It had been decided that Loki would not be given the same considerations that were afforded to any prisoner of war, a verdict that rankled in Thor's chest, stirring resentment and indignation. Loki's fight had not been honorable and he was prone to trickery and deceit, but those had never been a disqualification from being treated with respect as a fierce combatant and worthy opponent. The council chuckled amongst themselves about how any man who needed to resort to little illusions and lies to win a battle was no true warrior. Perhaps in Jotunheim such strategies were hailed, but in Asgard...
The whole discussion was infuriating, and his father's silence did little to assuage his growing frustration. How dare they speak of his brother that way? How dare they pretend that Loki was not Asgardian, as nearly as any of them? How dare they pretend that their judgment was not personal, biased because they had thought him to be one of them, and he had fooled and disappointed them all?
Thor was the only one who remembered a slight boy, always overpowered by his peers in sparring and behind in physical training; who remembered one hopeless evening when that boy whispered, will they ever stop laughing at me for being weak?; who remembered that boy's earnest, childish glee when he mastered a spell that allowed him to trick his opponents, and suddenly his matches were not so easily lost.
The Jotun were not Loki's people. The ones who had raised him and impressed their values upon him were Asgardian, and if he seemed not to have learned those lessons, it was because he could not live up to their ideals, or because they had failed to teach him.
It would never have been done to a respected enemy of Asgard, but Loki was rendered unconscious so that he would not struggle, and systematically stripped of his armor and anything of magic on his person. Even the glamor that Odin had cast a thousand years ago binding him to his now-familiar form was removed, while Thor held tight to Mjolnir's shaft as if gripping it tightly enough would shake his desire to take a swing at the men handling his brother.
"Is this really necessary?" he ground from between his teeth, but in spite of himself his eyes would not lift from Loki's prone body as his skin cooled, the slate blue creeping steadily over every inch of his skin, turning him fey and unfamiliar. The markings that emerged on his skin were foreign; he looked himself, but at the same time so very different.
Odin sighed beside him, and murmured, "It may do him good. He has been running from this for some time now. ...Though not nearly as long as I have."
The sadness in the old god's words caught at Thor's attention, distracting him. "Father, do not hold yourself to blame for this. You were trying to protect him."
"I do not need you to defend me from my mistakes, Thor." Odin's hand found his shoulder, rested on it comfortingly. "I have done him no favors by steeping him in lies for a thousand years. I only hope that in time, he can forgive me for them."
Thor tightened his jaw, looking back at Loki. Even with his Jotun appearance revealed he somehow looked defenseless and small like this: skinny and nearly nude, sprawled over a stark table without consideration, black hair trailing over his neck and shoulders. It was hard to imagine the chaos and destruction that he had stirred not long ago, the madness that had seized him.
Thoughts like that would only expose vulnerability that Loki would take advantage of; he knew that. But it was impossible not to look at his limp form and think, This is a frost giant, but this is also my brother. His coloring has changed nothing.
He stayed when they clad Loki in a simple gray shift and took him to his cell, a self-contained prison in a northern tower, easily defensible and reinforced countless times with magic protections. He gave great thought to it, to everything, seeking the key that would unlock the riddle of Loki's heart to him. Loki slept more easily now, the ridges scored into his blue skin shifting as his chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm.
By the time Loki stirred, Thor was accustomed to the sight, but Loki was not.
Vivid red eyes flickered open and cast around, finding Thor first and tightening his lips immediately in displeased response that stung; then he braced himself on one arm, pushing himself upright, and his gaze fell upon his own lapis-colored skin, and he recoiled, flying up with a gasp.
Thor did not know what to make of it, rising to his feet and reaching out, starting, "Brother--" but Loki ignored him, gripping his wrist and then staring numbly at his hands, shaking.
His horror was evident and very real, and it caught Thor off-guard. He didn't know what to say for a long moment, before he managed finally, "They removed Father's glamor."
"Oh, really? Did they?" Loki snapped back, withering.
Blue, runed, and red-eyed, but it was definitely the Loki that he remembered. Thor said, "You needn't look so stricken. When the verdict is passed, you will be able to replace it yourself, if you so choose." Or Father could, if they chose to seal Loki's sorcery, a thought that Thor had been considering with some unease ever since the clans had stripped him of even his Aesir appearance.
"Your vote of confidence is touching, if naive." Loki was still trembling, although he drew himself to his full height, hands lowering to hide his reaction. "I very much doubt I will just be allowed to return to my lifestyle without a hitch by the time they are through with their justice."
Thor's jaw tightened; he could not deny that justice was needed. But at the same time he knew that true justice would not be a price that Loki could afford to pay. "They will be merciful," he said, faith that he knew the clan leaders did not deserve; he would make them be merciful, then. "You will return to your home, to your family, and to the lifestyle of which you are accustomed."
Loki laughed, breathless. "They will not even allow me to look at myself in the mirror, but they will give me all that? What temperamental hearts our council has!"
"You are yourself," Thor told him, firm. "If you cannot bear to look upon your reflection, it is because you are rightfully ashamed of the choices you have made."
"I would do it all again," Loki said, and his voice held the same conviction, low but fervent, in a way that made Thor's heart sink. "If that makes me a monster, then I embrace that!"
"You are not--"
"But you are not content for me to merely know it! I have to see it, don't I?"
There was a vicious turn to the words, spat out like he couldn't bear the taste of them. The slim man began to pace in his confines, and Thor frowned, following him thoughtfully. Loki's red eyes were strange and hard to read, but the set of his jaw, the tension in his shoulders, the frantic energy to his movements -- they were all familiar to his brother, his Jotun body no different in this than his Asgardian form.
"You are no monster," Thor finished his thought, letting his tone gentle. "Least of all for this. Blue or brown or purple; I would have thought you of all people would know that it makes no difference. Have you not changed your own appearance countless times?"
"Always knowing that at the end of the day I could return to my own! Knowing that my own form was--" Loki grimaced, thin lips tightening, and he looked away.
Thor took a step closer, curling his fingers around Mjolnir's hilt to keep from reaching out again. His brother was in an uncommon state of agitation, wrenching the truth from his lips without first filtering through layers of tangled thought processes; rare, for him. Even knowing what Loki had done, he could not keep it in mind when the old urge to comfort and protect welled strong in his chest.
They had been taught for so long to fear and despise the frost giants, and dimly Thor began to understand the immensity of Loki learning that he was one of them; the desire that he had felt to erase them and prove himself not like them.
"There was no glamor creating the boy who grew up alongside me," he said. "When you learned to read at our mother's knee, that was you. When you stole apples from Idunn to cheer me after a fight with our father, that was you. The man that I could always count on to fight by my side and guide me with thoughtful words... That was no illusion. Only your body, Brother."
"All of that was illusion, you fool!" Loki spun to face him, glaring; for the first time Thor did not notice the strangeness of his Jotun form at all, seeing in that anger only his brother, hurt and lashing out the way he sometimes did. "It was only ever possible because of a web of lies!"
There it was, maddening: Loki's insistence that because he was not what he had believed himself to be, the bonds of a thousand years were as nothing. Thor growled, "I do not believe that! Those lies do not change what we experienced, what we felt for each other!"
Another sharp laugh. "Think for once, Brother. Are you professing to love a monster?"
"Stop saying that!" Thor surged forward, though he kept his hands tight to his sides, fingers still gripping Mjolnir tightly. If his self-restraint faltered, he could not tell if he would hurl the hammer at Loki's face or grab and shake him.
"You can't face reality!"
"You are no monster!"
"No?" Loki's expression tightened, and he sneered, "Then give us a kiss, Brother." A wisp escaped his curled lips, white, conjuring the endless ice of Jotunheim.
For just a split second, it all ran through his mind: the memory of bitter cold; the reminder that the freezing touch of the Jotun could destroy even the flesh of a god; the uncertainty of whether such a native biological power had been sealed away along with Loki's other sorceries.
And then he lunged forward, taking Loki's chin in one hand, and kissed him full on the mouth.
It was not a gentle kiss, hard and unyielding, purposeful. The blue skin was cooler than it should have been, the texture slightly toughened beneath his fingers, but his lips were soft, and he was wide-eyed and still, not fighting for once. Thor released him just as sharply as he had taken possession of him, letting Loki stumble back, looking uncertain, surprise still holding him captive.
Thor felt the smile play at his lips, and he let it, folding his arms. "...See?"
His smug expression seemed to ease some of Loki's stunned paralysis. Loki folded his arms, saying sullenly, "I was caught off-guard. Do it again."
He threw back his head and laughed, filled with a genuine happiness he hadn't felt in some time. "Noooo, I will not! Catching you off-guard was all that saved me."
"Such lack of faith you have in your brother. If I iced your head, it would only be because you deserved it."
Thor grinned, broad. "I will not deny that you have always been inordinately fair with me, but not with your pride at stake."
"I have never been as enamored of my pride as you," Loki said, with the ghost of a smile in return.
It felt as if some tension had been eased between them, though he couldn't imagine how or why. Perhaps it was not important. What was important was that Loki was more relaxed in his own skin, willing to make light of his heritage; that they were joking together as they had in centuries past, instead of fixating on things they could not change.
What was important was the promise of a future when Loki, freed from the dark thoughts that plagued him, might truly come home again.
"And you have always been sensitive to that as well," Thor allowed, grin easing, turning fond. "You are a better brother than I deserved."
Loki glanced up at him, briefly, and there was a vulnerability in that look -- one that Thor had seen a thousand times before, blue crested skin and red eyes notwithstanding: the look of a boy who had wanted, more than anything, to be accepted and loved, by his family, their friends, and their people.
"Perhaps," was all Loki said. "Or perhaps not."
They did not speak of Loki's actions in Midgard. But Thor left with his heart light, for the first time in ages, and he prepared himself for the long fight to come, to show the rest of the Nine Realms that there was good left in Loki to be saved.