Title: Is It Not Just?

Author: C Cawthorne

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Thor visits Loki several days after their return to Asgard (post-Avengers)

Author's Note: Inspiration took hold of me last night and wouldn't let me go until I got almost all of this down. Two hours later Loki finally let me go to bed. I wrote a little bit of the intro with Thor and Sif this morning, but otherwise this is the product of late-night inspiration and scribbling. This is intended as a one-shot, though I may feel the urge to continue it later. I'd rather finish Know Your Place first, however.


Thor had not planned to follow the path his feet had taken him down. He had walked without thought from the audience chamber, from the side of a father so exhausted by his efforts to send Thor to Midgard that he soon would enter the Odinsleep, leaving his son in charge until he awakened. It was not an opportunity he welcomed; though he had returned days ago, his mind still reeled with memories, many of them unpleasant.

And here he stood, pausing at the top of a twisting staircase that would take him down, away from golden halls and sunlit windows and toward…

"Thor."

He turned to see Sif. That she had followed him was obvious, and she did not attempt to hide the fact from him. When he nodded she closed the distance between them, her dark eyes examining him in her frank way. "Are you fully recovered? Your wound?" She gestured to his side, the spot where that slender knife had pierced his flesh, a blade made all the sharper by his brother's hatred.

"I am fine. It was healed the moment I returned," he answered, smiling at her in hopes of avoiding further questions.

She was not inclined to let him escape so easily, however. "Then what troubles you? You saved Midgard, you fought beside mighty allies. But you have not been the same since your return."

He glanced away from her, back down the staircase, and then wordlessly began to descend the spiral steps. He heard her sigh as she followed. "Leave it be, Thor. He will not want to see you. Odin has decreed his punishment."

Thor's steps did not falter, though he glanced back at her with troubled blue eyes. "He is still my brother."

Sif's mouth hardened. "And how many times must he try to kill you before you realize he does not feel the same way about you?"

Thor did not answer but merely continued down the stairs; the air grew colder around them as they descended into air that had never known the warming touch of the sun. "I do not speak to cause you pain, Thor. But my words are true. If you follow this path you will hurt only yourself. And he is not worth it. You must leave him behind. It is what he wants."

"I doubt any of us knows what he wants," he answered quietly. "Least of all my brother."

The stairs ended in a torchlit corridor, wide enough for five soldiers to stand in shoulder-to-shoulder. At the end of the hall was a solid door of dull black metal, reinforced in ways both physical and magical, flanked on each side by two fully armored guards. When they saw him they stood to attention, armor reflecting the dancing flames illuminating their dismal post.

"Please, Thor. Let us go above," she asked, placing a hand on his bare arm.

"You stay outside, Sif. I will talk to Loki alone." Perhaps it was the low growl of thunder in his voice or the flash of his blue eyes. This time she made no protest but simply watched in concern as he strode through the guarded door and disappeared from her sight.

The cell was dark, chilly–a fitting atmosphere for a room so far under the palace that it was carved out of the solid bedrock of Asgard. Illumination came from one flickering lamp hanging next to the door, which cast weak flickers of cold blue light across damp rock. It was a flame that was not a flame, giving off no heat or promise of life. It reminded Thor somewhat uncomfortably of the pulsing beauty of the Tesseract.

As his vision adjusted to the gloom the room came slowly into detail–the cracks of the flagstones at his feet, the glitter of moisture slicking the ceiling . . . and a dark, lean form sitting on the floor against the far wall, long black hair obscuring pale, downcast features. As his vision sharpened he saw the manacles securing slender wrists to the wall, up above that dark head, more than shoulder-width apart. Thor drew in an involuntarily harsh breath, and the pale face rose to meet his gaze.

"You." The word was ragged, barely above a whisper. Loki's eyes flickered black and silver in the shifting, unnatural illumination, and his skin seemed somehow even paler than Thor knew it to be. It made the still-healing cuts and bruises on his face stand out, livid evidence of the beating he had taken in Stark Tower. He was garbed in a plain green tunic and black pants; he wore no shoes. Nor did he wear any ornamentation except for the metal cuffs that imprisoned him.

Perhaps it was that detail that seemed the strangest. Loki had not appeared so unornamented, so plain, so vulnerable, at any time in Thor's memory. The god of thunder had taken a few steps toward him, a hand outstretched unthinkingly, before he made himself stop. "This is not right."

His younger brother smiled faintly. "Oh, but it is, is it not? Is this not the reason you brought me back? Is it not ordained that I be punished for my oh-so-many crimes?" He flexed his hands and his restraints clinked dully, forbidding more movement than an inch in any direction.

"I would not have you treated like an animal," Thor answered, his voice thick with anger and revulsion. The response only provoked Loki's mirthless smile to grow.

"Ah, but this is mercy, brother." The words were soft, mocking. "I've heard the mutterings, the whispers of what should be done with me. I deserve worse. Snakes with the foulest of venom, perhaps, sent to share my cell. Or the simpler solution of sewing my mouth shut. No more lies, no more schemes and conspiracies. Certainly that would be just?"

Thor shook his head, his fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides. "This is not what I wanted Loki. This… hole. These chains, I–"

"They're afraid I might scratch someone's eye out," the younger brother interrupted. His teeth flashed in the blue-white light as he grinned, giving him a feral aspect. "Given half the chance…"

Loki trailed off speculatively, losing himself in thought for a few second before his gaze snapped back to Thor. "So what is it you want, brother, if not to gloat over my fate?"

Thor blinked, a tiny bit of hope that he knew to be dangerous warming his heart. "Brother? You admit to it now?" he asked warily.

The prisoner seemed to consider his answer. "It annoys Odin to hear me say the word. So yes, I suppose I shall." He shrugged, but the small movement ended in a wince of pain that left Thor once again caught between knowing the justice of Loki's punishment and the almost overwhelming need to protect his little brother. For a moment he wished that Loki would scorn him, attack him as he had on Midgard. It was so much easier to do battle against him and a never-ending army of Chitauri than to see him now—wounded, vulnerable, and weak—and know that he could do nothing to help him. Only one person could help Loki now.

Thor knelt and looked at his brother face-to-face. Loki looked down immediately, his body growing as still as an animal poised for flight. "Can't you see that you were wrong, brother? Can't you understand? The innocents you killed, the lives you ruined…"

Loki's eyes snapped back to his, a cold blaze welling in them. "The innocents I killed? I seem to recall you killing more than your fair share on Jotunheim, whose only sin was to defend their home against you. And what does the Allfather do? Send you off to Midgard to drink and fight and woo until he decides you worthy to come home."

The younger man exhaled in exasperation and glanced around his stone cell. "How long do you think it will take me to prove my worth, chained to a wall being spoon-fed gruel by a guard so brainless I would be surprised if he can even write his own name? I–"

The tirade ended abruptly in a gasp. Loki squeezed his eyes tightly shut, pain and concentration twisting his pale features. Unable to stop himself this time, Thor reached forward and grasped Loki's shoulders, only to have his brother attempt futilely to pull away from him.

"You should not have brought me here," Loki moaned quietly, his eyes shut so tightly that lines of tension were forming in his forehead and at the corners of his eyes. "I did everything I could to keep them away from Asgard…"

Thor squeezed those slender shoulders gently. "Keep who away? The Chitauri? Loki, they are not a threat to us, they never could be. There's no need to worry."

"You are a fool, Thor Odinson. They are looking for me. They will not stop. And when they find me they will come, and they will destroy all of Asgard digging me out of this hole. And then . . . and then…"

Those eyes flew open once more; Thor was so close now that he could finally see the familiar green gaze he was used to from their childhood. He smiled encouragingly. "Let me help you."

Loki laughed, a sound of despair so true that it tore at Thor's heart. "Go away. I can't keep them out with you yammering sentimentalities at me. Go." When Thor hesitated he lunged forward, straining against his manacles, his expression fierce and wild.

"Go!"

Thor rocked back automatically, breaking contact with the wild creature his brother had become. Loki seemed to contract in on himself, closing his eyes again and drawing his knees up to his chest. Intense concentration radiated from him, but there was also pain–pain in the tightness of his muscles, the tension in his throat, the rasp of his breath.

Someone was hurting his brother. And no matter what Loki had done, no matter how much he deserved to be punished for his crimes, Thor would not allow anyone to hurt his little brother. If Loki could have seen the expression on the prince's face as he left he would have recognized it immediately–perhaps he would have even drawn comfort from it. It was a look that promised thunder, lightning, and a swift end.

fin–