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Breaking to Mend

Chapter Text

Today, they fought in a field of thriving grass and a vivid rainbow of flowers. Trees resembling Earth's weeping willows were scattered about, their long branches waving in the wind. Birds flew in the sky, calling to each other.

It was gorgeous. At least, it would've been if half the grass wasn't scorched, that wind wasn't blaster fire and magical kickback, and the birds were chattering instead of shrieking in terror.

"I thought we agreed to keep this place pretty!" Peter shouted. He was on the edge of the fighting, perched atop a boulder, using his Celestial abilities to take out soldiers from afar.

"I am Groot," the tree, now teetering on the verge of adulthood, confirmed indignantly.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Loki shot back, flinging out bursts of magic to blast back his opponents. "Next time, we just won't fight back."

The Guardians, a team of seven ever since the Infinity War, had been hired to chase a small army of invaders off the tribal lands of the planet Yrgow. They were hideous ash grey beings, with a third arm protruding from their chests that made it that much harder to deal a fatal blow. Their rock-hard skin didn't help, either. It wasn't impenetrable, but Gamora and even Drax had abandoned their swords and daggers to fight with blasters. They were effective enough, after a couple blows, and Groot's strategy of punching till they broke was sort of working, too; Rocket was perched on the tree's shoulder, firing at who he missed, and Mantis was guarding their backs.

But it was Loki and Peter that were doing the most damage. When Peter wasn't tearing them apart, he was flinging them at each other. Loki was blasting them apart, stabbing them with magical bolts when they were too close to a Guardian. It was perhaps the hardest the Asgardian prince had fought since Thanos.

"Loki's right!" Gamora chimed in, her tone part amused, mostly exasperated. "You can just regrow all of this."

Peter groaned. "I am half god, not half magical gardener!"

"Still debatable," Loki muttered.

"Shut it, you high and mighty Asgardian!"

Loki smirked, stabbing down into the neck of a soldier trying to punch his stomach. "I am high and mighty, aren't I?"

"Quill is currently higher than you are," Drax said.

"Ha!"

"The rock does not count."

A blaster shot suddenly took out an enemy sneaking up on Loki, startling the prince. "Focus, boys," Gamora rebuked, her stare pointed.

"Yes, Gamora," they both mumbled. God and demigod though they may be, the ex-assassin was quite capable of terrifying them both.

Loki returned his full attention to the swathe of grey beings in front of him. Forming a pair of glowing green dagger-like bolts, he began hacking through them. The easiest strategy, he'd found, was to chop off the middle hand and go for the kill while they were flailing in pain, but that was still a difficult task - a blow from their rock-hard skin felt like a blow from, well, a rock. It hurt. And they were skilled fighters who sometimes didn't seem to even register they were suddenly missing an appendage.

Val and Thor would've come in handy...

Well, they're not here, so make do.

It was a thought he'd been having more and more often lately. The Guardians visited Earth a couple times a year, and they called far more frequently, but it didn't change the fact that Loki had chosen to separate from his brother all but immediately after their reunion. He missed him. But he had joined the Guardians, on Peter's request, to prove that he could be good, both to himself and his doubters on Earth. If he had stayed - if he went back - he knew he wouldn't be as free as he was with a group of ex-criminals just like him.

And, if he was being honest with himself, he still didn't know if being amongst those who doubted his loyalties would shove him back to the dark side.

He was still hacking, nearly through to the raccoon, tree, and bug, when he heard Peter warn, "Loki, behind you!"

The prince spun, magical blades ready, only to freeze when he spotted the massive beast behind him. Its fur was matted and greasy, the same dark grey as its allies. It stalked towards him on six legs, its snarl showing off a mouthful of stained, devastatingly sharp teeth. A pair of fangs added to its menace, jutting down several inches below its lips. It had to weigh 500 pounds, at least, and towered over Loki. Aside from that, it looked kind of like a pug.

"Father's beard," Loki rasped. He flung the daggers at it, but the comparatively small weapons hardly scratched the creature. It rumbled deep in its chest, as if mocking the prince's attempt.

Laughter rolled through the remaining enemies. "You cannot defeat the Eviscerator!" they chanted in guttural Allspeak.

In response, Peter scooped up a group of them and tossed them into the creature's side. It just shook them off with an irritated growl. Drax ran at it with a battle cry, firing rapidly at one of its legs, but it just swatted him aside as he neared. He crashed to the ground, unmoving.

"Drax!" Mantis cried.

Loki slowly backed away from it, moving away from his teammates. Thankfully for them, it followed the prince. Squelching down panic, he started using both hands to form a magic sword. "I could use some help here, Star-Lord!"

"Working on it," Peter grunted. Loki didn't dare take his eyes from the beast. He tensed, readying himself to react to whatever Peter threw at it.

It came in the form of a boulder nearly the size of the beast's head, hurtling straight towards its face. The beast stopped, seeing it coming, but too late to dodge. The boulder smacked into its head and it yelped, stumbling. Knowing this was as dazed as it would get, Loki charged forward, plunging the sword deep into its chest. It yelped once more, shuddering.

Then it started to collapse.

Loki scrambled to run, but he knew it was pointless. If a fang didn't impale him, the beast's weight would crush him. He couldn't get out of the way fast enough.

Except, apparently he could.

Just as the beast came crashing down, something slammed into him from behind. He was sent sprawling, whacking into a tree a few yards away but otherwise fine. He lay there for a moment, gasping for air.

"PETER!"

Loki bolted upright, ignoring his ribs' protests. The enemies were fleeing, terrified by the death of their beast. Rocket was running to Drax, who was beginning to stir. Gamora, who had shouted, was sprinting towards the beast, Groot and Mantis on her tail. But it wasn't the beast they were running towards - it was the man half-crushed beneath its head. Using the tree for support, Loki hauled himself to his feet and moved to join them, helping Groot and Mantis shove the beast's head aside so Gamora could pull Peter free.

They moved quickly not out of fear for his life, but care for his wounds. Peter's Celestial powers came with immortality – this wouldn't be fatal. He had survived stab wounds, gunshots, flames, space, and massive falls in the last few years. So this wouldn't kill him literally, but the bones that must be broken must have been killing him figuratively, and the faster he was safe, the faster he could heal.

The married couple collapsed not far away, and the trio dropped the head. Loki shook drool off his hand, nose wrinkled in disgust. Groot headed off to help Rocket and Drax, while Mantis and Loki moved to Peter and Gamora.

His legs were so badly contorted, nausea hit even Loki at the sight of them. The left side of his chest and ribcage was caved in, that same arm severely dislocated at both shoulder and elbow. Loki didn't even want to look at that hand's fingers. His head and right arm seemed to have escaped significant damage. Gamora was kneeling beside him, guiding his right hand to a gaping hole in his right side, holding it out so Peter could heal the bleeding wound.

"S-something's wrong," Peter stammered, his eyes wide, breathing rapid and shallow. His white magic was flickering instead of glowing steadily.

"You can do this," Gamora urged. Mantis crouched by Peter's head, preparing to soothe his pain so he could focus. Loki stood beside her, bracing her against his leg, knowing the pain touching him would cause her. But this time was different.

Mantis shrieked in agony the very moment she touched him. Tears fell from her eyes. Jagged black lines formed, starting at her fingertips and spreading up her arms to her face. She was shaking, her mouth still wide but no sound coming out. Loki jerked her away from Peter and she went limp, gasping desperately. Dropping into a crouch of his own, fear for his friend beginning to pump his heart faster, Loki ran a diagnostic hand over Peter, green light swirling beneath it.

His magic touched the bloody wound. Agony ripped through Loki, burning and icy at the same time. The same black lines now fading from Mantis spread over him. He didn't know if he was screaming or not. His vision, too, was going black, but not the unconscious kind – everything, from the green grass to the blue sky to Peter's maroon coat, was just turning black.

It was Mantis's turn to yank him away. Weakened, they collapsed onto the grass, panting and staring at each other. Their gazes asked what their voices could not: What the hell was that?

"Mantis?" Drax exclaimed worriedly, hobbling across the field towards her. He carefully helped her sit up, glancing from her to Loki to their fallen leader. "What is wrong?"

Mantis shook her head. "I have never felt pain like that."

"L-loki," Peter rasped. "This isn't- I can't- I need-"

Loki pushed himself upright, leaning over Peter. His magic was still sputtering, but most of his wounds seemed to be healing: his legs and arm were straightening, his torso rounding out. But the hole in his side wasn't. In fact, it was turning black. Gamora looked up at Loki, obviously trying to look strong for Peter, but in her eyes was desperate terror.

Shaking off his lingering pain, Loki pushed Peter's coat aside and placed his hands on either side of the wound. Closing his eyes, Loki summoned every scrap of magic he possessed, and aimed it at the ever-blackening wound.

Loki's magic ricocheted off something like a wall, flooding the rest of Peter's body. His other injuries healed in a flash, but the wound remained untouched. Gritting his teeth, Loki pushed harder, straining to break through the barrier. He shoved with all of his might, blacking out the rest of the world to focus on this one task. Outside of Thor and Val, Peter was his first true friend in a long time, and Loki would not lose him-

Suddenly, he was being pushed away. His connection to Peter snapped, abruptly dropping Loki back into his own body. He fell into Groot's arms, too exhausted to hold himself up.

Gamora's hand was held out - she had pushed him. As Loki met her gaze, he saw her mask breaking, both of them realizing at the same time what she had just done.

"Did it-" she started, her voice breaking. Pausing to take a breath, she tried, "Can you-" But her voice failed, because she knew what Loki would say.

"It's too strong," Loki admitted in a faint whisper, guilt washing over him.

Peter picked that moment to laugh, the noise strained and half-groan. "Look at that. The immortal, dying before anyone else."

"No!" Gamora protested, reaching up to cup Peter's face. "No, you're going to be fine-"

"Gammy," Peter whispered, squeezing her hand as he let his magic fade away. "It's ok."

"But-"

Peter cupped the back of her head, guiding her down to him. Their lips met tenderly, and Loki and the others looked away. He cast a little spell, keeping their final words to each other private. He did the same for the others - crying Mantis, huddled in Drax's arms; Drax himself, squeezing Peter's shoulder for strength; trembling Groot; and Rocket, trying and miserably failing at keeping up his usual shell. Then a finger tapped his knee, and Peter's next words made Loki forget all about his magic.

"You're the best friend a guy could ever have," Peter said, voice raspy and agonized but truly sincere. "We had a great run, even if we had a rough start. I wouldn't trade these last few years for anything."

"You're my best friend, too," Loki told him quietly. And then, because guilt was eating him alive, he blurted, "I'm sorry, I wasn't good enough-"

"Hey! No," Peter stated. "This was my choice, and mine alone. Even if I knew it would kill me, I would've done it. You're worth dying for."

"No, I'm not," Loki murmured despondently. "All I do is-"

"Your best," Peter cut him off. "All you do is your best, and that's all anyone can do. Do you slip up occasionally? Yes. We all do, but that just means we're people. You're a good man, Loki, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise - you included."

Loki tried to smile, to say he believed his friend, but the words wouldn't come. And then Peter was coughing, choking, black lines edging over his face. He clutched Gamora in a death grip, and Loki and Mantis pressed their hands against him again, doing everything they could to ease his pain. Drax, Groot, and Rocket just looked on helplessly.

"I love you," Peter choked out, looking at Gamora. Then he swept his gaze around. "I love all of you."

His eyes landed on Loki.

And then he was gone.

Star-Lord, the immortal, their Peter Quill, was... dead.

Chapter Text

Peter got a Ravager funeral. They watched the gorgeous fireworks display from the Milano's bridge. Some formed the image of his Walkman, still beloved years after its destruction, and his Zune. Gamora stood front and center, tears on her cheeks, clutching that precious object as if that could bring Peter back. The other four stood around her, Drax's hand on her shoulder. Loki stood back, held back by guilt.

I took him from them.

Quietly, so the grieving Guardians wouldn't notice, he slipped away. His room was on the bottom deck, tucked away in a corner. It was tiny, half-filled by his bed alone, with a small nightstand and closet. A couple souvenirs of the past years sat on the nightstand, alongside a picture of Loki with Thor and Val and another of him with the Guardians, and a bag of art supplies sat below it, but his other possessions were practical - clothes, weapons, hair care objects, etc. On the wall opposite his bed was a round porthole, facing the wrong direction to view the fireworks; he sank onto his bed to stare listlessly out of it.

Peter was gone, and it was all his fault. Why should he enjoy the light show meant to honor him?

A knock sounded on his door. "Come," he called before he could think better of it.

Gamora stepped inside, her gaze falling on the group picture before shifting to him. "Why did you leave?"

"Why did you?" Loki countered.

She shrugged a little, looking down at the Zune as if it could give her an answer. "I just... couldn't."

Loki nodded in understanding, scooting to the side of his bed. Gamora shut the door and trudged over to sit beside him, joining him in staring out the window. "I know you muffled the others' conversations. How much... how much did you hear of ours?"

"Nothing after your kiss."

She nodded, fiddling with the headphone wires. "Peter... he told me something. Gave me one last order."

Loki looked at her curiously. "What order?"

She met his gaze, smiling wryly at him. "He told me to take care of you."

Loki huffed, looking away. "I don't need taking care of."

Gamora hesitated, then carefully laid a hand over his. "We all need that, Loki."

"Fine," he allowed. He pulled away. "But I don't deserve it."

"Yes, you do," Gamora insisted, putting her hand back on his. "Peter made his own choice, Loki. He was following through on the promise he made your brother, and none of us could have stopped him. Not you, not me, no one. Do not belittle his sacrifice by believing otherwise."

"But if I had just-"

"No! No what-ifs, Loki. It was the heat of the moment, and you did what you thought was right. You cannot change that. You cannot wish him back to life any more than I can wish Nebula back to life."

Loki dropped his gaze at the mention of her sister, memory washing over him.

"How do we do this?" Rogers asked the group assembled on the Milano.

"Together," Stark answered quietly, lifting his gaze to meet Rogers's.

The duo shared a small smile, hardly more than a quirk of the lips, bittersweet memories practically oozing from their eyes. Loki rolled his eyes – typical Midgardians, getting all sentimental rather than actually planning anything. But from behind him, he heard a muttered, "Ugh. Get me outta here."

He twisted around to see Gamora suppressing a smile as she hurriedly shushed her adopted sibling. Nebula just rolled her eyes. She spotted Loki watching, and her expression began twisting into an angry mask, but he flashed a smirk and said, "I know, right?"

Gamora pushed his shoulder, forcing him to turn back to the leaders, but not before he caught Nebula's surprised gaze. As he turned around to a scolding from his own responsible sibling, he heard boots scuff against the floor as Nebula edged closer to him. When he next looked at Gamora, she looked back with a faint smile on her face.

After that, Loki and the sisters stuck together as best they could. They even led the final charge, Loki using all of his magical prowess to distract Thanos while the sisters attacked. Afterwards, he and Gamora stumbled to their feet.

Nebula fell to the ground, broken and bleeding, cackling and grinning. "I win," she rasped. "I. Win."

Loki and Gamora exchanged a glance and ran to her side, but she was already gone, calm eyes looking to the stars. Loki reached out to comfort Gamora, and she was reaching for him too, and they ended up just leaning against each other, processing Nebula's demise and their newfound freedom in exhausted silence, until Thor and Peter came to them.

They did that now. Gamora leaned towards him, and he towards her, until they were supporting each other. There was no hugging, no holding hands, but this was enough for them. "That wasn't your fault," Loki murmured. "You couldn't have protected her from her own choice."

His own words reverberated back to him, so when she leaned back to look at him pointedly, he was already pursing his lips. "I hear it."

"Good," she said, almost managing to smile. "Do you get it, though?"

Do I?

He looked at the pictures on his nightstand, remembering when they had been taken.

A few weeks later, all of the battle's survivors were in the field by the compound, snacking and laughing and just enjoying each other's company. There were red-and-white checkered picnic blankets scattered around, topped by baskets of rolls and cookies and drinks and more. Loki sat towards the edge, one knee drawn to his chest, nibbling on some garlic bread as he absently watched Parker and Groot run around.

Thor left his spot by Quill and Drax to join him. "You seem troubled, brother."

Loki gave a one-shouldered shrug. "I'm thinking."

"Well, that's never good," Thor joked, settling beside him. "Mischief reigns when you have time alone."

"True," Loki agreed, unable to repress a smile. "I missed this."

"As did I," Thor said. He paused a moment, sweeping his gaze around the gathered heroes before resting it on Loki. "But you want to leave."

Loki ducked his head. "I wouldn't say that, exactly…"

"It's all right," Thor said gently, squeezing his shoulder. "I understand that you're not comfortable here."

Loki let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "I thought you would be-"

"I just want you to be happy," Thor interrupted. "Do I wish you could be at my side? Always. But I'd rather you be happy elsewhere than miserable here."

Tension eased from Loki's muscles, and he let himself lean into his brother's touch. "The only question is, where will I go?"

"Come with us."

Thor and Loki looked up to see Quill stepping towards them, dropping into a crouch to better speak to the brothers. Loki blinked. "You… you want me to go with you?"

Quill shrugged. "Why not?"

"Because I'm… me," Loki said.

He snorted, gesturing out at Gamora. "You see her, the woman I love more than life itself? She's probably killed more people than you have. Drax's hands are pretty damn bloody too, and Rocket and Groot ain't exactly saints. Mantis- well, she never exactly killed anyone, but she didn't stop Ego from killing anyone. Maybe not the same as the rest of us, but still. My adopted dad was a murdering, thieving space pirate. My biological father- let's just say that's a complicated story."

Loki smiled wryly. "I understand complicated family."

Quill returned the expression, chuckling a little. "My point is, you fit in. Deadly past? Check. Lots of people hate and distrust you? Check. Questionable motives on small things, but your heart's in the right place when it counts? Check. Massive ego? Check." Quill offered his hand. "Buddy, this team was practically made for you."

Still, Loki hesitated. "Are you sure?" he checked.

The hand stayed put; if anything, he stretched it closer to Loki. "Always." He tilted his head, considering. "Eh, mostly. Ok, I make a lot of questionable decisions, but this isn't one of them. The only one you're really gonna have to convince is Rocket, cause our spare room is full of his junk."

Val walked over then, bottle in hand, and lightly kicked Quill's hand. "Is this an arm-wrestling contest? Because that needs two participants, Loki."

Loki huffed. "I know how to arm wrestle-"

"Not very well," she remarked, taking a swig of drink.

"I can beat him well enough," Loki countered, pointing at Thor with a thumb.

"You cannot!" Thor protested, straightening in offense.

"Care to test that?" Loki challenged.

"Besides," Thor went on, looking away, "this is about Loki's future, not who's better at pushing hands onto tables."

"Ah," Val said, sobering up as much as possible considering she was probably already drunk. She dropped to the ground with an audible, painful thud. "Get out of here, Prince."

Loki hid a wince by pulling his other leg up. "Do you think that little of me?"

Val looked him right in the eye. "I think you're like me. You were a good son once, but tragedy snapped you out of it, and you fled. I needed my time on Sakaar, you needed your time as a conqueror. Then Thor here comes waltzing back into our lives and convinces us that we want to be heroes after all. I can do that here because none of my past is haunting me except in my own head. You, on the other hand…" She gestured around. "This is your villainous past. They don't fully trust you, and you know it. If you stay, you'll either drive yourself into the ground trying to prove them wrong, or you'll flip back to the dark side. So go. Prove to yourself that you can be hero somewhere else."

Thor nudged him. "What she said."

Loki glanced between them, his brother and his wife. Val softened, kneeling beside him and kissing his temple. "I already married you, Loki. I'll love you wherever you go, so go where you're happy."

Finally, Loki shook Quill's hand. "All right, I'll go with you."

"Wait," Quill exclaimed. "You two are married?"

"It was an impromptu, life-or-death scenario that I didn't get to witness," Thor muttered. "When you get back, you two are getting a real wedding."

"Does it involve food?" Quill checked.

The Asgardians burst out laughing. "You haven't known feasting until you've feasted at a royal Asgardian wedding," Thor said between bellows.

"Sweet," Quill said. He looked around. "Hey, Tony!" he called.

The billionaire, snuggled on a blanket with Pepper, looked up from his phone. "What?"

"Come take pictures of us," Quill requested. "We're about ready to go, and we're taking Loki with us. Time to commemorate the occasion."

"Aw, you're leaving?" Tony complained, disentangling himself from his fiancée and coming over to them. "So soon?"

Quill stood, nodding. "We've got a galaxy to take care of. Hey, Guardians! Get your butts over here." He pointed at the Asgardians. "Get them while I get the others. They're gonna want pretty- Yo, Groot, stop whacking my name twin!"

With arched eyebrows, Loki and the others watched him jog off to knock some sense into the tree. Val patted Loki on the back. "Have fun with that, sweetheart."

"Fatherhood," Tony muttered to himself. "All right, get in formation, you three."

Loki wrapped an arm around Val, pulling her in for a long kiss. Thor stood behind them, doing something amusing if Tony's laughter was anything to go by. When Val leaned back, there wasn't quite a smile on her face. "Just come back to us," she murmured.

"Whatever the princess orders," Loki half-teased. That made her laugh, which warmed him more than he could ever say.

"Take care of my baby brother, all right?" he heard Thor asking Quill.

Quill nodded. "Like he was my own," he promised.

Then Thor was lightly tugging Val aside, and suddenly Quill was there, throwing an arm over Loki's shoulders. His other was wrapped around Gamora, who leaned across him to say, "Welcome to the Guardians." Rocket stomped up to his side, half-dragging Groot with him, grumbling something about smiling. Mantis stepped up beside Gamora, Drax standing behind the two women.

It wasn't quite comfortable, not yet, but there was something comforting about the fact that no one was protesting his presence there. The smile he aimed at the camera wasn't quite the easy beam he'd had when joking with Val, but it was more genuine than anything he had managed around the Avengers. It gave him… hope. Hope that maybe with these people, he could find something.

And he did.

Loki picked up the Guardians shot, smiling at the picture and remembering all the lives he had helped save since then. There had been smiles, wide-eyed relief, tears of thanks, unexpected hugs. Mothers cried, hugging their living kids to them while pressing wet kisses to Loki's cheek. Kids offered up their most precious toys in thanks for safe parents. The special relief he felt when stopping by orphans they had rescued and seen rehomed to find the new families living happily.

Maybe he really had done some- a lot of good over the last few years.

And between the easy banter and easy contact and easy trust between them, Loki fit here. These people, this ship… they were safety. Family. Peter's music, Gamora's ability to flip from caretaker to assassin in a heartbeat, Drax's obnoxious laughter, Mantis's sweetness, Groot's monosyllabic nature, and Rocket's trails of junk… They were as familiar to him as Asgard had once been.

Gamora reached out to brush her finger over Peter, and Loki passed the picture to her, moving on to his Asgardian family. Tony had picked two shots for this digital frame: one with Loki and Val kissing, Thor holding "bunny ears" over their heads; and a second with the trio just laughing. Gods, he missed them, his two favorite warriors. On the Ark, before Thanos's attack, he'd grown used to Val's warmth beside him at night, and there was just something different about banter with the man you'd grown up beside for a thousand years.

"You're going home, aren't you?"

Slowly, Loki nodded. "I… I think so. Peter was right: My best is all I can do, and sometimes it's just not enough. After that, it's out of my hands. So if the humans never really trust me… so be it. My family is all that matters."

"Good," Gamora repeated. "Then my work here is done, hero."

Loki smiled. "Not so fast, Gamora. I'll stay for a while, until we're all…" Not better. That wasn't the word here. "…adjusted."

She nodded, a tear finally slipping from her eye. "Thank you."

Loki picked up his sketchbook from beneath his nightstand, and together they leaned back against the wall, flipping through the memories it contained.

Gamora didn't leave until the morning, unable to face a night alone in her and Peter's bed, but when she finally did, she paused in the doorway, looking at Loki over her shoulder. "And you should know… I'll never regret it. Stopping you trying to heal him. I adore that you were willing to die trying, but I'm glad you didn't."

-----

Despite his promise to stay, they flew immediately to Earth. They landed on the edge of Peter's hometown, and with Gamora in the lead, the duo made their way to his grandparents' house. Passing townspeople waved at them, the gestures faltering as they noticed Gamora's expression and the lack of a dancing human. By the time they reached Peter's street, neighbors were in their yards or on their porches or peeking out windows, phones often in their hands, and the happy waves of greeting had stopped. Gamora ducked her head, and Loki moved forward so their arms brushed, urging her gently forward.

When Peter's grandmother opened the door, her grin of greeting vanished in an instant. She sobbed into her hands. With trembling hands, holding back her own tears, Gamora held out Peter's backpack from the day he'd been abducted, now filled by his most precious possessions. She took it, hugging it against her. When Gamora and Loki turned to leave, she grabbed their hands and pulled them inside. She sat them on one of the small living room's maroon loveseats, summoned her husband, and asked for details.

They obliged, Loki picking up quietly whenever Gamora couldn't go on. He just finished with a quiet, "I'm sorry."

Peter's grandfather, tears streaming down his cheeks, reached for Gamora. "Come here, sweetie," he invited. She fell into the hug.

Loki expected Peter's grandmother to do the same, but she offered her arms to Loki. Gradually, he let himself accept the gesture, hiding his face in her shoulder as she patted his back. "Thank you," she said, "for being his friend. You meant the world to my boy. And know that you are always welcome in this home."

-----

When Loki finally set foot on Asgardian soil a few months later, this time with the intention of settling down, he was instantly swept into a three-way hug. He smiled wearily, leaning against Thor and tucking Val against him. "I'm home," he sighed. "I'm home."

Their grips tightened, Val stretching up to kiss his cheek. "Welcome home, brother," Thor said.

A tiny stone hit him in the shoulder, and he turned to see Groot lowering his arm while Rocket scolded him. "We do not throw rocks at friends! Much."

Loki just bent down, picked up the stone, and threw it back, clocking Groot square in the chest. Gamora rolled her eyes, smiling, and offered her hand to Loki. He was starting to reach for her when they both paused.

"It'll be a while before the rest of us are back here," Gamora said.

The corner of Loki's mouth twitched upwards. "No more Asgardian snark. I'm sure you'll miss that."

She gave a bittersweet chuckle. "If I need that, I just have to call."

Abruptly, they both leaned in for the hug, holding tight just this once. "I'm glad you're happy enough to go home," she murmured, "but remember you're welcome back any time, all right?"

Loki nodded. She kissed his cheek as she pulled away, and he caught her hand to kiss her knuckles. "I'll miss you," he said. Then he looked at the rest of the Guardians, lifting a hand to wave. "All of you."

Drax dipped his head, Rocket and Mantis waved, and Groot tackled him in a hug. Loki grunted from the force of it, patting Groot's head. "I am Groot."

"Yes, I'll call, I promise. Now go with the others."

Reluctantly, the tree disentangled himself and trudged away. Gamora smiled one more time before leading the team away, chin high and steps confident. Rocket scampered ahead to get the ship started, Mantis and Groot started racing each other, and Drax moved up to walk steadfastly beside Gamora. She said something that made him laugh.

Just before she stepped onto the ship, Gamora paused, looking back at Loki. "Remember," she called, "just do your best. And if they think you're not, just stab them."

Loki smirked as Thor made the cut-it-off gesture, hand chopping desperately in front of his throat. "Uh, no, he might take that literally-"

Gamora smirked back. "I know."

With that, she turned away, and Loki's smirk faded. As they disappeared onto the ship, Thor laid a hand on his shoulder, his face making a concerted effort to not look concerned, and Val took Loki's hand. "Are you certain you're ready to stay?" she checked.

Loki tore his gaze from the Milano, bending down to kiss the top of Val's head. He may be leaving another home, but this time, he could go back. And he was walking straight into the arms of the people who loved him most. "Yes," he assured them. "I'm here."

"Good!" Thor exclaimed brightly. "Then we have a wedding to plan."

"You just want to feast for days on end, don't you?"

Thor swept Val off her feet, ignoring her startled squeak and the way she reached instinctively for a dagger, and dropped her bridal style into Loki's arms. "Maybe!" he called as he started to prance away.

Loki glanced at Val's narrow-eyed expression. "We'll get him back later," he promised her.

"Excellent. In the meantime…" She snuggled deeper into his arms, pointing after the king. "Onward, steed!"

"That was one time," Loki muttered, even as he obliged happily.

"If you didn't want to be remembered for it, you shouldn't have done it."

"You made me!"

"You're my prince. I can't make you do anything."

"That is a lie and you know it."

"Yes I do."

Yeah, he thought contentedly, I'm home.