Thor fretted through the week between their agreeing to give Loki the sanctuary he’d asked for and the day when Steve said Loki would return. His friend had tried to say little, but Thor could glean enough from what he did to gather that Loki had been wounded, Loki had been desperate, Loki had, perhaps, even been frightened.
And now he was in the wind, alone, with those creatures on his tail. In danger. Loki was good at hiding himself, Thor knew that (from experience) but even so it set something itching in him to know that Loki was at risk and he was not at his brother’s side.
He had to remind himself that Loki would not welcome him, that Loki had not spoken to him for months, since the first time he’d visited him in his cell and attempted to reach him and been greeted by a cold, quiet, “I would rather you had just killed me.”
And after that, not a word. Nothing. He visited the others, tormented them with cruel, barbed words, and Thor sometimes thought he would rather hear the sharp side of Loki’s tongue a thousand times than this…silence.
The thought preyed on his mind that Loki might not live out the week and he would only be left with this gaping…hole that would never be filled.
Which was why the first sound when Steve came to find him with an expression of profound weariness and said, “He’s upstairs,” was a relieved sigh, and it took him a moment to see that Steve was not similarly relieved.
“My friend?” he said, worriedly. Steve shook his head a little, seeming to sag.
“This is never going to work,” he said. “For so many reasons…this is never going to work.”
Did he say I might speak to him? Thor wanted to ask, but now did not seem the proper time. He reached out and clasped Steve’s shoulder. “We will not let our shield companions come to harm,” he said, firmly. “We will not allow it.”
“Yeah,” said Steve, quietly. “Somehow I’ve…I’ve found it’s never really a matter of ‘allowing’ anything. I hope you’re right, but…Thor, if this doesn’t work out? I’m…sorry.”
“You need not be sorry,” Thor said, quietly. “It is likely what I should expect. But I refuse to accept that.”
Steve looked at him for a long time with an expression of profound sadness, and then dragged himself to his feet. “I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Thor.”
“Goodnight, Steve Rogers.”
Thor sat awake through the night, wondering if he was imagining that something felt different in the air, as though he could sense Loki’s presence, floors above.
Loki had been with them for two days. Thus far, there had been no catastrophe. There had also been no word. No message, not even a dream that he could interpret as Loki being aware of his presence, of he, Thor, here, waiting…
He went to the sixteenth level and stood outside the door. Barely two inches of wood separating him from Loki, and it was as though all nine worlds lay between them instead. A boundary he could not cross. Not and risk Loki running.
Thor ought to have been the faster one, easily. And yet whenever Loki started running, Thor never seemed to catch up.
If he closed his eyes and listened very closely, he thought he could hear Loki pacing.
Thor stepped back to counter the urge to break the door and burst in and – either embrace Loki or shake him, he was not sure which. Wait, he told himself. Be patient. He will come to you.
And if he does not?
Perhaps if he sent a message. Something written, that Steve might pass on. Something simple, I miss you, let me see you, let me speak to you.
Thor turned and walked away swiftly, before his resolution broke.
He wrote five different notes in various lengths and degrees of intensity of feeling. In the end, the one he gave to Steve was simple, two lines scrawled on a scrap of paper. You are missed. I hope that you will permit me to see you soon.
Steve took the piece of paper wordlessly, glanced at it. Thor did not try to keep him from reading. “Thor…” he said, looking up, his voice pained. He had not repeated the sentiment he had expressed on the first day, that this effort was doomed to fail, but Thor thought he could see the echo of it in clear blue eyes that met his, worried.
The others, however, would not speak to him of this at all.
“I do not expect…I expect nothing,” Thor said, with a bit of difficulty. “I only wish…I cannot simply wait and do nothing. I want him to know…”
“I’ll pass it on,” Steve said, after a moment, and gripped his arm for a moment. “I’m…I’m sorry I can’t offer you more, buddy.”
“You offer more than I would expect. I am indebted to you.”
“Not even a little,” Steve said, and sighed. “Not like I can actually do anything. I’ll let you…I’ll tell you the minute anything changes.”
The ache in his heart was almost physical. Was painful. “Is there anything you can tell me of him? Is he well? Does he seem…” Steve stared at him for a moment, then dropped his head, rubbing his forehead.
“I can never tell,” he said. “I don’t know. He’s all right, I guess. Bored, restless. But he’s not…far as I can tell he’s following the rules, anyway. Toeing the line. He’s…okay company, mostly.”
“He likes you,” Thor said, feeling almost a sense of relief at the thought, though mingled with a kind of bitterness. I am his brother, why speak to you and not me, but that was a selfish and unkind thought, and he pushed it away. Steve shook his head, looking pained.
“’Like’ is the wrong word. I think…he finds me interesting. Fascinating. For whatever reason.” It is more than he will grant me, Thor thought, and some of it must have shown on his face without him meaning to, because Steve said, “Not that I mean to complain. It’s better than…better than it could be. And I always try…”
“Yes,” said Thor, heavily. “I know. It is…it is well, Steve, my friend. I am grateful.”
Steve brought him updates. Small things, little bits of conversation. Not progress, never progress, just…something. Barely enough, to know that Loki spoke to someone, that he was still alive and speaking and if not, perhaps, at his best, at least…
“And does he speak of me?” Thor asked, with so much fragile hope.
“Sometimes,” Steve said, after a long silence. “When he’s not really thinking, when he’s in a good mood, sometimes…he mentions you without bitterness.”
Sometimes was not never. Sometimes meant there might be still a chance. That one day he and Loki would…
It hurt to hope. But it was still better than the alternative. Than silence, brutally interminable.
Thor would keep hoping.