The sky was falling.
A seam of fire was ripped across the night sky, brilliant and orange against the backdrop of alien constellations. They were at the edge of the universe here, beyond help. Through the haze, Thor could see Midgardian soil. He couldn’t see, but they were no doubt cowering at the sight of the twin tear that had opened up in their skyline.
This world would burn, and the seam in the sky was tearing wider by the minute. In under an hour, it would consume everything. The dead moon and Midgard would fall together.
Around him, his allies stared in awe as the curse scarred the sky. Captain Rogers was unconscious, face down in the red soil. Tony Stark’s armor had been crippled, and he’d propped himself up against a rock while he tried to either repair it or free himself from it, not that it would matter soon. Clint Barton was bleeding from a serious wound on his hip, and Natasha held a piece of cloth to it, green eyes staring intently at the workings of the spell, searching for something to do and finding nothing.
Thor turned to his bleeding brother, voice cracking. “Look what you have done, brother.”
Loki was shackled and had his palm pressed to a wound at the base of his neck. He glared up at Thor, eyes hot with defensive rage. “I was trying to survive.”
“Survive at the expense of how many innocent lives?”
Loki snarled, rising to his feet to meet the accusations. “No one is innocent brother.” He looked from Thor, to the seam in the sky, and back to his brother, a moment’s hesitation betraying the shake in his voice. “I never…I never wanted this.”
“The Chitauri did,” Thor took a step towards him. “’The Blood of a God will sate the spell’. Is that not what the inscription on the standing stones reads?” He gestured with Mjolnir to the stones below, ornately carved, methodically placed at odd but meaningful angles. “They lured you here. The Other lured us here.” Thor’s words were coming out in ragged gasps. “Punishment--- revenge on Midgard, revenge on the Avengers, and revenge on you.”
Loki seemed to disconnect, something in Thor’s speech turning gears in his mind. He turned, stepped to the corner of the ledge and looked downwards, then to Thor, as his mind connected disparate pieces. A low, dangerous laugh bubbled up from his stomach to his throat. “That was their plan all along.” He cast a wide, false smile back to Thor. “Oh, that is cruel. I wish I’d thought of it.”
Thor lowered his hammer, failure weighed heavily on him, and he did not have time for his brother’s games. “Watching a realm I have sworn to protect burn? Waiting to die? Yes, it is cruel.”
“Not that,” Loki offered, voice dropping. “Come now, brother, you’re smart enough. Figure it out.”
“I know not---“
“He’s talking about himself,” Natasha called up, standing from Clint’s side while he kept a hand held to the bandage, scrambling for his bow with the other. Of course, they would still rage against it. “The ‘Blood of a God will sate the spell.’” She looked up at the rift. “The longer Loki bleeds, the wider that thing tears.”
“Sounds like he needs to stop bleeding,” Clint grunted, threading an arrow into his bow and leveling it at Loki’s head.
Loki ignored them, turning to his brother. “How cruel indeed…”
It dawned on Thor, and he swallowed as he realized his situation. “Either the Earth burns or I suffer killing you.”
“That seems to be what they’ve planned.” Loki’s face was indecipherable; his enemies had been given hope in the form of his death, and he could feel his fate tightening as they drew closer.
“Please, give us a moment.” Thor looked at Natasha and Clint, and it was so full of pain that they stopped. “I know what I must do.”
He let Mjolnir drop to the ends of his fingers, leather sliding against his calloused hands.
Fear flashed across Loki’s face and he shied away reflexively, only to realize there was nothing but cliffside and the altar behind him. The raw terror froze over almost immediately, and he chuckled softly. “So, it has come to this.” It tried to mock, but it fell far too gentle, too tired, like the universe was laughing at him, laughing at both of them.
“It has,” Thor managed voice thick. He couldn’t even meet Loki’s eyes.
“You kill me and you save your dear friends, you save your world.” Loki stepped away from the edge, slowly making his way to Thor. “Are we not merely completing what should have happened on the Bifrost? Has this not been the inevitable conclusion from the beginning? Everything --- every laugh, every battle, every betrayal,” with each intonation, he took a step closer, his voice grew louder. “…every moment we were together, was it not leading to this?”
“If I do not, you will die here with us anyway.”
“Then do it,” Loki taunted.
“Thor, whatever he’s playing at don’t fall for it,” Natasha said. “Kill him.”
He jerked his head in her direction without taking his eyes off of Loki, torn between two things.
“You are not foolish.” Loki’s eyes were clear, his footfalls steady. “Now, if you’re going to. Do it before the rift widens further.”
“Thor, don’t let him get close to you.” Natasha had her gun pointed right at Loki’s head. “I’ll do it, Thor, tell me if you can’t and I’ll do it.”
Loki glared in her direction, and spoke to Thor. “If I must die I want it to be for something. I am at your mercy. Kindly do not waste it.”
“I would ask the same of you,” Thor closed his eyes, and when he opened them; they were steeled for the task at hand.
He raised Mjolnir.
Loki flinched – they locked eyes, and Thor saw centuries stretch between them. His earliest memory of his little brother clinging to their mother’s greenest gown in the bright sunlight of the palace gardens, he saw them on the training fields, hunting in the forests, playing, laughing, feasting, and fighting.
Thor twirled Mjolnir, and hurled it into the burning sky, willing the hammer into the rift, willing it to Earth. It spun until it was nothing but a speck in the distance, the whir dying down to nothing as Thor watched his weapon arch soundlessly away. He hoped in the back of his mind someone worthy would come to wield it, and they would tell this story.
He saw the recognition dawn first on his brother’s face, because Loki knew there was only one reason Thor would ever willingly surrender his hammer. The coldness, the habitual cruelty he had driven into his bones like an obsession bled away in an instant, replaced by a sudden, desperate panic. “No, Thor---“
He was cut off by the strong hand clenching around his throat, catching at his jaw and squeezing only ever so lightly.
“Thor, don’t you dare.” Tony was next to figure out what was really about to happen, and he partly freed himself from his armor, tearing at his own skin in the process, and started hobbling. “Natasha, stop him!”
Thor pulled him close, drew one of Loki’s hidden daggers from the inside of his coat, and for a brief moment, Loki was sure he was going to cut his throat, finish the job the Chitauri priest botched. When Thor spoke, his face split in a kind, familiar smile – loving, tender, all the things Loki did not want to think of Thor as in that moment, because anything but enemy would be too painful. “Do not waste it, brother.”
Natasha was already moving towards him, gun raised, because she saw it to, and Thor was an asset, and Tony limped along behind her, one repulsor still clinging to his arm as Thor tossed Loki into them. All three went down in a tangle of limbs and metal and red dirt. Clint froze behind them, trapped between loosing his arrow at Loki and watching Thor from a horrified, impersonal distance.
Tony grabbed Loki and unceremoniously rolled him off. Loki scrambled to his feet, wiping the dust from his front, coughing at the pain in his throat as they all looked to Thor, standing on the rock outcropping overlooking the altar below.
“No,” Loki surprised himself with his own breathless gasp. “We will find another way!” He didn’t understand why it had been so easy to drop Thor from the airship, so easy to press a button and distance himself from it all, and he didn’t have time to ponder why he was running, tearing the wound at his neck to soak into his armor. “I will not owe you my life!”
Thor had an expression of utter relaxation, a kind, knowing, almost teasing smile as the gateway above burned to critical mass, threatened to consume them all. He smiled warmly at his brother and his allies, He’d wished for many more years with them, he wished Sif and the Warriors Three were there, and, of course, a warrior always hoped to see home one last time. This was as good an end as any. With it, he felt calmness and clarity, knowing they could not reach him in time to stop him was isolating and liberating. He’d made his choice.
He raised the dagger and slashed open his own throat, carving a line under the jaw that split scarlet. Loki saw – they all saw – the last, most powerful shock cross Thor’s face, before fading almost instantly into nothingness as the color drained from his cheeks. He leaned backwards, slumping off the ledge. The two Midgardians were screaming his name, a split second behind Loki as they all gathered at the edge, kicking up dust in time to see their friend plummet into nothing and land on the slab in the middle with the sound of smashed stone, a splash of red on his face as blood pooled around the cracked altar, soothing the yellow glow from the inscriptions as it filled the spiraling grooves at its base. In the skyline, the spell calmed. The ugly scar faded as if it had never been there, leaving only the violent red clouds forming a storm in the distance, an almost comforting, normal notion in comparison.
Even on an alien world, lightyears from Asgard or Earth, there was still thunder to follow the lightning. Water rained down on them all, turning the red soil a shade darker.
Natasha was the first to refocus, and sent back a communication to SHIELD for extraction and to inform them of the situation. Loki had retreated from the scene almost immediately, holding himself tightly and avoiding eye contact with any of them. He sat on the outskirts of their grouping; with his power bound, he wasn’t a flight risk, but he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with them, either. Tony stayed at the edge, working on repairing his jets and getting the other repulsor functioning. Occasionally, he would glance down at Thor, as if to check that he was still there. Clint worked on finding a safe way down so he could keep the animals away until SHIELD could get the Tesseract working. They were still stuck on an alien world, a hostile environment, and they needed to regroup. There would be plenty of time for grieving when they all got home.
Steve had woken up sometime after the rainfall started, only to be met with a downed friend, a catatonic enemy, and a stunned team. He ran a hand over his forehead, because this was such a mess and he knew, logistically, they were lucky they’d only lost one and the Earth was safe. This was what denial felt like, and it wouldn’t really hit him until they got home. For now, he just needed to do his part to hold everything together. “Tony, how soon can you have your flight capabilities back online?”
“An hour, max.” Tony barely acknowledged his presence, fixated on rewiring a terminal in his arm.
“Natasha says it’ll be five hours until SHIELD can extract us.”
Tony scowled. “Thor was the one to convince Asgard to let us use it. How do you think big daddy is going to react when we tell him his son is dead? I’m sure that’ll put him in a generous mood.” The implication was clear --- the next time they needed to travel off-world to defend their home, it wouldn’t happen.
“Can’t worry about that right now.” Steve dared a glimpse at Loki, who was still sitting on the outskirts. He wasn’t acting like a grieving brother or a vindicated rival; he just looked like he had nowhere to go.
“We should do something, you know,” Tony said, “for Thor. There’s gotta be something like, no idea, maybe last rights or the Asgardian equivalent of last rights or something. Or…I don’t know, shouldn’t we put a blanket over him?”
“I don’t want you going down there just yet,” Steve started, and saw Tony open his mouth to argue, “we still need to find Bruce.” He pointed. “Hulk went, um, crashing off that way somewhere.”
“I’ll just follow the wreckage.” Tony’s voice was hollow, upset, and Steve knew it would break out as anger and resistance when he was done with the denial. For the time being, he planned to redirect it as something positive, and they still had one teammate unaccounted for. Finding Bruce and treating their wounds was a nice, easy thing they could all agree needed to be done in the meantime.
Steve turned his attention to Loki, who was sitting under a rock outcropping on the outskirts of the group, one hand pressed to a bandage that had stopped soaking through about an hour ago.
“Loki,” he addressed, trying for formal, strong, distant but not unfriendly. “See you got yourself out of the rain.”
Loki rolled his eyes in Steve’s direction, and Steve got the impression he was being observed by Loki in the same way normal people looked at insects.
He hesitated, and then regrouped. “Are there any Asgardian customs we need to know about? Any ritual that needs to be completed within a certain time frame or…” he trailed off, waiting for Loki to answer.
He rolled his eyes downward again, mouth clamped shut.
“Okay then.” Steve turned the spark of annoyance into a sigh, and walked away. “Sorry for bothering you.” He tried not to make it sound as much like an insult as he wanted it to.
“A white cloth,” Loki said after Steve started walking away.
Steve turned. “Pardon?”
“A white cloth is most appropriate to wrap the body in, but not required,” Loki continued, voice flat. “Whatever you do, don’t put their crowned prince in one of those plastic body bags you mortals use. It’s demeaning.”
“Thank you,” Steve replied, shifting awkwardly on his feet. “What’s an Asgardian funeral like?”
As if sensing he was growing too familiar, Loki’s perspective shifted towards the menacing spark Steve was used to. He tilted his head back up and offered the faintest sneer. “If you are invited, you will find out shortly.”
Steve thought about saying something in response to that, only to stop himself. He’d been lucky to gather the information he could and it was obvious nothing else was going to come of it.
It was almost like Bruce just didn’t believe Tony when he told him what happened. It was too surreal to feel anything. It wasn’t until he was brought back to the plateau with the others that he saw. He cleaned his cracked glasses, taking breaths that were a little too deep.
“Do you really need to know what happened?” Tony said quickly. “Since it’s already happened, seems kinda pointless to rehash---“
Bruce smiled at Tony the way a heavily medicated teacher would at a difficult child. “What happened, Tony?”
Tony kicked awkwardly at the dirt, now thick at wet in the aftermath of the storm, “God’s blood was needed to fuel the spell. A god’s death would end it.” He shook his head, rambling off on the technical. “I think it has something to do with being exposed to thousands of years of radiation from the Bifrost thing. Or something in their food. I don’t know. Loki and Thor aren’t biologically related so it must be something environmental.”
Bruce slid his glasses on, face a mask of calmness. “Tell me, did Loki do this to him?”
“…No.” Tony had to think about it. “And yeah, kinda.” He lowered his voice and tried to pretend the jerkass in question was not 30 feet away. “Thor died to save him.”
“I wish I was surprised,” Bruce said, voice trimmed with amusement. “That’s just so Thor. It was a Thor thing to do. And now no Thor.”
“It was stupid,” Tony snapped, surprised by the vitriol in his own words. “He should have just…” he cursed, replacing the last of his functioning armor. “I’m sorry, I’ve gotta go do some reconnaissance before I walk over and beat the snot out of Loki. I feel like he’s asking for it.”
“Just sitting there?”
“I think I might be a little angry.” Tony gave Bruce an ironic smile.
Bruce placed a palm on Tony’s shoulder; pausing midway before planting it in what he hoped was a comforting manner. He wasn’t sure anymore. “Be careful?”
The damaged faceplate of the Iron Man suit slid down in response, electronic eyes flickering before coming to life. “I’m always careful,” Tony replied, voice heavy with mechanical modifiers.
Then the Hulk came out.
Hulk punched Puny God.
Sometimes, there were things Clint needed to see up close.
He’d meant to stay away. The natural fauna of the moon was mostly smaller than a frog and missing a spine, but there were a few larger scavengers he’d seen feasting on the Chitauri they’d killed. Steve gave him the job of keeping them off Thor, and he’d eagerly accepted.
Eventually, he’d wandered over to the altar – couldn’t help it. Something about the scene, something morbid or mourning tugged at him, and before he knew it he was standing next to Thor’s body, unsure of what to say or do. Nothing could make it better, but the desire to do something, anything, pulled at him.
Above him, he heard the Hulk’s roar. He brought a hand to the radio at his ear. “Do we have a Code Green, Cap?” He lifted a hand to one of the tranq arrows, not that he could get up there in time if the Hulk wanted to do damage.
There was a pause, then, “No, I think he’s managing.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Loki’s still alive.”
Clint caught himself smirking and stopped, because something about smirking over a dead friend seemed wrong. “Just holler if you need me.”
“No, it’s fine.” Suddenly, Steve sounded as tired as he felt. “I think he needs to grieve, too.”
Clint switched his mic to input only and sighed at Thor, not that Thor could hear. “You’re going to hurt a lot of people with this, you know. Us, Selvig, your friend Jane, your family back home.” No answer. “I mean, you saved everyone. Everyone. But you didn’t have to do it like that. We all know there was another option.” He shifted his weight, realized he was standing over cracked blood and slid his boot away. “Brothers can be bad men, too. I don’t think I can forgive you for that, you putting him above yourself. That was just selfish.”
Memories washed up and over him, and he glanced down from Thor’s body, as if he was still an actual, living person who he couldn’t face. “That doesn’t mean I don’t understand it.”
“I’ve wanted to kill him for a long time. Now I can’t without a reason, can I?” He scowled. “I blame you for that, too.”
He’d seen a lot of dead bodies. He’d made a few. After a while, he grew accustomed to the view of watching someone’s life ebbing away, the flick and whir of an arrow as it flew through the air and the hard thump into someone’s ribcage. He was constantly exposed to death, but it had been a while since it touched him like this. The separation between ‘there’ and ‘not’ was edging into his chest.
He liked Thor. He had liked Thor ever since he saw him single handedly breaking into a SHIELD portable compound and beating up dozens of their guys. Working on the same team with him had done nothing to diminish that favor. Thor was easygoing and boisterous and honest. He didn’t care about the little details as long as someone fought the good fight, sometimes even if they didn’t. He had the same sort of unconditional love Clint was used to seeing from dogs and a few affectionate cats.
After being in a few nasty scrapes with someone like Thor, Clint was suddenly, appallingly aware of what being in a team meant, and what it meant when one component was taken away. It would be…weird. Coulson’s death had brought them together, in a way, Clint was suddenly worried that Thor’s would tear them apart, and that scared him as much as anything.
“I’m probably not going to get another chance to say this,” he murmured, tone softer than he felt, “I’ll miss you, pal. I’ll keep watch.”
He stepped away from the altar, boots soft on the ancient network of red stone, with carved rocks standing at attention all around him. Whatever race built this thing, they liked to work in fives, rows of five, five inner circles raised at five points. It bugged Clint, and he couldn’t quite figure out why. He decided it didn’t matter, because he could see winged creatures circling above, looking for carrion, and he drew an arrow from his quiver.
Natasha kept busy.
First of all, she threw a first-aid kit at Loki so he could clean up the ugly gash on one side of his face, and she gave Bruce a pair of pants from his pack after he changed. He apologized to her, and Natasha didn’t feel the need to acknowledge it. Normally, she would have brought him tea after an unexpected change, instead she asked if he was okay and if there was anything she could do for him. Bruce hesitated, eyed the god he’d hit, then smiled weakly and told her he would be fine. She manned the checkpoint with SHIELD as they tried to figure out their location and calibrate the Tesseract with the instructions given to them by Asgard. Extraction couldn’t come quickly enough, and she did whatever she could to make the process move faster.
Then she checked her pistols, which were a little beaten but still functional. She took a tally of how much ammo she had left, then counted and recounted just to keep her hands busy. Mostly, she just sat on a wet rock, waiting for their evac.
“Are you okay?” Steve asked.
“I’m fine, Captain.” She slid a bullet into place.
“That’s the third time you’ve unloaded and reloaded that clip,” Steve put his shield down and sat down, back to hers slightly. “You saw what happened.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“You’ll see my official report.”
“You know what I mean, Natasha.” His voice lapsed into something sad. “I know what it’s like to watch a friend K.I.A.”
She felt a gap in everything, the same sense of a missing element she’d had when Coulson died, and she wasn’t sure how to place it. She’d made her living on death for a very long time. “I’m fine, Steve.”
There was a pause, and she knew he wanted to say more. She was thankful when he just picked up his shield and went over to check on Bruce. He’d then probably send out another message to Tony, who would probably be returning shortly to tell them their position was secure, which would at least make the next few hours a little easier.
They’d come to this world expecting a suicide mission. The idea that they might not come back was present in their minds from the moment they flew through the portal into enemy territory. However, for some reason Natasha had been unprepared for the idea that all but one would return. It seemed like such a natural thing, that some soldiers and operatives died and others on the same mission lived. With this team, she’d come to expect victory or carnage, all or nothing, or at least . The fact that it was Thor that wasn’t coming home was not helping her sense of unease, completely regardless of the circumstances, which were troubling enough on their own that she didn’t want to think about them.
Natasha went to go find Clint.
Clint’s lookout was near the top of a rockslide at the base of the cliff, and he had a good view of the entire basin, in a relatively safe location with access both up to the plateau and down into the lowlands. It was dangerous getting down there, but Natasha took her time and focused on what she was doing.
“What’s your status?”
Clint didn’t even turn to her, didn’t need to. “A few buzzard things. Nothing bigger than that within one klick.”
Natasha caught herself staring at Thor’s body.
“The last thing I said to him is bothering me.”
“What? ‘I’ll kill your little brother for you if you can’t’?”
Clint relaying her words sent a splash of ice down her spine, and she shivered with a feeling she couldn’t quite place. “Yes.” She sat next to Clint, folded her hands on her lap, and continued looking at Thor.
“You were trying to save us and 7 billion people, Nat.” He scanned the basin again. “Nobody can fault you that.”
“I know that,” Natasha replied, squeezing her fingers together. “I’m just…I can’t…the last thing I said to him was asking if I could kill the person he died for.” She swallowed. “I keep seeing myself walking up to Loki and putting two in his skull, as if that’ll make this better.” There was a time she would have done just that.
Clint smirked. “That’s a trade I’d make in a heartbeat.”
“I want this to be better, Clint.”
“It will be, just give it time.” He shook his head. “Natasha, you are the only person I’ve ever met who goes through all five stages of grief at the same time.”
That brought a small smile to her face.
“You couldn’t have taken a picture of Loki’s face when the Hulk tapped in? I’m sorry I missed that.”
She snorted. “Don’t be. We were all surprised.”
They sat together, watching the landscape for threats and trying not to think about how different everything would seem. This, at least, was familiar.
Tony made contact with the transport unit a few miles from the team’s location. He recognized the blue shimmer of energy and the view of another plane appearing out of midair. As cool as he thought it was, he was tired of seeing two points in space pinched together. It was the fourth time he’d seen a worm hole open recently, and familiarity was breeding contempt. He buzzed the transport, giving a friendly wave to the pilot as he guided them back to where everyone was.
He was tired. His power was at twenty-percent and he just wanted to go home. It had been a terrible, crazy day.
“JARVIS, dial Miss Potts.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I want to tell her everything’s fine.”
“Everything’s…fine. Of course, sir.”
“You’re an AI, not my therapist. Patch her through.”
He heard the phone buzz for an excruciatingly long time before Pepper finally picked up, her voice dull from lack of sleep and the kind of anxiety the end of the world brought out in people. “Tony? It’s 4am,” closely followed by, “Are you okay?”
“I’m A-okay. Never been better. I’m Mister Okay right now. We showed up, beat some Chitauri up, gave planet Earth a lightshow, then shut it down. We’re…” he trailed off, voice breaking a little from exhaustion and something else, probably anger. “I’m fine. We’re fine.”
“…Oh god.” He could practically see her raising one hand to cover her mouth. “Oh god, someone died. Tony, who died?”
He thought about lying to her, because he didn’t want to deal with it and she would make him deal with it. “I really don’t want to talk about it, Pepper. Not right now.”
She was quiet for a long time. “Please, Tony, just tell me who. I’ll drop it after that.”
“Thor.” The name sounded heavy.
He heard her let out a little noise. She liked Thor. In his own Viking frat boy kind of way, he had a sort of dynamic, honest charm that sucked people in. Pepper was no exception. “Tony, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, me too.” He was really, excruciatingly tired. “Could you do me a favor, Ms. Potts?”
“What would that be, Mr. Stark?”
“Order pizza from that one place I like? You know the one. I’m heading back immediately after debrief. Possibly halfway through debrief if I can---”
“You got away with that once. Fury’s never going to let you sit on the right side of the room again.”
“I’ll probably be there by eight. At home. I’m not going back to the tower right away.”
“Pizza. Eight. Understood.” She hesitated. “Tony---“
“Don’t say it, please.”
“I’m glad you’re okay.”
“…All right, I’ll admit that’s not what I thought you were going to say.” He smiled behind the mask. “I’m glad I’m okay, too. See you at home.”
They disconnected, and he was swamped with a wave of relief. At least she was okay. At least they had a home to go back to.
He led their extraction back to the place where they were all settled. SHIELD could keep the gateway stable for about 45 minutes, so there was no time to spare for ceremony. It put down in the basin, near the standing stones, and two medics stepped out. They’d all gathered at the base of the cliff. Natasha and Clint guided the carrier down to a safe landing spot, waving instructions. As soon as it touched down, the rear hatch opened and two medics stepped out. They reported immediately to Steve, who directed them to where Thor lay, giving them an informal order about being gentle. They had a stretcher with them, and a simple, white sheet like Steve requested.
Tony watched it all happen with a surreal kind of distance. He felt dizzy watching the SHIELD medics take Thor off the altar and cover him. It had a weird sense of detachment --- someone who could no longer moved being moved by people who were still alive. It was reverent, even.
One by one, they all followed him into the hold. Clint followed the medics, Natasha and Steve had Loki flanked on either side.
Tony stopped, took off his helmet, and stared at the spot where his friend died.
He lifted a repulsor and blasted the nearest stone to smithereens.
Then he shattered another one. He walked forward slowly, crushing one after the other. He grimaced and growled with each blast, each thundering sound of rock slamming into rock. By the time he was done, his breath was coming out in rough, difficult gasps, and there was only rubble.
When he turned back, everyone was looking at him. Loki had turned halfway up the ramp, prompting Steve to put a hand on his arm to keep him moving. He had a look of complete, utter disgust on his face. “That circle was built by genius, a race with intellect you cannot fathom.” He glared, and took a step towards Tony. “That circle was hundreds of years in the design and planning, only to be torn asunder by an ape with a stick.”
“And whaddya know, that’s all it takes.” Tony walked onto the ramp, never shying away from Loki’s glare. “Geniuses can build weapons. I neutralized a threat.” He stopped when he was face to face with Loki, head tilted high. “You wanna talk judgment, your majesty? Let’s talk judgment---“
“Tony,” Steve warned.
“Let’s talk about how you were more angry when I crushed a giant galactic magnifying glass hovering over my anthill of a world, than you were when your brother died to save your miserable life. While we’re on the subject of judgment, why don’t we also talk about fairness---”
Loki lunged at him, and Steve held him back, tossing him into the hold so Clint and Natasha could strap him down, he didn’t fight after that, but Tony could feel his glare on him the entire way back to the gate home.
Maybe that had been cruel, but he was feeling just a little cruel.
When they landed back on the helicarrier, they were besieged by activity, including ten armed guards to take Loki into custody, and a small army of medical personnel descended on them to see to their injuries and rush them towards the medical wing. It was a cacophony of noise and light, and people asking questions about lights and reflexes. The atmosphere was partly business and partly triumph, but it had a muted, bitter edge to it. Everyone went respectfully silent when Thor was carried away to the morgue.
Everything was a blur for Tony after that. The debrief with Fury left a hollow, empty feeling in everyone. Now that they were home, safe, they had time to feel the impact of everything that had happened. It wasn’t just what happened to Thor, it was exhaustion, it was the shakes that always followed a hopeless battle, it was the aftermath of almost watching a rift in space swallow two worlds.
“When will Asgard be able to send people?”
“Communications says it’ll be three days before they can gather enough dark matter to make the journey here.” Fury ground his teeth together. “I’d bet my bottom dollar they aren’t going to be particularly enthused to be here, either.” He made a sound. “Good job, all of you. Go home. Rest. Write your reports when you can.”
“Thank god,” Tony stood up, stretching. “I am so ready to go home. You would not believe how ready to go home I am.”
That was when Maria Hill came bursting through the door, and Tony groaned in the perfect likeness of a kindergartner. “Sir, we have a situation.”
“Oh,” Tony remarked, “we’ve never had one of those before. Please, continue.”
Fury glared at her with his one eye. “What is the situation?”
“Loki. He killed two of his guards and broke the binding chain.”
Fury scowled. “Where is he now?”
“We don’t know. He jumped.”
“He jumped?” The intensity of Fury’s sarcasm was astonishing. “Not because he was overcome with grief, I’m assuming.”
Bruce cleaned his glasses again in the silence that followed the announcement, shaking his head while Natasha turned her face downward, Clint shook his, and Steve pressed a thumb into his temple. It was too much, after everything that had happened it was too much and none of them wanted to deal with it. Loki would have to be dealt with --- someday, and with some sense of finality, but not today.
“He had a plan,” Maria continued. “He disappeared off our tracking about halfway down. Sir, I’ve already authorized an aerial sweep of the immediate area, but my guess is that he’s either long gone or well hidden.”
“With all due respect, Agent Hill, I don’t think it matters.” Fury pressed his palms into the conference table and pushed off. “Loki will come to us sooner or later. We’d all best be ready for him when he does.”
“I love seeing people take advantage of second chances,” Tony growled, rising to his feet, back cracking as he stretched. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat pizza and shut down emotionally. If you want to get in touch, you’ll find me sleeping off a bottle of scotch or possibly having sex with my girlfriend. Stay cool.”