You spun through space, wrapped in Loki's arms. He seemed happier than usual, softer somehow, as the stars whizzed by. A small, icy planet loomed close, and Loki's smile faltered when you noticed and recognized the great, dark canyon along the equator.
This was Jotunheim.
Loki shook his head, and held you tighter: He did not want to go there, but there was where you were going, pulled along by the sparkling blue light that transported you safely throughout the universe. You realized by now that you didn't really have any control over your movement; it seemed to you that the light itself was in charge.
It placed you down on the rough snow near the great canyon, and you couldn't really help but to look over the edge.
The ice cliffs plunged down miles and miles, a dark line of open water at the bottom, appearing no wider than a hair at that depth. The sheer height made you dizzy; in fact, just standing up made you dizzy. Your vision began to spin, and you wobbled. The next instant, you were in Loki's arms.
He pulled you away from the edge of the canyon, wrapping you urgently in his cloak and holding you close to the radiating warmth of his body. The legendary cold of the frozen realm hadn't touched you, however. The blue glow still surrounded you, seeming to keep the frigid danger at bay.
Loki stared around you, head whipping this way and that, still dragging you away from the canyon. He froze in place, lips pulling back in a wide-eyed grimace-and then he disappeared.
You gasped, but felt a hand cover your mouth. You could still feel Loki's cloak around you, his warm body pressed close to yours, you just couldn't see him. When it occurred to you to look, you found that you couldn't see yourself either. Loki had rendered you both invisible.
Moments later, a procession of giants appeared out of the blowing, snowy fog, solemn and silent. There were many of them, ranging from children to the elderly, showing several blue skin tones, and either black or white hair. Men and women were not that different in appearance; both wore kilts, loincloths, or briefs, with bared chests, and intricate braids. Children and the elderly wore mantles or long tunics, and all were barefoot. Most were decked in ornamentation, strings of beads made of dyed ice, pendants of claws and teeth, leather fringe, carved bone, shining fish scales, shells, and even pearls. Some were layered on so thickly that they might as well have been shirts
Leading the procession was a wizened old giant in a cloak and hood, leaning on a staff of bone, and surrounded by what you assumed were body guards of some kind. They weren't armed that you could see, but carried drums instead. They were huge, even bigger than the other giants, who towered over you: Their heads were mostly shaved, a few retaining a knotted side lock, and many had bits of metal-the only you had seen-embedded into their skin like studs on armor.
They began pounding out a slow rhythm as they approached the head of the canyon, and the old giant begin to sing in a thin voice. The giants all waited silently until the song had faded away on the wind, then, one by one, filed down a stairway that had been chiseled into the canyon way. You hadn't even noticed it, so cleverly it had been carved. Down they went in a long line, the drummers keeping their steady pace.
“What's happening?” You whispered. You were getting the distinct and uncomfortable feeling that you were not meant to witness this.
“I have no idea.” He whispered back, barely audible. “Please be silent, my darling.”
You clammed up. Did he hate the giants so much that he didn't know anything about them? Or was this something new? Giants began climbing back up the stairs, their arms laden with lichens and fungus, eye-catchingly bright colors in the overall surroundings of blue, white, and gray.
As the giants carted these treasures away, you noticed that many of them were crying, tears like crystals on their cheeks. The drummers and elderly giant followed them back the way they had come. Now that you were looking, you could just barely make out the shape of ruined buildings in the fog.
“Is that normal?” You asked, after they were long gone. You had a terrible headache, and still felt dizzy, but also terribly curious. “They have a mushroom farm down there?”
“It must be a midden.” Loki guessed. “Flora is nearly nonexistent here, but if they were cultivating it on their own waste...”
“I'm gonna check it out.” You declared, extricating yourself from his cloak and arms, and heading toward the cliffs. Loki hounded your footsteps, keeping a hand on your shoulder.
“Wait, wait, wait, _____! You cannot climb down there, it's much too dangerous! And you're still...”
“Still what?” You demanded. “What is it? Something's wrong, I know it. Why does my head hurt so much?”
“Whatever, you can tell me later. For now, I wanna learn as much as I can about this place. I know you'll never bring me back here, so I might never get the chance!”
You rushed to the edge of the canyon, peering over again. The sheer height made you woozy, or maybe it was whatever was wrong with your head. Maybe this was a bad idea.
But you would never get another opportunity, not while Loki clearly still hated everything about the place. For some reason, his aversion pushed you to know more. Someone had to know something about these people. They had children, and music, and fashion. They sang and cried.
You clambered precariously down the steps, Loki worriedly following. The stairs were still made of ice, and you slipped once. The sound that caught in Loki's throat grabbed your heart and drew out your pity. You reached your had out to him.
“Help me down.” You said. “Come with me. You said you wouldn't let me fall.”
He took you hand, hoisting you up into his arms, then carried you down the stairs. Part of the way down there were platforms and niches carved into the cliffs, caves that would be small by giant standards, but that the two of you fitted into comfortably. Inside, more niches were carved, huge basins of ice, overflowing with colorful growth. You climbed up the side of one, to prod a large mushroom.
It smelled terrible, but the mushrooms were strangely beautiful, overflowing their basins. If the giants really were using waste and refuse to farm food, you couldn't help but feel like that was terribly clever. Not only did they get rid of waste, but they also got food out of it.
But why all the ceremony? Why the crying? Perhaps flora was very sacred?
“Loki, this is pretty smart.” You said, glancing over your shoulder at him. “It's a great way to recycle...Loki?”
He was pale, almost as blue as the ice walls, and staring at a carving on the side of the basin. You slid back down to the floor.
“What does it say?” You asked. Frost Giant writing was very different from the runes you'd seen.
“Geirrod.” He said hoarsely. “We need to leave. Right now.”
His nervousness curled its way inside you, drawing you close to his side.
“What's wrong Loki?”
“This is more than a farm.” He said. “This is a tomb. They are eating what grows on the corpses of the dead.”
“Okay, I'm ready to go.” You said swiftly. He scooped you back up, and ascended the stairs.
What measures had to be taken, to survive in this harsh land? What extremes had to be gone to? The thought of farming on your own relatives bodies was horrifying, almost akin to cannibalism...to you. But you didn't live here. You didn't know this culture, you didn't know what they had to do to survive.
You were still going to steer clear of mushrooms for a little while.
Your head was pounding by the time he got you back to the surface, the dizziness overcoming you.
“Please.” You gasped. “Please set me down. I need to lie down.”
Very, very carefully, he set you down in the snow, cocooned in his cloak, and propped you up against a chunk of ice. He sat down next to you, huddling close. His breath didn't fog like yours did.
“Loki, do you know what's wrong with me?” Was your speech slurring now?
“Will you tell me?”
“When you wake up.” He said. “You just have to promise you will.”
He looked so worried. You nodded, another wave of dizziness washing over you.
“Go to sleep now.” He suggested. You closed your eyes against the twilight of Jotunheim and drifted away.
Loki lifted his head from your belly, yawning wide. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, discreetly arranged the blankets to hide the drool stain he had left, and took your hand once again.
His hair was damp, probably from melted snow. He had been there, on the Frozen Realm, and you had been there with him. How? How were the two of you being transported like that? How could you be there in a dream, and yet also physically?
Well, partially physically. You had been suffering under your injuries, yet unaware of them. At least he knew now, that your mind had not been damaged. You still showed the potent, explosive combination of fire and curiosity; so very human, and so very you.
Bjarkhild opened the door.
“Out, your Highness. We must change her dressings and bedding. You should go get something to eat.”
He left without arguing; it was pointless with Bjarkhild anyway. She had been doing this long before Loki had been born, and would continue.
He arranged for breakfast, then hunted down his brother.
“Ah, is she awake?” Thor asked upon seeing him.
“No, not yet.” Loki said. “Not for a few more days at least. But she will wake up. She has promised me.”
Thor raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Instead, he handed Loki a sheaf of papers. Loki tucked it under his arm. He'd do his work at your bedside.
“How did you know?” He asked. “I didn't even know.”
“You knew.” Thor scoffed. “You are a very good liar, Loki, even to yourself. You've doted on her almost since the beginning. You were instantly attached. And you also made up every possible excuse, every other thing that it could be. Meanwhile, it grew and grew, and now you can't imagine being without her, can you?”
“Is that how it happened for you?
“No.” Thor shook his head. “No, I fell hard and fast as well, but I was fully aware of what was happening. At first I thought it was because I had been stripped of my power by father's curse. If I had been reduced to practically a mortal, then of course I would find comfort with, and attraction to mortals. But that wasn't the case at all. Jane stands all on her own merit. So too do Banner, and Natasha, and Stark, and so, so many others.
You and I were taught so many wrong things. Humanity may still be primitive in many ways, but they are so much greater than we were lead to believe. You and I both know that now.”
“_____ is not primitive!” Loki protested. “She just doesn't know everything that we do yet.” Thor pointed at him.
“Precisely! And you'll find that there are easily millions of humans who are worthy of our time, just like her.”
“There is no one like her.” Loki insisted, drawing a smile from his brother.
You drifted dreamily, wrapped in cotton and velvet, dusted with perfume, lulled by a smooth, familiar voice whose words you couldn't quite make out.
Oh, it was Loki. Of course it was. For someone who was described as being so chaotic and unpredictable, he was remarkably steadfast. You kind of admired that. You expected him to be impulsive and impetuous, but the thought that you could count on him was such an unexpected bonus. You supposed that was part of the whole 'unpredictable' shtick.
Certainly, it made any of his good qualities come as pleasant surprises. You were rapidly coming to the conclusion that 'chaotic' didn't necessarily mean 'evil' or 'uncaring'.
You floated along on the back of his voice. The cadence suggested poetry. You knew you weren't quite awake, and not quite asleep either, not fully aware. But the more awake you became, the more clear it was that something was wrong.
Waking up was a struggle, as if something was trying to keep you asleep. Even as your consciousness surfaced, the feeling of being wrapped in gauze did not fade. The scent of sweet perfume lingered, the sound of Loki's voice sharpened, and a terrible pain consolidated in your head, but you still could not seem to fully wake.
Why couldn't you open your eyes? You could feel Loki's hand around yours, but you couldn't really move, couldn't open your eyes.
He must have noticed that your breathing changed, or the minute squeezing of his fingers, because you heard him stand, felt his presence hover of you, his breath on your cheek.
“____, are you awake?” He whispered. “Can you hear me? Are you there?”
You groaned, the sound coming out weak and thin.
He began almost babbling in Asgardian. You groaned again, struggling to move.
“No! No, you must stay still. Don't move, _____, I'll be right back. I must tell Bjarkhild that you are awake. Stay still, fleiri halfr minn hjarta, I will return with all speed.”
His fingers slipped away from yours as you still fought to open your eyes. Had he just pressed a kiss to your knuckles?
What had happened to you? You couldn't remember. You were somewhat aware that you must have been hurt somehow, but you just couldn't dredge up the memory. And now Loki was acting tender again, so it must have been bad.
He returned very shortly, and you could hear others with him.
“_____, his Highness tells me you have awakened.” Bjarkhild said. “Are you still awake? Can you speak?”
You tried, but all that came out was a stifled whine. Your head hurt so much; a throbbing ache worse than any headache you'd ever had. Even your teeth hurt.
“_____, if you are responding to me, try to make a sound again.” She said, and you did. The sound was no stronger this time; it hurt to do, and it felt as if your jaw was tied shut.
“And again.” She commanded. You complied. “Good, very good. In case you do not know, you recently suffered an injury to your head. You are in the healing wing, and we have you hooked up to a few machines that are gently speeding your recovery, but you will still need to stay for a while longer. I am going to remove some of your bandages now, but I must stress the importance of not moving your head around.”
So that was what was going on. You'd been hurt. Again. This was getting to be a bad habit.
Bjarkhild's hands were refreshingly cool, helping you to wake up further. However, the sharpening of your consciousness also sharpened the pain in your head, and you couldn't help but to try to move your hand, to push hers away.
You didn't make it: Loki snatched your hand up in his as soon as he noticed you trying to move it.
“Just hold still, my dear.” He encouraged. “Bjarkhild knows her craft. She was second only to Eir, may Valhalla embrace her.”
“Your praise is appreciated, your Highness.” Bjarkhild said. You felt the warmth and tightness of bandages loosening from around your jaw, your face, your ears and eyes. No wonder everything had felt so stiff and tight. Your whole head must have been wrapped up, like a mummy.
Soft gauze was removed from your cheeks, and you heard Loki gasp, ever so quietly. That didn't sound like a good sign. What had happened to your face to get that reaction? Was there something they weren't telling you?
You whined again.
As if sensing that he had worried you, Loki stroked the back of your hand with his thumb.
“You have extensive bruising on your face. It looks very uncomfortable, and I hope it is not too unbearable. It will heal though, it's just bruises.” He sounded a little like he was trying to convince himself.
You breathed out a little sigh. That explained the swollen eyes and lips.
“I am going to increase the power on one of these machines.” Bjarkhild said. “It will not speed the healing of your bones, but will hopefully take care of your more superficial hurts.”
Hopefully? Your first time seeing the prototype Soul Forge, you had been informed that there was only a single human record in the system, which you assumed had to be the king's ex. Now there were two human records, but that wasn't really enough for a full healing algorithm, was it? You were still physiologically different from Asgardians, and their medicine didn't have much experience with humans.
Maybe you could take a little pride in the advances you were providing to Asgardian medical science, with how often you were finding yourself injured.
By the time Bjarkhild was done and had left, you were almost ready to go back to sleep. The discomfort in your body and downright pain in your head kept you on the edge of wakefulness though, and Loki...well, Loki hovered.
He was very attentive, but he kept asking you questions that you couldn't answer. Were you comfortable? Did it hurt? Were you thirsty? Were you too hot? Too cold? Did you want to sleep?
The best communication you could come up with between you was hand squeezing; one for yes, two for no.
It did hurt. He apologized very sincerely, and promised that it would never happen again, but you couldn't ask him how he planned to make that come about. You weren't thirsty, or hungry for that matter, but you chalked it up to the machines you were hooked up to. You were a little hot as well, but you thought the machines must be responsible for that also. After Bjarkhild had adjusted them, you'd begun to feel a slight buzz, both on your skin and in your mind. It was starting to overcome the pain with it's soft warmth. You did want to go to sleep.
As the pain and discomfort receded, your hand relaxed in his. When Loki asked you if you were still awake, you couldn't squeeze an answer.