The door to the dingy dungeon opened with a slow creak, and Loki hissed at the onslaught of light, eyes squinting in equal parts pain and hate. Two men cloaked in shadows towered at the front of his cramped cell, and Loki would have snarled a sarcastic greeting if he cared enough.
“The All-Father summons you,” one said, deep voice booming off the walls.
Loki’s smile was all teeth, bared in mockery and contempt.
The chains that bound Loki’s hands clinked in a metallic melody as he entered the elegant court, full of men and women he once knew so well. Loki could feel their eyes upon him, scrutinizing every last detail of his grungy appearance. Many years in prison did Loki’s appearance no favors, and if the other Asgardian residents did not think him putrid before, they surely would now as he passed before them like a lamb to the slaughter.
Loki could feel their eyes, and their judgment. They would sooner see him dead than released back to the public. Still, he walked with his head held high, eyes boring onto the old man sitting on the throne, never straying.
It was only when he reached the base of the stairs that led to the throne did he dare to glance to the side of Odin, at the two figures at his side. Frigga’s worried face, and Thor –
Loki forced his eyes back on Odin. He could not meet Thor’s eyes. Not yet.
The All-Father looked even more worn than when Loki last saw him, but Loki could not find it in him to pity his not-father.
“Loki.” His name sounded so heavy, as if Odin regretted calling Loki in the first place. But Loki was undeterred, poisonous smile lingering as he awaited judgment. If he were to be executed today, he wanted to face the end with his head held high and with as much pride as possible.
“Your sentence has been repealed.”
Loki had been led away from the court, but he did not remember leaving, or the walk to an adjacent room where servants allowed him to clean up. He sat still in the bath of water that had long since chilled, eyes unblinking, trying to digest what he had just been told.
After having his case reviewed, Odin revoked the jail sentence he bestowed upon Loki some time ago. Loki was to remain in Asgard at all times, and would only be allowed to leave under strict supervision of guards. Use of his magic would be permitted with the exception of aggression.
He did not expect this reprieve, nor did he know what to make of it.
After bathing, he dried off and dressed in a fresh tunic – the first real garments he had worn in years. Loki remained silent as the attendants entered the room, softly brushing their thin fingers through his hair before cutting the overgrown locks to the nape of his neck.
Loki avoided all others when making his way to his room, hiding away for the rest of the day. His room had been untouched since his imprisonment, but the urge to tidy up was tucked away as he curled up in his bed, eyes heavily closing.
When he slept, he dreamt of fire and the slow drip of venom.
The next day, Loki wandered through the hallways in a daze. The sights of Asgard were so familiar and yet foreign, and the surrealistic feeling made him distantly wonder if this was all a dream.
Loki passed by residents of the court without truly noticing them – aware of their presence, but not their identity. The others, for the most part, ignored him. A few would curtly nod at him in feigned politeness, but such forces courtesy was rare. More often than not, the Asgardians paid him no mind; some picked up their pace and hurried away as if afraid that he would attack them.
He pictured running a dagger of ice through their chests. He smiled – and they scurried past him faster than before.
Loki took care to avoid his family at all costs, but when a family dinner was called, he ran out of luck.
Dinner proved to be a nearly silent affair, filled only with the sound of Thor’s obnoxious chewing. A special dinner had been prepared for Loki’s return, but Loki’s food remained barely touched, despite his hunger. Instead, he sat deadly still, eyes trained on his plate full of meat, potato, and exotic fruit, unwilling to look at the others. Beside him, Thor devoured his roasted boar like he had not eaten in weeks, seemingly cheerfully unaware of the tense silence that filled the room like smog.
The moment that Loki dared to lift his eyes, Frigga caught his gaze. Loki reverted his eyes and picked up a piece of fruit with no intention of eating it.
“It is good to have you back, my son,” Frigga said, voice warm and soft with sincerity.
“Yes,” Thor replied around a mouthful of meat, and if Loki was feeling like himself, he would have rolled his eyes and made a comment about Thor’s manners. But Loki did not feel like himself. He did not feel like anyone.
Odin murmured an agreement, but Loki said nothing. They finished their dinner in silence, and Loki went to bed hungry.
A bang on the door stirred Loki from his rest, though he did not bother to sit up.
Thor strolled in as if he belonged there, and Loki had forgotten just how colossal his brother was. Not simply in physical size, but just his sheer presence was enough to fill the room. Suddenly, Loki felt crowded.
Loki watched in silence as Thor stopped beside the bed, concern clear in his blue eyes.
“Brother, are you well? You barely touched your dinner,” Thor said.
Loki said nothing, merely narrowed his eyes in a dark glare. He wanted to tell Thor that no, he was not okay, how could he be okay, he spent years in prison and now was back and was supposed to pretend that everything was normal, and he couldn’t, couldn’t –
Perhaps Thor realized his blunder, as he shifted on his feet and cleared his throat, speaking softly, “I know this has been a shock to you. And I apologize that I could not release you earlier, but convincing everyone –“
The admission caused Loki to sit up at last, eyes widening in disbelief.
“You.” Loki grew tense, breath catching on the first word he uttered since his release. “You released me.”
Thor licked his lips in uncertainty, and Loki found anger boiling inside him for reasons unknown as he bored into Thor’s eyes, demanding an explanation.
“Aye, I did. Of course, Father technically released you. But I was the one who managed to convince him that you should be given a second chance,” Thor said.
For a moment, Loki could barely breathe. Thor released him, but he did not feel rescued. He felt tortured, trapped between the memory of the life he once knew and the ugly realization that he did not have a home in this realm, or in any realm. As far as he knew, Loki was a lie, a figment.
“You should have left me there,” Loki said, voice empty and eyes remaining locked on Thor’s.
Thor’s brows furrowed, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Loki would not let him.
When Thor hesitated, Loki’s voice rose to a desperate snarl, “Get out!”
This time Thor did, but Loki did not miss the sadness that filled his brother’s eyes before he turned to leave.
The week passed in a blur. Loki wandered the realm without purpose, idly watching the daily activities without feeling. The residents became faceless beings, creatures that he no longer knew. They whispered about him sometimes; he could hear his name on their lips like a curse. He did not defend himself. He did nothing at all.
After all, they were not wrong.
Every now and then, he saw Thor. Thor laughing with the Warriors Three, Thor training, Thor being charming and perfect and the son that Odin and Frigga deserved, the only son they deserved.
Loki did not know who he was, and thus, was deserved by none.
Occasionally, Loki felt a spark of warmth when practicing his magic in his room. The feeling of being able to conjure even the simplest of spells made him feel more like himself. For a moment, he remembered what it meant to be Loki, before there was fire and venom.
But then the sentiment subsided, and he curled up in bed and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling completely lost.
The sun began to set on another day, and Loki sat perched on the balcony outside his chambers, watching the sun descend without completely seeing it.
So lost was he that he did not notice Thor approach his side until he spoke.
“The sunset is beautiful tonight, isn’t it?”
Loki did not look to Thor as the other sat down beside him. “I forgot what the sun looked like,” Loki said, voice quiet, emotionless.
He could feel Thor turn to him, but still, he refused to turn back.
“Mother worries about you, as do I. I know you’ve been keeping your distance for a reason, but forgive me brother, I could not help but to check on you,” Thor said.
At long last, Loki managed to slowly turn from the sunset to face his brother. Concern laced Thor’s eyes, and Loki idly thought that the mixture of emotion and the way Thor’s face glowed from the sunset was striking.
“I’m fine,” Loki said, but even he could not believe his own robotic-sounding lie.
A hand was placed on his shoulder, fingers grasping Loki’s tunic as if afraid that Loki would slip away.
“I don’t believe you,” Thor said, voice a murmur.
Loki said nothing at first, choosing to turn away to face the sunset again. Anxiety bubbled in his chest, breaths slowing. Thor’s hand moved to Loki’s chin, forcing their eyes to meet again. The genuine concern in Thor’s eyes was too much to bear, and Loki desperately wanted to break their eye contact, but he found himself unable to look away.
“Please, Loki. Tell me how I can help you,” Thor said, a hint of despair in his voice.
Loki laughed, a hollow, broken sound, head shaking slightly.
“You can’t,” Loki said, sounding more desperate than he intended. “You can’t.”
“No,” Thor interjected, fingers tightening on Loki’s chin for a moment before sliding to his cheek. Loki unintentionally leaned into the contact, reveling in the warmth that Thor exuded.
“I can help you,” Thor said, as if repeating it would make it truer, would make up for any time that he might have failed Loki, whether it was true or imagined.
“I’m beyond help, Thor. I’m beyond everything. Why can’t you just accept it? I am not your brother, not an Asgardian, not a Frost Giant, not anything,” Loki said, a fraught admission he never wanted to give.
Heart pounded wildly against his chest as they lapsed into silence, eyes remaining locked. A flurry of emotions flooded his veins: the need to escape from Thor’s hold and hide away for a few days, the growing desire to relearn Thor’s affectionate touches, but most of all, the despicable, hopeless feeling that he was nothing, a lost identity hidden beneath blood and shadow.
Thor’s expression softened as he ran a thumb across Loki’s cheek with a soft sigh.
“No, Loki. You are someone. You’re the one who always hid us with invisibility when we wanted to sneak out late at night as children. You’re the one who always bested me at magic, and rolled your eyes that one time I set Mother’s curtains on fire when trying to practice a spell. You’re the one who never failed to make me laugh with your tricks, even the ones played against me. You’re my brother, and that will not change.”
A noise that sounded dangerously close to a desperate whimper escaped Loki as he leaned into Thor to the point to where he felt Thor’s warm breath upon his face.
“I don’t remember,” Loki said quietly.
Thor smiled, small and sad. “Let me help remind you.”
Loki met Thor half-way in a kiss, and he no longer felt worthless and monstrous. He felt wanted, so wanted as Thor wrapped a possessive arm around Loki, pulling their bodies together in delicious contact as the kiss deepened, tongues warring together.
He had forgotten how much he missed this. He had forgotten much, but as the sun bathed them in soft light as they kissed and embraced, Loki began to remember who he truly was, and for the first time in years, Loki did not feel lost.