He moved to sit behind Loki as he shifted to a comfortable position before him. The cloak spilled over the side of the bed like a great dash of blood against the deep green of grass. It made his hands still just over the needle and twine, why, he knew, but he passed trembling fingers overhead to grab a rag. He dipped it in the warm water and squeezed, not bothering with wetting the bedding underneath them.
Dry brown blood, with some bright strands of red still oozing out, matted his pale skin, the cuts leaving his flesh raised and puckered against the rest of his smooth back. Thor stared a moment longer, wondering how it would heal, if it would scar, how his brother’s once unmarred flesh would look with, after. His eyes grew heavy with sadness as he pressed the cloth to his skin as gently as he could. He did not drag the cloth, but rather dabbed, cleaning away the blood slowly, allowing for every slight tremble of frame, every hitch of breath, and every flinch of body to go without pain as much as possible. If it were not Loki, his brother, under his care, then he would not have taken such time or caution. Loki could take pain like any man among them, had taken plenty more in some regards…and that is why Thor took such cares.
And he would see the time he reached for that needle beside him a long time in coming indeed.
Loki relaxed slightly as Thor cleansed his wounds. It had been some time since the brothers had engaged in this particular ritual, and it had always been Thor who was more commonly in Loki’s current position, but it was still familiar. The antiseptic stung as it began its work, but it was nothing in comparison to the venom and was thus unworthy of his attention. What Loki noticed instead was the genuine care Thor put into his work. None knew Loki’s strength better than Thor. For all that he had doubted it in their youth, eons of rivalry had certainly relieved him of the notion of his younger brother’s frailty. Why, then, did he act as if Loki might crumble away to dust at one rough touch? Did he truly look so wretched? Suddenly, he wished he had a mirror so that he might see for himself, but that was one furnishing Doom would not abide in his home. Foolish, vain mortal.
Even more curious than the gentle touches was the way in which they lingered. Even if such caution had been in Thor’s nature, it should not have taken half so long. The resulting confusion set him on edge once more and he very nearly growled at Thor to stop dawdling, but then a meaty hand clasped his shoulder and the demand died in his throat. For a moment, it seemed as if Thor might speak, but then his hand fell away, the air around them still vibrating with words left unsaid, and took up the needle. Loki wished again that he had requested a servant perform this task. Memories better left buried were unearthed with the first passing of the needle like a shovel through soft brown soil, and he realized this was not what he had wanted at all. But then, that was his eternal dilemma—he never knew what precisely he wanted.
He remained silent as Thor began the sutures. A hiss here or a whimper there might have helped to alleviate the pain, and yet, in his mind, he relived another such stitching where he had not had that option. He had been defiant then, and he was defiant now. He would not let Thor know how much that particular betrayal had affected him, how often it came unbidden to his thoughts, how he thought of it even now. Then, just as on that day so many centuries ago, a hand carded through his hair and sent his eyes flying open in shock. Again, Thor’s face hovered inches from his own, but instead of the bite of the needle through his mouth, there was only the dry press of lips against his forehead. And an apology, or as close as he was likely to get. And he thought that, just perhaps, this time, Thor knew what he was apologizing for. How sad that it should be so late in coming, for surely there was no going back now. Would things have happened any differently if his brother had cautioned him against such “festering wounds” back then? Loki doubted it. He would cling to his grudges until the day he died. It was his nature. And his destiny.
That did not mean he could not mourn the bond he had so deliberately forsaken, for contrariness was also his nature. A single tear fell in tribute to that loss, though Thor did not see it. This sudden sense of vulnerability made Loki acutely aware of his own nakedness, and he tugged Thor’s cloak more tightly around himself before murmuring, “I will dress, now. Perhaps you might see what is taking the kitchens so long.”