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Weary and Wary

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More than anything else, Loki is tired.

Yes, he is furious and he is hurt and he is bitter and he is a trifle terrified—but at the same time he is drained and not in a state to give his other feelings much attention. While he was in the custody of his brother’s little team, the adrenalin which still coursed through his veins disallowed him to appreciate the small reprieve. But now he is in Asgard, being marched to Odin’s throne room, and his bones creak and ache with every step. He would like very little more than to fall to the ground and sink down, down, down into nothingness, as he did when he fell so many months ago. But Thor’s firm hand is on the small of his back, the other hand resting on Mjolnir where it hangs at his hip, and so Loki walks.

The throne room, when they reach it, is empty but for Odin and Frigga and a few guards who are immediately sent away—‘The entire would-be family together again,’ Loki thinks, but the thought loses most of its venom before it is even fully developed. His adoptive mother looks horrorstricken at the sight of Loki—Loki, whose ways with magic have up until now been able to keep him from the worst of battle. She’s never seen him like this, bruised and bleeding and broken. Loki would like to take satisfaction from her distress—but instead his mind supplies him with the childhood memory of crawling across the covers of her expansive bed to nestle at her side, his little face in the crook of her neck while she ran fingers through his hair. Obviously such an action now would be preposterous—but the sentiment feels the same and her body lurches a half-step forward, towards him in all his disgrace and exhaustion, obviously wishing to comfort.

He drops his gaze to the floor.

Thor’s hand has moved to the back of his neck, the gesture familiar and full of all the tenderness Loki is too weary to rail against. The hand tightens when Odin begins to speak, and Loki’s overtaxed and traitorous mind decides to focus on the heat of that hand rather than the Allfather’s words. After a few moments he slowly slides his eyes to his not-brother’s face—Thor’s jaw is taut but his eyes are soft with what Loki recognizes as cautious relief.

‘So I’m to be punished, but not to die,’ Loki realizes, and then he hates himself for the ease with which he is able to read the Thor’s face. Still, he feels a wave of his own relief crash over him, and it’s almost too much. He sags where he stands, leaning heavily into his brother’s touch, and Thor—for all that he is exhausted as well—holds him up without drawing any attention to the subtle shift in their balance. Loki thinks, ‘I could sleep like this,’ and his eyelids do flutter heavily. If he ever is allowed to sleep again, he’ll hate himself all the more upon awakening for this display of weakness, just as he’ll hate his false brother and father and mother for everything they ever did or did not do. He’ll hiss and he’ll spit and he’ll curse their names from whichever place they hole him away in, if only he could catch a little rest. But for now Loki is tired and doesn’t want to fight anymore.

The vague rumble of Odin’s speech ceases and is replaced by Thor’s voice, somber and booming as rolling thunder itself, and father and son speak for a few minutes—and Loki is too distracted to listen until his brother’s voice is suddenly quiet and close to his ear, breath hot on his skin.

“Come, brother. We can go now.”

Loki meets Thor’s gaze and is almost instantly overwhelmed by the unmasked emotion he sees there. Guarded hope and foolish love and deep unhappiness—Loki has to break his gaze away again and mentally blames it on his fatigue. Thor’s hand—which does not seem to have left Loki’s body since their arrival in Asgard—returns to the small of Loki’s back and presses softly forward. Loki makes a deliberate effort to leave the room with as much dignity and grace as he would any other day of his life. It is not until the doors of the throne room have slammed shut that he realizes that he very well may have just seen his false parents for the last time in his life.

He stops moving then, going rigid and still as a corpse. Thor nearly trips and he looks at Loki with not a little confusion. Loki doesn’t return the gaze. Instead he stares straight forward, eyes wide and empty, and the reality of his loss finally crashes down on him. Cold tears spring from his eyes of their own volition—Loki never knew that tears were meant to be warm, growing up, and he does cry so easily. He can feel Thor staring at him, knows that those blue eyes are tracing his worn face and his trembling body, and he is so tired.

“Loki,” Thor whispers because he might understand and he might not. “Brother, no,” and the words come so softly that Loki has to look at him to be sure he did in fact speak. As soon as their gazes meet once more, Thor pitches forward, putting both hands on the back of Loki’s neck, and Loki tenses so swiftly that he surely strains a muscle—but then he hears a crisp click and his strange muzzle falls away. It clatters sharply against the elegant tiles, echoing faintly in the sprawling hall. Loki stares vacantly at the muzzle before Thor kicks it away; it bounces loudly several feet down the hall and Loki keeps his eyes on it the entire time. He opens his mouth once, twice, stretching the sore muscles, but he doesn’t speak, can’t think of anything to say, which is distressing in and of itself. Loki always knows what to say. But now that his silver tongue is free it has turned to lead, so he simply nods and tries not to look at Thor as he reluctantly motions that he is ready to keep moving. Thor returns the nod and this time places his hand between his not-brother’s shoulder-blades.

--

Loki knows about the dungeons. As children, whenever the humor of Thor’s little gaggle of friends got particularly dark, they would play in the dungeons, running around the dark and the must. Asgardian warriors are not usually the first to take prisoners, so the cells were almost never occupied; they would rattle the doors of the cells and pretend that the ghosts of prisoners were still inside and eager to escape. The game would always end with one or the other of the group shrieking and running back into the palace proper, chased by their cackling comrades.

Loki is not frightened, then, when they reach the dungeons. Although he has never seen the inside of a single cell, he has never believed that any of them contain an apparatus of torture; the few times the little gang had been unlucky enough to discover a prisoner in one of these cells, they could hear no screams coming from the unfortunate resident. It was often rather just deranged muttering or even low growling. Loki has reason to believe that the harsher punishments take place within different walls than these, dark and dangerous rooms barred to the children. Perhaps this is the cause of the hope he’d seen in Thor’s eyes; perhaps Thor understands as well that this place is not to be the site of Loki’s ultimate undoing. Still, that doesn’t make much sense. The Allfather ought to have had Loki drawn and quartered, allowed to heal, and then done it over and over again for centuries. Objectively, allowing Loki to rot in a cell ‘til the end of time does not seem a fitting punishment for his crimes.

Thor, in what seems like an unlikely burst of insight, gently rubs a circle into Loki’s back and, as he moves the two of them ever closer to the last cell in the long corridor, whispers, “Father does not know what to do with you. But, brother, I swear this on the love you and I once shared: I will allow you to come to no further harm.” He pauses in front of the final door and stares hard into Loki’s eyes and Loki says nothing. He sways on his feet and thinks, ‘He believes I no longer reserve any love for him.’ Even if he were in a state of mind worthy of this conversation, he is unsure that he would know what to think or say. Loki has spent millennia loving Thor and only a few short human months hating him. What does he feel?

He considers opening his mouth, just to see if words will flow once the tap is open, but Thor obviously does not expect a response and turns to the door—which does not appear to have a handle. Instead Thor presses a flat hand to the center of the door, and—and the metal glows red around the Thunderer’s fingers for a few short seconds before the door creaks open of its own power. Even in his addled state, Loki understands the magic instantly; until such time as Thor desires the spell to be broken, this door will only open at Thor’s touch, or at the touch of someone willed by Thor to open it. It is ingenious, really; it will keep Loki in and all other would-be punishers out. It also means that, unless he is unavailable, Thor will be Loki’s sole benefactor during his time in this cell. A dull ache creeps up from the base of Loki’s skull, across his temples, brushing tendrils against his forehead before settling behind his eyes. He squeezes them shut as Thor guides him into the room, raising his manacled hands to press his fingertips against them. Thor sees him do this and, as quickly as he removed the muzzle, reaches over and unclasps the chains, allowing them to clink to the floor. At the same instant the door slams shut.

Loki thinks, ‘You are too quick to trust,’ and then, ‘No, you are too slow to distrust.’ But he makes no move to attack, knows he could never overpower him in this—or likely any other—state. Instead he looks around the cell—and realizes it’s really more of a room. An ornate rug sprawls across the stone floors and rather decent furnishings stand in those stone margins—a decently large wardrobe, a four-poster bed, a couple of empty bookshelves, and a sectioned-off corner that surely hides what he needs for his daily toilet. Above the bed there is even a window with thick glass that allows a thin trickle of starlight to dimly light the room. For all that Loki feels that he should make some comment about how un-cell-like this cell is, he would like nothing better than to fall across the bed, armor and all, and sleep for three centuries. Still, he looks back to his brother with uncomprehending eyes and Thor shrugs, suddenly seeming awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin.

“On Midgard, they—not everyone, but some of them have a theory that rehabilitation is preferable to punishment, that it is more…effective.” He smiles crookedly. “I did say this to Father, but I don’t imagine you were listening. You looked dead on your feet in the—” He cuts himself off, sobers. “I meant what I said, brother. Although I seem to be the sole creature in existence who feels this way, I know that goodness still hides within you, beneath your madness and bitterness”—Loki pointedly does not flinch—“and until the day that that goodness resurfaces, I shall protect you.”

Loki would like to feel touched, but instead he remembers ‘You will long for something sweet as pain,’ thinks, ‘You can’t,’ and then says as much.

Thor’s eyebrows jump; obviously he’d resigned himself to never hearing Loki’s voice again. “Can’t what? Protect you? Brother, I will handle our father; I will help him understand—”

“It is not Odin I—” But he will not say the word ‘fear’, so instead he murmurs, “Out there in this infinitely vast universe, the Chitauri hunger for the Tesseract and for my blood. I do believe they shall find both. There is no one who can protect me.”

Thor’s brows are low over his eyes. “I won’t allow it. I’d destroy them all if they ever tried.”

Loki scoffs and almost regrets his next retort before it even leaves his mouth: “I think I remember you telling me once that one cannot simply destroy an entire race.”

As expected, Thor balks. More emotions than Loki can catch flit over his brother’s face and Loki, weary of Thor and of himself, turns away to finally, finally, lay himself down.

“Brother,” Thor says, unsure, “your armor,” but Loki waves the thought away with a low grumble. Already his eyes are closed and his body has become heavy and unwieldy, which ought to feel foolish, being that Loki’s declared enemy is still in the room, but he doesn’t believe Thor will choose this moment to bash his head in. He does hear Thor shuffle closer, though, padding across the rug until he is obviously beside the bed; Loki is unsurprised when a warm hand presses lightly against the back of his neck, when warm fingers card once through his hair. He does not object, does not move a muscle. He breathes and he aches and he is so close to sleep.

“I will come back,” his brother promises so solemnly that Loki almost cannot believe that this is the god he grew up with. And although he knew that of course Thor would come back, Loki cannot fight the wave of relief that returns to wash over him once more, much as he’d like to.

Very soon, Thor’s presence is gone, punctuated by the sound of the cell door creaking open and closed. A strange and yet somehow familiar sense of bereavement vies for attention at the pit of Loki’s heart, but he ignores it with practiced ease. He just doesn’t have the energy for it. Instead, he does his best to empty his mind and, after a short time, he sleeps.

The sleep is not dreamless, of course, and the dreams are not pleasant. He dreams of tiny, ineffective knives, of icy blue light, of ‘no, Loki’ and ‘you think you know pain’ and ‘Asgardian justice’, and of falling—endless, endless falling.

--

When he wakes, he is disoriented and not rested at all. For a moment, addled by his long, shoddy sleep, he is frightened and leaps from the unfamiliar bed. He stumbles a little as the blood rushes from his head, and it’s when he leans against one of the bedposts that he finally wakes up enough to come to his senses. Then he lets out a little, frustrated growl and kicks at the leg of the bed, as though that will allow him to recover some dignity. But, no, he is in a state beyond dignity—he is drenched in sweat, his clothes cling to his skin, his greasy hair, where it is not plastered to his face and neck, stands up in all directions, and his stomach gurgles loudly and painfully.

Dark in face and in mood, he looks about the room for something he can destroy—but he is distracted by the fact that, across the room, one of the empty bookshelves he’d noticed before is now occupied by a dozen or so large, familiar tomes. He scurries towards them and immediately presses a hand flat against their wide, weathered spines, not quite grinning. These books are from his personal chambers, and some of his favorite ones at that. Two or three of these he’s read cover to cover at least five times, and the rest he’s read at least twice. Most of them are spell-books, yes, but a few are histories and one is even a book of legends. He tries not to smile fondly, knowing where these came from, but a tiny smirk does make an appearance on his lips. He wonders if he ought to feel unnerved at the fact that Thor, the great lummox, was able to sneak into the room while Loki slept—probably making a few trips—in order to deliver these gifts. He imagines that Thor must have been able to tell that his sleep was not peaceful; they did share a bedroom, once upon a time, and neither of them went through his childhood without witnessing the other suffer through a nightmare. Perhaps Thor had wanted to wake Loki but dared not. Perhaps he stood by Loki’s bed for a minute, two, maybe, wishing to comfort but unwilling to face more of Loki’s wrath.

The thought does strange things to Loki’s heart, so he banishes it, focusing on his books once more—that’s when he sees it. Hiding between two of the thickest tomes is a tall, relatively thin book with a plain leather spine; it would be completely unremarkable were it not for the fact that this book does not in fact belong to Loki—it is Thor’s. Loki recognizes it immediately. It’s a child’s book, one about the various animals of the Nine Realms, filled with somewhat mediocre ink illustrations of each beast along with short descriptions of their habits and natural habitats; it was the only book Thor ever deigned to have in his own possession. He was immensely proud of it as a child; he would often recite the descriptions as though they were great epics, and then he would chase one friend or another as though he were the animal he had just described. Even after having outgrown such games, Thor has always kept this book safe in his chambers, disallowing it to be lost or damaged.

Loki does not know how to feel, seeing this book among his own. He picks it up, holds it gingerly in his hands, and flips through it quickly and with vague curiosity. For a wild instant he imagines opening the tap in the washroom and holding the book open beneath the stream. He sees the pages curling, sees the ink blurring, swirling, flowing off the pages and onto his pale fingertips. He sees the ruined leather, the worthless relic of a lost childhood, imagines placing the book in a visible spot in the room for Thor to find the next time he visits. He sees Thor’s face upon viewing the destroyed gift, sees the strain and hurt in his eyes—

Loki replaces the book in-between the two tomes and pads into the washroom empty-handed. Behind the partition he peels his clothes off slowly, mindful of the myriad of sticky cuts that cling to his clothes. His skin is mottled with creases from sleeping so long in such uncomfortable attire, and these of course are only additions to the damage he sustained in battle. His bruises are still a deep, fresh purple and his cuts are still an angry red, quite newly scabbed over, facts which would infuriate him if he weren’t so fatigued. Asgardians heal quite rapidly; while Loki does heal quickly compared to humans, his healing powers are not what they would be if he were truly of Odin’s ilk. As a younger, more naïve god, he’d thought this was a peculiar disorder but never thought much of it. Now he knows it ought to have been the first clue to his true heritage. Jotun are intrinsically inferior to Asgardians. Loki knows this, truly believes it.

Sighing, Loki opens the tap to the bath, a deep rectangular, tiled hole in the ground that is just small enough that he will not be able to completely stretch out once inside unless he decides to nestle diagonally into a sharp, uncomfortable corner. Still, the water from the tap is instantly hot and there are a few cakes of clean soap by the edge of the bath, which seems like more than Loki ought to have received. He only waits until the tub is half-empty before he slips in. He’s not overly fond of water and has never relished the idea of being completely submerged in it. He wonders vaguely if this is another Jotun quirk, if perhaps what he instinctively fears is melting away in the hot water. He wonders if anything to do with him is actually a trait of his own, or if everything about him is simply a hateful inheritance from his hateful ancestors.

Then he curses, low and unspeakably bitter, and allows the tap to run until the water is past his shoulders.

It’s a mistake, obviously, partly because he sloshes water onto the floor with every movement and partly because it’s impossible to lather his body in soap when the suds dissolve upon touching the water. The only thing he really manages to wash is his filthy hair, but somehow just that soothes him a bit. And, at the very least, the heat of the water lessens the ache in his bones and flesh by a few delicious degrees. He opens the drain and does actually lean back into one of the corners, heedless of the way the edges of the bath dig into his neck as he sprawls out to his full length, eyes closed.

The water drains slowly, and it’s only a quarter of the way done when he hears the distinctive creak of his cell’s door opening. He’s languid enough at this point that he doesn’t go still, but he does throw his eyes around the room for a towel or a dressing gown. He doesn’t see one and he smirks rather than scowls. He can hear Thor’s footsteps falter on the stone floor as he notices Loki missing from the main room. His smirk grows. He wonders if Thor can hear the draining water or if his absence is a complete, terrifying mystery. Loki can picture Thor frantically eyeing every inch of the room, can imagine him taking in a breath to shout Loki’s name—

“Have you brought more books for me?” he calls out instead of allowing Thor to go mad. He hears the shuffling of feet close to the partition and now he’s smiling despite himself. Surely the smile is audible in his voice, damn it all.

Thor’s voice returns the smile with all sincerity. “No, but I have brought food.” A pause, short and thoughtful. “I assume you are indecent.”

Loki very carefully refrains from laughing but says, “Nothing you haven’t seen before,” which is true. As brothers they would sometimes share long soaks together in the ornate royal baths, even if Loki would stay sitting on the steps in the shallows while Thor simmered luxuriously in the deeper waters. He says, “Is that wardrobe empty or can you bring me something clean to wear?”

“It was empty,” Thor replies, sounding farther away, “but now it is not.” His voice is close again very soon. “I’ve been getting much done while you’ve been asleep, brother.”

“Is that so? “Loki drawls, sounding bored and quite purposefully not touched. “And how long has that been, exactly?” He slowly mounts the short steps which lead the way out of the bath as Thor cracks open the partition and thrusts in a fistful of clothes and one large towel. It does not take long to dry himself, although his longish hair does prove to be more stubborn. He ought to cut it, although he’s not sure how exactly he’s going to accomplish such a feat. Though this prison cell is rather generously furnished, he doubts the Asgardians have been so gracious as to provide him with a knife of even scissors.

As he considers this, Thor says, “Almost three days, if you can believe it. Today I decided to wake you by force if you had not already chosen to do so yourself.” He gives an almost set-conscious laugh. “Luckily it did not come to that. I am glad to see you awake.”

Loki thinks, ‘You have not seen me yet,’ but says nothing, suddenly a trifle uncomfortable with the camaraderie between the two of them. It is easier to quash the antagonism which lurks within his heart, but he is not sure he wants Thor to believe all is forgiven. It isn’t. He knows that this is partially—if not entirely—his fault, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not allowed to hold onto some bitterness. It’s all he seems to have, sometimes. So he dresses in silence.

He recognizes the outfit that he’s been handed—the mint-green, gauzy tunic with the soft leather leggings; it is a well-worn relic of his teenage years, something he would don when he felt like visiting the royal gardens or napping under a tree in the warm Asgardian summers. He has not seen the garments in years. Thor would have had to dig deep into Loki’s personal chest of drawers in order to find them. Loki does not know how to feel about this, just as he does not know what message Thor is trying to send by presenting him with them. He decides not to ask, because he knows that Thor will simply spew further sentiment at him, and Loki is not sure he has the energy for another redundant argument.

(Also, the outfit is so very comfortable that Loki doesn’t really want to complain overmuch, but he shall admit no such thing.)

When Loki emerges from the washroom, he finds that Thor has already sat himself at the foot of Loki’s bed picking at a plate of food on his lap, a second one silting closer to the pillow. Loki tries not to grimace (where else would Thor sit, being that there are no chairs in the room?) but something in his face obviously reveals his displeasure because Thor, who’d looked up to smile at his adopted brother’s entrance, suddenly looks quite solemn. Before a further word passes between the two of them, Thor moves to sit on the floor with his back against the bedframe, leaving the entire mattress to Loki’s usage. Loki takes advantage of the gesture, and for a little while they eat in silence. In a way, this interaction is a bit of a throwback to happier, more companionable times; as children they would often partake in meals with one another, alone in the sanctity of their shared bedroom. While the habit weakened in their teenage years when Thor received the gift of his own chambers, it did not die until after they’d reached adulthood. But, unlike now, they took those meals side-by-side and were never silent. Thor always had something to say, and even if Loki was never as boisterous as his brother, he could always contribute something to the conversation. Staring only at their plates in the loud, sulky silence—with Loki dressed in the clothes of his youth—they are a parody of their boyhood selves. The fact of the matter hits Loki square in the chest, sharper than he would have ever imagined; for all his bitterness, he misses being Thor’s brother, misses is wretchedly. Desperate, he tries to sigh, just to fill a bit of the damned silence, but the air catches in his throat and the sound comes out instead like a shameful, shuddering gasp.

Thor’s eyes are on him immediately, because where else would they be? Even if Loki has spent his life in Thor’s shadow, Thor has always been facing Loki while he cast it, wanting to share the sun and unaware that the gesture was impossible. Loki would never dare claim that he has been neglected by Thor.

“Loki, what is it?” Thor implores, and Loki wonders if Thor will ever be immune to his tears.

“I’m so tired,” he pants, and it’s so true. Temporarily soothing as the bath was, Loki can’t imagine he’ll ever again be anything but exhausted, not while he can’t even eat near his brother without hating himself. “What’s to become of me?” He means it self-deprecatingly, means to lighten the mood and throw Thor off his scent. He doesn’t mean for it to come out like a whimper, and he certainly doesn’t mean to be literal about it—but Thor takes it that way anyway. Thor has always taken things too literally. It makes him easy to trick, Loki knows, but it also keeps one from wanting to trick him.

“No harm shall come to you, my brother. I already promised you that. Not from Father, nor from any other threat.” He tries to get up on his knees to reach out and touch Loki, but the motion pulls at his side, at the knife-wound Loki gave him so recently, too recently to have completely healed yet, and he pauses where he is in order to wait out the sting.

Loki stares down at his not-brother and chokes on his own breath. He’s so pathetic. His ambitions are little and he lacks conviction. He dropped his brother from the sky and yet knew that nothing on Earth can kill an Asgardian. He stabbed his brother in the kidney, but the dagger was puny and he knew it would cause little more than temporary discomfort and distraction. Now he can hardly bear to observe the effects of the meager attack. He can’t kill Thor, just as he can’t sit here and allow Thor to offer love that is so obviously wasted on him. He thinks, ‘You ought to rejoice when harm comes to me, your natural enemy, your false brother with a hailstone instead of a heart,’ and he rasps, “You did. You did. But is it a wise promise?”

Thor stares at him and for a moment Loki is terrified that his thoughts are clear on his face. He expects Thor to anger, but he doesn’t. He looks at Loki with some profound feeling that Loki feels he ought to reject, whether it be pain or love or both. “Do you know,” Thor whispers as he watches Loki blink away tears, his tone similar to that which he might use to speak to a temperamental child, “that, as King, I would have had you rule beside me? No queen would have taken your place. I would have listened to no dissent, not even if it had been from the Allfather himself. I would have even figured out a way to procure an heir when the time came.” He pauses and sucks in a long breath, but he doesn’t break his gaze away. “It could have been perfect, in its own way.”

Loki thinks, wildly, ‘I could have given you an heir,’ but says nothing. Thor doesn’t expect him to say anything, as it is.

Thor says, “But you didn’t trust me. You thought you knew better. You tricked me. And perhaps you were right to do it. I was unwise then, too young and too proud for a crown. You knew that, just as you think you know that I am unwise now. But I have grown, brother,” and that’s true, too. The Thor that Loki had helped banish over a year ago is gone now. The god before him now is a changed man, his earnestness more solemn than exuberant. Loki appreciates the change but he also mourns it. A wiser god may protect Loki, but he should not forgive him and he certainly should not love him.

So he says, “Please do not hate me,” because he knows that, in all truth, he couldn’t bear it. His own hatred is easy to handle. Thor’s is unthinkable.

Thor seems to agree. His eyebrows climb up his forehead and this time he does clamber up onto the bed. He puts a hand to Loki’s neck, his fingers brushing against the ends of the clean, soft hair. “You do not listen. You wonder if I’m unwise in my defense of you. I’m saying I am not. This is something I can do and something I must do, because I must regain your trust. I must be wise and you must be trusting. Do you understand at all?”

Loki closes his eyes for just a moment and nods erratically. “Yes,” he says, earnest in a way a trickster god—no, a Frost Giant—has no right to be.

“I could never hate you,” Thor murmurs, “even though there are many who think I ought to,” A gentle laugh, a little pat on the side of the neck, because he must know that Loki is one of those people. “It is a weakness, I know, this sentimentality of mine. But it is a weakness I welcome.”

Loki thinks, ‘It is a weakness that could very easily kill you,’ but then he remembers that Thor is very difficult to kill. He gives a little head-bob that means neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’, and Thor laughs again. Predictably drained by this conversation, Loki is ready to sleep again, knowing also that his body is not quite recovered enough for him to go about his day normally. But he does open his eyes to look at Thor, holding himself stiffly, a small defense against an unknown enemy. “Thank you,” he says, “for bringing me food. And my clothes. And my books.” He drops his gaze. He does not say, “And your book,” but he thinks it very clearly.

He says no more, is unwilling to say more, and Thor understands. He uses his hand on Loki’s neck to pull him closer and then he kisses Loki’s forehead. It is unbearably gentle, painful, even, but Loki does not struggle. As Thor leans away from Loki he says, “Of course,” because he means it, and as he leaves he says, “I will come back,” because he means that even more.

He does come back. Sometimes he must travel to Midgard to assist his team in battle, but he always comes back. They eat. They talk. They fight. They laugh. Sometimes they even sleep.

And, very, very slowly, they heal.