So, as with many WIPs, I've changed my mind.

The bad(ish) news - this is going to be the last chapter of In One Moment (I'll post an epilogue, though).

The good news...I'm working on a sequel. I can't BELIEVE I'm working on a sequel! . I thought this whole fan fiction experience would be a one-and-done thing, and then I'd move on with my life...but there was too much else I wanted to explore, and where it is now is a great transition point between what has happened and what is going to happen. I think? I don't know, I've never done this "writing a whole book" thing before.

So...with that said, enjoy this chapter, keep an eye out for the epilogue, and then WATCH FOR A WHOLE NEW STORY! Part II of In One Moment will be coming soon!

Happy New Year, everyone. :)

-Rose

The image cut to the newly-designed throne room in Stark Tower. Marble walls surrounded the huge chamber, columns framing a walkway dressed with a green carpet. Velvet green banners with gold trim hung down from the ceiling, and the golden silhouette of Loki's helmet emblazoned their centers, embellished with intricate flourishes and designs that seemed to shift and flow like molten metal. A green and gold throne rose from the floor on an intricately carved golden dais, and Loki sat upon it, wearing his full Asgardian battle armor, the scepter planted solidly on the floor, his golden crown sparkling in the lights of the flashing cameras that stretched back to the distant entryway. Journalists and news crews packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, their microphones and cameras pointed at their new king.

Astrid and Steven stood on either side of him, hands clasped behind their backs. On screen, it looked as though they were standing at attention, solid and indomitable; in reality, Astrid's hands were shaking so badly she had to keep them out of sight, and Steven matched her to appear united. Astrid couldn't believe how calm he was, but that was part of his charm. It seemed like nothing got to him - leading an invasion, fighting to the death, taking on an Asgardian - he remained stable through it all. Loki had chosen well, and Astrid was glad to have another human to do this with.

Astrid wore an elegant white dress, trimmed with gold and green, and a long white jacket that fell to her calves - certainly not a lab coat, but an appropriate homage. Her hair was braided intricately, the blond tresses twisting together in a half-updo and interlaced with strands of silver, softly flowing off her shoulders. Upon her chest, she had the same medal as Steven fastened to her jacket, hers in the shape of an eight-pointed star; a compass. Loki's insignia adorned the center, glistening in the flashing lights.

After a few seconds of commotion, Loki pounded the staff on the ground once, twice, three times. The sound resonated deep and low through the room, and the reporters fell silent as everyone focused their attention on their new golden-horned king.

"People of Earth," Loki boomed. "I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose."

Loki's image was projected on every screen in the world, and his words sounded from every radio - from handheld personal devices to the giant displays of Singapore and Tokyo - anything that had a connection to a network. Billions of people stopped what they were doing and heard him. The true impact of this moment wouldn't be felt for many years to come.

Loki was the perfect image of royalty. Just his demeanor conveyed a regallity that few in modern times had ever seen. He held himself with a cool confidence - like everything he said was completely normal, matter-of-fact.

"Yesterday afternoon, I launched the attack on New York City. Since then, I have taken over Stark Tower and subdued all military resistance across the globe, and I will not hesitate to use forceful measures should it be necessary to maintain my control over these bases. However, it is my goal to make further violence unnecessary. A ceasefire has been enacted as the leaders of your countries negotiate their terms of surrender and swear loyalty to me. I hope those who choose to remain in their political positions and cooperate do so with the understanding that their guidance and insights will be invaluable in the days to come, as we establish my new kingdom.

"I know you have many questions about what has happened and what the future holds. Let me start by saying I am not wholly unfamiliar to your culture. The Asgardians, my people, have been in contact with your ancestors for thousands of years; we are the beings on which your mythology is based. Our lifespans are hundreds of times longer than humans', our physical strength and durability is unmatched on your planet, and our technology is so far advanced that you would know only to describe it as magic. But we are not gods - we are born, we live, we die...give or take 5,000 years." There was a quiet chuckle from the assembled reporters before it went silent once more.

"And we are not perfect." Loki sighed. He knew he had to come clean before he could lead his people, but it made the task no easier. "When I first came to Earth, it was because I believed a crown was my birthright. I craved a kingdom of my own - for revenge, for validation, for power. I know I terrified many of you, seeing how I chose to use my abilities, and while I regret those actions now, I cannot take that moment back. Your first impression of me was as a monster, a villain, an evil sorcerer intent on conquering your world. You weren't wrong.

"But there were those among you - humans; regular people thrown into an extraordinary situation - who saw my coming as an opportunity to change the world for the better: a revolution instead of an apocalypse. These people found me, joined me, aided me, and guided me. They risked their lives to ensure the Battle of New York ended not only with my victory, but with as few civilian casualties as possible. It was through their cooperation and planning that we were able to evacuate citizens into the subway tunnels before the attack, to secure the battlefield quickly and reduce the total amount of damage, and to provide necessities for survival and comfort after the battle. We are currently focused on an accelerated recovery effort to bring solace to those affected. All of this is to show you, People of Earth, that my allies and I are not bent on wanton annihilation. Our goal is to govern, not to destroy - it is the nature of politics that makes violence an oft necessary tool for change, and my heart aches when I see the pain caused by gaining this foothold."

That part wasn't entirely true. Loki had thoroughly enjoyed the chaos, the destruction; but it would hardly put his new subjects at ease if they understood the extent of his bloodlust. He quickly made the appropriate facial expressions that conveyed sorrow and regret, then continued.

"Watching as the community of New York comes together to rebuild their lives, I have seen resilience, resourcefulness, and compassion the likes of which are unmatched in the universe. Of all the civilizations and species with which I am familiar, none can compare to the determination, adaptability, or creativity of the human race. Using nothing but your own imaginations and resourcefulness, you advance, you thrive. You should be proud of your heritage, and eager for the future, as I am. And I assure you, your sacrifice here in New York will not be in vain.

"My arrival has signalled the beginning of a new age for the people of Earth, an age in which you are not alone in the universe. From this day forward, this city will be the capital of my kingdom, and this tower shall henceforth be known as the Palace of Midgard. My goal is not only to make New York the greatest city on Earth, but comparable to other cosmic capital cities as well. It will be a hub for galactic trade, with all the benefits that entails. There are beings and civilizations beyond your world who have technologies and abilities you cannot yet comprehend. And while the opportunities to learn from them are exciting and wonderful, now that you have shown you are ready for a higher level of interaction, you are not safe from them - they may attack, as I have done, or influence your lives in other ways. Alone, you would not be prepared to face these threats for hundreds of years. But I will not leave you unprotected. I look forward to guiding the human race as it grows into an interstellar species.

"However, interference from other worlds is NOT your greatest threat.

"Your former leaders - the presidents, the dictators, the prime ministers, the billionaires, the World Security Council - they see everything and everyone on this planet as a resource for them to exploit. They have implemented political and economic systems that are designed to oppress those who are most vulnerable; they deny that their actions destroy the natural world; they twist your perceptions to believe that 'freedom' means living under their complete and tyrannical rule. And they proved to me, and everyone in the city of New York, that they are willing to kill millions to maintain their undisputed control.

"On Asgard, and in all of the Nine Realms of the World Tree, war is a means to political change. Battles remain on the battlefield, and when the day is lost, negotiations for surrender and the creation of a new political order begins with little further bloodshed. I expected to overwhelm the military forces of this planet, then negotiate with the world leaders to redesign your global political system. Instead, your leaders launched nuclear missiles with the intent to destroy myself, my army, and every other person in this city and beyond." Loki's voice caught just slightly. It was likely no one else noticed, but Astrid did. That level of destruction was beyond even him.

"It was only through the actions of my team that New York was not disintegrated into a radioactive cloud. If you learn one lesson from this battle, learn this: those leaders would have left you to die. I did not.

"Citizens of Earth, it is my honor to release you from those despots; to protect you from threats that exist, and threats that may come; to raise you up and allow you to realize your potential. All I ask in return is your loyalty. Some of you may rise up to fight this change and let your fear control you. Some may insist that my rule will destroy everything you hold dear. Some will refuse to kneel. I ask you to hold your reservations until I show you what your lives will be like with me as your king. This change is not so great as you may think - simply one ruler replacing another. But I can say with certainty that the replacement in this case is vastly superior to the former.

"Kneel before me, and I will guide you. I will protect you. I will free you from your leaders who keep you in poverty and despair. And in return, I hope to earn your respect. I hope to show you that I will bring you to greatness. I hope you see I will make your world a better place.

"I hope, in the end, you will always kneel to - and that I will always be - a worthy king."

Loki took a deep breath, and the room remained completely silent, every reporter waiting to see if he had more to say, hanging on his every word. And then...he smiled. That will-breaking, breathtaking, glorious smile, spread across his lips, and the tension in the room completely melted immediately.

"And now, I'm happy to answer your questions. I'm sure you have plenty." The room exploded with voices.

Hours passed as media representatives asked question after question. One by one, Loki explained as best he could who he was, where he was from, why he was here, his immediate and long-term plans. He introduced Steven as his General of Worldwide Security Forces, and spoke of his accomplishments before, during, and after the battle (omitting the bit about Jane and Thor). He spoke of the mysterious Valkyrie who prevented the nuclear attacks. And when the topic of Astrid finally came up, he was prepared.

"As I'm sure many of you have already realized. Astrid is a genius scientist. She has researched and developed technology that has already changed the course of human history - she and her team created the nanobots that has allowed my human soldiers to have the extremely improved strength, stamina, and reflexes that you saw on the battlefield yesterday and in the ongoing recovery efforts. And that is just a fraction of their capabilities. She and Dr. Bruce Banner will be working together to improve this technology, and not only will she be heading our Global Science Research and Development Initiative to fund and coordinate worldwide scientific efforts, she will also continue to be one of my most trusted advisors. I know there has been speculation as to how we met, and I'd like to address that now.

'We were introduced at the gala in Stuttgart; of course, she did not know what I had planned to do there, but after my less-than-subtle introduction to the world, what she said to me that night changed my perspective enough that I felt the need to learn more. We were able to reconnect the following day; and she indulged with an elaboration of what state the world was in, and what I could do to make it better. She opened my eyes to the potential and magnificence of her people." Loki did his best to remain as detached as possible, actively avoiding making any mention of their personal relationship. "Her steadfast determination, open mindedness, and forward thinking changed my mind. It is because of her that I now dedicate my life to leading your people into that glorious future."

Loki was as charismatic as he was regal; he answered the rest of the questions with poise and confidence, but maintained a friendly rapport with the reporters, and soon it became apparent that Loki's charm had swayed everyone in the room.

For the most part, Astrid stood quietly behind him - it was made clear to the reporters before the speech that Steven and Astrid would not be answering questions at this time - and listened to him speak, attentive to every point and plan. She was hyper alert, now that the stone didn't connect them; she wanted to make sure she didn't miss anything he said. It was dark outside by the time the press conference ended. Astrid, Loki, and Steven exited into the back room while the journalists left through the main entrance. As soon as they were out of the public eye, Loki turned to them both...and just laughed. It was a laugh of relief, of accomplishment, of joy. He reached out and pulled them both close to him, and they laughed as well. Because when it came down to it, this team that was leading the human race into a new age was just a group of three particularly talented people desperately trying to figure out how to do it.

About an hour after the conference, down in Recovery City, a feast of Asgardian proportions suddenly and magically appeared - massive tables covered with every kind of food, instruments that hung in the air silently, and hoovering lights floating above the people and illuminating the entire spread. Loki stood behind a table with Stark Tower - now the Palace of Midgard - behind him, Astrid and Steven again at his side, and as the crowds turned to face him, the entire block went quiet. He no longer wore the battle armor and helmet, but his usual Asgardian outfit. Loki magically amplified his voice and addressed the masses.

"My citizens. People of New York. Soldiers, Volunteers. I'd like to make a toast. Please, take a seat and raise a goblet!"

Excited murmuring rumbled from the crowd as the blocks-long table filled, and soon, as far as the eye could see, glasses and goblets were raised down its length. Loki smiled again, and the citizenry seemed to relax.

"While the rest of the world watches us as we rebuild, gather our strength, and change the course of human history, all of the recovery efforts that have been completed thus far have been extraordinary. Your world will be better. It starts here, and now. And where I am from, we celebrate moments like these! Join me! Eat, drink, and know that your sacrifice and your hard work is paving the pathway to greatness! Skál!"

And with that, Loki threw his head back and downed the wine in his glass, then spread his arms laughing, and took his seat while the crowds cheered and began feasting. The instruments began to play, and the voices of a thousand people rose up from the street in energetic conversation.

As they ate, hundreds of people approached them. Steven had soldiers stationed at the table, but there were no threats that night. People congratulated them, took selfies with them, told them how honored they were to be a part of this revolution, how they believed in Loki's plan. Every time Astrid heard those sentiments, she couldn't help but smile. Everything she'd done, everything she'd fought for - it was worth it.

The party lasted for hours, late into the night. Slowly, its attendees departed, heading back to their tents or their rooms and preparing for a busy day when the sun rose. There was still much work to do, building their government: a modern magical monarchy, led by an alien god king and his two mortal advisors. The energy was buzzing. They were small, but their supporters were growing, and after Loki's speech, everyone felt sure this was the beginning of something incredible.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning, it was quiet; everyone in Recovery City had gone to bed, and the tower was blessedly silent - the perfect time to explore his new palace. Loki strolled through the dark hallways, into the labs and offices and lounges and every other non-residential room in the building. He'd been meaning to do this for purely practical reasons, to understand every nook and cranny in case that information was needed in the future, but now that he was walking through the building, he walked slowly, savoring the moment, running his slender fingers along the walls and surfaces, memorizing the sensation. He'd fought for this. He'd won this. It was his.

Eventually, Loki found himself back at the throne room. The large double doors were shut, and for a second he had the feeling that when he opened them, there would be nothing behind them. But when he entered, the room lit up with a soft, almost candle-like glow, revealing the draping emerald banners and wide walkway between columns, ending with the dias where his gold and green throne sat, flanked by the two smaller thrones on either side - a reminder of the allies he'd made to achieve his conquest. He wandered forward, leisurely, his steps muffled by the soft green carpet, until he reached his throne. His throne. He reached out and touched it, the soft material grazing against his fingertips. He sighed with contentment, then took his place upon it, conjuring a glass of Chateau Petrus and looking out on the empty room. This was a special moment, and one he would hold dear forever…

Taking a sip of the exquisite wine, he closed his eyes and imagined what would come next. He planned. He prepared. And he soon realized how much information he still needed to gather in order to build his new kingdom.

The sky was beginning to turn grey by the time he returned to his quarters. The room was magnificent, exactly as he wanted it - built for royalty. Embers glowed weakly in the beautiful fireplace, the finest materials draped the windows, art adorned the walls and surfaces, and a bookshelf in the corner held all of his favorite reading material (the rest would have to go in the library, once he'd had time to make one). It felt like...home.

But he would have given up everything else in that room for the sleeping beauty in the middle of his bed. Astrid breathed softly on the mattress, golden hair spread wildly around her in a halo of blond. With a snap of his fingers, he replaced his formal vestiges with a simple green linen tunic and black linen pants, then he climbed in and gently wrapped his arm around Astrid's waist, pulling her close to him and trying not to wake her. She moaned contentedly and cuddled up against him, her own arm wrapping around his as he lowered his head to the pillow. He pushed his nose into that perfect mess of Astrid's hair, reveling in the scent and sensation.

My world, he thought. And he smiled as he finally drifted off to sleep.