Title: Quiet Little Place
Author's Note: This is intended as a sequel to "A Villain State of Mind." It skips forward in the chronology about a year, and is intended (very loosely) to come after the events of Thor 2. There should be no T2 spoilers, since this fic is AU, and assumes that the brothers will reconcile at some point.
Outside the window of Charles's office, the leaves were just beginning to curl crimson. A shift in the weather the past week had dropped the temperatures to near-freezing at night, triggering the turning of the leaves, but during the afternoon the air was still pleasant enough for Charles to leave his window cracked open. All told, it was a pleasant day, and Charles enjoyed the brief period of peace and quiet.
Such interludes were hard to come by in the face of Charles's quadruple workload: managing a school of volatile and variously damaged young mutants, scouring the world with Cerebro for more of said variously damaged mutants, managing his team of elite trouble-shooting mutant heroes, and keeping tabs on mutant-human relations and lending his support to nudge things along in a positive direction wherever possible.
It helped to be a telepath (really, Charles had no idea how any teacher coped without it) and he ended up delegating most of the day-to-day work to some of his former students whom he loved dearly and trusted implicitly, but it was still quite a full life. Those brief moments where he could lay it all down for awhile, at least enough to turn to more personal concerns, were to be treasured.
"Professor?" Charles looked up at the light female voice as the student acting as his administrative assistant stuck her head through the door. Literally through the door, her dark-haired head and shoulders emerging from the wood as though she were a ghost. "There are two men here to see you."
"Kitty, you know you're not supposed to phase through things where people who aren't from the school can see you," Charles remonstrated her gently.
Shadowcat flushed, and stuttered. "Oh. S-sorry, I -" She pulled herself the rest of the way through the wall and stepped down onto the floor inside his office. "I didn't think it would be a big deal, I mean, these two guys definitely aren't normals."
"Nevertheless, you should keep up the habit." Charles opened his mind briefly, casting about to see who was waiting in his front office, and his eyebrows lifted a trifle at the impressions he received. "Show them in, please, Kitty. And hold all my calls until we're done."
"Yes, Professor." Her dark fuzzy head bobbed in agreement, and she turned and stepped back towards the door. Charles cleared his throat gently, and she stopped at the last second from walking through the solid wood portal with a slight jerk. Blushing furiously, she reached for the knob to open the door, and called out to those waiting beyond, "Professor Xavier will see you now."
As his two guests filed into the small office, Charles reflected that he could see why Shadowcat had jumped to the conclusion that they were metahumans. The taller, blond man was dressed in clothes that would not have been out of place at a Renaissance faire: metal armor, leather straps, and a bright red cloak over all. On another man the outfit might have looked ridiculous, but he carried with him such an aura of sunny confidence that it was impossible to imagine that anything he wore was not entirely correct.
His companion was shorter, slighter, and dressed impeccably in a handsome Italian suit - and yet there was something about him, some indefinable edge that set the senses tingling and wary. An atmosphere of danger, of chaos, surrounded him that belied the crisply tailored facade.
The average person would have sensed that much from these two, and nothing else. But Charles, with his heightened sensitivity to the psychic plane, could see much, much more. Shadowcat had been right - they weren't normal humans. But they weren't mutant humans, either; they belonged to another order of being entirely. A race from beyond the stars, yet linked to humanity through countless years of kinship - a race once worshipped on Earth as gods.
"Well, hello, Loki," Charles said, giving a warm and friendly greeting to the dark-haired man. "It's good to see you again."
"Professor Xavier." Loki's greeting sounded cool, but there was genuine warmth in his smile and a clear happiness in his mind as he crossed the room to clasp Charles's hand between both of his own. It was a very Earth-like gesture, the handshake, reflecting in one simple motion how much Loki had adapted to being on Earth among humans in only the past year.
"It's been awhile since we last talked," Charles said. "I would say I hope you have been staying out of trouble, but that's a bit of a lost cause in your case, so instead I will merely say that I hope you've been well."
Loki's smile widened. "Passing well, thank you, Professor," he said. "Most of my trouble has been of the benevolent kind, I can assure you."
"That's wonderful to hear." Charles turned to the second man, who shifted uncomfortably in the crowded office, as though nervous of bumping into or breaking things if he moved an inch in the wrong direction. "And you must be Thor." He held out his hand.
Thor came forward, and his bright blue eyes widened slightly as he took in the details of Charles's chair. He'd gotten a similar (if rather more blunt) reaction from Loki when they'd first met, enough to make him suspect that whatever culture the brothers came from was rather less tolerant of physical frailty than his own. But where Loki had quickly learned to look past the surface and gained a deep respect for Charles's powers, Thor buried his reaction under an iron grip of good manners.
"Professor Charles Xavier," he greeted him in a deep, gruff voice. He held out one massive, calloused hand to shake, but when Charles took it the grip he good in return was almost absurdly delicate. Thor too had clearly been spending as much time among humans as Loki, but was much more intensely conscious of the need to curb his strength around them. "I have heard much about you. It is good to meet you at last."
"Oh?" Charles let his eyebrows slide upwards in bemused query. "And what have you heard?"
"That you are a man of great principle and compassion, who champions the causes of the mutant humans on Midgard with a truly laudable commitment to peace," Thor answered. He'd apparently also heard a great many other things about Charles Xavier, some of them much less complimentary, but the King's son kept his grasp of diplomacy firm enough not to say any of them aloud.
Thor raised his electric blue eyes to meet Charles's, and he felt almost dizzy from the intense pressure of the blond man's regard. "And from my brother Loki, I hear that you are a man of great power and deep wisdom, one whose insights are unparalleled."
For all he kept a cool facade, Charles could clearly read the nervous upset in Loki's mind as Thor turned all his attention to Charles. Under his surface thoughts seethed a nagging conviction, however irrational, that anyone who met Thor would immediately abandon Loki in favor of his brother. In some respects, Charles thought, it was an expression of immense trust on Loki's part that he was willing to risk one of his very few friends by introducing them to Thor.
Having met Thor in person, Charles now thought he could understand why Loki worried. The effect of Thor's presence was not to be underestimated.
The first time he'd met Loki, one of the first things Charles had noticed was that he projected a psychic field far beyond the limits of his own body - unlike human beings, whose thoughts (usually) confined themselves within their own head. He'd wondered at the time if it was a trait unique to Loki, or common to all of his people (or adopted people.).
It seemed that the latter was the case; although Thor's mind and Loki's were as different in tone as night and day, they were alike in form. Thor was not only confident and amicable, he literally radiated these qualities, and others who were caught in his psychic wake couldn't help but respond. In lesser quantities it could have been called charisma, or even magnetism, but even when he was expending no effort at leading others they would not hesitate to flock to his banner. Even Charles was not immune to it, although he was far more aware of the process than any human would be and better equipped to shield himself against the unintentional spillover than most.
"I see," Charles said. Thor released his hand, and Charles gestured to a pair of heavy armchairs against the far wall. "Please, make yourself comfortable."
They were antiques, each weighing well over a hundred pounds, but Thor heaved his carelessly across the floor with a bone-grinding squeal before he seated himself before the desk. Loki moved his own chair with equal effortlessness, although considerably less noise; he sat himself at the opposite end of the desk, as far as he could get from Thor's reach while still remaining close to Charles.
"So," Charles said, and he folded his hands before him with his elbows on the desk. "What can I do for the Avengers today?"
"I come not on behalf of the Avengers," Thor answered, "but for myself, and for my brother, Loki. I know that he has given you his confidences, and that is a rare and impressive thing; such that I cannot help but feel the first stirrings of hope that you can grant me this boon."
"And what boon is it that you want, Thor Odinson?" Charles asked. He had an idea - Loki had discussed the matter with him before, the first time he'd brought of the suggestion of bringing his brother in to talk to Charles together - but he had to make sure that he and Loki and Thor were all on the same page here.
"I wish to be reconciled with my brother," Thor said seriously.
Beside him, Loki scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Sentimental drivel as ever, Thor," he said, and his brother scowled at him. "Really, must you waste the Professor's valuable time on your foolishness?"
"Coming here together was your idea, Loki," Thor said, an edge of temper beginning to rouse in his voice.
Charles cocked an eyebrow. "Are you not reconciled already?" he said. He knew that Loki's relationship with his adopted home were still not entirely salubrious, but here on Earth he and Thor - and the other Avengers - had fought on the same side enough times to convince all but the most doubtful that Loki truly meant well.
"We have called something of a truce," Thor said, giving Loki a sideways look. "We have forgiven each other for past wrongs and misdeeds, and stood shoulder to shoulder in battle against worthy foes. And there was a time when I never thought that I could ask for so much. But still there is not peace between us, and I do not understand why."
"You have given me little enough reason to desire peace with you, Thor," Loki said with an edge to his voice.
"That is not true, Loki," Thor said, sounding hurt. Loki threw up his hands and huffed a laugh, choked and incredulous-sounding.
"Of course, if I say it, it must be a lie, is that it?" Loki demanded. "Even when I speak of my own thoughts and feelings, only the mighty Thor gets to say which ones are true and real, and anything else is just some malicious phantom of my devising, is that right?"
"I didn't say that, Loki!" Thor turned to Charles in appeal. "Do you see? No matter how conciliatory a spirit in which I approach him, he constantly snaps and picks quarrels! I do not believe, as others do, that it springs from any true malice or evil inside him -" at least, Charles clearly heard him think, I do not wish to believe it; "but then I do not understand why he is like this!"
And he really didn't, Charles realized. For all the power that Thor poured forth, he was as blind and deaf to the effect his mental field had on others as any mundane human would be. He simply took for granted the extraordinary effect his presence had on others - and could not see how it affected his brother at all.
Being in a room with Loki and Thor at the same time was like watching the collision of two galaxies. Thor's mind was as bright and elemental as the event horizon of a black hole - brilliant, uncomplicated, shining forth a limitless power into the void around it. And Loki... Loki was like a nebula trapped at the edge of that black hole, his own edges warped and twisted all out of his own shape by the inexorable pull into his brother's orbit.
"Yes," Charles said slowly. "I see the problem."
Loki shot him an anguished look that was accompanied by a powerful surge of relief and gratitude - for seeing what Loki felt, for affirming that it was real and not only a product of Loki's self-destructive imagination. "He does this all the time," he said in an aggravated voice.
"I'm not doing anything!" Thor defended himself. "It's all in his head."
"See? See how he dismisses my concerns?" Loki flared up, jabbing a finger in his brother's direction. "How can I hope to have a conversation with him, let alone any kind of reconciliation," he sneered the word, "when he won't even acknowledge what he's doing wrong?"
Thor threw up his hands in exasperation. "How can I possibly be expected to cater to your every paranoid fantasy?" he shouted.
"Okay, enough, you two," Charles said sharply. He did not actually raise the volume of his voice, but followed it with an extra mental nudge that assured his words would be heard. The two brothers broke off their quarrel and looked at him, only slightly chastened."Loki, Thor's not doing it on purpose." Loki scowled at him. "And Thor, Loki's not imagining it."
"I do not understand," Thor said. Loki looked about ready to make another scathing comment, but Charles gave him a quelling look and he subsided. "To what do you refer?"
Charles cleared his throat. "Thor, how much are you already aware of what I am and what I can do?"
Thor shrugged. "I do not understand the subtle workings of the magefolk," he said. "Loki said that you were utterly trustworthy, and that your vision is great and penetrating. That was explanation enough for me."
"That is rather more poetic than precise," Charles said. "Let me start at the beginning.
"All living things, but especially sapient beings, possess a mental presence of lesser or greater strength. For most humans, it's confined to the limits of their body. In some rare cases, like myself, it is amplified much further. But it seems to be the case among your people that you project a very strong mental field into the space around you. It seems to be quite unconscious, not refined into specific mental abilities like mine." He paused a moment to judge how Thor was taking this explanation. If he could connect this to things Thor already knew, that would probably speed things along. "Among your people, do you know of any cases where you talk to each other with your minds only, without speaking aloud?"
Thor shook his head, but Loki spoke up. "The Volur do," he said, "in their private rituals."
Thor blinked and looked over at his brother, his forehead wrinkling in bafflement. "Wait, how do you know what goes on in the rituals of the Volur?"
Loki rolled his eyes. "How do you think, Thor?"
"But those rituals are closed to men!" Thor protested. "Only women are allowed to join them!"
"Yes, thank you for your stunning grasp on the obvious," Loki said through his teeth. "I wasn't a man at the time, or had you forgotten that I can shapeshift? You do so like to diminish my abilities."
"I did no such thing!" Thor exclaimed. "Must you turn everything into a fight!?"
"You were insulting my masculinity Thor, did you expect me to just sit here and take it with a smile?" Loki snarled.
Charles rubbed his forehead, exasperated and already feeling a bit of a burnout from the constantly sparking personalities in front of him. I'm not a marriage counselor, for god's sake. "Gentlemen," he called out, pulling their attention back onto him. "If you please."
They settled down, looking slightly shamefaced. For all his size and brawn, Thor himself radiated an aura of innocent naivete that made him seem as young as, if not younger than, his brother Loki. It was hard to remember that they were both centuries-old physical gods when they insisted on squabbling like a pair of toddlers.
"Now, this mental field," Charles continued. "It's unconscious, but quite visible to one such as myself. To another Aesir, no doubt it would seem so natural as to be unnoticeable. To an ordinary human being, no doubt they would feel good to be in your presence, perhaps slightly giddy, bolder and more inspired to bravery. It's not a bad thing, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, as well. Standing in the full sunlight can feel good, but too much of it and you can get burned."
Thor tried to look attentive, but Charles could easily sense his confusion. A quick scan of Thor's thoughts revealed where the comparison had broken down - sunburn was not a thing that happened to the Aesir, apparently. Oh, well.
Charles took a deep breath. "But because of Loki's increased sensitivity - and because of the long history the two of you share - he feels it much more acutely," he said slowly. Beside Thor, Loki was staring at the floor, his eyes and face downcast; yet Charles could see the tiny, almost subliminal nod. "Your presence constantly threatens to overwhelm him, to destroy his mental integrity. He is trying, consciously or unconsciously, to defend himself against the assault of your mental projections and retain his sense of self."
Thor blinked. "What?"
Charles decided to try metaphor again. "Being close to you, Thor, is like being submerged in a rushing river. He fights you as you would fight for footing against such a deluge, not because you hate the river, but because otherwise you would be swept away and lost."
Thor looked stunned. "But I'm not doing anything!" he protested
"You don't HAVE to do anything, Thor!" Loki all but shrieked in frustration. "You just ARE!"
Charles decided that a verbal explanation was only going to take them so far. Some students learned best with a practical demonstration. "Thor, in order to help you more clearly perceive what's happening, I'd like to dampen down your mental field to approximately that of a human's," he said. At Thor's look of alarm he added soothingly, "It will be only temporary, and there will be no lasting effects, so there's nothing to be afraid of."
As expected, the mild challenge to his bravery caused Thor to straighten his shoulders and charge directly into the breach. "I have no fear," Thor declared. "Go ahead. Do what you will. "
Charles put his hand out on the desk, palm up, not pressing but inviting. Thor hesitated a moment, looking to Loki for reassurance, but Loki's expression remained blank and unhelpful. Thor took a deep breath, and laid his hand on top of Charles'.
Charles closed his eyes for a minute, visualizing Thor's bright coruscating aura without the evidence of his eyes to get in the way. Starting at the hand and moving upwards, he worked to push that aura down to the confines of his skin, muffling its power so that it could be - temporarily - contained. It would not be long before his natural vigor returned and blazed forth brightly again, but for the time being he was - at least, psychically - no more than a powerful human.
The effect on both brothers was instant and dramatic. Loki brightened up, uncurling from his protective hunch and sitting up straight, looking at Thor with new interest. In the absence of unceasing pressure from Thor, his mental stance began to return to something more like its normal shape. Thor's reaction was the opposite; he looked shaken and dismayed, staring at his hands as though he could not fathom that they belonged to him.
"How have you..." he breathed out, then clenched his fists. "It is as it was when the All-father took my strength from me. No!" He seized the hammer hanging by his side, hefting it in one hand and staring at his arm. "I can still lift Mjolnir, I have not lost my strength. I am the same as I was. But..." he hesitated, looking confused "I feel as I did at that time, when I was was but a mortal man. How is this possible?"
"Oh, I like this!" Loki laughed aloud. "Can we keep him like this permanently?"
"NO!" Thor looked at his brother, wounded by even the implication. Loki laughed again.
"Don't worry, brother, I'm not serious. It's just a bit of fun, your reactions are always so earnest." He smiled playfully, and gave Thor a push in the shoulder.
Thor eyed him suspiciously. Under the confused distress at his sudden attenuation, there was a cautious hope flickering in his eyes at Loki's reactions. "This is the brother I remember, always quick to laugh and quick to play," Thor said hopefully. "Can we not keep HIM like this permanently?"
"That's more up to you than to me," Charles said. "Thor, the purpose of this demonstration is to help you understand. Whatever else has passed between you two in the years prior, it is the situation now that we have to deal with. And the fact as it stands is that your very presence harms Loki."
"But I don't wish to harm him!" Thor protested, shocked. At his side, Loki looked startled and rather touched by this declaration of devotion.
"Whether you want to or not, you do," Charles said. "I know it's hard to accept, but just being around you makes him worse. The best thing you can do for him is to let him be, give him some space away from you. Many times, situations in a family become so bad that the only thing you can do is leave and spend some time apart."
"But..." Thor looked crestfallen, but still he reached for hopeful optimism. "But I just want him to be by my side. Like we used to be, before everything went so wrong."
Charles sighed. "What's past is past, Thor," he said gently. "You can't go back. You're going to have to choose - whether it's more important to you to help Loki now, or to indulge your own desire for closeness."
And that seemed to have gotten through to him at last, because now the God of Thunder looked absolutely crushed. It began to sink in to him, for the first time, that there was no magic wand that could be waved or words that could be said that would restore the happy idyllic days of their youth. That his idea of fixed and Loki's might not be the same, or ever be again.
Charles couldn't help but feel the pang of sympathy for him, at the way he so keenly and deeply felt the loss of separation, but he made himself stand firm. If anyone had cause to know, from repeated and painful observation, how badly a family's love could twist and tear at those caught in its bonds who could not free themselves from it - if anyone knew that sometimes, love just wasn't enough, Charles did.
Somewhat to his surprise, however, Loki looked almost as downcast as his brother. It was enough to move Charles to bring up a point he hadn't intended to in front of Thor. "Now, there are a few other possibilities to keep in mind," he said, and Thor looked up hopefully at the tone of his voice. "It is possible to train and develop a certain amount of mental shielding against unwanted noise, as it were. Loki is not a natural telepath, as I am, but he is more than capable of other fields of mental discipline; I believe that with time and effort, he could learn to block out the more harmful effects of your presence."
Thor perked right up. "If he could learn such a thing, could I not as well?" he said eagerly.
Charles paused. He studied Thor carefully for a long moment, and wondered at the best way to phrase this. "It should be possible even for those who are not otherwise remarkably gifted to learn some measure of control over their own mental boundaries," he said at last. "At the very least, it couldn't hurt."
"Yes!" Thor said eagerly. "I will try."
"Of course, you never met a challenge you weren't ready and willing to overcome," Loki said, and shook his head with a wry smile. "If you approach it anything like you did Mjolnir's training, I have no doubt you'll overcome in the end."
"That will take time and effort to begin to show an effect, though," Charles cautioned him. "In the meantime, it's probably best for the two of you to stay apart."
"But why?" Thor asked. "Can we not remain as we are at this moment, when my presence causes no pain to him?"
Charles shook his head. "This is a strictly temporary measure, Thor," he said. "In such limited doses it won't harm you, but in the long run, it's not healthy for such strong mental energy to be bound up this way. In order for Loki to be around you as he is now, you would need to be severely weakened, possibly even dangerously wounded."
Thor frowned. "That seems not out of the realm of possibility, with the battles the Avengers and I face," he mused.
"Don't worry, Brother," Loki chipped in, smiling brightly. "I intend to keep an eye on your adventures from a distance. If things become so dire that you become this weak again, I'll be sure to step in to help you. I wouldn't want to deprive myself of the opportunity, after all."
Thor gave Loki a sidelong look, unsure whether to be happy or profoundly disturbed - and also like he was suddenly reconsidering whether this whole project was a good idea. Charles tsked. "Loki," he said severely, "you have to promise that you won't arrange such, er, interludes."
"...oh, very well," Loki said after a moment. He feigned annoyance, but it couldn't disguise the effervescent happiness that seeped its way out around the cracks. "Spoilsport."
"Someone has to be, for you," Charles said dryly.
On the mantelpiece, the clock chimed a gentle reminder of the hour. There came a tentative knock at the door, and then it peeked open - thank you, Kitty, Charles thought - and the teenager looked in wide-eyed at the tableau. "Um, Professor?" she squeaked. "The new class of students just finished their introductory lecture, and you did say you wanted to speak to them..."
Charles sighed, and pushed his chair back from his desk. The march of time was unrelenting. "I'll be there shortly, Kitty," he said, and she hastily eased the door shut behind her. "Now, gentlemen," Charles said, returning his attention momentarily to his two nonhuman guests. "There is some business outside of this room I can take care of, to give you two some time and privacy to talk.
"The dampening field I have placed upon you, Thor, will persist for another half hour or so. During that time I would recommend that you and Loki take the opportunity to talk, in an environment where neither of you feel pressured or compelled to respond one way or another, and work out the basis of where the two of you want to go from here."
"I will do my best, Charles Xavier," Thor said gravely, taking the charge as seriously as though it were a mission of life and death. "I cannot thank you enough for your aid."
"Don't thank me yet," Charles said with a wry smile. "I can only set the scene for you. I can't write the script."
"Oh, I'm sure we can work something out," Loki said airily. "Thor is stubborn beyond belief, and I have brains enough for the both of us."
Charles chuckled silently as he eased his chair over to the door, leaving the two heads - one blond, one dark - bent together over his desk. "Oh, I'm sure you can," he said softly, and closed the door behind him.
More A/N: I will most likely continue this someday, but not anytime soon - I will be working on other projects for the forseeable future.
The title both of this fic, and of its predecessor, were taken from songs by the band K's Choice.