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It shouldn’t have worked. Loki wasn’t sure how such a last-minute plan and hastily thrown-together spell worked. By all rights, he should be dead. Yet he wasn’t and the god of mischief and lies had some unfinished business with the titan.

Loki was beyond pleased with getting a second grand entrance into a seemingly hopeless battle. He could get used to this hero-thing. Jumping into the fray without a second thought, Loki cut through Thanos’ forces, keeping an eye out for both his brother and the titan. He didn’t see Thor, but he could have sworn he saw Thanos out of the corner of his eye. It might have just been his tired mind playing tricks on him, but he could have sworn he saw a small grin playing over Thanos’ lips. Why are you smiling? You’re finished, Loki thought, a tendril of fear creeping into his mind. When Thanos smiled, it was never good. Loki turned to face him fully, but found only more enemies.

After what seemed like an eternity, one of the ridiculously costumed Midgardians (really, what was with the flashy colors and absurd clothing?) managed to get in the killing blow that ended the titan. His forces fell easily after that. By the late afternoon, it was over. Loki was panting for breath as he surveyed the battle. The Midgardians, all of them looking completely exhausted, were already starting to reunite with their loved ones, tears of relief flooding down their faces. The Midgardian who had landed the killing blow, a blonde woman who could apparently fly, started undoing the damage Thanos had done with the help of the second rate sorcerer. Loki pulled off his horns, tucking them away in some hidden pocket of reality along with his daggers. Again, he looked for Thor, doing his best to avoid the Avengers. Loki wasn’t sure it was the best idea to make their acquaintance again without his elder brother beside him. Or in front of me, Loki thought when he caught a glimpse of the archer who was called Hawkeye.

As he wandered the battlefield, calling for Thor, Loki wondered if his brother had seen his entrance. Gods, he’s going to be infuriated, Loki thought with a roll of his eyes, imagining the scene his older brother was going to make. Okay, so he faked his death three separate times now, technically two and a half (falling from the Bifrost was debatable at best). He always came back though. Thor should realize that by now. His younger brother would always come back … if only just to annoy Thor.

Loki suddenly froze, his eyes falling on a still form with familiar leather armor lying a few feet away in the dust. His heart caught in his throat and for a moment, it seemed like the entire world stopped. All Loki could hear was a high-pitched whine as he stared at the form. There had been many times in his life that Loki had felt fear, but never had he felt it as intensely as in that moment.

“Thor?” he whispered, unable to even shout. Before he knew it, Loki was running to his brother’s side, crashing to his knees and carefully pulling the god of thunder into his arms, wincing at the wounds he saw. No, no, no, no, he screamed in his mind. The damn oaf was still breathing, thank the gods, but Loki could see the damage. Using his seidr, Loki examined the internal wounds and the fear became suffocating. He couldn’t fix this! There was too much broken, too much severed, oh gods!

“Brother?”

Loki was startled by the soft whisper and looked to Thor’s face, noticing glassy blue eyes staring back (where in the seven hells did he get another eye?). Gods, he looked so much like Frigga. Most people compared the god of thunder to Odin, but Loki always knew them to be wrong. His elder brother took more after their mother, both in looks and more recently, in personality and demeanor.

Loki ignored Thor for the moment, concentrating on healing what he could with his seidr. He couldn’t fix everything, but he might be able heal enough to help Thor hold on until a proper healer could see to him. He had to be able to do at least that. How he wished he had more practice in the healing arts, though Loki doubted it would have made any difference. Thanos and his forces were artists when it came to destruction. Destruction and pain. They knew how to break things beyond repair. He knew that from firsthand experience.

“Am I in Valhalla?”

Loki let out a strangled laugh at the question, unable to help himself. He looked back to Thor, mirth twinkling in his green eyes. “Do you really think I’d be in Valhalla, Thor?”

For a moment, there was confusion in Thor’s pained gaze and he looked as though he were about to argue, because of course he would. But then … then there was elation and Loki could feel tears well in his own eyes. “Loki! You live! I knew he couldn’t kill you.”

Unable to answer right away (why did he have to be so damn happy to see Loki), the trickster just nodded once and turned his attention back to trying to mend enough so that he could get Thor to a proper healer.

“Yes, I live,” he affirmed with a small, watery smile once he found his voice again. “You missed my grand entrance into the battle then. I’m a little hurt, brother. It was truly a glorious sight. I saved the day. Again.”

Loki couldn’t help but flinch when Thor lifted his hand to cover Loki’s. “Loki, stop.”

“Dammit, Thor. Let me focus or you’ll bleed out,” Loki grumbled as he tried to pull his hand away from Thor’s.

“Brother, it’s too late,” Thor replied calmly, his voice whisper soft. Loki glared at him, but Thor merely smiled back. “Just be here with me. Let us enjoy these last few moments, please.”

“Don’t be a fool. You’re not going to die here. You’ll be fine,” Loki responded, finally getting his hand free and turning his attention back to helping his brother. He could feel Thor watching him, knowing it was with a fondness the trickster didn’t deserve.

“I avenged you, brother,” Thor whispered and Loki clenched his eyes shut. “I repaid every hurt they did you a hundred fold. I made sure Thanos paid for what he did to you. You no longer have to be afraid, Loki. I vanquished your nightmare, just like I promised I always would, back when we were young.”

Loki let out a shaky breath, feeling his brother’s warm blood on his hands. This couldn’t be happening, not after all they had already survived. His brother couldn’t die now that Thanos had finally been defeated and Thor’s beloved Midgard was safe.

Glancing down and noticing Thor’s eyes were closed, Loki panicked and shook him. “Thor, Thor! Stay with me. Please, stay with me.”

Thor’s eyes fluttered open and he grimaced, sucking in a shallow breath. His eyes wandered up to Loki again. “Asgard? Were there any other survivors?”

Loki swallowed and nodded. “Yes, a few managed to escape through the tesseract. I sent them to where we found Odin. Korg and Miek are currently watching over them.”

A hopeful smile spread across Thor’s face. “That’s good. You must lead them … protect them. Make a new Asgard, built on a foundation of peace.”

“We’ll do that together, brother. Just like we were always meant to,” Loki promised, glancing over his shoulder, hoping to spot a healer nearby. There was part of him that wanted to run and find one, but he couldn’t just leave his badly wounded brother here alone.

“Loki, it hurts,” Thor whimpered, curling up against his younger brother, and Loki looked back to him. Swallowing around the knot in his throat, Loki re-focused his seidr to mask whatever pain his brother felt and Thor sighed softly in relief, sinking more into his brother’s arms. His eyes fluttered closed again and Loki could feel his heartbeat slowing. The logical part of him knew his brother didn’t have long, even though he tried to deny it. Thor turned his head a little so that his ear rested over Loki’s heart and it seemed to relax him even more. Loki carded his fingers through Thor’s short hair, trying to offer what comfort he could.

“Thor, you saved everyone,” the trickster whispered. “You helped defeat Thanos. You saved your people.”

To Loki’s surprise, Thor’s eyes opened and he gave his brother a weak smile. “I didn’t do it for them.”

That was it. Loki could feel the tears spill over his cheeks and he started weeping quietly. He felt his brother weakly wrap one arm around him, hugging Loki like he’d promised to do after their narrow escape from Hela. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

“I’m sorry, Thor. I should have gotten here sooner. I’m … I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” Loki wept, burying his face in the space between his brother’s shoulder and neck. He should have been here, watching his brother’s back. He could have prevented this.

“Shhh, it’s okay. It’ll be okay,” Thor comforted him and Loki held him close, as tight as he could without hurting his elder brother. He remembered all those years ago, the Other promising him that there would be no barren rock where Loki could hide that Thanos couldn’t find. He would make Loki experience pain beyond his wildest imagination. Why? Why had Loki been so damn foolish to believe that it would be torture visited on him? Torture wasn’t the only way to bring about pain. It wasn’t even the most effective way. Loki had revealed his weakness on the ship of Asgardian refugees and Thanos had taken advantage of it. Thor suffered now because of him.

“Loki? Look,” he barely heard Thor and glanced to his elder brother. Thor was looking upwards, a smile playing across his lips. Loki followed his gaze up to the warm Wakandan sky.

“The sun is shining upon us again, just like you said it would, brother,” Thor said with a sense of wonder, his weak grip tightening on Loki’s shoulder. Loki closed his eyes and nodded, unable to stop his tears from falling. He felt shaking fingers gently brush them away.

“You are a great brother, Loki, even when you’re the worst,” Thor’s voice was getting fainter but the trickster could still hear the smile in his words. Loki let out a gasping laugh, resting his forehead against his brother’s, feeling the small tremors that wracked Thor’s body. He held Thor tightly, doing what he could to take away his pain, allowing his elder brother to take comfort in his nearness.

“Thor, if you stay, if you hold on, I promise I’ll never make you mourn me again. I promise, brother. I won’t leave again. Just please, don’t leave me,” Loki whispered as he felt his brother go still. “Please, Thor.”

_*_

A few nights later, Loki sat in one of the small secluded huts by the river bank. He had lit a lone candle, saying a traditional Asgardian prayer for his brother, before resuming his usual place: sitting on the floor, back against the wall. Loki stared forlornly at the wall, his unkempt hair dropping into his face. He looked much like he did when Thor had spoken to him after Frigga’s death. Numbness enveloped him and Loki closed his eyes, dropping his head back against the wall. He felt like he’d failed not only Thor, but Frigga as well. She’d always wanted her sons to protect each other.

Loki glanced up when he heard a knock on the door. Brunhilde would be off with the Dora Milaje for the night. She’d taken a fancy to one of them and Loki barely saw her after her routine check-in in the morning. She never knocked either, just opened the door, asked, “Still alive and whole? Good” then shut the door and go off to help with the clean-up. Occasionally, she would drop by in the afternoon to offer him a drink, which he always turned down. She never came by at night.

“Hey, you decent?” an unfamiliar male voice came through the door. Loki raised an eyebrow, trying to place the voice.

“If you’re here to offer food or drink, I want neither,” Loki replied. At least his voice was no longer raspy from screaming. Loki had sat with Thor’s body for a day, praying for some kind of miracle. When it became apparent none would come, the King of Wakanda had offered him this hut, where he screamed and sobbed himself hoarse. He’d then fallen into a routine of doing nothing. Nothing but grieving.

The door slowly opened and the curly-haired human with a red jacket who traveled with the group of misfits called the Guardians of the Galaxy peered inside. When his eyes fell on Loki, a sympathetic smile danced across his face.

“Hey man, we didn’t have a chance to meet properly, though with how much your brother talked about you, I feel like I already know you,” the man said as he stepped inside. “My name is Peter Quill, better known as Star Lord.”

“Gods,” Loki mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He was way too sober to deal with another ludicrous Midgardian alter ego. To his surprise, he heard Quill chuckle.

“Yeah, your brother was a little confused by the name too, at first.”

“No doubt he found it endearing,” Loki replied tiredly, glancing up to Quill. “What can I do for you?”

Quill rubbed the bottom of chin, moving across the small space to take a seat beside Loki. “I’m not really good at this kind of thing, but your brother was briefly part of my crew and I know how much he cared about you. He definitely wouldn’t want you to be alone, so I wanted to ask if you’d consider coming out to the party, blow off a little steam.”

“I do not wish to and I doubt I would be welcomed even if I were so inclined,” Loki replied, running a hand through his tangled hair. Quill chuckled, clutching his hands in front of his knees.

“Yeah, Thor told us a bit about what Thanos made you do. Like I said before, he couldn’t stop talking about you. He told us about New York, but mostly he was telling us about all the adventures you had in your youth. Hell of a life you’ve lived,” Quill paused, eyeing Loki for a moment. “That story about the snake, that true?”

Loki rolled his eyes but didn’t respond. He didn’t feel like reliving the past. It only served to remind him just how alone he really was. Outside, the faint sounds of the revelry could be heard in the distance and Loki was beginning to hate it.

“Thought he might have been somewhat biased, being your brother and all, but then we got to Earth and Banner was raving about your last minute save of Asgard. Really made us want to meet you,” Quill continued after a moment.

Loki arched a skeptical eyebrow. “Banner?”

Quill nodded. “Before the battle started, the two of them were just going on and on about you to whoever would listen. Banner, Thor, Brunhilde, they were all talking about how much they wished you were there. Apparently, aside from being a skilled warrior and good with magic, you’re very entertaining.”

The trickster turned his gaze to where Stormbreaker rested against the wall at the head of the bed. The fool had probably almost killed himself making the damn thing, which was so like his brother.

“He grieved you, you know,” Quill spoke again, softer, following Loki’s gaze. “Poor guy was miserable when we first found him, had nightmares like you wouldn’t believe. Lightning everywhere, really wreaked havoc on my ship. He was determined to destroy the monster that had hurt his little brother. Let me tell you, I would not want to be on your brother’s bad side.”

Loki swiped at his tears, unable to respond. He didn’t want to start weeping in front of this strange Midgardian (who was part Midgardian and part something else, which Loki couldn’t quite figure out nor cared to try at the moment). Quill, to his credit, turned his gaze toward the wall across the small space.

“Funny thing was, as much as he grieved, as many nightmares as he had, Thor never doubted that you would return. He told me that once Thanos was defeated, he was going to travel all the universes and all the galaxies until he found you again. He knew you were out there, somewhere.”

Quill went quiet for a moment. “I’m not going to force you to go out and participate in the festivities, I know that’s not really your thing, but my crew and I are leaving in a few days and we’d really like the chance to sit down and have some coffee with you, maybe tell you about your brother’s time with us and you can regale us with tales of him not being, you know, freaking perfect.”

The trickster swallowed. “I make no promises, but I will try.”

Quill patted his knee. “That’s the spirit. Just look for the blue and orange ship, that’s where we’ll be.”

_*_

The days passed slowly and Loki soon received a message from Korg. The people from Asgard weren’t sure what to do with themselves and were getting a bit antsy. They needed a leader, preferably one with experience in Midgard. Loki knew he would need to journey there eventually, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do so yet. He had only just found it within himself to leave his small hut.

When he finally found the energy to go to the guardians’ ship, Loki found the pain of Thor’s passing even more intense. A strange woman with the antennae had burst into tears when Loki approached, much to his confusion. Until he learned she was an empath. She tearfully introduced herself as Mantis.

Loki had found their company interesting and stayed longer than he had originally intended. They had a surprising amount of stories about his brother, even though he’d only been with them for such a short span of time. Loki had pulled out a small journal and started writing down some of their tales and even found himself smiling despite the overwhelming grief he felt.

Once they finished their coffee, Loki stood by, watching Quill and the one called Drax load an absurd amount of coffee on the ship. Gamora sat just inside the ship, sharpening one of her blades. Her lips thinned every time the two men had brought another box of coffee onto the ship, obviously not pleased, but she still smiled secretively when they went out to get more. Loki himself couldn’t figure out why they didn’t pack more useful things. Peter Quill insisted that it was impossible to find decent coffee in the far reaches of the galaxy and he was stocking up while he had the chance.

When Loki was about to take his leave, Mantis approached, placed a hand on his heart, and smiled. “Your heart feels like his,” Mantis whispered, her large black eyes fixing on his face. “Same rhythm. Just like brothers.”

When the guardians left, it felt like he lost another part of his brother. It was the loneliness that Loki was finding hardest to cope with. As he stood on the bank of the river, looking out over the still waters, the trickster considered his options.

“I’m staying,” Brunhilde declared as she came up beside him. “To see the reconstruction through.”

“I figured as much,” Loki said, shifting his weight. “I’m sure Ayo will be pleased.”

Brunhilde grinned, though there was a hint of sadness to it. “I feel as though I’m neglecting my duty. Thor made me promise to look after you if he were to fall.”

Loki let out a breathy laugh. “I’ll be fine, Valkyrie. You needn’t worry about me. Undying, remember?”

“Uh huh,” Brunhilde replied, obviously humoring him. “You and your brother had the same recklessness. I have a new admiration for Queen Frigga after meeting the two of you.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Loki raised a fist to rest against his mouth. He still felt empty and alone, the last of his family. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Thor was the survivor, the one born to be king, the hero who always emerged victorious. The god of thunder wasn’t supposed to bleed out in his younger brother’s arms. Thor was meant to grieve Loki, not the other way around. It wasn’t right.

“Look, I know what it’s like to lose everything. You feel alone and like the world is shit. You just want to hide away, crawl in some hole and die,” Brunhilde mentioned with a gentleness that was very odd coming from her. “But Loki, you can’t let it. You can’t keep beating yourself up over what happened. You’ve done good work here, helped people, saved people and maybe you’re an opportunistic bastard, but you always come through in the end. Thor never doubted you’d come back. He knew you’d come through.”

“Not in time, not soon enough,” Loki muttered and Brunhilde rolled her eyes.

“Norns, you’re stubborn,” she grumbled, putting her hands on her hips. “So, you headed to Norway?”

“Not yet,” Loki replied, dropping his hands and grasping them behind his back. “I have one last way that I need to tempt fate, make certain I’m actually meant to be here.”

Brunhilde stared at him, her mouth dropping open slightly. “But … the Asgardian refugees need someone with Midgardian experience to help them settle. They need an Odinson for morale. Do you mean to just abandon Thor’s and your people?”

“If I am meant to be here, then it will prove that I’m worthy to uphold such a responsibility,” Loki replied tersely, his eyes never moving from the still waters. “Thor’s people need a worthy leader if they are to survive and thrive.”

“They’re your people too,” Brunhilde pointed out, glancing out across the water. “I miss him too, you know. Even when we were overrun and things looked hopeless, you couldn’t dim his optimism. The last I saw of him … he was attacking Thanos with that damn hammer, shouting ‘For Loki’ so damn loud that all the Nine Realms could hear him.”

Brunhilde let out a soft laugh and looked down. Loki felt his breath stop again and his eyes well up, his heart hurting with every beat. When he closed his eyes, he just saw his elder brother’s face and it was a cruel kindness. So this is what it felt like, those two times I faked my death, Loki thought, finally understanding Thor’s anger with him. Had he known how cruel he was being, Loki wouldn’t have done it. He was the god of mischief and lies, not cruelty. He hadn’t wanted to hurt Thor. Both times, it had just been the only way he could see to escape.

“Well, I’ve got places to be. Take care of yourself, Lackey,” Brunhilde said, turning to leave.

“If I,” Loki paused and swallowed, waiting until the Valkyrie turned to look at him. “If I should return to Norway, to the Asgardians, would you come by on occasion? Security and military matters were more Thor’s forte. I fear I’m not as versed in such subjects as a leader should be.”

Brunhilde grinned and nodded once. “Of course, Lackey. Wouldn’t want our people to fall because you know more about terrible self-indulgent plays than important matters like decent protection.”

A small watery smile danced across Loki’s face. “Thor told you about that?”

“Oh yes, he did indeed. He was annoyed about it, but Norns, I couldn’t stop laughing. I haven’t known you very long, but that seems exactly like something you’d do,” she replied with a wink. Turning around and walking away, Valkyrie waved a hand and called over her shoulder, “See you around, Lackey.”

Loki smiled faintly and turned his attention back across the calm river. I’m going to try for you, brother.

 _*_

After learning some of the secrets from the second rate Midgardian sorcerer, enough to be able to travel through the secret ways in Midgard, Loki left Wakanda. He had thanked T’Challa and Shuri for their kindness and hospitality, offering to repay them if he made it back to Norway. They had been generous and stated that there was no debt to be paid. Loki mentioned that Valkyrie was planning to stay to help continuing rebuilding what had been damaged or destroyed by Thanos and that seemed to please them. I do hope Wakanda has enough quality alcohol for her, he thought.

It was late afternoon when Loki found himself in a field, a quaint little farmhouse in the distance. Swallowing the nervousness that suddenly bubbled up within him, Loki let out a steadying breath and started for the home. As he stepped up on the porch, he froze when he heard a young child squeal loudly inside. This is a bad idea, Loki thought as he made himself continue up the rest of the steps. Soon he was standing in front of the door. Loki gathered himself, quelling the tremors in his hands. Raising one hand, Loki took a breath and rapped loudly on the door.

Taking a step back, Loki got on his knees, closing his eyes. Behind the door, he heard a pair of feminine voices call for their partner to answer the door. Just speak clearly and get it over with, Loki thought when he heard the locks on the door turning. The door opened and the smell of Midgardian food wafted out. Loki took a deep breath.

“I know I’m the last person you want to see, but I did you a great wrong. I cannot repay the harm I did, so I offer my life in exchange for my actions in the hopes that it offers some solace and closure for my controlling your mind.”

There was a long pause and Loki didn’t dare look up. He had laid his fate in the person’s hands and now it was up to them what happened next.

“So are you going to do this to everyone in New York or…?” Clint Barton asked in his usual laid back tone. Loki frowned and glanced up. The archer was wearing plainclothes, his hands were greasy and he was fidgeting with some small mechanical device, probably trying to fix it.

“Beg pardon?” the trickster asked. Clint shrugged.

“Seems to me I’m not the only person you wronged with that attack, though I suppose one could make an argument that Thanos bears more responsibility for the Chitauri invasion than you, seeing as how you were kind of just a puppet.”

Loki instinctively bristled at the comparison but downcast his eyes again. “I suppose so, though I do not wish to skirt responsibility.”

Clint leaned against the doorway, studying Loki for a moment. “Based on what Thor told me about you, this has got to be beating the hell out of your pride. Would it be rude or dishonorable if I were to ask you to stand?”

Loki shook his head and got to his feet, brushing the dirt off of his hand. “If you wish to get your bow, I will not flee.”

Clint scrunched his nose up a bit, glancing up from the object he was fiddling up. “Is this actually Asgardian tradition?”

“It’s … not typical, but it was the only repayment I could think of that would come close to my crimes,” Loki confessed, leaning back against the railing. “I wish to make some sort of amends, but I’m afraid I don’t have much experience in how to go about doing so.” Thor would have a better idea about how to go about doing this, he refrained from adding.

Clint studied him for a moment. “You good at fixing things?”

“Kind of?”

Clint ran a knuckle over his forehead. “Tell you what. I’m doing some chores around the house today. You help me out and we’ll consider it the start of repaying the debt you owe me.”

Loki rubbed the back of his neck, confused. “If that’s what you wish.”

Clint nodded and moved into the house, leaving the door open for Loki to follow. Loki paused for only a moment before following after him, shutting the door behind him. He paused in the large entertainment room where a brunette woman was sitting with the blonde woman Loki recognized as the formerly redheaded Widow on the couch, going over papers. To his great shock, the former redhead offered him a slight smile and nod. He swallowed and continued to follow Clint into the kitchen. The archer was still fiddling with the small mechanical device.

“When Thor arrived, about a week before that last battle, he offered to make amends for your actions when we first met. Poor guy was completely broken up, still grieving you. I think he wanted to at least clear your name as a way to remember you. He was talking to all of us, even Fury. We tried to turn him down, but it was important to him.”

Clint paused and looked over to where the Widow, Natasha if Loki remembered correctly, and Laura will still going over papers, bills more likely than not based on this being Midgard. Natasha met his gaze and gave him a soft knowing smile.

“Look, Nat and I, we’ve been in the field a while. We know how people can break under torture, especially when you haven’t been trained to endure it. I’m not saying I can forgive you, but I do understand why you did what you did,” Clint continued, focusing on the device in his hand. “You don’t owe me anything. Your brother took care of it.”

Loki felt a lump in his throat. He held out a hand for the object Clint was fiddling with, which the archer handed to him. Loki swallowed as he carefully wove his magic around the strange mechanical object, something related to their refrigerator he thought, and felt the bits and pieces start to return to their former places and conditions.

“You spoke with my brother before,” Loki couldn’t finish the sentence. He still hadn’t come to terms with Thor actually being gone. He wouldn’t accept it.

“Yeah, the Avengers all had a feast the night before the fight. We knew it was possible some of us wouldn’t make it out, so we spent the night in each other’s company, telling stories of better times. Thor regaled us with stories of your misadventures,” Clint paused, studying Loki with a questioning look. “He told us about the snake incident and … did you actually stab him when you were kids?”

Loki couldn’t help the smile that danced across his face. Norns, did you have to tell everyone that damn story, brother? “He was exaggerating a bit, I assure you.”

“He prayed for you when we called it a night,” Natasha’s voice came from the couch. Loki glanced up from the small object to meet her gaze. “I was passing by his quarters and I heard him speaking softly about Valhalla. He happened to notice me standing by the door and invited me in. We spoke for a while and he confessed that even though he believed you still lived, he wanted to be safe and make sure if you had truly died, you would make it to Valhalla. He was sure you would, but he worried.”

“Thor always struck me as being a natural older brother,” Laura chimed in. “I only met him briefly, when he stayed here, but just the way he acted with us and the kids, he was a big brother.”

Loki turned his attention back to the small device in his hands, feeling tears well up in his eyes. He cleared his throat and handed the object back to Clint, “It’s … it’s fixed.”

Clint took it back from him, studying it closely. After a moment, his eyebrows raised and he nodded in appreciation. “So it is, probably in better condition than when it was more-or-less new.”

“There’s a simple spell on it, so it shouldn’t break again,” Loki mentioned, leaning back against the counter and waiting for the next task. Clint was kneeling beside the fridge, fiddling with the back of it.

“Sweet, no more replacement parts. Thanks, reindeer games,” he spoke from behind the appliance. Loki crossed his arms over his chest, wondering what he was going to do without his brother. Since it seemed like the archer wasn’t inclined to take his life in repayment for being mind-controlled, Loki would eventually have to return to the Asgardians in Norway.

“You know, for all that Thanos took from us, Thor had the biggest grievance with him. He was the most determined to kill him, more determined than even Quill and Nebula. Never saw that side of him before,” Clint mentioned, standing up again when the fridge started make a soft humming sound. “He fought harder than I’d ever seen him fight before. Kept up the rest of our morale. Helluva guy, Thor. He’ll be missed.”

“Yes, yes he will,” Loki agreed softly.

_*_

After spending the day at the Bartons farm, Loki returned to Norway. Before rejoining the Asgardian refugees, Loki first went to the cliff where Odin had left this world for Valhalla. Sitting on the stone his brother had occupied so very long ago, Loki looked out across the dark sea and up at the night sky. The stars twinkled down at him.

“Please come back,” Loki whispered. “Please come home, brother.”

Upon receiving no answer, Loki sighed and got to his feet, continuing the short distance to where the new Asgard was located. Fury, T’Challa, and Brunhilde had been kind enough to sort out the diplomatic and political matters while Loki grieved his brother. He had been in no state to take care of such matters.

Korg and Miek greeted him enthusiastically and chattered excitedly about all that had transpired while he was away. Loki began to get a headache just thinking of all the work he had ahead of him. Part of him wondered if this was Thor punishing him for faking his death two and a half times. If it were, Loki was sure he deserved it.

The Asgardians were more reassured now that an Odinson had returned to lead them. They had always been sticklers for tradition, Loki knew. He refused to accept the title of king. He could not bear to hold such a title and he didn’t think the monarchy system had served the old Asgard particularly well. In the months that followed, Loki worked hard to be the leader his brother would have been. It wasn’t easy, handling all the different conflicts that arose while also grieving, but he managed. He was determined to do this for Thor. He would keep his brother’s people safe.

He set up a modest house for himself, sparsely decorated with furniture. Stormbreaker was set next to his bed, a small reminder of what he had lost. When Loki suffered from nightmares, as he regularly did, he would be able to reach out and feel the grip of the fearsome weapon. It was always warm, just like its original wielder. It was comforting and would lull Loki back into sleep.

Before he knew it, a year had passed and the Asgardians had become more comfortable with Midgardian life and society. Loki had even become more accustomed to the responsibility of leadership. He made regular visits to the place where Thor, Odin, and he had met for the last time. Mostly he went there to get lost in his thoughts and it was the place where he felt closest to Thor.

In the second year of New Asgard, the Avengers came to visit. Not all at once, usually one or two a month. Loki knew they came mostly to remember their teammate, but oddly, they also wanted to speak with him, tell him stories of his older brother’s deeds. At one time, such stories would have stirred resentment or jealousy, but now, it was a welcomed distraction. He recorded every single story they told in his journal, which was now almost full. The trickster planned to eventually use them to compile a tome just about his brother, so that Thor would never be forgotten. He wanted the Asgardians to remember the man who should have been their king, a man who was still beloved among his people. Thor’s legend would live on through the ages.

While Loki still found memories of Thor painful, he also found them somewhat healing. It kept his brother alive in a strange way. Loki much preferred pain to completely forgetting his elder brother.

 _*_

Late one stormy night, after a full and exhausting day, Loki returned to his modest home. Lightning flashed outside as he dropped his satchel at the front door and flopped down in the nearest chair, running a hand through his damp hair. Helping to rebuild Asgard was tiring, but Loki took the responsibility seriously. Nights for him were usually spent reading, writing, or drawing. Tonight, though, Loki was tempted to just go to sleep and go through the motions tomorrow. Resting his hand on his fist, Loki closed his eyes and contemplated just sleeping there for the night.

“Leadership suits you.”

Loki leapt to his feet, staring at the entrance to the small kitchen with wide eyes. Thor stood, leaning against the doorway, a small tired smile playing across his lips. His hair was still shorn and he had both eyes, the mechanical one and the real one. Loki’s mouth dropped open as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. Millions of emotions flashed through him and he found himself unable to speak.

“Brother—”

On instinct, Loki brought a dagger out and hurled it at Thor, who swiftly dodged with a small startled noise.

“Seven hells, Loki!” he snapped in irritation.

“You’re always throwing things at me to prove I’m real!” Loki protested, feeling his body start to tremble.

“Not weapons!”

“It still hurts to get hit in the head with a solid object, Thor!”

Thor let out a long breath and stepped forward, causing Loki to step back. The trickster started shaking his head, shutting his eyes. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. Thor didn’t have the same magic as Loki. He didn’t know the same tricks.

“You died. I saw you die. You’re not really here. This is some … some cruel trick being played on me,” Loki spoke brokenly, feeling tears slip out from beneath the lids of his eyes. The feeling of a warm gentle hand on the side of his neck, sliding around to the back of his neck in a heartbreakingly familiar gesture, made Loki open his eyes. He met his brother’s gaze, tears welling up in his real eye.

“It’s me, Loki, I swear to you. I’m here. I’m really here,” Thor whispered as he rested his brow against his younger brother’s and he was just as warm as the trickster remembered. Loki drew in a shaky breath and then wrapped his arms around his brother, embracing him tightly. He felt Thor’s own arms wrap around him, holding him close, comforting him as Loki buried his face in his older brother’s shoulder and wept. He could hear his brother whispering soft words of comfort in his dark hair. Taking in his brother’s scent, Loki once again closed his eyes. For the first time since the battle in Wakanda, Loki felt safe. It struck him that he had only ever felt safe was when he was with Thor. Even when in Thanos’ captivity, it had been his brother’s name on his lips, spoken silently to the shadows as a prayer of comfort. Even in that last battle, when the titan almost emerged victorious, some part of Loki felt safe knowing his brother was there somewhere, fighting.

Thor guided him over to the couch, sitting with him without breaking contact. His elder brother’s unyielding grip spoke of fear. Thor didn’t want to let go of Loki any more than Loki wanted to let go of him.

“You made me think you were dead,” Loki said softly, unable to keep the accusation from his tone. Thor laughed softly, gently kissing Loki’s brow.

“Brother, I don’t think you’re in a position to take offense,” Thor pointed out and Loki harrumphed.

“Yes, but I’m me and you’re you,” he grumbled. “I’m allowed to be duplicitous and deceitful. You are the one who is supposed to take the higher road.”

“Loki,” Thor sounded resigned, going quiet for a moment. “I am truly sorry, brother.”

“Don’t be,” Loki whispered, tightening his grip. “Just don’t do it again.”

Thor embraced him just as tightly. “Then you must promise me the same. Loki, my heart cannot take losing you a fourth time.”

“Third,” Loki corrected.

“You faked your death three separate times!”

“Two and a half, at most.”

“The Bifrost, Svartalfheim, and aboard the ship.”

“The Bifrost barely even counts as a half,” Loki argued.

“That’s debatable, but even if you’re right, you’ve still made me mourn you more times than I care to remember,” Thor spoke gently. “I do not think we will ever have this kind of luck again. We mustn’t waste it.”

Loki nodded as he leaned against his brother’s chest, closing his eyes and taking comfort in the steady beat of his elder brother’s heart. “This is one of those exceedingly rare moments when we’re in complete agreement, brother.”

There was a comfortable quiet between them for a moment. Upon noticing his brother was falling asleep, Loki got to his feet. “Come, you are tired. You must rest.”

Surprisingly, Thor didn’t argue and followed his brother to the bedroom. The god of thunder grinned when he noticed Stormbreaker. “I was wondering if you would bring that with you.”

“I know how attached you get to your weapons,” Loki replied, pausing for a moment. “It kept the nightmares away in your absence.”

Thor laid on the bed, pulling covers over his shoulders. “Where will you sleep?”

“On the couch, for now.”

“Would you stay here? For now?”

Loki was about to say no, but he saw the same fear in his brother’s eye that he felt. They had been separated for so long that there was a fear this could all be a dream. Loki didn’t want to let Thor out of his sight and he suspected his brother felt the same. So the trickster nodded and switched off the light before climbing into the other side of the bed, curling up next to his older brother. Loki smiled when he felt Thor wrap a large arm around him, pulling him closer. A sense of contentment washed over Loki as he relished in his brother’s nearness, something he never thought he’d experience again.

“You have done a good job leading our people, brother,” Thor whispered. “I knew you would.”

Loki let out a huff of laughter. “Not as good as you could.”

“Mmm, I do not think either of us can be as good a leader alone as we can be together,” Thor replied, half-awake. Loki smiled and yawned, feeling sleep creeping up on him.

“Then tomorrow we shall continue rebuilding Asgard and leading our people,” Loki whispered as he closed his eyes and felt Thor nod.

“Mmhm,” Thor responded. “Loki?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m glad you’re alive.”

Had he been more awake, Loki would have come up with some clever quip. But he was already half-asleep and responded with honesty. “And I’m glad you’re alive too. I love you, brother.”

“I love you too, brother.”

The brothers drifted off into an easy sleep, finally reunited. Tomorrow they would face the challenges of leadership together, as they had always been destined to do. Nothing would ever separate them again.

 

The End