Actions

Work Header

There's a Land That I Heard Of

Chapter Text

You will never be a god.

Loki jerked awake on a choked off scream.

He threw himself to the side to escape the phantom grip on his neck, the smug triumphant eyes watching him. Killing him. Thrashing to escape confinement - and he fell to the ground with a crash, legs trapped, flailing arm bringing down a rain of debris on his head.

No, not debris. Trinkets.

Loki's vision swam blue. He blinked hard to clear it away. And stared.

He was sitting on hard ground. No, a floor. Marble. Dark with gold-veining and highly polished with an intricately woven rug made up of greens and gold partially pushed aside from where he'd fallen. The contents of a bedside table in a clutter nearby. A tangle of bed clothes hung precariously over the edge of a bed. His bed. His floor. His rug. The clutter - his things. This was his own bed chamber in the palace. In Asgard.

But it couldn't be.

Loki kicked himself loose of the clinging blankets and climbed to his feet. Slowly turning to take in his surroundings. Everything looked as he remembered it from the last time he was within. Years ago.

Before his fall. Before Tha - before.

Moving with stealthy ease born of familiarity, Loki crept across the room to peer out into the room beyond. He allowed the sense of comfort/home/safe wash over him.

No. Not safe. Not now.

No realm, no barren moon, no crevice where he cannot find you.

His sitting room was empty. No fires burned in the hearths. For a moment Loki saw a dancing shadow of purple play across the cold stones. An echo of memory shivered through him before a cold blast of air blew through the windows and stung at his eyes. He pressed his eyes shut and when he opened them again, the phantom haze was gone leaving behind only blackened stones.

There were books he remembered reading a lifetime ago stacked on the edge of the table next to his favourite chair. Everything couched in still silence. Frozen in time.

Loki hadn't stepped foot in these dead prince's quarters in years. Not when he returned to Asgard an outcast and a prisoner. Not even as Odin. He'd tried. Walked the familiar route to these doors a thousand times. Placed a hand on the wood, readying himself to enter. And walked away. Always he walked away.

Everything was the same. But it was wrong. This was wrong. It shouldn't be here. None of it. He shouldn't be here.

Asgard was dead. Wasn't it?

Loki was dead.

Wasn't he?

Unease prickled along his skin. He was forgetting something. Something teased at the corners of his mind, calling out to him. He reached out and found...

The teasing faded away. Sliding through his fingers like fog. He was left with nothing.

But there was something. Something.

Loki stole across the floor as if it might fall away beneath him - burn away to ashes - and out onto the balcony.

Asgard.

It was there. In all its bright, glistening beauty. Stretched out before him. The realm laid out at his feet as it always was. As it should have always been. Eternal.

His eyes stung again and Loki blinked away the gathering tears. It was the wind. Biting and cold. He sniffled. Yes, the wind.

Loki leaned far out over the balcony to see the city below, picking out the sights that always drew his eye. His favourite market. The Hall of Learning. The gardens where he learned to climb trees as a child with...

Thor.

Loki jerked away from the railing. The worrying at the back of his mind rushed back. Something about what he saw below - didn't see - but Loki's thoughts leaped unbidden to Thor.

The sun will shine on us again.

Loki and Thor's quarters were next door to each other, as they had been since they were old enough to have rooms of their own. Loki's sitting room connected to Thor's via a short corridor. The doorway leading to it only a few feet behind him. Loki spurned it in favour of leaping over the short dividing wall separating their balconies and all but throwing himself into Thor's room.

"Thor!"

Thor's sitting room sat cold and empty, much as Loki's did. Undeterred, Loki searched through Thor's rooms, calling for him.

"Thor! Thor, do you hear me?" Loki slammed into one room after another. The same comforting familiarity warming - chilling - his veins with each room. Here, too, everything was as he remembered.

But there was no Thor.

Loki slipped through the rooms again like a shadow. Silent and dark. A shiver of unease crept up his spine to jab sharply along the back of his neck. The rooms remained empty. Unnaturally still. Disconcertingly familiar.

The same. Exactly the same.

Like his own, Loki had not stepped foot in Thor's rooms since before his fall. The night before Thor's aborted coronation was the last time he was in here. The two of them had come in from a night out and settled together in Thor's sitting room before a warm fire, each with a drink in hand. They'd spoken little, relishing in the quiet of one another's company. Something they so rarely did even when they were younger and more carefree.

Wilder. More reckless. Both of them stupid beyond bearing.

Loki stood in that same sitting room now. The furniture the same. Two empty mugs abandoned beside the space occupied years ago by two princelings who had no idea where the next day's ill-conceived paths would lead them. How it would destroy and reforge them both. The fur throw Loki had tossed over Thor after he'd fallen asleep before retiring to his own quarters lie strewn half on the floor. The boots Thor had kicked off abandoned next to the cold hearth.

His heart began to pound in his chest, his ears. He ran for the door.

Loki!

The faintest echo of a cry. Loki jerked to a halt in the half-opened doorway. When he looked back the room remained empty.

He fled.

screams. all around him, panic and terror. lights flickering. people running. fleeing something terrible.

Loki stumbled hard into the wall, hands pressed to his ears and gasping. He looked around frantically. Expecting to see tight corridors. Frightened people. Flashing lights. Smoke rising. Noise pressing into him.

There was none of that.

The expansive golden corridors of the great palace of Asgard stretched before him. Barren and cold. Devoid of anything living. As if the masses of people who once flowed between these walls every single day had melted away.

Or burned to nothing.

were slaughtered where they stood.

Loki shivered.

The flames lighting the braziers along the edges of shadowed corridors burned low. Echoes of blues and purples shimmered in their depths. Red crept along the walls and washed them away. Everything fell dim.

He rushed forward, reaching the throne room where Odin oversaw the working of the realm each day for as long as Loki could remember. Until a slow collapse upon the steps a lifetime ago in the weapons vault buried deep under Loki's feet.

Then Loki was the one to be buried. Forgotten. The Allfather's great war prize turned rabid. Was Odin surprised in the end? Or had he suspected it all along? Was that why it was so easy for Odin to throw him away?

His anger burned to life so easily. Loki wondered how he spent so many years swallowing it back without it igniting an inferno within to burn him to ashes.

Burn everything he touched.

The walls around him went up in flames.

burning. asgard is burning.

Loki breathed deep and grasped for control. Now was not the time for rage. He had to find Thor. He reached for the great doors and pushed them open, leaving the burning walls behind.

The throne room was empty. At the end of the long hall Asgard's throne sat vacant.

"Thor?" Loki called. He pretended his voice did not waver. "Allfather? Guards!"

He waited. No one came.

"Heimdall! Guardian, do you see me? Send word I am here. Tell Odin I will plant myself upon his throne if he does not appear at once to scold me for my misdeeds."

I love you, my sons.

Loki curled his hands into fists and squeezed, nails biting into the skin.

The emptiness yawned around him. Loki backed out of the room in haste before turning to run. He ran through the desolate halls, calling for Thor, for Odin, for anyone. Rushing out into the streets of the city, Loki paused. At once he realized the wrongness of what he saw from his balcony high overhead.

There were no people.

The markets. The training grounds. The barracks. Even the stables. They all sat empty. No people. No animals. No birds flying overhead. It was Asgard as if drawn from a memory, but unfinished.

What was Asgard without its people?

Loki swallowed back panic. He reached for his magic and from one breath to the next he stood upon the Bifrost outside the observatory. He stumbled and put a hand down on the bridge to steady himself. The bridge felt cold, stagnant. Loki yanked his hand back.

"Heimdall!" Loki called out as he stormed the guardian's domain, not altogether surprised it too stood empty. Heimdall's sword was gone. The mechanism that worked the Bifrost worthless without its power.

Loki's unease rose steadily, anger and fear rising with it. He choked it all back, gritting his teeth as he turned back to Asgard. The great shining city that sat atop all the realms. Looking down at all. Arrogant. Unconcerned. Unbroken.

lost. beaten. dying.

A low whine escaped Loki's throat, building into a frustrated shriek echoing out across a Bifrost shimmering with purples and blues.

Red washed across the bridge like a tide.

Loki panted as he stared at the bridge beneath his feet. There was something he was forgetting. Something he had done. Something he was meant to do.

Thor, Loki thought. Where are you?

He squeezed his eyes shut and fisted one hand into his hair and yanked. Pain burned his scalp as he pushed himself to think. Think, think, think. Remember.

We have a hulk.

Loki's hands flew to his throat. He drew a deep breath, relief flooding through him as he drew in air with ease. Thanos. Thor. The Statesman.

The Stones.

He remembered.

Loki laughed, almost limp in his relief. A desperate plan yes, but not completely terrible for having been made up on so little time. At least it bought him a reprieve. Now he need only to escape, find Thor and regroup. He reached again for his magic and -

*  *  *

You will never be a god.

Loki jerked awake on a choked off scream.

He flung himself aside in a panic, trying to escape the phantom crush of fingers. He ignored crashing around him as he scrambled aside. Muffled sounds were ignored while he tried to fight.

bodies. bodies strewn everywhere. piled on top of each other. crushing. accusing. he couldn't breathe.

Kicking feet, hitting nothing in his bid to get away. No, not nothing. A surprised gasp. And then -

"Loki! What is the matter with you? Frigga, are you all right?"

"Yes. Of course. Loki, sweetheart, what's wrong?"

Strong arms encircled him and hauled him firmly against an equally strong chest.

"Breathe, brother. Easy. Breathe."

Loki's throat suddenly felt choked for a different reason. That voice. Those voices. He could could not help but obey. His eyes stung with hot tears, but he obeyed. He breathed.

Blue and red washed across his eyes. And then...

He blinked. He saw.

A dining hall. His family's. And his family - here. Here and whole. Frigga sitting inelegantly on her backside near him. Odin crouched next to her. Thor -

Thor's warmth wrapped around him.

You're dreaming.

Loki breathed and blinked away tears.

No.

"There now," Thor said, a smile to his voice. "That's better. What was all that about? Did your daydreams attack you?"

Frigga's soft fingers reached for him, stroking down his cheek. "Are you all right, darling?"

Loki could only nod.

Odin's pale eye pinned him in place on the floor as it swept over him. "I hope you have a good explanation for this display, my son. First, you will apologize to your mother for kicking her."

Loki gaped. Feet kicking that made contact with...something. Frigga on the ground.

"Mother," he gasped. "I am so sorry. Forgive me."

"Shhh," Frigga soothed. "No apology needed. Unless it's for nodding off at the table, hmm?" Her lips quirked in smile.

Loki hesitantly returned her smile. Her beautiful smile. Oh, how he missed it. Missed her. "Yes. I must have done. My apologises."

"Nightmares at the breakfast table." Thor hauled Loki to his feet while Odin helped Frigga. "Only you."

Loki laughed. Yes, a nightmare. That's all it was.

shouts of confusion. cries of frightened children. people fleeing.

death comes.

Loki squeezed shut his eyes and took in deep, slow breaths. Willing away the remnants of his dream. Nightmare. He brushed off his clothes before reaching for a chair to retake his seat.

Blue. Sweeping across his skin. In front of everyone.

"Must be a Frost Giant thing, I suppose," Thor said, thumping down in his own seat.

Loki froze.

Frigga laughed. "Yes. We were warned about their strange quirks." Odin chuckled, pulled out her chair and seeing her seated before returning to his own place. They resumed their meals like nothing happened.

Thor paused mid-bite. "Don't just stand there, Loki. Eat."

None of his limbs obeyed him. His face prickled.

heat. ice. shame. anger.

His guts twisted. Was he still dreaming?

"Loki. Sit down." Odin spoke to be obeyed, not sparing him a glance.

Loki sat. Stared at his plate. Watched the red and purple dance together across the table and fill his cups to overflowing and cascade onto the floor.

"What?" Thor jabbed a fork in his direction. "Not to your liking? Too well cooked for the monster runt?"

Frigga tittered beside him.

rage.

Red rage. And purple. And blue.

The colours rippled around his family like outlines. As if one good pull would see them ripped away and discarded. Gone forever.

landing in a mountain of trash. tossed away. alone.

Loki blinked hard and his vision cleared. His legs felt stiff. His hands, still blue, trembled. "I suppose I don't have much of an appetite. May I be excused, please?"

Odin shot him a look brimming with irritation. "If I'd known you'd go running off to hide every time you felt slighted, I would have left you on the ice field. Stop sulking. Finish. Your. Food."

Mouth full, Thor snorted a laugh and almost choked. Loki shot him a glare which Thor ignored.

Frigga gave Loki a pitying look. "Loki, you know we're just teasing. Don't be so sensitive, dear. It's not your fault you're so unstable. It's in the blood. You were always doomed to madness."

the stars told him stories while he fell. the darkness whispered secrets. he wasn't real, they said. he never was. he had always been there. with them.

always falling.

Bile and horror rose in his throat as he stared at her, unable to voice any words, afraid if he tried he'd vomit. She smiled at him brightly. That perfect, wonderful smile. "Eat up and you can have extra sweet cream with your cake later."

Loki sank back into his chair, his legs no longer willing to hold him upright. He ate mechanically, chewing slow and swallowing. Trying to make room for the food somewhere amidst the revulsion that threatened to spill out. Threatened to swamp the room full of red. His family of twisted orange.

Loki closed his eyes against the kaleidoscope of stabbing pain.

Not real. You forgot. You have to go back. Go back.

Thor needs you.

Loki reached for a memory, floating in the roaring current of his mind. There was something there he needed. Something he had to take hold of. Something to make a difference. Maybe. If he could just -

Beyond the windows behind Thor's head a sky of purple rushed forth into the room to wash everything away. The food, the table. Loki looked at his hands, set flat on the table. The blue rushed out of his hands all at once, lingering for a moment along the tips of his fingers before fading away. Around him, his family wiped out in the breath of a moment and he stood alone in the cold, empty room. An orange haze hung heavy in the air.

Don't leave me.

"It's you."

Not alone.

Loki turned to face the Zehoberei woman standing opposite him across the room. He knew her. Remembered her face if not her name.

"That's my question to ask, is it not?"

"Did he kill you, too?" she asked.

a creature looking down at him. from atop a throne of stone.

pain. fear.

a creature looking down at him. a hand wrapped around his neck.

"Yes," Loki said with a steady voice. The only part of him that was steady. The ground rocked like waves beneath his feet. I was murdered, his brain chased itself around a circling path of panic. I was murdered. Again. In front of Thor. Again.

"I'm sorry." She watched him with a calmness betrayed only by the slight tremor in her voice. "Where are we? I remember - " She shook her head. "I don't understand. How are we both here?"

Loki pressed his lips together until they hurt. Wondered at the nature of the here. He had died. He remembered. Aboard the Statesman. Thanos came for the Tesseract. Loki tried to kill him and failed. Thanos returned the favour with greater success.

Loki frowned. But before that - what had he been thinking? He must have had a plan. He wouldn't have let himself get so close to Thanos otherwise. But what?

The woman looked sharply behind her. Loki wondered what it was she was seeing.

The orange haze trembled.

It came back to him in a rush. A desperate moment breeding a far more desperate plan. An escape from the stalking death.

The woman turned her attention back to Loki, taking a step forward. Unyielding and unafraid. "He has to be stopped. You know what he intends. Is there anyway we can send a message? Can we get out of here?"

"How to escape the hand of death. What an excellent question," he said. "I think if we -"

The room jerked violently, like a great giant had struck beyond the walls. Loki and the woman both fell to the ground. A chasm shivered opened beneath her and swallowed her in an instant.

Loki tried to push himself to his feet. His hands sunk down to the wrists in blood. He tried to pull back but the cloying red crept up his arms. Blue bubbled forth from the chasm and spilled over the bloody floor turning it purple. The purple snaked toward him.

Loki found his feet and took a step back through the orange fog. Another chasm broke open behind him, shaking the ground. He lost his balance and toppled backward.

*  *  *

You will never be a god.

Loki jerked awake on a choked off scream.

Frantic eyes searched the darkened surroundings for something familiar. Anything. He kicked free the thin blanket covering his small body, intent on scrambling up and off the narrow cot. Fear swept through him, burning through his veins and filling his lungs. Loki trembled.

A large hand appeared to pat his arm. "It's all right," came a deep voice nearby. "Just a dream. Go back to sleep."

Loki rolled to his side and peered over the edge. There was a giant of a man lying on the floor beside the cot. Shorn hair, a short beard, one eye, and muscled arms bigger than Loki's head. His fear receded as he blinked down at him and wondered why he didn't remember the man's name. He must be a guard. But he wasn't dressed like one. The cape folded under his head was red like father's, not gold like the Einherjar wore.

And no guard should be sleeping while on duty.

"Go to sleep," the man rumbled without opening his one good eye. "Are you sleeping?"

"I'm not tired anymore," Loki said. Not when he had a new puzzle stretched out on the hard metal ground beside him.

The man sighed. "Then just lie there quietly. It's not time to get up."

Loki bristled. The man spoke the words so matter-of-factly. As if he expected to be obeyed. As if Loki was a baby to be minded by grown-ups. He wasn't a baby. No matter what Thor said.

He sat up in defiance and waited to see what the guard would do next. The man did nothing. He didn't move. He remained undisturbed on his back on the floor, hands folded across his chest, feet crossed at the ankle. Chest rising and falling, deep and slow.

When the man failed to do anything interesting, Loki turned his attention to his surroundings. The room was very dark and he couldn't see any windows. Keeping an eye on the guard asleep on the floor, Loki carefully cast a few mage lights and set them afloat through the room. The lights glowed green. Loki frowned. They weren't supposed to do that. He reached out a hand to extinguish them, but before he could they turned to their usual soft golden hue. Just like mother's.

The room the lights illuminated was not a room Loki ever remembered seeing. Certainly not in Asgard. Fear returned as he glanced down at the man again. Maybe the man didn't look like one of the Einherjar because he wasn't. Maybe he was a kidnapper. Maybe Loki was a captive.

But why didn't he remember? And where was Thor?

Loki launched himself off the bed, landing with both feet on the man's mid-section. He woke with an "oof" of escaping air as Loki scrambled off him and ran for the door.

"Loki, what are you doing? Loki!"

Get to the pods - run! Now!

Outside the metal door the cramped corridors were filled with a heavy blue haze. There were screams in the distance. Sounds of fighting. Sobs and whimpers from the end of the corridor. Shadows of people rushing by, clinging to each other. Red flames licked along the walls.

This isn't real.

Loki turned on his heel and ran.

Down one empty corridor, then another, then another. He didn't know where he was going. Green slid along the floor as he fled. Panicked shrieks and the cries of children echoed all around him. But everywhere he looked no one was there. Loki choked down the whimper trying to crawl free of his throat.

Where was Thor?

There was an orange door at the end of the next corridor. He lunged for it and all but fell through.

"What are you studying today, young prince?"

Loki blinked up at Heimdall. The watchman stood at his post, sword in hand, gazing out across the vastness of space. The colours of the Bifrost shimmered beneath Loki's feet. Orange. Blue. Green. Red. Purple. It was almost right. Except he didn't remember Heimdall and the Bifrost being inside a large room with a window taking up an entire wall. Or moving through space.

Heimdall turned his eyes on him. His empty, white eyes.

Loki knew he should tell Heimdall about the strange man. About his captivity. About the crying people. Heimdall would do something. He would help.

Heimdall would know where to find Thor.

a blade driven deep. one last gasp of life.

"When I woke there was a man sleeping on the floor. I didn't recognize him. He has very short hair and one eye. Is he a guard?"

"There has only ever been one destined to walk at your side, Loki," Heimdall said.

Loki frowned. How was that an answer? And the man was sleeping, not walking. Wasn't Heimdall listening?

"Where's Thor?"

"Never as far away as you fear."

Loki's frown rearranged itself into a scowl. He didn't always like the gatekeeper's riddles, especially the ones he couldn't figure out.

The floor shuddered underfoot. Cracks crept up the centre of the window. Loki shifted closer to Heimdall while trying not to be obvious about it. "Are we going to die?"

"One day death will take us all. There will be no escape."

"Oh."

The red flames had followed him into the room. Purple dripped down the big window. It was ruining the view. Green chased it away.

The cracks remained.

Loki squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to be afraid. He was a son of Odin and a son of Odin was not easily frightened. A comforting hand settled gently atop his head, smoothing along his curls. Loki leaned into it until the familiar touch faded.

When Loki opened his eyes, Heimdall still stared straight ahead with both hands wrapped around the hilt of his sword. Loki wondered why he was just standing there. Why hadn't Heimdall sent him away? He was a prince of Asgard and Heimdall was meant to keep all threats to Asgard at bay. Or was that why they were aboard this ship? Maybe Heimdall had already rescued him. But why were they taking the Bifrost with them? Where were they going?

And where was Thor?

Loki shuffled close enough to the gatekeeper to draw his attention. "I need to know where we're going, Heimdall. I want to make a star chart," he said, trying not to be unsettled by the white eyes looking down at him. "Then I can find Thor and we can find somewhere safe to hide until Father comes. Will you help me?" It was a good plan, Loki was sure. Father would be proud.

Heimdall turned his unseeing eyes back to the stars. "I will. I can still see them all. Every dead star. Every star not yet burned away. But they will all be dead in the end."

Loki shrugged as he flopped down near Heimdall's booted feet. He didn't bring paper. Or have anything to draw with. Maybe Heimdall could tell him where to find some?

Yellow streaked through the Bifrost's colours. They wove together and glittered all the fiercer. Loki smiled. That was better.

The roar of the Bifrost filled the room.

"The end comes," Heimdall said before dissolving to shining golden dust, covering Loki and the Bifrost.

Loki scrambled to his feet. "But what about my star chart? How will I know where to go? Heimdall, come back!" He stomped his foot. "Come back, I demand you come back now! Heimdall!"

The Bifrost cracked beneath his feet.

Loki shook his head to get dust out of his hair and patted his clothes down before turning to stomp toward the orange door. Before he could touch it the orange bled off into the air and the door disappeared. The room faded away, replaced with an orange haze so thick Loki couldn't make out any walls. Couldn't even see the floor he stood upon.

Loki spun around, frantic to find a way out. A man appeared in his path so suddenly Loki slammed into him.

"Whoa, there."

Loki made to back away. The man laid a hand over his shoulder to hold him in place. Loki wondered how loudly the man would scream if his wrist was broken for such impertinence.

"It's all right, I'm not going to hurt you." The man tried for a smile, but it sat tight and fixed on his features, making his pale eyes look shadowed. "I know what you just experienced must've been scary..."

"I'm not scared," Loki said.

The man laughed a little, though it made his smile look no less strained. "Then you are very brave little boy."

Loki shot him a poisonous glare and the man went suddenly still, the false smile falling away and replaced by a frown.

"Do I know you?" the man asked.

Loki studied him warily. With a start he realized the man was mortal. A Midgardian. Short, dark hair with shots of white at the temples and a small beard, the man wore a heavy red cloak around his shoulders. The cloak sang with power and it was all Loki could do not to reach out and touch it.

"What's your name?" the mortal asked.

"Why?"

"It's all right. You can tell me."

"My name is none of your concern."

The mortal tightened his grip on him and Loki was more tempted than ever to hurt him. Or run away. Find Thor. Find father. Or mother. Tell them a mortal laid a hand on him. Loki amused himself imagining the result.

"Tell me your name," the mortal spoke sharply.

Loki tilted his chin up defiantly. "I am Loki. Of..."

"Asgard." The mortal suddenly released him and took a quick step back. "Loki," he said, voice tight.

"You know of me?" Loki couldn't hide his surprise. How could any mortal know of him? Loki had never seen one before now. Asgard had little to do with the mortal realm and Loki had never been there. Or to any of the other realms. Mother said it was because he was too young. Thor said it was because he was baby. Thor was just mad he wasn't allowed to go abroad yet either.

The mortal's jaw went rigid as he took another step back. He tapped his wrists together and moved his hands quickly in an inexplicable pattern. Nothing happened and the mortal stared at his hand in bafflement.

Loki wondered if he was attempting some arcane form of mortal magic. One of his tutors told him mortals had little by the way of magic, and what they did have was poorly understood and likely to obliterate the lot of them at some point sooner or later. Master Haagi hadn't sounded terrible concerned about it. Loki supposed it was because mortals weren't very important. But he was disappointed not to see the mortal cast anything all the same.

He studied Loki with an unsettling intensity. "Yes," he said finally. "I am Stephen Strange. We've met before."

Loki frowned. "I don't remember you."

The man's eyes narrowed. "You don't?" He sounded skeptical.

"No," Loki said, narrowing his eyes right back. He wondered if he would get in trouble for turning a mortal into a frog. He could always change him back later. Or give him to Thor as a pet.

"Why do you look like this?" He gestured at Loki.

"Like what?"

"A child."

Loki blinked at him, bewildered by the comment. How else should he look?

"Is this a trick?"

Loki stared up at the man, wide-eyed. Was the mortal mad? He glanced around furtively hoping a door would suddenly appear. None did.

The man grimaced. "Loki, you may not remember me as you are now, but we have crossed paths before. I can harbour a guess as to how I came to be here, but you? I was told you were dead by friends of your brother."

"Thor wouldn't say that!" Loki said indignantly. "And I am not dead."

"I am, yet here we both are." Strange looked around the room. "I wonder why there's only the two of us. If what I suspect happened happened, it should be a lot more crowded in here." Strange gave Loki a rueful glance. "I don't suppose you have access to magic?"

"A true sorcerer is never separate from his power," Loki recited his mother's first lesson dutifully. The mortal raised an eyebrow. Loki sighed and conjured a simple flame in his hand. Strange made a thoughtful sound in his throat. The flame in his hand flickered, as if struck by a breeze. But Loki's flames never faltered and there was no breeze. Puzzled, he extinguished the flame with a small gesture.

"Who killed you?" Loki asked curiously.

"A long story. You kept your power. You're here and somehow kept your power. That means - " Strange's eyes went tight at the corners, like he was thinking very hard. "I actually have no idea what that means. What do you remember? About how you got here?"

"I was on a ship," Loki said. "My father's watchman was rescuing me."

Strange made another thoughtful sound. "How did you come to be on the ship?"

Loki didn't know, but he wasn't about to tell Strange. He said nothing.

"Do you remember?"

Loki pressed his lips stubbornly together.

"So you don't remember Thanos?"

Allfathers help us!

Loki twitched. There was a ship. There was a man with one eye. Heimdall was there. And the Bifrost. It was wrong somehow, but Loki couldn't remember why.

Strange was still watching him with blazing intensity. Like he was something unexpected. Loki wondered if this mortal was a mage. He could feel a kind of power about him, something separate from the cloak he wore.

The cloak that was bleeding.

Loki blinked in surprise. The cloak's power shimmered in the dull orange light, a slow trickle being pulled away and seeming to disappear in the air. Loki wondered where it was going. Strange didn't seem aware of it, nor was he using the power to spell cast. Loki held out a cautious hand. The trickle of power redirected itself to him.

"What are you doing?" Strange asked, jerking away to keep his cape out of reach.

"Nothing," Loki said, pulling his hand back.

"The Cloak of Levitation is not for you," Strange said sternly.

"Are you a mage?"

"I am the Sorcerer Supreme."

"I don't know what that is."

"It's like...a mage," Strange conceded.

"Do you use the cloak for your magic?"

"I can. But not here."

"Why not?" Did the mortal not understand what he wore on his back?

"Apparently because I'm dead!" Strange snapped.

"So?" Loki snapped back.

Strange made an odd whining noise in his throat. He tried the trick with his hands again. When nothing happened he closed his eyes and bowed his head.

Loki was baffled. Any sorcerer can draw power from an object of power. That was what objects of power were for. Loki could feel the power humming from the cloak. Alive but muted. Even the power trickling off it was substantial enough to be made use of by any magic user.

The trick of it, so Father said, was to keep the object from overwhelming the sorcerer using it. It was why Father held Loki's hand so tightly whenever they went into the weapon's vault. Loki could feel the power reaching from almost every alcove they passed, but it was always the Casket at the end that sang to him the sweetest. The strongest of all Father's treasures.

"These are some of the most powerful objects in the realms, Loki," Father explained to him one afternoon. "But in the greater universe - this one and others - there are objects of far greater power. Objects so great they carry awareness in a way. Such things are not to be trifled with. You must exercise the greatest of caution should you encounter such an object. Such power is tempting for even the most seasoned of us. But it can be all too easy to lose yourself to it and thus leads to madness."

Which, Loki thought now, might explain Strange.

"All right," Strange said, turning to pace. "Everything here is orange. Ish. So - the Soul Stone. Which Thanos already had when he took the Time Stone." Strange gestured in Loki's direction. "You had the Space Stone. Which Thanos took from you before he...you... Nevermind. He won. He got all the Stones in the end and he won and we're here. But what I still don't understand is why you are. It's as if..." Strange trailed off as he turned his focus back to Loki and stared.

"Who's Thanos?" Loki wanted to know.

It's him.

Who?

Him.

Loki, who's aboard that ship?

Strange swooped down on him in one movement, gripping him by the upper arms. Loki yelped and tried to pull away. Strange tightened his hold. "Listen to me very carefully. I think you were pulled in before Thanos had all the Stones."

"What Stones? Unhand me!" Loki tried again to twist out of the mortal's grip.

Strange shook him once. Hard. Loki squawked in protest. "The Infinity Stones. Thanos sought them. He gained all them and killed half of all living things in the universe."

Loki gaped. "That's not true! My father would have stopped him."

Strange made a noise of frustration. "I'm a fool. I used the Time Stone to find seek any outcomes where we might win and assumed we'd already lost based on what I saw." Strange stared down at Loki with blazing intensity. "Based on who I saw."

"What are you talking about? Release me at once!"

Strange ignored his command and gave him another shake. "But you held a Stone as well and have, as I understand it, a somewhat interesting history of escaping death."

"What?"

"If you had a chance to beat death again, you would've taken it. Am I right? Did you have a plan or was it happenstance?"

"Let me go!" Loki cried.

A door outlined in yellow shone into being behind Strange.

Strange squeezed his arms. "Loki! Concentrate. It's very important we figure out the path in which you came to be here. If we understand it then maybe we can work out a way to get you free."

"Unhand me!" Again Loki tied to pull out of Strange's grip without success.

"Just try and remember. I'll help - "

"I said unhand me!" Loki twisted enough to deliver a swift kick to Strange's shin. Strange grunted in pain and loosened his hold. Loki twisted again to sink his teeth in the mad mortal's wrist. Strange yelped and jerked backward. Loki shoved past him and ran for the door.

"No - wait!"

All the rainbow colours rushed back into being and swept across the ground and up to the door just as Loki put his hand on it.

*  *  *

You will never be a god.

Loki jerked awake on a choked off scream.