It wasn’t so much that he was unaware that it was a possibility, as that he didn’t want it to be a possibility. And if Loki was very good at one thing, it was ignoring things he did not want to believe.
Unfortunately, that situation was not tenable forever.
Sakaar was practically swimming in a dizzying variety of intoxicants from every corner of the universe, and some entirely unique to the planet itself. Loki had, over the course of his time there, tried a number of them. Drowning the grief he did not want to admit to, initially, and later...later drowning other things. Historically, he tried to avoid overindulgence.
There were times, though, and places, when that wasn’t an option. The Grandmaster didn’t expect his guests to remain sober. And that meant that any guest who did was...marked. Suspicious.
He was just doing it to fit in.
But Loki had left Sakaar behind, and with Sakaar its cocktails and mind-altering substances, and he hadn’t exactly had the chance to squirrel anything away on his way out.
For the first few days of their journey, he’d had plenty of other things to think about, which was very effective for ignoring the things he was trying not to think about. But now he was being forced to acknowledge them, namely by the tingling in his fingers and the dry, sticky feeling in his mouth. If it stayed like this, he told himself, he could handle it.
He had a feeling it wasn’t going to stay like this.
“What is it?”
Loki jumped, and swore inwardly, jerking his head up from where he was staring at his fingers and turning to face Thor. “Pardon?” His eyes went first, as always, to Thor’s eyepatch. That sense of something slightly out of joint. He would get used to it, but just now…
Thor’s eyebrows lifted. “You are distracted. I wouldn’t usually be able to sneak up on you.”
“Just thinking.” Loki worked his fingers. “How are we for supplies?”
Thor’s faint smile fell into a scowl. “You know the answer to that. Not well.”
“I assume you already have Heimdall seeking the nearest friendly planet,” Loki said. “I would suggest sending out a general hail, but there is every possibility that only pirates would answer.”
“You don’t need to tell me that.” Thor grimaced. “If only it were not such a distance to Earth.”
Loki thought of the Tesseract, tucked away in its pocket dimension. He couldn’t use it to bring the whole ship through, though. And he would have to tell Thor.
He worked some saliva back into his mouth, or tried. “We shall manage,” he said, hoping it sounded reassuring.
“Optimism?” Thor said, with exaggerated surprise. “From you?”
“I’d like to think not too much,” Loki said. His fingers went briefly numb and he only just kept himself from glancing nervously down at them, as though they might have dropped off.
“Hopefully you are right.” Thor laid a hand on his shoulder, and if there was familiarity in the gesture, Loki also got the sense Thor was confirming that he was still there. However, his lopsided smile fell away again as he looked at Loki, studying his face.
“Are you all right?” He asked. Loki raised his eyebrows.
“I am not the one who lost an eye.”
Thor waved a hand as though it were that easily dismissed, though Loki could see the weariness in his bearing, the faint lines of pain around his mouth. He made a mental note to see that a healer was sent to Thor, since he probably wouldn’t go himself. “You look a bit sickly. More than usual,” he added, though with a bit of a smile to ease the sting. Loki still grimaced.
“I’m fine. Not even a scratch.” He held out his arms to illustrate. “See? It is probably this ship’s lighting. Doing me no favors.”
Thor looked skeptical for a moment, but then he smiled and shook his head. “How very vain of you.”
“I am still mourning the loss of my statues,” Loki said. “And my theater.”
Thor snorted. “Of course you are,” he said, but he almost sounded fond. Loki relaxed. Brotherly concern successfully deflected.
It might get harder.
He was so damned thirsty.
The quantity of water was limited, but Loki thought if he wasn’t careful he could drink all of it in one go and still want more. Of course, the fact that he was sweating like a - well, a frost giant in a sauna, as the saying went - probably wasn’t helping.
He wanted to stick his head in Asgard’s ocean and drink it. Of course, that was salt water, and also entirely evaporated by Surtur’s fire. All he could do was try to drink his rationed water slowly, as though he could make it feel like more by dragging it out.
If only it weren’t so hot. Although Loki had the sneaking suspicion that it actually wasn’t.
He retreated back to his room and sat down, breathing deeply and slowly. He glanced at his hands, which were tingling again, though only for a moment before the sensation passed.
He wondered if he was being forcibly weaned off one drug, or two, or three.
You’re going to die, a cold voice informed him. He’d seen it happen before, on Sakaar, to those who fell out of favor and found their supply abruptly cut off. You’re going to drop dead and there’s nothing you can do about it because there’s no chance of finding the Grandmaster’s designer drugs somewhere other than Sakaar.
He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, trying to drive away the dull ache behind his eyes. If he hadn’t left, this wouldn’t be a problem.
If he hadn’t left, odds were Asgard and Thor would have died together, and he would have met his own end by melting. Whether the latter was better or worse than a slow death by withdrawal, it seemed he could not tolerate the former. Ultimately, he would have made the same bargain, even if he had considered this eventuality more carefully.
Thor was staring at him again, hard enough that Loki stumbled twice over his report on what the engineers had found about the ship. That, at least, was startlingly good news - as old as it was, the Statesman seemed to be remarkably sturdily built. Not luxurious, certainly, but at least it wouldn’t fall to pieces midway to Midgard. Unfortunately, it was also lacking in anything resembling weaponry, and its shielding capabilities were...abysmal.
That was concerning.
Apparently Thor was concerned about other things, though, because immediately after the makeshift council had dispersed he cornered Loki. He eyed the door, wondering if he could bolt.
Probably not. His stomach was cramping like he’d eaten something foul, which was unlikely, considering he hadn’t eaten since the night before.
“Is there a problem?” He asked, making it sound testy in the hopes that would encourage Thor to drop it.
“I don’t know,” Thor said. “Is there?”
“So suspicious,” Loki said. “What makes you think there is? Just because it’s me?”
“You have to allow it’s not unwarranted,” Thor said, but then shook his head. “No, that isn’t it. Something is...off.”
“Off,” Loki said flatly. Another cramp squeezed his guts and he focused on not letting the spasm reach his face. “Off. What, pray tell, is that supposed to mean, Thor?”
“Are you picking a fight to try to distract me?” Thor asked. Loki blinked, but he recovered quickly. He was going to need to be careful. Come up with some new tricks, since apparently Thor had finally gotten wise to the old ones.
“Maybe I just don’t particularly like being told there’s something wrong with me.”
Thor’s determined expression shifted a little toward something else, almost like worry. “I don’t mean it like that. I mean…” He huffed. “It seems to me in the past I’ve too quickly assumed all was well with you when it wasn’t. Or simply didn’t notice. It doesn’t seem to me that’s a habit it would be good to retain.”
Oh, he thought. So Thor was worried.
Of course, if he knew what the trouble was, he might laugh. Or sigh in frustration over Loki’s poor choices.
Or else he might do the opposite, and thereby take on yet another burden. Loki could already see how it was weighing on him: Asgard’s collapse, his new responsibilities, his grief, the grief of their people. It would be too much for anyone else.
He let his expression soften. “I appreciate your solicitousness,” he said, with a faint smile, “but I really am fine. Perhaps a little tired. The beds on this ship are not the most comfortable.”
Thor scrutinized him a moment longer, then answered with a faint smile of his own. “I cannot say you’re wrong.”
Loki waited until Thor left to sink down into one of the chairs, weaving a spell of invisibility around himself before he doubled over with a groan. Is it really a good idea to stay quiet when you might die, murmured a voice at the back of his mind. Won’t that be a rude surprise for your poor, beleaguered, brother?
He shoved it out of his mind. Later, maybe. When things had settled down a bit.
If you live that long.
“Stop that,” he said to himself, and made himself stand. If he was going to pretend to be fine, he was going to have to work at it.
He dreamed he was back on Sakaar. “Here,” the Grandmaster said, smiling, always smiling. “Try one of these,” sliding a pill on his tongue that dissolved in a burst of fizz and citrus.
“What does it do?” He’d asked, and the Grandmaster had tapped a finger on his nose.
“The surprise is part of the fun, sweet thing.”
Loki woke up sweating. He threw the thin blanket off and stumbled to his feet and over to the porthole, yanking at it a few times before he remembered that it wouldn’t open and even if it did, it shouldn’t. He tried shifting forms, but that just made it worse.
There’s cold storage. Back of the ship. Go there.
He almost teleported there, remembered that trying to teleport on a moving vessel was a recipe for disaster, and stumbled out of his room. Grateful that according to the circadian rhythm the ship had adopted most everyone was asleep and didn’t see him stumbling through the hallways like a drunkard.
He managed to make it there unseen, had to try twice to get the door open with suddenly uncooperative fingers, and stumbled inside, gasping with relief for the wave of cold that washed over him. He stretched out on the floor, pressing every inch of his body to cold metal.
He could almost taste that citrus fizz on his tongue. The pleasure of sensation rocketed to new heights, and when it was gone he’d been left hollow and empty but there was always more, and he wanted it now.
He stayed there, on the floor, until his temperature at least regulated enough that he didn’t feel like his brain was going to melt out of his ears. Then he sat up and dragged himself over to a wall, propping himself up against it.
If he made it through this, Loki told himself, he was never going to touch so much as a glass of alcohol again in his life. He wondered if the healers left on the ship would have anything for pain so at least he could numb some of the symptoms - though of course, the stronger substances could be addictive, too, and he shouldn’t waste stores on something he could endure. And he could endure this.
You’ve endured a lot worse. Gone soft, have you? Can’t take a little pain anymore?
It wasn’t that so much as this felt like his own body betraying him. Of course, he should be used to that as well. His body had been betraying him since his skin had changed color on Jotunheim.
Loki jerked upright, hearing footsteps approaching, and quickly shoved himself to his feet, casting a hasty, healthier looking glamour and turning to face the opening door. Heimdall stared at him, and he stared back.
“Prince Loki,” Heimdall said after a long silence. “What are you doing here?”
“Checking the stores,” Loki said smoothly. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Heimdall’s eyebrows rose. “Interesting choice of activity for a sleepless night.”
Loki spread his hands. “I’m an interesting sort of person.”
Heimdall made a sort of “hm” noise. Loki waited, half expecting an accusation. He had not forgotten Heimdall’s attempt to cut off his head. Bygones were bygones - he had, after all, frozen Heimdall to the Bifrost - but just the same.
“You know I can tell when you’re using a glamour,” Heimdall said at length. Loki blinked, and then swore. He had known. He’d also forgotten. You’re getting stupid.
“Is that not permitted?”
“One might wonder why, when you are not pretending to be someone else.” Was that pointed? Loki couldn’t tell if that was pointed. Besides, he hadn’t been glamoured as Odin; that was shapeshifting, and Heimdall ought to know the difference.
“I don’t need to explain myself to you,” he said.
“No,” Heimdall said. “You don’t.” That caught Loki a little off guard, and Heimdall looked like he was trying not to smile. “But you might all the same.”
What does he know, was Loki’s first wild thought. He was starting to switch over again, from overheated to chilled, and fought the desire to wrap his arms around himself. No, he thought, Heimdall didn’t know anything. Was just guessing.
“And if I don’t?” He said after a (probably too long) pause. Heimdall just shrugged.
“It is up to you.”
Loki bit his tongue. Someone, he thought, should know. In case worst did come to worst, and he dropped dead suddenly without having the chance to speak to Thor, to explain. And Heimdall could keep a secret. And would, if Loki explained why. He was loyal to Thor, but he had his own sense. Probably more than Thor.
Loki took a deep breath and let it out. “I think,” he said, “I should sit down for this. And perhaps leave the cold storage.”
“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Heimdall said. Loki exited, just managing not to stumble, cast about for something to sit on, and found nothing. He sighed and sat on the floor, twisting his hands together for a moment before he let the glamour fall away.
“I may be in a bit of a situation,” he said, looking straight ahead rather than at Heimdall. Of course, that didn’t last, because he crouched down in front of Loki, frowning.
“What kind of situation?”
Loki pressed his lips together. “What did Thor tell you about Sakaar?”
He meant to lie: I was tricked into taking some illicit substances, it appears I’m suffering some ill effects from the lack of same, but he ended up spilling the entire sordid tale. Including the bits he would rather Thor never knew, though he didn’t include any details. After he finished talking - just barely keeping his teeth from chattering - Heimdall was quiet for several long seconds.
“What are you going to do now?” He asked finally. Loki turned his head to blink at Heimdall where he’d moved to be sitting against the wall next to Loki.
“That’s what is important, isn’t it?” Heimdall studied him sidelong. “I don’t think there’s any point in chastising you for the past, even if I were inclined to.”
That caught him a bit by surprise. He tried not to show it. “I suppose,” he said. “There isn’t a great deal I can do, however, except...keep going. I am not asking for help. In truth, I am only informing you of this because someone ought to...be aware of the state of things.” Heimdall just kept looking at him, as though he didn’t understand what Loki was getting at. “In case,” Loki added.
“In case what,” Heimdall said. Loki gave him a hard look.
“You aren’t stupid.”
“Hmm,” Heimdall said. “I’m hopeful I am wrong.”
Loki expelled a breath and stared down at his hands. His fingers were numb again. “Don’t say anything to Thor about this conversation,” he said, “unless and until he needs to know.”
“I would argue he needs to know now.”
“He doesn’t,” Loki shot back. “Thor has enough to worry about without something he can’t help. I am only telling you so that, should worst come to worst, he’ll know what happened.”
“You mean if you die,” Heimdall said. Loki kept himself from twitching.
Heimdall just looked at him. “You realize,” he said, “that I could just ignore your request and take this information directly to your brother.”
“I’m aware. But I trusted you’d understand why you shouldn’t.” Heimdall just looked at him. Loki’s skin started to crawl. He wondered if he shouldn’t try to strip the whole memory of this conversation out of Heimdall’s mind.
“Very well,” Heimdall said, just when Loki had started to think he’d made a terrible mistake. “I’ll keep your secret, Prince Loki. Until such time as Thor needs to know.”
Loki exhaled, a little shakily. The feeling hadn’t yet returned to his fingers, and there was an unexpected lump in his throat. Though that might not be the withdrawal. “Thank you,” he made himself say. “Much appreciated.” Heimdall was looking at him strangely, and Loki frowned at him. “What?”
Heimdall shook his head. “Thank you for telling me.”
“You’re welcome,” Loki said awkwardly. And cleared his throat. “I am aware that we have...not been on good terms, of late. But I hold you in high regard. You have always served Asgard well.” His lips twisted up at one corner. “Even when it means defying her king.” His nose was burning, and he told himself firmly that was definitely the withdrawal. “You’ll be a worthy support to Thor.” He forced a laugh. “Norns know he needs all the supports he can get.”
Loki startled a little when Heimdall put a hand on his shoulder in a surprisingly familial gesture. “Get some rest,” he said. “You need it to keep up your strength.”
Such as it is. Loki could stand on his own, though he was still shivering. The warmth of his blankets sounded better and better, even if he doubted there would be much rest involved. At least he could try.
Loki did end up dropping off into restless sleep, never quite waking but never quite fully at rest either. And the moment he opened his eyes when the ship lights came on to signal morning, he regretted it.
He slammed his eyes closed, just barely biting back a shout. For a second he thought someone was shining a light directly in his eyes, but he realized a moment later that wasn’t it - it was just that someone had taken a drill to his skull and was trying to bore through to his brain. He curled to his side, moaning and clutching his head, breathing harshly through his nose to fight the urge to vomit.
The pain eased off a little with his eyes closed, though it was still there, overpowering, and he almost thought he’d crack his skull open to make it stop. He needed to get up, move, act normal.
He wasn’t going anywhere.
Time dragged by, impossibly slowly. Now and then he drifted, but never really slept, and it wasn’t as though he could do anything other than lie flat with his eyes closed and a blanket over his head. The pain came and went in waves; the constant was that he felt wretched. The thought crossed his mind more than once that if he died now it would be something of a relief.
He was not at all sure how long it had been (hours? minutes? a full day?) when someone knocked at his door. Loki groaned, the sound seemingly echoed in his skull.
“Go away,” was the most cogent response he could manage. Silence.
Oh, bollocks. Thor. Loki weighed the consequences of Thor finding him like this against his ability to stand without vomiting, and stayed where he was without responding. The door opened.
“I didn’t say you could come in,” Loki said, from within his nest of blankets.
“Norns, Loki,” Thor said, sounding alarmed. “Are you sick?”
“No,” Loki said through his teeth. “Headache.”
“Oh.” Thor’s voice immediately quieted, and Loki was sickeningly grateful. Or perhaps just sick. “Have you been drinking water?”
“No.” Loki felt the need to explain that. “Can’t open my eyes. Can’t stand up.”
“I’ll get you some,” Thor said gently. Loki’s eyes prickled. Norns-damned Thor and his decency.
“Thank you,” he managed. Thor’s hand rested briefly on the hunch of his shoulder under the blankets before he left. Loki drifted again, coming back when he heard Thor reenter.
“You’re going to need to take the blankets off to drink anything,” Thor said.
“Just won’t drink, then.”
He heard Thor sigh. “I didn’t think you got these anymore.”
“Less often. Worse when I do.” At least there was that. He could pass this off as a normal sort of affliction, and not...what it more than likely was. “You can leave the water. I’ll get to it.”
Silence again. Loki almost wanted to open his eyes so he could get a sense for what he’d said wrong. “Did you eat?” Thor asked. Loki groaned faintly.
“Don’t. Mention food.”
“Point taken.” He felt Thor sit down next to him and grimaced. Why are you still here, he thought, but asking the question didn’t seem like a good idea. “Are you feverish?”
“M’not sick. Just a headache.” He didn’t feel feverish right now. Except for the aches, but those were relatively constant at this point. At least he was neither too cold nor overheated.
Though at the moment he thought he’d take either of those over this.
“I could call a healer.”
Loki froze up. “Don’t,” he said quickly. Too quickly, he could tell, from the sudden silence. He could almost hear the frown in it. “I just want to sleep,” he added. “I’ll be fine.”
More of that unhappy silence. “You’re sure,” Thor said doubtfully.
“Quite,” Loki managed.
“Swear you will drink the water. And eat something when you can.”
“Yes, mother,” Loki said automatically, and then regretted it. Thor’s quiet laugh sounded strained.
“Rest well, then,” he said. “I’ll be back later to make sure you keep your word.”
“What,” Loki pushed out. “Don’t trust me?” Thor just patted his shoulder. Not even a pitying laugh. He must really sound awful.
Heimdall still had the Bifrost sword, didn’t he? Maybe he’d cut off Loki’s head if he asked nicely.
The migraine passed, though his head still felt like an egg with a brittle shell. The rest of him didn’t feel much better. But at least he could pass, more or less, as something approaching normal.
He didn’t have much energy for anything else.
“Lackey!” Valkyrie called, just as he was slinking off the bridge, avoiding Heimdall’s attempt to catch his eye. “We need another person for a round of cards. In or out?”
“Out,” Loki said. “Enjoy yourselves.” Some part of him pointed out that it would probably be fun, but Loki didn’t think he could work up the necessary wherewithal to put on a front for a minute longer than he had to.
He wanted to go to sleep. Trouble was, every time he started to close his eyes his thoughts started racing and spinning in circles, snakes eating their own tails, devouring each other and him both. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept through the night.
Still, he set off back toward his room, looking forward to at least dropping the glamour that was becoming increasingly slippery and lying down to stare at the ceiling. He caught himself chewing on his thumbnail and made himself stop; he’d already bitten the other nails down to the quick.
“Hold up, Lackey!”
Loki stopped, grimacing. “That’s not my name,” he said, “and you know it. I told you, I’m not interested. Ask your green friend.”
“Hulk doesn’t do cards,” Valkyrie said, stepping around in front of him. She narrowed her eyes. “You’re not as subtle as you think you are.”
“Pardon?” Loki said, nerves prickling.
“Something’s up with you,” she said. “Has been for the past while. What are you planning?”
Loki summoned a nasty smile. It came easily to him, even if he didn’t particularly feel it. “Dastardly deeds.”
She didn’t look impressed. “Heimdall’s in on it. Thor isn’t. You’re keeping something secret and I don’t like secrets.”
“Pity,” Loki said distantly. “We all have to learn to live with disappointment.” He could feel the shivers coming, and he didn’t want to be here when they hit. Valkyrie’s eyes narrowed further.
“Don’t be a shit.”
“It’s my default state of being.” The words rolled easily off his tongue; he hardly had to think to say them. “Will it be enough if I tell you that it’s nothing that will harm either Thor or Asgard?”
“Well then. Disappointment it is.” Loki moved to step around her. Her hand snapped out and grabbed his arm, and Loki let out a hiss of pain, jerking back. He stared at his arm, startled. It’d felt like she’d dug her fingers in, but by the look on her face she hadn’t expected that reaction either.
New and exciting, Loki thought.
“What was that?” She asked.
“My ass.” She was staring at him like she could see through him. “Something’s wrong with you.”
Loki forced a toothy smile. “I’ve heard that one before.” A chill ran through him, and he swore inwardly at how visible it was.
“Stop,” she said harshly. “What is going on? A little bit of honesty for once in your life-”
“Or what,” Loki said, a hysterical laugh bubbling up in his throat. “You’ll kill me?”
“I’m thinking about it,” she growled.
Better think quick before Sakaar does it for you from a distance, Loki thought. He turned away from her.
“Go back to your card game,” he said. “None of this is any of your business.”
She caught his arm again, though this time more gently. Loki still flinched. “You’re shaking.”
He was. Damn. He stared at his fingers and could see them trembling. “It’s nothing,” he said again, more firmly, trying to detach himself from her grasp. Her eyes bored into him.
“Your glamour’s flickering,” she said. Loki felt his eyes widen and checked, quickly, but it seemed fine, still. He refocused on Valkyrie to see the expression of triumph. “So you are using one. All right. Drop it.”
Loki glanced toward the bridge. “Whatever you’re thinking,” he said, “you’re wrong.”
“You don’t know what I’m thinking.”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck. “We’re not talking about this,” Loki said, his voice strained, and took the risk of teleporting back to his room. He collapsed onto the floor, curling up on his side to ride out the shakes. Feeling wretchedly, horribly, alone.
That was just how it needed to be, he reminded himself. He just needed to try harder.
And when you can’t anymore? What then?
Loki pushed that thought aside. He couldn’t consider it. All he could focus on was getting through one day at a time.
Loki created a passable duplicate of himself. It wouldn’t pass too detailed an examination, but as long as it kept its distance and limited its interactions, it would work fine. He curled up in his bed and sent it on its way.
“Val said there’s something wrong with you,” Thor said.
“She flatters me,” Loki heard his duplicate say through their link. Thor’s frown didn’t ease.
“You have been acting strangely.”
“These are strange times.” Loki closed his eyes and curled up tighter against the uneven patter of his heart in his chest. “She doesn’t know me. What do you see?”
“My brother,” Thor said, after a pause. “I have to go, but - we’ll talk about this later.”
“Certainly,” Loki’s double said. Or not, Loki thought. His heartbeat was starting to thunder oddly in his ears, and he couldn’t hold the focus. He’d meant to keep the duplicate substituting for him through the day, but his concentration faltered and the connection snapped. Another headache was starting behind his left eye, and he felt light-headed, short of breath.
“Damn,” Loki said, starting to push himself up to try again, when it hit him like a wave. His already racing heart now felt less like it was pounding than like it was thrumming, like hummingbird’s wings, and agonizing cramps squeezed his intestines.
It’s getting worse, he thought. You’re getting worse. He focused on breathing through the spasm until it passed, more or less. Or at least until it was manageable.
So perhaps Thor didn’t believe in his just a headache excuse, and intended to push the matter. He’d managed to play it off for now, but we’ll talk about this later didn’t sound promising. And he could barely hold on to a duplicate of himself, which made that particular solution impossible. How long before he couldn’t even manage a glamour?
He pried himself to his feet and walked over to the small mirror he’d crafted. His skin was ashy. There was an unnatural flush of fever in his cheeks, but his eyes looked dull, almost glassy. Loki winced to see himself and turned quickly away.
Maybe he should just give up on trying to pretend and tell Thor. Confess everything.
For now, his glamour would hold. Though the thought drifted across Loki’s mind that he could always deal with this in a more expedient manner.
Messy. Possibility of failure. No, that wasn’t a good option.
Loki bent over around another cramp, sucking in air through his nose that seemed to burn his throat. Chills ran through his body, muscles spasming.
He missed the numbness. The ecstasy.
Loki forced himself to straighten and walk out of his room. He’d fight his way through this. Inch by inch, until it killed him, which seemed increasingly likely.
He’d just have to try to avoid any dangerous conversations. Which at this point was probably any conversation at all that wasn’t strictly business.
Some weak part of him wanted to go crawling to Thor, or even to Heimdall, seeking comfort. He shoved it down. This was his to deal with, and no one else’s.
He recognized the look on Thor’s face when he caught Loki’s eye and started in his direction. He also recognized the feeling of his temperature plunging and his guts starting to rebel.
“Valkyrie,” he said quickly, turning toward her. “Thor said he wanted to talk to you about the supply manifest.”
“What?” She said.
“He doesn’t look happy,” Loki said. “It’s probably bad news. Better you than me.” He gave her a little push in Thor’s direction, to stall him, and bolted, hoping he could stall his brother at least a little. And distract him. Thor could be frustratingly single-minded, but he had more things to think about these days.
He threw up once in the hallway on the way to his room. Nothing but bile. He was pretty sure he hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday, since his appetite had apparently been lost somewhere along the way. Maybe it was still back on Sakaar.
Loki grabbed a basin and collapsed onto the floor, retching pointlessly into it as he shivered. There was nothing in his body for it to reject, but it kept trying anyway; maybe it was just trying to reject itself. He could feel himself sweating, though he just felt cold.
Frost Giants shouldn’t be cold. He didn’t think he actually was, either.
The world seemed to stutter. When it swam back into blurry focus, he was on his side, his brain full of static. His mouth tasted like blood, and for a moment he thought he’d started vomiting blood, but it seemed like he’d just bitten his tongue.
This is new, Loki thought dizzily. I’ve never died like this before. He gasped for air, and realized he was weeping. How humiliating.
He hadn’t heard the door open. When had the door opened?
“G-go away,” Loki forced out, his teeth chattering as muscle spasms wracked his body.
“No,” Heimdall said. “Enough is enough.” He bent down. Loki cried out when his fingers brushed his neck, jerking away, over-sensitive skin screaming its protest. Heimdall pulled away. “I am getting a healer. And your brother.”
“You promised,” Loki said, indignant. “You promised you wouldn’t-”
“Say anything until he needed to know,” Heimdall said. “I’ve waited too long already humoring you.”
Loki heard himself make a sound embarrassingly like a sob. He could see Thor coming, anger blazing in his eye, scorn, hatred, and he wanted to crawl under the bed, to hide. His body shook, beyond his control.
This time, when things blinked out again, Loki welcomed it.
Buzzing noises resolved slowly into voices.
“How could you not tell me? I don’t care what he asked you to promise.”
“I judged that if I refused outright Loki was likely to do something even more reckless.”
“Then you agree and tell me anyway-”
“I take my word seriously, Thor. I had already given myself a loophole, and there was still a possibility that Loki would manage on his own. But I will allow that I...misjudged how bad things had gotten.”
“I’d say.” Thor sounded angry. Loki would have flinched, if he’d had control of his body, but it felt very far away. Almost irrelevant. He had some dim sense that that was a relief. “Look at him! He looks half a corpse-”
“Flatterer,” Loki mumbled. His tongue stumbled a little over the word.
“Loki,” Thor said, his voice tight. “Are you - are you awake?”
“Am I?” Loki asked. He felt vaguely drunk. Floaty. Had he not left Sakaar, after all? Maybe all of this had been some sort of nightmarish, drug-induced hallucination.
“Yes,” Thor said after a brief pause. “You are. Do you know where you are?”
“Ship,” Loki said. “Probably. Right?”
Thor exhaled, sounding relieved. “So the delirium’s passed,” he said, though it didn’t sound like it was meant for Loki.
“I was delirious?” Loki said. Thor gave him an unhappy look.
“Yes, you were.”
Damn. Loki sighed. “You weren’t meant to know about this.” He frowned, slightly, opening one eye to a slit. “Heimdall oughtn’t to have told you.”
“I don’t regret it,” Heimdall said.
“Heimdall,” Thor said, his voice a little strained, “would you leave us alone? I’d like to speak with my brother.”
Oh, no. That was not an auspicious beginning.
“You had enough to worry about,” Loki said quickly, the moment the door closed on Heimdall’s back, before Thor could speak.
“So this was you trying to spare me,” Thor said. He sounded skeptical.
“Well, that,” Loki said, “and the embarrassment. It isn’t exactly - well. A drug-addicted prince doesn’t exactly make for a morale raising character.”
“Because a dead one is so much better,” Thor said. Loki winced. He wondered where Thor had found whatever relief was being used on Loki now. He hoped there was a lot of it.
Thor sighed. “When Heimdall found you you were barely breathing. Rondi managed to stabilize you, but she said a good third of your organs were well on the way to shutting down.”
Loki blinked, once. “I commend her efforts, then,” he said. Some part of him was tempted to say only a third? but he was not certain Thor wouldn’t punch him for it.
“Good,” Thor said, “because she’s probably the only reason you’re still alive. And she might have spared you a great deal of pain if you’d done something about this earlier.”
“She would have told you.”
“And what would have been so bad about that?” Thor’s voice rose sharply. “Would it truly be so terrible, for once in your life, to ask for help?”
Yes. Loki knew that wasn’t a good answer. “I didn’t want you involved for this very reason. Because now you’re just - upset about it.”
“You’re damn right I’m upset!” Thor almost shouted. “Of course I’m upset! I’d be more upset if I’d gone to speak with you that evening, as I planned, only to find your dead body on the floor!”
Loki looked uncomfortably away. Thor dragged a hand down his face. “Loki,” he said more quietly, sounding miserable. “You scared me.”
Those words shivered through Loki, down to his core, vibrating through him like an earthquake. His breathing snagged. “I didn’t want to,” he said, finally. “That was the whole point.”
“You did,” Thor said. “Very, very, much. When I first saw you I thought you were dead.”
“Had I been, I get the impression you would have found a way to drag me back to yell at me,” Loki said lightly.
“Had you been,” Thor said, and his voice was serious, “I don’t know what I would have done.”
Loki swallowed hard. “You would have moved on,” he said. “You managed before-”
“Before,” Thor said, “I hadn’t lost almost everything else.”
“I’m sorry,” Loki said after a moment, awkwardly. Thor glanced at him.
“I’ll only accept it if you mean sorry for not telling you in the first place, Thor. Otherwise…” He sighed. “I’m just glad you’re...more or less all right.”
“That’s what I mean,” Loki said. He cleared his throat, which felt a little rough. “I suppose maybe holding things back is...habitual, at this point. Not just from you, you’re not that special,” he added, hoping to draw at least a small smile.
No such luck. Thor closed his eyes and bent his head forward. “You’ve seen as well as I have where keeping secrets has gotten this family.”
Loki winced, a little. “That’s...true.”
Thor shook his head. “I wouldn’t have thought...I would’ve expected you to want a clear head.”
Loki wanted to flush. “I’m full of surprises,” he said, though it felt brittle. Thor did not look satisfied.
What was Loki supposed to say? I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to think about you. I didn’t want to think about what I was doing to survive. At least for a while, there, I wanted just enough wits to stay alive, and not much more than that.
Some of it wasn’t even intentional.
“For the record,” Thor said, “I would always rather you - ‘bothered me’ with this sort of thing than...didn’t. Norns, Loki. You’re my brother. I don’t want to lose you.”
Loki felt a pang. He wasn’t sure if it was guilt, or relief, or just another symptom, but it seemed like something in him did unclench, very slightly.
“Well,” he said, after a long moment. “Now I know.”
“I should hope you do.” Thor sighed. “It’s not over yet. You’re stable, and Rondi can...help manage some of the symptoms, but...”
Loki closed his eyes. “But not all of them.”
Thor nodded, just the slightest bob of his head.
“Delightful,” Loki said with a sigh. “Maybe you should have just-”
“Don’t,” Thor said, voice hard, and Loki cut himself off. “It’ll be fine,” he went on, after a moment, more gently. “And you won’t be fighting your way through alone.”
For all he’d told himself he’d had to do just that, Thor’s saying otherwise ignited a small, warm, fire in Loki’s chest. “Promises, promises,” he said, forcing it to sound light.
“Yes,” Thor said firmly. “It is,” and the certainty in his voice wound through Loki’s aching body like a rope tethering him to shore.