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Across the Universes

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Loki awoke with a sense that something was not quite right.

This had happened before, but usually it was fairly easy to pin down once he woke up enough to remember what he'd been doing last. In this case, however, he couldn't recall anything that would explain it. He took his nose out of Sigyn's neck and looked around instead.

This was not the room where they'd gone to sleep. This was not any room he'd ever seen in his life. The bedding was slippery, the mattress an odd consistency, and the contents of the room only got more perplexing from there. Also, it was almost uncomfortably warm, there was no sign of fire except a candle-stub with green wax, and something inexplicably smelled like snow.

Loki rubbed his eyes and nudged Sigyn. "Sigyn, wake up and stay calm. I have no idea where we are."

She blinked twice and sat up, looking around with equal bewilderment. "If this is a kidnapping, it's a very odd one. Have you tried getting out?"

"Not yet. I just woke up myself." There was an unshuttered window, which would be promising if it weren't obviously enchanted, so he tried that before the door. It also turned out to be blocked by a sheet of perfectly clear glass. Loki hesitated to start breaking things until he found out what was going on, particularly ones that were enchanted in ways he couldn't analyze, but after a little more investigation, the window turned out to open. The air outside was cool enough to make the heat of the room even more puzzling, and it smelled like autumn leaves. And not snow.

Loki stuck an arm out the window. Nothing happened.

"What," Sigyn said from just behind him, as the sun came out from behind the clouds and the city around them lit in dazzling reflections, "are they making these buildings out of?"

That was another good question. They looked like polished bronze. Much of Asgard was covered in gold, but it wasn't quite this pervasive. "Whoever lives here likes to show off, I think," Loki said. "And they're rather good at it."

A knock sounded at the door. They both turned and looked at it incredulously. It repeated a few times, and an unfamiliar voice called, "Loki! Aren't you awake yet?"

They looked at each other and shrugged. It didn't sound angry. A little impatient perhaps. Loki strode to the door and, not really expecting it to open, pulled on it.

To his astonishment, it did open. To his further astonishment, the blond man on the other side of the door looked him over and then growled, "Who are you and where is my brother?" The air crackled with menace.

"I'm Loki," Loki said patiently. "I assumed you knew that, as you just called me by name. I don't know where your brother is. I'd like to know who you are, where we are, and how we got here."

The other man stared at him. "I am Thor," he said, with an air of barely restrained fury. "You are in my brother Loki's room, and I want an explanation. Now." A pause. "I would also like you and -- and whoever that is -- to put some clothes on."

"You're... Thor?" Loki tried not to sound incredulous. Could be a namesake. Namesakes were not unheard-of. On the other hand, his hair was standing on end with the electricity in the air. He and Sigyn had been kidnapped by a storm giant who introduced himself as Thor and demanded... no, that was too ridiculous. "I am Loki. But not your brother, obviously. This is my wife Sigyn. We went to sleep in our own bed and woke up here. I was going to ask what you wanted with us, but evidently you don't."

Sigyn quietly appropriated a robe that presumably belonged to the missing Loki and wrapped herself in it. After a moment she fished in the pocket with a frown and came up with a startled expression and a double-ended throwing knife. She gave the blond Thor a wary glance and set it next to the candle.

Thor gave Loki a long, critical look and then let out an explosive huff. "He and Father were talking about alternate universes the other day," he said. "Perhaps there's been some sort of accident. Do you know a Thor?"

"Yes," Loki said cautiously.

"Does he look anything like me?"

Loki wasn't entirely sure where this line of questioning was going, but the air felt less like an oncoming storm. "Not really. And he is my friend and often my traveling companion, but not my brother."

"Well, that's odd." Thor sighed. "You'd better talk to Odin."

Loki glanced down at himself. "And shall I borrow your brother's clothing, or does all of it include more weapons than you want a stranger carrying before Odin?"

"I think he could handle you," Thor said a little dryly, "but let's try to keep it simple." He turned his head and roared, "SIF!" -- and then shut the door on them.

Loki, somewhat annoyed by this, opened it again and put his head around it. The woman who came jogging down the hall looked nothing whatsoever like the Sif he knew, starting with the black hair, and she was wearing armor. Thor explained -- much more quietly -- that the hunting trip was off, Loki was missing, and there were two intruders, one also claiming to be named Loki, who should be brought before Odin, but preferably not stark naked.

"And while you stand guard, you want me to discreetly find clothes for the crazy people who may or may not have kidnapped your brother."

"Yes."

"Why me?" Sif muttered.

"Because you're the one who came to see what was taking so long."

Sif scowled at Loki.

He shrugged. "I'm reasonably sure I haven't kidnapped anyone." At least, not lately, no one they knew, and certainly nobody he was about to bring up now.

"If you had, we could make you tell us where he is." She stalked away. Loki supposed he could understand her wanting an identifiable culprit instead of a mystery, but in this case, if he knew what had happened, he really would explain without being forced.

Once dressed and conducted to the king, Loki found himself quietly relieved that the Odin they were supposed to talk to was still an old man with one eye. And having noted that Thor carried a hammer and Odin a spear -- even if those didn't look quite right either -- he was definitely relieved that Odin seemed to think Thor's 'alternate universes' theory was plausible and that he and Sigyn had not in fact made off with the other Loki. Especially since everyone seemed rather worried about him.

Meanwhile, at least the Asgardians were hospitable enough once they'd been declared not to be enemies. He and Sigyn were offered breakfast and civil conversation, although some friend of Thor's named Volstagg seemed to be the only other person with much of an appetite. Everyone else seemed poised to form a search party and dash off at the first clue. To be fair, so did Volstagg, who dropped his piece of ham and surged to his feet with as hopeful a look as the rest when the Allfather walked in.

Odin waved them down and asked Loki and Sigyn to come with him when they were done. They glanced at each other and followed him out.

"I suppose it's most likely that he's wherever you came from," Odin said later, frowning over a set of magical items that were as unfamiliar as everything else in this place. Loki was debating whether he could justify asking about them on the grounds that he might be able to help if he had some idea what was going on. Simple curiosity was generally a good enough reason to ask Odin about anything, although not necessarily good enough for him to answer, but this Odin was trying to search beyond the worlds he could see for his missing... son. "What is it like?"

"It's Asgard," Loki said. Odin gave him a that-is-not-helpful look. Loki sighed. "It's a world, a realm, a walled city. Not a... planet or dimension or whatever else you called this place."

The entire situation was made stranger by a language barrier that was more like a muddy path with occasional pits in it. They weren't speaking the same language, but the Asgardians -- 'Aesir' had been one of the few words that tripped them up, of all things -- seemed to know his, and he could usually understand them. And then they would say something like "planet" that might mean world and might mean wanderer and might mean something chasing the sun and going too fast to catch it. Maybe he just didn't understand how they handled kennings yet.

Odin stared down at his paraphernalia with an air of frustration. "Is he likely to be all right there?"

Loki blinked and exchanged a look with Sigyn. He was used to Odin assuming he could take care of himself, but then, this Loki seemed to be much younger. "If we somehow exchanged places," he said, suddenly even more glad Sigyn had come along in the transition, "he'll probably run into Thor first, too. As I go traveling rather often without much notice, he's not likely to be accused of kidnapping. I imagine everyone will be fairly confused for a while, but unless he does something particularly stupid he'll probably be fine."

"That's... promising," Odin decided after a moment. "Now to find it. Even if he's not there, I assume you two want to go home."

"We appreciate that. It's east of Vanaheim and west of Jotunheim," Sigyn added, trying to be helpful.

Odin sighed. "Not the Jotunheim we know, I think."

"Let me guess," Loki said, "that's another planet."

"Entirely frozen," Odin said. "Home of the Jotnar, the frost giants."

Loki blinked. "Just frost giants?"

"You were expecting something else?"

"Rock, mountain, storm, fire...?" Loki snapped his fingers and held out his hand with a flame dancing in the palm.

Odin shook his head. "Only frost. Though my son does share with you some talent with fire."

"That reminds me," Loki said thoughtfully. "Is this other Loki your son by blood?"

Odin frowned at him. "Of course."

Loki looked into that one eye and smiled. "You're lying."

Odin straightened, glaring at him. "He is my son."

"And you are not lying about that," Loki said pleasantly. "But you didn't sire him. I was wondering. I am one of the few in Asgard -- the other Asgard -- who was not born a close relative of Odin. We made ourselves blood brothers long ago, but I was born in Jotunheim." A long pause, holding Odin's gaze. "They call me Liesmith, Odin. It's nothing to me if you want to keep the secret from the rest of your people. But how did you come to have him?"

Odin yielded with a sigh. "I stole him from the frost giants' temple at the end of our last battle with them. He was the son of Laufey, their king, but small for one of their children and left alone among the rubble."

Loki blinked. "Laufey was my mother," he said.

Odin shrugged. "It would probably be interesting to see you tell that to the one of this world-tree, but I am not in a hurry to arrange a meeting."

Loki wasn't particularly desperate for one either. "And how could you know whose child it was? Or, in the midst of a battle, if it had been abandoned willingly?" Not that it would necessarily have mattered, at that point.

Odin smiled thinly. "You are not the only one who finds out what others would prefer you did not."

"It is certainly a habit of the Odin I know," Loki conceded. "At any rate, as you can't trace him by blood, perhaps we should see if it helps to put me in contact with something that represents him?"

Some minutes later, Loki found himself staring at a helmet with two long and stunningly impractical horns on it. "I'm trying to decide," he breathed in Sigyn's ear when they had a moment with Odin hopefully out of hearing, "if it's a joke he's playing on everyone else or the other way around."

"I don't know," Sigyn murmured, "but I think Odin's going to want you to put it on."

She was right. At least the horns were better balanced than they looked. And their combined effort yielded an arrow-sharp sense of a direction that didn't quite exist, and caused Odin to announce that this told him how to calibrate the Bifrost.

"How to what?" Sigyn asked.

Odin shook his head. "If you want to stay that long, I'll explain later."

*****