It was an accident through which he found out.
Coming down from the high in which they’d won the battle and evacuated Asgard’s people safely, Thor found himself questioning the decision to release Surtur. The thrill of having won the battle against Hela had died down, and instead, what was left behind was a deep sense of regret and longing. The grief for Odin had come back full force, and despite everything that had happened between them, Thor was only glad that Loki was beside him. Two years ago, he’d lost his mother and brother in one fell swoop, having to watch them both die in front of his eyes, knowing that it was because of him that they’d both died. Frigga had died protecting Jane – the Aether, he tried to justify – but he knew that his mother would have protected the woman he loved as fiercely even if Jane didn’t have the Aether within her. Loki had nearly been sucked into the vortex saving Jane, and he’d died saving Thor from being crushed by the Dark Elf. Thor had been angry, when he’d realized that Loki had once again tricked him, but he’d also mostly been relieved, because that was one less death on his conscience. When Odin had passed on, Thor couldn’t be more grateful for Loki’s presence by his side, he knew that if he’d been alone when Odin returned to his mother’s side, if Loki had truly been dead, he would have probably allowed Hela to strike him down where he stood.
With all these thoughts swirling in his head, Thor took to wandering the halls of the ship aimlessly in the middle of the night. Or rather, at a given time in which he thought was night, since the darkness of space gave no indication of time whatsoever. The Asgardians had all settled into their respective rooms, a bit more cramped than they were used to, but glad to be with their families nonetheless. Thor felt a sense of hollowness in his chest, the same one he’d felt when Asgard’s golden city imploded. His only home, his memories, both good and bad – gone like the wind. It was the only way, he knew. Hela was too powerful for any of them to match, and only Surtur could withstand her power. The one who was prophesized to destroy Asgard against the one who drew strength from it.
He couldn’t sleep at night, his mind plagued by the what ifs of his actions. If this was a mistake, if he had made an error in his choice – there was no going back. This wasn’t like one of his brash fumbles back in his youth, where running to Odin (or Loki) could solve all his problems.
Asgard was gone. There was no turning back now.
His feet led him to a nondescript door, one that looked the same as any other on this ship. But he knew what lay behind it.
Or rather, who.
The first time he’d ended up here, he had immediately stalked off, brushing away the confusion and embarrassment at finding himself in front of Loki’s door.
But as time dragged on, and he found himself back in front of Loki’s room night after night, he gave up and stayed where he was, soaking in the comfort that the familiarity of the act presented for several moments before he turned back to head to his room. He remembered doing this several times when they were children, a problem or worry plaguing him at night had him looking for his brother for comfort. Many times, Loki would open the door before Thor even knocked, shifting over without a word so that Thor could slip under the covers.
Even now, a part of Thor wanted to do that, yearned for the comfort that Loki had brought him all those years ago. He raised a hand, hesitating slightly. He wasn’t sure if Loki had warded his doors much like he had done in the later years, and Thor didn’t want to get zapped by a spell – he’d had enough of getting electrocuted in the last few days thank you very much.
A soft whimper coming from inside made the decision for him.
Thor found himself inside the room in a heartbeat, his eyes cast about the room for signs of disturbances. His gaze landed on Loki, who was silent and could have been said to be sleeping peacefully were it not for the way his eyes were squeezed tightly shut, his fingers claws digging into the mattress.
Thor crossed the room in one long stride, kneeling by the side of his brother’s bed. He placed a hand on Loki’s arm, shaking him gently.
“Loki, Loki wake up.”
The other god shivered slightly but remained asleep, his eyes rolling behind his eyelids.
Thor shook him harder, “Loki wake up!” He hissed.
Loki’s eyes flew open, and Thor had to leap backwards to avoid getting skewered by the dagger that had suddenly appeared in Loki’s hand.
Thor raised his hands placatingly, “Loki, it’s me. Brother, listen to my voice.”
Thor watched as Loki blinked slowly recognition flooded his eyes, the younger god relaxing out of the half crouch he had slid into instinctively, the hand holding the dagger dropping limply to the side. The god of mischief frowned up at him, running a hand through his hair, “Thor? What are you doing here?”
“I uh –” Thor stammered, “I heard a noise and I thought that –”
Loki raised an eyebrow, “That there was an intruder?”
Loki scoffed and stood up, crossing over to the other side of the bed, the dagger disappearing with a flick of his hand. “Well as you can see, there is no intruder, so you may leave now.”
If this were a hundred years ago, Thor would have left, would have taken Loki’s words at face value and went on his merry way. But the past few days and years had opened his eyes to the subtle nuances of his brother’s actions far more effectively than the past millennium they had spent together, a fact that still made him cringe when he thought about it. Thor could see the tense lines of Loki’s shoulders, the way he held his body defensively, in anticipation of a fight that only he could see.
“Were those night terrors?” The god of thunder asked quietly.
Loki turned away from him, “No, it is nothing you need to concern yourself with.”
Thor took the step forward to stand close to his brother, “Loki.” He pleaded.
Loki just hissed and moved away, “It was nothing alright? Leave it.”
“As king, you cannot be playing nursemaid to any and every person who you presume needs help.” Loki snapped back at him, his fingers digging into his palm, glaring at him sharply.
“And as an older brother, I have a responsibility to look after you. A responsibility that I should have taken up years ago but that I failed at so terribly.” Thor retorted, watching as Loki deflated visibly. The thunderer took that as a sign to approach and gingerly laid an arm on his brother, feeling the body beneath his hand tremble ever so slightly.
“Loki talk to me, please.” Thor urged, “I have not listened before, and I am sorry for that, no apologies can make that up to you, I know. But I promise that I am listening now.”
Loki turned away, clenching his jaw, the internal debate clear as day on his face. Thor waited patiently beside him, keeping silent to give his brother the space to decide.
“I fell for thirty minutes.” He said after several heartbeats of silence.
Thor frowned, confused, but remained silent now where he would’ve butted in with a remark before that would’ve undoubtedly cause his brother to shut down even further.
Surprised but encouraged by the lack of comments, Loki continued, turning away from Thor completely, “You know how it feels to fall from the Bifrost yes? How it feels to be ripped out of its warm path and into the cold, dark abyss outside.”
The god stared blankly at the wall, leaning slightly into Thor when he shifted closer to his brother, laying his arm over Loki’s shoulders, drawing him into a half-hug.
“When I let go of Gungnir,” Loki began, “I expected to die. I wanted to die.” He corrected himself. Behind him, Thor closed his eyes, the image of Loki’s betrayed look as he released his fingers from Gungnir would forever be burned in his mind. “I didn’t die. Clearly.” Loki continued wryly, his lips twisting into a humourless smile, “I fell. I fell and fell and fell and just kept on falling. There was no end to it. It was cold, dark, the voices were so loud I wished I could have torn my ears off. It was agony being ripped apart in the Void over and over again but I just. couldn’t. die.”
Thor breathed out, feeling tears gather at the back of his eyes, “And you fell for thirty minutes in Strange’s spell.”
Loki released a shaky breath, lifting a shoulder wearily, “I fell for thirty minutes, but I didn’t know if I was ever going to land.”
Thor couldn’t believe it. The sensation of free fall, of being torn from the Bifrost’s path when Hela had thrown him out had terrified him so much with the feeling of helplessness, and he’d only experienced it for a scant few seconds before landing on Sakaar. And Loki had experienced that for an eternity? It was no wonder he seemed half mad when he arrived in New York.
And to relive that experience not once but twice in the past week? Thor had been relived beyond measure when he crashed onto Sakaar. It didn’t even matter where he was, or that he ended up as a fight slave, it only mattered that he had landed. The Void managed to both make him feel weightless and still crushed him under it’s immense pressure, and Thor had prayed to anyone who might listen that he would find a planet or a realm to land on. It didn’t matter to him that he could’ve landed back on Muspelheim where Surtur’s demons remained, he would’ve rather faced the endless army of demons than stayed one more second in the Void.
Thor found himself crushing Loki to his chest without conscious thought, bringing his other arm up around Loki’s form. He shifted them backwards so that they landed on the bed. The other god squawked and tensed but Thor ignored his protest. He knew instinctively that those were token protests, because Loki was still trembling in his embrace. He rested his head atop Loki’s head, just staying there with his arms wrapped around his brother until the shivering died down. Thor was glad that his position meant that Loki couldn’t see his slight grin when he felt the younger god give up and relax into his embrace completely. It had been ages, centuries in fact, since Loki had allowed Thor to come as close as he did. The thought that he came so close to losing this bond, this natural synchrony that they shared had Thor grateful that they’d managed to salvage their relationship. That their relationship hadn’t been as irreparable as it seemed two years ago, that their brotherhood had been tested beyond its limits, but they had come out stronger for it.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do brother.” Loki huffed, his actions betraying the annoyance in his tone.
Thor smiled, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I did promise you a hug if you were real.”
Loki grinned slightly, making absolutely no effort to move from where he was snuggled against his brother, “That you did, I suppose it is better late than never.” He mused.
The two of them lay there for several moments before Thor shifted slightly, intending to get up from where he was lying in order to get back to his room – or his wandering. He was stopped by Loki, who said simply, “I am extremely comfortable right now, and if you value your other eye you will not move an inch.”
Thor sighed, “Brother, as much as you would like for me to be your new decoration, I do need to get back to my room.”
Loki scoffed, “If you think I am unaware of how you spend the nights wandering around this machine, clearly you must have hit your head harder than you thought.”
Thor shook his head fondly, “It should be a surprise to me but somehow I find myself comforted knowing that you keep an eye on the workings of this ship.”
Loki hissed and turned around, propping himself up on his elbow, “You’re deflecting.” He said flatly, “You barged into my room and demanded to know what was wrong with me, yet you do not extend the same courtesy about yourself.”
“No,” Loki growled, stabbing a finger into Thor’s chest, “Do not think that I am unaware of how you keep all your worries to your heart, how your smile drops off your face the moment you think that no one is looking. Do not think that I am unaware of how you stop in front of my room every night, something you’ve stopped doing since we were teens, so tell me, what is wrong?”
Thor fell silent. He could feel Loki’s weighted glare on him, and he knew that his brother was right. The only person left who possessed the ability to see through him was Loki. Thor had never needed a mask before, but the past few years had taught him the necessity of one. But perhaps now, he had portrayed the strong man so much and for so long that he’d forgotten how to be himself in front of others once again.
“I worry that I made the wrong decision to unleash Surtur, that destroying Asgard was never the path to take.” Thor confessed, the words falling out of his lips on their own volition, “I think about Odin all the time, I think about what he would have done in my place, and then I remember what he allowed to happen with Malekith in his grief and I find myself questioning his teachings all over again.”
“I wouldn’t say that I am the best person to speak of Odin.” Loki commented wryly, raising up a hand to stall Thor’s comments. “Asgard has not felt like home to me for a long time, but I will not discredit the memories that I – that we built there. Whether or not destroying Asgard was the right choice, it was the only choice you had at the moment. Hela was too strong, even for us, we had no way of overpowering her, and no way of bringing her far enough to isolate her from Asgard’s well of power.”
Loki looked straight at Thor, his green eyes piercing, “Grieve for the choices you had to make, the ones that resulted in loss,” he said quietly, “But remember the reason why you made those choices. Remember that you chose to destroy Asgard’s physical realm to save its people, and that it was for those people that you fought so hard for. That should be your assurance. Know that nobody on this ship would blame you for the loss of their planet.”
Thor couldn’t help it, he reached forward to pull Loki into another hug, this time burying his face into Loki’s neck. His brother hadn’t said that he’d made the right decision, hadn’t said that he had nothing to worry about, but Thor felt the worries lighten considerably at his brother’s words nonetheless. He recognized the honest truth in the words of the supposed God of Lies, and he was comforted by them.
“And if one on this ship decided that I made the wrong choice?”
Loki rolled his eyes, “I hope you don’t think I’m going to raise a sword in defence of your honor.”
Thor just laughed, reading the words that Loki hadn’t said.
“Thank you, brother.” He replied simply.