Thor is no stranger to the aftermath of battle.
There is the initial exhilaration that gives way to the sinking letdown, then the bone deep weariness. After, the time for rest and healing, for tending to wounds both physical and emotional; each leave their own particular scars. Mourning the dead is sometimes easier when the reward of Valhalla is assured, but it is never happy. This in-between time, after the fight is over but before life starts up again, is when the final accounting takes place—was it worth it? When all is said and done, do the scales tip in your favor? Can you gather up your broken pieces and put them back together?
Thor has fought many battles and recovered from each one, made himself anew each time, but this time feels different.
This time, though Thor and his companions have managed to kill the Titan, break the soul gem, and restore all those who had crumbled to dust, Thor fears that he is finally irrevocably broken.
There is no home waiting for him, no family, no friends. Nothing but a handful of his people, traumatized refugees all of them—himself included in that number—only he is supposed to lead them all, somehow.
“Where are you going?” Rocket asks him, trailing in his wake as Thor strides away from the battlefield. Thor’s companions are tearfully embracing their restored loved ones, and though Thor is happy for them in a detached sort of way, he can’t bear to look on their joy. His own loss is still wrapped around his heart with barbed red-hot iron.
“Go back to Tree,” Thor says gently. “I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Rocket pries again. “Look, I’m not good at this, you know, feelings stuff, but. You look like you could use a friend right now.”
Thor smiles without warmth, for he can find no real happiness in him to bring forth; Rocket has been a good companion these last hellish weeks though, as good as any he’s had, and he deserves a smile at least. “Thank you, Rabbit. I’m going...home.”
“And where might that be?”
“You know what? I have no idea.”
Thor turns and thrusts Stormbreaker into the air and lets the Bifrost carry him away.
Thor lands hard, nearly stumbling in his exhaustion. He’s in a metal corridor, the faint hum of the spacecraft’s engines just barely detectable.
“THOR!” Valkyrie cries out. She’s at his side in an instant, holding him up, and he clutches at her gratefully. She steers him into the nearest room and bashes the door button with her elbow to give them some privacy. Thor can feel himself start to fall to pieces, can feel his face crumpling, and with a huge force of will he keeps the tears locked in his eyes.
“Gods, I’m so glad you’re here,” he gasps, and crushes her in a bear hug. “How many did you manage to save?”
Valkyrie’s eyes are sad, and with a sharp pang Thor remembers that she is no stranger to this kind of loss.
“Five hundred,” she says quietly.
Thor hears a choked sound escape his own throat and he wipes at his face with the back of his hand. The number is so absurdly small that it beggars belief.
Valkyrie’s voice is steely. “Did you kill him?”
“I know he’s dead, but did you kill him?”
Thor looks back at her and his jaw tightens.
“Good,” Valkyrie spits. Their eyes lock. In that moment they are two kindred spirits united by bloodlust and vengeance and Thor has never felt more understood. Then, “You got a new eye.”
“Yeah. I’ll tell you about it later. Where are we?”
“Near Vanaheim. I’ll tell you about it later. You need to sleep for a week by the looks of it.”
Thor passes a hand over his face again. “I do,” he agrees. “You can tell the people I’m back if you think it’ll help, but don’t let anyone in to see me until I say so. Is there space for me to sleep?”
“You can take my room til I can kick someone else out of theirs.”
“Thank you,” Thor says devoutly.
Thor does sleep for a week, or nine days actually, and he when he finally rises from the bed he feels no more rested than the moment he crawled into it.
“So why Vanaheim?” Thor asks Valkyrie over a depressingly small breakfast.
“I didn’t know where else to take everyone,” she says, pursing her lips slightly. “Earth seemed a real shitshow at the time, and your mom was from Vanaheim, wasn’t she? I thought they might not kick us out right away at least.”
“Mm,” Thor says. “Let’s hope you’re right. How far out are we?”
“Three days now, and it can’t come sooner. We’re running out of food.”
“I’ll go on ahead,” Thor says. “Try to negotiate. See if I can bring some supplies back with me at least.”
“With that thing?” Valkyrie says, nodding towards Stormbreaker.
“Yep. Got a brand new Bifrost.”
“I thought so too. Though it didn’t feel very convenient when I had to stand in the middle of Eitri’s forge on full blast to make the damned thing work.”
“Fucking ouch,” Val says, looking at him with something approaching respect. “That must’ve stung.”
Thor chews in silence for a moment while Valkyrie stares into space.
“I’m so fucking sick of spaceships,” she finally says. “Find us a new home, yeah?”
Thor barks out a laugh. “I don’t even know what that is anymore.”
Thor travels to Vanaheim alone. It was his mother’s homeland, and Hogun’s too, and he’s been there many, many times. Never as a King, though, and never when he was begging for aid.
Freyr and Freyja receive him in an open-air throne room made of sleek marble. Ivy twines around the snow-white pillars and up the sides of their intricately carved thrones. They rule Vanaheim as Brother and Sister Consort, and for some reason he can’t quite explain it makes Thor’s chest ache.
Thor speaks the prettiest words he knows. Freyr and Freyja listen graciously enough, but Thor can imagine with crystal clarity Loki laughing at his attempt at diplomacy and stepping in with his own silvered tongue instead, saving Thor from his bumbling and securing them anything they might wish. In Thor’s wildest dreams he had never imagined that he would be in this kind of position without Loki. It makes his voice choke with grief while he begs for supplication, and perhaps it is this raw emotion that finally softens Freyr and Freyja to his pleas.
“Your people may stay here,” Freyja says finally. “Though on a provisional basis. Let it never be said that Vanaheim does not offer shelter to those in need. However—”
“—we reserve the right to request you to leave should you become troublesome,” Freyr continues. “But we hope that doesn’t happen.”
“For the love we bore your mother,” Freyja adds, not unkindly.
“Thank you,” Thor says gratefully. “She spoke often and highly of you as well.”
Freyr waves one ring-bedecked hand. “Your people will be here in three days, you said?”
“We had best start preparing, then.”
They end up drafting what is essentially a treaty, and working out the details takes the rest of the three days. Thor falls into a dreamless sleep each night. Part of it is exhaustion, but most of it is the copious amount of wine that he finds in his chambers each evening when he retires. Without it, the only thing he can see when he closes his eyes is his brother’s pale lifeless face, so he drinks until he passes out instead.
He’s mourned Loki so many times already. He doesn’t know why it should keep hurting just as much.
The escape pod bearing the last remnants of the once-mighty Asgardian people touches down in a meadow full of wildflowers and ringed by dark pine forest. There is a contingent of Vanir waiting for them. Thor’s people file out, squinting in the bright light. Some fall to their knees in the grass. Some just stare about helplessly. Some cry. A few of the Sakaarian gladiators are left as well, though not Korg or Miek—another loss, the pain so dull it barely even registers anymore.
“How am I supposed to be their King?” Thor says bitterly to Valkyrie. They’re standing together with the Vanir, arms crossed. “When it is my own actions that have brought them to this?”
“You had no choice,” Valkyrie says. “I know. I was there. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re a good man.”
“That hasn’t seemed to do me much good. Or them.”
The Vanir have begun construction of what amounts to a village for the Asgardians to occupy. There are only five hundred of them—five hundred and seven to be precise—so they don’t require that much land. The area chosen for them butts up against this very meadow, snug up between the forest and the foothills, with a middling sized river and room to grow crops. It’s more than they could have hoped for, and far, far less than what they’re used to.
Thor sleeps with his people tonight instead of in his royal guest chambers. Most of them are camped out in the meadow, loathe to step foot back inside that floating death box. There is no roof over Thor’s head but the night sky and no wine to dull his senses and his mind ranges far. He finally lets his grief wash over him. It batters him like a storm-tossed ship until he can barely breathe and his hair is wet with the tears running unchecked down his face.
At least when Thanos was still alive, Thor had something to fight. Now that he doesn’t, he feels helpless, and hopeless, and impotent, and he’s never felt like this before and he doesn’t know what to do.
Thor doesn’t realize when he falls asleep, but he must be dreaming because he is back in the palace on Asgard and his hand is pushing open the door to his apartment. It’s just as he remembers it. The walls of the sitting room are draped with tapestries; the threadbare couch that he wouldn’t let the servants throw away; the remains of last night’s drinking strewn messily over the table, his muddy boots on the rug (oh, Loki would be so irritated), his armor tossed haphazardly in the corner. Someone has built the fire while he was out and the cheerful orange flicker casts everything in homey familiarity. There are two tall-backed chairs in front of the hearth as there always are; one is empty but Thor can see one booted foot sticking out the side of the other one.
“I was wondering when you’d finally get here,” a familiar voice says, deep and silver-bright at the same time, and Thor scrambles in his haste to make it around the chair and come face-to-face with its occupant.
Loki is marking his place in a book and closing it gently, and he looks up at Thor with a knowing smile.
“Brother,” Loki says.
Thor lets out a great sob and falls to his knees. He reaches for Loki’s leg, but his hand passes through it.
“I’m sorry,” Loki says apologetically. “I seem to be rather dead, don’t I?”
Thor sobs again and buries his face in his hands. This is too much. This is...this isn’t a dream. It was stupid of him not to have realized it earlier. He has visited this place before. ”Are you the God of Hammers?” he can hear his father’s voice echoing from this same liminal space.
“Is this Valhalla?” Thor chokes out.
Loki has gotten up to come kneel in front of him. They can’t touch, but Loki holds his hands up with his palms facing outward and, shakily, Thor does the same until they’re a hair's breadth away from each other.
“I don’t know,” Loki says. Were his eyes always so green? “It’s...an odd thing.”
“Loki,” Thor says despairingly, as though his brother’s name contains all meanings he can possibly convey.
“I know,” Loki whispers.
“Why did you do it?” Thor says. “Attack Thanos like that?”
“I thought that maybe I could save you. It looks like it worked, yes?”
“I wish we had both died.”
Loki makes a wordless noise. “And then half the universe would still be trapped inside that wretched stone.”
“Loki,” Thor says again. “You really died this time.”
“Even a snake like me runs out of lives eventually.”
Instinctually, Thor brings his hand up to clasp Loki’s neck, and again his hand passes through his brother completely. He hits his own leg in frustration.
“I killed him,” Thor says vehemently. “I took his miserable head from his miserable body and—”
“Shh, I know. I know. I was there.”
“What do you mean?” Thor says, confused, but suddenly the room is fading and Loki is fading with it, and with a cry of dismay Thor grabs for his brother even though he knows he can’t touch him.
“Next time,” the ghost of Loki’s voice murmurs in his ear. “I’ll be here.” His voice fades to nothing by the last word and Thor wakes up with a start.
The birds are singing and he’s covered in dew and all he wants with every fiber of his being is to fall back asleep and see Loki again.
But he’s the King and people are counting on him, so he heaves himself to his feet and goes to find Valkyrie instead.