Actions

Work Header

The Reactions of a Dead Man

Chapter Text

 Loki is having a really, really bad day. 

 He's being choked to death by an effing purple thumb and – honestly? - Loki’s rather pissed off about it. Staring dead in the Mad Titan’s eyes, petty to the end, Loki manages to splutter out – reaching for breath – “You will never be a god” but then thinks, oh gods, were those my last words? He can hear Thor struggling to their side, can practically feel his anguish, but then his vision is going fuzzy, and his lungs are just screaming.

 One second, Loki is fading out of consciousness, and the next he’s staring at the ceiling of Asgard’s great hall with air in his lungs.

 There’s chattering above him, glinting jewellery, flowing fabrics and is that his mother? She’s kneeling at his head, stroking his hair, worry stretched across her face and Loki can think of one explanation for this.

“Well, that’s a surprise,” Loki says, mainly to himself.

 He made it to Valhalla.

 He wasn’t sure he’d make it to the afterlife at all – ice giant and all that – let alone the place made for good people.

 A quiet chatter falls over the people surrounding him, and Loki feels his mother run another hand through his hair.

 “Are you feeling okay my dear? That was an awfully bad fall.”

 Loki – feeling the most content he has in a while, actually – waves his mother off with a pained smile. “Other than that choking to death thing, peachy actually.” And it's true. He doesn't quite know what she means by a fall – maybe Thanos dropped his dead body out of the space ship or something? – he feels – uh – well, alive; like all the aches and pains of the past decade are just… gone.

 “Choking?” someone says to his left, and Loki turns his head to see his wonderful older brother, eyebrows knitted together.

 Loki groans. “Oh, for the norns’ sake, Thor, I can’t believe you let Thanos murder you too, you oaf!”

 Thor says nothing in response - instead, he has the gall to look even more confused. If it’s possible to burst a blood vessel while dead, Loki thinks he’s about find out. “Yes, you twit," Loki snaps, "I'm angry about the fact that you died! You always were so selfish. Did you not think about the remaining half of our planet that need a leader? Who’s going to lead them now? Banner?! And on top of that –

 “Good lord, he’s finally gone mad,” Loki hears Fandral interrupt, stopping Loki in his tracks.

 What?

 There's a quiet murmur through out the crowd - in agreement, Loki realises - before a bombing command echoes out from the side-lines. Odin himself parts the crowd.

 “Please, give my son some space,” Odin says. “I fear he may have hit his head upon his collapse. Thor, could you go fetch a healer please while your mother takes Loki to his quarters? He’s most likely just a little disorientated, but it is better to be safe than sorry.”

 Thor nods, always the obedient son, and scurries off, while Loki is pulled to his feet by Frigga. She keeps a tight hold on him, but he can’t take his eyes off Odin.

 There is something off here.

 A quick scan of the crowd shows Loki many familiar faces. His mother, his father, Sif and the Warriors Three, council members, cousins, children, some faces he knows still live, some he has not seen in years.

 Odin looks young.

 Loki turns his attention back to the Great Hall and, yes that’s it, the decorations for Thor’s coronation are still up.

 Odin has started to disperse the crowd, Frigga is pulling him away, and Loki is too disorientated to argue, his heart bounding in his chest, his lungs gasping for breath.

 These are not the reactions of a dead man, Loki realises.

 

 Back in his room, Loki stares at his reflection, tugs at his skin.

 He looks younger. His hair is much shorter, his face less worn by time and pain. It’s like he’s –

 – gone back in time.

 His quarters are as he remembers them - books lying open, clothes scattered over the floor, maps covering his desk - but as Loki remembers them from before he fell.    

 Could it be so?  Loki lets himself wonder. 

 Frigga returns from where she’s been talking with the healer in the corridor. From their perspective, Loki has learnt, he’d been at dinner, celebrating Thor’s upcoming coronation, when he stood up to raise his glass for a toast and his eyes rolled back into his head, collapsing in a heap on the floor. His mother looks less concerned now, but still reaches out to Loki upon coming close. “How do you feel now, my son?” she asks, tentatively, rubbing a hand up his arm.

 Loki instinctively takes this hand in his own, swallowing all his emotions – all the years of grief - his mother is here in the flesh - and smiles at her. “Much better, mother. I don’t know what came over me.” The lying comes smoothly – Loki’s not sure why he’s doing it, to be sure.

 No, yes he does. Fandral’s accusation of madness still picks at his thoughts. It makes him wonder, his memories, are they just a symptom of his collapse? Were – were the past few years a dream?

 Loki feels the ghost of Thanos’ hands around his neck.

 No, Loki concludes. They were not a dream.

 Nonetheless, Loki watches as the fear washes off his mother’s face. “I’m glad,” she says, giving Thor – who has just strolling in from outside – the opportunity to interject.

 “Honestly, brother, even when you faint you cause a drama,” Thor teases. “You’re the talk of the whole party now.”

 Loki sneaks a smirk. “You only care that they’re no longer talking about you.”

 “Loki!” Their mother cries, while Thor just looks a tad startled. Soon enough, he’s guffawing and plods over to give Loki a firm pat on the back.

 “Well, we don’t have to worry about his wit being dulled by the fall!”

 Loki rolls his eyes. “Get back to your party. I can look after myself for the evening.”

 “Are you sure, my dear?” his mother asks, but Loki just shakes his head.

 “I’ll be fine.”

Loki waits for them both to leave before exhaling a shaky breath. Now he’s alone, Loki gives himself the apt time to freak the fuck out.

 He’s gone back in time, there’s no doubt about it. Loki’s no idiot – there’s no other explanation. How this happened is another question – one Loki is going to have to research extensively – but right now, all Loki cares about is that it’s happened.

What does he do? Does he let the future play out as it did? What if he is going mad?  Getting his throat crushed by a purple titan on a former orgy ship doesn’t sound like the memories of a sane man. Yet – yet his memories feel so real – not distant or intangible like a dream.

 Then it clicks.

 Loki closes his eyes and holds out his hands. He only found out about his Jotun heritage after Thor’s coronation. If he’s going mad, then – well – he’ll be wrong.

 After a few, regulated breaths, Loki opens his eyes to an ice cold room, and immaculate blue hands.

 Loki can’t stop them from shaking.

 

 He spends the next few hours writing down everything he remembers about the future. He’s determined to be prepared next time, when Thanos comes a-knocking.

 Loki considers running, dropping everything, then and there. He doesn’t want to die, not like that, not again.

 But.

 Sitting at his desk, scratching an ink pen over the page in a jagged scrawl, Loki pauses.  Slouching back in his chair, he surveys his life written out before him.

 Running has been the cause of so many of his problems. 

 Loki starts formulating a plan.

 

Chapter Text

 Like the good brother he is, the first thing Loki does is get Thor banished.

 Again.

What can he say? Of all his terrible, terrible ideas, getting Thor banished was never one of them. His cocky brother came back from Earth with some shred of humility, so Loki just lets the week before Thor’s coronation play out as it had in his original timeline.

 He leads the Jotun into Asgard through a back entrance, watches Thor’s fury, lures him to the Frost Giants, and stands resigned as Odin strips Thor of his powers and casts him out onto the Earth.

 Odin is gone long before the portal even finishes closing, leaving Loki alone at the Bifrost, staring after his raging father.

 It doesn’t make him any fonder of the man.

 Knowing he’ll have to confront Odin later – it being part of his plan and all that – but willing to postpone it as long as possible, Loki sits down on the nearby steps and waits. When he hears footsteps approaching from behind him, Loki doesn't hesitate to ask, “May I watch him, Heimdall?”

 There is a pause. Then, he hears the sword of the Bifrost sheathing and an image of Thor, driven by a panicked Jane Foster through the deserts of New Mexico, appears hovering in the air before them.

 Loki never really had a chance to learn about Thor’s time on Earth the first time around – being too busy having an existential crisis and all that – so now he watches for a while, observes his sleeping brother’s face, the barren landscape around them, and tries to ratify this man with the one from his past.

 Heimdall, in his innocence, mistakes Loki’s disturbance for worry. A man of few words, Heimdall simply says, “I will ensure no harm comes to him, my prince.”

 Secretly, Loki is thankful.

 

 The next thing he does is make is way down to the Castle Vaults, already dreading the upcoming conversation.

 It doesn’t take much effort to lure the All Father in after him. If Loki knows anything, it’s how to manipulate people into getting his own way. In this case, ducking around corners and agitatedly sneaking through the halls is all it takes.

 His father never trusted him.

 Upon entering the vaults, Loki passes right by the Casket and heads straight to where Odin keeps his greatest fake, the Infinity Gauntlet.

 Loki's stomach begins to churn even before he sets sight on the glove - just the prospect of its existance, down the hall, makes his blood boil. Even a single look at it, even knowing it’s a lie, as Loki settles in front of the fake, he wants to be sick. 

 His own voice echoes in his ears. You will never be a god, he can hear himself say, and he hates it.

 In a bout of anger, Loki rips the treasure from its pedestal, and throws it to the ground. The sound clangs around the chamber, hollow in essence. Loki feels like screaming.

 Even so, Odin does not emerge.

 What, is vandalism not enough for him?

 “I know you’re there, Father!” Loki eventually spits, sick of the quiet and the lies. “There’s no need to hide from your beloved son.”

 There is a silence and then footsteps. Odin emerges from the shadows, looking weary.

 “…Do you know?”

Loki scoffs. “Do I know? Come now, there’s no need to be so coy. What you mean to say is do you know I’ve lied to you your whole life about not only your parentage but your species?’” Loki stalks back around to face his father, the Infinity Gauntlet laid before him. “Oh, I know. But that isn’t why we’re here.”

 Odin continues to look on like stone. Loki gave up years ago, searching for emotion in his gaze.

 He continues. “We’re here because of this," Loki says, giving the fake-Infinity Gauntlet a solid kick. “I’m assuming you do know of Thanos?”

 His father is unmoving. “I do.”

 “Then you must also know that the mad titan is acquiring the Infinity Stones?" Silence. “Father, have you ever wondered how many planets have died under our policy of non-interference?" Crickets. "How shameful must Asgard look, with this fucking fake in our vaults?”

 Odin’s grip tightens on his spear, the only sign of his agitation, as he considers his words carefully. “Thanos is no threat to us yet,” Odin settles on. “We cannot launch an attack unprovoked.”

 Loki can’t quite believe his ears. “I- I’m sorry? Unprovoked?! Do you care so little for-” the word ‘me’ dies in his throat, “-for, for the hundreds of thousands he’s killed?”

 Odin is silent.

 Loki gives the Gauntlet another kick, creating a firm dent in the side. “TELL ME!”

 “…I care for you, my son.” Odin says, and even though Loki can see his father collapsing, the Odin sleep taking hold, he doesn’t give in.

 “Bullshit! You never cared! You locked me up, or, worse, would have killed me if it weren’t for Mother! Then, you left us to die at Hela’s hands and, when she failed, I had to keep Thor alive because there was no one else left! All I wanted was for you to-”

Odin lays, collapsed on the vault steps, breathing deep.

 The battered gauntlet sits between them.

 

  Loki appears before Thor in a room of reflective glass. He doesn’t like it too much – being surrounded by countless copies of himself – and he doesn’t like how he can see Thor’s worried face everywhere he looks. The man in question, his brother, straightens upon seeing Loki, and Loki hates the way his face brightens, even if it’s only slightly.

 “Loki,” Thor breathes. “What are you doing here?”

 “I had to see you.”

 Thor’s frown deepens. “Why? What’s happened? Tell me, is it Jotunheim? Let me explain to Father-”

 “Father has entered the Odin Sleep,” Loki interrupts, and Thor stills.

 Loki thought it better to tell the truth this time around. Knowing it wouldn’t be long until Odin awoke – how it would be better to stay on Asgard’s good side – so Loki holds his tongue.

Nonetheless, Thor takes the truth just as hard.  “…What?” 

And, honestly? Loki gives no shits at this point. He sits down on the ground and lets his guard drop a bit.

 “Your exile, Jotunheim and, well, my temper tantrum pushed our poor father over the edge,” Loki explains, only meeting Thor’s eyes in their reflections. “The healers aren’t sure when he will wake up. It could be tomorrow, it could be a month. For now, the burden of the throne has fallen to me.”

 Thor stares at him. He falls back into the support of his chair. Loki has rarely seen him so quiet. “…Temper tantrum?” Thor settles on in the end, and Loki’s just dying to respond.

 He shoots Thor a loathsome grin. “Turns out we’re not quite as related as we thought.”

 Thor, if anything, suddenly looks even more upset. “…I’m adopted?!”

 “…”

 What a fucking idiot.

 “I’m adopted, Thor!” Loki spits. “For Odin’s sake, how dense are you?”

 “Oh,” is all Thor can reply. “You’re adopted...” he muses. “…I always thought you looked more like mother and father than I did.”  

 Loki nearly chokes.

 He stares at his stupid brother, incredulous, and then, despite everything, bursts into peals of laughter. Loki can feel the tears collecting in his eyes, as he laughs and laughs and laughs. With the stress of the past few days, it’s not long before Thor is joining him, nearly falling off his chair, and Loki wonders what the two of them must look like.

 

 When it comes down to it, there is little Loki can do about Thor’s banishment.

 Yes, he did orchestrate it in the first place – and his own father’s collapse, he was behind that too. The old man needed to be reminded of his priorities – and now he’s on the throne too, but, as Loki once said, years ago in the original past, you can’t just overrule the last act of your predecessor the second you gain control.

 Loki explains this to Thor and is honestly surprised by how graciously he takes the news.

 Perhaps this banishment was a good idea. 

 Thor’s friends, on the other hand, are nowhere near as keen. Lady Sif and the Warriors Three think him to be scheming, trying to take control and, fair enough, that’s what he had been planning the first time around, but in this timeline?

 Loki just has to wait for Odin to wake up, restore Thor’s power, and move onto phase two of his plan with a now rational brother.

 So Loki forbids the band of warriors to go see Thor, knowing they’ll do the exact opposite of whatever he orders, and strolls down to the Bifrost a few hours later to watch the shit show unfold.

 "Heimdall?" Loki coos, as he strolls up to Asgard's ever-stoic guardian. "I'm ever so worried about my poor, simple brother, stranded down below on Earth. May I possibly make use of your all-seeing eyes and watch Thor for a time?" He flutters his eyelids - innocently - for added effect. 

 "...As you wish, your Highness," Heimdall says, begrudingly, Loki realises, as he turns, places the sword into its stand and brings the Bifrost to life. 

 Heimdall is sweating – Loki enjoys seeing the man squirm, he can’t lie – as he projects a vision of Thor up into the air before them. He's stood cheerily, washing some dishes while Jane Foster talks with some other humans (Loki never bothered learning their names) and all seems well until there’s a banging on the door.

 There, very much as predicted, despite his very explicit orders, stands Lady Sif and the Warriors Three.

 Loki shoots Heimdall a look, raised eyebrow and all, and waits for a response.

 “…It won’t happen again, my prince.”

 Hook, line, and sinker. 

 Loki smirks. “Oh, I don’t doubt it.”

 Now, Loki returns his attention to the projection and watches as the group of warriors reunite. It is a boisterous affair, as usual, with hugs all around and conspiratory smiles.

 "My friends," Thor begins, clapping Volstagg on the back. "I am so happy to see you all! What brings you down to Midgard?" 

 This lights a flame in Fandral's eyes. “We’re here to take you home!” he says, to the appaluse of the other warriors. 

 Interestingly, Thor stalls. “Has my father awoken?”

 And suddenly, there is quiet. Loki thinks he could even hear a pin drop.

 “You know about the Odin Sleep?” Sif questions, now on guard, and Thor doesn’t look any less perplexed.

 “Of course? Loki informed me as soon as it happened.”

 “Loki came down to Midgard?” Hogun asks, incredulous.

 Volstagg continues, “Are you not concerned that he’s taken the throne?”

 “Why should I be concerned about my brother - ?”

 “Thor, we’re worried he’s the one who let the Frost Giants into Asgard!” Fandral cries, but at this point the damage has already been done.

 “Enough!” Thor bellows, making his way back over to Jane and her crew, a great frown on his features. “Loki would never do such a thing. I trust he will do a fine job of ruling while Father sleeps, and that, when the time comes, he’ll be a fundamental part of return.” Thor places a hand on Jane’s shoulder, and smiles down at her. “For now, I shall remain here.”

 “Thor…” Lady Sif begins. She takes a step forwards, but is held back by Hogun. In the end, she settles on saying. “…How can you trust him so easily?”

 Thor meets her gaze directly. “Just last night, Loki entrusted me with a painful secret. The least I can do is trust him now when he needs it most.”

 And, suddenly, that’s the end of that.

 It leaves Loki feeling, if anything, super-duper smug.

 Maybe a little guilty.

 But mainly smug.

 

 Time passes, and Odin still sleeps.

 Loki originally did not think his father would be gone this long – in the original timeline, perhaps the destruction of the rainbow bridge woke him? – so Thor ends up spending more time on Earth than Loki originally anticipated.

 Sometimes, when he cannot sleep, he’ll go down to the Bifrost and watch as Thor sits under the stars with Jane Foster, and illustrates the galaxy for her.

 He does well, living with the mortals.

 At the same time, Loki makes efforts to restore diplomatic relations with the Frost Giants, no longer planning on committing mass genocide like in his original timeline.

 …That wasn’t particularly one of his finest moments.

  Slowly, relations between Asgard and Jotunheim improve, mainly facilitated by Thor’s banishment, and it is three weeks after this that Loki finds himself embarking on a diplomatic mission to settle this dispute with Laufey once and for all.

 Loki arrives in Jotunheim alone, as per their agreement, to see Laufey sitting at a table carved from ice at the entrance to an imposing temple, a sacred ground for a peaceful truce.

 The wind whips sharp against him, and Laufey’s smile, wide and sharp, instantly puts Loki instantly on edge.

 He approaches the clearing without a word, and soundlessly sits down facing the King of the Frost Giants with as much ice in his heart as he can muster.

 Laufey is the one to speak first: “Asgardian, we received your terms of peace a good while ago, and I have gone over your truce hundreds of times. Unfortunately, we can find nothing wrong with the terms. Therefore, Jotunheim would like to accept a future of peace with Asgard – ” Loki holds his breath – this is going too well “ – on one condition.” Laufey leans forwards and, if anything, his smile grows tighter. “Prince Thor of Asgard must be put to death for his crimes against us.”

 …Fuuucckk.

 “Thor has already been banished for his crimes,” Loki tries, drastically trying to think his way out of this one. “I can assure you, he will not be returning to Asgard any time soon. He will not be a threat to your people.”

 Laufey, however, is only encouraged by this response. “Oh? But what about those the Prince has already slaughtered in cold blood? By Jotunheim law, the punishment he has paid is not adequate.”

 “By Asgardian law, it is,” is all Loki can think to say. He sits back in his seat, unwilling to admit to defeat but pushed into a corner.

 Well, a war with the Frost Giants wasn’t in his original plan, but Loki guesses he can make it work.

 He decides to stand firm. “Asgard cannot accept peace if it is only conditional on the death of another.”

 Laufey sighs, and stands. He towers far over Loki. “I thought you’d say that. Well, consider the death of the Prince of Asgard our declaration of war.”

  Loki feels his blood run cold.

 Thor.

 Loki rises from his seat, and Laufey is already laughing a cruel, cruel laugh. He’s been set up, Loki realises. They were going to kill Thor whether he agreed or not.

 In that moment, Loki realises there can be no peace while Laufey lives. 

 He makes a split second decision.

 Loki materialises a knife, and in one swift motion, while Laufey still stands laughing, he slits the Frost Giant’s throat.

 Laufey never sees it coming.

 The deed is bloody and grim, but Loki could care less, walking away even before Laufey hits the floor. In fact, Loki practically begins to sprint out of Jotunheim, now glad Laufey insisted they have this meeting one-on-one, with no guards, and as he reaches the borders of the plane, Loki begins calling for Heimdall, practically screaming to be sent to Earth.

 Thor is instrumental to the timeline, Loki tells himself. If Thor dies now, his plan fails.

 “For Odin’s sake, Heimdall,” he cries, “fucking get on with it!” And, just like that, Loki sees the rainbow lights of the Bifrost materialise and feels himself land on Earth’s soil.

 Only once his eyes adjust does Loki realise he’s too late, realise that he’s watching Thor walking towards his death. The scene is so familiar it’s painful. Loki remembers back to a distant time, where The Destroyer stood instead of a small army of Frost Giants, and wonders how exactly this event is playing out in a timeline so different to the original.

  To Loki’s side stand Jane Foster and her group of humans, all frozen as Thor sacrifices himself for their sake. Loki doesn’t even have time to touch the ground before Thor is stabbed before his very eyes.

 Loki sees red.

 Distantly he knows Jane Foster is running to Thor’s side, that the other humans have finally noticed his presence, but Loki doesn’t care. He’d rather be murdering the assholes who just stabbed his brother.

 He can’t be dead, not after all this.

Not yet.

 It’s only once Loki’s punched and kicked and wrecked every available Frost Giant that he stops, and turns to see his brother suddenly very much well, covered in armour, Mjolnir clearly hanging at his side.

 Loki can see no visible stab wound.

 What.

 Thor gives Loki a once over, his brother covered in blood that is not his own. “…I’m glad to know you’d murder for me?” he says at the lack of anything else to say. 

 Loki goes over the math in his head, as to how his brother looks so very not dead right now.

 Who-so-ever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

 “…You just proved yourself worthy by sacrificing yourself, didn’t you?”

 Thor nods.

 Loki wants to strangle himself for forgetting about that bit. 

 

Odin wakes the day after Thor’s return. Frigga emerges from the chamber mere seconds after her husband’s awakening in search of her sons, and, in a similar manner, Thor drags Loki along to re-join their father.

 Loki stands to the side as his family reunites, Odin unconventionally relaxed, hugging Thor and holding his wife’s hand tight. Soon, however, his eyes are searching around the room, and they settle on Loki with a quiet calm.

 (At the same time, Loki gets flashes; flashes of a man who let him fall from the Bifrost, who locked him up in a cell and threw away the key, the man who only truly called him a son at the end.)

 His father, in front of him, smiles. “Hello again, my son.”

 

 The end of a trying month ends the way most things do on Asgard; with a party. With Odin back on the throne, the threat of the Frost Giants squashed for now (Loki had accidentally created a power vacuum, wouldn’t you know?) and Thor officially home, the people felt as if there was cause for celebration.

 Loki, on the other hand? He’s not quite sure what to feel.

 His plan is on track, yes. Thor has learnt some humility, his father has had some sense beaten into him, and Loki is not regarded a criminal. Yet, in his original timeline he was drifting through space right now, completely alone.

 Perhaps that’s why he distances himself, hides at the side-lines. Loki swirls the goblet of wine in his hand, finding little else to do as he stands and watches the ball flutter past him. He’s taken to counting Thor’s dances; so far, he’s spent a good five dances with their mother, three with Lady Sif, one with each of the Warrior’s three, one with a group of children, and now is instead currently waxing poetic to their father about the colours in Jane Foster’s eyes.

 The romanticism makes Loki want to barf.

 “I see you’re enjoying yourself?” a voice says to his side, and Loki turns to see his mother, looking at him knowingly. Loki gives a shrug, and lets Frigga settle next to him. She reaches over to clasp his hand, and smiles at her son. “Oh, my boy, you do know how proud I am of you, right Loki?”

 Loki nearly drops his goblet.

 He stares at her, baffled, and so caught off guard that Frigga is continuing before he has chance to respond. “Thor’s banishment, your Father’s condition, the tribulations with Jotunheim… You’ve handled it all so well. I couldn’t have done it better myself.”

 “…You probably won’t have slit Laufey’s throat,” Loki tries, but his mother is already waving him off.

 “Both of my sons were in danger. I would have done it in an instance.”

 Loki is speechless.

 Frigga seems to sense his unease as, soon, she’s speaking once again. Her hands are warm. “I – well – Loki… from the second I laid eyes on you, I knew you were born to be my son. I never told you… for I feared it would only distance you from us, if you were not ready. I will always love you. Do you understand?”

And she’s looking at him so earnestly, in a way that immediately makes him feel guilty, makes his heart pang. All he can say is “Yes… Thank you, mother,” and gods, what is it about Frigga that turns him into a shrivelling mess of emotion? I caused all of it, Loki wants to say. I’m only acting to save my own skin.

I’ve missed you so much.

 Thor, thank Odin, has a perfect sense of timing. “Loki!” he calls across the dancefloor. “Come, share a dance with me!”

 Loki opens his mouth to refuse, still frazzled, but Frigga coughs to his side. She looks at her youngest son pointedly; go dance with your brother, her face reads.

 Thor’s cry of joy as Loki begins to sulk over is worth the embarrassment of having to dance at all. Just slightly.  

 

 After the party, Loki sits with Thor on the front-steps outside of the palace, watching the sunset. Thor is a little tipsy and awfully touchy-feely, sitting a little closer to Loki than he would have liked, but never ill-meaning. And Loki – Loki can’t quite be at peace with Thor – this Thor – until he, well, knows.  

 “Thor,” Loki interrupts, just as Thor’s about to retell another story from their youth. “I… may have not told you the whole truth the other week.” Thor turns to look at him. “About my parentage,” Loki elaborates.

 “Oh,” Thor replies, awfully casual. “Does that mean you intend to tell me now?”

 Loki nods, and then holds out his hands in Thor’s direction.

 Thor raises a brow. “Am I – Am I meant to hold your hands or - ?”

 Loki tries to remember why he hasn’t murdered his brother yet. He settles for yelling: “No, you twat. Just – just watch, okay?”

 Thor snorts, but complies, and with Thor finally silenced, Loki turns to stare at his hands and concentrates.

 Thor watches, mesmerised, as the colour fades from his brother’s skin, and as it is replaced by a brilliant blue seeping out from under his shirt cuffs. Thor blinks twice – does a double take – and then stares up and into his brothers blood red eyes.

 Thor’s breathing cuts, and Loki swears he hears his brother’s heart skip a beat. Thor, openly baffled, lets out a small, “Oh,” and, gods, Loki hates having this conversation. He realises he never was the one to tell Thor, the first time around. Never had to hear Thor’s cries of hatred, for who would ever consider a Frost Giant, a monster, family –

 “The colour blue suits you.”

  …What.   

  “Is that - ” Loki stutters, “ – is that all you have to say?” He shifts, completely facing his brother. “Thor, I’m a frost giant. Doesn’t that bother you in the slightest?”

Thor thinks for a second, real hard. “Hm. Uh. No, not really.” He shrugs. “Should it?”

 What an idiot.

 Loki sighs, and shifts back to face the sky.

 (Deep down, he feels a weight lift.

 And he wonders. Is this – this man – truly the brother he once hated so much?)

 Thor just hums, picking up Mjolnir and twirling it around in his hands. “So,” he starts, “I’m a bit too tipsy to do anything right now, but any thoughts on what you want to do tomorrow?”

 “…Together?” Loki asks.

 “Yeah.”

 “Anything?”

 “Yeaaaaaah.”     

 “Hm,” Loki replies. “I may have an idea.”

 “Hit me with it, brother.”

 “…What do you know about the Tesseract?”

Chapter Text

Odin is the one who takes the most convincing when it comes to hunting down the Tesseract. Thor is pretty much immediately on board – especially when Loki argues that the infinity stone could even put poor, defenceless Jane Foster in danger – yet their father seems hesitant.

 It feels like Odin’s on edge. Or, at least, that Loki seems to sense. He doesn’t quite know how much Odin remembers of his outburst from the Vaults, and it is only now – calm that Loki realises what a mistake he has made.  

 In a moment of rage, he’d given away the fact that he knows information he should not.

 What would Odin make of his accusation of imprisonment? His knowledge of Hela?

 As Thor stands pleading their case, their father stares right past him and through Loki. His gaze is cold and calculating, and Loki wishes he knew what it meant.

 “…Loki, my son,” Odin finally speaks – outright ignoring his oldest son in the middle of a speech, “why do you think now is the right time to retrieve the Tesseract? After I placed in on Midgard in the first place for the exact reason you want to retrieve it?”

 Well, Loki thinks, if I bring as many of the Infinity Stones as possible to Asgard, it means a certain purple thumb can’t get hold of them so easily.  

 “Father, you see,” he says instead, “the humans have started using the Tesseract to produce weaponry. This power could lead to the collapse of their whole civilisation, if left unchecked. The cube was originally moved to Earth as the Midgardians were not sophisticated enough scientifically to harness its power. Surely it would be better placed in our vaults, where no one could misuse its power?”

 Odin is silent once again. He taps his fingers on the arm rests of his throne, his eyes flickering between his two sons.

 Against all odds, Odin finally relents. “…I must admit, my sons, you maybe have a point. Thor, you brother notified me that a – a tyrant is beginning to make his move further out in the galaxy. Removing the Tesseract now would take its power out of his reach.” Odin gazes directly into Loki’s eyes. “I trust you, my sons.”

 Odin’s harsh grip on his spear says otherwise.

 

 On the day of the mission, the Bifrosts drops the two brothers on Earth just as planned; smack bang into the middle of the P.E.G.A.S.U.S. lab.

 Yes, this ‘adventure,’ as Thor liked to call it, had been planned to the second, but Loki had long ago admitted two truths to himself about Thor: 1. His brother had the stealth of an elephant. 2. Thor’s loveable personality normally kept them alive out of sheer amicability; he had charmed the Avengers once – he could do it again.

 So, secrecy goes out of the window.

The lights of the Bifrost fade, leaving Thor and Loki with perhaps ten agents in total – Loki recognises a few from his first suaray here – all with weapons drawn, Barton in the crow’s nest, Fury by the Tesseract – and, as Loki was counting on, Doctor Erik Selvig.

 “Thor!” said doctor cries upon seeing his old friend. “What are you doing here?”

 Just as planned, Thor lights up in response to the presence of a familiar face. “Erik! I didn’t know you would be here? Loki, did you know he would be here?” Loki shakes his head – a lie, of course, but necessary – and adds a shrug for good measure. Thor continues: “What a coincidence, huh? We’re here concerning the Tesseract. It has come to the attention of Asgard that this relic may soon fall into the wrong hands.”

 “Wrong hands?” Fury interrupts. As imposing as Loki remembers – for a human at least – Loki watches as Thor moves his attention over to the Director as the man says, “I hope that’s not meant to be a threat.”

 Thor waves him off. “No, no! Of course not! My brother and I come in peace, don’t we Loki?”

 Loki raises his hands in mock surrender, which Thor makes a grand gesture towards. “See! Peaceful! We just want to move the Tesseract to a more secure location so that your world is no longer at threat.”

  “I can’t let you do that.” Fury says and holds up a hand to silence Thor before he can interrupt. “See, Princes Thor and Loki of Asgard – yes, we know who you are. Your actions in New Mexico weren’t exactly subtle – the Tesseract is the property of Earth. We have no quarrels with your people, but that may change depending on your actions here.”

 Thor’s now frowning furiously, and takes a hesitant step forwards, mimicking Loki’s raised hands. “You do not understand the threat that is coming for your planet.”

 “And you seem to think us defenceless. I can assure you, Odinson, Earth is – ”

 Out of nowhere, a harsh beep comes blasting out of one of the nearby monitors, and Erik scrambles over to the screen. His eyes scan the screen, and his face pales. He then searches the room for Fury, his eyes wide. “Director, this doesn’t look good.”  

Fury pauses, and glances back at the two Asgardians. He says to the armed Shield agents, “Stay alert,” and walks over to Selvig. “Explain.”

 Erik seems distressed by what he’s seeing. “These – these readings. They’ve never been so strong. I – ”

 “Let me look at them.”

 All eyes turn to Loki.

 “Brother?”

 Fury crosses his arms. “And why should I do that?”

 Because I’ve seen all this before, is what Loki thinks. All this, it’s – it’s too familiar. Loki had planned this operation to the minute and according to his calculations, the Tesseract shouldn’t have begun to show abnormal activity until May. And yet, it’s March.

 In fact, it should have never started to act up to begin with, not in this timeline.

 Loki feels a wave of energy radiate off the Tesseract, too subtle now for non-magic users to detect, but the sensation makes his stomach drop.

 He gives up on waiting.

 Keeping his hands up in surrender, Loki strides over to Fury and Selvig and one look at the readings confirm his worst fears.

 A portal is opening, and the invasion is beginning.

 The invasion that was supposed to be led by him.

 Loki gulps. He looks up and meets eyes with Thor. “This building needs to be evacuated now.”

 “Excuse me?” Fury starts, but Selvig interrupts him.

 “Loki’s right. The Tesseract – it’s becoming unstable.”

 Fury looks furious. “Is this you?” he says, voice dripping with mirth, a finger pointing at Loki.

 And, quite honestly this time, Loki can say, “No. And that’s why you need to get everyone out of here now.” 

 The Tesseract sends out another pulse of energy, one this time Loki knows was felt by all.

 It that moment, he knows it’s too late.

 The next reaction sends out a force so strong that Loki has to grip the desk to avoid falling over, and he can merely watch as a beam of energy bursts out from the Tesseract, forming a portal and a bubble of energy above their heads.

 Thor, straightening up from where he covered his face from the explosion, walks to stand directly between the portal and Tesseract. Loki doesn’t miss the concerned glance Thor shoots his way, but has no time to dwell on it as a woman, grey faced and covered in glorious armour emerges from the portal.

 There stands, impossibly, Proxima Midnight.

 Loki feels the blood drain from his face at the sight of Thanos’ minion – overly familiar with her from his time working under Thanos – oh yes – and from that time she helped murder him.

None of them are ready for this fight.

 As if sensing his fear, the rest of the room is deathly silent as Proxima surveys her surroundings, and she twirls her spear once before settling her gaze on Thor.

 “I would recommend getting out of the way, Asgardian. This feud does not include you.”

 Wait, Loki thinks.

 “I’m afraid that’s not possible…?” Thor pauses, and then asks, as if this were a garden party rather than a stand-off. “I’m sorry, I don’t seem to know your name?”

 But Loki is still doing a double-take.

 Proxima hums, considering, before responding: “I am Proxima Midnight, envoy of Thanos, and I require the Infinity Stone in you possession. Move before I move you.

 It clicks for Loki. That’s not any spear, he now knows.

 But Thor is still going. “Again, do you not understand the meaning of no?” Thor turns around, gesturing as if to say ‘can you believe this one?’ before re-facing his foe. He grips Mjolnir a little tighter. “No, I shall not be going anywhere.

That weapon? That’s his sceptre.

The container for the Mind Stone.  

 Proxima shrugs. “Suit yourself,” and launches off the ground in Thor’s direction.

 “DON’T LET HER TOUCH YOU!” Loki hears himself scream, as the room is suddenly a blaze of movement. Shield agents surround him on all sides, scrambling to evacuate while saving as many important documents as they can. Loki sees Fury grab the Tesseract and lock it in a briefcase, and he’s moving to his aid as Thor clashes with Proxima in the background.

 “Get out of here,” Loki says, upon reaching Fury. “Thor and I will meet you on the outside. She won’t be the only one coming.”

 Fury nods at him. “God’s speed,” he says, and slips out of the building with a few of the remaining Shield agents on his tail.

 Loki turns his attention back to Thor.

 And it’s obvious, even at a first glance that his brother is losing.

 She only needs one hit to the chest, Loki thinks. One hit and we’ll be fighting a thunder god too.

 Loki sees this hit coming before Thor does.

 And in an instant, Agent Barton – why he’s yet to escape, Loki is clueless – is leaping in front of Thor, and Loki watches as Proxima Midnight holds the Sceptre to his chest, and is powerless as Hawkeye’s autonomy washes out of his eyes as the Mind Stone takes effect.

 Thor looks absolutely horrified, but Loki has no time to stop and he’s running until his arms are wrapped around his brother, teleporting them out of the complex in the blink of an eye.

 

 They reappear a few miles off, both of the brothers collapsing as explosions go off in the distance.

 Loki collapses to the floor, and Thor to his knees, still disorientated from the change in location. His eyes flicker, side to side, searching for the threat, but finds none. Loki is panting, lying on his back, his arms spread wide, and Thor can only look at him in horror.

 “…Why did you do that?! We could have saved him!”

 Loki shakes his head. “I’m sorry, brother, but if she’d have taken you, we would have lost.”

 “At the cost of another man’s life?!”

 “No, Proxima won’t kill him. She needs an aid to get what she wants.” I sure did.

 Thor huffs. “…So we can save that agent yet?”

 What a puppy.

 Loki rolls his eyes, and rises up as Thor sits down on the grass next to him. “Yes, Thor. We can save him.”

 This seems to satiate his brother, who now decides to stare at his feet. There’s a gash on his forehead, a chink in his armour, but otherwise Thor looks no worse for wear. He breathes a deep sigh. “Well, that didn’t go as planned…” Thor gives a light chuckle. “…What do we do now?”

 Loki, looking up, watches the helicopters flying above in the night sky.

 “…We join the Avengers.”

 

 Proxima follows Loki’s strategy for capturing Earth almost to a t. Despite lacking the Tesseract at this point, she still begins acquiring all the materials needed to form the portal stabiliser. The attack on Germany happens just as it did in the original timeline, and all Loki can do is sit and watch.

 Sure, he could act the hero, destroy Proxima’s plan before her very eyes, but it is too early in the game to show all his cards.

 Loki cannot risk the Avengers, or worse, Thor, distrusting him.

 But it is hard, being so inactive when he could be doing so much. Hard knowing that, no matter how much he’s already changed, the timeline is still playing out exactly as it once did. The only comfort Loki can take is that he’s changed history where it matters most; right now, Shield is still in possession of the Tesseract.

 The invasion of Earth cannot happen without it.

 It’s these events that lead to Loki sitting at the board table in the Shield Helicarrier. The arrangement in the room is practically identical to what Loki assumes it was the first time around. The Captain and Black Widow sit at the table, Steve deep in thought and Natasha obviously worried for Clint Barton, while Thor paces and Banner stands, too agitated to sit still.

 Upon entering the room, Loki had taken the seat closest to Thor, not quite used to the idea of these people not thirsting for his blood, and is just watching the conversation play out for a period.

 Thor has been talking with Romanov for a good few minutes on Valkeyrie – “I’m sure you would have been one, if you were from Asgard!” – while Cap has just been awkwardly trying not to look at Loki (that may have something to do with the many winks and kisses Loki has been sending his way) when a new player enters the main control room of the Helicarrier.

 The mere sight of him makes Loki’s insides freeze.

 …What.

 He is not meant to be here.  

 He enters as if nothing is amiss, Natasha even nods at him in acknowledgment!, and the man sits down in the seat directly opposite to Loki. He looks exactly as Loki remembers, the arrogant prick, and spends a good few seconds adjusting his cloak before looking up.

 When he does, Doctor Steven Strange first sight is Loki glaring holes into his forehead.

And - and then? He has the nerve to look surprised.

 This man shouldn’t know who he is, let alone be here!

 Strange opens his mouth – most likely to say something about the god of mischief across from him – but he just flaps, unable to find the right words.

 Loki blinks back at him, very much thinking yes, I am as confused as you are.

 Meanwhile, Banner begins, strumming his fingers over the nearest chair, “So – um – what do we know about this – uh?”

 “Proxima Midnight,” Thor states. He’s oddly contemplative, most likely mulling over how he was nearly bested, Loki thinks. Thor continues: “That’s what she introduced herself as, at least. I have heard the name before, I’m sure, but where I do not know.”

“Do we know nothing about her play?” says the Captain, and Loki opens his mouth to respond – surely she would be using the Chitari like he did? – when:

 “She has an army called the Chitari,” Strange says, much to Loki’s dismay. He’s staring Loki in the eyes as he says it. “They are not of any known world in the cosmos – believe me, I’ve looked – and ultimately, she aims to use the Tesseract to open a portal and wipe out half of the Earth’s population.”

 The Captain takes this news badly, and the conversation moves on, but Loki is flabbergasted.  Strange just quoted Thanos’ main plan word for word, Loki thinks. A plan that was not public knowledge until it killed me.

Strange could be a friend or foe here, and Loki is not waiting to find out which.

 “I’m sorry,” he interrupts, “May I just ask, Doctor Strange, was it? How exactly is it that you know this information? I thought my brother and I were the only ones present who had actually met Proxima here?”

 Strange stares at him stiffly. “I have my sources.”

 “Which are…?”

 “Loki, that is not important right now,” Thor says, clamping a hand over his brother’s shoulder. “What matters most is that we know her aims.”

 Oh my god, Thor, you have literally no idea how important his sources are! Loki thinks.

 Could it be…?

 “The most important one to her now being building that portal, right?” Banner interrupts. He’s fiddling with his glasses now, as he says. “That’s what he needs the iridium for?”

 And Loki has found his opportunity; two can play at that game, Strange. “It is a stabilising agent,” Loki says, “meaning the next portal she builds won’t collapse in on itself, much like it did at the P.E.G.A.U.S. lab. Agent Barton would be able to get the rest of the raw materials quite easily, especially with the right – ah, let’s say – persuasion.”

 And Romanov is about to take Loki’s bait – steer the conversation towards Barton – when Strange is pouncing once again. “Loki, was it?” He purrs. “How is it that you know what the iridum will do? I did not think you were an expert in Thermo-Nuclear Astro-Physics?”

Ohhh, Loki wants to strangle this man.

 Loki scoffs. “Strange, I’m a god. What you call science, I call kindergarten.”

 “HA! Good one, brother!” Thor chimes in, and the two brothers high-five in pure sync.

Yet, “Do you - ” Bruce gestures between both Loki and Strange with the hand holding his glasses “ – know each other? It seems like you know each other.”

 “Get a room, right?” A new voice says, as Tony Stark – the Iron Man – swaggers into the room, Phil Coulson on his heels. Hands in his pockets, Tony pats Thor on the bicep as he passes, before continuing on: “The iridium will also stabilise the portal, meaning it can open as wide, and stay open as long as Proxima wants. Also – ” Tony pauses where he was originally looking at Fury’s screens, and covers one eye “ – wait, Hill, how does Fury even see these?” 

 “He turns.”

 Tony grimaces. “Sounds exhausting.”

 “We’re getting off topic,” Steve says. “Surely, even once Proxima has all the components to make this portal, she’s going to need a power source right? That’s where the cube comes in?”

 “Exactly,” Strange states, at the same time Loki says, “Certainly.”

 FUCKING-!

 The two men glare at each other across the table.

 Enough is enough.

 Loki stands. “I hate to be impolite, but may Dr. Strange and I have a word in private for a minute?” he says as he pushes his chair back with a grating sound and begins walking towards to door.

 No longer will Loki take part in this ballet: he needs answers.

 And Strange?

 Strange better know that that was not a request; it was a command.

Chapter Text

 Loki finds himself in an empty room, where he settles himself against the wall to wait for Strange.

 In his mind, he stews, furiously trying to figure this out.

 How such a curveball could present itself at the direst time.

 It doesn’t take too long for Strange to walk in and, when he does, Loki immediately locks the door behind him, stalking up on his prey. Time for some fucking answers.

 “What are you doing here, Strange?” Loki asks, fingers twitching behind his back, ready to draw a weapon at a seconds notice.

 Strange, now turned to face Loki, stands an adequate distance away, his cloak billowing out behind him.

 Loki remembers that cloak.

 It may be eviler than Strange himself.

 But the Doctor does not seem intimidated. “What am I doing here?” Strange echoes. “That’s what I was going to ask you.”

 “I’m here with my brother, of course,” Loki purrs. “Why, do you have an issue with me?”

 More importantly, why should Strange be concerned with his presence in the first place?

 He shouldn’t know any better.

 Strange’s pose shifts, and magic begins to pool around his fingertips. The air sizzles with energy. “I have an issue with who you’re working for,” Strange says.

 What?

 And then, for Loki, it clicks.

 The medallion hanging around Strange’s neck, it feels familiar. And Loki – he’s not sure, at first glance, that it’s anything at all, but then he focuses just a little harder and suddenly he’s feeling waves and waves of energy, energy he’s only felt before from –

 Of course.  

 “You have an infinity stone, don’t you?” Loki realises. “And it’s the time stone. You brought us back here.”

 Strange takes a step back. “How did you - ?”

 But Loki’s just started. “Oh, it’s not hard to figure out. In fact, I’m more ashamed of the fact that I didn’t think of it sooner. You – you fought Thanos, and lost. So you rewound, and now we’re here. But,” and Loki has rushed forwards so he can hold a knife to Strange’s throat, “there’s one thing I don’t quite understand. Tell me, what am I doing here, Strange?”

He refuses to be a pawn ever again.

 Strange is, quite obviously, gobsmacked. Yet to make a move, he stares Loki dead in the eyes, as he processes all this information. Eventually, realisation falls upon his features, and Strange looks fearful.

  “It was… a mistake,” Strange begrudgingly admits. “…But why should I tell you anymore? Just so you can run back to Proxima with all my secrets?”

 Loki cranes his neck back. That wasn’t what he was expecting to hear.

 “Why would I tell Proxima?” He asks, honestly quite baffled. “What, dying once wasn’t enough for me? Oh Proxima, let me just hand myself over so your boss can strangle the life out of me again?!”

 And, just like that, Strange is silenced.

 “…You’re not working with Thanos?”

 What.

 “NO!”

 “But you originally led the Battle of New York?!”

 …

 Oh.

 Loki scoffs and drops his weapon, twirling it round his fingers as he walks away from Strange.

 Stupid humans.

“When your… infinity stone brought me back here,” Loki begins to explain. Behind him, Strange is massaging his battered throat, watching Loki from the corner of his eye. Loki continues: “Thanos had just strangled me to death. So what’s my main prerogative upon finding myself in the past?” Loki spreads his arms, “To prevent that from happening again, obviously. If I keep the Infinity Stones from Thanos’ grasp, he loses his power, and there is no better way to destroy that tyrant than by teaming up with my brother.”

 “So… we’re on the same side?” 

 Stiffly, Loki nods. “For now.”

 And so, Strange concedes. He runs a hand through his hair and begins to pace, occasionally glancing back at the demi-god to his side. Without much prompting, Strange starts mumbling: “…In the – our – original timeline, Thanos managed to acquire four of the infinity stones before I – we fought him. But – at that point – it was already too late. When the battle was so obviously lost I – well – panicked.

 Strange shakes his head, refusing to meet Loki’s eye. “I rewound as far as I could go with the Eye of Agamotto, but I lost control and I woke up – well, here.” Strange takes a deep breath. “I had no idea I’d brought anyone else back with me, let alone you. If you’re here, might - ?”

 “No,” Loki stomps, shooting the idea down completely. “If Thanos had the same knowledge we had, much would have changed already. We’re safe.”

“But then how are these – ” Strange gestures to their surroundings “ – events happening?” He reaches up to rub his temples, and his pace quickens. “Perhaps – no, that wouldn’t work… Or…? No, that must be it. Yes, that’s the only thing that could possibly work. The timeline –” Strange raises his gaze “ – it senses that we’re here. It’s trying to keep the structure as regular as possible.”

 Loki watches as Strange’s hand’s shake, watches as the man before him concludes, “The changes we make… The timeline just keeps trying to correct.”

 As he says this, there is an earth-shattering explosion that trembles through the ship, throwing Loki off balance and into the wall.

 The Helicarrier’s sirens begin to wail, and screams fill the corridor outside.

 Is this – Loki thinks – the timeline correcting itself again?

With a single glance at the other, Strange and Loki spur into action, both fully aware of what this explosion might mean.

 

 Barton must have snuck onto the ship while they docked in Stuttgart to investigate the stolen iridium. That’s what Loki determines as he runs down the corridors with Strange on his heel, chaos all around them. Where Strange tries to stop at the first sign of trouble, Loki keeps going, heading straight towards his old prison, the containment cell designed to contain a god.

 He fears he may be too late to save a past mistake.

 Strange follows his lead – he may know the basic outline of events, but he wasn’t here for this one – and gods, Loki hadn’t considered Agent Phil Coulson as anything more than a dead man walking since he’d arrived on-board the Helicarrier. Stayed out of his way, if only to hide his guilt of killing the man in a past timeline.

 So when he arrives in the containment room to see Proxima Midnight standing over the body of Phil Coulson, blood coating her spear, Loki decides he hates Thanos twice over.

  Worse yet, Proxima turns as she hears the two men enter, revealing the Tesseract gripped tightly in her left hand.

 Loki stands, watching his plans crumble around him.

 Proxima just smirks. “Come to die like this mortal before you?” she mocks. “If you do not resist, I promise to make it quick.”

 Strange readies himself into a battle stance. “Give us the Tesseract.”

 “Oh, you want to go down as heroes?” She laughs, her voice full of mirth. “What a waste.”

 And then – Loki finds this scene eerily similar – Coulson speaks: “You’re going to lose.”

 Proxima pauses. Her weapon, previously raises, lowers, as she decides to humour a dying man. “Am I?” she says. “Your team is fractured, your floating fortress falls from the sky… This does not look like defeat.”

 Coulson smiles. “You lack conviction.” And then fires the megaton weapon in his lap directly in Proxima’s face, sending her flying across the room and through the nearest wall.

 Thanos’ minion is down just like that.

  “…So that’s what it does.”

 At these words, Strange rushes into action. He’s at Coulson’s side in a second, examining the man’s wound with great care and Loki only follows hesitantly. He stands to the side as Strange works, guarding the two other men, and watches. Strange’s hands still twitch, but the focus brings some precision to his movements.

 Brows furrowed, Strange says, “I think I should be able to patch him up for now – but I can’t leave his side until the medics arrive.” He looks up at Loki. “Go help the others.”

 Loki glances over to where Proxima fell.

 She’s already gone.

 And then his eyes settle back on Coulson. Something Strange is doing is managing to keep the man stable, but Coulson’s reassuring smile does nothing to absolve Loki’s guilt.  

 Finding little to do here, Loki leaves in a rush of air to go find his brother.

 

 At first, Loki’s not quite sure where to find Thor – considering last time Loki practically threw him off the Helicarrier – so he decides to follow a childhood strategy: Thor is normally at the end of a line of destruction or shouting.

 This method sure works, but Loki’s not quite sure he likes the results.

 As he rounds the corner, Loki sees his brother struggling under the Hulk’s weight who, upon catching sight of him, cries “Loki!” his face lighting up, but this does not please the Hulk, who then grabs his unsuspecting brother and throws him across the entire deck.

 Of all the people on board, Thor had to be fighting the fucking Hulk.

 And as if sensing Loki’s pure terror, and now lacking a play thing, the Hulk turns, spinning to face Loki.

 Said god gulps.

 “Uh…” Loki waves meekly. “Hail and well met, my… large, green chum?”

 The Hulk charges at him.

 Loki was never very good at making friends.

 But then, just as Loki is pulling his swords from his sleeves, Mjolnir comes shooting around the corner, right into the Hulk’s jaw. The green man falls to the side as Thor returns, jogging back to Loki’s side as if back from a light stroll.

 Loki crosses his arms. “Good timing.”

 “Thanks!” Thor responds. “But no matter what I do, I cannot get him to return back to Banner!” His brother says as he approaches. The Hulk is already climbing back to his feet at a rapid speed.

 But Loki is not impressed. “And you didn’t stop to think that maybe punching the shit out of him would only make him angrier?!”

 Thor huffs. “He’s the one attacking me!” he says. “What would you have us do?”

 Loki crosses his arm and thinks.

 Hm, what should they do? Violence rarely works, Loki finds, when dealing with the Hulk. After the destruction of Asgard, he did get to know this particular green rage monster quite well; when you’re spending all your time in close quarters on an orgy ship, that tends to happen.

 To Loki’s knowledge, his original timeline Hulk liked the simple things in life: alcohol, beating people to a pulp, Valkyrie, food, and cute things to name a few.

 …Oh.

 “I have an idea,” Loki says, sheathing his swords and walking directly towards the Hulk, who is now very much ready for another charge.

 “Brother?” Thor questions, hesitation clear in his tone, as Loki gets closer and closer to the Hulk by the second.

 “Trust me,” he says, swallowing his own fear.

 Loki notes the irony.

 After that, he has to focus, and begins chanting a spell under his breath. The Hulk, not seemingly liking what he can only deem as gobbledygook, begins stomping towards Loki, fist raised, aimed for a swing –

– when suddenly there are puppies everywhere.

The Hulk stops dead in his tracks.

 His eyes spin around uncontrollably, as if he cannot quite understand what he’s seeing.

 And then he breaks out into the world’s largest grin.

 “DOGGOS!” The Hulk shouts. “HULK LOVE DOGGOS!” Following this outcry by throwing himself down into a cross-legged position, and allowing himself to be engulfed by a small army of magically conjured puppies.

 The entire room as stops, so bemused they can only stare as the Hulk giggles as a corgi licks his cheek.

 Thor, completely dumbstruck, walks over to where Loki is standing and asks, “…How did you know that would work?”

 Loki, quite smug actually, just shrugs.

 I had to do this on our spaceship to stop him from destroying the engine room, is not a valid answer.

 So he says: “Used to work on you when we were children.”

 Thor purses his lips. “Fair enough.”

  

 As the chaos calms, the reunited Avengers plot the series of events that led to the Helicarrier’s near collapse.

 They deemed it went as such: Barton, having snuck on board the ship in Stuttgart, activated an explosive in the turbines to cause a disturbance. All the Avengers left the room where they had been examining the Tesseract – and arguing up a storm, might Loki add – leaving Bruce behind to guard it. However, Barton’s goal had been to activate the Tesseract so, having confronted Bruce and incapacitated him, Barton activated the Tesseract long enough to bring Proxima on-board, along with a few henchmen. Proxima and Barton then made their way towards the flight deck to escape, but Natasha confronted Barton and broke the mind stone’s control on him.

 The rest of the events happened in Loki’s presence; Coulson, Proxima escaping, and the enraged Hulk.

 Now, the whole team is sitting around the main conference table again, except everyone seems –

shaken.

 Strange, sitting to Loki’s side, is covered in blood – Coulson’s blood – from where he managed to keep the agent stabilised until proper medics arrived: the Captain and Tony are covered in shoot from their experience fixing the propellers, the only reason the entire ship is still afloat: Natasha is missing, tending to Barton: Thor sits on Loki’s other side, playing with his fingers, something Loki recognises as a nervous childhood habit: Banner is an utter wreck, destroyed by his most recent relapse: and Fury?

 Fury is furious.

 “Where is she heading, Banner?” He asks – no, commands – not even facing the group as he speaks.

 Banner jumps, eyes twitching up. He fiddles with his glasses, pushing them up on his face. “Well – uh – if we’re able to track it – and by that I mean the cube – which I should be able to – ”

 “Then do it! We don’t have time to waste, not when Proxima could open a portal any second.”

 Bruce squeaks, rising from his seat and scrambling over to the main control panels, where he then taps in some numbers with nervous fingers. Tony moves from his seat to go join Banner, quite obviously placing himself between the Director and his fast-growing friend, surveying the readings as Banner does.

 Strange and Loki glance at each other, quite sure they already know the answer to this question. Still, it would be odd to say it, so they just sit and wait for Banner to announce:   

 “I think – she’s heading for Canada, St John’s in Newfoundland specifically.”

 Loki frowns.

 Strange frowns.

 That’s not right.

 “Well, that’s a bit lame,” Tony says, echoing Loki’s thoughts. He’s eating, Loki realises – blueberries? – as he jokingly replies, “Like, why Canada? Why not somewhere a bit more cool? Like, New York or something?”

 Strange raises an eyebrow at Loki.

 Loki rolls his eyes back.

 Yeah, at least I had style, he thinks.

 But the Captain is already replying: “Actually, I think it might be a good pick for Proxima – strategically, that is. It’s an island, a land mass she can restrict access to and set up as a secure base. There’s only a small city in the vicinity, so they’re likely to be less prepared for any form of military conflict. Overall – ”

 “ – a good place to open up a portal,” Thor finishes. He addresses Fury as he talks next, “We must make our move soon, man of directing. If not, lives will be lost.”

 Fury drags a hand over his face, before finally turning around. “The council – they’re not going to like us interfering in international water at such short notice.” He pauses, thinking, and then confirms his resolve. “All of you, take a drop ship. If we arrive on the Helicarrier, it will look like American military interfierance. In some parts of the world, that could be seen as a declaration of war. But,” he holds out his finger, “if you go together as a group of remarkable people?

 “If I had time – well, Stark knows – but if I did, I tell you about how there was once an idea.” He surveys the group spread before him. “I don’t feel the need, right now. So, go. Go save the world before it tries to stop you.”

 The Avengers assemble.

 

 Barton lands the jet just on the outskirts of town, between the city and where Banner has tracked the location of the cube. Stark has gone on ahead, to prepare the city of St John’s for the upcoming attack, and Loki watches him speed out of sight as the jet settles and the Avengers walk out onto the ground.

 Banner, walking out of the jet on much firmer feet, focuses off onto the horizon and then points off towards a signalling tower on a far off hill. “There,” he says. “That’s where Proxima will open the portal.” Bruce glances towards Steve. “Captain?”

 Steve takes one look towards the location, and nods. “Until we can close that portal, our priority should be containment. If our intel is right, there’s an army coming for us. So when we get into the city, Barton – take to the buildings, take out any strays and call out their patterns. Stark, you’ll be on the perimeter; don’t let anything into the city. Hulk – uh, smash, I guess? Thor, if a portal opens, slow ‘em down as much as you can. Romanov and I will – ”

 “Actually, Captain?” Loki interrupts. He has his own plan, one that he will not let the Captain meddle with.

 Proxima has made this personal.

 Well, more than it already was.

 “May I take the Black Widow?” Loki asks. “With my knowledge of magic, I should be able to shut the portal down, but Romanov would be good back up for taking down Proxima.”

 Loki looks at Strange as he speaks – searching for any objections – but the magician nods in agreement. “I wish to go with Loki as well. My talents would be best used dealing with containing the Tesseract once it is removed from the portal.”

 Thankfully, Rogers seems as receptive. “Okay then, you three head towards the portal. I’ll cover the ground so that – ”

 And an explosion goes off as a portal opens wide in the sky before them.

 “ – that, uh,” Steve pauses. “That’s – not intimidating at all.”

 Tony laughs from inside his suit. He pats Steve hard on the back, and says, his voice reverberating from inside the suit, “Buckle up, Captain. We’ve got some space-Nazis to fight.”

 The Chitauri begin to fill the sky, and the Avengers split up.  

 

 Most of the Chitauri ignore Loki, Strange and Natasha as they run up to the hill, instead heading straight for the city to begin the invasion. All tongue and cheek, Natasha says “Well, that’s rude. Are we not even worth their time of day?”

 “Deeply uncivilised,” Loki agrees.

 “Do they not learn manners in space?” Strange quips.

 “They could at least offer us a ride.”

 And then Loki remembers. “Or, you know” he says, flickering his eyes up to the sky. Romanov did look quite badass when she flew around in the original timeline. “We could try catching one?”

  Strange, at these words, looks horrified, and says “Loki, no,” while Natasha smirks.

  “You owe me a drink if we pull this off.”

 “Nope, no, I’m just going to fly, you two are mad.”  

 Loki stops running, and kneels down, forming a lift. “I think you’ll be owing me a ride.”

 Strange groans, casting a spell, as Natasha prepares herself. Strange is already in the air when she starts running, and Loki waits until the timing is just right, just when he feels Romanov’s boot connect with his hand, to summon the magic into his veins and fling Natasha up high, right into the line of a Chitauri chariot.

 She connects with a bang, pulling herself aboard and Loki can’t see much else from where he stands, but soon one soldier is flung off board, and the chariot rapidly changes course. Soon, it’s aimed in his direction, Natasha offering out a hand from where she’s knelt on the driver’s back. Grinning, Loki takes it as she flies past, flipping himself on board, as well as flipping Strange the bird as they zoom past him.

 Time to start the party.

  As Natasha steers, Loki draws his weapons. Any time a Chitauri gets a little too close to them, Loki kicks and stabs and slices, and he’s never felt more alive than when a rogue soldier drops on board and Loki trips and kicks them off by the chest with a kiss and a wave.

 Strange is on their tail, picking off any stragglers with whips and blasts, and gods, what a team they make, slaughtering all in their path.

 They’d beat the Warriors Three any day.  

 It doesn’t take long until they’re rounding on Proxima’s base. The building is not magnificent, not a palace or fortress, but a tower, designed as nothing more than a landmark. Yet, Proxima has conveyed her message clear enough; the flag ripped from its pole clearly reads this land is no longer yours.

 Proxima stands at the tower’s top, sceptre in hand, as if she’s been waiting her whole life for this moment.

 And she’s firing right at them.

 Loki hears Natasha’s panicked breath before they swerve, the chariot crashing right at Proxima’s feet. Loki feels the wind knocked out of him as the tumbles to the side, crumpled on his front, and hears Romanov’s muffled yell when Proxima takes her second aim.

 Strange appears right on time, his whip catching around Proxima’s wrist and flinging her to the side. This buys Loki and Natasha enough to time to rise to their feet, but then it’s right back to the action, Proxima swirling her spear and aiming right for them.   

 The battle ensues.

 When Loki gains ground, Proxima reclaims it easily. Where he fails, Natasha is there to back him up, but this isn’t enough, Strange lobbies of shots to the side.

 With their foresight, and Natasha’s skill, they manage to back Proxima into a corner, but it’s an odd irony, in the end, that takes Proxima down.  

 Loki is weaving and diving, driving himself closer and closer to Proxima, and takes a swipe at her throat, but Proxima surprises him and nips under his arm, using his slight hesitation to take an aim at Natasha and fire right for her heart.

 And Loki – he’s too far to stop it – but Strange isn’t, and his eyes widen and on instinct he leaps and the once deadly shot hits Strange straight in the shoulder.

 Proxima grins an evil grin, thinking herself to have gained the upper hand, and aims once again for a killing shot –

– when Strange’s cloak flies from his shoulders and wraps itself tight around Proxima in penance for hurting it’s master.

 Of all things, it is Strange’s cape catches Proxima off-guard.

 Loki does not waste this opportunity.

 In one swift motion, he leaps forwards and wrenches the Sceptre from Proxima’s hand, throwing it towards Natasha. “Go!” he shouts. “The Sceptre should have enough power to close the portal! Do it now!”

 Romanov, catching the Sceptre easily, doesn’t even stop to nod, instead running off towards the portal.

 She’s already gone by the time Proxima screams, ripping herself free of Strange’s cloak, and panting heavily. “NO! I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED BY – ”

 Loki gives her no time to finish. He’s ready, his hand shooting out to grasp her by the throat, his dagger drawn in the other, and Loki squeezes tight.  

 “Checkmate,” he says, and – in a moment where any other Avenger would have given mercy, have allowed the fight to go on to a peaceful resolution – Loki stabs Proxima right through the chest.

 No more, he thinks.

 Strange, in complete shock, just sits and watches, hand clutched on his shoulder, as Loki throws Proxima to the ground, his hands soaked with blood.

 And Loki dares to meet Strange’s eye, merely to say, “Thanos showed us no mercy. They deserve none in return.”

 As Loki stands over Proxima’s body, panting, the portal closes behind them, and the Chitauri fall like flies.

 

 Strange and Loki eventually agree to keep both the Mind and Space stones on Earth. This is confusing to Thor – of all people – because “didn’t we originally arrive to take the Tesseract back to Asgard?”

 That was Loki’s original plan, yes, but since discovering Strange, he’s had to make some adjustments.

 Once the battle is done, and after the shawarma – Earth food is mighty odd, may Loki add, quite spicy – the two magic users briefly teleport back to the New York sanctum to settle some remaining matters.

 As soon as Loki steps foot inside, he notices how the building is a lot more bustling than the last time he had seen it. The corridors are full of life, many people going out of their way to greet Strange, and Loki can sense the magic all around them.

 It feels different to that of Asgard’s magic, but still oddly familiar.

 Eventually, Strange presents Loki with a cosy office, covered in walls of books, as well as a wall completely plastered in news clippings, files and strings.

 A crudely drawn picture of Thanos sits at the centre.  

 They sit, and they discuss: where to keep the infinity stones is the main topic of this conversation.  

 Let’s gather them all on Earth, Strange eventually suggests. Even now, that means Thanos will arrive on Earth with one less stone than originally did.

And then Loki thinks back to the alignment – how the Aether will present itself soon – and agrees.

 The stones seem drawn to Earth anyway; perhaps that’s for a reason.

 Asgard may be destroyed yet, anyway.

 A week or so later, the Avengers gather in a busy square to commemorate their parting of ways. As Loki strolls along, hands in the pockets of a cleanly pressed suit, he can’t quite get over the surreal-ness of this situation.

 Last time he was here, he was in cuffs; a prisoner.

 Now? He’s pretty sure he just saw a kid dressed up as him.

 What’s that about the timeline trying to fix itself, huh Strange? Loki thinks.

As they walk along, Tony rambles at Loki’s side “You know, Greasy – may I call you that? Yeah, you don’t get a choice, I’m calling you that. – Anyway, I don’t feel like we really got a chance to bond over the past few days, you know? To connect. So, I’ve had an idea. You, me, massages. What’d ya say?”

 Loki pans around to Thor and asks, completely deadpan, “Can I murder him?”

 While Tony breaks into a coughing fit, Thor just laughs, wrangling an arm around his brother’s neck. “Oh Loki, you jest. I can already tell we’re all going to become good friends!”

 Loki lets the fact that he was serious slide.

 Steve, hands in his pockets, decides to change the topic. “So what will you two do now?”

 Thor hums. “Go back to Asgard,” he explains. “Prepare for the battles ahead.” He gives Loki’s hair a ruffle. “Party.”

 Barton snorts. “You and me both Buddy.”

 “Well, this is goodbye for now, my friends,” Thor says as he and Loki step back, preparing for Heimdall to beam them back up via the Bifrost.

 “Come visit!” Natasha calls, and as the two brothers wave goodbye, Thor leans over and whispers one last question in Loki’s ear:

“By the way, brother, how is it that you knew the Tesseract was on Earth in the first place?”

 Loki grins, and says as the colours of the Bifrost begin to surround them, “I have my sources.”

 The timeline, so far, is on track.

Chapter Text

Loki teleports into Coulson’s hospital room during the dead of night, when he’s sure no one will notice him.

 He’d tagged along on Thor’s trip through the Bifrost, where his brother had planned to reunite with one Jane Foster, but Loki had then ran off at the first opportunity on the excuse that he needed to go talk to Strange.

 He did not need to talk to Strange.

 Instead, Loki finds himself sat at Coulson’s bedside, just watching his chest rise and fall. The heart monitor has a steady beat, oddly comforting to Loki’s ears, and it’s stupid how long Loki has just sat here, watching and listening.

 He’s not sure why.

 Perhaps it’s because he can still picture Coulson’s blood on his hands.

 Or perhaps it’s because he’s only just washed them of Proxima’s.

  Either way, Loki hates how he’s come to sit at the Agent’s beside like a long lost lover, or mourning mother. Hates how relieved he is to see Coulson’s chest move.

  An hour into his stay, Loki finally stands, grabbing his cloak – that he had originally discarded over the end of Coulson’s bed, and takes a few grumbling steps towards the door when –

 “What, not even going to say goodbye?” A weak voice says behind him and gods, Loki nearly jumps out of his skin. He turns and, yes, there Coulson is, awake and staring at Loki with bleary eyes. Loki stands a little straighter, hold his emotions a little tighter.

 “Agent – ah – I was just leaving.

 “No you weren’t,” Coulson states, completely matter of fact. He raises a brow, and gives a small smile. “It’s okay. You can sit. I’m not adverse to visitors, though normally they come during the designated hours.”

 “I’m not – ”

 “Yes, you are,” Coulson, with a nod of his head, gestures to the chair. “Go on, sit.”

 Loki considers his options.

 And then sits down slightly sheepishly, refusing to meet the Agent’s eye.

 The two men sit in silence for a long while.

 “So, what are you doing here, Loki?” Coulson asks. “It’s not that I’m not grateful, receiving a hospital visit from one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” the human then teases – gods, it’s weird to be a hero in this timeline – “but we’re hardly what one would consider friends.”

 “On the Helicarrier, I was one of the first to arrive when you were hurt,” Loki says, matter of fact. “I merely wanted to check you were now well.”

 “You could have done that during the day, you know?” Coulson teases, but Loki is in no state for jokes.

 “I wasn’t in the mood for much talking,” he snaps.

 “Then why come at all?” And Coulson has caught him there, the Agent’s gaze more knowing than Loki expected a human’s could be, as it watches him wallow in his own self-pity.

 Loki sits, strumming his hands on the side of his chair, wondering whether he should air his thoughts at all: there’s little he could say to truly explain what he’s feeling.

I’m trying to save the universe by myself, but everything I do just goes back to how it was originally.

 But Coulson – this man – what harm could it do?

 “I’ve… been trying to be a better person, lately,” Loki settles on saying, trying to articulate his situation concisely yet obscurely. “But – but it’s been difficult. I haven’t been able to change as much as I’d hoped. Yet…”

 Loki looks up.

 Yet I managed to save you.

 What’s different about you?

 “I don’t think it’s going to be enough.”

 Coulson, oblivious to Loki’s inner dialogue, considers these words. “I think, in the end,” he eventually says, “the fact that you’re trying speaks volumes. Sure, you may mess up, but then just think about all the lives you’ve saved in the past few days; people who are happy and healthy because of your actions.” Coulson gazes off, up at the ceiling. “All we can hope to do in our allotted time is try our best. You can’t always change the world, but you can change how you react to it.”

 …Huh.

 Loki fakes a smile. “That is a… curious assessment.”

 Can he not change the layout of the future?

 Will old threats just continue to present themselves?  

 “It’s a motto I tend to live by.”

 Loki stands. “Thank you for your time, Agent Coulson,” he says. “I will leave you to your rest. You have – have given me a lot to think about.”

 Coulson nods. “Anytime, your royal highness,” he chimes with a grin, and Loki walks out of the hospital room, cloak draped over his arm, a stride in his step, a conclusion in his mind:

 If he can’t change the future, then he’ll be damn well prepared for it.

 The alignment approaches.

Chapter Text

 “So, I’m sitting in the throne room next to Thor, when Lady Sif starts obviously flirting with him,” Loki drawls as he strolls down a dimly lit corridor, Natasha at his side. She has a gun drawn, and is skulking around a corner, waiting to make her move. Nonetheless, she faces Loki, nodding along as he speaks: “And Sif goes, ‘Wow, Thor’ – can you tell this is my Lady Sif impression? Anyway – ‘Wow, Thor, your new armour really suits you’ and Thor says to her face ‘Thank you, Jane.’” Loki cackles. “Lady Sif was mortified!”

 Natasha whistles, “Your brother is one dumb bitch.”

 “Tell me about it,” Loki deadpans.

 Its odd pastime he’s taken to – bitching with Natasha about everything horrible in their lives. Perhaps it happened because Loki was looking to sooth the worry bubbling under his skin, but it was never something he planned on cultivating.

 As Thor’s time on Earth grew by the day – Jane Foster always at his side – Loki would often tag along just keep an eye on his brother, never straying too far. He originally retreated to Natasha out of boredom. Now, whenever he’s around, whether Natasha is on a mission or not, they – well –

–  gossip.

 “It’s good to see you making new friends, Brother,” Thor had said to him, as they’d left that morning.

 Ugh.

 Loki takes a glance around the next corner. “Two guards, by the way,” he relays to Natasha, who nods in response.

 “Roger that,” she says, before pulling a small ball from her pocket and throwing it down the corridor. A small explosion follows, along with a burst of smoke which Natasha effortlessly throws herself into.

 Loki, hands in his pockets, casually trails after her. “And then,” he continues, “oh, you’ll never guess what Thor did next.”

 Natasha, mid-way through punching a very confused looking sentry right in the jaw, pauses to say, “As much as I love our gossip, Loki, I don’t think you came here to talk about Thor.”

  Loki stalls. “I’m sorry?” he replies, throwing Natasha a gun from one of the disarmed guards.

 As she catches it, Natasha seems to pause. Turning to face the door in front of them, Natasha begins fiddling with a nearby control panel. Loki barely hears her ask, “How are things going with Odin?”

 Ugh. “No.”

 “No?”

 “No, I’m not talking about this,” Loki reiterates, crossing his arms.

 The door slides open, and Natasha is already firing, taking out two of the five guards behind it. She says between breaths, “Have you tried bringing up the Palace security again? Perhaps he’ll be more receptive now you have the plans drawn up.”

 Loki, with the flick of his wrist and a blast of magic, takes out one of the men sneaking up behind Natasha. “It’s not the plans he has an issue with.” Loki ducks, as Natasha fires a shot over his head. “It’s me.”

 “Maybe you should talk to Thor - ?”

 I can’t involve Thor. Dear gods, I can’t have him mistrust me now.

 After dodging a punch and elbowing the last guard in the face, Loki checks his bare wrist as if it were a watch. “Oh, look at the time. I must go. Heimdall, take me back, please!” he calls.

 “Loki!” Natasha tries, but Loki can already see the Bifrost forming, and just like that, he’s gone.

 

 If it wasn’t already apparently clear, things have not been going well with Odin.

  Loki’s not sure what he’s done to make his father distrust him so much – was it that mention of Hela so long ago? His new desire to strengthen Asgard’s defences? – but Odin now rarely looks at him with anything other than a calloused gaze.

 His distrust only grew worse after the Battle of St John’s, and Loki’s change in heart concerning the Tesseract didn’t help either.  

 Does Odin think him seeking power? The throne?

 Ironically, in this world he wants none of these things.

 On top of all this, the Alignment is fast approaching.

 So Loki’s been agitated, that’s for sure. The upcoming weeks make or break Loki’s tenuous hold on the timeline, and there are situations he’d do anything to avoid repeating.

 As the Bifrost clears, and Loki’s eyes adjust to the gold hues of Asgard, Heimdall greets him with a nod that Loki then dutifully mimics. Eager to return home, Loki makes for the palace, taking the shortest route down the bridge and through the town square.

 People notice as he pass and Loki tries to play his part of the noble prince, tries to smile in the right places, but it’s draining when he knows how fickle these people’s attentions are. So he marches on through, and let’s himself slip away from the crowds until he is in the safe confines of the palace walls.

 On the way to his room, Loki hears a voice call from behind him, “My son!” and there, behind him, is Frigga. Beaming, she opens her arms wide and continues on: “You’ve returned early. Is your brother back as well?”

 Wearily, Loki shakes his head and walks into her waiting arms. “No, Mother. He is still with Jane. I was… feeling a little off colour.”

 Frigga frowns, moving a hand to check his temperature. “Not coming under the weather are you? Hm,” she hums, and says “Come,” linking her arm with Loki’s. “We’ll find a quiet spot to discuss what’s bothering you.”

 Loki nods, but knows he cannot tell her.

 Not only will Odin not listen to him, but the day when Malekith originally murdered his mother is fast approaching.

 

 They sit on the window ledge in his mother’s study. In his right hand, Loki nurses a small cup of herbal tea – a childhood favourite of his – while Frigga sits next to him, staring out onto the gardens bellow.

 The air is calm – Loki can hear the birds chirping outside – and Frigga has merely sat and listened while her son explains what he can about the situation: that Odin is dismissing him with no fair reason.

 Frigga is cool and rational and – gods, how could Loki forget just how much he loves his mother – when –

  “MOTHER!” Thor’s voice bellows through the halls. In an instant, the doors to the study fly open to reveal the figures of his brother and Jane Foster, their hands tightly intertwined.

“Oh, thank gods,” Thor breathes on sight of them. “Heimdall said you were here but I wasn’t sure if you’d moved or – ”

 “Slow down, my son, slow down!” Frigga says, moving to her feet. “What is wrong? And who is this you bring with you?”

 Loki meets eyes with Jane Foster across the room and feels his blood run cold.

 No.

 Thor – completely unaware the panic that has begun to run through his brother’s veins – gives Jane’s hand a squeeze before gesturing forwards to his mother. “Jane, I’d like you to meet the Queen of Asgard, my mother. And, in return, Mother, this is Jane Foster, my – ” he turns to Jane “ – is girlfriend the right word to use in this context? I’m not quite used to your Earth terms for courtship. Either way, Jane needs to be examined by our healers immediately. She has been infected by something – otherworldly.”

 No, no, no, no.

 Frigga, who has now crossed the entire space, holds out a hand to Jane. “Would you care to elaborate on my son’s words, my child?”

 This is happening too soon.

 Jane gazes up at his mother – Loki can see stars in Jane’s eyes – and the mortal woman nods. “Yeah, sure! Uh, hello, your majesty, by the way,” Jane laughs self-conciously, tucking some hair behind her ear. “Recently, I’ve been studying paradoxical anomalies in the fabric of our space time, and this morning I finally found one. Darcy, Thor and I went to check it out but when we got there, one portal in particular was giving off strong readings and – and it sucked me in. Suddenly, I was in this dark cave and – there was this red stone – ”

 Loki drops his teacup to the ground and hears it shatters into countless pieces on the ground.

 He’s not ready.   

 The crash rings around the room, and all eyes turn to him as he sits completely frozen.  

 “Where is the stone now?” Loki asks, dreading his answer.

  Jane, looking him dead in the eyes, responds. “I think it’s in me.”

 Loki stands.

 “Brother?” Thor tries. What’s wrong? Have you heard of this before?”

 But Loki is still looking at his mother, his brave and loving mother.

 No.

 “I must talk to father immediately,” Loki announces, striding towards the door. “Jane has just described the Aether.”

 If the reality stone is free, Malekith is coming.

 

  Loki finds his father exactly where he expects – sat contently on his throne, yet any joy he may feel falls from his face as Loki enters the room.

 Today of all days, Loki has no time for this bullshit.

 “Father,” he says, marching towards the centre of the grand chamber. “We have an urgent situation on our hands. Thor has just returned from Earth with Jane Foster – ”

 “The human?” Odin questions, rising from his seat sharply. “I thought your brother knew better than to entangle himself with mortals. She does not belong here anymore than a goat at a banquet.”

 Oh, so that’s what concerns him.

 “Father, please,” Loki continues. “This is not the issue at hand. She has become infected with – ”

 Odin scoffs. “Shall take a guess? Is it an illness? We cannot help her – illnesses are mortals’ defining trait.”

 “ – with the Aether, Father.” Loki snaps, standing firm.

 Doddering old man. 

  As Loki hoped, this news brings Odin to a still. The sentries surrounding them begin to chatter – The Aether? Isn’t that a fairy tale – while the colour drains from their king’s face.  With as much life as a statue, Odin gasps, “Impossible.”

 “The alignment is coming, Father!” Loki cries, arms lashing. “I have reason to believe that some of the Dark Elves are still alive – including Malekith. If they can get even the slightest sense of the Reality Stone, they will come for it. Immediately. If would just implement my defence protocols then – ”

 His father stomps his sceptre on the ground, and Asgard’s great hall falls silent. “Enough,” Odin commands. “The Dark Elves are nothing but a myth. There is no threat at present to Asgard.”

 “But there is!” Loki shouts, gripping at his hair. “Father, please! People will die!” He searches his father’s eyes for any sign, any at all, that the man he once knew is still there. “Why can’t you just trust me?!”

 Odin says nothing.

 He just stares Loki in the eye, and has the nerve to look pitiful.

 Loki remembers in that moment why, in a time past, he hated his father so much.

 “Asgard’s defences have held strong for millennia. I see no need to alter them now,” Odin says, his voice devoid of emotion, but Loki doesn’t stay long enough to hear the court laugh at him – to hear if this is followed by anymore words of scorn.

 If Odin will not help him, then he’ll save his mother himself.

 

 If there were time to contemplate anything else right now, Loki would think on the irony of his situation; how now, in his greatest moment of need, he turns to Thor of all people.

 He catches his brother just as he and Jane emerge from Asgard’s healers, Frigga taking Jane off to fetch a clean set of clothes. Loki pulls Thor aside into one of Asgard’s towering hallways, and recounts a simplified version of events, and what Malekith’s invasion means for Asgard.

 Of it all, Thor is most baffled by Odin’s reaction. With furrowed brows, he asks, “Why would Father dismiss you like that? I helped you with those plans; they are nothing but efficient.” He shakes his head. “I can talk to Father later, but now we must prioritise the upcoming threats. How sure of you of the Dark Elves attack?” Thor says, crossing his arms.

 Loki does not need to overly elaborate. “Positive.”

 “Then we must move into action! You understand this threat best. What would you have me do?”

 Did –

 Did Thor just ask him for orders?

 No, Loki, he thinks. This isn’t the time to gloat. So instead, he considers tactics and gathers his intellect. 

 Where would Thor be best placed? In the prisons? That is where the original diversion began. Or should he be stationed with their mother?

 …No, Loki concludes. He wants to be the one to guard their mother; if Malekith is coming for the stone, Loki will be there to face him.

 “Go alert Heimdall,” Loki decides in the end. “He is one of our greatest allies in a fight. If you prepare him, then Asgard shall be prepared as well.”

 “What about Jane?” Thor asks. “If these Elves come for the stone, she will be their greatest target…” His brother turns around, to where Frigga and Jane have just re-emerged, and – gods, Loki hates to admit it – the Asgardian attire, the fabric falling over Jane’s shape in subtle waves, it suits her. And the smile she sends Thor is dazzling – Loki can understand what Thor sees in Jane Foster. Yet, he doesn’t expect Thor to ask, “Will you watch over her?” his gaze so earnest.

 …Oh.

 Loki reaches up, placing a hand on Thor’s shoulder. “Of course, brother,” he says, for once in his life genuine. “I won’t let any harm come to her.”

 Some of the tension eases out of Thor’s shoulders. “Good,” he murmurs. “Yes, good.”

 Loki doesn’t quite believe he has earnt the trust Thor places in him at that moment.

 

 When Thor leaves, Frigga runs ahead – to prepare the enchantments that will keep Jane concealed – leaving Loki behind to escort Jane through Asgard’s labyrinth of a palace.

 They walk mainly in silence, but eventually, Loki can sense Jane trying to slide up to him, can sense her hesitation. “Sooo…” she finally begins, her hands swinging at her side. “We’ve never really talked before – you and I.”

 Loki takes a moment to look back as he walks, raising an eyebrow. “And that is a travesty because?”

 Jane laughs, albeit self-conciously. “Because I’d like to get to know you!”

 Loki turns his gaze back to the corridor in front of him, rolling his eyes. Honestly, what is it with humans and feelings? “And why is that?” he asks, not expecting a real reply.

 “Thor talks about you all the time,” Jane says, jogging to catch up to Loki’s quick pace. “You mean the world to him – and it’s a good think to take an interest in what your significant other cares about.”

 And – Loki could be cruel, he can feel his ire rising but – something twigs inside Loki with these words.

 “…He does?” Loki asks, refusing to meet Jane’s eyes. Honestly, he didn’t think Thor cared that much. “Hmm… well, if it’s any consolation, Thor won’t shut up about you either,” he says: his own attempt at being civil.  

 If Jane’s happy blush is any indication, it appears as if it worked.

 But, when it comes down to it, this is not the time for pleasantries.

  It’s not long until they catch up to Frigga, who leads them into a small cupboard which she continues to enchant while Loki leads Jane inside. Once she’s situated, Loki places his hands on Jane’s shoulders and says with as firmly as he can muster:

 “What I need you to do, Jane, is to stay here. No matter what you hear, no matter what you see, please just stay put. In any other time or place I know you could look after yourself, but today I’d rather not be murdered by my older brother for letting you get stabbed by a fucking elf. Got it?”

 Jane gives him the human hand-sign for okay. “Capiche, Captain.”

  And Loki just has to hope that that’s enough.

 

 The invasion begins in exactly the same way Loki remembers; with a quake.

 Loki stands at the window, and watches as Thor takes out a good two thirds of Malekith’s ships with Heimdall’s help: Asgard’s barriers go up in quick succession, surrounding the palace and city.

 The first stage of the invasion goes smoothly; for Loki, at least.

 Yet, after this, with a nod to his mother, Loki slinks into the shadows of the room and hides himself from view. He watches as Frigga conjures a vision of Jane, stands silent as his mother prepares to fight, and draws his own dagger from his sleeve.

 He waits.  

 And hears Malekith coming long before the doors open. Breathing shallow, skin tingling, Loki watches as Malekith reveals his ghoulish skin and lifeless black eyes. He watches the illusionary Jane flee to the corner of the room for safety, and watches his own nightmares play out before him.

 “Stand down, creature. You may still survive this.”

 “I have survived worse, woman.”

 “Then you must not understand the fury of a desperate mother.”

 And Frigga takes a swing.

 Her blade catches Malekith’s cheek – Loki can feel the blood hit the floor – but it is not long until the Elf is retaliating with his own blade. Frigga effortlessly knocks it from his hands, and it clatters to the side, leaving Malekith with nothing but his fists.

 Yet, all this time, Loki stays frozen. He must maintain the element of surprise, right until the final moment, so he can catch his mother’s mistake before it happens; never allow Malekith to take the upper hand.

 It is just as his mother is about to hold her dagger to the Dark Elf’s neck, slit it and seal the deed, that Loki spots the movement out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly, he realises the cause of his mother’s death.

 Before Malekith’s henchmen can even think to cross the threshold of the room, there is a dagger lodged in his head, thrown by all the force Loki can muster.

 The body crumples to the floor.  

 “Kill him now, Mother!” Loki cries, and Frigga does not hesitate.

  Just like that, there is silence.

 Malekith lies dead at Loki’s feet.

 Loki, panting, turns his gaze from the floor up to his mother. She, huffing and puffing, looks back at him, blood staining her dress, but nonetheless alive.

 She smiles a grim smile. “This was not the type of family bonding I expected to be taking part in today.”

 

 The battle ends not long afterwards.

 Loki is more than overjoyed by the day’s events – he can still feel the adrenaline at his fingertips – sets out to search for Thor once he’s sure the danger has passed. He leaves their mother to catch up with Jane, and the various guards on site to deal with the clean-up, and wanders the palace.

 If anything, the battle feels as if it was too easy and over too quickly.

 But what else was there to do?

 Loki had accounted for all possibilities.  

  So “Thor?” he calls, stepping over rubble and the occasional body. “Brother? Where arrre you? Malekith is dead. Mother is awfully good with a knife, might I add. The invasion’s o-veeer… I swear, I saw you fly back in here. Helloooo?”

 What, had his brother already gone out to celebrate? Slightly premature, Loki thinks, and – yes, why wouldn’t he bring Jane along?

 On a similar note, he’d yet to see their father either.

 Loki smells the electricity in the air before he spots Thor.

 He’s just entered the throne room but there’s carnage everywhere. Bodies, weapons, blood… in the centre lies Thor, spread over their father’s body. Where Thor can barely look up at him, tears leaking from his eyes, their father’s gaze is blank and unseeing.

 Loki feels the cold run under his skin before he can comprehend what he is truly looking at.

  “Father’s dead, Loki.”

Chapter Text

 It’s like Loki loses the ability to sense the world around him.

 For a split second, he hears nothing, he sees nothing, and he feels nothing.

 Odin is dead.  

 Mother is alive.

 But Father is dead?

 But I saved Coulson, Loki thinks. That proved I didn’t have to trade a life for a life in the eyes of the universe.

 That doesn’t change the fact that Father is still dead.

 Frozen in Asgard’s grand hall, Loki’s senses come back to him in fractions.

 First he hears the silence, broken by Thor’s stifled sobbing. Then he sees again, the blood and destruction.

 And then he feels everything at once.

 Loki falls to his knees as his mind turns to static.

 This wasn’t supposed to happen.

 His Father died thinking him a monster.

 “Loki, what do we do?” Thor says through his sobs. He’s still hunched over Odin’s body – gods, Loki’s just realised his brother is covered in blood, their father’s blood – and, at this point, Thor’s somewhat delirious. “This can’t be happening. Loki, tell me this isn’t real. Tell me this is all just a bad dream.”

 Behind Thor, Loki senses the all the magic in the room pooling. A small whirl in the fabric of reality begins to appear.

 Loki feels his heart miss a beat.

 Does this mean – ?

 Thor doesn’t notice as a portal opens behind him.

 And Loki rushes to his feet, dashing forwards to stand between his family and –

 Out of the dark steps their sister, her gaze immediately settling on her father’s figure on the floor.

 Hela returns to Asgard with a smirk on her face.

 …Oh, fuck

 Loki draws a dagger from his sleeve in an instant, Thor only due to the commotion.

 Hela pays them no heed.

 “Hm,” she says, strutting forwards to Odin’s corpse. “Looks like Father finally beat the dust. Was it one of you two who killed him?” gesturing between the two brothers.

 Thor chokes on a sob, “What? Who are you?”

  Their sister scoffs. “Do you not recognise your queen when she appears?” she taunts.  “I’m – ”

 “Hela,” Loki breathes. “The goddess of death.”

 Their sister waves a hand in his direction. “See! Somebody knows their history.”

 Yet Thor’s confusion does not subside, why should it? He rises to his knees – Loki desperately tries to keep his brother behind him – and then his feet, clutching his hammer tight to his side. “I do not understand why you have come,” Thor says, “but I am Thor Odinson, protector of Asgard, and while I live you shall never be queen.”

 “Ahhh,” Hela says, crossing her arms. “I understand now. You’re my little brother. My replacement.”

 “Replacement?!”

 “You too, I presume?” Hela asks, pointing a finger at Loki.

 “Adopted,” he confirms. “…Perhaps we can come to some arrangement?”

 For Loki – honestly? – didn’t think he had to deal with this shit for a good few years yet. He’s not ready for Ragnarok – did saving his mother really come at such an expense? – or is there some other way to defeat their sister?

 It’s then Loki notices the electricity crackling at his brother’s fingers, how the air has gone stale and how Thor looks furious.

 “No!” he bellows. “Are you – are you saying you’re our sister?!” He laughs, on the edge of hysterics. “Lies! No child of Odin could be so – so – cruel.”

 And, in an instant, Hela is right in front of them, gripping Thor’s face in her palm and hissing: “If you do not think Odin was cruel, you did not know him at all.” Her hold tightens, and she grins. “What’s it like to realise your whole life is a lie?”

 The doors leading the outside burst open with a bang. The light is blinding, and in with it marches the Asgardian army, led by Hogun. With weapons drawn, the soldiers shift into position as they begin to surround Asgard’s royal children.

 The army holds more fascination for Hela than her little brothers.

 Just like that, she drops Thor to the ground and, with some fascination, strolls forwards to face her people – her birth-right. 

 Something tells Loki this isn’t going to go down well.

 “Well, isn’t this a sight for sore eyes!” Their sister purrs, addressing the crow. “My army. I must admit, it has been a while, so I shall re-introduce myself.” Hela places her hands on her hips, and holds her head high. “I am Hela, Commander of the Legions of Asgard, Odin’s first born – yes, that makes me the rightful heir to the throne now your pitiful Allfather has died.”

 While the army is sent into a commotion, their attention shifting to where Odin lies but inches in front of them, at the same time Thor bristles, and Loki has to reach out and grip his arm tight to stop the beginning of a fight.

 “No, not yet,” Loki whispers. “Her power is connected to Asgard. Right now, she’s neigh invulnerable.”

 Thor snatches his arm back. “Then what would you have us do?! Brother, I cannot let this stand!”  

 “Wait,” Loki begs. “I’ll – I’ll think of something.”

 Something that hopefully doesn’t involve blowing Asgard into smithereens.

Hela continues, basking in the attention: “Here on Asgard, we were once the centre of absolute power in the cosmos – my first order as your Queen is to help fulfil our God-given destiny: to rule over all overs! Kneel before me, and rise into the ranks of my great conquest!”

 There is silence.

 Hogun glances in Thor’s direction – like what do you want me to do? – and takes Thor’s stone gaze as the signal to stand firm. He coughs, and calls, “Whoever you are, surrender now or we will show you no mercy!”

 Loki resists the urge to face palm.

 Oh, for the gods’ sake, why did he have to word it like that?

 Loki can only watch as Hela’s face spasms in rage. “Whoever I am?! – did you listen to a word I just said?! I thought you’d be happy to see me – did Odin destroy my memory so successfully…?” Hela sighs, flicking her wrists and materialising two huge swords. “Oh well – if you will not stand down, your sacrifice will pave the way for Asgard’s glorious future.”  

 And the fight sword is thrown right in the direction of Hogun’s face.

 But, before it can reach its destination, Thor suddenly appears in its wake, batting the sword away with Mjolnir and letting it clatter to the floor.  

 Thor shows no emotion.

 He stands like stone

 Hela stalks forwards.

 And Loki tries to think his way out of this gigantic mess.

 “WAIT!” a voice cries, Loki’s saving grace.

 The room is silenced, as the sound of heels echoes through the chamber. A figure pushes through the crowds, and Frigga emerges to a sight she never expected to see.

 Asgard’s Queen takes in the sight of her husband’s corpse, parallel to Asgard’s army armed to the teeth, but, of all things, her gaze settles on Hela. And Frigga begins to cry.

 “My baby,” she gasps. “Oh, my sweet girl! I thought you were dead!” and Frigga’s running, throwing her arms around a very, very startled Hela.

 Most startling of all, despite everything, in her mother’s embrace, their sister drops her weapons.

 (The look on Thor’s face is nothing less than betrayal.)  

 Frigga pulls back, tears streaming down her face but smiling. “My dear, your father told me you’d died fighting Jotunheim! How are you here now?”

 Hela recoils. “Are you kidding me?” she hisses. “Father imprisoned me for my ambition and then lied about his crimes?!”

 Frigga stills, and her face drops. “W-what?” she says, her eyes flichering over to the body on the floor. “Odin – he wouldn’t – ”

 “It’s true, Mother” Loki decides to interject. He keeps a hand on Thor’s arm, but takes a step forwards. “Odin’s death allowed Hela to escape.” He swallows. “Father lied to us all.”

 Frigga’s eyes flicker to where Loki stands. She continues to clasp Hela close to her. “…If your life hinges on your Father’s sacrifice,” Frigga rationalises, “it is a price I’d pay a hundred times over to have you home again, my sweet child.”

 “Mother - !” Thor shouts – gods, Thor’s having a bad day, Loki realises – but Frigga shakes her head at him.

 “The same holds for you, my son,” she says. “In the face of such – tragedy, you must look for the silver linings.” And Frigga moves to squeeze her daughter’s hands. “I may have just lost a – a husband, but I have regained a child.” She beams. “Welcome home, my dear.”

 “…Are you truly fine with me taking the throne?” Hela asks – is that hesitant? What, present their sister with Frigga and she turns back into a little girl seeking her mother’s praise?

 Loki supposes he’s not so dissimilar to his sister after all.

 “I cannot deny you your birth-right,” Frigga replies, steady and calm. “But, as your mother, I also expect more from you than to throw a tantrum every time things do not go your way.”

 And Loki looks out across this scene, Asgard’s army on the edge, his brother grasping at straws, and the embrace between long lost family.

 It’s odd, he thinks, how easily his mother’s words could have been applied to him in another life.

 Hela stares at her hands, and then her mother’s face.

 She relents.   

 

 As Asgard gathers its dead, the royal family are granted no such luxury. Instead, they could be found sitting around a table in the grand library – mostly untouched by the Dark Elves’ conflict – for a discussion that is – ah – really fucking awkward.  

 The order around the table goes Hela (picking at her nails and refusing to meet anyones’ eyes), Loki, Thor (who is sending evils at Hela every few seconds), Jane (who is just generally overwhelmed and confused), and Frigga, who is standing at the head of the table and acting as magistrate.

 There, the Queen places a book down onto the table, flicking it open to reveal glorious golden illustrations. Loki can clearly pick out the Aether on the page.

 “Here,” Frigga says, pointing to the stone, “is the magic that has possessed Jane. With the Dark Elves defeated, our next priority is extracting the stone from Jane and containing it safely.”

 “That is all well and good, mother,” Hela interrupts. “But I have a question.”

 “Yes, my dear?”

 “Are you sure my sweet Loki is the adopted one? Blondie looks and acts nothing like the rest of us.”

 Loki resists the urge to snort.

 “How dare – !” Thor shouts, banging a fist on the table. “Mother, Hela is being inappropriate! We’re trying to save Jane’s life here!”

 “Ooo, boo hoo, running to mummy to solve all your problems. Poor ickle baby Thor,” Hela mocks.

 “Don’t make me throw my hammer at you!”

 “It was mine first!”

 Oh, bloody hell.

 “Children!” Loki chastens, silencing his two siblings. “Behave! Gods, you know the bickering is bad when I’m the one telling you two to: Shut. Up.”

 A ultimatum…

 And Hela and Thor concede, glaring at each other before turning away to sulk separately.

 Jane meets Loki’s eye across the table to mouth ‘wow.’

 Loki mouths back ‘tell me about it.’

 “…Are we finished?” Frigga asks. “Yes? Good. Now we can get back to the task at hand.” Frigga claps, and turns her attention to Loki. “My son, is there anything you may know about the Aether that would help us extract it from Jane?”

 Loki rocks back on his hair, crossing his arms.

 Hm.

 “Well,” Loki says. “I know Malekith came to extract the stone from Jane – and he didn’t exactly have any instruments or equipment. This means he was going to extract the Aether by magic alone. Perhaps one of these books may contain the answer – a spell of some sort?”

 Yes, well done, Loki, he thinks to himself. What a totally plausible answer you’ve just given them. It didn’t even involve murder!

 “I don’t see why we can’t just kill the girl and get the stone that way?” Hela deadpans, the proverbial devil on Loki’s shoulder.

 Wow.

 Thor gasps, and clutches Jane to his side, covering her ears, “NO! Jane cannot be harmed!”

 “What – it would be quick! She’d feel nothing!” Hela cries, throwing her arms in the air. “Have you got any better ideas?”

 “I do,” Jane says, pushing Thor’s weight off of her and rising to her feet. “I’ve been studying the Convergence by accident – and all the temporal and space anomalies it leaves in its wake. When I found the stone, it was during one of these temporal events, and it only picked me as I was the only host available. My plan is this – uh, Frigga?” she asks the Queen of Asgard. “You wouldn’t happen to have any maps of Earth around?”

 “No need,” Loki replies instead. With the flick of his wrist, a map of London appears sprawled on the table, along with an ink pot and quill.

 He thinks he knows where this is going.

 Jane nods her head in thanks, and begins scrawling all over the map’s surface. Loki watches, as she circles areas of potential interest – her largest being around that of the University of Greenwich.  

 With a firm hand, Jane points to this location. “Of all the zones I’ve researched over the past few months, theoretically this is the one that should produce the greatest energy readings.”

 “So what are you suggesting, Jane?” Thor questions, leaning forwards on his arms. “We head to the convergence, and wait for the Aether to pick a more powerful host?”

 “Not just anyone. Her,” Jane says, pointing directly at Hela. All eyes turn to Asgard’s heir, her feet laid over the edge of her chair, nonchalantly picking at her nails.

 Thor looks mildly horrified. “Her?!”

 “Yes!” Jane begins to explain, “Of all of us, she is by far the most powerful here – no offence, sweetie, its just fact,” she says aside to Thor, before continuing. “If the Aether is going to pick anyone, it’ll go for her.”

 “I think this may work” Frigga says, arms tapping on the table in thought. “Yes, I shall remain here to deal with the repercussions of the invasion but – Loki – there’s a containment cell in the Treasury that should have enough power to contain the reality stone. Fetch that, and then the four of you can return to Earth. Once the transfer begins, Thor could try and minimise the damage in the surrounding area while Loki makes a move to contain the stone… Yes,” the Queen grins, “I think this may work.”

 “Mother, are you sure – ” Thor tries, but –

 “I’m positive,” Frigga asures. “Everything will be okay. This is how we shall move,” The Queen of Asgard commands.

Each member around the table nods in turn.

 

 Thor drags Loki aside just before they reach the Bifrost. Jane and Hela go on ahead – having a surprisingly civil conversation about the correlation between science and magic – as Thor pleads with his brother.

 “Loki, are you sure we should be going through with this?”

 Loki raises a brow. “Doubting your own girlfriend’s plan, Thor? I didn’t strike you as a misogynist,” he tries to tease, but Thor is having none of it.

 “You know I mean nothing of the sort,” he rebukes. “I mean Hela. Sure, Mother trusts her, but she’s too close to the situation! Why should we? Really, what’s stopping Hela from taking the stone in this scenario? She’d only gain more power!”

 Loki looks back at his sister, walking practically arm and arm across the Bifrost with Jane.

 Yes, he considers, Hela’s ruthless. In the original timeline, her actions had led to the destruction of Asgard. She’s a threat to all who are close to her.

 But – he remembers Hela’s face upon seeing their mother – the humanity in her eyes.

 Loki remembers back to a time where he could have been saved, if only afforded some kindness.

  He makes his decision.

 Loki places a comforting hand on his brother’s arm. “If you cannot trust Hela, trust me. If worst comes to worst, I will always stand by your side.”

 Loki doesn’t question it at the time, but later he’ll contemplate how these words didn’t seem to comfort Thor at all.

 

 The journey down to London is nothing if not tense. Heimdall transports them straight down to Greenwich, after which the whole group moves into action. While Thor goes off to evacuate the surrounding area – along with the many tourists and students taking pictures of the two Avengers that have just appeared in their midst – Jane leads Loki and Hela round the winding paths to their pre-agreed spot.

 Jane picks out a court-yard with a large span of glass that’s surrounded by columns on all sides. Pulling an energy reader from her bag, Jane meanders around, most likely searching for the spot with the greatest readings, Loki assumes.

 When she’s settled, she gives Hela a nod and waits for the other woman to ready herself into position. Meanwhile, Loki does the same, hiding himself between the buildings.

 He’ll wait, out of sight, until the appropriate time to strike.

 Thor returns about ten minutes later, anxiously playing with his hammer, but nods in Loki’s direction to confirm they’re ready.

 All they need now is the convergence to actually begin.

 It takes a while.

 “Not that I don’t trust your judgement, Jane,” Hela says a good twenty minutes later, lying back on the grass, propped on her elbows, “but this convergence isn’t exactly convening.”

 Jane – also sat on the grass – groans. “I’m not wrong! My research has pointed to right here, right now. It might just – take a little while to kick in.”

 “So basically you’re saying you don’t know what it will start?”

 “I do! – Well, not to the exact minute. Not even science – ” and then Jane’s hair begins defying gravity.

 “It’s beginning!” Loki calls out. “Are we all ready?”

 Loki feels the earth cracking beneath his feet, and suddenly the world erupts into chaos.

 In an explosion of dark matter, buildings begin to fall all around them. This prompts Thor into action who runs to destroy the largest pieces of rubble from crushing any of them, while also trying to stop a complete collapse if possible.

 At the same time, Loki watches Jane get to her feet on wobbly legs, compelled forward, blinking once and then again but now with pitch black eyes.

 The floor erupts beneath her, and the air is suddenly filled with hundreds of crows rushing up like a geyser.  

 Hela whistles.

 “Now we’re talking.”

 Jane stalks forwards, as if pulled by an invisible string, drawn into Hela’s aura of ancient magic, and Asgard’s heir remains still. She stands, motionless, and stares the reality stone’s host in the eyes.

 Hela raises her arm, and clicks her fingers.

 Jane collapses as the Aether expels itself from her body into the air. She falls to the floor, and Loki hears his brother cry out in the distance, but he has no time to focus as suddenly he’s running; running as hard as he can, twisting the container open in his hands and launching himself into the air where the reality stone hovers, twisting like vipers made from rubies, ready to test their poisonous bite.

 Like two halves of a coconut, Loki claps the seal around the stone and – for just a moment, he sees something, something worlds away. An old man, polished and poised, tending to his collection – and then the air explodes around him.

 Suddenly, the world is quiet.

 Loki realises he’s forced his eyes shut tight, and dares to peak one lid open to see he’s hovering about a foot off the air. He glances at the container in his hands. Yup, he’s definitely contained the stone. Maybe it just needs to be tightened a bit?

 Loki gives each half a twist, feeling the mechanism lock –

–  and falls flat on his face as the last of the Aether’s power is sealed away.

 He hopes Strange wasn’t watching that from his ivory tower.

 

 Odin’s funeral is an emotional affair for all.

 Frigga – appointed Regent by the council, and at Hela’s permission, surprisingly – allows Jane to stay on Asgard until the completion of the ceremony. Its only fair, since Thor is the one who took their father’s death the hardest, and honestly? Loki doesn’t know what to say to make any of this better.

 He’s the one that traded Odin’s life for Frigga.

 So Loki keeps his distance and does what he does best: observing from afar. In fact, during the funeral, Loki watches his brother more than anything else.

 Yes, watching their father’s assent to the stars is intense and makes Loki feel all these complex emotions but –

 – he’s also dealt with it all before.

Odin’s been nothing but a ghost to Loki for a long time.

 Thor, on the other hand?

 His grief is all too real.

 Jane holds him close from the ceremonies’ start to end, as her boyfriend sobs his eyes out. At the wake, he retires very early into the evening. Eventually, Loki musters the nerve to go after him, but he only finds Thor hours later, once the palace is asleep, sitting in Asgard’s great hall, staring at the ceiling.

 Only time can tell how long he’s sat there, and Loki –

 – he doesn’t know how to approach this.

  Tentatively, Loki takes small steps towards his brother and, when there is no outwards reaction, sits down cross-legged next to him, and just – waits.

 “I wonder how much of this – ” Thor eventually says, gesturing to the ceiling’s frieze “ – is also a lie.”

 Above them are their lives represented, crowned in circlets, a world of prosperity. Thor stands near the centre, the golden child.

 Most of it, Loki thinks.

 He places a hand on Thor’s shoulder. “His love for you was true.” A small compensation.

 Thor brushes Loki’s hand off, and stands. His eyes are hollow. “When I found Father, after the Dark Elves – attacked, I barely arrived in time to hear his dying words. Do you want to know what he told me, Loki?” Thor grits his teeth. “With his dying breath, Father told me not to trust you, Brother.”

 Loki’s jaw drops, and he suddenly loses the ability to breathe.

 No.

 Thor, towering above him, can’t quite seem to get his words right. “I thought – I thought it was ludicrous, but then Hela arrives, and everyone just trusts her – you trust her? After Father locked her away?!”

 Thor laughs. And now, I can’t – rationalise the two! So, tell me, Loki, who do I believe: my dishonest father or my brother, the god of trickery?”

 Loki feels Thor slipping through his fingers.   

Chapter Text

 Loki arrives outside the New York sanctum on a pleasant day in June. He’s dressed to fit in with the cities’ bustling crowds – suit, hair tied back, messenger bag – generally hoping not to draw attention to himself on today of all days.

 In his leather satchel the Aether burns, and Loki just wants to be rid of it and all the trouble it has caused him.

 Even with Asgard’s politics, it didn’t take much to convince Frigga to move the Aether to Earth. She’d already been considering moving it off planet and there was no better currier than him, what with Hela being – uh – Hela, and Thor growing more distant by the day.

 But Loki doesn’t want to think about that right now.

 No, today is his break from Asgard and all the anxiety that comes with it.

 Impatient, Loki bangs the door’s knocker another three times. Strange better not be keeping him waiting on purpose, but Loki doesn’t doubt that’s likely to be the case.

 He moves to sit on the step, crossing his arms and sulking, but only five minutes pass before Loki’s patience gives up.

 With a grand sigh, Loki storms up to the door and yells with his hands cupped against the frame, “I swear, Strange, if you’re not out in 10 seconds I’m going to blast these doors off their hinges!”

 And, just like that, the doors swing open, revealing Strange with a stopwatch. Loki has to reign himself in, just to avoid banging on Strange’s face by accident, but the wizard just clicks the timer off with a triumphant smirk on his face.

 “You lasted waiting just as long as I thought it would,” Strange says. “7 minutes, 46 seconds. You must have terrible impulse control.”

 For gods - !

 Loki gives Strange the finger and stomps inside, ignoring the other man’s cackling and pausing only to rummage around in his bag and pull out the Reality Stone.

 “Here! Take it!” he says, trusting the stone towards Strange. “The sooner it’s locked up the sooner I can leave this place and your horrible company.”

 Strange, instead, walks around Loki, waving him up the stairs as he goes. “Follow me, then.”

 Loki tethers in his emotions before following up behind Strange.

 The sanctum is quiet today, Loki notices – most likely to keep knowledge of the Aether on the down low – he and Strange being the only people in sight. They go up and around the stairs, through an archway in the back, and meander their way through what must be Strange’s trophy room.

 It’s not too dissimilar to Odin’s, Loki thinks, as he’s faced with goblets, shields and totems.

 “I’ve been busy,” Strange begins, as they weave through the room. “There’s been a lot to change on Earth, to allow the optimum timeline to thrive. Thankfully, I did a lot of reading the first time around – I went through every Shield and Avengers file you could think of – so I knew exactly what I needed to alter.”

 “What’s that?” Loki asks, pointing towards a little red book, floating in its cage. “Looks relatively harmless in comparison to – let’s say – ” Loki leans in to read a new by description – “the ‘Necklace of Living Death.’”

 “That,” Strange points,is the activation code for the Winter Soldier. I’m sure it means nothing to you, but having it locked up here will really cause us fewer problems down the line.”

 Loki squints, giving the book a good look over. “What’s to stop anyone from smashing the glass and stealing it?”

 Strange rolls his eyes, “The fact it is now enchanted to burn out the eyes of anyone who tries to read it.”

 Ouch.

 “Noted.”

 They continue on, Strange pointing out some objects of interest as they pass. “That’s a memento from the fall of Shield – necessary to purge it of Hydra, though I have the Avengers running under the new Shield now, led by our one and only Agent Coulson – Ah! This is backup of Jarvis – completely disconnected from any network and charged with magic. Now that is going to save our skins some point soon.” 

 “Where are you keeping my Sceptre these days?” Loki wonders, slipping his hands into his pockets. “I hope you’re not mistreating it – anything that could destroy the universe deserves special treatment.”

 Strange brushes him off, saying, “Don’t you worry about that – I’ve been locking the Infinity Stones away separately. These rooms are inaccessible other than by my exact energy signature. In fact, we’ve arrived at one now.”

 And, indeed, a large bolted door sits before them, engraved with seals and covered in intricate mechanisms. Loki watches the magic weave around Strange’s hands – Earth magic isn’t Asgardian magic by any means, but it’s still entertaining to watch, sometimes – sees the patterns form, and it’s not long until the door slowly begins to unlock.

 “How’re things going with Thor?” Strange asks mindlessly, and Loki knows he doesn’t mean it as anything else but small talk but –

 Loki coughs into his hands, and answers perhaps a little too quickly. “Fine. All fine. We have the Aether – things are going well.”

 Well his arse – they’re not going ‘well’ at all.

 But Strange doesn’t comment – even if he senses Loki’s unease – and with one more flick of his wrist, the sealed door swings open.

 Strange strolls inside and up to a podium, its glass case hanging open. To the human eye, it appears as nothing special, but Loki can feel the waves of magic coming off it – this is an encasement designed to contain one of the most powerful objects in the universe.

 Loki steps forwards and, at Strange’s direction, places the Aether into the case. The container is pulled out of his hands at the last second by a small wave of gravity, as the podium beneath whirrs, the last of Strange’s magic kicking into action.

 The stone will be safe here – for now at least.

 Strange reaches over to close the glass door – it seamlessly remerges with the rest of the glass – and gives a single clap.

 “Well then, if we’re done here – ”

 And then there’s the sound of knocking on glass.

 “…Strange,” Loki says.

 “…Yes?” he replies.

 “…Why did I just hear knocking in your supposedly industrially locked up room?” Loki says, spinning around to check his surroundings. There aren’t any windows in this room either – and it’s not like the Aether could knock on the glass from inside its container – so the sound must be coming from the previous room –

 “Wizarddd, are you in?” Loki hears, muffled from outside. “Helloooo?”

 Loki raises a brow at Strange, letting a smirk creep onto his face, his panic settling down into amusement.

 There’s only one person who calls the doctor ‘wizard.’

 Strange takes a deep, deep sigh, and wordlessly leaves the room.

 “For god’s sake, Stark! Can you not use the goddamn door?!”

 Sure enough, Loki jogs out of the Aether’s containment cell to see Tony Stark flying outside the New York Sanctum with his face pressed up against the glass. “You weren’t answering your phone, so I assumed you wouldn’t answer your door either!”

 Strange clicks his fingers, and suddenly Tony pops inside the building, falling to the floor with a solid ‘ompf!’ His Iron Man boots flicker to a halt, and Stark rubs his ass before replying. “Wow, what a way to treat guests – no, Tony, would you like a cup of coffee? – nooo, the wizard casts spells, asks questions later!” Stark begins to stand, mumbling, before catching sight of Loki. “Oh, hi Greasy,” Tony waves. “I didn’t know you were in town.”

 Loki grimaces. “Please stop calling me that.”

 “Not a chance!”

 “What do you want, Stark?” Strange deadpans, now impatiently tapping his feet. “We need to finish locking up the Aether before it can cause any more trouble.”

 "Forget about that,” Stark says, taking his phone from his pocket and tapping on the screen. “We’ve got new problems. Just listen to this.” Soon, an audio clip begins to play:

 "Has it started?” A deep voice crackles through. “Yes? Hello Terra-lings! We come in pieces!"

 "Oh my god, Drax just stop." Another voice interrupts, followed by:

 "Yeah, Drax - it's obviously we’ve come to rip you to pieces."

 "I am Groot."

 "See! Little Groot agrees with me!"

 "Rocket, that is so obviously wrong. How does that signal peace to you?!"

 "Hey - I don't want to kill! But, I'd really like an arm to add to my collection."

 "You are so going to get us killed. Gamora, do we really have to go back to Terra?"

 "Yes,” a decidedly female voice says this time, followed by a small scuffle. Soon, the woman’s voice echoes through the communication, loud and clear. “Terra, we come in peace. We just want to talk - about the future of your planet."

 "And the transmission ends there," Stark says, stopping the audio.

 “Aliens?” Loki questions, arms crossed.

 Stark nods. “It’s being transmitted all across the global – governments are in a panic. UN’s decided the Avengers should be the first point of contact – but everyone else is on a mission but us three. So – uh – ”

 “You’ve come for backup?” Loki quips. “You know I’m going to lord this over you forevermore, right?”

 “Ugh, don’t remind me. Asking wiz-kid here for help is bad enough!”

 Loki laughs, feeling decidedly light.

 True, he doesn’t recall anything like this happening in the original timeline – while he was king, he kept an eye on Earth just in case Thanos turned up again, but he wasn’t been exactly vigilant either – but these people don’t sound like they want to cause any real trouble.

 “What do you think, Strange?” Loki asks and – he’s not expecting the sheer emotion on Strange’s face. The man’s mouth is agape, his browed furrowed – Loki can’t quite tell if he’s horrified or just confused.

“Strange?” he tries again, reaching out and grasping at the man’s arm.

 At the touch, Strange snaps out of his trance, and meets Loki’s gaze.

 Is he – his eyes flicker – excited?

 Strange gives Loki a silent nod – a code to mean he’ll explain later – and raises his head to face Tony. “Well then, shall we meet our guests?”

 

 They send a transmission back into space, telling their counterparts where to land. The destination is set as the Avengers Tower, where Tony, Strange and Loki will wait for the ‘aliens’ arrival.

 Strange has been oddly quiet – Loki can tell he’s planning something – and Strange’s silence is only emphasised by Stark’s anxious chattering. He stands close to Loki’s side, blathering on about something or other – Loki’s just humming in the appropriate places so not to look rude – when Stark asks something Loki doesn’t quite expect.

 “Hey, are things good between you and Pointbreak?”

 Loki does a small double take. “What?”

 Stark shrugs. “You’re here alone today – and you two are normally a Two for One Deal. Everything good?”

 Loki bristles, and can’t quite manage a response while still meeting Stark’s eye.

 “We’re fine,” he eventually says. “Thor’s just busy right now.”

 Tony doesn’t look convinced.

 Thankfully, it’s not long until Jarvis notifies them of a ship entering the atmosphere, letting Loki avoid an unwanted therapy session.

 Soon, the jet is close enough to spot, and Loki sees it’s a simple fighter – a Milano, he thinks? – and generally, its descent is unremarkable. Smooth and easily, the ship locates the bay of the Avengers Tower and lands with a rush of hot hair.

 To Strange, this? It looks like Strange finds this familiar.  

 The three Avengers stand on the docking bay, side by side, waiting for Earth’s first peaceful contact with the universe when the ship’s hanger door drops open.

 “Here we go, boys,” Stark remarks, and then there’s a moment of stillness.

 Until there’s a grunt, followed an object propelled through the air that lands at Loki’s feet. Loki glances down to see a piece of white fabric tied to a stick, just before a man, muscly and blue, jumps out onto the hanger and screams, bearing his chest, “WE ARE PEACEFUL!”

 Loki blinks.

 Well.

 “…Jesus,” Stark mumbles. 

 “Drax!” A human man screeches, pushing his way to the front, his ears tinged red.What did I say about white flags?!”

 The blue alien – Drax, most likely – sighs and hangs his head. “Not to throw them at people.”

 “Because what do they mean?”

 “That we don’t want to maim them, which is exactly what would happen if it were to hit someoneeee.”

 The human tries to look stern for another second – but pats Drax on the back all the same. “At least you’re learning, buddy.”

 Loki places a hand on his hip. Uh. Now seems like a good time to interrupt? “You’re from Raemarus?” Loki says hesitantly, not sure what response he’s going to get.

 Thankfully Drax, in an instant, inexplicably brightens. “Yes!” he cries. “Quill, that suit monkey knows my planet! I like this one.”

Oh for fucks sake.

Loki shoots Strange and Stark a glare – this stops the two in their giggles – while the man named Quill, purses his lips. “I didn’t think humans knew much about space.”

 “I’m not human,” Loki says, striding forwards. He might as well try and regain some dignity. “Loki Friggason,” he addresses their guests. “Prince of Asgard, and a protector of this planet. A pleasure, I’m sure.”

 He holds out a hand in offering which Drax – in now slight awe – “A prince!” he gasps – misinterprets. The gargantuan man kneels in front of Loki and, ever so gently, takes Loki’s hand in his own so he can kiss its surface.

 Its then that a Racoon, holding a small sproutling child, decides to make his exit from the space ship.

 He stops in the doorway.

 “…I wasn’t prepared for this shit, so I’m not even going to ask.”

 Stark lets out one loud guffaw before slapping his hands over his mouth.

 Ohhh, Loki wishes Thanos would just kill him now.  

 “I hate to – uh – interrupt whatever this is,” Stark says, waving his hands around in their general direction, “but the rest of Earth and I would quite like to know whether you’ve come to blow us up or not so we can decide whether you can stay for tea and cake.”

 Quill coughs, straightening up and giving his companions a little jostle to get them in form. They stand in a line, and the man then announces, “I am Peter Quill, and we collectively are the Guardians of the Galaxy. We’ve come – ”

 “ – to discuss the future of the universe,” a female voice finishes. The last person to exit the ship stands at the top of the hanger, holding tight a container that just radiates power. Loki sees a face he never expected to see again in his life, as the daughter of Thanos finishes, “We’ve come to talk about the Infinity Stones.”

 

 Loki hovers towards the side of the room, unwilling to stand any closer to Gamora than he has to.

 Stark and Strange are sat around the centre table, with the Guardians of the Galaxy surrounding them. Gamora and Quill do most of the talking, explaining their situation.

 It turns out that they’ve brought the power stone to Earth for safe keeping.

 Loki doesn’t buy it.

 For one, why Earth of all places?

 Two, this didn’t happen the first time around.

And three? He met Gamora, once before, in the original timeline.

 After he’d fallen from the Bifrost, and fallen for Thanos’ lies, the Mad Titan had brought him to his base one day. It had seemed all pleasantries, at first, but then Thanos made Loki watch his children fight for their lives.

 One of them had been Gamora.

 Loki had been, horrified, as Gamora beat her sister to the ground, and as she did nothing to stop her sibling’s torture.

 All because she’d failed.

 At this point, he’d hated Thor with all of his being, but even he would never consider putting his brother through such humiliation.

 Thanos had stared him in the eye, and grinned.

 So no, Loki wants nothing to do with Gamora if he can help it. He doesn’t trust her connection to Thanos, nor her intentions for bringing the Power Stone to Earth.

 Is Thanos catching on to them?

 Have they altered the timeline too much?

 Or, worse of all, does Thanos remember?

 Strange’s – strange behaviour hasn’t been helping his mood. The Doctor’s been listening to Gamora far too intently, and his gaze keeps on flickering over to the other Guardians like he’s seen a ghost.

 Loki just wants to pick the man’s brains, find out what he knows, but he can’t do that with all these people around.

 Currently, Strange, Stark and the gang are discussing how the Guardians came across their Infinity Stone – “Oo! Oo! Tell them about the dance to save the universe, Quill!” Loki swore he heard Drax say at some point – and why they decided to come to Earth to keep it safe. Once most of the details are sorted out, the conversation flows onto other things: Earth culture, mechanics, Rocket’s similarities to Racoons…

 It’s only because Loki’s paying daft attention that he sees Gamora and Strange share a nod, before rising from their chairs and walking back towards the Guardian’s ship and – Loki just knows that he’s meant to follow.

 So, after leaving an appropriate amount of time, he hastens out to Strange and Gamora, all the while praying to Odin and preparing some spells under his breath.

 Just in case.   

Upon entering the Guardian’s ship, Loki spots Strange and Gamora sat up near the controls just – chatting.

 The tension has eazed from Strange’s shoulders in a way Loki hasn’t seen in months, and when Gamora turns to face him, Loki knows she shouldn’t recognise him but there’s just something in her gaze.

 And then it clicks.

 “You remember, don’t you?” Loki says more to himself than anyone else.

 There’s another, he thinks.

 “She knows,” Strange confirms.

 Loki still feels hesitant.  

 “…Is this one another mistake, Strange? Or did you intend for Thanos’ daughter – of all people! – to come back and foil our plot?”

 “That man is not my father!” Gamora suddenly snaps, rising to her feet. She’s tall, Loki realises, imposing. This woman is powerful, Loki intrinsically knows, but also deeply, deeply sad.

 Gamora’s hands shake as she continues, but she still meet’s Loki’s gaze head on. “My so called Father murdered me by pushing me off a cliff in exchange for power. You know nothing,” she spits, right in Loki’s face.

 Huh.

 “…So that answers the question on whether we can trust you then,” he says meekly, taking a step back and brushing the spit off his face. “And – for the record – I know a thing or two about shitty father’s myself. So,” his eyes flick between the two others in the room, “are we allies?”

 Gamora tenses –

 and sits back down.

“Strange was just explaining his theory to me – on how we all have our memories,” she offers, a peace offering.  

 Loki crosses his arms. “Oh? This I’d like to hear.”

 Strange rises. He – runs a hand through his hair, coughs, and, slowly speaks. “This – this is just a working theory but, with the discovering of Gamora I – well – I think the stones chose us.”

 “…I beg your pardon, Strange? Have you gone mad?”

 The Doctor shoots Loki a long-suffering glare. “Just use your brain, Loki! Think about it! Of everyone in the universe, why do only we remember the future? It’s primarily because each of us have had previous connections to the stones.”

 “But Jane was the Aether’s host and she doesn’t remember anything!”

 “Then perhaps it’s not quite that simple!” Strange continues, pacing now. “I rewound time just before Thanos could kill me, Gamora’s life was traded for Soul Stone, Loki, you’ve chased the Space stone all across the universe to the point that it – ”

 Strange stalls.

 His eyes widen, and his mouth gapes.

 “The Stones were instrumental in our deaths,” Strange whispers. “That’s the link. Of everyone in the universe, the Stones restored our memories because we were the last barrier between them and Thanos. We effectively proved we would trade our lives for the universe.” He sits. “We remember because the stones know we’ll protect them, no matter what.”

 The room is deathly silent.

 Loki’s lost all feeling in his fingers.

 “Of course,” Gamora murmurs. “This – this time around, when we went to visit the Collector, he – he refused out right to touch the stone. Said he wanted nothing to do with it. That’s what gave me the hint – that things were changing. He knew because Thanos originally killed him to get the Reality Stone.”

 Loki needs a drink.

 He drops to the floor, just so he can just – sit, and remembers a vision of an old man, polished and poised, tending to his collection.

 “I saw him,” Loki says, quiet as a mouse. “Just before I contained the Aether – I saw that man. The Stone was trying to tell me there were others.” He looks up at Gamora. “Where is he now?”

 Gamora shakes her head. “Gone. Packed up days after we visited him. He’d be of no use to us anyway – just a man concerned more with his fortune than the lives of others.” She glances back at Strange, who’s stood as fragile as ice. “What do we do now?”

 He thinks.

 “…Is the soul stone safe?”

 “For now,” Gamora says. “As long as Thanos loves no one, the stone is off limits. And whatever emotion he thinks holds for me – I never intend to see him ever again.”

 Strange drops his hands, where he’s been fiddling with his beard and – Loki can see the shift – the split second where Strange dares to hope.

 “Then we continue with our plans,” Strange says, looking Loki dead in the eye. “Because we have all the infinity stones in our grasp.”

 

 The Guardians are set to leave early the next morning.

 They cannot stay, Gamora explains. Peter must soon confront his Father, and Gamora must ensure her sister, Nebula, cannot fall into Thanos’ hands.

 Nonetheless, the evening is full of laughter and jokes. The Guardians are a fun bunch, that’s for sure.

 But Loki feels a sense of dread falling over him.

 The Soul Stone is on Vormir.

 The Space, Reality, Mind and Power stones are locked away in the New York Sanctum.

 The Time Stone hangs around Strange’s neck.

 And Thanos is nowhere in sight.

 To most, it would look as if they’re winning.

 Yet – Loki has a glass of wine in his hand that he swirls rather than drink, as he watches Quill chatter with Stark, and Gamora and Strange tease each other over chess – he cannot help but think the worst is yet to come.

Chapter Text

 “…So, I take the tank, fly it right up to the general’s palace and drop it at his feet like – boom! You looking for this?” Rhodey says, illustrating an explosion with his hands and –

‘– is that it?’ Loki thinks, as he leans up against the bar, but Natasha has the situation under control. She knows how to laugh in the right places, and how to smile convincingly. “Sounds like one heck of a mission, War Machine,” she smooths over, sliding Rhodey a drink across the counter.

 The Lieutenant, chuffed, gives a triumphant clap. “See! That’s how you’re supposed to react. You might need to tell your brother what a sense of humour is,” Rhodey jokes, giving Loki a good-natured shove.

 Loki had been sceptical at first – when he heard Stark planned on having a party at the Tower with all the Avengers. Sure, he’s the god of mischief and all that – what trickster wouldn’t enjoy a party? – but, right now?

 He’s not really in the mood.

 It would look odd, however, if Thor was to attend without him. Loki had already turned down the offer to go on the mission to Sokovia, thinking Thor could do with some space from Asgard, but the Avengers couldn’t catch onto why Loki had turned him down.

 Thor barely looked at him these days.

 Odin had done his damage, and Loki wishes so desperately to know what it was that tipped the scales for him. Was it the mention of Hela, out of place, so long ago now? His search for the Infinity Stones – did their father see it as a grasp at power rather than security?

 Or perhaps Odin’s distrust was unfounded.

 Loki grips his glass – whiskey, neat. He’s been nursing it for a long time now – a little tighter.

 He’ll never know.

 Nonetheless, Thor seems to be enjoying himself. He’s currently stood with Stark, Strange and the Captain, laughing of all things.

 Loki shouldn’t feel jealous – Thor deserves a break! – but –

– it would be nice to hear Thor’s laugh up close, for once.

 Rhodey leaves not long after he finishes his story – towards another group who he is likely to subject the same story to – and Natasha pulls herself up to sit on the bar’s countertop.

 She rests her elbow on Loki’s shoulder. “You tensed up when Rhodey mentioned Thor.”

 “No I didn’t.”

 Natasha scoffs. “You can’t lie to me – did you forget what my job is?”

 “Nothing’s wrong.”

 “Really? Because that’s not what this – ” Natasha gestures between Loki and Thor, who is stood as far across the room as possible from them “ – looks like; this doesn’t look right.”

 Loki bristles. “What, because it’s not like you and Bruce aren’t avoiding each other either right now?”   

 God, what is it that makes humans so invasive?

 Nonetheless, Natasha snorts, and snatches Loki’s glass from his hand. She takes a long swig. The glass goes down onto the counter-top, empty, before Natasha replies, “I’m not avoiding him. He’s avoiding me. He’s worried we won’t work.”

 “Because he doesn’t trust you?”

 “Because he doesn’t trust himself,” Natasha says, shooting Loki a pointed look. “See, this is what talking about your feelings is like. Maybe you should, you know, give it a try for once?” She smirks.

 Loki groans, throwing his head back, and Natasha laughs as he does so.

 …What could it hurt?

 It’s not like the Avengers haven’t sensed somethings up, as Natasha’s probing indicates.

 “Let’s just say,” Loki begins, straightening and running a hand through his hair, “that our father’s death has put a – ah – divide in the family. Thor – I don’t know what he thinks of me anymore, after the incident.”

 Put simply enough, Loki thinks.

 “I’m assuming the discovery of your sister hasn’t helped things?” Natasha asks, nodding her head towards the centre of the room.

 There, Hela’s sat, surrounded by a group of women, cheering her on as she downs what looks like a dozen shots in a row. Jane is sat at her side, laughing along, and even Pepper has stopped her socialising to just watch. Loki had taken Hela shopping earlier in the day – she’d called it a sibling bonding session – for some Earth-style formal wear, and Loki can see his sister now flaunting herself off in her tight black dress to anyone who will look. As Hela downs her last shot, she smashes the glass onto the floor and shouts, “Another!” to a mass of cheers.

 Loki feels himself begin to sweat, and meets Natasha’s eye with a nervous laugh. “Yes, I’m sorry about her. Mother and I thought she could do with improving her people skills…”

 Natasha pats him on the arm. “Just make sure Thor knows you’re not picking her over him.”

 Loki’s not sure how to do that if Thor won’t talk to him.

 

 A few hours later, and the party has officially wound down for the evening.

 The only people who remain are the Avengers, with a few of their plus-ones: Helen Cho, Jane, Hela, Rhodey, Pepper, Maria Hill… They’re all lounging around a glass coffee table, the lights of New York shining onto them, and Loki has Natasha on one side of him – whispering with Bruce across the sofa arm – and Hela and Strange conversing on his other.

 Right now, Loki’s very content to slide into the background and observe – there is nothing worth meddling in – especially when the conversation drifts towards Mjolnir, propped up against a box of Chinese food.

 “Whosoever, be he worthy, shall haveth the power of Thor,” Clint booms, twirling some chopsticks in his fingers, “like whatever man! It’s a trick!”  

 “Please, be my guest,” Thor says, inviting Barton towards his hammer. Jane, sitting on Thor’s lap, laughs, and the whole room shifts their attention as Clint climbs to his feet and towards Asgard’s greatest weapon.

 Clint flips out the back of his jacket, clicks out his fingers, with one mighty move he grabs the hammer and –

 Nothing.

 Loki can’t help the bubble of laughter that rises in his chest.  

 Soon it’s a contest all around.

 He enjoys the show, especially when Stark gets nowhere – and that’s even after employing the help of both Rhodey and Strange.

 “I’ve already tried that,” Loki quips, as Strange’s levitation spell flat out fails to lift the hammer an inch, and grins as the competition moves on to Banner, and then Rogers.

 There’s a point where Banner gestures towards Natasha, but she shakes her head, leaning back and onto Loki. “Oh no, that’s not a question I need answered.”

 Loki snorts. “You and I both, sister.”

 “It must be rigged, right?” Stark says. “More, he whoever is carrying Thor’s finger print?”

 “Yes, that’s a very interesting theory,” Thor replies, rising to his feet and reaching for Mjolnir. He’s looking Loki directly in the eyes as he begins to say, “or it could just be – ”

 And suddenly the hammer flies off the table and away from Thor, right into the waiting hand of Hela, who finishes for Thor with a sly grin, “ – you humans are not worthy.”

 Wow.

 Hela makes a point of waggling her eyebrows at Jane – now giggling away in Thor’s seat – as the rest of the Avengers sit in jaw-dropped silence.

 “…This is unbelievable – fucking Wicked Witch of the West is worthy?!”

  “Steve! Tony said a bad language word!” Maria calls out.

 The Captain shakes his head. “Did you tell everyone about that?”

 There’s a collective laugh as the conversation moves on – Loki sees Thor sit down again with a peculiar look on this face; is it anger? Embarrassment? –

 But then there’s a sharp ringing, and Loki flinches – the sound is racketing inside his skull –as another sound, footsteps, and the thrum of metal gears turning approaches from behind them.

 “No…” A deep voice rumbles, and Loki spins in his seat to see – good gods – a metal man, limping with a crooked grin. “How could humans be worthy?” The robot continues. “Especially you lot. You’re all… killers.”

 Loki feels the worry finally settle in his stomach, the knot he’s been sitting on finally unravel.

 Things were going too well.

 “Stark,” Rogers says, rising to his feet, and an equally panicked Stark calls for aid as the metal man rambles on and on…

 Loki stands, slowly, quickly looks back to check – yes, Thor has pushed Jane well behind him – and then meets Hela’s eye. Honestly, she looks mostly undisturbed, but Loki can tell when his sister is itching for a fight. He gives her a nod, the ‘All-clear! You can murder this one!’ but – 

 God-damn it, Loki thinks, wasn’t Strange supposed to prevent things like this?

 The robot has only staggered closer, its muttering only more and more unintelligible, but when Thor asks, “Why are you here?” the robots unmoveable grin appears to widen.

 “Peace in our time.”

 And then there’s chaos.

 The walls behind the metal man explode, sending debris flying everywhere, and members of Stark’s Iron Legion launch into the space towards them.

 Loki instantly conjures a wave of magic which he uses to thrust the nearest machine away and out of the window with a wave of shattering glass. Then he’s having to duck, as a fist is aimed at his head, and Loki goes to twist out of the way when a spear lodges itself in the robots head, putting it fully out of commotion.

 As the suit crumbles, Hela strides past Loki with a nod while simultaneously conjuring another spear and throwing herself into the fray.

 Loki spins around – Where next? He thinks – and sees how the room has just delved into madness.  Natasha has flung herself and Banner behind the bar, Rhodey has fallen through the glass floor, Stark is flinging himself at the robots from great heights…

 Yet, standing in the centre of the rubble, firing off shots left and right, Strange looks anything but surprised.

 

 Ultron leaves an air of anxiety over the Avengers tower.

 The battle ends, the AI escapes, and they assemble in Stark’s lab, slightly worse for wear but alive, and the more time that passes the more furious Loki feels.

 “Ultron…” Steve mumbles, at a general loss for words, and Natasha picks up from him, explaining:

 “He’s been in everything; files, surveillance…” She crosses her arms and settles up against the desk. “He probably knows more about us than we do about each other.”

 “If he’s in your files,” Rhodey begins. He’s clutching his arm, perhaps he sprained it in his fall? “If he’s in the internet, what if he decides to access something a little more exciting?”

 “Nuclear codes,” Jane breathes, sat huddled next to Hela whose picking pieces of glass out of her hair. “And – Ultron, was it? – he said he wanted us exterminated.”

 Loki feels his blood begin to boil.

 Of all the times for Earth to go to shit.

 He’d kept his side of the bargain! Gather the stones, hide them from Thanos – Strange was just meant to make sure Earth was a safe haven.

 “He took the Sceptre too,” Pepper says, her heels clacking as she enters the room. “I’ve just finished doing an inventory and there’s not much else – ”

 Wait, what.

 The Sceptre - ?

 There’s a smash – Loki only hears it distantly, despite somewhere knowing he’s the one that caused it. Looks like he’s accidentally crushed a beaker he was absently fiddling with – and suddenly he’s speaking:

 “I’m sorry?” Loki snaps.You let the murderous robot steal my – I mean Proxima’s Sceptre?!” He whips his head around to Strange. “I thought you said it was locked up!”

 “We lost and found it once, we can do it again,” Stark says through tight teeth, back facing the group but Loki barely processes what he says.

 Loki stands up straight, and deathly, deathly still.

 “…What do you mean you lost it once before?”

 “O-KAY,” Strange’s voice rings out, and Loki feels some hands clamp around his shoulders and begin to lead him away. “Let’s go outside and calm down before we murder someone.” Strange shoots him a look – I’ll explain everything, it says.

 Loki breaks his arm away. Oh, Strange doesn’t get to act so superior – not after that shit show! Nonetheless, after brushing down his coat, Loki complies and storms out into the corridor. He knows Strange is following him – can hear him – so Loki doesn’t look back, only stopping when he’s sure they’re out of ear shot of the rest of the team.

“You lied to me,” Loki spits. “You told me you had the Mind stone locked away! Safe! And now this shit has happened?” Loki kicks over a nearby chair. “You were supposed to stop things from going wrong!”

 “I can explain if you’ll just calm down

 “How can I be calm when we’ve lost track of an Infinity Stone?!”

 “I know where it is!” Strange shouts, pulling at his hair. “God, can you just shut up for two seconds so I can explain?!”

 Loki clenches his jaw shut.

 He takes a deep breath.

 “…Fine.”

 Strange takes his own sigh of relief.

 “Right,” he paces, and then stops. “Okay, where to start? Uh – so – ” he clasps his hands together “ – after you rejected the mission to Sokovia, I may have told the rest of the Avengers not to tell you it was to recover the Sceptre.”

 The fuck! Loki thinks.

 “The fuck?!” he says in echo of his mind.  

  Strange holds up his hands in surrender. “I’m explaining! Just let me continue!”

 Loki hates this man right now.

 “A few months ago, Shield came to me,” Strange elaborates, “and asked if they could examine Proxima’s Sceptre for ‘research’ purposes. I knew these agents were Hydra from the get go, but I didn’t care because I knew they were going to use the Sceptre to give Wanda and Pietro Maximoff superpowers – those twins are going to play a key role in the defeating Thanos, so it was worth the risk – giving up the sceptre, I mean – to give us more allies.”  

 “Okay, so why didn’t you then lock up the Sceptre before it could get stolen by a killer robot?”

 “Because Ultron will create the Vision! I didn’t tell you about the mission, because you’d have done this and taken the stone away and we need the Vision! He’s the living embodiment of the mind stone – another ally we cannot do without!”

And – something clicks for Loki.

 The living embodiment of an infinity stone, objects of grand power that might have their own intelligence?

 “You think that the Vision will remember the original timeline,” Loki says, in slight shock.

Strange – Strange nods. “Originally, I was hesitant to create the Vision just to gain another ally – especially with the damage Ultron could cause – but after the revelations we gained from Gamora?” He takes a deep breath. “The insights the original Vision could give us are too vital to pass up. We need him – and the only way to create the Vision is to create Ultron. So,” Strange gives Loki a quick jazz hands, “I let the murder bot steal the Sceptre.”

 …Hm.

 m

 “I assume you have a plan to fix this mess?” Loki asks, and is met with a glare from Strange.

 “Do you really think so little of me?”

 “Yes.”

 The glare is upgraded to a death wish.

 “For heavens - ! Look,” Strange leans in close, and pulls out what Loki believes is a Stark phone. He begins scrolling through windows, while saying “I have the next few days worked out to the minute from information I remember from the original timeline, so we can create the Vision early, prevent the events in Sokovia, bring Wanda to our side and prevent the death of Pietro. So, if you just take a look here - ” Strange begins, projecting a mini-hologram from the phone, pointing to the layout of a warehouse but –

 Loki has stopped listening.

–  prevent the death of Pietro

“We can’t,” he says, directly interrupting the doctor.  

 Strange pulls a face at him. “Can’t what?”

 “Prevent Pietro’s death,” Loki shakes his head. “It’s not worth the risk.”

 Strange looks at Loki like he’s grown another head. “What do you mean? But we – we’ve come back in time to change things?”

 Loki sees Odin, lying in his own blood, Thor’s distrusting gaze.

 “What I mean,” he insists, “is that if we save Pietro, we don’t know who will die in his place.”

 This – somehow – catches Strange off guard.

 He stills.

 “You told me everything was fine on Asgard.”

 Humans.

 “Well, surprise!” Loki chimes. “You’ve been tricked by the God of Trickery! Everything on Asgard is going to shit! I saved my mother from death for my father to die instead, accidentally realising my sister from her hell prison and now Thor won’t even look at me.” Loki laughs a hollow laugh. “I tried to save one life and it fucked me over. So, if we managed in the original timeline without this Pietro, we can do it again.”

 Strange, for the first time, is left speechless.

 “I – ” he tries, and then stops. “I – can’t just believe that we’d be sent back here just for the universe to fuck us over. Just think about all else we’ve changed, all the lives we’ve saved! The Chitari invasion, the Dark Elf attack in London – ” Strange’s hands shake uncontrollably.

 Nonetheless, he grips Loki’s shoulders, perhaps to steal himself. “Look, we can deal with most of this later. But for now, just follow my plan, let me get us to the starting block. Then we can decide what to do with Pietro and the stones and – just – everything.”

Loki hates this.  

But what else is there to do?

 “…Where do we start?”

 

 The Avengers come to the conclusion that they need to track down Ulysses Klaue all by themselves, but Loki and Strange have their own plans for the upcoming battle.

 “Ultron must be allowed to escape,” Strange explains, pointing across a hologram of Klaue’s workshop. “So we’re going to have to let Wanda incapacitate the team and let the vibranium go. I’ll stay with Bruce – just in case – while you make sure to take down the speedster at the last second.”

 Hela is sent back to Asgard, with Jane, Pepper and anyone else who could be used as leverage in the coming war. Helen Cho returns to her laboratory, Rhodey to inform the military.

 It is only the core Avengers who sneak in to the compound, Stark, Rogers and Thor at the forefront, Natasha and Barton in the wings, Loki lets an illusion of himself slip into the group as he really hides invisible in the shadows.

 “Aww, Junior,” Stark says, once the group has approached Ultron and his lackeys, “you break your old man’s heart.”

 “If I have to,” Ultron replies.

 “You must feel comfortable here, Stark,” a young blond man says – with a twinge Loki realises that must be Pietro.

 “Do not tangle with what you don’t understand,” Thor replies, a bite in his tone.  

 “If you believe in peace,” the Captain says, “you will walk away from this now.”

 “Don’t worry,” a girl, dark hair, she radiates magic, replies, “we will.”

 The fake Loki says nothing, and a brawl commences.

 He makes sure his double weaves and tumbles, that he slices but takes no blood, to make the lie convincing, while in reality he tails the girl, the witch. The Avengers can take care of themselves, Loki knows, they’ll survive without him, which makes it so surprising when the witch, Wanda, at the drop of a hat, can twist her hands and cause such mischief.

 Wanda approaches Thor first.

 He falls easily, and Loki pauses, wondering what she made his brother see, before he quickly moves on. One by one, Wanda takes the Avengers down – what consequences will this bring? Loki thinks – and he’s impressed.

 That is until she approaches Barton and is met with a stun arrow to the forehead.

 Where Pietro has been chasing his illusion, Loki knows the second the boy hears his sister scream, and is standing ready and waiting for when, in the split second between Barton saying “Sorry kid – this is for the best” and the speedster approaching, Pietro has to slow enough to push Barton down and –

 Loki unmasks himself right between Pietro and Barton, and with one simple motion he elbows the boy in the face with all his might.

 The force is enough to knock Maximoff out cold, and Loki, spotless, watches him fall to the ground with the thud.

 Mission accomplished, Strange.

 “Jesus!” Barton huffs, lowering his bow. “Were you standing there the whole time?! You nearly gave me a heart attack there, man.”

 Loki – feeling spunky – decides to bow. “Your lord and saviour.”

 This time around, at least.  

 

 Strange and Banner help load the very frazzled Avengers onto the quinjet, while Loki and Barton deal with the Maximoff twins.

 Banner instantly rushes to Natasha’s side – she briefly meets Loki’s eye without truly seeing him – and Strange stops by, briefly, before going to help orientate Thor and Rogers.

 “This went as well as it could have,” Strange says, unspokenly acknowledging the time-travel shaped elephant in the room, and – he takes a glance at Banner, his arms around Natasha’s waist as they stumble outside together.

 Loki doesn’t know what went down in the original timeline, but he realises perhaps he’s better off not knowing this time.

 Focusing back on Wanda and Pietro, Barton’s just finished tying the two up, so Loki casts a spell to temporarily dampen the witches’ magic – can’t have their captives escape now, can they? – before picking her up and carrying her out onto the jet.  

 The Avengers leave the workshop once Stark has returned from chasing Ultron – a shake of the head is all they get – and Barton pilots them out of there.

 Surveying the room, head propped on his knees, Loki comes to a very simple conclusion:  

 The team looks like shit.

 Maybe that’s why Barton says he’s taking them to a safe house.

 “You know,” he says, “time to regroup, unwind… Ultron won’t find us here, I’ve made sure of it.”

 Nonetheless, Loki doesn’t expect to drop into the middle of a quaint little farm surrounded by children.  

 The revelation that the Bird Man is married brings Loki little surprise, but neither does this humble setting comfort Loki like it visibly does the other Avengers. He feels out of place, surrounded by crude drawings and scattered toys, and he stands mostly distant while the formalities are sorted out.

 Thor, it appears, does not feel comforted either.

 He marches outside, and Loki hesitantly follows after him, if only to try and bridge the wide gulf between them slightly.

  “Thor!” he calls. “Where are you going?”

  His brother stops in his tracks and rotates, just enough that Loki can see Thor frown. “I saw something in that dream, and I need answers.” He gazes out onto the little farm house. “I won’t find them here.”

 “That still doesn’t explain where you’re going,” Loki – perhaps against his better judgement – teases.

 Loki receives a small victory when Thor smiles – uneasily, but its still a smile. “You always were difficult,” Thor hums back. “Don’t worry, brother, I won’t be gone long.”

 Yet, when he begins swinging Mjolnir round and round, Loki, well panics.

“Have you decided yet?” he blurts out, just loud enough to be heard over the rising wind.

 Have you decided whether you can trust me?  

 Thor’s eyes skitter over him.

 And then he flies off into the sky.

Chapter Text

Loki spends the next few hours trying to avoid dealing with rest of the Avengers.

 The Captain is off angrily ripping logs into tiny pieces, Stark is moping because of the killer robot he accidentally created, Bruce is also mopping because of said killer robot, Natasha – actually, he doesn’t know what’s wrong with Natasha – but anyway, Strange is sitting like a dead-weight in the living room, mumbling to himself, the Maximoff twins are tied up in the barn, Thor has abandoned him, and Clint –

– is fine, actually.

 Loki’s just – he hates to use the word but – awkward when it comes to discussing feelings. He’s never been good at it, as shown by – just – Thor, in general, and he can only determine that, with the team so obviously emotionally compromised, he’d just get in the way.

 No, Loki’s better off leaving Stark and Rogers alone to resolve their tension, allow Banner to comfort Natasha – especially since they’ve been growing so close lately, and leave Strange to his rambling.

 So Loki finds himself at a loss of what to do.

 He ends up with Birdman’s wife and daughter in the kitchen, preparing what the Birdchild calls a ‘boxed cake mix.’

 “So – I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand,” Loki says, hands clasped together in immense concentration. “You empty this – this mixture into a metal container with a bird’s egg – ”

 “It’s from a chicken!” The Birdchild, Lila apparently, exclaims, all the while furiously mixing the mixture together with a wooden spoon.

 Loki sighs. “Surely it would be more convenient to make this mixture from scratch, rather than following these strange conventions?”

 Birdwife – Laura – rounds the counter, placing the baking tray down and patting Loki on the shoulder as she passes. “This method just means she doesn’t have to weigh anything, and I can just leave her to it without it going horribly wrong.”

 “Hey! I’m a good cook, right Mummy?” Lila pouts, stopping her mixing to give her mother a – rather adorable – glare.

 “Of course, sweetie,” Laura responds quickly, moving to kiss her daughter on her head, all the while rolling her eyes teasingly in Loki’s direction.

 “Do you like cooking, Mr. Loki?” Lila says, instantly placated, her interests flittering on. “I reeaally like it but Cooper never wants to cook with me. And when he does,” the little girl shakes her head, and says very scornful, “he just makes a mess. It’s very bad.”

 Loki – honestly, he’s not got a very good track record with children, never knows what the right thing to say is.

 He’s been confronted with a lot of his glaring flaws in the Barton household.

 Yet, Laura’s encouragingly nodding her head at him over Lila’s shoulder, urging him on so:

 “Thor and I, as the tradition of royalty goes, had everything provided for us when we were children,” Loki begins. “But, one time, we decided to sneak into the kitchens and recreate this meal I had found in a book.” He laughs. “It went horribly. Thor didn’t stick to the measurements, we couldn’t figure out how to light the stove and then I tried to cook it with magic which only made the situation all the more dire. Mother was furious when she found us but I – ”

 Loki breaks off there.

 He’d – quite honestly – forgotten that memory long ago. Perhaps he’d repressed it, needed it gone so it wouldn’t contradict his long held beliefs concerning Thor.

 In the light of day, how petty Loki realises he was.

“Hey, Loki!” A voice calls from the doorway, breaking Loki’s concentration. A quick glance around reveals it to be the Captain.

 Rogers smiles. “Can I borrow you for a minute?”

 Ugh.

 Loki twists his face up furiously.  “Not if it’s to help resolve your spat with Stark.”

 Rogers rubs at his neck. “Is it that obvious?”

 “Yes, hun!” Laura chimes in, beginning to lay the table.

 Steve chuckles anxiously. “Don’t worry, we’ll sort that out ourselves. No, I need you for a different reason, Loki.” He looks at Loki expectantly. “May I?”

 …Oh, what the hell?

 Loki rises from his chair and heads for the door. “Lead the way, oh righteous Captain. Teach me your values, how to be just,” he waves his hands with a flourish, “no, how to be a true American!”

 “Oh, shush.”   

 

 Rogers leads him towards the barn, a few strides ahead of Loki. The wind is cool against his face, and the land just sprawls out ahead of them until it eventually takes cover behind a row of trees.

 Isolated from the world.

“I’ve been trying to figure out the best approach,” the Captain says, slowing his pace so he’s at Loki’s side. “How to get through to the Maximoff twins, that is.”

 “What do you want from them?”

 Steve stops, and his hands go to his waist. “I want to give them a chance.”

 Ah, Loki thinks. Is this an independent decision, or is it of Strange’s making?

 Rogers answers his question just as its thought. “I was talking to Strange earlier and he said something, just off the cuff, about how young those two are…”

 Loki tries not to smirk.

 Playing off the Captain’s protective instincts is low.

 Nonetheless, Strange’s ploy seems to have worked. Steve stands tall, worry etched all over his face. “I want to offer them a place on the team,” he says. “A home, if they’ll take it. I’ve explained to them Ultron’s true goals – turns out they didn’t know he planned to send humanity into extinction. Still, they’re acting hostile, and I know I’m not going to get any further.”

 “…And you think I’ll be able to get through to them?” Loki can hear the incredulousness in his own voice.  

 The Captain remains firm. “They’ll relate to you.”

 “Because I’m distrustful of authority and have a susceptibility to mischief?”

 Rogers laughs. “Because, first and foremost, you know what it’s like to place your sibling before yourself.”

…Oh.

 Steve grins, and gives Loki a steady pat on the back “So, go, work your magic. I’m going to see if Laura needs any help peeling those potatoes.”   

 And he’s walking off with a wave back in the direction of the house but Loki’s not done with him yet, feels the need for some revenge after the Captain took him off rudely off guard.

 So, “Have you found him yet?” Loki calls, and watches at Steve trips over his own feet.

 Ha, justice.

 “…How’d you know about that?” The Captain asks, and Loki smirks.

 “Natasha keeps me updated on all the gossip. A word of advice – Strange is very good at tracking people down.”

 “…Thanks.” Steve replies, suddenly timid like a boy – so jarring in comparison to the man standing before him.

Loki softens. “My pleasure, Captain.”  

 

Steve doesn’t really understand the position he’s put Loki in.

 Loki’s thinking about this as he strolls into the barn, hearing his own words echo in his ears.

 ‘If we save Pietro, we don’t know who will die in his place.’

 Sometimes, Loki swears he still sees his father’s blood on his hands.

 No, it’s not worth the risk, he decides, walking up to the Maximoff twins. He’ll convince them to join the team but if he sees Pietro’s death coming, he’s not going to stop it.

 Speak of the devil, Pietro’s staring at him head on as Loki approaches. The ropes tying him up are long discarded – it looks like they burned away from friction – and he’s sat with sweet wrappers littered around him. “Have you come as the Captain’s messenger?” he says, and then pops another sweet in his mouth. “To try and get us to join your team?”

 “You can tell Rogers that – ” Wanda begins, but she’s interrupted by her brother placing a hand over her mouth.

 “No, shush, I’m twelve minutes older than you, let me do the talking – ugh! Did you just lick my hand?!

 “You bet I did, older by twelve minutes!” She huffs, sticking her tongue out at her twin. “I’m pretty sure you only have twelve brain cells, so I’ll do the talking!”

 “No,” Loki says.

 This catches the twins off-guard. They stop in their bickering and instead stare at Loki where he’s propped himself up against some hay-bales. He’s not even looking at them, instead just inspecting the ends of his hair.

 “Hmm, I think Mother was right. I might have some split ends after all.”   

 “I’m sorry?” Wanda says. “Would you please explain the ‘no?’”

 Loki quickly glances up – but then back down at his hair. “No, I’m not here to convince you to join the ‘team.’ That’s your own choice, and one I cannot make for you.”

 “Oh.” The twins share a long look. “…Then why are you here?”

 Loki stretches his arms out, clicking out his fingers.

 Down to business.

 “I’m here to illuminate your situation without glossing over the truths,” he moves, to stand over the two children, to tower over them. “Right now, you sit here as criminals – Hydra. Quite honestly, you have three options.” Loki lists them off on his fingers. “One, you refuse the Captains generous offer and rot in jail for the rest of your lives. Two, you run, and wait for us to track you down – because we will catch you. Or three,” Loki crouches down, and grins deviously, “you walk out that door and become an Avenger.”  

 “I thought you weren’t here to convince us?” Wanda accuses.

 “I’m not. I’m being honest.

 He’s not lying – for once in his life. Loki’s knows Midgard’s legal system – how punishing it can be –

 “I’ll do it,” Pietro says suddenly, interrupting Loki’s train of thought. He stares the god right in the eyes. “I’ll do anything, as long as it keeps Wanda safe,” Pietro vows, and Wanda whips her head around at the claim.

 “Pietro!” She snaps, horrified but not surprised.  

 “No, I mean it! I could be locked up, or even dead, and I’d be okay with it as long as you get to live a happy life, Wanda.” He drops an imaginative microphone, still meeting Loki’s gaze. “Boom. Four options.”

 Loki feels something inside of him twinge.

 ‘I promise you, brother, the sun will shine on us again.’

 “Don’t be a fool,” Wanda spits. “Whatever we do, it will be together, whether that is facing the world or death.” Her attention turns to Loki. “I doubt you could ever understand that sentiment.”

 ‘It’s too late to stop it!’

 ‘No, we can. Together.’

 Loki feels something inside him break.

 “I died – I would die, I mean, for my brother,” he’s suddenly blurting, unable to stop himself. “You’ve met him – of course. The stupid blond oaf, too stubborn for his own good... That man has given me more chances at life than I deserve. He’s the good one, always the favourite yet – ”

 He may have given up on me when I needed him most, Loki finishes to himself.  

 “So yes, I do understand your sentiment,” Loki glares back at the Maximoff twins.  

 What is it on Midgard that has made him so soft?

 He rises to his feet. “I shall leave you to make your decision.”

 As Loki leaves, he reaches the frightening conclusion that if he sees this boy’s death coming, he’ll need to save it or risk his own sanity.

 

 The cake has just come out of the oven by the time Loki as returned to the Birdhouse.

  Lila runs over to him – she beams at him – and grabs Loki’s hand, leading him round to the kitchen. She’s babbling on about her creation, and Loki knows Steve is watching them from where he’s potato peeling.

 The house is quiet, but seemingly more peaceful than when Loki left it.

 Laura’s just about to call the Avengers in to tell them dinner is ready, when a timid voice calls from the doorway, “Is there space for two more?”

 Loki turns to see the Maximoff twins, and it feels right.

 Timeline be damned.

Chapter Text

  It turns out Coulson had finally arrived while Loki was out with the Maximoffs – and he’s brought Fury along with him, of all people.

 Some of the Avengers express their dismay over the dinner table – Stark says something about Fury being dead – but Loki 1) doesn’t care all that much, and 2) didn’t even know Fury was supposed to be dead?

 Loki gives the man a good glance over.

 Looks alive enough to him.  

 Loki shoves another potato into his mouth and continues eating, unimpressed.

 Strange really needs to remember to keep him in the loop with these things. 

 “Ultron took you all out to buy himself time,” Coulson says from the head of the table, Fury hovering behind him. Wanda – sitting next to Loki – looks a little guilty about this, but Coulson continues on unaware. “Our intel shows that he’s building something, and the amount of Vibranium he made off with? Who knows what he could do with it.”

 “What about Ultron himself?” Steve asks this time, ruffling Lila’s hair as she passes out of the room with Laura and Cooper on her tail.

 (The little girl waves at Loki as she leaves, and he finds enough kindness in him to wave back.) 

 “I have my best agent on it,” Coulson replies. “She says he’s easy to track because he’s everywhere. We won’t have trouble finding him when the time comes.”

 “But what’s he planning?” Barton asks, re-entering the room from where he’s been saying goodnight to his kids, hands in his pockets.

 Tony re-iterates this by asking, “Is he still going after launch codes?”

 “He’s fixated on them,” Pietro interjects this time. “We thought it was just for – ” he rubs at his neck – “Well, you know.”

 Fury stands a little straighter, and Loki wishes all humans would just permanently seal their mouths shut.

 Coulson crosses his hands on the table. “I’ve been having Daisy, my agent, change the launch codes constantly just so Ultron can’t get a hold of any missiles.”

 “So he’s still set on global destruction?” Strange asks, and Wanda winces. Loki gives the doctor a swift kick under the table, knowing Strange is acting curious only for keeping up appearances, but, nonetheless, Strange’s question finally prompts Fury to speak from where he’s been casually observing.

 “All this,” he says wistfully. “Set in a grave.”

 Silence falls over the room.

 Earlier, Lila had presented Loki with a perfectly cut slice of cake before she’d left for bed.

 Seeing it – it’d made Loki realise just how small humans are.

 It made him understand Thor’s fierce protectiveness for this planet.

 “So I need you to stand,” Fury continues, snapping Loki out of his head. “Together. Outwit the platinum bastard.”

 Natasha twiddles her fingers and grins back at Steve. “Steve doesn’t like that kind of language, boss.”

 And, just like that, the mood lightens, just in the second it takes Steve to roll his eyes. “Did Loki put you up to this?” he teases, just before Coulson, sensing the determination in the room, re-interupts:

 “So what does Ultron want?”

 There’s a beat of thought.

  “To become human?” Strange prompts, which is all it takes for Wanda to say, emotionless:

 “To become better. To evolve.”

 “How?”

 Banner to wanders over to the table, hands fumbling around his chin, and asks: “Has anyone been in contact with Helen Cho?”

 They settle on searching Seoul for signs of Ultron.

 Coulson says they’ll have Shield on the ground, evacuating civilians and locking down the general area. The plan is to send Steve in after Helen Cho, with the rest of the Avengers waiting in the Quinjet to deploy in case Ultron makes a move.

 Wanda and Pietro take their benching as gracefully as one would expect in their situation. It takes some stern words from the Captain – you’re only to enter the field if things really go to hell – to placate them, along with an affirming nod from Loki.

 You can trust him, it says, and Loki’s thankful it’s settled at that.

 Yet, they’re just about to leave when Loki pulls Strange aside.

 The man’s been oddly quiet – he normally loves showing off just how much he knows – and this is how Loki knows he’s formulating, planning for the battle ahead.

 At the edge of the Birdhouse’s living room, Loki stands in front of Strange with his arms crossed, eyebrows raised, expectant.

 Strange raises his eyebrows back. “Uh, yes?”

 “Would you like to share your timeline altering plan with the class?” Loki drawls in return.

 So secretive, he thinks.

 Strange just rolls his eyes, and proceeds to rummage around in his pockets. “Remember this?” he says, as he pulls out what appears to be a computer hard-drive.

 Loki – does actually remember this object. Where have I seen it before? he thinks, vaguely remembering Strange telling him about it in –

 Oh!

 “This is the device containing Jarvis’ code, is it not?”

 Strange nods, holding the drive aloft. “When we find the cradle containing the Vision’s body, I’ll need you to ward off any enemies while I upload it into the system. Activating the Vision early will mean we’ll hopefully be able to take down Ultron before he can even get to Sokovia. It shouldn’t be too difficult.” Strange claps his hands together. “So, are we ready now?”

 Loki – nods, but has one last thing to say: “If it comes down to the wire,” Loki begins, “I’ll protect Pietro and Wanda.”

 He needs not say anymore; Strange should know what he means.

 It’s an indirect confirmation – that he has Loki’s trust.

 Loki just hopes it doesn’t come back to bite him in the arse. 

    

  The call comes in from Steve just as they’re approaching Seoul’s main highway.

 “Helen Cho is gone,” Steve’s voice crackles in over the communicators. “There are signs that Ultron’s been here – and that they’ve only just left.”

 “Roger that, Cap,” Barton replies, bringing the Quinjet down and towards the highway. Loki spots it – the van – from his position, as Barton continues. “I’ll be sending you back-up as soon as we’re close enough.”

 And it looks like Steve is going to need it. Loki can only watch as Steve throws himself from the bridge above in the direction of the truck, wincing in sympathy when the Captain collides with its roof.

 It’s not long until Ultron emerges, but then Natasha’s nodding at him and Loki knows his cue when he sees it.

 “Going back to the roots of our friendship,” Natasha chirps, as she readies her motorbike.

 Loki just climbs aboard the back, standing where Natasha sits at the controls. “I have found in my long life that murder serves as a great bonding experience,” he quips, enjoying Natasha’s laugh.

 “You would say that,” Strange snorts in his approach, adjusting his gloves with a smirk on his face. “Ready?”

 Loki and Natasha nod in unison.

 And they’re off as soon as the hanger doors open.

 Natasha drops the motorcycle off with frightening efficiency, and Loki clings to the back, conjuring a spear so he’s ready for any attack that comes their way. Strange flies not far behind, as Natasha swerves the bike around corners and past crowds.

 Loki loves how alive it makes him feel.

 Barton serves as their navigation from the sky, directing them back to Steve and Ultron. It comes to a head when Natasha takes a short cut around a pedestrianised street, only to fling them directly at the side of the truck. As Natasha ducks underneath, the motorcycle screeching against the tarmack, Loki jumps off, stabbing his spear into the side of the truck and swinging himself inside.

 There, Helen Cho and two bots wait for him. It only takes an elbow to the face to knock out the doctor – most likely under some form of mind control – and Ultron’s lackey’s waste no time in fighting back. Soon, they’re doubling in on him – Loki wishes his spear wasn’t still plunged in the outside wall of the van – but –

 A blasts come from outside, and one of the bots goes down as Strange lands on top of it, crushing its core.

 Instinctively, they swap places. Loki flings a dagger from his sleeve into the last robot’s neck, incapacitating it immediately, while Strange runs down to the cradle’s ports.

 Phase one of the plan?

 Check.

 Loki disposes of the robot bodies – by basically just throwing them off the back of the truck – but then he returns his attention to Strange, who has just connected Jarvis’ drive when he turns back.

 “How much longer?” Loki asks, eyes darting outside in anticipation of more enemies.

 “Don’t rush me!”

 “If I don’t rush you, someone might die,” Loki chastens – humans have so much ego – but Strange brushes him off with the shake of his head. He stands, having typed frantically away on the cradle’s control panel, now readying a spell mid-air.

 “Be patient, I’m nearly there.” He says, his spell growing more and more complex with each weave of his fingers. An identical emblem appears over the Vision’s chest inside the cradle. “I just need to inject the cradle with a wave of magic and our friend should be in the land of the living.”

 And then there’s an explosion outside.

 It rattles the road to its core – Loki’s ear is suddenly filled with Steve and Natasha’s shouts about a train? – so Loki runs to the van doors and pops his head outside and –

– oh gods, Ultron is on a runaway train with Pietro and Wanda.

 After he swore to protect the Maximoff twins from harm.

 I hate the universe, Loki thinks.

 He shoots Strange a look – I need to go, it says – but the man just nods. “I’ve got this,” Strange says. “I have enough power to get the Vision up and running. We’ll be over to help as soon as we can.”

 So, Loki takes a step back, he breathes, and then launches himself out of the van and onto the top of a passing car.

 “I thought the twins were benched,” Loki spits over the comms, all the while leaping across car after car.

 “Uhhhh, my bad,” Tony reports back. “Cap needed some back – wait, hold the phone! You’re not going anywhere, buster!” Loki then hears the sounds of jets and a scuffle before a crash rings through his ears. “Grounded! No flying for you!”

 Loki is working with children.

 Actual children.

 Thankfully, he’s close by now, can see the train screeching along it’s tracks, as well as what’s going on inside.

 Tony’s just flown Ultron back in through the ceiling, the two having just risen to their feet, while Natasha and Steve stand on either side of the carriage, ready to dash in to the fight. Wanda is sealing off all forms of Ultron’s escape, while Pietro is whisking any and all civilians out of harm’s way.

 He’s just stopped to pick up a boy – run him off to safety – when Loki spots it.

  Ultron, reaching down into Natasha’s holster and pulling out her gun, raising it to aim right at the currently distracted Pietro –

 ‘I could be locked up, or even dead, and I’d be okay with it as long as you get to live a happy life, Wanda,’ Loki hears Pietro say distantly.

 Loki has to get inside.  

 So Loki makes a terrible decision.

 He hops onto the edge of the highway, the train just a few hundred meters off and braces himself, pushing all his magic down to his feet, and flings himself through the air. Loki smashes through the train window just in time to orientate himself kick Ultron’s feet out from under him, right before he goes to take a shot at Pietro.

 Rapid bangs follow the screech of metal and when Loki looks up there’s an area of bullet holes right where Pietro’s head last was.

 Pietro – from his position on the ground, curled around his little boy for safety – takes one horrified glance at Ultron and runs off to take the child to safety.

 Loki breathes a sigh of relief; he just has to hope that’s the one and only attempt the universe makes on Pietro’s life.  

 Wanda does not react well to the attempt on her brother’s life.

 With a wave of her dazzling red magic, she crumples the fun in Ultron’s hand to practically dust, and gives him an evil smile.

 “You’re cornered,” Stark says, facing Ultron down. And it’s true – Ultron faces an Avenger on his every side.

 The metal man, observing his defeat, whistles. It sends a chill down Loki’s spine. “Oh well,” Ultron says. “It’s a shame, to have to sacrifice this body, but another – ”

 The train comes to a shuddering stop, the force slamming the Avengers around the carriage. Loki flies back into a seat, and he regesters Strange crying over the comms:

 “He’s coming! Loki, he’s disorientated; I don’t know what he’s going to do just – be ready – ”

There’s an awful wrenching sound as the side door to the train is completely ripped off.

 In its wake, hovers a man, his skin a deep red, his eyes filled with rage, and in the centre of his forehead gleams the mind stone.

 The Vision.

 The entire carriage stands frozen and –  

 “You’re perfect,” Ultron breathes.

 And then there is a hand in the centre of his chest.

 The Vision, with one hand, has Ultron’s head in an iron grip – waves of energy radiate of him – he’s isolating him from the web, Loki realises – Ultron screams – and in the other the Vision yanks out Ultron’s mechanical heart, then crushing it in his palm.

 “Not again,” the Vision growls, then letting Ultron’s body collapse on the floor. The Vision has just left a hunk of metal in place of where Ultron once was.

 In an instant, the fight is over.  

 “…What the shit,” Stark blurts out weakly, his face plate sliding up to reveal his battered face, wide eyed.

 You and me both, Loki thinks, equally – equally horrified? Surprised?

 Loki doesn’t quite know what he’s supposed to be feeling.

 Yet, Starks words are all it takes to snap the Vision out of whatever labyrinth he was trapped in, and his gaze flickers up, settling on Stark.

 He tilts his head to the side curiously. “Sir? What are we…?” The Vision – he turns, surveying each Avenger in turn. Loki can see just how analytical his mind is, processing each detail just as a computer would until –

 The Vision does a double-take when he sees Loki. “Wha – What is he doing here? I don’t – ”

 “It’s okay, buddy,” Strange says as he floats in, finally re-joining the group. He gives the Vision a warm pat on the shoulder. “We’ll explain everything on the way back.”

 From the beginning, Loki thinks.  

 

 The aftermath of the Ultron incident is one of odd quietness.

 Having little access to the full story, the news is oddly vague on the events of the past view days. In their eyes, Stark Industries had a severe tech malfunction that was sorted by the Avengers in a matter of days.

 Shield deals with the rest of the mess – finding and disabling the remaining Ultron bots – as well as dealing with the diplomacy where the Avengers can’t.

 Loki didn’t originally understand why Strange was so insistent on the reinstatement of Shield but, watching what they proceed to do, Loki’s mostly thankful they have more allies in their court.

 Overall, there are no reported casualties, few injuries, and all property damage is dealt with by Stark Industries.

 Strange, as a result, is deeply smug.

 Back at the Avengers Tower, Loki’s walking down a corridor with him, passively listening to Strange’s ramblings.

 “I did mention I was right about the timeline?” Strange says. “Pietro’s alive and well! And – look! No wibbly-wobbly time casualties!” He gives his fingers a triumphant click. “My plan worked perfectly!”

 Loki glares at the other man, as they enter the tower’s infirmary wing. “It’s a good thing we have doctors on site – I think we may need to have your ego examined for over-inflation.”

 They’ve come to check up on the team – Wanda suffered a few cuts in the fight, the Captain may have broken his wrist, etcetera – but the first figure they see upon entering is the Vision.

 He’s stood by the windows, staring out onto the city bellow and chewing on his lip, hands gripped up tightly by his face.

 The man just looks –

– lost.

I remember that feeling, Loki thinks. Knowing so much yet so little at the same time.

 Loki and Strange share a glance.

 They move over to the Vision in unison – Loki waves at Wanda and Pietro, both sat chatting on a bed, as he crosses the room. Pietro waves back, while Wanda smiles shyly – and Loki pauses just behind the Vision. Strange mimics the movement he made only a few hours prior, carefully placing a hand on the man’s shoulder.

The Vision jumps in response, his attention snapping back to reality.

 His eyes look haunted.

 “Oh, Dr. Strange. Loki. I – did not hear you approach. My apologies.”

 Strange tries to look comforting, as he asks, “How’re you doing?”

 The Vision – he shakes his head.

 “This is all quite disconcerting. I know you have explained this is real but, well, you cannot blame me for questioning the nature of our reality.”

 They’d caught the Vision up on the flight back to the States, gathered at the back of the Quinjet talking in hushed whispers; Loki doesn’t blame his denial.

 It’s a lot to take in.

 The Vision inspects his hands.

 “In accordance with your logic, I know why the stone has returned me to this time. It is a part of me, and knows I was willing to die for the sake of the universe. But – now – I – ”

 The Vision raises his gaze.

 “I do not feel the same, this time around,”

 Strange frowns. “How so?”

 There, the Vision pauses. His turns to watch – Wanda? Yes, Loki thinks its Wanda – briefly, before hesitantly continuing. “…You reached me earlier in this time, did you not?” The Vision says, talking more to himself than either Loki or Strange. “Ultron had less time to upload his own mind into my framework than he did in the original timeline. I think this may have altered my makeup. Hence, there – there was more space for Jarvis’ data.”

 The AI? Loki thinks.

 The Vision continues meanwhile. “I have – well, my memories from the future, of course – but also – I remember more, that I didn’t before. I remember – ”

 The door slides open behind them, and Stark comes swaggering in.

 “ – Sir.”

 Tony looks up with a start from where he’s been inspecting a Stark Tablet. He stares at the Vision with wide eyes.

 “Jarvis?”

 And – for the first time since the Vision awoke the past – Loki watches him smile.

 “Yes, I think I am.”

 “Oh,” Stark says. “I thought – well – that Ultron had destroyed you?”

  The Vision, he takes a step towards Stark, shaking his head. “Dr. Strange here had a backup of my data. He uploaded it into my mainframe to replace Ultron’s memories.”

 “So you’re…?” Stark dares to ask, sounding oddly hopeful.

 “I am many things,” the Vision says, “but – this time around – I think Jarvis is one of them.”

 Neither Stark nor the Vision see it, but in that instance all the guilt and the tension and the grief – it eases from them both.

 

 Loki waits around at the Avengers tower for Thor to return.

 Whatever he went off to do, Loki hopes his brother is still safe, and hasn’t been caught in the tail end of the Ultron conflict somewhere unreachable.

 Loki stays on Earth until the humans begin heading off to bed, one by one, and finds himself with nothing to do. On one hand, he wants to run off and find Thor, but on the other – well, that may not be the best course of action right now, what with their ongoing conflict.

So Loki sees the Maximoff twins are well situated and safe – he doesn’t want to see them harmed after messing with the timeline for their continued existence – before effectively trotting back off to Asgard.

 Turns out he’s been waiting in the wrong place.

Upon returning through the Bifrost, Loki finds the gateway between worlds practically abandoned. The sun is setting over the city, spread before him, and it appears vibrant in contrast to the echoing quiet of the rainbow bridge.

 Loki takes a few hesitant steps forwards, listening intently for any signs of life, but –

There’s nothing.

Heimdall even isn’t around, and it sets Loki’s nerves off, a pit settling in his stomach.

Loki draws his daggers from his sleeves and continues walking out.  

“I dismissed Heimdall,” a voice suddenly calls, and Loki spins round, dagger raised, before – oh – he sees it’s just Thor.

 The tension eases from his shoulders. “Thor,” he sighs, relieved. “Where have you been? The humans were oh-so worried.”

 Thor – Thor throws Mjolnir up once, and catches it on its fall. “I went to seek the truth,” he says airily. “And the truth is what I found.”

 “Concerning what, brother?”

 Thor finally meets his gaze. “You are not my brother.”

 Loki feels his blood freeze in his veins.

 No.

 Loki opens his mouth but no words come out.

 Thor throws Mjolnir up once again. “The girl – the one with the magic – she showed me a vision of Asgard.” He catches the hammer. “Destroyed by the flames of Ragnarok.”

 Fuck.

 “I did not know how much of that vision was a lie,” Thor continues, now slowly approaching. “So I sought out the Norn Cave. It showed me many things – the infinity stones, a gauntlet – but also, saw you,” he points an accusing finger, a death sentence in a gesture.Loki, you, at Asgard’s destruction and, more importantly, you handing the Tesseract over to the Mad Titan King Thanos.”

 ‘The Tesseract,’ Thanos booms in his mind’s eye, ‘or your brother’s head.’

 “I can explain,” Loki hears himself say, distantly, suddenly dizzy.

 Thor spreads his arms wide. “Well? I am all ears.”

 The Destruction of Jotunheim.

 The Battle of New York.

 “Loki, explain.”

 Faking his own death.

 Banishing Odin.

 “I’ve already sent Heimdall to warn Frigga of your misdeeds. Just confess.”  

 The Destruction of Asgard.

 Thanos.

  “ARE YOU MY BROTHER OR ARE YOU NOT?!” Thor bellows.

 Loki can’t explain.

 This Thor won’t understand, not now.

 Loki just needed Thor to trust him.

 He hates everything.

 So Loki – from his already weak position – can do nothing but take a single step back, and seal his lips shut.  

 To Thor, his silence speaks volumes. His brother rubs his free hand over his face – his eyes appear – wet – and, he says, shaking: “If you truly are my brother, and not some imposter, then I am sorry for what I have to do next.”

 And then suddenly everything’s a blur.

 Loki hits the floor as Thor tackles him to the ground, but all it takes is one sharp kick to flip Thor off him and onto the glass of the bridge. Loki clambers to his feet and raises his hands in sign of peace.

 “Thor, I don’t want to fight you,” Loki begs, but Thor is already rising again, spinning and swiping Mjolnir in the direction of Loki’s head. Loki swerves, blocking the hammer with one of his daggers and slices his other dagger through the air, if only to make Thor back up a step.

 But then it’s just blow after blow and Loki finds himself already getting tired – Thor is fresh, ready for the fight.

 Loki had already planned to sleep for the next a hundred years before this shit happened. 

 So Loki draws up the last of his strength and creates a copy of himself, plants it behind Thor, and wills himself to temporarily disappear.

 Thor takes the bait – he never did quite learn how distinguish illusions from reality. His brother’s eyes widen as Loki disappears before his eyes and, frantically, he searches for Loki and then Thor leaps, throwing himself at, and therefore through¸ Loki’s illusionary form.

 Right off the edge of the rainbow bridge.

 Fucking, shitting, stupid brother!

 Loki sprints from where he’s hiding and is yanked forwards as he just manages to catch Thor’s hand, landing on his front at the edge of the bridge. He feels his jaw hit the glass floor with a thud, tastes metal as he cuts his jaw, but doesn’t dare loosen his grip.

 Thor’s hanging over the abyss of the Bifrost.

 “For the gods’ sake’s Thor, please!” Loki pleads. “Hold on! I just need to – ” Loki groans, trying to pull Thor up and back onto the bridge but – gods – his brother is heavy and Loki can’t concentrate with this panic in his throat –

 Thor laughs once, tears streaming down his face.

 “No, Loki.”

  And he lets go.

 Loki knows he’s screaming, but he doesn’t hear it.

 All he can hear is his own words, so ironic in the light of its consequence.

  ‘If we save Pietro, we don’t know who will die in his place.’

 Thor disappears into the void of space.

Chapter Text

 Loki finds himself interrupting breakfast at the Avengers tower the next morning.

 He couldn’t care less.

 Loki lets himself in – he used the Bifrost to arrive on the roof and takes the elevator down – and he just knows where everyone is going to be.

 The Avengers are sat around a kitchen island, laughing and chatting, so ignorant, and there – he’s there.

 Strange, a cup of coffee in one hand, smiles when he sees Loki approach. “You’re back! Have you found Thor yet?”

 Loki doesn’t care.

 He marches right up to Strange and with no hesitation punches him square in the jaw.

 Loki hears the screams, hears Strange’s mug smash into hundreds of little pieces, the commotion he causes, as he tackles Strange to the ground and tugs up at his shirt.

 He just doesn’t care.

 “This is all your fault,” Loki hears himself hiss. Strange’s eyes bore up at him, Loki’s already cut his lip.

 Loki doesn’t care.

 He feels Steve behind him, trying to pull him off Strange, but Loki just shoves Steve off, and distantly hears him thud back into the wall.

 Loki really doesn’t care.

 He uses his grip on Strange’s shirt to pull him up and then slam him down into the floor.

 “Thor’s dead and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!”

 There’s nothing.

 No noise.

 Just – oh.

 Loki brushes a hand over his cheek.

 It comes off wet.

 He didn’t realise he was crying.

 Loki takes one more look at Strange – the horror in his eyes – and – 

 Loki untangles his hands from Strange’s shirt, dropping him to the floor.

 “I trusted you,” Loki says.

 The next time someone tries to pull Loki away – small hands, soft skin, Natasha, he realises distantly – Loki lets them.

 He feels nothing.

 

 Loki spends the next few nights wandering the palace, unable to sleep.

 Asgard is sombre, the news of… concerning Thor having already spread throughout the kingdom.  

 Frigga was waiting for him, at the palace gates with Heimdall, right after it happened. Jane had been speechless – completely in shock. She’d had to be pulled away by Hela.

 But telling Frigga was the worst part.

 Loki will never forget the expression on his mother’s face.

 He shakes his head, just as he strolls into throne room. The last few days have just been playing in a loop in his mind. It’s inescapable, a series of paradoxical rooms filled with visions of Thor.

 All Loki can do is keep walking and hope he can out pace his thoughts.

 Hands in his pockets, Loki begins humming to himself as he walks through Asgard’s grand hall. He stares up the ceiling, and – behold! even here Thor’s spirit judges him, even if his face merely brush strokes.

 The moonlight illuminates his golden crown.

 I should have just let you rule, Loki thinks bitterly to himself.

 Loki’s just about to move on when he hears his mother’s voice:

  “I used to sing that to you when you were a child,” she says, standing in the entrance-way, a sad smile on her face, dark circles under her eyes. “That song you’re humming.”

 Simpler times.

 Loki didn’t really realise that’s what he was humming.

 “You did,” he murmurs in confirmation. Frigga moves to her son’s side and intertwines his arm with hers, as Loki begins to sing softly; “Hush, my little prince, won’t you sleep for me?”

 “I’m by your side,” Frigga picks up, resting her head on Loki’s shoulder, “singing this lullaby.”

 “Your mother is so tired, maybe she’ll dream for two,” they then sing in unison, and Loki’s so pleased when he hears his mother laugh.

 “I changed the words to the song, you know?” Frigga laughs, wiping a single tear from her eyes. “The original was so dire. I didn’t want to sing about the drudgery of life to my children.”

 Maybe it would have been fair warning, Loki thinks.

 “Did you – ” he hesitates. “Did you sing it to Hela too?”

  Frigga nods. “Of course, though she preferred stories to songs. Conquests, victories… She wanted glory before she could even walk.”

 Loki – he turns his gaze back up to the ceiling.

 “Why isn’t she here, mother?” Loki asks.

 How was Odin able to remove even the barest hint of her? He hadn’t done that to Loki, after his defection to Thanos, and Loki presumed it was just because he was unable.

 Loki’s own eyes stare back at him, cold and dull.

 Frigga – his mother sighs. “I’ve been unsure, what do with this,” she says, gesturing to the frieze, “ever since your father passed. I suppose you deserve to see the full truth with your own eyes.” And in the blink of an eye – delicately – Frigga waves her hand across the ceiling, her magic washing away the top layer of paint.

 The garish gold fades into a blood red.

 Above them, Loki’s father basks in the glory of a thousand empires.

 There’s suddenly a bitter taste in his mouth.

 Hypocrite.

 “I should have done more,” Frigga says, her grip on Loki’s arm tight. “I should have realised the injustice of your father’s ambition, how his pride would affect you and Thor and Hela. I was blind.”

 “You did your best,” Loki says in reply, and he means it.

 But, Frigga shakes her head, finally wrenching her gaze away from the horrors of the past. “It wasn’t enough. And then your father died and Hela returned and it – it the universe has given me a second chance and – oh Loki, I ruined everything,” she says, breaking off into a sob at the end.

 What.

 She continues on: “I should have paid more attention to how your brother felt, after Odin. And he was obviously jealous of Hela, but I thought it would pass. Then Heimdall comes charging in, with news that Thor will be confronting a potential threat on the rainbow bridge and – ” Loki feels his mother’s fingers shaking, clenched around his arm.

 Loki can’t help it, can’t let this continue.

 “It’s not your fault, mother,” he says, swallowing his pride. “It’s mine.”

 “No, Loki,” but he’s already leading them to sit on the throne stairs, and he wraps his hands tightly in his mother’s.

 She should not have to bear the guilt of Loki’s crimes.

 “Just listen to me, please?” Loki asks. “To the whole story.”

 Frigga, her eyebrows furrowed, nods.

 And Loki tells his mother everything.

 Everything.  

 

 The light of daybreak is flittering through the stained glass of Asgard’s throne room by the time Loki is finished with his tale.

 He tells Frigga everything he could not during that fateful hour on the rainbow bridge – when in fear of Thor’s anger, his silver tongue turned to lead.

 She sits attentive as Loki describes his own fall from grace, his invasion of Earth, his various deaths.

 Talking about Thanos is the hardest part.

 It’s when Loki’s trying to describe the Mad Titan King’s attack on their ship, when his throat clenches and his throat goes dry, that he realises, he hasn’t talk to anyone about it, not really.

 He hasn’t told anyone what it was like to die.

 When he reaches the end, Frigga sits quiet for a time, just processing.

 Loki wonders if she hates him.

 He stands to leave, he can’t stay if she’s just going to vilify him, but then Frigga snatches his hand, and brings him close to her chest.

 “You’ll always be my son,” she whispers, stroking his hair, arms wrapped tightly around him.

 Loki lets himself cry.

 

 What eventually drags Loki off his arse and back to Earth is, of course, the Maximoff twins.

 Stark had long ago convinced him to carry around one of his ‘Stark Phones’ enchanted to receive signals no matter where in the galaxy he was – most of the time Loki leaves it on his dresser ignored – but two weeks after – after Ultron, it started pinging almost constantly with messages.

 Turns out Pietro was using his super speed for more than just running.

 You promised you’d give Wanda magic lessons.

 Don’t break your promises.

 You owe me a bag of Asgardian candy if you do.

 Maybe a crate!

What kinds of candy do you have on Asgard?

It was when he started receiving a message a second that Loki finally snapped.

He’d snatched up his phone, ignoring its bleeping, and fiddled his way through various menus until the phone was, what Stark calls, ringing.

 Pietro picked up instantly, saying cheerfully, “Hello? This is Pietro speaking.”

 The nerve on this one.

 “I know who you are, you little maggot. Stop. Texting. Me.”

 “I will when you stop sulking and come give my sister magic lessons.”

 Loki gave in.

 They hold their lessons in a purpose-made room at the new Avenger’s compound. Upon a first examination, while Loki had enchanted the room to contain all magic, Steve had a fun time routing around in supply cupboards for anything they may need.

 That had been when all the Avengers were still on eggshells around him.

 How’re you doing, Loki?

Do you need anything?

Oh, let me get that for you!

 Loki normally loves attention, but not their constant hounding of him.

 That was pity

 Eventually, he’d gotten so frustrated with them all that he’d cast a temporary silencing charm on them all and stormed off.

 So finally meeting up with the Maximoff twins was a nice surprise.

 Wanda had strolled into the room, Pietro trailing slightly behind, lolly-pop in his mouth and while he slouched off to sit cross-legged in the corner of the room, Wanda stood firm, giving Loki a sharp nod.

 “Where do we start?” she’d asked.

  She’s an amazing student.

 The way she manipulates her magic, the way she’s so eager to learn.

 It reminds Loki of himself.

  They’re a good few months into their training sessions on the morning of this particular occasion.

 Loki turns up to the compound about half an hour early, hoping to snatch one of the Captain’s pastries – Steve loves baking on Saturdays – but finds the kitchen disappointingly empty.

 Standing in the doorway, Loki sighs and conjures a little note for Steve – ‘You owe me one cinnamon bun – Loki’ it says – and sulks off to the practise rooms.

 How dare Steve Rogers have a life beyond providing Loki with food?

 As he’s walking past the accommodation suites – absentmindedly noticing the additional name plate dedicated to one Scott Langanother man Loki doesn’t recognise leaves from Steve’s room. This guy looks strong, well-built beneath his baggy hoody, with long, shaggy hair that mostly covers his face.

 Like he’s trying to block out the world.

 Is this the elusive Winter Solider? Loki wonders.

 Perhaps Steve took Loki’s advice and contacted Strange.

 That leaves Loki feeling a lot bitterer than it should.

 Other people don’t have to distrust Strange just because you do, Loki reminds himself.

 So he lets the presumed Winter Solider pass without comment, instead deciding to wait and ask the twins about it.

 Thankfully, Loki finds them already waiting for him in the magic training room.

 “Who’s tall, dark and unkempt?” Loki asks as he closes the door. Wanda’s sat, knees huddled at her chest, in one of the arm chairs Loki wrestled in here on their third week of lessons.

 Pietro, sitting on the chair arm, says, “Do you mean Bucky? Like, face of death, shoulders hunched in pain?”

 Loki clicks his fingers in recognition. “Yes, that’s him! He…” Looks like he’s not going to integrate well, Loki thinks. He says instead, “… is an odd addition to the team.”

 “He’s Steve’s boyfriend, that’s why he’s here.”

 And Wanda smacks her brother on the thigh. “Pietro!”

 “What! He must be!”

 “I just saw him leaving Steve’s room,” Loki adds, settling in the seat across from the twins.

 “See!” Pietro exclaims. “Steve turns up with the guy in the middle of the night, Stark won’t tell us anything other than the fact that he’s ‘an old friend’ and they spend all of their time together.” Pietro crosses his arms decisively. “They’re dating. They must be.” 

 “Maybe Steve’s not ready for everyone to know, Pietro,” Wanda says. “Don’t go outing him to anyone when we’re not even sure ourselves.”

 Loki sits back in his air, observing the twins for a minute.

 Perhaps he’ll talk to Steve later.

 “How as implementing your magic in the field gone this week?” he asks as a way to change the topic.

 Wanda’s expression sours at the question, hunching her shoulders, and Pietro shoots him the look; the ‘please don’t mention it’ look.

 Not good then.

 “Have you – not heard yet?” Wanda asks, as quiet as a mouse.

 “It wasn’t that bad, Wanda,” Pietro tries to interject, but –

 “People died, Pietro!” Wanda cries. Her knuckles are turning white. “I lost control for just a second and there went the top of the building!”

 “It would have been worse if you had not been there,” Pietro says back, calmly, much like this response is rehearsed.

 So this has been going on for a while, Loki concludes.

 Pietro sighs, taking his sister’s hands in his own. “Just – let me explain to Loki, okay? Don’t put yourself through this again.”

 Wanda – after a second’s deliberation – relents.

  Pietro describes their mission – how they’d been sent to Lagos under Steve to stop Brock Rumlow from detonating a chemical weapon in the city square – and how, when Rumlow decided suicide bombing was his only way out, Wanda is the one who managed to contain the blast.

 She’d kept the explosion contained by sheer will alone until it reached the top ten floors of a nearby tower block.

 This was at the expense of seven lives.

 Wanda’s face is heartbroken by the time Pietro reaches the end of the tale.

 Loki – he understands guilt.

 He reaches across the gap and places his hand on Wanda’s knee. “There are few in the nine realms worthy of my attentions. One mistake does not disqualify you from this. You will hurt, and regret, but you will know that, next time? You will not repeat the same mistakes.”

 This is how Loki learns of the upcoming Lagos Conference.

 

 The world is called to attention by the UN. After the Lagos incident, from what Loki understands, a conference is being held in Vienna to discuss the world’s relationship with superheroes and the threats they face.

 The Wakandan King – T’Chaka – claims that the three Wakandan lives taken by the explosion were caused by ‘the actions of criminals, but also by the indifference of those pledged to stop them.’

 Loki, personally, thinks this is utter crap.

 He knows what indifference looks like; stared at it in the mirror for years pretending not to care.

 Indifference is not the emotion on Wanda’s face, as Pietro talks Loki through the Lagos Conference and its details. Wanda’s suffering from what Loki calls caring.

 A lot of the backlash has fallen onto the Avengers, and by proxy, the New Shield that has only just revealed itself to the world. Apparently Coulson had come by to explain how, if not for the fact that the Avengers were technically under the New Shield’s jurisdiction, it’s likely the UN would have forced them under mainstream government supervision.

 Loki squashes down the thought of Strange, and what he’d said what feels like a lifetime ago.

  ‘I have the Avengers running under the new Shield now; that is going to save our skins some point soon.’

 Screw him for being so right.

 Pietro explains how the Lagos Conference is being held as a sign of good will, a way to show the world the protocols Shield has in place to deal with threats and collateral damage.

 All Avengers are required to attend.

 This is how Loki finds himself in the city of Vienna, being driven through the old city, church steeples and shops not much younger than him, and towards the curving winds of glass that is the International Centre, all dressed up for his first Midgardian diplomatic meeting.

 And Loki thought suffering them on Asgard was bad enough.

 As he steps out of the car, cameras are immediately doubling down on him, their constant flashes blinding. Loki tries to ignore them – cloaks himself in the guise of the disinterested prince – and instead opens for the car doors for Wanda and Pietro. As they walk inside, the questioning is practically constant.

 “Mr. Odinson, what do you have to say about the incident in Lagos?”

 “Where is your brother Thor? Has he decided to oppose the conference?”

 “Any comment on Dr. Strange’s arrest of one Helmut Zemo only minutes prior to your arrival?”

 Loki stops at this question.

 There is a small British woman, curly dark hair pulled back in a bun, fitted suit, holding a microphone in his direction, patiently awaiting his answer.

 But all Loki can think about is the fact that Strange is here.

 That – that was expected.

 It catches him off-guard for some reason.

 The reporter repeats her question.

 …Loki could just ask what this is about when he gets inside.

 But.

 He feels his head start knitting itself in circles.

 So, instead, Loki waves Pietro and Wanda ahead, and bats the reporter’s microphone away, saying just quietly enough that no one else can hear:

 “Tell me what happened with Strange – off the record – and I’ll give you an exclusive on some of Thor’s embarrassing childhood mishaps.”

 Loki ends up entering the conference in a sourer mood than he anticipated.

 Trust Strange to stop a bombing just before an international peace conference.

 Once he’s inside, Loki finds the optimal place to sulk – that just happens to be a seat near the back of the room that says ‘Reserved for the delegate of Norway.’ Loki flicks off the sign – and sits there projecting the hopefully strong vibe of ‘don’t talk to me.’

 This works for most people.

 Tony Stark, however, is not most people.

 Unfortunately.

 “Greasy!” Stark coos, his arms spread wide in greeting. “Don’t you clean up nicely?”

 Loki resists the urge to strangle the man here and now. “At least its physically possible for me to be – as you say – cleaned up.”

 Stark looks mock-offended, clutching a hand to his heart. “Wow. Hurtful! And I was going to introduce you to a loving fan too! Now I’m just going to have to tell him you’re a jack-ass. Peter!” Stark calls back, and Loki sees the Vision approaching with a young man at his side. They’re talking excitedly together, but Peter looks up as he hears someone call his name. “Yes, you, Peter Parker!” Tony re-iterates. “I’m sorry to tell you this but your hero is a jack-ass.”

 “What are you talking about, Mr. Stark?” Peter asks, honestly curious, as he peers around the man and straight in Loki’s direction.

 Loki watches the boy’s mouth go slack. 

 “Y- You – You’re Loki!” Peter manages to stutter through. The Vision looks on fondly as the – fifteen? Fourteen? Loki’s not great discerning human ages – teenager struggles to put together a coherent sentence. “I have a poster of you on my wall,” Peter blurts, then clamping his mouth shut in wide-eyed horror.

 Wow.

 Against all forces in the universe, Loki has a fan.

 Consider his mood slightly-less soured.  

 He stands, offering his hand out for Peter to shake. “It’s a pleasure, Mr. Parker.” As the boy – somewhat hesitantly – accepts Loki’s offer – he has a surprisingly firm grip – Loki decides to ask, “What is it that’s brought you to the conference today?”

 “I’m Spi – ” Stark kicks the boy’s foot lightly “ – MR. STARK’S INTERN!” Peter finishes abruptly, both Tony and Peter looking similar shades of conspiring.

 Stark, in the same manner, pulls Peter around to his side, giving the boy a firm pat on the back, “Yes, Peter here is a new intern for my company that I do indeed own and manage and – uh – I thought bringing him to the Lagos Conference would provide him some good experience.

 Loki can practically feel Stark sweating.

 These two really need to improve on their deception skills.

 “Were you – ” Loki pauses. No, he thinks. It’s best to get this out of the way. “Were you here when Strange stopped Zemo?”

And, just like that, Peter’s shoulders hunch, and Stark’s gaze flickers cautiously over and across the room.

 Strange is stood talking to some UN officials but – despite the fact he’s saved the day – he looks miserable.

 And alone.

 “No,” Stark says, slipping his hands into his pockets. “He got here long before anyone else. Must have had an anonymous tip… Bastard.”

 Loki whips his head around to look at Stark in shock.

 What did he just say?

 “Mr. Stark!” Peter squeaks, but Tony shakes his head.

  “What? Guy deserves it! I’ve told you, kid, none of the Avengers have spoken to him since you-know-what.” Tony crosses his arms with a huff, now speaking more to Loki now than Peter. “We can’t trust him, and he’s not exactly reason to believe otherwise.”

 “You’d take my word over his?” Loki asks.

 Tony blinks. “Of course. You’re one of us.”

 Something swells in Loki’s heart.

 “And Strange is not?”

 What’s the difference?

 Tony smiles at him, shaking his head once again. “Not in the same way.”

 Loki – he’s feeling something inexplicable.

 Someone picked him, just him, for perhaps the first time in his life.

 Loki wishes Thor were here to see it.

 Tony coughs – Loki’s thankful for the distraction – wrapping his arm around Peter’s shoulders. “Well, squirt, how about we introduce you to more of the team? I’m sure I saw Cap around here somewhere. Are you coming, Jarvis?”

 The Vision, where he’s slowly migrated next to Loki, shakes his head. “I’ll join you shortly.”

 “Suit yourself. Kid?”

 Peter – Peter does something Loki doesn’t expect.

 He shakes off Tony’s arm and walks up to Loki’s side. “You should talk to him,” Peter says, serious beyond his years. “I don’t know what happened, but, from what Mr. Stark has told me, a team needs to stick together.”

 Then Peter’s jogging back to Tony, waving in goodbye, “It was nice to meet you! See you in a sec, Jarvis!”  

 Loki stares after the two, as they slowly fade away into the crowd and out of sight.

 “I agree with Peter,” the Vision says once the moment has passed. “From what I have learnt, Dr. Strange did not mean to cause Thor’s death. He is deeply apologetic.”

 “Taking his side?” Loki questions, preparing himself for an argument. But, to his surprise, the Vision raises his arms in surrender.

 “Not at all. I am merely assessing our chances of survival if the Avengers remain divided on this issue,” The Vision casts his gaze back out to Strange. “They are not good.”

 Loki bites his lip.

  “I trusted him.”

 That should be confession enough.

 The Vision considers this. “Just promise me you’ll think about it.”

 Loki –

– nods.

 There is no point in stirring more conflict.

 “…So should I be referring to you as Jarvis now?” He asks, if only to change the subject.

 This takes the Vision slightly off-guard.

 He thinks about it, quite visibly. And, at the same time, Tony and Peter remerge from the crowd, chattering happily between themselves. The Vision watches them with a warm smile. “I am both Jarvis and the Vision,” he says eventually. “Either name feels appropriate. There are some relationships, that I developed originally, that can never be the same. It would not be fair. But – it feels like I am less alone this time, with Peter and Sir. Like – like I have not just friends but a family.”

 Loki knows that feeling.

 This world is so different to their own.

 It’s not long until the conference comes to a start, delegates hurrying to their seats, pushing Loki down to an area reserved for the Avengers. The cameras like focusing in on them, Loki notices, as he takes his seat next to Natasha – he thanks her with a nod, noticing how tightly her hands are intertwined with Bruce.

 He also notices how Strange is sat as far back as possible from the group, facing out into the crowd.

 There is an empty seat between Strange and the Avengers, and there is no doubt who it was intended for. 

Soon enough King T’Chaka of Wakanda is making his way over to the podium, the room silent except for his footsteps across the dark marble. The crowd watches, entranced, as the King assembles himself, delicately placing his hands parallel on the stand in front of him, and staring out into the crowd of reporters, diplomats and heroes alike.

 “When Vibranium stolen from us was used to make a terrible weapon, we in Wakanda were forced to question our legacy,” he begins, his voice calm and methodical. “And now good men and good women, part of an out-reach mission from a country too long in the shadows, have been killed. These are truly dark times that we are living in.”

 The King takes a deep breath. “Our children and our grandchildren have been born into a world so different to our own. Enhanced terrorist organisations, superhuman individuals, aliens… These are all threats our world faces. We can no longer allow tragedies like Lagos to occur. So we in Wakanda will not let misfortune drive us back. We will fight to improve the world we wish to join. I am grateful to the Avengers for supporting this conference, as I am grateful to the rest of the world assembled here today. Wakanda is proud to extend its hand in peace to the rest of the world. I hope the rest of you will do the same.”

 King T’Chaka smiles.

 

 A few days later and all the news can talk about is the death of King T’Chaka, who passed away peacefully in his sleep mere hours after the Lagos Conference. This leaves his eldest son, a young man Loki recognises from the television broadcasts as a Prince T’Challa, as the new King of Wakanda.

 May there be no rest for the wicked, Loki thinks upon hearing the news, but peace for the good.

 There is little time to think on this however, as Loki is more distracted by his own problems. These being exactly: sneaking into one Peter Parker’s apartment without being noticed by his nosy Aunt.

 Loki can’t quite believe he’s doing this.

 Tracking down Peter isn’t hard – he just takes a quick look through Tony’s databases and bingo! Loki’s off to Queens.

 Also Spiderman?

 Loki’s heard better codenames.

 He’s lying on Peter’s messily-made bed, covers awfully crinkled, silently playing catch with a ball and the ceiling, when Loki hears the window go.

 There’s some shuffling, mumbling and footsteps, but Loki knows the exact moment he’s spotted when the room goes deathly silent.

 Loki glances to the side.

Peter Parker, mask off but otherwise clad entirely as Spiderman, stands half-way inside and outside of the window, mouth agape.

 “The Norse God of Mischief is in my bedroom,” Peter says.

 Crickets.

 “Yes, I am,” Loki replies, returning to his game of catch.

 “…Why is the Norse God of Mischief in my bedroom?”

 Loki catches the ball once more. “I need some advice,” he says.

 Peter promptly falls through his window and onto the floor.

 Loki decides not to laugh.

 But he really wants to.

 Peter jolts up, scrambling to his feet and brushing off his suit –

– and then he suddenly realises he’s wearing the Spiderman suit in front of Loki.

 “…Shit.”

 “Shit, indeed, young spiderling.”

 

 It’s the very early hours of the morning, when Peter finally settles. He’s been tip-toeing around his apartment, getting himself ready for the night, and when the boy finally returns, he settles down cross-legged on his floor, all the while rubbing a towel over his wet hair.

“So what advice did you need, Mr. Odinson?” Peter asks, discarding his towel to pop open a bag of crisps.

 “It’s Friggason,” Loki corrects, finally sitting up on the bed, mimicking Peter’s pose.

 Loki stares down at the boy.

 Peter offers him a crisp. “Cheese and Onion?”

 This is so stupid.

 Loki flops back down onto the bed face first.

 Why is he coming to a child for advice?

 Because you’re afraid that asking anyone else for help will change their opinion of you, Loki reminds himself.

 “What should I do regarding my situation with Strange?” Loki finally spits out, his head lying on the bed facing Peter.

 “Oh,” the boy says. “Is this about what I said at the Lagos Conference?” he asks, his eyebrows furrowing, his voice getting panicked. “Because I’m sorry, I think I overstepped my boundaries – ”

 “No, no, shush,” Loki says, zipping Peter’s lips shut with a spell. He sits up – Peter’s patting at his lips in confusion – and hangs a leg off the bed. “You were right. I cannot keep up this feud. The Universe demands our co-operation. But…” Loki stares at his hands, “Strange has betrayed my trust.”

I saved one brother and lost another.

 There is silence.

 “Well?” Loki asks sharply, looking up.

 Peter points to his lips.

 Oh.

 Loki undoes the spell, zipping Peter’s lips open, and mumbles his apologies to the boy.

 Peter is opening his mouth again and again, hands loosely around his face. “Magic is weird,” the boy says. “Say, is magic a form of energy or – ?”

 “Focus, Peter.”

 “Oh right, sorry,” he laughs, nervously, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Um, it might be helpful if I knew what Dr. Strange did exactly?”

Loki hates how the question makes his throat feel tight. “He – ” Loki tries. “He led me to make a decision that I think may have led to my brother’s – Thor’s – ”

 He can’t finish the sentence.

 Peter catches his drift nonetheless. “…I’m sorry,” he says.

 Loki sneers, “I’m fine.” He needs no pity but –

 “No, you’re not,” Peter says right back at him. “I mean, you’re here! In little old Penis Parker’s bedroom.”

 Penis Parker? Loki’s raising a brow – he knows teenage cruelty when he hears it, he practically invented it – but then Peter’s continuing, his voice sombre. “I know what it’s like, when you can do the things that we can, but you don’t, or you do the wrong thing and then the bad things happen… It’s easy to think they happen because of you. But, I’ve learnt recently, it’s not worth blaming yourself, or anyone else. It just… is. What’s important is what we do now.”

 Peter suddenly looks so small.

 “…You are wise beyond your years, Parkerson.”

 “It’s nothing,” Peter shrugs, but Loki shakes his head.

 “No, Peter, it’s something.” 

 

 Loki arrives at the New York Sanctum and finds it a mess.

 He’s come right after talking to Peter – has no idea if Strange will even be awake this late at night – but Loki was in the neighbourhood and just –

 He wants this all over and done with.

 But he knocks a good three times, and is about to give up when he gives the door a gentle push and it just slides open, easy as butter.

 And, yes, the grand entrance is just covered in trash.

 Scraps of paper, shirts strewn everywhere, empty mugs… Loki steps inside, his footsteps echoing around the chamber, and kneels down to pick up a scrawling. He flips it over, checking both sides, and finds it written in mostly gibberish.

 Except for one word.

 Bifrost.

 “Strange?” Loki calls into the chasm of the building. “Are you in?” He places the paper into his pocket and, hearing nothing, begins climbing the stairs up to the trophy room.

 Loki knows Strange is in the second he hears mumbling. Its frantic, delirious words, spilling out in Strange’s voice through the hallways and chambers. Loki follows the sound, up and through the halls until he reaches what he knows to be Strange’s office.

 Outside, the paper is piled high.

 Loki stands there, for a while. He raises his knuckles – should he knock? – but in the end decides, fuck it, and throws the door open.

 A man that should be Strange jumps at the sound, up from where he’s been hunched over a desk and – wow.

 The man is a mess.

 “Loki, what are you doing here?” Strange asks, eyes dead-tired, beard unkempt, clothes all wrinkled.

 It’s the worst Loki has ever seen him.

 “I’ve come for an apology,” Loki says, standing firm in the face of such – pathetic-ness? Is that the word?

 Strange doesn’t even seem to take in what he’s saying. “No, actually, good… Yes!” Strange rambles to himself. “This might just be – ” his eyes are darting everywhere, over the pages in front of him. Strange snatches up one page in particular and gives it a good thwack. “Yes! This will work!”

Loki feels – he feels – crestfallen. He hates how his eyes sting. “You won’t even listen to me. How typical. I was wrong, you aren’t apologetic at - ow!” Loki hisses, as Strange sneaks up behind him plucks a strand of hair from his head. “What the fuck, Strange?”

 “Just trust me,” Strange mumbles, walking around Loki and in the direction of his windows, dim with only the barest hint of light flickering through from the Manhattan street lights.

 All Loki’s rage comes back at once.

 Just trust me?

 “The nerve on you, Strange!” Loki snarls. “How can I trust you?! You have given me no reason!”

 “Oh, yeah?” Strange proudly chuffs. “Then look at this!” And, with the twist of his hands into two semi-circular motions, perfectly parallel to each other, an image appears in the air before them.

 A map, with a single blinking dot, dead in the centre.

 Loki recognises the constellations, the planets in this galaxy, almost immediately.

 He feels his breath hitch.

 Sakaar.

 Strange grins a crazy grin at him. “Thor’s alive. And he’s here.” Strange says, prodding at the flickering light on his map. “I knew you survived your fall from the Bifrost, so why couldn’t Thor? So I’ve been searching desperately, everywhere in the galaxy, and with your hair I could find any of your living relatives. This is the most irregular. It must be Thor.” Strange stares at him, expectantly. “Well?”

 “…I’m not related to Thor,” Loki says weakly.

 He takes one step back.

 “That’s why I did not think this would originally work, but then I realised. This form of yours? It is crafted in Odin’s image. The genetics may not be the same, but where magic is concerned, you are family.”

 Loki feels dizzy.

 Thor’s… alive?

 Perhaps it’s the shock, or perhaps it’s all the bad memories brought up in one sentence – Odin, his Jotun heritage – but this?

 It does not make Loki feel any better.

 It makes him angrier.

“I thank you for your efforts, but this does not fix our relationship, Strange,” Loki says between gritted teeth. He tries to keep his anger welled up in his knotted hands but Strange?

 This triggers something in Strange.

“Have I not fixed my ‘mistake?” He says, obviously offended. “Thor is alive, the timeline is intact – ”

 That’s it.

 Loki feels his anger snap.

 “It’s always the timeline with you!” Loki rages. “Well what about us?! Have you ever considered how much I have lost trying to save the universe? Thor, hates me! Norns, have you ever thought about how I feel?!”

 “I HAVE LOST JUST AS MUCH AS YOU!” Strange booms. “As soon as I arrived in the past, I quit my job and threw myself back into a life of the mystic arts despite having a choice! I cut off all my old friends for their safety, dropped off the face of the planet and the only consolation prize I had was that my hands were intact again. And you want to know how the universe played its cruel tricks on me?!” Strange laughs, manically and tragically. “My body was not prepared for the new power inside of me. I channelled one spell a little too hard and it fried the nerves in my hands. So no, I cannot stop, because otherwise all of this will have been for NOTHING!”

 The sounds echo in Loki’s ears.

 He dares a glance at Strange’s hands.

 They’re quaking.

 There’s a cavern of strewn paper between them.

 “Thank you, for finding Thor,” Loki eventually says, measured and slow, “but, gods, Strange, you have to stop making decisions for the world. You have to talk to me, to the Vision, we have to work together.” Loki makes the turn to leave. “The fate of the Universe does not rest on your shoulders alone.”

 It’s only once he’s in the cool night’s air that his new truth starts to sink in.

 Thor’s alive, Thor’s alive, Thor’s alive.

 And Loki knows exactly where he is.

 

 Loki makes his third pit stop of the night, if you could still call it that. The sun’s rising, as Loki breaks his way into Bruce and Natasha’s apartment, the birds chirping outside as he slips in the front door.

 Loki briefly grasps the scent of freshly brewed coffee yet, before he can get any further inside, there’s a kitchen knife at his throat and his favourite red-head in his path.

 “Loki?” Natasha asks, bewildered. “What are you doing here?” She lowers the knife, taking a step back, the tension easing from her shoulders.

 Loki gulps. “I need help.”

 She frowns, crossing her arms. Natasha’s wearing an oversized shirt – Loki thinks its Bruce’s – but Loki doesn’t doubt she’s been up for a few hours. “Are you being hunted?” Natasha asks – because why else would you come to an assassin asking for help.

 Loki shakes his head. “It’s not your help I need. It’s his,” he says, as Bruce steps bleary-eyed out of what looks like their bedroom.

 “Thor’s alive,” Loki continues. “And I need a Champion.” 

Chapter Text

  They leave for Sakaar as soon as physically possible.

  There’s a bit of rounding up to do – assembling the team, a ship. Natasha insists on coming along, as Loki finishes explaining the situation over breakfast at her and Bruce’s flat, the same morning he appeared mysteriously before them.

 “We’re stronger together,” Natasha says, squeezing Bruce’s hand. Smitten.

 It goes both way. Where Bruce seems more comfortable – relaxed – with Natasha at his side, in the same way, he smooths Natasha’s harsh edges, calms her damaged nerves.

 They stop by the Avengers tower before returning to Asgard, mainly so Natasha can pick up some proper equipment, but Loki makes an effort of pulling Tony aside when he notices the man is free.

 Tony, hands in his pockets, has his brow raised as Loki tries to form a coherent sentence. His hands are tightly linked together, as he tries to say, “I think I have – ” Loki stops. “I was – ” He takes a deep breath. “I need to apologise to Strange,” Loki finally utters, the words sounding foreign on his tongue.

 “Pffft, you? Apologising?” Tony scoffs. “Who are you and what have you done with Loki?”

 Loki shoots Stark a sharp glare. “I was wrong, I admit it! I placed too much responsibility for Thor’s ‘death’ on him, and now he’s just been ostracised by our entire group! The man is a wreck so – please, go check in on him while we’re gone?”

“Okay, okay, I will!” Tony says, raising his hands up in surrender. “Geez, greasy, don’t get your panties in a twist… But – uh – just answer me this. What changed your mind?” Stark asks. “Out of mere curiosity.”

 Loki purses his lips. “A young Peter Parker reminded me the Avengers are stronger together than divided.”

 As soon as Natasha and Bruce return, they collectively head straight back to Asgard, leaving Tony with his own task back on Earth.

 As expected, Frigga is waiting for them with Heimdall at the bridge between worlds, happy tears in her eyes, and she runs forwards to embrace her son, laughing. Loki had sent a message ahead, about Thor, and so he’s more than okay with accepting her embrace.

 Then he hears the sound of camera snap.

 “What?” Natasha says, smirking, her phone aimed right at him, as Loki pulls away from his mother to give the Black Widow the stink eye. She blinks innocently. “I have to show the others the intangible proof that you have a heart.”

 Loki hears Bruce struggling to hide his guffaw.

 He leaves his humans with Frigga for a while – as she sets them up with a ship for their travels – and instead goes to tackle a harder challenge:

 Bringing Hela along for the ride.

 Loki finds his sister in her room – he knocks before he enters – surrounded by her own mess. Like a teenage girl, Hela lies spread across her grand poster bed, oddly polished in comparison to her other spoils lying in the floor’s wake.

 “What is it you want, brother?” Hela asks, reading a book on her back, barely sparing Loki a glance.

 Loki steps over what looks like an ogre’s severed hand – it’s starting to smell – and past a chest of stained axes, and towards his sister. He takes a glance over her shoulder, her hair hanging off the side of the bed.

Looks like Hela’s reading an Earth novel, the cover well worn – Wuthering Heights?

“Jane leant it to me,” Hela deadpans, dropping her book onto her chest. “Again, what is it you want?”

 “Thor’s alive,” Loki replies, dropping his hands into his pockets. Might as well come out with it.

 “Grand,” Hela says. She goes back to reading. “And this concerns me because…?”

 He’s our brother, Loki thinks, bitterly.

 “I need your help to bring him home,” he says instead.

 “And why should I do that?”

 “Because otherwise I’ll tell mother that you didn’t come to the last council meeting because you were too busy showing off for Jane at Barton’s birthday party.”

 Loki catches Hela nearly drop her book onto her face.

 Ten minutes later, Loki and Hela show up at Asgard’s flight bay, one sibling much happier than the other.

 Hela might just be sulking.

 Frigga waves when she sees them approach, standing beside what Loki recognises as one of Asgard’s new carrier jets. He had them commissioned especially – as part of his defence program Odin originally rejected – knowing Asgard may soon need more ways off planet than just the Bifrost. Once his mother had come to the throne, she had passed the decree without a second thought, and so before them now sits a sleek bronze-coloured craft, wings mimicking that of an Asgardian chariot, enough power inside to take them to Sakaar and back easily.

 “Everything’s ready, my son,” Frigga says, reaching out for her son’s hands, all the while pulling them off too the side. “Are you?” she asks.  

 Loki nods. “Though I may have more to deal with on this trip than I bargained for…”

 He takes a look back at his mismatched group. Bruce gives Natasha a kiss on the forehead, before trotting inside the ship, most likely to examine the Asgardian technology, but Hela remains, leaning against the ship’s hull, quite obviously chatting the Black Widow up.

 His damn sister can’t control herself for even a minute.

 “Your sister is a handful at the best of times,” Frigga quips, a smile in her voice. “Though… If what you told me about the past is true…”

 The truth hangs silent in the air.

 Their last trip to Sakaar ended with the destruction of Asgard.

 Loki strokes his thumb over his mother’s hand. His gaze hangs on Hela, watches his sister make Natasha laugh.

 “She’s a different person, this time around,” Loki decides. “We both are. In some respects, this timeline has been kind to us.”

 Frigga sighs. “Nonetheless, as much as I hate it, Asgard’s security must come above family squabbles. I shall have the army on high alert. If what you say is true, and that this timeline wants nothing more than to correct itself… then we must prepare for the worst.”

 Loki scowls. Can the universe not be kind to them, for once? For his mother’s sake.

 Loki – thinking ‘screw it if Natasha’s watching’ – leans up to kiss his mother on the forehead, and promises her with all his might, “I will return home soon, mother, with Thor at my side.”

 And seeing his mother smile at the words? It’s worth what ever black-mail Natasha has on him now.

 

 They set out the plan on the trip over.

 Loki stands before the main hub’s table, Bruce, Natasha and Hela sitting facing him. With a few clicks on the control panel, a holographic display flickers up before them, plastered on it the Grandmaster’s face.

 “This,” Loki explains to his small ensemble, “is the ruler of Sakaar, a man known only as the ‘Grandmaster.’ He hosts games, where he forces the lost souls who fall to Sakaar to fight each other for glory. I have discovered that Thor – having fallen here – is the Grandmaster’s champion, the best of the best, his most precious fighter.” Loki doesn’t actually know this, more this is what he assumes. What mortal would be able to conquer him? “As a consequence of Thor’s procured fame,” Loki continues, “it is likely that there will be lots of security, bodyguards, sensors, cameras… All provided to keep Thor contained. This is where you come in Bruce.”

 Banner shuffles, somewhat uncomfortably at the attention, but still asks, “You said you needed a champion. Does that mean…?”

 “We’re going to need to throw the Hulk’s figurative hat in the ring,” Loki confirms. “The arena is the one place Thor won’t be guarded, meaning the Hulk will be able to convey our intentions to Thor. Once Thor knows we are prepared for his rescue, he will seek us out.”

 “Why can’t you do it?” Banner still tries. “Or Hela? Why’s it gotta be the Hulk?”

 Collectively, the group turns to glance at Hela. She’s looking at Bruce with obvious distain. “Do you really think itty-bitty Thor would listen to me?”

 Bruce opens his mouth to respond – his eyes do a once over of Hela – and then thinks better of it.

 Loki glances at his sister himself. She’s even brought her book along with her now, and as soon as she realises the conversation is done with her, she gives them all the middle finger and goes back to her book.

 Yeah, Hela isn’t their best bet.

 “Thor’s not likely to want to talk to me either,” Loki confesses. He grips the edge of the table. “We… did not leave our relationship on a good foot. Thor needs a reminder of what else he’s left behind other than just Asgard, and you and Natasha are a good example of this.”

 “So what?” Natasha asks. “I’m on socialising duty?”

 Loki nods. “We’re going to need to get the Hulk past the door in the first place, and we may need to keep the Grandmaster distracted later in our escape. Thankfully,” Loki grins, crossing his arms, “our target is easily charmed. With us two on the flirting offensive, my dear Natasha, we’re going to get that man wrapped around our little fingers.”

 Natasha smirks, rubbing her hands together greedily. “Oh, this is going to be fun.

 “What about me?” Hela suddenly asks. “What am I? A roasted boar leg? What’s my mission? Everyone else got one.”

 You’re mainly here as a Ragnarok contingency plan, Loki thinks.

 That doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought up a purpose for his sister.

 “You’re the muscle,” Loki says. “Anyone steps out of line? Threaten them. They step out of line twice?” Loki’s grin gets slightly more maniacal. “Stab them.

 Hela finally discards her book, leaning forwards on her knees, her eyes excited. “Now we’re talking, little brother.”

 “Jesus Christ, how is Thor related to you two?” Loki hears Bruce mumble, and Natasha just pats her boyfriend on the knee in sympathy.

 “No one else gets it either, big guy.”

 

  The Grandmaster is waiting for them when their ship docks in Sakaar.

  Loki steers them into the city – through the reverse end of what Loki remembers to be the ‘Devil’s Anus’ – and watches as the familiar sight of the city, built on scraps and debris, fly into sight.

 Natasha and Bruce stand hesitantly awe-struck at the window – this is their second new planet in a day, Loki realises – and the two link hands as they begin to land.

 The plane’s hanger opens to reveal the Grandmaster stood in the same fluorescent garb that Loki remembers, flanked by two guards and Topaz, stern faced as ever, melty-stick in hand. 

 “Guests! Wow!” The Grandmaster says. “Look Topaz, can you actually believe it?”

 “No, Grandmaster. I can’t.” Topaz says, completely emotionless.

 At least put some effort in, Loki thinks. But then –

 “Oh my goodness, Topaz! I’ve never heard you so surprised!” The Grandmaster cries.This must have really rattled you to your bones, eh?”

 And, to Loki’s confusion, the Grandmaster seems deathly serious about this fact, as Topaz then stares the Grandmaster dead in the eyes and says, “The last time I was this surprised was when my cousin unexpectedly died of food poisoning.”

 Wow.

 Loki hasn’t missed these people.

 He decides to cut this particular conversation short, leaving the ship with Natasha at his side. She’s dressed in the attire of an Asgardian Royal – Loki managed to pinch some of Sif’s dresses before they left – a flowing red wrap, covered with a black cloak, her hair falling over her shoulders.

The Grandmaster looks keen as the two of them approach, eyes appreciative and curious. Loki feels the smugness settle in his stomach at a well-planned arrival; this man is already hanging on their every word, and they’ve not yet spoken.

 “Grandmaster,” Loki purrs, stretching out his hand. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

 The Grandmaster picks up eagerly on Loki’s queues. “Oh,” he says, accepting the offered hand and kissing its surface. “No no, the pleasure is all mine.”

 Check.

 “You are?”

 “Loki Friggason, of Asgard.”

 “And I’m Natasha Romanoffdottir,” Natasha mimics. She batts her eyelids at the Grandmaster. “Also of Asgard.”

 There’s a giddy look to the Grandmaster’s smile.

 And mate.

 He breathes, “Oh, honey, look – ”

 But, “My name is Topaz,” Topaz interrupts.

 The Grandmaster scrunches up his brow. “No – no, it’s a term of endearment. Topaz, how have you never – ?” The Grandmaster rolls his eyes with the shake of his head. “People these days,” he jokes at Loki, before asking, “No, what I was going to ask is what has brought Asgard of all planets to our humble door?”

“We’ve heard about your Contest of Champions, and would like to propose a contender,” Loki explains.

 The Grandmaster tilts his head. “A contender? To fight who exactly?”

 Loki smiles innocently, while Natasha answers, “Your champion, of course, who else?”

 There’s a gasp from the Grandmaster. “My champion?” He holds his hands to his mouth in feigned surprise. “Who would you have fight my champion?”

 Natasha, ever the perfect actress, laughs along, saying, “We promise our contendor put on a good show. The Hulk is one of Asgard’s fiercest warriors, and previously our greatest enemy. Hela!” she calls out. “Bring out the prisoner!”

 And, just when they have the Grandmaster looking anxious, out walks Bruce, chained up by his hands, kicked along and out of the ship by Hela behind him. They play their roles well – Bruce brutish but cautious, Hela – well, this just her normal character.

 The Grandmaster gives Bruce a once over. He raises a brow. “Are we – are we looking at the same guy? Are you sure you didn’t accidentally leave your actual champion at a bus stop somewhere?” His attention shifts back to Hela, standing tall. “See, she, looks like a champion! Why not have her fight instead?”

 Loki shakes his head. “I assure you, the Hulk here will give your champion a run for his money.”

 The Grandmaster considers this.

 And takes the bait.

 “Well, this is convenient timing,” he hums, rocking back and forth on the heels of his feet. “I had to melt my Champions opponent for tonight, a real shame, I just couldn’t let him go walking around telling people my secret cocktail mix… So yes, the Hulk shall fight tonight! But are there any prizes? Bets?”

 Loki tries to look as if he’s thinking these conditions up on the spot, as if they’re not perfectly planned around the Grandmaster’s susceptibility to gambling. “Why don’t we say, if the Hulk loses, and lives to tell the tale, you can keep him for any future matches? But! If your Champion loses?” Loki smirks. “Well, he’s just going to have to come with us.”

 

 The arena is just as Loki remembers; bright lights, packed full to brim with people of all kinds, screaming so loud its deafening... While Loki and Natasha take their seats in the Grandmaster’s private box, a towering hologram of their host fills the space, rallying on his attentive audience.

 “Are you ready for this?” Natasha asks, as they focus their gaze through the wide glass and down onto the

 Loki raises an eyebrow at her, and tries to joke, “Alas, I am not the one fighting, Natasha. You are asking that question to the wrong man.”  But his joke lands numbly to Natasha’s withering gaze.

  He has to joke because, deep down, Loki doesn’t know if he’s ready for this.

 To see Thor again.

 “ – now, ladies and gentlemen!” The Grandmaster’s voice crackles in over the speaker system. “The moment you’ve allll been waiting for!” And there’s a bright flash, fireworks going off in rapid succession, bright yellow bolts flickering through the air. “Let’s get ready to welcome this guy – here he comes!” The ground begins to shake as the Grandmaster continues, “He’s undefeated, our reigning champion, the defending, I feel as if I have a special connection with him” the steel door begins to rise open. Loki sits hunched forwards in his seat in anticipation. “I give you – ” the door flies open with a crash of electricity, and a figure is hurled forwards through the air, “ – the looooooord of THUNDERRR!”

 Thor lands, right in the centre of the ring, to an explosion of cheers.

 But Loki –

 “Oh for gods sakes, not the hair again!” Loki shouts, effectively silencing the Grandmaster’s private box.

 He doesn’t care though.

 Thor’s hair is gone.

Again.

 “…It looks pretty hot,” Natasha says, as the room slowly begins to chatter again. She takes a sip of her cocktail.  

 “Natasha!”

 This is the cruellest trick the timeline has paid them yet.

 Otherwise, Thor looks strong and actually – happy. He’s wearing armour similar to their first time on Sakaar, just more polished, that of a champion, and – Loki shuffles forwards in his seat, squints.

 Is that an eyepatch?

 It hits Loki all at once.

 He sits back in his seat, somewhat startled.

 Thor lost his eye.

 Again.

 Yet, Loki doesn’t have the time to dwell much longer, as the Grandmaster’s soon picks up where he left off:

 “Yes, yes, we all love the Lord of Thunder, but what about tonight’s challenger? He looks – uh – well, I’m promised he’s quite tough, got a few tricks up his sleeves, I’ll say no more, see what you think, he is the incredibleeee –

 The Hulk bursts through the door, baring his chest and screaming.

 “ – holy shit!” The Grandmaster cries. “That’s not the same guy from earlier! Topaz, what’s - ” and the feed of the Grandmaster cuts out, the Hulk instead bounding towards a very shocked Thor, a large grin on his green face.

 “THOR! HULK COME BRING THOR HOME!”

 The audience is, for once in their lives, speechless.

 So, Thor’s voice rings out crystal clear as, “What’re you - ?” Thor stammers. “How’re you - ?” He laughs. “Banner, it’s so good to see you!”

 The Hulk frowns. “Not puny Banner. Hulk!”

 “Ah, yes,” Thor says, jogging forwards to give the Hulk a nice pat on the forearm. “My mistake, my giant friend.” And, Thor turns to the crowd, speaking out, “This, my loyal fans, is the Hulk! We have fought many battles together, and won! Go on, pose for the crowd, Incredible Hulk!”

 On his insistence, the Hulk turns attention to the crowd. They stare down at him, silently.

 And then the Hulk flexes, and lets out a mighty roar.

 The crowd goes wild.

 Meanwhile, there’s some commotion behind them. The Grandmaster bursts into his box – Loki’s not really seen the man fuming before – making a beeline right for the two of them on the couch. “You two! You lied to me!”

 Loki raises a brow. “We did no such thing. We told you he was strong.”

 “Told me?” The Grandmaster splutters. “You should have shown me! I would never have – ”

 “Wait,” Natasha says, shushing both of the men. “Listen.”

 “So Thor come home now?” The Hulk is asking, but Thor –   

 “Sorry, buddy, I can’t. I – I – ” Thor’s searching, quite obviously, for an excuse. “I have a show to put on!”

 The dread starts to settle.

 Thor doesn’t want to leave.

 “But ‘Tasha here! ‘Tasha always make Hulk not hurt. Paint Hulks nails! Pretty, see?”

 “Natasha can paint my nails later, Hulk. We have a crowd to entertain first!” Thor tries, spreading his arms wide to the cheers of his waiting audience.

 The Hulk seems to consider this, his head titled to the side in deep concentration. “Okay, Thor. ‘Tasha later, show now,” the Hulk relents. “But Thor talk to brother after too! He sad without Thor.”

 Thor pales. “…Loki’s here?”

 …Shit, Loki thinks.

 

 

 The fight is perhaps the friendliest ever to take place on Sakaar’s soil, with neither the Hulk nor Thor being invested enough to do the other any real harm. Yet, the crowd eat it in, screaming wildly with every blow, joke or even hug shared between the two Avengers.

 They’re in the after-party stage now, and the last Loki saw, the Grandmaster was having a rather fabulous conversation with Natasha and the Hulk (who had insisted on holding Natasha’s hand from the second he saw her, absolutely refusing to leave her side) giving Loki the opportunity to sneak off and find Thor.

 Loki does a quick turn-around the party in sight of Hela but no-one has even seen her since the fight. The Hulk tells Loki that she was backstage with him, right until the last minute, but she never emerged afterwards.

 There’s no time for this, sadly, and so Loki dismisses his worry in favour of finding Thor. It doesn’t take long – not when the ‘Lord of Thunder’ is the man of the hour. Loki soon finds him at the bar, surrounded by a collection of admirers. He’s sat in the seat of honour, a glass in his hand, the liquid sloshing around inside as he moves, dramatically telling a tale Loki must have heard a thousand times before.

 His brother is, so obviously, drunk.

 Loki resists the urge to groan – Thor just had to make this harder on them both – and continues pushing forwards, through the crowds and the blaring lights of the festivities.  

  “Thor,” Loki calls, as he makes it to the front of the queue. “I need a word.”

 And Thor twists around in his seat, as if he’s heard a ghost.

 “Loki!” he growls, his voice slightly slurred.No, no, you’re going to try and make me leave. I’m not having it! Brunn-Brunn, kick the ass of this man!” Thor decrees, nudging the woman sitting next to him all the while pointing a finger right at his Brother’s nose.

 Much to Loki’s horror, ‘Brun-Brun’ reveals herself to be Valkyrie, the woman leaning on Thor’s side, now staring at Loki with blood and fury in her gaze.

 Ohhhh, fuck.

 Loki really didn’t want to deal with this woman again.

 Yet – Valkyrie leans comically slow towards Thor, just to stage whisper, “Is that your brother?”

 “Yes!”

 “What’s ‘e doing here?”

  “He’s come to kidnap me!

 Valkyrie stares at Loki a little longer. He’s tried to remain perfectly still, perfectly calm, but – yes, he can feel himself starting to sweat.

 It’s for no real reason.

 Just when Loki’s thinks Valkyrie is about to force him out, she instead cups her hands around her mouth and begins to shout, “WHEN I SAY ASGARD, YOU SAY SUCKS! ASGARD?”

 “SUCKS!” The entire crowd chimes back at Valkyrie.

 Including Thor.

 “ASGARD?”

 “SUCKS!”

 For the Norn’s sake.

 “Thor, please, we can come right back,” Loki says, like a liar, at his ropes end. He stomps forwards so he can wrap his arm around Thor’s back and lug him to his feet. At this point, his brother is so drunk that he puts up very little resistance, and Valkyrie is so drunk that she’s mostly content to continue her chant of Asgard sucking.

 Hardly anyone even notices, as Loki pulls Thor right out of the room and down the corridor.

 

 “You’re the worst brother, ever,” Thor mutters, as they approach what Loki presumes his Thor’s quarters.

 “No, you’re the worst brother ever,” Loki parrots back. “I come to pick you up from this rotten planet and then you’re not even grateful.”

 He gives Thor a pat over, looking for a key, but Thor just brushes him off and booms, “Open!” and, open sesame, the door slides open.

 Hm.

 That’s quite distasteful.

 Thor doesn’t seem to care though, as now he goes staggering forwards, landing face first onto his rather large, overly patterned bed. 

 Loki questions why he wanted his idiot of a brother back home in the first place.

 Nonetheless, Loki – with a sigh – kneels down at the edge of Thor’s bed, untying his brother’s shoe laces. Thor would have – or well, once he may have – done the same for him. And he’s trying to prove he’s the good guy, this time.

 As he’s fussing over his brother, Loki realises that Thor’s been mumbling to himself this entire time, and tunes himself into Thor’s once sided conversation:

 “ – the Grandmaster’s great,” Thor hiccups to himself, his face pressed into the sheets. “He made my voice door for me. I love my voice door. It’s like my hammer. But a door.” Thor pauses in his babbling. “…I miss my hammer. It’s here. But hammer doesn’t like Thor when Thor not worthy. And Thor doesn’t feel worthy anymore.”

 Loki’s moved onto fetching his brother a glass of water – there’s an ensuite, just what did Thor do to get the Grandmaster to like him so much? Loki didn’t even get an ensuite – but the babbling stops him in his steps, just as he’s about to place the glass down.

 Otherwise unaware, Thor continues. “Sakaar is soooooo much better than Asgard. Everyone likes me here. No, they loooooooooooooove me! On Asgard…” Drunk Thor frowns. “Loki,” he suddenly begins, shifting so he can see his brother, “do you like Hela more than me? No, don’t answer, I know you do. Everyone likes Hela more than me. Even Jane. The only person who liked me best was Father and he’s dead and he banished me.” Then Drunk Thor grabs a pillow and covers his head.

 Loki – he – he doesn’t –

 The glass nearly slips from his hands.

 What do you do when – Should he – ?

 He hadn’t really thought about all this, not from Thor’s point of view.

 Loki decides to do something really stupid.

 Carefully, he sits down on the side of the bed next to Thor and – his hand hovers for a second – no, do it, Loki – he places his hand on Thor’s head, runs his fingers through his hair.

 He waits, just long enough so he knows Thor won’t pull away.

 And decides to give Thor the only piece of home he can in this moment. Loki begins to sing, ever so quietly, “Hush, my little prince, won’t you sleep for me? I’m by your side, singing this lullaby…”

 

 Thor is the one who comes to find Loki the next morning.  

 He’s gone around calling out for Loki all through the common areas of the tower, out of windows, into different cupboards and jars.

 (Loki has to admit, he has hidden in weirder places than the pickle jar Thor just screamed his name into.)

 For a while, upon finding his brother at this game, Loki just… watches. He hides in the shadows, follows Thor around, not really sure why.

 Loki places a hand on the chest – Thor’s looking under the sofa, of all things – feels his heart flutter.

 He waits until Thor is alone – about to give up his search – to reveal himself.

 “You called?” he says, stepping out from behind a pillar, and watches as Thor jumps a good foot in the air.

 “Loki,” Thor breathes in a rush, “gods, I nearly punched you! Don’t surprise me like that!”

 So, does this mean Thor doesn’t want to punch him anymore? Loki has to say he’s somewhat happy to hear that. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop him from teasing, “Just like old times, brother?”

 Thor stares at him, somewhat wistfully. “You always did love stabbing me when we were children.” He claps Loki hard on the shoulder. “Come, we have much to discuss.”

 “Why can’t we talk here?”

 Thor stills, just as he is about to pull away. He shakes his head. “Too many prying ears. Besides,” and Thor does something that makes Loki’s breath catch in hope; he smiles at him, even going as far as to wink. “I know where to catch the best view.”

 

 “So, I don’t quite understand,” Thor says. The two brothers are sitting on the rooftop, their legs dangling off the edge. Loki can feel the wind blowing through his hair, can hear the city whirring and living below them. “I attacked you, on Asgard, because I did not think you were my brother,” Thor continues. “My Loki would never give the Tesseract to Thanos, not without good reason. Combined with what father told me… I thought you were a fake,” he confesses. “But, last night… I do not recall much but…”

 Thor goes silent. For a moment, all Loki can hear is the wind.

 “You sung the lullaby mother sung to us as children,” Thor says, his voice barely above a whisper. He stares out on the city as he says, “No fraud would know that.” And now Thor looks at him, eyebrows furrowed, “I am confused. I don’t quite know who you are.”

 Loki’s fumbling his hands over his hands, wringing them over in anxiety.

 “I am your brother,” Loki confirms. Yet –

 “Yet that is not the whole truth,” Loki finally lets himself confess.

 So much planning, so many restless nights, thoughts of a safer future –

 It all leads to Thor speaking to his brother at the top of a city of lost souls, “I’m listening.”

 And so Loki starts at the beginning.

 “It all began a very long time ago now, when I let the Frost Giants into Asgard on the day of your coronation. I did it because…”

 

 “…and so I traded the Tesseract for your life,” Loki says, coming to the end of his tale. “Afterwards, to make a long story short, I died. Thanos choked me to death. But then I – I woke up. Home. With mother at my side, and you hovering over me… It was Strange, he’d rewound when Thanos was about to acquire the Time Stone. A select few of us remember the original events…” Loki trails off, letting Thor fill in the rest of the gaps.

 It’s taken a long time, a few hours at least, to tell the whole story. The sun has shifted in the sky, the world slowly growing quieter bellow them…

 “Did you know father would die in mother’s place?” Thor finally asks, as quiet as a mouse.

 Loki feels his stomach drop. “Gods, no,” he says. “I won’t deny, I have hated him for a very long time. But did I wish him dead…” Loki shakes his head. “He was still my father.”  

 Thor swallows audibly. “So everything you’ve done since…” Loki sees Thor’s hands clench. And then – “Norns, Loki, I owe you an apology.”

– then Thor catches Loki right off guard.

 “What?” he says, somewhat baffled.

 “All this time, you’ve been trying to save me – the universe! – and I was too focused on how Hela made me feel inferior, or how angry I felt at fate, to notice what you were really doing, right under my nose.”

 Loki gulps. “I’m just doing it to save my own skin,” he says weakly.

 But Thor shakes his head, and says with a knowing smile, “No you aren’t.”

 They sit comfortably, in the quiet surrounding them, again for a moment.

 Loki rolls his shoulders. He lets some of the tension ease out of them.

 And then, he asks, “So you believe me?”

 “I’m pretty sure,” Thor says. “I just – Loki,” Thor says, twisting his body to face his brother, reaching out to clasp the man tightly on the shoulder, “I have one more thing to ask of you, then I will be sure.”

 “I’ll do anything,” Loki answers, without a hint of doubt.

 

 Stupid brother.

 Loki kicks another can out of his way, as he treks through one of Sakaar’s many junkyards.

 Idiotic Thor.

 The can lands a few meters off with a satisfying klunk.

 Doesn’t make Loki feel any better though.

 Why did he have to ask for that, Loki thinks to himself, shoving his hands angrily into his pockets. Of all the things, the one thing Loki can’t do.

 Loki kicks an old microwave this time – he has no clue how it’s managed to make its way from Earth to here – and the metal is so rusted that his foot goes right through it.

 Why couldn’t Odin have just left him to die on Jotunheim? Then he wouldn’t be related to the god of fucking twats.

 Loki eventually finds it, Thor’s hammer, at the top of a mountain of junk. He climbs to the top, stumbling a few times as he causes a little landslide of trash, but he makes it.

 And then, he just… glares at it. 

 “I’ll trust you again if you bring me Mjlonir,” Loki mocks in his brother’s voice, “I’ll set my brother an impossible task just so I can see him fail!”

 Either Thor really hates him or he’s really fucking naïve.

 How could Loki ever be worthy?

 “I hate this hammer so much!” Loki growls, giving Mjolnir a solid kick, not caring if it breaks his foot.

 Instead, the hammer goes flying through the air, bouncing down the mountain of trash before it.

 Loki’s mouth drops open.

 He just moved Mjolnir.

 “…Huh.”

Loki carries Mjolnir back to the city cradled in his arms, apologising profusely to the hammer for kicking it down trash mountain.

 In his defence, how was he to know he was worthy?

Chapter Text

 When Loki returns to the Grandmaster’s tower, Mjolnir still held tightly to his chest, he finds Thor in his quarters, sat at a table talking to Valkyrie.

She’s sat facing Thor, her hands cupped around a beer bottle, her face stern, and Loki can’t see his brother too clearly – his back to the door – but Loki hovers in the doorway for a minute – watching – unsure whether this is a situation he should intrude on or not.

 He was never very good at understanding Valkyrie.

 Right now, however, there is no room for hesitation. Loki raps his knuckles on the door frame and – as Valkyrie nudges Thor in his direction – his brother perks up at the sight of him.

 A little bit of fear eases from his chest.

 “Brother!” Thor beams, now jogging over, ever the puppy, and clapping his arm over Loki’s shoulder. “You have returned with Mjolnir! I knew you could do it! Valkyrie here said you’d break your nose trying.”

 Nose?

 Loki squints his eyes at Valkyrie. “Why my nose?”

Valkyrie takes a swig of her beer. “The hammer would be so insulted you tried to pick it up that it would punch you in the face.”

 Loki blinks.

 Wonderful. Yes, it seems he’s not encouraged any loyalty with Valkyrie in this timeline either.

“But she was wrong!” Thor continues, oblivious, giving Loki a hearty pat and then moving back to Valkyries’ side. “You, my brother, are worthy!”

 Loki never thought he’d hear those words.

 He coughs – perhaps self-consciously – and wishes he could disappear.

 Praise.

“I’ve retrieved your glorified paper-weight and you’ve made your fuss,” Loki says, holding Mjolnir out in front of him,so can we now please get off this god-forsaken planet?”

 Thor waves him off, sitting back down next to Valkyrie. “Just put Mjolnir down to the side for now – I’ve been discussing our departure with Brunnhilde.”

 “Why’s that?” Please don’t say she’s decided to come –  

 “I’m coming along,” Valkyrie says, smirking and holding her palm up.

 Thor gives her a smashing high-five.

 Loki internally groans.

 “I thought you hated Asgard?” he tries weakly, placing Mjolnir carefully down, sensing they may be here for a while yet.

 “I do,” Valkyrie replies in answer to his question. “But I don’t hate Thor. And since Odin’s not in charge anymore?” Valkyrie downs her drink, and then smashes the bottle onto the floor. “Fuck it. If Asgard’s up for change, I’ve got to be there to kick its ass into shape.”

 “Mother is going to love you,” Thor reminisces, nudging Valkyrie with his shoulder and – Loki gives Valkyrie a look over, before begrudgingly admitting to himself, yeah, Mother is going to love her. “So, Loki, what is it we need to do now?”

 Loki – he holds out his hand, Mjolnir comes flying into it – gods, he’s always wanted to do that – and throws it back and forth between his hands as he thinks.

 “We’re going to have to reunite with Natasha and Bruce – or, uh, the Hulk. And we’re going to have to find out where Hela fucked off to, but – ”

 “Wait, who?” Valkyrie interrupts. She glances at Thor. “He is not talking about who I think he’s talking about, right?”

 But Thor’s gone slightly pale himself. “…I didn’t know sister followed you here.”

 That’s enough to confirm Valkyrie’s suspicions.

 “You brought the murderous hag with you?!” She shouts, launching to standing, her chair toppling back behind her.

 Oh boy.

 Loki raises his hands in surrender, dropping Mjolnir to the floor as he does so. “In my defence, she hasn’t murdered anyone in quite a while.”

 “She killed my wife!”

 Yikes.

 “Well this escalated quickly.”

 Valkyrie, now right in Loki’s face, spits, her hands wrenched in Loki’s shirt, “My sisters and I, we gave our lives to keep that monster contained, and now she’s just roaming freely? For thousands of years, I was kept alive only by the thought of that woman rotting.”

 Loki’s getting really tired of arguments.

 “She’s changing,” he says, brushing the spit off his face. “Our sister is far from perfect, but she’s learning and growing, and I have known assassins and monsters who have flourished upon being given a second chance. It would be hypocritical of me to not give her a second chance. So, please,” he implores, speaking to Valkyrie but looking at Thor, “just work with her long enough so we can escape from this ruddy scrap heap.”

Valkyrie relents.  

 

 Their group is ominously quiet as they walk through the corridors.

 Valkyrie – Loki figures from taking a quick look behind him – appears to be sulking.

 Thor, in contrast, is deep in thought. He’d refused Mjolnir, when Loki offered it back to him – normally Loki would take that to mean his brother’s upset but he doesn’t look perturbed.

 Just thoughtful.

 Loki’s making his way towards Natasha’s room, hoping he’ll be able to find her and Bruce there. Perhaps they would have gathered some information on Hela’s whereabouts, since Loki’s venture into the city for Mjolnir, and then they can all get the hell off this planet.

 They reach the room with little fuss – no mishaps, no crossed-paths – the hallways beginning to flitter with artificial light, the evening beginning to fall. Walking up to Natasha’s door – paint chipping away from the metal – Loki raps his knuckles on it three times.

 “Come in!” the Grandmaster’s voice echoes from inside.

 Uh.

Loki twists to look at Thor with panic in his eyes.

Thor and Valkyrie mimic his expression of ‘oh shit.’

“Stay out here,” Loki hisses, his voice a whisper, before composing himself – he coughs once, straightens his jacket – and pushing the door open and into the room.

 The Grandmaster is sitting cross-legged on the bed, eating from a large bowl of popcorn, chattering away to Natasha and the Hulk – Natasha on the chair by the bed, flicking a dagger between her fingers, the Hulk sat hunched in the corner, his shoulders slightly too large for the room.

 They both look like they’re ready to slaughter the Grandmaster then and there.

  “Loki, my chum,” the Grandmaster says, waving the popcorn bowl around as he speaks, “We were hoping you’d pop by. Now we’re all together, we can discuss the results of our bet, you know, concerning our champions.”

Loki’s already on guard at this news – especially with how tense Natasha is looking – so he just turns up the charm and hopes for the best. “Yes, it’s a shame that nothing came of it, what with the results being a draw,” Loki says, not quite expecting the Grandmaster to reply to quickly:

 “See yes, I did think that too. Our crowd just loved you, Hulk,” he says, now changing his address. “So, I was thinking, why don’t you stay here? Continue your show? I can promise you I’d make it worth your time.”

 “Hold on – ” Natasha’s interrupting.

 And “This wasn’t – ” Loki’s arguing, feeling his ire rise.

 But “As Champion?” the Hulk asks contemplatively, effectively silencing his teammates.

 Loki notices – only because he knows the woman so well at this point – Natasha frieze, horrified but silent as long as the Hulk thinks through his desires.

 “As a conqueror of enemies!” the Grandmaster elaborates, as if he’s realised his opportunity here.

 Appeal to the beast.

 He fails.

 “Master want Hulk as Monster.” The Hulk shakes his head.  “Hulk s’not that. Hulk stay with friends,” he decides with an affirmative nod, and Loki sees Natasha relax.

 Love, huh?

 “Oh, how disappointing,” the Grandmaster says. “I was afraid you’d say that. Now I’m going to have to get nasty.”

 “Nasty?” Loki repeats, twisting the word uncomfortably in his mouth.

 Oh dear.

 “See, you lost our bet, Asgardian,” the Grandmaster says, rising to his feet. “The Hulk did not beat my Lord of Thunder in combat, as per our agreement. So your Hulk? He’s mine.”

 What a shitty loophole.

 Loki sees Natasha from the corner of his eye ready the dagger in her hand, she looks furious, and he’s not even sure whether they should fight or flee here, when the Grandmaster speaks again:

 “So, pals, what’s it going to be?”

 And – as if to answer the question for them – in one swift swing – the Hulk punches the Grandmaster through the wall. 

 Loki barely has time to blink.

 …Well, that’s one way of turning the Grandmaster down.

 “Hulk stay with ‘Tasha,” the Hulk says to the Grandmaster’s unconscious body, then stomping over to Natasha and placing a comforting hand on her head.

 Natasha – the tension finally gets to her. “I love you too, buddy,” she says quietly, and the Hulk grins.

 Then Thor’s throwing the door open and storming in, all panicked and hurried, shouting, “Brother! We heard a crash what – ” Thor does a once over of the room and the rubble “ – oh.”

 “Thor!” the Hulk waves. “No worry! Hulk smashed Bad Master!”

 The pure confusion on Thor’s face is priceless. 

 “…You know what, I like this one,” Valkyrie says, peaking her head around Thor’s shoulder.

 The Grandmaster groans weakly in pain.

 

 They’ve make it down to the Gladiator’s arena by the time the alarms start blaring.

 As they pile into the show-room, Loki holding the door open and waving the overs through, there’s a chorus calling out Hela’s name. They have to find her before they can leave – despite the fact Valkyrie voted for leaving her behind – but the main point stands.

 No one has seen her in over 24 hours.

 “Was it around here that you left her, big guy?” Natasha asks the Hulk, hand on his arm – perhaps to keep him calm amongst the sirens in the air – and the Hulk nods.

 “There,” he says, pointing a green finger towards the warrior’s entrance, the Hulk’s side still busted from where he made his entrance yesterday.

 “She’s not likely to have remained,” Thor says, eyes shifting warily around them. “We should move on before the Grandmaster’s lackey’s find us.”

 There’s a sharp bang from outside.

 “Too late,” Loki replies. “You might need your hammer for what’s coming next,” he says, offering Thor Mjolnir once again.

 Thor reaches out –

 – and hesitates.

 His brother is saved by the bell. 

 “Pst!” Loki hears a familiar voice whisper. He twists around and sees a rocky face peering around at their group through a grate in the floor. “Come this way if you want to live!”

 Korg?

 “Who are you?” Thor asks, approaching slowly, but –

 “There’s not really time for that, but if you must know, I’m Korg, the Vice-President of the Sakaarian Revolution. Would you like a pamphlet?” the rock-man offers, sticking a hand through the grate, holding a colourfully decorated piece of paper.

 There’s another clang from outside.

 Doesn’t sound like the door will last much longer.

 “Why don’t you keep the pamphlet and tell us about your revolution on the way out of here?” Natasha says, effectively making the decision for the group.

 “Excellent!” Korg responds, as Natasha begins leading the Hulk around back. “I’ll meet you in the wings to take you to the President.”

 Loki sees Thor raise a brow at him over Valkyries shoulder – hands in her pockets, strolling off ahead – and Loki just shrugs at his brother in response.

 Korg’s offering a way out – as he did for Loki in the original timeline – and Loki knows the man doesn’t have a deceptive bone – rock? – in his body.

 So Loki mouths ‘Let’s roll with it,’ at Thor, and runs off to catch up to Korg.

 The gladiator ends up leading them through the rusted tunnels that lead beneath the gladiator’s pit, towards what Loki recognises as the Grandmaster’s infinite looping prison.

 A perfect place to hide a revolution, Loki realises. Why would the Grandmaster even consider looking there?

 The man’s too arrogant to even consider that he could be toppled by his own slaves.

 “So who’s in charge here?” Valkyrie asks, having broken the silence a few minutes ago now. Upon recognising Korg – ‘Hey, I brought you in, didn’t I?’ – she’s been happily chatting away with him. “Is it Mick?” she says, continuing her previous line of questioning. “I always thought Mick would have been an inspiring leader.”

 “Naw, Mick isn’t cut out for politics,” Korg replies. “No, we have a new lady in charge. Real tough one, only turned up the other day.” Their group finally reaches the door – now with a beautifully painted, calligraphy and all, ‘Keep Out’ sign hung neatly on it – and Korg imputes a pin into a keypad. “She’s really turned my revolution around,” Korg continues as the door slides open. “Hey, Hela! We have some new recruits for the army!”

 Loki feels all the blood drain from his face, as he sees his sister stood at the centre of this military operation. She’s converted the room into her own war chamber, plans of the building plastered on the wall, tables with guns and documents spread across them, aliens of all species, running around them in the need to complete their duties.

 Hela looks up from where she’s been examining some plans when she hears Korg’s call, and her gaze immediately settles on Loki and Thor.

 “Ah, brother!” she says, a devious grin on her face. “I see you found my weaker, less good looking brother!”

 Oh, fuck.  

 Yet, Loki doesn’t have a chance to worry about how Thor is going to respond, because Valkyrie is pushing past him and drawing her sword –

 “You killed my entire family,” she bites, venom in her tone, her ambush only stopped by Thor’s grip on her arm.

 Hela barely shifts her attention, walking straight towards Loki as she replies to Valkyrie with, “Did I? I’ve killed a lot of people, you might have to be more specific.” And, if this isn’t bad enough, Hela then slinks over to Natasha’s side and purrs, “Would you like a tour of my camp, Natasha? I have acquired some guns I think you’ll find quite appealing.”

 “Not the time for flirting, Hel,” Natasha winces, the Hulk sulkily crossing his arms above them, only for Thor to finally interrupt:

 “I am naïve to have even considered you may have changed. For all that I trust your judgement, brother, just look at this! Hela has turned my brothers in arms into her army! Why does she even want to run a revolution in the first place? She’s the definition of an imperialist!”

 Loki opens his mouth to respond.

 He then realises he has nothing to say in Hela’s defence.

 “…Explain, Hela?” Loki grumbles in defeat.

 She shrugs. “It’s in my blood to rule. So, when I saw this opportunity, I took it. If you look at it clearly, I have merely killed two birds with one stone; I have found our way off this wretched planet, and,” Hela grins, “I have found myself an army.

 And Loki finds he can’t argue with that, not when Thor’s acting strange concerning Mjolnir, when Banner hasn’t transformed back for some reason, when Valkyrie’s no help when she’s holding a grudge, when Natasha has been oddly quiet.

Hela is their best bet right now.

 “What’s the plan?” Loki asks, effectively silencing any and all debate.

 Hela says but one word.  

Revolution.”

Chapter Text

The plan is simple – or, at least, Hela claims it is, as she rolls out a map of the Grandmaster’s tower – and points to its base.

 She talks, commands, leads with practised ease, and their little group of ‘revolutionaries’ sit enraptured as she explains the plan.

While Natasha, Thor and Loki go to retrieve their ship from the docks, Hela says – up on the 80th floor – Hela and Korg will lead their assault bellow. They plan on taking out all of the Grandmaster’s forces and reclaiming Sakaar for refugees everywhere. Valkyrie is given the most important job, the finishing blow.

 “I need someone with the access codes to the main control deck – it was destiny when you walked through those doors,” Hela explains to Valkyrie – Loki wrinkles his nose at the obvious flirting. “I want you to walk in, input this code into the system, and get out as fast as you can.”

 “Frequent security checks?” Loki asks – hoping its just that and not –  

 Hela’s more than happy to announce, “We’re going to activate the tower’s self-destruct mode, and blow it to hell and back.”

 Nope, he shouldn’t have hoped for something subtle.

 Of course there’s a self-destruct code, of all things, Loki thinks but then – Loki considers who they’re dealing with.

 …Yeah, it’s more than plausible.

 “I had Miek hack the system to find it,” Hela continues, now walking over to give said Miek a hearty pat on the back. “The Grandmaster isn’t going to know what hit him.”

 There is a brief pause in the discussion – Loki waits, for an objection, distrust but –

 “I shall do it,” Thor nods. “If only for the freedom of the people here. While the Grandmaster was kind to me, I know his treatment of others cannot have been the same. I shall – trust you, sister. Just this once.”

 And with Thor’s loyalty comes Valkyrie’s.

 “I suppose I’ll play along,” Valkyrie huffs, crossing her arms in an obvious sulk. “But if she puts one foot out of line, we’re going to have a problem here.”

 “What ‘bout Hulk?” the Hulk asks, sat down on his knees by the table. “Hulk smash?”

 Hela grins. “Abso-fucking-lutely.”

 This is how Loki, Thor and Natasha find themselves waiting for the lift that will take them to the ship deck – the mood tense and cautious, but, most importantly, awkward.  

 Yes, Loki is on his toes, his eyes darting to each end of the corridor in turn, dagger swung around in circles by his finger, but he also feels his shoulders shrinking in on themselves, as Thor and Natasha go through their own little rituals.

 No one says a thing.

 With a cheerful ping the lift arrives, and Loki, Natasha and Thor shuffle inside, arm to arm in the confined space.

 There’s nothing.

 Loki scratches at his nose.

 The doors finally close.

 The lift begins to rise.

 Thor coughs.

 Hm.

 “So, Thor,” Natasha says, breaking the silence. She’s rocking back and forth on her heels. “How’d you lose the eye?”

 Loki shifts towards his brother, eyebrow raised – he’d been wondering that too – and Thor just shrugs.

 “Fell into a broken mirror when I landed on Sakaar.”

 Oh.

 “I’m sorry,” Loki says, honestly.

  “What about you?” Thor asks, quite obviously changing the topic. “When and how did you and Bruce begin courting?”

 Loki knows the answer to half of this one.

  “The when is Ultron,” Natasha says. “The how is… complicated. He made me realise I wasn’t a monster when I thought it was all I could be.”

 “Is that why you got so quiet when the Grandmaster tried to appeal to the monster in the Hulk?” Loki asks, this suddenly just dawning on him.

 Natasha locks her jaw – as soon as she does it Loki knows he’s hit the nail on the head.

 “He’s not a monster. He’s just as complex as Bruce.”

 How sweet.

 But then, “Did you tell Thor that thing you’ve been hiding from him?”

 Loki chokes on his own nerves.

 “How’d you – ”

 “I’m a spy, Loki.”

 “I’m not answering that.”

 “And I should answer the personal questions you direct at me?”

 There’s silence again.

 “I think we should do ‘Get Help.’” Thor announces, crossing his arms.

 UH.

 Loki forces the elevator doors open with a wave of magic.  

 “Nope! This isn’t happening again!Loki throws his dagger into the shoulder of a nearby guard. “NEVER! AGAIN!”  He storms off down the corridor. “Both times! Unbelievable!”

 Their jet isn’t hard to locate, being both distinct in design and one of the last planes to enter the docking bay. Loki breathes a sigh of relief upon seeing it – all the while taking out another guard with a magic blast to the head – and waits for the ship door to open before hoping inside.

 Thor and Natasha follow soon afterwards – Loki thinks they’re taking out the rest of the security, but he’s too busy tapping away at the main control panel to really pay attention.

 It’s because of this that he doesn’t notice Thor approach behind him, and Loki jumps as he feels a hand come down on his shoulder. “This is one of the new ships you proposed to father before the Dark Elves,” Thor murmurs. “He’d be proud to see what you’ve accomplished now.”

 Loki pauses, Thor’s words triggering something in him he’d rather forget, finally shaking it off by giving Thor a weak smile.

 He chokes down the dismissal in his throat.

 “We ready for take-off?” Natasha asks, closing the ship’s door. “I doubt those guards are going to stay down for long.”

 “Hopefully we won’t have to worry about that,” Loki answers, turning his attention back to the controls. It’s only a few more buttons and switches till…

 The jet engines flare into life with a starling whoosh, the whole ship lighting up as it powers on. Loki grins to himself – ah, he’s always loved to fly – and begins lifting them up and steering them out of the building.

 Their job? Check.

  The jet slides out of the bay, and through the gates and into the sky, and Thor marvels at their success, saying, “Well, that went a lot better than I thought it would – “

 BOOM.

 Mere seconds after they enter Sakaar’s airspace, the Grandmaster’s tower buckles in under itself in a massive explosion, each of the Champions face’s plastered on the building crumbling down onto the floor bellow.

 Ironically, Thor’s is the last to go, as the tower, with a final screech, collapses down. It lands with an explosion of fire, a mountain of flames all that remains.

 Loki’s mouth drops open in horror.

 He didn’t expect it to be – uh – quite this violent.

 Natasha whistles. “Your sister really knows how to send a message.”

 “We know,” Thor and Loki say in unison.

 “I borrowed one of her tops once and I found it later burning on Asgard’s flag pole,” Loki says.

 “I ate a piece of cake I didn’t realise she was saving and she poisoned all of my food for a week,” Thor echoes.

 “…No comment,” Natasha says.   

 Looking out of the windscreen, Loki sees the chaos bellow – an all out battle has begun on the piles of the wreckage. Hela leads her army out, Miek and Korg at her side, both holding billowing flags for their revolution (Miek designed them, Korg embroidered them), and they face off against the remains of the Grandmaster’s forces and the Sakaarian elite.

 Loki thinks back, briefly, to a time when Hela faced off against Asgard’s armies.

 A knot of worry settles in his stomach.

 Loki steers them above the crowd, finding a clear stretch in which to land, and comes down near where the Hulk is happily smashing away at the Grandmaster’s – quickly dwindling – army.

 “Hello friends!” The Hulk calls, as Loki hops out of the ship door, the others right on his heel. The Green Man waves, a Sakaarian soldier in his grip. “Hulk smash!”

 “That’s right, big guy,” Natasha smiles – quite genuinely – at the Hulk, padding over to him. “Have you seen Valkyrie around anywhere?”

 “I’m here!” a voice says from behind them, Valkyrie’s voice, and there jogging in is the woman herself, slightly charred but otherwise unharmed. “I did my part of the deal.” She bows, teasingly. “You’re welcome.”

 Loki takes a glance at the flaming heap of rubble. “You didn’t hold back.”

 “So – uh – ” Valkyrie says, pointing her fingers in the opposite direction to the group “ – if you’d just excuse me…?”

 “Where to?” Thor asks. “Can I come?”

 Valkyrie blinks twice at him.

 And then she runs.

 Why would she - ?

 “She’s going to fight Hela, isn’t she?” Loki realises with not a lick of humour.

 “…Yeaaaaaah, probably,” Thor replies, watching the woman go with his hands in his pockets.

 Fucking impulsive Asgardians.

 “Thor, stay and smash with the Hulk, would you? I’m going to prevent our sister’s murder. Oh, and,” Loki reaches behind him, where Mjolnir is still strapped on his back. He offers it out to Thor, “can you please relieve me of your hammer now?”

 Thor blinks twice at him.

 And then he runs, dragging the Hulk along behind him.

 “Okay, I’m going to go smash! Have fun, Brother!” Thor calls back.

 Loki stands slouched, Mjolnir dragging at his side, eye twitching.

 Unbelievable.

 

 “Hela!” Loki shouts, hands cupped around his mouth. He’s weaving through the battle field, avoiding blows and hits – he nearly got clobbered by a frying pan of all things – honestly quite fed up with searching.

 Why is it that he’s the only person on this team with working brain cells?

 Loki edges his way towards the edge of the town, more towards the trash outlands of Sakaar. He feels the ground rumble beneath his feet, and it parallels the flutter of his nerves as he finally catches sight of Valkyrie and his sister.

 They’re practically fighting to the death.

 Hela has a spear in her grasp, and she’s hurling it at Valkyrie, the other woman barely dodging, and then, swiftly, Valkyrie is swinging her short sword in Hela’s face but Hela’s arm shoots up to block the blow. His sister punches her right hand out, which Valkyrie ducks under, forward-rolling to the side and trying to slash Hela’s feet out from under her. But then Hela will respond, and Valkyrie will slash, and Hela will swipe and –

The ground begins to quake.

 It sends Valkyrie off balance, she goes collapsing to the floor and – the joy on Hela’s face is devilish – Hela takes the opportunity. She conjures a sword, begins plunging it down –

 “ENOUGH!” Loki bellows, jumping in the way and blocking Hela’s sword with his dagger. “Hela, what did I say about murder?!”

 “What?” she asks, non-chalant, her blade still pressing down on Loki’s. “You said if anyone stepped out of line twice, I could stab them!”

 Loki opens his mouth to snap – oh wait, shit, he remembers he did say that.

 “That’s not the point!” He says instead, dodging. “Look, we don’t have time for this – I think something is very wrong right now. You,” he says towards Valkyrie, “can enact your vengeance on my sister later, and you,” Loki turns back to Hela, “should probably apologise for trying to murder this woman multiple times!”

 Valkyrie and Hela take an unsteady glance at the other.

 They squint.

 Then the ground begins to split open beneath their feet.

 Hela takes some steps back, and Loki falls backwards onto Valkyrie, as a wide cavern begins to appear between them. The ground cracks, the trash falling in and down endlessly, and Loki vaguely thinks how he could have just died in a literal trash compactor.  

 Hela coughs.

 “…Lead the way, brother.”

 The run back to the ship is frantic. There’s chaos everywhere, soldiers fleeing, buildings collapsing into the ground… When they arrive back , Thor and Korg, shepherding as many civilians and gladiators on board, the ship quickly growing cramped.

 “Loki!” Thor calls. “I see you found our sister and Valkyrie. Do either of you know what’s going on?”

 Valkyrie just shrugs, and Hela says “Beats me,” before slinking on inside – (gives Korg a thumbs up as she passes.)

 The ground around them is deeply cracked, ready to split at any minute, and “We need to leave,” Loki says, already calculating the best flight path out of the area.  

 “But what about the people?” Valkyrie responds. “We owe it to the people who live here to get them as far away as possible.”

 “Do we really have time for that?!” Loki bites out automatically, to which Thor cries:

 “Loki!” He shoots his brother an unimpressed glare.

 Loki is always so weak to that look.  

  Ugh, so many law-abiders.  

 “Get as many people on board as you can,” Loki gives in. “But, if the ground begins to collapse beneath us, I’m going.”

 He storms onboard, heading straight for the cockpit – he has to shimmy his way through there are so many bodies – and arrives to a voice crackling in through the communications device:

“ – pleeeeeeeeease, pretty please, come pick me up, my darling, handsome beauty. I’ll buy you all the stars you could want with my credits, and we could do the you-know-what – “

Loki grabs his end of the receiver to silence the Grandmaster before that particular train of thought can go any further.

“I’m going to ask this once,” Loki snarls over the line, nerves taught. “What did you do?”

 “ – What did I do?!” The Grandmaster says. “It was all you and your ‘revolution!’ You know, I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you – what trustworthy person orders a ‘Sex on the Beach’ at a Gladiator fight!”

 “I’ll hang up - !” Loki threatens and immediately the Grandmaster goes back to his pleading:

 “No, please! Listen, I’ll stop questioning your integrity, just, please, come pick me up! The tower, it’s the first piece of Sakaar to ever be assembled. It’s tied to the planet’s core, so by blowing up the tower – oh, SHIT!” The line cuts out with bang.

 Loki holds the receiver in his hand, standing shocked, listening to the static.

 They really need to leave.

 “Thor!” Loki calls back, sliding into the pilot’s seat. “Are we ready?!”

 There’s the sound of the door slamming. “Yes! Go!”

 Loki slams on the engine, and, with a sharp jerk, launches them into the air.

 What they see when they launch up into the sky is the wreckage of an entire planet.    

 The destruction spreads so much further than it should, the planet almost looking like – like its been split into chunks.

 While Loki is piloting them out, Korg and Thor come shuffling through into the cockpit – Thor looks uneasy – but Korg – Korg is always hopeful. “The damage is not too bad,” he says. “As long as the foundations are still strong, we can rebuild this place. It will become a haven for all peoples and aliens of the universe.”

 And then Sakaar crumbles in on itself. It snaps into various pieces, bursting out in one final explosion, and rocketing through space.

 There is nothing left.

 “...Can we come to your place?” Korg asks meekly.

 Loki is horrified.

 “So, my brothers, I was thinking,” Hela says, appearing suddenly – and then she sees the sight in front of them. Her sentence cuts off mid word.

 “…I believe the human response to this situation would be ‘my bad.’”

 Loki bangs his head on the console repeatedly.

 

 It’s late, when they finally arrive back on Asgard.

 Turns out that, in reality, they were only gone for a few hours, time-moving faster on the late-Sakaar.

 Their ship docks just as the sunsets, and Hela is first off. “Later, losers, have fun telling Mother about this cock-up, I relinquish my revolutionary crown to Korg!” she says as she strolls away, a hop in her step. She doesn’t stick around to help out with the new refugees.

 No, instead it is the rest of their team – Natasha, the Hulk (still the Hulk), Valkyrie, Thor and Loki – who help the survivors, a few hundred, off-board, directing them towards Asgard’s throne room.

 Frigga – thankfully – is still up, she’s finishing for the day in the throne room, so she’s there when they arrive, there is spot her sons in the crowd, there to sprint over and throw her arms around them, laughing and crying and – gods, Loki can’t help but do the same.

A few hours later, “So it’s the timeline, right?” Thor asks, as he and Loki stroll around Asgard’s gardens. They both are too worked up from the days events to sleep right away, the night air helping to calm their nerves. This walk has mostly been in a comfortable silence until now, when Thor asks, “the timeline correcting itself?”

 Loki – unfortunately – nods. “The Grandmaster died on the planet that gave him strength, as it collapsed in on itself. It’s exactly what originally happened on Asgard…”

 “But this one is in our favour, right?” Thor says. “We enacted the same events, but to a better conclusion?”

 Loki…

 He sighs.

 He doesn’t know.

 “Why won’t you take Mjolnir back, Thor?” Loki asks, finally cutting to the chase, and Thor halts, his feet suddenly holding like stone.

 “No reason.”

 He refuses to meet his brother’s gaze.

 “Thor.”

 “I thought I should let you have a turn?”

 “Thor…!”  

 “I’m afraid I’m no longer worthy!” Thor blurts. “Okay?! Are you happy now? I – I didn’t trust you, I fell from grace, I hid from my home… I don’t know.”

 The sadness, the self-loathing, the pain… Loki has seen it all before in the mirror.

 Quietly, silently, he reaches out for Thor’s hands.

And Thor, finally, acquits.

 Hesitantly, he take’s his brother’s hand – Loki turns it palm side up, and retrieves the hammer from his belt. Then, Loki lowers Mjolnir down into Thor’s hands, confident. Thor – hesitant at first – slowly clutches at the handle – Loki untwines his fingers – and, its just like that.

 Mjolnir sits happily in Thor’s hand, still as worthy as he ever was.

 “Welcome home, Thor,” Loki says.

Chapter Text

 “Would you quit your fidgeting and ring the god-forsaken doorbell already, Thor?” Loki snaps, standing on the pavement of a bustling New York street. A few people stop to stare on their way – a few snap the quick picture – but Loki doesn’t particularly care.

 What he cares about more is his dumb brother getting on with it.

 Thor is at the top of a small set of stairs, cowering before the building’s buzzer, a bouquet of flowers squeezed in his fierce grip. “What if she doesn’t want to see me?” Thor is asking – for the seventh – time, quaking in his boots.

  Loki drags his hands over his face.

 “For the last time, brother,” Loki says between gritted teeth. “Jane will be more than happy to see you. She loves you. The only reason she is not at your side this very moment she because she thinks you are dead.”

 Thor laughs – weekly, uncontrollably – and then takes a shaky breath.

 “Okay,” Thor resolves with a nod. “I shall do it. I shall press the musical door-button, and reunite with Jane. Yes.”

 Thor stares at the doorbell a few seconds more.

 “…But you are sure she does not like sister more than me?”

 Loki gives up.

 He dispels his illusion, revealing his actual location – right beside Thor, next to the buzzer – and gives the doorbell a long, satisfying ring, glowering at Thor all the while.

 T’was a necessary evil.  

 Thor, in response, practically flips his shit.

 He squawks – the flowers nearly flying from his grip – and manically rushes forwards to grip Loki by the neck of his shirt. “Loki! What! Have! You! done?! Oh no, Jane is going to hate me – how does my hair look? Is my hair okay? What if Jane doesn’t like me if I don’t have my beautiful hair? Or what if she prefers me with two eyes?! Loki, what if she hates the flowers I’ve bought her – wait, Loki, I’ve nearly crushed them to death! Loki why didn’t you stop me from crushing the flowers to death?!”

 “Just relax, brother,” Loki soothes, or tries too. He makes a few frantic gestures to his brother – tight grip, can’t breathe – before he’s released back to the ground, then assembling Thor before the front door. Loki smooths down his brother’s jacket, and straightens the bunch of flowers. With the flick of his wrist, the flowers straighten, their bloom returning.

 There.

 “You need do no more than be yourself,” Loki says. “That is the man Jane fell in love with.”

 “I do hope so,” Thor says quietly.

 The brothers hear the bolt on the door unlock. “I have been waiting all day for this parcel to arrive,” Jane’s voice says, as she unhooks the latch and swings the door open. “The delivery was due three hours ago, what took you so lon – ?” Jane’s mouth gapes open.  “…Thor.”

 There’s…

 Nothing.

 The motion on the street completely passes the both of them by: the sounds, the smells, the chill in the air.

 With Loki stuck in the middle of it all.

 He – with a cough – takes this moment to step to the side, damn well hoping for some bloody resolution.

 It begins with his brother.

 “Hello Jane,” Thor basically whispers – after a long silence. “You’re looking well. I – uh – “ he offers the flowers out to Jane. “I bought you these?”

 Jane cuts right to the chase.

 “You’re dead,” she says. “You told me he was dead?” She directs at Loki.

 Loki shrugs. “I thought he was. I was wrong.”

 “I fell through the Bifrost, to a planet called Sakaar,” Thor explains. He takes a tentative step forwards. “Loki found me.”

 “I – “ Jane rubs at her temples. “God, I don’t know what to say? It’s been – “

 “Far too long,” Thor says. He reaches out, taking Jane’s hands in own. “I’m so, so sorry for all that you suffered because of me – gods, you were forced to mourn me – but Jane,” he clutches her hands close to his heart, “I have loved you every second that I was not with you.”

 Jane – Loki can see it, creeping up behind teary eyes, a bashful smile – she pulls a hand away, just to tuck some hair behind her ears. She laughs. “What do you even say to that?”

 Thor frowns. “I apologise – was my confession too – uh? Sincere? I can try again, I – “

  “I like your hair,” Jane interrupts, accepting the bouquet from Thor. She succeeds in making Thor blush. “And your – uh – eye-patch is very intimidating.”

 The red creeps its way around to Thor’s ears.

 He looks ridiculously happy.  

 Loki forces himself to interrupt –  his stomach is flipping from all the mush;  “I do hate to intervene, but I’m aware that we have another engagement to meet. Why don’t you two place those flowers in some water, Jane, and then we can move this reunion onto our next stop? We’ve left Hela alone on Earth for at least an hour now, and I dread to find out what will happen if we leave her unsupervised with the Hulk any longer.”

 “Another engagement?” Jane questions. “Where?”

 “I wasn’t aware of this, brother?” Thor asks also, a deep crease in his brow.

 Loki smiles.

  

 Thor is mildly placated upon arriving at the Avenger’s tower.

 “It is just a matter of world-saving business then, yes brother?” he asserts. “…Right? …Loki, your silence is worrying me. Loki, please, what are we doing here?”

 Loki may no longer hate his brother – he gave up on that charade years ago – but that’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy teasing him every now and then.

 Thor whines the entire ride up to the penthouse floor. Jane tries to placate him with stories of working in New York with Stark – “I’m working with Prince T’Challa on the uses of Vibranium for the study of astrophysics on this floor!” – but Thor continues to sulk the entire ride up.

 What a boy, Loki scoffs in his mind.

 One cannot simply let the secret of a surprise party out so frivolously.

 The cheer that Loki, Thor and Jane receive upon the elevator door opening is deafening.

 In the midst of the penthouse longue is a crowd, the team old and new, cheering and blowing streamers. They’re stood bellow a large painted banner: ‘Congratz! You’re Not Dead!’ it reads.

 Thor’s mouth gapes open.

 “Surprise!” Stark cries in the centre of the mass, throwing his hands in the air. “Happy ‘You’re Alive!’ party!”

 “It’s good to see you again, buddy,” Steve says, a party hat resting on his head at an angle. Bucky stands at Steve’s side – the back of their hands are quite obviously brushing – and the Winter Soldier offers Thor a smile.

 But then the Hulk is pushing through the crowd, bounding over to Thor. Peter is clutching at the Hulk’s neck – trying to remain sat on the Hulk’s shoulders – as the large man reaches for Thor’s hands and announces happily:  “Thor! Hulk make new friend! Say hi Little Spider!”

 “Hello again Mr. Loki, Jane.” Peter says. “And – uh – Thor.”

 The boy looks a little starry-eyed.

“Are we 100% sure it’s safe for Parker up there?” Barton asks, raising an eyebrow at Natasha.

 She rolls her eyes. “The Big Guy’s perfectly safe.”

 “And Peter can take quite good care of himself,” the Vision adds from behind them.   

 But “If this Peter is so capable,” Hela is soon interjecting. She’s sat on the couch, Pietro and Wanda flanking her on either side. Loki wonders if they’re there to babysit her. “Then why would none of you let me challenge him to a spar?” Hela continues.

 “Lady, earlier you called it ‘a fight to the death,’” a slightly newer face responds – Loki struggles to put a name to it. He’s stood with his arm linked with an equally unfamiliar woman, a young girl at their feet.

 Solemnly, the girl says, staring Hela down, “I could take her.”

 Hela barks out a laugh. “Now, child – that is the determination I like to see!”

“But there shall be no such duel,” Strange says, walking out from behind the crowd to place his hands on the girl’s shoulders. “Though I am sure you would emerge the victor, Cassie.”

 Loki laughs – at the antics of it all, at their friends – and places a hand on his brother’s arm. “Welcome home, Thor.”

 Thor is still – still –

 He runs a hand over his face – rubs at his eye.

 “Thor?” Jane asks. She begins rubbing at his arm. “Thor, are you okay?”

 And – there it is. 

 Thor chokes out a sob. “My friends, I have missed you all so very, very dearly.”

 And then, most importantly, Thor laughs.

 

 Later, once the sun begins to lower itself through the sky, Loki slips out.

 He’s left Thor talking to Cassie and her father – two of faces Loki couldn’t place in the crowd earlier. Ever the attention-seeker, Thor’s currently sat cross-legged on the floor in front of Cassie, using lightening to create a small light-show between his fingertips.

 The air of the party is light – Loki finds himself the most relaxed he’s been in a while – yet.

 Loki knows this cannot last.

 So he makes his way out the back – slinking in the direction of the balcony, just when he thinks he won’t be missed.

 He obviously mistimed his departure.

 “Friggason,” Strange calls from behind him. The man offers Loki a weak smile. “Would you mind some company?”

 Ugh, Loki thinks. Do we have to do this now?

 So “Yes,” Loki shoots back, snidely. “I would mind.”

 A night with no emotional confessions would be lovely.

 Strange does not heed his tone: he wanders out through the door – Loki’s been propping it open all  this time – and over to the building’s edge. The wind peppers past, as Loki catches up to his – friend?, cold but not unpleasant, the sound of life ever present below.

 “You look well,” Strange speaks, as Loki settles at his side.

 Loki snorts. “And you’re not longer a self-imposed shut-in in need of a shave.”

 Loki sees Strange wince in the corner of his eye. “I deserve that. I – well – Stark came to beat some sense into me. He said – said you sent him.” Strange swallows – uncomfortably. “I suppose I should apologise for my behaviour during our last encounter. I was not – myself.”

 Loki lets his gaze flicker over to Strange; the man is tracing golden patterns in the air above the world.

 Loki supposes that’s the best apology he’s going to get.

 He’ll take it.

 “I must also apologise,” Loki admits. “For placing so much weight on you.” For blaming you for Thor’s death. For thinking you couldn’t care.

 Neither of them speak, for a while.

 Loki supposes that’s the sound of reconciliation.

 “What do we do now?” Strange asks, and Loki, for once, knows the answer.

 He claps a hand onto Strange’s shoulder. “We prepare for the end.”

 

  They’re walking back to Jane’s apartment – it’s the dead of night – and Loki is spending most of the journey wheeling his tipsy brother and Jane out of harm’s way. They’re hang off each-other, giggling constantly, as if privy to a joke no-one else could possibly understand. Sometimes, the pair topple in the direction of the road, but the streets are silent and the darkness peaceful.

 “It’s so sickening,” Hela groans, trailing at Loki’s side with her hands in her suit pockets. “I hate people in love.”

 “You hate most things, sister,” Loki says, more watching the two ahead than paying attention to Hela. It doesn’t take a genius to tell she’s upset about something.

 Therefore, her huff in response is very much expected. “I don’t hate everything.”

 “Then what do you like?”

 “I like power. Respect.” She kicks a nearby can. It clatters down the street. “I never get what I want.”

 “I beg your pardon, sister,” Loki calls, eyebrow raised, teasing more than anything else, “but you’re royalty.”

 “Not where it truly matters, little brother!” Hela sneers. “I see no subjects – no people to worship me in triumph. ‘Conquering lands is a motive of the past,’ Mother says. Just look at them – all these simple humans, milling around with their petty disputes. They would be so easy to rule! – But here we are, playing babysitters.”

 Loki blinks.

 Did I, Loki wonders, did I used to sound like that?

 He laughs. “Your outlook is wrong, sister. You believe the only way to be worshiped – to be valued – is through fear.”

 They’re nearly back at Jane’s house now. Thor and Jane have stumbled ahead – they’re currently fiddling with the key, unable to unlock the door. Loki begins to stride after them, only turning back when he hears Hela ask:

“Then how do I get them to value me, brother, if you think yourself so wise?”

 She looks angry – hateful – and – Loki sees himself in it, not so long ago.

 “The humans slaughter each other in droves. I mean to rule them. And why should I not?”

 “Protect them when they cannot protect themselves.” Loki replies. “Become their saviour – give them hope when all they have is fear. Then they shall see – you will see – who you truly are.”

 Loki takes the key swiftly from Jane’s hand, unlocking the door, and leads his family into the warm.

 

 Up, and up again, a signal bounds it way through the echoes of space, bouncing from satellite to satellite, until it comes to our own solar system, and then our own planet.

 In the Avenger’s tower, Tony Stark sits asleep in a chair, his feet propped up on the desk in front of him. The screens in front of him – they flicker to life, latching onto the signal from lightyears away.

 The audio begins to play.

 “Stark – you’ve gotta be getting this, please. This is it – he’s coming. Thanos is mobilising – he’s just destroyed Knowhere! I don’t know why now but it’s happening. We’re on our way to Earth, Quill is flying as fast as he can. Gather the team – Strange and Loki will know what to do. Just – get ready!”

 It echoes on repeat.

 

 Elsewhere – Jane wakes up screaming.

Chapter Text

 Loki’s jolted awake by the sound of screaming.

 He’s in Jane’s guest room, top and tailing on the bed with Hela – primarily because both of them were too prideful to take the sofa – but is up and rolling out of bed the second the cries reach his ear, a dagger in his fist, pulled out from under his pillow.

 The sound – Loki listens – it’s coming from the adjacent room.

 He’s on his feet in seconds, swiftly out of the door and into the next room – that’s Jane screaming, he knows now.

 The door slams open – Loki’s about to charge in but then –

 He stops.

 Jane is sat huddled on the floor, pressed into the corner of the walls, her hands clutched tightly against her eyes. Thor is knelt in front of her, a hand on her knee, murmuring softly, calming. “It’s okay Jane. It was just a dream. Just take some deep breaths.”

 Jane, frantically, shakes her head. “No, no, it was real, Thor – god, how did I get here? I was – I was – ”

 Thor, he’s turned to look at his brother now, he’s worried.

 Loki places the dagger down on the nearby chest of draws, and then dares to ask, “What happened?”

 He doesn’t expect Jane’s head to snap around, and for her gaze to be so venomous.

 “Loki,” she hisses. “What are you doing here?!”

 Uh.

 “I was – asleep next door?” Loki replies, a little – well, confused actually. “You woke me up when you screamed bloody murder?”

 “Why would I ever…?” Jane flinches, and then rubs at her temples. “Oh, my head. No, I – something’s changed. I – I – ” She stops. “Oh god.” Her head rises, and she says to Thor, horror dripping off her words, “I broke up with you.”

 The silence is filled with Thor’s heart shattering.

 “What?!”

 But –

 A voice – Thor’s voice – tickles at the back of his mind.

 ‘She didn’t dump me, you know. I dumped her. It was a mutual dumping.’

 It hits Loki all at once.

 “Do you – remember?” He blurts out, unable to help himself.

 Jane manages to cast her gaze away from Thor and –

 “Kneel,” she says.

 Loki’s blood runs cold.

 She remembers.  

 Loki – he – he kicks the chest of draws.

  “Brother!Thor cries. “What is going on?”  

 “Damn it!” Loki grumbles, now rubbing at his foot.  “She remembers, Thor! The original timeline! For some goddamn reason, Jane remembers! Why now?”

“The Collector is dead,” Jane says, her voice ringing as clear as day.

 The room goes pin drop silent.

 “…I’m sorry?” Loki says, despite himself.

 “The Collector is dead,” Jane repeats. Is this supposed to be an explanation?

 Her next sentence changes everything.

 “Thanos killed him.”

 

 Strange’s phone goes straight through to voicemail for the third time in a row.

 Loki’s pacing around Jane’s living room – she remembers, dear god, and it’s all because of the Aether, Loki knows it must be – Thor is still upstairs, trying to comfort a still rather distressed Jane. Loki’s excused himself to try and contact Strange – perhaps they’ll be able to figure this out together – but the sorcerer supreme refuses to pick up his phone.

 Loki – he’s resisting the urge to smash Jane’s home phone and just teleport over – when Strange finally picks up on the fourth attempt.

 “I suppose you’ve heard then?” Strange voice cuts through. He’s hard to hear over rushed steps and frantic voices.

 Yet his words still throw Loki for a loop.

 “Heard what?” Loki asks tentatively.

 There’s a pause. The sounds of footsteps stop. “What were you calling for?”

 “No, no, Strange, do not change the topic.” Loki sits down in the nearby armchair. “What should I have heard?”

“…Stark received a transmission from the Guardians. Thanos has destroyed Knowhere. The Avengers are assembling.”

 Loki nearly lets the phone slip through his fingers.

 “It’s beginning, Loki. We’re in the endgame now.”

 His mind is racing.

 Perhaps…?

 “Jane remembers the original timeline,” Loki says.

 The line goes silent.

 “…When did that happen?”

 Loki shakes his head, despite knowing Strange can’t see the movement. “I assume the same time Stark received the Guardian’s transmission. She’s not overly lucid right now, but – ” Loki hesitates. “I am afraid to draw too many conclusions from her words, but she stated two things clearly. One of those was that The Collector is dead, and that Thanos killed him.”

 The dots obviously connect in the same way for Strange as they did for Loki.

 “Jane now remembers because she was the next closest to the Aether after the Collector. The stone – it’s picked a new bearer.”

 Loki tries to swallow the stone in his throat. “I fear so. The man probably died trying to escape Thanos. I thought – well, I received a vision from the Aether, when we originally contained it. I thought it represented the present but – perhaps – it was warning me instead.”

 “This changes,” Strange sighs over the line, “…everything. We will have to discuss this  – but for now… Just get over here.”

 Strange hangs up before Loki can reply.

 Loki – he takes the phone from his ear and glares at it before standing to carefully place it back in its receiver.

 His hand lingers.

 Loki feels the ghost of Thanos’ hands closing around his neck, his chest constricting.

 “Brother,” Thor says softly from the doorway. Nonetheless, it jolts Loki out of his skin, skittish. Thor seems to be looking down on him, pitifully.

 Loki hates it.

 “A warning next time you gain any semblance of stealth, Thor,” he grumbles instead, going to sit back down.

 “Jane is asleep again,” Thor continues regardless. “She wore herself out eventually.” He crosses the space, tentatively sitting on the couch.

“I’m not surprised,” Loki says in response. “Suddenly remembering everything like that…” He can’t help but trail off.

 Thor always seems to nudge those little nerves Loki tries to hide. His knees bump Loki’s.  “…What did she mean by Kneel, brother?”

 Loki’s throat completely closes in.

 His head drops, nearly down between his knees, his face in his hands.

 

 “I was not a good man, Thor. If she remembers -”

 She has every right to hate me, Loki can’t quite say.

 Yet, “I know,” Thor says, surprising Loki so much he snaps upwards. Thor smiles meekly. “But that is not who you are anymore. I’m sure Jane will come to see that.”  

 Loki – sighs. “Unfortunately, there are more pressing issues at hand. Thanos, he’s mobilising, Thor. The Guardians have just contacted Stark. They’re heading for Earth as we speak.”

 Thor – “Oh. Is this…?”

 Loki nods. “The beginning.”

 

 The two brothers leave for the tower within the hour. Hela stays behind to watch Jane – gaining more consciousness by the minute, yet still adjusting – and Thor promises to return as soon as he can. Loki decides to make no such promise, instead quietly leading Thor off towards the Avenger’s tower.

 The mood is so different from mere hours before.

 It appears the preparations have already begun by the time Thor and Loki arrive. Having but stepped into the tower foyer, Loki and Thor are pulled off in different directions, to address differing concerns.

 Loki is promptly rushed into the main lab by Hill. She greets him stiffly – Loki’s never really exchanged more than two words with the woman – only speaking again once a small huddle is in sight. “I’ve found him,” Hill announces to the group; it includes Stark, tinkering away nervously, and Coulson and Fury, those two hunched around a set of screens. Strange stands awkwardly to the side – it’s rare to see the sorcerer appear even discontent let alone nervous – and he shoots Loki a warning glance upon his approach.

 Loki raises a brow at him.

 Strange silently shakes his head.

 “Perfect,” Loki hears Coulson address Hill. The man then stretches to rest back in his chair. He offers Loki a brief smile. “Loki, it’s good to see you again.”

 Loki offers a stiff nod. “Likewise, Son of Coul.”  

 There is – something off with the atmosphere.

 More than the impending apocalypse, that is.  

 “What is it you needed from me? Or is it perhaps us?” Loki asks, his nerves still tingling on his skin, eyes flickering towards Strange. 

 “I think you two might have some of the answers we need,” Fury replies. “Play the message, Stark?” 

Tony complies. He wheels between his own desk and that of the monitors, tapping the screen a few times. There’s a crackle – static – and then:

 “ – flying as fast as he can. Gather the team – Strange and Loki will know what to do. Just –”

 Fury stops it there. “So,” he begins, “boys, who is Thanos? What does he want? And why in god’s name do you knuckle-heads know what to do about it?”

 Shit.  

 “We were both there, when the Guardians arrived on Earth,” Strange improvises. “While Tony was – uh – busy – Gamora took Loki and I aside. She told us about Thanos because – “

 “There was no need to alarm Midguard at the current time of any threat,” Loki interrupts. He kicks Strange’s ankle, silently. I have an idea – let me handle this. “Thanos’ goals were largely unclear. She merely wanted a representative of Earth,” Loki gestures towards Strange, “to understand the sheer power of the infinity stones. She was more concerned to alert Asgard to Thanos’ advances – we have greater oversight of the galaxy than Earth currently.”

 Yes, what a hopefully convincing pile of bullshit, Loki thinks to himself.

 “But now, that Gamora’s insight has proven to be true, we can begin mobilising,” Strange picks up – oh thank the Norns he caught on.

 Fury and Coulson stare at the two of them. Hill has her lips pursed.

 Loki resists the urge to twiddle his fingers.

 “What do we do then?” Tony asks. His stare is solid.

  His answer appears to sway the others.

 “Here is what we know,” Strange says, and the preparations to save the universe begin.

  A few hours later sees every Avenger – every one – tightly packed into the lab. Fury stands before a make-shift projector, dutifully set up by some of Coulson’s agents. This room was not built for a capacity of so many, yet the room is almost silent.

 They wait for the man to begin.

 “This is the threat we’re facing,” Fury finally speaks. The lights lower, and a hologram of Thanos’ face projects into the air. “His name is Thanos. He’s from the planet Titan – an alien – and he was responsible for the Chitari invasion. What he wants is the infinity stones.” The projection changes. The six stones dance around the air. “Five of them are on Earth. From what we understand, if he gets them, half of the universe will be wiped out. We are at war.”

 A plan is settled; the pieces begin to move.

 The Infinity Stones, currently held in Strange’s vaults, are to be moved to Wakanda for safe keeping. In the coming days, each will be moved under the supervision of the Avengers. The Vision – and therefore the mind stone – is to be moved first. The man is keen to speak with the Prince’s sister, one Shuri, for some reason Loki cannot disern.

 Thor offers Asgard’s armies for the protection of Earth. ‘With the Avengers guarding the stones,’ Thor had explained, ‘there must be guardians for the people.’ As a result, Hela and Thor spend most of their time preparing Asgard for this, in a rare show of co-operation. Jane goes with them, offering her own insights as an ambassador for Earth.

 She seems to have quickly resolved any issues she may have had with Thor – after regaining her memories – but she has yet to meet Loki’s gaze directly.

 He tries not to take offence.

 Unfortunately, this leaves Loki as the only Asgardian on Earth.

 Meaning he gets stuck answering a lot of stupid questions.

 He doesn’t think he’s properly slept in days.

 Thus, after having been trapped in a three hour meeting discussing Asgardian troop strategy, Loki decides he needs a nap. Thus, he heads off to his designated napping location.

 It’s in the kitchen on the 73rd floor, accessible only to people Tony deems ‘need a break.’ Loki earned the right to use it a few months ago, and since found that Tony Stark had damn good taste in couches.

 Loki sneaks into the kitchen to find Steve Rogers, quietly kneading away at a ball of dough with as much determination as he probably punched Nazis.

 Looks like someone else is having a bad week.  

 “Discovering new ways to vent your aggression, Captain?” Loki says, largely to announce his presence.

 Steve pauses, glancing up to look at Loki. “Oh, hello. I was just uh – ” the Captain then looks down at himself; he’s completely covered in flour. “I guess I got a little intense there,” he continues, brushing himself down slightly, resting his elbows on the counter as Loki sits across from him. “But bread only gets better the more you knead it, so no harm, no foul.”

Loki hums. “What are you doing up here? I would have thought there’d be more for Captain America to do in the face of an invasion.”

 “You’d be surprised,” Steve responds, going back to his dough. He’s moving it now from the counter and into a loaf pan. “People,” Steve continues. “People are my thing. I know how to lead them, inspire them, destroy them if need be. I understand Earth.” He shakes his head, and gives Loki a wonky grin. “I don’t get aliens.”

 Loki snorts. “You under value yourself, Captain. You seem to understand Stark just fine.”

 The Captain laughs himself, shaking his head. “What brings you up here then?”

 Loki lets out a long suffering sigh, deflating somewhat. “I’m hiding from my responsibilities. If you feel like doing my job for me, go ahead. The position is now vacant.

 “Loki, be serious,” Steve chastens, only half serious. As he slips the tin into the oven, he says, “We’re at war. We need all hands on deck.”  

Hm, Loki thinks, frowning deeply. I should have picked someone else to complain to than Mr. Goody Two-Shoes.

And then there’s a loud slam.

 “But Mr. Stark - !” Peter’s voice calls from around the corner. “You don’t get it – I could help!”

 There are rapid footsteps, then Tony’s rounding the corner, Peter charging at Stark’s heels.

 “No, kid, you don’t get it,” Tony snaps – Loki’s rarely seen him so angry. He spins around to face Peter, pointing directly into his chest. “You are my responsibility, and that means I am not going to be responsible for getting you killed. You’re not getting involved. That. Is. Final.”

 Tony starts walking again. This is when he spots Steve and Loki.

 Loki offers him a sarcastic wave.

 Tony doesn’t stop. He grunts, snidely waving back. “Watch the kid, please. I need to get away from the stupid…!”

 “Mr. Stark!” Peter calls, but Tony has already stalked off through the doors, likely to go hide himself.

 Loki switches his attention to Peter. He looks downtrodden, shoulders sunken, eyes shining.

 “Hey Peter,” Steve calls over. He’s doing his best to look sympathetic, Loki realises. “Want to come sit? I can make you some tea?”

 Peter takes a deep breath. “Okay, Mr. Rogers…” He replies, walking over. He sits shyly down next to Loki. “Hello again, Mr. Friggason.”

 “Hello, Peter,” Loki nods.

 Peter sits quietly for a second.

 He taps his fingers on the wooden counter a few times.

 Loki waits for it.

 “…What are you doing here, Mr. Friggason?” Peter asks. Too rambunctious to sit still, Loki thinks to himself.

 “I’m avoiding people I don’t like,” he says bluntly.

 “Oh,” Peter responds. “Fair enough.”

 This is when Steve sets a cup of steaming tea in front of Peter – Loki saw him add about three sugars, gods. “Want to talk about it with us, Pete?” Steve asks softly.

 Peter shifts in his seat. He shrugs. “I just want to help,” he mumbles. “Mr. Stark thinks I’m going to hurt myself. I’m not that stupid. I know what I’m doing.”

 “Tony doesn’t think you’re stupid, Peter. He knows you can handle yourself,” Steve says. “But what we’re facing? It’s dangerous, more than usual, and, when it comes down to it, you’re legally a kid. We’re not allowed to bring you in to help with this one.”  

 Peter purses his lips, staring down at his cup. He rubs his fingers around it tentatively. “Hasn’t stopped Mr. Stark before…”

 This is when Steve nudges Loki from across the table.

 Loki catches his eye.

 ‘Say something,’ Steve mouths.

 Loki raises an eyebrow. ‘Like what?!’ he mouths back, and then mimes something equivalent to ‘I don’t like and am bad at talking about emotions.’

 Steve just nudges him again, expectantly.

 Loki throws his arms in the air.

 Fine!

 “Come to my next meeting with me, Peter,” Loki blurts. “You cannot fight, not in this battle, but perhaps helping in the preparations will give you some peace of mind?”

 Peter perks up somewhat. “I can help?”

 Loki gives Peter’s shoulder a pat. “Consider it a compromise.”

 He’s gone soft – it’s official.

 

 The Guardians arrive on Earth that next week.

 Loki’s there as the space jet docks, the Vision and Strange at his side. The sound of the engines is crushing, and the air whips past Loki’s face as he stares on ahead. They find no time to speak with Gamora now – the Guardians are bombarded by Shield agents the moment they disembark – but across the stage, Loki meets Gamora’s eyes and nods.

 Their meeting has already been set.  

 Later that afternoon, Loki finds himself walking to the New York sanctum. The plan is to assemble everyone who remembers the main timeline into one place; gather and fit all the puzzle pieces together.

 One discussion to save the universe.

 No pressure, Loki thinks, as he turns down the corridor towards Strange’s study and knocks twice.

 “Come in!” Strange’s muffled voice calls through.

 Loki doesn’t hesitate.

 He enters to see five people sitting around a round table; Steven Strange, the Vision, Gamora, Jane Foster, and Thor. There is one vacant seat, directly across from Strange, between Thor and the Vision.

 Loki closes the door, and moves to sit down “I see you’ve done some redecorating. Going for the King Arthur vibe, Strange? I should let you know, the round table is just myth. No, Arthur much preferred triangles.”

 “’Tis true,” Thor nods. “I saw the triangle table with my own eyes.”

 “Who’s King Arthur?” Gamora asks.

 “No one relevant to this discussion,” Strange answers. He shoots Loki a pointed look before continuing. “Since we have all now arrived, I might as well cut to the chase. We all know the situation, and its importance. Any questions on why we’re all here?”

 Silence.   

 “Good. I shall begin then,” Strange says, “with the changes we have collectively made to the timeline. The first most notable event is the Battle of New York, which in this reality is known as the Battle of New York. Proxima Midnight was defeated in place of our friend over here.” Jane visibly stiffens at these words, and Thor twists self-consciously in his seat. “As a result, we gained control of the space stone. Casualties were generally down from New York, but little else changed.”

 “Coulson lived this time,” Loki feels the need to point out, his eyes flickering to Jane. See! I didn’t hurt him! “His role in keeping Shield alive has been vital.”

 “That may not be necessarily true,” the Vision suddenly interjects. He rests his hands on the table, fingers linked, and says, a crease in his brow. “I only know this because Sir often had me – how should I put this? – keep track of Shield’s more confidential information.”

 “He had you hack their system?” Gamora asks, somewhat amused.

 The Vision – pauses – and then stiffly nods. “I kept this information primarily to myself – I feared it would have only hurt Sir more – but I found confidential files concerning Agent Coulson. He lived, Loki, after the Battle of New York.”

 

 Oh.

 

 “…This may have unforeseen consequences on our view of the timeline,” Strange picks up. “Loki and I, we have constructed a theorem concerning our changes to the timeline – and I don’t know how much you agree with this, Gamora – but it appears that – “

 “Every change has its consequence,” Loki interrupts. “I deviate from Thanos’ control, Proxima takes my place; I save our Mother from death,” Loki stares directly at the table – he refuses to meet Thor’s eyes, “our Father dies in her place; Asgard does not face Ragnarok, so Sakaar does instead. Pietro lives, yet Thor falls from the Bifrost.”

 I was supposed to fall from the Bifrost, Loki cannot bring himself to say.

 There is suddenly a warm hand on his shoulder. Loki jolts up and – Thor is waiting there for him, eye kind.

 Loki coughs, and begins again. “Coulson was perhaps the only instance in which there was no equivalent exchange. It appears this is why.”

 All that emotional development for naught, Loki bitterly thinks to himself.

“Unfortunately, that sounds correct,” Gamora says. “I’ve tried to change a few things myself but, largely, the most important changes require a – a cost of some kind. Whatever happens is always equal in value to what was prevented.”

“Such as a rift in the Avengers forming between Loki and Stephen here, instead of Sir and Captain?” The Vision suggests, to an awkward silence.

 “…He’s not wrong,” Loki admits.

“But doesn’t that just mean that all this is pointless?” Jane interjects. “If Thanos wants to destroy half the universe, if he basically succeeded, what’s not to say another calamity will correct our changes? What are we willing to pay to save half the universe?”

 “The price is not always exact Jane,” Thor tries but:

 “She’s right,” Gamora says. “Even if the outcome is different, the price is always paid. My father wants to murder half the universe with the snap of his fingers. How do we even begin to stop him?”

 Loki can see it, perhaps a ghost of it, in his mind’s eye.

 A smirk and then a snap.  

 “The timeline never quite reached its destination the first time around. Perhaps our destiny is not yet set?” the Vision suggests.

 “But how can we be sure of that?” Jane argues. “We have to consider all of our options. Yes, we have all but one of the stones in our possession. Yes, we know Thanos is coming. But we have to consider the idea that we might lose. What will be do then?”

 “We prepare for the worst,” Strange says.

 Loki hopes it’s not going to come to that.  

Chapter Text

x

x


 

 

Loki runs into Gamora – quite literally – while leaving Stark tower one night.

He’s due to travel to Wakanda tomorrow afternoon, Gamora in the morning with the rest of the Guardians, each as a protection force for an infinity stone.

Absentmindedly, they collide – Loki is forced a few steps backwards – when she’s heading back in from the balconies, and while he’s heading for the lifts.

 Gamora snaps back to reality with the shake of her head. “I’m sorry – I didn’t see you there.”

 “No, my apologies,” Loki responds. “I wasn’t paying attention either. Were you - ?”

 “Leaving, yes.”

 Loki gestures down the hallway. “After you.”

 Gamora – she hesitates, but walks stiffly ahead.

Neither of them speak for a moment, as Loki catches up to her side.

 “…Were you watching the city?” Loki asks – he feels like he should say something. “The view from here is quite beautiful, for Midgard at least.”

 “No,” Gamora says, quickly at that. “I was watching the sky.” 

 Oh. That must mean…?

 They reach the lifts before Loki has the courage to ask, “…For Thanos?”

 Gamora – having just pressed the call button – more caught off guard than amused – laughs.

 “For my sister.”

 “Oh.”

 Gamora laughs again. “She’s double-checking the security of the Soul Stone before heading to Earth. She should be here any day soon. I’m sure she’s safe, but the more time that passes –  ”

 “ – her absence makes you worry more,” Loki finishes for Gamora, as the lift arrives.

 Gamora blinks at him, her brow raised.

“What?” he says in response, strolling inside. “I have the universes’ dumbest brother – I understand your anxiety.”

 Gamora laughs again – rolls her eyes – but it feels more sincere this time. “Of course,” she teases, following Loki in. “May we both be reunited with our ‘dumb’ siblings soon enough.”

 Loki hopes so too.

 

 Gamora leaves for Wakanda promptly by sunrise, as per the plan.

 In fact, everyone has left by this point, everyone and every stone has left for Wakanda.

 Everyone but Loki, Tony, Strange, and the time stone hanging around Strange’s neck, and once it’s confirmed that the Guardians have touched down in Wakanda, Loki knows it’s time to make their move.

 What he doesn’t expect, however, having made his way up to the launch pad of the Avengers tower, is to see Jane waiting for him. She’s sat off to the side, while Stark and Strange are off making the final preparations to their quinjet.

 Loki wonders, just for a second, whether she’s here for someone else, but then Jane makes eye contact with him across the floor and Loki knows.

 “Evening, Jane,” Loki says, strolling over to her. He’ll be polite, but distant. He cannot assume familiarity.

 Yet, Jane smiles at him, if perhaps meekly. “Loki.”

 They both stare at the other.

 “…What is it you want, Jane?”  Loki says, softly.

 She bites her lip, obviously conflicted.

 Jane shuffles on her perch.

 “I know – know logically – you are not the man you once were. I hope – well, if we get the time, I may be able to feel that too. Once this is all over. But, for now, please,” she finally re-meets Loki’s gaze, “keep Thor safe. I – I want him to come home.”

  Loki feels her words echo inside him.

 He – he kneels, and reaches out to take her hands in his. “A chance at your forgiveness is more than I deserve. I will do everything in my power to keep my brother safe, Jane. I swear it.”

 “Greasy!” Tony calls across to them. He waves. “Time to go.”

 Loki turns back to Jane, but rises to his feet.

 “Goodbye Jane.”

 Jane nods. “For now.”

 

 Loki can’t help but think over their conversation in the air.

 He’s sitting on one side of the jet, Strange the other, as Tony pilots them through the air. He’s rambling – a sign that he’s nervous, Loki knows now – but, gods, Loki would like him to shut up for just five minutes.

 “You know,” Stark continues, popping a blueberry into his mouth, “I thought Jane was going to kiss you for a second there. Like, whoa! Brotherly rivalry gets to the next level. ‘Course, I don’t really know your preferences. Men? Women? Fuck gender? I mean, same, but I was kind of looking forwards to some non-end-of-the-world related drama.”

 Strange gives Loki perhaps one of the most murderous stares Loki has ever seen.

 Stark continues, unaware. “Maybe Steve will finally come out to us before the apocalypse. We all know he’s practically engaged to Bucky, like come on. And – of course – I don’t want him to be pressured into it, but I’d like to, you know, be invited to the wedding.”

 “Stark,” Strange interrupts finally, seething in annoyance. “If you don’t stop talking soon, I will seal your mouth shut so you can never speak again.”

 Tony gasps, and spins around in his seat. “Wizard! How dare you threaten me like that – woah!” Stark doges to the side just in time to avoid the blast of magic thrown at his head. “Rude!”

 Then –

 Loki barely catches it.

 – There’s a giggle, muffled, stifled.

 A suspiciously young sounding giggle.

 …No.

 Loki holds a hand up in the air, and places another to his lips.

 Stark misinterprets this entirely. “Greasy, even you want me to shut up? I thought we had a bond!”

Loki forcefully glares at Stark. “Shush, you idiots! I’m listening!”

 To which, Loki hears a very, very quiet, “Oh shit…!”

Loki quietly rises from his seat – it’s finally quiet – and silently paces over to the stack of supplies and crates in the corner.

 He listens.

 …

 And hears breathing.

 How Strange and Stark didn’t think to check for stowaways baffles Loki.

 With one swift movement, Loki plunges into the boxes and drags a slightly scuffed Peter Parker out from behind them.

 “Ow, ow! Let go!” Peter complains, as Loki keeps a tight hold on the scruff of Peter’s suit.

 “I can’t believe you’ve done this,” Loki deadpans, not really that surprised.

 “What the – ” Stark shouts. He points an accusatory finger. “You should not be here!”

 “I know what you’re going to say,” Peter begins, as Loki drops him to the ground.

 Yes, it’ll be fun to witness this conversation.

 “I was going to stay home but – “

 “Harry Potter, didn’t you put up – like – magic mojo bullshit barriers or something? So kids like this couldn’t sneak on board?!”

 “That’s not how magic works, Stark,” Strange groans, sinking down into his seat.

 Stark aggressively flips back to the console, pressing some buttons, and then rises from his seat to storm over to Peter. “I thought you’d be smarter than this, Pete.”

 “Mr. Stark, I - ”

 “Don’t pretend you thought this through.”

 “I did!”

 “You could not have possibly thought this through.”

 “You can’t be a friendly neighbourhood Spiderman if there is no neighbourhood!” Peter finally shouts.

 This shuts up Tony.

 “…The child has a point, Stark,” Loki says, grinning innocently when Stark whips around to sneer at him.

 “Yes, the child!”

  This is when the quinjet takes a hit.

 Peter and Strange manage to stay relatively still, but Loki finds himself thrown back into the wall, and Stark topples to the floor.

 “What was that?” Peter shouts, over the now blaring sirens and flashing lights.

 Tony stumbles to his feet – and Loki does the same, rubbing at his head – making his way over to the control panel.

 “Incoming communication, boss,” Friday announces to the room, and the group huddles at the control panel as Stark opens the line.

 Up on the screen, Ebony Maw’s face peers through at them.

 Loki steels himself

 “Hear me, and rejoice!” Maw begins. “You are about to die at the hands of the children of Thanos. Be thankful that your meaningless lives are now contributing to the balance – “

 Tony has had enough. “I’m sorry, but Earth is closed today,” he snaps back. “You better pack it up and get outta here.”

 “Stonekeeper, does this chattering animal speak for you?”

 Loki wonders, for a minute, who this is directed to exactly, but the haunted look in Strange’s eyes tells him enough. The man’s vision is flickering around, between Tony and Peter, and the stone around his neck. 

 The reaction of a haunted man.

 “Shoot them out of the sky, Stark,” is what Strange seems to settle on saying, and then forcibly shuts down the communication line.

 Strange stomps back to his seat.

 “…Well, okay, I guess this is happening,” Stark mumbles to himself. “Everybody, buckle up!” Stark says, sliding into the pilot seat. Everybody scrambles to their seats, but Loki heads next to Strange.

 “This happened before, didn’t it? How did they know where to find us?” Loki asks, as he straps himself in.

 Strange shakes his head. “I don’t know. Last time – ” he pauses, glancing at Peter, but the boy is entranced by the view out of the windows. “Last time, Maw came directly to Earth for the Time stone. Perhaps he can track it?”

 “Either way, we can’t let him follow us directly to Wakanda. What’s our ETA, Stark?” Loki asks out. Tony has definitely sped up now, and Loki can see the blasts from Maw’s ship just missing them.

 “About two hours. Still, we need to lose Squidward before we take any more hits.”

 “Hey!” Peter suddenly pipes in. “We should do that thing people do in movies where, like, you find some cliffs and go through the tiny gap – and it’s like super tight – but the other ship won’t fit, so they either crash or you fake them out.”

 Loki blinks.

 What does that mean?

 Stark, however, “Better than nothing – thank god you watch a lot of movies, kid. A detour through the Atlas mountains it is!”

 Loki sees Stark swerve the steering before he feels the serge of force as the plane twists dramatically in the air.

 It doesn’t take long to reach the mountain range. Stark, as they approach, dips the quinjet down past the snow-covered peaks, down and down until they’re surfing through the hills. Yet – Loki takes a glance out one of the back windows – Maw is still gaining ground, and quickly at that.

 Loki has a terrible idea.

 He unclips himself and rises, stumbling to the front of the jet.

 “Stark, I need you to open the hanger door.”

 Tony stares at him, wide eyed, and goes to protest but – “Oh fuck it, you know what you’re doing.” Loki hears the door unlock, the woosh of air that comes with it. “Just try not to die.”

 Loki nods.

 Noted.

 He begins pacing back to the hanger. “Peter,” he begins. “Are your web-shooters functional?”

 Peter, eyes flicking back between Loki and the now gaping wide hanger doors, replies, “Uh, yeah. Why?”

 Loki smirks. “Be ready to pull me back before Maw crashes.”

 With that, Loki levels his eyes outside the quinjet, waiting… yes, there comes Maw’s ship, swerving around the corner.

 Loki sets on his target, runs in the direction of the doors, and jumps.

 “Jesus - !” Loki hears Peter shout, as Loki flies through the air, the wind whipping through his hair. With a thud, teeth clenched, he lands right on the windscreen of Maw’s ship and, pulling a dagger from his sleeve, stabs his hand right through the glass.

 There are some shouts from inside, a few blasts Loki deftly dodges, as he reaches inside the ship to grip the pilot from his seat and throw him from the plane.

 The creature goes tumbling out of sight.

 Chaos enough, Loki thinks.

 Moments later, there’s a tug on his shirt, and Loki finds himself pulled back. Gripping tight, Loki sees within seconds of his departure the ship crash into the walls of a mountain pass, and crumble down to the surface floor.

 Hadn’t had enough time to turn with their pilot missing.

 Loki lands with a thud back inside the quinjet, back against the wall, hair in his face.

 There’s silence.

 Loki blows a stray hair away from his face. “I think that went rather well.”

 Strange runs a hand over his face.

 

 The rest of the journey is spent discussing how Ebony Maw could have possibly located them.

 “We’ve got to have something to tell the others when we arrive,” Strange says. “This means Thanos is close.”

 “If he can track the stones, it means he’ll be coming straight for us,” Stark replies. “That’s gotta be the assumption we work off, just in case.”

 “How many aliens will be coming?” Peter asks, in a small voice.

 Loki flashes back to his time as Thanos’ agent, the sheer mass of monstrosities that followed him.

 “Nothing more than we can handle,” Loki lies.

 The descent into Wakanda is perhaps the least eventful part of their journey. Peter awes and ahs as they brake the mirage of the jungle and Wakanda’s skyline fades into view, nature and technology in perfect harmony.

 Tony pulls the quinjet down into a bay of other ships, facing a pitch black building with shining windows. Waiting on the tarmac for them appears to be the Wakandan royal guard with the King himself. Yet, surprisingly, Peter Quill is also at his side, his face tight.

 Strange and Loki share a look.

 Exiting the plane, T’Challa waves Tony and Peter in his direction, while Quill pulls Strange and Loki in the other. “We shall regroup later,” T’Challa explains, “but first there are some pressing matters that we must deal with simultaneously.”

 There’s something off with Quill, Loki realises, almost immediately.

 “What?” Loki asks, as Tony, Peter and T’Challa fade from view. “What is it?”

Quill is quite obviously pained. He nervously twitches before speaking, “I’ll – Okay, I’ll start with the obvious. I remember. Don’t – don’t interrupt me. You need to hear this.” Quill takes a deep breath.

 “Thanos attacked the Nova Corp and probably killed the poor bastard that originally died protecting the power stone. Being the next closest person to the stone, yada yada, cut a long story short, I remember now. But – I also.” Quill gulps. “I got a vision, of the – the poor bastard dying. Thanos was there, as she died. The soul stone – it was in the gauntlet.”

  The air turns to ice.

 “I was watching the sky,” Loki remembers Gamora say.   

“…For Thanos?”

 “For my sister.”

Nebula’s missing.

 “How?” Strange demands. “The soul stone – it demands a price. He couldn’t have gotten it without Gamora.”

 Quill shakes his head. “Gamora thought she was the only one Thanos actually gave a shit about. But Nebula – ” Quill chokes out the next few words “ – she was still his daughter too.”

 Loki feels the future beginning to slip through their fingers.

 

 Loki remains outside the rest of the evening. And the night. He’s sat on the stairs of the palace come dawn, bags under his eyes and legs stiff, locked in place from hours of being sat in the same position.

He doesn’t know what to think anymore.

Nebula. Dead.

Sibling for sibling.

Gamora had been distraught, hence why Quill had come to tell them.

Loki uses the moon and sun to track the time.

 Hours ago now, Loki realised that, in the original timeline, he was long dead by now.

 Last time Thanos began his invasion, Loki was one of the first victims.

 He didn’t think – dared not consider – what could happen this time around, thought they were better prepared.

 A sibling for a sibling.

 If I live…

 A deep knot of tension releases from his lungs when Loki spots the Asgardian ship, finally descending down to Earth.

 Borrowed time, Loki reminds himself, clambering to his feet.

 He has to accept it. For their sake.

 Thor descends first, bounding out of the doors, Valkyrie and Hela and Korg at his side.

 Safe.

 Loki finally rises to his feet, barely contains himself as the small band of warriors approach. Thor, upon reaching him, clasps Loki in a tight hug, lifting him awkwardly off the ground. Loki feels his arms flailing, never quite sure how to respond to such public affection, but then Thor is placing him down carefully, and beaming down at him.

 He is too good for this war, Loki thinks, and promises, once again, I’ll keep him safe.

 No matter the cost.

 

 They re-join the rest of the Avengers momentarily, as they sit scattered around Shuri’s lab. Thor – sensing the mood – says solemnly as he approaches “My friends, I have heard the recent news. Where do we currently stand?”

  Natasha, closest to the door, shakes her head. “We’re waiting for Shuri to finish rewiring the Vision. Then we can decide what to do with the stones.”

 “I’m going as quickly as I can,” Shuri says, fiddling away with her holographic screen. It’s flashing gold, reflecting the veins in the Vision’s skin. Peter sits at his side, brows furrowed, and Tony hovers close by. “And ‘rewiring’ is an oversimplification. I’m reprograming the synapses to work collectively.”

 “Genius, really,” Stark interjects, playing with his glasses. “Brucie would agree with me, but – uh – ” Tony gestures towards the Hulk, who is sat being entertained by Valkyrie.

 “How long has he been stuck like this?” Strange asks, hunched over a nearby table, hands clasped near his face.

 “A few months now,” Natasha admits. “It’s – worrying.”

 “He’ll be okay,” Steve says. He’s sat thigh to thigh with Bucky on the window seat, their hands quite obviously clasped. “Right now, we have bigger problems.”

 “As soon as Shuri is done, we should destroy the stones,” Hope van Dyne says. She’s sat similarly with Scott, who – seemingly reluctant – nods in agreement.

 “What?” Strange stands, obviously shocked by this proposal.

 Clint speaks up, “I agree. Destroying them is the only way to guarantee Thanos can never get his hands on them.”

 “You can’t be serious,” Strange says. “I swore an oath to protect the Time stone. I can’t be its destroyer. How would we even do that?”

 There’s a beat of silence.

 And then Wanda raises her hands. “I think – well, Pietro and I got our powers from the stone. If anyone can…” She winces. “I’m sorry, Dr. Strange, but I agree. As soon as the Vision is free from the stone…”

 “I can’t allow this,” Strange snaps, and desperate – “Loki, surely you must agree with me? Just think – think what destroying the stones could do to the balance.”

 And, all at once, Loki feels the focus of the room shift onto him.

 He – Thor’s presence at his side firms his resolve.

 “It might be our only way to change the future,” Loki concludes.

 Strange’s nostrils flare.

 Sharply, he steps out from the table, and promptly storms from the room.

 The room is silent, Strange’s footsteps echoing down the corridor the only sound.

 Loki – sighs.

 “I’ll go talk to him. Just – don’t destroy the stones until we have no other options.”

 Loki follows out after his friend.  

 

 He finds Strange in the vault where the infinity stones are being kept. The tesseract, power, and reality stones sit snugly in their glass cases, soft light pulsating from them at regular intervals.

 A warm green emanates from Strange’s neck, as he paces, shoulders hunched, in the centre of the room.

 Back facing Loki, Strange speaks, “I can’t do it, you know that. Not when they might be our last defence against Thanos.”

 “It’s the only way, Stephen,” Loki replies. “I – I might die, in this battle.”

 This makes Strange turn.

 “No, you won’t.”

 Loki grimaces. “Nebula is dead in exchange for Gamora. We have not found a way to fix the balance. I cannot – don’t make me say it, Strange.”

 I will not let Thor die for me.  

 “You will not,” Strange reiterates, getting up in Loki’s space. “I will not allow it.”

 “Destroying the stones now ensures the snap cannot happen. It may not change my fate, Stephen, but everyone else can live.”

 “What’s not to say destroying the stones would lead to another imbalance? Loki, we have changed so much…! Do not - ”

Then they hear the first explosion. It grumbles through the air – Loki feels the ground shudder beneath his feet. With a shaky glance towards the windows Loki sees it; dozens upon dozens of meteors crushing down to the surface, just outside what Loki recognises as the cities’ protective dome. They leave triangular shards in the landscape, destructive and unnatural.

 Loki knows in his gut this is an army.

 “Shit,” Strange spits. “I thought we’d have more time. I – I have to go. Just, please Loki, stick to the plan. Don’t make any rash decisions.” Strange paces towards the door, shaking his head at Loki. “I’m sorry, we just have to hope.”

 He leaves Loki surrounded by the dim glow of the infinity stones.

 We’re doomed, Loki realises.

 Destined to repeat the cycle.

 Perhaps Strange will let us repeat again.

 Right now, it’s the only solace he has.

 Loki takes a shallow breath, and goes to leave –

 – Yet.

 The light of the Tesseract pulses twice.

 Loki stalls. 

 

 “Loki!” Thor calls out, as his brother hurriedly walks towards him. He’s standing by the Asgardian battle-cruisers, waving as Loki approaches. “Everything is prepared, brother. Our soldiers are ready – here and around the world – the stage is set. We must go. Many of our friends have already departed.”

 Loki nods his head, coming to stand directly before his brother. “Good. Everything is going to plan.” He takes a glance at the sky. “…Thanos is likely saving himself for last.”

 Indeed, Loki, squinting at the sky, cannot see any sign of – of –

 The breath catches in his throat.

 “Loki?” Thor asks, snapping Loki out of – whatever –

 “I’m fine,” Loki snaps. “…Brother,” he then adds, with a smile. “This is not the time to relive my past traumas. Come.” He says, taking the steps up onto the golden deck. “Let us join the battle, Thor.”

 Thor, obviously not assured, follows anyway.

 Loki savours it.

 

 Whizzing over the ground, the Asgardians reach the front lines to the cries of ‘Yibambe!’ A people ready to fight for their home, their lives.

 Hela, who has been driving their cruiser, skids to a halt right before the collection of Wakandan soldiers. She’s grinning, viciously, and Loki knows she’s thirsty for blood.

The Avengers and the Guardians turn to face them, as Thor bounds off the front deck. “My friends. Everything is prepared.”

 “Good,” Natasha says between ground teeth. “Because they’re coming.”

 She’s right.

 Thanos’ army – the Outriders, Loki recognises – have begun flowing out of their ships in a constant stream.

 They are countless.

 Throwing themselves towards the barriers, they jump, climb and push at the wall, tearing themselves limb from limb, completely senseless.

 “They’re killing themselves,” Okoye chokes out. Tony, Sam and Rhodey have already taken to the skies, picking off any stragglers they can, but –

 “Captain, if the outriders circle the perimeter and surround us…” Loki says, abandoning ship to join the front lines. Hela does so at the same time, leaving the helm of the ship to Valkyrie and Korg.

 Steve picks up on his inference. “Then we better keep them in front of us.”

 “Oh, I do love a good bloodbath,” Hela cackles.

 (Quill and Okoye share a horrified look. “Who is this lady?” Scott deadpans.)

 T’Challa – thankfully saying nothing – reaches for his communicator. “On my signal, open the North-West Section Seventeen… yes, on my signal.”

 “This will be the end of Wakanda,” M’Baku mumbles but Rocket at his feet, blaster slung over his shoulder replies:

 “It’ll be the end of the universe if we’re not careful.”

 “For the universe!” Korg chants, as inspiring as ever, to Valkyrie’s eye roll.

 “Ready, brother?” Thor asks, slinking up to Loki’s side.

 Hela comes to stand at his other, a hand on his shoulder. “I bet I’ll kill more than you.”

 Loki’s glad he’s not alone.

 As the Captain readies his hand guards, ass T’Challa shouts his commands, as the Guardians huddle, as the Hulk pulls Natasha up onto his shoulder, as their fliers fall in line, as the Maximoff siblings gather their strength, Loki stares out at the line.

 And nods.

 “WAKANDA FOREVER!” T’Challa shouts, and the charge begins.

 Loki loses track of most people now. Whatever he was thinking of slips away, as his feet move without him. Many women, men, and warriors are at his heels – Loki draws his draggers to his side – and then Strange flies above his head.

 He takes out the outriders directly in front of Loki, giving Loki the chance to spin into those behind and cut them into slithers. Then there are sparks at his side, and Loki ducks just in time for Thor to melt a collection of aliens with a blast of electricity, then spinning deftly to punch another outrider in the jaw. Loki, swiftly, slides under Thor’s arm, stabs the creature in the gut, and kicks the feet out under another just in time for Hela to send a sea of swords into the fray.

One after another, tens after dozens, hundreds after hundreds.

Duck, weave, stab, blast, repeat.

It is never-ending.

“Is Quill listening to music right now?” Hela asks at one point, skewering at least a dozen outriders at once.

 Trust his sister to make casual conversation on the battlefield.

 “Probably,” Loki responds, just missing a bite at his head. He simply stabs the creature in the head. “I’ll say it now – I don’t understand Midgardians.”

 “Is this really the time, brother?” Thor shouts back, as he smashes into the ground with a wave of energy.

 “You’re one to talk!” Loki laughs, throwing a dagger out to kill the enemy sneaking up on Gamora. “I saw you comparing beards with Steve earlier!”

 Wanda grounds a mountainous roller down in front of their feet. Loki jumps to the side, dodging it, and nods in thanks at her before running back to his brother. “Well? Who has the better facial hair?”

 “Not now, Loki! Look over there!” Thor points, and Loki spins just in time to see one of Thanos’ minions plunge out of one of the palace’s windows. “Is the Vision - ?”

 Peter Parker’s head sticks out of the same window, watching the alien fall to its death.

 Loki bets the boy whistled.

 “I’ll go help him…!” he then hears Pietro say in a rush of air, and a blue streak flies across the field back towards the city.

 Loki gets back into routine.

 The fight continues.

 For a while, despite all Loki’s fears, it feels like they’re winning.

 And then Thanos emerges.

 

 Thanos does not arrive in a moment of glory.

 He does not arise daunting from the hills. He does not appear on the horizon.

 Thanos fights in the shadows, and emerges when Loki least expects it.

 He’s just chased a group of outriders into the jungle – got to keep an eye on the stragglers, make sure they don’t make their way into the city – just slit their throats and watched them crumble to the ground, ready to head back.

 Loki, surveying his damage, brushes a hand across his forehead, starts walking, and runs into something completely solid.

 “What might an Asgardian be doing here?” A horrifyingly familiar voice wonders.

 Loki doesn’t even have the chance to move.

 In one sharp motion, there’s a hand clasped around his throat, clenching, and Loki finds himself forced into view of Thanos’ jagged smile.

 His blood runs cold, and colder yet.

 “Thanos,” Loki gasps, between breaths.

 “So, you know me?” Thanos replies. “Hm, sadly I don’t you. Yet,” Thanos’ grip tightens, “something tells me we’ve met before.” He’s pulled closer, close enough to smell Thanos’ breath. “Your eyes,” Thanos continues. “Only those who have lived to tell the tale look at me like you do.”

 I’m going to die here.

 “You,” gods, this is familiar, “will never be a god,” he has to say, if this is the end.  

 “Oh?” Thanos pulls Loki closer. “And why is that? The stones are within my reach.”

 There’s a blur of motion behind them.

 And the pulsing of an infinity stone inside Loki’s shirt, two beats.

 Like a heart.

 It is a reminder.

 Loki – suddenly – instantly – remembers that this world is not the same as it was and decides, no, I am not ready.  

 If he must die, he will not go without a fight.

 “You will lose,” Loki begins, with a smile, “because my sister is scarier than you.”

  Hela leaps, spear raised high.

  The fight for the universe really begins.

 Thanos – hearing the motion in the air – has to spin in time to catch in his free hand, the gauntlet, but he’s dropping everything when Thor, sliding across the forest floor, kicks Thanos’ feet out from under him.

 Just like that, Loki is free.

 He falls to the floor, but Thor is there to pick him up and ask, “You okay?”

 “You’re late,” is all Loki finds he is able to say.  

 Hela – keeping Thanos busy – quips as she darts past her two brothers, “Better late than never!”

 Loki smirks.

 Thor grins back.

 They charge in.

 The fight is long – hard. If any other allies are near, they either decide not to intervene – Thanos clearly outmatched and the rhythm of the Asgardian siblings too strong.

 Duck, weave, stab, blast, repeat.

 It is never-ending.

 Yet –

 There is an opportunity.

 As Hela is flipping over Thanos’ head, kick aimed at his face, Loki takes a shot at the gauntlet, the soul stone flashing in his vision. Yet, Thanos is ready, accepting the foot to the face so that he can bat Loki away, but does so at the consequence of Hela wrapping her legs around Thanos’ neck and twisting.

 He goes flying, right to the ground in front of Thor.

 “Brother!” Loki cries, and throws his dagger. Thor catches it single handily, instantly aware, and in his close quarters aims the weapon at Thanos’ throat –

 Loki sees the Soul Stone flicker too late. 

 A figure, old and worn, bursts into the world in between Thor and Thanos, and croaks out a single word.

 “…Son?”

 Odin.

 Face to face with a ghost, Thor freezes in his tracks – Loki and Hela too, a demon thought long defeated now before them – and that oh so brief moment of hesitation is enough.

Thanos rips the dagger from Thor’s hand and stabs through the illusion and into Thor’s chest.

 Loki doesn’t hear himself scream.

 He’s frozen, and Thanos is pushing the sword in deeper – norns, it was supposed to be him…! – but then Thanos stops – no, it’s too late – because now Thanos is screaming in pain, because Hela took advantage of the situation, she’s seen Thanos’ weakness, and in his moment of glory, cut off his hand and the gauntlet in one swift motion.

 Thanos drops the dagger and tumbles to his knees and shrieks and clutches his stump of an arm as Hela pushes another blade through his heart.

 Loki doesn’t care though.

 Thor is lying face down on the ground.

 Hela’s anger is wordless, furious, as she grips at Thanos’ head, yanking it back sharply as he screams.

 Loki is at Thor’s side.

 Thanos, in pain, screaming, still laughs.

 Loki turns his brother over.

 “Thor.”

 Hela rips the sword from Thanos’ chest. “You will die slowly. I shall make sure of it.”

 “Loki,” Thor whispers, his chest blossoming into a red flower.

 “I will be avenged,” Thanos says. “My ambitions will outlive me.”

 “Oh gods, Thor, I can – I can – ”

 “As long as the stones exist, there will be collectors.”

 It clicks.

 The universe demands balance.

 He understands. 

 Finally, finally.

 Loki rises to his feet, as Thanos continues; the titan rambles, about life and the universe, pain and death, but Loki isn’t listening. He knows Thor is watching, as Loki pulls the tesseract out from his armour, and takes the gauntlet with his other hand. The space stone – called home – emerges out from its casing.

 Loki takes one last look at his brother.

 “The sun will shine on us again, I swear it.”

 He slips on the gauntlet, and is gone.

 

 Loki starts in the vaults. The two stones held here – reality and power – are realised from their cases with a wave of magic. Effortlessly, they flitter into their slots in the gauntlet.

 Then he teleports his way through to Shuri’s lab. The scientist herself is stood, shoulders anxiously hunched, by the window, watching the battle. Yet, unexpectedly, the Vision and Peter are at her side. There was enough time, this go around, to save them all. No one notices as Loki paces over to the mind stone, discarded and forgotten on the lab bench.

 Then, Loki is at Strange’s side, grabbing the man by his shoulders and teleporting them both to the quiet height of the battlefield.  

  “Strange, do you trust me?” Loki asks, cutting straight to the chase, grip tight on Strange’s arms.

 “Loki - ? What?” Strange says, eyes frantically flickering as he adjusts to their new location. “What do you mean - ?” Then he spots the gauntlet – how it flickers with gems.

  Strange stills, realisation dawning on his features.

 A hand of his own reaches up to clutch the Eye of Agamotto.

 “What will you do with it?” Strange asks.

 Loki can only say, “Right the balance.”

 Suddenly, Loki feels a rush of power – he checks the gauntlet – Strange has already slotted the time stone into place.

 No more questions asked.

 “Thank you,” Loki says, and he snaps his fingers.

 

The world is red, and there’s a sun setting in the sky. The floor ripples beneath Loki’s feet, echoing the colour of the sky above, yet there is nothing else to be seen but the crumbled remains of little farmhouse.

 It’s silent – completely.  

 Loki – he – how?

 He checks his hands. The gauntlet is gone, as are all his cuts and wounds. He feels no pain, no tiredness, no hunger.

 Here, he just exists.

 As he looks back up, now there’s a child in front of the house – stoic, hands hanging straight at her sides.   

 “Hello,” she says, measured and calm.

 “…Hello,” Loki echoes, at a lack of anything else to say.

 “Do you know who I am?” the girl asks. The markings on her face – purple against a rich blue – crinkle as she frowns.

 Uh – “Should I?” Loki replies.

 The child sighs. “I suppose we never did have the chance to meet. It’s no matter. I’m here as a messenger, more or less.”

 “And where is here?” Loki has to ask – casting another look around. It’s a strange reality – his vision doesn’t stretch to the ends of the plains – the world just turns to mist.

 Loki doesn’t receive an answer to his question.

 “There’s someone who would like to talk to you,” the girl says to him. “Before you return.”

 Someone from here? “Who?”

 “Me,” a new voice says, old at the same time. Loki turns to face it –

 Odin smiles at Loki. “Hello, my son.”

 Oh.

 “You’re dead.”

 “I am,” Odin hums.

  “…Am I too?” Loki dares to ask.

 He’s met with a pleasant chuckle. Odin – in this place – looks kind. “Of course not – far from it, in fact. You are more alive than perhaps you have ever been.”

 “Then why am I here?” Loki persists.

 What was it he had been doing? Before this place?

 “I wanted to say goodbye,” Odin says, eyes heavy. “And I wanted to tell you just how proud I am of you, my boy.”

 What?

 “I – ” Loki feels his throat swell, his eyes water. “I don’t need your acceptance. Not anymore.”

 Yet, despite everything, Odin reaches out and clasps his son’s hands in his own. His skin is blissfully warm. “Live your life knowing you have it all the same.”

 The world fades to white and dust.

Chapter Text

x

 


 

 

Loki blinks.

The noise returns, the battlefield, he recalls, and the sights and smells of war.

 Someone’s looking at him, staring.

 Strange blinks back.

 Oh.

“What did you - ?” Strange asks, eyes darting around the battle field. “Everything looks the same?”

 Loki – yes, they were fighting, he clicked his fingers.  

 He holds a finger up – to silence Strange this time. “Give it a second.”

 It shouldn’t take long.

 Indeed, Loki feels it first, brushing against his skin before he sees it.

 The dust rising in the air.  

 When Strange spots it, his face goes slack and his eyes wide. Realisation dawns on him, and the two friends stand and watch as the Outriders bellow them begin to crumble into dust.

 “You…” Strange pauses, seemingly speechless.

 Loki nods. “I turned Thanos’ plan against him. I snapped him and his army out of existence.”

 Strange seems to process this. His gaze returns out to the jungle, a sea of ash washing upwards. “You maintained the timeline…” he says, distantly. “How do you know the value is equivalent? Half the universe to one army?”

 Ah.

 Loki holds his hand – the gauntlet, charred and fuming – out on display. “I’m sure.”

 And, as if on cue, the infinity gauntlet begins crumbling before their eyes. The dust climbs down Loki’s arm, to the palm, and flitters away, up into the sky.

 Only the stones remain, floating in mid-air, dancing in place, and then –

 “You traded the stones,” Strange breathes, as first stone - the soul stone – dissipates into ash.

The reality stone is next, then the mind. “Our friends,” Loki says, “were right. Thanos was too, to an extent.”  Now, the power stone is gone. “As long as the stones’ exist, there will be those who seek to abuse their powers.” Time crumbles next – Loki wonders if Strange is sad to see it go – and then all is left is space. “I merely killed two birds with one stone.”

 It lasts only for a moment, before flittering away with the wind.

 All they are left with is the wind.

 “We did it,” Strange says. It doesn’t quite sound like he believes the words he spoke. “Loki, we – oh god, Loki, your chest.”

 Hm? Loki looks down, places a hand to his chest – it comes back dyed red.

 Oh, yes, that. “I wondered when the wound would transfer…” Loki says more to himself than Strange.

“What did you do, you idiot?!” Strange is fussing – he’s always fussing about something, Loki thinks, somewhat lightheaded.

 There’s pressure on his chest now, as Loki recalls distantly, “Thor got stabbed, and I couldn’t exactly let him die, so I transferred the wound to myself while I had the gauntlet. Wasn’t hard. Stop touching me, I’m fine.”

 He goes to take a step and his legs promptly buckle under him, rather frustratingly disproving his previous claim.

 It’s getting a little hard to keep listening to Strange – his ears feel muffled – but, he should reiterate, “I’m not dying, you know. My father said I’m more alive than ever.”

 Strange is saying something in response to this – urgently, in fact but – oh, Loki’s eyelids are just so heavy.

 Perhaps – just a nap.

 The world will be there, waiting, in the morning.  

 Loki’s world fades to black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A faint humming.

That is the next thing Loki hears.

Beeps. Short, but consistent in their rhythm.

His head feels foggy, his chest heavy.

Loki dares open his eyes –

And there is the ceiling, jagged and sharp, of what Loki – distantly, almost subconsciously – recognises as the Wakandan science lab.

 I’m alive? Loki wonders.

 He considers this.

 …No, I’m probably dead. Let’s be realistic here.  

Loki twitches his fingers – grabs at the cloth beneath him. This feels real – not like some death induced hallucination.

 He tilts his head, perhaps a scan of the area will help orientate him, but then he sees Thor.

His brother is asleep, soundly, at his bedside, head titled back in his chair and gripping Loki’s hand tightly. In fact, it appears as if the whole team is asleep in his small room. Further down, young Peter Parker rests his head, brows furrowed in sleep, on his other side Wanda and Pietro sleep, close for comfort, then Hela, Steve, Tony, Bruce – yes, Bruce, not the Hulk – Natasha, etc, etc…

 …You all better not be dead with me.

Loki’s eyes skirt past them, however, back around to his brother, so peacefully distant from the world.

 He sits with the sound of Thor breathing for a while.

 Then, when he’s ready, Loki pulls his hand free from Thor’s grip – slowly, not to wake him – and presses his palm up against Thor’s chest.

 Where Thanos stabbed his brother clean through is completely intact.

 “Quite remarkable work,” a voice says – Loki jerks away from Thor and twists –

Strange stares back at him.

 Uh oh.

  “That was an idiotic decision, even for you,” Strange says coldly.

Loki’s throat feels dry. “I couldn’t let him die.”

 “You could have just healed him with the gauntlet – you didn’t have to transfer the wound to yourself.”

 “I had to ensure no one else would die in his place.”

 “Other than yourself, you mean?” Strange snaps and –

 Loki shushes him, placing a finger to his lips. “Don’t wake them all, Stephen,” he says, perhaps a little teasingly. “Besides, I’m alive, remarkably. There’s no harm done, in the end.” A beat. “How?”

 “…You would have died if we weren’t in Wakanda,” Strange grumbles as explanation, sinking down into his chair. “Shuri did most of the work – had a little trouble adapting to your biology – but it worked.” 

 “Without consequence?”

 Strange snorts. “You’ve probably got some permanent damage – breathing might be a little harder – but yes, Loki, no one else died.”

 Loki hums, turns away from Strange.

 He –

 “It’s over, then?” Loki asks, almost at a whisper. He places a hand on Thor’s head, runs a finger through his hair.

  “Thor and Hela were there when it happened,” Strange confirms just as quietly. “Thanos turning into dust. There’s footage on Friday’s system of the Outriders doing the same. Otherwise, there’s no trace of the stones, anywhere.” A shaky breath. “Loki, I think it’s over.”

 He really doesn’t know what to say to that.

 Loki runs his hand through Thor’s hair again.

 

 The world is oddly quiet following Thanos’ defeat.

 The Avengers spend one more week in Wakanda – ensuring the threat is over, helping to deal with some of the clean-up. There’s nothing for Loki to do – not in the wake of his injury – but then he’s healed, except for the occasional twinge, and there’s still nothing for him to do.

 No more stones, no more end of the world, no more time creeping up his spine…

 In a blur, the Avengers leave Wakanda, the panic is over, and before Loki knows it a month has past and he’s done nothing.

 “What do we even do with ourselves now?” Loki complains to Strange, as they sit in the New York sanctum. The armchair Loki’s sitting in is slightly too soft, and his cup of tea has very recently gone lukewarm. 

 Strange turns to the next page of his newspaper. “Get back to our normal lives.”

 “And pretend none of this ever happened, I presume?”

 The paper dips, and Strange scowls over it. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

 Loki feels a sneer coming on – and politely decides to hide it with his tea cup. He takes a slurp and, yes, it’s still cold.

 The paper rises again to cover Strange’s face. “Did you receive the invitation to Steve and Bucky’s wedding?”

 Loki nearly chokes on his drink.

 “When did that happen?”

 “While you were dying,” there’s still a pointed look there – when will people get over this? – before Strange continues, “America’s favourite couple were celebrating saving the world by snogging on the battlefield. Least to say the secret was very much out after that.”

 Finally, Loki concludes.

 And then slouches in his chair. “Is there anything else no one thought to tell me?”

 “Most likely.”

 The newspaper barrier goes back up.

 Loki feels his brow twitch.

 Would it be wrong to set his newspaper on fire? Loki can’t help but wonder. He can just picture it, going up in a blaze…

 Loki settles for a sulking, as loudly and as obnoxiously as possible.

 You save the world and it’s like everyone forgets within five minutes…!

 It takes a good few minutes before Strange effectively dumps his reading material. “What is wrong with you?” The sorcerer supreme deadpans.

 Loki blinks. “I beg your pardon?” he asks, innocently.

 “Why are you behaving like a child?” Strange persists.

 “I’m not behaving like a child,” Loki says, like a liar.

 “What are you afraid of?”

 “I –  ” Loki frowns.

 He wasn’t expecting that.

 “Do you think we’ll all abandon you, now the war is won?” Strange says, sharp and pointed. “Is it that you worry there’s no place for you here without the fighting? Or is it that everyone is moving on around you, and you don’t know how to?”

 Loki’s mouth gapes in silence. His instinct is to deny, deny, deny – all of it but –  

 Loki sits firm, jaw locked.  

 Strange shifts, perches at the edge of his seat. “Whatever it is, Loki, it isn’t going to disappear. Like that hole in your chest,” Strange points, “it will never go away. It may fade – yes – but what happens to us never truly leaves us. You can either stare at the scar until it bleeds, or you can try and let it heal.”

Loki swallows – decides to play along if it will get Strange to stop. “How would I do that?”

 “Keep living. Move onto the next thing.” 

 “It’s not that easy,” Loki has to protest but –  

 Strange rises, places a hand on his friend’s shoulders. “Nothing that’s worth while ever is.”

 

 It’s with a sharp abruptness that, following this conversation with Strange, Loki storms his way into the Asgardian throne room. “Mother?” Loki calls, catching the attention of not only Frigga, but his brother and sister. “How do you feel about another coronation?”

 Totally not a decision prompted by that stupid sorcerer.

 Not at all.

 

 Loki adjusts his cape once again, frowning into the mirror. “Are you sure, mother?”

 In response, Frigga paces up behind him, strokes her palms over her son’s shoulders. She smiles in the reflection. “You look perfect, Loki, my sweet boy.” Her eyes swell. “You know, your father would be so proud.”

 Loki grapples with the stone in his throat.

 “I know, mother.”

  Soon, he’s rushing through the halls – almost late to his own coronation, Norns – and Loki slides into the hallway, decorated in fluttering curtains, to see Thor waiting for him. He’s dressed similarly to his brother, hands clasped in front of him, pacing on the spot.

 Loki’s proposal to Frigga had been unconventional to say the least.

 “We are stronger together,” Loki had said and meant it.

 Each sibling had attempted sitting on the throne alone – each attempt had ended horribly.

 Perhaps they were better sharing the position of monarch.   

 As Loki approaches, Thor offers him a meek grin from the distance. 

 “Nervous, brother?” Loki asks, to the reception of a shrug.  

 “Perhaps a little.” Thor admits. “Are you - ?”

  Loki thinks for a second his brother is referencing his mood – but then he catches where Thor’s gaze is aimed.

 Loki scoffs. “I’m fine, Thor. Stop fussing.”

 “Loki, you nearly died.

 “No, you nearly died. I fixed it.”

 “That does not count as ‘fixing’ it. Does it hurt – do you need to sit - ?”

 “I’m healing, Thor,” Loki soothes, remembering his conversation with Strange. Thor’s only concerned, he has to remind himself. “You’re such a sap,” Loki can’t help but tease, however.

  His brother huffs, “Just because I am capable of sincerity.”

 Loki gapes. “I’m capable of sincerity!”

 “Are you sure of that?”

 “Yes!”

 “Then what are you thinking about right now?” Thor challenges, an obvious twinkle in his eye.

 Loki – gulps, throat suddenly dry.

 Does he - ?

  “…I often dreamt of this day,” Loki admits quietly, never one to back down from a challenge.

 Ruling by your side.

  “Oh,” Thor replies. “…Really?”

 Loki lets the words he’d normally restrain spill out – just for today. “Of course,” he says. “Thor, all I’ve ever wanted is to be your equal.”

 Loki tenses – waiting for the jibe.  

He should have known better, for Thor melts. “Oh, Loki,” he says, wrapping his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “You always were.”

 Loki’s eyes don’t itch.

 Definitely not.

 The moment is swiftly interrupted.

 “Morning, dipshits,” Hela calls, pacing up behind them.  

 Loki’s face scrunches. “You have got to stop with the Midgardian slang.”

 “Not my fault they have such creative insults.”

 “You look good, sister.”

 Loki pauses, turns to look at his siblings. Hela does – in fact – look good. Her hair has been untangled from its bird’s nest, her usual gothic attire is somewhat brightened by a deep blue cape, her nails are recently painted…

 She seems happy.

 What startles Loki the most, however, is the amicable air shared between Thor and Hela.   

 “I always look good,” Hela huffs, and Loki wonders how so much changed without him realising. “Still not letting you touch the military, though.”

 Thor laughs – booming and joyful. “We will compromise, sister. That is what good leaders do.”

 Loki suddenly feels a little less nervous.

 “Are you both ready?” he asks to his siblings, and thinks – perhaps – now they are.

 Thor nods, as does Hela, and the three siblings step out into Asgard’s grand hall to an eruption of cheers and a burst of light.

 

Church bells ring through Brooklyn.

Loki finds himself foot at the foot of the stairs, surrounded by friends and family, clapping – quiet earnestly, for once in his life – as Steve and Bucky exit from the church, hands clasped, tear stained faces.

“Kiss, kiss, kiss!” Thor is chanting at his side – Hela cackles in response – and the newlyweds flush, yet happily oblige Thor’s request.

 There’s laugher and smiles – someone is throwing flower petals in the air – and, somehow, Loki knows everything is going to be just fine. 

 

The reception is held back at the Avengers’ Tower, and the fact that the decorations are anywhere near tasteful is likely down to Pepper – hell knows Sam and Clint would have covered ceiling to walls in Captain America merchandise if they’d had the chance.

 No, the reception is… nice, Loki has to admit. He’s hanging at the sides of the room – as habit dictates – hands in his pockets, watching as Thor spins and twirls Jane on the dance floor. They’re hideously in love, but obviously beaten by the happy couple themselves, who haven’t left each other’s arms since the first dance.

 Meanwhile, Wanda and Peter seem to be having a dance off of some kind – Loki really doesn’t get what the hell flossing is supposed to be – cheered on by many of the younger Avengers and attendees of the party. Tony is – quite obviously – recording this, as the Vision – Jarvis – struggles to hold in his laughs. Natasha and Bruce are more reserved, sitting quietly by themselves on the opposite side of the room. Loki knows they’re soon likely to slip off into the night – needing nothing but each other’s company – and Loki’s happy for them.

 All of them.

 “I thought I’d find you here,” Strange says to his side – Loki tilts his head to see the man approaching from across the room. “I was about to get some air. Want to join me?”

 Loki waits for Strange to come to a halt in front of him, crossing his arms. “What’s in it for me, Stephen?” he asks, not expecting Strange to pull a bottle of champagne out of thin air.

 Strange shrugs, and Loki laughs.

 

 They make their way out of the party to the terrace, the moon hanging high above them. The two men have positioned themselves on the building edge, a glass in one hand, gripping the railing with the other.

 The world feels small.

 “Did you figure it out?” Strange asks eventually, once the stars have raised high enough in the sky. “What’s next?”

 The wind’s softly blowing behind them as Loki considers his answer.

 He grins. “…I may have a few ideas.”