Thor had loved his brother for more than a thousand years. His love hadn’t ended with Loki’s betrayal, even though he wished it had, and he was learning that it wouldn’t end even with Loki’s death. The ache inside of him that had been growing like a sickening wound since New Mexico, since Midgard, only got worse.
Thor loved his brother, who was gone.
He had to make Loki a ship. Asgard had lost so many to Malekith that the fleet was depleted to the barest of fishing vessels, and Thor wouldn’t take one of those, not when food itself was scarce. The main hall still filled its tables with food for feasting, but once the warriors had eaten their fill, the leftovers were now shared with those outside. The warriors needed the food because they needed the energy to fight. The nine worlds had not collapsed but neither had they completely calmed. Asgard’s armies had been hard hit, but were still strong.
Volstagg started losing weight. Thor felt a constant gnawing in his belly that he was happy to blame on hunger. Never before had their homeland been burnt, the fields decimated, whole orchards razed to the ground.
So he built Loki’s ship with his bare hands. Carved twisted wood and caulked it, working an intricate, twisting design into the rim. If he’d had magic, or if Frigga had lived, he would have made the designs dance with power. But they were gone and all that was left were Odin and Thor, two men with blunt weapons and few words.
Heimdall and Sif came to the shore when he set the boat free. It was empty, save for the silks he’d draped it with to make it look less barren. Silks, the book he’d found in Loki’s cell, and flowers. Sif brought one of Idun’s golden apples and placed it at the bow.
Thor imagined he could feel Odin’s eyes on him as he drew back his arrow. Sif lit the flame and Heimdall murmured something Thor couldn’t hear as the ship reached the edge of the waterfall and unceremoniously left their sight.
When he turned, the balconies were empty; there was no sight of his father. No sight of anyone.
Loki had deserved more than Thor could give him.
He left Asgard behind him and was welcomed back to Midgard by Jane’s laughter and eager embrace. She made room for him in her life and in her bed, room in her closet to fill with the clothes Darcy bought for him, room on the shelves in her kitchen for the food he was learning to like.
He knew that Darcy and Erik Selvig celebrated Loki’s passing. He could not blame them, because he knew that Loki had hurt them. He could not blame them, and so he pasted an emotionless mask on his face whenever his brother’s name was mentioned. He pretended that he didn’t care. He could pretend that he, too, knew his brother as an enemy and traitor and threat and nothing else.
He could pretend with the others.
Jane—Jane asked him for stories about his mother. Stories about when he and Loki were children. She asked like she was hungry for his history, she asked honestly, and she listened the way Frigga used to do.
He wondered if Loki had ever loved anyone the way Jane loved Thor. He wondered if Loki had truly loved anyone other than himself and Thor.
Given Loki’s pitiful burial and subdued farewell, he thought it unlikely.
The dagger wound and amputated hand that he’d suffered at Loki’s hands to fool Malekith had been illusions, but there was a scar on his torso that Loki had dug with a dagger during the battle of New York. That was real. That was a story he didn’t have to tell Jane. (It had been caught on camera. The pain on Thor’s face, the tears on Loki's, were played on the television that Ian had taught him how to use.)
On the screen, over and over: Loki’s face. Buildings in ruins. The Avengers struggling and fighting and sometimes killing, eventually winning. Those and commercials for things Thor didn’t understand. Darcy and Ian tried to explain and Thor smiled like he understood. Nine worlds he had visited, and he’d chosen to live on the one he understood least.
He had hated Loki for a handful of years. A fistful of time slipping through his fingers (his hands so used to holding on), For years he had thought Loki a snake and his words venom. He had hated Loki and loved him still and not known what to do with both emotions running through him like twin rivers, both threatening to pull him under.
He loved and hated Loki even after his death, and he loved Jane with the shadow of Loki’s sacrifice shifting under the surface of his I love you, and he even loved the world he didn’t understand.
He loved his teammates for their strength and bravery the same way he loved Sif and the warriors three. New brothers and sister in arms who failed to fill the silence echoing over his shoulder where Loki’s voice used to be, mocking and teasing and teaching him.
He left Loki’s body on a barren world, sent his respects to the afterworld floating over the edge of an abyss, and one night when she asked for stories he shared a sliver of his centuries of memories with his new beloved.
She petted his hair and said, “You must have loved him very much.”
“I did,” he agreed. He was lying on her bed, her notebooks spread around them, his head pillowed in her lap. He closed his eyes and felt her fingers move absentmindedly as she caressed the curve of his neck.
“I have never been good with words,” he said, starting and stuttering the words, biting off the end. Her hands stilled, fingers tightening in his hair. She bent over him and kissed his shoulder, kissed his arm, kissed wherever she could reach without letting go of him. “I wish to say,” he started to say, “I wish to explain, but I—” His hands tightened and her blanket tore in his grip. He forced himself to let it go and found himself with empty hands and a loss for words.
“It’s okay that you still love him,” she said, like she was offering it to him.
“It’s not,” he tried to say. It choked in his throat, like a spell gone awry. “I don’t,” he said.
“You do. And it’s okay.”
When he finally cried, for the thousand years he’d had a brother at his side, and for the handful of years he’d spent with Loki holding a dagger at his back instead of guarding it, it left him empty and aching but no longer sick; no longer starving.
He loved Loki for more than a thousand years and on a dark night on Midgard, in Jane’s mortal grip, he let Loki go.