A/N: Hey, just so everybody knows, in this story I'm using Sif, Fandral, and Volstagg as "The Warriors Three." I know Hogun was considered one of the Warriors Three, but it looked like he "retired," so to speak, at the beginning of The Dark World. Just wanted to make that clear to everybody. I also added a few lines to the movie dialogue at the end of this chapter...and lastly, my musical references at the beginning of each chapter will continue, but they won't be limited solely to Les Miserables.

900 days till Thor: Ragnarok! We are the new "Fandom That Waited."

I'll escape now from that world…

Another story must begin!

—Les Miserables, "Valjean's Soliloquy"

Ordinary night had just fallen when Heimdall sent word to the Allfather that the Convergence neared its climax. By order of the King, the people of Asgard filled the streets with torches and their homes with lanterns. If the Aether swept into the realm, at least they wouldn't be left groping in the Dark.

Although, if Malekith sent in hordes of his Elves, it would be difficult to fight with a sword in one hand and a torch in the other. But there was nothing else they could do. Even though tidings of Thor's battle against Malekith on Midgard buoyed everyone's spirits, the atmosphere in Asgard grew still and uneasy.

It was as if the entire universe waited with baited breath for the worlds to align.

"I want no one to disturb me until the Convergence is over," Loki ordered the guards in front of his parents' old bedchamber. "No matter what you hear, no one is to enter until I give the word. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, Your Majesty," they murmured. Loki nodded and entered the room, shutting the heavy doors behind him.

He sighed, looked around. The last time he stepped foot in this room, the Allfather lay unconscious in the Odinsleep. Now Odin lay on the massive bed in the center of the room once again—but there'd be no waking from this sleep. It was surreal. Loki lowered himself to a seat on the chest at the foot of the bed and dropped his head in his hands.

Well, Silvertongue, you'd best prepare yourself. You thought your battle on Midgard was something for story and song. Just wait till this test begins.

He flicked his wrist and the disguise fell away with a flash of green. Keeping up his father's appearance was far more difficult than an invisibility spell. A brief rest from the illusion would probably be good for him. He grimaced at the filth-encrusted armor beneath the disguise, and with a snap of his fingers he replaced them with a pair of black breeches and a green tunic.

Might as well die in comfort, he thought, his mouth twisting in a wry smile. Because you may very well die, Laufeys—no, Friggason. That is my name from this day forth. If I die in this attempt, then so be it. The disguise will fail, of course, the second I fall—but at least I'll die in my own form. And then all the world will know who saved Asgard.

I think I can allow myself that measure of self-satisfaction.

He took a deep breath and summoned the disguise again. Gripping Gungir, he strode quickly to the balcony where his parents used to sit of an evening and watch the stars.

What if Malekith kills Thor? Armed with an Infinity Stone, can he withstand Mjölnir's power? What if Jane's tools fail? What if the Aether smothers the torches? What if Mumma is wrong and Gungir alone can't ward off the Darkness?

He drummed his fingers on the scepter—and then something in the beautiful, galaxy-filled expanse just beyond the Bifrost caught his eye. Where once he saw stars, an enormous flickering disc swallowed them up, growing clearer until he glimpsed…

Oceans? Continents? Cities?

It was another dimension. Midgard, by the looks of it, growing larger as it and Asgard neared each other. Loki closed the distance between himself and the edge of the balcony, astonished and strangely delighted by the phenomenon. He remembered Heimdall telling him and Thor, long ago when they were children, that the Convergence only happened every five thousand years—the average lifespan of an Asgardian.

Maybe Malekith is dead, nothing will happen, and I can enjoy this in pea—

Before he could finish the thought, a thousand slithering black ribbons marred the beautiful image. Horrified, Loki watched as they shot up from Midgard's surface, rattling, hissing, and then roaring louder than the ocean beneath the Bifrost as they entered Asgard's domain.

Loki clenched the scepter and set his jaw; taking Gungir in both hands, he pointed its end at the expanding wormhole. But before he could summon the Odinforce, the Aether reached the Bifrost.

In all his years, he'd never seen anything so blood-curdling. Even when the sun went down, the golden Observatory always radiated in its own light. But now the Darkness simply swallowed it up. In an instant it disappeared altogether; even the torches he glimpsed through the Bifrost's round entrance went out.

The seething Darkness rose up from its first victim and loomed over Asgard like some sadistic dragon. Then it nosedived. A grim smile spread over Loki's pale, cunning face. He chuckled.

"Oh no, no, no," he whispered, shaking his head. "Not on my watch."

And with that, he thrust Gungir upward.

The Aether reacted to the white-hot energy beam the same way it did to Mjölnir on Svartalf-heim: it burst into a million smithereens. It didn't surprise Loki, either, when it gathered itself up again; he'd witnessed that, too, in the Dark World. What did surprise him was the way it formed itself into a single, thick mass and shot clear over Asgard's streets…

And straight for the palace.

"Ah, so it's to be a duel, is it?" Loki muttered. " 'Are you mad, Loki?' Oh, possibly—probably—I'd definitely lean on the side of 'probably' at this point…"

With one of his father's roaring battle cries, he thrust the scepter forward again. This time the Odinforce hit the Aether at a much closer range, and this time the Aether held. Loki gripped the scepter tighter, willing it to maintain its roaring, throbbing assault. The Aether pushed hard against it and even tried to split into smaller ribbons—but Loki directed Gungir's energy to spread, blasting the offshoots into oblivion.

Come on, Thor, you oaf! If you're wasting time on Midgard I will put snakes in your drink the next time I catch you at a banquet!

Without warning, the Aether jerked back. Loki lowered the scepter, breathing hard—and barely lifted it in time before the Aether lunged at him with a greater ferocity than before. Sweat broke out on his forehead and left his palms slippery. He started to wonder how long he could hold out. He wasn't nearly as strong as Thor. If his brother were here he'd have beaten this thing back already…

A spark of green coming off his fingers caught his eye. Alarmed, Loki lowered his gaze just as his own slender hands suddenly appeared.

Oh no.

The Aether must've sensed his distraction—or rather, Malekith did on the other side of reality. The Darkness slammed against Gungir's beam and threw Loki flat on his back. The air left his lungs with a painful wheeze; Gungir rattled to the edge of the balcony out of his reach.

The Aether hovered over him like a snake ready for the deathstroke. Loki moaned, rolled over onto his side. The disguise flickered in and out now; one second he saw his own hands and arms, and the next he saw his father's golden vambraces and thick, strong hands. He gritted his teeth and let the crumbling spell go with a splay of his fingers.

"Surrender, Laufeyson," a deep, hideous voice whispered from the Aether's rattling mass. "You will never succeed against the Darkness. You belong to it."

Loki rolled onto his back again, his eyes flashing and his lips pulled back from his clenched teeth. The Aether swirled menacingly as he staggered to his feet, facing it with the same wild-eyed fury with which he once confronted a certain hulking monster on Midgard.

Only this time he suspected no one would fault him for standing his ground.

A phrase he'd heard Odin utter countless times in judgment came back to his reeling head. He set his feet far apart, narrowed his eyes, and extended his long, lean arms to the side, palms lightly cupped to the sky.

"In the name of my father," he murmured, his voice growing stronger and darker with each syllable, "and his father before him…"

The Aether lashed out—but before it could hit him, Gungir flew into his hand. Loki clamped all ten fingers over the scepter. The Odinforce met the Darkness with greater strength and such an intense heat, it burned his face.

"Go back—to the Darkness—from whence—you—came!"

He screamed and the Odinforce turned a deadly, poisonous, beautiful green. There was a moment of unbearable heat and weight and light—

And then the Aether exploded. Loki collapsed in a heap on the balcony.

At the very same moment, back on Midgard, the God of Thunder struck Malekith in the chest with Mjölnir and Jane Foster twisted a knob. Malekith, along with the greater portion of the Aether, found himself on Svartalfheim again, crushed beneath the weight of his own ship, finally destroyed by the Infinity Stone that had consumed his dreams for five thousand years.

Loki, however, knew only that everything had gone very quiet. The Aether didn't come back to attack him. Whimpering, he rolled onto his side.

I did it, Mumma…I held it back…

"I know you did, my sweet, darling little boy. Hurry inside now…rest…"

He forced himself to his hands and knees and crawled into the bedchamber. Once he was safe inside, he collapsed on his stomach and shut his eyes, trembling so badly that his teeth chattered.

A heavy pounding on the door startled him. Loki lifted his head, sweat-soaked hair falling in his face.

"Your Majesty! Your Majesty, are you in there?"

The pounding continued. Loki clenched his fingers and tried to summon his father's form and voice. The effort it required made him lightheaded, but when he finally managed to speak it was in Odin's deep, rumbling tones.

"I—I'm fine," he called hoarsely. "Leave me be. And send someone to the Bifrost…"

"The Bifrost is secure, milord," the guard assured him. "Heimdall has already sent word. The Darkness is gone and the Convergence is over."

"Good," Loki mumbled. "Good…"

The guard, satisfied, drew away from the door. Loki dropped his head again, returned to his own form, and promptly went to sleep.

By dawn all of Asgard hummed with the news brought by Heimdall from the Bifrost. In spite of the Darkness enveloping the Observatory, Heimdall's vision hadn't been impaired; he saw Thor and Jane defeat Malekith, and knew exactly where Malekith met his decisive end.

But that wasn't the only piece of news worthy of celebration. The common folk of Asgard had cowered in their homes during the Convergence, hoping and praying their torches didn't go out and that the Elves didn't come—so they heard rather than saw Odin Allfather's battle against the Aether. And did they hear it. It was said the Aether's roar and Gungir's relentless thunder made the very streets rumble.

But the Allfather's power had proved mightier even than an Infinity Stone. It was enough to make even the peasant farmers in the outlying country villages laugh and twirl their pitchforks for joy.

Everything came to a standstill, however, when the Bifrost received a visitor and Thor, son of Odin, strode alone through its rounded entrance. His handsome face was graver than Asgard had ever seen it. He didn't crack any jokes; he hardly smiled at the people flooding the streets to greet and congratulate him on his victory. He simply set his steel-blue eyes on the palace and walked through its gates with the look of a man ready to accept some harsh but just sentence.

As soon as Loki heard Thor was in Asgard, he rushed to the Great Hall. It was all he could do to keep from showing how nervous he felt. His fingers twitched and his stomach churned; when

he lowered himself to Odin's throne, he caught himself tapping the dais with his foot. He even set one elbow on the arm of the throne and chewed his fingernails. It was a childhood habit, but not one the real Odin shared.

Nor, he realized, did Odin ever sit with his knees spread so far apart. Loki cleared his throat and closed his legs so quickly, his knees knocked against each other. Thankfully, the guards at the Great Hall's entrance were too far away to notice.

Why, Silvertongue, you're more nervous than a cat. What is wrong with you?

He knew good and well what was wrong with him and didn't appreciate the old sarcastic voice in the back of his head. Only Mumma knew Loki better than Thor did. If anyone now alive could see through his disguise, it would be his older brother.

What would Thor think, if he knew Father was dead?

Of course you know what he'd think. It's not as though you have a glowing reputation.

The body still lay on the bed upstairs; he hadn't had a chance to deal with it properly. It would have to be done under cover of darkness. But if Thor realized the truth, Loki could always show him the body. There was no evidence of violence upon it, after all.

I'd better hope Thor is in the mood for a long explanation.

A long, heavy footstep startled him from his thoughts. He glanced up. Thor strode down the length of the Great Hall, clasping Mjölnir in one hand and with his golden head lowered. Loki held his breath. Thor advanced until he was a yard or two from the throne; then he lowered himself to one knee and set Mjölnir on the floor with a dull thud.

"My Lord and King," he murmured.

Loki swallowed. "Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"

Thor said nothing for what felt like an eternity. When he finally lifted his head, it was all Loki could do to meet his gaze. His brother wore a strange, sad look, without a trace of his old bravado. This wasn't the reckless young prince who stormed Jotunheim two years ago. It wasn't even the grim, fierce warrior who broke him out of prison hardly twenty-four hours ago.

And to Loki's relief, there was no startled recognition in his brother's face.

"There is nothing I can say," Thor murmured. "I did what I believed necessary for the protection of Asgard and the Nine Realms, Father…and in so doing, I disobeyed you and pulled my dearest friends into my own treason. Whatever you do to me, Father, I beg you to have mercy on them. They acted only out of love for me and concern for our land."

"Their love for you, then, surpasses their loyalty to me?"

Thor opened his mouth, shut it, shook his head. "Father, may I speak plainly?"

Loki nodded. Thor took a deep breath. He reached for Mjölnir, as if he wasn't sure what to do with his fidgeting right hand.

"Father, there is but one person left in this universe who I love as much as I love you. No other ruler has my complete loyalty, and I believe I can say the same for Heimdall and the Warriors Three. But I would not have acted as I did if I did not fear that your reason left you with Mumma's death. I believed that Asgard was in grave peril, and as—I feared—its sole defender, I tried to lure Malekith away."

Loki tilted his head back. "You freed Loki from prison."

"I did. He knew how to escape Asgard without the Bifrost. I needed him. And because of me he…"

Thor's voice trailed off; he lowered his eyes. Loki leaned forward, gripping Gungir so tightly his knuckles whitened.

"I know Loki is dead," he said. "What I wish to know is 'how.' "

Thor nodded. "He gave his life for me. The very creature that killed Mumma was about to kill me…when Loki diverted its attention to himself. But before that he gave me his full assistance, and even protected Jane Foster. He proved himself more worthy of my trust than I could've ever hoped, considering all that had happened between us. And now…"

He choked. Loki's breath caught in his throat as his brother suddenly lifted his head, gazing up at him with tear-filled eyes.

"I loved my brother, Father," Thor whispered, a faint smile flickering on his strong, handsome face. "And if I am to die, then at least I will die with the knowledge that Loki was not the monster we feared."

Loki stared at him, hardly believing his ears. His throat felt as if it burned with the very fires of Muspelheim. His own words from two years ago screamed in his head: "What happened to make you so soft?!" He knew the answer now. It wasn't that Thor was naive, or simply a soft-hearted oaf. Thor had never been an oaf. Thor was simply…good.

Something I will never be, no matter how hard I try. Mischief flows in my veins…and mischief has an uncanny propensity for darkness, doesn't it, Liesmith?

Thor could never know the truth. Not unless Loki wanted to lose his love and respect forever, because how would he ever convincingly explain walking around in Odin's form with the real Odin lying dead upstairs? He had too much blood on his hands already. No one would question the probability that he'd commited patricide, too.

It would be better for everyone if I just handed this off to him. Then I could disappear…

"You once said there'd never be a wiser king than me," he heard himself saying—in Odin's voice, of course, but in a softer tone than before. "You were wrong."

Thor blinked, startled. Loki rose to his feet, making sure to lean on Gungir just a little.

"The alignment has brought all the realms together. Every one of them saw you offer your life to save them." His chest felt tight. "What…what can Asgard offer its new king in return?"

Thor looked straight at him. "My life."

Loki frowned. "Your life is already granted you."

Thor shook his head. "Father, I cannot be King of Asgard. I will protect it and the realms with my last and every breath but I cannot do so from that chair."

What? Loki couldn't help gaping at his brother. He'd just offered Thor the very power he had dreamed of having all his life—and Thor turned it down? Honestly, had some sorcerer exchanged his brain for that of…of the American captain? Or Jane Foster herself? By the Norns…

"Loki, for all his grave imbalance, understood rule as I know I never will," Thor continued. "The brutality, the sacrifice…it changes you. I'd rather be a good man than a great king."

Loki pressed his lips together. "Is this my son I hear, or the woman he loves?"

Thor smiled. "When you speak, do I never hear Mumma's voice?"

Loki flinched; he closed his eyes and sank to the throne with an unsteadiness that was hardly feigned.

"This is not for Jane, Father," Thor said. "She does not know what I came here to say. Now forbid me to see her, or say she can rule at my side—it changes nothing. I cannot take the throne."

Loki sighed, shook his head. So much for that plan. "One son who wanted the throne too much…another who will not take it. Is this my legacy?"

"Loki died with honor," Thor said, softly. "I shall try to live the same. Is that not legacy enough?"

Would it have been enough for Odin? Loki decided to nod. Even if the real Odin had been less than impressed by such a legacy—and somehow Loki suspected he would have been satisfied—Thor deserved better. His brother received the acknowledgement with a smile. He glanced down at the hammer in his hand; he extended it, handle towards the Allfather.

Loki smiled wryly—the irony of this entire conversation was either hilarious or heartbreaking and he couldn't decide which—but he commanded the Allfather's smile to appear benevolent. He waved his hand. "It belongs to you…if you are worthy of it."

"I shall try to be," Thor said.

He turned to go. Loki watched him…tall, strong, and noble, everything an Asgardian warrior was supposed to be…yet above and beyond the rest of them in ways he could hardly fathom. A sudden urgency rose up within him. He started talking before he could stop himself.

"I cannot give you my blessing," he called. "Nor can I wish you good fortune."

Thor turned. "I know."

No no, wait, let me finish, Thor, please! Loki leaned forward and raised his voice again.

"If I were proud of the man my son had become, even that I could not say. It would speak only from my heart."

Thor smiled—a true, gentle smile that settled deep with his blue eyes. Loki locked that image away and forced himself to smile back.

"Go…my son."

Thor nodded. "Thank you, Father."

With that he strode out, quicker than before and with his head held high. Loki watched him until he disappeared from sight. He flicked his wrist and the disguise fell away; he sat up straight and tall upon the throne, relieved of his burden and looking younger, more carefree, and more truly satisfied than he had in years.

His brother loved him, Asgard was his, and he had a chance to finally make his mother proud.

It was more than he could've hoped for.

"No, Thor," he whispered, smiling. "Thank you."