Disclaimer: All original characters and such belong to Marvel.
Summary: Loki slips his chains and returns to Earth tired, hungry, and cold. He finds comfort in a very unexpected place.
Pairings: None for the moment
Rating: K+ for over-cautiousness
Author's Note: For Starkreactor, who wanted to see a cuddly Loki story.
The chaos of his escape still ringing in his ears, Loki crouched behind a row of bushes at the edge of the open space where he'd landed, taking a careful survey of the area. Beyond the bushes seemed to be a farm of sorts, indicated by neat white fences that seemed to stretch to the horizon. He hadn't planned much beyond slipping his bonds and using a piece of technology he'd stolen from the Chitauri to return to Midgard. He didn't intend on making a second attempt of conquering the planet – he no longer had the resources and now Asgard would be watching for any sign of him – and now simply sought a place to hide. Asgardian prisons were less than pleasant, and he shivered to think what any remaining Chitauri might do to him if they ever found him. Now, a quiet farm rising out of the darkness was a beacon of hope the way the museum in Germany had been a beacon of power.
Exhausted, sore, cold, and starving, Loki crept from the bushes to a stand of trees along a path that ran parallel to one of the fences. The darkness could not completely hide him and the tattered remains of his armor and cape, but his powers had been drained from him while he was locked away in Asgard. They might return in time, but he also might never get them back. At least for now, he was nearly as vulnerable as any mortal and had to plan accordingly. No dogs accosted him as he moved along the path, but Loki found himself holding his breath at times, just in case. He resented the feeling of weakness he found himself saddled with, but he had to acknowledge the vulnerability. He felt frightened, a rare sensation, and while it irritated him it was also perfectly justified. Without his usual powers, even the weak Midgardians posed a serious threat.
A wooden structure came into view as he neared the top of a small hill and rounded a bend. It was long and rectangular and didn't appear to have any sort of security. He paused, but then a breeze rattled down through the leaves and cut through what was left of his clothing. He pulled the remains of his cape around him tightly and hurried up to the doors, tugging one open and slipping inside. He closed it behind him as quietly as he could, trying to force his eyes to adjust to the darkness more quickly.
However, it was first his nose that told him what he stood inside. The aroma of hay and grain and soft air rolled over him like a silent wave. Horses.
Before he could move beyond this train of thought, there was suddenly an arm around his neck and a metallic object jammed in his back. "Any sudden moves," a low voice growled. "And I will snap your neck. You understand me?"
Loki froze in place, only his hands rising in a slow surrendering gesture.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?"
The truth was out of the question. "Please…" he started. "I…I'm just a lost traveler, in need of food and shelter. I did not mean any disrespect or harm."
"Where are you from, the Middle Ages? Nobody talks like that."
The Asgardian sighed. "I am sorry." Though his skin trembled at the thought of returning to the outdoors, he knew it was better than risking the now-dangerous wrath of a mortal. "I will leave."
The arm left his neck and spun him around. He kept his hands up as his eyes adjusted and he realized he was now facing a young Midgardian woman. Her dark hair was divided and secured in two section on either side of her head and her dark eyes glinted dangerously in what little light filtered through the barn from a lantern hidden somewhere.
"Well," the girl said, her voice starting to soften as she looked him over. "You do look pretty rough." She narrowed her eyes at him, and when he involuntarily stepped back, she smiled. "Okay, I think I can handle you. You're not the first person to get lost all the way out here with nothing. Come on." She stepped around him, still holding the metal hoofpick she'd jammed into his back. She indicated that he should follow her. "Sorry about the welcome, but I can't be too careful with the mares here. I'm Anna, by the way."
Loki glanced into the box stalls on either side of the aisle as they walked along. A small glowing orb hung on the wall above them, lightly illuminating the horses inside. Most slept peacefully, but as they came to a stop in front of an empty stall, Loki noticed that the mare in the adjacent stall was nervous, fidgeting and tossing her head. Her unease was quiet but noticeable.
"And you are?" Anna asked as she darted into the stall with a an armful of horse blankets.
"Ah…" Loki paused, wondering if he should call himself Tony or Bruce or something more Midgardian. But what finally came out was, "Loki."
"Weird name. Kinda cool though." Anna dusted her hands on her pants and gestured at the stall. "Sorry I can't offer you something better, but this is a small farm and I've got the only cot. I kinda need it for night watch."
Loki's eyes still focused on the nervous mare in the next stall. "Is she all right?"
"She will be, when she finally has her foal." Anna reached over the half door to caress the mare's face. "We've been waiting for her to go into labor for weeks. Maybe by morning there'll be a new little one to look after, and mama can rest easy."
"I know her pain," Loki found himself muttering before he could think about it.
Anna quirked an eyebrow at him. "I seriously doubt it, but okay." She stepped back from the stall. "Let me go get you something to eat and leave a note for the owners that you're staying here. They can probably help you find work or at least a place to stay tomorrow."
Loki watched the girl go. Despite the bone-deep weariness that told him he should lie down and rest, he stood watching the restless mare. Gingerly, he held his hand out over the half door as the stable girl had done. The mare ignored it at first, lost in her own world of discomfort, but then suddenly pushed her nose into his palm. The god was as surprised as the horse seemed to be. They stood silently for several moments, the mare finally letting out a long shaky breath and pinning her ears in discomfort, one of her back legs darting at her belly.
"It will be all right," Loki said, his voice low and gentle as he unlatched the stall door.
Anna returned later than she'd meant to, having had to dig around in the refrigerator and the cupboards for something that wasn't expired or stale. A grocery run was long overdue, but in the middle of foaling season they made do as they could in the midst of chaos.
Stepping into the barn, she was surprised to no longer hear the restless pacing of the mare in foal. She held the plate carefully in her hands as she approached the stall, wondering if the man had taken off and hoping that she had made the right decision in letting him stay.
The stall door was open when she approached it, and for a heart-wrenching moment a hundred worst-case scenarios ran through her mind. But then her eyes adjusted and she found something entirely different.
The mare lay against the far wall of the stall, a small dark foal and Loki tucked against her side. Loki rested against her side with one arm protectively around the colt.
Anna smiled and placed the plate on a rack nearby, retrieving the horse blankets from the empty stall. She carefully tucked them around the new horse and his protector and crept away to let the trio sleep.