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Promise Me

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“Looking back, o beloved
I remember things you said to me
In the garden, before the black sun rose
Things you said to me

Things you said, o beloved
And the promise that you took from me
Now I see you standing next to me

Standing next to me
Saying promise me”

- Promise Me, Courtney Saunders

 

 

 

The blackness. The slow chill of winter, cloaked by eternity. It has a shape, that terrible suction, the greedy swallowing. Soft buzzing choking your skull. Spitting out the cratered bones.

Loki has been falling for as long as he can remember.

When you freefall long enough, your limbs grow soft. Nothing exists but the whirring vacuum in your ears and the harsh air enclosing your body like a cage.

You do not sleep. All the nightmares manifest themselves in the flashing blackness.

But the good dreams from another life will surface too. Sometimes, he can remember the firm grip of his brother’s hand and the booming sound of his voice, tinged with fondness.

“Loki.”

He would make sounds if they weren’t sucked away and silenced. He would cry out, “Thor,” if his brother were there to listen. He would scream out, “Father. Mother.”

There are terrible voices in the darkness that he can’t quite make out. When they surface, the chanting reverberates through his veins. The demonic chorus churns him through a whirlpool, where he drowns and drowns but does not die.

He pretends that he can see a light coming out of the shadows. The light is the flicker of sun over his brother’s golden hair. When he closes his eyes, he remembers.

 

 

 

 

 

He is eight years old and much smaller than Thor, who is a hulking figure for eleven and at least a head and a half taller. While Father speaks to them, his mind wanders, gaze sweeping the bushes of cream-colored roses.

“Loki,” Odin chides softly, looking upon his youngest son. “Pay attention. I was telling your brother here how these blood red flowers came from the highlands of Jotunheim.”

Odin traces the hard petal of the flower and cups the feathery stem. “We did not think anything could grow in such a frigid, desolate land. But here they were, buried beneath the snow. Some of our soldiers uncovered them while making camp one night.”

His father urges him forward, placing his small hand against the petals.

Loki startles, eyes widening with surprise. “It’s warm.”

“Yes,” Odin agrees, “one of the only warm things in Jotunheim.”

“Now you feel, Thor.”

They stroll past Thor’s favorite climbing tree, thousands of years old and stretching up for what seems like forever, covered with twisting ivy and pale blue flowers. Loki has never been allowed this far into the eternal garden before, and his pulse quickens with excitement.

Odin stops in front of a marble column, raised three feet from the dirt. On its surface rests a large glass vase, upside down and enclosing a small pile of dark ashes.

“Do you know what this is?” their father asks softly. Thor and Loki both shake their heads.

“These are the ashes of a black sun flower.”

Thor glances at Loki with confusion, and Loki shrugs. The boys turn back to their father.

“More than likely, neither of you will ever see one in its full splendor. They are extremely rare.”

Odin leans heavily on the column, staring down inside the glass.

“The black sunflower is a reminder that love can be a great, yet monstrous force. Its beauty is the greatest in our universe. It is said that one can almost not bear to gaze upon it.”

Odin looks back at Thor and Loki with seriousness. “When one first looks upon it, it appears to be an ordinary flower. But that first look always sparks the same reaction: paralyzing fear—because the onlooker understands what it has cost to create such a thing of terrible beauty.”

“What does it cost, father?” asks Loki with fearful eyes.

“It costs a life, son. The maker of a black sunflower must create it from their very breath—their entire being. It is created by overwhelming, unselfish love. Love at the expense of all else.”

Odin smiles sadly at Thor. “The one who is presented with a black sunflower knows that they are the receiver of love in its most pure and unconditional form.”

“What do you do with it, father, if you receive one?” Thor asks gravely.

“There is nothing you can do, my son. It shines for but a few moments before it crumbles into dust.”

Their father pauses, lifting his hand, a smile pulling at his cheeks. “But in those ashes lies the power of rebirth.”

“What does rebirth mean?” Loki asks after a long while.

Odin’s eyes twinkle softly. “A second chance.”

He approaches his sons, cupping them firmly on each shoulder. “Thor. Loki. I must leave now, but you may play in the garden for the rest of the day if you wish.”

As they watch their father disappear beyond a grove of gnarled trees, Thor comes to stand next to Loki, a solemn expression pulling at his young face.

“I do not know if I could ever love anyone that much, brother.”

Loki laughs nervously. “It seems impossible anyway, doesn’t it?”

Thor chuckles. “You’re probably right. Maybe Father was telling us grand tales again.”

But then he reaches up and grasps Loki’s shoulder tightly. “I know that you are neglected sometimes, brother.”

Loki looks away, eyes shuttering, but Thor quickly grips his chin and raises up his face.

He has never before seen such a serious, determined expression from Thor. “I want you to know that I will always love you, Loki, no matter what happens.”

Loki’s eyes glisten for a moment, and he smiles.

“But you must promise me something, brother,” Thor implores. “That you will always love me, too.”

Loki’s smile widens and he nods slowly. “I promise, Thor.”

 

 

 

 

 

The memory rips away from him in a harsh burst and Loki shivers from its absence. He has been falling for a long time, and somehow, it seems to be growing even darker. His hands feel like stones, weighing down uselessly against his sides as he floats. Flexing his fingers, he cannot feel the pulsing blood. With a wrench, he yanks an arm up in front of his face, reaching out in the abyss.

Suddenly, the voices begin to multiply. Harsh whispers shift into low grunts and anguished wails. A doorway smokes into existence before him, and a hazy veil softly whips from it frame.

The voices are coming from within. They begin growling his name, and he feels a tug in the pit of stomach bringing him closer. As he draws near, the voices grow deeper, more demonic, and terrified, he tries to pull away.

“No,” he begs, “I cannot go in there.”

Panicking, he shields his gaze. Whatever this is, it can’t end this way. He will not go quietly into that dark pool, where the demons of the nine realms churn.

Despite his fear, something makes his hands drop, and he looks through the flap in the veil. A rip of pain tears through his head, sending him reeling.

That never-ending, sucking hole. He is going to be torn to pieces.

With desperation, he clings to the white edges of that golden memory, Thor’s and Odin’s faces swimming into view. What little warmth he calls up fights the chill.

“Give me another chance,” he tries to scream. It can’t end like this. Please! Not like this.

With a jerk, he is suddenly thrown away from the door and tumbles through space at light-speed until he slams against hard ground. Then he feels no more.

 

 

 

 

 

“Loki, come here,” Odin says softly, gesturing at his lap.

Loki climbs on his father’s knee, burying his dark locks into that strong chest.

His father shushes him, stroking his back in reassuring circles.

“Do not listen to the others. It is not a crime to be different, you know.”

Loki’s sniffles begin to recede, and he raises his red-rimmed eyes to his father’s face.

“I know that they call you the mischievous one.”

“Father, I am strange,” Loki whispers.

“That may seem so, compared to everyone else. But that does not mean you are a bad person. That does not mean that you are not my son.”

“What if I am a bad person?” Loki asks, tears spilling over.

“But you are not. Besides, there is good and bad in all of us.”

The young boy pauses, mulling over his words. “Even you, father?”

Odin laughs, hugging his son tighter. “Even me.”

“Loki, look at me.”

He meets his father’s gaze.
“There is more good in you than anything. Do not worry yourself over what the others say. They are probably just jealous of you.”

At that, Loki’s face lights up.

“We are all shades of gray, Loki,” Odin says, holding him closer. “Please remember that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Loki opens his eyes, he cannot make out a thing. He can’t even see his own hand groping in front of his face. Jagged rocks cut into his naked chest, and he spends an hour smoothing out a small area so that he can lie down comfortably. The silence is suffocating.

“Hello,” he whispers into the dark, and he can finally hear himself after the long silence of space. His voice sounds strange, scared, pathetic, so he doesn’t speak again. He prefers to listen to the soft whipping of the wind. Eventually, it lulls him into dreams.

Sleep seems to last for an eternity. When he awakens, the cold seeps back into his bones. The first few nights, he does not move, despite how thirst shrivels up his tongue and hunger tears at his belly.

Then he realizes that he is alone—not even an insect has crawled over his bare skin in all this time. So he stands and stretches his stiff limbs, ignoring how the sharp rocks bite into the bottom of his feet.

As he walks into the dark, the wind seems to pick up speed. Sometimes, he can even hear the faint echo of voices, so he walks faster towards the sound.

After what seems like hours, he spots the blessed sliver of light peeking through a crack in the ceiling. He stumbles to the beacon and feels its brightness filling up his throat. Gasping, he falls to his knees in the small clearing, raising his face to the beloved white light.

That’s when he sees the shadow move.

From the corner slinks a large figure, completely black in color except for the white of the eyes and the gash of its mouth. As Loki’s eyes begin to focus, he realizes who it is.

“Laufey?” he asks in disbelief.

“Son,” the frost giant answers in a gravelly voice.

Loki’s eyebrows knit together reflexively. “I have no father.”

“No? My blood runs through your veins, boy.”

“My blood is my own, Laufey,” he hisses, ending all argument. “Now tell me—where am I?”

Laufey settles down on a rocky ledge and studies his son.

“This place—I have been here a long while. Perhaps it is the bottom realm. I do not know.”

He shifts, staring at Loki with no expression. “But this is where the gods come to die.

“We call this place the dark caverns. It is a world of ash and smoke. Those doomed to this realm are slowly deteriorating.”

His deep voice cracks. “We cannot eat, yet we starve. We cannot drink, yet we thirst. And we are so weary—but we will never sleep.”

Laufey looks down at his black hands, clenching them.

“I am truly sorry that you are here, son. In such a cursed domain.”

“I am not your son,” Loki yells.

“But you are. I fathered you, all those centuries ago, in Jotunheim. You were conceived in wartime, in desperation. We took captives from Midgard and kept them locked in our underground prisons.

“Your mother was a black-haired Midgardian with bright green eyes. From the beginning, she stood out from the others because she wasn’t afraid. She began causing uprisings, several futile resistances, so I thought to crush her spirit.

“One night, I took her from the dungeon and up to my chamber, where I raped her. She didn’t make a sound. I thought her sufficiently broken, so I returned her to the prison.

“Sometime later, during the last stand against Asgard, one of the guards pulled me from the battle and told me that she had given birth to you.

“When I went down to the prison, I saw you cradled in her arms and knew without doubt that you would be a threat to my kingdom. A half-giant, half-Midgardian? My only heir?”

Laufey throws back his head in a harsh laugh.

“No, I could not allow anyone to know. So I killed the guard and every prisoner in that cage. Your mother lay slain on the ground. And I took you.

“I did not want to kill you. You were my son. But what would be the point of raising such a doomed creature? The king’s heir or not, you would never be accepted by my people. So I decided to kill you out of sympathy.

“I took you a chamber in a secluded tower and left you crying on the floor. You were so small. Something about your eyes stopped me from ending your life at that moment. The clarity in them stilled my hand. So I left, though I vowed to return after the battle.

“But you know what happened. I fell to Odin, and our casket was taken. Defeated, I climbed up to the tower, but you were gone. Panicked, I conducted a discreet search for you, but when I found no trace, I thought perhaps a guard had thrown you from the tower. Years passed, and there was no sign of you. So you, my only son, were dead to me.”

He looks up at Loki. His son is rocking slowly, eyes anguished, his arms cradled tightly around his body.

“It saddens me that you are here,” Laufey says after a while.

“Please tell me,” Loki asks, “What exactly is this place?”

Laufey’s white eyes glint. “This is the final resting place of the wicked gods. The realm of the cursed.”

From the shadows, Loki can hear the shuffling of figures. Slowly, they begin to step out of the darkness, and several black forms shift behind Laufey.

“Do you know of what the Midgardians believe? That they have souls?”

Loki nods.

“Midgardians are the simplest of creatures—the beings with the shortest lives. When they die, their souls are recycled, and then they are born again.

“But gods—gods are eternal. We cannot be recycled. When it is a god’s time to pass on, they go on to their mothers and fathers.”

“Where do they go?”

Laufey shakes his head. “I do not know. It is a place beyond my sight—beyond these nine realms.”

“Where we are,” he says, “shadows have consumed our beings. We are the gods of darkness. Of no redemption.”

“You see, Loki,” his voice cracks, “We are waiting to fade out of existence. Nothing is left for us but these last fleeting moments in the dark.”

Loki can feel the other gods studying him.

One of them steps forward, gesturing at Loki with a black hand. “Why are you here? You do not belong here.”

“What do you mean?”

Laufey motions at Loki’s skin. “You are gray, you see.”

Loki looks down at his flesh and sees the shadows in the contours of his knuckles, in the lines of his fingers.

Laufey’s voice is strong. “You are not yet lost.”

Loki releases a wounded whimper as he traces his gray-shaded palms.

Laufey points ahead past the clearing.

“Beyond that stretch of darkness, Loki, the caverns begin to rise to the surface. One of us has just made their way in that direction. The god was beginning to perish. When it is our time, we climb to the outside, so that we can die in the light.”

“Go,” one of the gods whispers.

Laufey nods. “Yes, you must go.”

Loki rises and turns away from the moldering gods.

“Goodbye, son,” he hears Laufey whisper.

He goes still. “You are not my father.”

A mocking laugh wrenches from Laufey’s throat. “Then how did you come into existence? Have you no family?”

“No,” Loki answers, turning towards the tall dark figure, his eyes blazing.

“None. Save for a brother.”

And in silence, he begins the long climb up toward the light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What happened to you on Earth that turned you so soft?” he had growled at Thor.

“Don’t tell me it was that woman,” he hissed with rage.

Then he saw the reluctance and guilt in Thor’s eyes, the answer glaring him right in the face.

“Oh. It was,” he seethed in disbelief, feeling a part of himself splintering. “Well maybe when we’re finished here, I’ll pay her a visit myself.”

And with a yell, Thor had rushed him.

As they clashed, grunting and spitting as their weapons collided again and again, Loki could only think what does she have that I don’t?

There was nothing about that mortal that was special. Yet somehow, she had ensnared Thor’s love after only a few days of knowing him. It sounded so ridiculous that it would have been comical, if it weren’t so pathetic.

Loki gave a violent kick to Thor’s side as the rage tightened his heart and flushed the edges of his vision with red.

“I give you my word,” Thor had promised her, “I will return for you.”

Loki knew then, as he bludgeoned Thor’s body with all his strength, that he would live to see that promise shattered. Without a shadow of a doubt, before his life was through, he would crush the very breath from her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time he reaches the surface, the light has fled. He curls up at the entrance of the cave and sleeps fitfully until the white dawn slides under his eyelids and rouses him.

Over a desolate plain, the light begins to emerge, and his mouth goes dry at the sight. Slowly, the land unfolds under the harsh burn of a white sky.

It is a world of only black and white. Flat plains stretch out as far as he can see, broken by the twisting branches of a few contorted trees. He shivers, pulling himself off the ground, and he crawls to a fallen tree and lies inside the hollow, hugging his knees to his chest. He strokes his naked body, creating friction and a little warmth, so that he can feel the faint pulse under his skin.

When he looks down at his hands, he sees that the fingertips are becoming black.

“No,” he whimpers, a moan rising from his throat. Tears blur his eyes as he rubs his hands together urgently. He weeps, rubbing so hard that the skin is burning. But then he sees the grays returning to the fingers and feels himself calm down.

From within the tree hollow, he looks out over the landscape and notices a hulking form crawling over the pebbled black ground. It is the fading god that Laufey told him of—the one who crawled to the surface.

White light ghosts over his hunched back, and his body seems to absorb it hungrily. He raises his face to the sky, hands outstretched in the air, breaths shaking his chest.

Then the figure freezes, his face completely stone. His skin starts coming off in dark flakes, and his fingers lunge frantically to the heavens. The god’s mouth opens wide to utter one last howl, but no sound comes out.

Loki cries out in horror as he sees the skin begins to glitter. The god raises his forlorn eyes to Loki, and they are grim with acceptance. Then his eyes and mouth shutter closed, and he flickers out of existence.

Inside the cold, rotting hole of the tree, Loki sobs in fear.

For the life of him, he cannot remember the smell of grass—the majestic sight of Asgard’s rolling hills and golden light. He can’t recall the warmth of those orange summer days.

Loki’s thoughts waver to Thor, and he wonders what his brother is doing. Perhaps he is feasting with his friends or charging into battle. Perhaps he remembers that he has a brother and is searching for him. Maybe he has not given up on him yet.

Over the dark plain, a black sun begins to rise.

“Let me wake up,” Loki whispers, closing his eyes against the sight. “Let me wake up far away from here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

As his grip loosened on the staff, Thor had begged him with haunted eyes.

“Loki, no.”

And as he began to plummet through the darkness of space, he’d heard Thor’s howl of agony.

His eyes widened in surprise, and the sunction ripped him down into the dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He jars awake to the chirping of birds and blinks up at clusters of towering trees. The yellow light floods in through the branches and warms his bare skin. He tries to shift his legs but finds them buried deep in soft soil. Wrenching his bottom half from the ground, he hunches over on his hands and knees and stares at two pairs of worn sneakers.

A middle-aged man and a young girl stand above him, staring.

“Are you okay?” the girl asks, offering a hand to help him up.

“I think so,” he answers, brushing the soil from his stomach. His tongue is thick with the taste of wet earth.

“We can get you some clothes,” the man offers, glancing down at Loki’s nudity. “And some food.”

Loki covers himself up when he notices the girl blushing and staring. “That would be much appreciated.”

He follows them to their camp, and the man heats up a can of tomato soup as Loki pulls on a shirt and loose pants. They sit on the ground and silently eat from large bowls.

After finishing his food, Loki asks the man, “Which realm is this?”

“Realm?” the man laughs. “You’re a little strange, aren’t you? What are you talking about?”

The girl’s wrist begins to beep, and he stares as she turns off her watch alarm.

“Earth?”

“Yes,” the girl laughs. “To be more precise, Canada. Do you have amnesia or something?”

Loki doesn’t answer. After a while, he asks, “Can you tell me how to get to New Mexico?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

He enters her bedroom, swift as a shadow. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, he can make out the patterned quilts piled on top of her curled form. By the steady rise and fall of her chest, he knows that Jane is sleeping.

Creeping forward slowly, he pauses when his thighs press the edge of her bed. She shifts to her side, eyebrows knitting, a gust escaping her slack mouth.

The blue light of her alarm clock casts a glow on the curve of her nose and lips. With reluctance, he can admit that she is an attractive woman. But not exceedingly so.

What does she have that her brother cherishes so much?

He knows that he cannot permit her to live. Not in a form that is loved by Thor.

His hands inch their way towards the bed. The thought of snuffing out a life this way sends tremors down his arms, but he must quell any regret. That unwanted creep of guilt.

Resentment claws at his temples and blinds him. With a lunge, he grasps her neck, squeezing so hard that his fingers start to cramp. She jolts from her sleep, neck straining against his clutching hands. Her feet kick at him, but he covers her body with his own and pins her down, gasping at the force.

Something makes him look into her bulging eyes. He does not know why he must reassure her, but the words come anyway.

“You will be reborn,” he grunts out, “and your soul will go on.” Her hands claw at his shoulders with desperation, but he can tell that she is listening. “When you wake up, you will never know my brother. And in time, he will forget you.”

She is turning purple under his hands now, her lips tinged a sickly blue, and his stomach lurches. He pulls his hands away as she gasps a final breath, and he sends a flash of magic through his fingertips and into her chest.

She does not move. Leaning his face over, panting, he puts his cheek to her mouth and cannot feel the breath on her lips. Her eyes are gray and blank.

He feels nothing.

Exhausted, he collapses on her body, feeling boneless. He nestles his head into her breasts, right against that non-existent heart beat. Curling his arms around her motionless body, he shuts his eyes and allows sleep to claim him.

When he awakens in the dark caverns, he is unsurprised. From some distant place, a detached part off himself can hear the echo of Thor’s sorrowful cry.

It reverberates off the cave walls, forming deep cracks in the rocks. Loki imagines that the caverns crumble, boulders crashing down on top of him—his long-waited-for tomb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are grinning glow-fish he thinks idly, as he rouses to the feeling of water lapping at his skin. They swim around him lazily, and he reaches out to stroke the soft scaly bodies of a passing swarm.

Sighing, he tilts his head back into the water, feeling the warmth engulf his scalp. He gazes up at the bright crevasses of the soft-orange cavern. I am rising, he realizes, treading in place.

The gentle caress of waves over his body feels like a familiar embrace. It is easy to pretend that it is Thor’s body pressed against the flat plane of his stomach, that it is Thor’s arms reaching out to hold him close. He can smell the cleanness of his long blonde hair and taste the warm glint of golden skin.

And maybe some part of him knows he shouldn’t think like this, that it is abhorrently wrong to do so, but he cannot deny himself the alien feeling of comfort.

His body undulates in the water and he sighs with contentment. He hasn’t felt so rested, so calm since before his the announcement of his brother’s coronation. All he can think is I have loved you for as long as I can remember.

There are trivial things that rise out of the water and flush his mind with hope.

Dark red wine dripping down his brother’s chin at his coming-of-age feast. The way he winked at Loki from across the table as he wiped his mouth clean.

His brother’s strong shoulders flexing under his hands as he helped Thor clasp on his cape before an approaching battle.

A gold-bound book, a stolen treasure, that Thor has proudly presented to him after being gone to war for so many months. Even though Loki had found it boring, he’d kept it displayed on the special shelf of his bookcase, right next to his favorite volumes of magic and disguise.

He aches for his brother. Sinking his head under the water, he stares into the murky depths. More than anything, he longs for the sweet crisp air of home and the feeling of Thor’s embrace.

Eventually, he rises from the last of the caverns and finds himself sitting in familiar green fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loki stands in the garden at midnight, admiring the unfurling of pale, cream-colored funnels, their honeyed scent meeting his nose. Quick footsteps approach from behind, and he turns.

Thor is outlined by the flickering fire of the ever-burning lamps.

His brother’s voice comes out heavy with emotion. “I thought it might be you, when the guards alerted me to a presence in the garden. I dared to hope.”

Loki shifts under his brother scrutinizing gaze, plucking a flower from the stem.

“You hoped?”

Thor’s eyes soften. “Of course I did. I have done nothing but hope for your return.”

Loki grunts in disbelief. “Then I am pleasantly surprised, brother.”

“You still call me brother, then? You don’t have to. Father told me how he took you from the Jotuns.”

Loki shakes his head.

“You will always be my brother,” he says, a quiver creeping up his throat.

“And you, mine,” Thor answers.

“Oh, Thor,” Loki whispers, averting his eyes. “If only you knew what I have seen.”

“I can only imagine,” Thor says. “You have been gone for such a long time.”

Loki studies his brother’s face and startles at how much he has aged. Lines crease his forehead and the corners of his mouth. His eyes have grown old and weary.

“Father is dead,” Thor says, as if reading Loki’s thoughts. “I have been king for quite a while.”

And then Thor asks the question Loki has been expecting.

“You killed her?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” Thor asks, defeated.

Loki sees the confusion written on his face.

“I doubt you could ever truly understand. But I could not bear to have her live. She—she had you. And I couldn’t—” he trails off.

“Thor, do you remember how we used to joke about the mortals? Their foolish beliefs about gods and the idea of the soul? They are right about more things than we think. She—Jane—will be reborn.”

Thor takes a step towards him, his hair glistening under their white-gold moon. “It is over now,” he says, and Loki knows that the pain of Jane’s death has faded long ago.

“Loki—where have you been?”

He does not how to answer. “Hell.”

“Do not jest,” Thor says. “Surely the mortal idea of Hell is not real as well?”

Loki laughs sadly. “Where I was…I do not ever wish to speak of it. But I gained a lot of answers. About myself…and the universe. And despite everything, I have finally made it back to Asgard. I had to. Because more than anything, I must make amends with you, brother—before it is too late.”

Thor’s brow creases in confusion. “Before it is too late? Brother, I could have had you killed already if I had wanted to. You will never be harmed again. I will see to that.”

Loki bites his lip, tears gathering at the corners of his vision. “Thor, I am fading.”

“What are you talking about?”

Slowly, Loki raises a pale, trembling hand. He extends the fingertips, which have been completely blackened by shadow.

“My soul is dissolving, Thor. I am becoming black.”

“Loki, this is nonsense,” his brother says. “We are gods. We are everlasting. You will be fine.”

“Thor,” he says, mouth set in a grim line. “You may indeed live for what seems like forever. And when it is your time, you will pass on to your father and mother, and their fathers and mothers. But me? It is too late…for me.”

Loki’s eyes widen with fear and dread, and he remembers the horrifying suction of that dark whirlpool in space.

“When I was in that black hole, the things I saw.” He looks up, trembling. “I have seen behind the veil, Thor. And there is no going back. There is a great, gaping hole.

“And nothing more.”

Loki begins to shake violently, the sobs clawing at his chest. “Brother. Please. Forgive me.”

“You have already been forgiven,” Thor gasps. “For everything. But you must also forgive me. For not seeing how you suffered. For not preventing all of these horrible things from happening to you.”

Loki closes his eyes, letting the words wash over him and calm his pounding heart. He takes a step closer to Thor and looks up into that ancient, pain-etched face.

“Let us pretend, Loki,” Thor whispers, “that none of these things have happened. Let us forget.”

He raises his trembling face up to Thor. His brother’s eyes are softly lidded, and he finds himself lost in the earnest blueness of them.

“Loki,” he asks, “What do you want?”

He swallows a great lump, and his mouth runs dry.

Thor’s face is motionless in the moonlight, and he waits.

Closing the distance between them, Loki tilts his face up and softly grazes his lips against Thor’s. He stills, feeling Thor’s stuttering breaths ghosting over his cheek. And then he reaches up and twists a hand in his brother’s long hair, pressing their mouths together with more force, and the dam breaks.

Those strong arms come down around him, pulling Loki against the hard edges of armor.

I am sorry, he says with each wet bite on Thor’s chin and neck. Please forgive me for what I have done.

He unbuckles the armor from his brother’s shoulders, unclasping the cape. Capturing his brother’s lips again, he parts them with his tongue, sliding himself into the wet heat. Thor groans and Loki can taste the salty tears sliding down onto his lips.

He has waited for this moment for as long as he can remember, but no spark of desire grips him. There is too much desperation. There is too much finality, he knows, as he pulls Thor down to lay with him in the grass.

Thor moves to the caress the skin of his lower back, but Loki stops his hand. “Thor,” he whispers. “Let me just lay here with you.”

His brother freezes, but then his eyes melt with understanding. “Okay, Loki. If that is what you want.”

Thor hesitates before softly kissing him. “I love you.”

Loki begins to weep in the crook of Thor’s neck.

“That is all I want, Thor,” he chokes out. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Loki lies in his brother’s strong embrace, engulfed in his golden warmth, until sleep claims them both.

In the morning, when the sun peeks over the hedges and embraces Thor with light, he is not surprised to find that he is alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A long time after, Thor feels his brother’s presence at the furthermost deserts of Asgard, in the heart of the forbidden wasteland. With dread choking him, he grasps Mjolnir and flies into the sky, barely feeling the hot wind whipping his face as he plummets to the outskirts of his world.

When he sees Loki’s small form curled in the sand, he descends and drops his hammer at his feet.

“Loki,” he moans, pulling his brother’s wasting body into his arms. He has lost so much weight that he is nothing but bones, and his brother’s fists are clenched tightly in his lap, the knuckles protruding.

“I will help you,” he promises, stroking the bony planes of Loki’s face. “I will take you with me, and I will nurse you back to health.”

It can’t be too late. It can’t end like this.

“Thor,” Loki whispers, coughing weakly, “do you remember?”

“Remember what, brother?” Fat tears begin to track down his cheeks into his beard.

“Do you remember when we were children? In the garden? Do you remember what I promised you?”

A sudden fear grips Thor’s heart, and Loki’s green eyes start to fade.

“I do love you, Thor,” Loki whispers. “I always have.”

The worms riddle his chest with holes. Thor pulls Loki close, rocking him softly through his sobs.

“Thor, open my hand.”

He reaches down and begins to pry Loki’s fingers apart. When he sees it, all the breath flies out of his chest and suddenly he can’t see through the wall of water.

“Loki, no. No.”

From his cupped palm shines the unbearable light of a black sunflower.

“Thor, it will shine for only a while,” Loki rasps. “But in its ashes, I can be reborn.”

He pulls Thor’s face down, brushing his mouth over his brother’s shaking lips.

“I will have a second chance.”

“Loki,” Thor weeps, cradling his head, “I promise—I will look for you.”

Loki smiles, happiness cracking his cheeks, and his green eyes shine brightly for a moment before going dull. Loki does not move in his arms, and Thor curls over him, an anguished wail pulled deep from his chest.

Loki’s body begins to glimmer, and suddenly, Thor is holding nothing but air, and the black sunflower floats softly to the sand. Thor looks upon its terrible beauty, and as it shines, it nearly blinds him.

Without warning, it suddenly crumbles to ash, and Thor feels the last of himself crack.

A great gust comes, and the dust of the flower plumes into the air. For a moment, it hangs suspended in the sky, blocking out the light. And Thor is shadowed by the horrible dark orb of a black sun.