Hello all. I hope this fic makes sense, because it reaches into the insanity genre, which, to my knowledge, is not that well-known in this fandom. Oh well. Phrases in italics are meant to be Loki's thoughts. Single italicized words are just emphasized words. Enjoy!

They burn.

Loki shuts his eyes and summons to his mind the deepest darkness he can ever imagine, and still they shine. Four - no, three- candles, that have not yet gone out. There was another, but it has flickered and died. They are (or rather, they stand for - it is so confusing now) Reality, Time, and Truth. The one he no longer sees is -was- Love. Loki does not know why they stand for these things. They just are, and even he has given up trying to understand. That does not mean he enjoys their presence. They appeared in the beginning, just after darkness settled over his brother's fading footfalls. When he could still believe that escape was possible, still feel the wind on his face, still remember the warmth of an embrace.

But that is gone.

Only the candles are to keep the shadows at bay, and he is almost certain the Asgardians did not place them here. They are, perhaps, illusions of his own subconscious mind, holding back the darkness until his spider-web sanity shatters. But Loki does not believe that. What he believes - that is truly difficult to say, even for himself. For belief is an Abyss, and he has fallen into enough of those already. He can even close his eyes and imagine himself being lost again in a dazzling darkness. Or he could, if it were not for the candles. Always the candles.

Their presence bothered him once, but some secret faction of his mind realizes that they represent everything he has left. So, sometimes, he sits and watches the still, tall flames melting away the shadows. And the shadows are never drained away, but never do they overwhelm the lights, either. Although, for an unknown reason, Truth stings his eyes and mind. But he does not let himself think about that, and the hours (and days and months) slip by.

Until he notices the crack in the wall.

It wanders darkly across the cold stones, breaking and changing, distorting reality. Somehow, it seems a sign of weakness. Why should there be a cracked wall in a dungeon deep below Asgard, deep and strong beyond thought and memory? And the question gnaws at him, tearing down away hold on the things that are, until, too late, Reality flickers. It fades faint, then grows high and clear for a moment, illuminating his long, pale fingers tangled in the crack. Then its light is gone. And he can no longer see the splintering stone.

Loki shivers in a corner that is somehow closer and darker than it was before. He wonders why everything around him seems to be slipping and tilting. Strange visions swim before his eyes: nightmares that have never been; the fears he always kept locked away. Thor is lying in a pool of crimson now, and the red is not his cloak. Loki cries out, tries to reach him - but his once-brother dissolves into the cold stone. Brother... But there is no time to think, for the next moment, a deep shadow of his own failed sorcery gathers in the opposite corner. It grows taller, darker, stronger-

Loki fixes all his attention on Truth.

Light floods his senses, and the illusions fade. But the light hurts, and now he is confronted by the things he has done - the nightmares come true. And the pain is stronger, deeper, and he almost drowns in it. The souls of his slain seem to rise from the twilight and accuse him. And he cannot negate anything. Truth burns. Deny me, deny me...

He turns his gaze away from the two candles, not even looking at Time. And then he sees it. Mounted on the wall, defying reason, history, and rationality, is a clock. Worn hands spin faster and faster, hiding its cracking face from his vision. He gazes, hypnotized, as their speed increases and they fly away, cracking from the clock. And now it is clear to read: the numbered face counts to thirteen. Only in a non-Reality can this happen. Loki is somehow terrified and he turns to Time, hoping to dispel the illusion. But it is too late.

Time is gone.

He feels, quite distinctly, all knowledge of its passing fade away. There are no seconds, no minutes, no hours. There are only now his own heartbeats, speeding and slowing like a watercourse. But it is all he has. Each beat is loud in the still darkness, and each may stand for centuries, millennia, aeons. Or simply a moment. He has no way to tell. And Truth burns. The flame is his whole world now, and oh how it hurts him. He looks away, shuts his eyes, is tormented with phantoms. For nothing in the darkness is as painful as the light. He weaves shadows around him, trying to hide from Truth. For he is of the darkness, and it does not under the light.

At last, ages and instants later, he looks up. And the candle longer there. Or rather, it is still there - it cannot not be - but he can no longer see it. Loki has denied the Truth, and it has denied him. He is alone. And cold. So cold.

Alone, and beyond time, memory, thought, laughter, love, reality, light-


It shines across his face, and into the shadows, soaking the age-old stones in hard-edged reality. The door that he has forgotten is opened, and the torchlight is very bright against his eyes. Loki blinks, trying to understand the hole in the luminescence, the darkness that - is a person. Someone tall, and broad-shouldered, cast in shadow by the flickering torches. A fine halo of gold surrounds the shadow of his head, and when his face turns, Loki catches the gaze of piercing cerulean eyes. Thor. His once-brother has come for him, after all that Loki has done, and somehow, it hurts a part of him that Thor should submerge himself in darkness for him. For Loki, the trickster, the chaos-bringer, the double-faced, the half-blood. The traitor...


There is nothing but concern in Thor's eyes, and nothing angry in his face as he steps toward the trickster. Loki tries to speak, but for a moment, his tarnished-silver voice has no authority to shatter the silence. Love's candle breaks into the darkness, sputtering and flickering back to life. His voice returns, and Loki begins to ask, but Thor cuts off the almost-panicked question.

"Loki, come. Your sentence is past. Come back to us."

The simple words pierce straight to his bruised heart, and Loki has no negation. And when his brother steps into the cell, wrapping strong arms around him, no denial can come. The trickster freezes for a moment, then embraces his brother back. No words are spoken, for none are needed. It is enough, for Loki, that Thor has come for him. That Thor still lives, and that he is real. There is no longer a shadow of un-Reality.

As the brothers leave the dungeon, Loki chances a backward glance into the shadows. But it is not dark, for four candles are burning there, shining gently and softly into the deepest darkness.

A/N This is my first Avengers fic! Yay! Please tell me what you thought - I hope Loki wasn't OOC. :( This is set post-Avengers, just to clear things up. :)

RandomCelt, the non-owner