Loki awakens slowly some time later. He is warm, and there is little pain, and someone is holding his hand. He can hear the woman’s - Poppy’s - voice, but she is speaking quietly. There seems to be little reason for alarm.
“...No internal damage,” someone else is saying. “Which is a miracle, frankly, considering the broken ribs and the extent of the bruising. No sign of sexual assault either. We’ll have to keep an eye on that head wound but his skull’s intact. He didn’t say who did this to him?”
“He said he fell.” That’s Poppy. She sounds sad.
The other person snorts. “Hell of a fall.”
Poppy pets his arm absently. In his drifting state, Loki feels comforted. “He was really scared,” she says softly. “Could you figure anything out about him?”
The other person - Loki thinks it might be a woman with a low voice, as opposed to a man with a light one - hums thoughtfully. “He’s a bit of a puzzle, actually. Looks to be in his mid to late twenties. Healthy, I’d say middle class upbringing at least, but he’s got weird calluses and some childhood injuries I can’t explain.”
“Abuse?” Poppy asks.
“Maybe. Some of the healed fractures are consistent with a fighter - a martial artist or maybe a boxer - but he’s missing a lot of the other signs I usually expect with that. His hands should be more messed up, for one thing. And that faint scarring around his mouth - I have no idea what caused that.”
Loki frowns reflexively, and the women fall silent for a moment. When he gives no other signs of waking they continue, voices quieter.
“His accent sounded British,” Poppy says. “Upper class. I mean, not that he talked very much before passing out.”
There’s a sound that Loki drowsily identifies as paper being shuffled. “His bloodwork might tell us more, when we get it - Memorial’s pretty backed up and we don’t have the facilities here for much beyond the basics. Oscar’s going to come over and take his prints when he’s done at the courthouse.”
“Thanks, Eleanor,” Poppy says.
“Sure.” The other woman moves away.
Poppy is silent for a while, then Loki feels her stroke his hair. “You really found yourself in some trouble, didn’t you, kid?” she says softly.
Loki doesn’t want to think about trouble. He wants to stay like this, peacefully half-conscious with someone nearby who is kind and treats him gently, but Loki’s life has never been like that before and there’s little reason to expect it to start now.
The swelling in his face has gone down while he slept and he is able to open both of his eyes, albeit with a little difficulty. That is a pleasant surprise.
“Hey,” Poppy says. “How are you feeling, kiddo? I’m sorry if we woke you.”
“I awoke on my own,” Loki assures her. “Have I been asleep for very long?”
She smiles. In the stronger light of the room, and with his perceptions clearer, Loki can see that she is an older woman with a pleasantly lined face. The smile makes her look... he doesn’t quite have a word for it. Warm, perhaps. Reassuring. “A few hours. You sound a lot better.”
“I feel much improved, thank you.” The room is still wobbly in places thanks to the lingering effects of the head injury, and he suspects that it will hurt a great deal as soon as he moves, but ‘much improved’ is accurate enough.
“I’m glad to hear that.” She tucks her hand back into his. “I don’t want to freak you out, sweetie, but can you remember what happened at all? Who you are?”
He remembers pain. Anger. Thor and Odin at the edge of the Bifrost staring down at him, the disappointment in Odin’s eyes and the confusion in Thor’s. He remembers falling and the horrible landing. He is on... Midgard.
He swore never to come here.
He reaches reflexively for his magic. He is better now, it should work, but it slips away just as it did before.
“Hey. Hey. Focus on me, okay?”
He takes a breath, a little too deep, and pain lances through his chest. He lost access to his magic once before, when he played a trick on Sif and she handed him a beating in retaliation. It came back after some rest, once sitting up no longer made him ill and he was allowed out of bed. That is all this is. It will come back, and it will come back before Thor and Odin find him. It has to.
“It’s okay. You’re safe here, it’s okay. They can’t hurt you.”
Poppy is half-sitting on the edge of his bed, leaning over him with one hand on the uninjured side of his face. Her expression relaxes a little bit when he is able to meet her eyes.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to set that off.”
He breathes carefully and forces himself to think. Thor destroyed the Bifrost, so that should buy him some time. Even though Heimdall will be able to find him until his magic recovers and he is able to cloak himself, the guardian cannot communicate with anyone on Midgard. The only Midgardians who would know - who would even believe - Loki’s true identity are Thor’s erstwhile companions, in the desert, and Loki is in the forest. He will be safe as long as he draws no attention to himself until his magic returns.
“I am sorry. I cannot remember.” Although claiming total memory loss will likely attract curiosity, Loki knows he is not well-versed enough in Midgardian customs to pass himself off as one of them. The amnesia, hopefully, will be a broad enough excuse to cover the gaps in his knowledge until he has a chance to acclimate to his surroundings.
“Okay, honey,” Poppy says, giving him a sad smile. She slides back off the bed. “How about we come up with a name for you in the meantime? Robbie - he’s one of the nurses - his wife’s expecting, so he might have a book of baby names we can borrow.”
“All right.” He tries to give her a reassuring smile, as best he can with the side of his face still swollen and painful, but from the suddenly wobbly quality of her expression it’s not much of a success. It doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to rely on his charm for a little bit, which is unfortunate. He dislikes playing the vulnerable card, especially when it’s so close to the truth, but it’s probably the best option available to him for the time being.
They’re interrupted by a quiet knock on the doorway. Loki turns too quickly to look and has to close his eyes against the dizzying swoosh of the room. He feels a moment of panic, blinded and unable to assess the new entrant into their moment of quiet, and then Poppy says “Hey, Oscar, thanks for coming.”
He vaguely remembers hearing that name before, when Poppy and the woman healer had been talking. He blinks, and the room resettles.
Oscar turns out to be a thin man with receding hair and a polite, deferential manner. He is dressed in a sandy-colored uniform with a belt of weapons and strange implements; Loki recognizes it as a variation of Midgardian peacekeeper garb and suffers a moment of cognitive disconnect. Guards on Asgard are chosen for their size and physical ability - this man looks more like a councilor or scholar than a warrior.
The presence of weapons is nevertheless unsettling. Loki is suddenly very aware of his vulnerable position and the extremely limited protection that his blanket and infirmary smock will provide. For all that Oscar looks to be physically harmless, Loki knows better than most that appearances should not be trusted.
“Hi Poppy,” Oscar says. “Mr. Doe. How are you feeling? I’m Oscar Macklin. I’m a deputy for the Sheriff’s department.”
Loki blinks. “Mr. Doe?” he asks Poppy, momentarily thrown.
“Oh!” Poppy looks a little embarrassed. “John Doe. It’s the name we use for people who don’t have identification of some kind and can’t tell us their names for whatever reason. It’s mostly for paperwork.”
John, Loki thinks. Unclaimed. “I like ‘John’,” he says.
“It’s a little generic, but it could be worse,” Poppy says, shrugging. “John it is. Nice to meet you, John!”
Oscar nods gravely. “Well, I’m glad that’s decided. Now, John, do you remember what fingerprinting is?”
“I don’t think so,” Loki hedges.
“All right.” Oscar smiles reassuringly. “What it means is that I’ll take this pad of ink and use it to get impressions from your fingers. We’ll run those through our database, and see if they match any records. If we’re lucky, you’ve been fingerprinted somewhere before and we’ll be able to find out who you are and where you came from.”
Loki nods. He is certainly not in this database, and as soon as he has his magic back he can alter his fingerprints, so there seems to be little harm in this exercise. “I understand.”
“Great,” Oscar says. “Now, I’m going to need to come over and take your hand. Is that okay with you?”
Loki nods. “Yes.”
Oscar and Poppy stand and switch places so Oscar can have easy access to Loki’s good left hand and Poppy can hover anxiously by the foot of the bed. Loki is faintly amused by their delicate treatment of him right up until he realises Oscar is, for all intents and purposes, looming over him. He tenses, but Oscar sits quickly, deliberately putting himself in a much less threatening position.
“Okay?” he asks. Loki nods, unsettled.
Oscar keeps up a quiet stream of commentary while he proceeds with the fingerprinting, telling Loki what he’s going to do ahead of time and then telegraphing his movements so Loki won’t be startled. It’s oddly endearing, and Loki is horrified to realise his eyes are starting to sting a little. Poppy squeezes his knee, and Loki focuses desperately on the fingerprinting process before he can embarrass himself further.
“There we go,” Oscar says, carefully cleaning Loki’s fingertips with a pungent white cloth. “I think we should wait on your right hand until your arm’s better - Eleanor will yell at me if I mess up your bandaging any. I’ll run these and see if we get anything back.”
“Thanks, Oscar,” Poppy says. “He’s going to stay at the library for the time being, so he’ll be easy to find.”
Oscar pauses halfway through switching places with Poppy. “Are you sure?” he asks pointedly.
“Yes, Oscar,” Poppy says firmly.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Oscar repeats.
They stare each other down for a moment. Oscar gives a tight little smile.
“Well, we can discuss it later,” he says. “I’ll go check in with Eleanor and let Robbie know we’re done here.”
Loki watches this exchange, fascinated. “Do you mind me asking - “ he begins, and then a far more important piece of the conversation lodges in his mind. “Did you just say I would be staying at a library?”
Poppy blinks. “Yes. I’m the librarian, I live above it. Is that all right? I’ve got a spare room you can have.”
A genuine smile crosses Loki’s face before he has a chance to temper it. “I love libraries.” Asgard’s libraries had been vast, and cold, but most importantly they had been underused. Loki had spent much time taking refuge there, in his boyhood and after. The silence and austerity did not bother him and there were such things to be learned... If he is going to make his way amongst these mortals, a library is a fortuitous place for him indeed.
Poppy beams at him. “I knew you were a person of good character.”
Loki blinks at the non-sequitur. “Well. Thank you.” He thinks he understands Oscar’s strange reaction before, now - Poppy is clearly far too trusting. “I am... very grateful for all your help.”
Poppy smiles. “Of course, sweetheart. We’ll get you back on your feet in no time.” She glances up past him towards the door. “Ah - John, this - “
Loki glances up, and sees broad shoulders and fair hair towering over him.
His feeling of well-being vanishes as if it had never been. Far more time must have passed than he had thought - the Bifrost has been repaired already, and the time he’d thought he had to heal and be safe has evaporated. For how long had he fallen? Panic locks his breath in his chest even as his instincts kick in and he rolls quickly out of bed and away from his brother. The agony of moving is drowned out by adrenaline - he cannot get Poppy out of harm’s way if Thor is standing in the doorway, and even if he surrenders quickly there is no guarantee his brother will not subdue him forcefully anyway.
He pushes Poppy behind him and puts their backs to the wall - the room is small, and Thor will not heed walls or furniture or mortals that happen to get in his way. Loki’s only chance is to use himself as a barrier between Poppy and his brother for as long as possible, and pray that the altercation is over before Oscar’s duty as a peacekeeper draws him into the fray.
Thor has stopped in the doorway, hands out to show he’s unarmed, but Loki knows that -
Loki knows -
He blinks. Thor is... a little shorter, and his hair is slightly darker, and the beard is different...
“John. John.” That’s Poppy, voice strained and anxious. “John, it’s okay, that’s just Robbie, he isn’t going to hurt anyone - ”
Oscar skids into the room. “Robbie, go back to the desk.”
The man backs up into the hallway, face contorted with distress. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to startle him.”
“It’s okay, Robbie,” Oscar says reassuringly. “Just give us a minute, all right?”
Loki’s heart pounds. “That... that wasn’t... I don’t know him.” He hates the way his voice sounds, uncertain and worried. His own reaction frightens him - he misjudged the situation so completely, leapt so quickly to the wrong conclusion. This is not the way to seem harmless and unnoticeable, this is... this is madness. Again. He doesn’t - he isn’t - what is he doing? Poppy doesn’t need his protection. Thor may be heedless but he is not a villain, he would not kill a mortal woman for no reason -
“John, I’m going to come over there, okay?” Oscar is saying. “I’m just going to help you back to the bed, you don’t look too steady...”
He - he isn’t. The adrenaline is wearing off, leaving him sick and shaken. His legs are trembling badly, and he’s beginning to feel the protestations of his injuries. Poppy is nearly holding him up on one side - quite a change from his dramatic and inexplicable impulse to fling himself between her and imagined danger.
“Poppy - “
“Shh,” she says. “It’s okay, John.”
“Did I hurt you?”
“Oh, no, sweetie,” she says quickly. “No - I’m fine. Did you see how he protected me from Robbie?” she asks Oscar pointedly as they maneuver Loki back to the bed.
Oscar sighs. “A golden retriever with a suitably adorable expression could have protected you from Robbie,” he says, “but I take your point. I withdraw my objection, go ahead and take him in.”
Poppy gives Loki a triumphant smile. “See what a good job you did?” she says, rubbing his back.
“What is wrong with me?” Loki chokes out.
Poppy’s eyes widen. She tips his chin up until he’s meeting her gaze “Hey. Nothing is wrong with you. You’ve been through something really awful and your instincts are still trying to catch up to the idea that you’re safe again but that’s normal. Do you understand?”
No. Loki does not understand. What has he been through? Nothing so awful as these mortals seem to think, and nothing he has not survived before. He has been in pain. He has been injured. He is more alone than usual, it is true, and there is his - his heritage which was a blow that he cannot, cannot think about but that is not - it isn’t -
This is not the way he reacts to things. This is not the way the Aesir react to things. He has never seen Odin this disoriented and Thor has never been this troubled. Even the... even the Jotuns are fearless warriors; Odin himself has acknowledged it. This is not their way either. This is... shameful. Weak.
I am not Aesir, nor Jotun, he thinks, eyes burning. I am... something else, and it is damaged.
What is wrong with me?