The High Price Of Mind Control Removal
Characters: Thor, Loki, Odin, Frigga
Summary: On departure from Midgard, Thor learns Loki's actions were not entirely his choice. Just what will removing the influence on his mind cost Loki and the rest of Odin's family? No longer a one-shot.
Author's Note: This is part of the same series as "Returning the Favor" and "When 'Team' Means A Safe Space" but is currently unconnected to the rest of the series.
They twisted the Tesseract's case together, and Thor felt the wormhole take them.
But where they landed was nowhere on Asgard.
Loki looked at him, eyes wide and full of fear and betrayal.
"I do not know where we are," Thor told him. "It was programmed by Father before I left Asgard."
The world was desolate. The air was breathable, but it was clear to Thor that neither of them would last more than a few days here. There was no food and it seemed little or no water.
And it was too cold for Thor. Now, while the local sun was up, it was chilly, but he had no doubt the night could be deadly to him unless he found shelter. He was already feeling himself begin to shiver.
This world must be comfortable for Loki, then, Thor thought.
It was not a good thought.
"He promised we were bringing you home."
Loki stared at him.
"I swear it, Brother! I have no way home from here either!"
Loki let go and sat in the dust. There was a determined look in his eyes, and fear.
After a long time, he took a deep breath and reached out to the ground with a trembling finger.
"T R A C"
Loki gave a little cry in his throat and fell to his side, eyes trying to roll back and his body shaking.
Thor caught his hands as he fell, mind not willing to think it might be a trap. "I am here with you, Brother. I will not leave you in this place."
What could it mean? Of course Heimdall would be tracking them...
Thor felt himself chill even more.
When Loki had mostly stilled, Thor helped get him over to a rocky outcropping where there was a good flat clean place to lie down out of the dust. "Brother, I think I need to ask you some things."
Loki's eyes widened and the fear and pain was apparent. But he laid down without prompting.
And then he grabbed for Thor's hand.
"Still say we are not brothers, Brother?" Thor asked, trying to keep his voice kind.
Loki started weeping.
"You have been under the control of another."
Thor didn't need to see the way Loki's eyes lost focus to know he was right.
He let Loki rest, clinging to his hand, and thought about what to do next.
"I will borrow a lesson from you, Brother. Yes or no questions. Where one answer would be something they would not want me to know if correct and the other would not."
Loki's hand trembled in his.
"So that I will get the answers they do not wish anyone to have, and nothing you suffer be needless."
Loki's eyes filled with fear, but he nodded.
It took an hour, and Loki's eyes were losing focus by the time it was over, but Thor found out what he'd wanted to know.
The army had been a loan, not Loki's own. The army had been controlled by a third party, someone who Thor did not know the name of (Loki had visibly not appreciated being asked if they were controlled by anyone from Jotunheim, but he had accepted Thor's explanation of working through the known realms group by group).
The third party had found Loki after his fall, had compromised his mind, threatened him should he fail, and had the capacity to track him.
And most of the things he had said to Thor on Midgard were at least partly for show, not Loki's true thoughts.
The last had taken several minutes to recover from before Loki could shake his head at the thought of any more questions, forestalling Thor from going conversation by conversation to learn what was false and what was real.
Thor brushed the hair back from Loki's face, talking of pleasant childhood things from back when all of Loki's tricks had been the harmless pranks of a child and their elders had laughed with him instead of at him.
Loki was now a threat to any realm he entered, any person he stood beside. And until someone had thought to ask the right questions, Loki had been blocked from telling anyone under threat of agony he could not hope to work through.
A whooshing noise, and then Odin and Frigga were standing nearby on the plain.
"Father, his mind... he can be tracked..."
"Heimdall said this was so. There was much he could not tell, but that, and how, he could tell."
Frigga ran forward and took Loki into her arms as she had when they were children unable to deal with their own nightmares.
"And how to remove it." But Odin's voice held none of the hope Thor thought such words should bring them.
Frigga and Loki were crying on each other, and the idea grew in Thor's mind, large and scary and terrible, that Loki knew exactly why their father was so grim and their mother so smothering.
And behind it, horrifying, that Loki might have known since the moment they arrived.
"Remove it?" Thor asked, voice trembling with the not-knowing.
"He is being tracked, there is no time, there is a window now when they cannot directly control him or observe him. But only a window, and the only way to extend it is to keep him moving. We cannot do this the easy way, and I will not allow any of my sons to fall into the hands of these enemies if it be in my power to do otherwise."
Loki was looking at him with teary bright eyes. Odin gathered him up in his arms, the gruff whole-body hug they had received when they were barely as tall as his waist. "Mine. My son. The child I picked to come into my life when I already had an heir and he had no one to call his own. Mine. Nothing else matters now."
He reached behind Loki's head and detached the gag, but at the same time he placed something there Thor hadn't gotten a look at but that made Loki tremble.
"If there were any other way that could end any better for you, I would take it," Odin told him.
"I'm sorry, Father..." Loki rasped out before coughing to clear his throat.
"Shh, it doesn't matter now," Frigga told him.
"We should have been honest with you both long ago," Odin told them. "But alas, time only runs one way."
"Loki, there will be damage. We don't know how much."
"Care for me, Mother?" Loki begged, clinging to her gown with a hand.
Frigga stroked his hair. "Of course I will, if there is need of it."
Thor reached for his other hand. "You are my brother, Loki. You have been for as long as I can remember. Nothing has changed that. Nothing will change that."
"Loki, I can delay only a little longer."
"Father, Mother, I love you. Thor..."
"Being brothers is too complicated for words."
Loki smiled weakly. "Yes. Please, no matter how bad it is -" his voice broke "- please, give me a chance."
Thor didn't understand what he was saying, but Odin clapped him on the shoulder. "If it be that bad, you shall have your chance."
"Brother, I believe I owe you something. From before everything went wrong between us."
"Thor, there is little time," Odin warned.
"But a moment is enough. You asked something of me, Loki." He leaned over and kissed Loki's forehead.
A weak laugh. "Brother, that was but jes..." A shudder and a whimper, then silence and stillness.
"It was better it begin when he was relaxed and happy," Odin replied to the pair of appalled looks he received a moment later. "Another minute and he would have been afraid again."
Frigga carefully eased Loki out of Odin's arms and laid him so that his head was resting on her lap.
"Father, what is it doing?"
"Ripping out everything they forced into his mind, so that they have no way to touch or track him. When it finishes, we can take him home without risk to him, us, or Asgard."
Every little bit of how Loki had acted suddenly made horrifying sense. "Did he know this was what was meant for him?"
"He was aware of what they were doing to him, and therefore what removing it would mean for him, yes. Designed like a war arrow, to maximize the damage when it is pulled out."
"... he wants a chance to live if he is like the warriors who receive brain blows the healing stones cannot repair."
"Yes." Odin nodded grimly.
One look at the dull appearance of Loki's half-opened eyes and the slackness of his face, and Thor could believe it was easily going to be that bad.
"There was only one other option, Thor. One way we could have sent him elsewhere, where his enemies could not find and torment him again nor use him to harm his family as he watched."
"There is such a place?" Thor asked. "Where?"
Odin's voice was the dullest Thor had ever heard it. "Valhalla."
Days had passed since those awful hours on the nameless cold world where the brother Thor had known had met his functional end.
The only good of it, so far as Thor knew, was that the new leader of the Jotun - a giant of giants named Ulfr who claimed to have been Laufey's brother-in-law - had officially accepted what had happened since Loki's fall from the Bifrost as well worse than any retribution they would have asked for even if told whatever they asked would be done without argument.
"For us," the Jotun had told both Odin and Thor, "this... this is worse than death. Even if he regains himself, it is worse."
"So it is with us, as well," Odin had concurred as Thor tried not to weep.
Jotunheim was no place for tears, not unless you wanted frostbite at the corners of your eyes.
"I cannot believe Laufey would have wished this on him. Yes," Ulfr said as the Asgardian men reacted in their shock, "he knew. It took the news from the Jotun who grabbed Loki without frostburning him, but he knew after he swore Thor would have his war. It was his order that we wait and see what Loki would do."
"Loki did not know until that day," Odin told him. "But I thought there were laws against reclaiming such relationships among the Jotun once a child was abandoned."
"The laws prevent direct claiming of him, but there is much that could have been done. Now... he can find no sanctuary here by the law. If knowledge of we Jotun can help, ask and I will consider if the advantage it might give you in the future is too great to provide it - I believe Laufey would have wished it so. Loki was too small to survive, the only child Laufey had with his first love and it burned him for years to think that you gained a second heir with Frigga the same year he had lost the war, his child, and his love. The thought Loki lived, even if in your house and passing as a son of Asgard... it was as the sunlight that brings meltwater to crops." Ulfr looked Odin straight in the face. "Things could have gone very differently between our realms and our families had Loki reacted otherwise. But, as we say, that is last year's snow and any who attempt to return it to the sky shall be buried solid under the weight. Whoever Loki becomes now, we will merely account his past actions as a warning against trusting him."
It was a truce, not a lasting treaty, but for the moment there was peace between the realms and lasting assurance there would be no risk of Jotun retribution against Loki.
Thor came into his parents' chambers, as had become his normal afternoon routine.
"Thor," his mother said warmly.
"Is there any change at all?" he asked, nodding toward the bundle of bedclothes with black hair just visible on one end that she was sitting beside.
"Not today. I think he tried to track your father with his eyes last night."
Thor nodded. It was next to nothing, but even that was something.
Loki's mind had come out from the procedure - if it could be called that - not merely damaged but so badly ripped apart that Heimdall had needed to reassure them that acute trauma to his mind was inevitable and Loki was not, as they had feared, mind-dead.
There were still few signs otherwise. But then, what were a few days to an injury nothing but Loki himself had a hope of healing?
"There is yet hope, Thor." She rubbed Loki's back. "Your little brother has always been tougher than many thought him. He has already been a child meant to die who lived instead once before. He will have his chance."
"And when will Father decide he has had it?" Thor asked, dabbing at his eyes from the thought of it.
"Odin will make no such decision. Thor, if Loki's condition remains like this over time, he will weaken and pass on without anyone having to do anything to harm him. And if that happens, there will be a long time between the changes becoming apparent and the point where improvement will do him no good."
"And yet there is hope?" he asked bitterly.
"Yes, there is. Remember, Thor, your brother was born to a harsher realm and what he lacks in strength he makes up for in tenacity. If but one in all of Asgard could survive this, that one is Loki."
Thor nodded, trying to accept her words as true. He eased in beside Loki on the bed and gathered him into his arms as best as he could.
And tried desperately to believe he didn't merely imagine his brother's muscles relaxing slightly, as if there was something left inside him that knew he was being held and by whom.