Loki was biding his time in the Helicarrier when a portal opened up next to his glass cell and a second Loki stepped out.
For several heartbeats, Loki found himself staring at the imposter in bewilderment.
He had not known there were sorcerers on Earth – surely, he would have learned a detail such as that from Barton – much less one capable of creating such advanced illusions. A shapeshifter perhaps, sent to gauge his reaction and cause him to waver in his plans? Loki found himself puzzling over the details a shapeshifter would have surely gotten right about him, were that the case.
There were braids in the imposter’s hair, similar to the ones Thor occasionally wore. His clothing was loose, familiar in its colors but foreign in that they were certainly not of Asgardian origin.
While Loki was taking in his appearance, the imposter made a double take and looking around the Helicarrier with mildly widened eyes. "Well. This seems familiar."
Recovering from his shock, Loki made his eyes narrow in suspicion. "Who are you?"
The impostor turned towards him with a careless gaze. "As it would appear, you."
"How could there be two?"
"Magic." The impostor's eyes glinted impudently. "I am you from the future."
Loki's brows knit together in a frown. "Prove it."
The imposter raised an eyebrow and paused as though considering whether to bow to Loki’s demand. When he eventually relented, Loki bristled at how humored it made him feel.
Heated words were flushed away by astoundment as the imposter – who could no longer possibly be an imposter – conjured a light outside of his cell, glittering like diamonds and changing its color in soft, green and blue hues.
It was one of the first spells Loki had learned from his mother, a simple, useless delight. Frigga, in turn, had created it herself and not shared it with anyone other than Loki. It was impossible for some stranger to have attained knowledge – and mastery – of it.
Unless the stranger was no stranger at all.
"Have I convinced you?" Other-Loki smirked, already knowing the answer.
"How have you come here," Loki asked, rather than wasting his breath on a pointless reply, "and why?" He entertained the notion of his future self having come to free him – to free himself – but he dismissed it. Other-Loki had been too surprised to see him.
Other-Loki shrugged. "It was an accident. At least coming here was. Our intention was to travel through time, but somebody managed to miss spectacularly." He muttered something under his breath about how the aiming should have been left to him.
Possibilities bloomed in Loki's head, a plan of action that would gift him victory even sooner than his current one would. With the Titan's power and his army at Loki's back, Midgard stood no chance to resist. But two of him? Two of him would utterly obliterate them before they could do so much as raise a finger in defense.
"I believe you," he said, stepping closer to the glass as he felt anticipation well up in his chest. "Now open this cage so we might join forces." With Other-Loki, there would be no need to wait for the monster to wreak havoc.
Other-Loki hummed in an unmistakably disinterested way. He made no move to reach for the control panel of the cage. "And then what?"
Loki fixed him with a disbelieving stare. "We will defeat the Avengers and seize control of their measly realm together," he said, spelling out the obvious for his apparently dim-witted other self.
Other-Loki kept looking at him as though he had never seen him before. Considering he had supposedly lived through what Loki was experiencing right now, Loki found this rather curious. "And succeeding that? What will you do once Thanos comes to collect his prize?"
Loki's brows dropped into a frown. "Thanos is but one more enemy to defeat. He was foolish, gifting me the source of his power. He will come to regret attempting to use me for his–”
Loki broke off his monologue as Other-Loki summoned a glass filled with rich, crimson liquid and took a huge sip.
"... What are you doing," he said tonelessly, failing to raise the sentence in a question.
Other-Loki spared him a curt glance. "Ideally drinking myself into oblivion and forget that I have ever been this much of a moron."
Loki found himself speechless. Other-Loki took a derisive look around the cell.
"You are the one who is foolish if you believe that Thanos will let you come out on top. We do not stand a chance against him."
Loki scoffed and opened his mouth to protest, but Other-Loki did not pause to let him get in a word.
"Besides, why, of all the places to rule, choose Midgard?" Other-Loki's voice dripped with distaste as he said the word. "You could not have gone after Asgard or even Vanaheim. No, it had to be Midgard."
Loki felt his cheeks color as indignation flooded his chest. "Thor deserves nothing more than to see his precious realm reduced to–”
"Right," Other-Loki interrupted. He had the audacity to roll his eyes. "How could I have forgotten. Everything is about our dearest brother."
"He’s not our brother," Loki snapped but caught himself. "Very well. You are clearly no longer interested in Midgard. Tell me then, have we yet managed to seize control over Asgard? Have you taken Asgard's throne?"
Other-Loki paused. He took a sip of his wine glass. "In a way."
Loki startled at Other-Loki’s tone of voice. It was not enough to dampen his excitement. "How did you manage it?" he asked, determined to use the same tactic to reach their goal earlier. "Have you killed Odin?"
"I haven't. It would have been too much of a hassle."
Irritation pierced through Loki's prior thrill. "Then what?"
"I dropped him off on Midgard and took his place."
Loki stared. "You took his place."
"You... pretended to be Odin. You didn't take the throne for yourself?"
"Why would I have done that?"
"Because it is ours! Rightfully so! We have royal blood in our veins, and as such we have been destined to rule!"
"By the Norns," Other-Loki muttered, and gulped down more of his wine.
"Enough of this!" Loki snapped, attempting to gather the last shreds of his dignity by pitching his voice in a command. How dare Other-Loki ridicule him. What had happened to him?! "Have you come alone?"
Now that Loki thought about it, Other-Loki had not told him any details about future Thor. "Where is Thor?" His lips twisted into a smirk. "Have we finally killed him?"
"Not particularly." Other-Loki threw a glance over his shoulder. "He should be here any second."
Loki's smirk vanished. "You have still not managed to get rid of him?"
"There were multiple occasions where he has thought us dead, and we were temporarily free of his overbearing nature," Other-Loki offered. "Other than that, no. I am afraid we are as stuck with him as we have been from the start." Under his breath, Other-Loki added, "Believe me, it was not for lack of assassination attempts."
Loki wasn't exactly sure what to say to that.
He was spared an answer when the air brimmed with the same energy it had earlier, an energy Loki connected vaguely to that of the Tesseract. There was more to it now, some additional, ancient layer of power.
Other-Loki announced the arrival of the second portal with the words, "Well, someone's taken their time."
Loki almost didn't recognize the person who stepped into the room. The hair his once-brother had always been fond of had been cut shorter than Loki had ever seen it. One of his eyes was colored differently than the other. Instead of having Mjolnir by his side, Other-Thor carried a huge battle axe on his back.
In contrast to earlier, the portal did not close after being used. It kept swirling in the background, sparking its magic into the air. Loki could feel it even through the walls of his cell.
"Brother!" Other-Thor said, his lips splitting into a beaming smile. It, more than anything, made Loki lose his doubts as to his identity. "There you are. I was wondering where you'd– Oh." His eyes had fallen on Loki. "Hello, brother."
The careless address snapped Loki out of his stupor. "We are not brothers, Odinson!"
Other-Loki rolled his eyes. "Ignore him. It would appear that it is our moody phase."
Loki felt his face heat up as Other-Thor laughed.
"It is true. You have changed greatly over the last few years." His lips pulled into a smirk. "Have you told him about your time on Sakaar?"
Other-Loki scowled. "No. Coincidentally, I have not."
Loki was almost too afraid to ask. "... Why? What will happen on Sakaar?"
Other-Thor's smirk widened. "Ruling was far from your mind back then, that is for sure."
"At least I had not managed to get myself thrown into the arena immediately after I arrived," Other-Loki said.
Other-Thor gave a cheerful shrug. "It worked out in the end, did it not?"
"Oh, it certainly did. At least once Banner had been given the chance to give you a taste of his fists."
Other-Thor crossed his arms. "The Grandmaster electrocuted me before I had the chance to beat him. I was winning."
"He was beating you up."
"He was not."
"Wiping the floor with you."
"He was not."
Loki felt himself blanch. "Banner? As in... the Hulk?" The very same creature he was counting on losing control and raising havoc to splinter the Avengers and allow him to escape?
Other-Loki threw him a frankly insultingly disinterested glance. "Oh, I would not fret. You will get to know him closely soon enough."
Loki wasn't entirely sure when he had moved. Next thing he knew, he'd let himself drop onto the bench at the very back of the glass cell.
"Oh, dear." The concern in Other-Loki's voice sounded mocking and fake. "Are you alright?"
"I think we're about to have company," Other-Thor muttered at the same time as Loki heard the trampling noises of a bunch of nearing humans. It would appear that somebody had finally decided to do something about this absurd situation.
Although his headache increased tenfold, Loki wasn't surprised when one of the people bursting into the room was Thor – his own, younger, long-haired Thor. At his side was the Captain and one of the SHIELD agents. Coulson.
"L-Loki?" Thor gaped at the sight before him, looking back and forth between Loki and his other version. He caught side of his own older-self next, and his eyes widened further. "Are you... me?"
There was a beat of silence.
"What happened to our hair?"
"That's your first question?" Other-Loki muttered.
"As much as I would like to stay and catch up," Other-Thor said, his eyes lingering on his own self and his younger teammate with a fond smile, "I am afraid we have a task to complete, and our own teammates to return to."
"I have no desire to be locked up with my former self," Other-Loki drawled. “Let’s take our leave."
Other-Loki used the moment of frozen puzzlement to pat younger Thor's arm. "Good luck, brother." He threw a glance at Loki. "You will need it."
"B-But–” the Captain stuttered.
"Hold on," Thor started.
Other-Thor put a hand on Other-Loki's shoulder, a gesture that did not look at all as though he was trying to restrain him. "It is time," he said, and, with another smile for his teammate and his younger self, "You will do well."
His gaze slipped past the two and landed on Coulson. "Perhaps keep that one away from my brother."
Other-Loki hummed. "Yes. Do that." He threw a passing glance at Loki, took a sip of wine and walked back into the portal at Thor’s side without so much as a parting word.
Loki watched through his prison cell, lost for words.
"He just... kept walking."
"He didn't even try to help his other self escape. Or offer advice. Or... anything!"
"Was he drinking wine this whole time?"
"Um... Thor, buddy. Is your brother okay?”
“He’s been… sort of quiet.”
“... I think he's going through an existential crisis."
Thor and Loki stepped out of the portal together, leaving the past – and their younger selves – behind.
Loki could almost sense Thor's grin, and he pressed his lips together firmly. "Not a word," he said, brushing past his brother and pretending not to hear the muffled, half-heartedly suppressed laughter.