There is much that Thor will not forget - there is so much he will never forget: Ostagar falling; Lothering in flames; Baldur, still and broken and unburied in the wastelands.
This, too, he will tell himself later, will be just another memory: Loki looking up as he comes through the door, the shock in his eyes too sudden, and too quickly hidden, to be a pretence; the armoured stranger in his home only a surprise until he recognises the Knight-Captain.
Loki is the first to speak.
“You always had such excellent timing, brother,” he says. The Circle robes look strange on him, or perhaps they only look strange to Thor’s eyes. After all, he and Loki have been fugitives for the better part of their lives, in the name of keeping Loki out of them.
A low growl rises in Mjolnir’s throat as she moves to stand between him and Loki, facing the Templars.
Loki drops to one knee and the mabari moves to his side. Loki strokes her head and whispers, “Look after him now, will you?” She whines softly and butts her head against his palm.
Thor remains where he is. He saw no other Templars on his way in, and only the Knight-Captain and another Templar stand between them and freedom. Hardly the greatest fight of his life, but enough of a challenge.
“Brother,” Loki says, “There is nothing you can do.” The odd cadence of Loki’s speech has him look up swiftly in surprise, and Loki shakes his head slightly. His gaze is sure and steady as it meets Thor’s.
Whatever this is, Loki wants it.
Thor thinks back now on the night before he set off for the Deep Roads. They had both agreed that it would be best if Loki stayed, to keep an eye on their home. Lowtown was not kind to newcomers, particularly newcomers with secrets such as Loki’s. Thor privately (and selfishly) wished he could take his brother with him, for Loki was always a welcome addition whenever he was far from home, but he could not deny that he would feel safer with Loki back in Kirkwall, rather than with him in the darkspawn-infested tunnels.
Loki tended to stillness and reflection, but he had been particularly quiet that night. When Thor had settled down next to him before the fireplace, Loki had shifted to make room for him.
“You need a life of your own,” he had said, his arms wrapped around his knees, as he leaned against Mjolnir, who had come to settle between he and Thor.
“I have a life of my own,” scoffed Thor.
Loki had been quiet for a time. “I do not think it much of a life to constantly be fleeing cities, with the Templars on our heels,” he said, at length. “But I am glad you think so.”
“Never doubt that you are worth it,” Thor says.
His brother casts a sardonic look in his direction. Thor knew it wasn’t the end of the matter, but had not thought to pursue it any further.
Thor remembers their conversation as Loki crosses the distance between them. “It is not so bad, brother,” he says. “I will write. If you can read. We will see each other again.”
“I will not leave you,” Thor vows.
A half-sad, half-pitying look crosses Loki’s face. “I know,” he answers. “That is why the choice is no longer in your hands.”
“Well,” says Thor, and then he has nothing more to say. He stands there as what he has spent most of his life trying to prevent happens before him, as Cullen tells him that Loki’s co-operation allows the Templars to spare him the punishment for harbouring a dangerous mage (if you only knew, thought Thor, if you only knew the half of it), as he lets the Templars take his brother away.
“Think of this as a chance to catch up on your reading,” Loki says, as he leaves. He is almost sincere when he says, “Take care of yourself, brother.”
Thor does not realise what Loki means for many days.
It takes Thor days to understand Loki’s direction, and it is Mjolnir who figures it out in the end. One afternoon, she brings a battered letter to him, just the way she brought him rats when she was a pup, and noses at him until he opens it.
The sight of Loki’s familiar slanting hand filling the page before him makes him uncomfortably aware of all the spaces in his life that seem so empty now.
Then he starts to read the letter, and almost immediately it feels as if his brother is there with him. It reads thus:
If Mjolnir has taken this to you, know that you are exactly as great a fool as I have always said you were. If you are reading this, then you and I did not speak before your return, and I for one hope that you have not torn down the Gallows before you reach the end of this letter.
Before you race off to the Gallows to strike down all the Templars in sight, ask yourself this:
When has anyone ever been able to make me do a thing against my will?
I ask you to remember, brother. And to catch up on your reading.
When he asks Mjolnir where she found it, later, she leads him to his writing desk, and looks up at him with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, exactly as if she was laughing at him.
If Loki were here, she wouldn’t be the only one.
Thor has to smile at the simplicity of it all. Loki was truly making it easy for him.
He finds what Loki has left for him in the battered chest which holds everything they took from Lothering, in a worn and faded journal, written in the language Loki had devised for them when they were children, for the day they were separated, should it ever come.
It is an ambitious goal, but then again, it is his brother who has orchestrated it. He does not understand how Loki thinks that Thor is capable of the things he has set in motion, but he is heartened by his brother’s faith.
He thinks that it shouldn’t be a surprise that Loki has always has a plan.
In the days after Loki goes to the Circle, it seems to Thor that not a day passes without the Warriors Three and Sif somehow finding a reason to visit, or Volstagg summoning him to drinks at the nearest tavern, or Hogun requesting his presence on a hunt. While Thor has never been as quick to suspect the motives of others as Loki, even he realizes what is truly going on when Fandral turns up at his doorstep claiming to be there to water plants which Thor knows full well he does not have.
“You have all been here to – to – watch over me!” he exclaims, outraged. “I am not a child who needs watching over!” He returned from the Deep Roads, as he did from Ostagar, did he not: he needs no one to watch over him.
“We were worried you would storm the Gallows when none of us were watching,” Fandral says.
Thor thinks this a ridiculous suggestion – he has spent most of his life finding ways to stay unnoticed by Templars, after all – and he almost laughs and asks Fandral what reason he would have for such an act of lunacy.
Then he remembers his reason and all the fight goes out of him.
Sif comes over that evening to scold him for the state in which he keeps the house. Thor is genuinely moved, for he knows how busy the City Guard has been keeping her, and so it is that he does not complain when she makes sure he has eaten and sets herself to tidying up Loki’s battered writing desk. Mjolnir has finally left off frolicking at Sif’s presence and has curled up at his feet, sleepily watching them.
“Your brother will be all right,” she says, abruptly, as she settles down next to him, finally naming that which neither she nor the Warriors Three have spoken of over the past few days, but which has been behind all that they have done for Thor. “I for one do not believe that this sojourn in the Gallows is not of his own making.”
Thor wishes he could tell her how right she is, but the words will not come. He looks about the room instead, which is a mistake, for he remembers how it has too often felt far too small when Loki was there to share it with him; and how it feels far too empty now, even with Sif there.
“He did once say that were he ever taken to the Circle, he would learn to enjoy the constant attentions of heavily armed men,” Thor offers.
Sif gives him a look and tells him to leave the lies to Loki, but she leans against his shoulder in the companionable silence that falls thereafter, and they speak no more of Loki for the night.
The thought of leaving Thedas does cross his mind, but to do so without Loki has never occurred to him.
He will not be free until his brother is.