Title: "Darkest Before Dawn 1/3"

Status: WIP

Fandom: The Avengers (Movie)

Pairing(s)/Character(s): Clint Barton/ Loki; minor OCs

Disclaimer: The Avengers belong to Marvel.

Rating: M

Genre: Dark - AU, post-movie, friends to lovers, H/C, angst

Warnings: unbeta'ed, major character death

Summary: The Avengers lose. Thanos wins. Loki claims a kingdom of his own. - In the end, we all come home.

Darkest Before Dawn

Victory tasted like wormwood. Bitter and choking.

For his unwilling service Loki had been spared. Alas, his promised kingdom would be a dead realm, for those mortals that had dared to oppose him, Thanos deemed he had every right to punish.

It started like the sun rising, golden and beautiful, though it was the shroud of death and destruction. It came from the void, torn to shreds by terrible power, flooding into this realm to ground it to nothing. Everything it touched fell apart in agony, was poisoned or twisted into shapes that would prowl Earth for centuries. Those pitiful beasts would seek their own death and fulfill the sweeter task of bringing it to others.

The mortals would not live long enough to see these horrors and yet they might have named their new world 'Hell'.

Stopping the onslaught of energy, this focused wave that would wipe everything clean from the surface of Midgard, was impossible.

Loki stood atop the ruin of Anthony Stark's tower, feeling the departure of billions of souls like claws ripping, for this was now his realm. His. A kings fate was to suffer with his land and people, a concept that had always been foreign to Thor, who had cherished the privileges, yet never the responsibilities.

How foolish, all of this.

The vanishing atmosphere was a great howl that tore at his tattered cape and nicked his armor. Everything weak was carried away into the dark hole that deformed the sky: a bird, a corpse, a building.

What madness.

It happened in Europe. In Asia. Swept away islands and continents. New York at its center would remain until last, though nothing good would come from surviving mere seconds longer than the rest of the world.

What waste.

Not one being was left that would trust him to speak truth, yet nothing else could tear his throat to pieces: He had never wanted this. Never.

A child cried. For its mother and father, for the pain in its tiny body. It was the only clear sound in all the chaos.

Panicking mortals cast each other aside and buildings crashed into the streets, showering all with steel and glass. The cries grew thin and wavered. They spoke to memories of fatherhood, once held dear that had turned to horror and been buried, tarnished with a pain that was too great to forget.

Impossible.

Everything lost...

Unless...

Unless Loki was willing to use his own life force to tip the scales.

XXX

"Dying to save what is left of mankind – he was truly mad," the Other hissed, watching from the great vessel as the raw essence of immortality clashed with the all devouring void.

Even here to behold was a ring like silver bells, shivering in each molecule like the sound of the universe, as one force bowed to the other. The feeling was... distasteful.

Thanos spared the luminescence flaring over the once blue planet a glance the Other could not decipher, for it was a rare sight.

"And yet he is glorious in death."

The Other said nothing, did not dare, for his master spoke with the longing he secretly feared.

What happened next surprised him, for it seemed like mercy. And yet, it was cruel punishment indeed.

XXX

The same sound heard on the bridge made its way through Clint's immobile body, startling him out of the complacent stupor the Chitauri kept him in. It was that or torture and they never even asked him a damn thing. Apparently he was the worthless one, so human, so fragile, so disgusting.

His body twitched in bottled-up hatred, but Clint had abandoned all hope of escape long ago – a day, a week, a month, a lifetime – and the movement only succeeded in tightening his bonds. The silver threads cut into his skin and turned crimson.

He was alone now.

He hadn't been, in the beginning.

Dr. Banner, Cap and Director Fury, they never even made it into captivity. Lucky them.

What they had done to Tasha Clint couldn't even guess, but she was tossed back into their cage looking wild-eyed and frantic, hands and heart fluttering. She had just toppled over and the next time he had been conscious, she was gone.

Stark they had kept elsewhere, but Clint had seen how they dragged him away. Nothing left of the cocky, joking billionaire, just empty eyes and saliva dripping from the corner of a slack mouth.

He had lost comrades before.

This was different.

He had shouted and cursed and cried. No one had cared. Clint hadn't expected them to.

Mindless panic tried to choke him. Needing a distraction his thoughts turned to Loki. God of Lies. Fellow puppet on Thanos' strings. Shield brother, of all things.

"It may well be our shared rage at being controlled that binds us thus."

"Never wanted to know your whole life story."

"I can imagine," Loki stated dryly, a whisper in the back of Clint's mind. "Neither did I. And yet – would you truly prefer to burn, chipped away by the Tesseract's magic, to become a hollow husk, like Selvig?"

"No. But let's make it equal, shall we?"

"Your story in exchange for mine?"

"Why not? I've got nothing to lose."

"... very well, Clinton Francis Barton."

He wondered if Loki had managed to escape or if Thanos had brought him to heel.

Maybe the mage had been killed for setting Natasha up to free Clint, done in the hope that it would give S.H.I.E.L.D an edge in the coming battle. Maybe he was tortured right now, sneering at the Chitauri even as they made him bleed, all regal and haughty, refusing to scream his throat raw.

Steps came closer, dull and heavy, interspersed with the clacking of claws on the glass-like ground. Clint closed his eyes, tried to brace himself. Lacking the power to move, he didn't even put up a token resistance when the Chitauri guard grabbed him and hauled him down the corridor.

Be safe, brother, he thought, as if Loki was still linked to his mind and Clint wondered if this was madness' early stage.

XXX

Loki woke to the sensation of each cell in his body pulsing in an agonized struggle to replenish his life force, with so few traces of magic to draw from that his existence nearly faltered. - And to the barrel of a gun, shoved into his face by a trembling police officer.

"Don't move!"

The man was wild-eyed. Sweat streamed down his plump face to mix with blood and the dust of fallen buildings, blond hair glittering with glass fragments and uniform torn. He was a tiny light in Loki's minds eye, jumbled thoughts and denial, fraying under the lack of orders to follow, overwhelmed by the chaos all around.

That was something Loki could work with and he took a deep breath through collapsed lungs and broken ribs.

"If you wish to kill me, Walter, do so now," he said, keeping his voice steady and gentle and his body still.

He looked past the weapon to the man that might just kill him in his weakened state. By all rights he should be dead by his own choosing.

Loki waited a moment. "No? Then do your duty, Officer. Get all the survivors into the bunker underneath Stark Tower. It will provide shelter and supplies. Take care of the wounded, stay inside and secure the entrance."

"I – you - "

"Will you do that, Officer?"

It seemed a small eternity to Loki, but Walter Stokes made up his mind; his hand shook as it snapped the gun's safety into place. He turned to look at the skyscraper behind him, reduced to ten floors but still standing, then his eyes flicked over the few dozen people left that wandered around in a daze.

"Yes," Walter said and ran off to do the bidding of a man he had never before seen. He didn't question it, not right then, because the world had just ended and he had civilians to protect. It seemed a better course of action than shooting himself.

Loki let go of the man's frantic thoughts, swallowed a mouthful of blood and sat up slowly. His bones snapped back into place as he moved to stand and took a look around.

It was a hopeless yet breathtaking sight that greeted him: half a mile of city stretched out in all directions in a clean-cut circle, encased by a no-man's-land of rubble with nothing beyond the abruptly ending streets but gray dust and earth.

With no animals left all was silent under a sky like a raw wound and the air was starting to turn stale.

Loki grimaced at the smell. "I need to make haste."

Paying no heed to the people around him, Loki bent down to pick up a stone that would suffice for his purpose; then collected three more. He used one of his knives to carve an intricate band of runes into the smooth surface, already hating how crude a method he had to fall back on to make this work.

XXX

The last cornerstone sank into the earth, its runes glowing as Loki chanted under his breath, weaving a spell made of sound and essence - emotion: devotion, desire: to protect, root: mine, anchor: blood, duration: to last.

The drain on his feeble resources made him stagger, but it did not matter, not with the evidence of his success burning in his veins. Loki felt the connection as the circle completed itself.

He had managed to erect a shield around what was left of New York, to trap the remaining atmosphere and protect his mortal charges from what was lying in wait beyond.

Loki stepped closer to the wavering green veil and gently ran his fingers over the barrier, eliciting silver sparks. He felt its humming vibration and reached into the underlying structure, testing its durability.

It was the end of a time consuming, delicate work, and Loki was tired.

"This is the best I can do for now."

He murmured the words to break the silence but then a sound registered, a high whine that made the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

Too late.

Thanos' power manifested itself as living darkness, trapping Loki like so often before, the force that tore apart souls without harming the body, the torture he had endured for ages after his fall through the void.

Now as then, Loki refused to scream.

TBC

R&R