This story IS spoilers.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
I dedicate this one to Tom Hiddleston. Because I too know what it's like to wake up and just want to lay around in a bathrobe and watch a shitty sitcom based on my life starring Matt Damon.
I own nothing
Also, I saw the movie once. Three days before I started this, and ten days before I finished it. I apologize for any discrepancies.
And the title is from two songs. The first by Coldplay. The second by Chvrches.
"Despite his grave imbalances, Loki understood ruling as I never will," Thor said.
Beneath his guise, Loki smiled.
It had been several weeks already.
The destruction of Asgard was in reverse.
No one suspected him.
Odin was dealt with.
And Thor was taking his leave.
All was as he wished it.
In the beginning, he'd been cautious. Carefully, he'd mimicked his father. His motions, his postures, his words and rhythms. It was easier than he had anticipated, since Odin had bidden Heimdall l leave of his place overseeing the Bifrost before Loki could dispose of him.
That first morning, Odin's advisors – his advisors – had come to him.
"Bring me the Gatekeeper," he'd barked in Odin's voice, pacing the length of the ruined hall as was Odin's wont when agitated, "I would have words with him."
"My lord," the man had faltered.
Loki turned on him. "Speak," he snapped. His hand on the shaft of Gungnir opened and closed.
"Do you not remember, my lord, that you dismissed the Gatekeeper from your service?"
Watching him, Loki stilled.
"You banished him from the City. As answer to his thrice-committed treason."
"Ah." Loki looked away, looked down, "So I did. And bear with me," He began pacing again, "whom did I leave in his place?"
"A warrior, Skurge, by name."
Turning back to him, he frowned, "I remember not this man."
"A warrior true," the man told him, "But of little exceptional skill, or so I have been told."
"Oh? And who told you?"
"His commanding officer, my lord. You instructed me to learn all I could of him."
"Yes, yes of course. But this…Skurge …he knows all we expect of him at his most-vital post?"
"I trust that it has been expressed to him, my lord."
"For what else are our defenses, but toys to be cast aside, when once that breach is made?" he chuckled. "Is that not so?"
"…thrice-committed treason." Jotunheim, Svaralfheim…
"Good," Loki cut him off. "And what of the other participants?"
"The Warriors Three and the Lady Sif, my lord?"
"My memory grows weak."
"Of course, my liege," the man stumbled over himself to apologize, "It is little wonder, with all that has happened in these days…"
Part of him wanted to laugh. The part that was not still stunned by the man's unwitting admission.
Odin had ever relied on Heimdall's sight. His mind could not quite grasp the idea that Odin would, ever, have dismissed him.
"Do you not remember, my lord, that you dismissed the Gatekeeper from your service? ...As answer to his thrice-committed treason."
"Them you had placed under guard in their homes, awaiting your pleasure."
Distractedly, Loki waved his hand. Then he caught himself and closed it, let it drop back to his side. It was not a gesture of Odin's and it would not pay to be found out until…Until he'd righted all he'd sworn to right. Then after, what came would come. He would right Asgard. He owed that. "Go," he said, "Fetch them to me."
"Yes, my Lord."
Bowing, the man fled.
Taking the steps to Hlidskjalf, Loki sank down. He yet ached with wounds received and barely healed. Kurse's blade had left an angry scar over his breast that would not fade for perhaps years yet. Often when he moved too quickly he would have to stop and look to surrounding structures for support that he might catch his breath. When councilors or serving men came to his aid in those moments he let them believe it was his age, nothing more. He would not send for the healers and he heard them whisper of the AllFather's pride. It was only due to the queen's prompting that he had seen healers at all through the years, the women whispered.
He stared at the newly-repaired tile of the floor and rested his fisted hand on his mouth.
Jotunheim, Svartalfheim…that left only Midgard…when it had not been Odin's authority mocked, but his own.
He caught the side of one thumbnail in his teeth. He didn't notice.
Odin would not have defended him. Odin had never defended him.
His eyes shut and his hand closed on the spear.
There had to be another answer, a tale of which he was unaware.
Feet sounded just beyond the great doors and he opened his eyes, sliding Odin's expression in the place of his own.
And that had been that. Half of his job was then done. The Guardian was irksome to him, and the Guardian was dealt with. The Warriors Three he gave positions they would not enjoy, missions by twos or alone and to realms far distant.
Sif and Volstagg he had sent to Knowhere. To take the Aether to the Collector for safe keeping. In the safety of his rooms with the doors charmed he'd let his guise fall away and, recalling Volstagg's face and the sharp in-draw of breath from Sif, he'd laughed. Their days of glory and misadventure were over. They would now be forced to work for their standing. Odin had seen them all as little more than willful children. But children grown must be given tasks, or they begin to believe in their superiority.
Loki had seen it in them under his father's rule. He would cull it before it birth new fruit under his own.
Thor, he freed. And in the first days, he ignored him.
Then, after the better part of a fortnight, in the deep of the moonless dark with the remains of a dream on the back of his tongue and his wound aching in his chest, he called up an image of his brother in the pool that lay back of what-had-been Mother's favorite garden.
The water fluttered under his touch and the reflection of the stars twisted before they caught and turned and new patterns emerged. The water was bitterly cold as he shook it from his hand. And watching, he barely breathed.
Thor was standing there, a smile on his face, his tiny mortal woman standing close beside him, her arms wrapped about herself under his great coat. His arm was about her shoulders. The two of them were looking out at the stars. Their hands were joined. They spoke to each other, though the words would not carry through his casting. Water would not carry their sound.
Fire, he thought lamely, was necessary to hold an image's tongue. Water bore only reflection.
It came to him in his mother's voice, and he remembered her smile.
He cast the image away and sank down with his back to the stone wall of the raised pool. The cold bit through the stuff of his clothes. The cloak he had taken was barely enough to justify its weight.
Lifting his face, he let his head fall back and he looked at the stars.
The cold stung his eyes, his nose, the tips of his fingers.
"I wish I could trust you."
He watched the cloud of his breath.
He looked in on Thor spare times after that. All within the month that followed. Then he concluded that Thor would have his rest and had no plans to do anything irreparable with it, and he went to the new Gatekeeper.
He was sparring with imaginary foes, using the Bifrost sword.
"Truly," Loki said, clasping Odin's hands easily behind his back.
He'd left Gungnir behind him, feeling that it was a cumbersome thing to always have at his finger's ends. "That enemy was unwise to face one such as you."
His wound twinged in his chest and he did not wince.
"Your majesty," the man drew himself to sudden attention, "I didn't – didn't see you coming."
"Mm." Loki gave him a thin smile. "How do you fare, Skurge, with your new duties?"
"Well enough, my lord."
"They please you?"
The man gave him a cavalier smile. "Any way I can be of service to the crown."
"The task appointed," Loki probed, "it is not…difficult?"
"No," the man leaned on the blade of the sword in a way entirely unfitting. Loki wanted to reprimand him for it, but staid his tongue. "Not really, no. It's simple enough."
"Apt." Loki said. It slipped his lips before he thought to censor it. He shook his head, "Then you will not find it a hindrance to notify me the moment my son begs your aid."
The man gaped, "You…anticipate Thor, asking for my help?"
"You are the Gatekeeper," Loki said in Odin's voice, "are you not? It is yours to open the gate, should he ask passage home."
"You'll uh…" the man licked his lips, leaning conspiratorially a little forward, "You'll let him return? Even considering his…" Skurge flicked his eyes left and right, "treason, my lord?"
"I would have you do as you're told," Loki flashed, "Exactly. And nothing more. Should he ask to be allowed home, I would know of it."
"Understood," the man bowed his head a little, cowed by the sharpness of Loki's tone.
"I would hope so."
"Anything else," he glanced up, "my liege?"
Turning away, Loki half-glanced back at him, "I think that's more than enough."
A Councilor met him as he returned. "My king,"
Loki wondered briefly if there was ever to be an end.
"What is it now?"
"Our representative on Ria is reporting rumors of an uprising on the northernmost borders."
"And," he did not break stride, "how should that concern us?"
"Councilor." Loki said. "Our city is in ruins, our borders, unsure. Would you advise we send our strength to a port so far as Ria, after learning of rumors?"
"AllFather, Thor's victories on Ria were never so final –"
Loki stopped and turned to face him. "Is Ria void of those who seek peace?"
"No, my liege."
"And those with strength. Does Ria have none?"
"No," his face was uncertain, "my liege."
"Then we will rely on those who are able, to learn from the example set by my son, and to uphold their peace themselves. We have greater threats than hearsay of violence on distant stars for which we must be ready. Would you not agree, Councilor?"
Slowly, the man bowed, "Your wisdom is without equal, AllFather."
Thor remained on Earth, amused by his woman and challenged in whatever small ways by the threats that prompted 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes'. He thought little of his home. Or so the complete absence of missive from Skurge would imply.
It was as Loki wished it. He had no desire to speak with Thor again. Or to see him.
On Hlidskjalf, his face rarely turned toward Midgard.
Heimdall was gone.
The Warriors Three and Sif were dealt with.
Odin had yet to slip his bonds.
Asgard was all-but rebuilt.
There was much, however, to be done, to ensure progress. Loki rose with the dawn, donned his guise and walked among his people. He saw to the business of the palace, the city, the realm. He remained awake long into the night, locked within his rooms, bent over papers and treaties in his own shape where none could disturb him – on many occasions well into the dawning of the following day. The wine helped him to keep awake, it quietened the burning behind his eyes. Wearing another shape consciously was tax on him. His Aesir skin was no strain, but Odin's was foreign.
He comforted himself with the fact that he'd adapted to his new lack of depth perception.
His neck ached and one hand traveled distractedly along it. Giving an aggravated breath, he cast his pen aside and sank back in his chair.
Then he slumped forward and pressed the bridge of his nose between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.
Lifting the glass to his lips, he resumed his reading. There was nothing else that might be done. There was none left who would aid him in this task.
As a youth, such practices had not troubled him.
Following the words with his eyes he recalled the many times he'd sat with his mother, reading as she worked through such documents for Odin. He remembered watching as she's brought them to him later, telling him which to give his seal and which decline.
The wound in his chest still ached, sometimes.
He began to grow careless, in his act.
He'd mocked Thor with it…what…nearly a year ago, when last Thor had thought to present himself to the AllFather. Dared him with his posture, and in the end, as Thor left he'd dropped the guise entirely. And Thor had seen nothing.
He had been less careless with the others.
But that had been while yet he cared.
Loki began, sometimes, to speak with his own words, make his own movements, adopt his own policies.
Once, Hogun thought to say something, Loki could see that.
The AllFather had come to see after the training of the newest recruits for the Enheriar. It was a thing that was done with some regularity. Loki was weary and the wine that soothed the ache in his breast loosened his tongue and as he spoke some chance word, he saw Hogun raise his head, a sudden suspicion dark in his brows.
Loki had given Hogun the position as captain of the Enheriar soon after his return from Vanaheim and The AllFather's relieving Fandral of it. He knew that Hogun did not relish companionship with the younger warriors, but, as Fandral was to be occupied elsewhere, and as the AllFather was amused to put them in positions they felt unsuited for, such complaint was of little consequence.
Had he not ever felt unsuited to his place? And yet perfection had been demanded of him. And he had grown. He had overcome his limitations. He had risen like a phoenix, he thought, a touch wryly, from the ash. They could afford to do the same.
But, seeing the doubt on the warrior's face, Loki's amusement had flashed to its old hatred and he drew away.
Hogun would say nothing outright. He would not challenge the AllFather. But he would think his thoughts, and Loki would not have that.
In the evening, he saw Sif and Hogun speaking privately, with their heads close together, and over the next days, he saw the quick suspicious glances the lady threw in his direction. She and Hogun had ever been nearer with each other than with the others.
He sent her away to deal with some uprising that his councilors assured him was of the utmost importance, and with too few resources. She was a better strategist than the others of her kind. She would not be reckless enough to spend her men as Thor would. She would disappear to do her work in the shadows. It would not harm her to learn how. And it would take her from Asgard for a long time.
Sif had hated him for centuries. It pleased him to see her go.
Loki's head ached and, sprawled on the throne, he rested his head in his palm.
"My lord AllFather,"
He raised his head.
"The builders are nearly finished with the last of the work. Would you have them sent to their homes?"
Drawing it out a moment, he asked carefully, "It is past the time for planting, is it not?"
"It is, my liege. It would, perhaps – if I may – be more beneficial for them if there was a way to keep them in the employ of your majesty until they might take other work."
"They are, in the main, farmers," Loki straightened, marginally, on the throne, "yes?"
"Indeed, my king."
"And there is nothing yet that must be repaired?"
"Nothing of consequence, my lord. Nothing repaired."
His head throbbed and he turned away from the man. He looked at the sun that shone on the realm outside his windows. Then he felt himself smile.
"I would have them create a statue."
Odin had not yet slipped his bonds. This had surprised Loki, at first. He had never expected his attempts to amount to much, when placed against the strength and the knowledge of the AllFather. He did not look in on him.
He thought sometimes of "…thrice-committed treason." And that thought would give him pause. Then he would think of all else, of the Bifrost, of "…your birthright was to die…" and he would put it from his mind.
After some months, he ceased looking in the direction of New York at all.
Loki had bent all his mind to the forging of those bonds.
But they were never meant to hold the AllFather forever.
Sometimes, Loki was surprised to find himself vaguely resentful that they had.
Thor had yet to cast his eyes towards his home, or so Loki assumed. He did not look in on him, and he had long-since given up on his visits to the Gatekeeper. Skurge's incompetence sickened him, and he didn't want the trouble of dismissing the man and selecting a new Guardian. Asgard was secure enough so long as Loki had some notion what approached, and he himself kept watch from Hlydskjalf. He conversed as he could with Odin's ravens.
They knew he was not their master, but there was none other to accept their word, and they cared little. That he provided them food was enough for them. Long ago Odin had taught him the way of their speech, and he was the only one besides the AllFather to know it. The only one remaining who knew their tongue.
Frigga had known.
On the anniversary of her death there was a banquet held. He cared not to go. It was not a thing he had desired. But the people should know that the power of their place was well-restored after a year, and such a display would go a far way in proving that to them.
He stayed no great amount of time, but excused himself as early as was acceptable for the AllFather to do.
He heard the murmurs as he went. The sympathetic whispers that he yet missed his queen.
He went into the solitude of her private gardens and let the guise of his father fall away. The image fled him, but none of the weariness, none of the pain.
He walked amid the trees and the flowers she had loved. He looked into the pools and saw the reflection of the stars. Saw his own reflection looking back at him.
"The books I sent, do they not amuse you?"
He hid himself in shadows, though there was none else with eyes to see him in this dark. Heimdall had been dismissed, and never would he have spied here. Even his audacity had known bounds.
"Am I not your mother?"
Loki leaned back against the trunk of a tree and felt the roughness of its bark. He closed his eyes.
"You might want to take the stairs to your left."
He was weary. Weary beyond telling. Winter drew on to the second spring of his stolen rule.
The statue he'd commissioned was built and, in the first high flush of the springtime, unveiled. No one, it seemed, had quite known what to make of it, at first. But he'd praised it in their hearing. Praised its workmanship, its splendor, the speed and skill with which his vision had been executed. And the people colored under his praise. The AllFather had never been a flatterer, and such words as he spoke of them now were unexpected and pleasing to hear.
The day of the statues unveiling became one of great rejoicing.
Retiring to his own chambers, as he had begun to do more and more often, Loki looked from the window and he saw the golden monstrosity, and the people who smiled upon it every time as they passed and spoke well of him, of his rule, of his sons – the dead and the absent – and he laughed as he hadn't laughed in years.
Asgard stood upon its feet. She was rebuilt and her people prospered. There was word of uprisings and little skirmishes on the borderlands of the realms, but nothing that required the immediate attention of the AllFather. Irritably, he had bidden his advisors bring him news of import. He was AllFather, not the arbitrator of children's squabbles.
For over a year he had barely ceased moving and working to establish this peace. His body ached and his head swam with phrases from documents and flashes of memory.
Asgard could prosper for a day without his hand.
And Asgard did.
Somehow, once he'd laid it down, he didn't quite know how to take the rule up again.
"I never wanted the throne."
Odin was gone.
Thor was gone.
Frigga was gone.
Asgard prospered. Her people were contented.
"I only ever wanted to be your equal."
And Loki had to strain sometimes to remember why he had cared to take the throne in the first place.
"I didn't do it for him."
Spring became summer, bled to fall and died to the heady sleep of winter.
He had not seen Thor in two years.
For two years, he had not heard Frigga's voice, or exchanged any word with a soul who knew him for who he was.
Once, in his rooms – Odin's rooms – the people would have thought it odd if their king suddenly relocated to the dwellings of his deceased fosterling. And besides, he wanted none of his past any longer. It was dead to him as he was dead to it. He never went into his old rooms – with the dark pressing up against the glass, only just kept from mind by the golden curtains that reflected the candlelight, he used the mirror to conjure up Frigga's image before him.
He'd wondered if he could still bring her accurately from his mind to his fingertips and out to the air. And, before he'd had time to consider the possibility that he couldn't, he'd done it.
And at the movement of his fingers, she'd stood suddenly before him. Just as he recalled her.
He caught his breath.
Then he turned away. Her image was no comfort to him. It bore none of her presence. None of her soul. And it was her, he had sought to recall. Not her likeness.
He cast it away.
Blinking through the sudden pressure behind his eyes, he didn't look to see it before it vanished under his command.
For two years, all had believed him to be joined with her in memory.
For two years Odin had been gone, and not one person suspected the truth.
Loki hated them. He despised them for their ignorance and their stupidity. Their weakness. He'd abandoned the AllFather's manner, the AllFather's customs, his speech. All he bore was his face and it was as though nothing had changed. Not one of them suspected him. Not one of them challenged.
He drank with them at the feast honoring his own and Frigga's memory, Asgard's victory over the Dark Elves. He baited them with feasts and plays and hunts – entertainments Odin had never sanctioned.
And not one of them knew the change. Not one expressed surprise. Not one questioned him. They smiled and they laughed and they took his flattery with his barbs and the statues and the theater and they knew nothing. They saw nothing.
He remembered with a little shock how, so long ago, he had wondered what it was to be beloved.
Somehow he hated the people more than ever he had when he'd been spurned.
Winter turned to spring, and spring was just hazing into summer, when it finally drew to an end.
He and most of the people about the palace were watching an old favorite. A play one of the bards had written – under the AllFather's guidance, because Odin would ever have done such a thing – of the death of his second-son, Loki, the fosterling he had benevolently rescued from certain death from Jotunheim's snows to be the savior of them all.
He hadn't demanded it of the players that day. The woman…he thought it was the one to his right. He couldn't always tell one from another, they all were so much the same under their paint and their gold and their fluttering laughter. Whichever one had called for this play on the bright morning, it had not been he.
He craved distraction. Drink could not be his recourse or it would be the end of this charade. As weary as he'd become of it, he had nothing else. Nowhere to run.
Ironic that the thing he'd so viciously sought should be the trap that caught him, in the end. He had to admire the poetic justice of it.
And Thor was come.
He choked and scrambled past the girls and past his courtiers and onto his feet.
It was an involuntary response Thor had often wrung from him.
Thor had used Mjolnir on him before, but never from such a distance.
Odin could have stopped it.
But he could not. He could not lift it off of the ground, much less break it in its flight.
Such a throw as Thor had given, would kill him.
As Thor released him he dove away, slid out from beneath the image of his father and he caught his breath. He could breathe more freely without the illusion.
It had been over two years since he had seen the sun with both eyes.
He rounded on Skurge, who was puffing and blowing like the utter imbecile that he was.
"You had," Loki ground out, "one job."
The people drew back a little, but they were like sheep having learned that their shepherd was truly no more use to them than the wolf he kept at bay. They looked upon him with widened eyes, but they did not fear. Complacently, they watched this latest spectacle and they sipped their drinks.
"You just couldn't stay away, could you?" Loki glared at his brother.
But, somehow, he was glad to see him.
Thor dragged him to Midgard, past the mess he'd made of the Observatory.
Loki gaped at it with no little amazement. "What have you done?"
Thor glared at him, "More of use than you have. Take me where you left him."
Loki closed his mouth.
"None of your games, Loki."
He kept his teeth locked.
"Loki, what are you doing?"
"It's not me,"
He had never seen a working quite like that before, and it occurred to him as he spoke that he ought to move, but by then it was too late and the ground had vanished beneath his feet. He was still more than a bit staggered by the ending of the charade that he had only just been thinking might be eternal, and he had never been at his best, struggling through sudden alterations.
He dropped from Midgard's surface.
It didn't end.
His heart clawed up into his throat.
Colors and images flashed before his eyes too fast for him to place them.
He remembered when the Bifrost had exploded. He remembered falling and falling into the nothingness of the Void and the panic gripped his throat until he couldn't breathe. It threatened to tear out of his breast. He couldn't think, he couldn't alter the magic with which he was caught, not without some amount of focus. And he couldn't focus. Not through this.
He thought he might be sick.
He had to focus, steady his mind, find a tear in the fabric of this spell.
The hard working of some floor rushed up in his face and all-but drove the air out of his body. And as the world crashed into focus around him his panic gave out like a snuffed candle and he remembered how he had come to be falling in the first place.
Anger took the place of terror. He would end whatever mage had caught him, with tortures beyond the creature's comprehension.
Thor was speaking calmly with the mage behind all of this. Neither seemed in any way concerned.
Loki dove at the man.
"I think that's enough."
And Loki found himself on his face in thin whippy grass that waved gently in a sea wind.
He pushed himself half-up, ready to tear at Thor, take out all the fear Thor had done nothing to stop, again, when he saw that Thor was not looking at him at all.
Odin stood with his back to them a little ways away, very still, looking out at the sea.
All else forgotten, Loki got to his feet. His heart beat heavy and cold.
He would never have been ready for this meeting. But he caught his breath and followed Thor. He would meet whatever Odin would give him. Why, if Odin was free, had he not returned home?
In his heart, he knew why. And, for all his hatred, he dreaded this moment.
The air moved gently, like the breath of some great, sleeping creature, and it all felt like a dream that had fallen to slumber, with the three of them trapped, yet, inside of it.
Odin spoke softly, and he did not look with any length at either of them. As though nothing were between them. He spoke little of the past.
He mentioned the spell that had bound him and gave Loki a slight sideways look, "Your mother would have been proud."
Loki had not expected that. Odin had never had soft words for him, and now, after he had taken his very throne and face and bound him, leaving him to die, now Odin spoke of pride? He had not even been a good king. He had done what was necessary only…
He swallowed thickly, not daring to speak. He'd wanted nothing more than Odin's good will, for centuries. The hatred he'd felt these past since years fell away and he wanted to say he was sorry.
He wasn't, not really. Not for what he had done.
But he was sorry that it could not have been different.
And for the first time in his life, he felt that Odin would have said the same.
And that he need say nothing. Odin asked nothing of him.
And that was what hurt him the most. The feeling hanging in this strange, sleeping air, that it need not have ended like this.
"Remember this place, my sons."
Odin told them of a danger approaching them.
But Loki was tired. He was afraid. For two years there had been nothing, and now, all at the same time…
"I love you, my sons."
And with that unprecedented speech, Odin was gone.
Gone without recall.
He'd known that Odin would die someday soon. But he'd thought, somehow, that there would be more time.
Loki had not expected to mourn him.
Thor blamed him. Thor accused him of hastening Odin's death.
Thor's eyes flashed with fire Loki had not seen in them before.
But Hela left neither of them time.
She appeared before them, her hair dark and her eyes flashing. Her movements languid and powerful. She asked after Odin.
"Odin is dead."
She gave a small hmm in her throat, then said dryly, "I should have liked to see that."
It was something he would have expected himself to say. And it came over him in a cold flush why she seemed familiar.
He was not so ignorant of himself as to mistake his own reflection.
Thor engaged her, challenged her.
Loki hung back, assessing, calculating as fast as he was able, numbed as he was, seeking strengths, patterns.
When Mjolnir shattered in her hand, it was too much for him to comprehend.
He misjudged. He knew it in the moment he called for the Gatekeeper.
But by then it was too late.
The Bifrost struck to the ground and dragged them out of Midgard. It dragged them up.
All of them.
It was not supposed to be possible. Thor was the only one who had ever been strong enough to resist the pull of the Bifrost, and that was only in a moment of abnormal need. Hela crawled forward, rushing at him, and she batted him from the Bifrost's pull as though it were nothing.
The Void roared around him, but it was different this time. It repulsed him from its embrace. He skidded along its surface and caught in the gravity of some place that opened wide its arms to accept him.
He plummeted down and down and down and caught his back on a sloping red roof.
Before he could catch at it, it slid away beneath him and he was falling again.
This time a shorter distance.
He crushed against the ground amid scattered debris he'd knocked free from the roof and a great cloud of dust.
Choking, he struggled to get breath back in his lungs, to sit up, to see past the glaring white of the sun above and the flash of the pains skittering through his bones.
"Well, hello there," a voice said. "Who are you supposed to be?"
It was a man, he discovered, blinking the sparks out of his eyes. A man who smiled. The woman beside him was grim.
"Stay back," she barked to her companion.
The man raised his hands in a kind of surrender, pivoting to half-face her. "I just, asked him who he was!" he laughed.
His body flashed hot and then cold. Closing his eyes, he swallowed back the sudden nausea.
The woman humffed. She steadied her weapon, "He could be a danger."
"He could–?" The man started. Then he stopped and looked at Loki, "Can you believe her? 'He could be a danger,'" he scoffed. Then he turned half-back to her, "Don't you think it just a tad irregular-"
And blackness washed over him.
There was stillness in the immediate vicinity when he woke. It was dim, and far away he could hear noises, as of a great city.
He opened his eyes.
The ceiling above him was dirty white, with hard thick bars of red skating across at odd angles with the lines of the room. He found them strangely captivating.
"Oh good. You're alive."
Loki jolted half up.
The man from earlier was sitting in a chair beside the bed on which Loki lay, with a magazine of some sort opened on his lap. He licked his finger to turn a page, "Is that it?" he muttered. "Well. I guess that's it. That's an odd place to end things. Well."
Setting the pages aside, he straightened his coat and he looked at Loki, "I was hoping we hadn't killed you with our – well, her – cold reception," he chuckled, "You can't mind her too much," he said conspiratorially, "She's just…" his eyes wandered toward a door where perhaps he expected his female counterpart to appear, "frigid…"
Half-raised on his elbow, Loki swallowed thickly. He closed his eyes, trying to reorient himself in time and space.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"Oh. Yeah. That," the man re-adjusted himself on the chair, "I embarrass myself," he smiled, "This," he gestured expansively through the all-but empty room. There were thin windows running parallel to the floor about the upper quarter of the wall, and that let in a sickly light and a good bit of the sound, "is Sakaar."
Loki was uncertain what his response was supposed to be.
"And I," the man got to his feet. He made a move that was more flourish than bow, "am your GrandMaster. All of this," he flicked his wrist around the room, "All of this – I mean," he shrugged, "You can't actually see any of it right now, from the-uh-the bed. But it's," he laughed, "Rest assured, it is glorious. It's impressive-it's impressive. I, uhh," he sat back down again, "I run the show here."
He looked at Loki, as though for some response.
"Literally and figuratively," he explained. "See, there's actually a show. You know what, just wait. Just. Wait. You're gonna love it. I can't wait to show you everything. You know what?" he patted Loki's knee. "I like you. I really do. So I'm gonna –"
From without the door there came a sound of steps.
The GrandMaster straightened with some alarm, "Oh, uh, that'll be…see, I'm not supposed to be here. I did, uh, sort of," he grinned, wriggling his fingers, "slip my bodyguard." The feet had stopped and a lock was being turned. "I like you. You piss her off," he grinned conspiratorially, "Watch this."
The door opened, and the woman Loki had seen with the GrandMaster whenever it was he had arrived, came in.
"Ah!" the GrandMaster gripped his arm in paroxysms of badly-faked agony, "Oh! Oh! He's-he's gonna hurt me! He's dangerous! He's –"
She carried that same weapon he had seen her hold before – a sort of staff or scepter that she wielded like a spear. Her expression was granite, as though it never altered from its current grim aspect.
The GrandMaster might be mad. But this woman was not one to trifle with.
The GrandMaster looked at her, then back at Loki and he shrugged, "See?" he said, "No sense of humor."
He stood up. "Who are you?" he asked, "You have a sense of humor?"
Loki gave half a laugh, "I think so," he said.
"See?" The GrandMaster pointed at him, "See? That's funny. That's funny. Okay, so, whoever you are, get up, get…" his eyes wandered. "Whatever. Get whatever and get out here. I have to show you everything. Okay? Okay."
Half-way out the door, the GrandMaster turned back. The woman was behind him, all but pushing him out of the door. The GrandMaster paid her no mind. He raised one finger. "Don't keep me waiting," he smiled.
It was well into the dark hours that come only just before sunrise before he finally broke away and found someone to show him to a room that would serve as his.
It was relief to walk into the dark. He didn't as after any kind of light, but bade his guide a goodnight and secured the door behind him. He closed his eyes and let out a long breath.
Then he went to the wide window that stood in the far wall.
Sakaar was a place unlike any he'd come to before. It writhed and screamed and laughed and it did nothing to hide its gaping, pustulant sores. There was no propriety, there was nothing that was taboo. All law rested on the whim of the GrandMaster. There was no trace of custom or history, no concept of lineage.
So long had he formed his ideals, his plans, his identity, on such ideas, that their utter absence came as a kind of shock to him.
But he liked it. He likes its vigor. He liked its lawlessness.
Looking down at the flickering lights and the rioting mass of bodies in the vomited mess of streets and crumbled buildings below him Loki thought that it was not unpleasant in this place, even with its drawbacks. Asgard had always been a place of straight lines. Of yes and no and a long line of forebears breathing down one's spine. Of shoulds and oughts and must.
This was not.
The GrandMaster's idea of ruling was not so different from his own, he thought. Watching the bubbling movements of the masses beneath, he folded his arms across his chest.
True, there had once been a time when he had thought to do good. To implement change. But the people were too stupid for it. They set in their ways. Their customs. Their histories. He had learned much during his brief rule in Asgard.
Hela would have brought Asgard to its knees by now, and if not yet, its fall was imminent.
He would have liked, with part of himself, to know that Asgard had continued on, even should he be forever expelled. But the rest of himself, the part that writhed at the impotence they'd debased themselves with, felt oddly vindicated.
Thor, she would have killed. Either that or he would have shown the first sense in his life and fled. Either way, Loki was unlikely to see him again.
He shied from that. Their rivalry at least was a thing with which to occupy himself. Its lack had left him bored on the very throne of Asgard, and just as he'd thought to have gained it back, Hela had taken it from him.
He had rather preferred their last farewell. But this one – he thought wryly past the pain – suited him better. He'd never been noble. He'd never lived up to Asgard's standards. It would be better to remain here, in a place with none.
He'd never lived up to his father.
"I love you, my sons."
Drawing a ragged breath, he raised the first fingers of one hand and laid them against his mouth. He thought back to his own seeming-death. How certain it had looked and the stammered apologies that had bubbled up with the blood in his throat. Coming-Death had made fools of both of them, he and his father.
"Your mother would have been proud."
A tear traced hot down his cheek and he pressed his eyes closed.
He had lost much, this day. Beyond recall. But no more than he'd recovered from before. And every time, he'd grown.
He smeared the wetness away with his hand and drew a long breath.
Then he opened his eyes and looked down. Sakaar roiled beneath him, reveling in its own defilement. His hand, balanced beside his chin, opened and closed in a fist. He could make this place more than it was. He could rule them. The GrandMaster would not live forever – there were ways of seeing to such things, even within a realm of chaos.
He inhaled until his chest hurt, and then, slowly, let it out.
Sakaar was a realm on which he could thrive.
Two weeks he was on his own, burying himself in this new world of chaos and opulence and filth, weaving himself into the bold colors of the tapestry that was this new world to which he'd been thrown.
Thoughts of his erstwhile home, his family, surfaced often. But he pushed them away. What claim had they on him? If Thor had lived, Thor wanted none of him. And there was none who left Sakaar. That, he had learned quickly.
Thoughts of those with whom he had lived were like a black poison in his heart that at any time could burst out and snuff him like a candle. He put them away behind the noise and the color and the laughter. The drink and the spectacle. The brutality and politics.
They were a worthy distraction for his mind. They would serve him as he pleased.
"I like you," the GrandMaster told him, "you're always smiling! Come on. You sit up here, next to me. No, no, he's fine. We talked about this, remember?"
Two weeks passed, before Thor arrived.
And everything was begun anew.
"Loki, I thought the world of you. I thought we were gonna fight side-by-side forever, but, at the end of the day, you're you and I'm me. And, I don't know, maybe there's still good in you, but – let's be honest – our paths diverged a long time ago."
That was it. No, "Loki, this is madness," no, "We can, together," not "I wish I could trust you," not even, "If you betray me, I will kill you." Just cleanly, a nod to the past, and a confirmation that it was past. As though all of it had meant nothing – had been nothing but a child's story, so easily laid aside.
Slowly, he nodded his head, pushing past his own sudden hurt and surprise to gauge Thor's reaction, to see if Thor was playing him for his. "It's probably for the best that we never see each other again," he said.
"It's what you always wanted." Thor answered. He clapped Loki on the back.
It had never been what Loki wanted.
"Hey. Let's do 'Get Help.'"
Loki looked at Thor, "What?"
"Come on, you love it."
"I hate it."
"It's great! It works every time!"
"Do you have a better plan?"
Thor gave a decisive nod. "We're doing it."
It was so much a part of their past. Thor's badgering. His plans. Loki had rarely enjoyed them, but he had always been glad to be a part of it, even so. A part of Thor's schemes – of his life.
Just one last time…
"We are not doing 'Get Help'."
"It's probably for the best…"
He would have betrayed Thor to the GrandMaster.
Thor had expected it.
Which he ought to have foreseen.
"Are you even not going to fall for that."
"What? I thought you liked tricks."
And Thor left him there.
Thor, truly, did not care.
So when Korg freed him, "Hi, I'm Korg. We're getting outta here. Wanna come?"
He'd gotten a little breathlessly to his feet. "You seem to be in desperate need of leadership."
He would not be left behind by Thor.
He would leave.
But he would not be left behind.
"Your savior is here!" he shouted.
Slowly, the ship landed and the clouds cleared and he saw more cleanly the hordes of Asgardian people standing on the bridge.
"Did you miss me?"
He hadn't been sure what their reaction might be. He'd rather expected them to pitch him once and for all off the side of the Bifrost.
But they didn't. They merely looked at him, and they parted the way before him as he came into their midst.
But Thor had seen him.
And Thor had smiled.
And that was enough.
"It's a bold move, even for me."
Knowing his proficiency as shape-shifter, illusionist and diplomat, Thor had always – even from their childhood – set Loki the most dangerous roles. Loki was the lure, the infiltrator, the diversion. Often he had been beneath the very nose of their quarry, and he had rarely been caught.
Now Thor would send him behind their sister's back to wake the demon destined to end the world. Hela, Thor himself would keep busy.
"All I ever wanted was to be your equal."
Diving down the stairs he had no time to think of this place. Of the fact that this was the last time he would see it. He didn't think of his mother or the rustle of her skirts as she'd walked these halls. She was dead. Father was dead.
He had mourned Asgard's passing long ago.
He took the helm in his hands and thrusting it into the Eternal Flame he called Surt to life.
The Tesseract he secreted. It would not pay to have it lost again. Who knew what manner of thing might find it?
As Surt roared to life before him, the fire spread. The Eternal Flame mingled with Surt's fire and licked hissing up the walls.
Loki scrambled back, out of the Vault that had been.
It was on the tip of his tongue to joke that when he had told Malekith he wanted a good seat for this, he hadn't meant to be one of the players on the stage.
A piece of the ceiling plummeted and it was only by his quick reflexive blast that he was saved.
He flung himself up and out and into the air that crackled with flames as Asgard crumbled around him.
Surt's whip snapped and the trees burst in orange and red tongues. The air tasted of ash.
Searching the sky Loki looked for Korg's ship. He'd told Thor not to wait, not even for him.
A tree cracked and groaned, he dodged it just as it fell.
Then he saw it.
He fled the burning wreck of Asgard.
He didn't give himself time to think of it. Cutting a tear in the fabric of the Void, he threw himself off of the edge of the Bifrost. He caught at the tear and wrenched it apart and when the world stopped spinning, he found himself collapsed in an empty bay of Korg's ship, with the solidity of the floor beneath him.
Putting his head back against the wall of the ship, he closed his eyes and breathed.
Then he laughed.
He found Thor no long time later.
Half smiling, he slipped up behind him. "Did you miss me?" he asked.
Thor didn't jump. "No," he said simply, "You didn't give me time to miss you. You just keep popping up."
But he was smiling when he said it. And Loki smiled back.
There would be time for missing things later.
And there were many things to miss. Many faces that could not be found among the passengers of the ship. And Loki thought that, perhaps even he, given enough time, might come to feel their lack.
After all, he had not always hated them.
And hate, he found, was not so solid a thing as he had once thought.
He found Thor later, much later, when the mess of sorting out the ship and her passengers was completed. The Asgardians were foolish sheep, looking for guidance from their king.
And their king had given it well.
Loki had watched as they all fell into order with an odd smile on his face. And he had felt proud. Proud that Thor should have come so far.
Thor was the ruler Asgard needed.
Loki found him in his room aboard the ship, later.
He asked where they would go. Asgard was gone. They had no home any longer to return to.
Thor suggested Earth. When Loki questioned him, Thor shrugged.
"Let me rephrase that," Loki said, "Do you really think it's a good idea for me to go back to Earth?"
Thor looked at him then. "It'll work out," he said.
It would take a long time for Loki to be used to looking at him, and seeing only one eye.
Thor had aged.
And it suited him well.
Perhaps, in this new world, things could be different.
Loki looked out at the stars that spilled out in front of them, the swirling colors and galaxies. "And a new world will rise from the flames of the old…"
Thor looked at him, "You're a poet now?"
"No it's…something that I read," Loki answered, "a long time ago."
"Well," Thor nodded his head, "It's quite good. I like it."
Loki half-grinned. "As do I."
And Thor smiled.