There will be no realm, no crevice, no barren moon where he cannot find you. You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet—
Loki jerks awake with a gasp, and the darkness freezes him in place with a jolt of panic. He is falling—no, he is trapped, no escape, they are coming for him—
He flings out a hand in reflex and the room flares to light in the green glow of his magic. For a moment he cannot comprehend it at all because it isn’t a cell and it isn’t his room on Asgard and it isn’t…isn’t…
It’s just his room in Maverick Dorm, small but adequate, and he doesn’t know why it seemed so unfamiliar. Nothing is out of place, and he can feel his wards, solid and undamaged. Nothing is wrong—nothing except his damned mind, anyway, with these dreams that he can never remember past waking except for the dread they leave behind. And it has been thus for…he does not know. Perhaps not as long as he has been at Avengers Academy, or perhaps for much longer, perhaps for as long as he can remember, and the fact that he does not know engenders almost as much unease as the dreams themselves. It is hard even to say whether the dreams are always about the same things, given that he can remember almost no details. He is only certain now that the dreams (fire, ice, chains, his own face twisted with age and malice, and most of all falling in an endless void) have plagued him for a long time, that they vary in intensity, and that his sleep has been particularly haunted these past few days, ever since Fury sent Peter Quill off to search the wreck of the Cosmic Conservatory for Thanos.
Loki has never met the Titan. He knows this. But somehow, the name alone feels like—like ice water sliding down his spine, and he shivers, unable to stop himself. As much as he hates this unreasoning fear, the fact that he does not know why he is afraid is worse.
With an abrupt movement, Loki tosses back the covers and stands up. Familiar as the room is, suddenly he wants to be anywhere else—or rather, outside, not in a room that even slightly resembles a cell. Before he can overthink it, he snatches a dark green robe to ward off the chill and leaves the room, heading downstairs for the building’s outer door.
The night air isn’t actually cold, even on his slippered feet, but it’s fresh, enough to clear his head a little. He steps out onto the building’s patio—and stops short, realizing he’s not alone. Gamora and Nebula occupy two of the chairs near the lawn, both of them cleaning their weapons and speaking quietly to each other, and at the moment Loki is hard pressed to think of anyone he would like less to see just now. He starts to edge away, but they both catch the movement and turn to look at him.
Loki lifts his chin, prepared to return mockery with some of his own, but Gamora’s voice is studiedly neutral when she says, “Can’t sleep?”
“Perhaps I simply wanted to enjoy the quiet,” Loki says. They are both dressed in nightclothes as well, he realizes—both in t-shirts, Nebula in long pants and Gamora in bright pink shorts with a skull print—but they look entirely alert, as if they’ve been awake for some time. “Not that there is much chance of that now.”
“So you’re not running away from bad dreams?” Nebula asks, her voice definitely something other than neutral. Loki bristles, ready to deny it, and then flinches when she continues, “Like, maybe, dreams about Thanos? Nightmares that feel like something more than normal dreams?”
Loki opens his mouth to deny it; instead he hears himself snap “What of it?” in a tone that is nowhere near as aloof as he would like.
Gamora shrugs. “Probably nothing. Except we were too, especially the last few days. Especially with—” She tilts her head toward the various trophies littering the lawn, including the battered Chitauri skiff that Drax brought back with no explanation yesterday. Loki doesn’t flinch again, but it’s a near thing, and once more he does not know why. He is certain—nearly certain—he has had no dealings with the Chitauri aside from the mostly useless handful of soldiers that tried to invade the campus a few months ago, and he is definitely certain it is not that memory that disturbs him now.
“So you are sharpening your weapons,” he says.
Gamora casts a critical eye over her sword and begins rubbing the cleaning rag at an almost invisible spot. “What else? I like to prepare.”
Loki’s fingers want to twitch in a nervous gesture, so he hides them behind his back. “I thought—the Titan was supposed to be dead. I thought you all dealt with him, months ago.” He can hear the plaintive note entering his voice, and he hates it, and he can’t make it stop.
“He’s a little hard to kill,” Gamora says without looking up.
“A little,” Nebula says. “Like Pym’s a little eccentric, and Romanoff is a little paranoid, and Loki here has a little problem with bending the truth—”
“So you knew all along he survived?” Loki demands. Why is he asking? Why does it matter?
Gamora shrugs again. “It was a safe bet. Fury wasn’t surprised either.”
“Fury would sooner carve out his remaining eye than admit to being surprised about something,” Nebula says.
Loki crosses his arms. “And, what, the two of you dream about—” (why doesn’t he want to say Thanos’s name?) “—him because you have some kind of connection?” Another shrug from Gamora. “Then why should—I have never even met him.”
“You haven’t met him in this universe,” Gamora says. “But sometimes…shadows bleed through.” She considers. “That’s a good line. I should write that down.”
“You sound like Barnes,” Loki says, mostly to distract himself. “I shudder to think what would happen if the two of you decided to write songs together.”
“Thank you, that’s a great idea,” Gamora says, and smirks at Nebula’s pained expression, which Loki is fairly sure his face is mirroring. She sobers and says, “I won’t pretend to understand most of what Pym says about parallel universes, but if we’re an offshoot of another universe, or…some kind of patchwork of a lot of different worlds…these dreams probably mean something. Like memories from other lives.”
“We know Thanos,” Nebula says, and again, Loki barely keeps himself from flinching. “But somewhere else, we knew him better. Worse. Maybe you did too.”
“I take it yours was not a mutually beneficial relationship,” Loki says, feeling cold.
Gamora and Nebula exchange a glance, and Gamora says in a curiously toneless voice, “You could say that.”
I think he hurt me too, Loki does not say, because that way lies something he does not want to confront (falling, an endless void, blue light). He musters up an arrogant smile. “Perhaps he and I were allies instead. Birds of a feather, and all that.”
“He doesn’t have allies, dumbass,” Nebula says. “Just pawns and servants. Even I know that.”
“No,” Gamora says, before Loki can come up with a retort or at least express his disdain at the way Nebula has picked up the humans’ slang terms. “No, you weren’t. I don’t think you were like us, but you weren’t allies, not really, or you wouldn’t be having these dreams.”
Loki forces a laugh that sounds far less unconcerned than he intends. “This is all rather academic, isn’t it? There is little reason to believe he is even capable of traveling here.”
Nebula lets out a particularly unladylike snort. “I know we haven’t been here quite as long as you have, but even I’ve noticed this place attracts all the big villains. Sooner or later, he’ll come too.”
“That almost sounds like a threat,” Loki says lightly, but behind his back, his hands involuntarily curl into fists, and why is he so damn cold?
Nebula looks distinctly unimpressed. “Why would I waste time threatening you?”
“Not a threat,” Gamora says, examining her sword again. She glances up, pinning him in place with her gaze. “Just a fact. Maybe a warning, for anybody who’s smart enough to take it. But here’s another fact: when Thanos comes, we’ll be ready for him.”
"Well, that is enormously comforting," Loki says, his tone deliberately sardonic to hide the fact that it is...not entirely a lie. "I will leave you to your preparations, then." He goes back inside, perhaps a little too quickly, because he does not want them to guess at anything he is thinking. But when he returns to bed, he goes back to sleep without too much trouble, and he does not dream again that night.