Millions of stars were glowing in the darkness of the universe, silent watchers of the past, many of them already dead.
Did they know that they were watched too?
Thor was standing in front of the big window. Maybe he thought about the losses of the past days, maybe he thought about his people’s future. Loki was not able to tell, as he was approaching his brother and came to stop right next to him, his eyes following Thor’s gaze as if he tried to see what the God of Thunder might have spotted.
But there were only stars.
Loki didn’t know what to say. If to say anything at all. They had not spoken for several hours, they had needed some time to understand what had happened.
Asgard was no more.
Their home was lost. Forever.
But at least, their kind would live on.
Well, Thor’s kind would live on. Loki had no real kind. Of course, he had been born a Jotun but raised an Asgardian. But this only meant that he was neither a real Frost Giant nor a real God.
So, had Asgard really been his home?
Yes. It had been. This was more than clear. Loki had known the moment he had looked back after escaping Surtur and witnessed the destruction. He had known the moment he had felt this incredible pain. And now, they were refugees, searching for a new home, a place, where the people of Asgard could continue their lives in peace.
But as it came to the decision, as Thor had made his decision, Loki had already known that he would not find a place there, so actually, he had to speak.
“Do you really think, it’s a good idea to go back to Earth?” he raised his voice.
“Yes, of course,” Thor answered, “people of Earth love me, I’m very popular.”
“Let me rephrase that,” Loki tried again. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to bring me back to Earth?”
The last time, the God of Mischief had been there, he had caused some destruction, and so he was sure that the Midgardians would not give him a warm welcome.
“Probably not, to be honest,” admitted the king, and as he saw Loki’s expression, he added, “I wouldn’t worry, brother. I feel like everything’s gonna work out fine.”
This statement made Loki smirk. Thor was always convinced that all would turn out to be good at the end. It was the rest of the protected child, which the God of Thunder had managed to stay on the inside over the hundreds of years.
Loki was not that sure. They would not welcome him on Earth. Plus, Loki did not know, where to go, in general. For some years, he had been protected by the fact that everyone had considered him dead, he had been able to live safely in the shape of Odin. But now, he was exposed, he officially lived on.
And there would be one being that would be very happy to hear that. And Loki was not fund at all to see him ever again, to be of his mercy ever again.
Just the moment, he had this thought, the stars stopped to shine, darkness took the view, and then, there were some new lights.
It was a lot bigger than the Asgardians’ ark.
Thor was staring at this new ship, waiting on them to get in contact, but Loki already had a suspicion on who was it. His throat tightened.
He had seen this ship before.
Suddenly, the cube, he had attached to his belt and covered with an illusion, seemed to gain a lot of weight. And so did his heart, while the fear, rising in him, became overwhelming.
How did he find him that fast?
Loki closed his eyes for a moment, trying to hold a neutral expression on his face. And he prayed to be wrong.
Time passed, the seconds felt like hours, and soon the first Asgardians joined them, concerned about the visitor.
“Who is that?” Valkyrie asked.
“I don’t know,” Thor answered. “But I’m sure, they will reveal themselves soon. Obviously, they want something from us, otherwise they would have already passed or attacked.”
The king should be right, not much later, the communication screen alighted, and the hologram of a face appeared. A face with a brutal expression and purple skin with eyes dark and without any sign of mercy.
“Thanos,” Thor noticed, and Loki bit his tongue.
He had so hoped to be wrong.
“What do you want?” Thor continued as the titan didn’t speak.
“Are you the leader of this… pathetic heap?” Thanos finally spoke and shivers ran down Loki’s spine.
He had so hoped to never hear this voice again. Surely, he was no coward, there weren’t many beings the trickster feared. But Thanos had become the one, Loki feared the most. The titan had been his host for some months, after Loki had fallen from the Bifrost.
But those months had felt like millennia for the prince. Millennia of fear, millennia of torture, because Thanos was not exactly known for being a nice host. He had poisoned Loki’s mind, his thoughts, while giving him a taste of the pain, they were able to make him endure in case of failure.
Of course, Loki had desired a throne, had desired to proof himself a worthy king, which had been the only reason, Thanos had allowed him to continue to live.
For a long time, Loki had tried to convince himself from a fact, he had managed to fool everyone else into believing; that he had made a deal with the titan. Voluntarily.
But this was not the truth. The truth was that he had not seen another way to escape the titan, who, being the sadist, he was, had really enjoyed watching Loki suffer. The God still didn’t know how he had managed to talk Thanos into the desperate deal, Loki had come up with, as he had overheard one of Thanos’s spies reporting to the titan that the Tesseract had been found on Earth. He had offered to get the cube for Thanos, simultaneously taking over the world and kill many, in exchange for his life and freedom.
But Loki had failed, not only hadn’t he handed the Tesseract to the titan but also lost the sceptre, so, according to the deal, his life was at Thanos’s hands.
His brother’s voice pulled the trickster out of his thinking, “Yes, I am Thor, Odinson, king of Asgard. What do you want?”
“Well,” The titan’s eyes wandered over the assembled Asgardians, remaining a moment longer on Loki, “Asgard had been home to an artefact, I really long for to possess, for some time. The Tesseract. I demand you to hand it to me, and I will allow the last of your kind to continue living.”
“We don’t have the cube,” Thor returned. “No one took it. Maybe it was destroyed as Surtur destroyed our planet.”
“Fool!” Thanos spit out. “The Tesseract can’t be destroyed, not by a minor creature like Surtur. And since it had not been among the ruins of Asgard, someone must have taken it. So, for the last time, I command you to hand it to me!”
Should he step forward and present the cube?
Something kept him from doing so. Thanos must never get all the infinity gems. And due to one of them being hidden inside the Tesseract, Loki felt like protecting the cube from the titan.
“We don’t have it!” Thor insisted, and sadly, he did not know better. He was convinced that his words were true.
“Well, then I don’t have any further use of you,” the titan spoke, and the hologram disappeared, and every soul on the ship knew that this would be their last moments to live.
“Everyone to the emergency shuttles!” Thor immediately commanded, his voice calm, but Loki was able to detect the horror in it. “Quick!”
And the refugees obeyed, they started moving fast, almost running. Panic filled the air.
Thor turned to his friends; the Hulk, Valkyrie, Korg, Heimdall and Loki. “You go, too. Picking up a fight would be hopeless. I will follow as soon as the evacuation is completed.”
Valkyrie had already opened her mouth to contradict, as a massive eruption made everyone losing balance. Thanos had started to strafe their ship.
Loki came back on his feet and stumbled to the navigation console. He started to bypass some of the less important features to strengthen the shields and the artificial gravity as well as the oxygen supply.
“Go!” Thor shouted at his friends and finally, they also obeyed.
Another salvo of Thaons’s ship’s weapons hit their ark and a loud crack was to hear.
“Thor, the core has become unstable,” Loki detected. “Someone needs to go down there and have a look!”
“Take over the navigation!” His brother commanded. “You are the better pilot, get us to that moon over there!” He pointed out of the window. “We need to reach it, before the ships breaks in two!”
Loki immediately followed the advice and changed the course, before he checked on the status of the ark again. Whatever had damaged the core, had to be an internal cause, since the shields were slightly failing, but still offered enough protection. Nevertheless, Loki doubted that they would manage to reach the moon.
But he did the best he could.
“Thor?” he tried to get in contact with his brother as the communication system still seemed to work.
“Loki, you have to bring us down there!” the king’s voice fractionally came out of the system. “There are still too many people on board.”
“What’s the matter with the core?” Loki asked.
“The holder system is breaking apart,” Thor answered. “I’ll try to hold it together, but I don’t know for how long I can do. Please hurry!”
And Loki did. The moon was quite close. As the ship was lost anyway and the moon had an atmosphere which would provide oxygen, he bypassed the oxygen supply and the gravity to make the ark faster. He already felt the gravitation of the moon taking over.
His heart beat so fast that he was almost deaf.
He was beyond fear, beyond hope, beyond doubt, the only thought that had remained in his mind was this: We must reach the ground.
He was already able to see it, as the shields failed, and the next salvo hit the ark. Loki heard Thor screaming and a moment later, the ship broke apart. He dashed forward and against the big window as the ship hit the surface of the moon hard.
All air was squeezed out of his lungs and he lost consciousness for a few moments.
As he came back, he smelled fire, smoke, chaos, damage, hot soil, ash. Loki crawled away from the window and after a few meters, he had already left the piece of the ship he had been in. His body hurt, and he kept lying on the ground.
Then he saw the titan’s ship approaching. They would land.
He focused on his magic and tried to find Thor. It took him a few moments to locate the king among the wreckages, but as he did, he sent an illusion to him.
“Loki,” Thor mumbled, who was also lying on the ground, barely able to move.
“I’m sorry, brother,” Loki had to say.
Thor laughed. “So, you do have the cube.”
“How do you know?” Loki asked.
“You were the only one, who could have taken it. You were the only one in the treasure chamber,” Thor answered.
“And you knew?”
“I’m not a fool, Loki,” his brother said.
“Thanos is landing,” Loki informed the king. “He does not know, where the Tesseract is, I don’t think he expects us to really have it. But there is something else, he wants.”
“What?” Thor asked.
“Me,” Loki gave back, his voice almost breaking, but he forced himself to continue speaking, “since I failed to keep my promises… I will try to distract him. You go and find all survivors and some ships, which are still able to fly. And then go.”
“What about you?” Thor asked.
“Now that Thanos knows that I’m still alive, there is no place for me to hide.” Loki swallowed. “This will be the goodbye.”
His brother remained silent. Loki knew that he was not able to stay for much longer, because he needed to meet Thanos standing straight. He would not lie on the ground.
“Thor…” he attempted to make him say something.
“Thank you, brother,” the God of Thunder finally said. “I love you.”
Loki forced himself to smile. “Not that dramatic, brother!” Then he became serious again. “I love you too. And now move!”
Loki returned to his body and compelled himself to rise. He came on his feet and left his hideout, stepped out of the wreckages of the ark, and came to stand on the dusty soil. He felt like presenting himself on a silver plate. He watched the elevator descending from the bridge of Thanos’s ship, and knew that they came for him.
Loki waited, trying not to look afraid. But he was. The titan had haunted him in his nightmares, had haunted his thoughts. But soon, these would not simply be bad fantasies or nightmares, soon, his nightmares would become reality.
Deep inside, Loki had known that this moment would come. He had known since he had lost against the Avengers. Or no, he had known earlier. He had known that he would never win. Not against Thanos and not against Thor. He had never been the fortunate one.
And then they came. Thanos and some of his soldiers. They emerged from the illuminated elevator and vanished in the dark until they came closer and the flames of the burning wrack alighted their terribly distorted faces. His new soldiers were bigger than the Chitauri and four-armed.
Loki reached for his daggers. He had promised to distract, and that he would do so, even though he was hurt, barely able to move and slightly dizzy. The crash had been bad.
The sharp blades flared up in the light of the fires as Loki started to move. His precision had suffered, he missed too many of his attacks, but at least, he managed to bring down eight out of the ten, while Thanos stood in the background, quite close to the ship, and watched. But one of the remaining soldiers hit Loki and he got on his knees, losing his daggers. The monsters could have ended his life in this very moment, but they just grabbed him, pulling him on his feet again, tugging him towards the Titan.
Loki felt absent, like not being in his own body anymore, he felt like a spectator, who watched them approaching Thanos. And suddenly, Loki was back in his body. He was standing in front of the commander, who looked down on him.
“Loki,” Thanos said, “I’m so glad that you are alive!” He smiled, but there was no warmth in this smile. “You can’t imagine how sad I was when I was told that you had died.” He came one step closer and seemed so much more intimidating now. “Because I wanted to be the one to kill you!”
The titan slowly approached the God of Mischief, who forced himself to stay at place, even if he wished to back off.
He swallowed again, then he managed to speak, “Glad to see that at least one person is happy to see me alive.”
“Your mocking words can’t hide your true feelings,” Thanos said with amusement. “You are afraid. And you have every reason to be!”
“Commander!” one of the soldiers interrupted the titan and pointed in the sky. “There are some emergency shuttles lifting from the surface!”
Thor had managed to get away. Hopefully, they were safe.
“Prosecute and kill them,” Thanos demanded, and two soldiers, who had just joined them, came into movement again, and only a few moments later, little battle ships left the dark mothership.
Loki closed his eyes for a moment. He hoped that Thor would manage to escape, that at least some of the Asgardians managed to safe themselves.
“Oh, don’t have too much hope!” Loki heard the dark voice of Thanos. “Your brother won’t escape. But look, what we found just moments before our landing!”
A quite big flap in the outer shell of the ship opened, and bodies rolled out and hit the dusty soil, many bodies, dozens of bodies. Loki recognized the clothing.
Men, women, children.
Their skin was almost purple, but small crystals of ice had formed on the dead skin, the wide opened eyes red from the burst veins.
“They tried to flee in small ships,” Thanos explained. “But seems like they did not take the vacuum for very long.”
Loki gritted his teeth.
Was it really all in vain?
“Well, of course, you can’t count on such a fast and pleasant ending,” the titan announced. “I’m sure, you remember what I told you before handing the sceptre to you, don’t you?”
How could he forget?
Especially since the Other had repeated Thanos’s words over and over again, every time they had had a little conversation.
“So?” Thanos asked, growing impatient.
“I do,” Loki confirmed.
But this statement didn’t prevent the titan from using the same expressions again, “If you fail, if the Tesseract is kept from me, there will be no realm, no barren moon, no crevice where I won't find you. You think you know pain? I will make you long for something as sweet as pain.”
“I remember,” Loki returned, because he knew that Thanos expected him to answer.
And he was not strong enough to put up resistance. Too much had happened within the last weeks.
He had lost his throne, his father–yes, Loki had finally seen that Odin had been his father–, his home, his people… his brother.
“Did you bring the Tesseract?” Thanos asked.
“No,” he said toneless.
“So, you did fail.” The titan orbited him like a predator.
“Yes,” Loki confirmed.
He heard the titan laugh. “Well, at least you’re honest, traitor!” Thanos came to stand in front of the God again. “Being a smart boy, you know what awaits you. And I can’t wait to finally break you, to find out, how long you will take to remain nothing but the begging, wretched runt that you are!”
No, he could not stand that.
Loki hadn’t been blind during his time on sanctuary. He had witnessed Thanos’s methods, had even tasted some of them, he had seen what the titan made out of people when he aimed to destroy them.
This mustn’t be Loki’s fate!
He had to find a way to protect himself. He had to risk everything.
But what did remain for him to lose?
He had already lost all he had.
“Or maybe, we could come to an agreement one more time,” Loki said.
This would be the last chance for him, his silver tongue had to shine. Otherwise he would be lost.
“You have nothing, I desire,” Thanos said languidly.
“Well, technically… You still don’t possess the Tesseract, do you?” Loki reminded him.
The titan glanced at him, now showing more interest. “You know where it is!”
“Maybe,” Loki returned. “I have ruled Asgard for some years, the cube has left the planet before its destruction.”
“Where is it?” Thanos wanted to know.
Loki laughed. “I will tell you if you promise to spare my life and let me go. Or in other words, to keep up to the deal we made.”
But before the titan was able to answer, another monster left the elevator. “Some of the ships escaped, but the king is dead,” it reported.
So, he really had lost his brother. Loki fought back his tears.
For a moment, it was silent, then Thanos burst in laughter. “Oh, this is so good!” he laughed. “Very well, trickster, you shall have your deal! I will enjoy you suffering over the fact that you’ve traded the cube just for your own life, although you could have traded it for the lives of your brother, your people and yourself!”
These words stung into Loki’s heart like daggers.
Thanos was right.
“Now, where is it?”
He had no choice. Loki reached for the cube, dropped the illusion and presented the Tesseract to the titan. The Tesseract that could have saved the whole ark.
Why had he hesitated?
All these deaths, they were in vain.
He fought back the tears and looked up to the titan, who reached for the cube.
“Finally,” Thanos sighted and examined the Tesseract for a moment, before he gripped it harder with both hands and broke it in two.
A blue shining gem was inside. Thanos took it and looked at it, a satisfied smile appeared on his face. Then he rose his other hand, on which he wore a golden glove and placed the gem inside one of the indentations. Right next to the blue one, there already was a violet one.
“Thank you, Loki,” Thanos said. “And as I promised, I will spare your life and let you go.”
Loki breathed a sigh of relief.
“But you did not specify, when I shall let you go,” the titan grinned. “So, I say, you shall enjoy some of our special treatment, for keeping me waiting for my cube for so long!”
“No!” Loki whispered as strong hands closed around his arms, dragging him away.
“I have to go now, Earth is waiting for me!” Thanos rose the glove, the blue gem started to glow, and a portal opened.
Loki fought against the soldiers, but there was no chance, he was in the worst possible situation. His magic was useless, he was way too afraid to activate it.
“Wait!” Thanos called and the monsters stopped. “Well, Loki, I’ll give you the chance to change the deal.”
“What?” Loki looked at the titan perplexedly.
“I will let you choose,” Thanos offered. “I will let you choose between many years of torture, or a quick death.”
The God swallowed hard.
He knew Thanos’s torture. He had witnessed it. He had tasted it. The titan would not stop before Loki would be broken. Before he would not be himself anymore.
He didn’t want to lose himself.
Loki closed his eyes. “Death.”
“Very well,” Thanos smiled and stretched out his opened hand.
One of the monsters placed a long knife in it, a long, dirty knife, still covered in blood.
So, this was the end.
Loki would not have thought to die like this.
He had not expected to be executed.
“Look at me, traitor!” Thanos commanded and Loki rose his eyes.
Suddenly, the fear was gone.
All he felt was guilt.
And the pain, as the blade penetrated his body, cutting through his organs, hurting his heart.
His sight blurred, the feelings vanished, he fell into the darkness.
Loki woke up with a gasp.
It took him several moments to realize that he had been dreaming.
He was lying in his chamber on the ark.
Loki buried his face in his hands. He had thought that the nightmares would have ended.
Why did they come back?
Probably, because it was revealed that Loki still lived. Thanos would know.
Loki reached for the blue glooming cube.
Had it been a mistake to take it?
Or would it be a precious item to trade away?
He didn’t know.
Loki tried to remember the dream, but the details started to fade. He had been stabbed by Thanos.
But what had happened before?
Loki didn’t remember.
But he knew that it would make no sense to try to go back to sleep. So, he dressed and left his chambers. His feet led him to the bridge. Thor was standing there in front of the big window. Maybe he thought about the losses of the past days, maybe he thought about his people’s future. Loki was not able to tell, as he was approaching his brother and came to stop right next to him, his eyes following Thor’s gaze as if he tried to see what the God of Thunder might have spotted.
But there were only stars.