Actions

Work Header

Labyrinth of Shadows

Chapter Text

Thor’s eye fluttered open and he looked up at the plain bunk above him. He could hear the waves lapping at the sides of the ship they were on. Turning his head, the god of thunder could see his brother was still sleeping peacefully in the bed across from him. Thor grinned and sat up, his gaze wandering to the bunk above Loki, where Wanda was also fast asleep. It was rather early in the morning, so Thor wasn’t surprised his cabin mates weren’t yet awake. Rising to his feet, Thor looked to the bunk above him and found Banner was also still asleep, snoring softly. Smiling, the god of thunder pulled the thin blanket up a little more on his friend.

He moved over to the door, pulling it open and stepping out into the narrow hall. He could hear faint sounds up ahead and followed the sounds out onto the deck of the ferry. The cool sea breeze brushed against his face and Thor smiled, enjoying the fresh air. He stepped further out into the sun and moved over to the railing, breathing in deeply.

“Good morning, sunshine.”

Thor’s smile widened and he looked over to the chaise lounges. Ayo and Brunnhilde were basking in the sunlight, enjoying some kind of orange drink. Brunnhilde smiled back at the god of thunder and gestured to the empty lounge next to her. Thor laughed softly and strode over, reclining back in the comfortable seat. He closed his eye and lifted his face up to the sunny sky.

“Excited about our vacation?” Brunnhilde asked and Thor made a noise of affirmation. “Still can’t believe Lackey willingly came along. He tends to be a rather reluctant traveler.”

“It’s not overly surprising,” Thor replied. “He was actually the one who insisted we go.”

Lackey? Your brother, Lackey? He wanted to help a bunch of Midgardians fix up some dusty old property? You sure we’re talking about the same person?” Brunnhilde asked and Thor turned his face toward her. He could see Ayo looking over at him with curiosity.

“Indeed,” Thor replied, folding his hands over his stomach. “The anniversary of Odin’s death is approaching.”

“Oh yeah,” Brunnhilde said, taking a sip of the bright orange drink she held. Thor looked back up to the sky, watching a gull circle around the large ship. Loki didn’t have many habits and it was next to impossible to predict what was going on in his mind, but over the years there were a few things Thor had managed to pick up on. The main one was the anniversary of Odin’s death. Loki often had trips scheduled for them on that day, usually ones where Thor was likely to run into or speak with one or more of his former shield brothers.

Thor’s grin faded slightly. It was often a difficult day to get through and when he’d been struggling with his anxiety, one of the worst episodes he experienced had been around that date. Thor didn’t remember what had happened, what had set it off. He remembered waking up and going about his morning routine, but the rest was a blank. The next thing he was aware of was being held in Loki’s arms on the floor of the main room. Loki’s back was against the wall and his eyes were wide with alarm. His brother’s arm had been bruised from the god of thunder’s crushing grip. Thor had felt very unsteady and Loki seemed unwilling to let him go right away, so they remained there for a while. He could faintly remember his brother speaking in a calm and soothing tone, but Thor could never recall exactly what Loki had said. They didn’t speak of the incident afterwards and the few times Thor had tried to ask Loki what happened, the trickster responded with a charming smile and evasive answer.

After that year, Thor noticed his friends often visited around that date. If no one was able to come, Loki packed his schedule with meetings, doing whatever he could to keep Thor busy and preoccupied. And his brother was never far from his side. Truth be told, Thor was grateful. Though his anxiety was easier to manage, he still didn’t enjoy facing that date alone. He knew Loki felt very similar about the date of Frigga’s passing, but he would never outright admit it.

“Well I for one am grateful for the time off,” Brunnhilde said, interlacing her fingers with Ayo’s. “I get to spend a few glorious weeks on the beach with my love and your friends can deal with your shenanigans.”

Thor chuckled and laid his arms on the arm rests. He was looking forward to the vacation. It had been too long since he’d had some time off. The extremist group, Earth First, had been a consistent headache and their occasional hostile actions towards Asgardians sometimes required the Odinsons to intervene. Thor knew Heimdall and Sif could handle such incidents while they were away.

“You two are up rather early,” Thor mentioned and the two women shared a smile. Brunnhilde kissed Ayo’s hand and turned her eyes back to Thor.

“We wanted to watch the sun rise, so we turned in early last night.”

“Ah,” Thor said, turning his attention back to the peaceful waters. “How long before we reach our destination?”

Brunnhilde shrugged. “Probably a few more hours. You did want to take the scenic route.”

“We’ve never taken a cruise before and it’s apparently something Midgardians enjoy,” Thor replied with a shrug. “I think it was worth it.”

“Could not agree more,” Brunnhilde said as she lifted a thin glass of orange juice to her lips. Thor closed his eyes and allowed the pleasant atmosphere to relax him. He was feeling less stressed already.

_*_

“Norns,” Loki grumbled when he noticed the crowded dock.

Thor handed Loki his luggage, surprised at how light it was. In their youth, the trickster had always been an absurdly heavier packer. Thor often teased him about his need to bring half his worldly possessions whenever they traveled. Loki would often sniff and point out Thor’s tendency to always forget more than a few important amenities.

Now, though, it felt like Loki packed next to nothing. They didn’t often travel, but when they did, Thor always noticed how light the baggage Loki brought was. And he always only brought one suitcase, no matter how long they were going to be away. Thor sometimes thought about asking Loki the reasons behind it, but he didn’t think his brother would appreciate his prying. Thor wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know the reasons for the change.

“Don’t start, Lackey,” Brunnhilde warned. Loki muttered something under his breath but didn’t comment on it further. He moved a little closer to Thor, peering around the god of thunder to the dock.

“Oh look, your Midgardian friends have actually arrived on time for a change,” he mentioned. Thor followed his gaze to the crowd of people watching the massive ship. He soon spotted Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. A huge grin split Thor’s lips and he waved at his friends, who mirrored his enthusiastic greeting. Thor could practically hear Loki rolling his eyes and shaking his head. Wanda and Banner had also spotted Steve and Bucky. They hurried over to the ramp leading down to the dock, excited to see their friends again.

Ayo and Brunnhilde followed a short way behind them. Thor glanced over his shoulder at Loki, who gestured for him to lead the way. Thor smiled and started moving for the ramp. The minute he stepped onto the ramp, a shiver went through him and he hesitated.

“Thor?”

“That was strange,” Thor said, glancing over his shoulder at Loki. “Have you ever heard the Midgardian saying, ‘I feel as though someone is walking over my grave’?”

Loki stared at him. “I have not. It sounds rather morbid.”

Thor shrugged as he started down the ramp, followed closely by Loki. “It does, but it’s actually not as gruesome as it sounds. The mortals often use it to describe a sudden inexplicable shiver.”

“Mortals do love dramatics,” Loki stated and Thor shot him a look. Loki smirked and the two continued down the ramp to where their friends were already chattering excitedly.

“Thor! How you doing, buddy?” Steve asked as he embraced the god of thunder. Thor laughed and returned the embrace just as enthusiastically.

“I am well, Captain Rogers. It is good to see you again,” Thor replied, greeting Bucky with just as tight an embrace. “How are the two of you? How is New York?”

Loki moved a few steps away, allowing the happy reunions to continue. He watched the large group of people that continued to depart the ship, moving past the group to whatever transportation was waiting for them. Truthfully, Loki was looking forward to arriving at their destination, where there would undoubtedly be quality alcohol. He put a hand over his eyes, blocking out the sun that was beating down on them and squinted. There were trees as far as the eye could see. How utterly dull, Loki thought as he dropped his hand.

“Hey, Loki!”

Loki turned when he heard Steve Rogers and the man out of time, patted his shoulder affectionately. “Looking forward to the trip?”

Loki squinted at him, unsure how to respond. Steve laughed and gestured for the group to follow him.

“We’ve got to take another ferry to the island where the property is,” Bucky explained as they climbed up the steps. “It’s just a twenty-five minute trip though.”

The two men led the way to Rogers’ large car. The group from New Asgard put their things into the back seat. Wanda and Bruce were still catching up with Steve and Bucky, obviously ecstatic to see their old teammates again. Loki looked at the car and made a face when he realized it would obviously be a very tight squeeze. He wasn’t wild about enclosed spaces.

“Stark sent this car for you, Brunnhilde,” Steve mentioned, gesturing to a beautiful sleek red car. “He had a feeling you and Ayo would appreciate being able to travel around the island on your own.”

“Thor, I do believe your friend Stark might be one of my very favorite people on this planet,” Brunnhilde stated, rubbing her palms together eagerly. She caught the keys Bucky tossed to her and swiftly opened the driver’s side. Ayo smiled as she sunk into the passenger’s side.

“You boys want to ride with me?” Brunnhilde asked from the rolled-down window. Thor glanced over at Loki.

“Brother, would you mind if we walked?” he asked and Loki shook his head. The Valkyrie groaned.

“Thor, it is a five-minute walk to that damn ferry. I know the two of you can find trouble literally anywhere, so don’t. Just don’t. You two walk straight there on this path, don’t wander around,” she warned and Thor laughed heartily.

“I give you my word, Brunnhilde. We will walk straight to the ferry and board,” he assured her. She gave him a look as she started up the car and pulled away, followed closely by Steve and Bucky. Thor watched them drive down the short road to where the cars were lining up for the ferry. Loki held his hands behind his back, following his brother’s gaze.

“Are you all right, Thor?” he asked and Thor nodded.

“Yes, I just wanted some fresh air and to stretch my legs,” he explained as he started walking down the path leading to the ferry. Loki followed alongside him. They were quiet for a time, content just to be in each other’s company.

Thor looked over at his brother. “Have you thought about what you want to do on the day?”

Loki glanced over at him and then looked ahead. “I just assumed we’d do what we always do around this time of year.”

A breeze rustled through the branches and Thor kept his attention on the water ahead. The workers were preparing the ferry at the dock. The god of thunder could see the line of people standing on a walkway just to the side of the road.

“Is there anything you wish to do?” Loki asked, curiously. Thor was quiet as they reached the end of the walkway. The presence of his brother was comforting to him and truth be told, he had wanted a change of scenery. While Thor loved New Asgard, he sometimes longed to go on a journey, something without any official duty attached to it.

“No,” Thor finally answered, looking over at his brother and smiling. “As long as we’re together and surrounded by friends, I think that will be a good way to observe the date.”

Loki grinned, one of his rare genuine grins, and patted his brother’s shoulder. The two stood at the end of the line of people, waiting patiently for the dock workers to open the gate that would allow them entrance. Thor watched as the cars were carefully guided onto the large ferry and directed where to park.

“Oh dear. It appears the water here is rather rough,” Loki mentioned and Thor looked to clean blue water stretched out before them. His brother was right: the waves looked very choppy, completely different from the gentle waters that had brought them to this place. Thor leaned down on the railing.

“It’s a good thing none of us are prone to seasickness,” he mentioned and Loki nodded, his gaze still across the water. Thor straightened up when he noticed the line of people moving. Calling his brother’s name, the god of thunder started down the ramp leading to the ferry. He heard Loki’s soft footsteps behind him.

They soon set foot on the rough ground of the ferry and Thor saw Brunnhilde get out of her car with Ayo. The other members of their group climbed out of Steve’s car and moved to meet up with the Odinsons.

“There’s a nice quiet observation deck just up this way,” Steve mentioned, gesturing to a stairway behind the two gods. “Can’t beat the view.”

Loki climbed up the steps first with Thor close behind him. They stepped into the enclosed space and moved over to one of the empty tables, sitting across from each other. Thor smiled as he watched Steve, Wanda, Bucky, and Banner catch up at a nearby table. It had been too long since he’d seen his friends, he realized. Looking over to Loki, he noticed his brother’s gaze was out the window. Thor was a little worried about Loki getting bored, knowing his brother wouldn’t be helping with any sort of renovations.

Turning his gaze out the window, Thor caught a glimpse of some animal in the trees. He sat back and watched the waves smash against the side of the ferry. An inexplicable cold came over him again and he repressed a shiver. The old wound across his midsection was throbbing faintly, causing him some discomfort, but Thor was able to ignore it. The scars from the infinity stones often were a nuisance, but one easily disregarded.

“Thor?”

Thor looked over to Loki when he heard his brother’s concerned voice. Loki was studying him and Thor realized he was clutching his weaker arm to the point where his fingernails were digging into his flesh. Loosening his grip, the god of thunder noticed a small sliver of blood appear where one of his nails had burrowed a little too deep.

Thor cleared his throat. “I—”

Loki reached forward and placed his hand over the tiny wound, a faint green glow emanating from beneath his palm. Thor felt the familiar coolness of his brother’s seidr as Loki repaired the minor damage.

“Do not lie, brother,” Loki said as he took his hand away and sat back. Thor furrowed his brow.

“I didn’t say anything.”

Loki arched an eyebrow. “You were about to. If you do not wish to share your burdens, you needn’t come up with an untruth to spare my feelings. Your burdens are your own as is the decision about whether or not to share them.”

Thor swallowed and dug a toe in the ground. “I don’t want you to think I’m keeping things from you.”

Loki snorted. “Thor, I know you keep things from me as I do from you. We’re doing better about not keeping important things from each other. I’m not overly concerned about minor things. All of us need to have some secrets.”

Thor grinned and looked back out the window. He was grateful that Loki was never one to pry. Then again, his brother did have other ways to obtain information. One could never hide things from Loki.

“The air smells peculiar,” Loki mentioned, drawing Thor out of his thoughts. Thor frowned, unsure what Loki was talking about. The air smelled normal to him, if a bit a like fish, which was to be expected on a body of water.

“I smell nothing out of the ordinary. Just fish,” Thor replied. Loki shook his dark head.

“No, there’s an odd scent, very faint and kind of sweet,” he said, looking past Thor to where Brunnhilde sat with Ayo. “Brunnhilde, do you smell anything strange?”

The Valkyrie, who had been sharing a moment with her partner, narrowed her eyes at the trickster. “You mean the normal smell of fish?”

Loki raised his eyebrows and looked back to the window. “I must be imagining things.”

“Perhaps I’m not the only one who needs a vacation,” Thor jested and Loki smirked, shaking his head. The god of thunder turned his attention back outside, watching the beautiful forests slowly drift by.

Chapter Text

“Just wait until you see this place. It’s enormous.”

Thor looked up to where Steve was driving. Loki was sitting in the passenger’s seat, his eyes fixed on the forest that was speeding past. His brother never willingly tolerated the backseat of a vehicle.

“There are still some rather hazardous sections, so Pepper and the kids decided to go on their own little vacation. They’re staying in a cabin on the mainland along with the Bartons,” Steve continued on. “Tony’s throwing a party in a couple days and they’ll likely make an appearance.”

“Good. I would like to see their families,” Thor said, turning his gaze back out to the forest. He frowned when he saw a streak of white and squinted. He could have sworn he saw a masked figure among the trees.

“How big is this island?” Loki asked, still looking out his own window.

“Pretty large,” Steve replied. “The nearest town is several hours away, so the property feels pretty isolated. It practically has its own beach.”

“The weather has been amazing lately,” Bucky added. “We’ve been able to swim every day. There are some storms in the forecast though.”

“My brother isn’t much for swimming,” Thor mentioned.

“I don’t mind it, I just don’t actively seek it out,” Loki corrected and Thor couldn’t help but smile. He glanced to the back window, where he could see Brunnhilde’s car following just behind them.

“You mentioned a party?” Loki asked.

“Yeah, in a few days, a whole bunch of SHIELD personnel, allies, and many of the current Avengers are going to be visiting. Tony wants to show them around, since this place is going to be kind of a getaway for active and retired heroes,” Steve explained.

“Marvelous,” Loki said eagerly. “I do hope there’s going to be alcohol.”

Thor closed his eye and turned his face up to the roof of the car, listening to Steve go on about all the renovations that needed to be done. It sounded like a very time-consuming task, but not an impossible one. Thor was looking forward to having something to do that didn’t involve paperwork and meetings.

“Loki, we brought the laptop, didn’t we?” he asked without opening his eye.

“Yes,” Loki replied. “Knowing Stark the internet connection will be impeccable.”

“It is,” Steve affirmed. Thor grinned. Brunnhilde had told him that Shuri and Stark had set up the internet in New Asgard, which was ranked as one of the best in the world. Loki begrudgingly admitted that it was useful.

“We’ll be able to phone into whatever important meetings are planned. Joy,” Loki muttered, sounding anything but pleased. Thor snorted, knowing his brother wasn’t thrilled about having to do anything even remotely responsible on their vacation. He had already declared his refusal to help with any sort of manual labor, so it was a small miracle that Thor was able to get him to agree to even sit with him during whatever official meetings were scheduled during their time away. The god of thunder had learned long ago to never question his good luck, especially when it came to his brother.

They soon reached a long, winding road that was leading up to the towering Gothic mansion. It was an imposing structure, looming over the pathway like a sleeping giant. There were more windows than Thor could count. Some balconies jutted out from the house and a number of chimneys reached for the clear blue sky above them. It almost looked more like a castle than a home. There were a number of sharp edges and long stairways. The neutral-colored bricks were slightly weather-worn and Thor imagined it was just a shadow of its former grandeur.

“Well, it’s not entirely as decrepit as I expected,” Loki sniffed. “Still terribly ordinary. The people of this planet never developed decent architecture.”

“Loki,” Thor said, gently scolding his brother. For their part, Steve and Bucky seemed rather amused. The god of thunder kept studying the place that would be their home for the next few weeks. In the distance, he could see jagged cliffs and he could hear the faint sounds of water. The car continued approaching the enormous house and Thor grinned when he caught sight of Tony Stark, standing just under one of the archways. The shorter man was practically bouncing with excitement as the cars approached.

Steve finally pulled to a stop and Brunnhilde pulled up next to him, shifting into park. The group climbed out of their cars.

“Thor! Buddy!” Tony yelled excitedly. Thor laughed and swiftly moved to greet his friend, enthusiastically shaking the inventor’s hand.

“Tony, it has been too long,” he said, glancing over his shoulder to where his brother was leaning against the hood of the car.

“Man alive, am I glad to see you guys,” Tony continued. “When I purchased this property, I didn’t realize just how much renovation it needed. Wanda! Bruce, you beautiful man! How you been?”

Loki approached his brother as Stark moved over to the other car to greet the other part of their group. “The fact that that man is a father is astonishing. He bounces around like a toddler.”

“Last time I checked, you also had difficulty remaining still,” Thor pointed out.

“When I move, it’s with purpose. And I’m able to focus on whatever I’m speaking about,” Loki replied, his eyes traveling to the open doorway. “Oh my. We appear to have company.”

Thor followed his brother’s gaze, noticing the woman in drab clothing standing just inside the doorway. Her hands were crossed in front of her and she was standing so still and silently, she might be mistaken for a statue. Her eyes were fixed somewhere in the distance and if she noticed them, she gave no indication.

“Yeah, so there are a couple caretakers who have been helping out a bit, getting things ready for your arrival,” Stark’s boisterous voice drew the Odinsons’ attention back to him. “That’s Ms. Eleanor Gray over there. She comes around in the morning and leaves in the afternoon. Nights we’ll be all on our own. Come on in. Ms. Gray will show you guys to your rooms. There’s plenty, but only a few have reliable heating and I got to warn you: this place gets pretty frigid at night. We’re talking arctic temperatures. I think even Reindeer Games would find it unpleasant.”

Loki made an “hmm” sound and turned to follow Thor to the back of the car, which Bucky had opened up. The man with the metal arm smiled as he handed the Asgardians their bags. Thor noticed Bucky’s smiles had become more genuine and less strained over the years. He was pleased to see sadness no longer haunted the man’s eyes. The captain’s friend had been through much and deserved some peace and happiness.

Once they had their luggage, the group followed the enthusiastic inventor inside the enormous building. It was gray and dreary inside, with a few bits of technology here and there. Loki stared at a strange metal disc with blue lights that was quietly gliding over the wooden floors. He took a large step away from the object when it moved close to him.

“Hello. Welcome,” a weirdly chipper mechanical voice came out of the circular device and a smiley face appeared on the screen. “I am E.T.”

“No need to look so nervous, Reindeer Games. That’s just a vacuum cleaner. Think of it like a broom with AI.”

“I know what a vacuum cleaner is, Stark. Why does this one speak?” Loki said, moving away from the device that kept following him. Thor looked down at the floor, trying to smother his laughter.

“Why not?” Stark replied, smiling. “Look at that. It likes you.”

“Do you require dusting?” the machine asked, a brush emerging from a compartment.

“Stark, get this thing away from me,” Loki warned, taking another step back from the determined robot, which moved forward and tried to clean his boots. He positioned himself so that Thor was between him and the strange device.

“E.T., say goodbye to Reindeer Games and keep dusting this place,” Stark said.

“Goodbye, Reindeer Games,” the robot said happily and glided away. It disappeared around a corner. Thor snorted and Loki glared at him.

“You know, if you like, you can take E.T. home with you when we finish fixing this place up. I’ve got a bunch of those things at home and he seems to have taken a shine to you two,” Stark told them.

“No,” Loki said when Thor opened his mouth.

“The bedrooms are this way,” Eleanor Gray said, drawing their attention to the enormous stairway that stretched above them.

“You guys get set up. I’ll be in the main room with the rest of the group,” Tony told them. “Feel free to wander down when you’re hungry.”

Thor watched as Tony wandered off down one elaborate hall and then moved to follow the caretaker. She walked quietly up the elaborate staircase and led them up the one on the left. Enormous windows allowed the daylight to illuminate the large hallway. Layers of dust and cobwebs coated everything.

“I’m definitely not going to be the one cleaning this floor,” Brunnhilde mentioned from behind Loki. Thor looked over to Wanda when she moved to look out one of the towering windows.

“Do these open?” the younger woman asked, drawing the attention of the grim caretaker. The woman paused and nodded.

“Some of the latches are rusted shut. I believe that’s one of the things Mr. Stark plans to repair,” she replied. “The curtains will need to be hung again, once they’ve had a thorough cleaning.”

The continued down the enormous hallway. Thor looked around at the empty walls, wondering if there had ever been paintings or tapestries. He glanced to the side when Loki moved over to a wall, running his fingers over the paneling. Loki pursed his lips and tilted his head slightly, then returned to his brother’s side.

“Find anything of interest?” Thor asked, gently nudging Loki with his shoulder. His brother grinned and shook his head. The caretaker paused in front of a large wooden door.

“Mr. Odinson, you and your brother will be staying in this room,” Eleanor said as she pressed down the door handle and pushed the large door open. Thor stepped inside the massive room, looking around. There was a wardrobe, a dresser, and a large bed with a table and lamp on either side. Thor heard his brother make a skeptical sound as he stepped into the room. The god of thunder smiled as he moved over to one of the many windows, some of which had been opened. Thor stuck his head outside, closed his eyes, and breathed in the fresh air.

“There is a latch on the door,” Eleanor told them. “If you’re planning to sleep here at night, I recommend you lock your doors.”

Loki looked over at her, frowning. “Why?”

“Like the windows, the latches on some of the doors downstairs don’t work properly. It is better to air on the side of caution,” Eleanor replied tiredly. “The other rooms are this way. I shall show you to them.”

Thor turned around and watched as the caretaker led the other members of the group away. Loki shut the door behind them and then put his bag on the ground. He moved over to the bed and flopped down on it, closing his eyes. Thor grinned and turned his attention back outside.

“Stark did mention something about this place being haunted,” Thor mentioned.

“Midgardians,” Loki scoffed, making no move to get up. “This bed isn’t awful. At least our sleep will likely be decent.”

Thor chuckled as he moved across the room and picked up Loki’s suitcase from where he’d left it. He brought it over to the window, placing it next to his own. He moved over to the bed and lay down beside his brother, who didn’t react.

“It’ll be strange to not cook all our meals,” Thor commented. Loki made a noncommittal sound in response and Thor grinned, closing his eye. The time away from New Asgard would be good for Loki as well.

A vacation is exactly what we need, Thor thought, enjoying the peace and quiet.

_*_

Brunnhilde could barely wait for the caretaker to leave before she shut the door to the room she was sharing with Ayo. Ayo grinned knowingly at her partner and Brunnhilde wrapped her arms around her lover, kissing her hungrily. Ayo returned her passion just as ardently as the two women backed up to the enormous bed.

“I thought she would never leave,” Brunnhilde murmured and she pulled off her top.

“You’re so impatient,” Ayo teased before claiming the Valkyrie’s mouth again. Brunnhilde moaned in pleasure as Ayo started exploring her body. The Dora stopped abruptly and pulled back slightly. Brunnhilde frowned and looked at her, noticing Ayo’s attention was on the balcony just outside and her brows were knitted together.

“Ayo?”

Ayo looked at her and shook her head. “I’m sorry, my love. I could have sworn I saw a shadow out on the balcony.”

“Fucking Lackey,” Brunnhilde grumbled as she grabbed her top and pulled it back on. She moved over to the balcony door, jiggling the handle until it opened and stepped out on the small outcropping. She looked around for any trace of an illusion or one of his damn doubles.

“My love, I think it was just a trick of the light,” Ayo offered, standing by the open door. Brunnhilde put her hands on her hips, biting the inside of her cheek. It still felt like she was being watched. Shaking her head, she stepped back into the room and shut the door.

“Let me know if you see it again. I’ll go punch him if he’s fucking around,” Brunnhilde said and Ayo smiled, nodding.

“Now, where were we?” Brunnhilde asked with a playful grin.

Chapter Text

After a brief nap, the Odinsons put their stuff away. Thor and Loki then wandered downstairs to the main room where they found most of the group lounging around. Thor happily greeted Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff, who both appeared overjoyed to see the god of thunder. Loki was surprised to see even the red-headed woman smiling widely. He stood off to the side and found a window to look out of. Loki still felt a little out of place among his brother’s former shield-brothers.

“Thor! Loki!”

Loki twisted when he heard Peter Parker’s overenthusiastic voice as the young man stepped into the large room. He approached Loki and embraced him tightly. The dark-haired god smiled politely, patting the boy’s shoulder, and watched as the Spiderman repeated the action with Thor. Loki nodded to Romanoff and Barton when they looked over in his direction. The greeting was returned by both former Avengers.

Everyone’s attention was drawn over the large entryway at the sound of loud clapping. Tony Stark stood there along with Rhodey. The inventor had a thousand watt grin on his face.

“Who’s ready to get spooky?” Stark asked eagerly.

“Not this again,” Barton said, with a faint grin.

“Stark’s apparently become a ghost hunter since we last saw him,” Bucky mentioned from where he stood next to Steve. Rogers laughed softly and leaned back against the fireplace, crossing his arms over his chest. Loki glanced over his shoulder when Thor wandered back to his side, noticing his brother looked rather curious.

“I don’t actually believe in ghosts, Barnes. I believe in the appeal of creepy old houses with colorful histories,” Stark pointed out. “And this one has a very colorful history.”

“Which you undoubtedly want to tell us about,” Natasha chimed in. Stark grinned and nodded.

“Point Break, aren’t we missing a couple?” Stark asked, turning his attention to the Odinsons.

“Brunnhilde and Ayo are indisposed at the moment, but they shall join us for dinner,” Thor replied. Loki crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for the hyperactive inventor to continue on. What I wouldn’t give for a good glass of wine, he thought.

Stark pulled out a small device from his pocket and the room was suddenly filled with eerie sounds and music. The occupants of the room looked around, except for Natasha and Steve, who just looked at Stark dryly. Loki rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the windows, obviously uninterested in whatever story Stark was about to tell.

“This property started out as an orphanage,” Stark began. “Around the first world war and it was always packed, especially after the war. There are not a lot of documents left from back then. The kids who were housed here were treated well and it was probably one of the few orphanages without any sort of dark underbelly, at least not one that was documented. The only weird thing was that the kids claimed there was a monster of some kind in the forest, who sometimes looked like a man and sometimes like a giant snake. Strangely, the kids didn’t seem scared by the supposed monster. He brought them sweets and toys, just an overall good neighbor from the sounds of it.”

Thor looked over at Loki when his brother suddenly looked back to Stark, his brow furrowing.

“The orphanage was in operation for quite a few years, but then there was a massive storm and the building was struck by lightning. Of course they didn’t have a good handle on fire safety standards back then. The place burned to the ground. I won’t get into the number of casualties because it’s really depressing. Needless to say, lot of dead, both kids and adults.”

“Jesus, Stark,” Barton muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Anyhow, whatever remained of the place was abandoned for a long time. Then a maze designer from a well-to-do family came along and purchased the old property, had whatever remained of it torn down and had this mansion built in its place. Said something about the location called to him,” Stark continued on. “Very weird dude, kind of the black sheep of his family, which was highest of high society. He claimed to see shadowy forms at night, sometimes caught a glimpse of a child running down a hall or heard giggling in the walls. Sometimes things would move or turn up in unexpected places, that sort of thing. You know, poltergeist shit.

“The man spent decades here, just designing mazes. There’s a small mirror maze on the property, as well as a hedge maze. He wasn’t bothered by this place being haunted, but he never went into the forest. Like the locals, he believed there was something dwelling out there. Whatever it was, apparently it didn’t appreciate people living on this particular plot of land. The maze designer wrote about hearing disembodied voices telling him to leave in the dead of night. When he was making the mirror maze, sometimes the mirrors would be shattered when he went to work on them the next day.”

They all looked toward the empty entryway when they heard a door shut somewhere in the house. Stark pressed the button on the device he held and the eerie ambient sounds stopped.

“That’s Ms. Gray leaving for the night. No local will come up here once the sun sets. They think the land is cursed and restless souls roam the grounds once the moon rises,” Stark explained. “We’ll be on our own at night. Some of the locks are rather unreliable, including the ones on the back doors, which we should probably work on first. I’ve got enough food and supplies for the first few nights, but we’ll have to go into town to restock.”

“Buck and I can do that,” Steve offered, glancing down when the circular robot vacuum glided silently into the room, disappearing under the couch.

“Great,” Stark said. “Well, we can get started on the serious repairs tomorrow morning. Tonight, we can just kick back and relax. There’s a library across the hall, television works surprisingly well, internet is top-notch. Point Break, Bruce, Rogers, you guys are the best cooks out of us, so can you help out with meals?”

The three men nodded in agreement. Thor couldn’t help but smile. He’d gotten a glimpse of the enormous kitchen and was looking forward to working in it. While he loved the small kitchen they had in New Asgard, the mansion’s kitchen reminded him a little of the kitchens in Asgard’s palace.

The group started filing out of the room. Loki moved to follow his brother but paused when he heard Stark call his name quietly. The dark-haired god turned back to the inventor, grasping his hands behind his back. Stark leaned slightly to the side, checking to make sure the others were out of earshot.

“I got what you asked for,” Stark mentioned as he moved over to the cabinet in the room and opened it. Loki peered inside at the item and nodded his approval. Stark closed the door again and leaned against the furniture.

“It’s in a couple days, right?”

“It is,” Loki affirmed and Stark whistled softly.

“That was a rough year for you two, huh?” he said and Loki arched an eyebrow. “Do you need anything else?”

Loki shook his head. “No. My brother and I really don’t officially observe the day. I assure you that it will not interfere with repairs.”

“Hey, if he needs to take a day off, that’s fine. We have time.”

“Thor much prefers to be busy, but I’ll let him know.”

Stark offered him a smile and shifted his weight. Loki inwardly sighed, knowing the inventor wanted to ask him something. Based on his hesitation, it was something that would annoy Loki.

“Say, Loki, you’re into magic and all that, right? Like you’re technically a sorcerer, aren’t you?”

“Technically, though I’m rather different from the Midgardian definition of that word, much more powerful.”

“Uh huh,” Stark said, looking around. “So…?”

Loki tilted his head slightly. “Yes…?”

“Is this place haunted?”

Loki had to struggle not to laugh. He leaned forward as if he were going to share a secret with the inventor. Stark leaned closer.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts, Stark,” Loki whispered and then grinned his usual mischievous grin as he straightened up again. He stepped past the inventor and went on his way to find Thor again.

_*_

“It’s great to have the old gang back together under one roof, isn’t it?”

Natasha smirked as she looked to her partner. Clint was kneeling on the ground, putting a quiver of arrows in a hidden cabinet they had found in behind one of the wall panels. He held out his hand and she put some extra clips for her guns in it, which he hid with the arrows before sliding the panel back into place.

“Yeah, the eight of us, plus the Winter Soldier and the god of mischief, staying together in a creepy old mansion rumored to be haunted? What could possibly go wrong?” Natasha replied dryly.

“Don’t forget a Valkyrie and a Dora,” Clint reminded her, smiling as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “Can’t wait to show Laura and the kids this place when it’s finished. Stark says we can rent it for holidays.”

“It’s big enough to fit all of us,” Natasha agreed. “Still going to be a pain in the ass to fix up though. We have to give Laura a call. I promised to sing Nathan a Russian lullaby.”

“That boy does love his languages,” Clint laughed, gently kissing his partner. “How did I ever get so lucky to have two amazing women in my life?”

“We may never know,” Natasha teased, kissing him. Their moment was interrupted by a soft knocking on their room door.

“Come in,” Clint called as Natasha stepped out of the embrace. There was a stretch of quiet and then there was another knock on their door. The two exchanged a look and Natasha instinctively reached for her gun. Clint moved across the room to the door, jumping when there was a slightly stronger knocking.

“Barton? Romanoff?” Stark’s disembodied voice came from the intercom system. “Hey, is this thing on?”

Natasha rolled her eyes as she moved over to the intercom system, glancing over at Clint as he opened the door. The archer looked out at the empty hallway.

“We hear you, Stark,” the former spy answered.

“It works! Sweet!” Stark couldn’t conceal his excitement. “Dinner’s going to be ready in ten minutes.”

“Thanks, Stark,” Natasha said as she took her finger off the button. “See anything, Clint?”

“Nope. Must have been a ghost,” Clint replied and Natasha snickered.

_*_

The former Avengers enjoyed a lively meal with plenty of laughter and they spoke fondly of the adventures they’d had together. Once they finished with their meal, which was some of the best food any had ever tasted, they moved into the main room where they continued on with their conversation. The hallways echoed with laughter.

Thor noticed Loki remained slightly separated from the group. He didn’t appear unhappy or uneasy, more lost in thought. He sipped his wine and watched the night outside.

“Brother, you’re usually more sociable,” Thor commented as he sat by his brother, who looked over at him.

“Yes, well, I’m not normally surrounded by people who I once tried to kill while under the influence of a galaxy destroying madman,” Loki pointed out and Thor chuckled. They both looked down when the robotic vacuum drifted by, chirping at them as it went about its work.

“I wish you were more comfortable around them, Loki. They bear you no ill-will,” Thor mentioned.

“I know, Thor,” Loki replied. “I’m just rather tired after the journey here. I shall mingle more tomorrow when I’ve had a chance to rest.”

Thor grinned and gently nudged his brother with his shoulder. Loki smiled and turned his gaze back out the window.

“What are you searching for, brother? You look concerned,” Thor mentioned and Loki shook his head.

“It is nothing. Just acclimating to my new surroundings,” Loki replied easily. He stood from his place in the window sill and moved closer to the animated group. Parker was enthusiastically recounting a story, much to the enjoyment of everyone. Thor watched his brother and then looked out the window briefly, trying to find what Loki was watching. He just saw the peaceful night-covered grounds and went to rejoin his friends.

Eventually, the ones in the main room slowly left, returning to their rooms for the night. The Odinsons bid goodnight to their friends before retiring to their room. As they prepared for bed, Thor noticed Loki glancing out the window again. His brother soon turned away from the glass, hiding a yawn, and made his way over to the bed. Loki climbed under the covers, pulling them mostly on his side. Thor smiled as he climbed in on the other side, switching off the lamp on his side of the bed.

“Goodnight, Loki,” he said as he nestled down in the bed. A grunt was the response he received and Thor shook his head, closing his eye.

He wasn’t sure how long he slept, but his sleep wasn’t peaceful. Thor wasn’t sure what he dreamed of, but when he awoke, he found his brother’s arm around him, something Loki only did when Thor was in the throes of a nightmare. It was often the only thing that settled the god of thunder. Loki muttered in his sleep and turned over onto his other side, curling up more under the covers.

Thor noticed a shadow out of the corner of his eye. It was a tall broad figure, hooded, and the god of thunder could feel it watching him. Whatever it was. Thor tried to turn his head to get a better look but found he was unable to move. A chill swept over him and Thor swallowed, feeling uneasy. The shadow remained standing at the foot of the bed, watching the two of them.

Then, Thor saw the unmistakable gleam of a blade and his eye widened. Unable to think of what else to do, he forced himself to turn on his side. It took a monumental amount of effort, but Thor managed to do it. He draped one arm over his brother, holding him close and doing his best to shield Loki from the menacing shape. Thor clenched his eye shut, waiting for the inevitable.

There was a soft breeze and suddenly, the feeling of being watched vanished. Thor risked opening his eye and looked toward the end of the bed. The shadowy form was gone. Thor sighed and closed his eye, drifting off to sleep again.

Chapter Text

The sound of a phone vibrating against a hard surface woke the Odinsons early the next morning. Loki grumbled and pulled the sheets over his head. Thor yawned and rolled onto his side, searching for the phone. He dismissed the alarm and ran a hand over his face, glancing to the side.

“Are you going to sleep in, Loki?” he asked.

“Do you really need to ask?” was the cranky response, muffled by the sheets. Thor chuckled, patting his brother’s thin shoulder.

“I’ll save you some breakfast,” Thor promised as he climbed out of the enormous bed. Loki grunted in response and listened to his brother go about his morning routine. Eventually, he dozed off again.

A quiet knocking on the door woke Loki up, but he kept his eyes shut. If Thor thinks I’m getting out of bed this early, he truly is a fool, Loki thought as he turned onto his side so his back was to the door. For a while, it was quiet and Loki started drifting off to sleep again. Then the knocking started again, more insistent.

“The damn door is open. Just come in,” Loki snapped, pulling the covers more over his shoulders.

There was a soft click as the door handle was pressed down and the creak of the door being pushed open. Loki ignored it as he continued trying to fall back asleep. Soon, the mattress sunk down as someone sat on it. An icy hand rested on his shoulder and a cold breath brushed against his ear.

“Stop,” Loki warned. The hand slid down to rest on top of his, fingers wiggling as they tried to grasp his. It was a very strange feeling. Loki jerked his hand away from the grasp.

“Loki.”

Loki’s eyes snapped open when he heard the strange voice of a young child, a girl, and he sat up, looking around the empty room. There was no one there. Loki held up the hand that had been touched, clenching and unclenching his fist a couple times. His wide green eyes traveled around the room again, coming to rest on the door. He had heard Thor shut it when he left.

The door was now wide open.

_*_

Brunnhilde and Ayo wandered into the lively kitchen. The counters were a mess as Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and Thor prepared the morning meal. The women exchanged a look and a grin.

“You boys need any help?”

“No, everything is under control,” Steve replied. “Food will be out in about five minutes.”

He moved over to the oven when a timer went off. Brunnhilde shrugged and she followed Ayo out into the dining room where there was a large table. Wanda, Bruce, and Rhodey were already seated and playing some sort of card game. They didn’t see any sign of Clint or Natasha, but the Valkyrie imagined that they were out doing some kind of reconnaissance. It seemed like something the two spies enjoyed doing.

“After breakfast, would you like to sunbathe on the beach?” Brunnhilde asked, looking over at the towering windows where the sunlight was streaming in. “The weather is rather agreeable today.”

“I would love to,” Ayo said, intertwining her fingers with Brunnhilde’s. “I brought a book of poetry from my favorite Wakandan poet. It has been much too long since I’ve read it.”

“Good morning, Reindeer Games.”

Everyone turned when they heard the chipper voice of the robot vacuum, followed by Loki’s irritated muttering.

“Did Stark program this thing to annoy me?” Loki asked as he stepped into the room.

“Probably,” Rhodey replied without looking up from the game. Loki barely glanced at them as he sat across from Brunnhilde.

“You’re up rather early,” Brunnhilde commented and Loki shrugged.

“I didn’t feel like sleeping anymore,” Loki replied, looking up when Bucky brought in a couple bowls of food. Steve soon entered with a large plate of pancakes.

“Brother, you’ve decided to join us,” Thor greeted warmly as he placed more food on the table. Loki half-smirked and shrugged.

“I enjoy being unpredictable,” Loki replied, reaching forward and helping himself to some grapes. Everyone looked to the doorway when Peter Parker wandered in. His hair was messy and he yawned as he entered the room.

“It’s impossible to sleep in old houses,” he mumbled as he dropped into his seat. “Every time I started drifting off, something else would creak or groan.”

“I thought I heard knocking last night,” Wanda mentioned. “I think there might be something to the stories of this place being haunted. At least, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

“You believe in ghosts, Wanda?” Rhodey asked, putting down a card. Bruce pushed his glasses up on his nose.

“I do,” Wanda said, nodding a little. “My brother and I had a few experiences that really had no logical explanation.”

“Oooh, are we already experiencing hauntings? Tell me everything. I want details,” Stark said as he strode into the dining room, holding bowls, spoons, and a large box of cereal. “Parker, you mind running into the kitchen and grabbing the milk?”

Parker got out of his chair and hurried out of the room.

“Tony, you’re a child,” Rhodey said as he helped himself to some pancakes. “Are you going to eat any real food while we’re here?”

Tony shrugged, winking at Peter when he re-entered the room with a large bottle of milk. “Rhodey, relax. It’s not even frosted cereal.”

Peter snickered as he took the bowl and spoon Tony offered him. As everyone helped themselves to their breakfast, Loki glanced over at Thor, who was pushing the food around on his plate.

“Loki, did you have any trouble sleeping last night?” Thor asked. Loki tilted his head, searching his brother’s face.

“Not really. Why do you ask?”

Thor frowned. “I’m…not sure. I can vaguely remember waking up and feeling like there was someone else in the room, but I can’t recall if it was a dream or not.”

“Well, you were tossing and turning most of the night. I would wager it was a bad dream,” Loki replied. "If someone had been in our room, I would have woken up.”

Thor nodded and looked back to his food. Loki was a notoriously light sleeper and would wake up at the smallest sound, usually with a knife at the ready. The god of thunder sometimes wondered just how his brother managed to get any sleep at all with how easy it was to wake him.

The morning meal continued on. Barton and Romanoff eventually wandered in and helped themselves to breakfast. Stark laid out exactly what needed to be done and it wasn’t a minor feat. Floors had to be replaced, rooms had to be scrubbed clean, plenty of repairs needed to be done on a variety of things. According to Rhodey, the basement was a disaster zone. They would have to wear masks while cleaning out the mold that had grown there.

“Point Break, Steve, and Barnes are going to be our heavy lifters,” Stark said. “Parker can lend a hand too.”

“Blueprints of this place would be helpful, Stark,” Romanoff pointed out.

“Already ahead of you, Nat,” Stark said. “I’ve got ‘em all digitized.”

He put a small cube on the table and pressed a button. Almost instantly, a hologram of the enormous mansion appeared above the small object. The inventor continued chattering away, explaining what they should focus on first. Loki patted his brother’s shoulder.

“If it’s all the same to you, I’m going for a walk.”

Thor smiled and watched as Loki quietly left the large dining hall. He turned his attention back to Stark’s hologram, listening to what they would be doing that day.

_*_

“I shall show you the true cruelty of the gods, Odinson.”

Thor opened his eye and frowned at his strange surroundings. He looked around for the source of the deep voice he’d heard. He was in some sort of barren wasteland, a different planet based on the stars and nebulas in the sky. Thor slowly stood up and continued looking around when he saw a form in the sky, hurtling toward the ground. It landed with a thump and a cloud of dust rose around it. A sense of dread overcame him as Thor made his way over to the shape.

His breath caught painfully in his chest when he saw his brother lying in the dirt. His teary green eyes stared up at the void he’d fallen from. Loki didn’t move, just laid where he’d fallen. Thor couldn’t help but notice he looked so very young. His brother still looked young, but he appeared barely more than a child. Yet his eyes were so haunted with sadness and despair.

This was after he fell from the Bifrost, Thor realized. When he first encountered…oh no.

As if on cue, Thor heard rasping breathing and rapid footsteps followed by a soft mechanical whirring sound. Loki blinked a couple times and then turned his head toward the noises. Thor looked behind him, spotting an odd creature that looked a bit like a chitauri and in the distance, looming over the barren rock, was the galaxy destroyer. The one who had caused so much misery and suffering. The mad titan. Thanos.

Loki, run. Please run, Thor thought as he looked back to his brother. Loki made no move to flee or even get up. He simply watched the approaching threat. He doesn’t care if he dies. It’s what he was seeking when he fell from the Bifrost, Thor realized, his heart breaking even more. Acting on instinct, Thor moved to stand in front of his brother. He swung at the odd creature with a fearsome yell, but his fist went through it and the creature walked straight through him.

“It’s an Asgardian, an Aesir,” the creature reported, poking at Loki with its foot. Loki grimaced but made no move to push the creature away. Thor watched as Thanos’ hovering throne moved closer. The mad titan’s eyes gleamed with excitement and he drummed his fingers on the arm of the throne.

“Bring him to the Sanctuary. I think he will prove to be very useful,” the titan commanded. The strange creature roughly pulled Loki to his feet. Thor felt his heart break as his brother fell to his knees and was dragged up again, shoved forward. Loki was limping the whole way and clearly in pain.

Their surroundings changed and Thor found himself in a cramped cell under a hot light. There was nothing in the space other than a thin mattress and blanket. He could faintly hear the screams of someone in an immense amount of pain, which abruptly stopped. After a moment, the door creaked open and a form was thrown in. The odd creature brought in a table and placed it in one corner of the cell. It then produced Loki’s scepter and put it on the table before leaving the cell again.

Loki lifted his head and dragged himself over to the mattress, gritting his teeth as he pulled himself onto the bedding. He left a thick streak of blood from the many wounds decorating his body. Thor stared at his brother in horror. Loki was so gaunt, as if he’d been starved. Dark rings had formed under his eyes and there were a number of deep wounds on his body, some of which looked infected. His clothing was in tatters and bloodied. His hair was dull and slightly matted. Sweat beaded on his pale flesh. It looked like he was dying. The dark-haired god got up into a sitting position, panting, and slumped back against the wall. The amount of effort required to do such a simple action had obviously worn him out.

Moving over to his brother and kneeling beside him, Thor let out a soft cry when he saw that Thanos’ torturers had shattered the bones in Loki’s hands. They looked mangled and his brother stared at them. Thor recognized the look on his brother’s face. Loki was trying to figure something out. His gaze briefly went over to the scepter, but didn’t linger. There was no hunger in Loki’s eyes when they drifted over the weapon, not like there had been eventually. Loki looked to the rocky wall behind him and Thor followed his gaze.

Toward the bottom of the wall, there was a small lightning bolt that had been drawn in the stone with blood. Hearing a rustling sound, Thor watched as Loki crawled over to the shape and used his mangled fingers to draw it clearer, using his own blood, grimacing and gasping in pain. It glowed faintly for a split-second and a hopeful grin briefly danced across Loki’s lips.

“Thor, I am in trouble and I do not know how to escape. Brother, please, I need your help. I do not want to be here any longer. They’re hurting me and I cannot withstand it anymore. Thor, please come and get me.”

The god of thunder’s heart broke with every plea his brother uttered. He didn’t want to see this, but at the same time, he found he couldn’t turn away.

“I know you’re angry with me. I know what I did was wrong. I will accept any punishment, but you cannot leave me with these creatures. Why do you not answer? Thor, please help me.”

Loki went quiet for a moment and then lay down beside the wall, pressing his forehead against the bloody lightning. He sniffled and tears started to run down his face. Loki curled in on himself and winced when he heard some other unfortunate soul start screaming. Thor’s heart clenched when he saw the unmistakable signs of lashes on his brother’s back, bleeding through his tattered shirt.

They tortured him, broke him, every single night. And every night he called for you. You never answered.

Their surroundings changed again and Thor stared at the elegant dining hall of the ship. Thanos was eating something at the table, carving into a thick cut of meat. Thor glared at the titan, hating him with every fiber of his being.

A door slid open and the odd creature shoved Loki into the room. Something about him had changed, he looked much older and more like he did in the present. There was no more youthful innocence to his face. His eyes were dull, no lively glisten lighting them as there usually was. Yet he still held himself with an admirable, some might say foolish, amount of surety. He held his hands clasped behind his back and Thor noticed a slight tremor go through them.

Thanos barely even glanced at Loki as he lifted a wine goblet to his lips.

“Sit, Aesir,” he ordered. Loki approached the table and sat down in one of the large seats. He looked slightly better than he had in the cell, but only slightly. He was still much paler than normal and there were still dark rings under his eyes. Thor noticed how his brother winced imperceptibly when he sat down, a hand briefly drifting over his ribs.

“You’re stronger than you look, even for an Aesir. Most prisoners don’t survive a week of captivity and you’ve lasted more than a year.”

Loki didn’t respond, just looked around at his surroundings. Thor could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. His brother was trying to figure out how to escape.

“You still believe your so-called brother is coming for you?” Thanos asked and Loki looked back to him. The titan sat back and Thor noticed a strange blue glow under the table. His eye widened when he saw Thanos had Loki’s scepter. Oh no. Oh gods, Thor thought.

“I know you’re the god of lies,” Thanos continued. “You’ll be able to sense if I’m lying, correct?”

Loki didn’t respond, pressing his lips tightly closed. His eyes were wide, but there was barely any fear. Thor knew his brother was aware of the danger he was in. But Loki had never given a damn about peril.

“Nobody is coming for you, nobody is looking for you. You’ve been declared dead. You no longer have a home or a family. You are alone,” Thanos told him bluntly and Thor saw a crack appear in Loki’s façade. The dark-haired god looked down at his hands, which had healed. They trembled slightly. He glanced at Thanos and after a moment, Thor saw the subtle way his thin shoulders dropped.

“Am I lying, Aesir?”

Loki swallowed and shook his head. “No.”

His voice sounded strangled and forced, none of his usual arrogance. Thor realized that the titan had finally broken his brother. Judging by Thanos’ malicious smile, he knew it too.

“They didn’t even search for you for very long. Almost as though they were relieved to be rid of you, as though you were a burden,” Thanos continued and Loki clenched his eyes shut.

No, no, that’s not true. We didn’t know you were alive, Loki. We didn’t know. I didn’t know, Thor thought desperately. He could see his brother’s lip tremble slightly, but Loki remained still. Thanos rose from his seat and moved over to Loki, who sat stiffly. Thor watched in horror as the mad titan pressed the scepter against the base of his brother’s neck. Loki cringed and whimpered in pain, smoke rising briefly from his flesh, but he didn’t pull away.

“Your gatekeeper cannot see me or my ship, but Odin All-Father knows of me. He knows what I’m capable of and what I am planning. He knows you’re here, knows of the tortures you’re enduring. His son threw you off that bridge so they could be rid of you.”

Loki bit his lower lip, his green eyes gradually becoming a shade of blue.

“You’re so much stronger than any of them. They underestimated your power, but you were born to rule. They thought I would kill you, but I recognize greatness when I see it. They threw you away, but I shall help you achieve your full potential,” Thanos spoke as he kept the scepter placed against Loki’s neck. “Do you wish to become the king you were born to be?”

“Yes,” Loki whispered. Thanos took the scepter away from Loki’s neck.

“I have a proposition for you, Aesir: I am seeking a powerful artifact called the tesseract, which is currently located on Earth. Your brother favors that planet, does he not?”

A wicked smirk danced over Loki’s lips. “Yes.”

“You bring me the tesseract and I shall give you an army to conquer the planet for your own,” Thanos told him, placing the scepter in Loki’s hands. Thor could see his brother’s eyes glittering and he recognized that look. Loki had found his escape. The pain was over now. He no longer resisted the scepter’s call. He had no reason to.

“All right,” Loki agreed, grinning at the mad titan. Thanos smiled triumphantly. Loki looked back to the scepter, madness gleaming in his blue eyes. How did I not see? How did I not notice? His eyes, they were blue, Thor thought.

**

Thor sat straight up in bed, sweat coating his face, and he panted for air as his heart hammered in his chest. Looking to the side, he saw Loki was sleeping peacefully. Tears swam in Thor’s eye as he thought about his brother frightened and alone in that cell, in pain with no relief. He thought…he really thought I had abandoned him to a monster. The thought was more than the god of thunder could bear. Thor started shaking his brother roughly with both hands and Loki grimaced, groaning in irritation.

“Wha-? What is it?” Loki mumbled as his eyelids fluttered. He rubbed his eyes, blinking groggily as he pushed himself up on one elbow and looked to Thor. The god of thunder almost started weeping when he saw the normal green color of his brother’s eyes.

“Thor? Did you have a—oof!”

Thor tackled his brother, hugging him tightly and clenching his eye shut. “I didn’t know. I swear to you, Loki. I never heard your calls. If I had…I-I would have—”

“What? Thor, what in the seven hells are you talking about?” Loki asked, wrapping one arm around his brother’s shoulders. “When did I call?”

Thor swallowed, suddenly feeling incredibly foolish. But the nightmarish images in his dreams had felt so real. Too real. Forcing himself to release his brother, he scrubbed away his tears and glanced at Loki. His brother looked tired but also incredibly confused. Thor attempted to offer him a reassuring smile.

“I apologize, brother,” he said, forcing himself to remain calm. “‘Twas a nightmare, nothing more.”

Loki stared at him, suspicious. “Are you certain you’re all right?”

Thor nodded. “Yes. I’m-I’m sorry for waking you. Go back to sleep.”

Loki studied him for a moment more, attempting to stifle a yawn. He shrugged and lay down again, nestling beneath the covers.

Thor sniffled and swiped away his tears, still feeling rather silly about the whole thing. But that dream hadn’t felt like a dream. It felt like a memory. He could smell the blood. He could see his brother slowly break. Thor knew Thanos had tortured Loki, he’d been told as much. But knowing something and actually seeing it were different things.

“Are you going to sleep?”

The god of thunder looked to his brother, who was watching him. Thor nodded and got beneath the covers again. He was surprised when he felt Loki’s arm wrap around him.

“We can speak of your nightmare in the morning. Sleep, brother,” Loki mumbled.

Thor inched closer to his brother, taking comfort in Loki’s nearness. Closing his eye, he slowly drifted off to sleep again.

He knew. Deep down, he knew you still lived. He left his own brother to a monster. A man like that deserves to die.

Loki’s head shot up and he looked around the room. The curtains of the room swayed in a breeze. Everything was cloaked in shadows.

“Thor…did you hear something?” Loki whispered.

Thor didn’t respond, already asleep again. Loki looked back to him and then glanced at the room one last time. He hesitantly lay back down and closed his eyes, tightening his grip a little on his brother.

Chapter Text

Loki woke up earlier than he would have liked the next morning. He was unsurprised to find Thor was already gone. Throwing back the covers, Loki got out of bed and went about his morning routine. He had a good idea where his brother would be and what would likely be on his mind.

Once he had showered and changed, Loki hurried out of the room and made his way down the long hallway. The soft pitter-patter of small steps behind him made Loki pause and twist around. He was greeted by the sight of an empty hallway. He knitted his brows and continued making his way down the hall. He could hear the sound of a drill, indicating that morning repairs had already started. The faint smell of food was in the air and Loki was certain there was a plate in the fridge for him.

Moving over to the cabinet Stark had showed him when they first arrived, Loki opened the door and retrieved the items inside. He continued on his way to the kitchen where the back door was. He was halfway across the enormous room when the door slowly opened. Loki paused and stared at it, curious. After a moment, Ms. Gray stepped into view and startled slightly when she saw the dark-haired god standing there. Loki shook himself out of his thoughts and offered her a polite nod as he strode through the door. The damn Midgardians’ flights of fancy are getting to me, he thought irritably.

Following the winding footpath through the grounds, Loki caught sight of the hedge maze and the smallish building that contained a mirror maze. Midgardians were very odd, especially in regards to entertainment. Cresting a small hill, Loki looked down to the sandy beach below. He almost smiled when he spotted his brother looking out over the waves. Moving easily down the path, Loki soon felt the ground turn to sand and he continued moving toward Thor.

“I figured I would find you out here,” Loki mentioned and his brother turned to look at him. Loki held up the bottle of fine wine and the pair of glasses. Thor smiled and shook his head, his gaze turning back to the choppy waters. Loki handed him the glasses and turned his eyes to the bottle.

“I must admit, I was half-expecting you to be working with your friends. I know how much you enjoy being busy on this day,” Loki continued as he wove a simple spell around the cork in the bottle. He snapped his fingers and the cork popped out.

“Only because you always over schedule the day,” Thor pointed out, handing Loki one of the glasses. Loki smirked and poured the wine into the clean glass. It was true. He tried to keep his brother busy on the day that marked the anniversary of Odin’s death. It didn’t make the day any easier for Thor to get through, but it at least gave him something to do.

“He would be proud of you, you know,” Loki mentioned, handing Thor the newly filled glass and accepting the one Thor handed to him. He poured himself a glass and then placed the bottle in the sand beside him. It had been many years since Odin’s passing, which they hadn’t really had a chance to grieve due to Hela’s appearance and then the war against Thanos. In the years since Thor’s return, they tried to observe the date in their own way.

“I hope so,” Thor replied quietly. Loki followed his gaze across the waters, swirling the wine around in his glass.

“To Odin,” Loki said, clinking his glass against Thor’s. He sipped the wine and was pleased to find it wasn’t half-bad. Nowhere near the quality as the wines were in Asgard, but not terrible either. He watched as Thor sipped from his glass.

“You seem distracted, brother. And your sleep is more troubled than it usually is even around this date,” Loki mentioned. “Care to share your thoughts?”

Thor looked down to his glass and swirled the dark red liquid. “I fear I’m making the same mistakes as Father. I think I’m ignoring things that I find difficult to confront.”

“Oh?”

Thor went quiet and Loki looked over at him, raising an eyebrow. He was rather curious about what was bothering his brother. The wind whipped around them briefly and the calls of seabirds could be heard in the distance.

“We…we’ve never spoken about what happened when you were with Thanos,” Thor said carefully. “You’ve told me what you considered important, what I needed to know, but you’ve never spoken about… what was done to you. I do not wish to pry, brother, but I worry that it might do you more harm if I do not”

Loki sipped his wine, shaking his head. “I do not think of my time with Thanos and I do not find revisiting such experiences helpful or worthwhile. It has been years and he’s dead. What’s the point?”

Looking over at the god of thunder, Loki’s shoulders dropped when he saw how troubled Thor still looked. “Very well. If it bothers you so, you may ask me about it and I will do my best to answer, but I cannot promise that I can or will answer all your questions.”

Thor suddenly looked very uncomfortable and shifted his weight, kicking at the ground. Loki waited for him to ask a question.

“Did you call for me? When you were being held by the mad titan?” Thor asked and Loki’s eyes widened in shock. His mouth dropped open slightly. Of all the questions he’d predicted Thor would ask, that certainly wasn’t one of them. Thor looked over at him expectantly and Loki sighed, rubbing his brow.

“Yes,” Loki replied simply. He sipped his wine again, already regretting his decision to let Thor ask him about his time with the mad titan.

“Did you believe that I heard and did not respond? That I had left you to Thanos?”

Loki almost gagged on his wine and turned his eyes to his brother, stunned. There was no way Thor could know that. No possible way.

Thor looked away from him. “I had a strange nightmare last night, when I woke you up. I saw you, in Thanos’ captivity, locked away in a cell. I watched as you were starved and beaten, tortured, broken. I saw you draw a lightning bolt on the walls of your prison with your own blood and call for me. I watched as you accepted the scepter to escape the torment, unknowing that it put you under Thanos’ thrall.”

Thor looked back at Loki, who was staring at him with wide horrified eyes, the color drained from his face. It was one of the first times Thor saw his brother unable to come up with a response.

“Did you believe I was ignoring your pleas for help?” Thor asked again. Loki looked off into the distance, suddenly wanting very much to leave. He let out a little strangled laugh, looking down into his wine.

“Yes. At the time I did believe that,” he admitted, downing the rest of his wine. He couldn’t look at his brother. He didn’t want to see the pain on Thor’s face and damn him for stirring this up again. There was a sense of embarrassment that Thor had seen all that, but also curiosity about exactly how he had seen all that. Thor sometimes experienced prophetic dreams, but Loki didn’t think they extended back into the past.

“Do you still believe that?” Thor asked hesitantly and Loki’s eyes snapped back to him.

“What? No,” he said. “I’m not a fool. I know you were unaware I survived the fall into the Void and you didn’t even know about Thanos at the time. Brother, I don’t think you ignored my cries for help. Being the noble idiot you are, you can never ignore anyone in distress. Have we not argued about that countless times?”

Thor smiled at him, but there was a hint of sadness to it. Loki turned his attention back to the water.

“It’s very odd how violent the water is when there’s very little wind,” Loki mentioned. “And there’s a strange odor in the air, faint but still there.”

“This whole place feels rather peculiar,” Thor agreed. “I can understand why the Midgardians think it haunted.”

Loki scoffed and shook his head, reaching down for the wine bottle. “Midgardians and their fairy stories, so utterly ridiculous.”

Thor smiled and looked behind them. “We should return to the house. I think they shall need help with the renovations and I wish to work today.”

“Very well,” Loki agreed as he retrieved the wine bottle and started to follow his brother back up the path.

“Do you think Father knew about Thanos?” Thor asked suddenly, turning his gaze to Loki. The dark-haired god sighed and shook his head.

“I really don’t know, Thor. I think it likely he knew of the mad titan and I suspect he knew Thanos was still somewhere in the galaxy, but I’m not sure Odin was aware how close the threat was,” Loki replied. Thor put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

“Do you think Odin knew you survived the fall into the Void?”

Loki studied his face. “Do you?”

Thor shook his head. “At one time, I would have said no. He could not have known and done nothing. But now I fear he might have suspected as much.”

Loki’s brows knitted together. “Even if he had, there would have been no way to reach me, Thor. The titan knew how to hide. I know you don’t like to hear this, but Thanos was more powerful than Odin. Challenging him even at the height of Asgard’s power would have been unwise.”

Nodding, Thor looked off across the water again. “I just wish things had been different, brother. I wish you hadn’t had to experience that.”

Loki glanced over his shoulder at the choppy water, furrowing his brow. Something about the water was bothering him, but he couldn’t put his finger on what exactly. Shaking his hair out of his face, Loki followed Thor back to the enormous house.

_*_

Later in the afternoon, Loki was lounging across three chairs, watching Wanda as she sorted through the small pile of rocks in front of her. He’d brought along Frigga’s collection of precious gems and stones as a way to pass the time. Loki had no intention of doing anything close to manual labor and so needed to find other ways to occupy himself. He could hear the upbeat music and various sounds of Peter’s videogame in the next room. The man was taking a break from the repairs that were being done in the basement.

Loki glanced to the side when a loud bang echoed through the grates, followed by some impressively colorful language from the archer. It was soon followed by a short argument, which ended almost as quickly as it began. The sound of sanding and drilling once again echoed up through the grates.

“You’ve missed two,” Loki mentioned, gesturing at the rocks with his wine glass. Wanda frowned and turned her attention back to the stones in front of her, running her fingers over them.

“Ah, ah,” Loki said when he saw a faint red swirl around her fingers. “No cheating. Listen to what your magic is telling you, but don’t use it as a crutch.”

Wanda harrumphed and turned her attention back to the activity, gently running her hands over the smooth stones. Loki smirked and looked over his shoulder, hearing a door open. Swinging his legs down to the ground, he rose to his feet and wandered out into the hall. Spotting movement in the kitchen, Loki approached it to investigate.

There was a clean cut man standing in the back doorway, leaning against the frame. Loki remained just out of sight, watching the stranger. There was nothing extraordinary about him and he looked like any other Midgardian, but something about him bothered Loki. The stranger was studying the layout of the kitchen, doing his best to be subtle.

Footsteps approached and Ms. Gray soon stepped into view, holding a map, which she showed him. When she was finished explaining, the man took the map from her, thanked her, and turned to leave. The keeper shut the door and turned the latch. Loki stepped out from his hidden corner, waiting. When the woman turned back around, she jumped and let out a startled sound.

“Forgive me, Mr. Odinson. I didn’t see you there,” she apologized.

“Who was that?”

“Just a newcomer to the island,” she replied. “They sometimes get lost, but they rarely get so turned around they wind up here. We often get them at my house, but I’ve never seen one get so lost they turned up at this property.”

Loki sipped his wine. “He seemed rather curious about the house. I couldn’t help but notice him looking around while you were retrieving a map.”

“It’s a grand house,” Ms. Grey replied with a shrug. Loki approached, putting his glass down on the counter. He made his way over to the door where the man had been, examining the latch.

“This still doesn’t lock properly,” he mentioned. “Anyone could just walk in, if they had enough motivation to do so.”

They were interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a child’s giggle and looked over to the doorway where Loki had been standing. Loki looked over at Ms. Grey and noticed she had gone even paler. She turned her eyes to the ground and shuffled off, disappearing around a corner. Loki looked back out the door, his eyes scanning the property for any sign of the stranger. He was nowhere to be found.

_*_

Later at night, the former Avengers were enjoying a lively dinner. Tony and Peter stepped into the kitchen, arms full of dirty dishes. There was raucous laughter from the dining room and the two put the plates on the counter. Peter turned on the tap as Tony turned around and looked back to the dining room.

“Great having the old gang under one roof again, isn’t it?” he mentioned.

“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “Can’t wait for the party in a few days.”

Tony was about to respond when there was a knock on the back door. Frowning, Tony straightened up and went to the door. He could see the outlines of two people, one standing on the porch and the other a few feet further back. They were both cloaked in shadows. Tony tried to switch on the back light, only to find it had burned out.

“Damn this old lighting,” Stark grumbled as he opened the door. “Heya, folks. Can I help you with something?”

The person standing closest to him, a woman as far as he could tell, was quiet for a while. The other form down the path was too far away for Stark to make out anything other than a general build.

“Is Kim here?” the woman asked, her voice low. Stark frowned and glanced over at Peter, who was leaning back as he tried to get a look at the woman in the shadows.

“Uh, who? No one here by that name,” Stark replied. The woman looked over Stark’s shoulder and then looked back at him.

“Sorry for interrupting your meal. You’ve been very helpful. Have a good night,” she said coolly as she backed away from the porch. Stark watched as she returned to the figure standing further back. He thought she nodded at the figure, but it was much too dark to see anything clearly. Glancing over at Peter, Stark noticed a figure out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Loki standing in the kitchen doorway.

The dark-haired god was leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. His green eyes were fixed on the door where the woman had been.

“No wonder she took off,” Stark mentioned, drawing Loki’s attention to him. “Buddy, can you not spook the locals? We kinda gotta play nice here.”

“Why is the back light off?” Loki asked, tilting his chin up at the door. Stark scratched the back of his head.

“Damn thing must have burned out or something,” he said as he leaned out of the door again, tapping the light with his finger. He was surprised when it flickered. Tony screwed the bulb tighter in the fixture and it blinked to life again.

“Huh.” He rubbed his chin. “That’s…weird. Maybe the wind knocked it loose. That’s happened a couple times since I’ve been here.”

“There was a visitor earlier this afternoon as well, a man who claimed to be lost. Lady Grey sent him on his way with a map,” Loki mentioned. “Rather interesting coincidence.”

Tony sighed and turned back to the god of mischief. “Getting a bit spooked, Reindeer Games?”

Loki arched an eyebrow. “I know scouting when I see it, Stark. That’s the door that doesn’t lock properly, is it not?”

Stark rolled his eyes and moved across the kitchen to where there was a heavy chair. He dragged it across the floor and shoved it against the door to act as a barricade. Straightening up again, Stark looked back to Loki.

“Satisfied?”

“Not even slightly,” Loki replied dryly. He pushed off the doorframe and returned to the dining room.

“He does have a point, Mr. Stark,” Peter mentioned.

“Man, don’t agree with him. Don’t feed his ego. It’s big enough as it is,” Tony said, but he looked to the door. “Still, it won’t hurt to bump up repairing the locks on the massive to-do list. Maybe that’s what we should focus on tomorrow while Steve and Bucky run out for supplies.”

Tony paused and looked over at Peter, who started moving back to the sink where the dishes were waiting.

“Hey, kid?” Tony waited until Peter turned to look at him. “Until we fix that lock, keep your door locked at night, okay?”

“Sure thing, Mr. Stark,” Peter agreed. Tony smiled and moved over to Peter, patting his shoulder gently, an old gesture of affection. Peter grinned and focused on cleaning the plates.

Chapter Text

“These roads are pretty nicely kept. I was expecting some rough terrain, but it’s like they were paved yesterday,” Bucky commented as he steered down the quiet street. Steve nodded, resting his arm on the open window and breathing in the sweet air. It was good to be out of the house and getting some fresh air. Steve loved being around his friends and the work wasn’t overly strenuous, but the basement did start to feel claustrophobic after a while.

“Got Stark’s list?” Bucky asked, drawing Steve from his thoughts. Steve nodded and pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Yep,” he said as he opened the app that the list was on. “And he’s added seven more things to it in the time since we’ve left.”

Bucky laughed. “I mean, it is going to be a fairly big party. I can’t say I’m overly surprised.”

Steve grinned and stuck his phone back in his pocket. “That the town up there?”

“It would appear so,” Bucky replied, steering carefully around a fallen branch. They continued chatting until they pulled into town. Steve glanced at his phone again, whistling at the lengthy list. He looked over to his friend.

“Stark has added even more things. I think we should probably split up and each takes half the list,” Steve suggested. “Things are pretty close together here, so it shouldn’t take us more than an hour or two. What do you think?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Bucky agreed, pulling into a parking spot in front of a quaint little shop. He watched the people hustling around, going about their day.

“There’s a butcher shop just up the road,” Steve said, gesturing. “You take that and I’ll head over to the grocer’s across the street.”

“Just stay out of trouble, punk,” Bucky said with a soft smile and Steve laughed, stepping out of the car and into the pleasant morning. Bucky snorted, wondering what kind of fiasco his friend would manage to get into while shopping. He stepped out of the car and started to make his way down the street, smiling politely and nodding at the people he passed. Nobody responded and the citizens all kept their heads down, avoiding eye contact.

Bucky reached the butcher’s shop and pulled open the door. A small bell dinged as Bucky stepped inside. The coolness was a stark contrast to the warm sunny day outside.

“Morning, sir,” a cheerful booming voice called out and Bucky looked toward the counter. A large man stood behind a glass case. He was solidly built and his long brown hair was tied back. He had sparkling blue eyes and a large sandy-colored beard. He smiled widely as his dark eyes sized up Bucky. He was scrubbing his large hands with a thin rag.

“Say, haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” he asked. “I never forget a face and that arm is pretty damn hard to forget. You’re one of Earth’s mightiest heroes, aren’t you?”

Bucky rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, smiling politely. “That was a long time ago. I’m retired.”

“Sergeant Barnes, right?” the butcher continued with a hearty laugh. “Helluva a life you’ve led. It would be an honor to shake your hand.”

Bucky cleared his throat and approached the counter, shaking the butcher’s hand, which was almost twice the size of his own. The former soldier held the man’s gaze.

“Strong grip you’ve got there,” he commented.

“I should hope so, in this line of work. Name’s Gareth, Gareth Barlow,” he said. Bucky turned his gaze to the meats in the case, but studied the shop in his peripheral vision. He was very aware of the man watching him.

“Can I help you with something, Sergeant?” Gareth asked.

“It’s just Bucky and I’m supposed to pick up this stuff for Tony Stark,” Bucky replied as he handed the butcher his phone. Gareth studied the screen for a moment, clicking his tongue.

“Yep, I just finished this order as a matter of fact. I’ll get it wrapped up for you,” he said as he handed the phone back to Bucky.

“Thanks,” Bucky replied as he slid the phone back into his back pocket. “I couldn’t help but notice a lot of people looked rather nervous as I was walking here.”

“Oh, don’t mind that. Locals are pretty superstitious and you’re staying at the old Cushing place. Folk around here think it’s haunted and anyone who lives there cursed,” the butcher said as he moved around behind the counter. “They’ll warm up to you in time.”

Bucky continued looking around the shop and his eyes fell on a sword hanging on the wall. It was an elaborately crafted blade. The steel was unlike any the former soldier had ever seen: it gleamed like an oil slick in a rain puddle. The grip was molded to look like a dragon wrapped around the sword at the bottom.

“Nice blade,” Bucky commented. The butcher looked over at the weapon and laughed again.

“Oh that? It’s just an old family heirloom,” Gareth told him. “Grandad always claimed we were descended from heroes of old. Are you into mythology, Bucky?”

Bucky almost laughed when he thought about the group from New Asgard back in the mansion. “I used to be, a long time ago.”

“The myths of old got saturated over time, watered down into children’s fairy stories,” Gareth told him as he continued wrapping the cuts of meat. “Most people think heroes fought monsters and mythical creatures and a great many did. But there were a few who also fought the ones who created such monstrosities and who were responsible for the devastation they wrought: the gods themselves. Evil vicious creatures, they were.”

“I don’t know. I’ve fought alongside a few people who we would have considered gods. They’re not half bad,” Bucky said with a polite smile.

Gareth grinned and put a couple packages wrapped in brown paper in a bag on the clean countertop.

“All gods lust for power and control, like Thanos. If they walk among us, we’re all in danger and one can only hope heroes are ready for them.”

“Uh huh. Is that Stark’s order?” Bucky asked. Gareth nodded and pushed the bag toward the former soldier.

“Yep, bought and paid for by Mr. Stark,” he said. “It sure is nice having an inventor on the island.”

“Great, thank you.”

“You have a nice day, Bucky,” Gareth said warmly. Bucky smiled and turned, making his way out of the shop. He could feel the butcher watching his every move. The former soldier almost collided with a woman as he stepped out of the shop. He apologized as he stepped past her and hurried to the grocer’s. Steve was already stepping out with his arms full.

“This is only part of the order,” Steve told his friend, glancing at the large bag Bucky held. “Dear god, how the hell are we going to prepare all of this on our own?”

“Stark has likely hired some private chefs. I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Bucky replied. “Hey, did the people in there seem kind of odd to you?”

Steve shrugged. “I mean, they did seem overly friendly, but I just assumed that was due to the amount of money Stark was spending.”

“Yeah, the butcher seemed very…anti-gods,” Bucky told him.

“You mean like an atheist?”

“No, more like he thought the gods from mythology were in the same category as monsters,” Bucky explained. “And I know they were petty and vindictive, but…I don’t know, something about the way he talked about it sent up a couple red flags. We should probably tell Thor and Loki to avoid this place. Just so there are no unpleasant incidents.”

Steve nodded. “I mean, we should definitely tell Thor. Loki would take it as a challenge.”

“Good point,” Bucky agreed, glancing around. “This place is creepier than the mansion.”

Steve looked up and down the street. “Come on, we gotta stop in a few more places and then we can head back.”

_*_

Natasha Romanoff had always had an impeccable sense of direction, even before her training in the Red Room. She had always been able to figure out exactly where she was and how to get to where she was going. Her handlers were sometimes frustrated with their inability to drop her in the middle of nowhere. Whenever they did, she always turned up back at the academy in less than twenty-four hours. It got to the point where they had to tell her how long to stay away.

She had never gotten lost.

Yet she found Stark’s newest property impossible to navigate. The rooms seemed to move and the blueprint he’d provided was useless. There were rooms in the property that hadn’t been included in the blueprints and passageways that hadn’t been marked. It was proving to be infuriating for the Black Widow.

As she wandered around the second floor of the mansion, down the hall of bedrooms, Natasha bit the inside of her cheek when she found yet another door that hadn’t been in any of the blueprints. It was mahogany and the deep, rich wood looked freshly polished. Twisting the knob, Natasha found it unlocked and pushed the door open. She found herself in the back of a room of towering shelves lined with dusty books. Stepping inside, the former spy paused when she heard a faint whimper. She closed the door behind her and started walking toward a railing she spotted up ahead.

She was on the second floor of the massive library, a room she hadn’t yet explored thoroughly. When she reached the railing, she peered down to the main floor. The beams of sunlight drifted down from the windows overhead, illuminating a chaise lounge below. Thor was stretched out on it and he was grimacing as though in pain. Natasha frowned and made her way over to the thin winding staircase, jogging down the steps and moving silently across the old hardwood to the chaise lounge.

Thor turned his head to the side, muttering something in his sleep. Natasha noticed he was holding his arms tightly against his chest, almost as if he were protecting himself from some unseen assailant. His head jerked to the other side and the red-headed woman heard the soft crackle of electricity. Biting her lip, she cautiously reached out to him.

“Thor?” she called, shaking him gently. “Hey, buddy? You okay?”

Thor’s eye snapped open and he gasped, his entire body going rigid. He tightly gripped the back of the lounge and looked around the enormous room. After a moment, he relaxed and his gaze turned to Natasha. A hint of embarrassment danced across his face even as he smiled in greeting to his friend.

“Lady Natasha,” he said softly, pushing himself up into a seated position. Natasha smiled and leaned down on the lounge, crossing her wrists over each other.

“I have trouble sleeping sometimes too,” she mentioned. “Not as much anymore, but every now and again. Hazard of our line of work, I suppose. It follows us even into retirement.”

Thor laughed softly and swung his feet to the ground. Natasha moved around the lounge and sat beside him, stretching one arm across the back of the lounge and making herself comfortable. She glanced over at Thor with a half-smile.

“You kind of disappeared on us. Thought that was more your brother’s forte,” she mentioned.

“I apologize. I was feeling a little tired and came in here to rest for a moment,” Thor mentioned, leaning back. “I fear my sleep tends to be uneasy around this time of year.”

Natasha nodded in understanding. The anniversary of the war against Thanos was a difficult time for all the former Avengers. She was beyond grateful to have Clint and Laura in her life. They never celebrated the anniversary of Thanos’ fall, preferring to go about their quiet lives as if it were an ordinary day. They did snuggle together at night, under a nice warm blanket.

“It’s a difficult time for all of us,” Natasha agreed and Thor frowned.

“Yes, the memory of Thanos weighs heavy on my heart. Yet that’s not all that troubles my sleep.”

“Oh?”

Thor swallowed and folded his arms over his chest. “I worry about my brother. I dreamt of his torment at the hands of the titan. I saw him being harmed, tortured, breaking. I worry that he buries such memories and it could possibly hurt him. Loki has never confided in me about that time and I fear he doesn’t trust me enough to share that burden.”

Natasha smirked and shook her head. If Brunnhilde heard this, she would likely smack the god of thunder in the back of the head. He was such a pure heart and soul.

“Thor, I think you’re the person Loki trusts more than anyone. I don’t think he would have accepted the role of your head advisor if he didn’t. People process trauma differently and perhaps Loki has already dealt with his.”

“But to have endured such torment, especially when he was so vulnerable,” Thor insisted, shaking his head. “Surely that would have lingering effects.”

Natasha shrugged. “Maybe it does, but it manifests differently than what you’d expect. When I first defected from Russia, I had trouble falling asleep and remaining so. The smallest noise would wake me up.”

Thor stared at her, stunned. “Loki is a light sleeper. He always was as a child, but it’s more pronounced now.”

“But he still gets enough sleep?”

“Yes,” Thor laughed softly. “Probably much more than I do.”

“Then I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I really think Loki is okay, Thor. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, he’s more balanced and stable than he’s ever been.”

Thor glanced over at her and smiled. “Thank you, Lady Natasha.”

She dipped her chin to her chest, looking up at the ceiling high above them. “Thor, are you having any difficulty navigating this place?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

She opened her mouth to respond when they were interrupted by a loud crash and bang, causing them both to stiffen and look to the second floor of the library. One of the shelves had broken and sent a number of books crashing to the floor. Natasha sighed.

“It’s going to take forever to clean this place up,” she muttered. “Everything’s old and falling apart.”

Thor chuckled. “But there are many of us here to share the work. I think we shall have everything fixed in no time at all.”

Natasha smiled. “I have missed your unfailing optimism, Thor.”

_*_

He found himself on the field of battle, surrounded by pandemonium. Thanos’ forces were still surging, overtaking whoever stood against them. The tides of battle were just starting to turn in the Avengers favor. But the mad titan was still slaughtering any in his path. The ground was wet with blood and bodies were strewn about.

Loki moved forward cautiously, taking in the horrific scene before him. This wasn’t…this couldn’t be his memory. Glancing up to the bright Wakandan sky, Loki could hear air ships arriving. This was before he arrived to the battle and he didn’t even see this spot until…

A yell of rage drew Loki’s attention behind him and his eyes widened as he saw his brother leap into the air, wielding Stormbreaker.

“For Loki!” Thor roared as he descended upon the mad titan.

“Thor, no!” Loki cried out, as though it would change the events. He watched as Thanos effortlessly grabbed his brother by the throat and held him suspended for a moment. Thor thrashed around, murderous rage in his electric eye. Thanos glared at the god of thunder with just as much hatred. Reaching to the side where a spear was jutting out of one of his fallen monsters, Thanos yanked it out of the body and thrust it straight through Thor.

Loki was close enough to hear the sharp intake of breath from Thor. He watched as his brother’s electricity ceased and his eye returned to its normal blue color. I’m going to die, Thor realized and a sense of calm overtook him. His fight was over. He didn’t make any further sound, not even when Thanos twisted the weapon cruelly.

“I’m sorry, Loki. I tried.”

Loki’s eyes swam with tears when he heard his brother’s apology. He stood frozen, unable to move or look away.

Glaring defiantly at the titan, Thor spit blood in his face. A cruel grin spread across Thanos’ face as he wiped the splatters of blood from his hideous purple face.

“I promised the little trickster if he failed me, he would suffer,” Thanos mentioned with a cruel grin as he yanked the spear free causing Thor to grunt in pain. Loki tried to manifest a dagger, but found he was unable to. He could only watch this horrific scene play out.

The titan threw Thor to the ground violently and Loki could hear the bones snap in the impact, heard his brother’s cry of pain. He watched as Thanos struck him over and over again, blood spraying everywhere. He didn’t stop until Thor’s body was so broken, he could no longer move. Thanos said something else, but Thor didn’t hear him clearly. It was another taunt about Loki, he knew as much.

As Thanos started to move away from Thor, Loki found he was able to move again and ran to his brother, kneeling at his head. He reached out his hands, placing them on Thor’s shoulders, wishing he could offer his fallen brother some comfort. Thor drew in a shaky breath, turning his head to the titan, who was walking back to the battle. He watched as Thor prepared to say something further even as he struggled to breathe. No, Thor, don’t—

“You have failed,” Thor yelled to the titan with a laugh. Loki closed his eyes and dropped his head briefly before looking back to where Thanos was. His heart seized up when the titan paused, his shoulders going rigid.

“You are just another monster and the people of this world will defeat you. Already you have lost this war. Your forces are falling,” Thor continued, pausing to spit out a mouthful of blood. “You may have killed me, but I go now to my brother in Valhalla. I shall see him again. You didn’t defeat me and you didn’t defeat Loki. We beat you.”

“Valhalla, is that where you think you shall go?” Thanos asked in a chillingly calm voice. Loki tried to hold his brother closer, instinctively trying to protect Thor.

Thanos was back on him in an instant. He curled the Gauntlet into a fist and slammed it into Thor’s broken chest, burying the remaining stones deep within Thor’s flesh. The god of thunder fell back with a scream of agony, smoke rising from his burning skin.

“No! Stop! Leave him alone!” Loki shouted, frantically trying to push the Gauntlet away. Thor felt something being torn out of him and Loki felt it as if it were happening to him. Thanos pushed the Gauntlet down more and the remaining stones glowed even as they became coated in blood.

“Even if I fall today, your soul will remain trapped on this planet, godling. You will never see your brother or any of your family ever again. The halls of Valhalla are closed to you forever.”

Thor’s eye swam with tears even as he gritted his teeth, trying to endure the pain. Loki could feel Thor’s panic consume him. He was going to die and whatever came after that, he would spend alone. He was never going to see Loki or his family again. Thanos had stolen that from him along with everything else.

After what felt like an eternity, Thanos pulled the Gauntlet away and Thor slumped limply on the ground, consciousness fleeing him. The mad titan stomped off back into the battle, leaving the broken god of thunder lying in the dust. Loki looked to his brother, who was barely alive. Each weak breath he drew in was a wet wheeze. These are merely shadows of the past, things that had already happened, Loki reminded himself.

And where were you while your brother lay here, bleeding in the dirt? Suffering with every breath?

Loki looked up when he heard the disembodied voice. He was suddenly brought way across the battlefield to the thick of the fighting. It was just after he’d made his grand entrance. Loki watched himself as he smiled a vicious smile and cut down enemies left and right. Occasionally, he would throw a spell to down whatever monsters surrounded him. His eyes sparkled with glee. He was having fun.

Glancing to the side, he noticed Thanos was still fighting though he was obviously tiring. When the titan spotted Loki, a malicious smile spread across his hideous face.

You never once thought about Thor. You were too busy killing, too busy getting your own revenge on the mad titan. Thor fought to avenge you. You fought to avenge your pride.

“You don’t know the first thing about me,” Loki growled. “And I don’t take kindly to people invading my mind.”

Is this your mind, trickster?

Loki paused, looking around. This scene felt somewhat different than Thor’s fall. This was more vivid in his mind. Loki crossed his arms over his chest, tapping one finger on his upper arm. He could remember this scene, this was his memory.

Before he had time to ponder it further, he was thrown back across the battle field and smacked into the rock Thor lay near. The sounds of battle were dying down. Soon, the war would be over.

He lay here, bleeding and dying, for hours. Suffering with every breath. You could have saved him, could have found help sooner, if you had thought about someone other than yourself, Laufeyson.

“Who the Hel are you and how do you know all this?” Loki asked. He glanced up when he heard his own voice, calling for his brother.

“Loki? Did…did I make it to Valhalla?”

Loki looked to where his brother lay, still unconscious and dying. He looked up when he saw himself drawing nearer, watched as he froze the instant he spotted Thor, his triumphant smile slowly falling from his face as he realized what he was looking at.

Loki watched as he dashed to his brother’s side and carefully lifted him into his arms. He could feel Thor’s pain. His brother was slowly coming back to awareness and Norns, did it hurt. Thor’s eye fluttered and for a split second, there was relief. Until he realized he hadn’t reached Valhalla.

“Oh Loki. I’m sorry, brother. I’m so sorry.”

**

Loki’s eyes fluttered open and he frowned. He never dreamed and he didn’t have visions. Sitting up, his green eyes slowly traveled around the room. Loki could faintly feel his seidr tingling, indicating there was some other sort of magic somewhere nearby.

Glancing to the side, he saw Thor sleeping peacefully on his side. Thinking about the strange images in his dream, Loki reached over and shook Thor. He was answered with a grunt.

“Thor, I want to ask you something,” he said, shaking him a bit more insistently. Thor groaned and pulled the covers more over his shoulder. Loki rolled his eyes and called upon his Jotun powers, pressing a frigid hand against Thor’s shoulder. Thor let out a yelp of surprise and jerked away when he felt the frost on his back. Blinking groggily, he squinted at his brother.

“What the Hel, Loki?” he mumbled irritably, rubbing his eye.

“I have a question and you sleep like a damn rock.”

Thor frowned and looked over at the digital clock, slumping back on the pillow. “It’s the middle of the night. It couldn’t wait until the morning?”

“I might forget it by then. I need to ask while it’s still in my mind.”

“Norns,” Thor grumbled. “Why are you like this?”

“When you fell, did you tell Thanos that he had failed?” Loki asked, watching his brother intently. Thor made a sound that might have been a yes or a no, pulling the covers more over his shoulders.

“You are just another monster and the people of this world will defeat you. Already you have lost this war. Your forces are falling,” Loki repeated the words he heard Thor spit defiantly at Thanos. “You didn’t defeat me and you didn’t defeat Loki. We beat you.”

Thor stiffened briefly and Loki waited. The god of thunder looked over his shoulder, studying his brother with a look of shock. Whatever tiredness he had felt seemed to vanish.

“How…how could you know that?”

Loki was quiet for a moment. “When you were wounded, did you feel relief? Because you thought you were going to see me in Valhalla?”

Thor stared at him, his eye wide. Loki looked around the darkened room, studying the shadows. He had seen footage of Thor’s death long ago, when he’d hacked into SHIELD’s database, but he’d never seen it so vividly. He never heard the sounds of it, the gruesome wet squelch of the spear piercing Thor’s body. He’d never known his brother’s final defiant words to the mad titan. Loki was surprised to find it made the whole ordeal so much more horrific.

“I think someone or something is playing with our memories,” Loki told him, his eyes going to the grate over their heads. “Showing us scenes from the past, things we could not possibly know.”

“For what purpose?” Thor asked softly.

Loki shook his head. “I know not, but I intend to find out.”

After a moment, he yawned and lay back down. Pulling the blankets up to his chest, he closed his eyes and rested one hand behind his head.

“Loki?”

In any other circumstance, Loki would have responded snappishly. He was tired and wanted to go back to sleep. Yet the smallness of Thor’s voice, the almost imperceptible tremor, made him open his eyes and look over to his brother. Thor looked shaken and a pale in the moonlight.

“I did feel relief, brother,” Thor admitted softly. “I knew the people of this world were going to be victorious. But even if they were, if Thanos fell, I would still have lost everything. I went into that final battle intending to die. This planet and its people, it was perhaps the one thing I could save and my life seemed so small a price for it.”

Thor paused and looked away. “I was…I was looking forward to seeing you and mother and father again, in the halls of Valhalla. When I felt that blade pierce my flesh, I knew I wasn’t going to survive, but I knew a great afterlife awaited me. I would be able to see you again and look out for you, as I had always sworn to do. As I had failed to do. But Thanos…he took that away from me. He had taken everything else and then he took Valhalla from me.”

Loki reached over to his brother, allowing Thor to curl up closer him. Thor buried his face in Loki’s neck and the dark-haired god could feel the warmth of tears on his night shirt.

“It was like losing you all over again,” Thor whispered. “One last act of malice. He would not even allow me to die in peace.”

“Shh,” Loki shushed him. “It’s in the past, brother. Thanos did not succeed and he took nothing from you. I’m here. Valhalla is not closed to you and you shall one day walk its glorious halls, though hopefully not for a very long time.”

Thor was starting to tremble and Loki could feel his heart quicken a little. “What if you’re wrong? I felt that stone steal something from me, Loki. I’ve felt different ever since. I think…I fear that Valhalla is no longer open to me. And once I die, I shall never see you or our parents again.”

Loki couldn’t help but chuckle softly. “I find it rather amusing that you believe I shall be granted entrance into Valhalla, Thor. Or that I’d want to end up there. How dreadfully dull it would be.”

Feeling Thor’s trembling getting worse, Loki rubbed his eyes, trying to figure out how to reassure his brother. “Thor, whatever Thanos did to you, it was undone when the stones were destroyed.”

“How do you know?” Thor whispered. “How can you possibly know?”

Loki lowered his hand again. “Hold still for a moment.”

Thor looked up at him, puzzled. Loki gently pressed his fingertips against Thor’s temple and closed his eyes, searching with his seidr. His brother felt like the same god of thunder, albeit a bit more scarred. There was…something a little odd, which didn’t feel right. It took Loki a moment to figure out it was due to the scars from the infinity stones. Most of the damage from the stones had been repaired with their destruction, but there were still scars and lingering aches. Thor felt different because he was, just not in the way he feared.

After a moment, Loki drew his hand back and opened his eyes, grinning at his brother. “Your soul is still intact. Valhalla shall open to you when it is your time to depart this world.”

Much to Loki’s chagrin, Thor didn’t look reassured at all. If anything, his trembling got worse. His grip on Loki didn’t loosen. Thor hadn’t had a severe panic episode in quite a while and Loki prayed he wasn’t about to have one then. Minor ones were easy to deal with and Thor could often handle them himself. The major episodes were a much different story.

“Brother, I don’t know what else to do or say to put your mind at ease,” Loki confessed. “I swear to you, no one owns or controls your soul but you.”

“Then why does it not feel like it?” Thor asked. Norns, I really should have waited until the morning to bring this up. Live and learn, Loki thought, feeling a little frustrated.

“Because you are tired and overthinking things,” Loki replied calmly. “You will feel better after you’ve rested. Will you at least try to sleep? We can talk more in the morning.”

Thor tucked his arms close to his body, curled up tightly next to Loki. The dark-haired god continued to watch the shadows of the room, running his hand over Thor’s short hair. It was a gesture that often soothed the god of thunder when he was in the grips of anxiety.

Eventually, he felt Thor’s breathing even out and when Loki looked down, he saw his brother had fallen asleep again. Adjusting the blankets slightly so that Thor was tucked in, Loki kept his arms around his brother and put his head on the pillow, closing his own eyes. It didn’t take long for him to drift off to sleep.

Across the room, the door to the balcony opened, the hinges squealing loudly in protest. The shadowy form hiding behind the curtains froze when Loki’s face creased in a grimace. The dark-haired god remained asleep. The form carefully slipped out and shut the door behind him, disappearing into the night.

Chapter Text

Brunnhilde and Ayo helped the others with the repairs during the day. They didn’t partake in the grungy work of cleaning out the basement, choosing instead to tackle minor repairs around the house. They fixed most of the locks and replaced the bulbs that had burned out. It was easy work and they enjoyed teasing each other while doing it, often betting who would be finished first.

The nights were entirely their own. Brunnhilde couldn’t remember a time when she had more sex, good quality sex, than she’d had since arriving on the island. Spending nights in a lover’s embrace was one of the best experiences and the Valkyrie relished every moment of it.

The only problem was whenever they started to be intimate, they would inevitably be interrupted. Either something would loudly break somewhere close by, startling the two women, or they would hear knocking. Once, Brunnhilde swore she heard a child giggling. She was certain it was Loki being a pain in the ass, like he usually was. But she thought she had figured out a way to outsmart the annoying trickster.

One afternoon, Brunnhilde grabbed Ayo’s hand and led her to their bedroom, shutting the door softly behind her. Before Ayo could ask her what was going on, the Valkyrie captured her lips with her own. Backing her lover up towards the bed, Brunnhilde guided her to sit, her eyes alight with invitation. Ayo smiled widely and sat back on the bed. Brunnhilde stripped off her top and pounced on her lover, once again capturing her lips.

There was a loud, insistent knocking on their door and Brunnhilde felt rage course through her.

“That is last damn straw!” she snapped as she pulled her shirt back on and stormed over to the door. The Valkyrie yanked it open, unsurprised to find an empty hall. She strode purposely down the corridor, grinding her teeth. When she reached the elegant stairway, she spotted Bucky eating an apple and reading book, sitting on the stairs.

“Where’s Loki?” she demanded, much louder than she intended. Bucky jumped, obviously startled, and turned around to find an irate woman standing over him. His eyes widened slightly and he swallowed the bite of apple he’d been chewing.

“Uh, in the dining room, I think. He and Thor are getting ready for—”

She moved past him before he could finish, uninterested in anything other than Loki’s whereabouts. She almost collided with Peter Parker, who swiftly jumped out of her path when he saw the look in her eyes. Even the chipper vacuum cleaner, which had been heading toward her, changed its direction and continued cleaning the floors.

Reaching the dining room, Brunnhilde threw open the doors and saw Loki sitting at the table with a laptop in front of him. He had a pad of paper on one knee and a pen within reach.

“For once in your damn life could you not be such an annoying prick?” she snapped, her voice echoing in the empty room. Loki’s eyes remained on the screen and he clicked on something.

“If you speak to anyone who knows me, I think you’ll find the answer to your question is no,” he replied, unbothered. Brunnhilde let out a huff of annoyance and stormed over to the table, slamming the top of the laptop down. Loki licked his lips, obviously irritated and looked up at her.

“Here I thought some quality time with your partner would improve your mood,” he mentioned. “Problems in the boudoir, Valkyrie?”

Her nostrils flared as she continued glaring at him. “There wouldn’t be if you didn’t continually interrupt us with your little immature tricks. Find someone else to annoy, Lackey. I’m on vacation.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Believe it or not, Brunnhilde, my existence doesn’t revolve around you.”

“I swear, Lackey, if you knock on my door one more time, I will punch you in the face so hard your ancestors will feel it.”

Loki squinted at her. “I haven’t knocked on your door once since we’ve been here. Perhaps the wood is settling. Change rooms if you can’t ignore it. If you don’t mind, Thor and I need to call into this meeting with the council in New Asgard.”

Brunnhilde let out a growl of irritation and turned to leave the room, almost walking into Thor as she left. The god of thunder looked after her and then back to Loki, who had once again opened the laptop.

“What was that about?” he asked as he moved to sit next to his brother.

“Brunnhilde thinks I’ve been knocking on her door at inopportune moments,” Loki replied and Thor gave him a look. “I haven’t.”

“Loki.”

“What? It wasn’t me.”

“Brother, if it is, please stop.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t. I’m not a child. I would prefer she and her partner be intimate regularly. She’s in a much better mood when they are.”

They both looked up when they heard a door slam faintly somewhere overhead. The Odinsons exchanged a look and Loki turned his attention back to the computer screen.

_*_

After lunch, Wanda decided to explore the hedge maze on the grounds. She enjoyed mazes and had been eager to investigate the one on the property. It was enormous and she grinned widely as she stood at the entrance. The hedges towered over her and the leaves shuddered in the breeze. Taking a step inside, Wanda moved around the first bend, closing her eyes and inhaling the sweet smell of the plants. There were bright pink blossoms hidden amongst the green and she gently touched the delicate petals. She could hear the calls of birds in the trees and took a moment to enjoy the serenity of her surroundings.

The young woman continued walking along the stone path, the warm sun lighting her path. Wanda stiffened briefly when she heard the soft sound of laughter and twisted to look behind her. There was nothing but hedges and stones.

“Hello?” she called out, looking around her. “Is anyone there?”

No one responded and so Wanda continued on her way, exploring the twists and turns in the maze. After a while, she reached the center of the maze where there was a large sculpture of a little girl holding a plate of some kind. There was writing on the marble base she stood atop. Wanda knelt down and lightly brushed her hand over it, cleaning away some of the dirt and leaves that covered it.

“In memory of the innocent souls lost on these grounds,” she read, her eyes slowly roaming over the rest of the inscription. Picking up one of the smooth stones from the ground, she placed it reverently on the marble surface.

Wanda suddenly felt a cold hand on her shoulder. “Sister, do not turn around.”

Her eyes widened when she heard the soft familiar voice, one she would recognize anywhere. But…it was impossible.

“You and your friends are in danger. There are eyes watching your every move, people who watch from a distance and who mean you harm. You must be vigilant.”

“People, what people?” Wanda asked, wanting to turn around. She wanted to see his face, to wrap her arms around him and tell him how much she missed him.

“Be wary of friendly words hiding poison underneath,” he replied cryptically.

“Pietro?” she whispered. She felt him nuzzle her hair and kiss her temple.

“It is good to see you well, sister. I love you.”

The grip vanished as suddenly as it had come and Wanda spun around, only to find she was still completely alone. Tears welled up in her eyes and she lightly touched the shoulder where she could have sworn she felt her brother’s grasp.

_*_

In the late afternoon, Thor was fixing bookshelves in the library. The wood was old and rotting, in desperate need of repair. The task was an easy one for the god of thunder and he had already repaired a number of them. As he was drilling some screws into place, Thor thought he heard a hissing sound but disregarded it.

Taking a step back to admire his handy work, the god of thunder smiled and placed the drill off to the side. The moment was shattered by the click of the intercom system. Thor started picking up the supplies he had been using, frowning when he only heard breathing coming from the intercom. A bloodcurdling scream made him drop whatever he was holding and jump, startled. Swiftly moving over to the intercom, Thor pressed the button to speak.

“What happened? Is everyone okay?” he asked. There was another scream, which was abruptly cut off. Thor ran to the door, throwing it open and running out into the hall. He slid around a corner and froze in horror at the sight that greeted him.

The bodies of all his friends were stretched out in front of him, lifeless eyes staring at him. Their flesh was discolored and they had been mutilated. Blood covered everything as far as the eye could see. It soaked into the dark red carpet, staining it. Everywhere he looked was death.

“The cruelty of the gods must end before they shed more innocent blood.”

A shadow fell behind him and Thor felt a forked tongue brush against the back of his neck. Swallowing, the god of thunder slowly turned, already having an idea of what would be waiting for him.

An enormous wet gray serpent looked down at him, its fangs dripping with venom. The minute their eyes met, the serpent struck. Thor felt its fang pierce his breast bone, venom pulsing through his veins. Agony consumed his senses. He tried to gouge at the beast’s eyes, but its venom sprayed all over him and Thor felt his flesh begin to melt.

Hearing a soft gasping, Thor turned his gaze to the side. He saw Loki a few feet away, on his knees. The serpent’s tale wrapped tightly around his neck, constricting. Loki was gagging as he tried to draw in breath. His wide green eyes, full of fear, turned to Thor.

Help me, brother, Loki’s eyes practically screamed. Thor swallowed, remembering his brother calling for him in captivity. He held out his hand, trying desperately to reach him. Loki reached out, trying to grab the god of thunder’s hand. Thor could feel panic start to consume him when he saw Loki’s face starting to turn blue. Don’t give up, he thought frantically. Reach! Just a little more!

Their fingertips were so close, mere inches away. Loki’s eyelids fluttered and Thor could see he was about to pass out. He attempted to yell, but found his voice didn’t work. He could feel the acidic venom burning away his flesh, but he could only see his brother slowly being strangled.

There was a gruesome crack and the dark-haired god slumped to the ground. Thor opened his mouth in a silent scream.

**

Loki frowned and put a hand to his head, groaning. His head was pounding and he felt incredibly sluggish. He wasn’t entirely awake and he didn’t know what was disturbing his rest. There was a strange acrid scent of smoke in the air. For a moment, Loki thought he heard the crackle of flames.

A high-pitched child’s scream made his eyes snap open and Loki was instantly wide awake. He sat up, grimacing, and briefly clenched his eyes shut. Glancing around the shadowy room, Loki felt a chill travel down his spine. Something was wrong.

“Thor?” he whispered, turning to check on his brother. Loki’s eyes widened when he saw Thor was staring straight ahead, a look of utter terror on his face, his lips pressed so tight they were practically colorless and his body rigid. Loki recognized that look. When he’d first come home from Wakanda, Thor had experienced something like waking nightmares. He’d be awake and not at the same time, laying in a stupor, watching horrific images only he could see. It was almost impossible to break him free of such a state.

Almost.

Loki swiftly moved closer to his brother, taking his hand and gently squeezing it. With his free hand, he ran his fingers through his brother’s short hair, faint green light pulsing from his palm. Closing his eyes, Loki focused his magic and sent his voice to whatever nightmarish world his brother was currently trapped in.

“Thor, you’re experiencing a nightmare, like the ones you used to have a few years back. I can pull you out of it right now, but it will almost certainly result in a painful headache. Or you can wait a few hours and come out of it naturally. Either way, I’ll be right here. If you wish for me to wake you now, squeeze my hand.”

Loki waited patiently. It only took a moment before he felt a soft squeeze from the hand he held. Placing his free hand on Thor’s brow, Loki sent a small amount of seidr into his brother’s system and then used more invasive magic to yank Thor out of his sleep cycle.

The god of thunder drew in a deep breath and clenched his eye shut, pressing his hand against the side of his head, grunting in pain. He rolled onto his side and curled up in the fetal position, pressing down hard on his temple. Loki reached over to the base of Thor’s skull and applied pressure to a specific point that would ease his brother’s pain.

“My arm. It hurts,” Thor managed to pant out. Loki looked to him and noticed his eye was watering in pain. Examining Thor’s weaker arm, he noticed how rigid it was and Thor appeared to be unable to move it.

Loki looked around the room, his eyes falling on their luggage. He guided Thor’s hand from his temple to the place Loki was pressing down on and replaced his own with it. Thor’s eye opened and he looked up at his brother.

“Keep applying pressure here. I’m going to get your muscle relaxant and some water. I will be right back,” Loki told him and Thor nodded. Loki got off the bed and hesitated for a moment, feeling strangely dizzy. He shook his head and made his way across the room, stumbling slightly. He was terribly clumsy when he didn’t have enough sleep.

He knelt by Thor’s bag and unzipped the front pocket, retrieving the bottle of pills. He moved over to the bathroom and switched on the light, grimacing at the brightness that assaulted his eyes. Loki retrieved a glass from the counter and filled it with water from the tap. Stepping back out into the room, he found his brother was now lying on his back. Loki gestured for him to sit up and Thor did so. Handing his brother the glass, Loki turned his attention to the pill bottle, easily opening the top of it.

“How bad is the pain? Will one pill be enough or do you want to take two?”

Thor grimaced. “I’d take the whole damn bottle if I could.”

Loki snorted as he shook the pills out onto his palm. “Well, you can’t. You can have two.”

He handed them to his brother. Thor popped them into his mouth and chased them down with a large swig of water. He leaned back against the bed frame, closing his eye. Loki took the glass from him and placed it on the bedside table along with the pill bottle.

“Are you all right, brother?” he asked and Thor nodded. “Did you dream of Thanos again?”

Thor shook his head. “No. I dreamt of death in these halls and a giant serpent killing us both. Its venom melted my flesh and its fangs pierced my heart.”

Loki stared at him. “A serpent?”

Thor nodded, rubbing his eye. “I think it might have been a vision. It felt like one. Though I do not know what it meant.”

“I would suggest avoiding snakes, but I know how difficult that would be for you,” Loki said around a yawn, feeling oddly tired. “Do you wish to talk about it?”

Thor also yawned and shook his head. “Not now, I can barely keep my eye open. In the morning perhaps.”

Thor lay down again, watching as Loki climbed over to his side of the bed. He got back under the covers and rolled onto his side, sighing softly. The god of thunder draped an arm over his brother and closed his eye, which suddenly felt like lead, and drifted off back to sleep.

For a few moments, the only sound in the room was the soft clunking from the vents above. Then there was the sound of metal scraping over metal as the shower curtain was pushed back. A man and a woman, each wearing a special gas mask, stepped out of the tub and left the bathroom. The man moved into the main part of the large bedroom, followed by the woman. She stepped around him as he paused to look at the two sleeping gods. When she looked back to him, he gestured at them.

We should kill them now. End this evil while it sleeps, he gestured to her. She shook her head and responded with stronger gestures.

He says wait, we wait. We’ve done what we came here to do tonight. Let’s go.

The man looked back to the sleeping gods, clenching his fists and then turned to follow the woman out into the halls.

Chapter Text

“Come on, folks! It’s T-minus two hours until party time. I can hear helicopters already. Chop, chop. Point Break, make sure your brother doesn’t have any potential world ending secrets waiting to pop up and sucker punch us.”

“Stark, I’ve already asked him—”

“Ask him again,” came a chorus of voices.

“Were I lesser man, I might be insulted,” Loki muttered from where he lounged in the window. His legs were up on the paneling and he was lying on his back, creating an L-shape with his body. His nose was buried in a small book and a fresh mug of tea was resting on the floor within reach.

“Loki?”

“No. I have no potentially apocalyptic secrets,” Loki replied dryly as he sat up and put his book down. Thor smiled and looked back to the documents he was reviewing. Loki reached for his tea.

“That I’m aware of,” Loki added before taking a sip of tea and Thor glared at him. He was even more annoyed when he saw the smirk dancing across his brother’s lips. Glancing up, Thor watched as one of the wait staff Tony had hired hustled past him. Since none of the locals would set foot on the property after dark for any amount of money, Stark had to outsource the job and flew in members from a company he trusted. After their recent spate of horrible luck, Thor requested his brother inspect everyone to make sure no one was a double agent. It was one of the few times Loki agreed without complaint.

While none of the staff was dangerous or harboring ill will, Thor now knew much more about them than he really wanted to. Loki felt obligated to inform his brother of every last scrap of information he managed to obtain from the people who would be working during the party.

Both Odinsons looked to the side when the loud bell chimed, notifying them of a visitor. Thor frowned, wondering who could possibly be so early.

“Pepper!” Stark yelled as he ran through the room to answer the door. “Pepper, Pepper, Pepper!”

Loki rolled his eyes and closed the book he held. Thor smiled and stood up, moving across the room to where Stark was opening the door.

“I’m mad at you,” Pepper warned as she handed a small child to the exuberant inventor. Tony’s eyes lit up and he cooed at the young girl, who squealed in delight. Thor noticed a small boy and a slightly taller girl standing at Pepper’s feet, staring wide-eyed at the enormous house.

“I know, my beautiful amazing wife,” Tony said as he leaned forward and kissed his wife. “Hey, the Bartons! All of you are growing like weeds.”

“Pepper!”

“Peter!” Tony’s son and daughter shrieked in delight. Thor watched the happy reunion with a smile, crossing his arms over his chest. Laura stepped inside with her kids in tow, beaming when she spotted Natasha and Clint on the stairs. They quickly rose and hurried to greet her, sharing hugs and kisses. Natasha lifted Nathaniel from the ground and Barton hugged Cooper.

“Loki!”

Thor glanced down and noticed Lila Barton had wandered into the room where Loki was lingering off to the side, watching the reunions. The god of thunder watched in amazement as Loki greeted the young girl politely and crouched down a little to allow her to throw her arms around his neck in an enthusiastic hug. He was even more amazed when his brother briefly wrapped his arms around Lila, returning the embrace.

“Those two got on thick as thieves when we first visited New Asgard,” Laura mentioned as she stepped up beside Thor. He glanced at her and then looked back to where his brother was listening to the young girl chatter on about something with plenty of animated gestures. A small grin danced across Loki’s lips and he nodded every now and again.

“It was actually rather adorable,” Laura said as she followed his gaze, smiling at her daughter’s excitement. “I didn’t expect Lila to befriend the man who I last saw when he came to offer his life in recompense for what he did to my husband.”

**

Laura Barton was enjoying the time away from home, though she wished it had been under better circumstances. She had left the boys with her partners and brought Lila with her to pick up flowers to bring to Thor’s memorial. She had planned to drop Lila off with Natasha and go to the memorial herself, but Lila insisted on coming along. The young girl was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that she would never see the friendly god who had allowed her to sit on his shoulders when she wanted to see what it was like to be a giantess. The man with the bright smile who picked her up so Lila could make believe she was a bird.

Laura looked down to her daughter, who held her hand as they continued on their way. On the plane ride over, Lila had drawn a number of pictures including one she wanted to give to Loki, which Laura kept in her purse for when they eventually ran into him. The young girl was looking up at the Asgardians they passed by, many of whom were dressed in fine clothing. They smiled politely at the Midgardians, greeting them kindly. Laura couldn’t get over how welcoming and accommodating they were. Nathaniel had been fussy the previous night and she worried he might be disturbing the other guests at the inn they were staying at. She was surprised when the staff and a few other guests offered to help care for the young boy.

“Mommy, is that it?”

Laura looked over to where Lila was pointing. “Yes, darling. That’s the memorial.”

Lila looked at it, her grip tightening a little on her mother’s hand. “Is Thor in there?”

“In a way. A memorial is a place where people go to be with loved ones who have passed away,” Laura explained. “You know how Mommy, Aunty Nat, and Daddy sometimes visit grandpa’s grave? Well, the people who really loved Thor go to that building to remember him and the good times they had with him.”

Lila was quiet for a bit as they continued walking toward the memorial. Then she looked up at Laura and tugged on her arm.

“It’s really sad that Thor died, Mommy.”

“I know, dear.”

They finally reached the memorial building and Laura pulled the heavy door open, allowing her daughter to go inside ahead of her. They stepped through a short alcove into the main part of the building and Laura paused when she spotted the lone figure sitting in a bench at the very front of the building.

It had been a few years since she’d last seen Loki, but she recognized his wiry frame and black hair. He was wearing dark clothes and he was hunched over his knees, his face in his hands. The man didn’t appear to notice he had company.

Laura looked behind her, considering leaving. While they had intended to sit and speak with the leader of New Asgard, she wasn’t sure it was the appropriate time. When they first arrived, Brunnhilde told them that Loki had been having a difficult month. Chances are you won’t see him much. He tends to prefer grieving alone, she explained. He had sent a note inviting the family to dinner in a couple days, so Laura assumed that’s when they would see him.

Before she could turn around and leave, Lila dashed down the rows of benches to where Loki was sitting. Laura bit her lip when the young girl pulled herself up onto the bench and sat next to the grieving god. Loki slowly raised his head from his hands, staring at the girl and frowning. He glanced over his shoulder, noticing Laura in the alcove. She scrunched up her nose in an apologetic expression and mouthed, Sorry.

“Are you Lucky?”

Oh god, Laura thought as she briefly put her face in her hand, embarrassed. Lila had been having a little trouble remembering Loki’s name. Clint found it hysterical. Both Laura and Nat suspected he was encouraging the mistake. The dark-haired god looked back to the young girl, who was staring at him in awe.

“It very much depends on who you ask,” he replied softly. Lila tilted her head, confused.

“People call you different names? That’s silly.”

“Ah,” Loki said with a quiet laugh. “My name is actually Loki.”

“Daddy used to call you something that I’m not allowed to say,” she told him, leaning forward and whispering, “Because it’s a bad word.”

Loki smiled a slight sad smile and sat back a little.

“He doesn’t call you that anymore, though,” Lila continued, studying Loki’s face and reaching forward to touch his cheek with a small hand. “You’re crying. Are you sad because Thor died?”

Laura winced at her daughter’s bluntness. Loki visibly swallowed and nodded.

“Yes,” he said, pausing and clearing his throat so his voice sounded less strangled. “Yes. I miss my brother very much.”

Lila watched him for a moment as he swiped at his lingering tears. The young girl got on her knees and wrapped her arms around the dark-haired god’s neck, hugging him. Loki appeared startled by the gesture at first, holding his arms out to the side and glancing over at Laura. He obviously had no idea what to do.

“Please don’t be sad, Loki,” Lila told him. Loki sighed and hesitantly wrapped his arms around the small girl.

“Grief is a natural part of life, child. Sometimes we need to be sad in order to heal,” he explained. “Part of me will always miss Thor and I think he would understand that. He grieved me when he thought I had perished. It’s only right that I do the same for him.”

Lila let go of him after a minute and sat back, looking up to the beautiful portrait of Thor at the front of the memorial. Laura opened her purse and carefully drew out a colorful sheet of construction paper. Her daughter looked over at her and smiled.

“I brought you something,” she told Loki excitedly as she jumped off the bench and ran over to Laura. She smiled as she handed Lila the paper. The young girl ran back to Loki, who was watching her curiously. She handed him the picture as she climbed up to sit next to him again. He accepted the paper and studied it.

“That’s you and that’s Thor,” Lila explained, pointing to the figures she’d drawn. “You’re on our farm and you’re both happy. And those are butterflies because I like butterflies.”

Loki smiled. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

Lila leaned against him, looking at her picture. “Are there butterflies in New Asgard?”

Loki glanced at her and then turned his attention to the front of the memorial. He held out one hand and Laura watched in astonishment as bright green light curled out from his fingertips, separating and forming different shapes. She watched as hundreds of butterflies, all different colors and sizes, suddenly appeared in place of the light. Lila’s eyes were the size of saucer plates and her mouth was wide open as she stared at the fluttering rainbow that suddenly filled the large space.

Loki sat back and smiled faintly, watching as the young girl hopped around and squealed in delight as butterflies landed on her head and shoulders. Laura sat on a nearby bench, grinning as she watched her daughter’s joy. She noticed Loki looked a little less despondent as he watched Lila run around and play with the butterflies.

**

Thor grinned and looked back to where the girl was still talking to Loki. “So that’s where the picture came from.”

Laura looked over at him, a little surprised. “He kept it?”

“Yes, it’s on the door of the large closet in our house. I never thought to ask him about it and he never told me,” Thor replied.

“Thor!”

Thor laughed and lifted Lila off the ground when she ran to him. She hugged him tightly.

“I’m glad you’re back,” she whispered. He grinned and put her back on the ground, watching as she ran to hug Clint. Laura patted his arm and went to reunite with her family, sitting beside Natasha on the large elegant steps.

“So, kiddos, no opening any doors,” Stark told the kids who were running around underfoot. “Repairs are nowhere near finished and there’s still mucho danger in parts of this house.”

Thor almost laughed at the look Pepper gave Tony. Most of the rest of the group had ventured out into the front hall and were being greeted enthusiastically by the small children.

“However, Parker’s got some sweet videogames and there’s a library filled with all kinds books,” Tony added. “There’s plenty to keep everybody occupied.”

Thor looked over his shoulder when Loki approached, folding his arms over his chest.

“It should be a rather fun night, don’t you think, brother?” Thor asked and Loki looked at him, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh yes. All the former Avengers, a few current ones, and a truly absurd amount of SHIELD personnel in a house with a dark past,” Loki said grinning, shaking his head. “At least it’s unlikely to be boring.”

Chapter Text

Wanda had never been a fan of large parties. She enjoyed spending time with her friends, but she had always been an introvert. Large gatherings tended to wear her out rather quickly. Wanda found she was still feeling rather unsettled from the encounter in the hedge maze, which she hadn’t been able to get out of her mind. As she mingled at the party, wearing a plain red dress, she found her thoughts often strayed back the incident.

Eventually, she excused herself and slipped away from the rather loud party. As she was leaving, she spotted Thor speaking with Jane and her girlfriend, Dr. Mavis Byrne. The three of them were laughing and speaking like old friends, obviously enjoying themselves. Nearby, Loki sitting on a couch, surrounded by a number of civilians, including Darcy Lewis, schmoozing. He held a flute of champagne and his smile was easy as he continued to spin whatever tale he was telling. Nobody was quite as good at mingling as Loki.

Wanda walked down the dark hall, moving toward the warm light of the library. She slipped in through the door into the quiet room.

“I guess this is the introverts’ club,” Banner greeted her from where he was sitting on the lounge. “Did it get too loud for you too?”

Wanda nodded as she approached the lounge and he closed the book he’d been reading. “Yes. I never feel much like celebrating this time of year.”

Banner smiled sympathetically. “I’ve never been much for the observing the end of the war against Thanos either. I understand why people do it and I don’t begrudge them, but…I don’t know. When you’ve fought in a war like that one, you kinda don’t want to remember it.”

Wanda sighed and moved around the lounge to sit on the other side. “I’ve never…I’ve never visited Vis’s grave in all these years. I have visited Pietro’s, but I can’t bring myself to go see Vis’s. I feel I’m betraying him by not doing so, yet I just can’t.”

“We all grieve in our own way and we even grieve different losses in different ways. I think all of us still have wounds from Thanos. I don’t think you need to force yourself to visit Vision’s grave. You remember him in your own way,” Bruce reassured her. “We put too much pressure on people to mourn a specific way. It’s unhealthy.”

Wanda smiled. They both turned when they heard Peter’s excited voice, watching as he strode through the door, followed by his Aunt May. Peter grinned and waved, wandering over to them. May and Bruce struck up a conversation. Wanda was about to ask Peter what brought him into the library when she noticed a movement outside the window.

“Wanda?” Peter asked when she stepped around him and moved over to the glass. She couldn’t see anything in the darkness. Then, she saw a brief flash of white amongst the trees, which startled her.

“There’s something outside,” she told him and they both looked up when they heard footsteps on the second floor. Cooper Barton suddenly appeared by the railing.

“Hey, has anyone seen Nathan? Mom put him down to sleep up here, but I went to check on him and Lila and his bed was empty.”

Wanda felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach and looked back out the window. There was no way he could have gotten outside. Unless…

“Go get your parents,” she told him as she turned to make her way out of the library. She moved back through the noisy halls, heading for the kitchen. The sounds of staff were drifting through the halls and Wanda stepped inside the bustling kitchen, her eyes widening when she saw the back door. It was wide open.

“Why is that door open?” she demanded to a nearby server. The younger man glanced over at the door and shrugged.

“It’s a nice night, ma’am,” he replied. “The kitchen was very warm and we wanted some fresh air.”

“Did you see a young boy come through here?” she asked and the man shook his head. Wanda looked back to the door and put her hands on her hips. He’s probably just wandering around the house. There’s no way a child could have just wandered outside unnoticed.

Yet in her mind, she remembered her brother’s warning about being watched and was filled with a sense of dread.

_*_

Loki had yet to attend one Midgardian party that was even remotely enjoyable. They were either too bland, too dull, or in this case, too tedious. He sipped the mediocre champagne he was tolerating and moved around the back of the house. Inside, he could hear the Bartons fretting as party attendees tore the mansion apart searching for the missing boy. His brother was helping the Midgardians, unsurprisingly.

Loki had other ideas.

If the child had gotten outside somehow (unlikely), he still had very small legs and questionable coordination. Small children couldn’t cover anywhere near as much distance as an adult and they always left a trail of some kind. It was relatively easy to find them. Finishing his champagne, Loki put the flute on the stone path and wandered closer to the darkness. Sticking his hands in his pockets, he moved across the grass, out of the light. He could see the trees up ahead and picked up his pace slightly. The light from the moon made it relatively easy to navigate and Loki was used to moving around in shadows. Actually, he rather preferred it.

Right before the trees, Loki froze. Something was making the hackles on the back of his neck stand up and suddenly, his senses were telling him to flee. There was some unseen danger in front of him, in the forest. Squinting, Loki tried to see what was triggering the sense of unease. A soft rustling in the tree branches made him tilt his head.

“Whoever or whatever you are, I am Loki of New Asgard. My patience is low and my mood is not pleasant at the moment. Test me at your own risk,” he warned. A soft breeze swept through the leaves and Loki kept his senses sharp. After a moment, he took a cautious step into the forest.

The odd smell was stronger among the trees, and much sharper. Every step Loki took seemed to echo throughout the vast forest. His eyes remained sharp for any movement and he prepared to manifest a dagger at a moment’s notice.

It only took him a few minutes to locate the youngest Barton. The boy was huddled beneath an enormous tree, clutching something in his small arms. His eyes were closed and it looked as though he’d fallen asleep. Loki crouched down beside him, clearing his throat loudly. The young boy’s eyes fluttered open and he looked around.

“I’m afraid your absence has caused quite a scene, young Barton,” Loki told him. “Your family is rather worried about you.”

Nathan rubbed his eyes sleepily and looked up at the trickster. “The nice lady said it was okay. She said Daddy said I could go with her.”

“The nice lady?”

Nathan nodded. “She woke me up. She was wearing a mask made of stars.”

Loki frowned. “This lady was in the house?”

“Uh huh. She showed me one of the secret ways out.”

Loki noticed the young boy tighten his hold on the object in his small arms. He tried to get a better look at it.

“What have you there?” Loki asked.

“It’s a present for Thor,” Nathan answered.

“Thor?”

Nathan nodded. “From the man in the forest.”

Loki frowned and looked behind him. It struck him that it was unnaturally quiet. There was no sound of nocturnal animals. Loki could feel someone or something watching him from afar. A strong wind swept through the forest and it sounded eerily like howling.

“May I see it?” Loki asked, holding out his hand. Nathan looked at his hand and then at him, clutching the object tighter.

“I’m supposed to give it to Thor,” he said. Loki smiled his most charming smile.

“I shall give it to him, you have my word.”

Nathan looked at the object he held and hesitantly handed it to Loki. The trickster frowned when he felt the weight of the unusual object. It was a tome of some kind, one that had been touched by magic. No…it contained magic, a sort that was very similar to Aesir magic. But that was impossible. The cover shimmered faintly even in the shadows.

“I’m cold.”

Loki looked over at the boy and then quickly tucked the book away in a hidden pocket of reality. He straightened up and offered the child his hand.

“Come on. Let’s get you back to your parents.”

As Loki started leading the boy out of the forest, Nathan tugged on his hand, drawing his attention back to him.

“They’re watching us,” the young boy told him. “I think the people in the forest want you to play with them.”

A shiver went down Loki’s back and he turned to look over his shoulder. He could see nothing but the shadows of enormous trees. Even more unsettling, he couldn’t sense anyone or anything out of the ordinary. Loki swallowed and turned his attention back to the boy, smiling a little.

“Perhaps later,” he told him. “Let’s just return to the house, all right?”

Nathan grinned up at him and nodded, happily following alongside the tall god of mischief as they walked back to the enormous property.

_*_

“You really think he could be hiding in here?” Banner called up from the ground floor of the library.

Thor shrugged as he stood on a ladder, peering over the tops of bookshelves. “When my brother was a boy, he often turned up in rather unexpected places. Including some places that should have been impossible for him to get to.”

“Yeah, but he’s Loki,” Banner pointed out, as he wandered over to some other shelves. Thor climbed down from the ladder, putting his hands on his hips. The young boy seemed to have disappeared into thin air. They were combing the enormous property and there was no sign of Nathan. He was greatly concerned for the child’s safety and felt sympathy for his friends, who were frantic to find their son. Thor had heard what sounded like a child’s laugh in the library and went to investigate. Banner and Wanda followed him to help out.

“Thor, could you come down here a moment?”

The god of thunder looked over the railing to where Wanda was standing beside a bookshelf. He moved over to the spiral staircase and jogged down the iron steps, quickly reaching the bottom floor.

Wanda was holding an enormous book in her arms and she looked puzzled. As he approached, she turned one of the yellowing pages.

“These symbols, they’re similar to some of the ones in books Loki has shown me,” she mentioned as she held the book out to him. Thor took it from her and studied it, his eyebrows furrowing.

“Well, this is rather peculiar,” he said, turning another page. “This is an Aesir book, a very old one. It’s about ancient healing magic, archaic techniques and spells that haven’t been used in ages, not since long before my father’s time.”

“What’s it doing here?” Wanda asked, brushing some hair behind her ear.

“I have no idea. These tomes were only in Asgard, in the deepest depths of the library. I would have thought them lost after Ragnarok. I do not understand how this could have possibly wound up here,” Thor said. He looked up when he heard a commotion coming from the main room. Placing the book down on a nearby shelf, he and Wanda moved out of the library toward the noise.

They entered the main hall, which was bustling with activity. At first, Thor was nervous about it potentially being bad news, but then he saw Laura holding Nathan tightly in her arms, kissing her son repeatedly as she did her best not to cry. Both Clint and Natasha stood beside her, also fretting over the child. The god of thunder moved over to the side as Banner hurried over to the reunited family and spoke with Laura. She nodded and allowed Banner to take her son for a moment, obviously so he could examine the boy for any injuries.

Thor watched as his brother emerged from behind the crowd, moving stealthily around the people in the hall. His expression was troubled.

“Loki?”

The trickster glanced up and looked back to Laura when she called his name. She swiped away some of her tears.

“Thank you,” she said gratefully. Loki dipped his head once and then turned to continue on his way. As he walked by Thor, he met his brother’s gaze.

“We need to talk,” he said simply, nodding toward the library. Thor turned and followed his brother down the dim hallway.

Once they stepped inside the room, Loki gestured for Thor to shut the door. The god of thunder did and then looked back to his brother.

“You found Nathan?” Thor asked, rather impressed. Loki, who had been wringing his hands, glanced over at his brother.

“Yes, it’s not overly difficult to find a mortal child. They are small and clumsy. He was out in the forest,” Loki replied. “However, I think I might have gotten lucky in this case. The youngest Barton claims a woman brought him outside.”

“A woman?”

“With a mask made of stars, apparently,” Loki affirmed, his eyes darting around the room. “Thor, I suspect we’re not entirely alone here.”

“Oh?” Thor crossed his arms over his chest. “You think someone took Nathan Barton outside? Loki, how could someone get past all of us without notice? How could they get past you?”

“This house has secret passageways, does it not? There are rooms you have yet to enter?” Loki pointed out. Thor nodded and Loki spread his hands. It wasn’t that farfetched an idea. Thor rubbed the back of his neck, glancing over his shoulder.

“May I show you something?” he asked Loki. When the dark-haired god nodded, Thor stepped past him to the bookshelves. Loki watched as Thor felt around the shelves, frowning in confusion.

“Is something wrong?”

“I could have sworn I left it right here,” Thor muttered, turning back to his brother. “Wanda came across a tome about archaic Aesir magic, one that used to be in the palace library in Asgard.”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “I would say that’s impossible, but knowing how SHIELD has a habit of acquiring things they shouldn’t…”

“Loki, those tomes were kept under lock and key. They would have been destroyed in Ragnarok. How could that book possibly end up here?”

Loki shrugged. “I haven’t any idea, scavengers perhaps. We know the Grandmaster is on this planet. Perhaps his brother came across it and traded it to SHIELD for something more valuable.”

Thor gave him a skeptical look and Loki huffed in irritation.

“Brother, you’re describing an ancient tome filled with outdated methods and practices. It’s hardly something to be concerned about. Those books were more kept for history than anything else,” Loki told him. “I feel we should be more concerned about the possibility that someone entered this home and was able to take the son of one of our allies. We’re lucky that situation wasn’t worse. Haven’t you fixed the damn locks yet?”

“That was one of the first things we fixed,” Thor replied. Loki bit his lip, tapping his finger against one arm.

“Your sleep has been more troubled of late and mine has been deeper than normal,” he said, almost to himself. “That might indicate some kind of rudimentary magic being used. Tomorrow, I shall do a sweep of the house and see if I can find any charms or talismans.”

Thor glanced up when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He thought he glimpsed the edge of a dress, but he wasn’t sure whether or not it was a trick of the dim light.

“I think that’s a very good idea, brother,” Thor said, looking back to Loki. He could see unease in his brother’s eyes and the god of thunder shared the feeling.

Chapter Text

By the time all the guests had left the mansion, it was almost the middle of the night. The near kidnapping had worn everyone out. Laura and Pepper were eager to get off the island and return back to the inn they were staying at. Their spouses didn’t argue. It was better the kids be kept safe. Fury offered the services of a few agents to stay with them, which they readily agreed to.

When only the core group remained, they discussed what to do next. Clint, Natasha, Steve, and Bucky wanted to stay on the island to investigate further. Brunnhilde advocated bringing in more SHIELD agents and calling for reinforcements. Thor wasn’t entirely sure they should remain on the enormous property.

“Look, let’s all just sleep on it,” Tony suggested. “The ferry has stopped running for the night, so our hands are slightly tied here.”

Since everyone was already tired, they agreed. Though Brunnhilde insisted she and Ayo check every room door to make sure it was locked tight.

“If we’re going to sleep here, it’s going to be under lockdown,” the Valkyrie told them. Her tone left no room for argument. Thor looked over his shoulder to his brother, who was being unusually quiet. Loki was leaning back against the wall, observing the discussion. His arms were crossed over his chest and his green eyes fixed on the group.

“Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m ready to hit the hay,” Tony stated above the quiet murmuring. “Shall we commence the lockdown?”

“We should search the rooms first,” Loki mentioned. “Make sure no one is here who shouldn’t be.”

“Norns, Lackey actually making a good suggestion. I think I might faint,” Brunnhilde muttered. “All right, people, to the second floor we go.”

The group moved silently to the stairway, all alert for any strange noises or movements. When they reached the top of the steps, the group from New Asgard took lead and entered the first room, which happened to be Parker’s. Thor switched on the light as he and the Valkyrie moved into the large space. Ayo followed along and immediately went to the bathroom, where they heard her push back the shower curtain. Thor got on his hands and knees, peering under the bed. Brunnhilde moved over to the wardrobe, throwing open the door.

When Thor stood up again, he glanced over to the windows. Loki was standing beside one, looking out into the night. The god of thunder shook his head and moved over to the windows, checking all the latches. Loki crossed the room and paused just before the door, leaning back and looking up to the vent. His brow furrowed briefly, but then he shook his head and continued outside the room.

“I believe Parker’s room is clear,” he informed the group waiting outside. Tony looked over at Thor, who nodded in agreement. Peter stepped inside the room as they stepped out.

“All right Peter, lock the door,” Brunnhilde told him. The young man did so and when she heard the latch click, the Valkyrie tested the doorknob and roughly pushed her shoulder against the door. It didn’t budge.

“Okay kiddo, you’re set. See you in the morning,” Brunnhilde told him, gesturing down the hall. It took them more than an hour to make sure all the rooms were secure. When it was only the Odinsons, Ayo, and Brunnhilde left standing out in the empty dark hall, Thor offered to check their room.

“Oh no. I’m not the trouble magnet. Ayo and I can search our room just fine,” Brunnhilde replied. “I’m not going to be able to sleep until we’ve gone through every nook and cranny of your room and made sure there’s no evil masterminds hiding in there. You know, aside from Lackey.”

“Hey,” Loki said, offended. Thor merely snickered. They moved over to the Odinsons room. Loki strode in after Brunnhilde and hopped up on the bed, interlacing his hands behind his head and crossing his ankles. He lay there as they combed through the entire room to assure it was, in fact, empty. Thor helped the two women search through the room. They turned up nothing out of the ordinary.

As Thor bid them goodnight and closed the door, twisting the latch into place, he glanced over to his brother who was still lying on the bed. The Valkyrie finished testing the lock, warned them to stay in until the sun rose, and then left for her own bedroom. Thor sighed and moved over to the large bed, flopping down on the mattress. He glanced over at his brother, who was looking up at the ceiling with a thoughtful expression.

“I don’t think we should leave,” Loki said suddenly, surprising Thor. He stared at his brother in disbelief, unsure if he’d heard him correctly.

“You don’t?” he finally asked and Loki shook his head, turning his eyes to the god of thunder.

“There’s something peculiar going on and I would very much like to figure out what exactly before it has a chance to grow in power,” Loki explained. “I would suggest you go back to New Asgard, but knowing how futile that effort would be, I’m not even going to bother.”

Thor smiled widely as he closed his eye. “You know me too well, brother.”

Loki made a noncommittal sound in response, continuing to look up at the ceiling. He waited patiently, listening to Thor’s breathing. After a moment, he straightened up into a sitting position and looked over at his brother.

“Thor?” he whispered. When Thor didn’t respond, Loki carefully rested a hand on his shoulder. Thor muttered in his sleep and turned onto his side. The dark-haired god carefully swung his legs off the bed and rose to his feet, moving over to the window. He didn’t dare turn on any of the lights, not wanting to wake his brother. Sitting on the floor by the tall window, Loki swallowed and took the strange tome Nathan had found from its hidden pocket. Running a hand over the cover, Loki felt his seidr tingle. Examining the book closer, he noted the magic was similar to Aesir magic, almost identical, and yet it was slightly different.

The gold lettering responded to his magic, glistening characters becoming more pronounced. Loki furrowed his brow, watching as the inlay briefly formed the shape of a large serpent before swirling into different runes. Carefully opening the book, Loki examined the writing inside. It appeared to be a book of prophecy, rather ancient ones judging from the language. They’d had similar tomes in Asgard. Loki never paid them much heed. Prophecy was an old and outdated method of magic.

The book suddenly and violently slammed open, the pages whirling past Loki’s eyes as though caught up in a violent wind. It settled on a passage toward the middle of the enormous book. Loki, who had been startled by the sudden movement, carefully lowered his hands. He leaned forward to peer at the prophecy the book had opened to, nervous about what he would see.

His green eyes widened when he saw the title. Loki felt his stomach sink as he quickly read the prophecy, running a hand over his mouth. It was almost identical to a prophecy he’d once come across in the library of Asgard, one that he’d never been able to forget entirely.

The death of Thor.

You cannot prevent this.

Loki’s eyes widened at the disembodied voice and he looked around the room, searching for the source of it.

His fate is already sealed and not even a powerful sorcerer such as yourself can thwart destiny. If you try, you too shall die.

A shiver went down Loki’s spine and he slammed the book shut, his gaze wandering to the window. His eyes were drawn to the woods in the distance. Slowly rising to his feet, Loki squinted when he noticed a strange shimmering among the trees. For a brief moment, he could swear he saw what looked like a mask. It was too far away for him to be certain, but somehow, he knew someone was there, watching him.

Loki reached up and pulled the curtains closed. He dropped his arms back to his sides, taking a few steps back. The feeling of a small cold hand wrapping around his made the dark-haired god jump, looking towards the sensation.

There was no one there.

_*_

Early the next morning, shortly after dawn, a few of the original Avengers were preparing to go on a supply run into town. Bucky, Steve, Rhodey, and Natasha had decided to do a little investigating while they were out. Bucky and Steve’s descriptions of the unusual behavior of the locals had intrigued the former spy and after the incident during the party, Natasha was more determined to investigate any peculiarities.

“Are you leaving soon?”

The group looked up, surprised to see the dark-haired god standing in the doorway. Loki rarely made an appearance before the early afternoon. Occasionally he wandered down to grab a little breakfast, but then he would just disappear to wherever he hung out. They sometimes forgot he was around.

“Yeah, we’re just about ready to go,” Steve replied. “Do you need something from town?”

A thoughtful look crossed Loki’s face. “Perhaps. You’re intending to question the residents about some unusual behavior, are you not?”

“That’s the plan,” Rhodey affirmed, zipping up his light jacket. Loki glanced at him and then his eyes traveled over to the refrigerator, where there was a small pad of paper meant for writing down whatever supplies the group needed. Loki moved over to it and tore off a sheet, grabbing the pen from its holder. He scribbled down a name and then approached the group again.

“If you are speaking with someone who you suspect of nefarious deeds, ask them if they know of this name and make note of their reaction,” Loki stated, handing the sheet of paper to Rhodey. The man took it and frowned.

“Uh, how do you pronounce this?” he asked. Loki cleared his throat and licked his lips, suddenly looking rather uncomfortable.

“Jormungand is the name Midgardians would know,” Loki replied. Rhodey glanced at him and looked at the paper again.

“Why does that actually sound familiar?”

“It’s the Midgardian Serpent,” Bucky answered, crossing his arms over his chest. “From our Norse mythology. Is that actually real?”

Loki tilted his head from side to side. “That’s a rather complicated question. Your myths are somewhat different from what we’re accustomed to and you tend to take things much more literally. Is there a giant serpent? I don’t believe so, but that doesn’t mean Jormungand doesn’t exist.”

Bucky was quiet for a moment, studying Loki. “Jormungand kills Thor in our myths.”

All eyes turned to Loki, who shifted his weight. “Yes, Asgardian prophecies implied a similar chain of events, from what I recall.”

“Do you think Thor is in danger?” Steve asked and Loki let out a soft laugh. He turned his green eyes to the man out of time.

“My brother is always in danger, Captain. I prefer to know what sort he’s up against sooner rather than later,” Loki replied easily. Steve looked back to Natasha, who nodded.

“We’ll ask around, see what we can find out,” Steve told Loki. The trickster dipped his head in appreciation and watched as the small group made their way out of the house. The wind was picking up outside and Tony had mentioned a bad storm was being forecasted.

Turning from the door, Loki made his way out of the kitchen and wandered up to the second floor. As he was moving toward his room, where his brother was likely still asleep, Loki paused when he heard the sound of sweeping. Furrowing his brow, he started walking toward the noise, which seemed to be originating in a nearby hall.

He soon came to the hall of stained glass, where he found Eleanor Gray on her knees, using a dustpan to sweep up shards from a shattered window. She sniffled, wiping a hand under her nose, and continued focusing on her task.

“Is something wrong, Lady Gray?” Loki asked, causing the woman to jump slightly. She shook her head as she continued sweeping up the glass.

“It isn’t polite to sneak up on people, Mr. Odinson,” she replied softly, swiping at her face. Loki strode over to the woman, crouching down in front of her. She looked up at him and he studied her face. She was middle aged, by Midgardian standards. The lines in her face made her appear much older than she was. Her hair had once been dark, perhaps black, but was now mostly gray. Her eyes and nose were red from crying.

“You’re frightened,” Loki observed. The woman turned her eyes back to the ground, sweeping up more shards of glass.

“The god behind the invasion of New York is roaming these halls. I would be a fool not to be afraid,” she mumbled. Loki half-smiled, tilting his head as he tried to catch her eyes again.

“No, it’s not me you’re afraid of,” he replied. “You don’t strike me as the sort who would be afraid of rumored ghosts either. So it must be something out there. Something in the forest, perhaps?”

Her eyes snapped up to him and Loki smirked, tapping his fingertips together.

“Oh, that’s interesting. Whatever could be out there, hiding in the shadows?”

The caretaker got to her feet, grabbing the bucket she had been putting the broken glass into. “Mr. Odinson, I beg of you. Take your brother and leave this place. The others are in no danger, but the same cannot be said for the two of you.”

Loki frowned and straightened up. “So you do know what’s lurking out there.”

The woman glanced nervously at the window. “I have said too much already.”

She moved past him and Loki turned, watching her go. His eyes wandered back to the window and he stepped over to the broken one, placing his fingers just above the frame. A strong wind gusted through the trees and howled through the empty frame, causing a shiver to go down Loki’s spine. He glanced outside, searching for anything out of the ordinary. When he saw nothing, he turned and started making his way back to his original destination.

_*_

“I’m just saying: gods, sorcerers, and aliens exist. Why not ghosts?”

Thor chuckled and shook his head, turning his attention back to removing bricks from the wall they were tearing down. They had on masks, due to there being mildew and some rot. It was a dirty job, but Thor found it was a relatively easy one.

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for a believer in an afterlife, Tony,” Bruce mentioned as he took a brick from Thor and added it onto the stack.

“Who said anything about an afterlife?” Tony replied. “Maybe ghosts are just some sort of supernatural energy we haven’t identified yet.”

Thor stretched his arms and rolled his shoulders. “I’m going to stretch my legs a bit.”

Tony waved him off as he kept his attention on the conversation he was having with Bruce. The god of thunder strode past them and started moving down one of the dimly lit corridors. Plastic sheeting was hung up everywhere, protecting the walls from the renovations that were being done. The soft whirring of various fans could be heard all over the place.

A sudden movement drew Thor’s attention to the end of hallway and he squinted. There was the edge of a light-colored dress a few feet away. Thor paused when he heard sniffling, watching the fabric. A small hand wrapped around the corner of the wall up ahead and a tiny face peered out. Thor stared in shock at the little girl, who was staring at him in awe. What little he could see of her dress looked very old and outdated. Her strawberry blonde hair fell to her shoulders. Half of her face had been horrifically burned and it looked like the skin had melted away. One of her eyes was cloudy, sightless, but the other was bright green.

Crouching down, Thor smiled at the young girl. “Hello there. What’s your name?”

She chewed on a strand of hair, looking away shyly. She turned her good eye back to Thor and pointed somewhere behind her. Looking back to him, she beckoned him with her hand and then pointed behind her again. Thor straightened up and the little girl ducked behind the wall. The god of thunder walked further down the hall and peered around the corner the little girl had disappeared behind.

There was no one there. No trace of the mysterious child. However, there was something that made his blood run cold. Thor noticed footprints on the ground, large footprints. Ones that belonged to a fully grown adult. They seemed to come out of the wall and return into it again.

Chapter Text

Loki wrapped a dark sash around his nose and mouth, tying it tightly. Reaching over to the table beside the large bed, he retrieved the gloves he had summoned and then stepped up onto the bed, putting his face close to the vent. He squinted as he peered through the large slats. Examining the screws that held the grate in place, Loki lifted his hand and sent a small amount of his magic to the screw. The green light wrapped around the screw, starting to twist it loose. As the first screw was coming loose, Loki turned his attention to the others.

Easily catching the screws that fell, Loki pressed his free hand against the grate. Pocketing the screws, he carefully removed the grating. Placing it off to the side, Loki stood on his toes and looked into the darkness of the grate. Air softly brushed past his face and he could hear the faint sounds of conversations traveling through the vents. Loki tried to see through the shadows. His seidr was starting to tingle and he could sense another’s magic, but couldn’t identify it. Something glistened in the darkness, some vague shape. It almost looked as though it were swinging…

“Loki?”

“Dammit, Thor!” Loki snapped, startled at the sudden sound of his brother’s voice. He looked away from the grate to his brother, who was standing in the doorway. Thor furrowed his brow.

“What in the seven hells are you doing?” he asked, curious. Loki rolled his eyes and held out a hand.

“Toss me your light,” he said, snapping his fingers and gesturing at the tool belt Thor was wearing. Thor glanced down, removing the thin light, and tossed it to Loki, who easily caught it.

“Is there a falcon in the grates?” Thor teased, nodding at the gloves Loki was wearing. Loki switched on the light and shone it inside the ducts, noticing a strange knot of dried leaves woven together a few feet away. It was pulsing with weak light, the plants moving as though the object were breathing. Loki frowned as he watched the strange thing. The light almost looked like a pulse. The knot was smeared with blood, likely the blood of whoever had constructed it. Loki easily spotted a small mirror ball, about the size of a marble, in the center.

“As if we would ever be so lucky to be troubled by something as simple as a wayward bird,” Loki grumbled. He pulled off one of his gloves and held his palm out flat, sending a gentle stream of ice to the strange object. The effect was instantaneous: the plant let out a shriek and lunged at Loki. The dark-haired god blasted the attacking creature with more powerful ice. When it was covered in a relatively thick coat of ice, Loki pulled the glove back on, reaching into the shadows and grabbing the object. It was stuck firmly to the metal.

“Brother, what is in there? What was that sound?” Thor asked, watching Loki as he pulled and yanked at whatever he’d found in the ducts.

“Just…one…moment,” Loki replied, finally pulling the object free and hopping off the bed. “Stand back, Thor.”

Moving over to the jar he’d brought, Loki stuffed object inside and tightly screwed the lid on. He removed his gloves and then tugged his improvised mask down. Thor frowned as he stared at the jar when Loki picked it up again.

“What is that thing?”

“A talisman,” Loki answered, twisting the jar a bit. “An ancient charm that was used in the first age of Asgard. It granted the seer who wove it insight into the dreams of others. The more powerful mages could even use the thing to speak to whoever the charm was being wielded against. There were some accounts of such casters manipulating the sleep of others. Remember how I mentioned that your sleep was unusually troubled and mine was unusually deep?” Loki asked, glancing at his brother. Thor nodded and Loki tapped the jar. “This is likely the culprit.”

He handed Thor the jar. The god of thunder studied the object inside, his brow furrowing. He could vaguely recall learning about such charms and talismans, all of which had gone out of use long before he and Loki were around.

“Can you use it to find whoever placed it here?”

“Unfortunately no,” Loki replied. “It’s much too rudimentary.”

Thor looked up to the vent. “How would they know where to place it?”

Loki gritted his teeth and rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s one of the many concerning things about this talisman. There’s a chance whoever made it has visions like you, but I very much doubt it. That would mean it was placed there after we arrived. And with a spell this simple, it would need to be replaced often. Those leaves are fresh, no sign of wilting. The talisman is still strong, meaning it was placed here recently. I would guess in the past day or two.”

Thor’s eye widened and he looked back at Loki. “Are you saying someone has been in our room, laying these in the vents?”

Loki nodded once. “I suspected Ms. Gray might have something to do with it, but the woman is much too skittish to be so nefarious. Though I suspect she knows whoever has planted them. I’m rather interested in how someone has been able to lay these without anyone knowing.”

Thor handed the jar back to Loki. “Are there any more?”

Loki shrugged. “I can’t say for certain. I do not feel anything in the vents, my seidr isn’t detecting any magic, but they could be dormant during the daytime.”

“What should we do with this one?” Thor asked.

“This dwelling has a working furnace, correct?” Loki asked and when Thor nodded, Loki gave him the jar. “Toss it into the flames. That will take care of it. This one at least.”

Thor placed the jar on the dresser. “I shall do so the next chance I get.”

“The sooner, the better,” Loki told him as he climbed back up on the bed. Calling upon his Jotun frost, the dark-haired god sent it through the grates. If there were other talismans, the extreme cold would reduce their effectiveness.

“It seems rather simple,” Thor mentioned as he watched his brother.

“Simplistic magic is often broken through simplistic means,” Loki replied. “That’s why it’s not often used.”

Thor put his hands on his hips, obviously troubled by the discovery. Loki studied him for a moment as he grabbed the grate.

“Is there some reason you’re up here, brother? I was under the impression the work on the lower level was going to take all day,” he said as he started replacing the screws.

“There’s something I would like your opinion on,” Thor said. “I found footprints that look as though they go straight into a wall.”

Loki frowned and turned his attention back to his brother. “That’s rather peculiar. Are you certain it wasn’t one of your friends?”

Thor shook his head. “It doesn’t look like any of their footwear. It’s much larger and the treading is strange.”

Turning his attention back to the grate, Loki watched as the last screw fastened into place. Hopping down off the bed, he gestured for Thor to lead the way and followed his brother out into the hall. As they moved down the stairs, they could hear the sounds of Parker’s videogame in the main room. He and Wanda often took breaks from the renovations to play games. They were frequently joined by Brunnhilde, who found she had a knack for such games.

“You know, I’m not a cobbler,” Loki mentioned, drawing Thor’s attention back to him. “I doubt I shall be much help—”

“It’s not just the footprints I want your opinion on,” Thor quickly interrupted. “I thought I saw something down there and I wish to know if you sense anything unusual.”

Loki stared at him, tilting his head slightly. “All right.”

They reached the doorway to the basement and Loki cringed at the sounds of power tools. Midgardians made such a racket when they created things. Following his brother down into the dimly lit lower level, Loki made a face of disgust at the dusty air. He imagined the space was riddled with mildew and rot. It certainly smelled as such.

Thor led him to an isolated, dark corner of the basement, gesturing to the ground. Loki crouched down and studied the damp footprints. He ran a hand over his mouth, his eyes following the footsteps to where they seemed to disappear into a wall.

“Do you think they resemble Aesir hunting boots?” Thor asked him and Loki nodded. He straightened up and moved over to the wall, running his hand along it.

“You mentioned seeing something unusual,” Loki said as he pushed his shoulder against the wall, testing for any give.

“I thought I saw a little girl,” Thor told him. “Her face was scarred, burned.”

Pausing his efforts, Loki turned his attention back to his brother. Thor strode over to him and put his shoulder against the wall, obviously knowing what the trickster was looking for.

“You said the talisman could be used to affect sleep. Could it also affect their perception?” Thor said, pushing against the wall. “Could that be why Midgardians think this place haunted?”

“Possibly,” Loki replied, stiffening when he felt the wall give a little. “Thor, over here.”

Thor moved over to where Loki was standing and examined the wall. It only took them a few minutes to find the outline of a very narrow door, but they couldn’t find a way to open it.

“It must only open from the other side,” Thor observed and Loki bit the inside of his cheek. He didn’t like that at all. They had both walked the property and Loki made note of every door. There were none that led to the basement, not on the outside.

“Perhaps we have found how young Barton’s masked lady entered this house without anyone noticing. I recommend finding some way to seal this,” Loki stated, glancing over at his brother. “And lock the basement at night.”

Thor nodded in agreement, glancing over his shoulder when he heard footsteps. Tony approached them, running a towel over his dirty hands.

“Hey guys, what’s up?”

_*_

Later that night, Thor was cooking in the kitchen with Wanda and Peter helping out. Loki was sitting off to the side, his gaze outside. Tony and Bruce were still having a friendly argument about whether or not ghosts existed in the dining room. Clint was playing a videogame in the main room. Ayo and Brunnhilde were also lounging in the main room, waiting for dinner to be ready.

“The rest of your friends have returned from town,” Loki mentioned suddenly and Thor looked out the window, noticing the car pulling up to the back of the house. He instructed Peter to watch the food in the skillet and moved to the back door. Pulling it open, Thor stepped out into the pleasant night. The winds had picked up a little and Thor could feel the mist in the air. A storm was coming.

“Hey, Thor,” Steve greeted warmly as he moved around to the back of the car to help Bucky and Rhodey with the supplies they had picked up.

“Good evening, my friends. Do you require help unloading the car,” Thor greeted cheerfully.

“Definitely,” Rhodey replied. “Those boxes are the heaviest, but it probably won’t give you too much trouble.”

Thor laughed and reached for the two huge boxes, easily lifting them out of the trunk. The god of thunder noticed Natasha looked somewhat troubled, as did Bucky. He started moving toward the enormous house.

“Dinner will be ready in another few minutes,” Thor told them, having to speak louder to be heard over the increasingly powerful wind, which was now whipping around them. Thunder rumbled in the distance and Thor noticed a bolt of lightning split the sky. The small group continued toward the house. Thor could see his brother leaning against the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. Loki watched the group as they entered the mansion and Thor patted his shoulder.

“Thor, I think this is done,” Peter called over to him. “Hey guys, welcome back.”

A short time later, the group was sitting around the table and eating their dinner. Thor glanced over at Loki, who hadn’t touched his food. The trickster was watching the group that had gone into town, studying them. He was rubbing his knuckles with one hand and his green eyes occasionally wandered over to the window. Rain was beating against the windows and thunder was shaking the house.

The lights flickered, causing everyone in the dining room to look up. Outside, the sky was briefly lit by lightning. Thor gently nudged Loki, who looked over at him, and then gestured to his brother’s food. He gave him a pointed look and Loki rolled his eyes, picking up his fork and pushing the food around a bit.

“So, how did things go in town?” Tony asked. Natasha exchanged a look with Clint. Steve cleared his throat and put his fork down.

“Something’s off with the town,” he reported. “Natasha.”

“The locals are scared, but the people running the town aren’t,” the red-head stated in her usual no-nonsense way. “The shopkeepers were a little too friendly and the way they answered questions…they’ve been trained how to answer without revealing useful information. Based on that and the way a lot of them move, I suspect some are former military. The local police definitely are. I decided to poke around a bit in the shops.”

Natasha paused and sat back. “I found some Earth First gear and a concerning amount of weapons. I suspect they may have a rather large presence here.”

“Aw man,” Tony groused. “Can we have one safe house that isn’t a total deathtrap?”

Everyone jumped when they heard a loud pounding on the front door. Loki glanced to Brunnhilde, who was sitting across from him.

“Uh, you expecting anyone, Tony?” Rhodey asked. Tony shook his head and the pounding started up again. Natasha drew her gun and pushed her chair back. Rhodey mirrored her actions and Tony stood from his chair. Thor was about to get up but stopped when he felt Loki’s tight grip on his forearm. Thor looked to his brother, who shook his head.

“Not you,” Loki told him. “Stay here.”

Thor frowned and watched as the three made their way out of the dining room, heading for the large front door. Once they disappeared, a loud pounding started coming from the kitchen. Wanda and Peter looked nervous, glancing to the window behind them.

“Stay here,” Thor told them as he pulled his arm free of Loki’s grip and started making his way toward the kitchen.

“Thor, wait!” Loki protested as he quickly stood from his seat and bolted after his brother. He moved around Thor so that he was in front of him and walking backwards. He could see the Valkyrie and the Dora were following a short way behind them.

“Loki, I’m just going to see what that noise is,” Thor told him and Loki glanced over his shoulder when the pounding started again. It was heavy, heavier than a human’s fist. Loki could swear the knocking made the entire mansion shake.

“Let Brunnhilde and I investigate, Thor. It’s probably just the storm,” Loki stated and Thor squinted at him, confused. There was more loud pounding coming from the front of the house.

“That’s no storm, Loki,” Thor told him, gently pushing his brother to the side. Loki clenched his teeth and followed after his brother. The minute Thor opened the door to the kitchen, the power went out.

“Well that’s great,” Brunnhilde grumbled. Thor shook his head and strode through the kitchen, Loki right on his heels. Thor immediately saw the door swinging open and closed in the winds. He sighed and moved over to it, peering outside at the violent storm.

“Thor, stay in the house,” Loki snapped and Thor waved him off.

“I’m just going to see if I can see anyone out there,” Thor told him as he stepped outside. He went down the steps, moving out onto the grass. He inhaled the sweet air as the violent winds whipped around him. Lightning crashed and a loud boom of thunder sounded above him.

“There’s no one out here. Will you please come back inside?” Loki yelled. Thor barely heard him over the storm. He squinted as he tried to see through the darkness of the night.

At first, Thor saw nothing but trees and a few large boulders. Then, he realized one of the trees wasn’t a tree. As Thor focused on the strange form, he realized it was a towering form with limbs. It looked like a very tall man in a large coat. When lightning bathed the entire space in electric white light, Thor caught a glimpse of a blade at the towering form’s side. Staring at the figure, the god of thunder could feel it staring back at him. There was a glimmer of something else…some sort of light or perhaps a laser…

“Thor! Get down!”

Thor didn’t have a chance to react before he was tackled to the ground by his brother’s wiry form. He thought he heard a muffled shot, but it was impossible to tell in the violent storm. Brunnhilde let out a shout and something shattered. Loki remained over Thor, shielding him from whatever danger he had seen.

“Loki, what in the seven hells has gotten into you!?” Thor demanded, looking over to the trees. The mysterious form was no longer there, but the trees were swept about in the raging storm. Loki picked his head up, whipping his hair over his shoulder, his wide eyes scanning their surroundings.

“You need to leave this place, immediately,” Loki yelled over the storm. Thor opened his mouth to respond when suddenly, both their ears were tightly pinched between a strong thumb and index finger.

Brunnhilde dragged the two Odinsons back to the door and shoved them inside. All three of them were sopping wet from the downpour. Ayo shut the door behind them and dragged the heavy chair over, barricading the door.

“You two are a pair of damn fools,” Brunnhilde grumbled as she tried brushing the excess liquid off her clothes. “Running out in the middle of a storm to investigate strange noises, gods have mercy. How are the two of you still alive?”

“Looks like the power’s out,” Tony Stark’s voice traveled through the halls as he stepped into the kitchen. He paused and looked at the small group standing in the kitchen. “Uh oh, what did I miss?”

Thor glared at his brother and Loki sighed, running a hand through his sopping wet hair.

“Shit,” he muttered.

Chapter Text

Thor dragged his brother through the hallway to their room, shoving Loki inside and shutting the door behind him. Moving over to the night table, Thor switched on the battery-operated lantern.

“Speak,” Thor ordered and Loki arched an eyebrow.

“Really? Normally you wish for the opposite,” he replied easily.

“I’m in no mood for games, Loki. What have you kept from us?” Thor demanded. His voice was firm and Loki could tell his brother was frustrated. He glanced toward the curtains, which were still drawn. Outside, the storm continued raging, but it wasn't the weather that was making Loki uneasy. He could sense something lurking out in the shadows. Holding out his hands, Loki manifested the book he’d been studying. Thor frowned and stepped forward, examining the cover.

“When I found the youngest Barton, he was holding this. He said whoever had taken him meant it as a gift to you,” Loki explained as he placed the book on the bed and opened it. “It’s a book of prophecy, similar to the ones we had in Asgard.”

He flipped the pages to a little more than halfway through the book, to the prophecy that filled him with dread. Thor frowned as he read it. More thunder crashed outside and Loki turned his attention to the windows.

“Brother, surely you’re not unnerved by a prophecy,” Thor stated when he finished reading it. “How often do the events foretold actually come to pass? There’s a reason such practices were declared archaic.”

“Only if you read them literally. Ragnarok was long foretold and it came to pass, albeit in a slightly different way than was spoken of in prophecy,” Loki pointed out. “In my studies, I have found your name or likeness comes up in almost every mythology, across the galaxy. And in every one, the name “Jormungand” also appears and always in the role of your executioner.”

Thor watched him as Loki started to pace around the room. The trickster’s mind was going a mile a minute and he was wringing his hands.

“I do not think it’s a coincidence that Ms. Romanoff found evidence of Earth First here,” Loki continued. “Their targeted attacks on Aesir…they’re stronger than normal Midgardians. And how they are able to differentiate Aesir from Midgardians is peculiar.”

Thor rubbed the back of his neck. It was true, the attacks on Aesir were rather strange. They were brutal, much more than ordinary humans were capable of. Thor had suspected some members might be experiments of Hydra, but it still didn’t explain how they were able to pick out Aesir.

“I still don’t think we should be worked up about a vague prophecy,” Thor stated. “We never paid them much heed in Asgard.”

“We never paid them much heed, but we didn’t ignore them either,” Loki replied. “Thor, you should leave this place as soon as possible.”

Thor shook his head. “If Earth First is here, I have a duty to protect the innocent citizens of this world, including the townspeople on this island.”

Loki growled in frustration, running his hands through his damp hair. “You also have a duty to your people. Earth First doesn’t give a damn about random humans. Your friends are more than capable of assuring their safety.”

The god of thunder was quiet for a moment, glancing toward the curtains. He looked back to his brother.

“Loki, did you see anything outside? In the forest?”

“No,” the dark-haired god replied a little too quickly. Thor could tell his brother was nervous. Loki wasn’t able to remain still and fidgeting much more than usual. He sighed and moved toward the door, opening it.

“Let’s go downstairs and help the others,” Thor suggested. “There is much we need to speak of and I will not leave my friends if there is danger here.”

Loki’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Very well.”

_*_

It took close to an hour to lock all the doors and windows in the enormous mansion. The storm continued raging outside.

“I’m anticipating a few more broken windows come morning,” Tony muttered. Bucky tossed more wood into the fire. The group was sitting in the main room and the mood was notably more somber than it had been when they first arrived. Loki stood off to the side, his arms crossed over his chest and one foot resting up on the wall behind him.

“We didn’t get a chance to finish reporting our findings,” Steve spoke up as he sat back on the couch. “The ferries are gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean gone?” Tony asked.

“Two apparently sank,” Natasha said. “The other one is on the opposite shore and the person in charge of it wasn’t exactly helpful. So we have no idea when it’s coming back or if it even will.”

“Surely your allies can fly us out of this dreadful place,” Loki mentioned.

“SHIELD likely could offer transportation off this island,” Steve agreed. “But if something hinky is going on…I’m not leaving until I know everyone on this island is safe.”

“Norns,” Loki muttered under his breath, running his hands over his face.

“We asked about the Midgardian serpent, like you requested,” Bucky said, drawing Loki’s attention. “It did seem to make people hesitate. Their pleasant demeanor slipped a bit, but they claimed not to know anything about it.”

Loki relaxed his stance even more, completely unbothered. “I take it you suspect them of being less than truthful.”

“Most of their responses were less than truthful,” Natasha confirmed.

“You get a read on any possible suspects who might have taken Nathan?” Clint chimed in. The red-headed spy shook her head.

“I don’t think it was one of the shopkeepers,” she replied. “They don’t strike me as the sort to get their hands dirty. I think they’re more acting as the eyes and ears for someone else.”

They all looked up when the sound of footsteps could be heard running across the floor above them, followed by childlike giggling. Thor and Loki exchanged a look.

“Uh, that was kinda creepy,” Parker stated the obvious. Wanda smiled and patted his knee. Brunnhilde and Ayo rose to their feet, moving out of the room, likely going to investigate the noise.

“I think we should call SHIELD in, maybe get some agents out here to help us investigate,” Steve recommended and Tony groaned, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.

“Can we possibly have an uneventful vacation? Just once. Is that really too much to ask?” he grumbled. The group looked over to the entryway when Brunnhilde and Ayo stepped back into the room.

“No creepy little kids running around, at least not any that we found,” the Valkyrie reported, dropping down into a chair. “For once, I’m on Lackey’s side. I think we should figure out a way to get the Hel off this island. Something feels very off.”

The house creaked loudly when the winds picked up outside.

“I don’t think any of us are going anywhere tonight,” Bruce mentioned. “Guess we gotta do another lockdown for bedtime.”

There was a reluctant consensus among the group. After some more discussion, they decided to turn in for the night. No one was to sleep alone. As they prepared to go through the nightly ritual of locking down for the evening, Loki pulled Brunnhilde aside.

“I want your opinion on something,” he spoke softly and produced the large tome. “When I found Nathan, he was holding this and claimed it was a gift for Thor, from someone in the forest.”

The Valkyrie took the enormous book from him, running her hand over the old cover. “Huh, haven’t seen one of these in ages.”

“You recognize it?”

Brunnhilde nodded. “Way back in the early days of Asgard, a lot of the nobility had personal soothsayers who could create books of prophecy. It was a mark of status, like fine clothing and horses. They didn’t come cheap. If I recall, they often cost the same amount as a palace.”

“And what they foretold, do you happen to know how often it came to pass?”

“Well, all prophecies come to pass eventually, just in different ways,” Brunnhilde replied, squinting at the cover. “Apparently, this belonged to a family named Butcher or…oh.”

“What is it?”

Brunnhilde looked up at him. “It’s not a name, it’s a title. And judging from these runes, it’s a prophecy in and of itself. Whoever owned this book, they were destined to be known as a butcher.”

Loki swallowed nervously, glancing over to where his brother was speaking with Tony and Steve. Dread started creeping over him again. There was danger on this island, unseen and hidden. Loki hoped they could escape it before it descended upon them.

_*_

The storm howled and raged late into the night, rattling the windows and beating down upon the enormous dwelling. Lightning split an ancient tree in two. The violence outside was mostly unnoticed inside as the occupants slept deeply.

In the basement, a narrow section of wall slid open and a slender woman stepped inside. A sparkling gas mask concealed her face. She moved up the stairs and knocked twice on the door. On the other side, she heard heavy furniture being moved and then the lock being twisted. The door opened, revealing a man in a similar mask. They both wore firearms and a few blades. The woman moved across the tiles to the back door, moving the chair out of the way, and opening the door.

The tall man in the long coat ducked inside the doorway. His expressionless gray face was partly hidden by the hat he wore. Gesturing for the operatives to stay put, he moved silently through the dark empty mansion. Striding up the stairs, which normally creaked underfoot, he reached the second floor and moved down one particular hallway. His gray eyes focused on the doors and he paused at one that had a faint yellow chalk mark just above the frame. It had been made with chalk that only he could see.

Turning his attention to the door, he produced a skeleton key and slid it into the keyhole, unlocking the door. Stepping inside, the tall man looked to the bed. The two gods were fast asleep. For a while, he stared at the blond god, rage momentarily turning his vision red. How he hated that man. He had spent years training for the day he would kill the arrogant and reckless son of Odin, the one responsible for so much death over the years.

Glancing to the side table, the tall man noticed a pill bottle in the darkness. Moving over to it and picking it up, he studied the words. Letting out a soft laugh, the tall man shook his head as he placed the bottle back down. So the god of thunder often experienced pain. He knew Thor had taken grievous wounds from the battle against Ymir, ones which left permanent damage. He had hoped the two fiends would kill each other, but alas. That had not come to pass.

Moving around the bed, the tall man next studied the dark-haired trickster. He’d known about the incident in New York. He didn’t feel as much rage toward Loki, seeing as how he was a god in name only, but having been raised among them, he had similar destructive tendencies. His actions were just further proof that it was time to end the reign of the gods. They brought only death and destruction. The tall man had rejoiced when he heard of the death of Odin. Now he just needed to vanquish his son. The only thing standing in his way was the damn trickster and the Valkyrie.

The tall man scrubbed his chin. It was his destiny to kill Thor and it was one he had been looking forward to for some time. The Silvertongue was asleep now as was the Valkyrie. If he could keep Loki asleep, perhaps he could kill Thor right now. Not quickly, no. He wanted the god of thunder’s death to be as long and drawn out and as painful as possible. Glancing over to the pills again, a cruel smile traveled over the tall man’s lips.

Removing one glove, the tall man reached forward with gray scaly fingers and pressed them to the dark-haired god’s forehead. He scowled in frustration when he felt the solid mental walls erected in Loki’s mind. Damn Frigga had likely taught him that useful skill. Giving Thor that flashback had been impulsive, foolishly so. It meant Loki was more on guard. Most of his worst memories were locked away out of reach. The tall man could practically feel the infamous trickster smirking at him, taunting him. Still, he was persistent and kept searching. He finally found one, a somewhat recent memory, one that fed into a lingering fear Loki had. The tall man grinned as he examined the memory. Now that was very interesting. He pulled the memory forward and then took his hand away.

Loki’s face scrunched up and he let out a soft groan as a vivid flashback started to play out in his mind. The tall man stepped away from the bed and moved back to Thor’s side. Reaching out, he ran a hand over the god of thunder’s chest, touching the scars that had been left by the infinity stones. Dull yellow light pulsed under his fingertips and pooled in the scars. Thor whimpered softly. Next, the tall man ran his fingers down Thor’s weaker arm, casting a spell. The muscles in the god of thunder's arm started to tense up. It would get more and more painful until it drove Thor mad. He would cut off his own arm to escape the pain and then bleed out. With any luck, it would occur while his brother was still sleeping. The tall man would deal with the trickster later.

Reaching over to the bedside table, the tall man grabbed the pill bottle and pocketed it. He stepped out of the room, glancing back once more to the two gods who were now both trapped in a nightmare. Smiling widely, the tall man shut the door behind him and locked it.

Chapter Text

Loki hadn’t been aware of anything different that day. The weather was perfect, neither too warm nor too cold. The trickster had gone out for a walk and collected some documents from the town hall. Thor hadn’t been sleeping well for the past few nights so Loki ordered him to rest. When he was picking up the files, Brunnhilde mentioned that Banner should have a look at Thor, but Loki brushed her off. Thor was fine. He was just readjusting. Sure, he was a little more nervous and uneasy than was typical, and he had the occasional spell of melancholy, but that was to be expected considering all he had been through. His brother would be fine. He always was. Loki could look out for him. After all, he had been doing so most of his life.

He dawdled a bit, stepping into one of the small shops to grab a mug of the cider he was fond of, and took his time returning home. The fresh air felt nice and Loki wasn’t eager to leave it. It struck him that Thor hadn’t ventured out much since his return. He occasionally went for a walk, but more often than not, he preferred to remain in their house. Perhaps that was contributing to his brother’s episodes and constant nightmares. The god of thunder needed more fresh air and to interact with people other than Loki and Brunnhilde.

As he checked their mailbox, Loki was already thinking of ways to convince Thor to get out more. All of New Asgard was preparing for the week-long celebrations and festivities held to observe the fall of Thanos. There would be copious amounts of mead and food, things Thor greatly enjoyed. Perhaps Loki could convince him to venture out for that.

Sticking his key in the lock, Loki unlocked the door and opened it. He frowned when he noticed all the blinds and curtains had been drawn. None of the lights were on either, leaving the house in shadows. That was…peculiar.

“I’m back, Thor,” Loki said, his focus on the mail he held. There wasn’t much, just a few letters from friends and something about the upcoming celebrations. He put the mail, files, and his keys on the kitchen table, moving over to the windows and drawing the blinds to let the light in.

“Is there any reason why you wanted the house to be so dark?” Loki asked as he walked over to the fridge. Pulling open the door, Loki massaged his brow when he saw the containers of untouched food still on the shelves. Dammit, Thor.

“Brother, you need to eat,” Loki called out, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. He bent down and grabbed a medium-sized container, pulling it out of the fridge.

“I’m going to heat up some of last night’s dinner. It will be ready in a few minutes,” Loki continued as he put the food on the counter. There was still no response. He looked over his shoulder. His brother’s silence was starting to bother him. Normally, when Loki went out, Thor would follow him around for a while once he returned. As if he worried Loki wouldn’t come back.

Something was wrong.

“Thor? Are you all right?”

No answer.

Putting the food back in the fridge, Loki swiftly exited the kitchen and started to make his way to the bedroom, where his brother had been napping when he left. He noticed the note he left Thor was still on the table by the couch, though it had been moved, indicating the god of thunder had seen it. Moving over to the large window behind the couch, Loki drew the blinds. He turned to continue on his way to the bedroom when he saw something that made his heart freeze.

There had been few times in his life when Loki experienced genuine fear, but in that moment it was all he felt.

Thor was lying on the floor, trembling, and his eye was half-lidded. He was curled up in a position that looked anything but comfortable.

“Thor!” Loki dashed to his brother’s side in two strides and knelt beside him. He carefully turned the god of thunder onto his back and shook him. “Brother, what’s wrong? Thor? Thor, answer me!”

Loki tapped Thor’s cheeks, hoping to snap his brother out of whatever stupor he was in. Thor continued to stare straight ahead, unresponsive. Loki placed two fingers on the side of Thor’s neck, easily finding his pulse. His heart was racing, going much too fast.

Pressing his palm firmly against Thor’s brow, Loki tried to pull forth a good memory. He was overcome with a sense of alarm, panic overwhelming all his senses. Memories flew past Loki in a blur, but they were so fragmented and incoherent he couldn’t grasp one to bring it into focus. Thor’s mind was going a mile a minute. The god of thunder was trapped in a panic.

Loki gasped and fell back, trying to shake off the lingering fear he’d felt in Thor’s mind. For a moment, the dark-haired god was incredibly disoriented. He straightened up again and refocused on his brother, shaking him more forcefully. Thor still didn’t react.

“Thor, you need to wake up,” Loki demanded firmly, receiving no response. “Thor! I can’t pull you out of this state. You must focus! Wake up! Wake up now!”

Thor didn’t respond and continued shivering. Loki slapped him across the face, hard enough that it left his own hand stinging. The god of thunder’s head jerked to the side, but he didn’t awaken. Loki slapped him again, but still received no reaction.

Loki ran his hands through his hair, trying to figure out what else to do. He wasn’t even sure if his brother could hear him or if he was even aware of anything around him. A horrible thought wormed its way into his mind: what if Thor never came out of this state? What if his brother was like this permanently?

Feeling anxiety claw its way up in his mind, Loki took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. It wouldn’t help if he also started panicking. Swallowing his own nervousness, Loki carefully pulled Thor into his arms and scooted back a little so his back rested against the nearest wall. He ran his fingers through Thor’s short hair, which was damp. The faint smell of soap indicated Thor had showered recently. At least that was a good sign.

Loki jumped when his brother’s hand suddenly latched onto his forearm. He looked hopefully to Thor’s face only to find it was the same disturbingly blank expression.

“Thor? Can you hear me?” Loki asked. Thor’s grip tightened to the point of causing discomfort and Loki knew the skin would be bruised when Thor let go. If he let go. Unbothered, Loki ignored the ache and remained focused on his brother, resting his brow on Thor’s head.

“I’m here. I’m right here,” he whispered, his lips close to his brother’s ear. “I’m not going anywhere. Take your time, Thor. I shall be here when you awaken.”

Hours passed and when the sun started to set, Thor’s eye slowly closed. The trembling gradually came to a stop, though he still shivered occasionally. When the moon rose in the sky, Thor grimaced and blinked, looking around the dark room. His gaze wandered up to his brother and he smiled faintly.

“Hello, Loki,” he greeted. He frowned when he realized how tightly he was grasping his brother’s wrist and let go. “What happened?”

Loki swallowed and considered his words. Fear was still pulsing with every beat of his heart and he continued holding onto the god of thunder, unwilling to let go just yet.

“Are you in any pain, Thor?” he asked when he finally found his voice again. Thor looked away for a moment, likely doing a mental check of himself. His eye wandered back up to his brother and he shook his head.

“There is some tightness in my chest and my back aches a little, but both are minor. Why do you ask?”

Loki’s brows knitted together and he gently grasped Thor’s wrist, once again finding his pulse. His brother’s heart was beating at a normal steady rhythm, no longer racing at an alarming speed. But what if it starts racing again? What if he goes back into whatever stupor he was in? I can’t pull him out of such a state.

Thor gently shook free of his brother’s grasp and reached up, putting his hand on the side of Loki’s neck and making the trickster meet his eye. “Brother. What happened?”

For a moment, Loki considered telling him everything. He wanted to, but it felt like a dam went up in his mind, blocking whatever words he wanted to speak. Loki hated to admit it, but he had been scared. He was scared.

“I…I think you had another panic episode, but it has passed now,” Loki said, forcing a confident grin on his face. For one of the first times, he found he was unable to hold the expression for very long. “Are you hungry? I could heat something up.”

A look of embarrassment and shame crossed Thor’s face and he looked away from his brother, shaking his head. “No, thank you. I’m really rather tired. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to go to bed.”

Loki nodded. “Yes, of course. Could we…could we sit here, for just a little while longer?”

Thor frowned and looked back to his brother. “All right.”

A wave of relief swept over Loki and he leaned back against the wall again, closing his eyes. He was suddenly exhausted and the horrific realization hit him: Brunnhilde had been right. Whatever was afflicting his brother…it was beyond Loki’s abilities. An uncomfortable sense of helplessness overcame him.

They sat for another hour and then Loki reluctantly helped Thor to his feet and led him back to his bed. The god of thunder was watching him closely. Normally that would have annoyed Loki, but he didn’t much care about it at the moment. When Thor climbed under the covers, Loki found he didn’t want to go to his bed. It felt like his feet were suddenly cemented in place and he couldn’t move.

“Loki?”

Loki looked up at his brother’s soft voice. Thor was studying him with concern and Loki shifted his weight, feeling quite foolish.

“Are you all right, brother?” Thor asked, tilting his head a little as he tried to catch Loki’s eyes. Loki let out a strangled laugh and nodded.

“I always am,” he replied, avoiding Thor’s gaze. Thor was quiet for a while and Loki could feel his brother watching him.

“Will you stay here tonight? Please?” Thor asked and Loki looked up sharply. The god of thunder was still watching him and Loki could read the worry written across his face. It made him realize that the fear he’d felt earlier hadn’t entirely gone away and it was making his hand twitch. Loki clenched and unclenched his fist a couple times, forcing it to remain still. He swallowed and opened his mouth to respond, but found his voice didn’t want to cooperate.

So Loki stepped forward and climbed in under the covers, moving close to his brother. He watched as Thor got comfortable and closed his eye.

“Goodnight, Loki,” he said around a yawn.

“Goodnight, Thor,” Loki replied, wishing he felt even a little tired. He watched as his brother drifted off to sleep and then inched even closer, carefully putting an arm around him. His eyes started watering and Loki swiped away at the tears that wanted to fall. It struck him that he might lose his brother again. Worse, he could lose Thor to an enemy Loki couldn’t help him fight: one within the god of thunder’s mind.

“Please don’t go,” he whispered softly, feeling silly for speaking such words but unable to hold them back.

Eventually, Loki managed to drift off to sleep, listening to his brother’s soft breathing and holding onto him tightly.

**

Loki drew in a deep breath and sat up, his entire form rigid, alarm bells going off in his mind. Something was wrong. Sweat coated his face and he could feel tears streaming from his eyes. His chest heaved as he panted for breath. For a moment, he wasn’t entirely sure where he was or what had woken him. Running his hands over his face, Loki forced himself to calm down. Just breathe, he reminded himself as he slowly let out a steadying breath.

A loud yell beside him drew Loki’s attention to Thor. His brother’s face, which was white as a sheet, was creased in pain and he was holding his weaker arm close to his body, crying in distress. His fingers were curled into claws and even in the darkness, Loki could see how tight the muscles were. Twisting to the side, Loki switched on the battery operated lantern on his side of the bed.

“Thor, how bad is it? When did the pain start?” Loki asked as he moved closer to his brother. He rested a hand on his shoulder, but Thor let out another cry and Loki immediately withdrew his hand.

“Hurts,” Thor managed to grunt out. “Can’t. Move. Loki, make it stop. Please make it stop.”

He yelled again and Loki swiftly scrambled off the bed.

“I’m going to get your muscle relaxants. Stay calm, Thor,” Loki ordered as he hurried over to his brother’s side of the bed, where the pills were. He hesitated when he saw the cleared table top. Thor must have taken one earlier, Loki thought as he reached for the drawer. Pulling it open, he frowned when he saw nothing inside.

Getting on his hands and knees, Loki looked under the bed. There was nothing there but their weapons. Hearing his brother scream in pain, Loki straightened up. Thor’s arm had never caused him this much pain before. Not even when he first received the wound. On really bad days, Thor would experience cramping and have difficulty moving his arm, but it never caused him to actually scream. Something was very, very wrong. Loki reached for the limb, suspecting something amiss, but Thor whimpered and pulled away from him. I’ll look at it once he’s taken something for the pain, Loki told himself as he rose to his feet again.

Hurrying over to the dresser, Loki started searching through the drawers, rifling around in them as he searched for the pills. He could hear Thor crying in agony behind him. Loki swore and slammed the last drawer shut. Moving over to the bathroom, Loki switched on the light and searched the small area. Still nothing.

“Loki!”

Loki stepped back into the main area of the room and his eyes fell on their luggage. Even though it was unlikely, Loki hurried over to them and thoroughly went through both bags. Neither one had the muscle relaxants.

Moving back to the bedside, Loki put a hand on the side of his brother’s face. Thor was still crying and thrashing around in pain.

“Thor, did you have your pills with you today? Did you perchance bring them down with you while you were working?”

Thor shook his head and then yelled out again. Loki frowned and looked over his shoulder. His brother was not being quiet. Surely some of the others had heard his distress. Why was no one banging on their door?

“Brother, I cannot find the muscle relaxants. I’m going to wake the Valkyrie. Perhaps she will have an idea about where they are. I will return shortly,” Loki told him. Thor didn’t appear to hear him as he continued to thrash around and cry out in pain. Nervousness started creeping up on Loki and he swiftly rose to his feet, dashing for their room door. Unlocking the door, Loki ran out into the pitch black hall and immediately froze.

Nothing appeared out of place. It was his magic that made the dark-haired god freeze, alarms sounding in his head. It was much too quiet and the air felt heavy. Loki’s fingers twitched and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. There was the magic of another somewhere nearby, a little too close.

Then he heard breathing. It was loud and it surrounded him, as if he were actually standing within someone’s lungs. Yet he could see nothing. He could still faintly hear his brother’s cries of pain and air rushing through the vents, but it was the abnormal breathing that Loki focused on. The walls around him seemed to bend inwards with each inhale and outwards with each exhale.

His sharp eyes slowly scanned around the dark place, looking for any abnormalities. There was something in the darkness, watching him. Tilting his head slightly, Loki slowly let out his breath. He could hear something moving around downstairs, something large. The stomping footsteps sounded almost like boulders hitting the ground. Manifesting a dagger, a wide smile split his lips as Loki started moving toward the stairway.

A loud thump behind him made the trickster hesitate, his entire body rigid. His eyes widened and he looked behind him. That noise had been the unmistakable sound of a body falling out of the bed. Gritting his teeth, Loki looked back to the darkness in the direction of the stairs. Letting out a growl of frustration, he turned and ran back to the room he shared with his brother.

“Thor, no!” Loki yelled as he ran to his brother’s side, sliding partway on his knees. Thor was holding the sword he’d retrieved from under the bed and was kicking the scabbard off. The god of thunder let out a howl of pain as Loki started struggling to wrench the dangerously sharp weapon away from him. It didn’t take him long to disarm the god of thunder.

“Loki, please. I need…the pain is going to drive me mad,” Thor yelled as he tried to reach for the sword, falling back with a cry. Loki slid the sword across the room, out of reach. When Thor went to lunge for it, Loki latched onto him, wrapping his arms and legs around his brother.

“You’re not going to mutilate yourself,” Loki snarled as he struggled to hold onto his thrashing brother. “You’re not thinking clearly right now. If you were, you would realize how displeased Stark would be with the mess you would undoubtedly make after hacking off a limb.”

Thor elbowed Loki in the ribs, hard, winding his brother. Loki’s grip loosened slightly and it was enough for Thor to pull free of him and start dragging himself across the room. Loki swiftly got to his feet and scrambled after his brother. Thor paused just long enough to throw a bolt of lightning at Loki.

It wasn’t anywhere near as powerful as his lightning normally was, but it still knocked Loki off his feet and sent him crashing to the unforgiving floor with a cry of pain. Gritting his teeth and clenching his eyes shut, Loki tried to ignore just how much the strike had hurt. Norns, even when he holds back, he’s powerful, he thought. Forcing himself to breathe, Loki pushed himself up into a sitting position and looked over to his brother, who was getting close to being within reach of another weapon.

Conjuring up a spell, Loki threw it at the weapons under the bed and the sword he had slid across the room. Green light soon engulfed them. Swinging his hands behind him, Loki sent all the weapons to the opposite side of the room, into the bathroom where the fell with a loud clatter that seemed to echo throughout the halls. Using his magic, Loki swiftly shut the door to the bathroom and threw a shield over it.

Thor let out another yell of pain and rolled onto his back, writhing on the ground. Loki crawled over to his side and Thor glared at him.

“Do you enjoy my suffering or are you prolonging it for sport?”

“Enjoy your suffering? You’re the one who hit me with your damn lightning. If you would but listen—”

“You’ll lie! If I listen, all you do is lie! You don’t have a solution!” Thor snapped, gasping in pain and curling in on himself. “Why do you hate me so much? I thought we were past that.”

Loki reached out for Thor’s arm, noticing a faint glisten of what looked like magic just under his skin. Thor jerked away from him, crying out in pain.

“Thor, let me help you!” Loki pleaded.

“I was going to help myself and you wouldn’t let me!” Thor argued, gritting his teeth. Loki dragged his hands over his face, getting more and more frustrated by the minute. “The pain would have been over if you would have just let me take care of it!”

“Brother—”

“Why wouldn’t you let me?”

“Because I don’t want to lose you!” Loki snapped and Thor paused, looking up at his brother, puzzled. He was still panting for breath and writhing as he tried to deal with the overwhelming pain he was in, but at least he appeared to be listening. Loki slowly let out his breath, slumping down a little. His own body was still pumping with adrenaline and it made him feel on edge.

“If you would have cut off your arm, you would have bled out. Think about how loud you were screaming. Why have none of your friends come to see what’s wrong?” Loki explained. “I daresay we’re still the only ones awake and likely will be until dawn. You are strong, brother, but even you are susceptible to blood loss. That’s what you succumbed to on the battlefield. After…”

Loki trailed off and swallowed, looking to his brother again. “Thor, I fought Kurse to protect you. I came back to Asgard to fight against Hela, for you. I triggered Ragnarok. I faced Thanos, nearly lost my own life doing so, so that you would live and save this planet. I came back to help defeat Thanos. For you. I did all of that for you, Thor. Do you truly believe I wish to see you suffer? That I derive some pleasure seeing you in this much pain?”

Thor sniffled, gritting his teeth and turning his face to the floor. “If you don’t allow me to alleviate this pain, you’re going to watch me die. You’ll lose me anyway. At least allow me to go with some dignity.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “Norns, you’re so overdramatic sometimes. Before you resign yourself to death, will you please allow me to try something?”

“It’s not going to work.”

“Have you so little faith in me?” Loki asked with a half-grin. Thor arched his neck, sweat pouring off him.

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“If it doesn’t work, then I shall figure out a way to wake the Valkyrie and Bruce and we’ll remove your arm safely. Satisfied?”

Thor pressed his face against the floor, still protectively holding his rigid arm. After a moment, he gave a single short nod. He whimpered when he felt Loki’s arms guide him up to a sitting position.

“Do you think you can get up, brother?” Loki asked. “This will be easier if you’re on the bed.”

Thor swallowed and leaned against Loki, relying heavily on him to rise to his feet. He almost crashed back to the floor, crying out when a fresh bout of pain hit him. Loki wrapped an arm around his waist, careful not to touch his aching arm. Slowly, he guided Thor back to the bed and helped him to lie down.

Switching on the lamp on Thor’s bedside table, Loki frowned as he studied his brother for a moment. He could sense some evil magic at work, but he needed a better idea of what exactly he was dealing with. That would require physical contact and that seemed to be causing his brother a great deal of discomfort.

“Are you going to stab me?” Thor panted. “Because this might be the only time I am not averse to such an idea.”

Despite his concern, Loki couldn’t help but laugh softly. “Sadly no. I’m not going to stab you. I do need to touch your arm.”

Thor instinctively held his arm closer to himself, tears and sweat still covering his face. Loki offered him a confident grin.

“I promise you, this won’t hurt much. Certainly not more than it already does.”

Thor squinted at him. “Are you lying?”

“No,” Loki half-lied. Truth be told, he had no idea whether or not it would hurt more. He had to figure out what he was dealing with first.

Thor whimpered and then cried out in pain, shivering. After a moment, he let go of his arm and nodded once.

“I trust you, brother,” he whispered. Loki stared at him, struck by the simple sentence. He looked back to Thor’s arm, clearing his throat. Reaching out, he gently laid his fingers on Thor’s upper arm, ignoring the grunt of pain it elicited from his brother. Closing his eyes, Loki reached out with his seidr. The muscles were so tight they practically shielded the strange magic woven into the fibers. Loki frowned as he tried to get a better idea of the magic’s origin. A strand of it shot out and sent an unpleasant sting into his seidr.

Loki yanked his hand back with a hiss, more in irritation than in pain. He shook his hand a few times, shaking away the unpleasant tingling caused by the unusual magic.

“What? What happened?” Thor asked and Loki shook his head, sucking the finger that had taken the brunt of the attack.

“Nothing, I was just a little careless,” he replied, looking to Thor with a small grin. “Brother, I’m going to try something a little more invasive and it might result in a little more discomfort. Just try to relax.”

Thor whimpered and put a hand over his eye. Loki took a deep breath and looked back to the arm, which still looked uncomfortably rigid. All right. You want to play rough? Let’s play rough, Loki thought as he gently placed his fingertips on Thor’s arm again. Closing his eyes, he reached out again with his seidr. This time, he masked it so that he could creep by the strange magic unseen. He could see strands of it glowing within Thor’s muscles, tendrils reaching out and searching for the magic that had tried to attack it.

Loki slipped his seidr right by it and followed the lines deep into Thor’s muscles. He gritted his teeth when he saw the extent of the spell.

It wove around Thor’s muscles like barbed wire, sharp and merciless. Every time the light grew in brightness, Thor’s muscles tightened even more. They were already on the verge of snapping, which was undoubtedly what was causing him such pain. Looking past the muscle, Loki could see the tendrils of light starting to latch onto the bone beneath. It was going to snap his muscles and then shatter his bones. Amputation might not have been the worst idea, Loki thought as he carefully pulled his seidr back and opened his eyes.

Thor was still whimpering and panting, tears streaming from his eye. The pain was likely keeping him awake and chances were, such magic wouldn’t let him sleep. It was an incredibly cruel spell, one Loki would never use, not even during his darkest moments. He cursed whoever had done this to his brother.

“Thor—”

“Norns, I’m going to die,” Thor groaned hoarsely. Loki smiled briefly.

“Not tonight, brother,” he told him. “However, you might wish so. Someone has inflicted a rather barbaric spell on you. There is magic tightening around your muscles and it’s moving toward your bones. It’s going to break your body from the inside. I would suggest waiting for Bruce and Brunnhilde to wake up in order to amputate your arm, but by then…it might be too late.”

Thor’s good hand suddenly shot out and latched around Loki’s hand. Unfazed, Loki turned his hand around and allowed Thor to grasp it through the pain.

“What other option is there?” Thor asked, looking to his brother. Loki sighed and rubbed Thor’s hand with his thumb.

“The other option, the one I recommend, is I will use my seidr to pull the magic out of you. It’s a very long, very slow process. It will hurt quite a lot, probably not as much as what you’re experiencing now but close. I will do my best to minimize the pain, but I must be thorough,” Loki explained. “On the bright side, you will not lose your arm.”

Thor looked at him. “There-there’s no other way?”

Loki shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

Thor closed his eye, letting out a shaky breath. “All right, brother. Work whatever magic you have.”

Loki struggled not smile wolfishly. Even though the experience was likely to be unpleasant for both of them, the chance to use somewhat new spells was exciting.

“Sit up, lean against me,” Loki instructed and Thor stared at him. “The more contact we have, the easier it will be to cast the spell.”

Thor sighed and started trying to push himself up, only to slump back. Noticing his brother struggling, Loki helped him to sit up and lean against him. Placing his hand on his arm, a large grin traveled briefly across Loki’s face as he prepared to battle the cruel magic that invaded his brother’s body.

Quickly deciding on his best approach, Loki sent seidr to a relatively thin area of the strange magic. His seidr pulsed with greenish blue light and instantly pounced on the yellow magic, ripping it free of the muscle.

Thor’s howl of pain startled Loki and his eyes snapped open. He looked to his brother, who was tightly grasping his shirt.

“Thor?”

Thor moaned, his head lolling a little. Loki noticed a thin stream of blood trickling out of his nose and carefully tightened his grip a little.

“‘M okay,” Thor muttered, his words slurring. “Keep going.”

“I shall try to be more careful,” Loki promised him. He mentally kicked himself for being so reckless. The spell afflicting Thor was complex. Simply tearing it free would make the remaining strands work faster and it would result in more pain, possibly even death. Loki had to go slow and be careful.

Closing his eyes again, Loki refocused on what he was doing. This time, he was more cautious and used his seidr to carefully pluck every thorn of magic free of Thor’s muscle and bone. Once he pulled a large section free, he recalled his seidr with the parasitic magic, bringing it into himself.

As it was doing so, Loki sent more seidr into Thor’s muscles, focusing on the next mass. He continued using caution as he carefully pulled the powerful spell free.

“Thor? How are you feeling?” Loki asked, still working with his seidr.

“Hurts,” Thor mumbled, burying his face in Loki’s chest.

“I’m working as swiftly as I can, brother,” Loki half-lied. He felt Thor nod against him. He was working a particularly tough knot of magic, which was so embedded it was difficult to differentiate from the muscle. Thor’s good hand suddenly latched around his wrist and he whimpered.

“I know, brother. I’m sorry,” Loki told him.

“You’re shaking,” Thor mumbled. Loki swallowed, debating about how much to tell Thor.

“Yes, I’m doing a couple different things. The process I’m performing requires a trade. I’m replacing the spell afflicting you with seidr, which is repairing whatever damage was done. In turn, I’m taking the spell into myself, where my more aggressive and powerful magic is neutralizing and destroying it.”

Thor’s brows knitted together and he turned his head slightly so he could look up at Loki. “That sounds dangerous. You’re…you’re not…hurting yourself, are you?”

Loki smiled and shook his head. “Not at all. The spell is an impressive one, but it was cast by someone without natural magic. Therefore it’s significantly weaker than my own magic. It’s unpleasant, but not overwhelmingly so.”

Thor slumped against his brother, shivering as Loki worked another knot of magic loose.

The sun was rising by the time Loki finished untangling the last tendril of the hostile magic and freed his brother from it. He was completely exhausted and had spent almost all of his strength. The process had been tedious and draining. Looking down to Thor, Loki was unsurprised to see his brother had passed out at some point. Whatever discomfort he was experiencing was likely nothing compared to the excruciating pain Thor had been in throughout the time he was afflicted.

As carefully and gently as he could, Loki laid Thor down on his side of the bed, pulling the blankets up on him. Then the trickster slumped in an undignified heap on his side, groaning. The last time Loki had been so worn out and tired had been after his very narrow escape from Thanos aboard the ship of Asgardian refugees. The trickster was right on the verge of passing out. And yet, he couldn’t sleep. Not just yet.

Swinging up into a sitting position, Loki took a moment to gather himself and make sure he felt steady enough to walk. When he did, he rose from the bed and wandered over to the dresser. Pulling open a small drawer, Loki removed the pen and paper he had tucked away in there. Jotting down a quick note, Loki folded the paper and wrote his brother’s name on it. He placed it on the table next to Thor, where he would see it, and then the dark-haired god left the room, silently closing the door behind him.

Chapter Text

Brunnhilde pulled to a smooth stop in front of Loki’s small house in New Asgard, still annoyed about having to leave Wakanda early. She had been enjoying her time there. Then Korg had called to tell her Loki apparently had taken ill (or so the trickster claimed) and hadn’t left his house in a week. The Kronan was concerned about the dark-haired god. Loki was functioning about as well as could be expected, but Korg believed he was still struggling.

“Even before this week, he was acting a little off. He doesn’t go anywhere, ma’am. He’d sit in meetings, fill out important documents, and then just go home,” Korg told her. “Miek and I have been bringing him groceries, but we’re worried he’s not eating enough.”

After hearing that, Brunnhilde agreed to travel to New Asgard to knock some sense into Loki’s thick skull. Gods know he would never just outright ask for help when he needed it. That would be much too easy.

Pulling out the house keys Korg lent her, she let herself into the cozy home. Immediately, Brunnhilde was shocked at the darkness that greeted her. All the blinds and curtains had been drawn and none of the lights were on.

“In case you hadn’t heard, I’m ill.”

Brunnhilde looked over to the kitchen and saw Loki sitting at the table with the laptop in front of him. The bright screen illuminated his pale face and she could see his hair was stringy and tangled. He was dressed in bed clothes and his green eyes were fixed on the screen in front of him.

“Yeah, and exactly what illness is afflicting you, your highness?”

“Don’t call me that,” Loki whispered in a way that made Brunnhilde’s heart ache. The raw hurt in his small voice made her regret her choice of words. She moved over to the kitchen doorway. Loki didn’t even glance at her, his eyes still on the screen. He pressed a few keys and then folded his hands together again, watching.

“You said you’re sick. With what?”

“A migraine,” Loki replied simply, pressing another key. His eyes never moved from the screen.

“A migraine,” Brunnhilde repeated slowly, not believing him for a second. “Yeah, I’ve heard looking at a bright computer screen does wonders for migraines.”

Loki made a noncommittal sound in response. Brunnhilde shook her head and walked into the kitchen peering over his shoulder.

“What are you—?”

She stopped when she saw the images on screen, video footage of the final battle of Wakanda. It looked like it was from one of the high tech drones. There was an image of Thor leaping through the air, Stormbreaker held high over his head as he descended upon Thanos. Lightning was wrapped around his limbs. The last time Brunnhilde had seen him, Thor’s lightning was brighter and more powerful than she had ever seen. She didn’t think Thanos stood a chance.

“I hacked into SHIELD’s database with the intention of finding my brother’s belongings,” Loki explained as he lifted the steaming cup of tea that sat near his arm. He sipped it and played the footage. Brunnhilde closed her eyes and looked away from the screen. She didn’t want to watch this. She didn’t want to see her friend die. It had been bad enough finding him out on that field, lying in his brother’s arms as Loki wept over his broken body, rocking him as he sobbed. Both of them coated in Thor’s blood.

“I was unable to find what I was looking for. However, I stumbled across something more interesting: footage of my brother’s death. The exact moment Thanos mortally wounded Thor,” Loki continued, placing the tea off to the side. “Unfortunately, the drone didn’t capture him beating Thor to death, but that was really just overkill after spearing him through.”

Brunnhilde slowly let out her breath and glared at him. The cold unemotional way he spoke about such a horrific moment infuriated her. Loki didn’t notice her as he rewound the footage and watched it again.

“Here’s Thor alive and then…” Loki paused. “He’s dead. Alive, then dead. It happens so quick. Thanos murders my brother in an instant.”

He paused the footage and leaned forward a little, closer to the screen.

“He didn’t cry, Brunnhilde,” Loki told her, his voice wobbling. “He didn’t scream, didn’t look frightened. He just looked relieved. Thor gave up. He…gave up. I never thought him capable of giving up.”

Loki sniffled and thumbed away some tears before rewinding the footage again.

“Loki, I don’t think—”

“The footage doesn’t capture Thanos crushing my brother and using the Gauntlet on him,” Loki told her, clearing his throat. “But it does show when he did it. Thanos throws him somewhere off screen. He returns and if you squint, you can almost see Thor’s blood dripping off his hand.”

Brunnhilde swallowed and looked back to the footage. Thor had disappeared and she could only see a little bit of the outline of the mad titan. Suddenly, he emerged from somewhere off to the side, walking back towards the pandemonium of battle. Gods, why didn’t I notice Thor was missing? Brunnhilde wondered as she often had since the battle. Perhaps if I had been a little more vigilant, he wouldn’t have…

She watched as Thanos paused.

“This is likely when my brother was a fool and drew the mad titan’s attention back to him. Thor never could keep his damn mouth shut and apparently being mortally wounded didn’t change that,” Loki said, coldness creeping into his voice.

“Thor witnessed Thanos harm you, Loki. He believed the mad titan had killed you. You’re not being fair—“

“I don’t care!” Loki snapped at her before taking a deep breath and straightening his shoulders. “Yes, this is where he lures the galaxy destroying titan back to him, even though he can no longer fight. At this point, Thor couldn’t even move under his own power.”

Brunnhilde turned her eyes back to the screen, watching. Thanos slowly turned his head. Then he whipped around and lunged back to the area where he’d emerged from. The Valkyrie was grateful there was no sound in the footage. She didn’t think her heart could handle hearing her friend scream in pain.

“You damn fool,” Loki hissed, his eyes blazing with fury. “You damn stubborn, reckless fool. I was right there! I was minutes from Midgard! All you had to do was wait a few more damn minutes and I would have been there, fighting at your side! Damn you, Thor! I was right there!”

A shiver went through him and his breathing sounded more ragged. After a moment, Loki blew out his breath and pressed a couple keys, rewinding the footage back to the beginning.

The Valkyrie reached over and closed the laptop. “Lackey, please. Stop this. Thor wouldn’t want you to watch this. He wouldn’t want you to torture yourself like this.”

“Then he shouldn’t have died,” Loki replied petulantly. Brunnhilde raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest.

Loki stared at the closed laptop. “I did a journey of final steps, before I left Wakanda. I saw exactly what Thanos did to Thor, how badly he hurt him, how agonizing he made Thor’s last moments—”

“Hey, Lackey, you were there with Thor in his last moments. You held him, comforted him, used your seidr to ease his passing. He left for Valhalla happy and at peace.”

“Seidr is not that powerful, not even mine. I could take away some of his hurt, not all of it. Not even most of it,” Loki muttered, sniffling. “Thor still suffered, even after I got there. I’m not a healer.”

Brunnhilde rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Norns, why must you torment yourself like this?”

Loki ran his fingers over the smooth laptop, his brows knitting together briefly as though considering her question.

“I saw everything the mad titan did to Thor, felt it to some extent, and it haunts me,” he confessed softly, a tremor creeping back into his voice as his eyes welled up. He continued looking at the laptop. “And I hate my brother. I hate him more than I ever have before. I hate him for being so reckless. I hate him for wanting to avenge me. I hate him for going into a fight knowing full well he wouldn’t survive it.”

Loki paused, his lower lip trembling, and he swiped angrily at his tears. “I hate Thor for leaving me.”

He ran his hands over his face, letting out a shaky breath. Brunnhilde carefully sat down beside him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. To her surprise, he didn’t pull away. Deciding to press her luck, Brunnhilde wrapped her arms around him and embraced him tightly. Loki buried his face in her shoulder and she felt his body tremble as he wept.

“Thanos killed my brother, Brunnhilde. He killed Thor. I-I should have been there. I should have saved him,” Loki sobbed. Brunnhilde shushed him and rubbed his back comfortingly. She remembered feeling the exact same way after Hela had massacred the Valkyries. There were many nights when Brunnhilde played the gruesome scene over in her head, trying to figure out what she could have done differently. She knew what it was like to be consumed by grief and how lonely it could be. It broke her heart to know that Loki was feeling that way now. It was a crushing despair that Brunnhilde wouldn’t wish on even her worst enemy.

“I only have that stupid axe to remember him by,” Loki mumbled. “Thor was more than a warrior. He was a leader, a hero. He was my brother. And all that’s left to remember him by is some stupid weapon.”

The Valkyrie allowed him to cry for a short while longer, knowing he desperately needed the release.

“You don’t only have the axe to remember Thor,” Brunnhilde told him. Loki sniffled and raised his head. He looked at her, puzzled. She smiled at him.

“You have your people, the citizens of New Asgard,” she explained. “Everything Thor was, it’s in them. Thor loved them dearly, had so much pride in them, was willing to die to protect them.”

Loki looked away from her, turning his teary eyes across the space. She gently gripped his arm.

“Take care of them, Lackey, as Thor would have. He always believed in you. Be the leader he saw in you,” she urged him gently. A scowl crossed Loki’s face.

“I hate Thor for making me be responsible,” he grumbled, though she knew it was in jest. She laughed softly. Loki swallowed and looked down at his lap, wringing his hands.

“I worry that I’ll forget what he looked like, Brunnhilde. I know that’s quite impossible at the moment, with his face being plastered everywhere and all the damn memorials to fallen heroes,” Loki told her. “But…we live for a very, very long time.”

She patted his shoulder. “Rogers is painting a portrait to hang in the memorial once construction is completed. I’ve seen his work and it’s good. With that portrait, I don’t think anyone will ever forget how Thor looked.”

Loki nodded, swiping away at some of his lingering tears.

“Okay, you need to take a very long bath and tame your hair,” Brunnhilde told him. “I’ll order some dinner and regale you with tales of Wakanda.”

Loki glanced at her and looked as though he wanted to argue, but then he stood from the table and wandered out of the kitchen, heading for the bathroom. Brunnhilde pulled out her phone and waited until she heard the shower running.

I’m looking out for him, Thor, just like you asked. He worries me sometimes, but I think he’ll be okay. Eventually, she thought as she dialed the number of a local restaurant.

**

Brunnhilde grimaced and raised a hand to her head, groaning as she slowly woke up. She felt Ayo’s arm wrapped around her waist. Opening her eyes, the Valkyrie looked to the window and noticed it was foggy outside. She rolled onto her back and cursed the damn weather. The last thing they needed at the moment was lower visibility. She maneuvered out from Ayo’s arms and rose to her feet, stretching her arms. Peering out the window, Brunnhilde harrumphed when she saw how thick the fog was. She couldn’t see a few feet in front of the house, it was so thick.

A knock on the door drew her attention behind her. Ayo woke and sat up in bed, holding the blankets over her body.

“Yeah?” Brunnhilde called.

“It’s me,” Loki’s charming polite voice came through the door. Brunnhilde raised an eyebrow, knowing that tone meant he was after something. She glanced over to Ayo, who stood from the bed and grabbed her clothes, quickly changing. Brunnhilde grabbed her slacks from the floor and pulled them on.

Moving smoothly across the room, she opened the door. Loki was standing there in a dark suit. He raised an eyebrow and she sighed, pulling the door open further. He looked rather paler than usual and his normally sparkling eyes looked tired.

“You’re up early and you look awful,” she mentioned as he stepped inside their room. Loki nodded politely in greeting to Ayo.

“I’m afraid Thor had a rather unpleasant night,” Loki mentioned vaguely as he rubbed his brow. “I’m here to ask a favor.”

“Somehow I’m not surprised,” Brunnhilde replied. “What do you want, Lackey?”

Loki glanced over at Ayo. “Lady Ayo, would you be so kind as to accompany me to the docks?”

Ayo stared at him and then exchanged a look with Brunnhilde. She turned her attention back to Loki, who was waiting patiently for her response.

“Why not bring Brunnhilde?” she asked and Loki sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Brunnhilde, I wish for you to protect my brother, as you’ve sworn to do,” Loki replied, looking between the two women. “I know Thor’s in danger. One of us needs to keep him in our sights at all time. I need to check something at the docks and in my absence, Brunnhilde is a capable warrior.”

“Why do you want to go to the docks?” Brunnhilde asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Ms. Romanoff mentioned the suspicious sinking of the ferries and the one that’s missing. It struck me as an attempt to cut us off from aid and it seems to be quite effective,” Loki explained, nodding toward the window. “The fog is making me uneasy. My senses are telling me there’s some sorcery at work.”

Brunnhilde pursed her lips and looked to her lover, raising her brows in question. Ayo met her gaze, smiling subtly. She dipped her head once and grabbed her staff.

“Lackey, don’t interact with any locals you encounter and don’t dally. Go see what you’re interested in and then come right back. Your brother would have my head if anything happened to you,” Brunnhilde told him. “You do what Ayo says, understand?”

Loki nodded in agreement, hesitating. “Brunnhilde, I cannot find Thor’s muscle relaxants. He had an episode of severe pain last night as the result of a spell, which tightened his muscles and would have shattered his bones. The pain was bad enough he wanted to cut off his own arm. He would have succeeded had I not thrown the weapons out of his reach.”

“Norns,” Brunnhilde breathed, stunned. Loki clasped his hands behind his back.

“It took me all night, but I managed to untangle the spell and remove it. I gave him a little seidr, enough to hold him over for the time being. However, in the unlikely event that I am mistaken and the pain returns, Wanda has Frigga’s box of gems. There are a few rose-colored crystals in there, known as Freya’s heart. It will alleviate pain and discomfort,” Loki told her, glancing around the room and clearing his throat. “And he shouldn’t lift anything heavy. I know he wishes to help his friends with the repairs on this house, but…try to make sure he doesn’t overdo it. You know how he is.”

Brunnhilde smiled faintly. “You have my word, Lackey.”

Loki nodded his appreciation. Ayo strode over to the Valkyrie and the two shared a loving kiss.

“I shall see you this afternoon, my love,” Ayo whispered to her and Brunnhilde smiled, briefly wrapping an arm around her waist.

“I shall count the minutes,” she replied. Loki rolled his eyes and moved over to the open door. After a moment, Ayo separated from Brunnhilde and strode out of the room. Loki was about to follow her, but hesitated, turning back to the Valkyrie.

“Brunnhilde, Thor is exhausted from the ordeal last night and removing the spell was taxing on him. He’s still sleeping and likely will be for quite a while yet. I left him a note, but if you could let him know where I am and assure him that I will return,” Loki requested softly.

“Of course I will, Lackey. I’ll make sure he doesn’t worry,” she assured him. “At least not more than he usually does.”

Loki looked up at her and she winked at him. He smirked and ducked out of the room, disappearing down the hall. Brunnhilde sighed and left the room, heading for the room Thor and Loki were sharing. The house felt slightly colder than it had when they arrived. She looked up when the lights in the hallway flickered and then stayed on. A triumphant whoop sounded through the vents. Well, at least we have power again, she thought as she reached the Odinsons’ room and opened the door.

_*_

Later that day, the normal sounds of repairs filled the enormous house. Brunnhilde was sitting in the main room, paging through the strange book of prophecies. On the couch, Wanda, Peter, and Thor were playing some sort of racing game with bright colors and peculiar creatures. After a brief disagreement, the god of thunder had reluctantly agreed to take it easy for the day. When he spoke to his friends over breakfast, they readily agreed and Peter had excitedly offered to teach Thor how to play video games.

“Who threw that freaking shell!?” Peter suddenly yelled and Brunnhilde couldn’t help but notice Wanda’s cough sounded suspiciously like a snicker. Thor laughed, but it quickly turned into a shout of frustration when he was hit by another shell. The Valkyrie shook her head and looked back to the book. The language was ancient and some of it she didn’t know what it would translate as. There was a lot of serpent-related imagery and plenty of colorful elaborate illustrations.

Brunnhilde frowned when the handwriting suddenly changed as well as the style. After the prophecy foretelling Thor’s death by Jormungand, there was a blank page and then the style became similar to a personal journal. She read entries about a lone figure who journeyed to Earth after his wife and son died in one of Asgard’s plagues. He happened upon a small forest and a pleasant cave, where he whiled away the hours making a life. The years came and went. The stranger met and befriended some Midgardians, who he spoke of affectionately. He had a particular affection for the children who lived in a nearby orphanage, who reminded him of his own family. He wrote of the toys he made them and the sweets he brought them. There were passages with barely contained excitement when a child was finally adopted and brought to live with their new family. The mysterious writer even kept track of all the children’s birthdays and made sure to observe every one.

Then, the entries suddenly just stopped. It was so abrupt that Brunnhilde had to check the binding to see if someone had torn pages out.

Flipping to the last couple pages, the Valkyrie found a long list of names, all of which had been crossed out in red or black. Odin’s name, struck through in thick black ink, toward the bottom caught her eye and then she noticed a name under his that hadn’t been crossed out: Thor.

Brunnhilde saw a movement out of the corner of her eye and twisted, drawing her dagger. When she saw it was just the curtains fluttering in the wind, she shook her head and slid her dagger back into its sheath.

“Brunnhilde?” Thor called from over by the couch. “When did Loki say he would be back?”

“Sometime this afternoon,” she replied. “He didn’t give a specific time, but you know how he is. Don’t worry. Ayo will keep him in line and out of trouble.”

Thor chuckled, his attention remaining on the game. Brunnhilde stretched her arms out across the back of the couch, tilting her head back.

“Hey guys,” Clint strode into the room along with Bruce. “Anyone interested in helping us clean the mirror maze. No heavy lifting, just taking a sponge and wiping down the mirrors, then towel drying them.”

“Sounds like an easy enough job,” Brunnhilde said as she rose to her feet. “What do you say, Thor? Feel up to doing battle with cobwebs and dust?”

Thor laughed and nodded, putting down his controller. “You have ideal timing, my friends. We just finished our race.”

He stood from the couch and wandered over to the small group, obviously pleased to have another task to focus on. Bruce was already at the front door, which he held open for the other three. They ventured out into the foggy morning.

_*_

The minute they left the property, Loki started to feel uneasy. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. There was some threat lurking in their murky surroundings.

The fog proved difficult to navigate with a vehicle and Ayo drove cautiously, only able to see a few feet in front of the car, even with the headlights on. They were both silent, neither being one for idle chatter. Loki knew better than to try schmoozing a Dora Milaje and he was still worn out from the previous night.

“How long do you anticipate this errand taking?” Ayo finally asked, squinting at the windshield.

“Not overly long,” Loki replied, hiding a yawn. “I just want to test something, make certain we have a way to escape should the need arise.”

Ayo nodded and kept her attention on the road. Loki put his feet up on the dashboard and reclined his chair back, interlacing his fingers over his stomach. He heard Ayo turn the windshield wipers on and allowed his mind to drift, thinking about all the unusual occurrences they had experienced. Part of him still wanted to stay on the island, just to find out exactly what was going on. Loki had always been too curious for his own good.

He opened his eyes when he felt the car pull to a smooth stop. Ayo shifted into park and glanced over at him.

“We are here,” she told him. Loki looked out his window, noticing that the fog had become even thicker. He could still see the shoreline just ahead, but little else. Opening his door, Loki stood from the car and looked around. It was eerily quiet and the water seemed much calmer than it had been since they arrived.

Striding forward, Loki moved through the empty parking lot, heading for the shoreline. He reached the edge of the asphalt and stepped onto the sand, glancing to the side where the dock was a few feet away. It was empty, as expected. Rubbing his hands together, Loki approached the water and crouched down. The strange smell was stronger near the water, but he still couldn’t identify it. There was a sharpness to the scent, which added to its unpleasantness.

Loki reached out with one hand, laying it on the surface of the cold water. His seidr responded strongly and it felt like his entire body was tingling, almost vibrating. There was some kind of strange power at work, but Loki was entirely sure it was magic. If it was, it was a sort he had never encountered before. This particular power felt odd…almost out of place. Pressing his senses outward, Loki slowly closed his eyes, allowing his mind’s eye to journey through the water and follow the peculiar sensation.

To his shock, he found the fog had permeated practically all dimensions, hiding a number of secrets within it. Soon, Loki felt himself being tugged in a different direction. He found himself looking down upon the enormous mansion, which was much larger than he realized. Looking past it, he could just make out the tops of the trees. The fog was shimmering in the depths of the forest, indicating some kind of barrier spell. Loki could just make out the outline of some sort of cave. There was some kind of unnatural power pulsing around it and it made Loki uneasy.

Hearing a soft hiss, Loki looked in the direction of the sound. He squinted when he noticed something peculiar in the distance…a different body of water. And there was a large shadow within it, vague in shape.

Coming back to himself, Loki removed his hand from the water and shook it off. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he dried off his palm. Ayo was standing a few feet away, looking off into the fog. She was holding her staff at her side and looked every inch the intimidating warrior she was.

Turning his attention back across the water, Loki held his hand out and sent a burst of magic into the fog. The light split the enormous cloud, but it rapidly reformed. Loki made a noise of frustration and put his hands on his hips.

“I can’t pierce this fog for very long,” he called back to Ayo. “It reforms almost instantaneously. However, if Ms. Maximoff and I were to work in tandem, I think we could improve the visibility enough for us to leave.”

“And how would we leave without the ferry?” Ayo asked, turning her attention to Loki. He shrugged, flipping the hair out of his face.

“This town has fishermen, does it not? We can borrow one of their boats,” Loki replied, frowning when his phone started buzzing in his pocket. He ignored the skeptical look Ayo gave him as he pulled out the sleek phone. It was a text from Brunnhilde.

Loki, Thor needs you.

Furrowing his brow, Loki swiftly typed a response: What happened? Is his arm bothering him again?

Come back to the mansion. Thor needs your help. Right now.

Loki moved toward the car. “We need to get back to the mansion.”

He held up the phone to show Ayo the messages. She nodded, hurrying back to the driver’s seat. Loki sent a text to Brunnhilde, assuring her that they were headed back. Glancing up into the rearview mirror, Loki noticed a tall figure in the mists.

“Ayo, I do not mean to alarm you, but perhaps you should consider driving a little less cautiously,” Loki stated coolly, turning to look over his shoulder. Ayo glanced at him and then followed his gaze. Shifting into drive, she pulled out of the parking lot. Green light swirled around Loki’s hand as he summoned his magic, preparing for an attack.

The figure remained standing and just before it was swallowed up in the mists, Loki saw glowing yellow circles where the figure’s eyes would be. The dark-haired god watched the thick white fog for another moment before turning his attention back to the road in front of them. Visibility was still poor, but Loki felt as though they were being watched.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, I’m going to need to shower for at least two hours after this,” Brunnhilde grumbled as she dunked a large sponge in a bucket of water and smacked it against the filthy glass of another mirror.

Thor chuckled as he focused on cleaning across from her. It was a relatively easy task and it was helping with the lingering tingling in his weaker arm. Thor wasn’t sure what Loki had done, but it was effective. He had woken up pain free, which wasn’t typical. Normally, if he had to take a muscle relaxant, Thor experienced mild aching for at least a day afterwards.

“Hey guys, a heads up: Bruce and I just found out the hard way that some of these mirrors move of their own accord,” Clint’s voice came from the walkie-talkie they were using. The house of mirrors was much smaller than the mansion, but it was still a decent size and made an impressive maze.

“Great,” Brunnhilde said dryly. “Mortals have the most bizarre past times. Mirror mazes, who the Hel would find that fun?”

Thor smiled and remained focused on the task. For a few minutes, they continued cleaning the numerous mirrors. Out of the corner of his eye, Thor saw movement, a brief flash of white. Looking in that direction, he thought he caught a glimpse of someone disappearing around a corner. He suddenly felt very uneasy and straightened up, intending to investigate the movement.

“Thor?” Brunnhilde asked, straightening up.

“I’ll be right back,” Thor told her.

The maze was quieter the deeper he ventured into it and Thor could hear every creak underfoot. As he stepped through a doorway, he found himself at a dead end, staring at multiple reflections of himself.

A soft swooshing sound behind him made the god of thunder whip around. The doorway he’d come through disappeared and was replaced with another mirror, trapping him in a relatively enclosed space. Then the lights went out, plunging him into darkness. Thor rolled his eye, putting his shoulder against the mirror that had trapped him in the space.

“Brunnhilde?” he called out, attempting to slide the mirror back. It wouldn’t budge. Thor attempted to push it open and it still wouldn’t give. He was considering using his lightning to get out of the space when the sound of a light snapping on drew his attention behind him. Thor’s breath caught in his throat when he saw a familiar lean figure in the mirror, next to his own reflection. The figure was illuminated by a single spotlight, somewhere high above him.

Loki’s back was to him and it looked like his brother was shivering. Thor frowned and moved closer to the glass, squinting as he tried to get a better look.

“Loki?” he called and Loki’s entire form went rigid. The dark-haired god turned toward Thor and the god of thunder let out a cry at the gruesome sight. Loki’s mouth had been crudely sewn shut and blood was caking his lips. His wrists were bound tightly and his face was bruised. The trickster ran toward the glass, pressing his bound hands against it, clawing frantically at the smooth surface. His green eyes were filled with tears and he was obviously terrified.

“Is this a vision?” Thor wondered aloud. He noticed the streaks of blood Loki was leaving on the glass. Suddenly, the light above Loki flickered and Thor glimpsed a menacing form just behind his brother. Loki glanced over his shoulder and spotted what Thor did. It made him even more frantic and he started clawing even more against the glass, crying out for help as much as he could.

“Hold on, brother. Hold on, I shall get you out of there,” Thor reassured him, starting to feel anxious. If it were a vision, it was not one he could watch play out. Feeling around the glass for some sort of lever or switch, Thor was frustrated when he couldn’t locate one. Turning horrified eyes back to the glass, he saw the looming menacing figure was even closer to Loki. Lightning started to wreathe around Thor’s limbs and flicker in his eye. Drawing back his fist, Thor punched the mirror as hard as he could.

He felt the sharp glass cut deep into his arm, slicing it open, and blood sprayed into his face as shattered glass rained down around him. Thor let out a cry and fell to his knees, clutching his now heavily bleeding arm. Blood was pulsing out of it and he wondered if he might have severed an artery. He was already feeling lightheaded and slumped to the side.

Before he passed out, Thor caught a glimpse of a masked figure standing where the mirror had been. The mask was gold and sparkled brightly, even in the dim light. She raised a finger to her plaster lips and seemed to disappear into the wall.

_*_

Loki almost jumped out of the car before it came to a complete stop, running up to the mansion. He threw open the front door and stormed into the main room, startling both Wanda and Peter.

“Where’s my brother?” he asked. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Natasha Romanoff move closer.

“Uh, he went with Clint, Bruce, and Brunnhilde to the mirror maze house. They were going to clean the—”

Loki didn’t wait for Peter to finish the sentence as he turned on his heel and made his way back to the front door. He was only faintly aware of Natasha following after him. She managed to match his long stride, much to his surprise.

“Did you find anything?” she asked as they moved toward the smaller building.

“Later,” Loki said as he jogged the remaining distance. They couldn’t see the building until they were practically on top of it. Loki reached the door first and tried turning the knob, only to find it locked. He pushed against the door and it held firm. Letting out a snarl of frustration, he shoved his shoulder against, trying to force it open.

“Move,” Natasha ordered and he stepped aside. The former spy raised her leg and kicked the door. It only took two strong kicks for the frame to splinter and the door to swing open.

“Brunnhilde?” Ayo called, holding her spear at the ready.

“Thor?” Loki called at the same time.

“Yeah, we’re in here,” Brunnhilde’s voice traveled through the space. “You two are back earlier than I thought you’d be.”

Navigating the maze proved to be irksome, but they soon came upon the Valkyrie. She was picking a cobweb out of her hair.

“I got your text. What happened?” Loki asked hurriedly, looking around for his brother. Brunnhilde frowned as she stared at him.

“What text? I didn’t send you a text,” she said, obviously confused. Loki pulled out his phone and shoved it at her.

“What the fuck?” she whispered in disbelief. “Lackey, my phone is in my pocket. I haven’t looked at it all day. I didn’t send—”

They were interrupted by a muffled shattering sound. Loki’s eyes widened and he made his way toward the noise, calling his brother’s name. He was distantly aware of Brunnhilde calling for Bruce. Everywhere the trickster looked, he saw blurry reflections of himself. He put his hands on the dusty mirrors, searching for some secret passageway or exit.

The feeling of a small hand tugging the back of his shirt made Loki whip around. There was no one behind him, but something else caught his eye: a single footprint in the dust. Moving over to the mirror, Loki ran his hands over it, easily finding the edges. He tried pulling it open, but found it only moved an inch. Slipping his fingers into it, Loki started tugging on the heavy object.

Brunnhilde soon entered the room with Bruce and the others. Seeing Loki struggling, she moved to help him. It took a few good yanks, but they finally pulled it open.

“Norns,” the Valkyrie gasped when she saw Thor slumped against the wall with shards of glass surrounding him. Blood was pooling beneath him. Loki swiftly knelt beside his brother and gently lifted his wounded arm. He pulled Thor closer so the god of thunder was leaning against him.

“Gods, you’re determined to ruin this arm as well,” Loki muttered as he set about helping his brother. Bruce knelt on Thor’s other side, his eyes widening in alarm at what he saw.

“Shit, that’s a lot of blood,” he said as he got back to his feet. “Can you slow the blood flow?”

Loki nodded. “I can stop it, but I can’t replace what he’s lost nor can I completely heal the wound.”

“Right,” Bruce said. “Do what you can. I’m going to run inside and get the first aid kit.”

Loki didn’t pay him any heed as he continued working to repair the artery that had been nicked. Soon, he had slowed the blood flow and almost stopped it completely. Loki didn’t think Thor had lost a dangerous amount. He kept his hand pressed over the gash in his brother’s arm, letting his seidr do its work.

Hearing a soft groan, Loki looked to his brother. Thor’s head was resting on his shoulder and the god of thunder was grimacing, obviously regaining consciousness. His eyelid fluttered and soon opened. Thor turned his head up and peered up at Loki, who smiled faintly at him.

“Loki. You’re all right,” Thor whispered, relief flooding his words and Loki furrowed his brow.

“Did you think I wasn’t?”

Thor shook his head. “I think I had a vision. You had been horribly wounded. I…I worried it might have come to pass.”

Loki looked up at empty frame, which still held some sharp shards of glass. “Did you break the mirror, Thor?”

Thor looked a little sheepish. “I saw you in the glass and a menacing form coming up behind you. I acted on instinct.”

The dark-haired god sighed. “Norns, your impulsiveness—”

“You were looking to me for help,” Thor told him and Loki’s mouth shut with a click. “You needed my help. I couldn’t ignore your cries. I wouldn’t.”

Loki was unsure whether to be infuriated or touched. He was confused about why Thor was so affected by a nightmare he’d had more than a week ago. Because he didn’t know. He never knew what happened with Thanos. He didn’t know the depths of the mad titan’s cruelty and now he has some idea, Loki thought.

“Gods, Thor,” he muttered.

“There was a woman,” Thor said suddenly, his voice a little stronger. He looked back to the shadows behind the mirror’s frame. “I saw her, briefly. I think there’s a secret door somewhere back there.”

“Are you certain you weren’t hallucinating?”

Thor shook his head and moved to get up, stopped only by Loki tightly gripping his still wounded arm.

“No, Thor. You rest until Bruce gets back,” he warned, glancing over his shoulder to Brunnhilde. “Brunnhilde?”

“On it,” she said as she stepped forward with Ayo. They stepped deeper into the shadows, almost completely swallowed up by the darkness. Loki could hear them examining the wall and glanced up when Natasha stepped past him, joining the two women in their investigation.

“Did you find anything of interest, Loki?” Thor asked, drawing Loki’s attention back to him. Loki licked his lips, briefly taking his hand away from the wound to assess it.

“It’s difficult to say,” he replied and placed his hand back on the wound. “There’s some magic at work, which we already suspected. It feels peculiar, very different from any sort of magic I’m accustomed to. It permeates this island completely, which is concerning.”

Thor closed his eye and rested his head against Loki’s chest. “Did you find a way off the island?”

“Unfortunately no,” Loki replied. “My magic cannot pierce this fog for overly long. Working in tandem with Ms. Maximoff might produce a better result.”

“No chance this fog will just go away on its own,” Thor mentioned, sounding tired.

“I doubt it very much,” Loki replied, glancing over his shoulder when he heard footsteps. “It’s magic in origin.”

Bruce soon appeared around the corner with a box in his arms. He knelt beside Thor and examined his arm. The dark-haired god looked up when the women returned.

“There’s a secret door out the back, but I couldn’t see anyone out there,” Brunnhilde reported. “And I’m not keen on running out into a fog this thick. Not without proper backup.”

Loki nodded in understanding, turning his attention back to Thor as Bruce continued tending to him. He was very aware of the reflective glass surrounding them and it was starting to make him uneasy.

A sudden itching in the back of Loki’s mind made him whip his head around to look behind him. He could feel some sort of danger somewhere close by. Instinctively, he tightened his hold on his brother.

_*_

Peter opened and closed cabinets, grinning when he found the crisps he was after. He pulled the bag out and then opened another cabinet, retrieving a bowl.

“Hello there.”

Peter let out a yelp and tossed the crisp bag up in the air, catching it again. A strange man stood in the kitchen doorway, a grin spreading across his lips. Though the expression was friendly, there was something about the smile that was off.

“You must be Peter Parker,” the stranger said warmly. “I’m the local butcher, Gareth Barlow. And this here is my daughter, Kim.”

Peter frowned and leaned to the side, noticing a thin blonde woman standing just behind the large butcher. She was wearing a sleeveless shirt and slacks. There was a wide smile on her face that had a disturbingly artificial quality. Her brown eyes fixed on Peter and she shifted the box she was holding, still smiling. Peter noticed a tattoo on her shoulder, one which he recognized from the disastrous SHIELD conference that had been infiltrated by extremists. Swallowing, he looked back to the butcher.

“Uh, hi. I’m Peter,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“We just wanted to drop off Mr. Stark’s most recent order. The weather is supposed to be pretty nasty for the rest of the week and this fog isn’t likely to clear up,” the butcher told him, nodding to his daughter. She stepped around him and entered the house, placing the large box on the counter. Peter watched them, having remembered Tony mention something about a food delivery that morning at breakfast.

All three of them looked to the side when Ms. Gray entered from the side hall. Peter noticed her eyes widened significantly when she saw the butcher and the color drained from her face.

“Hello, Ms. Gray,” Gareth greeted in a booming friendly voice. “How are you this afternoon?”

“I’m…I’m fine. Thank you, Mr. Barlow,” she said. She moved silently across the kitchen to help Kim with the groceries.

“Say Peter, do you like fishing?” Gareth asked, looking at the younger man. Peter shook his head, still a little uncomfortable with the two strangers in their kitchen.

“Not really my kind of thing,” Peter said with a polite smile.

“Shame. There’s a nice river just a few miles inland. Wouldn’t take you but a couple hours to walk there. It’s worth a visit, if just to soak in the peaceful atmosphere.”

“Maybe when it’s not so foggy,” Peter said.

“Of course,” Gareth said, glancing to the side when Kim approached again with an empty box. She smiled at him and stepped outside through the still open door.

“Well, you folks enjoy your evening,” the butcher said as he turned and left the house, closing the door behind him. Peter looked over to the caretaker, who closed the refrigerator door and then shuffled away without another word. Peter sighed and opened the bag of crisps, pouring some out into the bowl, and then put the bag away.

As he stepped out of the kitchen and into the hall, he was startled to find Loki standing against the wall near the door. The lean god glanced at him and then the illusion vanished in a flash of gold light. Peter heard the happy chirp of the vacuum as it went about cleaning. Shaking his head, he continued on his way to where he’d left Wanda waiting on the couch in the main room.

Chapter Text

Sif hadn’t had many romantic relationships in her life. She’d often taken lovers, but found the call to adventure and battle too strong to ignore. The warrior woman frequently preferred not having romantic entanglements and could always find a lover when she desired a night of passion. When Odin (or the one she thought was Odin) had sent her to Earth to search for infinity stones, the quest took up all of her time and she hadn’t even thought of romance. She was too focused on her search.

When she came to New Asgard, Sif had felt a little out of place. So much had happened and it felt like she didn’t even know where to start building a life on this strange planet. It had been a great relief when Thor appointed her to the security council as well as the board of advisors. It gave her something to do and made use of her many talents. Sif was surprised to find that she felt more at home in New Asgard than she ever had in Asgard. She was more comfortable in her position.

Once she had settled in, Sif had ventured out on a few dates. Nothing lasted very long and she always parted ways amicably with her partners. Sif was fine being single and prepared to go through life unattached.

And then she met Lady Maria Hill.

Thor had mentioned her on occasion, speaking highly of her prowess and intelligence. Maria Hill was a capable agent and a valuable ally to have. She was a high ranking SHIELD official who had thwarted many a villain. She fought alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sif had been very interested in meeting the woman who her friend held in such high regard. When Earth First had launched a small attack on New Asgard, SHIELD sent some agents to take statements and help with the cleanup.

Sif had been cleaning blood off her blade after having successfully defended the hospital. She had been sweaty and her eyes were alight with excitement (she was still a war goddess after all). When the Valkyrie called her name, Sif turned to see perhaps the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on. Maria Hill was shorter than her, but held herself with such confidence that she might as well have been taller. She was dressed in dark blue and her brown hair was tied back from her face. Her piercing blue eyes had fixed on Sif almost immediately and remained on hers throughout the time they spoke. For one of the first times in her life, Sif was stumbling over her words, but Maria Hill didn’t seem to notice.

Sif smiled as she squeezed the excess water from her dark hair before stepping out of the shower. Once Maria had finished taking statements, Brunnhilde suggested Sif show her around New Asgard. They wound up talking the entire night, telling each other stories about their various adventures and quests. When Maria had to leave, she left her number with Sif and they began speaking regularly. It wasn’t long before they became romantically involved.

With the Odinsons away on vacation, Sif was staying at their house and taking care of their cats. Maria Hill was staying with her, enjoying an extended vacation in New Asgard. They were enjoying each other’s company immensely.

Sif frowned when she heard her lover let out a yell of surprise. “Maria?”

“Uh, Sif? Can you come out here please?” Maria replied. Sif sighed and grabbed her robe, tying the sash tightly. She strode out into the main area of the house, shocked to see Loki standing in the middle of the room. He glanced over at her and she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Worry not, Maria. He’s not actually here. This is one of his illusions,” Sif told her girlfriend without taking her eyes off the trickster.

“I figured as much. Are you done in the shower?” Maria asked, unbothered by Loki’s appearance. Sif nodded once.

“Apologies for startling you, Lady Hill,” Loki said. Maria waved him off as she stepped past Sif, pecking her cheek as she moved into the hall. Sif smiled at her and then turned her attention back to Loki.

“What disaster has befallen you and Thor this time?” Sif asked with a sigh.

“That’s what I’m attempting to figure out,” Loki told her. “I require access to New Asgard’s archives. Our means of communication are somewhat limited at the moment.”

Sif shook her head and moved over to the steps. Loki frowned as he turned to watch her.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to put on some clothes,” Sif responded.

“If you must,” Loki said, his tone suggesting he was bored. Sif rolled her eyes and continued on her way to the small guest room.

A few minutes later, Sif was sitting in front of Maria’s laptop in the Odinsons’ study with Loki hovering around behind her. She could practically feel him pacing and fidgeting, which was starting to get annoying. Loki had reluctantly given her the passwords to grant her access to the computer and then to the special archives.

“It would help if you explained exactly what’s going on,” Sif pointed out.

“Sif, I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Loki replied. “Could you pull up the files on old family crests?”

The warrior woman clicked on the section on the website, bringing up another window.

“Search for crests with serpents or snakes,” Loki instructed. Sif frowned and twisted around, staring at him questioningly. He looked back at her, gesturing at the screen. Sif turned back to the screen and typed the word into the search bar. It yielded no results. No noble family had a serpent on their family crest. She glanced up to Loki, who furrowed his brow as he leaned down slightly.

“Well that’s rather disappointing,” he muttered. Sif leaned forward and turned off the screen, turning the chair so that she was looking at the dark-haired god. He seemed annoyed at her actions as he straightened up again.

“No more vagaries, no more tricks. Loki, tell me what’s going on,” Sif demanded. “You obviously want my help, but I cannot offer it if I do not know what the problem is.”

Loki sighed, his shoulders dropping slightly. “I fear it’s a problem that has followed us from Asgard. Do you remember the books of prophecy?”

For about fifteen minutes, Loki relayed the entire ordeal. He told her about the prophecy that had been foretold shortly after Thor’s birth, how it seemed to haunt his brother even without the god of thunder being aware of it. She listened to all the unusual events that had come to pass since they had arrived at Stark’s newest property. He finally told her about the bizarre weather, which seemed to have trapped them.

“You’ve called on your allies?” Sif asked, immediately switching into business mode. Loki shrugged.

“They have tried and believe they’ve gotten through. But…”

“But…?”

Loki rubbed the back of his neck, his brow furrowing. “I question whether they’ve managed to get through to anyone. Perception seems to be flexible in this place. The Midgardians have seen and heard things that aren’t there. I’ve found talismans in the vents that affect sleep. When I was investigating the power I felt in this place, I found it’s strong enough to alter our perceptions in certain ways. It’s possible the Midgardians thought they got through to SHIELD when they didn’t.”

Loki crossed his arms over his chest. “Some of what we’ve experienced…it leads me to believe someone is targeting Thor, yet I do not know anyone who would even consider targeting a god. I suspected a rogue Aesir, which is why I wanted to look up family crests. The only one I could think who could challenge Thor would be another god or someone with similar strength.”

Sif leaned back a little. “When you sent me to look for the infinity stones, there were rumors I heard. Whispers of gods being killed, butchered horribly. I had always attributed such acts to Thanos since such rumors went quiet after his fall. After Thor’s death.”

“You never thought to mention this?” Loki asked, irritated. Sif narrowed her eyes at him.

“I submitted a report to you and your brother shortly after my appointment to the security council. Do not blame me for your unwillingness to read such documents,” she replied coolly.

Loki rolled his eyes. “I shall ask Thor about it.”

Sif watched him as he paced around a little more, rocking back in the computer chair. A thought came to her, something that had happened many years ago.

“There was an attempt made on Thor’s life some time ago, was there not? When he was but a young man?”

Loki nodded. “A man got into the palace and nearly slit my brother’s throat. The only reason Thor survived was because my mother heard the struggle and intervened.”

The dark-haired god paused and his eyes widened significantly. “The assassin…he wore a serpent’s mask.”

“Perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place,” Sif suggested. “Midgard has always been under Asgard’s protection, but not everyone on this planet appreciated such an arrangement. There were some who left Asgard because they didn’t agree with the actions of the royal family. We know some journeyed to Midgard.”

Loki nodded in agreement. “Unfortunately, that means I’m back at square one. Such exoduses occurred ages ago and the family names were long forgotten by the time Thor and I were around.”

“Speak with Brunnhilde, she might know more than either of us. Such exoduses would have occurred during the time of the Valkyrie. I shall speak with Maria and Heimdall. We will muster a force and bring aid,” Sif offered. Loki tilted his chin up and clasped his hands behind his back.

“I do not know whether you will arrive in time, but I appreciate it nonetheless,” Loki said. “I should be getting back. Be wary, Sif, and move quickly.”

Sif nodded and Loki’s illusion shimmered as it disappeared. Maria stepped out of the bathroom, her hair still damp. Her expression was concerned.

“Trouble?” Maria asked, leaning against the doorframe. Sif nodded.

“There is much to explain,” Sif told her, moving to exit the study. “The Odinsons are in danger and they likely will need our aid.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” Maria said, pushing off the doorway. “I’ll make some calls.”

_*_

Late at night, Loki sat with Thor in their room. He was carefully unwinding the bandages around Thor’s arm. Thor had started doing it himself but Loki couldn’t stand watching him fumble around and make a mess. His brother had always been terrible when it came to bandaging wounds.

“Banner said the wound is healing well,” Thor mentioned as he watched his brother. Loki nodded.

“With your natural Aesir healing, I’m certain this will be fully healed by tomorrow night. The night after at the latest,” Loki replied as he continued unwinding the bandages. The dark-haired god unwound the last layer and tossed the used bandages into a biohazard container Bruce had lent them. Carefully twisting Thor’s arm so his palm was up, Loki examined the ugly wound. He gently ran a finger down the rough scar.

“Thor,” Loki began softly. He paused, unsure what to say.

“What is it, brother?” Thor asked as he reached for the jar of ointment that Banner had procured from the local pharmacy. It would help prevent visible scarring and it would stave off infection. Thor winced when he tried to unscrew the top of the container. Loki let out a huff of frustration and took the jar from his brother.

“I want you to listen to me,” Loki stated firmly. “I know you were disturbed by whatever you saw in your nightmare about what happened with Thanos after my fall, but you mustn’t let it distract you or make you act irrationally. What happened in the past cannot be undone and it was not your fault. Do you understand me? What happened with Thanos, what I endured, it was not your fault. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it and I do not blame you for what happened.”

Thor swallowed and looked away. “I know.”

“Do you?” Loki asked, nodding to the wound in Thor’s arm. “I could have lost you, brother. You could have easily bled out before anyone reached you.”

“Loki, I cannot stand by when you are in pain or when you need help,” Thor protested. “You were frightened, hurt—”

Loki kept his eyes on the jar he held. “Do you not think losing you would cause me pain?”

Thor went quiet and Loki could feel his brother staring at him. He started to unscrew the lid.

“You’re so determined to protect me from harm, yet you do not stop to consider that losing the only family I have left would cause me more pain than perhaps anything else,” Loki muttered as he kept his eyes on the jar he held. For a short while, they sat in silence. Then Loki felt his brother’s warm hand rest on the back of his neck and the trickster looked up at his brother. Thor smiled softly.

“I shall try to be more careful,” he promised. Loki smiled slightly and shook his head.

“We’ll see how long you hold to that,” he replied.

Loki put the lid of the jar off to the side. He studied the appallingly colored substance in the plastic jar. Loki leaned forward and massaged his brow, feeling the beginning of a headache building behind his eyes.

“Loki, are you all right?”

He could hear the concern in Thor’s voice and sighed, clenching his eyes shut and shaking his head as he willed the headache to dissipate.

“I’m fine,” Loki replied as he dipped his fingers in the revolting ointment. He made a face at the greasy oily feeling of the substance and shuddered. Midgardian medicine was so unpleasant.

“Brother, I can do this if you wish to go to sleep,” Thor offered as he held out his arm. Loki shook his head and gently applied the ointment to the wound. It was definitely healing well.

“Sif mentioned a report about gods being killed, some rumors she heard during her search for the infinity stones,” Loki mentioned, deciding to change the subject.

“Sif? I thought the telephones were still down,” Thor said and Loki gave him a look, which made the god of thunder chuckle. “Ah, you sent an illusion.”

“The report?” Loki asked and Thor scratched his chin.

“I remember it, vaguely. It happened when Thanos was searching for the infinity stones. I believe around fifty gods were killed in the span of two or three years,” Thor told him. “Almost all of them had some connection to the infinity stone, either it was in a realm they had dominion over or they had come across one or were suspected to have come across one at some point. Sif attributed their deaths to the mad titan and one could see the logic in such a conclusion.”

Loki screwed the lid back onto the jar of ointment. “Is that skepticism I hear, brother? Do you not agree with such a conclusion?”

Thor shrugged. “It’s very possible that Thanos killed numerous gods, but the evidence was all circumstantial. As much as I would love to attribute all the ills in the universe to the titan, I know it would be foolish to do so. There were many villains before Thanos and there are still many out there.”

Thor paused and looked to Loki, who was pulling a roll of bandaging out of the small case Banner had provided them for the night.

“Loki?” he waited until his brother looked at him. “I know you do not like to revisit that time and I try not to ask it of you, but do you remember if Thanos had a vendetta against the gods? If he killed any of them?”

“Other than me?” Loki teased with a wicked smirk. Thor glared at him.

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s a little funny.”

Thor didn’t appear amused and Loki snickered as he unrolled the bandages. “As I’ve told you before, Thor, Thanos wasn’t in the habit of sharing his plans or actions with underlings. However, it would not surprise me if he targeted gods at some point or other.”

Thor shook his head. “But he never used poison.”

“Pardon?”

Thor was quiet for a moment, thinking. “Sif’s report mentioned the few bodies that were found all showed signs of some kind of poison or venom. I only ever witnessed or experienced Thanos use brute strength or the gauntlet. When he…during the battle, he only used brute force on those of us fighting him.”

Loki glanced up at his brother briefly. He remembered coming upon the aftermath of the mad titan and could vividly recall how broken Thor’s body had been. Every bone in his brother’s body had been damaged: cracked, broken, or shattered. Loki had never seen anyone in such a state, certainly not Thor. He still wasn’t sure how his brother still drew breath by the time Loki found him. Thor was right: Thanos never used poison, much preferring to kill his enemies with his own hands.

Loki glanced up to the vents when something creaked in the walls. He sighed and turned his attention back to his brother’s arm, suddenly feeling very tired. Running the back of his hand over his brow, Loki carefully started bandaging the wound.

“Are you sure you’re all right, brother?” Thor asked and Loki nodded.

“It’s just a headache,” he muttered. “It’s likely due to the mold that undoubtedly infests these walls.”

“We’ve been able to clean most of the mold. It shouldn’t be bothering you this much,” Thor mentioned, watching as Loki finished wrapping his arm. Leaning back, Loki admired his handiwork. He had always been rather good at bandaging wounds.

“Is it too tight?” Loki asked, looking up to Thor. The god of thunder smiled and shook his head.

“No, brother. It’s perfectly comfortable,” Thor said, looking to him. “Thank you.”

Loki dipped his chin to his chest. He moved to stand when the light in the room suddenly seemed to increase in intensity, becoming an uncomfortably bright glare. Loki gasped, closing his eyes and putting a hand over them. He could faintly hear Thor call his name and felt his brother rest his hand on his shoulder. Thor was asking him something, but Loki couldn’t respond. The pain in his head was too great.

He was barely aware of Thor helping him to his feet and leading him over to the large bed they shared. The god of thunder helped him into bed and pulled the covers up. Loki opened his eyes partway and watched as Thor switched off the lantern on the bedside table before moving around to his side of the bed and repeating the action. The room was now cloaked in comfortable shadows and Loki allowed himself to relax a little.

Thor’s soft footsteps approached his side of the bed again and the shadowy form of his brother carefully sat on the edge of the mattress. Loki felt a warm hand rest on his shoulder.

“Loki, do you want me to rouse Banner?” Thor asked in a soft, muted voice. Loki smiled and shook his head.

“I just need to sleep,” he murmured around a yawn, closing his eyes again and sticking his hands under the pillow. “I shall be fine come morning.”

He heard Thor sigh softly, obviously wanting the doctor to see to Loki. He never could stand seeing his brother in any sort of discomfort.

“Very well, but if it gets worse, you must let me know and allow Banner to see to you,” Thor agreed reluctantly. Loki nodded, already half asleep. He felt Thor gently kiss his temple before rising and moving around the bed to his side. The god of thunder climbed under the covers.

“Goodnight, Thor,” Loki said softly.

“Goodnight, Loki,” Thor replied.

_*_

He was running through a cold dark cave, shouting for his brother. Thor was in danger. He needed Loki’s help.

No matter how fast he ran, Loki didn’t seem to move. He continued arriving at the same dead-end. He was starting to become frantic, hearing the sound of blades clashing somewhere nearby.

“Thor?” he yelled out. His voice echoed around his empty surroundings. Twisting around, he heard steel striking steel. Taking a deep breath, Loki dashed toward the sound, his heart pounding in his ears. He saw a flicker of firelight up ahead and ran toward it.

He reached another area of the cave and spotted his brother, wavering on his feet. “Oh no,” Loki thought as he ran forward, reaching Thor just in time to catch him as he fell back.

“No, no, no,” Loki breathed as he carefully lowered Thor to the ground, holding him tightly in his arms. He searched for a wound. The scars from the infinity stones were bleeding heavily, but there were also strange lines of gray and yellow. “Venom,” Loki realized. Looking up, he noticed the shadows were moving strangely. No, they weren’t shadows. They were…creatures of some kind.

Looking back to his brother, Loki noticed what looked like a snake bite on his brother’s neck. The flesh around it already looked necrotic. Thor opened his mouth, but his face contorted into an expression of agony and he let out a soft cry.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” Loki told him, smiling gently. “I’m here now. I’m here, Thor. You’re going to be all right.”

Thor smiled shakily, grasping Loki’s wrist. Before Loki had a chance to attempt healing him, he saw the life drain from his brother’s eye as it remained fixed on him. Thor’s grip loosened and his arm fell limply to his side.

“Thor? Thor!?”

Loki shook his brother but Thor didn’t respond. Tears burned in his eyes as Loki continued trying to wake his brother. After a few moments, Loki dropped his head to his brother’s brow, weeping.

The ominous sound of ticking filled the empty cavern, almost mocking him. The ticking soon drowned out all other sounds, pounding through Loki’s head.

**

Loki awoke with a gasp and groaned, putting a hand to his head. His skull was throbbing and his limbs felt heavy. He could barely keep his eyes open and the heaviness of sleep was still weighing on him. But something was wrong. Movement was difficult.

Loki turned onto his side and saw his brother sleeping peacefully. Thor looked pale, almost chalky. Reaching forward, Loki rested a hand on his chest, letting out a sigh of relief when he felt his brother’s strong steady heartbeat. Seeing something out of the corner of his eye, Loki looked up to the vent. His eyes widened when he saw a mist pouring out from the grates.

Turning his eyes to the door, he could hear heavy thudding footsteps on the staircase. Thump, thump, thump. The hairs on the back of Loki’s neck stood on end and alarms started going off in his mind. Trying to rise, Loki found he didn’t have the strength to get up. The heavy footsteps were continuing up the stairs and Loki was starting to feel incredibly drowsy. He wouldn’t be able to remain awake for much longer.

Thor, he had to protect Thor. His brother was in danger.

Loki inched closer to the god of thunder and placed a hand on his chest, reaching deep within himself. He was going to attempt something he never had before, something he hoped would work. Wracking his mind, Loki thought back to a spell he had memorized a very long time ago. He used to use it on Thor’s things, teleporting objects to different places. It annoyed Thor to no end, but Loki found it absolutely hilarious.

Swallowing and gathering whatever remained of his strength, Loki started whispering the ancient words. He could hear the heavy thudding steps coming down the hallway, getting closer and closer. Loki ignored it as he focused on his spell. Thor started to glow. A key was put into the lock, the lock was twisted open, and the doorknob turned.

Thor vanished in a flash of light and Loki passed out, right as the door to their room slowly swung open.

Chapter Text

The sound of children giggling gleefully and running about woke him up. Thor groaned at the crick in his neck, raising a hand to grasp the aching muscle. He opened his eye, blinking a couple times. Frowning, Thor looked around at the various shelves surrounding him. They were mostly filled with blankets and the air was musty, which made him cough. Straightening up, Thor grabbed ahold of the doorknob and twisted it. It was stuck. Putting his shoulder against the door, the god of thunder tried again. It took him a few tries, but he managed to force the door open.

Thor found himself standing in an empty hall, one of the few they hadn’t had a chance to start renovating yet. Cobwebs hung on the walls and in the corners. There were a number of armless statues lining the walls, most covered in grime. Thor shivered when a cold breeze swept through the empty space, howling softly in the emptiness. Only Loki had wandered through this space, looking for a quiet nook to read in.

The god of thunder wasn’t sure how he ended up in this empty hall, which made him quite uneasy. Steeling his nerve, Thor started moving down the hallway, toward the main part of the mansion. His eyes and ears were sharp for any sort of danger.

Striding out into the main hall, Thor turned sharply when he heard footsteps to the side. Bucky jumped when the god of thunder turned to face him, raising his hands.

“Hey, whoa, it’s just me,” the former Winter Soldier said, glancing around at the quiet space before looking back to Thor. “Did you wake up somewhere other than where you fell asleep too?”

“Indeed,” Thor answered with a nod. “I was in one of the closets, down that hallway.”

“Yeah, I was in one of the rooms we haven’t been in. One with a peeling orange door,” Bucky replied. Thor frowned as he looked down at the floor, noticing muddy footprints all over the tile. Bucky seemed to notice the same thing as he looked behind him.

“Seems someone was busy last night,” he mentioned. Thor’s eye widened. There hadn’t been any footprints near the closet where he’d woken up.

“Loki,” he whispered, glancing over to Bucky. “Let’s find the others.”

“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Bucky replied as he followed the tall god of thunder. They dashed up to where the rooms were, unsurprised to find all the doors opened. Thor ran to the room he’d been sharing with his brother only to find it empty. There were footprints all over the ground, which filled his heart with fear.

After searching the rooms on the second floor, Bucky and Thor went down to the first floor again. They found Steve and Tony asleep in a room that could serve as a ballroom. The men were asleep on opposite ends of the room. Bucky immediately went to Steve while Thor went to Tony, shaking his friend. Tony grumbled and rolled onto his side, his face creasing in a frown.

“Why am I feeling hardwood?” Stark wondered aloud, looking over his shoulder and squinting at Thor. “What the hell? How much did I drink last night?”

“I do not believe excess drink is to blame for this,” Thor mentioned, looking around. He desperately wanted to find his brother. The thought that something could have happened to Loki while he was sleeping was worrying.

“God, my head is pounding,” Steve muttered as he slowly sat up, tightly gripping the side of his head. His face scrunched up in pain and he blinked a few times, as though clearing his vision. Thor looked over to the towering windows, observing the thick fog. It still obscured everything outside and it seemed to be getting thicker.

A soft whirring drew their attention over to the doorway as the small round vacuum glided into the room.

“Good morning, friends,” it said in its chipper voice as it glided through the long room and disappeared around a corner.

“Okay, we better find the others,” Tony mentioned as Thor helped him to his feet. All of them looked to the side when the intercom crackled.

“Hey, is anyone there?” Parker’s voice came through the static. “Uh, I could use a hand.”

Tony went over to the intercom and pressed the button. “Whereabouts are you, kid?”

“The basement, I think? I don’t know. It’s really murky and there are some old looking barrels,” Peter mentioned. “It’s super creepy.”

“Barrels?” Tony frowned. “I don’t remember there being any barrels. I thought we went through every square inch of that basement.”

A loud crashing sound above them made all four of them jump. Tony swallowed and looked to the others.

“So who wants to investigate the creepy noise and who wants to go with me to retrieve Parker?” he asked, wincing when he heard another bang.

“I must go find my brother,” Thor told him. Tony nodded in understanding and looked over to the two other men.

“I’ll go with you to find the kid, Tony,” Steve offered.

“I can check out the sound,” Bucky added.

“Good, now that that’s all sorted,” Tony said, gesturing for the door. They stepped out into the hall, right as Natasha Romanoff was descending the enormous steps with Clint a short way behind her.

“Hey, Nat,” Steve said. “That crashing sound wasn’t you by any chance, was it?”

Natasha nodded. “Woke up in the attic, had a hell of a time getting the door to descend. I had to stomp on it and it slammed on the floor.”

She nodded over her shoulder at Clint. “He woke up on the roof of the place, shimmied down to a balcony and couldn’t get the window open. We had to be a little forceful with it.”

“One mystery solved,” Tony commented. “We’ve still got a few missing so if you—”

They all looked behind them when they heard a strong knock on the front door. For a moment, none of them moved, unsure what to do.

“Might be the others,” Steve suggested.

“Or it could be whatever is behind us waking up in weird locations,” Tony argued. He stiffened when the same strong knocking echoed throughout the mansion again. Natasha reached for a gun, only to find the holster empty.

Taking a deep breath, Thor moved toward the front door, ignoring the inventor’s protests. His hand shook slightly as he reached for the door handle.

“Oi! Is anyone home?” the Valkyrie’s strong voice was muffled behind the heavy door. Thor smiled in relief and quickly opened the door. Brunnhilde stood there with Ayo and Rhodey. They looked uneasy but unharmed.

“Bout time you opened the damn door,” Brunnhilde groused as she stepped inside. “We woke up in the hall of mirrors and then had to navigate this damn fog to get back here. I thought for sure we’d wind up miles away. Thankfully, my girlfriend has an impeccable sense of direction.”

Ayo and Rhodey followed her inside.

“So, anyone know what the hell is going on?” Rhodey asked. “Because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep in my bed in my room last night. I know for damn sure I didn’t fall asleep in a mirror maze.”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Tony told him. “But right now, we gotta find Parker.”

“Is Loki with you?” Thor asked. Brunnhilde shook her head. The god of thunder could feel his anxiety climbing.

“I thought he’d be with you. I haven’t seen him since last night,” Brunnhilde said.

Thor looked out into the thick fog, dread gathering in his heart. Where was his brother?

_*_

Loki grimaced as he started waking up. He felt damp and a little cold. He was lying on a strange surface and could feel a number of smooth stones underneath him. His eyes fluttered and Loki allowed them to open, furrowing his brow. He was surrounded by greenery, hedges of some kind. He felt sluggish and his memories of the previous night were frustratingly out of reach. How had he ended up here?

Pushing himself into a seated position, Loki took a moment to observe his surroundings. Thick fog coated everything, making it impossible to get a complete picture of where he was exactly. The stone path and hedges told him he was in the hedge maze. The fog rippled to his left, startling Loki. He swallowed his nervousness and cautiously rose to his feet, doing a mental check as he did. He felt…odd, off somehow. Loki took a deep breath, steeling his nerve, and started forward, intending to find his way out of the maze.

Soon finding himself at a crossroads, Loki paused and tried to figure out which path to take. Soft shuffling steps behind him made Loki whip around, slicing his hands down to summon his daggers. No daggers appeared. Loki frowned and tried again, only to get the same result. He looked up when he heard the steps getting closer and got into a ready position, preparing to fight whatever enemy might appear.

Wanda appeared around a corner and gasped when she saw Loki, instinctively raising her hands to summon her own magic. No red mist or lighting appeared around her hands and she slowly lowered them, staring in shock.

“Unable to access your magic?” Loki inquired and she looked back to him.

“I-I don’t understand,” she said, shaking her hands and holding them in front of her.

“I fear I’m experiencing similar difficulties,” Loki told her, glancing around. They were surrounded by fog and he couldn’t see the mansion. Moving forward, Loki looked the young woman up and down, walking slowly around her.

“What are you doing?” Wanda asked, turning with him. He put a hand on her shoulder, signaling her to remain facing forward. Carefully brushing her hair away from her neck, Loki made an “hmm” noise.

“Loki?”

“No sign of a parasite, but there is a small mark on the back of your neck,” Loki told her. “And I would imagine there’s one on me too. It might have some connection to our missing powers, but I cannot say for certain.”

They both looked up when they heard more footsteps and saw something move in the mist ahead of them. Exchanging a look, they started backing up.

“Hello? Is anyone out here?”

Loki frowned. “Bruce?”

“Loki?”

“Yes. Do you know if you’re nearby?” Loki called out, looking around. The man hiding the monster was close, judging from the clarity of his voice.

“Uh, not really sure,” Bruce’s voice came from behind them. “Maybe?”

“Shake the hedges around you,” Wanda suggested. The hedge behind them suddenly shook and Wanda quickly ran over to it, disappearing around the corner. Loki remained where he was, looking around. In the distance, he heard a fearsome scream. The trickster shivered, recognizing the sound. It was a sound he’d hoped he would never hear again.

Glancing over his shoulder, he watched as Wanda approached with Bruce following behind her. He looked about disheveled as Loki had ever seen him. Bruce shivered and Wanda removed the shawl from her shoulders, draping it over his shoulders. They both looked to Loki, who glanced behind him.

“I suppose we should try returning to the mansion,” he said, nodding ahead. “This way.”

“I feel kind of funny,” Bruce mentioned, wringing his hands. Loki glanced back at him, raising an eyebrow.

“How so?”

“I can’t really put it into words,” Bruce admitted. “I just feel…weird.”

They paused when they heard a strange sound somewhere nearby: the sound of a blade dragging against small stones. It stopped when they did. Loki swallowed, suddenly very aware of how unarmed he was. He was formidable at hand-to-hand combat, but fighting weaponless against someone with a weapon could get dicey.

“Come on,” Loki urged them, starting forward again. The minute they started walking again, they heard the sound again. Whatever it was, it sounded quicker. Out of the corner of his eye, Loki saw a shadowy form prowling along the top of the hedges, following them. When he turned to look at it, it had vanished.

“Uh, Loki? Do you know where you’re going?” Bruce asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” Loki lied, turning another corner and gritting his teeth when he saw a dead end. He doubled back and led them deeper into the maze. Loki could feel someone, or something, watching their every move.

It felt like it took hours, but they finally emerged from the hedge maze. Bruce and Wanda twisted when they heard the hedges rustling.

“There’s something in there,” Bruce stated the obvious and Loki rolled his eyes.

“Then I would suggest we make for safer surroundings,” he replied, striding forward. He wasn’t entirely sure they were heading in the right direction, but he knew remaining where they were was a terrible idea. The other two followed behind him as they moved deeper into the thick fog.

Chapter Text

“So, all our weapons are gone,” Brunnhilde reported. She looked to the side when Tony emerged from the hallway with Peter beside him. Thor was standing at the front door, anxious to go out and find his brother. The only reason why he hadn’t run out into the fog was the Valkyrie reminded him how stupid an idea that was. He would do no one any good if he got himself killed.

“You know, just when I think this situation can’t get any worse,” Clint muttered.

“Hey, can we have a single vacation where no one tries to kill us?” Tony asked, irritation clear in his voice. Natasha, who was draped across the stairs, smirked.

“We can deal with the missing weapons later,” Thor said. “First we need to find the other members of our group.”

As if on cue, there was a rapid knocking on the door. Ignoring Brunnhilde telling him to wait, Thor moved over to the towering doors and pulled one open.

Wanda and Bruce stood there, looking nervous. Loki was just behind them and he was looking off into the fog. Thor opened the door wider to allow his friends access and grabbed his brother, pulling Loki into a fierce embrace. The trickster let out a yelp of surprise, but then sighed in resignation, patting his brother’s back.

“I’m all right, Thor,” he reassured him. “I’ve woken up in far worse places.”

Thor laughed softly and stepped out of the hug, allowing Loki to enter the mansion and closing the enormous door behind him.

“Where did the three of you wake up?” Tony asked.

“The hedge maze,” Bruce replied. Loki glanced at Thor, who moved to stand beside him.

“Where did you awaken?” he asked his brother.

“A closet in one of the wings we haven’t fully restored yet,” Thor answered, studying Loki. “Did you…was that you?”

Loki nodded. “In the middle of the night, I noticed a suspicious mist coming through the grates. It was some kind of anesthetic and I heard someone coming down the hall.”

“Why didn’t you teleport?”

“I only had enough energy for one of us,” Loki replied as though it were the most obvious thing in the universe. Thor narrowed his eyes at his brother, frustration rising in his chest.

“Don’t look at me like that, Thor,” Loki said, focused on the conversation happening in front of them. “If the positions were reversed, you would have done the exact same.”

“That’s different!”

“How exactly?” Loki asked, turning his attention to his brother. “Please explain how it’s different. I’m really quite interested to know.”

Thor opened his mouth to respond and then closed it again. Loki turned his attention back to the discussion, crossing his arms over his chest. Thor clenched his fists at his side, grinding his teeth. His brother was simply infuriating at times. Slowly letting out his breath, Thor turned his attention to the conversation.

“I do not wish to lose you again, Loki. I cannot,” Thor muttered under his breath and Loki glanced over at him. An expression of hurt briefly flashed across his expression.

“Do you think I can?” Loki replied simply. Thor looked back to him, but Loki moved away, disappearing into another hall. Thor sighed and turned his attention back to his friends, moving closer to take part in the conversation.

_*_

A few hours later, the house was alive with activity. The former Avengers were going through the enormous mansion, hoping to get a better idea of what they had and what they didn’t have. They were also checking for what needed to be fortified in the event things became dicey, more so than it already was.

Loki sat in the dining room, a chessboard set up in front of him. He was playing against himself while listening to all the activity. Moving a piece on the board, he heard Rogers report that the phone lines were down, but the internet appeared to be working. Or wait, no scratch that. Loki moved another piece and rubbed his upper lip.

“Not one for work, huh?”

Loki glanced up at Rhodey’s easy drawl. The man was standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets. His dark eyes studied Loki, as if trying to get a feel for him. The dark-haired god turned his attention back to the board.

“Responsibility and heroics is more my brother’s specialty,” Loki replied smoothly. He moved another piece and knocked down the white king. Checkmate.

“So I’ve been told,” Rhodey said. Loki looked at him, curious about the man. He didn’t know much about Stark’s friend. He had occasionally seen him when Thor was on a conference call with a group of people who suffered from a similar ailment to him: PTSD as the Midgardians termed it.

“Do you play, Mr. Rhodes?” Loki asked, gesturing at the board. Rhodey grinned and moved into the room, sitting across from Loki.

“Actually, quite a bit. I won a few tournaments in high school,” Rhodey told him. “I tried to teach Tony ages ago, but he could never sit still long enough.”

“Shocking,” Loki muttered dryly as they set up the board. “I’m rather curious about why you’re so at ease with me here. You’re Stark’s friend and last time I checked, he didn’t exactly hold me in high regard.”

Rhodey smiled. “Tony hated you for a while and I won’t lie, I did too. Your attack on New York killed a lot of good people, innocent people. And you did toss Tony out a window, which I know he really didn’t appreciate.”

Loki watched as Rhodey moved a pawn out. Loki did the same.

“He moved onto indifference toward you during the war against Thanos and then afterwards. Hearing the stories Thor told about you and what had happened…I don’t know, we kind of moved on, for Thor’s sake. We felt bad for the guy. He’s our ally and our friend and you saved his life at the cost of your own.”

“For all the good it did,” Loki muttered, watching Rhodey’s next move. “So it’s indifference you feel? Hmm, I will admit that’s rather unexpected. I would expect a military man to be more rigid and unyielding, like your General Ross.”

Former military,” Rhodey corrected, watching Loki as he moved another piece. “And you didn’t let me finish.”

Loki looked to him expectantly. Rhodey sighed and sat back, interlacing his fingers.

“PTSD, it’s a tough thing to live with. It’s a struggle every day, even the good ones. It’s hard on the person living with it and it’s hard on their loved ones,” Rhodey paused. “I know Thor went through some really rough days. And I know you were right there constantly. You didn’t run, you didn’t leave, you stayed at your brother’s side. I think that’s how Thor managed to adjust so well. I’ll admit, I didn’t think you had it in you, but thankfully, you proved me wrong.”

Rhodey paused and looked over his shoulder when he heard someone in the kitchen. Loki was tempted to cheat, but instead sat back. Turning back to the game, Rhodey studied the board for a moment.

“I’ve seen the way you two are with one another,” he mentioned, cautiously reaching out as he considered his move. “Both of you survived the impossible and went on to create a sustainable life for your people. The two of you work well together. Thor mentioned you balance each other out and I understand that.”

Moving his piece, Rhodey sat back. “I know you’re worried about losing your brother, Loki. You’ve been fidgeting for the past few days, ever since you requested we ask the townspeople about the Midgardian serpent. Based on your history, you tend to act recklessly when it comes to assuring your brother’s safety.”

Loki swallowed and looked to the board, interlacing his fingers in front of him as he studied all his possible moves. He could see Rhodey lean forward.

“Look, I know you’re the god of chaos and mischief, but if you could maybe try to not act impulsively this time. I don’t think Thor would survive losing you again.”

“He would be fine,” Loki muttered, his attention on the board. “My brother is resilient. Annoyingly so.”

Rhodey was quiet for a moment and Loki decided on a move, moving his bishop into place.

“Maybe, but all of us couldn’t handle seeing him so despondent again,” Rhodey countered. “And no matter how much you object, I don’t think you want to harm your brother.”

Loki glanced up at him, somewhat surprised at his intuitiveness. His brother’s friends could be infuriatingly perceptive at times. Both men glanced to the door when Thor entered the room, holding a plate of steaming food. Rhodey pushed his chair back and stood up.

“I take it lunch is ready?” he asked and Thor nodded, smiling in his normal bright and sunny way. “Well, I’m going to grab some grub and then make sure Tony eats. God knows that’s a job in and of itself.”

“I believe Stark is on the second floor, reinforcing some windows,” Thor offered. Rhodey gave him an appreciative wave as he left the room. Loki moved to get up but Thor gestured for him to remain.

“No, you need to eat something,” Thor told him as he put the plate of food in front of the trickster. Loki peered at the plate, which did look and smell delicious. He was hungry, but he also loathed being ordered about.

“I shall eat when I return,” he promised Thor with his usual charming grin. “I merely wish to stretch my legs.”

“You can wander after you’ve eaten,” Thor replied firmly. “Don’t make me get Brunnhilde, Loki. She will be displeased with both of us.”

Loki rolled his eyes and sat back in his seat, begrudgingly picking up the knife and cutting the large sandwich in half. It was filled with grilled vegetables and some sort of large mushroom. He normally refused to eat with his hands, which was so lowly and barbaric, but with limited resources, he imagined he was going to have to eat a lot of sandwiches in the near future.

“How dire is our situation?” Loki asked. Thor watched him eat, rubbing his palms together slowly.

“Most of the weapons have been taken. Natasha and Clint managed to hide a few, but they have limited bullets and arrows,” Thor began, pausing briefly. “Wanda cannot access her abilities and Banner cannot hear the Hulk. What about your own abilities?”

The trickster cleared his throat, picking at the food on his plate a little more. “I cannot seem to access most aspects of my magic: illusions, glamors, healing, my seidr. However, my Jotun abilities and certain ones related to them seem to be untouched. Those I can still access.”

To punctuate his words, Loki briefly allowed his Aesir appearance to be replaced with his Jotun visage. Thor reached forward and grabbed some crisps off Loki’s plate, popping them into his mouth.

“What about your lightning?” Loki asked. Thor held up a hand and lightning traveled down it, crackling between his fingers. The dark-haired god smirked and turned his attention back to his food. He knew he’d made the right decision, teleporting Thor away from danger.

“Are you all right, brother?” Thor asked, concern clear in his voice. Loki glanced at him.

“Of course, I am. Why do you ask?” he responded and Thor reached forward, plucking more crisps off the plate.

“I worried that you might be uneasy without your abilities,” Thor confessed and Loki chuckled.

“It’s not a permanent state. It’s merely a temporary inconvenience. I am more than capable of defending myself without them,” he responded, smacking Thor’s hand away from his plate. “If you’re hungry, make yourself a plate. You always pick at mine and it’s infuriating.”

“You always peck at your food like a damn bird. That’s infuriating,” Thor replied, glancing over at the chessboard. “That’s similar to one of the strategy games we had in Asgard, is it not?”

Loki nodded, picking at his food. “It is, much more simplistic though. Which isn’t overly surprising considering—”

Thor moved a piece, taking one of Loki’s off the board. “Check.”

Loki stared open-mouthed and wide-eyed, not believing his eyes. His brother, while decent at many games, didn’t excel at strategic ones. He would play with Loki on occasion and the trickster always easily won. When they were much younger, Loki had offered to teach him how to play such games more effectively and Thor always brushed him off. Such games were unimportant and dull in his opinion.

“How…?” Loki said, unable to finish the question. Thor smiled and sat back.

“When I was recovering in Wakanda, I would often play games with Captain Rogers, Bucky, and occasionally with Shuri,” Thor replied, scratching his chin. “I requested the captain teach me the game of chess.”

“Were you really that bored?” Loki teased, examining the board and ignoring Thor picking at his crisps again. Thor was silent for a moment, studying the chess pieces.

“The game reminded me of you,” Thor admitted quietly. “I missed you and playing this game made the ache of loneliness more bearable.”

The dark-haired god stared at him, unsure how to respond. He didn’t often think about Thor’s time after his life was restored. Thor had told him very little about that period and Loki never pried. But knowing Thor still thought of him when he was recovering, it filled Loki with that unusual warmth he was still unaccustomed to.

Seeing an opening, Loki smirked and moved his piece. “Checkmate.”

Thor laughed. “Well played, brother.”

Loki grinned triumphantly as he sat back. “If you like, we can play another game when I come back from my walk.”

“I’d like that very much,” Thor replied. “Enjoy your walk, Loki. Please be careful in the fog.”

Loki nodded once and pushed his chair back, rising to his feet and striding out of the dining room. He could hear the others rustling around in the kitchen, speaking loudly. Loki took a sharp turn on his way to the front door, moving through one of the quieter halls. He stopped in front of a plain door, which he’d seen Natasha and Clint use a number of times. Pulling open the door, his eyes darted over the outdoor equipment as he searched for something in particular. When he spotted it, a smirk danced over his lips.

Reaching into the closet, Loki grabbed the tightly wound coil of rope and put it over his shoulder.

“Hello, Reindeer Games,” the chipper voice of the vacuum spoke behind him as it glided down the hallway.

“I really hate that thing,” Loki grumbled with a shake of his head. He stepped back and closed the door, turning to continue on his way, only to bump into Peter Parker.

“Oh hi, Mr. Loki,” Peter greeted cheerfully, frowning when he noticed the rope over Loki’s shoulder. “You going rock climbing or something?”

“Or something,” Loki replied evasively, stepping past the young man and continuing on his way. He rolled his eyes when he heard Parker’s quick steps following after him.

“You’re going to go out there? On your own?” Peter asked.

“Yes,” Loki replied, hoping that would be the end of it. It was not.

“But…that doesn’t seem safe,” Peter pointed out.

“Peter, I merely wish to get some fresh air,” Loki told him. “I don’t plan to wander very far. Besides, if there are villains out there…well, villains make interesting company.”

Peter continued walking alongside him. “You know, I could go for some fresh air right about now.”

Loki groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose briefly. “There is absolutely no way to convince you to remain here, is there?”

“Nope.”

“Very well,” Loki sighed as they continued to the front door. “Keep up, mortal.”

Peter increased his pace slightly, almost jogging in order to keep up with the long-legged god. Loki opened the heavy front door and the two of them stepped out into the fog.

Chapter Text

As Loki expected, the fog was everywhere but it seemed to be somewhat thinner in the forest, especially as they went deeper into it. As he and Peter walked down the path, the younger man was chattering about something or other. Loki tuned him out as he kept his attention in front of them. They had been walking for at least an hour and the scenery was much less familiar. The hairs on the back of Loki’s neck were starting to stand up and he paused briefly.

“Mr. Loki?”

“There is…some power within this forest,” Loki muttered, looking around them. “Somewhere off in that direction, but I can feel the pull of it everywhere.”

“I thought you lost your magic,” Peter said, obviously confused. Loki grinned faintly, his attention still fixed on their murky surroundings.

“I cannot access my own magic, but magic is as much a part of me as lightning is a part of my brother. It cannot be fully removed. I may not have access to my abilities, but I can still sense magic,” Loki explained, moving forward again. “Especially when it’s concentrated in a location such as this.”

“Oh. Neat. Wish my Spidersuit was like that,” Peter said, pausing and shivering. “Really wish I had my suit right now. This fog is creeping me out.”

“I’m sure we shall retrieve your belongings soon enough,” Loki told him, stopping suddenly. He was suddenly incredibly uneasy and felt as though they had just been spotted by…something. The trickster swallowed nervously and squinted as he tried to see through the thick fog. It rippled slightly, swaying in the eerie calm.

“Mr. Loki? Is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure,” Loki replied, pulling the knife he had borrowed from the closet. “Wait here. I’ll just be a moment. If you get into trouble, flash your light.”

“Uh, is separating a good idea?” Peter asked.

“Almost certainly not. But that’s why it’s fun,” Loki replied with a wolfish grin as he started moving deeper into the fog, following the strange pull. Twigs and leaves crunched under foot as Loki strode further away, his confidence never wavering. Glancing around, the trickster made note how the trees looked sicklier the deeper he traveled. The foliage and plants were almost all dead, brown and shriveled.

The fog soon swallowed up the trees, leaving Loki in a strange liminal space where all he could see was gray clouds. Tossing his dagger up and catching it again, Loki paused when he heard a soft laugh somewhere in the grayness. A ripple to his right made Loki twist in that direction.

“You are pathetic. Always pretending to be something you’re not, suppressing how powerful you really are. For what? Some wretched mortals? Your incompetent oaf of a brother?”

Loki whipped around and saw himself standing a few feet away, dressed in traditional Asgardian royal garb, though in much darker colors than was customary. His doppleganger smirked, chuckling as he stared at the dark-haired god.

“You think you can be a hero? Just like Thor? You cannot,” the doppleganger taunted. “You were so arrogant to believe you saved him, but you know the truth. You have done what you’ve always been destined to do: led Thor to his death.”

“I will never harm my brother,” Loki replied, looking the doppleganger up and down. “And your illusion is terrible. You’ve got my face all wrong.”

The doppleganger’s feral smirk grew so he was almost bearing his teeth. “You have brought him straight into the serpent’s maw, right to his fate. Just like the force of destruction you’ve always been.”

The doppleganger raised his hands, which were covered in blood. It slid down his arms and dripped to the ground. “The god of thunder’s blood is on your hands, Silvertongue. Your brother’s blood.”

Hearing a noise behind him, Loki spun around and slashed with his knife. Peter let out a cry and jumped back.

“Shit!” Loki yelled as he moved toward the boy and put his hand over the gash in his arm. Instinctively, he reached for his seidr and swore loudly when he remembered he didn’t have access to it.

“You stabbed me,” Peter stated, stunned.

“Oh don’t be dramatic. I slashed you,” Loki muttered, glancing over his shoulder as he looked for the doppleganger. It had vanished. “More a graze really. You’ll be fine. Have you any bandages or anything that could serve as one?”

Peter stared at him and then untied the shirt he had around his waist. Loki removed his hands from the wound and grabbed the shirt, tearing it into strips.

“Never liked that shirt anyway,” Peter said as he watched Loki work. The trickster quickly set about binding the younger man’s arm.

“You can properly bandage it once we get back to the mansion,” Loki told him as he turned his attention forward again. “The air is strange here.”

“There is kind of a funky smell,” Peter agreed, wincing as he rotated his arm. “I was coming to find you to ask if you knew what it was.”

“I do not,” Loki replied. “Come on. I can hear water up ahead.”

Peter frowned but followed the dark-haired god as he walked deeper into the forest. They soon found themselves on the shore of a large river. The fog was too thick to see the other side, but the water was oddly clear.

“Whoa, this must have been what the butcher was talking about,” Peter whispered. Loki made a noncommittal sound and moved over to a nearby tree. Quickly fastening one end of the long rope around the trunk, Loki tied a knot and tested it to make sure it would hold. When he was satisfied, he stripped down to his pants, hanging his clothes carefully over a branch. Pulling off his boots, he placed them near the tree.

“Uh, what are you doing?”

“I have a hunch,” Loki replied as he tied the other end of the rope around waist and fastened it. “I sensed something when I was investigating the fog and I saw something as well.”

Loki moved to the edge of the water, wading in so that it was up to his ankles. It was very cold, which was rather pleasant. Gathering his nerve, Loki moved further into the water, swimming further away from the shore until he was almost in the middle of the large river. He could feel the strong tug of a current, but disregarded it. Spinning around so that he was facing the shore, Loki started treading water.

“Parker, if I tug on the rope, you pull me back to shore,” he called back to the young man. “And if you should find yourself in any danger, yank on the rope and I shall return.”

Peter cupped his hands around his mouth. “Okay, Mr. Loki.”

Loki turned back to the dark water. “Here goes nothing.”

Taking a few deep breaths, Loki plunged underwater. The lack of sound was jarring and it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light. He could see plenty of aquatic plants, swaying eerily in the shadows. Swimming more towards the river bed, Loki was surprised at how deep it turned out to be. It was more like a sea.

Moving gracefully through the dark cold water, Loki looked around for anything out of the ordinary. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for, but he would know it when he found it.

A movement out of the corner of his eye drew Loki’s attention to that side. He could see an enormous shadowy form a few feet away. Suddenly very aware of how alone he was, Loki squinted as he tried to get a better idea of what the shape was. The top of it was slightly triangular and the rest was long and thin. Quit being a child. It’s likely just a rock, he thought as he cautiously swam closer to the shadowy form.

When he’d almost reached it, a light suddenly burst on, temporarily blinding him. When he was able to see clearly again, Loki found himself face-to-face with the largest serpent he’d ever encountered. A gaping maw of fangs was directly in front of his eyes and Loki swiftly pushed himself away, almost opening his mouth to scream. His heart was pounding and fear pulsed in his mind as he started swimming for the surface of the water.

Glancing behind him, Loki frowned when he noticed the serpent wasn’t moving. It wasn’t chasing after him and it remained oddly still on the river bed, just an enormous shadow. Continuing to the surface of the water, Loki took a few more deep breaths and considered swimming back to shore. He could no longer see it, but the rope was holding firm. Glancing back below him, Loki plunged back under the water, swimming toward the strange serpent.

When he reached it, the lights snapped on again. Loki cautiously approached and when he got closer, he realized the snake was carved from rock. The lifelike eyes were due to colored bits of glass, which decorated the whole serpent. Someone had spent a long time creating this creature and it was impressive to behold. Loki wondered why it wound up here.

Noticing something etched into the stone a few feet below the mouth, Loki swam a little closer and read the words. As it was foretold, so it shall be. I shall end the reign of terror brought by the gods. They and all those who follow them shall know my wrath, born of the injustices and cruelty they wrought. For I am Gorr, the God Butcher.

Loki frowned and went to swim closer. Shimmering forms were starting to swirl just under the engraving. As he watched, it started to take on the shapes of letters. Hello again, Loki. God of lies.

Loki suddenly felt a strong yank on the rope around his waist. Glancing at the enormous serpent once more, the dark-haired god begrudgingly turned and started swimming back for the surface of the water. As he burst through the surface, breathing in deeply, Loki looked toward the shore. He couldn’t see anything through the heavy fog so he started swimming back, following the rope around his waist.

When he reached the shore, Loki instantly knew something was off. For one thing, Parker was nowhere to be found. That wasn’t too concerning, considering Peter was similar to Tony in his inability to sit still for long periods of time. Loki expected him to wander a bit, maybe climb a tree near the shoreline.

“Parker?” Loki called out. “Parker, where are you?”

He paused when he looked down at the sand, noticing a bunch of footprints and drag marks. It was obvious there had been a struggle. He attempted to follow the prints, but they vanished once the sand became grass. Loki let out a huff of irritation.

“I most certainly will be blamed for this,” he grumbled.

_*_

Thor carefully turned a page in the heavy prophecy book, studying an illustration that seemed to depict the land the mansion had been built on. There were flames everywhere and an angry storm raged in the sky. It was a very strange illustration and Thor couldn’t get it out of his mind. He was tapping a pen against the page, thinking.

“You look grim.”

Thor smiled slightly and looked up to the doorway. Brunnhilde smiled back, striding into the enormous dining room.

“There’s still no sign of SHIELD and we can’t seem to get through to them anymore,” she reported as she sat across from the god of thunder. They both looked up when the lights flickered. “Power’s still questionable, which is infuriating Stark. Most of our weapons are gone. Natasha and Clint managed to store away a small arsenal, but their firearms have limited rounds. The blades are more useful, in my opinion.”

“I still have my lightning,” Thor mentioned, his gaze traveling briefly back to the heavy book. “We also have that.”

“Apparently Loki suggested stealing a boat,” Brunnhilde mentioned. “Can’t say I really see many flaws in that plan, if worse comes to worse.”

Thor chuckled. “It’s certainly not his worst plan. However, I will not steal from innocent people. And I will not leave this place if there are people in danger.”

The Valkyrie glanced at the book. “Worried about the prophecy, big guy?”

“No,” Thor replied. “I’ve survived so many evil bastards for so many years. Death does not frighten me. It has followed me throughout my journeys and one day it shall catch me. Until it does, I must protect the people of this planet.”

“Ever the noble hero,” Brunnhilde teased gently. “Why are you pouring over that book then?”

Thor furrowed his brow. “This place…I worry that I may have visited it in my younger years. There were a few times in my youth when I would go out drinking with the Warriors Three and we would often drink in excess. There were times when we couldn’t remember what we had done the previous night.”

“So?”

Thor rubbed his palms together. “Stark’s story about this place, about the orphanage and the fire, it concerned me greatly.”

They both jolted when they heard pounding on the front door, followed by frantic screams. Exchanging a look of concern, the two Asgardians rose to their feet and hurried out into the front hall. Tony, Steve, Bucky, Rhodey, and Bruce had already rushed out to see what the racket was.

“Help! Somebody please help me!”

“That’s Ms. Gray,” Tony said as he moved to the door, pulling it open. The woman fell into his arms, sobbing and clutching at him.

“Please, you have to help me! He took them! That madman took my family!” she wept.

“Whoa, slow down,” Tony said, glancing over at the others for help. “What happened? Who took who now?”

Steve moved forward and crouched down next to the distraught woman. “Ms. Gray, start from the beginning. We can help, but we need to know what’s wrong.”

Ms. Gray took a few shaky breaths, turning her tear-filled eyes to the man out of time. “I tried to tell you to leave, but you didn’t listen. There is a man here who means all of you harm. He’s going to kill all of you! He’ll raze this island to the ground in order to do so.”

“Ma’am, who is this man? What is he doing?”

“Gorr, his name is Gorr,” she told them. “And he has been amassing an army. There are monsters on this island, dwelling in the caves. And now they have my husband and daughter. You have to get them back! Please get them back!”

“Why does that name sound familiar?” Thor whispered to Brunnhilde, whose mouth was set in a thin line.

“If it’s the same Gorr I’m thinking of, he was one of the threats Odin ordered Heimdall and the Valkyries to keep an eye on,” Brunnhilde mentioned. “There were those who hated the Aesir and sought to wipe them out, thought you lot had too much power. They made an attempt on your life when you were a young man, from what I heard.”

Thor’s hand drifted up to his neck. He vaguely recalled an incident many years ago when an assassin had gotten into the palace. Only Frigga’s fortunate appearance had saved him, along with Loki. Thor had been in the healing wing of the castle for a month and could barely remember it. The most vivid memory he had was waking up and seeing Loki curled up beside him, tightly clutching his hand.

“Okay, do you know where they are? Do you know where this man might have taken them?” Steve was asking the distraught woman.

Ms. Gray nodded rapidly. “Yes, in the woods. There are caves just before the cliffs. That’s where Gorr and his followers live.”

Everyone looked back when they heard the kitchen door slam. Brunnhilde drew a fighting knife and Bucky pulled the small sidearm Clint had lent him.

A moment later, Loki appeared in the front hall. He was sopping wet and looked irritated.

“Oh, here all of you are,” he said. “I’ve lost Parker. One minute he was on the shore, the next he was gone.”

Thor dropped his face to his hand, listening as Stark yelled at his brother for being irresponsible. Loki responded with his usual sarcasm and indifference, which made the situation worse. Thor was beginning to understand, and sympathize, with Brunnhilde’s observation. It really was remarkable how much trouble he and Loki could find.

Chapter Text

An hour later, the whole group was out searching the woods for Peter while Wanda and Bruce stayed with Ms. Gray. They were working in pairs and searching specific areas according to maps Stark had provided. Thor was searching with his brother, who was being infuriatingly indifferent about the whole situation. He had told Loki about Ms. Gray’s situation and the trickster was intrigued at first, but also seemed a little bored.

“Barnes and Rogers believe Earth First started here,” Thor mentioned.

“It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest,” Loki replied. “She mentioned the name Gorr?”

Thor nodded. “She claims he’s the one controlling the island. If that’s the case, I would imagine he’s also the one who started Earth First. Brunnhilde told me Odin had the Valkyrie and Heimdall keep an eye on him. Apparently he has held a grudge against the gods for a long while.”

“Sounds like a rather unpleasant individual,” Loki muttered, looking around. He stopped suddenly, his brow furrowing. “Gods, that name…it’s familiar.”

“We might have heard it around,” Thor suggested. “If Odin was concerned about him—”

“Oh no,” Loki muttered, massaging his brow. “Why didn’t I think of it before? The damn mysterious deaths of the gods Sif mentioned, Norns. I should have figured it out sooner.”

“Brother?”

Loki looked up at him and then started forward again. “When I was in Thanos’ employ, he had me approach a few…unsavory individuals, hoping to entice them into joining the Black Order. These individuals were people he would never approach himself, hence his sending disposable followers. He sent me to speak with a creature that I’d never encountered before. He looked like a man yet he wasn’t, not entirely. I only just recalled now that his name was Gorr and he was supposedly as powerful as a god.”

Thor frowned. “Normally your memory isn’t faulty.”

Loki paused and turned to face his brother. “The meeting…it didn’t go well. I don’t remember any of it. I remember journeying to some back alley dark planet with a few chitauri and then nothing. The next thing I remember is waking up in a cell on the Sanctuary with a number of wounds, somehow still alive. I’ve never been able to recall exactly what happened. But I do know that the chitauri I went with returned in a single bucket, whatever was left of them.”

Thor felt a pang in his heart, wondering just how much Loki was downplaying the incident. He reached out and gripped Loki’s shoulder. The dark-haired god smiled faintly and turned to continue down the path they were following.

“Loki,” Thor called and Loki turned back to him. The dark-haired god looked to him expectantly.

“What were you doing before Peter disappeared? Why were you all wet?”

Loki looked off into the fog briefly before looking back to his brother. “Do you remember a few days ago when I went on an errand with Ayo? I was searching for a possible clear path off this island or a way for your allies to reach us. I was also trying to locate the source of some…peculiarities I have sensed since we arrived.”

“Peculiarities?”

Loki shrugged. “I can’t really put it into words, Thor.”

“Did you find anything?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. I did see a very strange shadow in a river further inland. That’s what I wanted to investigate,” Loki explained. “I was planning to go on my own, but Parker insisted on tagging along.”

Thor continued walking in the fog and Loki walked beside him.

“You should have asked me to accompany you,” Thor mentioned. “Wandering on your own is unwise.”

“I would have been fine,” Loki replied. “I don’t need a sitter.”

Thor glared at him and then looked forward again. “Did you find anything in the river today?”

Loki swallowed and nodded. “I found Jormungand, an enormous stone serpent on the bed of the river. There was an engraving that spoke of Gorr and how he was going to end the reign of terror of the gods. The engraving was some kind of sorcery. It changed before my eyes, spelled out my name.”

Thor opened his mouth to ask his brother another question when something caught his eye. He reached out and grabbed Loki’s arm. Judging from how rigid Loki was, the trickster had spotted what Thor had.

A few feet away from them, stood a woman dressed in armor. Her face was blank and her skin was gray. Her eyes were black as coal and she held a pair of blades. Glancing to the side, Thor noticed a man who looked similar to the woman. Looking to the other side, he could see more figures. Loki took a small step back.

“Beserkers,” he whispered and Thor stared at him, furrowing his brow in confusion.

“Loki, what in the seven hells are you talking about? Beserkers are beasts,” Thor whispered. “They look nothing like Midgardians.”

“Thor, I’m telling you, those things are beserkers. I don’t know why they look like Midgardians, but they’re beserkers,” Loki replied, sounding nervous. His eyes were wide and darted between the creatures.

Thor looked back to them. He hadn’t encountered any beserkers and had only seen one once, ages ago. The Aesir had kept one deep in the dungeons of the palace and all warriors visited its cell once. They were fearsome creatures who were stronger than they looked and one of the most brutal killers in the galaxy.

“We should go,” Thor whispered as he started calmly backing up. Loki followed right alongside him. The woman suddenly let out a screech and charged forward. Her screech was answered by a chorus of similar screams and howls and the fog seemed to explode around them as countless beserkers charged at them.

“Run!” Thor yelled, shoving his brother in front of him. The two dashed back the way they’d come, fleeing from the horde that pursued them. It was difficult to navigate around the trees as they fled at a breakneck speed.

Thor heard his brother grunt and turned, noticing Loki on the ground with a towering shadowy form standing over him. His eyes were wide with fear and he was backing away from the mysterious figure. An electric haze settled over Thor’s vision and he started running for whatever was threatening his brother. At the last moment, the shadowy form spun around and held out a hand. A bright yellow light engulfed the god of thunder.

_*_

“Thor?”

Thor gasped and looked up at Clint, frowning. “How…?”

“Your com went silent more than an hour ago. Steve sent Nat and me to see if you needed help,” Clint told him. “Still haven’t found Peter, but it’s going to be dark soon. We’re going to regroup at the mansion and try again tomorrow.”

Thor looked back into the calm forest, which was silent and empty. He was kneeling on the ground, cold dampness soaking his knees. There was no sign of the beserkers or the shadowy figure.

Or Loki.

“Loki!” Thor yelled for his brother, swiftly climbing to his feet and looking around. “Loki!?”

He spun around, looking frantically for his brother. There was no sign of the dark-haired trickster. Thor ran his hands through his hair, his heart hammering in his chest. He turned back to Clint, noticing Natasha standing just behind him with her gun pointed at the ground. Her sharp eyes were scanning the forest.

“Did either of you see my brother?”

Clint and Natasha shook their heads and Thor felt his fear increase. He took a few steps forward, trying to find anything that would tell him where his brother was. Moving over to the spot where he’d last seen his brother, Thor placed a hand on the grass.

“Thor, we should head back,” Natasha said. “It’s hard enough to navigate this fog in the daylight. We don’t want to be stranded out here at night.”

The god of thunder knew she was right, but he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his brother out here. Alone. Possibly at the mercy of dangerous enemies. Clenching his eye shut, Thor made a fist. I swear to you, brother, I will find you and bring you home, he vowed. Straightening up, Thor looked around, hoping against hope that he would see some sign of Loki. There was nothing.

Thor’s shoulders dropped and he turned, reluctantly following Clint and Natasha as they started moving back toward the mansion.

_*_

Loki anticipated being blindfolded. It was what one did when taking hostages. He had been blindfolded plenty and knew how to get around such a hindrance. The tall figure had left the beserkers to bind him and they had been incredibly sloppy. Embarrassingly so. The rough rope irritated his skin, but they hadn’t tied it tight enough. The blindfold was a similar situation: it was secure, but Loki could see a little out of it. Especially when he looked down.

He counted his steps and memorized the path they were traveling. Loki pretended to stumble, bumping into the beserker in front of him. The creature turned around and shrieked right into his face, causing Loki to take a few steps back.

“Leave it!” the gruff voice of the towering figure snapped at the creature. It instantly turned around and continued the march forward. Loki swiftly slid the blade he’d palmed up into his sleeve.

The lighting changed and Loki could hear torches all around him. He could feel dampness in the air and knew he was in some sort of cave. They led him on a winding path and Loki felt his heart sink just a little. It was an enormous cave, which meant escape would be rather tricky. Maybe even impossible.

Soon, they were heading down again and then Loki heard the loud creak of a hinge. The front of his shirt was grabbed and he was thrown into what he assumed was a cell. The dark-haired god cringed when he struck the merciless floor. In front of him, he heard a heavy door slam shut, keys twisting in a lock, and then marching.

“Mr. Loki?”

“Peter?”

Loki swiftly reached up and removed his blindfold. He blinked a couple times, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. There were only a few torches and the flames flickered, casting eerie shadows on the wall. Loki rose to his feet, noticing serpent statues at the base of the path leading out of what looked to be a dungeon. There were cells as far as the eye could see, most occupied with terrified-looking humans. Moving forward, Loki peered out and spotted the younger man in the cell across from him. Peter smiled widely, obviously pleased to see a familiar face.

“Boy am I glad to see you. Do you know what those things are? A bunch of ‘em pounced on me when we were at the river and took me here.”

“They’re beserkers. Well, I think that’s what they are. They’re somewhat different from the creatures I’ve read about,” Loki told him. He bit at the ropes around his wrists. Using his teeth, he managed to loosen the poorly-tied knot.

“Biz-what?”

Loki swiftly undid his bindings, tossing the rope off to the side. He moved to the door of the cell, examining the solid iron bars. Running a hand up the cool metal, Loki searched for any flaw or weakness he might exploit.

“Beserkers. They’re powerful warriors, aggressive brutish creatures, but not very smart. It takes a lot of effort to kill them, but it’s possible to do so,” he explained as he kept his focus on the bars. “We learned about them in Asgard. I didn’t expect to see them on Midgard, but I’m not surprised. They pop up everywhere like the vermin they are.”

“Oh. Sounds like they’re easy enough to deal with,” Peter said as he watched Loki.

“I didn’t say that,” Loki replied as he moved his focus to the lock. “They’re easy to deal with when you have superior weapons. Killing one with a Midgardian firearm would require a lot of bullets, more than we can currently spare. Using blades against them would be more effective, but you still have to stab them repeatedly and inflict a number of wounds. Doing so would require getting close to them and they have incredibly sharp talons and teeth. And these beserkers appear to have been trained, based on the weapons they carry.”

Pulling out the knife he’d taken from a beserker, Loki glanced across the space to Peter.

“I’m going to get us out of here, I swear to you,” he promised. “But you must do as I say without question.”

Peter nodded in agreement. Loki nodded up to the pathway.

“Keep a lookout. Signal to me if someone is coming,” he instructed. Peter immediately turned his eyes to where Loki indicated. The trickster turned his attention to the lock, sticking the knife in it and closing his eyes. It had been some time since he’d picked a lock, but Loki knew exactly how to do so. Especially a simplistic lock such as the one on this door. They might as well have just left the door open, Loki thought as he focused on his task.

He soon found the right spot and slowly coaxed the lock back, sliding it open. Smirking, Loki pushed the now unlocked door opened. He swiftly dashed across the space to where Parker’s cell was. He knelt before it, focusing on the lock.

“Wait, what about all these other people?” Peter asked.

“We cannot help them,” Loki whispered. “Not by ourselves. We’ll come back for them.”

“It doesn’t seem right to leave them. What if something happens to them?”

Norns, he’s exactly like Thor, Loki thought as he rolled his eyes. He was so close to opening this lock and it was taking all his strength not to rush through it.

“They’re worth more alive at this point. A living hostage is more valuable than a dead one,” Loki said, smiling widely when the lock slid open. He threw open the cell door and grabbed Peter, pulling him out of the cell.

“Come on, we must move quickly,” Loki whispered. Peter looked reluctant, glancing at the people who were still behind bars. He turned his attention back to Loki and his shoulders dropped a little.

“We gotta come back, Loki,” he insisted and Loki nodded in agreement. Loki turned and squared his shoulders, preparing himself for whatever was awaiting them. They moved silently in the shadows. Loki was rather impressed with how light Peter was on his feet and even glanced back a couple times to make sure the boy was still behind him.

When they reached the top of the crude stairwell, Loki pressed his back against the wall. He carefully peered out. There were a number of beserkers prowling around, occasionally snapping at each other. Loki would have given anything for his magic at that moment. Glancing around, he noticed a few different pathways, most of which had runes over them.

He was so focused on the threat that Loki almost didn’t see the little girl. The dark-haired god was startled when he spotted her, wearing a plain dress that looked incredibly dated. One side of her face was horrifically scarred, from burns by the looks of it. She was pressed against the doorway, almost hiding behind it, and peering over at them. When Loki saw her, she held out one small hand and motioned for him to follow. He looked up at the runes over the passageway, frowning at what they spelled out: Children’s Home.

“Parker,” he whispered. “We’re going to go through that passageway. Stick to the wall and don’t make a sound. Those beserkers will rip us to pieces if they spot us.”

Loki could practically hear Peter swallow nervously. The trickster took a cautious step forward, remaining glued to the wall. His attention was divided between the beserkers and the passageway. A screech from the beserkers made him freeze and he glanced over at them, noticing that two were locked in a vicious battle, which seemed to be stirring up the others. Loki moved as quickly as he dared.

Once he reached the passageway, he looked for the little girl. Crouching down, Loki was stunned to find there were no footprints in the dust. But, he could have sworn that…

Shaking his head, Loki turned to Peter and gestured for him to go first.

“But…where does this lead?” Peter asked, peering at the dark passageway before him.

“To the mansion, I believe,” Loki replied, looking back to where the beserkers were still screeching and fighting. “The runes up there translate to ‘Children’s Home’ and since the mansion was an orphanage to begin with, it seems a likely possibility. Also, I can sense Thor’s lightning, faintly, down that tunnel. Come on, we must—”

The shadows to Loki’s right suddenly rippled and before he had a chance to react, a burning hot hand was pressed to his forehead. A memory was yanked forward, one from long ago…

**

Loki had spent most of the morning and afternoon sulking in the library. He and Thor had another argument about…well, he couldn’t even recall about what exactly. They fought about everything these days. Odin had complained that they would bicker about the color of the sky if asked. The dark-haired god was tired of his brother and Thor’s arrogance. Norns, we’re all doomed if he ever sits upon the throne, Loki thought with a shake of his head. Once again, he found himself wishing he were an only child.

He continued heading for his quarters, intending to have a quick nap before finding another scheme to enact. Perhaps he could fill his brother’s quarters with water. That seemed an appropriate punishment for being an arrogant prat. He smirked to himself, knowing he could think of something better.

His smirk turned into a scowl when he stepped in something wet and sticky, nearly losing his balance.

“Oh, come on,” he groused as he lifted his foot. There was a large dark puddle in the middle of the hall. Loki frowned when he noticed it was seeping out from under a door. Crouching down, he stuck two fingers in it. Blood, it was blood.

Loki didn’t have time to think of it further. Sudden movement drew his attention up and he watched as his mother and a shadowy figure stumbled out of Thor’s room, struggling over what looked like a sword. Frigga’s teeth were grit as she fought with her assailant. Loki swiftly rose to his feet and ran to his mother’s aid, noticing blood on her dress. He grabbed the stranger’s wrist and found himself face-to-face with a pair of snake-like eyes. It startled him.

The stranger backhanded Loki and he crashed into an empty suit of armor, creating a racket. Loki shook the stars out of his eyes and watched as his mother successfully buried a small dagger in the towering man’s back, causing him to let out a roar. He spun around and smacked Frigga away, then took off down the hall. Loki could hear the pounding of the Einherjar’s footsteps as they ran to their queen’s aid. Heimdall proves his worth for a change, Loki thought as he pushed himself to his feet and went to Frigga’s side.

“Mother, are you all right?” he asked. He felt fury coursing through his veins when he saw that cretin had split his mother’s lip. Frigga looked up at him with fearful blue eyes and clutched his arm tightly.

“Thor!” she said and ran back into the god of thunder’s room. Loki followed right on her heels. He felt his heart seize up with terror when he saw his brother lying in a pool of blood. It looked like it was all coming from a deep wound in his throat. He was clawing weakly at the ground, his mouth open as he tried to draw in breath.

“Loki, come here!” Frigga commanded, snapping Loki out of his state of shock. He swiftly moved to her side and knelt beside Thor. It was one of the first times he had ever seen fear in his brother’s eyes. The color was fast draining from Thor’s features as he continued to gasp and wheeze. Frigga grabbed a shirt that had been hanging on a chair and pressed it against Thor’s neck.

“Keep pressure here,” she directed Loki. “Use seidr to slow the blood flow. I’m going to get Eir. Don’t leave him, Loki!”

Loki nodded and took her place at Thor’s side, doing as she instructed. He glanced over his shoulder, watching as Frigga ran from the room. Looking back to Thor, Loki felt whatever annoyance he had with his brother disappear. Clearing his throat, he focused his seidr on the deep wound, trying to slow the blood flow.

Thor gently touched Loki’s hand, drawing his brother’s attention to him.

“I’m…I’m sorry,” Thor’s voice was barely more than a raspy whisper. “F-for what I…said. I meant it not.”

Loki shook his head, looking back to his hands. Norns, there was a lot of blood.

“L-Loki—”

“Don’t,” Loki said sharply, looking back to his brother. “Don’t you dare, Thor. Quit talking like you’re dying. You’re going to be fine.”

Thor swallowed, his eyes fluttering closed. Loki risked taking one hand from the wound and putting it against the side of his brother’s face.

“Thor, look at me,” Loki commanded and Thor’s eyes opened again. “You must stay awake until the healers get here. Keep talking, brother. Do you know who did this to you?”

Thor shook his head, coughing as more blood spilled from his lips. His fearful eyes fixed on his brother and he opened his mouth, trying to speak.

“I…I…don’t want…to die,” he whimpered. Loki gently stroked his cheek his thumb and his brother turned his head toward the comforting touch.

“You won’t,” Loki told him, frowning when his brother’s eyes closed. “Thor? Thor!?”

The god of thunder didn’t respond.

“HELP! SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP!” Loki screamed as he continued trying to slow the blood that was gushing out of his brother’s throat.

**

Loki fell to his stomach in the dust, dazed. He blinked and shook his head, trying to snap out of his disoriented state. His vision swam and Loki felt as though he might pass out. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the towering figure moving toward Peter, who was wide-eyed with fear as he backed away. The boy was weaponless and this figure was going to harm him.

Allowing his Jotun form to manifest, Loki threw out his hand and created an enormous wall of ice between Parker and the menacing figure. The towering form whirled around and Loki saw yellow snake-like eyes fix on him, fury blazing in them. Though he was unable to stand or put up much of a fight, Loki still smirked triumphantly.

“Oh dear. It looks like he got away,” Loki taunted. The towering figure stormed over to the disoriented trickster and grabbed him by the nape of his neck, lifting him clear off the ground.

“It doesn’t matter. I have no quarrel with humans, only with the gods. You’re the far more valuable prize,” he snarled at Loki. Loki might have said more, but the man threw him against the rock wall, knocking him out cold.

Chapter Text

Peter let out a cry when an enormous wall of ice went up between him and the towering man, blocking him from helping Loki, who looked incredibly dazed. Punching the solid ice wall, Peter looked around dark tunnel. There were a few torches lit, but the light was still iffy. Glancing once more at the ice wall, he took off running. He needed to get help.

Dashing around a corner and sliding down a steep incline, he kept running, alert for any possible enemies lurking in the shadows. He wasn’t sure how long he ran for, but his legs started burning and he was out of breath when he skidded around another corner and ran into a masked woman, both of them crashing to the ground. The woman recovered first and drew a sharp knife. Peter gripped her wrist, preventing her from plunging it into his chest. He wasn’t as strong as he normally was and it took everything in him to keep the blade from away from him.

She let out a snarl and lifted him from the ground, spinning him around and smashing him into the rock wall. Peter desperately held onto her wrist and her other hand latched around his neck. Peter gripped her wrist and struggled to keep the knife away from him. Her eyes were alight with excitement and she put more of her weight against the knife. Peter narrowed his eyes and fought back, throwing all his weight against her. She switched her tactics immediately and used his own force to hurl him against what he’d originally thought was more stone. But when Peter hit the wall, he felt it move and he was suddenly on his side in dust, in a better lit space. Glancing around, he recognized the basement of the mansion.

Hearing a soft creaking, Peter looked back to the woman, who was waving her fingers at him as the wall slid back into place.

“No!” Peter yelled as he scrambled to his feet and ran to the wall, which shut right as he reached it. Frantically feeling around for a latch or some opening, Peter searched for a way to open it, only to find nothing. Running his hands through his hair, he glanced up when he heard footsteps above him. Help, he needed to get help.

“Mr. Thor! Mr. Stark!” Peter shouted as he ran for the stairs, dashing up them two at a time. He prayed that he wasn’t too late.

_*_

Thor was sitting on the couch, bouncing his knee and wringing his hands. It was almost dawn, hours since Loki had disappeared. He could feel Brunnhilde watching him, but all he could think about was his brother. Loki was out there, somewhere, probably at the mercy of a madman. And knowing Loki, he was probably making it even worse. Someone could be hurting his brother and Thor was helpless to stop it.

“Thor,” Brunnhilde said, reaching out and putting a hand on his knee. “Hey, buddy, we’re going to find Lackey, okay? I promise you. I won’t rest until he’s safe and annoying the piss out of us again. Your brother has survived much worse. He’ll probably come waltzing through that door any—”

“Mr. Thor! Mr. Stark! Help!”

Both Asgardians jumped and Ayo turned from where she was keeping watch by the window. She looked over to them.

“Was that Mr. Parker?” she asked, stunned.

“Indeed,” Thor said as he launched himself to his feet. “Peter?”

He ran toward the kitchen and almost collided with Tony, who was also yelling the younger man’s name. The two of them raced for the cellar door, throwing it open and Peter practically burst out. He dusty and there were a few cuts on his arms and legs, but otherwise he looked unharmed. Tony immediately wrapped his arms around him, embracing him tightly.

Thor looked behind him, where the other members of their group had come to see what the racket was about.

“We have to help him. We have to help Loki,” Peter spoke hurriedly. “There’s a secret passageway in the basement that leads to these caves.”

“Whoa, whoa, slow down, kid,” Tony said, holding Peter at arm’s length. “Start from the beginning.”

Peter swallowed and slowly let out his breath, glancing over to Thor. “Loki was investigating something in the river. When he was underwater, these things, beserkers is what I think he called them, they pounced on me and took me away to a cave. They’re keeping a lot of townspeople there, locked up. They caught Loki too and we got out of our cells, but we got separated. The tall man, he did something to your brother, knocked him senseless somehow. He was about to grab me and then this massive ice wall appeared in front of him.”

Thor felt his heart in his throat and struggled to remain calm. So this fiend did have his brother. And knowing Loki, his brother was almost certainly running his mouth. Thor felt Brunnhilde place a supportive hand on his arm and he placed his hand over hers, appreciatively.

“There was a secret door in the basement, but it shut and I can’t open it,” Peter finished, tears welling up in his eyes. “We have to go back or find some way to get to those caves. I don’t know what he’ll do to Loki.”

Peter wavered on his feet and Bruce immediately stepped forward, supporting the young man so he didn’t fall down.

“Whoa, easy there, Peter,” Bruce said. “I’m going to take a look at you and make sure you’re okay.”

Peter looked like he wanted to protest but Tony gave him a look and he just nodded. He followed Banner down another hall.

“Thor!”

Thor twisted when he heard Wanda shout from somewhere down the hall. He quickly dashed to where she was, in the main room. She was standing in front of the television, which was on. The screen was disturbingly clear and it showed a shadowy space. There was a stretcher and, to Thor’s horror, Loki was bound to it. He was gagged and his eyes were being held open by cruel-looking metal wires. Above him was an enormous snake carved from the rock. Its fangs were directly above Loki’s eyes and they were made of glass, which held some kind of amber-colored liquid. Thor noticed Loki’s fist was clenching and unclenching.

“That’s the butcher from town,” Bucky mentioned, gesturing to the man who was standing just to the side of the stretcher. Thor had almost missed him, being more focused on his brother.

“Greetings, Odinson,” the man said in a boisterous voice. “I have been looking forward to this for a very long time.”

“Who are you?” Thor growled and Brunnhilde glanced at him before looking back to the screen. The man chuckled and rested his large hand on the pommel of his sword. He moved closer to Loki, who yanked at one of his bindings, trying to get loose.

“I go by many names, Thor Odinson,” the man drawled lazily, running a finger over Loki’s brow. “Once I was called Jormungand, but that was very long ago. The name I was given by my family is Gorr and the title I have strived for is God Butcher.”

He moved over to the wall where there was a large crank, placing a hand on it.

“God, this villain schtick gets so old,” Tony grumbled. “Look, Gar—”

“Gorr,” the man corrected.

“Whatever,” Tony replied, uninterested. “Why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell us what you want? That way we can kick your ass and hopefully have an early dinner.”

“I only wish to fulfill my purpose: to end the gods and all those who would follow them,” Gorr replied. “For that to happen, Thor must die.”

“What quarrel have you with me?” Thor asked, frowning.

Gorr was quiet for a moment. “Have you not yet figured it out? You have been staying at the site of a massacre, one you probably caused.

“I have lived on this island for many years. My family left Asgard millennia ago, uninterested in living under Odin’s tyranny. We came to Midgard in the hopes that we could live free of his insatiable bloodlust. For many years, we were successful and lived in peace. I came to this island, wishing to be left alone. Shortly after I arrived, an orphanage was constructed. Against my better judgement, I befriended the children and their caretakers. I swore an oath to protect them and made sure they were well cared for. I made sure they never went hungry and were never cold. We lived in peace and harmony in this place. Life was perfect.

“And then some weather god decided to raze the land, slaughtering people as gods are want to do. I had been out fishing when I saw the lightning storm, which set fire to almost all the island. I ran for the orphanage, but by the time I arrived, it was already engulfed in flames.”

Thor swallowed and leaned forward, unable to recall the incident the man spoke of. It was true that in his younger years, he often drank to excess and frequently wandered to the strangest places after doing so, but he couldn’t believe that he was capable of doing such a thing. Thor could feel his friends looking at him, but he couldn’t bring himself to meet their gaze.

“Have you ever heard the sounds children make when they die, Odinson? The way they scream? I imagine it’s a sound you’re quite familiar with. For many nights, I just stood in the ashes of the building. I buried whatever remains I could recover, swearing to avenge them. Then I started planning.

“I managed to gain access to Asgard thanks to help of some allies my family still had within the golden realm. I was almost successful, but your damn Mother interfered and I had to flee. Since then, I have studied the ways of magic and become adept at wielding it. I had a special blade forged, with which I cut down many gods and absorbed their powers until I became one of the most powerful beings in the universe. I have also researched poisons, an art my family long practiced in.”

Gorr paused and reached to the side, grabbing a bottle of some kind. He held it up and Thor could see the unnatural red color.

“A venom of my own creation,” Gorr continued. “Potent enough to kill almost any god and it has killed a great many, but to bring down the Odinson, it requires one final thing.”

Gorr strode back to where Loki was on the stretcher. “The blood of a Jotun.”

Thor’s heart started pounding and he gripped the couch tightly. “If you harm one hair on my brother’s head, I will kill you. I will rain fury down upon you the likes of which this world has never seen.”

The man didn’t seem overly concerned with the threat as he drew a dagger. Loki struggled even more, thrashing against his bindings. Gorr approached Loki and slashed the inside of Loki’s elbow. Blood welled up and spilled over the trickster’s arm, dripping to the floor. Gorr opened the top of the bottle and caught some drops of blood. The evil mixture started pulsing with light, glowing faintly.

“Ah, now it is complete,” Gorr said as he refastened the top. “Ready to meet your fate, Odinson?”

“This guy’s a dumbass,” Tony scoffed. “Dude, do you realize how completely outmanned you are? We’re the Avengers—”

“Retired, from what I hear,” Gorr commented, bored. His eyes remained on the large jar he held.

“And you just hurt the brother of a god who can wield lightning,” Tony continued. “Not the best move on your part. And we stand beside him. We’ve taken on an army of killer robots, a mad titan, and a bunch of other overpowered shit. We’ve been to hell and back so often, we have frequent flyer miles. What makes you think you stand a chance in hell of defeating us?”

Gorr was quiet for a moment, an unsettling smile spreading over his lips. He started chuckling, a sound that seemed to come from deep within him. He calmly placed the jar off to the side and looked back to the screen.

“Perhaps you’ve heard of Earth First, Mr. Stark,” Gorr commented. “If you’ll direct your attention to the screens.”

A bunch of small screens popped up around the frame of the screen.

“LAURA!” Clint yelled when he saw his wife on screen and Natasha’s lips set in a thin straight line, a sign that she was enraged. Another screen showed Pepper with hers and Tony’s kids. Yet another showed SHIELD’s new headquarters. There were a couple that showed locations in New Asgard.

“I’ve been watching you, all of you, for more than a decade. After Thanos was defeated, I started Earth First to help humans throw off the yoke of the gods, but they served a number of purposes. I created a new species, part human and part beserker. Their ability to blend in with the general populace is truly extraordinary. Through them, I was able to infiltrate all your lives. These hybrids are planted everywhere, from the highest corridors of power to the kitchens of restaurants where your SHIELD agents frequent. Right now, they are going to keep your allies busy until we finish our business. How many they kill shall be entirely up to you.”

Gorr tapped the pommel of his sword. “If you do not give me Thor, I will command my beserker hybrids to slaughter every soul in the locations shown on screen. The longer you protect the god of thunder, the more people will die in these attacks. So you must ask yourselves, Avengers, how many lives are you willing to sacrifice for one god?”

On the screens showing official SHIELD facilities, small scuffles began breaking out. The fights started to grow in intensity and size. Thor clenched his teeth when he saw similar scenes happening in New Asgard. For a moment, there was a horrified silence as the graveness of the situation started sinking in.

“If I may…”

Everyone stared at Loki, who had somehow managed to remove his gag without the use of his hands. Norns, Loki. Please shut the Hel up, Thor thought, keeping his face blank. Gorr glared at the trickster and Loki smiled with mocking politeness.

“You are attributing an act to my brother that he could not have possibly done,” Loki continued, his tone patronizing. “I looked up the date of the orphanage fire, horribly tragic event. I happen to know for a fact that Thor was in Vanaheim on that date. How many gods have you, to use your own phrasing, cut down to date?”

“Hundreds,” Gorr growled. Thor could see the rage slowly growing on the man’s face and clenched his teeth, wondering if Loki realized just how much danger he was in.

“Ah, so then you must be aware that Thor isn’t the only one who claims the moniker of god of thunder, correct?” Loki continued as Gorr strode over to crank on the wall. “Surely you know of the vast number of mythologies and gods across—”

Gorr’s spun the crank, his eyes alight with fury. The liquid suspended above Loki started to drip from the fangs, directly into his eyes, causing the dark-haired god to scream in pain. He tried to move his head, but was unable to do so.

“Stop! Leave him alone!” Thor roared.

“Do you think I do not know of your own crimes, Loki Silvertongue, god of lies?” Gorr shouted over Loki’s cries. “Your actions have resulted in the loss of many innocent lives without thought or care, including the lives of many children. You allied with Thanos to save your own skin. You are a monster in every sense of the word. We have met before and you managed to escape my grasp. You will not be so lucky this time. The only reason why you’re still drawing breath is because you do not deserve a quick death. Your demise shall be long and drawn out, befitting your many crimes.”

Gorr turned off the dripping machine and Loki whimpered, writhing in pain as much as he could.

“Loki, are you all right?” Thor called out, stepping closer to the screen as he attempted to see what had been done. Loki’s fists were clenching and unclenching again.

“I’m fine, Thor,” his brother lied.

“I’m coming to get you,” Thor promised.

“Don’t you dare! Brunnhilde, don’t let him do—”

Gorr refastened his gag so the trickster couldn’t utter another word. He nodded to the side and a woman in a glistening mask stepped into view.

“Kim, feel free to play as much as you like. But do not kill him, not just yet,” Gorr told the woman. She sauntered over to the crank and slowly started to spin it. Loki’s muffled screams started again when the dripping resumed.

“I’m sure Ms. Gray can tell you just how in control of this island I am,” Gorr continued. “You will not leave alive unless I will it so. I am a fair and merciful man. I’m fully willing to release the townspeople, unharmed, and recall my operatives. All I ask in return is the god of thunder’s life. My beserkers are watching all and if you should agree, simply walk into the woods and one will approach you. Should you deny my very generous request, well, I’m afraid that I shall have to keep killing until you acquiesce. And I’ll start with your loved ones.”

The screen winked out, leaving the Avengers in a stony silence. It was broken only by the small round vacuum gliding through the room and chirping, “Good afternoon, friends.”

Chapter Text

It was really dreadfully inconsiderate of Gorr to leave Loki in the hands of his sadistic follower, the woman with the mask of stars who also went by a terribly ordinary Midgardian name that grated on the trickster’s ears. The damned poison blinded him completely, leaving him in utter darkness. The first time it happened, Loki was almost nervous. But he was also rather intrigued.

Sure enough, once the poison was switched off, the darkness would gradually fade to haziness. His eyes still stung and his vision was nothing more than indistinct blurs for hours, but it would start to gradually come back. While Loki wished Gorr had stuck around (he was curious about what other sorts of magic he was able to wield), his follower was much more likely to make a mistake that Loki could exploit.

Playing dead almost worked. Loki had learned long ago how to mask his heartbeat and respiration long enough to make himself appear dead. She got close enough that he could almost reach the weapon strapped to her hip. But then she turned to the poison back on and the acid in Loki’s eyes made him scream in pain. Norns it was agony. This was really terribly rude and Loki couldn’t stand rudeness.

The musty smell of the cave was nauseating. It was damp and cold. The damn beserkers never shut up, so Loki couldn’t even sleep. Not that he would. He had to escape before his foolish brother did something reckless. Loki already had an idea how to do so, but first he had to escape from his bindings.

He could feel the pulsing of the magic that had been stolen from him somewhere nearby. Gorr was keeping their abilities contained in something. Loki hated to admit it, but the man’s abilities were rather impressive. He’d done something Loki didn’t even think possible. Thor had a good idea when he insisted on my bringing some weapons that I didn’t hide away with magic, Loki thought as he clenched and unclenched his fist. His vision was only just starting to return from the most recent bout of torture. By his estimates, he had another forty-five minutes before it returned enough for the torture to start anew.

Hearing a squealing sound, he could see a door open out of the corner of his eye and heard something being wheeled in. Another day had passed: someone was sent in to clean the room daily, which was how Loki was keeping track of the passage of time. The woman in the mask barked at whoever it was to clean up the mess and then leave again. Loki heard the soft clicking of her phone as she continued doing whatever she was occupying herself with. The sound of a mop hitting the stone reached his ears and Loki attempted to turn his head as much as he could.

He could faintly make out some kind of drab brown clothing. It was a shorter person, perhaps a child. The smell of ammonia stung Loki’s nose.

“Psst,” he whispered, drawing the small child’s attention. “What’s your name?”

The mop was dunked in the water and slapped on the floor again. “Not supposed to talk to you.”

The voice was high and thin, a girl. Loki attempted his most charming smile.

“Very well,” Loki replied. “I shall just call you Mini Sif. Do you know who I am, Mini Sif?”

“A bad man,” the girl replied as she continued cleaning.

“Well…technically you’re not wrong, not entirely. Except for the man part. I’m not a man, I’m a god,” Loki continued and heard the mop stop briefly. He thought he saw her shake her head.

“Mini Sif, do you know what gods are known for?” Loki spoke softly, trying to keep track of the woman in the glistening mask. When the girl shook her head, Loki smirked. “We’re known for many things. We are most generous to our friends and our enemies do not last long in the face of our fearsome wrath. The people who are holding me captive, they shall soon burn. They will burn in the fire they started. However, if someone were to help me and be a good friend, they and their loved ones would be spared the slaughter that is to come.”

The mopping stopped again and Loki saw the girl look over at him.

“I can protect you, you and your family. However, first I need to get out of these bindings.”

The girl looked over at the woman in the glistening mask and then continued mopping. She started moving closer to Loki’s head.

“You can stop them? The tall man and his henchmen?” she whispered under her breath as she continued scrubbing.

“Yes, I can.”

“You’re lying,” she said. “There are too many. My mother told me there’s only a few of you—”

“Your mother? What does your mother know about me?”

The girl went quiet and Loki tilted his head.

“You’re Eleanor Gray’s daughter, aren’t you?”

The girl didn’t respond, but she lost her hold on the mop and it clattered to the floor. The woman in the mask strode over and Loki heard the unmistakable crack of a slap followed by the young girl’s whimper.

“Be careful, ingrate,” the woman in the mask snapped. “Quit your sniveling and finish cleaning up this mess.”

Loki heard her heels strike the hard ground as she moved back across the space. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blurry form of the girl slowly rise from the ground, scrubbing at her eyes.

“Undo my bindings and I will sever her arms from her body,” Loki offered.

“No,” the girl replied. “You’re going to get me into trouble. Leave me be.”

“Don’t you want to see your mother again?”

“You can’t help me. You can’t help any of us. There are too many followers of the tall man. He’ll kill you and then we’ll be next,” Mini Sif replied as she continued mopping. Loki drummed his fingers on the stretcher, an idea taking form in his mind.

“Mini Sif, is that vile woman looking at us right now?” he asked. When the girl didn’t answer, Loki allowed his Jotun form to replace his Aesir one. He heard a sharp sudden gasp and quickly let his Aesir appearance to slip back into place. The woman in the mask barked at the girl again, but soon returned her attention to her phone.

In his blurry vision, Loki saw the young girl approach him again. He could only imagine how wide her eyes were. Smiling charmingly, he raised an eyebrow.

“The tall man may be a monster, but so am I. And I’m more powerful than he,” he told her. “Sometimes you need a monster to defeat a monster. Believe me, Mini Sif, I’m the sort of monster you want on your side.”

She was quiet for a moment as she dipped the mop into the cleaning fluids again. She dropped it to the floor again, scrubbing.

“What do you need me to do?”

Loki’s smirk grew. “I need you to find something sharp. A knife or something like a knife.”

“There are some small knives on the cabinet over there,” the girl whispered as she kept mopping. “I’m almost done cleaning the poison.”

“Make sure the woman in the mask isn’t watching you and make your way over to where the knives are,” Loki told her. “Be very, very careful. You mustn’t raise her suspicion. You’re going to pocket one of the knives and then return to my side.”

The girl continued mopping, slowly moving around the cramped space. Loki followed her progress with his hearing. He heard her start scrubbing some glass and rotated his wrist a bit. He was looking forward to being free of his bindings. The mopping started drawing near him again and Loki allowed himself a small grin.

“I got it,” she whispered to him as she continued cleaning. He was growing rather fond of Mini Sif. She was adept, for a mortal child.

“Excellent,” Loki said almost gleefully. “Now, find an excuse to lean over me, keeping your pocket within reaching distance of my fingers.”

“Are you almost done, girl!” the masked woman snarled.

“Yes, ma’am,” Mini Sif answered. She lowered her voice again so only Loki could hear her. “I have to clean the acid around your head.”

She leaned over him as she started scrubbing the smooth leather of the stretcher he was on. Loki reached his thin fingers inside her pocket, soon brushing against the knife she had pocketed. Or rather, the scalpel. Loki harrumphed. A scalpel would be difficult to work with. It would take a long time to cut through the cuffs on his wrist. I’m going to have to endure even more torture apparently. Wonderful.

“Hurry up, girl!”

Loki cringed when he almost lost his already tenuous grip on the scalpel. Gritting his teeth, he gripped the damn slippery metal and pulled it out of the girl’s pocket. He slid it up his sleeve and laid his hand back on the smooth leather. The girl quickly finished scrubbing the acid and Loki’s vision cleared a little more.

She straightened up and grabbed the mop and bucket, scurrying out of the room. Loki heard the door creak shut again and the click of heels echoed throughout the room. He swallowed and fingered the scalpel, carefully starting to pull it out. Positioning it just inside the thick leather cuff, Loki started sawing at the material.

The sound of the creaking metal wheel spinning was the only warning he had before the burning drops of acid started dripping into his eyes. His screams echoed throughout the empty room once again.

_*_

In the middle of the night, Thor stood on the roof of the mansion, staring out into the fog. It covered everything and the god of thunder couldn’t see any of the distinguishing features of the land. Not the cliffs, not the hills, not even the trees of the nearby forest. It was eerie. He crossed his arms over his chest.

“According to Ms. Gray, the forest has always been impossible to navigate so the townspeople have always just avoided it,” Brunnhilde’s voice came from behind him. The Valkyrie approached him, standing beside him and following his gaze out into the fog.

Thor swallowed, his gaze not moving from the distance. They had tried to go out and investigate the forest earlier, but every time they tried to go deeper into the trees, they wound up right back at the mansion. It was an obvious barrier spell. Thor had tried using his lightning, but as expected, it hadn’t made a difference. Three days had passed since Loki’s capture, soon to be four. The god of thunder was worried that his brother’s time was running out.

“Have Stark’s drones found anything of use?” Thor asked.

“There are a few channels that are clearer than others, but the visibility is still incredibly low,” Brunnhilde reported. “And the water has gone completely still. We’re not going anywhere without wind. Communications are down as well.”

“Then we’re trapped for all intents and purposes,” Thor muttered, running a hand over his face. The Valkyrie looked over at him.

“It’s not all bad news,” she offered and Thor turned his gaze to her. “Gorr may have our weapons, but according to Ms. Gray, there’s been a small resistance forming in the town. When Earth First started forming, some citizens decided they’d had enough and started stockpiling weapons. According to her, they built up a fairly impressive arsenal. Barton and Romanoff have gone to retrieve it.”

Thor sighed and turned his gaze back out across the trees. “So there’s to be more bloodshed, more death.”

“Hey, big guy, we didn’t start this,” Brunnhilde pointed out. “Gorr is the one who attacked first. We’re defending ourselves and the people who need our help.”

“He just wants me, Brunnhilde,” Thor pointed out. “It’s my life he’s after.”

“What about Loki?” Brunnhilde shot back. “What about me? Heimdall? Thor, he wants to end the gods. That could potentially include the entire citizenry of New Asgard.”

Thor gave her a look and she let out a huff of irritation.

“Okay, even if he’s only after the gods, that still includes Loki. Are you willing to sacrifice your brother as well? Because I think he’d have a few things to say about that,” she said. Thor swallowed and looked to his feet.

“Perhaps we could come to some sort of accord. Loki wasn’t technically born a god. He was born a Jotun,” Thor began, but shook his head. He couldn’t follow his own argument. Loki was a son of Odin and therefore he was a god.

He jolted when Brunnhilde punched his shoulder, glaring at him. “Does your life truly mean so little to you? How dare you even consider such a barter. After everything you’ve been through. Yes, it’s likely going to be a hard fight. Believe it or not, Thor, I don’t like going to war any more than you do. But I recognize that sometimes it’s unavoidable. You want to make this world a better place, want to protect people? Then get your ass back in that mansion and help us figure out how to get the Hel out of this goddamn shitstorm we find ourselves in. Help us figure out a way to get your pain in the ass brother back. Because I sure as Hel am not going to sit around, waiting for some damn God Butcher and his beserkers to attack us.”

Thor rubbed his arm. “That really hurt.”

“Suck it up,” she snapped. “Come on. We’ve got a damn trickster to save.”

Looking one last time to the silent fog, Thor turned and followed Brunnhilde back inside the mansion. No matter what happened, first he needed to assure the safety of his brother. Thor was willing to do whatever it took to bring Loki back home.

_*_

Loki felt the acid stop dripping and faked being unconscious. He heard the clicking heels exit the room and then the heavy door closed. Swallowing, Loki started sawing more rapidly. He was almost through the leather. It had taken hours, but he’d done it. Just a few more cuts…he almost laughed in triumph when he felt the strap around his wrist break. Reaching up a hand, Loki pushed the metal contraptions away from his burning eyes and yanked the gag out of his mouth. He was completely blind again, which was going to make things difficult.

Swinging up into a sitting position, he carefully put one foot on the floor. Clutching the stretcher, Loki moved around the space to where he’d heard the girl retrieve the scalpel. Using his sense of touch, Loki started feeling his way around the room. He reached a cabinet of some kind and felt the sharp instruments on a tray. Twisting when he heard the lock on the door start unlocking, Loki swiftly grabbed the largest scalpel and hugged the wall, creeping closer to the noise.

The hinges squealed loudly as the door slowly swung open. Loki could hear the click of the masked woman’s heels enter the room and then stop suddenly, obviously stunned to see the empty stretcher. Knowing he only had a split second, Loki lunged at her, clamping a hand over her mouth and stabbing the scalpel deep into her neck, dragging it across her throat. He felt blood spray out of the wound and into his face. He made a face of disgust and dragged the twitching body inside.

Swiftly searching her pockets, he found a very good, very large knife complete with sheath. He tucked that into the back of his pants. His hands found a smooth object, her phone. Tucking that into another pocket, he continued going through her pockets. He brushed against a firearm and Loki recoiled. How he hated those blasted things. Removing it, he quickly pulled out the magazine and crushed it between his hands. He then crushed the firearm as well, putting the ruined object off to the side.

Loki stood up again and squared his shoulders, creeping out of the small room. He could hear the numerous sleeping beserkers spread out across the main area of the enormous cave. It was daytime then. Beserkers were nocturnal by nature, but he still had to be cautious. They were easily woken.

Carefully creeping across the space, using only the wall to guide him, Loki heard the sound of torches. He could feel fresh air coming from the opposite direction, but he wasn’t going to leave the cave right away. First, he needed a decent distraction to assure he could escape. He started making his way toward the sound of torches.

The dark-haired god paused when he was halfway across the wide space, frowning. He felt a faint tingling. There was…some sort of magic. It was coming from…

Loki’s sightless eyes widened and he carefully crouched down, holding his hand out over the nearest beserkers. The sensation was emanating from these creatures. Oh that’s interesting. That’s very interesting, Loki thought, a small smirk dancing over lips as he straightened up again. He had found a weakness, one that was difficult to exploit but a weakness nonetheless.

Loki somehow found his way to the sloping stairway, leading down to the cells where the townspeople were being kept. It was a difficult climb when he could see. Getting down when unable to see proved to be an almost impossible task. Loki wound up falling down the last few steps, cringing and hissing when he fell to his hands and knees on the solid stone.

Taking a few deep breaths, Loki climbed back to his feet and took a cautious step forward. He could hear the humans shuffling around in front of him.

“Please tell me it’s still civilians down here and not some unspeakable horror that will make my heroism an utterly futile act,” Loki spoke as loud as he dared. For a moment, there was just concerned muttering.

“Dad, it’s the god that I told you about,” he heard the small voice of the young girl that had aided him in his escape. Loki grinned. Finally, a little luck.

“Hello again, Mini Sif,” Loki greeted. “I told you the gods were good to their friends.”

He made his way across the short space, holding out a hand to feel for the heavy iron bars. Once he felt iron, Loki followed it to the lock.

“You’re blind,” an older woman’s voice said nervously.

“Brilliant observational skills. Perhaps you could use your stellar abilities to warn me if someone is coming,” Loki muttered coldly as he knelt in front of the lock. Pulling out the knife and the scalpel, he got to work. It only took him a few moments, even being unable to see. Loki had always been good at getting past locks. He pulled open the door and held up a hand.

“There are a number of very nasty beasts up there. They’re currently asleep, but the smallest sound could awaken them. They may look human, but believe me, they’re not. They will tear you apart without a moment’s hesitation. So you must move quickly but cautiously and you mustn’t make a sound,” Loki explained. “There’s a barrier spell on the woods, which is going to wreak havoc on your senses. Do not trust your eyes. Go north and keep going north, even when you want to change your direction. Even when everything is screaming at you to do so. You keep going north. If you’re caught by the beserkers, do not fight. Either try to hide or play dead.”

He stepped aside and listened to the soft pitter-patter of multiple human feet. When the last group of footsteps vanished up the top of the stairway, Loki swiftly made his way up. Thor would almost certainly not approve of this, he thought as he reached the upper level. He tilted his head a little, listening closely. The beserkers were still asleep.

Loki crept out of the cave and soon felt fresh air on his face. Before he even had a chance to savor it, an inhuman scream echoed from inside the cave. It was followed by the chilling sound of roaring beserkers.

The dark-haired god bolted to the right, where he could faintly hear running water in the distance. His vision was starting to become an indistinct gray. Soon he would be able to see blobs of color. If he survived that long. Loki ran clumsily through the trees, relying mostly on his hands to guide himself through. As anticipated, it sounded like most of the beserkers gave chase to the humans, leaving him to escape in his own way.

Suddenly, it felt like a large rock struck him directly between his shoulders and Loki fell to his knees. He let out a cry when he felt a strong thread weave through his lips, sewing them shut. Tears welled up in his eyes and he gingerly felt his mouth, whimpering at the ache. Even the softest touch resulted in stabbing pain. Hearing an ominous rustling and growling behind him, Loki swiftly climbed to his feet and continued his mad dash to freedom.

Right when Loki’s vision became indistinct blobs of color, he saw a clearing up ahead. Hope blossomed in his chest and Loki dashed for it. He ran as fast as his long legs would carry him. His speed and poor vision brought him perilously close to running straight off the cliff he found himself a top and Loki skidded to a stop right at the edge. Peering down, he could see a vast amount of blue. He swallowed nervously and looked up. The light was questionable, indicating it would be night soon.

Glancing over his shoulder, Loki could hear the beserkers getting closer. Running back a few feet, Loki steeled his nerve. Taking a running start, he launched himself off the cliff and plunged straight down to the water below.

Chapter Text

One perfect morning in Asgard, Frigga sat at her window, looking out over her beloved home. She enjoyed the sounds of the bustling city and the castle, but today her heart was troubled. Her mind was a million miles away and tears swam in her beautiful blue eyes. The Queen of Asgard had requested she not be disturbed this day, for there was much she wanted to think about.

She sensed him even before he realized it. He was getting better at appearing out of thin air, using his secret pathways, but she always knew when he was there. A gentle kiss on her cheek made her grin, despite the worry she felt.

“Happy birthday, Mother,” Loki whispered as he sat opposite her. She studied him, wondering what sort of mischief he’d gotten up to this time.

“You’ve been away for so long. I had almost forgotten what you looked like,” she teased and he laughed softly.

“It has only been a few months. I imagine Father has some cross words for me,” Loki said lazily, reaching for an apple slice on the plate she had made for herself.

“You know your father. He has strong opinions about how princes should behave. And he does worry, Loki. When you disappear into thin air, your father worries.”

“Yet you do not?” Loki asked, raising an eyebrow. Frigga smiled at him, her clever dark-haired son.

“Whenever you wander, you always return. And you have never missed my birthday,” she replied. Loki grimaced.

“I’m too predictable then. I shall have to remedy that,” he said as he popped the apple slice into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

He looked out the window and Frigga glanced to the sheaths he wore at his waist, grinning. He remembered his lessons, good.

“Will you share whatever burden it is that makes you weep?” Loki asked gently. “It is not often the Queen of Asgard isolates herself and even rarer that she sheds tears.”

Frigga wasn’t sure what about the innocent question made her remember the words that haunted her sleep for the past couple days. Words she shouldn’t have read, but couldn’t prevent herself from doing so. Words her husband knew of, but felt the need to keep from her. “We cannot change fate, no matter how much we wish to. There are simply some events that must come to pass,” he had told her.

Frigga started sobbing again, burying her face in her hands. She felt her son, her clever mischief maker, wrap his arms around her. Loki had such a wonderful gentle side, one that almost no one ever saw. Only she and Thor knew of this side of Loki.

“Mother, please tell me what is wrong. Perhaps I can help,” he requested and that rare genuine concern bled into his voice. She slumped against him, wrapping her arms about him as she embraced him tightly. Gods, how she loved him. From the moment Odin had laid him in her arms, shortly after Thor’s birth, Frigga loved Loki as much as she did Thor.

Pulling back a little, she looked up into his beautiful green eyes and realized he was her one hope. The only hope to thwart something that was all but written in stone. The fates had foretold Thor, his destiny, but they had never anticipated Loki.

“Loki, my darling, I have never asked you for anything before,” she said as she reached out and brushed some hair behind his ear. “But I wish for you to make me a promise. It’s the only thing I shall ever ask of you and I beg that once you give me your word, you will not break it.”

Loki’s eyes widened slightly, surprised at the request. He lied to everybody, but he never lied to her. If he would give her his word, Frigga knew he wouldn’t go back on it. The trick was getting him to give her his word. She wasn’t entirely certain he would.

Loki appeared thoughtful for a moment. Then he looked at her with a faint grin and nodded.

“All right, mother. Ask of me whatever it is you wish.”

She swallowed and wiped away some of her tears. “Protect your brother. Protect Thor. No matter what happens, what path you walk, swear to me that you shall always look out for your brother.”

Loki frowned, his nose scrunching up slightly in his confusion. “Really? You want me to protect the mighty Thor? Shouldn’t you be asking this of him?”

“You know how protective Thor is of you. But I fear for him, Loki,” Frigga looked into his eyes. “It has been foretold that your brother will meet a gruesome end. I do not wish for that to be his fate. There is no one else who I would trust to protect him from such danger, no one else who could. Will you give me your word? Will you protect him from harm?”

Loki went quiet again, his expression unreadable. Eventually, a grin split his lips and he nodded.

“Very well, I give you my word, mother. I shall protect Thor until the end of my days,” Loki swore to her earnestly. Frigga’s face crumpled and she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

“Thank you,” she wept, pressing a kiss against his temple. “Thank you, my son.”

**

Many years later, on Midgard, Loki was sitting on the couch with Thor curled up beside him, wrapped in a blanket. His head was resting in Loki’s lap and the dark-haired god was gently running his hand over Thor’s short hair, soothing him. It had been one of his more trying days, where he’d experienced a multiple anxiety episodes, varying in intensity. It had left Thor completely exhausted and he was drifting in and out of wakefulness. He was still trembling, as he had been for hours.

Loki looked over to the plate of mostly untouched food that sat on the table beside the couch. “Thor, do you want to try eating a little more?”

Thor shook his head and Loki rubbed his eyes. Getting Thor to eat was a struggle, something he never thought would ever happen. His brother would only eat if Loki ate with him. This afternoon, Thor had picked at his food, eating very little of it, even though Loki was with him. Trying to cajole him to eat wound up triggering another anxiety attack, much to Loki’s chagrin. It was one of those days where it seemed like everything was triggering Thor’s anxiety.

“Is your stomach still bothering you?” Loki asked and Thor nodded. Loki sat back, gently rubbing his brother’s shoulder. On the really bad days, the panic episodes would often result in an upset stomach, which meant Thor would eat less. He’d already lost some weight, which concerned Banner and Eir. Loki could still get his brother to eat, so he wasn’t overly worried. Not yet.

“Why?”

Loki almost missed the whispered question. Thor’s voice was shaking and he sniffled, pulling the blanket tighter around him.

“Pardon?”

“Why do you take care of me?” Thor clarified, swiping away some of his lingering tears. “You owe me no debt. You are under no obligation to take up this burden. Why do you stay?”

For the first time in a while, Loki thought of the promise he’d made his mother. It was, perhaps, the only oath he’d never broken. Bent it a little at times, but never broken it. It was the one promise Loki had sworn to always keep, one only Frigga and he would ever know of.

“Because you’re my brother and I am tired of being burdened with the responsibility of running this place. I need you to get better so you can take over all the dull minutiae of leadership,” Loki teased gently. “Would you not do the same for me?”

Thor looked up at him. “Yes, but I’m me and you’re you. I would have expected you to at least stab me by now.”

Loki laughed softly. “Would you feel better if I did so?”

“No,” Thor grumbled and then sighed, shivering again. Loki placed his fingers on the inside of Thor’s wrist. Banner had shown him how to find and monitor a pulse, which proved to be very useful. Thor’s heartrate was slightly elevated, which could possibly suggest another episode was coming. Loki adjusted the blankets on Thor and then went back to running a hand over his hair.

“I’m broken, Loki,” Thor whispered and something about the way he said it, so simply and yet with a hint of shame, made Loki’s heart hurt.

“All of us break sometimes,” Loki replied. “That is part of life. But being broken doesn’t mean we cannot put ourselves back together. Broken, damaged, these words merely describe temporary states of existing. You feel broken now, but I promise you, Thor, you will not always feel so.”

Thor was quiet. He shuffled around as he tried to find a comfortable position. Loki knew aside from the anxiety, his brother had woken up aching. It happened sometimes, the result of the extensive damage Thanos had inflicted upon him.

“If Mjolnir still existed, I wouldn’t be able to lift it,” Thor sniffled. “I’m too weak to be worthy.”

Loki sighed. His brother was going to force him to be sentimental again. Damn him.

“That’s not true,” Loki told him, grasping his hand. “You are strong as you have always been. These episodes you’re experiencing do not diminish that. If anything, it shows you’re even stronger than any of us thought. If Mjolnir still existed, you would wield that damn hammer as easily as you ever did.”

Thor squeezed his hand as he shivered again and Loki gently squeezed back. He was still getting used to this strange new role he found himself in. It wasn’t permanent, he knew, but Loki found himself wondering just how long it would last.

“You’d be able to,” Thor muttered, pulling Loki from his thoughts. Loki frowned as he looked to his brother.

“I’d be able to what?”

Thor was quiet for a moment. “You’d be able to lift Mjolnir.”

Loki let out a bark of laughter. “My, my, my, brother. You’ve finally managed to find the ever so elusive sense of humor. No one else would be able to lift that stupid hammer, least of all me. Haven’t you forgotten? I’m not a hero.”

“Yes, you are,” Thor replied simply, closing his eye.

“How you came to that conclusion, I fear I shall never know,” Loki replied, shaking his head as he snickered.

“A hero doesn’t just battle, Loki, though you certainly did that during the war against Thanos. The most important quality a hero possesses is compassion, the ability to care about and for others,” Thor told him drowsily. “Especially when they are struggling.”

Loki continued running his hand over Thor’s short hair. How he wished they could return to the days of Thor being the responsible invincible hero and he enjoying a life of luxury, without a care in the world. Loki had always assumed if the impossible happened and Thanos were defeated, everything would go back to normal instantly. After all, there would be no more threat hanging over their heads. So, logically, everything would go back to the way it was.

“My thoughts are very dark some days,” Thor confessed, drawing Loki’s attention back to him. He paused as he yawned widely. “Sometimes I feel too worn out to fight anymore. But then I remember you’re here and it makes it easier to keep going.”

Thor looked up at him, smiling faintly. His smile was no longer as bright as a clear summer day. It never quite reached his eye or lit up his entire face the way it used to and there was always a hint of melancholy to it.

“You would easily be able to wield Mjolnir, Loki,” Thor said softly.

“All right, Thor,” Loki humored his brother. Thor nestled down in the blankets more, his gaze traveling across the room.

“I do not know why I am so tired. I wish to do something, yet I cannot keep my eye open,” he murmured as he yawned again. Loki grinned, putting his hand over Thor’s eye.

“Rest, brother. You shall feel better after you’ve slept a little,” Loki whispered. Thor sighed softly and curled up even more.

“Don’t you want to get up?” Thor mumbled. “You do not have to stay here.”

“I do not mind. I’m enjoying the book I’m reading,” Loki replied and felt his brother nod a little. Thor soon fell back into a light sleep and Loki picked up his book again. He would need to call Brunnhilde to ask her to pick up some dinner for them, but it could wait. Right now, Thor was resting comfortably, finally getting some sleep, and Loki wasn’t going to interrupt it.

_*_

Wanda had stepped out of the mansion to get some fresh air. It had gone dark, indicating it was night again. She looked up to the sky, but couldn’t see the moon or stars. It made her rather sad. Wanda had always loved to gaze up at the stars.

She could hear Thor bellowing for his brother and twisted to look behind her. A few of the Avengers were out trying to find the entrance to the cave Ms. Gray had spoken of. The caretaker was in the mansion with Banner and Steve. They had tried comforting the distraught woman, but nothing worked. She wanted her family back and didn’t know if she would ever see them again. It made Wanda think of her brother and she’d had to step out for a moment, just to catch her breath. She just needed a brief respite from the agony of loss.

A flash of amber light drew Wanda’s attention to the side and her breath caught in her throat.

Vision was standing a few feet away. The mind stone glimmered on his brow and his pink flesh was visible even in the darkness. He was wearing his green suit and yellow cape. When their eyes met, he grinned and gestured for her to come closer.

“Vis?” she whispered, terrified to believe her eyes. She couldn’t bear the thought of this being an illusion. He nodded and floated a few feet above the ground, turning and gliding deeper into the shadows.

“Wait! Don’t go!” she cried and chased after him. She followed him down the pathway off to the side, one she hadn’t personally gone down before. As she continued following him, the ground suddenly became spongy. Looking down, Wanda saw she was standing in sand. She could hear the gentle waves of water somewhere in front of her.

Looking up again, she spotted Vision standing a few feet away, beckoning her to come closer. Wanda swallowed and ran toward him. Right before she reached him, Vision suddenly vanished, leaving her alone on the dark beach. Wanda looked around, tears welling in her eyes. She couldn’t have just imagined that. It wasn’t possible.

Then, she felt his arms wrap around her and he gently kissed her cheek.

“I shall always love you, my beloved,” he whispered softly. His gentle embrace disappeared and Wanda slumped to her knees. Raising one hand to cover her eyes, she started crying softly. God, she missed her lover sometimes. Even after all these years.

The fingers of her other hand brushed against something soft and wet, startling her. Wanda gasped and yanked her hand back, noticing an odd form next to her. She could barely make out the shape in the darkness. Reaching into the pocket of her jacket, she pulled out the small torch she always carried on her. Wanda swallowed whatever nervousness she felt and pointed the beam of light toward where her hand had been.

It was hair. Black hair. Wanda raised the beam of light to the form and let out a cry when she saw who it was.

Loki was lying on the beach, water splashing up to his waist. He was pale as a ghost and someone had sewn his lips shut. Blood was leaking out of a deep gash in his side, staining the water and sand red. She didn’t know whether he was alive or dead.

“Loki? Loki!?” she called, shaking him roughly. He didn’t respond.

“HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME!” Wanda screamed into the night, hoping someone would hear her.

Chapter Text

Thor had searched for his brother all day, shouting so loud the trees shook. He kept trying to get past the barrier spell, his anger growing every time he failed. Throwing lightning at it didn’t help, which only made him angrier.

His friends tried to get him inside, but he refused. He would find no rest until his brother was safe again. And Loki was still alive. His heart told him so. His brother was still alive, possibly in need of his brother’s help. The god of thunder would not let him down, never again.

At some point around the lunch hour, Brunnhilde and Ayo approached him, bringing him food and water.

“I’m not hungry,” Thor growled and the Valkyrie narrowed her eyes at him.

“Thor, you can’t keep searching without any food or water. Either eat this banana or I will shove it up your arse. One way or another, you’re going to get nutrients,” she warned. Thor had angrily taken the banana and eaten it.

After he was finished, they’d heard some strange racket in the forest and ran to investigate it. They’d found nothing, but glimpsed a few of Gorr’s strange humanoid beserkers prowling around.

By the time it was dark, Thor was exhausted with worry. He remained outside, occasionally calling for his brother. Thor knew Loki. Loki was an escape artist and he would easily slip out of whatever bindings Gorr had him under. Loki would get free and he would run. If he had something to run to, he would come home quicker. So Thor stood outside, waiting and watching.

He was considering returning to the mansion to get some more food when he heard Wanda’s screams for help. Vowing to return to his watch once he helped his friend, Thor took off running. He ran faster than he’d ever run before, calling for Wanda. A thousand scenarios played out in his mind, each more horrific than the last.

The air started burning in his lungs, but Thor kept running. He was barely aware of the grass turning into soft sand as he reached the shoreline. He could see the shadowy form of Wanda, who was struggling to pull something from the water.

“Wanda!?” he called again.

“Thor! It’s Loki, he needs—”

Thor didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. He thought he’d been running fast before, but once he heard his brother’s name, Thor became little more than a blur of energy as he dashed for the two shapes in the darkness. He ran so fast that he almost collided with Wanda when he reached them.

“Loki? Brother?” Thor spoke anxiously, trying to see his brother’s face in the darkness. Realizing Wanda needed help, he quickly grabbed Loki’s other arm and dragged him further onto the shore. They gently laid him down in the sand and Thor instantly fell to his knees beside his brother. Wanda switched on her small torch and Thor let out a cry of horror when he saw the stitches in his brother’s lips.

“I found him, just now,” Wanda told him. “He’s still breathing, but he didn’t wake up and he’s bleeding. We need to get him inside.”

“Loki, open your eyes, please,” Thor pleaded, placing a hand on the side of Loki’s face. “Please, brother. You don’t want to be predictable, do you?”

Loki didn’t respond. He was soaking wet and so cold, colder than was normal. And he was so still. That was perhaps the most alarming thing. You gave me your word that you wouldn’t leave again, Thor thought desperately. Fear gripped his heart at the thought of what Gorr might have done to his brother in the days he had been missing.

The beam of the torch suddenly left Loki, but Thor paid it no heed. His focus was only his brother. Swiftly setting about checking for broken bones, Thor almost didn’t feel Wanda start tapping his shoulder.

“Thor.”

The pure terror in her voice made Thor look up at her, but Wanda was looking off down the beach. Thor followed her gaze to where she was pointing her torch and felt his own heart stop for a split second.

In the darkness and the fog, there were shadowy figures, hundreds of them. More kept appearing and the number grew to be impossibly large. Wanda’s torch illuminated the faces of some beserkers, who were slowly marching toward them, their coal black eyes fixed on the three on the beach. On the sides were some of the more beast-like beserkers, the creatures Thor remembered from history lessons.

Careful not to make any sudden moves, Thor slid his arms under his brother, lifting Loki up. His brother lay limply in his grasp, unaware of the mortal peril they were currently in. That much was a blessing. Thor shifted him a little, making sure his grip was secure. His eye never moved from the growing horde in front of them.

“Wanda, I want you to listen to me,” Thor spoke calmly. “Get behind me. We’re going to start backing up. We’re going to make as little noise as possible and we’re not going to run unless they give chase first.”

Wanda nodded her understanding and started to cautiously back up. The beserkers were making a bunch of strange squeaks and hisses. They continued to advance at a moderate speed, with the strange woman at the lead. She suddenly held up her arms and the whole pack halted. Thor felt his heart start to hammer.

“Wanda,” he whispered, drawing the younger woman’s attention. “Run.”

“What?”

The beasts started clawing at the sand and a smile split the lips of the strange woman. She thrust her arms forward and the beasts took off, running at an impossible speed.

“RUN!” Thor yelled and Wanda bolted back up the path. Thor ran behind her. He could hear the roar of the beasts as they swiftly ate up the distance between them. Clutching Loki even tighter, Thor briefly considered putting him down and calling upon his lightning. He didn’t want to risk it, not just yet, but he started summoning a storm. The wind picked up and thunder rumbled ominously overhead.

Wanda scrambled up the hill and Thor was right behind her. They soon reached the top and could see the mansion in the distance. Thor could hear the beasts right behind them, gaining ground. He could almost feel their hot breath on his neck. Hugging his brother tightly, Thor prayed he remained unconscious. The god of thunder staggered when his foot caught a root in the ground. Calling down lightning to strike the creature that lunged at him, Thor swiftly resumed running for the mansion.

Wanda reached the back door first and started pounding on it, screaming for someone let them in. Thor was running as fast as he could, praying he didn’t stumble again. If he did, both he and Loki were done for. The hungry beasts would tear them apart within seconds. Gritting his teeth, Thor ran even faster.

Bucky opened the door and his eyes widened significantly. “What the shit!?”

Thor bounded up the steps and slid into the kitchen, almost falling. Bucky slammed the door and twisted the lock. The enormous creature threw its entire body against the door, cracking the glass in the windows. Loud frantic scratching and a deep roar followed.

“That door needs to be reinforced,” Thor told Bucky, glancing over to the door where Steve and Natasha had come to investigate the racket.

“I’ll grab Tony,” Steve said before dashing off.

“Is everyone inside?” Thor asked as he started making his way through the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Natasha answered, looking over at Loki. Her normally unreadable face softened ever so slightly and she looked up at her friend. “Take him to the main room. I’ll get Bruce.”

“Thank you,” Thor said gratefully as he continued on his way. Natasha hurried off down another corridor.

When he reached the main room, Thor carefully laid this brother on the couch. He adjusted the cushions so that Loki’s head was resting comfortably on the arm of the furniture. Loki still hadn’t moved or woken. Feeling something wet on his arm, Thor glanced down and noticed blood. His heart clenched up and he looked his brother over, soon finding the large gash in his side.

“Oh Loki,” he whispered, gently running a hand over his brother’s wet hair, trying not to look at the stitches in his lips. “What did that monster do to you?”

When he heard the door slide open, Thor looked over his shoulder. Banner entered followed by Brunnhilde. His arms were full of towels, blankets, and medical supplies, which he put on the chair near the couch. When he saw Loki, he let out a low whistle.

“Looks like he’s a bit worse for wear,” Banner said, offering Thor a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. We’ll get him patched up.”

Grabbing a towel, he tossed it to Thor. “Hold that against the wound in his side. I’m going to take his temperature.”

Thor swiftly pressed the towel against the gash while Banner retrieved a thermometer. Putting a cover over the tip, Banner stuck the thin part gently in Loki’s ear. He watched the screen, frowning.

“His temperature is too low. We gotta get him out of these wet clothes.”

“He’s Jotun. His temperature is always low,” Thor pointed out.

“I know, Thor. It’s much lower than his baseline temperature,” Banner explained as he started unbuttoning Loki's shirt. Thor swiftly moved to help him and Brunnhilde started unfolding the blankets. Once they had removed his soaked clothing, she draped the blankets over him. Almost instantly, Loki started shivering and Thor could hear his teeth chattering. Grabbing one of his hands, Thor held it gently and warmed it between his palms as Banner started tending to the deep wound in his side.

After he’d cleaned and bandaged the wound, Banner reached for a scalpel and started trying to cut through the stitches in Loki’s mouth. Thor watched him, furrowing his brow when he noticed how much trouble Banner was having. He stopped after a moment and looked at the scalpel.

“Well that’s weird,” Banner said, looking to Loki’s eyes. In the brighter light, they could see the redness and inflammation around his eyes. Banner carefully pulled back one of his lids, peering at his pupil. His expression was not reassuring.

“The reaction is—”

Without warning, Loki suddenly sat straight up, slamming his head into Banner’s. They both fell back with a sound of pain, clutching their brows. Thor jumped back startled and Loki started scrambling on the couch, his eyes darting around frantically. His arm gave out and he slumped back, before trying to push himself back again.

Recognizing how frantic Loki was to escape, Thor swiftly lunged forward.

“Loki, brother, it’s all right. It’s me. It’s just me,” he reassured him, carefully placing his hands on the sides of his brother’s face. It was something Loki had done for him when he was experiencing an anxiety episode and it always helped ground Thor.

At first, Loki flinched, but then he seemed to settle a little. He clutched Thor’s wrist, his chest rising and falling rapidly. His eyes fixed on his brother’s face and Thor noticed they were slightly cloudy. He disregarded it for the moment. Right now, he just wanted to assure Loki that he was in no danger. There was no threat he needed to escape.

“You’re safe. You’re safe now. I’m here. I won’t allow any further harm to befall you,” Thor promised him and Loki closed his obviously irritated eyes again. He turned his face more toward his brother’s hand, and let out his breath slowly.

“Are you in any pain, brother?” Thor asked and Loki opened his eyes, giving him a look. Well obviously. Thor laughed softly and stroked Loki’s cheek with his thumb, leaning forward to rest his brow against his brother’s.

“I feared I had lost you,” the god of thunder murmured. He felt Loki shake his head slightly. The trickster gently squeezed Thor’s wrist and the god of thunder smiled at the familiar unspoken message: You didn’t lose me. I’m here.

Thor glanced over his shoulder to where Brunnhilde was helping Banner sit up again. The doctor was rubbing his head.

“That’s one hard dome you have there,” Banner mentioned as he moved back over to Loki. “As I was saying before the concussion, your pupil reactions are a bit delayed. Can you see, Loki?”

Loki made a few gestures with his hands, which made Thor frown. Banner scratched his head.

“Is that a yes or a no?” he asked when Loki lowered his hands.

“It’s neither,” Thor said. “He says he’s not completely blind, only mostly. Poison was repeatedly poured into his eyes and it temporarily blinds him. Gorr’s preferred method of torture.”

Loki nodded once in affirmation and then made a few more rapid gestures, which Thor watched closely.

“It’s not permanent. His vision will return by tomorrow,” Thor translated.

“Well, that’s good news,” Banner said. “Hey Loki, I can’t cut through the stitches in your mouth.  You wouldn’t happen to know how to do that, would you?”

Loki flopped back and massaged his brow, a look of thought crossing his face. He propped himself up again and snapped his fingers in Thor’s direction. When Thor looked at him, Loki made a few more gestures. Brunnhilde harrumphed as she leaned back.

“This god butcher is a huge pain in the ass and a coward,” she grumbled and when Banner looked at her, she nodded to Loki. “According to Lackey, you can’t cut through the threads yet because they’re the result of a spell. Gotta say, Lackey. Nobody’s better than you when it comes to finding trouble.”

Loki gave her a dry look before he continued gesturing to his brother. Thor watched him closely.

“We need to reinforce a blade with Borr’s Steel, a healing crystal. There’s one in Mother’s collection,” Thor continued translating. His eye widened and he twisted around. “Brunnhilde, go ask Wanda for the box with healing crystals. I saw her practicing with it earlier this morning.”

The Valkyrie nodded and swiftly left the room. Thor leaned back against the couch and Loki flopped back, closing his eyes. The god of thunder reached over and gently ran his hand over his brother’s still damp hair. To his surprise, Loki didn’t protest.

Loki’s eyes opened again and he snapped his fingers, drawing Thor’s attention again. He made a few more gestures.

“We’re going to need a bowl of warm water,” Thor mentioned as he moved to stand up. Banner put a hand on his shoulder, preventing him from standing up.

“I’ll go grab that,” Bruce offered before hurrying out of the room to retrieve the requested bowl. Loki slumped back again and ran a hand over his brow. The door to the hall slid open and Wanda strode in, followed by the Valkyrie. In her hands, she held the silver box. Loki pushed himself up into a half-seated position and she put the box in his lap. Flipping open the top, Loki dug around inside of it.

Pulling out a gray stone, Loki squinted at it and sniffed it. He shook his head and put it back in the box. He pulled out a similar-looking stone and repeated the action, then touched it to his lips, poking his tongue out slightly. Another shake of his head followed by an irritated huff. Loki winced and looked over his shoulder when something large struck the side of the mansion. Thor looked to the side when he heard a distant bang. The ground vibrated beneath them. Something was happening outside.

The door opened and Tony moved in, looking grim. Thor glanced at Loki, who had already turned his attention back to the box.

“He’s burning the goddamn town,” Tony reported. “The beserkers are crawling all over the place. Somehow, the citizens escaped and now Gorr’s trying to slaughter them all.”

Thor looked back to Loki, who was still focused on the box. He shifted his weight and was about to get up when Loki’s hand suddenly shot out, latching onto his wrist and squeezing tightly. When Thor looked to him, Loki shook his head. Don’t go, his eyes pleaded.

“Hey, Thor? We can handle this for the moment. Barton and Romanoff were able to retrieve a bunch of very useful weapons. We’re going to move the people somewhere safer until we can figure out how to evacuate them. Stay here with your brother,” Tony said.

“I’ll go with you, Stark,” Wanda offered. “I’m a decent shot and I can move without being seen.”

Tony offered her an appreciative smile and nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

Thor looked back to him. “If you require any help, send word. We shall join you as soon as we can.”

“Hello, Reindeer Games,” the chipper voice of the vacuum filled the room as it glided in and started sweeping. Loki glared at the thing. Thor and Tony exchanged a few words of parting and then Tony and Wanda left to join the others who were going to help the townspeople. Thor sighed when he heard the front door close and then turned his attention back to his brother, who had refocused his attention on the box.

Banner re-entered the room with a bowl of water right as Loki put the box off to the side. In his hand, he held a shimmering stone. Gesturing for the bowl, he waited for Banner to bring it over. When Banner put the bowl in front of the couch, Loki crushed the stone between his palms and allowed the dust to fall into the water. As soon as the particles hit the water, it started bubbling and steaming. Snapping his fingers at Thor again, Loki held out his hand.

“Do you still have the scalpel?” Thor asked Banner. The man nodded and grabbed the scalpel, handing it to Loki.

Loki looked to the bubbling water and carefully dipped the sharp tool into it. He stirred it around a bit, watching as a glow started to emanate from the liquid. After a moment, Loki pulled it out of the water, squinting at the blade. He shrugged and handed it to Thor, slumping back on the couch again. Thor exchanged a look with Banner and then looked back to his brother.

“Loki, I’m going to try to cut the stitches,” Thor told him. Loki opened his eyes and his shoulders slumped a little. He turned his face toward Thor and made a few gestures. Thor’s eye widened and he shook his head. Loki made more emphatic sharp gestures with his hands, a look of exasperation on his face.

“Yikes,” Brunnhilde muttered and Banner looked over to her.

“What? What’s going on?”

“Well, getting those stitches out is going to be way more unpleasant than I thought,” she explained, crossing her arms and leaning back against the wall nearest her.

Thor stared at Loki as he continued to make sharp gestures with his hands. “But…Loki, that’s likely to be agonizing. You can’t ask me to do that.”

“Hey, Thor? Could you maybe clue in the confused human?” Banner put in. Thor glanced at him and then looked back to Loki. Turning back to his friend, Thor rubbed his brow.

“According to Loki, the spell is concentrated in the knot. The thread is reinforced so even the gentlest touch is causing Loki discomfort. It’s powerful enough that cutting the knot won’t break the effects of the spell. To remove it, I can’t just cut it away. I’m going to have to unthread the stitches. It’s going to be very painful for him.”

Thor looked back to his brother. Loki spread his palms, attempting to smile and then thinking better of it. They both looked back to Banner when he cleared his throat.

“I can give you a mild sedative, Loki. It might take the edge off the pain,” he offered. Thor looked to his brother, who nodded once. Banner once again left the room. He returned a short time later with a capped syringe and an alcohol wipe.

Loki held out his arm and Banner scrubbed the inside of his elbow with the wipe. Then he uncapped the syringe, carefully sliding the needle into Loki’s vein. Once he was done, he removed the needle and stepped back.

Thor swallowed nervously and returned to his spot kneeling beside the couch. He held the scalpel and looked to Loki’s face. There was only the smallest hint of fear in his green eyes, and even that broke Thor’s heart. Loki met his brother’s gaze and nodded, giving his consent. Thor sighed and turned his attention fully to the cruel stitches. Finding the knot, he lowered the scalpel and started sawing at it, going as quickly as he dared. It only took a few cuts before the knot came free and a sickly yellow light raced over the stitches.

Putting the scalpel off to the side, Thor turned his attention to loosening the threads, which felt like tiny bits of leather. He carefully tugged at them, noticing his brother’s eyes welling up. As he worked, Thor was keenly aware of the tears dripping from Loki’s eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Loki’s fist clenching and unclenching. The trickster never made a sound though.

After what felt like an eternity, Thor removed the last stitch and tossed the awful thing aside. He gently kissed his brother’s brow.

“That was the last one, Loki. I’m finished,” he whispered.

Loki carefully ran his tongue over his lips, making a face of disgust when he tasted blood. Opening his eyes again, he looked to the ceiling. For a while, there was silence in the large main room. Then, Loki spoke.

“Where the Hel are my clothes?”

Chapter Text

He stood in the devastation of the island, staring in horror at the bodies strewn about, including those of his friends. Some were being feasted on by beserker beasts. The humanoid beserkers were prowling around the streets, which flowed with blood. Fire consumed all the homes and buildings. The island was dead.

The scene changed to SHIELD headquarters, where there was more death and destruction. Walking over to the window, he looked out among ruined cities. There was devastation as far as the eye could see. Midgard no longer belonged to the humans. It was now a beserker world.

“Gorr will not stop.”

Thor twisted to look behind him. Odin stood a few feet away, dressed in golden robes. He looked sad, but still smiled at his son.

“He is dangerous because he believes himself right. He sees the gods as tyrannical leaders and seeks to overthrow them. He has killed a great many and stolen their abilities. The God Butcher will not stop at the gods though. He will slaughter any who he sees as followers of them and I’m afraid that’s most of humanity. Most of the people of this world see you as a hero, look to you for protection, and Gorr believes that is a crime worthy of death. You face a powerful foe, my son. If you do not defeat him, this world will fall.”

The scene changed to New Asgard, which was also overrun with beserkers. Heimdall was leading the citizens into battle. He cut down an enormous beserker and the citizens he led leapt into the fray with fearsome cries.

“Could use you here, Thor,” Heimdall yelled as he cut down another beast. His bright orange eyes briefly fixed on Thor, who took a small step back.

“I-I shall try to return home,” he promised, but Heimdall shook his head.

“No, my lord. You must defeat the one who has unleashed these monsters,” Heimdall replied before turning his attention back to the battle.

The scene changed again to a cave-like setting. The flickering torchlight cast eerie shadows on the wall. Thor watched Gorr, surrounded by people in Earth First uniforms, all masked. Gorr held up the evil red brew in the jar.

“Venom from the deadliest species in the galaxy,” Gorr’s voice boomed throughout the cavernous space. “And now, with the blood of Jotun, Jormungand’s venom is deadly enough to kill the merciless Odinson.”

Uncapping it, the god butcher turned to where the unusual sword blade was laying on a table. He poured out the contents of the jar onto the blade, which soon pulsed with the same venomous glow. Gorr lifted the sword and it glistened with a poisonous light.

“In a few days’ time, Thor shall meet his fate at the end of the Necroblade. Then, this world shall be free of the tyranny of the gods,” Gorr shouted and his followers began to cheer raucously.

The scene changed again and Thor stood on the shoreline. The sudden calm and quiet was jarring. Thor closed his eye and lifted his face to the sky, inhaling the fresh air.

“I am sorry, my son,” Odin’s calm voice came from behind him. “From the moment you were born, your fate was cast. You are destined to die here after defeating the Midgardian Serpent. I wish it weren’t so. Alas, the fates are cruel sometimes.”

“Answer me this, father,” Thor spoke quietly. “What of my brother? What is Loki’s fate?”

“Loki’s fate has never been set. It changes frequently and remains hazy,” Odin replied. “If he stays and fights at your side, fights the God Butcher, he will share your fate. He too shall die. If he leaves and returns to New Asgard, he shall be a great leader who will continue the golden era the two of you began. Yet both these fates are also unclear. Your brother’s powers grow, like yours did.”

Thor swallowed and nodded, looking down as he kicked at the sand.

“I know what I must do,” he said softly. The fog was starting to thin.

_*_

Thor’s eye fluttered as he gradually woke up. He glanced at his brother, who was still fast asleep, wrapped securely in his arms. Loki had passed out shortly after changing into the night clothes Thor brought down to him. Dr. Banner said Loki was suffering from exhaustion and needed rest in order to recover. The god of thunder had carried his brother up to the room they’d been sharing and tucked him in before collapsing on the bed next to him.

Tony came in on the coms late at night and reported things were calm at the moment. They had put out most of the fires and been able to shield the citizens from the beserker attacks. The beasts had retreated back into the forest and for the moment, appeared to be remaining there. Most of the Avengers were going to spend the night in the town and the small group at the mansion decided to remain there for the night.

Thor carefully shifted out of the bed, doing his best not to wake Loki. The dark-haired god muttered in his sleep and yanked more covers over onto his side. The god of thunder smiled sadly, running a hand over his brother’s soft hair, and then strode over to the windows that looked out over the forest. His smile fell and he drew in a deep breath, reaching for the curtains. Pushing them aside, his eye roamed over the trees and soon fixed on the woman standing among them, clothed in a plain white dress. She looked like any normal human except that her skin was an unnatural chalky gray color and her eyes were jet black.

Moving away from the window, Thor crossed the room to the door, glancing once more at his brother. He silently left, shutting the door behind him, and made his way down the hall to the stairwell. As he moved through the enormous mansion, Thor felt as though he were walking in a dream. Everything seemed so surreal.

He reached the back door and opened it, stepping out into the pre-dawn darkness. The fog seemed noticeably thinner. It was cold, but Thor took no notice. He disregarded the beast-like beserkers who were lounging about on the grounds. His eye was solely on the woman in the white dress, the beserker who was waiting for him. She grinned, her fangs poking out slightly. Thor stopped when he was a few feet away from her, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I suppose I should thank you and your master,” he started. “You haven’t attacked the property since revealing yourselves. That’s almost honorable.”

“We have no reason to continue launching such attacks. You shall all be dead soon enough,” she responded, a cruel smile dancing over her lips. “You are the last living god of thunder. We have been preparing for this moment for a very long time.”

“I have come with a proposition,” Thor said. “You leave my friends alone, allow the people of this island to leave, and Gorr can have me.”

“Gorr is the God Butcher. He doesn’t barter with tyrants,” she replied. Thor’s lips thinned and he dug his nails into his bicep.

“Then he is too much of a coward to face me. Instead, he must torment and bully those weaker than him, exactly how he claims the gods he has a grudge against do. Let him know that Thor Odinson knows him to be pathetic and not worth fighting. I battle only with worthy opponents, not meek rodents cowering in their caves,” Thor told her. For a moment she was quiet and tilted her blonde head as though listening to something.

“He wants you to know that he will not spare your brother. The Silvertongue shall meet his end as well. All the gods must die,” she told him. Thor smiled grimly, chuckling.

“He needn’t worry. In the unlikely event Gorr defeats me, there is no place he can hide that my brother won’t be able to find him. Loki will come for him and believe me, my brother’s wrath is just as fearsome as my own,” Thor told her. “Perhaps you heard of the incident in New York? Or the War against Thanos? Underestimate Loki at your own peril.”

The beserker’s eyes widened and she took a small step back. For a moment, they stood in silence, watching each other. The sky began to gray as dawn approached.

“Gorr the God Butcher agrees to your bargain,” she finally said. “When do you want to die, god of thunder?”

“I wish to have this day with my brother and my friends. I shall come to him tomorrow after the sun rises,” Thor told her and she dipped her chin to her chest.

“So be it. If you attempt to run, if you try to escape your fate, he shall burn this whole island and slaughter the people of this planet,” she warned.

“I will not run,” Thor told her.

The woman turned and moved back into the forest, soon disappearing amongst the trees. Thor slowly let out his breath and then turned, heading back to the mansion. It seemed so cold and lifeless, a giant in the fog.

Thor entered the house again and made his way back upstairs, pausing just before the door to his room. He glanced to the side, noticing the little girl with the scarred face peeking out from behind the corner. Thor offered her a small smile and she smiled back shyly, disappearing behind the corner she was peeking out from. Turning his eye back to the door, Thor pushed it open and entered the dark room.

Thor was pleased to see Loki was still sleeping soundly in the bed, curled up comfortably under the blankets. He moved over to the bed and climbed back under what few covers Loki had left for him.

“Thor?”

Damn.

“Where did you go?”

Thor cleared his throat and wrapped his arms around his brother’s lean form again. “I just wanted to stretch my legs. I’m sorry if I worried you.”

“What time is it?”

“Early,” Thor answered, gently kissing his brother’s head. “Go back to sleep.”

Loki nodded and curled up a little more.

“Loki?”

“Hmm?”

“Were you telling the truth? When you told Gorr I had been in Vanaheim the day of the orphanage fire?”

“Mmhm.”

“You’re lying, brother.”

“You lied about going out to stretch your legs,” Loki replied tiredly. Thor cringed. He sometimes forgot that half-truths and omitted truths still fell within the realm of lies. He closed his eye and held his brother closer, not wishing to fight with him. It was the last few hours he was going to have with Loki and Thor wanted it to be as happy a memory for his brother as it possibly could be.

_*_

Brunnhilde sharpened one of the knives the two spies had brought back when they’d raided the town’s hidden arsenal. The whole group was sitting in the enormous dining room. The Avengers had returned from setting up the survivors in a temporary safe haven. Clint and Natasha remained with them, keeping a lookout for any further beserker activity.

In her years working for the Odinsons, the Valkyrie had learned how to read their subtle cues and could almost always tell what they were thinking or planning. She glanced over at Thor, who was sitting at the table, the very portrait of calm. Her eyes wandered across the table to the other side of the room, where Loki was leaning against the wall. His arms were crossed over his chest and he was glaring at his brother. They’re going to start fighting. Perfect, she thought as she continued sharpening her knife.

“Okay, so we’re all aware that this situation is pretty dire,” Steve Rogers started. He didn’t get any further when there was a loud pounding on the front door of the mansion. Rhodey reached for his gun, as did Bucky. The pounding started again.

“Guess we should see who that is,” Rhodey mentioned and Steve nodded. He and Thor rose to their feet and followed Rhodey out into the front hall. Brunnhilde sighed and swung her feet off the table, rising to follow them. She stopped at the door to the dining room, watching as they continued down the long front hall to the door. Right as Rhodey reached for the door handle, there was another series of loud pounds. The man pressed down the handle and pulled open the heavy front door.

Sif stood in the doorway, wearing full armor. “It took you long enough.”

“Sif,” Thor greeted boisterously, throwing his arms around his friend in a tight embrace. “How did you get here?”

“By ferry,” Sif replied as she stepped inside, glancing behind her when Rhodey shut the door. “Loki implied you were in danger, so Lady Hill and I decided to come. We encountered resistance from some very unpleasant Earth First sorts at the ferry and had to commandeer it. Lady Hill is holding it at the dock.”

She paused and glanced around at the faces in the hall. “I fear I bring ill tidings. We had planned to bring a battalion of SHIELD agents, but they are under siege by beserkers that look like Midgardians. Thor, they’re everywhere. They’re overrunning cities around the globe and they’re near invincible. We must return to New Asgard, gather our resources to help our allies fight this menace.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Everyone turned to look at Loki, who was standing with his arms crossed over his chest and leaning against the doorframe. He looked completely unbothered.

“Or rather, it would be pointless,” he continued. “When I was escaping, I happened to notice something. Gorr has linked his beserker hybrids and their beasts to his own life force. They share most of his abilities, hence their seeming invincibility. However, if Gorr falls, so do those creatures.”

“You’re saying the only way to kill these things is to kill the guy who made them?” Rhodey asked as he holstered his pistol and Loki dipped his chin to his chest. “That sounds a little too easy.”

“I assure you it’s not. None of you possess the means to kill the God Butcher. He has absorbed the powers of hundreds of gods, making him stronger than any of us. He’s immune to mortal weapons. Not even the firearms you lot are so fond of can hurt him,” Loki explained.

Sif nodded. “In this instance, Loki speaks true. Only a god can vanquish the God Butcher, based on what little information we have about him.”

“I have a plan,” Thor spoke up, drawing everyone’s attention. “Earlier this morning, I approached one of Gorr’s beserkers and offered a trade: my life for safe passage off the island for all of you. He has agreed to the bargain.”

“You impulsive fool!” Loki snapped. “You cannot possibly even consider—”

“He’s expecting me tomorrow at dawn,” Thor finished and Loki’s mouth snapped shut. The trickster tilted his head slightly, his fury replaced by curiosity. Thor grinned faintly.

“Hey guys, you want to bring the rest of us into the loop?” Tony spoke up, looking between the Odinsons.

“Gorr’s expecting me at dawn,” Thor replied, looking to his friend. “He’s not expecting us in the middle of the night. Brother, did you not sense the powers he took from us in that cave?”

“I did,” Loki said hesitantly, still watching his brother suspiciously. “Based on what I was feeling, they’re being held in a fairly ordinary contraption. One that could easily be shattered with the right amount of force. That still begs the question of how we get to the cave that’s protected by barrier spells.”

“Wanda and I were attacked on the beach by beserkers who appeared seemingly out of nowhere,” Thor replied. “There’s a way inside the cave within those rocks, I’m certain of it.”

Loki arched an eyebrow. “Clever, brother. I’m impressed.”

“I propose a small group accompany me to the cave, to release the abilities Gorr took and then to kill the God Butcher,” Thor stated, looking around at his group of friends. “We can also retrieve the weapons he stole. While the group is doing that, I shall defeat Gorr—”

We shall defeat Gorr,” Loki corrected. “Don’t give me that look, Thor. There’s still a prophecy hanging over your head. If you face the God Butcher alone, you will fall. And as I said earlier, he’s more powerful than any one god. If we work together, we just might make it out of this alive.”

Thor sighed and his shoulders dropped, but he nodded. He looked back to his friends.

“The rest of you should evacuate the civilians of this island. Once Gorr becomes aware of us, he will order his creatures to resume the attack. We will try to buy you as much time as possible, but I fear it will still be a difficult battle. Sif, can you and Lady Hill work the ferry?”

“Yes, we can,” Sif answered. “It takes about a half-hour to get to the opposite shore, maybe a little less. It is a large ferry, so I think we can transport a large number of civilians. It won’t take too many trips to get everyone off the island.”

“Good,” Thor said. “Who wishes to come with Loki and me to the caves?”

“I’ll go,” Steve volunteered.

“Well, if he’s going, I have to go,” Bucky put in with a half-smile.

“I’m in too,” Peter Parker stated. “I want my stuff back.”

“Kid, you’re going to be the death of me,” Stark muttered, but smiled at the young man. He looked over at Thor. “Hey, Point Break? What about our families on the mainland? I’m all for staying and fighting to keep these civilians safe, but I gotta make sure Pepper and the kids are okay. I’m fairly certain Clint and Nat will feel the same.”

“Ayo and I will take the first ferry back,” Brunnhilde offered. “We still have a car. It won’t take us over long to reach the inn. Don’t worry, Stark. We’ll protect your families.”

Ayo nodded in agreement and a look of relief spread over Stark’s face.

“Guess that means we should head over to the safe harbor,” Rhodey put in. “Get the folks ready to move.”

Brunnhilde moved off to the side as the old allies started to exchange words of parting and wished each other luck. There were a number of firm embraces and eyes started to well up. The Valkyrie moved over to Loki, who was rubbing his palms together. His gaze was distant and he didn’t notice her until she grabbed his elbow and roughly pulled him into the kitchen.

“Talk, now,” she demanded and he looked at her with the most perfect expression of puzzlement. Too perfect.

“About?”

She let out an annoyed laugh and shook her head. “Don’t do that shite, Lackey. I know you’re planning something. You have figured out a loophole and are going to do some stupid reckless shite that your brother is going to hate and I most likely will as well. There is no way you would ever let Thor go against the God Butcher, not with that prophecy hanging over his head.”

Loki held his hands behind his back. “That damn prophecy. It actually took me quite some time to figure out how to get around it, but I finally did. It says Thor will die.”

“Obviously,” Brunnhilde agreed and Loki glanced at her.

“It doesn’t say my brother will die.”

“I don’t follow.”

Loki smiled, a very slight sad smile. “I’m a shapeshifter, Brunnhilde. I can take on the guise of others when I have access to my powers.”

The Valkyrie’s eyes widened significantly. “You don’t mean…Loki, no.”

“Once my brother releases my powers, I shall teleport him out of danger. Then I shall take his place,” Loki explained. “One last time. One final trick.”

“Gorr will kill you and then he’ll go after Thor,” Brunnhilde pointed out.

“I’m also a warrior, Brunnhilde. Trained by Queen Frigga herself,” Loki replied calmly. “The prophecy has always stated that Thor and the Midgardian Serpent will kill each other. I shall be able to defeat the God Butcher, even if I lose my own life in the process.”

“There has to be some other way,” Brunnhilde muttered. “There has to be.”

“Come now, Valkyrie. Don’t go soft,” Loki teased and she glared at him.

“Your brother will never forgive you if you go through with this, Lackey. This is unfair to him.”

“I honestly don’t care. It may be unfair, but this is the only way Thor survives. I have made my decision and you shall not talk me out of it.”

Brunnhilde clenched her fists and closed her eyes, slowly letting out her breath. Norns, the damn obstinate Odinsons were determined to make her job an actual living Hel.

“I don’t want to lose either of you,” she admitted.

“I do not wish to die,” Loki replied, shrugging. “However, I made a promise to someone a very long time ago. It is the one oath I have always tried to hold to. Thor must survive this and I shall do everything in my power to make sure he does. My brother will not die by the God Butcher’s hand, not if I have anything to say about it.”

Brunnhilde was silent for a moment. Then she strode over to Loki and wrapped her arms around him. He jolted, obviously surprised.

“What…are you doing?” he asked.

“It’s a hug, you idiot,” she grumbled. “And if you tell anyone about this, I will kill you.”

Loki sighed and cautiously returned the embrace. Brunnhilde clenched her eyes shut, swallowing her tears.

Chapter Text

There was an odd calmness that came with the certainty of death. Loki had always found it most peculiar. The two and half times he’d died, he experienced an inner peace unlike any he had ever felt before. This time, knowing it was going to be the final time, he found he was even calmer. Whatever cares and concerns he had just drifted away and he focused solely on what he needed to enact his plan. It would require impeccable timing. There was absolutely no room for error, but Loki knew he could do it.

He stood next to Thor, watching as the former Avengers drove away from the enormous mansion, heading to the town to protect the civilians. Sif had left earlier after exchanging parting words with Thor. It was the closest Loki had ever seen her to tears. She knew of the prophecy and knew there was a good chance it was the last time she would ever see her friend alive. When she said goodbye to Loki, she’d given him a strange look and for a moment, Loki was actually worried that she might have figured out his plan. The one thing that could possibly ruin it was if his brother found out. Because Thor would never allow him to go through with it and Thor was likely the only one capable of physically stopping Loki.

Thankfully, Sif just said she would see him in New Asgard and warned him to be careful. Loki couldn’t prevent the breath of relief that escaped him.

Now, he and Thor stood side-by-side at the window, watching the empty street. Loki was doing his best not to think about how much he would miss his brother. He was trying to recall everything about Thor that annoyed him. If he could do that, parting from him would be much easier. Betraying him would be so much easier. Alas, he couldn’t do it.

“How is your sight, brother?” Thor asked.

“Back to normal,” Loki replied. “Still a little blurriness around the edges of my vision, but that shall be gone by nightfall.”

“And your mouth?”

“Completely healed,” Loki answered. “I’m experiencing no discomfort, Thor. I’m fine.”

“Good,” Thor said, whispering under his breath, “Good.”

Loki swallowed and glanced down at his feet briefly. “Do you remember when we were young and we’d sneak various sweets from the kitchens?”

Thor laughed. “Aye, I remember that well. I remember us getting our hides tanned a few times when we got caught.”

Loki grinned and shook his head. They’d had some truly good times when they were children.

“I remember when I was in the healing wing after the assassination attempt, shortly after I woke up, there was a large celebration that I had to miss,” Thor said. “I had been looking forward to attending for quite some time. Most of Asgard was in attendance, as well as a number of people from other worlds. You remained at my bedside all that night.”

Loki shrugged. “I was never very fond of stuffy overly crowded gatherings and you were so despondent about missing the damn thing. Your moping has always been intolerable. I much preferred the quiet of the healing wing. It allowed me to get some reading done and practice a number of spells.”

Thor laughed softly. “Ah yes, I remember that was one of your first forays into cloaking yourself. When you went into the great hall and stole a truly impressive amount of food to bring back to me.”

“I almost got caught too. I had forgotten to extend the cloak to the damn food,” Loki remembered with a laugh. “Admittedly, scaring the Hel out of some crotchety diplomats and politicians was rather amusing.”

Thor was quiet for a moment, a fond smile dancing over his face. “I really enjoyed that night.”

Loki smiled. Hold to those memories, brother. Remember them and try to remember me fondly.

Thor cleared his throat and kicked at the ground. “Do you remember when we were young men? That time you wanted me to go with you to that enchanted forest on Vanaheim?”

“Vaguely,” Loki replied. “You were too busy with studies, I believe, and I wound up going myself.”

“It was a lie. The Warriors Three and I wanted to go to a tournament and enjoy revelries,” Thor admitted sheepishly. Loki let out a bark of laughter, glancing over at his brother.

“Please tell me you’re not feeling guilty after all these years,” Loki said, grinning. “Thor, I’m the god of lies. I was fully aware that it was an excuse. You were always bright enough and rarely required extra time to study. Give me a little more credit.”

Loki turned his attention back out the window, still smiling.

“You never asked me to go on a journey again,” Thor spoke softly and Loki looked over at him, frowning. The god of thunder swallowed.

“That was when you started going off on your own, using the secret paths. You would be gone for long periods of time, going on your own adventures, but you never again asked me to accompany you,” Thor continued. “You would always come on quests and journeys with me when I asked. I was always waiting for you to request for me to journey with you, but you never did.”

“I…didn’t think you would be interested in the places I journeyed to,” Loki replied. “I feared you would find such excursions dull and didn’t wish for you to be bored.”

Thor smiled sadly. “I am sorry I gave you that impression, brother. I would have enjoyed exploring different lands with you.”

He looked back out the window as did Loki. It would be dark soon and they would have to start preparing.

“Thor?” Loki waited until his brother looked back to him. “Since coming to Midgard, I have been trying to map out the various secret paths of this world, off and on. I’ve mostly mapped out Europe. I haven’t gotten around to the other continents yet. After we’ve defeated Gorr, perhaps we could take a trip to North or South America? There are a number of places there that I greatly wish to see.”

Thor’s face lit up brightly. “I would like that, brother.”

Loki smiled and looked back out the window, noticing the shadows were starting to grow. The sun would soon set on his last day. I wish I could keep my word and go on that trip, Thor. I wish more than anything I could explore this world with you, Loki thought as he slowly let out his breath. His hand shook slightly, but the trickster willed it to stop.

_*_

The next few hours passed swifter than Loki would have liked. He tried to finish the book he’d started reading, but found he was unable to focus on it. Thor was dictating his last will and testament to Brunnhilde, who was grumbling about how this wasn’t part of her job description. “I’m supposed to keep you numbskulls alive,” she reminded him. Thor was leaving everything to Loki: his possessions as well as leadership of New Asgard.

Loki listened with half-interest, more focused on the chessboard in front of him. He was playing against himself, of course. Eventually, Thor and Brunnhilde left. Thor gently patted Loki’s shoulder as he walked past him. Loki stayed focused on the game, trying not to think about how it was his last day. He wondered what his afterlife would be like. Death by venom, of all the ways I could die, that was certainly not one I considered, Loki thought as he moved a piece. It was not a demise he was particularly looking forward to and he was rather annoyed at how painful it was likely to be.

Loki glanced up from the game when he heard a soft knock on the doorway. Bucky was standing there and he offered Loki a faint grin.

“Time to suit up,” he told him and Loki sighed, looking back to the board. He made one final move, bringing the game to a draw. He’d hoped for a more dramatic ending, seeing as how it was the final game he would ever play. Oh well.

Loki stood from his chair and moved confidently out of the room, heading for the stairs. He climbed up them, glancing over his shoulder to the enormous window that looked out over the drive. The sky was dark. Night had finally come and Loki’s time was drawing near. Despite that, the trickster couldn’t help but smile. If he had to die, it might as well be pulling off a brilliant scheme.

Entering the room he shared with his brother, he was a little surprised to find Thor wasn’t there. Then again, his brother always prepared for battle absurdly early. He was probably already in armor and swinging his swords around somewhere. Norns, I am going to miss the oaf, Loki thought with a rueful smile and shake of his head.

As he changed his clothes for battle, Loki ran through his plan in his mind. It relied on perfect timing, which concerned him. Loki always liked to leave a little wiggle room in his schemes, but he could work with what he had. Yes, he could do this.

When he finished changing, Loki took a deep steadying breath, wishing he had full access to his abilities. He had more than most, but they were still hampered. What he wouldn’t give for his damn helmet. It wouldn’t do much good against the God Butcher, but it was more about the aesthetic. At least he had most of his armor. Thor’s ridiculous insistence that he always bring it actually proved worthwhile this time.

Hearing a knock on the door, Loki twisted and noticed his brother standing there. Sure enough, the god of thunder was dressed in armor. Dual blades rested at his hips, ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice. He looked every inch the experienced warrior he was. Thor was watching him with an odd expression, one Loki couldn’t decipher. The trickster frowned.

“Brother? Are you all right?”

Thor smiled, a hint of sadness dancing across his expression. “As much as one can be given the circumstances.”

Loki smirked. “You should have listened to me earlier when I suggested leaving.”

Thor laughed softly. Loki turned around fully and approached him.

“It’s not too late. Now that we have a ferry, you can still escape,” Loki offered and Thor looked at him. “Thor, flee. Just this once, I beg of you. I promise I will get your friends to safety and join you right after.”

The god of thunder was quiet for a moment. When he spoke, it was apologetically. “You know I can’t do that, Loki.”

Loki smiled and shrugged. “I know, but I can still hope. Well, we’ve escaped certain death before. I’m sure this time will be no different.”

The trickster glanced to the window when the branches of a tree scratched the window panes.

“You’re determined to follow me into battle,” Thor spoke softly, drawing his brother’s attention back to him. “You wish to stand at my side despite the fact that doing so means certain death.”

“I’m not about to let you have all the fun and possibly challenge my title of the savior of Midgard, Thor,” Loki teased him. “Be at ease, brother. I have no plans to die tonight.”

Thor went quiet and Loki noticed a tremor go through his hand. His brother swiped at his eye, clearing his throat. Loki tilted his head, unsure what was wrong.

“You’ve always been there for me, Loki,” Thor murmured. “I want you to know how truly grateful I am to for that and how proud I am of you. If this is to be our end tonight, I really want you to know that.”

Loki snickered. “You always get so sentimental before battle, brother.”

Thor swallowed and swiped some tears from his eye again.

Loki reached out and tightly gripped Thor’s shoulder, feeling a tremor go through him. “Thor, we’ll get through this like we have everything else. We always emerge victorious. The God Butcher is no match for us.”

Thor drew in a shaky breath. Loki was unsurprised when he was suddenly enveloped in a hug and couldn’t help but roll his eyes as he patted Thor’s shoulder. His brother was terribly predictable.

“I love you, brother, more dearly than anyone. I always have,” Thor whispered. Loki could tell the god of thunder was on the verge of tears and still wasn’t sure why. Then he felt an odd pinch on the back of his neck and anxiety coursed through his veins.

“Thor, no! Don’t—”

It was too late. Thor pressed a button and a strong current of electricity coursed through the trickster’s body, instantly incapacitating him. Loki’s legs gave out, but Thor’s arms kept him from crashing to the floor. The god of thunder slowly lowered his brother down, holding Loki as he trembled.

“I’m sorry, Loki. I’m so sorry,” Thor apologized, running his fingers through his brother’s long dark hair. “But I cannot…I cannot…”

Thor swallowed and lowered his brow to Loki’s. “I had a vision last night, of my fate. If I do not defeat Gorr this world will fall. If you stand by my side, Loki, you too shall fall. If you leave, you shall become a great leader and our people will continue to thrive. Brother, this is the only way. It’s me Gorr wants and it’s my responsibility to defeat him. Loki, you can’t take my fate as your own, you cannot trick the fates. I…I cannot lose you, not again. I know you will be angry with me and you don’t understand, but please at least try. You must survive for our people, for me. Please, brother. I need you to return to New Asgard and continue leading in my stead, just as you did before. You must leave this place, Loki, and never look back.”

Loki glared at him, even as he continued trembling. He was so furious that he didn’t even feel the pain. Thor drew back, smiling sadly as he ran a hand over his brother’s hair.

“Never doubt my love for you, Loki. Nobody is more blessed than I, for I was able to be your brother,” Thor told him. He gently kissed the trickster’s brow and then lifted him up, moving out of the room and down the hall. Loki tried to struggle, to speak, but the damn obedience disk rendered him unable to do anything. Terror coursed through him as he felt Thor descend the steps. The front door was open and Loki could just see the Valkyrie standing beside the car outside. Don’t do this, Thor! Please don’t do this, the trickster thought as desperation crept into his mind.

Loki felt Thor lower him into the backseat of the car. His warm hand rested above the trickster’s heart briefly. His blue eye fixed on Loki and there was such love swimming in its depths that it physically hurt. Loki felt a tear crawl down his cheek and the god of thunder brushed it away.

“Goodbye, Loki. Be good,” Thor whispered to him with a final soft smile. Then his warm hand vanished from Loki's perception and the door shut. Loki could hear the muted voices of Brunnhilde and Thor outside the car, could see Ayo sitting stiffly in the front seat, and continued trying to struggle. Soon, Brunnhilde dropped into the driver’s seat and Loki heard the engine turn over.

NO! WE CANNOT LEAVE HIM! HE’S GOING TO HIS DEATH! Loki thought frantically as he felt panic overwhelm him. The car started moving swiftly away from the house and Loki couldn’t see his brother, but he could feel Thor getting further and further away. More tears came unbidden to his eyes and despair overtook the trickster, even as he continued trying to figure a way out of his predicament.