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You knew you had a reason it killed you like  diseases,

I can hear it in your voice while you're speaking, "It can't be treated.""

-The Neighborhood, "Wires".


 

 

They weren't feeding him to begin with, so can he really be blamed?

At least, it wasn't true food. Normal food. The kind that won't leave someone nauseous for days and everything else oddly fiery. Loki's fairly certain it's mostly poisons, but his body could've simply not adapted to the Chitauri's coarse meals; he doesn't know, doesn't care. It all leaves him vomiting shaking, and sickly for days, so does it really matter?

The quiet part of his head, the one that has never stopped trying to understand everything insists so. That, if he is to die here, at least he'll have a proper diagnosis of why he died. The louder part, trying to keep him alive, insists that it matters very, very little.

At some point, he was still aware that he had to have the nutrients to survive or escape, even with what little he was provided. Without the energy, his sedir will be useless and he, in turn, will be utterly defenseless. He hated the mess the poisons left his body in, but the vomiting was better, knowing that his sedir was getting something.

Not enough to help him get very far in escaping, but enough to remind him it's still there.

Thanos was always insistent that they tame the wild power within him—they couldn't control it. Couldn't tame it—and apparently the Other knew enough about sedir to have a basic idea how to somewhat restrain it. Loki fought them at first with it, but the less he replenished his energy, the worse the damage he did to himself more than the others.

That was enough to motivate them to cut his portions from little to almost nothing.
The poison was added as a mental game later, he thinks.

He spent weeks in that limbo, trying to survive, but throwing up everything they gave him because the Chitauri found it amusing to watch him heave. (When he can get out of here, he's going to kill every single one of them, slowly, painfully).

He doesn't know how long he's been in the Sanctuary when Thanos drags his bloodied, battered body into his throne room. His daughters are there, looking battered and beaten, but Loki turns his gaze away to try and hide his humiliation.

He doesn't need to see their sneering to know it's there.

The Master, rather than the execution a large portion of his mind was insisting was inevitable, shows him the Mind Stone. It wasn't in the scepter, then, rather the Master held the yellow stone in his bare hand, holding it out for Loki to see. Loki had wanted to touch it, hold it in his hands and let his sedir fester beneath its power, regain something. He wasn't foolish enough to try and take it, knowing what the punishment would be.

His entire being is exhausted, and he'd very much wanted to collapse to his knees and weep because everything hurt and he couldn't keep standing for much longer. The gashes down his back were bleeding again, infection weeping from them as well he's certain, though it's impossible to tell without better tools.

"When you are strong enough, Little King, you can wield this," the Master said with a faint smile in his voice. The implications of that...Loki isn't stupid. Wielding power means that he would be able to leave and the strain in his shoulders, the blood dripping down his back, and the exhaustion in his limbs from lack of sleep assures him that there was nothing more important than being strong enough to wield the Stone, consequences be what they are.

Loki wanted so desperately to take it, so he could leave.

So he could go home, but he'd never breathe that out loud.

The Master has insisted that this is his home now, and Loki doesn't care how many times Ebony Maw insists to him that Thor threw him from the Bifrost and Odin applauded him on, Asgard is home. It is the only home he has known, and should he have to restart again, hidden among the citizens, so be it.

He had to get away from here.

He doesn't want to choke on his own blood to death here. He's already come close enough to terrify him that he would. The fact that it is a possibility is enough to cause his head lift to the Master's patient, but empty eyes.

"What must I do to gain this strength?" Loki questions. His voice is flat, dead, but no manipulations work here and he's given up trying. Ebony reads heads, and after months of torture, Loki's defenses—always praised so deeply by his mother and other sedir wielders—fell. Crumpled. Toppled.

His lies were taken as the walls fell, and his tongue has not felt like his own since then.

That was a long time ago.

The Master gave another one of his faintly pleased smiles, and rested a hand on his shoulder. Loki's entire body trembled beneath the touch, and his senses had heighted with terror, nerves jumping overdrive. It has been so long since anyone touched him without the intent to hurt, and Loki finds he doesn't like it.

"Your sedir," the Master said, almost carefully, and Loki tried not to let his face visibly fall, "it must go. You know that it is far to wild, Little King, and I would see you find success among the Order."

Wild.

Go.

Mine.

Loki tried to shake that last one off, but found himself strangely incapable. Sedir. His sedir. The only thing that was ever truly his. The Idiots Three and Egotistic Sif didn't share his gift, and Thor barely tapped into elemental powers enough to use Mjolnir properly, though Loki knows that he's restraining himself. Without a focus, he'd be so much more powerful.

But that doesn't matter.

What matters is that it's his...and he doesn't want the Master to take that, too.

What is he doing? It's survival or his sedir, and only one of those is required to get back to his fam—Asgard. Asgard is all that matters, because, though Loki tried to end his life, he doesn't want to die. (He wants to stop existing. That's different than death, because he is terrified of death). He wants, so terribly, like a weepy child, to go home.

Wild.

Go.

Loki can tame his sedir, repress it, but he can't remove it entirely. Sedir is alive, and flowing through him like blood—it is blood—and to take it would kill him. It is why the Other has not found success in that endeavor. He has tried. It was the first time Loki began to beg.

Loki's fists are clenching, and the blood from where he bit his tongue is beginning to pool into his mouth. Every pragmatic part of him insists that there is little point to this, and that the Master is going to kill him in the end, anyway, so there is no point in trying to fight it.

But then he thinks of what will happen should he refuse, and suddenly there is no decision. It is only fact. "Yes," Loki agrees, and the word tastes dry and in his mouth, "yes, I agree. I can remove it."

The Master gives an approving smile, and something in Loki cries out in disgust as another revels with pride. The Master smooths Loki's ratty, messy hair on his scalp and Loki tries not to shudder at the touch.

"You are wise, Little King," the Master assures, "I am proud."

And, well, that's all that matters, isn't it?

There is a part of him that will never stop trying to prove himself to everyone—he has never had to not before—and this simply falls into that category without much fight.

He can do this.

It won't be that hard.

Loki doesn't eat that night at all, and the Chitauri that comes to clean up the dishes side glances him, makes a sneering comment, and then leaves Loki in peace. He knows of no way to remove his sedir save to bleed himself dry, but the Master has insisted that he isn't to die just yet, and Loki must respect that. The Master granted him life again, another chance, and Loki isn't going to shoot it down so quickly. So foolishly.

If his sedir is to go, then it is to go, no questions asked.

And the only way Loki knows to do that without other tools is to deprive it of energy. Sedir cannot do everything, and Loki knows of basic restrictions that apply to those wielding it. Hands have to move, the wielder must be able to draw energy from around themselves to use, and the supply of sedir within their own blood has to be prepared to act as a middle man between the mind and the hands. If it is not, then the sedir will fizzle, grow weaker, and eventually painful beyond measure.

Should it continue long enough, there is a chance that the wielder could poison their blood, or explode their sedir, but Loki has only heard of that in extreme cases, and hasn't feared much of it before.

Energy for the sedir, the middle man, has always been food. If Loki is to deprive himself of it, then it will collapse. He's not stupid. He knows how to fix this with some ease, and despite how much he doesn't want it, he fears what would happen should he refuse.

The Master suggested they take his tongue, or perhaps his arm to help tame—calm him, and that petrifies him.

The Master said the sedir must go, though Loki loathes it. His muscles are still sore, his back still slick with blood, and Loki wants so awfully to go home that he fears something in him will snap. He is hungry, but it is nothing unusual. The Chitauri have starved him since he arrived here, and this isn't any different.

Removal of the food will remove the sedir, and Loki has to let it go to get out of here.

To go home. (He is home).

Day two is harder, but there is only one portion of rations fed to the prisoners, so Loki isn't tempted beyond once that day. He's a little dizzy, everywhere still hurts from the Other's last session, and he knows that he should have made better headway healing than he has, but that doesn't matter.

His sedir is disquieted within him, restless as always, and Loki is relieved.

Day three leaves him with a pulsing headache and a desire to vomit everywhere, his limbs are stiffer than before, and he can't get the stupid wounds on his back to stop weeping blood. His natural healing is a mess from the poison, and his sedir—always there to protect him, care for him, fix him—is unable to do much else than numb the pain.

Loki nearly caves on day four, his stomach is lurching with pain, and his hands are beginning to shake. His vision is blurry, and thoughts scattered. He even goes so far as to pick the food up, a thin bowl of gruel, but the thought of Frigga's gentle voice makes him lower it.

Sedir rot in Helheim.

Loki's getting out of here.

It takes until day six before he finally feels something in him snap. It wakes him from his pained reverie—the Other had spoken with him, leaving his head a fraying mess and Ebony had picked up the pieces yet again—and Loki gasps sharply, hands coming up to press against his ribcage where his heart has stuttered in his chest.

The rhythm has changed. It doesn't settle on sluggish or rapid, but a mixture of both and the pain it aches with is enough for him to panic at. He's going to die. He's going to die before he gets back to Asgard, and he has worked so hard to return, but it was all for not and—

Loki reaches for his sedir by habit, something to calm him, reassure, but is only met with a stinging fiery pain where there should be a soothing chill. Gasping, and attempting not to vomit, Loki rolls on his side. This wasn't what he wanted to happen, but it is good.

It is progress.

His sedir is unreachable, and that is what the Master wanted.

But it won't be enough. Loki can still reach it with a meal, he knows he will be able to, and that isn't what the Master wanted. It must be gone, completely, utterly, and that will take so much longer. He wants to weep, but withholds himself from releasing the childish tears. There is a hunger deeply settled in his bones, and Loki does not find himself quite capable of stopping his desire for food.

(What is he doing!?)

The Other does not come that day, and Loki spends a majority of it with a hand pressed against his unsteady heart trying not to panic. It feels as if it will give out on him at any moment, and this, too, is a nod off towards his vanishing sedir. Sedir is blood. If it is disrupted enough, as will be the heart.

He tries to withhold himself, tries to assure himself that a few more days will break the sedir fully, but when a Chitauri sets his portion down in his cell, Loki cannot stop himself. Terror of the odd rhythm is what sends him crawling across the floor and trying not to weep—his back has still not healed, this must be a record—Loki grabs at the little bit of bread and eats like a ravenous beast.

It disgusts him later, how he does not even attempt to restrain himself.

Such weakness.

Such gluttony.

Now he must start all over, all because he was weak and foolish and let himself slip up and now his sedir will have some strength, when Loki is meant to be snapping it wholly. (What is he doing!?) He needs this. He must go home. He has to apologize to Thor for attempting to kill him, he must apologize to Frigga for lying to her, and he should apologize to Odin for nearly getting him killed.

It seems unfair for some odd reason—(they threw you, you idiot, they threw you into the Void to suffer this, and you would return?)—but Loki finds himself too tired to contemplate much else. If he isn't to return to his fam—to Asgard, where will he go?

He is hungry.

And he wants to go home.

He has to destroy his sedir before he can fix both of those.

He plays in this limbo for weeks. What weight he had managed to keep scrapes off him entirely, but Loki knows it is just a side effect, and he doesn't care much about it. His sedir is weakened, so desperate for nutrients that it is the pain of that, rather than hunger, that Loki can focus on.

Maybe that is a blessing, but it's hard to tell.

Loki's back has taken another beating, and his ribs are broken from where Gamora hit him, but none of this matters anymore when the Master, at last, finally, blessedly, steps into his cell. The Other is following behind him like the pathetic underling he is, but Loki has eyes only for the Master.

The Titan steps forward, and Loki attempts to scrape himself off the floor enough to kneel—he'd refused at first, to kneel before this murderer, but now he knows better. He's learned it—but can't quite get himself there. His limbs are weak, and his headache is so intense he fears it will split his skull into multiple pieces, rather than simply crack it.

Loki lands on his side with a hard jolt, and tries to quell embarrassment. His back is still slick with his blood. "Little King," the Master says, and Loki lifts his gaze up, because there is little else he can do.

"My lord," Loki's voice is raspy. His tongue is still dry. His throat always feels dry now, but the Chitauri rarely give him enough water.

"I have seen your progress," the Master's voice is slick, and Loki remembers a time when his own was so smooth. Without hitches and the little gasps he lives with now, "you are doing exceptionally well. Soon, I think, you will be strong enough for the mission I have for you."

"Soon"!? Why not now?! Has he not done enough!? What more can he give before the Master will be satisfied?

A mission.

Loki's stomach sinks, and his chest seizes with terror. No, he won't do this. He won't work for a murderer of thousands. Asgard taught him better than to do that. He's a monster, but he won't serve one. There is already enough blood on his hands. He is beyond redemption, that much he knows, but Loki must have reached the bottom of how far he can sink by now.

His crimes aren't exactly little.

"I don't…" Loki starts, but the Master's piercing eyes flick to him, and the sudden bout of bravery pulsing through his chest skitters to a stop, releases a small wail, and dies. His back still hurts, and he is so hungry.

"What was that?" The Master questions, and Loki shakes his head. He can see the Other smirking faintly, and it rises a faint, wispy anger within him. Not enough for Loki to grasp fully, but enough to let him know it's there.

"Nothing," Loki's voice is so quiet he's not sure if he actually spoke the words out loud.

Evidently, he did, because the Master nods in agreement. "Good, it is what I thought, Little King. Soon, you will make me proud."

He doesn't want to.

He has to leave.

His sedir must die.

He has to leave.

He wants to go home.

Loki only nods, and endeavors to try harder. His sedir must go. It must die because Loki will not survive should he harbor it any longer. He'll snap it. He'll break it. He swears on his life, because there is no way to circle around this. His only hope of survival is to refuse to feed it.

He can do that.

Gamora is standing behind her father, Loki didn't quite notice her at first, but she makes a little noise he can't interpret. Her face, usually so placid, is drawn into an open horror. She looks like she might be sick, and those piercing eyes lift from him to her father as if she has never seen him before.

Loki doesn't see her again after that.

The following days (week? month?) is a blur. Loki hardly remembers anything save pain, blood, and the constant, ever pressing gnaw of hunger. It tugs at his stomach like a man crushing a heart, and Loki can do nothing to quell it. He doesn't dare. There is some relief, he supposes, in the fact that every time he tries to reach for his sedir he is only met with the fiery, aching pang of loss. It's like trying to dip his hands into acid, and he is satisfied by this. Look how weak it is.

He is so much stronger now.

The Master will be proud, and finally let him leave—if only for a brief moment. Loki knows it will be longer. He will concoct a plan with his half mad mind to escape the Titan's clutches entirely. He's not coming back, no matter how loyal a dog the Master claims him to be.

Draw strength in the pain.

Strength.

Strength.

At last, bloodied, bruised, and drained dry of sedir, Loki is brought before the Master. The scepter is stuffed into his hands after being pressed against his chest—the haze of blue is hard to make anything out of—and the Master gives him his instructions. He is to retrieve the Tesseract, and claim Midgard as his own. Should time and resources permit (he says this with the assurance that they will, and Loki feels the weight of that settle in his bones), he will also find and claim the Time Stone.

Aching, pained, and a headache strong enough to split his skull sixteen ways, Loki is sent tumbling into Midgard without having proper time to prepare himself. He's dressed in armor, and the scepter in his hands, but mentally he is a mess.

He keeps himself collected enough, he supposes, throughout the whole ordeal. Most of it is a blur. The Hawk pleads with him to eat at one point—Loki knows better, without sedir he is free—and Selvig keeps giving him funny looks. Tilting his head as if he doesn't quite understand.

Loki gives him sneers in response, and attempts to not be as disquieted by this as he is.

Illusions are a miracle, and he guesses one of the only ways Thor does not suspect something immediately wrong.

It's why he suspects that nothing is wrong. "Who controls the would be king!?"

It is not who controls him, it is what he controls.

And then the beast has slammed him into the ground, and Loki is drawing desperately at the last supplies of what he hid to repair his broken back. It sears in a way he has never known before, but without the blue tint to his vision, he feels so utterly stupid. He needs his sedir to survive, and what on the Nine was he doing?

It had made sense at the time, but no longer.

Thor doesn't notice the fragility of his skin and bones when he drags him back to Asgard.

Odin does not notice. He assures him his birthright is to die, and Loki tries not to shrivel at that. Sentenced to solitary confinement for the rest of his existence, never again to see the sun, or reach his only source of light. It is far to cruel, he thinks, for Odin to have tossed him into the Void, and then insist that this is a father seeking the best for his son.

Execution is not an option, apparently, given Frigga.

Loki wishes they'd just grant him quarter and be done with the deed.

000o000

Only Frigga does note his sudden frailty, and he supposes that is enough. She encourages him to eat, but Thanos has poisoned his mind in a way that he can't heal quickly. She's patient with him, never directly asking of the problem, and encourages him to try and get better.

As if he is simply sick, and not insane.

Ha.

"Loki, please," his mother's exhaustion is prevalent on one of the harder days. Loki has thrown the soup across the room in anger, and is attempting not to vomit everything he's already eaten that day. (Nothing, but she needn't know that).

"I can't," he growls. His voice sounds more desperate than anything else, and he hates himself for it. "It needs to die."

"What must die, son?" Frigga's expression has tilted, but it is not an uncommon phrase between them. Loki is slipping in his madness. The isolation of his sentence has driven him further into insanity, and both he and his mother are aware of it.

The Other is going to come and see how little progress he's made in destroying his sedir, and Loki will be whipped bloody again. Maybe they'll really remove his hand this time. Perhaps Ebony will crawl through his head and rearrange what's in there once more. Loki hates it when he does that.

His mental shields are so weak now.

"It must die." Loki repeats, grasping at his stomach as if he can make the sedir crawl out so he can stab it. The Master was right about it all. His sedir is wild and uncontrollable. Untamable. (Good. He does not want it to be). He must kill it.

He doesn't want to die here.

"Son," Frigga's voice is ever so tired, and Loki jolts at the sound of it. He snaps back into the present, and tilts his head back towards her. Her eyes are tight and Loki hobbles to his feet, brushing his tattered hair back.

He must not fail her.

(He is so tired).

"The books I sent," her voice has shifted, carrying pleasantries Loki knows are false, "did they not interest you?"

000o000

And then there is no point to remember the food, because nothing matters with Frigga dead.

His mother.

The only person who saw him is dead, and Loki doesn't have enough energy to be frightened anymore. (He tries to tell himself that as he curls into gasping balls of panic, the guise of Odin removed because he doesn't have the strength to keep it up.)

000o000

There is one thing he's supposed to be doing right now, but suddenly the weight of Surtur's crown in his arms doesn't matter. For whatever his word means now—as little as it ever has—Loki had not expected to see the Tesseract sitting out in the open. Not in the treasury room. Not so close.

He hasn't been down here for six years.

Hadn't wanted to touch anything or look at it all after the Casket, and his time as king was no exception. He was always trying to steer his people to prepare better for Thanos's eventual coming, wanted them as safe as he could make them, but he hadn't personally checked the resources in here. He could have someone else make the list, and he had.

He knew the Tesseract was in here, yes, but it hadn't really occurred to him until he laid eyes on it what to do with that information.

The Other's words are a faint whisper in the back of his mind, and Loki's hands are stiff and suddenly uncomfortable as he attempts to shove the memories pouring into his head out of focus. His gait stutters, and Loki's mouth parts a little as he passes the Tesseract before he stops completely.

He needs to rest the crown down on the Eternal Flame. He has no other purpose here.

He needs to hurry.

He needs—

Loki reaches a hand out and plucks the cold cube from off of it's stand. His mind shutters as it's familiar, luring energy whispers to him once more, and his sedir recoils in his chest with disgust. The feeling is not unknown to him, but it doesn't make him like it any more than he did.

He's going to be sick all over this floor, and it won't be a pleasant sight.

Drop it. You don't need it.

No, he doesn't. Asgard does. The Tesseract is their salvation from Thanos, and, Norns curse it all, Loki is not going to leave them to the balance. Midgard was supposed to be the refuge, where he would hide them all and any others from Thanos's hand. His loyalty will be his downfall, he knows this, he has since early childhood, but he is not going to leave them to suffer the same fate he did.

A year was more than enough time to know what madness lurks inside the Titan's head.

Loki places the Tesseract in his cache, and picks up the pace as he surges forward to find the Eternal Flame. A few whispered words he can hardly remember and an audible spell—the most powerful, and how does he even know this one?—later, Loki feels the ground tremble beneath his feet.

He's nearly thrown as Surtur begins to rise, eyes heated and sword gripped in one hand as his booming voice roars out something likely poetic. Realistically, it's probably more of a threat or a promise of death. Loki doesn't know and doesn't care.

He tears the Tesseract out of his cache and holds it in his hands for a second. It's cold, and humming at him with a whispered voice. Promises of something he doesn't want to listen for. He can see his reflection murkily in the glass, and Surtur as well.

He has seconds, and he needs to decide where it is that he's going.

His first thought is immediately Thor, his people, and what remains of the slaves he smuggled from Sakaar, but the glass between his fingers stops him completely. If he goes, Thanos will follow. Asgard has protective spells against outside sources poking through the energy here, it is why Loki allowed himself the small notion of freedom. (He couldn't leave the planet if he wanted to stay alive, someone would recognize his sedir, even with masking). If he steps a foot on the Statesmen, Thanos will rip through them.

No.

Loki is selfish, horribly so, and he can't stand the idea of watching his sibling die. He can't wade through Asgardian bodies and, with shame, hand the Tesseract to Thanos anyway. It is inevitable. And Loki is so tired of running.

Thor will never have to know, and the anger will wear off in time.

Loki isn't a hero, but he is going to save them.

He did, after all, claim to be their savior, and what good would he be if he led them to their death? He is a wanted man for his failure, and, should Thanos permit it, Loki will fix the error of six years past, and then return to his people, his family, and perhaps, at last, rest.

Loki doesn't teleport onto the Statesman.

Instead, he pulls through space to land himself on the Sanctuary to repay his debt.

And he doesn't leave.

000o000

Since their early childhood, Loki has always been something like water. Fluid, but very present. Thor remembers being frustrated at his sibling's ability to slip out of nearly any situation, be it verbally or physically, with ease. Where Thor is solid, Loki is not. He didn't expect anything different when he told Loki to start Ragnarok.

The reality of what he asked his brother to do, doesn't really strike him until he's standing on the Statesmen beside the other refugees watching Surtur tear through Asgard. The fire is a dazzling display, something that he thinks might be beautiful in a different circumstance, but it is so very there. Gullpalasset, the palace, is consumed in seconds, rather than the whole minute or two Thor first was counting on.

A minute is plenty of time for Loki to slip through.

Seconds is harder.

Thor is watching his city, his country, be torn through with one good eye, and everything in him is gaping with growing horror. He thinks that Korg may have said something of reassurance, but Thor can't pick out words clearly.

Asgard is a supernova, split down the middle and taking all life with it.

And his little brother was on that.

000o000

Stupidly, optimistically, Thor had waited for Loki to return avidly for weeks. Every shadow that shifted in his eye, every time he turned, Thor was expecting Loki to be there with that cocky look in his eyes and the faint smile of success on his face. Their relationship has been strained morso than it ever has been before in their lives this last decade, but Thor knows that Loki would tell him that he escaped Surtur.

If it was by his choice that they finally do part ways permanently, Loki would say so.

(Would he, a nasty voice in his head questions constantly, you left him in enemy territory, invalid, as you sneared words of hate in his face, and you honestly expect him to want to talk to you?) Thor tries his best to ignore this, but it is nearly impossible.

Loki doesn't come back.

And then Thanos attacks.

000o000

Two months later, after Asgard's survivors have finally found their way to Earth and they've begun settlement in Norway, Thor is attempting to get some sleep in the tent he's calling home when Nebula rips open the flap.

The last month has been nothing short of exhausting in every way possible, and Thor refused to stop. No one offered him help when he went to first the United Nations to plead for his cause. They directed him to Norway, one of the few places willing to offer them refuge without strings attached, and Thor had jumped on the opportunity.

The other Avengers are attempting to pick up the pieces and learn how to better defend against future threats along with trying to decide what to do with the Infinity Stones. Unlike before—and why is a part of him vindictively pleased about this?—they can't just send anything too hard for them to deal with up to Asgard.

Maybe he is so restless on that fact because of their anger with him.

He didn't go for the head.

He was stupid.

He knows that.

They didn't need to remind him every possible second until Nebula cut off her father's head and Rocket stole the stones.

He had honestly not expected to see Nebula for a long time after she turned the Stones over to them. She and Rocket went in search of her father two months ago, attempting to locate the Titan before he does something else disastrous with the Stones and they were successful. Apparently Nebula remembered something Gamora had said and grabbed Rocket by the scruff his of jacket and pulled him onto the Benatar.

Thor doesn't know.

He wasn't there. At that time he was trying to get in contact with Brunnhilde after two weeks of no correspondence and panic beginning to settle in his bones. Tony had assured him that the distance of light years was bound to cause some problems, and Thor had snipped that the Asgardians were going to trade out ships for one that could actually use the jump points.

No matter.

Thanos's "garden"—how dare he go to something so tranquil after the mass slaughter that he did. He had no right to kill any of those people, especially none of Thor's. Thanos is not God. He had no right to play with life the way he did—was what remained of Gamora's home planet, and Nebula had put two and two together, left without telling anyone and returned with Thanos's head on a pike as proof of her deed as Rocket was hauling the Infinity Stones.

After that all they had to do was reverse the snap, and that was that. Nebula left with Rocket and the others to trade for Gamora's soul on Vorimir, and Thor had assumed from that point on, that yes, they would likely not make any contact with the Guardians of the Galaxy anymore.

Why would they?

What point was there?

So yeah, he's more than a little surprised to be snapped into attention at Nebula's rough voice: "Thor!"

Jerking into a sitting position and wiping sleep out of his eye hurriedly, Thor flicks his gaze up to the woman. Half of her body is leaning into the tent and the other half is outside of it. Her eyes are wide, but still seem narrowed with anger. "I need to talk to you," she says and Thor squints at the daylight painfully.

Curses to whoever decided to make suns that bright.

Thor blinks, struggling to wake up, but hobbles to his feet after grabbing Stormbreaker and meets her outside of the tent. "What's the problem?" He questions. Behind her is Quill, and Thor can see Rocket perched on the shoulder of the half-human man.

All of them look grim. As if they've been to a funeral and are now required to tell the closest kin of loss. Something sinks in his stomach, a dreadful lurch that nearly causes him to make an audible gasp.

"You better come with us," Quill says after a second, and Nebula's steady eyes don't leave his face as she nods in agreement. Uncomfortable, but trusting that this probably isn't an assassination attempt, Thor follows after the three with a wariness settled deep in his bones.

The Asgardians they pass give them curious looks, but none outright question what they are doing, or where they are going. At least, until they walk past Brunnhilde who is helping General Tyr with a public building—Thor can't even remember which one, there's been an order for dozens—and she slips away to grab him by the ear.

"I told you to go to bed, you idiot," she seethes, pulling him down to her height, "what on Nornheim are you doing up?"

Thor winces, attempting to wiggle from the grip, but finding no success. "This is important." He insists.

"I told you thirty minutes ago. Thirty minutes." Brunnhilde says, and the outcry of her voice at last catches the front of his party. Quill turns around with confusion before open amusement flashes over his features. Nebula's face is dissembled.

"Who is this?" Quill questions and then his lips quiver up, "Why Thor, why didn't you tell me there's a lady you fancy?"

Brunnhilde releases him suddenly, and both of them share a look of open disgust at the thought. The only person Thor has deeply and truly ever loved in that fashion was Jane, and there will be no others to follow her.

"Elgh," Brunnhilde voices, and her fists curl, "I'm going to hit you," she decides, but Thor grabs at her wrist before she can accomplish the deed.

"No, don't," he commands, "no more bloody noses this week."

"Says you," Brunnhilde sniffs.

"Says your king," Thor reminds, and resists the urge to rub at the headache forming behind his eyelids. Thor looks up at Quill, face still faintly alight with amusement before he lifts out a hand to Brunnhilde, "Starlord, this is Brunnhilde. She's my…"

Second-in-Command? Emotional support? Kidnapper?

"Sister," Brunnhilde settles on before he can make a decision, and though Thor's first instinct is to recoil at the word heavily, he doesn't. Sister is a title he can only attach to Darcy, and now he must with Hela. (He killed his sister by blood because he was too weak to try and talk her down). It's...nice, almost, to place it onto Brunnhilde.

Fitting.

Quill's eyebrow lifts slightly, but Nebula punches him on the arm, hard, "We don't have time for this, Peter," she reminds in a gravelly voice, and all humor drops from Starlord's expression abruptly. Nodding, they set forward again.

Brunnhilde joins their party after a second of hesitation, and then they make their way back to where the Benatar is parked on the hillside. As they draw closer, Nebula turns her head slightly to speak with him, "After we succeeded in bargaining for Gamora, my sister and I decided to wipe all traces of Thanos's existence away." She starts, and Thor's eyebrows lift slightly.

That cannot be an easy task, given how much he has taken.

"Our first order of business was to destroy his bases and release any prisoners he was holding captive," Nebula continues softly, and something dark coils in his stomach again. A hopeful flutter whispers at the edge of his mind, but Thor shoves it to the side.

No.

Not now.

They stop at the ramp for the Benatar, where Drax is standing next to the door. As they approach, the warrior's frown deepens into something that should have been chiseled. Thor looks back at Nebula for direction, and she shoves past him to walk into the ship.

Wordlessly, he and Brunnhilde follow.

Nebula leads them down a few corridors before stopping in front of what Thor's guessing must be a medical room from the sound and the smells. Her hesitation is long enough for Thor and Brunnhilde to share a deep look of apprehension. "We've already returned who we could home, and buried the bodies we found, but…" Nebula trails, exhaling slowly, "I'm sorry,"

She moves to the side, and Thor slowly takes a step into the room. It's brightly lit, like most healing halls, and it takes his eyes a moment to adjust to that before he can make out the figures in the room. His heart stutters in his chest.

Mantis is sitting at the head of a hospital bed, hands gently caressing the pale form laying strewn across it as she sings quietly. Another woman with green skin and dark hair, Gamora, he's assuming, is monitoring the medical equipment with hard eyes from her position in the chair seated at the end of the cot.

His voice is strangled up in his throat and refuses to come out at both his relief and daunting horror. Brunnhilde regains the ability to speak first: "Lackey," her voice is soft, but it isn't drowning in the horror that Thor feels.

His little brother is laying on the hospital bed. His dark hair is strewn around his face, split down the middle, unlike the usual slicking back he does when he's conscious. It's natural curl is showing through easily, and Thor has half a mind to recognize that someone must have combed it recently.

An oxygen mask is strapped around his mouth, and his face is a mess of bruises and still healing cuts. Under his eyes are bags deep enough they look swollen. His brother has always been thin, but the utter gauntness of his face reminds Thor abruptly of the battle of New York. Loki's face is jutting bones, and skin stretches across his fingers in an almost disturbing fashion.

Loki is little more than skin and bones.

But that is nothing in contrast to his hands.

They're bandaged to his forearms, but Thor can recognize the tinge of burned, blackened skin from what is sticking out. It must have hurt, whatever it was, to draw skin so deeply away from muscle. There's other broken bones, he knows that, but he can't stop looking at his sibling's face.

Loki is alive.

Loki is breathing.

Loki is alive.

All this time, Thor was so certain that Surtur had...and Loki was...was...oh, oh no. Nebula's words replay in his head, repeating like a broken record and a little sob escapes him as he moves across the room and tumbles to his knees beside Loki's bed. They were cleaning out Thanos's bases and previous places of operation, which means that his brother was…

His little brother was…

For how long?

How long did this go on?

"Loki," Norns above, is that his voice? It doesn't sound anything like his own, "Loki." His hand comes up to gently cup Loki's broken hand in his own, and he notes with no small amount of horror just how small it feels. What did Thanos do?

Thor should have been the one to take off his head. Take of his head properly.

He had no idea that he needed to avenge Loki amid the others. If Thanos was still alive…

Brunnhilde's hand lands on his shoulder, gripping it tightly. Her fingers are strong, and he feels so weak. This is his little brother. His baby brother, and he is so very broken and tattered in the bed.

"He's not in pain," Mantis's awful singing comes to a stop, and Thor looks up from Loki's face to her for a brief second to meet her wide eyes. She's making an odd face, one that looks like she's stretching her lips painfully. Smiling. He thinks she's trying to smile with reassurance, but it's hard to tell. Mantis gently strokes the side of Loki's pale face, "I've seen to that."

Thor makes a little choking noise, and bows his head on the mattress, "I had no idea he was still alive," he admits, and the truth feels like an admission of an awful crime. "I had no idea,"

"I didn't either," Brunnhilde reassures, her voice is a faint whisper beside his ear, "we would have saved his sorry butt if we did." Her tone is void of emotion. She's horrified, but trying not to openly show it.

"I should have…" Thor trails, and resists the urge to grip Loki's broken hand tightly, "Oh, Norns, I should have…"

"He's sleeping," Mantis continues as if they did not speak, "he is at peace. He dreams of a golden haired woman and her laughter," her eyes are wet, and Thor remembers dully in the back of his head that she is an empath. It is how she knows all of this.

"Why are you crying?" Thor whispers, and has to remind himself again not to grip Loki's hand, "I thought you said he's in no pain."

"He's not," Mantis assures, "he rests, but it is the memory that causes me to weep. I have never before felt such great pain," she whispers this last part, "and I have felt much since leaving Ego."

Gamora rises to her feet suddenly, and Thor looks up from Mantis to the woman to see her expression is strewn with open pain. She looks at Loki once more before her gaze settles on Thor, and he tries not to shrivel under the intensity of it. "I'm so sorry," she whispers, and presses the back of her hand against her mouth, "I'm so sorry."

Thor's lips part to ask what for, but the woman is fleeing the room a moment later, and Thor watches almost idly as Quill catches her in an embrace from the doorway. Nebula stands in the room, stiff, and gaze unmoving.

His heart aches, but it's almost numb and faint now, like a trickle of wind after a hurricane.

"Is he going to live?" Thor questions softly, watching the steady rasp of the machine that feeds his brother's life, and can't help but wince as it hisses.

"Yes," Mantis assures with her awful smile, "yes, Gamora and Nebula have seen to him more than the others. He is much better than when we found him a week ago. We've made haste to Terra, but our progress has been slow."

If "better" involves Loki still having something breathe for him, what was "worse"?

(Norns above, he doesn't want to know).

Why didn't he think to look for his sibling? He assumed the worst, but didn't even give him a funeral. It's been almost three months since Ragnarok. How long has Thanos…? This does, however, raise a small, quiet voice in the back of his mind that questions why Loki would be captured by Thanos in the first place.

He knows that Thanos was guiding the Chitauri and Loki must have spoken with him for his invasion on New York, but for the Titan to do something like this…? Loki must have done something truly awful to the madman. What happened after Surtur? How did he get out of Asgard? (Why did Thor assume that just because his brother is fluid that he would escape Asgard's grasp without any problems? Surtur turned it into a supernova).

"Do they know when he'll wake up?" Thor's voice is so quiet. It sounds so unlike his own.

"No," Mantis admits, she sounds reluctant, "but they are assured that he will. He was our last stop, and they wish to stay until he is awakened."

He knows that the others are behind him, but Thor can't turn himself around to ask them the questions burning on his tongue.

"Yes," Thor agrees thoughtlessly, "what happened?"

"He failed," Nebula's voice is grim, and Thor feels Brunnhilde twist around to look back at her, "and our father paid him the punishment. Thanos had seen him after the snap, Gamora and I think he was checking to see who of his prisoners survived."

Failed.

Failed what?

Thor doesn't ask, contenting himself with watching the automated rise and fall of Loki's frail chest. His younger sibling looks so small beneath the thin blanket, and this scares him. Loki has never been large, but Thor has always been reassured that his sibling—

Wait.

Stop.

His aura of sedir. It's always surrounded Loki like a fragrance, and Thor's stomach jolts to his stomach as he realizes that it's no longer there.

"Oh, Bestla's breath," Thor whispers, "Loki, what has happened to you?"

000o000

It's another three days of frantically trying to work around his duties as king and his desire to stay with Loki before his younger brother finally awakens. He isn't in the room like he was hoping to be. Instead, he was running around with High Commander Tyr, trying to gather a group large enough to help finish the school before the weekend is over so the children can finally resume their studies by Monday.

Without much explanation, Brunnhilde appears beside him suddenly and drags him back to the Benatar, leaving him to assume the worst.

He passes Gamora and Nebula talking quietly as he heads for the medical room (thus far, Thor hasn't breathed a word of his brother's return to anyone but Brunnhilde and the other Avengers—who took it better than he was expecting. There weren't any arguments and they agreed to keep it under wraps—and the Benatar has the most advanced medical equipment. Asgard is trying, but they are still struggling) and is relieved beyond much comprehension when he sees Loki's eyes are open.

Stupidly, he can't come up with anything profound to say. An apology is the first and foremost of his mind, but the words don't seem to want to come off his tongue. Loki's breathing is still not of his own set of lungs, and the faint rasp of the respirator is almost distracting.

Thor's mouth opens to apologize for his stupidity, for making Loki run off after Ragnarok when he should have kept him close, for getting him captured by Thanos, but Loki gives something that looks like a grimace-smile and carefully waves him forward with a damaged hand.

Thor rocks forward before moving, and takes a seat at the end of the cot when Loki shifts his feet a little. His younger sibling is watching him with careful eyes, as if trying to see if something is missing. Thor runs a hand subconsciously through his short hair. "I'm sorry," he murmurs, and the words feel raw on his throat, "I'm sorry for asking you to start Ragnarok. I swear if I had known that this would happen…"

Never.

Never would he have submitted his little brother to this.

He shakes his head, "I thought you dead, and I didn't even...I didn't even think to search. I'm so sorry, brother, I failed you, I—" Thor's voice is swallowed in his throat when Loki's bandaged fingers gently grip at his hand. It's less of a grip more so they touch it, but Thor lifts his gaze up to Loki's.

Loki's voice appears to be paining him, but Thor still clearly makes out the word "stupid" being mouthed in his direction. Relief flutters through him at it, and Thor nods earnestly with agreement. "I am stupid, I know,"

Loki's rolls his eyes a little before sighing.

He still looks thin, still small, but he also looks like he feels safe, and Thor takes what reassurance he can from that.

000o000

Loki's released from the oxygen mask three days later, and, after drinking what water he can, he finally whispers his first words to Thor since their exchange on the Bifrost bridge almost three months ago: "You...you okay?"

Thor almost startles at his voice, gravelly, raw, and quiet—but still so very much his sibling's—before he looks up. Brunnhilde finally told him to choose between the Benatar or Asgard and stop trying to work his schedule around both. Eventually, when he didn't immediately respond (he wanted to choose Loki first, but he's king now, and how can he?) she rolled her eyes in exasperation, muttered something unsavory about his health habits under her breath, and shoved him off to the Benatar assuring him she'd take care of what she could and bring him what she couldn't.

He has no idea how she has become his second-in-command so swiftly when he has had hundreds of years to choose previous advisers. They have, in every sense of the word, a platonic relationship. They're siblings in all but blood, but Thor is fairly certain where he is king of Asgard, Brunnhilde is queen in all other aspects. It is a relief to not have to stand alone in this.

"I'm…" Thor trails, trying to find an honest answer to Loki's question. He's tired, he's stressed, and he wants to have a good cry of relief and anxiety, but else-wise? Fine. Physically? Fine. Not much else matters, he supposes. "Okay," he submits at last.

Loki's eyebrow lifts as if doubtful, but he doesn't press.

"How do you feel?" Thor questions, and Loki shrugs lightly, wincing a little.

"Tired," he answers. "Bored."

"Would you like to read some of the reports Brunnhilde's brought me? It's from the curia regis, which means they're page-turners." Thor says sarcastically, flicking up some of the papers for Loki to see. To be frank, Thor has read little that isn't as monotonous as this since his early youth.

Loki's face pinches slightly before he sighs and lifts out a bandaged hand, "Yes."

Thor struggles to keep his jaw from falling (he wasn't really serious), and Loki appends with his raspy voice: "Distraction...helps."

His stomach does that weird floppy-twist-thing Thor has long since come to associate with deep guilt. He nods and picks up a thin stack of the ones he's already been through and hands them to the younger. Loki's wrists are still so thin, and Thor tries not to be queasy about that.

He doesn't find much success.

Eventually, after Thor has worked through a sizable paper stack of his own, Loki falls asleep. His breathing is deep, but uneven, and Thor finds himself unsettled by it.

Did they remove the mask too soon?

Thor hasn't seen an official report of what his sibling's injuries are and every time he tries to ask Gamora or Nebula about them, the two sisters clamp. Queries to the other Guardians yield the same results. It's frustrating, but he's trying to hold onto patience.

Thor removes the papers from Loki's hands and sets them to the side. Given nearly any other circumstance, Thor would tease Loki restlessly about how the king's council finally bored him to sleep when he awakens, but Thor knows it isn't that. Mostly not that. Loki is still healing; he's spent more time asleep that not since Thor got here, and, whatever the damage, Thor just hopes it's making progress mending.

He returns to his papers, noting with some amusement that the notes Brunnhilde took at a meeting yesterday (one he was supposed to be in attendance for) are mostly filled with bored doodles of people impaling each other. Her artistic skills are little, and Thor makes a mental note to go over pointers with her later. He's not sure how much she'll care, but at least then she can draw realistic death scenes to entertain herself at a later date.

Thor's nearly asleep himself—Brunnhilde is going to kill him tomorrow, he was supposed to go to sleep an hour's past—when Loki suddenly and violently twitches. It seems more like a deep shudder, but Thor still jerks at it. He'd been resting his head on the corner of the mattress and felt as it recoiled.

Thor snaps his head up, a deep feeling of unease settling into his stomach. Loki twitches again, lips parting as his face contorts with pain. Unsettled, Thor reaches a hand out to gently lay on Loki's brow to see if the fever returned. It hasn't, and Loki jerks away from him. An awful sort of kneeing noise slips through his lips before being cut off abruptly and Loki's chest seizes.

"Loki?" Thor whispers, reaching out a hand to grip his arm in an attempt to wake him.

Loki's breath stutters in his chest and Thor snaps his hand back with terror. Loki isn't breathing. Thor terrified him enough that he stopped breathing.

"Loki! Loki!" Thor cries, his voice is louder yet he hardly recognizes it as his own. He grabs at Loki's arms and, in an act of utter stupidity or some higher beings suggestion, rattles him back and forth. Loki's eyes snap open, green hazy and his hands clench.

He attempts to wiggle his way out of the grip, but Thor holds tight. His brother is still not breathing. "Loki, brother, calm down. It's just me," he assures, but Loki's shaking his head and mouthing "no".

Norns curse it all, why won't he breathe?

Loki's chest is heaving as he attempts to, but it's weak. "Loki, Loki—please. In and out. With me…" Thor mimics the motion, but Loki finally squirms from his grip and attempts to hobble off of the hospital bed.

Thor lurches for him as the door to the medbay is thrown open. Gamora and Groot explode into the space and Loki looks up before he scrambles away until his back slams into a wall. "No...no," he wheezes.

Gamora's face is hard, but she looks up at him, "What's going on? I heard you shouting."

"I don't know!" Thor counters loudly, scrambling to join his sibling on the floor.

Gamora joins him, but Loki looks at her with an expression of such horror she draws back. Thor doesn't understand it at all, but keeps advancing. Panicking. His sibling is panicking, but Thor can't fathom why.

Memories?

Dreams?

Perhaps a mix of both.

Loki jerks a hand out, fingers flexing in some attempt at sedir, but a wail of agony slips through his lips instead. The hand snaps back to his chest. The sound causes something in Thor's chest to wither and die.

"Loki," Thor keeps his voice as level as he can. Distantly he hears Gamora tell Groot to go find Mantis. "You're safe here. It's okay. It's all okay," Thor soothes and Loki's eyes fix on him. There's some recognition in his eyes, but not enough. Thor gently reaches a hand out, but doesn't touch him.

Loki inhales raggedly, and the sound causes some relief to fester in him. His sibling is still shaking, though.

After another thin inhale, Loki's eyes lift to Thor's face and he shakily reaches his broken hand out to grip Thor's. Thor's eye closes in brief relief before he shuffles forward some more and gently pulls Loki into an embrace. Loki sinks into it, hiding his face against Thor's chest as he breathes.

"Shh," Thor soothes, running a gentle hand through Loki's smooth hair and wishes desperately for their mother. She would know what to do in this situation. What to actually do that would be helpful. Thor is, as almost always, at a loss. "Shh, we're okay, you're safe. I'm here. Breathe, little brother, it's okay."

He can sense Gamora's stare on his back, but he keeps murmuring words of nonsense until he hears Mantis's frantic footsteps.

"I was told I am needed," she says, and Loki shuffles against him as if discomforted. Gamora quietly explains the situation and Thor works on keeping Loki calm.

Mantis kneels beside him, and, after a quick glance at his face to confirm it's okay, rests a hand on Loki's shoulder. "Loki," she addresses, "may I help you?"

Loki is still for long enough that Thor's certain he'll say no before he gives an unsteady nod. Mantis gives a soft smile, one that doesn't twist her face in such a disturbing way, before her antennas begin to glow softly.

Her face twists with an open horror and Thor can see her hand attempting to draw back before she shakes her head and whispers, "Sleep."

Loki slumps against him entirely, and Thor readjusts to take the weight. Mantis draws her hand back, looking a variance between sick and angry. Thor notes this before he gently gathers Loki into his arms and eases him back onto the hospital cot.

Loki's weight is nothing like what it should be, and this sickens him.

He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to gather himself somewhat before he turns around to face the other occupants in the room. Gamora has shifted to place a reassuring hand on Mantis's shoulder, and Groot is standing still, eyes flitting back and forth.

"Thank you," Thor says, breaking the silence at last. He shifts to take the seat he abandoned earlier and falls heavily into it. After a moment, he reaches his hand up and grips Loki's fingers tightly.

"Of course," Mantis sounds almost breathless as she walks up in front of him. "I do not understand...what has happened."

Neither does he.

"I…" Thor trails, "believe his dreaming triggered a panic attack." Remembering something almost abruptly, Thor looks up at Gamora, "He didn't recognize me first, it was you. Why was he so terrified of you?"

Gamora's eyes flick to her feet with what looks like guilt. "I was there the first time this happened. I don't know what Thanos was trying to accomplish now, but then...your brother has made peace with my apologies, but I doubt my presence is drawing up good memories." She sighs warily.

Thor looks back at Loki, and then returns his gaze to the woman. "...What "first time"?"

Gamora's eyes flick up, wide, "You don't...you don't know?"

No. He doesn't.

"Of?" Thor presses.

Gamora's eyes squeeze shut. "My father found him more than six years ago. Loki had...the mental manipulation was severe and I can't...I left, after that. My father broke your brother, Thor, I thought that you knew…"

Who controls the would-be-king?

It's too late. It's too late to stop it.

Thor's stomach does an awful drop.

No.

No.

Broken bits of random puzzle pieces that made no sense at the time suddenly snap into place. Loki's eyes, behavior, the awful state of his health, his mother's frantic worrying and insistence that there was still something worth saving—

Thor looks up at Gamora, "You helped Thanos with this six years ago?" His voice is flat. Rage and exhaustion threaten to swallow him.

Gamora gives a small nod, and wet tears slip down her face. "I did. Nebula and I both did. I'm sorry,"

Thor doesn't need her apology.

Disgust squirms through his stomach and rage fizzles at his fingertips. His taut lips thin before he sighs deeply and shakes his head, "Like I said, families can be tough. You kept him alive and you found him. What more matters?"

Gamora's shoulders visibly drop with relief.

Thor gently smooths his thumb over Loki's palm and tries to reassure himself that this isn't a hallucination.

"He is hungry," Mantis whispers, and Thor nearly jolts. He's forgotten she was in the room. He flicks his eyes up.

"What?"

"Loki," Mantis flicks a hand, "it is deep. He is afraid. Very afraid. Almost...almost afraid of hunger."

Thor's brow furrows. "That...that doesn't make any sense. Why would he be—?"

"Mental games." Nebula announces from the doorway, and Thor jumps, spitting out a curse in his native tongue. He whirls to get a better visual of the door, and sees Nebula walking forward. "I heard the screaming," she says in way of answer to Thor's silent question.

Thor remains quiet, and Nebula comes to stand beside her sister, blowing out a silent breath, "What our father did…" she flicks her gaze to Loki for a moment, "I think it's probably best if you know now, but I'll warn you that it's nothing pleasant."

000o000

Brunnhilde finds him later that morning as he violently and wildly attacks trees of the northern forests in New Asgard's territory with brutal force. The wood chips crumble beneath the force of his swings, but it doesn't feel like enough.

Not enough damage.

Thor wants to kill something.

How could Thanos even think of—

Loki's sedir. Sedir. Taking his sedir from him in such a way is...Norns, it's disgusting. Sedir is a precious fundamental of who Loki is. Trying to steal sedir from someone is...Thor doesn't even know what words to use to describe the black hate that is forming from the tips of his toes for the Mad Titan.

"Whoa, Highness," Brunnhilde says as she walks up behind him, "what'd the verdure do to you?"

"Existed," Thor seethes and slams Stormbreaker against the trunk of another tree. It doesn't snap down the middle, but the flaying wood still comes flying back at his face.

"You didn't sleep." It's not a question, so Thor doesn't bother with answering. "Norns," Brunnhilde sighs, "I swear I didn't sign up for a babysitting job."

"You can leave any time. You clearly don't want to be here," Thor snaps, and—he needs to calm down. Taking this out on Brunnhilde isn't going to help anyone—Brunnhilde catches the hilt of Stormbreaker when he attempts to swing it next. He could easily beat her in physical strength at any time, but he doesn't tear back.

Brunnhilde's brown eyes are stormy. Instead of yell at him like Thor is half expecting, like she has done in the past, the Valkyrie twists his wrist back and disarms him painfully. A groan of agony slips through his lips as he snatches his arm up to his chest, "What the—? Why would you do that?" He demands, rubbing frantically at the pulsing muscle.

Brunnhilde slams Stormbreaker into the ground and rests a hand on the butt of the handle, "Talk."

Thor's jaw clenches tightly, but he blows out a frustrated sigh. Fighting her is useless. He can explain it to her now with his injuries relatively low, or try and wring this out with less pleasurable results. The bark of the trees is wafting up and odd smell, and Thor realizes how exhausted he is.

"Loki...had a panic attack last night," Thor admits after a moment, "and after Mantis put him to sleep, Gamora was...anxious. I inquired as to why and she admitted information I didn't know before and now I feel like such an idiot because it was so painfully obvious. Then Nebula explained what Thanos did to my brother six years ago, and now I am disgusted. Norns above, I wish I'd gone for the head," Thor laments. "Why didn't I go for the head?"

"Wait," Brunnhilde lifts up a hand, "six years ago? I thought that Thanos only had him as of three months ago."

"Apparently not!" There's a false cheer in his voice, "Hela told me that 'even with both eyes, I can't see the whole picture' or something to that extent before she ripped out my eye, and isn't it good to know that she knew me for a total of what? Twenty-five minutes? And still did a perfect analysis of my character. I am a blind man."

Brunnhilde's face flashes with irritation, "Norns, Majesty."

"Thanos held Loki for a year after my failed coronation, Val. A year. You've seen what a mess he was after three months, and Thanos had him for a year. I didn't even notice when he came hopping out of the portal to claim the Tesseract. I thought he looked sick, but my conjecture was the Void, not torture." Thor seethes and resists the urge to call Stormbreaker to him to slice the blade through more trees. Instead, he slams his fist against one.

He can taste the ozone in the air, and tries to quell himself so the electricity humming in between his fingertips will cease.

"Thor," he barely represses a wince. His name. His actual name. He must have done something excessively stupid. "Thor, maybe—"

A bizarre laugh slips from his lips, bubbling up from a desperate pool of anxiety he doesn't like to wade in much. "And you know what? That's not even the worst of it," Thor says with that false cheer still plastered to his voice. "Thanos took his sedir."

All false masks slip from Brunnhilde's face, and she stares at him for a long, hard second. "What?"

000o000

He won't eat.

He can't.

Loki doesn't really remember much of the rescue of the following few days beyond blurred mass of voices and uncomfortable sensations on his arms. Needles, mostly, along with creams attempting to cool the burns. Most prominent to him is the fact that everywhere hurts, but Thor is there, so he must be safe.

The next week (maybe more?) is still blurry, and he goes from grimacing at Thor through an oxygen mask to sitting up on the bed with a tray of food in front of him as Starlord sits on the chair Thor usually occupies—but his sibling is busy, now that Loki is somewhat on the mend, he's taken up more of his duties again—and quietly prattles away about something. His discomfort is obvious to an untrained eye.

Loki only shoves the food around the bowl. At one point it was some sort of thick broth, but now that Loki has stirred it so much, it's become thin and looks faintly oily. His fingers still hurt. Norns, everything still hurts.

And he's hungry.

Still.

It doesn't really go away. Maybe it never has since after the Void, and it's a painful relief. Loki wants to eat the broth, but he can't. He physically can't. Every time he lifts the spoon a little higher, with the intention to lift it to his lips and eat the stupid thing, Thanos's quiet voice in his head promising a relief to the suffering if the sedir will again fall whispers through his head.

They needed it to die. Not so he would go prancing off to Earth again with the intent to finish the job he failed, but because Loki was hiding the Tesseract in a cache and refused to give it to them. But he never really...never really healed from the first time around, and Maw's poking around his head proved that enough that when Thanos verbally poked in the right areas, Loki felt himself collapsing.

It hadn't taken much to reawaken the terror of his sedir.

It is why, rather than try and convince Loki to simply give him the Tesseract after Loki's first refusal, he went about it a different way. If Loki's sedir were to collapse enough, Maw could simply take it from him, and that's what happened.

Logically, Loki knows this.

So why can't he eat the stupid food?

He is fine now.

It's all over.

He needs his sedir to—die!—live. Thor is here. Thor isn't angry with him anymore—not as much as he was before—and their relationship is...better than it was before, but Loki still can't eat. This isn't going away, and he wants to know why. Thor hasn't noticed. Or if he has, he hasn't said anything; the Valkyi—Brunnhilde, he reminds himself—is much the same.

Is he not doing enough? He knows that they haven't told Asgard of his revival, and maybe they are ashamed of him. They're hiding him on this ship because he's done nothing but fail them for years now and he must prove that he's worth saving. He needs to kill his sedir.

Maybe...maybe…No. Stop. Don't do that. It's foolish, and all that's going to happen is absolutely nothing so—Thor would like it better if there was something less he didn't have to fear. Loki is a member of the Elite Magicians of the Nine, his power can be terrifying. Thor may fear that Loki will take advantage of that—he wouldn't. Thor has been the only person on this stupid boat who doesn't stare at him like he's some sort of broken doll—so Loki needs to quell his doubts.

He can't eat.

Maybe his subconscious already knew this, and it's why he can't. That would make sense. His mother always told him to trust his instincts (a quiet voice whispers about so many others who have told him otherwise) and this is...it's somewhat what feels right. If he can prove himself to Thor, prove that he's still worthy of being an Asgardian, then…

Maybe it will fix everything.

He can't eat.

"Dude," Starlord says, and Loki snaps out of his revere to look up at the man. "That has gone cold, like, twice now. Don't ask me how that works, but it does. Do you want me to warm it up? Gamora's going to kick your butt if you don't eat anything."

"I don't think I can stomach it," it's not really a lie.

Starlord's face twists with sympathy, "Yeah, that's fine, but later, alright?"

Loki smiles, "Of course."

He still can't eat.

He's not going to eat.

Thor returns later that afternoon and asks him if he's hungry, and Loki stares at the softness in his eyes, the lack of frustration and hatred and swallows his immediate answer. Thor is not cross with him, and this is because he doesn't view Loki as a threat. Their teen years were spent clawing their way to see who would be heir and Thor always viewed him as a threat to his given birthright then.

Loki won't be a threat. He'll see.

He'll be good.

Loki promises his sibling that he already ate something earlier, and tries to wave off the growing headache. Thanos finally let him leave after he broke his sedir before, so it does something, right? He and Thor will continue to be friends—even with how unworthy Loki is of this affection—and Loki needs that reassurance.

He won't eat.

He can't.

000o000

Nearly two weeks later, Gamora cautiously, carefully, finally declares him fit to leave the Benatar, and Loki has never been more grateful to see a sun. He can barely stand by himself with his weak, exhausted limbs, but Thor helps him. It's humiliating to be hobbling around like he's going to collapse at any second, but breathing fresh air is something he sorely needed.

The Val—Brunnhilde follows beside them with one hand on her sword, her expression collected. Loki knows that she visited often at the beginning of his recovery, but he doesn't understand the reasons. He still doesn't know her much beyond what he saw on Sakaar. They walk around the Benatar a few times and Loki feels ready to face plant by the end of it.

Norns, he is so tired.

Encouraged by this, Thor assures the Guardians that they can handle Loki's recovery from here—his hands are still charred, red, blistered, raw, and so scarred, but everything else that was broken inside of him is mostly together again—and Loki must have zoned out (it happens so frequently now), because they are suddenly leaving, and he thinks he said goodbye and thank you, but he doesn't know.

He did.

He can remember trying not to shudder away from Gamora and Nebula's hands as they gripped his shoulder in farewells, but not succeeding as well as he would have liked. He knows that the women didn't...The Mas—Thanos is a great manipulator, and he doesn't blame them for what happened. They were trying to survive, and Loki knows about survival.

Thor gives him a smile—Loki can't remember a time Thor smiled so much at him since they were children, and Norns, he is so tired of anger, this is why his sedir must die—and helps him to his feet. (When did he sit down?). "How would you like to see New Asgard?" He questions.

Not at all.

Loki can't face people right now. But he needs to know that his subjects—stop that! Stop right there! You are not king. Not anymore. They aren't subjects and, oh, Norns, there is a reason to fear that you'll rise to the throne. Can't you see what you're doing!? Sedir must go to regain Thor's trust because you'd broken it so much, and don't you know that you could be so much more than you are—the other Aesir are well.

He bargained for their lives.

A failed bargain, but he still tried.

"Yes," Loki agrees with a thin grimace. Was he trying to smile? He can't remember. Why can't he remember?

Thor nods and they begin to move forward. At some point he changed out of the thin, loose clothing of medical, but when that was he doesn't know. He'd been arguing with Gamora into letting him go for days now, and she'd finally relented this morning because of a job worth twice the price of their ship and the Guardians decided took priority.

They didn't tell Thor about that, but Loki put two and two together when he heard them talking.

New Asgard is...a lot more coastal than he was thinking it would be. It's on the edge of the cliffs Father passed on to, and spread around like a fisherman was drunk and told to plan a city. There doesn't seem to be a pattern, and Loki is instantly bothered by this. There's a few finished buildings, golden spires that Loki knew must have been erected by sedir—he hates that word, it's filthy—but for the most part everything is tents or out in the open. They lost nearly everything to Ragnarok.

Loki's heart twists painfully in his chest and he sighs softly as he surveys the land. Thor keeps moving forward, intent on getting him somewhere and Loki hobbles after him. His hands still hurt, and trying to clench them at his agitation does nothing but send spikes of pain through his forearms.

Marvelous.

At least he can be assured that any attempts to burn his hands out of use doesn't do much in stopping sedir. He won't have to try it later, should the need to get dire. Thanos has already tested that.

The Asgardians they pass stop what they're doing to openly gawk with surprise as Loki passes them, and he tries to keep his head up tall when all he wants to do is fall forward and not move for several days. Whispered conversation spikes up around them, but Loki can't pick out any hospitality. Only surprise and confusion:

"Is that Prince Loki?"

"The Skywalker lives?"

"Where has he been these last few months?"

"Is this the reason the Guardians were staying for so long?"

Prince. He lost all his titles when Odin sentenced him after the disaster with Midgard, yet here they are, speaking them as if nothing has changed. Skywalker—no. Not that one. Not anymore. Sedir is a curse, and Loki wants it to go away so he and Thor can continue to be friends.

(He doesn't want to be alone anymore. Three months with nothing to do but listen to his own breath was maddening).

Eventually, after passing enough people, a small girl rushes forward and throws her arms around his legs. Loki nearly topples backwards, only steadied by Thor's hand on his back.

"Velkommen! That means 'welcome' here." The girl says and smiles, "You've been missed, Prince Loki."

What? No. That's impossible. No one likes him. No one would miss him.

The girl's mother rushes forward, face flushed, "Ætha! Ætha, come here!"

"But, Amma, he's not dead anymore!" The girl, Ætha, cries. She looks up at him with wide brown eyes and Loki feels his tongue tangle in his throat. It tastes of copper. "We thought you were a goner," she whispers, "the King said you'd joined his parents in Valhalla and we all wept—"

The mother grabs Ætha and physically pulls her away from him, "That's enough, Ætha."

Ætha clamps her mouth shut.

The mother looks up at him, "My sincere apologies, Your Highness, I swear she meant no disrespect, but she's always been a handful. Please, if there's something I can do…"

He's gaping like a fool, and promptly clamps his mouth shut. His tongue is dry, and his throat even more so. Why can't he think of anything to say? Thor gives his shoulder a reassuring squeeze—don't jump at it. It's just Thor—and takes a slight step forward as if to put Loki behind him. "It is fine," he promises, "my brother is sick and still recovering. Give him some space, please,"

Brother.

Loki has done so little to earn that title.

He'll get there. He'll prove he's not a threat to Thor, prove that he's worthy to be called his family. (His stomach is gnawing up to his throat. Maybe he'll vomit; give them all a show for their hard staring).

The mother's eyes flick to him, and her eyebrows press together, but she doesn't look like she doubts Thor in the slightest. "Oh, I'm sorry," she stammers, "what can be done?"

"For now? Rest." Thor answers. The people are beginning to ground around them, and Loki is penetrated by the sheer amount of noise they're making. No one is speaking, but clothing is rustling, feet shifting, breath slipping in and out, someone is chewing—they all smell, too. Perfumes, fish, the salt of the ocean, paint—

His hand raises subconsciously to his mouth as he holds back his desire to heave (there's nothing left in his stomach, he doesn't think), and Thor catches his motion from the corner of his eye. Brunnhilde rests a hand on his shoulder, and he can't help as his muscles coil beneath her touch. "I'll get Lackey to bed," she addresses, no, he doesn't want to go with her, "you address your confused people, yeah?"

Thor winces at that, but nods with agreement, "Thank you."

Brunnhilde's grip shifts to his elbow and she begins to haul him forward, "All right, coming through. Move it! Gawk later, yes, he's not dead. Move!" The people part with her bullying, and she pulls him through their midst to a less crowded area of the tents. One is flying a terrible replica of Asgard's flag, and Loki recognizes distantly that it's the king tent and has the bizarre thought that he'll find Odin there.

Brunnhilde pulls up one of the flaps and shoves him inside. Loki stumbles, but manages to regain his footing enough to not fall flat on his face. The tent smells of Thor, and he can see evidence of his sibling almost everywhere. This lack of organization, scattered clothing, unfinished pieces of art—it's everywhere.

It's reassuring.

"Thor volunteered to bunk you," Brunnhilde says, and Loki looks back at her. She's watching him with guarded eyes. "He wasn't ready quite yet, so sit tight. The Guardians said they'd be around for a few more days than they were."

Loki nods.

The Valkyrie is quiet for a second, and her face softens a little. "Norns, you don't have to clench like a spooked cat, I'm not going to impale you." Loki hesitates, and she shakes her head almost forlornly. "Listen, Lackey—"

"It's Loki," he corrects, failing to keep the bite from his voice.

"I know," Brunnhilde says with something in her eyes Loki can't decrypt. "I know. Sorry. Listen, I just want to say that, for whatever it's worth to you, I am glad you aren't dead."

She's…

Oh.

Loki's lips part a little with his surprise. "I didn't think…"

"We'll keep you safe," Brunnhilde continues like he didn't speak, "no one's going to succeed in almost killing you again, okay?" His scarred hands fist by his sides. Her face flicks with something that looks like distaste, "Uchk. I don't know what is wrong with you Odinsons, but you make me say stupid crap. Thanks for that."

Loki winces.

Brunnhilde digs through a pack by the door for a second before pulling out an apple and throwing it at his face. Loki catches it by instinct. The weight is heavy in his hands. Uncomfortable. It's a promise of failure, and Loki doesn't want to grip it between his fingers. "Eat something, would you?" She demands, "You look like a freakin' draugr."

But if he eats it, he'll be a traitor and Thor will finally kill him in frustration. (A quiet part of him isn't as terrified by this as he should be).

Loki can't eat.

He shouldn't eat.

His sedir must die.

000o000

It's a relief later, Thor realizes, to wake up with Loki in the same tent as him. The nightmares of what Surtur did and knowing Loki was there (he never did ask how he got out, but he's assuming the Tesseract), leave him in a cold sweat, but they aren't the only things he dreams of.

Instead of having to wait for morning with anxiety so he can hobble to the Benatar, Thor can look over and reassure himself that Loki's chest is rising and falling steadily.

He's still alive.

000o000

Everything seemed to just...fall apart suddenly. Maybe not so suddenly, but Thor doesn't know. Maybe Thor should have looked harder for the signs, but he wasn't. Nebula and Gamora didn't know everything about Loki's capture, and this secret, like all secrets, came falling out into the open eventually.

New Asgard was...good for a little. Loki seemed to get some better, he finally removed the wraps for his hands (and Norns, Thor tried to hold back vomit at how awful the scarring was. Loki's hands will never be the same again, and that is all Thanos's fault), slept better, and smiled a little more. Thor thought that he was fine.

But Loki still wasn't gaining weight. Still frail and thin like a breeze of wind would knock him over, and how awful that is.

The one thing that Thor was aware of was the weird, new idiosyncrasy where Loki refused to eat in front of him. In front of anyone, really. It wasn't that Loki never ate anything, it's just that he ate so little and so rarely from what Thor could see. Thor didn't approach him on it. They've mended the worst of the fray in their bond, but this seemed to breach over a line he shouldn't tread.

So he didn't.

Like an idiot.

He remembers complaining to Brunnhilde his frustrations with it, something about the fact that Loki "never eats" and Brunnhilde rolled her eyes, but quietly agreed—and that terrified him, though he didn't tell her.

And then it all came tumbling out into the open.

Because of the lack of any real houses (public buildings had been prioritized by the people first, insistent that they wanted schools for the children, and places for the government to meet and such) dinner is often held outside of tents on the ground (break fast and midday meal are in tents are on the ground or in tents). Thor and Brunnhilde (sometimes Korg and a few others, but not frequently) often trekked the hillside to the field where Odin passed on. It's quieter up there. Seclusive.

Loki doesn't join them often, but he had for that night, eyes sunken and face hollow.

The food wasn't anything fancy, just some cooked fish, vegetables, bread, and water. (Brunnhilde has, with some success, been attempting to break her addiction and Thor endeavored to assist her by refusing any alcohol, too. He's never liked the taste of it much, anyway, only the sensation of numbing that followed).

"I swear," Brunnhilde grumbles as she stabs at a fish with her fork, "if I have to hear about another fishing boat getting caught in those stupid rocks…"

Again? Do they never learn? Thor laughs openly, "I thought you gave them a map and instructions."

"I did!" Brunnhidle insists angrily, "That's why I can't believe their stupidity!"

Towards the southern part of the shore is an outcropping of sharp rocks that are just high enough to scrape open the helm of fishing boats, and no matter how much Brunnhilde tells them to go around the rocks, there hasn't been much success. They've lost nearly six boats to it now, and, though Thor is frustrated, it's beyond amusing that the same mistake keeps reoccurring.

"Hmm," Loki huffs. He's laying down with his head resting on his hands. Thor thought he was dozing, but apparently not. Loki's always been tired lately, and Thor tries not to let it worry him too much. (He fails. Miserably. But at least he can say he did try). "Some people are more bigoted than others, I suppose."

Thor snorts.

Brunnhilde brings her fork up to her mouth, "It's rocks. It shouldn't be that hard to steer around."

"Have you heard about Midgard's Titanic yet?" Loki questions conversationally, and Thor coughs a little on the water he was trying to swallow with laughter. Point. Large point. Maybe Thor will cut the fishermen a little more slack next time.

Brunnhilde scowls, "I hate you."

"Mutual." Loki promises.

Thor rolls his eyes good-naturedly.

Brunnhilde flicks her fork out in his direction, "Changing topics entirely: Lackey, are you going to eat? This fish isn't the worst thing ever and the bread's not as soggy as usual."

Thor grimaces at the reminder, but watches his sibling carefully. Loki's hands have stilled and his face smoothed into a dissemble so thick Thor can't read past it like he normally can. Like he normally somewhat can.

This isn't the first time this question has roused between them, but usually Loki will wave them off and they'll comply. Brunnhilde looks ready to wage war, and Loki seems too exhausted to try and stop her.

"No, thank you," he declines politely.

"Loki," Thor whispers in frustration. He's not stupid. Loki's food problems aren't something he's been utterly blind to. He knows Loki doesn't eat as much as he should. "Have you eaten anything today?"

Loki's quiet a second, then, with an almost wistful tone answers: "No, I don't think so. Isn't that wonderful?"

...what?

No!

Thor's stomach flip-flops, and Brunnhilde's eyes narrow. She slams her fork onto her plate. "No, you idiot, it's not. What on Helheim are you doing?"

Loki's brow furrows with some confusion before he props himself up on his elbows, "I'm…" he presses his lips together, "you wouldn't understand."

"Thanos starved you," Thor says, and the words feel so wrong. Almost mean for some odd reason. "Do you know how thin you are, Loki? This needs to stop. Thanos isn't here anymore to—"

Loki bolts upright into a seated position as if prodded with a burning bar inbetween his shoulder blades, "No! Stop doing that! Don't give him credit for my work! I'm the one who works night and day to kill it so you won't hate me. I promise that I'm doing better than I was and if you would just stop it, then I could show you that I'm worthy!"

His...Loki's…

Kill…?

Thor stares at him, aghast, "Loki...Loki...what?"

Loki's mouth jams shut, and he tilts forward, resting his head in his hands. It takes Thor a second to realize that an awful moaning noise is coming from him.

"What are you trying to kill?" Brunnhilde. Calm. Collected. Here. Everything he's not. Norns, he wishes his mother was here. Or his father. Heimdall—anyone would have a better idea on how to help Loki than him.

Loki doesn't look up at her. "This isn't for you to know."

"If something's going to die we need to know," Brunnhilde counters.

Loki remains quiet. A knot of dread twists in his chest, slipping up to his collarbones and tugs.

"Lackey."

"Sedir!" Loki spills out, and suddenly the words are flowing from his tongue like a gushing waterfall—Loki has said so little since he left the Benatar, almost as if afraid Thor will be angry with him. "My sedir must die. I know you don't trust me. That you hate me. I'm nothing better than a Jotunn traitor and I get that, I really do, and I'm trying to fix it. If there's nothing to fear from me than you won't have to lock me up. So I'm killing it. I promise. Give me another week and I'll have smothered it completely because it's as rotten as am, and I know that you—oof!"

Thor wraps his arms around Loki tightly, refusing to let go. "Loki," his voice is filled with the horror rushing through him. Gamora and Nebula said that Thanos convinced Loki to starve himself, but Thor had never realized the extent of what he'd done. Thanos didn't take his sedir.

Loki took his sedir.

All because of…

Oh, All—Fathers give me strength.

"Loki," Thor's grip tightens on its own accord, "no. Please, no. I don't know where you've gathered these ideas, but none of them are true. There's nothing rotten about you. Please, little brother, I do not want you broken. I want you to be happy."

Loki's stiff in his arms, and his next words are ragged, "I don't know how to be."

Something in his heart shrivels with shame and pain, "You can learn," Thor promises, "let us help you. Please, you must eat some—"

"No!" Loki shoves him back and staggers to his feet, "Stop it! Food is not the solution!" Loki's face is hollow, Thor could feel the vertebrae in his back, his bones are jutting out and he is so raggedly thin. Food is the solution. Can he not see that? He's withering away.

"Loki, please," Thor whispers.

"I can't," Loki shakes his head with disgust and lifts up his hands snapping his fingers. It's a teleportation spell. One Thor's seen him do thousands of times before without any problems. Not this time.

Loki goes nowhere. There isn't the faint cinnamon smell left behind, there is no blur of bluish light as he vanishes, instead, Loki collapses to his knees and howls. A guttural scream from within his chest as he claws where his heart is located beneath skin. His face is twisted with an agony Thor can never understand fully as he crosses the distance between them.

"Loki!" The word is panicked.

Loki's wails grow higher, the clawing more desperate and Thor can see something constricting beneath his skin. Sedir flows through blood vessels, and Thor can see them popping beneath his skin. Horror wraps around his throat and refuses to let him speak.

Loki is bleeding out internally.

No—wait. Blood is beginning to pour from his mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. Loki snapped his sedir. (Snapped it. Snapped it because Thanos told him to. Because Thanos is so obsessed with snapping—).

Thor knows enough about it to know that it means his heart and many main arteries just ruptured.

A dream. This has to be a—

Brunnhilde swears loudly behind him. Cussing in English, their native tongue, Dwarvish, Elvish—it doesn't matter. She grabs Loki's body and scoops him into her arms turning to pull him to his feet. "Move, Majesty! Go!"

They run, and Thor prays to anyone listening that Loki will live.

000o000

Eir meets them at the front of the healing hall with a furrowed expression before, through their frantic yelling, she manages to gain some semblance of the situation and grabs Loki from Brunnhilde's arms, gathers her remaining assistants and disappears into the back room. They aren't allowed in, and Thor squeezes his eyes shut and tries not to weep in despair.

New Asgard doesn't have the medical equipment to deal with this. They have sedir, but it wasn't the only things they used. They had soul forges, healing stones, potions—so much more. Now there is only sedir, and Thor doesn't know if Loki will live.

Three hours and still no updates, Thor calls Natasha. It's the first number of his team that he sees in his contacts through his blurred vision. Natasha picks up after a few rings and answers in a chirpy, but breathless voice about how she's working. He hears gunfire to accompany this.

"Is it...is it a bad time?" Thor nearly swallows his voice.

"Err," Natasha pauses, and he hears her release a thick Russian curse, "net. No. Why are you crying?"

The words come out stiffly and through a lot of gasping and retracing, but Natasha listens patiently and quietly. The sounds of fists hitting flesh at her violent, dance—like fighting style is a little distracting, but he ignores it to the best of his ability.

He's explained what he didn't already tell the Avengers about Thanos's manipulation and torture, what happened with Loki's sedir, and how they still heard anything in a little under five minutes.

Natasha's quiet for a few seconds after he's finished speaking, and there's the sound of someone being electrocuted on the other end before she swears. "If Thanos wasn't already dead…"

"Beheading was too good for him," Thor mutters darkly under his breath, "I would have bled every last drop of blood from his body slowly. Then left his mutilated corpse to rot in a pit of bilge snipe."

Natasha is quiet for a moment, and Thor's about to ask 'too dark?' when she responds: "I'd help."

That's reassuring.

"I'm sorry, Thor," Natasha says after a second. "What are his chances, do you think?"

Thor shakes his head, "I don't know. There are so few reports of anything like this happening before, and I don't remember vivid details. Only when my mother was trying to explain that concept to Loki when we were in our youth. I can't remember many positives."

"Hmm. Okay. Hang tight," Natasha says and grunts. A man cries out a second later over the phone, and Natasha's baton sizzles once more, "I'll round up the team. We'll be there in a few hours."

"I don't…" Thor trails. Want to impose. Dump my troubles on you. Be a hindrance. An annoyance.

"Shut up," Natasha commands, "it's not a problem. We'll be there shortly."

Thor hangs up shortly afterwards, relieved. The Warriors Three and Sif's absence has never stood out more than now. Before their deaths, Thor could almost always count on them to help him when Loki ended up in a state like this. At least he still has the Avengers. And Brunnhilde.

Nearly an hour later of restless pacing on Thor's part, Eir emerges from the back room at last. Her hair is messy, but her face is calm. Thor stops and Brunnhilde rises to her feet. Eir sighs softly before shaking her head. "He's alive."

Thor squeezes his eyes shut in relief. Thank you.

"But it's not pretty. You mentioned he was sick, my king, yes?" Eir says, and Thor struggles to dig up details on the lie he told his people. He did mention that, didn't he?

"Somewhat," Thor says at last.

"Humph," Eir shakes her head, and jerks her head in an indication that they should follow her, "in any case, he won't be moving quickly. It's a miracle he survived. I haven't seen a case like this since my apprenticeship."

"Will he be okay?" Brunnhilde questions.

"Eventually. As of right now we're thinking he'll make a full recovery," Eir promises, "but he needs to eat something. I don't know what possessed that boy to not do so. His attempt at using it when there was nothing left is what finally broke him. He's sedated for now. We're waiting until the pain will fade before we wake him."

She comes to a stop and Thor feels like he's been hit in the stomach. Loki is still cadaverous, but Thor didn't...it didn't really strike him how awful this is until he sees the dome of protective spells raised around him.

This is so much worse than he thought.

000o000

The Avengers arrive, offer reassurance and seem to collectively grimace at Loki's condition. Thor's quietly talking with Tony when he hears Clint's quiet whisper. He's pretty sure that he didn't mean for Thor to hear it, but it still makes him wince anyway:

"He looks like a skeleton."

And Thor didn't really do anything about it until it was to late, huh?

Loki wakes up a few days from the incident, groggy and asks for a glass of water, but falls asleep before he can drink it, according to Brunnhilde. Thor is there for when he awakens later and his heart twists as he hears Loki quietly calling for their mother in desperate whispers. "Amma. Amma, where are you?"

Thor bites his fingers raw that night from trying to keep himself from crying.

Eir shoves liquid nutrients down Loki's throat through his water, and Loki doesn't even seem to notice. He mostly remains in a catonic state and doesn't seem to be able to speak or move on his own. Thor tries to have patience with it, reassure himself that Loki is alive—but at what cost?

After one of the less than ideal nights that involves Loki dumping the broth Eir's assistant was trying to offer him over the woman's head, Thor finally feels something in him give a hollow snap as the girl runs off in frustration.

"Is this some kind of a jest to you!?" He demands. Loki looks up at him blankly. "That girl had done nothing to you, brother!"

Loki says nothing, as expected.

"Norns, you're such a nithing!"

A flinch, and Thor's stomach churns uncomfortably, but he doesn't stop himself. There's too much in him. He's going to explode or implode, and maybe it doesn't matter who it goes out on.

Thor surges to his feet and tries to calm himself, clenching his fists in and out. "We have done nothing but try to help you, but you avoid our attempts like we will give you Frozen Bite!" Loki twitches at the reminder of the Jotunn plague, "Gah! What do you want from this!? If you're trying to gain my approval, it's failing. I just want you to get better, Loki! What do you want!?"

Loki's green eyes lift to him.

"I didn't want...I didn't want you to explode your heart!" The words sound awful. Did that really happen?

Loki's gaze is unsettling, and Thor breathes out raggedly and storms from the room. He doesn't come back until he's calm enough to not strangle his little brother, and sits stiffly in the chair, not facing him. He has work to do. He knows this, but the panic of not knowing Loki's physical state keeps him here.

It's almost an hour before Thor's jolted from his slight doze by Loki's voice, "I think I want to get better. Something is wrong inside of me. That girl didn't need my madness poured on her head."

Thor turns and sees Loki's gaze resting on him carefully. Slowly, Thor breathes out. "I can help you, Loki."

"I know," Loki sighs, "that's why I'm telling you. I'm sorry for...I'm sorry."

"You don't have anything to apologize for," Thor assures and reaches out to grip Loki's scarred hand. "We'll get you well again, brother. I promise."

000o000

Recovery does not come as quickly as Thor wanted. Whatever lies Loki may have told himself, Thor knows that the real reason behind this disorder has always been fear. Fear of Thanos, fear of himself, fear of losing something, and it sickens him that Thanos would draw on such an emotion and wield it like a sword. Loki has nearly killed himself twice now because of what Thanos did.

Loki makes it out of the hospital under strict instructions not to do anything strenuous, and Thor has every intention of making sure that stays a reality. Brunnhilde helps where she can, but the bulk of this has to come from Loki.

They try, but that doesn't immediately solve everything.

Bit by scattered bit, Loki finally admits to him what happened when he was held by Thanos. Both times. Thor's frustration with and general need to kill Thanos, again, increases tenfold when he hears Loki slip up and attempt to call him 'the master' several times. This is influenced, in part, Thor thinks, by the Chitauri slave brand on Loki's upper back.

But Loki is trying to let his go now, and that is some progress over nothing.

But Thor can't immediately fix the problem, or will it away, and he feels so utterly helpless. Especially on nights like these. Loki's only agreed to try and eat dinners thus far, and Thor has grudgingly accepted that. (He wants, very much so, for Loki to eat three meals and food in between them for energy like he needs to, but he holds his tongue).

Loki just stares at the food. There's longing in his eyes, but his hand doesn't twitch. "Loki," Thor says and tries to remain patient, "you can eat it. It's fine, I promise."

"It's what comes after that I don't want." Loki admits, voice a faint whisper.

Thor's stomach clenches, "Nothing is going to happen if you eat it. Your body will get nutrients. That's it."

Curse you, Thanos. I hope they drag your soul to Helheim to be tortured for eternity.

Loki lifts the fork slightly before he blanches and shakes his head, "I can't. I'm sorry. I can't."

Thor releases a shuddering breath, "It's fine," he promises, the lie tastes bitter, "it's okay. Just drink the water."

Loki does.

Later, Thor hears him silently crying with frustration for long hours into the night.

Thor can do nothing but listen, because Loki wont accept his comfort.

000o000

Thor tries anything he can think of after that, but nothing works. Any research that he delves into on the Internet's great archives are useless (as most of it is. Midgard likes to pretend they're advanced, but they're not), and Thor can't find a solution to the problem.

Eir has nothing, and when Thor asks of the Avengers, they have no immediate answers. Tony promises to get back with him, and Thor nearly groans. That means it will take weeks, and they don't have weeks. Every day that passes without a solution Loki is still dying in.

His growing desperation must be obvious, because he has multiple people ask him every day what has gone wrong.

Politics are fine. They make a twisted sense. (No, they don't, but Thor likes to pretend).

This—this does not.

Eventually, after Thor has ripped apart six trees with Stormbreaker one night, the idea for Loki to cook hits him. He's read that it's supposed to help with the disorder. He presents the idea to Loki, and the meal starts a little better this time.

Loki eats a few bites before he goes pale and shoves the food away, but he ate something.

Thor knows he will be uncomfortable with Thor mentioning that he noticed that he did eat something, so he doesn't. He pretends like it's any other night and tries to keep a conversation running that's almost normal, but Loki's responses are few and far between.

But he ate something.

Thor has never been so proud.

000o000

The days fluctuate after that. Sometimes Loki can eat well, other times he can't, and that's fine. Normal. Slowly overtime, Loki agrees to eat three meals and it creates both disasters and health. Thor can see Loki's gaining the weight back that he sorely needs. Color comes to his face again and the shadows that have plagued his eyes for months fade some.

It's a relief.

It's a victory of a hard fought battle, and Thor reminds himself of this on the hard days. Asgard doesn't push. They give him the space he needs to be both their king and take care of his sibling, and he frequently has to shoo well-wishers away because there are so many that want to help Loki get better.

It's good to know how loyal they are. Warming.

Loki smiles more than he did after the Benatar, his jokes are more sincere—his sense of humor returns period—and Thor can see him growing more alive every day. There isn't a corpse wandering around with his brother's face anymore. Loki is alive alive now, and if he struggles, so what? They are making progress anyway.

But Thor still can't help the avid, sharp panic that ripples through his stomach one morning, five months since the Benatar and Loki isn't on the other side of the room. Thor lurches to his feet and grabs Stormbreaker, barely having the amount of brain power needed to shove on his shoes before he's barreling out of the door of his, Brunnhilde, and Loki's shared house. He might've left a note for Brunnhilde, but he doesn't know.

Doesn't think so.

He searches frantically through the city before realizing that Loki wouldn't choose to be in population and scours the outskirts of New Asgard. It's a little past seven in the morning, two hours after he began his hunting, when he finds his brother.

Loki's laying on the grass of Odin's field, barefoot and sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His marred flesh is showing clearly, but it doesn't seem to bother him. For a dreadful moment Thor is terrified that Loki is dead and he's looking at a corpse, but then the trickster's green eyes open and raise towards him.

Thor's shoulders sag with relief and he sets Stormbreaker against a large rock before he lays down beside Loki after an initial hesitation. "What are you doing?" He questions, trying to keep his discomfort clean of his voice.

Loki gently rolls the grass between his fingers, "Shh," he voices.

Thor tilts his head to look at Loki's profile. There's a gentle smile on his face, and Thor almost wants to weep at the sight. He hasn't seen Loki look this...this happy in a long time.

"I'm alive," Loki whispers, "I can feel it. I feel this."

Thor runs a hand through the rough grass, "It's prickly."

"Uncomfortable," Loki appends.

"Ugly."

"Long."

"Rigid."

"Green."

"Poky."

"Growing," Loki's lips thin a little. "It's growing like I am. Like we all are. It's alive."

Thor's eyebrows furrow, and he lifts his hand from the grass to stare at his sibling again, but Loki gives him a slight smile of reassurance. A faint one, with the wispy edges of his familiar taunting smirk laced into it. "I watched the sunrise," he admits, "it was bland."

"It's not the same without two suns, is it?" Thor muses out loud.

"No." Loki agrees. "But it was it's own version of beautiful."

They're quiet for a long few minutes before Loki quietly murmurs, "We're going to be okay, Brother."

Thor nods once, then again, running a hand through the grass. "I know," he says firmly, "I know."

And for the first time in a long, long time, Thor lets himself truly believe it.