A lion without its teeth still has its claws.
Loki silenced is most certainly not Loki defeated. Thor knows this well and yet the mortals still insist on binding his brother so that his poisonous tongue would be unable to turn them against each other yet again. As he leads his brother to the empty square where the Tesseract will transport them home, he watches Loki's eyes. The trickster is watching the mortals, amusement clear in his expression despite the muzzle binding his mouth and the shackles on his wrists.
As the blinding light of the Tesseract surrounds them, Thor has a fleeting thought that perhaps taking Loki back to Asgard was not wise. It disappears when his feet land on the repaired surface of the Bifrost and he thinks on what sort of things the mortals would have done in their misguided sense of justice. Granted, their want to exact it is warranted, but their methods are rudimentary and petty in comparison to the eternal laws of Asgard. No, Loki's sentence is better served here.
He can feel his brother's eyes on him as they walk the length of the Bifrost, heated and scarcely less sharp than daggers piercing his skin. At this point, he would not put it past Loki to attack him. To force his hand. But Loki does nothing. Merely walks in stride with him as they enter the great hall and approach the Allfather's throne.
Thor kneels. Loki stands.
"Remove his bindings," comes Odin's voice, though it sounds tired instead of angered.
Thor rises and does as his father bids, crushing the shackles encircling his brother's wrist to dust and pulling the muzzle free from his mouth. Loki smirks at him, but makes no move to escape.
Thor startles, turning to stare at his brother as Odin merely frowns.
"The lies have gone on long enough, Father," Loki says, scorn lacing every syllable. "I would prefer you acknowledge me as my true self, if you are going to pass judgment for my heinous crimes against the so very innocent mortals. That is why I've been brought here, is it not?"
Silence reigns for several long moments, Odin's one eye fixed on his youngest son as he deliberates on an answer that will not provoke Loki's unpredictable anger again. "You have been brought here to be sentenced, my son. You nearly caused the destruction of Midgard ... do you not recall that realm being the tipping point in your coming here? The spark of the war with Jotunheim?"
Loki snorts, hazy green eyes narrowed at the Allfather. "How could I forget?"
Thor dislikes this sudden rift, this sudden venomous hatred radiating out from his brother and directed solely at the Allfather. It never used to be like this. Yes, there was tension, but not like this. Not pure hatred without an ounce of familiarity. What worries him most is he hasn't any idea how to mediate or intervene. Perhaps he shouldn't. Before he can ruminate further, Loki speaks again.
"Venerable Allfather," he begins, as if addressing an entire hall of warriors. "As it is your duty, I would delight in hearing your sentence for my crimes. Doubtlessly, you have consulted with many of your advisors, who certainly have no love of me. But, before you do, I would take this opportunity to remind you: I am not, and have never been, your son."
A resigned look passes over Odin's face and his gaze shifts to the many arched windows facing out to the light of Asgard's daystar. He seems to contemplate his answer, brows drawn tight together as his fist closes around Gungnir's haft.
"Thor, escort your brother to the cells."
Thor snaps his head up, staring at his father in horror. The prison cells beneath the weapons vault house only the criminals destined for execution. Surely this cannot be Odin's final decision.
"Father, you cannot-"
Gungnir's hilt slams onto the dais' surface, the hollow sound ringing through the hall as both sons stare up at the Allfather.
"I will ask this of you once, Thor. Please."
Thor bites his tongue, though he wants nothing more than to rage against this command. If execution is truly Loki's fate, despite the fact that Odin would be condemning his own son, Thor will free him. He will disarm however many guards are stationed to keep Loki imprisoned as necessary and set Loki free. His brother's actions may require punishment, but death is a sentence Thor refuses to accept for the man he was raised beside.
If possible, Odin seems almost less happy than Thor with the proceedings, but he makes no move to descend from the throne. Instead, he fixes his one-eyed gaze on both sons and nods to the entrance of the hall. "The guards will show you to his cell. Return here when all is secure.'
Thor turns to his brother, almost expecting the shackles and muzzle to have reformed with a twist of the Allfather's sorcery. But, Loki remains simply Loki, untethered and clearly pleased about it.
As he leads his brother through the halls and corridors winding down beneath the weapons vault, Loki sporadically bursts into fits of laughter, doubling over and forcing Thor to wait until his apparent amusement has subsided. The laughter is not kind, nor is it pleasant to listen to. Thor finds it grates on his already frayed nerves and makes him wonder if perhaps Loki has been far more damaged than he originally presumed. If nothing else, he will go to Mother and demand that she see her youngest son. She will know what to do.
"So you think I need to be fixed, mm?" Loki jerks him out of his thoughts, forcing his attention back on his brother. "Yet another of your broken toys in need of repair. How remarkable that you haven't yet thrown one of your legendary tantrums."
Thor frowns, jaw tightening as he refuses to be needled into rising to Loki's bait.
Loki chuckles this time, the sound cruel enough to lodge something sharp and painful in the center of Thor's chest. "How do you imagine he'll do it? Hanging is far too dull, it won't be that. I think he would want a suitably dramatic death for the deformed little monster he took in. Gungnir would be a magnificent end, don't you think?"
He can feel the corner of his eyes burning with unwanted tears, the images in his head painting out a vivid nightmare of what would happen to his brother if that came to pass. Still, he says nothing, refusing to answer Loki's taunts.
His brother is laughing in earnest now, clearly spurred on by the unshed tears he can likely see. "Oh you sentimental coward," he sneers, eyes wild and manic as the guards stationed at the most extravagant cell look towards their arrival. "Your fragile little heart cannot bear the thought of your innocent sibling doing all this of his own free will. Pathetic."
Flecks of spittle land across his nose and Thor startles, blinking and shaking his head. Forcing himself to see this through, he nods to the mage standing nearest them, clearly prepared to counter whatever magic Loki will likely use to fend them off. As the woman steps forward, Loki immediately crumples to his knees, clutching at Thor's waist in exaggerated supplication as his face takes on a dramatic expression of terror.
"Thor, you wouldn't leave me here like this, would you? Locked away like an animal? Thor, please," he clutches tighter as Thor attempts to scramble away, horrified by this pretense Loki is suddenly performing. "Brother, please!"
Thor wrenches himself away, scarcely managing to avoid an out flung hand before the mage grabs Loki by the shoulders and tosses him effortlessly into the cell with a burst of colorful magic. Loki is up scant milliseconds later, flinging himself against the door of the cell and flinching back as the wards scald his skin. But, rather than being discouraged, he leers through the bars, holding Thor's gaze.
"I hope your precious mortals are worth the price, brother," he says, flinging the endearment like a dagger. "I hope you remember me as each of the little insects dies and leaves you utterly abandoned."
Confronted by too many of his own demons, Thor turns and runs. He runs till he can no longer breathe, and Loki's howling laughter still rings in his ears.
He feels that he has failed utterly, both in bringing his brother home, and in salvaging what he could of their bond. Loki is imprisoned like some common criminal, likely set to be executed for the severity of his crimes. And all of it; all the jokes and teasing between them that Loki has hoarded away over the centuries so that they've become sharp and poisoned, is his fault.
After making his way back to his father, Thor stands shamefaced before the throne, unable to summon the energy to shout at his father and demand Loki's release. His hand feels too weak to even raise Mjolnir.
"Loki is more a danger to himself than anyone in this realm," Odin says after a few minutes of silence between them. "When you realized he was leading the Chitauri against Midgard, did you even pause to think who controls them? Thanos may be a mere titan, but his mind has been so corrupted by contact with the Tesseract that if he were to get his hands on any of the weapons in our vault or hidden amongst the other realms, there will be nothing to stop him. He does not crave power for the sake of power, he craves it for what it will win him. As you well know, Hela does not take kindly to suitors, nor does she take kindly to those who would profess their desire to stand at her side. She is vain, but that will work in our favor this time"
Thor frowns at his father, suddenly unsure of what has already transpired. Was the decree a lie? Is Loki perfectly safe?
"Thanos demanded the Tesseract, and in return, Loki would have received Midgard. Fortunately, neither of those events have come to pass. Unfortunately, Thanos will now seek to exact his revenge on my son," Odin's single eye hardens, expression grave. "We will rally the nine and meet him in battle if he does intend to launch an assault on our home. Until that time, Loki will remain within this palace. His mind is far afield but with help from both your mother and I, perhaps we can prevent it from being shattered further."
He rubs a hand over his mouth, swallowing thickly. Once again, his foolish and irresponsible actions have not only placed their home at risk, but the rest of the nine realms as well. Thor cannot remember a time he felt like a more unworthy son.
"And me, Father?" he asks hesitantly.
Odin's single eye bores into him, but there is no anger behind it. "You will guard your brother. Even from himself."
Thor nods, straightening his posture so that he can lean forward in a curt bow before turning for the entrance to the hall. . "Give my love to Mother. I find myself in need of time to think."
It's nearly a month till he can summon the courage to visit his brother.
Thor is not prone to introspection, but he spends weeks either locked in his chambers or riding alone across the northern plains. He needs time alone to puzzle out this new Loki that is irrevocably still the same trickster that he grew to manhood alongside. He needs time to sort out his genuine priorities, rather than leaping from confrontation to confrontation without considering the consequences.
The same mage from their first journey below the weapons vault guards the door, along with several of Odin's best soldiers, and they let him pass without speaking. Thor approaches the warded door to Loki's cell, well aware that he may pass through without encountering the same measures Loki flung himself against the first time.
"And here I was beginning to think you'd forgotten all about me," Loki's voice floats through the barrier as his brother turns to face him, arms crossed lazily over his chest.
Loki appears healthier than he did upon his return to Asgard. His cheeks are less gaunt, his body less frail, his eyes less manic. Thor knows from conversations with his mother that Loki has been treated as the prince he always has been, merely confined to this cell for his own safety. It's unlikely he's taken kindly to those sentiments, but he does allow Frigga her daily visits without complaint. So, Thor counts that as something.
The trickster grins through the transparent barrier separating them, and Thor is relieved to note the expression has lost its crazed edge. Now, Loki appears more like his old self; deadly tricks hidden beneath a benign-looking exterior. Thor knows he ought to remain wary, but he can't help the way his shoulder relax slightly.
"I could never forget you. Surely you know this, brother," he says quietly.
Loki laughs, and that too is different. It sounds like genuine amusement, as though he has pulled a very good trick on someone. Thor remembers their escapades together throughout the shining realm they call their home.
"You seemed to forget me often enough over the past thousand years," Loki's tone grows colder, but it doesn't quite reach the mocking distance that it had when he was brought here.
Thor glances away, well prepared for Loki to use their past as a weapon. "If I say that I am more sorry than you know, you will only mock me," he says evenly, shoulders tensed again. "And that aside, apologies are useless. What good do they serve when we have already damaged each other?"
Loki peers at him through the wards, expression moderately interested. "Indeed. So the thunderer has grown. And to think I believed you would always be an overgrown brat."
Silence reigns between them and Thor ruminates on what to say next. He does not wish to raise Loki's ire further than it already has been, but it seems they are destined to fight always. Perhaps this is the only way they can truly communicate.
He steps through the wards, prompting Loki to glance up and snarl at him, teeth bared like a feral creature. "Still greedy enough to take without asking," the trickster scowls, retreating to the plush bench seat on the opposite side of the cell.
Thor swallows, lifting his hands to gesticulate, then letting them fall back to his sides as words fail him again. How can he explain to his brother how very dearly he regrets his own blindness when it will only earn him ridicule? "I want to make this right again."
A derisive snort is the only reply he receives, and he can tell from the way Loki has once again buried himself in a tome that Frigga likely left for him that his brother has no interest in peacemaking. Perhaps there never will be peace. Perhaps it will always be a war between them, but maybe he can make it so that they will not always be seeking to wound each other so terribly.
"What must I do, then? If you will not accept apologies, no matter how sincere, and if you will not accept my attempts to mend this rift between us," Thor takes a few steps closer, placing himself in front of his brother.
When he halts, Loki moves in such a flurry that Thor can barely see him until his brother's nose is an inch from his own.
"All these years, I have dogged your shadow because you, Thor, are the only one anyone ever sees. Ever. Even if I were a true prince of Asgard, it would matter little. You are the firstborn, the golden son, the perfect son, the beloved son," Loki's voice grows more strained as he continues, expression contorting in both pain and anger. "Everyone loves you and why should they not? You are the perfect Aesir! You are golden and strong and thirsty for combat! There is no place here for Loki. I was always the cold prince, the second brother, the sly fox who lurks in the shadows. So why should I not earn my place? Why should I not be your opposite in every way? At least then, I could have some semblance of a chance to escape your shadow. But no! The almighty Thor must fly to the aid of his pathetic mortal friends and cast his wicked brother down, yes? Slay the monster and save the day! Nothing will ever change, Thor. This is who we were always meant to be."
The air between them crackles with unspent power, ozone settling heavily in the cell. Thor can feel the distant energy of cosmic storms calling to him, vibrating down to his bones. Has it always been like this? This electric tension between them just waiting to boil over?
He stares at his brother's mouth as Loki bares his teeth again, then presses his lips together in a thin line.
"The Norns may weave the stories of our lives into Yggdrasil, brother," he says carefully, taking one step closer to put scarcely any space at all between their chests. "But we still have the ability to make our own fates."
Loki narrows his eyes, though he doesn't try to put any space between them. To the contrary, he leans closer, a slowly exhaled breath washing over Thor's cheek. "So, the golden son is more tarnished than he would have the rest believe.."
With a low growl, Thor lifts a hand to twist his fingers in his brother's hair and shove their mouths together.
The kiss is far from elegant, but it's everything that he has ever imagined. Teeth, tongues, lips; a haphazard mess of raw need and the mutual craving for dominance.
Thor's lips are smeared with his own blood by the time they pull apart, and when Loki smiles, his teeth are stained crimson. The sight is enough to have Thor's already painfully hard cock stiffen further in his breeches. He thinks perhaps they will indeed be each other's undoing. But perhaps not in the way Loki foretold.
Loki's hands land hard on his shoulders and Thor goes to his knees effortlessly, palms molding to the prominent bones of his brother's hips. He glances up, and finds Loki staring down at him, dark eyes glittering in the unnatural lighting of the cell. "Do it," he whispers silkily, voice gone low and terrifyingly seductive. "We can't ever go back from this, you know."
He nods once, then tears at the front of his brother's trousers, too impatient to bother with the fastenings and ties. Loki makes a disapproving noise above him, but it quickly morphs into a guttural moan as he grips his brother's cock at its root and swallows the rest straight down.
Thor is not exceptionally skilled at this, as he knows full well, but he intends to show his brother that there is someone still capable of rendering that silver tongue incoherent.
He hollows his cheeks, suckling teasingly at the head of Loki's cock before opening his throat and swallowing him down again, prompting another delicious moan. Thor decides he will never tire of hearing those sounds out of his brother, and will endeavor to earn them as often as possible.
His knees will no doubt protest the strain later, but Thor tightens his hold on Loki's hips and swallows him down so that his nose is buried in the dark curls at the root of his brother's cock. He smells wonderful; a dark musk interspersed with the scent of inked pages and old magic. Thor wonders vaguely why he never mustered his courage to push this far before.
Then, with a startled cry, there's a rush of warmth over his tongue and his brother is coming, shuddering violently through what feels to be a powerful orgasm. Thor nearly chokes, though he manages to pull back just enough to swallow down everything Loki has to offer, letting the residual pulses of his brother's release splatter over his cheek and down his jaw.
Loki's harsh panting breaths are the only audible sound in the cell now, and when Thor glances up, he finds his brother staring down at him with wide eyes. His expression is unreadable, though his throat works in an audible swallow.
His own near-painful arousal is a distant sensation compared to the tension holding firm between them. Thor wonders if perhaps Loki intends to leave him just like this.
The trickster kneels in a fluid motion, then leans closer to drag the flat of his tongue over the strands of his own spend coating Thor's bearded cheek. He pulls away again, expression pensive. Then, he shoves his brother's shoulder and pushes himself upright, eyes gone shuttered and unreadable again.
Thor blinks, a small part of him considering begging for at least his brother's hand to ease the ache.
"I said get out!"
He scrambles to his feet and stumbles out of the cell, putting as much distance between himself and his brother as possible. The mage and guards give him strange looks as he runs past them, but they say nothing. He knows they never will.
What transpired in Loki's cell is something that no one will ever know of. Save the Allfather. Even now, Thor glances up to find Huginn and Muninn circling the gold ceiling arching high above his head. The all-seeing ravens caw once, then disappear out one of the arched windows in a flutter of black wings.
Thor curses, but keeps running until he can lurch into his chambers and throw himself against the door, mentally berating himself for falling prey yet again to his own weaknesses and Loki's cunning. He covers his face with a hand, breathes slowly, but cannot help that his free hand cups the heated bulge between his thighs.
Perhaps they are both to blame for this. He knows he won't be able to keep away from Loki's cell. He could not have regardless, but this only gives him yet another reason to haunt his brother's home.
When he comes, his brother's name is the only sound that escapes his parted lips.