I have seen what you do.

Loki raised a trembling hand to his face. That voice. Inside his head. Not the calm, terrifying words of Thanos. No, not Thanos. Another voice.

Heimdall's voice.

Heimdall, the all-seeing guardian with no realm to guard and no people to protect.

Heimdall, lying dead at the feet of Thanos' monstrous lieutenant as the wrinkled general stood alongside with twisted, steepled fingers twitching in anticipation of what his master would do next.

Impossible. And yet, that voice.

I have seen what you do, Loki. Both of you. It is inevitable.

Loki fell to his knees, palms crushed against his temples to ease the pounding of words he could not begin to understand.

Take us to Midgard. Warn the Avengers. Find her.

He watched the silent man, unmoving in death, but the voice echoed across his mind still. He squeezed his eyes shut.

Midgard?

Avengers?

Her?

His hands floated away as his eyes opened.

Her.

This word and the image it conjured straightened his spine, allowed his swagger and honeyed words to Thanos of undying loyalty. His brother watched from his knees, trapped in heaving, metallic bonds. Something so close to hatred burned in Thor's remaining eye as blood coated it with a sickening blush.

The Tesseract, Loki, he accused in that stare. Why? WHY?!

Loki was not surprised. He sought Thor's hatred for so many years. Longed for it even. Hatred for innumerable betrayals, for blame and mistrust, jealousy and torment. A reflection of Loki's own hatred so gallantly believed to be his right as the shadow brother, the adopted pawn, the fallen sorcerer. Loki, the grand king of nothing but a world of monsters and the would-be conqueror of a realm that fought back, that bested him in every way possible.

Thor would not be able to fathom the greatest punishment Midgard dealt his wayward brother. That truth was worlds away within the deep, chocolate eyes and fiery soul that haunted him even now. Thor's hate, his judgment, would be deadly if he truly knew.

Loki bowed to Thanos with a flourish, his words drenched in the flattery of a humbled servant worshipful of a generous master. But in Thanos' eyes, Loki saw the truth. That Heimdall's phantom words were just that. Words. An illusion. A devastating blow Loki needed to dismiss. For Heimdall was dead. All of Asgard was dead. No ships escaped, no fragile colony of survivors fled Thanos' attack. Those words were nothing more than a trick of the true monster on this ship. Hope. Trapped in the cage of Loki's mind and ever prowling for a path to freedom.

No, the great Heimdall saw and knew nothing now, but Loki did. He knew it ended today, and he could not decide to feel regret or relief. His dagger formed, hidden from his enemies, burning with emerald magic taught to him by a loving mother. He could almost hear her voice, soothing his prickling skin as he struck true.

But failed.

He tasted his own death as the blade, his strength, this weak purpose, was stopped by nothing more than a flick of Thanos' great hand.

Regret, he decided. Not relief after all, but the deep ache of regret that squeezes his heart as the biting metal of the gauntlet crushed his throat. The Tesseract, now a pawn of Thanos, intimately brushed against his hair and sang to him, and his eyes drifted shut. The Space Stone painted in his mind a midnight garden heavy with thick, twisting vines and blooms of ivory and gold.

I know you, the Stone purred to him as a lover to one long lost. You are ever returning to me. As you are to her.

Great vines trailed his steps along the imagined garden stones, runes of protection, of possession, of promise carved in them by gentle hands from another lifetime. The blossoms reached to him as to a sun, and they blinked, remembering him with pleased surprise as their perfume overwhelmed his senses.

We travel parallel paths, my Prince, the Stone hummed to his mind. Return to me when they intersect, and we shall never be parted.

He could not draw breath.

As you are to her.

The escape of the garden in his mind faded.

Her

He reached for the garden, distracted by his bittersweet regret. Regret he never told her, showed her, that his blackened heart belonged to her from the moment she accepted his brokenness. The moment she tried to heal him.

From the moment she asked him to stay.

This distraction shielded him from the sight of lightning crackling from his brother's opaque eye, from the sound of Thor's piercing roar of such anguished rage, from the feel of the cold metal floor slamming into his knees, then palms, then forehead. The breath rushed into his lungs through a bruised throat suddenly free.

Loki had been flung away, unimportant and unthreatening in the face of the raw power the God of Thunder unleashed upon the wretched souls that once stood so tall in this ship of death. One minion was left in ashes before Thor had risen free from his prison. Another's enormous head rolled to Loki's side, the face grave with the monster's final emotion.

Mindless, numbing fear.

"No." The whisper pressed from Loki's mouth, shaking and urgent, his throat in flames from one word, his magic healing him too slowly. As though it knew something his mind did not yet understand.

Flames of white electricity leapt over Thor's skin, pouring from his thrumming body as he thrusted his open palms toward Thanos and brought the titan to one knee. His surviving servants slunk to a corner and worked to hide their trembling hands. With a sharp turn of his head toward them, Thanos barked out a command.

"Bring me the stones from Earth. NOW!"

The two servant warriors faded into a cloud of swirling black, and Thanos turned his massive face back to Thor.

He smiled.

But Loki did not see, the command blinding him to all but its meaning.

The stones from Earth.

Earth.

Midgard.

Avengers.

HER.

"Brother." Loki's voice was louder, though the battling two paid him no mind. He limped to Heimdall. Dead. He surveyed the blank Asgardian faces littering the ship's floor, their unseeing eyes flashing in the warring white and purple lights. Then he faced his brother as a burst of color brightened the ship like a bloody sunset.

Loki's eyes were open. They watched the surging purple blast smash through first lightning and then his brother. Yes, Loki's eyes saw Thor standing before him, his face open, surprised, as he looked at his brother, but neither were able to truly comprehend the jagged hole in Thor's chest. Even as a shaking hand rose to it, tracing the dripping edge, still neither brother understood.

Then Loki screamed, uncaring of the pain in his throat and arms and legs, everywhere. He ran, tripped, crawled to his brother leaving Heimdall and his dead people and the triumphant Thanos behind as his words ran together.

brother Thor why no brother not you brother Brother BROTHER

"Loki."

Rivers ran over his cheeks. They dripped into Thor's shorn hair as Loki heard his name once, only once, before the precious light that had always heralded this god, this perfectly flawed man, was gone. There were no goodbyes, no apologies, no forgiveness. There could never be anything more, because oh god, his brother was dead in Loki's arms with a hole where his invincible heart shined brighter than the lightning it commanded. And Loki's sobs and meaningless promises to a dead brother and dead mother and dead father and dead world echoed around the ship in a funeral hymn enjoyed by one.

The hand that stroked Loki's head did nothing to hush his lament. He cared not for Thanos or the slow agony to come. Nothing mattered. Nothing except this great failure and every, single action and scheme and plan that had brought Loki to this moment of knuckles turning white, arms aching as they clutched Thor to his own vile, still beating heart.

"Ah, Loki," Thanos spoke sweetly. "There is no greater punishment I can give, fallen son, than to leave you as you are. No family, no people, no world, no hope. To live with the guilt of being the last. It is inevitable and always has been. Accept my great mercy, and die in the silence of space knowing that you are nothing and no one will remember you."

With a final, fond touch to Loki's hair, Thanos disappeared in a flare of power that shook the ship's core. Loki smelled the fire, felt the trembling metal. The ship was destroying itself, and he saw the flames jump from body to body, catching on his own cape. He comprehended all of this, though perhaps in shock. He no longer made a sound, but simply rocked Thor in his embrace as their mother had once rocked them as children.

You are nothing and no one will remember you.

Those words…

They seemed familiar. But from where? A dream?

The flames ripped through his cape and bit at his flesh.

Or a memory?

Yes...

He watched her hands fold and unfold the hem of her flannel shirt three times before he spoke. "Tell me the thing you fear above all else?"

Her bottom lip turned cherry red as she worried it.

"Never being anything," she whispered, her chocolate eyes searching the ceiling before meeting his own. "Never being remembered."

Loki stopped rocking. His eyes opened. Clear. Focused.

It is inevitable.

Thanos' words. But also Heimdall's.

I have seen what you do. Both of you. It is inevitable.

Loki leaned close to Thor's ear and whispered Heimdall's phantom words.

"Take us to Midgard. Warn the Avengers. Find her."

Inevitable.

Loki's quick hand sliced through the air, cutting off the burning cape and pushing back the flames from his blackened skin. His ragged magic flared to life, pulsing with purpose and sizzling through his every molecule. With only a look, Heimdall's lifeless body floated to Loki's side.

Midgard. Avengers. Her

It was a mantra, a battle cry that busied his mind. A purpose. His purpose.

He needed more magic for what he intended. So much magic he feared it would shred his tattered soul further, but he cared not. It was waiting when he called it, ancient magic dormant for so long in the fabric of his cursed heritage. A waking well of demanding Jotun magic he claimed once and for all, bright blue and encasing him, his brother, the guardian. It danced with the tricky green of the magic he knew so well as a phantom sapphire colored his skin.

The trio was untouched as the ship shook apart, piece by tearing piece, shuddering in warning of a blast to come at its death. The unrestrained and glorious Jotun magic stabbed Loki like a hundred, a thousand, burning knives, and the temptation to give up was so very great. To just let go as Thanos had said, to succumb to a death of being nothing, of no one remembering him. To die alone, always alone, consumed by the bitterness of failure, unloving and unloved.

Find her.

He would not be nothing. He would not be unremembered. He would not give up. Not anymore.

For her.

The ship baptized him in flames as the explosion pummeled Loki's magical shield. He grinded his teeth against the pain of holding it, of keeping the three safe. He knew he must. If it was the last thing he would ever do, he would not fail. He would succeed. It was inevitable.

Midgard. Avengers. Her.

Blood trickled first from his nose, then his left ear, then flowed from the sides of his mouth as sweat poured down his face and his rigid arms shook as they rose. His eyes searched the black abyss above with a whispered prayer on his bloodied lips.

"Jane."

And then Loki screamed.

Worlds away, Jane Foster jolted from her bed, black eyes unseeing and ribbons of power bursting from her hands as her screams ripped her beloved stars from the sky.