"Brother, welcome home."

His eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light, the pupils dilating as they took in the dusky Asgard. How long had it been since he'd last seen his home? A month? A year? He didn't know. And he wasn't home, he reminded himself. No, this would never be home.

Thor walked forward, and Loki followed behind, peaceful. For now. Soon enough, he'd break loose and conquer them all. His gallivant to earth had showed him just how strong he was. Assembling a team of 6 heroes, just to defeat him? His power was clearly great. And yes, he did not have his army anymore, but that didn't matter. He could- No, he would conquer them all.

"We're rebuilding the Bifrost," Loki glared at Thor. He wished he would just shut up. It didn't matter anyway. Loki swallowed hard, tasting metal from the embarrassing muzzle he wore. He hated Thor for humiliating him like this. Muzzling and cuffing him, then parading him through the streets like the spoils of war. Loki was not a prize to be boasted of.

But beneath the humiliation, Loki couldn't keep a smile from crossing his lips. He never allowed the smile to reach his eyes, but left it hidden behind his muzzle. Better to let them see him humiliated and defeated. Throw them all off their guard. This muzzle, these cuffs, and even this escort from Thor himself proved just how terrified of him they were. He would work that fear to his advantage. Let them think he was defeated, then, when they were least aware, he would spring. Loki, god of mischief? Yes, he certainly was.

They were trudging through the halls of the palace, now. The halls they had grown up in. Guards nodded to Thor as he passed, as if he were some great hero. Loki only drew angry glares. He did his best to look as defeated and pathetic as possible. Which was pretty pathetic as possible when you got right down to it.

They were headed for the throne room, and as they walked through the final hall, Sif, Volstagg, Fandval, and Hogun joined them. Loki grinned. Five armed escorts? Oh, this was good. He could hardly wait to find out what he was charged with.

The giant golden double doors swung open to reveal the throne room. Everyone inside fell totally silent. As one, the crowd turned to face them. They were angry, leering faces that looked back at Loki, and he couldn't help but imagine them bowing down to him. Soon enough, he reminded himself. Soon enough.

They walked forward until they were at Odin's throne. As one, the warriors bowed on one knee, a bow fit for a warrior. Loki remained standing. He would not bow to the man who had lied to him. The crowd began to murmur.

Odin's voice rang out like a shot, silencing all. "Loki, son of Laufey, you will bow before your king!"

A ripple ran through the crowd. Loki was stunned. Never before had his father made it so clear that he was not one of them. That he didn't belong. Loki knelt on one knee, but he kept his eyes locked Odin's. You have humiliated me for the last time, Old man. I will kill you.

Odin narrowed his eyes, but he finally seemed to deem Loki's position satisfactory, and stood. "Loki, you are charged with many crimes. " Loki smirked. This was where it go good. "Plot against the good of Asgard, desertion, attempted murder of Thor Odinsson, destruction of the Bifrost," Loki stood at that one, nearly forgetting his muzzle. That was Thor! He screamed silently. "Alliance with the Frost Giants, and countless murder of innocents." Odin gestured, and the warriors stood and removed his muzzle. Loki grinned openly as they removed his cuffs as well. Then all moved away until only Thor remained at his side. Oh yes, this was getting better all the time. "What do you have to say in your defense?"

Now it was Loki's turn. And he knew exactly how to use the great silver tongue of his to turn even perhaps Odin to his side. "People of Asgard, what can I say for myself?" He rubbed his hands together, pausing just long enough to be sure he had everyone's full attention. "I truly regret how I acted, and not a day goes by when I don't mourn the loss of each and every life I took." People in the crowd began to murmur. What was he saying? "But my actions were the actions of a child, frightened," Loki cringed at this. He was anything but a child. "And these actions were brought on by him!" He pointed a long finger at Odin. "Until quite recently, I knew no other life that this, serving my king beside my brother. I was Loki Odinsson, born to be king. But I never wanted the throne. I only wanted to be your equal," Here, he turned to Thor, false tears in his eyes. "I only wanted to stand alongside you as your brother, and not your shadow. But father never saw me," again he addressed the crowd. "Just before the All-Father fell into the Odinsleep, he revealed to me what I truly was. Why I would never be Thor's equal. I am not Thor's brother. I am not even Asgardian. Odin found me in the temple on Jotenheim after the war. He brought me here in hopes that someday I may be of some use to him. Of use! I am just another stolen relic gathering dust," Loki paused, listening to the rippling murmurs of the crowd. Many of them glanced at Odin in disgust. "What I did cannot be excused. But can what he did be excused? Is he still fit to lead?" Loki suddenly turned back to Odin, making his voice tremble slightly. "I ask you to give a chance. A chance to prove I am not a shadow. I ask you to let me challenge Thor to a duel. If I win, I will no longer be held responsible for my actions. I may start with a clean slate."

Odin nodded thoughtfully. "And if Thor wins?"

Loki spread his arms wide. ''Punish me however you see fit. Kill me, torture me, sew my mouth shut. I humble myself to you." Loki swept into a low bow.

Odin stroked his beard thoughtfully. He gazed from Loki to Thor and back again. "Thor?"

"I accept the challenge, father," Loki had known he would. Thor couldn't resist a fight. "On one condition," Loki whipped his head to look at Thor. What kind of wrench was he throwing into the mix? "We use the same weapon."

Loki relaxed. So long as Odin didn't choose hammers, he could still win this. Odin nodded. "Fine. A fair fight. Very well. The duel will be tomorrow at noon. Until then, you are dismissed."

Dismissed? Loki grinned. This was too easy. He cringed as a hand grabbed the back of his neck. "Let's go, Loki." Thor scowled at him. Loki smiled, walking beside Thor. Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite as easy as he thought. But that was quite allright. He would succeed anyway.

Thor led him through the halls of the palace. People glanced at them and whispered, but Thor just walked by. Loki nodded at those who would make eye contact. They glanced away quickly, and he allowed himself a small smile. The Asgardians were worse than the humans. All so small and petty.

Thor led him down to where the cell block lay below the palace. The guards there glared at him. Loki ducked his head, keeping his eyes forward. They meant to lock him up until tomorrow. It was almost laughable. Bars couldn't keep him in. But maybe he would comply, just for tonight. Make them think he was weak.

Thor stopped in front of a cell, unlocking and pulling open the door. Loki strode inside of his own accord, and he could sense Thor's frustrated scowl. It made him smile. The door clanged shut behind him.

He spun around, an arrogant smile on his face. "Best of luck, brother." He hissed the word brother through his teeth. "Tomorrow I will prove myself your equal. Odin will finally see my worth." A sadness filled Thor's eyes when he looked back at Loki. "What happened to you, brother? You've changed. Call this off. Humble yourself before father. Come home."

"Home?" Loki laughed. "This isn't home. Not so long as that liar sits on the throne."

Thor gripped the bars. "He was protecting you! Don't you understand that?"

Loki leaned forward, hissing, "I understand that my entire life was a lie. He could have told me what I was."

Thor just shook his head. "You don't understand." He turned and walked away, and Loki stumbled back and fell, slumped against the cell wall. He hung his head in his hands, suddenly exhausted. Thor's words rang through his mind. You don't understand.