Of all the things he could have stolen, Thor chose the tapestry.
He had thought it ugly since he was a child. The pattern was fraying until fluff gathered on the surface like lichen and the colors were faded so that the only difference he could decipher on the cloth was muddier dark and blander light, like trying to gage the depth of a dark pool he looked down upon. Yet it was the only tapestry that Frigga would hang in her bedchambers like a flag declaring her loyalties, or a good luck charm to keep nightmares away.
Of course, said the cold voice in Thor’s head that sounded not unlike Loki. Of course that out of all the relics you could have scrounged from her barge, you chose the one you understood the least.
What else could he do, Thor reasoned. The servants were stripping the bedchambers to the very last scrap of dust to be loaded into the barge and shipped off alongside Frigga to the sea, to Valhalla, to the other side of life, to another shore that Thor never saw. He had panicked—he had been watching these servants now strangers chipping away at his memory of his mother until he would be left with nothing. He grabbed the first thing he could without the servants noticing and ran before the room could be hollowed out, become a skeleton whose emptiness was so infectious that Thor too would be left a husk if he stayed too long.
But now, as he sat in his chambers with the ancient tapestry in his hands, he could only regret his poor choice. There were countless other better artifacts of a dead person that he could have saved for himself as his own private memory, his gift to himself, to use to craft his mother again out of memory and memorabilia—Frigga’s hairpin that Loki used to love holding up to the light and watching it twinkle, her painting of Vanaheim’s waterfalls that Thor could almost hear ripple, her golden daggers from her shieldmaiden days that followed her all the way until her last breath when the Dark Elves broke in.
(her smile that rivaled the sun in that he could feel its warmth from so very far away, her laugh that echoed and filled him until he swore he never heard so much sound until then, her touch that smoothed every wound, her, her, her—)
When the door to his chambers cracked open, Thor hastily folded the tapestry and slid it underneath his armor before anyone could see. Odin stood at the door, so grayed and lined that he looked like his entire being was made of mosaic. His gaze was empty, deadened, and when his eye fell upon his son Thor could have sworn that his eye was a black hole in the way that it was not only empty but also sucked the being of everything it looked upon.
“My son,” said Odin.
“Father,” said Thor.
Odin took several steps toward Thor before stopping, as if he actually feel the barrier that gradually thickened between Thor and the rest of the world.
“Have you been here the whole time?” said Odin.
Thor did not answer. Odin lowered himself in a chair in the corner of the room. Thor looked to the window; he had a perfect view of the shores that drew Frigga away, had he not closed his curtains.
“Your mother,” said Odin, “was the bravest and kindest woman the Nine Realms could ever be blessed with.”
Thor felt the lump in his throat. He dug his fingernails into his palm.
“She was always so proud of you,” said Odin.
“I know,” said Thor.
“She would not wish for you to suffer like this.”
Thor clenched his teeth. Silence fell between them for a moment. Thor thought he heard the waves bodily throwing themselves upon the sand outside.
“You were not at the funeral,” said Odin.
There was no question, no demand. Only sad words.
“No,” said Thor. “I was not.”
The tapestry itched against his chest. He wondered if Odin stared long enough, his vacuum of a gaze could suck that away from Thor as well.
“Even your mortal friend had attended,” said Odin. “Your mother was fond of her, for whatever time that she knew her.”
“Do not think that I did not grieve,” said Thor. “Because I’ll have you know that I have sworn recompense for the wrongs that the Dark Elves have wreaked upon Asgard. I have—”
“Son,” said Odin. “It is not your fault.”
And Thor wanted to shout HOW WOULD YOU KNOW because Thor was the one who ran to Frigga’s bedchambers seconds too late when the Dark Elves attacked, he was the one who did not immediately spill the murderer’s blood when they dashed out of the room, he was the one that could do nothing as Frigga lay in a shroud of blood with a punctured heart and slit throat, as she breathed in nothing and died with eyes still open.
But Thor did not. He learned to hold his tongue.
“Yes, Father,” was what he said instead.
Blood still caked behind his fingernails. Even after endless scrubbing, he could not get his mother’s blood out of his skin. He swore it sunk into him, into his color and body, as a scar.
“Why did you not let Loki say goodbye?” said Thor.
Odin’s lips tightened. Thor pretended he did not notice, staring only at the dust in the folds of the curtains, in the folds of their skin.
“Mother loved him,” said Thor. “More than anyone else in the world. Surely she would have wanted him to attend her funeral.”
Though to be fair, what obligation did Odin have to humor the requests of a dead woman?
“Danger and unrest are plaguing Asgard,” said Odin. “We are dealing with forces and loss beyond us. I could not risk another uncertainty, Thor.”
All of a sudden Thor felt the burning indignation swell in him. His mother was dead, his father was worn, his brother was imprisoned, and Odin had squandered the last chance they could ever have of being a family again for fear and cynicism. If Frigga still had a face to frown, she would; she always liked it best when Loki was with her.
But perhaps they were never a family between them. Ever since the Bifrost shattered, there never was one.
“Thor,” said Odin. “Are you well?”
Thor did not even blink.
“Yes,” said the heir to the throne, the future king of Asgard.
It was only until after Odin’s footsteps long stopped echoing down the hallway, after the crackling fire in the fireplace choked, after the sea rotted the wood of the barge and swallowed the lonely passenger within its wave and left nothing to remember, after stars burned and fell and tears dried before they fell and kingdoms fell, did Thor finally let himself say, “Wait.”
Frigga’s fingers danced when they weaved, her loom a ballroom in which no one ever mastered the steps except for the All-Mother. She spun together strands of cold and cobalt and Thor was certain she was creating a beach in her loom. If he stared long enough and forgot the little footstool he sat upon and the click click of needles when Frigga changed colors, he could hear the waves sprawling upon the shore.
“Yes, little one?” said Frigga.
Thor pointed to the only tapestry upon her wall. It was of a little girl and an even younger boy, the colors so rudimentary and bland that he was almost certain that his mother never made it. While the girl had soft gold hair and familial eyes, the boy was shaky and uncertain as if a blind man tried to weave him with the dictation of another’s broad description.
“Why do you have that?” he said. “It’s less pretty than your other ones.”
Frigga did not take her eyes off of her loom.
“That’s a rather unkind thing to say to the poor weaving, isn’t it?” said Frigga.
“But you have much better ones,” said Thor. “And you do not hang them on your wall.”
“That is true,” said Frigga.
She pricked her fingers with the needle and barely winced. Thor watched her hungrily as she wove; it was the only time he would ever consent to sitting still. If he wasn’t sitting at his mother’s feet, watching her create, he would otherwise be running through the halls, leaping, spinning, flying, stopping only to pull Loki back onto his tiny feet should he fall. But Frigga was so calming, enrapturing, that he could not help but sink into this quietness.
“Who are they?” said Thor.
“Only a boy and a girl,” said Frigga. “Do not worry yourself over it.”
Thor wouldn’t stop staring at the tapestry. Before, he had assumed that it was Frigga and Odin as children, because it was so impossible to imagine his parents as children as little as he and the tapestry made them look just as awkward as in his imagination. But surely Frigga was never taller than Odin, which left Thor nowhere again.
“Amma,” said Thor. “It is so old. Surely several hundred thousand years old.”
“Thor,” said Frigga. “Where is your brother?”
“Must I always know?” said Thor.
“You ought to keep an eye on him,” said Frigga.
“Then he must be with the nursemaid. I do not know,” said Thor. “I came to be with you on my own.”
Frigga pursed her lips.
“Are you taking care of him?” said Frigga.
Thor bit his lip. What did he say that made her even think otherwise?
“Yes,” he said. “I only do not know where he is now. The nursemaid might have taken him to play in your gardens.”
Frigga set her needles on her lap.
“Thor,” said Frigga. Her voice was calm like the ocean she wove, but something in it made Thor shudder. “Thor, you will promise me something, won’t you?”
“Promise?” said Thor.
“You love your mother to promise her this one thing, will you not?”
Thor’s mouth felt strangely dry. He was young, but he was not ignorant to how Frigga’s eyes shone with something unrecognizably saddened, how she looked at him not with need but with desperation, as if he was the sky bringing in the needed rain, not a child who wasn’t meant to understand.
“I love you,” said Thor. He did not know why Frigga had questioned it. It made something in Thor’s chest hurt.
“Then promise me you will always take care of your little brother,” said Frigga. “That you will look after him and protect him above everything else.”
“Of course,” said Thor. He didn’t know if he could have said anything else.
Frigga visibly relaxed and picked up her weaving again. Her fingers still shook and Thor swore he saw her eyes flicker toward the tapestry. Suddenly, Thor could feel those blind eyes on the tapestry stare at him, searching his childish thoughts and rubbery mind, feel how they crept behind his shoulders and made his heart shake like they were ghosts and not yarn.
“You should go and see to Loki,” said Frigga. “I’m sure he would want to play with you.”
Thor wanted to say, But I want to stay with you, Amma. I want to stay with you and have you for myself, have you all on my own, alone, without Father to steal you, without Loki to take you away, just the two of us, us two, for once, look at me Amma I want to be your entire world just once—
Instead, he said, “Okay.”
Before he left he pressed a kiss on Frigga’s cheek. Her hand gently grazed the back of his golden head before flying over the loom again. Thor almost thought he saw that beach upon the cloth crumble in storm with grays, with uncharted waters and fear. When he walked out the door, he tried not to look at that tapestry that he knew was at fault for all the uncertainty that brewed in him.
Even after he closed the door between them, he could not help but run. He thought he could feel those strange children at his heels.
Loki was lying on the stone bench of his meticulous cell. His eyes were closed and his white hands were clasped on his chest. When Thor came down the prison stairs to him, his heart skipped a beat. For a wild moment he had thought that Loki had died alongside Frigga in a matter of days, and Thor felt himself go weak at the knees.
It was only when he saw the slight rise and fall of Loki’s chest that Thor breathed freely again. He raised his hand to summon the door to Loki’s glass cell.
Thor paused. Loki still did not move. Thor could see every sharp angle of a too-thin bone in Loki’s face and hands.
“I am not fond of uninvited guests,” said Loki. “If you can’t tell, I’m very occupied.”
“Loki,” said Thor.
The tray of food in the corner of the cell was untouched. Heavy meats, stewed vegetables, thick slices of bread with honey—the leftovers of Frigga’s funeral feast. Just remembering it made Thor taste what little he had eaten from it again, except it left sour footprints where it had touched.
“You haven’t eaten anything again,” said Thor.
Loki raised an eyebrow at the ceiling. If Thor didn’t know any better, he would have thought that Loki was purposely wasting away to torture him. Then again, Thor couldn’t claim to know anything anymore about his brother.
“I take it that the festivities were stiflingly honorable,” said Loki.
His voice was cold, harsh, like glass breaking in an empty house.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Thor. “I did not attend.”
Loki opened his eyes so that they were half-mast, what little gaze he allowed himself masked by his lashes.
“How could I?” said Thor. “When you weren’t allowed to say goodbye either?”
Loki laughed. Thor did not wince, although his heart certainly did.
“Once again, your petty sentimentality construes your judgment,” said Loki. “What, did you think you could achieve some sort of equality between the two of us? Some sort of bond whose only foundation is that we both did not attend a woman’s funeral?”
“Loki,” said Thor.
Loki pushed himself up into a sitting position. It hurt to see how thin he had become.
“What makes you think I would have wanted to attend, anyway?” said Loki. His words were deadened, succumbed to poison, so that the toxin still coated the lifeless veins. “Do you think I would mourn for the woman who lied to me as much as the All-Father did, who turned a blind eye when I needed help—” He spat the word as if it was a coal burning his tongue. “—who saw me as no more than a cur sniveling in the folds of her skirts?”
Thor clenched his teeth. It was one thing for Loki to accuse him of tossing him into the abyss. But when Loki, whom Frigga had cradled and protected with all her being, who defended him from cruel jeers and disapproving stares, who thought Loki her entire world, spoke poison of her, Thor felt his entire being fester with anger.
“Perhaps it was good,” said Loki, “that I did not attend the funeral. If I had been there, I would have spit in her barge.”
Thor would have punched through the glass, struck it so hard it would shatter under his knuckles until he reached Loki and throttled sense into him. Would have, if he had not grown to be so wise and so tired from this weary wisdom that Loki’s words were made of painful glass and not metal.
Loki stared at Thor. For a moment Thor wondered if perhaps Loki was telling the truth after all.
Instead, Loki leaned back against the glass wall, watching Thor’s speechlessness while his eyes shone with triumphant mirth. Or so Loki had wanted Thor to think.
“Isn’t it droll?” said Loki. “How the All-Father does not know you come down here to simper at me, and yet had it not been for you no one would have ever come down to tell me of Asgard’s…loss.”
Thor said nothing. Silence, only interrupted by his own breathing.
“And you say that Malekith and the Dark Elves are responsible for breaking Asgard’s forces,” said Loki.
“Yes,” said Thor.
Loki snorted softly.
“I ought to send them flowers,” he said.
“You’re a talented liar, Loki,” said Thor. “Always have been.”
Loki’s smile fossilized on his lips. Thor lowered himself on the stone ledge that encircled Loki’s prison. It was cold and achingly quiet. He wondered if Loki was shivering, even if he was a Frost Giant.
“I suppose all of Mother’s possessions have been dealt off to Valhalla,” said Loki.
When the word ‘Mother’ slipped from Loki’s lips, Thor didn’t understand why he felt more at a loss than relieved.
“Yes,” said Thor.
“Her spells and books?” said Loki. When Thor watched him, he scoffed. “Don’t think me as foolishly soppy as you are, Thor. I would have benefited from them if they weren’t shipped off to Norns know where.”
“Yes,” said Thor.
“Her ornamental daggers?”
“They would have looked nice embedded in your liver.”
Thor did not react. Loki looked down at his thin hands upon his lap. Long tapering fingers—Thor always thought that Loki had inherited them from Frigga in their youth. Not that it was relevant anymore.
“And her hairpin?” said Loki.
All of a sudden Thor had the image of a very young Loki sitting on Frigga’s lap, pulling out her butterfly hairpin until her hair was undone and fell upon her shoulders like a rose-scented avalanche, how Loki waved it in the sunlight so that the butterfly looked alive, how Frigga laughed and hugged him so close that Thor, watching from the outside, would not be surprised if she swallowed him, enveloped him with her own body and bore him as a baby again in her stomach just so that they could last together even longer.
It became harder to breathe.
“Yes,” Thor said.
Loki scratched at the stone bench. His dark hair shielded his face.
“And all her tapestries?” said Loki.
Thor felt the tapestry under his armor suffocate him. It became a part of his attire as easily as his cloak. He thought that the pattern was imprinting itself on his chest like a tattoo, until he could feel every thread of those dead children eyes.
“All of them,” Thor said.
Loki did not look upon him. Perhaps he would not see Thor’s lie.
“Loki,” said Thor.
Loki turned away. Thor could not see if he breathed or shook. In that moment he wished he never said with such finality how everything of Frigga’s was gone, because surely Loki would not be so silent if he did not. Frigga was Loki’s mother as much as she was Thor’s in the end; he knew Loki knew this.
(Because Loki did not know it, but Thor had seen him crumble when he was told the news of Frigga’s murder. From behind the corner, he saw Loki silently rip what little books they had given him until the scraps were as small as snow, before he collapsed and did not move for a long time)
“Are you all right?” said Thor.
Loki wordlessly picked up the goblet of mead the guards had brought in with the meal and hurled it toward Thor. The goblet splintered upon the impenetrable glass, the drink sloshing across the wall and leaving a heavy, blinding glaze.
Thor did not flinch. A hollowed smile curved Loki’s lips.
“Perfect,” said Loki. “Absolutely perfect.”
It was the only time Loki would ever say that about himself.
They were playing by the river when it happened.
Loki was so very small—a sigh would be enough to blow his lithe form away; if only one was wily enough to catch him first. He weaved through the spring-blessed trees that lined the river like a swallow, laughing as Thor ran toward the opposite direction in pursuit of him, or tripped over Loki’s tricks. Thor could only run faster, tearing through the bushes and tree boughs that were in the way.
“You can’t catch me!” said Loki. “You can’t, you can’t!”
“Watch!” said Thor.
They may have been five paces away from where Frigga had stopped to sit, or five miles for all they knew. All they knew was the ground under their feet as they ran and the song of the river right beside them. Early spring made the river belt its notes as the winter’s frost melted and turned the river into a roaring dragon.
Thor was a mere arm’s length away from catching Loki. He outstretched his fingers until they barely brushed his collar. Loki jumped and clambered up onto a tree before Thor could touch him. Thor growled and began his climb, though he was far from agile to catch up quickly.
“You’re like a troll!” said Loki. “You can only run things over.”
Thor stuck his tongue out at Loki. Loki giggled and climbed faster, much higher than the two of them had ever tried to climb on their own before.
“Loki,” said Thor. “You’ll snap the tree in half and fall if you climb so high.”
“I’m not as lumbering as you,” said Loki.
He seated himself neatly on a high branch, his small feet dangling over the white water river. Thor frowned, tightening his grip on his sturdy limb.
“I’m not playing, Loki,” said Thor. “Come down here. You have nowhere to run, anyway.”
“You cannot catch me from up here to make me run,” said Loki.
His pride bruised, Thor began his ascent again. Loki scooted further and further onto the delicate branch. When Thor saw the tree dip its arm gradually, he paused.
“Loki,” Thor said.
It dawned upon Loki that the branch was dangerously wobbling beneath him. His little hands gripped tight on the branch and suddenly his mischievous smile was absent.
“Loki, crawl back to the tree,” Thor said. His voice was shaking. “Go back right now.”
“Thor,” said Loki, his voice thin and high. “Thor, I—”
“Don’t talk,” said Thor. “Don’t say anything. Just go. Come on.”
Loki squeezed his eyes shut before lifting one hand to slide himself back toward the tree. The moment he tried to move, the branch snapped and fell.
The last that Thor saw of Loki was of him toppling with the branch and into the fast-moving water, and nothing more.
“Loki?” Thor cried out. “Loki, get out of the river!”
Only the rushing currents answered him. Thor couldn’t even see Loki. His heart raced in his chest and he leapt off the tree, running along the banks.
“Loki!” Thor said. “Loki! This isn’t funny!”
Because this had to be a cruel joke. Maybe Loki disappeared like he would with his magic and he was laughing silently in his hand as he watched Thor make a fool of himself with worry. Maybe he turned himself into a fish and was safe and sound, even though Thor didn’t even know if Loki was capable of it. If anything, Loki couldn’t be in danger. He couldn’t be hurt.
The river was outrunning him and he felt tears sear in his eyes. Loki hadn’t lifted his head out of the water for a breath of air to scream. Loki hadn’t breathed this entire time. Thor felt static, felt numb.
“Thor?” Frigga’s voice was love a shove in the back, and suddenly Thor became even more afraid. “Thor, what is the matter?”
Thor turned to face his mother. He felt all his words crumble in his mouth and his blood run cold.
“Mother, he—” Suddenly his memories shattered and pieced together falsely, the beginning the middle and the end the beginning and everything in between scattered. “Loki and I, we were—he fell—we climbed the tree and it snapped and he fell and—and—”
Frigga needed nothing else. Her eyes fell upon the river and she knew everything. She quickly pushed Thor behind her and ran to the river, hands shuddering as she summoned seidr to bend nature at her will.
“Mother, don’t!” Thor said. Frigga was running into the water, the swift currents tangling her dress about her legs. It was impossible to understand how she still stood.
Frigga did not heed him. She combed the waters for Loki, the water cowering at her magic as it swelled from her fingers. Thor could only stand breathlessly at the bank listening to the blood in his veins howl as loudly as the river.
After what may have been seconds, or minutes, or eras, the seidr churned the river, slowing its course until a dark head was barely visible underneath the surface. Without hesitation, Frigga rushed toward it, nearly falling as the water shoved against her knees and waist. She reached down into the cold water and pulled a small, limp figure out of the river, black hair messy about the face. When Thor saw the way Loki’s eyes were closed and the way he did not breathe, he felt himself go sick.
Frigga carried Loki onto shore, laying him on his back and brushing his black locks from his face. Thor fell to his knees at Loki’s side, begging Loki to stop lying so still, to stop holding his breath and looking so white that he almost looked blue.
She pushed upon Loki’s chest, thrusting her strength and her heart and her soul and her desperation upon his lungs and Thor could only stand there watching water trickling like thread down Loki’s lips and wait for him to breathe breathe breathe—
Finally, Loki’s eyes flew open with a howling gasp, desperate for air. Sopping wet, shivering from the cold, but he was alive and breathing and Thor wanted to hug him. Frigga got to him first, wrapping her arms around Loki and gripping him as if he would disappear if she let him go. She breathed heavily as if she too was nearly drowned and Loki was her source of air, of life, and Thor felt like a cold moon watching.
“Never again,” Frigga said so quietly Thor didn’t know if he should have heard. She cradled Loki’s head as he sobbed soundlessly, his small hands clutching her damp dress. “By the Norns, never again.”
She turned sharply to Thor. Thor never felt so small before, so dirty and lame, like a handicapped leper not even fit to beg on the streets.
“How could you play such a game with him?” Frigga said. “Why did you not call for me immediately?”
Thor’s mouth felt dry as he mouthed for excuses he did not know like a fish on land. Frigga turned away; no answer would quell her while she gently crooned in Loki’s ear as he shivered against her. Thor felt hot tears press against his eyes and he bowed his head, unable to bring himself to look upon his mother or brother.
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Thor said, his voice wobbling. “I did not mean to hurt him.”
When Frigga did not outright answer, Thor was certain that she had sworn him off. Instead, he felt her arm wrap around his shoulders and pull him close next to her, a kiss pressed against his crown.
Thor never saw that river again.
Thor had trusted Loki just enough that he would not lead him and Jane into the pit of a volcano or the jaws of a bilgesnipe. That being said, he would not deny that it came to a surprise to him when Loki brought them to a sun-lit field in Svartalfheim swathed in one-lipped lilies.
Thor gingerly crossed the plains with its delicate snow-drop flowers, drawing Jane close to his side as Loki walked ahead, silent. For all Thor knew, Loki could be lulling them into false security. An open area such as this made them ridiculously easy targets. Anything could hide in a field of lilies with their fragile petal cups, just as anything could hide behind a charming smile and pale eyes. Only for him to realize with a jolt just how much regard he gave Loki now.
“There’s a river ahead,” said Jane. If she was worn from the endless travel and the wariness of walking alongside Loki, she did not show it. “Should we stop for water?”
“Brilliant idea,” Loki said. “And why not stop for some tea as well? And biscuits to go along. Surely we can send a letter to Malekith to postpone his little skirmish. There are much more pressing matters.”
“Look,” Jane said, “you can march ahead of us if you want. We’ll catch up when you drop from dehydration.”
“Loki,” Thor said when Loki opened his mouth. Loki narrowed his eyes, his lips curling into a smile.
“Let the woman banter with her own tongue,” said Loki. “No need to entangle yourself into her battles…I’m sure your tongues do enough of that already.”
“You’re wasting your supposed precious time with your words,” said Thor. “We’ll draw water, quickly, and move on.”
“Well, of course,” said Loki. “Isn’t all the time spent on my words wasted?”
“You twisting others’ words only ever make matters worse for yourself,” said Thor. “Will you always be the victim?”
“And will you always play the hero?”
Thor thought he ought to be shocked by this display, by this bitter poison and sneer, but found himself so used to it that it nearly unnerved him.
“This is beyond just drawing water from a river,” said Thor. “If we want to stop Malekith and his forces from wreaking destruction upon our home, we need to work together.”
“I’m sorry—whose home?” said Loki.
“My home, Loki,” Thor said, his voice raising. “Your home. Mother’s home. Or will you let her die in vain?”
“Look at you,” said Loki. “Someone’s trying to play the Silvertongue card. It’s no surprise you are only ever the silver hammer.”
“And there you go again, always—”
Jane’s voice shattered their melee. For someone so petite, she had a surprisingly dominating voice and an even sterner glare. She shoved a full wineskin of water into both brothers’ hands, the nozzles still cold and wet.
“I think,” she said, “we could all use a nice cold drink of water to cool our heads before moving on. Can we do that, at least?”
Loki looked as if he wanted to dump his water over Jane’s face, but instead turned away and wandered several paces off. Jane sighed and took a drink of her own water with the look of surprised relief that she managed to silence two Norse princes.
“I apologize,” said Thor. “I must have made you uncomfortable.”
“I don’t know why you’re apologizing to me,” said Jane. “You didn’t get in a fight with me.”
Thor looked away. The breeze stirred the simple flowers in their nests. The sight of them made Thor’s breath hitch, as if something surprised him at his ankles. And suddenly, as if his insides were worn and thinned, needing to be patched with needle and rags.
“This place is peaceful,” said Jane. “It’s too bad the world isn’t.”
Thor bent low to cup one of the small lily heads between his fingers. The head popped from its stem easily—the single petal unfurled like a scroll he couldn’t read.
“They have flowers like this on Earth,” said Jane. “I’m surprised they are here too.”
“What are their names?” said Thor.
“Calla lilies,” said Jane. “They’re called calla lilies.”
Thor pressed it against his lip and tried to taste the name. Frigga’s tapestry was still folded against his chest like a flag, a security blanket for a grown man. Behind him, he heard the grasses stir with Loki’s prowling.
“They’re beautiful,” said Jane. “I think they’re one of my favorites.”
“Are they?” said Thor. He couldn’t stop hearing Loki’s pacing that upset the grass.
“Yeah,” said Jane. “Roses are overrated, but these are so simple. Like little cups.”
The wind tugged the petal from his fingers and spinning into the air. He remembered a little Loki with his arms full of lilies, running down the hall to find Frigga as fast as he could. He remembered his younger self screaming at Loki, saying stop, stop, you can’t, you can’t.
“They remind me of my mother,” Thor said.
Jane turned to him, her eyes soft. Thor hadn’t mentioned Frigga ever since her death. It was not his place to mourn, as the future king of Asgard. But with Jane, he was safe.
“Do they?” said Jane.
“She hated them,” said Thor.
Jane pursed her lips, finger grazing Thor’s wrist.
“She once told me they reminded her of when her little brother died,” said Thor. “They had these flowers at his funeral rites. And they make her think of that ever since.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jane.
Thor smiled without actually smiling. “I don’t know why you’re apologizing to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
It took Thor a moment to realize that Loki’s rustling pacing had stopped behind him. Thor risked taking a glance behind his shoulder toward Loki. Loki stood stock still, eye fixed upon something on the ground as if he had been cursed into stone. The sound of his voice was stony enough to convince Thor so.
“Has she never told you?” Thor said to him. He had long known the answer.
Loki said nothing. The tapestry under Thor’s armor felt like a badge. Or an albatross.
“We ought to get going,” said Thor. “We really should not tarry.”
He gestured for Jane to walk by his side. They had walked perhaps several meters before Thor realized that Loki was not following. He turned back toward Loki, who still watched the sun like he knew her. When Thor called out his name, urging him to come, Loki’s eyes met his for maybe a second, or perhaps truly an age.
Why did I never know?, said those eyes.
And said nothing at all the rest of the day.
“You needn’t have yelled at him, Thor.”
The white lilies were lifeless on Frigga’s lap. She rocked slowly in her wooden chair, hands upon the armrest as if she was upon the throne listening to dire news. Thor stood like a sinner before her, eyes fixed upon her feet as if he ought to throw himself down at them. Even when he was an adolescent, Frigga had such an effect on him.
“I was doing what I thought was best,” said Thor. “I thought that you wouldn’t want to see them.”
“Loki meant them as a gift, not harm,” said Frigga.
“I wasn’t trying to stop him from giving you flowers,” said Thor. “I would have him bring others. Not these.”
Frigga sighed and fell silent. Silent for so long that Thor wondered if she had forgotten about his presence, her mind wandering to where Loki might be now, whether Loki sensed the tension when he gave her the lilies, Loki, Loki, Loki.
“I confess,” said Thor, “that I should not have yelled. But my intentions were good, Mother. Please believe me.”
“You did not have to,” said Frigga. “I am in no sorrow receiving them from a child.”
Thor tried not to grip his hands into fists. He had only tried to do what he thought was right for his mother, and she seemed to see it as an offense. Why did she not see that he only cared?
“You told me how you did not like them,” said Thor.
Frigga looked away. For a moment Thor wondered if she regretted revealing the truth of the tapestry to him, of the little brother who did not live past the age of a toddler, of ashes and lilies scattered into the long-forgotten shore in Vanaheim.
“They are only flowers, Thor,” said Frigga.
Thor lifted his head.
“You won’t even hold them in your hands,” said Thor.
“What are you talking about?” Frigga said.
“You set them down like they were burning the moment Loki left the room,” said Thor. “Look at you now—you won’t even look at them. Are they truly only flowers?”
“What do you want of me, Thor?” said Frigga. Her fingers grew white as they clung to the chair.
Thor didn’t even know what he wanted. And what he did want, he could not put into words.
“Don’t put me at fault,” said Thor. It was the safest that he could say—the childish, selfish answer that he knew would not make her cry. “Do not make me at guilt for trying.”
I want that you had nothing to cry about at all.
I want that there was no brother of yours to die so you would not hide.
I want you to forget.
But it all seemed so petty, when a little boy’s death was many thousand years ago and it wasn’t supposed to matter anymore, even though it did.
Frigga closed her eyes. Thor knew that what he said was no better.
“I apologize, my son,” said Frigga, “if I made you feel that way. I was afraid that Loki would be hurt.”
“Is it any better?” said Thor. “If Loki is not hurt but you are?”
Even if she did not admit it?
“Yes,” said Frigga, and suddenly she was the queen of steel that all of Asgard knew and her family feared. “Yes, a thousand times yes.”
She picked up the scattered lilies on her lap as if to prove a point, tying them with a ribbon into a neat bunch. Thor bitterly wondered if she regarded Loki as a doll to be shielded in a pretty case of glass and satin rather than a person to be hardened and thick. She placed them in a vase and smiled broadly at them, and Thor wondered if this was the very definition of passive aggression.
“He did pick the most beautiful of them, didn’t he?” said Frigga.
Thor turned away and left before he could watch the vase be put in the corner of the room, where even the firelight could not reach it.
The cave was frigid, as if the Void was crumbled into a ball and placed into Svaltarlfheim and that was where they chose to make camp until morning. Even the bleak ball of magic that Loki conjured for light and sparse heat seemed to be swallowed up by the dark hole that was the end of the cave.
“You should get rest, Thor,” said Jane. Thor had draped his cloak around her shoulders; she still shuddered from the cold, but much less so than before. “You’re always letting me sleep the night off and getting no rest yourself.”
“I am used to little sleep,” said Thor. His breath blew cold smoke in the dark air. He thought it would freeze into a hollow ice ball the moment it left his lips. “I do not need it.”
“If you drop dead from exhaustion in front of Malekith, you’ll be wishing you didn’t say that,” said Jane.
“Who would keep watch over the night besides me?” said Thor.
“I know who,” said a voice even chillier than the rock they rested in, that froze ice chips in Thor’s veins. “I easily could keep watch, but who trusts me? I could easily slit everyone’s throat and skip off as expected.”
Thor turned to Loki. He sat far from his own light, in the corner of the cave, barely visible as if shadows formed a physical screen between him and Thor. Prison time had worn him down into a starved, ill shadow, and this darkness made him look like a Draugr. Thor almost believed that sometime earlier, the real Loki had perished and they were guided by a lie.
“You need your rest too,” Thor said, pretending that Loki’s comment unfazed him.
Loki snorted. He didn’t shudder in the cold. Thor wondered if Loki could feel anything at all.
“Malekith’s scouts are scouring the land for us right now,” said Loki. “I will not set my head down to wake up a prisoner.”
“I will not let that happen,” said Thor. “Trust in me, though you seem so affronted at the idea that I do not trust you.”
“Trust in you that I would not end up in chains?” said Loki. “Your very existence imprisons me, Odinson.”
Thor closed his eyes and turned away. Jane pursed her lips.
“Do what you want,” said Thor. “I cannot make your choice for you.”
Silence fell on the three of them. Jane must have concluded that she was more useful awake and alert in the day than a guard at night and curled against the wall of the cave with Thor’s cloak. Thor sat at the cave’s mouth, fingers reassuring himself of Mjölnir’s presence upon his belt. Loki slunk against the wall, keeping a wide berth between him and everyone else as if he thought them rabid.
Minutes passed, perhaps hours, and Jane’s steady breathing of sleep was the only sound in the cave. Sometimes Thor thought he saw the stir of the wild and he hitched his breath, fingers tightening around his hammer’s handle in preparation of bashing a spy’s head in, only to realize it was a wild animal or the wind. Regardless, the moment he stiffened, Loki was already on his feet and at his side, magic between his fingers to whip out at any enemy.
“You’re either blind,” said Loki, “or dull.”
“Glad you can still sense when I am troubled,” Thor said.
“It is a quality I possess only so I can relish upon it,” said Loki. His magic receded from his fingers, but still lingered at his fingertips like glowing blue dirt behind his fingernails. “And you wear your heart upon your sleeve like chains.”
He looked from right to left outside the cave before, with a wave of his hand, he banished his ball of energy. Immediately a gust of cold air settled upon them, and Thor only now realized how much warmth it had provided the moment it was gone.
“We wouldn’t want any Dark Elves slaughtering us because we left a nightlight on,” said Loki when he saw Thor’s disappointment.
“I know,” said Thor.
He turned back to Jane. Even with Thor’s thick cloak around her, she still shivered in her sleep. He risked to tear away from his post and knelt by her side. He could see her shake under the layer.
Thor reached into his armor where the folded tapestry still rested. It left a mark of cold where it once was when he took it out, but he unfolded it and draped it over Jane’s form. Little by little, Jane’s shivering lessened until she slept peacefully, the tapestry protecting her from the last of the cold.
Thor couldn’t help but smile upon her. If by some cruel game of the Norns he could not protect her from the war that would come, at least he could take care of her.
“What is that?”
Loki’s voice was the needle that punctured Thor’s bubble world. Thor rose to his feet. Loki stared at the tapestry, his eyes sharpening with recognition.
“That’s Mother’s,” said Loki.
Thor hesitated before nodding.
“The one that she had since we were born,” Loki said.
Thor nodded again. Even if he wasn’t physically backing into the corner of the cave, he certainly felt like he was. He could practically see Loki picking at Thor’s previous comment of all of Frigga’s tapestries being burned and scattered in her funeral barge and finding the morsel of lie in it.
But Loki’s eyes weren’t on him, demanding no lies. They were frozen upon the frozen faces of those dead children (both dead now, both long gone and irretrievable, the sister finally rejoining the brother after all these years of waiting), slowly recalling that story he never heard and only stole from Thor days ago.
“Why do you have it?” said Loki.
Thor did not fear the truth, the truth of stealing a keepsake as a memory. He did not fear telling the truth to Loki, who not only would always figure it out anyway but also knew every better and worse thing about Thor since childhood. But before he could utter a sound of that, he found himself telling a story he never knew.
“Mother gave it to me,” Thor said. “Before she died.” He swallowed. “She wanted me to keep it for my own.”
Loki’s eyes flickered toward Thor. Thor expected him to laugh scornfully, to scold Thor for such a weak and pitiful lie, to deem him a weak and pitiful liar as always, before wheedling the real story out of him. Because of all the tapestries that Frigga ever weaved, of all the arts she crafted, they both know that the very one that lay across Jane was the one she never parted with, never let out of her sight and possession, and never let her children (until Thor) understand.
“I see,” said Loki.
His voice was not mocking, icy, but quiet, almost inaudible. Without another word, he turned away from Thor and wandered out of the cave, seating himself in the cold grass and saying nothing more.
Even if spies may be prowling everywhere, Thor couldn’t help but watch the small form of his brother all night. He couldn’t understand why Loki believed that lie so easily.
“Why do you not tell Loki, Mother?”
They were alone, for once. Thor couldn’t remember the last time he had a chance to be alone with his mother. Perhaps when he was still a child, and did not need to learn to be an heir.
“Tell him what?” said Frigga.
“About your little brother,” said Thor.
Frigga pursed her lips. The tapestry still gathered dust, the lilies had long flourished and died.
“What would it matter?” said Frigga. “Would someone really want to have a person share such an old tale that means little to them?”
“But it means something to you still,” Thor said. “And it’s a part of you.”
Frigga shook her head, her golden head gleaming in the firelight.
“Will I truly sit him down and tell him of Baldur?” said Frigga. “He does not need to know. And it would make him so sad if he did.”
The shadows in the room danced with the fire, teasing them with darkness.
“You told me,” Thor said.
When the fire crackled, Thor imagined that it was the sound of breaking hearts. Not a bang, not a shatter like his thunder, but soft, gradual, until before he knew it all that was left were flaky ashes.
“Yes,” whispered Frigga. “I did.”
“What are you protecting him from?” said Thor.
That you decided that I could stand?
“It’s just the past, Thor,” said Frigga. “Why should he know?”
“But it’s your past, Mother,” said Thor. “And it still saddens you.”
Is it any better that Loki is not hurt but you are?
Frigga put on a brave smile, like rubies upon daggers.
“I do not have a sad life, Thor,” said Frigga. “Not when I have you two as sons.”
And yet the lilies had shriveled into bits of paper before anyone remembered to fetch a maid to take them away.
“Why does it bother you?” said Frigga. “That I do not tell Loki.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Thor, not entirely sure.
Because we feel like different brothers, if we do not know the same mother.
“Do you regret telling me?” said Thor.
Please say no please say no please say no please let me know you too.
“No,” said Frigga. “I do not.” She smiled softly. “I have not spoken of it in such a long time before you. Perhaps I needed it.”
And finally, like a geyser, or a sudden rainfall, Thor felt relief.
“You trust me, don’t you, Mother?” said Thor. “It’s because you trust me that you told me.”
“Yes, Thor,” said Frigga. “I do trust you.”
Thor ate those words like a beggar.
“And not just because I asked?”
Frigga parted her lips, silent, before smiling a small smile.
“Of course not, Thor,” said Frigga.
If she lied, it wasn’t like Thor could tell. He was no Loki—that he realized a long time ago.
“You can trust in me, Mother,” Thor said. “You can trust me with any secret, any sad thing on your heart, truly. Anything you cannot bring yourself to say to anyone else—truly.”
The last sentence was an absolute plea, but one thing Thor was at least adept in was making sure he did not look like he begged.
“Now, Thor,” Frigga said with a light laugh. “What makes you hunger for all my confessions?”
“I just want you to feel safe with me,” said Thor.
And when it came to hiding places, there was only ever one that can be truly counted on.
“I do feel safe with you. I feel safe with all my family,” said Frigga. “Perhaps I’ll tell Loki one day, when the time is right.”
And like that geyser or sudden rainfall, Thor regretted his pestering, regretted his demands for equality between brothers and the truth for Loki. When Loki and Frigga probably harbored so many secrets in their silent retreats together, their quiet walks in her garden that he never knew, or those magic lessons he could never understand. Not when for once, his mother could share something to Thor and Thor only, and they could both finally share something more than just blood.
But he never said that. He had all of Asgard fawning over him, so to speak. He had his father who beamed at his very existence. And yet, as he rested underneath Odin’s proud hand and Loki nestled deep in Frigga’s arms, Thor knew too well how they still turned their heads and searched longingly for the other parent.
Not that either would breathe a word of that.
When Loki was blissfully naïve of Mother’s story the next day, and the next, and the next, Thor couldn’t help it.
He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Would you mind telling me about your mother?” said Jane.
The request made Thor shudder at first. He spoke of Frigga in passing without realizing it perhaps a thousand times on their journey, but now that Jane asked directly he felt very quiet. He wondered if Jane wanted to cut through the very solid silence that settled upon them during these long treks, or if he had unwittingly enticed her curiosity that he hardly felt qualified to satisfy.
“You’ve met her before,” said Thor.
“I know,” said Jane. “But I didn’t know her much at all until she…”
Loki ahead of them stopped abruptly. Jane’s voice sapped away and she watched him warily as if expecting Loki’s daggers to shoot out from behind him like porcupine quills. Instead, he surveyed the area, the thick forest upon the mountainside, before trudging forward. Thor could tell he was listening.
“I’m sure Loki can tell you better than I can,” said Thor. “She and he were very close.”
Loki pretended he did not hear. Jane bit her lip and Thor knew that the silent tension between the three of them was growing again.
“Loki?” said Thor.
Loki only continued striding forward, his steps leaving crushed stems and leaves behind like breaking bones. Thor sighed; to merely hope that Loki would give in to something such as small talk was far too much to hope for.
“Did they not tell tales of her life during the funeral rites?” said Thor.
“They did,” said Jane. “But everyone’s stories about a person are diff—”
“They let you attend her funeral rites.”
Loki stopped in his tracks again. Jane nearly ran into him. Thor, at the sound of Loki’s tones, instinctively put a hand on Jane’s shoulder.
“They let you—” Loki turned around slowly, his shockingly green eyes fixated upon Jane. “A mortal who only knew her for a matter of days, who knows nothing of Asgard or her queen, who doesn’t even belong here in any way, shape, or form—they let you attend her funeral rites.”
Jane said nothing. Loki’s gaze flickered toward Thor. The corner of his lips twitched upward in a terrible smile. It stretched like a raw wound still oozing with infection, painful just to look at.
“Then again, it makes sense, does it not?” said Loki. “What place does a prisoner have in the queen’s funeral?”
Before Thor could say anything, Loki broke away from them, entangling himself in a mess of trees in solitude. Jane let out a breath she must have held in when Loki showed sign of life.
“I’m sorry for that,” said Jane.
“I will talk with him,” said Thor.
“He might want to be alone,” said Jane. “I don’t think…I don’t think we will do him any favors.”
“He’s been alone for far too long,” said Thor.
He motioned for Jane to stay where she was while he caught up with Loki. The moment Thor was at least ten meters away from Loki, Loki snarled.
“Expecting me to run away?” said Loki. “Maybe you ought to use a leash like a proper beast handler.”
“I wanted to make sure you were all right,” Thor said. “Nothing more.”
“Very good,” said Loki. “Wouldn’t want me to lead you and your little Jane over a cliff in a fit of displeasure, now would we?”
“Not everyone has an ulterior motive to caring for something like you do,” Thor said behind gritted teeth.
Loki’s eyes flashed.
“Like me?” said Loki. “Well, well, well, this is a new stereotype for me. I’m the one who calls others family for another purpose? If that’s the case, maybe something of Odin has finally rubbed off on me.”
Thor felt as if Loki threw a large stone at his stomach. Loki sneered and turned away.
“Spare me your presence for just a moment, Thor,” said Loki. “If I have to deal with your constant idiocy, I swear I will explode.”
“Loki,” Thor said. “I’m sorry that you were unable to attend Mother’s funeral.”
Loki’s words were like nails dragged through Thor’s skin.
“Jane meant no mockery toward you in the slightest,” said Thor. “Please, do not direct your anger at her. If anything, direct it at me. I did not try harder to help you.”
“Oh, Thor,” Loki said, and his laughter sounded more like growling. “Thor, you fool, you flatter yourself in thinking that my every emotion, every drop of anger is because of you.” He spun around and spat toward Thor. It only made it halfway. “If that were the case, you’d be long dead.”
Thor did not flinch. In fact, he stepped closer. Loki reeled, as if Thor’s presence threatened to knock him off balance.
“Then tell me what is the matter,” said Thor. “If it is not anger toward me, then what is it? Do not bottle your hurt in like this. You can trust me.”
“Trust you?” said Loki. “Just like how everyone trusts you with their secrets, their soul, their everything until only you truly know that person? Like how your mortal whore does, or your sickening companions, like Mother, like everyone?”
In that moment, Thor understood.
He was certain that the tapestry underneath his armor muffled all sound else he would hear his own heart breaking.
But when he took a step forward, hand outstretched (to what? Hold? Touch? Pull forward like a child?) Loki lashed out at him with a jet of searing magic. Thor only had enough time to throw himself out of the way before the magic skewered trees.
Fearing for Jane’s safety, Thor pulled forth Mjölnir and rushed forward.
Loki wrenched forth another burst of power and shuttled it toward him.
Thor swung his hammer to meet it and it rocketed into the air, skewing the heads off trees.
He hurled Mjölnir at Loki, nearly catching his shoulder. Loki dodged and swiped. A deep scratch dug into Thor’s chest.
The forest exploded around them in sound, in lights and destruction. There was wild, green fire in Loki’s eyes. Thor couldn’t begin to imagine what raged in his heart.
Jane screamed at them, trying to reason with them as the brothers fought and fought and fought as if they could squeeze an entire civil war of a nation into their two very beings.
Somewhere in him, Thor thought, He needs this.
Loki needed this.
And as Loki’s dangerously fatal blows grazed over Thor’s head, as with shaking hands he conjured his every fiber to pour out fire, Thor realized just how very broken Loki was to lose a mother not only physically but emotionally. To realize too late, by Thor’s casual words, that there was something of his mother that he did not know, something of the only person he ever truly trusted and felt loved by and knew that he did not know, and the fear that there were hundreds of thousand secrets that she kept from him. Until all he ever really knew of the only person he thought he knew was in actuality a façade, a mask, who never trusted him with her soul. And there could be no peace to be found—not when Frigga was dead and Loki couldn’t go back home and ask why not when he wasn’t even given the chance to say goodbye and now he was alone alone alone knowing nothing and no one not his father not his brother not his friends who did not exist not a single soul and they would never know him back.
Skin scorched and scraped, weathered, aching.
Loki fell on all fours, gasping.
Thor thought with a jolt of cold fear that his blow had come too close to Loki. He dropped Mjölnir and rushed forward, unable to breathe.
But Loki did not bleed, or clutch a wound. He gasped for air, shaky breaths, shaky arms, teeth clenched. If he wanted to shy away from Thor, he could not bring himself to do so. He held back tears that were too dry to fall, screams that were long muted, and he could only cry out like a lost child he once was centuries ago, when there was a mother to run to and hide within her arms, when there was no fear of being left behind for long.
Thor knelt beside Loki, afraid to touch him in case Thor’s very presence would send Loki flying away in fear like a bird. He felt so tired, and worn, and he might as well be broken too.
“Loki,” Thor said.
And he knew that he shouldn’t touch Loki, knew that Loki would not want him to, but Thor wished he could just hold Loki close. He could only sit beside him and let Loki try to catch his breath in the midst of his unshed cries.
“Loki, I don’t know if anything I can say will bring you comfort, but…” He swallowed hard.
Because where had they all gone wrong?
“But I know more than anything else that Mother loved you with all her heart,” said Thor. His voice shook. “She loved you so, so much. You feel alone now, and confused, and hurt, and I’m sorry.”
Loki’s breaths were thin hisses between his teeth. If he wanted to object, he had no voice to do so.
“And I confess,” Thor said, and his voice shook so much he could barely hear it himself. “I confess—I had taken pride that Mother told me of her past and not you. I thought for once she had regarded me with as much attention as she did with you.”
Loki made a sound that could have been laughing, could have been sobbing. It was hard to tell. Thor wished Loki would scream, yell, even attack, because if he realized that he had broken Loki again—as always—he could never forgive himself.
“I lied to you,” Thor said. These truths were ugly, these truths brought him so much shame, but Loki deserved to know them, deserved to know him. “I lied to you about the tapestry. Mother never gave it to me. I stole it from her bedchambers before they could take it away and burn it. I lied so that you’d think she favored me to give something so special of hers to me. I lied to myself to convince myself she would do such a thing for me. I wanted to keep it—her—all to myself, to be something special to her like you’ve always been, and I’ve hurt you now and I’m so sorry.”
Loki lowered his head until it nearly touched the forest floor, his shoulders shaking. If Loki hadn’t hated him before, then he surely would now.
Thor slowly reached within his armor and pulled out Frigga’s tapestry. When he held it out to Loki, Loki would not touch it at first. Slowly, surely, when all the bottled pain and anger and mourning was too much to bear, he reached out and clutched the very corner of the tapestry as if it was his last goodbye while he shook, and cried, with Thor kneeling beside him.
They stayed like so for a long time.
I love you, child, were the last words Frigga would have said to Thor if her throat wasn’t slit.
Recalling that day now, when she died in the shores of her own blood, Thor could see. How her eyes shone as he knelt at her side, screaming. How her lips moved but no sound came as blood poured from everywhere. How as Thor desperately tried to close the veins in her slashed neck to stem the bleeding and her life was seeping away, she reached a hand to gently pat his arm, as if to say, that’ll be all for now, before dying.
I love you, child, said his mother, though he had forgotten to hear when she kissed him at night, when she smiled at him with pride and love and bound his wounds. He had let his heart burst with jealousy when she and Loki went on silent sanctuaries to practice magic, shared stories and jokes he would never understands, until he dealt her love like gambling chips and craved for others’ when he had his own.
I love you, child, even though he had reduced her in his mind from a person to a fountain, to be drunk from and not replenished, when he feared that his cup was not as full as Loki’s because he just wished he knew. Knew that his mother did not look down upon him for following Odin’s footsteps, for being brash and bold, for being not Loki. Only he never understood that her love for him shone differently, with a gold nod and smile, with gentle scolding when he became too pompous, with her quiet support he forgot to feel.
I love you, child, said those dying eyes, and only now did Thor see how very sad it was, that his entire life had wasted a mother’s love in exchange for fear and jealousy, and it was too late.
(I love you, Amma, he whispered to the wind, to the stars in their course and aim, to a memory he could finally put at ease to rest, and breathed another day)
When Loki’s knees hit the ground, Thor screamed.
When this visage of his double faded and the replica of his armor withered to reveal black, torn, bloodied leather, Thor sobbed.
When Loki slumped to the ground and did not move, Thor’s lightning was uncontainable.
Malekith stood no chance. The Dark Elves stood no chance. Any enemy, any friend, any realm who had the audacity to come in the way, stood no chance.
Thor did not know what he destroyed as his fear blinded him.
Until smoke cleared, the crackling of lightning ceased, and the dust settled, and Jane was screaming his name.
If Malekith still lived, if an enemy force still stirred, Thor didn’t care anymore.
He fell at Loki’s side, moaning with heartbreak at the sight of the deadly blade plunged in Loki’s chest, at his brother’s far too plae face and shallow breathing. Jane had rushed to Loki the moment Malekith’s paralyzing prison freed her. Her hands were warm with Loki’s blood.
Thor lost count of how many times he said Loki’s name. The light was fading from Loki’s eyes and Thor just wanted to demand to him why why why why why—?
Thor’s fingers shook as they wrapped around the hilt of Malekith’s blade. When he wrenched it out of Loki’s chest, Loki did not even wince. Blood ran from him freely. The blade fell from Thor’s strenghtless fingers.
“You could have lived, Loki,” Thor said. His eyes stung worse than the cuts on his forehead. “Why did you not choose to live?”
Loki laughed—or he would have, if his lungs were not cut. His eyelids were falling, heavy.
Thor was blind, dumb, and senseless in his tears, but he managed to pull out Frigga’s tattered tapestry from beneath his armor. It was singed at the edges, several cuts from where arrows tried to stop him, but it was still there and still in his hands. Slowly, more gently than he had ever been with anything else in his life, Thor wrapped it around Loki’s shivering form like a blanket. It immediately dyed red at the touch of Loki’s chest.
Loki was shivering uncontrollably now, even with the blanket. Thor held him closer, barely able to breathe as he cradled Loki like he was a child again, when they had met for the first time when Odin brought him as a small bundle, and Thor refused to let go of his new brother until they had both fallen asleep.
“I’m here, Loki,” Thor choked out. “I’ll hold you. Norns, Loki, please…”
Now, said Loki’s eyes, as if they could still twinkle with mischief in their slow, painful dying. This isn’t anything you should fret over.
Thor let out a sob and kept Loki close. His grief made his thunder cry, and rain trickled from the sky.
Loki gasped for breath, but little air could fill his dying lungs. Thor’s heart jumped because he knew that one of them will soon be Loki’s last.
But when Thor looked into Loki’s eyes, they were not the same ones he saw that hung over the Bifröst, that were so resigned and deadened that were followed by a resolute plunge. This time, Loki’s eyes shone—were they tears? Joy?—and Thor knew that Loki would soon be at peace.
“It’s okay, Loki,” Thor said. “I’m here. I’ll be here to the end. It’s okay, Loki, you can let go. I love you. I love you, brother, everything will be okay.”
A ghost of a smile fell upon Loki’s lips. He looked so small shrouded in Frigga’s tapestry, so small as he lay dying in Thor’s arms.
Jane gently brushed Loki’s hair like Frigga once did when they were both young. Perhaps, as he was dying, Loki’s sight would give away and he could almost believe that Frigga was with him again.
“It’s all right,” Thor said, and he tried not to cry. “I’ll hold you until you are sleeping. I love you, Loki. Tell Amma I love her. I love you.”
Loki closed his eyes, his head gently resting against Thor’s arm. Thor tried to keep his arms from shaking as he held on.
Jane hummed an old lullaby that Thor might have recognized if he tried. He tried to pretend that Loki was only being rocked to sleep, that he would wake again in the morning.
Slowly, in the arms that had first welcomed him into Asgard, Loki took his last breath. His chest’s rising grew slower and slower until it stilled underneath his mother’s bloodstained tapestry, and the form that Thor held so preciously would soon grow cold.
Finally, Thor rose to his feet. Loki was so limp, so still, that Thor’s arms quaked. Thor breathed freely, and he knew not whether he should cry with joy because Loki has finally found peace, or cry because he could not find his own.
The world was so quiet. With Jane at his side, Thor carried Loki home.
A figure runs through the haze, lost, curious. He is lithe, like a willow, and beautiful. The color of his eyes and skin matter not—only the fact that they shimmer here, like water, or sunlight.
He stops in his steps, breathless. It is beautiful here. More importantly, it is peaceful. But he still wonders where she is, because he knows she is here. He knows.
And the voice finally comes.
He turns his head and he sees her standing before him. She is ageless here, her eyes no longer heavy with unshed tears, but bright and full and loving. When he sees her, he wants to cry, but he does not. All his tears are wiped away.
Without another word, he launches himself into her arms and holds her tight. She gives a cry of joy as she strokes his soft head, holding him so close that she could feel his warmth in her.
“You are so brave,” she whispers. “So strong and so brave, my precious child.”
“I missed you,” he says. There is no shame, no embarrassment or fear in such vulnerability. Here is beautiful, here is peaceful. Here is safe.
They held each other for a long time until she finally pulls away. She lets her eyes drink in his sight and she is so full of love.
“Can we watch over Father and Thor from here?” he says.
She combs back his hair.
“They will be watched over, my son,” she says. “They will.”
She takes his hand. Suddenly, he is a child again, entering the kingdom of heaven with love at his side as they left the world behind.
“Come, Loki,” she says. “I want you to meet someone.”
It was past Thor’s bedtime when Frigga told Thor about her brother Baldur. The one who was weaved upon the tapestry she hung so long upon her wall. The one that held her childhood self as well, except the weaver remembered how she looked as a youth. Baldur never lived long enough to tell.
“He was only a toddler when it happened,” Frigga said. Her voice was quiet, and it reminded Thor of a flickering flame on a candle wick. “He and I were playing near one of the shores in Vanaheim. I had taken him there myself.”
Thor sat at her feet, shivering. Her hand stroked his gold head so gently that he wondered if she feared breaking him.
“My mother had instructed me to take him out to play, to keep him out of the way as delegates from other kingdoms came,” she said. “I wanted to show him the beaches. To take him swimming.”
The longer he stared up at the tapestry, the more his eyes stung. He wished for a handkerchief he would never ask for.
“I thought I would watch over him at all times,” said Frigga. “I thought it would be safe, so we played on the shore. The ocean’s pull was strong, but we only ever played where the water reached up to our ankles and nothing more.”
Fire crinkled the firewood. Outside, the summer cicadas sang.
“I turned away from him for a minute,” said Frigga, “to fetch him a rag to dry him off since he had fallen and began to cry. It was only upon a rock a little ways off from the shoreline, so I ran to get it. When I returned—he was gone.”
Thor reached to take his mother’s hand. She returned the squeeze.
“I ran back screaming for Father. They didn’t find him until several hours,” said Frigga. She sighed. “The current was so strong that day. I did not think that he would venture deeper without me. I did not think it would take him so quickly and quietly.”
Frigga did not cry that night, but Thor could tell that he would lose count if he had tried to know how many nights she tossed and turned with guilt, with sorrow.
Later that night, past midnight, it was Thor who tossed and turned. Images of water, of spinning oceans stronger than he, of nature who could master even the bravest, haunted him. And all the while, he could see Loki’s face in his mind. His own little brother, swallowed by the sea, disappearing, forever.
He thought of a tapestry with Loki’s face upon it, and it made his nose sting.
Quietly, Thor slipped out of his bed and crept through the quiet night to Loki. He was growing, an awkward height and build for someone between childhood and adolescent, but he still knew how to keep quiet in his steps. The only ones awake were the night guards, and they turned a blind eye to the princes.
Thor slipped into Loki’s room, barely making any sound as he closed the door behind him. Loki slept soundly—he had always been a deep sleeper. At the sight of Loki’s chest rising and falling, Thor felt relief fall upon him.
He slowly climbed onto Loki’s large bed beside him. He felt foolish—he was a grown boy now, who didn’t even need a security blanket for the past several decades, and yet crawling into bed with his brother gave him a sense of safety he never knew anywhere else. The sight of Loki before him, so peaceful and alive, was like an answer to a prayer he did not know he made.
Gently, he wrapped his arms around Loki, pressing his face against Loki’s small shoulder. Loki was always naturally cooler, but he felt so warm and alive that Thor needed. He never realized that he was shaking.
“I love you, Loki,” whispered Thor.
Thor was young, and foolish, and naïve, but he was learning how sometimes families were torn apart for no other reason than because they did. He couldn’t lose Loki.
“I’ll protect you from everything,” said Thor, quietly so that Loki would not stir. “Nothing’s going to hurt you when I’m with you. Nothing will ever harm you.”
The moon shone through Loki’s window. It was delicate and hazed, like a sigh. Thor closed his eyes and listened to Loki’s breathing.
“We won’t ever be apart, okay?” said Thor. “I’ll never leave you. Don’t leave me, and I will never leave you. Don’t ever leave me, Loki. Don’t leave me.”
Thor stayed there a long time, until he fell asleep at Loki’s side.