Disgraced. Humiliated. Defeated. Awaiting trial, or whatever mockery of it they choose to offer.
He cannot call this a homecoming.
His brother has him chained and muzzled like a dog. Drags him back to be beaten into submission. All he can see is Thor’s face above him, letting him fall. Thor’s offer; come home.
Your compassion is a lie, brother.
He will heal fully soon. For the moment, the ache is still bone deep, the pain sharper than he has felt in some time. He has lost. There is no recourse for him now.
The air in Asgard when they land tastes like ashes. At least let me walk without these chains, Loki wants to say, but the muzzle will not let him. He tries to look proud. Regal.
He stumbles crossing the bridge to the city, and his brother has to catch him before he falls.
They set him a cell. It is not uncomfortable, though it is sparse. “Do not listen overmuch to him,” Thor says to one of the guards. “He still has his tricks, same as always.” He looks at Loki for one more moment, as if he wants to say something. Spout some words, perhaps, about their brotherhood.
He thinks of the affection on Thor’s face with the human scientist. The gentle way he clasped the older man’s shoulder. You never loved me like that. I get only what I take, and nothing more.
He turns away from Thor’s gaze until his brother leaves.
The guards are not foolish; or perhaps they are so dull they don’t know how to respond when he attempts to engage them. He gives up on the attempt swiftly enough, unsure of where he would go from here, if he could escape. The empty darkness of space is not full of allies. There will be even fewer when the news of this defeat spreads.
Likely Thor wants him to think on his mistakes. Loki does ponder his mistakes.
Just not the ones Thor wants him to ponder. I should have, he thinks, fiercely, furiously bitter. I should have, I should have.
Thor does not come to visit.
For some reason Loki is not surprised.
Not being surprised does not keep him from being ever so slightly hurt, though. Not even to scold me, brother? To tell me the error of my ways and ask me to turn from this dark path you say I have chosen?
For one such as me, I ask you, what other path is there?
He finds a place in his cell where he can sit and watch the door. Periodically his guards cast him uneasy glances, which he always rewards with a sharp-toothed smile as though he is truly planning something. He is not. For the moment, he is out of schemes.
He wonders what is occurring above his head. What sentences they suggest. Exile, perhaps? That would be a kind of irony, though one his dull brother would not appreciate. Imprisonment seems impractical. Perhaps they will seek to find some way to cripple his power.
That thought sends a shiver down Loki’s spine.
Death seems unlikely, though here would be the one place they could implement it. He indulges himself, imagines Thor and Odin arguing back and forth, and wonders briefly which would suggest his life and which his death.
His neck aches. If, Loki thinks bitterly, he ever escapes from here, he will find that Banner-man and truly kill him this time. Impudent beast.
It is difficult to keep track of the days. Loki suspects five before Thor does come. His brother, towering and in all his regalia, that stern, stubborn frown fixed on his face. Loki smiles amiably at him, the way Thor has always hated. It feels like you’re mocking me, he used to say, irritably, and Loki would just smile wider.
How do you know I’m not?
“Brother,” Thor says. Loki lets an eyebrow quirk.
“Adoptive,” he says, “As I am certain you are quick to remind folk these days.”
Thor’s frown deepens. “This is not what I hoped for,” he says, after a moment.
“What did you?” He keeps his voice deliberately light. The better to make the barbs stick. “An embrace and some tears and for us to return to Asgard hand in hand?”
Thor’s frown deepens, which mostly has the effect of making him look like a pouting child. “I had hoped something of the kind, yes.”
“Ah, Odinson,” Loki says, letting his grin stretch wider. “What is it I’ve told you about sentiment?”
Thor leans forward, nose nearly pressed against the barrier of his prison. “I mourned for your death,” he says, sharply. “I never wanted – I wept for you, brother. I wished often that something had gone differently-”
Loki sneers. “How touching.”
Thor takes a sharp step back and curses under his breath. “Don’t mock this,” he says, voice hard. “I am…parentage or not, you are my brother. I will not forget. If you only show remorse for what you have done-”
Loki’s eyes sting. He hardens his expression, hoping it doesn’t show. Fight with me, he remembers, together. You can end this, and for a moment, he wanted to. For a moment, the possibility had hung there like some bright and shining thing that even a half-breed might touch.
I wasn’t the one who started it.
“What do they suggest you do with me?” He asks, instead of answering, closing walls of steel around his heart. Thor’s face falls. His emotions ever on his sleeves, that one. It is what makes him such a terrible liar. It is what lets Loki see through his farce of compassion, of sympathy.
“Many things,” Thor says, dully. “That you should be returned to Jotunheim. That you should be killed.”
“And what do you think?”
Thor sighs, heavily. “I wish for you back at my side, where you always were before.”
“At your side,” Loki echoes, and laughs, softly. “And that is why, Odinson, I will never be there again. Perhaps you have beaten me. But I will not accept your scraps.”
“My…” Thor backs away from the barrier and shakes his head. “Loki, why will you not believe that I have only the best for you in mind?”
He laughs again, this time harsh and bitter, and lets that be his answer. Thor’s expression turns stormy for a moment, and then he turns away. Loki looks at his back. “Whatever I have done, I would give you what recompense I can, if you would only let me. Please consider.” He sounds sad. Loki will not let it touch him. He will not.
It is not sleep, but something like, and he dreams of lying half broken with the four humans, the green beast, and his brother standing over him. He can taste bitter blood in the back of his throat. Thor steps forward, his expression dark like thunder.
“Brother,” Loki says hoarsely. “Please,” even as he hates himself for begging. Thor extends a hand down to him, the glowering faces of his companions fading into the background. Loki reaches for him, mind full of memories: his (half-) brother saving his life, standing up for him, standing with him.
He feels the hammer come down with the full might of Thor’s arm behind it. They are difficult to kill. That does not make it impossible.
Thor knows all his weaknesses.
Loki forces his eyes open, shuddering. He never wanted to be so helpless, so at the mercy of others, because there is no mercy, none that can be trusted. Thor would offer him a hand in friendship and strike him down with the other.
He is no fool.
Loki closes his eyes and tries to think of next steps. He will not show remorse (weakness). Not when he has already been brought down so far. But all his plans keep breaking into shards, splintering down to nothing and scuttling into the shadows where he dares not follow.
He should have destroyed the earth instead of trying to keep it. Left it a rubble of rock and dust drifting through space.
His eyes prickle. He does not blink, and they don’t spill over. My brother, Thor says, and Loki wishes he could believe it, wishes he didn’t see the truth in the doubt and the hesitation and the way he was brought here, in a muzzle on a chain.
Tomorrow, Thor will come back. Tomorrow, Loki will needle him again, strike in the small petty ways he still can like a snake whose back has been broken. Tomorrow, Thor will look at him with a flicker of concern and say, “Are you still hurt?”
Maybe Loki will say yes, and let Thor salve the bruises because in less than a week he might be dead. Or maybe he will laugh at the idea that he has any weakness left, because what room does a creature made of malice have for pain?
Loki himself isn’t sure.
He sits with his eyes half closed and mind whirling through space and wonders what it is like to hear people cry one’s name with joy; what it is like to look in a mirror and see oneself as a hero.
Asgard is not home.
Perhaps there is nowhere that is.