They fell together from Stark’s tower, gods at war, grappling for advantage. Loki’s hands clawed against Thor’s punishing grasp. Their legs scrabbled to kick and twist for leverage. Teeth bared, eyes raging, they spat and snarled curses.
Loki steps close, leans down just out of range of a potential lunge. His bro-- Thor's eyes open, sticky and slow with dust, pupils mismatched in size. Blood discolors sweat-darkened hair, drips in thick, sluggish rivulets over his temple and ear. And this is opportunity, when dazed confusion clears into recognition unmarred by disapproval, disappointment, memory.
"Brother,” mumbled with a shake of the head, a wince. Mjölnir lies nearby, debris and crumbled concrete outspread in a concentric pattern from the crater where it landed - after bouncing off Thor’s thick skull. His cape is half-wrapped around him, its rich red muted by singes and dirt. Thor blinks and eyes the damage to his armor, brushes at scrapes and gouges, fingers the narrow, ragged puncture over his ribs. He thrusts his arms under him and Loki backs off a pace, watching, still wary. Searching shouts ring out from smoke-dimmed streets past the rubble hiding them from view.
Thor pushes himself to his feet. Mjölnir leaps to his hand. He shakes his head again, eyelids fluttering briefly, and wipes his other hand across his face, looks at red, wet fingertips. The grin that flashes out is eager and bloody and bright. “Tell me, Brother, for I cannot recall, whom do we battle?"
Loki’s grin blazes forth to match. “Brother,” he says, with care and exactitude, “We and our allies fight against rebels attacking Midgard’s true rulers, a motley band with nonetheless great skills and strength. And courage,” he concedes. “The Chitauri vanguard--” He waves an arm at a sled racing conveniently overhead, “--have been holding them off, but it will take longer still for the full might of their army to arrive.”
Thor turns his head and then turns slowly in place, taking in the devastation around them, the sound of mortal screams, the screech of metal rending and blasts fired. The air stinks of smoke and dust, burnt metal and burnt flesh. Thor shakes his head, dismayed. Almost as swiftly, anger and determination straighten his shoulders, and his fist clenches hard around Mjölnir’s handle, wrist beginning to spin. Loki closes in, places a delaying hand on his forearm – familiarity not shared since well before the ruination of Loki’s belief in such fond gestures – and meets the eager blue eyes with his own steady and forthright gaze. “Can you return to the fight?”
“Of course!” Thor is proud, proud; joy and Mjölnir rising, he straightens to his full height, the image of strength unbowed, mortal dust and staining blood unable to hide divinity. “Where are Sif and the Warriors Three?”
Loki stops the instinctive curl of his lip. “On Asgard, preparing reserve units should the Chitauri fail. But we shall prevail before then, shall we not?”
Thor laughs. “Can it even be imagined that the sons of Odin would fail?” He grips Loki’s shoulder and squeezes. “It’s a pity they can’t be here to share the glory, though. Well, Loki, shall we continue this dance?” And with the swift twist of his wrist, the God of Thunder flies.
Loki’s fists clench and unclench, his shoulder warm where Thor had touched him, and he quells savagely the small voice that rises from deep inside. “Right behind you, Brother,” he says to no one present as the storm begins to rage.
Raised on Asgard among a warrior people, Loki has never lacked appreciation for the sheer might and power of the Æsir, valiant, noble and stupid though they may be; and Thor in combat outstrips them all. Mjölnir is both weapon and shield, its magic carrying him high above the field of battle. Roars of thunder echo across the crowded city skyline, pressure rising in the air and clouds converging, darkening fast, until the red dot of Thor’s cape vanishes in the swirling masses.
Lightning shatters downward.
Loki assesses his strength; he and Thor fell together after Loki shot the mortals’ vehicle from the sky, but his brother’s body had taken the brunt of the impact. Loki has strength enough to travel through shadows perhaps once or twice more, back up to the tower where the Tesseract works its will. He has struggled with worse wounds before, faced greater odds. With Thor at his side, for however long it lasts, they could together wreak havoc across the world, win victory from the puling governments of Midgard long before Odin All-Father could muster up the power to open a way between the worlds and send troops.
With Thor at his side… Loki snarls. He does not need a brother. The Tesseract will strengthen him, will grant him power as nothing else can. Loki Noonesson will use and discard the son of Odin; there shall be no holds on Loki King, no constraints on the monster raised in Asgard’s bosom. Let Heimdall watch from afar and let Odin sleep with nightmares of what he has wrought. Loki ducks into the narrow, broken doorway of a shop entrance and concentrates, eyes shut against bright flares and desperate wails, the stench of hot iron and steel, crushed stone and blood and mortal death. He summons his magic and walks into shadow.
Upon the tower, he steps out under crashing rain to find Erik Selvig collapsed against a wall. The shield around the Tesseract glimmers under rushing water. The scepter… Loki spies it on the walkway below, outside the glass walls of this monument to human vanity. A drop downward brings him within feet of it, and then all he sees is an armored fist, breaking glass and the fast slide of tiles under him. He slams sideways into a low wall within Stark’s home.
“What the hell did you do to Thor?”
Rain lashes inward, and the roars of the Chitauri's great war-beast echo among the city's heights. Wind whips Loki's hair across his face. Stark is still blathering, threats and jibes unceasing. Glass glitters around and under Loki, clings to his hands when he grunts and re-orders his armor, twists his helmet back around from digging into the side of his head. He climbs to his feet. Outside in the rain, the scepter gleams even brighter under the darkened sky.
"Perhaps Thor has simply realized it was a mistake to ally himself with the likes of you.” Loki turns away from the petty being who has not yet realized that defeat is inevitable. The scepter, imbued with a minute fragment of the Tesseract’s power, can breach the shield and close the gate, barring further Chitauri - vile creatures - and dropping those that remain in their tracks - he thinks. When Loki holds the Tesseract, he will be able to break the link between him and their leader… and the one they serve.
Loki’s thoughts chase each other, darting in and out like a flock of sparrows. His options – once limited to the singular choice presented by the Chitauri’s ruler – multiply. Alone – but Loki is alone no more.
He must move swiftly.
To use Thor's power effectively before he heals, Loki must change strategy, play friend instead of foe. The humans allow their emotions to hold sway, and the mightiest rulers of this world claim they do so by the will of their people. Loki must frame his conquest differently, for even a god cannot force down rebellion without end. The humans must welcome his protection. He has the opportunity, now, for small motions leading to sweeping strikes, as the tip of a spear moves in wide counter to a grip on the blunt heel.
"--home and play in your own sandbox!" Stark finishes as Loki swings around to face him, half a step from the broken glass wall. The distinctive rising whine of the armor’s weapons is warning enough. Loki smiles and tilts his head in amusement - for who would not be by the antics of insects? - and snatches up the scepter's cold length, fingers curling tight.
Beams of energy slam into the floor around him. Broken glass jumps high, throws jagged reflections, grits and slips underfoot. Loki rolls toward Stark, rises to his knee and stabs the most insolent of Thor's companions through the gaudy armor, until bright blood flows from crackling, sparking machinery and drips free down the scarred breastplate. Stark gasps, hands clutching at his chest as he stumbles backward to one knee. A kick sends him down onto his back like a tortoise.
The clever armor rivals the dwarf work of Svartálfaheimr for intricacy, its fastenings subtle and unreachable. Loki has seen with his own eyes that mechanical servants must assemble or disassemble it around their master. Stark starts to struggle beneath him, metal grating against the floor, and the weapons embedded in his shoulder-plates rise. Hurriedly, Loki leaps forward and pins Stark down. One boot keeps the mortal on his back while he sets the tip of the scepter against the scarlet metal, sends magic curling through to disrupt the myriad coils and twists of energy within. Once the suit grows quiescent and heavy, he murmurs an unraveling spell at the fastenings of breastplate and visor. The working is complex, and he frowns in concentration, tongue caught between his teeth while metal pieces jangle and clank. It takes more from him than he would like to complete the task. Within the armor, Stark has gone quiet, his face sweating and strangely pallid.
The figured undershirt is ripped, but Loki rips it further to see the strange device embedded over the heart, its light dimmed and flickering. The wound lies a handbreadth from the device, a gash deep and long, but not enough to damage anything vital. Loki presses the tip of the scepter to the flesh of Stark’s chest, and grins to see the energy crawl upward, the dark eyes bleed black and then pale, like an age-blinded elder. One problem solved, which will prevent many more.
Loki is able to reverse the working much more quickly now that the paths through the armor have been mapped, and within seconds the breastplate snaps and creaks and re-binds itself into place, the circle of light brightening to a radiant glow. As quickly as the archer, Stark calms.
"Okay, so that was awkward, big guy.” Stark maneuvers to his feet, hands patting at the seams of his breastplate, eyebrows raised, as if to reassure himself that it has sealed properly, that it functions. He strolls off to his liquor cabinet once again, gulps down a mouthful of clear liquid before dousing the open gash in his suit with the same, hissing between clamped teeth. “I really need to get out there and give Thor some backup, unless you need me here?”
Loki is bemused; Loki is amused and annoyed. “Go,” he orders, since a self-willing thrall is best left to his own designs until Loki knows better how to use him. Stark flips his visor down and tosses off a casual salute. Loki watches him fly.
It is a gift of the Tesseract that those touched by its avatar retain their spirit, for an army of drones – like the accursed Chitauri – can only obey broad direction, never choose subtlety or longer-term goals. Not like the one who commands that repulsive race… Who presumed to command a true god. Loki shudders and retreats from the memory. He bends his mind toward the Tesseract, its voice soothing and urging at once, calling to him from above. He could lose himself in that song, a dream of power and worship unending…
The pull of the Tesseract was too strong, hard to ignore - until Loki fed it mortal minds, many, as they were so much weaker than his own, to dilute and divide its attention. Loki wonders for a long moment if the scepter’s power would work on Thor. He wonders if he wants the scepter to work on Thor.
Shaking away fruitless thoughts, Loki follows spiral paths upward through several stories, doors helpfully marked as roof exits, and from the lower roof climbs the caged ladder to where the engine’s blue-white beam splits the heavens. Selvig has awakened from Stark’s first attack by the time he arrives.
“What have I done,” he mutters to himself, unshaven face creased white with horror, wet with rain or sweat or tears. Shadowed eyes lock on the device. Hands working uselessly in the air, Selvig approaches his creation. He barely seems to notice Loki.
Loki slaps him down and shoves the slack body out of the way, next to the collapsed equipment stand. Selvig may yet be of use, but for now has served his purpose. Nothing the humans do can break the energy barrier, and even Mjölnir’s power cannot fight that of the Tesseract, the stolen glory of Asgard’s treasure vault. The next waves of Chitauri only await Loki’s signal to descend through the gate, and once they’ve subdued this famed citadel of Earth, Loki can show himself to the humans' recording instruments as a rescuer; tell of the binding spell that forced his alliance with the monstrous horde, warn the humans of the vast armies beyond their little world; and demand in return only that he be allowed to rule them all. The laugh that breaks free is high and wild, shaking until he silences himself. Such could never come to pass.
“Saw the light show, got halfway there, had a thought,” Stark says behind him. Loki whips around and blasts the man across the roof, sparks flying in the rain. Stark shoots upward and loops back down, “Whoa, boss, get a grip. Got kind of a hair-trigger going there, and I should know, I practically invented the hair-trigger, enormously useful reflexes when someone’s shooting at you, but you gotta calm down or you’re gonna give yourself a coronary.” The fool’s grinning face appears as the visor lifts. “Can gods have coronaries?”
“What do you want?” Perhaps he should have killed Stark instead.
“I’m thinking we don’t want to take out the team.” With a heavy clank, Stark lands. ”Each of us individually is an incredibly valuable asset, and together we’re not so bad, either. I’ve got the tech and reach to bring maybe a third of the world into line with whatever your master plan is, swami, without shedding a drop of blood.” The casual ease of Stark’s earlier approach is lost when he moves in the armor, but the casual address remains the same. “You want to be worshipped and adored? Want humans singing your praises, want to kiss babies – well, maybe not that, babies are not your natural constituency – but you want to be loved, right?”
“Stark--” The man's insouciance grates along Loki's nerves. He restrains himself from slaying Stark where he babbles.
“You’re going to have to change your strategy. Sure, a lot of humans will be scared and will pay lip service to the idea of Loki God-King, there are always a few. But most of us just want to be left alone to live our lives, and don’t really care who runs the show as long as they’re vaguely consistent with general public values.” Stark’s genial smile fades. “And there are a lot of us who will fight to the death to defend our right to rule ourselves, with governments of our own choosing.
“People have to want you to rule them. You can make that happen by giving them better, shinier, flashier toys, enough food, entertainment and political stability so they don’t turn against you.
“You’re not going to get that by bringing an alien invasion in to blaze the trail. What you need,” Stark says, voice lightening, “is to reform your image and be known as a rescuer. You need to let the people see - and the whole world is watching right now - that you are fighting to save them.” He flings out his arms as though expecting acclaim, mouth curved in a white-toothed grin.
Loki works his jaw, stung by a flush of humiliation. That his own thoughts should be echoed by this buffoon... But Stark has made of himself a power on Earth, so Loki listens with care. He has studied Midgard enough to understand something of its ways of communication which allow any common person to see and speak to any other, no matter how distant, near-fast as Hugin and Munin in flight.
It is part shame, part perversity that drives him to object, to test Stark’s intellect and self-promoting cunning. “It’s too late,” Loki says. “I have already made my mark on your world. Fighting now won’t erase that.” Convince me, he projects with a slight dip of his head, looking up under lashes and allowing his shoulders to slump, the scepter drooping. I… regret.
Stark shakes his head. “You talked to Romanoff. You know what she is, what Barton is. My slate’s hardly pristine. I said ‘reform’ and I meant it.” Dark eyes gleam with earnest intent as he draws near, reaches out as if to clap a hand to Loki’s shoulder – to dare such - “You can choose a better w--”
Lightning strikes Stark down mid-word, flips him end over end in a crash of metal. Thor descends in crackling bands of electricity to slam boots-first into the armor. The God of Thunder shines, luminous against his summoned storm. Mjölnir spins in a slow, heavy whirl at his side. He glances at the man at his feet, peers at Loki with battle-hungry eyes. “Are you well? What do you here? The Chitauri have gone wild, Loki, we must curtail their forces. They are striking at innocents in the street! Even the rebels we fight have not gone so far.” Thor thrusts the gleaming hammer to arm’s length, pointing downward past the roof. “We must counter the attack of these mad things! Come, brother, I have need of your skills!”
Loki’s mind fails for an instant to comprehend. He stares at Stark’s sprawled form, the visor flung free of the man’s stunned face, all stuttering lashes and gasping mouth. A thin wisp of smoke rises from the helmet’s interior to be whipped away by rushing wind, quenched by warm rain. Loki briefly presses his fingers to his temples. He breathes deeply and lifts his gaze to Thor’s blood-smeared face. “I need that man,” he says mildly.
Thor frowns. “For what purpose?”
“For information on their next assault! He swore to reveal their strategy, and I to stay my hand!” He stops, adds as an afterthought, “For the moment, at least.”
“Why did you not say so?” Thor turns swiftly and tosses Stark over one shoulder, the human’s breath wheezing. “There are houses of healing here called hospitals, where he can be treated.”
“Go,” Loki commands. “I will persuade the other villains to turn from their course.” His heart beats very fast when Thor drops the hammer, smiling. His bro-- Thor reaches out to grab Loki’s neck with a hand that could crush and rend with ease. Loki bears the firm grip, warm fingers brushing the rim of his helmet, curling through rain-lashed hair to squeeze the vulnerable knob at the top of his spine. For a moment, he can’t meet those blue eyes, exuberant as a child’s, and as unquestioning of a brother’s love. Loki’s gaze falls to the stab wound he’d inflicted, only a trace of dried blood remaining on the torn edges of the armor.
“I have no doubt,” Thor assures him. “You and your silver tongue.” He shakes Loki like a boarhound, affectionate and rough. “I’ll find you as quickly as I can.” And he’s gone. Overhead, clouds shift and dissolve, and the storm with them, gliding eastward over the roof and away.
Loki breathes in the lingering scent of his brother, unchanged over a millennium of battles and adventures: familiar sweat, metal and leather, blood and occasional soap. Thor smells of himself, and of home.
Loki will never rule Asgard, never wanted to rule Asgard, but he was bred and born and raised to rule. He was a king. He will be again, even if only here. A young, wild man can become a wise king; Thor is now what Odin was, and Loki… Loki can lay the same claim to youthful indiscretion as his brother, can convince the mortals that he intends no harm.
The Tesseract sings to him, yearns for touch, for direction, and such power in the hands of the Chitauri’s master means ruin for the universe. More than that, it means that the creature who claimed to master Loki will continue to exist. Loki steps closer to the engine, noting clouds parting in the distance, the great beast no longer sounding its hunting cries, frantic shouts and weapons fire still rising thinly from the demolished streets below. He smells smoke even at this height.
The scepter glows and seems to pull against his fingers, straining closer to its progenitor. He will not be ruled; he will not bow down to expectations, not from Odin, from Thor, not from anyone. Loki follows no will but his own, and if he chooses to act the savior – to redeem the monster and pretend to humility and good will – then these humans will learn again to worship a god among them.
Loki can’t act until he has witnesses to sing praises of his deeds. He restlessly paces, annoyed by the scratching and crunching of gravel underfoot, forced to shorten his stride in the roof’s limited area, skirting Selvig’s contraptions thickly wired to the portal engine. Far above, he can almost see the lights of the waiting Chitauri vessels. Where now must he go, with the humans below in hiding, to be seen in turn? To show his reversal to as wide an audience--
A heavy blow from behind tumbles him over the roof’s side.
He grabs for the shallow ledge, desperately clinging with nails and fingers before his grip holds; another fall now might hurt him severely. A boot slams down on his clutching hands, forces a bark of pain before Loki heaves himself up and over the low sill.
His eyes widen with surprise, and then narrow at the sight of the female agent who’d so cleverly matched his game aboard the flying fortress. Dirt and blood stain her, but the fierce eyes are cold and calculating; admirable for one of her kind. She grants no quarter, dancing forward to aim kicks and punches in a whirlwind, in and out of reach like a buzzing gnat.
Loki grins, savors blood on his tongue where he’d bitten it in the fall. “Agent Romanoff,” he greets her, “What a delightful surprise. I hardly expected to see you alive again.” She backs off when he straightens, a little of his glamour returning: horned helmet gleaming, formal raiment clean, bruises and scrapes from the fight with Thor vanished. “I hope your death will prove as entertaining when Barton finds you again…if he survived the fall of your mighty fortress.”
Her eyes tighten around the corners. Her mouth crooks. Loki flares his senses wide and snatches at the air, ducks low and rolls toward the closest shield, one of Selvig’s devices. He cries out and jerks at the thick-shafted arrow suddenly protruding from his upper arm.
“Agent Barton is already here.” Her red-lipped smile bares teeth sharp as knives.
Recovered, then, is the first lucid thought, and the next is witnesses, convenient, followed quickly by a third that the agent so recently enthralled will hardly be considered a reliable chronicler of Loki’s good deeds. Loki breaks off the arrow’s end, then grits his teeth and shoves the embedded head forward through his arm. He casts it over the side of the building. Bloodflow will cleanse whatever poison Barton may have used. The falling boom raises his eyebrows; the archer is a clever creature with his doubled bolt.
The agents maneuver with the coordination of many years’ familiarity. Barton traverses from lowest ledge to highest, a slow, steady counterpoint to Romanoff’s feints and jabs - attempting to lure Loki from his flimsy shelter and distract him from Barton’s approach. He snarls, needing to implement his new plan with some speed before the Chitauri can investigate the delay in his signal. Although it would not hurt, perhaps, to allow another wave through, to gather the attention of even more humans to witness his dramatic entrance as an avenging deity.
His lip curls at the thought – his actions designed for the applause of mortals - but now is the time to act. A stiff thrust with the scepter knocks Romanoff away. Loki spares a sharp glance at Barton, notes minute shifts in eye direction, muscles bunching and releasing. A fast duck and roll puts Loki behind Romanoff, and Barton’s curse colors the air. Then the woman dives forward and casts a handful of – darts? tiny blades? – explosives, forcing Loki into an awkward leap backward. He drags his cape across his face and hears the lethal snapping concussions, heat washing over him. He has no time for this.
Sweeping the scepter outward, he throws a duplicate between the two, but does not waste power to transport himself; he rushes past them toward the engine under a glamour of nothing while the copy attacks. He can stop it all now, one push of the scepter through the energy barrier – but no one would see, and what then would be the point of all that he has done?
A motion to one side catches his eye; Selvig groaning and attempting to rise, trembling hands grasping at the wall beside him. Another unreliable human, and why should Loki have expected anything other than difficulties and obstacles put in his path?
“Loki, are you still here?” His brother drops down beside him, a heavy thump that vibrates through the structure beneath their feet. Loki closes his eyes and breathes deep with relief, lets the glamour drop; behind them, the duplicate vanishes as well. “Ah, there you are.” Thor frowns. “Why do you dawdle when battle awaits?”
“Thor, I need the leader of these two, the one with the shield. He is called Captain America; bring him to me, and we can end this.” He grabs his brother’s arm and watches as the humans exchange wary glances, wisely keeping their distance. Romanoff touches her ear, but Loki cannot hear the voice of the tiny device. “They refuse to listen to me, and the Chitauri have turned against us, so we must fight alone unless the Captain and his band agree to help us defend this city and this world.”
“The Captain fights below to aid the mortals trapped in the buildings, and has led the city’s guardians to help them, as well. His heart is true. Perhaps he and his people were misled?” Mjölnir thrums in Thor’s fist, held in abeyance while Thor works through his thoughts, eyes steady on Romanoff and Barton. “They may not be the villains we believed.”
Selvig stumbles into view. “Thor,” he cries, and Loki twitches, curls into a fist the hand still extended toward the SHIELD agents. “Thor, we have to stop it, we have to close the portal--”
“My friend,” Thor booms, and stares upward at the darkness revealed by the rip in Midgard’s sky. “My brother says these are allies here to protect Earth.” Doubt seeps into his voice, and he lowers it…for a given value of low. “Are you sure, Loki? I admit, I like neither the appearance nor actions of these Chitauri.”
Loki could laugh; instead he nods and lets doubt and consternation twist his features. “I fear you are right, and have feared so since first the Chitauri came through the gate. If their leader has lied, then our alliance has no strength and no base. I feel no remorse in renouncing it, if you also believe them to be false?”
Thor steps to the roof’s edge, stares downward at the waste below, smoke and flames and widely spread debris, vehicles tossed like pebbles, Chitauri sleds streaking at intervals to strafe the little clusters of humans still above ground.
“I do believe that, Brother.” His voice is grave, his eyes serious as they so rarely are. “I will bring the Captain of America here to make our alliance--” His grin suddenly returns, gaze brightening, “--and then we shall make war together!”
“Thor,” Loki forces himself to speak as his brother turns away. “I can close the gate.”
“Then do so at once!”
Loki shakes his head, unwilling to lose his last remaining chance. “The circumstances are not yet right—“
“Thor!” Romanoff’s voice strikes like a whip. “Thor, if you’re still in there, Fury says there is a nuclear missile heading straight for Manhattan.”
Loki and Thor both swing around, and Loki understands at once the implication. Thor’s golden brows pinch. “Do you know me, Lady?”
The agents glance at each other, Barton’s puzzlement matching Thor’s, his eyes squinting to stare at Thor’s face. “Not clouded,” he mutters to Romanoff. Behind them all, Selvig slumps back to the ground and slowly curls his knees to his chest, dropping his head onto folded arms as if he can no longer bear to face what comes – or what he has brought about.
Romanoff meets Loki’s gaze, then slides her eyes to his brother and forms a smile. Her posture softens, her expression grows warm, concerned and urgent all at once. “I do, Thor. We all do. We’re all here to save these people, isn’t that right?”
Thor seizes eagerly on that certainty. “Yes, Lady. If you also were fooled by the vile Chitauri, then let us join forces and drive them from your world!”
“Thor--” Loki can’t lose control of the situation, not now, not yet. “Thor, the missile--”
“Aye, I shall knock it from the sky, worry not,” Thor says absently, head turning to follow a Chitauri overflight. The creature stares at the small group below with unwavering attention. It bellows downward, but the words are swept away by speed and distance. Another pulls away from a passing barrage and loops to join the first. Loki’s allies may break with him before he breaks with them.
“NO!” Romanoff and Barton shout as one.
“Thor,” says Barton, “You bring that thing down over the city, it’s gonna destroy everything as far as we can see.” His bow snaps into his hand, but there is no target, and he rolls his other wrist in a restless circle, hand curling tight, uncurling, curling again. He cannot keep still, an agitated reflection of Romanoff’s motionless stance. One hand hovers at her ear, the other rests with fingers on the latch of the holster at her thigh.
“Loki,” she breathes, and looks at him with eyes calmer and cooler than his own. “Can you use your magic to stop the missile?”
Thor faces him, Mjölnir dropping to his side as the mortals’ distress mounts. “Loki, is this truly as dire as they say?”
“Truly,” he echoes, mouth dry. Can even such as they withstand this thing? “I cannot,” he admits to Romanoff. “I cannot stop it.”
“I can’t contact Stark,” she replies. Loki flinches. Her eyes snap to him.
“He was injured.” It was not Loki who struck the blow – but why should Romanoff’s disbelief matter to him? “Thor carried him to a hospital, I believe.”
Thor nods. “The man in armor? The healers there took him in right quickly. They spoke of cutting him free like a ‘tincan’.”
“We need to stop or divert the missile,” Romanoff says, eyelashes sweeping down to shutter whatever emotion she might harbor for Stark’s well-being. “We can’t let it detonate--”
Loki’s senses, augmented by the scepter’s power, find it at once. East of the city, it flies far too fast toward them: an energy potential bright and luring and repellant at once, its purpose bent now to death and destruction; a wolf-light to eat at the skin of the planet, leaving wounds to linger for an age or more on a world already scarred by its own murderous children.
A Chitauri sled screams past. Loki casts his gaze upward, and further. “Perfect,” he whispers. The others follow his gaze.
“How?” Barton asks, matter-of-fact, ready.
Romanoff looks at Loki, comprehension dark in her eyes. “We have less than five minutes and no air power.” She slides her glance toward Thor.
Loki turns abruptly away.
Thor is not, never will be clever. He is quick to anger and foolish with it. He is bold and brave, a warrior to thrill the heart of any maiden, and willing to throw himself to his death for glory and honor and acclaim.
Thor steps to Loki’s side, but stops at arms’ length, and his gaze is steadfast and forthright and aware. Odin’s son is not clever, and he is not in his right mind, but neither is he the witless oaf Loki has so easily and so often claimed.
He meets Loki’s eyes and then blinks hard, left hand falling to the stab entrance in his armor. Thor staggers back a step, raises both hands to run fingertips over his head. His pupils dilate until only the thinnest rims of blue show. They shrink to pinpoints; Thor groans and bends and clutches his skull, hunching wide shoulders. Dirty fingers clench on clumps of matted hair. Dread chills Loki’s skin and he turns away, does not want to face what will follow. He is not yet strong enough to fight or easily flee Thor’s rage.
Then Thor’s hands grab Loki, binding his wrists, climbing higher, digging deep into his forearms, forcing him back around. The golden head slowly rises until it is Thor, Thor of now and yesterday and all their centuries together. He stares at Loki with blazing eyes the color of lightning-split sky. Mjölnir hums where it fell.
Thor’s mouth twists down. His hands are warm and eternally strong where they hold Loki, grip loosening only a little. Loki cannot take his eyes away from his brother.
Romanoff and Barton, approaching and calling out, are nothing. But Thor looks around, and Loki remembers what draws near to doom them all. Thor nods at the mortals once, sharply. “I am myself,” he tells them, and turns back to Loki.
“I will return,” he declares, but the doubt he tries to hide is no secret from Loki. Anger colors his voice, and sorrow, and regret… and fear. And even in his wrath and his promise – whether for vengeance or the justice of Asgard or to merely beat Loki until he cannot even try to escape - he is kind in his strength, because Loki’s knees feel as if they might buckle without Thor’s firm hold, hard fingers curving tight and squeezing his flesh once, twice in what unspoken comfort he may receive. “And then… we will talk.”
“Now,” Thor says, and the anger is gone, put aside in the face of a battle to be won and celebrated. He laughs, because that is what Odin’s son does in defiance of all foes, any danger great or small. “Show me the way to this device I must bear away yon.”
Loki nods, his stomach tight, his tongue silent and still. A slight twist of his fingers spins a bright spark of color, the crimson of Thor's cape. He casts it outward with a small flick of his wrist, arms still firmly shackled by Thor’s hands. “Follow it,” he instructs, voice hoarse as if he were not the Silvertongue of Asgard. He neither shakes nor tenses in Thor’s grasp; his bones feel limp under cold flesh. “Stray not beyond the portal, Thor. There are things… There are creatures in the void you do not wish to meet.”
Thor sobers again for an instant. Caution and concern (even now) flit over features made to smile and laugh. “I shall heed your warning, brother of mine, but do not let it go to your head!” His hands drop. The spark shoots away. Thor calls Mjölnir to him, flings a white, wide grin and throws himself into a sky grown cloudless and blue as forget-me-nots.
Loki stares until he can see him no more; his mind spins like a leaf in a maelstrom. Thor could die. Odin would never forgive him for sending his true-born son to his death. Frigga might, but Loki cannot bear the thought of her pity any more than the anticipation of Odin’s fury. Asgard would bar itself against Loki Kinslayer for all eternity.
He could be free.
Asgard never wanted Loki, and he does not need that place or its people. It is not his. It never was. Vanaheimr and Álfheimr remain open to him, as do the other realms, save Jötunheimr, as if ever he would desire to visit that birthplace of monsters and child-abandoners; Earth - he is suddenly sick of this planet teeming with weak and ignorant beings, none of them worth even his slightest whim to rule.
None of them are worth the great Thor's life, no matter the songs that would be sung, the days and nights the fallen hero would spend in Valhalla, battling and feasting with the Einherjar and Valkyries, awaiting joyful reunion with friends and family…
brother of mine
In Valhalla, Thor would wait for Loki, as well. Loki knows this, as surely as he knows Thor has never lied to him, too stupid to ever do so, too trusting where none was deserved, too arrogantly certain that his brother will ever be at his side for every quest and adventure and battle unto Ragnorök itself. Thor lives by the sentiment Loki despises.
Thor is a thorn in Loki’s heart of which he will never be free.
Even if his brother burns over the skies of Midgard, his memory will cling and stifle and harry Loki, in bitter chorus with the crushed remnant of Loki’s own heart.
The two before him watch with calculating eyes, weapons half-raised now that Thor has gone. Barton’s fingers tighten around the bow.
“What’s your game, Loki?” Romanoff shifts her stance, restless now that the three of them have been left behind.
“Oh, I have games the likes of which you could not imagine.” Loki’s plans must alter again, for the gateway now needs to remain open long enough to receive the missile. And unfortunately, he expects that at any second--
Beams of energy spear down. The roof is exposed, and while the barrier around the engine is impenetrable, it is not large enough to shelter them from the Chitauri attack. Loki fires back with the scepter, and the SHIELD agents tumble and whirl from the strafing fire until they somehow are at his back. Romanoff shoots, and Barton pulls and releases arrow after arrow with the fluid precision of a dwarven automaton. The three of them form points of a defensive triangle.
Selvig scrambles across the roof toward them, alive again to danger, and more spry in his terror than he’d been while enthralled by the ‘truth’ of the Tesseract. Romanoff lays down covering fire until the old mortal half-falls among them.
Loki laughs as he fights, because this is irony, this is worthy of the God of Mischief: that the humans he would kill, and who would kill him, now fight at his side to save a world he has vowed to rule.
And there are no witnesses save themselves.
No one to see Loki acting the hero that Thor is by right, while once again, as ever, Thor will be the one to win acclaim, when the eyes over the heavens of Earth record his triumph.
The bitterness is familiar in Loki’s mouth, but is not the cap to this farce. It seems all the remaining Chitauri have arrived at Stark’s tower. Loki laughs again and discharges bolt after killing bolt as fast as he can, his blood fired with the thrill of combat as it never has been save when he fought at his brother’s side or sparred with him, or battled Thor magic to Mjölnir, princes of the realm at play or at war.
A blue and red blur streaks past, bringing down two Chitauri sleds at once.
“Captain!” Barton calls out. The blue-suited figure bounds over, helm gone and blond hair flattened to his skull. His shield is most welcome, strikes against it sheering off, although he shudders against each impact and now uses both arms to swing it as fast as he might over them. Loki receives a wary stare, but is too occupied with defense to give further attention to the soldier as the mortals chatter at one another.
Up above, the dark clouds surrounding the portal roil. Where is Thor? Craning his head around, Loki searches for him. He hears Romanoff’s voice dimly through the firefight.
“Two minutes, guys!” She catches sight of Loki’s upward stare, and sees what he does. Another armored Leviathan has begun to enter Midgard.
“Can you stop them?” she asks.
His lips curl back into a sneer at the weary skepticism in her face, her voice. And then his pride shrinks back, because, no, he cannot. He has spent too much of himself and has so little left, and the great fall sapped even that, though Thor had absorbed the greater blow. Even Æsir do not heal at once. Or Jötnar, whispers the treacherous voice inside.
“I can,” he says instead, “if you are willing to let your nuclear missile detonate on this side of the portal.” He hefts the scepter in his hand, and unexpectedly, Selvig’s voice confirms his thought.
“Yes, she can’t fight against herself…” The scientist huddles behind Rogers, leaning on the proffered arm. “Where is Thor?”
“Trying to divert a nuclear missile, Dr. Selvig. In one minute, we’ll know if it worked. One way or another.” Romanoff spins on one knee and fires past Loki’s head; she smirks at his expression.
A dead Chitauri drops down on Loki, and he tosses it away, only to find himself grabbed and squeezed in crushing green arms. “NO—nggh!”
“No! Hulk, don’t smash!”
“Not yet, anyway.”
“Put him down, Banner! Just put him down, okay?”
The Hulk’s brows pinch together. He growls, squeezes harder, and then throws Loki face-first into the gravel and stomps away, roaring displeasure. He leaps up to grab a Chitauri sled from the sky.
“Is he still alive?”
“Do we really care?”
“I could put an arrow through his eye right now.” Meditative, that, lacking even the slightly jesting spirit of the earlier exchange.
“I am alive, Barton, and you should know that Thor would very much make his feelings known should you harm his beloved brother.” Groaning, Loki crawls to his knees, breathes deeply and gets to his feet. The aches and bruises from the battle and the fall already wear at him, joined now by those forming from Thor’s loving grip and the monster’s unfond embrace. Were he at full strength, a few hours of rest would restore him fully, even the now-sluggishly bleeding hole through his arm. But he is not, and suspects that days or weeks will be required instead. If Thor will listen, if Loki can gain his sympathy, his brother will protect him for as long as it takes. He bares his teeth at his former thrall. “I speak only for your benefit, of course, since I would certainly no longer care.”
Something screams up the side of the tower, and they all spin to follow the bizarre sight speeding past: Thor wrapped full-body around a white tube, his cape fluttering behind dangerously near its fiery tail. He is gone in seconds, only a dot of color against the sky, and then is lost against the darkness of the clouds boiling around the portal, where the descending Leviathan has been followed by another. The first one suddenly jerks and releases a discordant wail. Its body flips in mid-air. Open-mouthed, Loki watches it begin to rapidly ascend until it slams into the second.
Pride kindles in his breast, unexpected and nostalgic; Thor is magnificent, and Loki’s envy has never precluded honest assessment of Thor’s colossal strength and skill in combat. Asgard does not rank him as its premier warrior without cause.
And now both beasts rise, and the specks of Chitauri are firing into their own ranks, attempting to stop Thor as he continues up and up… until the beasts are gone, until black and starred space beyond gapes, and then a radiance brighter than any lightning glares down through the portal.
“Don’t look,” Romanoff shouts. The others turn their faces downward and Loki bows to the mortals’ greater familiarity with their own weapons. Light flashes over the city, a year of daybreaks in an instant. All around them, the Chitauri drop in their tracks, sleds veering into wild descents, weapons falling from strengthless or dead hands. Vehicles and riders crash into the sides of buildings, slam into the ground far below; metal tears and scrapes against stone and glass.
Loki waits as long as he can, before unwanted anxiety lifts his head; the light has faded, but where is Thor?
“Close the portal,” Rogers commands, sorrow in his voice. Loki stares, strains his eyes for a speck of red. Romanoff watches him, undoubtedly searching for weak spots, but Loki acknowledges none. Her attention diverts to her earpiece for an instant, before her gaze flits beyond the roof to take in the destruction wrought by the Chitauri.
“We’ve got to close the portal,” Romanoff tells Loki, voice soft as it was at the glass prison aboard the flying fortress – as if – as if she pities-- “There may be more of them.”
“I see him!” Barton stretches out his arm and his bow with it, guiding all their eyes to the distant, slow-falling object at the roof of the sky.
It breaks in two, and the smaller piece draws somewhat apart. The larger tumbles uncontrolled.
“Thor!” Loki thoughtlessly, unintentionally cries the name aloud, then freezes. It is here, it is now, the choice that has been his all along, and at this instant, he stands over a chasm of ice and stone that will numb and surround him for the remainder of his immortal span. He can catch hold of the hand that Thor has never withdrawn - suffer Thor’s wrath, the All-Father’s disappointment and Frigga’s tears. Immortal, to suffer such punishment as Odin will dictate in return for Loki’s actions, and to recover, in time. To forgive them for the lies, is that not possible in an eternity? To accept his mother’s embrace, his brother’s rough love, his father’s stern hand on his shoulder, and know that they cleave to him still?
Or let Thor fall. All he need do is nothing. Pierce the barrier with the scepter while the humans are distracted, take the Tesseract and flee to recover his strength, lick his wounds like an animal in some hole, never to be seen in any world as anything other than a wretched outcast of the Realm Eternal.
Loki Noonesson, then; Loki killed his blood father, and cannot bear to claim Odinson as his own; not now, perhaps never again.
His fingers are white-knuckled on the scepter and he notices at last that Romanoff is attempting to tug it free. “--to close the portal now, damn you, Loki!”
Thor is still falling, and the Hulk has returned, and the others are staring like lost souls. The Hulk leaps. Loki falters, for if the beast can save Thor, then Loki need decide nothing; he will remain free of responsibility or blame.
But the Hulk falls short.
With an angry bellow, the monster catches himself with a punishing slide down the tapered building across the way from Stark’s tower. Loki scarcely notes it.
Loki drops the scepter. He drops it without a thought, though his palm aches, fingers curling, yearning for its cool metal, perfect and fit for his hand alone. Loki reaches inside of himself for the last of his strength. It coils cold and bright as ice. This is not the magic he learned in his youth, and it is nothing he discovered among the creatures of the void, or from the Chitauri. It is alien and it is deep, and he now knows what it is.
“Stand back,” he warns, and draws the Casket of Ancient Winters from its hiding place. His skin fades from library-pale to the blue of winter, of dark lakes frozen and deadly. He concentrates and sends out his will.
Ice forms all along the roof. It builds and builds and curves upward in a sliding spiral, glorious blue-white sculpture anchored on a massive scale, descending in equal abundance to coat the curving side of the tower as far as the eye can see. Loki’s skin begins to burn, lines of pain over his shoulders and descending, but his fingers are too tightly clenched to release the Casket. The ice growth slows. Thor falls closer. Wind shrills behind him, a near-whistle from the speed of his passage, and the cape tears away and flutters out of sight.
Loki flares his fingertips to widen the scope of the reaching, curving funneled lip. He flicks one wrist and snow packs the top, and even so, Thor hits with the sound of cracking stone. The ice shudders, fractures. It breaks, and Loki lurches against the high ledge, arms outstretched. The Casket sings in his mind and forces ice into his blood, coats his fingertips as he wills more and more toward Thor’s body - dropping away from the fragmented, falling lip.
The unbroken portions of the tower’s glass walls shiver and resonate in high-pitched tones when Loki casts layer after layer more of ice upon them, enclosing the entirety of the upper floors in a gleaming white crust. The air Loki breathes rasps dry and chill into his lungs; creating ice and snow so swiftly and so massively has leached away the moisture of the storm. He sways in place. He has never used this power for such duration, such immensity.
Hands prop him up and he doesn’t look to see who. He thrusts the Casket forward and sets a second wide-lipped bowl of ice below Thor, breaks the rim of the existing spiral and forces a channel to it on a sharp slant before Thor can break through again. He clumps snow into the winding curves, soft and clinging, to impede descent. Loki’s eyes fix on his brother’s limp body, the terrifyingly swift slide through the turns designed to gentle Thor’s fall. Loki forces more snow to mass at closer intervals, and each time Thor slams into a drift, it fractionally slows his headlong skid.
And then he is on the final curve, still too fast, Loki’s cloak stirring with the sharp breeze when Thor hurtles by. Loki dazedly watches, standing just enough to one side to avoid being flattened when the slide dumps Thor onto the iced roof, sends him slewing across. He smashes sideways into the de-activated engine and knocks it over the low ledge. Thor himself is saved from following it only by a quick-risen block of gravel-filled ice.
He blinks again when Tony Stark rises up like a battered vision of the damned, dragging the half-crushed engine behind him. He drops it clattering to the roof. “You’re cleaning up the mess,” Stark says, but the levity is flat, forced. His naked face bears no love for Loki, and the dark, clear eyes would pin him in place like daggers if Loki were other than a god, or bore regard for the dignity of ants.
The commotion of the other Avengers draws Loki’s attention; his thoughts scatter under the assault of noise and confusion, too many bodies blocking Thor from his sight. Hands the size of a Frost Giant’s close around his shoulders, engulf him chest-to-back. He is exhausted, far too tired to fight.
The Casket he hides away with slow and clumsy gestures. The grotesque blue of his skin, the markings both old and new do not fade. Disgust roils with fear in his gut, that they may not. The world around him suddenly seems garish, almost painful to eyes which, Loki realizes, must be red as blood, bred for a world of perpetual half-light. His very bones ache, feel stripped of magic, the horror within him turned out for all to see.
The Hulk pushes him forward. Loki doesn’t resist. And when the mortals part around Thor, it is the slack features, the closed eyes that Loki cannot look away from. He twists in the monster’s grip, struggling to step closer. He is allowed to do so, and crouches down; might fall if not for the Hulk’s hold on him. “Thor?”
His brother’s eyes open, sticky and slow, clumped with melting snow. Rivulets of water trickle down tangled hair, dark with dried blood.
“Loki,” mumbled with a shake of the head, a wince. Loki’s mind goes blank. Thor catches a good look at him, blue and alien, an enemy of Asgard, immobile and at Thor’s mercy. Thor’s eyes darken; he stares. Then, an arm slowly lifting, fingers light and warm on the newly-lined skin of Loki’s hand, “Brother, did we win?”
And Loki laughs until his breath flees; and takes Thor’s forearms and clasps them tight against his own.
The ice outside will be melting for days yet, but Thor bashed it away from the outer walls of Stark’s living quarters with ease. Inside, the evening sun glows like fire across the shards of ice and glass on the floor, bathes the wide room in gold and crimson bands, slowly fading. Thor and Loki sit alone, face to face in two well-padded chairs among the wreckage. Loki’s still-blue hands rest on his knees, the chain dangling between from cuffs enchanted to resist spellwork. There are other devices Thor has brought, but not yet revealed, all with the purpose of returning Loki to Asgard to face Odin All-Father’s justice. The mortals have departed at Thor’s request, not without great trepidation on their part, to leave the brothers in privacy.
“I will not go,” he informs Thor, flatly. What sentiment rose up in the heat of the moment is no longer welcome, the comforting lies of family and home. Loki remains alone. Apart, as he has always been in truth. His very skin proclaims it, Jötunn-blue and marked with barbaric lines of unknown meaning.
Thor sighs. “There is no need to return at once.” Eyes clear and crisp as the sky above meet Loki’s without apparent revulsion. “Now that the Tesseract is secure, we may use it at our leisure.”
“Our leisure?” Loki raises his bound hands, lifts his eyebrows. “I did not realize that as your prisoner, I had a voice in the decision.” He settles backward into a careless sprawl, ignoring the twinges and stings of abused flesh and bone. “In that case, I say never.” Wind moans through the broken wall, its chill this high unexpectedly welcome.
“Loki,” Thor begins. He rubs a hand through his filthy beard. “Your magic is exhausted. You are ill, my brother, and your mind has turned against all who love you.” Thor draws closer, leaning forward. “Do you prefer to remain here to face mortal justice?”
“Why not? We both know they can do nothing to hold me.” He ignores Thor’s glance at the cuffs.
“If you flee, where will you go? The Chitauri will find you wherever you are.” Thor grabs the chain and jerks lightly until Loki straightens. “What bargain you made with that dreadful race has soured, and with this defeat, they will not look upon you kindly.” His nostrils flare, eyes narrowing. “Do not think I forgive you for bringing them here solely to spite me.”
“Why do these mortals matter to you?” Loki sees nothing to love on Midgard, its people small and petty and cruel as any other, and considerably more arrogant in their ignorance, to think they can discover and claim as achievement what all other races have known for millennia. “Even this generation will pass in half a hundred years. Will you befriend their children, their grand-children? Track their lineages like kennel hounds?” He sneers. “Will you stay here for a human lifetime and breed halfling gods upon your woman?”
Thor’s hands that can crush granite wrap around Loki’s, tight and inescapable. “If they are so beneath notice, then why claim Earth for a kingdom? You did this for no other reason than to hurt me, Loki, and you have succeeded.”
Loki looks away. “I was King, Thor. I should be King, but you will have Asgard. What other realm lies so defenseless that I can claim?”
“You told me that you never wanted to be king.” Thor reaches up with one hand and turns Loki’s face back toward him. “You wanted to be my equal, you said, but that has nothing to do with being king or not.” His face is solemn, his words heavy and slow. “It has nothing to do with Midgard or Jötunheimr, but only with our home, and what occurred there. Brother, it is unworthy of a prince of Asgard to carry war to the innocent.”
“You say that?” Loki jerks free. “After Jötunheimr--”
“We are at war with Jötunheimr, Loki.” Thor’s lips tighten. “Because of what I did, yes, and what you did, the armies of Asgard are preparing to march. Our father has tried to renew the treaty, but there is no king now that Laufey is gone, and the generals of Jötunheimr can agree on no accord with each other save one – war. They have allied with Múspellsheimr to use their roads to reach Asgard, while we have none without the Bifrost save those secret routes you know of, which are not fit to carry our numbers. And their purpose is simple, my brother – they call for the death of the son of Odin, Loki Kingslayer, Loki World-Breaker.
“Not Loki Kinslayer?” His heart pounds in his chest, and he forces calm into his voice, a casual malice to gain him time to think – he did not know.
The Jötnar have shown the will to hunt their prey across the nine realms, and bring a cold hell of war with them. Should they breach Midgard’s walls, the Chitauri’s leader could well use such chaos to find and punish Loki for his betrayal.
He will make you long for something sweet as pain. That barely-glimpsed figure had stood always aloof, massive, radiating near-endless power. Even the alien lights of the Chitauri seemed unable to illuminate more than the outline of his cloak, those times he had come to see them at their work, after Loki had fallen into their hands.
Hard knuckles rapping his bring Loki back, and he sees in his brother’s face that he has failed utterly to conceal his terror.
Thor scowls and rumbles, and thunder bursts overhead. “Laufey may have fathered you, but our father raised you, our mother. We are your family, you have no other, and if I could pound that through your stone skull, I would lift Mjölnir and do so this instant!”
“You have tried before,” Loki points out coolly, and with iron will locks unwelcome memories away. Thor snarls, throws himself to his feet to pace. “I suppose it has not occurred to you, given all you have told me, that your father sent you to bring me back in order to deliver me to the Frost Giants?”
“That is their price to avert war, did you not say?”
“LOKI!” And this time Thor does pull Mjölnir from his belt, and Loki throws himself from the chair and toward the great gap in the glass wall. The hammer fells him halfway there, a glancing blow before returning to Thor's hand. Loki gasps and curls around emptied lungs, sucking in breath after breath. He drags himself to his knees, limbs stirring piles of tinkling, glittering fragments puddled with rain.
“You drive me to madness,” Thor shouts. He kicks the chairs aside, tosses the low table one-handed into the far wall. He snarls and picks up one of the overturned chairs, then throws it over Loki’s head to sail out through one of the few unbroken panes. That seems to do the trick; Thor stands there in the center of the wreckage and breathes like an ox, fists clenching and opening by turn until he huffs out a long sigh and crunches heavily closer.
“I have made my decision,” he finally says, crouching beside Loki. “If you will not believe my words, then believe what I do instead.” He drags Loki upward with a hand at his throat, tosses him backward to collapse with a sliding thud against the side of the chair so recently fled. The chair skids backward. Thor picks it up to set it upright, plucks up Loki from the floor, and drops him in the chair.
“My pledge to this world must be fulfilled, as must my duties to Asgard.” Thor glares down at him; Loki stares back, unimpressed. “You will remain here, Brother, and you will serve in my place.” Blue eyes gleam with sudden humor, and as quickly harden. “Consider it wergild for those who have died from your scheming.”
Loki gapes, then scowls. “I will do no such thing, Thor. I would rather go to the Jötnar than remain here as a prisoner.” His nails drive into his palms.
“You are a prisoner by your own actions. Your crimes cannot go unanswered here or on Asgard.” Thor shakes his head. “Is death truly preferable to life? Do you hate us all so much that you would punish us in that way?” He looks away, eyes downcast, and his chest heaves while his arms dangle at his sides, useless in a battle of words. “Would that I had seen your pain sooner, my brother, and spared us all your wrath.”
“You will remain here, without the Tesseract, without your magic. You will serve as Asgard’s envoy, Loki Prince of Asgard, and you will repair the damage you have done here.”
“Our father granted me the authority to treat thus with the mortals, and they will abide by this condition, Loki.” Thor softens his voice, approaches close enough that Loki can feel the heat he throws off. “Their justice would be far harsher without the might of Asgard to protect you.”
“Protect me? The Chitauri—“
“Are far from here. The stars I saw in that other place were none that I have seen from this world or any other. That gives us time, Brother. Once the Jötnar have been defeated, and peace restored, I will return for you. You are banned from leaving; all roads are closed to you; our father has seen to it.”
Thor hunkers down and stares hard at Loki, hands coming to rest on Loki’s knees. “These mortals are as mayflies, but worthy nonetheless, should you allow yourself to know them. Abide here, work with these my friends and allies, and perhaps you will find peace for yourself as well.” Thor’s eyes are blue and sad and warm and so hopeful. “I will return, and you will see that we are not false.”
Loki bites his tongue to prevent the next barbed words, so easy to cast out and impossible to retrieve. Without magic, even had Odin not closed the routes (unless he has missed one – Loki tucks the thought close, holding to hope against the certainty of Odin’s far-seeing gaze), Loki cannot reach them, can neither walk through shadow nor call for aid from any whose favor he might retain. Without magic, he remains a god, safe from most dangers of this world, but not invulnerable. Thor means to leave him at the mercy of those he fought, in view of those he attacked. Thor means to humble him in the guise of saving him, to humiliate him as Thor himself was humiliated by Loki’s intent on Asgard.
Loki’s thoughts circle, venomous and sharp; he examines his brother’s tired and hopeful expression and considers how easy it would be to reject all he has said, all he hopes for, all the heart that shines transparently through shadowed blue eyes.
He thinks of the mortals, of living trapped among them until Thor comes to fetch him home like a disobedient cur. The Chitauri will come; their master forgets no slight, no failure, and certainly no betrayal. Loki trusts the memory of pain more than his brother’s astronomy. And when the Chitauri launch their assault, Thor would come to protect his favored realm (and Loki, points out the small voice he hates). Thor and the mortals defeated them once; it is not impossible they could do so again – and if Loki has gained enough trust to be freed of magical constraints, then he could bring to bear his own considerable power.
There are many paths to the future, and while Thor travels always straight ahead, rarely looking to the side, Loki sees the many forks and possibilities and must choose, choose carefully – when he has the time and freedom to do so.
“If I refuse,” he ventures, “and come to Asgard instead, would I be allowed to fight against the Jötnar? Or would our people prefer to throw me, one of the enemy, to them?”
Thor shakes his head fiercely, but Thor is biased. “You are a prince of Asgard, an Odinson, no matter your actions or lineage! None would dare suggest we surrender you to avoid war, even did the whole of Asgard know your origin!”
Loki feels a surge of irritation at Thor’s blindness to all but what he wants to see. “Do I look like an Odinson?!” he demands, thrusting his hands before his brother’s eyes. He grabs Thor’s wrist and wills frost to form, to burn the evidence of Loki’s monstrosity into him without any room for doubt.
Thor yelps and jerks away. Both of them stare down, astonished. Loki snaps his fingers for the simplest charm he knows, a tiny flame, a flicker of light – and nothing happens. Thor gingerly rubs the flesh of his wrist, where a fumbled ring of finger-shaped burns darken the skin.
“These restraints prevent only Asgardian magic,” Loki muses, and opens a palm, wincing as the crescents sliced into his skin sting. He thinks of ice to soothe the injuries, and a little rough mound rises up to cover them.
Thor leans in close, fascinated as always by Loki’s flashier tricks. “It seems you will not be so helpless as you fear, Brother.”
“I am not afraid!”
“Stop lying, Loki.” Thor unfolds to his full height. “You do fear, and dread, but to no purpose. There is honor here, and friendship to be had, if you will only reach out with honest intent.” He crosses his arms, stern and straight-backed and firm in resolve. “It will be hard for you, but you deserve that no less than the respect you will regain with your good work.”
Loki looks up at him, hands hanging limp between his knees. He feels a myriad of emotions, rage chasing terror, loathing for what Thor would have him do, confusion that still, still, after all that has happened, this stupid longing gnaws at him, to gain acceptance and trust from those who continually, falsely claim to accept him.
“No, Loki,” Odin had said, the last words heard from the man he had called Father, rejecting his offering, rejecting him.
“Loki, no,” he hears from Thor, over and over, limiting and controlling him and loving him without regard for what Loki wants or needs.
sweet as pain, from the ones who caught him in his fall, and offered him dominion for the price of all the realms.
Loki rises to his feet. He stands eye to eye with Thor, reads the open face and clear eyes with the ease of long familiarity, glances down at the latest wound he has inflicted.
“I’ve hurt you,” he says.
“Yes.” Quiet, flat.
“You are weary, and so am I.”
“Yes, Brother, I am.” Thor is wary, Thor watches him as if he might stab him once again - or vanish away.
“If I do as you ask,” he begins, voice low in his throat. And that is what it would be, not compliance to Thor’s command, but Loki’s choice, always and forever. There are other ways by which he might escape this dull sphere, allies he might take in his confinement. “This will serve as recompense for Earth alone, or Jötunheimr as well?”
“What you do here, you do for here,” Thor says firmly. “Worry not about Jötunheimr.” He pats Mjölnir, and Loki rolls his eyes. “We shall handle the Frost Giants and end this war quickly. But,” Thor hesitates. “We do not seek to destroy them.” Does he honestly think this is a concern Loki harbors? “Mother intends to send aid to their injured, afterward. She says once the Bifrost is repaired, Jötunn ambassadors will be allowed to visit Asgard, to begin to mend the breach between our races.” Thor looks suddenly at Loki, a thought visibly coming to the fore. “Father told us as children that we were both born to rule.”
Loki’s mouth splits wide in an ugly grin. “So it has finally come to you, has it? Odin’s purpose in bringing home a castoff Jötunn runt?”
“Perhaps, but that does not lessen the life we lived together, Brother.” Thor worries at it like a bone, the same as he has ever been. “And if that is Father’s purpose still, when we win this war, would you accept a crown over those you sought to destroy? Be my brother, and a king?” His eyes brighten with some overly cheerful vision of the future. “We could bring our realms into true accord at last.” Thor meets Loki’s gaze. “You have their Casket.”
“You could heal their world, Loki, bring back the glory they once possessed.”
“I do not want to go there,” Loki shakes his head, words like sand and dust in his mouth. “I want nothing to do with those monsters, Thor, and nothing will ever persuade me otherwise.”
His brother starts to reach out, then thinks better of it. “Then you need not. Only stay here, willingly, and do what you can to restore Asgard’s honor in the eyes of those who believe us bilgesnipes and murderers, come to destroy their world.”
Loki breathes deep, holds Thor’s gaze. He lifts up his bound hands, the chain drooping between. “Free me, and I will abide here.”
Thor catches his wrists and laughs. “You think me thick, but I am not that thick. These cuffs may not be removed save by Odin’s will, so think not to swear false and escape.” Thor’s fingers twist on the chain binding Loki’s wrists and simply breaks the link nearest each cuff, leaving the attachment ring, “in case of need,” he points out in unsubtle warning.
Loki spreads his arms wide and bows his head in feigned subservience, noting the frown that briefly appears on Thor’s face. He raises his head with a mocking grin. “Shall we seal it with a kiss, Brother?”
And Thor laughs, and reaches for Loki to embrace him with all his strength, and kisses Loki’s forehead as he’d done when they were children, ignorant of the world and of what the future held. Thor’s body is a solid buffer, his arms warm and supporting, and for the briefest moment, Loki’s eyes grow hot; he wants to return the affection, wants to be the man Thor believes him to be beneath the rage and madness.
For a time, he can try.