It’s a sudden rip in the rainbow whirl, like an arrow fabricated from starless night and nothingness tearing through it, and he has no idea how they could find them, but one reeling second and the Chitauri are there. Thor realizes only a split second later but by then, they are completely surrounded.
Loki hears the magnetic, soothing boom of Mjölnir as it awakens in Thor’s hand. A moment of pure terror but it’s not on the Chitauri side. Thor jerks, and Loki sees the panic in his brother’s eyes, the paralyzing agony of taking a decision, of picking: to defend the Tesseract, to fight, to hold onto Loki. Thor yells something but it’s no more than a roar over the drumbeats of his blood and the noise of the Chitauri ambush. Loki reaches out toward him with the free hand that isn’t clutching the Tesseract.
And something shifts.
It’s only a blur of cries, colors, cold and darkness from then on, the stomach-churning roll of the starlight, and the burning feeling when his fingers slip off Thor’s arm, slip off the Tesseract, and they are at him.
Behind the Chitauri, the blue halo of the Tesseract erupts, it’s a blinding explosion, and he knows it pulled Thor with it, following the original path toward Asgard as if they have never been intercepted, and then it finally sinks in.
This is an old promise turning from empty threat into reality.
If you fail, if the Tesseract is kept from us, there will be no realm, no barren moon, no crevice where he can't find you. You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet as pain.
He feels no fear. Fear is for those who have something to lose. He has nothing left, only his life, and the Chitauri wouldn’t give him such an easy way out, so he fears not. It is only torture they can inflict on him but it is familiar, he has a history of pain with the Chitauri. So there is no fear.
He doesn’t know yet but -against everything sensible, despite his belief- they find something inside him even Loki didn’t know about. Something that he cherishes beyond his consciousness, something that is hiding behind a shade. Something that keeps him together.
And then, fear comes later.
It occurs to him only for a moment how unsettling it was when they found him the first time. He didn’t tell much and they didn’t ask, but somehow he knew they could see him. They could read his story from his face, right out of his mind. They could read in betrayal and it seemed it was written all over him – he reeked of it and it clung to him like shredded rugs. They can smell it, they know betrayal like he has known it all his life, always ready to betray anyone and everyone in the blink of an eye, and in the end, winding up betrayed in the greatest scheme that even he could have never come up with.
It should unsettle him now, his own transparency in their eyes, but it doesn’t.
He should remember that the smell of betrayal around him is ineffaceable, but he doesn’t.
They don’t let him sleep, don’t let him eat. It’s only the water dripping from the cave walls like drops of sweat, gathering in small crevasses at the bottom that keeps him alive, and Loki thinks he is lucky if the Chitauri deems this his punishment.
The cave is open, they didn’t close it with bars or unmovable stones. If he stares hard enough, he thinks he can make out the distant dots of stars but then he realizes it might be only his eyes stinging from the strain. They didn’t even chain him, and sometimes he is surprised by it. Other times he decides to stand up and simply walk out and away but when he starts to crawl (he cannot stand, though he doesn’t really understand why because he has his legs and as much as he can tell they are uninjured), he simply loses determination and stops. It looks like a distance he needs great effort to cross, and he doesn’t find the will in himself. The cave is peaceful and secluded. Nothing hurts here. It’s a prison he willingly occupies.
It is very quiet. He suspects -maybe from the tension in the air, a vibration trying to find its own sound waves- they are still figuring out how to break him.
Then it starts, and it’s the sensation of falling again. He cannot see anything in the pitch black but this sensation he knows well. It’s an unmistakable lurch in the pit of his stomach and a gulp of breath caught in his throat. He is falling, twirling, and it’s cold, and the feeling eats itself in his limbs, in his bones, and he cannot wrap his mind around anything comforting until it’s suddenly fear.
He doesn’t fear of hitting the ground, of breaking every bone in his body.
He fears of never arriving.
But then, abruptly it is solid surface underneath him, and he doesn’t remember landing, neither does his body. It would be relief if not for the trembling in his guts, the anticipation as if he was balancing on the edge of a cliff and in any moment he would fall again.
Because somewhere deep inside, he knows he would.
He reaches out and plants himself against the rock beneath him but it doesn’t help and he is weightless again. The void sucks his thoughts out, and in the sudden vacuum of his head, they are emerging: long forgotten memories.
He thinks of what he has heard once, that in the moment of approaching death, in mortal danger, people see their lives played out in a blur of colors and feelings in their minds. First he believes this is what’s happening to him, too. But it is not. The course of time of falling is so long that sometimes it feels like he is levitating in the perpetual peril, in the mouth of final demise, without the promise of landing.
It is constant darkness, there is nothing to do other than lying there on the hard rock, and he cannot sleep. He doesn’t know why. He sees no sign of the Chitauri, and when he attempts to investigate it, there is, in fact, no source of disturbance anywhere around him, and still he cannot sleep.
Anyway, the periods of lying on the ground are shorter and shorter, and then he is falling again, and when he does, he recalls memories he thought he has long forgotten, scenes of the past, dreamlike, swimming in his mind, and he has no explanation why they come now but he entertains himself with them. It is the closest thing he gets to sleep: they are hazy and leave him numb like an abrupt awakening from a long slumber.
First they don’t really make any sense. Colors, light and shadow, warmth and cold in a never-ending circle whirling in his head, leaving him mildly disturbed.
They are children, he realizes suddenly, Thor and him. He sees Asgard, the apple grove behind the palace, and it’s a faint pang of longing. They were playing hide and seek, and he climbed a tree like a cat and hid among the green leaves, unmoving. He remembers this particular memory because Thor defended him against his friends. He always insisted on him taking part in their games, always pulling him by the arm, even when Loki didn’t feel like joining. Thor’s friends never really liked him, and it was only for Thor and his hot-blooded threats that Loki was allowed to join the game.
Loki smiles now. He hid so well that it gave the other children another reason to hate him even more.
He sees himself lying prone on a branch, smirking at the others below him.
“I’m tired of this game,” Fandral said, and Thor stepped closer. “Where is he?”
“I would merrily leave him here if it wasn’t for Mother. She doesn’t let me play with you if I don’t bring him along,” Thor snarled, and they walked away.
Suddenly, it is solid ground again, and Loki blinks, confused. It has been centuries coming and passing since that day in the grove, but it feels strange. Somehow something seems amiss but he is not able to tell what exactly. He cannot fully recall this memory, and it feels like he could just remember the ending only now, it is so alien.
Except for the sting of disappointment it leaves in him. That is not so alien.
He came of age that day, and Thor gave him a set of slender, softly curved daggers that were pale like the moonlight and beautiful.
“I crafted them for you,” Thor said, and Loki was all smiles, and Thor pulled him in an affectionate hug, and Loki decided he would never use the daggers in a battle, they were too precious. He would always put them under his tunic, though, and they would warm up against his heart like healing stones.
Then they had a fight in Muspelheim, and it was imminent danger and he had no other choice but to use a dagger, and it saved his life. He pulled it loose from the dead body of his opponent, cleaned it meticulously with an air of gentle pride.
“Oh, my old dagger,” Hogun sighed behind him. “So this is where Thor put them after our bet. I’m willing to trade this pendant for the daggers, if you let me.”
And with the dagger now heavy and cold in his fist, Loki stared at the pendant dangling from Hogun’s hand, the pendant Loki had molded for Thor with his own hands, it blinked like the rising sun, it was bright and golden like his brother. He always thought, because Thor told him so, that he was wearing it on a long chain under his garments.
It’s a whimper bouncing off the cave walls, and Loki realizes he emitted the sound. He tries to remember what happened, if he traded the daggers for the pendant but the memory doesn’t come back to him. Not that it matters. He rolls on his side, and wishes for just a minute of sleep.
“Brother, come and hug me,” Loki called out, and Thor let down the pole he used in the training bout against Sif.
Loki laughs around the lurch in his stomach as he falls. He is fond of this memory. It was a nice afternoon. He showed Thor what he was capable of, and Thor was so greatly entertained that it was well into the night when they got back to the palace. He closes his eyes, or so he thinks, it’s hard to tell in the darkness, and smiles.
“Come and hug me, brother.”
And Thor came with open arms, ready to squeeze him in his iron grip, with a dumbly suspicious smirk on his face. He ran at Loki to tackle him and he fell to the ground with a thud, falling through Loki like he was only a ghost. He rolled over in confusion and looked up at his brother standing a foot away. He leapt to his feet, sprang and repeated the feat. This time he laughed but tried again, and Loki was laughing with him.
“What is this game, brother?”
“I completed this trick today,” Loki smirked proudly.
“You should come and spar instead,” Sif said from behind.
“She is right.” Thor turned to him, now serious, almost uncharacteristically stern. “I heard Mother say that she wanted a daughter after me. Maybe this is why you are so engaged in such womanly crafts. Sif here is more of the brother you should be.”
The long wail hurts his head, and when he moves to cover his ears, Loki understands it’s coming from him. He presses his face to the ground, wishing for a minute of oblivion, and he realizes only then that he is crying.
“This is the greatest madness I have ever heard from you, Thor. Such plan would suit me better, don’t you think?”
“Yes, this is why I beg for your help.”
Loki tried to hide the smirk. Thor had the bright idea of stealing a golden apple from Idunn’s garden, and of course he realized very belatedly that he wouldn’t be able to do it alone. He had to be really desperate if he was willing to beg, so Loki had to prolong the moment just for his own entertainment. It’s not that he would see Thor plead him too oft. He would submit in the end like he always did, but for now, it was for his pleasure.
“Why do you need that apple?”
“There is… someone…” Thor mumbled clumsily, and Loki almost laughed at his face.
“Oh, Lady Brunnhilde?”
“How do you know?” Thor cried, crimson faced, dumbfounded.
“Brother, everyone knows,” Loki shook his head with a sly smile.
Eventually, they needed his magic to veil Thor from Idunn’s eyes while he took an apple.
Of course, Brunnhilde was dolt enough to brag about the godly gift, and Odin found it out. There was the threat of a great punishment looming over their heads, and Thor, the Mighty, the Great, now slackened jawed, pleading eyed, blurted.
“It was all Loki’s idea, father. I tried to stop him but it was not possible.”
Loki stared, his voice lost, he stared even when their father announced his punishment and disappointment in him before leaving the room with Thor at his heels. Thor stole a sideway glance at him, and just above a whisper, he said incredulously.
“You thought father would believe you against my words? You fool.”
When Loki feels the ground again, he gasps for air. Suddenly it feels like something is pressing against his chest so heavily that it suffocates him, and when he opens his mouth, it’s a strangled sob escaping his throat. The sob turns into a howl, and he is writhing on the ground like a bound animal, consumed by fury so blinding that he cries out in pain. Swearwords like bane spilling from his lips, and he curses everything and nothing in particular, curses himself, the darkness, the falling. The everlasting, eternal falling.
Then it’s quiet again.
He curls into himself, and this time he wishes for senselessness.
Sometimes he falls, and the memories are just a flood of images and feelings passing through his mind in a whirlwind. He is unable to pick out one, differentiate one from the other, he doesn’t know where one ends and where the next begins. It’s only the impression he is able to recognize, the concoction of anger and hurt and hatred and endless, maddening, blind wrath, and he feels so alone, more alone than any other time in his life. It is suddenly like being naked and frozen to the core. He has to touch his arm to make sure he is still fully clad but nonetheless he is sure something was taken from him. Something he cannot identify. Something that has kept him warm, kept him together and sane. Something that’s absence leaves a gaping hole in his chest.
The onslaught of meaningless, unrelated emotions is so harsh, so dense that when his fall stops, he finds himself on all fours, heaving and retching but there is nothing apart from water in his stomach he could throw up. He tries to grasp the feelings, shape them, suppress them but he can’t. Then he tries to redirect them, to find a target he can aim at with the foul and unbearable chaos in his head but when he is about to do so, he starts to fall again, and everything escapes his mind.
His attempts to cling onto consciousness and sanity are in vain. He tries to pull at his mind but it slips out of reach when the void opens below his body and he is falling again and cannot think, cannot yell, cannot fight. He can do only one thing: to remember. And that, he doesn’t want anymore.
In his mind, the balcony is obscured by shadows but Loki recognizes by the banners hanging off the walls that it was the night before Thor’s coronation day. He remembers being an involuntary ear-witness of a moment between Odin and Thor but he cannot anymore recall the conversation. Somehow the imprint of it on his soul is a mixture of indignation and flattery but he cannot tell for sure. He cannot tell anything for sure anymore.
“Are you nervous, son?” Odin asked, and in his fall, in the freezing emptiness of his own mind, Loki is watching it as if someone else’s memories were being revealed in front of his eyes, not knowing the ending, never knowing the ending.
“I feel ready.” Thor was a bundle of nerves but he would never admit that. “And I’m not alone. I still have you if I need guidance.”
“And you have Loki’s advices to aid you as well.”
The expression on Thor’s face was sulky. “I don’t want to rule Asgard with Loki. I don’t need him.”
Odin’s voice was a whisper so low that Loki, in the shriek of his falling, fears he wouldn’t catch it if he isn’t listening close enough. “You need his magic, Thor. It is very unfortunate that our royal family sprouted a sorcerer but we might as well make use of it.”
“I do not wish that. Doesn’t it make me womanly and weak, just as despicable, if I settle for such unsavory means?”
“The end justifies the means, and in need you sometimes cannot afford an honorable way.”
“Very well. I will do it, father. I will hand tame him and have the power of his witchcraft in the service of Asgard, however loathsome it may be.”
This is the first time Loki feels the landing. It’s a sting in his cheek, and his ear rings.
Then he realizes he hit the ground in his wriggling and fell on his right side. But he doesn’t mind, because finally he found the target for his vile and blackened emotions, finally he can identify the stem of his distress, and he wants to rip his memories out of his mind in the suffocating onrush of hatred that leaves his whole being shuddering. He curses Thor, his mouth is foul and tastes bitter, he can feel the foam rush to his lips and he bites down and draws blood and spits it out, and hates Thor with every fiber in his body, blindly and with raw wounds in his chest, he hates him because Thor betrayed him, because Thor used him, because Thor never cared about him, but mostly because he, the fool and weak, somewhere so deep that he hasn’t known about, in this shameful recess of his own heart that has been so far intact, Loki loved him.
There are simple things in life. Like light and shadow. One defines the other. You take away one, and the other loses its meaning. One doesn’t exist without the other. They are defined by their opposite. There is no light without shadow, and there is no shadow without light. On their own, they make no sense.
So, the Chitauri thought, let us see what happens when we take away the light.
First he doesn’t understand the word. He rolls it about in his mind, tastes it. Loki. It’s familiar and strange at the same time. The voice delivering it sounds a bit desperate.
Then he remembers, and it’s a bashful smile on his lips.
It sounds again, and he isn’t sure if it’s his own voice calling his own name or another memory resurfacing. It’s too loud to his ears, echoing off the walls -Loki… Loki… Loki… ki… ki…-, and he wills it to go away, but then he suddenly sees the stars outside the cave, and he wonders how he hasn’t been able to see them until now: the darkness is not black, it’s indigo and dotted with lights and stripes and blurs all around. Maybe it’s another memory, he thinks.
But then there is a shadow against the background, and suddenly Thor appears in the mouth of the cave and tears through the cobwebs of memory as he kneels beside him.
This is no memory, Loki thinks with detachment, this is real.
“Loki. I finally found you.”
Hands, strong and firm and warm and so familiar, grab him, and he stares in the face contorted into worry and relief, and Loki thinks of the words untold.
He thinks how desperately his witchcraft is needed if Thor was so keen on searching for him. He thinks how he cannot bear to be used anymore, to be betrayed over and over again.
“You are alive, thanks the Nornir, you are not dead.”
And Thor embraces him, a surge of warmth and a scent he knows as much as his own, and Loki hugs him back, and the smile on his face is so crooked that it hurts his muscles. He holds onto Thor, and the coldness seeps into his limbs, creeps up toward his heart, blood turning ice and skin turning blue, and his hand slips over Thor’s chest like an eel.
The ice dagger pierces Thor through the heart, and Loki’s own heart leaps with joyous victory at the realization of betrayal lighting up on Thor’s face before turning solid and glacier-blue and forever unmoving in the warmest eyes Loki has ever seen, and Loki is sated with satisfaction because finally he could plant his own betrayal into Thor, and the fool, his last breath, even his last ragged breath is, “Brother--”
And then it’s silence.
Silence and solid ground and starlight and no more falling.
No more memories either, only his own, his real ones, unwarped, untainted, unveiled in his mind.
And Loki looks, really looks for the first time for a long while, without the shreds of memories he has never possessed, and he sees his good works, and screams.
And he screams, and there is nobody with enough mercy in them to split his skull.