There were bigger and better cities to take over than Tonsberg, but ever since he had absconded with the Tesseract - after a series of events that still seemed somewhat off, though he had yet to put his finger on precisely how - Loki found that he preferred to lay low. To be certain, there was a dilapidated castle, and several other artifacts peppered throughout the area that hearkened back to both of his native cultures' lengthy and beleaguered history, which could all easily come to belong to him with minimal effort. Nonetheless, the God of Mischief had come to appreciate his ability to appear generally inconspicuous since escaping New York by the skin of his teeth; as such, it didn't seem prudent to draw the ire of either Thanos or the Avengers at this point, even when the Tesseract (frequently) suggested otherwise.
Such was the way he found himself inside one of a small chain of area coffee shops in the town. Again, something local seemed a more intelligent decision per his current general goal to survive, as opposed to making a magical trek to nearby Oslo for Starbucks. Loki had been alive long enough to know, as well, that the average local would likely sniff at him in disdain for even mentally comparing the two. In any case, he knew he did not stick out, wearing, as he currently was, casually but very intentionally worn-looking Midgardian garments which he had conjured for himself, and certainly not among all of the other fair-skinned Scandanavians milling about him. He also absolutely did not anticipate being recognized, and certainly not by, well, him.
To his credit, the being entered the coffee shop in a normal way (through the front door of the establishment; a small bell jingled as he stepped over the threshold), but it was immediately apparent that he was anything but typical. The cape atop and across his shoulders existed, for one thing; it was more dramatically collared than Thor's - the sudden mental image of his brother (or step-brother, apparently) sent a sharp pain shooting through Loki's chest - though they seemed to share a predilection for the color red. Aside from the ridiculous costume, Loki could sense a sizable array of magic abilities in the man now striding purposefully ('no, no, go away,' he groaned inwardly) towards the small table where he had been nursing a frothy, caffeinated beverage. None of them even remotely rivaled his own, of course, even sans Tesseract; nonetheless, Loki could tell this man could make a good deal of trouble for him if he so wanted, and unfortunately, he seemed to be interested in doing just that.
Sure enough: "Hello," he said to Loki, with only a touch of sardonic amusement. It reminded Loki of the Iron Man amongst Thor's - another small pang - new mortal friends, and he was sure his eyes rolled before he could help it. "My name is Doctor Stephen Strange, and I need to talk to you." When Loki did not yet move or speak, Strange added, "It's about your brother."
'Oh, Hel,' Loki thought sourly. "Step-brother," he intoned aloud, and then scowled when the magic doctor human seemed to take his clarification as an invitation to sit down across from him. If there was any cosmic deity left taking Loki's interests to heart, they were likely responsible for Strange angling himself just enough so that their equally long legs did not brush underneath the small table. "I'm listening," he finally sighed, and Strange pressed on as if he had been remotely inviting.
"Loki, is it?" Loki had the grace to look minorly startled. "I'm not here to hurt you," Strange said, seemingly finding it important to assure him; Loki wondered how eager he must look to flee suddenly, and then realized it was quite possible the man knew about the Tesseract in his possession. "I'm ... a friend," he added. "I mean, kind of."
"Do all Earth wizards talk this much?" Loki was feeling prickly today, and the man before him was wearing such a stupid outfit. "Do the children at the birthday parties where you most often perform like that?"
"All right," Strange sighed. "Here it is. You know that guy you've run away from?"
"You're going to have to be more specific," Loki snorted into his drink, very nearly coating his nose with white foam.
Strange was outright frowning at this point. "Fine," he finally intoned gravely. "Thanos. You got hold of the Tesseract and ran away from him, and you ended up here. Well, he's been causing all sorts of trouble in the timeline where you stayed put. Like, in the future."
Loki's face was full of myriad emotions. "Timeline ..." he murmured. His eyes locked onto a fixed point over Strange's shoulder. "I knew something felt ... off ... in the lobby of the tower ..."
"Exactly." Strange looked relieved. "The Avengers are trying to fix everything Thanos does in the future. Suffice it to say, it doesn't involve a career as an event planner."
"Does Tony Stark like all your little quips?" Loki snarked outright. "Or does he see it as competition?"
"I've been working on my tight five for Open Mic Night at the Sanctorum," Strange deadpanned. "Right after we put on a production of Phantom of the Opera."
"You're certainly dressed for it."
"And you have more in common with your brother than you might think, as long as we're talking fashion choices." The Sorcerer Supreme fought the urge to massage the skin between his eyes in exasperation. "As much as I love this back-and-forth, however, we're running on a pretty tight schedule. Everyone's gathering for the final battle now. Time to polish off your latte most vanilla and come with me."
Loki's smirk faded. "My brother," he repeated softly. "He's alive and well, then?"
"He's alive," Strange said. "But he needs you." He stood up, and Loki stared down at his half-full cup as if it would reveal something pertinent about his own future. "He could use a helping hand from his adopted sibling," Strange added.
Loki looked up at him now. "Future Me has that covered, I'm sure," he said, but it was in weak protest at best. In truth, the mere thought of Thor in Thanos-related peril made Loki's stomach churn.
Doctor Strange looks at him with well-practiced clinical compassion. "Future You ... is gone," he tells this Loki. "But Thor isn't. Yet."
With a final sigh, and his legs shaking only a little from the combination of the Tesseract, his own natural adrenaline ('Future You is gone,' Strange had said), and out-and-out fear, Loki stood and, picking up his coffee cup, drained the remaining liquid, and then set it back onto the small, round table with a 'clink.' "Where do we start?" he asked, and Strange let out a barely audible exhalation of relief.
"It's more like 'when,'" he told Loki as they made their way into a convenient alleyway. The light that emanated from his fingers was an effervescent yellow. "C'mon, bring your magic cube friend," he said as the portal opened before them. "I'll fill you in. We've got a few quick stops to make along the way."
The battle raged. All around them was fire, brimstone, the excesses of Thanos; everywhere was war and vermin and the imminent threat of extinction. Thor, his chest now emblazoned with a deep axe wound to rival some of the nastier ways Loki had been gouged in the past, tried to stay focused on Thanos, tried not to get too demoralized by how plainly outnumbered they were, how badly Thanos had managed to catch them off of their collective guards.
The opening of the portals was heartening, to be certain, albeit bittersweet. He had already fought a losing argument with the other remaining Avengers about attempting to use the Infinity Stones beyond simply reversing the Snap, and it was a difficult pill to swallow, knowing that ultimately, they had agreed to do absolutely nothing. Still, seeing the old faces of the many heroes he had met in the past few years was nice. He squinted as he watched Valkyrie soar past him overhead atop an honest-to-goodness pegasus. Not far away, he could even hear Korg's booming voice.
Then, there was an achingly familiar flash of green seidr. Frozen, Thor watched helplessly as the slight outline of his brother formed and solidified before him.
As the portal behind him continued to crackle, Thor could make out a number of small but significant differences between this Loki and the incarnation of Loki whom Thor had cradled in his arms after Thanos had dropped his still-warm body carelessly at Thor's feet. There were a million things Thor wanted to do now besides fight, but he knew that there was no running from this moment, for any of them. Fate had arrived, and they had squared up and opened the door to face it head-on; because that's what heroes did.
The portal behind Loki expanded. Thor could only watch as the first Frost Giants stepped out of the mystical vortex, flanking Loki on either side. More followed, each armed to the teeth, to say nothing of their actual claws and teeth. Finally, when there were no more surprises, Thor watched his brother brazenly raise his arms, stretching them at his sides, an offering, a promise. "Your savior is here!" he shouted for good measure, and then, with solemn affection, his gaze turned to Thor's own stricken face. "Hello, brother," he said. Thor could tell that he had many things he wished to say, about his brother's own surprising appearance, if nothing else. Still, there was no time to talk, not yet. If they survived this, Thor thought; if they were both alive in the end - at this notion, hope blossomed in his chest for the first time in five years; the wound from Stormbreaker beat time against his breast - he never wanted Loki to stop talking to him ever again.
"Will you ride into battle by my side?" Thor's throat was tight, and unshed tears threatened to blind him; he swiped at them hastily, half-heartedly. "I need my brother."
Loki's smile was beatific. "I'm here," he said, and their shoulders brushed as they moved simultaneously to flank Captain America, as they prepared to take the cosmos back. And as Steve Rogers ordered them all to assemble, Loki lined up with the rest of the Avengers, and let himself be counted among them.
When it was over, when Thanos had turned to dust, and they had trod through it with tired feet to stand in silence together, allowing themselves to just breathe, they surveyed all that they had managed to save, and then leaned against one another, weeping for everyone they could not. Even so, Thor's tears were largely joyous as he clung to Loki who, alternate timeline or not, still smelled of his own seidr, and who looked at him now with all of the love and vulnerability Thor had known was inside of him all along.
As the moment lingered, however, nature took its mostly premeditated course. "The Earth wizard says you went back home and spoke to Mother," Loki reported. He raised an eyebrow. "Do you not have fresh garden vegetables yet on New Asgard, then?"
"We do. They taste great with beer." Loki's arms were yet long enough to wrap bodily around him, in any case, and as the team at large began to make plans to rebuild, to, finally, move forward ("I've never had shawarma," Captain Marvel could be overheard saying to Tony Stark; the Gauntlet, just scantily resized to fit her, now rested easily in the crook of her, incredibly, uninjured arm), Thor was confident that things were going to be okay now.
The sun peeked through the clouds and the grit of their hard-won battle. It was almost blinding, but Thor smiled and tilted his head to meet it anyways, albeit while squinting. Beside him, Loki huffed a little: "You got a new eye without me."
"Do you like it?" He instinctively wanted to flinch when Loki's deft, cool fingers rubbed against the scarred skin around his right socket, but it actually felt very nice. "I had an eye patch for a while," he confessed, and Loki scrunched his nose a little.
"Come on, you pirate." Loki gave him a momentarily final once-over, and then gripped his brother's hand. "I think we all deserve some beer with our salad tonight."