When Loki woke up next, he had no idea how long he had slept for. All he knew was that the second he opened his eyes, he felt refreshed. His body didn’t ache and he didn’t feel as though he was being weighed down, as though there was a pressure on his chest that was restricting his breathing and suffocating him. It was a wonderful feeling and it made Loki want to snuggle back down under the soft pillows and the furs and blankets that covered his body and go back to sleep. It would be a lot simpler. Loki wasn’t a fool, though, and he knew that his family wanted answers and would come to him soon enough, seeking them. It was only a matter of time now. They had questions, concerns and, with the AllFather in the Odinsleep, there would be no-one else but him to give them what they wanted. Squeezing his eyes shut, Loki wished for sleep to claim him once more. He dreaded the moment when Thor would walk back through those doors – he could easily tell that his brother wasn’t present – because the second he walked back in, Loki knew he would receive no more of that.
Sighing deeply, Loki got comfortable once more, shifting until he felt more relaxed and at ease. The room that he was in was quiet, which meant the healer – or whoever was tending to him – still thought he was asleep, which was a good thing, because the last thing he wanted was to deal with anyone. He wanted more time to sleep and not think and worry about what was to come. And after such a long time of always moving, staying still and sleeping sounded really, really wonderful. So he pulled the furs up to his neck and buried himself down in the cocoon of blankets and allowed his mind to drift as it had always done right before he fell asleep.
Breathing was excruciatingly painful. His lungs felt like they were on fire with no chance of ever being extinguished. He screamed out in pain when he felt a hand tear the skin from his chest, squeezed his eyes shut and arched his back when the muscles were removed next. The tears were streaming down his dirty face, but he knew that they wouldn’t stop. If they hadn’t before, why would they now?
Begging did nothing, either, and as much as he told himself that he wouldn’t anymore, he once again broke that vow. He didn’t dare move, because moving hurt and moving meant more pain and moving would only make it all worse, because that meant he still had fight left in him. And he didn’t. He really, really didn’t. But – just like all the times before when things got too much – he begged and pleaded for his life, willing to trade and do anything he could for it all to stop.
It didn’t work – deep down, he already knew it wouldn’t. That didn’t stop the sob that ripped from inside of him, shaking his frame, causing spasm upon spasm to travel throughout his entire body. He was still bound to that rock, the rope wrapped tightly around his arms, keeping him firmly in place. He had nowhere to go and he was forced to watch as they slashed his chest open until the very bones were visible. And they didn’t stop there. One by one, they grabbed a rib and slowly – agonisingly so – pulled. He was lost in a maelstrom of pain that blinded him and knocked the air right out of his lungs. He was so focused on the pulling that he was entirely unprepared for when they pushed a rib down. It punctured his lung, the bone easily slicing through. And then he was gurgling for breath, choking on his own blood until he was sure that he would finally find that sweet release.
Only, it didn’t last. They didn’t touch him anymore. They allowed him time to heal, allowed his body to stitch him back up together again. Several days passed in utter silence before he heard the sound of their approach.
He was crying before they even laid a hand on him.
Loki was staring up at the ceiling before he even realised that he was awake. Or was he awake? Was it merely a memory that had forced its way to the surface, plaguing and haunting him, making him relive horrible events that happened not too long ago? Loki didn’t know, didn’t care. He just wanted it all to stop. He was home and he was safe and there was no way that they could come and get him, to continue the damage that they had inflicted upon him. He was free of them. But he really wasn’t. If he was then he wouldn’t be dreaming about them, reliving memory after gruesome memory every time he closed his eyes. Loki could still see them, could still feel their hands on his body, the nauseating scent of their breath on his face. It was disgusting and it sent a shiver racing down his spine. Loki pulled the furs even further up his body. There would be no more sleeping after that. How could there be? His eyes felt heavy and all he wanted to do was close them, but Loki forced them to stay open. Closing his eyes meant giving them access, meant allowing them to seep back into his mind and uproot every sense of stability he still had left. He couldn’t do that.
So he lied on the bed, surrounded by pillows and furs and blankets, and waited.
Hiding away wasn’t going to save him anymore. Of course, Loki knew that it was bound to happen eventually, was expecting and preparing for the moment when the healers would come, assess his health, and then send the word to Thor that he was well enough to get up – even though he was too tired, even though he was plagued by nightmares (memories) that prevented him from having a restful sleep – and leave. Word was indeed sent after he was evaluated, and Loki was forced to come out of the cocoon of pillows and furs and blankets that he had made for himself and bathe before Thor came. The last thing he wanted was to face Thor looking as dishevelled as he did when his brother brought him back to Asgard. He didn’t know of his title, didn’t know if he was still a part of the Royal Family. Perhaps it was too soon to tell. Regardless, when a servant brought him a fresh change of clothes, Loki saw that they were his own.
He dressed slowly, making Thor wait, even after he was told that he was outside the door, but Loki did not care, did not worry. Thor wasn’t busting his way into the room, demanding that Loki was to come out immediately, so he assumed that he was all right. And as much as he didn’t want to anger Thor, he didn’t want to outright listen to him, either, not after everything that they’d been through, not after all of the anger and the bitterness, not after all of the pain and the envy. When he couldn’t stall any longer, Loki walked out of the room and, standing against the wall with his arms casually crossed over his broad chest, was Thor. “You look well,” Thor commented lightly, good-naturedly, as though nothing bad had happened to them, and if he noticed the way Loki bristled and narrowed his eyes, he made no show of it. Thor merely pushed himself away from the wall and motioned for Loki to follow him. He didn’t even turn to make sure that he was following, either, just knew that he would. The arrogant bastard, Loki thought as he begrudgingly made his way after Thor, though he purposely slowed his stance. No, a little voice said in the back of his mind in reply, the one that haunted him about his true parentage, the one that ensured that he would never forget. You are the bastard. His good mood – however good it could have been after suffering through those harsh nightmares and being put under house-arrest – deflated after that thought. He said nothing to Thor as he followed slowly behind, and Loki passed the time by staring out the windows. Asgard truly was beautiful and, after spending so long in the darkness, Loki was both overwhelmed and speechless at the sight.
After some time, though, Loki noticed that he couldn’t see the Bifrost. He figured that Thor was supposed to take him back to his chambers so he could start his sentencing, but there was no Bifrost – Loki’s room had a clear view of that and of the ocean that fell off into nothing. He could see neither. Furrowing his brow, Loki stopped walking and turned to look at Thor, who was still walking down the hallway ahead of him. “Where are you taking me?” He asked, his voice not so much demanded, though there was tone that easily made Thor’s shoulders tense some. Good, the vindictive voice sneered. Perhaps he hasn’t forgotten after all.
Thor turned and faced Loki, a sigh spilling over his lips. There were a plethora of emotions on his face, ranging from exhaustion to impatience to contentment to uncertainty. It made no sense and Loki found that he didn’t have the strength to rifle through them to determine the true meaning, to uncover what he was feeling. But he didn’t seem angry at Loki’s demand, didn’t grab his arm and drag him to wherever he wished Loki to be. Instead, he stayed right where he was, a soft wistful look in those sparkling blue eyes. “You once told me that no-one would miss you when you were gone, that there would be celebrations to your departure. Well, I want to show you something.”
Curiosity and a bit of wariness took over most of Loki’s thoughts and feelings, but he did not question Thor anymore as they resumed walking. It was only after a few minutes that Loki realised that they were walking to the King’s Hall, which was where the portraits of Asgard’s late Kings – Buri, Bor, and Cul – hung on the stone walls, as well as a one of Odin. Thor spared none a glance as he walked past each one, though Loki slowed his pace even more, staring up at each hard face with a nervous look. He didn’t know why – they were all dead, minus Odin – but looking up at them made him feel small, unworthy, insignificant. He was once a King, but he felt like he had no right to call himself that after all that he’d done. In doing so dishonoured all that came before him. At the very end of the hall, though, Loki stopped beside Thor. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but a portrait with his face wasn’t it. Gaping some, Loki took a step closer and reached out to touch it, but drew back, unable to do so. He didn’t know what to say really. Loki stared at the portrait in shock before looking at Thor, silently seeking an explanation. He was only King for a handful of days, and those days were full of plots, tricks, and destruction. His face had no right hanging on the wall next to their late Kings, the ones who actually made a difference to Asgard. Upon closer inspection, though, Loki could see little messages written around his face. They were small – not long at all – but they were several.
He will be missed.
Pray for a safe journey to Valhalla.
Long live King Loki.
“When news spread about your … death … the people of Asgard presented us with this,” Thor said quietly and he looked sad, his distant gaze revealing pain and heartache. His usual bright eyes were dull now, as though he was lost in a memory. “You have always been mischievous, brother, and you have always had a knack for causing ill feelings, but you have always been loved. You were missed and mourned for.”
“I do not …” Loki started, but trailed off. What could he possibly say to convince Thor and make him understand his troubles? He had gone mad with grief, had panicked and lashed out at the people who loved him the most, had tried to destroy an entire race, because he was too lost in his betrayal and anger to see reason. He had tried to kill Thor. Loki did not expect to be missed; he did not expect to be mourned. He wasn’t Thor – wasn’t bright, wasn’t the sun, wasn’t Odin’s favourite. He was dark and cold, the Trickster God, who lied and deceived. “… Why?”
Thor licked his lips nervously, as though he didn’t know how Loki would react to his next words. “You may not be my brother by blood, but you are my brother. I held you in my arms and watched you grow, just as you have me. We have been through much together and that has only brought us closer. I was a fool to not see your pain, but my eyes are open and they shall remain so until my end. I will not betray you again.”