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And None Who Go Can Come Back Again

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Loki had never thought much about what he expected after death. It had never been something to interest or worry him. Now he thought it must be something like this. Like endless dark, like tumbling through the vast empty nothing between worlds.

If you’d known this was what waited for you, some part of him murmured, would you have been so quick to leap for it?

But what else was left?

Asgard was lost. (Asgard had never been his to have.) Asgard was as much a lie as he was a lie.

No, no reaching for that bright star.

Only the dark, and the falling. Forever.

He’d wanted to make an end, and this was what he was given. How suitably funny. One last jape at his expense. The whole world laughing at Loki Laufeyson.

He dreamed as he fell. Or maybe they were visions.

He saw the world burning, a ship of dead men’s fingernails rising from the water with himself at the helm. He saw a wolf with jaws wide enough to devour the sun. He saw Thor dancing with his mortal girl, the sun bright on them both. Saw himself tied to a rock with the slippery ropes of entrails and screaming as poison dripped on his face. He dreamed of Frigga (my mother not my mother) holding a small child with dark hair and bright bright eyes, mouthing mine. You’re mine.

He dreamed the birth of a star and its death billions of years later. He saw the whole world rise and set and rise again, wheeling in a circle, always the same, ever the same. A thousand lifetimes in one moment and never once was he left with anything. Every time he saw himself fall.

He dreamed the dark around him alive with voices. Singing, screaming, crying.

He dreamed himself and Thor standing together facing the rising sun, the boom of Thor’s laugh and the warmth of his voice, brother, and thought he felt tears on his face.

If he even had a face, or a body. If he’d ever been anything other than part of the darkness, of the void. If he’d ever had a self, a name, a form.

He dreamed that Thor mourned his death, and hated that dream for a lie. There’s nothing for you there. There’s nothing for you anywhere.

He hit ground just as he was forgetting that he was falling.

Slammed into it like a meteorite and simply lay there gasping in the crater of his fall, and concluded that he still lived because (he hoped) death did not hurt this much.

They came for him before he was able to move. Before he was sure that he would be able to move again. Hovered around him with misshapen faces and muttered in their guttural tongue that he didn’t have the energy to translate while he snarled at them to stay away, don’t touch me, do you know who I am-

Of course, it was the last, out of his mouth before he thought about it, that silenced him.

Who I am. That was the whole problem, wasn’t it?

(In the end, none of what he said mattered anyway. They came to their own decision, regarding him with cool curiosity, and none of his anger kept them from touching him.)

If asked, Loki would have called himself familiar with pain. He was not his- he was not Thor but he’d had his share of battles, and even before the Bifrost sparred enough with his brother and been hammered quite literally into the ground often enough to have more than a passing familiarity with the feeling of broken bone, split skin and torn muscle.

This was something else. This was slow, deliberate dismantling, pulling him apart (like an insect) and flaying him down to nothing and none of his words, none of all his pleading and promises and persuasion seemed to touch them at all.

He screamed his hatred and his pain and why why why what do you want from me-

They never answered. They looked at him with cold dead eyes that told him nothing and he offered them everything he could think of, spun lie after lie after lie and never once a flicker of interest to seize hold of, no flicker of pity when he gave in to begging, no spark of desire when he offered them their heart’s wish if they would only stop, please, only a moment-

He tried to hold onto something other than the pain. Onto rage or bitterness or any of the emotions that had filled his skin to bursting in that moment before letting go and falling. Tried to cling to anything that told him he had once been something other than what they were carving him into. Other than a broken thing pleading for its life.

Gasping, he met their eyes and said, snarled, “Just kill me, bastards, just end this.”

That got no response either.

It came to an end eventually. Lying a ruin, unable to move and barely to breathe, little more than a quivering heap of flesh, staring up at the black emptiness closing in on his vision. He almost wished he’d never stopped falling.

Save me, brother. Thor had always-

No. That isn’t yours to reach for. Not anymore. Remember. You have to remember.

His captors left him alone in something like a cell and Loki gave in to the desire to curl into himself and sob like a child, bitterly, until he was almost retching with it. So this is what you come to. Pathetic. Wretched. Weak. They were right to cast you out.

He closed his eyes more tightly and briefly entertained visions of that moment before he’d fallen, of a glimmer of understanding in Odin’s eyes, but they broke apart and shattered in moments. No, Loki. You failed. You will always fail. That is what you are; that is what you are worth.

Someone came and opened his cage eventually, stepped inside. He snarled at them and cringed away at the same time. “Come,” said a voice, slightly sibilant and thickly accented. “You have been unjustly treated. We will make recompense.”

Loki dragged himself to his feet (able to do that much by now), fought to pull himself together. Forced his expression to blankness. The urge to kill to destroy (as they destroyed you) burned hot in him for a moment, but he pushed it down. Bide your time. Wait. The figure offered him a robe and Loki wrapped himself in it like it was armor. Held his head high for all his body still hurt. You are untouchable.

His lone escort left him alone to wash in a rocky alcove; sparse and uncomfortable but not intolerable. He spent nearly an hour meticulously removing every trace of them until his skin felt raw and too tight. Then he found a place to sit and waited.

Eventually his escort came back and walked him silently out and up what looked like stairs hovering in space. “It has been an age and more since one of your kind came to us,” it said, standing on a platform at the top of the stairs like half a shattered asteroid. “We have a…proposition that we hope may be mutually beneficial.”

Asgard, was Loki’s first thought, and he wondered, briefly, if he would lead an army against his once (never really) home. He smiled thinly, the one that had always made the Warriors Three nervous. Thor said it made him look like a wild animal. It fit his face too well, now.

“Perhaps.” He tilted his head back and half closed his eyes. “And if your offer does not please me?”

The creature shrugged. Loki could not read its expression. “That would be…a pity. But I am sure we might find an alternate position for you.”

Loki could almost hear his ears fill with the sound of his own screaming. Something in him gibbered, terrified. He tensed. “I see.”

You tortured me. Do you think I will not make you pay for that? I can wait a hundred years. A thousand years. But you will all-

“Thanos,” said the thing, after a moment. “Will speak to you now.”

“And where is,” Loki started to say,and then registered what he was standing behind was not just a lump of rock but a throne, and on it-

-and looking at him, and Loki wanted to tremble. “Are you listening, Loki Silvertongue?” said its voice voice, seeming to reverberate in and out of his head and Loki wanted to scream get out, get out you have no right but-

--did not.

He brought his head up and set his jaw. “Yes,” he said. “I am listening.”

“You offered us the Earth,” said the thing - Thanos. “What do you know of it?”

Loki could still feel the echo of pain through his body. The casual way they’d torn him apart. It would not be so easy now, if they decided to try again, but.

But there was nowhere else in the universe to go. He could only choose what leash to wear until he found a way to break it. (He would find a way to break it. He had to.) “What do you want to know?” He asked, carefully, struggling to keep his voice bored but respectful, even. Calm.

“You offered it to us in your pain. Did you offer what you do not have?”

Loki swallowed hard, tentative strings weaving themselves in his mind. Perhaps…perhaps. “I offer what I might have,” he said, carefully, locking his knees. “Given the means.”

“There is something there that we want,” said Thanos, after a moment, and that. Want.

That, Loki could work with. That, he could – desperately, he thought, I’m not done yet. I’m not dead yet.

After all, in the end, hadn’t he always stood alone?