Once - only once, when they were young - Thor came across Loki in his room bandaging his arm. He caught a glimpse of a nasty burn, red and oozing, before it vanished under white, Loki looking up sharply and shaking his sleeve down. Based on the bandage, it must have covered most of his forearm.
“Ah,” he said. “Thor.” He didn’t look entirely pleased to see him.
“What happened?” Thor said, gesturing at his arm. “That looked terrible.”
“An accident,” Loki said smoothly.
“Some accident,” Thor said, alarmed. “You should see Eir. You know how easily burns take infection.” He reached for his brother’s arm, and Loki shied away, though his face was still almost eerily calm. Alarm bells jangled in the back of Thor’s mind, but he could not identify their source.
“I don’t need to see anyone,” Loki said, a slight edge creeping into his voice. “I can handle myself, Thor. I don’t need your minding.”
Thor stiffened. “Forgive me for caring,” he said. Loki cocked his head to the side, and abruptly his face softened.
“I will, of course, being so gracious,” he said loftily, but then smiled. “I don’t mean to snap at you. It’s simply embarrassing. A mishap with a spell. It isn’t nearly so bad as you think.”
Thor wavered. There was still that faint thrumming sense of unease, but no obvious source, and Loki seemed calm enough. Calmer than he had lately, if anything, a tension gone out of him that Thor hadn’t been consciously aware of until he saw its absence.
He didn’t want to jeopardize that by arguing.
“Very well,” he said. “As you will. Though I still think it’s stupid.”
“Duly noted,” Loki said, without concern. “Now. What did you actually come here to talk about?”
Thor let himself be redirected. He had some vague idea of telling their mother, just so she could check on him, but never did.
The next day, he discovered that Loki had locked his doors with magic. But he didn’t connect the two things until much, much later.
The first few days on the Statesman were relatively calm; everyone was too shocked to do very much. Busy with grief and loss and comforting each other, and dazed amazement over the events of the past week.
The problems started after.
Thor had never expected ruling to be easy - all right, perhaps for a period in his youth, he had expected just that. But not anymore. Even so, he was caught off guard by the cascade of responsibilities and troubles and urgent questions that suddenly caught him up. In the midst of it all, Heimdall was an invaluable help.
So, to Thor’s surprise, was Loki.
He was present, active, and honestly useful, not just for being another pair of hands, but because he thought of things Thor didn’t. Thor watched him at first, closely, out of the corner of his eye, but there was nothing he could detect that gave him any reason to suspect he was planning anything malicious, or even that he was planning on leaving.
He seemed, rather, more like himself than he had been at any point since Thor’s disastrous coronation. Not the same, certainly - neither of them was the same. But not so sharp, or brittle, or - well, still tense, but not like he was going to snap.
“I’m proud of you,” Thor said one day, without preamble. Loki’s head whipped around so fast it was almost comedic.
“I said, I’m proud of you,” Thor said. “I wasn’t sure you would come. And then I wasn’t sure you would stay. But you have. I’m grateful, and glad to have you.”
Loki blinked at him like Thor had struck him over the head. “Norns, Thor,” he said. “Are you becoming more sentimental in your old age?”
Thor frowned at him. “Take the compliment,” he said. “You deserve it.”
Loki gave an odd twitch, though Thor couldn’t tell why. “Thank you,” he said, distinctly awkward. “I suppose.”
Thor nudged him with an elbow. “You suppose.”
“Mm,” Loki said. “That is what I said.”
Shortly thereafter, he made a weak excuse and disappeared. Thor frowned after him, but decided to let it go. Loki had always been odd; he might well worry more the day Loki started behaving normally.
The next day, Thor was startled out of writing a lengthy to-do list by a brisk rap on his door, followed by it simply opening despite the fact that Thor was certain he’d locked it.
“What is the point of knocking if you’re just going to let yourself in anyway,” Thor said, setting down his pen and turning toward Loki.
“It gives you a moment’s notice, doesn’t it?”
“If that.” Thor scrutinized his brother’s face, trying to read his expression without much success. “Did you want something?”
“Yes,” Loki said, and then stopped. Thor cocked his head to the side.
“Are you going to make me guess what it is?”
Loki exhaled slowly, pressing his lips together. “I need your help.”
Thor raised his eyebrows. “An unexpected sentence,” he said, but when Loki didn’t make a face he sobered. “What is it?”
Loki exhaled, chewed the inside of his cheek, and then silently held out his left hand.
Thor’s remaining eye almost bugged out of his head. His fingers looked like they’d been struck by a hammer. More than once. Loki’s slender hand had swollen grotesquely to near twice its size, the bruising black and purple.
“I thought I could manage it on my own,” Loki said, “but when I tried resetting the bones I’m afraid I…fainted.” He sounded a bit embarrassed. Thor stared at him, incredulous.
“You thought,” he started, and then choked on the words. “What happened? We need to get you to a healer-”
“Thor,” Loki said, “there are no healers, only medicine women and hedge witches. And if there were I wouldn’t waste their time. The bones just need to be brought back into alignment, and I can fix the rest.”
“You can,” Thor started again, but he couldn’t even echo the words. “You must be joking,” he said. Loki seemed so calm, and Thor scanned his face for signs of shock, but though he was pale and sweating, tension around his eyes and mouth, his gaze was steady.
Wrong wrong wrong, said Thor’s instincts, and he had to agree.
“What happened,” he repeated, because it was occurring to him that this didn’t look like an accident, and there might be other reasons than obstinacy that Loki didn’t want to go to a healer.
Loki made a bit of a face. “I was attempting some repairs, and, well…clearly I should leave that work to handier folk. Ha. ‘Handier.’”
Thor didn’t laugh. He reached to catch Loki’s wrist, and Loki didn’t pull away quickly enough; he was careful not to jostle his hand. “An accidental injury shouldn’t look like this,” he said lowly.
Loki made an attempt to pull away. “You think I am lying? About this?”
Thor didn’t let him go. “Why would you?” he asked.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Loki shot back. “You tell me.” He’d stopped pulling, though. It must hurt. All of him must hurt, and yet Loki wasn’t…Thor remembered his brother moaning over bruises, over headaches and minor wounds that healed in hours. Much lesser injuries.
“Loki,” Thor said, and then paused. “If there is someone causing you…trouble, I would know about it.” Loki’s eyebrows drew together like he didn’t understand, and Thor decided to be more direct. “If anyone on this ship hurt you - you know I would not let it stand. Right?”
It occurred to him with sudden terror that maybe Loki didn’t know that. They were still brothers, so far as Thor was concerned, and now that they were united once again…but perhaps Loki didn’t realize, or believed he was on his own to deal with any threat to him that arose. He wouldn’t expect anyone to harbor Loki hatred, but that didn’t mean no one did.
Loki blinked at him. And then laughed. Really laughed, like Thor had said something funny. “Thor,” he said, “you really give your people too little credit.”
“Our people,” Thor corrected absently. He scanned Loki’s face. He looked sincere, but then he always looked sincere.
“Brother,” Loki said, his amusement falling away, “no Asgardian on this ship hurt me. Nor any from Sakaar, either. I swear it.”
Loki didn’t swear anything idly; if he said that, he meant it. Thor pressed his lips together, but something still felt wrong.
“Now,” Loki said. “Would you please help me fix my hand before I have to rebreak anything?”
Thor couldn’t have said, exactly, what it was that made him think it. Loki’s lack of concern, maybe. The fact that no one else seemed to have noticed that their prince had been injured in an accident that must have been severe to do this kind of damage. The phrase before I have to rebreak anything and Loki’s carefully chosen words. No Asgardian. Nor any from Sakaar.
He swallowed hard, twice, and told himself that he was jumping to conclusions. That there was no reason to believe…
“Yes,” Thor said faintly, because Loki was starting to frown. “Come in. Please. You should probably sit down. This is going to hurt.”
“I imagine so,” Loki said, though he looked wary now. He came in anyway and sat down on Thor’s bed. “Let’s get this over with.”
Thor was almost relieved that Loki passed out after he set the second break.
His hand was a mess. There was something savage about the damage, a vicious but targeted rage. Not random: thumb and pointer finger had both been spared.
Or maybe the assailant just hadn’t finished.
I thought I could manage it on my own, but when I tried resetting the bones I’m afraid I fainted.
How many times had Loki managed on his own?
When Thor finished, he improvised a splint, binding the three fingers carefully together to hold them while they healed. Then he sat back and looked at his brother, stomach churning. Hoping he was wrong.
But knowing he had to at least ask.
Loki, did you do this to yourself?
Loki came around with a groan, rubbing his good hand down his face and then dropping it to his side. “Ugh,” he said eloquently, and Thor was almost relieved to see the way his body tensed, face tightening. Like he was actually feeling it, now.
“I got you something for the pain,” Thor said, keeping his voice carefully calm and holding out the tablets he’d nicked from the stores. “Hopefully it will at least take the edge off.”
Loki took them and swallowed them dry without question. “Thank you,” he said. He raised his hand and studied his splinted fingers. “Much better. You haven’t been sitting here watching my unconscious body this entire time, have you?”
“More or less,” Thor said. Loki stilled, and then sat up, frowning. He looked shaky, and Thor bit back a command to tell him to lie down.
“I’ve missed something,” he said.
No, Thor thought. I have. He didn’t say anything immediately, considering how best to begin. Loki’s frown deepened, turning wary. “Thor,” he said lowly. “I don’t know what I might have done to provoke that look while I was unconscious, but I would very much appreciate-”
“Why did you break your own fingers,” Thor interrupted.
Loki’s face went utterly blank. “Beg pardon?” he said.
“I heard what you said,” Loki said. “I suppose a more accurate question would be ‘what in the Nine do you mean?’”
He hadn’t denied it, Thor noticed. “What I asked,” he said. “I meant exactly what I asked.”
Loki’s expression flickered. “What gives you the idea that I did any such thing?”
He was turning it back on Thor, Thor thought abstractly. Trying to put Thor on the defensive. Deter him from questioning, or redirect him into a different argument. He’d seen Loki do it before, only he hadn’t usually been able to push past it. “It doesn’t matter,” Thor said. “I asked you a question. You still haven’t answered it.”
Loki was beginning to have the look of a cornered animal, even if he was still clearly striving to maintain control. “No,” he said, “I haven’t. I don’t see the need to, when it’s a preposterous question to begin with.”
“Because you didn’t do it,” Thor said.
“Of course not.”
“Liar.” Thor breathed out. “Please, Loki…tell me the truth. Have we not had enough of falsehoods between us?”
Loki’s mouth tightened, then relaxed. He opened his mouth and Thor could almost see him crafting the lie - and that was a sign of how off balance his brother was, that it was so obvious. Then all the expression bled away again, and Loki turned his face to look at the wall.
“I shouldn’t have involved you,” he said, though it sounded like it was meant more for himself than anything. Thor stiffened.
“Of course you should have,” he said. “Why would you say otherwise?”
Loki’s mouth twisted. “Because now you are upset, and you needn’t be.”
Thor choked on that, and Loki ran the fingers of his good hand through his hair, the other held gingerly in his lap. “It is just a part of who I am,” he said. “An ugly part, perhaps, but nonetheless. Truthfully, it helps.”
Stomach twisting, Thor forced out, “how can breaking your own fingers possibly help.”
Loki shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Try,” Thor said. “Or I will - will-” He couldn’t think of anything. There was no way he had of caging Loki that he would not, sooner or later, escape; no way of keeping Loki safe from himself.
Loki slumped back onto the bed. “You know I am mad,” he said, after a lengthy pause.
“Were,” Thor said. Loki huffed.
“Am,” he said. “It isn’t a new beast, Thor. To one degree or another…I cannot remember a time when there wasn’t something wrong with me. It is just how well I controlled it. Or disguised it.”
Thor’s sense of things lurched sideways. Loki’s strangenesses, his mercurial moods, his fickle temper and black melancholy. That had always been a part of who Loki was, not…a sickness. Not madness. He shook his head, but Loki didn’t see it.
“There are times,” he was saying, “when it is all too much. When I feel as though I will burn up, or explode, for trying to contain the beast that lives in me. You have seen what it looks like when I lose control.”
Loki’s eyes on the Bifrost, nearly feral with rage, unrecognizable. Frantic and vicious and desperate, and when it was over…
And then on Earth, the same. Or worse. The feeling like everything that he knew of his brother had been shaved away, leaving a blade of a man with his brother’s face.
“There are other means,” Loki said. “Better means. I am careful. I avoid permanent damage. And no one else has to manage the consequences of my insanity.”
Thor couldn’t speak. He felt ill, and it seemed like there were things he should say but they weren’t coming to him. Loki turned his head to look at him, and exhaled. “You don’t understand. I knew you wouldn’t.”
Finally, a little of Thor’s voice broke free. “That doesn’t look like careful.”
Loki twitched minutely. “This morning was…bad.”
Morning. It was early in the night, now, and Loki had come to him in the late afternoon. At least part of that time he’d been unconscious. All of it alone, hurt, suffering, and Thor might never have known.
He hadn’t known. The way Loki was talking, this wasn’t the first time. He spoke as though it was a long-standing habit, something ordinary or at least unremarkable. Reasonable. “Bad how,” he managed.
Loki seemed to be hesitating, and Thor fixed him with a glare. He sighed again. “Poor dreams and petty frustrations, that is all. Sometimes it just…happens.” He laughed, strangely. “I don’t even really remember doing it.”
“You don’t remember,” Thor said flatly. His stomach rolled. Loki raised one shoulder and let it fall.
“It’s like that, sometimes. Like…” the corners of his lips turned up. “Like a bolt of lightning.”
“Don’t,” Thor said. “This isn’t a laughing matter.”
“Who is laughing?” Loki still remained lying back, but his eyes on Thor were direct. “Truly, Thor,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ve been handling this, off and on, for centuries.”
Centuries. Centuries. He was going to be sick. A formless fear thrummed in his chest, filling his lungs, making it hard to breathe, to think. “No,” he choked. “No. This isn’t acceptable.”
“Be reasonable,” Loki started.
“Me? You are telling me to be reasonable? You are the one hurting yourself and you want me to be reasonable?” His voice rose to a shout. Thor knew he should be trying to stay calm, but he couldn’t find the means, and that Loki seemed genuinely taken aback didn’t help.
He saw, clear as day, Loki’s fingers uncurling from the shaft of Gungnir. How easily could this, this habit of Loki’s tip over the edge from self-harm to self-annihilation?
How easily could Loki slip through Thor’s fingers, again, into an oblivion where Thor couldn’t follow, and from which this time he might not return?
“Please,” he said, nearly gasping. “Don’t do this.”
“Thor,” Loki said carefully. “I need…”
“I beg you,” Thor said. “I can’t…’careful’ isn’t good enough. All it takes is - all it takes is once. And whether the damage is permanent or not - your pain is not an acceptable price.”
Loki looked frustrated. “I know what I’m doing, Thor.”
“That’s what concerns me,” Thor said. “That you think you are being reasonable. That you think this is handling anything.”
“It is,” Loki said.
“It is not,” Thor said. “Not at all.”
“What else would you have me do?” The tension was coming back. “Turn my poison on you?”
“Do you have to turn it on anyone?” Thor asked. “Might there not be another way?”
Loki stared at him so blankly it made Thor’s heart ache.
“You could,” he said, more quietly, “come to me.”
Loki’s laugh grated. “I am trying not to hurt you anymore.”
“You don’t have to,” Thor said. “You could just try talking to me. Or - or if not me, someone else?” Though it occurred to him that Loki did not really have friends on the Statesman. He wasn’t sure Bruce or Valkyrie counted. “Say whatever it is that is overwhelming you, rather than marking it on your body.”
Loki was holding very still and it looked like he was breathing hard.
“And if you can’t speak,” Thor said, fumbling onwards, “at least…at least you needn’t be alone.”
Loki’s jaw tensed and then relaxed, his eyes pulling away from Thor’s to stare straight ahead. “You don’t understand,” he said.
“You’re right,” Thor said, trying hard to keep the anger out of his voice and not entirely succeeding. “I don’t. I don’t understand why this seems like a solution to you, why you don’t seem to see anything wrong with the idea of hurting yourself-”
“Why not?” Loki asked. “Why shouldn’t I?”
Loki had a gift, Thor thought, of saying things that felt like they were cutting him off at the knees, because the answers should be so obvious and yet - Loki called it madness, but to Thor it seemed more like a missing limb that Loki had grown so used to that he no longer noticed its absence.
“Why should you?” Thor asked, trying one of Loki’s own favorite tactics in answering a question with a question. Loki stared at him, but Thor pressed on. “Give me one good reason,” he said, “and I will let this go.”
“I told you,” Loki said. “It prevents - unfortunate outbursts-”
“There are other ways of managing your temper,” Thor said. “Try again.”
Loki’s nostrils flared. “I enjoy it,” he said, the words flung at Thor like a challenge. He planted his feet.
“That contradicts what you said before. And I struggle to believe that the pain of a broken hand is enjoyable.” He knew he was risking Loki’s wrath, but he refused to back down now.
“It is none of your business what I do-”
“You are my brother,” Thor said. “It is my business. Just as what I do is yours.”
Loki looked like he was about to start snarling. “Will no answer be good enough for you?”
“Are you punishing yourself?”
Again, Loki seemed knocked off balance, like he’d expected Thor to feint one way and instead he’d gone the other. “What?” He said blankly, but not like he was offended, or thought the idea was ridiculous; more like he just hadn’t expected Thor to voice it.
He probably hadn’t. It wasn’t the kind of thing that he would have, or at least that he would have bothered to ask, even a few years before.
He’d grown. If only it hadn’t cost so much.
“Are you?” Thor asked again. Loki blinked at him several times, eyes a little too wide.
“It isn’t like that,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Thor asked. There was an ache lodged in his chest. He’d thought, Thor realized, that Loki was - well, better. That the poison in him had been drawn out, at last, that his return here meant the last terrible years were behind them, that everything was going to be fine, now.
He should have known better.
Loki grimaced and pinched his nose with his good hand. “Thor, can this conversation at least wait until the drugs take effect?”
“For you to come up with better answers?” Thor asked. “No. Loki-”
“It isn’t about punishment,” Loki said, though he sounded as though the words were being dragged out of him. “It is - oh, Norns. That’s not the point.”
“But you think it doesn’t matter.”
“Why not?” Thor asked doggedly. “It would matter if it was me, wouldn’t it? If I were hurting myself, deliberately?”
“You are being melodramatic.”
“I’m being-” Thor cut himself off again and took a deep breath to keep his temper. It wouldn’t do any good to shout. Losing his temper now would mean losing control of the conversation, and if he did that he would never get it back. “Why. Doesn’t it matter.”
“You are a dog with a bone,” Loki said, aggrieved. Thor said nothing, just waited, his jaw set, and Loki rolled to his back and covered his eyes and said, “I am not going to play this game.”
“This isn’t a game.”
“It is,” Loki said, something dark and dangerous creeping into his voice. “For you. A game where you play the loving and attentive brother, simply trying to care for his poor, mad, sibling. Well, Thor, let me tell you-”
“Tell me what,” Thor said harshly. Loki’s hand pressed down harder over his eyes, still keeping much of his expression invisible.
“It is,” Loki said, and his voice was low and vicious, “exactly what I deserve.”
Thor’s body seemed to lurch, even though he hadn’t moved. He stood still a moment, trying to absorb that. “No,” he said finally, hoarsely. “It isn’t.”
“You ought to know better than that.”
“I do not.” Thor was faintly startled by how even his voice was. He thought he saw Loki’s shoulders shake, very slightly.
“After a few moments of clarity,” Loki said, his voice clear and exacting, “it seems you have rediscovered your large blind spot when it comes to me.”
“You said yourself,” Thor said, “you have been doing this for centuries. Why would you have deserved to suffer then?”
Thor was glad he could not see the whole of Loki’s smile. He thought it would be terrible. “Why not?”
Throat closing, an undeniable part of Thor wished that he hadn’t opened this conversation. That he hadn’t asked, that he’d let it go and pretended to have noticed nothing, or believed Loki’s first lies. But he would not be that much a coward.
“You are wrong,” he said finally, hoarsely.
“Yes,” Loki said, almost a sigh. “Exactly.”
And Thor didn’t have a single Norns-damned response to that.
Loki dozed off again, presumably as the drugs took effect and eased the pain. Thor paced back and forth, wishing he knew what to say. Wishing he knew what to do. He wanted to shake Loki, shout at him until he saw sense, but that was about as likely to work as would trussing him up and handcuffing him to a chair (also tempting). The harder Thor pushed, the more Loki would dig in his heels. But if Thor didn’t push…
I am careful. I avoid permanent damage.
Oh, yes. Other than the time you tried to kill yourself, that is.
Thor ground the heel of his hand into his eye. Dammit, Loki.
He dropped his hand and looked back at Loki, whose mouth was set in a tiny frown as he slept, eyebrows drawn worriedly together even in repose. Fix this, Thor’s heart kept screaming, but he didn’t know how. These days, Thor thought, it seemed like there was nothing he could fix.
A part of him wanted to go and find Valkyrie, or the Hulk, and exorcise the ache in him with violence. At the same time, he didn’t want to leave Loki here alone out of some vague fear that he would return and find him gone.
The savagery of it. The rage. Thor knew Loki’s temper, knew that it could be vicious, but seeing it directed inward that way, at himself…was different, somehow. Wrong, in a way that made him feel slightly ill.
It was perhaps an hour later that there was a knock on his door. Thor jerked out of a reverie where he was trying to imagine how it would feel, how Loki had possibly stayed conscious through doing that to himself, and stood up. “Who is it?”
“Heimdall,” said the Watchman’s familiar voice, and Thor scrubbed his fingers through his hair before going over to open the door.
“Is aught amiss?” he asked.
“Nothing in particular,” Heimdall said. “Only that you were expected at a meeting, and weren’t there.”
Thor swore, pinching the bridge of his nose. He’d entirely forgotten. “Damn. I’m sorry.”
“I can only assume you were distracted,” Heimdall said, not quite a question.
“I was,” Thor said, stepping back so Heimdall could see Loki passed out on the bed. Heimdall frowned slightly.
“Is he unwell?”
Thor wavered, for a moment, on the point of telling Heimdall, maybe asking for advice. “Injured,” he said, finally. “In an accident.”
Heimdall’s eyebrows rose further. “I’d expect him to be with the healers.”
Thor shrugged. “You know how he is,” he said, and there was that very slight, brief, smile.
“Somewhat.” Heimdall regarded him. “Are you well? You look…strained.”
“It has been a straining time. I think we all are.” Thor paused, and then said, carefully, “have you ever known someone to…cause themselves harm? Deliberately?”
Heimdall’s eyes flicked toward Loki, quick and brief, and it occurred to Thor that had not been in the least subtle and he probably should not have asked. But whatever he was thinking, he didn’t say, only, “not personally. But I’ve heard of it happening.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard of what is done to help.”
“I think that would depend on the why. A…redirection of the impulse, perhaps. In another direction.”
“Like at another person?” Thor said. Heimdall’s golden eyes sharpened.
“That would seem both inadvisable and ultimately unhelpful.”
Thor sighed. “I suppose it would.” He kept himself from looking toward Loki. “Thank you, Heimdall. And I am sorry, once again, for…allowing my duty to slip my mind.”
“Don’t let it happen again,” Heimdall said, but not sternly. He glanced once more toward the bed where Loki lay and then added, “tell your brother to be careful. We cannot afford more losses.”
Thor smiled, though it felt strained. “I will tell him.”
He closed the door, quietly, and leaned his head against it, closing his eye and trying to think. There must be something he could do. If he could only figure out what it was.
Thor did not approach Loki immediately. He let him leave without further conversation, though he could feel Loki’s wary eyes waiting for him to speak, and let Loki avoid him for the next day, though he heard Val ask him what had happened to his hand.
“I broke my fingers,” Loki said, his voice tense and caustic. “Obviously.”
“I figured out that much. How?”
“Hoping to congratulate the perpetrator?”
“Why do you have to be such an ass,” Val said irritably, and retreated. Loki must have felt him looking, then, because he turned his head, saw Thor, and froze a moment before turning to walk swiftly away.
He gave it three days before he went knocking on Loki’s door, in the evening, when he was fairly certain Loki would be there. Indeed, he was greeted by a flat, “yes, Thor,” through the door. He paused.
“How did you know it was me?”
“Because no one else drops by,” Loki said.
“Must I speak to you through steel?”
He imagined he could hear Loki’s heave of a sigh, but he opened the door.
“May I come in?”
“If you must.” Loki stepped back, and Thor entered, glancing around. There was little to mark this space as Loki’s other than the daggers on the table. Nothing out of the ordinary, though Thor wasn’t certain what he had expected.
“How is your hand?” he asked. Loki’s mouth twisted.
“Mending,” he said, his voice a little short. “I haven’t caused any fresh damage, if that is what you were trying to ask.”
He hadn’t, really, though a part of him had wondered. Thor winced. “It wasn’t,” he said. Loki eyed him, expression pinched, and eventually sighed.
“What do you want, Thor?”
He took a deep breath and let it out. “I am going to ask you for a promise,” Thor said.
“You do not know what I am going to ask.”
“I can guess.”
Thor pressed his lips together, then relaxed them. “If you will not,” he said slowly, “I will - be forced to adopt other measures.” He leveled his gaze on Loki. “I am Asgard’s king, now. That means I am responsible for the safety of her people. All of them.”
Loki’s jaw tightened. “I am not of Asgard.”
“You are her savior,” Thor said firmly. “If nothing else - and there is plenty else - that would entitle you to honorary status.” There was a slight twitch by Loki’s eye, but he didn’t argue. Good.
“What is it, then,” he asked, voice clipped and brittle, “that you want me to promise?”
“I want you to promise that when you feel what you described - what it is that drives you to injure yourself - you come to me, first. And I will keep everyone else, and you, safe until it passes.”
Loki’s nostrils flared. “How very self-sacrificial of you.”
“I am confident that it will be less dangerous than you think,” Thor said evenly. “And if not…well. We both know which of us is stronger.”
Loki’s lips compressed but he didn’t argue. That point, anyway. “I can’t promise that,” he said. “Sometimes it isn’t something that builds gradually.”
“Like a bolt of lightning,” Thor said. “I know. In that case, I only ask that you find me after.”
Loki’s eyes narrowed. “How is that beneficial?”
Thor kept his gaze steady. “Trust that it is, for me.”
Loki stayed quiet, his jaw clenched, breathing through his nose. Thor tried not to tense. He didn’t want to have to turn to his backup plan, but he’d meant what he said: he would.
“Why must you be like this,” Loki said after a long silence, but Thor could have cheered. Loki was wavering. Even if only barely.
“Like what?” Thor asked. “Attempting to keep my own brother from harm?”
Loki looked away from him. “You aren’t going to let this go.”
“No,” Thor said. “I am not.”
“I should never have come to you,” Loki muttered, and Thor reached out without thinking to grasp his shoulders.
“No,” he said, with feeling. “You should have come to me a long time ago.”
Loki stared at him as though Thor had said something deeply affecting but also a little mad. Or he did for a moment, only to look away again. “Fine,” he said eventually, subdued. “You leave me very little choice.”
“Promise me,” Thor said. “Swear.”
“I swear,” Loki said, after a long pause. Thor exhaled loudly and bowed his head in relief.
“As I said,” Loki said, “you didn’t give me much choice.”
“Nonetheless. Thank you.” He paused, and said, “you’re wrong. It isn’t what you deserve.”
Loki’s sidelong glance was shuttered, impossible to read. “Certain of that, are you?”
“Yes,” Thor said. “I am. And even if you did, I don’t think I’d care.”
Loki’s expression did something odd. “No,” he said, “I suppose you wouldn’t,” but it sounded more like he was talking to himself than anything.
Thor considered him, for several long moments, before saying quietly, “We’re the only ones left. I can’t lose you, too. And no matter how ‘careful’ you say you are…it frightens me.”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” Loki said.
“I know,” Thor said. “I still wish you would have.” He gave Loki a pained smile. “Honesty, brother.”
“Always my strength,” Loki murmured.
“Practice is the only road to mastery,” Thor said, imitating the tones of their old weapons master, and won a very faint laugh.
They would, Thor told himself, be all right.
They had to be.