Thor was not a complicated man. None that knew him would call him such, but, for all his noise and good cheer, there were times when court life stifled, when the mantle of Prince and sole heir lay especially heavy on his broad shoulders. Times when, as a young child, he would seek out his mother, and spend a few hours listening to her read, or helping her with her weaving. (Tangling threads worse than a cat, but help was a relative term).
As he grew older, those times grew fewer and further between, and he found other ways to find peace. Riding out from Asgard or across the Bifrost to other worlds, but a prince needed companions, and silent companionship wasn't quite solitude. Asgard's halls were familiar to him as the back of his hand, but even their vastness wasn't empty. Servants scurried to and fro. Even the library, quiet but for the rustling of restless books, was filled with librarians and students watching him warily, as if questioning what a warrior was doing in a place of learning. (It wasn't as if he couldn't read. He could, and enjoyed it too, he just enjoyed other things more).
He envied his father the Odin-sleep and often wondered if he could get away with lying in bed all day, as he had when he was a child, claiming Thor-sleep, and building a fort under his blankets in which to hide. Hiding from no one and with no one to hide with would grow tiresome, and his Thor-sleep had never lasted very long.
He'd returned from the battlefield in high spirits, made merry with his men (and Sif) for long hours, but now the night was almost past, dawn light filtered in through the windows. The press of people in the great hall had grown too loud, too joyous (and too drunk). His thoughts had turned away from the food and feasting and lingered on the faces of those they'd lost. He would honour them tomorrow with the others of course. Spill mead into the soil and speak their names in hushed voices. But now, for a short while, he wanted to remember them alone and in his own way. He wanted to think of them as they were. Or, maybe, he wanted to not think of anything at all. To be just a man, returning from battle, weary and alive.
He'd turned his feet away from the battlements where he knew he could catch some semi-solitude with the stone faced sentries, and followed the passageways down instead. He descended deeper and deeper until the natural light was passed over in favour of torchlight and sconces in the walls instead of windows. A slight, yet persistent chill gathered in the dry air, growing sharper as he descended. The sound of his footsteps echoed strangely against the floor.
He'd been down here only once before, his small hand held securely in his father's larger one. The halls had been empty and silent despite their footsteps. He'd wanted to say something to break it -- reassurance of his maturity, his readiness to be lead down into the dark place (or maybe his honest youth and eagerness to be back up in the sunlight,) but he'd said nothing, had his frozen breath stolen by the sight of the casket, and had worked to rub the chill from his bones for hours afterwards.
Now Thor pushed the doors, the metal biting cold under his fingertips. He snatched them away as soon as the door was open enough to slip through, rubbing redness from his fingertips as he slid through the gap. He blew on them a last time and looked up, then halted.
A man stood before the dais, the wall behind him casting pale blue light across the side of his cheek and brow. He seemed frozen, staring back at the door almost a statue, but for, Thor noticed now, the light rise and fall of his chest.
Thor, frowning, began to descend the steps. The man's hands clenched emptily by his sides. He turned fully to face Thor, his spine very straight. He was taller than Thor had first realised, easily on a level with him, perhaps a few inches taller. His eyes, which had been wide, narrowed as Thor approached, still unspeaking, and his thin lips pressed into a tighter line. The light put blue highlights into his black hair.
His clothes, though well made, were simple, too simple for him to be a visiting nobleman. Besides he looked like none Thor had ever seen, too slight and hair too dark, for all that he carried himself like one -- his straight posture and now a slight sneer to his lips. Thor slowed and stopped opposite him. He was aware his staring was rude, but was comforted by the fact the man was doing much the same back.
He could be a servant, Thor considered, but he discarded the idea instantly, no servant would look back so brazenly. nor with such scorn. Thor's eyes widened (the man flinched). This man must be the keeper of the hall. That was why there was no guards. (Which, honestly, he'd expected to be halted by much earlier on). Of course, the man had no visible weapons (Thor had checked that when he first was the man's hands fist) but perhaps he had some hidden, or some signal to call others to his aid.
"I'm sorry," Thor wondered how long the man had been down here, whether he'd come in right in the middle of, (his mind blanked), an important guarding... event.
The man stared back, face impassive but for a slight widening of his eyes.
Thor winced. Odin too was a master of the minute, but expressive facial expressions. "I didn't mean to disturb your, guarding, duties. I was simply looking for..." He hesitated and his incomplete sentence hovered awkwardly in the silence. While he had never hidden his occasional desire for solitude, it wasn't something that he had publicised, unsure whether such a thing was fitting for a royal prince -- friend to all, afraid of nothing.
But the man quirked an eyebrow and Thor found himself continuing, "I was looking for somewhere quiet, for a moment. Sorry," he said again for good measure. He laughed abruptly, the sound echoed loudly in the silent hall. Thor began to turn, wincing into his collar.
The man's voice was quiet, almost rough. Thor halted.
The man swallowed, lips moving for a second then he walked forward, eyes intent, expression sharpening as he approached.
"You shouldn't be down here."
"I know." He shifted his weight from foot to foot. "I just wanted-"
"Somewhere quiet," the man finished for him, and Thor nodded catching his eyes with half a smile. But the man didn't seem to thaw at that, instead he frowned a little, looking him over once more, though Thor wondered what else there was left to see, he shivered slightly. The air was very cold.
"How did you know to come here?"
Thor frowned, he knew all of the palace. But, perhaps a hall keeper way down in the dungeons wouldn't mix much with the rest of the servants or guards. "My father showed me the way, many years ago."
Thor looked at the man in confusion. "My father." And his name was on the tip of his tongue, when, he hesitated. This man didn't know who he was. Didn't know finding a place to sit and be silent wasn't what he was meant to be doing. To this man he was just another person, a person who disturbed his solitude, yes, but a person with every right to do so. Well, no less right than any other.
"A guard," he finished.
The man nodded slowly, then. “Loki,” he said. “I am Loki.”
"Th- Thjalfi," Thor blurted out, tongue tripping as he swapped out his name for another’s. "My name is Thjalfi," he repeated. He extending his hand, carried by a sudden burst of excitement at the subterfuge. Harmless subterfuge. He had a moment of worry, but the man was reaching out and the worry was swept aside as the man's cool palm met his.
"Loki," the man replied, and Thor let his fingers curl around his thin ones for a moment longer than necessary, wanting to warm the chill from his skin.
Thor shifted against the wall. The silence was perfect, but the chill was sharper than he’d expected and he couldn’t get comfortable.
He glanced over at Loki, who sat, calm and still, long limbs gathered into a neat perch upon the stairs.
“I've never seen you.” Thor pointed with his thumb, up there.
Loki shrugged. "My duties keep me busy."
“But you must have free days?” Thor frowned.
Loki let his hand drift over the step, his pale fingers almost the same white as the stones. "Well, if I must."
"Where do you go?"
Loki shifted, turning his seat into a more relaxed sprawl. He didn’t look like a guard. With the pale blue light washing over his face, and the long clean lines of his body. He did not seem like anything familiar at all.
“I go to a land full of snow, where the ground is white as the clouds. I go where the darkness lasts for years, and the sunshine is so bright it burns.”
Thor licked dry lips. "I would have thought you'd try to escape the cold."
Why?" Loki's turned to look at him.
"Why?" Thor laughed. The sound was loud in the empty hall. "Why wouldn't you?"
Loki just stared at him, eyes dark.
Thor shook his head, shifting his position again. "You are strange."
Loki raised an arch eyebrow. Thor smiled. Loki's lips twitched. Thos smiled wider, letting his head fall back against the wall. The cold seeped through his hair to his scalp. He shut his eyes.
"Tell me about this land."
"I thought you were seeking silence."
"I was, I am. This is peaceful." He opened his eyes and raised his head. "Please?" The word came out surprisingly easily. He flexed his shoulders against the wall, the cold settling into his skin.
Loki's eyes narrowed, they flickered to the right for a second, then he moved, gathering himself up from his sprawl until he was sitting again on the stairs. His legs a little apart, arms resting on his knees. Thor glanced over his shoulder, but he couldn't see what had caught Loki's attention, just shadows and old trophies. He turned back. The blue light cloaked Loki’s shoulders, the rays shuttering into lengths of light and shadow as he raised his arms.
"Picture a mountain." He swept both hands together, then up to a point. Thor stared as the space between Loki’s arms seemed to shimmer, then as if through a misty lens, a mountain appeared. His breath caught, sharp at the back of his throat then exhaled in a rush. "How did you-"
"Sshh," Loki admonished, without looking away from the image.
Thor shuffled closer, then stood and came closer still, until he could see clearly the shape of a massive snow covered mountain hovering between Loki’s hands. The image sharp, as if Loki had taken a sheet of glass from a window and captured the image upon it.
He settled at the foot of the dias, pulling his legs cross-legged under him to keep the heat in. He glanced up when Loki didn’t continue. Eyes watering a little as the blue light shined directly into them. Loki's face was entirely in shadow, his body silhouetted against the light. He sat very still.
"Loki?" Thor asked softly.
Loki twitched, the mountain flickered. "Sh," he said, sharply, and Thor dropped his gaze, looking back at the mountain.
"The wind," Loki began again. "The winds that cuts down the slopes is colder than ice itself. Any animal, plant, and person exposed without protection is frozen in an instant.” The image changed, swooped in towards a sharp cliff face, then circled to hover above the lip. A dark smudge gradually sharpening as they approached into the shape of a wolf standing close to the edge. The image went in closer still and Thor could see the snow that had settled on the wolf's back. He could see the skinny ribs that stuck out, but didn't move. The body held in its last frozen inhale when the wind had washed over it from the tips of its tail to the glazed yellow of its eyes.
The image passed the wolf and swooped down the cliff face, grey rock and snow streaking past until it stopped abruptly, hovering an inch above the snow. The focus pulled and Thor saw shapes huddled against the cliff: the rest of the pack taking shelter from the wind. They looked mangy and thin like the frozen wolf. Here the omega, sitting nose under tail at the edge of the group. There a mother, her pups huddled in against her side.
The image was so clear, he could see the individual hairs of her coat, could see the flakes of snow that fell past her muzzle. Thor shivered and shifted forward. Slowly he stretched out his hand. So close. It was as if he could reach forward and touch her. His fingers just passed between Loki’s arms, and the tips of his finger burnt with cold. The she-wolf looked straight at him and silently growled. Her lips drawing back from yellowed teeth.
Thor blinked, jerking his hand back. His fingertips were red. He blew on them, crossed his arm over his chest and tucked his hand under his armpit. "It's real?" The words came out shocked and rough. He looked up at Loki. "The picture is real?”
Loki didn’t reply at once. He tilted his head, his expression still in shadow. “Now you ask.”
Thor shrugged awkwardly, pulling his hand out to check his fingers. Still red. He tucked it back under his arm. “Just cold. No harm done.”
Loki shook his head. “Just cold,” he murmured. Then he moved, the image wavering as he adjusted his seat. “Watch, don’t touch.” He hadn’t answered Thor’s question, but Thor was distracted as the image changed again, moving rapidly away until Thor could see the whole mountain range - vast and glittering.
Loki painted a picture between his fingers of snow and ice, of whistling wind and the great heavy thunder of falling stones. He showed Thor vast crackling lights of green, blue and red that stretched and smeared themselves across the sky. He took him to the shore then out into the deep sea. Showing him immense waves that reared high enough to blot out the pale sky and finally collapsed in a wash of noise so loud that Thor jerked back despite himself, catching his breath as the wave fell to pieces and motes of light between Loki's hands.
Loki clenched his fingers into fists, flexing, then let them drop to rest his arms again on his knees.
Thor scrambled up and forward, hesitantly this time, first glancing up at Loki to check, then he passed his hand through the space where the mountain had been. The air there was no colder than anywhere else.
He was close enough now to see Loki’s expression, the shadows deep in the planes of his cheeks and gathered in the hollow of his throat. His slick black hair had escaped its place and slid down from behind his ear to fall across his face. His shoulders were a little slumped and Thor wondered how much it must take to create a window into another world between one’s hands using only cold air and light. Thor let his reach extend, moving to clasp Loki on the shoulder. A second before he touched cloth, Loki jerked sharply back, his eyes white and wide and he twisted under Thor’s reaching a palm, slipping around and behind, tripping a little down the steps.
Thor twisted with him, turning so that their positions were now exchanged, Thor standing silhouetted against the light, and Loki lit clearly. The unforgiving light picked out the tired scoops under his eyes and the hollowness to his cheeks.
Thor frowned. “Forgive me, I did not mean to-”
“I don’t like, being touched.” Loki held himself very stiffly, his spine straight.
Thor frowned deeper and began to descend the steps slowly. He kept his hand by his sides. “As you wish.”
He reached the foot of the steps, and standing next to Loki he realised, for all his slimness, Loki was of a height with him. His eyes, now he was close enough to see, were a blue as sharp as the cold light, and neatly on a level with his own.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Thor tried again, his voice pitched low. “Forgive me. I just...” He took a short step closer. “You look tired, friend, will you not call your replacement and join me above?”
Loki’s eyes went wide for a moment before he recovered, and Thor cursed his own stupidity. He was meant to be a servant, just a servant, Inviting a guard up to the halls for a meal was not his place. “I mean,” he tried to backtrack. “That is, the kitchens would be happy to give us an extra loaf, and some meat.” Though how he was going to pull that off without someone recognising him he had no idea. Perhaps he could collar one of his friends into maintaining the illusion, though he was having a hard time imagining Volstagg dressed up as a serving boy.
“No,” Loki said, a small half smirk on his lips, his posture was more relaxed and somehow while Thor was worrying, an extra step of space had widened between them. “My shift is nowhere near its end.” And he took another step away.
“Well.” Thor glanced at the door. The cold was set into his bones now. He was afraid if he didn’t go, he might freeze just like the wolf. A solid Thor statue to be locked away with the other trophies. He shivered, ice crawling down his spine and, embarrassingly, his stomach rumbled. He glanced at Loki and laughed. “It seems my stomach would make the decision for me.”
Lokie shrugged delicately. “Indeed.” His shoulders were so slight compared to Thor’s, his thin tunic adding no bulk, and in a sudden decision, Thor unhooked the clasp at his neck and swept his cloak off his shoulders. The thick, rich fabric was warm from his body. “Here.” He held it out. Loki didn’t move forward and his posture had once again gone tense. Thor winced, modulating his tone. “Here, for the cold.”
“I don’t need it.”
But he looked tired and thin and Thor didn’t quite believe it.
It was strange, how easy the word was to say. He had so little practice in asking for things.
Loki still didn’t move to take it, but stubbornness was something Thor did know. He folded it over and placed it on the steps.
“Well. If you change your mind.”
He glanced at the door once more.
“Thank you, for the...” he raised his arms, fingers spread, “mountain. It was...” He paused, searching for the word. Loki held himself very still, looking for all the world like the frozen statue Thor had imagined himself becoming, all blue and silver and dark, black hair. “Beautiful,” Thor said softly, “it was beautiful.”
With that he stepped back, executed a short bow, and left.