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Monsters

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Loki had no idea how long he had been falling, or even whether he was still alive. The palace library at Asgard contained books about all nine realms, and Loki knew beliefs about the afterlife differed. On some mortal realms there was a belief not only in reward or punishment after death, but also in places of atonement. Loki could not really believe that rather hopeful doctrine applied to him, but there was another, about a place for those who were forever excluded from the rest of their kind. That sounded... familiar. Perhaps he had fallen into such a place.

Although in the book, that fate had sounded rather peaceful. Loki would not have expected a howling void, or for it to hurt so much. Though really, he was long past the point of being able to tell whether the pain was in his body or his soul. As he fell farther from the rejection of his father, the heartbreak of his mother and brother, and the hatred of everyone who had known him all his life, he felt as though he was being scoured with sand and brushes, like the stone floors of the palace, until he was... Not clean. Empty.

The blackness around him suddenly gave way to a soft gray light and he was aware of a sensation of speed that had been absent during most of his fall through the void. Loki had enough sense left to realize that meant he was now somewhere, rather than nowhere, and also that he was about to definitively arrive.

He also had enough controllable magic left to be able to break his own fall before his fall broke him.

He still hit the sloped roof of the little dwelling with enough force to have killed a mortal, and to cause serious discomfort to an immortal. He tumbled toward the edge, unable to make any real effort to catch hold anywhere, and then he was falling again.

It was a short fall this time, ending in a tangle of limbs among what appeared to be receptacles for refuse. Loki had just enough awareness left to find this grimly amusing. God of Mischief he might be, but recently the jokes had been almost entirely on him.

He was still trying to catch his breath, and persuade his arms and legs to obey simple commands, when he became aware of sounds--the door of the dwelling slamming open, running feet--and sensation--a strangely comforting coldness touching his shoulder.

He realized he had closed his eyes again. He opened them.

And found himself looking into a pair of concerned dark brown eyes. Disoriented as he was, he thought he recognized them.

"I didn't mean it," he blurted, in case Heimdall could still see and hear him. His threat toward his brother's mortal love had been empty, purely calculated to provoke Thor into fighting him. He had no intention of actually harming such a helpless little creature. It wouldn't be... sporting.

"Are you all right?" asked the voice that belonged to the eyes. It was young and female, but not familiar. Neither was the face, framed by a tangle of black curls as soft as the eyes. Not Thor's mortal. Not someone he recognized. Not, perhaps, someone who hated him already. "Where did you come from? You must be hurt. Let me help you--no, don't move, you'll hurt yourself. Where did you come from?"

There seemed to be a great deal more of this, a kind of circular swirl of words that left no room for response even if Loki had been able to produce one. Ordinarily, Loki had very little patience with babble, but impatience seemed to be among the things scrubbed away from him in the fall.

And besides, the voice sounded so concerned. About him. Not dismissive, or contemptuous, or disappointed. Concerned. As if all that mattered was whether he was injured. Loki felt very strongly tempted to close his eyes again and let the voice wash over him for a while longer.

Instead, he sucked in a breath that confirmed his chest was sore but not shattered, and tried to sit up. The cold feeling had moved from his shoulder to his forehead--that was nice, it was calming, it helped him think--but as he pushed himself more or less upright it moved to his upper arm. Loki wondered briefly what was causing the sensation, but he was still too disoriented to make any effort to find out.

"Are you sure you should be moving? I can call an ambulance. Oh no, actually, I don't think I can, but you shouldn't move--although I suppose you can't just stay here in the dustbins--"

Loki made an effort and produced a question. "Where am I?"

"Totterdown," replied the voice. Loki cast his mind over the names of the nine realms and did not find Totterdown. Clearly it was the name of a specific corner of one of them, and the fact this young woman didn't seem to realize he needed more details told him which one. Midgard--Earth--had long since closed itself off to knowledge of other worlds and the beings on them.

"Mid--Earth, correct? I'm on Earth?" he asked.

"Yes?" It was a question rather than a statement. Loki realized the young woman thought his brains had been jarred loose by his fall. That was close enough to the truth to let stand.

The cold sensation touched his cheek, and Loki finally realized what was causing it: it was coming from her hand. She was touching his face in what appeared to be a gesture of consolation, but all he could feel was this strange coldness.

Up to this point he had been entirely preoccupied with his own concerns, but this was strange enough to give him pause. Loki was no expert on mortals, but he knew they, like the Aesir, were supposed to be warm.

Apparently his confusion showed in his face, because the young woman snatched her hand away and looked self-conscious.

"I'm sorry, I'm babbling," she murmured--accurately, but her apparent perception that he found it annoying was not. She started to rise to her feet. "I should--"

"Don't go," Loki said rapidly. There was an insubstantial coldness in his hands and he found he was holding hers. If he concentrated, he could feel the shape of them. The young woman looked down at their joined hands as if that was more startling than having a stranger fall from the sky onto the roof of her house. Loki spoke again. "Please."

He wasn't quite sure what he meant, but he felt he had done something to upset her. She had been kind to him, and he was suddenly desperate not to be left alone in this strange place. Which was unusual enough, considering he was quite used to being alone, but he didn't try to understand it.

She smiled at him, the smile of someone placating an invalid, which should have infuriated him. It didn't, possibly because it felt entirely appropriate.

"I'm not leaving," she said soothingly. "Can you get up? You should come inside." She didn't seem afraid that he would do anything to hurt her, and it crossed Loki's mind that, perhaps, it wasn't so much what he would do as what he could do.

There was something very strange about all this, but it was so mixed up in everything else strange that he decided not to try to figure it out right now.

"My name is Annie, by the way," the young woman said suddenly. Loki nodded, realized she was waiting for him to reciprocate, and then felt a glow of relief when it became evident his name meant absolutely nothing to her. "Pleased to meet you, Loki. Come on, let's get you inside."

It turned out his legs would, in fact, just about hold him, although he needed help. It also turned out that if he concentrated as hard as he could, he could feel Annie's arm around his ribcage, steadying him. Loki conceded that it made very little sense for him to be able to lean on someone he wasn't entirely sure was really there, but he was beginning to realize Earth was a great deal more complicated than he had always believed, not to mention more interesting.

"Here, sit down and I'll make you a cup of tea," Annie said, helping him into a hard wooden chair at a small wooden table. "Tea" turned out to be a hot sweetened liquid, apparently administered for purposes of steadying the nerves. It worked admirably. Annie sat down across from Loki and watched him drink.

It took him a moment to realize that was odd, too. Ordinarily, when one offered hospitality, one shared food or drink with the guest. Annie simply watched him.

Loki put the cup down and carefully pushed it away, suddenly fearful he had blundered into a trap of some sort. He had no idea why Annie would wish him harm, since she didn't appear to know who he was. He also didn't think mortal poisons would normally have any effect on him, but the circumstances were far from normal--for all he knew, the majority of his powers had been taken away from him in the fall. And, he realized, he had no idea what effect such poisons might have on a Jotun, since he knew nothing whatsoever about the creatures except for the stories that had frightened him as a child.

Trying to keep his voice steady, he asked, "Will you not join me?"

"What--? Oh, no," Annie replied brightly. "I can't."

"Can't" was unexpected. Loki stared at her for a moment, and then--perhaps it was the tea--his brain began to put things together. The coldness, the way he had to concentrate to touch her, this definitive "I can't"--

"You're not mortal, are you?" he asked softly.

Annie stood abruptly. "You can't go around in those clothes, you look like you've fallen off the Starship Enterprise. Tell you what, the woman two doors down just chucked out her boyfriend--long overdue, if you ask me, useless tit--and I think she's pitched all his clothes into a bin. He was about your size. I'll go see what I can find for you." Loki nodded, unsure what reaction he should offer and a little scared again that she would simply go off and leave him. Annie paused at the door and spoke, her tone kind. "It's all right. I'll be back in a second. Drink your tea."

And, because there seemed to be nothing else for him to do, Loki did.