The world was about to end, Thor knew.
The Fimbulwinter had come, and humanity had slaughtered each other. The sole survivors, Lif and Lifthrasir, had climbed into the branches of the World Tree to wait out the coming battle. Tomorrow at dawn, the three roosters would crow, and Ragnarok would begin. Which meant that Loki would be free.
Thor remembered the flush of triumph he felt when he gripped the struggling salmon's tail between his fingers, a feeling that turned to horror when Loki was bound with the guts of his own murdered son and a snake was positioned above him to drip venom onto his face. He had wanted Loki punished for his crimes, yes, but not like that.
The sun sank toward the horizon for the last time, turning the sky a brilliant shade of orange. That did no good; it only reminded him of Loki's hair.
Something rustled nearby, and Thor turned his head toward the noise. His jaw dropped.
It couldn't be. But it was.
Loki didn't seem surprised, as if he had expected to find Thor there. He was wearing an expression that Thor could have sworn was fear. For a long moment, the two held each other's gazes, not moving or speaking. Then Loki took a step toward Thor, and Thor took a step toward Loki, and they kept taking steps until they met in the middle.
"Hello, Thor," Loki said softly.
Thor knew he should ask what Loki was doing here, but all he could manage was, "Hello, Loki."
Loki looked at the ground, then back up at Thor, and said in a rush, "I'm sorry, Thor. About Balder, about everything. I know that's not enough, but I wanted to see you one last time. To apologize."
Apologize? Thor narrowed his eyes. This had to be a trick; Loki didn't do apologies. But the trickster god was standing in front of him looking remorseful, something Thor had never seen him do. He was close enough that Thor could see the scars on his lips.
Loki had gotten those scars from losing a wager. And what had Thor done when the dwarves sewed his friend's lips together? He had watched and laughed along with all the other gods, and done nothing to help Loki afterwards.
"I'm sorry, too," Thor said. "For laughing at you when the dwarves did that to your face, and all those other times I saw you humiliated or in pain and didn't do anything about it."
"I murdered your brother."
"I've lost count of how many of your kin I've slain, not because I envied them, but because they were there. We're both at fault."
Loki's lips parted, and, for a heartbeat, he looked like he might cry. "I don't regret what I did to Balder, but I regret what I did to you."
Oh, yes, Balder. Balder, who had never lifted a finger to do anything useful. Balder, who had feared death because of a few nightmares. Balder, who had believed himself superior to everyone else. "He was less of a brother to me than you were."
Loki's mouth curved up into that familiar smile Thor had missed so much. "And you were more of a brother to me than your father was."
Thor found himself smiling back. "I forgive you, Loki."
"I forgive you, Thor."
They embraced, the gesture saying what words could not. Thor couldn't stop a few tears from falling, and when they broke apart, he saw tears on Loki's face, too.
Loki blinked hard, then grinned playfully. "See you tomorrow, Thor."
"What do you think will happen to us?"
Loki shrugged. "I don't know. I asked my daughter and she didn't know, either."
"Whatever happens, I hope it happens to both of us."
"So do I. Goodbye, Thor."
Loki turned his back and shape-shifted into a falcon. He spread his wings and took off. Thor raised his hand in a gesture of farewell. The falcon circled once above him and was gone, flying away into the twilight.