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Avengers/Thor fic: Suffer the Children (1/1)

December 25th, 2014 (02:06 pm)
pensive
Tags: , , ,

feeling: pensive

Title: Suffer the Children

Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers or any of the MCU.

A/N: I wrote this for lena7142 way back when. Posted after a beta thanks to sockie1000. Fills my de-aged square for hc_bingo. This is set after the Avengers and some ambiguous point after Thor 2, when Loki is no longer pretending to be Odin.

Summary: Loki’s latest scheme goes about as well as can be expected.



-o-

“Tell me,” Thor bellows over the raging battle. “Have we determined the source of the portal?”

“Define determined,” Tony mutters as he takes up position next to Thor. He uses one of his weapons to decimate a coming wave while Thor lays low to the rest with a throw of his hammer.

“So you have found the source?” Thor asks, beckoning Mjolnir to return. It conveniently kills another several enemies on its trajectory.

Natasha comes up, firing behind her. She is breathless, but undaunted. “I can’t imagine it’s their own doing,” she says. “They’re too easy.”

“Uh, yeah,” Tony agrees, clomping his iron suit for a better vantage point. In the distance, they can see Captain Rogers working with the Hulk and Hawkeye to continue neutralizing the threat in the east. “You said you don’t know what race these guys are?”

“I do not,” Thor says. “But there are many planets beyond our realms. They could be from any corner of the universe.”

“Yeah, a dark and murky one,” Tony says. “They’re hardly at the top of the food chain. Has even one of them successfully made landfall?”

Thor considers this. It is true, these creatures are simple and violent, with strong urges to kill but little means to do so.

“What kind of race decides to launch a full scale attack on another planet without any significant weapons?” Tony asks. “Or a battle plan?”

“So it could be a crime of convenience,” Natasha suggests. “They found a portal, wandered through.”

“Such portals are not accidents,” Thor says. “They require careful magic--”

He stops, eyes on Tony.

“See,” Tony says. “It’s not so hard to determine now.”

Realization dawns on Natasha’s face as well. “He has the power,” she agrees. “But why launch such a pathetic attack? What does he gain?”

“An audience,” Tony says, nonchalantly blasting another round of creatures. “Because he thinks it’s funny.”

Natasha frowns, lifting her gun to fire off a couple shots at one of the stragglers. “I’m not sure I get his sense of humor.”

“The point is to stop him,” Tony says. “Which means we have to find him. So I was thinking, Thor--”

Tony does not need to finish. Because Thor already knows. The certainty churns uneasily in his stomach. They have been here before; they have been here countless time. For this is what Loki does. He has always been a creature of mischief, and his ill intent has never left Thor unscathed. One day, it is the throne of Asgard. The next, it is the planet Thor calls home. Sometimes Loki comes from his friends; sometimes for innocent people Thor has never met.

But it is always Loki.

It is a battle Thor has been fighting his entire life, the only one he fears he will never win.

The only one he fears he might win.

Working his jaw, Thor twirls Mjolnir.

“Whoa, big guy,” Tony says. “We should take this on together--”

Thor shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Leave him to me--”

“But, Thor--” Natasha starts.

“Yeah, that never goes well--” Tony says at the same time.

Thor ignores them both, gathering his speed. “He is my responsibility,” he tells them, before unleashing the strength of the hammer and propelling himself into the sky.

For Thor must take care of his brother.

And nothing will keep him from this task.

-o-

It is not hard to find Loki. His brother is full of disguises, and he prefers to hide in plain sight whenever possible. Given the choice, Loki will always go up, but never too far away.

No, Loki is never far, even when he wishes to be perceived that way.

So the mountain perch is not hard to discern. Thor lands hard, getting his footing before standing and looking right into his brother’s smirking face.

“Leaving the battle so soon?” Loki asks.

Thor stalks closer to him. “Close the portal.”

“But is such fun,” Loki says.

“Close the portal,” Thor insists again, for he is tired and he is weary, and he has spent years playing Loki’s game.

“It is merely practice for your friends,” Loki says with a shrug. He gestures down to where the massacre is still ongoing. “It is not like you can accuse me of actually trying to kill them this time.”

“So an entire race will die for your amusement?” Thor asks.

“These creatures are vile--”

“These creatures do not belong here, and we have no quarrel with them,” Thor says. “Close the portal and let us discuss why you are really here.”

Loki offers him a look of disappointment. “And here I thought you would be happy to see me--”

“I have endured your abuses long enough, Loki,” Thor says. “And to what end? What will change here today? What future do you see for yourself in this?”

“Ah,” Loki says, eyes darkening. “It is not the future I am concerned with right.”

Thor shakes his head, brow furrowed.

“But the past,” Loki continues. “I have conceded too much. I have been disadvantaged too long. I cannot even these odds in the future, but in the past--”

“Even you do not have power--”

“On my own, no,” Loki said. His mouth widens into a sneering grin. “But if I can harness the power of space itself, the very fabric of the universe.”

The implication comes with a sudden clarity. “The portal,” Thor realizes. “You are going to use the portal.”

“The creatures, they’re just incidental,” Loki says. “Consider them a parting gift from me to you.”

Thor steps forward with new urgency. “Loki, this plan, it is--”

“Madness?” Loki supplies. “Oh, I certainly hope so.”

“But the power of this magic--”

“Is well beyond you,” Loki says.

“You cannot hope to control it,” Thor tries to reason. “If it goes wrong--”

Loki’s smile wavers, his eyes going a little dead. There is a bleakness there, a resignation that Thor has come to know better than the malcontent. Thor is not the only one to have grown weary over these years. “Then at least I can count on my precious big brother to fix it,” Loki says, trying to sneer but the effort leaves something lacking.

Thor shakes his head, reaching a hand out beseechingly. “Loki, no--”

Loki pulls away with a hiss. “I will build a better future,” he says. “You will see. You will all see.”

Thor reaches out to grab on to his brother, to reason with him, but he’s too late. His hand closes on air, and there’s a rush of power. The force knocks Thor back, and he cannot keep his feet. He is momentarily blinded as the wind rushing in his ears deafens him. The air is sucked out of his lungs, and when the roaring ends, he finds himself flat on his back, staring up at the sky.

He blinks, remembering to breath. Then, he remembers the rest.

Frantic, he sits up, looking across the mountaintop to see if the havoc Loki promised has come to pass. He is still in his arm, and Mjolnir is still in his firm grip. He seems unchanged, and this place has not been altered either.

Uncertain, Thor tentatively gets to his feet, turning carefully around to better ascertain what has actually occurred.

“Loki?” he calls, trying to keep his voice steady. “Loki--”

Then he stops, for across the plain, Thor sees something unexpected.

Something impossible.

Something Thor thought he would never see again.

Indeed, Loki was right: Thor has come face to face with his past.

For standing there, quivering in armor that is much too big is a child with dark hair and wide eyes. He is scared, and he looks up at Thor hopefully.

Thor’s heart lurches up into his throat, and tears burn unbidden in his eyes. He looks at the child, truly looking at him, as if to confirm that which he already know, that which he would always know.

The child takes a step toward him. “What happened?” he asks, voice wavering. He narrows his eyes, studying Thor with intensity. “Where is-- are you-- Thor?”

Thor nods numbly, too shocked to move, too surprised to even attempt a denial. “Yes,” he replies. “Yes, Loki. I am your brother.”

Loki looks concerned at this, and he stumbles over his armor as he takes another step forward. “I don’t understand,” he says. “You are...so big. But I’m not. What...happened?”

“I--” Thor falters, trying to find something to say. The truth has always been something he honors, but he is not even certain what the truth is now. How this can be his brother; how this child can be the same brother who has fought him so viciously. “--do not know.”

Loki is closer now, and it is plain to see that he is trembling. “Thor,” he says, because Loki is smart, he’s perceptive. He’s always been able to understand people and discern the things they do not say, ever since he was very young. “Has something gone wrong?”

The question is so innocent that it feels like a dagger to Thor’s heart, and it is not assuaged by the undaunted trust in Loki’s eyes. “Yes,” he manages. “Something has gone very, very wrong.”

Loki takes that news stoically, but his face darkens. “I’m afraid,” he admits.

“You have no reason to fear,” Thor says, finally reaching out. He touches the child’s shoulder and the boy does not pull away. It is the first time his brother has welcomed his touch since...since longer than Thor cares to admit. The contact steadies him as much as it does Loki, and as Thor squeezes, his chest so tight he fears it may explode. “I am here. We will figure this out.”

Loki’s mouth turns up, and he smiles. Gone is the enmity. Absent is the malice. The years have been erased, and with it, all their strife. “Together,” the boy says, almost as though it is a vow.

Thor’s throat constricts, but he finds himself smiling too. “Together,” he agrees before reaching down to gather the child up. “Now come.”

Loki does not resist, and he is smaller than Thor remembers, and he wonders if his brother has always been this fragile. The small body fits perfectly in the crook of Thor’s arm, and Thor can feel the knobby bones even through the armor.

Thor holds him as close as he dares, starting to spin his hammer. “We have much work to do.”


Loki ducks closer, and Thor takes to the air.

-o-

Thor takes the discovery rather well.

Such things are not common on Asgard, but in his years throughout the realms, he has seen many strange and spectacular things. He knows of powerful magics; he has been witness to any number of impossible feats. And in all the things he has gained and lost, Loki has been the only constant.

In summation, Loki accidentally turning himself into a child is not the strangest thing that has ever happened, and, as far as Thor is concerned, it is nowhere near the worst.

His friends, however, take the discovery less well.

“Wait,” Steve says, still wiping slime from his shoulders in the aftermath of the battle. “You’re saying that’s Loki?”

They all look to where Thor has deposited Loki, in a safe location just outside their transport. He seems to be perplexed by the machine, studying the construction as he casts periodic glances their way.

“Hard to imagine all that terror in such a small package,” Tony observes. He’s still in his suit, but his face mask is up.

“But is that even possible?” Natasha asks.

“He’s managed mind control,” Clint reminds them. “Somehow I don’t put this past him.”

“But why?” Bruce asks, still buttoning up the spare shirt they always remember to bring for him. “Why do this?”

“I do not believe it was intentional,” Thor tells them, keeping his voice low. He keeps a careful eye on his brother, watching as the boy contemplates the construction of the door. “I believe he intended to use the energy from the portal as a way to propel himself backward through time.”

“Time travel?” Steve asks.

“Since only having one Loki around isn’t enough fun,” Tony mutters.

“It might make sense, though,” Natasha says. “If he’s used up all his moves in the present--”

“Son of a bitch wants to control the past, too,” Clint says.

“Or just make it better,” Bruce says. He shrugs. “Who here wouldn’t want a redo?”

Steve sighs, shaking his head. “But it went wrong,” he concludes.

“Clearly,” Tony adds.

“There do appear to be some unintended consequences,” Thor relents, a bit wary as Loki whispers a rudimentary spell and a portion of the exterior turns black.

“Well, how do we undo it?” Steve asks.

“You’re assuming we want to,” Natasha says.

“Well, we can’t leave him like that,” Steve says, gesturing to the boy, who is curiously tapping the side of the plane where he has discolored it.

“It’s undecided ethical ground,” Bruce says. “We didn’t do this to him.”

“And I mean, he’s safer this way,” Tony says.

“You mean, we’re safer,” Clint clarifies.

Thor shakes his head. His friends spend much time discussing things. It is a common Midgardian practice, to debate fiercely before making a decision. The idea of supreme control is not one they seem to understand, nor is it one they seem adaptable, too. It is harder this way sometimes, to be a team. Thor is used to being a leader, but he has accepted his position as a member of a team with as much grace as he has.

But even Thor, humbled and weary, has his limits.

“His fate is not yours to decide,” he says.

“To be fair, though, who does get to decide?” Tony asks. “I mean, really, and I mean no offense, Thor, but it’s not like Loki looked to you to make the big decisions in his life. In fact, he’s spent the last few years trying to figure out what you would do and then try the exact opposite.”

Thor closes his mouth, hand tightening on Mjolnir. He raises himself, standing eye to eye with Tony. They are allies, but Thor is never afraid to stand his ground. He shows deference out of respect, but he will not tolerate abuse on himself -- or Loki. “He is my brother.”

“He’s Loki,” Tony says. “Pain in our ass, every step of the way. Nearly destroyed New York. Tricked you to take over the throne of Asgard. Am I the only one who remembers?”

The tension roils in Thor’s stomach. His friends remember the last few years; Thor remembers centuries. In truth, he remembers being as young as Loki, when they were two small brothers united against the galaxy. “Whatever Loki has done, he is innocent now,” Thor says, attempting to be as reasonable as possible. “He is a child.”

“Do we know for sure he’s not faking it?” Clint says. “Maybe that’s his plan.”

“We wouldn’t suspect a kid,” Natasha agrees.

Thor has endured much, but he cannot endure this. He will not. “So you would try him and condemn him here now?” Thor asks defensively. “When he is but a boy!”

He is not aware that he is yelling until the uncertain silence follows. His teammates look away, casting glances between Thor and Loki.

Looking back toward the plane, Thor lets out a guilty breath. The pretense of preoccupation has faded, and Loki is watching him fully now, body stiff and eyes wide. It is clear that Thor’s outburst has unnerved him.

“Look,” Steve says in conciliation. “Whatever we decide, we can’t decide it here. We need to get him back to SHIELD.”

Thor keeps his eyes on his brother, finding that he can not look away, even when Loki scuffs at the ground. He’s barefoot, and Bruce had found another extra shirt for him to wear in place of the oversized armor. He looks young; he looks so young.

Steve steps forward, a hand on Thor’s arm. “Thor.”

Thor turns and meets Steve gaze.

“I promise, we’ll figure this out,” Steve says.

Thor gathers a breath and nods. “Indeed,” he says, looking at each of them in turn. “I will make sure of that.”

-o-

The ride back is unusually quiet. There is often much banter in the aftermath, when they relish their success. There are no feasts on Midgard, but Thor has found their familiar conversation a welcome way to relieve the tension after a hard fought victory.

With Loki strapped into one of the seats, however, no one seems certain what to say. They have won, but it seems there is nothing to celebrate. Steve attempts to be civil, but Loki’s quizzical looks prove too much for him. Natasha and Clint make no attempts to socialize; from the cockpit, they are mostly preoccupied otherwise, but Thor knows them well enough to sense their distance. Tony makes a few jokes, but Loki does not seem amused, which leaves the man rolling his eyes and muttering as he retreats toward one of the seats toward the back.

Bruce lingers longest, asking if Loki needs anything, to which the child replies, “Unless you possess a magic that far exceeds your simple mind, then I think there is nothing you can offer me.”

To his credit, Bruce merely smiles. “At least we know some things never change,” he says before moving to sit next to Tony.

Thor is amused -- Loki’s wit has always been one of his strongest attributes -- but he is keenly aware of how inappropriate such quips may be. As princes, the sardonic barbs were accepted. But they are not princes here. No, they are nothing but guests on this planet, and Loki’s reception hinges precariously on his friends’ respect for Thor. It is no good to have the child abuses those who have shown him kindness, even if Loki has no idea.

“You should be more polite,” Thor admonishes awkwardly. “These are good people. They are my friends.”

Loki raises his eyebrows, clearly unimpressed. “They are lesser beings,” he says. “Is it possible that we are on Midgard?”

Thor does his best not to smile. Loki needs many things, but encouragement of his own brilliance is likely not one of them. “Yes,” he says, as evenly as possible. “I have lived on Midgard for some years now.”

Loki makes a face. He has taken much of this in stride -- he has accepted his new state and the confusion that has come with it with as much fortitude as Thor could hope. Yet, this is the point he decides to ask about. “But why?” Loki presses. “Is Father testing you for some reason? Has one of your exploits finally earned you real reprimand?”

Loki is not too far from the truth, and it makes Thor wonder just how readily Loki saw his banishment coming. It had been a shock to incur the All-Father’s wrath, but looking back, Thor wonders if he should have seen it plainly as well. “It is a long story,” Thor settles on replying. Then he deepens his look. “The real question is, however, about you. What do you remember?”

At thought, Loki is genuinely thoughtful. “It is...strange,” he admits. “My mind seems hazy. Where things should be clear, I have uncertainty. I remember much of our childhood -- the pranks we played on the palace guard and the lessons Mother and Father made us endure. I remember that we were to make a hunting trip with Father in the spring.” He looks suddenly hopeful. “Did we make that trip?”

Thor does his best to hide his emotions. He remembers that trip, better than he’d like. It was their first royal hunting trip, and Thor had bested his first beast. His father had been so proud, throwing a banquet in Thor’s honor upon their return.

Loki, however, had back empty handed. No one blamed him, but there was no seat of honor for him at the table. Thor had tried to share the glory, but Loki had not wanted it.

That was centuries ago, mere years before Thor came of age and started training with the guard. Which means Loki is younger still, several centuries old by Asgardian standards. On Earth, his age would be no more than 8.

“Yes,” Thor tells him. “It was a great success.”

Loki beams, seemingly contented at the idea. “I imagine it was the first of many,” he says. “Have we been on many exploits together?”

Thor’s heart aches, for he remembers them all. He remembers how eagerly they both started, and how Loki had begun to drift away. Thor had thought all was well, but then, Thor had been wrong about many things.

“More than I can count,” Thor replies.

“This is good,” Loki says eagerly. Then he pauses, the quizzical expression returning. “So why are you here? Why is an heir to Asgard on a planet such as this?”

“Well, I am a warrior for these people,” Thor says. “Much trouble has come to them, and I have taken it upon myself to protect them from the ills of all the realms.”

Loki’s eyes widen. “Is it so bad now?” he asks. “What of the peace--?”

“Peace is tenuous, and rarely does it last,” Thor says. “But that is not your concern now.”

Loki nods, easily pacified. “Father must be so proud of you,” he says.

Thor swallows, studying his hands. Mjolnir rests at his side.

Tilting his head, Loki looks thoughtful again. “Should we go to Mother and Father?” he asks. “They must worry about us.”

The mention of their parents is almost more than Thor cares to handle. Odin has all but denounced both of them, and Frigga…

Well, Thor is not ready to impart such a harsh blow on a young child.

Thor smiles gently. “Remember, we are of age,” he says. “They do not fret over us the way they used to.”

Loki grins. “That must be nice,” he says. “Freedom. A chance to prove ourselves.” Then, he looks disconcerted. “Maybe it’s better they don’t see me this way.”

“Hopefully it will not be an issue,” Thor tells him. “My friends are quite capable.”

Loki looks down, nodding. It is obvious that he does not believe Thor -- indeed, he has no reason to. Thor is a horrible liar most of the time.

“Loki,” Thor says, nudging the child gently. “Are you sure you remember nothing else?”

With a deep breath, Loki shakes his head. “I feel like I should,” he says. “But it’s all...blank. I know things are missing, but I can’t bring them back.”

“So you do not remember being older?” Thor asks. “You have no memories of that?”

Loki shrugs. “I know it must be true, for you are much changed and the world feels different,” he says. “Everyone seems to know you, so I can only surmise that I am the one who has been affected. Is it a curse? Some type of magic?”

“Yes,” Thor says. “A very powerful magic.”

“Did someone do this to me?” Loki asks.

“It was not an attack, if that is what you mean,” Thor tells him. “It was an accident.”

Loki looks somewhat mortified. “How is this an accident?” he asks. “If I am strong and capable, what could affect me so dramatically?”

Loki is right in this as well, of course. The only person who can defeat Loki is probably Loki himself.

Still, Thor has not the heart to tell that to the child. “Every warrior has a blind spot,” he says. “It is not useful to dwell.”

“But I need to be big again,” Loki says. “Don’t I? What good am I as a child?”

“You are very good as a child,” Thor tells him resoundingly. “I find your company most refreshing.”

Loki rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I mean,” he says in utter exasperation. “How can I serve Asgard like this? How can I fight by your side when I am half your size? We have to figure this out, Thor. We must.

Thor smiles as encouragingly as possible. “I promise, I will do my very best.”

Loki is somewhat mollified, but he looks skeptically around the plane. He leans closer, lowering his voice. “I don’t really trust these people.”

“They are good--”

Loki shakes his head. “On Midgard? I find myself doubtful--”

Thor sighs. “No more talk of that,” he says, a bit more sternly now. “Besides, it is not a question of whether or not you trust them. It is a question of whether or not you trust me.”

Loki looks up, meeting Thor’s gaze fully as his face brightens. “Always,” he says. “Without fail.”

Something warms in Thor’s stomach, and his heart flutters. “There,” he says. “That is all we truly need.”

-o-

To their credit, the Avengers at least wait until Loki is securely in the custody of trained personnel. Thor finds himself uneasy, trusting strangers with his brother. It is ironic, of course. A day ago, Thor would have worried about the harm that Loki would inflict on others. Now, seeing his brother as a child, he finds that he worries that harm may befall him.

Still, Thor has learned to be pragmatic over the years. Loki’s presence makes things complicated. Given Loki’s behavior the last few years, he cannot expect his friends to accept the current change of events without some posturing.

Without a lot of posturing.

“Are we sure it’s him?” Coulson asks, leaning heavily on the conference table. SHIELD is a stronger organization with Coulson at the head, more focused and more trustworthy. Thor finds the change to be reassuring that he has made the right commitment to this planet.

Most of the time.

“Is there some way to test for that?” Steve asks, perched anxiously on his seat.

“We wouldn’t even know what we’re looking for,” Bruce says. “We have alien DNA samples, but besides determining that he’s not human…”

“For all we know this is only one version of Loki,” Tony says. “Bastard could have sent his adult self to the past and brought this one forward.”

“But we’d know that by now, wouldn’t we?” Clint asks.

“How? For all we know everything’s already changed,” Tony explains. He waves a hand through the air. “Temporal mechanics…that’s complicated stuff.”

“And it doesn’t change the facts at hand,” Coulson interjects, asserting his authority. “How do we know it’s Loki?”

“I know my brother,” Thor says. “His likeness, his personality: that is Loki as I remember him.”

“But if it’s an approximation--” Natasha begins.

Thor shakes his head. He has chosen not to sit; his weariness cannot outweigh his growing anxiety. “I know my brother,” he insists, raising his voice just enough to sound dangerous.

His friends receive the hint with due respect. There’s a silence, until Clint taps his fingers anxiously on the table. “Okay, so what if it is him?” he says. “What then?”

“Well, the way I see it, there are really only two options,” Coulson says. “Either we change Loki back or we keep him the way he is.”

“At least it’s not Sophie’s Choice,” Tony quips.

“But it’s still not easy,” Steve says. “I mean, what is our moral obligation?”

“Do we have a moral obligation?” Natasha asks.

“He’s a child,” Bruce says.

Clint shakes his head. “And I already pointed out, we don’t know that for sure.”

Thor tries to remind himself that their argument is valid. They are right to be cautious and concerned. They are protectors of this planet, and this is their due diligence.

But Thor still remembers Loki’s thin shoulder trembling beneath his touch, the wide-eyed trust on his face.

His friends debate the future of his brother, who has already lived. They debate the future of someone who has found himself in the past. They debate with cold, hard fact when Thor feels the growing warmth of memory. They speak of hypotheticals. Thor sees possibilities.

This is not the first time he has felt at odds with his companions.

This is, however, the time he has struggled with it most. To endure such pointless talk when his brother sits, a mere child, in another room.

“We should start with some tests,” Coulson says. “Take some time to determine--”

Thor shakes his head, feeling suddenly adamant. Thor has learned much of time from Midgard. He has learned its value, and he has learned how fleeting it can be. He has spent time grieving his brother; he has spent time forging a life without him. But in all this time, Thor has never been able to give up on him, at least not entirely.

Thor has waited years to find the brother he used to know.

He is tired of time.

“He is a child,” Thor reminds them, none too subtly. “Not some relic you can dissect. You cannot possibly hope to study him over the course of your weeks or months.”

“We’re not going to harm him,” Coulson promises. “But we have to figure out what we’re dealing with.”

“I know what we are dealing with,” Thor says, his frustration rising. For his friends often require proof. They do not understand what centuries has taught Thor to know in a mere instant. They cannot see the constant forces at play in the universe, and they do not respect all that stays the same even when everything seems to change. “We are dealing with a child; we are dealing with a Loki who knows nothing of the wrongs he has committed. We are dealing with someone who needs our protection as much as any other being in this galaxy.”

“But Thor,” Coulson says, as reasonably as possible. “Surely you can understand--”

“No,” Thor cuts him off. “Loki is not without blame, for he has taken lives and done damage to your planet. But this child -- he has done nothing.

“You have to admit, he has a habit of tricking us,” Steve points out.

“And what gain is this to him?” Thor demands. “He is small and defenseless. His magic is unschooled.”

“But we have to take precautions,” Coulson says.

At that, Thor laughs. He has learned to be cautious in his own way, and he often abides by the rules SHIELD poses for him. But there are moments when he remembers that he is a prince of Asgard, that he has lived for centuries, that he has seen and done more than these humans, as advanced as they are, will never experience.

This is not a source of pride for Thor.

It is simple fact.

“When have your precautions ever been effective against Loki?” he asks. “As a man or a child, Loki will find away around your precautions.”

Coulson inhales deeply. “That’s the point--”

“The point is that treating him like an enemy will gain you an enemy,” Thor says. He straightens, for he has few things worth fighting for, but Loki will always be among them. “Indeed, it may even cost you a friend.”

There is a series of glances exchanged at the table. Thor’s point is well taken.

For a moment, he thinks this may go better than he suspected.

That is precisely the moment that the internal alarms start to go off.

Coulson’s eyes widen, meeting Thor’s gaze.

Thor works his jaw.

“Loki?” Coulson asks.

Thor lets out a low breath. “Loki.”

-o-

Coulson sends Natasha and Clint, but Thor does not wait for an order or even an invitation. He remembers the path to Loki’s room perfectly, and he does not look back to ensure that his friends are close behind.

He is the first to arrive. The door where Thor last left Loki is open, two guards lying on the ground in front of it. There’s another pair of guards near them while more start to secure the hallway. Natasha and Clint come up breathlessly behind him.

“Damn it,” Natasha mutters. “Are they--”

One of the guards looks up. “Alive,” he says. “No sign of injury.”

“Not all injuries are going to be visible,” Clint says.

“Vitals are good,” the guard says.

Thor moves to the door, looking inside. The room is almost entirely untouched. The bed is cleanly made; the water bottle is untouched on the table. Even the books are neatly stacked, the only entertainment they’d been able to find for a child on short notice.

Loki’s room is almost like he has never been there.

But then, it doesn’t really look like a room.

With locks on the doors and no window -- this is a prison cell.

Even as a child, Loki hated limitations. He never accepted boundaries.

So what does Thor do? He puts him in a locked room with armed guards all around.

This is Thor’s fault.

This has all been Thor’s fault.

“Thor?” Natasha asks. “Any ideas?”

Thor pulls back, face taut. He takes a few deep breaths before nodding. “Just one.”

“That’s good,” Natasha says. “If you could just--”

But Thor isn’t listening. Instead, he strides down the hall to the closest window. He gauges it, notes the seemingly damage proof nature, then lifts Mjolnir. With one slam, the pane is blown free.

There is yelling behind him, and scuffling. Clint says, “Thor, what the hell are you doing?”

Thor climbs, starting to spin Mjolnir again. He glances back as he gains momentum. “I’m going to find my brother.”

-o-

His exit is dramatic.

His destination is not.

Thor makes a wide loop, enough to obscure his final destination. Then, he hastily turns upward, bringing himself to a landing on the roof.

It should be impossible. SHIELD only operates secure facilities. There are security checkpoints, security monitors and guards. Nothing happens in a SHIELD facility that is not thoroughly documented and double checked.

Unless, of course, Loki is involved.

As a child, Loki had mastered the ins and outs of the palace, knowing how to sneak by the guards or hide so quietly that even Father could not find him. Loki’s mastery of the tongue is only one of his many accomplishments. He is also adept at finding and exploiting shadows. After all these centuries, this makes Loki dangerous.

Now, however, it only makes Loki a normal child.

He hears the slight scuffling before he sees anything, and he walks carefully across the roof until he finds the source. There’s another sound, behind one of the exhaust vents, and Thor knows he could storm over and demand Loki’s attention and be well within his rights.

Having the right doesn’t make it right, though.

Loki does not respond to direct confrontation. Loki will listen to nothing if he is told. If is his idea, however…

Thor clears his throat, feeling awkward. He has extraordinary confidence in the face of many dangers, and there is no foe that truly frightens him. He approaches tasks with determination, dauntless of any risks or uncertainties.

But this -- this is a danger he can scarcely understand. For despite the doubts of the others, he knows his brother holds no ill will toward him. Thor can see it in his eyes, he can feel it with a certainty that is as clear as crystal. Whatever Loki intended from his spell -- whatever mischief or damage -- the effect has been dramatically unexpected. Because it is one thing to fight his brother and fear him lost forever.

It is another to see his brother as he was, before things went so horribly wrong, and know that it is within his power to make this better.

He’s just not sure how.

“You know,” he begins, hoping to sound as casual as Tony and as sincere as Steve. If he sounds somewhat disarming like Bruce, then that is very well, too. “If you had wanted fresh air, you merely had to make the request.”

There is silence, purposeful and resolved.

Thor keeps his position, easing his grip on Mjolnir as he tries to relax his stance. “Midgard is surprisingly invigorating,” he continues. “Perhaps you should come with me to the place they call the cafeteria. You will be impressed by the vast selection of food.”

“We have feasts at home,” Loki says finally, voice small even as he remains hidden. “How does your cafeteria compare?”

Thor smiles. “Less opulent but very tasteful,” he says. “They are fond of a substance called sugar, and I have found it quite satisfying.”

There’s another silence, just as pronounced.

Thor resists the urge to sigh. “You should not have run, Loki,” he says finally.

Loki inhales sharply, feet scraping against the ground as if he is retreating farther.

“Please,” Thor says. “Let us talk about it.”

“No,” Loki says with sudden vigor. “You will be mad.”

“Brother, I--”

“You brought me to this place and you left me with strangers,” Loki continues, voice starting to pitch. “Maybe you are not my brother after all.”

It hits like a dagger, straight to his heart. Thor’s shoulders fall. “Loki, please,” he says. “This is more complicated than you know. I did not leave you. I merely had to discuss matters with my friends.”

“But you left!” Loki says. “I don’t know where I am or why I am here, and you left me, Thor. You left me behind, and I didn’t know how to find you.”

Carefully, Thor wets his lips. “So you were trying to find me?”

The silence is telling. Finally, Loki mumbles, “It’s not like they made it very hard not to get away.”

This time, Thor allows himself the sigh. “You should not have harmed the guards.”

“They are not harmed,” Loki replies, too quickly and with the complacency that Thor sees worrisome in retrospect.

“Perhaps,” Thor says. “But you do not understand. When I learned you were gone--”

He stops, wondering how to explain it. Wondering if he knows himself. If it’s possible to tell Loki the type of fear he had, not just that his friends might have been right, that this was nothing but a trick.

But that Loki might be gone.

That Thor might have lost his brother again.

Thor does not think he can bear that loss again.

“--but you harmed me,” Thor concludes.

There’s a sharp inhalation and a tense moment follows. Eventually, Loki pokes his head out. He seems smaller than before even, his form curled in on itself in fear.

Thor’s not the only one afraid.

“You are fine,” Loki observes, almost cautiously.

“It is not physical harm,” Thor tells him. “I did not leave you with guards to keep you locked away. I left you in their company to keep you safe.”

Loki tilts his head. “But this is Midgard. What possible dangers--”

“Loki,” Thor tells him. “There is every possible danger. More than you will ever know. The universe is full of things that would do you harm.”

“But you’re so big now,” Loki says. “And you have Mjolnir. Surely, nothing can stop you.”

“I am not a god,” Thor tells him. “For all that I can do, there are many things I cannot. And if something should happen to you--”

Loki takes a step closer, straightening a bit. “I didn’t harm the guards,” he says again, more earnestly now. “It is a simple sleeping spell.”

Thor sees Loki and wonders if this was how his parents felt. If this was the worry his mother had; if these were the reservations his father harbored. A child with so much potential and so little grounding to control it. Thor grew brash; Loki grew secretive. It has nearly destroyed them both.

But that’s not how it is now. Thor has learned that going back is not as easy as it seems, but perhaps starting over is not actually so hard. Perhaps it starts with simple choices, better choices.

Perhaps it starts here, on Midgard, on a rooftop. Between two brothers who have always loved each other.

“There are rules for a reason,” Thor lectures gently. “Just because you are capable does not make you justified. Do you not see the difference?”

Loki makes a face. “But they’re mortals--”

“As are we,” Thor says. “Trust me, brother. I have seen enough blood to know this to be true.”

“But why do we not go home?” Loki presses. “Why do we not go to Asgard and live as princes, as we are meant to. Why do we stay here, in these small cities with small minds?”

“Because,” Thor explains. “Greatness is not about our birth or our standing. It is not a legacy we inherit. It is a destiny we create.”

Loki looks dubious, his small brow furrowed.

“This is my home now, brother,” Thor says. “I will explain it to you, I promise, in great detail, but if you wish to stay with me, then we must learn to live in harmony with these people.”

Reluctantly, Loki nods, inching even closer. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I did not mean to worry you.”

Thor smiles. “And I should have not left you in such a small space with so little to entertain yourself.”

Loki nods, but he still looks uncertain. “You will fix this, then?” he asks. “You will fix me?”

Thor clenches his teeth to suppress a surge of emotion. “If it is within my power.”

Loki blinks up at him. “And if you can’t?”

“You have my word,” Thor pledges. “I will never stop trying.”

-o-

Thor decides that taking the stairs is probably a better option. At this point, he knows SHIELD will be on high alert, and Loki’s status will be even more complicated than before. If Thor wishes to defuse the situation, it is best if he acts as human as possible.

Fortunately, he has much practice with this. He is apologetic and gracious when he meets Natasha and Clint, and he is sure to ask about the conditions of the guards even though he knows they will be fine. He smiles and engages in polite chitchat, as is customary for someone who is being deferential and obedient.

He hopes they do not notice that he had to rip the roof door off its hinges to get back inside. Loki had offered to use magic, but Thor had thought that might not be the best idea.

When they arrive back at Loki’s room, he enters with Loki and sits on the bed. He looks through the books and asks the guards if they can have something good to eat. When Loki has eaten one candy bar and is drinking something called Mountain Dew, Thor politely excuses himself.

At the door, he looks back. Loki is watching him, sitting stiffly on the bed.

Thor smiles. “I shall return shortly,” he says. “You have my word.”

Loki nods once.

When Thor walks away, he leaves the door open for his brother is no prisoner, and Thor refuses to let anyone treat him that way.

-o-

Back in the conference room, the Avengers look a little wary.

Phil, Son of Coul, looks somewhat apoplectic.

“So,” Coulson says. “You were saying?”

Thor gathers himself, and this time he sits, purposefully setting Mjolnir on the floor beside him. “Loki was frightened,” he explains. “He has never taken well to a cage.”

“It was a room,” Coulson says.

“With a locked door and armed guard,” Thor points out.

Coulson’s silence is a concession.

“I have spoken to Loki,” Thor continues. “It should not happen again.”

“Let’s hope not,” Coulson says under his breath. “Though it does bring us back to the point. Assuming this is Loki and it’s not some sort of trick or illusion, what are we going to do with him?”

“Do we even have the capacity to return him to his...normal state?” Steve asks.

“Well, we’d just have to know the spell,” Tony says with a cavalier shrug.

“You’re talking about advanced science that is thousands of years beyond our understanding,” Bruce says.

“Oh, I doubt it’s that complicated,” Tony says.

“Complicated enough to turn a psychopath into a child,” Clint reminds them.

“But come on!” Tony says. “We go around calling it magic! Aren’t we ready to push that just a bit?”

“You all fail to realize the implications of the magic,” Thor tells them. “It is not just a complicated spell, it is a unique spell. I know of few beings that have the power to link themselves to the essence of time and space itself. Which means that it is probably specially designed and likely bound to the being that cast it.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Tony says. “You’re saying that only Loki can undo it?”

Thor shifts in his seat. “Unfortunately, yes.”

Steve frowns. “But will he?”

“I think a better question is, should he want to?” Bruce says.

“Tactically, it’s a disadvantage,” Natasha says.

“Unless it’s all part of his plan,” Clint insists.

Thor sighs. “It is not worth debating,” he says. “Loki has only the memories of a young child. He is capable of simple magic, but nothing nearly as advanced as this spell. And even if he had the capacity, the chances that he could recreate the spell enough to reverse it....”

Tony shakes his head. “Well it looks like gods can create a boulder too big for themselves to lift.”

Clearly strained, Coulson sits forward. “Are you sure?” he asks. “Maybe it’s instinctual, maybe he has to try.”

“Loki is a child. He is scared and frightened. He is far from what he knows, surrounded by strangers. He is aware that something is wrong, but he knows not what or how,” Thor explains. “If Loki had the ability to undo the spell, he would have done so by now.”

Steve looks at his hands. Tony rocks back in his chair. Bruce rubs the back of his neck, and Clint exchanges a look with Natasha.

It’s Coulson who rubs a hand over his face, almost laughing. “So, just to recap,” he says. “Loki, in some attempt to wreak havoc on the galaxy, turned himself into a child. That child doesn’t remember all the horrible and evil things he’s done, and yet, he’s still the same person. He’s the most wanted criminal on Earth except, right now, he’s entirely innocent.”

“You left off the part where we can’t do a damn thing about it,” Tony says.

“Of course,” Coulson says. “So now either we punish a child who has no idea what’s going on, or we let the most notorious criminal in the galaxy get away, literally, with murder.”

Thor leans forward, looking at each of his friends in turn. “I understand that this is difficult for all of you,” he says. “And I have never believed Loki to be undeserving of punishment. But, here, on Midgard, you believe in change. You believe in second chances. I, myself, found a new life here, one that has made me a far better man than I otherwise would have been. You believe in potential. I do not advocate that Loki is truly innocent. I merely suggest that punishment would do no good. Not when we have the chance before us, each one of us, to make Loki a better person. He’s a child! His fate, no matter what has gone before, is not decided. He can create it himself with conscious and steady guidance.”

Thor argues for little on Midgard. He demands few things, and he has made it a priority to live a simple life and to serve as part of a greater good. But he will always stand for what is right.

He will always stand for Loki.

Fortunately, Thor has chosen his friends well. They are not undeserving, the Avengers.

“He’s got a point,” Steve says. “And really, Loki’s better off this way. We’re all better off this way.”

“I certainly can’t deny anyone a second chance,” Bruce says.

Natasha shrugs. “I’d be a hypocrite to say no.”

“Aw, hell,” Tony says. “Maybe raising Loki will be enough to convince Pepper that she really doesn’t want kids of her own.”

“Do what you want,” Clint says tersely. “But don’t ask me to babysit.”

Thor finds himself smiling, looking at last to Coulson.

“It’s not a terrible plan,” Coulson says. “But there are still things we have to figure out. I mean, what do we tell him? He’s clearly a bright kid, and he’s clearly restless. How are we possibly going to explain all that happened?”

It’s not a bad question. In fact, it is a question Thor has been avoiding since he first took Loki up in his arms.

Even so, he knows there’s only one answer. It’s not the easiest answer, but it’s the only one that can possible be.

“We tell him the truth,” Thor says.

“That’s kind of a lot for a kid,” Steve says.

“You actually want to tell him he grows up to be a mass murderer?” Clint asks.

Tony blows out a breath. “Talk about a self fulfilling prophecy.”

Thor shakes his head. “Loki deals with lies because he was raised with them. He did not learn his true parentage until it was far too late to deal with it properly. The truth will always win out, and it is better that he learns it now, in a supportive fashion, than later.”

“I don’t know,” Bruce says. “The knowledge that you’re a monster--”

“He was a monster,” Thor corrects. “The knowledge of what he was is the only way to ensure that he will not become so again.”

“And if it doesn’t work?” Coulson asks.

“Then we are no worse off than we are now,” Thor says.

“It’s a risk,” Coulson says.

“Well, then,” Thor says, bolstering himself. “It sounds like it is indeed a task for the most valiant minds and fighters on this planet. Come now,” he chides. “Surely the Avengers will not be cowed by a mere child?”

“Yeah, that child is a psychopath,” Clint says.

“Who we’ve spent years fighting,” Natasha says.

“Who has unknown potential,” Steve adds.

“And anger management issues of his own,” Bruce comments.

“And we want to tell him the truth,” Tony says. “Sounds brilliant. Really good plan here, guys.”

Coulson looks at Thor, entirely serious. “We’ll help you,” he says. “But Loki, he’s your responsibility.”

Thor can only smile. “I believe that is the only thing in all of this that has never actually changed.”

-o-

Thor does not run, but he does not delay in his return. He knows the matter is not entirely settled with his friends -- there will be more questions and probably some uncomfortable answers -- but he trusts they understand what Thor has realized from the start.

That no matter what happens, this is a second chance. Be it fate or magic or simple luck, Loki need not be their enemy. Indeed, he has always been better suited to be an ally, if only he would recognize that himself.

Thor cannot delude himself that this will be easy. Loki is manipulative and sneaky. He believes himself superior, and he handles the truth poorly. He is more powerful than he should be, and not nearly disciplined enough in the right way. He will require vigilance, and he will require instruction. He will not take to these things as well as he ought, but the consequence for negligence…

Well, Thor knows them well.

Even so, as he stands in the doorway of Loki’s temporary holding space, he is struck by how this task overwhelms him, and how it elicits passion he did not know he still had. He wants nothing more than this.

He wants nothing more than Loki.

Loki smiles when he sees Thor, though he quickly tries not to appear too eager. The books have been picked through, and Thor suspects Loki has found them lacking. It is also apparent that despite his desire to hide it, he has missed Thor.

“Loki,” Thor says, walking in. He nods to one of the plain clothes agents, who politely takes her leave. Thor postures awkwardly, not sure if he should sit or stand in her absence. “I am glad you are still here.”

“Well, I did promise,” Loki says with a shrug, as though he has never disobeyed before.

Thor smiles, moving to the nearby chair to sit. “And you are well?”

Loki makes a face. “The books were boring,” he says.

“Well, this place is not meant for children,” Thor explains. “Their books are mostly tactical.”

Loki slumps a little in his chair.

Thor clears his throat. “But that’s no matter,” he says. “Midgard has many of pleasing books to read, some I think you may enjoy very much.”

Unconvinced, Loki shrugs again. “They’re primitive.”

“Yet strangely insightful,” Thor says. “And humorous. You might find their exploits entertaining.”

Loki does not argue, though he remains stubbornly unconvinced.

Thor decides to try a different line of questioning. “And the food?”

Loki’s shrug is noncommittal. “It was all right.”

There is no condescension, and Thor grins. He recognizes the compliment in the absence of insult. “See,” he says. “This is not all bad.”

With a small nod, Loki’s gaze drifts. He sits listlessly for a moment, before glancing surreptitiously at Thor. “This is it, then?” he asks. “I am to stay here with you?”

Soberly, Thor nods. “Would you have it some other way?”

Loki’s expression turns thoughtful. “So I will remain small?”

“For now, yes,” Thor says.

Loki is studying him now. “You don’t know how to undo it,” he concludes. “The spell. You don’t know how to reverse it.”

Thor takes a measured breath. “It is a complicated spell,” he explains. “And you know how hard it is to reverse such magic.”

“Unless you are the one who cast it,” Loki says. He narrows his eyes for a moment. “You don’t have the person who cast the spell, do you?”

Thor presses his lips together. His decision to tell the truth to Loki had been so simple before. Now, looking into his face, it is so much harder. “It is not that simple--”

“But you’re Thor,” Loki says. He gesture. “Look at you! Even bigger than I imagined! You would never let such a villain escape, and if you had them in your power, you would not give them any option but to undo what they have done. Which means...the person is dead.”

“No,” Thor says. “That person is not dead.”

“So you do have them?” Loki asks.

“I do,” Thor confirms. “But they are not able to undo it.”

Loki is quiet for a moment, his eyebrows deeply furrowed. “How would such a capable wizard be unable to reverse it? If it is cast, then it can be uncast. Unless…” He trails off and his eyes widen. “It was me.”

Thor swallows hard. “Loki--”

“No,” Loki says, refusing to stop. “I cast the spell. It is the only conclusion that makes any sense. If the person is not dead and yet still unable to reverse the spell, it means the spell affected them. It affected me. I did this to myself.”

“It was an accident,” Thor assure him.

“But what was I trying to do?” Loki says, almost indignant. “How could this possibly be a result?”

Loki is asking, even if he does not know the depth of his question. Loki wants to know. Loki has always wanted to know, though Thor suspects Loki has always known most of the worst things. He always knew he was different; he always knew he was the lesser son. He always knew, and when his worst fears were confirmed, his scapegoats were easy to find by the lies of omission.

Thor cannot lie to Loki. There can be no scapegoats. There can be no omissions. The truth might destroy them, but Thor clings to the hope that it may save them yet.

“You were attempting to travel through time,” Thor tells him. “You opened a rift in space and used that energy to cast your spell. I do not know the specifics, but I suspect it did not go as planned.”

Loki listens, strangely stupefied for a moment. Then he shakes his head. “But surely you know why I wanted to go back in time,” he says. “I mean, we are here on this planet together. We work together, do we not?”

That question hurts even more than the others, and it takes Thor’s resolve not to look away. “You do not live on this planet with me.”

“But we are allies, so surely you would know--”

Thor inhales, ready to explain.

The color drains out of Loki’s face. “In this future, we are not allies,” he realizes. “I am not part of this team, and the reason you do not know of my plans is because I did not include you in them.”

“I was trying to stop you,” Thor says regretfully.

“Because I’m the enemy,” Loki says plainly, though his face is written plainly with shock. “I’m the bad guy?”

Thor gathers a breath. “Loki--”


“No,” Loki says, becoming more emotional. “It’s the only conclusion that makes any sense. That’s why there are guards outside the door. That’s why no one wants to talk to me. That’s why you had to convince your friends to help. They do not trust me.”

“Many things have happened,” Thor tells him. “Some of it was your fault, I will not lie to you. But many things were not.”

Loki’s brow creases in distress. “But we’re enemies,” he says. “That’s why you don’t know the spell. That’s why you don’t know what I was trying to do. You and I -- we grow up to be enemies.”

His own face paling, Thor sits closer. “I assure you, brother, I never thought of you that way.”

“But it doesn’t change it, does it?” Loki asks, eyes starting to fill with tears. He takes a hitching breath. “This future, it is not one I want, Thor. I want nothing to do with it at all.”

Loki’s emotions are becoming pronounced, and Thor questions his judgment in this for a moment. Perhaps Loki is too young for this, perhaps he is too fragile.

Perhaps this is what his parents told themselves all those years when they kept Loki’s parentage a secret.

The truth will tell, either way.

“Loki,” Thor says, voice low as he holds eye contact earnestly. “The future, it is not written. What has been need not always be. Your magic is young, but you can still learn and there is a chance you will learn to undo the spell.”

“And go back to how it was?” Loki asks. “Where you fight me in battle and your friends seek to make me a prisoner?”

“It could be different,” Thor says.

Loki straightens, dangerously hopeful. “But it is different,” he says. “I mean, we are together now. I am no one’s enemy like this. I could change for them; I would show them.”

“There is still much you do not know,” Thor says cautiously. “This road you would walk, it would not be easy.”

“But I can learn,” Loki says, his enthusiasm gaining now. “You can teach me. We can do it together, and it will all be all right. You and me, we will be all right.”

It is the ambitious hope of a child. It is the lofty promise of those who do not know. Loki is smart, but he is still a child. He knows many things, but the truths which elude him are still a pressing weight on both of them. There are many things that will not be easy, and Thor knows Loki will resent him often in this.

And yet, Loki believes. He believes it with the untainted eyes of a child, with the unbridled possibilities of the very young. Loki made a spell to go back and change the future, and though Thor knows this is not what he intended, he realizes just how successful Loki has been in it. Loki has got himself this far.

It is up to Thor to meet him halfway.

He smiles as Loki beams up at him. It is not a promise he can keep with certainty, but it is the only promise worth fighting for now.

“Yes, Loki,” he says. “We will be all right.”