He entirely intended to die. Well. Intent wasn’t quite the right word for it. But he expected to, and that was truly the same thing, in the end.
Waking up was a surprise. Waking up to find Sigyn kneeling beside him with a faint smile on her lips was more of a surprise. He had left her many years before, with their children gathered around her and the same smile, though that one had been a little broader, a little less tired around her eyes.
“You’re a fool,” he murmured.
She laughed at him, tilting her head back and rolling her eyes to the skies above. “Perhaps this is what we have had in common,” she said, and he pushed himself into a sitting position because he refused to lie at her feet while she said such things.
“How long have you watched over me while I yearned for others?”
“Always,” said Sigyn. “With a single, most notable exception.”
Loki chuckled without a trace of humour. “My time in the hands of those who had greater ambitions than even I.”
“You looked more at home in the prisons of Asgard than you ever did on Earth. I was glad when your ambitions came to nothing – especially since they were not truly your ambitions.”
“You know nothing of my ambitions,” Loki snarled, and Sigyn remained characteristically unflustered.
She held out a hand. “I intend to make you King of Asgard, Loki. Not because I believe it is your birthright. You know as well as I that birth means nothing, and life everything.”
He watched her carefully for some sort of trick. But her gaze held steady, so he lifted his hand to take hers, and she pulled him to his feet.
But she didn’t release his hand. “Do you regret the blood you’ve spilt?” she asked. “If not for their sake, for hers?”
“What of the blood spilt by my so-called brother?” spat Loki.
“Your brother’s past is being atoned for. He is fighting for a band of warriors made up of men and women trying to ease the evil in Midgard, to clean the red from their hands. But what of your hands, old friend?”
“Friend,” Loki laughed, wrenching his hand free. “Is that what you call what we were? Tell me, then, how many friends have you made since we parted last?”
“More than you,” said Sigyn, and were he not angry at her for defending Thor, he might’ve laughed.
“You answer the question not,” Loki said instead.
She spread her hands. “Tell me, then, what it is that you are doing, if not ignoring a question I asked before you asked your own?” she said.
“Do you dare try to trick me, Sigyn?”
“The human girl did. The one they call a spider’s name.”
“I was not myself!” Loki snapped, and Sigyn looked entirely too smug.
“Perhaps you ought to tell your brother that,” she told him.
He flinched. She was looking at him like a mother looked at her child, and it ached in a way it never should have.
“Do you accept my terms, Loki, King of Asgard? Or would you rather be a forsaken Frost Giant with the blood of Frigga staining your hands?”
Loki stared at her. Then, “There are few things in this world I want so greatly. But your motives are suspect to me. I will not make you my queen. I tried to sell myself for a throne once before, and accomplished little but gaining the wrath of the Hulk.”
Sigyn cupped his face in her hands and bent his head down to kiss his forehead. “My dear, dear Loki,” she murmured. “My gift is to see. And I see danger for our children, unless there’s someone on the throne of Asgard.”
He grinned at her, wild and wicked and still rather lost. “Then perhaps I should go speak to my father, and tell him of my unfortunate demise,” he said.
“Odin’s heart aches for children to run through the halls once again,” Sif said. Loki could hear the unspoken words, the he misses Thor, but was careful not to react. A simple guard barely in earshot of her and the Warriors Three ought not to be reacting to commentary on the king.
Volstrogg snorts. “Does this mean he intends to make this Sigyn his queen, and place one of her children on Thor’s throne?”
“Thor no longer wants the throne,” said Sif. “He has fallen in love with a girl of Midgard, and the realm with her.”
“Father, father!” Vali said, and Loki could no longer focus on his projections. His consciousness snapped back to his body, leaving an empty illusion in the corridor, as Nari and Vali climbed into his lap. “Nari hid under the ruins, but I found him, I found him, I could hear him breathing!”
Loki dropped the glamour of Odin’s form and gritted his teeth before replying, “Vali, what have I said to you about calling me father?”
“But…” said Vali, and then bit his lip. “Not to,” he replied grudgingly.
Nari nuzzled into Loki’s chest despite his armour. “Mother says you’ll claim us as yours someday,” he mumbled into the fabric.
“Does she,” Loki said flatly. He looked up and found Sigyn standing by the door, hands clasped in front of her, the sleeves of her shirt pooling around her wrists. “I need to speak to her. Alone. Go play, and I shall send one of my illusions to you when I am done, and do the seeking.”
This appeared to be a fair deal, because both boys skittered off to the halls of the citadel. Sigyn watched them go, and then approached the throne with slow and careful movements. “Do you object to the thought of claiming our children as your own? Surely you have learnt the pain of lying about one’s parentage.”
“Do not,” Loki was on his feet in a heartbeat, and stabbed a harsh finger at her, and then was almost brought to his knees by the weight of a memory of Odin and Frigga in the precise same positions. “You remind me,” he said instead.
“I wonder how often Thor sees someone with hair of some length, or eyes like yours, or wit like yours, how often a Midgardian child with raven hair playing gives him pause. And guilt. And grief so great as yours.”
“No,” said Sigyn, and he couldn’t kill her. Not when her steady gaze held him like he had been caught sneaking Thor into the kitchens and Frigga had caught them (again). “It is most evidently not. If it were, you would be on Midgard, groveling to your closest kin on hands and knees. If it were enough, you would be on this throne by right instead of trickery, and you would claim your children as your own. Not as princes, as sons. Give them what was denied to you.”
“You call upon me to claim the boys as my blood, and yet regard Thor as my kin?” Loki sneered.
She tipped her head to one side. “Kin is more than blood.”
“—is a good man. And a good brother. I have seen him, seen his attempts to bring you reason when all others called for blood.”
He stared at her. Then, “I cannot reach Midgard.”
“I saved you from the abyss into which you fell,” replied Sigyn. “Do you believe I cannot summon the energy to send you to another realm?”
Loki met her eyes. “If this is a ploy to gain my throne, it is a very clever one. But neither all the cleverness in the world, nor the children you have borne, will save your skin.”
“If I wanted the throne, I would have taken it.”
That rang true, though he remained suspicious. He had yet to figure out why she had saved him so often, and therefore had yet to gain a better measure of her motivations.
“I will have to leave someone on the throne,” he said.
Sigyn huffed. “There will be no throne to come back to, should I take it in your absence. The people would mutiny.”
His Odin form returned. “Send for Sif,” Loki ordered.
“Loki,” Thor growled, stalking towards him in a way that made him glad it was a mere projection. “Of all your betrayals…”
“Ah, but you believed this time! How many times will you mourn me, brother?”
“Once more,” snarled Thor, and his hand closed around the throat of the illusion, making it fade.
He spun around, and the real Loki held up his own hands placatingly. “To be entire fair, I thought I was truly dead until – would you stop trying to kill me for a moment, brother?”
“How about you stop yammerin’ and explain what the hell you think you’re doing back on Earth before I let your brother tear you limb from limb?” Another man suggested. “Thor, stand down ‘til we’re sure this isn’t a trick. Your dame could probably throw me in a black hole if I got you killed.”
Thor clenched his jaw and stepped back, and Loki turned toward the other man. “Another of Midgard’s meager might? Do you all come broken, then?”
“You keep talking, but I’m the only person keepin’ your brother from doing something he’ll regret, Antlers,” said the man, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. Loki probed out at him, found a life of caring for the noble Captain, then following him into battle, then being made a weapon… He was a man of many names, but went by the sickeningly saccharine childhood name of Bucky and the title of the Winter Soldier, whispered in fear.
“I know you,” Loki said, “You’re the boy who fell and broke the good Captain’s noble heart. No wonder you showed me mercy,” his lip curled, “you are no more virtuous than I. I wonder, if I fucked the man I grew up with, would I gain a spot in the Avengers?”
Bucky’s eyes went flinty. “You’d best start explaining, or we’ll see whether Phil’s gonna be forgiving about you coming back around. He’s got this gun, we call it Sic Semper Tyrannus, apparently he used it on you once?”
Footsteps approached, and a dark-skinned man came into the room with his hands passively at his sides. “Let’s all calm down, shall we? Stark may have reinforced this place, but he gets in a mood when there’s structural damage, so let’s try to talk through our problems first and move to threats later.”
“I thought my brother had died the man I knew him in our childhood, and here he stands before me, the same vile creature who killed the Son of Coul and enslaved the mind of the good Hawk.”
“Am I?” said Loki. “Am I a vile creature, Thor? I thought you had changed, I thought there was no longer hatred for Frost Giants in your heart.”
Thor seized him by the throat and slipped his hand around to hold the back of his neck in a too-tight grip. “I care not what blood runs through your veins, so long as your heart is of the brother I knew and loved!”
“I gotta admit, I don’t see why Loki would show up in Avengers tower if he was planning another invasion. Didn’t the Hulk reduce you to a bloody pulp last time?” the man directed this at Loki, who shoved Thor away and stalked towards the newcomer.
“Perhaps I have come to repay the favour,” snarled Loki, “or perhaps I came to tell Thor of my survival and to ask forgiveness.”
Steady brown eyes regarded him. Then, he held out a hand. “I’m Sam Wilson. My status as New Yorker and Avenger is relatively new, and last time I thought someone was beyond saving, I was wrong. So call me naïve, but I’m gonna put just the tiniest bit of trust in you. Can you tell me what led to this change of heart?”
Loki’s eyes slid to Thor. “I had no intention of being injured upon the field of battle,” he said, “and it was no trick. Had you been able to return my body to Asgard, I may have truly been gone. But I have a protector who has watched me from a distance, and she came to my aid. It was she who placed me upon the throne, in Odin’s guise, and it was I who bid you return to your beloved and your comrades here. And now I have been sent to seek your forgiveness.”
“Huh,” said Bucky, and Loki turned to him. “Oh, uh, it’s just – Thor was telling us about Odin on our Daddy Issues night, and it seemed to me the only decent thing Odin did was to let you go. So, uh.”
“Loki,” Thor said. His voice was ragged. “Swear to me that this is true,” he said, almost begging.
“I swear it to you upon the blood of our mother, whose blood that stains my hands but does not run through my veins as it does yours. I swear it to you on the lives of my sons Nari and Vali, the throne I hold, and the childhood we shared.”
Sam and Bucky backed slowly out of the room as Thor seized Loki’s face and pressed their foreheads together, murmuring to him I missed you and I am sorry and brother.
They make it to the end of the hallway before the word SONS?! thunders through the tower.
Jane may not have slapped him this time, but another woman, one with hair as dark as his, punched him in the stomach and echoed her exact words – “That was for New York!”
The other brunette just blinked at him and said, “You’re hotter when you’re not killing people. Just a tip, y’know, whatever,” she said, waving a hand about.
“Skye,” said a familiar voice, and Loki found himself facing down the man with the gun. The gun was absent today, as was the gaping hole in his chest. “Loki. I trust we won’t find ourselves on opposite sides again?”
“I have made enough promises for one day. What brings you here? Come to look after your duckling as she pokes a sleeping beast?”
The brunette who’d punched him – Skye, who was no more human than Loki was an Asgardian – rolled her eyes, and Loki glanced between her and Coulson. “Adopting more strays, I see. How do Barton and Romanoff feel about this?”
“Pretty sure Clint’s, like, the stepdad there,” the other brunette said. She was standing close to Skye, skimming her fingers down the not-human’s back. Lovers – Darcy, supplied the memories fresh on Skye’s mind. “Which is weird, since he was sort of a duckling at some point. Wait, Asgard has ducks?”
Loki regarded her with a strange mixture of distaste and amusement. “No. Barton’s mind held knowledge of a great many birds native to Midgard.”
“Skye, Darcy,” Coulson said. “I need to speak to Loki alone.”
Skye rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Darce.”
Loki turned his full attention to Coulson as the women left. “Stark has already threatened me,” he said. “So it seems a bit redundant for you to do it as well.”
“Before I died – I did die, incidentally, since you seemed to have been wondering – I said you lacked conviction. And it’s weird, because from the way Thor explained your relation to him, you only ever wanted the Asgardian throne. That was your conviction, that you belonged on the throne of Asgard. So what were you doing on Earth?”
“Why indeed,” said Loki.
Coulson held out his hand. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I forgive you for stabbing me. Damn,” he added suddenly, “I’d hoped to never have to say that again.”
Loki clasped Coulson’s forearm. “And I shall not seek retribution for you shooting me.”
“That seems fair,” agreed Coulson. “Oh, and you’re not off the hook with me until Clint forgives you for making him kill people.”
“That is also fair.”
Clint stared at Loki, but his eyes were unfocused.
“I hated my father for using me as a pawn,” Loki said. “I wished he’d left me for dead as a child, rather than taking me as some spoil of war to mold into a figurehead he could place at the throne of Jotunheim. And then I used you as a weapon against the only kin you had. I addled your mind and I stole your memories.”
“I know all this,” Clint croaked.
Loki looked at him. “I wanted the illusion of control, after a lifetime of being controlled. And in doing so, I took control from you. I do not apologize, and you would not believe me if I did. So I shall instead offer you control over me. Give me an order, and I shall obey.”
“And if I ordered you to die a slow and painful death without whatever magical cure you had the last two times?” The archer’s voice was colder than the air of Jotunheim.
“Then I would throw myself into the same abyss into which I last fell, and tell Sigyn not to spare me.”
For a moment, Loki thought Clint would ask exactly that of him, and wondered idly if Sigyn would (as he suspected when he made this deal) save him anyway.
But then Clint Barton stood up. “Do what you want,” he said. “I’m not gonna force anyone to do something they don’t want to do.”
The door slammed behind the human, and Loki didn’t move for a long time.
“You can only use the excuse that we are what our circumstances made us so often,” said Romanoff. “Then you have to be more than what your circumstances made you.”
“I fell once.”
Loki watched Barnes warily. He thought that, if any of these humans were going to successfully kill him, it would be this one.
“I fell, and I survived, and I didn’t want to. I was made into a weapon, a monstrous killer feared by everyone who knew my name. And then he brought me back.”
He remained silent, which was perhaps a first, and the steel-armed man lifted his gaze to his.
“Let him bring you back.”
“We all screw up. I mean, sure, your screw-up killed a few hundred people and made your brother give everyone his Puppy Dog Eyes Of Eternal Sadness, but, y’know, Merchant of Death here, who am I to pass judgment? Although, you ever toss me out of my own goddamn tower again, we’re gonna have a problem.”
Rogers was by far the most difficult. He had a more sharply cutting disappointed gaze than Odin himself, and something about the kindness that masked the ferocity with which he would defend his shield brothers and sister reminded him of Frigga. Rogers had a touch of the mothering instinct to him. “It was my call, whether or not you could stay here. I mean, obviously no-one had final say, but they were willing to defer to me.”
“And you chose to allow it, despite the destruction I inflicted upon your homeland,” said Loki, “Why?”
“Because we’ve all killed people,” said Rogers.
Loki cast out for the Captain’s thoughts, and found a memory of the metal-armed one, Barnes, with two flesh hands. There was a fight, and Barnes was clinging to the edge of something not unlike Loki’s fall from the Bifrost, and the Captain stopped to throw his shield at their attacker before he went to fetch Barnes. And Barnes fell, screaming, clutching at nothing. He jerked out of the memory, heart hammering.
“Don’t betray Thor,” Rogers said. “Because he’s one of us, and we will avenge him.”
“You’re not a god. And you’re not a king, not on Earth. Here, in this tower, you’re just Thor’s brother, who went through a rough patch.”
“Then I am defined by my brother.”
“For now. I used to be defined by what happened when I was angry. And that’s still a major part of who I am, but I’m more than that. Now you just need to be more than a former enemy.”
“Okay, so, first of all, you guys need to learn to communicate with ‘I’ sentences. It’ll keep things from devolving into blaming and arguments. Okay, Thor, you can start by saying how you feel.”
Loki lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, but otherwise didn’t react to the Falcon’s words.
“I feel glad that my brother has stopped trying to kill me,” Thor said, sounding faintly bemused.
“If I wanted to kill you, brother, you’d be dead,” Loki snapped.
“You did kill me!”
“Yes, and it worked, until the Allfather intervened.”
Sam cleared his throat. “Let’s try that again. Loki, how do you feel?”
“I feel ire because my brother is a fool,” Loki said.
“No, okay, I think you’re missing the fundamental point of this exercise,” said Sam. “You’re supposed to not argue.”
“I’m the fool? Me?!”
“Okay, new thing, we’re gonna try active listening,” Sam said loudly.
“That is the most laughable thing you have ever said, brother!”
“All right,” Sam shook his head, “Have fun, you two. When you sort things out, I’ll open the door.”
“I have been threatened by even more people now,” Loki said conversationally, as he tossed a strange Midgardian fruit up and caught it. “Is this what friends are for, to threaten people?”
“I will threaten people for you, brother,” Thor replied.
Loki barely managed to catch the fruit, and disguised the pause where he regained his bearings as examining the odd plant. “Who, precisely, decided that this thing was edible?”
“It is a strange thing, is it not?” Thor said, and pulled a very large knife free. Loki considered taking it and stabbing Thor, but the thought felt strangely dissatisfying. “Give it here, brother, and I will slice it so that we may eat.”
“Do you eat the spikes?” Loki asked, watching Thor cut it into narrow rings.
“Only the yellow part,” Jane said. She padded barefoot into the kitchen, blinking sleep from her eyes, and turned on the primitive contraption that made the foul coffee the other residents of the tower seemed to subside solely upon. “Skye’s shipping out today. We’re taking her and Darcy out to dinner still, right?”
“Indeed,” Thor said, and pulled her into his arms to kiss her.
Loki busied himself with a curved yellow fruit, which didn’t smell the least bit appetizing, but didn’t look like it was better used as a weapon, which was an improvement over the spiky fruit.
“Do you want to come?” Jane asked, and it took Loki a moment to realize she was addressing him.
He narrowed his eyes. “You need not pretend to enjoy my company to curry my brother’s favour. Already he favours you above everything else.”
“Thor,” Jane said, “can you go ask Tony whether that laptop he’s making Skye is ready yet? I’d go, but, well. I’m not dressed yet.” She tugged on the shirt she wore, which was huge and most likely Thor’s, and half-shrugged.
“Certainly,” Thor said, kissing the top of her head before sweeping out.
Loki regarded Jane with slightly more interest than he usually afforded her. “You wish to speak to me alone,” he said, when Thor was out of earshot.
“Yeah,” she replied, and stacked slices of pineapple onto a plate. “Can I get you anything to drink? We have wine that goes well with fruit. I guess, anyway, I’m not really an expert.”
“I prefer not to stall,” said Loki.
Jane sighed and pushed her hair out of her face. “Very well,” she said, and almost sounded Asgardian. “I just thought you might need booze to deal with this conversation, because I sort of do.”
“Is this the part where you threaten me?” Loki asked.
“No,” she said, “this is—to be honest, I don’t know what the hell this is. But, the thing is, I’m dating a guy who’s been alive for thousands of years and is barely twenty in human terms. He’s going to watch me grow old and die, and then he’s going to keep on living without me. And that’s, well, that’s weird as it is. But… You love him too. The same way I do, I think, though you two are a bit more complicated.”
“Do not feed these lies to Thor,” snarled Loki.
Jane held up her hands. “You gonna let me finish what I was saying?”
He glared at her. “You have my attention, however shortly,” he said.
“Take care of him, when I’m gone.”
“Is this a joke to you?”
“Thor’s happiness will never be a joke to me,” Jane replied. “He wants me. I mean, he also wants you, but he does want me. So give me the duration of my comparably short human life with Thor, and then make sure he’s happy for the rest of his life.”
“Are you making a deal with me?” Loki asked, with a spreading smirk.
“Is it working?”
“Let me make you a counteroffer,” he said. He loomed over her, and she trembled but didn’t lower her gaze. “You keep my brother happy through this strange fancy of humanity, and I wait for you to be dead before I take what I want.”
There was a pause. Then, “That’s exactly the same deal, but reworded to sound sinister,” she said. “No, really, how is that different?”
“I liked you better when you were frightened and dying,” Loki said.
“I liked you better in handcuffs,” she retorted.