The handcuffs are mildly irritating. Loki will give them that. It would be amusing. It should be amusing that they think they have actually captured him — when it is so clear that they do not know what to do with him. These paltry bindings wouldn’t hold him and it pleases Loki greatly to know that, after months of fighting him, they still haven’t the faintest clue on how to contend with a god.
Instead, his curiosity is fixated on Thor. It’s not precisely that he cares. It’s simply that, without his brother, the Avengers have ceased to be entertainment and have become an annoyance. It’s not like anything was ever about them. They just built themselves up so that thought they were involved; at the heart of the matter, nothing had ever changed. It always came down to him and Thor.
But he has not been able to see his brother and doesn’t know where he’s gone.
He doesn’t think for a moment that Thor would have gone to Asgard for this long without reason. And, his companions, instead of explaining away where he is, have taken to trying to smooth over the fact that Thor is gone. As if they could hide his brother’s presence.
And so that brings them all to this moment, where he pretended to let Captain America best him and he did nothing as Director Fury saw him bound and transported.
What they fail to realize is that they’ve just invited him inside.
He walks quietly through the white-washed hallways toward the holding facility they intend to keep him in.
He expects that it will take time to find out what has happened to Thor. He expects that, perhaps, his brother has been cursed in some way. Perhaps he’s been grievously injured. He expects that it will take a great deal of work and quite the spread of his tricks to learn of his brother’s fate. For all of his planning and reliance on instinct, that is not what happens.
Instead, he is half way down the hall, when he hears the wild sound of laughter. It is a sound near forgotten, but one that upon hearing, he simply knows again. It’s not seconds later that a ball comes rolling around the corner and a child comes careening after it. He hears Fury give some sharp order, but it’s far too late for that.
The child retrieves the ball in one hand and straightens, the grin apparent on his face. It’s an expression Loki knows overly well, brimming with confidence. Puberty has yet to smooth out the imperfections in the boy’s teeth. His hair is still too wild, sticking up in every direction. He has not hit his growth spurt yet and is somewhat short for a child of his age; some distant, shadowy part of Loki’s mind remembers that, oh, at this age, it was he who had been taller.
Thor looks up — and it must be Thor because Loki doesn’t now who else it could possibly be. He knows every part of this boy, grew up next to him in stride, braved every adventure, every injury, and every fight together with him. Every dreadful tutor, listened to every patient lecture from Father, and enjoyed every story woven by Mother.
Tony Stark comes down the hallway, obviously following after Thor, but still Thor is looking up at him. Loki looks back at him and it seem as if the entirety of the rest of the hallway has fallen away. He doesn’t know the intricacy of this particular curse and he shouldn’t expect his brother to know him. But instead —
“Loki,” Thor says and the dash of excitement and mischief laced into that single word is apparent to all. Thor takes a step closer to him, wrinkles his nose up, and his grin grows ever wider. “You’re old.”
And this is how they all end up crammed into a conference room not more than five minutes later. The Captain is still wearing the same singed uniform he captured Loki in; Loki is still wearing the handcuffs he had been brought in. Fury is wearing an expression that looks downright murderous. Stark is still with them — as is his female companion who is lecturing Tony in a low voice.
Thor is by his side.
It’s clear that Fury does not like this, but since the moment that Thor recognized him, he’s refused to be anywhere but beside Loki. At one point, one of his small hands had found Loki’s and Loki cannot held but marvel that, at whatever age, Thor is unerringly trusting. When they had arrived in the room, Loki had refused to sit, so Thor had refused to sit as well. His arms are crossed in front of his chest and Loki can sense his stubbornness, a trait had always taxed their mother.
He is curious to know what memories Thor has of him, but he does not ask.
He does not need to. Fury folds his hands and begins to speak. In a clipped voice, he tells Loki that they found Thor this way — rather, Tony found Thor wandering around. He doesn’t remember them. He doesn’t remember his time on Midgard. He only has the memories of — however old he is. But he is also mortal. He has no powers and none of his strength.
At this, Loki can’t help but look down at Thor. Because, even as a child, it is difficult to imagine his brother only as a mere mortal. It seems distressingly fragile and he thinks of the things that Thor would do at this age. The fights he would pick and the dangers he would seek. Any one of their activities could kill a mortal child. It is odd to see his ever-powerful brother in the same light that he views Stark or any of the rest of them — even lower, perhaps. He has the survival instinct of a child, which is to say, none at all. Yet, he has many enemies. Many enemies who would have no qualms about destroying him while he is still young, before he can have a chance to recover who he was.
Thor looks up at him. He looks solemn, but Loki recognizes the mask — the one saved for the more somber of Father’s lectures. He doesn’t understand.
“What we’re trying to say,” Stark says abruptly, in that lazy, self-confident drawl of his. “Is can you fix him?”
And this is how Loki ends up staying with the Avengers. It’s all ridiculous, but some part of him can’t deny that he enjoys it. He sees the way that they all glance at him out of the corner of their eyes, as if waiting for some blatant attack. Rooms are on edge when he enters them. The tension is nearly perfect — made all the better by the fact that Thor is entirely unaware of any of it. He remains by Loki’s side, as if he has decided to forget that his younger brother is suddenly much younger than him.
Indeed, Thor seems to continue their adventures without any problem. Any new discovery he brings to Loki almost immediately, as if trying to coax him to join. He is presented with a stray cat that Thor manages to catch and gifted with apples that Thor finds in Tony’s refrigerator. Thor delights in showing him how the television works, convinced that it is a magic similar to Loki’s.
Out of everyone around them, Thor is perhaps the only one that is unconcerned that he is years younger than he should be.
Loki is put in a room with an electronic lock and two guards, but, when he wakes up the next morning, Thor is curled up on the side of the bed anyway.
On the third morning Thor is in his room, Pepper tries to convince Thor to stay in his own room.
And it comes as no surprise when, on the fourth morning, Loki wakes up and Thor is still there. But he clearly hasn’t slept and his brow is gathered up in a way that would have meant a rainstorm when they were children. As it is, he remains in bed as Loki gets up. Loki doesn’t press him and it doesn’t take long before Thor blurts out what’s on his mind.
“They say you’re a bad guy,” Thor says finally.
He looks up at Loki expectantly. Loki finishes buttoning the green dress shirt he is wearing, sparing only a slight glance at Thor in the mirror he is standing in front of. He does wonder how much of their future Thor has pieced together. Thor’s strength and compassion were his stronger suits and in the past few days he has willed himself into ignorance with a passion Loki has never seen before.
“I suppose they are right,” Loki says easily, turning to face Thor.
“You can’t be a bad guy,” Thor tells him, his tone defiant.
“No?” Loki asks.
“No,” Thor answers. “Princes can’t be bad guys.”
A delightfully simple answer and one that Loki would have expected from Thor. When he says nothing further, Thor finally gets out of bed and Loki helps him get dressed, guiding his arms through the sleeves of the red T-shirt that has quickly become Thor’s favorite. He is aware of the way that Thor watches him the entire while, as if sizing him up. As if looking for the lie inside his admission that he is now a “bad guy.”
“Why are we here?” Thor asks finally. It’s the first time he’s openly admitted that he knows something is out of place. One of his hands curls in the hem of the T-shirt. He looks even younger. “I want to go home.”
“You wanted to protect people here,” Loki answers, looking toward his brother. He says the words as a challenge.
“Why are you here?” Thor asks.
“Because Father does not wish to see me any longer,” Loki says. He is kneeling, still at Thor’s height, but they are simply looking at each other, continuing to appraise one another.
“Because I am the bad guy,” Loki answers and only then does he rise to his feet.
On the fifth day, Jane Foster arrives. Thor seems to have willed himself to forget their conversation from yesterday. He is outdoors, playing with some toy that Tony had concocted. Watching Stark and Thor together, it is difficult to tell who is the child.
Loki stands indoors, watching them from a distance. He slices one of the apples that Thor had presented him with as a prize when Coulson brings Jane back to him.
He is aware of her presence even before either of them can say anything. She hovers, feet away, and Loki does not care to see her face, because he knows that it will be open — he knows that her grief at seeing Thor as a child will be tangible. She will conceal nothing.
He lets the silence continue until Jane finally finds her voice. She clears her throat first.
“He was going to see his father,” she says. “He was going to—”
She does not manage to finish her sentence, but her words come as no surprise. Loki has been able to see Odin’s magic more clearly every day now. The spell grows stronger with time and Loki knows now that, if he is to reverse what has been done, he has to work quickly. But he knows that he cannot rush blindly into this. The main question that had grown in his mind was as to why Odin had cursed Thor again. This was much more drastic than last time — that was to prove a lesson. This — this seemed to be punishment in its purest form.
And now, here Jane is, and Loki wonders if Thor had finally become large enough of a fool to think that Odin and Frigga would ever allow a mortal to claim their Crown Prince. His blind faith in them has always led him astray.
“He doesn’t know me,” Jane says and suddenly she is too close to Loki. She stands near the glass, her fingertips pressed lightly up against it as she gazes out at Thor. Loki glances at her.
“No,” he answers.
“But he knows you.”
Her voice is accusing. Her gaze fixates on him again, and there is an anger burning beneath her expression that Loki has always found amusing. She seems to think that, because she has tamed Thor, she can tame all gods. It is a false belief Loki had always craved to correct.
“If you can help him, you should,” she continues, her voice tight. “But if not, leave. Don’t hurt him, Loki.”
He cannot tell if she is begging or commanding. Loki has little time for either.
He knows that there is no way for this mortal to understand what has been woven between himself and Thor. She loves him with the intensity of the months she has known him. She cannot understand the complexity that results of centuries. She cannot understand how he can fight his brother and love him, and how he can look at this younger version of Thor and have thoughts of protecting him from all other enemies while anticipating trying to destroy him in the future again.
On the sixth day, Sif comes. She does not come by the Bifrost, but wraps herself in shadow and it puts a lean smile on Loki’s face to know that she has borrowed a trick from his book. The noble Lady Sif has resorted to one of his methods and he is pleased by it. She does not let anyone know she is there, but stands in their room in the early light of morning and looks down at Thor.
“The Queen is pregnant,” she tells Loki. And her voice still has the same strength, the same rough edge to it that made her seem all the more elegant.
“And such a child pushes Thor from succession,” Loki surmises, glancing down at his golden brother. He is curled into the blankets, his fists wrapped tightly around them. His face is shoved into the pillow and he does not sleep easy.
“Not all of Asgard agrees on that,” Sif answers and her words are slow. Carefully chosen — a true silver tongue.
And it is on the sixth night that the first of their enemies find them. A son from a noble family of Asgard. He fights his way past the mortal guards on the boundaries, and manages to get past Stark before arriving. Thor is asleep in bed and Loki waits. He doesn’t know who gave the command for the man to come, but they have been a fool to not send more. A single warrior.
The man rushes too quickly and it is nothing for Loki to form an ice dagger and let it pierce through the armor and find its way through his ribs. He lets ice pour into the warrior’s veins and destroy him.
When Loki turns, Thor is wide-eyed and awake.
“Your hand—” Thor starts to say.
Loki holds it up, his fingers blue. The color begins to recede, but still Thor sees. He watches and Loki can see the comprehension that dawns on his face. He cannot ignore everything that happens around him. Loki watches the fear that crawls up his proud brother’s spine — and the anger and the frustration. Loki imagines the torrents of rain that would pound the ground, the lightning searing everything dead, if his brother only was himself.
Pepper hurries into the room and she goes to Thor’s side, coddling him and asking him if he’s okay. Thor wraps his arms around her, but he is staring at Loki over her shoulder, his eyes accusing.
On the seventh day, Loki does not see Thor. He does not see him on the eighth either.
He knows that Thor is getting into trouble. He hears of what he has done in Banner’s lab. He has broken several of Stark’s electronics and tried to use Hawkeye’s bow. He seems to tear his way through the mansion, trying to find something that will alleviate what he is going through.
Pepper comes to see him first, asking him what he has done. The Captain comes next and Loki says nothing.
On the ninth day, Thor comes back to him. Loki understands what these mortals do not — and that is that his brother will always come back to him.
“You’re a Frost Giant,” Thor says and his young voice echoes the bravery of the warrior he will become.
“Yes,” Loki answers.
“And that’s why Father sent you away,” Thor says. “Is that why he thinks you’re a bad guy?”
Loki watches as Thor tries to reason through this; Loki remembers his own horror too keenly at discovering what he was. There were hundreds of tales about the awfulness of the Frost Giants. The Jotun were an easy nightmare to coax children into behaving — and those stories would probably be forefront in Thor’s mind. But now, he aligns them easily, discarding what he needs in order to accept Loki again.
“Father is wrong,” Thor declares. And Loki, for the all the time he has now spent with Thor, cannot help but be surprised — and pleased. He can feel his own magic beginning to grow inside his fingertips and he thinks that soon, soon he will be able to tackle this spell. Soon, he will be able to unleash his brother.
Jane comes again.
She watches Thor and she confronts Loki again.
“What have you done to him?” she asks and her voice is angry again. And before he can answer, deliver her some sweet-nothing lie, she presses forward. “You need to leave. It was stupid to think you would help.”
“If I leave, he’ll come with me,” Loki tells her coyly.
“Father is punishing me.”
Thor announces it at breakfast. He is sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar, his feet swinging in the air. He says this in front of Stark and Steve, and Loki does nothing to dissuade him. Steve pauses from where he was making breakfast and Stark glances up over the computer he has in front of him.
Loki says nothing, waiting to see where this particular train of thought is going. He can see that Thor is watching him. Even when he does not get immediate confirmation, he plows forward.
“He’s going to put another on the throne,” Loki answers easily, as if this is idle conversation.
“Loki,” Steve says sharply, turning as if to stop him from answering.
It is amusing, Loki thinks, how much more dangerous, just sometimes, the truth can be than his own lies. And there is nothing Steve nor Stark nor any of these mortals can do to alter that truth. There is nothing they can do to stop the anger that fills up Thor’s face. They have never seen the entirety of his temper — not in the same way that Loki has. And they can’t even see it in this moment, not when Thor has been stripped of his power and made into one of them. He is just a boy in this moment. Not a God. Not a Prince of Asgard. Not an Avenger.
“He said we would be kings!” Thor shouts. “He lied!”
And he is off, clattering off the stool, and racing down the hallway. There’s a slam of the door, echoing into the house like a thunderclap.
And, ah, Loki thinks. Ah, there is such a beautiful irony to those words.
Fury tries to get rid of him. He comes and he threatens and he shouts. He brings guards and they bring their weapons. He brings his handcuffs and his restraints and Loki laughs in their faces. It is too late. They have invited him in.
Thor brings him another apple and climbs into bed with him. He does not go to sleep. He sits up and the shadows obscure his golden hair.
“Why did Father lie?” he asks. His voice is small. “Why did he get rid of us?”
“We were not enough to him,” Loki answers, remembering how he told Thor that he only ever wanted to be his equal. A sentiment he thought his brother would never understand.
“I want to go home,” Thor says, and his voice is stronger than Loki has heard it in a long time. It rings of the same determination it held when he told Loki he was going to Jotunheim.
“I know you do,” Loki answers. And he can feel the magic build in his fingertips. He sees the ends of the spells that Odin has woven. And he finishes undoing them.
They stand in the middle of the desert, miles and miles away from where the Avengers are. In the morning, they will awake and find that Thor and Loki are both gone. They will find that Mjolnir is also gone.
The hammer is held firm in Thor’s hand and the clouds overhead roil as Loki begins to weave a new spell, one that he has used many times.
They will go home. They will return, Princes of Asgard, standing together and ready for their next adventure.