He woke to the smell of bread and honey, to the smell of fruits and rich crème that he had always enjoyed dipping grapes into. He woke to the peaceful pressure of a warm body pressed against his own, an arm wrapped around his shoulders, holding him close, shielding him from a world he could not recognise. Emerald green eyes slowly blinked open. The first thing he noticed was a huge plate sitting at the foot of the bed, filled with breads and fruits and cheeses and pastries. Loki could not remember the last time he had eaten something and just the sight of those foods made his mouth water and his stomach rumble. The second thing that Loki noticed was Thor – Thor who was still there, who hadn’t left him, who had his arm wrapped around his shoulders, holding him close, holding him against his chest, his heart. Hesitantly, he let his head fall back to Thor’s chest and he closed his eyes, listening for the sound of his heart-beat. He could feel it and it was there and he wasn’t just imagining it. It wasn’t a cruel twist of fate, wasn’t a sick game that was being played on him. It was real and Thor was real and he was home, he was safe, there was no-one that could hurt him or –
His own heart-beat wasn’t in a calm rhythm anymore and Loki knew that Thor was awake. Using the seconds of privacy that he had left, Loki closed his eyes and willed his heart to calm, to stop trying to beat right through his ribs, to relax. It wasn’t easy – it never was with him – because all Loki could think about was a still body, cold, unmoving, sparkling blue eyes that were lifeless, staring up at him with a dull expression. They were empty, void of emotion, and that wasn’t right, because Thor was never void of emotion. A smile always graced his face and, even if there wasn’t, Thor wore his heart on his sleeve and there was always something to see, to hear and feel and – “Loki,” That voice came too quick, was too loud, too … too everything, and Loki couldn’t take it, couldn’t handle it, couldn’t breathe it was getting hard to breathe and why couldn’t he breathe he needed to breathe Thor – “Brother, all is well. Be still.”
But was it all well? Shaking his head, Loki forced himself to breathe, to inhale and exhale, but the more he did that, the easier it was for him to hear the sound of his shaky breath, and the more he heard it, the more erratic it got, and before he knew it, he was panting, gasping, his lungs burning for oxygen, for air, for a breath that he could not catch. Tears swarmed his eyes and fell down his cheeks, the sobs ripping from him doing absolutely nothing to ease the pain in his chest, his lungs. He could hear Thor’s voice in his ear, trying to calm Loki down, trying to bring him back to reality, but nothing helped, and he could feel those arms wrapping around him and he let out a pathetic whimpering moan that sounded broken and pitiful in his own ears. Loki swatted at those arms that tried to encircle him. He couldn’t let himself get trapped, couldn’t let himself be anymore worthless. He was Loki of Asgard – and I am burdened with glorious purpose – a Prince, Odin’s Second Son – Son of Laufey, King of Jotunheim, and Prince of the Frost Giants –
“Loki, it’s all right. Just listen to my voice, brother, and come back to me.”
The cry that ripped from Loki at those words broke him entirely. Pulling his knees up to his chest, Loki buried his head in his arms, shielding himself from the world.
He was screaming. His chest was heaving and he was straining against the ropes that were wrapped around his body, being held back by them. The gag in his mouth was muffling off his screams, but the look in his eyes was enough to show just how terrified he was, just how desperate he was. He was lying on the ground and no amount of struggling, no amount of jerking and pulling and yanking and screaming, pleading, begging would grant him another inch.
They were hurting him. He was brought in chains and they were flogging him, beating him with rocks and fists and he wasn’t making a single noise. He was taking it and the only sound that was heard was the sound of fists against skin, the tearing of flesh, and the sound of his muffled screams as he fought against his restraints to get to him. They would hurt him for this sudden fight. He had tried for so long to remain still, to show them that he had none left, but with just the sight of him on the ground, taking a beating for him; it was enough to spur on the fight. He would do anything to make it stop.
The beating didn’t stop and he didn’t stop fighting against the ropes that held him in place that confined him and bound him so tightly. He watched helplessly as his strength lessened. Several minutes passed, hours passed before he hit the ground and even then, they did not stop. The tears were streaming down his face and he couldn’t stop screaming, couldn’t stop the tears from falling from his eyes, the sobs that wracked his body, because this wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to feel this, wasn’t supposed to love him, and wasn’t supposed to allow this to happen. He had nothing to do with this why were they doing this it wasn’t supposed to happen it wasn’t it wasn’t it wasn’t –
His name was called – he was calling his name – and his gaze cleared just enough to take in the battered face of someone he thought he hated, but loved more than anything in the entire world. “It’s all right, brother …”
Like an animal, they led him over to his fallen body by the ropes. They wouldn’t release him, wouldn’t let him hold him or rock him or anything. So he did the only thing that he could think of – he rested his head against his chest, closed his eyes, calmed his tears for the moment, and tried to listen for the sound of his heart-beat. There. It was there and he allowed himself a sob as he listened to the glorious sound. He had no idea how long he sat there, his head on his chest, his entire body and mind in a state of peace for the first time in such a long time.
But he was unfortunate and his luck was bad, bad, bad, and as he listened to that glorious heart-beat, he began to notice how it got slower and slower, fainter and fainter. He picked his head up and stared down at him, at his broke body, his barely recognisable face. He called for him – muffled as it may be – before pressing his ear back against his chest. He was dying. They had beat him to the brink of death and they weren’t going to heal him, were going to let him die. His eyes squeezed shut and he forced his tears at bay, because he had to hear his heart-beat, couldn’t let it slip without his noticing.
And when it did, he died with him. He wailed and cried and screamed and tried to bring himself closer to his fallen body, but he was yanked away, forced away, and nothing he did could bring him closer. He cursed the ropes binding him, cursed the gag that held back all that he wanted to scream, cursed himself, cursed everything and everyone, because what was the point of living anymore? He was pulled away. He fought and screamed, yanking and jerking and screaming and shouting, but they didn’t even acknowledge him as they dragged him off, leaving his entire world in a broken, dead heap on that barren ground.
He was pulled into a solid frame and his first instinct was to scream and pull himself away and, right before Loki could get the chance, he forced himself to open his eyes. Before him was – his light, his beacon, his brother always his brother never doubt that I love you – Thor, his sparkling blue eyes filled with tears of his own. He ran a hand down the side of Loki’s face, urging him to look upon him and see that he was real, that he was safe, and that nothing would ever harm him again. He was speaking, but Loki couldn’t hear what he was saying, too absorbed in Thor, his light and his love and how could Loki think that Thor could never love him when he was suffocating on it. Loki shook his head and pressed himself against Thor, his arms wrapping around his neck, burying his face in the crook of his neck, because he was right there, he was okay and he was alive. He could feel the thundering of his heart and the sobs that ripped through Loki were enough to have him shaking and trembling. Thor’s arms wrapped around him, holding him close, and Loki relaxed in his grasp, allowing his words to wash over him, warming him.
“Will you not tell me what ails you, brother?” Thor asked after several minutes. His voice was thick with emotion and his hand hadn’t stopped rubbing soothing circles into his back. The other was holding the back of Loki’s neck, keeping him as close as possible. Just the sound of his voice made Loki’s eyes screw up tighter, knowing that what Thor wanted to hear would tear him apart, would break him entirely. And Loki couldn’t do that, because Thor – his brother – and his mother were the only reasons why he wasn’t losing himself completely to the darkness and the fear and the inevitable drop that was clinging to his ankles, weighing him down, pulling him, waiting for him to let go and fall, fall, fall. “I will help you. I will do anything to have you well again, Loki.”
“I know,” Loki’s forced response, his own voice sounding weak and strangled. He choked out the words and then tightened his grip on Thor, hating how weak and pathetic he sounded, but for once not caring, because Thor would take care of him. He could be strong with Thor. He could use Thor’s hope and his light and his unending faith to bring himself back from the brink and be Loki again, whoever that may be now. “But this … I cannot. I can barely survive it, but I know you will not. Please do not ask me again. You cannot know.”
He didn’t like it – Loki could tell that much with how Thor’s arms tightened around him, with how silent he became. And even though Loki would do anything to change that, he knew that he couldn’t cave. If there was one thing that Loki could do now, it was protect Thor from this. It was better that way. If Thor knew what he dreamt, what he saw … it would not only break him, but it would ignite a fire under him, would have him going to that barren rock to seek revenge and vengeance for his broken brother. Loki couldn’t let Thor do that. “I may not be able to share your burdens, brother, but do not shut me out. Give me what you can and let me ease your suffering.”
And Loki nodded his head and let out a shaky sigh, forcing the breath in and out of his lungs, because he needed to pull it together, needed to calm down. He could feel Thor’s chest rising and falling against his own, could feel his heart-beat thundering against his ribs. He could feel Thor, knew that he was there, that he wasn’t just a horrible image that his damaged mind concocted to torment him more. He had no idea how long he stayed in Thor’s arms. He had no idea how long he stayed there, just listening to the sound of his heart, feeling it beat against his chest. It was comforting and it was terrifying all at the same time, because he needed to make sure it didn’t fade, needed to make sure that he was alive. He knew, but he needed to be sure. Thor didn’t seem to mind. He shifted only once – and that was to pull them against the headboard – before falling still, his hand rubbing continuous soothing circles into his back.
There was a knock on the door a while later, one that caused Loki to tense up so quickly that it startled even Thor. The door opened and Loki released a small, fearful whine – one that caused his cheeks to redden and the tears to fall more freely, because how pathetic was he that he couldn’t even handle the door opening? Thor merely shushed him and tightened his grip around him, rocking him gently, calming him down. Whispered words were exchanged between his brother and the new arrival, but Loki didn’t care, couldn’t care, because all he needed in that moment was his brother. Soon there was silence. Loki could feel his body slowly start to calm, the tension in his limbs lessening until he was composed again. His eyelids grew heavy and he wasn’t strong enough to ward off sleep, but that didn’t matter, because Thor was there, and Thor was safe, and Thor would protect him against the evils that threatened to bring him down.
Loki fell asleep in Thor’s arms and, for the first time in such a long, long time, he slept peacefully.