A Study In Blue
Welcome to my third Loki-related fic in a month. I have clearly been brain-jacked.
Now, Loki is a dramatic creature, as well as an entirely self-absorbed one, who recently responded to emotional trauma with a psychotic break, which he expressed in attempts of varying success at regicide, patricide, fratricide, and genocide, and rounded off with an attempted suicide that is, technically, still ongoing as we join him. As such, the beginning of this story is pretty much a solid block of angst. It develops from there.
Thanks to my beta, Sir Gawain, for reining him in.
(Reading note: The 'drowning game' mentioned below is an old Norse competition essentially like wrestling in deep water, in which the object was to hold the other guy under until he either surrendered or drowned. No, really. It was a thing. 'Drowning game' is more an accurate description of it than a historical name, for those to whom that matters. Enjoy the story.)
Loki had never expected it to be quick.
The abyss was darkness and emptiness, cold and endless and there was nothing to breathe. It would be a little like drowning, dying there. Once you had fallen.
But he had been one of the most stubborn children Asgard had ever seen, and even before Thor had begun to grow into a brawny hulk with so much advantage in the drowning game that Loki had given up on winning, they had proven that both of them could survive without breath, long after they thought themselves drowned. After Thor had grown into the stronger, Loki had learned to override his own death-fear enough to know that he could last hours in the water without air if he had to, without dying of it. (Could outlast Thor's patience with having so clearly won, but being unable to elicit a surrender, and could thus force the match to a technical draw, when Thor gave up. Loki might have less stamina and less strength, but his tenacity had not gone entirely unacknowledged as a virtue.)
Going without breath would take a very long time to kill him. Once, as a young prince staring over the edge of the world, he had comforted himself with this, that if he were to fall, there would be time to rescue him. Perhaps there would have been. Had anybody tried.
The cold of the abyss might have finished him faster than the breathlessness, he had once believed, as that boy at the edge of the world, but…but perhaps, being what he was, cold could not finish him at all. Only lock him in ice.
He had not expected his death to be quick, when he had fallen.
But it had been too long.
Loki wished, now, that he had closed his eyes, when he had let go the Allfather's spear. That he had been able to tear his gaze away from the bright jewel of Asgard, and not watched it beyond sight, until his eyes froze wide. For there were things in the darkness that he should not be able to see, and yet see them he could. Only him, perhaps, in all eternity, and some of them were things no one should ever have known, and it was not knowledge that strengthened or empowered or was of any use, but only that pried apart the joinings of the mind and curled inside like some great, cold, nameless reptile, and gnawed. Endlessly shredded the remains of him.
And if his eyes had been tight shut he would never have known.
And the darkness had slithered in through his eyes, and he could feel it singing back to itself from inside him. He wished his frozen hands would move enough that he could tear his breast apart, only to rip out the darkness, and realized the feeling was familiar. He had wanted to rip the flesh from his own bones once before. When bitter knowledge had sunken into him and seemed to make everything filthy and corrupted. Wanted to rip apart so many things, to tear worlds to their foundations if it might earn him the place he had always thought his right, or even if it wouldn't. But that had been hate, which had burned out with all the other fires, and he didn't seem to care one way or the other about his flesh anymore, he just wanted the outside…not to echo inside of him. To stop. To leave him be.
Death would suffice.
His thoughts came slowly now, through the numbness and ice. Especially when that which moved in the darkness strained and tore at the seams of him the most, and there was nothing left to do anything but be overcome. And he missed his old quickness, yes. But at least the slower the thoughts were, the more of endless time each one took up and kept occupied.
It could not be his magic keeping him alive, for he had felt it fight and flare to shield him from the horrors of the abyss until it flickered out, all his strength spent, and there had been no defense left. And still he had lived on, sailing between stars too far away to offer any warmth or comfort as they retreated before his eyes, in the grasp of nothingness.
Since he couldn't seem to die, it seemed he would be falling forever. Or perhaps he had died. Perhaps he had died and this was his reward; this was what he had chosen (where he had been castaside)and where he would be until the worlds were unmade. Falling forever through the cold and the darkness, almost welcoming even pain because it was not the dark, and because it consumed all his mind, and made it easier not to dwell on things lost that had never been his to love. Things that were always only Thor's. The blue and the lies and the falseness of gold and ivory.
Thor was there now, at home and happy, with everything in which he would allow Loki no share, in which Loki could have no share because he was Loki and they would never call him worthy and—how long had he been here in the dark? Had it been months or centuries? Perhaps by now Odin had stepped aside and Thor was king. And it shouldhavebeen his…
Loki wished he could recall the warmth of hate. He could faintly remember the fire of it, burning his heart up until it sat in his chest like an ember, and surely it would have thawed him. But he had lost even that, somewhere in the punishing dark. He was only cold.
Surely there had once been things besides darkness and cold.
Endlessly, Loki fell.
And then, very suddenly, he slapped up against something hard and flat, and warmer than he had touched in…long. Since before time had lost its meaning. A solid presence lay all against the back of him, and he did not think he was falling any longer.
If he forced all his concentration to his fingertips, he thought he could feel a slick surface, not quite smooth. Etched perhaps, or ridged. Like the surface of a leaf, or like engraved silver; or like the scales of some tremendous serpent. He thought he might be able to feel life humming in it. But surely that was only his mind playing new tricks. Or else it was in fact a monstrous serpent, and he would soon be devoured. If only he could be sure it would kill him.
Then, without warning, the surface against his back gave way, sending Loki again in the same direction he had been going before with a little more spin, and he had already resigned himself to going back to the fall, before he realized that he was very suddenly falling in a different direction, and then he had tipped stiffly face-first onto what might be a floor of some kind, and stopped moving. And…it was warm.
"Well, hello!" exclaimed a voice.
Loki wouldn't have believed in it, except that the unreal voices had never said anything so mundane, and this voice sounded like no one he had ever known. He stared at the rather gritty new surface before his eyes, and tried to get his frozen thoughts to move. There were sounds, he realized, real sounds now; whirring and humming like elderly engines, like the turbines that held up the floating tower on Asgard when they required mending. He could hear them, which meant there had to be air to carry them, and to carry the warmth that was suddenly all around him. Loki pulled between his slightly parted lips, and a thread of the stuff flowed down his throat, and took up residence in his frozen lungs.
It was agony.
He could not remember anything so worth feeling in an eternity and more.
A much louder, sharper whirring noise than the first burst over him then, even as he welcomed the new, hopeful pain, a sound as though the Destroyer's smaller cousin approached on quiet feet; and suddenly the distant pressure of the floor which held him was changing, there were vague points of contact at his shoulders and on one side, and he was being turned over where he lay, his wide eyes taking in flashes of amber light and high bronze arches. His heart lurched for a moment with the idea that he might somehow have fallen back to Asgard, although this bronzy…ceiling…was not the same at all, really.
And then his vision was filled with a broad, youthful face wearing a broad, stupid smile. "Hello!" it declaimed. "Just hold on a few minutes and we'll have you right as rain! Or righter, given you're not going to soak into the earth and disappear into the rest of the water cycle. At least I hope not. There," the creature added, and for punctuation shoved forward something that lit up with green and produced that threatening whirr, and Loki braced himself. It couldn't be worse than what he'd already been through, but there was an element of threat in magical weapons that nothing else had ever quite conveyed to him, especially as he lay here, helpless.
But evidently all the thing actually did was whirr, and after a moment Loki blinked in confusion.
The creature with the green rod made it stop whirring, pulled it aside, and grinned at him again. "There you go, thawing up nicely. Just hang on there, you're blue with cold."
Blue. Loki took advantage of the new freedom of his eyelids to lower them. It was a much safer darkness behind them than outside, one he had longed for, and the warmth of the light shone through enough to reassure him he was not lost; but suddenly he needed to hide, and this was the best he could do.
It seemed it was as he had half-supposed, and tried not to believe. The ice or the darkness or the burning away of his magic had revealed the monster hiding inside his skin. He was probably fortunate this mad creature didn't recognize such an undersized giant as being of the race. He should probably warn his host against touching him, before the man frost-burned the flesh off his own fingers with a careless grasp, and cast Loki out into the dark again for the injury.
His heart skipped a beat at the thought, and he realized he would accept almost any price to never return to the abyss. He would have taken the hand of Laufey himself in friendship, if it had been offered.
It wouldn't be, of course, Loki having killed the creature who'd sired him quite a bit more thoroughly than Thor, but now there was something around his shoulders—an arm—and the stupid-faced creature was forcing him to bend at the waist, and propping him into a seated position against the foot of the nearest wall. He sat still, since he remained unable to do anything else, and took in clearly for the first time the chamber in which he now reclined.
A vaulted one, in a metal more coppery, and more baroquely worked and asymmetrically formed, than was the wont of Asgard. Balls of light trapped behind glass studded the walls in some pattern he could not divine. The floor on which he found himself stretched openly for some little way, and the focus of the room seemed to lie off to the right, at the margin of his vision, on some sort of raised platform of the same overwrought metal girders.
The construct reminded him a little of the Bifrost control plinth in Heimdall's observatory, but even from here, only half-seen, it was clearly spiky and disorderly and altogether alien. Which was to be expected. He had fallen so far. It was astounding that he'd been salvaged by a creature as manlike as this one. (Unless of course that was some sort of illusion he had not the strength to sense or penetrate, to bring his guard down. He might have chosen death over any of the futures that had offered themselves an hour ago, and thought fondly of death trapped in the abyss, but he had no desire to be devoured now, when he might be saved.)
The creature's voice came at him again, from the left, and then it darted by and flashed across his vision in a blur of ugly brown fabric and stabbing elbows, giving him a brief, cheerful blow to the shoulder as it passed, and as it chattered:
"Believe it or not, you are not the first guest I've picked up straight out of the void of space, but I think you might have the survival term record all wrapped up. Asgardian, right?" it asked, without even stopping for breath. "Hardy breed; didn't know you were quite this good, though. Haven't been to Asgard in a while!" it added in a shout, as it scrambled away out of Loki's sight and, by the sound of it, up some sort of staircase. It reappeared at the very right periphery of his vision, up on the balcony-plinth thing, busy about some mysterious alien employment. "Nice…non-spherical…planetoid…thingy you've got there. Try to bend about a little, you should be able to by now. Just leave the legs, you'll tip over. Try with the neck," it recommended, before disappearing to the right again.
Feeling lightheaded, Loki slowly persuaded his neck bones to bend forward, until his chin lay against his collarbone and he looked down at his open hands, lying beside him. They were, very much to his surprise, his hands. He stared at them. It was a moment before he understood, and some moments more before he believed. His hands. Pale, and long, and not the ideal hands for an Aesir warrior, but Aesir hands nonetheless. Not blue at all, whatever the creature had said.
Before he had absorbed this, the thing circled back into the left half of its dais and chimed in brightly again: "Well, no harm done. I'll just pop you back to Asgard and you can get on with your life. You want to tell me when you fell, or are you one of those who likes to stay in sync with the time stream…?" The creature in the shabby brown coat slowed its words as it progressed through the sentence, as if losing interest in the question, in favor of whatever it was squinting at on its whirring platform.
"No," said Loki sharply, his voice cracking from his throat as he used it for the first time in an age, and the stranger's head snapped round to him, looking befuddled and interrogative at this rejection of generosity. "No, I…cannot return to Asgard." Not now.
The creature approached, at this, and leaned forward over the railing to its balcony, an almost solemn expression stealing over it for the first time, as it stared as if to peel him apart with its eyes. "Why not?" it asked. Suspiciously, Loki would call it, but not with that threatening, tense, naked suspicion that accused him so often. It was the slow, careful, mulling one that meant a proposal might be doubted but was still being considered, and Loki revised his opinion of the creature's intellect upward quite sharply.
He kept his face smooth, a little melancholy. It was so much easier to deceive strangers than Asgardians who had known him all his life. Perhaps that was why he had always enjoyed travel. He did not try to stop his abused voice from being little more than a cracked whisper. "There…is no place for me there."
The creature frowned, but not so much suspicious now. "Hang on," it said, and with that swung itself onto the staircase and hurried down, with a sound of boots on thin metal. Loki could turn his head to follow its progress, this time. "Hang on, hang on. Did you jump off that mad little space island?"
"No," Loki said instantly, vaguely aggrieved at the suggestion. Somehow he'd gotten his head raised again. "I was thrown," he corrected, and then stumbled over the words that were already out. Were they true? They were, weren't they? He remembered Thor throwing him. He remembered the Allfather letting him go. No, Loki. But he was not...he also remembered that he had chosen…perhaps they had thrown him and he had not saved himself, when he might have done? It was not that he minded telling whatever untruth would bring him the result he needed, but he preferred to know the difference, so he could avoid being caught out.
His host crossed the floor with quick strides, still frowning, and squatted a few yards away from Loki, with his hands laced over his knees. "Now that's a funny thing. Throwing people off planets. I might have to look into that."
The way he said it, as if he planned to give the Allfather a stern scolding, sent a shiver of vague presentiment up Loki's spine. He searched the creature's face. "Who are you?"
"Oh, I'm just a mad man with a box," said the creature offering him asylum, airily, and without producing or indicating any form of box at all. Which might be part of the self-diagnosed madness, of course. It cocked its head and leaned forward a little over its knees. "Who're you?"
The man was familiar with Asgard, even if he hadn't gone there whatever he considered recently. How long had Loki been falling? The man might recognize his name. He might know what Loki had done. Loki's eyes dropped, and he who had been so briefly king let his spine curve into the wall a little more firmly. "No one who matters," he murmured, keeping his gaze fixed in his lap.
"Now how about that," said the man, abruptly much closer. Then he was kneeling, and ducking to one side, trying to get a look at Loki's face. Loki met his eyes, a little defiantly, and the stupid-faced man with the knowing eyes smiled. "As I more or less said to what I recall was a grouchy sort of old blighter, a while ago: In nine hundred years, I don't believe I've ever met anyone who didn't matter."
Loki felt irritation be reborn in his breast like the gift of flame. "In nine hundred years," he retorted, with the dry bite he had usually used in arguments at court again on his tongue, "I have met very few who did."
To his further annoyance, the mad man with the box (which continued not to be in evidence), only grinned at him again. They were roughly the same age. Loki did not appreciate the feeling that he was being patronized. "Well, fancy that. Maybe you weren't looking hard enough." Loki glowered a little more, and the man shrugged a little and sat up straight. "Or maybe you've been living on a dreadfully dull little world, what do I know?"
Indignation on behalf of Asgard arose without a thought, and the words to defend it had already sprung into his mouth when Loki remembered that Asgard was not his to defend. For a moment he had…forgotten, how everything had changed. As when someone had died, and once the first shock of loss wore off you kept expecting to see them again even though you never would. Remembering was a little like losing them over again. And even when it was no one terribly precious, as it never had been to Loki, the sudden remembrance always felt…like falling.
Most unusually, he found he had nothing to say.
This did not seem to deter the madman. He beamed. "How'd you like to see one or two more interesting ones, then? I'm the Doctor, I'm like a sort of turbo tour guide…and that is much too true and I am never admitting it again. Forget I said that. I'm the Doctor and this is my ship. The TARDIS. Time and Relative Dimension in Space. Welcome aboard."
Loki breathed. The man was some sort of healer, which explained perhaps how much more well Loki felt so quickly, after so long in a living death. And he had welcomed him formally, which meant he was unlikely to throw him out, so long as Loki played his cards carefully. He brought his chin up to look at his mad rescuer, and tried unsuccessfully to remind his face how to smile. "Thank you."
The Doctor's grin widened. "You know, people don't actually say that much. Too busy rubbernecking around at the décor, or something. We'll see how long it takes you to start complaining about my driving." He leapt to his feet. "Right! Well, while you're here you'll need to know the rules." He began counting on his fingers, pacing toward the upright spiked article standing against the nearest opposite wall, and back again. "Rule one, don't die. Rule two, don't try to steal my ship. She won't let you, anyway. Rule three, I lie. Everyone keeps saying it's rule one but that's just because they're upset at not being warned. It's not nearly as important as not dying. And rule four…" He paused here, and looked Loki up and down where he sat tumbled at the base of the wall. "Hm, since you're Asgardian I'm going to make rule four this time that before we kill anything, we try talking to it first." He spun on his heel to look Loki over. "All right so far?"
Somehow, Loki's smile had resurrected itself of its own accord. With great concentration, he lifted his right hand from his side to hover a little higher than his knee, and extended one finger. "Rule one," he said deliberately, his voice a little rusted still, his smile holding. "If what you have on is the uniform of this vessel, I am wearing something else."
The Doctor straightened up in offense and plucked in a jerky, alien way at the stiff red ornament at the base of his throat. "What's wrong with my clothes?" he demanded. "They're cool. I like them. You look like you're going to a costume ball," he added sulkily.
Loki grinned. He'd gotten it right. The right kind of insult at the right time gave you just the right status in people's minds. He was in. With a fierce flare of will, he got his hand up to the level of his face, and held it out, in hopes of being helped to his feet, even if he couldn't yet stand on them. "I'm Ljótr," he announced. It was just close enough to his real name to be easy to respond to, but far enough not to have any whole syllables in common, or be taken for another form of the same name, and therefore get him recognized.
The Doctor smiled. He reached out, took the hand, and for some obscure alien reason—Loki vaguely recalled a Midgardian ritual greeting it resembled, but this man was no more from Midgard than Loki was from Svartalfheim—pumped it up and down a few times. "Right!" the madman said brightly. "Let's get you all sorted out, Ljótr the Frozen."
Around him the ship was humming with that same faint living energy he had felt when he first struck against it, and there was a light like hope in the madman's eye, and deep inside him Loki felt the first tiny spark of his magic flare back into trembling life, melting back the shrill song of the embedded darkness.
For the first time since he had held his father's eye while hanging from the ruins of the shattered Bifrost, or perhaps since Thor had burst in somehow still alive and spoiled all his plans, or since he had sent the Destroyer to Earth, or perhaps really since a Frost Giant had seized him by the wrist and he had taken no hurt, an eternity ago and three days before that…Loki thought that there might be some chance of his having a future worth living in.
Y'know, Asgardian and Gallifreyan clothes actually have a good bit in common. At least Loki doesn't have a ridiculous giant collar standing up behind his head, right? :D (In this continuity. Yet.) Ljótr is a real Old Norse name meaning 'foul' or 'ugly,' although it's pronounced the same as a root for 'bright, shining.' I'm sure Loki's broadcasting a lot more of his subconscious self-loathing issues there than he intends. I have no idea who would ever give their child such a name.
According to the Doctor's claims about his own age and the timestamps given in Thor, both Loki and the Doctor are somewhere between nine hundred and a thousand years old. (This taking place during some Pond-less interlude in the general realm of series six; earlier rather than later as he racks up over a century in that span.) Of course, this doesn't change that the Doctor is old and Loki is hardly more than a youth, both by life-experience and by temperament. Given the Doctor acknowledges human old people as 'old,' I'm pretty sure he wouldn't blink at considering Loki young, even if they are technically around the same age. Which amuses me unduly.
Congratulations to the Doctor on a companion already so screwed up, you can hardly help but make him better, and will have a hard time causing him trauma! Also one who can actually fight. Has there been one of those since Leela? I don't see Loki staying with him very long, as these things go, just a few of those randomized TARDIS-directed trips, and then the Doctor would start helping him sort out his life once he had a bit more sanity back and patched up his moral compass a tad. They may also have to meddle and make sure the Avengers form on schedule without Loki's invasion, so as not to damage history.
Loki, of course, having so many regrets and no respect for rules or boundaries, will try to mess with his own timeline once he comes to realize he's in a time machine, and the Doctor will have to stop him.
Edited 12/01/12: At original posting I said I didn't intend to write the sequel to this, but now I have an outline. It's shaping up to be very much an Avengers crossover. Since this one-shot's getting a surprising number of hits, if I get enough expressions of interest, I may go to the trouble of writing it properly. Feedback on that and on anything about this one-shot, very much appreciated!