Earth-200004: October 2016
As it turned out, getting Loki talking during class was harder than Peter anticipated. Not because of the teachers, no; it was hard because he’d forgotten to factor in the variable of an excited, curious Ned Leeds.
But eventually, between political science and gym came the usually boringly but now blissfully Ned-free class of math. Peter slid into his chair and let his head thump down onto the desk before him, letting out a strangled groan. The lump beneath his shirt shifted; he still wasn’t used to that.
Was he supposed to be used to that?
Peter could feel every twitch of Loki’s scales, the beat of his serpentine heart, even the air displacement from his flicking tongue against his enhanced skin, and it was thoroughly unnerving. And distracting—which didn’t mix well with trying to take notes and answer Ned’s questions.
“Okay,” Peter muttered, sitting up. Loki adjusted to his new position and Peter shivered. “Let’s get to this, then. What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to sssave the universsse,” Loki replied instantly.
“Is this a new occupation or…”
Loki hissed, but stopped when Peter grinned.
“I have sssaved Asgard a debatable total of three timesss. A non-debatable total of one. No, thisss is not a ‘new occupation.’”
Peter raised his hands slightly in surrender, keeping an eye on his teacher as she stepped up to the board. “I was just messing with you, don’t get your tail in a knot.”
“Hm. Might we return to the sssubject at hand?”
Peter nodded. “Okay, yeah. What are you here to save the world from?”
The serpent shifted, and if Peter didn’t know better he would have thought the god had shivered. “An alien—a phsssychotic Titan named Thanosss. He had begun hisss conquessst to acquire all six Infinity Stonesss when I left my time-stream and ended up here.”
“So…” Peter frowned, tapping his pencil on the notebook in front of him. “He was too powerful to even try to fight?”
A huff—how the snake even managed to huff was beyond Peter, but the sound puffed against his shirt. “Apparently. Not that that was going to ssstop me, mind you.”
Peter rolled his eyes as subtly as he could. “Of course.”
“But after Heimdall used his last strength to send Banner back to Earth—”
“Wait, wait,” Peter gasped, trying to keep his voice low, “Hulk was there?”
“Yesss? It’sss 2016 now, correct? I believe he has been missssing in Midgard for almossst a year now.”
“But he was on Asgard?”
“Not really. We found him on Sssakaar.”
“A refussse planet. That is not particularly important for why I am here, however,” Loki said pointedly.
Peter nodded, flicking his eyes to his teacher and trying to look like he was paying attention. “Sorry, continue.”
“I wasss moments from confronting Thanosss when the wizard appeared. He jussst stepped out of thin air, holding an Infinity Ssstone in his hand.” Peter felt the snake shake his head. “Idiot sssorcerer. The Mad Titan was mere meters away—all he would have had to do was look up and he’d have felt the presssence of another Ssstone.”
“How many are there?” Peter asked quietly.
“Six. Spaccce, Mind, Reality, Sssoul, Power, and Time. That is the one the wizard arrived with, and what made it possible for him to arrive at all.”
“This wizard was from the future, too?”
“Yesss. Apparently, the future where Thanosss was dead and the universe intact, but at a cost he couldn’t tolerate.”
Peter hummed, and the vibration shifted the snake on his collarbone. “And he gave you the… Time Stone, was it?”
“And he sent you back in time to do what? You said you couldn’t change the past, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet you in whatever universe you came from—so you’re changing something.”
“By encountering you, I have created an alternate universsse,” Loki said.
“You’ve… shoved me into an alternate universe?”
“I didn’t have a choiccce, ” hissed Loki, and Peter felt him tense against his skin. “I’m ssstuck in thisss alternate universsse too. Do you think I wanted to abandon my people? My brother—” Loki cut himself off.
For a long moment, there was only silence between them, the words of Peter’s math teacher flickering unheard through the classroom. Peter’s fingers twitched, almost as if he might reach up to stroke the serpent beneath his shirt in the only semblance of comfort that he could think to give.
Because there had been grief in Loki’s words.
“So…” Peter began hesitantly.
Loki continued before he could say anything else. “Ssso by merely exisssting during this moment, I have changed the future. But I cannot have done ssso, elssse I never come back in the first place.”
“A paradox,” Peter murmured. “You go back in time to change the thing that made you go back in time. And what? The universe tries to heal that by creating an alternate timeline?”
Peter frowned. “But didn’t the wizard go back in time? Didn’t he remove you from your timeline? That would have changed the past and created a new universe—we’re two universes split from where we’re supposed to be!”
You don’t belong here.
But the serpent just sighed—somehow. “Not necessarily.”
“That’sss why it had to be me.”
Peter craned his neck to try and look at Loki, glimpsing his slim form through the collar-gap of his shirt. “What?”
“I wasss the only one who could be removed from the timeline without creating an alternate universsse from that action,” Loki said. “Becaussse…”
Peter waited, trying to clamp down the nervous energy in his gut.
“Because I died. Thanosss strangled me—or so they all thought. But it was possible—and possible isss all the timeline needsss—that he sssimply killed a figment of my magic. That it was all a trick.”
“Oh.” Peter swallowed. He looked back at his lecturing teacher, who hadn’t yet noticed his quiet whispering, and scribbled a couple of random words on his notebook. “So this wizard could talk to you, give you the Stone, and force you back in time without ever changing his own universe?”
“So he either completely fucked you over or saved your life.”
“Both,” sighed Loki. “And I’m going to kill him for it.”
“Don’t do that. Murder is bad.”
“So I’ve been told.”
Peter tried to staunch a grin before it could grow too prominent. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “A crazy alien was trying to get these six super powerful gem things for reasons. You were about to go confront him when this wizard—hey, did he have a name?”
“Doctor Strange was the one he gave.”
“But he didn’t give you his actual name? That’s unhelpful. Anyway, the wizard shows up from the future with another one of said super powerful gem things. He off-loads the Stone onto you and you go back in time—after pretending to die—and meet me. By meeting me, you create an alternate universe in which we are all trapped.”
“You are correct.”
“And somehow, splitting the universe is going to help save it?”
Peter felt his shirt shift where Loki was nodding. “If we can beat Thanosss in this universe—”
“How?” Peter demanded in a low whisper. “Where do we even start?”
“I…” Loki hesitated, then plowed on. “I have a lissst.”
Peter cocked his head. “A list?”
“Of the people who are going to be important to the battle. Heroesss—or, I assume they’re heroes—who we can’t win thisss without. I know what the Infinity Ssstones are, and I know how to ssstart looking for them…”
Peter frowned deeper. “That’s gonna be hard. The Avengers are split; I don’t know if you knew that.”
“There’s more herosss than just your ‘Avengersss’—” Loki paused. “What?”
“The Civil War?”
Loki didn’t answer, and Peter took that as a what the fuck?
“So, abbreviated version is that Mr. Stark supported the Sokovia Accords, which are the United Nations' regulations for the responsibilities of superheros, and Captain America was like ‘nah we ain’t doin’ that’ and so they had this big disagreement and now Captain America and company are war criminals and nobody knows where they are.”
“Of courssse ,” Loki hissed. “Like thisss wasn’t hard enough.”
Peter shrugged. “No, no, it’s good. Saving the world from a psychotic alien and we’ve got a piece of paper. And a rock. Okay, yeah, you’re right; that’s not much.” Peter’s pencil started tapping against his notebook again: a rhythm of threes.
“But if we beat… Thanos… here, then how will that help the other universe? We’re trapped here, aren’t we?” Peter wondered.
“Well, yesss,” Loki said. “But we can merge the divergent timelinesss together. Apparently.”
Peter spluttered a disbelieving laugh, and his teacher pivoted sharply to glare at him. Peter turned the chuckle into a cough, hoping it looked at least somewhat convincing.
When the woman’s evil eye had swept off of him, Peter shifted to peer at Loki indignantly. “What? All of this—the time-travel, the aliens, the magic—I can understand. But that? That’s actually impossible. The amount of energy it would take, by anyone’s multiversal theories, is unheard of. No, it’s unquantifiable. And how could you know they’d even merge? Universes aren’t like ropes; you can’t just stitch them together through a thousand layers of time and reality and space and whatever. Is this universe even connected to the other? When would we even merge back? How would we all remember? Which events would be remembered? Which events would stay the same? What would happe—”
Peter broke off.
At some point, he’d forgotten to be quiet.
And at some point, everyone in the classroom had turned to stare at him.
“Something to say, Mr. Parker?” said the professor, half her mouth quirked up and the corresponding eyebrow raised. She looked more amused than annoyed—and Peter was more mortified than upset.
“Uh—” he stammered, all articulation gone as the pressure of eyes bored into him. “I was just, uh, thinking about time-travel? Like, mechanically. I don’t think it’d work like Back to the Future... ”
Peter coughed. “Like… alternate universes seem more likely? And I was just wondering how they’d… uh… interact… with each other. Er.”
Flash muttered something under his breath. Peter’s enhanced hearing picked up the barbed, condescending tone easily, and he blushed even harder.
“Articulate,” Loki commented.
Peter almost hissed at him to shut up, but caught himself at the last minute.
The teacher took mercy on him, turning back to the board and saying, “while differentials are essential to most time-travel theories, our exponential growth model is not quite relevant to your thoughts, Mr. Parker.”
Peter nodded, pointedly looking at his notebook.
With only one more look in his direction, his professor launched back into lecture, and Peter took a deep breath and waited for his adrenaline to wear off. He figured he should attempt to alleviate suspicion—his classmates were still looking at him—and stared unseeingly, but silently, at the board as the class continued.
He only lasted five minutes.
“Anyway,” he said. “It’s impossible.”
“It’sss not impossible.”
“The sssorcerer wouldn’t have sent me here, wouldn’t have relied on me, of all people, if it wasssn’t possible.” Loki’s voice was cold.
“Maybe your sorcerer didn’t get through the alien fight scott-free?” Peter suggested. “And he’s just legitimately crazy?”
Peter sighed, rubbing his face with his hands. Loki hissed a complaint as he slipped against Peter’s torso, wrapping tighter around his shoulder and neck to keep ahold.
Peter thought he’d been a remarkably good sport so far. He’d brought a god home, had his secret identity discovered by his best friend, slept with a knife-wielding murderer in his room, and brought the same knife-wielding murderer to school under his shirt. He had an Infinity Stone in his backpack and a chain of mysterious robberies people were blaming him for not stopping. He could still hear a voice—the Infinity Stone? This fucking alternate universe that he was trapped in?—telling him that he didn’t belong ‘here.’
And he wasn’t allowed to tell Mr. Stark.
He’d never wanted to speak to the man as much as he did at that moment, a snake in his shirt and his face buried in his hands.
“Fuck everything…” Peter muttered.
“Indeed,” replied Loki, softly.