"Tony? You're alive!" exclaimed Bruce's delighted voice as he blearily opened his eyes.
Then the doctor frowned. "Or…we're both dead."
Bruce's eyes blinked up at Tony, who grinned despite himself. "Nope, buddy," he said cheerfully, heart light. "You can't get rid of me that easily. I'm very much alive."
"I can tell," Bruce mumbled, closing his eyes. A pause. "Did we win?" Bruce asked carefully.
"Thor's account was kind of jumbled up," admitted Tony, "and Thor was the only person conscious for the whole thing. Basically Loki double-crossed us…"
"…yeah, I sort of noticed," added Bruce dryly.
Tony went on. "…but it turns out he actually didn't double cross us, apparently he was triple-crossing Thanos," said Tony, scratching his beard in slight confusion. "Or whatever. Anyway, Thanos sort of possessed Loki for a moment, then Loki stabbed himself and Loki pretty much killed Thanos."
Bruce sat up sharply in bed, then winced as his injuries protested. "Do you mean Loki is dead?" Bruce asked.
Tony felt a twinge as he heard that. He and Loki had some twisted sort of relationship going—first Loki throws Tony out a window, then Loki takes an arrow for Pepper, then Loki tries to use Jane as a hostage to escape, and then Loki saves Jane. And then Loki knocks out half of the Avengers, and then Loki saves the entire world from destruction and peril.
Tony was pretty much done trying to figure out who owed who at this point.
Leaving all that aside, Tony found that he sort of liked Loki. Loki was fun to banter with, at least, and he wasn't a complete dick like some of those other super villains were.
Bruce was still waiting for an answer, so Tony hastily began to answer. "From what Thor said, yeah," said Tony, watching Bruce for a reaction. He sighed slowly. "Loki did a pretty good thing out there."
"I'll say he did," answered Bruce. "But what—" his head perked up. "Hey, Natasha."
The curly-haired redhead was standing behind Tony, grey-green eyes serious. "Come on, boys," she said. "You wouldn't want to miss this."
Tony was thrown off by the solemnity in her voice. "Did something happen?" he asked, but Natasha waved it aside.
"No," she replied. "Just something you might find interesting."
"But Bruce…" Tony began, voice trailing off. Yet before Natasha could reply, Bruce was already up, dark eyes bright. "I'm coming," he said, determination written all over him. Tony exhaled, but grudgingly gave his assent.
"What is it?" Tony asked, keeping in step with the scarlet-haired assassin.
Natasha glanced at him. "It's a letter," she said coolly. "But it's not the contents of the letter that much…it is mainly who it's from."
"Who?" asked Bruce curiously, but they were already in one of the many living rooms.
Natasha arched an eyebrow. "I'd best leave you two to read it and figure out," she remarked, before sweeping gracefully out of the room, hips swaying.
There was a crumbled up piece of paper on the low ottoman, and Tony walked over and picked it up, smoothing it out on his lap. The writing was very good, in long, flowing script.
"I left my glasses," said Bruce. "Read it aloud, Tony." And so Tony did.
Dear Heroes of Midgard,
Guess who it is? It's me! Loki! Oh my gosh, Loki? Gasp! Scream! Faint in shock!
Very well, forget the first line. I honestly had no idea how to start it off, and I don't have the little pink things that you Midgardians use to erase things. On to more important matters.
Yes, I'm alive. Are you all surprised? How did I do it? Well, I can't tell you how—it's too much for your puny mortal minds to comprehend. The important thing is that I'm alive.
I am writing this to inform you that I am no longer interested in your planet. Maybe you'll be reassured? Maybe you'll be wise and not believe the words that come from the God of Lies?
The point is, you won't be able to find me, anyway. Stark knows how I can shape shift. I could literally be the cashier at one of the little shop things here, and you wouldn't know. I'm basically telling you that if you leave me alone I'll leave you alone. Call this note an olive branch? A peace offering? I have no idea.
I guess you're waiting for an apology. A sorry, maybe? I have far too much pride for that, maybe only Stark's ego can rival mine. But I guess this is the best I can do: Maybe all mortals aren't a complete waste of space.
One more thing to say: Ice cream is the only useful invention made on Midgard.
There, I'm done. Hopefully, if fate has mercy on my sanity, I'll never cross paths with you again.
The God of Mischief
Tony gaped at the letter. Bruce was in no better condition as they stared stupidly at the letter.
"I thought he was dead?" asked Bruce heavily.
Tony just stared at the letter. "I can't be sure it is actually him," he said, after a moment, "but it sure sounds like him."
"Did we still win, then?" asked Bruce, watching Tony.
Tony shrugged. "I still think it's a win-win situation, no matter how you look at it," he said firmly. "Earth has Thanos dead, Loki is alive—so Thor's happy—and all the other worlds out there are pretty happy too. So everyone's happy."
"Except Thanos," said Bruce.
Tony grinned. "Oh, yeah. Except for him."
Thor looked around hesitantly, gripping Mjolnir tightly.
Right after Thor had seen the letter, he'd recognized the handwriting instantly as Loki's. He'd returned to his room, only to feel the tug of a teleportation.
Now, Thor stood in the middle of a forest, alone. "Loki?" Thor called out again, voice growing louder in intensity. His eyes scanned the area. There were tall trees, and the ground was covered with moss, dead leaves, and grass. No one was in sight.
Now Thor was getting frustrated. "LOKI!" He hollered with all of his might. If this would've been a movie, birds would've fluttered out a tree.
"What the hell, Thor?" exclaimed a voice right next to him. "Kindly stop yelling in my ear, please."
Thor whirled around, elbow knocking into something soft and warm. "And it would be much appreciated if you didn't stab your elbow into my side," said a sardonic voice. Thor's heart leapt as his eyes locked on to a pair of familiar green ones.
"I knew you weren't dead!" he cried triumphantly.
"I just can't seem to stay dead, can I?" asked Loki rhetorically. He sighed. "I brought you here, Thor," he said, "just to let you know I'm alive. After reading that letter I sent, I've no doubt that you set your heart on searching everywhere to find me. Well, here I am—alive."
Loki turned and walked over to a tree, then leaned against the thick, sturdy trunk before sliding to the ground.
Thor watched Loki uncertainly, bursting with questions but unsure how to ask them. Should he go sit down with Loki?
Loki turned amused, teasing jade eyes to him, sensing Thor's dilemma and mocking him for it. What will you do? Loki's eyes questioned.
Thor didn't bother to ponder it, because there was no way he could find out what Loki himself wanted. So Thor walked over to Loki and slid down next to him.
Thor hadn't meant to sit so close, but years of sliding down next to Loki took over, and Thor bumped against Loki rather harshly. Their shoulders knocked together, Thor's broad, muscular one with Loki's narrow one.
Thor didn't pull away from the close contact, but waited for Loki to do so. But Loki didn't. Gingerly, Loki leaned closer, resting his weight on Thor's shoulder, slowly at first, then relaxing into the familiar movement. Thor stilled, but didn't comment.
"Do you want water?" asked Loki abruptly. Thor just shrugged, and watched with fascination as green light danced to form a mug filled with clear, cold water.
"Here," said Loki, handing it to Thor. Thor took a few small sips, then found out he wasn't that thirsty. Thor handed it back to Loki, who downed all of it in a few gulps.
Silence. Thor looked at Loki, who was staring out into the woods, a wicked smirk playing at his lips. "I suppose you want to know why I'm not dead," Loki said finally. "It was quite simple, actually. After I stabbed myself, I teleported you and your mortal friends back. Then, I teleported myself off here. I was almost dead, barely alive, you know."
"I don't know how it worked," Loki confessed, fingers twisting around several blades of grass. "But magic attracts magic, so I'm assuming some of Thanos' magic remained with me. That was what healed me, I'm guessing...well anyhow, I'm here now."
"You're here now," Thor repeated, as if saying it again would make the fact resolute. The two of them sat in silence, with Thor desperately trying to ignore the herd of elephants tramping around them.
"Your letter to the Avengers wasn't exactly apologetic," Thor stated wryly, throwing Loki a sideways glance. Loki smiled faintly.
"No, it wasn't," he admitted. "I wasn't feeling very apologetic at the time." He ran a hand through his tangled black hair. "But what I said about not wanting to conquer anymore is true."
Thor knew he was treading on very delicate ground here. "Is that so?" He asked, as nonchalantly as possible.
Loki still didn't look at him, but another amused smile was playing at his lips, as though he knew what Thor was trying to do. "Don't try to trick the God of Tricks," Loki said.
"You want to know why I'm not interested in conquering?" asked Loki when Thor said nothing. Loki wasn't expecting an answer, so Thor didn't comment, but waited for the reply.
"The ruling thing, it is terribly tedious," remarked Loki after a pause. "Everybody wants your help, and you have to juggle dozens of things on your plate. I hadn't imagined it to be like that." Thor remained silent, knowing without asking that Loki was referring to the period when Thor was banished to Midgard.
Loki snorted suddenly. "To be honest," he said, "I just thought someone would be feeding me grapes."
Thor grinned. "I could feed you grapes, if you'd like."
Loki mock-shuddered. "I'll pass, thanks."
Silence reigned for another few moments, before Loki broke it. "Besides," he said, "ruling a planet that does not want to be ruled is even harder. Juggling the rebellions, you in all your righteous, noble, annoying fury, and that stupid sword organization..."
"...SHIELD," Thor corrected absently.
"Whatever," dismissed Loki. "The point is, I don't want to conquer Midgard anymore. Or any other realm, for that matter."
"That...is good," answered Thor, unable to think of something better to say.
Loki sighed. "You'd best be going now, Thor," said Loki, leaning forward so he was no longer resting on Thor, so that Loki faced Thor for the first time. Loki's gaze was cool and calculating, not hostile, but it wasn't warm and opening, either.
Thor felt his heart sink. But he was a fool-he couldn't expect Loki to stick around with him forever.
"I have a little while," he answered lightly, hoping Loki got the hint. Thor wanted to stay here, with Loki. To pretend that nothing was wrong between them, that it was just another day for the two brothers.
Loki searched his face, and what he found there must have satisfied him, for Loki leaned back again onto Thor. "Very well then, brother," said Loki, and Thor felt his heart skip a beat when Loki called him brother again.
"What are you doing after this?" said Loki, and Thor realized this was his attempt at small talk.
Thor shrugged. "I'm a little hungry," he said, "and I'll probably go grab a bite to eat."
Loki smirked. "'Grab a bit to eat', Thor?" Loki mimicked. "I'd be surprised if there's a loaf of bread left on this realm after you're done eating."
"I'd be surprised if there's a sweet left on Midgard with your sweet tooth," retorted Thor, realizing too late that Loki had just goaded him into a verbal sparring match, where Loki usually was victorious.
Loki grinned. He was clearly enjoying this. "Well, I'd be surprised if..." That was how far he got before Thor covered Loki's mouth with his hand, preventing Loki from speaking. Sometimes, that was the only way Thor could beat Loki in a verbal bashing.
Automatically, Loki licked Thor's hand, a pure little-brother reflex that made both of them freeze.
But the spell of silence didn't last for long. Thor broke out into hearty peals of loud laughter, while Loki screwed his face up in disgust. "Ugh, who knows where that's been," mumbled Loki, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Thor's laughter faded away, and there was quiet once again.
But then Loki was up on his feet again, looking down at Thor who got up as well, but not so gracefully or agilely.
"I suppose I must go," said Thor somewhat reluctantly. Loki nodded slightly, watching Thor.
"You will keep in touch?" Thor tried. Loki nodded slowly. "Perhaps," Loki replied, but Thor knew that was a lie.
"Wait," said Thor suddenly. "Before you send me away..." His voice trailed off, a faintly sheepish look on his face. "...give me a hug," Thor said before he could stop himself. He just really wanted to hug Loki, one last time.
Loki blinked. "A hug, Thor?" Loki asked disbelievingly.
Thor shrugged. "It's the least you can do," he pointed out. "I probably won't see you for a while, anyway."
Thor had been expecting Loki to scoff him off, but great was his surprise when Loki complied. "Fine, brother," acquiesced Loki reluctantly.
Thor needed no further invitation. He gathered all one hundred and seventy pounds of Loki into his arms quickly, before he could rethink anything. Loki was stiff, muscles rigid and tense, but warmed into the embrace gradually.
It felt so comfortable, with Loki's head resting against Thor's chest, arms wrapped around each other. Thor didn't want to move.
"You know, Thor," murmured Loki softly, "this is never going to be real. It's a dream, a fantasy. It's not reality."
Loki tried to pull away, but Thor held him all the more tighter. "Follow your dreams," quoted Thor.
Loki blanched. "That was...terrible, Thor."
"I know. I felt myself gag."
Loki's voice turned more serious. "I'm not joking anymore, Thor," said Loki, struggling to escape so he could meet Thor's eyes. But Thor's grip was steel-like and firm, forcing Loki's head to remain on Thor's chest.
Thor closed his eyes, resting his own head on Loki's black-haired head. He didn't want to hear what Loki was going to say. Maybe if he closed his eyes hard enough, Loki would stop speaking. Maybe.
But Loki could be insistent when he wanted to. The younger brother had resigned himself to the fact that he couldn't escape Thor's grip, but he kept speaking anyway.
"Thor," Loki said, firmly but gently, "I want you to know this. Things will never be the way they were before, no matter what you do." Loki sighed. "Thor, you big, stubborn oaf. Look at me."
Thor knew that if he didn't, Loki would just teleport himself out of his reach, so Thor relaxed his grip on Loki. Thor eyed Loki almost defiantly, while Loki watched him with quiet sadness in his eyes. Loki was tall, but he'd never been quite as tall as Thor, so he had to look up a little.
"I have no home, Thor," said Loki, almost pleadingly, needing Thor to understand. "Earth is no place for me to be. In Asgard, I will be bound with chains in the deepest dungeon they have...and besides, Asgard will never accept me-she never had in the first place." He laughed without humor. "They would never accept a Frost Giant runt."
Thor's grip on Loki's shoulders tightened. "Take care how you speak, brother," he said, voice tense and low. "Loki, you are not a runt."
"Let's not go into this now," dismissed Loki. "But I know of what I say."
"What about Earth?" Thor attempted. "You just saved their entire world, Loki. Surely you're over-exaggerating the situation."
Loki shook his head. "You don't understand really, do you?" he said, not expecting an answer. "Oh well, let me put it to you this way." Loki locked eyes with Thor. "Do you love me?" he asked abruptly.
Thor frowned in surprise. Well, that question had an easy answer. "Yes," Thor replied honestly. "Of course I do."
"How would you feel if someone killed me in cold blood, without giving me any chance to fight back, and for no reason at all except for his amusement?" Loki questioned.
Thor didn't want to answer that, having the uneasy feeling that all of Loki's questions would lead to an inevitable outcome that Loki desired. But Thor wasn't going to lie, and anyway, Loki would probably know if Thor was lying. "Furious," said Thor truthfully.
"And what if my murderer supposedly saved Asgard?" Loki pursued relentlessly. "There is no evidence, just the words of some-and what if the murderer comes by, and can't even remember my name or what I look like? Would you forgive him?"
Thor was shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. "Noooo," Thor dragged out reluctantly. Loki looked triumphant, having proved his point.
"Saving the entire world doesn't make up for the murder of one innocent life," said Loki, and Thor looked away from Loki's intense, vivid green eyes, unable to hold their direct gaze.
"Then I'll come with you," Thor declared stoutly, but Loki just laughed dryly.
"And abandoned your duties as the Crown Prince?" asked Loki. "No, brother. I know you better than that."
Thor sighed wearily. "The Avengers will wonder where I've gone," he said at last.
Loki nodded, gaze fixated on Thor. "I'll send you on your way," he said. "Any last words?"
Thor, for the life of him, had no idea what to say. Something meaningful? Something funny?
"I love you," said Thor finally. "I know it may not seem like it at times, for our relationship has been through some...trying times, but I love you, Loki."
Loki smiled faintly. "I know."
And as Thor felt the gentle tug of a teleportation, maybe it was wishful thinking, maybe it was the wind, but Thor swore he heard Loki murmur back softly, "I love you too, Thor."
Loki took a great big spoonful of the mint chip ice cream, straight out of the carton. He was settled comfortably in the branches of a tree in the forest he'd brought Thor into, swallowing spoonful after spoonful of the cold, creamy, sweet goodness of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
There was a dull ache where he'd stabbed himself. It was almost completely healed, but Thor's tight, fierce hugging had caused a throbbing pain. Loki had had far too much pride to ask Thor to be a bit gentler.
Loki swallowed another spoonful of ice cream, mind straying. Thor had so readily been willing to forgive him...was it all really that simple?
It made Loki wonder, what exactly was he? A hero, or a villain?
Heroes and villains were terribly complicated. You can't have one without the other, like you can't have good without evil, light without the dark, kindness without cruelty, or love without hate.
Heroes were noble, brave, and selfless. They had a fair sense of right and wrong, and usually chose the right thing to do. Thor was a hero. Captain America was a hero. And hell, even Stark was a hero. Loki was selfish, lied, cheated, and tricked. Heroes didn't do that. Heroes didn't kill dozens of people and try to take over worlds, so scratch that. Loki definitely wasn't a hero.
Was he a villain, then? Villains were cruel, merciless, and usually didn't feel love. Villains didn't needlessly take an arrow for the lover of their enemy, they didn't self-sacrifice themselves to save a world, and they definitely didn't love their brother the way Loki did.
Loki wasn't a hero, or a villain. What was he, then? He was Loki, which pretty much meant if he was on his own side. If his side lined up with the heroes' side, then well and good. If his side lined up with the villains' side, then Loki couldn't do anything about that.
But Loki knew he would never be the heroes you read about in fairytales. He would never be Thor, or the noble King of Asgard he'd always wanted to be.
The God of Mischief. The Liesmith. That was all he'd ever be, no matter how hard he tried to change that.
And at that moment, Loki decided he didn't really care.
A/N - I loved writing this chapter, especially the fluffy brotherly moments. It was so much fun, and hope you enjoyed reading it :)
There, I did it! I finished this story, and you don't know how proud I am of myself. Writing this story has been an amazing journey—it had its ups and downs, and you readers are AMAZING. I'm really sad to end this story, but my sequel is now up! It's called Ambivalence, and you can find it on my profile.
I've also written a oneshot about the Get Help scene in Ragnarok, so read it if you want, it's not super long. It would mean a lot to me if you dropped off a review :)
Thank you so much, all of you lovely readers. You really encouraged me a lot, and I was amazed when none of the reviews were critical or negative. Don't forget to check out my sequel if you have time!