The moment that Loki returned to consciousness, he wished he hadn’t. There was no moment of blissful amnesia before the events of the past few days crashed down upon him – no, he remembered everything immediately, from Thor’s interrupted coronation to their confrontation on the Bifrost, and the moment when Odin had looked at him, disappointed and unforgiving, and Loki had wanted, more than anything, to just –
– let go –
Loki shuddered involuntarily, fingers twitching.
Still, his fall from the Bifrost had been in vain, it seemed – Loki was still alive, at least, and besides a terrible headache, he seemed to be fine. For a long moment Loki just lay there, feeling wretched and wishing that everything would just end. Then, summoning a little fortitude, Loki brought himself to at least open his eyes and raise his head to look at his surroundings.
There was a strange blue creature staring at him.
Loki blinked, but the strange blue thing was still there. It was small, and furred, with long, raised ears. It watched Loki with the stillness of a predator, and Loki did not think that he was imagining the intelligence in the enormous black eyes. He certainly was not imagining the long claws at the end of each limb, clearly designed for slashing flesh.
Loki stared at it for a moment longer, and then said, “If you are considering eating me, I highly advise against it.”
The creature tilted its head as though it found Loki curious, and let out a soft snort. A moment later it spoke with a growling voice.
“Eh. Not hungry,” said the blue thing, and grinned, displaying an array of intimidating teeth.
“Well, that is a relief,” said Loki, and let his head fall back on the grass. He closed his eyes again.
There was a thoughtful pause, and Loki heard the creature move away, across the grass. He ignored its retreat, wondering how long he would have to lie here before he would die of thirst or hunger. It was no more than he deserved, Loki thought – he was nothing more than a monster –
“Nani’s going to be mad when she sees you lying on the flowers,” said a high, childish voice.
Loki opened his eyes and raised his head, to find that not only was the blue thing back, but that it had brought a small child with it. The girl was eyeing him in a considering way that Loki, as a purveyor of mischief himself, found vaguely alarming.
“What?” he asked blankly.
“Nani’s flowers,” the girl said reasonably. “You’re lying on them. You’ve squished them all flat with your butt,” she added, making flattening motions with her hands.
Loki sat up and looked down, to discover that he was, indeed, lying on a rather squashed bed of flowers.
“Ah,” he said, and pulled himself together a little. “My apologies.”
“Stitch said you fell from the sky,” the girl continued. “Are you an alien, too?”
“I beg your pardon?” Loki was taken-aback by the question.
The girl heaved a great, weary sigh, as though she couldn’t believe that Loki was genuinely that slow.
“I said, are you an alien. Because Stitch is an alien and he fell from the sky–”
“Crashed,” grunted the blue thing.
“–so I figured, maybe you’re an alien too. Plus you’re wearing really fancy clothes, and a stupid helmet, and aliens are weird. I know,” she added, with the air of one imparting great wisdom, “because there are way too many aliens living in our house. So, are you?”
For a moment Loki merely stared at the girl, who gazed back expectantly, along with the blue thing – Stitch. There was no trace of fear in the girl’s eyes, only friendly curiosity.
“Yes,” Loki found himself saying. “I am Loki, of the realm of Asgard.”
The girl’s face scrunched up in confusion.
“Realm?” she asked.
“Another world,” Loki clarified. The girl’s expression cleared.
“What’s your name?” Loki asked the girl. She straightened, and took a deep breath.
“Well, I’m Lilo, and this is Stitch, and he’s my pet dog except it turned out he’s not really a dog, he’s an alien, and other aliens blew up our house except they’re not so bad, and they live with us now, and sometimes Mr Bubbles comes to visit to check that everything’s okay and Jumba hasn’t invented another death ray and Stitch hasn’t set the kitchen on fire again.”
She said this all in one breath, and then sucked in a large mouthful of air, while Stitch muttered something in a guttural language that the Allspeak translated into something about how ‘that only happened once.’
Loki tried to process the long string of words.
“Mr Bubbles?” he asked, noting the… unusual quality of the name.
“His first name is Cobra,” Lilo informed him.
“I see.” Loki didn’t see.
“He’s my social worker, and he used to work with aliens,” Lilo explained, which made things a little clearer, although not by much. “Why did you fall from the sky?”
“I fell,” he said finally.
“From where?” Lilo persisted.
Loki gave a sigh.
“Do you always ask this many questions?”
“Ih,” said Stitch, nodding his head.
“Absolutely,” Lilo declared. She peered closely at Loki. “Are you okay? You look kind of sick.”
Loki gave a small unamused laugh.
“I suppose that I feel it,” he said, drawing his knees up and folding his arms around them. He shuddered again, yet again recalling the events that had led up to him being stranded on – wherever he was. “But it is not a sickness of body, but of the mind.”
Lilo frowned at that. Stitch whispered something in her ear.
“Then you should see a psych–i–at–rist,” Lilo announced, sounding the word out carefully. “They make sure that you’re not going crazy when bad things happen to you. I used to see one, after everything.” Lilo looked down. “But then I bit him on the arm. And tore up his books. And told him his moustache was ugly. And Nani said we couldn’t afford to take me, anymore, but that might have been a lie so I didn’t feel bad.”
For a moment Lilo looked so sad that Loki reached out to ruffle her hair, the way that Thor always used to do to him when they were children, whenever Loki was upset. Loki’s chest tightened at the thought of Thor – who was not really his brother after all – but Lilo looked up at him, surprised and a little indignant.
“Don’t do that,” she grumbled, combing her hair back into place with her fingers while Stitch sniggered. “Anyway, why is your mind sick? Did something bad happen you?”
Loki closed his eyes.
“Yes,” he murmured. “I – I found out that – that I was a monster. Am a monster.”
There was a snort and a murmur from Stitch.
“Stitch says you don’t look like a monster,” Lilo said thoughtfully.
Loki laughed mirthlessly, and flopped back down into the grass and the crushed flowers.
“Ah, but this is not my true appearance,” he said bitterly, without opening his eyes. “It is only a spell, to make me look like those who I thought were my family. In truth, my appearance is far more fearsome.”
Someone patted his hand gently. Loki opened his eyes to see that it was Stitch, watching him with those fathomless black eyes.
“Stitch used to be monster,” Stitch said finally. “Schedule for execution. But Stitch find ohana. Try to be better. Not so much monster, anymore.” He sat back and nodded, as though satisfied with the message he had just imparted.
“You make it sound so simple,” said Loki heavily. This time it was Lilo who patted his arm.
“Come on,” she said. “You should come inside and have cookies with us.”
It was such a childish solution to such a complex, unsolvable problem that Loki felt his lips twitch in spite of his internal anguish.
“Very well,” he said, and got to his feet. Lilo immediately took his hand and began dragging him towards a dwelling that stood nearby. Stitch followed them both.
The inside of the dwelling was rustic compared to the halls of Asgard’s citadel, but cheerful, with paintings on the walls and floor coverings in bright colours. Lilo brought Stitch into a large room containing a table and several chairs, and a number of unfamiliar metal contraptions. Cupboards covered the walls.
As Loki watched, Lilo dragged a chair that was bigger than she was across the room, and stood on it so that she was tall enough to reach the overhead cupboards. Opening a cupboard door, she rummaged around until, with a triumphant noise, she emerged holding something made of what Loki recognised as plastic. Plastic – he was most likely on Midgard, then. Well, that answered the question of where he’d ended up. This room was most likely the kitchen, he supposed.
Loki realised that somehow, in spite of himself, and that –despite his internal despair and anguish – he was intrigued by Lilo and her strange companion.
As he watched, Lilo threw the plastic object to Stitch, who caught it and ripped open the thin plastic with his claws. He grabbed a handful of the objects within – some kind of baked goods – and stuffed the handful into his mouth.
“Stitch!” Lilo scolded from atop her chair. “Guests first.”
Grumbling, Stitch offered the plastic packet to Loki, who cautiously took one of what he assumed were the ‘cookies’ that Lilo had mentioned earlier.
“You can sit down if you want,” Lilo offered, and so Loki took a seat at one of the chairs, Lilo and Stitch doing the same, and took a bite of the baked foodstuff. He frowned down at it, analysing the flavour, trying to decide what he thought of it.
A moment later, a female voice spoke.
“Lilo, who is this?”
Loki looked up from contemplation of his ‘cookie’ – as foodstuffs went, it was surprisingly pleasant – to find a woman who looked remarkably like Lilo standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at him. Her eyes lingered particularly on the horns of his helmet. She seemed a little too young to be Lilo’s mother – a sister or aunt, perhaps, he thought.
Loki self-consciously took another bite of his cookie, and tried to pretend that he was unbothered by the stare.
“This is Loki,” said Lilo. “He’s an alien. We have to be nice to him because something bad happened to him. That’s why we’re having cookies.”
The woman put a hand over her face and just breathed for a moment.
“Lilo,” she said, in a slow, even voice, “where did he come from, and what have I told you about strangers?”
“He fell from the sky, and squashed all the begonias,” said Lilo matter-of-factly, reaching for another cookie. “And he’s not a stranger, because I know his name. Right?” She looked at Loki for confirmation.
“I suppose that is one way of looking at it,” Loki allowed. “But perhaps in future you should not invite men you find in the garden into your house.”
“Because they could be gangsters,” she said knowingly.
“Because – what?” the woman at the door asked. “Gangsters?”
“Uh-huh,” Lilo nodded. “You never know,” she whispered dramatically.
The woman in the doorway put her hand over her face again. Then she took a deep breath, removed the hand, and turned to face Loki.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she began, “I don’t know who you are, or why Lilo thinks you’re an alien–”
“Because he is!” Lilo protested loudly.
“–but I think you should leave,” the woman finished.
“Nani!” Lilo whined. “You can’t just kick him out! Where is he going to go?”
“Of course,” Loki said. He finished his current cookie and got to his feet, managing to smile politely. “I’m sorry if I have caused any trouble.”
“Not at all,” Nani gave a strained smile. “But please, if you could just–”
“Nani!” Lilo whined again, stomping her foot at being ignored, and pulling at the hem of Nani’s clothing. “You’re not listening!”
“Lilo!” Nani hissed. “Stop pulling on my shorts –”
“He’s an alien and he fell from the sky and bad things happened to him,” Lilo insisted vehemently. “I bet he doesn’t have anywhere to go.”
“I’m sure he has somewhere to go,” Nani began to placate Lilo, without looking in Loki’s direction.
“Not really,” Loki admitted. “I’m not entirely unfamiliar with this realm, but I admit that I do not know it well. And my home – well. It is not longer open to me.”
Loki tried to smile, but instead it twisted on his face, turning into a grimace. Nani was staring at him again, and this time, Loki thought that she was taking in rather more than she had the first time.
“You’re an alien,” she said slowly.
Loki shrugged helplessly.
“O-kay,” said Nani, still slowly. “I’ll… be right back. Uh, feel free to have more cookies, if you want.”
“Thank you,” said Loki, feeling confused. Nani left the room, ad Loki looked down at Lilo and Stitch.
Both of whom, the moment that Nani was gone, ran to the doorway and crouched there.
“Shh!” Lilo hissed, waving at him to be quiet, while one of Stitch’s long ears swivelled towards the next room.
So Loki stayed silent, taking a seat at the table again, and reaching for another cooking as Lilo and Stitch stayed crouched in the doorway.
“What’s she saying?” Lilo hissed at Stitch. Stitch hissed something back, and Lilo brightened.
“She’s calling Mr Bubbles,” Lilo told Loki. “She probably wants him to come and find out if you’re dangerous.”
Loki wasn’t sure what to say to that. He said nothing.
Presumably this Mr Bubbles was the one who Loki needed to convince of good intentions, if he wished to stay. Loki’s lips twitched wryly. How could he possibly convince anyone of good intentions? Even when he had the best intentions in the world, no one believed in their existence, save perhaps his mother. Everyone else believed him malicious at all turns, nothing but a heartless monster out to deprive the more deserving. And they had been right – not that Loki was heartless, or entirely malicious, although he was willing to admit he could be petty at times – but he was indeed a monster, for all he had never suspected it. How could a monster seek sanctuary, when all around him seemed to somehow know him for what he was?
Still, said the reasonable little voice inside Loki’s head, you can at least take off the helmet.
Loki removed his helmet from his head and placed it on the table. Lilo and Stitch looked at him.
“Your face looks bigger without the helmet on,” Lilo commented.
“I shall take that as a compliment,” said Loki dryly.
“Can I try it on?” Lilo asked. Loki didn’t see why not.
“Certainly, although I expect it will be rather too big for you,” he responded.
“That’s okay,” said Lilo. “I’ll try it on anyway.”
So Loki whispered a spell under his breath to make the helmet lighter – it was far too heavy to be supported by such a small child as Lilo – and lowered the helmet onto her head.
Lilo crouched down to admire her reflection in the glass panel on the front of one of the large metal contraptions.
“You look very fetching,” Loki commented. There was something endearing about seeing the little girl wearing his helmet, oversized as it was.
Stitch snatched the helmet off Lilo’s head, and jammed it on his own.
“Hey!” Lilo shouted indignantly, but Stitch was already climbing up onto the table. He struck a dramatic pose and shouted something that the Allspeak translated as ‘I shall destroy all!’ and let out a burst of maniacal laughter.
A moment later he was tackled off the table by Lilo, who had climbed up onto one of the chairs so that she could throw herself at Stitch.
The two of them went down in a pile of limbs, Stitch holding the helmet tightly while Lilo tried to pry it off him, yelling about how Stitch wasn’t being fair.
It was to this scene that Nani returned: Lilo and Stitch rolling around on the floor yelling at one other, Stitch wearing Loki’s helmet, while Loki himself sat and watched in entertained bemusement.
“You two!” Nani shouted. “Knock it off!”
She reached down and grabbed the helmet off Stitch’s head, putting it down on the table, to combined complaints from Lilo and Stitch. Ignoring them both, Nani turned to Loki.
“Uh, a friend of ours, Cobra Bubbles, he’s going to drop by to talk to you,” Nani said, smiling uneasily. “So, uh… just, sit here until he gets here, okay?”
“Very well,” Loki agreed.
Nani turned back to Lilo and Stitch, and glared.
“Where’s Jumba and Pleakley?” she demanded. “They promised they’d look after you while I was gone.”
“Jumba upstairs,” Stitch offered.
“Pleakley went out to get more milk,” Lilo added. “Stitch drank it all.”
Nani let out a long, weary sigh.
“Okay then. Just… try to stay out of trouble. And don’t bother our guest.”
“We weren’t bothering him!” Lilo protested. “Were we, Loki?”
“Truly, they were not,” Loki assured Nani.
“We should eat more cookies,” Lilo decided, climbing onto a chair and reaching for the cookie packet. Nani stopped her.
“No, Lilo, no more cookies before dinner,” Nani scolded. “You can keep… Loki… company until Mr Bubbles gets here, but I don’t want you to eat any more cookies.”
“Stitch is eating cookies!” Lilo complained. Nani gave her a severe look.
“Stitch will eat his dinner afterwards,” she replied, and Lilo scowled.
“Ugh, fine. Be that way,” Lilo grumbled.
Loki sat back in his chair, and reached out to take another cookie.
Mr Bubbles arrived ten minutes later. He turned out to be a large, intimidating black man in a Midgardian suit. He gave Loki a long, unimpressed stare over the top of his sunglasses.
He reminded Loki distinctly of Heimdall.
“So,” he said. “You must be Loki.”
“And you must be Mr Bubbles,” said Loki, with an entirely feigned smile. “I must say, that is an unusual name, even by Midgardian standards, is it not?”
Mr Bubbles, if possible, looked even more unimpressed.
“So you say,” he rumbled. “Nani tells me you’re an alien.”
“I am not from this realm, certainly,” Loki agreed. “I ended up here by accident.”
“And where are you from, exactly?” Mr Bubbles asked.
“Asgard,” Loki replied promptly. One of Mr Bubble’s eyebrows rose, up to where his hairline would have been had he not been bald.
“Loki. From Asgard,” he repeated. “Like the Norse myths. You mean like Thor and Odin –”
“Do not speak to me of them!” Loki shouted. He realised that he had leapt to his feet, and that Lilo and Nani were watching him with wide eyes. Stitch just looked curious. Loki felt himself begin to crumple.
“You do not know – I cannot –” Loki broke off, realising that he wasn’t making much sense. “I beg of you, do not mention their names.” He took a deep breath, and tried to regain control over his emotions.
“Huh,” said Mr Bubbles, after a minute, then: “Sit down, son.”
Loki sat, mostly out of sheer surprise at being addressed as ‘son.’
Mr Bubbles took off his sunglasses, and regarded Loki with a piercing gaze.
“I’m guessing you didn’t end up here under the best of circumstances,” he began, and Loki winced a little. “I don’t know how you got here, or what you’re running from–”
Loki opened his mouth to protest that he wasn’t running from anything, not exactly, but Mr Bubbles only put up his hand in a gesture that commanded Loki’s silence, and continued talking.
Loki shut his mouth, and listened.
“–and to be honest, I don’t care,” Mr Bubbles went on. “What I do care about is your intentions towards Earth and its inhabitants, the members of this household in particular.”
Loki licked his suddenly-dry lips, and swallowed.
“I…” Words deserted him, but Loki struggled to articulate himself anyway. “I never intend harm. Not truly. But… sometimes it happens, all the same.” He forced himself to meet Mr Bubbles’ eyes. “I give you my word that my intentions towards Earth and its people are benign. But I cannot guarantee that trouble will not follow me.”
For a long moment Mr Bubbles’ eyes bored into Loki’s. It felt as though Loki’s very soul was being laid bare.
“Hmm.” Mr Bubbles put his sunglasses back on. “We’ll deal with that if it happens. Between you and me, that kind of situation happens a lot around here.”
“Not my fault,” Stitch insisted, sounding a little petulant. Mr Bubbles gave him a dubious look, and Stitch sneered at him, muttering something uncomplimentary under his breath.
Mr Bubbles looked at Nani.
“Nani. Don’t suppose you have an extra room Loki can borrow until he gets settled? It’ll be easier if he can stay somewhere that’s already zoned as an extraterrestrial residential area.”
“I… I guess he can use the spare bedroom,” Nani said, with a sigh.
“Yay! Loki gets to stay!” Lilo began doing a dance around the room. Stitch watched with an indulgent grin.
Loki was struck speechless for a moment.
“You… would offer me sanctuary that easily?” he blurted, once he had recovered his voice.
Mr Bubbles raised an eyebrow in Loki’s direction.
“ I’ve learnt to tell when someone’s looking for trouble, and right now you seem like all you’re looking for is a kind word and a place to stay,” he said bluntly. “At this point, I expect you to settle in better than the others did.”
“Others?” Loki echoed.
“Ha, what is all this then, eh?” asked a booming voice, and a… creature… stomped into the room, regarding Loki with several pairs of eyes and a jovial smile. “Who’s this guy?”
“I am Loki of Asgard,” said Loki, too taken-aback to do more than stare. “And you are?”
“Jumba, mad scientist extraordinaire!” the being introduced himself, with a toothy grin. “Asgard, eh? Not part of the Galactic Federation, then.”
“Indeed I am not,” Loki confirmed warily.
Behind Jumba’s smile Loki could perceive a shrewd intelligence. The being regarded Loki for a moment, then shrugged.
“So. What brings you to Earth, Prince of Asgard?”
There was a sudden silence.
“Prince?” Mr Bubbles repeated, and Loki knew that it behoved him to speak very carefully.
“Well, it turns out that I’m not really a Prince of Asgard, so much as a stolen Prince of… somewhere else,” Loki said delicately, unable to bring himself to admit to his Jotun heritage aloud. “And I may have… failed to endear myself to both realms. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
Jumba gave a booming laugh, and slapped Loki on the shoulder.
“Ha! That sounds like a tale,” he chuckled.
“It is one I would rather not tell,” Loki said stiffly. The tension seemed to have broken, however, as the others had all relaxed.
Mr Bubbles appeared to be preparing to leave.
“I’ll stop by next week, as usual,” he told Nani. “Call me if anything happens that I should know about.”
“What are you going to do about Loki?” Nani asked, as Jumba engaged Loki in conversation. Loki only listened with half an ear, intent on hearing the exchange between Mr Bubbles and Nani.
“His arrival will be put on file, and his behaviour will be monitored,” Mr Bubbles replied. “As seems to be becoming standard procedure in this household.” He paused. “Good luck,” he added, and headed for the door.
Lilo, meanwhile, had sidled close, and pulled on Loki’s clothes. Loki looked down.
“Are you really a prince?” she demanded. Loki suppressed a sigh.
“So,” said Jumba conspiratorially, “maybe you can tell me, what’s Asgard’s policy on genetic engineering, eh?”
“It’s considered a forbidden art punishable by death,” Loki said flatly.
“Ah.” Jumba contemplated this. “Remind me never to go there, I think.”
“Come on!” Lilo was tugging on Loki’s clothes again. “Let me show you where you’ll be staying!”
As Loki allowed himself to be led away by the young girl, Stitch climbing the ceiling above them both, he realised that he was feeling a little better than he had when he’d landed in her garden.
He wondered what else was waiting in store for him.