The sullen looking figure in the green tunic scanned the scene before him with despair as the chill salty wind from the sea raised the locks of his dark hair from his shoulders. He watched as men and women wheeled carts of fish from the docks as those still on the boats secured them and disembarked as the sun began to set. Loki forlornly shook his head.
“How the mighty have fallen…” he mused aloud, softly and sadly.
He had once ruled over these people as their King, albeit in the guise of another. Yet even though the form he’d conjured then had not been his own, his actions had been. He was not wrong when he had told his brother that Asgard had prospered under his rule. It was a time of abundance, peace, revels...and of course theater. How he loved theater! There seemed to be but little time for such things in this new home, this “New Asgard” where those same people, the ones who had survived at least, now lived like mere mortals, eking out a simple existence.
The old world was long gone...the palace where he had grown up, the ocean clear as crystal, the mountains and forests where his mother had shown him so many secrets, the Bifrost...all of it was no more except in his memory. Did those things still exist in theirs? They didn’t act as if they did. But perhaps the only way they could go on was to forget. Forget that beauty, that power. Forget the other realms they no longer could access or defend. They were warriors and protectors no more. The biggest fight they faced now was grappling with the weight of nets full of fish.
Memories…..that was what was weighing Loki down at that moment. He had been drowning in them since the day only a short time ago that Thor had returned him to the people of Asgard after his reappearance and reunion with his brother. It was the only place that made any sense for him to go under the circumstances. Loki felt as if he had a boulder chained to his ankle and had been tossed into the sea.
It was not memories of Asgard alone, it was the avalanche of others that had assailed him like a flood once he’d found himself thrust into this timeline, a timeline where the man he knew as his future self had given his life in a vain attempt to save all that was left of what he had held dear. Memories that were his, but at the same time not “his.” Memories this Loki had not lived but were still his to grapple with now nonetheless. How that came to be he knew not, nor did anyone else for that matter. There was so much he didn’t understand. Along with those of his other self, his future self, he had as well those offered by his brother, Thor and Valkyrie. As he had put his palm to their foreheads, he absorbed the images of things he had not witnessed.
Thanos, his own death at his hand, literally, seen through his brother’s eyes, or eye as the case was at the time. He remembered it clearly, his essence leaving his broken body, a bright light, a feeling of warmth, and peace. For the first time in his existence, he’d felt what he had promised the people of Midgard years ago, peace in his heart. Time seemed to have no relevance . That was all he could recall of the experience. As if on the end of a bungee cord, he’d found himself being pulled back into this body, his body, but not his body. He somehow instinctively knew that the merging process was ongoing, that eventually he would not feel like two people inhabiting the same form, but for now, it was more than a bit overwhelming.
The strangest part was that he now had two sets of memories of one event...in one, he had been returned to Asgard by his brother to stand in chains before his father, thrown into the dungeons for what was to have been the remainder of his life. In the second, the bungling of “Earth’s mightiest heroes” had opened the door for his escape and he had of course wasted no time in taking full advantage of it. He was more than intelligent enough to understand the concept of branch timelines which explained the two disparate memories, yet it was still disorienting.
But one memory, not his own, stood out most. It had come from the memory cache of his brother, Thor. The image of his beloved mother, Frigga, being run through with a sword, tumbling limply to the floor, dead at the feet of Malekith and that other disgusting dark elf monstrosity. Memories of his own rage on top of the rage of his brother swirled in his head. His own was more than enough, He knew his mother’s death had been avenged, he had seen to that himself...or rather, the other him had done so. He had that satisfaction at least, but little solace did it provide him. She was dead and remained so, still far from him and unreachable in the realm of Valhalla. Had he been there with her? Had he been forced to separate from her once more? He could not remember as much as he wanted to. It was lost to him.
As all other Asgardians knew, they did not end at physical death, they existed beyond, but it was still a mysterious existence. Was it better? Even Asgardians didn’t know everything (and he feared they’d eventually know far less as they adapted to life here on Midgard, as the next generations came along that would never know the old world and its wonders.) He remembered the peace he had felt and hoped that it was that peaceful forever, for her sake, and for his own, for he knew someday, like all living things, he would return and it would be for eternity.
He turned from the scene before him and began to walk along the rows of whitewashed houses, his head bowed, deep in thought.
“Loki!” the familiar female voice originated from somewhere behind him. He stopped as he heard the sound of feet on the pavement. “Loki…” she said his name again. He did not turn nor answer but remained frozen in place. Valkyrie rushed the last remaining steps behind him and moved around him to face him.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”
“I can be a difficult man to find when I wish not to be found.” Valkyrie ignored the obvious hint that Loki wanted nothing more in that moment than to be left alone.
“Dinner’s being served soon in the hall. I’m sorry, it’s a bit later than usual. We wanted to wait until everyone was back.”
“Thank you. I’m not hungry.” Loki started forward again, expecting Valkyrie to make way but she remained where she stood, a look of concern etched on her face.
“Loki….Whatever happened, however it is you’re here, you’re not a ghost. You have to eat. You’ve barely eaten anything since you arrived and that was more than a week ago. You haven’t changed out of those clothes since you got here.”
“Midgardian clothing is not to my taste. I wouldn’t worry, if I begin to smell, no one will notice over the ever present stench of fish.” Of course, Loki had worn Midgardian clothing many times in the past, he quite liked some styles, but now, he couldn’t bring himself to do so. It felt like...surrender….abandonment. Someone had to remember who they were, who they had been, “I’m also well acquainted with my mortality. For lack of a better term, I lived it.”
“That’s not what I-” she paused for a moment, studying Loki’s face, the sadness, the pain in his eyes. She felt something she had not believed when she had first met him on Sakaar she could ever feel towards the man who had so callously forced her to relive the single most brutally painful moment of her life….pity. She placed her palm on his chest, “Everyone is happy to have you back with us. You as much as your brother are why we’re still alive today. If you hadn’t come…you truly are the savior of Asgard.”
“The savior of Asgard…” Loki repeated with a sneer, “What fate did I save them for exactly? This?” Loki gestured towards the houses, “So Asgard could cast aside their blades, their glory, and become simpleton fishermen? I released that demon to thrust his sword into the very heart of everything we held dear and reduce it all to atoms and ash!”
“There was no other way! You know that. If anyone is to blame, it’s Odin. He should have told you, told Thor about Hela, found another way to keep her imprisoned. He knew he’d die someday.”
“Odin should have told many people a great many things, perhaps no one more than myself. However, as much as it pains me to admit it, it wasn’t solely the failures of the Allfather. I led that maniac right to us. I’m no one’s savior. My father said once, everywhere I go there is war, ruin and death. He wasn’t wrong. I should leave this place, leave before I bring it all down on us all over again.” Loki said mournfully.
“You couldn’t have known what would happen. None of us could have. Heimdall himself only saw it in just enough time to get barely half of us into the escape pods! We all make mistakes. I’ve made more than enough of my own. The fact still remains, they’re here, they’re alive because when you had the choice, you made the right one! You could have stayed on Sakaar, you could have gone anywhere, left us to our fate, but you didn’t!” Valkyrie said, desperate to break through the darkness and despair that seemed to have overtaken him.
“Maybe they’d have been better off if I had!” Loki exclaimed.
“Loki, stop. Stop this! Please, come join us. Your people need you.” Valkyrie pleaded, her voice a mix of concern and frustration, Yes, she was the “King” of Asgard now, Thor having passed the title to her, Loki being dead at the time, but she knew her people still needed that connection to the old, to Odin, to all that went before and she was sure Loki needed it as well. Loki was silent for a moment.
“My people, ” Loki said with a soft laugh and a pained grin, “They’re not my people. They never were. I’ve always been a world apart.” Loki stepped around Valkyrie and continued on his way, “Another time, perhaps, when I too have finally been able to delude myself of reality and it no longer sours my appetite.” Valkyrie watched him go with a helpless expression.
Loki half heartedly pushed open the wooden door to his sparsely furnished bedroom in the last house of the row of two story houses. A palace it was not. Even his cell in the dungeons seemed higher class and luxurious in comparison. It was a constant reminder to him of all that had been lost. He had everything he needed...clothing, food, a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in, all the necessities of life, yet nothing he needed. But what did he need? He was sure he no longer knew. He had felt alone his whole life, but never quite this alone. It was a different sort of alone.
Loki didn’t bother to turn on the light. The sun was below the horizon, only a tinge of pink, orange, and purple in the distant sky. He walked in the darkness to the window and pushed aside the simple curtain and looked out and down at the sidewalk below. He watched as Asgardians, no longer wearing ornamented robes and gowns of rich fabric, but simple Midgardian clothing, women no longer even bothering with elaborate hairstyles, wearing their hair loose or in simple plaits, walked past on their way to the communal dining hall. Children rushed ahead of their parents, playing and skipping, calling out to friends. Two boys, brothers, playfully pushed each other off the sidewalk. A slight grin crossed Loki’s face but then faded into a blank stare, then sadness as he looked down and turned away from the window.
Hours later, sleep eluding him, Loki turned the pages of the book in his hand as he sat propped against pillows in his bed. He wore a blue cotton shirt over what Midgardians called “sweatpants.” He had to admit they were comfortable. Unable to focus on the contents of the book, he sighed and closed it, sitting it on the bedside table. Reaching over he turned off the small lamp and after adjusting the pillows, slid down in the bed, covering himself with the flannel blankets. He turned on his side and stared towards the window for a few moments, the streetlamps outside casting a faint orange glow onto the curtains, before finally closing his eyes, listening to the ticking of the old clock on the wall, willing it to lure him to slumber.
The faint light from outside was suddenly broken by a shadow stretching across the floor and over Loki. Sensing its presence, he slowly opened his eyes. A figure stood by the window. Anger rose in Loki at someone intruding in his living space and doing so to watch him at such an intimate and vulnerable time as during his sleep. He sat up quickly and conjured a dagger in each hand.
“Who the hell do you think you-” At the sound of his voice, the figure glided gracefully across the room, past the end of his bed and towards the door. Loki was able to make out what looked like the slight train of a gown...an Asgardian style. As the door opened, for a moment a light in the hallway illuminated the figure and caused the plaited and coiffed hair to glisten like golden threads. The figure turned and looked at Loki with a sad smile, then exited the room, closing the door behind. Loki sent his daggers back into the ether and threw aside the blanket.
“Mother?! Mother! Wait!” Loki rushed towards the door then stopped himself. No, this had to be a dream. He had finally managed to fall asleep despite all the thoughts weighing down his brain, maybe even because of them, and this was all just a dream he thought to himself. He turned back towards the empty bed.
“Loki…” he heard his mother’s voice call faintly from the bottom of the stairs.
Loki bolted to the door and threw it open, rushing out of his room and towards the stairs at the end of the hall. He looked down them only to catch a glimpse of the very end of the train of silvery blue. He rushed down the stairs just in time to catch sight of the front door of the house close. Dashing to it, Loki threw it back open.
As he stepped out onto the empty and silent street, the streetlamps aglow above him, he looked frantically to the left and right, finally spotting her across the street on the path heading down towards the sea. He could hear the waves rushing to the shore.
“Mother! Wait!” Loki cried as he crossed the street quickly to the path his mother had followed. Frigga was farther ahead than she should have been at the speed she’d appeared to have been walking. She stopped and turned her head to look over her shoulder at him, gesturing for him to follow.
When he finally caught up to her, she was standing on the shore in the moonlight staring out at the sea. He rushed up beside her, staring at her in amazement. She continued to look over the water in silence. Afraid if this was a dream, he’d break the spell and awaken, wanting to stretch this moment out as long as he possibly could, Loki kept his voice low.
Frigga finally spoke, her voice the same musical, gentle voice he remembered.
“Your father was right. It is beautiful here.” Loki stood perplexed, still in a state of shock. She turned towards him and smiled, a hint of tears in her eyes. Loki felt them welling up in his own.
“Mother….how….but you’re-” he couldn’t bring himself to say the word.
“As were you and here you stand. You keep using that word….‘mother.’ The last time we spoke, you denied I deserved that title.”
“I only meant that…” Loki paused, still staring at Frigga in disbelief,“I’m sorry….for all of it.” Loki’s voice choked slightly.
“It matters not. I did not come for an apology, though it is heartening to hear the great king finally admit his faults. But I haven’t much time.”
“Mother….please.. Stay here with me...or take me with you, I care not which!” Loki pleaded. Frigga looked at her son lovingly.
“My Loki, you’ve been through so much. You’ve grown through those trials. But there are still lessons you have yet to learn. I came bearing a gift. Protect her. Keep her safe. Everything depends on it.”
“Protect who….? I don’t understand….”
Frigga reached her hand out to touch Loki’s cheek but hesitated, rescinding her hand.
“I must go now. I love you, my son.”
Frigga turned and began to walk away from Loki along the shoreline. Loki stood confused as he watched her then began to follow after her. Again she seemed to cover more distance than seemed possible at the speed she appeared to walk.
“Wait! Please! Take me back with you! There’s nothing for me here!”
Frigga stopped and turned, smiling at Loki one last time, reaching her hands out towards him before fading into a mist of shimmering gold.
“No!” As Loki rushed towards the sparkling mist of energy, it rose into the sky, dispersing among the stars. He watched it dissipate, collapsing to his knees. With a desperate cry of heartache and frustration, he pounded the ground with a closed fist.
Finally raising his head, he looked towards the spot where he had last seen his beloved mother. He could make out a mass lying on the ground in the darkness. Cautiously and curiously he rose to his feet and made his way towards it. Reaching it, he looked down to see the form of a woman appearing to be around the same age as Thor’s Jane lying on her side. Her long, golden wavy hair was wet and partially obscured her face. Her skin was so fair it almost seemed to glow in the moonlight. She wore a loose, full length baby blue slip, like a nightgown, simple and unadorned which was soaked through as if she’d washed up from the sea. She appeared lifeless.
Loki knelt down beside the woman, looking her over with wonder, and gently placed a hand on her shoulder half expecting her to fade away like one of his illusions at his touch. He felt her shoulder slightly rise and heard her take a breath with a slight sighing sound as she began to shiver.
“Hello? Can you hear me?” Loki asked in a gentle voice.
The woman’s eyes fluttered open weakly. She looked at Loki for a moment, disoriented, before recognition along with bewilderment overtook her expression.
“Loki?” Her voice was weak, barely above a whisper, and shaky as her shivering worsened. She then slipped back into unconsciousness.
Loki was perplexed at her recognition of him when he could not recall ever seeing her in his life, either of them, though that could be explained by his exploits on Midgard years earlier. He had been worldwide news after all. Realizing the woman’s precarious state in the cold night of the Norwegian early spring, he lifted her from the shore in his arms and began to move quickly back towards the path.
“Loki...it’s really you.” the mysterious stranger said weakly, sleepily as she momentarily regained consciousness and snuggled closer to him, struggling for warmth as he carried her up the pathway.
“Yes,” he said ‘At least I think it is, though I’m not sure I can be sure of anything anymore’ he thought to himself. Loki looked down at the woman, his mother’s command echoing in his head, “You’re safe now.” His mother had said to protect her, but what was he supposed to protect her from? He did not know but he was sure he was going to find out, and probably sooner rather than later.