I am so sorry for the delay, FFN was being difficult... :(
So that's it, the last chapter. Thank you for sticking with this story and for all your lovely reviews and I hope the ending will be to your satisfaction. Yes, there were some problems alluded during the fic which are not resolved even after the last word of this story... That is because they were unplanned, I had the beginning and the very end of this fic written before all in between. But all of this (by "this" I mean Loki's relationship with pretty much anyone mentioned plus more) I am planning to deal with one day in another story - which will not be a sequel to this, but the relationships are more or less the same as in the beginning of this fanfic. (And by saying that, I'm forcing myself to try to really work on the story. :D )
This, this was his opportunity. Finally. But Thor never was very good with words and now he felt like his wits had left him altogether. He opened his mouth a few times without making a sound, wondering how to start. Then he pursed his lips in frustration and decided not to think about it and just talk.
"As I said before, I would like to get to know the real you. It was wrong of me to take you for granted, I did not pay you enough attention and before I knew it... You are not the boy I grew up with, you are a man with your own life and I hope you would let me be a part of it."
There was a period of silence before Loki realized Thor would not continue.
"That was all?" he scoffed resentfully so his bitter disappointment would be less apparent within it. "You hardly said anything that I did not hear you spout before."
"Yes, that was all," Thor agreed solemnly. He looked at Loki but the Trickster was not meeting his eyes. "Because I do not want to talk any more. This time I want to do something I should have done a long time ago: To get to know you, I want to listen."
This prompted a reaction from Loki as he finally looked at the older god, unguarded surprise in his eyes. And in that moment Loki he realized that while Thor might had not noticed the changes in Loki, the opposite was true as well. What had just left Thor's mouth... it was not something the boastful prince of Asgard from a few years ago could have ever said. They really did not know each other these days, stranded in the past where Loki was the tagalong little brother, hiding his jealousy and sense of unworthiness, and Thor was the boisterous golden son loved by everyone.
Loki looked straight ahead again, knowing Thor was still studying him expectantly, and gave the littlest of nods.
"But do not expect it to be so simple," he lifted his finger right after that. "If you think I will just... pour my heart out to you..." he snorted.
"No," Thor reassured him, "I know this... this will not be easy. But we can take it slow, we have all the time in the Nine Realms..."
"That is true," Loki agreed in a light tone, "which is why I think-" he paused; no, he was really not good at saying such things. He sighed and finished: "-I think I should get to know you better too."
It was Thor's turn to gape in surprise. Loki turned his face away, not certain what might show in it and not wanting his bro- Thor to see, just in case.
"Because we, w-we" (did he just stutter?) "both do not know each other well, it seems," he murmured. Looking back at the blond god and seeing such happiness, even as Thor could still hardly believe this was truly happening, Loki grew nervous and crossed his arms across his chest defensively: "So when this sentimental idea of yours fails, I will have acquired better knowledge of my enemy."
But Thor grinned and shrugged: "I will take my chances then." It was obvious he didn't take the threat seriously – and Loki found out he didn't care.
"Here already?" Hela asked and they both jumped a little, startled by her sudden appearance. They hadn't noticed noticed they had come so close to the wall already.
"It appears so, my daughter," Loki inclined his head, "we are ready to depart."
"Queen Hela," Thor bowed, "please accept my sincere thanks for your decision to return my soul back to life."
"No need to thank me," Hela dismissed his gratitude with an elegant wave of her hand and a small satisfied smile, "making the bargain with grandfather was a pleasure."
"You made a bargain with my father?" Thor exclaimed at the same time as Loki narrowed his eyes at her for the improper designation of the Allfather.
"Yes, a very useful one. Actually, you gave me the idea."
"I did?" Thor blinked in confusion while Loki's eyes shifted to him, keeping the same expression, silently piercing Thor with the look for spewing his stupid worries at others. Though, to be fair, it did turn out to be useful in the end.
"Yes. Odin is obliged to release my father from Valhalla if he ever finds himself in the golden hall," Hela explained shortly.
"Oh," Thor lifted his eyebrows in realization and then smiled. "I cannot argue about the usefulness of such a bargain."
"Well, can we go now?" Loki inquired impatiently, hoping to stop this conversation and where it might lead.
"Of course," Hela rolled her eyes at her father's attitude but then smiled sheepishly when she caught his unamused expression. "I will say my goodbyes now as this spell requires concentration." Her smile turned mischievous and then she hugged both brothers at once, each arm around one of them. Not to push her luck, she released them again quickly.
"Farewell, father, uncle," she then nodded curtly to each of them when she managed to make a more serious face. Loki opted not to comment on her behaviour and Thor, smiling happily, decided it to be a prudent course of action as well, lest he might by his enthusiasm lose what little progress he made with Loki today. So they both simply reciprocated with a slightly deeper bow and similarly polite goodbyes. Hela then made a few steps back and concentrated on her spell.
"When shall we meet?" Thor asked Loki in anticipation.
Loki huffed. "You want to decide it now?"
"Why not?" Thor shrugged. "Who knows when we will have an opportunity to do so later?"
"Very well..." Loki thought for a moment. "Saturday evening this week, at the corner of the 25th Street and 8th Avenue. I know of a nice teahouse nearby."
Thor caught himself before he managed to ruin it all by making a grimace. He did not like tea much but he knew – yes, he actually knew something about his brother – that it was Loki's preferred kind of beverage. "I will be there," he nodded.
"And I would prefer it if you did not bring your playmates. Your presence alone will be irritating enough."
Thor's face turned regretful but the feeling did not manage to engulf him. Irritating as he might be for Loki, he was still given a chance. "Of course," he agreed good-naturedly.
"Oh wipe that smile off your face, it makes you look even more like the idiot you are," Loki turned away from him with a stern expression but continued watching him from the corner of his eye. Thor made a believable impression of a kicked puppy when he heard the renewed hostility in Loki's voice.
Hela's face was now bathed in the light coming from her hands. She locked her eyes on them for a moment, her concentration not allowing her to roll her eyes this time at their banter. She sent the spell towards them in one swift move. As the two princes disappeared in a burst of light, a mock scowl found its way to her face. "I wish I could say you are going to be the death of me one day."
Tony contemplated going to his workshop, take his mind away from the current situation by tinkering with his unfinished projects, but he knew it wouldn't help. There was no way he'd be at this time able to concentrate on anything but the glass of scotch in his hand and their dead teammate three floors above.
The others were experiencing similar problems, sometimes making to get up and go somewhere else, do something. But they changed their mind every time. There was nothing to do. The most any of them did was sitting down on another piece of furniture than before after getting back from the bathroom. And that was probably mostly because they didn't bother to remember their previous place.
Steve was sitting on a chair, hunched forward, elbows on his knees, staring into a wall. Shadows were already getting longer and the white surface was bathed in bright orange and yellow hues as the sun rays streamed through the full wall windows. Not that Steve really paid attention to the vibrant colours which would any other time bring out the artist in him. Even if he were to draw or paint at the moment, he would manage with black and shades of grey. Yes, he was used to soldiers dying, even... even to his friends dying. But dead people meant no hope. Injured people on the other hand meant that hope was still possible. But a dead man who may or may not come back to life? It was not something he knew how to cope with.
Clint and Natasha were leaning on each other on a sofa, used to death just as Steve and therefore in a similar frame of mind. They were much less used to hoping, but they couldn't just give up on Thor. At the first glance they were looking calm, but Nat couldn't seem to stop playing with her knife which was a nervous habit as telling as if anyone else was pacing across the room, shaking with distress. Judging by Clint's frown, he was probably trying to ease his mind by imagining ways to make the younger dead god even deader. No-one could blame him as he was not the only one who discretely – though maybe less discretely than most – blamed Thor's death on Loki, details be damned.
Bruce was trying to meditate – there was no point in making the situation even worse by letting the Hulk go berserk – but he was periodically jerked out of it by Tony asking Jarvis about any new development.
"Jarvis, any news?" Tony piped up for about the tenth time in the last quarter of an hour.
"I'm afraid not, sir," the AI responded in a slightly mournful voice, "my sensors do not detect any vital signs of either of the Odinsons."
Stark snorted derisively. It was Thor's idea for Jarvis to call that little shit an Odinson, much to the dismay of the god in question and grudging acceptance of the rest of the Avengers. It wasn't like it hurt anyone (though it was debatable whether Loki upped his efforts to kill Thor after he found out) but at this moment, it was as if the name was mocking them.
Tony finished his glass and grabbed the bottle, realizing regretfully that it was empty as well. He felt a sudden surge of anger and had to stop himself before he smashed the glass on the floor. But that only reminded him of Thor and Tony fell back into the cushions, kneading his eyes with a thumb and an index finger. Then he quickly stood up, determined to fetch another bottle, and swayed dangerously. He didn't remember when he went past 'tipsy', but the stack of empty bottles on the coffee table told him it must have been quite some time ago.
"Tony, you shouldn't drink any more right now," Bruce chided him weakly when Tony's hand grabbed his shoulder for support.
"You think I can't take it?" Tony slurred a little and gripped the backrest of Steve's chair with his other hand to keep his balance.
"Yes, I think so," Bruce stood up and pushed his science buddy back into the armchair. "Just wait here, I'll bring you a glass of water. Anyone else wants anything?" he asked the rest before he went to the kitchen but they all shook their heads. He nodded and turned to go away when Jarvis' voice cut through the air:
"Sir, both Mr Thor and Mr Loki Odinsons just regained consciousness. Their pulse and breathing are strong and both seem to be in perfect health."
That prompted a reaction from everyone in the room and even Tony felt like he sobered up instantly.
Jarvis said both! Of course they were hoping that Thor would come back, but they were prepared for the worst. Well, this meant Loki and the subsequent wringing of his neck could wait, they decided in one wordless look and filed out of the room, destination Thor's floor.
They felt a slight tremor under their feet and Jarvis informed them dispassionately: "Mr Loki Odinson just demolished his cell."
Well, that was faster than usual, but Tony didn't have time to upgrade the cell much since the last time, so maybe not that much surprising.
"Doesn't matter, we'll get him another time," Steve decided quite needlessly as none of his teammates expressed the wish to go after Loki instead of Thor.
They weren't even halfway to Thor's room when a swirl of green smoke appeared before them, making them stop abruptly and assume defensive positions.
The God of Mischief stared them down but didn't seem to be planning an attack. It was an accusing look more than anything else. "If you ever allow that idiot to kill himself again," he said slowly, menacingly, "I will make sure you all follow him."
Okay, that wasn't anything they expected him to say. Or maybe Natasha did.
"Can I go to the Folk...thing instead," Tony wasn't able to keep his mouth shut, "with the Goddess of Beauty and stuff?"
"Straight to Hela, Stark." Considering his heritage, it wouldn't surprise them if Loki's voice could literally freeze their bones.
"Are you trying to hook me up with your dau-" Tony gave a little yelp as Natasha stomped hard on his foot, even her obviously not disliking Stark enough to allow his suicidal response.
"We will take care of him," Steve assured the god in his trademark honest tone.
Loki narrowed his eyes, as if contemplating trusting them on something so important.
"Brother?" a booming voice called from a not too far away and in a moment, Thor appeared from behind a corner, nearly slamming into his younger sibling in his speed. "Brother, here you are!"
The dark haired god nimbly got out of the way and with a brief irritated glance, he vanished.
"Hurray, our god is back," Tony went to clap Thor on the shoulder, "for a moment here I thought I'd have to start watching weather forecast again."
"I thought you have Jarvis for that," Bruce quirked an eyebrow.
"Yep, but Jarvis can't change the weather. Actually... I think I'm gonna-"
"Don't you dare mess with the weather Stark," Clint growled suspiciously but then grinned at Thor. "Good to see you again."
Thor nodded in thanks and accepted the warm welcome-backs from the rest of the team. But the main reason he was smiling was elsewhere. It did not escape his notice that for the first time, Loki neglected to follow with his part of the "ritual."
The stalemate was breached at last. Maybe it hadn't been so bad to die – this one time. It felt like a rebirth, quite literally. And with that, hopefully, also the rebirth of their relationship.
I'll be grateful if you write a review and tell me what you think. Tell me what you didn't like most importantly. Any weird phrasing? Plot holes? Anything that bothered you I'd like to know. Thank you!
And maybe we'll meet again with another story... :)