had also been on hand. Just in case. However, Hippocratic oaths took precedence and, well, it doesn’t hurt to have a Thunder god indebted to you.
“If I had not come with him…” Thor says with a worried tone.
Bruce only replies methodically. “Maybe that was the intention.”
Thor frowns at that.
They stare behind the glass to where Loki lies as any regular patient, surrounded by monitors and wired up to machines. The blips and beeps in accordance to their patterns and rhythms, supposedly an indication of stability. Thor desperately wants to go in but the door’s bolted shut. Not before Fury gets his answers first then. For now, he’ll have to settle for leaning against the screen.
Once Fury is updated, the lock on the door is disenabled, but the security cameras are still in place. The assurance of Loki’s benign condition assuages the need for forceful security, but not watchful paranoia. Thor thinks that maybe Fury does have grounds – he wouldn’t be surprised if Loki broke out anyway. Somehow. Thor decides he’s not taking any chances; he’ll stay here for as long as it takes until his brother wakes up.
The good doctor comes in to periodically check on Loki’s progress and to make adjustments – Thor turns his head in acknowledgement.
“How long can gods go without sleep anyway?”
Thor just looks at him questioningly.
“I mean, it’s understandable that you’re concerned, but you look like you could use it.” He proceeds to hand him a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
The contradiction in his statement and actions being that his scientific nature wants to observe how long a god can last without sleep, yet his humanity knows better than to risk it. Heaven forbid Thor brings down some sort of rainy season in his fretting, and in a desert of all places. In conclusion, it’s all about as paradoxical as decaffeinated coffee itself.
A few minutes pass in silence as Thor just holds the offering while Banner makes notes and a few injections. Eventually, Thor decides it’d be rude to not sample the beverage even though he’s not thirsty. “This drink, I…like it?” Though, it leaves a funny aftertaste.
Bruce just gives him a small quirk of a smile, “It’s an acquired taste.”
The days pass like that. Thor stays by Loki’s bedside, restless, and Bruce brings in a few cups of coffee now and then. He adjusts the amount of caffeine in each just to see if it has an effect – only for his mild curiosity of course. Nothing changes. Thor sits in constant vigilance and Loki simply sleeps.
Thor can’t remember a time where Loki’s ever been this vulnerable, if Loki’s ever been this vulnerable. He concentrates on the rise and fall of his chest and listens to the steady tone of the heart monitor.
Bruce thinks maybe he should bring in a magazine.
A week later and Tony Stark has been called to the base too. He coaxes Thor out to give him the full story – they’ve all been wondering about the consequences Loki would have faced in Asgard anyway, and besides, the guy looks like he could use a distraction. Tony was sure he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open, gaze fixated on Loki’s figure like that, unblinking.
“So, that was the verdict huh?”
Thor just crosses his arms and his brow furrows, “I had not expected that the outcome would be this severe.”
Tony just throws Bruce a quick glance. From where he’s standing, Loki being unable to trash any more of his suits is perfectly fine on his watch. He internally winces at the fact that repairs to Stark tower are still not completely finished. “Cheer up buddy, life on Earth, or ‘Midgard’ as you call it, isn’t so bad.” throwing up air quotes.
“I worry about his predicament. Father’s displeasure is not to be taken lightly, and he has never broken an oath made in front of court. I can foresee no immediate way out of this.”
Meanwhile, trust Thor to be away in the instance that he had been waiting for.
Loki wishes he still had his magic just to silence whatever contraption is making that infuriatingly repetitive beeping noise. Granted, doing it with his own hands would be even better, but right now his muscles are stiff and sore.
His magic…Despite knowing of its absence, Loki can’t help but make an effort to call for it, a stirring of magical signature, anything.
All he senses now are the frayed ends of what was once an aspect intricately woven into his very essence. Loki almost wishes he didn’t wake up, and to an observer, he hasn’t. He’s long since discovered that feigning slumber in situations such as these can give him the time required to gather information of his surroundings and condition. Though, it would seem that he is in no immediate danger. He’s not bound physically by restraints; the environment seems sterile and unthreatening; he’s dressed in something other than his Asgardian regalia – which is disconcerting but not alarming…he is, however, dreadfully thirsty.
Then there’s the sound of a figure coming in through automated doors. Thor. There’s no mistaking his gait.
Loki opens his eyes, “So much for being brief.”
Thor visibly perks up, “Brother,” managing to cram concern, relief, surprise, and happiness into one word. Loki makes note to remember the sound.
“How are you faring?”
Loki darts his eyes to the side where a number of cups are strewn about on a table. Thor doesn’t get the cue.
He rolls his eyes, “Water.”
Thor hastily complies, and Loki enjoys watching him scramble.
He sets a cup of water on the table beside and goes off to call for doctor Banner. Loki awkwardly manages himself into an upright sitting position before taking a sip. Then he brings a hand out in front of him, turning it slowly. He tries vocally reciting spells, making gestures in the air, attempts to call on anything elemental, experiments with the water in his cup, and strives to manipulate it into freezing.
Frustrated, he downs the rest in one motion and crushes the styrofoam in his grip, face impassive.
Dr. Banner makes the rest of the compulsory administrations and brings a change of clothes (simple muted coloured dress shirt and dark pants) before stating that Loki is well enough to be on his way. Whatever that way may be, which no one seems to be able to address. Loki for his part stays quiet throughout the procedure. Thor can almost visualize the cognitive cogs turning in his mind, evaluating and processing. Even without his sorcery, Loki is still a formidable intellect.
Bruce gives a final glance at the two before nodding and making his exit. The two are alone together again.
“You never did answer me on how you were faring, Loki.”
“How do you think?” he snarls, but Thor knows that it’s just his injured pride talking. Loki would do anything to lick his wounds in the dark.
“Please. Brother listen, just let me help you. We can manage temporary accommodations until your return to Asgard. These people, you can trust them.”
At that, Loki turns sharply. “Return? You heard the Allfather’s words. Unlike that mock exile he put you through, Odin has no intentions of me ever setting foot in that realm again. My own magic stolen, sealed away in Gungnir’s power. Just how much, and of how many others do you suppose that staff’s harboured?”
Thor refuses to accept Loki’s logic, “When I am king, Gungnir would be mine to command. Just…wait for me. This won’t last; the people’s anger, it’ll pass. As all things do.”
Loki just looks at Thor sadly, disbelief in his naiveté. “It won’t. Any truce is likely conditional upon this ban. If you are to be king, your first act – or any act, for that matter – cannot be to jeopardize that.”
He turns away from Thor’s look of dismay.
“Go back to Asgard Thor. Forget you ever had a brother. You never did anyway, not really.”
Thor looks like he wants to further challenge that argument, but Loki’s tone leaves no room for reply. He doesn’t know what he can say that he hasn’t said already, and he doubts repeating them would make a difference. Loki takes the opportunity to leave.
He makes only a few turns before security is on him and Nick Fury is blocking the hallway. “And where do you suppose you’re going?”
Loki just smiles to exasperate, “I was informed that I was discharged.”
“You leave when I say you leave.”
“Just as well; I was counting on your cooperation anyway.”
Suddenly the situation is back in Loki’s hands and Fury couldn’t look more peeved. By all means he should be the one in charge, “Let’s discuss this somewhere else.” and he beckons for Loki to follow at the gunpoint of agents.
He’s led to an interrogation room with walls of glass that he knows is a one way view. Ms. Romanoff is already waiting, but a signal from Fury sends her outside. She locks the door behind her, but not before throwing a penetrating look at Loki; the click is unlike the sound of a gunshot, yet carries the same finality. He knows she’ll be watching this conversation.
Loki ignores the offered seat “Now what is that mundane Midgardian expression? ‘Cards on the table’ I believe.”
Fury crosses his arms, “Right now, you are in a fortified compound, under S.H.I.E.L.D. surveillance. Any items or tools of escape have been confiscated from you and until I have an idea of what you are doing back here on god’s green earth, I will continue to keep you in confinement until I am sure of your motives. Are we clear?”
Loki gives a petulant wave of his hand and leans backward on the wall. “Aegis and money. That is what I will require from you if I am to make it in this world.”
Fury looks taken back for a moment, before giving a snort. “What makes you think you’re in a position to be making demands?”
“Because I am the only being with the information that you so pitifully lack and desperately seek.”
“Unless you want to be at a continuous disadvantage to the universe and nine realms, you’ll be wise and accept my resources. There are worlds out there you have never even seen let alone begin to fathom, that I have, and I know everything to a greater degree of detail than what my brother’s limited knowledge may offer.”
“What makes you think we can’t just torture it out of you?”
“If you do, you’ll incur the wrath of my brother and lose the favourable gain there is to having him on your side.”
“How do we know you’ll be telling us the truth then?”
Loki’s eyes glint mischievously. “You’re just going to have to take that risk.”
Fury pins him with a stare that warns not to push any more buttons.
“As my brother has no doubt informed you by now, my abilities have been stripped from me. I can be of no further threat to you or your planet. In return, all I request is the protection I require and the monetary means to make a…comfortable living, as well as anything else that may be necessary for societal operations.” drawing out all the syllables in the word comfortable as he possibly can.
“You’ll allow us to monitor you for a decade at least – more if we deem so, and that you’ll answer back to us whenever we have questions then.”
Fury continues to glare across from Loki for a good solid, minute before he relents, “Agreed.”
“Let’s begin with the Chitauri then.”
The recordings and discussions take nearly another week and a half of Loki mapping out the cosmos on star charts, pointing out the truths and discrepancies in faulty Norse mythological anthologies, creating a history and timeline of the realms and their relations, revealing the different races of the universe, their cultures and customs, naming potentially powerful foes…etc. Some of it is nonfactual, but they won’t know, he’s getting paid by the word after all, and for the most part, it is true. In this way, Loki bleeds out all the stars’ secrets, drop by precious drop.
J.A.R.V.I.S. takes care to organize all recordings into top secret data base folders and files. Implements the security to that info and analyzes all relevant data to be used in cross referencing.
Sometimes Bruce Banner and Tony Stark sit in to make quips and inquiries, ever rapt in their scientific curiosity. In a way, Loki almost enjoys the attention he’s receiving – the three of them have come to a silent understanding on the arcane intelligence he shares. He occasionally needs to backtrack and explain points in more common terms, but at least he doesn’t have to be reduced to spelling it out and spoon feeding them. Thor never joins, though, Loki thinks the educational lecture would do him well, but maybe Thor is uncomfortable about the political secrets that Loki so casually spills. However, Loki then walks by him snoring on a couch one afternoon for who knows how long.
By the time he’s done, his silver tongue is tied and tired, leaden and heavy in his mouth.
S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps their end of the bargain – preparing a valid ID, historical records, birth certificate, and most importantly, a generous bank balance. Loki will never have to work a day in his life.
When Loki leaves, he makes a considerable dent on Fury’s budget.
Chapter 3: Aureate
For all that Loki is well adept to venture into Midgardian conformity, the multitude of choices and options leaves him mildly bemused. The speed of which this has all come to pass so suddenly, contributes. He thinks back to when conquering this realm seemed like such an effortlessly attainable likelihood and has to question what he ever planned to do afterwards when he had his way. Reminded of the chaos and destruction he wrought upon a certain city not so long ago, he supposes that New York, as always, is as good of a place as any to start.
The Big Apple remains slightly jostled in Midtown Manhattan where the invasion, months ago, left considerable property damage, considerable being a gross understatement. However, the cleanup that had gone underway cleared all the rubble and debris off the streets, and most traffic venues and shops had opened and returned to business. Overall, the city was well recovered for catastrophe of that calibre. It was mostly the skyscrapers that took the brunt of the destruction, and even those were almost finished with repairs and maintenance. New York would be brand new and shining again in a few weeks with the addition of a memorial to commemorate the fallen. He walks past it without batting an eye.
Loki for the most part stays inconspicuous enough to the best of his ability while still a good measure taller than most; he meanders along with the hurried flow of pedestrians, betraying nothing of his limited experiences here, except for the darting of his eyes every which where to take in the onset of information and sights: commercial posters, billboard ads, traffic lights, subway transit maps…etc. All of this becomes filed away into compartments of mental storage for further elaboration and usage.
And if anyone ever hesitated for a moment to stare, wondering if his face was similar to the semblance of a chaotic god that made headlines and news reports, then the lack of a villainous horned helmet and the banal clothing was enough to send them on their way again. Humans, Loki thinks, are so pathetically endearing, in the same way that Thor’s stupidity is too.
Still, after a fair number of fleeting glances that catch Loki’s eye, he decides not to take any chances and walks into a barber’s shop, considering his options in a number of magazines which he gives a cursory glance over. If he truly wanted to render himself transformed, he could dye his hair blond, go curly even. Then he decides that they’re not worth the effort and settles for a trim instead – to what it used to be. And it should be enough. He thinks.
Then, he continues on, with no particular destination in mind, and not at all concerned so. At the end of the day, he walks to what appears to be one of the more lofty districts, decides that the area would be suitable for temporary lodgings, selects one of the highest buildings he sees, and enters. The realtor woman gives an indiscreet look down his person and back up, obviously skeptical. Loki makes a mental note to rectify his less than refined attire for later.
“If you’re through.” he drawls, unappreciative of her lack of tact. It’s the same tone he used on Thor and his friends when they tested his patience – which was often. She blushes in embarrassment.
In the end, she’s happy enough when he casually writes her a cheque for the condo on the topmost floor, fully furnished, and with a generous view of the New York skyline. It’s nowhere as ostentatious as his quarters in Asgard – spartan really, but one must make do with the compromise and it’ll suffice for now. Hotel nights have gotten rather stale for his tastes.
Loki lies awake that evening considering his plight. It’s not what Odin intended he’s sure, but to Hel if he’ll give him the satisfaction of withering away into obscurity. Still…in the late hours of the night, when the best he can manage are catnaps, he’ll find himself searching within for any filament of his magic.
Unsurprisingly, for the bigger part of his life, Loki has found refuge in books the way Thor found refuge at the bottom of his mead chalice. Loki sees no reason why it should be any different on Midgard and so he finds himself at the local library. He’s pleased that the topics pertaining to this realm are readily available and available so in vast quantities, and thus he wastes no time immersing himself in all that the knowledge has to offer.
The result is one of alarming captivation. It really would not have been surprising if Loki disappeared into the book itself – between the lines of text, and into the letter ink. Instead, the closest he gets to such is having his nose planted between the covers, a posture he wouldn’t be caught dead in back on Asgard, but there’s no need to worry about reputation here.
Eventually he has to acknowledge his aching stomach and the crick in his neck. He bookmarks the section he was on, closes the tome, and tilts his head back, stretching the pale column of his neck along with it. When he turns back, there are still four piles left to go for various subjects. He gives an inward groan and there’s a building pressure behind his eyes, and so he closes them for a short while, where a dreaming memory awaits.
Before when they were young, inseparable, and still shared a room, Frigga used to read them bedtime stories – stories of quests and conquests, knights and their ladies fair, kings and queens.
While Thor would listen, Loki actually followed along with the words on the page. Subsequently, Loki learned how to read before Thor did, despite him being the younger, and on the nights their mother could not be available, Loki would do the reading for both of them instead.
Once when Frigga walked in on them, she smiled and hugged Loki close, promising to show him something special. The next day after breakfast, she brought him to the private royal library, which had previously been denied to them because of the precious texts that weren’t trusted to the likes of children. Loki had felt so privileged.
The library was domed, ceiling shaped like the sun, with rays diverging from the centre and merging downwards to figures carved onto columns shaped into Valkyries. “And it’s all yours Loki.” she had said.
For the first while, he had refused to leave its confines and had to have meals brought to him. So absorbed, he had spent less and less time with Thor, and soon enough, grew out of the battle glory tales that Frigga had read about altogether. Thor, to Loki’s disappointment, never took any interest on the scholarly path, and instead became determined to create adventures of his own that would be passed down in lore and legend.
Someone was shaking him gently – he had fallen asleep ensconced in the armchair. Jolting awake, he noticed that there were no longer any surrounding readers and the light outside had already dimmed.
“Sir, you’ll have to leave soon, the library will be closing shortly.”
“But…,” motioning towards the remaining piles and to those that knew him, they would have heard the child in his voice. Though to her credit, at least the librarian seemed to notice his reluctance.
The lady tilts her head slightly in a coy manner, the thick rimmed glasses magnifying the expression. “In that case, would you like a library card?”
With a new library card and a stack of books in arms, Loki slowly made his way back. How convenient these Midgardians managed to make life for themselves.
He ends up trekking daily trips to and fro, learning at a voracious pace: historical eras, atlases, encyclopaedias, human biology, Newtonian physics, Shakespeare, technological advancements of the 21st century, politics, French 101, renaissance art, roman empire, Greek mythology, world religions, meteorology, Darwin…etc, everything down to the latest issues of fashion magazines so that he knows the appropriate clothing style to purchase. His determinism to read everything there is to read, and anything worth reading is met with a fervor that hasn’t been matched since his earliest studies.
Every once in a while he needs to take into the considerations of his mortal state and remind himself of the basic necessities such as eating and sleeping in order to sustain his health. If there’s one thing he regrets about Midgard, it’s that there are no longer any servants so readily on hand. Instead he has to go out of his way to restaurants – and not that the food isn’t pleasing; it’s simply just that Loki doesn’t want to spare the time while he could be learning.
I could always learn how to cook then. Might as well.
And so cookbooks get added to the list, everything from baked goods to Asian cuisine and culinary art.
His once orderly residence becomes a curious gathering for books that are randomly strewn about as the range of topics themselves. The rooms never become outright messy – mind you, for there is a limit to the number of volumes one can borrow at a time – but it’s the sort of organized clutter that’s catalogued by a zealous.
The next few days pass in this fashion before exhaustion and loss of focus threatens to hinder his progress. Sometimes he’ll fall asleep on the couch, finger wedged between the covers, keeping place.
Loki sighs and puts down the volume of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He can tell he’s overexerted his body again; he’s still unaccustomed to the limitations humans are so susceptible to, and rubs the spot between his eyes, on the bridge of his nose. He’ll need to slow down at this rate, or else risk getting glasses.
Instead, he lounges on the black leather sofa, a hand in his hair, and looks out of the giant panelled windows to the city sunset. Then he slowly gets up, and walks right up to the pane, observes the world stretched out below and of its inhabitants. He watches as they go about their lives the best they can, the only way they can: forward.
The way he perceives Midgard is still that of a god – of one who is above them. Literally speaking at a standpoint, he is, given the height of the edifice he resides in. It takes a great deal of constant reminder that he’s technically no different now though, no matter how often he subconsciously reaches for his sorcery or how imperious his upbringing and mindset. It’ll take time for him to truly accept matters.
The sinking sun sets the scene resplendent; the reflective glass of buildings and skyscrapers sets the city shining. The image, Loki thinks, is not unlike Asgard’s golden glory and certainly isn’t helping.
Suddenly there comes a knocking that brings him out of his reverie – brusque yet heavy and Loki knows; he should’ve expected no less after all, but still…
He gives a moment’s pause, contemplating ignoring the door altogether, yet logically he knows it’ll just prolong the knocking because he was never accustomed to being refused and can be damn persistent when he wanted. There’s also the possibility of his impatience bringing down the door altogether, which is something Loki is not up for.
And so he retreats from the glass and leisurely goes.
“You should not have come.” is how he greets him when he opens the door.
Thank you all for those of you that are still reading, and an especially kind thank you to those that left comments and kudos. It means a lot, truly. ♥ Anyway, as always, comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed.
Chapter 4: Equilibrium
I believe at this point I've met my own personal quota for this work in terms of reviews and kudos, and of course, I am ever so grateful. This was really initially a side project to test the waters, but now I consider it as something I'd like to see through to the end, and to see it through well. I can't declare myself an experienced writer, only an avid reader, so don't hesitate to ever drop a comment, opinion, or a critique, because this story belongs to the readers as about as much as it belongs to me, and I'd like to consider all the inputs on everyone's behalf.
Not the first thing Thor expected to hear out of Loki’s mouth, but in all fairness, a hug and an exclaimed greeting was an occurrence that, the likes of which, was nigh improbable. In actuality, Thor had no idea what to expect – hadn’t thought that far. At the time, the most urgent matter on his mind was to get to where his brother was.
“They would not release your whereabouts to me until I could confirm all the knowledge you revealed.” Some of which ended up being news to Thor, but he told them what they wanted to hear in order to speed up the process. He doesn’t consider it lying if you don’t know the truth yourself. When they were finished, Nick Fury wrote down an address and Thor, Bruce, and Tony flew back to New York in his private jet.
Now he’s here, trusty Mjolnir in one hand, and with absolutely no idea what it is he came here for to begin with. It wasn’t the worry that Loki couldn’t handle himself on Midgard because Fury had assured him with a snort that Loki would be ‘Just. Fine.’ and it’s definitely not the hope that Loki would be missing his big brother, since his last words to him had made that perfectly clear.
The truth is Thor doesn’t want to part ways, doesn’t want to go back to Asgard without…some kind of resolution. It’s just that Thor doesn’t know how to justify this in words to the expectant expression on Loki’s face, the one that’s demanding why with a glower, and he certainly doesn’t know if he’ll ever be granted said resolution.
Instead, he settles for simply: “Can I…can I come in?” eyes downcast.
Can I come home?
Loki knows he can end matters here. All he has to do is shut the door in Thor’s face. Unfortunately, his question is in the exact same tone that Loki remembers from whence this mess began, and it’s enough to make him falter. He’s so very tired from needing to repel the constant oppressive force that is known as Thor’s “brotherly love” and can sense that the headache he had earlier is coming back full force.
Thor likely also has nowhere else to go while not being at the transport spot in New Mexico or with the supervision of S.H.I.E.L.D. If Loki turns him away now, it won’t be three blocks before Thor becomes lost, distracted within the metropolis, or run over by New York traffic, and then the consequences of those are so readily potent that chances are it’ll be all three in that sequence.
It seems either way, Loki loses. But at least this way it’s damage control, so he turns back with a begrudged look, lips thin.
The lack of a verbal reply, but not an outright rejection, has Thor tentatively placing a foot forward. When he hasn’t been refused Thor then braves more steps to make it through the entrance and closes the door.
He considers the surrounding establishment, impressed that Loki managed to curb the situation to his advantage so much in such a short period. The style of the condo is sparsely elegant, the appliances and furniture sleek and modern. And of course, it’s not Loki’s abode without a generous helping of books.
“Tender to yourself. I’m going to sleep.” and Loki leaves through another door. Thor is genuinely surprised at the slight tone of weariness he detects, and doesn’t push matters. He knows he’s lucky enough to have gotten this far already.
Not knowing anything else to occupy his interests with, and not seeing any other option, Thor takes to the couch and let’s his eyelids droop with the sun’s descent, winking out behind the city skyline.
The next day has Loki quick to rise; Thor catches a glance between morning ablutions, hair wet and a towel around his waist. It suddenly comes to his realization that Loki’s hair is short again and the candid image has him reminded with painful nostalgia of the brother he would so desperately have back if he could.
Breakfast follows in awkward silence. Loki reads “Baked Goodies from A-Z” while nursing a steaming cup of tea. Thor gives a poorly disguised attempt to clear his throat before asking if he has any coffee. Loki in response gives no indication of having heard except to slowly shift his eyes from the book, to Thor’s face, and back to the book. Subtext: No. It’s so intimidating that Thor avoids asking anymore questions or making any attempts at conversation.
There’s a small internal sigh of relief when Loki leaves.
Loki walks out onto the streets, taking advantage of the cool morning air. After a proper night’s sleep, he’s regretting the decision regarding Thor already. However, for Loki, the solution is simple. Thor will be unwilling to leave him alone until he can put at ease any anxieties pertaining to his exile. Until then, all Loki has to do is avoid getting into any mortal harm, prove himself perfectly capable of life on Midgard, acknowledge Thor’s existence as little as possible – with the exception of feeding the lout, and make his stay as awkward and boring as can be. Thor’s undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder should eventually prompt him to return to Asgard, all in due time. Loki estimates maybe a week, give or take.
The small-print in that thought process being ‘feeding the lout.’ He rolls his eyes. Allfather above, the task will prove to be difficult.
Thus, the predicament has him at the market, buying all the ingredients for an apple pie on top of regular groceries. Because apple pie was the first on the index of “Baked Goodies from A-Z” and Loki has never had anything such as pie before. The apples in Asgard are consumed in their natural form.
Speaking of apples, the ones on Midgard certainly come in a variety of colours and tastes. Colours range from red, to yellow, to green, and tastes range from sweet to tart. The red ones are called Red Delicious, the yellow ones are called Golden Delicious, and the green ones are called…Granny Smith. Loki raises an elegant eyebrow at that.
However, he quickly discovers that there’s a spectrum of names just as colourful: Cox’s Orange Pippin, Orleans Rinette, Calville Blanc, Spitzenburg, Ashmead’s Kernel, Golden Russet, Arkansas Black, Northern Spy…etc.
What absurd names.
He pauses at the Golden Russets though. In truth the sheen is more tawny than it is golden. Idunn would be appalled. But the semblance is much closer than the Golden Delicious types, which are outright yellow. Loki buys them for the small comforting familiarity that he can get.
Travelling back, he takes several detours from the most efficient route. He has to make sure Thor’s sufficiently bored after all.
Meanwhile, Thor thinks that for someone as interesting as Loki, he sure hadn’t expected him to be such a dull host. Loki doesn’t have many belongings yet, not that Thor had been driven to the point of sifting through them, the fridge’s contents are paltry, and even the tea is bland.
The only thing Loki does have, Thor acknowledges dourly, are books. Yet none of the topics are anything he has a care for, and now even less so since they aren’t Asgardian related. On his honour though, Thor really does try to take an interest into Loki’s research, truly. Sadly, ten pages through of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” is about as long as he can last.
When Loki returns, he walks right past Thor’s graceless, snoring figure on the couch and steps into the kitchen. He takes the Golden Russets out, skins and slices them easily into perfectly identical pieces.
After a few hours, Thor’s stirred from slumber by the smell of cinnamon, pie crust, and apples. He hasn’t had a satisfactory meal for a few nights now and thinks that whatever Loki’s baking will make up for everything else. He ambles into the kitchen area with a moronic grin, hand smoothing out his rumpled hair.
Loki’s in the process of putting on oven mitts. There’s a smidgen of flour in his hair, above his ear, and Thor’s tempted to brush it off but knows better than to try. Instead, he savours the sight of Loki like this, thinking that perhaps domestic life on Midgard won’t be so ill-suited to him after all.
He takes the pie out and leaves it on the counter to cool, then sets about for cleanup. The picture is somewhat peculiar with a stark and minimalistic backdrop, since pies are meant to be out on the windows of summer cottages, and not in a modern kitchen of a condominium seventy floors up.
Of course, the atypicality is lost on the two and Thor figures he should really help since he’s taken no part in the making. So even though the image is unsightly of a future king, and the task beneath him, Thor gets a cloth and starts cleaning the area of dough and flour. Loki lets him do this because in all honesty, cleaning is his most loathed part of cooking. Besides, it’s a cloth; and even Thor can’t break anything with that.
The smell of apple pie, Loki notes, is quite aromatic and lovely. He’s never had any before, but the scent triggers a memory of warmth, summer, and gardens.
When the pie is cool enough, Loki pours two long glasses of milk and slices a piece for himself, about one eighth of a portion, and then leaves the rest to Thor. The crust is slightly burnt at the edges, the dough lattice uneven after baking, and the filling watered down. Thor finishes it all with the same stupid grin on his face. The meal is as wordless as ever, but the silence between isn’t as stifling and every so often, he’d catch Thor staring at some point to the side of his head, above his ear.
Loki of course, finishes sooner, and then returns to disregarding Thor’s presence. The atmosphere would have been cold if it weren’t so filled with baked warmth. It’s not the mood that Loki’s trying to establish and although he’d like to give baking a longer trial, he’s not going to do it again.
For the next couple of days, Loki is careful to keep a formal composure. He’ll occupy most of the time with continuous reading, stopping only to make meals like he had before Thor’s arrival. The meals then, themselves are kept simple and quick to prepare. The thunder god consumes everything from the exquisite to the mediocre with the same jovial attitude. Bless his iron cast stomach and blunted sense of taste.
The rest of the time though, he’ll purposely be in the same room as Thor to make the environment uncomfortable, being available, yet making no effort to engage in anything.
On his part, Thor sometimes walks about, or even tries to read (but he never gets very far). He can’t nap for how much he has already, and how antsy he’s becoming. Mjolnir has taken on an angry hum – like the dampened sound of bees – so irritated she is by the inactivity. Loki smirks at that.
Whenever Thor poses questions, Loki gives monosyllabic answers, or ignores it altogether, and just as Loki expected, the idleness is eating away at him like drops of water on a stone. Thor increasingly spends time staring out the giant windows with a longing, bemoaning that their time spent together is so spectacularly unspectacular. During sunsets when the light streams through at an angle just so, Thor can see the dust motes in the air, and imagines Loki becoming a permanent fixture of the room, doomed to gather dander forever. Gander is what Thor dubs it, and gander he does.
Finally, as anticipated, Thor’s attention dwindles away by the end of the week and he can bear the silence no longer. “Loki, how can you condemn yourself living like this? Alone with only your books for lonely company.”
Loki puts down the novel he was reading. He decides to humour him this final time before Thor leaves. “It has always been like this.”
“That’s not true. Your affinity with education was beyond simply dedication, yes, but you never became constricted to its limitations.”
Loki’s looking at him with a gaze that tells him to elaborate.
“You would practice spells, sneak off into other worlds out of Heimdall’s sight, play pranks on the unsuspecting. You would have been experiencing the world as well. Why not do the same here? You cannot expect to learn all there is to learn by sense of sight only. Watching you lowered to this…it’s not how I would have you carry out your time here on Midgard brother.”
At that, Loki’s stoic demeanor wavers, the audacity for Thor to consider him as the one restricted by monotonous ennui when he hadn’t set foot outside the quarters for an entire week – Loki recognizes the glimmer of pity in his expression and his temper becomes dangerously close to betraying his bluff.
“And where,” he replies, low and smooth, “exactly do you propose I go then?” eyes narrowed, gouging into Thor’s. In case he’s forgotten, Loki can’t exactly go traipsing throughout the realms now without his magic.
If Thor were smart, he would have been able to recognize the bitter warning in Loki’s tone and quickly grabbed Mjolnir, taking his leave. Instead, he just answers with a careless smile, “Doctor Banner informed me of a place called India that was most enjoyable. I should like to see it too.”
The answer leaves him slightly agape; there’s the mental image of a train derailing and all Loki laments is that it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
Chapter 5: Sojourn
Admittedly, this was a more difficult chapter to write. When you have a premise like this, there's just so much working for and against you at the same time. However, the same reason made it really fun as well. Hopefully it's to everyone's satisfaction; now I'm not Indian and certainly have never been to India either, so if there are any faulty references, please do correct me.
For an aside, as I post this, one of my dear friends is in India right now, and so I dedicate this chapter to her.
India turns out to be nothing like Loki or Thor has ever seen between the nine worlds – an image that he’s never encountered in the pictures of his old textbooks, or anything remotely close to his clandestine excursions. It is a land of culture, filled with brightly coloured temples and intricately vibrant saris. There are grand marble palaces and shrines built by ancient men, and wild jungles where tigers, peacocks, and exotic creatures alike live like kings. Incense and spices, as well as the sounds of prayer and music fill the atmosphere. Idols of their gods – countless to the eye – are carved and erected everywhere, and one can nearly feel their essence in the humid air around them; it’s almost enough to make a pious out of the atheist.
Thor descends upon the scene like a god come to conquer…or a spoiled child with an awfully large playground. Loki’s not sure if there’s a difference and yet, not sure how it could be the same. Thor roves at random in every direction, in diagonals, in circles…to whichever attraction meets his immediate fancy; Loki’s given up on keeping an eye on him. Though, somehow, Thor would always find his way back to Loki periodically before going off once more, he might as well have had an invisible leash on him. And Loki has no means of severing that cord – which again makes him wonder how they had ever found themselves at this point.
Only a few days ago had Loki been so self-assured that Thor would be out of his business forever. And then somehow– which is now a blur in Loki’s usually flawless memory (possibly due to subconscious repression) – after a surprise visit to Stark Tower and an interrupted board meeting, Thor had convinced Tony into lending them the aid of his private jet, to the land so called India. This was necessary for the biggest reason being that Mjolnir would never make it past normal airport security otherwise. However, to Thor, it was because the only person he knew that had such a way to fly was Tony. Or…Nick Fury too, but his helicarrier was too big.
Stark had laughed so hard and ushered them out of the room in front of unimpressed suits. It was okay though, really, since they’ve come to expect, and have seen stranger scenarios.
Being the magnanimous and spontaneous character he was, he gave his consent with a “Sure, buddy.” and had even accompanied them on the flight there to catch the full story. Thor did all the talking while Loki just kept to his own in his seat.
As the man dropped them off and walked back, laughing to himself, Loki thought he heard something suspiciously like “Tourists.” on the wind.
He runs over the scenes of the past week in his head again, trying to pinpoint the exact moment in which his plan had been foiled, concluding that this must be some kind of cosmic joke.
Now Thor’s coming towards him with a sheepish smile and Loki just shoots him a dark look. “This is the third time you’ve been pickpocketed.” He thinks it’s secretly alright though, because he never trusts Thor with any significant amount of money at once. Besides, it’s not as if he doesn’t have enough to spare. Soon enough, Thor goes off to his own devices.
To his complete opposite, Loki assesses the unfamiliar environment with detail and thoroughness. He takes his time through the markets and squares, analyzing the region much in the same way he did New York initially. The force of habit having been ingrained into him from ages’ worth of travelling between worlds through secretive paths, and always shrouded under the cover of invisibility. To be so blatantly exposed now, and especially in one of the most densely populated areas of Midgard, leaves Loki with an unaccustomed sense of wariness.
Not to say that India isn’t…fascinating. Midgard as a whole previously had never appealed to his attentions. Despite being at the centre of Yggdrasil’s boughs, the realm hadn’t been one of political importance, no dramatic history or contributions, had no alliances or any strife with the other races, wasn’t even aware of the existence beyond their own even. Loki had overlooked it as a triviality, further repulsed by how Fandral frequented Midgard for the vulgar purpose of conducting affairs only. He thought it base, and primitive.
The assumption, he admits, was regrettable, because the Indians have an incredible history unto themselves, one of great mathematicians, philosophers, architects – topics such as mythology, medicine, and astronomy.
There’s the kind of mystic ambience in India that wasn’t present in America. The distinctiveness between lands for such a planet is an interesting aspect he notes. After all, even Asgard, for all its vast reaches, was fairly mono-cultural, characterized by the same brutish, belligerent, boastful character throughout. Jotunheimr may have been a beauteous sight to behold before, as the cruel beauty of winter is, but the forfeit of their casket had deprived the planet of its heart and power, leading the fall into frozen ruin and frosted decay. No one ever wanted to go to Jotunheimr. Vanaheimr is one Loki is more fond of, differentiated by its verdant plains, fertile soils, and pure waters, but it is a region that is claimed by one of natural magnificence, and not so much made by the Vanir race themselves. In Alfheimr, the elves take care to guard their secrets and it requires a great deal of trickery to extract information from them. Svartalfaheimr belongs to the dwarves blessed with forging talent infused with powerful magic. However, to deal with them is a gamble, and Loki had nearly paid the price once. Neiflheimr and Muspellheimr are two opposing forces of their own, worlds of ice and fire to the core, and to brave them is to brave the harsh elements. Then, finally, there’s Hel, which no one ever returns from, and even Loki wasn’t so foolish as to challenge that.
Of course there are more, smaller planetary bodies and moons in the universe that was Loki’s private domain. But those were often not enough to sustain life, and thus lonely, barren places floating in the cosmos. Still, even then, there was always something to be found, as long as he scrounged around hard enough. Sometimes he would return to Asgard with unspeakable treasures of the likes no one has seen before, but he guarded those with the tenaciousness of a dragon to its hoard and never shared such items with anyone else. He wonders if someone has discovered them now in his previous chambers where he cannot ward them off.
Here in India, treasures are everywhere to the eye. Loki would be lying if he said he weren’t attracted to anything of beauty, and so he samples all that glitters. He’s examining a small statuette. The figure is blue-skinned, bodice bedecked in jewels, and standing on a lotus. There’s something about it that appeals to him.
“Ahh, I see you have a fine eye sir,” says a bearded man with heavily accented English. “that is, of course, the supreme god Vishnu. He’s the preserver of the universe, having the divine colour of water, master of forms, and one of spiritual enlightenment, as represented by the lotus.” The vendor, sensing his interest, then continues with “A sculpture carved with this degree of skill and detail, is of course, not something that one can easily come by. I will not part with it for any less than 150 rupees.” The amount he gives, is overpriced Loki knows, but not really caring for any monetary limit, he just hands over the amount and pockets the souvenir, thinking that he might as well add this to his collection.
Then Thor is running over to him again in a heated rush, but the smile on his face – the expression that says he wants to show Loki something – tells him he better brace himself, because there’s never stopping Thor when he’s this excited.
“Brother, you must come; there is this most clever man that has taught a snake how to sway to music!” And that, Loki considers, is actually something he wants to see.
When the day is done and Loki’s exhausted from his walking in the infamous Indian heat, they return to their luxury hotel. Thor doesn’t tire easily and would rather continue, but he’s considerate of Loki’s fatigue and there’s always plenty of time. He knows India has made an impression and congratulates himself on such a wonderful suggestion, making a mental reminder to thank doctor Banner about this.
India, to Thor, is an obvious delight. When he first landed on Midgard in New Mexico, the area had been dusty and flat. New York was an improvement, a bit like Asgard with its tall reaching structures of glass and steel instead of gold, but it had a stern towering presence. India however, is distinctive to its own. Monuments here are ornate and colourful, rooftops are domed and elegant. Thor is not quiet the poet as his brother, but he acknowledges India as a rare and impressive beauty in all the nine realms.
Thor chastises himself for not taking an earlier interest into Loki’s travels. Who knew there was such fun to be had from the exceptions of battling, hunting, and merrymaking? He wonders what sights his brother has beheld without him, now a little envious.
There’s a figurine on the stand Loki’s placed. He walks to it, curious. Lets a surprised laugh, and he asks “What is this little Jotunn? He does not look like the others.”
Loki’s sits down on the bed, mentally counts to three, before dignifying that with a retort, “They call him Vishnu, the preserver of worlds, Thor.” with curt, indignant emphasis on ‘Thor.’
The thunder god brings the small statue up, level to his face and the other hand on his chin, examining. “As far as Jotunns go then, I like this one.”
“It’s not a Jotunn, it’s a god.” Loki asserts.
Then he pulls the light blanket over himself, and rolls over so that he’s faced away from Thor.
“Maybe he’s both.” But Loki’s already asleep.
The next day is just as hot as the last and Thor isn’t one to handle the temperature too graciously, but it heats his blood and sense of adventure. There are too many places to see, too many things to do, and too many ways to do them. To Thor, it was everything – wealth and poverty, extravagance and mundane, human and natural – pushed to the extremes, and the thought was exhilarating if not outright disorienting.
Loki attends to the sights with calm and meticulous diligence. Unlike Thor, Loki seems unaffected by the sun. He wears thin, cotton calico shirts, and light pants. He treads in the shade whenever he can, and there’s a shawl draped around his shoulders and over his head that acts to block the sun. The shawl is what catches his attention – it’s simple and plain, nothing decorative like the ones worn by women, but there is a thin gold detailed border at the edge. The light material contrasts well against Loki’s dark hair and it’s such a casually exotic sight that Thor has to blame the flush on his cheeks, and parched throat on the midday heat.
Thor can’t comprehend how his brother manages it. He’s here, sweating profusely and panting for breaths. The way that his t-shirt and denim cling on like a second skin just makes it all the more sweltering.
There’re at a plaza which marks the grand entrance to a mosque that Loki wants to see. Its floor is done in an elaborate mosaic, and the pieces said to be taken from precious stones. The image is supposed to depict a tale, but it’s beyond Thor to understand the meaning. Incense thickens the air around them and foreign notes of music waver like smoke. Peacocks strut in confidence, accepting offered hands of food to those who are hoping that maybe it will be pleased enough to open its plumage; the plainer birds scatter about, bickering for their share. A group of women to the Eastern wall are kneeling before a bull and placing a wreath of flowers upon its horns. The horns remind Thor of Loki’s helmet and he chuckles at the mental image of a seething Loki ever allowing him to come close enough to even dare the attempt.
He goes towards where Loki is, sitting on the edge of a small fountain, and makes the familiar jibe of “Cow.”
Loki just looks up at him apathetically. “You do know that cows are sacred and worshipped in India, do you not?”
That would explain the flowers.
“Then again, just about most animals are revered here in this land. Each has its own purpose and meaning to their culture.”
“How do you know this?”
“I deduced. You should attempt it.”
Then there’s the knell of an iron bell, signalling the hour for prayer. People waiting in the plaza gather to enter while Loki and Thor take their leave.
Eventides are the time when the temperature becomes bearable to pleasant. The evenings in India are ethereal and empyrean; humidity in the air distorts the outline of the Asian architecture, and the sun becomes such carmine red against chromatic fire. It sets the world ablaze with its dying light rather than its heat.
Thor and Loki stroll side by side silently through a luscious garden. It’s not Frigga’s royal courtyard, but the casting of flaming light on the flowers makes for another kind of paradise. Loki reaches out to caress the petal of a flower in partial bloom, thinking that there was one similar in his memory deep in the forests of Vanaheimr. Thor tries paying attention, but he’s more interested in the stone animal sculptures, trying to identify which ones he’s seen in India so far, and which ones he hasn’t.
Then there’s a trumpeting sound nearby and children laughing. Thor eagerly heads off in the direction it originated to discover a man offering rides on an elephant for fifty rupees. He approaches the beast with an awkward amusement – there aren’t many animals of that size in which Thor didn’t just immediately fell with Mjolnir, but this time he’s sure that the action isn’t appropriate. He tells himself that a beast amongst the laughter of children must be a benevolent one, perhaps another of which the Indians respect so dearly.
The elephant itself is a gentle creature, slightly small for its species since she hadn’t yet grown into full adulthood. There’s a coloured seating cloth on her back and she wears a jeweled headpiece. Her skin is adorned with floral henna painted on and the designs compete with those of the surrounding blossoms. She slowly extends a trunk to prod at Thor and he looks like he doesn’t know whether to let it, or to back away. The man laughs good-heartedly and assures him it’s alright.
Once the initial suspicion wears off, Thor takes an immediate liking to the animal and asks to take the man up on his offer. He helps him up and soon Thor is riding atop an elephant like it’s the most unassuming, enjoyable ride he’s ever had. He laughs freely and gives a gentle prod with his heels, trying to spur her on, thinking that maybe it’s like riding a horse, but she just continues at her own pace, led by the owner.
The image is so comical, that Loki can’t help but let a small smile grace his lips. If Asgard could see you now. He and the other children are following on foot as the man takes them on a short trip round the garden before Thor has to get off, patting her head before he does so. The kids jump and clap when he’s done and Thor comes up with the brilliant idea of offering them the same ride with Loki’s good money. Thus the Indian sun becomes witness to the silhouettes of girls and boys being carried about their fantasy Babylonian garden such as royalty do.
Gradually, they fall into an unspoken companionship. They don’t accompany each other on every specific experience, but it’s enough. Guides are never needed since Loki takes on the role naturally enough, even if it turns out the stories aren’t always completely accurate, but he’s skilled at spinning them anyway, and Thor is willingly led to be fooled. Together they explore historical sites, sample the local cuisine, and bask in the surrounding beauty. Loki’s expression is one of where he’s actually content for once – a look Thor had almost given up hope on ever seeing again, so bitter he was for so long.
However, the sun had continuously been at its zenith and so the seasonal monsoon descended upon them without remorse. The rain was falling in sheets so thick and attacked surfaces so viciously that the water had no time to bead up and flow in thin streams. Loki watches it all from the balcony of his delegated hotel room, barely able to see far into the distance, and listening to the downpour.
He’s been too preoccupied lately and hasn’t quite had any time to himself, and so he spends hours staring, staying still and ruminating, but the rain never gives any sign of letting up. The beating of it, however, is soothing and steady.
Finally, he pulls away from the column he was leaning against, and goes quietly to the door of Thor’s room. He enters soundlessly without knocking and slips in with the key card that was entrusted to him, stopping at the foot of the bed where Thor’s lying down, hands behind his head and staring up at the patterned ceiling.
“I’ll have you know this one isn’t my doing.”
“Of course not, there’s no thunder.” and Loki takes a seat at the edge.
There’s a moment’s pause before Loki lies down next to Thor, straight, and with his hands laced together on his stomach, as if contemplating prayer. His eyes stare upwards – but fixed at a point instead of tracing the outlines. He has no pretenses in this instant and what comes out isn’t in the spiteful tone that he demanded from the first time, but just the clarity of question.
“Did you mourn?” and for once Loki doesn’t have to explain himself.
“We all did.”
“Father declared a fortnight of public mourning; there was to be no feasts, no celebrations, and no events. He even refused royal council for that time.”
Odin is not the one Loki’s inquiring about, but Thor continues.
“Mother was distraught. That was the first time I’d seen her cry so.”
Loki thinks Frigga must know of his heritage, but he’s still grateful for the unconditional nurture she had in raising them. From her, he had never sensed any overbearing favouritism.
Loki waits for it.
Thor shifts and turns to him, pushing himself up on an elbow. Loki keeps his eyes forward, at the ceiling. He tells himself there’s no need to meet Thor’s gaze – that he’s incapable of insincerity.
“I became haunted by your memory – every turn within the halls, the corridors…chasing your ghost, or one of your infuriating copies. I thought I’d gone mad.” and the last sentence is said in a murmur.
He simply accepts the answer solemnly and closes his eyes. Then after a beat, he pulls himself up and returns to his own room. The rain’s rhythm continues without any notice of stopping.
In the days continuing, neither addresses what had been admitted. Thor doesn’t know whether or not to pursue it, and Loki sees no point after attaining his answer. They proceed on as ever and otherwise it was as if the incident hadn’t even happened. However, Loki senses their time in India drawing to an end. It wasn’t because there was ever a shortage of places to see still, for he doubts that he’ll ever see all of it, but it’s the sense that something’s been accomplished here, and thus it was time to move on.
At the three week mark, Loki takes out the scrap of paper with a number hastily scribbled on from Tony Stark and gets through from secretary to direct call. He then names a time and location and the next day there’s a jet waiting to pick them up.
There’s a sad smile on Thor’s face, because he’s come to rather like India and its elephants, and he wishes that the two of them could just stay there indefinitely. But he’s found the resolution he wanted and knows it’s time to go back.
Accompanying the familiar New York skyline is a sense of surrealism. The shift is too abrupt and India suddenly seems so very far and so very long ago. Three weeks away feels like their whole world should have changed, but they’re back now and things still look the same.
Thor’s the one to break the silence. “I need to depart for Asgard.”
And Loki’s known this moment was coming, had known from the start. “Yes, you do.”
There’s a silence between them then, because Loki doesn’t want to care for the inevitable and Thor just doesn’t.
But he has to know. “Will you mourn?” and there is a bit of resentment in his voice.
“I won’t have to.” At that, Loki looks up at him, searching.
“Brother, I’ll return yet.”
Chapter 6: Solstice
After the events of this chapter, the plot will quicken. I promise - now that I have my premise finally set up. Again, my unending gratitude to those that kudos/comment/are still reading.
As an aside, for those who haven't seen Deep Blue Sea with Tom Hiddleston yet, it's certainly worth a shot.
It’s been some months since Thor’s stay on Midgard, but on Asgard, he is unsure of how much time has passed. Regardless, he gives a gesture of an apologetic look to Heimdall when back on the Bifrost. “Forgive me for my tardiness.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Huginn and Muninn taking flight.
Heimdall disregards him with the impartial grace of a god who sees all. Thor’s not so foolish to ask; his father, no doubt must have been informed of his whereabouts. He’ll need to return to the palace promptly and explain his absence first and foremost. The flight towards the familiar gates gives him the time needed to prepare his words.
When he reaches them, nightfall is nearing. The royal guards bow down and part to make way. Upon entering, he changes his pace to that of a steady stride; not wanting to displease his father unnecessarily by barging into the throne room disrespectfully and continues straight until he’s at the final set of doors.
The throne room is quiet and dimly lit; all others having been dismissed so that only Odin and Frigga are in attendance. Frigga stands to the right of the Allfather, a few steps below and smiling gently with her hands held together in front of her lap. Odin is seated regally with Gungnir in one hand, and his crows perched on both shoulders, searching him with beady eyes.
Thor mildly wonders if Huginn and Muninn will be sworn to serve him someday when he is crowned or will they forever be his father’s eyes and ears? In truth he dislikes the pair – because the instances upon which they are near never bode well with Thor and are either omens that the Allfather is wary, displeased, concerned, or about to intercede on his own affairs. And very seldom is it that their attentions are fixed on him, thus, he is neither accustomed nor appreciative of the scrutiny of all three. There are rare moments when Thor fell out of favour with his father – but he needs now, more than ever, to trust in his decisions.
Thor slows as he approaches the foot of the steps, gets down on bended knee, and places Mjolnir to his side in a bow of deference. With the exception of his ruined coronation, Thor has always felt small and juvenile before his father and the throne like this, looming above him. The royal throne room was a place of authority and politics – both of which he falls short of yet in regards to Asgard’s rightful king.
He brings a hand to his heart and greets, “Father.” before waiting to be addressed.
“You’ve returned to us, Thor.” and there’s the insinuation of having to choose between Loki or Asgard. But he does not and will not regret having gone with him, and as far as Thor’s aware, he hadn’t disobeyed any orders or specific expressed commands, and thus refuses to let the intending guilt seep in.
“Apologies, father. It was not my motive to be away for so long, but given the circumstances that chanced upon our arrival, being by his side was more urgent.”
“I am aware. I had Heimdall report to Huginn and Muninn about all that resulted.”
“Then you understand.”
At that, Thor allows some confidence in reprieve.
“It is of no grave consequence. You are back now and all may continue as it is.”
And this is where Thor will defy yet another expectation. He swallows first, “I wish to go back to Midgard. Regularly.” It’s not the most grand or ambitious of requests, but if he is to be gone from the kingdom, then he’ll need consent to do so for long intervals.
Odin just studies him long and hard with his single eye; a tired expression of resignation and expectancy is in his stare, one that speaks of dreaded foresight. To the child of any parent, the evident disapproval should shake his resolve. But he is no longer a petulant prince; he has grown beyond that now. The torches lining the side with their everlasting lambent fires cast elongated shadows over the king’s face and the lines there appear to run deeper than before.
The moment stretches on and Thor can feel the pulse of his heartbeat underneath his clenched hand. Steady. Just like his determined gaze.
Odin may be blighted, but he is not blind – he recognizes such foolhardiness that had always been an aspect of Thor’s honour and devotedness. Yet…how can he fault him for the errors of his own lenience? It is a product of invincible youth, the consequence of lifetime entitlement, and the tainted assurance of forever.
They’ve chosen a fool’s path for themselves, but if the fates be willing, he'll be merciful.
The Allfather then makes to stand in one swift movement and his crows caw, disgruntled. He starts slowly and formally, only intending to admit this once “Thor, one day you shall stand up here, above and before all as a king, as one who must see to make decisions with impersonal clarity and wisdom.”
Then his tone turns somber, “But understand, that speaking as a father before a son right now, such family matters…make objective ruling a conflicted affair.”
Odin starts to descend the steps to where Thor is. Huginn and Muninn take off with a wing beat. Thor rises slowly, uncertain of his father’s action. Odin makes to pause in front of him, “I cannot forbid you from doing nothing so ignoble such as wishing to see your proclaimed brother. And although it is misplaced, I am not ignorant of your loyal attachment to him.” He gives a deep breath in a sigh. “Thus, refusing you will only serve to agitate and anger. Furthermore, as crown prince, it is within your right to travel where you see fit. No longer shall I regard your decisions like that of a boy.” He ignores the glimmer of gratitude in Thor’s eyes – this is no favour he is granting him.
“But beware, I should caution you,” and he brings a hand on Thor’s shoulder “there is no reward to be found in such dedication. Not this time.”
He casts a final, weary look before walking past Thor and leaving, steps echoing in his wake.
Thor just stands still for a moment, head turned to where his father left. He should be consoled by the fact that he’s been granted the permission needed, and at a much easier exchange than anticipated. However, the warning makes his victory a hollow win. It has never been his father to be one for cryptic.
The rustle of fine fabric and rushed footsteps puts the thought out of mind for now. Frigga is coming towards him, arms ready in embrace. “Oh Thor. You left so suddenly and I went from a mother of two to a mother of none.” she scolds lightly, but there is a gravitas to the statement.
Thor holds her tightly, “You shan’t be rid of me so easily.”
“My foolish sons.” The plural slips by accidentally, and she pulls away. “How is he?”
“I would not have returned if he were not safe.” and he kisses the back of her hand.
She gives a nod and wears the default expression of maternal concern, but doesn’t press for details – a small admission he is thankful for. Not that there isn’t much to deliver, simply that he doesn’t have the inclination for it now. “Come, you must be exhausted from your travels. Your quarters are still the way you left them.”
Then Frigga pauses, “Surely, you’ll stay with us for a while longer?”
And Thor has never been one to refuse his mother.
Back in New York, Loki curses Thor under his breath. First, for all the overdue library notices since their hasty departure to India, and second, for his departing words.
“Brother, I’ll return yet.”
It had caught him unexpectedly. He tells himself not to take the vow seriously. There are exactly eleven instances he can think of off the top of his head that would prevent Thor from coming back. Eighteen if he’s drunk. But generally, he knows better than to place any degree of confidence in him. There are a great number of promises you say out of good faith, yet are incapable of keeping, simply because you lack the ability of foresight.
And he didn’t say when either. Loki picks up a book and mentally calculates the expenses of all of them, added up. It’s not the fee he’s concerned with, it’s the principle of the matter, being that punctuality – while Thor may have no care for it – is not an area that Loki has been faulted with or has the patience for. But by such happenstances, he now faces double the accounts of. He only wishes that Thor could be so easily dealt with as monetary recompense.
There’s the Vishnu statuette that now sits on the counter where the pie had been before it. Loki thinks it looks incongruous and lonesome, and scowls. Don’t look at me like that; can’t be helped. The idea vaguely crosses his mind of there being two gods that are anomalies here in his New York condominium. Then he dismisses the thought, turns and goes back to gathering the library books before heading out.
In the morning, Thor is attended on by servants at hand and foot, and eats to his fill at the table. He tries not to let Loki’s empty seat from across bother him. He was never one for so great an appetite. And suddenly he misses Loki’s cooking…once he reconciles with the fact that Loki actually cooks.
Then there’s a voice from behind an ornate column “So it’s true.”
“Is he now?”
Volstagg, Fandral, Sif, and Hogun.
Turning around, laughing, “My good comrades! Trust you haven’t gone off on any adventures without me?”
There’s Sif’s confident jibe with a smirk, “Could you even keep up with us now?”
He accepts the reply; it’s about the most endearing one can get with her.
“Only amorous ones,” comes Fandral, “with your absence, someone has to satisfy the women of court. So by all means, take your time!”
That’s Fandral’s peculiar way of saying he misses Thor. Truly.
“Indeed! I’ve been undefeated in the drinking games yet.”
“Better beware that girth then.” And Thor catches Volstagg’s grip in a firm greeting.
“It’s good to have you back.”
Ah, good old Hogun. Honest and straightforward.
“And it’s good to be back! Come! Join me! Have you all eaten yet?”
“We heard excited rumours of your return and had hoped to catch you for lunch.” laughs Volstagg heartily.
“Eat with me now then. I haven’t had a true feast since…since I left even.”
They comply, eager to have him back in their midst and seat themselves around him. “How fares Asgard and all of you?”
“The very same. There remain a few issues to placate since the Tesseract still, with Jotunheimr and the people, but it seems now that there is no immediate threat to the truces.” Fandral announces, and Thor wonders exactly how precarious all those truces are.
“Sif had a new admirer while you were gone, but she made short work of him.” mutters Volstagg through a mouthful of venison.
“He was unworthy of my attentions and so I put an end to his pining by humiliating his manhood in a match.”
“And you? Where have you been?” asks Hogun.
“Fret not. I’ve only been with Loki on Midgard.”
“Ah. That much we can gather, since the timing was just too incriminating. He’s on Midgard?” and Fandral pauses by reaching across for the pile of green grapes.
“He is doing well for himself there. Midgard is a great deal of fun, and I accompanied him to India.”
“I only ever go to France. The women and wine are divine.”
France. Thor makes a mental note to remember the name.
“Well, go on, tell us about it.” prompts Volstagg.
And then Thor immediately delves into the topic animatedly. He goes on for hours. The image at the table makes for one of good company, fine food, and merry conversation – occasionally interrupted by laughs and quips.
Engrossed in the peculiar images Thor’s descriptions conjure, Sif and the Warriors Three find themselves snickering at the preposterous scenes. Thor is only further encouraged, even though his details are severely skewed and his words sometimes contradictory. Certain matters have to be seen to be understood, but Thor tries anyway.
Though, once Thor lets it slip that he’s returning, that’s when their jesting dies down and they stop to look at him seriously.
“I don’t understand… I thought your business was concluded and your worries put to rest.” Sif objects, with a slightly crestfallen expression.
“Thor, it’s only Midgard. Once the novelty wears off, you’ll being to notice all its shortcomings and imperfections.” Fandral cautions. “Here. Asgard. This is the very pinnacle of glory and perfection. Why would you ever want to leave?”
Thor just takes a swig of his mead and looks down into his empty goblet. He doesn’t want to tell Fandral that he’s wrong, that what he witnessed was so very wondrous and spectacular, and he doesn’t want to disappoint them by trying to articulate something he can’t. There’s no proper explanation they would understand and for the most part, they consider Loki’s exile just; he only wanted to tell them in the hopes that he had their regards.
They have each other, and the whole of Asgard – Loki only has himself. Has only ever had himself for a long time now – thanks to his neglect and vaingloriousness, something Thor was only much too late to realize. He’s already had to suffer his regret in silent anguish to a memory that only he cherished.
For reasons apart from Odin’s intended purposes though, sealing his sorcery and banning him from the realm has in actuality tempered Loki’s rage. He is as a force without an outlet, and time has slowly tamped the fuse. Perhaps only now can Thor attempt to salvage the brother he once knew. It is the opportunity that he had so longed for when in mourning retrospect.
Thus, not in the manner he imagined fate to grant him, but it’s a second chance to make amends, and he finds himself sullenly wishing that Sif didn’t sit in Loki’s old seat.
Volstagg has no appetite to hear of Thor leaving yet again. “The food’s grown cold so it seems.” he mumbles.
In the next several days, Loki researches into technology mostly because he senses that it would be to a great disadvantage not to and also because it is the one major aspect of this world that is closest to his form of magic – and even then, it is far more distinct. From immediate notice, it seems that technology is a resource that mortals are rather dependent on. He purchases the basics of a phone and laptop, and begins to sort through all the wires and instructions. And even for an individual such as himself, never underestimate the confounding potential that is instructions. He glares at the diagram that’s indicating for him to locate the “mouse.”
Right, no, “Power Button” first. Okay.
He’s gotten to the desktop display. Now where to find the elusive gateway known as the “internet?” Once he masters the mouse, Loki continues by clicking on every icon and testing their functions; he finds the IE icon.
Sorry. The page you are seeking is unavailable.
“…” Already, he can detect the beginnings of a headache.
Several hours later, a bout of archaic swearing, a restart afterwards, and Loki was surfing the web.
Into the early morning, before the sun has yet to rise, he’s still reading up on the cyber archives of “Wikipedia” and “Google”-ing subjects on a whim.
The next night following and Loki could find any letter on the keyboard in less than ten seconds. Symbols and short cuts not included.
True to his mother’s wishes, Thor stays in Asgard for several days longer. He spends time with Sif and the Warriors Three since there’re still plenty of topics to regale about Midgard, New York, S.H.I.E.L.D., Mexico, his comrades…etc. They continue to listen and laugh, but if their smiles don’t reach their eyes and their laughter doesn’t ring as loudly as before, then Thor says nothing of it.
Other times, he’ll train with them like they did frequently before, he’ll outdrink everyone else in the dining hall, and he’ll kindly refuse a servant girl’s advances without insulting her. He enjoys the activities immensely of course, but sometimes he’ll find himself headed towards Loki’s old rooms before he catches the misconception, or thinking about what time of day it is in New York and what the weather is like currently.
Asgard’s climate is consistently and forever ideal – a season of eternal summer, representing the everlasting youth and beauty of its realm. It’s nearly enough to lull Thor into complacency. But then he misses the heat and the rain, and all the sudden his memories of India and Loki, that afternoon of rare respite, and all of Asgard’s perfection just isn’t enough – no matter how much he cherishes it.
When Thor is ready to leave, he bids his friends farewell and takes nothing but Mjolnir with him. Anticipation and eagerness has him gone before midday and he departs for Heimdall’s observatory without fanfare.
In the residential high rises of the Big Apple, and up in the highest one, Loki’s sitting down, leaning against the giant glass panes with the open laptop as the only source of light. It’s 11:48pm and the city is mostly asleep – he’s kept awake though, finishing the online readings of Modern Astronomy: Constellations.
Loki finally turns off the laptop and leans back with his eyes closed. A vague square imprint of light behind his eyelids and he concedes that staring for long hours at a powered screen is likely detrimental to vision. He’s since considered the internet as similar to a library, except by more convenient methods and having a vaster range, depth, audience, as well as unlimited storage. It’s impossible to become confined in Midgard when knowledge of their whole world was so readily at their fingertips.
Though, much in the same as with books, the physical realm was the only limitation. Loki reminds himself that all he had seen and experienced in India is not something that can be compressed into digital definition.
It’s been nine days since Thor left. Loki perceives it as a test almost, to see which one will win out first: how long it’ll take for Thor to stay true to his words, and how long it’ll take for him to lose faith in them.
He amuses himself with the thought that the dolt likely doesn’t know where New York is. Observing from this vantage, the nightscape becomes a glittering sight. Loki likes it better this way – considers it less obnoxious than the day time. He presses his forehead against the glass, his tilted reflection looking back before his breath mists up the image. There’s a serene sense of being suspended above the city like this.
There then comes a characteristic knocking, causing his eyes to shift to the side. Loki checks the time on his phone: 12:13 and stops the mental counter at ten days. All things considered, it’s not a bad record for Thor. When he opens the door, Thor’s hair is even more wind swept than he’s seen, and he raises an eyebrow at the Asgardian armour, which implies that he came here directly – as directly as one can with no sense of direction – and by flight. That must have gone noticed by someone.
“Fandral suggests France.”
“His preferences and mine aren’t usually in accordance.” Loki counters.
Thor just smiles and lets himself in this time.
Chapter 7: Interlude
Apologies, short chapter I know. I had originally intended this to be part of one longer chapter, but this seemed to me to stand on its own.
"There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.
The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place."
G.K. Chesterton, "Everlasting Man"
Standing even more impressive than before, the tower rises amidst the center of the skyscrapers surrounding. Unlike the other buildings however, this one had the pretentious logo of STARK in bold, capital lettering synonymous to the industry as the famed Hollywood letters were to cinema. For all the airs Loki has as he walks in uninvited though, the tower may as well have been renamed LOKI – as if it were his, with the only differing factor being font. He could buy the property available and humours the thought before discarding it. It is, however, an accomplished piece of architecture and design.
Walking into the refurbished lobby, Loki looks as sharp as a character as always. Business-like one could say, and for all intents and purposes, he supposes one could indeed say so. His polished shoes make no noise against the reflective marble floor, and his coat and scarf arrangement are variations of the ones he’s worn before as illusions.
He times exactly two minutes and twenty seconds before security escorts him to another room. Camera recognition is not so quick to delete him off the record after his last act of petty vandalism. Or ever.
In this case it works to his advantage, and sure enough, Tony Stark himself is in the room with him shortly, demeanor not so obliging without his brother. However, Loki doesn’t want to resort to using Thor as some kind of unspoken playground bully threat, not unless it’s absolutely necessary. Such petty intimidation tactics are characteristic of the Aesir brawn before brain.
“Don’t be so suspicious of me Mr. Stark.” drawing out the unfamiliar formality of mis-ter, “I mean no trouble, sincerely, just…a proposition of sorts.” Loki states casually while smoothing out his lapel.
“And here I thought you were going to tell me about India.” and the man crosses his arms, steeling himself, sarcasm apparent.
“Still bitter about the property damage? I’ll even cover the bill.”
“Just what exactly are you getting at?”
At least they both preferred getting to the point, though Loki considers the short banter regrettable. “I am in need of an aircraft that poses no impeding security checks, convenient for private use, and a means of quick access. You are the only individual at my disposal to have such, because otherwise, I assure you I would not be resorting to this option.”
He blinks once in mild disbelief – thinking that for something so simple, it had sounded something close to…a plea? Of course, not in the sense of the way he said it, so much as diction. “Wait, you want to…borrow one of my jets?”
Loki stops himself from a complete eye roll. Instead he just brings his gaze up and then shuts them briefly. “Fundamentally, yes. I can pay you most handsomely for it as well.”
Tony’s eyes shift to the side, “Why. Is Thor in on this too?”
No, Thor would rather travel the world in a hot air balloon. “Naturally.” and it’s for him that Loki’s doing this really, because the fool just simply couldn’t stand to be parted for long without his hammer.
“Why not get your own then?”
“Then I’d have to make arrangements, as well as finding an available area in this city cluster for a private landing runway. I hope you can sympathize with the hassle.”
The avenger waits a moment, and chuckles to himself lightly. “And all expenses will be covered on your end?”
“I have no lack of money to do so. You can use this to make a profit.”
He considers the possibility, wondering where exactly a chance like this may lead, because when it comes down to it, Tony Stark was mostly a man of personal gain, and as such, it wasn’t very often that ex-super villains gave him one-up on them. It’s only a plane, one that he can afford to spare, and all of this is just too direct to smell like some kind of scheme. The tabs S.H.I.E.L.D. kept on him thus far had shown no indication of any repeated correspondence, or furtive activity.
His scientific and rational aspect told him nay, but as per usual, his devious and reckless demons were flashing him the green light – said voices usually got him into some pretty deep trouble, but the occasional rewards he got out of it was a kick. The opportunity was just too rare and too good to pass up. “Hn. Alright then. Do you still have the number I gave you last time? Keep that and I’ll talk to the pilot.”
Loki’s thrown away the slip of paper, but he’s memorized the number.
“But.” and Stark moves to stand directly across from him at the table. “I don’t want the money.”
“Then…?” and Loki’s not so foolish to think he’s on Stark’s good graces this easily.
“No…no, I think I’ll cash in the poker chips for an even bigger prize later.”
He’s not sure what else he possesses that may be of higher value or interest. He’s given up his knowledge and lost his magic after all, but there’s certainly nothing material that he imagines he can’t part with and he does still have intelligence. To be indebted to Tony Stark isn’t too preposterous of an exchange.
He gives a delayed affirmative.
“I’m taking your word on this, despite reputation preceding.” Tony makes eye contact, as if to secure some code of honour. If Loki were an ordinary business man, they may have even shook hands on it.
“There’s no ulterior motive, and even less point in having one.” he replies simply. Of course he could hijack a jet and fly with it, but that method of mischief was a little too brazen and aimless, even for him.
Then Loki makes to go; he’s one foot out the doorway, when “You know, if you asked nicely, I probably would have considered it.”
“I’m not in the habit of making requests, usually I just take by force.” and there’s a cold smile before the door closes behind him.
When he steps off the premise, Loki draws his collar in slightly. The abrupt autumn chill and jarring city traffic suddenly reminds him of how impromptu and rash Thor’s ever invasive presence on Midgard is. It’s not the whirlwind force of Thor’s stormy nature or his own searching wanderlust tendencies – no, it’s the combination of the two together.
In his own head, the idea is just as nonsensical. The result is something comical and horrifying added together to create a sort of unimaginable disconnect, because one plus one is inexplicably making three and his mind can’t detect where the faulty mental arithmetic is.
Such idiocy is infuriating. As a crown prince of Jotunheimr, he had failed so absolutely and completely – regicide and genocide notwithstanding; as the second prince of Asgard and Odin, he was doomed to fate; as a brother to Thor and son to Frigga, he had betrayed the love of both; as a respectable Aesir, he could never be; as a Jotun, he had forsaken that identity; as a nemesis to the realm and The Avengers, he had lost; as a powerful sorcerer he was no longer. Finally, as one denounced in exile, he couldn’t even carry out his sentence in peace. He thinks that bitterly, someone somewhere was being horribly amused by the dramatics and pathos of it all.
Then he takes a moment to fully appreciate the thought at a crosswalk light stop, brings a hand in front of eyes, ponders upon his own divine comedy and has to stifle his quiet hysteria. Perhaps it is simply madness. If so, then Loki’s already resigned himself to it long ago. To such utter defeat.
In making a detour returning, Loki takes it upon himself in order to compose his thoughts and bearing. To anyone able to spare a glance however, one would never be able to detect the refined individual as someone desperately attempting to gather the remains of his dignity. Admirably, he wore it with as much pride as one could muster with such tattered robes.
Chapter 8: Aphelion
September 28th – Marseille
There are more cafés in any French city than there are Starbucks stores on any given street in New York.
For each morning since they’ve been in Marseille, Thor would meet up with Loki at one called Le Petit Prince. It was rustically quaint in the manner that all cafés typically were, and to him it was the very picture of cliché, but the location was convenient and Thor enjoyed their éclairs.
He goes earlier than scheduled by about a half hour because the morning walks do more to wake him up than alarms do, and this way he’ll get there before the first rush of customers. Slowly, he’s becoming more accustomed to the taste of caffeine and orders lattes. They come with elaborate swirling designs on the milk surface; of ferns, flowers, and hearts. Mostly ferns.
In the self-declared corner seat by the window, he waits silently in the image of stillness. Loki doesn’t even so much as fidget or glance to look at the time. Instead, he mulls over the mental itinerary for the day – taking into account all from the mundane to the popular and makes sure to keep the arrangement flexible should his brother be caught up in an impromptu urge to deviate.
Thor walks in with an easy tilt in his grin, always under the impression that he’s late when Loki’s already had his order arrive. They’ll engage in small talk while Thor decides on his pastry of choice to go with an espresso.
Come time to go, Loki will leave the exact amount of change, and Thor will have left crumbs on his side of the table, but keeps some stashed for the pigeons.
The dull creatures seem to have assailed all of Europe and his brother isn’t helping.
October 3rd – Milan
The most defining remains of the medieval age are of ancient castles, churches, and cathedrals. The gothic architecture intrigues him – he had once fancied a diabolical citadel of a similar style.
For a race he hadn’t credited much initially, and at a period where disease and poverty ran rampant – the cathedrals are an impressive structural feat of verticality and majesty.
Between the cold stone walls and underneath the high ribbed vault of a cathedral, he finds himself looking into the blank marble eyes of saints lining the alcoves – stops at the figure on the end.
Her expression is an amalgamation of gentle reprimand and forgiving sorrow, head tilted in acceptance – sculpted in a manner both regal with her grace, yet courteous in pose. The left hand is held over her breast, where the heart would be, and the other is extended in an elegant curve along the arm.
The perfect evenness and neutrality of her features lends an all assuming identity, but Loki considers the resemblance to Frigga disturbingly uncanny.
He can register solemn voices reciting in latin: “solemque suum, sua sidera norunt –,” the susurration of prayers by clasped hands and closed eyes, the resonant timbre of an organ.
His presence here is practically sanctimonious.
There’s an echo of footsteps behind him and then a heavy hand on his shoulder. Loki’s eyes don’t leave her face.
“Let us take our leave.”
Can Thor see it? The likeness? It’s on his tongue to ask, but he holds it and turns back.
October 5th – Genoa
“Why do we not have such a treat on Asgard?” Thor asks contemplatively, and mildly dismayed that the shining realm should lack anything that he would desire. But he’s learning. Slowly.
“I wager Jotunheimr may have something in a similar fashion,” scrutinizing the bit on his spoon.
The basis for this dessert does seem to be snow. And while it’s all fine and convenient to assume that the frost giants were cannibalistic barbarians, or that they sustained themselves off the blood of Asgardian flesh, it’s much more reasonable and appetizing to hypothesize that maybe they had something such as this instead.
The Italians called it Gelato. He’s developing a fondness for it.
It was a bucolic day which they were seated on the restaurant patio, behind pastel painted buildings and facing the port. Designer sunglasses and all.
He was watching the white sheets of sailboats drifting across waters – pushed by the breeze and pulled by the current. Earlier, he’d been stopped by a model of a ship in a bottle. Eyes narrowing in examination. Clever indeed. The dealer would not sell him the secret, and so he had to buy the souvenir and extricate the puzzle of containment on his own time.
October 11th – New York
Things were quiet between them now. Simple. Here, their titles and reputations meant nothing. Here they can afford normalcy, a luxury the princes had never known before.
Thor finds the adjustment pleasant, though strange. He had always donned the esteem and prestige of royalty as proudly and naturally as his red cape. Mingling amongst mortals has him humbling himself as one. The conditions under which are different previously; whereas then it was a lesson in shame, and now it is an identity he can explore.
Loki, shape shifter he was, had taken on the faces of countless veneers. It’s both fitting and ironic that it would be in the retreat of Midgard that his remaining humanity be revealed. Midgard: the battlefield upon which had been vulnerable to the height of his tyranny just months before.
They discuss little of the battle, family…of what would betray the farce. Thor’s not so thick as to forget that such history would be untactful, and would likely ruin their delicate truce.
There are secrets. There always will be, and Thor doesn’t pretend to deceive himself otherwise. However, he can no more press for familiarity, for devotion, for forgiveness, any more than he can distinguish between Loki’s duplicates and original. It would not be his place to demand, and Loki would not deign to bare his soul at the insistence.
He can only be the brother he was always meant to be.
Albeit, the thunderer has dual obligations. The unspoken inference was to stop after France, but Loki had deftly managed the additional days. Instead Thor tells him next time.
They had started in the city of lights, made their way south, and traversed across that border into Italy – continuing progressing downwards on the boot until stopping right before Rome.
Duty calls. Loyalty binds. But he can be patient.
Loki doesn’t behave in any way out of the ordinary. He’s setting the few keepsakes of their travel along the counter. Arranges them in order of size, is careful with the impossible bottle.
He hasn’t acknowledged Thor yet, and Thor wonders if departures will always be this cold between them. He dawdles at the doorway corridor arms folded across his chest, leaning against the wall, and waits for some words of disposal or send off.
His brother takes his time, back towards him, and reaches into the case to take out an item Thor cannot determine from his standing. But, Loki’s pose is inclined in examination and the moment pauses perhaps.
Then in long, pacing strides, Loki’s before him.
“For mother.” he states sotto voce.
A thin collection of perfect snapshots he has been compiling. Their backs are blank of writing, but the token of gesture will mean infinitely more to her than what needs to be expressed. The corner of Thor’s lips quirk in a smile as he recalls some of the locations.
He nods and offers the tacit pledge to deliver them faithfully.
A kiss on the cheek, and returned on the hand.
And there’s the glimmer in her eyes – from joy and prolonged unshed tears – as she looks at him first with unexpected surprise, then at the replica scenes in obvious delight, to the hand she brings over her mouth in self-consolation after leafing through.
“Thank you.” she whispers, holding them close, and she was fair even in her pained expression.
For once upon a time, she had the two most beautiful sons in the realm and was the proudest mother in all the nine.
His friends, Sif and the Warriors Three have kept him in their hearts and thoughts, for he is the center of their ministrations, confidence, and camaraderie. The times of his absence are passed in pale comparison and poor imitation. Such is the court of Asgard without its prince.
The golden palace hosts banquets bordering on obscene lavishness. Regular bacchanalias.
They hope to keep him happy. They hope to keep him with them.
But he is not there for the revelry. Once he is satisfied that Asgard is safe and merry, and attentive of what his duties may demand of him, he will depart.
And they hope yet in the promise of his next return.
There’s a world map spanning the space of Loki’s living room wall – a rather noticeable addition Thor catches when he walks in. A multitude of different areas shaded in, small stars to mark the capitals, dotted lines for borders, solid ones to outline the land from the sea, blue ones, red ones. It’s interesting to see it all laid flat before him.
Pins flag the nations of which they have journeyed together.
“To the left if you would.”
Thor barely has time to turn his head around and ask what Loki is talking about before a dagger flies past his peripheral vision, splitting off a few blond strands.
“Read it.” he commands coolly.
He throws his brother a disgruntled glare first, only to prompt a wicked half-smirk and a glint in his eyes.
The blade was thrown with precise force so as to only the tip be imbedded ever so slightly into the wall behind; the mark, as expected, was unfailingly exact.
He gives him the answer he promised before.
“It was my turn to choose.” and Loki looks satisfied saying it.
Autumn was spent as colourfully as the leaves turned. They fall into a pattern of Thor going back and forth between the two realms. After Rome, the selections are decided by the whim of Loki’s throws.
Then the only evergreen remaining in the city by the time autumn ended were the shade of his eyes.
It would be a bleak winter for both of them: ten, twelve, nine, and thirteen. Those were the number of days Loki had tallied for when he was gone.
He watches the snowfall from his oh so expensive perch. The flakes are gentle in their waltzing descent – and they blanket a city spent from the Christmas rush. New York’s outline is a monochrome grey and looks unexpectedly two dimensional, as if from the set of some old black and white film. It’s a curious silence that hangs over them.
But the holidays and excitement had passed, and the counter was up to thirty four and still counting.
Ah...first off, my sincere apologies. The past month has been incredibly busy for me, but hopefully I'll be back with at least somewhat regular updates again. My goal will be to finish this before summer ends, so...we'll see.
As well, chp. 6 has been re-edited and extended slightly.
Translation note: "solemque suum, sua sidera norunt –" is "Stars of their own, and their own suns, they know..."
Chapter 9: Overcast
As conformity, he wore the appropriate winter clothing – if a layer less than recommended. The cold does not affect him, barely even registers through the simple coat and scarf. If his attire wasn’t as enveloping, then no one paid any mind, too concerned they were with keeping their heads down against the wind and rushing to get to an area of warmth.
There was nothing to suggest any hint of discomfort in such dreary weather, except perhaps, for the tail end of his scarf which was snared by the gale. At every forceful gust, the length would wind tighter about his neck, so that he would have to insert a finger every so often between the fluttering fabric and the pale column to tug it back.
Cold, wet, and ashen described the months of January and February. Let no one say it was a pretty sight – cities with traffic and people dirtied the snow, shovelled onto the banks and out of the way as soon as Christmas ended. The white winter was there for their delight and became a nuisance after.
Such a pity.
Shop windows were less festive in their cheer. Bright toys, colourful wrapped boxes, material tokens of good tidings and affection had been packed away. The holiday occasion caught him unaware when it did descend upon them in all its pomp and droll – but now the sudden revert back to old was disconcerting as well in its unintentional offense.
But what is it to him?
He frowns and kicks at a worthless roll of sodden, discarded newspaper in his path and marks the damp impact as decidedly unsatisfying. Yes, perhaps he should look for a puppy instead to hear it whimper so.
The weathermen – or rather duplicates of the same weatherman displayed on the pyramidal set of television screens – were delivering the warnings of staying warm, and best stay inside, lest the extreme cold. In perfect unison. Not that he can hear through the window pane, but warnings had been issued much the same from meteorologists alike and news updates recently.
What is considered cold on Midgard doesn’t do a Jotunn the least justice. However, it keeps the streets less crowded as citizens of the city brave not the harsh temperatures.
Another surge of wind and his scarf is coiled about too many.
He brings up a hand to pull on it once more and the wispy cloud of breath released drifts into the pale grey sky where his eyes follow.
He was in one of Manhattan’s finest, meaning that expenses were near obscene; the single bottle of claret dating back to – well never mind. He could afford it for the occasion.
Here was where society’s finest circles, unknown or otherwise, would come to dine: wealthy couples on dates, courting over fine wine, to groups in entourage for business or pleasure. It was a pleasing scene under the classic décor. He wouldn’t be alone for long though, needn’t even look up from the rim of his drink before noticing the approaching figure in his peripheral vision.
‘He’s learned something.’ Loki thinks, because there is no bluster or blunder. Instead, a table for one easily changes to a table for two. They attract a few, stray looks since Thor, looking more like a deity of lumberjacks is unofficially violating the dress-code standard of such a setting.
“Loki, I-” but stops mid-statement for the rare instances where he actually contemplates on the method of deliverance, searching for tact.
Loki knows he’s owed an explanation, except tonight he doesn’t wish to hear it. If it’s enough to make Thor pause, then it’s enough to sour his mood.
“Just shut up and order.” he interjects, shoving the menu into Thor’s hands.
Together they put off the obvious, such as how Thor is even here to begin with, for Loki has made reservations. Fury’s influence must reach far and deep indeed and he remembers still that he is being closely monitored.
When he’s halfway finished the bottle, Thor deigns to bring up the topic again, but Loki sees fit to shut him down the moment he clears his throat and opens his mouth with a curt “No.”
This throws Thor off for a second or two.
He nurses Thor’s quizzical expression while simultaneously spying a frayed thread on the end of his dress shirt and contemplating the most elegant ways of holding his glass.
“Let me have these last few hours, if you will. For you see, today is the day of my fictitious Midgardian birthday.” An ironic smile tugs at the corner of his lips. “Therefore some circumstance of celebration is called for. So don’t ruin it.”
Such is news to Thor, that much is true.
Since this effectively curtails anything that Thor had to say, making other means of small talk would have been straining at worst and superficial at best. On his hand, Loki feels entitled to be self-absorbed, and so leaves the silence as is.
They finish their meals in neutral atmosphere. The food does not disappoint.
The hour was late, and the elevator ride long. They had the cramped compartment to themselves and Loki slightly slumps against Thor’s frame.
“You’ve had too much to drink.”
“Don’t be absurd.”
He loosens his scarf and releases the top button. It was slightly stifling in the metal box and he was warm under the collar. They stay like that until a dinging quip brings their attention back.
And then Thor’s swinging Loki up in his arms while he lets out an undignified yelp in surprise.
It wasn’t worth the effort to struggle, be put down, and walk himself; his room was right there after all. Loki closed his eyes. He was tired.
Thor lets him down on the bed as one would to a child. He removes Loki’s shoes and coat, before Loki pushes him off to do the rest himself. He leaves on his inner shirt though, unbuttoned, and simply falls back on the plush pillows.
Calloused fingers smooth his forehead, though there’s no hair to fall in the way. There’s a shift in the mattress as Thor’s weight sinks down at the edge.
“I missed you.” he confesses in his low, tenor voice to the darkness.
“Mmm.” comes Loki’s hummed reply.
The fringe of Thor’s hair tickled the edges of his face.
“Many happy returns.” he whispers, breath ghosting.
Loki’s hand tightens on the scratchy wool of Thor’s coat material. “Just the one.”
In other words, happy birthday to our beloved life ruiner~