It’s a beautiful day at the beach, the sun shining brightly in the sky and the scent of salt water carrying on the wind. Thor smiles and digs his toes in the sand, happy to be here instead of cooped up at school. He loves summer vacation and he loves his family’s yearly beach trip. Two weeks of swimming and bonfires and learning to surf. Two weeks at the beach house they always rent, laughing and staying up late every night in the awesome loft room he and Loki share.
Thor took a break from swimming to eat lunch and though he inhaled his sandwich awhile ago, he’s been content to spend the last several minutes sitting on his towel and people watching. The beach is lively today and Thor observes a group of college students, a family splashing in the water with their golden retriever, and a happy couple walking hand and hand who only have eyes for each other. Thor can’t help but grin as he watches them go by.
Thor has always loved the idea of soulmates. As he stares out at the endless blue sky, Thor’s heart is full with the knowledge that there’s someone out there who was made for him, someone who will make his whole life better and brighter. He’s just a kid now, but one day he’ll grow up and go out into the world to find them. While he enjoys imagining what his soulmate must be like, in the end it doesn’t really matter. Whoever they are, Thor knows he’ll love them with all his heart. For now, he’s content to dream and wait, certain deep down in his bones that they’ll find each other someday.
Sand scatters as Loki runs out of the water and comes to sit down beside him, his wet hair glinting in the sun and cheeks flushed red from exertion.
“Are you just going to sit out here and daydream all afternoon or are you going to come swim?”
“Okay, let’s go,” Thor says, grinning at Loki. Loki smiles back at him and Thor thinks that surely it must be impossible that someday the sun could be brighter than this, that the scent of salt water could be sharper, or that there could ever be a lovelier shade of green than Loki’s eyes.
“Race you,” Loki says, laughing as he gets to his feet and sprints toward the water.
“Hey, not fair!” Thor shouts and chases after him, all thoughts of soulmates forgotten for now.
Thor and Sif make their way down the stairs and through the crush of students leaving school. It’s Friday and there’s a sense of relief in the air, everyone long since ready for the weekend.
Sif freezes at the bottom of the stairs and curses under her breath. “I forgot my math book and I need to study for a test this weekend. Be right back, I’ll meet you guys outside,” she says as she darts back through the double doors.
Thor nods and makes a beeline toward Loki, Amora, and Fandral when he spots them standing under a tree. Snow season hasn’t yet begun, but it’s cold enough that Thor can see a little white cloud of breath every time he exhales. He shivers and wraps his scarf slightly tighter around his neck.
“Hey,” Thor says, and there are greetings all around as he joins their loose huddle.
“Where’s Sif?” Fandral asks.
“She left her math book and had to go back for it,” Thor says.
Amora crosses her arms and pouts. “Of course her locker’s way on the other side of campus. Now we have to wait out here in the cold.”
“Whatever, like it’s not going to be chilly at the skating rink,” Loki says with a roll of his eyes. Amora gives him an exaggerated eye roll right back, and Thor wonders who would win if they had a contest. Maybe he’s biased, but he’d put his money on Loki.
Amora’s nose wrinkles as she looks out into the rush of other students. “Ugh, there go Idunn and Bragi again.” She makes a retching sound and Loki laughs.
“I know, it’s disgusting isn’t it?”
Thor lightly elbows Loki in the side. “Well, I think it’s sweet that they found each other.”
“You would,” Loki says as he flashes Thor a dirty look and rubs his side, as if the elbow actually hurt him. “You love all that soulmate crap.”
Bragi was a new student who had just started at their school this semester. On the first day of school, he and Idunn saw each other from across the quad and just knew. As if their bond was palpable in the air, the sea of students parted for them and watched with bated breath as the two soulmates found each other and embraced for the first time. Thor could tell that the story would be a legend at the school for years to come and he wished he’d actually been there to see it happen.
“Come on, Loki,” Fandral says. “You honestly don’t care? You honestly wouldn’t want to find your soulmate?”
“No,” Loki scoffs. “Soulmates are bullshit. Just fairytales made up for people who are too weak-minded to deal with being alone.”
“What would Loki’s soulmate even be like anyway?” Amora asks, a delighted smirk on her face.
Fandral laughs. “Well, Loki’s a bitter, cynical bastard. He’d need someone to balance him out.”
“So, someone earnest and straightforward,” Thor says.
“Optimistic,” Amora says. “And willing to put up with his terrible moods without taking it too personally.”
Fandral snorts. “Yeah, good luck with that.”
Loki crosses his arms and glares at them. “Are you done?”
“Of course not,” Amora says, a wicked smile curving her lips. “I like this game, it’s fun pretending Loki actually has a soulmate.”
“They’re going to meet at a support group for pretentious art snobs,” Fandral says.
Amora shakes her head and laughs. “No way. They’re supposed to be opposites, right? So he’d be like, a super athletic jock with lots of muscles who listens to classic rock.”
The speculation grows more and more absurd as the conversation goes on, until Loki’s soulmate is an Olympic gold medalist who’s secretly a prince who accidentally finds Loki’s journal full of angsty existential poems and searches the world to find its writer, like some bizarre version of Cinderella. Loki bears it all with disdain and a thin layer of amusement, probably plotting all the ways he’ll exact terrible revenge on them.
Thor, on the other hand, can’t help feeling genuinely bothered by it all. The idea that Loki would think he doesn’t have a soulmate—that maybe deep down he feels he’s somehow not worthy of one—doesn’t sit well with Thor. Loki may be a difficult person sometimes, but he's also talented, handsome, funny, and fiercely intelligent. He has so much to offer, and Thor truly believes he will find someone to appreciate him for everything he is.
“Hey, don’t listen to these jerks,” Thor says as he smiles and casually slings an arm over Loki’s shoulder. “I don’t know if you’ll end up with a gold medalist or not, but everybody has a soulmate and I know yours is out there somewhere. You’re a pain in the ass, but you deserve one, too.”
Loki rolls his eyes and slips out from under Thor’s arm. “You’re such a fucking sap sometimes, Thor.”
“I’m serious, Loki.” Thor’s utterly sincere tone seems to bother Loki in a way Fandral and Amora’s teasing didn’t. His eyes narrow and grow cold in the way they do when he’s truly upset.
“Leave it, Thor.”
Thor puts his hands up in a placating gesture, taken aback by the vehemence in Loki’s voice. “I’m sorry, Loki. Forget I ever brought it up.” The last thing he wanted was to truly upset Loki. He hadn’t realized this was such a sore spot for him, and he vows to be more careful in the future.
Loki shrugs. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
If it doesn’t matter, then why are you so upset, Thor thinks, but he keeps his mouth shut and lets it go.
The engagement ring is a cool weight in the center of Thor’s palm. He traces a finger along the edge of the gold band, solid and smooth to the touch. The diamond shines underneath the kitchen’s overhead light and Thor stares at it intently, as if each facet contains a possible future.
Thor sighs and leans back in his chair. He’s been out of school for nearly a decade now and enjoying his career as a firefighter. He’s happy, but he has the opportunity for something more. Though he’s not entirely sure of what he wants, he hopes to make up his mind soon. Thor is tired of uncertainty, of standing in indecision at this fork in the road.
Thor puts the ring in its velvet box and slides it back into his pocket. He’s preoccupied with the notion of soulmates again, and has been ever since he bought the ring a couple weeks ago.
As Thor grew up, he began to realize that soulmates were far more complicated than his childhood fantasies. Some people never find their soulmate, while others meet their soulmate and decide to leave them behind and choose their own path. A few lucky souls (or unlucky, depending on who you ask) even have more than one soulmate. Sometimes soulmates want to be together but are divided by outside forces, by age, culture, language, or geography. And even when everything does fall into place, sometimes love isn't enough; finding your soulmate is not a magic bullet that resolves everything wrong in your life.
In the end, it's about potential.
There is a red string of fate tethering people in a connection that cannot be severed, but what becomes of it is not a given. That string can be built up solid and thick like rope, or ignored until it's barely there, hanging on by only the most tenuous thread.
Jane is not Thor’s soulmate, but she’s a remarkable woman and he loves her for it. She doesn’t need to be his soulmate for the two of them to build a happy life together. Thor has his doubts, but he doesn’t truly feel like he’s settling for less.
Even still, part of Thor will always be hoping to cross a street someday and for the world to burst into brilliant color, to meet that person, to at least be given the chance at that kind of love.
The sound of a key turning in the front door lock pulls Thor out of his thoughts and he grins when Loki walks in. Just the sight of Loki lifts Thor’s spirits. Some people think Loki is cold and unfeeling, but he's never made Thor feel anything but warm.
“Loki,” Thor says, as he gets to his feet and wraps Loki up in a bear hug.
“If you squeeze any harder, you’ll push all the air out of my lungs,” Loki says, but Thor can hear the fondness in his voice as he hugs back.
It’s been over a year since they last saw each other. Loki’s job as a photographer takes him all over the world and he rarely stays in one place for any prolonged period of time. Still, years ago Thor made sure to send Loki a key to his apartment, a reminder that Loki always has a home with him should he need it. It pleases him to know that Loki has kept it all this time.
“You want a beer?” Thor asks when he finally releases Loki.
Loki nods as he sits down at the kitchen table, yawning and stretching his long legs out in front of him. Thor grabs them each a beer from the fridge before joining him. They spend the next several minutes drinking and swapping stories, but Thor can’t stop fidgeting with the ring in his pocket the entire time.
Loki takes a sip of beer and narrows his eyes at Thor. “Okay, what's wrong?” he asks, astute as ever.
After a brief moment of hesitation, Thor pulls the ring box out of his pocket and sets it on the table. “I’m thinking about asking Jane to marry me.”
Loki is quiet for several moments as he opens the box and stares down at the ring. Thor looks up and searches Loki’s face, but his expression is blank. He’s sitting right here in front of Thor, but it looks like he’s not there at all, burrowed in that place deep within himself where Thor has never been able to follow.
“It might not be the worst idea you've ever had,” Loki says finally.
Thor frowns. “What? You don't even like Jane.”
“I don't like anyone.”
“Except me,” Thor says, unable to resist teasing Loki.
“Don't let it go to your thick head,” Loki scoffs. “Anyway, I don’t dislike Jane.”
Thor gives him a pointed look and Loki sighs.
“I don’t dislike Jane anymore. I’ve moved on from dislike to begrudging respect. You should be proud of me.”
Thor snorts. “How very magnanimous of you, brother.”
A charged silence settles over the room as they both stare down at the ring. The restless energy makes Thor’s skin prickle with a familiar sensation, like static in the air before lightning strikes. Thor doesn't know why, but it feels like he and Loki are on the cusp of an irrevocable change, a quiet storm that will alter everything in its wake.
“So you really think it’s a good idea?” Thor asks, surprised at how small and uncertain his voice sounds.
Loki shrugs. “I think you should do what you like, Thor. I know you’ve always been attached to the idea of soulmates, but maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be. There’s no sense in sitting around waiting for a fairytale when you have a chance at something real.”
Thor takes a drink and nods. He knows Loki is being supportive in his own way. It’s just that part of him thought Loki would... care more, and his blasé attitude leaves Thor oddly disappointed. He pushes the feeling aside and focuses on the fact that Loki has basically given Thor his blessing. He should be glad. He is glad.
“You'll come to the wedding, right?”
Loki rolls his eyes. “If you insist. And I suppose I can promise to be on my best behavior. I've always wanted to interrupt a wedding during the ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ part, but I'll stay seated. After all, there's always Sif's wedding.”
“Loki,” Thor chastises, but there’s no real heat in it.
“Now enough talking about feelings, I’m afraid you’ve used up my quota for the day.” Loki sighs and shakes his head. “The things I put up with for you, Thor.”
“What do you suggest we do then?”
“Let's have some fun, let's go out,” Loki says with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
“What, like a pre-bachelor party?”
“Sure, I might as well enjoy corrupting you while I still can.”
“You know what? I think I'd rather just stay here and get drunk and play video games with you.”
“Oh.” Loki’s eyes brighten and he looks at Thor with surprise and genuine pleasure. “Fine. But only if you pay for the pizza.”
Thor grins. “Deal.”
At the end of the night, they end up passing out side by side in Thor’s bed. Right before sleep takes Thor, there’s a half-formed thought dancing in his head, a brief moment of wondering why he has always slept better next to Loki than anyone else.
Car accident, they tell him.
Words that are little more than cold comfort.
There’s so much to do. Funeral arrangements, notifying people, going through Loki's effects.
Thor can barely breathe, a sick weight settled deep in his chest. He’s useless. All he can do is lay in bed, careful to keep his eyes shut tight because whenever he opens them, he has to face a world without color and deal with all that it implies. This is what he has to look forward to in the future: every day, every waking moment faced with the loss of his brother, his closest friend and confidante.
It’s almost funny, the way he finally figured it out. He'd been sitting at his desk at work when the world went dull and he knew.
He always knew he loved Loki, that was a given. But through all these years, Thor has never let himself consider the nature of that love. He has always side-stepped around the elephant in the room, that simple fact that he loved Loki in an entirely unbrotherly way.
Would it have been different if they hadn’t been raised as brothers? Would it have been more obvious to Thor then, easier to see it as a real possibility?
He wonders if this is easier on people who find their soulmate later on in life, who met on a random street and had that moment, the way Thor always imagined. There was a "before" for them, they knew what it was like to live in shades of gray. Losing a soulmate was always difficult, but at least they'd had some inkling of what to expect in the aftermath.
Thor has no frame of reference for this. Loki had been adopted when Thor was very young, too young to have formed memories solid enough to stick. The world had always been bright and beautiful for him, and he'd taken it as a given.
And now... well.
He should get up now. Listen to the voicemails from the funeral home and concerned friends. From Sif and Steve and Jane, who's still a good friend despite their marriage not working out.
Instead, he keeps lying there on the bed. He falls asleep, hoping that when he wakes up, this will all just be a bad dream.
Thor is still in good shape, especially for a middle-aged man, but his feet feel leaden as he trudges across the beach where he and Loki spent nearly every summer of their youth. With every step, he is painfully aware of the urn clutched tightly to his chest and the unopened letter in his back pocket.
It’s early morning and except for a few people in the distance, he is alone. It’s better this way.
Several of Thor's friends asked if he wanted them to come along for moral support, but he'd insisted that he needed to do this on his own. Every day he thinks about the true nature of his feelings for Loki, the years spent so close yet so far, the words they never spoke, the kisses they never shared. He's still far too raw to expose these things to another person.
Thor has been to this beach many times, but it’s so different now. No more bright blue sky. No more Loki by his side, no more laughing eyes in that particular shade of green Thor will never see again.
Thor opens the urn and scatters the ashes, watching the ocean swallow them whole. He takes a deep breath as his eyes burn with tears.
He has so many questions, but Loki can't respond. His final response is still unopened in Thor's back pocket, the letter he’s been so reluctant to read. Afterwards, he will never hear from Loki again; there will only be silence.
Thor takes a few deep breaths and when his eyes are dry enough to see again, he finally opens the letter. It's simple, just Loki's elegant handwriting in black ink on thick white paper.
I always wondered what would be worse, if I died first or if you did. If I were the first to go, then you'd quite possibly live out the rest of your life in monochrome. I wouldn't wish that upon you, even if you are an idiot.
Thor can practically see Loki in his head, his laughing eyes and wry smile. His chest aches and he has to stop and breathe for a few moments before continuing to read.
But then again, I am a selfish man and a world without you in it is unacceptable to me. There are no easy answers between you and I. There never have been.
I knew. I've known for years. I thought it was some kind of mistake, a cruel joke I was better off keeping to myself.
Although it’s not as common, it's not unheard of for people to have platonic soulmates. I could have spun that lie for you and you probably would have accepted it (while of course being slightly disappointed that it wasn't the fairytale romance you always dreamed of).
But I have never loved you as a brother, Thor.
I didn't want to risk destroying what we had, and I thought there was a chance you were one of those people with more than one soulmate. I was obviously a lost cause, but you weren't.
So I stayed silent. I don't know whether it's the most selfish thing I've ever done or the most selfless. Maybe both.
For what it's worth, it was enough to just be close to you.
The line below it is mostly crossed off, but Thor can see the words “every color" beneath the darkness. When his eyes move to the end of the crossed out portion, he can make out a single phrase:
You were the brightest.
Thor bites his lip until he tastes blood as tears start to fall again. Loki could have started the letter over on clean paper or at the very least done a better job of blacking it out. But instead he left those words there for Thor, albeit partially obscured because Loki always found it hard to be so openly sentimental.
Thor’s hands shake as he clutches the letter close to his chest.
"You bastard. You knew. You knew all this time and you never said a word." His chest is a swirling mass of hurt, bitterness, anger at Loki, at himself, at the profound unfairness of life. He wants to yell and scream into the void, as if Loki can still hear him somehow. He wants to rage about the way Loki always thought he knew best even when he didn't, to call him out for his secrets and lies and the ways he hid himself from the people who loved him.
But in the end all he can say is, "I'm sorry, too."
In the summertime, Thor starts getting chest pains and in autumn he begins coughing up blood. By the time winter comes, he realizes he will not see another spring.
Thor refuses to die in a sterile hospital room so he’s been at home for the past few weeks, content to spend what time he has left in his own bed, surrounded by his remaining friends and their children. They’ve always been close to their Uncle Thor, who loved them and guided them as if they were his own. Thor can hear the warmth of their voices coming from the living room and it makes him smile.
He is an old man now, and he’s lived a good life. Even though he’s missed Loki every single day, he never let himself wallow away in grief. Loki wouldn’t have wanted that for him anyway. Instead, Thor focused his energy on making the world a better place, helping people and saving lives. Over time, he’s nearly managed to forgive himself for being unable to save the one that always mattered most.
The end is near and while part of him is scared, part of him is tired and ready. He doesn't know what comes after. Heaven? Rebirth and a chance to try again? Or perhaps there's just nothing at all.
Thor has no more time to wonder. He closes his eyes.
And in that brief, final moment on the precipice of this life and whatever comes next, the last thing Thor sees is a brilliant burst of color behind his eyelids.