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The night before Thor is set to leave Asgard he has the dream again. He dreams that Loki is crying out in pain and anguish, and Thor cannot reach him.

In the morning, he makes immediately for his mother’s chambers. She has experience with prophetic dreams and beyond that is possessed of considerable wisdom. She listens patiently to Thor’s account.

“I thought at first that it pertained to the opening of the Bifrost,” Thor explains. “I thought I must be vigilant and make sure Loki was not captured and punished. But that has been averted now, has it not?”

Frigga is quiet for a long moment. “Thor,” she says finally. “I think you are correct when you say that this dream was a message, but I do not think it is a prophecy. I think it is a reminder.”

Thor frowns. “I do not understand. A reminder of what?”

Frigga looks at him steadily. “Not all hurts are physical, Thor. I think your brother’s pain and helplessness in the dream are from before you left here.”

“But why show it to me now? And why then?”

Frigga shrugs. “A reminder,” she repeats. “I think it is a reminder that you must continue to look beneath the surface instead of accepting everything for what it appears to be.”

Thor thinks on this as he packs his things, and his brother’s things (Bring me all the books. All of them. Steal more if you can), and prepares to depart. The roof of the Avengers’ mansion has been cleared to provide a permanent Bifrost connection, courtesy of Jane and Erik, and so Thor will not have to journey into the city when he arrives.

Thor bids farewell to his parents at the palace, and to Sif and the Warriors at Heimdall’s observatory, and departs Asgard under his own power for the first time in nearly half a year.

Loki, Jane, and Steve are waiting for him when he arrives. Jane greets him very warmly, and Loki and Steve both accept embraces, if only briefly in Loki’s case. They repair down to the kitchen to greet the others.

Tony is away attending to business concerns, which is regrettable, but everyone else is in residence. They are a merry party as they eat, and Thor finds himself watching them with his new attention to nuance. Steve is clearly in charge. Everyone defers to him in attitude if not always in language, but the power distribution amongst the rest shifts and resettles as every new topic of conversation comes to light. Loki weaves in and out of this dance as easily as breathing.

“ - And then Loki flies up - which we did not know he could do, I might add, you should’ve seen Cap’s face - and turns himself into some kind of freaking magic missile and takes the thing out.”

Thor tunes back into conversation abruptly. “You did what?” he asks his brother, astonished.

Loki shrugs, embarrassed. “It always seemed to work very well for you. I thought there could be no harm in trying.”

“When are you going to start talking like normal people?” Clint asks idly. “You’re never going to fit in with all that proper grammar and crap.”

“Why ever would I want to fit in?” Loki says archly. “It would mean surrendering half of my vocabulary and slurring the rest.”

Thor casts his brother an admonishing look, but Clint merely grins and makes a rude gesture. Everyone laughs. Thor cannot hold it in any longer, and embraces his brother mightily.

“Ah!” Loki protests. “Unhand me, you oaf!”

“It is so good to see you happy, Loki,” Thor says, his voice wavering.

Loki stills. “Would you all mind - “

The others depart, quickly and quietly. When the kitchen is empty Loki gives his brother an awkward pat on the shoulder, standing stiffly within Thor’s arms.

“All right, Thor,” he says. “What has happened? You are... different, since you returned.”

“I found Asgard much changed,” Thor says into Loki’s hair. “Well, Asgard itself had not altered greatly, but I myself had changed. I watched, and I listened, and I felt I could taste your misery in every part of the realm. I am so sorry, brother. I am so glad you are here now instead.”

Loki breathes in, surprised, and tentatively returns Thor’s embrace. “I... am sorry you had to see that,” he says softly. “But I cannot say I regret your insight.”

Thor leaves the embrace reluctantly before Loki has a chance to become too uncomfortable. “I have brought you presents from Asgard,” he says, looking away self-consciously. “Would you like them?”

“Certainly,” Loki says. “I presume you brought my books?”

“I did,” Thor says, ushering Loki out of the kitchen and down towards their rooms. “I brought all the books in your rooms, and then I walked through Mother’s chambers with her as she pointed out all the books she had not had a chance to share with you. She was then mysteriously called away for just as long as it took me to abscond with them.”

Loki laughs, pleased. “I look forward to seeing them.”

They reach Thor’s rooms and enter, going straight for the baggage Thor had returned with. He opens one of the packs and tosses Loki a bright object.

Loki catches it instinctively, then nearly drops it in surprise. “One of Idunn’s apples?” he asks, shocked.

“Yes,” Thor says. “Volstagg and I stole it for you.”

“Vol - what? Volstagg?” Loki makes a gesture that somehow manages to indicate Volstagg’s mighty girth and ponderous being. “Volstagg?

“It was his idea, in fact,” Thor says, smiling.

“Huh,” Loki says, impressed.

“And mother sent you this,” Thor says, taking his mother’s tapestry gently out of his bag.

Loki takes it reverently. “There are very powerful protections woven into this,” he says, awed. “I have never seen... Mother made it? For - for me?”

“She loves you very much, brother,” Thor says gently, and watches Loki’s defenses crumble.

When they have composed themselves again, Thor pats his brother gruffly on the shoulder. “Father misses you very much as well,” he says. “In fact, the bargain I made with him to secure my return was conditional on the fact I learn to be a little more like you. As a cunning statesman it would seem I leave a little something to be desired.”

Loki laughs shakily. “I will do what I can, I suppose,” he says. “But I promise no miracles.”

Thor leaves his brother with his new possessions and his thoughts, reminding himself to come by occasionally and ensure that Loki stops reading long enough to eat and sleep. He wants to go and find Jane, but he makes himself detour before he can get distracted by thoughts of her.

Coulsson is in the living room on his cell device, but he ends the conversation when Thor enters.

“Thor,” he says. “Welcome back.”

“Thank you,” Thor returns, just as gravely. “Son of Coul, I have something I wish to ask you.”

“Of course, ask away.”

Thor stands and looks out the window at the city. “I have learned a little about the details that go into governance in my time away,” he says. “And it has occurred to me that Loki’s position here is very unusual. From your perspective, when we showed up all you knew of him was that he had caused destruction unprovoked in one of your provinces, and yet here he is - an integral part of the Avengers. For my own education, and my peace of mind, can you explain to me why this is?”

Coulsson tilts his head thoughtfully. “Officially? First he was under your custody, and you were an attractive enough ally that your brother’s... unconventional history could be set aside.”

“But I have been gone for many weeks,” Thor says.

“Mmm. Yes. Now the official story is that having him here working with us is... I suppose you could say ‘reparation’. He’s here on his own merit, and his continued help is a sign of his change of heart. Unofficially...” He hesitates, then says slowly, “I was... not unsympathetic to your brother’s mental state when he arrived, and I may have creatively reported a few things.”

“Politics?” Thor guesses.

“Paperwork,” Coulsson corrects, smiling his gentle little half-smile.