Once more, a trial of worthiness has passed, and once more, Mjolnir refuses to yield to him. Luckily, only Odin is there to witness his failure this time. Last time it had been the full court. Of course, Odin's words: "Perhaps next time I shall have your brother try", echo through his head as he flings himself onto his bed. It's not fair! He doesn't even know what being worthy means! He just knows he's supposed to be it, and can't seem to figure out how. But maybe Odin is right. Maybe Thor isn't cut out for the throne. Maybe Loki will lift the hammer with ease.
It takes an enormous amount of energy to pull off his armor and the garments underneath, to change into soft sleep clothes without bothering to clean the sweat and grime from himself. It hardly matters, he's still not worthy. Summoning his attendant, he requests his meal - and a cask of mead - be brought to him, and then curls under the furs on his bed, eyes focused on a spot on the wall across from the bed, mind almost blank. There's nothing to think about. He's not worthy.
He remains under the furs when the meal arrives, snaking an arm out to snag a handful of food every now and then. The cask gets tugged under the furs with him, which results in some mead soaking the sheets with each refill of his mug, but it doesn't matter. He's not worthy.
Some time later, Thor blindly gropes around for any additional scraps of food on the tray, and finally emerges from his nest to see if perhaps his aim was off. No, the tray is empty, and Thor still feels empty too. The mead, at least, is warming his stomach and sending the room into a soothing blur. That's nice. He likes that, as though the storm in his head has quieted. He calls for his attendant again and makes the same request. A meal, and mead, and then privacy.
He probably should have specified who he wanted privacy from because halfway through his fourth tray of food and third cask of mead, Loki waltzes in. Even though Thor is still mostly under his furs, he knows it's Loki, can feel it in his very soul. He always knows when Loki is nearby. And usually, his brother's presence would bring him comfort, but not today. "Go away, Loki," he orders.
"All this over a stupid hammer?" Loki asks, flippant, and all at once Thor is furious, throwing his furs off so he can leap across the room to tackle his brother. That's the plan, anyway, but what actually happens is that Thor tumbles off the bed with an inelegant yelp of surprise. "Hmm, no wonder you failed if that's your idea of a sneak attack." Loki makes a show of studying his fingernails.
"Go away, Loki," Thor repeats, pushing himself upright, reaching back to retrieve and refill his fallen mug. "I don't feel like being made fun of right now." His head is spinning, and he suddenly is feeling a little sick. He shouldn't have risen to Loki's bait. Stupid. Unworthy.
He doesn't realize he's completely zoned out until he feels Loki sit down beside him. Wondering how much time he'd lost, he swivels his head to face his brother, almost moaning as the movement causes the room to rock back and forth like the Thunder Runner heading into Jotunheim. Thor scowls at the unwelcome memory of two burning frost giant sentries. Of Algrim meeting the same fate. "It's not fair, you know," Loki says, easing the mug out of Thor's hand and sniffing it critically before setting it aside. "All this business about being worthy."
Thor snorts, reaching up to the bedside table to snag a dinner roll off the tray. He doesn't offer one to Loki. "Easy for you to say," he snaps, "you're not the one who has to worry about it!" It's hardly fair, but Thor isn't feeling particularly fair at the moment.
Loki jerks back as though Thor has struck him, his eyes widening in his hurt. "Well you don't have to rub it in," he replies, and then softens just a little bit, leaning back into Thor's side. Thor scowls down at the floor, chewing moodily. He just wants to be alone, but he doesn't want Loki to leave either. He wants to sleep. "I might not have to worry about my worthiness," Loki says after a moment, "but I do have to worry about you, you dumb ox."
Thor closes his eyes and shakes his head. "There's nothing to worry about," he says. "I won't fail again." He feels like he will never stop failing, like nothing he does will ever show Odin how ready he is, to wield Mjolnir, to start preparing to be King. It's all he wants in all the Nine Realms, but right now he feels too hollowed out to move. He had sworn, after the lessons he had learned with the sword of Surtur, with King Thrym and the Valkyries, with Algrim (who betrayed them, Thor trusted him, how could he have been so stupid) that this time, Mjolnir would admit his worth.
It was not to be. Perhaps it would never come to pass. Thor's shoulders slump and he sighs, trying to reach around Loki for his mug because his thoughts might be addled from the mead, but he can still think. He doesn't want to be doing that anymore. Loki, of course, is having none of it. "You think glutting yourself into a stupor is how to prove your worth?" he asks, and Thor feels completely furious because obviously that's not what he's doing and he would have expected Loki to understand!
"That's not what I'm doing," Thor replies sharply. He shifts so he's turned away from his brother, shame and misery welling up in his chest and making it hard to breathe. "Go away, Loki," he orders and then says nothing more until Loki takes the hint and leaves him alone.
The morning brings with it discomfort and annoyance as his daytime attendants shuffle him through his morning routine, bathing and dressing and plaiting his hair. Thor endures it all silently, his mind still stuck in yesterday as Mjolnir refused to budge no matter how hard he tried.
He opts to take breakfast in his room, ordering two trays and more mead because if he is going to have to go about his day as if he doesn't feel like an enormous hole has opened in his gut, he's at least going to get a good meal out of it first. So, finally, with a full belly and a buzzing head, Thor trudges out to the training yard.
His first bout with the Einherjar ends with a win, because of course it does. He tries not to think about how many times Anders had thrown his sword back to him. You are the one who chose to turn your training sessions into a public spectacle, Odin's voice reminds him. The Prince of Asgard cannot be seen to fail. Except he had failed, and now it seems the All-Father has started taking measures to cover up all of Thor's continued, constant failures.
Sif does not go so easy on him and Thor ends their sparring session face down in the dirt, the tip of her sword just barely touching the back of his neck, where the base of his head meets his spine. If he moved correctly, he could make the sword pierce his spinal column. He could end all of this right here. He withdraws from the thought, horrified at himself, and pulls himself back to his feet. "Well done, Sif," he forces himself to say. The words nearly choke him.
By the end of the day, Thor wishes he felt better. Physical exercise has always helped brighten his mood, but today it has just been getting blacker and blacker at each small trip-up, each minor mistake, each jovial tease from his friends and the Einherjar alike. He is ready to retire to his room until the next day, but Volstagg suddenly has an arm around his shoulders and his leading him towards the tavern, Fandral and Hogun leading the way. Thor tries to squirm out of his friend's grasp, but to avail.
Fandral and Volstagg chatter around him. Even Hogun has more to say. Thor retreats into himself, staring into tankard after tankard of ale, barely noticing when one empties and the next is given to him, hardly realizing when plates are emptied and replaced, and soon he is feeling the mead well enough to be good company again, laughing and jesting loudly and raucously and if his friends are looking at him a little funny, well, no matter. The world blurs into something unidentifiable around the time Thor jumps up onto their table to demonstrate the proper method of wielding an empty drinking horn as a weapon (or marital aide) and suddenly he blinks and sees the palace hallway leading to his chambers.
"Come on, Thor, you stupid goat." Oh! That's Loki's voice! What is Loki doing here? He hadn't been out with them, had he? Thor isn't sure. "Odin's beard, Volstagg, were none of you keeping track of him?"
Loki's voice sounds very far away, and right now Thor is much more focused on the fact his stomach is gurgling unpleasantly and he isn't sure exactly where they are in relation to his room and his brains feel like sludge in his head but he knows for a moment, for a series of moments, he had felt better. Except for now, he definitely doesn't feel well. "Loki?" His tongue feels thick, his mouth is hot, his stomach is churning and… and… he hiccups, which turns into half a burp, which turns into him collapsing on his knees retching onto the stone floor and everything goes blank again.
The next three days pass in much the same way. He wakes, eats and drinks away his hangover, goes to train and try to pretend he doesn't feel like he's being crushed by the weight of his failures, spends the night erasing his bad feelings, and somehow wakes in his own bed the next day ready to start it all over again. On the third day, he cannot muster the strength to do more than roll over just enough to vomit onto the floor instead of himself before falling back to sleep, so that's where he stays.
He sleeps off and on for the next four days. He isn't sure if he is missed. He doesn't care. Let them miss him, let them figure out how to function without Prince Thor. He doesn't feel like getting his ass handed to him by Sif or the Einherjar, he doesn't feel like regaling his subjects with blustering tales of their adventures in Jotunheim. He doesn't feel like hearing Loki's soft sighs and murmured spellwork when he's back in his bed again. He just wants to be alone for a while, is that so much to ask?
On the fourth day, Loki comes to see him. Without asking for entry, or permission, his younger brother perches on the edge of Thor's bed, prying the bottle of wine Thor had requested for lunch from his fingers. "I just got a switch taken to my hands because of you," he snaps, holding out his hands for Thor to see the thin, raised, red lines running across Loki's palms. "Father and Mother have been wondering why you haven't been at your lessons or training. I told them I had bespelled you and we were waiting for it to wear off."
Thor blinks at him, at the sour expression on Loki's face, the way his fingers curl instinctively around his hurts. "You got punished for me?" he asks, pushing himself a little more upright. Why would Loki have done that? "That was stupid. You didn't have to lie." Thor never understood why Loki felt the need to twist facts so compulsively, even when doing so caused himself trouble. Like now.
"And what would you like me to have told them, Thor?" Loki demands. "Do you really want Father to know what you're doing instead of attending your training sessions?" Thor flinches because no, no he really does not. "I know you don't think I understand, but I do," Loki adds.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Thor has always known that his younger brother is prone to fits of ill temper and melancholy that keep him confined to his own rooms or his temple for days at a time, though Thor deeply doubts that Loki uses that time so unwisely as Thor is. Even in the aftermath of killing Algrim, when Loki had sobbed on his shoulder and sworn he would have done the deed over and over again to protect his family, when Loki had been so overcome with rage and grief at Algrim's betrayal… every time Thor came to see him, he was practicing his seidr. Every time Loki has come to see Thor, well… "I know you do," Thor murmurs, reaching out a hand before remembering Loki's wounds. "You still didn't have to lie for me."
"I suppose you're just going to have to make it up to me," Loki replies with a one-shouldered shrug. "I'm not going to be able to practice my magic for a week at least. That earns me something, I think." Thor narrows his eyes, suddenly realizing that Loki had made a temporary sacrifice of his hands in order to get something he wants, something he deems more important than being able to practice seidr for half a fortnight.
"What do you want?" he asks warily, worried now that Loki will call in this favor for something that will ultimately be bad for both of them.
Loki looks him over critically, and wraps a hand around the back of Thor's neck - usually it's the other way around, Thor touching Loki there, grounding him and comforting him. He leans into the touch, yet bows his head in shame. He is Thor Odinson. He is better than this misery. "I want my brother back," Loki says, hushed. "Even if it takes a little while. I need my brother back. I need you to try, Thor. I can't -" He cuts himself off, drops his hand, looks down at the red lines criss-crossing his palms. "I won't cover for you forever. I can't. And it wouldn't do you any good anyway. You're Thor! You're going to be king someday! And who cares if you can lift a stupid hammer or not, you're going to inherit Gungnir, which is much better." There's that little manic gleam in Loki's eyes that he gets whenever he talks about things that exude magical power, and Thor sighs.
"If I'm not worthy of Mjolnir, I'm not worthy of the throne," he intones flatly.
Loki rolls his eyes. "Oh please." Then his expression softens. "I told you I know how it feels. In that, I wasn't lying. But since I can't study now, I may as well keep you company."
Thor scowls, but in the end has no choice but to relent. He owes Loki, after all, and it feels good to have someone pressed against his back in his bed, curling around him, protecting him as he eventually drifts back off to sleep.
It takes several more days of dark thoughts and difficulty moving before Thor makes it to the dining hall for breakfast with the rest of the family. Loki had taken it upon himself to make sure Thor was sufficiently cleaned and dressed well, and if Thor spends the day in a half-aware daze, it's still better than it had been. He manages in the days that follow to get back into his normal routine, with some starts and stops, and, and manages to keep himself from going too overboard with either food or mead, though Loki's constant presence at his side helps a great deal.
By the time Loki's hands have healed and he is ready to begin his lessons with Amora anew, Thor feels almost normal again, like he can work through his days without Loki herding him from one thing to another, and a week after that it's as though none of it ever happened and certainly will never happen again.
That's what he tells himself, at least.