It is numbness and it is agonizing pain, taking their turns on ruling Thor’s mind. Around him lies the death of the last survivors of Asgard. Bodies reaching for weapons, clutching hands over wounds, and some so peaceful they might as well be sleeping.
Thor has an arm slung over his brother, as if to shield him. Before him stands Thanos, purple skin illuminated by the same hue echoed all around the ship. Power surges through the wreckage, seeking to destroy what is left of it. The words of the tall child of Thanos, the one who would speak regardless of the screams around him, preach to dead ears, are stuck on a loop in Thor’s head; You may think this is suffering. No. It is salvation.
The gloved fist is clenched and the ship groans. The light is so bright now that he can barely see anything. Thor wants to pick his brother up and run away from this, all of it, so far that they could pretend it never happened. He looks down at Loki. His brother’s eyes do not see. But they still hold the fear that they died with.
It is salvation. Salvation. Salvation.
Thor screams as Power surrounds him, sickly purple, until it is all encompassing and it hits him that he might be the last that is left of Asgard, and thus Asgard will die as he does.
Thor survives. Some part of him wishes that he had not.
It is revenge that guides him to Nidavellir. It is hurt channeled into anger, alongside strength borrowed from the All-fathers of old, that gives him the power to withstand the raw power of a neutron star. Grief leads him to Midgard where he blasts the army of fleshy, multi-limbed monsters who fight the humans. It is as if he does everything mechanically until he sees it – him. And then his mind awakens and he feels the loss, the sorrow as if he was there again, aboard his ship with his extinguished people and a dead brother in his arms.
He plants his axe in Thanos’ chest. For a moment he revels in it, it is anger and euphoric joy as the purple bitch seems to falter and slowly die. But Thor should have known that is not all it takes to kill the one who wields all of the infinity stones.
The gauntlet twitches. Fingers begin to move to a close, to unleash the power of the stones once more, just like it had closed into a fist and wiped out everyone on the Statesman, every last Asgardian woman and child; just as it had closed around Loki’s throat.
Thor roars in grief and desperation. In agony. He lets go of the axe and slams a fist down onto one of the gauntlet’s knuckles – he knows not which one – and tries to tear the thing to shreds with his bare hands.
Something breaks loose. Then the world fills with a strange yet familiar shade of green.
He hears Thanos’ cry before everything is gone.
Where would you like to go? I’m so tired. Please, let me go home.
There is still a green tint to his vision when he opens his eyes again. The eye Rocket gave him still sits strange in its socket, does not really do what he wants it to, has a mind of its own. He is too fixated at getting it to work properly at first that he does not register his surroundings.
It is the same woods as before, the same warm climate, but everything is eerily silent.
‘Thanos? Thanos, show yourself and meet your death!’ He carries on shouting, anger rising like bile in his throat. Is it over? Is everyone else dead? He needs to kill, Thanos needs to be dead at his feet, Thor will not rest until that happens.
The world is desolate. The wind is the only answer he gets, and it answers him from above – no, that is no wind, it is air being pushed away by a descending aircraft. The leaves on the trees tremble and the world shakes for a moment until the engines still. A woman dressed in a warrior’s garb steps out of the ship and walks up to him.
‘What is your business here?’
‘What happened? The fight, Thanos, did we win? Where is everyone?’
She studies him for a few moments. Her eyes are guarded, she does not trust him.
‘I am on your side,’ he tries, for perhaps she fears him to be another of Thanos’ abominations.
‘Really.’ She sounds sceptical.
‘I need to speak with someone. One of the Avengers-’
‘I know not what you speak of, but I can assure you there are no Avengers here. You are trespassing on Wakandan soil-’
‘What do you mean there’s no-’
He realises that the world is changed. The woods are not ablaze, there are no armies clashing against each other and neither are there casualties littering the ground. Thor realises that this looks nothing like the battlegrounds he was fighting in just a few moments ago. Then he realises that his whole body is in terrible pain, and that the pain is coming from his clenched fist.
He looks down. In his hand lies Time.
‘Distinguished warrior, would you tell me what year it is?’
‘It is 2011 by Christian counting. Why?’
He nods once to her, a form of thanks. Treacherous hope that he knows he could lose all too easily bubbles up in his stomach.
‘Forgive me, I did not mean to trespass. I will leave you in peace. I mean no harm.’
He begins to walk away from her but then stops. He does not know where to go. If it is so, that Time has brought him back to before Asgard fell, before everything – then what does he do now? Where will he go?
To stop him. He must stop Thanos. Thor must have his revenge – and perhaps, and he nearly dares not think it possible, he could save his people from their violent deaths by eliminating the titan before he has the chance to strike.
He looks up at the sky. White clouds move past and the sun peaks out behind them. It feels strange to think that somewhere up there, amongst the stars, the Realm Eternal still shines. His heart aches for it. His mouth is hesitant when it opens, when he calls out,
‘Heimdall! Open the Bifrost. I need to speak with you.’
Last time he saw Heimdall the man used the last of his strength to save Banner and send him back to Earth. Now, the Bifrost embraces Thor and carries him away, the rainbow around him. Saving him. It is a journey he has done so many times before that it feels like home itself, being whisked away like this, traveling through the cosmos with a purpose. It grounds him. It makes him feel light.
And then he recalls the last time he did this in a flash of panic. Hela below them, Loki falling into the void, then Thor falling, and he fell and fell and fell through stars and nebulas and-
His feet hit solid ground in the Bifrost’s observatory. His heart stutters in his chest, then calms as Thor ignores those thoughts of his brother and his sister and how it all went wrong, in so many ways. He will fix it. He will.
Asgard’s gatekeeper regards him just as the Wakandan warrior had, wariness laced with curiosity.
‘Heimdall,’ Thor gasps. Time hurts where it rests in his palm and the pain shoots up his arm and into his chest. ‘I need- I- I need to warn you.’
‘I know not what you are, but I am sure the Prince does not appreciate a poor imitation of himself on his coronation’s day. He quite likes the spotlight to himself.’
‘Coronation day? Oh...’ But that is brilliant, is it not? It was when Thor was crowned that everything started, the frost giants in the Vault leading to the trek to Jotunheim which lead to Loki’s revelations and his fall. And that was when he met Thanos.
Yes. If Thor just keeps Loki from Thanos, Loki will not fail the titan and die as retribution.
‘What is your name?’ Heimdall asks, head tilted a bit to the side.
‘I… You would not believe me if I told you.’
‘Don’t be so sure of that. Tell me. Tell me everything.’
Heimdall has always known and understood more than others think him capable of. As Thor explains and bares his heart for the gatekeeper, it does not feel like hopeless pleas. He is being listened to, believed. It is overwhelming. He skips over the details, only brushes past the fact that everyone he knows and loves are dead, for otherwise he is sure that he would break.
Thanos. Revenge will be his guiding light. As long as Thanos is alive, Thor has work to do. He must go on somehow.
Heimdall guides him to the palace.
‘It is not wise to carry an infinity stone in your bare hand, my pri… king. It is tearing much on you. With time, it will be your death.’
Thor cannot muster much of a reaction to that.
‘We must find a suitable vessel for the Time stone,’ the gatekeeper continues, ‘In the Vault.’
‘The Vault.’ Frost giants. If they go to the Vault now, they will encounter the frost giants. And perhaps save the lives of those guards who were killed that day. This day. Or, perhaps, they could prevent the Jotunsfrom ever entering Asgard, keep their planned theft secret from everyone, and then his younger self will not march into Jotunheim in a declaration of war.
Yes. The Vault is exactly the place where they need to be.
Heimdall has to steady him when they reach the palace’s gates. He nods to a guard who lets them in, leading Thor through empty corridors. Everyone is attending the Coronation ceremony so the place is deserted, like a ghost town, and Thor thinks that this must have been what Loki saw when he raced towards the Eternal Flame to set Ragnarök into motion. The only difference he can think of is that his brother was alonewhile he is not;and instead of faraway screams, there is distant cheering.
The Vault is admitting a faint chill from its half-closed doors when they arrive. It turns Thor’s blood into ice, makes his chest ache with anxiety – they are too late, the guards are dead and the frost giants have already made their offence to Asgard.
No, all is not over, it cannot be. As long as no one goes to Jotunheim, Loki will not know the truth and he will not fall. Asgard still stands. It is not over, not yet.
Heimdall examines the bodies, both those of the Jotuns and the guards. He takes a thorough look at the Vault to establish everything is still where it should be and then turns back to Thor, looking as if he is mentally pushing the matter aside for now.
‘Give me the stone.’
‘It is a burden I wish to carry alone.’
‘I see the likeness now,’ Heimdall smiles, ‘you’re still stubborn in the future.’ He picks up and holds forth a replica of the gauntlet that Thanos uses – used, has not used yet – which holds colourful, harmless gems on each knuckle except one. The gatekeeper holds the jade in his own hand, as Thor does with Time. This must be what Thanos’ gauntlet looked like – looks like, will look like – after Time was torn from it. Incomplete.
‘That is but a copy, it’s useless.’
‘For wielding an infinity stone it is. But for simply holding it…’ Heimdall gestures towards the glove, an invitation to take away Thor’s pain.
He looks down at Time in his hand. There is something very intoxicating about the power now coursing through his veins, the pain feels heady and it takes a few moments until Thor can let go of the Stone. It falls into the indentation on the knuckle. Amazingly, the fake gauntlet does not crumble to dust. Without being drunk with power, the truth of his pain hits him as if he had just flown straight into the side of a mountain and he falls to the floor.
His head is swimming as Heimdall helps him into a sitting position against one of the frosty walls. There is a corpse to Thor’s right, a guard with his face frozen in terror, and the longer he watches the man’s dead eyes the more they start to look like another set of eyes. Dead eyes, with fear in them even in death, a fear Thor cannot make go away because his brother is dead-
Footfalls, coming towards them. Loud and predatory, fearless, barging forth like a hoard of Bilgesnipes. The doors to the Vault open again and down the stairs tread Odin, Loki, and Thor himself.
And Thor – older Thor, the right Thor – cannot help but laugh in the middle of his despair.
The younger version of him looks absolutely ridiculous. He is unblemished and spoiled so much that it reeks of him – wait, no, that it just the ludicrously expensive perfume – his armour does not have so much as a scratch on it. Hair that sways at the shoulder, embalmed with a thousand different creams and oils. And the expression of a petulant child. His younger self is so adorned, like a child playing warrior but without so much as a speck of dirt under his fingernails, that Thor wheezes out his laughter, bending over and clutching his belly as it flares up with pain. It does not matter though. He could stop even if he wanted to.
He knows he has not traveled back very far in time. But this, it feels like a thousand years ago. It is the facade of Asgard, a picturesque image of royalty, nobility. Nothing but an act, a play put on to showcase power.At that Thor quiets, for that is exactly what Hela told him and taunted him with. That was her whole point. It does not sit right with him to admit that she was right.
‘Who is this, Heimdall?’ Odin asks. Thor sobers even more at hearing the voice of his father. Alive. The All-father is alive. His eyes dart to Loki, standing beside his younger self who is still sulking – Loki is alive too. And Frigga. The whole of Asgard lives.
They do not know. There is so much that they do not know.
‘He claims to be the prince, but from the future.’
Odin’s eyes rest heavily on Thor’s. ‘And have you verified that claim?’
‘I believe him, sire. He carried the Time Stone here.’
The All-father goes over to where the fake gauntlet now rests on its pedestal, one of the decorative gems exchanged for something much more powerful. He glances back at Thor, then at his sons, then back to Thor again.
‘Why have you come?’
‘To warn us of the frost giants,’ younger Thor exclaims with anger and hubris in his eyes, ‘and give us guidancein how better to slay them all! That is why, is it not?’
Thor winces. There is much to work on here. It is not so much his old self’s bloodlust he would wish away – he still has that, and for good reason. It has a purpose. It gives him purpose. But meaningless war-seeking when there are already other fights to be won… that is problematic. And the frost giants, especially. Thor needs his younger self to understand that they are not monsters, otherwise he cannot change what must be changed.
He bores his eyes into young Loki’s for a few moments, until Loki pales and looks away.
‘No,’ he then says, ‘there are bigger issues than-’
‘They ruined my- our coronation! This is an act of war.’
Thor notices how his younger self is brash in nature, but when he looks at Thor, he seems unsure. He thinks he knows why. He supposes he does not make a pretty picture, bloody and filthy, shorn hair and mismatching eyes. A crumpled King of Asgard.Here I am, he wants to spit into his old self’s face, your future. What? Don’t like the look of it? Well, it’s all your doing.
It’s all my fault.
‘War with Jotunheim should not be any concern to you. There are more important things-’
‘They disturbed my coronation-’
‘Would you not interrupt me-’
‘I say you are a fraud! I say you are one of the frost giant’s sorcerers-’
‘Quiet!’ Odin barks and both Thors immediately silent. The All-father examines the room with his wise eye, then nods to himself. ‘They did not get the Casket. All is well.’
‘Well?! It is not well, my-’
‘Oh would you stop going on about your coronation? It’s stupid!’ Thor knows he is screaming but he does not care – this version of him does not yet know what hardship truly means, he stays in the finest of taverns after each battle. He has never slept on a crowded refugee ship, has not been crowned king because his father died and he had to kill his sister lest she take the crown. He has never had to tell a citizen they have no more food for her baby. He has not been lost in space with only a handful of survivors, the last of his people. Struggling to get by. He has not known true grief, nor loss. The vows of kingship mean nothing to him.
Thor needs to get to Thanos. He needs the fight, the revenge, the sadistic satisfaction of tearing the enemy apart limb by limb. But Thanos is not here. So he takes the next best thing.
His young self is unprepared. He does not expect attack, not from himself – he thinks himself the best of the best, a great warrior even though he has not yet gotten rid of his training wheels. He walks with Mjölnir in hand and thinks himself mighty, that nothing can touch him. And the worst part is that it is true. Nothing has touched Thor. Only others. It is this self-righteousness that has brought his people to an end while he still has breath in his lungs. Selfish – letting others suffer in his stead. And this boy still has the guts to think himself above them.
Thor slams his young self into the opposite wall with a roar of grief. He knows he will be stopped, he knows he will not be allowed to continue. So he puts all of his might into his first moves, into shoving himself, he gets in a punch to the face as well before the Odinforce knocks him off his feet. When he rises, blood boiling, wishing he could fight some more, everyone are staring at him in stunned silence.
Thor realises that lightning has begun to play across his skin. There is a desperate need to kill rising with the beat of his heart. Instead of getting rid of some frustration he has only gained more need of it – like a drunk that tastes liquor on her tongue and cannot help but swallow the whole bottle.
The surroundings are not helping. Beyond the white of the farther wall stands the Destroyer that his brother tried to kill him with, before it the Casket that was part of the revelations that led to Loki’s first apparent death. Then there is the eternal flame, that first Hela used to summon her army and then was used by Loki to bring about Ragnarök.
Then there is the fake gauntlet, looking so much like the real one that it stings Thor’s eyes.
‘Take him to the healing chambers,’ Odin says calmly.
Thor does not wait for Heimdall to escort him. He knows his way around.
The healers confine him to bedrest for a day. A whole day. Thor cannot stand it, not being able to search out Thanos and his minions and make them regret they were ever born. But time, he reminds himself, is something he has plenty of.
So why does it feel as if time is slipping through his fingers?
The healers stay clear of him as much as they can. Everyone is wary of him. They are not as easily swayed as Heimdall and Thor hears plenty of whispered gossips around him; one is that he is a frost giant sorcerer, just as his younger self suggested, others include that he is an ill omen sent by the Norns. That one, Thor cannot debunk. For all he knows, he could be. He should be, with the horrors Asgard is going to face in the future. People often take omens as a sign to change for the better. That certainly could not hurt in this situation.
There is a knock on the door. Evening falls outside and he reckons the emergency council meetings are going towards their ends. Thor has held vigil by the window, to make sure the Bifrost has not sent his younger self to Jotunheim which will lead their paths to Hel, just like last time.
‘Come in,’ he calls.
And in steps his mother, regal and tall, hands clasped in front of her.
She is beautiful. Radiant. There is blood in her rosy cheeks and life in her eyes. She is alive and it is the most breathtaking sight Thor has ever seen. He quickly makes sure to shut himself off, lest a tear escape the corner of his eye and betray the terrible truth – that she has died, will die, and he knows how and has lived through it while she remains completely oblivious.
‘All-mother,’ he greets her formally, as is decorum for visiting royalty.
‘I should think, in this situation, that I am only mother to you.’
‘Only,’ he echoes. It is a strange phrasing, for never has she been only to him, and he lets her know that through the tone of his speech and the love he slips past his stony defences, lets show on his face. ‘You believe me then?’
She nods, stands there in the doorway for awhile. It must be difficult for her, now that there are two versions of the same son in her home. But Thor knows that at the same time, he is a stranger to her. As is she to him. As should she be, for his mother is dead – this is someone else, someone with her features. It is not her. Not really.
Frigga steps inside and conjures a second chair with her magic. She sits across from Thor, on the other side of the window, following his gaze outside.
‘The Bifrost,’ she remarks. She notices how his eyes glance to it.
‘Just making sure it isn’t being used.’
He does not know how to explain, where to start, so he does not answer her. But as the minutes tick by, guilt blooms in his chest. If she decided to leave now, the last thing he would have done to his mother is ignoring her.
Not his mother. She is a stranger. He will not cry in front of a stranger, no matter how alike to mother she looks.
‘I see sorrow in your eyes. Dare I ask what it stems from?’
‘I have thought long on whether to give you the whole story or just guidelines. I think… I think perhaps knowing it all would damage Asgard more than it would help it. Just as it has damaged me.’ He looks down at his hands, folded in his lap. ‘You will all simply need to trust me instead.’
‘So you did come to warn us of something. You… your old self, you in this time, he says you told him you did not.’
‘I did not come to warn you of the frost giants, no.’ He watches the Bifrost again, needing to make sure it remains closed. Asgard shines in the sun, golden roofs reflecting light, the whole place seemingly emitting an otherworldly glow. He did not notice that last time he was here. He always took his home for granted.
‘Am I dead?’
He startles, having almost forgotten his mother – this woman who looks so much like his mother – is by his side. For a moment he thinks her a ghost, and Asgard a mirage, that he is still on the Statesman minutes away from death with Loki’s body in his arms and that this is what Valhalla looks like. But it is not. His heart reminds him of his survival with loud bangs in his chest, like a hammer that never ceases to strike. No matter what, who or how much it hurts.
‘I can see it in your eyes. When you look at me.’ Frigga smiles sadly, leaning forward so that a hand can caress Thor’s cheek. He finds that his facade is cracking, emotions welling up like a tsunami crashing over a brittle dam. It is beyond his control to hold it in. ‘My child. You need not be strong for me.’
He is seconds away from breaking down in her arms – and oh, it will be just like when he was a child. Crying his heart out, knowing that her embrace is the most healing thing in the universe. He could be whole again. If he would just let her heal him.
But this is not about him. If Thor breaks now, there will be no more strength in him. He needs this loss, anger, hate, to kill what must me killed.
He leans out of her grasp and her hand falls back.
‘It is not you I am being strong for. I am King, in my time. I do this for my people.’
He does not say anything else. Shortly afterwards, she leaves. He wishes she had stayed.
The next day he is allowed at the council. They still regard him with caution but he is treated as a visiting king and he is respected. He tells them a tale without many details – that Asgard faced a great foe, Ragnarök commenced, and that the last refugees were attacked by a ruthless titan. Thanos, Thor grits out. The All-father seems to react at the name and sends a messenger away with some task regarding the subject. Did Odin know of Thanos all along? When Loki came back from New York, did Odin know that his youngest was gravely indebted to an almost invulnerable enemy?
Thor’s anger spikes, so he chooses to focus on other much milder thoughts instead.
‘Thanos gathered all of the infinity stones in the end, and I ripped the Time stone from his gauntlet in anger. He meant to wipe out half of the universe. It is my belief that he has had this plan for long, and is plotting right now as we speak.’
Thor thinks everyone is surprised by him. Not only because they grapple with the fact that he is their prince’s future, but because he acts nothing like young him does. Thor is collected. He is, mostly, patient, and he listens to input. There is a regal air around him that has nothing to do with perfume or when last he showered. Even the All-father has on occasion lifted an eyebrow in a mild expression of surprise at his wisdom, that young Thor lacks.
‘You seek to save your people, correct?’
‘I have no doubt your insights will be valuable for our future,’ Odin nods, ‘but the question remains if anything can be done for you. Bragi, would you repeat what you told us yesterday?’
‘Of course, sire,’ Bragi says and smothers down his long grey beard, ‘it is all a matter of time. How one chooses to see it.’ The old man straightens a bit in his chair, something that tells Thor he is preparing to hold a particularly long speech. And so Bragi, with his sleepily raspy voice, begins,
‘It is a philosophical question many have asked before – what is time, really? And how can we change it? If the Norns weave our fates then we have no say in where we end up, it is all predestined, yet the choices we make are always seen as important, measuring who we are in our hearts. I’ve thought much on changing time since I heard of this older Thor’s arrival. Am I correct to presume that you received no visit from a future self when you were to be crowned?’
‘As I assumed. The Norns have clearly made an exception, my boy. A second chance. But not for you – for our Thor.’ Bragi gestures vaguely to Prince Thor who sits, still bewildered from the falling out he had with his older self, beside Prince Loki at the end of the table. Neither have said much so far in the meeting. It is uncharacteristic of them both if Thor remembers correctly the few times that they were allowed at the council in his past. ‘Since you have come here, have you experienced any change of memories?’
‘I have not.’
‘Then we have two ways of seeing this. Option one, your timeline stopped when you traveled here by the Time stone and ceased to exist. It is now a thing only of the past, existing only in your head. This timeline we are in now has replaced it and as soon as something fundamental changes, you, Thor – King Thor – will disappear as well by all logic.’
‘But I have already stopped us from going to war with Jotunheim. That is- that’s when… things started going wrong.’
‘Then that leaves us with the possibility of option two. I suppose it is a bit ego-centrical to think the universe would stop and change just for one person. Your timeline has continued on without you and this time we are in now has diverged from yours. The Norns have blessed us with knowledge of a nightmarish future, but cursed you to loneliness and inability to bring salvation to your people.’
The words weigh heavy on Thor’s chest. So heavy, he does not know how to breathe properly. He is alone, his people are lost. This version of him that sits further down the table has gotten himself a new chance, but Thor’s brother is still dead, as is his Heimdall, his father and mother. His people. Their culture, extinct.
‘Perhaps that is not so,’ comes a quietly collected voice from the end of the table.
Thor has been careful not to look too many times upon this young Loki before, but is now forced to as the boy speaks up. How youthful he looks – closed off, scheming eyes, but they are a less violent and more energetic. He holds himself with his chin high like a child that expects the adults to disregard his every idea. Thor’s heart aches.
‘The Time stone is a very formidable artefact. It can accomplish much. There are not many texts on it in the library, but I have done some research and…’ Loki’s eyes meet Thor’s without any mercy. The weight on Thor’s chest increases until it feels almost unbearable, to see that same shade of blue-green with a soul still behind them. ‘If you seek to save your people, and their bodies were still somehow intact, I should think the Time stone could bring them back to their previous stages… meaning, alive.’
‘You’re saying I could use the Time stone on them to… reverse their bodies to before they were killed?’
‘In theory, yes.’
‘It is fruitless hope you give this man, Loki,’ Bragi chimes in with a scoff, ‘what you speak of has never been attempted, I am certain.’
‘Then we will be the first to attempt it.’
‘It sounds plausible,’ Thor interrupts Bragi as the man tries again to dissuade Loki from joining the discussion. ‘If I journeyed back to my timeline I could find the bodies and-’
‘Traveling between timelines could prove very difficult. Finding the right one, especially so.’
Thor finds his hope slipping away from him again, but further down the table Loki looks just like he normally does when he thinks upon an idea silently in his head that he has great faith in. Nothing can stop him once he has figured out an unorthodox solution to a problem. Nothing ever has before. Thor should not worry.
‘Either way I will gladly help you, regardless of what it gains me or not,’ he announces, ‘I will need to discuss some particular things of future threats alone with the All-mother and All-father, though. I am sure they can pass their knowledge onwards to you in the next council meeting.’
Odin nods and follows Frigga as she stands.
‘Perhaps then, we shall continue this conversation somewhere else?’ the queen suggests.
‘Aye,’ Thor agrees.
‘Aye,’ says the All-father, and the council disbands.
The King’s study is large, with decorated chairs and a desk that could just as well hold the main course of a feast. Thor reckons him, the Warriors Three, Sif and Loki could easily eat dinner around it. But alas, those days are gone for him. He never even got to know what happened to Sif – Loki told him she was due back in Asgard months before Hela’s arrival, but never showed.
‘I don’t remember all of these books,’ Thor remarks as he sits down in a leathery armchair across the desk from his parents.
‘You were never particularly interested in them,’ Odin says without judgement. Thor still takes it as proof that the All-father is aware of his oldest son’s arrogance. After all, the study is filled to the brim with tomes. Barely any parts of the walls are exposed.
‘No, I suppose I wasn’t. We could not rescue many books after Ragnarök, there was so little time, but fortunately Loki had memorized lots of them. He can recite laws and ancient customs if you asked him to.’ His smile is brief, but he is glad that mentioning his brother alone does not bring him to his knees. That must point to some kind of strength. He has not yet cowered. ‘There could not have been a better Advisor. I am lucky to have him to make up for my lack of knowledge.’
Odin nods, ‘Yes, we meant to make him that.’
‘Does Loki know?’
‘We haven’t asked if he would like the position yet,’ Frigga answers.
‘Ah.’ All the more reason for Loki to grow desperate and lead the frost giants into the Vault to stop the coronation, if he thought Thor would go unchecked and gain absolute power. ‘There are other things that Loki does not know either. That he should know.’
Neither King nor Queen move a muscle to betray worry at Thor’s ominous words. He leans forward in his chair, sighing, feeling as if he is about to scold his parents. Perhaps he is.
‘The secrets in our family have started two wars so far, in my timeline. When Loki found out he was a frost giant I had already started a war with Jotunheim, so he sought to destroy the realm and very nearly succeeded. He killed Laufey and caused significant damage to their realm. Then he died.’ Frigga flinches and Odin does not look as calm as he often prides himself to be. But Thor will not do this any gentler – the truth will be delivered bluntly so that the gravity of the situation can be truly appreciated.
‘He let go and fell into a wormhole into the hands of Thanos and returned… mad. Broken. Then Hela came about-’ it is the All-father’s turn to wince- ‘and the only way we could stop her was to start Ragnarök. She killed most of Asgard’s people. We were few who escaped on the Statesman, our ship. We were defenceless when Thanos came to… to…’
‘You held an infinity stone onboard,’ Frigga finishes for him.
‘Yes. Loki did. He… had failed Thanos in retrieving it years before. Thanos came for it, and Loki was in debt, and...’ And now Thanos needs to be dead. Now, Thor needs his revenge. ‘I am the sole survivor of Asgard.’
It feels wrong to say it. But not agonizing. It is as if he feels nothing, small stabs of pain coming through now and then but nothing more. His world is no longer crashing down around him. He has a hope that he has reason to believe is not for naught. He can travel to the future, his future, rescue the bodies of his people and bring them back to life. He has Time, after all. And Thanos does not. Then Thor can hunt Thanos down and skin him, torture him, break bone and smash skull and-
‘A heavy burden to bear,’ Odin says.
‘I am going to fix it, it’s only temporary. And so are you. Both secrets were the causes to so much suffering. You need to tell me and Loki about his heritage, about Hela, about everything. Otherwise you will end up dead and with Asgard but a long forgotten memory.’
They do not say anything. Odin is as stony as usual, thinking, while Frigga’s gaze is far away. They look like statues, old and grey, in memory of the king and queen; may they feast and be merry in Valhalla, forever. Then the queen blinks out of her stupor, turns back to Thor,
‘I understand. We will do as you ask.’
And he thinks, that was too easy.
He stays in the finest guest quarters. They are lavish and so large that Thor feels small and useless in them. He keeps forgetting where his bedroom is located, where his clothes hang – he has been given new ones, borrowing armours that his younger self was supposed to receive as a gift for having been crowned. He has not seen either of the princes in three days. He supposes they must be avoiding him, perhaps digesting what their parents have revealed to them.
Thor is quite shocked no war has started in these three days. He knows how his temper was, how it still is. Had he learnt of both lies at the same time he would have crushed at least a dozen skulls. Some part of him still thinks the whole ordeal has gone by too quietly; like a calm before the storm.
He is pacing in the entertaining room when there is a knock at the door. He walks into the hall and opens it and is greeted by the sight of Loki – it still manages to make his heart stutter, how young Loki appears to be. He aches to embrace the boy but instead pushes the door further open.
‘I brought you some texts on the Time stone. I know you hate excessive reading, so I also made notes to summarize them.’
‘Thank you,’ Thor says sincerely, ‘It cannot have been easy to do all of this research for me with… the current upheaval.’
Loki has walked past him into the entertaining room and looks back at him with a shrug. He sets down the stack of papers and books on a settee and then sits beside it.
‘So...’ Thor starts awkwardly, fidgeting with a petal from the vase beside the doorway, ‘How are you holding up?’
Perhaps not the best words of comfort, or the least awkward ones. He really does not want Loki to feel as if he cannot talk to him, though.
His brother furrows his brow in confusion. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well… Did you, um… talk to father lately?’
‘Yes,’ Loki says slowly, ‘I did.’
‘And… you seem to have left something out when you spoke to him.’
‘Yes, you. I saw the look you gave me in the Vault.’
Now it is Thor’s turn to be confused.
‘Yes, I… I know it was you who let the frost giants into Asgard.’
‘Then why didn’t you tell father?’
‘I didn’t think it would do any good. The war has been averted, my premature crowning has been as well. You didn’t know all of the details of how your actions would impact the future before now. Just don’t do it again, will you? I would much more appreciate it if you just told me about your fears regarding my lacking in the future.’
Loki gives him an odd look, as if he has started growing horns out of his forehead.
‘You never listen to my critique. It’s fruitless. And what details exactly are you referring to?’
‘The ones… the ones father spoke to you about.’
‘Father only told Thor and me that we could never go to Jotunheim or Asgard would be destroyed. He said nothing about not letting a few Jotuns be a distraction now and then.’
‘But Loki… they were killed.’
‘Those guards died with honour, protecting the treasures of Asgard.’
‘Not the guards – the Jotuns!’
Loki makes an astonished face, as if he cannot believe what he is hearing. Then he bursts into laughter.
‘I am not jesting,’ Thor tries and shifts the weight on his feet, but Loki will not quiet. Not until he sees the serious look on his brother’s face.
‘What? Their lives hardly matter – they are savages!’
There is no sadness in those words. They are spoken evenly, without heartbreak, innocently by someone who does not know. Loki does not know. Odin and Frigga never told him.
Thor closes his eyes for a brief moment, overwhelmed with anger and disappointment.
‘You need to ask father for something, a secret he does not wish to tell you. But you must know it. It is your right. If he still refuses you, go to mother – I don’t think she ever wanted to keep it from you. Father made her. But you must go to father first – he needs to know that he cannot keep lying. Give him a chance to do you right.’
‘Brother,’ Loki says, uncertain but with a thirst to know in his eyes, ‘what do you mean by this?’
‘Ask them,’ Thor says heavily. ‘And swear to me that you will return here afterwards. If neither of them will tell you then I will.’
‘No, Loki. I need you to swear to me.’ Thor has walked up to his little brother and is standing so close to him now that he can see the trepidation in Loki’s eyes, however well hidden he tries to keep it. A need to protect settles into Thor’s belly. He needs to know that Loki will not cross the line into desperation and madness once more – if he needs to take out his feelings in a violent way he is welcome to fight Thor, and not the younger one; older Thor, who knows not to take it to heart. Besides, he could use a fight. There is a storm crackling underneath his skin, waiting to be unleashed.
‘Alright. I swear.’
‘On your word.’
‘On my word and my ancestors.’
‘No matter whether they tell you or not, you come to me.’
‘I will. I promise.’
Loki walks out in search of his parents and Thor is left to sit on the settee where his brother had moments ago, head in his hands. He keeps wondering if he has done the right thing. Overruling the All-father is not something one does without taking the consequences into consideration. And what if this is only worse? What if Loki could have gone through his life having never learned the truth?
No. No, it is his right to know. And otherwise the risk will be there that he finds out, at the worst possible moment, and everything will happen as it had despite Thor’s efforts to change it. No, this is the way. The right path to a brighter future.
He still does not look forward to the waiting he has to endure, before Loki returns.
If he returns.
Loki returns and does not bother knocking but barges right into Thor’s rooms, barges up to him with venom in his voice as he near-shouts,
‘So this it what you wanted. To let me know exactly how far I am beneath you!’
‘You are not beneath me, Loki,’ Thor says as he rises from his seat.
‘Oh really? But I do understand it now, why you were put on the throne even as I was more competent! We could not have a monster there, now, could we?’
‘That is not why-’
‘You can’t deny it! It’s a truth we have known from birth, in all of the songs parents lull their children to sleep with. Stories of the great war and filthy frost giants, so stupid, disgusting-’
‘You are none of those things! Did father tell you that? Did mother?’
‘Father only had time to spit it into my face before he had elsewhere to be!’
His brother seems to shrink back a little as he takes in Thor. Perhaps Loki understands that Thor too is angry with their parents, that they are on the same side. For a moment he seems to. Then his anger takes over and he throws a fist against Thor’s chest.
‘And now you come, ruining everything!’
‘Tell me exactly what I have ruined.’
‘You came and you- you- you’re a good king! You bastard, you were greedy, and arrogant, and childish, but now you come, and all of a sudden the council is convinced that you’re ready to be king! Because some possible future version of my brother has proven himself capable of seeing beyond his own hot-headedness, he is deigned appropriate!’ Loki punches Thor again, and again. Twice in the chest. Right over the heart. Thor forces himself to stay calm.
‘Why did father leave you after he explained?’
‘He had to- to- he said he couldn’t-’ Punch, punch, punch. ‘I’m the reject. Only mother can bear look at me.’
‘Loki, you are no monster.’
Loki screams. He tries a tackle but Thor is ready, he disarms his brother as a knife is conjured. Loki kicks him, spits at him, tries to wrestle him to the ground. Thor moves mechanically, afraid to hurt with the storm inside waiting to be set loose. He calmly places Loki’s arms against his chest and then embraces him before he can try anything else. With his arms trapped between them, Loki is incapable of throwing his fists around, so he stomps his brother’s feet instead to no avail.
‘Let go of me. Let go, I said! Let me go, let me go, lemme go-’
Thor will not let his brother fall again. He will not be helpless, arms reaching out to catch something that does not want to be saved. Not anymore. He will not watch Loki go down a path of self-destruction and hatred. He will not lose him.
After a few moments of struggle, Loki calms down. He gasps in air, head against his brother’s shoulder, and when he speaks it is with a very small and frail tone of voice,
‘Loki, I didn’t know. I swear to you that I didn’t. I learned much later than you did, after- After. Your brother, he doesn’t know either.’
‘He’ll hate me. You hate me.’
‘I don’t hate you. Sometimes I dislike you, when you prank me or disrupt my coronation, but I never hate you. Not for who you are. The other me, the one you know – he will be shocked at first. Hurt, like you. But he will know that your race does not matter. We are still brothers, and it changes nothing.’
‘It changes everything! We’re not even related-’
‘Is mother not your mother? Did she not raise you as her own and share her magic with you?’
‘She didn’t- she isn’t- isn’t- I hate you. I hate all of you!’
Thor takes a deep breath in through his nose and out again. He will not let Loki fall into the throes of despair. He will save him.
‘You need not be strong for me. I promise you, I will be here for you no matter what.’
He can hear it; something inside of Loki breaks, perhaps it is his very heart, and with a sob he comes undone in Thor’s arms. They stand there for minutes, both afraid to move lest the other disappear. Loki never ceases crying but he quiets after awhile and leans boneless agains this brother’s frame, and so Thor picks him up to lay him down on his bed. His little brother closes his eyes within seconds. The covers are balled up into his fists, as if he expects the world to suddenly abandon him if he does not hold on to it.
They sleep like they did when they were children and Loki was woken by a nightmare. He would curl up against Thor’s chest, so close one might think he wished to climb inside his brother’s chest and stay there, safe and sound forever. His breaths are deep with sleep, but now and then they will hitch and a few tears will trail down his cheeks.
Thor lies awake for most of the night, listening to his brother breathe. A heartbeat flutters underneath his fingertips where they rest on Loki’s back. A proof of life. He stays awake because he has to, has to know that this particular heart will not stop. A pain clenches in his chest, and he feels himself closing off more and more, stuffing that feeling elsewhere where it cannot touch him.
For now, Loki lives. And he will continue to. Thor shall hold watch over him, all through the night, making sure that he is alright. As an older brother should.
Frigga knocks on his door in the early morning. She looks upset, eyes darting to the hall behind Thor, trying to peak inside.
‘Is Loki here?’
‘The All-father has fallen into the Odinsleep. I need to see my son.’
The Odinsleep… Yes, he supposes that was imminent. Just like last time. Thor hurries back through his chambers and into the bedroom where Loki lies soundly asleep. He has curled up into a cocoon of blankets, hair a knotted mess.
He shakes his brother gently awake.
‘You told me Odin abandoned you yesterday,’ he says when Loki yawns and opens his eyes.
‘He did. Or he… told me to go to mother. When I raised my voice, he turned away from me. Couldn’t face the monster he realised he was stuck with.’
Hurt and confusion turns into hard anger towards the end of the sentence. Loki blinks furiously to hide how broken he feels inside – at least so Thor imagines. All because of a simple misunderstanding. Well, perhaps not all, but it certainly does nothing to ease his brother’s troubled soul.
‘Brother, father has fallen into the Odinsleep. It was not that he hated you-’
‘I must have caused it. It’s my fault.’ Loki sits with his back straight as a rod, hands clenching around the edge of the bed. He has untangled himself from the sheets and smothered his hair down on one side, but his fingers fall from the other, the knots forgotten. He stares at the wall for awhile, chest rising and sinking with short, jagged motions. ‘I suppose now we will have war with Jotunheim after all.’
‘First a group of frost giants made its way into the Vault. Now one has brought Asgard’s king to the edge of death.’
‘Loki,’ Frigga says from the bedroom’s doorway, ‘you know that is not the case.’
The young prince startles, snaps out of whatever he had been thinking of and stands. There is fear in his eyes such as he cannot hide, no matter how hard he tries. But the queen is gentle. She does not push. Only smiles and spreads her arms,
‘I know all is not forgiven. It is hard to see past something like this. We have both done things that hurt the other in the past, and this time it is my turn to ask your forgiveness. Even though the deed is graver than anything you have ever done to me.’
‘Why? Why did you lie?’
‘It wasn’t intentional. Not at first.’
Thor trades places with Frigga, stopping at the door to watch mother and son slowly approach each other. He has a feeling that they need to have this moment to themselves. To heal. So he shuts the door silently and makes his way towards the entertaining room and lights a fire in the hearth with a small blast of lightning.
The room is silent except for the cracking wood as it is devoured by flame. Muffled voices come from the bedroom. Thor stacks the papers strewn about in the room into a neat pile on the desk. He has written a letter to Eitri of Nidavellir – a warning. The rest are research of his, he has tried to find out when Asgard’s last contact with the dwarves was to establish whether or not the gauntlet has already been made. There has been a suspiciously long thirty years since last a correspondence was made, but it need not be because Nidavellir has fallen. It could be because the Realm Eternal has been busy with its preparations for the coronation and all else that the passing of the crown means.
The last papers lie on the settee where Loki had left them yesterday. Thor has not yet had a chance to look them over, so he does now.
His brother has made some groundbreaking progress.
These ideas, they are made up of certain concepts unfamiliar to Thor, but he knows enough to understand that they prove his hope right. Research on how the Time stone works, how it could theoretically be used. And then the note of summarisation that makes his heart jump; if connected to the Bifrost, or Space stone (where is that? Ask old Thor) might be able to cross into other timelines. There is evidence that it has been used to revive corpses in the past.
It is possible. His people could be saved. They will be.
Thor takes Loki’s ideas to Heimdall in the Observatory. The gatekeeper stands, golden clad and shining, watching over the stars, but he still addresses Thor before the king himself has the chance,
‘I know what you would ask of me. As a guardian I must protect Asgard and think of her best – and to use the Time stone intertwined with the power of the Bifrost would be very risky indeed.’
‘But,’ Heimdall continues when Thor opens his mouth to plea, ‘Asgard is not a place, is it? It’s a people. Your Asgard have very few people left and they are in dire need of help. Their lives are well worth the risk.’
‘Thank you,’ Thor breathes out in relief.
He realises, with that matter so quickly dealt with, he does not know what else to ask. Heimdall is his dear friend and he would like to stay with him, but this is not his Heimdall – the one who stood beside Thor in the destruction of their home world, who watched him be crowned king over the mere handful of refugees left of the once Shining Realm.
‘Was there anything else you needed ask me?’
Thor tries to collect his thoughts.
‘When can it be done?’
‘It will take some time to figure out how to combine the two forces. I will need to seek assistance of some experts on other realms. Weeks, I reckon.’
Weeks. A long time to wait, but it is a small price to pay for the survival of his people.
‘Thank you,’ Thor says again. Overwhelmed, he walks back towards the palace. Weeks. Then he will see his brother again.
Heimdall invites a master sorcerer from Alfheim and one from Midgard. They are ushered into work immediately and stay out of others’ ways as much as they can. Thor only meets them once in the three weeks they work together, a fortnight after they arrived. The alf is one he has heard talk of before. He thinks Loki once was in his training, but is not sure. The Midgardian is called the Ancient One, which is quite strange seeing as humans usually die within a century. She seems to come from the same place where Doctor Strange was taught the mystic arts.
When he meets them they are working in the Throne room, which has been deemed the only place appropriate in size for the portal that is to be created. It also has a strong structure with magical wards around it, so that should the portal collapse, the aftermath will be confined to the room itself. Another important factor is that the Bifrost can be easily connected to a pool of magic that apparently rests underneath the room itself. He does not quite know how the latter’s existence has gone unnoticed by him, having lived here for one and a half thousand years.
The alf asks Thor of certain magical aspects of his timeline to make sure the laws of his universe are the same as this one’s, but he does not need ask many questions before he is satisfied and goes to confer with Heimdall, leaving Thor alone with the Midgardian sorceress.
‘I am the one in charge of keeping the Time stone safe, in this timeline,’ she says. Her eyes follow the work of the alf as he weaves together metals to create the large ring which will harness energy and create the portal.
‘You know Strange then?’
‘No. Not yet. But I have seen the coming of the one who will take over my responsibilities, once my time comes. I have to admit I did not expect it to be so soon.’
Guilt twists in Thor’s stomach. He did not mean to reveal her death to her, however unknowingly it was done.
She holds no grudge in her eyes, only acceptance.
‘I suppose it is time for me to step aside,’ she says. ‘All journeys lead to an end.’
‘Yes, they do.’
‘All we can do is accept our fates, or descend into madness and bargaining.’
Thor’s eyes snap to her form, still so calm and collected.
‘I cannot let my people die,’ he says defensively, and to his surprise she nods.
‘I can’t say I would react any differently if the roles were reversed. We are all flawed. I have sworn not to use Time as I wish, with the consequences that it entails, but who knows how I would act did the Earth perish? Grief does many things to us. Right or wrong – it’s all subjective.’ She turns to him. ‘I will not stop you from saving your people, because it’s your choice, and I can’t know for certain what it will lead to. I can only speculate. You are free to do as you wish.’
‘You don’t need to help me, though.’
‘No. I suppose I don’t.’ She smiles politely and walks over to help Heimdall where he stands with the Time stone in a new device which can both hold it and channel its energy. Thor watches them work for a while more. Then he returns to his chambers.
He has not spoken with the princes since the council meeting and Loki’s breakdown. He sees them sometimes, in the corridors – mostly together, something that warms his heart. His younger self once stood with a hand clasped around his brother’s shoulder, looking as if he was dealing a heart-felt apology or at the least sharing his sorrow. Loki looked wary but still as if he listened and not only defended himself. Thor hopes this means that the brothers are beginning to unite instead of splitting up. The fact that no one has made an attempt on the other’s life yet further strengthens the case of his belief.
He understands how it is that they have not caused any bloodshed one day when he seeks out his mother. She has been made queen with the All-father’s absence – a burden that this time has not fallen to either of her sons and put more stress on them. She watches her children spar from a public balcony overlooking the training grounds.
‘A good way to channel their frustrations,’ she remarks as he comes to stand beside her, ‘Very mature, if I may say so.’
‘I wonder if you might join them? The shade beneath your eyes grows darker for each day that passes. You don’t sleep well, do you?’
‘No.’ Every night, he hears the screams of his people, sees purple so bright it etches itself into the back of his skull. He hears words repeated and voiced over cries of terror and pain. You may think this is suffering. No. It is salvation. ‘I cannot take my anger out down there. My power would cause great damage.’
Frigga laughs softly, ‘It is good to see you have not lost faith in yourself.’
Beneath them the princes are finishing up a round of simple parries and attacks. The stances they pick up now speaks of the beginning of a fight. Each of them carry a sword in either hand. Some part of Thor worries that they will hurt each other, but then he remembers that this is not his reality – these are brothers who have not yet tried to kill each other. Yet.
‘It cannot be easy, being back here after having lost it so recently.’
‘I count myself lucky to see the palace again. And you.’
‘A terrible curse, to be able to change our future, but not your own past.’
He shakes his head, ‘It is not so bad. This is what I will soon have again, after all. My people, my brother...’
‘He died in Thanos’ attack. The grief – that is why you always speak of Thanos with such venom, is it not? And look at Loki with such sorrow. You have done much to help him – both of them.’ She gestures down at the coordinated fight. The princes spar with passion but not desperation; they do not seek to bring harm, only vent frustration.
Thor sighs, both proud and a tad jealous.
‘I only wish for them not to make the mistakes I did.’
‘They will face Thanos, won’t they? Even if you have changed much, that threat still remains. Asgard cannot simply stand by and watch the universe be destroyed.’
‘Perhaps without being so indebted to Thanos, Loki will not be as big of a target. But I cannot promise that. You will need to be careful – do not underestimate the titan, or his children, they will slaughter innocents without provocation-’
‘Thor, my son, be still. We know. We will be careful.’ She lays a hand on his arm and offers her warm gaze as he tries to breathe slower. ‘Our future is not your responsibility. We have put our trust in you. You must put yours in us too. We are more capable than we might seem.’
It is hard to think so with all that happened last time. Still, for her sake, he will try.
The sorcerer, sorceress and Heimdall are ready. They test the portal’s stability once – in what way, Thor does not know or care, he only cares that they are ready now to save his people.
The throne room has been closed off for a month now. It is further evacuated as the rescue operation is to begin. Thor approves the few guards and many healers who will be present, tries to remember if they might have been on the Statesman that day or not. He does not want any of them to see themselves dead, or a loved one, but at the end of the day he cannot guarantee they will not. The only healers allowed present are old and loyal to the crown, the guards likewise. They will not spread rumours or break at the sight of their own corpses. Hopefully.
The queen is present. He has warned her not to but she still chooses to stay. The All-mother’s magic is strong and could prevent the portal from collapsing if something should go wrong, but the real reason she stands where she does Thor realises as the Ancient One raises a hand to begin weave the spell. Frigga lays a hand on his shoulder.
‘I’ll stand by you however long you need me to.’
A lump forms in his throat and he can only nod in answer. No matter what, his mother will always have his back.
The large frame comes to life with a golden-orange glow. The floor is interlaced with a rainbow of colours from the Bifrost, fragments of the bridge imbedded into the stone. Then the alf magic, icily blue in hue, is mixed in with the Midgardian and last comes the green of Time, and then the vastness of space is before them. On the other side of the portal is the darkness and the sight of bodies floating among pieces of the hull and other parts of the ship.
Thor makes sure the steel line tied about his waist holds where it is anchored to the floor, then he jumps through.
He takes a moment to adjust his eyes to the sight. This is his time, perhaps only an hour after Thanos left the last of Asgard for dead. It is deadly silent. Corpses are strewn across a wide distance but they are centred around where most of the wrecked Statesmen lies in bits. He grabs two bodies, a woman and a child close to her who might be mother and daughter, and tugs at the line twice. He is dragged back through the portal and the moment he emerges in Asgard again, gravity takes over and he falls hard onto the floor, gasping for breath.
The sorcerers look calm and not too strained, a good sign as they will need to keep the portal open for much longer. Healers approach and take the child and woman from him, laying them down on the floor beside the pedestal where Time rests.
‘Ready?’ Heimdall asks, one hand on the mechanism that holds and channels the Time stone. The oldest healer, grey hair and deep furrows in her skin, nods gravely.
Green fills the room. Just like purple had when the Statesman was attacked it encompasses all, burns itself into the back of Thor’s skull even as he tries to shield his sight from it. Then it fades, quickly, with a gasp and coughing.
The child, about eight years of age, is sitting up with wild eyes going to and fro.
‘Valhalla,’ she says, ‘It looks just like Asgard.’
Her mother lives as well, but she remains on the floor and only gives a weak whine.
‘They’ll recover,’ the older healer announces.
Thor meets Frigga’s gaze. She lifts an eyebrow, as if to say well, was that all? There is an encouraging twinkle there too, so Thor turns around and braces himself for the many, many more back and forth’s to come.
He jumps again.
He still remembers the exact count of how many they were aboard the Statesman. Two thousand seven hundred and thirty six Asgardians, forty two freed gladiators from Sakaar and one Vanir ambassador who had been visiting Asgard at the time of its fall. There were nine hundred and nine children and twenty nine infants. Only fifteen elders. Three dogs, one bird, sixteen cats.
He keeps a list in his head. Though he tries to focus on bringing the children to safety first, he mostly takes whoever is nearest. After two hours twenty of the babies have been found, thirty of the adults, the Vanir ambassador and half of the gladiators. Three hours and there is only one infant left and all of the cats are safe, but none of the dogs. Pets should not be a high priority, but after he rescued a toddler holding her kitten close to her chest he realised what a soothing effect the familiar animals have on the traumatised children and began bringing more.
The Time stone has affected the memories of the people. Not only have their bodies been restored to their previous forms, but their minds have as well. How far varies; one man can recall fighting for his life as the ship was attacked, another only knows that Asgard was destroyed and thinks they just started their journey for a new home. One elderly woman is shocked when she hears Ragnarök has taken place. She seems to have been accidentally restored to who she was ten years back and almost suffers a heart attack when realising this.
That is when one of the guards steps forward with tearful eyes; the woman is his mother, and he calms her down enough so that she can be moved to the healing rooms for further treatment and resting.
Though none of the survivors remember their dying moments, and their bodies no longer hold fatal wounds, an effect of the trauma lingers. All of the children tremble and heat as if with a fever. Several men and women vomit and Korg begins to shed more and more rocks when he first walks after being saved. Still he looks Thor in the eye and thanks him, tells him to take care of himself before he is escorted away alongside the others. Korg always did have the most polite and caring of souls.
One child clings fervently to her healer’s form and screams so that it must echo throughout the palace. She claims to remember everything, including the gun pointed at her head and watching her grandfather die.
‘Your majesty,’ the Ancient One says as Thor comes through the portal with the bird and the last infant on his mental list, ‘The Alf Master and I must rest.’
‘If the portal is closed, will it be possible to open it again?’
‘In theory, but I cannot make any promises.’
‘Then we keep going,’ Thor says with his own breath in his throat. For six hours they have worked without pause, but he must bring his people home. Only about three hundred people have been found so far. That is not nearly enough.
‘The longer we keep going, the harder it will be to close the portal in a manner that makes it possible to open again.’
Thor is about to shoot back a comment about where she can put it but Frigga approaches him and puts her hands on either side of his face.
‘You have done well,’ she tells him. ‘Let them rest, and rest yourself. We will continue tomorrow after a full night’s sleep.’
She makes him concede. The magic withdraws from the portal’s frame and the image of space on the other side fades. Thor cannot stand the fact that they might not be able to go back, not when so few Asgardians have been recovered, but the queen is right. They all need rest.
He cannot sleep that night. He keeps seeing faces in his head, dead eyes and cold hearts that are given life again. He keeps thinking how fast Thanos could undo Thor’s work, with a snap of the titan’s fingers, how fleeting life really is. In his youth he had thought himself immortal – now his soul seems a brittle thing, so easily snatched away, not strong at all.
Someone knocks at his door in the dead of night.
‘I figured you might not sleep,’ his younger self greets him, on guard. ‘You’re not going to thrash me again, are you?’
‘No. Come in.’
They sit in the entertaining room, leaning against opposite walls. Neither sure of how to act around someone who is them, but with different experiences and a different future set before them.
‘I, uh… I think Loki mentioned he is your Advisor, in the other timeline.’
‘He said mother told him he would be here, too. So that he can help me when I rule.’
‘And… it works? You are able to work together, despite…?’
‘My brother and I have our differences, yes,’ Thor admits and the young prince gives a small smile, ‘but there is nothing we have not gotten over. We have both done each other wrong, many times. I guess the destruction of one’s home puts everything into a new perspective.’
‘And mother and father, they are not alive in your time?’
‘No. Loki is the only family I have left.’
The prince shifts a little in his armchair, glances around the room, ‘You don’t refer to him in past tense.’
‘But he’s on the other side of the portal, is he not? That is why you were so angry with me. You lost him and blame yourself.’ He gives another smile, this one more resigned. ‘I would too, had I lost my brother.’
‘I’m going to bring Loki back to life, so I have not lost him, not really. The only time I ever lost him was when hate grew between us.’
His younger self seems to think on that for a few moments. Moonlight shines in through the window and paints his blonde hair silver.
‘I don’t hate Loki because he is Jotun.’
King Thor raises an eyebrow, impressed. ‘Good.’
‘I have… trouble thinking of him as one of them, but… I have realised he is not of Jotunheim. Not really. He has never even been to the realm so how could he be? He is my brother still. And he has been hurt, by our parents. I cannot leave him alone in that.’
Thor does not think the prince understands; how can he imagine what Loki would do if left on his own to deal with this? Thor himself remembers confusion when he met his brother in the Observatory and Loki smiled madly and spoke of mass-murder. A whole race, ready to be wiped out, a realm ready to die. The prince cannot understand that. Thor still does not, not really. But on the other hand, as long as his younger self cares for his brother, he will not need to understand.
‘I don’t know why I am here,’ the boy admits, ‘I will leave you to sleep. Thank you, for- whatever it was I needed to hear.’
They both stand and then remain as that, uncertain again of what to do.
‘I guess I just wanted to know that there is some light in the future, despite how grim you make it look.’
‘There is light for you. Your future is not yet made. Asgard needs not be destroyed if you work towards saving it.’
The prince nods. Still he makes no move towards the door. It looks as if there is something more he wishes to ask, but dares not.
‘Well?’ Thor prods.
‘Is it… that is, your hair… why…?’
‘Oh. An old man cut it off when I was imprisoned on another planet.’
‘Ah. May I ask the name of this planet?’
‘Thank you. I will avoid Sakaar, then.’
The boy’s shoulders drain of tension and he walks out of the room. Thor is left alone in the moonlight, lips pulled upwards into a grin as he ponders the fact that out of all the grim prospects of the future, his younger self most feared a haircut. Not that he cannot understand. He has to admit that he looks at the prince with envy, seeing his golden locks being played with by the wind. For a moment he wonders if the Time stone could make his hair grow faster – then he pushes the thought away. Style does not come first. His people do. It is a trivial matter indeed, he thinks as he crawls back into bed. But what a luxury it is to be plagued by lesser things again, instead of matters of life and death.
The next day when Thor arrives in the throne room the princes, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three await his arrival.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘We have come to help in your most noble quest,’ Fandral proclaims, leaning against the handle of his thin sword.
‘We know what we will see is upsetting,’ Volstagg says before Thor can object, ‘but our efforts might mean all of the survivors will be safe and sound in our time by the end of the day.’
Thor just shakes his head, ‘You underestimate what is on the other side of that.’
The youths look to the portal and then back to him, unimpressed.
‘We can do it,’ Prince Thor says. He stands beside his brother, determination in his eyes. Perhaps this will be a greater lesson to them, a chance to work together towards a common goal. And they will see exactly the kind of future that lies before them if they do not reconcile and speak with each other instead of stabbing the other’s back.
‘We are ready,’ the Alf Master proclaims. The Warriors Three, Sif and the princes hurry to secure their lines so that they will not float away into space once on the other side.
‘As am I. Let us begin,’ Heimdall orders and the metal frame hums to life.
Queen Frigga watches her sons jump together with pride in her eyes.
After four hours there are only a handful of Asgardians left. The pets are all safe, so are the elders and all except one child. Then there are seventeen adults still adrift.
As Thor’s luck would have it, Loki is one of them.
‘Fifteen left!’ Fandral shouts as he comes crashing back with three men on his arms. The Warriors Three have made it a game to see who can carry the most people back – Volstagg holds the record with four adults and two children. It has greatly helped the mission and now up to twenty people are being revived at the same time, when yesterday it was done in pairs of two and two as that was how many Thor could bring through at the same time.
It does not seem to be a problem though – quite the opposite, people have lost less and less memory when they are resurrected now. Most recall the day before the attack, some even the hours before Thanos came. Others are less fortunate, they come to screaming, thinking the attack is still happening. If Thor could choose, all of them would remember nothing after the ship-wide announcement of an approaching, hostile vessel.
‘Fourteen,’ Sif announces as she returns as well, a woman in her arms. ‘They are getting harder and harder to find.’ She lays down the woman beside the others who are waiting to be brought back to life. Thor is about to go back in when he realises who it is.
‘Val,’ he breathes and runs to her side. He does not remember her dying in battle, but since the Statesman later exploded, he reckons she must have suffocated after being exposed to the vacuum of space for so long.
‘You know her?’ Sif asks.
‘Yes.’ He gets a sudden urge to do something, anything, and his hands flail about as if it was in his own power to bring her back.
‘Strange…’ Heimdall mutters further down the line of people, looking at his own twin corpse. Then he shakes his head fast and steps back.
‘You must give Heimdall space to work,’ Sif tells Thor, pulling up and back. His mouth is dry, he feels as if he is just waiting for something to go wrong. The Time stone has worked so many times before, it should do now too by all logic, but what if…?
The green envelops the bodies, crawling over skin until they are all healed. It does not fill the room as it had the first time they tried to use it – the gatekeeper has grown more skilled at only letting enough power out as is needed for the task, lowering the risk for something to go wrong. The Time stone now works in spindle lines of power that weave a net over the bodies. Then it fades and Val opens her eyes and shoots upright.
‘We need to evacu-’ She stops and blinks against the surroundings, rising to stand slowly.
‘What happened?’ the previously dead Heimdall asks.
‘Your Majesty?’ Val asks, uncertain.
‘We are in the past.’
‘Yes. I used the Time stone to go back in time and- it’s a long story. Anyway, we are no longer under attack.’
She takes a grounding breath, looks around. Fandral approaches, a playful grin in place,
‘Worry not fair lady, you have been saved. Lord Fandral at your service.’ He bows before her with all the charm he can muster. As much as Thor would like to watch Fandral try to flirt with a woman who is bound to choose Sif over him, he hears the curse of the Alf Master behind him and a distorted whirl that sounds like it should be further up on his list of priorities.
‘Master Alf, we need to adjust the energy flow.’
‘Yes, I am-’ the alf lets out a cry of surprise as he tumbles over his cloak and falls flat on his face. Before he can recover, the blue of his magic fades from the frame around the portal and the metal begins to creak alarmingly.
‘The princes and Hogun are still in there!’ Volstagg shouts and makes for one of the lines, trying to pull back whoever it is tied to before the portal collapses. Thor makes for another one and Valkyrie takes the third. They manage to drag out first Prince Thor, then Prince Loki and at last Hogun before the image of space disappears. The portal flickers until the Alf Master and the Ancient One calms it and a new imagery appears. The other side now hints green leaves and trees and plentiful sunshine.
‘The Time stone reverted back to the place it last saw in your timeline,’ says the Ancient One and Thor’s blood chills.
‘Wakanda,’ he says. But that must mean, that not far away- ‘Close the portal. Close it!’
‘Thor?’ Banner stands on the other side, looking through with wide eyes. ‘That’s Asgard- I thought Surtur-’
‘Banner, is the fight still going?’
‘Yes- what happened? One second you were here and the next you-’
A loud noise rings out on the other side. In the matter of seconds Bruce is swept aside by a gloved fist and a large figure steps through the portal.
Thanos looks around the hall, unimpressed by the gold and decorative engravings.
‘So you found a way to bring Asgard back to what it was, did you?’
Lightning plays across Thor’s arms. He can feel the storm gathering within, a mere few seconds away from breaking free.
‘You’re persistent, I’ll give you that.’
‘Hey! Is that the titan you spoke of?’ Fandral calls from across the room, ‘Not quite as good-looking in reality! Shall we kill him?’
Thor looks to the princes who are readying themselves for battle. Fear shoots up his spine in a shiver.
‘No!’ he barks, ‘You leave him to me!’
Thanos closes his fist and their weapons turn into bubbles of soap, the Warriors Three all collapse into heaps and everyone else are swept back against the wall behind the throne. Everyone except Thor. He digs his feet into the floor, having anticipated the attack, breaking the tiles as he tries to ground himself. Thanos begins to walk confidently towards Time. So certain that he will get what he wants.
Thor makes sure everyone else are out of the way, then he lets his storm break loose.
Unkempt lightning breaks through the ceiling from the heavens and Thor directs it at Thanos. It only makes the titan stumble but it buys him enough time to pack in a few punches to keep the purple shrew down. The God of Thunder lives up to the name as everything around him turns white, he lets it fill the whole room before directing the raw power at his target.
Thanos roars as his hand falls to the floor, cut clean off his arm. The reek of burnt flesh spreads in the room. Thor roars. He will not stop now, he knows better this time – he will not stop until he has the titan’s head on a stick.
More lightning dances through the room. He extends an arm and his new axe comes flying to him through the portal – he had hoped it would do that – and he begins to hack at Thanos’ chest. The titan screams and fights but no matter how many times Thor is thrown into walls, the ceiling or the floor he keeps going back. Something thick and sticky begins to drop down his arm from the head of his axe. He does not stop to see what it is.
Creatures have begun pouring in from Wakanda, Thanos’ army coming to their master’s rescue. By now everyone in the throne room have regained their composures and Frigga leads them with a battlecry to fight the monsters, distracting them and leaving Thor time to finish what he must.
‘You may think this is suffering,’ he says between ragged breaths, ‘but if I had the time I’d rip you apart limb by limb.’
He jumps, high into the air, lightning gathering around the axe’s blade. Then he strikes down, on the throat, and with a loud boom, it is over.
Thanos’ head lies severed, several metres away from the rest of his body. Thor has gotten his revenge.
‘This is salvation,’ he spits at the body.
It does not feel as good as he thought it would.
He pokes around at the remains, opens a hole in the chest and cuts the heart out just to be sure. Then he splits it in half, obliterates it, until only charred bits are left smouldering on the floor. When he turns back to the others he finds that the monsters have been killed and the sorcerers already are working on bringing back an opening to the wreckage site of the Statesman to retrieve the last Asgardians.
Everyone is staring at him.
He is covered in blood. Electricity still surrounds him and crackles now and then, his armour is completely drenched in incredibly foul fluids from the titan’s innards. He breathes hard and fast, ready for the next opponent, but there is none. There is none.
‘You are safe, my son,’ Frigga says as she carefully approaches him. ‘Come. Let us stand over here.’
Too easy. Is he truly dead? Thor breathes hard as he struggles to collect himself. She leads him away from the body and to the stairs leading up to the throne. She tries to make him sit but he shakes his head furiously, battle still in his veins, there must be more, he must kill and protect and avenge and what if the titan is not truly dead-
She hums the notes of a soothing lullaby whilst working her magic over him, removing the fluids little by little until he is some semblance of clean. He makes himself think logically, mechanically. He will not do any good in the search if he is this upset. No, there are no more enemies, they have been taken care of. Thanos cannot come back to life with his head separated from his neck. Thor must stop his racing heart, the adrenalin. He will calm, then he can go back through the portal again. He is of no use like this.
‘Last ones,’ prince Loki announces with a grunt as he comes back with two bodies slung over his shoulders. The last child has been found, a boy no older than two with wisps of curly brown hair.
‘No,’ Val says, ‘there’s one more.’
‘Don’t move, Your Majesty. Let me.’ She gives him a look that he thinks is meant to instil trust. It takes every fibre of his being not to insist and take her place. There is only one person they have not yet recovered, and it is the one that Thor cannot stand to lose.
But Valkyrie knows that, and despite popular belief, she does not completely hate Loki; some small part of her might even be said to like him.
It takes longer than usual for her to return. Everyone else is standing by with bated breaths as the last line hangs in midair, the Valkyrie so deep into space on the other side that they cannot see her anymore. The line stretches to its maximum and there is stays, until it slacks again and is tugged at twice. The guards begin pulling her in.
First Thor thinks she will return empty-handed. The Norns have been ever so cruel to him in the past, it would not be surprising if they decided now that he should be punished further. But then she appears, gasping and with her arms full of the last refugee. Thor barely registers it before he has started running, throwing himself down at his brother’s side.
Somewhere behind him the sorcerers are closing down the portal for the last time and some of the last revived Asgardian refugees are being escorted to the healing rooms to join their brethren. Their voices become a blur in the background just like the edges of his vision. He realises he is crying.
Loki’s face is the same as last Thor saw him. Wide eyes with the fear from his final moments still in them. There are minor cuts across his forehead and body, his posture is stiff and wrong. His limbs stick out in angular, uncomfortable positions. But he does not feel it. He does not live.
‘Bring him back,’ Thor breathes, feeling as if a terrible weight has settled over his chest.
‘Heimdall,’ Valkyrie calls, ‘could you bring the Time stone here?’
A moment later Time is set beside Thor and Asgard’s gatekeeper kneels down beside him. It is the Heimdall from this timeline, not his own, but he still has the same kindness in his eyes.
‘You will need to let him go for a moment,’ he says gently. Thor is cradling the body closely, arms convulsing around it.
‘You can. Here, let me help.’
The gatekeeper and Valkyrie carefully undo his grip and lead him backwards, away from Loki’s broken form. Thor leans heavily against Val as Heimdall walks back to the infinity stone and sets it to work. Green light inches closer and closer to Loki until it surrounds him and Thor holds his breath as the energy prepares to repair the damage and turn back the clock-
A small explosion goes off and pushes Thor hard onto the ground.
‘What happened?’ he croaks, struggling to get up again. A treacherous, purple shield has appeared above Loki’s body, remaining there for a few seconds before disappearing again.
‘Something keeps me from reviving him.’
‘Thanos. He said-’ No more resurrections. No. No, it cannot be. Thor has not come this far only to stumble on the last step. He will throw up. He thinks he might. This cannot be, Loki is so close yet so far away.
The titan lies pitifully on the floor, gore spread across a wide span of the floor, and still he has the last laugh.
Anger. At Thanos, for mocking Thor even in death, for having put this last obstacle in his way that he does not know how to get around. It is purple, so sickly purple like when the Statesman was pulled apart with the mere closing of a fist. When Thor was weak but held on to his brother’s body with the last of his strength, and then the purple blasted him away and separated them. And to think that separation might be forever – that cannot be the case. He refuses to think it is.
The purple shield, it must be the Power stone’s work. But Power, it lies only a scant ten metres away on the ground next to the titan’s body. It is not Thanos’ anymore. The curse will not come back if Thor breaks it for Thanos is dead and cannot do any more harm than he already has.
He could use the gauntlet to lift the curse, but Thor knows he would not be able to stick his hand up the weapon that killed his people, however temporary their deaths came to be. There is another way. The infinity stones are equal in power, but the shield has not been put under the true pressure of Time. If Time was unkempt, let to rule as it wished, it could break the curse. Power always recedes under pressure, under Time.
Thor lunges for the Time stone before anyone can interfere – it is a madman’s gamble, he knows it and he does not care – and rids the stone of its cage. He holds it in his palm and he lets it do its own bidding.
It burns and burns and burns him.
There is a different kind of storm around him now. Green mixed with black shadows, just like when Malekith held the Aether a long time ago. It feels so long ago. Time greets him, the pain feels like an embrace.
I took you home as you asked. Was it everything you wished for?
Please, bring my brother back. I will do whatever you would ask of me.
Time is suffering. Has no one told you that before? But then again, T ime also heals all wounds. It is all a matter of how you choose to perceive it. Above all, Time is truth, for truth always shows its face however long you try to avoid it.
Thor can hear himself screaming in agony; it sounds far away, a thousand miles away. A fog rests over his mind but it is not one that stems from the Stone’s working on him – it is self-inflicted, it has been his own doing to hide what it is that he has hidden from himself. Now the fog clears and the pain hits him straight in the stomach much harder than the grip that Time holds on him. It is loss and it is grief, shame and guilt, an ugly anger that in truth is nothing but tremendous fear. Truth. Fear.
Face your truth, Time tells him and a tear, the first of many, rolls down Thor’s cheek. The truth is that he has been afraid so many times, too many to count, but he always pushed it away and now it comes back to haunt him. He cannot stand it anymore, the pressure. Time.
The purple shield cracks and crumbles away. Loki’s chest rises. It rises.
When the green and black wisps of shadows and power die down around them and Time lies forgotten on the floor, Thor sits cradled against his brother’s chest. He sobs and rocks, back and forth, as the dam he has built breaks and he struggles to hold himself above the surface.
‘Shh… It’s alright, brother. It’s alright,’ Loki whispers. He is still out of breath and disoriented but his hand cradles the back of his older brother’s head against his shoulder in comfort. Loki’s own head turns to the side and his breath stutters – he must notice the large, purple corpse where it lies so violently on display. He does not comment on it, though he does seem to breathe easier after that.
Steps sound behind them. Thor hears someone pick up the Time stone and return it to its confinement, feels Loki’s head move and then his heart skip a beat in the chest that Thor’s ear rests against.
‘Mother,’ Loki breathes, astonished and hopeful, ‘Is this Valhalla?’
‘No my son. It is home.’
Home. It sounds so trivial, in a sense. To Thor this is paradise, with strong arms around him and the beat of a heart to guide him through his emotions. If this is not Valhalla, then how could the afterlife ever promise to be a warrior’s most precious dreams come true? Thor knows what his dreams are. Some are impossible, some things he cannot undo. But this is much better, to just have one wish granted – it makes the one more special, and it makes it believable. Perhaps this time Thor can truly trust that Loki is back for good. That trouble will never touch them again. Perhaps this time he can stop for a moment and rest.
Just this once, he might not need to be more afraid than he already is.
They stand at a balcony in their joined guest chambers. Asgard lies below them, golden, shining, full of life. It seems to exude life itself, keeping the trees and plants and people forever in youth. Forever merry. A celebration of some sorts is being held in a tavern not far away from the palace and songs and laughter drift out of its windows like the sweetest scents imaginable. It warms his heart to hear.
‘It feels strange to be back here,’ Loki says. ‘I can hardly believe it.’
He wears new clothes that he has somehow managed to have tailor-made within the course of a day. Black and green leather crisscross across his chest in a pattern Thor does not recognise. It is something new. Something that manages to be intricate but loose; complicated but free.
‘Did you know Thanos would come after you?’
‘He did promise the outmost pain imaginable if I failed him, but I never took it for certain.’
‘And when you decided to take the Tesseract?’
‘It crossed my mind.’ The wind plays with black curls, combing through them with a gleeful whistle. ‘I didn’t know what would happen to the ship, brother. That I promise you. I suppose I should have considered the possibility, that Thanos might have been able to trace the Tesseract and thus find us, but so much else happened and...’
‘You couldn’t just have left it in Asgard’s ruins?’
‘How else would I have escaped?’
Thor sighs and folds. What is done is done and instead of wishing it had not happened he will enjoy what he has. The people live. Families have been reunited and given temporary homes in the palace, much better ones than what the Statesman had to offer. They eat well and sleep on feather pillows and soft linen sheets.
‘Where will we go now?’ Loki wonders out loud, turning his head to face Thor.
‘I don’t know. The Alf Master has suggested some small town on the edge of Alfheim where we could rebuild a society, but staying in this timeline… it would be strange. People might bump into themselves.’
‘But do we really want to go back to our own time?’
‘I killed Thanos. That threat is gone.’
‘There is still the matter of his children. They may wish to seek revenge upon their father, however horribly he treated them.’
‘Then we will fight them and we will win.’
Loki huffs, a small frown in place, but he does not further argue his point.
‘The Ancient One – the Earth sorceress – she suggested Midgard in our time. I do not know much of the damage Thanos did on it, but I do not think it too great given that I managed to defeat him before he could do anything with all of the infinity stones.’
‘Midgard, then. I am still not so sure they will accept me.’
Thor turns fully to his brother and grips his shoulder in a familiar manner that has its root in their childhood, a thousand years ago.
‘I will make them see you as you are now. Much has changed since you tried to subjugate them.’
‘Still. They do not strike me as the most forgiving of peoples.’
Thor cannot muster any significant worries over the future. Not anymore. He has escaped his nightmare, where the last he said to Loki was how bad a brother he was. He will not sleep lightly in some time, the image of purple and a hand closing around a throat haunting him. In time, though, those memories will fade. In time he will come to terms to all that has happened these past years and he will learn to live with it. After all, he has a people to care for. He must be strong for their sakes.
For now, Loki’s comforting warmth is enough to soothe him in the late hours of the night. They sleep like they did when they were children, except this time both are haunted by night terrors. It does not make them weaker, though; if anything, they are stronger. Bound to each other by this shared burden of a future that almost was, prevented only in the last minute.
‘How can you think all will be well after what we just went through?’ Loki asks, shoulders slumping a little as he looks out over the city. His eyes are filled with longing.
‘It will be. Time changes fast, it seems only yesterday that I lost my eye and now I have a new one.’
‘I was meaning to ask about that.’
‘It was given to me by a rabbit.’ Loki gives an incredulous huff and Thor laughs softly. ‘It really was, I swear.’
‘My my, Thor, I thought you were above lying.’
He quiets and shakes his head.
‘It will be alright. It has to be. How else will we go on, without hope?’
Before Loki has the chance to answer that they hear hurried footfalls behind them. They share a look between them before turning around, just in time to see the young princes come to a halt in the doorway to the balcony.
‘You are called to the throne room,’ Prince Thor declares. ‘It sounds urgent. A lot of raised voices.’
‘Your friend the Valkyrie seems the most upset,’ Prince Loki adds, ‘Although I have not been inside to see it myself.’
For a moment, all four of them stand completely still, eyeing each other. It is stranger still now that there are two Loki’s and two Thor’s – it makes one wonder if one of the pairs is not a trick of the mind, duplicates.
‘We should probably get going, then,’ Loki says and brushes past his younger self with the ease of someone pretending to be completely fine with a serious of mind-fucking events. Thor grins and follows him.
There is a commotion in the throne room. They hear the raised voices and cursing even before they enter it. Valkyrie stands further down the hall near the large doors that lead outside, kicking liquor off her boots and splashing around in a puddle of mixed alcohols. Broken glass lays strewn about – it looks as if at least a dozen bottles have been broken. Thor is about to say something about how this is not an urgent matter at all, if the casualties are but a few lost drinks, until he sees Sif. His Sif.
Sif from their timeline.
He is certain that it is her. She does not smile as her younger self does and there is a faint, new scar situated near her hairline. The clothes she wears are foreign – thick fabrics but no armour in sight. Around her throat hangs a necklace with a large pendant of golden-bronze metal, shaped like an eye, with a green glimmer coming from within it.
‘The Time stone,’ Thor marvels. But no, not only – there are hints of orange and blue in the eye as well. Like the alf and Midgardian magics that kept the portal going.
‘You sent me. The future you. I am here to guide Asgard to what will become its new home.’
‘I was just preparing the load of booze we have been gifted with,’ Valkyrie chimes in. ‘Rumour has it Midgard’s liquor has nothing on the whiskey of Niflheim.’
‘The queen has kindly offered to supply you with whatever you need,’ Sif explains, ‘I suggest you take full advantage of that – Midgard has much, but certain things can only be found in our homeland.’
‘Books,’ Loki says, his mind’s gears already turning, ‘We need texts on tradition, children’s stories. Tomes we can use when teaching the next generation of our culture and history.’
Sif nods and he disappears out the room, probably to place an order on said books in the name of the crown. Thor looks around him, only now noticing the Asgardian refugees that stand with chests filled with clothes, carts of food and sanitary products. Behind him is Heimdall, ordering around the workers. He catches Thor’s eye and smiles.
Everyone around him are already aware of Sif’s arrival. They are preparing for their departure to Midgard, moving as a well-oiled machine, smoothly and with only minor setbacks such as Valkyrie’s lost booze. But their king, who should be the one leading them, cannot wrap his head around that not only his best friend is alive, but has come with glad tidings from the future. Even with what he told Loki only moments ago about holing on to hope, after all that he has been through, how can he believe that a brighter day will come?
He remembers Loki’s words on the Statesman. The sun will shine on us again, brother. Thor wonders if he knew – it was Loki, after all, who claimed that what happened to Sif or where she had gone was a mystery. Did she come to him first with the Time stone, either several months back or while they were on the Statesman? Did Loki know his death would not be permanent this time either?
‘I can barely believe you are here. How?’ He has lost so much, to be given something without any pain or hardship attached to it on his part feels unreal. Whether Loki knew does not matter – he learned way back that his brother is an enigma that cannot be solved. It is simply in his nature and Thor cannot be angry at him for it, even if it frustrates him. But what he does know is that he cannot accept this kindness. It is too good to be true. There has to be a catch. A loophole of some sorts.
‘My friend,’ Sif smiles. Her lungs rise with every breath; her heart beats with life. Life. ‘Take it as a good omen. With all that has happened, do you not think you deserve one?’