A/N: This story is now complete.
This work is set after Thor (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012), but immediately before Thor: The Dark World (2013). It is essentially an alternate timeline piece.
"Well, this is a surprise."
Loki looked towards Thor with a mischievous smile.
It was almost as if nothing out of the norm had ever occurred, as if it were the Loki of old looking back at him. There was an undeniable sense of darkness to those green eyes, but they held a focus and determination that had yet to be broken down and melted away. They held anger and pain, emotions that had been with Loki for as long as anyone could remember. The only change was the slight tiredness to them that signalled something – whatever that may be – had broken.
Loki had lost the most important thing to him: his pride. The silver-tongued, Machiavellian man had been arguably manipulated and brainwashed into actions that were against his will. Thor still debated the truth to this claim. The one gift Loki cherished above all else – the one thing that he could trulycall his own – had been taken from him. It had been a cruel blow to his ego. How often was an Asgardian prince threatened into submission? Not only that, but he had lost the love of their father, the one person to whom all this had been for . . . fears of abandonment realised, the suspicions of rejection actualised . . . did he even realise that he had been the one to make his worst fears come true?
It had not been entirely his brother's fault, but the initial wanton attempt at genocide of the Jotun race had been his conscious decision, it had not been the choice or influence of any other mind but his own. The sceptre also only magnified emotions, it couldn't create them, and so his feelings of anger and violence had been there from the start. The question was whether he was made that way by the feelings of inadequacy or born that way due to his race. Had their father created this man before him or was it this man's blood that made him nothing but a monster?
"Look who has dared to deign me with his presence."
"This isn't a game, Loki!"
"No? Then enlighten me. What is it? It seems to me that you – Thor Odinson – have played one spectacular game. You fought with your men in a team, you stood up against your opponent fearlessly, and now you have captured the king piece. The problem is, no one ever stops to think what happens to the captured king when the game is at an end. What ever will you do with me?"
It was true that he had been captured. He had stood tall as a king and fallen as a man, but he was gracious in his defeat. Thor had thought their father would be proud, that his son had taken defeat like a true hero, but it seemed he would rather have that Loki had died upon the battlefield. The man before him no longer looked a king at all. He was regal, yes, but he was a man both lost and yet found, a man imprisoned in what had once been his home. He lived for one reason only: Frigga.
Frigga alone had defended her son.
It seemed that Loki did not care. He sat upon the length of the bench inside his cell with an all too casual look, with legs spread and hands clasped lazily in his lap. His back was slouched, and his hair was now a mess and loose, no longer slicked back, and the power and passion of his facial expressions had been washed away with defeat. Thor stood before him tall and wondered who his brother had become. This was the man who had once owned three sets of decorated armour for every set of Thor's, the man who would pride himself on his appearance to the point of adopting local attire even when he was invisible to the locals, and yet here he was: defeated.
"You are no king!" Thor cried. "You are the man who merely borrowed the throne of and twisted it to suit his purpose! The only true king is our father, Odin Borson, the Allfather! You will show him respect!"
"He? A king? You never used to be the funny one, Thor."
"I mean it, Loki, you will not disrespect our father! It was he who grieved the most when you were gone. The mourning period nearly sent him back into the Odinsleep, and the celebratory feasts for your wake were dimmed by the sadness in his eyes. He told the most stories of your escapades, and yet every word from his mouth was filled with pain. He loved you . . . perhaps most of all."
"He never loved me! He admitted as much once you were gone! I was nothing but a pawn; I was a thing that was meant only to further his political agenda! I was worthless to one father and a tool to another!"
"That is a lie! He loved you, he saw you as a beacon of hope!"
"The old fool saw me as nothing but a beast!"
Loki stood tall and came before Thor. He was clearly unafraid of his elder brother; he knew that the older man's love would prevent him from harming Loki in any way other than what was necessary. They had come to blows whilst growing up, with sometimes Loki winning by trickery and sometimes Thor winning by sheer force, but neither would fight now. Thor was only allowed into his brother's cell by the kindness of their father, and the slightest hint of violence would result in a rescindment of such an allowance: Thor would lose his brother and Loki would lose his guest.
"Do not insult our father!" Thor spat.
"Hetold us that we were both born to be kings! The only reason I was born to be a king is because I was stolen from the lap of a Frost Giant sovereign! I was born a monster! I was left to die by a monster! Not only did our father lie, but he also stole a child that even damned beasts could not stand to raise!"
"So you would rather he had left you to die?"
Loki merely sneered and curled his lip in response. The silver-tongued prince rarely let said tongue turn to lead, and – when he did so – it was often a part of his manipulations. Thor would have allowed it, he would have allowed his brother that moment of control to save his pride, but the very thought that Loki would prefer death to life was maddening! Thor could not imagine a life without his brother. He had travelled the universe to find him, and so to hear that he would prefer death to life was too much to bear. It seemed that the younger man was intent to live in misery. Did he do this merely to spite Thor?
Thor grabbed his brother's wrist and flung him across the cell. There was – on one side of the cell – an energy-barrier, designed for the guards to look in on their rounds and to keep the prisoner in place, but the rest of the cell was a simple space. There was a bed to the far side and a table to the side closest to the opposite wall, besides which sat a pile of books, and there was also the long white bench on the wall facing the barrier . . . a bowl for washing, a table and chair for reading . . . no doubt that his brother felt like an animal in a cage. He was something without freedom, a creature to be watched and controlled, and the only privacy he had came from the attached bathroom area that was nothing like the luxury he had once known. The clothes he wore represented his criminal status well. He wore nothing but a green hooded jumpsuit made from the roughest of materials. He looked rough himself.
Loki regained his balance and shook himself where he stood, before he sent a dark glare to Thor and dropped himself down onto the edge of the bed. He threw up his hands in mock defeat, whilst he wore a soft smirk on his face, and somehow – against his wishes – Thor found himself smiling at how Loki regained control of the situation. It was almost as if the old Loki were back. He remembered the way the troublesome man would smile up at their father with an innocent smile as a child, the way he could make almost anyone fall for his charms . . .
"I asked you a question," Thor said.
The young prince sent a glance to the barrier on his left. It was strange, almost as if he were searching for someone or trying to ascertain whether or not they were being listened to, but Thor knew that – even though that was not the case – there would be little convincing Loki of that. The white cell contained only the bare minimum for comfort and the sustaining of sanity; no doubt the lack of privacy would contribute to paranoia. What else could he do – other than to read – to keep his mind sharp?
"I may as well be dead," Loki said coldly. "I am no longer Loki Odinson. The man before you is nothing but the abandoned child of a Frost Giant . . . Loki Laufeyson." Loki gave a small wince. "I am here before you as a shadow of a man. I am nothing."
"That is not the Loki I remember, Brother! Where is the man that would delay my ascension to the throne with his pranks, because he knew that I was ill-equipped for such a role, because he wanted to protect the people of our realm?"
"That man never existed," Loki hissed.
There was an intense anger that coursed through Thor's veins. It was something that was slow at first, the irritation of being called a liar by the one person notorious for nothing but lies, and then it simmered to the surface and boiled over. He would not stand for insults against his brother, even by his brother himself. The fury inside him caused him to shake and snarl. He broke under the intense pressure and grabbed the reading-table. He threw it at the energy barrier.
The table smashed against the barrier with great force, but – true to Asgardian standards – the barrier did not break and the table scattered itself across the room. The barrier glowed a faint golden-yellow with the magic that had repelled the table. It would have been a truly frightening sight, were it not for Loki's rather mocking smile, as if he knew for a certainty that his brother's temper-tantrum was merely a childish display and not a true attempt at intimidation. Thor wanted nothing more than to strike some sense into Loki, but that would be nothing but futile. Loki wanted to be hit. It would be validation of his incorrect beliefs, a way of 'proving' how right he was that he was unloved, and he would only mock Thor should he did strike him.
"You seem surprised," Loki said calmly.
"Do not dare to tell me that the brother I knew was merely a lie!"
"You should know me by now, lying is what I do best."
Thor looked down at the younger man on the bed. It was almost pitiable how Loki sought to appear so strong and powerful, because the fear in his eyes was as plain now as it had ever have been. The only difference was that – long ago – he had known his limitations. There were those that called it cowardice, but it was more than that; Loki had never turned his back out of fear, but out of the tactical understanding of the importance of retreat.
Loki had gracefully accepted his fate at the hands of the Avengers, because he had known the futility of fighting past his defeat. The only time he had ever fought back without considering his actions, the only time he had so violently betrayed the morals that he had been raised by, had been the time he had been supposedly manipulated by the sceptre and threatened with violence . . . it was almost understandable why he would act so cruelly under such circumstances. His eyes had reflected such pain that he was barely recognisable, an expression that Thor would never forget . . .
"You seem upset, Brother." Loki smiled warmly and opened his arms wide as if welcoming the other. "Would you like me to kiss it all better?"
"This is not the time for your jokes!"
"Oh, but it is! You accuse me of lying, but am I truly? The only reason that I live is because our mother had to beg for the orders of my execution to be stayed; if it were not for her love, I may be dead right now. The first words spoken to me by our father were 'the boy I knew is dead'. That is what I am to him now; a 'creature' that he does not recognise, the son of Laufey . . . a monster! I – I am the monster that parents warn their children of at night! I am the monster men fear they will become! I am nothing and yet you dare to call me the liar for admitting so! You are the liar, Brother!"
"You are not nothing!" Thor cried. "You are my brother! We were raised together, we playedtogether and we fought together! You only did what you did out of feelings of pain and confusion, your feelings were manipulated and you were threatened into action! These were the actions of a desperate man, not of a monster or a killer!"
"What do you know of my motives? When was the last time you stepped down and looked at the man trapped beneath your foot? When was the last time you looked away from the light of our father and looked into the shadows behind you? You know nothing about how I feel! The mortals themselves paint me as a villain, let alone your dear father. How often did we visit their world? Do you know the things they say?"
"The mortals are ignorant to the truth!"
Loki rolled his eyes and looked away from Thor. It was a hard look to decipher, because it could have been due to shame as much as it could have been disrespect. He brought one leg up to touch upon the black frame of the bed, whilst he wrapped his arms around it in a loose and lazy hold, and his black hair – frizzy and unkempt – hid part of his pale face from view. He seemed to be almost thoughtful and patient. It reminded him of the days where they would sit side-by-side, or even lie lazily on bed beside one another, and Loki would listen to Thor's latest tales of adventure or practise magic as Thor stole some extra hours of sleep. How many times had Thor hidden in Loki's room to escape their father or their tutors? It was too many to count.
"So you have heard about the 'origins' of Sleipnir? You know of the reputation they give me? They cannot even remember my name! They confuse my tales with Logi; I am made out by them to be nothing more than a joke! Do you know how it feels to be a joke in one world and a punchline in another? I am better than that. I am a king and I deserve some respect! I take back nothing. I would do it all again, if I could."
"Are you so vain that you would let the tales of mere mortals fill you with self-loathing? It is human nature to create narratives of the universe, to explain what cannot be explained! You know this!"
"What do I know? Everything I knew was a lie!"
Loki stood tall before Thor. The two were a mere inch or so apart, both on edge with muscles tense and anger brewing, and yet neither could bring it upon themselves to back down or to back away. It was not unusual for them – in the past – to stand so close to one another, but now their relationship had changed and evolved, the tensions between them were too strong, and Thor was not sure that he could contain his emotions for long. He did not want to hurt his brother.
They stood for a long moment simply glaring at one another. Thor clenched his fists so tightly that he was sure that blood was dripping from his palm, and both breathed so fiercely that their breaths sounded nothing more than forced hisses. Thor realised that they needed to calm down, because soon he would raise his fists. Those green eyes were filled with venom. It wasn't hatred, but something worse . . . years of jealousy, of self-hatred . . . years of believing himself to be second best that now festered behind otherwise handsome eyes. Did he think Thor the cause of such pain? Could it not be that Thor was merely a symptom of what Loki sought to eradicate?
In a fearsome growl of fury Thor turned his back on his brother and smashed his fist hard upon the floor, sending reverberations throughout the cell, and Loki merely huffed out in amusement and dropped to the bed again. He sat with his body shaking – just slightly, so slightly it was barely perceptible – and kept his hard gaze on the floor with his lips pursed together to the point of paling. Thor eventually turned around and grabbed his brother by his neck; his hands and fingers entwined in hair and his thumbs stroked his jaw affectionately.
"You are not alone, Brother," Thor pleaded. "You must know that you are loved!"
"I? Loved? I think not. Your friends despised me, even when our mother gave me the throne they still treated me as if I were a usurper! I never asked to take over from our father, yet they treated me as if I were guilty of regicide! Even when I am right, it seems that I am wrong!"
"You are merely holding a grudge against my friends from when Sif rejected your flirtations!"
"Oh please, like I would ever want your sloppy seconds."
"Do not insult my friends!"
Loki made to pull away, but Thor held him in place. He was certain that his eyes were brimming with fury to the point that water gathered at their corners, but it seemed that his brother did not care . . . since when did Loki believe the world to be beneath him? He was content to kill one race to prove his worth, content to subjugate another in order to exact a need for revenge deep within his heart, and now – of all things – he was insulting Thor's closest friends and their closest allies. It was difficult to tell whether this was a self-destructive need to be hurt, or whether it was true arrogance.
"Do not insult yourself . . ."
"Why should I not? They never liked me. They only endured me because you insisted on including me so often, if it weren't for you they would never have spoken to me. I don't merely refer to Sif's rejection, but to the things that they said . . . they did not trust me, not fully! I was just the trickster and the prankster! I was the joke! Why? What was it that I did to make father, your friends and you, all pity me so? I may not have had the strength that you do, but I was not weak!"
"No one ever said that you were weak!" Thor screamed. "There may be those that do not respect the ability of magic, especially in a man, but without your magic we would not have survived the ambush in Jotunheim!"
"That wasn't the only time my magic saved us. I remember a certain someone needed a fog for distraction in order to escape an oncoming army . . ."
"You still harp on about that? I could have won that fight easily!"
"Oh, of course, I don't doubt that at all."
Loki gave a rather arrogant grin. It was quite mocking, matching the sarcasm of his words well, and yet the way he reached up to take a hold of his brother's hands felt sincere and gentle. Thor still held upon his brother's neck and cheek, whilst Loki now held onto those same hands, and somehow – for just one moment – it felt as if they were back to being the siblings they had been long before this had begun.
Thor finally let go of Loki and took a step back, a sad smile gracing his lips as he looked at the man that was his brother. He had never denied Loki, not even when his true heritage had been revealed, but the younger man would forever fear abandonment . . . abandonment that had come at the hands of Laufey and now at the hands of Odin. There would be no reassuring his brother of how wanted he was, and forever he would doubt himself and his very worth. Loki stayed upon the edge of bed and smiled up at him, whilst Thor could only smile down in response.
"We make a good team, Brother," Thor said sadly.
"We made a good team," Loki said in exasperation. "Now you have your new brothers, not to mention that young maiden whose heart you've stolen . . . or was it her head? It always seemed to be one and the same to you."
"Do not bring Jane into this! My feelings for her are true!"
"Oh, I don't doubt that," Loki spat. "You refused to treat me as an equal even when I fought you with all I had, but the moment I uttered a word about that howling quim you suddenly start giving it your all. How interesting it is that a woman you had known for all of three days could mean more to you than your brother. I should not be surprised, I am – after all – nothingto you."
"Will you never listen to the truth? If you meant nothing to me, if I had no respect for you, then I would not be here now, begging for you to return to your senses! Are you so wrapped up in your vanity that you can not see the world outside of yourself?"
"You talk to me about vanity?"
Loki scoffed loudly and raised his foot to the edge of the bed. He wrapped his arms around his leg, whilst he gave a rather dark smile to his brother. It was a smile that acted as a warning, with his lip curled in one corner and his eyes half-lidded as if he were seething behind their surface, and it only served to highlight the difference between them. Thor was the sort to strike out, with only a verbal warning to those he cared about, but Loki was not the sort for physical violence. He would only give 'the look' or a thinly veiled warned. He would never explicitly state his frustration.
"Your vanity would have led us all to war," Loki spat.
"I have grown since then!" Thor shouted, whilst he wrung the air itself. "I was not ready to be king, but this is a fact that I have learned to accept! I was not the one who – despite his wisdom and foresight – used his powers to commit treason and threaten the security of our kingdom! You could have merely voiced your concerns!"
"Who would have listened to me? You? Father? It didn't matter what I said, I would have only been accused of jealousy and ignorance! I did what I did to save our kingdom, our home . . . I did not expect you to be banished."
"I know, Brother. I am aware."
The two shared an awkward gaze as they absorbed that fact. Thor knew that his brother had sincerely loved him, that he had never meant for Thor to be banished, but there was also no denying how Loki had sought to steal his way into being their father's favourite. It never occurred to Loki that their father did not have a favourite. It never occurred to him that he would be found out, that emotionally manipulating Thor would be cruel and also lead to his downfall, and it had never occurred to him that his attempt at genocide would actually go against everything their father believed in. He had failed to see the bigger picture. How could a man so smart be so blind?
Thor often wished that he could understand his brother's mind. He wanted to know how a man so loved – so admired and cherished by their father – could become so self-loathing as to think that he could get attention by acting out, to think that their father would hate a realm so much that he would gain favour by destroying an entire race of people. It was made worse by that these people held his brother's blood, and so Thor could only wonder if Loki felt himself above that race or was actually so disgusted by what he was that he would wipe out every last trace of it.
It was true that long ago Thor had thought war the answer. He had been willing to kill many for the actions of a few, but his time on Earth had changed that. He had seen the lives of the people, he had seen the love and evil they were capable of, that strange dichotomy in the hearts of souls of every human, and he came closer to understanding what his father meant. War was not something to be craved. Thor would use his warrior strength to defend his people, because a true warrior fought with purpose and with honour, and in time he would perhaps learn the tolerance that seemed innate to humans such as Jane and Eric. He wanted to see that growth in Loki, but it seemed that only pain and despair grew in his heart.
"If you were to just show remorse," Thor pleaded, "our father would see sense."
"Would he? The only way he would release me would be if it provided some political or military benefit, and even then do you truly think he would trust me not to betray our race at the drop of a hat? I am nothing but a filthy Jotun. It doesn't matter if this is my home, the only family that I have ever known . . . it doesn't matter that I was even willing to kill the entirety of my blood and home world to prove my loyalty . . . to him I am nothing more than a monster. I shall not be allowed out of this cell alive."
"That is not true! If you showed genuine feelings of regret, if you promised to make recompense, I am filled with certainty that our father would allow your release. I would take responsibility for you. I promise that I shall not abandon you! You shall earn back your place as Loki Odinson! We shall return to our adventures with the Warriors Three and Lady Sif! All you need do is apologise."
"Oh, is that all?"
It had been a year since Thor had seen Loki since his 'death', and he had only just been sent to Earth to bring him back to their home, and yet he knew that tone of voice perfectly. The exaggerated disbelief, completed with the raised eyebrows and half-smile, signalled to Thor anger in his brother that would soon reach breaking point if not tempered soon. It seemed that shadows appeared under Loki's eyes as he lowered his head, and his skin paled as if holding onto what little patience he had left.
The man in green stood up and sent a dark and dangerous glare to his brother, one that spoke of years of resentment and bitter frustration. He did not step closer to Thor. He did not raise his voice or move to attack, perhaps because he knew the futility of such actions, but could it not be that he cared about his brother? Loki had not seemed to care whether or not Thor would be killed when he sent the Destroyer down to Earth, although a part of Thor liked to believe that his brother knew that – in a roundabout way – this would restore Thor's powers and bring him to life. This was a man who had seemed to wish Thor dead. Why did he now hold back his rage?
"I will never regret what I have done, Thor."
"Then I can do nothing but regret this conversation. You disappoint me, Brother."
"You still call me 'brother'? I should be the one disappointed in you."
Thor turned his back and waited for the barrier to be lowered. He left the cell at once. He could feel his hands shaking in sheer rage and frustration, but to express such fury before his brother would lead to a fight of otherworldly proportions, and that was something he could not risk. He wanted to see Loki again, to gain his trust, and he could not do that if his father forbade them from further contact. Instead he kept his back to Loki and walked on. He would try to learn from the past and stay calm.
"Yes, walk away, Thor. It's not as though there is anything here worth your time."
It was difficult to turn his back on his brother. There was nothing left to say at that point, plus both men would need time to gain their thoughts and regain their strength, and yet there felt something wrong about leaving a man who was so convinced of his worthlessness. When Loki's voice rang out behind him, he could sense a raw emotion that he had not expected to find . . .
"Walk away, like I knew you would."