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Loki greets them all the next morning with a restorative healing draught to combat the results of the previous night’s revels. It has an unpredictable effect on hair and eye color and turns Tony into a woman for an hour, but dispels their hangovers admirably.

“Hot damn I have a fantastic rack,” Tony says, ogling himself. “Thanks, Loki!”

As if that first campaign was the pebble heralding a mighty avalanche, so the number of adventures the Avengers participate in multiplies over the next several weeks. They combat an army of robots that Tony seems to find personally offensive, accompany a team named the Fantastic Four on a craft called a spaceship, and become accidentally stranded for a brief period of time in an alternate dimension in which Natasha and Pepper are married and there are no shrimp. Jane comes to visit twice, and brings Erik and Darcy with her for the second visit. Erik spends most of his time with Loki, who is familiar, and Bruce, who turns out to be an old friend; Darcy spends most of her time saying “Oh my God” in increasingly faint tones in between introducing Loki to new forms of visual entertainment.

Jane’s work continues to progress satisfactorily. She and Coulsson spend an increasing amount of time arguing as she sets up equipment in a secured area outside of the city in preparation for the activation of the Einstein-Rosen bridge.

“I’m so close, Thor,” she says, eyes shining. “You don’t understand - this is so incredible, I can’t even believe it’s happening!”

“I am happy for you,” Thor says, and means it, but cannot express as much joy as Jane deserves. If Jane’s device works - and he has no doubt that it will - Heimdall should be able to use the information he gets from her transmission to complete the Bifrost’s connection, and that will be that. Whatever has been happening, whatever will happen... it is all going to become clear soon.

It is strange to think of the busy and frequently heartbreaking past few months as a respite, but Thor is beginning to fear that is exactly what they have been.

Loki, at least outwardly, seems unconcerned by this. He continues to interact with the team and can even be seen conversing with people other than Thor and Tony from time to time. He and Clint begin competing in the targeting range - it is mostly silent, but very focused. It is the first interest Thor has seen him display in what Tony calls ‘jock stuff’ in quite some time.

“I have finished Bruce’s books,” Loki says unexpectedly one morning. “They have a movie version. I think we should watch it.”

They recruit Darcy to obtain the entertainment for them, and by the time she has it and they are ready to watch it the rest of the team is demanding to participate as well.

“No talking during the movie, Tony,” Natasha says. She appears to take movie-watching most seriously. “And no complaining about how it doesn’t compare with the books, Bruce.” Bruce rolls his eyes.

“I’ll talk if I want to talk,” Tony says, solely to be difficult. “My commentary will provide a necessary point of cultural reference for our out-of-town friends.”

“I have a taser,” Darcy and Coulsson threaten at the same time, and give each other disturbed looks.

The tale is quite excellent. It is in three installments, which Thor puts down to the limitations of Midgardian technology, and though their teammates find it to be excessively long for one sitting it is the proper length for a good epic and Thor and Loki both enjoy it immensely.

By the end of the final installment Tony has wandered off, Coulsson and Natasha have been called away, and Darcy, Bruce and Clint are asleep. Thor sighs as the ending music plays - the movie has left him with a sad but contented feeling, because everything turned out for the best although many brave warriors died in battle. Thor is uncertain how the demises of fictional characters are handled, but he hopes that they ended up somewhere like Valhalla.

He realises that Loki is looking at him intently. “Is something wrong, brother?” he asks, quietly so as not to disturb the others.

“No,” Loki says slowly. “I merely wish to know your opinion of the ending.”

“Most satisfactory,” Thor decides. “Truly, you chose a worthy entertainment. I thank you, brother.”

“I mean...” Loki hesitates. “What you thought about the part where Frodo sailed away with the elves to the afterlife.”

“It was very sad that he was forced to leave his friends behind, particularly Sam,” Thor says. “But he went through a terrible trial. I understand why he would desire peace, even of so final a kind...” his voice trails off and he jerks around to face his brother full-on. Dracy mumbles in protest and shifts over to sleep against the arm of the couch. “Brother,” he says, voice shaking. “You once promised to let me know if you wished to harm yourself - “

“No!” Loki says, and repeats it a little quieter. “No - I’m sorry Thor, that wasn’t what I meant. I’m sorry to have alarmed you. I did... I did want you to see Frodo’s choice and understand why he made it, but not for that.” He looks suddenly uncertain. Thor reaches past Bruce’s head to lay a hand on his brother’s arm.

“Loki, I hope you know that you may share whatever confidences with me that you wish.”

“I do.” Loki nods, apparently making up his mind. “In the story, the peace Frodo sought was more necessary to him than anything else. I wanted you to understand that this is... no longer the situation I am in, at least for the time being.”

A feeling of lightness seems to come over Thor, as if he had been laboring under a great weight for so long he had ceased to even realise it was there. “Brother, I am very happy to hear this!”

“Do not embrace me,” Loki says quickly, but it is too late - Thor has flung himself at his brother in his joy.

“Ow, what?” Bruce complains as Thor accidentally knocks him in the head with one knee.

“Loki’s not suicidal any more,” Clint says, his voice roughened by sleep.

“Oh, good,” Bruce mumbles vaguely.

Loki makes an exasperated noise. “Brother, this is most undignified.”

“Hush,” Thor says, his face pressed against Loki’s neck. “Give me this moment, Loki.”

“Very well,” Loki says in a long-suffering tone, and lets his brother embrace him for far longer than Thor was expecting. He even deigns to pat Thor awkwardly on the back.