Thor wakes at dawn.
He is used by now to waking in unfamiliar places. But this is not a bunk on the Helicarrier nor the back of the Quinjet. The bed is wide enough for him and Loki to sleep comfortably together; indeed, Loki is asleep beside him, pale in the rising light, his hair dark against the pillow. Outside the window is the faint murmur traffic as life in New York begins returning to normal, now that they have cleared the Chitauri from the streets. Reassured, Thor sinks back into sleep.
When he wakes again it is fully light and Loki is gone. Thor rises. Everything is very quiet, though this is unsurprising: for a house with only a few floors, it manages to be quite large. He pads downstairs, through empty hallways, through the empty kitchen, finding his bearings.
Tony brought them here the night before. "He's not scaring us out of New York," he told them, pale and angry. "If the message is be afraid, here's one back: we're not. My mom's mansion is just as good as the Tower. We're staying right here."
Given that the attack on Avengers Tower happened while they were away, it does seem that the goal was to dishearten rather than kill them; so the mansion in New York City seems safe enough, and Thor approves of any attempt to raise their spirits. They need it.
He discovers Jane in a room off the kitchen. She's in grey sweatpants and a plaid shirt, her hair in disarray, swearing quietly to herself as she hunts for something among the couch cushions. When she sees Thor she stops, righting herself and giving him a false smile. "Hey, Thor."
"Can I help you with anything?" he asks.
"Oh, no, I was just --" Jane gestures at the room as a whole, the couches and coffee table and blank television. "I was looking for the remote. I was hoping to catch the news, you know, to see if anyone was hurt, make sure everyone who was still nearby got out when the Tower came down --" Her voice breaks; she presses a fist to her mouth, making a soft sharp noise, and blinks against the tears that are sliding down her face. "It just," she says, shaky. "It just keeps going, the war, and --"
"Jane," Thor says softly, going to her. She shudders and leans against him, fragile and mortal and brilliant. He wraps his arms around her. Thor tries to find words. He cannot tell her the war will end soon, or how it might; he does not know quite how to say that if he has a choice between dragging through and going on with upright courage, he will do it as bravely as he's able.
"I did this," Jane says, muffled against his chest. "I made them angry, and who knows what they might do now to prove a point --"
"Jane, no," Thor tells her, still quiet, doing his best to disguise his alarm. "What you have done is a wonder. It turned the tide of the war for us --"
"Yeah," Jane says, sounding not in the least reassured. "But that only worked for a little while. Now it's like they're laughing at us. Or -- or it was effective enough that I really pissed them off, and I can't decide which is worse because it's all so terrible ..." She trails off, shuddering. Thor rubs circles into her back. After a moment Jane rallies and says, low, "So I helped out with the war, good for me. What about all the bystanders who are probably hurt now because I got the Chitauri's attention?"
"We were able to fight the Chitauri outside the cities for a time because of you," Thor reminds her. "I know one life does not make up for another, but I think of the number of people you have saved, and I really do believe that you have done more than all the Avengers have done, by the skill of your mind alone."
"Maybe," Jane whispers, but she goes a little less tense in Thor's arms.
They stay like this for a time, silently; Thor thinks that perhaps he is drawing as much comfort from the contact as she is. "Jane," he says finally. "Do you like chocolate chip cookies?"
Jane sniffles, blinking up at him, and cracks a small smile. "Well, yeah," she says. "Who doesn't?"
"Then I will make you some," he tells her firmly.
"Thor," she says, "I'm not sure there's even any food in the house."
"I will acquire it somehow," Thor reassures her.
While Jane turns out to be correct, they do find paper, and make a short list of groceries. The map function on Jane's phone has been useless for a month but Thor thinks he knows the area decently well, so they set out looking for an open grocery store. It takes longer to find than Thor anticipated -- it seems the stores cleared out when those mortals who could afford to left the city -- but they persist, and eventually find a promisingly lit bodega. Inside, surrounded by food, they get somewhat carried away. "Chocolate chips," Jane says, and "Cheese?" Thor asks, and "Yes, here, pasta," Jane tells him, and somehow they come away with half the store, most of it discounted by the owner, who has only recently reopened and is delighted to have them there.
Back at the mansion they do start with cookies, but it is late enough in the morning that they are hungry for more substantial fare, so Thor makes spaghetti and salad, as well. Jane has no great passion for cooking, but she proves a cheerful assistant, and keeps stealing bits of cookie dough when Thor is turned the other way, smiling a little wider each time.
"That smells amazing," Bruce says, wandering into the kitchen in a rumpled t-shirt. "Hey, Jane."
"Hi, Bruce," Jane says. "Cookie dough?"
By the time the pasta is ready, Tony has appeared as well, followed by Natasha, Clint, Steve, Darcy, and an exhausted-looking Erik, all of them still in various states of sleepy disarray. Thor makes a second round of food and tells them sternly not to ruin their appetites by eating too many of the cooling cookies.
Possibly summoned by this admonishment, Loki wanders through the kitchen, giving Thor a brief distracted smile before taking a cookie and wandering out again.
Food in hand, they drift to the next room and settle on couches. Steve locates the remote and turns the television on to the news: footage from the previous day of Avengers Tower falling; Chitauri on Osaka, established in the city before a response team arrived; concerned reporters asking what various militaries' plans are now, what the Avengers' plans are now, what will happen.
"Hey," Clint says, "can you switch it to cartoons or something?"
Steve immediately flips the channel without argument.
No one is much inclined to move. They spend the afternoon watching cartoons, leaning against one another, periodically going back into the kitchen for more cookies or smaller snacks made from the great quantity of food Thor and Jane brought in. When the cartoon channel begins doing a marathon of a particularly silly children's show, Darcy pulls up a laptop and calls for meme video requests.
Midafternoon Loki appears again, in light armor and holding what appears to be a half-eaten tub of ice cream. "Good afternoon," she says; Thor takes a quick second look and smothers the still-familiar urge to snap at his fool brother for doing this in company. But though Jane and Erik give Loki surprised looks, the others do not even blink. "It is good you look well," Loki tells them all. "I would like to propose a plan."
"Is that the chocolate fudge?" Bruce asks.
Loki glances at the label on the carton. "Yes," she says, and goes back to digging out a spoonful.
"Plan?" Natasha asks Thor. Thor shrugs.
"I kind of wanted some of that," Bruce says.
"My mistake," says Loki, not sounding sorry at all. She digs for another spoonful.
"So what's this plan?" Steve asks.
Loki looks around at them all, consideringly; then she comes into the room, passing Bruce the carton of ice cream as she goes past. Bruce catches it reflexively and, after a moment's consideration, picks up Loki's spoon. Loki smiles to herself and settles on the coffee table, more or less in everyone's line of sight.
"We can bring down Thanos' ship from the inside," she says.
"What?" nearly everyone cries.
"I have never magicked anyone besides myself over so great a distance," Loki admits, "so it is by no means guaranteed to succeed. But I think it could be done, if carefully. And if I could get us aboard the ship, we could crash it into the ocean below."
There is a silence while they all absorb the proposal; desperate as it is, Thor knows as well as anyone else that they are down to desperation now.
"Okay," Steve says, with a breath of determination, "assuming we can get inside, how could we possibly manage to bring it down? It has to be well-guarded, and besides that, we don't know the layout."
"I have seen it before," Loki says, with the twist of a smile. "I do not recall its exact layout, but I do know how to pull up its schematics, so finding navigation should be no difficult task. Reaching it, however -- there will be a great number of Chitauri on board. I see no recourse but to use Thor and myself as a distraction."
Thor sees at once the wisdom in this, but Bruce raises a spoon in query. "Why you instead of, well, me?"
"For one thing, Dr. Banner, I believe that you would be of greater use elsewhere," Loki says. "For another, the Hulk will look like a distraction; an effective one, I grant you, but for all that, they will only wish to subdue you so you do not damage their ship, and then they will move on. For Thor and I ..." She glances over at Thor, and for a moment seems to hesitate. "They want to kill me, of course, perhaps as creatively as they can. But they do not wish to kill Thor; they wish to capture him, and that will buy us time."
"Wait, what?" Clint says. "I mean, it was obvious they were going for him, but I figured it's because he brings the lightning. Now you're saying they wanted Thor as a prisoner of some kind?"
"It is still but a theory," Loki says, shrugging. "It came to me at one of our strategy meetings: I had explained Thanos' tactics, and Captain Rogers said he understood why Thanos had come here without the Tesseract. But upon reflection, it seemed to me that even if Thanos regarded Midgard as a worthy opponent -- which I believe he does -- he would not choose to return here without every advantage. They do not have the Tesseract. Presumably they failed to wrest it from Asgard by force; but Thanos would not give up on it so easily. If they were to capture the prince of Asgard, well." She gives Thor a lopsided smile. "Even if they do only wish to kill him, my proposed distraction still works quite well, as they do tend to target him, whatever the reason."
"What about the rest of us?" Natasha asks.
"Hold on," Tony says, "I need to get something, we don't have JARVIS fully installed here yet --" and dashes out, returning a minute later with a whiteboard on wheels and a focused look. "Okay," he says to Loki, "strategize."
Loki smiles a slow satisfied smile, leaning forward. Some of the others, Steve particularly, still look dubious; but nonetheless they all settle in, and begin to plan.
Thor staggers, cursedly unsteady and without bearings in the darkness. He cannot imagine how it can be that Loki enjoys traveling in this way. Loki's hand slips from his waist, Loki's breath a little unsteady. Slowly Thor's eyes adjust.
Thanos' ship has curving organic walls, like the insides of a ribcage, arcing up into impenetrable shadow; but the chamber they have landed in seems to be a small one, judging by the complete lack of echo.
"Now we're all here," Loki murmurs. He touches a section of wall, gingerly, as though afraid of giving some alarm. But a piece of it slides out silently; and in soft illumination come the spidering veins of corridors, chambers, and engines. Steve stirs a little, coming out of the shadows to look at it closely, followed by Bruce.
"Engines look obvious," Clint whispers, pointing to them. "Ready?"
A muscle briefly twitches in Bruce's jaw, but he nods.
"And here's us," Steve says to Natasha. She nods briskly.
They go, swiftly and quietly. Loki looks at Thor. Thor nods, satisfied. The first snag is over with: Loki has transported all of them aboard, two at a time, without his magic alerting anyone to their presence. Bruce and Clint are heading to the ship's engine rooms, and Steve and Natasha are working their way to the helm. If Bruce and Clint are successful at shutting down or disabling the engines, it will be Steve and Natasha's job to make sure the ship comes down over water, which will shield the planet from radiation fallout from the fusion core. Thor trusts both teams will do their jobs. They are all to maintain radio silence until absolutely necessary.
He does not envy Tony this next hour. Tony is still aboard the Helicarrier. Given his tendency to panic if anyone discusses space in his presence, he agreed that he would be of more help on the ground; so Tony and his weapons are helping SHIELD provide the rest of the distraction.
"Ready?" Thor asks Loki quietly.
Loki gives Thor a smile, mirthless and terrible. Thor grins back.
They leave the side passage for a longer corridor, better lit; the walls here curve away so high that they look a little like the lesser halls in Asgard. They creep along the corridor as quietly as possible, Loki leading with sure steps upwards and upwards towards Thanos’ command center.
A few corridors on, they meet their first Chitauri. The Chitauri stares at them in obvious surprise, stunned for a moment into silence; then, when it comes to its senses and calls out a rattling cry of warning, Thor takes a deep breath and raises Mjolnir. He sends lightning crackling down the corridor. The lightning hits the first Chitauri head-on, felling it, and then sparks off the hidden circuitry of the ship, creating arcing braches of light that feed off themselves, and in seconds they can hear the answering calls of more Chitauri. In moments the Chitauri are pouring into the corridor, fighting through the lightning and trying to fire their own energy weapons at the same time, only adding to the confusion. Thor briefly fears that they have been discovered too soon; but beside Thor, Loki is laughing quietly, sending bolts from his spear in return.
They have called more than enough attention to themselves. Thor lets the lightning go out, though it crackles on down the corridor for some time after he's stopped. Instead he swings at the nearest Chitauri, and so begins carving a way up through the corridor.
It is slow going. For every Chitauri they vanquish, two or three more appear. Thor feels some triumph, beneath the battle-joy, beneath the way he is sinking into the rhythm of the fight. The Chitauri come in droves, and each fights furiously, but none of them are going in for the kill against Thor, and that means Loki is right: they do want Thor as a prisoner, and will thus allow them to get much further than they should.
From this corridor Loki leads them to the next. Thor is just feeling the first stirrings of worry that the others were not able to carry through their parts when all around them the ship suddenly gives a great horrible shudder. Thor swings with renewed energy, but suddenly there are far fewer Chitauri blocking the way, for many of them cry out in alarm or distraction, some of them breaking away from the battle at once to discover what has gone wrong.
The radio silence from other parts of the ship has been broken: Steve and Natasha, and Clint and Bruce, have given Tony their signals. Back on the Helicarrier, maneuvered into position over northern Canada, Tony is firing Stark Industry's latest Tesseract-technology-augmented energy weapon at Thanos' ship. Even now, the Chitauri that have abandoned the fight with Thor and Loki should be rushing out to attack the Helicarrier, which is well-defended by SWORD.
But more are already coming to take their place. Thor fights these willingly, too, but when he looks over at Loki, he sees that his brother is as baffled as he is. This fight was only meant to be a distraction until the real fight began; surely a threat to their mothership is of greater import than capturing Thor would be. Yet the Chitauri keep coming, pressing in around them.
For a moment Loki goes down, blasted by three Chitauri at once. He stumbles back to his feet, his hair in disarray; he looks dazed and angry, and Thor does not even think before cutting down the Chitauri surrounding his brother, heedless of his own defense. The Chitauri scream in return and rush them, sending them both stumbling back. There are too many, Thor sees with rising dismay, and looks around for some opening that will give them a respite.
At least the Chitauri are disorganized now, angry enough at the attack on their mothership to lose some of the focus that makes them formidable opponents. Loki sees a weakness in their first line and goes for it, blasting through with his spear, and Thor follows. In this way they manage to get to the next corridor, though Thor no longer has any idea whether they are going the right way. He does not care; it is enough to look for another opening, to knock down the few Chitauri between him and the next space that will gain them some ground, to go from there to the next corridor.
"Thor," Loki says breathlessly, when for a moment they find themselves back-to-back, "we're headed towards the command center still --"
"Good." Thor knocks down the nearest Chitauri. "If we can ever get out --"
Loki laughs ruefully and they separate.
Another corridor on, and another. The ship around them is shaking in a way that sits in the pit of Thor's stomach like a foreboding of freefall, though he trusts they are not crashing yet; but he cannot keep track of time amid the battle, and he begins to fear that it grows short.
Loki has had this thought as well: "Thor!" he yells, and Thor sees it too, a doorway the Chitauri have not yet covered. Together they run for it.
The moment they are through the doorway, a door slides down, rough and solid as stone behind them. At first Thor thinks Loki shut it; but he sees Loki's face, first merely startled, and then very white and still. Thor turns to follow Loki's gaze.
They are in a small chamber, the first one with an external view: the blue curve of Earth is stretched out below the window, an oval opening in the wall. A great thronelike chair sits before the widow, and in the chair is the blue-skinned man who first delivered Thanos' ultimatums. He is wearing his elaborate mask, but under it Thor sees him regarding Loki with the slow pleased look of a predator. Next to him, Loki is so still that, if Thor didn't know him so well, he would not see how his brother is trembling.
"Asgardian," the man says, a satisfied rumble. Loki's chin tilts up a little; Thor cannot tell whether Loki means unconscious defiance or unconscious surrender. The man rises, a deliberate movement that carries horror in its wake; Thor finds his limbs turned loose with fear. Under the fear he is baffled, and then angry -- it is a spell of some kind, it must be, to set his heart pounding with terror before he knows anything of this man but that Loki looks frightened of him. He does not even have any visible weapon.
"We have your ship," Loki says.
"I brought you here," the man says. "Did I not say there was nowhere I could not find you? We have waited, and we have watched, and we know every weakness you have." His gaze shifts to Thor. He smiles.
Thor has time to grip his hammer tightly, readying himself to strike; and then the man moves first, impossibly fast, not for Thor but for Loki. In an instant he is behind Loki, twisting one arm behind Loki's back, the other gripping Loki's hair to pull it back. Loki is bowed taught and shaking, and Thor does not know why he doesn't pull free. Thor does not know, and the creature's many-fingered hand is sliding down Loki's pale neck with proprietary satisfaction, and this time when Thor's skin goes chill it is not with any spell-made fear.
"Drop your hammer," the creature tells Thor, low and sure.
He is prince of Asgard, and he has sworn to protect the Earth, and this creature is touching Loki with absolute terrible surety, and if Thor surrenders Loki might still live, and through the awful cold fear he wants nothing more than to tear the creature part with his bare hands for daring to take his brother.
Loki's eyes lock with Thor's. He seems to be trying to tell Thor something with a look alone; and then Thor sees it, a bloom of red like the spreading of blood in Loki's eyes. Whorls of lines fan out across Loki's face, blue seeping into his skin, another color entirely than the blue of the creature. The creature hisses in surprise and pain, snatching its hands away from where they touch Loki's bare skin, and for just an instant the spell of fear snaps to nothing.
Thor throws Mjolnir at the creature's head.
The creature falls. Loki is already turning, a whirl of vicious movement, and he brings the point of his spear down hard into the creature's chest. The creature gives one surprised, gurgling gasp, convulses, and is still. Loki stands over it, and drives the spear in deeper, teeth gritted.
"Loki," Thor says, only a little shakily.
Loki makes a soft choked noise like a laugh, half pulls the spear out, and drives it in again. The creature twitches, the reflexive nerve movements of a dead thing, and Loki takes a shuddering breath that Thor pretends isn't a little like a sob.
"Loki," Thor says again, quietly. His brother looks up, and gives him the false twitch of a smile. Thor can see the terrible insincerity of it; perhaps Loki cannot make the effort to lie. "Come," Thor says. "I would like to be far away from that thing."
"Yes." Loki looks at the door. "It would be unwise to return that way. In their certainty of the Other's triumph they have driven us to the commanders' quarters." He looks at Thor again. "The command center should be nearby."
"Good," Thor says, hearing the bravado in his own voice but unable to do better. "Let us end this."
They need to find the command center. It is there, Loki told them, that Thanos would address the Chitauri; if they want to speak to the full might of the army, then that is where they must do so.
Killing Thanos is no real part of the plan. They discussed it at some length while back at the mansion, but Loki insisted upon its inherent impracticality. "You know we are difficult enough to incapacitate," she said, gesturing between Thor and herself. "Imagine someone far more difficult, and you may come close to understanding." Their hope instead is to drive Thanos away: if his ship is falling, fleeing to another Chitauri ship will not do much good. Between Loki's knowledge and the intelligence they gathered during the days they had Jane's encryption hack, they know that the other Chitauri ships do not have nearly the missile capabilities of the flagship, and alone cannot adequately defend themselves from a Midgardian offensive.
Loki is murmuring directions to himself as they go swiftly through the corridors. Thor keeps half an eye out for any Chitauri that might discover them and raise another alarm, but most of his attention is on his brother. Loki looks lit up, full of vibrant energy from killing the creature, and Thor has no idea whether he should feel viciously pleased or very worried.
"Through here," Loki says, seizing Thor's arm and dragging him to a doorway. "Carefully." Thor nods, gripping his hammer tight, and goes in first, Loki at his back.
The space-side wall of the room is one great window, the vista of Earth spread out below, dazzling and beautiful. Thor feels a rush of affection for Midgard, but there is no time to linger. The rest of the room is covered in glowing maps of the world below, points of light upon them: targets, Thor thinks, and then sees in alarm that many of the points are pulsing with purpose. There is not a single Chitauri present to guard all this intelligence, but someone else is in the room, facing away from them and surveying Midgard. Though Thor and Loki have made but little noise coming in, the figure at the window turns at once, with casual curiosity.
"Ah," Loki says, a soft laugh of despair.
Thanos looks like a war leader: he is as imposingly large as the Hulk, with keen piercing eyes, which he turns upon Thor and Loki with cold assessment. Thor meets Thanos' gaze squarely. There is no creeping insidious horror in this room, no suggestion of magics; they are in the presence of a master tactician, and if Loki is frightened of him, it is the fear of respect.
"Well met, General Thanos," Thor says. The ship shudders around them again; the view of Earth outside tilts a little, with awful dizziness. Thanos does not turn, nor flinch. "I see you have made no retreat."
"Retreat," Thanos repeats, deep and puzzled, tasting out an unfamiliar word. "You have come to the heart of my fleet as though you believe it will make a difference. My weapons are functional still. In hours this planet will be rubble."
Beside Thor, Loki gives a snort of derision.
Both Thor and Thanos turn to him in astonishment. Loki is smiling mockingly. "Behind schedule?" he asks.
Thanos laughs, seeming for a moment charmed by this impertinence. "You were a minor inconvenience," he says. "I was expecting my lieutenant here by now. Perhaps you finally grew courage enough to wrest yourself from him, Asgardian?"
"Yes," Loki says. "By my count, then, I'm faring better than you today. You have not fled the field; well enough. But your last grand gesture is to destroy this planet? I think little of it."
"And why should Thanos care what you think?" Thanos demands; but even to Thor this sounds less like a dismissal than he suspects Thanos would like.
"Because it is pathetic," Loki says. Thanos starts a step forward, and Thor grips Mjolnir tight in warning, and Loki ignores both these things, a condescending grin rising in his face. "This is the best you have to offer? You orchestrated the slow, meticulous, well-considered desecration of a world; now you give up and throw everything you have at it when faced with the first serious rebuff?" He tilts his chin up, staring Thanos down disdainfully. "Death-god indeed," he says. "A death-god who lacks the patience of death, who lacks the subtlety, the creativity -- I pitied you for your desperate attempt to fashion yourself Death's equal, but now, well." Loki spreads his hands. "It's getting sad."
Thor listens with increasing horror. If Loki were to speak to him thus, in Thanos' position, he would not tolerate such words; rather they would spur him to action at once. Thor opens his mouth, trying furiously to think of what might cause Thanos to back down from this; but the general, eyes fixed on Loki, seems less angry than amused.
"Is this your attempt to talk me out of it?" Thanos laughs. "If I destroyed this planet now, there would be no one to miss it, no one who would know."
"You would," Loki points out, shrugging. "And I would; I could take my brother and flee this rock as it disintegrates. Anyone who has been paying the least attention to this corner of the universe could see this for the abortive attempt to prove yourself that it is. If you want instead to say that you tire of a thing, simply leave it where it is, and trust that others will clean it up."
"Magnanimous, to advise me so," says Thanos, dryly. "What prompts this sudden generosity?"
"I had hoped to stay a little longer," Loki says, "to see what the aftermath had to offer me." He glances swiftly at Thor and away again, and gives Thanos the twist of a smile. Thor can see there is a lie here, but can no longer see what it might be. "But there are always other plans," Loki tells Thanos, "always new ways of fashioning name and kingdom." A tension seems to leave him, the desperation of the fight evaporating into a careless vicious grin. "In any case, enjoy destroying your planet."
He turns to gather Thor. "Loki --" Thor says, stunned and horrified, finally catching on. He remembers, back at the mansion, how after their planning session Steve had drawn him briefly aside. I don't trust Loki an inch, Steve said. Be careful. Don't let him get away with anything. Thor had nodded, brushing it aside. Now he backs away from Loki, fearing that if Loki touches him he will find himself elsewhere against his will, their allies left to die on a shattering world.
"It's over, Thor," Loki says, quite cheerfully. "We cannot take him in a fight; it is best to leave this world to him."
"No," Thanos says. Loki turns to him, but Thor keeps his eyes on Loki, so Thor hears rather than sees Thanos' smile, the note of charmed amusement in his voice. "I have done what I can with this place, and it has shown what mettle it has. I leave it to you; enjoy your broken world, scavenger-king. Enjoy wresting this one from your brother."
Loki ducks his head, smiling in return, and allows Thanos to stride past him and out of the room. Thor stares after him, feeling whiplashed. He is only now shifting from the horror that Loki would let Thanos destroy Midgard to the horror that Loki would talk Thanos into leaving, that Thanos would agree, that they have agreed to spare this world now in exchange for another later. But Thanos is gone before Thor can protest, and the blinking lights on the maps wink out, one by one, until the light is steady.
The ship shudders again. Past the window a single escape pod sails away from the Earth into blackness.
"Well," Loki breathes. "I think that went well."
Thor rounds on him. "That was no bluff," he snaps.
"Everything is a bluff," Loki returns, with the beginning of irritation.
"You were going to let Midgard be destroyed!" Thor yells. Loki has, quite wisely, slipped around to the other side of one bank of maps, and appears to be fiddling with control buttons, blinking the maps out of existence and pulling other schematics up instead. Thor knows he should be paying attention to this, in case Loki is about to do something even more foolish, but he is much too angry. "You fought with them for months, Loki, does even that bond mean nothing to you --?"
"Even the strongest bonds can be cut," Loki returns; infuriatingly, he does not even deign to look at Thor, and seems only half-engaged, refusing to allow this to become the fight Thor needs. "The bonds to family, to home, to self -- desperate circumstances ..." Under his hands an array lights up, and he looks up at Thor with a brief satisfied smile. "The fleet awaits your command."
Thor blinks at Loki, skidding from anger into surprise. He had forgotten entirely what their next move was to be, but while he was shouting, Loki has pulled up the necessary communications; they can give the Chitauri their terms of surrender, now, in the increasingly short space before Thanos' ship falls from orbit.
"Loki," Thor says, "I'm angry with you," and it comes out so exasperatedly fond that Loki huffs a laugh.
"Lightning never lingers," Loki tells him. "Come, time is short."
Thor takes a breath, letting go of his anger. He might still be displeased with Loki's methods, but there are more important things to worry about. He steps up to the communication relay; Loki presses a button and nods.
"To the Chitauri fleet," Thor says. He can hear the distant reverberations of his own voice in the depths of the ship, assuring him that Loki found the right communication panel. "I am Thor, son of Odin, prince of Asgard, as you well know; I am addressing you from your flagship, granted the authority to speak on behalf of this planet by the humans who live there. The situation is this: your emissary, your general's second, is dead; General Thanos has quit the field and given up this campaign, leaving you to our mercies. The flagship is going down; it will crash into the planet's oceans within the hour; already it is too late to stop." He looks over at Loki, who is watching him with bright expectation. "These are our terms," Thor says. "Leave. We will not blast your ships from the sky; we will not hunt you down to kill you upon the ground. We will give you a week to recover all your troops from the cities in which they are entrenched, without further killing. If you think this too great a task, we will send our own crafts to help you retrieve your ground troops, provided their surrender. Then you must leave, or we will strike down those who remain. We wish for no prisoners of war, and for no further reparations; there has been enough destruction on both sides for much bitterness, and we have no desire to compound it. Your immediate surrender, and a week to leave."
Loki cuts the feed. They stare at one another. Thor feels suddenly winded, as though he has been stunned, or fighting for many more hours than he truly has. "That's done, then," he says, and again, with some wonder, "That is done, Loki."
"Yes, yes," Loki says, "and if we do not wish to go down with this ship we should find the others at once."
Thor sees the wisdom in this, and they set off at once. On their way to the rendezvous point they meet occasional Chiaturi, still, some of them helping their fellows along. One or two even give Thor and Loki nods of acknowledgement as they pass; but though Thor keeps a hand on Mjolnir’s haft, he does not raise his hammer against any of them, for none seem in a fighting mood. They are all heading for their own escape routes, it seems, while meanwhile Thor and Loki move back towards the heart of the ship. It is shuddering all around them now, the floors tilting as the gravity field begins to fail.
"Over here!" they hear a yell over the awful dying rumble of the engines.
Down the corridor Thor spots Clint and Hulk, and he sets off faster towards them. Loki follows, but hangs back a little, and Thor feels a flash of amusement, that Loki will face down Thanos but be hesitant to come near the Hulk.
"Good speech," Clint says, when they are near enough to speak. "Me and the Hulk here were very impressed, weren't we, buddy?"
"Shut up," Hulk rumbles. "Where Cap and Tasha?"
"If you think I'm magicking you back to the Helicarrier like that --" Loki says.
"Quiet," Thor snaps. "Bruce, it might be easier ..."
"Fine," Hulk says sulkily, and shrinks, pinking. Bruce wraps his trousers more securely around his waist. "The point is," he goes on, "seriously, where are Steve and Natasha?"
"Quiet," Clint says, a finger to his earpiece. "Tasha says they got held up. The Chitauri escape pods are all down there; they're panicking, they can't all get out before the ship crashes, and Tasha says she and Steve can't get through the crush." He looks around at them, face stricken. "She says they'll be fine."
"You know when she's lying." Loki frowns. "We haven't the time for this."
Bruce fishes his own earpiece out of his half-destroyed trousers and crams it into his ear. "Tony," he says, "do we have time to pull them out of navigation?" but Thor needs no comm of his own to know the answer, even before Bruce winces.
Clint rounds on Loki. "Can you teleport in?" he demands.
"Not accurately," Loki says. "I've never seen that part of the ship."
"Well, try!" Clint says, half a shout. "We'll wait here, just --"
"Don't be stupid," Loki snaps, seizing Clint's wrist; Clint tries to twist away, and Loki grabs Bruce with his other hand, and at the last moment, unthinkingly, Thor grips Loki's shoulder in a stupid futile effort to stop him. The world squeezes in, small and dark and cold and breathless, and pops back out into itself, depositing them all on the bridge of the Helicarrier.
Agents turn to look at them, startled. Tony rises from the schematics he was pouring over and comes for them, face white. Clint whirls on Loki, shaking free and punching his arm so hard that Loki staggers. "Fuck you, take me back, you can't leave them --!"
"I won't," Loki snaps back, and vanishes.
"What the hell," Tony says. He's reached them, and wraps his jacket around Bruce. "Where are the others? Did Loki just straight up run away? What --?"
"Be silent," Thor says.
He does not say it loudly, but he says it with the cold stillness of horror, and it shuts Tony up at once. They all follow Thor's gaze. Outside the domed windows of the Helicarrier's observation deck, falling with deceptive slowness, comes Thanos' ship. It is burning with friction, though Chitauri ships are still coming from it, spiraling up into the sky; or perhaps bits of the ship itself are breaking away in the fall. It is starkly black against the white of the arctic sky. Thor cannot breathe. Three people he loves are aboard that ship, and however slow the fall looks, it is moments from ice.
The moments stretch, and stretch, and when the impact comes Thor does not know what he will do.
Loki blinks into existence, one arm around Natasha, and the other around Steve, all of them smeared with ash and sagging against each other. A moment later out the window Thanos' ship blooms up in flames, the shockwave hitting the Helicarrier a second later.
Tony catches Steve, and Clint catches Natasha, and Thor sees this long enough to understand they are safe; and then he cannot bring himself to care about anything but Loki, standing there swaying with exhaustion and spent magic. Every second of Thanos' ship in freefall is screaming under his skin, and Loki is vanishing from under Thor's hand and Loki is letting go of their father's spear and Loki is standing there, still alive.
Thor crosses the space between them, seizing Loki's shoulders. Loki actually looks at him in astonishment before understanding slides across his face, and then Thor is kissing him. He does not care that they are standing on the bridge of the Helicarrier; he does not care that they have just won a war. Loki is alive, and solid in his arms, wrapping his hands in Thor's hair to draw him closer, kissing him back as though Loki needs the reassurance as much as Thor.
At the end of the kiss they stand with their foreheads pressed together. In a moment Thor will have to look up, will have to deal with the aftermath of everything they have done; but for now he stays with his forehead against his brother’s, and holds on like he will never let Loki go.