Chapter Twenty

Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers.

Thor woke up one morning and came to an unexpected but welcome realization.

Loki was redeemed.

When had this happened?

He had known that Loki was inching closer to it since practically the moment that they had first gone back to Midgard but this was something else entirely.

Maybe he had been suspecting it for awhile but just hadn't let himself think it.

But now he was certain; Loki had been redeemed. It wasn't that anything had changed or that Loki had done anything in particular yesterday to make Thor realize that it was true. It had just finally hit him that it was safe to accept that. Maybe a part of him, a secret part that he barely admitted to himself let alone to anyone else, had wondered if he'd truly be able to pull this off. There had been a lot of opposition to his plan, after all.

He didn't doubt Loki, of course, because he would never have believed that his little brother was beyond redemption but since he wasn't being redeemed willingly most of the responsibility fell to Thor.

He didn't want Loki to pretend to be redeemed just to trick him later or to think that Loki had done it when he really hadn't but now he wasn't worried anymore.

He quickly dressed himself and then ran down the halls to his parents' rooms.

Loki would remind him that it was hardly apropos to run in the palace but Thor had spent much of the last thousand or so years doing just that.

Thor did remember to knock before opening the door, though, which was a good sign.

Frigga opened the door to admit him.

"Thor?" she asked, a little puzzled.

Odin emerged from the bathroom at the sound of his son's name. "Is something the matter?"

Thor didn't even try to contain the grin that felt like it was trying to split his face. "No, nothing's the matter. And that's the point!"

"I don't follow," Odin admitted.

"Loki," Thor breathed. "Loki's redeemed at last."

Frigga clasped her hands together over her heart. "Oh, at last!"

Odin frowned. "That did not take nearly as long as I had thought it would. He always was a precocious child. And you, too, Thor have exceeded my admittedly high expectations."

"Thank you, Father," Thor said, nodding to him.

"What does Loki have to say about all of this?" Frigga asked him.

Thor coughed. "I…uh, actually haven't told him yet."

"Don't you think he'd like to know?" Frigga asked pointedly. "Not that I don't appreciate finding out myself. I have been so worried about you both. This had the potential to bring about the best possible future or to hurt you both so much. I'm glad that it was the former."

"I actually don't know if telling him would be such a good idea," Thor admitted.

"Because lying to him has done wonders for his mental stability," Odin said dryly.

Thor took a moment to reflect on the irony of his father being the one to say that. But, as he said, it was entirely possible to learn from one's mistakes and Thor was infinitely grateful that his father seemed to have done just that. If he hadn't been willing to admit that he played some role in what happened to Loki (though most of the blame for Loki's actions lay with Loki himself) then who even knew how things would have ended up after that unfortunate incident on Midgard?

"I don't want to lie to him," Thor protested. "Just…just…"

"Protect him from the truth?" Odin supplied. "Thor, I admire your noble intentions but take it from one who has been in this position before. Your brother will immediately assume that you're not telling him because you don't trust him and he's a monster and you're the center of everything."

Thor thought about arguing the point but he realized that Odin was probably right. "He half-believes those anyway."

"And keeping this from him will not help any," Odin pointed out.

Frigga shot him an amused look.

"Never let it be said that I cannot learn from my mistakes," Odin replied, holding up a hand as if swearing an oath.

"I think I understand your apprehension, dear," Frigga told him. "You're worried that if Loki knows that you think him redeemed then he will immediately set out to prove you wrong."

Thor nodded. It was, after all, exactly the sort of thing that Loki would do even if he didn't necessarily want to. He did get too caught up in his own myth sometimes. It was a problem that Thor had reluctantly realized he'd shared right around the time he had met his lovely Jane.

"On the other hand, now that Loki has been redeemed you're going to stop taking him down to Midgard and having him help people," Frigga continued. "And he will want to know why. The only two possible explanations are that he has succeeded or that he has failed. And if left to decide for himself which of these two is the case…"

Loki would assume that he had failed and that even Thor had given up on him. Thor had come to realize that, for all that Loki had almost constantly complained about Thor's faith in him, it was also one of those constants in life that he had counted on. If he had ever let Loki drive him away then he didn't even want to think about what would become of his brother.

"I'll go tell Loki right now," Thor informed them, turning to go.

"Tell him, too, that tonight we're holding a feast in honor of his redemption," Odin called after him.

On Midgard, such a feast would take at least a day's notice, probably more, to have everything prepared and to make sure that everyone could attend. Here on Asgard, they had such experience and a feast was such a wonderful occasion that they could and did hold one at the drop of a hat.

Just one more reason that his realm was the best of them all, he supposed. Though Midgard was nice, too. And Jotunheim…well, it had given him Loki. He couldn't hate them for that.

Thor bounced into Loki's room and immediately Loki got an ominous feeling.

"What?" he asked suspiciously.

Thor just continued smiling at him.

"What unspeakable horrors do you have planned for me today, Thor?" Loki demanded.

"None, I assure you," Thor promised.

Loki narrowed his eyes. "Forgive me if I'm skeptical. The last time that you promised that we ended up riding the subway."

Thor shuddered slightly at the memory. "But now we're that much closer to being real New Yorkers!"

Loki looked up at the ceiling. "What does that even mean?"

"I…don't know," Thor admitted. "But I am pleased all the same."

"Of course you are. But Brother, I'm not going anywhere with you until you tell me where it is," Loki said firmly. As an afterthought, he added, "And how we're getting there."

"What if I said that we weren't going anywhere?" Thor asked him. "At least, not anywhere that you didn't want to go."

Loki blinked, surprised. "Really? You're giving me the day off?"

That was good. Each day he did not have to go down to Midgard was infinitely superior to the days that he actually had to go down to Midgard. And, by design or otherwise, splitting his time like that quickly made him admit – both to himself and others – that Asgard was his home and he would like to stay there. Who knew how long it would have taken him to come to that realization himself, let alone deign to inform others of this without that push? With most people he would assume it was intention but since it was Thor…well, one never could tell with him. It might just be the fact that the universe at large loved Thor. And since that fact was obviously never going to change, he might as well try and get that to benefit him every now and again.

"Why?" Loki asked, still loath to just accept that for fear that Thor was trying to soften him up or make up for something he knew that Loki would hate.

"Well…sort of," Thor replied.

Did he really think that he would just accept that? "Explain."

"Loki," Thor said, looking unaccountably nervous. The tension that suddenly filled the room annoyed him.

"Are you pregnant?" Loki asked, Barton's words still haunting him after all this time. That bastard. The man had better not know about that, at least.

Thor sputtered. "I-what-No."

"Just checking," Loki said innocently.

"And if I remember correctly, you were the one who had that…particular talent," Thor said delicately.

"Now that's profiling," Loki accused.

Thor rolled his eyes. "What I was trying to say, Brother, is that now that you've been redeemed-"

But Loki interrupted him. "Now that I've what?"

"Been redeemed, Brother. Do try to pay attention," Thor advised.

Loki sighed, exasperated. "I heard what you said, I just couldn't believe it. When did I get redeemed?"

"I was actually wondering that myself this morning when first I realized it," Thor said thoughtfully. "And the answer is that I just don't know. It's been a long time coming and is there really a point when you can say that someone was not redeemed one moment and the next they were? It seems to me that it is more of a journey than a light switch."

Loki just stared at him. "Don't try to be philosophical, Thor, you're no good at it."

"Do you disagree that you're redeemed?" Thor asked, ignoring Loki's words the way he usually did if they contained an element of insult to them. Thor was usually terrible at ignoring provocations but when it came to him, he often made an exception. Loki supposed it must just be some mysterious brother thing because it wasn't like he was in any way bad at taunting people.

"Yes, absolutely," Loki said automatically.

"Loki, name the last time that you did something that even my friends could call evil," Thor challenged. "And by 'my friends', of course, I do mean the Avengers since Lady Sif, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg were always our friends."

"Well, this morning I woke up," Loki said dryly.

Thor rolled his eyes. "I mean something real."

"I am merely biding my time," Loki claimed. "One day soon, I'll show you what I've been up to."

Thor merely smiled at him and shook his head.

"What?" Loki asked defensively. "I will!"

"You always do," Thor agreed fondly. "And Loki, you've been plotting since you were old enough to sit up. That hardly makes you evil."

"I'm not redeemed," Loki said stubbornly.

"And what, pray tell, would be so terrible about being redeemed?" Thor asked him, confused. "You understand that you don't have any other punishment, right? If you're redeemed then you are completely 'off the hook' as the humans say and it will be as if none of this ever happened."

Loki held his hand out in front of him and watched it turn blue. "Not quite."

Thor sobered. "No, not quite. But there's no imprisonment waiting, no mouth sown shut, no being tied to a rock forever by the intestines of your son and dripped on by snake venom. There's just…Us. There's just you and me. Just Mother and Father. Just all of our friends and everyone else we know. Just Asgard. Midgard, too, if you want it."

Loki shuddered. "No thanks."

Thor grinned again. "Aren't you glad that we stopped you from having to rule Midgard then, given your distaste for it?"

Loki gave him a look. "Are you serious?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Thor asked blankly.

Loki counted off on his fingers. "I was manhandled out of a moving vehicle by you, locked in a cage built for Banner, threatened a great deal, attacked and then thrown off a building by you-"

"You jumped!" Thor protested.

"Was shot at with an explosive arrow, and then there's the graphic violence perpetuated on my person by Banner," Loki concluded, pointedly ignoring Thor's differing version of events.

"You did have most if not all of that brought upon yourself, Brother," Thor pointed out.

Loki waved him off. "Irrelevant. You asked if I were grateful and I am explaining to you, in detail, why I am not."

"I think you're secretly grateful," Thor declared.

Loki frowned. "I am not!"

"If you were secretly grateful, would you actually admit it to me?" Thor asked me.

"Not if I wanted to remain secretly grateful," Loki replied.

"See!" Thor cried out triumphantly.

Loki rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Thor, you cannot just take the fact that if I did then I wouldn't admit it to be as good as an admission."

"I think I can," Thor argued. "And, in fact, I just did."

"Well, fine, I suppose that you can," Loki conceded, strongly reminded of the conversation that had started this entire thing in the first place. "But you can't expect it to work. Or you shouldn't, at any rate."

Surprisingly, Thor decided not to argue the point. He probably just assumed he was right. "Well, grateful or not, you're redeemed and that's all there is to it."

Loki sighed. "Thor-"

"You're never going to convince me otherwise and you can't force me to force you to come to Midgard with me and do more good work," Thor pointed out. "And that is not a challenge to prove to me that you are not redeemed, Brother."

"I wouldn't dream of taking it that way," Loki lied, wondering if proving Thor wrong was worth the price of having to spend more time 'redeeming himself' in Midgard. Barton had taken up target practice whenever the two were in the same room and his aim always seemed far too close to him for comfort. Thor might even stage a few more interventions. And there would be more of Thor romancing Jane to contend with.

Maybe later, once he'd had a chance to recover from the ordeal he had already suffered through, he would have the stomach to show everyone – particularly his brother – how very much he had not been redeemed.

For now, though, let him think what he wanted. He always did.

"So since you're redeemed now, you can officially use the Bifrost substitute however you like," Thor hinted hopefully. "Aside, of course, from Jotunheim but no one's allowed there for fear of starting another diplomatic incident and having to kill another king of theirs."

"I wouldn't mind it," Loki said honestly.

"Yes, well, let's see if we can limit ourselves to one regicide per decade, shall we? Maybe even per century if we're feeling really good," Thor said wryly.

"I'll consider it," Loki said, in that noncommittal tone of his that he knew infuriated Thor.

Thor did look briefly annoyed but then his expression cleared. "So now that you're free…"

"What?" Loki asked him.

"While you and I were busy saving you, our friends have collected some interesting adventures to go on," Thor revealed, so excited that he was bouncing on the soles of his feet. "So, of course, I was wondering…If you haven't gotten too sick of me or want to rest or enjoy your newfound freedom peacefully or something…If maybe you wouldn't want to…"

It was almost endearing, the sight of Thor anxiously waiting to see if Loki would consent to spend any time with him. And it was a nice reversal from their childhood as well. If Thor was more deviousness – and had an ounce of self-awareness – then Loki might have thought that he was doing it on purpose. But Thor was Thor.

"Yes, Thor," Loki said, taking pity on him at last but not bothering to hide his smirk. "I will come with you and make sure you and your friends stay alive."

"Our friends, Loki," Thor corrected automatically.

Loki rolled his eyes. Semantics. "Our friends, then."

"And we can stay alive, just fine without you!" Thor protested.

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? Perhaps I'd better let you prove it then and stay here."

"No!" Thor practically shouted. He mumbled something unintelligible.

"What was that, Thor?" Loki asked innocently, cupping a hand to his ear.

Thor glared at him. "I said, 'If you came with us we would probably have a better chance of staying alive.'"

"Thought so," Loki said smugly. "So where are we off to? And if you say Midgard then I swear, by Odin himself, I will turn you into a frog. Again."

Thor was not daunted, though. "I wasn't going to say that," he assured Loki although Loki figured there was about a fifty percent chance that he had been. Still, no need to press him on that and change Thor's mind. He really didn't want to deal with the headache of turning Thor into a frog, truth be told. It always did vex their parents so and frog-Thor never stayed put long enough to be changed back, a lamentable if unsurprising fact that Loki was also blamed for.

"Oh, no?" Loki asked casually.

"What would you say about going to Niflheim?" Thor asked him.

Loki groaned. "I'd say it's a good thing you've got me here."

Thor smiled at him. "That, Brother, is one thing that we can agree on."

Loki rolled his eyes tolerantly. Would some things never change. "Sentiment."

Note: This may seem like an abrupt place to end it but there really is no other way to leave things. Is Loki redeemed? What does 'redemption' mean? He doesn't feel sorry for what he's done but he doesn't intend to do more evil. He never really made a conscious decision not to do evil but he's gotten out of the habit of it over the weeks and months that he was trying to prove Thor wrong about his redemption. Thor was the one who decided when Loki was redeemed and it just him him one day that that had happened. He couldn't tell you when his brother had been redeemed, just that he was now confident that that was the case.

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