Fighting the Serpent had been almost as terrifying as being human again and coming face to face with a very imposing – however well-meaning – god who told him a fantastical story about being brothers. For a few seconds, as he fell to the streets of some Midgardian city below, Loki imagined that this is what his older self must have felt when facing the Void.
But it was over, finally over.
At least he hoped so. It would be a shame to die a second time for nothing.
The impact he expected never came though. From the small slits in his eyes, Loki just caught sight of a flow of crimson and felt himself caught by strong, familiar arms and wrapped in the soft material of his brother’s long cape. He opened his eyes but couldn’t quite bring his brother’s face above him into focus but could tell Thor looked concerned, scared even, which was a completely novel thought for the boy. He felt a small pressure in the center of his right palm and realized that Thor had taken his hand. Instinctively, as an infant might, Loki grasped his as much as he could.
He grinned. It hurt, but what didn’t? And he felt like smiling.
“Aye. You did it, little brother.”
Loki closed his eyes, but his grin widened. “Awesome.”
Then he let himself slip into the darkness.
He swam in and out of consciousness, sometimes wakened by the pungent aroma that permeated Asgard’s healing rooms, other times by the shuffle of too many healers scurrying around him. He had no idea how long it took, but at some point the bustling rooms were replaced with his own, quieter chambers with the familiar musty scent of old books. Throughout all this the sensation of Thor’s strong, battle-worn hand holding his, tiny in comparison, was ever-present. It calmed the boy, gave him something central and stable to literally hold onto.
He was slightly surprised that others visited from time to time. The Warriors Three came by, and to Loki’s mute astonishment, the trio actually sounded like they were… praising his bravery, standing up to the God of Fear. He half-thought they might wish for his death if only because it would free them from the oath Thor made them swear to protect him, but it was just the opposite. Though he rarely felt awake, the few times he could remember it, Loki heard them wish him a full and quick recovery.
Sif came as well, though the warrior woman was quieter. Often she would simply sit with Thor. A few times she tried to get his brother to go and rest or eat something. When he refused to leave, she rose without a word but returned moments later with what sounded like a large goblet of water.
“At least drink,” she insisted firmly, and Thor must have obliged her because Loki heard no more arguments.
If he had the strength to fully waken, he would have told his brother that he was fine, that he should listen to Sif and go rest. How long had it even been since the battle? Flying somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, it was impossible to tell, but Loki knew for an absolute fact that his brother never left his side, never let go of his hand.
He was glad for it when a new pair of heavy footsteps intruded in his chambers. His fingers, stronger by some measure, tightened around Thor’s, and he was rewarded with a small, comforting squeeze in return. It’s alright, he could hear his brother’s silent promise as if he’d spoken the words aloud. You have faced the Serpent. You have done what not even the bravest warriors in the land have been able to achieve. There is nothing you fear.
But Loki was afraid.
When Odin’s booming voice came, he didn’t know if the impassiveness hurt more than some negative emotion he expected.
“He is far stronger than you ever gave him credit for.”
Loki could tell Thor never turned to look at their father because of the direction of his voice. The calloused pad of his thumb rubbed small, soothing circles into the soft flesh between the boy’s thumb and forefinger. Odin said nothing, and for that much he was grateful. If they started a real fight at their usual volume, he could not very well continue to feign sleep. Thankfully – and somewhat surprisingly – his brother’s voice was even when it did come again.
“I have decided,” Thor said with quiet finality, “that when he wakens, I will ensure things are different. I do not pretend to know you anymore, to have ever known you, truly, but I know him. When we were both young, before the madness took hold, I knew him as I do now. Even if you are incapable of loving him as a father should, it does not matter. It simply means that I should love him twice as much, and in doing so I will protect him from every cruelty, including and especially yours.”
He could not remember it, but Loki was sure he never loved anyone as much as he did his brother at that moment. Whatever Odin replied, if indeed he said anything at all, he didn’t hear it.
The next time Loki awoke, it was for real. He blinked as the high ceiling of his chambers came into focus above his head then turned his head to the side. Thor was half-sitting in a chair by the bed, and if he slept at all, he was not sleeping now. Nor did his face show any signs of surprise at Loki’s waking. He simply smiled.
“And how does the little princeling fare this fine morning?”
“Good.” He thought about it, then almost sheepishly added, “I am a little hungry.”
The second part was, admittedly, a little white lie. He felt better, but Loki still felt a little too lethargic to eat much. Still, a trip to the kitchens meant getting out of his quarters for a while and most importantly, if he asked to be fed, it meant Thor would finally eat as well. With his brother’s help he was clean and dressed within a few minutes. Thor asked no questions about the battle with the Serpent or what let up to it, for which Loki was grateful, but on their way out the door, his brother paused and nodded at the high window embedded into the stone work.
“That bird has been hovering here ever since we brought you back,” he said, frowning.
Loki looked and indeed the magpie was perched on the ledge, its beady black gaze directed squarely at him. The boy took his brother’s hand again.
“It’s just a bird,” he shrugged.
The kitchens were somewhat quieter than Loki had expected. He guessed it was sometime after breakfast but before mid-day meal and the cooks were taking a break. He hoped onto a tall stool while Thor rummaged in the pantry for a while then came back with an armful of assorted of foods. Loki reached for a sweet bread, then staring at it for a moment, giggled. Thor raised a brow inquisitively, and he told him the theory about prophesies with the eating-vegetables analogy. His brother laughed.
“Not even warnings of doom would have gotten me to eat those when I was your age.”
They had only moments of peace before a guard came. He didn’t even enter the kitchens, but Loki already felt unease. He knew what was coming, so when the guard turned to Thor and said, “Your father requires your presence”, he wasn’t surprised. If he was honest with himself, the boy might have even admitted that it hurt a little that the guard only looked at Thor when he spoke.
But apparently it was him Odin wanted to see. They met the king in the thrown room where he stood alone, no guards or attendants in sight. Upon their entrance, Odin’s gaze locked with Thor’s and he made a gesture towards the door. His brother’s brows drew together, and as the men glared at each other for a few seconds, Loki observed a most interesting silent exchange.
“Leave,” the king was saying without speaking. “I wish to speak to him alone.”
“Whatever you have to say will be in my presence,” replied Thor, equally silent and defiant.
In the end Thor must have won because Odin’s next gesture was to shut the door instead, which the god of thunder performed without question. After the swish of the heavy doors finished echoing through the chamber, the king focused on them.
“Now,” Odin said, his one eye never leaving Loki, “you will tell me everything.”
For once Loki opted not to lie. Or rather lie as little as possible. He admitted to breaking out the hel-wolf, climbing to the roots of the World Tree and learning of the Serpent’s origins, of his journey to both hells. The only part he left out was about Ikol. Thor and Odin both listened intently, the old man frowning while the younger bit his lip. Loki could tell his brother has trying very hard not to smile.
“…So I… gently coerced Mephisto and Hela into an alliance, but only I knew of all the pieces on the board…”
“Of course,” put in a still-grim Odin but said no more because Thor’s glare all but hurled lightning bolts at their father. Loki swallowed.
“…and then the Dis… the handmaidens went to patrol Hel so that she would have no fear of rebellion because the dead allied with the Serpent would have been rather nasty.”
The thunder god noticed that despite his brother’s famed – or perhaps infamous – ability to manipulate words, under their father’s critical gaze he seemed to almost ramble the way an ordinary child might. He would have taken his hand again in reassurance but decided to wait until the tale was over. It might be foolishly viewed as a weakness on Loki’s part, and he did not want to give Odin any more ammunition against the boy. Instead Thor simply nodded.
“Go on.” He encouraged.
Loki took a deep breath. “Well, the wolf and I went to Limbo… Can I keep him, by the way?”
Thor said “We shall see” at practicality the same moment that Odin boomed “No!”
He ended his tale with his role in the God of Fear’s ultimate defeat, and silence fell on the hall once more. In the end it was Thor who spoke first, his expression approving.
“There can be no doubt, brother, that by your brave actions you have saved every life on Midgard that day, including my own. We would have never been able to achieve victory without the knowledge you brought. Thank you. I am so very proud of you.”
Loki beamed, but his face fell a little when he saw that Odin’s expression had not thawed since the beginning of his tale. If anything it had grown harder, which is why th king’s next words surprised him.
“Your actions were born out of the love your have for your brother, yes?”
“Yes,” the boy replied slowly. He didn’t have to so much think about the question but the reason it was being asked.
“All these things you did… They were not for the sake of Midgard or even Asgard, but for Thor and Thor alone.”
The thunder god was about to protest, but Loki answered before Odin could even hold up his hand to quell the argument.
“I am glad both realms were saved,” the boy said. “But yes, ultimately I acted with Thor’s life in mind. I would not have him die because of some archaic prophesy with next to no merit. Tell me, All-Father: what is so very wrong with that?”
His tone was harsh, he knew, and Loki almost expected Odin to strike him for speaking so boldly. Or attempt to strike him, because his brother had sworn that he would not let him hurt him again. Instead, the old man’s face took on a look of resignation.
“Dark deeds, for whatever reason, lead to a dark soul.”
Loki blanched. He knew what Odin meant; that no matter his reasons, his intent, the fact that he’d once again deceived so many people and resorted to working with such unsavory individuals would ultimately lead him to becoming as he was. He wanted to argue, but he was not entirely sure Odin was wrong. What was that saying humans were so found of? The road to hell is paved with good intentions…
Again his brother came to his rescue.
“A warrior fights for higher ideals, yes, but he also fights for those by his side on the battle field and loved ones back home,” Thor said somberly. “It is a concept you have not yet grasped, Father. Now, if you will excuse us, I believe there has been enough talk for one day. My brother is not yet full healed. I am taking him back to his chambers.”
Loki felt a little dazed as they walked down the hall, not quite comprehending what had just occurred. Not that Thor and Odin had not butted heads before, but the king actually yielding on something? A matter concerning him? Unheard of. At some point he must have stopped, but Thor only got a few steps ahead before he saw he was not following. Loki did not even notice how tired he was again until his brother was scooping him up. He rested his cheek against Thor’s shoulder and buried his face in the crook of his neck.
“I won’t turn bad,” the boy promised.
“I know.” But his brother sounded just a little bit like he was saying it to pacify him.
“I won’t,” he insisted. “Because that will make you sad.”
He felt Thor smile and turn slightly to press his lips against his temple, and Loki knew then he believed him for real. They had reached his room by then, and his brother gently lowered him to the bed. At the loss of contact, the boy immediately reached out for him again.
“Stay?” he asked tiredly. “Just until I fall asleep?”
“Of course.” Thor smiled, scooting his chair next to the bed where it had been for the last several days and took his hand once more. Loki briefly glanced up at the window, but the magpie was gone for the moment. That was good; he did not want to think about the past now, anyway. Content, Loki yawned and closed his eyes.
There was not a shred of doubt in his mind that his brother would be there when he awakened.
(I know it is not age or position accurate to the fiction but it is inspired by SilverSpiderTM2 Awsome fic http://archiveofourown.org/works/312650 go read what she doses, go comment. She is epic)