Thank you to everyone who's read and reviewed! This is the final chapter. I really hope you've enjoyed the story!
Loki slept most of the twenty-fourth, as he had the previous day. He was still very tired, but he did feel a bit better than he had. The pain in his chest was not as intense, and he did not wake coughing as often. And when he was awake, for his medicine and to drink water-Dr. Banner had been making him drink a lot of water-he was not quite so lethargic. His mind felt clearer, and he was less shaky and weak. He still could not reach his magic, but he knew that he needed to be patient in that respect-exhaustion, injury, and illness of any sort were for him, the equivalent of the Midgardian Achilles Heel, for they made his magic weak or entirely inaccessible. But his powers always found their way back to him-he knew he just needed to wait.
The wait was made easier by Thor's presence. To Loki's secret delight, his brother stayed with him all day, even while he slept. He was very adamant that Loki get as much sleep as possible, even more so than the previous day. Loki was not about to argue-most of the time he still could not keep his eyes open. He supposed Thor was just worried about him, as usual. And if Loki sleeping would make Thor happy, then sleep Loki would. It was especially nice because Thor spent most of the day lying next to him, either napping himself or watching over Loki. Whenever Loki opened his eyes Thor would be there with a smile, asking how Loki was feeling, placing a steadying hand on his back when a coughing fit seized him, kissing his brow as he nodded off again. With Thor there to distract and comfort him, it was easier for Loki not to think about missing Christmas, so for someone who was recovering from pneumonia, he had all in all a very good day.
The next morning, the first thing Loki was aware of was Thor's thumb stroking his forehead. He lay there with his eyes closed, a smile curving on his lips.
"As the Midgardians say, Merry Christmas, brother."
The smile dissolved, and Loki decided right then and there that he was going to go straight back to sleep. How could Thor say something so insensitive as to remind him of the festivities he would be missing? Oh, because he was Thor. He was Loki's beloved protector and comforter, yes, but that did not change the fact that he was an insensitive oaf who rarely thought before he spoke.
Thor chuckled. "Open your eyes, Loki. I think you will find the action worthwhile."
Despite his resolve, Loki's confusion and curiosity got the better of him, and he opened his eyes, blinking away the sleep until Thor's face, a wide grin spread across it, came into view. But Thor was motioning past himself, and when Loki looked around the room, he realized exactly what his brother had been talking about.
His bedroom was covered from floor to ceiling in Christmas decorations. Stands of gold and silver tinsel ran the full length of the walls, from the top to the bottom. Holly leaves and berries and shiny spherical Christmas ornaments dangled from the many layers of tinsel, and tiny multi-colored lights twinkled at him from all sides. But the best part was the tree, standing all lit up and decorated just a few feet from the foot of his bed, and underneath it were mounds of boxes, all wrapped in different colors and patterns of paper.
Loki sat up slowly, gazing around him, lips parted in awe. He was not sure how long he sat there just staring, but it could very likely have been a full minute. Finally, Thor broke the silence.
"What do you think, brother? I would say Stark's silent robots did a very excellent job, don't you?"
Loki opened and closed his mouth, and then opened and closed his mouth again. Finally, he managed to stammer out,
"I...I...yes, it's beautiful. Oh Thor..."
He was saved from the tangling of his silver tongue by the opening of his bedroom door and the arrival of the rest of the team, all of whom greeted him with an enthusiastic "Merry Christmas, Loki!"
"Merry Christmas," he murmured, still not fully recovered from his awe at the new bedroom decor which had literally sprung up over night. He focused on Tony, whose robots Thor had said were responsible for the change.
"Stark...what is this?"
Tony grinned proudly. "What, you didn't really think we'd celebrate Christmas without you?"
"You're one of us now, Loki," said Steve with a warm smile. "It wasn't fair for you to be stuck in bed while the rest of us had a good time."
Loki looked around at his friends, ignoring what would have been the normally hilarious fact that they all still donned their nightclothes. "For once in my life, my silver tongue has truly been compromised. I do not know what to say, other than thank you, my friends."
"I know exactly what to say," said Tony with a smile, which he then threw meaningfully at Clint.
"Time for presents!" Clint plopped down on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. "Loki, Tony and I thought you'd sleep forever. The rest of these party-poopers made us wait until you woke up."
"It's like throwing a tennis ball and then holding back two Saint Bernards on leashes," said Bruce. He looked like he had done just that. Loki winced guilty.
"I am sorry."
"Don't worry about it." Bruce chuckled and then glanced at Clint, who had beaten Tony to opening the first gift and was currently tearing into a red-and-green-wrapped box with all the ferocity of a hawk tearing into a mouse. It did rather put a new perspective on the archer's nickname. "I think they've forgotten all about it by now."
"Okay...more arrows. Thanks, Tony..." Clint looked a little confused. Tony looked offended.
"Tsk, tsk, Legolas. You think I'd get you boring old, normal arrows? I designed these myself. They're heat-seeking."
Clint's expression completely changed. "Whoa. Dude. That's...that's pretty awesome. Thanks, man."
Natasha rolled her eyes at the sight of her boyfriend and Tony Stark brofisting. "Okay, someone else open a gift before I vomit."
And so began a morning full of giving, gratefulness, joy, and mounds and mounds of wrapping paper. Loki thoroughly enjoyed himself despite Thor and Bruce asking every five minutes if he felt tired. And he was more than pleased with the wonderfully thoughtful gifts his friends had gotten him. From Natasha, there was a wooden chess set. She shared his love of strategy and tactical planning, and she was the only person he had met on any of the Nine Realms who had ever beaten him at chess. But he had checkmated her just as many times, and now he foresaw many more intense and exciting games in the future. Clint and Bruce had combined their resources and gotten him the entire series of Harry Potter books, which they told him were stories about a boy who could do magic. He was very grateful for this gift-such large books would provide him with something to occupy his time while he had to remain in bed.
They tore paper and laughed and thanked one another until there was only one gift under the tree. It was a small, flat rectangular box, wrapped in gold paper and tied with a red ribbon.
"By process of elimination," Tony Stark searched the mental catalogue of gifts he had been keeping in his eidetic-memory-enriched mind, "that is Thor's gift to Loki."
Steve picked up the box, glanced at the label, and then turned accusing eyes upon Tony.
"You looked at the tag."
Tony put his hands in the air in surrender. "Believe what you want, I know the truth and the truth is that I am just really, really good."
Steve shook his head in frustrated affection and reached up to hand the gift to Thor, who had remained sitting on the bed next to Loki throughout the entire gift-opening process. Thor then handed the package to Loki.
"Merry Christmas, brother."
His voice was full of warmth and humility, but when Loki looked into his brother's eyes, he saw excited anticipation there. Thor was obviously very much looking forward to his reaction to the gift.
Loki tore back the delicate, gold foil paper and removed an oakwood box from the wrappings. On it was carved the ancient runes of their own language, the language of Asgard. The ever-curious Tony knelt beside the bed, peering at the markings.
"What do they mean? Some kind of Old Norse proverb?"
"Stark, allow my brother to finish opening his gift or I shall smite you with lightning."
"Ooo, I'm so scared. The giant thunderous teddy bear is going to bring the wrath down on me."
As Thor and Tony quarreled playfully, Loki ran his hand over the meticulously detailed carvings. He became aware that his fingers were trembling slightly, and when he spoke, his voice held the same, barely perceptible tremor.
"For my brother, my companion, and my dearest friend. May the sun shine always upon you and your endeavors, so that neither of us may ever have to walk in darkness. You have my love forever."
Loki turned shining eyes upon Thor, finding himself speechless for the second time that morning.
"Okay, I'm thinking definitely not a proverb." Tony's voice broke the silence. He sounded impressed.
"Thor...I do not...I do not know what to say. It is lovely." Loki swiped a forearm over his eyes to whisk away the tears that begun to fall. Thor quickly took Loki's hands in his own and pressed them.
"Do not weep, little brother, even if it be in joy-I fear you will aggravate your cough. Besides, this is just the box. The real gift is inside."
Of course. Loki had been too engrossed in the message-probably the most eloquent thing to ever arise of his brother's imagination-to even notice the clasps. He pulled them open now, and titled back the hinged lid of the box to reveal a set of six throwing knives. The blades were curved, much like his old set, but when he lifted one, he could see how much detail had been put into their craftsmanship. The weight was perfectly balanced, the grips indented to fit his slight fingers, and each blade was engraved with the mark of his helm, the same mark that graced Thor's vambraces.
For a moment, Loki felt breathless, but not in the same, panicky way that his coughing fits had brought upon him. This was a breathlessness of the best kind.
"Thor, these are beautiful," he said when he could manage it. "But they were not forged on Midgard. These are of dwarfish make." He studied Thor for confirmation. To his surprise, his brother's cheeks were pink. Thor was actually blushing.
"Aye. I had them made last year, the last time we were on Asgard, in hopes that one day I could give them to you as a gift and have them be truly loved and appreciated-for they are meant to be a token of love. If I had given them to you then, I fear you would have laughed in my face, or..." Thor trailed off, glancing at the sharpened blades. Loki saw his hand unconsciously drift to his lower left side, where Loki knew he still bore a scar resulting from the last time Loki had used his favorite knife from his old set.
Suddenly the depth of importance of the gift struck Loki. Thor had had the knives and box made while Loki had held nothing but the deepest of hatred for him. The eloquent inscription on the box had been an outpouring from Thor's heart, not of what he had felt at that moment, but of what he had felt in the past and desperately hoped to feel in the future. But Thor was not the frivolous type-he would not have ordered the knives be forged if he did not honestly think that someday he could give them to Loki, restored as a brother and a friend. Thor had had faith in him all along.
With a little sob, Loki suddenly flung his arms around Thor. He felt Thor jump a bit in surprise, but then wrap his big, muscular, loving arms around Loki's slight frame. Loki buried his face in his brother's shoulder, warm, salty tears soaking his shirt, and whispered,
"Don't you dare tell me not to cry."
"I won't," whispered Thor in return, rubbing his large hand up and down Loki's back. "I love you, Loki."
And somehow that meant more than all of the eloquent words in the world.
Their outpouring of love was interrupted by none other than Tony Stark whispering quite loudly,
"Can we give it to him now?"
"Wait! Can't you see they're having a moment?" That was a very reprimanding Steve.
Detaching himself from Thor and wiping his eyes, Loki turned rather embarrassedly to look at the rest of his friends.
"Give me what?"
"Your last gift." Tony grinned widely. He was bouncing like an excited puppy. Loki was a bit confused-he had thought that all Christmas presents were placed under the Christmas tree, and his little box of knives had been the last package that he could see.
"I couldn't hardly accept any more gifts. I am afraid I do not have anything for any of you. Not even you, Thor," he admitted sadly, turning to look back at his brother. Thor rested a hand on his shoulder.
"I have already told you Loki-to me, your recovery is more precious than any gift."
"Yeah, no one expects you to have gotten anything. You were sick," Bruce pointed out matter-of-factly.
"It's the giving part that makes our Christmas," said Steve with a smile.
"So you'll just have to get us twice as good gifts next year," Tony followed up. "Ow! Hey!" He rubbed his arm where Steve had smacked him.
"He's joking, Loki."
Loki smiled at his friends' antics. "Thank you all. I cannot express how grateful I am, for all of this..." He gestured to indicate the decorated room, the tree, the gifts, and his friends. All of them looked rather touched at his emotion, with the exception of, of course, Tony, who was bouncing even more now.
"You think you're grateful now? Wait 'til you see what Steve and I got you!" With that, he leapt to his feet and rushed out of the room.
"They got you a vanishing Iron Man. Best gift on the planet," said Clint dryly.
"How many Christmas cookies has he had this morning?" inquired Natasha.
"None. I was watching him," Bruce deadpanned. "I think this is just his built-in sugar high."
Tony soon returned baring an unwrapped, open-topped cardboard box. Loki squinted to try to see what was inside, but Tony saw him and reprimanded him.
"Uh-uh-uh. We're going to do this properly. Close your eyes."
Loki studied him curiously for a moment, but then obeyed.
"Now open your hands and put them on your lap."
Loki did so. There was a pause of several seconds, in which he heard some strange scratching noises and then the sound of the box being handed off, and then he felt something warm and small and furry being pressed into his hands. It felt almost like...could it be?
And then he heard it. That low, happy rumble, which he now knew was called a "purr". Loki's eyes shot open to behold a tiny black and white kitten, who was already nuzzling its way closer to him. He held out a finger, which the kitten sniffed hesitantly before rubbing its head affectionately against the extended appendage.
Loki finally tore his gaze from the adorable fluffball to look at Tony and Steve, both of whom were beaming widely.
"For me?" He sounded completely idiotic, he knew. Of course the kitten was for him. But all of the wonderful surprises that this Christmas morning had brought were quickly sapping his ability to be coherent. Fortunately, it appeared as though his friends understood.
"Yep, he's all yours!" announced Tony proudly. "He's litter box trained and everything. Just try not to lose him in my tower. It's kinda big and he's kinda...not."
"Did he come from that pet store we visited?" Loki inquired, unable to stop running his hands through the silky fur. Every time he went in for another stroke, the purring grew louder.
"No. He came from the humane society." At Loki's questioning look, Steve explained. "It's a place where abandoned dogs and cats are brought in, fixed up, and adopted out to new homes. It's sort of a place where animals who've had a rough time can get a new start. This little guy was the last of his family to get adopted. They didn't think anyone wanted him." He finished his explanation and watched Loki closely.
"No one wanted him?" Loki could not help but notice how familiar that story sounded. A little baby who no one wanted, left out in the cold to die. Almost unconsciously, he pulled the kitten closer to himself.
Steve shook his head. "Not until we came along, anyway. We thought he sounded like the perfect kitten for you."
"He does. He's absolutely perfect. Thank you both so much. My very own kitten!" He chuckled, holding the little thing next to his heart and feeling the purr spread throughout his body, almost like a second heartbeat. "You don't have to feel alone anymore, little kitten. You have a family now. And I love you already."
"Do not forget his Uncle Thor." Thor's rumbling laughter sounded as he reached out. "May I hold him?"
A little reluctantly, Loki handed the kitten to his brother. The entirety of the kitten's body fit in Thor's enormous hand, with room to spare. The kitten closed its eyes contentedly as the thunder god ran a huge finger down its back, before suddenly reaching out and swiping the unsuspecting Thor with its claws.
"You are a mischievous little thing, are you not? Yes, you and my brother will get along quite well." Thor chuckled, ignoring the fact that he was bleeding a little.
"I guess I'd better stock up on Band-Aids," said Tony, eyeing his own finger, still slightly mutilated from the previous day.
"You're even a trickster, just like me," said Loki, smiling and taking the kitten back into his own arms before it could do any more bodily harm to his brother. "That is what I shall call you. Trickster."
"A fitting name," boomed Thor.
"Welcome to the family, Trickster," said Steve.
"Yes," said Loki softly. He raised his eyes to meet Thor's, and they exchanged warm smiles. Suddenly, Loki was sure that, even if he had not been ill, there was no possible way he could have had a better first Christmas morning than this. He was surrounded by friends, people he belonged with, and that was something he had not felt in a long, long time. And Thor was at his side-his brother, who loved him more than all the worlds, just as Loki loved him back. He was home.
"Welcome home, Trickster," he whispered.