Thor ignored the looks his friends were giving him. Instead he marched ahead, the sound of Loki’s happy giggles occasionally breaking into his thoughts.
His conversation with Loki had started a train of thought. He was beginning to see that his childhood was much different to Loki’s.
When he was a child, his parents would often take him to the woods for the day. His father would lift Thor onto his broad shoulders and point out all the plants and birds they passed. Thor wondered why his father had not yet done that with Loki. They had been back at Asgard for many months and as far as he knew, Odin had never actually spent any time alone with Loki.
Now that he thought about it, even his mother didn’t spend as much time with Loki as she used to spend with him.
He remembered the hours they would pass in the nursery together, reading and playing; sometimes she just sat with him on her lap as he slept in her arms.
She never did that with Loki. He rarely entered the nursery and found her there, and she was never as affectionate with Loki as she was with Thor. Although Thor had seen her reading to Loki occasionally, he realized that she rarely seemed to hold him. In fact, now that he thought about it, she rarely touched Loki at all.
He wondered why.
Loki gave a gasp and Thor snapped out of his thoughts.
They were standing in a beautiful grove filled with wild damson trees.
Volstagg slapped his hands together. “Wonderful! I was just starting to get hungry!”
Fandral sniggered. “Volstagg, you were starting to get hungry before we left the palace. I’m surprised you made it this far without sustenance!”
Sif and Hogun laughed, and Hogun reached up for one the fruits. “I confess, I agree with Volstagg.” He took a bite but quickly spat it out. “Sour.”
Fandral stepped back. “It looks as though the best ones are higher up.”
They all looked at Thor and Loki expectantly. Thor shook his head. “Nay. My mother was not best pleased by the tears on Loki’s clothing the last time we had him climb a tree for us.”
Sif scowled. If Loki couldn’t even do that for them, what on earth was the point of having him with them at all? “It doesn’t look that difficult. Loki just needs to take more care.”
Thor frowned back at her. “He doesn’t try to get scratched, Sif.”
Fandral snapped his fingers. “I know! Loki could take off his jacket and shirt. That way he won’t tear them.”
There was a pause. They could see Thor was thinking about it, so they waited.
Loki said nothing either and waited to see what his brother would decide. He didn’t much like climbing trees, but if Thor wanted him to do it, he would.
Thor couldn’t deny that the fruit looked good. High up, on the top branches where the sun the brightest, they looked plump and rich in color. His mouth was watering at the thought of them.
But he had promised his mother they would try to be more careful…
He had an idea - he would let Loki decide. If Loki didn’t want to do it, then that would be fine, he wouldn’t push him.
He hoped Loki would say yes.
He turned to Loki with a smile. “It will be your decision, brother. I shall support you, whatever you choose to do.”
Loki worked hard to keep the smile on his face. It was obvious what Thor wanted, because why on Asgard would Loki want to climb a tree? He saw them all watching him and he wondered how Thor could be unaware how much the others disliked him. Perhaps this could be a way to make them like him better.
He nodded. “Alright.”
He thought he saw Thor frown a little but the others seemed happy.
Sif motioned to Thor. “Alright then, are you going to boost him up?”
Thor knelt beside his brother. He didn’t know why Loki would agree if he didn’t like the idea, but there had been something in his face… “Loki, are you sure you want to do this?”
Sif sighed. “He already said so! Come on, Thor, we’re all hungry and thirsty.”
She glared at Loki and he nodded. Thor paused for a moment. He still wasn’t sure Loki really wanted to do it, but he couldn’t deny that now he was thinking about them, he wanted some damsons.
His thirst won the argument. “Alright, but you must be extra careful. Are you ready?”
Loki nodded and Thor grabbed him around the waist and boosted him up to the lowest branch.
Volstagg was walking around the tree. “It looks like the best fruit is up there.” He pointed to the top on the other side.
Loki started to scramble up. It seemed pretty easy at first and he allowed himself to relax a little.
He plucked a damson and sent it hurtling to the ground.
Hogun picked it up and took a bite. “Still pretty sour. Try higher up.”
Loki swallowed. He already felt pretty high up. He started to go higher. The branches were closer here and he started to get scratched. He tried to clamber up between two branches and one of them snapped back into his face. He gave a small cry and touched the side of his eye; his fingers came back bloody. He looked down and froze. He had never been so high before.
He heard Thor’s voice. “Alright, Loki, that’s enough. I think you should come down now.”
Now he heard Fandral. “But he’s so close already. They’re just there in front of them. If he just tries a little harder and reaches out, he can get them.”
Sif agreed. “Loki, just reach over to the branch in front of you!”
Loki crawled forward on his branch and, gripping tightly with one hand, leaned forward and pulled off a damson. He threw it down.
After a minute, he heard Hogun. “Perfect!”
He began to throw more and heard the others scramble for them.
Thor called to him, “Loki, we have enough. Climb down now.”
“No!” Sif turned angrily to Thor. “Volstagg will take more than his share, you know that! I’ve only had one so far and he has had three. Loki, we need more!”
Loki had already picked the fruit he could reach. He needed to get closer. The branch swayed perilously beneath him as he shuffled forward. He tried to wrest the fruit away from its stem, but it wouldn’t come. Without thinking, he lifted his other hand and pulled.
The fruit came away with part of the branch and he fell back from the force of it. He felt the limb beneath him give way as he struck it; and suddenly he was falling, twigs and branches whipping against him as he hurtled to the ground below.
There was a blissful moment of blackness and then Loki was suddenly, horribly aware of the most intense pain he’d ever felt in his life. He couldn’t help it; he began to scream.
Thor would never forget the sounds - the rustle of the leaves and the snap of the branches as Loki plunged down. The shouts of his friends, followed by the loud thud as his brother hit the ground. The snap of bone. And then, the screams. Loki’s screams.
Thor rushed forward and felt bile rise in his throat. The others were standing back staring in horror. Loki’s leg lay at a strange angle and they could see the fractured bone peeking out through the tear in the skin.
Thor wasn’t even sure his brother knew he was there, but he kept talking to him as he examined him. “It’s alright, Loki, it’s alright. We’ll get you home soon, it’ll be alright. I’m here.”
Well, that was stupid, he thought. He knows I’m here, I’m the one that sent him up the blasted tree!
Within minutes, his friends were beside him.
He heard the sound of Fandral vomiting and Sif saying, “Oh, gods!”
Hogan and Volstagg fell to their knees beside him. Hogun was examining the leg while Volstagg grabbed Thor’s cape and threw it over Loki, tucking it gently around him.
Loki’s hand was even colder than usual and he was shaking. His screams were now interspersed with sobs.
Volstagg turned to Hogun. “What should we do?”
“We have to get him back to the palace.”
Thor gripped Loki’s hand even tighter. “No, we can’t move him like this!”
“It would be even worse to keep him lying here in pain while we go for help!”
Thor tried to think of an argument. He didn’t want to think how much it would hurt his brother if they tried to move him. “What of Heimdall?”
“Heimdall may not even be watching. We should start heading back to the palace and hope he sees us and sends help.”
“Thor, we must do something, and quickly. He’s losing a lot of blood.”
Loki’s cries had died down to whimpers. Volstagg put a hand against the boy's cheek. “He’s ice cold.”
Hogun nodded. “We need something to keep his leg in place.”
Volstagg hurried away. Hogun glanced towards Sif and Fandral in irritation. “You two, we need a stretcher.”
Thor’s head shot up. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “I will carry him!”
“You dare not risk it. He needs to keep the leg as still as possible, he would be moving about too much in your arms.”
Sif and Fandral moved away as Volstagg returned with two strong branches. He snatched the cape from Sif as she passed. “We will need this.”
He handed the branches to Hogun and began to tear the cape into strips. As he did so, Hogun placed the branches on either side of Loki’s leg.
Hogun picked up one of the strips. “Thor, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to lift his leg so I can tie this.”
Thor knew that he was right, but he hated to cause his brother more pain. “I’m sorry, Loki. I am so sorry!”
When he lifted the leg Loki scream tore through the forest; then, thankfully, the boy passed out.
Hogun quickly tied the branches against the boy’s leg. “Where are… ah! Good.”
Sif and Fandral appeared at his side with a small stretcher made from Fandral’s cloak and more branches.
“On three… one… two… three!”
They lifted him quickly and moved him to the stretcher. Hogun and Volstagg carried it as Thor walked by the side, never letting go of Loki’s hand.
Thor couldn’t understand why Heimdall hadn’t see them sooner. They seemed to walk forever before they were met by a party of guards and healers. The healers quickly went to work and signaled for the guards to take them all back to the palace.
Thor couldn’t take his eyes from his brother. Loki was ice cold and as pale as death. He hadn’t moved since they placed him on the stretcher.
“Will he be alright?”
“We’ll do our best for him.”
It wasn’t an answer.