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If Anything, It Was Unexpected

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For one long, horrible moment, Loki knew he was dead.

He just didn’t know where exactly that left him.

The release of pressure around his neck was a welcome reprieve, but he felt himself shiver, the ghost of the Titan’s grip embedded in his skin, his whole body shuddering, screaming for air, bones crumbling, crackling as he squeezed

Loki forced his eyes open, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

Dark.

That wasn’t quite right though, was it? No, it wasn’t entirely dark, but awash with bright, entwining clusters, strips of light unfurling in tangled tendrils. For one long, agonizing moment, Loki was back in the Void.

A near hysterical laugh bubbled up in his throat, and he marvelled at the lack of pain.

Of course he never left. All of it, everything, the Titan, Midgard, his brief tenure as King of Asgard, the flames of Ragnarok, it was all some long collection of fever dreams, his mind wandering, hoping to escape the fall that would never end.

Another moment, and Loki immediately squashed that idea. Even his own imagination wouldn’t be cruel enough to conjure Thanos. Or the utter trash heap that was Sakaar. Why would he trade one hell for another?

Perhaps that was where he was headed now. To Helheim. It would make the most amount of sense. Loki closed his eyes against the stray, unbidden thought of Frigga.

He’d never see her again. Or Thor, for that matter.

Unless, of course, he could connive his way into the gates of Valhalla. His silvertongue had to be good for something.

Loki forced himself to relax, resigned to his ultimate destination, and it was only then he he realized he wasn’t falling. Or drifting. He was simply...existing, whatever that meant. Suspended among the stars, or shafts of light. It bounced and swayed, almost playfully, in enchanting shades of ruby, soft gold, glistening emerald, startling purple, slivers of orange dancing through wisps of pale blue.

The blue was perhaps the most familiar, creeping close to his skin, followed shortly by streaks of gold. Loki instinctively tried to pull away, but there wasn’t anywhere to go. He couldn’t move, couldn’t escape. Ordinarily, this would have set him into a small panic, but the colours were distracting. A faint prickling on the edge of silence, and it was almost as if they were whispering, speaking in hushed chimes, the unique frequencies of a series of bells. It was almost a song, albeit a poorly rehearsed one, as they swelled and died in discordant sighs, wavering between music and harsh mutterings.

It made Loki’s skin crawl. He wouldn’t be surprised if all that made it to Helheim was an unfortunate bundle of bones. Ludicrously, it almost made him think of the halls of Asgard, growing up among the harsh grumblings of court, the pointed smirks of Thor’s friends. It was almost a wonder he failed to put the pieces together sooner. Of course he had been different, he was an entirely different species, and Loki pitied his younger self for ever having wasted so many centuries in his pathetic attempts to measure up, to fill a role that wasn’t his. To make the whispers stop. To make it all stop.

You really are the worst brother.

But those were old wounds. Ones he wished could heal, but only kept oozing fresh pools of pus and blood, festering until cracking once more. It was pitiful. Loki snorted inwardly. Death, in many ways, was meant to be an escape, or so he’d thought when he’d first let go. Of course the Norns would see it fitting for his mind to continue to torment itself, hissing and spitting in endless vicious cycles. At least his body had ceased its own form of torture, though Loki didn’t know how long that mercy would last. He was headed for Helheim, after all.

Loki didn’t know how long he was trapped in this luminous prison, hovering between minutes that seemed incalculable, stretching to hours, before shrinking to seconds, but he was beginning to breach the parameters of absolute boredom.

Was this what the Other had meant, Loki wondered quietly, when he promised unimaginable tortures should he fail? To be forever a captive of his own mind? Falling forever, alone, no one to catch him…except...

No no no-

“My son.”

If Loki could, he would have flinched. He knew that voice anywhere, one he didn’t think he’d hear again, and Loki cursed his mind for deciding to begin all too early with the hallucinations. Or was it early? How long exactly had he been-

His thoughts stuttered to a halt, as the coils of light almost huffed in indignation, forced to scatter around the unprecedented intruder. The interloper in their midst. Or the hazy fabrication of Loki’s rapidly deteriorating mind.

Odin almost carried an air of melancholy, wrinkles only deepening as he peered at his stolen relic, almost as if he were holding back a sigh. Of course Loki was a disappointment. Even in death.

I love you, my sons.

Loki wished he could hate the heavy lump steadily forming in his throat. He swallowed thickly.

“Allfather,” and he nearly cursed the croak in his voice, “come to wish me good fortune on my journey to Helheim? Has Valhalla gotten too dull for you?”

“You’re not going to Helheim,” Odin said curtly. Loki frowned, struggling against the delicate ember of hope fighting to catch in his chest. Surely not-

“Valhalla is no place for monsters,” Loki countered quietly. This caused Odin pause. And just like that, Loki felt his stomach fold in on itself, curdling in the face of the Allfather’s silence.

“You are not going to Valhalla,” Odin said slowly, and Loki wanted to carve his own heart out for ever having dared to hope. He should have learned by now. He thought he had.

“Not fit for any realm, I take it,” Loki muttered, wishing his words dripped with more venom. A humourless chuckle hiccuped in his chest, and Loki grinned. “Death is not so different from life, then.” He felt himself slump, smile sliding from his lips, as quickly as it came. He didn’t want to appear defeated in front of Odin, but chances were, he was only a figment anyway. He was just too tired.  

“No, Loki,” Odin whispered, and Loki bit back the scream in his throat.

No, Loki.

“Why are you here?” Loki spat, “to remind me of my failings? To admire my new cage?”

Odin only shook his head, what looked to be almost a flicker of regret flashing across his face.

“You are not going to Helheim, or Valhalla, until your judgement has been passed.”

Loki bit back a sigh. Of course.

“The Norns haven’t decided yet?”

Again, Odin shook his head. He always felt the need to meet Loki with denial.

“Not the Norns,” he said softly, “the Infinity Stones have seen fit to hold you in their grasp. Thanos…” Odin closed his remaining eye, almost as if in pain, “The Mad Titan ended your life in their name, two such stones embedded in his gauntlet. More than half of Asgard was already gone to Hela’s ruthless slaughter, and in the name of his liberating conquest, ” Odin’s teeth ground out the word, “he relentlessly massacred the straggling remnants. Men. Women. Children. You.” Odin’s gaze bore heavily into him then, and Loki was thankful he couldn’t squirm. He paused, puzzling over the Allfather’s words.

“They are entities, then,” or close enough, anyway. The tesseract’s song had always been sweet, and sticky as honey. And he heard it now, a cloying shimmer amongst her siblings. “I imagine they are not too keen on being wielded, forced under the command of a creature playing god.”

“They are proud,” Odin conceded, “in their own right. Not to be tamed. Contrary to what the Titan believes, he has thrust the universe into more chaos than harmony.”

Loki felt a mounting surge of horror clench painfully at his stomach.

“He managed it, then,” he murmured, “I suppose Helheim and Valhalla have become a touch overcrowded.”

“Not quite yet.”

Loki frowned. “Then-”

“The Stones continue to hold those that have been taken.”

“They’re all trapped like me, then?” Loki rebelled against the thought, as it coiled tight around his neck, nearly choking him.

“Is…” Loki pushed against the fear gnawing at his stomach, “is Thor-?”

“He lives,” Odin said quickly, and Loki felt a weight he didn’t know he’d been carrying leech from his shoulders, leaving him dizzy. He was, surprisingly, beginning to hope this Odin wasn’t merely an illusion.

“And no,” Odin continued, “they are not. Like you.”

Loki felt his brow crinkle.

“Oh?”

Odin sighed, picking his way lightly to where Loki was imprisoned, feet plucking at air.

“They cannot bring about the return of half the universe on their own, they cannot relinquish all the souls they have stolen once wholly reunited, but,” Odin’s single eye bore into him, and Loki felt his innards curl, “you were taken under different circumstance. Your death, and the deaths of the remaining Asgardians, were not equal. They were not balanced. They were the first in the Titan’s conquest, the first taken with two stones under his thrall, but, the Stones deem the offering unjust.”

Loki blinked.

“I didn’t think ancient concentrated singularities of the universe possessed such a thing as scruples,” he said wryly, “but I suppose that’s not it, is it?” Loki almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. “Death and destruction is all well and good if it’s to be under their own terms, but if another so much as dares to wield them,” Loki rolled his eyes. “If they’re so powerful, why don’t they correct their own mess?”

“There are laws,” Odin said simply, “Thanos has learned to sing their song, and should they be united, half of all shall crumble.” He gaze softened, and Odin reached out with a hand. Loki would have flinched backwards, but, as always, his body refused to react. Odin’s touch was light, almost tender, on Loki’s cheek. His head was soon cradled in the Allfather’s palm, and Loki didn’t know whether he wanted to pull away, or give in to the simple gesture, an action once so simply surrendered to in childhood. This only made his chest ache. Regardless, he didn’t have a choice.

“It is as it was stated in the beginning, but you are...different,” Odin didn’t let go. Loki didn’t have the energy to summon up a glare.

Ah. So he was the loophole, then? A pawn. The thought didn’t anger him as much as he thought it would.

“Do they...do they intend to send me back, then? Among the living?” Loki spoke slowly, hoping to mask the uncertainty in his tone. More importantly, what exactly did they expect him to do? Die once more at the Titan’s hand in a vain attempt to, what, save the universe? Loki nearly scoffed.

Odin tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, and Loki felt himself suck in a tight breath.

Your birthright was to die.

Cast out on a frozen rock.

Odin’s thumb traced the hollow contours of his cheek, and Loki swallowed.

“I know not yet of their decision,” he admitted quietly. Well, that was a comfort.

He had thought Odin would have returned, sooner or later, in a fit of righteous anger to cast his monstrous son from his perch on Asgard’s throne. But he never came. And Loki was alone once again.

He thought Odin surely would have met him with livid rage on the cliffs of Norway, but Odin had only seemed casually indifferent, speaking to Thor more than him. Loki had fought savagely against the hurt welling in his stomach, as he waited for any sign that Odin truly... cared. It sickened him, that childish hunger. And Thor, for once, had chosen to exploit it.

And, like a pathetic mongrel, Loki had risen to the bait, clawing after Thor to prove his worth, all the while pushing down the frigid fear that he’d finally pushed too far, and Thor had truly meant what he said.

Perhaps there’s still some good in you, but let’s be honest, our paths diverged long ago.

Because that was how Thor had viewed the differences between them, as right and wrong. And Thor had merely shrugged. And left him on the floor.

“Your saviour is here!”

No, please don’t leave me alone, I can help, look, please…

Loki nearly staggered under the weight of his own self-loathing.

If Odin really wasn’t a figment of his depraved imagination, if he really was there, with him…

“How do you come to be here?” Loki felt his throat tighten, and he doubted his words were as bold as he would have liked them to be.

Odin grew still, but did not let his hand fall. No doubt Odin heard the unspoken remainder of that sentence. And why didn’t mother come to be here, too?

“The Norns permitted me passage,” Odin said simply, “as did the Stones. My soul is not as pure of heart as your mother’s, as I was granted permission into their halls of judgement, while she was denied entry.”

“And mother-?” The words broke on his tongue, and Loki wished he were not under Odin’s scrutiny.

“She misses you,” Odin said quietly, gently, and Loki couldn’t meet his gaze, “she says she is proud, and only regrets she could not be here herself.”

Something cold wrapped its icy fingers around Loki’s heart, and squeezed.

“I…” Loki choked, but forced the words from his lips, fighting against the sob threatening to tear from his throat, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please tell her I’m sorry.

His vision blurred, then, the light refracting around the pale smear of Odin’s features.

Odin’s grip only tightened, his other hand reaching up to swipe at the tears leaking over his cheeks, and Loki felt a hot flush of shame writhe in his belly.

And am I not your mother?

You’re not.

“I’m…I…” Loki’s breath hitched, and he closed his eyes. He couldn’t look at Odin now.

You might want to take the stairs to the left.

How could she be proud? How could she ever be proud of her monster of a son?

He didn’t realize he’d spoken the words aloud, until Odin’s voice managed to filter through Loki’s clouded, splintering thoughts.

“You are my son,” and his words echoed all too painfully from a time too many years ago under the dim flickering torchlight of the Vault, “and though you harbour your own bundle of crimes, you are no mindless beast incapable of sentiment.”

Sentiment.

“You are my son ,” Odin repeated, more firmly, “and I am only sorry you fell into that Void, into the Titan’s hands,” a dangerous fury licked at his words, and Loki was only stunned at their ferocity. A part of him wanted to jerk away from his grasp, no don’t touch me, but another only wanted to hope this was not all just a dream.

“You-” Loki gulped, blinking furiously as Odin wiped away the last of his tears, “you left us. You lied, ” he couldn’t bite his tongue, couldn’t hold it all back, “you left us with a sister you threw away and the fires of Ragnarok. ” Loki gasped, and clenched his teeth against a sob. Because that’s what you do with things that embarrass you. That are wrong. You imprison them, lock them away to be forgotten. “You lie, you’ve always lied, and they called me the God of Lies.”

And Loki hated himself for his weakness, for unwinding under Odin’s eye, if only he could stop, make it all stop-

But Odin still hadn’t let go. His hands cupped Loki’s chin, fingers splaying up into his temples, and never moved. His grip only tightened, as he waited.

“I am sorry,” Odin said, and Loki knew this must be the workings of his own mind, as Odin would never admit his wrongs, would never concede to offer any form of apology.

And he desperately didn’t know if he was disappointed or relieved.

“Why?” Odin almost whispered the word, and it hovered delicately in the air. Loki blinked through the haze his vision had become, only to meet Odin’s remaining eye. The Allfather held his gaze, and Loki watched as his face nearly crumpled.

“A dagger? Why?”

And Loki suddenly understood.

He looked away.

“Lack of a better plan-”

“Why?” Odin demanded, and Loki, fairly convinced this was all in his head anyway, surrendered the words.

“Thanos was all about balance,” he said eventually, “or so he claimed.” Loki swallowed. “He was never going to let both of us live. He certainly wasn’t going to let me go.”

And Odin nodded in comprehension, almost resignation, as though one of his suspicions had been confirmed. He offered Loki a small, tired smile.

“Frigga is proud, as much as she is angered,” he said, “she would rather both her sons live, than one take his fate into his own hands for the sake of the other. As would I.”

But his remaining eye was almost twinkling now, as Odin stared up at him, and Loki was suddenly painfully aware of the silence.

“They have made their decision,” his father said abruptly, and all too soon his hands were pulling away, and Loki felt the world shift under his feet.

No, wait, please don’t leave me-

“Take care, my son,” were his father’s parting words, as the once languid strips of light and colour swirled in renewed agitation, blotting black to white, blinding, and Loki felt a vicious tug.

And then he was falling.

Chapter Text

Pain.

White, hot, scorching coils of fire strangling his throat, threading through his chest and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe-

Groping blindly through darkened sludge, Loki crawled to the surface not knowing which way was up, only that he needed to escape, needed out, needed air.

Light tore through his eyes, searing deep into his skull and Loki squirmed against the glare, swallowing a scream as bones clicked and ground in his neck. His spine splintered through muscle, tearing and twisting as it struggled into place. Tissue gave another ferocious tug, and Loki finally let out a cry, instantly silencing it as new pain wreathed his throat, pulsing.

Finally, Loki felt his spine shift into place, locking with the severed ends of his neck, nerves, muscle and sinew twitching and wriggling. He bit his tongue until the tart tang of copper filled his mouth, and resisted the urge to gag.

It took him longer to realize the vicious humming inside him was unfamiliar to the usual healing thrum of his seidr. Loki struggled, searching for the tender warmth of his magic, and almost relaxed in relief as he caught a fluttering ember in his chest. It flickered, weak and dull, but it was there. And it would grow.

Once again, Loki decided it was time to peel the skin back from his eyes, and was immediately assaulted with another burning stream of light. He resisted the urge to recoil, but simply lay still as his body trembled with the effort of putting itself back together.

Back together…?

The grotesque colour scheme of the Stateman’s ceiling slowly sharpened into focus, and Loki didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He should be dead he should be dead-

Odin, then. Had he been real, or the workings of a feverish dream? Was he to be a pawn once again, only set on a different course?

It didn’t matter, though, not at the moment. He was alive, apparently; pain was always a part of that, and it was currently in abundance. But he couldn’t lie down all day.

Loki grit his teeth until they joined the pulsing chorus in his head, and attempted to shove his arms under his body, swallowing a scream as his neck whimpered in protest. He wouldn’t allow the Titan to keep him on the floor, though arguably it would be the wiser course of action.

Loki bit back the bile encroaching at the base of his throat and blinked away clusters of blackened spots from his vision. Head swimming in a sea of syrup, he forced himself into a seated position, steadying his breath and bracing himself before pushing himself to his feet with a soft cry. Flames licked up his neck, and Loki groped desperately for his seidr, for any form of relief-

Like from the workings of a bellows, the sputtering embers of his magic nestled tightly at his core slowly sparked and flared dully to life. It wasn’t enough-

Loki stumbled, leaning heavily against a conveniently positioned wall, and shoved the pain to the back of his mind, tucking it away as he had once so often done. Elven blades were as painful as they appeared, and Thanos had enjoyed giving him many pleasant sessions with his acolytes.

Loki forced air into his lungs in one long shuddering breath. He couldn’t scrub away Ebony Maw’s pointed smirk, Thor’s muffled screams as a hand a hand-

“Prince Loki?”

He nearly leapt from his skin, blinking up at Heimdall’s golden gaze as it displayed a look of mild bewilderment for the first time in Loki’s memory. His hand cupped his middle, his vest soaked in drying blood, but he didn’t look to be in any particular discomfort. Aside from the recent shock of returning from beyond the grave.

Behind him, the ship was a chaos of rousing Asgardians, the room quickly filling with panicked cries.

Bloody bodies sprawled across the floor, limbs twisted and spread like broken wings, left in piles. Glassy eyes staring, vacant, slack.

“You may think this is suffering.”

So much blood blood blood, thick, cloying. He couldn’t do anything couldn’t do anything-

“No. It is salvation.”

“Prince Loki?” Heimdall placed a hand on Loki’s shoulder, and he flinched, slamming his back into the wall, gasping as his body protested at the abuse.

Heimdall paused, slowly withdrawing, his gaze immovable, unreadable. Loki licked his lips and straightened, fighting against the pain. He opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a pitiful croak. Loki balled his hands into fists, chewing the inside of his cheek to a fleshy pulp. He turned rapidly, searching vehemently for Thor, he must be there, shouldn’t he? Or was he lost to the gaping mouth of space…?

No, he couldn’t think about that. Odin, if he were real- don’t think about that- confirmed his life. He had either escaped, or Thanos took-

No no no no

He wasn’t going to think about that. Thor was alive. Thor was safe.

He had to be.

Avoiding Heimdall’s eternally questioning stare, Loki pushed away from the wall and strut in halting, wavering steps to the crowd of Asgardian refugees. He cleared his throat loudly, and stood relatively tall against the onslaught of their collective gawking. Sound gradually dimmed to a mere murmur, and Loki let out a low stuttering breath before painfully squaring his shoulders.

It wasn’t as if he could say anything to reassure them, but they waited anyway. They were without a King now, and it wasn’t as if they’d allow Loki to fill the position, but still they waited.

Loki pursed his lips, and gestured vaguely to his own throat, which he was certain looked a mess, before nodding pointedly to the Gatekeeper standing a few feet behind him. Forcing a smile to his lips, Loki lifted a finger on his right hand, before retreating from the room, ignoring the stares at his back. He would talk to them later, when he could actually push a sentence through his crushed throat and- hands at his neck squeezing snapping bone-

Loki was suddenly consciously aware of the closeness of the collar of his heavy leather tunic, the ghost of fingers reminiscent in the grip of hair plastered to his skin and he couldn’t breathe couldn’t breathe-

Loki stumbled down slanting corridors, stepping around or avoiding newly resurrected Asgardians as their questions beat at his back. Before he knew it he was in his own chambers, slamming the door heavily behind him. He lunged to the bedside table, snagging his hands around a knife he kept in the drawer, before plunging it down the center of his suit. He needed out needed out .

He tore the remains of his leathers from his body, ignoring the new flaring waves of fire, nails tearing into his neck. Left only in tattered trousers, he moved to run the blade through his hair, scooping the dark sweat-slicked strands into his palm, but stopped.

He paused and listened to the erratic thrum of his heart, blood throbbing in his ears. The knife fell from stiff, shaking fingers, and he blinked back a swirling haze, tears threatening to spill.

He’s not here he’s not here he’s not here

Catching his tongue between his teeth, Loki staggered to the top drawer of his dresser, fumbling for a moment as his fingers caught on a coarse piece of string. Lungs scraping against the bone of his ribs, Loki hastily forced his hair into a loose braid, fingers tangling in knots. Tying the string at the tail end to keep it in place, he sought out the small, pearl-inlaid pin from his trousers. It was rare he kept anything in his physical pockets, but he had wanted this particular item to remain close. The light flashed over the pin as he held it between quivering fingers, and he felt a dull pang in the pit of his stomach. Forcing it down, he quickly dragged the end of his braid and tucked it snugly over the crook of his right ear, fixing it in place with the pin.

He hadn’t taken many things from his family’s rooms during his tenure as King, aside from several of Odin’s books, but almost without conscious thought he had snagged the accessory from his mother’s vanity on his second day. He slipped it into his pocket while refusing to truly acknowledge its presence, only knowing he would feel perhaps a little more hollow without it.  

It was ridiculous sentiment. Frigga was gone, and she would never be coming back. Unlike him, evidently. What was this, his third reincarnation? Loki ran a hand over his face, letting out a low sigh that turned steadily into a cracked groan.

It was another good few minutes before his seidr chose to churn and writhe with a bit more life, flicking and whispering, a warm comfort under his skin. He let out a moan as it coiled itself around his throat, soothing aching muscles and strengthening crushed bone.

The pain did not fade entirely, but was reduced to a low simmering, no longer tearing with teeth and claws, but still crying out in a dull whimper.

Loki hastily summoned a soft, loose tunic, torn between the shielding use of a collar and avoiding its constricting grip. He settled on a wide, open neck, unwilling to let anything near it, though he felt hopelessly exposed. Clenching his jaw and picking absently at the centre of his left palm,  Though it was admittedly foolish, he hastily squeezed a part of his healing reserves to hover the barest of illusions over the bruising of his neck, blending garish purple and black to smooth alabaster white. His weakness didn’t need to be on display. Unfortunately, he didn’t possess enough seidr to completely wash over his face. He could only imagine he looked as terrible as he felt. It would have to wait.

Loki only allowed his magic to work a few moments more before steeling himself and marching back to where Heimdall was surrounded by a choral of hysterical Asgardians. He did not seem entirely effective in stemming their panic, and Loki bit back a sigh, once again clearing his throat loud enough for it to be heard over the din. Silence quickly descended and Loki preemptively held up a hand against any questions.

“P-” Loki hacked a wet cough into his fist, his throat burning at the strain, but he ignored it in favour of not appearing too entirely weak in front of the remnants of his former kingdom.

“Please attempt to-” his voice strained and shifted like gravel in his throat, needles picking and picking. He wheezed into his sleeve, nearly choking on mangled phlegm and blood. “Please attempt to remain calm,” he forced out in a broken ghost of what his voice once was. Looking anywhere but at Heimdall, he attempted to raise a smile. It only felt more like a grimace. “Thanos did not succeed in his…” he licked his lips, before issuing a largely vague gesture to air. Hopefully they wouldn’t think to place the blame on him, although it would be a well practiced occurrence. And not terribly unfounded this time. He cleared his throat once more, wincing slightly. “The infinity stones, as I understand it, have granted us life against the Titan’s wishes. To what end, I do not know, only,” he swallowed thickly, nails digging absently into the palm of his left hand, “only, though I am not your King, I will do all in my power to ensure we reach Midgard.” He paused, caught his breath, “once my magic is more returned to me, I will assist in aiding any lingering injuries.” Without waiting for the barrage of questions that was sure to follow Loki whirled unsteadily on his heel and exited the room. Their eyes gouged bloody gashes into his back, but he didn’t stop until he reached the door to the command room.

He knew the ship would be in chaos for the next few days, or months, as the Asgardians adjusted to memories of their collective deaths, but it was Asgard. They had witnessed the destruction of their home wrought in the fires of Ragnarok. They were strong.

Beyond explanation, the ship appeared to be sailing steadily, and the issued coordinates to Midgard remained unchanged. It was almost as if nothing had ever been amiss.

Apart from the fact that Loki was alone now. Thor was gone. The drunken Valkyrie had taken half their refugees with her in escape pods, mostly the women and children, along with the Sakaarian gladiators. He didn’t particularly yearn for her company, and she surely didn’t for his, but she was familiar.

Even the Hulk had been given a ticket home in the form of the Bifrost. Heimdall’s dying gift.

He supposed he did have Heimdall, but a part of him still couldn’t look at the Gatekeeper without his eyes automatically straying to the sword perched over his shoulder, looming like a predator.

He really didn’t want anything near his neck.

Welcome home, he said. As if nothing had happened in the last ten years. As if Heimdall had not betrayed him, as if Loki himself had not cast him from his position as he ruled in his deception. He didn’t know if he should find Heimdall’s behaviour to be baffling or irritating.

Irritation felt more comfortable to express. And familiar.

“That was quite the speech you gave.”

Norns dammit.

“Hardly,” Loki replied, retaining a vain hope that Heimdall hadn’t seen him startle.

“You gave them reassurance in the face of chaotic uncertainty.”

Loki turned slowly to catch the Gatekeeper out of the corner of his eye. What exactly was his game? Was he, Norns forbid, attempting to compliment him? Loki felt his eyes narrow.

“You’ve never felt compelled to offer any empty praises before,” he said, maintaining an air of indifference. He arched a brow. A flicker of something flashed through that ever inscrutable stare, and Loki almost frowned before catching himself. Heimdall was one of the few people Loki had ever met who was slightly more difficult to read than ordinary. Or perhaps a bit more than slightly.

“The opportunity was harder pressed to present itself.”

Loki nearly rolled his eyes, suppressing a smirk.

“Of course.”

When Heimdall didn’t respond, Loki offered him a cursory glance.

“What did you really mean to discuss?”

Heimdall seemed to even contemplate his question before formulating it. Loki’s curiosity was traitorously peaked.

“What came to pass after I could no longer see?” He said, and Loki was almost impressed at his ability to allude to his own demise without so much as blinking.

It was only once the question had taken its time to seep under his skin that he came to the conclusion it was one he was not particularly eager to answer. Loki licked his lips and kept his arms folded over his chest, firmly entrapping his nervous fingers. He let out a small breath.

“Well, the Hulk was kindly sent to Midgard, I’m assuming, and the Titan managed to secure his hold over one more infinity stone,” he spoke in a rush, unable to hold Heimdall’s gaze, “The Titan then kil-,” his tongue hovered but he couldn’t quite get the word out. He blinked. “He then...did away with me, and Thor-” he worked through a sudden knot in his throat, “and Thor, I believe, still lives, though I do not know where.”

Heimdall remained silent. Loki took it as an invitation to continue.

“The Allfather,” mention of Odin would hopefully strengthen his credibility, “who saw fit to visit me in my dying moments, kindly informed me that we would be returned to life by the stones. They apparently deemed our ‘noble sacrifice’ to be unsuitable or some such drivel.” He offered the Gatekeeper a wry smile. “They are remarkably fastidious in nature.”

A corner of Heimdall’s lips twitched and Loki unexpectedly felt a small flush of pride.

He instantly smothered it.

He waited for the moment when Heimdall would condemn him for the Titan’s invasion.

“Your neck gives you great pain?” He said instead, and Loki tamped down on his momentary confusion. Currently, Loki was useful. He was a mage, after all, and the survival of Asgard’s sparse refugees was perhaps greatly enhanced by his presence.

The accusations and threats of decapitation would most likely begin once they were all settled on Midgard.

A clump of dread settled in his stomach at the thought. But how, exactly, would the mortals be willing to agree to such an arrangement without Thor? Loki would have to...leave.

He forcefully willed the subject away. He had close to a few months to linger on planning for such an eventuality.

He re-focused his attention on Heimdall’s look of what could perturbingly be called concern. Loki repressed the urge to laugh.

“The Titan decided he liked it better crushed,” he said flatly, his own voice toneless to his ears, “do your injuries pain you?”

If Loki didn’t know better, Heimdall appeared to shift uncomfortably.

“No,” he said, “the Asgardians are no worse off either,” he added. “Though the wounds have not yet faded, they are merely scars.”

Loki caught himself staring, and closed his eyes. He supposed it was only fitting.

Perhaps Heimdall would have said something more, but a speaker on the ship’s console chose that moment to crackle to life.

“- losing oxygen - send help - stranded- anyone out - anyone - not a threat - anyone out there-?-” Spoken amongst garbled fizzle- it appeared the Statesman had not been left entirely unaffected- the voice of a man could just barely be distinguishable.

Heimdall’s eyes immediately glazed as he looked out to an unknown patch of open space.

A few moments more, and he blinked. He resettled his gaze slowly on Loki, and he felt himself inadvertently shiver.

“I’m sure you’ll be willing to offer some assistance,” he said calmly.

Loki sighed.

He could only hope that whoever it was, they did not know him.



Chapter Text

Loki cursed Heimdall in the privacy of his own head as he prepared himself to exit the air-lock. He couldn’t teleport just yet, but he was able enough to fly an escape pod to the floundering spaceship. Because that was an entirely intelligent plan that could in no possible way go wrong. Miraculously, for one inexplicable reason or another, in light of its resurrection, the Statesman had managed to restock itself with the little pods. Loki, for once, wasn’t about to look too closely at this, but rather chose to save his energy for the inevitable confrontation with the unknown.

Heimdall had only offered him a small smile, the corners of his mouth lilting into something worryingly close to a smirk. Loki wasn’t about to rush blindly into whatever could do that to the Gatekeeper; whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

“Should I take care to err on the side of caution?” He’d asked, hoping he’d managed to mask any of his discomfort. This had at least caused the Gatekeeper to sober, if only slightly, as he offered Loki a small grim nod.

“Perhaps it would be best if I accompanied you on this particular excursion,” he said lowly, gaze unblinking, “just this once. You are still healing.”

Something cold and worryingly close to resignation settled in his stomach at the words.

“Ah,” he said bleakly, “it’s someone I know, I take it? Tell me, is it one of the many I have wronged? Or one who is not overly partial to the common trick?”

Heimdall pursed his lips, tilting his head minutely to the side.

“More of the former, I’m afraid,” he said eventually. Loki took in a deep breath and whistled it slowly through his nose. He didn’t have enough magic pulsing in his veins to cast an illusion to sufficiently mask his identity, and it wasn’t as if he could let anyone truly go in his stead. If Loki was what whoever in the ship would have to contend themselves with, then they should avoid any possible outbreaks of violence from occurring on the Statesman in front of all the Asgardian refugees upon their meeting.

But he shook his head.

“No, if they should prove to be hostile, it would be best you remain here, in case I-”

Heimdall only frowned.

“If they should prove to be more hostile than I believe, I think it would be best if you refrained from going alone. You are Asgard’s heir, my prince. It wouldn’t do for her people to be without an Odinson.”

Loki blinked.

There simply wasn’t time for him to rifle through the colourful array of potential responses.

And so Loki found himself hunching into the pilot seat, trying very hard to keep his eyes averted from the great longsword wedged between his thigh and Heimdall’s knee. It was not a particularly comfortable arrangement.

They flew in silence for an excruciatingly long collection of minutes before Loki threw a small glance to the Gatekeeper. He didn’t appear to be blinking, but that was unsurprising.

“Have you…” Loki cleared his throat, wincing as it burned, “can you see Thor?”

Heimdall slowly shook his head. Loki wasn’t surprised. If he had seen the King of Asgard, he would have at least said something.

“Since my...death, my Sight has become...regrettably limited.”

Loki nodded absently, tipping the ship as he followed the direction of Heimdall’s unwavering finger.

“Perhaps it will improve with time,” Loki offered noncommittally. Heimdall made a small sound in the back of his throat that might have been acknowledgement.

Silence descended once more.

It was with a small amount of relief that Loki managed to dock the ship, attaching it to the outer rim. Loki took a minute to collect his seidr, and it sputtered a bit in his grasp, but didn’t protest too fiercely as he forced it to spread in a glamour over his neck and face. Whoever it may be, Loki found little use in allowing them to see any weakness. It was, after all, most certainly not a friend.

Clambering from the hatch, Loki swallowing a grimace as his neck jostled, he cautiously took the lead, treading on light feet. Another few flicks of seidr and they were inside.

A flash of steel, and Loki ducked, reflexes swiftly taking over. He tucked into a roll, and leapt to his feet, choking down a scream as his vision flashed red. He quickly shoved his hands into the air.

“We come by peaceful means!” He yelled, privately sending Heimdall a whole new slur of curses. “We are here in response to your call of distress.”

“Asgardian?”

It was dim where they stood, but Loki didn’t need his eyes to adjust to the darkness to know who exactly took up the space before him, crouched with a long dagger pointed inches from his throat.

Loki felt his blood run cold.

He knew that voice with a sickening certainty and wasn’t this just the most stupid, idiotic mission he ever agreed to embark on.

“Nebula,” he hoped his wheeze wasn’t too obvious as he spoke between greeted teeth, his fingers spasming into fists. “What a pleasure. Heimdall, I must congratulate you on returning me to the Titan’s clutches.” He turned his head, only glancing from the corner of his eye, determined to keep Nebula within his line of sight. He wouldn’t deny that he was at least moderately surprised to see the Gatekeeper still behind him, sporting a remarkable look of consternation. A part of him relaxed. He wasn’t to be passed over and abandoned, then.

Yet.

“Thanos isn’t here,” Nebula said quietly, though her knife never faltered. Loki arched a brow.

“Tell me then, what mission did he send you on ? Still hoping to make him proud?” He swallowed around the stone thickening in his throat. Her sessions had never been as creative as the Maw’s, nor as twisted. Perhaps not as long as Proxima’s or as cruel as any of his other handlers, but he knew exactly how skilled she could be with a knife, how methodical, her thrusts merciless and monotonous. Currents sparking white fire into his veins from her shocking stick. The flick of her wrist deft with the handle of a whip and he screamed his voice hoarse but she didn’t look at him and didn’t stop didn’t -

A glower immediately darkened her face, twisting her lips.

“I am not his daughter anymore. Or ever was. I want to kill him.” Her words were curt and absolute, laced with an impassioned tremble. Loki instinctively searched for the lie in her black gaze, but could find none. He supposed it made sense. She had a small new amount of machinery added to her person over the course of the year he spent on that hellish piece of rock, and idle gloating talk from the other members of the Black Order had quickly solved the mystery. Thanos’ clear preference for Gamore had also been laughably difficult to miss. Her strikes had always been harder those days, as she wrestled to unburden herself of a hellishly voracious anger. A shiver ghosted over his skin. Please, please stop, no-

“I commend your decision,” Loki worked the words from his mouth,  “but I’m afraid your efforts will be quite useless. He’s already in possession of six stones and has apparently managed to wipe out half the universe-”

“I know,” something else shone in her eyes as she voiced the admission, “I saw.”

Loki frowned. “Then how exactly are you planning on exacting your revenge?”

“Nebula! What on- is there someone-?”

A light flooded the room as a switch was flipped and Loki flinched despite himself.

“Is that- holy sh- Loki?”

Of all the people in the universe the former daughter of Thanos would be travelling with.

Loki doubted this arrangement was purely by choice.

Tony Stark was certainly more gaunt than the last time they had met, his entire body coated in a sheen of sweat. Currently his eyes held a slightly wild look of shocked outrage.

Loki quickly resumed his unassuming stance of goodwill, his hands spread above his head.

“Stark. I didn’t believe that mortals fared too well in space. I can see I wasn’t wrong.”

“You- what the fuck -”

“As the Norns appear to possess a remarkable sense of humour, I am apparently here to offer the aid and shelter of our ship. You are, of course, welcome to decline-”

“Nebula, please tell me this is a hallucination. Please tell me the megalomaniac who razed a good chunk of New York is not currently standing in our disintegrating spaceship.” His words adopted a glazed sense of detachment.

“You’re not hallucinating.”

“Ah. Great.”

He proceeded to haul his fist back. Loki knew what was coming in the same way he knew he’d been dangerously ignoring the searing buzz in his neck for the past few minutes. His body tensed to duck, but ultimately decided this would be a delightful moment to seize up.

And so Stark’s fist landed with painful accuracy to the hollow of Loki’s right eye, snapping his head back. Loki was distantly aware of his legs crumpling beneath him and something snapping inside him with the force of a bolt of lightning screaming down his spine and spitting out various nerve endings and Norns this had been a terrible idea-

 

~

 

Light bled through the black and Loki scrambled for any spare scrap of seidr, his body shuddering, nearly convulsing and if he could just think through all the red and fire-

“My prince?” There was currently exactly only one person who could be calling him by that name and Loki blinked, sluggishly rolling his eyes towards a blurred Heimdall.

So he was still alive then. He wondered how Heimdall had managed to convince Stark not to kill him.

“What’s wrong with him?” Nebula’s amorphous splash of blue hovered over him and Loki was acutely aware of his current horrifyingly vulnerable position and he had to get away please stop no more-

His breaths rattled in his throat, and fresh waves of pain rolled over him, leaving him dazed. His heart struggled to free itself from his chest and his hands scrabbled against the floor seemingly of their own accord. His heels scraped against cement and he was barely aware he was even moving until his shoulders pressed against a wall and now he was trapped.

No no no nono-

“Loki-”

A hideously pathetic whine rang in his ears and he desperately hoped it wasn’t coming from himself.

Something hot rolled over his cheeks and he couldn’t see anymore. He knew it was pointless, but his body wanted to heal itself before they started again even though that meant it would only hurt more as they tore into him again and again and-

“Please no, stop-” He threw up a hand to shield his face though of course they’d just laugh at such a pathetic attempt at protection.

“Someone please explain to me what the ever-loving fuck is happening right now?”

Loki felt his heart stutter and he blinked furiously against what ever was clinging to his eyes as his gaze skittered over his forearm. He knew that voice. It was certainly not one of the-

Oh.

Loki felt something drain out of him and he slumped, dragging air into his lungs. His seidr bundled itself tightly around his neck and he knew this was the last time he’d ever agree to follow Heimdall anywhere. Specifically to rescue anyone.

Slowly, the Gatekeeper in question sharpened into focus, his golden gaze close and searching. If Loki didn’t know better, he’d almost think he was almost concerned . Perhaps he was. Loki was, after all, Asgard’s last remaining sorcerer. It wouldn’t do for him to lose his wits, or have his neck snapped again by a mortal of all things.

The mortal in question was also unabashedly staring at him with something unreadable, and Loki had an overwhelming sense of being surrounded. Nebula’s lingering presence certainly didn’t help.

Norns, how could he have let himself fall to such horrific weakness?

Holding back a hiss, Loki hastily staggered to his feet, his hands sliding along the glass behind him as he studiously ignored Heimdall’s proffered hand.

“Are you alright, my prince?” The Watcher’s voice was soft. Loki went to nod, and winced. He settled for painfully clearing his throat. Sharp metal filled his mouth and he spat a globule of blood onto the floor. He grimaced, hastily wiping his mouth.

“I’m in perfect health,” he rasped, “now, are you both going to accept our frankly magnanimous proposal, because if not, it is absolutely of no consequence to me-”

“Wait, wait, hold up,” Stark raised his hands, “okay, um, that was gross. And weird,” a distant look entered his eyes before they snapped back with painful clarity, “are you seriously trying to tell me that you’re here, and I’m just spitballing here, to rescue us? Is that what I’m hearing? I haven’t contracted some kind of alien space disease that’s peacefully eating away at my brain right now? Someone help me out here, and I swear to god if you open your mouth one more time I won’t hesitate to drive my fist through the other eye,” he shot Loki a glare, and Loki let out his breath in a long sigh.

“It is true,” Heimdall had chosen this to be the moment to offer his support, “I am the Gatekeeper of Asgard, and half of what is left of the Realm remains on a refugee ship not far from here, the other half scattered across the stars after the Titan’s attack. We picked up your call of distress and assumed you would be partial to some assistance.”

Stark proceeded to stare dumbly.

“And you’re not, like, being mind-controlled right now? He’s not in your head, telling you to spit out all this bullshit?” He pointed an accusatory finger in Loki’s direction.

“He could only do that when he had Thanos’ scepter,” Nebula cut in bluntly. Stark turned his gaze to her.

“How the hell do you know about all that?”

She shrugged. “Thanos gave him the mind gem and sent him to earth for the Tesseract. He hoped Loki could open a portal to bring in the Chitauri to exterminate a good half of the population. Like he did to my planet, and countless others,” her lips twisted in bitterness, then softened, “we all heard he failed, and then we heard he died, having escaped his...punishment.” Her eyes flicked away. And Loki felt as though all the skin had been neatly flayed from his body.

Stark blinked.

“Um. Okay, I’m not going to even try to pick that apart right now, tell me that again in a few days, you said you have a ship full of refugees?” Stark slowly turned on his heel to face Heimdall. “Where’s Thor? What happened to Ass-um, space viking land?”

“Hela the Goddess of Death, Odin’s first born, escaped her prison upon the Allfather’s death. In order to protect the Nine Realms from her conquest, King Thor and Prince Loki brought about Ragnarok. The land was lost to Surtr’s flames, his sword plunged through Asgard’s core.” Heimdall bowed his head, a muscle tensing in his jaw.

Stark blinked again.

“Oh. Huh. That’s um, that’s too bad, uh,” he scrubbed a hand down his face, “that, um really sucks, the whole planet, Jesus, okay,” he huffed a breath, “so where’s Thor in all of this?”

Loki ignored the lump swelling in his stomach.

“The Mad Titan attacked our ship in search of the Tesseract. He massacred half our people while the other half escaped in pods. Thor,” Loki swallowed against the bile encroaching at the back of his throat, “Thor’s exact location is unknown to us now, but he is alive.”

“So he just like, killed all your- but I thought you said-”

“The Infinity Stones decided they were displeased with our sacrifice, and felt the inexplicable need to disobey the Titan’s command and tear us all back into this wretched plane of existence.”

Stark tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling, muttering something that sounded remarkably close to “ fucking magic .” Something else glinted dangerously in his eyes for a moment before it slid away. Loki felt himself frown, but quickly pushed it away.

“Right then,” Loki slapped his hands together, “if that is all, then we’d most appreciate it if you came to a decision sooner rather than later, though if you should so choose to rot in space I would not be particularly troubled.” They had spent far too long on this journey already. They had, of course, briefly explained their rash intentions to the newly resurrected Asgardians before their departure but they had been met mostly with a collection of glazed stares. Surely the shock would have worn off by now and the ship would be in a state of utter chaos upon their return. Although it would be the perfect habitat, Loki didn’t think Heimdall would take too kindly to the Statesman tearing itself apart again so soon. And the politics, of course, would be exquisitely excruciating.

It was unfortunate, then, that his entire body felt as though it required an entire century’s worth of rest.

“So Thanos, is he the whole reason your neck looks like it’s been run over by a truck?”

Loki felt his breath freeze in his throat. He nearly threw up a hand in front of his throat to protect it you will never be a god but miraculously managed to suppress the aching urge.

He pulled his face into a carefully blank mask and pulled his fists neatly behind his back. They trembled and he silently cursed his sickening weakness. He had barely even noticed when the glamour fell at the mercy of Stark’s cursed mortal fist.

Stark raised his hands as if in surrender.

“Oookay, sore subject, my bad, um,” he closed his eyes, “I can’t believe I’m doing this but this is most likely a weird fever dream anyway so, yeah, uh, let me just get some stuff and we’ll,” he waved a dismissive hand, “I’ll be right back.”

Loki watched him go, and mentally recalled which spare cabins on the Statesman were the furthest from his own.

Chapter Text

Nebula stood in the centre of the cabin she had been given, directly across from Stark’s, and stared at the sparse quarters. There was a bed, of a reasonable size and comfort, a dresser, and a wardrobe, all of which were empty. She wasn’t fool enough to leave her weapons sitting in a drawer, but took slight comfort in their continued presence on her person, various blades wedged into her boots, her shocking batons slung into her belt.

Loki had certainly kept a carefully trained eye on her assorted paraphernalia the entire stuffy length of the journey from their doomed ship. It hadn’t escaped her notice that every time she rested her gaze on the spiralling galaxy outside, she could feel his eyes minutely flicking in her direction, the muscles in his shoulders drawn as taught as a bow. She chose not to say anything. She didn’t quite know why.

His arrival had been questionably miraculous, if Loki could ever be even remotely associated with the word, but she wasn’t about to let her guard fall. There were unknown variables shuffling in every corner of the ship, granted what she’d seen of the Asgardian refugees held, for the most part, something to be desired in the way of intimidation, but Loki…

She didn’t really think much of father’s new plaything (project). He was abominably thin, didn’t really look like much of a fighter, and only appeared to glower at her with slightly hazy green eyes. She’d seen that look on nearly all the other ones she’d been told to “spend time” with, but she could concede that not many had maintained their defiance through her father’s care, the Other’s hands, the Maw’s games, and through so many rounds with all of her siblings, even Gamora on occasion. They never spoke to each other of what father wanted them to do to the prisoners (they hadn’t shared anything in years), and this one wasn’t much different from all the others. Perhaps if he didn’t break now, he’d break eventually, and father would have his perfect little pawn. Mostly, father seemed to have an affinity for broken things (mostly breaking them).

(It seemed father would rather place trust in anyone but her, would send anyone else but her for anything important.)

He snarled at her as she approached, baring his teeth, though the trembling flitting wildly across his body betrayed him. Nebula clenched her jaw, straightened, and matched his glare. He was beneath her (someone had to be).

The Chitauri had happened upon his broken body only three months past, an underwhelming gift spat from the Void. He was already half mad then when they’d dragged his body before her father, his face streaked with tears as he laughed, a breathless chuckle crawling from his throat as he muttered something about “helheim,” whatever that was. He hadn’t seemed terribly surprised by his predicament, but still couldn’t muster the strength to claw his way to his knees, his limbs spasming in a constant struggle. The first true words he spoke to father were slightly unexpected.

“I thought you’d be a woman,” he croaked, smiling crookedly, “all the books said so. All monsters make it here, don’t they? Despite their…” he trailed off, his focus straying as more tears spilled over. He didn’t seem to be aware of them. “Despite their best intentions,” he finished, almost in a whisper. The feverish gleam in his eyes didn’t leave.

No one had quite known what to say to that, and Nebula hoped they’d just end it. He looked pretty useless.

Father had leaned forward instead.

“Well, little monster,” he said, the whites of his teeth showing, “where did you come from?”

That gave the new prisoner pause. His mouth gaped ever so slightly, a panic stealing through wide, sharpened eyes. If possible, his shaking only worsened.

“I-I’m not-this isn’t-” he visibly swallowed, his breaths beginning to come out in harsher pants, “I’m not dead, then?”

Father smiled, amusement twinkling in his eyes for the briefest breath of a heartbeat, before it shifted into something darker.

Nebula knew that look.

She fought the urge to groan. What use could he possibly have for something so pathetic?

“Rejoice, young one,” the Maw stepped forward, peeling silently from the shadows like a cat stalking its prey, long fingers steepled delicately under his chin and Nebula fought the urge to roll her eyes.

He always had to be so dramatic. Maw was, without a doubt, the most insufferably fanatical out of all of them (the most loyal.)

“Rejoice, for you have had the privilege of being saved by the Great Titan,” he leered, inching ever closer toward the prisoner, “you may think this is cruel, suffering, even, but, no,” the Maw’s lips stretched and curled at the edges, “it is salvation. Smile, little monster,” his fingers darted out to clasp around the prisoner’s jaw, jerking his head up, “for you will be given new purpose. You will be reborn.”

The prisoner, for his part, seemed to still, a blankness entering his expression, flooding his face until it was nearly clear of emotion.

“I am no one’s,” he eventually growled, the words harsher and stronger than any he had previously uttered, “and I will not be used. If you claim to be merciful, if you hold any sense, I bid you end it now. I have no lingering attachments to the living, and I’d sooner take my chances with Helheim or Valhalla than debase myself, than submit to any one man again. I will not be ruled,” he spat, wrenching his chin from the Maw’s grasp, emerald embers blazing and bristling, but there was something undeniably fractured in them too. A crack spidering through all the proud defiance. Was it fear? Nebula wouldn’t be surprised.

Judging by her father’s unperturbed smile, he saw it too. The Maw barely took notice of the prisoner’s outrage, but dug his hand into his hair, twisting through black locks.

“Poor creature,” he murmured, “you were made to be ruled.”

The prisoner started to struggle, pawing at the Maw’s wrist, but he was weak, and the Maw only buried his nose in the crown of his raven head, and took a deep, wet breath through his nose before slowly withdrawing his grip, shoving the prisoner away. He landed in a sprawl.

“Delicious,” he crooned, smacking his lips, and the sound made her hands itch, “this little one has a few tricks of his own. In the right hands, shown the right path…”  He smirked, “I’m sure he will prove himself to be a formidable...ally.”

Her father only nodded, flicking a hand.

“See to it, then,” he ordered, and the Other quickly stepped into the fray, followed by two Chitauri soldiers. They marched forward, bending to each encase one of the prisoner’s arms tightly within their own, and the prisoner in question threw himself against their hold, fighting and failing, kicking broken limbs.

No!” He screamed, over and over again, “no, let me go, stop this, no, just let me go-”

He rounded the corner, and his cries quickly faded away. Everyone resumed their prior activities, and Nebula quickly began preparing herself for her next sparring session. She wouldn’t fail this time. She wouldn’t. She’d win.

That was three months ago.

Now, she painted long streaks of red across his back with the deft strokes of a slickly poisoned whip. His chains rattled as he swung from the ceiling, and his screams echoed in her ears, so loud, she only wished he would shut up and maybe she’d forget the ache of the new pieces inside her, forget Gamora and fath- Thanos, and all the failure failure failure if she could just hit something hard enough and empty all the fire scorching inside her, all the pain, all the rage, but…

But Gamora was gone now, gone, Thanos killed her because because -

Because he came back with the Soul Stone, and she didn’t-

The door burst open and Nebula whipped out a knife, lurching forward to press it against the intruder’s neck except-

“Woah, hey there, okay, um, no pointy things in my direction, please,” Tony quickly flailed his hands into the air, and Nebula let her dagger fall back to her side.

“Stark,” she said, “is something wrong?”

“What? No, no, we’ve actually got oxygen now, which is, really great for the human body, so no, um,” he scratched his head, “apparently according to the guy with the sword it’s dinner time.”

“Oh.”

Nebula sheathed her blade and reluctantly followed him into the hall. She didn’t really want to eat in front of a bunch of Asgardian refugees, but she hadn’t eaten in too long, her stomach almost knotted in on itself, and wasn’t it just perfect that Thanos hadn’t bothered to replace that particular part of her too.

On the other hand, it was one of the few things that reminded her that she wasn’t just all...metal.

“...yes, I’m afraid that’s all we can spare at the moment before we can manage to restock our reserves at the next marginally hospitable planet we’re able to find.”

Nebula felt Stark tense beside her, watched his hands curl into fists before releasing them in jerky movements. Loki placated a large Asgardian man, his arms thicker than Loki’s own waist, and appeared to be only just barely managing to hide the impatience twitching in his brow. The ugly bruising previously marring his neck was suspiciously nowhere to be found and she wasn’t naive enough to believe it wasn’t still there. He moved stiffly enough for it to be the case.

It was slightly jarring, she admitted, to see him speaking only in calm, coherent sentences, the mad gleam in his eyes she had come to see so often strangely dwindled down to...nothing. Or close enough, anyway.

It was strange to be around him without expecting his screams.

The screams of my victims fill every field.

She beelined for the buffet.

Or what she presumed was supposed to be one anyway. Snatching her own rations (a packet of dried...something, and a bowl of questionable paste which proved to be surprisingly sweet and fruity,) she quickly wolfed them down at the nearest tale while Stark unabashedly did the same.

In what seemed to be no time at all, both ended in staring dejectedly into their emptied bowls.

They were quiet for a moment, but as it usually was with Stark, it wasn’t for long. (There had been moments when he’d almost seemed to have shut off completely and those filled with silence had always been...worse, somehow.)

“So, assuming we even get to Earth without being murdered in our sleep, what do you think you’ll...do?” Stark was looking at her now, almost hesitantly, and Nebula felt herself swallow. She downed a glass of water and didn’t look at him.

Gamora was gone now.

“I will kill Thanos,” she said simply, placing the glass on the table with a little more force than necessary. “I will avenge my sister’s death and rid the universe of his existence.”

Stark nodded, running a hand through his damp hair. Apparently he’d washed up. While she’d spent her time just staring at a wall for an indefinite period of time.

“Okay,” he said, and Nebula thought she got the feeling he wanted to say something more, but then his gaze shifted and narrowed and Nebula held back a sigh.

“Hey, Reindeer Games, wait up,” Stark leapt from the table and staggered to the Asgardian who in turn pointedly quickened his pace. Nebula reluctantly followed as Stark chose to dog his steps.

“I haven’t the time, Stark,” Loki didn’t bother to hide his exasperation as he flicked an imperious hand.

“Yeah, you do actually, ‘cause I’ve got some questions about the big purple asshole who wiped out half the universe and what happened in New York.”

“And what makes you think I want to talk to you about anything?” Loki didn’t slow.

“I think all the human lives you terminated in your crazy power-grab phase deserve an explanation, and who’s to say you won’t try to subjugate the Earth again when you touch down in this clunker? Who’s to say you won’t go back to killing people to satisfy your-”

Stark nearly crashed into Loki as he abruptly stopped mid-stride, his shoulders hunching around his ears.

“Satisfaction’s not in my nature,” it was almost inaudible, as though he wasn’t even aware he’d spoken at all.

“Uh, not really helping your case, there, but okay-”

Loki huffed out a breath and continued walking.

“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“Okay, well, just so you know when you get to Earth you’re not going to be King of anything, not the world, not your new space viking settlement. You’re going to be thrown into the most secure prison the U.N. can get their hands on, most likely the Raft, and if you’re not executed immediately, you’re never getting out again.”

“Is that a threat, Stark?”

“Just stating fact.”

“And what makes you think there’s a single cage on your realm I wouldn’t be able to get myself out of?” If possible, he only sounded a bit amused now.

“Well, for starters, I don’t think your alien friends are going to be accepted on Earth and allowed to stay in their own little cozy corner if you’re around. Earth doesn’t just let anyone camp out, there’s rules and politics and stuff-”

Loki stilled.

“Are you trying to warn me?” He asked, voice laced with incredulity.

Stark let out a huff.

“No. I’m trying to make sure everyone on this ship doesn’t end up being rejected into space because of all the shit you pulled. They don’t deserve that. Maybe you do, but they don’t.”

Loki pinched the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb.

“You think I’m not already aware?”

“I think you don’t know anything about the world you tried to conquer.”

Loki appeared to consider the words for a moment, before Nebula caught the smallest smirk edging out of the corner of his mouth.

“Very well, then, Stark. You are undoubtedly an invaluable expert on your home planet. I think the Council would profit immensely from your input at the next meeting. We are to convene in the throne room by the next hour. Any Asgardian will be happy to provide you with directions. Try not to be late.”

And with that, Loki sped away down the hall, taking on the woes of another distraught refugee and the conversation was apparently over.

Stark blinked.

“You’re a politician now?” Nebula offered dryly. Stark looked at her for an uncomfortably long time.

“What?” She snapped.

“Oh, nothing, nothing, I uh,” he grinned, “I guess I’ve just never seen you smile before.”

Nebula let her expression darken.

“I was not.”

“Yes you were,” Stark called, already walking away.

Stark-”

“You know you can just call me Tony, right?” He said, “I mean, I don’t want to sound like my dad, and I think nearly dying together in space can allow us to be a little less formal, you know, more on the friendly side of the spectrum?”

Nebula felt herself falter.

“I don’t have friends,” she stated.

Stark passed her a glance, his smirk softening.

“Okay,” he said, shrugging, as if to humour her.

“I don’t.”

“I never said you did,” Stark’s grin turned thoughtful, “so, do you think this means I can weasle us into getting more food? I mean, I doubt Loki’s not taking seconds and ambassadors have gotta be right there next to adopted royalty…”

As Star- Tony rambled, Nebula let the words wash over her, seeping through every ache in her body, and at least it gave her something to think about.

She didn’t have to let herself think about Loki’s blood crushed under her fingernails (like so so many others and why did it even matter?), and Gamora’s arms encircling tight around her for the first time in years…

You can stay with us and help them.

I can help them. By killing Thanos.

You will always be my sister...

And she was going to be the last thing Thanos would ever see.

She’d make sure of it.

Chapter Text

The “council meeting”, as it turned out, was not in any kind of throne room, but after wandering around asking a few shell-shocked aliens about it, Tony eventually found himself in a lounge, complete with gaudy poufs, couches, and a mini bar. Tony wasn’t going to complain. He made a beeline for it, ignoring the other inhabitants of the room, which consisted of a few mismatched Asgardians of varying ages, Heimdall, and of course, Loki. He sat stiff-backed but somehow still listing to the side in his overstuffed chair, left forearm pressed into the padding. It looked weirdly uncomfortable.

But it was Loki, and Tony was not functioning on enough steam to sort out all the crazy shit spinning around in his brain that only seemed to swell to the forefront whenever he looked at him.

So. Asgard was gone, poof, nothing. Big dramatic showdown involving some kind of demon, lots of fire, and a really big sword. Thor was lost to space, probably dead, and he, Tony, had somehow managed to find himself- he choked on the word rescued, whatever this was, it wasn’t that- conveniently transported (kidnapped?) onto a spaceship that wasn’t coming apart at the seams. Which also so happened to house the particular asshole who chucked him out a window and terrorized his city a couple years back. Who was supposed to be dead. 

“Stark. So good of you to join us,” said the devil in-question, in a tone just a little too sweet. Alright, dial it back. Yeah, Loki was planning something, but it was kind of disappointing how obvious he was being about it.

“Please no, stop,” and it was just a bit too frantic, and Tony could only find it in himself to stare as he watched the psychopathic alien who had tried way too obviously to thrust unrealistic views of despotism on the world, throw up his arms. Like someone was going to hit him.

“We all heard he failed. Then we heard he died, having escaped his...punishment.”

Whatever in crazy-land that meant.

Tony shook himself. Maybe he remembered it all wrong. He’d been hard-pressed for oxygen at the time.

But the last he’d seen someone so...scared…

“I don’t want to go,” he said, and there was so much terror there, “I don’t want to go,” and Tony felt the fear crawl under his skin and sink its teeth into his bones. No, this wasn’t happening. Not- no-

If he could hold him, keep him against his chest, keep him in his arms, then he wouldn’t go anywhere, he’d stay, and everything- everything would be fine.

“I’m sorry.”

Tony felt his chest constrict, and he lunged for the nearest bottle he could find lying haphazardly across the bar.

“Yeah, great to be here,” he forced the words out, and was relieved to note they didn’t shake.

“Forgive me, Man of Iron, but I’m afraid your mortal constitution wouldn’t take too kindly to any of the drink here,” the one with the golden-eyed stare that kind of gave Tony the heebie-jeebies, interjected. Tony felt a wave of frustration, and slammed the bottle back onto the counter with perhaps a little more force than necessary.

“Great,” he muttered, and sprawled across the nearest couch, resting his head over his hands. The members of the council seemed to stare at him for a moment, until he waved his hand.

“Don’t mind me. Carry on.”

And they did. And in no time at all it became blatantly apparent what Loki’s revenge had consisted of the entire time.

It was board meetings all over again. Only he couldn’t skip out. Or Loki would win, though that logic was becoming all the harder to live by as he caught the smallest of smirks spreading over Loki’s face around halfway into the second hour. Nope. He could do this. And as soon as they actually addressed Earth, then Tony would come running into this clan of aliens (with a surprising number of domestic concerns) bearing all the “Midgardian” wisdom he didn’t have. Tony would become Earth’s first intergalactic ambassador.

And they would take his side, and hopefully Loki would end in not becoming too permanent a fixture in Asgard’s new settlement on Earth. Yeah, that would be an international disaster. Not to mention Tony didn’t really feel like having to look out for a psychopath every time he tried to visit Thor. Although, at the moment it was currently becoming more disturbingly bizarre to witness as said psychopath navigated his “people’s” concerns. Maybe his patience looked a little strained, but he hadn’t threatened to kill anyone yet, and so far, he’d actually been paying attention and offering platitudes in all the right places. Tony did not want to think too hard on that. Chances were that Loki was also lying his ass off ninety per cent of the time. Most of which would become more apparent once they reached Earth.

Although, the logistics of the Asgardians even settling on Earth in the first place were a bit...The Sokovia Accords; how would they even be able to protect the citizens of Earth if any of the Asgardians decided to take a leaf out of Loki’s book? Tony felt another dull pulse throb through his skull. He just wanted to go home. Be with Pepper. And- and- tell May he lost- lost the- the kid-

Tony eyed the bar and silently weighed the benefits of taking the chance in destroying what remained of his liver consuming potentially lethal space alcohol. He came up with an extremely, though unsurprisingly, low list of cons.

And at some point his brain decided to tune back into the conversation.

“...then the families, there are fathers without wives or children, mothers stripped of their offspring, it is...” the Asgardian, dressed in shabby layers that used to probably be on the silkier side at one point, swallowed and twisted her hands in her lap, a haunted look on her face. In fact, everyone in the room seemed to have a far-off glassiness to their eyes, and though it was unsettling, it wasn’t...it should’ve been worse? Tony was fiercely reminded that these people had died not too long ago, and okay, that was...really not a good thought, but in retrospect, they seemed to be handling it remarkably well. No one he’d met so far had gone completely off their rocker, and the council members seemed able enough to hold board meetings so…

“My prince, we’d like to know...if there is any possible way to hasten our reunion with our people,” a slightly younger man interjected. A few grey hairs streaked through his intricately woven beard, and he was perhaps a bit heavier than the other members, made visible in the more protruding roundness of his stomach. Tony studiously did not want to think about how old the man actually was, the number probably more than a little staggering.

In fact, Tony didn’t really feel like thinking about much at all at the moment. Not least his own pathetically short “mortal” lifespan.

Space. You’re in space. And you almost died. Almost-

“As soon as Heimdall is healed, I’m certain he will be able to give us a more accurate idea of where they've all gone,” Loki said, though Tony caught the tightness spreading in his jaw, his hands pressed perhaps a little too hard into his thighs. “And I only need...a few days more at most before I will be able to scry for the Valkyrie, or something to that effect. ”

“Your magic is greatly diminished, My Prince?” And yeah, Tony was not going to get used to anyone calling Loki of all people “my prince” anytime soon. God he needed a drink.

Loki only imperceptibly bristled, keeping his face impressively blank, a strictly polite smile crossing his face. A part of Tony wondered why the guy hadn’t been eviscerated already.

“I am still in healing,” Loki said after a reasonably uncomfortable pause, “but not to worry, I am not, as of yet, entirely helpless.” And yup, there was the dangerous glint in his eyes that Tony was a lot more familiar with.

“Certainly...certainly no one would presume as much,” Slightly Pudgy said, and okay, Tony was too tired to come up with nicer nicknames. As far as he could tell, he was supposed to be in charge of the rationing (apparently back in space viking land he’d been some kind of baker). So Tony didn’t feel like he owed the man an overflowing amount of courtesy.

“Yes, his highness has made it abundantly clear that one must not underestimate the deception of his current appearance,” and that was spoken with an edge to it that was laughably difficult to miss. Possibly the oldest guy in the meeting (in charge of...something? Smithing? Brewing? Tony had not bothered to keep track) spoke up for maybe the first time. There was a dark, open hostility to the man’s gaze, and if it hadn’t been apparent earlier, it was pretty obvious now.

Loki visibly stiffened.

A chill had somehow descended over the room.

“Well, I would hope so,” Loki said after a moment, “I wouldn’t want anyone to believe Asgard is too terribly defenceless in the wake of its destruction.”

“Perhaps there would have been no need for its destruction if a monster hadn’t sat itself upon her throne,” the man said mildly.

“Yes, well, I agree Hela was not the most...amiable of rulers-”

“Do not presume ignorance now, Jotun,” a hiss entered the man’s speech, and Tony watched as Loki, of all people, flinched. Like he’d been slapped.

“Uh, sorry, cultural clash, but what’s a yogurt- yo-yo- um-” Tony wiggled his hand, and Loki opened his mouth, but the old guy was apparently in a more talkative mood.

“The Jotnar. They have no honour,” he said, and maybe sounded a little too pleased about it, “they come from a land brought low by Asgard’s power, by Odin’s might in battle after they sought to destroy your world, mortal.”

“I think I...I think I would’ve remembered something like that-”

“A millennium ago,” the man said impatiently, “they came to your realm to drown it all in ice and snow and blood, the perfect home for a demon, only able to live in the cold and the dark. They were foiled, of course. Odin crushed their cowardly rebellion, and took back the heart of their power so they may never seek to destroy another realm again.” He flicked a pointed gaze to Loki, who sat straight-backed in his chair, expression as blank as Tony had ever seen it, knuckles standing out stark and white where he clutched the arms of his chair, and Tony was surprised to find the wood hadn’t snapped yet. Apparently Loki really didn’t like these yogurt people.

“So, uh, what’d these guys look like?” Because learning about other kinds of alien lifeforms was...Tony was no biologist, but a part of him was wondering if he should start taking notes.

The man’s lips twitched into the faintest of smiles, like he’d been waiting a really long time to deliver a joke he’d been holding in five conversations ago and was relieved to finally have the chance to get it off his chest.

“Twisted things. Barely able to clothe themselves, eyes as red as the blood of the innocents they’ve slaughtered, skin the deepest blue of winter, warped with baseless scars. We don’t know if they mark their own young, or if they are simply born with them, but they can only add to their monstrous features-”

“That’s enough,” one of the women spoke, a healer if Tony remembered correctly. So, a doctor. And she was not pleased. If anything, she looked about two seconds away from sticking a knife in the old guy’s throat.

“So I’m guessing it’s like, an insult then?” Tony ventured, “isn’t it kind of, treason or something to insult your…”

“That is no king or prince of mine,” the man said, pointing, and okay, Loki wasn’t Tony's first choice for ruler of anyone, but this was getting kind of openly antagonistic, had he even met Loki? Did he want to die? “And it cannot be treason to give a thing its proper name. It’s birthright.”

The woman rose to her feet, and Tony felt himself scramble into a sitting position, boarding school flashbacks springing uncomfortably to the forefront. Mr. Stark, if you continue to persist in this behaviour-

Enough ,” she snapped, gaze withering, “how dare you. Have you no respect-”

“Respect?” the man was openly spitting now, “who is left to give my respect to? Odin’s line is as good as dead, and all we have left is one who is not even of our kind, who was meant to live out the rest of their miserable life in the dungeons. He took the Allfather’s place on the throne for years-”

“And you mean to say you were ignorant of Odin’s sudden change in governance until now?”

“I assumed he was grieving for the Queen, and with Thor gone, off to who knew where, it seemed he was in a delicate state, and his mind was already addling-”

“Then you are a remarkable fool, and possibly one of the only men left in Asgard who could not recognize their own prince.”

“And what a prince he was! What a king! Pulling back our forces from the other realms, allowing them their savagery and autonomy, indulging in theatre of all things. As the king, glorifying his dead Jotun get, of course I assumed his wits had left him, and I could only pray for Prince Thor’s return to set the realm to rights!”

“The Allfather was old. And grieving. I may not agree with Prince Loki’s...methods, but it was time for a successor, and Prince Thor did not wish to remain in Asgard, and he is not here now-”

“I will not bow and scrape and grovel to one who is lesser than myself!”

And oh. If this hadn’t shaped itself into one of the worst possible pictures...Tony felt something cold slide into his stomach, where it writhed and wriggled around. This... shit…

Loki blinked, as though resurfacing from whatever hell dimension he’d clocked out to, and plastered on the fakest smile Tony had ever seen. He was pretty sure he could cut steel on the tilting corner of his lips.

“My apologies, Ivar,” he said, tone perhaps a little too light, “you are absolutely right.”

Huh?

On second thought, maybe Tony had died after all, and this whole space adventure was nothing but a weird..afterlife fever dream? Or something…

“There is no king, or prince of Asgard,” Loki went on, leaning forward ever so slightly in his chair, “if there were, I would not be permitted to dispose of needless exhausts to our resources, but as it stands…” And Loki let the end of his sentence curl as he watched the old man’s face whiten the slightest bit, “I mean to say, as a demon, as you so audaciously put it, I would have no qualms in stooping to my more baseless urges.” His eyes hardened to sharpened glass, and Tony felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. And as though he had stumbled upon a minefield he hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to pick his way out of.

Yeah, Thor’s little adoption story was obviously a lot more...complicated than he’d first let on…

What in all hell was happening here?

“I’m only attempting to get this ship and its passengers safely to Midgard. I think Thor would be fairly grateful to know there are, in fact, more of his people alive than he should think at the moment. I can indeed sympathize with your sentiments, of course, I wouldn’t want a Frost Giant ,” the words were bitten through clenched teeth, “anywhere near Asgard’s people, but I’m afraid, since no one else seems to be up for the task, that your options are rather limited.” A glimmer entered his eyes, and maybe Loki’s happiness was a lot more terrifying than his anger.

“And as to your stoic declaration,” his brow twitched, “I’m afraid you have already done so. For years. And I will forever cherish the memory,” the words were a little flat, like the game had gotten old, and Loki abruptly lurched to his feet.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more important matters to attend to than reminiscing over the frankly delightful image of your past prostration,” his smirk barely reached his eyes, before Loki was sweeping out of the room, swaying just the smallest bit, and Tony turned to watch as Ivar’s face scrunched up like he’d been force-fed a bucket of lemons.

“What just...did I miss something?” Tony said, because apparently there had been a disconnect between his mouth and his brain since childhood and though he was aware of his own affliction, it wasn’t like he could do anything about it. Or wanted to...

“I understand your ignorance, Midgardian,” the healer woman said, and ow but fair at this point, “but there is nothing to excuse your behaviour, Ivar, for shame.” The old guy moved to open his mouth, but she cut him off without mercy.

“No. Asgard is...its views must change. Too long have we allowed the stories of those we have defeated to colour our judgement.”

“Wait, so, Loki’s a...one of those…” And yeah it was obvious by now, and he felt like he’d stumbled onto something extremely explosive and private and he should back away now.

“His grace, and the rest of Asgard for that matter, wasn’t aware of his heritage until more recent years,” the woman almost seemed to bite her lip before continuing, “but yes. He is Jotun. And of all things, that does not make him any lesser,” she fixed one last deathly glare at Ivar before gathering up her skirts, and flouncing from the room with all the regality of a queen.

"Make no mistake," apparently it was Ivar's turn to stalk out now with his own parting speech, "Loki of all people, cannot be trusted. Beyond his...heritage, he knew those who came for us, who kill-" he choked a little, "who massacred us in cold blood. Perhaps he was victim as well, but there is evidently much we don't know, and frankly, I for one do not feel overly inclined to trust the safety of our people in the hands of that- that."  He was almost sputtering at the end, as he took his leave with a whip of his cloak.

And for some reason, maybe Tony was just imagining things, but maybe lines had just been driven into the sand here. Very deep ones.

This was Tony’s cue to leave and also what what what-

“Alright, good talk, I’m just gonna...excuse me…” And with all the delicacy Tony certainly did not possess, he swung his legs over the side of the couch and extricated himself from the stifling heat of the lounge, wondering vaguely why Ivar wasn’t a sad stain on the carpet right about now.

And it was a little hard not to feel the sword guy’s bird-of-prey stare on the back of his head on his way out, but no one ended up stopping him.

Okay, in retrospect maybe trailing after an obviously angry homicidal space god was not one of Tony’s better ideas, but before he knew it he was barreling into the one room that happened to house the very person (Jotun?) he should have been trying to avoid.

Windows stretched from floor to ceiling, and Loki stood maybe a little too still and stiff, ignoring the one chair in the room in front of him, and watching the stars, maybe? While also looking like a soft breeze could probably flick him over.

Tony was having some very confusing feelings right now.

“So, uh, I guess your planet’s pretty racist, huh?” He said before he could stop himself and what are you doing, do you want to get impaled? Or thrown through that window right there? And Jesus Christ what kind of issues did he just waltz in on?

Loki didn’t reply.

Because Tony didn’t possess any self-preservation skills, he stepped further into the room. So many questions, and maybe he should just bug Nebula she obviously knew something and wasn’t that just a little insane? But she hadn’t seemed overly eager to indulge him lately, seemingly a whole lot more lost in her head. Tony hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her for a while, and if that meant Loki had hurt her in the good old days, well…but...

Please no, stop…

“If you value your continued existence, Stark, I suggest you leave,” Loki’s voice was toneless, completely flat, and it sent a jittery shiver down Tony’s spine. Yes, he should leave. Leave, idiot.

“See, that’s the thing about me, I don’t know when to call it quits,” did he really just say that? “And...what I heard in there was pretty...messed up.”

Loki didn’t even look like he was breathing anymore, and this weird New York juxtaposition was not doing any wonders for Tony’s sanity. He almost would have preferred crazy take-over-the-world Loki to whatever the hell this was, and wasn’t that a terrifying thought?

“Okay, I feel like I’m missing a lot of pieces here, and I think-”

“What is it that you truly wish to gain? Don’t presume that any good can come from your mindless persistence,” and maybe this time Loki just sounded...tired.

“Well, you don’t know that, maybe-”

“Maybe what? You believe anything can honestly work out fine ?” Definite bite there. But also something else...

But of course, as soon as Loki uttered the word fine, the universe, in all its cosmic joviality, decided this was the time to conjure up a giant-ass spaceship from whatever dark corner it could dig up, and as its shadow passed over their heads, blotting out the lights of the stars, Tony really wanted to groan.

“You think they’re friendly?” He couldn’t help but ask.

And Loki’s silence said more than a thousand words ever could.

Shit.

Chapter Text

Loki felt his jaw slacken and he resolutely clamped it shut. Oh, the Norns had just been waiting to pull this one out of their hats. 

Loki felt a low throb in his temple, and a flutter of something he refused to recognize as panic no no not again please - making its presence known in his chest. No, he wasn’t going to bear that any acknowledgement.

“Get anyone you can to the escape pods,” he pushed past a close to gibbering Tony Stark as he stormed from the room. Control panel, he needed to get to the control panel. 

Rejoice.

No, it wasn’t Thanos this time. It...he just knew. It could be anyone. It could be him. It could be his lackeys. Hands - hands closing over, squeezing -

Loki shook his head as if that would dislodge the images he really didn’t need to contemplate at the moment, and immediately regretted the action as it sent another wave of red flaring down his neck, his spine-

Focus.

Gritting his teeth, Loki slipped into the control room, barreling toward the speaker. Heimdall was already there, of course, gold eyes unreadable but perhaps he detected a hint of...fear? Resignation? He found he didn’t particularly want to know.

“They herald us,” Heimdall spoke softly, an undeniable note of steel running through his words. Loki nodded, already leaning for the comm. His finger most certainly did not shake.

“May I inquire as to your business with our vessel-”

“Oh Loki , that’s not how you greet an old friend.”

He froze.

Ice trickled down his spine, nails scraping. No, she was banished. He made sure of it hadn’t he-

“Come on, mister shy, no need to be coy, you can’t have forgotten me that easily.” 

Loki bit his tongue until he tasted blood, sharp and acrid, and he huffed out a silent breath.

“What do you want?”

“Loki, you’re being quite rude-”

Amora .”

He felt Heimdall’s gaze burning holes into his back. He tried not to squirm.

“Oh alright, fine, you’re no fun,” the voice whined through the crackling speaker, and Loki could picture simpering, frowning lips painted in familiar shades of glowing green and felt his stomach churn. 

“By the way, I wouldn’t let your little subjects fly away like that, you know, I could get absolutely careless with all the pretty little buttons at my disposal. I must say, I’m finding the remnants of the great Asgard to be disappointingly pathetic.” 

Loki felt a weight seep into his chest, sickly and crushing and he exchanged a glance with Heimdall. He wordlessly slipped from the room on silent feet.

“So, who actually survived? Is Thor there? Can I-”

“You may not.”

Loki, I think Thor can speak for himself.”

“A terrible idea under the best of circumstances. What is it that you want, Amora? Odin is gone. This is a refugee ship. You have nothing to gain, and I think it would be for the best if-”

“Oh no, Loki, you don’t get to decide what’s best. For anyone .” there was anger there, now, a sliver of brittleness all too unmistakable and Loki resisted the urge to hit something. 

“They are mere peasants, not worth your attention or your battle arms.”

“Perhaps,” she conceded, lips smacking loudly over the receiver and Loki couldn’t help but cringe at the sound, “but then again, destroying them would be so much more enjoyable. So, if I just press this button here, then-”

“Is there perhaps something else that could...satiate you?” Loki dug the nails of his right hand into the palm of his left and leaned into the sting. 

Her laughter fizzled through the Stateman’s speakers and Loki felt the hairs on the back of his neck curl. He hadn’t seen her in centuries. Not since her ridiculous plans and plots had landed her in hot water and subsequently, ousted from the Nine Realms. 

Banishment or eternal imprisonment. For once, Odin had listened to Loki’s council - no prison could hold her, and her wrath would bring down all of Asgard, Allfather. Perhaps with a new life and freedom, she will not take it upon herself to return - and though a part of him was regretting his words now, the alternative would have been…

Flames. Fire. Destruction. Death. 

Unbidden, a stream of hot summers spent sprawling in the grass rose to his mind’s eye, green trickling and twisting between his fingers, her smile bright, encouraging, words light and teasing on her tongue. 

You’re truly atrocious at that spell, you know.

Yeah? Like you could do better.

Well, why don’t you let me show you?

None of that had lasted long, Loki reminded himself. No, she’d only been interested in Thor, and she’d simply been using him to get to what she truly desired.

Not that he ever minded, of course. Their friendship had always been cultivated on cracked eggshells, precarious and ever mildly snide at the best of times. It was only when she…when Thor became ever so much more important that things had started to slide so hopelessly askew.

I’d rather not, he’d said, when her hands found his thighs, his neck, lilac and lemon thick and cloying, and something else decidedly other, sweet, and sticky, clinging to his throat like cotton as he breathed, and he’d pulled away, coughing.

It’s not working? She’d frowned, shoving him away as she inspected the vial in her hands, the sloshing liquid glinting a noxious violet.

What’s that?

Nothing you need to worry about.

You will not touch my brother .

He’s mine, Loki, he’s mine, and how could he ever say no? 

Loki grimaced, swallowing back bile. He paused, worms writhing in his stomach, wriggling and pinching and it wasn’t as if any more harm could come from what he would say now, could it?

“I cannot give you Thor. He’s gone.” He held his breath.

Silence.

“Gone? What do you mean gone?” A hint of panic, there. Fluttery. Warning.

“He’s dead.” Loki stifled his own involuntary strangled choke at the words, stuffing a fist in his mouth. Pathetic. He’s not dead you idiot.

“I don’t believe you.”

“I’m afraid I’m the last of the royal family, ask anyone,” he forcibly quieted the voice laughing in his head. 

That is no king or prince of mine.

Loki rolled his eyes until his head hurt.

“He is finally free of your clutches,” he couldn’t resist adding, “so, now that we have established that nothing can come from - any of this, then I suppose all I can do is bid you a-”

“Not so fast,” something warbled in her voice, until it stretched and hardened. Crystallizing glass. “Tell me, do you know how far the next planet is?”

Loki felt himself frown.

“Will your - people - honestly make it? Do you truly believe that?”

“I assure you, we will manage.”

“Will you now? What if I were to say I could lend aid in that regard?”

“Overcome with altruistic intentions now, are we? I think I might be sick.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I simply-” she paused, breath crackly and halting, “it would be a waste, wouldn’t it?”

Loki felt his lips twist into the wryness of a smile, and fought against the laugh bubbling up at the back of his throat. If he let it out, he feared it might sound like he was choking on something.

“What is it you want, Amora?” He spoke quietly this time, tone smooth as lacquered wood, dipping in the slightest edge of metal. Sharpened silver.

Silence stretched to the point of palpable discomfort, a straining thread waiting to snap- 

“I want you.”

He could hear her smirk. Practically see the self-satisfaction glittering in her eyes, the whiteness of her teeth bared into her version of a grin. 

“...Oh?”

“Don’t do that,” she was giggling now, voice light and airy, “come on Loki, I just thought we should catch up. It’ll be fun. You can come aboard my lovely and frankly, superior, vessel, and I won’t get bored and be forced to contend myself with all the colourful ways I could make the last of Asgard’s people a distant memory. I think that’s fair, don’t you?” 

“Need I remind you that my seidr far exceeds your own?” It was a gamble, but if he played it right, “Amora, I’m flattered you wish for my company, but really, I have no need or time for it. We are on a tight schedule, and you can be sure that I won’t allow anything, or anyone, to come between this vessel and its destination.” 

She laughed now, and the sound, croaking and cackling from the speakers, made his stomach curl. 

“Oh, Loki, I know you too well,” she gasped for breath, the sound reminiscent of a drowning man coming up for air, heaving, “you would have done that already by now. Chased me off the moment I got here. Performance issues?” She chuckled, “well, I’ve grown too, you know, in my exile, in ways you can’t even imagine. And now I’m starting to lose my patience.” Nails tapping in a drumming rhythm echoed down the line, through the static, and Loki could picture the same claw-like hands manicured to perfect, deathly points.

Damn. Damn her. 

Loki felt every one of his muscles tense to a shuddering coil, a rat skittering around in his chest, nibbling bone. He flicked his tongue over his lips, running over the dryness and the splintering cracks. 

Damn Thor. Damn Asgard. Damn Heimdall. Damn - 

Resisting the urge to slam his decidedly not shaking fist on the console, he folded his arms to his chest, tight, hands squished to his sides.

“I come to you,” he said, uncaring to the open coldness in his tone, “and you do not attack this vessel. You allow it to move on to its destination, and you don’t intervene.”

“Hmm, alright, if you want to pretend you can make conditions, sure.”

“Amora.”

Fine,” she sighed as though he were a particularly troublesome child, the root of all wordly inconveniences, “if I am going to be otherwise preoccupied,  I suppose I’ll refrain from wasting my reserves on slaughtering sheep.”

“We are finished here, then?”

“Yes, yes, come at once, and if you send one of your ghastly illusions, well, I’m sure you can imagine how disappointed that would make me,” her tone dropped to a low chiding, message blatantly delivered, and Loki flicked off the speaker with a waspish snap of his wrist, restraining from outright violence at the last moment. She would hear that. He would rather retain his composure. What was left of it anyway.

You don’t have to do this.

The little voice murmured at the back of his head, and he knew it would only gather in strength, in volume - in panic . He knew it would come to almost drown out anything else, loud, hissing. Loki wouldn’t even try to pretend he was some kind of - some kind of Thor, Norns, forbid. But it wasn’t as if he really could do anything else.

No. Loki had been given “new life,” granted on the questionable whims of a collection of inanimate space artifacts, and he should’ve known it was only to have him suffer a bit longer before they reached their inevitable final verdict. 

And it wasn’t as though Loki hadn’t brought this all upon himself. The Asgardians floating on this hulking heap of gaudy scrap metal roughly twisted into a functioning vessel, had already died once over. Thor had d- nearly died, and it was all thanks to him, wasn’t it? 

The fact remained, there was something fundamentally wrong with him, something rotten inside, monstrous, and it simply was to no great surprise to anyone that everything seemed to be, in the end, his fault. 

Wherever you go, there is war, ruin, and death.

Loki resolutely ignored the clenching in his stomach, and swiped unconsciously at the sweat beading on his forehead, stinging. 

You don’t have to do this. Aren’t you going to run away? Like the little coward you are?

He didn’t feel much of anything at all as he walked, one foot in front of the other, passing by panicking, hysterical Asgardians, twisting, turning, until he reached the little hall where all the escape pods sat in a neat, scrupulous row. Just waiting to be used.

His head was stuffed with glass, heavy and sharp and he knew something would break inside him if he allowed himself to feel anything too clearly, to think - to be real -  so in a way, the muffled, cottony haze squirming between his mind and his body wasn’t all too terribly problematic. Nearly welcome.

His fingers were stilted, mechanical, somehow not entirely a part of himself as he vaguely watched them fiddle with the door, the controls, fumbling for a grip on the steering wheel.

This doesn’t have to be the end again, does it? They could come to an arrangement, perhaps. Like old times.

If only Loki didn’t know, in the shape of the hole widening in his chest, swelling, swallowing bits of all he was inside until he knew nothing would be left, that the fact of the matter was he’d been living on borrowed time for a while now.

Since his hand had slipped off a golden staff, and he’d let himself fall into all the black.

Since he’d let go.

You really are the worst brother.

And Thor wouldn’t - wouldn’t - have to be so disappointed, now, would he? If Loki came back again. To ruin everything. If he came back when everyone else was gone. 

And that was all that really mattered. 

Pathetic.

Knuckles knocked against the glass to his left, and Loki was shoved back into his body with an unceremonious jolt. He flinched in his seat and whipped his head to the side, locking eyes with the very disappointed stare Heimdall was currently projecting. He stifled down a groan.

“No need to thank me,” Loki called, and nearly smirked as he watched Heimdall’s brow furrow, eyes darkening. Confusion was an...interesting look on the gatekeeper. Loki flashed him something empty with all too many teeth, certainly not anything close to what could be considered a smile, and if his eye twitched, or his lip trembled, well, those were just nerves, weren’t they? Ridiculous. 

“Get the ship out of range as soon as you can-”

“Loki, we need to talk about this.” Heimdall’s words rumbled in a spot in Loki’s chest.

“It’s just Amora, Heimdall,” Loki’s cheeks had begun to hurt. Why was he still smiling? He couldn’t seem to stop. “All she wants is me, so she’ll be getting me, until I make my miraculous escape, of course, and in the meantime, you can steer the ship to the nearest jump point.” 

A muscle twitched in Heimdall’s jaw, a blink betraying his surprise.

“This is foolish. Your seidr isn’t even fully recovered yet.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think she’ll want to wait patiently until then. Do you really want all the trouble the stones went through to bring us all back into this world to be for nought? It would be rather wasteful, wouldn’t it? Now, if you’ll excuse me-”

“Loki.” There was something else in that word, a tone, a lilt Loki almost would have dismissed. He nearly did, if it weren’t for the curious glint in Heimdall’s eyes. They were round, wide, staring. Unmoving. Open. The nerves bundled in Loki’s stomach gave another little lurch. He ignored it.

“Fear not, dear Heimdall,” he was certain his jaw was cramping by now, “I shall return, as I always do. An eternal thorn in Asgard’s side, as the Norns intended.”

Heimdall opened his mouth, a small parting in his lips, but Loki, surrendering to the white static in his head, flicked the pod into gear before he could think better of it, lurching into the stars.

Into the black.

The open nothing.

Leaving Heimdall kneeling, mouth gaping, hand pressed against the glass. He really didn’t need to know what was left unsaid. 

He really didn’t.

 

~

 

There was a faint buzzing in his head as he tried very hard not to stumble on legs that felt infuriatingly close to jelly. In what seemed to be absolutely no time at all, Loki found himself escorted by two rather foul henchmen, their species much too unremarkable to place, but dully humanoid in appearance. One had grabbed him directly upon his arrival, hand thick, and stronger than it looked. Much stronger. It had wrapped itself embarrassingly easily over Loki’s forearm, as he’d been rather unceremoniously yanked from his seat, a heavy set of manacles clamped over his wrists.

The chain jangled as Loki attempted to keep stride, and he raised his chin to compensate, ignoring the persistent, sickly fluttering in his chest and the fingers bruising into his elbow. 

“So, you’re the creatures dear Amora has chosen to consort herself with?” Loki couldn’t resist, latching onto the annoyed grunt the alien emitted, “can’t say I’m impressed. Should I be concerned?” He flashed a quick smirk and earned himself a smack on the side of the head with what looked to be a long, heavy stick. Ow. 

All too soon, he found himself in the main chamber of the ship, ceiling stretching overhead, making him feel discomfitingly small, large, glass windows allowing a view of the blackness of the cosmos. Velvet speckled with flecks of flickering light. The Statesman moving sluggishly in the opposite direction. Away.

Loki felt a pang. It felt only uncomfortably familiar to the sensation of...of… Loki grit his teeth. He hadn’t been abandoned (you had to have someone want you around in the first place for that) . He chose this. And it was...inconvenient, certainly, and ridiculous, and idiotic, of course, but - 

Why had he done this, again?

His heart squirmed in his chest, pulse distractingly erratic, a butterfly beating its wings against the confines of its cage. 

Regardless, he was here now, though his mind was still attempting to be elsewhere , and he would think of something. Of course he would. 

He just needed a bit of time. That was all. 

Time he clearly did no have - 

Loki , to be honest, I’m impressed, I thought you would have left your little band of peasants to their fate by now, but here you are, looking, well,” Amora strut from the shadows, black leather boots hiking to her knees clicking, echoing, “a little worse for wear, honestly. What have you been doing?”

Loki glowered.

A few centuries had apparently been a long while for Amora, and he refused to openly stare. Gone were the glittery skirts, the thin, heart-shaped bodice she usually tended to flaunt, in their place tight, light green slacks, and a snug, black leather jacket embroidered with yellow spirals. Upon closer inspection, they appeared to be snakes, coiled, beaded eyes flashing. 

And nestled in the crown of her head, golden locks slightly greasy but ever coiffed in perfect curls, lay a tiara, spikes glittering with emeralds sprouting in a deadly trigon. 

Her lips, smeared with yellow, nearly glowing, curled into a pout. 

“A shame. I was really looking forward to pushing all my pretty buttons,” she gestured vaguely to the console blinking behind her, “but I suppose I’ll be a touch merciful. They are rather much too pathetic, aren’t they? Takes the fun right out of it.” She sighed, tossing her hair over a shoulder as she trailed a narrowed eye over him, gaze lingering on his throat.

His very exposed throat.

She slipped into a smile, nearly bouncing on her toes. 

“Ooh! What are you hiding there, Loki? A glamour? Really?” It only took her two lengthy strides before she was suddenly very close, breath puffing in clouds of sharp peppermint, perfume a hazy lilac. Loki held back a cough. 

He hated, loathed himself for his flinch as she poked a long finger at his neck, nail painted a sunny yellow to match her lips. 

Her smile only widened as he tried not to squirm. He could feel it as she pricked his skin, tendrils of her power groping, snarling around his neck, burning through his glamour, peeling everything away. 

“Rather flimsy,” she said distractedly, brow furrowing, her eyes fixated on the bruising no doubt rapidly forming over his flesh, reaching up to his jaw, trailing down to his collarbone. 

He bit down the anger sparking in his gut.

“Well, now, someone really had it in for you, didn’t they?” She said, nearly breathless. The corner of her mouth twitched, “though I suppose that doesn’t really narrow things down, now, does it?” 

“What do you want, Amora?” Perhaps he should have said something more clever, more him, and he had meant it to bite at least, but as the words popped out, all he seemed to sound was...tired. Dull. 

Amora wasn’t in the mood to let him rest, evidently. Or so much as sit down somewhere. Loki stifled a sigh.

She clapped her hands, and he jumped at the sound, cursing inwardly. 

“So glad you asked. Well, we certainly have a lot of catching up to do now, don’t we?” She waved perfectly manicured hands, wrists snapping, and the henchman who had so rudely whacked him on the head earlier seized him again, apparently with the audacity to knock him flat on his back this time, fist having driven itself into the front of his skull.

His head smacked into the floor and he bit down on the scream swelling in his throat as black and red bled across his vision, singing in his ears. Norns. If he hadn’t been hit around enough already - 

A hand was grabbing at his ankle, claws digging through leather as his boots were torn from his feet, and Loki blinked furiously against the fog clogging his mind, the fire buzzing down his spine. And soon he was being dragged.

Loki felt something close to panic blossom in his chest, welling up in his throat. The floor was moving under him, and he quickly flipped himself onto his front, wriggling, pawing at the ground, scrabbling, just wanting to get away, no, no -

He kicked, swinging his legs, but the grip only tightened, and the coarse fibers of a rope wound around his ankles, squeezing them together, scraping against skin, looping nearly halfway up his shins, and he couldn’t - couldn’t move, couldn’t - 

He continued to claw uselessly at the floor, the chains between his wrists clanking against cement, and he felt like a fish flopping at the end of a line as something cold and certainly metal was hooked around the rope, brushing against skin. 

He was released, legs smacking back against the floor, and Loki renewed his efforts to - uselessly, this is useless, pointless - scramble away, until his ankles were wrenched upward, dragging him back as he struggled to find purchase. The floor was slipping out from under him and he was hoisted into the air, arms flailing as he swung nauseatingly back and forth, spinning.

His neck screamed, cried as it was stretched, blood rushing to his head, fingers dangling. Loki swallowed back the bile threatening to bubble up from his stomach, acrid. 

His eyes fluttered, the room swaying, and he blinked, only to find Amora’s grin inches from his face. 

He stilled. Forced himself. Took a breath, heaved it into spasming lungs. Shuttered his face into a blank slate. He hoped. 

She reached out a hand, nail carving a line down the soft flesh of his neck, curving over his chin. Loki bit his tongue until copper filled his mouth. Breathed against the ghost of fingers squeezing -

“I, for one, can’t wait to get started,” she grinned, small and teasing, as though she were sharing a private joke, and Loki couldn’t entirely hold back a shudder. It rattled through his body, his bones, from his toes right down to his swaying fingers. 

She cradled his head between her palms, knuckles twisting in his hair, nearly cradling.

Her eyes flashed, in excitement. In something worse.

Her seidr surged. Flooded.

And Loki’s mind cracked open. Split along half-healed wounds.

Fire burned in his head.

Inside. She was inside.

And Loki screamed.

 

~

 

It wasn’t often Heimdall found himself with nothing to say.

It was even less often that he found himself kneeling, and continuing to kneel as he watched the last member of the royal family disappear into a small, white dot bobbing gently against the black of the cosmos, a star among all the others. Soon to be swallowed up by the great hulking monstrosity of a ship looming over them. 

And it was especially less often that he couldn’t even try to see what would happen once the escape pod reached its destination. (Blind, he was blind now. Useless. Hollowed out. Trapped in this body, in the world he was sitting in. Stolen from all the others.) 

It didn’t take much to predict it would be nothing good.

Slowly, he rose to his feet, knees locking. Hofund dangled from his back, and this time it only seemed to feel heavier rather than its usual comforting weight. 

He remembered metal slithering against leather as he had wrenched it from its scabbard.

Then I need no longer obey you.

Remembered his arms slowing as he fought forward against the onslaught of biting ice, cold everywhere, latching onto his skin. Remembered staring into red eyes, watching as blue lips let out a shaky breath. Remembered the tip of his sword inches from cleaving a boy’s head from his shoulders.

A boy he’d known from infancy.

Known since he watched as Odin plucked it from a pedestal of ice, swaddled it in a blanket, and called it his own.

What have you done, my King?”

A Frost Giant could never fool itself to be Aesir. It would all come out someday. Inevitable. A Frost Giant couldn’t learn to be more than what it was.

Odin had only spared him a glance. A frown.

The message had been clear.

And Heimdall had closed his mouth that day. But never his eyes.

And he’d waited. For what? He didn’t know. He’d only waited.

Watching.

Until he’d finally swung out his sword.

Heimdall closed his eyes, rubbing a hand down his forehead. Pinched the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. If his hand shook, he refused to acknowledge it.

Your neck gives you great pain?

The Titan decided he liked it better crushed.

He found his feet leading himself down the hall. Found himself steering the Statesman away.

The people first. Always the people first.

Fear not, dear Heimdall. I shall return, as I always do.

Perhaps, once upon a time, Heimdall would have taken that as a threat. Would have only found relief in his departure. Swept his people away, onto the nearest planet, and never spared a backwards glance.

He sighed, and it was slow. And long.

Now, all he felt was shame. It writhed in his stomach, foreign, strange.

Eyes too wide. Afraid. Glistening islands of green. Hands raised. To hide behind, perhaps. It made something in him squirm in a way he hadn’t in millennia. 

Please, no, stop...

He was...he was going to go back. He decided. 

Once the people were safe.

But all the people had to be. Safe. All of them. Even wily bastards who sacked you when they not entirely subtly usurped the throne. And indulged in the arts.

 

Heimdall flicked his gaze over the sea of stars. Ran his tongue along the edge of his teeth.

Asgard wasn’t a place, it was a people.

And that included all the people. 

All of them. 

Every last one.

Welcome home. I saw you coming.

Of course you did.

And Heimdall found in recent years that happened to include...a few more than he had originally bargained for.

Specifically...specifically one.

Chapter Text

Dark. 

All dark.

No that wasn’t quite right.

There was someone here.

Someone always here. Always. 

“Have you given any thought to my proposal?” 

Loki lifted his head, heavy, too heavy, and looked up. And up. More than one part of him was broken, something always screaming, burning, bones shifting, clicking, grating, blood sticky, skin stretched tight in too many places. But he had pushed all of that into a tiny little box somewhere at the back of his mind. Marked it as unimportant. Not relevant. To be preferably ignored indefinitely.

A much larger concern currently held his attention. If he could only...only think…

Thanos - the Titan, crouched on one knee, head tilted ever so slightly to the side. Loki felt himself shudder, and winced at the biting ache scraping down his spine. 

“Th-” His tongue was thick in his mouth, swollen, dry. Clotted with blood. He coughed, spat. Swallowed, or tried to at least, his throat raw, (from the screaming). “Thought?” He rasped.

The Titan’s lips curled into something he probably deemed an appropriately gentle smile. Loki’s stomach lurched.

“Yes. Thought. To my proposition, Loki the Would-Be King.”

He was- he had been a King. (Some King. Betrayed all too easily, swiftly, and had he ever really been surprised?) 

“No,” he said, and wasn’t entirely sure why anymore. Why he...why he continued like this, why he couldn’t just (die please just let me die .) 

(Death is a gift and you are unworthy of it.)

“No?” Thanos didn’t even appear insulted, only faintly amused. “I think that’s a bit unwise, don’t you? I can always let my beautiful daughter have another go.”

Gamora. The fingernails torn and shredded from his hands wailed her name. 

“N- no,” his voice shook, and he held back a curse. 

“I’m afraid I’m disappointed, then,” Thanos frowned, and a part of himself Loki absolutely despised, shrivelled at the words. “That is unfortunate. I don’t know why you insist on destroying yourself like this. I really don’t.”

Thanos sighed and it was slow, and long. And Loki felt it deep, deep in his chest. Thrumming.

“Well, if you ever wish to prove your worth,” he said, shifting heavily to his feet, eyes gazing at him with pity, “I’m sure we could come to an arrangement. In the meantime, I’m certain my son will be sufficient company.” He shot Loki a pitying gaze, before turning, fading back into the black. 

And Loki was alone.

A hand seized him by the hair, digging through the roots to twist nails into his skull. 

No-

And someone was- someone was inside him, where they didn’t- they don’t belong there, no, get out get out get out-

“Loki, darling, would you please stop squirming? It’s quite embarrassing to watch and I need to keep my grip thank you very much.” 

Shapes blurred, swayed, and Loki was vaguely aware of a deep throbbing in his neck, pulse hammering in his head, hands digging into his hair. Scraping at his scalp, trying to reach inside him and no-

“Shh, it’s alright,” she removed a hand to press it against his lips, and Loki blinked until Amora’s smile sharpened into focus, tiara glittering, light lancing into his skull.   

“I’m almost done, there’s no need to make a fuss,” her eyes sparked and she winked before more fire trailed through him, everywhere, burning, black, poison forcing its way through all the cracks and no stop-

Blue. 

So much blue.

Bright. Sweet. Sickly.

And there was anger. Thick. Red. 

Was it his own? He didn’t know. Not anymore. All there was, all there ever had been, was anger. It lit him up from the inside as every part of him threatened to crumble. All he could do was keep moving forward, win at all costs, but there was nothing to win, there would be no winning, it was all a game he was going to lose but maybe- maybe- but there was nothing, nothing at all but the plan, the voice hissing in his head, the blue, and the overwhelming sense of every door closing, locking him in until he was trapped-

White.

So much white.

Nowhere to hide. 

Nowhere else to go.

Except the lies, the lies were all pretty, and he loved to play with them. Live in them.

What did it matter if he forgot what was real?

Nothing mattered anymore. Except her-

No. She was gone now too.

Because he was a monster. Had always been. 

The anger was back now. Maybe it never left, lying just under his skin, straining to be let free. Let go.

He never got to say goodbye.

Cold. Why was he cold. 

It seeped through his veins, down to his bones. 

And his chest was nothing but fire, a hole, everything falling, falling into it, and he was dying. Again. 

And this time he wasn’t alone.

Until he was.

Familiar.

Too familiar. 

He was alone and alive and he burned in all the cold and there was nowhere to go except back to the place he knew best.

Where he hid.

And hid. 

Trapped. Someone else. Not himself.

Until he was falling again, and again, and nothing he did was right, and soon there was nowhere to go because it was all gone in all the flames and fire and he wasn’t alone but he was never going to be heard and that was- that had to be alright, and he was finally touching the ground, feeling it with his fee. He wasn’t falling anymore but he couldn’t dare to think it was all over and something new could begin and he was safe-

He wasn’t safe.

Everything was dark again.

Like it always had been. 

And He found him. Again. And there was screaming, so much screaming, and none of it was his own. Fire, blood, death, everywhere, and why did he think he could ever be free when there was nowhere left to go, nowhere left to hide anymore. 

He had to make the screaming stop.

He had to make it all stop.

And a hand closed around his throat, His hand, fingers tightening, squeezing, and he couldn’t breathe anymore, he couldn’t, and everything was fading, swimming in all the black, and was dying again, and it would always end this way because no one was ever going to catch him -

Pain. 

Sharp, across his cheek. 

Loki’s eyes fluttered, he wanted to open them, but it wasn’t working, and he was trying to breathe, but everything was tilted and wrong and he was trying not to drown in all the black, he had to get away, because he was dying again and there was a hand- a hand- 

“If you think I’m going to wait until you’re done flailing around, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.”

Loki forced in a breath, sucked it in around the tightness in his throat, chest spasming, and blinked, heart throbbing wildly in head, pounding. He tried to move his arms but they apparently had been tied together, wrists aching, the cuffs accompanied by thin, coarse rope. And the world was swaying.

He was going to be sick.

Was Ebony Maw still in his head?

(Had he ever really left?)

(Did he let go? Or did he fall? Was he pushed? He knew the answer, he did, why couldn’t he remember-)

Loki heaved in another breath, into constricting lungs. Breathed against the telltale clenching in his stomach.

“Well, you’ve certainly been enjoying yourself these past few years, haven’t you?” 

Amora.

He was with Amora.

Not.

Not anywhere else.

(He could remember- he could-)

Loki breathed until the world chose to dance into focus, edges sharpening, sticky fog lifting ever so slowly, his heart no longer driving a hammer into his skull, but still beating a nervous rhythm in his ears. 

It wasn’t relief.

Amora’s face flattened into a look of absolute boredom.

“Are you quite finished?”

Loki swallowed, and winced, his throat raw.

His eyes were wet.

He decided to ignore that.

She didn’t wait for a reply, but snapped her fingers. 

His shirt disappeared in the next moment, and Loki most certainly did not shiver.

(He was already shivering and hadn’t quite figured out yet how to stop .)

“Well, that was fun,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “but I think I want to see some blood now. Make things a little messier.” She scrunched her nose, teeth gleaming.

Loki hoped he’d sufficiently smoothed his face back down to absolute placidity. 

She had been inside- she had seen- she had violated -

“You truly believe you can do anything to me that hasn’t been done a thousand times over already?” He rasped, words burning on frayed nerves. 

“No,” she said, and the sparkle in her eye he oh-so-hated was back with a vengeance, and she quirked a heavily pencilled brow. “But I think this should still be fun, don’t you?”

“No.”

 “Oh,” she said, already turning away, and flicking her wrist, “well, I really don’t care if you don’t enjoy yourself. I’m reasonably certain that’s supposed to be the whole point, actually.”

Loki rolled his eyes, catching movement behind him.

Amora took a seat, slumping in a large, nauseatingly green armchair overflowing with stuffing, and propped her chin on her fist.

“Let’s get started then, shall we?” She waved a lazy hand.

A crack echoed in his ears, and Loki belatedly felt the familiar ache curl across his back, flesh separating along familiar lines.

Oh.

“Not very original of you,” Loki huffed between clenched teeth. Amora shrugged.

“Call it a little warm-up, if you want,” she said, examining her stubbornly immaculate nails,  “don’t worry, we’ll get to the good stuff. In time. Patience, Loki.”

Her chiding tone echoed from days long gone, the same voice she used for when he’d been a child, caught pouring over her private spell books. These were evidently not those days.

The whip cracked again, slicing into skin, through muscle. It struck again and again, and Loki soon found a rhythm, nerves screaming up and down his back, his shoulders, down to his thighs, and only hoped they wouldn’t hit his neck. 

This was fine. It was familiar. It was all- all too familiar.

Loki felt warmth trickle down his spine, down into his hair, coiling around his arms, dripping in red on the floor.

Loki clamped his teeth around his tongue until bitterness flooded his mouth, and didn’t close his eyes. Held them on Amora.

He wasn’t going to let his mind wander all the way down the paths it clearly wished to stray to at the moment. She had already cracked him open, spilled everything out through all the splintering fissures. He felt open, exposed. A nerve flayed down to its shrivelled root.

Loki had spent years patching up all the broken pieces, stitching them haphazardly together through the cultivated habit of avoidance, and now everything was flooding back into the places he would really prefer he didn’t go.

Loki jerked and swayed with each trail of fire, and refused to acknowledge it. Sealed it away in a little box straining at the seams. And concentrated very hard on keeping a tight fist on his sanity, struggling to hold on as it flinched and wriggled in his grasp.

But was the present really any better.

There was nowhere to hide.

Nowhere to go.

Again.

But that wasn’t really anything new, now was it.

 


 

 

The planet was crowded, seedy, and everything Heimdall would expect from a small, backwater port nestled in the folds of an utterly unremarkable corner of the galaxy. 

It seemed to be a fairly new materialization, a jumble of spatial debris, rock, and ships wrangled into a partially functional world. They were lucky. Without his...sight, Heimdall hadn’t even really known it was within approximation of their vessel. He hadn’t spent thousands of years guarding Asgard to seek out a single unsavoury planet. The nine realms had taken up most of his preoccupation. 

As it was, Heimdall was not, as the mortals said, about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Most of the Asgardians were cautioned to stay aboard the vessel, only venturing out in small congregations in predetermined spaces of time. They couldn’t afford to lose anyone. 

In the meantime, Heimdall, accompanied by the cybernetically modified Luphomoid, wandered the port in search of new supplies, the remaining remnants of the curia regis on similar missions.   

The human had been instructed to remain in his quarters, despite his loud protests. Humans were fragile, and there was no way of determining the atmosphere without Loki’s magic.

Loki.

Heimdall had determined it best not think overly often of him. Every minute was another nail in the proverbial coffin, but they couldn’t go back for him without sufficient supplies. 

He only needed to find a small ship on this Norns-forsaken planet, enough fuel and weapons to perform a hopeless rescue, but Heimdall knew, a niggling certainty at the back of his mind, that the moment Loki had stepped foot on Amora’s vessel, he had been lost.

Perhaps not. Loki was...markedly more tenacious than most.

Had cheated death on more than one notable occasion.

And even if all they found was a...body, well, then at least he was not leaving Asgard’s last prince stranded in the cosmos, denied a proper funeral.

Another proper funeral.

“You’re thinking of going after him.”

Heimdall blinked, and spared her a small glance. She avoided his gaze. There wasn’t much question as to who “he” was. 

“Yes,” he said, “why do you ask?”

She shrugged, thumbing the shocking stick at her belt. 

The Luphomoid was half a mystery all on her own (which irked despite himself) apparently having once been in affiliation with Thanos in some capacity. She had also, of her own volition, volunteered to accompany him, gaze dark with unwavering intensity. Heimdall had acquiesced in the interest of self-preservation.

“I’m coming with you,” she said, voicing it as a statement, apparently forgoing the courtesy of a question. He didn’t particularly know how to feel about the blatant declaration of fidelity. Heimdall hadn’t missed the way Loki had eyed her. With caution, tension ever present in his stance (though that wasn’t really that uncommon, and he held the same poorly concealed nervousness when in his presence. Heimdall didn’t miss the glances he shot Hofund , though he was gracious enough not to draw any attention to it.)

“May I ask why?” He said, for lack of something better to say.

“You just did,” she said gruffly, turning from him to inspect a nearby stall. “Do you even have a way to get there? In something faster and more reliable than an escape pod.”

“That’s what I was hoping to acquire here-”

“Heimdall?” 

He turned, only to feel himself sag a bit, relief for the first time in a very long while happily flooding through his veins. 

“Lady Brunnhilde,” he sighed, briefly bowing his head as the last Valkyrie hurried towards him, sword swaying at her hip. Her face lit up into the first smile he’s ever seen her administer.

“How- you’re alive, you’re- okay, is everyone else with you? Did- what the Hel happened?”

“It’s a long story,” he said, because it was the truth and he didn’t really know where to start when time was still sliding through his fingers. Time a part of him liked to think he still had. Just barely.

“Is Thor…?” She trailed off with a pained expression instantly snuffing out the relief. Heimdall slowly shook his head.

“Not dead, as far as we know. He was lost to us when the vessel was destroyed but-”

The Valkyrie blanched.

“The Statesman was destroyed?” 

Again. Needlessly complicated.

“Yes...and no. We were all...dead, and now it appears we are not. Magic works in mysterious ways, particularly that of the Infinity Stones.”

Her brow scrunched as she frowned, eyeing him as though he might have lost his wits. It wasn’t an entirely unfounded assumption. 

“Alright, to be discussed at a later date, gotcha, More mumbo jumbo shit,” she said slowly.

“Precisely,” Heimdall nodded, “now we’ve made it to this...planet, to stock up on supplies before we continue to Midgard, accommodating for a slight detour. I think it would be prudent to unite Asgard’s people as soon as possible.”

“Yeah, right, good,” she bobbed her head, and paused, eyes narrowing, “what’s with the, uh, detour thing though? You want to make this trip even longer than it’s already going to be?” She finally caught noticed of the Luphomoid and her brow arched. “And who’s she?”

Heimdall took in a deep breath.

 


 

They had let him down at some point.

Maybe he should remember that, but he didn’t. 

Her hand- His - no her hand was around his throat, keeping him pinned to the ground as she straddled his waist. His legs were still bound with rope, arms held above his head, held there by a flick of her wrist and a wisp of green that felt more like it was cutting the circulation from his wrists, hands having gone numb a while ago.

And Loki was taking in deep careful breaths, keeping all what remained of his concentration on that instead of the- the hand , nails digging sharply through skin, alternating between tightening and loosening at maddeningly sporadic intervals as she happily took a knife to his chest. 

 He couldn’t see the pattern she was trying to carve into his flesh in agonizingly slow movements, blood dribbling down his sides, but then again, he didn’t really want to. His back was a haze of fire where the open lacerations made contact with the ragged concrete, scraping against raw, loose skin and so Loki continued in his efforts to blot out all of that. Including the aching sting in his left hand and right foot where Amora had thought it prudent to uproot a few nails from their bedding. No, he simply had to focus on the breath stuttering out of him and not the fact that the familiarity of the situation threatened to hurl him over a deep waning abyss or that he was never going to be getting out of this, no, he was going to die here and his life, like it always had been and however much of it remained, continued to be the biggest joke the universe ever coughed up one day and he was- was trapped and- and- alone- and-

Pathetic.

Loki was inclined to agree with the voice currently hissing in his head. That was familiar too. 

“You know, I never thought you’d actually do it,” she said after what felt like a small eternity. Apparently she didn’t expect an answer from him, which was just as well. The knife dug in again, deeper, twisting, sliding along a rib. “Tattle on me, all those centuries ago. Went and told Thor like a good little dog.” She yanked the knife out and Loki felt another rivulet of warmth pulse from the wound.

“Always had to ruin everything. You know, I first thought, once I was queen, I would let you keep hovering around. I was even thinking of keeping you as a pet.” She grinned, lips glossy and stretched over too many teeth, “and now that I know what little secret you’ve been hiding underneath all of this,” her finger jabbed into a wound, peeling at a flap of skin and Loki felt his stomach lurch, no- “well, it really was so much more fitting than I had thought at the time,” and she let out a giggle, punctuating it with another plunge with the knife. Loki felt his teeth sink a little deeper into his tongue. Before he could think about it, he pried his mouth open, spat a fat globule of blood and spit and was pleased to see it more or less found its mark, smacking her in the eye.

She froze, knife stilling.

“Even in his right mind, Thor would never have chosen you,” he said, all too aware of the smirk on his face and the hand around his throat. 

For a moment she only stared at him, held his gaze, something like cold fire flickering in her eyes before her expression flattened. 

Loki only had a moment to contemplate his life choices before her fingers clenched and he couldn’t- couldn’t breathe anymore- couldn’t-

Spots filled his vision, blotting out everything else and he was dying he was going to die she was- He was- his neck was going to break but- but at least then everything would be over-

The pressure was released, and Loki gulped in a breath of air, winced as it burned in his throat, his chest, and he couldn’t quite get enough in as he coughed and bent over, wheezing-

He was sitting in a chair.

A large, uncomfortable metal chair and he had half a moment to register the lack of rope and chains around his wrists before they were promptly shoved onto the armrests, held there as cuffs sprang up and clamped around bruised flesh. Another band wrapped around his chest, hooking under his arms, tight, pressing against blood and Amora’s mangled attempt at art. He hadn’t really gotten a good look yet, which was fine. 

She’d found the mark already in residence, nestled between his ribs, to be a fun line to trace, sliding the blade smoothly down the ugly, twisted skin he knew was there and Loki had spent his time during that lovely experience trying very hard not to think of a certain hole carved through his body, trying desperately to mend itself. Dirt and rock digging into his spine stained with his blood. Didn’t think about how Thor was gone but why would he stay when Loki was already supposed to be dead-

No. He hadn’t thought about any of that. 

He blinked, and watched as Amora loosened the rope around his ankles, letting them smack bonelessly to the floor. Loki winced.

“So,” he rasped, needles spiking along his throat, “it’s come to my attention that your ship appears to be rather lacking in,” he paused, flitting his eyes around the barren, grime-infested walls, stained floors ( stained with his blood now ), “style, have you just been floating around the galaxy this whole time? Inflicting your presence on other poor unsuspecting planets?” Her grip stiffened around his left ankle and Loki lamented the fact that he couldn’t precisely muster the strength to kick her in the face at the moment. “Living as a scavenger, forever on the fringes of any society? Seems a pathetic existence.”

“You’re one to talk,” she said smoothly without looking up, “the second son, odd, other , always out of place. Isn’t it nice to know there’s a reason you could never be more than what you were, no matter how hard you tried? Must be a relief.”

Perhaps you wouldn’t need to skulk around like an unwanted thief if-”

“I’ll spare you the embarrassment of attempting to barter with me, Loki, I know Asgard’s riches are gone. Even its power.” She flicked her wrist and a device Loki most certainly did not like the look of popped into existence, fastened directly over his foot. A long, ominous stick of iron with a handle sprouted from the top. 

“Not its knowledge.” Why did he even bother. Force of habit. “I imagine there are still many things you don’t know about your own seidr, the shadow paths, the richest planets,” he paused, licked his lips, “I could teach you. Allow me to regain a bit of my strength, and I could show you so much. We could scour the cosmos together, as equals, I suppose. We were quite a small force to be reckoned with, when we were young.” He smiled, gently this time, “I don’t imagine you have much in the way of company on this ship. Must be...lonely, I imagine, to be the only intelligent inhabitant on this vessel.” 

Amora cocked her head to the side, the ends of her curls stiff with flecks of red and brown. His blood.

“I suppose it’s comforting to know you haven’t changed,” she said, an imperceptible twinkle in her eye, “don’t worry, Silvertongue, I’ve got my own plans for you, or,” she sighed, propping herself delicately on one knee, her hand curling over the handle of the device, “I’ve been asked, actually, for a specific outcome from out meeting, for a price, of course, but I still get to have my fun, and creative authority.” She held his gaze as her hand began to turn the handle, twisting it. Loki had barely registered those words when something round and cold and pointed pierced the skin of his foot. Her smile widened, and Loki clamped his mouth shut. 

The screw - as it had become unfortunately very clear that was what it was - drove slowly through muscle, grinding against bone. Blood pooled from the deepening hole as the iron drove deeper and deeper until she gave a final jerk and it broke through to the other side. Effectively skewering him to the floor. Loki felt bile rise in his throat and he swallowed, his jaw clenched to the point he half feared his teeth would crack. That was- that was fine. He’d been through worse. This was simply- simply inconvenient. And painful-

Amora bounced to her feet, and then very slowly, very deliberately placed a boot on the screw and leaned

Loki felt himself squirm in his seat before he forced his body to lock, breathing through the Norns this hurt get it off get it off-

“Ask me,” she said, wiggling her boot and ah no .

“What,” he hissed, digging his nails into the armrests.

“Ask me to take it off,” she smirked, “I want you to beg. Like a good pet.”

Loki stared at her.

“Oh come on, you did it before,” she said, tapping her foot, “in that place you were, with all the ugly aliens in that weird cult. That was quite fun to watch, actually,” an almost fond look graced her features and she drove her boot in a little harder. “Won’t you do it for me?”

“No.”

If he could quite simply murder her with the force of his glare, that would be splendid.

Her smile fell, lips drooping into a pout.

“Well fine then,” she snapped, and removed her heel before stomping it, hard, on his toes, again, and again, until he felt something crack and yes, those were- those were broken now. Norns.

Her hand snapped out, catching him in the cheek, and his neck snapped to the side, fire racing down his spine, and she grabbed him by the jaw, nails no doubt leaving bloody crescent moons. 

 She drove her fist into his eye, his nose, mouth, temple, his neck screaming with the strain of being swung around, face a throbbing mass. She jostled his head when his eyes threatened to slip shut. He was- he was just so tired, and everything hurt-

“You’re going to want to stay awake for this,” she said, lightly patting his cheek. She flounced away from him, lightly pouncing from his line of sight, before swiftly returning, something long and red and hot in hand. 

“Now, you have a choice,” she said, brandishing the newest smoking torture device, “I can either mark you on your arm, or your leg. I’m being generous here, take your pick.” 

Oh.

Loki took a moment to work moisture into his mouth, let out a cough that shuddered down his spine. Took a breath.

“I would prefer neither?”

She rolled her eyes, and it was jarringly the same expression she wore when he’d toiled with a spell until it abruptly exploded in his face. Unsurprisingly, it only made him feel sick.

“Hurry up, or I’m just going to put this on your face,” she said, shrugging.

Loki, not for the first time since their encounter, prodded once more at his seidr, nearly begging it to stir in his chest. Currently, it was extremely preoccupied with...everything. He felt it nearly snarl at him in response, shrivelling. It wasn’t as if its feeble attempts at healing were even accomplishing anything-

Amora moved, wiggling the branding iron inches from his nose and he leaned away from it as far as he could, the heat very close. Sweat prickled his brow, slipping down his nose.

“Alright, alright,” he bit the inside of his cheek, cursed himself, “a-arm, I suppose-”

She didn’t wait, but moved with snake-like precision and-

Dropped to her knee, yanked at his right leg, pressed the brand into the side of his calf, and-

Everything went red for a bit. 

He heard something like cooking meat, gagged at the scent of burnt flesh, and stop, stop-

“You should be thanking me, Loki, I nearly put it on your cheek there for a moment,” her voice echoed from deep underwater, muffled. Norns, make it stop-

“There’s no need to make such a fuss about it,” she said, and Loki blinked at her through wet eyes. He had lost so much blood already, could still feel it pouring sluggishly from so many- so many places, sticky, and his head was so heavy, stuffed with cotton, and the- the smell wasn’t going away. He was going to be sick.

He felt his eyes close, almost welcomed the black, and was rewarded with another brand, in the soft flesh of his upper arm this time. Stop, no, stop make it stop

She finished with a burn on his stomach, emerald fire flashing briefly from her open palm. “There. That was fun, wasn’t it?”

Loki’s eyes rolled in his head, and he stared at her listlessly, watched as Gamora- no no, Amora - as Amora danced away from him, returning with a gold band twirling between her fingers and a barely contained smile as though she were about to partake in a joke Loki was not yet privy to. He hated the small sound that escaped him against his will, perturbingly close to a whine of all things. 

“Rejoice, Loki,” she said, lifting the circlet as if it were a crown, and Loki caught the runes etched along the outside. “For freedom is life’s great lie,” she darted forward, laughing, and before he could react, snapped it around his neck. It clicked shut, and Loki felt his heart sink through his chest, into the floor. Ice flooded his stomach, shooting down his arms, legs. It burned.

No.

No .

She tucked a stray piece of hair from his forehead, tucking it behind his ear.

“And you belong to me now,” she said, soft, hushed like a secret, “my own little monster.” Her thumb trailed down his cheek, and he looked up at her.

And up.

And up.

And it took him a moment to register the tightness in his skin, bones shifting, everything, everything red and please it hurt -

He heaved air through his lungs, shuddered, felt a release in his chest. His arms flopped into his lap, and he vaguely knew he was trembling. Couldn’t stop.

Loki forced his eyes open, groaned as light stabbed through his head. Lifted a hand to shield himself from the-

Blue.

Small.

Delicate, bones protruding under paper-thin skin. 

Loki attempted to move, and stifled a scream as his foot- that foot- remained nailed to the floor, but his hands were free, but they were blue and he was- he was-

Amora took him gently by the wrists, and Loki watched, numb, as her fingers easily dwarfed his own, cupped in her hold. He couldn’t stop shaking. It hurt.

Loki met her eyes, suddenly much further up than his own, and she held onto him as he nearly slipped from the chair, legs too- too short to-

What in all Helheim -

“You’re so cute,” she cooed, hands shifting under his arms, holding him up as the chair was slipped out from under him and she lowered him to the floor. “I’ve always wanted a pet.”

“What- what did you do?

His voice came out much higher than it should have. Young. Boyish.

That’s because you’re a thrice cursed child -

“I knew you’d like it,” she said dryly, amusement glittering in her eyes, teasing around the twitching corners of her mouth.

  His hands flew to his neck, to the collar , fingers fumbling along the gold, searching for a latch, a crack, he needed- needed to get it off it was- a hand a hand around his-

“Oh, no, don’t do that,” she said, wrenching his hands away, tracing her nail along the whorls dancing along his skin, scars he had only glimpsed at once or twice, very briefly, standing out starkly against the- the blue .

No no no no .

“Burn in- burn in Helheim, ” he snarled, any and all attempts at tearing his hands away disappointingly futile.

“And you’ll be there to keep me company,” she said easily, slapping her elbow against the screw. He hissed. “Now stop that, and be a good little pet for me.” 

She smirked, and Loki wanted to scream.

“I’ll- I’ll kill you, I’ll-”

Amora dropped his hands, and he fell back onto his elbows, stifling a moan.

“I think we should do something about that mouth of yours, don’t you?” 

Loki barely heard her, mind too busy whirling, stuttering, and he strained at his seidr only for it to collapse, curdling, slipping through his fingers.

He flinched as she dropped down onto her knees in front of him, flicking her hand to wrench his arms above his head, green encircling his wrists in shapeless, intangible rope while she took a spool of gold thread and squeezed it through a needle. A long, sharp needle.

She cupped his chin her palm, grip soft before it hardened.

“Now, keep still,” she ordered, holding up the needle, tip flashing. Then she shrugged. “Or don’t. Your choice. I don’t mind taking out an eye while I’m at it.”

“Don’t,” it was out before he could stop himself, murmured between clenched teeth. 

“Animals don’t speak,” she said simply, shaking her head almost sadly, and Loki felt something build, stinging, until it thickened and pulsed from his eyes, slipping, hot down his cheeks. No.

Amora sighed.

And threaded the needle through his lips.