Loki, muzzled still and bound in chains, is taken into custody the moment they return to Asgard. It will be Thor's last sight of him for some time, and this is not how he had planned for things to go at all.
“If you would simply allow me to keep charge of him—”
“That is out of the question.” Tyr is no taller than Thor, yet he seems to tower over him regardless. “He fought without honor. And he failed. Judgment and punishment are mine by right, and by the express command of Odin All-Father.”
“His mind is fragile.” Thor watches, uneasy but unable to do more as his brother is led away. There are none to see him but his jailers, at least, and Thor finds himself grateful for small favors. “This will likely only turn him more certainly against us.”
“A point which may well be moot; if he can not be rehabilitated—”
“You will not harm him,” Thor says dangerously. Tyr raises a single eyebrow, unimpressed.
“I have no interest in vengeance. Only in justice.”
“You swear to it?”
“On my good right hand, I swear.” He offers that hand as he speaks, and Thor hesitates only a moment before meeting it with his own. “No harm will come to your brother save that which is unavoidable.”
Thor nods. It is a small comfort, but once again he will take what he can get.
“I shall speak with our father.”
“And I shall see to my duty.” Tyr releases his grip and turns away. “A word to the wise: Odin is not in a particularly forgiving state of mind.”
“When is he ever?” Thor says, grinning when Tyr's shoulders move in what might almost be a stifled laugh.
“And when have you ever been wise?” he calls behind him, and Thor gives in to his urge to laugh, long and deep.
That urge disappears quickly once he reaches Odin's throne room. It is empty but for his father, the usual crowds of courtiers and petitioners conspicuous in their absence. The atmosphere is grim and heavy, already foreboding before either of them utters a single word.
“Do not say,” Odin begins loudly as he rises from his throne, “that you have come to plead for leniency.”
It's to be straight to the heart of the matter, then, without preamble. Thor finds that that suits him quite well.
“You have not seen him,” he replies, striding forward to meet his father head-on. “He is not what he was; he is not himself.”
“You would have me pardon him, then? After all he has done; to you, to the realm that you have sworn to protect? Are his crimes against Jötunheim and Midgard to be so easily forgotten?”
“I do not speak of pardoning him. Regardless of his reasoning, he will pay for his crimes. But let me take charge of his rehabilitation. If there were extenuating circumstances—”
“Your love for him blinds you.” Odin stares out of his one good eye, seeming as ever to peer straight through to Thor's soul. “Of all of us, you have always been the one most easily led astray by his deceptions. He will attempt to use you for his own advantage.”
“Do you think me so foolish as to have failed to realize that? It does not matter. If I can help him, then I will do so; he is my brother.”
“As he is my son. Yet he has renounced us.”
“But I will not renounce him,” Thor counters. “Nor will I abandon him.”
Odin merely makes a dismissive sound and turns back to his throne. Thor swallows the panic, the rage and defiance that want to rise in him, and takes a deep, careful breath.
That has Odin considering him again as he sits. “So,” he muses. “You truly have learned humility at last.”
“I would not have,” Thor points out, “if not for my brother's actions.”
“Oho!” Odin let out a bark of a laugh, his eyebrows flying high in astonishment. “Am I to understand that you are grateful to him for what he did?”
“I . . .” Thor grinds his teeth for a moment, struggling to keep his temper against the old man's baiting. “In part. It is more complex than that, but you must admit that had Loki not acted as he did, I might well have become king without learning what it truly means to rule. Though they do not excuse his actions, even you must admit that the results are ones to be glad of.”
“Must I?” Odin snaps, and Thor scowls.
“Is your pride truly so great that you would see your son destroyed before you bent?” he demands, hands curling into fists. “Or was Loki right to say that he was never more than a pawn to you? Are you so willing to cast him aside now that he might no longer be of use to you?”
“ENOUGH!” Odin's voice rings loudly throughout the throne room an instant before he brings his staff down with a deafening crack against the floor. A percussive blast echoes out from the impact, a nearly-visible ring of force that knocks Thor back a full step and sets his ears ringing like the city's warning bells. “You will keep a civil tongue, boy, or I shall cut it out!” Odin sits back, glowering out of his one good eye. “I will consider your request,” he says at last. “Now remove yourself; I have other business to attend to.”
Thor bows, though he keeps it as shallow as propriety allows, and strides from the throne room without a backwards glance. A hot, familiar rage is burning through his veins, silently goading him to let it loose, to smash through the obstacles that bar his way, to simply take what he desires because it is his by right . But that is an old way of thinking, and though it is a struggle he keeps the urge in check.
He heads directly for his quarters, uninterested in the questions he will certainly have to answer if he meets with any of his friends. Thor wonders, briefly, if his mother and brother have been barred from visiting Loki, as well. Balder may not be inclined to try, but surely Frigga would, and Thor does not like his father's odds of being able to deny her long. The thought cheers him slightly; Loki will not be entirely without friends in his incarceration.
Not for the first time, he finds himself envying his brother's silver tongue; Loki's behavior is worrying to Thor in a way that he has been unable to properly communicate to anyone. None of the Midgardian warriors know him well enough to truly comprehend the sudden shift in Loki's behavior and methods; Thor suspects that the hawk and the spider might very well be capable of understanding, but they are neither one inclined to try, and in truth Thor can not fault them for it. As for the other residents of Asgard, most know Loki too well to give credence to any protestations on his part.
There is one thing of which Thor is certain, and that is that there is more to his brother's story than what he has been told. Without speaking to him, however, he has no hope of understanding. And without understanding, he can not help.
Exhaustion hits abruptly as he opens his chamber doors and catches sight of his bed. He's lost track of how long it's been since he last slept. Well before he made the trip to Midgard, certainly, and though the mortals might think him a god, three battles, two trips between dimensions, and an argument with his father is more than he is capable of enduring without feeling the effects. He barely has the energy to strip away his armor and clothing before he falls face-down on the bed, asleep before he can even pull a blanket over himself.
The scene is one that he remembers well. The palace garden is bright and warm, and a thin metal circlet sits on his head—one of two pie tins that Loki had charmed out of a kitchen girl. They've punched out the middles and are wearing them like crowns, kneeling in the grass to command the armies of twigs and bugs and leaves between them.
“I don't understand,” he hears himself saying as he carefully studies the battlefield and nudges one of his beetles towards an enemy leaf. “Why do you think Father said that?”
“Said what?” comes the absent response, and he looks up to be faced with an unexpected sight.
The boy in front of him is bright and golden in the sunlight, all warm skin and thick, honey-colored hair. His pie-tin crown is askew, and his freckled nose is smudged with dirt; yet still somehow he looks strong and regal, the very image of a boy king.
Thor recognizes this vision of his child-self, even as he realizes that the warmth spreading through his chest at the sight is not properly his own.
“He said that we were both born to be kings.” The words that move his lips are not spoken in his voice; the pale hand that moves a twig towards the front line is familiar, but neither is it his. “But that can't be true. Only one of us will be king, and you're the eldest.”
“Well.” The child Thor sits back on his heels, brow furrowed in thought. He lifts a hand to scratch at his nose, transferring another smudge of dirt. Finally his face clears, and he lifts blue eyes to regard his brother with a brilliant smile. “Maybe he meant that we're meant to rule together!”
“That's not how it works,” he hears himself say, even as Loki's joyful hope erupts in his heart.
“Maybe it is this time,” his child self grins. “Father never does anything without a reason. Anyway, I think we'd make an excellent pair of kings.”
“So do I, brother.” He glances down at the grass between them. “But for now, you'll have to bend your knee to me. I've won.”
Thor can feel Loki's smile as if it were his own, unwavering even as he watches himself protest in animated dismay over his fallen forces. Affection and hope feel as warm inside of him as the sun feels on his skin, and he thinks that he would quite like to rule someday with his brother by his side.
Thor wakes with a start, that affectionate glow still warm in his chest, though it immediately begins to fade. With his mind still hazy with sleep, he makes an instinctive attempt to hold on to the feeling. To no avail; within moments it is gone completely, leaving him feeling abruptly empty and cold.
Nevertheless, as he rolls onto his back to rub at his chest, he feels a spark of hope within him. He has wondered now for some time if his brother had truly once thought well of him, or if their friendship had only ever been an illusion to mask the core of resentment that seems to burn so bright within him now. And though this was only a dream, Thor nevertheless finds himself oddly reassured.
Hopeful once more, Thor rises with a renewed sense of purpose. He will free his brother of the poison that has overtaken his mind and return him to his rightful place in Asgard.
Let all those who stand opposed to him be damned.