It doesn’t feel like falling, at first - it feels like drifting, like floating, and only Thor’s anguished face and the shattered edge of the Bifrost receding into the vast distance give him any real feeling of motion. It’s surprisingly gentle, or would be if his heart weren’t in such turmoil.
Then the tendrils of the universe wrap around him and oh, Loki falls.
It is a feeling as inside of him as it is outside. Celestial winds tear at his clothing and hair, stinging his face, knocking him about until he has lost all sense of direction or time. Fingers of energy rip at his body, right through the surface of his skin and into the heart of him. His bones shatter and regrow with each thunderous reverberation. He screams, and it is soundless and hurts his ears at the same. He is bleeding, he is broken, he is whole. No time has passed and the universe has died around him, leaving him in agony.
The blows become sharper, pummeling him in quick succession. There is the sound of things breaking over the ever-present roar of motion and then one last tremendous impact and silence.
Loki sobs into whatever solid surface he has stopped against. It is musty and cold and tries to choke him. He coughs painfully and manages to turn his head to the side. Frigid air rushes into his lungs and he coughs again.
Everything hurts. Loki wants to run, to get away from the pain, and he wants to lie still and finally die. He cannot go home - he does not have a home, nor family - what reason could there possibly be to live?
The angry, stubborn core of him, the part that raged at Odin and taunted Thor and tried to destroy all of Jotunheim for the crime of existence, says No. I will not die here.
Loki moves one arm, and manages to roll himself onto his back. It is dark, wherever he is, and everything wavers in and out of focus. Something arches up above him, nearly obscuring the blurred half-circle of moon overhead, and after a moment Loki tentatively identifies it as a stand of trees.
When the agony of rolling over has subsided a little, Loki attempts to sit up. He manages this with difficulty - his right arm will not work and his chest and ribs are a fiery mass of pain and do not want to be moved. He makes it to his knees before the sickeningly wobbly in-and-out of his surroundings is too much and then he is ill.
He spits blood and bile weakly onto the ground between his knees, trying very hard not to black out, and gets to his feet. The ground lurches and tosses him against the trunk of one of the nearby trees, but he hits it with his good shoulder and saves himself some agony. He straightens as much as possible and begins to walk, waveringly, in no particular direction.
I’ve survived worse than this, he tells himself dizzily. There was the time on Muspelheim when he was separated from Thor and his companions and had wandered, parched and overheated, that had surely been worse...
No. Thor had searched for him then, because the embarrassment of losing a brother was greater than the irritation of putting up with him, and in any case that had been very hot. This is cold and Thor will only search for him to exact retribution.
A branch snatches at his feet and he falls heavily to his knees, retching with vertigo and pain. The ground is solid beneath him and it would feel so much better to lie down, to let himself pass out -
No. No. He will not let this realm, Vanaheim or Alfheim or whatever it is, have the satisfaction. He staggers to his feet and keeps going. He kept going on Svartalfheim, blood dripping down his chin from his stitched-shut mouth and he is older and more stubborn now. Then he had the promise of healers and his mother’s sympathy and oh, Frigga must despise him now but he doesn’t care because he has stubbornness and anger and... and...
The night air is chillingly cold through the rips in his clothing - a Jotun shivering! he thinks half-hysterically - and he can feel his consciousness narrowing down to the placement of one foot in front of the other even as his left eye swells shut. The ground changes texture under his feet, becomes hard and smooth and he is grateful for that except that there are bright lights now that hurt his eye.
At least he is not on Jotunheim. There is some small mercy left in the universe if he is not on Jotunheim.
“Oh my God - are you all right?”
If there is a Jotunheim. How much of it had he destroyed? How many Jotuns? He killed his father on Asgard - not his father, no, his pretend father; his father is Odin, he is, although Odin may have disowned him now so he has no father. Had he a Jotun mother? Had she missed him? Had he killed her unknowing on Jotunheim?
Warm hands take his good arm and a face wavers into focus in front of him.
“Sir? Hey - hey, it’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
It is a mortal woman, of middling height and greying hair. He blinks at her in confusion, swaying. A mortal woman? No. No no no. He cannot be on Midgard, he cannot, it is ridiculous and cruel and - no. No. Not Midgard. He cannot. No.
“Oh, God, did someone do this to you? Are they still here?”
Belatedly, Loki grabs for his magic - he must get out of here, he must become invisible. At minimum he must cloak himself, Heimdall will see him on Midgard and he will tell Thor and Odin and they will be so very angry -
His magic slips from his grasp. Frantically he grabs for it again - he can sense it, dissipated by injury and his long fall from Asgard but he can sense it, why can’t he use it?
“Oh God. Okay, here, get in the car. I’ll get you out of here, okay? Please stop hyperventilating. It’s going to be all right.”
A blast of warm air hits his face and he stumbles against the side of a... it is one of the Midgardian conveyances. An automobile. A car. He has seen illustrations in the libraries at Asgard. This is sleeker, more modern, but he recognizes it and clings to that even as the realm roils around him. The mortal woman struggles to help him into the conveyance - he is tall and uncoordinated and even in his panic and confusion Loki can recognize that she is trying not to hurt him further.
She leans across him and he recoils instinctively.
“No, it’s okay - I’m just trying to fasten the seatbelt. See? It’s all right. I’m going to get you out of here.”
Loki grabs again for his magic, and again it slips through his fingers. His eyes sting. Is it not enough that he has lost his home, his family, his very being, he must have no magic as well? He is to be left with nothing?
The conveyance moves. Loki hears a whimper as it lurches. He closes his good eye.
The woman reaches over and takes his good hand. She is on the other side of him now, seated. He did not notice her moving. “I’m taking you someplace safe.”
The seatbelt hurts his chest and hips and the movement of the conveyance makes illness a very real possibility. He is sore and more afraid than he can remember feeling in centuries. The woman’s hand tightens on his.
“Hey, can you tell me your name?”
She seems calmer now that they are in motion. Loki risks opening his eye and looking at her.
“Who are you?” she prompts.
He is Aesir. He is Jotun. He is a son and a prince and a foundling and unwanted and a liar and a genocide and a murderer. He is insane and an outcast. He hurts.
Her face twists in sympathy. “Can’t you remember?”
Loki shakes his head. There is nothing to remember. He never knew.
“Can you remember who hurt you?”
Loki swallows painfully and tries to speak. He swallows and tries again.
“Fell,” he manages, finally. His voice is cracked and hoarse. It doesn’t sound like him. “I fell.”
Her mouth tightens. “Well, you’re safe now, okay?” she says, her voice choked. She squeezes his hand. “I’m not going to let anyone else hurt you. Do you hear me?”
His breath locks. She sounds so fierce, so determined. If Thor comes for him he will knock her aside without even noticing.
No. Thor is different now. Is he? He said he was. He is worthy of Mjolnir again.
Thor was worthy of Mjolnir before his banishment, and he used it to level a goodly percentage of Jotunheim, nearly killing his own companions in the process. It means nothing. She will mean nothing to him.
The woman’s hand pulls free of his and he startles badly, half-expecting to see that Thor has arrived. But the conveyance has stopped and the woman is outside it, calling for someone.
The door next to Loki opens and hands pull him out, laying him down on a cot of some kind. There are many people, moving too quickly for his scattered senses to follow. They are touching him, prodding him. It hurts. He tries to push them away but they hold him down. His magic still won’t respond to him.
“Shh, shh,” the woman says, appearing above him. “I know it’s scary but they’re trying to help you. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you, remember?”
She cannot protect him, not really, but her hand in his gives him something to focus on as the cot moves and the people above him speak in urgent voices. They cut away the sad remains of his clothing and attach wires and needles to him, and it is confusing and humiliating and it is easier to close his good eye and pretend it isn’t happening. The woman holds his hand throughout, following him to other rooms for further tests and procedures.
Finally all the activity calms, and Loki is left in a room with her. The pain is better now and there are warm knitted blankets and something cold on the side of his face. To take the swelling down, the woman explains.
“Hey,” she says, rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb. “Better?”
Loki nods, dislodging the cold thing. His bad arm is bound to him to immobilise his shoulder and the good one is in her hand, so she resettles it for him.
“What is your name?” he asks. His voice sounds a little clearer now, although his words still slur.
“Poppy,” she says, smiling gently. “Like the flower. Go ahead and get some rest, okay? I’ll keep watch.”
“Okay,” Loki agrees. Now that the pain has mostly dulled and the terror has eased somewhat, he feels very tired. Perhaps rest will clear his head. Perhaps then he will be able to find his magic again. “Thank you, Poppy.”
“Sure thing, kiddo,” she says, rubbing his hand again.
It feels... nice. Loki allows himself to sleep.