For this section, I listened to "Gandalf's Fall" from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.


"Can you feel, Joe, I'm all atremble

Perhaps it's the battle's noise.

But I think it's that I remember

When we were two little boys…"

Smoke rolled through the streets and swallowed the towering metal buildings that stood like vast trees upon this island the Midgardians called "Manhattan." The vehicle traffic had halted, and the people had fled, leaving the roads and alleys abandoned. In the distance, sirens wailed, resounding through the quiet. Fire crackled and sputtered inside windows, buses, and the shattered hulks of alien ships that lay strewn across the cement.

Thor hauled himself up to the flat roof of a building using one hand—he grasped Mjollnir in his other sweaty palm. Grunting, he got to his feet and strode across the gravelly roof, his boots crunching as he fought against the trembling weariness in all his limbs. He swiped the back of his free hand across his dirty forehead, and scrubbed his long hair away from his face. He lifted his chin as his eyes met those of Tony Stark, standing bedraggled and battered in half of his remaining Iron Man suit. Black marks scored the shining surface of his armor, and a burn marked his cheekbone. His bright, dark eyes flickered for a moment as he caught sight of Thor, and he answered the nod.

"It got quiet," Thor said hoarsely, coming up to stand next to Tony and gaze out across the destruction far below.

"Yeah," Tony sighed, squinting upward, then out across a street Thor had been told was named "Wall."

"It's a mess," Tony declared.

"Where is everyone?" Thor wondered, as a limp wind caught his torn cloak and ruffled its edge.

"Cap is down helping a group of people get out of a collapsed building," Tony answered. "Hawk and Widow are in Central Park, chasing down some stragglers. I had to come up here out of the action because my arc started acting up." Tony reached up and tapped his chestplate with his fingertips. "But it turns out that was best anyway—otherwise I would have been taken out too when they knocked down the building."

Thor shot him a look and frowned.


Tony glanced up at him and lifted an eyebrow.

"Where were you?"

"Over the bay," Thor nodded toward the water. "Bringing down a ship. I didn't hear about—what building? Why?"

"They took him out," Tony said, turning toward him and gesturing to illustrate. "Found out where he was hiding and just wiped out the building."

Thor's heart thudded hard. Tony shrugged one shoulder and looked over the city again. "I don't care what that guy's made of—he won't survive a whole building falling down on top of him."

Thor tried to speak—he only swallowed convulsively three times as his whole body went cold and his vision flickered.

"Which building?" he finally managed through his teeth.

"That one," Tony pointed. "See that big column of smoke and dust—right there? I guess Fury's chopper is circling it. As soon as the debris clears, we're gonna go down and make sure he's dead."

Tony hadn't even finished before Thor stepped forward, jumped up on the ledge and leaped off the building.

"Thor!" Tony yelped, but Thor barely heard him. He whirled Mjollnir in front of him, and it carried him like a blast of wind through the maze of buildings and scattered ruin. He made straight for the black pillar of smoke Tony had shown him, his thoughts stalled, his heart hammering.

The smoke engulfed him. He slowed to hovering, then lowered himself to the ground. He stumbled when he landed, and his shaking hand recaptured Mjollnir's handle. He frowned hard, trying to see through the thick, gray dust that hung in the air like fog.

Here and there, dim fires fluttered and hissed. Beams of hot metal leaned and sagged, looking like the ribs of a long-fallen dragon. He stepped forward. Glass and thin, brittle steel crunched and cracked beneath his feet. All was silent.

"Loki!" he called. His voice rang in his own ears, and battered against the quiet. Steam rose from pockets of heat near him as he passed, his eyes searching the dimness. His heart thundered, and his mind whirled.

He had been fighting his brother—all of them had—for a great, long while now. Thor and his new allies, the Avengers, had mounted a resistance against Loki's wild attack on Midgard, doing everything possible to stop his reckless and relentless play for domination. The few times Thor had actually laid eyes on his brother, he had scarcely recognized him. Loki was scarred from his headlong crash into the deserts of Midgard after he fell from the Asbru bridge. His raven hair had grown long and untamed, and he had carried himself with such devilish abandon, spoken with such careless violence, Thor could only be shocked, and could offer no words in his defense when questioned by Fury or the others.

Full-on battle had broken out. The world had halted while it raged. And chaos had torn through the streets, separating the Avengers team, and leaving them all to their own devices of survival.

So Thor had not been there when…

"Loki!" he called again, his voice breaking—the dust tried to smother him. He coughed, and kicked aside a piece of wreckage. "Loki? Loki!"

He heard a sound. A sound like gulping, or choking. Or sobbing.

He froze, straining his senses.

Then, far off to his left, he saw a long, black form, a snow-white face, and pale, limp hands.

Thor flew to him. He dashed over the ruination, his feet pounding as he kicked up ash and soot. He skidded to a halt.

It was Loki.

His torn hair lay in an ebony halo beneath his head and across his white brow, his leather and metal clothes were scarred and ripped, its edges burnt. His emerald eyes stared straight up at the bluish-black cloud of smoke that reeled upward into the sky. His hands lay across his chest—his left hand trembled. And from the middle of his stomach down, he was pinned beneath a vast slab of cement.

Thor dropped Mjollnir.

It clanged like lead and thudded onto its side.

Loki twitched, and his throat spasmed. His eyes rolled, and then his head slowly turned toward Thor.

His colorless lips moved. He choked again, and took in a rasping breath. And his vibrant green eyes focused on his brother's…

And tears spilled out and ran down his temples.

"Thor," he whispered.

Thor crashed to his knees beside him. For a moment, his shuddering hands couldn't comprehend what to do. Then, he reached out and grabbed his brother's hands hard. They felt like ice.

"Loki!" Thor cried, his eyes burning. He felt Loki take a shivering breath. Tears tumbled down Thor's cheeks and dripped from his beard.

"Ha. Look at you," Loki rasped. "The mighty Thor…"

Thor blinked, gasping—to see Loki smiling faintly up at him. There was blood on his lips.

Thor scrabbled closer to him, his knees scraping against the rocks and shards of metal. He squeezed his hands harder.

"I'm going to get this blasted rock off of you," Thor promised, trying to make his voice stop shaking.

"I wish you wouldn't," Loki murmured, blinking slowly, his long eyelashes fluttering. Thor's heart jolted.

"Why?" he demanded.

"Because it's too late," Loki answered, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment, his brow tightening. "And…you would…just be wasting time."

Thor swallowed hard—it felt like he was swallowing poison.

"It's not a waste, Loki—"

Loki's hands moved beneath Thor's—they squeezed his back. Thor stopped speaking, his brow twisting hard. Loki opened his eyes and searched Thor's face—as if trying to focus—or as if he was looking for something.

"I thought…I thought you'd…" Loki tried. "I thought you'd be happy."

Thor twitched.

"Happy?" he repeated, bewildered. And then a knife of realization went straight through him. "Happy to find you lying here like this?" he roared. "Happy that I came here too late?"

Loki laughed—the broken sound tore through Thor's soul. Loki found his eyes again with his own, and blinked. More tears, like ice water, trailed down Loki's face.

"Well," Loki breathed. "My mistake."

Tears blinded Thor. But he didn't dare take his hands away from his brother's, even to clear his vision.

Loki's trembling hand shifted. He pulled free of Thor's grasp and reached up toward Thor's face—Thor bent closer so he could reach. Loki's fingers found Thor's beard, and twisted through it, and held on.

"You know what I just thought of?" Loki murmured. Thor's face twisted, and he sucked in a desperate breath as pain began traveling through his chest.

"What?" he managed. Loki swallowed.

"Remember when we…Father gave us those wooden horses," he whispered. "And I crashed and fell down the stairs?"

Thor's splintered smile hurt. He nodded once.

"I do," he answered.

A jerk traveled through Loki's frame. Terror shot through Thor's. Loki's hand tightened on Thor's hand and his beard. His eyes shifted, and stared at something far off. His eyes went wide.

"Thor," he breathed.

"I am here," Thor assured him, taking hold of his shoulders. "I'm here, brother, I'm here—"

Loki choked in his throat, and more tears—heavy, hot tears—welled up in his eyes and spilled. He shakily scrabbled for Thor—his weak hands fumbled against his breastplate.

Thor instantly reached down, though his whole body shook, and wrapped his strong arms around Loki's shoulders and lifted him up.

With all his remaining strength, Loki grabbed Thor and pressed his face into his brother's chest. Thor clumsily wrapped him up in his arms, and laid the side of his head against Loki's.

"It's all right," Thor said, pulling him tighter. "It's all right. You're all right."

But it was not all right. Loki's weak arms encircled Thor's waist, and Thor bent painfully so he could keep hold of his brother's broken form. He felt Loki's struggle to breathe, the flutter of his hands, the iciness of his brow. Thor reached up and took a fistful of Loki's long, wolfish hair, as the panic in Loki's form rose and the strength left it.

"It's all right," Thor insisted, his tears scalding his cheeks. "It's all right."

Finally, Loki's shuddering calmed. He took three deep breaths. He pressed his cold forehead against Thor's throat.

"Is it?" Loki breathed. Thor nodded so Loki could feel it.

"Yes," Thor insisted.

Loki sighed. It was a deep, weighty, labored sound.

And then he went still.

Thor sucked in a sharp breath. It shredded his lungs. He sat there for a moment, frozen, Loki's motionless form in his arms.

Thor pulled back, and gazed down at his brother's face.

Loki's vibrant eyes were closed. A single tear trailed down his right cheek. His forehead was smooth, and his mouth formed a soft half smile.

Thor lay him back down, letting him slip out of his grasp and rest against the hard ground. He was utterly still—like a statue on a tomb.

He folded Loki's hands on his chest, then leaned down and pressed his forehead to those cold fingers, and sobbed.

They found him there, hours later—Tony and Cap. They called his name—he didn't answer. And when they saw him, they halted, and fell silent.

And finally, when Tony said something, Thor expected the words—but he didn't expect the gentleness with which they were spoken.

"He's dead?"

Thor rose up from his brother's body with a deep groan of anguish, and blinkingly searched the heavens. Then he bowed his head, hiding his face. He heard Cap come close up behind him, and felt him rest a gloved hand on the top of his head.

"This is my fault," Thor gritted, tears still flowing.

"No it isn't," Cap answered quietly. "Sometimes…stuff just happens."

Thor glanced up at the other two men—and saw in their eyes that moment that they knew what he felt. They understood.

Thor could not speak.

Tony drew in a deep breath, and raised his arm. A wrist communicator flipped open. Tony kept his eyes on Thor, then gazed down at Loki's quiet body.

"Nick? You hit him. He's gone."

Thor closed his eyes. His head buzzed. He couldn't hear every word of the conversation—he just understood that Tony was telling Fury what happened.

"Yeah," Tony's voice came back into clarity. "Now we need you to get down here and help us get this hunk of cement off of him."

"Wait, what?" Fury answered, his voice crackling over the communicator.

"Just what I said," Tony answered. "Where's Banner—maybe he can help."

"Wait—let me try to understand this," Fury shot back. "You want us to aid in the recovery of the body of the enemy before we try to clean up all the rest of this mess?"

"He's not the enemy, okay?" Tony answered, with far more force than necessary. He paused, and glanced at Thor and Cap. "He's Thor's little brother."

A long pause followed, and Thor wondered if the communication device had cut out.

But finally, Fury spoke—and his voice was quieter.

"Okay. We'll be right there."

Thor closed his eyes. Cap kept his hand where it was. Tony stepped closer. And Thor entwined his fingers with Loki's, and whispered:

"It's all right. I'm here. It's all right…"

As the smoke billowed higher, the silence filled the air, and Thor's baby brother lay still and white and peaceful, as if his big brother's calming words had lulled him to sleep.