He wakes on the floor of this unfamiliar place. The walls are white, but they are dull, as if old and worn. The floor is covered with tile and unusually clean. The space is bare, no furniture in sight, and when Thor looks around, chills run up his spine.
There is a hallway ahead of him, and there is no other way that Thor can see, so he clenches his fists and moves forward. Mjolnir is missing from him, and concern is quickly rising in the back of his mind, though Thor tries his best to keep calm. He does not need his hammer to defend himself.
Three steps into the hall, he notices all of the doors that line the walls. They alternate, one on his left, another on his right a few steps after that, and so on. Thor pauses in front of the first, catches sight of a slip of paper hanging.
The handwriting is familiar. Loki, Thor recognizes, and at the thought of the name, the concern flees his thoughts.
He takes the paper and reads over the question again. Do you remember when we were children? "I do not know," he says out loud, a little musing, "do you, Loki?" He waits for an answer, but is only met by silence. He glances down the hallway, as if expecting his brother to suddenly materialize.
(And Thor knows that if he did, Loki would be far from glad to see him, but to be honest, Thor could care less if Loki welcomed him with an embrace or with a dagger. He misses him. He aches for him.)
Loki does not.
So Thor turns back to the door and opens it.
He almost stumbles backwards in shock at what he sees.
It is his home. It is their home.
It is the Asgardian palace's sitting room, and it is just as Thor remembers it: spacious and bathed in gold from the burning hearth in the center. There are two large armchairs tilted towards the fire, velvet red and royal gold. The room is empty, and if asked, Thor would deny that his eyes scoured for a sign of his brother.
He is still for a few moments, transfixed by everything, and he's just gained the will to move when it all suddenly disappears. The chairs fade and so does the hearth, taking with it the warm gold of the room. In a blink of an eye, the room just like the one he had woken up in: dull and empty.
The paper crumples as Thor curls his fingers into fists.
Without a word, he steps back out and closes the door.
The next one awaits him.
Thor wants to ignore the rest of the doors, but at the same time, he wants to rip open every single one of them if it meant that he would get to relive the life he had with Loki. (When things weren't like they are now. When things were all right.)
He takes a deep breath, steels himself. Grasps the brass doorknob and pulls.
Inside, as the note promises, is their old room, the one they shared before they became of age and received separate bedrooms. Like the previous room, it is a carbon copy of the one in Thor's memories.
There is the desk by the window, the one that Loki would sit at to read his books. Beside it is the shelf, littered with baubles and trinkets, and Thor cannot remember which ones belonged to who. There is the jar half-filled with little paper cranes, as Thor once convinced Loki to help him try to make a thousand, but they never did finish. The mirror is on the wall directly across him, and although it is crystal clear, Thor cannot see his own reflection. Below it is their toy box. A little ways from it, he spies his old toy sword lying carelessly on the floor.
The bed, wide and once able to fit both of them, sits in the corner. The sheets are unmade, and Thor can still see the imprints that two small bodies left on it.
Thor exhales a shuddering breath. He moves towards the bed, fueled by nostalgia and the overwhelming urge to feel those satin sheets again, but as soon as he lowers a hand to touch it, the scene disappears.
He is left in an empty room, reaching for something that isn't there anymore.
He grits his teeth and leaves.
The third door, like the previous two, also has a note.
Almost automatically, he closes his eyes and thinks of roses and lilies and the way the breeze had felt as he chased his brother around the plots of flowers.
"Come on, Thor!" his brother would taunt playfully, green eyes bright and smile mischievous. "Catch me!"
Thor would not hesitate to accept the challenge, and the air would fill with their laughter as the chase ensued. Thor always caught him, of course, but sometimes he thinks it's only because Loki lets him.
Right now, if Thor concentrates hard enough, he thinks he can hear that laughter somewhere in the distance - faint, but there.
He opens the door, and then he is outside.
There are rows of flowers lined in front of him, their mother's favorites, and there is the fence that they would always climb. The other side had a hill, and from where Thor stands, he can see just the top of it. He sees the tree they used to sit under, relishing the shade as they bit into apples.
"Thor!" the voice rings out, and it belongs to a woman. "Loki! Come inside, it is time for your meals!"
Thor turns around wildly, eyes darting around in search for his mother, but he only sees the dry plaster of the hallway. When he turns back around, the garden is gone.
He steps out, closes the door. Snatches at the note and crumples it in his hand, like it somehow holds fault, and he moves on.
Of course, Thor answers silently. Of course I do.
He remembers the royal library, the exact section they were in, surrounded by spell books that enraptured Loki's attention until Thor, impatient for his brother to pay attention to him, pulled him away and planted a clumsy kiss on his lips.
Thor hadn't been thinking, running purely on the desire to see those eyes on him, those soft-looking lips on his, that lithe body against his, and he hadn't realized the gravity of his actions until he pulled away.
Loki had stared at him, eyes full of questions. His cheeks had been flushed a light pink and Thor had not wanted anything else but to kiss him again. Finding that he had nothing to lose anymore, Thor did.
That time, Loki's hands had come up to his shoulders to pull him closer, and Thor remembers the elation that swelled in his chest.
The memory is clear.
He takes the note down, more carefully than he had done to the others, and takes his hand away from the doorknob.
He does not need to see this one.
(Part of him does not want to.)
(He fears it will hurt too much.)
He does not enter this room, either.
Every touch that had been made, every word uttered, every promise that had spilled from two fools' mouths - they have been carved into his mind.
"I love you," Loki had murmured.
He had looked beautiful, nestled in the pristine white sheets and pillows. The bite marks and bruises stood out from his porcelain skin, but they left a sense of satisfaction within Thor, knowing that Loki had been marked his and his only.
"I love you more," Thor had returned, and he had held him close.
Thor takes the note and continues to the next door.
A portion of this one has been crushed, split to splinters from a fist that had slammed into it.
This one is their room in disarray. The desk has been overturned and the chair broken, half of the things on the shelf lying broken on the floor. The jar is broken, and the little cranes are scattered with broken shards of glass. The mirror has been knocked from the wall. The toy box is missing.
There is someone curled up on the bed, and the sound of soft sobbing infiltrates the air.
"Loki," Thor utters by instinct, and he surges forward to comfort his weeping brother.
He thinks he hears a whispered, "Thor?" and the figure is starting to sit up. Thor touches his brother's shoulder, and the image dissolves before his very eyes.
Thor stares down, dumbfounded, at his empty hand.
"Why are you doing this, Loki?"
Thor asks it to the empty hallway.
The note glares back at him. Thor imagines Loki writing the words, the way he must have felt as he conjured this room, if tears may have trickled down his cheek; the corner of this note is damp.
Thor takes it down gently, then opens the door. He expected Jane's workshop, or even the town he had stayed in, but surprisingly, it is not a place on Midgard. It is the throne room, but it is empty. There is a staff on the floor, and Thor imagines that it was thrown there.
He doesn't understand this one, and he doesn't wait until the scene disappears to leave.
There are three doors left.
This room is empty except for a single item, placed meticulously on the center of the floor: a gold, horned helmet.
Thor picks it up and holds it in his hands as if it something precious. And in a way, it is.
He doesn't realize he is crying until the helmet gently fizzles out and he reaches up to touch his damp cheeks.
There are eight slips of paper in his hand, and this one makes nine. He does not know what to expect for this one, except for the small, naive hope that perhaps it is finally Loki.
It is not.
Upon opening the door, Thor is greeted by a large room with walls lined with one picture after another. What is this? Thor feels more bewildered than he already does, and nothing makes sense until he catches sight of a single, familiar face: Phil Coulson.
Everything clicks, then, and horror is quick to flood his thoughts. "Oh, Loki," he utters, distraught, and his knees feel a little week.
Unable to meet the faces of a hundred dead any longer, Thor bows his head and exits.
(If he looked around, he might have spotted an old painting of a young, smiling boy, with bright green eyes and an innocent smile playing on his lips.)
(It's a pity he didn't.)
There is one door left.
Thor must have re-read the note dozens of times. He stands in front of the last door, not quite ready to see what might be behind this one. The numbness of shock is still wearing off.
Is it too late?
"Too late for what, Loki?" he murmurs, brushing a finger across the ink. The words look like they have been written slowly, deliberately, as if the writer had given much thought and consideration. The question is clear, yet Thor knows not what it means.
When he finally musters enough will to move again, he opens the door.
It is an empty room, just like the one with the helmet.
Near the doorway, there is a pile of shackles and chains. A muzzle rests atop the pile.
A few feet away, there is a figure on their knees, crouched forward. They bury their face with their hands, but Thor does not need that sight to know who it is.
In a split second, he is at the figure's side, holding onto him tightly, because, finally. "Of course not, Loki," Thor rasps into his hair, and his voice drips with desparation. He reaches a shaky hand up to run his fingers through familiar black strands, tender, careful. His other arm is around the frail body, holding him closely, tightly, dreading the moment that he will disappear into nothingness as the other rooms have.
His words are something like a promise spilling from a fool's lips:
"It is never."
And in the embrace, Loki does not fade.