Thor struck a bargain with his father in regards of where to keep Loki.
They knew that between the leaders of Midgard, Jotun, and Asgard, the debate about how best to handle his brother's immense crimes would rage for weeks, months even. Thor insisted that keeping Loki locked in the dungeons for such a period of time was cruel, especially when taking into account how Odin treated his adopted son moments before Thor thought he'd lost Loki forever. Odin's face remained steadfast and cold while Thor pleaded with him, protesting the thought of throwing Loki into a cell, like some common criminal. 'He's sick, Father,' Thor had shouted over the sound of his mother's sobbing, as she'd taken to tearing up any time the two of them discussed Loki.
Briefly, he felt a glimmer of guilt for causing his mother so much grief, for he remembered that he'd not only lost a brother when Loki fell into the abyss, but she'd lost her son. And Thor had brought an utterly unrecognizable version back. The thought about the difference between the brother he'd charged into Jotunheim with and the brother who'd stabbed him in the side with a knife (non lethal, he reminded himself, he could have done much worse, but he didn't)...the thought made him absolutely ill.
They came to an agreement, him and Odin: Loki would stay within the palace, but with restrictions. He could not go outside. He would be allowed no books of magic, nor the ingredients he required for his mischief. Nobody, save for kin, would engage him in conversation. Thor protested the last stipulation, but Odin argued that Loki must not be allowed to manipulate fellow Asgardians into feeling pity for him. Thor bit back his response, But some Asgardians do pity him. Especially me. And it was hard not to, looking at Loki, with his limp, overgrown black hair, pale skin, and gaunt figure. As odd as others would find it, if they were to ever discover his secret, Thor found Loki to be one of the most beautiful creatures in all of Asgard. With such fine skin, silken black hair, and vibrant green eyes, it was difficult to not find Loki's appearance lovely, yet another reason why he deplored seeing him in such a state. Since taking the specialized muzzle off, Loki had barely spoken a word to him or Father. When Thor arrived at his room to remove the bindings and inform him of his new freedoms, Loki merely scowled at him.
"The dungeons would be preferable to this," he sneered, rising from the bed and stalking from the room. Without his formidable outfit, Loki appeared more the petulant child, as opposed to a fearsome god of lies. After that, Thor barely saw him, save for meals, where he sat far away from him, Father, and Mother, and left as soon as he finished picking at his food. Loki seemed to grow skinnier by the day, and, to Thor's anger, Father seemed to barely care. 'Midgardians have a saying,' Odin sighed, waving away Thor's troubles, 'He has made his bed. Let him lie in it.' However, Thor refused to accept that as an answer, and began sneaking food back to Loki's room, sometimes having a servant take it and place it on Loki's nightstand, sometimes leaving it as the door himself. Even then, Loki barely ate, further frustrating Thor. He refused to watch him, mad and cruel as he might be, starve in his own home.
He appeared in Loki's room late one evening, finding his brother staring up at his ceiling, already in his night clothing. Taking care to not gaze at Loki's long, pale legs, Thor stood at the edge of his bed, arms crossed over his chest as he tried to get his brother to make eye contact. Of course, Loki refused to look at him, choosing instead to move his gaze to the farthest wall.
"Brother of mine," Thor murmured, his voice coming out far softer than he'd intended it to, "Loki..." The tone piqued his interest, and, to Thor's surprise, Loki actually met his gaze. Fighting back a smile of relief, Thor dared to reach out and place a hand on Loki's arm. When his brother's expression softened, Thor continued, "What can I do to persuade you to eat?" Loki, who had so briefly seemed like his old self, sneered again, wrinkling his nose and jerking away from Thor.
"Idiotic, as ever," Loki hissed, pulling his arms close to his torso, "Trying to get me to eat. How futile of you." Thor watched his hands, those long, delicate fingers, running over the ridges in his side where Thor knew his ribcage stuck out. The sight brought him pain; he longed to hold Loki and promise that everything would be fine. However, lies had never been Thor's strongest point.
"Please, brother, I am begging you to not make me watch you starve," Thor pleaded, keeping the anger in his voice down, as difficult as it was. Loki had always been this stubborn, this petty, but this situation made him seem even worse. Thor wished that he could walk out, turn around, and see his Loki, from so many months ago, not the stranger in bed. "I will...I will do anything, save for letting you leave the palace or practice magic, to get you to eat." Loki raised an eyebrow, slowly uncrossing his arms.
"...Anything?" he mused, biting down on his chapped lower lip, "And you aren't jesting?" Thor shook his head fervently, trying to convey just how badly he wanted him to be healthy again. He attempted to keep his thoughts clean, though the idea of Loki commanding him to do filthy acts to get him to regain health kept entering his mind. Under the soft glow of his bedroom lighting, Loki did not seem as sick; his cheeks seemed rosier, eyes brighter, and Thor almost could pretend that he didn't see those ribs poking out from underneath his night shirt. Loki pursed his lips, straightening his spine as he looked up at Thor. The action reminded him of how Loki would draw himself up to his full height as a child when speaking, using such delicate phrases and complex wording that would always be beyond Thor's linguistic reach.
"I want access to the library again. Yes, yes, no magic, I understand, but if I do not get a book soon, I will surely grow even madder, my dear brother," he sighed, his words a honeyed form of mocking that did not go unnoticed by Thor. Still, he could not help but reminisce fondly of Loki being studious. He always looked his happiest surrounded by piles upon piles of books, dark green eyes lit with the knowledge he gained.
"I cannot let you into the library, considering it has magic in every corner," Thor mused, "But I can bring you books, Loki. What would you like first?" Loki sighed, dismayed by his inability to go to one of his favorite nooks, rolling over onto his back.
"Bring me something about history. Dark elves, fairy folk, anything but Asgard and Jotunheim," he finished his sentence with a bitter tone, gritting his jaw and clenching his fists as Thor saw the madness flash within those now empty green eyes. Unsure of how to respond to that, Thor nodded and showed himself out, kicking himself for not doing something to comfort Loki. In due time, in due time, he reminded himself as he headed first for the library, and then the kitchens.
Loki kept his bargain, for once. He cleaned his plate when he joined Thor for dinner and ate the extra food he left when dropping off the ridiculous stacks of books. It was worth it, though, to see that glimpse of old Loki spread out on his bed with papers surrounding him. Sometimes, if Loki was not in a fury, Thor stayed for awhile, just to enjoy the atmosphere of Loki and books. Despite his efforts, Thor found himself observing his brother, making little comparisons here and there between present and past Loki. He tied his hair back most days, to keep it out of his face while studying, making the planes of his snow white face sharp and severe. Thor offered to cut it once, and Loki responded with a glare. But, for the most part, their relationship seemed to have regained some of its previous warmth, to Thor's delight. Day after day, Loki appeared less the mad murderer and more the beautiful genius Thor had fallen for.
"Brother, let your hair down," Thor requested out of nowhere one day as he lounged in a chair in Loki's room and Loki poured over an old, yellowed book. Loki arched a dark eyebrow, giving Thor a querulous gaze.
"Am I now Rapunzel, Midgardian-lover?" he asked.
"I do not understand that reference," Thor responded, slowly rising from his seat and moving next to Loki on his bed. It was rare that Loki allowed him to be close, and Thor now relished the chances to see his beauty. As the mad episodes grew less and less frequent, a small, quiet part of him hoped that, by the time the councils set a date for trial, Loki would be back to his old self and able to atone for his crimes.
"Please," Thor asked, keeping his hands to himself as he gazed at Loki, who seemed bemused by Thor's request. But, carefully, he removed the black ribbon that kept his hair tied, allowing long, black waves to fall around his shoulders. It used to be so short, Thor thought, wondering if Loki's hair would feel as silken as it looked. As if he could read his mind, Loki shook his hair out and beckoned for Thor to touch it. Tentatively, Thor ran his fingers through the ends.
"Soft," he remarked, "Like a maiden's." Loki flashed one of his more mischievous smiles at him, looking wickedly gleeful as he brushed his long hair over his shoulder.
"But I am no maiden, Thor. Remember?" Thor ached from how much Loki sounded like his old self, using such cajoling, honeyed tones to his playful voice, sitting on his bed with so many books surrounding them. Loki looked so beautiful like this, the smile lightning him from within, causing him to shine with mischief instead of malice.
Thor could not help but thread his fingers in that soft, dark hair once more as he drew Loki in for a kiss.
At first, Thor feared that he had ruined everything as he pressed his lips against Loki's, worried that he would find himself being thrown off the bed by the man he loved, shouted at, spat upon, cursed for being a horrible excuse for a prince, loving his brother (adopted, but still) as he did. However, Loki surprised him by returning the embrace. He stiffened up at first, freezing at Thor's touch, but he soon pressed against Thor's chest, draping his arms around Thor's neck. Before Thor knew it, he'd pulled Loki into his lap, hands gripping a waist more slender than any of the Asgardian girls he'd courted as Loki deepened the kiss. He smelled of ink from the books, and mint from his evening tea, a delicious, intoxicating scent that was all Loki. He kissed Loki's long, elegant neck, leaving the lightest of marks against his snow colored skin.
"Beautiful," Thor found himself murmuring as Loki's sighed in pleasure, "So beautiful..."
At those words, Loki jerked away from his touch, gaping at Thor with wide, impossible to read eyes. He averted his gaze, and the sinking feeling in Thor's stomach told him that he had, in fact, made a monstrous mistake. Loki would not look at him.
"Leave," Loki said in an icy, flat voice, and Thor did not need to hear anything more. He practically raced from Loki's chambers, telling himself that he was horrible, the worst prince, he didn't deserve a crown, his hammer, or his brother. Certainly not his brother, now...
Thor licked his lips, tasted mint, and hated himself.
The next day, it snowed. Loki did not come down for any of the meals, would not come to his door, or interact with Thor in any manner. When he asked Father about Loki's whereabouts, he merely shrugged and responded that he only knew that Loki was not outside the palace grounds. Mother seemed almost numb to the mention of her adopted son at this point, so there was really no use there. Thor deigned to distract himself from the memory of Loki's soft lips and made his way out to the training areas. The warriors three were nowhere to be seen, and Thor felt grateful for that. He didn't know if he could handle them making crass remarks about Loki being a 'Jotun-bastard,' for he knew that a fist to their face would not cause them to learn.
When Loki did not come down the next morning, Thor broke his door down. Dramatic, he knew, but space was never a thing he was good at giving, especially not to Loki...who was not in his chambers. Or the library. Or the kitchen. But, Father would know if he left the grounds; the whole army would know. Thor opened Loki's modest closet in hopes of finding some kind of clue to his whereabouts. A missing cloak gave him the answer.
He made his way down from the palace, determined to search every inch of snow until he found Loki. But, as the fates would have it, he did not need to search for long. Loki sat alone in the palace gardens, which Thor had never really given a proper look in the wintertime. Icicles dripped from the normally vibrant green trees, glittering in the morning sun like fine jewels. Little flakes of snow floated about in the air before resting on the existing piles of snow. Loki, in the same robes he'd worn on that fateful journey to Jotunheim so many months ago, sat on the bench next to the frozen fountain. Everything looked like a portrait, from where Thor stood, and his heart flipped at the sight of Loki. It was as if he was made to walk about in the snow, he thought, marveling at the beautiful contrasts of dark green and black against the pure white.
Loki did not move as Thor drew closer; he kept his eyes trained on the distant land on the other side of the palace walls, the lovely greens and blues of his eyes shining with anger. Snow settled in his hair, but did not melt, an uncomfortable reminder to Thor of Loki's true heritage. Still, his desire to hold Loki, to kiss those blood-red lips and promise him all things good, never wavered once. He reached out to brush back Loki's hair once more, but the glare he received told him it would not be the wisest choice.
"You claimed to not be a maiden," Thor grimaced, "And yet you ran after my kiss, avoid me now, and your eyes seem to wish death, despite returning my embrace with such desire. Why, Loki?" he asked. The man stayed perfectly still, eyes still staring wistfully off into the distance. Only when Thor placed his hand on Loki's arm did he turn with a furious glare, lip curled back into a snarl.
"I do not want you here. Leave!" he snapped. Before he could jump from his seat and run, Thor fell upon him, grabbing at his arms and holding him down. Loki's face changed from calm and apprehensive to furiously insane, thrashing about in Thor's grasp, screaming at the top of his lungs for Thor to leave. The madness in Loki's voice left Thor unable to understand anything he said, but the deep scratches Loki left on his arm spoke volumes. The cold air stung his skin, leaving him wishing he'd gone to grab his own cloak. All he could do was clamp his hand over Loki's mouth, like the gag from a few weeks ago, silencing him...but, instead of continuing to struggle, Loki fell silent. Silent and still, like a marble statue within Thor's grip.
"Why...why do you do this, Loki?" Thor whispered, horrified at the sight of tears gathering at the corners of Loki's glassy green eyes, "I love you so much." To his surprise, Loki began laughing through the tears, jerking away from Thor's hand. "Stop that, I do, I love you, Loki-"
Thor hardly registered the nasty slap that stung his cheek.
"No, you don't," Loki spat, drawing his hand back, "You don't love me. If you did, you would've thrown me into the dungeon, rather than try to force me back into the life I was cast out from. You want to believe that nothing's changed, isn't that right, my darling Thor?" His words dripped like poison from his lips, redder than blood against the snowy whiteness of his face in the frozen landscape. Thor refused to respond, leaving Loki free to continue.
"It is right. And I can tell you've been thinking that you've been getting your old Loki back for the past few weeks, yes? You stupid, horrible excuse of a king...idiot," he laughed, "Thinking that a stack of books and some food and some kisses could right months of torment by the abyss, by the damned Chitauri. The reason I know you don't love me lies with those facts...you love Loki, Prince of Asgard, prince of your heart, apparently. You could never love me, a disgusting, repulsive monster," he snarled, gripping his cloak and yanking it away from his body. Thor caught the soft green fabric, gaping at the sight of Loki in just his bedroom clothes. A long shirt, nothing more, one that showed how frail Loki had become. An Asgardian would've been dead by now in the present weather. Loki chuckled at Thor's observance, throwing his hands up to the sky.
"You always thought it was odd I never felt cold in the winters out here. Now you have your answer, oh brother of mine!" he shouted, trying to goad Thor into some kind of twisted fight. He could see the barest hint of blue creeping over Loki's skin and rushed to stop him.
"That matters not," Thor insisted, trying to calm Loki down, but his soft, unnatural laugh caused a different sort of chill to creep up Thor's spine.
"You love him," Loki chuckled, the blue vanishing from his skin, "And I hate you for it, loving old Loki. So sick, that you want to kiss and suck and fuck your sweet, compliant little brother, not me, not the Prince of Jotunheim, not after what I've done, what you've seen me do to your precious Midgard...you don't want me, Thor. You only think you do," he whispered, all bitterness and mirth, "But you're lusting after a ghost."
Thor's mouth remained in a straight line as he leaned over Loki, pressing him back against the iced over fountain. The sound of Loki's soft, twisted laughter made his skin crawl all over, sickened him to his very core. It was true what he said, he loved his old Loki. He loved him more than he could stand, he loved Loki so much it made him sick...but not half as sick as the sight of this madness possessing his beloved. But, he reasoned that even the most twisted of minds could be untangled by someone who cared enough. Had he voiced that aloud, Loki would have most certainly mocked him. Thor didn't care.
"I love Loki," he whispered, placing his hand beneath Loki's chin and tilting it upwards, "I always will. I love you, I do, I love you more than you'll ever know. More than you'll ever care to know." Loki stared at him, confused by the fact that Thor was staying, not storming off in disgust, but staying by his side.
"But I'm not the Loki you love-" he started, and Thor cut him off with a fierce kiss.
"Listen to me," he said, pulling away from Loki's lips right before embracing him again, "Listen to me, you underestimate what I am willing to do for you. I have traveled between realms for you, I have fought city-leveling battles for you, I have done everything and I will do everything to get my Loki back from the dark corners of that twisted mind. You can try to use that famous silver tongue to spin your lies and tricks in my brain, tell me what I'm thinking, though you could not be more wrong about my love. You can try to kill me. You have tried to kill me, actually, but it matters not, because I love you. Do you understand?"
The present Loki shook beneath his touch, lower lip trembling in shock as he stared at Thor, tears sliding down his cheek. Thor thumbed them away before pressing another gentle kiss to Loki's lips.
"Yes," Loki whispered, "I do. And Thor?"
"What is it, Loki?" he asked, cupping Loki's icy cheek in his hand.
"You are a fool," Loki responded with a shake of his head, a look of plain disgust in his eyes. Yet, behind that front of anger and repulsion, Thor saw the sadness and regret. He kissed Loki's blood-red lips once more, trying to draw out the man he loved and who loved him back.
"All men are," he said, "When it comes to the ones we love."