Chapter 1: Never Doubt
The newly-materialized James Buchanan Barnes, still looking a little stunned to be back from the void, raises his head to the voice that called his name.
“Steve!” he exclaims, and takes two steps before he is met by the embrace of a sweaty, bloody, but very-much alive Steve Rogers.
“I thought I’d lost you again,” Steve chokes, tears streaming from his eyes, one hand buried in Bucky’s dark hair.
Bucky smiles and laughs, nose to nose with the man he loves. “Not yet. Never again.”
A few seconds later there is another shimmer, and Sam Wilson suddenly finds himself standing on this strangely beautiful, war-torn moon, staring down at his new body.
“Uh . . . can somebody tell me what the hell just—” He is promptly cut off as two super soldiers tackle him in a fierce hug. He squawks and disappears in a tangle of muscle and metal.
Not far away in the same idyllic clearing, the person of Peter Parker slowly reappears. He sucks in a breath and puts a hand to his chest, staggering backward—right into Tony Stark’s waiting arms.
“M-Mister Stark? What’s going—”
Tony presses Peter’s head to his armored chest and rocks him back and forth. “Damn it, Parker,” he mutters, “I thought I’d never get Dust in the Wind outta my head.”
“Um. Is, is that a song?”
“Groot!” Rocket races on all fours to his willowy friend as the glow surrounding him fades. He leaps into his long, leafy arms. “Ah, buddy, I missed you!”
“I am Groot!”
T’Challa reappears next. Then Drax. Then Doctor Strange. Then Mantis. One by one, the victims that had fallen to Thanos’s path of death and destruction return to the world of the living, slightly shocked, a little confused, but entirely willing to accept the emotional welcome their battered loved ones give them. Hugs and kisses abound. Joyful tears are shed, exclamations of awe fill the air, shrieks of laughter and shouts of wonder rising from the small crowd of the universe’s greatest heroes.
Standing a short distance away, Thor Odinson watches the reunion with a triumphant smile on his dirt-streaked face. His friends are alive. They have been given a second chance. There would be no more tears of defeat after this day.
His smile fades. He turns around, searching. Hoping. But there is nothing. No more shimmers of resurrecting light. No figures reappearing on the horizon. All that was wrong had been set right in the span of a few seconds. The Stones had been erased from existence, and anything untouched by their influence remained as it was.
Perhaps that means some deaths have been justified. Perhaps some lives had to be surrendered in order to pay for this precious, hard-won revival.
Thor’s eyes fall upon Wanda Maximoff, turning to and fro among the throng with tears in her eyes, searching vainly for her beloved Vision. He will not be returning to her, Thor knows. Not with the Stones being expunged from time and history. His heart aches for her.
And it aches for himself.
He takes a seat on a fallen pillar and leans his axe against it. He tries to find contentment in the happiness of his companions. For half an hour he watches them converse with renewed gratefulness for one another, filling in the gaps since the Snap, comforting those whose friends have been forever lost. The more time that passes, the larger the lump in Thor’s throat becomes.
Perhaps some souls are destined to remain where they have fallen.
Then, just as the twin suns are beginning to sink low in the violet sky, a swirling column of rainbow-colored light cascades down into the atmosphere. It isn’t the illumination that draws Thor’s attention, for his back is turned and he cannot see it; it is the sound that accompanies it, one that he recognizes. One that he has known all his life.
He leaps to his feet and grabs his weapon out of habit, turning to face the blazing portal with his eyes squinted and his cape billowing. The light begins to diminish, eventually flickering out and leaving only a few drifting sparkles.
A figure stands in the singed circle of grass. Tall, slim. Dressed in shades of white and gray. Light armor accented with fur and silver. Familiar waves of dark hair falling just to the shoulders.
Thor draws in a breath and holds it, his heart pounding in his chest.
The figure turns. Red eyes meet his own mismatched blue and hazel ones. Blue skin with delicate markings have replaced the pink hues of a face he both knows and loves. And there it is now, that familiar smirk which broadens into a white-toothed smile.
Thor feels something inside him break in half. He drops his axe to the ground—it thumps heavily into the earth.
“Loki?” he murmurs, his voice thick with tears.
Loki—the renewed Loki, God of Frost, King of Jötunheim, freed at last from the enchantment that has trapped him in a non-natural form for centuries—spreads his arms and blinks, sending the tears that are clinging to his lashes rolling down his cerulean cheeks.
Chapter 2: That I Love You
Thor sprints to Loki, catching him in a crushing embrace and lifting him off his feet.
“Oh, Loki,” he cries, “you are alive!”
Loki grimaces. “I won’t be for much longer if you don’t—ngh!—don’t let go of me, you fool!”
Thor regains some control over his emotions and carefully sets Loki back on the ground, patting his sides apologetically.
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” he says breathlessly. “Forgive me, I was. I’m—”
“Delighted to see me, yes, I can tell, brother.”
Formalities are thrown to the wind; Thor cups Loki’s face in his dirty hands, staring at him with wonder. “So this is your true form. Your Frost Giant form.”
“Yes. I have been fully restored, it seems.”
Thor’s gaze wanders all over Loki’s face, taking in the new details. He looks much healthier, Thor realizes. So much happier, as if a burden he’s been carrying all his life has finally been lifted from his shoulders. His ruby-colored eyes are bright, his skin smooth and untouched by fear, guilt, or jealousy. He looks well. He looks free.
“You are beautiful,” Thor murmurs, tracing a pattern on Loki’s cheek with his thumb.
Loki grins tightly and looks downward, bashful. “So Mother says.”
Thor’s smile drops. “Mother?”
“She is waiting for us in Asgard. As are our friends.”
Thor is struck dumb for a few moments. Finally he manages to creak, “Heimdall?”
Loki nods. “Yes, Heimdall. I would not be here without him. And Volstagg is back. Sif, Hogun, Fandral, they are all with us again.” A flicker of pain crosses his handsome features. “Though I’m afraid Father is . . .”
Thor draws in a long breath and slowly releases it. His hands slip from Loki’s face and settle on his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” says Loki softly, and places his hands on Thor’s battle-scarred vambraces. “It must seem terribly unfair.”
“No, Loki. It’s alright.” Thor swallows, smiles bravely. “Not everything that is lost shall be returned to us. I am grateful for what I have.”
Loki pinches his lips together in a sympathetic expression. “Well, looking on the bright side: guess who is the new king of Asgard?”
Thor frowns, then his face goes slack with realization.
“Yes, you, you oaf,” Loki laughs. The sound of it is purer than the jingle of icicles on fir branches. “You must return at once. We are all ready to celebrate.”
“I . . .” Thor cannot seem to find words. This is happening so quickly. “But . . . you?”
Loki’s eyes sparkle with mischief. “The King of Jötunheim has many gifts he would like to bestow the new sovereign. There will be peace between our people yet, brother. I beg your pardon, I mean”—his eyelashes flutter demurely and he bows his head with a grin—“your majesty.”
Thor gives up trying to hold back his tears. They slide down both his cheeks, leaving clean white trails that disappear into his beard. He reaches out and cradles Loki’s slim blue neck in his hand. Unbroken and straight. Solid. Whole again. Like Thor’s heart.
“I must first say farewell to my friends,” he murmurs, glancing over his shoulder before turning back to Loki. “Then I shall join you in Asgard.”
“Of course,” says Loki. “But don’t tarry too long, brother. There are others in this universe who love you.”
Thor appears pained, perhaps even a little guilty. “Are you still among them?”
Loki’s familiar smile is as cool and lovely as the first snowfall of winter.
“No,” he says softly. “I am above them.”
He steps forward, takes Thor’s head in his hands, and presses a kiss to his sweaty brow. A patch of frost blossoms in its wake, crackling quietly. Thor takes a sharp breath, the coldness a welcome sensation after such a hot, hellish battle.
Loki pulls away and exhales a foggy, snowy little breath through his smiling lips.
“You come home soon,” he whispers, laying his hand on Thor’s breastplate.
Thor grasps Loki’s slender blue fingers and squeezes them assuredly.
“You have my word.”