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Meanwhile in Norway

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Meanwhile, in Norway

Thor had been gone for nearly a week. Since they had arrived on Earth, he'd been busy making arrangements to relocate the surviving citizens of Asgard. Most had remained right there, in Helgeland, but some had opted to venture inland to the more heavily populated cities and towns. Such matters required a great deal of coordination with Stephen Strange, who wanted to be kept abreast on all developments. That meant traveling back and forth to New York. Both Stephen and Thor had thought it best that Loki remain inconspicuous in the meantime. Loki -who wasn't particularly thrilled to be back on Earth in the first place- had appeared happy enough to oblige.

When Thor entered the apartment, he found it to be warm. In the corner, the fireplace was crackling. Loki was sprawled across the sofa. His long, thin legs were crossed at the ankle and his bare feet were propped up on a stack of pillows and blankets. His head was tilted to the side, supported by the crook of his arm, and he was staring blankly at a large, flat-screened television. On the screen, a man and a woman, both wearing crowns upon their heads, were speaking to one another in hushed voices.

"What are you watching?" Thor asked, since nearly a minute had passed since he'd entered the apartment and Loki had not seen fit to address his arrival. If he didn't know any better, he would have thought the other man was asleep.

"Macbeth," was Loki's brief answer.

Thor sighed in acknowledgement. He wasn't terribly surprised. He was familiar with the complete works of Shakespeare. His mother had seen to it that they had been educated in classic Midgardian literature, as well as their customs and mythologies. In this strange, new place, it made sense that Loki would be clinging to some sense of familiarity, however abstract.

"And…what did you do today?" Thor prodded, gesturing at the television, "besides this."

"Nothing," Loki replied, absently. He didn't avert his gaze from the screen.

The apartment wasn't terribly large. It was -in fact- the only one they had been able to find that was both available and suitable for their needs. It had come completely furnished, which was convenient. Unfortunately, it had only one bedroom and one -appropriately named- king-sized bed. Initially, given the bed's size, they had attempted to share it. The first few nights were spent, reliving childhood memories and glorious battles, talking and laughing about their current predicament and speculating about the future. The novelty had quickly worn off, however, and Loki had eventually retreated to the sofa, citing Thor's monopolization of the bedclothes and incessant snoring as his reasons. He had even joked that there was obviously only room for one king on a king-sized bed. Thor had been fine with that, for the most part, because he certainly liked not having to share a bed with his brother. It just seemed as Loki had grown quieter and more withdrawn, since relocating to the living room.

Thor examined the kitchen from where he was standing. Unwashed dishes were piled in the sink and on the counter, but none of them appeared to have been used recently. He slowly made his way over and opened the refrigerator. Peering inside, he noted that the interior was almost completely empty, except for several bottles of Bokkøl and a sack of carrots that were very clearly no longer edible. The cupboards contained very little as well, only bags of crisps and a few cans of soup. Thor had put Loki in charge of ordering groceries to be delivered on a regular basis, but he appeared to have lapsed on his duties somewhat.

"What did you eat today?" Thor queried, hopefully.

Loki shrugged, still apparently engrossed in the television program.

"I don't remember. Check the rubbish bin."

Thor rounded the small island in the middle of the kitchen and lifted the lid on the silver trash receptacle. The liner within only contained one item, an empty, cardboard container with the word Krokan printed on the side of it.

"Oh congratulations," he remarked, "you polished off another carton of ice-cream."

"I actually think that might be from yesterday," Loki countered.

"So…you didn't eat anything today?"

"It's possible that I did," Loki offered. "I vaguely recall consuming a sandwich at some point."

Thor frowned. That couldn't be right. He knew for a fact that there hadn't been any bread in the apartment for quite some time, because he had already asked Loki several times to order some, to no avail. It seemed unlikely that Loki had managed to have some delivered and consumed it all himself, within the past six days.

"That had to be over a month ago," he replied.

Loki responded with a disinterested humph.

"Aren't you hungry?" Thor asked.

"Not particularly."

Loki normally had a decent appetite, but since they had arrived here, it seemed like he had been eating less frequently. What he did consume wasn't particularly nutritious. It was usually something convenient, that didn't require any preparation -like snacks, deserts or alcohol -mostly alcohol. Thor didn't know if it was because Loki didn't like Midgardian food or if there was something deeper going on. He was hoping it was the former, because he wasn't sure that he had the energy to investigate the latter.

"Have you at least been drinking water?"

"Uh...we're all out."

"Of what…water? You know you don't have to drink it from a bottle, right? It comes right out of the tap."

Loki issued another humph.

"Bruce was saying that people should drink at least one liter of water every day…and he's a doctor, so he knows about these things."

Loki finally looked away from the television to address his brother's claim.

"I'm pretty sure Bruce is not that kind of doctor."

"How would you even know?"

Loki shifted his position, sitting up just enough to make proper eye contact with the other man.

"I mean that he's not a physician. He's a nuclear physicist. I read his dissertation on the effects of gamma radiation on cellular regeneration. It was completely droll and boring, of course...but scientifically accurate, for the most part. Nothing in there about the benefits of frequent hydration."

Thor didn't really want to argue with Loki, especially not about something like this. Because it was so like him to have gone and read all of Dr. Banner's research, not even out of interest, but merely in case the topic ever came up during a debate. Instead he opted to address his brother's recent lack of interest in hygiene. Thor couldn't help noticing that Loki's attire was identical to what it had been when he'd departed for New York the week prior.

"When was the last time you changed your clothes?"

Loki's expression was still mostly unreadable. It appeared to be fluctuating between indifference and the very mildest degree of amusement.

"Weren't you the one who was complaining about me constantly altering my appearance?" He asked.

"You know very well that's not what I meant."

"Well, I'm turning over a new leaf. I'm aiming for continuity. This is the new, consistent Loki."

"The new, consistent Loki is wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt with kittens on it," Thor pointed out.

The corners of Loki's mouth curved upwards, ever so slightly. It was only a hint of a smile.

"What do you have against kittens, Thor?"

"Nothing. I love kittens. Kittens are adorable. Just not as a fashion statement."

"We should get a kitten," Loki offered, sounding only half serious.

Thor's brow furrowed at the unexpected suggestion.

"What? No."

Loki shrugged his shoulders, lazily.

"I'll have you know that this shirt is very comfortable."

"It hasn't been washed since you bought it."

"I'm breaking it in."

"You're breaking it down...molecularly. It's going to disintegrate on your flesh, until you're completely naked."

"That's doubtful…it's polyester. It's totally synthetic. Theoretically, this shirt could outlast me."

"When was the last time you showered?"

"It's not like I've been exercising or working up a sweat. I mean, there was that minor debacle with the clicker and the sofa cushions…but I managed to sort it."

"That's not an answer."

"It is an answer," Loki mused, "just not the one you wanted."

Up until then, Thor had managed to keep the frustration from his voice, but he was beginning to lose his patience. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he didn't like it. With all that he was now responsible for, he wasn't sure if he could handle the additional stress of whatever antics his brother saw fit to engage in.

"Loki, you smell like a goat and you haven't shaved in several weeks."

"Maybe I'm growing a beard."

Thor pointed to his own chin.

"This is a beard…what I'm growing is a beard. You look like you have a rash on the lower half of your face."

Loki scoffed, finally opting to sit all the way up on the sofa. He slid his feet down off of the stack of pillows and brought them to the floor. He aimed the remote control at the television and shut it off, before tossing it aside.

"You must be having trouble seeing with your one good eye, brother. This is perfectly formidable facial hair."

"If you say so."

Loki made a sweeping gesture with his hand.

"Hey, I'm not causing any trouble, am I?"

"That I'm aware of. I haven't checked your internet search history."

Loki smiled, wryly, glancing over at the laptop computer on the kitchen table.

"Yes…let's pretend that you know how to do that."

"Well, I'm sure I can easily find someone who does."

Loki pointed to the ceiling.

"There's a 6-year-old girl in the apartment above us. She probably knows how."

Thor decided not to address the other man's dig. He was well aware that he wasn't quite as up to date on Midgardian technology as his brother, but certainly that was going to change, especially if they were going to be staying on Earth for any length of time.

"Are you spying on our neighbors now?"

"I'm not sure why that would surprise you."

"It actually doesn't."

"It's not like I have a lot to do here. Upstairs to the right of us is the weird, old couple that goes fishing every day, even if it's below freezing outside. Upstairs to the left of us is a younger gentlemen, who works for the Ministry of Justice. He gets up before sunrise and he never has any guests. Directly above us is the kid...whose mother is totally single, by the way...and she hasn't gone on any dates or had anyone stay overnight since we moved in. I don't think there's a father in the picture either, if you know what I mean..."

"Wait...why are you telling me this?"

"I'm just saying...she's single...you're recently single."

Thor shook his head. The last thing he needed right now was to complicate his life with romantic involvement.

"She has a child."

"Do you think people with children don't have sex? Thor...do we need to talk about where babies come from?"

"Are you trying to set me up? What purpose could that possibly serve?"

"I'm bored."

"I'm not going to have sex with someone's mother just to amuse you."

"You are so selfish."

"And you are completely insane."

"Pretty sure we already established that...also, next door to the right of us are the two women with all the yappy dogs and next door to the left of us is the family with the three teenagers that wear black and mope around all the time."

"Oh, you should hang out with them. You'd fit right in."

"With the yappy dogs?"

"No, with the mopers."

"You said not to talk to anyone," Loki reminded him. "Besides, I'm pretty sure they only speak Norwegian."

"You speak Norwegian."

"I speak Old Norse. In Norwegian I can introduce myself and order lutefisk...and I really don't even like lutefisk. It tastes like wet garbage."

"Loki...you need to take a shower."

"What's the point?"

"The point is that you would be clean and I would no longer have to smell you."

"It's not like I'm going anywhere. You never let me leave. I have nothing to do in here. I have already watched all fourteen seasons of Mythbusters."

"What is Mythbusters?"

"It's...a program about two men who like to blow things up."

Thor thought that sounded like the absolute last thing that Loki should be watching, but he didn't say so.

"Of course it is."

"That's not the point…the point is, that I have nothing else to do and you're basically holding me prisoner here. I might as well be back on Asgard, in a cell."

Thor found it odd that Loki would make such a comparison, but what he found odder was that nothing was actually keeping Loki in the apartment, other than the fact that he'd been told not to leave. No spell had been cast, and no magic was preventing him from walking out the door. For whatever reason Loki had chosen to do exactly what he'd been told. That in itself was a cause for concern. It was downright frightening.

"It's not the same thing at all, Loki. You're not a prisoner here. This is for your protection. Do you really think it's a good idea for you to go running freely around this realm, considering the fact that they regard you as a war criminal?"

"No...doesn't mean I'm not bored."

"Well, it's snowing outside anyway," Thor remarked. "It started up again, just as I arrived."

"Figures. You couldn't have picked a place with nicer weather?"

"I didn't pick it. Father did."

"Father's dead," Loki pointed out.

"As if I need to be reminded of that," Thor replied, somberly. He wasn't ready to make light of such things. That wound was still too fresh.

Loki seemed to pick up on the other man's demeanor, and his tone softened.

"I'm just saying, you didn't have to come to this exact place. You could have taken us somewhere else...like California. I've heard they have sunshine and beaches."

"There are beaches here as well. Besides, California is a long way from here...and you'd be far too conspicuous. Stephen said that area of Midgard is heavily populated already."

"Probably because of the weather," Loki mused.

"Probably."

Loki leaned forward, elbows resting on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees.

"You know, I never had any trouble leaving it...before."

Thor examined his brother's face. His expression was unchanged, but he could tell by the timbre of Loki's voice that the conversation had just become more serious.

"Leaving what, you mean Asgard?"

Loki appeared to detect that the other man was studying him more closely, because he turned his gaze to the floor.

"Mmm hmm."

"That's because you always knew you could go back, whenever you wanted."

"Knowing it's gone...really gone. It's...surreal."

Thor decided to cut to the chase.

"Are you homesick? Is that it?"

"I never mourned her," Loki confessed, instead of answering the question.

Thor didn't have to ask who Loki meant. He understood now that this was about more than just not being on Asgard. It was about everything. It was about all that had changed and all they had lost. Their mother's death had been sudden and unexpected. Neither of them had been afforded time to process it. Loki had been imprisoned and there was a threat upon them. A lot had happened since then, but that didn't mean either of them had truly dealt with their loss.

"There wasn't time."

"There's time now," Loki reminded him.

"Yeah."

"And now that he's gone too, it's like..."

"It's real," Thor concluded.

"Yeah."

"You're allowed to grieve, you know."

"I'm not grieving," Loki insisted, rather unconvincingly.

"Aren't you, though?" Thor asked.

"I hate him," Loki admitted. Thor felt a stab in his own chest, hearing those words. But he understood that so much had been unresolved between Loki and their father. He understood that Loki had his reasons, and that they were very real to him.

"Because he lied to you?" Thor guessed. He couldn't begin to comprehend the complexity of his brother's bitterness towards their parents, but he knew that it originated with deception.

Loki issued a soft, painful chuckle.

"No...because he forgave me."

That was not the answer Thor had been expecting. He gradually crossed the short distance between them and sat down on the sofa, beside his brother. Whatever the explanation was going to be, he wanted to get comfortable for it.

"What do you mean?"

Loki looked up only briefly, giving Thor a quick peek, before turning his eyes back to the floor.

"I had grown so used to being angry with him. It was what I knew. It was familiar. When I needed his love, he had none to give. Somehow, I found a way to accept that. I accepted that as my reality. I let myself get used to it. So in the end, when I wanted nothing more than to keep feeling that anger..."

"He had nothing but love to give," Thor finished, remembering their father's parting words. In his final moments of life, Odin had only wanted to say goodbye to his sons. He bore no grudges, held no malice in his heart. He had even praised Loki for the cleverness of his duplicity. I love you, he had said to them both, a phrase that he had rarely uttered in all the years that they had known him. It was naked and plain and left very little to interpretation. And before either of them could answer or even acknowledge his words, he was gone, like stardust.

"It's like I don't even get to choose between sad and angry," Loki explained. "It's like he chose for me."

Suddenly, Thor understood.

"And he chose sad."

"I still want to be angry."

"Why...why would you want that?"

"Because it's easy...because it's what I know. Anger is a fight, and I know how to fight. Sadness is...it's like giving up. It's like surrender."

"Sometimes surrendering is the best option."

"Says the man who never surrenders."

"Oh I've surrendered a few times," Thor lied. He knew what his brother meant, though. It wasn't just about what was easier or what was familiar. Sadness hurts. It hurts a lot more than being angry.

"I don't want to miss them," Loki whispered, harshly.

I don't want to miss them either, Thor thought. He still couldn't see Loki's face, but he could hear the change in his voice, that strangled, nasal sound that meant he was trying very hard not to cry. Thor put a hand on the other man's shoulder.

"But you do," Thor added.

Loki nodded in affirmation, but didn't say anything.

The two men sat quietly for a long time.