In the immediate aftermath, Thor helps.
They all do. It is automatic. Second nature. Find the most immediate threat, assess, resolve, and move on to the next. It is not until a few days later, when geopolitical collapse is no longer imminent, that Thor thinks to question it. This is not what he should be doing. He has no role in Midgardian politics. No stake in how they patch themselves together.
He is Midgard’s protector.
(Failure—no, well, yes—but he can fix this.)
The Norns. The others cannot go to them, but he can. They will tell him what to do next, and this time he will get it right. He is confident that a message from the Norns will lead them to redemption. Lead him to redemption.
(Thor had been confident before. You think you can find out what’s coming? There had been no doubt in his mind when he told Tony and Steve that he would. Now there is only Steve.)
He does not bother to change. Stormbreaker finds his hand. He hesitates.
Thor barely woke when Loki crawled into his bed. Almost unconsciously, he shifted so his brother could curl up against him. Loki’s feet were cold when they brushed against his and Thor felt his shallow and quick breaths against his neck. He wrapped his arm around his brother’s bony shoulders without bothering to open his eyes.
Loki did not speak, but Thor did not expect him to. Sometimes he did, but more often than not in the past few months since they had been given separate chambers, Loki remained silent about whatever ill dreams brought him to Thor’s room. He did not press, but just hugged Loki closer and waited. Thor nearly drifted back to sleep, but the tension in his brother’s frame kept him awake. He rubbed slowly up and down Loki’s arm, and while Loki’s breathing slowed to match the pace of his movements, he did not relax.
After a few minutes, Loki’s tremulous voice cut through the darkness. “I still feel it.”
“Your dream?” He felt Loki’s head nod and rolled to his side so they were face to face. “What was it about?”
“I know not.” Loki’s face was pale as he spoke and Thor could not tell if it was because of how the dream shook him or if it was merely the moonlight reflecting upon it. “It scares me.”
“It was only a dream, brother,” he said, even though he knew Loki would not believe him. His brother’s mind always seemed to move faster from his own—jumping from one thing to another in patterns that Thor could never follow.
“But what if it is not?” Loki’s voice started to shake. “What if I am seeing what is to come?”
“What about me?”
“Are you jealous that you do not have such terrifying visions?
“That’s not what I meant.” Thor frowned at the way his brother’s voice cracked. “I meant, was I in your dream?”
“I do not…” Loki’s brow furrowed but then shook his head. “No. You were not there.”
“Then it could not have been the future. For in the future, I will always be at your side.”
“Do you not want me at your side?” Loki made an exasperated noise, which Thor took as a victory. His brother’s face was still serious as he shook his head, but Thor could tell that he was starting to listen to him instead of whatever remnants of the dream lingered in his mind. “Then that is where I will be,” he said with certainty. “The Norns did not make us brothers to keep us apart.”
“You cannot know what the Norns will.”
“Then I will ask them.”
Thor imagined himself running with his brother until they found Urðarbrunnr. Loki would dive in gracefully but he would enter the waters with a great splash. They would swim beside each other until they found the Norns.
“And you expect them to answer?”
“I will fight them until they tell me.”
Thor rolled onto his back so he could punch the air as he became swept up in the story he was spinning. Loki propped himself up so he could glare down at Thor, but Thor could see the smile his brother was trying to hide.
“You cannot fight the Norns.”
“With you at my side, I can.” He grinned at his brother through the moonlight. “The sons of Odin cannot be stopped.”
Loki rolled his eyes before flopping back down to lie beside Thor, his head nestled against his shoulder. “How will we find the Norns?”
“Father must know.”
“Father would never tell us.”
“Then the library.”
“It would be in the restricted section.”
“Then we will have to sneak in,” Thor countered. “You could transform into a snake.”
“A snake in the library would be more unusual than either of us.”
“Then I will create a distraction and you can sneak in as yourself.”
They continued like that for a while. Thor planning and Loki poking holes, until the frequency of Loki’s questions tapered off and Thor himself fell asleep with the steady warmth of his brother beside him.
Thor wants to go alone, but ultimately does not.
He seeks Rabbit from where he’s soldering some kind of tech. He mocks Thor’s plan as ‘fuckin’ nonsense’ but agrees nonetheless. He is more subdued than before, but his barbs are still sharp and offer their own kind of comfort.
They find the cave and the water, but the Norns do not answer. Thor can feel that their presence but they will not respond.
(He knows there is no point in trying to fight them. The Norns have seen his failures and judged him unworthy of response. He cannot blame them.)
The return trip is a silent one. When they arrive at the Compound, Rabbit returns to his tech. He finds Natasha in a conference room. For a moment, Thor thinks she will ask him where he had gone, but she just gives him an assessing look before telling him that Rhodey made dinner and that he should eat something.
Thor does as she instructs. After all, there is nothing else for him to do here.
The pattern repeats itself day after day. He sleeps, wakes, and eats—occasionally helping his friends when they ask, but mostly he sits and tries not think about how he withstood the force of a star, but he could not do something as simple as aiming.
(He had aimed though. He had wanted Thanos to suffer. To know his death was at the hand of the other Odinson. If he had not been so selfish in his rage, he could have saved them.)
Tony returns, but Thor cannot bring himself to truly celebrate the reunion with a comrade. He wants to, but his mind does not let him. Because Tony does not return alone. He brings another daughter of Thanos and more stories of loss.
But there is also the new one. The Midgardian who is both of Midgard and not.
She speaks of the impact across the universe. The devastation, but she also brings new energy that pulls them together. Well, most of them together—some conflicts still run too deep. They develop a plan and, while no one is willing to say it, they start to hope.
They find him, but are too late. The stones are destroyed. There will be no reversal.
Thanos speaks to his daughter with words Thor does not truly hear and with the sickening tone of a benevolent father.
(Benevolent had been Loki’s word. He gave me a choice, his brother had whispered. He played the role of benevolent savior from what he had the others do. Loki had not elaborated, but Thor did not need him to.)
This time he goes for the head. He does not miss.
It felt as if they had been waiting in the antechamber in their formal wear for hours. Loki was still and quiet, but Thor was rocking slightly on the balls of his feet as he thought about as he thought of what was to come. It would be the first execution they would attend as Princes as Asgard. Executions were not common, but they were not rare. Thor had wanted to attend the last one, but Mother had declared that Loki and he were too young. But not this time.
“I do not understand why you are so excited.”
Thor frowned as his brother. “I do not understand why you are so serious.”
“We are not going to a feast, Thor. It is an execution.”
“And you are not the one being executed.”
“But someone is.”
“Still a someone.”
“A bad someone,” he argued. It was not that he was excited to see the execution itself—though, he was curious if what Fandral said about the eyes still blinking after was true—he was more excited about that he and Loki were not to be treated as children. He could not understand why his brother was not also brimming with anticipation. “Why must you be so dull?”
Loki stuck out his tongue in response. He was about to say something more, when they heard the door open. Both of them schooled their faces as Mother entered the room for a final inspection. Thor began to feel something settle in the pit of his stomach. It was not fear, but was as if some of his brother’s wariness had transferred to him. Even Mother was solemn as she adjusted Thor’s collar and and slicked back one of Loki’s most unruly curls with a touch of seidr before her offering a hand to each of them.
“Come,” she said as they slipped their hands into hers. “No reason to delay.”
Thor felt her squeeze his hand and knew she would have done the same for Loki. Her reassurance calmed him, and he hoped it did the same for his brother.
The execution shook Thor more than he cared to admit, but he did his duty as a son of Odin and did not let the feeling show. Loki did the same. They were model princes and Father commended them for it afterwards. Mother said the same before telling them to change and get some fresh air before supper.
They met at the entrance to Mother’s garden. Loki looked at him expectantly and asked, “What shall we do?”
Thor hesitated as he thought of the execution and how strange it was to be playing when not an hour before they watched a man’s head be cleaved from his body. He could tell Loki was thinking the same thing, so he forced the thought away.
“Race?” Thor suggested. Loki nodded and glanced at their favorite climbing tree on the far side of the garden. Both boys grinned. “Last one to the top is a smelly bilgesnipe!” he exclaimed, breaking out into a sprint.
Thor kept a stride or two ahead of his brother as they ran, but when they neared the tree, the sound of his brother’s footfalls disappeared and blur of black feathers flew past him. He growled in annoyance and scrambled up the tree. When he reached the branch below the bird, he stopped climbing and glared up at it.
Even though he knew it was Loki, he still started as his brother’s foot materialized a few inches above him.
“You never said I couldn’t.”
“You know your tricks make it too easy for you to win.”
“If it is so easy, why do you not do it?”
Thor had no response, so he reached up and snatched Loki’s ankle. Loki kicked his leg free and soon they were fighting and laughing their way among the branches. Eventually they settled and fell quiet. Thor was content to watch the leaves around him move with the breeze, but his mind drifted back to that afternoon in spite of himself.
“Do you think they feel better?” Loki asked from where he was stretched across two branches in a way that could be comfortable to no one but his brother. “The family?”
“Justice was served,” Thor said with a certainty that he did not completely feel. He should be certain. Today had been about justice and retribution. It was what they had always been taught should matter. “They have their vengeance.”
“But do they feel better now?”
Thor does not travel back to Midgard with the rest of them. He shakes the drops of blood from Stormbreaker, raises it to sky, and lets the Bifrost sweep him away. It deposits him at an outpost somewhere. It’s vaguely familiar—like the kind of place they had stopped to resupply the Ark on their journey to Midgard.
(His journey to Midgard. It had been his idea—his plan for his people—but none of them made it to Midgard but him.)
It doesn’t take him long to find a bar. He finds a booth in the corner and drinks until he forgets.
Thor returns to Midgard a few days later. His friends seem glad to see him. They don’t ask where he’s been but invite him to a meal. He joins because there is nothing else for him to do. After a few more days pass, Natasha invites him to a team meeting to see if he wants to help with some of the efforts off-world, she references how he previously referred to there being nine worlds.
He does not bother to correct her that they are realms—nor that there are only eight now.
(As if there was anything he could do for Vanaheim, Alfheim,…or Jotunheim... He barely lets himself think of Jotunheim.)
He simply declines and leaves the meeting. Natasha doesn’t try to stop him, but invites him to dinner. He goes to dinner, but doesn’t attend any more team meetings.
One afternoon, Natasha comes to him in a rush with news of a radio transmission and, that evening, the escape pods from the Ark land on the lawn. With Valkyrie in his arms, Thor smiles for the first time since he laid eyes on Sanctuary.
The numbers are small. Too small. But at least there is a number.
(Asgard's not a place, it’s a people, he had told Loki with grim determination when they last stood on the Bifrost together. He had repeated those words like a mantra of hope during their journey on the Ark.)
Thor clings to that faded glimmer of hope as he assures his people that they will find a New Asgard here on Midgard. He throws himself into the work of negotiating a place for his people and allows the minutiae and details to fill the empty place inside.
Thor leaned back in his chair and sighed audibly for the second time in the last ten minutes. Loki, bent over the table across from him, did not even bother to look up. Another few minutes passed and Thor propped his feet up on the table. The thud of his boots finally got a reaction from his brother.
“If you are finished with your assignment, leave,” Loki said without looking up from his work. “You need not wait on me.”
“If I turn mine in now, then our tutors will wonder why you are still working on yours.”
“They will not have to wonder.”
The statement had been under his brother’s breath, but with they were the only ones in the silent room, so Thor knew he was meant to have heard it. “What does that mean?”
“Our tutors know that you do not take any of this seriously.”
“It is an assignment. Not an actual treaty.”
Loki set down his quill. “It is modeled after Alfheim’s treaty with…”
“Vanaheim,” he finished with annoyance. Using his foot, he gestured at his own work on the table. “I know. I did do the assignment.”
“You rushed through the assignment, paying no mind to the details.”
“And you pay too much mind to details.”
“Inspiring words from Asgard’s future king.”
“Asgard’s future king will have his know-it-all brother to mind the details.”
“Oh, so that’s my purpose in life—to deal with your busywork?”
“You like busywork.” Loki made a disgusted noise. Norns, his brother could be so touchy. “What? You do. You go to the library for fun.”
“The library is not busywork.”
“You know, Thor, if you are so dismissive of work, go be with your friends.”
Thor could see the flash of hurt in his brother’s eyes as he returned to his assignment and heard the words for what they were—if you are so dismissive of me. He felt a stab of guilt and lowered his feet from the table.
“I would rather stay.”
Loki did not respond or even look up, but Thor saw his eyebrow quirk in surprise. His brother worked in a silence and Thor let him without disturbance. The only sound was Loki’s quill scratching against paper.
“Did you account for the definition of ore in the treaty’s predecessor?”
Loki did not look up when he spoke, but Thor knew what his brother’s question was meant to be: a peace offering.
Thor rocked forward and took another look at the text. Of course his brother was correct. He picked up his quill and began to revise what he had written to allow for the footnote.
The village in Norway was small before, with most of the youth having left for the cities while the elderly stayed behind, and it was even smaller after. The majority of the Midgardians who are left choose to leave to be closer to what family they still have, but some stay. They are grateful to the Asgardians—to Thor—for breathing life into their village.
(They don’t see the lie. He tries to play along with it. It’s the least he can do, given everything that he did not.)
Thor allows establishing New Asgard to consume him. Once the immediate needs are met, he works with Valkyrie to plan how they can integrate themselves into Midgardian society while still preserving who they are as Asgardians. It is not easy, but with each day, the people become more grounded in this new life.
The people—he struggles to think of them as his anymore—are stronger than he is.
He feels as if he is drifting, but stagnating at the same time. The people begin a tradition of weekly dinners in the village. They are nothing like the grand feasts of Asgard, but the same spirit is there. Thor knows that it should hearten him to hear the stories and songs of old, but the more of these he attends, the more he sees the empty chairs and hears the silence of the voices lost.
(Chairs and silences that would be filled if he had not failed to be the hero he was meant to be.)
He starts leaving the dinners early. And then stops attending at all.
Getting drunk had not been Thor’s intent. He had made little effort to avoid getting drunk, but he had not intentionally planned for the night to end with an innkeeper sending a message to his brother to bring him home. Nor did he intend to be sprawled against the pillows of his bed with his brother frowning down at him.
“You are angry with me.”
“I am not.”
“Of course, I am annoyed.” Loki yanked off first one, then the other of Thor’s boots, as he continued, “I had to drag my drunken oaf of a brother across half of Asgard and back to his chambers.”
“You did not drag.”
Thor attempted to make an approximation of how Loki often held his hands when calling upon his seidr. Based on the way Loki scowled it was nowhere near close to accurate.
“The method of transport hardly alters my annoyance.” Loki folded his arms, and Thor braced himself for a lecture. “What were you thinking, Thor?”
“I wanted a drink.”
“You are the heir to the throne. You cannot go traipsing around from inn to inn making a spectacle of yourself.”
“I do not care what people think.”
“You need to care.”
“That is why I have you, isn’t it?” Thor shot back. Maybe it would have been better if the innkeeper had sent a message to someone else. Then he could have avoided being scolded by his sanctimonious little brother. “To tell me how I need to behave.”
“Is it so hard for you to believe that there are some things I know better than you?”
“You think you know everything.”
“As do you.” Loki’s tone shifted from angry to tired as he continued, “And you know what? I do not need to stand hear listening to you. I have done my duty and fetched you home. Go to sleep, Thor.”
As his brother turned to leave, Thor felt a moment of relief that the lecture was over, but he was not yet ready for sleep and the prospect of being alone as his thoughts sobered filled him with dread. “No, wait. I’m sorry.”
“Do you even know what you are apologizing for?”
Loki turned back around. “Can you be more specific?”
“Can you just accept an apology?”
Loki glared once more and stalked away, but in the direction of the bathroom and not the exit. He returned with a glass of water and thrust it into Thor’s hand. “Drink this.”
Thor obediently took a few swallows. “Are you just going to stand there glaring all night?”
“You asked me to stay.” Loki said tartly. “You did not ask me not to glare.”
Thor shifted so there would be more space on the bed, and after giving another unimpressed look, Loki settled on the bed next to him so that both of their backs were against the headboard.
“Well?” Loki prompted after a couple minutes of silence. “What sent you off drinking alone?”
“You are always surrounded by your friends.” He paused and did not continue until Thor turned his head to look at him. “You would not go out alone to an inn on the far side of the city without reason.”
Thor chewed his lip. “You will think it is stupid.”
“I may think you are stupid, but you are capable of speaking intelligently at times.”
Thor bit back a laugh. “High praise.”
“The tournament next week,” he admitted and Loki’s face twitched in surprise. That clearly was not what he had been expecting. He sighed and turned his head so that he could stare at the empty space in front of him. It was easier to speak freely that way. “What if I lose?”
“You will not.”
Loki spoke with such absolutely certainty. That level of faith was so strong that it almost hurt. What was he supposed to say in response to that? How could he admit that he had was doubting something that his brother held so true?
“Ah,” Loki said before he could come up with a response. “So that is the problem.” He pushed himself away from the headboard so he could sit cross-legged and face Thor. “Nothing will change if you lose.”
“But everyone thinks I will win,” he argued, hating the plaintive note in his voice. “It is my first tournament since coming of age, if I lose…”
“Then they will think you will win the next one.”
“How can you be so certain about this? You over think everything.”
For a moment, he feared Loki would take his words as malicious, but his brother merely gave him an amused look. “This I do not need to over think.”
“But they all expect so much of me. If I cannot be ‘the mighty Thor’ what good am I to them?”
“You are Thor. That is enough.”
“And if it is not?”
“Then you will always have me. Be certain of that.”
Valkyrie comes to him after, and sometimes during, each of the weekly dinners. She brings food and drink. She does not drink anymore. Not like she used to. She will have a glass or two with him, but more often than not she just sits with him as he drinks.
It helps, Thor thinks, having her there. But, then again, maybe it doesn’t. He is not really certain.
He’s not certain of anything anymore. He’s not certain he ever will be.