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Let's Change the Inevitable

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“And for another, we have the hulk.”

Hulk charged in the same moment Loki leapt forward, the Tesseract bouncing away as he grabbed Thor with both hands and dragged him away from Thanos. They rolled, falling from the raised platform that they had been standing on mere hours ago, before the optimism and hope for the future had been swallowed by the shadow of Thanos’s ship. Every bone in Loki’s body ached, but he swallowed a comment down when he considered Thor’s bruised and dirty face, blood dripping from his nose, the corner of his mouth, the wound on his temple from Thanos’s gauntlet. Loki swallowed at the sight of that too, averting his eyes.

Thor groaned in pain as Loki pulled them both upright, his face contorted in a pained snarl as he glared with his one eye, slurring his words through bloody spit. “You still have the Tesseract?! Loki!”

“You can conceive some terrible and awful punishment for me when we’re out of this mess,” Loki said through gritted teeth, hooking one arm under Thor’s and hauling him further back. Thor resisted, trying to twist out his grip, leaning his weight towards Hulk.

“Bruce. We have to help Bruce…” he trailed off, heaving for breath to hiss out each word.

We have to get out of here.” Loki kept his grip on Thor, holding him back from doing something stupid, because he would definitely do something stupid and heroic and get them all killed. He scanned the debris and—and the bodies… for the Tesseract while Hulk fought a losing battle against Thanos as they traded punch-for-punch: single-minded fury outmatched by cold, brutal calculation. Hulk stumbled just as Loki spotted the Tesseract behind a fallen column of metal pipes and grating, wires and cables sparking weakly with blue-white electricity.

Unfortunately, Maw spotted it the same time.

Meeting each other’s eyes for the briefest moment, registering that the other had seen the prize, they lunged for it: Maw elegantly striding forward to pluck it from the ground, Loki frantically scrabbling across the floor on bloody hands and knees to snatch it back. Maw was faster, uninjured at full health, but Loki didn’t play fair. He summoned a dagger from the ether and threw it as he made a final dive for the Tesseract.

His fingers closed around the sharp corners of the cube.

The dagger sank into Maw’s arm.

Thanos beat Hulk to the ground, a shudder reverberating through the floor.

The jolt stole the Tesseract from Loki’s fingers; he chased it as it tumbled across the floor with three heavy, dead clangs that rang in Loki's ears, before it scraped to a stop at Maw’s feet.

Sound left the chamber. His vision shrank until there was nothing but the Tesseract, it’s cold light casting a blue glow on Maw’s smug face as he reached down with his good hand and curled his fingers around it's edges. Loki tracked it, unblinking, as time slowed to an almost standstill in the few short seconds that Maw presented the Tesseract to Thanos, his words warping and dragging through his little speech. Thanos crushed the cube in one hand in less than a second, but Loki saw it as if it took an hour, watching every crack and splinter form across its surface before it crumbled to dust between his fingers.

It fused to the gauntlet, set on Thanos’s knuckle next to the power stone. He turned his attention back to Loki and Thor.

Everything sharpened into focus again under Thanos’s stare. He couldn’t look away, even if he tried; his heart threatened to burst out his rib cage and run away, his ears roaring in time with his pounding pulse. Cold sweat pricked down the raised hairs on the back of his neck, but he didn’t unclench his fists to wipe it away; he wouldn’t reveal how badly his hands were shaking.

Stall him.

His voice was lead. His mouth was too dry to speak; even if he could, they had no means of escape. He was good, but he couldn’t talk forever. Thanos wouldn’t allow it.

“I recall, you once said you would bring the Tesseract to me,” Thanos said, slowly approaching them. “In return for the use of the sceptre I granted you use of, for the vengeance you coveted against the man behind you.”

His eyes flicked from Loki to Thor, who wheezed for breath, his weight falling more heavily on Loki’s back by the dragging second. Loki braced him, keeping his body between Thor and Thanos.

Stall him.

“Instead, you would’ve attempted to keep both from me, for the same man behind you.” He said it without malice or anger; a statement of fact that left no room for denial.

Stall him.

Loki found his voice, forcing a smile onto his face, indifference into his words. “Perhaps you could consider it a momentary lapse in judgement. The other two stones on earth—you’ll need someone with experience to guide you to them. I have that experience.”

Thor jostled him sharply, but Loki refused to look at him, his eyes fixed on Thanos.

“If you consider failure experience," Thanos replied with a half shrug. His generals formed a half-circle behind him, watching Loki with savage glee. Loki’s knife hung at Maw’s side, the hilt rolling between his fingertips, blood dripping down his arm. Loki didn’t look at that either. Out the corner of his eye, Heimdall lay bleeding in the rubble, mouthing the words to call on the rainbow bridge one final time. Just a little more time…

Stall him.

“I consider experience, experience,” he countered. Shifting his weight, he slyly gripped Thor’s wrist tight in his hand, and prayed Thor didn’t give them away with his stupid face. “In the end, it’s all the same: I’ve been to earth, I know who and what is there.”

“The Avengers,” Thanos said. He nodded, approaching them.

Thor tensed behind him, ready for a fight: Loki kept his grip firm, holding his ground even as Thanos narrowed the gap between them, even as he saw his own death closing in on him.

“Yes,” he agreed. “The Avengers.”

“The same group of humans that defeated you,” Thanos said. “Do you consider that another lapse in your judgement?”

A beat of silence. Loki licked his lips, searching for an answer.

He was going to die.

“See, that has always been your downfall, Loki,” Thanos said. “You’ve always lacked conviction.”

He was going to die.

He summoned a blade from the ether in his free hand, hiding it from view. His heart raced in his chest, chasing his death with each pounding beat. He fought for something to say; anything that would give them—him—just a few seconds more, just a little bit longer to come up with a plan.

Time ran out.

Loki flipped the dagger around in his hand, catching the hilt as Thanos reached for him.

Light erupted from behind Thanos, a kaleidoscope of colour racing through the ship. The rainbow bridge shot past them, carrying Hulk’s half-conscious body along in its path. Loki leapt for the edge, pulling Thor along with him.

Triumphant, he turned to smirk at Thanos and his Generals.

The glint of a knife out the corner of his eye stole his attention the second before it sank into his throat.

It jolted him backwards, stopping his breath, his remaining knife falling from his grip with a distant, hollow clatter. A white blanket fell over his vision, spotted with black flashes, his steps faltering as he half-jumped, half-fell into the rainbow bridge. His fingers loosened from Thor’s wrist, even as he screamed without a voice to hold onto him, to pull him to safety, to save him. With one last spasm, they closed on empty air, and he shot through the window and out into space, the rainbow bridge carrying him far away from the decimated Asgardian ship, and Thor.

They zipped through space at dizzying speeds, only Heimdall knowing where the bridge was taking them. Loki swam in and out of consciousness, his hands curled around his throat to stem the bleeding, his magic exploding from his fingertips in a frenzy to salvage the damage caused, the hysterical green flashes healing him without conscious thought. He gasped for breath around the blade of the dagger as his magic slowly rejected it from his body, fighting to remain awake.

The knife was nearly completely ejected when a small blue planet rose up in his vision, the rainbow bridge arcing down onto its surface.

Earth. Of course.

The planet surface came into focus at an alarming rate: mountains, cities, streets. The rooftop. Two floors. The stairs.

The rainbow bridge collapsed there, leaving them sprawled on the floor in a nest of rubble and debris, while the rest fell down around their heads. His dulling, spotting vision found two shadowy figures looking down on them, bright orange circles like shields fizzing and sparking in front of them.

I remember them…

“Thanos,” Banner—now Banner, not Hulk—said nearby, outside of Loki's vision. “Thanos is coming.”

Darkness swallowed Loki.