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A Milder March

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Space. The endless abyss. The great darkness. The Void. Whatever you wished to call it, depending on how poetic you were feeling at the moment (or how pretentious). Loki hated it. With a passion.

Far too intimately did he now know the feeling of being without breath, of a lack of air to breathe. The way darkness—true darkness—crept insidiously in, seeping in through the eyes to crawl in and make itself home in every crack and cranny of the mind, replacing every coherent thought with gibbering madness. The soul-shattering properties of silence. And the cold. It burrowed inside of him, wrapping itself around his bones so even now he could not shake it (if it wasn't simply his nature, that was). The chill was a part of him now, and the darkness, and the silence. The lack of breath. The Void was bound now to Loki's being. Forever.

Loki avoided the windows. He hated the windows. It was enough knowing they were surrounded by a neverending nothing, he did not have to see it. The mischief-maker insisted on a room without them, and Thor obliged, confused though his was. Loki wasn't sure whether to be grateful or exasperated that Thor didn't seem to realize why he so disliked the view. He settled on indifferent. He stayed toward the center of the ship, made every excuse he could think of to stay away from the windows. The one point where he was forced to compromise his staunch aversion to the windows was in the so-called Revengers' meeting place. A small lounge at the head of the ship, directly above the vessel's control room. With a full-wall window.

He was fairly sure they thought he was keeping his eyes on the door, not his back to the window. He preferred it that way.

Unfortunately, he couldn't avoid it forever. Couldn't always keep his back to the windows. Couldn't pretend he would never see the Void ever again. Such a thought was naive and idiotic and Loki was not in the business of being either. So he made up his mind to face his fear, and overcome it. Mind over matter, the mortals would say. His mind was his strongest asset—he would not fail.

 

That was quite naive.

 

Loki kept his gaze on the floor, hair falling over his face in a loose curtain to shield him from the black. He planted his feet, set his shoulders, and looked up. Loki fixed his eyes in the center of the window, and breathed. There were stars. There hadn't been stars when he was falling. Focus on the stars. Loki imagined a name for each star, trying to make out which were giants or dwarves, red or yellow or white or blue, with inhabited planets or empty systems. But the ship was moving rather quickly, and he scarcely had time to sight a star before it was gone from view. It reminded him of falling.

Very abruptly, Loki couldn't breathe. He crumbled to the floor, knees buckling under him as he eased to the ground. This was fine. He was fine. He couldn't look away from the dark. Black crept in on the edges of his vision, slowly blotting out the stars. He couldn't hear. There was no sound. It was cold. It was so, so, cold, and he was falling, and he was screaming but he could not hear himself. He held his hands in front of his face and could not see them. The Void was in his bones, and it had come to take him back. If he had ever left.

"Loki! Loki!"

Thor's face floated above him in the sea of black. "Loki, look at me. Listen to me. You have to breathe, brother. Take a breath."

Loki shook his head, frantic. He couldn't... he couldn't breathe, there was no air, this was only a hallucination, his collapsing, oxygen-starved mind grasping at straws in a feeble attempt at comfort. Thor's face faded away.

"LOKI!"

Hands were on his shoulders, hauling him up, spinning him around. Shaking him back and forth. "Loki, listen to me. Breathe. You have to breathe, brother!" The grip on his shoulders grew tight. It hurt, and Loki gasped, involuntarily. Air flooded into his lungs. "Good, good job. Good job, Loki. Take another breath, now." The trickster obeyed. Gradually, the world faded back into view. Thor crouched in front of him, a hand cupping his younger brother's neck, barely disguised terror and relief playing on his face. "Just breathe," Thor coaxed with a trembling half-smile. Concentrating on filling his lungs, Loki let Thor manhandle him, pulling him up and dumping him onto the couch, propping him against the armrest. A blanket was thrown over him, a pillow stuffed behind his back.

Loki took the glass of water Thor handed him, and sipped at it slowly between hiccuping breaths. Still in survival mode, his body was trying frantically to gulp in as much air as possible, until he grew light-headed.

He caught a glimpse of the window. His breathing speed back up again. Then, Thor stepped to block his view, reaching out to pry the empty glass from Loki's hands and set it on the floor. "Ssh," the thunderer soothed. "You're safe, brother. Take a deep breath, and let it out slow." The brothers sat together in the quiet as Loki's breathing evened out. When he no longer felt as though he was about to fall apart at the seams, the silvertongue cleared his throat.

"I apologize for—"

"Loki," Thor interrupted, "shut up." His one-eyed glare softened. "Don't apologize. You did nothing wrong."

Loki hummed, eyeing Thor dubiously. "Even so, you shouldn't have to play nursemaid to me."

"I don't mind," Thor smiled. Again, his face smoothed into solemnity. "You didn't tell me the Void bothered you." Loki began to open his mouth. "Don't say it's no big deal, it is very clearly not." He shut it again. Thor sighed, combing a hand up through his shorn hair. "I should have realized. I'm sorry, brother."

"You did nothing to apologize for," Loki murmured in return, loosely echoing Thor's earlier words. "It is my problem, not yours. I can handle it by myself."

"You can," Thor agreed, startling his brother, "but you don't have to. I'm here."

Unable to help the small smile that curled over his lips, a reminder of the conversation that took place in that very room, Loki ducked his head and allowed his hair to form a natural shield against his older brother's scrutiny. "Well then," he said lightly, rather at a loss for words. Thor laughed warmly, like he knew exactly what Loki was thinking.

Suddenly, there were arms around him. "Thor? What are doing?" Loki questioned cautiously, still trying to wipe the smile from his face.

Thor's reply was cheerful. "Giving you a hug."