Thor stands in the broken oculus and grabs hold of the shattered bits of machinery that need to move in order for the sun's light to be harnessed by the forge. It's strange, he thinks as his hands close over the still-warm metal. Strange how in so many ways, when one small thing fails, an entire whole collapses. One screw loose and a spaceship falls apart. A little port doesn't open, a sun cannot shine, and a universe might end.
One person out of millions stops breathing—
One person whom you love leaves this world, and you feel his heart still and silent under your hand—
Well. Thor can't think too much about what will fail now that Loki is gone. He cannot, even when Eitri warns him that this behavior (he can hear Loki in his head, snarling: "Rash. Foolish. Absurd in ways I can't even begin to describe.") will be the death of him.
But what is death anymore? It seems to Thor that death is only a place where everyone who matters to him has journeyed toward, and he alone has been left behind.
The fire of the sun is a burning heat along his back. He can feel his skin crackling and peeling on the nape of his neck. The scent of his own singed hair fills his nostrils. He screams; this will not work, will it? The despair of having come so far and at every turn, being beaten— Let the sun burn him away into nothing if the Norns will it. In his still-beating heart, Thor dares them to take him.
At least no one could say he didn't try to the last. At least now his brother's words will come to pass, and Thor may join him in the sunlight.
The heat of the star sears him past the point of agony to a sort of chilled numbness. His arms strain but it is out of stubborn instinct; his strength is nearly gone. Thor's vision, newly restored, goes dark in both eyes now. For a moment, small and private, he welcomes death.
"You absolute oaf," a voice rings in his head. "Listen to yourself. Whining like a child."
Thor picks up his head with a superhuman effort and sees—
He knows not what he sees. It cannot be real, whatever it is, for he is no longer on Nidavellir. The power of a star is no longer burning him up piece by piece. His muscles are not tested to the breaking point.
Thor is merely standing in a field, the same field where he said farewell to his Father. He recognizes the rock upon which they'd sat, and the slope down to the cliff's edge. And there, standing near that edge, the sparkling clear blue sea at his back, is Loki, hands clasped behind him, wearing a look of extreme displeasure.
"Loki?" Thor blinks, taking in the soft sunlight that surrounds them. It is so peaceful here. So impossible. "Am I dead?"
Loki snorts. "Not so lucky as that, I'm afraid. Really, Thor. Only you would pick a fight with the sun."
"I had to," Thor chokes out. "The forge—"
"Yes, yes." Loki waves a hand through the air. "That, I understand. What I don't understand is this awful, creeping doubt in your mind. You're allowed to have it, of course, but you cannot let it rule you."
Thor stares, open-mouthed. "Are you real?" he asks. "Am I dreaming this?" He holds a hand against his aching head and tries to think. "You are not my brother's ghost. There are pieces of the mind—neurons, the mortals call them—that will misfire and conjure all manner of things when in pain. That is all this is."
Loki regards him with an unknowable look. "Does it matter?"
"It does," Thor says. Then, thinking on it, "Perhaps it doesn't. It's too late now for whatever I would say to you if you were really here."
"Now I'm curious." Loki approaches, looking so solid and real in his armor. "Say it anyway. Real or not, I don't have much time."
"You don't?" Thor reaches out, half-expecting his hands to sink through Loki as they have a dozen times before. But his fingers curl into Loki's leathers, grasping him by the arms, and when that succeeds, Thor pulls him closer so that he might look upon his face—so alive in this moment, eyes shining with intelligence, sharp features flickering with myriad emotions. "Why can you not stay?"
"Oh, I can stay here indefinitely," Loki says. He takes his pointer finger and stabs Thor in the middle of his chest with it. "You, on the other hand, must be going soon. You have an axe to heft, after all."
Thor gives a sad laugh, his head hanging. "Loki, there will be no axe. I cannot keep the oculus open; I was a fool to try."
"What did I tell you?" Loki's voice is sharp, hot, fierce with anger. "Why do you think I'm here, you complete buffoon?"
"I don't know," Thor says, and he realizes he is speaking through his tears. "I don't understand any of this. Why you're appearing to me in this way, why I am cursed, why I am alone—"
"Brother." Loki's forehead rests against his, cool where Thor is over-hot and red. "Do you really think you're alone?" His hands find Thor's and hold them, a strange power coursing between them. It's as if Thor can feel his lightning focused and made stronger, guiding his body and his mind into place, a sharing of seidr, of magic, of will.
"Loki," he says, understanding at last.
The sun will shine.
It will always shine.
And as long as there's sun, nothing can stand in their way.
Thor can feel it though he cannot see it: the heat of a star blazing its way into the forge. He knows he is falling, and injured, but he is not afraid. The Rabbit is there at his side, fearful and fretting—"I think he's dying!"
Thor nearly smiles. Not yet. He is not nearly so lucky as that.
"That's right," Loki says. His hand is on Thor's cheek. His cool, dry lips press against Thor's. "There's work to be done."
Thor rests his hand over Loki's, keeping it cupped to his face. "I wish I could stay here with you."
Loki hums. "I know. But you have to keep fighting." One last kiss, lingering and sweet. "That's what heroes do."
"You would know," Thor says. "You were one of the greatest."
Loki laughs. "Only at the end."
"We haven't found the end. Not yet." Thor takes his hand and presses a kiss to the palm. "Until we meet again, brother."
A storm breaks. Thor opens his eyes, and he is healed.