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Frostbite

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This isn’t right.

It feels like there are ice shards in your lungs; you’re pretty sure you’re about to die.

You’d texted your friend basically the same thing earlier that day, jokingly - why on Earth had you ever decided to vacation in Reykjavik in November? - but now, you realize that you hadn’t even known the true meaning of ‘cold.’

Iceland was cold. Iceland in November was even colder. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t seem to be Iceland. In fact, you’re relatively certain that this isn’t even Earth.

With your arms wrapped tightly around your chest in a vain attempt to maintain body heat, you try to stagger forward through the snowdrifts, vision obscured by the ice pelting down from a grey and stormy sky. It feels as if your limbs are lead, heavy and stiff and pained from the effort.

It’s a good thing that you were wearing your heaviest coat, at least. Best to appreciate life’s small mercies.

Though really, you have a pretty big bone to pick with life at the moment, because you had been minding your own business, heading to the local bakery for coffee and something sweet for breakfast, when some freakish glowing circle opened up in the middle of the crosswalk and dropped you off… wherever this was.

Maybe you’d been hit by a car or something, and this is your preview of the afterlife. If that is the case, your afterlife isn’t looking to be very promising; maybe you should’ve been a little more altruistic.

Hell hath frozen over.

Because this definitely isn’t Iceland. Bluish-grey rocks spike up from the thick blanket of snow that stretches as far as you can see (which, admittedly, isn’t very far). There’s some kind of massive outcropping not far from you, and you head towards it. It isn’t like you have any idea of where else to go.

Teeth rattling together, you hunch your shoulders, trying to tuck your head down as much as possible to shield your chin and neck with your scarf. If only you had a thicker scarf, or maybe even five more layers of coats, but the bakery wasn’t that far from your hotel, and you hadn’t expected to be out in the weather for very long.

Clearly, that had been a terrible mistake.

There appears to be some sort of cave in the side of one of the rocks, and you beeline towards it as quickly as you are able, because your eyelashes are starting to freeze and slightly stick together every time you blink, and you’re pretty sure they aren’t supposed to do that. You always liked reading adventure stories, and you know what hypothermia can do to a human body. It won’t be pretty. And frostbite… well, you like your fingers and toes right where they are, thank you very much.

Briefly, your mind flits to The Empire Strikes Back, one of your all-time favorites - you’d always been so grossed out by that little Tauntaun survival hack on Hoth. Now, you totally get it.

You make it to the cave, barely, and scramble inside. It isn’t very wide, but there’s plenty of room to stand, and it luckily seems to extend fairly far back into the rock. That’s a good thing - it’ll get you further away from the wind.

And maybe closer to some kind of creepy cave-dwelling monster, your mind whispers.

You tell your mind to shut up. It isn’t like you have any other options.

The cave bottlenecks after a point, and there’s a long, dark tunnel leading to somewhere that you’d rather not think about too much, because if you do, you’re probably going to have a panic attack. Crap, maybe you’re already having a panic attack. At this point, you’re really too numb to tell.

There’s a little crevice tucked along the back wall of the cave, and you curl up inside it in a tight ball, utterly clueless as to what else you can do. Help has to come, right? You definitely can’t go back out there - hell, even in here, even hidden away from the brutal elements, you aren’t sure how long you’re going to be able to make it.

You should’ve just stayed in bed and skipped your morning coffee.

Caffeine addiction, kids. It kills.

You blink slowly, wishing that you had night vision, because the cave is dark and you’d have to pull your hands from where they’re tucked under your arms and remove your gloves if you wanted to try to use your phone. It might not even work anymore, anyway; did technology have a freezing point?

So, you think, oddly giddy despite being in such a dire situation, I guess when I said I’d rather die than go back to work, I really must’ve meant it.

Curling up even more tightly, you try to reduce your surface area… that’s a survival trick, right? Your heartbeat is beginning to slow down a bit, and you aren’t entirely certain if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. Probably a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably best to assume at this point that everything is a bad thing.

Before long (or maybe it’s been a while, because you can’t really tell anymore), your eyes start to drift closed. Bad. Open them. But resting feels nice, and so you don’t try to resist, the tiny warning bells in the back of your head drowned out by a warm, fuzzy glow.

Your head falls against your chest. A little rest can’t hurt, can it?

A sharp crackling sound snaps you back to reality, and you force your eyes open, though you’re far too exhausted to actually move. You blink, and then you blink again.

And then, you scream, because there’s a tall blue man with glowing red eyes standing just inside the entrance of the cave, illuminated by a light that is apparently just hovering over his open palm. There’s a dark stain across his chest - it’s blood, you realize - and you scream again, despite the sting of the icy dry air in your throat.

In his defense, he looks just as horrified as you feel, but then the expression turns to fury, and as he staggers over to where you cower in your crevice, a knife appears in his other hand.

Out of nowhere.

Magic.

Hallucinations? you wonder, trying to remember if that’s a symptom of hypothermia. You hope it is, because otherwise it looks like some blue guy with a knife is about to stab you, and you really think you’d prefer just freezing to death.

“Where did you come from?” he snarls, crouching down and bringing the light to illuminate your face, which is mostly hidden by your hood and your scarf. He doesn’t seem particularly happy about it, and you try not to move as the hand holding the knife comes close to your face, too terrified to scream again.

The blade comes within an inch of your eye as he yanks your scarf below your chin, and then he rocks back on his heels, muttering something in a language you’ve never heard before. It’s rough, and choppy, and it sounds like he’s probably cussing you out. How rude, the delirious part of your brain thinks.

You continue to peer at the knifeblade, expecting it to come into play at any moment.

“All of the realms and all of the creatures in the universe,” he spits, “and I had to be saddled with another Midgardian wench. The Norns must be mad, to test me so.”

Midgardian wench? It would be really helpful if your voice would cooperate, because you really want to know what that means. Are fantasy-novel-style hallucinations really going to comprise your last moments on… whatever this place is?

“Get up.” The knife disappears as he stands, and when you don’t move in the slightest, he glares down at you and seizes you by the collar of your jacket, attempting to haul you to your feet.

He’s strong, and you crash against him as you fly up from the ground, because your legs and feet are painfully cold and numb and hopefully they aren’t going to just shatter like broken glass, because that’s what it feels like.

“Come along, mortal. Quickly.” His voice is impatient now, dangerously so, and his eyes flash. “Else, I will kill you where you stand.”

“Can’t,” you croak, eyes wide.

“What?” The word drops frigidly from his lips, as if he is someone who does not like to be questioned.

In your mind, you tell him that you’re just an ordinary, boring data analyst who took an unfortunate vacation, and that some terrible accident has befallen you. You tell him that you’re lost and afraid and freezing, and that you’re pretty sure you’re dying. You tell him that you’d move if you could, and beg him to please not kill you.

In reality, all you manage is a strangled whine. “Cold.”

“Pathetic,” he sneers, and you kind of want to tell him that he doesn’t look so hot himself, what with the grayish pallor to his blue skin and the crusty frozen blood everywhere.

He stoops and hoists you over his shoulder, and your teeth clack and clatter together as the shivering and the fear twist and mingle. “Be thankful that I can make use of you.”

Your nose is pressed against the back of his jacket, and he smells like leather and blood and snow. Ordinarily, you might complain, but at the moment, you aren’t feeling particularly choosy.

If only he was warmer.

The light flickers out, not that you had a particularly good view of anything besides the slippery, rocky floor, anyway, and the man starts off towards the tunnel at the back of the cave, jostling your stiff joints. “Who?” you ask, voice muffled against his back. You do sound awfully pathetic, so you try again. “Who are you?”

“Loki,” he bites out, and you can feel him stumble a bit. How much blood has this guy lost? you wonder. And how much does he have left to lose? “Loki of Asgard.”

Your heart stutters, and your next words are shrill. “Loki… New York Loki?”

“Yes.”

Oh no.

But this guy doesn’t look like the Loki that had been plastered all over the news in the wake of the Battle of New York; for one thing, that Loki wasn’t blue. The clothes look similar enough, though - all that leather and metal, just like Thor, the otherworldly Avenger. Maybe that was just how they liked it on Asgard.

The blackness of the cave grows deeper the further he goes, and you can only assume that he must be able to see in the dark. You, on the other hand, cannot see in the dark, and the added disorientation as you bump along upside down only adds to your terror.

And then a rushing sound begins to fill your ears, and you realize that you are on the verge of fainting. You whimper, and a stinging smack on the back of your thigh jolts some degree of awareness back into your system. “Stay awake,” he says. “If you become too burdensome, I will leave you behind.”

Loki, you decide, has a terrible bedside manner. You just hope that wherever you’re headed now is better than wherever you were before he showed up out of the blue.

Blue, hah. Like his face. Your head swims.

He staggers again, and you’re distantly aware of something wet and sticky trickling along your cheek and towards your hairline. Wet and sticky and coppery… blood, you realize, and you nearly gag. Carrying you must’ve reopened something.

Suddenly, Loki comes to a halt, and he drags you off of his shoulder and lets you fall to the ground in a graceless heap. “We are stopping here,” he announces - a bit too late, in your opinion, now that you’ve already collided unexpectedly with the hard rock of the cave floor. “I cannot go any further until I have healed.”

The light appears over his palm again, and he leans down and takes hold of your collar again, dragging you over to the tunnel wall. There’s a small, shallow recess in the stone, and he somehow manages to fold his long frame into it, pulling you in after him.

What is happening? your panicked mind screams, because now you are in his lap, and his arms are wrapped around you. A tingling warmth seems across your skin, and though it isn’t nearly enough, it helps. Is it real, or are you imagining it?

“You are experiencing the side-effects of close proximity to healing seiðr,” he informs you, almost as if he can read your mind. “I am not going to waste anything else on you, but it should be enough to sustain you. For now.”

Great, you think sarcastically, you’re a real prince charming. But then, because you don’t want to die, you manage to actually whisper, “Thank you.”

Loki scoffs. In this close proximity, you notice that there are faint patterns tracing across his skin, which is now taking on an almost-pinkish hue. Fascinating. “I will be rid of you soon enough. Your aura will help to mask my own as I make my way back to my throne.” Something bitter glitters in his eyes as he says it, and you shudder.

“Aura?”

He glances down at you as if he’d almost forgotten you were there. “My presence is very… distinct, and I am currently in no state to mask it. A mortal displaced by the Convergence raises fewer alarms than a dead god. And there are those who will be looking.”

“Oh.” You aren’t entirely sure what half of that means, but you think it’s probably best not to question it.

His hand slides to your neck, pushing aside your scarf, and his lips part as he inhales sharply through his nose. “You are very lucky, mortal, that I found you when I did. The snærúlfar would’ve found your scent in no time at all.” He inhales again, and his eyes flutter closed, his fingers still stroking your throat. “This form heightens my sense of smell,” he comments idly, and you wonder if maybe he is delirious, too. “Interesting.”

Yeah, you think, a near-hysterical laugh bubbling in your chest as you curl up against him and try to ignore the fact that there’s a blue space-god guy bleeding all over you on some deadly alien planet. That’s definitely the word to describe today.

Interesting.

Sleep closes in on you before you have a chance to fight it, and you succumb, falling limp in his arms.