Disclaimer: You pleaded, you begged, you offered your first born children! I now present to you hopefully exactly what you were asking for. I own nothing but the idea which formed the story, and I make no profit from having written it. Characters within belong to Marvel.
It was heartbreaking watching Loki's expression as Thor carried him, wrapped in his cloak, into Asgard. Loki stared about at everything with awe and fear by turns as if he'd never seen any of it before. Arriving on the Bifröst, he had stared at Heimdall in confusion, then been distracted when he was carried outside and saw the Rainbow Bridge. He'd stared at it in fascination, then tears had escaped his eyes and he'd smiled. "Pretty." He'd whispered.
Thor didn't know what to think of any of it. He'd bundled his brother closer to himself when they'd reached the palace proper, turning his face gently away from the stares of others. He wished he could close his ears against the mutterings, but fortunately Loki didn't seem to notice the scorn and disgust.
Thor had to admit to himself that he hadn't thought much past getting Loki home, but he also had to admit that he couldn't possibly have anticipated it would be as bad as it was. He hadn't thought Loki would be naked or so filthy, and he hadn't thought that a mere hundred years--normally nothing more than a blinking to an Asgardian--could rob the glib trickster of his wits. He had to talk to their parents, but first he knew, he had to take care of Loki.
He entered Loki's room, which he'd ordered cleaned the day before in anticipation of fetching back his sibling. It still smelled a little musty from having been closed up for so long, but all Thor cared was if they had restocked the bathing room. Nudging the door open with his foot, he entered with his fragile cargo and set Loki down by the empty pool before straightening and going to find heating stones for the water as well as soaps, pleased when he discovered both in abundance.
Turning to come back with his findings, he noticed dirty footprints and paused, frowning before he realized that they were his own. He felt a flash of panic, imagining how furious Loki would be before he remembered that Loki barely knew his own name. The smile that touched the Thunderer's lips was without humor as he continued his short trip back to the younger. It would be so much better if Loki would be angry with him. It would be preferable to this broken thing wearing his sibling's skin.
Loki hadn't moved from where he'd been placed, holding the cloak around himself with loose fingers, head hanging low with some of his dreadlocked hair obscuring his filthy face. Looking at him, Thor felt his heart crack anew and he wondered again how such a short span of time could have broken him so completely.
He knelt at the younger's side to deposit the soaps and stones, then reached out to turn on the spigot. The water sputtered at first and ran a rusty color for a few moments before the apparatus shuddered and the water turned clear. Satisfied that it would fill up properly, Thor turned to Loki only to pause at the expression on the once trickster's face.
Loki had his head cocked slightly to the side, watching the water with absolute incomprehension, as if he didn't know what he was looking at and Thor slowly settled back on his legs as conflicting emotions crashed though his mind. He slowly reached out to grasp his arm after a few moments. "Loki."
Loki's attention shifted immediately, his eyes meeting Thor almost shyly. "Thor." He acknowledged him, and there was such naked joy in his voice that it once more sent conflicting emotions through Thor. Tears pricked his eyes.
"Please," Thor whispered, voice choked. "Please tell me this is a trick, a joke. I deserve it, I know I deserve it, but please...."
But Loki's expression only became confused, and Thor let out a laugh that was mostly a sob.
"Come brother, let's get you cleaned up."
Thor had had to empty and refill the tub several times in the process of scrubbing Loki clean. Loki had not protested this process, nor the rough bathing Thor subjected him to, even when the Thunder God accidentally rubbed his skin raw. He didn't even protest when Thor took a dagger to his hair, cutting most of it off to be rid of the filthy, knotted dreads.
Finally, after two hours of cleaning every inch of Loki that he could possibly clean, Thor drained the tub one last time and helped Loki out so he could dry him--and himself--and guide Loki gently to walk on his own feet out to the main room and bed, where he directed him to sit so he could find clothes for him to wear.
Coming back several minutes later with green silk pants, Thor found--unsurprisingly at this point-- that he had to help Loki to put them on. With his heart in his eyes, Thor reached out afterward to cup the back of Loki's head in his hand and draw their foreheads together. "I am so sorry, brother." He whispered. "I didn't know, I couldn't have known....I'll make this right somehow, I promise."
Loki stood placidly while Thor held him, expression absolutely bewildered as if he couldn't process what was being said to him. Thor drew back slowly and swallowed hard.
"You should get some rest, Loki...." He spoke thickly. "I need to....I need to speak to our parents. I will bring you food later." He couldn't bear it any longer and turned to go, trying to convince himself that he wasn't running away. He stopped by his own room long enough to get clean and dry clothing, and then headed swiftly to the throne room.
"Father. Mother." He greeted them without preamble once he saw that Odin was not currently attending to anything.
"Thor." Frigga smiled to her son. "Come to reclaim your throne?"
"Not yet." Thor looked to Odin, noting his weary appearance and he stepped closer. "Father, can you yet remain for perhaps a few days longer? I am sorry. I do not mean to neglect the throne, but Loki...." He paused, swallowing hard and looking between them. "Loki is not well."
"It is expected that he would be weakened after his exile." Odin spoke. "Do not give him--"
"It is more than that, Father." Thor inclined his head to the Allfather, reminded of their current switch in rank from the look he was given. "Apologies for interrupting, Father....but it is more than that. Loki is...." He pursed his lips and shook his head. "He is an idiot."
"Thor?" Frigga frowned.
"He barely remembers his own name, Mother." Thor spread his hands imploringly. "He didn't even know who I was until I called him brother. He has forgotten everything, even how to dress himself. His exile has taken his glib words as well, he barely seems able to form a sentence!" Thor's distress was evident by the end, eyes wide and filled with tears.
Odin and Frigga exchanged a glance, then looked back at their eldest. "How can you be certain this is not a trick of his, Thor?" Frigga asked, clasping her hands together tightly as she spoke.
Thor thought about it, frowning deeply and furrowing his brow. ".....I don't." He admitted at last, reluctantly. "Save that I cannot imagine Loki being willing to degrade himself quite that much." But it had been a century since Loki had last been seen. Perhaps in that time, he had become willing to fake helplessness and incomprehension.
He bowed deeply to his parents. "Until Loki gives me reason to believe he is performing a trick, I can only assume it is the truth. Just please, give me a few days more. Can you give me that time?"
Odin sighed heavily, but then he inclined his head. "Care for your brother then, Thor. It is your compassion which helps to make you a good King."
"Will you come to see him?" Thor asked, trying not to sound like he was begging. They would be able to confirm the truth or fakery with their own eyes that way.
"Later." Frigga responded, and gave Thor a slight smile. "Once court is concluded, perhaps we will come then."
Thor nodded and, with nothing else to say, departed their company to grab food for Loki and then return to the younger's room with it.
Thor entered Loki's room to find him curled up in a tight ball on his canopy bed. Uncertain whether he was asleep or not, Thor moved as quietly as he could to put down the tray of food on what had once been Loki's worktable and then stepped over to the bed.
Loki's eyes were open, his face tear-stained. He shifted his gaze when Thor approached and relief came over his expression.
"You are here." He said, pushing himself into a sit. "You came back."
Thor furrowed his brow and moved to sit beside him. "Of course I came back, Loki. I said I was going to speak to our parents and then bring you food, which I have done."
Loki showed confusion before he mimicked Thor's expression and frowned. "Oh....yes, you did say that." He smiled in embarrassment and brought his hands up to rub his eyes with his palms.
Thor licked his lips and stared at Loki worryingly. Had his exile truly made him so simple, or was this really an elaborate ruse as Frigga surmised? Noticing something, Thor's gaze shifted to look at Loki's neck. The choker which kept Loki's magic locked away caught the light dully, but Thor was more interested in the red marks around it.
"Was the choker bothering you, Loki?" Thor asked slowly.
Loki blinked at him, then slowly brought a hand up to his neck. "Don't like it." He said. "Itches, burns, hurts." He looked up at Thor, his expression imploring. "Take it off?"
Thor frowned. As the King of Asgard, he had the key to unlock it. However, he was left wondering if he should. Like this, Loki was all but harmless, or at least couldn't cause nearly as much mischief, presuming that his odd behavior was an act. That aside, if it wasn't a trick and Loki really was this bad off, would his magic cause problems for him? With all he had forgotten, what if he hurt himself?
"I'll have to think about it." Thor responded at length. He'd have to talk to Frigga after she would come to see Loki about the problems his magic might cause him.
Loki dropped his gaze, fingers curling loosely over the choker. "Please?" He intoned softly. "Hate it."
"I'm sure you do Loki, but it's not that simple. Releasing your magic is something that needs to be carefully considered, and there are many of Asgard who are upset enough that you're even here. I have to take into account what the people want, too."
"Why?" Loki blinked at him.
".....I am King, Loki."
"King?" Loki stared for several moments before he gave an open-mouthed smile that was quite unlike his old expressions. "Are you a good King?"
Thor smiled a bit back, trying not to look uncomfortable at Loki's strangeness. "The Nine Realms haven't fallen yet, so I would like to think so."
Loki brought up a hand to pat Thor's cheek. "Keep it up."
Thor laughed softly, though his eyes were sad. "I'll do my best." He moved to stand up. "Come brother, you should eat. I've brought plenty of food for you."
Loki nodded and followed the older over to the table, though he wouldn't sit until Thor did, and he refused to touch the food until Thor handed him a loaf of bread and told him to eat it.
Thor watched Loki as he ate in silent concern. The younger had also lost his table manners and ate in the way he had so oft in the past scorned Thor for doing. Surely this was no trick. Loki would never degrade himself to such a level. No, Thor was becoming more and more convinced that, distressing as this was, it was the truth.
Once Loki had gotten started, he didn't stop eating again until he'd cleaned up every last scrap and even snapped the bones in half to get at the cooked marrow inside. With the plate seeming almost clean enough to eat off yet a second time, Loki finally sat back and patted his midsection contently. "Full."
"Are you certain, brother?" Thor asked in all seriousness. "I could fetch more for you if you wished."
"Kings don't fetch." Loki licked his fingers. "Full." He repeated and smiled at Thor in what seemed to be child-like happiness. "Good food."
Thor looked back at him mournfully for a couple of moments before he stood, stepping around the table to Loki's side. With a groan of emotional pain, he sank to a kneel at Loki's side, reaching out to hug him and bury his face in his torso.
"Forgive me, Loki." He whispered, voice choked. "I didn't know you would be like this, I couldn't have known! If I had I would have brought you back sooner in spite of it all, I swear I would have!"
Loki didn't respond, his body tense in Thor's embrace. Slowly though, Thor felt Loki relax again and then fingers were lightly running though his hair.
"Don't lie to me." Loki spoke softly in a tone that was far more familiar. "I'm the liar, not you."
Thor's head came up in surprise, half-expecting the ruse to finally be over, only to find that though the voice and words were more of the old Loki, his facial expressions still weren't matching up. Loki looked back at Thor with an expression of tired sadness and he moved his hand to stroke Thor's beard, his thumb catching and wiping away an errant tear that escaped Thor's eye.
"Kings don't cry." He chided gently.
"Kings may cry if they choose to." Thor responded, trying to keep his voice from wavering too much. If Loki was going to reveal a trick, now would have been the time to do it with Thor kneeling at his side. That there seemed to be no trick washed away the last of his doubts. This was the truth, and Loki was broken.
The tableau was shattered abruptly when there was a firm knocking at the door, Thor quickly rose to his feet and wiped at his eyes before he called for the knocker to enter.
The door opened and Frigga stepped in with Odin behind her. She began to smile when her eyes settled upon her sons, but then she paused and the smile became a worried frown. Odin too stopped beside his wife, brow furrowed. Thor at first didn't know what the problem was until a strangled noise from behind him prompted him to turn and look at Loki, who was staring at them in abject terror. As if Thor's turning was some kind of cue, he abruptly launched himself out of the chair with enough force to send it flipping over several times. He bolted for the far corner, and as they watched in perplexed concern, he stuffed himself tightly into it facing the wall, covering his face with both hands.
"No no no, please, no no no!" He crouched in the corner as if trying to hide. "I'm good. I'm good. Please, no. Please, no....oh please....I'll be good."
Thor approached slowly and crouched down by him, feeling almost like he was approaching an injured and half-feral animal. "Loki, what is it?" He reached out to put a hand to a trembling shoulder.
"Don't want to go back. Please. I'm good now, I'm good. I'm sorry, I'm good!"
"......Go back? Loki, no. You're here on Asgard, and....unless you give me good reason, I'm not going to banish you. You're safe. I promise you're safe. No one is going to hurt you. I won't let them."
Loki lifted his head, face tear streaked and expression fearful. "Promise safe...." He looked back at their parents and then shrank back against the wall. "Not safe."
"You are safe." Thor insisted. "I am King, and my word is law in Asgard. If I say you are safe, then you are safe."
"......Don't lie to me." Loki gave a half-hearted glare that made Thor smile slightly in spite of himself in joy for a more familiar expression in spite of the words.
"You're safe." Thor repeated afterward. "Mother and Father are here to see you, not hurt you. I promise, Loki. I swear you are safe here."
"Mayhaps it is too soon." Frigga suggested quietly, looking pained, though not as pained as Odin seemed to be. "We should depart, and try again another day when he is perhaps more rational."
"Mother!" The cry was plaintive, and Frigga turned back to see Loki reaching out a hand to her. Though he was long grown and hadn't needed her for centuries beforehand, he was as ever her son and she could not ignore his plea. Looking apologetically to her husband, she then lifted her skirts and hurried to Loki's side.
Thor moved hastily aside as they reached for one another and looked on as they clung to one another tightly. He looked to Odin, who slowly inclined his head to Thor. "I understand his fear, my son." He intoned softly. "I was the King who banished him, and in his state perhaps he does not remember what he did to deserve it. I do not seek his forgiveness. It is enough that he has you, and his mother. I know you will care for him, Thor. I will hold your throne in trust until you can return to it."
"Thank you, Allfather." Thor replied, and stood to see him out, exchanging a quick hug before closing the door and turning back to Frigga and Loki. In spite of Odin's words, he knew he couldn't neglect the throne for long, having only had it for fifty one years--a paltry time. The denizens of Asgard wouldn't forgive their young King for neglecting the throne when he was doing so for the traitor who had nearly brought Ragnarok down upon their heads. Yet what was he to do? There were questions piling up without answers in sight and he moved to a chair to sit wearily upon it and put his head in his hands. Ruling Asgard was easy compared to this.