Captivity was not what Loki had expected upon being returned to Asgard, shackled, gagged, and unable to wield his powers. In truth, he had expected death or some sort of physical punishment. However, as he was pushed down to his knees in front of Odin's throne by Thor's hand, Loki was surprised to hear the All-Father commanding Thor to take him to the dungeons. The tone of Odin's voice was firm and angry, but it was not filled with the loathing as the fallen god had anticipated.
Loki refused to look at Odin directly, refused to acknowledge how desperately a part of his heart, not hardened by his hatred, still wanted his adoptive father's acceptance. Had any of Loki's dealings been worth it? He had been made a pawn of something far larger than himself, led by his own ego and evil intentions. Dragged to his feet and pulled along by his brother, the god of mischief did glance up to see the eyes of Frigga watching him. Her brows were furrowed, and, though she tried to appear impassive, her expression was awash in concern, fear, anger, and sadness. Which emotion that most consumed her, Loki could not guess. Loki could take the spurn of all of the nine realms, but he found himself burdened with unwanted feelings at the thought of his adoptive mother's disappointment. He turned his face away from her, hoping Thor would take no notice of the tremor that ran through his body as he was led into the depths of the castle.
The guards were waiting at an unlocked cell as Thor continued to pull Loki through the corridors by his arm. After being pushed inside, Loki watched in disbelief as Thor uncuffed his hands. They stood there for a moment in silence. The cell was not very large, but it was cleaner than Loki had imagined. The cot on the far wall was narrow but was covered by several blankets. There was a pitcher of water and a bowl on the floor near the door. Loki wondered if all the cells in the dungeon appeared this way or just his.
"Here, Brother," Thor picked up a neat pile of fabric from the bed. "You'll need to change into these."
With a raised eyebrow, Loki pointed to the muzzle covering his jaw.
Thor shook his head, "No, you will be keeping that on for the time being."
Reaching out a hand, Thor began trying to remove Loki's leather mantle. He had successfully unbuckled the main strap holding the shoulder-guards in place and tugged it off one shoulder before Loki backed away.
Thor responded by taking a firmer grip on one of Loki's arms and yanking off his brother's mantle with his free hand, "Brother, I am not going to hurt thee."
Loki made a rather annoyed sound beneath his gag. Thor ignored his brother's annoyance and tossed the garment aside.
As Thor began unbuckling the many straps and belts over Loki's doublet, the god of thunder smiled, slightly bemused, "Honestly, Brother, how can you stand all these trappings?"
Bristling at being manhandled, Loki smacked Thor's hands away from his belts. The guards moved forward into the room, hands upon their weapons, but Thor stopped them.
"There is no need for concern," he said to them. "My brother has only recently been prone to tantrums."
"That is not exactly true," Frigga's voice carried from the corridor as the guards moved aside to let her pass into the cell. "When Loki was a baby and did not get what he wished immediately, he would sometimes cry so loud and for so long that every flower in the garden would wilt."
Loki felt his face flush hotly as he struggled to get away from Thor. He had just brought untold havoc and chaos upon Midgard, but Frigga's words were the thing that brought him shame?
Frigga put her hand on Thor's arm to still him, "Of course, your tantrums were felt even by the mortals."
Thor laughed, "Well, I would think that that might have been expected, and I doubt a little thunder from an infant god hurt anyone."
Gently situating herself between the brothers, Frigga put her hands on Loki's waist, removing the slender straps that went over his legs and the golden gauntlets from his arms. For his part, Loki stood mostly still. Deciding that he should assist in some way instead of standing mute and useless, he unlaced his doublet with its criss-crossing layers of leather and plating. After letting the doublet slide down his arms, Loki lifted his breastplate over his head, letting Thor place it on top of his other garments on the cot. Their mother mused over the number of layers her youngest son had managed to wrap around his slender frame, as Loki removed his leather chausses, spats, and boots. Frigga took each of Loki's large yet delicate hands in hers, carefully taking the fanned wrist-guards from underneath the sleeves of his emerald-hued tunic.
When Thor grabbed the hem of the tunic and began to lift it, Loki panicked again, stumbling backwards towards the cot. He shook his head. He did not want to be naked, least of all in front of his mother, brother, and two of his father's guards.
"Darling, you're injured," Frigga pushed a stray black lock away from Loki's bruised forehead, "Let Thor and I help you."
Loki nodded, knowing that he could not escape and feeling extremely vulnerable without the ability to verbally protest. As Frigga stood in front of Loki to give him some sense of modesty as he removed his tunic and braies, Thor brought over the pitcher and bowl. Picking up a cloth from inside the earthenware bowl, Frigga poured some of the water over it and rang it out. She brought the damp cloth up to Loki's face, gently dabbing at the cuts and bruises there. Loki's skin broke out in gooseflesh as he felt the cool water touch his bare skin. He let his mother bathe him, wincing as the soft cloth grazed every sore expanse of flesh.
Frigga was horrified to see the blotchy purple mess that was Loki's back. She gasped as Thor explained how the hulking monster that resided inside of Bruce Banner had beaten Loki into submission. The weight of defeat struck Loki harder in that moment, the evidence of his shame exposed, being bathed by his mother for the first time since he was a child. The rage that had boiled up inside of him for so long was difficult to maintain in his current position. He had expected fury to be hurled upon him, to be beaten and subjected to the All-Father's will, not tenderness.
Jaw tensing, Loki felt the flush of his normally cool skin grow hotter as tears began to build in his eyes. He tried to shake his feelings away, but soon his body was wracked with sobs, muffled by his gag. A soft towel was rubbed over his body, and he felt Frigga gently reach under his hair to unlatch his muzzle. The removal of the infernal device was what Loki had been hoping for the most, but now he desperately clasped his hands over his mouth to try to stop his loud cries from being heard.
"Don't cry, Brother," Thor wrapped his arms around Loki's shoulders. "You're home now."
Lost in his own sadness, Loki barely noticed that he was quickly dressed in a pair of tan braies and a short green tunic.
"We will move passed all of this, Loki," Frigga cupped her youngest son's face in her hands, rubbing the tears from his cheeks with the pads of her thumbs. "We'll be a family again."
Loki wrapped his arms around his mother, sobbing into her shoulder. He held close to her, comforted by her fingers stroking over his sore back, until his crying turned into mere hiccuping. Thor's calloused hand rubbed over Loki's black hair lovingly, seeming to forgive rather than linger on the slights brought against him by Loki, even if those slights including plotting against him and orchestrating the complete subjugation of Midgard.
"Mother," Loki whimpered, pitifully, "don't leave me in this place. I promise to remain in my chambers for as long as you wish, but, please, do not keep me so far away."
Frigga leaned up to kiss Loki's forehead, "I'm sorry, my darling. You have to face this punishment, but you won't be alone, not always."
That was not good enough for the god of mischief, who was so close to having all of Midgard at his feet; he now just wanted his mother to stay with him, to comfort him, but finally he calmed down enough for Frigga and Thor to leave, carrying his armor away but promising to have food sent down to him. As the cell door was shut and bolted, Loki's keen blue-green eyes adjusted to the half-darkness. The torches on the walls outside gave him some light to see by from the tiny barred window in the cell door.
Plucking the thin material of his new tunic, Loki sat upon his cot, his knees pulled to his chest. He would find a way to escape. He could win over his mother and Thor and convince them to have Odin release him.
These fake tears have already worked a little magic, Loki told himself as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
The god of lies was a good liar, especially when it came to lying to himself.
Three weeks, by Loki's estimation, had passed. He was growing ever more frustrated with each passing second. Loki screamed and raged and cursed and kicked at the walls. The cell itself nullified all his powers and abilities, including his godly strength. He had learned that when he earned himself a sprained ankle from kicking the door to his cell. His ankle healed quickly enough, but it added to his plight.
Frigga and Thor visited him almost daily, sometimes for hours in one sitting. Frigga brought him books from the library, nothing magical, merely histories of their realm and beyond. Occasionally, Frigga would read to him, letting him lay his head in her lap as he had done when he was a boy. Why had he forgotten his mother in his anger? Loki thought upon how strange he felt when he killed Laufey, his true father, in order to play the hero. Frigga had run to him, hugged him, her eyes shining with pride and love. She had told him he was a king, and she was who allowed him to be one; she did not try to take it for herself or remind him that his reign would be over the moment Odin awakened. She had simply bowed her head to her son, adopted though he was, and reassured him with, "My king."
Loki kicked at the blankets on his bed, not wanting to think about those memories nor did he want to relive what came after. His own feelings caused him to be conflicted, and he felt as though his own mind was driving him insane. He found himself with the same emotions when Thor had visited. Thor had been the one to usually bring him his meals. The oaf would sit at one end of the feather mattress, making it sink under his muscular frame, as Loki ate. It seemed as though Thor only wanted to reminisce about their childhood. Thor spoke of when they would play games, running about the castle and creating innocent mischief. Loki sullenly realized that Thor would stop short of their teenaged years, when Loki abandoned the training arena for his magical studies; that was when he and Thor had the wedge driven between them. How curious it was that Thor did not realize the wedge was even there until his banishment.
How could he not realize? Loki lamented privately. He, who was always belittling my spells, even though I was just beginning! I never mocked him when we trained, even when he was knocked onto his rear. I cheered the loudest for him, and he never returned the favor.
Yet, Loki knew his own words were false. Thor had cheered for him when it was something that the blonde could understand, such as fighting, archery, or swordfighting. Deep down, he knew Thor jested about his spellcraft because he could not grasp that what Loki could conjure were more than just parlor tricks. However, that did not stop one's feelings from being hurt.
The door opened, and Loki sat up straighter on the bed, trying to look less pathetic than he felt. Thor held the door, and a female figure entered. Loki tilted his head as he stared at the beautiful Idunn, her glossy blonde hair plaited and rolled on either side of her head, as she held her casket under her arm. Loki found an anxious knot forming in the pit of his stomach.
"What is she doing here?" Loki asked, suspiciously, motioning towards Idunn.
Thor spoke matter-of-factly, "Do you want to leave this cell?"
"Yes, of course," came the reply.
"Then you'll need to start eating," Idunn said with a sigh, holding out the casket to Loki.
The wicker casket was filled with the glistening golden apples that held the secret of the Asgardian gods' eternal youth. If anyone was not willingly given an apple by Idunn herself, it would lose all its mystical properties. Loki stared at the apples incredulously. Prior to his descent into Midgard, he had eaten at least one of the delicious fruits every day since he reached maturity. Loki had learned the hard way that letting the scrumptious taste of the apples get the better of his appetite could have dire consequences, resulting in him almost having to go through puberty twice when he was still actually young and innocent.
Loki's eyes went wide, "You can't mean you want me to eat all of these? Do you understand what these would do to me?"
"I do understand, Brother. You would be returned to a time when no one could find fault in you," Thor replied.
"You cannot turn back time, you idiot," Loki fumed. "You cannot take back the horrible crimes I've committed or the bargains I've struck. You seek to turn me into a child in order to make me even more vulnerable than I already am!"
Thor laid his huge hand on Loki's shoulder, "This is the only way for you to be released. Can't you see? Father would not keep a child in the dungeons, and none of the Æsir would begrudge a little boy the mistakes of his older self."
Loki wished that the slate could be wiped clean so easily, "Eating that fruit does not make me forget; it will not change who— what I am…"
"But it will give you the time to change, Loki. You can have all the time you need to allow wounds to heal, to try to make amends for your wickedness," Thor spoke earnestly. "Please, is it not worth it to try?"
Glancing back towards the casket in Idunn's hands, Loki reached with shaking fingers and picked up the largest fruit. As he sunk his teeth in the crisp apple, feeling the sweet juice flow down his throat, Loki thought to himself, This may be a way to get what I want, after all. I can still fool them. Indeed, who would suspect a child of what damage I can create?
Though Loki was thousands of years old, his physical age had been arrested by Idunn's magic somewhere between his twentieth and thirtieth year. By the time Loki had stripped the second apple to the core, he felt his body begin to change. His limbs ached slightly, particularly his long legs, as they shortened. At the fourth apple, Loki felt the muscles in his chest and abdomen begin to disappear, replaced by baby fat. His feet no longer touched the floor, getting closer to the edge of the cot with each bite. Every time Loki reached into the casket, it seemed to grow in size, as did the apples themselves, as his hands and mouth got smaller and smaller. Before too long, Thor had to help Loki hold the fruit as his tunic was swallowing up his arms entirely. Finally, Loki went to take a bite but found he could not, as most of his teeth had disappeared back into his gums.
Looking down at his body, entirely covered by his tunic alone, Loki began to fuss. He balled up his tiny fists to his eyes and let out a high-pitched wail.
"There, there, little one," Thor said, trying to comfort his now very little brother.
With a voice that sounded entirely alien to him, Loki sobbed out a barely intelligible, "Brother!" as he held his arms out to Thor.
Thor scooped up the crying child in his arms and held him protectively to his chest, "There's nothing to fear. No one's going to harm you, Loki. I'll look after you."
Idunn held the casket against her hip, smiling at the pair as Thor rocked Loki and stroked his beautiful dark curls, "I remember when he first looked like that."
"Really?" Thor held up Loki to get a better look at his face to see if he too could recall his brother being so small.
"Yes, he was quite the little jewel before he learned to talk so much," Idunn said as she took her leave of the cell.
Thor kissed Loki's hair as he felt his brother relax in his arms, his cries now reduced to sniffling, "Would you like to see Mother and Father, Loki?"
Loki nodded, not truly sure of what he wanted. He was not even certain of why he was crying or why he felt so safe resting against Thor's chest. There seemed to have been a huge weight lifted from Loki's shoulders as Thor carried him away from the cell, keeping him wrapped tightly in his tunic. Thor would glance down at him every few moments, his blue eyes shining with happiness.
Perhaps, they could be a family again after all.