Jane Foster was not a doctor.
Well, she was a doctor, but not the kind of doctor that patched up the sick or wounded. But right now, she had to do what she could for people, because she was able-bodied and intelligent, and people were scared.
She was in Norway, where she had been studying the stars, and particularly the Aurora Borealis, for several years now under a grant from the government. She was pretty sure she was on the verge of figuring out how to harness the energy of the stars in the northern hemisphere in order to create a gateway between worlds.
That work took a backseat now, because there was a war happening, and she lived in a place of heavy fighting. She expected, initially, that Norway would be a place of peace, since they were situated so fully in the Scandinavian lands that followed the Norse pantheon. She thought that there would be little contention about who deserved their devotion and faith, and the people there would be safe.
But she had been kidding herself, because these people were angry. Those whose lives have been a struggle were angry at the gods for existing and for not aiding them when they needed the aid, for being too focused on themselves to help them even when they begged. Those whose lives were pleasant felt blessed, and were angry at those who so disrespected the gods.
Jane was lucky to be on a military base, heavily guarded not only by the Army but by SHIELD, who had been crawling amongst the populace of Oslo for months. She assumed that meant that the Avengers were involved, but the fires had knocked out electricity three weeks ago; she had no access to any information outside of what she could get by word of mouth among the citizens.
Thor had been to see her once, as he made the rounds to check the safety of all of the friends he’s made since he began to come to earth. She had promised him she would stay as safe and secure as she could, but the more she stayed cooped up in labs, where the equipment no longer worked, amongst soldiers who looked on her with contempt and an increasingly restless need to participate in what was happening outside, she realized that she could not be motionless either.
While she had no stake in the fight on either side, she knew she had to help people where she could, which is why every day, at dawn, before the fighting for the day began, she strapped a medical kit to her back and a gun (that she hoped never to use) to her hip, and trekked out into the city, looking for wounded or dying civilians, and did what she could for them.
Many people had begun to expect her, and she wasn’t the only person from the base who had taken up the task. Some of the citizens had begun to call them “American angels,” because so often, all they could do was make them as comfortable as they could before they died.
Today, she was hailed by a frantic woman with blood smeared through her blonde hair, and when she trotted after her, following her into the shopping district. There were almost no businesses left open. Most shopkeepers gave up a long time ago, taking what valuables and money they had with them; looters had taken care of the rest. Now, squatters, mostly families forced from their homes during the fires and bombings of the past few months, took advantage of the empty buildings in order to live.
The woman was speaking in quick Norwegian, her voice pitched three octaves higher than it probably usually was. Jane didn’t speak the language well, but she could pick out enough words to know that this woman had a child, and that child was in danger.
They were living in a jewelry store, which was just as well, since most of the jewels had already been looted. Jane had no idea where people thought they were going to sell them, in a country as ravaged as theirs, but if they found purpose in the stealing, amid all this madness, she was in no position to hold judgment over them.
The child was a boy, and he was in a bad state. Jane felt sick as soon as she saw him, a swooping nausea that left her dizzy. She pressed her hand to the one glass countertop that was not broken, and pressed her eyes closed, before she allowed the woman to urge her forward with the plea in her voice.
He was perhaps seven, and the gunshot wound was clear through his femur, right above his kneecap. Jane had managed to avoid treating these kinds of wounds. Mostly, she had been caught up with burns and gashes from the bombings and fires. Those were easy. She could do bandages and antiseptics and burn creams; she could even handle the clumsy knotting together of wounds that her inexperienced hands managed with stitching.
But this child, who was so small, and pale, and who looked up at her with wide blue eyes and nothing but pain and trust and faith – someone had put a bullet through his leg, and she had no idea how to save him. They called her an angel, and she had no idea what to do.
She took a deep breath through her nose and immediately wished she hadn’t when the stale, metallic scent of blood filled her mouth.
His mother had had the presence of mind to form a makeshift tourniquet from a pair of trousers. That probably saved his life; he would have bled out hours ago if not for that. There was nothing for it. She would have to take him back to the base and have one of the military doctors look after him. They would at least know how to treat a wound like this, even if supplies were low. His age would no doubt help convince them.
She hopped to her feet and hurried over to the doorway, pressing her foot against the hanging hinge and dragging the door from it. She pulled it over beside the boy, and his mother, picking up on what she intended to do, helped her very carefully slide him onto it. Jane bit her lip against his cries of pain.
“We need to take him to the base,” she said slowly, gesturing to the north like that might help his mother understood. “We’ll have to carry him.” It was two miles. On her own, Jane could walk it easily in half an hour. But carrying a small child on a fairly heavy door, and having to move at the pace set by his mother – it could take them almost two hours.
Still, that was just more reason for them to hurry. She used almost her entire supply of gauze to tie him to the makeshift gurney at his ankles and shoulders. He whimpered quietly, and his mother soothed him with soft words.
Then they were off.
It was as difficult as she anticipated, but after she got the right grip on the edge of the door, they did fine, even with people moving in the streets now. They were only about a quarter of a mile from the base when the shouting began. After the shouting, the screams and shrieks took up pretty quickly, and gunfire followed that.
They started running. It was hard, and her arms were burning, and the boy was howling with pain and fear. She did her best to avoid the hot areas, but it was difficult when she didn’t know where they were anyway. But it was alright, because soon she was running up along the gates of the base, and several soldiers ran out to meet them, and after a moment of swarming, they relieved her of her burden and she sank to her knees on the ground, panting. Behind her, a man shouted, and she had the presence of her exhausted mind to realize he had used the phrase “American pigs!” before the bullet pierced her between the shoulder blades.
At some point in the course of the past few centuries, Thor had acquired a taste for sunshine.
When on earth, he could be found in all the warmest places, basking in the warm glow as it made the golden skin of his shoulders to bronze. Two days before Jane Foster died, they were in the hills of Spain. He had walked with Loki through the plains for hours, and Loki’s nose and cheekbones were pink with sun. Thor found it lovely.
“It is strange that Spain has remained so quiet,” Loki murmured drowsily, now that they lay dozing in the grass beneath a willow tree. “They have such history with the Romans and the Greeks. I thought they would take up with their brethren.”
Thor stroked his fingers through his hair, staring up at the blue sky shattering the canopy above them. “Perhaps they realize the folly of this war,” Thor suggested. “Perhaps they have seen enough death in the name of faith.”
Loki looked up into his face, thumbed the deep grove formed by the downward curve of his mouth. “Why do you not fight, Thor?” he asked quietly. “Why are we here?”
“I missed you,” Thor said simply. He caught his hand, pressed his lips to his palm. “I know you are doing what you must, but it does not lessen my desire to be near you.”
“You grow soft.”
“I do.” He laughed. “But I do not mind. In the midst of war, I feel especially fondly for my loved ones.”
Loki pushed himself up to sit, peering out over the plains. There was no one to be seen over the vast miles before them. He thought that in his younger days, he may have sought war, would have meant to ravage a place so serene. “The All-Father calls me for counsel,” he said suddenly, gesturing to the ravens making wide, sweeping arcs through the sky above them. “He wishes me to urge you to do battle alongside him.”
“He wishes in vain,” Thor’s voice was dark. He was on his feet in a moment, snagging Mjolnir from its resting place beside him. He swung it absently, eying the birds. “This is a war of spite and pride, and I will have no part in it.”
“You play a large part indeed.” Loki picked at the grass, peeling stems in half. “You will end it, one way or the other.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have spoken to Hermes. There is a prophecy.”
“Why have you said nothing of this before?”
The trickster shrugged. “I have little tolerance for prophecies. It tells men and gods that they have no power over their own lives.” He rose to his feet. “But I believe this to be correct, because you choose your path, and you choose your cause. Thor, you will end this war, not because you wish to fight in it, but because you have conviction.”
“You have more faith in me than you should.” Thor closed his fingers around Loki’s wrist. “I will do what I can to live up to it.”
Zeus is a man of great stature, and for Thor to think so, he must be. Standing before the man, with his beard the color of ash and his chest broad with the heavy armor of the Greeks, Thor was reminded of his father, the way he had to peer upward, his neck craned back, in order to look into his face as a boy.
Thor had no such trouble meeting Zeus’s eye.
They were in Chicago, on North Beach. The city was all but abandoned; most of its citizens had run south, for family and friends in the suburbs or rural communities, leaving behind them only those intent on fighting. They lived in little pockets all over the city, scrounging for food and weapons and supplies where they could. Loki had vanished when they arrived in order to draw them all out of their hiding places to fight him and each other; his plan was to then talk them out of fighting each other at all.
If Loki was good at anything, it was talking.
But Thor was here for another purpose, and that purpose was standing before him.
Zeus grinned. “Look at this,” he boomed. “Two gods of thunder, facing each other in battle. I never would have guessed that it would end this way.”
“It does end here, father of the Olympians,” Thor spoke resolutely. “But not in the way that you think. I do not wish to fight you.”
“Oh? Are you so afraid?” Zeus sneered.
“It is not fear. It is my strong sense that this war is folly.” He brandished his hammer in the direction of the city. “These people depend on us. They look to us for guidance and protection, even when they call us by other names. We have promised them freedom from fear and now we destroy their world?” His arm dropped to hang heavily at his side. “A woman I have known has died in this war. She was murdered by someone who said he was fighting in my name. And now my friend is dead.” He shook his head, and threw his hammer down at Zeus’s feet. “Do what you will to me. I will not fight any longer.”
The Olympian was silent, staring down at Mjolnir where it lay before his feet. “You desire the end of a war over the death of one woman?” he asked incredulously. “So many have died, and your thoughts are only with one mortal. If you care so little for them, why not continue the war? Take what friends you have to Asgard, where we will not harm them, and let the rest of the world burn.”
Thor clenched his jaw. “I will not forsake any more lives. Jane was not a warrior, and she should not have been a casualty. Do what you will with me. I will fight no more.”
Zeus was quiet, assessing him with hard eyes, the way Thor’s father often did when he was a boy, leaving no small part of him undiscovered or unanalyzed. “You have conviction,” Zeus decided, the air crackling. “But one man cannot end a war when many men began it.”
Thor swallowed with some difficulty. “I will speak with my father. Perhaps we can come to an agreement. A way to settle the matter between you without further bloodshed.”
“You are naïve, boy,” Zeus chuckled. “No matter what your father has told you, he relishes war. He will seek it out when it has been too long absent. You are blind if you do not believe that.”
Thor was stung by the words, but knew them to be true. Odin was drawn so easily, so quickly, into this war, though it had no noble cause but the sustenance of his pride. A wise king never seeks out war, he had told him when he was a child. And here they were, in a war heavily sought out.
“No matter my father’s indiscretions and shortcomings, I will not fight you,” Thor repeated. “I have no desire to see further bloodshed among my people or yours.”
Zeus inclined his head slightly. The crackling of the air soothed itself, and Thor found he could breathe easier without the threat of rain cloaking them. “So be it, Odinson. I shall not strike a man who has left himself unarmed. But I cannot speak for others among my people.”
“I will accept that, with gratitude.”
Lightning struck, and Zeus was gone.
Thor stood there for a long moment, staring out at Lake Michigan. This side of the city was quiet, the fires burned down. He realized with an ache that the most peaceful places were those that had no humans on them.
He roused himself when Loki’s hand curled around his elbow. He turned to look at him. Loki, in turn, looked down at Mjolnir, where it sank into the sand at their feet. “You’ve done it then,” he said quietly. “You have condemned this war.”
“It is my father’s vanity that may be wounded, not my own.” Thor gripped his hand, brought it to his mouth to kiss his knuckles. “I do not wish to see any more friends die. I do not think that you do either.”
“I have no friends,” Loki pointed out with a wry grin. “But I have you, and I will defend you.” He was quiet, watching the water wash up against their boots. “I know you loved her. I am sorry she is dead, just for that reason.”
“She was as mighty as any warrior, if only in heart,” Thor commented, his voice fond, heavy with sorrow. “Father promised me that she would have a place in Valhalla. She is deserving of it.”
Loki only nodded, unsure what to say in the wake of such grief. “I should move on. There is much to be done still. Sif has been in touch. Aite is in Rome.”
Thor nodded, seized him around the waist and snatched a kiss from his mouth. “Look after yourself. I demand that you return to Asgard with me, alive. I wish to make no funeral pyres, and if you die, I will be very angry.”
“I will take that into consideration,” Loki teased. “But if I die, make certain that the pyre burns all night.”
“You have my word.”
In the end, neither of them burned a pyre for the other, but that doesn’t mean neither of them died.
In rural Indiana, corn and wheat turned into enormous snakes, devouring livestock and driving the people toward the cities. In eastern Europe, all nuclear power sources ceased operation at the same time. In Norway, frost struck hard, and no fires would light. Along the Mediterranean, all fresh waters turned to blood.
Aite was found on the coast of Wales, speared through her hands and feet to a tree. She screamed and screamed, her eyes fierce and angry, but with her mouth sewn shut, few could hear her. A bagpipe hovered nearby, the wind playing on it mournful songs.
The people began to believe that the gods were displeased with their efforts in the war, that they didn’t want them fighting. No matter what pantheon the warriors had chosen to follow, all the peoples fell down together and wept that they had served their gods so poorly that they would all starve and freeze and die of thirst.
It was Natasha who first learned that Thor was dead.
It was Bruce who realized that Loki was avenging him.
It was Steve who conceived the plan that put the world back together.
In another time, before the war, Thor might have loved Greece.
It was a sandy, green place, where the sky was often blue and the ocean was close. He couldn’t begin to imagine how beautiful it was before the fighting broke out, before the ancient temples crumbled under the pressure of fire and blood and death.
He didn’t expect the river Styx to be so rich with flowers and long, green grass and moist soil. It was almost ironic, that the doors to the underworld would be teeming with life. He took deep breaths, enjoying the scent of rich, fertile earth, and took the opportunity to remind himself that if he did not succeed now, this place, and much of the rest of the world, would be lost. It would be burnt to the ground, left charred and silent.
Loki had said he would end the war, that Hermes had heard a prophecy. Thor would accept that fate. He would seek it out.
“Do you wish so strongly for your death?”
Thor turned, and found Hades standing on the riverbank close by. His robes hung dark and loose, and his eyes were sunken into his face, somehow managing to appear as bored and distant as he did menacing. Thor remembered dining with him at the feast, remembered his sulking, skulking presence on the edge of the crowd. He drew himself up. “I come seeking audience with you.”
“Oh?” Hades drawled. “And what matter would you bring to me?”
“I wish you to appeal to your brother Zeus, and convince him to end this war.”
“Why would I do that?” Hades’ mouth curled into a smile. “I care not for petty wars sown from petty pride. But I receive sustenance from the dead on earth, those foolish enough to fight a gods’ war.”
Thor clenched his fist. “You are meant to look after the dead, not to take advantage of their deaths.”
“And who are you to explain my work to me?” Hades was suddenly close before him, his breath reeking of rotting meat. Thor resisted the urge to step back. “Who are you to tell me how to help the dead? I am your elder, boy. I was here at the beginning of earth.”
Thor bowed his head, deferent. “I mean you no disrespect,” he said quietly. “But this world is our responsibility. These mortals depend on us. We must not betray their trust.”
Hades was silent, his eyes sharp, almost the same tint as a raging fire. “I will consider your words,” he conceded finally. “My brother is much prone to making his own choices and is unlikely to take the counsel of others. His daughter Athena has urged him to end the war as well.”
“Perhaps your position will aid in convincing him,” Thor suggested. “I thank you for your time.” He bowed lightly, head and shoulders, and turned to walk away.
He took two steps and found himself bound, drawn back toward Hades, and then past him.
“I apologize, son of Odin,” the death god said, sounding almost regretful, following along behind him. Thor was being dragged backwards, thorny vines snagged around his wrists. No matter how he struggled, he could not break them.
“What are you doing? You gave me your word!” Thor lunged toward him, only to be caught and seized, thrown to the ground, dragged along on his back.
“I gave you my word that I would speak to my brother on your behalf, which I will do,” Hades grinned, strolling after him with his hands tucked behind his back. “I gave you no promise that I would not take you with me into the underworld. After all, you are still my enemy, and being the one to make a casualty of the All-Father’s son is not an honor to be taken lightly.”
Thor stopped struggling. Behind him, the great doors of the underworld appeared, creaking open among the water lilies, the clear clean stream moving beyond them. “What will you do to me?” he asked, his voice steady.
“I will throw you into the pit of the dead. We have no Valhalla to escape to after death, son of Odin. The dead of the Olympians suffer the same fate as those on earth. Do not fear. It is an eternity of emptiness. It will be painless.”
Thor doubted that highly.
There was famine all over the western world.
The death toll was higher in a month of starvation than it had been over the course of six months of intense war. England had begun to bury her dead in mass graves, because there was no more room for separate graves. In Kansas City, the dead were burned in huge pyres, like one would burn plague victims.
Steve found it all disgusting.
“I took part in what is generally agreed to be the most horrible war to ever happen,” he said one day to Tony as they patrolled Santa Barbara. They had been making the rounds throughout the country over the past few days, trying to get an idea of how heavily the people were affected. “But I have never seen anything so devastating as this.”
Tony felt itchy and naked without the Iron Man suit. He was sitting in an armored vehicle that he had designed and that used all of the same technology, and he still felt vulnerable. “They called your war a ‘world war,’” he commented lightly. “They had no idea what they were talking about.”
Steve snorted. “What do we do?” he asked quietly. “I’ve never been – I’m a soldier, Tony. I can’t fix a famine. And I have no idea how to make a god stop mourning the death of his brother and taking it out on the world.”
“Yeah, who knew that Loki would be that devastated over Thor? Didn’t he try to kill him a few years ago?”
“Yes, well, he tried to kill all of us.”
“I think our best bet is to seek out the help of our allies in the East.” Tony leaned back, resisting from toying with the knobs and buttons, wanting to make the vehicle even better. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Asia, with the exception of Afghanistan, has completely refrained from taking part in the war. So has Australia. Maybe we can look to them for help now. I’ve been in touch with an engineer I’ve worked with, who lives in Japan, and they haven’t been at all affected by the famine and water contamination.”
“Maybe Loki doesn’t blame them,” Steve suggested. “Maybe they’ve escaped his wrath. I’ll contact SHIELD and have them talk to the President. Diplomacy might be our best bet right now.”
“Let’s see if government has any power in a time of anarchy.”
It turned out it did. India, Japan and Australia were quick to send aid in the form of clean water and non-perishable food. Russia was surprisingly willing to offer asylum to those in northern Europe who could make their way there. South Africa was quick to send what crops they could spare.
In a rare moment of fellowship, the UN and the EU made a unanimous decision: they released the information that there was food, and that each country would receive a share of it, proportionate to its need based on population. And then the leaders of each country made this statement:
“We have food and water enough to sustain each member of this country for an entire year. But there is a condition. The nations who so kindly and charitably donated the sustenance that we have desperately needed will continue to do so until we are able to support ourselves again only if the killing and death ceases at once.”
There was less difficulty than they expected, once this announcement was made. Munich was the most problematic city, with riots rising, angry that their government would barter with their lives by withholding food. Between Captain America and Iron Man, they reigned in the chaos, and the problematic people were hurried off to jail and out of the city.
There were a few other minor incidents across Europe. Natasha and Clint neutralized a small rebel group in Vienna. Bruce responded to rumors of an organized rebellion in Florence (though as soon as he arrived, he was recognized, and the group disbanded before the Hulk could disband them).
It took months, and even then, the world had not achieved the serenity they hoped for, but they were getting there. And one day, farmers in the Midwest realized that their corn was growing again, and the snakes were dead.
If Loki hadn’t forgiven the humans, he had at least decided they had been punished enough.
When Loki fell in love with Thor, he felt like he had been hit full-on by a charging stampede of horses.
Thor had been trying for weeks to draw Loki out, even when Loki made it clear that he had no interest in seeing him. He had been in Asgard again for two years when Thor came charging into his chambers with a lightning-manic smile. “Loki! How are you?”
Loki had just woken and still lounged in his bed, dozing lazily as he looked out the window toward the broken bridge. He saw no purpose in hurrying to dress; he wasn’t permitted to leave his rooms anyway.
Thor’s energy was enough to startle him, and he called up his magic without thinking about it.
And he realized that he could call up his magic, feel it surge under his skin, his fingers crackling and sparking with the potential energy.
He stared up at Thor, more surprised than he usually allowed himself to appear, and Thor’s grin just widened.
“I convinced Father,” he explained, moving over to sit on the edge of his bed. He grasped his wrist. Loki could feel the magic curling like little tendrils around Thor’s fingertips, stroking him, warm and electric. “It was not easy, but I told him that you needed your magic, and that you could not be counted on to be loyal if we just kept taking from you.”
Loki didn’t speak for a long time. “Why did you do that?” he asked quietly, carefully. “You know what I have done with my power.”
“I do.” Thor nodded seriously. “While you have committed many terrible acts and hurt a great number of good people, you have also done much good.” He tugged on Loki’s ear, a sign of affection he had had for him since they were boys. Loki pulled a face but did not complain. “You have saved me from many disasters by making certain my back was never left unguarded. You have defended me even when I did not deserve to be defended.”
“You owe me no kindness, Thor. I have not been your friend for many years.”
“All the more reason for kindness,” Thor curled a hand around his neck, tugging at his hair. His smile was soft. “Because I have not deserved your friendship. Not with all of my neglect and vanity, not for my anger or my fear. I should have seen your pain, Loki. I should have been there to help you bear it. I should have eased it, and I did not. I am sorry, Loki. I am atoning, and I shall for as long as you ask it of me.”
Loki leaned in before he could say more and pressed their mouths together, his hand curled in the fabric of Thor’s shirt, holding him in close. He kissed him like he had been waiting all his life, and maybe he had. They kissed until they couldn’t breathe, until the short sharp hairs of Thor’s beard has rubbed Loki’s chin and cheeks raw, until they were naked and clinging desperately to each other.
Loki’s magic wove through the air, dark and mischievous and playful, and Thor groaned every time it slid and weaved against his skin. They moved together like they had a thousand times before – Thor on his back with his hands on Loki’s legs, Loki’s hands on his chest and thighs pressed to his hips – and when they were through, the air sparked and crackled, like a hot fire on a muggy night, and Thor held Loki, and forgiveness sang through Loki’s veins.
He pressed his face against Thor’s neck, his arm curled against his chest, thumb pressed to Thor’s pulse. “I am also sorry,” he murmured, his eyes hidden, and closed anyway, in their hiding place. “I was – My bitterness knew no bounds. I still feel no love for Odin. But do not think that hate extends to you.”
Thor just took his chin in his hand, lifted his face, and when Loki didn’t open his eyes, kissed him again.
With the exception of the Brooklyn Bridge, which would take at least another year to repair after the damage, New York was mostly in one piece again. Half of its citizens were still missing – many were presumed dead, many were confirmed dead, and many would never live in a city again – but it was still New York, and those who had returned were gathered in Times Square, because that was where Tony Stark and Captain America had come to speak.
“These have been difficult times,” Captain America said into the microphone, his voice booming out over a strangely silent crowd. “Never before in history has there been such sustained war and violence across continents, between countries, and between citizens of the same country. Never before has there been so much desolation and death due to famine and thirst. Almost twenty percent of the population of the western world is dead.”
The crowd continued to stare up at him, unmoving, unspeaking. They looked ragtag and scared, easily spooked, like deer caught out in the middle of a suburban lawn. Captain America went on.
“This war began because two pantheons, gods most of us believed to be ancient myths, went to war with each other. These gods have since resolved their differences. There have been meetings of diplomacy between Odin and Zeus, and the war will not continue. The subjects of Asgard and Olympus will also aid us in rebuilding our world, though they have not been asked. They aid us of their own good will.”
A murmur of approval started on one end of the crowd, swept over them in a wave.
“They have demanded, as we have, that the fighting cease,” he raised his voice. “They did not ask for your involvement in their war, and they do not hold you accountable, nor do they praise you for participating in it. Odin and Zeus both beg that you show each other kindness and tolerance, and that a war fought over religious differences should never happen again. Show each other respect, and the gods will respect you too. Thank you.”
After tricking Cerberus into chasing its tail with all three heads, and leaving it knotted up and dizzy at the gates, Loki strode into the underworld and had a chat with Hades.
Hades, who always liked a good joke, was amused.
“I will not return Thor to you,” he said, lounging on his throne, a cup of strong red wine in hand, “though your trick was indeed clever.”
“Then I shall take him,” Loki said easily.
“Shall you? He swims the pit of the dead. He has tried many times to reach the surface and has never succeeded.”
“I will go to him.”
“Oh?” Hades tilted his head curiously. He brandished his hand toward the wall, where a large door glowed its way into being. “By all means then, mischief maker. I shall enjoy this.”
Loki bowed, his eyebrow quirked challengingly, and then turned to briskly walk through the door. There, he stood at the edge of the pit, where the dead floated and sank, mere shadows of the people they once were, the lost souls that would never find their eternal paradise.
He saw Thor then, swimming up toward the surface from the deepest point of the pool, and he smiled. It had been so long since he last laid eyes on him, and though he swam through a sea of bones, he was still as golden as he ever was. Loki stepped forward, passed one foot into the pool and then the other. The souls parted for him, and he knelt and reached down into the cold, heavy press of death about him, and when he was close enough, grasped Thor’s arms, pulling him up.
“Loki!” Thor gasped, his hands tight around his elbows. Around them, the skeletons crept up, scraped their fingers against his skin, tried to find purchase where there was none.
“Hello, darling,” Loki said quietly, pushing his hair off his face. “We must be away, now.”
“The war – what has happened?”
“It is over. There was no victor, only those who lost,” Loki pressed his cheek to Thor’s, closed his eyes. He smelled of rotting meat and dead plants, but beneath it was the soft, sweet glow that he always had. “I will take you home.”
Thor grasped tightly to Loki’s coat, his mouth hot and wet against his shoulder. He breathed like he hadn’t in years. Loki wondered if that was the case. “How were they defeated?”
“They weren’t,” Loki kissed his temple. After a moment, he helped him crawl from the pool and settle on the edge of it. He curled his coat around his naked shoulders. “You were avenged.”