It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  They were never even meant to make it to Jötunheimr.  They were never meant to face Laufey.  And they certainly weren’t meant to start a war.  Something had gone terribly, horribly wrong, and whatever it was, there was no way back from it.  Heimdall should have stopped them at the Bifröst.  The guard should have alerted Odin.  Odin should have screamed and shouted, and Thor should have screamed and shouted back before the Bifröst was ever even opened.  Odin should have been angry, but not like this.  This was never the plan.  This had gone too far, and there was no way back.  They were hurled from the observatory, stripped of their power and titles, and left to fend for themselves on a strange realm with no help from anyone.  They fell together, both screaming in pain and rage and fear, and that was all they would ever know again.

Thor hit the ground first, only seconds before Loki landed near him.  Loki stayed on the ground, where it was safe, watching blearily and confused as Thor jumped to his feet.  Whatever it was Thor wanted to jump up and fight, neither expected it to be some enormous machine crashing into him and throwing back to the ground.  Loki tried to get up then, but when three people emerged from the noisy, boxy vehicle, he changed his mind.  He stayed low, watching as they threw blame over who had caused what to happen to whom, while Thor lay on the ground at their feet.  Not wanting to be seen, Loki tried to draw a cloak over himself to hide in the shadows, but that magic was no longer available to him.  Odin had taken everything, and in that moment, Loki understood that they had been well and truly abandoned to their fate.  Rather than jump up and make an easy target of himself, Loki stayed down on the ground, hidden as well as he could hope, and waited for the right moment to make himself known.

He watched as the strangers argued amongst themselves as Thor grumbled and growled and hauled himself back to his feet.  He wasn’t dead.  That was good, at least.  Still, Loki stayed right where he was, in the shadows beyond the vehicle’s blindingly bright lights.  He tried to figure out where they were, but the terrain gave him nothing, and the vehicle gave him even less.  It looked like any number of boxy transport trucks found across the galaxy, and the sky like any other night time sky.  Had he more time, he could have studied the constellations above and worked it out, but he had bigger problems to worry about.  Problems like raving about his hammer and making demands of the terrified locals.  Predictably, he pushed too far, and Loki was not at all surprised when one of them finally drew a weapon.  But when the weapon laid Thor flat out on the ground once again, Loki could no longer stay silent.  He quickly jumped to his feet and rushed over to where Thor lay motionless in the dirt.

“Is he dead?” he asked, crouching down beside Thor’s body.

“Jesus Christ!” one of the women shouted, as the three of them all jumped in fright.

The woman who had shot Thor spun round and pointed her weapon at Loki.  It was small and unassuming, but Loki had seen how easily it had defeated Thor.  Wanting no part of that, Loki slowly stood and held his hands up, showing them empty.

“I ask again.  Did you kill my brother?” he asked.

He wasn’t sure what he would do if they had.  Without his magic, or a weapon of his own, he was outnumbered and overpowered.  Out in what quite literally seemed to be the middle of nowhere, he had nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.

“Aw, fuck,” the younger of the two women said, backing away.  She looked over at her companions, but none of them seemed to have any help to offer. 

“I—no.  I don’t think so,” she said finally.  “What the hell are you doing out here?”

Loki looked down at Thor again, and then up at the sky and its wholly unfamiliar stars.  Odin could have sent them anywhere, and he chose some cold, lifeless rock.

“I don’t know,” he said slowly.

It was a dangerous admission, and there dangerous places for even Asgardians to find themselves.  But these people knew more about the present situation than Loki did, and any lie he might have been able to come up with would surely be poked full of holes within minutes.  He needed information, and only then could he figure out what to do.

“Where are we?” he asked.

He knew he was repeating Thor’s question, but he hadn’t actually heard an answer he understood.

“New Mexico?  How wasted are you guys?” the younger of the two women asked.

The older woman swatted her on the arm.  “Darcy!” she said quietly.

“What?” Darcy asked.  “You took us out here to look at a Pink Floyd Laser Light Show, and then you ran over Shaggy and Scooby.  Look at them.  They’re clearly on something!”

“Darcy!” the other scolded again.

There was a third in their company; an older man at least twice the women’s age.  He’d said little through the entire thing, and stood off to the side, frowning down at Thor.

“This is your brother?” he asked, looking up at Loki.

Loki looked back down at Thor, and realised then that he had been stripped of not only his power, but his armour as well.  He lay there wearing a woollen tunic and leather breeches, exposed and unprotected from even the most basic threats.  It was then Loki realised he was also without his armour, and as the full weight of reality bore down upon him, he realised just how cold the air around him was.  Everything had happened so quickly, and he was so slow to catch up, Loki wondered what else he had missed in the chaos and confusion.

“He is,” he said finally, wondering if he should have not said anything at all.

Not even Jötunheimr had felt as cold as this place did.  But on Jötunheimr, Loki had been quite literally a different man.  He had not only lost his magic and his armour, but everything that made him Asgardian.  Odin had stripped him of godhood, made him mortal, and cast him out as though he were nothing. 

“Okay, come on,” the man said, reaching toward Loki.  “I think we need to get you both to a hospital.”

Loki stepped away, momentarily avoiding capture, though to what ends he still didn’t know.  Thor was still on the ground, and they were still in the middle of some freezing desert that only seemed to grow colder by the minute.  The two of them looked at one another, neither saying anything as an uneasy tension fell over the group.  Once more, the man reached out, this time not touching Loki, but trying to bully him in the direction of the truck.  Shifting his gaze back to Thor, Loki let himself be bullied, wary of what might happen should they both be rendered immobile.

“Okay,” the man said, opening the door at the back of the truck.  “You’re freezing.  Get in.”

Loki looked to him again, weighing his options and finding them grim.  He was already outnumbered, and if they all had weapons, very easily overpowered.  Figuring it might be easier to find out where he was if he obeyed, he nodded and stepped into the truck.  If they took him somewhere populated, he might be able to figure out a way back to Asgard.  He thought he might come back out in the daylight to retrieve Thor, but that problem was solved for him when the other three all worked together to haul him into the back of the truck with Loki.  He was laid out on the floor by Loki’s feet, still unconscious from whatever the weapon had done to him, and watching him sprawl almost lifelessly on the floor made Loki’s stomach do an uneasy flip.

This was not how things were supposed to go.  The coronation was supposed to be derailed and delayed, and that was it.

Instead, this.  Whatever this was.

“Uh,” Darcy said, looking into the truck from the back doors.  “Can I sit up front?”

The man, perhaps the women’s father, looked down at her, and then at Loki and nodded.

“Yeah, I’ll sit in the back,” he said, before climbing in and sitting in the seat across from Loki.

Soon everyone had loaded into the truck and fell into silence.  The only sound filling the air was from the truck’s rumbling engine as they left the area.  Loki looked down at his hands in the dark, thinking that his skin looked blue even then.  But it was the dim light.  He knew that much, because nobody had shrieked and cried monster at the sight of him.  For a moment, he thought that he had been mistaken while on Jötunheimr; that it was only the light there as well, or some trick played by a crafty frost giant.

But Loki had seen the look on the monster’s face, just as confused and perplexed as he had been. 

He shoved all of it away, forcing himself to focus on the situation at hand.  Whatever he had seen on Jötunheimr was another problem for another time.  He listened as the small group began to nervously talk, but said nothing himself.  The man was called Erik, he learned.  That, at least, was familiar.  The older woman was called Jane, and that was not familiar at all.  One more puzzle to work out.

These people were nervous and frightened, worried about something called cops.  Loki did understand the word ‘prison’ though, which gave him a good idea of what cops were.  Someone had committed a crime, though whether it was he or they, he had no idea.

He wondered why the Alltongue was failing to deliver the nuance it usually did when he travelled to other worlds.  That Odin had let him keep that at all was but a small saving grace, and he dared not question it too far.

“So, uh,” Erik said eventually, turning his attention away from his companions, and toward Loki.  “Your brother.  He said his name was Thor?”

Loki wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement, so he answered only with a shrug.

“And what do we call you?” Erik asked.

Loki shook his head and looked away.  Names held power, and these people had too much power over him already.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

“Okay,” Erik said, nodding slowly.  “What were you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“We were abandoned here,” Loki said.

He knew he should not have said anything at all, but it was true.  They had been abandoned and forgotten, and he saw little harm in admitting it.  And then Erik leaned closer, glancing up ahead before locking eyes with Loki.

“Who abandoned you?” he asked quietly.

Loki shook his head.  “It doesn’t matter,” he said again.

He could still feel the chill of the realm, and that was wrong.  He wrapped his arms around his chest, fighting against his body trying to shiver and warm itself.  His tunic was wool, but it was thin and did little to keep him warm.  It wasn’t meant for warmth, but to keep leather and armour from chafing and blistering his skin.  Loki had felt cold before, but never quite like this.  It felt as if it was seeping into his bones and through his pores, as if to slowly freeze him from the inside out.  And yet, the locals seemed barely to notice it.

“Hey, Jane.  Turn the heater up, would you?” Erik asked.

“This is as high as it goes.  It doesn’t really work very well,” Jane said from the front.  “Sorry.  We’ll get there soon, I promise.”

Erik sighed and took off his coat, but Loki refused it when he handed it over.  He hated not only that he was so obviously cold, but that the chill was mild enough that the locals could shed their coats without concern.  It was a horrible, humiliating weakness, and Loki couldn’t bear to admit it.  But Erik didn’t give him much of a choice.  He sat forward and put the coat over Loki’s shoulders as though we were a child.  Resigned, Loki accepted it.  He was too cold to resist it, and he didn’t want to risk a fight if he offended the man.

They never left the desert, coming instead to a small village.  Loki had hoped for a city a citadel, but Odin clearly had not been that kind.  The hospital seemed to be the single biggest point within the village, and once inside, Loki was overwhelmed by the smell of sickness and disinfectant.  But it was warm inside, so he choked back on his distaste and tried to be grateful.  He could only watch nervously as Thor was taken away.  Any attempt to follow after him was blocked by the healers who ran the place, and even Loki knew not to cross healers trying to do their job.  Instead, he found a seat along the wall and sat while Jane and Erik gave the woman behind the desk all the information she asked for.

“He said his name was Thor?” Jane said, unsure.

Erik leaned in closer to the woman.

“We haven’t been able to get much out of the other one,” he said, nodding in Loki’s direction.  He spoke quietly, but not quietly enough.  “He says they were abandoned out there.”

The woman nodded.  “I’ll send a nurse to take a look at him.”

Erik turned toward Loki, meeting him in the eye before returning his attention to the woman again.  This time when he spoke, he did so in hushed tones that didn’t carry far enough for Loki to hear.  They were talking about him, he knew.  But what they were saying, he had no idea.

Finally, Erik nodded and stepped away from the desk.  He wandered off down the hall a ways, before returning with a folded blue blanket.

“I’ll trade you,” he said, offering the blanket to Loki.

Loki had forgotten he’d been wearing the man’s coat.  He nodded and took it off to trade for the blanket, forgetting all about pride as he wrapped himself up in it.  It was thin, and the fabric scratchy where it rubbed against his neck, but Loki was still cold enough to ignore it.

“Try to stay out of trouble,” Erik said, before leaving with the women.

Loki nodded, staying where he was as he watched them leave.  He was almost sad to see them go.  They owed him nothing, but they had become familiar, and someone Loki thought he might be able to trust.  With them gone, he was alone and without anyone to guide him.  He watched the quiet motion around the hospital, as healers in robes of blue and green and pink rushed about their jobs.  After a few minutes, a man in blue came over and sat down beside Loki.  He held something small in his hand, and a board in the other, and had a few devices hanging over the back of his neck.  Loki trusted none of them.

“How you doing?” the man asked easily.

He may have been a healer, but that didn’t mean Loki had to trust him.  He studied the man for a moment, before nodding just once.

“Fine,” he said stiffly.

“I was told you were out wandering in the desert tonight,” the man said.  He held up the device in his hand.  “Can I get your temperature, to make sure you didn’t get too cold out there?”

Loki eyed the device with heightened suspicion. 

“I’d prefer if you didn’t,” he said.

He could just about tolerate pity, but he would not be poked and prodded at.  Not when his single fault was that he was a bit cold.

“I’d feel a lot better if you let me,” the man said.

Loki tried to muster every ounce of intimidation he had within him, but it was difficult when he could still feel himself shivering.

“Do not,” he said.

“All right,” the man said, putting the device away into a pocket.  He wrote something down on his board.  “You guys been drinking tonight?  Taking anything?”

Loki frowned, not entirely understanding the question.  “No,” he said.

The man nodded again and kept writing.  “Okay.  You think you can at least tell me your name?” he asked.

“No,” Loki repeated.  “We’re done.”

“Okay,” the man said, tapping the board against his knee.  “You just let anyone know if you need something.  Or feel like you’re about to fall over.”

He got up and took the board to the woman at the desk.  They spoke quietly with one another, but Loki ignored them.  He tried to get comfortable in the hard chair, knowing he was being watched.  He was beginning to feel tired, but he didn’t dare sleep where he was.  Not where so many could spy on him and molest him.  When it became clear that whatever Odin had done to him had left him with no limits at all to push, Loki quietly got up and searched for a place he might be left alone.  He didn’t want to sleep at all, but he knew that eventually he wouldn’t have a choice.  But the hospital was a place of healing, and he knew he’d find beds somewhere.  When he found an empty, dark room, he slipped inside and laid down on the bed, using the blanket Erik had given him to cover himself up.  He expected someone to follow after him, and tried to remain alert against it, but he fell asleep almost instantly.

He went the entire night without being bothered, and it wasn’t until shouting rang out in the corridor outside that he woke up.  For a moment, Loki forgot about the horrors of the previous day, until he saw he was still in some strange, sterile room.  Then the shouting outside grew louder, and soon he recognised Thor’s enraged grunts and growls amongst them as objects began crashing to the floor.  Still clutching onto the blanket, Loki leapt from the bed and rushed out to follow him, staying well behind Thor as he led a trail of destruction through the corridor and outside.  Once on the hard ground outside, Loki recognised the realm at once.

Blue sky.  Single yellow sun.

Odin had banished them to Midgard.  Groaning at the bad luck of it, Loki started to chase after Thor.

“Thor!” he shouted, catching up to him.

Thor turned around, glaring at Loki as though somehow he was to blame for everything.  In his distraction, a familiar truck backed into him, knocking him to the ground.  Unable to believe what he’d just seen, Loki covered his face and tried not to laugh as three familiar mortals scrambled out and surrounded Thor.

“I swear I’m not doing this on purpose!” Jane shouted.

Loki looked up at the sky, offended at its ability to be so bright, and yet the air so cold at the same time.

“Do it a few more times.  It might knock some sense into him,” he said, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders.

The mortals all jumped and looked up at him.  When he saw the distrustful look on Erik’s face, Loki point to Thor, where he lay groaning on the ground.

“He’s the one who caused all the trouble,” Loki said.  “I was in bed.”

Somehow, that seemed to work, and attention was turned back to Thor.

“Loki,” Thor growled as he struggled to get back up.

“I’m right here, trying not to get left behind while you lay waste to Midgard,” Loki said, kicking him in the shoulder.

Thor groaned again, but Loki didn’t care.  He kicked Thor once more for good measure.

“Midgar?” Darcy asked, looking up at him.  “Are we playing Final Fantasy?”

Erik clearly heard something else.  He looked at Thor, and then at Loki, wearing a hard mask of suspicion.

“Get up.  You’re causing a scene,” Loki said, pulling his blanket closer around his shoulders.  “What the hel are you wearing?”

Thor did not get up.  “Do not kick me again,” he said, trying to sound far more menacing than he currently appeared.

Loki kicked him again.  “Get up,” he said through his teeth.

Still growling and grumbling, Thor hauled himself to his feet, but Loki dodged out of the way before Thor could take a swing.

“Good.  You’re up,” Loki said.

The mortals watched the whole thing from a short distance away, confused and frightened.  Figuring they should at least show some gratitude, Loki nodded to them.

“And thank you for your help,” he said.  “We’ll be on our way now.”

He grabbed Thor by the arm and started to pull him away, looking around the area to be sure they weren’t still being followed. It was only a matter of time someone tracked them down, and Loki wanted to be gone before that happened.

“Wait!” Jane shouted suddenly.  She cast a strange look to Erik before following after Thor and Loki.  “Wait.  Uh.  Come with us.  Please.”

“Jane,” Erik said, a harsh warning on the edge of his voice.

Jane ignored him and stepped closer to Thor and Loki. 

“Some of this is kinda my fault, and well.”  She shrugged, and looked back to her truck.  “I have some questions I’d really like to ask you.  If you don’t mind.”

Loki did mind, and tried again to pull Thor along before this could go on any further.

“And he is kinda half naked,” Jane said.

Loki looked over at Thor, and what he was wearing.  He had been dressed in some strange robe that barely covered him.  Looking around, Loki could see other mortals starting at them from a distance, and realised they would not get far on their own.  Not in their present condition, at least.

He knew the realm was Midgard, but Midgard was an ever-changing realm, never the same twice.  He didn’t know how much time had passed for the mortals since his last visit to the realm, or how much they might have advanced since.  And without their power, the mortals would not treat them as the gods they were.

These people, Loki at least knew they could trust.  And trust was in short supply.

“I think that may be best, actually,” he decided, giving Thor a tug back toward Jane’s truck.  “Come on, brother.”

Thor continued to glower and glare, but he let himself be led back to the others.  Together, they climbed into the truck, which seemed much more cramped in the light of day.  The girl, Darcy, was there as well, sitting backwards against the front seats with her weapon drawn and ready.

“Keep your hands to yourselves,” she warned.

Loki sat against one of the side walls, doing a better job at appearing harmless than Thor did.

“Of course,” he said, tugging his blanket a little tighter around his shoulders.

Thor didn’t respond, so Loki elbowed him hard in the side.  They needed these people whether Thor cared or not.

“As you wish,” Thor said, glaring straight ahead.

It did little to reassure Darcy, but they had nothing else to offer her in this matter.