"LOOK AT THIS!" Thor screamed.

His voice was enough to shock Loki out of his berserker rage, like a slap in the face.

The anger, the fear, the resolve he had clung to so desperately these long, long months suddenly vanished. He felt directionless, lost . . . confused. What was happening? The voices in his head were screaming for him to ignore Thor, to fight back, to hold to his purpose . . .

But what was his purpose?

Loki felt his eyes, wide with confusion, drift away from the angry gaze of the god in front of him and lock on the chaos and destruction all around them. The air was filled with screams, smoke and gunfire from the mortals all swirling together.

He didn't feel pride in that moment. He didn't feel the satisfaction the voices were telling him he would feel.

He felt . . . horror.

Jotunheim all over again . . .

It was like waking from one nightmare into another.

"Look around you!" the Thunderer bellowed again. "You think this madness will end with your rule?!"

"It's too late!" he felt himself reply, noticing how his voice shook. Don't let him see, a voice thought desperately, don't let him see you waver. "It's too late to stop it!"

And he knew it was. Whatever damage he had done with the Tesseract was now irreparable.

I wanted to rule. I wanted to have a place to belong. But not like this . . . This . . . this is not worth it. This isn't what I wanted . . .

"No. We can. Together."

Thor's voice was gentle, encouraging. Loki looked back at the Asgardian with . . . hope? No, not hope, another voice whispered. He's going to betray you, just like he did on the Bifrost . . .

But I don't want this anymore . . .

You can't trust him!

But I don't – want – to do this!

You never had a choice! You know what will happen if you betray me . . .

"I . . . I can't, Thor," he said helplessly. His grip on the scepter was getting weaker, no longer fighting.

Don't let your guard down! He will kill you given half a chance!

"You MUST." Thor was easing his grip on Loki's throat, Mjolnir slowly lowering from his face.

"You don't understand," Loki said, having difficulty getting the words out. "You don't know . . . what you're asking me to do – "

"I am asking you to help save an innocent realm – to redeem yourself!"

"It's not that simple!" Loki howled. Did Thor have any idea who he was asking him to turn against? Did Thor know what HE would do to him – what he'd already done to him?

Loki did not want to go through with this . . . but he did not want to die a slow and painful death . . .

"Brother," Thor's hand was behind his neck now, forcing his gaze back to his.

Something recoiled inside him when he said that title. Loki wanted to rail and scream, deny he had any kinship with him since he abandoned him on the Bifrost. The words were nearly on his lips when he heard Thor's voice again.

"You have a chance to make this right – to prove yourself! You must help bring this war to an end!"

Prove himself . . .

Hadn't that been what this endeavor was all about? Proving himself a worthy ruler, a worthy being? Hadn't that been what Jotunheim was all about? But that had been a disaster, a scheme that had quickly spiraled out of his control; and now this . . .

Maybe, proving himself worthy could not come with war . . .

Thor was offering him a chance, a way out.

Loki was only barely aware of the way Thor had stepped away from him, watching him, giving him time to think.

Attack now! With the Thunderer dead your victory is assured! You will win the Earth, you will win me the Tesseract –

But I can't do this . . .

You have no choice!

That hateful voice stabbed at his mind, he could feel his resolve slipping, his awareness faltering –

"Loki?" Thor was worried. The Trickster could see him wavering in and out of focus as he wrestled with a consciousness not his own.

I don't want this . . .

Your will is nothing! Your will is mine!

He wanted to shut that voice up. To silence it forever. He knew it would hurt. But he didn't care.

He wanted to be free.

"The Scepter."

Thor looked at him, confused.

"The Scepter . . . it draws its powers from the Tesseract itself," Loki explained, dragging every word out as long as he could, in spite of the chaos around them. If he was to betray his master, he wanted to drag out the inevitable as long as possible. "It could be used to close the portal . . . stop the invasion."

"How?" Thor demanded, glancing aside at the scepter that lay slack in Loki's hands. Loki shook his head.

"I don't know," he admitted, fighting against an unseen force that was determined to shut his mouth, silence his voice . . . "Your mortal friend, Dr. Selvig, was devising a means to close the portal . . . a power cut-off, if you will . . ."

"You knew this? And you did nothing?" Thor seemed amazed.

Loki did not want to admit his misgivings about this invasion, not here, not in the open. Yes, he had known, but he had not stopped him. He thought that maybe it would be useful, if Thanos ever turned on him . . .

The pain was beginning, as he knew it would: a hard knot in his stomach that was quickly spreading outward.

They heard hurried footsteps behind them. Thor turned, but Loki could already see Agent Romanoff sprinting over the balcony towards them. She pulled up short when she saw the Trickster, disarmed with his back to the glass railing behind him.

Her hand strayed to her gun belt –

"Friend Romanoff, take your hand from your weapon," Thor warned. "My brother is not here to fight. Not any longer."

"Yeah? What do you call this then?" she demanded, gesturing out over the balcony at the Chitauri army still wreaking havoc on the streets of New York.

"You're wasting time!" Loki bit out. The pain was still slowly growing, and he was in no mood to fight with both Thor and the Black Widow. "Take the Scepter. It will-"

"Close the portal?" Romanoff cut him off. "Yeah, Selvig already told me. Set it down and push it over here. Slowly."

It amused Loki slightly that this mortal was still more concerned about him than about the army that was about to obliterate her word. Without another word, Loki dropped the weapon at his feet and shoved it over the concrete with his foot. Romanoff scooped it up and immediately turned and raced back for the flight of steps leading up to the roof.

Thor was watching him, like he wanted to say something. But Loki avoided his gaze, choosing to instead look over the destruction his would-be invasion was raining down on the city.

I did this . . . I chose this . . . it didn't have to end this way . . .

Overhead the Chitauri army was still coming, flooding out of the black hole in reality like a swarm of locusts, determined to decimate anything that lay in there path. He had been their leader. He had brought them here. The thought sickened him.

A true monster . . . just like Romanoff said . . .

Suddenly the stream of blue energy sputtered, then collapsed altogether as Agent Romanoff succeeded in closing the portal. The Leviathans that were only half through roared in agony, their huge bodies torn apart as reality righted itself again. The screams of rage from the foot soldiers below echoed up to them.

Loki looked back at Thor. He was smiling at him.

"Rest easy, brother. It's over."

"No," Loki murmured. "It's only just begun."

Thor once again had that ridiculously-bewildered look on his face.

"Loki-"

An explosion threw both of them off their feet. Loki flung himself to the side just as a group of Chitauri chariots roared overhead. Thor had avoided the blast easily, sidestepping and flinging Mjolnir towards the enemy. Two or three chariots were blown from the sky, but it was not enough to discourage them. Like a swarm of ants, the foot soldiers began crawling up the sides of the Tower.

Without warning Loki felt an insistent pull in his stomach, the same nauseating tug that always came with a black voice. At other times he would have been frightened, wary . . . but this time he welcomed it. He wanted one last chance to spit in his handler's face.

"What is this, little Princeling?" the hiss came, so close to his ear Loki swore the speaker was directly behind him. "Can it be possible you have turned against your master?"

"I am no one's slave," Loki bit out. He was dimly aware that he was kneeling, clutching his stomach, Thor looking on in concern.

He could practically feel the Other's fetid breath wash over his face; it made him sick.

"You seemed perfectly content with serving our ends when a world lay at your feet."

"I am not your lapdog, to be toyed with like a common criminal!"

"We had a bargain, Asgardian," the Other growled.

"And I am disavowing it," Loki spat back. "Find another way to lay claim to your toy, if you can. I'll have no further part in it."

There was a moment of silence in Loki's mind. In spite of his best efforts he felt a shiver of apprehension trace its way down his spine. The Other was angry . . .

"You are a fool, little Princeling." The sweet words held venom beneath. "Did you not take my warning seriously? Did I not say what was to come if you should betray us? You think you know pain? You think you have known suffering at our hands? We shall make certain that when we are through with you, you will curse the day you were born!"

Suddenly blinding pain erupted from within, the burning searing his blood, his bones. His head felt as if it was being split open, his limbs ripped from his body, knives plunging into his stomach, over and over and over –

That Norns-cursed geas . . .

"Loki!" He dimly saw Thor kneel beside him, desperately asking him what was wrong.

Loki could barely take in enough air just to stay conscious, let alone communicate. He was slowly being smothered, each breath harder than the last. But the worst was the burning. The fire in his veins was almost unbearable, scorching every nerve ending in his body until the slightest movement caused him agony.

"If that geas we placed on you does not kill you," he heard the Other hiss, as if his hand was the one plunging the knife into his stomach, "then your faithful followers will!"

"Go – to – Hel!" he managed.

"Loki! What's wrong?" Thor demanded, shaking Loki out of his trance. The movement caused excruciating pain in his stomach, and he felt Thor's hands snap back when he heard Loki cry out.

"Get away!" Loki gritted out, struggling to a half-kneeling position. "-Chitauri – are coming. Stop them -!"

No sooner had he spoken that, with a howl of rage, a score of Chitauri warriors threw themselves over the edge of the balcony. The air around them was suddenly a hail-fire of explosions and energy blasts. It seemed as if the entire alien army was swarming the Tower. Thor was desperately fending off their attackers, sending soldiers flailing back down to the streets of New York far below. Overhead there was the sound of gunshots as Agent Romanoff came under fire. A group of the blood-thirsty warriors sprang in front of Loki's path, hissing in their own foul tongue.

Loki grinned through the pain. Outnumbered, weaponless, and crippled – but he still had his magic.

A flash of green fire ripped through the soldiers in front of him, shattering armor and limbs alike. Dark purple blood splattered against the glass and concrete of the Tower.

No sooner had Loki disposed of his enemies when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw yet another foot soldier approach the God of Thunder, unnoticed, from behind. It raised its weapon –

Loki moved without even thinking. Ignoring the flaming pain in his limbs – and not knowing exactly why he was doing it – he flung himself between Thor and his attacker.

The bolt of energy from the weapon slammed into Loki's side, shattering his armor and flinging him bodily across the balcony. He grappled desperately until he caught hold of the iron railing and stopped his dangerous slide toward oblivion. He tried to ignore the bloody streak left behind on the concrete, marking his fall.

Rough hands jerked him away from the edge, pulling him towards safety. Biting his lip to prevent a scream of agony, he managed to stumble to his feet and push his rescuer away from him.

He wished the blow had been harder. If he was unconscious he couldn't feel all of this pain . . .

"Banner, no!"

Loki barely registered Thor's desperate scream before a huge green blur slammed into him with a roar of rage. Glass shattered behind his back as he was flung into the stone wall inside the tower. A sickening crack spoke of broken bones, the force snapping Loki's head back to slam into the crumbling remnants of crushed stone and steel.

He tasted blood in his mouth, his lungs feeling as if they'd been crushed in his chest. Through a dizzying haze, the Trickster saw the massive form of the Hulk stalk nearer, then stop, as if confused.

He never felt the next blow fall –

And suddenly there was no more pain.


Author's Note: This was an idea that came to me yesterday afternoon, and it was so intriguing that I thought I'd give it a whirl. This is my first attempt at writing AU fan fiction, so please bear with me. Anyways, what did you guys think? Should it continue? Please please leave reviews for me with your thoughts! I love reading what you all have to say!