Thanos did not fear death and could easily meet it without the slightest hint of fear. But he refused to leave the land of the living by force, and not before he was ready. Loki closed his eyes, squeezed them shut so that he could not see a thing, his heart pounding hard and fast against his chest. He could feel the magic being disrupted by the titan, his plan to bury them straight in to the heart of a dying star collapsing. For whatever carefully crafted lies he told Banner about coming back, Loki would rather end his life with the certainty that Thanos was dead too.
The magic broke like electricity running through them both. They were thrown violently onto the rocky terrain of some planet hardly within the Nine Realms. Broken already, Loki bit his lip against a cry of pain and used his only good arm to drag himself across the ground, stopping short as a boot heel rested on the small of his back.
"My prince," Thanos said softly with a mocking tone. "Did you think you could escape life so easily, let alone drag me with you?"
Loki trembled, his breath coming hard as he rested his forehead on the rough ground. "It does not matter. I may not have been able to kill you, but what will you do now that we are stuck here?" He forced himself to look up at the titan, the man who had caused the most amount of pain in every way in such short amount of time. "I am nearly human, too fragile for you to hurt again. You have no apple for me now, and you've used most of your magic stop me from hurtling us into death. You're only option is to wait until your magic replenishes. I promise you, I will not wait for that moment." Red eyes hardened with resolution.
"He won't come back."
Frigga stood in Banner's lab, swaying slightly but she waved away the hand Thor offered her as he stepped closer.
"They tell me Loki had a plan," Thor said almost frantically through clenched teeth. "Where has he gone?"
"He won't come back," Frigga said again. She looks as though she might fly into a rage, anger building just below the surface. "Loki was to transport himself and Thanos to the edge of dying star. I was to use dark energy to bring him back, keeping a connection with the other half of the amulet." She held out Thor's broken necklace in the palm of her hand. "It would only fail if he wanted it to."
A gaping hole seemed to open in Tony's chest, a hollow ache. "You're telling me he didn't want to come back?"
Thor shook his head. "Something must have gone wrong. We may still get him back. All we need—"
"Dying star," Tony interrupted without a hint of emotion. "Black hole. We couldn't get to him fast enough."
They were pitched in to a moment of heavy silence. Thor's hands clenched, Tony's lay lifeless at his sides. The others watched him intently as if afraid he might disappear.
Stark took a breath that sounded as if he had forgotten to breathe and asked, "Is it finished?" His face was void of expression and he stared at Frigga as though she held the only answer that mattered. "It's finished right? He's dead."
Clint grabbed his arm suddenly and called his friend's name sharply as a reprimand.
Tony jerked his arm out of his grip. "That's what you're here for isn't it?" he snapped suddenly. Every bit of rage he had in him showed in the lines of his face. "We're here to make sure the world is safe—this world. We're just here to make sure that it doesn't get screwed up by things like Loki and Thanos. Tell me I'm wrong." The tone in his voice made it seem a threatening dare but his eyes were pleading.
Frigga watched him with a soft gaze that came with one who had seen too many acts of anger and hurt. "If anyone could survive it would be Loki." But the hands clenched over her stomach trembled and she looked as though she had trouble believing her own words.
Sif stood apart from them, sheathing her sword as she stared across the room and Thor. Her gaze travelled to Tony, to Frigga. A shiver suddenly ran down her spine and her blood ran cold. Her eyes went heavenward.
A sharp crack in the air and the the faint smell of decay brings Loki to look around sharply, watching the massive blade swing over his head. Thanos dodges and blood trickles down the side of his face. Resplendent in golden armor, Heimdall aims a thrust at the titan and drives him a precious few steps back from Loki.
The titan towered head and shoulders above the gods, but Heimdall's eyes were piercing and watched for the slightest movement. Thanos was a pugilist, just as capable of thinking as far ahead as Loki and just as fast as Heimdall. They both had centuries to master their skills, but Thanos had a tendency to dominate with brutality that Heimdall could not hope to match. Golden eyes flicked back to Loki and he knew that he could at least buy time.
Loki clenched his teeth and a rage built in his chest at his weakened state. With the broken necklace in hand, the god took a deep, steadying breath and sat with his legs folded neatly beneath him to focus with intense concentration.
Odin had limited his magic when he sent them to Earth, made it nearly impossible to find him in the nine realms. The amulet lent him enough magic to get them there, but he needed more for what he planned. Magic was left inside of him, the type that grew as he learned how to better control and subconsciously intertwined with his soul. Loki concentrated on finding it, on prying it apart from himself.
Thanos sensed the slightest shift in the air, electric blue eyes cutting across to Loki. It gave Heimdall the opportunity to aim his blade at the other's neck. The titan barely dodged the blow, a hairsbreadth away from near decapitation. He sneered slightly. "Move, gatekeeper," he ordered with voice so low as to almost be a growl. "You will not win."
Heimdall remained silent, tightening his grip on the handle of his sword. He knew his enemy, knew his skill and had compared in with his own. Feet planted firmly, the god was determined not to give any ground.
Loki shoved the sounds of battle to the back of his mind, refused to think of Thanos inching his way closer despite Heimdall's best defense. He breathed deeply and focused on digging every last bit of magic left in him, tearing it apart from his soul. And it felt as though his insides were being flayed but he kept at it. He traded the bits and pieces left of himself for the smallest bit of hope.
But the roar of rage and pain that escaped Heimdall cut through the trickster's heart and a violent shiver of fear ran down his spine. It gave him pause for a fraction of a second. Loki turned a quick glance to the battling pair to see that Thanos had the upper hand. Heimdall's dominant arm was bent at an awkward angle and the sword switched to his left. Though almost as skilled with his non-dominant hand, Heimdall was at a greater disadvantage. Even still, he kept himself as the only barrier between Loki and Thanos. It was suicidal and they all knew it. Thanos disarmed him in five moves, ripping the sword from his grip and delivering a kick to the other's knee to bring him to the ground with the soft crack of shattering bone. A disorienting right hook gives Thanos the opportunity to drive the blade in the vulnerable space between Heimdall's neck and armor. But he did not. Thanos stopped when Loki cried out in a plea, hands held up in surrender.
Heimdall spat blood as he stared almost passively at Thanos, the titan ignoring the open wound on the side of his face and the blood running down to stain his front. Thanos stepped away and looked at the god over his shoulder. "I will kill you when it is your life I care to take," he said with a small smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. "For now, stay where you are, Asgardian." Heimdall clenched his teeth against the weight of magic that held him on his knees.
Loki trembled and lowered his gaze as Thanos closed the distance between them, squeezing his eyes shut as a hand wraps around his throat and hauls him to his feet.
"Same tricks, Princeling?" Thanos asked with a rumbling laugh. "In only a moment my magic will be enough to leave here. Who will you stand with? These Asgardians left you to fall? In all that time not one has searched for you. I did as I promised I would, given you an army that rivaled Asgard's."
"I do not stand with Asgard," Loki choked out. "You and I are of a rare kind, excelling in magic and manipulation. Asgard with its golden gates could not keep me if I wanted it." He squeezed his eyes shut and his hands rested on the other's wrist. Blue and purple skin reminding them that they were the outcasts of the people they had grown with. Thanos loosened his grip from around Loki's neck only slightly and his breath was less strained. "You offered me a golden apple."
"And you burned it."
"It would have done no good. Idunn's apples may work for Asgardians but I am Loki of Jotunheim. Odin masked my true nature, but my immortality is inherent and my magic intertwined with it. I need only concentrate to access it myself." A golden green-tinted light emanated from him, shining so brightly Thanos narrowed his gaze. Loki felt the hand convulse around his neck but he felt a bittersweet satisfaction in knowing that he could do no harm now. "I traded myself, my immortality to send your soul to Hel."
Thanos roared in anger, black light radiating from his palm in an attempt to fight back. He was overpowered and unable to defeat Loki in this. Loki encased his hand in magic and ice to drive it through the titan's breastplate and pierce his heart. As Loki's magic fades, so does the light from Thanos' eyes and his soul left in one last exhale. The titan was no more than a body and Loki collapsed beneath the weight of it bearing down on him. As he pulled himself from beneath the body, Heimdall painstakingly got to his feet and bore his weight on his good leg. Dragging the sword with him, Loki closed the distance and hefted it as though it were made of lead. The gatekeeper used it to lean on.
"You gave up your immortality and with it your magic," Heimdall said as he glanced at Thanos' body. "That could not have been an easy thing for you."
"There was nothing for it," Loki replied with an expressionless mask on his face. His eyes seemed void of life. "There is residual magic still here. I can return you to Asgard."
"And where will you go, my prince?"
Loki turned red eyes on the god. "I am no prince, Heimdall—not of Asgard nor Jotunheim."
"Not in inherent rank but in action." Heimdall paused as if listening and his gaze pierced through the sky. "Is there enough of your magic left to bring us to earth?"
Loki hesitantly reached out and Heimdall's hand rested on his arm, careful of his Jotun skin. The trickster inhaled slowly and reached for the magic that still hummed in the air.
"I'm not going to drown myself in bottle shots and ice cream," Tony growled from between clenched teeth. "Stop following me around like I'm an invalid." He blinked rapidly as he eyes well with tears and turns on his heel to bury himself in a pile of machine parts.
Banner shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "Can you blame me for being worried? I want to make sure you're…coping alright."
"Thor has his mother and I've got no one is what you're saying."
"Everyone else is here for you but I'm the only one you're letting in. Tony….Tony, stop burying yourself in parts for one second."
"You want me to cope," Tony snapped as he dropped the parts with a deafening clamor. "This is me coping. I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to 'let go', I don't want to meditate and think of rainbows and butterfly." The engineer stopped with a sharp inhale. "I wanted him to stay and he didn't and now he's… so just let me do this. Please."
Taking his bottom lip between his teeth, Bruce looked down and shook his head. "I will let you take apart the entire tower and put it back together if that's what you need. But, Tony, I don't want you to lock yourself down here. Take a minute before you bury yourself in work."
"I don't want to take a minute." Tony slid to the floor and roughly massaged the back of his neck as he stared at the ground. "The last thing he said to me while we were alone was that he didn't want Thanos to hurt me. And I feel like this is all my fault. Maybe if I tried harder, if I didn't push, if I wasn't…me then maybe—"
"It's not your fault," Bruce cut in. "Loki knew what he was doing. And he did something good without thinking of himself."
Tony shook his head. "He didn't have to die for it." When he looked up at his friend, his eyes were red-rimmed. "When he first got here, when I used magic to save him, I got a glimpse into his mind. It was feelings at first and…snapshots, you know? Then I started getting these dreams and they were things I'd never seen before—nightmares. But I could piece them together and it was before New York. And then afterward when he….I didn't tell him. I didn't want him to know that I saw everything because I saw what pushed him over the edge and he hated himself for it. I just wanted him to move on, get better."
As he spoke, Bruce moved to sit beside him, a foot of space between. "Don't put everything on yourself, Tony."
"Yeah, what do I know?" Tony gave a hollow laugh and sniffed.
"You were hel—" Bruce was cut off abruptly as the Tower alarm system went off.
Tony threw up a video feed from the security cameras without thought or hesitation, a wave of his hand and screens came to life. Another pass of his hand and he goes through until he gets to one highlighted in red. The camera showed Loki holding on to someone unfamiliar to Bruce and Tony, the golden armor stained in blood. But Thor and Sif had gone immediately to the other, supporting him as Frigga went to Loki.
Bruce turned to the other, mouth open as word came to his tongue. But Tony was already sprinting to the elevator doors, hitting them with an open palm when they didn't open fast enough. When they opened the engineer nearly threw himself inside, Bruce having barely enough time to slip in after him.
Loki clung to Heimdall, each one supporting the other. His heart choked and stuttered in his chest as the magic tried to find a place to anchor itself. With his immortality gone, it found none and burned its way through his veins. Loki's hand went over his heart as he struggled for breath, his head spinning, and his hand shot out to hold himself upright. Everything was too warm on his skin, too warm in his lungs. Heimdall's weight was eased off of him and hands go to either side of his face.
"Loki, look at me," Frigga's voice cut in through racing thoughts.
Loki struggled to focus and brought his gaze to meet his mother's. But in her stare he saw red eyes, blue skin and an intricate pattern of scars on his skin. He looked down but could not help but lean against her, too weak to keep himself upright. He shifted his head slightly. "Please, bring me outside," he whispered quickly as he saw Thor draw close.
Frigga cast a glance at Thor and nodded once before she encased them in magic to transport them to the roof. And as soon as they were outside, Loki breathed easier but sank to his knees and carefully folded his hands on his lap. He looked up, eyes tired and asked, "Are you still my mother?"
Frigga went to her knees and held his hands, magic flowing her palms to quell the uncontrolled magic running through him and use it to mend broken bones. And though fear and doubt entered Loki's mind, she was unharmed at his touch. "Yes," she replied simply, a small sad smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. A hand went up to brush fingertips along his cheek and his skin turned to an Aesir's, the air a little more biting.
Loki held her other hand a little more firmly. "What do I do now? I've given everything—my magic, my immortality. I'm no better than a Midgardian."
"Your value is not in how long you will live or how powerful you are."
"But what use am I? Am I to go back to Asgard to be imprisoned or stay here and be watched every second of life I have left?"
"Loki, I am only glad to have you safe. For everything you have gone through, do you really fear you will still be punished?"
He looked at her for a second. "Yes. I…I'm scared, despite my greatest fear being gone. What else is left for me?"
Frigga embraced him, held him tight but she could not speak before the door to the roof was thrown open and footsteps hurried toward them.
Loki looked up sharply to see Tony running toward them, skidding to a stop and falling on his knees with less than a foot to spare. His hands hovered over Loki as if he couldn't decide whether to touch and where. A thousand questions tumbled from his lips in an endless succession and so quickly Loki had trouble keeping sentences straight. Frigga released him and rose to take a step back, Tony unconsciously filling the space she left.
"Anthony, please," Loki said in a pleading breath that was heavy with exhaustion.
Tony stopped midsentence and carefully touched the other's hand. He took a calming breath. "Are you ok?"
"I'm not sure if I can answer that." Loki looked up at his mother and she left them alone with a nod. "I traded everything I had to send Thanos' soul to Hel and now I am no more a god than you are. There is no use for me and I do not need protecting any longer."
"You're not a thing," Tony replied as he held the other's hand firmly. "There doesn't need to be a use for you."
"If I stayed, what punishment will there be for me?"
Tony sat back on his heels and exhale slowly. "You think…? There is no punishment. I mean, SHIELD will probably keep you monitored but we're all kind of being watched. No one is going to hurt you."
"I would prefer to stay here then," Loki said quietly as he fixed his gaze on a point above Tony's shoulder. "If I wouldn't be an imposition."
Tony snorted. "You're not bothering anybody. Why do you want to stay?"
Loki shifted his gaze to meet Tony's eye. "I suppose because I am selfish. I want to be with you even though there is nothing I can offer."
"So, be selfish." Tony cracked a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I want you to stay, Loki. I don't care if you have magic or not."
"I suppose I'll have to tell Thor so he may go back to Asgard." A beat. "Heimdall deserves my thanks. Without him, I would not have made it."
"I'll buy him a penthouse suite in Miami. Do you think he'd go for that?" Tony kissed him suddenly, a chaste kiss and a hand resting on the back of his neck. "I'm glad you made it back, Lokes," he said in a grateful breath.