"You should have aimed for the head."
Unevenly, Thanos grinned.
Then he snapped his fingers.
And the world fell apart.
In Wakanda, seven remained.
Captain Steven Rogers.
Thor, God of Thunder and King of Asgard.
Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes.
Dr. Bruce Banner.
No one knew how to answer.
Vision's body lay grey and dead in the underbrush, the upper half of his face torn away with the stone it had housed.
He was the only one of the fallen who was left.
Not even their bodies remained.
Thor looked at all of them. He looked at the weapon in his hand. The Thanos-killing weapon that had failed in its only task.
He had wanted vengeance too much. He had needed to see Thanos understand what he had done. He had needed Thanos' despair, needed to see the life slipping out of his eyes, and instead, he had given them this.
"Thor Odinson... Through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful Realms and innocent lives to the horrors of war…"
"I'm sorry," he said.
They all looked at him. The movement was slow, numbed.
"I –" he struggled to regain his breath, "I did this to you," he choked. "I'm sorry,"
Stumbling, he went heavily down onto his knees.
Steve's voice broke, "Natasha,"
The fingers of his right hand were tracing through the grass, like he might still be able to find a shred – anything – to hold onto. His resolve broke and his left hand covered his eyes.
Natasha swallowed back nausea, blinking to clear her vision and find her feet through hot tears. She went down to her knees against Thor and she reached up to his heaving shoulder.
"Cry," she ground out through her tears. "Cry as much as you need to. But don't go so far that we can't reach you. Okay?" She leaned against his arm, and she laced her fingers over the back of the palm he had pressed to the ground. "We still need you."
Okoye stood straight, holding onto her spear. Dark trails ran from her eyes, glinting in the sunlight. "We have to be able to reverse this," she said. "There must be a way."
Out of the dust that rained from the Transition, they came.
Sergeant James Buchannan Barnes.
Dr. Stephen Strange.
In a shuddering rift like hot air off of the surface of a parking lot, Gamora came. Smiling, she ran to Quill.
Light split the sky, and Vision appeared. He went to Wanda and folded her in his arms.
Maria Hill stepped over the debris, looking around her in the fog.
Nick Fury emerged behind her.
Everywhere there was a sound of laughter, and weeping. Both for joy and for the losses that could not be reversed.
There were those who would not be forgotten.
Wanda raised her head, glancing behind her, startled by a sudden breeze. And then she started to laugh and to cry in equal measure.
Her brother laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, "You did not see that coming?"
Thor stood aside, a part of the festivities, and yet, not a part. He smiled when he was acknowledged. He laughed when he was spoken to.
Spring flowers had bloomed on all the trees in the park. The sky was clear and blue. The sun shone on them again.
And he thought of his brother.
"I'm worried about Thor," Natasha said. She rested her elbows on the tabletop in the Barton's dim kitchen, and nursed the drink Laura had put in front of her.
The children had long-since gone to bed, but the debris of their activities were scattered over every surface.
"He seems okay," Clint protested.
"He's too quiet," Natasha said. "And he only smiles when he knows you're watching him. Have you noticed that?"
Laura nodded. She walked behind his chair to reach her own, "He lost everyone, Clint," she said, "He's not okay."
"All right, fine," Clint allowed. "What do you want me to do about it? Shall I," he waved a hand magnanimously, "offer to include him on our trip tomorrow?"
Natasha shrugged one shoulder, "It'd be something."
Clint looked at her suspiciously, "You think going to the zoo is going to help Thor."
She looked back at him. "It'll be a start," she said.
Laura squeezed his shoulder, "Being with the kids will be good for him."
"He's on his own too much," Natasha agreed, dropping her offensive on Barton. "He needs something to help him to get outside of his head. He's had nothing since the rebuilding was done."
"Well, okay," Clint shrugged. "If you say so."
"Besides," Laura said. "I like Thor. He can come over whenever he wants. Lila adores him."
Watching Clint with the beginnings of a smirk tugging at one side of her mouth Natasha said, "Jealous?"
"Me?" Clint shook his head. "Nope," he leaned back, extending an arm behind his wife, "I've got nothing to prove."
"Okay," Clint squared his shoulders under Nathaniel. "What's next?"
The zoo map crinkled in the warm wind as Cooper opened it.
"Please let it be somewhere inside," Clint glanced down at his son, "This heat is killing me."
It was the reptile house.
Laura and Natasha parked the vacant stroller outside the doors.
"I will…" Thor hesitated and they all turned to face him. He brought up a smile, "I'll remain with the cart," he said.
A tiny hand crept up, and Lila's pleading eyes met his. Her small, warm fingers curled around his hand.
Giving a barely audible sigh, Thor yielded. His hand folded around the little girl's.
Holding his hand tightly, Lila led him through the darkened rooms, a little behind the others. At first, Thor couldn't bring himself to look. – You are the worst brother. Those had been his last words to him. – But at the child's innocent urging, he had to. Then he found he couldn't stop. It was like having a part of his brother near him again. Odinson.
He remembered the first time he had helped Loki to hold one of the snakes he had caught. They'd been seven. Loki had been nervous, but when the little creature had settled in his hands, he'd sought Thor's eyes, and, finding them, he'd smiled.
"Lila," Thor said, "wait."
He stepped back.
"What's the matter?" she asked him, her dark head tipping curiously.
"I…want to look at this snake."
Thor stopped. He got as close to the glass as the barriers would allow.
Lila joined him.
They looked at the snake.
The snake came near the glass, and reared up.
It looked at Thor. It put out its thin, forked tongue.
"Hey, you guys coming?" Laura called back from the doorway.
Startled, Thor looked away from the glass, and by the time he looked back, only the tip of the snake's tail was visible, poking out from inside the little cave in the enclosure.
Frowning, Thor watched the cage. "…Yes…." He said. "…We're on our way."
Lila skipped. "I think that one liked you," she smiled.
"You think so?"
Keeping pace with the little girl, Thor glanced back at the cage, but the foliage within had completely obscured his view.
"Mother," Thor complained, "I cannot find him anywhere. I've looked all over the castle." Giving a perturbed sigh, he looked out the window, shuffling on feet that felt too big for him. "I just want to say that I'm sorry."
"Maybe," Mother said, from across the room where she was straightening the cushions on a bench, "you should stop looking, hm?"
Thor's brows furrowed and he turned after her as she left to go out onto the balcony. He could tell she was laughing at him, the same way that Loki sometimes laughed at him. Loki only laughed like that when he had said something Loki thought was stupid. But Thor couldn't see the error in what he had said this time.
"Mother," he said, slowly, watching her as she straightened things to her liking. "I don't understand."
She came back to him, smiling softly. She bent to take his face in her hands. "Loki will find you," she said, "when he wants to be found."
"I just want to say I'm sorry!" Thor protested. "Is that not enough?"
"Do him the grace to make you apology on his terms," she counseled. "It is his right and privilege to hide from you as long as he likes."
Thor scuffed his foot on the grey stone floor. "I don't understand," he sulked, again.
"And you do not have to," she said. "He will come to you when he is ready. Come," she sat down on the low couch overlooking the water that shone far, far below them. "Tell me again what you were reading last night. I wasn't properly able to hear you this morning."
It became a commonplace thing to see Thor set out from his rooms in Avengers Tower of a morning. He took a few apples from the bowl on the kitchen counter, put them into the bag slung over his shoulder, and he went out into the streets. Catching a bus, he pulled his hood up and watched the streets as they passed him by. Few ever approached him. People rarely spoke to him. Only once was he ever recognized.
He never strayed from the main path or admired any of the other enclosures. Every time, he went directly to the reptile house. He would take the place that had become his across from the exhibit. Sometimes, he would go up to the glass and he would rest his arms on the barrier, and he would watch. Other days he would merely cross one knee over the other, remove a book from his bag and an apple, and begin to read in companionable silence.
Sometimes he would remain that way for hours. But he never left without going up to the glass to be certain he had seen the occupant, and that the occupant had seen him.
It was perhaps after the ninth or tenth visit that he started talking to it.
Thor went to the glass. The snake eyed him from a branch, then put out its tongue and turned away.
"I would have come if I could. You know that," he said. "The Transition didn't solve everything –"
The snake eyed him dubiously.
"You're talking to him now?" a woman's voice startled him.
"Yes, I'm–" Thor stammered, straightening. He felt his cheeks flush hot.
The woman had deep, ebony skin and her shirt signified her as one of the keepers. Her eyes were kind. "A friend of yours?" she grinned.
"Yes, I – I've always liked snakes," he admitted. Looking away, he thought of Heimdal.
She nodded. "I thought so. Did you finish that book of yours yet? You were close last time."
"You," at a loss, Thor stammered, "You were watching me?"
"Honey, not many people are as punctual as you are. I tend to notice." Putting the last of her equipment into her cart she jerked her head toward the cage. "He noticed too. Agitated yesterday, when you didn't show. For all my years working with them, I never thought I'd see it," she shook her head, "but I think that one missed you."
Thor looked at the snake. "Me?" he asked softly.
He wasn't sure he could remember a time when Loki had ever missed him.
Then he jerked, turning to face her. A question hovered, but he'd been too caught up to hear it. "I'm sorry?"
"Any good?" she repeated.
Rubbing his bad eye, Thor said, "What?"
"That book you've got," she said. "Any good?"
"Oh," Thor replied, "yes. Yes, it's quite…good."
He didn't hear her when she left.
Steve found him where apparently he'd taken to spending the majority of his time these days: in the reptile house of the local zoo. Steve was out of breath. "What happened to your pager?"
"I must've forgotten it," Thor said distractedly.
He was resting on his elbows, watching a snake that was coiled in the front corner of the cage. Thor glanced at him. "Is there an emergency?"
"No, not an emergency, but Fury wants everyone."
Grimly, Thor turned back to the cage.
Watching him, the knot of worry pulled tighter in Steve's gut. Thor hadn't been himself since The Snap. He'd been more and more absent recently. As far as Steve was concerned, what the guy did to process everything was his own business. He was a god, and he'd lost no small number of friends to Thanos. But Steve worried that it might have finally become too much for him. He put a hand tentatively on Thor's shoulder. "Thor, what's going on?"
"I'll come." Thor snapped.
Steve drew his hand away and stepped back a pace.
But he was not far enough away to avoid hearing Thor whisper, "Don't listen to him, Loki. You can come out whenever you're ready. I'll be back tomorrow."
Glancing over, Steve saw Thor put two fingers to his lips, then place them against the glass.
Folding his hands in front of him, Steve looked away, pretending that he'd seen nothing.
Thor strode past him. "What does Fury want now?"
Steve kept pace with him, his heart sinking further with every step.
"We have to do something," Steve said.
"What can we do?" Wilson demanded. "The dude's lost everything."
"We can't just leave him there, talking to snakes," Steve countered. He rested both elbows on the table top as rain pattered against the glass. "It's been weeks he's been doing this. I just," Steve gave a mirthless laugh, rubbing his hand up the back of his neck, "You'd think this gets easier."
Wilson shook his head considerately. "It doesn't."
Natasha turned from the window, a hard set to her mouth, "We have to talk to him."
They talked to him.
Thor listened, patiently, his hands folded in his lap.
Behind Steve, Natasha and Sam looked at each other. They had expected Thor to be angry.
This was worse.
When they had exhausted everything they could think to say to him, Thor nodded his head. "I appreciate your concern, my friends, and I thank you," he pushed back his chair, "Now, if you'll excuse me,"
They watched him as he left the room.
Thor did not look back.
Natasha got up and went to the window.
"Huh," Sam said, "That went well."
Rain slid down the glass. Natasha folded her arms, pressure building behind her eyes.
"We've done everything we can do," Steve said behind her. "The rest is up to Thor."
Natasha watched as the doors below her opened and Thor stepped out into the rain-soaked street.
She turned back into the room, "We're losing him," she said.
Footsteps echoed in the wet that covered the corridor without. The air was damp and musty, and the flickering torches outside did little more than add sheen to the wetness and cast greater shadows.
Shifting the grip on his sword, Thor peered out of the blackened doorway that was their sanctuary until the steps grew nearer. His heart was beating high and wild and fierce, longing for the fray. But the feet took an unwanted turn, and their sound faded into the tunnels and out of hearing.
Stepping back and into the dark, Thor muttered a curse. Resting his shoulders against the damp wall, he folded his arms. Little light shone from the corridor in on them, in what thin fragment there was, Thor looked at his brother.
Loki had grown these past months. He was nearly as tall as Thor was, these days. But that wasn't what Thor noticed.
"You're afraid," he said, scarcely above a whisper.
Loki said nothing. He looked away, into the flickering almost-light. His jaw was tight and his breaths shallow. Thor remembered what it had been his first time. He remembered that fear. In the dark it was easier to face how scared he had been. It was easier to admit it.
Rousing himself from the wall, Thor put out his hand, gently, and gripped the back of Loki's neck.
In the dark, he felt Loki's sword shift hands, and he clasped his free hand around Thor's wrist.
Thor rested his forehead against Loki's. "I'll look out for you, Little Brother," he promised. "Always."
As soon as Thor stepped into the reptile house, he knew that something was wrong. Lengthening his stride, he closed the distance quickly. The light was out in the cage. The greenery was gone, as were the little cave, and the pool.
Casting about, Thor saw a little man, a janitor. "Please, good sir," he said, "Can you tell me what has happened?"
The stooped man looked up at him, vacantly.
Thor didn't know how to communicate quickly enough, "To the snake. What happened to him?"
A smile played on the man's mouth, "A particular friend of yours?"
"Just tell me," Thor only noticed that he'd closed his fists as the man's eyes followed them and widened. By an act of will, Thor made his hands relax, and he pointed to the vacant enclosure. "That snake. Where has it been moved?"
"That snake?" the man scratched behind his ear nervously, "We haven't had a snake there in years."
As Thor recalculated, the man started to move away.
"No, sir, please, I saw it just this morning, right there. It was a black snake, with a green stripe from the base of its head to its tail and –"
"That sounds like no snake I've ever seen in this zoo, and I've been working here since before you were born, Son."
"No, Sir, you don't understand –"
"We're closing," the little man interrupted, firmly. "And whatever game you're playing, you've had your fun. Next step's me calling Security."
Stilling himself, Thor closed his eyes. "Is there," he asked, slowly, "anyone else I can talk to?"
"We're closing," the man said over his shoulder. "Come back tomorrow."
Thor closed his teeth and turned away, his head hung low and hot pressure burning behind his eyes.
Heavily, he dropped into his old place on that bench. The old place that didn't matter anymore. Because Loki was gone. Loki was really gone this time. He had been gone, this whole while. The others were right.
It was only that he had wanted so much for it to be true, this crazy, stupid idea.
Bowing forward over his knee, Thor smeared the heel of his palm under his eye.
"He seemed remarkably patient, really, if the way you were carrying on is taken into account."
"Yes, well," Thor sat up, "that doesn't real–" Thor's head jerked.
Loki was sitting beside him, his elbow on the arm of the bench and his forehead resting wearily in his hand. As Thor bolted upright, he raised his head from his palm. "Hello, Thor."
"…Loki…" Thor whispered.
"Shh, don't –"
Thor took him by the shoulders and dragged him roughly forward into a hug until Loki choked a cry. Thor released him, "Brother, what –?"
"I'm not," moving a little back, with one hand cherishing the back of his neck, Loki caught his breath. His free hand fumbled unsteadily and caught against Thor's shoulder. "I'm not fully healed, yet."
Thor put a hand on Loki's shoulder, the other he raised by Loki's cheek, but Loki turned his head away as in anticipation of pain. "Loki…"
A wry smile tilted Loki's mouth and his green eyes flashed in the dimming light. "I missed you, too," he said.
A sound of feet splashing through water caught their ear and the both of them raised their heads. Steve Rogers stood framed in the doorway, head down, dripping with rain water. "Thor," he said as he came, out of breath from running. His feet echoed on the floor. "Thor you have to stop. Let us help you. We can –" He lifted his head and his eyes went very wide in his face. "Loki," he said. "Oh my God." He looked at Thor. "Then it really –?"
"It was." Thor said. Tightening his grip on Loki's shoulder to be certain of it, Thor smiled. Dragging a full breath, he smeared the last tears off his face with the back of his hand. "Though I don't understand –"
A door slammed behind them. "We're closed!"
"I'll explain everything," Loki promised. "But not here."
"Rogers," Thor put an arm under Loki's, lifting him to his feet.
"Yeah," Steve said, "the Tower. This way. I'll…hail a cab."
"So, let me get this straight," Sam shifted on his feet, hugging his elbows.
All the lights were on in the little kitchen. The lights were white and thin, and it made Loki seem paler than Thor hoped he was. Loki was sitting with his elbows on the table and his head bowed. Thor sat in a chair beside and a little behind him. Natasha sat to one side, with her hands folded on her lap, and Steve sat across from her, with his legs extended under the table and his arms crossed on his chest.
Sam put out one hand, palm down, as though that might help him to get the parts of his narrative straight. "You survived Thanos and deep space and all that, and through some twist of fate – that not one of you understands – ended up on Earth? In the form of a snake."
"I landed in my own form," Loki said. "Should I have remained in it I would have died."
"Yeah yeah, because a snake is easier."
Loki gave a slight laugh. "It is," he said.
Behind him, Thor smiled.
"You maintained injury?" Steve asked. "Even after all this time?"
Loki let out a long breath. "I regained the basic capabilities of life, Captain, in my prior form. Little more."
"You don't look injured," Natasha pointed out.
Loki eyed her without lifting his head more than an inch. "Do I look well?"
Thor put a hand on his shoulder and softened the touch when Loki winced. "Do you doubt my brother's story?"
"I don't think it's that," Steve said. "I think we're all just trying to figure out what happens next." He looked from Thor, to Loki, and back again, "It's a lot to process."
Loki gave a slight nod.
"Well then, that's simple." Thor said. "My brother sleeps, and I watch over him."
"We have the spare room on the –" Natasha started.
Thor interrupted her. "My brother shall be sharing my quarters," he said. "I shall not be letting him out of my sight for some time."
Loki said nothing to that.
As Thor helped Loki out of the room, Steve, Natasha and Sam all looked at one another.
Sam let out a low whistle. "I'll never get used to shit like that."
"Wait until the others get back," Natasha said ominously.
Steve said nothing.
"You're being very quiet, Steve," Natasha commented.
"What I'm wondering," Steve lifted his head, "Is, if he was a snake so long, what brought him back?"
Loki woke into dark that pressed on his chest until he couldn't breathe.
He'd dreamed the enclosure, and the fall, and Thanos, all of it bundled into one.
Pain hovered, a dull ache throughout his body and he moved stiffly, shaking off the dream like an old skin – faded, and too tight.
Blinking, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he took in his surroundings. A spare room, sufficient, with a shelf of books on one wall and a cluttered bureau. The window was opened to let in the late summer breeze and the smell of the rain. There was a chair on the far side of the room, nearer the shelf and the little end table. And by it, in full view of the bed, was a couch.
Thor lay on the couch, sprawled on his side with a blanket draped over him. He was asleep.
Loki watched him for several minutes, his gaze uncharacteristically soft. Then the ache in his neck became a twinge he didn't want to ignore, and he laid down.
He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
It was the first thing Thor noticed when he woke.
A wet crunch woke him.
Slowly, Loki let himself come back to consciousness, remembering where he was, what he was.
Then he heard the sound again.
Frowning, he opened his eyes.
Turning a page, Thor crossed one ankle over his knee, and bit into his apple again.
Fondly, Loki smiled. He laid back.
Thor had known the moment he woke. He waited for Loki to take in his surroundings. Then, gauging his moment, he glanced at Loki. He was less pale, Thor thought, then he had been. Perhaps less weary. Thor turned to the wide, open window, where the sun was shining in a clear sky.
Closing a finger in the book he nodded his head. "You were right, you know."
He felt Loki look at him.
"The sun is beautiful."
Loki gave a soft laugh.
His face turned to the glass, Thor smiled, and he let the sun warm his face.
Based this one one two posts I saw online. One was about Thor's character development in IW, and that was where I got the image of Thor standing alone after everyone else got their friends back. The image with Steve coming arriving at the zoo and Thor talking to the snake and calling it Loki was another. So I can't take credit for those ideas, only the way I put them together.
If you liked this and want something that's perhaps a little darker, I wrote an IW fic in the Thor archive. That one's called 'And After With This Cell'.