The battle was over, the fires all put out. Thor attended Tony's funeral, he mourned for Natasha. He helped as best he could the surviving Avengers start putting their lives back together. He gave the throne of New Asgard to Brunnhilde. This planet wasn't his home. In fact, Thor wasn't sure where his home was anymore. He wasn't sure who he was anymore. When the Guardians of the Galaxy--his new friends--were about to set off on their next adventure, Thor grabbed a spot on that ship. He had soul-searching to do, and plenty of time and space to do it.
Which was a surprise when he woke up in a strange place. It was unlike any he'd ever seen before. Stormbreaker was here, though. And he could tell that this room belonged to him--at least, some version of him. His handwriting (and artwork?) were on the walls. His clothes were in the closet. His bed even smelled like him. And yet... he was sure he'd never seen this room before in his life.
Thor picked up Stormbreaker and let himself out of the room to wander down the hall in search of someone--anyone--familiar. Hopefully they would be friendly. Hopefully he could figure out where he was, what he was doing here, and how to get back to the Benetar.
A long golden corridor with several ornate doors was outside of Thor's chambers. Two of the palace guards, wearing their customary armor, were doing their rounds. They had pivoted at the end of the corridor and then looks shocked to see Asgardia's prince returned.
"Prince Thor!" one exclaimed, "You've returned after your adventures!"
"This is welcome news!" the other chimed in. "We did not hear of your arrival. Shall we announce your return?"
Which no doubt meant festivities with tales and lots and lots of drinks.
Thor could tell by the architecture that this place was... of Asgard? But how was that possible? Asgard had been destroyed. Even New Asgard was more Midgardian than Asgardian. Could this be some kind of a dream or hallucination that he was walking through?
The voices of the guards caught him off balance. It certainly sounded real. But didn't all vivid dreams or hallucinations sound real? Thor's poor head was trying to work that out, so he covered and said, "Oh yes. Yes, please. Announce. Announce my return. If you will." He cleared his throat. "My good man."
The question remained, however: announce his return… to whom?
Both guards went running off, armor clattering and clanking, spears held fast. At the top of their lungs they called out, "Thor has returned! The Prince of Asgardia has returned!"
A great cheer went up amongst the palace guards. And then a fainter cheer could be heard fall below along each floor. And then outside. And somewhere, a trumpet (surely golden) was sounded, so all of Asgardia knew that the prince had returned from a long adventure.
Loki, who had been in the advisor's chamber, promptly perked up as some guards ran by, bellowing about Thor's return. The quill in his hand dropped down onto a half written letter, and he froze for a moment, worried that this Thor might not be his Thor. If it was the Thor of this universe, then he had to maintain the ruse that he was the Loki who belonged here. He didn't dare hope that it was the Thor he knew when he was younger.
In short, Loki didn't know what he was walking into when he left the chambers, filled with a sort of nervous hopefulness. To be able to see any Thor that might know him was wonderful. But to be denied that would be shattering, after finding out all he had lost in the TVA's holotheater.
He found out the whereabouts from a passing guard, and quickly headed upstairs. As he strode down the corridor, he straightened up, squared his shoulders, and held his head up high. Everything in him was screaming, wanting to hurdle himself at his brother and hug him tightly. Somehow, he refrained. It was hard to hide the curious but wary glance he gave Thor, looking him up and down, before he spoke.
"Well," Loki said slowly, "you look slightly worse for wear, but a welcome sight nonetheless." It was truthful and yet also could be enough of a cover if his hopes were dashed to pieces.
Awkward... Thor stood for a moment in the hallway, unsure of what to do next. He still held Stormbreaker in one hand, the other awkwardly dangling at his side, while he listened to the distant clanking of armor and the cheers echoing down the hall.
Moments later, footsteps were returning. Thor waited patiently, assuming it was the guard returning to give him directions or instructions. He was shocked when he looked up and found not a guard, but a tall, thin, dark-haired man. A man Thor knew instantly. His heart twisted and lurched in his chest.
"What is the meaning of this?" Thor asked, lifting his axe. He couldn't dare to hope, couldn't dream of the possibility that his brother was alive.
Loki held up both hands slowly as he examined the axe, stopping abruptly. He knew Thor had a bit of a temper before, and he didn't want to spend the rest of the day defrizzing his already unruly hair.
It was time for diplomacy. Loki needed to feel out who this Thor was. The mismatched eyes, the different weapon. There had been changes in the universe they had once been stuck in. And thanks to the nightmare from another place and time, he was aware that he had changed too. Drastically so. He was younger, the Loki who hadn't died. Not yet, at least.
"The meaning is that you've arrived in Asgardia," he told Thor, hoping the emphasis might lead to a visible reaction, a tip-off. If not, he'd try another way. "And I'm here to welcome my brother. Surely, by now, Queen Brunnhilde has heard of your arrival. As has everyone from here to the furthest marketplace and inn."
From a great distance away, a vocal cord shredding scream could be heard: "Thor Odinson has returned! Asgardians rejoice!"
Loki gestured off to one side as if that was exhibit A. Behold!
Thor could sometimes act dim, like he was all brawn and no brains. He could be oblivious to the world around him, unable to make simple connections between points A and B. But when he chose to be, Thor was keenly aware of his surroundings, and could pay attention to the slightest detail. It was one thing that made him a strong warrior: he watched, listened, and understood his enemy. This ability also applied to his friends… and his family.
His eyes narrowed as he very carefully studied the man in front of him. He watched every movement of the hands, every change in the expression. Thor wanted to know if this was Loki, or some other kind of trick. Because Loki was dead. Thor had witnessed it. He had mourned it. He had avenged it. It still haunted him every day. Every hour.
The Axe remained held at shoulder height, pointed at his brother. Thor spoke. “If this is some… some trick of my enemy--some vision set upon my mind by some force unknown, they will rue the day.” His voice was a growl, but Loki would have known well enough that the anger and bravado was covering up uncertainty and fear.
“But if you are truly my brother Loki, then you will explain how you are not dead. And you will do it quickly.” His voice cracked with emotion. How he wanted it to be true!
Relief didn't merely wash over Loki, it was like a flood rushing through him. His vision swam and he had to blink profusely to keep tears from falling.
Despite that, he began to smile. It was warm and fond, without a trace of deceit.
"Brother, there is a lot to explain," he said, struggling to keep his voice from wavering. "I know you have little reason to trust me. But I am the Loki you once knew. Because of Stark's time traveling fiasco, I absconded with the Tesseract. I inadvertently created another timeline and…and this me, my earlier self."
He wasn't sure if that covered things enough. Unconsciously trying to prove he was tangible and honest, he pressed one hand against his own chest. His words were softly spoken, "It's still me. The brother you knew from childhood. I didn't die. I'm here."
Thor was part of that Time Heist, so he understood the word fiasco. It’d nearly ended in disaster for him and the rabbit. His heart twisted once more at the memory of his mother, but he had much more important things going on in front of him than to dwell in both beautiful and painful memories.
He stared at the Loki in front of him. While Loki had lied to him, tricked him, harassed him, confused him, and befuddled him, Thor could tell that this was no trick. This was not chaos or deceit. This was honesty: it was a thing he so rarely received from his brother growing up, and a thing that he wanted more than anything now.
“It is you,” Thor spoke softly, his voice dripping with relief. He rushed forward to wrap his arms around his brother and hug him tightly, careful not to hit anything important with his Axe. “I saw--I saw--Thanos, he--” Thor felt his body give a little shake, arms wrapped around his brother.
Then the tears came. The spilled out of his eyes and down his cheeks. And one thought came to mind that let him cry even harder: his mother would have been so happy to see her boys together again. Bonding. Wrapped in an embrace and happy to be with one another once more.
Loki's hands dropped as Thor approached. He saw the tears, and his own eyes welled up with emotion too. In the past, he might have taken a step back out of wariness, being the distrustful creature he was before. His pranks had inspired angry words before.
This time, he wanted the hug. After all that transpired, this felt like it had been a long time coming.
Both arms instantly wrapped around Thor, and he buried his face down into one big shoulder, overwhelmed. What Mobius had shown him had been terrible, and what he saw on his own was even worse. Everything he thought he was doing - his glorious purpose and delusions of grandeur - had been a great lie. All he wanted back was his mother and brother, and the thought that he was irrevocably severed from them had broken his heart.
This mended it. Tears quickly turned into a smile.
"I missed you," he replied, each word soft and slow, in no hurry to let go. "My older self went through so much with you. It's not going to make things weird, is it? We can blame Stark. And that he wears entirely too much cologne. Two Starks are practically toxic."
Thor was fully prepared to continue this hug until it got awkward. And then probably continue holding it. Not only did he need it (and he thought he felt that Loki needed it, too) but that was what brothers were for. To make things awkward and horrible. And wonderful.
“You have no idea, Brother,” Thor said through his tears. “You have no idea how much I have missed your company.” Destroying Thanos hadn’t been enough. It hadn’t brought his brother back. And then five years of miserable guilt and mourning, followed by a great battle with Thanos?
Thor had been depressed, filled with anxiety, self-medicating, avoiding. It was a miserable way to spend five years. If he’d had his brother, everything would have been different.
“Not weird. I would rather have a younger you than no you at all.”
Loki's laughter was through tears as he held on. It was safe to say he wasn't about to let go first, but he felt relieved when Thor spoke those words.
"You have no idea how good it is to hear that," he admitted. Since he found out he wasn't Asgardian at all, he felt set angry and adrift, disconnected. It seemed like every time he blinked, he landed into one chaotic situation after another. "All I truly wanted was to go home. And yet, finding you here makes everything even better. I'm afraid here is...it's safe, but...I mean, I think it's safe...."
He wasn't sure how to start explaining the situation they were in.
Thor pulled back a little, though his hand came around to the back of his brother's neck and he held him there, firmly, looking into his eyes. "Home is where you and I are together, Brother. And let no force dare attempt to tear us asunder again. I will not hear of it." Now that Thor had Loki back--even if it was a copy of his brother from earlier in the timeline--he was not going to let go.
Finally, and somewhat reluctantly, Thor withdrew. He gave a slightly undignified straightening of his clothes. While he was quite a bit larger than Loki likely remembered him being, he was still Thor. There was the telltale scar along his face, and his eyes were different colors ("heterochromia" he'd been told was the term). His hair was long, his beard long, and his armor tight. But it was definitely Thor, God of Thunder, in all his glory.
He nodded. "Take me to the feast, and along the way explain to me about this place. You called it Asgardia. What does that mean? How did we come to be here?"
As far as changes, Loki's hair was shorter. Only the sides and top were swept back, the rest fell in loose, untamed curls. He looked more careworn now. There were many regrets, and seeing his future had left a mark on him.
For his part, he looked Thor over with a worried glance. For the most part, his brother looked as he used to. A towering and imposing warrior, but his bearing didn't seem as arrogant as before. A mark had been left on him as well. The eyepatch from the TVA record was gone. He decided to ask later why the eye was mismatched.
"If anyone tries, I'll tell you who the first culprit might be," Loki replied. "But you will never best him. I've also told you a thousand times that feasts take time. The cooks are working on it, and we can wait in the feasting hall."
Loki gestured down the corridor, clearing his throat before answering Thor's loaded question.
"Some of your friends have been ensnared in another reality for a time," he explained while turning to walk by Thor's side. He kept looking over as if he still couldn't believe he was there. "As for us, we woke up one morn and were in Asgardia. I don't know what happened to New Asgard. The people's concerns are petty disputes and building fountains. I don't think they've been battle-tested in thousands of years. The Valkyrie is navigating bureaucracy with ease, but Sylvie isn't sure what to do…."
Thor nodded, then gave a boastful laugh. It was only mostly forced. "We will best him together, Brother. There is nothing that can stop us." Of course, there was. They'd been stopped before. Crunched under the purple raisin's boot. And it wasn't until much, much later that Thor finally took the headshot. It hadn't helped the crippling guilt and depression, but at least he had learned his lesson. He would never falter again. He and Stormbreaker would never miss again.
"We shall have some meade while we wait." Because even though he mostly wasn't self-medicating anymore, Thor still loved a beer.
They walked together, side-by-side down the hall. Thor's mind was still reeling over this Asgardia business. But it felt so much like home, like Asgard, that he couldn't help but feel at ease. Having Loki by his side helped, too. A pain he didn't know he'd been harboring for years was lessened by the presence of his brother.
"Sylvie?" He asked, curiously, turning to look at Loki.
Loki didn't look so sure. During their last encounter with the newest incarnation, he was even more prepared. He hadn't spoken about it to anyone, preferring that everyone live their lives without being in a constant state of panic or anxiety. As time went on, he felt a stronger urge to share the secret with Mobius. His friend could monitor for any deviations in their timeline, not that they'd have a way to stop it.
He had been about to agree they could stop most things when his steps faltered. He looked very much like a cat that got caught with feathers in his mouth.
"Uh, yes. Sylvie." He'd talk with Valkyrie first about disclosing that past marriage business since Asgardians didn't know it happened anyway. The dreams changed him just enough, so he wasn't ever the same Lokis as before. It wiped out his past self each time, which was tiring. He looked a little sheepish as he admitted, "I, umm, have what Midgard refers to as...a girlfriend."
Who was like a feral alley cat.
Thor gave a gasp. It wasn't an unpleasant gasp, or a gasp of shock, but more of pleased surprise. Thor reached his hand over and squeezed Loki's shoulder.
"This is excellent news, Brother! I'm excited to meet her!" He had all these ideas what this Sylvie might be like. He was sure she would have to be patient and open-minded, undoubtedly beautiful to have caught his brother's eye and kept it.
"She's here? In Asgardia?"
Expectations vs Reality was going to be a thing. Loki grew up picky, snooty, and stuck on outward appearances. He had a father to try to impress, after all! Thor's assumptions were right, Loki would have leaped at the opportunity for a trophy wife to show off a hundred years ago. Of course, there weren't many who were interested in the younger prince, who was dark and moody. Thor shone far brighter. It was hard to compete.
That would have made Loki feel jealous before. Instead, he felt happy and hopeful.
"I think you'll like her." Or he hoped Thor and Sylvie would like one another. They were both so important to him. "She's an incredibly skilled enchantress."
Loki could brag more, but as they reached the feasting hall, he paused to ask, "What about you and...Jane, was it?"
Thor answered with kindness, honesty, and genuine affection. His voice lowered. “If you love her, then I know I will love her, too.”
And then the question about Jane. Jane Foster. Thor cleared his throat, finally lowering his hand from Loki’s shoulder. He gave a gentle shake of his head. Thor sought her out on Earth, only to find she’d been one of those who went missing after Thanos’s Snap. Five years later, he was in no position to commit to any kind of romance. Self-loathing, guilt, mourning, and depression had taken him, leaving him an anxious, self-medicating mess. Truth be told, he didn’t want Jane to see him like this.
She had been returned, though. During the time between the final battle against Thanos and Thor’s scheduled departure, he’d asked for assistance in looking her up. She was back, safe and sound. Of that, he was glad.
“Jane and I have gone our separate ways. No, I am a free agent at the moment.” Doing enough soul-searching that romantic entanglements were pretty much out of the question. “A freeeeeeee agent.”
They stepped into the hall and Thor called out for someone to, “bring the princes of Asgardia enough mead to make the room spin! For this reunion is a celebration!”