Flesh and Blood

A story of Loki's return to Asgard, following the events of The Avengers

Part One in the"Loki's Redemption" series

originally written late 2012/early 2013

For the first time in Thor's long life, Loki had nothing to say.

The muzzle served two purposes: to silence Loki's threats and grandiloquent boasts, and to humiliate him in the eyes of those whose lives he had so little valued.

He had, Thor thought, been properly humiliated, though the defiant stance of his lean body revealed his attempt to deny the thoroughness of his defeat. He still bore the bruises and lacerations the green giant had bequeathed him, weakened enough that his body healed but slowly. If it had been Thor's choice, he would have suffered a beating far worse.

But Loki was no longer Thor's to judge. He was Odin All-father's, and his punishment would be terrible. Thor knew his brother too well not to see the fear behind his resentment and pride, the knowledge that he would face retribution no mortal authority could dispense.

Not death, Thor thought, even as he waited for Loki to grasp the other end of the tesseract device. Please, Father, not death. Even after all Loki had done, Thor could not bear the thought of his brother's final ending. He had lost Loki once, when he'd released his life and fallen into the void. And when he had found him again …

"I have grown, Odin's son, in my exile," Loki had said, all hollow eyes and sneers and eagerness to destroy what once he had loved. It was as if a monster had come to Midgard in Loki's place, something far worse than the tormented brother who had tried to kill Thor on the Bifrost.

Torment Thor had never recognized until he had faced his own ruin, suffered his own trial and humiliation, learned the meaning of sacrifice for a greater good. And learned to love, truly and deeply.

As he still loved his accursed brother.

Loki met his eyes briefly, and in a matter of seconds they were in Asgard, standing on a pillared, open-air terrace overlooking the vast city. Odin would have known instantly the precise moment of their return, and guards would be waiting to "escort" Loki to his cell to await a swift and implacable judgment.

But the All-Father also knew that this would be Thor's last moment alone with his brother, and he was still capable of mercy.

With strong, blunt fingers Thor released the lock on Loki's muzzle. It fell to the marble floor, and Thor kicked it aside. Loki's eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed again, ever suspicious, ever prepared for the betrayal he himself made such easy use of.

"How benevolent of you, Odin's son, " he said in his smooth, cultured, deceitful voice. "How magnanimous, knowing that soon you need never hear me speak again."

He looked away as if to dismiss Thor entirely, staring at the city of which he had once been a prince. The wind whipped at their hair, Thor's wheaten-gold and Loki's raven-black, so dissimilar, so unlike each other. As a boy and then a man, Thor had never thought to question why his brother was so different in appearance from himself. Loki was just … Loki, unique, amusing, witty in a way Thor had never been. While Thor was powerful and a mighty warrior, Loki was swift and graceful, as adept with his knives as Thor with his fists and Mjollnir.

There had been times—rare though they had been—when Thor had almost envied his younger brother.

"Do you remember anything of our boyhood, Loki?" he asked suddenly, settling Mjollnir down on the ground beside him.

Loki's gaze, focused on some darkness only he could see, jerked up to Thor's. "What part of it, Odin's son?" he said with a bitter smile. "When the All-Father took you hunting in the forests of Alfheim and left me in the women's company because I was not skilled enough to draw a bow and strike my target? Or perhaps when you took your first maid, and laughed because I was too young to understand and might never be capable of wielding my weapon as expertly and easily as you did yours?"

Inwardly, Thor winced at the memory, though his face remained stony. He saw those events now through different eyes. Through Loki's.

"When did it happen?" he asked softly. "When did you begin to hate me?"

Smiling that terrible, mad smile, Loki looked away again. "When?" he asked. "When did I not hate you?"

"You lie, brother," Thor said. "We were hardly apart when we were children. We played at warriors, we raced our horses on the Fields of Vigridr, we climbed our mother's favorite apple tree when it was forbidden, we—"

"When we were children," Loki said. His mocking voice softened, became almost pensive, as if for a moment he had laid aside the monster's pelt and become a beloved brother again. "That was long ago, Odin's son, when mortals still fought their puny wars with stone and bronze. You were not yet so mighty, and I …." He laughed hoarsely. "I still believed there was some chance that I could be like you."

The confession from this man, this villain capable of unspeakable acts, startled Loki into silence. It echoed his own thoughts, but to hear them spoken aloud by Loki himself ….

"I never expected you to be like me," he said, holding his own voice steady. "No one did."

"Yes," Loki said, the momentary vulnerability gone in an instant. "No one did."

Thor cupped Loki's jaw in his hand, forcing his brother to look at him. "Because you were yourself. You were capable of tricks that delighted all who watched you. You made jests that had the entire court holding their bellies. "

"A diverting trifle," Loki said, staring into Thor's eyes. "A purveyor of amusements like any royal jester."

"A prince, worthy of the name," Thor said.

"Never worthy," Loki said. Something glistened in his eyes, and Thor remembered with a jolt of pain that moment on Stark Tower when Loki had told him it was too late to stop it and plunged his dagger into Thor's belly. It had barely penetrated Thor's armor, even driven with a Jotun's strength, but the wound had not been physical. It had come with Loki's final word to him.

"Sentiment." One word that had cut Thor's heart from his chest.

"A relic," Loki said, his eyes going blank. "An object to be used when the time was right. Only the tool turned in his hand and struck back."

"Struck at the innocent!" Thor shouted. "Mortal men and women, Loki, who never did you harm!"

"Who did and continue to do each other harm every day of their miserable lives," Loki spat. "They murder each other with impunity, and no authority can stop them." The wind blew his hair into his eyes, and he tried to lift his hand to brush it away. The shacklesclinked, and he stopped as if he had been struck. "You once asked me if I could kill an entire race. How many times has this breed you so inaptly name 'mankind' committed genocide on its own species?"

"We have had this conversation before, brother. It is without purpose. No excuse you make—"

"I make no excuses! No apologies! I was born to rule, and I shall … if not Asgard, if not Earth, then some world where you can never—"

"Follow you?" Thor said, so angry that he didn't notice how hard he pressed Loki's jaw until his brother winced. He dropped his hand, clenching it at his side. "So you'll flee, brother? You'll run like a whipped cur to a place where you will face no greater challenge than subjecting some primitive population to the power of one they think of as a god? For I know you will never again have the courage to do battle with any who might prove to be your equals."

Loki moved, his body slowed by its injuries but still faster than a striking snake. He lunged at Thor, all blind rage, and Thor caught him by the throat, lifting him so that Loki's boots dangled inches above the floor.

"Fight me again, Odin's son," Loki wheezed, "fight me now, without your amusingly garbed allies behind you, and we shall see if I still have the courage."

Releasing his hold, Thor let Loki fall. Loki sprawled across the marble and lay still, panting, eyes closed. Pity welled in Thor's heart, pity and compassion that reached beyond his horror at what Loki had done.

He crouched beside his brother, his hands hovering in midair, useless to comfort or punish.

"Do you remember the moment before my coronation, when you turned the servant's flagon of wine into a snake?" he asked.

Loki laughed, his eyes still firmly shut. "Your coronation," he said. "It is doubtful I will have the pleasure of ruining the next one."

"Odin rules now," Thor said, "and it will be long before I become king. I am in no haste. But you did not answer my question. "He bent over Loki, willing him to answer. "Do you remember what you said to me that day?"

"I lied to you, as I always did," Loki said between gritted teeth. "You called me a talented liar, or have you forgotten? You knew, yet still you always believed what you wished to hear."

"You called me brother and friend," Thor said softly. "You said you might envy me, but that I should never doubt you loved me."

"And still you haven't learned," Loki said. A streak of wetness leaked from the corner of his right eye. "It amused me to see your trust and weakness so soon before the Jotuns stole your thunder."

"It was not weakness, brother," Thor said. He laid his palm on Loki's forehead. It burned as if with fever. "It was faith. Because until that moment, I had never had cause to doubt that the feelings you expressed then were the deepest truth, truth even you could not deny or hide from yourself."

"How many times have I sought to kill you, Odin's son?" Loki said, his voice breaking. "And still you have this faith?"

"I will never believe it was you who committed those unspeakable acts on Midgard," he said, stroking Loki's hair away from his forehead with his thumb. "A part of you, yes. All your rage and hatred distilled by something … something that remade you after your fall. It stripped you of all that was good."

"What good?" Loki whispered.

"The good I know still exists." He touched Loki's chest. "In here. In the love you deny for me, for our mother, for Odin. Yes, even the All-Father. If anything can save you now, it is that love. The one thing you cannot bear to face, as you cannot face yourself."

Loki laughed weakly. "There is a child in you that will never grow up, Odin's son."

"Then we are that much alike," Thor said. "And perhaps it is those children who must make peace with each other, and themselves."

"Best to throw me back to the Earth-creatures, who will allow no sentiment to impede their desire for vengeance."

"Do you still believe I want vengeance? On a man so ill he can seen no sun when it shines in his eyes?"

Loki opened his eyes. "The sun is shining in my eyes," he said. "And I can see nothing else. I am still in your shadow."

Deliberately Thor rose and walked to Loki's other side. "You no longer have that excuse," he said, kneeling again. "I freely forgive you for your acts against me, but you must be made to understand and own the evil you have done. You will never have the forgiveness of the people you have destroyed, nor can you restore the dead. But some day you may do enough good to balance the ledger in some small part. And on that day, brother, I will welcome you back with joy."

Loki pushed himself to his knees, staring at his shackled hands. "You will be the only one."

"You doubt our mother's love?"

"Your mother," Loki said, still staring at his hands. "Yours. I am the son of a Jotun woman who abandoned me. I killed my father." He looked up, his eyes still wet, and smiled. "My family is dead. Perhaps soon I shall join them, and you may 'mourn' and forget the evil that once tainted your glorious kingdom."

"I will only mourn if you refuse to fight the evil that taints you now," Thor said. He grasped Loki's hand. "Brother, you must fight. And I will fight at your side, no matter what the judgment against you. Even if I must wait centuries, I will never lose hope in your courage to stand against the monster inside you."

Loki stared at him, mockery and disbelief in his eyes. Contempt for an elder brother's gullibility.

And something else Thor dared not name, for fear it would give him more hope than he dared permit himself.

"I will speak for you," Thor said. "I will ask our father that you be permitted time and solitude to recognize and rebel against what you have become. I will beg that he give you a penance that may allow for some portion of redemption."

"Beg not on my behalf," Loki said, snatching his hand out of Thor's light clasp. "I will have none of your charity."

"You will have no choice," Thor said, hardening his voice. "Your power is stripped from you, brother. You will be as a child again. Take that chance. Know that we love you. That I love you. We may not be flesh and blood, you and I, but you will never cease to be my brother and dearest friend." He laid his hand on Loki's head. " I will not permit it."

"Then who am I to do other than obey the Mighty Thor?" Loki said, meaning to wound with viciousness and spite. But the weapon turned in his hand, and his face clenched in agony so deep that Thor could not even imagine its source.

"Someday," he said, stroking Loki's hair, "you will tell me what happened to you when you saw all those other worlds I cannot imagine. But now you must survive. You, little brother, the one I love, must survive, even if everything else you have become must be purged in pain and fire."

"You think you know pain," Loki whispered, as if he were speaking to someone Thor couldn't see. He blinked, returning to the world again. "You may find that others have done the All-Father's work for him. But we shall see, shall we not?" He shook Thor's hand away and got to his feet, spurning Thor's aid, and brushed dust from his sleeves and trousers. The chains swung with his movements, slapping against his chest and legs. "Ah. I think I hear your father's guards coming to drag the wolf to its kennel. I must look my best, as it is likely the last time I will have any choice in determining my appearance."He ran his hand over his hair. "Have you a comb, dear brother?"

His words were bluster. Thor knew it, and so did Loki. He attempted to conceal his fear with careless vanity, and his gift for deceit was such that only Thor and their father would have seen how much he feared. His shoulders stiffened and his chin jerked up as the guards marched onto the terrace, bearing heavier shackles and faces grim as those of warriors at last permitted to wreak unthinkable vengeance on a most hated enemy.

"Thor," Loki said.

Thor came to stand beside him, resisting the urge the shield his brother from those who came to take him. But he knew there was no shield in the world that could save Loki now.

"What is it, brother?" he asked softly.

Loki stared straight ahead. "If you have indeed forgiven me, I ask but one favor of you. Do not beg on my behalf. Spare me that one punishment, if you ever loved me."

"You have no right to ask," Thor said, his voice thick with emotion.

"Then I curse you, Odin's son. I curse you with the knowledge that you will never see your brother again."

He strode ahead to meet the guards, leaving Thor behind.