"It's over," Steve gasped out over the COMMS.
A silence fell. It wasn't a celebration, or a sigh of relief, even. The war had taken far too many lives for such things. Far too much destruction, far too many deaths, far too much collateral damage. Everything had changed, so despite having beaten Thanos and his army... not one person smiled when Steve uttered the words.
Yes, the war was over. But the fallout would stretch into centuries.
Thor stood numbly for a while, staring at the bloodied ground in front of him. The guardians-or what was left of them, anyway- had retreated back into the Milano to recover as much as they could. The deaths of Mantis and Rocket were obviously embedded into their minds. Thor felt for them.
Nebula stood by him grimly. "Thor," she rasped out. One of her metallic arms was holding her ribs, keeping wires from falling out. "Can you move?"
Thor nodded. The Asgardian refugee's numbers had quartered during the war; there were now only a few dozen left. He had lost his brother, his best friends, his realm, home, and brother, in such a short time. Not to mention the many, many teammates that had been killed. So many deaths...
The cyborg beside him looked fiercely at him. "Thor, you're the brother of Loki, aren't you?"
Oh, Loki, Thor wailed internally. Loki, who had sacrificed himself to save what little of their peoples remained. Loki, who had given himself over to that monster. Loki, who Thor had just learned, had been tortured by Thanos time after time again after he fell into the Bifrost.
Loki had most likely died, tortured and alone and hopeless.
"Thor!" Nebula snarled.
"Yes-" Thor stammered, blinking away tears. "Yes, I was."
Her lips curled angrily. "I saw him, Thor. I saw him, when Thanos had captured me, before my sister freed me. I saw Loki in the Sanctuary II." Her distorted voice set Thor's teeth on edge, but his heart leaped at the implications.
"Is--? Alive, did you see him alive?"
Nebula exhaled. "Yes. It's not good. Worse than before, and that... it's- it's not good. But yes, alive."
"Where?" Thor ground out.
"There's a chance they didn't have the chance to kill him before we won."
"On the Sanctuary?"
Nebula nodded. They looked in unison to the smoking ruins of half of the ship. Bodies were littered around it, and the few survivors were scurrying to get away. Without a moment of hesitation, Thor took off towards the Sanctuary II, not looking back to see if Nebula was following.
The entrance, if it could be called that, as it was a giant tear through the flank of the ship, was still alight with flames. Thor felt himself shudder as he stepped inside, remembering his last pleasant conversation with his brother. When Loki had been talking about his return to Midgard. Things had been good, in that moment; better than they had ever been, between them, in fact. No more secrets, no more lies. They both knew about Loki's lineage, and his betrayals. They both knew it all, and it made the hesitant friendship so much stronger.
It had all been crushed in seconds, as they watched Thanos' ship rise into view of the window. The look of genuine terror that had washed over Loki said it all.
And then Loki had been taken, and Thor could do nothing but be flung by the titan into the void of space, until he crashed into the Milano and met the guardians.
Tears began falling from his face again when he thought about it all. The guardians, too, had all been in one piece, then. Rocket and Mantis- who Thor quite liked- were both alive and well. Gamora had fought tooth-and-nail to get her sister back. Things had spiraled down so quickly.
When he entered the ruins, that were literally falling around him in smoldering chunks, he took towards the back, where Gamora had gone in to find Nebula on the rescue mission. Dead chitauri, outriders, and Asgardian corpses lined the halls. Thor let out a keening sob as he saw a young Asgardian girl lying beside someone who looked like her mother. Both of their necks were twisted grotesquely.
"Loki!" Thor screamed raggedly. "Loki, it's me!"
He zig-zagged through hallways, eyes scanning in one last, desperate attempt to gain something from the war. To save someone. He would do anything to see his brother again, even if it was just the body. Norns, just let me have something to bury, at least, Thor prayed silently.
It was after twenty minutes of running around the crumbling ship and growing increasingly distressed that he noticed a row of reinforced cell-like areas.
Over the COMMS, low voices had begun talking again, sounding resigned. Thor tuned them out completely, concentrating on looking inside each cell as he ran down the halls. Loki didn't seem to be in any of them.
Until I find his body, there's no definite answer of him having been killed, Thor told himself.
At one point, Thor's legs gave out purely from exhaustion, and he had to will himself to crawl to the last few cells on the level. "Loki, please! Answer me!" He cried, stumbling back to his feet. He walked into the second-to-last cell, heart gripped with fear as he looked around, seeing nothing--
Movement. A few shambles of debris skittered over and Thor's eyes zeroed in on a dark corner of the room.
Another movement. Thor realized that Loki was probably trapped under the debris, if it was him at all, and he ran over to the pile, legs trembling as he hauled metal and stones away. The pain had been forgotten as adrenaline took over.
Thor collapsed. His shoulders hit the ground as devastated relief came over him like a wave. The sound of those words made his heart tighten to a dangerously painful level. Against all odds, Loki had survived it all.
Thor felt lightheaded. He blindly reached out, trying to touch his brother's face. After a moment, he continued hauling off the ruins with one hand, and tried pulling away what he thought was the body of his brother with another.
There was another gaping hole in the far end of the hallway outside the cell, where the Sanctuary II had been split. Thor took his brother around the middle and pulled him out of the damned room so he could see him.
It was Loki.
"Loki," Thor said quietly, laying down his brother's body in the light. He leaned over him, as he had done when Loki had faked his own death on Svartalfheim. Then he smiled, a small, desperate thing. If Loki's wounds were fatal, then Thor wanted the last thing his brother saw to be him smiling down at him. "Loki, I'm here," he whispered.
Loki was horrifically pale, eyes surrounded with a mar of blood and dark shadows. He was obviously starved, sharp angles jutting out around the ratty, dilapidated trousers that he wore as a garment. Where he was not injured, he was twisted, or dirtied. Thor could easily pick out dangerous burns around his brother's abdomen, cuts lining his upper arms and puncture wounds along his sternum.
Thor's eyes landed on his brother's hands and he had to cover his mouth with his own to keep himself from making another wail.
Loki's right hand had been completely severed.
In order to keep his manacles on, then, his captors had tied one end around his left wrist, and the other end through his wrist.
Thor took in his brother's injuries with the concern and fury of a parent. The physical torture in of itself was evident. The psychological torture, Thor couldn't imagine.
After a few moments, one of Loki's bruised eyes began fluttering. For a moment, Thor was sure that they were in his Jotunar form, because where it should be white, there was only red. But the color was dark and Thor recognized it as what Peter Quill had referred to as 'broken blood vessels'. At that moment, Thor could've cared less whether the eye was that of a frost giant or a blood vessel or missing entirely. Loki was alive.
"Th'r...?" Thor saw, rather than heard the words over the blood pumping viciously through his ears.
"Yes, it's me, Loki," He murmured, smiling through his own tears. With one hand he gently stroked Loki's matted hair off of his face.
Loki's stomach stuttered, and tears began to stream off the sides of his face, leaking out of his bloodied eyes. "I knew you'd come."
The words struck Thor like knives. "I swear to you, Loki, I will always come back for you." His voice was utterly wrecked with emotion, but in that moment, Thor let it. He had to convey to Loki how much he cared.
"Always," Thor repeated.
Loki's remaining hand weakly reached for one of Thor's. Both of their hands trembled as Thor pulled them together and held on firmly. "Loki, it's over. We won."
As soon as he spoke the words, he felt Loki sag bonelessly into the ground, going limp with relief. Sobs began tearing themselves out of Loki's throat. "I'm sorry, brother," he managed to get out between heaving breaths. "I had to give it to him- I had to- they're your people--"
"They're our people." Thor didn't mention the Tesseract. It had saved all of the Asgardians, as well as Thor. Despite it giving Thanos the advantage, Thor couldn't blame his brother for choosing to hand it over. If he had been in the same position, he would've done the same thing.
(Thor was beginning to think that, the majority of the time, Loki was constantly put in the position to choose between the lesser of two evils. But it was still evil, and Loki was still blamed.)
"After everything I've done!" Loki choked. Thor wrapped his arms around him and pulled them together in a crushing hug.
"You did what you had to do, brother. I see that, now."
They stayed there for a long while, simply lying in the hallway of the Sanctuary II as it fell down around them. Thor used himself as a shield over Loki, feeling dust and small rocks land on his back. It began to become clear that they had to leave somehow, or they would be crushed and buried with the rest of the bodies.
Loki seemed to understand it, too.
"You need to--"
"I'm not leaving you."
Loki swallowed thickly. "Thor, please. You..." He heaved for another breath, and Thor knew that his ribs had been damaged. "...You need to go... rule. Our people, Thor. I can't... I can't go with you. Not after... what... I did." Thor scowled and cupped his face with one hand.
"You can't do this to me again, Loki," Thor barked. "Not again."
"No more... tricks," Loki wheezed.
"Yes. No more tricks," Thor agreed firmly, wrapping his arms under Loki's back and pulling both of them up. "I'm going to take care of you, brother."
And with the strength of a mother who needed to save her child, Thor dragged his brother and himself down the hallway to the rip that had been torn into the side of the Sanctuary II, Loki freer than he'd ever been.
They could deal with the fallout together.