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Dawn of the Gods

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The ship floats up, filling the bridge's view.

„Oh no,” Loki slips, before he can stop himself.

The ship is big, bigger than any structure known to man – except for old Asgard, of course, but that no longer exists. It's long and twisted, its surface rough, as if marked by millions pieces of space debris it encountered over millennia. But it's not the size nor even the unmissable aura of ancient evil it emanates that make Loki shiver. It's the memory.

„A friend of yours?” asks Thor. His voice sounds casual, confident as always, but his face is serious. They are alone on the bridge; with the course set there's not much to do and most Asgardians have neither knowledge nor interest in space travel technology. As long as it worked, they'd rather just let it be. So it seems like a perfect place for two of them to have a face to face conversation without the fear of being bothered. Until now.

Loki opens his mouth to answer, but then Valkyrie walks in. In a few days they spent in space since the destruction of Asgard she slipped into a position of an executive officer, dealing with day to day maintenance. Of them all she has the most experience with space travel and solving problems related to it comes naturally to her.

„Um, you guys see the same thing I see?” she asks, but before any of them has a chance to answer, one of the lights on a console flares up, indicating an incoming message. The woman looks at Thor for confirmation and apparently receiving it, she pushes a single button. The screen on the left of the window flares up, showing the familiar face that make Loki wish he'd died in Ragnarök.

At first Thanos looks at Thor, but his gaze quickly shifts to Loki and his lips twists with a wicked smile.

„Look what the comet brings,” he says with almost mirth to his voice. The sheer sound of it makes Loki want to scream and run, run, doesn't matter where, as long as it's far away... But there's nowhere to run. Not then. Not now. Never. His breathing gets heavy, his eyes wide in fear. But no one seems to notice or care. Thor only sends him a quick glance before returning to the interloper, who now returns his gaze, recognizing him as the leader. “You have something that belongs to me. That little treacherous rat at you side. Give him to me, and maybe I'll let the rest of you go.”

Trickster senses his brother's curious gaze and pales. Fighting fright, he lifts his head to meet it.

“No,” he whispers, shaking his head. The memories floods him, Thor's bright blue eyes on his face, his lips curved in a faint smile, and then his back turned as he walks away, his steps light, as if he just shed some heavy burden, when Loki squirms on the floor in agony, abandoned, left to die. “Please, don't do this. He's lying, Thor, he's not gonna let you go. He'll take me and destroy you, you can't deal with him, you can't bargain with him.”

“Loki...”

“No, listen to me!” He jerks forward, breaking through paralyzing fear and grabs Thor's arms. “I know things between us hasn't been great, but that's not the way. You can't gain anything, you'll just... Put everyone in danger.” And then in the act of desperation, he makes another argument, one he knows will resonate stronger with the God of Thunder. “It won't stop with me, you know. He'll break me and use me, send me to another world, like he sent me to Earth, he'll make me into a weapon. Innocents will die!”

“Loki!” Thor's yell finally breaks through his rambling and Loki's mouth shuts with almost audible clock. A single tear rolls down his cheek.

“Please,” he whispers one last time and Thor's face twists with pain as he breaks his brother's grip just to grab Loki himself.

“You really think I would hand you over?” the Thunderer asks, voice brimming with barely contained emotions.

“You wanted to hand me to Midgardians,” Loki whispers barely loud enough to be heard. He still remembers the shock he felt when he heard the decision and it felt surprisingly like Gungnir slipping from his hands. He's been good! He came back, he did as he was told. He saved them all. And yet still... It was not enough. He was not enough. And now they're coming to Earth where Thor will be hailed as a hero and Loki will be persecuted and no one will stand for him, because Thor...

Thor doesn't care anymore.

So why does he take a step back with a look of utter shock on his face?

“Hand you? Do you really think that I would...? You're my brother!”

“And wanted criminal on Midgard,” Loki adds, swallowing something bitter rising to his throat. He forces a smile, not caring how bitter it comes out, and asks with a mix of mockery and resignation: “Do you think you friends would welcome me with open arms?”

“They are my friends, they wouldn't hurt you. Nor anyone else. Do you really think that I would take you there only to...? Do you really think so low of me?!”

And Loki wants, oh so much to believe, to trust Thor like he once used to... But he can't. Too much was done, by both of them and Thor has already proven himself as capable as Loki in the art of treachery. And if the choice is between Trickster and the whole Asgard, is it even a question which side will Thunderer pick? He doesn't even consider Loki a brother anymore. He left him to die on Sakaar and thought nothing of it. No, Loki has no reason to put his trust in Thor.

But he can't bring himself to say that, his throat constricted with fear and pain. He just looks up at his brother, with unspoken plea in his eyes. Begging for help even he doesn't expect to come, but can't help wanting.

“Don't flatter yourself,” comes from the screen and they both realize that Thanos is still watching. He seems even more amused than before and Loki feels his stomach turning again. “I have no use for a weapon that tries to blow in my hands. But I will enjoy your screams. And you, Thor? I remember your name. He was calling it when I was breaking him to pieces. He thought you could save him. But you can't even save yourself. Here, let me make myself more clear.”

He moves a hand, but the small screen doesn't allow Asgardians to see exactly what he's doing. However outside of their window the giant ship shifts, the cyclopean plates, each as big as a continent, slide away revealing a dark opening from which the swarm of Chitauri ships emerges. They are small, but there's a lot of them, certainly more than enough to overpower Asgardians and they move too fast to leave any hope for escape.

“Do we have any weapons?” Thor turns to Valkyrie, earning himself dubious gaze.

“It's a cargo ship,” she says. “We have few guns and two swords.”

“He wants us alive,” blurts Loki. “If he tried to kill us, a single shot would turn our ship into stardust.”

“Death is too good for you” remarks Thanos, still present. He's not smiling anymore, if anything he looks slightly bored. “But who knows, maybe you'll finally meet her.” He shifts his gaze to Thor and his lips twist again in a faint parody of a smile. “By the hand of the one you thought could save you.”

The screen goes dark and moment later their ship shakes when Chitauri jets land on it. Close enough, Asgardians can see that all assailants have a similar mosquito-like shapes and are barely big enough to hold one or two fighters. Each jet has three legs ending with a magnetic plates and long bow topped with a gun. As soon as they attach, the guns curve downward and shoot beams of light straight at their hull. Mere seconds later bright spots start appearing on the inside walls.

“Any ideas?” asks Valkyrie with eyes glued to the nearest spot.

“Let them come,” Thor grumbles, lightning shining in his eyes and dancing between his fingers. He turns toward the nearest spot – that slowly grows into a line – preparing to welcome whoever tries to come through it. But the Valkyrie grabs his arm and forces him to turn toward her.

“There are children and aliens on board. If the hull is breached, they won't survive in the vacuum.”

“Is there any way we can shake these bastards off?”

“Not really. We're going as fast as we can and maneuvering is almost impossible with this pile of crap.”

“Then I'm going to them.”

“Wait.” Now Loki grabs his other arm. He's still sick with fear, his face pale and hands trembling, but he's not petrified. As long as the Mad Titan is not watching... He can fight. He has to fight. “There is another way.”

He waves his hands, left above right, and a glowing blue cube appears in the space between them. Thor instantly recognizes it and gives out exasperated huff.

“Loki, you son of a...”

“We have the same mother,” Trickster cuts him flatly.

“What is it?” Valkyrie asks impatiently. She never dealt with it before, Loki realizes. She cannot know what that is. And there's no time for a good answer.

“A space stone,” he answers. That has to do for now. Luckily, she understands.

“Can you use it to get us out?”

The line on the wall bends and air starts to seep out through cracks. Loki forces himself to peel his gaze away from it and licks his lips.

“We'll see.”

He clenches his fists around the Tesseract and the light of the gem starts to shine brighter. He feels the tingling caused by familiar Power and lets It into him, filling him up – and spilling, taking him with It, beyond his form, beyond this room, this ship and the galaxy. For one moment it's like the whole universe is his body, galaxies his cells and planets – merely a molecules. Unspeakable amounts of mater shift, molecules collect into a stars, burn and explode into supernovas, all in the same time, in quantities so unimaginable that is feels like eternity – even though only a second passes. His own body, now ridiculously small and insignificant becomes barely tangible. And yet there is Will and it allows him to move – and bring galaxies together or tear them apart as he pleases. But it's not what he has to do. He must focus all his wits to find two infinitesimal points in the Universe, a ship and a planet, two single molecules in this magnificent infinite body and then bring them together.

At this time, he feels nothing but Power. Only later he will recall screams, barely audible over the roar of air being sucked out as Chitauri finally breach the hull.

“They're coming through!” it's Valkyrie, desperately clinging to the cockpit as the rush of escaping air threatens to take her along.

“I'll hold them,” Thor answers and jumps forth, surrounded by lightnings.

“Thor, no!”

She tries to catch him, but then Loki's spell finally works, the ship jerks violently and then everything drowns in a flash of cold, blue light.

Entering the atmosphere is brutal, but it pales in comparison with the impact that follows. They don't really have time to adjust the course, so the whole vessel just rams into the ground, and then, because the directions in space are not always the same as on a surface of planets, it flips over and rolls few times before stopping.

And then comes the darkness.

* * *

“Thor!” Valkyrie's scream tears through the silence. At first she can't even hear herself over the ringing in her ears. She's not sure how much time has passed. All she knows is that her body hurts like the whole damned ship fell exactly on her back. “Loki!”

The bridge, where the three of them were at the time of crash was hit the hardest, so it takes her a while to dig herself out. She walks outside and looks around. The ship landed – well, crashed – on a vast field of pale green grass, dotted with bare rocks. They were lucky though: few feet closer and they would smash into a face of a cliff and fell into the ocean below. The ship is wrecked though, bow completely flattened, long cracks running from front all the way to the exhaust ports. Through them, people start to crawl out. Heimdall's already there, taking out the last Chitauri warriors that somehow survived. The remains of their ships are scattered around the area, some thrown away, others crushed under the bigger vessel.

“Thor!” Valkyrie screams again, but there's no answer. She jumps back into the bridge and starts rummaging through the debris, metal tearing in her hands with a sorrowful protest. Unlike Loki, she remembers everything: bright lines on the wall connecting and metal between them disappearing into the black abyss, the gush of air being sucked out, saliva boiling on her tongue. And even the face of the monster appearing in the opening and then the lightning... Thor didn't mean to leave the ship, but the power he wielded was too great, he couldn't control it... His own thunder pushed him out.

“Thor!”

Finally she notices a movement at her side and jumps there to lift another piece of metal. But the face she sees when the dust settles isn't the one she seeks.

“Where is he?” She grabs Loki's arms and literally rips him from under the rubble. Trickster hisses in pain then blinks a few times, trying to shake off the dust and confusion. The blue light of the Tesseract still burns in his eyes, but it starts to dim and soon gives way to familiar green.

“Who?” he asks, still not fully conscious. The woman clenches her fist and punches him in the face.

“You know damn well who!” she screams pulling him closer. “Thor!”

“Thor.” The name works like an electric shock, bringing Trickster immediately back to reality. “Where is he?”

“He was sucked out of the ship,” she answers. Her anger wanes, replaced by desperation, when she realizes that Loki knows as much as she does. If it's been his fault... If he'd deliberately left Thor behind... Then at least she could avenge him. But if it's been an accident, a stupid string of bad luck, then there is nothing she can do. She gives Loki a pleading look and begs: “Please tell me you took him.”

“I... I don't know.” He shakes his head a few times, once again succumbing to confusion. “He was just there...”

Desperate howl escapes her lungs when she pushes Trickster away and goes back to rummaging through rubble, thinking, hoping that she can still find Thor, get him out. Some of the Chitauri warriors came through with them, so maybe Thor too... Even if he was outside. He would probably be crushed by the whole ship falling on him, but he is an As. He would survive. He had to.

“If he were there, he would already got out,” says Loki, steadying himself on top of the wreck.

“You killed him,” comes from behind, compelling them both to abandon the task and turn around. Small crowd of Asgardians gathered outside of what's left of the bridge, watching them. They must've heard Valkyrie's screams and came to see what's happening. The person that spoke is probably the one standing in front, pointing his finger at Loki: a middle aged man with short hair and dark goatee, dressed like a commoner.

“Don't be ridiculous,” scoffs Trickster, but his face pales and fists clench. “If we're really on Midgard, my sole hope of survival lays with Thor. Why would I kill him?”

“To take his throne,” speaks another man, older, with a lush black beard full of silver strands. His clothing is also richer and more formal – he's even carrying an ornamental sword, suggesting a former general or retired officer. When he gets Loki's attention, his hand demonstratively wraps around the hilt.

“Oh, please!” Loki scoffs again. “Dead men don't need thrones.”

“And they're not gonna get them!” Screams yet another man, barely an adult with red hair and bushy mustache. The crowd growls agreeably and Loki notices people reaching for weapons. Few have knives, but others take out their tools, hammers, chisels and alike, some even pick up pieces of debris. He looks around, but they are surrounded now and even Valkyrie is looking at him with a dash of hostility.

“Wait!” Another young man steps forward. This one is blond, with blue eyes and smooth face, dressed somehow officially but not after Asgardian fashion. Probably a visitor from Vanaheim, tradesman or emissary. “We can't just kill him without any trial!”

“And who's gonna judge him?” asks the General. “Our kings are dead, so are the members of the Thing!”

“Then we need to assemble a new Thing,” insists Vanr.

“Oh, don't bother!” Loki snaps and straightens up, with daggers in both hands. “What trial is that with not one of you standing for me?! I know you curs, all you want is to see me dead. So come forth! Let me show you how the son of Odin dies!”

“Son of Laufey!” Someone Loki can't see spits from the crowd and it burns like a white hot rod drawn through his heart. If he still held any hope of ever being accepted in Asgard, it dies now. He's not one of them. Never was, never will be. No matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries, it's just not happening. He was stupid to come back. Sentimental. Weak.

Better to let it burn.

When did he stopped listening to his own advices? Yes, it would be better – to let them burn, those vipers, those bullies. And himself with them.

“Thor is alive.”

They all turn to see Heimdall, standing just outside the crowd, propped on the sword that's black with Chitauri blood. His eyes shine like golden stars – a certain sign that he's looking at another realm, far away from where he stands.

“He was snatched from the ship during the fight, but he survived long enough to be saved by a group of heroes passing by. Now he's trying to persuade them to take him to Earth.”

“Thank Norns!” comes from the crowd, but once again Loki fails to see the person who said it.

“In the meantime.” Heimdall's gaze shifts to Loki who doesn't flinch, even though the Watcher's gaze burns him to his very soul. “Loki is the only remaining member of Odin's house.”

“No way...” someone tries to speak again, but the Watcher raises his voice, silencing any protests.

“He's the only one who can take over the throne until the righteous king returns.”

The silence that follows is almost physical, pressing chests and pushing air back to lungs. It is Loki who breaks it, jumping down from the rubble. Daggers disappear from his hands, but no one doubts that if the need arises, they will appear instantly.

“Thank you, Heimdall.” The crowd parts, leaving an open way between him and the Watcher, but when two men look at each other there is nothing but hatred in their eyes. “Though I have to admit, I would expect you to be the first to stab me in the back.”

“I'm not doing this for you.”

“No doubt.”

Then the expression on Heimdall's face softens, much to Loki's surprise.

“But I know that you always had only the good of Asgard in your heart. Your intentions were pure, even though your actions were misguided. That's why we will assemble the Thing. To protect Asgard – and you – from yourself. My liege.”

The last part, added after a short hesitation, bears a faint sign of respect and Loki's lips twitch in a faint yet venomous smile. What a nice realization. A shame it came so late. After previous betrayal, Heimdall's acknowledgment means less than the air he uses to utter it.

“Perfect,” spits Trickster. If someone could condensate his voice into a liquid, it would form the strongest poison in the known universe, one capable of killing the strongest of Aesir. He wants to say more, but then a distant sound rumbles through the air and they all turn their heads to look for its source.

“What is that?” asks Valkyrie squinting her eyes to get a better look. But that's impossible: whatever it is, is too far and too high. And small, smaller than any ship that ever landed on Sakaar. But Loki doesn't need to see to know what that is. There's only one contraption like that. And yet...

“I'm not sure,” he says. “Last time I was here they only had one of those.”

And indeed, soon they see a dozen bright spots, flying in perfect formation towards them.

“There is only one man,” clears Heimdall. “The others are just machines.”

“Oh. Well. In that case...” Loki straightens and makes a peculiar gesture, then a wave of green light runs over his body from head to toe. He turns back to the crowd and all men gasp in unison. Because the familiar form of God of Mischief is gone. Instead, before them stands the most gorgeous woman that Asgard ever saw. In many ways she still looks like Loki: pale skin, green eyes, black hair, slender body. Her facial features are a bit different though, more feminine, lips bigger, eyes shadowed by a long eyelashes, hair grown into a long, lush locks, and body definitely more curvaceous. She smiles a wide, self-congratulatory smile while her eyes follow the crowd now staring at her with awe. “If this is who I think it is, then he will want me dead at all cost. That is, if he ever knows who I really am. So this is your last chance. You want to get rid of me? Tell him. Let him do the dirty work for you.”

She's looking at the crowd with a dare, but she already knows she's safe. Asgardians would rather face Ragnarök all over again than let other races meddle in their affairs. And having their royalty killed by a mortal? That would be a disgrace for a whole nation. No, they will not reveal her secret. She smiles sharply and some people shudder noticing how similar she looks to Hela. But when she turns around, she catches a glimpse of Valkyrie giving her the most dubious look this side of the galaxy.

“Are you serious?” the warrior asks. She looks at Trickster's face, but her eyes drop down in disbelief... and something else. Loki arches her eyebrow and smirks, not commenting but deciding to keep that in mind for later.

“Deadly serious,” she answers simply.

In the meantime, what earlier seemed like bright dots becomes larger and eagle-eyed among them can make out the human-like figures made of metal and light. They surround the area but keep their distance, hanging motionlessly hundred feet above the ground. Except for two that circle the group few times before descending. First one looks almost identical to the machines remaining in the air. Asgardians watch with amazement the lavish red and gold armor adorned with a blue gems shining like living stars. Those familiar with seidr can marvel at the power emanating from the man, the lines of energy running through his suit, clearly showing that it's not just a common garment, even though they can't even fathom its full capabilities. The second one looks more modest: it's a man with red skin, dressed in peculiar red, blue and golden suit, so tight that even the brightest can't clearly see where his skin ends and clothing begins. If he even has a suit, or skin for that matter. There's something uncanny in his appearance and for some reason no one doubts that he's not the human Heimdall referred to earlier. But he's also emanating the power, stronger even than the other one. And what draws Loki's attention in particular and makes cold shiver run down her spine is the gem lodged in his forehead. A familiar gem.

The first man lands in a ridiculous and impractical pose, seemingly assumed only to make an impression. Then what looks like a visor slides up revealing a face all too familiar to Loki, though a quick glance is enough to say that passing years weren't kind to the mortal. How many of them there were? Loki can't even say. His time in prison felt like ages, but it couldn't be long judging by the fact that the man's still alive. Mortals. Thor was a fool to attach to them, but then again, his attachment was never really too deep.

“Hello,” says the man rising his hand in greeting. Blue gem at its bottom glares ominously. “I'm Tony Stark. Uh... Welcome to Earth?”

“Greetings,” answers Loki stepping forth and bowing her head slightly. “I'm Leikný, daughter of Odin, queen regent of Asgard.”

„Huh.” Stark sends her a questioning look that makes her a bit uncomfortable. She's confident in her disguise though and if what she knows about the man – and he's anything like Fandrall, from what Barton said many years ago – she's safe. And sure enough, the doubt in his eyes melts slowly, giving room for awe. Yet some thought processes must still run inside his head because he remarks: “Thor never mentioned having a sister.”

“It's strange,” says the second man, looking at Loki with an unwavering intensity. “I feel like I know you.” Stark turns around to give him a dubious look, which apparently is enough to make him realize his gaffe. “Forgive my manners. I'm Vision.”

“You are not a man,” states Heimdall, looking at the stranger. The Watcher's face is impenetrable, but it must be weird for him, speaking with someone whose soul he cannot see. Loki wonders if he'd ever encountered someone like this. Of course, machines were known in Asgard, but they were used for work, they never spoke and never did anything without an order.

“Indeed, I am an android. A sentient robot.”

“Not like the ones up there,” says Stark waving his hand in rather general direction of the machines still hovering in the sky. “They are dependent on my will. He's not. And who are you again?”

“I'm Heimdall.”

“Oh.” Stark nods but something in his face changes. Caution that was there since the beginning and almost disappeared when faced with a beautiful woman, surfaces again, despite the man's attempts to hide it. “You're that guy who sees everything? You know, when my mom told me about god watching from above, I always thought it was just a cautionary tale. To keep us from... choking the chicken or something.”

“We're not gods,” answers Heimdall calmly, seemingly unmoved by Stark's aversion. “And believe me, you haven't done anything I haven't seen many times over.” He sends a quick look to Loki, who shifts her weight and props hand on her hip, smiling seductively. “Even in Asgard.”

“Mm, I bet those night in the Observatory got pretty boring,” Loki murmurs, making Watcher wince in disgust. She laughs heartily.

“Huh.” Stark huffs in response, apparently not sure what to make of it. “So, Lei... dy, what was your name...”

“Leikný,” corrects queen, too amused to take offense.

“Yeah. Are you from Loki's side of the family?”

She stiffens, all amusement vanishing in a blink. What?!

“Pardon?” she asks quietly, trying her best to stop her voice from trembling. She succeeds, at least enough to fool Stark.

“You know Loki, Thor's evil brother. Tall, dark, blue eyes, golden horns...”

“Loki had green eyes,” corrects Valkyrie. Stark looks at her, but then his eyes go blank as he tries to remember what happened so long ago.

“No, they were blue,” he protests.

“Loki always had green eyes,” confirms Heimdall.

“But I remember. We were fighting, he was standing right next to me, his eyes were blue like, like...”

He doesn't finish, his gaze drifts again as his mind wanders. Then his face goes pale as his genius brain apparently comes to realization. When he turns back to Loki, he's pale, his lips trebling and eyes hollow. It almost makes the goddess sympathize.

“Did you ever feel like you made a terrible mistake that cost an innocent man his life?” he asks.

“Loki was hardly innocent,” she replies harshly, perhaps too harshly. She shouldn't let him know she cares. She cannot... be connected to Loki. The man knows too much already. This conversation must end, now! “And he died for Asgard. Hardly an unfitting end.”

“Yeah.” Stark shakes his head, but the troubled expression doesn't leave his face. “Did you... did you talk to him? When he was...?”

“It was forbidden.”

“So we'll never now.”

The queen doesn't answer and the man also goes silent for moment. Talking about Loki is dangerous – but so far no one decided to add something or call queen on her lies. Which is a good sign. But her good mood vanishes when she notices that Vision has been looking at her the whole time and at the very bottom of the gem in his forehead, almost at the verge of a known universe, dances familiar blue light. Loki starts wondering how much control that android has over the gem. Does he know? Can he read her mind? He didn't say anything... yet. But he's a threat she wasn't prepared for. Her illusion is enough to fool all thirty senses known to Asgardians but what if he has more? Against growing revulsion, she tries to bring back those dark times when she felt the power – and constraint – of the gem. She dimly recalls sensations that are not like anything she knows, that she cannot name or describe even now. But what about him? He isn't human nor As, he doesn't necessarily have to follow the same rules as her or anyone she knows. But there must be some boundaries, right? He cannot be omnipotent nor omniscient. That would be her doom.

All because of Thor. Damn you, brother, for bringing me here. And damn me, for following.

“So, what are you doing here? Your whole group?” asks Stark, finally deciding to change the subject. Loki gladly accepts it.

“Asgard was destroyed in Ragnarök. Our group is all that's left of its people.”

“Oh my god.” Stark pales visibly, his eyes widen in shock. “And Thor...?”

She shakes her head and even manages to bring a tear to her eye.

“He was with us. He was the one who decided we should go to Midgard to seek refuge. But we were attacked and forced to... take some desperate measures. We lost him in space...”

She stops dramatically, giving the mortal a chance to soak up their misfortune, but then Heimdall decides to speak.

“I didn't see the ship that attacked us. Not now. And not before. When, as we heard, Loki was held hostage.”

And it makes Loki feel really weird when she realizes that this is supposed to be an apology. In a way, she knows Heimdall's telling the truth. If he knew, the whole situation would unfold very differently. Thor's arrival, the fight, the trial, the imprisonment. But then she recalls the way she got on that ship. Abandonment. Betrayal. Her whole life slipping through her fingers. And all around her, only the people who wanted to watch her fall. This whole mess could have been easily avoided if there was just one soul in this bloody realm that she could trust. No, not to help her destroy Jötunheim. That was stupid and she knows it now. But back then she was so desperate to prove herself... And all she needed was one person for whom she wouldn't have to.

And with that she realizes that she cannot forgive. Not Heimdall. Not Thor. Not Asgard. She came back to save them, but that means she already did more than anyone ever did for her. She owes them nothing. Her duty's over. She can go away, leave this whole mess, this nation of bullies, behind.

And yet she stays.

“The one that dwells there is one of the most powerful beings in the universe,” she says flatly, emotionlessly, like everything she's talking about didn't happen to her. It was someone else. A man she never knew and didn't care about. And she almost believes it. It's either that or falling to the ground screaming until her lungs burst out. “And the most destructive. If he captured Thor...”

“He didn't.”

Loki smiles venomously. Oh, that unshakable faith in Thor. If only they could spare a tenth of it for her... But they don't and for a moment the only thing she feels is the urge to shatter it. Even though she knows how impossible it is.

“Well... Let's just say, the man that will come back may not be the king you love so much.”

And when he does, it will be like New York, all over again. With only one exception. Thor wouldn't lose.

“Thor wasn't captured.”

“Not yet.”

“We can't help him anyway,” breaks in Valkyrie. “We should focus on us. We need to get ourselves together. And it's as Heimdall said: you're the only one that can lead us now.”

“You can stay here if you want,” offers Stark. “I mean, I'll have to run this through with our leaders, but we never say 'no' to people in need.”

“I'm afraid the choice is beyond us, we have no way to get out anyway,” answers Loki flatly. “But we are thankful for your generosity. I promise to cause no grief to your people and no burden to your world.”

“Yeah. Thanks. I'll go now. Try to organize some humanitarian aid. If there's something in particular that you need...”

What do they need? Loki looks at the crowd again and suddenly feels thousand years of indoctrination taking effect. They are her people after all. They may be brutes who gave her nothing but pain, who would turn against her at the slightest provocation, but she is responsible for them. She is their queen, their protector, their keeper (only a god of mischief). It is her duty (a lie). Her birthright (was to die) and burden. And she can yet prove to them (she can't) that she's as capable as anyone (but not Thor, never as good as Thor, the real Odinson) to fulfill this role (son of Laufey!).

She turns back to Stark, face sickly gray, twisted with pain and desperation. She blinks, trying to shake the tears pooling at the corner of her eyes. A part of her wants to scream, but the only sound leaving her lips is merely a whisper.

“Everything.”

The sight of her must have left the impression, because Stark pales himself and nods solemnly.

“Yeah,” he murmurs. “I thought so. Look, it's gonna be fine. We'll help you, we have some experience. We'll figure something out. Just... hang in there, all right?”

He must have thought it's their situation that shook her, she realizes. He cannot know what's going through her head. It's for the best, though. If he focuses on this “humanitarian aid”, perhaps he will leave her alone. And Loki, for that matter.

“Please forgive me if I sound rude,” she says, trying to collect herself. “But we just crashed.” And spent whatever time we had at jumping at each other's throats like a pack of rabid dogs. “We need a while... To organize. See what we have, what we can do, what we need.”

“Sure. Yeah, sorry, I should have known... I'll let you do that. Will be back in a few hours with whatever I can get.”

With these words he closes his armor and darts up, Vision nods goodbye and follows, still without a word. Loki sighs in relief. She decides to stay in female form for now. The mortals are crafty, they may have left some device to observe the intruders. And they will be back sooner or later, so switching forms will be asking for trouble.

“We need to make a list,” she says turning back to the crowd. When she waves her hand, a piece of parchment and quill appears out of thin air. And then she starts speaking louder, to make sure everyone can hear her. “We need to make a list of every person who survived. Please, write down your names, skills, possession. We don't want to take anything from you, but we need to know what we have, what we can use. For common good. If you'd like to volunteer for a Thing, also write that down. Me and Heimdall will look through the candidates and choose those with the most expertise. If there are any engineers among you, write that down as well. We'll need you to go through the wreck and see what you can salvage.” Maybe part of the cargo survived. There wasn't much, mostly alien food, alcohol, some clothes and tools and ton of recreational drugs of course, but it was something. They made a list shortly after boarding, but it's probably gone now. And no longer valid. “Now...” She reaches to her extra-dimensional pocket to pull a handful of magical seeds she keeps for special occasions. She walks a few steps away from the crowd and throws them around. The ground shakes and magic spikes when dozen trees shot up. With a crack they build a solid trunks and branches, a dry rustle foretells coming of the leaves, and finally a series of wet plops signal forming of fruits and nuts, the kind of which have never been seen on Midgard before. Loki turns back to the crowd. “This is my gift to you, people of Asgard. A peace offering.” A sardonic smile twists her lips only to disappear when she realizes what must come next. “Is Idunn around here?”

“No.” A tall woman steps forth. She's in this precious spot, somewhere between middle and old age. Her face is covered with deep lines, but her hair is still dark, without traces of gray, body still strong and step bouncy. Loki knows her all too well: it's Eir, a royal healer. The one whose help she sought so many times in the past. “She died, protecting her gardens.”

“I see.” Loki swallows heavily. In the past, he and Idunn had a few clashes, some could even say that they couldn't stand each other... But in the end Idunn couldn't really hate anyone, not for long anyway, and Loki had better things to do than to harass the royal gardener, so most of the time they were getting along pretty fine. Now the thought that this sweet, innocent thing is dead hits her... hard. Perhaps in this very moment Loki fully realizes that something's over. Gone. For years he thought that it didn't matter, that he lost his home long ago... But even then, at least he knew that it was still there and if he was lucky, he could catch a glimpse of it. But not anymore. It is gone. Almost everyone is dead. Their group, a few hundred people... Is all that's left.

“Fine,” she says finally, shaking the gloomy thoughts off. There will be time for tears. Now they have a work to do. “Any of you know anything about gardening?”

For a moment no one answers, but finally one woman speaks. She's young, plump, with fair skin, two golden braids and freckles all over her face and neck. Dressed in sky-blue dress and a gray coat, with plain pendant on her neck she looks like someone snatched from a festival rather than a survivor. A maid in search for a bachelor.

“I think all of us had gardens in our homes, my liege.”

“Good,” says Loki. “What is your name?”

“Nanna.”

“Nanna. Good. So, you'll be the new royal gardener. Take care of the trees. They will produce food, fruits and nuts, as long as they grow. Distribute them among the people. Children first.” She turns back to the crowd. “Come and eat. Do not swarm, there is plenty for everyone. If anyone among you was hurt, please go speak to Eir.”

It's unlikely that something as trifle as ship crash could hurt Aesir, but better to be on the safe side. What else do they need? Water. Sanitation. Shelter. Everything. A plan. A Thing. So much to do, she doesn't even know where to start. Once again, she feels the urge to ditch this and teleport to another realm, where everything will be done for her.

But she can't.

“Not as easy as eating grapes and watching shows, mm?” she hears Heimdall whispering in her ear.