Loki crashed into the ground with his eyes screwed shut and his breath stuttering in his throat. He kept them closed even as his shoulder protested from the impact, even as his heart fluttered like a frightened rabbit’s. His breath came short and irregular, speeding up as the realization set in, fast and difficult and there was no air he couldn’t breathe–
Loki snapped open his eyes with a gasp and staggered to his feet, tearing desperately at his collar. He felt the Titan’s hand around it still, squeezing the air and life out of him, crushing his neck.
His collar loosened and he gasped for air, his hand brushing over tender skin. Loki’s heart skipped a beat. His breath got stuck in his throat, confusion momentarily distracting him from his panic. There were no bruises. His skin was unscathed, the proof of his encounter with Thanos gone even as Loki felt the sensation of the giant hand pressing shut.
The bruises had stayed even after he’d returned (cheating death once more, how long would it be until it stuck?), ugly and circling his throat like a necklace. So where were they, now?
Something was wrong. Where was everyone? Where was Tho– No. Loki shut down the thought before it could fully form and took a look around instead.
He was greeted with the bland whiteness of a prison cell. And not any cell. Loki pressed his eyes shut in frustration. This couldn’t be happening. But a look behind him revealed his old cot, and on top of it and the floor the books that his mother had smuggled in behind Odin’s back (and how the thought of her still hurt, even after all this time).
Everything made sense now. Of course. The blasted stone had worked – and why shouldn’t it have? Perhaps some part of Loki had hoped that it wouldn’t. Had hoped that it would take him into oblivion, save him from living it all over, Frigga and Odin and Asgard and–
But why did it have to be here? Any point in time would have been better. A time where his imprisonment hadn’t filled his mother with disappointment. A time where Odin felt anything other than contempt for the child he regretted to have claimed as his son. A time where Thor did not hate him, did not have the invasion of his precious Midgard fresh in mind.
Loki closed his eyes, the thought of his brother sending a jab through his chest. Thor… Had their relationship ever been as strained as it had been here? After Loki’s biggest and most grievous betrayal? (He ignored the other pain, going far beyond Thor’s hatred, fresh and open like a wound, burning in his chest…)
“You couldn’t have taken me back just a year earlier?” Loki whispered, knowing fully well that he had only himself to blame. Who had dared to touch the stone in the first place?
Loki breathed through the tightness of his chest, chasing away all that remained of his panicked reaction. It would lead him nowhere to lose control, and even less so if he allowed himself to regret. It was far too late for that.
The guards had not stayed oblivious to his outburst. They approached his cell to investigate, their weapons clutched tightly. Paranoid, and rightly so.
Loki took one last, mildly shaky breath and slipped on a pleasant smile. Seeing as the guards tensed and held their spears higher, they knew not to trust him further than their weapons could reach. Loki thought back to the short span between Asgard’s fall and Thanos finding them, the one time in his life when he had fully and genuinely felt like a prince of Asgard. All of a sudden, his smile felt strained.
“We are instructed to notify the Allfather about suspicious behavior,” one of them warned, and Loki wondered how much of his outburst they had seen. They would jump at a reason to report him to Odin.
Actually… There was an plan. “Splendid idea,” Loki said, stepping closer to the edge of his cell. The guards took a step back. “Would you terribly mind fetching him for me? There is something we need to discuss.”
The guards shared a glance. “The Allfather does not wish to see you. Stand down.”
Loki watched them return to their stoic watch and hated the painful lump that formed in his throat. He swallowed it down, returning to his cot and shutting himself off to the useless sentiment. Feelings were the last thing he needed – his quest would be difficult enough as it was.
Now, he could have lived up to his reputation and talked the guards into giving him what he wanted. But even disregarding his intent to turn over a new leaf – how much more difficult would it be to make anyone trust him if he reached his goals with cheap manipulation? – it would take time. Time that Loki might not have, depending on how far exactly he had gone back.
Going by the tidiness of his cell, he could at least be sure that his mother was still alive. But for how long?
“I don’t suppose either of you could tell me the date?” he asked rhetorically, already knowing that he would not receive an answer.
But Loki was nothing if not resourceful.
“Heimdall,” he said quietly, shoving away the image of him beaten and broken, stabbed through the heart by Thanos. He felt a spark of relief that Heimdall’s abilities were limited to what his eyes could perceive. “If you would be so kind to deliver a message to the Allfather. I would do so myself, but I am afraid that his visits are few and far between.”
Loki paused, glee bubbling up as the first pleasant emotion he had felt since waking up. Odin had a talent of bringing out the spiteful side of him. “Tell him that I know about his deepest, darkest secret. The one he has done his best to paint over, to brush it under the rug like all of his other mistakes.” How he enjoyed every word of it. “Tell him I know about Hela Odinsdottir.”
There was no answer, but Loki hadn’t expected one. He leaned back with a grin that felt oddly wooden, knowing that it was only a matter of time.
And time had turned out to be such a fickle thing.
Time passed excruciatingly slow. There was nothing Loki could do but wait, and nothing in his cell could hold his attention well enough to distract him from his own thoughts. Memories of the last few days raged through his head now that the disorientation of his arrival had faded, memories about Thanos and the Midgardians and the War.
Two days passed before Odin gave in to visit his criminal disappointment of a son, and at the end of it Loki was ready to risk everything by staging a breakout, just to escape the torture that was his own mind.
Loki didn’t know what he would have done, had he been forced to endure one more replay of Thor’s–
It didn’t matter in the end. Odin stood in front of his cell, his weapon, Gungnir, at his side and looking entirely the ruler that he was. His eyes were cold and calculating, the exact opposite of what they had been on that day on Midgard.
Loki could feel the dismay in them, and he hated himself when it felt like a punch to the gut.
On Odin’s command, the soldiers at his side filed out of the room.
“I will not ask how you came to attain this information,” Odin started, “because it matters not. I will, however, ask what you intend to do with it. If this is a scheme of yours to force my hand, I advise you to think of something better.”
“In all honesty,” Loki said, his mouth twisting mockingly around the word, “I only intended to draw your attention. I started with something you knew to be true, so you would listen to the rest.”
“Talk, then,” Odin said, and it sounded like a challenge. “Do your worst. This will be the last conversation we will have in a long time.”
Loki didn’t make him ask twice. “What do you remember about the Dark Elves?”
Odin paused, caught off guard at the question. “I remember their crushing defeat at the hands of my father.”
“Wrong,” Loki said and almost found enjoyment in the moment. “Bor may have fought them off, but they are not defeated. Not entirely.”
“Is that what you asked me to come for? A history lesson? May I remind you that between the two of us, I am the one who has lived through what you have only learned from history books?”
“And how convenient it is to be the one who writes the history books.” Loki cut himself off before the conversation could get further. As satisfying as throwing his sins back at him would be, it would do nothing to invite Odin’s fury. It was not his plan to confront him. Although it was so, so tempting. “This is not a history lesson. It is a warning.”
“A warning,” Odin repeated, disbelief coloring his words. “About an enemy we have defeated millennia ago?”
“An enemy you have failed to defeat. Their leader lives, as do some of his followers.”
“Even if what you say is true, why would they attack? Why now?”
“The Convergence is nearing, is it not? The Elves know. And they thirst for revenge.”
Loki could have given details. He could have told Odin exactly who would pay the price for his arrogance, should he refuse to listen. He didn’t; Loki did not trust himself to speak Frigga’s name without shattering his facade.
At no point of his tale had Odin’s expression wavered. “I was not aware that my son is a seer.”
“I never cease to surprise you,” Loki said, refusing to acknowledge the unspoken question.
“And you are telling me this, because?” Odin’s gaze was sharp, his words hard and unforgiving. Questioning every word that came out of Loki’s mouth. “Love for your family?”
Loki’s lips twisted into a sneer. “I do not care for you, Father.” The word made Odin flinch and Loki basked in it, wallowing in the victory of having caused a reaction other than indifference. How easy it was to fall back into their old habits, the mocking and the scorn. Never had his words tasted quite this bitter.
“Nor do I care for Asgard or her citizens,” Loki continued, the words oddly ashen on his tongue. “I merely wish to save Mother. And Thor.” His voice faltered at the name, and Loki prayed that Odin had not heard.
Odin looked at him for a long while and Loki refused to cower at his gaze. Of all the emotions he felt about Odin, fear was not one of them.
“I do not believe you.”
“Color me surprised.” Loki almost rolled his eyes. “Promise me one thing. The time will come when I turn out to be right. Don’t make me watch through my prison cell.”
He held Odin’s gaze unblinkingly. After so many years, he still could not read what was going on in the old man’s head.
“So be it.” Odin stepped out of the cell and gestured his guards to come over. “Let it be known that if Dark Elves roam these corridors, Loki Odinson shall be freed from his cell.”
The guards chuckled at the mockery in his voice, but Loki didn’t allow the grin on his face to falter. Odin could not know that he was a different person than the one he had thrown into the dungeons. One who had nothing left to lose. And Odin could not know that Loki knew exactly what was about to come. He had nothing left to do but wait.