Title: I do solemnly swear
Summary: In which our heroes learn the perils of lack of inter-team communication, and Loki has his day in court.
Author's Notes: This was inspired by (though it didn't turn out to directly fit) a prompt on Norsekink, requesting that when Loki snapped out of the brainwashing he reverted to his post-Thor, depressed/suicidal self. Accordingly he may not be up to the snarky snuff you are used to.
Thor did not lead him back to his own rooms in the palace; nor did he take him back down to the holding cells beneath the stone. Instead he found himself led to one of the guest-houses normally reserved for visiting dignitaries of Alfheim and Vanaheim. Tastefully decorated and comfortably appointed, they were nonetheless built for security, and the bodyguards that were normally set to ensure that intruders were kept out could just as easily be ordered to keep a prisoner in.
He was not inclined to complain. He was not inclined to do much of anything. There was a muted relief to be free of the cells and all that came with them, heavy chains and sharp-edged stone benches and the silent scorn of the guards; at the same time his mind shied away from the prospect of being led back to his old rooms as though nothing had happened, folded back into his old life.
There was a bed. There was a wide bed in a dimmed corner with heavy forest-green comforters upon it, and as soon as Thor released hold of his arm Loki walked right over to the bed and lay down upon it. He was very tired.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept properly, other than in uneasy doses snatched in the hours of waiting for his trial to convene. He had not slept in all the time the Chitauri ruled his mind, nor for a long time before that, as they discovered that denying him sleep was the most effective way to weaken his mental defenses. But now. Now there was a bed, with pillows and blankets and everything bed-like that he could have ever asked for. Now he could sleep, and in sleep, hopefully he could forget for a time.
"Are these chambers adequate, Brother?" Thor was asking him, his boisterous voice unusually subdued. Loki didn't answer him, instead drawing a pillow to his chest and curling around it, burying his face in its softness. Thor ought to know better, Thor ought to be able to tell from Loki's actions that all he wanted to do was sleep. If the answer to his question wasn't obvious from Loki's behavior, then Thor didn't deserve an answer at all.
"Do… do you need anything?" Thor asked again, even more uncertain than before. Loki ignored him. He didn't have to answer Thor's questions any more, he didn't have to do anything. It had been so long since this was true that Loki felt like being contrary, denying Thor the responses he sought. See how he liked being denied what he wanted for a change. Besides, if he responded to Thor in any way then Thor would want to talk, and that would take too long and require far more energy than Loki possessed. He was so tired.
He just wanted to sleep, that was all. He just wanted to sleep.
"I… I will have food and water brought," Thor said at last, finally realizing that Loki wasn't going to answer him. "There is a bath-house adjoining to this one, and a small library near the back, though nothing like as extensive as yours once was, of course. Do whatever you need to make yourself comfortable, Brother, and I will return in a few hours."
Loki said nothing.
Thor hesitated a moment, then added in an uncomfortable voice, "The Althing is still cloistered, debating your new testimony. Until their judgment is completed, it would be best if you do not… do not… do anything."
Loki could have laughed. Do anything? What did they imagine he would do? He wanted to do nothing. For far too long he'd been forced to do so many things against his will, to obey commands that sickened him, to tolerate magics upon him that horrified him, to answer questions that humiliated him. Now he had his own will back and his freedom, however limited, to do nothing at all.
His only response was to shift a little further to turn his face into the wall, putting his back towards Thor. He heard a sigh, and after a little the door clicked as his brother went out, and in a soft murmur spoke to the guards there waiting.
Loki took a deep breath and sighed, a deep shuddering sigh that seemed to release some coiled, hurting pit of tension in his stomach; he closed his eyes.
Thor stormed towards Valaskjálf, Odin's great silver hall, seething under his skin. His palms itched for Mjolnir's handle, muscles twitching in anticipation of battle, while at the same time accusations and arguments boiled in his head. He was more sure than ever, now, that Odin had known of the Chitauri's mind-control from the beginning. There is always a reason for everything your father does, Frigga had told him, but at the moment Thor couldn't even begin to imagine what it was.
"Father!" Thor stormed into the great hall, heedless of what he might be interrupting. By chance or design Odin was nearly alone, conferring quietly with Vidarr, one of his advisors. Odin glanced up when the doors slammed open and whatever he saw in Thor's face, it was enough for him to gesture Vidarr to withdraw.
"What is it?" Odin said, and he sounded more resigned than anything else. For a moment Thor could barely find the words to express his fury.
"You knew!" he accused.
"I know a great many things, Thor. You'll have to be more specific than that." Odin's voice was dry, and when he said things like that he sounded just like Loki, a comparison which sent chills down his spine.
"You knew about Loki," Thor sputtered. "That he was being controlled by the Chitauri, that his mind was not free. You knew!"
"I suspected," Odin corrected him. "I couldn't be sure, not until we got him back to Asgard. What occurs in the Chitauri's ream is outside of the sight of Asgard, but there are other ways of gathering information, and rumors had come to us about the Chitauri's new alliances and… experiments."
"You didn't tell me!" Thor seethed, getting right on to the root of his grudge. "You told me Loki had become an enemy of Asgard - you told me to go to Midgard and punish him -"
"What did I tell you, Thor Thunderer?" Odin interrupted him. "What exactly."
Thor eyed his father with deep suspicion, and tried to recall that last interview with Odin to his mind. "You told me that I must harden my heart to Loki…" And the Fates knew he had tried. "That I should seek him out and smite him with all the fury of Asgard behind my blow, and apprehend him to Gladsheim to determine his fate."
"In other words," Odin said sharply, "I told you to go to Midgard to find your brother, hit him really hard over the head, and use the Tessaract to bring him back here where he belongs. And if you had just done what I told you, this whole fiasco could have been over before it began! I underestimated you, Thor, you do not usually need this much encouragement to solve your problems by hitting them."
"You should have told me of the enchantment upon Loki!" Thor protested. "Had I known he was so afflicted, and that a blow to the head was the cure, I would have smote him most willingly."
Odin uttered a bark of laughter. "So when I told you that Loki was an enemy, and ordered you to strike him, you refused," he said. "Yet if I told you that Loki was not an enemy, and to treat him with kindness, you would have struck him? Truly I am surrounded by the most reliable of vassals."
"Yes, but once I had him safely back -" Thor said heatedly. "If I had not chanced upon the clue from the other Avengers, then what? Loki would have been condemned for crimes he did not commit!"
"Yes," Odin said. "Which was why I sent you back to Midgard to obtain just such clues. I had faith that you would come upon the answer eventually, Thor. Well done."
"This is no jest! Father, you should have told me the truth!" Thor said angrily. "He was grieved and weary enough from his ordeal with the Chitauri and the punishment he took at the hands of my shield-brothers on Midgard. We could have at least spared him the humiliation and distress of parading him around Asgard like a condemned criminal. We should have spared him that, Father! After all he has suffered, we should have spared him."
Odin sighed. "My son, believe it or not, there is a method to my doings," he said. "If I had announced to all of Asgard that Loki - my own son, known trickster, called mad - was innocent, who would have believed me? They would have thought me deluded with a father's love, or else scheming to protect the power of my own House. Loki might have been allowed to return, but there would always be a festering outrage, a firm conviction of his evil that no kingly pronouncement could overturn. He would never again be accorded trust or honor, and men would spit in his shadow as he passed. It was that fate from which I wished to spare him, Thor.
"But now the truth is out and all of Asgard knows, for the news of Loki's ensorcellement has been brought to light in a manner that no man can doubt or question. The enchantments of Gladsheim are known to all, and trusted - more so than my word. You should know by now, Thor, that the people of Asgard are hot-hearted and easily moved by passion. They built up a feeling of outrage over Loki's path of destruction, from the Bifrost leading on down to Midgard. Now they learn that Loki was innocent of the worst of those crimes, that he himself was a trapped pawn in the machinations of others. Outrage turns to pity, and in the shadow of such things those crimes which were indisputably by his hand seem less in comparison, and they will be more inclined to forgive."
Thor stared at his own feet, his head lowered in the face of Odin's authority and yet his unhappiness undiminished. "It was not right," he muttered. "Whatever others might or might not have done to him, he is my brother and your son, and 'twas the duty of his family to stand by him."
"If you still think thus, then I have no more arguments to sway you," Odin said with a sigh. "But it is done, Thor. I cannot change the past, whether I would or nil. Go back to your brother now; I have other arrangements to see to."
"Will you…" Thor said hesitantly. "Will you go and see Loki?"
"In time." Odin stood from his throne, Gungnir gripped in one hand. "He has more need of you right now than he does of me. Even in my youth, Thor, I was never so whole-heart as you; that is a trait you get from your mother, to be able to love purely and unreservedly. I am too old now to change my ways, and although I may seem cold and calculating to you, believe you that all I do is with love in my heart and the best interests of my family and my realm in my mind."
The thought came to Thor for the first time ever that if this was what it meant to be king, he was no longer so sure that he wanted it. Tongue-tied he bowed to his father, then turned and left.
As deliciously soft and pleasant as the bed was, Loki found himself unable to sleep well. He would still jerk awake periodically, muscles twitching under his skin as though he still felt the stinging shock that the Chitauri had used to dissuade him from sleep. Almost worse than the memories, though, was the dim grey cloud of loneliness that seemed to creep about him when he was still. It seemed unfair that he could be too tired to sleep, and yet the universe had never felt any need to be fair in his favor.
Others had come and gone while he dozed; the servant bearing a pitcher of water and a tray of food, who had set it on the table and then left. Soft footsteps once that he recognized as Frigga's; he had refused to open his eyes or acknowledge them, and after a long time she left as well. Loki only wished that they would all leave him in peace, but there seemed no point in telling them that.
He was not at all certain what was going to happen. When he'd fallen from the Bifrost, it was not so much because he'd wanted to kill himself as because there no longer seemed to be any reason to go on living. Odin's words, those two simple, deadly words had cut into his heart and drained his limbs of the strength they needed to hang on. He'd thought: he would fall from the bridge into the void below and then it would be over. How easy it would be, how final.
But he'd landed amongst the Chitauri instead, and the prospect of death went from being an easy out, to a sweet fantasy of escape that beckoned from far beyond his reach. The Chitauri had no intention of letting him die. He was far too valuable to them, containing the indispensible knowledge of how to manipulate the Tesseract. They had not mishandled his flesh, not particularly, but the process of cracking open his mind to insinuate their own controls had been long and excruciating.
Loki was no mortal to be dominated with a single touch of their scepter; he was Aesir (Jotunn. Monster!) and well-trained in magic. It had been a long, wearying process to break down his mental defenses enough for them to subsume his will to theirs. Loki would never forget the feeling of crawling worms in his head as the insidious magics crept under his skin, would never forget the helpless horror he felt the first time his body stood and walked across his cell without his commanding it.
When the green beast had smashed him into the merciless floor of Stark's tower and Loki felt the oppressive veneer of the Chitauri's influence over his mind pop like a soap bubble, he'd thought, At least I may die as myself. He had fully expected the Avengers to kill him when they found him and had made no argument to dissuade them, taking the trouble only to request one last drink to speed him on his way.
It was somewhat to his surprise that they had not, but when Thor had come to him with the gag and the chains, Loki understood: Thor would take him back to Asgard and they would kill him. It seemed an unnecessary cruelty to drag it out so when the ending was never in doubt, but Loki had steeled himself to endure, to face the mockery and laughter of everyone he'd ever known, to drag himself along one foot in front of the other while promising himself that soon enough it would be over.
And now it was over. And now. Now what? He had let himself fall and let himself be taken and had been prepared to let himself die, only to find himself in the end right back where he had started with all the things he had run from still there awaiting him. There would be no ending through death unless he was prepared to inflict in on himself, and for all his long weariness and grief Loki didn't think he was. Among other things, he was surely watched at all times now, and his captors would not take kindly to any attempt of his to take his own life. Plus they would probably tell Thor, and Thor would make a scene.
As though thoughts of his miserable brother were enough to summon him, Loki heard Thor's familiar booted step outside the door. The sound jolted him awake again, and perversely he drew himself tighter about the pillow, closing his eyes tight and making his breathing deliberately deep.
"Brother?" Thor called as he came in. "I have returned. How do you fare?" A pause, and then Thor added "You need not feign sleep, Loki, I know you are awake."
So Thor had learned to pay attention to that which surrounded him, after all. Pity it came to him so late.
A weight caused the mattress to dip and shift under him, and he caught the whiff of leather, metal and ozone that had always been Thor's personal scent. Had breathed it in secretly when he pressed against Thor's shoulder, earlier that day, and the familiar smell of it had broken the stern careful barricades he had built around his heart, that none of his enemies would see him break down and weep like a coward.
"Loki," Thor's voice came to him softly, hesitantly. "I have spoken with our father, and I have been thinking much. I realize now that we have not… not done well with you, as a family should. I especially was prideful in calling myself your brother, when I have done little to earn that title and much to abuse it.
"The council has still to render a judgment for those crimes and errors that were yours without interference or ensorcellement. I do not believe they will be too harsh - our father will throw his weight on the scales in favor of mercy, and so will I, for whatever my influence is worth."
Loki wanted to laugh. How unusually humble of Thor, to imagine that there was anyone in Asgard who would deny him his will in any avenue he chose to exert it. Truly, his time on Midgard had changed him.
"The very worst they can do is banish you from Asgard, if but for a span of years. If that is so, then I will accompany you wherever you will go instead; to Midgard, if that place does not give you too much pain. I know that my shield-brothers would accept you, for they too know the secret of the Chitauri's ensorcellement and would not blame you for your deeds. Or to Vanaheim, if that would be easier for you; or even to Jotunheim if that is where you wish. Even if you were to go to Niflheim, Loki, I would follow you, if only to bring you back again.
"I do not understand why you are so strangely silent, Brother, who always had a clever word for any situation otherwise. But when you speak again, I swear upon Mjolnir's haft that I at least will listen."
Loki said nothing, letting the words wash over him, burrow down under his skin and into his heart. He wasn't sure that he believed them, yet; rash promises were easy to make and harder to uphold.
"Loki," Thor said, and his voice was half-choked with sorrow. His brother truly was a creature of sentiment, letting joy and rage and sorrow overflow from him and splashing off on anyone who happened to be nearby. It was embarrassing. "Will you ever forgive us?"
Loki rolled over on the mattress towards his brother, and although he still did not meet his eyes, he let one hand creep out in an open invitation. Thor took it, clasping their hands together and entwining their fingers; Thor's hand was very warm.
"Yes," Loki said.
A/N: This is the official last chapter of this fic. I'm not entirely satisfied with it, as it seems to be only the beginning for something more, but I simply do not have any more ideas for this particular setting. If I ever do, I'll pick it up again, but in the meantime I have a whole bunch of other ideas in my queue that I'd rather get to first.