He had left Asgard to convince Thor not to return. He knew well that the Warriors Three and the Lady Sif were thinking of coming here themselves, but their goal was to return Thor and place him as rightful King of Asgard.
Loki could see their point. Thor was the rightful king, and it was not as though Loki held any personal ambition towards the throne. No, he was content with his place at Thor's side. He would be his advisor; his brother; his friend above all others. He already was. And it was because he already was those things that he could see that Thor was not ready to be king. So he'd stopped the coronation, using a group of Jotun he'd met in a marketplace in Vanaheim to do the deed.
He hadn't expected Thor to drag them into a war. He hadn't expected him to be banished from Asgard, either.
He hadn't expected to discover that Thor was not his brother at all.
Loki needed time. He needed time to think and to adjust and to deal with the problem that was Jotunheim. Then Thor could return and he could abdicate quite happily if he saw that his brother had learned the lesson that their father had intended for him.
He hadn't expected his magic to guide him here. To a cold, metal-lined room with a row of odd looking tables in it, each of them metal; each with their own drain. One of them had a sheet draped over it, covering whatever lay on its surface. He approached it, curious. His brother was not here, clearly, as the room was empty. But it had been a long time since Loki had last set foot on Midgard, and the world had changed a great deal.
As he approached the table, he could smell something strong and unnatural. It appeared to be trying to wipe out all other odours, but it was failing. Loki could smell the underlying tang of blood quite clearly.
He reached for the sheet, but hesitated. He had never been one for gruesome sights. That had been Thor, who had a warrior's fascination for blood and battle, and who would never shy away from any horror. While Loki too was a proven fighter – though not, apparently, one up to the great standards of the Lady Sif – he did not seek out such things and preferred not to look upon them if he could help it.
Nonetheless, he drew back the sheet, his eyes registering red in various sickening shades, mixed with gleaming white and gold. Then his brain kicked in and translated the gruesome palette into something altogether more horrifying.
He knew now, why his magic had brought him here.
What had once been his brother was now a mess of flesh and bone and congealed blood, but still there were features he found familiar. There, the fall of his golden hair; there, his strong jaw. But he was too still, and what little of his skin could be seen through the blood was unnaturally pale. He raised a hand to touch Thor's cheek. His brother was cold to the touch and oddly stiff. Loki jerked away trembling. There was red staining his fingers.
There was a hard lump stuck in his throat. He tried to swallow around it, but couldn't. His eyes burned. He was not crying, he wasn't, and he clapped his hands to his mouth to hold in the sob that threatened to break free.
He hadn't meant for this. He hadn't meant for his schemes to lead to this. To Thor, cold and dead, laying on a table in Midgard without any of the honours a warrior deserved.
He had to fix this. Somehow, he would find a way to bring Thor back.
He reached down and smoothed Thor's hair back in a gesture their mother had performed often, careful to avoid the caved-in side of his skull. He forced a tremulous smile to his lips as if Thor were there to see it. His brother needed him, now more than he ever had.
"I swear to you, my brother" he whispered. "I will fix this."
He leaned down and pressed his lips to Thor's waxy brow. He could not hold back a shudder at how wrong it felt, nor could he hold back the tears that finally slipped free and dripped down his cheeks to splatter on what remained of his brother's face. He drew away, just slightly, and breathed his apology once more before he straightened.
There was no more he could do on Midgard for now. He replaced the sheet that covered Thor's body and summoned his magic to him, let it rise about him, and transported himself away – through the branches of Yggdrasil – to Asgard.
He had work to do.
He was halfway from his chambers to the library when he caught sight of his reflection. There was blood painting his mouth and smeared over his cheek. He'd removed the stain that had lingered on his fingers with magic when he had returned, at the same time as he had changed his clothes back from their temporary Midgardian appearance.
He hadn't realised he'd got it on his face as well.
Nausea rose within him. He was going to be sick. There was no bathroom in sight, so he steadied himself against the wall as his stomach rebelled. He coughed and spluttered as wave upon wave of sickness burned his throat and stole his breath. He closed his eyes, trying to hold back his tears as his splutters turned to sobs.
His knees gave out and he collapsed to the floor, not caring about the mess he was making of himself. He wrapped his arms around himself, hugging himself tightly, as he fought to keep himself together. He was crying so hard he thought he would fly apart from the force of it. Thor, from as early as he could remember, Thor had been the centre of his universe. He was the person Loki would do anything for – even if he didn't realise or recognise it – and now he was gone.
And it was all Loki's fault.
When he had been younger, he had attended the funeral of one of Odin's oldest friends. He'd barely known the man, though what he had known had shown him he was a good one, and he hadn't been able to understand why the man's family had been crying so. He'd known, intellectually, that they were sad and that they missed him, but he hadn't quite got it. Now, though, as he knelt, crumpled and weeping in an abandoned corridor, he understood perfectly the crippling power of raw grief.
Eventually, his tears subsided. He called upon his magic and whispered the seidr that would cleanse him. His voice was hoarse and cracked and unnaturally loud in the sudden quiet. He pushed himself to his feet and leaned heavily on the wall once more, catching his breath. He felt weak and shaky, but his earlier determination was taking control once more. If he let himself break like this then Thor would never come back to him, and Loki…
Loki wouldn't be able to live with himself.
He studied his reflection in the glass that had so shocked him earlier. The blood was gone, along with whatever traces of vomit there had been as well, but that didn't mean he looked well. To the contrary, he looked terrible: waxy and pale with fine beads of sweat dotting his brow and upper lip. He looked not at all like a king in control of his kingdom.
He had to hide it. He had to keep Thor's death to himself. The news would destroy his mother, miserable as she already was over his banishment and his father's fall into the Odinsleep. He couldn't do that to her.
His earlier anger over his hidden heritage seemed petty in comparison to the turmoil he felt now.
He ran a hand over his face, trailing green sparks of magic in its wake. The spell perfected his imperfections; made him look well instead of sickly and in despair. He would be able to hold it as long as he needed to. Hopefully, it wouldn't be that long: Heimdall wouldn't be able to keep his gaze on the growing troubles in Jotunheim forever.
He pushed away from the wall, straightened his back and shoulders, and held his head high as he began walking again, following the long-memorised path from his chambers to the library once more.
Lady Sigyn, the book-keeper, smiled at him as he entered. She was a pleasant, pretty girl – one his mother incessantly seemed to be nudging him towards – and he managed to force a smile for her sake, though he swiftly bowed his head to hide how quickly it faded.
He made his way to a table at the back of the room, well hidden amongst the stacks. Even if he hadn't wanted to keep Thor's death a secret, he still would not want anyone to discover him studying such magic. Such things were reviled in Asgard. Truly reviled: even more so even than the argr second prince. He doubted even Thor would care for him after he had done it, but that didn't matter as long as Thor came back.
He would do anything for his brother.
The words he had spoken to the Warriors Three and Lady Sif not two days before rang in his mind. "I love Thor more than any of you." For all that he was renowned for being a liar; he had spoken nothing but the truth in that moment.
He loved Thor enough to risk his soul for him.
The first wave of his grief faded, leaving a frigid numbness at the core of his being and a ruthless dedication to his cause. His heart – bruised and broken by the discovery of his true heritage – seemed to have been ripped out of him entirely. He felt nothing as he poured over ancient texts, deciphering their cramped writing, save frustration that he was not working fast enough.
He felt nothing, that is, until something jarred his memory. Every so often a stray thought would surface in his mind and the numbness would be replaced with agony. Every time it happened, he would bite down on his knuckles to stop himself from screaming in anguish. He had run out of tears, it seemed, as no more fell. There was only pain and then more nothingness.
He might have had his heart ripped out, but the wound it had left behind had raw, jagged edges as sharp as broken glass.
For days he did not sleep. Nor did he eat. He read and read and memorised runes and seidr and forced himself to keep going for Thor and Thor alone. For Thor was all that mattered now. He was all that had ever mattered.
Eventually, he dragged himself out the library, a careful illusion in place over his haggard features. He crept down to the kitchens, avoiding as many people as he could, and stole two apples while the cooks weren't looking. He wasn't truly hungry, and the crisp flesh of the fruit tasted like ash in his mouth, but he forced himself to eat both of them. He would need energy for what he was about to do.
He was going back to Midgard.
He prepared himself in his chambers. His green tunic and leather trousers transformed into Midgardian clothing once more. It fit oddly – looser than what he was used to – but it was necessary. Even though his magic would discourage people from looking at him, there were some who would be able to ignore the spell and he wouldn't have enough power to make himself invisible while he –
While he fixed his brother.
It had become rapidly apparent that the one thing he needed more than anything to work the spell – aside from a complete disregard for his own wellbeing and reputation – was Thor's body. More than that he needed Thor's body to be in perfect condition so that his soul might inhabit it; any lingering injuries would cause his brother's soul to flee once more and that was the last thing Loki wanted.
With his disguise in place, he summoned his magic and stepped out onto the branches of Yggdrasil.
He had been travelling this way for centuries. He had discovered the trick quite by accident, but had long since perfected it. He could navigate the World Tree with ease, now, which was certainly a boon – Loki was in no state to concentrate on anything other than what awaited him at the end of his journey.
He was no healer. Oh certainly, he had patched Thor and his little friends back together several times over the years. Their noble warrior spirits meant that they also had no sense of self-preservation and Loki had been forced to learn healing seidr over the years for sheer practicality's sake. But those were meant for wounds of battle and mild ones at that; the injuries that had ended Thor's life were of a far greater extent and had come from a vastly different source.
He focussed his magic on his brother and followed its path through the branches to Midgard.
The room was the same as it had been when he'd left. This time, Loki crossed straight to the table and drew back the sheet without hesitation. The sight that greeted him was as awful as it had been the first time, but it was a sight that had haunted him every time he closed his eyes, so this time he did not flinch.
He rested his hand gently against Thor's cheek for a single moment. There was less blood, this time. A mortal must have taken the time to clean Thor's body, and for that Loki could not help but be grateful. Even though it had transformed Thor's skin to an unnerving shade of grey, it would make his task a lot less messy.
He leaned over his brother's body and pressed their foreheads together. He spoke the seidr softly as he began to run his hands over Thor's face and head. Magic twisted from his fingers and sank into his brother, pulling bone from brain matter, repairing nerves, and repairing tissue. He worked as quickly as he could, moving downwards, realigning bones as he went. There was far more trauma than he had anticipated, not to mention decomposition, and soon he was sweating in his ugly Midgardian clothes. He took a break to slip out of the fitted jacket his jerkin had become, and that was when he noticed his audience.
There was a young woman in the doorway. She was short, with long brown hair and a horrified expression. She was staring right at him. The magic that should have kept him unnoticed had failed.
He sneered and flicked a hand in her direction, his spell causing her to slump instantly to the floor. He left her where she lay, not caring for her comfort as he returned to Thor's side. He didn't care if she awoke sore and stiff – he had more important things to worry about, and did not care to be studied while doing them. He pulled the sheet further down, uncovering Thor's torso and upper thighs, and hopped up onto the table to balance himself over his brother once more. With his skull reformed and the damage to his face reversed, Thor almost looked as though he was sleeping. He looked peaceful, gentle, like this – if Loki ignored the greying of his face and lips – and it made Loki feel uncomfortable as he leaned back down to press his brow to Thor's once more.
It was an intimate position to be in, and if Thor was alive and awake for it, then no doubt Loki's actions would be misinterpreted. But, Loki knew, this was just the beginning.
He didn't know if Thor would ever be able to forgive him for this, the foul magic he planned to use to bring him back. When he was alive again, things between them would have changed, and Thor would be well within his rights to cast Loki forever from his side. He didn't care. He didn't care what Thor did as long as he was awake to do it.
His magic gathered once more in his fingertips. He closed his eyes and allowed his other senses to take over as the words of the healing seidr took form on his lips and tongue. He felt his magic spread out, seeking damage to reverse. He felt every inch of Thor's body, inside and out, mapped out and explored. There was no mystery in it anymore; he knew it better than he did his own.
Once the healing was complete, he pushed himself up on shaking arms before casting one final spell to preserve Thor's body indefinitely. The first stage was complete. Thor's body was ready for his soul to inhabit it once more. All that was left was for Loki to track that soul down and return it to its vessel and then he would have his brother back, for good or ill.
But where to do it? Loki knew that it would take time to perform that ritual, and that he would be vulnerable for the duration of it. He didn't feel safe enough on Midgard to perform it there, but Asgard had its own problems. Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, his mother, Heimdall – they were all present there, and if one of them began to suspect his absence too much then they could easily discover what he was doing. And if they did that…
The ritual was not without its risks. Loki knew that if it was disrupted in any way then he too would die, would join Thor in the wastes of Niflheim, and that both of them would be lost. But it was a risk that he was willing to take. Thor alone could inspire such recklessness in him.
He brushed his fingers over his brother's cheek. He loved Thor more than anyone – a life without him was not a life at all. His foolish, headstrong, beautiful brother.
He stood and stretched, and collecting his jacket from the table he had placed it on. He slipped it on over his shoulders and returned to Thor once more. Awkwardly, for his brother was not only bigger than him, but heavy and stiff with death, he gathered Thor up into his arms and allowed his magic to carry them both through the branches of Yggdrasil to Asgard.
At least this way, if something did go wrong, he would be able to die at home.
He placed Thor's body on his bed and arranged him so that – were he to awake – he would be comfortable. He released the enchantment on his clothing as he sat next to him, stroking his hair with a tenderness that surprised even himself. Loki was not given to displays of affection; Thor had been, and Loki had always tried to push him away, fearing the intensity of those gestures. Now, though, he could not resist.
How was it that losing Thor had driven home everything that his brother meant to him?
The sight of Thor in his bed was a strange one. They had shared a chamber when they were children, but had been separated as soon as they had started to show signs of reaching manhood. When he had been little, the warmth of Thor slumbering by his side had been a source of comfort; now the mere sight of golden hair spread over his pillow made his stomach contract.
"I shall return," he whispered, stroking Thor's hair once more. "Soon, brother."
He dragged himself away, breathed deeply to regain his composure, and swept from his chambers without looking back – careful to enchant the door so that it would open only to him.
If he wished to enforce the illusion of all being well, then he would have to put in an appearance as king at some point. He headed towards the throne room. Hugin and Munin, his father's ravens, were absent, but the great spear Gungnir leaned against the great arm of Hlidskjalf waiting for him to take it up. He reached for it, and when his fingers wrapped around its shaft, he could feel the power that thrummed within it.
Tentatively, he lowered himself onto the throne and sat back. It felt awkward to sit there, high above the golden hall, in a throne that he had no real right to, let alone a desire for. He tried to appear calm and controlled, but his heart was fluttering wildly in his chest. He rested Gungnir across his lap and shifted into a more comfortable position.
This wasn't right. He wasn't meant to be a king.
He wasn't Thor.
He had teased Thor before the interrupted coronation. "Nervous, brother?" he had asked, and he had smiled when he'd said it, knowing that Thor would reject it and sure enough he had. But he knew now that Thor should have been. The very seat itself was intimidating.
His fingers clenched involuntarily to remember what else he had teased his brother over that day. "Now give us a kiss." What would he have done, he wondered, if Thor had done so?
The doors to the throne room slammed open, then, and the voice of Lady Sif rang out to him. "My King, we must speak with you," she said as she rushed across the room, flanked by the Warriors Three.
Then she looked up at him, and Loki saw her eyes widen in fear and shock before she narrowed them once more in suspicion. She had never liked him. For what reason, he did not know, as they were in similar positions: she had abandoned her woman's duties for battle and glory and war; he had chosen the study of magic, considered amongst the Aesir to be a feminine calling. Both of them had excelled despite the difficulties they had faced. But instead of inspiring friendship between them, those similarities had caused a one-sided rivalry on her part. She detested him, more so than any of Thor's other friends.
"The King has fallen into Odinsleep," he told her. "You may bring your problems to me."
She looked, briefly, horrified. None of Thor's friends were particularly good at hiding their thoughts and feelings, and for one such as him, it meant that he could read their thoughts without the use of magic.
It seemed that he was Sif's problem.
For one awful moment he wondered if she knew what he had been up to – if his actions on earth and his plans to resurrect Thor had been discovered. But then Fandral took over the talking and Loki felt himself calm.
They believed Thor alive. They wanted him to return to Asgard.
Loki released a shaky breath and stood. A gentle tap of Gungnir's shaft on the floor rang out loudly, silencing Fandral instantly. He hadn't realised it took so little effort to make that sound.
"My friends," he started. He wondered, briefly, at the best way to approach this. It would benefit him – benefit Thor – if they were absent from Asgard for the time being. He knew that Sif would defy him, no matter how logical he was. She always did. If he refused the request, then she would talk the others into going with her to Midgard. "Asgard needs stability," he said. "My first act as king cannot be to undo the last of my father."
"But –" Fandral began to protest. Sif lunged forward, only to have her arm caught by Hogun. She would do exactly as Loki wished her to do.
"I miss Thor as well," he said. More than they, or anyone, would ever know. "But my word on this matter is final. Thor cannot return."
He watched as they gathered themselves and backed away, removing themselves from his presence. He sighed in relief. It wouldn't be long before they defied him.
He watched the Bifrost activate with no small amount of relief. It had transported Thor's friends away from Asgard, and that gave him the freedom to move as he liked without their (Sif's) suspicious stares following him. As the glittering beam faded back, he turned away, and with quick strides returned to his chambers.
He had spent the afternoon with his mother, sitting by his father's bedside and silently bidding them both farewell in case anything should go wrong. The thought that it might – that he would be trapped in Niflheim forever and never see them again – had made his eyes sting and a lump rise in his throat. He loved his mother, his father too despite the lies, but he didn't love them more than Thor.
Thor was everything.
He locked and barred his chamber door behind him. He could not use magic to lock it for the ritual would take all that he had, so he pushed his desk in front of it instead. By the time he was done, his breath was coming in harsh pants – not from exertion, but from nerves. His hands wouldn't stop shaking as he gathered the tools he would need.
They were things he had already possessed. For something so forbidden, the art of necromancy was remarkably simple. A silver basin filled with clear water and infused with herbs – yarrow, mugwort, belladonna, rue – and a silver knife were all that he required.
He stripped slowly, his fingers slipping over the ties and fastenings of his clothes. Once removed, he folded them carefully and placed them on a chair. It was more care than he usually showed - the sentiment alien and unnatural to him – but he moved automatically to do it, as though the sudden neatness would make his mother's loss easier to bear if things went wrong.
He uncovered Thor's body with reverence. With gentle hands he used the water to cleanse them both, starting with himself before moving on to his brother. He felt heat rise in his cheeks at the intimacy of it. For some reason, this brought them closer together in his mind than his earlier healing magic.
He was really doing this. He fought down the urge to giggle.
When done, he picked up the knife. It was razor sharp and a prized possession: a blade he used only for blood magic on the few occasions he'd had need to perform it. His hands had stopped trembling as soon as his fingers had closed around the hilt, and for that he was glad as he pressed the blade to his chest and began to carve.
Eihwaz for death and a bridge into other worlds.
Nauthiz for need and love.
Sowilo for guidance and victory.
Blood ran over his pale skin, first over his sternum, then over each of his wrists. He carved deeply and steadily and with straight lines. Though it hurt, he did not flinch from the pain. Instead, his mind became focussed and clear as it needed to be. These runes he carved would be permanent. For good or ill, they would be a lasting testament to the love he had for his brother, borne by their flesh until the fires of Ragnarok enveloped them.
"Sometimes, I am envious. But never doubt that I love you."
The last rune carved into his abdomen, he turned the blade on his brother. Thor's wounds did not bleed on their own, but the blood that dripped down Loki's hand gave the illusion that they did.
His preparations complete, Loki lay down by his brother's side. He pillowed his head upon Thor's still chest and placed his hand over his brother's heart as though they were lovers.
"Now give us a kiss."
Words spoken in jest had held more truth than any could know. Loki's lips turned up in a faint smile. Thor would know, if he woke, that Loki was indeed capable of sincerity.
He closed his eyes and whispered the words of the seidr.
His heart slowed. Stopped. His lungs seized and his last breath rattled from his still smiling mouth.