Disclaimer: I own no part of the Marvel movie universe.
The next three days would have been incredibly annoying if Tony hadn't already decided he wanted Loki to make as much a recovery as a scientific mind as a person in general.
Thor and Frigga had said just enough for Tony to recognize a fellow experimental engineer. Different concepts of technology and most of what Loki did would be considered magic on Earth, but it was close enough.
The more Loki recovered, the more he saw it.
Loki kept asking for words around the lab all morning each day for as long as Tony or Bruce would tolerate it. Which functionally meant until Loki mentally wore himself out. He would crash for an hour in the bedroom near the labs while Tony and Bruce ate lunch as the table in the room, then they'd get Loki lunch, and then he would mainly observe them the rest of the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Tony was observing Loki.
He clearly didn't understand most of the words he was given - especially not on the first try - but there was progress. Enough that Loki seemed comforted by it. If nothing else, he seemed to calm as the days went by.
And if Loki was happy with his progress, then that made the delays worthwhile to Tony.
It was the third day when Thor finally asked Tony how Loki was doing, before dinner so Loki was nowhere nearby.
"He's asking for a lot of words." Tony told him, "but he doesn't remember a lot of them."
Thor's shoulders slumped. "I had hoped... He's been exhausted at night, but he seemed satisfied."
"He's getting some vocabulary back, he's communicating constantly now, and he's exerting some self-determination about his life. That's amazing progress, Thor."
Thor closed his eyes. "There are times I remember what he has been, and I am amazed at how far my brother has come."
"And there are others when you remember a brother you could stand beside on a battlefield, and you feel like he's got so far to go."
Thor nodded and opened his eyes. "I know he can never be that man again. It is harder to accept now." He sighed. "And I am doing little for him now."
"Thor, you're keeping him alive every single meal you eat together," Tony told him frankly.
Thor paled and Tony sighed to himself.
Yes it was a devastating problem. Yes it was demeaning for a grown man to need someone else to feed him. Yes it meant that if left to his own devices completely Loki Odinson would starve.
But it was the one disabling problem Loki had that they knew his captors and controllers had absolutely intended he have. So long as it wasn't getting worse, Tony wasn't concerned about it.
"That was meant to happen," Tony reminded him. "That ought to be taking ages to lessen, and he's stopped fighting. And we know roughly where it came from."
That only made it worse.
"And he's taking an amazing amount of interest in the world around him now," Tony pointed out. "If I hadn't been forewarned that Asgard treats technology and magic as one subject, I would have been surprised at how he's been in the lab."
Thor brightened a little. "He... my brother was always willing to use what he could to get the effect he wanted. He used to cobble together little holographic generators for when he wanted illusions that would last against those who knew to check for traces of magic. Even when he learned how to make lasting illusions with as little detection risk as possible, he'd still keep one or two where he could reach them." He sighed. "Some of our sorcerers - including the Sorceress Supreme - have biases against other sorcerers who use what you'd consider technology to augment their manipulation of magic. Loki did so all the time. The staff was only one example."
"And he's not touched magic since the battle here. Not beyond one shapeshifting incident."
"Nor have I seen any sign he has tried. Nor did Dr. Strange touch on the subject."
Tony shrugged. "Dr. Strange was looking for damage, Thor. If he's just leaving magic alone for now, without any damage to his capabilities, why would he bring it up? Considering the last time he used an illusion, it was part of an attempt on your life at someone else's orders..."
Thor made a warding gesture.
"The best any of us can do right now is get him through the damage removing the mind control did to him, get him communicating in more than bits and pieces, and then help him deal with the rest of it once he can tell us what he's been through."
It was that night when Thor finally read anything from Asgard to Loki.
Loki came into their shared bedroom looking as not-exhausted as he had since before he'd begun spending most of his time with Tony and Bruce.
Thor had known it wasn't worth making the offer when Loki was too tired to benefit. It would have only been useful as a comfort, and Loki preferred hugs to talk for that. At least for now and so far as Thor could see.
"Would you like me to read to you?" Thor offered, pointing at the stack of thin books. "I was hoping some of them might still be familiar."
Judging by the look on his face, Loki clearly couldn't work through all of what Thor had said. But at least it was enough to get him sorting thoughtfully through the pile.
Thor had no idea what criteria Loki used to pick the five he brought over, but he decided to trust Tony's counsel.
Loki needed control of his own healing now. At least for this.
Thor settled down on his bed, leaning against the wall, and Loki sat next to him.
He looked at the cover of the one Thor had decided to read first. The sheer wrongness of knowing there was writing, what it likely said, and yet not being able to read any of it was suddenly overwhelming.
He laid down with his back turned to his brother, knowing the pages were going to feel just as wrong.
And besides, the less he could remind himself of what he'd lost, the better his chances to remember what he could might be.
He wanted to remember tonight.
But the words he was expecting didn't come in the first book. He recognized others he thought should have come before and after, but not those words.
The thought he could remember something being there that wasn't was unsettling. If that was false, what else might be?
Or maybe he just wasn't ready for those words yet, no matter how much he was ready for those words.
Another book. Still no words he'd picked the book for. He didn't even recognize anything with an association with them.
And then the third. A book you couldn't help but fall into a rhythm when reading.
Thor fell into the rhythm and the familiarity lulled Loki's eyes shut.
And then the rhythm fell apart, lapsed into nothingness, and came back.
Loki knew that had never happened before. Not that book, not when either of their parents had read it to them and not when he'd used that very rhythm as an aid when learning to read out loud himself.
His eyes flew open and he felt the outrage start to rise, fast enough he ignored all caution for the first time in... well, since before.
Loki flipped around and grabbed the book from Thor.
There was a blank page in the open spread, a clean white sheet clearly covering what was supposed to be there. Loki barely recognized the way it was affixed, and knew the Midgardians didn't have half the science required.
Thor hadn't self-censored while reading. He'd gone ahead and decided not to read all of the book when he was still away from Midgard!
Thor knew he was in trouble when he saw Loki's eyes widen and his jaw drop.
And then Loki grabbed for the other books.
Thor couldn't give more than a half-hearted effort at stopping him.
Loki flipped through them quickly, and it was only now that Thor realized just how many of the books he had brought had needed censoring.
I should have left them back on Asgard, he thought. There were books that said nothing about the Jotun. I should have focused on bringing them.
A strained look came over Loki's face, and after a moment Thor realized he was watching his brother's words fail completely.
The communications device Tony had given him was either forgotten or deemed unuseful for whatever he was trying to say.
And it was thoroughly horrifying to watch Loki try to speak, the strain increasing and increasing as he seemly tested to see if working ever harder at it might work.
It did not.
What finally came out of Loki once he had been completely defeated in his efforts was a loud demanding squall of outright entitlement.
It nearly stunned Thor past thought.
Requests, Loki was only now beginning to properly regain. Demands?
The sound seemed to have shocked Loki too, straight out of whatever security he'd needed to make the demand. His face paled.
"It is okay, Brother," Thor told him quickly and calmly. "I just don't know what you want. And I wish you could tell me."
It took more calm words, but after a few moments Loki did start to calm down.
"What do you want?" Thor asked.
Loki pointed at the emptied page.
Thor sighed. "Loki..."
Light eyes flashed with anger and Thor was suddenly reminded of Laufey as he truly had been. Not as the book lying on the bed portrayed the Jotun king and his kin.
Thor wished Laufey was still alive, then, very keenly. He might have been able to help. Arranged a volunteer so Dr. Strange could look at a Jotun mind with no injuries, if nothing else.
But then, if Laufey was alive then none of this would have happened, most likely.
Loki grabbed for the communication device. He fiddled with it for a few breaths. "Name that." He pointed at the book.
And then Loki pointed at himself.
"You are Loki Odinson, second prince of Asgard and my slightly younger brother," Thor told him.
The look on Loki's face did not soften, not even slightly.
He pointed at himself and then at the blank page.
Thor gave in. Whatever damage might be caused would just have to be caused this time. "Jotun. You were born to the Jotun, on Jotunheim. Our father Odin found you and raised you as his own on Asgard."
Thor realized with a pang of near-regret that Loki must have picked those books specifically for the very things he had covered over to protect him.
The words to describe Loki's blood heritage, which he had already remembered on his own far better than Thor had anticipated.
"I am sorry," he stated softly. "I thought I was doing what was best for you."
A touch of disbelief in Loki's eyes. Just a touch.
"They say mean things about the Jotun. I wanted to spare you that while I could."
Loki seemed to think for a moment.
Thor took one of the books and uncovered the illustration, just for long enough. That was one of the less offensive examples, but it was clear the artist had never seen a Jotun and had taken the description from an old warrior's drunken war stories.
Loki's reaction was full of disgust, horror, and above all insult.
Thor had to hold in a smile. It was horrible what his brother faced being Jotun in an Asgardian family, even shapeshifted, but this was a better way to learn if than had happened the last time. This was one of the few signs of really standing up for himself there had been, and for it to be centered on Loki accepting his blood heritage...
Thor pulled Loki close for a hug. "You are no monster, Brother."
Then, Loki squirmed and pushed a little for room.
Thor felt a finger poke him in the chest. Then Loki poked him in the forehead, too.
"What do I think, you mean?" Thor asked.
Loki nodded uneasily.
"I wish I had been raised knowing. I wish you had been raised knowing. I wish our people thought differently, but most of them don't."
Loki understood enough of it for it to become very clear a question had entered his mind.
It struck Thor then that Loki was logically mostly back to his old self. He'd been underestimating him because of the communication gap and the lingering effects of the abuse he'd been put through.
It could have been days or weeks since Loki's comprehension capacity had returned.
It was his choice. Entirely his. Their parents were not here, and it would be months unless anything else happened before either of them would come to Midgard again.
Even if they had to keep sheltering Loki, it was time he at least knew when he was being sheltered.
Thor sighed and leaned back until his head hit the wall. He preferred things he could hit.
"Loki, there is something else you need to know," Thor told him. "Something we are taking care of for you. Do you understand?"
Loki gestured uneasily.
"You mean you understand closely enough, but not everything?" Thor asked.
"We are here so you can recover with help from our Midgardian allies."
"And for another reason."
Loki gave him a confused look.
Thor tried to find gentle words Loki might understand.
There was a flash of anger in his brother's eyes and a gesture that could only mean 'continue damn it'.
"Asgard knows you are Jotun," Thor told him frankly.
"This is not exile. Only to give you space and safety to heal."
The words didn't seem to help much.
"Sif is on your side. The Warriors Three are on your side. Your family stands beside you. Much of the palace guard already knew and cared little about it. More than a few with no reason beyond honor to do so turned on those who turned against you."
Loki calmed slowly and it wasn't until Thor had restacked the books and taken a private moment in the bathroom to dress for bed that he was ready for any more attempts at communication in either direction.
"If you need to spend the night over here," Thor told him, "you are welcome to. I should not have told you that so close to sleep." On impulse, he added, "I thought you ought to know."
Loki nodded, then stood and hugged him.
Loki gave him a mildly exasperated look, then went to get ready for bed himself.
Thor had to stifle a laugh when he saw Loki trying to wash his face in the sink before he bothered with closing the door all the way. He couldn't believe no one had showed him how the little stopper control worked that would make it into something closer to a proper washbasin from back home, but it would have been such a simple thing to overlook.
It just wasn't possible to get a proper splash up without standing water... although Loki was doing far better at that than Thor would have thought possible.
Tomorrow. The morning, maybe. Loki'd already had more than enough learning for the night. And something that might feel like correction could be a bad idea after what Thor had just inadvertently done.
Tomorrow it was.