The first time it happens, he thinks little enough of it.
He is stupidly drunk in a seedy British pub, trying his best to look interested as Erik Selvig - complete with the unkempt hair and broad, sweeping gestures that typify what Thor has learned Midgardians refer to as mad scientists - blathers loudly on about something he himself stopped following several drinks ago.
Some obscure bit of scientific humor has the rest of the group - Ian, Darcy, and Jane, plus two of Jane's research colleagues and a dapper, if hopelessly dated, elderly man Erik recently befriended and now drags along everywhere - laughing so hard their faces are streaked with tears. Thor takes advantage of the opportunity to turn away and yawns surreptitiously into the meaty curve of his own shoulder.
Sudden movement in the near-darkness - a lone pedestrian walking quickly along the slick sidewalk, collar stood up against the cold and long scarf whipping behind him in the wind - outside the window catches Thor's eye. He looks up just in time to get a glimpse of pale skin, black hair, and sharp features as the man passes by.
Thor chokes on a ragged indrawn breath and cannot stop coughing.
The mortals turn as one and look at him with startled, worried faces. "Are you okay," Jane asks him as he barks and splutters. Ian chimes in with "something go down wrong?"
It certainly did. At least the coughing fit provides Thor fair cover for his tears.
He has another few drinks, gazing hopefully outside from time to time, just to see what happens.
The man does not walk past again.
Not while Thor is awake, at least.
"Thor! Can you hear me? Wake up! Come on, it's time to go."
Darcy's shrill voice cuts through the foggy tatters of an aimless, scattered dream. Thor blinks at his blurry surroundings. "Did I doze off," he mumbles. "I am most sorry."
"It happens to the best of us, mate," one of Jane's colleagues quips. "I studied under Dr. Selvig in Uni and I swear he put me out every time."
Everyone laughs. Thor's ears ring. "That explains your present employment, doesn't it," Erik teases in return, to continued laughter, “not to mention the trajectory of your career.”
Thor yawns openly this time.
Jane turns to roll her eyes at him. "Let's get you home," she tells him, pushing at Darcy. "Some of us have to work in the morning."
All the way back to Jane's (mother's) flat Thor watches the cityscape about him for another glimpse of the mystery man. It is ridiculous, of course - his brother is dead, and this is a city of millions - but he cannot seem to put a stop to it. Jane passes his odd behavior off on far too much to drink; Thor lets her.
It’s simply easier that way.
His life here is- well, it isn’t a bad life, all told. He finds himself rather bored during the day, when the mortals all troop off to work and leave him with nothing but endless, empty hours stretching out before him, but he understands he cannot secure work without the proper papers.
He is not, after all, the trickster his brother is.
It seems mortal days should pass in the blink of an eye, to a god. A godlike being, he reminds – corrects - himself. He and his kin are not beyond mortality, after all; his brother died.
Whatever the reason, Midgard’s days do not pass quickly. Not anymore. They trickle past, drop by slow drop instead.
Initially he sleeps a great deal. The combined effects of battle and devastating loss have taken a grave toll, one he can neither shake off nor wish away. "Maybe you should talk to someone," Darcy suggests. "You know," she adds, even though she knows he probably doesn't, "a therapist. A head doctor."
Thor saw enough of Midgard's doctors to last him an age, during his time back in New Mexico. "I am fine," he assures her politely. "I am just recovering my strength."
"You do that, big boy," she tells him fondly as she pats - or pets, really - the swell of his biceps. And then she wisely lets it go.
By the time it happens again, he has largely forgotten that night in the bar.
Winter has faded messily into what passes for springtime, and Thor is out for a morning stroll. The city is rain-soaked and dingy, nothing like the realm eternal, but he is lost in thought and the sights roll past his eyes unseen.
Which is likely how he nearly tramples a tall, slender man, someone who must have been window-shopping at the jewelry store some twenty blocks (give or take; Thor's walks can last all day) from the flat. He does come out of his daydreaming stupor in time to avoid a collision, but his pained grunt startles the man into flinching and turning.
"Sorry!" Thor ducks his head, embarrassed, but not fast enough to avoid locking eyes with- with- the man could be Loki… is Loki. Thor wheels around, bumping an older woman in the process and having to stop and steady her quickly.
When he straightens again the man, of course, is gone. Vanished into the surroundings, into the rush of the crowd.
This time, Thor is sober. This time, he has no convenient excuse for his tears.
Not to mention his sobs.
It matters little, as he also has no one to see.
Jane is a good companion. She is gifted and wise beyond her years, with an insatiable curiosity for the way things work Thor finds endearing.
She is interesting, but also practical and stable. Logical. Largely tolerant.
In other words she is nothing like his brother.
None of them are. Ian is too bland, Darcy the wrong kind of irrepressible, Erik- simply too Erik. At first it is a comfort not to be constantly reminded of his loss. Once he has seen his brother, though, enduring their company becomes slow torture. All he can see, hear, and smell, even, is the many ways they are not like Loki.
Given his family history Thor is well aware of the danger obsession poses. Nonetheless he finds himself succumbing.
He saw his brother die. And yet he walks endlessly now, searching the sea of blank, tired Midgardian faces for any that might resemble Loki.
When that fails, and his legs tire of the endless brick and stone, Thor takes to purchasing reading material, sipping tea, and lounging about watching people.
He does not see his brother again. Thor does, however, see Darcy. "I followed you," she says with an unapologetic shrug. "You've been acting weird. I worry."
Thor sighs. "Can I trust you with a secret," he asks. She fixes him with a raised-eyebrow'd look he can’t identify as yes or no.
The secret wants out anyway. "I think I have seen Loki," he tells her sadly. "Twice now."
"Shut up," she exclaims, but the expression on her face tells him this is just one of those Midgardian sayings he does not fully grasp. "How is that possible? Isn't he-..." She trails off without quite saying it.
"Dead, yes," he finishes for her. She winces. "And to answer your question: I do not know. My brother is a powerful sorcerer. Still, I am a fool to hope."
She nods, and he half expects a lecture on how he is a fool for more than just the one reason. Instead, she purses her lips a moment. "The times you've seen him, what have you been doing?"
"Least expecting it," he blurts out with a sad huff of laughter. It is true, though, and he sees the glaring error in his own recent tactics before she can even give voice to it.
"It sounds like you need to find yourself a new hobby," she tells him gently.
That is also true.
The weather continues to improve, though London is no Asgard. Darcy (who keeps his secret admirably, to the point he is ashamed of having doubted her) helps Thor enroll in an art class, one where he and his fellow students sit in an haphazard semicircle and draw the Midgardian - he learns quickly to call it human, lest he be lumped in with Erik and carted away - form. Figure drawing, the instructor terms it.
It is not a practice they follow in Asgard.
Thor has no real talent but finds the process of making artwork absorbing. It is surprisingly soothing to focus on something which is not his brother. Most of the life models pose without clothing, which gives him the opportunity to study the flow of their muscles and the texture of their skin. To see variation where once he saw only sameness.
It is a good exercise.
His Midgardian companions are sweetly supportive. They compliment both his improved mood and his drawings. Eventually even Thor must admit he has made progress. On both fronts.
He no longer searches endlessly for his brother.
Which is not to say he has forgotten Loki. He has not.
Every two weeks, give or take, the art class starts with a new model. Some are old, some young. They are men and women, in all stages of adult life and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Each model is already atop the drawing prop – chair or table, chaise or pillar - when the class arrives, and there is no opportunity to interact.
This suits Thor. He is not here to make friends.
One of the models reminds him of the Allfather, from his grizzled mane and beard to the rolling stoop of his powerful, old shoulders. Thor draws the man with a permanent scowl and an eye patch, neither of which exists in this reality.
The instructor pauses to look, but evidently opts (wisely) to say nothing.
When he gets home with his drawing, Jane gives him a long, searching look.
She, too, says nothing.
The next week, their model is a young man - at least, he looks young in rear quarter view; his face is averted. He sits atop a pedestal, one knee drawn to his chest and the other leg dangling. His hair Thor can't see, as it's caught up in a knitted cap that seems too warm for the weather.
The man is thin and angular, all sharp edges. That taken in combination with the cap leads Thor (who, happily, is finally developing some concept of Midgard’s various ailments) to wonder if he suffers from cancer. His legs and rump are muscled, though, with the lean, efficient strength of a warrior. A soldier, perhaps, or a dancer.
For the first time Thor’s fingers positively itch to draw.
The sun is high in the sky, and that casts much of the rest of the model's body in shadow.
Still, something about the whole tableau makes Thor shiver.
He takes up his charcoal and starts his sketching, doing his best to work with smooth, sweeping lines and to take down what he sees rather than what his mind supplies. It's still not something that comes to him easily, but the soft scrape of charcoal over paper is- calming. Mesmerizing, almost. It doesn't take long - just enough to lay out the rough lines, well in advance of filling in any detail - before Thor is transported.
Consequently, it comes as quite a shock with the instructor stops them and Thor really looks at what he has drawn.
It's Loki. Thor has inadvertently added a sweep of dark hair in place of the knit cap, and put a little - just a little - extra muscle on the model's torso. Shoulders, ribs. He recoils in- fear, perhaps, or horror, and then looks quickly back at the pedestal.
The model, of course, is gone.
“That’s a very nice sketch,” the instructor offers from beside him, and Thor jumps again. She steps around to study his work from the opposite angle. “This is a perfect example of what I’ve been trying to convey; it’s not so much about producing an exact likeness as it is of capturing the model’s… spirit. Essence. This picture does precisely that.”
Thor nods. His mind is racing. “Who is he,” he asks the instructor carefully.
“The model,” she asks, still studying his work. “He calls himself Loic.” She shrugs, lifting her hands in apology. “I’ve seen him around the studio from time to time, but that’s about all I can tell you. We pay cash, you know, and we don’t ask a lot of questions.”
“He reminds me of someone I once knew,” Thor offers. He isn’t sure he wants her drawing her own conclusions, whether she asks a lot of questions or no. “Someone I’ve not seen in quite a while.”
“Why didn’t you go talk to him,” Darcy asks Thor later. She’s made herself something she calls a root beer float - she’d offered him one, but even on Midgard he’s not sure he can stomach the idea of ice cream submerged in the fizzy, too-sweet oddness she terms root beer – and is busily slurping its last remnants from a long-handled spoon. “You know you wanted to.” She sets her glass down and turns to pick up his drawing with both hands. “Heck, looking at this, you know I want to.”
The truth - I didn’t realize who he was until my brother was gone - sounds stupid. Thor goes with “I don’t know” instead.
Darcy turns and flashes him a quick, toothy grin. “There’s always next time.”
Thor forces himself to nod and smile in return. He feels simultaneously as though he might die and as if he is truly alive for the first time since Svartalfheim.
He is sure, and yet he cannot possibly know.
“I hope so,” he tells Darcy when she continues to gaze at him expectantly. “I very, very much hope so.”
She gives him a short little nod. “I’m sure you do.”