Thor can feel it. The cracked, hot concrete beneath his knees. The smell of explosions and death. Smoke. Blood. The sound of his own heart and the wheezing breaths bursting forth from his brother's lips as though with great effort.
The sun makes the vapour glint. It lights up the green of Loki's eyes with a cruel mimicry of life even after his heart has gone still under Thor's hand.
It cannot be. Cannot. Not him. Never him.
"Loki," he whispers, and there is something breaking, something coming undone inside as he holds that body close. His hands are red. Loki's face is so white. "Brother."
It has to be an illusion. A nightmare. A lie.
It's not the truth. Never the truth.
Loki could've dodged. He could have. Thor knows that. He knows that because his heart just wasn't in the attack, not before, not then. He was slow. Loki was fast.
He could have avoided the hit. But he didn't.
"Why?" Thor rasps out, grits his teeth and lowers his head. His brother's blood is slowly cooling on his fingers and mixing with the first drops of rain.
Why didn't he? Why wouldn't he?
There are men rushing in, wanting to tend to his wounds but Thor brushes them off like the pests they are. And if his blood mixes with that of his brother, who says it is not right? Who says it is not just?
There is thunder overhead.
"Thor? We need you to let the medical team take a look at--"
It's a fool's hope. Thor knows that, but he allows them anyway. He watches as they fight the violent gushes of wind, the steel harsh rain in order to perform their task. Faintly he is aware that the drops are steadily turning to ice and Coulson is already giving orders to hurry up with the evacuation of the immediate area.
Soon enough the man has to yell above the sound of the elements and so do the medics.
They have machines that are supposed to count signs of life -- heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure, body temperature. Things Thor knows little about and cares even less. He tangles a hand in that black hair, smoothing it over. His fingers slide down to his brother's temple, leaving an ugly stain of blood there. Slowly, Thor closes those impossibly green eyes, gently pressing a kiss to each lid. This is not real. It cannot be real. So he holds Loki's body in an iron grip and lets them touch it. Measure it.
Lightning breaks a nearby skyscraper in half.
Three days. Three nights. As is tradition.
Thor keeps vigil over his brother's body. Not a bite of food, not a sip of drink. His clothes are barely more than rags, the fabric giving way easily to the strength of his hands. The ashes of the destruction he has caused still cling to his skin, his hair.
He does not move to wash it off. He does not speak.
Occasionally, the rest of the team members drop by, alone or together. They always find him there by the bed, holding his brother's hand, fierce blue eyes pleading life from the body. They offer words of comfort and remain unacknowledged.
As is tradition.
They never pay their respects and Thor doesn't ask them to. They could never understand. How could they when Thor himself cannot.
He just wants to know why.
Just wants a chance.
The silence is suffocating. The space. He had no idea it was even there until there was no more Loki to fill it. It's cold and dark, like Jotunheim winter. A nothing. A lack. Echoing pain, spreading until it feels like he has Fenrir's fanged jaws squeezed tight around his heart. How much of it is grief, how much is anger and guilt, he couldn't say.
He just knows it's tearing him apart.
His little brother lying slain by his own treacherous hands.
Light fades. Light wakes. Time drips slowly into a grief of eternity.
Four thousand three hundred and twenty minutes.
Thor has no idea where Coulson found the ship. Nor does he care. As long as they comply with his requests and don't ask too many questions. The night he chooses is of the new moon, when the silver is swallowed by the wolf.
The coast is abandoned, as it should be. Only the people closest to him have come. Thor didn't expect them to, but they have come. It feels right, somehow. Only his brother's enemies are present, but their respect for his feats and parting will accompany Loki's soul on the journey with the raven's wings. It might not be the burial Loki deserves, but it is still good enough.
For a moment, Thor closes his eyes, then steps forward. The parting of a warrior is not rare with his people, but he has never imagined he would have to speak the familiar words over his own brother's body. They come to him with difficulty and each one of them feels as though he is letting go of pieces of his own heart.
Too much to give. Too little.
He falls silent for a while. The torchlight dances wildly in the wind. "You have been nothing but most treasured in my heart," Thor adds eventually. "I shall wield my weapon for the good cause, but with the prayer that death will be fast on the wings. In the Halls of Glory may you placate your troubles, brother, until that day."
The fire spreads fast, bursting forth to consume everything in its way. The water is dark beneath, reflecting the light like molten gold on the surface. In the silence, there is nothing but the wind, the waves and the roar of the flames.
Under the disbelieving stare of his friends, Thor takes a dagger and his hand never shaking he drags it across his face.
Tears and blood. As is tradition.
He should be too tired. He should sleep, but even that small mercy avoids him. And so he lies in bed and stares into the darkness, the slow route of city lights crawling across the walls. Light that cannot touch the darkness within. Somewhere on the brink of sleep and wakefulness he thinks he catches a glimpse of green like moonlight on broken glass. A whisper like a lover's kiss laden with slow killing poison.
See, this is how it feels to lose a brother.
Thor sleeps, and he dreams of his childhood, the two of them in the fragrant summer grass. They would play, hide and seek, tag, fall tumbling to the ground and get their clothes dirty. They would lay panting and yet unable to stop laughing.
He dreams of the sun pouring down like molten heat, and Loki turning the clouds into shapes of dragons and wolves, spinning endless stories about them for their amusement.
Come morning, Tony mistakenly takes Thor's appearance at the breakfast table as a sign of encouragement and inquires in a rather pointed manner if, grief or no grief, they would be able to see the sun any time soon.
His question is answered by the rain pouring in through a hole in the ceiling.
The first time Thor catches sight of him they are in the heat of battle. He freezes right in the middle of it, and it takes Steve screaming bloody hell at him to snap him out of that one. He doesn't tell them what happened. It's foolish, Thor knows that.
There is no way he could've seen his brother. And so he doesn't say anything.
The next time it happens it takes a concentrated effort from Tony and Clint to prevent some serious damage coming his way. Fury is, well, furious, and with good reason. The repair costs of the debriefing that follows don't exactly do much to make him any happier.
Thor drives himself to absolute exhaustion and wonders if he is losing his mind.
In the back of his mind, that small voice that sometimes haunts his darkest hours laughs.
Long live the prince, brother.
Thor sleeps, but it's not easy. He dreams of rain, of mud that almost reaches up to the knees of the horses. Of Loki's cry of victory as his little brother's spear fells their prey. He dreams of laughter around the fireplace and Loki's eyes as he is falling away into nothingness.
He wakes screaming to the sound of thunder outside.
"I've seen him." The sentence seems so simple, but Jane is bright. Jane understands. It's in the way she stops dead on her tracks and cranes her head to look at Thor.
"You have seen..." she leaves it hanging, even though it's not really a question.
"My brother." Thor nods.
Is it madness? Is it?
"Tell me about it," Jane says, and for the first time in weeks Thor feels some semblance of relief.
He tells her of each occasion. The ones on the battlefield. The vision of Loki in his teen years that laughed at him in a park and disappeared into the crowd. The image of his brother flashing at the edge of his vision here and there, taunting him and making that void inside ache anew. He tells her about the child Loki running across the main hall of the SHIELD HQ as well as the grown up one that would sometimes watch him from the shadows at night. In his very own room, nonetheless. It is starting to get on his nerves.
And perhaps the worst thing is that Thor would rather wish for it to go on than to make it stop. For the sole reason that as long as he can see his brother, a part of him can surge with hope, giving him an illusion that Loki isn't lost to him, that he is still here, in this realm, lingering.
An illusion that somehow all of this is mendable.
And why not? After all, the Bifrost is still broken, the connection lost. Loki might have been one to traverse the passages between the realms freely, but who can tell what awaits a soul ripped from its destined place. Thor knows Jane doesn't believe this, even though she is sympathetic and gentle in her ways. But when all is said and done, she is just being considerate.
And it's not enough.
Her kind does not believe in ghosts, in magic, in legend. They have forgotten its ancient wisdom and dismiss it casually into the world of lore. Thor knows better. Thor also needs to believe this, he needs to, because otherwise he really would go mad, insane, swallowed by that hollow darkness inside just like the moon.
One morning, they wait for him in vain.
They turn his room upside down, but find nothing. As a final courtesy the bed is perfectly made, a fact that is about as disarming as it is infuriating. In the end, the Avengers and SHIELD find their clue in the strange symbols written into condensed vapour on the mirror in the bathroom. It takes the lab a little while to translate it. Not that it's much help.
Now give us a kiss, it says.
It seems so long, even though it's nothing, petty compared to the lives of mortals and even more so for an immortal. Still, Thor is impatient in his search. He also knows his brother. And that perhaps makes it all the worse. Never knowing what to look for, except hope that he is not misreading the signs.
Luck shines on him on a gloomy Tuesday morning. The man's hair is shorter, different, and his clothes are elegant but casual. The face is that of his little brother, Thor has not a trace of doubt about that one.
"Loki!" he calls out, the impulse so strong he perhaps wouldn't be able to help himself if he wanted to. The other doesn't bat an eyelash though. "Loki!" Thor repeats, louder this time. He catches up to the man and puts a heavy hand on his shoulder.
The person turns. Green eyes, so green Thor just wants to cry at the way they pull all strength from him, cracking his heart open even as they kiss his soul better. It is frost on glass and blood mixed with tears, sunshine on jarred metal and firelight on the waves.
"Excuse me, do I know you?" the man asks with a light frown and Thor feels his hope crushed and broken in a cruel parody of his own broken promises of love and protection that have turned on him like a pack of feral beasts, haunting him so.
"I'm sorry," Thor finds himself blurting out, an admission and a confession. A plea for enough, for mercy. But there is also relief, consolation in the words that is both inexplicable and unexpected. So he repeats them and this time his voice doesn't break.
"Happens to the best of us," the stranger smiles politely, and Thor realises he is still holding onto the other. He lets his hand fall with a mumbled apology. "Name's Tom, by the way."
"Nice to meet you. Say, fancy a coffee?"
Thor has half the heart to refuse, but those green eyes pull him in once again, and he agrees before thinking about it. There is a nice little place nearby, wrought iron furniture and fresh flowers on the tables. Tom is chatty and Thor gives his replies absently, too focused on all those little mannerisms of this man that remind Thor of Loki's delicate grace so.
"So, you are looking for your brother, you say." Tom crosses his legs, taking a sip of his coffee. Thor just nods. It feels a little awkward talking to this man, but it also feels right. "As things stand, you might have just come to the right place, then."
"Do you think you can you help me?" Thor demands, perking up. The other smiles and it reminds him of Loki's daggers, thin, silver smooth and poised to slide into your back.
"Maybe. Maybe not. Depends."
"On what you are willing to sacrifice for your brother's sake." Those green eyes study his every move with hawk-like intensity, and Thor lowers his gaze.
"Everything," he manages to push past his lips.
"Well, ain't that just perfect," the man purrs, but Thor is still looking at his cup, missing those green eyes momentarily flashing a deep red.
Sometimes you really are just too easy.