Credit where credit's due, this one is named for a Bastille song.
Shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he crossed his ankles, Loki sighed. He leaned his head back against the wall, feeling the shuddering of the ship with every bone of his body, and he starred up through the murky darkness at the ceiling.
It was a vulgar, primitive means of travel, this. But it was what was left to them now.
Loki turned away. The darkness above swam with visions he had no wish to see. The utter senselessness of that annoyed him. He put his head back against the wall, looking defiantly into the shadows that stood there.
It seemed to him that he had been waiting for hours.
The entire point was to arrive prior to Thor's retirement for the night, but it would appear that he'd rather misjudged his brother's habits.
He stood against the left-hand wall of Thor's bedchambers, in the dark, with his arms folded over his chest, and he waited, because this was – barring mutiny, as he was constrained to do for the time being – the only way to get his brother's attention.
And because they were right.
Releasing his forearm, he lifted one hand distractedly and pinched the bridge of his nose with the thumb and first finger of his right hand.
In all probability they were more right than they had any way of knowing.
He ought to have done something sooner.
Refolding his arms he shifted his weight again.
It had been a niggling uneasiness in the back of his mind for some time, only brought to life by the hissed commentary he'd overheard two days ago. It was fanned by Thor's continuing failure to appear.
Loki, did not enjoy waiting. Nor did he relish any reminder he had of the lingering fondness he bore for his brother. It was a weakness, and best laid to rest. It would not help him in the days to come.
Had he not told himself that a thousand times as he led Sakaar's gladiators to Asgard?
It made little difference.
Exasperated, Loki's mouth pressed a thin line and his eyes bore into the darkness. He settled himself to wait.
As it turned out, he hadn't to wait long.
It was only a few minutes later that a step shook the floor.
There were few whose tread could match his.
Loki found his footing. He schooled himself to studied indifference. Impatience, perhaps. He had been kept waiting no little time.
A slit of light from the outer corridor split the darkness and cut into the little room.
Loki did not move.
Thor's head and shoulders blocked the light – more stooped than was his norm – and Loki saw his hand go out to touch the lamp.
Loki shut his eyes before the light could blind him.
When he opened them, Thor was looking at him.
Whatever Thor's immediate response had been, he was no longer surprised.
Loki couldn't have said, looking at him, what passed through his brother's head. And that nettled him yet further.
As unresponsively as he'd looked at him, Thor looked away again. He shut the door, discarding various articles of his armor as he came into the room. He misjudged the distance between himself and the chair he meant to lay his effects on.
Loki did not point it out.
Some wounds were best left un-prodded.
"Hi," he decided.
Dispassionately, Thor rubbed his hands together, finally turning to face him. "What do you want?"
Loki blinked. He tipped his mouth in the beginnings of a smile that was almost a smirk. "Is it so hard to believe I might have no ulterior motive than to assure myself of your wellbeing? It's not as though you've made time to seek me out."
Thor had gone over to the table where he kept what remained of the GrandMaster's impressive store of liquor – notably diminished though it was, courtesy of the Valkyrie. Loki followed him with his eyes. "Since it's you?" Thor pulled the stopper free of a red-glass decanter, "Yes. So what is it?"
"Well I'm glad to see brotherly sentiment has carried you this far," Loki grumbled. But he saw Thor's hand tighten dangerously around the glass in his hand and hurriedly added, "There are those aboard ship who think our king is neglecting himself."
Thor took the drink smoothly in one motion. He didn't so much as look in Loki's direction. He poured himself a second, and turned to look over some document he'd left on the table that stood behind him.
Loki set aside his rapidly growing uneasiness.
"They say they never see you eat, and they claim they have no evidence you sleep – which," he said to Thor's back, gesturing with one hand, "I for one am inclined to believe it, seeing as you're only coming in now."
"Here you are," Thor growled over his shoulder.
"I don't carry the fate of this people," Loki said testily, "and neither do I make myself apparent at all hours."
"I'll take it under advisement," Thor said. Finishing the drink, he glanced with his good eye over his shoulder, "Anything else?"
His tone was curt and it reminded Loki of their father. Swallowing the sudden bitter taste in his mouth he said, "Will…you offer any reassurance to your people?"
"My people," Thor said, "should come to me themselves."
Unease flared in his mind, and Loki drew marginally closer. "They're not used, yet, to having a king who walks among them," he said.
Thor gave a mirthless laugh. "They should be, since I, 'walk among them' 'at all hours.'"
He reached again for the decanter and Loki's hand flew to stop him and landed beneath his on the stopper.
For the first time since he'd spoken, Thor's eye met his, wide and angry.
"Sleep," Loki said deliberately, "would serve you better."
"As skulking would serve you," Thor snapped. Drawing his hand away, he whirled to the table and braced his fists against it with a force that shook its contents. "You're self-appointed position as voice-of-the-people suits you little."
Thor did not give up fights. The insult took a breath too long to find voice. There was a disingenuous flash to Thor's eye. Loki calculated quickly. He knew that the blank look on Thor's face when he'd come in and the set of his shoulders was more than weariness.
He looked at his own hand where it lay blocking Thor's passage on the mouth of the red-glass decanter. How many times had he thought never to do this again.
Loki drew a breath through his nose. Without turning to face Thor's back, he asked, "What happened?"
"She died." Thor said.
Loki saw his hands fist and Thor pushed them against the table in a way that made the wood groan.
"Do not ask, because I'm sure you were unaware," Thor's voice was a low growl.
Instinctively, Loki wanted to look for storm heads. He repressed the impulse.
"A woman was injured in our escape. By one of Hela's barbs. I, promised, her," he punctuated every word and Loki wondered how much more the table could take before it shattered. "That she would be fine. That she would see a new home."
Straightening, Thor shook his head. "And I know I shouldn't promise such things. But I did, Loki. And she died, still believing I might save her."
Thor turned and met his eyes. His mouth was tipped in a bitter smile and Loki wondered what Odin had undergone to learn it, and so pass it to his son. The electric tang had gone out of the air. Still unmoving and never dropping Thor's gaze, Loki said, slowly, "You did nothing wrong."
Thor's smile widened. "Yet still unwise, eh, Brother? You would never have promised such a thing?"
Loki didn't answer. He watched as Thor went over to the low bench that stood against the wall. He sank down slowly onto it, and, glancing away, Loki tried not to notice how old Thor looked, in that moment. Thor bent to unfasten his boot. "None of the Warriors Three were alive by the time we came," he said. Loki didn't turn to face him, but he heard Thor straightening. "They were slain in her first attack."
Abruptly, Thor's head shot up.
Loki glanced at him. "Heimdal told me this morning."
"Oh." Thor looked at his hands.
"I wouldn't have kept that from you," Loki murmured. He took his hand from the decanter, refusing Thor's eyes. Finding he had nowhere better to put his hands, he folded his arms. He leaned his hip against the little table and watched how the liquids vacillated in their colored glass.
For all his discomfiture, Thor didn't appear to have heard him.
"She's dead," Thor repeated. He lifted his forehead out of his hand, pushing the shorn ends of his hair back from it like he'd forgotten it had been cut.
"There was nothing you could have done."
"Then how can I expect to do anything for this people?" Thor demanded.
The raw desperation in his voice startled Loki.
"They look to me," Thor said, "for answers, and I can't keep even one woman alive."
Loki shook his head, pushing past his own discomfort, "Kingship gives no man power over death,"
"You don't understand," Thor pleaded, "I didn't –" he drew a long breath, "I didn'teven know her name."
Slumping forward, Thor kneaded the heels of his palm into his eye.
Looking back at the various colors in the bottles, Loki thought that alcohol was much simpler. There was nothing he knew to lessen the anguish of Thor's position. No words, no magic, no tricks could fix this. He was, utterly, out of his element. Alcohol posed him no such stumbling blocks.
"Forget it," Thor said. "You wouldn't understand."
Loki's jaw tightened as any idea of comfort dissipated under the force of old injuries.
"Fine," he said, tightly. "Then since it's apparent I'm of no use here, I'll take –"
Thor's shoulders jerked, his face hidden by his hands.
"– my leave…"
Stupefied, Loki only watched as Thor began to weep into his hands.
He couldn't remember the last time he had seen Thor cry.
Thor was always strong. He might admit to hurts and wear them plainly in his face, but it was never he who broke beneath the strain.
Loki didn't know what to do.
He looked at the liquor that stood, at his elbow, as though it might give him answers.
Exasperated, with himself as much as the whole stupid mess of the rest of it, he pushed off the table. Half-expecting to be driven away, he went across the room and kicked aside the boots Thor had discarded at his feet to take his place beside his brother. Before he could convince himself to think better of it, he put one arm, awkwardly, across Thor's heaving back.
Thor didn't give any sign he'd noticed, which Loki decided was a good enough sign.
As he was thoroughly out of ideas at that point, Loki just stayed there, and he didn't say anything.
Loki had never been one to keep regular hours, and these days, more than ever, he found it most expedient to his purposes to move where there was least resistance. For the time being, that translated to what passed for night aboard the Arc.
He moved through the darkened corridors without sound. He went over calculations, stores, records. He double and triple checked what others had done in the light of day, bringing up and deftly dismissing the screens that were located at various points around the ship. During the light of day when there were others about, he listened to their complaints from vantage points where he was not observed, and he took those into account as he deemed prudent.
He had forfeited his place as Asgard's king. The past years had served as an unshakable reminder of the more sensible voice that had cut through all his childish jealousy and told him he had no true desire for a throne. Thor was king. Thor had earned his place.
Another thing that had abrasively made itself known to him these past years, was that no man could bear a kingdom alone.
But it wouldn't do for Thor to think that he had aspirations. He wasn't a challenger for Asgard's throne. Not again.
So he did what he could, taking great pains to be seen doing all he had been asked to do by his brother, and nothing greater. The rest he did in secret.
Heimdal knew, of course. There was no helping that.
"…but he looks so tired, I'm afraid he never sleeps,"
The woman's voice echoed in his head.
It had been surfacing every so often through the past hours. And it's answer, an older, dryer tone:
"A young king in crisis will sometimes spend himself too us pray at least that no new catastrophe will befall us."
"What new catastrophe could overtake us now?"
Loki knew. He had seen happenings in the depths of space that the destruction of Asgard could only begin to challenge.
He did not want to go to Thor himself. There were betrayals that were yet too raw. Hulk was out of the question. And the Valkyrie would not trust him. Besides that, her nature would be too brash.
Fandril, Sif, Volstagg or Hogan would have been no better, but he had seen none of them in the attack, and it was unlike any of them to hang back when swords were ready. Loki held onto no great hope concerning them.
"You're out late this evening." Heimdal did not turn from the window, but Loki had not expected him to.
"Or early, as it were." Loki drew up beside him, folding his arms.
Stars and galaxies spun out before them in the sucking depth of the Void.
"Early it is, indeed," the Watchman allowed, with some amusement, Loki thought. He didn't know whether or not to be annoyed by that.
"And what could the god of Mischief have to ask of me, this morning? You see nearly as much as I, these days."
Loki chose to take no offense, as Heimdal might prove to be the nearest thing he had to an ally in this."You have had words with Thor?"
Heimdal's golden eyes turned on him for but a moment. "You have not?"
Heimdal's surprise was apparent, palpable. Following his gaze back to the sprawling view before them, Loki gave a tight-lipped smile. "A king has many duties on which to spend his time," he said, "and still more people who wish to occupy what's left of it."
"But you are his brother."
Considering that, Loki's head tipped a little to one side. He regarded the Watchman. "One might almost think," he said, after a moment, "that you sow dissent, Heimdal."
"On the contrary," the Watchman's face did not change, "I prompt a responsibility."
Heimdal looked at him, with one brow raised. "You are his brother, are you not?"
Loki did not answer, and Heimdal turned back to his watch.
"And he may be in great need of his brother, before long."
His anxiety fanned, Loki glanced down. He shifted his feet, lifting his chin to face the stars. "It wears on him, then?"
"No more than it did on you," Heimdal said.
Loki looked at him, but there was no trace of humor on the Watchman's face.
Heimdal met his look. "His rule is not a time of recovery, but of crisis," straightening, Heimdal continued, "He will need his friends, before long. And he has few enough of those, yet remaining."
Heimdal glanced at him again. "The Warriors Three, did not survive Hela's attack."
His eyes sliding away, Loki nodded his head.
Having said his piece, the Watchman remained silent.
"I'm not sure," Loki said at length, "that Thor counts me among his friends." He gave the Watchman a wry smile.
Heimdal's expression surprised him. "Did you not fight beside him on the bridge?"
Loki blinked, "Yes?"
Heimdal nodded his head, once, decisively.
"That means nothing."
"It means everything." Heimdal countered. "You're all he has left, after all."
Heimdal elaborated no further, and, after a minute or two, Loki turned on his heel and wordlessly took his leave.
He did not sleep, as was his wont, in those next hours. Perturbed, he lay in the dim light of his room, and he stared at the ceiling. When that grew to be too much of a strain, he got up. He took out his knives, and he polished their clean surfaces as if the greatest battle had just been asked of them.
In the mockery of daylight aboard ship, he moved as he always did, keeping alert for sign of his brother. Thor's fingerprints were everywhere. His movements made ripples. The air vibrated with his voice in nearby corridors. But ever he evaded Loki's presence until Loki was rather inclined to believe that it was done deliberately.
Waiting ambush in Thor's room was a desperate effort, but he couldn't shake the echo of the women's voices or of what Heimdal had said to him.
Not any more than he could shake the faintest hope that it might be true.
"I can't lead them," Thor admitted.
He had been quiet for a long time, just sitting, bowed with his elbows on his knees and his hands folded.
Loki was sitting, motionless beside him, with one arm across his shoulders. At first he had stayed because he did not know what else to do, and then he stayed because he thought Thor must have forgotten that he was there and he did not want to draw attention to himself again for fear that Thor would lash out.
His voice was rough at the edges, but it was soft.
Loki shifted a little further back, moving his hand to the place between Thor's shoulder blades so that there was more space between them.
"Of course you can," he said.
His own voice was hoarse from disuse, these past minutes. There was an odd symmetry to that. He thought Thor noticed it. Thor glanced toward him with his good eye. "Don't flatter me with your pretty lies," he sighed. Hanging his head he said, "I can't fight with you, now. I'm not…"
Lifting his head to look out straight before him, Thor drew a long breath, "I'm not the man they believe me to be."
"That's true enough," Loki smiled.
Startled, Thor looked back at him. Breathing a cough as he turned away, Thor almost smiled in return. But he sobered quickly. "I can't lead them. I," he glanced down, as though he were ashamed. "I'm not ready."
"A wise man," Loki said, choosing his words carefully, "might give that as proof of your readiness."
"A wise man?" Thor asked, lifting his head, "Like you?"
Loki smiled. "I never said I was wise. I merely parrot the words."
Thor nodded his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "They sound like Mother's words."
Abruptly uncertain that he could speak, Loki said nothing.
Thor remained quiet, for a long time.
"Do you believe them?" he said, finally.
It had been so long that Loki had forgotten of what they had been speaking. "Do I believe what?" he asked. His voice betrayed him and he turned his head away, fearful of Thor's scrutiny.
Thor's mention of their Mother had caught him unawares, and she had come more freshly to his mind than he was used to. Asgard's loss was more real when it was the place she had lived.
Whether Thor understood his response or not, he didn't speak for several moments.
"Do you believe that I can lead them?" he asked, at length.
When Loki turned his head, Thor was looking at him, his one remaining eye searching.
Loki knew in that moment that Thor had given him power. Power to make him, or to destroy. And he had no words to do either.
He remembered Volstagg's old epithet, 'SilverTongue.' It felt more mockery than ever as his tongue was leaden in his mouth. He couldn't look away, not without answering.
The words rose, with or without his bidding.
"Of course you can," he said again.
But the words somehow meant so much more, this time.
Thor looked away.
"There is…" Loki watched Thor's hands as they gripped each other. He'd noticed Thor doing that more, since Mjolnir was gone. Thor looked over at him, expectant. Loki met his eyes and his heart skipped, almost as though he was afraid, "…no one, else, who can."
Thor's eyebrow quirked curiously, "Not even you?" he asked. His mouth tipped in just the barest hint of a smile.
Giving a mirthless laugh Loki dropped his eyes, "No, I – We would all have been dead, under my governance."
The look in Thor's eye softened. He put his hand on Loki's neck. Self-conscious, Loki drew his hand from Thor's shoulder, folding his arm across him.
After a moment, Thor took his hand away, and Loki felt that he could breathe again.
Drawing a long breath, Thor rubbed the back of his neck and folded his hands before him. "What do I do?"
He asked it like he would ask the operating procedure of some small thing, not like a man being crushed under the weight of a kingdom.
Loki was startled, "You're…" he half-turned to face his brother, "asking me?"
"Well," Thor almost laughed, and he sounded like himself. His old self. "You've done this before."
Loki snorted. "Poorly."
Thor met his eyes directly, demanding, "You couldn't have done better?"
The idea that Thor thought he could, touched him, and he looked away, clearing his throat. "Work on the big things," he decided, finally. "The visible roles of the King. The things that no one else can do. Leave the details to themselves."
"…or someone else?"
Catching back a smile, Loki nodded his head.
"It's you whose been going over the records, isn't it?" Thor asked.
"I couldn't have your counselors killing us."
Thor gave a short laugh and, fixing his sleeve, Loki smiled.
Thor fell silent again after that. Taking a furtive glance at him, Loki decided that Thor was not happy, but he was quiet. There was no longer any fear of his drinking himself into oblivion or tearing the ship apart from within. He'd done his work.
Pressing his palms to his knees, Loki stood up.
Thor was watching him with a startled look on his face. "Where are you going?"
"Well, the computers aren't going to self-correct the mis-typed coordinates," he said blandly. "And I'd rather not sail directly into a star while Heimdal marvels at the beauty of it."
This time, Thor did laugh.
"Get some sleep," Loki said. "Asgard needs her king at his best."
He went to the door, and he had the knob in his hand when Thor stopped him, "Loki,"
He did not quite turn, "Yes?"
"Would you…" Thor fumbled, as though uncertain how to speak his mind.
Loki turned to face him, curiosity furrowing his brow.
Thor ran a hand down his face, deciding finally, "I could use your help, tomorrow, Brother, in daylight."
Loki pressed the absurd pleasure he felt at that out of sight under a raised eyebrow, "My help?"
"That is what I said."
Loki gave him a short glance, "Do you think that's wise?"
"I do unwise things all the time," Thor smiled at him, softly. "It usually works out."
Loki fingered the worn door handle and he found that he was smiling.
"Do you think maybe you could…" Thor fumbled, "show me how to do some of that sometime? The things with the computer? Korg tried to teach me, but…"
Thor gave a helpless shrugging motion with his hand.
"As king," Thor straightened, "it would behoove me to know."
There was gentle mockery in Thor's tone. Jibes from a lost day. Loki found it was pleasant, to be on the receiving end of it, again.
"Well," he said, finally. "If I can't do better than a Kronan," he glanced at his brother, giving a loose shrug, "Then what use am I?"
He knew how it was likely to go. He'd 'taught' Thor many things throughout their lives. The experiments typically ended with Thor flipping whatever it was they had been working at onto the floor and storming out of the room, none the wiser than when they had started.
Loki found he missed that.
Thor looked at him, all trace of mockery gone.
"Thank you, Brother."
Meeting Thor's lone eye, Loki remembered Heimdal's words.
"You're all he has left, after all."
And he looked away. "Rest well, Brother."
But as he closed the door behind him, he smiled.