?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Thor fic: A Promise Kept (1/1)

December 5th, 2013 (05:56 am)
depressed

feeling: depressed

Title: A Promise Kept

Disclaimer: I do not own Thor or Loki or anything at all.

A/N: MCU, set immediately post Avengers and before Thor 2. Also includes the fill “deal with demons” for my hc_bingo card. Written for and beta’ed by lena7142.

Summary: Loki breaks a promise; Thor keeps his.



-o-

It’s quaint.

Loki is sure this is not the desired effect, but there is simply no other way to describe it. The room is small, with smooth, white walls. There is a cot along one wall and the room is illuminated by a bare bulb, encased in metal. The room is reinforced, to be sure, but it is still a far cry from the impenetrable cage they put him in the first time.

Though these humans have prevailed, it was not without a cost. They are stretched thin, almost beyond their means. It is a pity, Loki thinks, that his army fell so soon.

Even so, in an instant, Loki sees a thousand ways to escape. He envisions countless tricks. A simple spell, a child’s curse -- any of it can undo these bindings and set him free. Humans are so finite, and their bodies break so easily. It is of no surprise to Loki that their ingenuity is lacking.

Thor would come after him, yes, but that only makes the idea of escape more appealing. A human prison is an inconvenience; centuries jailed on Asgard, however…

Loki has no desire for it. He has not worked so hard to be satisfied with such a dim, small existence. He knows too well the taste of subjugation. Not all prisons are made from metal and energy.

He clucks his tongue, and sits on the bed. “The accommodations are lovely, thank you,” he says, grinning at Nick Fury, who stands seething in the doorway.

“We have policies regarding prisoners of war,” Nick Fury explains. “Not everyone is convinced they cover aliens, but we’re considering you a test case.”

“Well, then,” Loki replies with a smirk. “Is now the time to seek counsel?”

Nick Fury’s eyes narrow. “Don’t push your luck,” he says, slamming the door behind him. There’s a hiss and a click, as the lock slides into place.

Loki sits back and looks around. Four square, sturdy walls, undoubtedly equipped with sensors and surrounded by guards. This is what the humans think is security. But Loki feels conspicuous, suddenly. Walls can be broken. They can be knocked down and obliterated. They can be whisked away, as though they never existed at all.

These humans; they imprison a god in a pitiful room, as if that could keep him inside.

Or keep any other force out.

“No,” he muses with a thoughtful tilt to his head. “I would recommend that you do not push yours.”

-o-

There are questions. Relentless, boring questions.

“Why did you come? How were you able to find the Tesseract? Tell us about the force you used to control people.”

Loki laughs, for they know nothing of power. They are but children, playing with their father’s blunted knives and thinking themselves invincible.

They know nothing at all.

-o-

Then, there are threats.

“We have ways, you know. Ways to make you talk.”

Loki smiles, eyes bright. “Do you? Do you really?”

“Nothing pleasant. We can do this the easy way.”

Sitting back, Loki smirks. “Your threats are idle.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Loki inclines his head, and thinks of the abyss. He thinks of darkness and desolation; he thinks of pain and loneliness. He thinks of night so thick that it stretches like eternity, consuming all that is good, all that is right, all that is.

The thought of darkness surges, and Loki tenses, sitting forward with a flash. “Would you like to test me on that point? Would you like me to show you the real meaning of torture? Would you like me to demonstrate the power of evil coursing through your veins, consuming every particle within you until every last bit is tainted and torn? Perhaps then we can talk of threats without such pathetic equivocation.”

Perhaps, Loki thinks.

Perhaps, Loki hopes.

Perhaps, Loki fears.

-o-

When they finally allow Thor in to see him, his brother looks grim.

“What now, brother?” Loki asks acidically. “Is your revelry done so soon?”

“There is no revelry in the aftermath of war,” Thor says sullenly. His fingers are wrapped around Mjolnir as he lingers just inside the locked doorway. “This is one of many lessons I have learned from my time here.”

Loki’s mouth twists up into a snarl. “They make you soft.”

Thor’s look is dark. “Remember who is victorious here, brother.”

“Remember who your family truly is, son of Odin,” Loki hisses back.

Thor takes a visible breath, his stance more cautious than before. “I do not believe you have truly forgotten all that we have shared.”

“I do not believe you truly understand the nature of family,” Loki returns.

“It is more a choice than it is blood,” Thor says, a note of passion in his voice. “It is the brethren we choose that are the most worth dying for.”

“A pity, then,” Loki says idly, shrugging one shoulder.

“No pity,” Thor tells him, stepping forward. “It can still be yours.”

“No,” Loki amends. “That you did not die for it. Every last one of you and your pathetic band of misfit warriors.”

Thor’s face darkens. “Hold your tongue,” he warns. “I will not tolerate you to speak ill of those who have served so honorably.”

“Is that why you have come, then?” Loki finally demands. “To gloat?”

“No, of course not--”

“Then why?” Loki says, his voice rising in anger. “What business do you have with me, Odinson?”

Thor’s face goes somewhat pale, and he looks tired, suddenly. Older. “To take you home, brother,” he said. “You and I are going home.”

-o-

This is not the good news Thor thinks it is.

In fact, it is hardly good news at all.

“You come here as a herald of good news, and for what?” Loki asks, incredulous. “To tell me of my death sentence?”

Thor is nothing if not resolute. “Come willingly and with no tricks or deceit,” he says. “Speak plainly of your wrongs and show a willingness to be contrite, and I will plead for you to Father.”

Loki all but laughs. “You ask me to abandon myself and throw myself at the mercy of a man who meant to use me for political gain,” he says. “I see no hope here.”

“He cares for you, just as he cares for me--”

Loki makes a face. “You are more simple than I thought if you believe that.”

“He is a just and righteous father,” Thor insists.

“And I am nothing but spoils to him,” Loki replies. “He will show me no leniency. And I know the laws just as well as if you, if not better.”

“He is not without mercy,” Thor says. “We can make him see that you have changed--”

At this, Loki does laugh.

Thor goes silent.

Loki stops and looks at him. “Do you believe that?” he asks, almost in accusation. “Do you really believe that?”

Thor’s jaw works. “I would like to,” he says. “I would very much like to.”

-o-

There is no day or night in his cell, but when the lights go dim, Loki lays on his back. He studies the dimness, and charts it for familiarity. He knows every inch of it, after all. He knows the dimensions of this space, the limits of his confinement.

He finds it comforting, somehow. To reach out and touch something solid; to look up and see a physical boundary instead of long stretches of emptiness. In a universe that threatens to pull him apart, the confines of this space remind him that he is himself.

He is Loki, raised by Odin and Frigga.

He is Loki, brother of Thor.

He is Lok, the would-be kind of Asgard.

He is Loki.

He remembers a time when he was not sure of even that much, a time of darkness and pain, of doubt and hatred. He remembers when the black did not end, when eternity swallowed him alive and spit him back out.

Alone in his cell, he shudders.

There are many fates worse than prison.

There are some worse than death.

Loki has known them all.

-o-

In the morning, he asks to see Thor. When Thor appears, Loki looks at him. “Do you mean what you say?” he asks. “That you will plead for my life?”

“On my honor, I will do what I can on your behalf,” Thor promises.

“If I come willingly,” Loki checks.

“No more lies; no more deceit,” Thor agrees.

Loki nods. “I accept your offer.”

Thor grins.

Loki does not. “But now there is something you need to know.”

-o-

Thor is not pleased.

He is also not surprised. “You made a bargain, then?” he all but demands. “A deal with this demon?”

Loki shrugs, attempting to feign sheepishness. It is not his best effort, though he suspects Thor would know better by this point. “I had few other options,” he says.

Thor’s face darkens. “You could have learned to thrive in your exile,” he says. “You could have been better for it.”

This time, Loki’s face darkens. “I was not sent to Midgard into the warm arms of a frail woman,” he seethes. “I was hurdled through the darkness until I was bound and chained to it. There is no lesson from such suffering. There is only desperation.”

“And that is how you can justify the deaths of so many?”

Loki pulls in his anger. “Darkness seeks no justification,” he says. “My life would have been forfeit had I not--”

Thor’s rage mounts. “Then you should not have made such a bargain!”

“I had no choice!” Loki yells back. He cuts off, his breathing feeling strained. “Time lost all meaning. There was only pain and suffering; eternal, unending darkness. I knew no such thing as hope until I clawed my way to it and clung to it, no matter what it was. I had no choice.

Thor’s anger dissipates, and his stance eases. He lets his gaze fall as he nods, once and then twice. When he looks up at Loki again, he looks apologetic. “There is always a choice, brother,” he says. “Always.”

-o-

Thor leaves, offering few reassurances. Loki sits on his cot and waits.

In the dark, he settles back and stares at the ceiling, feeling the whispers in his mind. The Other calls to him and Loki dares not close his eyes.

For sleep is a necessity for mortals, who think fear is the stuff of idle nightmares in the passing of the dawn.

Fear, though, lives and breathes. It thrives and grows, seeking and consuming. Because in Loki’s world, the nightmares may still yet be real.

-o-

When Thor returns, it is without much circumstance. His brother stands before him and nods. “We are going.”

Loki does not move. “Have you forgotten what I told you?”

“How could I not?” Thor asks.

Loki is curious. “They will come for me,” he says. “That was their promise.”

“I made you a promise as well,” Thor says. “And I intend to keep it.”

“You cannot honestly think yourself immune?” Loki says. “I know the power.”

“I care not,” Thor says curtly. “I promised Father I would bring you home. I promised the people of Midgard that I would see you tried. And I promised you that I would protect you on the passage and plead your case. These are promises I intend to keep.”

Loki’s mouth twitches upward. “At the very least, I am interested in seeing you try.”

-o-

Thor makes no show, but the people of Midgard seem to regard it as a spectacle. Loki refuses to feel shame, even when Thor binds his mouth to stem his words. Loki responds by squaring his shoulders and donning his full attire.

He is never one to pass up an audience, after all.

Even if it may be his final act.

-o-

Thor has picked a public location. Perhaps this is for safety; perhaps it is vanity. Maybe it is a mere practicality. Loki does not know.

When they reach the site, his brother’s cohorts have all gathered. It may be for protection; Loki surmises it is for closure. As if seeing him off will ensure that this conflict is over.

But as Thor offers him an end of the Tesseract, Loki sighs as he reaches for it. He lifts his gaze to his brother’s as his fingers lace around it.

For this is not over at all.

-o-

It is not the most pleasant way to travel. The light is blinding and the sound rushes in his ears. He holds fast as the energy surrounds them, and he feels it surging through him. There is nothing but punishment for him on the other end of this trip, but he finds he still misses the golden city. He misses the sound of the markets and the winds in the mountains. He misses the cool air in the vaults and the sound of his mother’s voice.

He misses the breaking daylight over the city, and a thousand lights reflecting across the sea.

For all the bad that is due to him, he has hope in that.

Then, suddenly, he is wrenched away. His grip is broken, and the force pulls him backward. He tumbles, falling through space with such disorientation that he fears he has well and truly died this time.

When he hits ground, he opens his eyes and wishes he had.

-o-

The realm is barren and vast. The dark mountains are windswept and stripped bare, leaving jagged peaks to rise above the abyss. The winds roar, cold and bitter against his face, and when Loki swallows, the taste of it is desolate.

It is familiar.

Shakily, he gets to his hands and knees. His binds are gone; the uncomfortable muzzle removed. Cautiously, he pushes himself around until he sees….

“My friend,” he cries in abject relief. “It is so good to see you!”

The Other stands, perfectly still, perfectly erect. His eyes are hidden, but his mouth contorts into a strange facsimile of a smile. “Friend,” he says. “That word is strange coming from a creature such as you.”

Loki gets to his feet, sweeping forward with a graceful bow. “Our intent is much the same,” he says. “The enemy of my enemy--”

The Other tilts his head. “Your logic falters, Asgardian,” he says. “I have no friends, only allies. And I only extend such a courtesy to those who do not disappointment me.”

“Yes, well, I respect the standards,” Loki says. “Which is why I think we should discuss our next move--”

“Do you barter still?” he asks sharply.

Loki shrugs. “I am merely continuing our conversation--”

“Our conversation was final,” the Other counters abruptly. “You made a promise. You have not kept that promise.”

“This is merely a glitch--”

“I gave you all the resources you requested,” the Other says. “I upheld every part of our bargain.”

“I know where the Tesseract is,” Loki says. “And I can get it--”

“Words!” the Other booms. “Idle and pointless. You cannot alter the terms of our agreement without paying the penalty!”

“As one would expect,” Loki agrees reasonably. “But surely you see the bigger picture. The Tesseract--”

“Is in the hands of your brother,” the Other supplies. His lips turn menacing. “I see the bigger picture well, Loki Son of Laufey. And you have proven yourself unreliable and irrelevant.”

Loki swallows, trying to regain his composure. “I think you’ll find me quite useful still,” he says. “I know all the ways in and out of Asgard. I can get you into the vault.”

The Other seems to consider this. He nods.

Loki feels his hope return.

“You may have value, this is true,” the Other concedes. Then his smile turns malicious. “I shall value your pain greatly as I rip you from bit to bit, taking you apart and throwing you into the abyss until there is nothing left of you at all.”

Loki moves to act, moves to run, moves to defend himself. He opens his mouth to beg, to plead, to trick.

But before he can do anything, the Other lashes out with a surge of energy that sends Loki tumbling across the rock, pushing him back with each blow until he tumbles headlong into the dark.

-o-

Loki falls.

The air rushes past him and his equilibrium is lost. He reaches out and grasps fistfuls of the black, but it does nothing to slow him down. He sees his existence, the many years of his life.

There he is, as a boy, playing with Thor in the palace courtyards. He is a young man, striving to stand tall in his brother’s shadow. He goes to battle and defeats his enemies with deceit and trickery. When people tell their stories, they talk of valiantry and facing the beasts. They talk of Thor’s rash determination in the face of impossible odds; they talk of glorious battle.

No one tells of the disguises Loki uses to get them into the inner ranks. No one mentions how Loki tricked the enemies to let them escape with their very lives. No one talks of Loki at all.

His whole life, he is mere steps from the light. He is close enough to see his destiny but never near enough to grasp it. The more he fights to attain it, the more it slips just beyond his reach.

He is a baby, young and innocent. He is abandoned and forgotten, not worthy of the throne to which he is born. When his life is spared, some might call it grace. Loki sees it for the cruelty that it is. He was denied death and instead sentenced to live that rejection, day after day, year after year, century after century.

Through all of time.

He falls.

Faster, harder, violently.

And he never hits bottom.

-o-

When he has fallen through the millennia, he finds that there is no place left to go. He has no nightmares left to explore; no tragedies left in which to wallow. He is stopped, suspended, no farther than when he started. He merely is, lost and defeated, unwanted and forsaken.

The darkness pulls at him, delving deep into his soul. It blankets his mind, encompasses his soul. It is so thick that when he cries out, he is not sure he has made a sound at all. The anguish pours forth, but it means nothing here.

Just as he is nothing.

The realms talk of hellfire and torment, but they do not understand true torture. Torture is not external things. Torture is what’s inside. It is the deepest, darkest parts of the self, inspected piece by piece. Torture is losing yourself and realizing it is no loss at all, wondering if you ever had anything to start with.

Torture is nothing.

Bleak and unending. It swallows the body, taints the mind and then slowly but certainly destroys the soul. Torture is when there is no one left to hear your screams.

Including yourself.

-o-

First, he endures his failures. He sees every shortcoming and each mistake. They are delineated, one by one until the eons have passed.

Then, he is shown his successes. The heights of his prowess; his greatest victories.

Finally, he is left with the burden that they are all the same, that they all mean nothing. They are trivial, insignificant passages of time, nothing more than a dream.

This, he knows.

This is reality.

In the land of light, the battle of good and evil rages on, each believing they can win their cause in the end.

Here, there is no battle. There is no conflict.

There is only darkness.

-o-

They come to him.

Odin is first, sitting upon the throne. He studies Loki, discerning him with his one eye. “You were born to be a king,” he says, even as he takes Loki’s crown and tramples it into the ground.

Frigga comes next, her smile sweet but sad. “My son,” she sighs, and she reaches out to touch him. Loki leans in, but her hand dissipates before there is contact.

Sif is there, more radiant than normal. The Warriors Three and fully clad in their armor, standing tall on the battle field. For a moment, they look to Loki, and his chest swells. Until the shadow falls.

Loki turns his head, and there is Thor. He brandishes Mjolnir, raises it above him. “This victory is ours, brother!” But as he ascends the stairs, there is only room for one of them.

There always has been.

Loki grows smaller, and smaller. His skin turns pale, until blue seeps through. He shudders from the cold, drawing in on himself as the ice rises. He’s tucked inside a blanket, looking up at Laufey as he sets Loki down. “Better defeat than a future with you as king,” he says, drawing away. “Trust me, this much is a mercy.”

They come, again and again and again.

-o-

When he is spent, he closes his eyes.

When he is exhausted, he stops listening.

When he can no longer endure, he suffers.

He suffers.

-o-

It is not clear to him what time has passed. He does not remember precisely how he came to be here. But when the Other stands before him, a smirk splayed across his face, Loki has no energy left to defend himself.

“This is your own doing,” the Other says. “Even the darkness is accountable for its promises. A Trickster has no place in this universe.”

Loki turns his head away.

The Other does not relent. “Your lies and your deceit. You trick friend and foe alike. But the only one you have succeeded in destroying is yourself.”

Loki squeezes his eyes shut, willing the voice to stop, willing his existence to fade, to just fade away.

“Loki, son of no one. No creature will claim you. No one will come for you. You were left to die as a baby, and that would have been the better fate. Now, people abandon you time and time again.”

Loki focuses on breathing, hot and heavy breaths. He dares not cry.

The Other rounds on him. “It is in your nature,” he hisses. “More than your tricks and magic. More than your lies and faithlessness. You were made to be left. You were made to be forgotten. You were made to be rejected.”

He shakes his head, refusing to accept it.

“No one comes for you,” the Other taunts. “No one will come for you. Your name will be forgotten through the ages. Your birth family will hold no record, and your adopted kin will erase all knowledge. You will disappear, even as you still breathe. No one will mark your death. Even you will forget your own existence before you expire from all these realms.”

It is a threat, of course. It is a taunt and a mockery.

To Loki, though, it is the only hope.

An end.

There must be an end.

-o-

Loki waits for the end.

He is torn apart, hung among the cosmos. He is stretched throughout all the realms, pulled so thin that he can feel the particles slip through his existence.

The Other takes him to the beginning, where his mother screams as she gives birth and cleans away the blue blood as Loki struggles to cry.

They go back, to the days of Odin’s wars, when he fought the Frost Giants. He sees the birth of Asgard, the creation of the realms, the entrance of the light as it is cleaved from darkness.

And they keep traveling back.

-o-

There is no beginning.

There is no end.

There is nothing.

There is nothing at all.

-o-

Then, when time has folded in on itself and existence has stretched beyond its limits, there is a low, distant rumble. It starts small, building in the distance until it roars into every part of who Loki is. He realizes he has a heart, still. More than that, it is still beating.

He blinks, and looks up. The Other cranes his head curiously. The sound is familiar, somehow. Loki knows it, he knows--

Then light splits the sky, snaking across the expanse and cutting through the very fabric of time and space, right into Loki’s very heart.

The sensation brings a thousand emotions: hatred, jealousy, anger, frustration, hope.

With nothing left, Loki goes to his knees and laughs.

-o-

When Thor appears, it is in all his glory. He is fully clad in his armor, the silver on his arms glinting in the lightning as his red cape blows behind him. Mjolnir is sturdy in his grasp, and he narrows his eyes on his steady feet. His gaze lands on Loki, lingering for a moment before turning toward the Other.

The Other is still there -- he always has been, though Loki knows not how -- and he pulls to full height as he stares down the son of Odin.

“I have come for my brother,” Thor announces.

“He has a debt with me,” the Other seeths. “I seek only what is mine.”

“Vengeance is a worthless pursuit,” Thor says. “Keeping Loki here will not gain you what you desire.”

“You assume you know my motives,” the Other says.

“I know you seek power,” Thor says. “And you bide your time with worthless emotions. Loki is a distraction you cannot afford.”

The Other tilts his head, curious. “The same may be said of you,” he says. “Son of Odin, I have done you a favor. Loki will be nothing be trouble for you, and an eternity with me will spare you many troubles.”

“My troubles are my own, and you know nothing of them,” Thor replies shortly.

“He made me a promise!” the Other says.

“And I him,” Thor returns without delay.

The Other straightens, his grim mouth turning into a smile. “I do not release my bargains.”

“Nor I mine,” Thor says, his fingers tightening around Mjolnir.

The Other snarls.

Thor tenses.

Loki is the only one smart enough to duck.

-o-

The first blow is cataclysmic. The light explodes, and the shock waves rattles the very rock below him. Loki is thrown back, and he lands hard, tumbling across the expanse. His head spins and his body aches, and when he lifts his head, everything seems skewed and disoriented. Loki blinks, and he is not sure if it is his injuries or simply the way things are for him now.

What is certain is that there is a fight to behold.

A battle for the ages.

An epic clash.

Two opposed combatants.

Both of whom Loki wants to see lose.

-o-

Thor is nothing if not impressive. He’s always been a valiant warrior, bold and undaunted in the field of battle. He has strength, and with Mjolnir in his hand, he is nearly a force of nature. He can bend matter in his hands, and many powerful enemies have fallen before him.

The Other, though, is not an opponent to underestimate. Loki is not certain what his origin is, but Loki can sense the dark power that fuels him. His heart pulses not with blood, but power, and it makes him dangerous. It makes him deadly.

Thor fights to win.

The Other simply fights.

Loki thinks he could leave now. He thinks he could slink of, disappear into the dark. But even if he evades the other, he will not be left alone. Even if he can slip between Thor’s fingers, his brother will pursue him. Loki’s fate hangs in the balance, held between two masters. If one is cruel, the other is kind, but it matters not to Loki.

He would route both, if he had the power.

He does not, though. He is broken and weak; he is tattered and fallen. All he can do is sit in hope--

That maybe, just maybe, they will finish each other.

-o-

They rage across the stars. The mountains tremble and the stars fall.

Loki braces himself as the world crumbles. Weakly, he clutches to steady himself, watching as his brother wields Mjolnir against the Other. The Other arches back, and calls to the expanse, bringing his wrath down in a seismic, catastrophic blow.

The two powers collide--

And the world goes black.

-o-

For a moment, Loki loses track of himself. He lets go into the abyss, and his body is tossed as his mind breaks apart. He ceases to exist, inhaling into the black for one glorious moment.

And then he is brought back.

The sudden shift is jarring, and he becomes acutely aware of himself for the first time in what feels like ages. The fog in his mind is gone, and even though he feels barely held together, he finally feels complete.

Still broken, but reforged. Shattered, but renewed.

Shakily, he gets to his feet, stumbling a bit in the debris. He breathes, drawing himself to his full height. It has not been so long, he realizes. No more than a matter of days since he left Midgard. He has been here the entire time.

Thor kept his promise.

Thor upheld his word.

Earnest and righteous and…

Loki stops, the sight of his brother becoming suddenly clear. The strong form is lying, discarded on the ground amongst the debris. Mjolnir is nowhere to be found, and Thor’s armor is torn and stained. His blonde hair obscures his face, which is bruised and bloodied. His brother is unconscious, felled by the force of the battled.

Defeated.

Loki’s heart skips a beat, and he feels his hope rise. Thor is defeated. He lost.

Which means--

He turns, just in time to see the Other smirking amid the settling dust.

“Now,” the Other says, wiping his hands on his chest as he looks at Loki. “Where were we?”

-o-

Loki’s impulse to flee flares up, but he is too slow. His brain is still muddled enough that by the time he gathers his energy for an escape, the Other is already upon him. There is no physical touch -- but between beings such as them, such trivialities are not necessary.

In fact, they are rather quaint.

Instead, the Other lashes out, sending a burst of energy toward Loki. He braces himself, but the impact does not send him falling. Instead, it encircles him, tightening like bonds around his chest, his legs, his arms. Another band cinches around his neck and he is lifted off the ground.

The Other snarls as he approaches. “I grow weary of you,” he says. “I do not have time to fend off all the beings you have wronged in this universe.”

Loki shifts, struggling to breathe in the constricting vice. “You can always let me go,” he says. “I can make it worth your while.”

The Other growls, jerking Loki closer to him with a viciousness that leaves Loki breathless. “Or I can kill you now,” he says. His mouth stretches to form a hideous smile. “It would be appropriate, would it not? To lay waste to both of Odin’s sons in a single day?”

Loki flinches. “I am no son of Odin--”

“Indeed,” the Other agrees. “You are no one. Born of a defeated race and raised among a people you could never hope to match. Exiled by those who claimed to love you, and the only one who comes to honor his promise to you is lying, broken and mangled for his trouble. You have a heart of darkness, and you consume the good around you until there is nothing left but rubble and ash. Your plans will all falter; your deeds will all fail; you will destroy planets and realms and still be no closer to any victory.”

Loki squirms, trying to shake his head. The denials form in his throat, but he is wholly unable to speak them. For Loki knows much of lies and deceit, but only because he knows the truth too well. At his core, he’s always known. The layers he adds to obscure that fact do nothing to change it.

The Other sneers, brandishing his power. He gathers strength from the abyss and growls again, bringing forth the full breadth of his power toward Loki.

“You shall not die, for death is too easy,” the Other seeths. “The prison will be your own mind, your own tainted soul. You will be your own taskmaster in an agony that will never end!”

The power comes at him, and Loki feels it rip through him, down to his very bone. It cuts and it bites, it seers and it lances. He is on fire, burning from the inside out until the flames lick his mind, illuminating every thought in his being before snuffing it out. The agony is slow and deliberate, and Loki has no choice but to scream.

The sound is wretched, and it echoes through the expanse. He screams again, hot tears springing to his eyes as the pain does not stop, does not relent. His control is slipping, his sense of self is dissipating. There is no beginning; there is no end. There is--

Nothing.

But not the black; not the pain. Nothing.

Loki hits the ground panting. When he cranes his head up, he sees the glint of Mjolnir as it stems the flow of his torment. Thor stands his ground behind the hammer, gritting his teeth as he forces the energy back. It takes all his strength to move it, turning it back toward the Other.

When the beam collides with itself, it expands, surging back toward its source. The explosion is instantaneous, resounding across the sky with a deafening roar, sending the Other sprawling back, landing limply on the ground. He does not stir.

Still standing, Thor staggers, Mjolnir faltering at his side. He takes an unsteady step toward Loki, and when he meets Loki’s gaze, his eyes are tired.

Even so, his brother does not stop. He crosses the distance toward Loki until he is standing over him, face hard and sullen.

Loki swallows, preparing for an onslaught he is too worn to resist.

Instead, Thor offers him a hand.

Surprised, Loki looks at it, before looking back up into Thor’s face. “I thought you learned the lesson regarding sentiment back on Midgard.”

“And I thought perhaps you had learned humility,” Thor counters.

“I cannot change who I am,” Loki replies.

“You could try,” Thor suggests.

Loki smiles bitterly. “You make it sound so easy.”

“I had Heimdall search the realms for you. I came with no power other than my own and fought the darkness to bring you home,” Thor says. “There has been nothing easy about it.”

Loki considers this.

Thor sighs. “We should go quickly,” he says. “I cannot guarantee how a second battle will fare.”

“Why bother to come back at all?” Loki asks skeptically. “This fate would be fitting for me, would it not?”

“I believe there is good in you still,” Thor tells him. “Besides, I made you a promise.”

“And you think that means so much?” Loki asks snidely.

“Yes,” Thor replies without hesitation. “I do.”

Loki wants to argue. He wants to protest. But he is tired, and he does not wish to stay here. He prefers the dungeons; he prefers death.

He prefers his brother’s pity and misguided notions of honor.

Resigned, he reaches out. Thor’s hand grasps his, hauling him to his feet. Their first step is uncertain, and Loki realizes Thor is more injured than he has let on.

Just that fast, Loki’s mind works. He could overpower his brother, perhaps. He could capitalize on this weakness. This far from the nine realms, Loki would have a chance of escape. He may even find a nook so remote that the Other cannot find him.

It’s his chance, maybe his only one.

And what does he owe the Son of Odin anyway? The man who would take a throne that is rightfully his? The one who offered him nothing but the tails of his cape in battle? The one who has looked down on him his entire life and then claimed brotherhood?

The one who saved his life?

The one who made him a promise.

Loki sighs. When Thor takes his next step, Loki moves in tandem, pressing back against Thor’s touch. Their next step is steadier, the other stronger still. When they reach the edge of the landscape, Thor looks to him with a smile.

“You have kept your promise, too,” he says.

“Yes,” Loki says. “No lies and deceit as we return.”

“This is good,” Thor says, grinning now. “This is very good.”

Loki smiles back, small and reserved. He feels his strength return as Thor calls out to Heimdall. The roar of a portal opening is a telltale sign, and Thor’s hand grips his arm reassuringly one last time.

Thor keeps his promises. He has brought Loki safely home.

Loki will keep this one. He will be a model prisoner during the extradition.

Thor takes the leap as the energy pulls them up, and Loki closes his eyes and smirks as he’s pulled alongside.

When they get back…

All bets are off.