A/N: Thank you to reviewers Nuala Gale, EvilConcubine, Ynath Esrith, I'mAGeekNotANerd, THORKISUPPORT, LilaC LioN, ClintBarton-Loki'sButtWarmer, booknerdhere, jaquelinelittle, articwolfgirl347, Dazja, Mikkeneko, angrbodagiantess, KhaleesiOfMischief, ArainaHaldthin, Kurtgleelove, ShadowAbsol13, Enchanter, Insane Elvish Vampire Pirate And The Demented Hobbit Ninja, kakashidiot and mistyfoxmaid (aww!), my Fav'ers and Followers and everyone else who's read.
This is the last chapter. I know it's a rubbish anti-climax, and I fully intended for it to go on a while longer, but lately Reaching You has been extremely difficult to write. I was also going to start a new series around now, but to be honest with you, I kind of quit it before starting :/
Big thank you to all of you. You've given me squishy feels for almost 50 chapters, which is the longest fic I've managed to write so far.
There was silence at the table. Loki's tears were mercifully brief; regaining his composure, he wiped his face awkwardly and gave Thor an apologetic half-smile. His fingers sought Thor's hand under the tabletop.
'Don't apologise, brother.' Thor looked around at the others, taking in their expressions. 'Loki and I owe you much.'
'Yeah, well,' Hawkeye cleared his throat, 'What kind of people would we be if we didn't give a shit?'
In ones or twos, the occupants of Stark Tower went to bed. Lying in the dark with Loki close beside him, listening to his brother's soft breathing, Thor realised he was waiting. Waiting for the skies to open, for the All-Father to come and tear this peace away. How long, he wondered, until Father unearths Heimdall's deception? Until Loki's happiness is denied him once again?
'Brother?' he said aloud before he could stop himself, disturbing Loki's sleep.
'Hm?' Loki made a half-awake sound in his throat.
'I swear by every power, I will keep you safe and well.'
'I know,' Loki responded without opening his eyes. Shifting to a more comfortable position, he draped an arm over Thor's torso. Thor started to speak again, but Loki quietened him with, 'Sleep.'
Thor obliged. He woke in the morning to find Loki already up and about, showering to wash away the residual scent of Asgard. The thunderer continued to lie there, stifling a yawn and blinking in the sunshine from the windows. His fears seemed less concrete in the light of day, listening to J.A.R.V.I.S.'s reports that Mister Stark was cooking breakfast, and knowing that he and Loki were no longer alone.
'Brother, come here,' he heard Loki calling from the bathroom. Quickly jerking up from his doze, Thor dressed himself with a flare of magic and crackle of electricity, opened the bathroom door and stopped, aghast and bewildered.
'Loki, what are you doing?'
'I'm doing things right.' Loki was sitting with a towel wrapped around his shoulders and a pair of scissors in one hand. He held them out to Thor. 'I can't see round the back of my head. I don't trust anyone else with a blade near my neck.' Loki gathered the ends of his hair into one fistful and, with his other hand, indicated where he wanted Thor to cut. 'Please try to make it even.'
'But you prefer it the way it is. You always have.'
'Do you want me to be recognised the moment I set foot near a window?'
Lacking a rejoinder, Thor did what was asked of him. With each careful snip, a sheaf of dark hair was strewn on the floor. When the flat side of the cold metal accidentally brushed against Loki's little finger, the trickster shifted, tensing slightly. Thor paused to rub Loki's shoulder until he relaxed, then continued, cutting in a straight line across the nape of Loki's neck, concentrating hard. The end result wasn't perfect, but it was neater than before. Standing up, Loki briskly shook out the towel, brushed himself off and dried his hair.
'Nobody knows I'm here. And I'm not going to let anybody find out. Of course it'll happen sooner or later, but later is better. I've been thinking, if I were to go outside, I could not go with you, because you would be instantly recognised and, by extension, I too. So it would be better if I were accompanied by Doctor Banner or Captain Rogers, or if I went alone. Don't you think? I would be careful of course...'
Loki's spirits had visibly lifted, and the last thing Thor wanted was to bring them down again with words of caution; so he just smiled and showed his brother how to use a blow-dryer. Half an hour later, Loki was standing in the middle of the suite's lounge surrounded by various rejected items of Midgardian clothing borrowed from Stark, Banner and Rogers, wearing an innocuous T-shirt, jeans and socks, trying on a baseball cap to half-hide his hair.
'What do you think? Am I a convincing human?'
Thor looked him up and down, but as always, found it difficult to see anything but Loki.
'...You look well.'
'That's not what I asked.'
'It is true. There is colour in your skin and life in your eyes.'
Loki was quiet; finally he said, in a more sombre tone than before:
'I've never quite understood why they've been friends to me. Why they helped me after Thanos, why they sheltered me from you when you were angry, why they rescued me from S.H.I.E.L.D., why they offered to defend me from Odin. I still don't understand it. But it's good – having friends, I mean. I've never known such people before.'
'Neither have I.'
A week passed, and then other, before Loki finally set foot outside Stark Tower. Despite his previous show of optimism and confidence, it had taken him a long time to pluck up the courage to venture outside, even with Banner at his side. The relief of passing unrecognised in the street was not quite enough to overcome the sheer nerve-wracking tension of being out in public. The fruits of their venture were two shopping bags full of assorted groceries – purchased by Bruce while Loki hovered nervously out of sight between the aisles – and it was enough to give everybody a sense of accomplishment and pride. They'd made progress, of sorts.
After a mish-mash dinner of pizzas and curries, Natasha and Clint left together, while Bruce headed for his usual laboratory haunt. Loki briefly excused himself, ostensibly to find a book to read, but once he was out of the others' earshot he wandered closer to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he watched the sky over the city darken to a deep blue.
'Heimdall?' he murmured out loud to the darkness, 'I hope your eye is turned to me.' He paused, gathering the words together in his head. 'I suspect you've maintained your lie, and told my parents that things on Midgard will not be soon resolved, and Thor and I cannot be expected to return any time soon. I thank you for your help.' He paused. 'Home is where I am loved. Home is with Thor. If the All-Father wants to come down here and lambast me, he can feel free to do so, but nothing but my own free will incite me to return to Asgard. Tell him that, will you? When he sniffs you out, I mean. No hurry.' Uncrossing his legs, he started to rise, then hesitated and added, 'Give my love to my mother, will you? I'll think of her every moment until I see her again.'
Heading downstairs, he found his brother, Stark and Captain Rogers exactly as he had left them, talking and smiling. Thor looked as if the weight which had been resting on his shoulders for the last half-year had lifted.
'...Anyway, Loki,' Tony Stark's voice drew Loki back to reality. 'Personally I was going to opt for the giant McMansion off the Orange County coast, but according to Steve that'd draw too much attention. So instead, there's this sweet little two-bedroom bachelor pad over in Maui, and I have a few million sitting around ready to shell out for it. How does that sound? You like volcanoes? You'll be indebted to me for life, of course, seeing as how neither of you earn a single cent and would probably starve within the week without me, but I figure you guys could use your own place...Just for weekends, you know, when you want some alone-time...'
'It sounds pleasing.' Like a peek of a warm light through a wintry fog, Loki offered a smile.
One more thing: I'm thinking about opening the door to prompts. If there's something you want me to write (within reason), drop me a PM or review. If I get any, I might compile them into a single series if possible.
~ SneakWriter (and my awesome bestie/beta Bomber)