The footsteps outside his door were quiet, but not quiet enough. Loki scowled at the book he was trying to translate - and making no headway in. “I told you not to bother me,” he said loudly. “I’m in the middle of something.”
The lack of response was so surprising that Loki looked up, only to start a little. His door was already open, and Thor was standing there staring at Loki like he’d never seen him before. Loki jerked to his feet.
“Thor! You can’t just barge in,” he started to say, but then he realized - it was Thor, but he did not look as he had an hour ago. His hair was longer, for one, and he was taller, broader even than he already was. Loki blinked twice.
“Brother,” Thor said, and there was something odd in his voice. He looked like he wanted to say more, but was lost for words. Loki recovered himself, tensing.
“You are not my brother,” he said.
Thor - or the man who looked like him - flinched. Actually flinched, like Loki had struck him, something flickering across his expression that made Loki’s stomach drop. “I am,” he said. “I think - something has happened.”
“Something? I saw my brother not an hour past-”
“Loki,” the imposter said, his voice oddly strangled. He stepped inside and shut the door, and Loki tensed further, summoning one of his knives. “Are you…” He took a half step toward Loki, reaching out, and he brought the knife up.
“Stay back or I shall call a guard,” he said, keeping his voice from trembling through an effort of will. “Explain yourself. Who are you?”
The man’s jaw worked and it looked like the gesture Thor made when he was upset and trying not to show it. Exactly like, and it was uncanny enough to make Loki feel suddenly cold. “I am who I say,” he said. “And you are - you are Loki.”
Loki fidgeted under the intensity of that gaze fixed on him. “You have no proof of your words,” he accused, buying time. He glanced toward the window - and fell still.
There was dust on his shelves. A thick layer of it, even though a moment before they’d been clean. The window and curtains were closed when he had left them open. And now that he was looking…
A thousand small details. This wasn’t his room.
He felt his chest tighten, fear worming into his heart. Dust. Why should there be dust on his shelves?
Why had Thor looked so surprised to find him here?
Something was very wrong.
“Loki?” Thor sounded uncertain, and that was wrong too, the list only growing longer. “Look at me. Please.”
The please jangled against his strained nerves but Loki turned, unable to ignore him. “Is this the future?” He blurted out, feeling himself start to shake. Thor looked startled and covered it poorly, but for the most part he was still staring at Loki as he had been all this time, with a strange sort of hunger.
“I’m not certain what has happened,” he said at length, which wasn’t an answer.
Loki’s dread deepened. He swallowed hard and looked again at the shelves. At the bed, perfectly made.
“Am I dead?” He asked, and wished his voice didn’t tremble quite as much as it did.
Thor did that little jerk again, like Loki’s words hurt. “Loki,” he said. It wasn’t a no, and Loki felt himself start to shake.
“No,” Thor said abruptly, his voice rough. “No. You are not.” There was something fierce and terrifying and desperate in his voice, and when Loki looked at him, in his eyes. His brother, but…not. Half a stranger. “You live, and I will protect you.”