It was Korg, amazingly, who spotted her.
"Thor, mate, isn't that your sister?"
"Oh dear," Loki said, staring out the glass. Sure enough, floating in the black of space, was Hela.
“She lives,” Heimdall said. “Though not for long like this.”
"Leave her," Valkyrie said.
Thor glared at her. Surely Hela surviving Asgard's destruction was a sign. Of what, he wasn't sure, but of something.
She probably shouldn't be left in space, not when they knew what she was capable of. Anyone could stumble upon her and think themselves a hero and then… he wasn’t sure how much worse than Ragnarok it could get, but he knew he didn’t want to find out.
"What?" Valkyrie rolled her eyes when he didn't look away. "You're far less intimidating without the eye, you know."
"Really?" He touched the edge of the patch where the skin was still tender. "I thought it was the opposite."
"Of course you did," Loki said.
"She's getting away," Korg said before Thor could respond. "So I guess we're just leaving her?"
"No, we're not."
"We should," Valkyrie said. Loki tilted his head like he kind of agreed with her but didn't want to admit it. Thor frowned at him.
"She's your sister."
"Is she? Or is she your sister?" He paused to let Thor consider the logistics. "Also, she tried to kill us."
"So have you."
Loki's jaw snapped shut at that and Thor felt the small burst of triumph that always came when he bested Loki. It grew even stronger when Loki scowled at him. Thor smiled back before turning to Korg. "Re-route the ship to get closer. Have the crew in bay seven find a way to bring her in."
"Right-o," Korg said, and left.
Loki waited a long moment before stepping into the space on Thor's blind side. Thor knew it was him even if he couldn't see. Quietly, Loki said, "Are you sure this is a good idea, brother?"
Out the window, Hela drifted unconscious through the black. Even from a growing distance, Thor could see the red stain of blood on her cheek. It reminded him of his own face after the battle, before Loki had magicked the pain away and cleaned the wound as best he could.
He turned, putting Loki at his back so he could look to where Heimdall stood silently in the corner. Thor waited for him to say something, to give any indication one way or another, but all Heimdall did was blink.
Thor turned back to the window. The view shifted as the ship gained speed, rushing to catch up to her. "We'll find out, won't we?"
There were logistical issues.
Thor hadn't thought it would be simple, bringing Hela aboard, no matter how unconscious she was, but he also hadn't truly thought of the spider web of questions that would crop up, like: where would she stay, and what would happen when she woke, and who would watch her in the interim, and how he would set about calming the angry mass of survivors who were outraged she was allowed on board in the first place.
"This is madness," Thor said, escaping to the antechamber they'd been using as a meeting room of sorts, him and the rest of the Revengers. And Heimdall. And Loki. Though Thor supposed they all six of them were Revengers of sorts. And Miek, too, if he wanted to join. Though Miek was rarely in the antechamber with the rest of them; he was supervising the kitchens. "Who knew they'd react this way?"
He’d meant it rhetorically, but nearly every hand in the room went up. Valkyrie laughed before going back to cleaning her nails with a dagger.
"Why didn't you say something?" Thor asked Heimdall.
"Would it have stopped you?"
"Yes," Thor said. "Probably."
"Alright, no," Thor said. Heimdall didn't react. Thor wanted to be annoyed but his ears were still ringing from everyone's complaints, each one louder than the last.
Across the room, Loki sighed loudly. "Did you at least find sufficient space for her?"
Thor nodded. That had been everyone's primary concern, though few offered suggestions beyond "back out the airlock" and "strapped to the hull." Thor would have loved it if just one person were here to offer constructive feedback instead of shouting or sighing or staring silently at him while clearly judging all his choices.
Loki raised his eyebrows, waiting.
What was it Rogers always said? In for a penny?
Thor took a deep breath. "I had them put her in the room adjoining mine." It was the safest option, the one where he could keep watch and she would be farther away from the masses.
Loki blinked. "The room adjoining yours is mine."
"Ah ha, it was the room adjoining mine." Loki was not laughing the way Thor was. "Now we're sharing."
"What." Loki's voice was like ice. Thor grinned at him, trying for his most endearing smile even though he knew it was for naught.
Blessedly, having Hela on board wasn't any different from not having her on board, provided Thor didn't account for all the people stopping him in the halls asking him if he was sure this was the right idea.
He didn’t remember this many people questioning Odin’s actions.
Not that he was hoping to follow in Odin’s footsteps. He hadn’t exactly been a paragon of leadership, what with all the secret and stolen children. Thor would learn to roll with this new, approachable rule he was being forced into if it meant not emulating Odin’s reign.
"Friends," he said, pushing his chair back from the table to stand. The noise in the room settled as people stopped eating to listen. "I know you are upset. This has been a frightening time for all of us. But I assure you, we are safe now, and Earth will provide us refuge."
Grumbling arose from the depths of the hall, spreading like wildfire. At their table, Loki set about cutting his ration of salted fish into perfect squares, pretending to ignore the commotion around him. Thor wished he would look up if only so he would have a friendly face to say this to. A friendly-ish face. A face he knew and could read, and that would know and read his own.
Thor took a deep breath and started again before the rumblings grew out of control. "It is true that we found our —"
"Your," Loki said without looking up. Thor ignored him.
"— sister among the stars. She was brought aboard and remains in custody." The rumblings grew louder as if everyone hadn't already known this to be the case. "I promise you, though she is unconscious, she is and will remain under the strongest watch. We would not put your lives in jeopardy."
At that, Loki's head snapped up. "We?"
"I know you are all upset, but I assure you, this was the right choice. In times of crisis, we must stick together. We cannot afford to turn on each other, cannot afford to turn away our own. And Hela is, unfortunately, one of us."
Loki looked away, making Thor realize he'd been staring directly at him. His thoughts stumbled; when he cleared his throat, it echoed through the room. Strangely, everyone had gone quiet. A sea of people was watching him, waiting. Thor felt the direness of their situation acutely, could read exhaustion and pain and sorrow on each of their faces.
"We will arrive at Earth soon enough. All will be well."
With that he sat again, reaching for his fork as the din rose around him.
"Quite a few promises you've made, brother," Loki said.
Thor shrugged. It was no more than the situation warranted. He could feel Loki watching him, knew without looking his eyes were narrowed.
Reaching for his fork, Thor reached over to spear a square of fish off Loki's plate. That, at least, got him to stop staring.
Heimdall shook his head before stepping aside to let Thor and Loki into the room.
Inside, Hela lay unconscious on the bed, her limbs bound by enchanted restraints.
"It was lucky the Grandmaster had those chains on board, wasn't it," Thor said. Neither Valkyrie nor Loki laughed, though Loki did make a face that made Thor laugh, so it was nearly the same. "Heimdall said there was no change."
It wasn't a question and Valkyrie didn't treat it as such. She hadn't looked up when they came in and they didn't look up now.
"Heimdall said he'd stay with her," Thor said. Korg had offered, too. All of them had. They were met with the same bone-chilling look Valkyrie leveled at him now. "You'll alert us if anything changes?"
"I don't need to know," Loki said. Thor elbowed him in the side. Valkyrie ignored them both in favor of cleaning her fingernails with a dagger.
"Alright then," Thor said, "good chat," and hustled Loki through the side door into his — their, now — quarters.
"What's with her?"
"Oh, she's not talking to me since we brought Hela aboard. Thinks it was a stupid and reckless decision."
"I can't imagine why she'd think that," Loki said.
Thor said nothing. He made for the basin in the corner so he could splash water on his face before falling into bed. He was exhausted and aching and certain everything would fall apart any moment now. Hopefully he could sleep for an hour or two before it did.
Thor stopped thumping his pillow into shape and looked up. "What?" Loki was in his blind spot so he had to turn all the way in order to see him standing there, shaking his head.
Loki sighed. "Am I honestly meant to share a bed with you?"
Thor didn't roll his eye, but only because it made the skin pull around his injured one. He flopped backwards onto the pillow instead. "I suppose you could sleep on the floor if you really wanted to."
Loki made a small, annoyed sound that reminded Thor of home so acutely it made the space between his ribs ache. There was no home anymore, no Asgard, no palace, no Odin. They had only this, only each other. He closed his eye against it, hoping sleep would take him quickly.
The bed shifted before that could happen. When Thor opened his eye, the room was black; Loki must have magicked the lights out entirely. He had to turn his head to see if he could make out the faint lines of Loki's face on the pillow next to his own. He couldn't.
The room was very quiet.
"I can't believe you gave my bed to our murderous sister," Loki said eventually, and the contempt in his voice made Thor laugh so hard that eventually, Loki started laughing too.
It was, for a short while, smooth sailing.
Valkyrie and the Hulk watched Hela in shifts; Heimdall never left his post at her door. At times, Thor would stop in, enduring Valkyrie’s stony silence or the Hulk’s complaining about the size of the rooms on board. Mostly he wandered the halls, making conversations with his people, listening to their woes and settling the kinds of disputes that cropped up when too many people were forced to share too small a space: if Sigrid had stolen Freya’s shawl or they were just suspiciously identical bits of cloth; if Arne was secreting more than his allotment of dried fruits into his pockets; if the time set for serving the mid-day meal was reasonable; if a mid-day meal was needed at all, or if the mere idea of one was wholly absurd.
At night he would fall into bed, exhausted, and listen to Loki recount the hours he’d spent ensuring the magic binding Hela to her quarters was sound, ensuring the magic he’d employed to cloak their ship now that Hela was on board was sound. There was something comforting in the drone of Loki’s voice; it reminded Thor of the days when he’d steal into Loki’s room after a hunting trip, intent on regaling him with tales of his heroics, only to fall asleep listening to the successes Loki had achieved in his absence.
“Of course, then the Hulk accused Heimdall of cheating and I considered shoving them both into a pocket dimension before the ship came apart at the seams.”
“That’s not true.” Thor cracked his eye open, turning his head. Loki slept every night on his blind side. “You made that up.”
“So you are listening,” Loki said.
“I’m awake,” Thor said, though his thoughts were sluggish.
“I knew that.” The tone of Loki’s voice made Thor feel centuries younger. If he closed his eye again, he might be able to trick himself into thinking they were back in the palace, in his gilded bed, someone waiting to bring them fruit and tea at a moment’s notice. “You’re not snoring.”
“I don’t snore.” Thor turned onto his side, frowning at the space he knew Loki to be, even if he couldn’t see him in the dark of their room. He could feel the shape of Loki there, knew him well enough to know where his knees would be, his ribs and elbows and other pointy bits.
Loki snorted. “Alright.” From the sound of it, he was already turned towards Thor. “The horrendous sound is coming from a bilgesnipe every night.”
“It’s a stowaway.” Thor aimed a punch at Loki’s chest that was blocked at the last second.
“Ah, yes.” Loki held tight to his wrist, pinning it to the bed between them. “That must be it.”
The last of its kind, Thor meant to say, only the words died before they left his throat. For a moment, Loki’s fingers tightened, as if he were remembering the same thing. He let go, curling in on himself, though he was still near enough that Thor’s fingertips brushed the front of his shirt.
“We’re nearly there,” Thor said, feeling the exhaustion in his bones.
Loki sighed. “Yes. Nearly.”
Thor fell asleep between one breath and the next.
Thor was in the kitchen, trying to convince one of the women in charge that all the dried fruits were equal and that none needed to be kept aside for special occasions.
“Your sister,” Valkyrie said. It was the first time she’d spoken to him since Hela was brought aboard and his brain was struggling to process everything.
“No, I got that. I just meant. What?”
She stared at him. He stared back. After a moment, she made a gesture like she was considering strangling him and seizing control of the entire ship. It wasn’t a bad plan, honestly. He wouldn’t blame her.
“You need to come with me,” she said, her jaw a hard line. Everything about her was hard lines. When they finally made it to Earth he was going to have to find a way to thank her for this. For everything, really, but for not murdering him or Hela these past few days specifically.
“It’s you,” Hela said when Thor entered her room.
He waved and then stopped when, across the room, Loki rolled his eyes. “Hello again.”
“You should have left me to die in space.”
“That’s what I said,” Loki said, making a face while Thor glared at him.
Hela was wan. He didn’t trust her not to be acting, but with her hands and ankles bound and without her horns she looked unwell. Weak.
“There’s soup if you’d like,” Thor said, gesturing to a bowl on a nearby table. He hoped it was for her and not Loki’s half-eaten lunch. Though if that were the case it would be alright.
“Will you untie me so I can feed myself?”
“No?” Behind him, he could hear Heimdall shifting. He cleared his throat and tried again. “No.”
“Then no,” she said and leaned back against the pillows. She was aiming for regal but it came across more like the mere act of holding her head up was too taxing.
“Alright,” Thor said, shrugging. There was no sense in arguing with her. “Do you need anything else?”
It was a foolish question. The only thing Hela was likely to want was her freedom. Fortunately, she did not bother to ask for that. He could only assume she was too proud to chance the rejection. He had only known her a short time, but in some ways she reminded him so strongly of Loki it was eerie.
Her resounding silence was answer enough.
Thor nodded once before turning on his heel. “You’ll summon me if anything changes?” he said to Heimdall and then left without waiting for an answer.
“I need a favor,” Thor said that night when the lights were out and Loki was close enough that Thor could have whispered and still been heard.
“What now? Is there another dead relative of ours floating in a nearby galaxy? One that might our journey even longer than it’s already been?”
“She wasn’t dead, that was the problem.”
Loki snorted softly and for a moment Thor thought he could see the glint of his teeth as he grinned at the ceiling. It was probably a trick of the light.
After a moment he nudged Thor’s side. “Go on then. Ask.”
“Watch her closely?” He could feel the bed dip with the sharpness of Loki’s inhale. Neither of them was pleased about this. “She is weak, anyone can see that, but she will grow stronger, and I trust you will recognize the changes as they come.”
“What of Valkyrie and Heimdall? Or the Hulk? You don’t trust them?”
“Loki.” Thor could not bring himself to speak the truth: that he trusted them well, but they were his sisters and brothers in arms. Valkyrie would not hesitate to kill Hela and the Hulk would hesitate too long. Loki was his true brother, the one he knew inside and out, for better or worse, and with that came the trust that Loki would know exactly what to do and when. “Please. Sit with her while I am sitting with our people. Watch her when I cannot.”
It was quiet for a long time. “Alright,” Loki said, so quietly Thor might not have heard it if their heads had not been tipped so close he could feel the ends of Loki’s hair splayed onto his pillow.
Thor reached across the space between them, finding Loki’s hand easily. “Thank you,” he said.
Loki made no sound, nor did he pull free of Thor’s grasp.
It did not take long for Hela’s presence to go from an expected but manageable worry to a constant nuisance.
“What?” he asked when he was summoned to her room for the sixth time since breakfast.
Loki was, as promised, sitting guard in Hela’s room. He looked as amused as Thor was annoyed.
“This room is boring,” Hela said. “I think you should let me roam the ship.”
Thor made a face. “Like on a leash?”
She was still bound and, Loki and Heimdall had assured him and everyone on the ship, far too weak to manage anything beyond sitting up. Heimdall was unsure if she’d ever recover fully.
“Of course not,” Hela said, sounding as if she thought Thor was an idiot.
“Oh. Then no.”
“Would you allow her to walk if she were on a leash?” Loki asked, and Thor knew he was only asking to rile Hela up. And possibly to rile Thor up as well.
“Probably not,” Thor said.
“Then what was the point of offering?” Hela asked.
“I was wondering how you’d meant, is all.” Thor shrugged. “If you wanted total freedom or —”
“Of course I would want total freedom,” she said. “Why would I want anything else?”
Thor considered it. “That’s a good point. Anyway, the answer’s no. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m meant to be helping the sewing circle mend blankets.”
There were too few people on board for pride about menial tasks and Thor knew it was important that he be seen helping everyone, that his approachability and helpfulness would go a longer way in gaining their trust and respect than sitting on a throne and leading by direction.
Still. It rankled to hear both Hela and Loki’s peals of laughter as he left.
“Is it true?” one of the younger Asgardians asked him in the hallway, several days after Hela had woken.
“Is what true?” There were rumors everywhere — that they were arriving at Earth in a few hours, that Thor was really Loki in disguise, that they weren’t heading to Earth at all and would be stuck on this ship indefinitely.
“That Prince Loki and…” the man swallowed, looking for all the world like he regretted asking, “your sister have aligned.”
“No,” Thor said, perhaps too quickly. “Loki is spending considerable time with Hela, yes, but that is at my request. Hela is weak still but Loki’s watch and his magic ensure we remain safe with her aboard. He’s our safety net.”
The man, whose name Thor knew he should know — there were so few of them left now, he should know everyone — nodded skeptically.
“And failing that,” Thor said, “Heimdall is with us. Should trouble arise, he will warn us, and we can send the troublemakers,” Thor made a popping noise with his mouth, “right out the airlock.”
The man stared at him, eyes wide.
“I’m kidding, of course.”
“Alright,” the man said. “Thank you, your majesty.”
“Oh, there’s no need for that,” Thor said, but it mattered none. The man backed a few steps away and then disappeared down a side corridor, leaving Thor alone for the first time all day.
He made a habit of dropping in on Hela even if she hadn’t summoned him. Especially in those instances. At times he was reminded of his mother, coming into the gardens to find Thor and Loki atop the highest ledge, preparing to jump to test their skills at flight. “I knew it was too quiet out here,” she’d said, lifting them down. “It’s always worst when it’s quiet.”
She’d said that quite a bit in their childhoods.
Thor thought it quite a bit now that Hela and Loki were together for hours every day.
Though Heimdall paid him no mind as he stepped around him to open the door to Hela’s quarters, Thor still braced himself for the worst. He hadn’t heard so much as a peep since breakfast, and it was nearing mid-afternoon.
“It’s been so quiet today,” he said, forcing himself to make light of it, “I hope no one’s died.”
Hela looked up, shocked, a spoonful of broth halfway to her mouth. Across the room, Loki paled.
“Loki,” he said, his voice going unnaturally high as he gestured to Hela’s unbound hands.
“It’s fine.” Loki looked at her quickly, like making eye contact would be worse than untying her hands and giving her a weapon. At least, Thor assumed anything was a weapon to Hela, even a soup bowl and spoon. “We have an understanding.”
“Oh, an understanding? I’m so relieved.”
Hela snorted and went back to eating. Loki stared at Thor, challenging. It felt like a test of wills and Thor wasn’t sure who he wanted to win. On one hand, being right would mean he won, and winning was always good. On the other, if Loki were actually nurturing Hela — Thor made a face as his thoughts turned uselessly, hopefully sentimental.
He reached for a nearby statuette shaped like the Grandmaster and threw it.
“Ow,” Loki said dully as it hit him in the chest and clattered to the floor. He hadn’t tried to dodge it at all. “I’m really here. I said I would be.”
“I know,” Thor said, though he hadn’t been sure, not entirely. “I just wanted to throw something at you.”
Loki rolled his eyes.
“Tie her back up when she’s finished eating.”
“Obviously,” Loki said as Thor turned to leave.
“You know, you are my least favorite brother,” Hela said to his back.
“Oh no,” Thor said, shoving down the tiniest hint of jealousy and keeping his voice perfectly flat as he opened the door. “How ever will I manage?”
That night, Thor watched as Loki readied for bed. He went through the same routine every night, combing his hair, folding his clothes. Folding Thor’s clothes instead of stepping over the piles Thor left on the floor. It wasn’t a long routine, but Thor still found comfort in its sameness.
“So it’s going well then?” Thor asked, startling Loki. Usually neither of them said much until the lights were off, and even then sleep usually came too quickly for conversation. “You and Hela.”
Loki made a face. “There is no me and Hela. I let her feed herself because she was going stir crazy not doing anything for herself and frankly, I resented having to feed her. Just because she hasn’t stabbed me with a spoon yet doesn’t mean it’s going well.”
“I’d say that’s exactly what it means,” Thor said, stretching on the bed.
“Or she’s biding her time.” Loki climbed into bed and waved his hand to turn off the lights without flipping the switch. “Don’t get your hopes up, Thor. Just because she’s too weak to do anything now doesn’t mean she’s had a change of heart.”
It could mean that, Thor wanted to argue, but he knew Loki was right. No matter how much Thor wished he weren’t. Things would be so much easier if Hela were a switch, flipped from dark to light in the blink of an eye. Evil off. Good on.
He had rescued her knowing all this, of course. It was only now that he was truly considering it though, days too late. It was possible he’d made a grave mistake.
“What would you have done?” he asked Loki. “About Hela. If you were king.”
“If I were king we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Asgard prospered during my rule.”
Thor could not find the words to counter that, even if it was a deliberately narrow memory of Loki’s reign. He rubbed the space underneath his eyepatch, where the skin still itched terribly. Perhaps he should start taking the patch off to sleep. Another thing he hadn’t given enough thought until it was too late.
“I don’t know,” Loki said, surprising Thor. He’d been so quiet Thor had thought he’d fallen asleep. “Not this.”
Thor snorted. “Of course not. Only a fool would bring Hela aboard.”
“Well, you’re a better person than I am,” Loki said. He did not, Thor noticed, say Thor was not a fool. “You’re a better person than anyone, most days. That’s what makes you a good king. Most days.”
“Loki.” Thor reached for him, finding Loki’s arm in the darkness. He wished, briefly, that he had the powers to switch the lights without leaving the bed. It would be nice to see Loki’s eyes now, to look him head-on and hope his face could convey what his mouth could not.
“Don’t get dramatic about it,” Loki said, even as he laid his hand on top of Thor’s. “It’s only most days. And you were a fool to save her. To what end, Thor? Am I meant to be her jailkeeper forever?”
Thor had no response to that. It was just another thing to add to the list of things he had not considered.
Reports that Hela was staging an uprising spread quickly through the ship.
“Did she print pamphlets?” Korg asked. “Because I didn’t see any, and if she wants any shot at success she’s going to need pamphlets.”
“I hope not,” Thor said, before fleeing the bridge, regret and dread mounting with every step.
When he made it to Hela’s room, Heimdall was standing at the door. “How bad is it?”
“It’s good you came so quickly,” Heimdall said, stepping aside to let Thor in. It was only after he entered the room that he realized Heimdall was probably making fun of how out of breath Thor was, and not commenting on the brewing crisis.
“What’s going on? What are you doing?” Thor asked before taking stock of the room and finding only Loki, Hela, and a young girl holding a tray that presumably had borne their suppers. “Who are you?”
“My name is Mackenzie,” the girl said. “Please.” She sounded near tears.
“Go,” he told her, motioning to the door.
She curtseyed to him before she fled, keeping her head down and taking the empty tray with her. Valkyrie entered the room in her place, less out of breath than Thor but looking no less harried. Clearly news was traveling.
“What are you doing?” she asked, just as Thor said, “Why are people coming to me with news of an uprising?”
Hela shrugged one shoulder regally. “I wanted something different.”
Thor had been asking Loki, though, for it was Loki who was sat opposite Hela at the small table, the two of them looking as friendly as two prickly beasts could look.
“In her defense, we did request dried beef for our meal, and this appears to be more of that dreadful yak from two days ago.” Loki poked at the lump on his plate with his fork before turning up his nose.
In her defense. Norns, Thor wanted to smack him.
Valkyrie did smack him. Hard, apparently. “I leave you alone for five minutes and you take a hostage?”
“She wasn’t technically a hostage,” Loki said. “She could have left at any time.”
“Then why didn’t she?”
“How am I meant to know?”
Thor rolled his eyes. He would kill the both of them later. Or let Valkyrie do it; she’d be successful at making it look like an accident.
“Don’t do it again,” he said, pointing at the both of them. From her usual post in the corner, Valkyrie shook her head. Thor had a distinct feeling it was him she was disappointed in, though, not the hostage-takers. It was unfair.
“Ugh,” Hela said, rolling her eyes dramatically. “This place is so boring.”
Thor turned before she could see the way he had to fight back a laugh. It wasn’t funny. None of this was funny.
It was Loki who brought it up that night. He waited until Thor was on the very edge of sleep to turn on his side, curling close like he had when they were young and sneaking into each other’s rooms to avoid sleep.
“Do you honestly believe Earth will have us?”
It had taken far longer than originally expected to make the trip, but the navigation system was showing they’d be arriving in just under three days. Everyone on board was growing restless with anticipation and clearly Loki was no exception.
Thor kept his back to Loki to preserve the quiet and because it was easier to tell the truth to the air than to Loki’s face. “I hope so. It… depends.”
“Lots of things.” There was no one thing. That was the problem. Humans could be kind and they could be horrid; he’d seen both in turn. They would only find out how it would go once they were there.
Loki hummed. He was close enough that Thor could feel his breath warm on the back of his neck. Could feel the tension in his muscles even though they weren’t touching. He was just as worried as Thor.
“She’s charmed you,” he said, because it was true.
Loki punched him in the small of his back. “She has not.”
His vehement denial made Thor laugh, which made Loki hit him again, harder still.
“Stop,” Thor said, reaching back to block the next blow, Loki’s hand hitting his palm instead of his spine. “I didn’t say it was a bad thing.”
“In what realm would it be a good thing?”
“Brother.” Thor didn’t know what he was meant to say after that. Loki was not wrong, nor was he right. It was a tricky situation. What Darcy would have called a pickle. Thor smiled to himself; it had been ages since he thought of her.
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The only way out was through.
“I suppose,” he said carefully, Loki’s fist still in his lest he resume the fight, “we should see how she fairs around people. People other than poor Mackenzie.”
Loki inhaled sharply. “You can’t be serious.”
“What, you expect us to loose her for the first time on Midgard? After the last time we were all there?”
“I didn’t expect us to loose her at all,” Loki said, though the tone of his voice implied he hadn’t really thought of it at all. “Though I suppose a trial run leaves us one last chance to… dispose of her, should the need arise.”
Thor laughed outright at that, even if it had been exactly his reasoning. “Don’t let Valkyrie hear you say that, all Hela will have to do is sneeze and she’ll be gone.”
He could feel it when Loki laughed, the bed shaking with it, and for a moment Thor let himself believe that everything might actually work out.
Thor left it up to Loki to introduce Hela to the ship. It was cowardly, perhaps, but she liked Loki more than she liked him — or at least, tolerated him better — and he hoped that would make her more agreeable.
That was the real reason it was a surprise when they appeared in the room that had been repurposed as a training space while Thor was in the middle of sparring with Valkyrie.
“Shit,” Thor said as Valkyrie’s foot connected with his gut and he went skittering across the floor. By the time he landed, she had her forearm on his throat. “Time out. I yield. Ow.” He slapped his palm on the floor.
Across the room, Loki clapped condescendingly.
“Do you want next?” Valkyrie asked. She’d barely broken a sweat and they’d been in here nearly an hour. “I’m happy to let this one sit out a round.”
“I’m fine,” Thor said, his voice rough from his larynx being crushed. “Just give me a second. I’m staging a comeback.”
“Alright.” She rolled her eyes at him, but he thought he saw the hint of a smile there, too. She’d been the one to insist he needed to train, to learn how to accommodate his blind spot and how to manage without Mjolnir.
At least she was talking to him again. That was good progress. Getting the opportunity to beat him up was clearly helping.
“Hello, Hela,” he said. “Glad to see you out and about finally.”
She stared at him as he climbed to his feet. Loki nudged her until she walked over to a low bench along the wall. Her hands were still bound, Thor noticed. He wondered if Loki planned to give her full freedom at any point, or if he already had and she’d had it revoked.
The rush of air behind him was the only warning he had that Valkyrie was launching her next attack.
“Pathetic,” he heard distantly. “What would Odin say?”
“Odin never observed training,” Thor said, parrying Valkyrie’s blow and landing a clean one on her jaw. “Said he would see us tested on the battlefield and not a moment before then.”
“How sad,” Hela said. “He taught me everything he knew.”
“Yeah?” Valkyrie aimed a kick at Thor’s knee. “How’d that work out for you?”
“Well enough for several centuries.” Hela paused. “You should know.”
Thor only caught Valkyrie at the last second. “Don’t.”
She’d produced a blade from… somewhere. Thor was equal parts horrified and intrigued. He pulled on her arm. Across the room, Loki had magicked chains onto Hela’s feet; his face was white with fury as he said something that couldn’t be heard from a distance.
“She wants you to react,” Thor said, feeling like his mother yet again, remembering her holding him back as he shook with anger, itching to fight Loki for his latest prank. She had been right; his anger had always passed quickly.
Valkyrie glared at him, not as easily appeased as his eight-year-old self. After a moment, she shifted her weight, swinging at him instead. Thor had to leap backwards to escape her blade and then she had him caught on his back foot.
“Bet you wish you hadn’t always relied on that hammer now,” Loki called out.
But Thor’s attention was split and he couldn’t call up the lightning. Not that he would have dared in this contained space with so many people on board.
It didn’t matter. Valkyrie sliced through the air with a vengeance, attacking relentlessly. Thor managed a block or two but only barely. In the end, it was easier to accept her rage and defeat. The fight was over nearly as quickly as it had begun.
“I yield,” he said, the blade of Valkyrie’s dagger under his chin. There was something wild in her eyes that he’d never seen, not even in the middle of their battle on the bridge. She blinked and it was gone.
The steel wall Thor had been backed into was cold. He was certain that was the only reason he shivered.
Valkyrie lowered her blade. “Next time it won’t end this well.”
He nodded. He would have known that even without her saying it.
The sound of the door shutting behind her echoed through the room. Thor wiped the sweat from his face and was surprised when his palm came away bloody.
“That was fun,” Hela said. “Who’s next?”
Thor pressed his lips together and tried to tamp down on his hate for her. He’d brought her here. He needed to handle her.
“She’s still weak,” Loki said, “but we could always let her go a round or two against the Hulk.”
Thor had to admit, it was tempting.
They took her to the dining hall instead. It required unbinding her hands, but it was a risk Thor figured they had to take at least once.
“It’s the yak again,” Thor said, setting plates in front of her and Loki. “Don’t kidnap any children about it.”
“For the last time,” Loki started.
“We didn’t kidnap her.” Hela pushed the plate away from her. Thor pushed it back.
“This is all we have. Eat it or don’t.”
Hela crossed her arms in front of her. It was just as well. Thor didn’t care if she ate or not, only that she didn’t harm anyone nearby.
Not that there was anyone actually nearby. People had moved away when they sat down and now there was a wide berth of empty seats all around them.
“Oh look,” Loki said, “it’s Mackenzie. Do you think she wants to join us?” He raised his arm as if to wave her over.
“Stop it,” Thor hissed, reaching across the table to pull his arm down. “You are a pest.”
“That’s rich, coming from the same buffoon who spent the entirety of his tenth year trying to get Gudrun’s attention in the great hall.” To Hela, he explained, “She was one of our fath— Odin’s favored cooks. Thor made her a cake when we were nine. Gave her food poisoning. She was never the same after.”
“I hate you,” Thor said.
“I knew Gudrun,” Hela said, surprising them both. “She was of Muspelheim.”
“Yes, that’s right!” Thor couldn’t help the excitement in his voice. He hadn’t thought of Gudrun in centuries. “She worked in the kitchens nearly our whole lives. She would make us —”
“Aebleskiver,” Loki and Hela said in unison.
Thor and Loki paused, stricken, before all three of them began to laugh. For a moment, Thor understood how Loki had tolerated these past days in isolation with Hela.
“They were delicious,” Loki said, his eyes bright with the memory.
“I was there when Odin found her on Muspelheim,” Hela said, her smile the widest and most genuine Thor had ever seen.
“Father did love to tell the tale of her rescue,” Thor said. He and Loki had spent many a night at Odin’s knee, begging for the story.
“Rescue?” Hela laughed. “I suppose he told you we brokered peace and Gundrun and her sisters were giddy at the prospect of returning with him to the fabled land of Asgard?”
Thor nodded. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Loki nodding, too.
“Oh, my dear, sweet brothers.” Hela touched Thor’s cheek, her thumbnail dragging sharp along the line of his beard. He refused to shiver. “He didn’t broker peace. Odin and I slaughtered half their people. Though they were rather agreeable after that, so I suppose in a way you could consider it a hostile negotiation.”
“What,” Loki said flatly.
Thor felt like his brain had been flipped upside down inside his head. The food in his mouth tasted like sand.
“You really didn’t know?” Hela frowned dramatically. “How sad.”
“I suppose we should have realized by now,” Thor said, shaking his head to clear it.
Across the table, Loki made a face that looked a bit like he’d swallowed a frog. “Classic Odin.”
That, at least, made Thor snort.
Hela took a bite of her dried yak. “You know, on day six, it’s actually better than day two. Huh.”
“That could have gone worse,” Thor said. “It could have gone better, but it also could have gone worse.”
“Yes,” Loki said helpfully. Hela was back in her room with the Hulk standing guard. Everyone else — at least, everyone else that Thor considered important — was crowded into Thor and Loki’s quarters.
It was only now that Thor realized how small they truly were. With Korg standing next to the bed, Thor could only wonder how he and Loki managed to fit in it nightly.
“So good news,” he said, “Hela behaved herself in public today. Mostly.” He added the last bit for Valkyrie’s benefit.
“Great!” Korg said. “So what’s the plan?”
Valkyrie crossed her arms. “For Midgard.”
“Oh.” Thor looked to Loki, panicked, but Loki only held up his hands, palms out. Thor was on his own.
“Well, I know some people there, as I previously mentioned, so Korg, you’ll want to aim the ship for New York.”
“New York? Isn’t that the place you destroyed?” Korg asked Loki, in a voice Thor assumed he thought was a whisper.
“It wasn’t destroyed,” Loki hissed back. “Not completely.”
“I’ll put in the coordinates,” Thor said, rather than explain that New York was both a city and a larger stretch of land and they were somehow the same but entirely separate in people’s minds. “Actually, I should be on the bridge when we approach. In case anyone tries to intercept or contact us.”
“You’re only realizing that now?” Valkyrie looked like she was wishing she’d seized control of the ship days ago.
“Oh jeez.” Korg shook his head. “Do you have a back-up planet in mind? Just in case?”
“Things will be fine,” Heimdall said, effectively shutting them all up. “Thor, plan to be on the bridge. Loki and Valkyrie can stay with Hela until we’ve landed.”
“Yes,” Thor said, trying not to sound audibly relieved. “That’s exactly what I was going to say. Good job, team.” He gave everyone two thumbs up.
Only Korg gave him one back, but it was something.
“I think this might work,” Thor whispered to Loki’s back in the dead of night.
It was a long moment before Loki reached out and squeezed Thor’s hip.
It seemed no one was sleeping comfortably that night. Still, Thor closed his eyes and tried, letting Loki’s hand warm his side, anchoring him to the bed.
Waiting was the hardest part.
“Thor, man, you’ve got to stop pacing, you’re making me seasick,” Korg said. “Though I guess it’s more spacesick, since we’re in space and not on at sea. Though we are on a ship. Makes you think.”
“Hmm?” Thor said, continuing his path across the floor. They’d been here all morning. He could see Earth growing larger. Every time he saw it, he was surprised anew by how blue it was.
“Which of these buttons is for communications?”
“To like, everyone on board?” Korg asked.
“No, to outside.” Thor gestured to the window. “To them.” They were so close; it would be better if Thor could announce himself. He didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it sooner. Everything was happening so quickly lately, even if it did feel like they’d been traveling for months and months.
“Uh, this one, I think,” Korg said, pressing it. Sirens sounded. “Nope, never mind. This one, maybe? No. What about this guy?”
“That’s the first one again.” Thor tried to stop him but it was too late. He winced as the sirens sounded.
“I see what I did there. I pressed the wrong button again.”
“Yeah, you did.” It didn’t matter. They were close enough that they’d be breaching the atmosphere any minute. Thor sent a quick prayer to the Allfathers that the ship would hold. “It’s alright —”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” Whatever Korg pressed next turned on a laser light show. “Dang.”
Thor laughed, feeling himself coming unhinged. “You know, sometimes it’s easy to forget we’re on one of the Grandmaster’s ships, and then something like this happens.”
“And you expect a Venubian dancer to come out of the hold. I know, right?” Korg seemed unphased. It was oddly calming.
The ship jolted as they breached Earth’s atmosphere. The laser light show was still going. The navigation panel oriented itself, pointing them for the Avengers compound, if it was still there. Thor hadn’t been back in quite some time.
“Well,” Korg said, “no turning back now.”
Stark was there in his suit, which made everything easier.
“It’s me — is this working?” He pressed the button a few times, watching through the window as Stark’s head jerked around. “It’s Thor.”
“You are not authorized to land here.”
“Oh, come on. Korg, keep trying to talk to him. I’m going out.”
“What? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“It’ll be fine.” Thor headed for the nearest door that actually led outside. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“You die,” Korg said. “That’d probably be the actual worst-case scenario. Or they blow the whole ship up. That’d probably be worst worst-case.”
“That won’t happen,” Thor said. Stark wouldn’t blow them up. At least not this close to civilization.
He probably wouldn’t.
It was fine, in the end. Stark’s suit disappeared into his day clothes the second he realized it was Thor coming down the gangway.
“What is this, you disappear for years and then you land a spaceship on my lawn? Am I supposed to be happy to see you?”
Thor had not particularly missed Stark, but his familiarity was, momentarily, a comfort. “I am glad to see you.” He clapped him on the shoulder, perhaps a bit too hard, if Stark’s reaction were any indication. “Forgive me. We tried not to destroy too many trees when we set her down.”
It would have been easier, he realized belatedly, if he had had Heimdall send him down on the Bifrost to announce their arrival. But then it would have given Stark the chance to refuse them entry. No, Thor figured, this was better. Everything all at once.
“What the hell is going on? Didn’t you used to have two eyes?” Stark looked confused, staring at the ship like he’d never seen one before. It was ridiculous; the Statesman wasn’t all that different from the helicarrier. “Who is th— oh my god, are you self-replicating now?” The last part was yelled, and Thor turned to see everyone gathered at the mouth of the ship, eager to disembark, Loki and Hela on the front lines. It was impossible to miss the way Loki’s fists clenched.
“Seriously, did he split?” Stark asked Thor. “Was it like a mitosis thing?”
On the gangway, Valkyrie took a step forward, her hand on the hilt of her sword. They were taking too long.
“She is my sister. That, in the front, is my team.” Stark would understand that; it was quickest to put things in terms he could process. “And behind them, my people.”
“I’m sorry, you have your own team now?”
So, not the quickest then.
“Wait, did you steal the Hulk?”
“Yes,” Thor said. “And no. I found him. On Sakaar. And then he helped us fight Hela. Though we were unable to stop Ragnarok.” He took a deep breath. It still hurt deeply to speak of what had happened. His home destroyed. Everything destroyed. “Asgard is no more. That’s why we’re here. We need your help.”
“Wait, you fought your sister? I thought she was on your team.” Stark stared at Hela for a moment. “Did I know you had a sister?”
“None of us did.”
Stark head tilted to the side. “Huh. So how many are there? You got more ships circling overhead, waiting for the okay?”
“No, this is everyone.”
“Jesus.” Stark winced. “Well, I guess that makes it easier to find a place for you to stay. How many refugees you got?”
“A few hundred.” There was a census, somewhere. Loki had made sure of it early on.
“Alright.” Stark nodded to himself. “Alright. I need to call Pepper. We can find a place to set you up. Well, she can. Do they want water? Or food? Are you hungry?” Stark asked that last part at the people still waiting, their faces tipped to the sun like its warmth would be enough to sustain them.
“YES,” the Hulk answered.
“Well.” Tony laughed quietly. “Should’ve seen that coming.”
“This is,” Loki paused as if he were casting about for the words. Thor knew better, knew that he was only stalling for dramatic effect. “Cozy.”
“You could have gone with Valkyrie and Korg.”
The face Loki made made Thor laugh. Of course, that hadn’t been a viable option, just as much as Thor going with them hadn’t been one. Someone needed to stay here, keep the people calm, put up a good front. Keep Hela in line.
He trusted Valkyrie to help Pepper scout location for a permanent settlement. Until then, they’d make do with the temporary housing Stark had found them throughout the compound, everyone packed in like dormitories. At least he and Loki had their own space. Of course, that was because they were also sharing with Hela, but that was the price they paid for rescuing her.
“I would have gone with them,” Hela said, “but no one asked me.”
“You should have said something. Thor probably would have let you go.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Stop that.” He took the pointed statue Loki had been toying with and set it down out of his reach. “We’re guests here.”
“They could stand to be treating us better, then,” Hela said. “Some hosts.”
“She’s got a point.” Off Thor’s look, Loki gestured to the cramped room they were in. “Those are bunk beds.”
“I call the top,” Thor said immediately. Loki pressed his lips together, looking for all the world like he was considering murder.
“You know, this whole charade is getting incredibly tired,” Hela said from her spot on the sofa that Stark assured them pulled out into a bed somehow. Thor was looking forward to learning how it happened.
“Oh no, he’s serious,” Loki said, and Thor nodded because he was. “Even if it means I’ll be able to stab him from underneath as he sleeps.”
“Maybe I’ll electrocute you if you do.” Thor shrugged. It was a risk they’d both have to take.
“Not you two,” she said, “although yes, you are exhausting. I mean this. Me. Here. If you don’t need me for protection any longer —”
Thor made a face. “Who would we need your protection from?”
“As a bargaining chip. Insurance, whatever.” She waved her hand, clearly annoyed. “Can you just get it over with and kill me now. Send me back to Hel so I can finally know peace.”
“We’re not planning to kill you.” If he sounded confused, it’s because Thor was. Wholly. Kill her? Had they not been training her for possible re-entry into society? Albeit with a permanent guard, probably, but still.
Hela’s eyes grew wide. “Why not?”
Thor looked at Loki, who was silent. He had no idea what to say. “Be… cause?”
That made Hela angrier. “You’re telling me you did this because you’re nice? That’s pathetic!”
“Well sorry for saving you,” he shouted back. “I guess you’ll just have to deal with it!”
He turned to storm out — Loki could deal with this — but Hela made for the door first. She stumbled halfway there and Thor caught her unthinkingly.
“Ugh.” She yanked out of his grasp. She was short of breath and her cheeks were rapidly losing color. He let her stalk back to the part of the room that was hers, though a part of him itched to follow closely behind in case she fell again.
“She isn’t getting stronger,” he said quietly, trusting Loki to shield their voices from her ears.
“No,” Loki agreed.
“Do you think she will?”
Loki shrugged. “Who can tell. I expected her to be better by now, but she appears to have plateaued. It might take considerable time. You need a better plan, brother.”
Loki looked at him. “Don’t play dumb.”
“What would you have me do? And don’t say leave her in space where we found her.”
Loki sighed, sounding tired. His cheeks had lost their color too. Thor reached for his arm.
“We’ve been over this,” he said. “I —”
“I can hear you,” Hela said, making both their heads jerk around. She was glaring at them, her arms crossed. “You’re not the only one capable of magic.”
Thor flushed, caught out, but Loki merely stared back at her. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I thought when you nearly fell having a tantrum earlier it meant you would be too weak to break my charms.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Alright,” Thor said, putting his hands out, though to stop them from what he didn’t know. Talking more, perhaps. It had been a long day and he had no patience left for their bickering. “Let’s just take a break for the evening. Perhaps things will look better in the morning.”
The fight leaked out of Loki slowly, like a balloon losing air. Thor squeezed his arm reassuringly. They’d come up with a plan for Hela in the morning, when Heimdall and the Hulk were available to babysit.
He was about to suggest they find food or perhaps all learn how a sofa gave birth to a bed when there was an urgent banging on their door.
Thor opened it to find Heimdall there. Dread filled him instantly.
“My king. Something’s coming.”
“What is it?”
Heimdall shook his head. “I am not sure.”
They turned to find Loki pointing to the window behind Hela. A firetail streaked across the sky, full and bright. The hair on Thor’s neck stood up.
“Bargaining chip,” Hela said, pointing to herself.
“Quiet,” Thor said, watching the comet meet the ground.
Whatever it was, he feared the warning had come too late.
“I’m sorry, how did you get this address?” Stark was still in his suit, though they were all inside again, the comet-turned-woman sitting calmly across the table next to the Hulk. “Fury, did you know about this?”
“What do you mean by ‘know?’”
There were screens everywhere in the room, faces on them Thor hadn’t seen since that robot had destroyed the town. What had its name been again? He tried to remember but couldn’t.
“Is that Thor?” Natasha asked. He waved at the screen. “Was the SOS because he’s back?”
“No, that’s…” Stark paused. “That’s a different story. Where’s Steve? Come on, I know you’re hiding him. This lady says she’s got something we all need to hear.”
“They’re coming,” Natasha said, and then, “Is that Bruce?”
“NO,” the Hulk yelled.
“Been a long time, Danvers,” Fury said, and for the first time since she’d landed on the lawn, the woman — Danvers, apparently — smirked.
“Felt like none at all,” she said. “Good to see this place is as big a disaster as always.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Sorry, we’re here, what’s the big emerg— oh god, is that Loki?” Steve’s face got close to the camera for a brief second.
“Hello, Captain,” Loki said, smiling genuinely for the first time in a while. Thor fought the urge to put his head in his hands. This was not the time for whatever torment Loki was warming up to. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Forgive me if I don’t say likewise.” Steve sat down next to Natasha; there were two more men in the background, one of whom Thor had never seen before.
“Where’s Vision?” Stark asked before anyone could say anything else.
Natasha shook her head. “He’s off-grid. Him and Wanda took off.”
The Hulk shouted something that sounded half like TONY and shook his fist. Danvers looked unphased but on-screen Natasha flinched.
“Hey,” she said, recovering valiantly, “sun’s getting low.”
“That doesn’t work.” Thor shook his head. “Don’t bother. He’s stuck like this.”
“Thor? Bruce?” the guy behind Steve that Thor vaguely recognized finally spoke up and he sounded terribly confused. “Will someone tell us what’s going on?”
“I would if all of you would shut your damn mouths!” Fury yelled. Danvers raised her hands and clapped without making any actual noise. Thor braced for Fury to get even angrier but he just shook his head at her. “Danvers, tell ‘em. And make it quick, I paused House Hunters International for this.”
“Isn’t that always on?” Stark asked. Everyone ignored him.
Danvers leaned back in her chair. “I mean, the quickest way to put it is: Thanos is coming.”
At least six people asked, “Who?”
Next to Thor, Loki sank lower in his chair. Thor tried to tell himself it meant nothing until, further down the row, Hela laughed.
That, he knew, was a terrible sign.
“Who is she again?” one of Steve’s friends asked. Thor tried to remember his name. Raven, was it? “I thought we were supposed to be in hiding. Seems like a lot of people are just hanging out at the Avengers compound, looking all crazy-like.”
“She’s our sister.” Thor was surprised Loki had said the exact same thing he had. When he grinned Loki rolled his eyes.
“I didn’t know you had a sister,” Natasha said.
“Yeah, none of us did,” Stark said. “Now we’re all caught up on The Young and the Eyeless, let’s get back to this Thanos thing. What is it?”
“Who, you mean,” Danvers said, “and that’s not what’s important. He’s looking for the Infinity Stones, and when he gets them all we’re screwed.”
“I mean, it would help if we knew what they were,” someone on Steve’s end said.
“If he gets them, you mean.” Steve ignored whoever it was and sat forward in his chair. “How do we stop him?”
Danvers blinked at the screen; then she looked at Fury, who closed his eye and shook his head very slightly. Danvers made a face and then said, “Get rid of the stones you have.”
Loki sat up straighter. “And who, exactly, do you assume has a stone?”
“That guy right there.” She tapped her forehead as she pointed to a picture of Vision that was projected onto one of the screens.
“And that wizard we met,” Thor said, suddenly remembering. “With the goatee. And the light loops. Before Father…” He looked to Hela, who looked away. It was strange, how long ago that last trip to Earth had felt. He nudged Loki. “Remember him?”
“He didn’t have an Infinity Stone.”
“He most certainly did. How else could he have manipulated time and space like that?”
“By being a wizard.” Loki said it like it was obvious.
“A wizard with the Time Stone,” Thor said.
“My point is, there are lots of them here,” Danvers said before Loki could say anything else. “Destroy as many of them as possible.”
It was easier said than done.
Steve refused, saying that destroying the Mind Stone would destroy Vision. It was agreed that they would find him before Thanos did, and then, as Steve put it, cross the next bridge when they got there.
“We’ll go find the wizard then,” Stark said to Thor.
“I won’t go without them.” Behind him, Hela and Loki made noises of protest that they would be fine without him, but Thor was unmoved.
It was a long minute before Stark said, “Fine, give me the address, I’ll take the green guy. No, not you, Jesus Christ, the big one.”
“Oh thank heavens,” Loki said, though by the look on his face Thor knew he had never believed Stark meant him.
Their swift departure left them alone with Danvers, who was making small talk with Fury on the screens.
“I was going to go track down the rest of them,” she said, “but something tells me you’re going to argue differently.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to.” It was strange, seeing Fury so close to smiling. “If you missed me, you can tell me. I’ll come visit you and Goose, just say the word.” She paused for a minute, the smile on her face fading. “He still playing with that blue cube he used to love?”
Fury’s mood shifted immediately. “You think the tesseract is in play?”
“It can’t be,” Thor said, stepping fully into the room. If Danvers and Fury were surprised he was there, they didn’t show it. “It was destroyed with the rest of Asgard.”
Danvers twisted in her seat to look at him straight-on. “If that were the case, Thanos wouldn’t still be looking for it. The Space Stone is contained within the tesseract; if it’s destroyed, this whole trip would’ve been moot.”
Dread swallowed his being whole and for a moment all he could do was stand there, one hand on the wall, as his mind raced through time, from the first battle in New York all the way through Ragnarok. His vision swam.
“Maybe he doesn’t know.” Thor swallowed around the lump that had formed in his throat. He felt like he’d swallowed a frog, or like the fish he’d been eating had been spelled back to life. Loki had managed that trick once when they were children. “We’ll be in our quarters if you need us.”
He waited until Danvers turned back to the screen to leave. Loki and Hela were waiting for him just outside; he grabbed them each by the arm and muscled them down the hallway.
“Where is it?” he asked when they were back in their room, the door safely shut.
“Do you take me for a fool?” He loosed Hela but only so he could tighten his grip on Loki’s arm. “The tesseract.”
Loki’s mouth opened but no sound came out. He was spinning a lie, Thor was sure of it. Loki’s eyes flicked to Hela, who had tucked herself up on the sofa, out of the way, and then darted back to Thor.
“Where is it?” Thor yelled. Surely Danvers would hear, but they would deal with that next. Loki pulled out of his grasp but still he said nothing.
Thor wanted to shake him. Wanted to hit something, wished he could take up Mjolnir and lay waste to as much as he could, such was his rage. Lightning crackled in his fingertips. He stilled when he realized; this was not his home. He needed to calm down, lest he destroy something that couldn’t be fixed. Again.
It took a minute. Thor tried not to think of Asgard, ruined. Mjolnir, destroyed. Odin, dead and full of secrets. Loki, betraying him for something shiny once again. The more he thought of them, the more the lightning coursed through his veins. He shut his eye and thought of nothing.
“Are you quite finished?” Loki asked.
Thor opened his eye and the lightning was gone. “I sent you to the vault. I should have known.” He could no more be disappointed in Loki than he could be disappointed in a tree for shedding its leaves come winter. All that mattered now was one thing. “Where is it?”
Loki looked at Hela. “You think I’ve been keeping it in my pockets? That’d be absurd.”
Thor’s head ached. He sat down at the small table, shaking his head. “Loki.”
“I can explain.”
Thor sighed. “I don’t know that you can, but by all means.” He gestured for Loki to go ahead.
Loki stood where he was for a moment, considering. A few times he opened his mouth as if to start and then stopped, his head tipping this direction and that.
Exasperated, Thor asked, “Are you explaining it to yourself or are we meant to be mind readers now?”
“I’m considering how best to tell it,” Loki said, sounding annoyed. As if he had a right to be annoyed. Thor wanted to strangle him.
“You’d do well to start with how you lost the tesseract.”
“I didn’t lose it.” Loki moved like he was going to sit at the table with Thor and then reconsidered. He began pacing a path across the room instead. “I did take it from the vault, you’re right.”
“And then he lost it,” Hela said, looking pleased as punch. Thor felt like someone had walloped him upside the head.
“I’ll thank you not to help,” Loki said, before turning to Thor. “Yes, I had it. Hela figured it out when we brought her aboard. She stole it from me.”
Thor was on his feet before his brain registered that he was moving. Loki stopped him with a hand to his chest.
“And then I stole it back,” he said firmly.
“And then I stole it back and he stole it back. It was a fun game we had going for a while.” Hela smiled sweetly. It made her look more demonic than usual.
“I knew you were too close for comfort.” He should have realized. All that time together, just the two of them and Heimdall at the door. How had he not realized?
“Brother.” Loki pushed him and then, when Thor didn’t budge, shoved him harder, until Thor gave in and let himself be guided into a nearby chair. “It was fine. It is fine.”
Thor looked at him, disbelieving. Loki spared a glance to Hela and then twitched his fingers; Thor couldn’t see it, but he knew a wall had gone up between them.
“It’s part of the reason she has remained so weak. Our game of keep-away has drained her, and let me tell you, it is not a taxing game.” He smiled as he said that last bit. Thor would have smiled back if he hadn’t been so angry.
“You stole the tesseract while Asgard burned. What were you thinking?”
“That I was saving priceless artifacts from the vault!” Loki shouted back.
Thor shook his head. There weren’t words for what he was feeling. He was truly at a loss. “I don’t know what I was expecting. Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice? Strike three.”
“I don’t think that’s right.”
“It is. It’s a Midgardian saying. You wouldn’t understand.”
Loki pinched the bridge of his nose. His mouth moved but no sound came out.
“What?” Thor said, because it was easy to goad him, and he deserved it. His skin itched as the lightning thrummed through his veins. Maybe the compound could withstand a fight.
Loki opened his mouth and then decided better of it. “Never mind. Just — here.” His hands moved and then the tesseract appeared from the air. Loki set it on the table with a thunk. “Are you happy now?”
“No,” Thor said honestly. It wasn’t better that they had it; he wanted them not to have had it at all. He wanted it destroyed with the rest of Asgard.
“There’s no pleasing you, is there?”
“You not stealing this in the first place would have pleased me.”
Loki crossed his arms, annoyed. “Well then when Stark gets back with your wizard friend we can ask him to take me back in time so I can un-steal this.”
Thor brightened at the idea until Loki said, “I wasn’t serious, do you know how dangerous time travel is?”
“Is it more or less dangerous than hiding the tesseract in a secret dimension while your evil sister keeps trying to pickpocket you?”
“Less,” Loki said definitively. “Far, far less.”
Thor was about to argue for arguing’s sake when Hela appeared between them, snapping her fingers in their faces. “Hey, if you two morons are finished.” She jerked her head towards the door. “There’s someone out there.”
When Thor opened it, Heimdall stood there, waiting. “Do you have it?” He looked to the tesseract on the table. “Good. Let’s go.”
“Did you know about this?” Thor hissed, shaking the tesseract in Heimdall’s face. He hadn’t trusted Loki to carry it to wherever Heimdall was leading them.
“There’s little I don’t know about.”
“That’s not actually a yes,” Thor said. Heimdall glanced sideways at him.
Before he could say anything else, Hela asked, “Where in Hel are we going?”
“The tesseract needs to be destroyed,” Heimdall said.
Thor stopped in his tracks. “How? Mjolnir is gone.”
Beside him, Loki sighed. “Didn’t we just go through this? You don’t need that stupid hammer. Can’t you just.” He wriggled his fingers at the ground. “You know?”
“Mjolnir wasn’t stupid,” Thor said.
Loki stared up at the sky as if praying to the Allfathers for patience. “I’m not doing this with you right now.”
“No one asked you to do anything,” Thor said, taking the bait. It was easier than voicing his true concern: that he still wasn’t sure of how to focus the lightning outside of a battle. That he didn’t know if it would be enough to destroy an Infinity Stone. It hadn’t been enough to destroy Hela on his own.
“If this is what I missed when I was trapped in Hel, I’m not sad,” Hela said. Loki and Thor turned to glare at her in unison. “What?”
“I told you to be quiet while we were out here,” Loki said. “You are not helping.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” Thor said before another fight could bloom, this time among all of them.
He set the tesseract down in the grass and hoped they were far enough from the buildings that it wouldn’t harm them. Heimdall had led them here; he had to believe that meant it was safe.
Closing his eye, he tried to focus, tried to call the lightning through his fingertips. It had been effortless during the battle. Had been near-instantaneous earlier, when he was angry with Hela and Loki. His blood pounded in his ears as he felt the first sparks in his hands.
It wasn’t enough.
“Focus,” Loki said softly, and Thor could feel him at his back, his palm hovering and then settling on his shoulder. It was almost as if Thor could hear drum beats in the distance, louder than his heart. Thunder rumbled and in the instant Thor opened his eye, the lighting coursed through him and out, chaotic, untamed.
“Now!” Loki yelled, and all Thor could see was streaks of bright light and, beyond that, Hela, her hands outstretched, his lighting strikes redirected towards the cube between them.
The light coalesced, turned from white to blue to blinding and then, suddenly, there was nothing.
“Thor.” Loki’s hand curled around the nape of his neck, gentling him, coaxing him back to himself. “It’s over. It’s alright.”
The lightning crackled and subsided. Where the stone had been, the earth was scorched.
On the other side of the mark, Hela was crumpled on the ground. “Is she?” He couldn’t make himself finish the question, even as he closed the gap between them and stooped to press his palm to her cheek.
“She is weak,” Heimdall said. “Destroying the stone has drained her.”
“Hela.” Her eyes fluttered and Thor felt a rush of relief, stronger even than when the stone had blasted apart. “Sit up, come on. Loki, help me.”
“You seem like you’re managing,” Loki said. Thor turned to argue with him and saw a flash in the sky. The smile fell from Loki’s face. “Please tell me that was you.”
Thor shook his head minutely. It was a beacon of light, growing larger as it neared.
“It’s Stark,” he said, relieved once more.
“No,” Heimdall said.
Thor and Loki turned as one to look at him. “What?”
“Did you see that?” Danvers appeared next to them. It took Thor a moment to realize she must have come through the door and not materialized from thin air.
It was a ship.
“Thanos,” she and Heimdall said at the same time.
Thor allowed himself one fleeting second to close his eye and will himself to wake up from this neverending nightmare.
“Now are you ready to bargain?” Hela asked.
“You’re suggesting we give you over to Thanos? To what end?” He could not imagine any benefit to that, unless she and Thanos were working together. But then she would not have helped them destroy the stone. He put the idea out of his mind as quickly as it had formed.
“It’s what Odin would have done,” she said, her voice cold and hard.
“Odin was an idiot,” Loki said.
Hela laughed at that.
“There will be no bargaining,” Thor said firmly. The ship drew ever closer.
“Brother.” Loki grasped his forearm.
Thor inhaled deeply and then met Loki’s eyes. There was not enough time to say everything he wanted to, to forgive him for stealing the tesseract, to thank him for helping destroy it, to commiserate over just how many peaks and valleys they’d traveled these past weeks, since Odin’s death.
“Take her inside,” he said. Hela was in no place to fight. And Thor needed Loki to survive this, needed someone to watch over the Asgardians after.
Loki’s fingers dug into his arm as he considered protesting, but as soon as the thought had formed, he shrugged it off and nodded. Thor was grateful that for once he was readily going along with the plan.
“Might want to focus up there, guys,” Danvers said as Thanos’ ship stopped, hovering nearby. A ramp extended from its underbelly and a thin man floated out.
“Is that him?” Thor asked.
“No.” Loki gestured to the large, purple creature looming behind the floating man. “That is.”
“Go,” he said. Loki squeezed his arm as Thor brushed past him to stand with Heimdall and Danvers. He had fought with smaller front lines.
“We’ve been looking for you,” the floating man said. “Tracked you halfway from the ruins of Asgard before you managed to disappear entirely. Imagine our surprise when the Space Stone reappeared suddenly. Right here.”
“You might want to check your radar again,” Thor said. “Because it’s gone.”
With a flick of his wrist, the floating man had Thor gagged. Danvers blinked at him, horrified, and then retaliated. Where the man had once been, there were only smoking, tattered remains. The gag fell from Thor’s mouth, its magic broken.
“You fools.” Thanos was calm. That, Thor knew, was a bad sign. It was always those who played at calmness that had untold depths of rage simmering beneath them. “Bring me the stones and only some of you will get hurt.”
“You’re too late.” Thor gestured to the scorch mark on the earth. “We destroyed it. There’s no point.”
Thanos shook his head. “There is always a point.”
He advanced on them slowly, purposefully, with the stride of a man who knew that he could do no wrong, that he would feel no pain.
A dagger flew past Thor’s ear. “Loki, no!” he said, though it was too late. And useless. Thanos knocked it aside easily. It never even made contact with.
But if Loki’s intent was to start the battle, it worked, because Thanos charged them. The metal glove on his hand glinted in the moonlight; the Power Stone set in it glowed purple.
Thor balled his hands into fists, calling up the lightning as best he could. If Thanos had the Power Stone, they were already likely outmatched. He wished for Mjolnir, for something to channel his powers through.
Next to him, Danvers began to glow, calling her own powers.
“Well that’s fun,” Hela said as Danvers was enveloped in her own flame.
“Inside,” Thor said, pointing from Loki and Hela to the doors to the compound, “now.”
Heimdall raised his sword. They were three against one. Thor supposed it could have been worse.
He advanced first, leading the charge, and managed to set Thanos reeling backward with one strong lightning strike. The fight was swift but furious, all of them dodging the stone, attempting to get Thanos on his backfoot again and again.
It was Danvers who managed to get him in a chokehold, Thor’s lightning helping to paralyze him so Heimdall could chop off first his arm and then his head.
“Well that’s gross,” Danvers said, stepping back before purple blood could soak her shoes. To Heimdall she said, “That was impressive, though. I don’t think we met during the whole holographic-conference-call thing. I’m Carol.”
“I know,” Heimdall said. Thor laughed even if Danvers didn’t get the joke. “I am Heimdall.”
“He’s all-seeing and all-knowing,” Thor said.
Danvers eyed him warily. “That’s… creepy.”
Thor laughed again. “Kind of, right? Eh, you get used to it.”
Danvers nodded, looking as though she didn’t believe she would ever get used to such a thing. Then she gestured toward Thanos’ corpse. “Help me get him on the ship? We can send him into space and pretend this never happened.”
“Please,” Thor said. He’d be glad for this to be over.
Before that, though, he turned back to Loki, who had never quite made it inside. “I thought I told you to go.”
“Yes, well.” He had his arm looped around Hela’s waist, giving her the dignity of pretending she was moving under her own power. They were twin images, the both of them pale and drawn, their hair arwy and clothing wrecked. “We’re going now, isn’t that enough?”
“You just don’t want to help carry the remains to the ship,” Thor said, wanting to laugh.
“Royalty doesn’t stoop to cleaning up a spill, that’s what Odin would say.” Even Hela’s voice was weak; when she spoke, it was hardly above a whisper.
“That does sound like him,” Loki said, adjusting his arm so she was better supported.
“Thank you,” Thor said to her quietly. He unthinkingly touched her head, brushing her hair away from her face. When he realized what he was doing, he pulled his hand away immediately, worried she might snap.
When he looked up, Loki was watching him with an odd expression.
“What? She helped.”
“I know,” Loki said, and that was that. He led her away and Thor went to help Danvers drag Thanos back from whence he came.
He crept into the room as quietly as possible, exhaustion making his movements sluggish and clumsy. The lights were off and he could hear the faint sounds of Hela and Loki as they slept, moonlight through the windows showing him the path to bed.
Thor collapsed into bed, hoping they were still hours from sunrise. Though it was possible not even the sun would wake him at this rate. It felt like it had been days since he last slept.
“Does this look like the top bunk?” Loki asked, his voice low but his elbow sharp in Thor’s ribs.
“Hush.” Thor pushed at Loki’s side, trying to force more space for himself. “We prevented the apocalypse. I don’t have the energy for a ladder.” It had been effort enough not to collapse directly on the floor and sleep for three days.
“Pathetic,” Loki said, rolling over to give Thor room to curl against his back. He was asleep again in an instant.
In the morning Thor would tell Steve to stand down, that Vision was no longer in danger. He would call to Valkyrie and see how the hunt for a New Asgard was going. He would tell Fury how Danvers had taken the Power Stone and Thanos’ ship and promised to destroy them both, separately. He would tend to Hela, and to the rest of his people, and reassure them that this place was safe and would be, eventually home.
But for now, he would sleep.
“This looks familiar,” Hela said, staring towards the sea.
Valkyrie stabbed her with the pointy end of a large stick before anyone else could react. “Shut it.”
It had taken less time than Thor expected for her to return bearing good news and now they were gathered on the edge of a small village in what she had said was Norway. It did not look all that different from the grassy cliffs where he and Loki had last seen Odin.
“I still don’t think you can say you bought a town in Norway if you didn’t actually buy it,” he said to her.
“People who didn’t help don’t get to judge those who did all the work.”
“I’ve been telling him that for centuries,” Loki said. “Don’t bother, it never sticks.”
“Uh, I think it’s the other way around,” Thor said. “I’m always working, you’re always judging.”
“No,” Loki said, and then Valkyrie interrupted them both by pointing at the one rickety wooden house that had been built along the main road. As far as Thor could tell, it was the largest building in the area.
“Do you see that?” she asked, with a grin that could have destroyed entire cities. “I figured that would serve as the palace.”
Loki looked at her askance. “Are we… all meant to live in that house?”
“Yes,” she said. “I mean not me, obviously, but you three, yes.”
Thor swallowed his own quietly horrified reaction in favor of feeling truly hopeful. That peace had finally been won, that they would be safe here, and happy, and healthy. That Asgard would live on.
Hela leaned against the stick she’d taken using to aid her walking. She’d yet to fully recover from destroying the Space Stone; Heimdall doubted she ever would.
“I hate it,” she said. Thor burst out laughing. He tried to stop when she looked at him, appalled, but he couldn’t help it.
“I’m moving to Vanaheim,” Loki said. “I’m not staying here. Not under the same roof as you two.”
“Oh,” Heimdall said, with a grin that could rival only Valkyrie’s, “I think you’ll stay.”
“See, brother?” Thor roped him in with an arm around his neck, pulling until Loki was snug against his side. “I told you it would all work out.”
“I seem to remember a lot more panicking and late-night reassurances,” Loki said, shoving him off. It was a gentle shove, though.
“Come on,” Valkyrie said, gesturing for them to follow her. “There’s a bit to see before we finally move everyone in.”
It would be an undertaking, he knew. Thor foresaw months of hard work, parceling out land and helping with construction. Creating jobs and order and a new way of life. He paused behind Hela, watching as she carefully made her way down the path.
“Excuse me,” someone said, and Thor turned in time to see an old man approaching Loki. “Who are you? They said someone new just bought up the place. What’s your name?”
“I’m Loki,” he said, “Odinson. And this is my family.” He caught Thor’s eye as he gestured to them and for a moment held his gaze, unwavering. “Yes, we’re moving here.”
The old man said something that got caught in the wind, but it didn’t matter. Thor had to turn away so Loki couldn’t make fun of the way he grinned so wide his heart might burst.
“Hey,” Valkyrie yelled, gesturing to him from the foot of the hill, “let’s go, your highness!”
“She means you, Loki,” Thor said, turning once more to stick his tongue out and urge Loki on. “Come on, then.”
And with that he took off down the hill, feeling younger and lighter than he had in years, bracing for whatever attack would surely come as Loki attempted to beat him to the bottom.