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The Bifrost activates that evening and deposits Sif and the Warriors Three neatly next to the device. There is much slapping of backs and many fond greetings, and they repair back to the Avengers’ mansion for the night. None of Thor’s companions give any hint that they are here for militant purposes, and Thor feels himself relax just a little. Sif and the Warriors Three are straightforward beings, and even given the manner of Thor’s departure from Asgard they view him with respect. They would not attempt to deceive him about something so important.

“We were astonished to receive your transmission,” Sif says as they sit around the living room. “Heimdall said that the Lady Jane was clever and would reach us, but we did not expect it so early!”

“Even Heimdall looked surprised,” Fandral laughs. “I would swear that I saw him blink.”

Jane beams at them, warmed by the compliment.

Thor had been worried that his friends and the Avengers would be too different for comradeship, but his fears are soon allayed. Tony is gregarious in any company, and Steve is possessed of an immediately likable nature. Bruce and Clint hang back a little at first, wary, but Natasha has no chance of being unsociable as soon as Fandral catches sight of her. Fandral is quickly rescued by Sif, however, so no lasting damage is done.

Thor is the center of both parties’ attention, but Volstagg manages to draw him aside as the evening wears on.

“Loki is not with us tonight?” he asks.

“No,” Thor says, good mood dampening. “He - no. But he is much recovered.”

“That is good,” Volstagg says dutifully.

The Avengers eventually retire, citing early obligations the next morning although Thor suspects them to be motivated by a desire to give him some time alone with his friends. Jane and Erik depart as well, a reluctant Darcy in tow, and Thor feels certain they will spend the rest of the night happily investigating their data rather than sleeping.

“So tell me, friends - what news of Asgard?” Thor says as they relax in solitude.

“You are greatly missed,” Fandral says. “It has not been the same since your departure.”

“I am sorry for the nature of my leaving,” Thor says. He shudders to remember that time - beside himself with worry over Loki’s mental state, bewildered by his friends’ inability to think anything but the worst of his brother, desperate for some course of action he could take and follow to the end. He had not spoken to his friends in days and did not apprise them of his plan. In retrospect, it could only have felt like an abandonment. “Are my parents well?”

“They are,” Volstagg says. “Though they miss you also. Relations with Jotunheim have improved, you will be pleased to hear - the All-Father would like you to return and be part of the negotiations, if you are able.” His voice trails off a little at the end.

“I assume Loki is not welcome,” Thor forces himself to ask.

“He is not,” Sif says, her voice neutral.

“Have you come to escort him back to Asgard?”

“No,” Sif says, her tone a little more comforting.

“Speaking of Loki, where is the little scamp?” Fandral says, striving for a lighthearted tone. “Hasn’t conquered the realm yet, I see.”

Hogun kicks him in the ankle and Fandral lapses into silence.

“He is elsewhere,” Thor says as the atmosphere becomes strained. “He is much better now.”

“That is good!” Sif says, glaring at Fandral. “You may journey back with us and see your parents.”

“Perhaps,” Thor allows. He does long to see his parents, and Asgard. His mother, he knows, will have worried over them this whole time, and while his father does not display such things he is certain that Odin has as well, but he does not wish to depart without speaking to Loki first. To leave with matters between them as they are would be.. damaging, and to more than just Thor’s sense of peace.

Sif glances nervously at the Warriors. “The invitation is... not in the nature of a request,” she says slowly.

“The All-Father commands it?” Thor asks, just to be clear.

“He does.”

“Very well.” Thor forces a smile. “But we needn’t depart immediately! We can take tomorrow for sport, can we not? My companions here are mighty warriors and I know you will enjoy their company.”

Sif wavers, then concedes. “I for one would enjoy that very much.”

“As would I,” Fandral says, a dreamy look overtaking his features. “The Lady Natasha is a formidable warrior, I am sure. Very adept at hand-to-hand.”

“She is, at that,” Thor says, feeling a little of his brother’s mischievous nature take hold. “I am sure she would enjoy sparring with you.”

Sif hides a smile. Clearly some part of her conversation with Natasha this evening revolved around battle tactics, for she seems to have a very realistic view of Fandral’s chances.

Thor shows them to their chambers shortly after and then takes himself off to his own. Loki is hovering in the doorway between their rooms when he enters.

“Broth- Loki - “

“I assume you’re leaving tomorrow.”

Thor halts, wary of scaring Loki off. His brother’s body language is tense and defensive, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.

“The day after, I believe.”

Loki nods sharply. “I refuse to go with you.” He straightens and prepares to retreat, then adds stiffly, “I shall see you when you return to visit Jane.”

“Loki - “ But Loki has already closed and locked the door. Thor kicks it, frustrated, and shouts “I do not want to leave you! You are my brother and I love you!”

There is no response. It is not until much later that Thor realizes Loki’s preemptive refusal to accompany him to Asgard saved both of them from a discussion of that impossibility.