"But – I'll miss you," The six-year old confesses, tears running down his cheeks. "Won't you miss me?" There is no denying the hurt in his voice.
At twenty, Thor can no longer afford to hold onto this manifestation, this image of his dead brother.
He has carried this pain in his heart for ten years. Ten Asgardian years. As he takes steps and prepares for his coronation, there are things he's being asked to give up. For the good of his people. For the good of the realm.
Thor hand caresses the outline of the boy's figure. Lightly, making sure to just graze upon it as if the image is real.
"Loki, our people need a King."
The boy wipes his tears. His lips tremble. "Not fair."
"I know, brother."
He has clung to his grief long enough. The child deserves to rest. To play in the fields of Valhalla and to ride upon the stag Eikþyrnir.
"Thor, please. I'll be good. I promise." His brother beseeches.
Thor closes his eyes and says the words that would finally allow his little brother to rest.
And then there's silence.
"Oh, my son." After the coronation is over, and Thor is proclaimed Heir apparent and all the guests and dignitaries have left, Asgards royal family gathers in what was once Loki's bedroom.
Thor accepts his mother's hug, and feels Odin's hand along his shoulder.
Nothing has been moved in this room, everything remains as it was once left, waiting for its prince to return.
Loki was not supposed to have followed him that day. Thor had made sure of it by angering his brother, so that Loki would cry and prove Thor's words, that he was after all just a baby. That Loki, embarrassed, would then remain behind.
It had worked on all the other occasions Thor had wanted his brother to remain at home, except that this time, six-year old Loki was determined to prove himself to his ten-year old brother.
He follows Thor and his friends.
Followed them even as they entered the world of Svartálfar and were attacked by a group of dark elves. They should have been killed. It is they who should have died. Four ten-year olds were no match against a dozen dark elves.
It's Loki who stops the blow that surely would have killed Thor.
Loki whose magic, the magic Thor has teased him so much about, pushes back their attackers and who transports all except its bearer to safety.
And it is the Allfather who later finds Loki's broken body. Who brings his dead son home. Who punishes Svartálfar for its transgression.
"You must forgive yourself, Thor." His mother tells him. "He would want you to forgive yourself."
Thor's no longer that foolish boy, but he knows it is his guilt and grief that brings the projection to life; that makes it so six-year old Loki could once again walk through the halls of the palace, follow after his older sibling and visit their mother in her chambers so she could read to him.
At ten, Thor has believed he had been given a second chance; to do things right this time. So he now includes his brother in his games and makes sure his friends treat the ghost with kindness.
Odin glances at his son. "Thor, come now. It is time."
At twenty, Thor is too young to take his place as Heir Apparent, as King, during the Allfather's sleep.
But Loki's death has also aged Odin. For it was he who found his son’s body. The mangled corpse. It was he who knew how long Loki suffered until his son finally succumbed to his injuries.
All his injuries, even the ones Odin could never speak of.
He made the dark elves pay for their crime. The wasteland he left behind makes Jotunheimr seem like paradise.
Odin allows Thor his grief, as it mirrors his own.
Loki, the boy Odin once saved. The boy, the son, Odin loved.
Standing outside the bedroom, Odin places his hand along the closed door. The words he chants will seal the door shut forever, for it is not as if its owner will ever return to grace this palace with his presence.
Ten Asgardian years pass
Thor is waiting outside the birthing room. Magni, his four-year-old, is happily wrestling with their young pup, Fenris.
"Push, my lady." The midwife shouts.
The only thing keeping him here, is knowing that if he dares to enter the birthing room, his wife, Sif, may just end up beheading him. Her aim, after all is quite good.
His grip on Mjölnir tightens and only relaxes when he hears a loud cry.
Holding his newborn in his arms, he wonders why his parents never told him about Loki's true origins. Not that it would have mattered to him that his brother was Jotun instead of Asgardian.
But it would have prepared them. Prepared them all for this strange possibility.
The child, his wife has given birth to, is Aesir in all appearance, except for the markings along his skin. Markings that disappeared upon Thor's touch.
His mother, upon catching sight of the babe, all but faints on Thor. It is she who tells Thor the truth of Loki's origin.
But he does not need her words to know that they all have been granted a second chance. It is the palace itself, and the room now unsealed that confirms his son, Loki's rebirth.
The babe yawns and smacks his lips.
"Daddy, why is it so little?" Magni asks his father, as he pulls his father's armour, trying to see more of his newly born brother.
Thor smiles. "You were little as well."
Magni gives him a doubtful look.
"Come, I am certain the Allfather would want to see your brother."
"But he's asleep. Not disturb." Magni presses his finger on his lip and makes a shushing sound.
"Aye, my son." Trying not to laugh and disturb the babe in his arms. After all how often has Thor found Magni sitting on top of Allfather during Odinsleep, telling him tales of his misadventures, little fingers checking on Odin's one-eye, demanding his grandfather pay attention.
Thank you, Thor thinks. Thank you, brother.
He again adjusts Loki – no. His son, now newly named.
"Modi," Thor says looking down at the babe, feeling the heaviness in his heart lift with each step.