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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Thor fic: Winter Winds (2/2)

December 23rd, 2013 (03:22 pm)
thankful

feeling: thankful

Post split for LJ. See Part One



-o-

The morning came with pale sunlight, and Loki roused hungrily. He sat up, squinting across the sun-glinted expanse before rolling his shoulders and reflecting on just what the day might hold. There was still no sign of rescue, but there was also no imminent sign of danger. For being kidnapped and then stranded on Jotunheim, things were actually going fairly well.

Then, he looked to Thor.

His brother was still curled up under the outcropping of rock, his large body tucked awkwardly under the cloak they’d salvaged from their captors. He could hope that the relative safety from the wind and a good night’s rest would do his brother well, and that they could make haste with the day and leave this realm soon. By nightfall, perhaps they could be home, safe within the walls of their father’s palace.

“Thor,” Loki said, shifting to rummage through his pack for something to eat. “The morning has broken, and we have excellent weather.”

There was no response.

Loki found a small ration to eat, nibbling on it straight away. “Come on,” he muttered. “We should not waste the daylight.”

This time, Thor shifted, a low moan emitting from the lump.

“It is not even so cold now,” Loki said with a smirk. “I find the sun quite warm.”

Thor moved more, his cloak shifting until Loki caught a glance of his pale skin. The blood was dried and flaking on the side of his face, and he peered through a mess of hair before trying to curl back up into a ball.

Loki glared, picking up a stray rock and tossing it toward his brother. It hit low on his back, skittering off again. “You want to be the mighty Thor!” he cajoled. “And yet you are curled up like a child out here. Is this what you would have them write in the history books about the sons of Odin?”

At this, Thor lifted his head, making a visible effort to drag himself to an upright position. The outcropping hung low over his head, shadowing his face, but Loki could hear the sound of his brother breathing.

The sound of his teeth chattering.

Loki’s lightheartedness abated, and he moved his way closer. “Thor?” he asked, maneuvering his way back under the outcropping. “Are you well?”

Thor barely looked at him, for he could barely move his head. From this closer proximity, Loki could feel his brother’s shivering, the noticeable tremors moving up and down the length of his body. His hair was stiff, and his skin waxy.

“Thor,” Loki said, trying to hold back his dismay.

Thor grunted, pulling himself past Loki and into the sunlight. His fingers were clumsier than last night as he grappled with his pack, fumbling with his drink.

Loki followed him out, his own breakfast forgotten. “You are ill, brother.”

Thor made no attempt to deny it. “Do you not feel so?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine,” Loki said.

Thor shuddered, tipping his drink to his lips. When he lowered it again, he looked at Loki, his blue eyes veiled. “That is good,” he said. “For we have a long ways to travel today.”

Loki’s jaw dropped. “You cannot be serious,” he said.

“If we wish to return to Asgard, we have no choice,” Thor said stubbornly.

“You are ill!” Loki protested. “You can barely move your fingers, and you are sluggish. How do you think you will fare if we go out and face the elements? History does not lie, Thor. Many of our kind have fallen here, and you will suffer their fate as well.”

“Staying here is resignation to such a fate,” Thor insisted, his voice almost brittle on the slight wind. His expression was far too earnest, far too desperate. “Continuing on is the only hope we have of survival.”

“You cannot,” Loki said, wishing Thor would understand. Wishing Thor would see the folly. Jotunheim was cruel to the house of Asgard, and Loki did not wish to die here.

He did not wish to bury his brother here.

“Perhaps,” Thor agreed. “But maybe together we can.”

It was a stupid plea, bound by sentiment that made Thor blind. This was why Thor was so popular, why he could attract friends and make comrades out of enemies. He spoke of impossible things with such certainty and fortitude that he was hard to deny.

Loki could, sometimes. For his brother was good and earnest, but also brash and lumbering. And this was all his fault.

Yet, he was still his brother.

Stupid and blind, but Loki would not see him perish for all the glory in the nine realms.

He sighed. “Well then,” he said, taking a bite of his breakfast. “We should eat. We will need all the energy we can get if we are to have any hope of survival.”

Pale and worn as he was, Thor smiled.

Jotunheim or not, it was the brightest light in all the worlds.

-o-

This was still Thor’s plan, but today Loki was clearly in charge. Thor ate when Loki gave him food, and Loki had to steady his brother when they finally picked up camp to keep moving. The simple act of moving his legs seemed arduous, though Thor resolutely did not complain, and Loki somehow held his tongue as they set off.

If he chose, Loki thought he could force Thor to do what he wanted. Normally, his brother could win any fight, but the cold had sapped Thor of his strength, leaving him a mere shadow of himself. This vulnerability was startling, and Loki could only imagine the ways in which he could exploit it.

In any other situation, he probably would.

But they were on Jotunheim, and Loki knew the history well. Now was not the time for machinations.

Now was the time to leave.

-o-

The walk was slow.

Yesterday they had made good progress, traversing the ice field with relative ease. The rocks were craggy in the foothills, and while Loki easily tread over them, Thor slipped and struggled, as though his legs were wooden and not the strongest of all his peers in Asgard.

When Thor fell, he hesitated to help, instead pausing to watch the other boy pull himself back up before pushing his legs forward for another, hard-won step.

Most of the time, Loki took pleasure in Thor’s failures for they were rare and deserved.

This time, though, he would not see his brother fall.

Not for all the honor in Asgard.

-o-

The incline grew step, and Thor’s gait became desperate. When he lost his footing, Loki was a beat too slow to stop his descent, and he watched, shocked, as Thor tumbled down the rocky hill before falling limp at the bottom.

Mouth open, Loki ran lightly back down, his heart starting to pound as he went to his brother’s side. He faltered, afraid to touch the other boy, who roused enough to push himself onto his back, his translucent skin tipped up toward the bleak sun.

“Thor,” Loki said, throat tight with doubt. “Brother.”

Thor took several fleeting breaths before looking over to Loki. He appeared more exhausted than hurt, apparently oblivious to the fresh bleeding on his brow. “Loki,” he said, the word sounding like ice on his tongue.

Loki did not know whether to smile or frown.

In his indecision, Thor said, “Father will be proud of your fortitude. He doubts you more than he should.”

“Yes, well, you have doubted me more than your share as well,” Loki reminded him.

Thor’s lips turned up, just a little. “I was mistaken,” he said, as his gaze started to go distant. “About many things.”

Of course he was, Loki thought in a flash of bitterness, for Thor thought strength was narrowly defined. He saw success in a limited way, and he knew not how to comprehend that perceived weakness could be strength. He had mocked Loki for studying, and beaten Loki on the training fields without remorse. Thor was earnest and strong, but he was also willful and ignorant.

Loki often wished father would address these weaknesses, speak to them with the same persistence with which he addressed Loki’s.

Sometimes he longed for Thor to be punished, and often felt no guilt when Thor’s guileless schemes failed.

But not this time.

Not like this.

Gathering a breath, Loki reached down, hesitating only slightly before his hand grasped his brothers. Thor flinched, looking at Loki in surprise.

Loki just glared at him. “Come,” he said plaintively. “We have a long ways to go.”

Thor did not fight him, even though he shook his head. “But--”

“But nothing,” Loki snapped, half hoisting Thor to his feet, holding him fast while the other boy gained his footing. “We will walk together, and we will prevail.”

For Loki knew now there was no other option.

-o-

Thor was stubborn and strong, a brutish mule in the face of adversity. He would fight and fight hard if he had so decided, regardless of whether it was a worthwhile cause. Thor did not think; Thor acted, and he had a history of perseverance by sheer force of will alone.

Loki had never seen his brother fail.

Until today.

For on the rocks of Jotunheim, Thor grew weak and tired. Thor became weary and exhausted. As they walked, Loki held him up, half dragging Thor’s senseless legs step after step. His head dipped forward, his mumbling insensate as Loki prodded him on, offering strength where Thor no longer had any.

Their travel was slow and tedious, and Loki could not feel the cold in his bones but he could feel the weariness of the struggle. By day’s end, he was all but carrying the larger boy, shouldering his significant weight as they crested another hill and looked out across a valley, the mountains now looming in the distance.

They were close.

But as Thor’s legs gave way, and Loki could not catch him, he feared it was not close enough.

-o-

It was arduous work, getting Thor to the bottom. It was tempting, of course, to leave him at the crest of the hill, but with the wind and the dropping temperatures, his brother would have been dead within hours.

At the bottom of the hill, Loki dragged Thor to the closer relative cover, and sat back, exhausted. He looked at his brother, his face lifeless in the wan light. He might still be dead within hours.

Vexed, Loki was uncertain as to approach the issue. There were few options, and none seemed particularly useful. They were too far from the ship to go back, and Loki doubted that a dead ship would provide much better coverage than a cave or outcropping. The cold weather was pervasive, and though getting out of the wind helped, it did not change the fact that the temperatures simply were not designed to support Asgardian physiology.

There had been entire sections of the history books, dedicated to exploring life on the battlefield in Jotunheim. Loki still remembered the special armor donned by the soldiers, how even the warmest cloaks had proven insufficient. Ultimately, the army had relied heavily on fire while rotating troops through the bifrost consistently to keep them warm and weathered.

Even then, many had lost toes and fingers. Some had lost ears or experienced numbness that latest for centuries in their extremities.

In the history books, it had seemed distant and foreign. Loki had never expected to see it for himself.

To watch his brother succumb.

He shook his head, dragging Thor deeper into a nook within the rock. Quickly, he made a fire, letting it fill the area with light as he unpacked a few contents from his pack. His own stomach was empty, but the gnawing pit was filled with dread and he found himself scarcely able to eat. Instead, he found something for Thor, scooting closer to his brother.

“Here,” he said, nudging Thor with his arm. “Some food will help.”

Thor stirred lightly, his head tilting to the side before his eyelids fluttered and closed once again.

“Thor,” Loki said, sternly now. “You must eat. Or history will remember you as the stalwart prince who died for his own stupidity.”

It was cruel, though not necessary untrue, and Loki knew his brother well. At the insult, Thor roused further, his brow creasing as his eyes opened to slits. “And what will they say of you, brother?” he asked, his voice a mere wisp of air, almost lost to the howling of the wind beyond their small sheltered.

Loki’s heart stuttered, but he smiled anyway. “That Loki Odinson has a strength all his own,” he said. “And he proved his worth on Jotunheim.”

A smile flitted across Thor’s face. “You proved it before that.”

Loki made an indignant sound in the back of his throat. “That is not what you say most days,” he reminded Thor. “It is certainly not what Father says.”

“I’ve been wrong,” Thor murmured distantly, his eyelids starting to slip shut again.

“It’s about time you realized that,” Loki said. “Perhaps we should put this in writing, record it for all of history.”

“You can,” Thor said, his breathing evening out. “History will still be yours…”

Thor trailed off, his words dissipating into shallow puffs of air. He was still, though. Far, far too still.

Loki blinked rapidly, reaching a frightened hand up to Thor’s cheek. The skin was cold beneath his touch, Thor’s body too far gone to even shiver anymore. Desperation rising, Loki shook his brother. “Thor,” he said, his voice growing insistent. “Thor.”

Thor made a low whining sound, and he shifted slightly, even if his eyes did not open. “Your hands are ice,” he slurred, the words ill-formed and hard to understand. “And yet you fare so well.”

“Fortitude is not merely brute strength,” Loki reminded him. His heart skipped a beat when Thor did not respond and he shook his brother again. “And you were struck multiple times with magic. Who knows what that might have done. But you will be well, brother. You will be well.”

For Thor was always well. Thor always prevailed. Despite his own stupidity and stubbornness, Thor was blessed by light and could not be squelched.

Except this world was without light; it was without warmth. It was barren and desolate, and it had drained his brother of all that he had left within him. Why it had spared Loki, he did not know.

It was what Loki had wanted, to prove his worth. An even playing field.

But as he watched his brother surrender to the cold and dark, he reflected maybe it wasn’t what he wanted at all. For, who was Loki without Thor? How could one exist without the other? Did he crave victory at his brother’s expense? Would history not be better with both of them?

It seemed, however, that was not his decision to make.

Even if it was his to rage against.

-o-

That night, Loki dared not sleep. He was not fond of touch, though he had grown familiar with such intimacy from his brother. Even so, it had been years since they shared quarters and longer still since they shared the same bed. It was foreign and uncertain, but the coldness of Thor’s body drew him closer.

They were bound, after all. The sons of Odin. Brothers in more than name. Loki had doubted much in his life, but he had never doubt that.

But in the morning sun, when his brother did not wake, Loki was forced to face the possibility for the first time.

For the first time in his life, Loki knew fear.

-o-

Loki was the younger brother; he was the second-rate brother. He was by all accounts the back-up king, and the lesser heir. These things were never said explicitly, but he knew them to be true by the whispers behind his back and his father’s criticisms during training. He was not as big; he was not as strong.

But he was as smart. In truth, he was smarter. He was clever and capable, and had talents his brother could not even begin to understand. Loki could not lead people into danger, but he could get them out. In his childish exploits, that had been a convenient talent.

Now, it would have to save his brother’s life.

When nothing would wake his brother, Loki turned his attention to the severity of Thor’s condition. Hypothermia was not an ailment in which he was well versed, but he knew it was a matter of cold shutting the body down. If Thor had stopped shivering, that meant the cold had taken hold of his brotherly deeply, and if he would not wake, that surely indicated that his body was reaching dangerous levels.

Still, Asgardians were resilient. Thor was severely cold, but with some warmth, his body would be able to recover.

At least, in theory.

Theory was all Loki had, though.

That and a brother, slowly freezing to death before his very eyes.

Unwilling to yield to such fate, Loki took quick stock of what he had. They still had no means of making actual fire, and there were no other possible shelters in the area. They had taken all the layers of clothing possible from the ship, though it had proven insufficient for Thor’s need.

Loki frowned, fingering his own cloak. Though he could feel the cold, it still did not bother him. He felt nimble and capable. His clothing no doubt helped in this regard, and removing them would likely hasten his own decline.

But without any intervention, Thor would die.

Sighing, Loki took off his cloak, stretching it out over his brother’s broad frame and tucking it neatly around his sides. He then emptied the contents of his pack, using the cloth to make strips, wrapping one around Thor’s head and covering his ears. He then took two more, moving to Thor’s hands. He picked up the lifeless fingers, holding them between his palms one at a time, rubbing gently until he could feel the blood start to flow just a little more freely.

Then, he hastily wrapped them both before tucking them beneath Thor’s cloak for as much protection as possible.

“If you die here,” he hissed, drawing closer to his brother for the heat they could share, “then you are a bigger idiot than I thought.”

He silently pleaded with his brother to prove him wrong.

-o-

The sun was high in the sky when Thor finally stirred, his head lolling toward Loki and rousing him from sleep. Loki’s eyes snapped open, looking intently into his brother’s gaze.

Thor seemed short of breath, the shallow inhalations barely enough to keep him conscious. His expression was languid, just the barest hint of recognition in his dulled blue eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said, exhaling the words in a small fog.

“You did not do this,” Loki reminded him.

Thor did not seem to hear him, for he smiled distantly. “I do not always see value,” he continued breathlessly, his eyes searching Loki. “But that does not mean that it is not there.”

It was validation, unexpected though not unwarranted. It was what Loki craved.

Which was why it frightened him so much.

He moved closer. “You speak nonsense, Thor.”

“History is yours,” Thor said in a deep exhalation, his eyes slipping shut once more.

Loki shook his head. “No,” he said.

When Thor did not respond, Loki grasped his cloak and nudged him.

“No,” he said again, his own heart starting to pound even as he felt his brother’s start to slow precipitously. It was faltering. Everything was resting on the brink of ruin.

What was history at the expense of the present? What good were their accomplishments if they could not offer salvation now? If Thor could not fight, if Loki could not reason; if there was no way out of here.

If this was the end.

Loki squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to believe.

This couldn’t be the end.

-o-

It had been Thor’s decision to walk; it had been Thor’s decision to make the trek as far and fast as they could. Now that Thor was deeply unconscious, Loki found himself with unprecedented control. No one to dictate what to do or why; no one to criticize his choices or demean his decisions.

Yet, curled close to his brother, he knew not how to take advantage of. Indeed, decisions were easier to postulate than they were to actually make.

What was Loki to do? He could not carry his brother, even if he wanted to. Staying here was a slow and certain death, but leaving his brother--

Going ahead and seeking help was a viable option, and indeed it might have the most positive results. But Thor would be alone and he would be defenseless. Worse still, if something happened to him, if he died alone.

Loki could not bear the thought.

He could not bear anything at all.

Maybe help would come, he told himself as the sun pulled higher in the sky. He draped an arm tentatively across his brother, feeling the slow rise and fall of his chest.

Help would certainly come.

-o-

Loki stayed true, for no matter how people doubted him, he cared about his brother. He had failed in many things, but he would not fail this.

He could not.

He ate and he drank, dribbling water into Thor’s mouth though his brother was too insensate to resist. He rubbed Thor’s legs and arms, doing his best to keep the blood flowing, a desperate bid to hold off the worst of the hypothermia.

But Thor’s pulse slowed. Frost clung to his hair, and his breathing turned rattling and shallow. His lips were blue, the dark smudges under his eyes growing deeper with every passing moment.

Thor was dying, slipping away right next to him.

And no one came.

-o-

Loki had always thought it one way or the other. Where one was right, the other was wrong. Where one was strong, the other was weak. Where one succeed, the other failed.

He had never considered an alternative. He’d never thought there was another option.

Thor had admitted he was wrong; his brother was dying.

But this was no moment of triumph, for Loki was wrong, too.

Thor was lumbering and obtuse, he was short-sighted and short-tempered, but he made decisions with surety. But faced with decisions now, Loki’s wit and intellect were not enough. They were meaningless.

Go or stay. Stay with his brother; leave for help.

He knew not.

He knew not.

Folding himself closer to his brother, Loki gave up against the cold, against the weight of history and simply surrendered to the inevitability of it all.

-o-

Loki would not die on Jotunheim; this was not his story.
Yet, somehow, he thought maybe that was the way it was meant to be. Because it was not meant to be Thor; never Thor.

But history was wrong; it had inverted on itself.

Loki cradled his brother, counting the beats of his heart in the cold, watching the puffs of his air grow fainter and fainter.

This was not the story.

Somehow, though, it was the only story.

-o-

He heard the footsteps, crunching across the snow. He heard the clopping of horses, hoofs on the rock. Asgardian; the royal guard. His father’s best men, fresh from the bifrost. Perhaps magic found them; maybe Heimdall finally pulled them from the mess. He did not know.

He did not care.

For it was rescue.

It was salvation.

“See,” Loki said, cold words against his brother’s lifeless cheek. Thor did not move; he did not flinch. Loki could feel the cold of his brother’s body, seeping deep into his very bones. Thor was dying, and it was killing both of them.

Someone yelled; voices approached.

Loki tipped his forehead forward, ignoring the frost patterned on Thor’s cheek. Movement appeared in the corner of his vision, and Loki closed his eyes to it, drawing closer still. There was no warmth left in all the realms, but they still remained.

He inhaled deeply, feeling the icy air fill his lungs. “They’re here,” he said, and Jotunheim was cold but Thor was colder still. “I told you they were come.”

-o-

Warm hands pressed him upright, and his fingers brushed against a rough mane of hair. The familiar scent of armor and sweat roused him further, and he lifted his head.

He was on horseback, one of the guards right behind him, strong arm pulling him close. The party was small but well armed, with no more than a dozen horses, looking toward the horizon where Heimdall is undoubtedly ready with the bifrost.

Their voices were low and subdued, and Loki suspected they understood the perilous place they were currently treading. For a contingent of the royal guard to be on Jotunheim -- it could mean a declaration of war. The All Father would never risk such things except for--

Loki blinked, remembering his plight in full.

Except for his sons.

“You are well, Prince,” the guard behind him whispered. “You will be home shortly.”

Loki shook his head, his brain foggy with exhaustion. “But, my brother…”

Jotunheim was another world, full of ice and magic, and Loki could feel its control over him, encasing him like ice. He felt not cold but hot, burning with an unknown and unsettling certainty.

Thor, though.

The guard at his back did not answer, and the company shifted, the horses pacing restlessly on the rock. Loki watched them, counted their number until he saw two horses part enough to catch a glimpse of flaxen hair.

His brother’s face was obscured, so wrapped he was with blankets. The head of the guard was seated behind him on a horse, but Thor’s body was slumped forward, still and unmoving in his strong grasp.

“Thor,” he tried again, his voice brittle like the snow. “How fares my brother?”

The guard behind him said nothing, pulling him closer while the horse pranced anxiously.

“Thor,” he said, louder this time. “Tell me how he is!”

But no one replied, and his protests were drawn out by the sudden roaring of the bifrost before the sky opened up and pulled them forward.

Loki saw the flash of the lights, a surge of warmth, and then nothing.

Nothing at all.

-o-

He awoke next on the healer’s table, surrounding by a warm light.

To warm.

His skin felt like it was burning, and he scrunched his nose, trying to turn away. There was nowhere to go, though, and as he attempt to curl on his side, a loud voice drew him further back to consciousness.

“Loki.”

He widened his eyes, tilting his head up again. “Father.”

His father stood by his side, still in his regal garb but with no sign of his staff. His aged face was tired, but his expression showed nothing but relief.

“You are well,” he said. “The healers put you into a healing rest for a while, but it was mostly a precaution.”

Lok frowned, shaking his head. “But--” He reached a hand up, feeling the back of his head.

His father reached forward, taking Loki’s hand on his own. The broad fingers squeezed gently, taking Loki’s hand and placing it back by his side. “Your head injury is healed,” he answered. “It was more serious than you allowed yourself to realize. And you neglected your own care. Why were you starving if you had a stockpile of food at the ready?”

Loki tried to remember, but the memories were distant. Like the history from a book, as though it had happened to someone else, as if Jotunheim were nothing but a dream. Indeed, it felt as much, except for one nagging reality. “Thor?”

His father’s expression shifted subtly, before hardening somewhat. “Worry not about your brother.”

Loki shook his head, pushing himself up. This time, his father did not fight him. “His condition worsened steadily,” he reported. “I feared for his life.”

“So you thought to sacrifice your own needlessly?” his father asked.

“No, I--” Loki started, but he did not know how to finish. What could he say? What sense did any of it make? For all that he competed with his brother, for all that he resented the favor Thor gained from everyone in the palace, the thought of losing his brother scared him more than anything.

His father gathered a deep breath. “Tell me what you remember.”

The thoughts were hard to draw together, but they were still plain enough. “We were kidnapped,” he reported. “From the temple. The man called himself Clovis, and wielded magic to subdue us.”

His father’s expression darkened gravely. “Did you know this man?”

Loki shook his head. “Only from the history books,” he said. “He was one you had vanquished, though he told his story differently.”

“Indeed,” his father said. “History is more subjective than we like to believe.”

“Was he right?” Loki asked. “Was he justified?”

“Everyone is the hero of their own story,” his father said. “No doubt, this man you speak of died a martyr to his own cause.”

“So he was justified,” Loki concluded. “His vengeance was legitimate?”

“Vengeance must be weighed and reason like any war,” his father explained. “It is a terrible, great thing.”

Loki felt his chest clench.

His father looked at him again, his eyes turning sympathetic. “But it is important to learn the difference between vengeance and wisdom. We can find justification for any action, be it violence or peace. We must search for the wisdom to enact our vengeance correctly and not against those who have no fault of their own.”

“Did you slaughter his people?” Loki asked.

“I did what was necessary to protect the nine realm,” his father replied, carefully evading the less desirable answer. “What he sought to do to you was for merely his own gain. That is the difference, Loki. When we act only for ourselves, we often will err. If we seek to benefit the people at large, we will often find history on our side.”

Loki swallowed, considering this. “Did you recover the ship, then?” he asked.

“We found the ship and salvaged what remained,” he said.

“What will you do with it?”

“We will look for other motives and connections,” he said. “Then we will deliver the bodies to their families as best we are able.”

“As a message?” Loki asked.

“In a way,” his father agreed. “But we have done no wrong. I do not intend to desecrate the dead.”

“We killed them,” Loki said. “Thor and I--”

“Defended yourselves,” his father said evenly. “You performed bravely and honorably.”

“We crashed the ship,” Loki replied.

“If you are looking for me to find fault--”

“It was Thor’s idea, though,” Loki blurted. “He was the one who insisted we leave the ship. I wanted to stay, but he was adamant.”

“Your brother has good instincts,” his father started.

“But he nearly died,” Loki said. “He was freezing after only a few hours.”

“Jotunheim is a cruel place,” his father said.

Loki chewed his lip, thinking back. He hesitated, but finally could not keep silent. “It did not affect me.”

At that, his father blinked.

Loki shrugged, knowing now he could not stop. “I could feel the cold, but it did not slow me down or muddle my senses. Even now, you did not speak of the cold amongst my injuries.”

“Your brother was also affected by a great magic--”

“So that was it?” Loki pressed. “That was why I was unscathed?”

“You forget, Loki,” his father said. “You, too, were carried senseless from Jotunheim.”

“Then why is Thor still not awake? Why have you not let me see him? Why is he not here?”

“Loki--”

“It wasn’t natural,” Loki continued, his emotions hitching now. “Tell me, Father. What magic was this? What kept me safe while letting Thor perish?”

His father drew a breath, pursing his lips. “Both of you will recover from this ordeal, that is what matters.”

“But--”

“But nothing,” his father cut him off abruptly, the sympathy draining from his voice. “Do not dwell on this further. It is behind us now.”

“But it is unlike anything I have read about regarding Jotunheim,” Loki persisted. “How is it possible--”

“We will not discuss this!” his father said, raising his voice now as it boomed through the chambers.

Loki swallowed, drawing back into himself meagerly.

His father sighed, his brows knitted. “You have suffered from your ordeal,” he said, more gently now. “You must rest, my son.”

Loki still had questions; Loki still wanted to know. But his father was not to be questioned, and Loki was tired. He dropped his gaze, letting his shoulders slump as he nodded. “Yes, Father,” he murmured.

“Good,” his father said, resting a hand on his shoulder for a moment. There was a hesitation, something like an indecision, before he nodded with resolve. “I am relieved to see you back on Asgard, where you belong.”

Loki nodded again, glancing up through the wisps of his hair. “If I may have one requestion--”

His father dropped his hand, face tightening. “Loki--”

“Just that I may see my brother,” Loki said. “The last I saw of him, he was…”

Cold. Weak. Almost gone.

His father inhaled, nodding. “Very well,” he said. “Can you stand?”

Loki was on his feet before he thought to answer. No matter what weakness, he could do this.

For Thor, he would.

-o-

His father led him from the chambers, talking quietly to the healer, who glanced back at Loki with a frown. When his father nodded, she bowed her head, waiting until his father departed before scowling at Loki.

“You are still recovering,” she said.

“I only wish to see my brother,” he said.

She tutted, lifting her chin. “A quick trip,” she said. “And then you will rest.”

“I will rest when I see my brother,” he vowed. “And not a moment before.”

She snorted. “You are different in many ways, Prince,” she said. “But in others, you are just the same.”

-o-

Thor was several rooms back, in a secure, quiet room. Even so, it was filled with natural light, and a warm fire burned in the massive fireplace, heating the room so it was almost uncomfortably warm.

That was not why Loki hesitated, though. For the heat was nothing; it was the sight of his brother that made him weak on his feet.

No, the thing that threatened to bring him to his knees was Thor, who was laid out on a healer’s table. Pale and lifeless, his brother did not look much improved from the last time he saw him. But his chest was rising, and there was no obvious sign of concern from the healers, which meant that they truly did expect Thor to recover.

Still, Loki found himself cautious, drifting closer to his brother’s side but keeping his distance. He watched his brother sleep -- for unconsciousness and healing sleep were much the same -- and wondered just how close they had come. Closer, Loki noted the subtle improvements. His lips were no longer tinged with blue, and the pulse at his neck was even and steady, if somewhat slow.

Even so, it was hard to believe that this was Thor. His strong, unflappable brother, always victorious -- laid so low.

Their father had always told them that they were both born to be kings. Loki had believed him, at least until their training had started. While Thor earned praise and was touted as the best in his class, Loki struggled to find his place, excelling only in things that made little difference to those around him. He had always insisted he could be his brother’s equal, perhaps even his superior. He’d tried to contend that not all strength was muscle and brawn, that sometimes the important things were measured in other ways.

The irony was that he was right. For all of Thor’s might, none of it had meant much on Jotunheim. Thor was strong and confident, and yet he was the one who had nearly succumbed on Jotunheim.

The revelation was startling and plain. Thor was not always right, nor was he always strong. Thor was fallible and had frailties, as easily exploited as anything else.

This was what Loki had always believed.

To be proven right…

It was unsettling.

And reassuring all the same.

He often disliked comparisons between the two of them, because he was the one left wanting. When it was him who found success, it was another matter entirely. Loki could face Jotunheim with confidence -- what could his brother’s posturing offer?

Loki swallowed hard, moving closer to his brother. Was it worth it, he wondered? Thor would carry no significant damage for this, and Loki would gain favor. It seemed like not so big of price to pay.

But if Thor had suffered more severely? If he had died? What risks would Loki take to find his equal footing?

And would any of it matter anyway? Or was history already written, and Loki could not see it yet? Was Thor always the chosen one, and were his father’s promises nothing but fleeting words upon the cold wind?

Loki lingered, almost daring to touch his brother’s arm. He drew away, though, feeling the heat already. His brother was warm now, much warmer than he had been. Loki’s touch, though, still felt as ice.

He withdrew his hand, looking at it nervously. This was what lasted of Jotunheim, then. This was the memory he would carry, this was the piece of history he could not and would not forget.

The first time he bested his brother.

He closed his hand into a fist and closed his eyes.

It would not be the last.

-o-

He was escorted back to his healing quarters, where a few of the healers provided him with food and drink. Another brought him books, and Loki half heartedly started to read to pass the time. Normally he enjoyed his studies, but he found himself restless.

Idly, he recreated fire with his hand, watching the flame flicker. It looked so real, but Loki knew what an illusion it was. Its false heat was useless; it had no value.

Yet, most things were illusions. Even Thor strength, as immutable and palpable as it was, had proved meaningless.

What was value, then? Who decided? And could they be wrong?

“Your form is sloppy.”

Loki startled, dropping his hand and the flame died. He reddened. “Mother.”

His mother stood, poised in the door. She inclined her head. “It needs to be effortless,” she instructed. “If you are too distracted by your own delusions, you are vulnerable.”

Loki smiled ruefully. “If all I have is magic, then I am without much power anyway.”

Frigga huffed slightly, gliding into the room toward Loki’s bed. “Power is defined by its effect, not its nature,” she lectured.

“You should tell that to Father,” Loki mused.

“Do not pity yourself, Loki,” she said. “It is--”

“Unbecoming?” Loki guessed.

She narrowed her eyes. “Counterproductive.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Do you know why the annals of history record the military prowess of your father?”

“Because we are a culture of warriors?”

“Because,” his mother continued, “he knew when to think and when to act. Your brother has proven himself quick to act, and it has nearly cost him his life. You, on the other hand, would think your way into a corner, and then fight your way out in desperation.”

“You think me so foolish?” Loki asked.

“I think you so young,” his mother said, smiling softly now. “You and your brother both.”

“So you think I should stop thinking?” he asked.

“I think you should stop thinking about that which you cannot change,” she said. “Remember that the history is decided. We cannot change it.”

Loki shook his head, confused. “Do we talk of Father?”

“We talk of Jotunheim,” his mother replied steadily. “That place will always be something to you and your brother. Be certain you remember it in context.”

“So you tell me it means nothing?” Loki asked.

“I tell you to make it no more or no less than it is,” she said knowingly. She always had that way, of imparting hard lessons in a way that made Loki want to learn. Where judgment was not a condemnation, but a chance to grow. “You need to focus, Loki, on the things that matter or power will always elude you.”

Loki nodded, thoughtful for a moment. Finally, he asked, “There is still one thing that bothers me.”

“Yes?”

“On Jotunheim, as Thor grew cold,” Loki started. “It did not affect me.”

His mother’s eyes grew inscrutable, her expression reserved. “Every person has their own thresholds--”

“But Thor nearly died,” Loki said. “He was cold and stiff and would not wake.”

His mother flattened his lips.

“Is there some magic for this? That harmed him or protected me?”

“I was not there--”

“I know, but surely you know--”

“Loki,” she interjected, firm but gentle. “Some things can only be understood with time.”

He sighed, feeling frustrated. “And you think this is one of them?”

Her smile was sad, even as her lips lifted up. “I have no doubt.”

-o-

Loki spent the next day with the healers. He was given permission to go, but he found himself unwilling. For all that he sometimes resented his brother, he knew he was bound to the other boy.

They shared too much history.

He did not know how to define life without him.

So when the healers informed him Thor was awake, Loki did not wait for an invitation. He rushed past them, making his way to his brother’s room. The healers there looked at him harshly, but Loki was just as much a prince as Thor, and even if they had the heart to turn him away, no one could resist Thor.

And his brother was sitting up, his face alight with relief as they made eye contact. “Loki!” he exclaimed. “You are all right!”

The healers did not look pleased, but when it became clear that the sons of Odin would do as they pleased, they hurried out of the room with veiled threats of their return.

“The healers would not tell me anything,” Thor started. He was sitting now, and though he was still pale, his blue eyes were warm with life. “They were too busy probing, asking questions--”

“Well, they were rightfully concerned for your life,” Loki reminded him.

Thor made a face. “I am fine.”

“Now,” Loki said. “You very nearly did not survive.”

“It takes more than Jotunheim to kill the sons of Odin,” Thor said, squaring his shoulders a bit.

Loki rolled his eyes. “You do not remember,” he said. “I scarcely could keep you breathing for the better part of a day.”

Thor’s face fell a bit, his brow furrowed with thought. “I will admit, I do not remember much--”

“Yes, I imagine not,” Loki said. “You apologized to me. You even said I was right.”

Thor grinned. “When have I ever denied you when you are correct?”

Loki scoffed. “You hardly ever admit wrong.”

Thor grinned. “For I am hardly ever wrong.”

“Yes, well, this time I would dare say you were,” Loki said. “Going out into the elements was a costly decision.”

“The cold was unavoidable,” Thor recalled. He suppressed a shudder. “I can still feel it. Can you not?”

Loki shifted, feeling the haunting chill surge through him. Not uncomfortable, but unforgettable.

“Anyway,” Thor said, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Did Father confirm the man’s identity?”

“He did not deny it, at any rate,” Loki said.

Thor shook his head. “All those years, he laid in ire to strike back,” he mused. “I never imagined a history lesson to be so visceral.”

“That is because you think of no study as relevant unless it involved combat,” Loki chastised him.

Thor’s smile widened again. “It does seem safer,” he said. “I have never been so badly injured on the training field, but one trip to the temple, and my life was nearly forfeit.”

Loki groaned. “You are impossible,” he said. “History is clearly more powerful than you think.”

“Only if we let it be so,” Thor said.

“And what if the choice is not our own?” Loki asked.

“Then we contend with it honorably, as we do anything else,” Thor said readily.

“Honor,” Loki said with a note of disdain. “Was there honor here?”

“We fought for ourselves. We defended and prevailed.”

“And nearly died,” Loki said.

“And so we did,” Thor said. “We cannot change the past, brother. We are only judged on our present. The future is ours to create.”

“We are the sons of Odin,” Loki reminded him. “We have that privilege.”

“I see it as a responsibility,” Thor said. “We are just as responsible for our fate as any man, and more so for other lives are entrusted to us.”

“Yet you charged foolishly from shelter onto the plains of Jotunheim,” Loki mused quizzically.

Thor’s eyes danced. “And my brother kept his head to save us both,” he said. “Do you not see? Our stories our bound.”

Loki made a face. “I am not so sure that is a good thing.”

Thor chuckled. “I have no doubts.”

“You never do,” Loki huffed.

“Well, brother,” Thor said. “It seems you always have enough for both of us anyway.”

That much, Loki knew to be true. For perhaps it was true, maybe they were necessary complements. Where one was right, the other was wrong. Where one was strong, the other was weak. Where one succeed, the other failed.

History had proved this to be true.

Loki had a feeling the future would not deny it either.

Comments

Posted by: Lena7142 (lena7142)
Posted at: December 26th, 2013 11:32 pm (UTC)

Squeeeeeee! Boys! I love your adolescent Thor and Loki fics, though they break my heart a little bit with the foreboding context of where they're going. And aaaack Loki asking about why the cold didn't affect him and no one telling him! And him curling up around Thor. And eeeep! Space Vikings!

Thank you for my present. :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 9th, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
loki

Those two. They're so wonderfully angsty, with love and tension and just so much tragedy to come. This is still all your fault, but I think we're both happier for that :)

Thanks!

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