Author's Notes: And so it ends. Many, many thanks to all you readers for your reviews, comments, questions, and criticism! I hope you've enjoyed reading this tale as much as I've enjoyed writing it! See the endnotes about the possibility of a sequel!
"Jane!" Erik Selvig pulled Jane bodily from Thor's side as the men began to back away from Thor.
Thor stared at the airborne object as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing, then even as he held out his hand, he looked over his shoulder at Loki. To Loki's surprise, he looked almost sad.
Then Mjolnir fell into his grasp, and Loki was knocked off his feet along with the nearest mortals from the impact. Lightning sizzled through the air as the flashes blazed off the armor that reformed over his brother's limbs. Loki pulled himself upright next to Jane Foster, and heard her breathe, "Oh. My. God."
"Well, yes, literally," he pointed out. When the light faded, Thor was still looking at him. "So, that was quick."
Jane approached with her friends at her heels. "So is this how you usually look?"
"More or less," he told her with a smile.
"It's a good look," she declared, looking him up and down without shame.
"And he knows it," Loki muttered.
Thor glared at him, then turned to Coulson. "I gave you my word, son of Coul. You and I fight for the same cause: the protection of this world. From now on, you can count me as your ally, if you will let Loki go free, and if you will return the items you've taken from Jane."
"Borrowed," Coulson retorted. He considered Loki, Thor, and the humans, then informed Jane, "Of course you can have your equipment back. You're going to need it to continue your research."
"So is locking them up off the table now?" asked Darcy.
Thor smiled at her, but his eyes went back to Loki even as he addressed Coulson. "I said you had my word. If you wish me to stay, I will."
But the ravens called again, and Loki rolled his eyes. "Don't make oaths you can't keep. You know he won't allow it. In fact..." Sure enough, Huginn came swooping down over the mortals' heads and dropped a small scroll into Thor's hand.
"Ohh, wow," Selvig muttered.
Thor stared at the scroll but made no move to open it. Since when are you so reluctant to reclaim your station? Loki thought. Exasperated, he asked, "Shall I tell you what it says if you won't look? The Allfather can't bear having you away a moment longer and commands you return and take your place."
"Not likely, since I so recently wasn't prepared for that place," Thor retorted. With a sigh, he unrolled the parchment, but then he smiled. "And you're wrong. That's not what it says." He held it out.
Loki took it, and found that it contained not a message from the king, but from the queen:
Your brother deserves his freedom, Thor. He'll come home when he's ready.
What words passed between Thor and the others for the next few moments were almost drowned out by the buzzing in Loki's ears. "Why were you here?" asked the archer.
Thor was silent for long moments before answering. "To learn something." He turned sadly to Jane, Erik, and Darcy. "I had hoped to stay longer, to repay you for all you did."
Her voice rough, Jane replied, "You did." She gave a watery smile as he kissed her hand, then surprised Loki by leaning in to kiss Thor's cheek. "Will we see you again?"
"I hope so." Thor stepped away from her to Loki and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm going to miss you until you too come home."
Loki couldn't find anywhere to look without meeting the staring eyes of one of the humans unless he looked at the ground. "I've no convenient hammer to announce when I'm judged worthy again."
"You may not need anything so obvious. Am I not the one with no grasp of subtlety?" Thor asked blithely.
Loki laughed before he could stop himself. It hurt to laugh. "Then unsubtly give me your word you won't be standing over scrying mirrors or seeing wells peering down at me from Asgard."
Thor heaved a dramatic sigh, but gave him a nod. "Very well, I promise. But I reserve the right to ask Heimdall after you from time to time, at least to confirm you're all right."
"You should stay a little while," Thor said, releasing him. "Jane and Erik study the workings of the universe - their devices detected the Bifrost. That's how they discovered me. Your knowledge might be a better help to their work than I ever was."
"Perhaps briefly. But assuming I can evade your other friends, I'll find my own way in this realm," Loki said. Coulson's men were already dispersing, so it seemed they were in accord. Even without magic, Loki was confident he could escape them once their guard was down. Thor might regard some of these humans as learned, but Loki doubted their skills would impress him, and he wasn't keen on spending any length of time among a group who had already met Thor and would be all too eager to make comparisons.
They ended the discussion as the human trio rejoined them, and Jane's curvaceous friend gave them a saucy grin. "So, the genuine Thor and Loki from the Norse myths. I think you broke Erik's brain," she informed them, making Thor chuckle. The man did seem dumbfounded, still looking from one to the other. Darcy's eyes wandered over each of them, then she pronounced, "I hate to tell you, Thor, but even with all your thunder godly stuff back, I think your brother's cuter!"
Loki felt his mouth fall open. "Darcy!" Jane squeaked. A few of the humans laughed - even Coulson chuckled. Selvig groaned and slapped his forehead.
Thor just looked from Darcy to Loki and sputtered.
Collecting his wits from the shock, Loki smirked, "Perhaps I can be persuaded to stay after all."
Closing Note: This epilogue was originally going to be the same after-credits series as in the movie, with my own little AU twist, but I decided against it. The non-Thor movieverse canon will remain exactly the same, so there is still a Tesseract being poked and prodded by SHIELD, still Avengers being slowly assembled by SHIELD and Nick Fury and Phil Coulson.
As for what happens now that Loki is mortal and on Earth, and now that the Nine Realms still have an intact Bifrost and diplomacy in progress between Asgard and Jotunheim, well… perhaps if there is interest, this fic will have a sequel in the near-future.
IF there is interest, of course. *whistles, toes dirt innocently*
Why yes, that was a hint that you should let me know in your reviews! *wink*
In particular, I'm still waffling over whether or not to explore any ships in a sequel. Romance writing isn't my strongest suit, but if there's a lot of interest, I might be persuaded to give it a go. Arguments for and against both welcome! Shippers and gen fans, have at ye!