When Thor fell, everything trembled. The shockwave came up through the air and made Tony's course wobble: that was why he looked down. "Thor's down," Steve's voice came over the comm, calm. Tony could see Natasha running towards the impact crater, and Steve was in defensive position in front of it, shield ready. He should've gotten back to the fight then and there: Doom's second wave of magic-enhanced super-soldiers was still coming, and even though Thor had taken out the miniature Death Star, as Tony had dubbed it, there were plenty of smaller flying guns in the air.
Tony didn't know at first what it was that made him pause. Thor was knocked flat, that was all. Nothing that didn't happen once in a while, even to your friendly neighborhood demigod. He was lying pretty still, but okay, he'd taken a hard knock—he'd be fine—
Then he realized that he'd seen, out of the corner of his eye, that Loki had stopped fighting. He'd been tangling with a few tanks, some ground troops Clint was backing; all of a sudden he wasn't moving, looking over at where Thor had hit the ground. A shell landed at his feet, blew: the explosion seemed to just float through his body, as though he'd phased out of space, and when it passed he was still just standing there.
"Guys," Tony said over the comm, "Thor is down."
"Yeah, I said—" Steve said.
"No," Tony said, "I mean, Thor is down." And he turned and shot down to the impact crater.
Natasha was leaning over Thor's body saying, "Thor—come on, Thor, Midgard is calling," and pinching his earlobe between her thumb and fingernail. Tony hated that. She looked up when he landed and shook her head, brief; there was an anxious furrow between her eyes. That was never a good sign. "He's not breathing," she said.
"Okay, back up," Tony said. "Jarvis, I need some juice to the gloves, we're going to do a little high-powered CPR here—"
Natasha's gasp warned him; she flipped back for some distance, guns already clearing her holsters, and Tony whirled and raised his hands defensively. Loki was standing on the edge of the impact crater, staring down at Thor. Tony braced for impact, for attack; Loki didn't even look at him. He stood on the edge for another moment and then stepped down, slowly, one step after another like he was walking somewhere he didn't want to go. Tony backed cautiously away from him, trying to decide whether to pull the trigger—starting a firefight over Thor's unconscious body didn't seem like the best idea if he could avoid it.
Loki got to Thor's side, and then he got down on one knee, and then on the other, and stared down at him. "Thor," he said, after a moment. Tony shot a look to Natasha, who had both guns leveled at Loki's head. She looked back and shook her head a little bit: bafflement, uncertainty.
"Thor," Loki said, louder, and fast as a striking snake he was reaching out, both hands on Thor's chest, and a sudden pulse of light went through his hands: the ground thumped. Tony staggered back and shot forward as soon as he got his footing back: goddammit, what the hell had he been thinking, letting Loki get—
He stopped. Loki had his hands braced on Thor's chest. "Thor!" he snarled; the pulse hit again, and Thor's body jerked, and stayed still, and Loki pulled back away from him and got staggering up to his feet. His eyes never left Thor's face. Thor's eyes were closed, and there was a thin trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth.
There was a crunch up above. Tony looked up: Doom himself was standing on the edge of the crater. "Is he dead?" his hollow voice came echoing from behind the mask. "Excellent. We have the advantage, then." He turned and said to someone behind him, "Send in the third wave."
Shit. Third wave? "Cap," Tony said.
"I heard," Steve said over the comm. He sounded stunned. "Is Thor really—"
"Doesn't look great," Tony said. "Won't look any better if we let them overrun us."
"Loki," Doom said, turning back. "We will need you at the left flank—the Hulk still represents a threat."
Loki didn't move at first. Then he looked up at Doom blinking like he'd just woken up. "Loki," Doom prodded.
Loki blinked again. Then he said, "May all the work of my hands on this field be accursed and undone." Tony had to take a second to parse it: his tone sounded like he'd said hey, how about those Yankees. Then all of a sudden there were screams and explosions and thunder coming from behind Doom's back, and when Tony shot up a few feet to look past the lip of the crater, he saw the entire wave of super-soldiers collapsing in their gear, which was twisting and contorting around them. The flying guns were falling out of the sky.
"What have you done!" Doom bellowed, turning back from looking over the field in horror. At least, Tony was betting on horror: Doom's face wasn't what you would call easy to read. "I will—"
"Run," Loki said, still in that same tone. Doom paused. "You have killed my brother," Loki explained, as if that made everything obvious. "Running would be a very good idea." He paused. "Also quite futile," he added. "But you could gain a little time."
Clint jumped a few smashed tanks and got to the edge of the crater, getting an arrow levelled at Loki. Steve joined him a minute later. Hulk trailed them, looking vaguely disgruntled: he was dragging a half-smashed flying gun behind him in the dirt. "Hulk not smash," he complained. "Gun fall." He threw it casually off to the side; it exploded in a small fireball. "Hulk smash Doom?"
Doom looked at them all, looked at Loki one more time, and did some basic arithmetic. He pressed a switch on his gauntlet and vanished. Loki didn't move right away. Then he turned back to Thor's body and went over to kneel down next to it again.
Tony let himself back down to the crater floor. Steve slid down the side; Clint kept his position, shifting a little around the rim to keep his arrow centered on Loki's face. Tony popped his faceplate and looked at Steve, who glanced back and shrugged a little. Loki just knelt there for a moment, and then he reached out and gathered Thor into his arms, dragging him into his lap. Loki's face was still expressionless; his eyes didn't seem to be seeing anything.
They were all silent a while, watching, and slowly, Tony started to realize he was feeling something. He tried to do a better job these days of staying in touch with his feelings—Pepper made kind of a point of it, especially the whole thing about recognizing his feelings before acting on them—so after a little while he figured out what it was, and oh yeah: he was mad as fucking hell. And now that he knew that, he could act on it.
"Sorry he's dead, huh?" Tony said, crossing the distance. Loki slowly looked up at him. "Too bad you didn't figure that out in time to actually do anything about it, like for instance not helping Doom launch the death ray that killed him."
"Tony—" Steve said, in an undertone.
"No," Tony said, shaking off his hand, "— no, Cap, I'm not done. Put him down," he told Loki. "Put him down, now. You haven't got the right to sit there holding on to him. We're going to take him from here. We're his friends. We're the ones who were fighting next to him. You think it makes it okay that you canceled Doom's war on account of being sorry? It doesn't make it anywhere near okay."
"Tony!" Steve said.
"Shut the hell up!" He wheeled on Steve. "That bastard did everything but pull the trigger on his own brother, and we're supposed to respect his grief? Screw it." He wheeled back. "Get your hands off him, or I swear to god I will start hitting you with everything I've got, and that includes the Hulk."
Loki just kept staring at him like he wasn't even hearing what Tony was saying, which pissed him off even more. "Right," Tony said, and raised his hand.
"Does it surprise you that I'm sorry?" Loki said, curiously. His head tilted like a bird's.
"Yeah," Tony said. "I would have to say that's in defiance of my expectations, seeing how you've tried to kill him at least twenty times since I've known you guys."
"Yes," Loki said, nodding slightly. "It surprises me as well." He looked down at Thor's body. Then he eased him back to the ground and stood up. "Will you keep guard over him?"
Tony was about to tell Loki where he could shove the rest of his belated concerns, and then Steve hauled him back, interrupting, and said, "Guard him from what?"
Loki looked at him. "Asgard will send warriors to take him back," he said. "Don't let them have him." They stared at him, and Loki added patiently, "They'll put him in a ship and burn him."
"Sounds as good a way to go as any, to me," Tony said.
"If his body has been destroyed when I bring back his soul, there won't be anywhere for me to put it," Loki said. "A mortal body won't be able to hold it."
Tony had his mouth open ready to make the next comment as soon as it bubbled to the surface of his brain, which he confidently expected would happen the second Loki finished talking again, but the process got short-circuited by some key parts of that explanation, so it was Natasha who said, slowly, "— you're going to bring his soul back?"
"Well," Loki said, his mouth doing that creepy mirthless smile thing he liked to do just before twisting the knife, which didn't really increase Tony's confidence, "I intend to try."
Uh. Right. "I don't suppose you'd care to elaborate on how?" Tony said.
"I'll go to Hel and get it," Loki said.
"Thor is not in Hell!" Steve said.
"I don't mean your puerile notion of endless torment for those who don't worship your deity," Loki said, acid-sharp. "It is merely the realm of the dead." He looked down at Thor. "If I don't return within a month, I won't," he said, and turned.
Tony opened his mouth again, but nothing seemed to be forthcoming. He looked at Steve: were they actually buying this? Also, were they seriously going to let Loki go? Also also, had Loki just claimed there was an afterlife and he could go there? Because that seemed like some kind of news. Steve was gawking at Loki and didn't seem to be about to stop him.
"Hulk go too!" Hulk said. Loki paused and looked back at him. "Hulk like Thor."
"We all like Thor," Tony said impatiently, then he paused. Oh, hey, right. "Let's all go," he said.