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If Only The Lost Return

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“I saved the universe of its foretold doom once already, and with the stones again in my power, I will see that you don’t reverse my will. Your Avengers and Guardians and Heroes count for nothing,” –Thanos advanced, steps heavy, his smile terrible as his left hand rose to showcase the shine of the five Infinity Stones back in the gauntlet- “Your time travelling, your recalling of the ones disintegrated, your weapons gathering, all these attempts will never undo the undoable. Accept it, you have exerted all your possible efforts.”

In front of the mad titan, the warriors and soldiers, the sorcerers and doctors and engineers, humans and extraterrestrials alike stood winded and injured. There had been no time to celebrate the resurrection of those previously taken by the stones the day before, as everyone had united to fight the titan on Earth again.

Everyone sported a serious expression, until Bruce coughed pointedly and smiled towards Tony.

“I think ‘possible’ might be the key element to his mistake, wouldn’t you say?”   

“Yes, that is the operative word. You paying attention, Big Purple?”-Tony let the faceplate down, because whatever happened, snap or no snap, the iron suit wouldn’t matter, so he projected his voice as much as able and sassed at Thanos as only he could-“We’ve kinda got used to working outside possible nowadays. Even outside what’s logical or, you know, sane. That’s why we’re not gonna accept bullshit from you. We’re not going down, Raisin for Brains. We still have a wild card.”

On the very first battle row, Thor’s axe filled with crackling thunder and Wanda’s hands sparkled scarlet, while the Guardians surrounded Gamora aiming a Xandarian weapon and the Wakandans surrounded the royal siblings aiming their vibranium weapon.

Thanos gave a lock chuckle, fingers poised high.

“I’ve battled you and those weapons before. You are fools out of time. None of this is unexpected.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did Stark say we have ‘a’ wild card?” –Stephen Strange tsked, bereft of the stone at his neck but still looking proud- “Time travelling have us tired. Let me rephrase, we meant, specifically, the trickster card.”   

Thor’s smile was blinding in that second.

Thanos’ eyes narrowed and then widened as the gauntlet suddenly shone green, green, magic green and dissolved into nothing.

Behind him, a polite harrumping to clear one’s throat.

“One more resurrection, I am afraid, Almighty Thanos.”

The titan turned around, already snarling at the sight of Loki holding the gauntlet with the Infinity Stones, his leathers and armour dusty and worn out, but his eyes amused and perfectly vindictive.

“I’ve dreamed of this day, when we would face again, Thanos. I’ve long wanted to see you regret all you have done, and believe me, watching you fall will be my greatest satisfaction.”

Everyone erupted into motion as Thanos leaped towards the trickster god and Loki simultaneously conjured a shield and dozen of flying daggers with his right hand.

At the same time, Steve Rogers barked orders and the Wakandan and Xandarian weapons fired at the titan, joined by Bucky’s, Rocket’s and Iron Man’s heavy artillery.

Thanos ignored them as he crashed against the protective shield surrounding Loki, only to yell in fury as the jotunn vanished in another flash of green illusion.

“For once, I am very glad to see that particular trick in action” –Natasha commented from her high perch on a nearby truck. Beside her, Clint huffed a sullen, reluctant agreement, his eyes and arrows trained firmly on his target. It not being the titan, as everyone else, but Loki as he reappeared amidst friendly fire lines, exactly on the spot where Stephen Strange said he would.

Still, Clint wasn’t going to lower his guard for one second. If they had one chance among thousands of universes to defeat Thanos, and their chance counted on Loki of all people to bring together the stones and hand over the powered gauntlet, Clint was gonna make sure the guy would not fail them on the final stretch.

On the ground, while Thanos fought his way out from under a horde of attacks, the magic users surrounded Loki, all eyes intent on the gauntlet.

“Now we must destroy it”- Stephen Strange said through clenched teeth, barely resigned to losing the Eye of Agamotto.

Wanda nodded, if only because Shuri had achieved the reconfiguration of Vision’s mindframe without the mind stone and Vision himself was safe back in Wakanda, deep in recovery sleep.

“Easier said than done. To destroy it, it must be wielded and the power turned against the co-existence of the stones. Even if several of us command it, it might require a costly price”-Loki’s voice was strained although his face and hands showed no injury.

To Thor’s trained eye, either Loki had magicked his appearance hale or was under an inner drainage of seidr. Either way, this being the first time Thor had encountered Loki after learning of his survival and the plan put in motion to defeat Thanos, he could not allow Loki to undertake more risk. For Asgard, for his people, for his kingship, Thor had a responsibility to take upon.  

“Brother” –and Thor put his hand on Loki’s neck, trying for comfort and familiarity but voice faltering with emotion- “As fate and your skillful tactics would have it, we have been reunited as you promi-”

“This is not the time, Thor. I’m glad to see you finally act reasonably, but destroying the stones now is imperative and-”, Loki spoke in a hurry, small smile trained on Thor but already stepping away and closer to the others, motioning for them to bring their hands in contact with the gauntlet.

On the distance but alarmingly closing in fast, they could hear Thanos’ roar overpowering the battle sounds, multiple voices yelling and striving to hold him back for one more second.

“Indeed” –Thor interrupted back, suddenly pulling his brother tight against his side by using the hand on his neck and immediately wrenching away the gauntlet from Loki’s surprised grasp- “but I would be thrice the fool to let you take the brunt of this task, not if I can do it instead, not if my destiny and strength can be of use.”

“No, you idiot! Strange, Maximoff, don’t let him-!”   

It was too late, even as Thor released Loki, the Asgardian King was already using both hands to put on the gauntlet and to raise it in a fist, Thor’s eye lightning blue, and Stephen and Wanda had their hands surrounding the wristguard of the gauntlet, and Thanos’ shout of denial was echoing three steps away and the Infinity Stones were bathing everything in incandescent light, shattering the lingering grasp of Death over all people felled by Thanos and his army, and the gems were breaking into shards, collapsing and taking with them the mind and the heart of their last wielder, the golden son of Asgard, and and and-

Loki grasped with both hands the head of his moronic, insensate, arrogant idiot of a brother, feeling his own heart beating frantically at his throat, closed his eyes, and along with everyone else, Loki screamed.

___

Nicholas J. Fury surveyed the cameras covering the wall of the main monitoring room in Avenger Towers floor number 48, taking in the various scenes, post battle.

Several of whom he privately considered his Avengers, were healing and resting in the first medical wing, floor number 52. In likewise condition were the Guardians in the second medical wing, floor number 53. Floor number 54 was slightly altered due to the introduction of unknown medical machinery by the wakandans occupying it, but the royal siblings had assured Fury none of it would cause harm to anyone, it was intended to treat their own when vibranium-conditioned bodies required it.

Fury had no other choice than to accept it, as some of those same machines were also in use in floor number 55, hooked to the rest of the life support currently keeping afloat Maximoff, Strange and the pair of alien gods, Thor and Loki.

Outside of the sterile medical room, Fury could see Stark and Romanoff idling around, both of them keeping guard in their own way. Romanoff, calm and controlled, standing with one shoulder against a wall in the exact spot where she had a full view of all entrances. Stark, impatient and unstoppable, pacing back and forth talking to the kid Parker through his hologram screens.  

Fury sighed. To think the lot contained within this tower were only one of his many problems. Without Hill overseeing the tracking and relocation of all the newly resurrected people he would be going mad already.

“Am I dismissed yet or, you know, you want me to keep you company some more?”

He turned around to give Barton his unimpressed one-eyed stare.

“Sir” –Barton tackled to his sentence after a minute, stance tired but trying for a modicum of protocol. Not that it should matter. Clint had retired, Fury had retired, the whole lot of them were supposed to be retired, outlaws or supposedly dead already.

But to Clint it seemed that when the universe wanted to fuck with them, nothing would stop it. Shit luck, or good luck would be, that they had beaten the odds again.

“Confirm for me then, Agent Barton-”, Fury walked towards him, gloved hand to his chin.

“Retired”- Clint muttered, uncaring of Fury’s reaction, as he well knew Fury would ignore it.

“I want you to confirm the last section of your report. You were guarding Loki’s movements as we had established, ready to stop him at the mere insinuation of him abandoning the plan, switching sides or even looking at any of my men funny-”

“Women and aliens and what if they are genderfluid, you should really start looking for another word there, boss” –Clint kept muttering although Fury was right on his face now.

“And when Thor was destroying those fucking cursed stones, you reportedly saw Loki throwing himself at the guy, for all we know he could have been about to stop Thor in his task, and you had Loki on your sight, and you did what, exactly?”

Clint stood a bit taller, his expression a bit fiercer.

“I heard Thanos reaching them, how could I not, Tasha had already jumped in to join the fray. I raised my sight and saw Thanos about to crash into them. So I shot him. In the face. With three exploding arrows. Then I switched sights back onto Loki, and saw him holding Thor. He could have been about to stop Thor, I guess,  but Sir, Thanos’ face had literally just exploded and the stones were already falling apart and frankly, Loki looked freaked out over Thor so I didn’t take the shot. I made that call. Then the explosion blinded us all and afterwards I went down there to help extract the wounded.”

Fury stared at him directly for several minutes.

“Your report then is, you might as well have killed Thanos in that last minute, Agent Barton.”

Clint cracked his neck, lips in a flat line and eyes still determined.

“My report is I shot him and I saw his face explode. It was not pretty. I don’t know if he was dead in that moment. I saw the stones break apart and the explosion began and Thanos disintegrated with it. Perhaps he was still alive and only the stones collapsing took him away. Or perhaps not.”

“Hmm. I see. And then you spared your main target even when his actions were suspicious?”

The archer’s expression didn’t change.

“His actions were not suspicious to me, I too have wanted to slap my relatives around when in mortal danger. And honestly, I would be very angry if you think I care for Loki in the slightest measure. Being impartial to him for his part in taking Thanos down is the most anyone could expect of me, so I don’t see why MY actions should be in doubt here, for fucks sake. Sir.”

After more of the silent treatment, Fury nodded and stepped back, expression going from grim to grimly satisfied.

“Well done, Agent Barton. From where I’m standing, our day was won by you. This is why I don’t accept your resignation, you understand. Dismissed.”

Clint blinked in quiet exasperation, nodded his assent, and left the monitoring room, swearing under his breath all the way.

Because yes, the day was won, but Wanda and the others were yet to return safely. Plus Loki. Clint swore again, goddamnit, who would have fucking thought.

____

In the immensity of the mind scape, in a point between transient dimensions, Loki took an imaginary deep breath as he looked intently at the shape of his offering, cradled against his chest.

He blinked, consciousness going in and out of focus.

He was sore, tired….

He blinked, disoriented.

He felt strangely peaceful. He had the fleeting thought that it was time. Time to let go of something.

Precious seconds of darkness and nothing and then back to consciousness, knowing the offering had to be given if he wanted to return to Midgard and help with- with-

He opened his eyes, wide, wide, and looked up. His hands were empty now. But it seemed to matter little, because he was arrested by the sight of the sky, bright, blue.

He felt like fainting, again, by the Norns, not again, he was a god and a trickster and that door in the distance, he had to cross it, and he was stubborn to the last.

One last look at the sky, one last look, and then Loki would be ready. He smirked in mischief. Yes. Ready to go back.