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"You are joking," Thor said positively. There was a hint of a grin in his stern, alert expression, as if he were waiting for the moment Loki revealed his plea to be part of some elaborate jest, like they played on each other as children. All else was wary and tense, his knuckles tight on Mjolnir.

"Do you think I would come to you," Loki fairly spat out the last word, "if I had a choice?"

"You've made powerful enemies, brother, if they could hold you long enough to bind your magic."

"Were I whole, I would have charged the gates of Asgard, but I am reduced to seeing you on this wretched world." Loki's anger tore at his throat, but Thor didn't tense in preparation for attack. If anything, he relaxed a hair, and Loki could feel his fury bubble under the surface, held impotent by the bindings that were laid on him. Facing his brother in frail human guise, bereft of anything of his former life, he must present a pitiful sight. No wonder why Thor could relax now, when a year before he had been the one to plead for Loki's indulgence. "I am left to beg you for help."

The humiliation was as much pain as Loki could bear, to force such words from him. He waited for Thor's laughter to begin, the revenge for his own pride finally have tripped him up, to call for his new friends to trap him beneath the earth in some elaborate prison of their design.

"How?" Thor asked, sober and grave concern coloring his tone, no hint of mockery in his expression now.

"So you may tell your human allies how to gain mastery over me? I am desperate, Thor, not a fool."

"Someone has bound the power of one of Odin's sons. I would know how," Thor said, looming enough to make it into a demand.

Loki bit back his obvious refrain that he had not a drop of Odin's blood in his veins, and was no more Thor's kin than any of the other frost giants. Thor was stubborn as a rock when it came to certain things, and while Loki would mock him later, now he had more pressing concerns.

With short, sharp gestures, he unbound the silk cravat from his throat, revealing the lines of ink driven into his skin. Swooping and whirling like storm-driven winds, the blue and black figures closed around his neck like a collar. They bound his tongue and will from uttering any words of magic, his power pent from him until he was as frail as any mortal born.

Thor merely stared for a long moment, long enough to make Loki uneasy, as he could see the anger rising within his brother.

"Who did this to you?" Thor demanded, taking a step closer.

"It matters not. They bound me and cast me here to live out my days as a powerless worm." Loki ceased to see Thor for a moment, eyes seeing instead a starry void, a hundred scabrous, clawed hands holding him down, a terrible needle-mouthed creature descending to his throat. Every exquisitely painful gnaw of its teeth and injection of poison another thread to bind him, unmake him, wrest away what had made him powerful...

"You are as arrogant and cruel as you accused me of being, Loki, if these enemies were so dedicated to your harm. And far more angry than I ever was. My anger was berserker rage, yours is of pain. Why didn't you use that to break these bindings?" Thor asked, with maddening calm.

"I cannot touch it nor break it myself-."

"Brother, should I free you?" Thor interrupted. "Should I break the bindings which hold your power bound, and fight at your side against those who would dare raise their hands against you? Your words a season ago made your heart quite clear.” He waved his hand at the still-fractured city beyond the window. A year gone, and in places the streets still looked like a war zone. “You do not respect what this world has. Ruling it would give you no peace, no happiness. And fighting you again would give me no joy.”

“Then don’t fight me,” Loki said, leaning up to fling his words in Thor’s face. “Free me. Let me be as I was born, brother. And I will leave these scurrying ants to your whims.”

“Father had me stay here, powerless and ignorant, until I could become worthy of the power of our people.” Thor’s hand shot out and encircled Loki’s throat. He exerted no pressure, but Loki knew what Thor could do to his now-frail body with scarcely a thought. If Thor would not free him, death would be good enough, and swiftly too at Thor’s hand.

“Then, by all means,” Loki said, prodding dangerously. “Finish proving your worth.”

Anger flared and died in Thor’s eyes, and Loki felt his hope go out with it. “You hold power over trickery, magic, and lies, Loki.”

“I did. No more,” Loki reminded him testily.

“Stripped of power and reborn in mortal blood, you yet have the tongue of the serpent. I cannot trust you to free you,” Thor said, shaking his head.

“Then make an end of it!” Loki snapped. The lines under Thor’s hand pulsed, raised markings incising themselves against his broad palm. His magic fluttered under the bindings like a wounded bird, frantic and unable to fly.

“Learn, Loki, as my father had me learn. When you have learned something of the worth of this world, then I will find a way to free you, I swear it.” Thor released his hand, and stepped back. “You should go, brother, before my friends realize you are here. They rightly hold you in much enmity.”

Loki stared at Thor as he walked away through the metal and glass building, and finally turned away. As he reached the doors to the street, he stopped. His reflection in the glass showed the painfully beautiful traceries of his humiliation and powerlessness wrapped tightly around his neck. He began to fit the strip of silk over the hated marks, and stopped, hands dropping to his sides. What use was it to hide his shame from the rabble here? They knew nothing of what he’d been. They didn’t know that a year ago they would have trembled and kneeled at the sight of him. They didn’t know that he’d failed and fallen and had had his last hope ripped away from him.

But still it took a shameful amount of courage to open the door to the sunshine with his collar open and his bindings exposed. He took a few steps outside and looked up at the ruined towers with a faint feeling of distant accomplishment. A young woman smiled at him as she passed, her eyes gliding down to his throat and back up to his face, her smile broadening a fraction before the crowd swept her away.

Loki looked back down the street at the chaos he’d caused in his failed attempt at greatness. Then he turned to follow the girl, quiescent powers only feeding the strength and color of the poisoned, beautiful scars around his neck. He chuckled softly to himself as he walked. Even Thor would be surprised at the kinds of things that Loki could learn from this world.