4 TIMES AN AVENGER DIDN'T KILL LOKI, AND 1 TIME ONE OF THEM DID

Word Count: 16k+

Trigger Warnings: Mentions of suicide, rape, and words that would make Steve say, "Language, Ana."

Characters (in order of appearance): Loki, Natasha Romanoff, Pepper Potts, Tony Stark, Laura Barton, Lila Barton, Cooper Barton, Clint Barton, Jane Foster, Thor, Wanda Maximoff, Steve Rogers.

Status: Complete

I. Natasha

Natasha felt the gentle pull of teleportation while she was dancing.

It was a rare, unusual sight, seeing the infamous Black Widow dancing, and there was much that many would've given to see it.

And who wouldn't want to? The beautiful, redheaded woman was scantily clothed in a pair of small, tight shorts that failed to hide her long, supple legs and tight buttocks, and the sports bra she was wearing would have most men drooling. The movements of her curvaceous, lithe body were graceful and precise.

But Natasha didn't want anyone seeing. To her, it was a moment of weakness, an uncharacteristically feminine thing that didn't suit the remorseless assassin at all. Yet in the Red Room, she'd been taught ballet, and there were moments when only dancing eased the stress out of her tensed muscles.

So she danced in the dark, curtains drawn with lights turned off. The music was set as low as possible, and all that could be heard from it was a low, pleasing, melodic murmur.

The Black Widow closed her eyes, letting memory and instinct take over her muscles as she swayed and glided across the floor, losing herself in the serenity of the moment.

Of course, it was serene until Natasha felt the tug of teleportation.

Grumbling to herself, Natasha felt for the switch and snapped on the light, guessing she had about thirty seconds before she was whisked away to wherever Loki was bringing her.

The first visit had been alarming. Loki had visited her, then, in a projection of himself. SHIELD had been immediately notified, all the top gunmen surrounded the two of them, and a helicopter hovered above Loki's projection.

Loki had seemed rather amused by the whole ordeal. He hadn't said much, and disappeared after a couple of minutes.

The next visit was much the same. By the third, SHIELD had started getting tired of assembling everything and rushing over to them. By the sixth, Natasha had simply stopped notifying SHIELD.

What exactly was Loki doing there? Natasha couldn't answer that. Loki would chat with her about the most absurdly ordinary things, as though they were old friends. Of course, it could be an attempt at manipulation. Natasha kept herself on high alert and with senses tuned.

By now, Natasha had pretty much lost track how many times they met. Loki had gotten tired of appearing to her, and just teleported her to him in a grassy field atop a cliff that overlooked a raging waterfall and frothy waters.

Where am I? Natasha had asked once. Loki had smirked in reply. Nowhere you would now, he would answer. On a different world entirely, actually.

Loki, though, was always an illusion. She couldn't touch him, nor could he touch her. Natasha wasn't terribly afraid but she wasn't a fool either, and was on her guard.

Now, Natasha glanced down at the revealing clothing she was wearing. It was fine—nothing Loki hadn't seen before. There was one time he'd teleported her while she was in the shower, and after taking one look at her Loki had instantly teleported her back.

She closed her eyes lightly, and when she opened them, she was up on the familiar isolation cliff, staring at Loki's face.

All Loki needed to do was to get someone to kill him.

It shouldn't be so hard, right? After all, dozens of people had attempted to before. Now, he just needed to let them.

The Chitauri's rules were unfairly specific. Loki couldn't kill himself, which would have been the preferable option. He couldn't die of an 'accident', which had been Loki's second option. No, someone else entirely had to kill him.

If Loki didn't die, then the entire universe was going to wiped out.

Loki's reasoning was, he was going to die either way. Why not save at least Frigga's life in the process? If Frigga didn't exist, then Loki would've carelessly let all life die with him. At least, that's what he convinced himself.

The Chitauri desired his death. If they didn't get it, they would wage war on the Nine Realms. So the fate of the universe was basically in Loki's untrustworthy hands.

Loki sighed. He wasn't allowed to explain why he had to die either to anyone, and that made everything a whole lot harder. He'd planned to just tell one of the Avengers everything, and Loki was sure they'd only be too happy to oblige him.

The plan he had now wasn't foolproof, but so far, it was the best he got. The Black Widow was going to kill him.

She wouldn't simply do it just because, since the mortals had an annoying sense of honor. Romanoff had less honor than most, but Loki was unwilling to beg the assassin to slaughter him where he stood.

No, Loki was going to trick her into killing him.

Everything was elaborately set up. The target, the knives in his hand. For once, Loki had actually appeared instead of using an illusion. But Romanoff wouldn't know that.

Waving his gloved hands lightly just for show, he summoned Natasha Romanoff.

She appeared across from him, next to the target, swirling blue-green eyes taking in everything. She was barely clad, but the calm dread he felt at the prospect of dying kept Loki's eyes was wandering.

"Practicing?" she asked nonchalantly. Loki answered with a brusque nod.

He flicked his wrist, and a solid knife materialized in her hand as well. "Do you want to practice?"

"Why not?" said Romanoff, getting the feel of her new throwing knife. "I'll give it a whirl."

Loki needed her to throw the knife at him, not the target. She didn't know that Loki was actually here in person, but by then it'll be too late. He would have just told her to throw the knife at him, but Loki wasn't sure if sentiment would get the better of her at the last minute.

Subtly turning the knife in his hand into an illusion, Loki threw it at Natasha. It passed through her body harmlessly, and had the knife been real, it would've been a killing shot. Loki smirked, goading her on. He tipped his head, poisonous green eyes inviting a challenge, as though saying, Can you throw better than me?

Natasha met his unspoken challenge with an arch of an elegant eyebrow. Gripping the handle of the knife tightly in her hands, she took aim.

Loki took a deep breath.

The Black Widow threw the knife at Loki, the brilliant silver blade flashing in the sunlight. He closed his eyes, waiting, anticipating, dreading the killing blow.

It never came.

Loki opened his eyes in confusion, and felt the tiniest sting as the edge of the knife skimmed his ear. Other than that small cut, Loki was unharmed, and the knife flew for another few feet before landing behind him.

Loki turned to Natasha, unable to believe that she missed. At such a close proximity, he knew that there was no way for the highly skilled assassin to miss unintentionally.

Natasha was smiling down at her hand, and she was holding up one finger. "Genocidal," she said, eyes still averted away from Loki. She counted another finger mockingly. "Homicidal, fratricidal, patricidal, speciocidal, regicidal." Each finger for a crime spoken.

The woman finally raised her eyes to Loki. "I guess I have to add suicidal to the list now."

Suicide. Loki searched his own limited knowledge of the mortal word. From what he knew, it was the killing of oneself when life simply became too much. He ground his teeth. He most certainly wasn't suicidal. That was a cowardly thing, and Loki wasn't cowardly.

But that time at the Bifrost…when he let go, he didn't know he was going to survive. Loki supposed that counted as attempted suicide. Great. Now he wasn't only a traitor, he was a cowardly traitor, too.

Loki scowled at Natasha. "How…"

"The grass," Romanoff interrupted. "When you used an illusion, you wouldn't flatten the grass." She pointed behind him, and sure enough, Loki could see clumps of grass, flattened where he'd stepped on it.

Loki let out an enraged snarl, frustration clouding his features. "The fuck does that matter!" he screamed, initial calmness fading. "Just take the damn knife and kill me!"

"Why?"

Loki crossed over to her in a couple of large strides. His long, elegant fingers roughly gripped her shoulders, giving her a harsh shake. "Because you must," he spat, face inches away from hers. "Do it, or I swear I will kill you."

The Black Widow's gaze didn't waver, and her eyes betrayed no fear. "Why?"

Loki let out a frustrated yell, pushing her backwards. The former SHIELD agent didn't lose her footing, burning eyes never leaving his face.

"Fuck you," Loki snapped, and with a flick of his fingers, Natasha Romanoff was gone.

Loki never sent for her again.

II. Tony Stark

Pepper paused in her brisk, clicking steps, staring out the balcony window as she felt a pang deep inside her.

Her gaze dropped to the busy streets of New York below, teeming with people. Her fingers lightly rested on the clear glass, mended after Loki had broken it by flinging -Tony through.

This was where Tony had almost died.

Her eyes flickered over to the countertop. That was where Tony had audaciously offered Loki a drink, if his somewhat jumbled account was anything to go by. Loki had apparently tried to use his mind-controlling scepter on Tony, but his arc reactor had stopped it.

Pepper's lips twisted. Even she could appreciate the irony in that.

She glanced at her watch, and after judging that she had at least ten spare minutes in her busy schedule, Pepper's attention drifted to the crazed demigod who'd attacked New York.

Pepper didn't like to be single-minded. She, while a practical woman, felt it only fair to look at things from everyone's point of view, not just her own. Even when Stane had betrayed Tony in such a cruel way, Pepper had in vain tried to justify his actions to herself. But there simply wasn't a way to make Obadiah's wrong a right, in her mind at least.

So she tried to picture things from Loki's point of view. Loki was adopted, Tony had said. Pepper scrunched up her face. Identity issues? she guessed, but Pepper couldn't justify Loki's actions with that. He'd tried to kill his sibling, for God's sake.

If Thor had been an awful big brother, that would at least make a little bit of sense. But there were numerous times the big god of thunder had crashed at Stark Tower, and Thor had been sweet to her. From running forward to open the door for her, offering to help whenever Pepper was stuck cleaning up Tony's drunken messes, and making tea for her when Pepper complained of a headache, Thor had been an absolute darling.

Had he been different before? Once, when Thor was helping Pepper hang up a new painting, Loki had come up. The mention of his little brother always sent Thor into a graver mood.

"What he did was wrong, very wrong, Lady Pepper," Thor said, looking earnestly into Pepper's eyes. "And I understand that. The things he did to Stark, they were wrong."

Then, his large blue eyes became impossibly bluer and larger. "But I beg you to believe me when I say this, Pepper, that Loki wasn't always like this."

"What was he like, then?" Pepper asked somewhat curiously.

Thor laughed bitterly. "You wouldn't believe it, but Loki was extremely sensitive." His gaze was dark with sorrow and pain. "I remember once, Loki had a small wolf cub he attempted to nurse back to health, after finding it motherless and with a broken leg. But there was no way the poor cub could make it, yet Loki wouldn't listen to reason. It died within two days."

Thor swallowed hard. "He cried for days, afterwards." He paused for a moment. "Loki would always confide in me before, when we were younger. I guess I just kept teasing him so mercilessly that he just…stopped."

When Thor averted his eyes, Pepper laid a hand on his arm. "Thor, it's not your fault," she said gently.

He just brushed off her soothing. "Lady Pepper, you don't understand," he said. "If I'd been a better older brother, if I'd cared more for him and included Loki more, if I wasn't so arrogant and blind, none of this wouldn't have happened." Thor stopped speaking and closed his eyes.

"Maybe it is your fault," said Pepper abruptly, and Thor's eyes were instantly wide open, looking somewhat confused. But Pepper knew what she was doing. She'd handled Tony after every one of his nightmares about Afghanistan, and she could handle Thor.

"Maybe you could have averted all this, if you'd been more considerate," went on Pepper, brutally honest. "But you weren't, and there's nothing you can do about that."

Pepper gave Thor's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Thor, you need to stop thinking about what kind of brother you could've been, and start thinking about what kind of brother you will be." Pepper smiled warmly at Thor. "And I'm sure you'll be a great one."

She dragged herself back to the present by giving herself a good, hard pinch. Pepper glanced quickly at her watch again. She probably should leave now.

Turning halfway to leave, Pepper gave one more quick glance at the window. And her jaw dropped.

Standing there, was a young man that had most definitely not been there before.

He looked in his mid-twenties, with carefully slicked back black hair, exotic green eyes, and slightly pale features. He was dressed comfortably in strange clothing, all green and black. But strangest of all was that weird feeling Pepper got when she looked at him, as though she remembered him.

But Pepper could've sworn she'd never met him. If she had, she felt sure that those handsome, striking features and odd clothing would've stuck with her. And someone with high enough access to get here…no, Pepper would've definitely remembered him.

"May I help you?" asked Pepper smoothly, realizing she probably had stared for too long.

The young man smiled, displaying two rows of flawless white teeth. "Virginia Potts," he said, voice rich and cultured with the faintest hint of a pleasant but foreign accent. "Or may I call you Pepper?"

"I'm sorry," said Pepper, "but do I know you? And how did you get access to these floors?"

He tipped his head to one side, jaded green eyes—that suddenly struck Pepper as looking poisonous—studying her. "No?" he inquired in confusion. "I could've sworn I met your boyfriend, Anthony Stark."

"There's a lot of things Tony doesn't tell me," said Pepper dryly. "Now, what was your name again?"

He smiled again, but it wasn't pleasantly charming like the first smile. No, this smile was malicious and cruel, displaying dark intent. Pepper's heart skipped a beat, that awful elastic-looking smile becoming horribly familiar. She drew a step back.

"You may've heard of me," said Thor's little brother, terrible smile only growing. "I'm pretty famous in these parts."

Pepper sucked in her breath sharply, and all she could think of in that moment was that the person in front of her seemed awfully unlikely to cry over a dead wolf cub.

Loki was mentally debating how to kill Virginia Potts.

Should he throw a knife at her? Shoot her? Cut a vital vein and watch her slowly bleed out and die?

Loki discarded the last option. He, while a murderer, liked to think he could be merciful. A painless death will infuriate Stark enough to kill him, anyway. A carefully constructed plan ran through his head, one that had been carefully rehearsed many times.

But Loki hadn't anticipated how damn fast the Iron Man was going to appear to the scene.

"Oh, hey there Reindeer Games," said a tinny voice, and a red-gold blur landed behind Loki, on one knee with a fist implanted into the ground. "Miss me?"

Before Loki could come up with a sarcastic answer, he was knocked backwards by a repulser blast in a most undignified way.

Cursing, he teleported himself behind Potts, quickly pressed a small knife to her throat. Virginia stilled, and Loki could feel her pulse hammering wildly away. Loki smiled at the Iron Man, who hesitated, faceplate flipping open.

New plan.

Using a touch of magic, Loki silenced Pepper. His plan was simple. Kill Potts, flee Stark's wrath, and 'accidentally' fall to his death. He wasn't killing himself, technically it was the Iron Man since he would be chasing him. It was a foolproof plan, and it was better than being humiliatingly killed outright by a mortal.

As the blade pressed closer and closer to home, blood dripped down Potts's bare, unguarded neck and the expression of raw fear in her eyes grew.

Loki glanced at Stark, who curiously wasn't yelling at him or cursing. Instead, the mortal's eyes were on Potts, and he was gesturing to her. As though he were trying to….remind her of something.

Oh shit.

Loki was suddenly aware of a burning, hot white pain in his abdomen, and a knee collided with his groin. He was unprepared, and stumbled back unwillingly, hands falling to his sides. Potts was free.

"Nice tasering, Pep!" came the Iron Man's voice, and Loki blindly ducked and rolled on the ground as a repulser blast shot above his head, barely missing him. He gritted his teeth in fury, scrambling near the counter for cover.

Because his pride simply couldn't handle being killed by Stark of all people, Loki quickly pulled an illusion over himself as Pepper, and changed Virginia into himself. That would give him a moment's respite, and he would attempt to flee Stark's blasts. He then would 'accidentally' fall through the glass and die effectively.

As he prepared to run, he saw Stark aiming one of his toys at Potts disguised as Loki, and that was where Loki got his next inspiration for grandly dying.

He would crash into Virginia and save her life, but the blast from Stark's weapon would still hit Loki, killing him. Then Stark would have to live with the fact that Loki died saving his girlfriend's life, from Stark himself, of all people.

Before Stark fired his weapon, Loki was already moving, letting the illusions fall away as he slammed into Potts' side. Yet the damned weapon didn't harm him, merely singing the ends of his black hair as it landed harmlessly behind them. Damn.

But Loki and Potts were still rolling, a tangled mass of arms and legs. Apparently Loki had slammed into Potts too hard.

The pair crashed into the window and it crashed, glass pieces raining down on them. And then Loki was falling, falling.

His plan had worked after all. Loki was going to die.

At least, that's what he thought, before a hand caught his, holding him up.

Pepper swallowed hard, muscles straining with face red as she knelt at the side of the floor. Her head swam dizzily as she gripped Loki's pale fingers as tight as she could. Her heels had fallen off in the tussle, and she dug her feet into the ground.

But there was no denying it, she was slipping. Loki's weight was bearing her down.

Yet why the hell was she still holding onto him? Why didn't Pepper just let go of him?

The simple answer: she couldn't.

The fact that the man she was risking her life for was a murderer did not leave her, but so did the fact that this was Thor's little brother, a sweet little overly-sensitive boy who cried over his pets and longed for attention from his brother. And…he just saved her life.

So she held on.

Pepper chanced a look at Loki, and he was snarling, poisonous green eyes alight with fury. "Let go of me!" he screamed at her, long legs flailing behind him. "You insolent, foolish mortal!"

She ignored him, but her palms were beginning to sweat. Pepper cursed, and Loki smiled.

Then he fell.

He was doing it.

Finally, Loki was going to die.

As he rushed through the air, Loki summoned up the memories of his golden childhood, when it had been just him and Thor, with no Warriors Three and no Sif. Running through rosy flowers, clambering up hazelnut trees, sneaking into the kitchen to steal handfuls of pastries, chasing red-gold blurs….wait, what?

Loki's hazy vision snapped back to reality as his eyes fixated on the image of the Iron Man streaking down as fast as he could go. For a moment, Loki thought Stark was trying to make sure Loki actually died.

Then the alarming answer settled on him—Stark was trying to save him.

Shit, shit, shit….oh damnit, would nobody just fucking let him die?

But the ground was too close, and Stark was too far away, yes, yes, Loki was going to make it. He took a deep breath, and felt a harsh slam against his body, a cold icy numbness…then silence.

His pulse stilled.

Loki had prepared to see Hela when he opened his eyes, because there was no way he was going to wake up in Valhalla. He had never actually seen Hela, face-to-face. Half of her was said to be an image of the most beautiful woman ever seen, and the other half was a repulsive, blackened creature. No definite picture, however, had been drawn up.

But Loki was pretty sure she didn't look wear a neatly trimmed beard, a cocky grin, and a suit of burnished red-and-gold armor.

Then the panic and pain settled in. He wasn't dead, he was alive.

Loki meant to snap something at Stark, but all that came out was a drunken mumble. "You're not the goddess of hell," Loki slurred.

Stark grinned wider. "Last time I checked, nope. Though some may beg to differ."

"Why am I not dead?"

Dark eyebrows raised. "Why, Rudolph, surely you aren't complaining?"

Loki swore. "What did you do, you ignorant mortal?"

"Defibrillator."

"What the fuck?"

"As the good Cap would say, language, young man," said Stark mildly, tone amused. "I didn't do much, just shocked you back to life after feeling no pulse."

Loki swore violently in about ten different languages. He'd tried to kill himself three times, and they hadn't worked.

Giving Stark one last heated glare, Loki teleported himself away.

III. Clint Barton

Loki was a fool.

Two different Avengers. Three different perfect chances. And yet, Loki was not dead.

Either Loki was a goat-brained idiot, or the Norns hated him. He decided to go with the latter, as it was less insulting to his pride.

Loki began to pace back and forth in the little Midgardian apartment, hands folded neatly behind his back. He'd expected more of Romanoff, and the fact that Stark had just saved his life left a bitter taste in his mouth.

No, now he needed someone who would be sure to kill him. The Captain was out of the question. Banner had been next on list, but it would be a hard and messy business to get the beast unleashed, and Loki wasn't eager to die in pain. A quick, painless death would be preferable.

That's when the answer struck him. This person had every reason to want to kill Loki and gain revenge. But just to be safe, Loki would pay a very special visit to his family.

It was time to visit his former minion's home.

"Clint! I thought you were coming in a few hours!"

Laura Barton's delighted voice rang out as Loki, disguised as Clint Barton, stepped into the large, comfortable house. Her warm brown eyes danced with pleasure and she flung a baby-free arm around his neck.

"The job got finished sooner than I expected," answered Loki, a fairly neutral reply. Laura just accepted that answer.

Loki's gaze fell on the baby that was carefully balanced on her hip. Nathaniel Pietro Barton, the shirt read. Ah, so Barton had a child.

"Cooper and Lila are napping," Laura said breathlessly, and Loki amended the statement. Not a child, children.

That fool. Didn't he know how easy it would be for Loki to just kill his wife where she stood, then hold his children hostage?

Laura didn't notice anything amiss, but laid the gurgling, chubby baby on the couch. "They can be quite a handful sometimes," she told him with a smile. "But they're my handful."

Loki had planned to reveal himself by then, but then decided it would be amusing to kiss Laura first. "That's where you're wrong," Loki murmured to her. "They're our handful."

He kissed her and Laura kissed back with fervor, fingers knotting in his light brown hair.

Loki felt a smug satisfaction as he felt Laura's lips on his, a triumphant, cruel smirk twisting Barton's features.

Laura sensed the change in his demeanor and opened her honey-brown eyes, confusing shining out of them as she saw the look on his face. "Honey?" she asked hesitantly.

Loki stepped away from her, the disguise of Clint Barton falling away. It was hilarious, the way her emotions changed from bewilderment to alarm and finally recognition and then fear.

"Loki?" she breathed, tone both parts repulsed and fearful. Her gaze instantly fell on her now sleeping child.

Now, Loki knew the sensible thing to do right now was to take the baby hostage. No harm would befall him while the child was in his possession, but Loki wanted harm to befall him.

Instead, he merely pointed an illusion of a fake gun at the baby, and called out in Barton's voice, "Cooper! Lila! I'm home!"

Laura's lips pressed into a thin line, but there was nothing she could do. Shrieks of "Daddy!" and "Daddy's home!" rang out, and there was the thump of children's feet on stairs. Two children, a young boy and girl, rushed into the room, only to stop dead at the sight of Loki.

"Sit down, otherwise I'll shoot your brother," Loki said serenely in his own voice, and the wide-eyed kids, after a fearful, teary glance at their shaking mother, complied.

Loki pulled out the phone he had in his pocket, and dialed Barton's number, eyes never leaving Laura's face.

After a couple of rings, the archer picked up, and Loki put it on speaker. "Hello?" came the cautious question, and Loki smirked at his wife.

"Hello there, Barton," he said conversationally. "Miss your old master?"

Barton spat. "Oh, it's you, you motherfucking bastard," came the hissed answer. "What the fuck do you want?"

"Just a quick question," said Loki nonchalantly. "You see, I'm not wanting to stain my own knives with useless mortal blood….so where do you keep your butchering knives?"

There was a silence on the line, and then a string of fluent curses. The girl's eyes went as wide as saucers, apparently more concerned about her father cursing than she was about being murdered.

"Mommy, Daddy said lotsa bad words," she whispered urgently. "Does he have to put twenty dollars in the Swear Jar?"

Loki made no attempt to hide his dry bark of laughter, and he knew that Barton would hear Lila's loudly whispered question.

"Lila? Honey, is that you?" came Clint's fretful voice. "Just hang tight, okay? Daddy's coming, and he'll beat the crap out of that monster."

"Daddy, that's another dollar," Lila said in a hushed whisper, and her older brother nudged her sharply in the ribs.

Loki hung up.

Clint wasn't terribly long in coming. A loud crash sounded upstairs, and harsh, loud, purposeful footsteps pattered down the stairs and Hawkeye burst into the room.

After that, things happened quickly.

Barton shot a volley of sharp black arrows at him in graceful, fluid motion, and it was all Loki could do to avoid them. Even so, he ended up on the ground, rolling.

By the time he was up on his feet, Laura had already taken her children and left. She was quick, Loki had to give her that.

Because Loki wasn't willing to let himself flat out die, just like that, he put up a decent fight. Round and round they went, like a deadly dance.

But Loki had to give Barton the upper hand in order to die, and that's what the god of lies did. He allowed himself to be driven backwards, until his back was pressed up tightly against the wall.

Even if Loki had tried, in this vulnerable position and without his magic, there was no way he could win. It wasn't long before Barton had a knife pressed to his neck.

As Loki prepared for the killing blow, he mentally swore when he saw Barton's face. He hadn't expected Barton, of all people, to be sentimental. Loki had to do something about that.

"Can't kill me, Barton?" Loki sneered. "Well, I knew the whole while you wouldn't be able to do it. Because deep inside of you, there's a part of you. A part of you that desires to be ruled."

Loki leaned closer, lips grazing his ear. "And that part…won't let you kill your ruler."

Barton stilled.

"And when you've surrendered all of yourself to your master," hissed Loki, "I'll send you to that bitch you call your wife. She'll run thrilled to embrace you, but then she'll see it in your eye that you are no longer hers. But it'll be too late for her. Smiling, you'll murder her in front of your children, her blood drenching their hair. They'll be screaming for their daddy, but you will ignore the to please your master."

Loki didn't have the faintest idea if what he was saying was true, but it was all he could think of for the moment. He kept rambling on, the words its intended effect, for Barton was breathing heavily, sweat forming on his brow.

Loki was unimpressed at Barton's formidable facial expression, and he let it show. Inwardly, he regretted the fact that the furious mortal's face would be the last thing he saw before he died.

So he summoned up all his memories of Frigga, trying to make her his last memory.

Loki kept on speaking, not even aware of what he himself was saying. But it must have reached some sort of limit for Barton, for with a choked cry of "Stop!" Loki felt hands around his neck, squeezing.

Loki gagged at the impact, but kept the grotesque smile still on his face. Yet at the same time he closed his eyes and imagined Frigga, hair falling in honey-gold ripples, eyes as blue as Thor's, surrounded by a halo of light. A cool rustling of skirts, gentle, soothing words, a warm hand to brush away his tears.

That's when Barton stopped.

Loki's eyes opened, vivid green eyes sharp as he stared at Barton in slight confusion.

Barton was smiling.

It wasn't a malicious smile. It wasn't a smug smile, a resigned smile, a triumphant smile. It wasn't even a happy smile.

No, Barton's smile was amused.

Somehow, that irked Loki more than anything else. He scowled darkly at Barton, who was giving Loki a knowing, almost understanding, look. Loki hated that look with ever fiber of his being.

"Nat was right," he said musingly, studying Loki out of eyes that had looked better when Tesseract-blue. "You really are suicidal."

Horrifying reality sinking in, Loki stared stupidly at Barton. No, no, no, this couldn't be happening. First the Black Widow, then Virginia, then Stark, then Barton?

This was too much. Loki bared his teeth menacingly at Barton, but he just gave Loki another amused look. "Psychopaths generally do go suicidal," Barton commented.

"I'm not a psychopath," Loki muttered out of habit, recalling a Midgardian TV show he had found somewhat interesting. "I'm a high functioning sociopath."

Barton appeared absolutely delighted. "You watch Sherlock?" he asked as though that were the most hilarious thing ever. "Oh god, that is too funny. I've got to tell Stark."

Loki swore fluently, then disappeared in a puff of smoke for drama.

But not before leaving a twenty dollar bill for the Swear Jar.

Loki paced in his apartment again, back to where he started.

He simply couldn't get himself fucking killed. How hard could it be, really?

Fine. The Norns were leaving him no choice. He'd have to go after his not-brother.

Thor.

But to get to Thor, Loki had to find Jane Foster. Kill her, maybe?

No!

Since when did Loki follow a pattern? To get to Stark, he targeted Potts. To get to Barton, he targeted his wife. This was starting to turn into some kind of pattern.

No, Loki needed to do something different, something Thor would be furious about.

Gritting his teeth, Loki smirked as an idea struck him. It would get Thor beautifully furious and angry, and Loki was guaranteed a quick, painless death with Mjolnir.

Loki was going to rape Jane Foster.

IV. Thor

"Jane Foster?"

Loki kept his tone smooth and articulate, elegantly picking his way around clumps of people as his eyes fell upon the famous Jane Foster.

The look of her was so surprising that Loki nearly stopped in his tracks. He'd expected a ravishingly beautiful woman with an arrogant air familiar to Thor, and equally as stupid. Large breasts, seductively curving lips, heavy lashes and with a flirting demeanor.

This person he saw….wasn't like anything he'd imagined.

Her frame was small and petite, with curling mousy-brown hair and large, doe-like eyes. There wasn't anything stupid about her either, and Loki could tell merely by the intelligent gleam in her eyes that this woman's cleverness far surpassed Thor's.

"Yes?"

Jane Foster turned around halfway and her sharp gaze fell upon him. Loki had placed several charms upon him so it would be impossible for anyone to recall who he was.

Loki smiled charmingly at her, and slipped gracefully through the crowd as he stood next to his target.

His respect for her further increased as Loki noted the quiet air of confidence hovering around her. This was a woman who would stand no nonsense from anyone.

"Did you call me?" Jane asked him. She was short, very short, so she had to crane her neck to catch his eye.

Loki was—what was the Midgardian term?—flabbergasted at the thought of this woman being Thor's lover, that his brain barely registered the fact that he was staring.

"Yes," Loki answered swiftly. "I have important business to discuss with you."

She wasn't a fool. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"

Loki had prepared for this, though. Blithely he caught her dainty hand and brushed his lips against it, and as he raised his head he murmured in Jane's ear, "I'm from Asgard."

That certainly got her attention. "Hang on Darcy, I'll be right back," said Jane distractedly, brushing away another young girl she'd been chatting with.

Jane caught his eye. "Come on, I know a place where we can talk in private," she said, and Loki nodded, suppressing a smile.

She guided him out into some kind of backway alley, and they stood outside in the brisk air. Jane looked at him expectantly.

"What did you need me for?" she asked, voice formal but Loki could detect the barely concealed delight and excitement underneath her placid tones.

Loki flashed her an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, but this has to be entirely confidential," he said. "Are you sure there's nobody around?"

"I'm confident," Jane answered stoutly, and Loki gave her a nasty grin.

"Then there'll be no one to hear you scream."

The shock barely registered on her face before Loki teleported her away.

Loki took her to one of the many rips in reality, a tear in space. He'd often resided in there after mastering the dark arts of entering them. There were like little pockets of universe, tiny rooms you could reach by using black elf magic and portals.

He went to a familiar one, that he'd formed into two rooms complete with a bed, dresser, and a larder filled with food. Loki never knew when he'd have to escape into his little pockets.

Jane was staring at Loki openly. "Oh my god," she murmured faintly. "You're…Loki."

"I know."

"How did I not recognize you?"

Loki didn't bother to educate her, because there were more pressing matters on his mind. After escorting her into the bedroom and telling her to stay put in a chair, Loki began to pace back and forth, ignoring the mortal's heated protests and questions.

Loki had a problem. He'd prepared himself to rape whoever, even though he didn't even want to.

But he hadn't prepared himself to rape…her.

Quiet, dignified, intelligent, and only sort of pretty. Loki ran his fingers though the mass of tangled black hair. Killing her was out of the question, because Loki needed to do something more to get Thor furious.

Loki had no idea what to do now, so he decided to get her opinion on it.

Smirking halfway at the absurdity of the situation, Loki stopped abruptly and whirled around on a heel to face his prisoner.

"Jane," he said. "I'm going to have to rape you."

Oh god, her face. It was too funny. Her face went from shocked, to fearful, to confused.

Her question wasn't something foolish like, Why? or Oh my god, please don't! "Why are you telling me this?" she asked instead, narrowing her liquid brown eyes.

Loki threw himself onto the bed, letting loose a huge sigh. "Because I don't want to rape anybody."

Jane let out an indignant huff, and it annoyed him, because hell, she should be terrified. "Then why are you going to rape me?"

For a moment, Loki dearly longed to explain everything to her. She was an intelligent, bright woman, and Loki could just wipe her memory afterwards, because really, it's the memory of a moment that counts the most.

Wait, what did he just say?

All he needed Jane to hold onto was the memory of the rape in order to tell Thor, right? Well, memories could be created. And Loki had mastered the art of that a couple of decades ago.

Loki was so relieved that he grinned widely at her, aware of how awful it must look. "I got an idea," he announced to her. "So I don't need to rape you anymore. Yes, you're welcome."

Jane was tipping her head, offering him a quizzical expression. "Remind me again why you needed to rape me in the first place?"

Why the hell not? Loki thought. He could just explain everything to her, send her into a deep sleep, create new memories, then erase the old ones of Loki telling Jane everything and replacing it with the memories of rape.

"It's a long story," commented Loki, sitting up with long legs elegantly crossed.

Jane narrowed her eyes. "I like long stories."

After exhaling, Loki nodded, much to Jane's obvious surprise. "Very well," he said. "Do you remember the Chitauri?"

She answered with a frown. "Um, aren't they those alien thingies that attacked New York?" Jane's gaze became more drawn and pointed. "Your army, that you used to unnecessarily kill dozens of…"

"If we want to keep this conversation civilized," Loki cut in sharply, "I suggest you quit preaching to me and trying to bring me down the right path."

Jane huffed. "Fine. Okay, go on."

"You know what," said Loki, "I think I'll just start at the beginning. It'll make more sense." Jane just shrugged, so Loki kept speaking.

"Due to some…circumstances out of my control," Loki began, "I, er, ending up falling into a wormhole, and I landed on the Chitauri's homeworld. They are a savage, brutal race, and they need a ruler."

"And you, in all your intelligence, decided you wanted to rule them," Jane interjected dryly. Loki snorted.

"I would have," he answered shamelessly. "But they already had a master." Loki sucked in his breath for dramatic purposes. "Thanos."

The name seemed to have little to no affect on Foster, and she just nodded absently. "What about him?" She caught the look on Loki's face and went up on the defensive. "Should I know him?"

"Foolish, ignorant mortals," Loki mumbled under his breath, and added aloud, "He's just a giant, evil, purple creature with power unparalleled to anyone in the universe, set on destroying the Nine Realms."

Silence. "Oh."

"Oh, indeed," Loki mocked. "Back to the subject." Loki inhaled sharply. "The Chitauri dragged me before Thanos, who wanted to know all the secret passageways in and out of Asgard. I refused, because hell, no one can demand things like that of me…" Jane smiled, probably thinking that he did it for Asgard, "…without paying," Loki finished, and the astrophysicist was frowning again. "After I said no, Thanos decided that I would make a fabulous toy for his army."

Jane stilled, folding her hands on her lap. Loki studied her face intently, and was gratified when he didn't see any pity on there. The angles in her face has softened subtly, and there was a quiet gleam on her doe-like eyes. She didn't say, I'm sorry, but merely asked, "What happened then?"

Loki was surprised at how much better he felt, telling someone everything without worrying about the consequences. He should do this more often—grabbing a mortal, forcing them to listen to Loki, and then wiping the human's memory. He should take that red-haired woman, Potts. She seemed like a sentimental fool, all right.

"They tortured me," Loki said bluntly, and Jane barely managed to keep her flinch under control. "I probably would have died, if I hadn't met another life in that filthy place."

"Who?" Jane asked, horrified intrigue showing on her face.

"Thanos' top assassin," answered Loki, emerald-cut eyes flitting shut as he drew up vague mental images of her. "She was an idiot, really. She acted like she had a tough exterior, but inside she was just a pile of sentimental mush."

Loki only spoke so carelessly of her because he desired to hide the emotion tangled with her. Gamora, she had said her name was. She was intelligent with a wry sense of humor, and Loki had greatly enjoyed her company. Their relationship could have gone places, in Loki's honest opinion. But she was soft inside…didn't he see the look of raw horror when Loki mentioned that he was going to take over a world?

"Seems like she would've done you some good," answered Jane after a pause. "What happened next?"

"It didn't take me long to figure out Thanos' real plan," Loki went on. "He didn't really want the location of the passages into Asgard. No, Thanos was testing me. He was trying to see how strong I was, how much I can endure, and if I'd be a good—what's the word?—henchman."

Jane's jaw dropped. "How the hell did you figure that out?"

"Pure logic," Loki said, surprised at the look on her face. "I pieced together bits that the assassin and Chitauri said, and I figured out that Thanos desired the Tesseract on Midgard. He needed someone to fetch it for him, for the Chitauri are too brutal and clumsy to do that. So why didn't he send me? He needed to test me." Loki shrugged. "Plus, that's what I would do."

Jane let out a strangled noise from the back of her throat. "Okay," she drawled out. "So keep going."

"I attempted an escape," Loki continued. "But I knew it would fail. I was dragged back before Thanos, and asked him for a portion of his army to conquer Earth, in exchange for the Tesseract. He agreed, and then, well, you know the rest." Loki shot her a quick glance.

Foster was nodding, understanding. "I'm still not sure what this relates to me getting raped."

"I'm getting there," Loki huffed with impatience. "As you know, I failed. Thanos and the Chitauri were displeased, undoubtedly. So by the use of dream visiting, Thanos offered me a choice—either surrender myself to him for supposed 'punishing', or hide out in the Realms. If I chose the latter, Thanos swore he would destroy every one of the Nine Realms until I was killed." He caught the incredulous look on her face. "And yes, he would."

Blanching, Jane opened her mouth to speak, a look that plainly said, Why are you here and not busy surrendering your damn self to the Chitauri?

Loki interrupted. "Because neither of the options were desirable," he said, "I pleaded for an alternative, and Thanos gave me one."

"What is it?" Jane asked, clearly not liking the look on his face.

"I have to get myself killed somehow," Loki replied. "I can't kill myself, which would be the preferred option. No, I have to get someone else entirely to kill me, and I can't tell them why."

"So you're going to get me to kill you?" Jane asked disbelievingly, and Loki inwardly cursed the stupidity of mortals.

"Of course not, you fool," he snapped icily. "I just explained everything to you. And I am not going to die in humiliation, knowing that I have been slayed by the most weak of all creatures."

Jane pursed her lips, ignoring the insult. "So….what's your plan?"

"I tried to get the Black Widow to kill me," said Loki. "I planned it from a couple of months ago, but she saw through me plan." He briefly outlined the events that occurred between him and Agent Romanoff. "I tried Stark," he went on, "and he killed me for about two seconds, but ending doing some mortal thing that shocked me back to life. Barton was a no-go, too."

Loki sighed bitterly. "I'm now going to my last resort…Thor."

Jane's forehead crunched up in a most adorable way as she worked, trying to put the pieces together. Really, it was amusing to watch understanding visibly dawn on her forehead. "Oh my god," she breathed. "Is that why you're doing..this to me? You're trying to get Thor mad at you!"

"Yes," said Loki with a nasty grin. He unnecessarily mimed the motion of swinging a hammer. "Just a little bit of riling up that foolish oaf, and then the deed's done."

Foster looked vaguely ill. "My god," she repeated again. "Do you honestly think that Thor is going to kill you?" Her face softened in compassion, and Loki hissed at the sight of it. "Loki, he's your brother."

"And that's exactly why I know him better than you," Loki spat. "I know how he is in his rage, and I know how he treats those who harm his loved ones.

"Loki," Jane murmured gently. "You are one of his loved ones."

"Don't be stupid," Loki brushed off, ignoring the stab to his heart. "He fucking hates me. I bet he'd be glad for an excuse to beat me up."

"I could swear on it," Jane insisted fervently. "He loves you, Loki. He'd rather chop off his own arm than kill you."

Loki was breathing heavily. "Then I'll force him to kill me," he hissed in anger. "I'll give him no damned choice but to drive Mjolnir through my skull."

"But you can't do that to Thor," Jane went on in rising alarm, disregarding Loki's blazing jade eyes and furious, heated glare. "Loki, you don't understand what it'll do to him if he accidentally kill you in his anger." Her large brown eyes were filled with fear for Thor. "It'll destroy him."

"Do you think that matters in the least to me?" Loki snapped, taking no heed of the painful lurch his heart made. "If he wants to destroy himself, then let him. I don't fucking give a shit."

Jane didn't answer to that. "What are you going to do now?" she asked after a pause.

Loki's explosive outburst was beginning to cool down. "I was going to rape you," he said, "but I now know I don't need to. All I need to do is give you memories of rape, and erase the memories you have of our conversation here."

"So I'll run and go tattling to Thor," Jane finished sadly.

"Exactly," Loki said viciously. He was getting irritated now, and he didn't know why. "Goodbye, Jane."

"Wait!" Jane began frantically, but with a wave of his hand, Loki sent her off into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Memories of rape.

They were hard and difficult to conjure up, even for an accomplished sorcerer like Loki. But he needed to attach emotion to them to make the memories realistic, and it took a lot of researching on the convenient 'Internet' Midgardians had.

He had no idea what Jane's body looked like naked, and had no desire to know, so Loki just decided the memory would be dark. That was better. Now, nothing had to be explicitly detailed.

Loki felt sick at the memories he created—slamming her roughly against the wall, claiming her lips in a brutal, crushing kiss, yanking her hair sharply when she struggled beneath him. The rules of being courteous with women that had been drilled into him at a young age pricked uncomfortably at his conscience.

But it had to be done. Sucking in his breath, Loki created more memories. He tore off her clothes and undid his trousers, and despite Jane's wailed protests, Loki committed the final indignity.

It was awful, so damned incredibly awful. Loki wanted to go kill himself as his gut twisted, watching a crueler version of himself fuck Jane harshly, disregarding her screams of agony, and her sobs and begs of please don't and Oh god, please, I beg you, don't.

After a few awful gut-churning hours of dedicated hard work, Loki was finished. He set aside the memory and saved it for later. Then, he began to think.

Loki needed something else entirely to add on…something awful, something cruel.

And all at once, it struck him.

He moved the horrific memory back five months, touching up and revising the memories Jane had created since then. He added other memories of Jane growing somewhat suspicious after four weeks, and getting positive results from a pregnancy test in five.

After three months, the bump was visible.

Loki wasn't sure how Jane would react in that situation, so he just added a lot of crying herself to sleep. He added conflicts between abortion and keeping the baby, but decided that sentimental Jane would chose to keep the child. Loki's lips twisted into a bitter smirk.

This, this would get Thor furious.

Loki gritted his teeth as he moved on to altering earlier memories. That was more difficult, as they were still more fresh and vivid in the mortal's mind.

He inserted a memory of Jane deciding to call Thor, after discovering from her news that he had returned to Earth. Very well, there was where he would stop.

The smallest mistake would result in failure. Loki double-checked everything, toying with her memories for another few hours until it was all packaged neatly.

Time to get moving.

With a flick of his wrist, Loki teleported an unconscious Jane and himself to her small, dingy apartment. He laid her on the couch, place her phone next to her, and made himself invisible.

Silently hovering over her, Loki pressed a hand to her forehead, all of the alters, additions and subtractions Loki had made to Jane's private memories replacing the old ones. After a few moments, Loki stepped back with a sigh.

There.

Loki had done it.

And with a snap of his fingers, Loki woke Jane up.

Even months after the incident occurred, Loki could see the difference in her.

It was the look in her eyes, the way she carried herself. There was a quiet look of dignified sorrow in those dark, liquid irises instead of a sparkle, the face that had been alight with the joy of living was downcast and dark with grief, and the beautiful red lips that had been so quick to smile had a down turn to them. And there also was the now-obvious curve of her stomach that Loki had conjured up, as well.

Jane glanced at the phone in her hands, and her eyes filled easily with tears. There was a moment of indecision as she opened the phone, finger hovering over the 'call' button.

Then she pushed it.

She bit her lip, heavy lashes wet and hands shaking so furiously, Jane could barely hold the phone itself. It kept ringing for a few moments before someone picked up.

"Thor?" Jane's voice was hesitant and almost afraid.

Loki couldn't hear the reply, but her face visibly relaxed. Loki's lips curled. Just because the sound of his voice.

"Mhm, it's me," Jane answered, voice rough with sleep.

Thor said something on the other line, and whatever it was completely destroyed Jane. Her face crumbled and she began to sob, chest heaving.

A frantic voice could be faintly heard on the other line, and Jane laughed shakily. "Oh god, Thor, I'm all right. Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." She swallowed, eyes alight with joy. "I love you too."

How absolutely delightful, Loki sneered. Now get the fuck on with it.

"Thor, I have something to tell you," Jane ventured hesitantly, eyes filling with fresh tears. She paused, listening to whatever was spoken on the other end.

"Oh baby, no, it's nothing you did," she said. "….no, Thor, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather tell you in person."

Jane was nodding, even though Thor couldn't see her. Whatever he said next seemed to have her overcome. "He's so sweet…..yes, of course, tell Tony thank you…..what time should I come?…..Ok, I'll be there….Sure, tell him thanks again, it really means a lot to me….I'll see you tomorrow, baby….I love you too…bye."

Loki paced outside the room nervously.

Things had gone as planned. Just a couple of hours later, one of Stark's planes had arrived at the location Thor had given Jane. Foster had left with only a small, hastily-packed suitcase.

Loki had simply teleported himself to Stark Tower and waited there, invisible to the eyes of everyone. He tried to amuse himself by observing the Avengers living domestically—Thor, you ate all the fucking PopTarts!—Nat, please don't parade around in that shirt, Cap's redder than my suit—Tony, I refuse to watch Sherlock, God, this has to be umpteenth time!—Point Break, don't leave your fucking hammer on my underwear! How the hell did it get there anyway?—but Loki didn't have the heart.

He worried himself sick, although he wasn't sure what he was worrying about himself. Thor's horrified, betrayed expression haunted him, and damn it all, Loki was downright fucking scared of his not-brother.

Loki was so used to Thor simply coming around and forgiving him no matter how many times he wronged him. True, he didn't trust Loki, but there was a love underneath all the bitterness that Loki knew would never go away. Thor may fight Loki if the need arose, but he wouldn't kill Loki. He may exchange cruel, biting words, but he wouldn't disown Loki as his brother.

He'd enjoyed toying with Thor's limits, but Loki had yet to discover what would make Thor truly despise him.

Now, it looks like he'd found it.

Loki stiffened as he heard footsteps behind him. Silently he turned, and came face to face with Jane.

Her melting brown eyes were large and slightly confused as she stared around her in awe that was heavily mixed with large doses of fear and anticipation, but not the good kind.

"Dr. Foster," spoke Tony's AI suddenly, startling both Loki and Jane at the same time. "You can find Master Odinson if you head down the left corridor. He's in the first room on the right."

Jane was looking around her in bewilderment, and it took a while for her to answer. "Uh, yeah, yeah, okay. Um, thanks."

JARVIS didn't answer, and awkwardly with body tense, Jane walked over to Thor's room.

In the beginning, Loki had planned to be in the room when Jane broke the news to Thor, but now his footsteps hesitated. If he wanted to be honest with himself, Loki didn't want to see the fury, the rage, the betrayal in Thor's eyes when Jane tells him what his little brother supposedly did.

But waiting outside seemed almost as torturous as being in the room itself. Loki fretted and paced, stomach churning as he saw the clouds darkening outside. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

Heavy footsteps could be heard coming up to the door. Heavy, purposeful, vengeful steps. Loki swallowed.

Laufeyson, you made your bed. Now fucking lie on it.

Thor came out, ridiculously blue eyes blazing with wrath written all over his face, Jane tagging behind him. Loki watched Thor, still invisible, a look of dread and fear upon his face.

Loki was bracing himself, about to tear away his invisible spell, when the sound of thumping feet turned his, Thor's, and Jane's heads.

In paraded the Captain in all his red, white and blue, righteous glory, shield slung lazily over one shoulder. "Hey Thor, Tony was wondering if…oh." Rogers stopped dead at the sight of Thor's thunderous expression and Jane's tear-streaked face. His gaze dropped towards Jane's bulging stomach.

Rogers swallowed hard, and hastily prepared to leave as quickly as he entered. "I'll just be going now," he mumbled, but Thor's hand caught his shoulder, pulling him back.

"No, stay," rumbled Thor's voice, much to Jane and Loki's surprise. "I have something I wish to discuss with you."

Rogers's eyes flickered uncertainly between Thor and Jane's face. "Um, sure, Thor. What can I do for you?"

Thor folded his arms over his chest. "Loki has been spotted," he said frankly, not beating about the bush. Rogers blinked in surprise.

"Loki?" he said, going business-like instantly. "Where?"

"San Francisco," Jane spoke up, meeting the Captain's eyes. "In my apartment."

Once again, Rogers's eyes fell on Jane's stomach, but quickly he dragged his line of sight back to her face. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, and Jane caught the implication.

She bowed her head. "It wasn't your doing," she answered simply.

Thor began to pace heavily, whirling Mjolnir around until it was a rapid, silver blur. His eyes were still fiery blue, face drawn in an angry, furious scowl. "We must find Loki," he said, voice dark. "As soon as possible."

"And there's no time as soon as right now," cut in Loki, voice smooth and mellifluous. He shimmered into visibility, donning his golden helmet, leather, and green cape just for good measure.

Three pairs of eyes fell on him, one promising wrath and vengeance, one full of pure terror and fear, and one confused but determined to do his duty.

"Loki," Thor growled, barely keeping his anger in check. "Explain yourself. Now."

"Why, Thor," said Loki, adding the slightest bit of mock confusion in his voice, "I'd have thought what I did was fairly obvious. I fucked your lover, and now she is pregnant with my child. Surely even you can understand that." Loki let a glint of mischief gleam in his eye. "Unless, of course, you want me to go into detail."

Thor let out a yell of rage, and a powerful fist was thrown his way. Taking the blow would soften Thor's anger and start to fill him with guilt, dodging it with a smirk would infuriate him more.

So, of course, with hands neatly folded behind his back, Loki stepped serenely to the side, smirking the whole while.

"Thor!" Jane shrieked, but Loki paid her little to no attention, for Thor was on top of him. The two of them were tangled up in a pile of arms and legs, and Loki kicked his way out, suffering several blows along the way.

But Loki—not even if he'd tried—could not escape Thor in all his rage. The god of thunder caught Loki by the scruff of his neck, and hurled him against the wall.

Oh Norns. Thor still had a remarkably powerful swing, and Loki could feel the ache burn sharply in every bit of his body. He bit back an agonized moan. Damn, Thor was fucking strong. Loki's bones were on fire inside of him.

Before Loki could struggle to his feet, smirking the whole while to anger Thor further, Thor swung another fist at him. And then another. And another. Loki couldn't even dodge the blows now. They rained heavy, harsh, merciless and fast. Loki just leaned against the wall limply for support, accepting the blows. Somewhere in the blurry, dizzying background, Jane screamed.

There was a familiar rushing sound, and Mjolnir was nestled comfortably in Thor's hand. Sentiment better not get the better of Thor. But just to be safe, Loki opened his mouth, preparing his silver tongue to utter the words that would bring the hammer upon him.

But it all fell apart with the first word he spoke.

"Brother," Loki began, the traitorous word falling from his lips out of pure habit. Thor hissed, face inches away from Loki's.

"I am not your brother."

Even after that beating Thor had just given him, those five words hurt him the most. Loki was the one to say those words, Loki was the one to hurt Thor over and over again.

Not Thor.

Was this how Thor himself felt, whenever Loki said those fateful words? If Thor did, then Loki vowed to never say those words to him ever again. They'd said harsh words in their youth, 'I hate you' prevalent among them. But never, ever had Thor declared that Loki was no longer his brother.

Thor's hands grabbed the front of his clothing and threw him to the ground. Loki fell on his hands and knees. He closed his eyes. Now, it was the end.

Thor lifted Mjolnir…and he swung.

But the blow never hit Loki.

A red, white and blue shield stood between Loki's head and Thor's mighty hammer. The Captain met Thor's furious cerulean eyes.

"He's your brother, Thor," Rogers said simply, directly contradicting Thor's earlier words. "Do you really want to do this?"

Loki could've screamed.

As Rogers spoke, Mjolnir slipped out of Thor's hands and rested on the floor. Thor called her back, but she didn't answer.

Unworthy.

Poisonous, bitter green eyes rimmed in red locked onto horrified blue ones. The weight of what he'd just done struck Thor in one painful, stunning blow, and the god of thunder looked shocked, ashamed, and alarmed.

"Brother," Thor murmured fervently, guilt written plainly all over his face. "Oh, Norns…"

The prince of Asgard dropped to his knees beside Loki, eyes scanning Loki in the familiar older-brotherly way he always would after every single battle they fought in their youth, checking Loki for injuries. How ironic that this time, it was Thor who had inflicted the injuries.

Loki, on the other hand, was almost completely numb. In another time and place, he could've laughed with the absurdity of the whole situation. Now, he was too frustrated to.

Four fucking times. How the hell was the physically impossible? Were the very forces of nature working against him now?

Lost in waves of white pain, Loki could only barely register the presences of the other Avengers filling into the room. The Iron Man was saying, "hands up," but Loki could barely move them, let alone raise them up. Someone was speaking, or was it two people?

Everything became a dizzying blur of smudged colors, and all Loki could feel was pain, burning, fiery pain in every cell of his body.

Then he closed his eyes, and fell into darkness.

+1

Loki was only dimly aware of what was going on around him. Things had become nothing but an indistinct blur. Now, Loki was in a glass cage, muzzled with the same gag he'd had on before, the one that harnessed his magic. He had no idea how he fucking got in there, nor did he care. His mind was on more important things than escape right now.

I am not your brother.

Surely Thor didn't mean that, did he? He must've spoken in the heat of the moment….

But Loki forced himself to face the cold, hard facts. The truth was, Thor most likely hated him. Thor probably didn't want to consider a Frost Giant as a brother—he'd only insisted that Loki was his brother still as a show of mock affection.

That isn't important right now, Loki told himself sternly. He needed to figure out a way to get his damn self killed.

Honestly, Loki wasn't even going to try anymore. All his precise, delicately formed plans fell apart, no matter how intricately Loki planned them. Maybe improvising would be the best idea.

Maybe he could attempt a clumsy escape plan. The Avengers would have no choice but to slaughter him, right? They would undoubtedly know he was trying to get himself killed from Romanoff and Barton, and would go easy on him, but Loki didn't need to get outrightly killed. He just needed to get wounded, not let his magic heal him, and die.

The only question was, how was he going to get out of here?

Loki closed his eyes, allowing himself a moment's respite before he tried to figure out some rough, sketchy plan. But that was a big mistake.

The moment Loki relaxed and calmed his pacing thoughts, the pain in his body overwhelmed him. He was on fire, every bone in his body melting and burning. There was nothing but pain, pure, white-hot pain…

He will make you long for something as sweet as pain.

Loki felt bile rise in his throat at the thought of Thanos. His time was trickling away. If Loki didn't get himself killed in two more days, Thanos would take him.

Was this the whole purpose of the third option Thanos had given him? The Mad Titan wasn't one to be merciful. Perhaps he knew how frustrating and how much this would hurt Loki. That was a foolish question, of course he knew. Thanos could tell the future to some extent, and that was what made him so formidable. He and the Chitauri were most likely laughing at his pitiful plight.

So lost was he in his thoughts, that Loki didn't hear the footsteps walking up to his cell.

That's when he heard the voice.

Hello, Loki.

The voice was strange, not exactly aloud but inside his head. It was a musical, feminine voice, lilted with a clipped accent, and unfamiliar to him. His eyes opened sharply.

He stood up looked outside the cage, searching for the owner of the voice.

And then he saw her.

She was young, very young. Sharp cheekbones, large, clear blue eyes, wavy caramel hair tumbling over her shoulders. She sparked something from Loki's vast memory.

Then it struck him all at once. Wanda Maximoff. Scarlet Witch. One of The Twins. A Weapon of Destruction.

The mind girl.

Instead of speaking aloud—partly because his mouth hurt too much to speak, but mostly just because he could—Loki reached out and touched her mind in answer, an art that required years of training in mind manipulation for someone who wasn't a telepath.

Well. I knew the Avengers were idiots, but I didn't know they were foolish enough to send a child not yet dry behind the ears, Loki snarked back mentally.

If she was startled that Loki could speak to her mentally, she didn't show it. With a quirk of an eyebrow, she smirked at him.

That's where you're wrong, she thought back. The Avengers didn't send me.

Loki huffed in disbelief. You expect me to believe that the Avengers aren't watching us right now?

Yes, actually, came the answer. I manipulated the cameras, so I won't be visible to them. Oh, and please try not to look like you're having a mental conversation with an invisible being right now.

Loki frowned at her, not sure if Maximoff was lying or not. Why are you here, if not to interrogate me?

I wish to offer my help, Maximoff said unexpectedly. If you so desire.

Remind me again, what exactly do I need your help for? Loki snapped back irritably.

Maximoff looked upon him with an unreadable expression. While you were unconscious, she thought back, I looked into your head. I know what you're trying to do.

And by the look in her eyes, Loki could tell she knew everything, from the way he attempted to manipulate Romanoff, Barton, Stark, and Thor to kill him. And failed.

The thought of this foreign girl invading his privacy and reading his deepest thoughts like it was some book should've infuriated him. But Loki was too tired, too far gone to care anymore.

You'll kill me? Loki asked cautiously, not daring to hope. It just might work, because he hadn't explained anything to Wanda, she had figured it out herself.

Maximoff, fortunately, did not look upon him with the disgusting sentiment of pity. She just looked vaguely curious, and seemingly mildly interested in the whole situation. If you so desire.

Are you going to do it in here? Loki asked.

I wasn't planning too, came the answer. I was going to take off your gag, and you could teleport us where you want.

Loki was impressed by the trust she placed in him, and for a moment, he was tempted to agree, and then just teleport himself somewhere else. But he needed her now, and Maximoff must know that.

Okay, he replied hesitantly. He was about to ask a question, try to form some kind of strategy, before Maximoff just dived in.

They have tranquilizer darts all over, aimed at you, she told him telepathically. Romanoff, Stark and Barton told them about your seemingly suicidal tendencies, and at the slightest hint of trouble they would shoot the dart sat you. The Avengers expected you to escape and attempt to get one of them to kill you.

That, as a matter of fact, was my plan, Loki added wryly, and unnecessarily, because she probably already knew all that.

On the count of three, I will remove your gag, she said. You got to be quick if you don't want to be tranquilized.

One…

Two….

Three!

Everything happened in a blur. Long, red tendrils hastily undid the muzzle and yanked it off, and the hated gag fell helplessly to the floor.

Loki just barely whisked away Wanda and him before a dozen darts fell harmless to the floor in the middle of an empty cage.

Loki and Wanda were in the middle of a small apartment, strewn with clothes, dirty dishes and other things.

"Where are we?" Wanda asked him, sea-green eyes taking in the mess.

"My place," Loki said, eyeing the floor with a lazy smirk. "I rented an apartment while I waited for Natasha…but you know that already." He narrowed his green eyes at her.

"Small talk," Wanda waved him off. "So how would you like the deed done?"

Loki was wildly impressed with her calmness, and he was glad of it. If she was gazing at him sympathetically, promising to tell Thor he loved him and that Loki was doing a great thing and all that other crap, Loki would probably put off the whole thing altogether. Her nonchalant air was exactly what Loki wanted.

He whipped out a knife from seemingly nowhere. It was a grand knife, strong, durable yet light, forged by the dwarfs of Svartalfheim, a gift from Odin himself after observing Loki's fighting style. Its twin had been lost several decades ago.

After tossing it carelessly to Wanda, Loki pulled up a chair and sat down, daring to meet her eye.

Maximoff gave him one quick glance over, before lifting up the knife using her telekinesis and with a twist of her hands, she guided it so it nudged gently at the exposed skin on Loki's neck.

Loki quickly brought up a hand to stop her, though he knew that his thoughts would already alert Maximoff. "Just a moment," he said, as serenely as though he were speaking about the weather, "I have to do something rather important." She nodded, but did not lower the knife.

Loki closed his eyes, concentrating deeply, intending to change Jane's mind back to normal. He, in all honesty, had no grounded reason as to why. Perhaps it was that disgusting 'sentiment' that had finally rubbed off of him, but Loki didn't want Jane suffering with those memories all her life. The artificial bump would go away after she died, yet the awful memories would remain.

And in another instant, Jane's mind was cleared.

"…can track Loki's magical signature," Tony was saying to the Avengers plus Jane gathered around the round table. "JARVIS is working on it right…"

That's when Jane felt it.

It was a peculiar, weird feeling, but the most similar thing Jane could compare it to was the moment when you suddenly remember the name of a song you were searching for. In one brief moment, everything fuzzy, blurry and confusing about her world was put right. She had been wearing tinted glasses, and she had just taken them off.

"Oh my god," she interrupted, and all eyes fell on her. Thor rested a hand on her shoulder.

"Jane, are you all right?" he began, but Jane brushed him off.

Jane turned halfway to Thor, a quiet look of dismay on her face. "Oh Thor," she whispered quietly. "I told him you wouldn't."

"Wouldn't what?" Tony asked, annoyed at being interrupted. "Jane, what the hell are you going on about?"

"Wouldn't hurt him," Jane answered in a hazy daze. "My god, I told Loki you wouldn't do anything. I swore on it."

"Jane, what's going on?" asked Natasha, leaning over the table.

Jane ignored her for the time being, and turned to Thor. "Thor," she breathed. "I got it all wrong. Loki didn't rape me. He didn't harm me physically at all."

"What?"

"The Chitauri, you remember them, right?" Jane said almost frantically, words stumbling over each other in their eagerness to get out. "Loki told me that some alien named Thanos ruled them."

"Thanos?" Thor ejaculated. "Jane, how did you hear about Thanos?"

"What the hell is going on?" Tony asked again in bewilderment. "Thor, who the fuck is Thanos?"

"He's a giant, purple alien determined to destroy all of civilization with the Infinity Stones," explained Thor brusquely. "Jane, explain yourself."

"Anyway, when Loki failed to get the Tesseract," Jane went on, "Loki said Thanos considers it a betrayal, I guess? Apparently Thanos gave Loki three options, either surrender himself to the Chitauri and get tortured for the rest of eternity, or hide out somewhere in the universe and watch all the Nine Realms being destroyed."

The silence that existed after was the fucking loudest thing Tony had ever heard.

"And the third option?" Natasha asked quietly.

"Loki had to get himself killed," Jane said. "There were conditions, he couldn't kill himself, and he couldn't explain to someone else why he had to be killed."

Barton swore. "That's why the bastard wouldn't fight me," he said. "I thought he was holding back."

Jane nodded. "He didn't think the thing with Natasha would fail. So after that he targeted Pepper to goad Tony, then Laura to target Clint. When neither of them worked," Jane swallowed hard here, avoiding Thor's eyes, "he tried to goad you."

Even though it was unspoken, it was plainly obvious to everyone that the 'you' was Thor. "He was going to rape me," murmured Jane. "But something held Loki back. In the end, he just made his own memories of rape and replaced mine."

"So you're not pregnant?" Thor asked quietly, and Jane shook her head, turning her chair so Thor could see her flat stomach.

The weight of everything pressed down on everyone. If what Jane said was true….then Thor had beat his brother to a bloody pulp for nothing, and if it hadn't been for Steve's intervention, Loki would be dead. At Thor's hand.

Tony inhaled suddenly. "Can he even do that?" the genius demanded weakly, trying to break the ever-so-awkward silence. "God, that's fucking weird. And creepy as hell."

No one paid him any mind. "Steve," Thor said quietly, "Thank you."

And although Thor hadn't expressed why, Steve understood what Thor couldn't say. He nodded, graciously accepting Thor's thanks.

"Sorry to interrupt," cut in Pepper, poking her head through the door. "I know this is a private meeting and all….but does anyone know where Wanda is?"

"You're as tense as a drawstring," Wanda observed unhelpfully. Loki frowned.

"I'm about to be killed," he snapped in answer. "Sorry if I'm a little nervous."

"You're not nervous," Wanda contradicted. Her hands reached out and grabbed Loki's fingers before he could snatch them away. They were shaking like mad, and she showed them unnecessarily to him. "You're terrified."

And damnit, she was fucking right. Loki was terrified as hell for what was going to happen, and he didn't even know why. "It doesn't matter how I feel," he said, drawing his traitorous, agitated hand away from her grasp. "Just do it already."

"It may not matter to you," said Wanda, "but it kind of matters to me." And before Loki could stop her, she brushed her fingers over Loki's forehead, and he was lost in a dream.

"Oh my god," said Tony, Clint, Bruce and Steve at the same time, getting to their feet.

"Calm down, boys," said Natasha sharply. "I know where she is."

All eyes fell on the Russian spy, and the four men sat back down in their seats in relief. "Where, then?" asked Thor.

Nat raised an eyebrow at them all. "She's with Loki, of course," she said matter-of-factly, and Clint opened his mouth in alarm. She calmly silenced him with a raised palm.

"She knows what's going on," she continued. "It just struck me. She must know, but she didn't tell us."

"Why?"

"I don't know," Natasha answered. "But I saw Wanda standing behind an unconscious Loki as Bruce was checking him up. She was rummaging through his head. For whatever reasons of her own, Wanda decided that what she saw there was enough grounds to help Loki escape." She snapped her fingers. "JARVIS, bring up the footage from right after Loki wakes up.

JARVIS helpfully pulled up the footage of Loki in the cell. He was sitting slumped and very much wounded in the corner, dark hair hanging dejectedly over his face. Thor averted his eyes shamefacedly.

As all eyes watched the screen, a sudden glitch occurred in the blurry camera. Tony looked annoyed. "JARVIS, remind me to fix Camera 102," he began irritably, but Nat shook her head.

"It's not the camera," was all she would say.

On the screen, Loki suddenly flinched as if in surprise. He shot to his feet like a cat, wincing slightly. But dark green eyes scanned the cage, until his eyes fell on…something.

It was odd. Loki was smirking at something, but the weird thing was, there was nothing there. "That's Wanda," Natasha explained. "Keep watching."

After a few moments of Loki idiotically nodding his head to nothing in particular, he braced himself. And for the briefest of moments, you could see a small tingle of red light as the muzzle fell to the ground. Natasha waved her hand, and JARVIS paused it.

"Sir," JARVIS said, "I've just run the diagnostics, and according to the sensors in the room, there were two people in there." Natasha nodded as JARVIS confirmed her point.

"If it was Wanda, then why did she let Loki go?" Thor asked.

"Most likely scenario is that Loki took Wanda with him," said Natasha. She met Thor's eyes head-on. "She probably offered to kill him."

Silence again. "Well, there's obviously only one thing to do," said Thor briskly. "Stark, you said you could track Loki's magic signature? Find him please, and find him fast."

The silence that happened now was far more awkward. "I will," promised Tony, looking torn. "But Thor, do you believe that stopping Wanda is in the galaxy's best interest?"

Thor no longer looked like the invincible god of thunder. He simply looked weary, haggard, and well, human. "I don't know," he mumbled under his breath.

Tony snapped his fingers. "Hey. Look at me, big guy," he said, and Thor reluctantly dragged his eyes to Tony's face.

"Listen," said Tony, voice surprisingly full of compassion. "I will find Loki for you, if you swear that you won't stop Wanda."

Thor said nothing.

"Thor, buddy," pleaded Tony, "don't do this."

"I—I swear," forced out Thor, and although he didn't specify what he was swearing, it seemed to be enough for Tony. The next words were hard for Thor to get out. "But I must go tell my brother…goodbye, and make sure that—" His voice cut off, and Thor left the room. Jane gave everyone a quick glance, and then followed.

"JARVIS," said Tony, voice rough, "start running diagnostics."

(the past)

"Mother, I want to be a hero when I grow up!" announced Loki, splashing in the little brook he was playing in with Thor.

Thor was waving his hands about excitedly. "And I'll slay the biggest dragon in all of Asgard!"

Loki pouted. "No, you'll slay the second-biggest dragon," he corrected. "I'm going to slay the biggest one."

"You won't slay any dragons at all," Thor said dismissively. "You're too small, Loki. The dragon will just eat you up. You need big, strong men to slay dragons."

"Mama!" exclaimed Loki, splashing Thor.

"Thor," Frigga said patiently, looking up from the book she was reading. The Queen of Asgard and her two sons were taking a day off in the lush fields of Northern Asgard, while Odin was attending to some business. "You need to be kinder to your brother. And there aren't any dragons left on Asgard, sweetheart."

"Then I'll slay all the Frost Giants!" declared Thor grandly, oblivious to the sudden pinching of Frigga's lips. "Even the biggest, most nastiest…"

"Thor," Frigga interrupted, putting her book away, "what do you think makes a person a hero?"

"They have to be strong," Thor answered at once. "Big and strong. They have to be huge and powerful." Frigga seemed displeased with Thor's answer.

"Thor, Loki," Frigga said gently, patting her lap. "Come here, and let me tell you a story."

Two pairs of blue and green eyes lit up at those words. Frigga's stories were favorites of Thor and Loki's. The two wet Princes ran barefoot out of the water, water dripping off of them.

A very wet Thor reached Frigga first and settled comfortably on her lap, effectively ruining her dress. There wasn't room for Loki, so he settled at his mother's feet.

"It it a 'tory about heroes?" demanded Thor excitedly.

Frigga nodded with her warm smile. "Yes, darling. It is a story about heroes."

After a moment's pause, Frigga began. "Once upon a time," she said, "in a deep, dark forest, there lived a group of rabbits."

"Rabbits?" demanded Thor. "Mama, rabbits are for babies."

"Whoever said that?" asked Frigga mildly. "I love rabbits, and I'm not a baby."

"Keep going, Mummy," whined Loki, tugging on Frigga's skirt. And so she did.

"And the leader of the rabbits was a beautiful, strong, powerful snow-white rabbit. He told great stories of having bested lions, tigers, and even panthers. Everybody loved him."

"Oh! Mummy, is he the hero?" Thor said. Frigga just gave a knowing smile and continued the story.

"And there was another rabbit," she said. "He was nowhere as beautiful as the white rabbit. He was small, thin with black fur, and hated speaking in public."

"Did he beat up a lion too?" said Loki eagerly.

Frigga shook her head. "No, the little black rabbit was more quiet, and preferred reading books and studying."

"Oh," chorused Loki and Thor, their interest in the black rabbit rapidly fading.

"Well, one day, a group of hunters found the rabbits," said Frigga. "The rabbits had never been attacked before, so they had no idea of where to go."

"What did the white rabbit do?" Thor said, bouncing up and down on her lap.

"Nothing," said Frigga unexpectedly. "There was nothing the white rabbit could do, you see. The hunters had long, very sharp spears, and a rabbit can't stand against that."

"But the black rabbit had an idea," went on Frigga. "He decided to…"

"…attack the hunters?" cut in Loki, green eyes huge in his small face. Frigga laughed.

"No, dear," she said. "No, the little black rabbit had a different plan. He knew of another field for the rabbits to escape to, and he told the white rabbit. Then, he went and hopped in front of the hunters, and caught their attention."

"But he could've been killed!" gasped Thor in horror.

"That's true, Thor," said Frigga. "But that didn't matter to the black rabbit. He got the hunters' attention, and ran in the opposite direction of the other rabbits."

Both children were listening with rapt attention. "The hunters began chasing the black rabbit," continued Frigga, "and that gave the other rabbits enough time to escape."

"What happened to the black rabbit?" whispered Thor, white rabbit completely forgotten.

Frigga sent the both looks of sympathy. "The hunters were too fast, darlings," she said. "They got him."

Loki's green eyes filled with tears, and Thor sniffled. Frigga squeezed their hands. "Now, who do you think was the hero?" she asked. "The white rabbit or the black one?"

"The black," they both echoed.

Frigga nodded, pleased that her lesson had gone so well. "You see, the black rabbit wasn't big and strong, but he was a hero all the same. It doesn't matter how powerful you are—even the smallest person can become a hero."

"Then what makes you a hero?" asked Loki.

Frigga took his shell-pink hand and pressed it to his heart. "This does," she said softly, and the two princes looked at her in mixed confusion.

After kissing each boy on the head, Frigga sent them off to play.

(the past)

"Brother, where are you?"

Loki said nothing, hoping that Thor would simply just go away, but his older brother was persistent. The golden-haired prince spotted Loki sitting on the grass at the edge of the cliff, hugging his knees.

It was nearly midnight, but Loki had left the raucous party early, tired of the drunken songs and idiotic ramblings. He now sat on the grassy fields at the edge of the woods behind the palace, alone with his thoughts.

Well, not alone anymore. Thor sat down next to Loki, fingers absently running though Loki's hair. It was a habit of Thor's, and while Loki would usually yell at him, this time it was slightly comforting.

"Why'd you leave so early?" Thor asked once Loki made it clear he wasn't in the mood for conversation. His hand shifted from Loki's hair to its accustomed spot at the back of his neck.

"For obvious reasons," Loki snapped back. "I have no desire to sit around drinking that foul drink, and listening to the babbles of drunken fools."

Thor was quiet for a moment, biting back a retort. Frigga had asked him, even pleaded with him to make an effort to mend the rift that was growing between him and Loki. He swallowed his sarcastic answer, and simply said, "Fair enough."

After another silence, Thor tried again. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking at the stars."

Thor's first instinct was to mock his answer, but Frigga's words ran in his mind. Thor, please, at least try, she had said. Loki is different from you, I know that. Just ask him questions about his books or whatever he's doing, instead of making fun.

"What are you looking at, specifically?" Thor attempted. Loki gave him a surprised look, but answered anyway.

"Lie back," he said, and the two brothers did, raven locks mingling with gold. Loki pointed his slender, pale arm. "Now, look."

To his surprise, Thor couldn't help but note that the stars were beautiful. Never had he just lain back and looked at the stars, but he found it surprisingly calming and peaceful.

"Can you point out the constellations to me?" Thor asked, proud of himself. He felt even better when he saw Loki's eyes light up in delight.

Thor tried to listen, really, he did, but it was so utterly boring. Loki was telling him the origins of the naming of this constellation and that one, but Thor became caught up simply watching Loki speak. A great change came over him, with a rosy flush to his pale cheeks with emerald-green eyes shining. He sounded animated, too, and very passionate.

At one point, Loki just turned his head to Thor and smiled lazily at him. "You weren't listening to a word I said, were you?" he asked, but he didn't sound annoyed, just amused.

Thor smiled but didn't answer. "Why do you love the stars so much?" he answered.

Loki turned his head to meet Thor's eyes. "You'll laugh, it's kind of silly," he warned, but Thor could tell by the tone of his voice that he really wanted Thor to ask anyways.

So Thor did. "I won't," he promised.

"You can do great things in your life," Loki said after a pause. "You could climb the highest mountain, be the greatest warrior Asgard has ever seen, or be the most learned, wisest intellect in the Nine Realms."

His green eyes stared at the stars again, lost in his own world. "But it wouldn't make the slightest difference to the stars," he said. "No matter what, the stars, they'll just be there. Cold, reliable, unyielding. The Golden Age of Asgard will come, and eventually it'll go. But through it all…the stars will remain the same."

"I guess it sort of humbles me," Loki smirked without humor. "I mean, the two of us could surely use a bit of humbling. We're the Princes of Asgard, the sons of the All-Father and the All-Mother. But doesn't it make you feel a lot less proud and arrogant, just thinking about the stars?" Loki scoffed. "Because honestly, nothing lasts forever."

Thor could only half understand what Loki was saying, mainly entranced by the dramatic way he highlighted his voice and the clear passion and depth with which he spoke. "Yeah," He answered.

Loki laughed abruptly. "I expect I'm boring you," he said, springing lightly to his feet with a feline grace. "Come, let's go back inside."

Thor scrambled to his feet, watching Loki's silhouette, half-illuminated by the silvery moonlight. He felt as if he ought to say something, and opened his mouth to speak. Loki tipped his head expectantly, but Thor could tell that Loki really, really wanted to hear something. But what was it?

Not for the first time, Thor wished his brother wasn't so damn complicated. For the life of him, Thor couldn't figure out what to say, so feeling like the worst big brother of all time, he closed his mouth, smiled and shrugged. Loki answered with a smile of his own, but Thor got the impression that he was disappointed.

"Come on," Loki said again, turning and beginning to leave.

On an impulse, Thor reached out and grabbed his shoulder. Loki turned around slowly, meeting his eyes. "What?" Loki asked, poking Thor's arm playfully. "You're acting all weird."

"Just a slight disagreement I had about something you said," Thor answered, keeping his tone light and carefree though he felt anything but. "You said that nothing lasts forever."

"Yes," said Loki cautiously, vivid green eyes searching Thor's electric blue ones. "What of it?"

"I don't think that's entirely right," said Thor just as hesitantly, because he was treading dangerous ground here.

When Thor didn't elaborate, Loki prompted him. "Oh?" he asked, adding just enough of a trace of mocking to rile Thor. "Then what do you believe lasts forever?"

Thor knew he would sound like an idiot, but said it anyways. "Love."

Loki snorted. "Are we really going there?"

"Yes." Thor was adamant.

"Very well," sighed Loki, with the air of a disinterested schoolteacher, "I'll humor you. In your own life, who's love are you specifically talking about?"

Thor bit his lips, getting an uneasy feeling. "Uh, my love, for, well, you."

"Not the best one you could've chosen," said Loki. He took a step closer to Thor.

"Tell me, brother," began Loki, face inches away from Thor's, "if I went rogue, if I left Asgard and found myself an army, a savage one, mind you, and if I used said army to attack Asgard, would you still love me?"

Thor's pulse was racing. "Don't be ridiculous. That'll never happen."

"Ah, but can you tell the future, Thor?" asked Loki, circling Thor like he was prey. "If I utterly destroyed Asgard and throned myself king, if I killed Father and Mother and laughed the whole while doing it," Loki's voice rose higher and more powerful in pitch, and Thor's palms began to sweat, "if I kicked you down to your knees and held a knife to your throat and demanded of you, Do you love me?, what would you have said?"

Silence.

All of the universe, the planets spinning in their orbits, all of nature growing, the birds flying, everything stopped in its tracks. Waiting for Thor's answer.

Dozens of eternities passed as Thor thought over the heavily weighed question. He searched his feelings, searched himself, and found the truth.

"I would've said yes."

The calm, collected, manipulative person standing in front of him crumbled into a sobbing young boy, seeking his older brother. Thor's arms were suddenly full of Loki, and the trickster was pressing his face into Thor's chest, crying.

Thor ran his hands through Loki's hair, gently rubbing his back as he murmured soothing words into Loki's ear. This, he was good at. This, he could do.

"You're an idiot," said Loki at last, half-laughing and half-crying with voice heavily muffled. "A half-brained idiot."

Thor smiled. "I know."

"I love you."

Thor pulled Loki back and stared into his eyes. "I know. And I love you, too."

Loki smiled, and he seemed a good deal happier than he had been in the past couple of months. "Let's go inside now," he said, and Thor nodded, slinging his arm over Loki's shoulder. Slowly, they walked back.

Together.

(the present)

Loki knew why Maximoff picked those memories—well, they were fairly obvious. He should've been annoyed at her rummaging about in his head, but the relief and peace those childhood memories brought outweighed the irritation.

"Ready now?" Her voice was quiet.

Loki gave a jerky little nod, and with a twist of her fingers, Maximoff raised the knife a second time, and pressed it against Loki's neck.

He suppressed a shudder, closing his eyes and filling his mind with memories of Frigga. Loki opened his eyes.

"Do it," he said, voice raspy and low.

And with a soft inclination of the head, Wanda flicked her fingers and pressed the blade home.

"Room 201, right?"

Thor was pacing back and forth restlessly. Tony had tracked Loki's signature down to an apartment, and the damned elevator was taking forever to appear.

"Yes," said Tony, eyeing the elevator. His gaze darted to the stairs. "Stairs?"

"Yeah," answered Thor, and the two of them raced up the stairs as fast as their feet could carry them.

Room 201 was the first door in the corridor. Thor grabbed the handle quickly and gave it a jerk. Locked.

Tony began to pull out a lock-picking tool, but with a quick slam Thor broke open the door. "Or you could do it that way," mumbled Tony.

They were just in time to see Wanda stab the blade right into Loki's neck.

Loki was feeling lightheaded and somewhat dizzy now. There was pain, oh so much pain, but he was ignoring it, and it faded into a throb in the background.

There were voices, a collage of voices blended together. Loki could hardly see anyone.

Oh hell, was that Thor? It probably wasn't, but he could imagine it was. He was saying something, something indistinct. Soft hands were stroking Loki's hair and oh god, it felt so fucking nice….

Something was murmured into his ear inaudibly, and lips were pressing against his forehead. Loki groaned, twisting feverishly.

Peace, he needed peace.

Then a long-haired figure was cupping his forehead, and all faded to black.

"Father!" Loki screamed, wind whipping his hair back wildly, with green cape flapping. "Did I do it? Did I finally make you proud?"

A single blue eye, full of love and compassion and understanding stared down upon him. "No, Loki," Odin uttered. "I was already proud."

Loki closed his eyes. This, this was the closure he'd finally needed. He smiled faintly, the last smile to ever curve his lips.

And then he let go.