Captain America posed in various states of undress for several months in each calendar, and each of those months you had simply covered in hearts. Cute little pink marker hearts, revealing an adoration he hadn't realized you had.
No, he'd had some idea of it, he simply hadn't allowed himself to accept it. He had deluded himself again, let himself believe that it was mere admiration for what the Captain stood for that you felt. But in the short discussion that you'd shared about him, you had spoken of him more highly, more positively than Loki had ever heard you speak about any other man, and you always seemed eager and excited for your little weekly check-ins.
Had you been flirting with him, during those secret meetings? Had he flirted back?
Loki's hands trembled. He could tear the calendar to bits right now, toss it in the fire, erase the whole thing. But what good would it do? Depriving you of these pictures would not remove your feelings. And your Tara would almost certainly ask if you had received everything she had sent.
Clever little wretch; he had the feeling that she'd had him dead to rights without even meeting him.
There was a little note within one of the hearts. “Doctor's appt today; 3:30” it said. And three days later, “No results.”
This was from eight months ago. You would have been deep within your mysterious illness, when you were still trying to figure out what was wrong. He flipped a few months earlier.
“Doctor's appt today; 12:00.”
“Doctor's appt today; 9:45”
“Doctor's appt today; 4:15”
“Still feeling sick. Set up Doctor's appt.”
“Sick today. Stayed home. Deduct from paycheck.”
“Felt sick today. Get medicine.”
“Something happened today.”
Any further back from that was merely noting when your payday was, or when you had a vacation planned, or when you were going to meet your father for dinner. “Something happened today”, was such a neutral, vague way to describe the moment your life had irreversibly changed. The day you took a god by the hand, and was bound to him, in body, and if the dreams were an indication, in soul perhaps as well.
“Something happened today”. Such a simple way to preface six months of suffering, a build up to your emancipation from an old life that did not suit you, to a new one where you would be adored and glorified.
“Something happened today.”
You'd been within murdering distance of a god who had killed perhaps hundreds of your kind, your hand burned, and you'd been banned from the tower, and that was how you had described it.
You really were something else.
He loved it.
But all these hearts, they was distressing. Every protest he could come up with for why Steve Rogers was entirely unsuitable for you was countered by his own existence.
Steve was technically an old man, old enough to be your grandfather, easily.
And Loki was old enough to have played tricks on your ancestors.
Captain America, as a member of the Avengers and a proclaimed hero, had many terrible enemies. He was not safe to be around.
Loki had enemies all across space. An immortal madman, an entire planet full of giants, whatever might still exist of the Svartalfari, many of the denizens of Earth, and even members of his own people. He was far more dangerous to be around.
The Captain had seen war. Horrors beyond reckoning. Death, and gore, and pain. Hopelessness and despair. He would be broken inside.
Loki could only wish to have gotten off as easily as he. If Steve Rogers was broken, Loki was shattered into dust. There was no reason you should chose Loki over him, with only those reasons to go by.
What about other reasons, though? What did the good Captain have that he did not? Strength? Power? Loki far outstripped him in both. Loki had bested him in battle once, but he doubted doing so again would impress you in any positive manner.
Was it nobility? Loki had him beat there too: he was true nobility, by birth and by upbringing. Steve Rogers had allegedly come from common, impoverished stock...just like you. Perhaps that had something to do with it, that shared origin.
Steve Rogers had probably never committed a crime against humanity, so that was something that he had on Loki. But he had killed other humans, and who knew how many? He was a soldier, he would know when it was and wasn't necessary. Maybe you felt the same. When the Captain did it, it was necessary. When Loki did it, it was flagrant and cruel.
They were weirdly similar in many ways. Perhaps it wasn't the deeds that mattered to you, so much as the reasons. The intentions.
How could he earn those hearts? Precious pink hearts to warm the winter month called November?
He glared at the picture. The hearts got wobbly partway through the month, before ceasing entirely. You must have been drawing them in with weak and trembling hands all the way up until you were forced to stop. Because Loki had kidnapped you.
There were even a few drawn on the photo itself, where Steve Rogers sat cross-legged on an American flag backdrop, barefoot and bare chested, a basket of puppies cradled in his thick, glistening arms.
Was that it?
The softness? The vulnerability? The gentleness and care shown to creatures so much weaker? Knowing that he had power, but also knowing that he was safe to be with?
But Loki was already doing that for you. He was doing all of that. He wanted to do that. If those were the things you desired...he was already well on his way.
He could outdo Steve Rogers in everything. When the man showed up for his brother's silly party, he could observe, watch his ways, possibly even grill him for information; learn his flaws and weaknesses, and avoid being those things. Learn his strengths, his admirable qualities, and become better at them than him. In fact, if he could get on civil terms with the man, that might impress you even more, and he could gather even more information that way. The Captain was going to have to get used to him being here, just like all the rest of them, after all.
Meanwhile, he would show you every courtesy. If his power and prestige made you uncomfortable, he would have to show off his other qualities; the other things he could do that would impress you without frightening you. That must be the key!
You had shown him some of the things you valued, over these past few months. Innovation, frugality, compassion. Your love of animals and plants, your excitement over the possibility of being involved in conservation efforts, when he had held you by the sea, and become captivated by your lips for a brief moment.
Conservation and compassion...
He had an idea.
“So, what King Bor was saying in this speech is that he demanded the immediate abolishing of slavery on Asgard, not because it was wrong, but because he was afraid the Asgardians were becoming weak and complacent by having other people do all the work?”
“Got it in one.” Saga said. “And he wasn't exactly wrong either. Certain professions had become slave-dominated, whole industries without a single Asgardian hand involved.”
“That's pretty damn awful.” You said. “Why couldn't it have been because they were people?”
“Because the noble classes would have never accepted it.” Saga griped. “You ever tried to get a powerful person to willingly give up even a tiny fraction of their power? It happens on this world too, and it causes whole wars.”
“You're right.” You said, closing the folder and setting it on the table, next to a lead tablet stamped with pictographs so fine, they could only be seen under direct light. “There are people out there who treat all other life as change in their pockets. People so powerfully rich, it's almost impossible for someone like me to grasp.”
“You grasp the Prince.” One of the ladies cut in.
“I most certainly do not!” You protested.
“She means that you seem to understand him.” Saga said. “At least, she'd better mean that, or she will have interrupted both her work, and mine, and yours, for a snarky comment that doesn't do anything except waste time. Come on Lofn, you're better than that.”
“Not snark.” The other lady said. “Statement.”
You'd noticed that most of the other ladies stopped what they were doing when Lofn spoke, and looked at you. You weren't sure why it was so uncomfortable being the center of attention right now-possibly because they were all Aesir, or strangers, or because of their relation to Loki, or because he wasn't here, and you were alone in a very small room, with a bunch of women who were all better than you in every conceivable way...
And it wasn't like you could leave. You could spin your wheels well enough, but that heavy, wooden door would certainly provide an obstacle.
“I see you two. It is okay. I acknowledge.” Lofn said, a cryptic little smile curving her lips. The other ladies went back to their business, some of them also smiling.
“Lofn...” Saga groaned. “You are being Like That again.”
“I see what I see. If she does not, then give time.”
Saga huffed. “She's here to learn basic Asgardian law, not mystic hoodly-hoo.”
Lofn shrugged. “I leave hoodly to Loki, then.”
You opened your mouth to say something, when Andsvarr burst loudly into the room.
“I bring you lunch, my Seidkona! His Highness regrets that he could not deliver it himself, but some urgent business has demanded his attention. He got some of your favorites though.” He set the tray on the table in front of you with a flourish.
“Nope!” Saga proclaimed. “No food or drink in the conservatory! If it's lunchtime, then take it elsewhere, but it can't stay here!”
“Oh! Sorry, I didn't realize.” Andsvarr snatched the tray back up, looking around the small library, mystified. His gaze landed on a slab of stone in a sturdy, special case, its rough face scattered with faded, monochrome paintings of beasts and concepts you didn't recognize.
“Is...is that Ymir's Dreamscape?” He asked, awed. “You saved it?”
“The rest of the archivists and I smuggled out as much as we could.” Saga said sadly. “But we just couldn't get it all.”
“It looks as though you knew what was most important.” Andsvarr pointed at the stone.” That is the first known instance of art in the whole galaxy.” He told you. “It is almost eleven billion years old.”
You stopped breathing.
“Yeah, let's have lunch somewhere else.” You squeaked. The ladies tittered with amusement as Andsvarr handed you the tray and wheeled you out into the main library.
“Why did they even let me in there?” You gasped. “I'm just a huge humidity factory! I could have destroyed something!”
“Don't worry so much. Saga knows what she's doing.” Andsvarr assured you. “And those cases they are in are nearly indestructible. You could throw this chair at one, and it would bounce off.”
He brought you back to your room, pausing in the short hallway for a moment to comment that he thought Loki might be back from his emergency errand, then parked you in front of your desk and left to go check.
You briefly wondered what would happen if it wasn't Loki, but an intruder. Andsvarr would probably have to try and arrest them, or run them out, or even fight them. What was the protocol for that?
You set your tray of food on the desk, and dug in to the skyr, gazing out the window at the flowers outside. There was a fairly wide space around the complex that was untouched by construction. You didn't know if it would remain a native landscape, or if it was destined to be planted over as a garden, but it was lovely to look at right now.
Just as you were finishing your skyr, Loki entered your room after a light knock, carrying a large box.
“How are you feeling, darling?” He asked, sounding somewhat subdued. “Did Saga treat you well?”
“Oh yeah, she was really informative. I think one of the ladies was making fun of me though. I think her name was Lofn?”
Loki frowned. “Odd. That doesn't sound like her at all. I'll look into it.”
You probably shouldn't be snitching while Loki seemed like he was in a mood. What had gotten into him?
You knew something that might cheer him up a bit though. You placed the cup back on the tray.
“Maybe I just thought that because I'm so tired.” You said, feigning exhaustion. “There was so much to learn, and my head aches. I don't think I can walk right now. Can you help me?”
When you opened your eyes again to look at him, he was staring at you with a confused expression.
Oh right, he could tell when people were lying.
But he set the box down on your desk, and gently lifted you from your chair anyway, sitting with you on your bed and dutifully feeding you the rest of your meal. You knew he seemed to really enjoy being needed, and you couldn't deny the tiny electric feeling every time his fingers brushed your lips.
The tenderness of his actions and intensity of his gaze were hypnotic, and for a short time, you let yourself fall under the spell. Life had been far too eventful lately; and these slow, peaceful moments were gaining in value.
He spoke very little while feeding you, only to ask if you wanted more or not, reluctant to let the moment end. But your curiosity got the better of you eventually.
“What's with the box?” You asked.
“Oh, this is for you.” He said, whisking the food away, and plunking the box down on your lap. “It is from your friend, Tara.”
“And she sent it conveniently already opened, I see.” You said, a frost of sarcasm on your voice. Just a minute ago, you had been thrilled by the merest graze of his fingers; now, you were annoyed by how far he had been shoving his hands into your business.
“I had to check for possible dangers.” He said imperiously.
“From Tara? Come on, we've known each other since grade school.”
“Another school?” He asked. “There was no guarantee that it was truly her who sent it. And if she did, it could have been intercepted and tampered with.”
“And you don't call this tampering?” You gestured at the cut tape.
“There has already been an attempt on your life!” He exclaimed.
You crossed your arms with a huff. Sure, he was right about that, but he could have at least asked.
“Is everything still in there?”
He pressed his lips into a thin line. “No.”
“There were some foodstuffs, and I sent them to the healing wing to get them checked for poison. If they prove safe, I'll give them back.”
“This is ridiculous!” You snapped.
“Your safety is paramount.” He cupped the side of your head, light as a ghost. “Look at what my negligence has already wrought.”
You knew you shouldn't give up on being angry so easily, and a little knot of resentment did still remain, but his point did dampen your irritation. Of course he felt guilty about all of this.
“Look that's touching and all,” You said placing your hand over his. He froze in place. “But you understand that, if you keep treating me like a prisoner or a criminal, we aren't really going to be able to gel like we should. If I'm gonna be a...magic politician, or advisor or whatever, I mean. You understand, right?”
“I...” He faltered, appearing to debate himself for a moment. Did anybody else ever see him like this? It was so different from the way people described him: not cagey, not guarded, not in perfect control.
“It's more than that.” He finally said. “It's more than just the social importance of your position, and it's more than the responsibility I feel towards you as a ward of the state, and it's far more than just owing you for all the upheaval I have caused in your life. I just...I genuinely do not wish to see you hurt, and it is frightening to realize how easy it is to hurt you. To realize that you are in more danger than I initially thought and that I might not be enough to protect you.”
“And I get that.” You said, stroking his hand. He remained frozen, but shivered just a bit. Poor guy must be really eaten up about your injury. “Things have been more...adventurous for me than they have been for my whole life, and none of it has been a walk in the park for me either. But I can tell you right now, trying to protect me from everything will not work. There will always be something that can break through your defenses, no matter how good they are.
Even before we met, it wasn't like I was completely safe all the time, you know? I mean, there were genocidal aliens that threw my whole universe into turmoil. And even without that, without any extraterrestrial interference, there was still a level of...I guess you could call it normal danger? Like, there was always a possibility I would get into a car accident, or fall down wrong, or catch a deadly disease, or be bitten by a snake, or accidentally poisoned, or electrocuted, or-”
Loki was looking exceptionally pale.
“-Well, you get the picture. There's a million ways a person can get hurt, and there's no real way to prevent all of it without pretty much killing me. Like, locking me away might protect my body, but it would kill my spirit. So there's a level of protection that's fine, and probably a good idea, but if you go overboard, you can easily cause more harm than good.”
“I see...” He said anxiously. “Perhaps it would ease you ire to go through your things?”
He seemed reluctant to remove his hand, but you couldn't reach the box with his arm in the way so you pushed his hand away, a little reluctant yourself.
“Now, there is this strange plush creature...”He lifted it from the box.
“Oh, that's my Bulbasaur!” You cried in delight, snatching it from his hands and cradling it in your arms. “What? Yeah, I know it's silly, but I've had this little guy since I was a kid, and he's the perfect size for cuddling.”
“Is...Is that supposed to be a real animal?” He asked in confusion. “Is that something that could actually be encountered?”
“Oh, no way. This is a fantasy animal. It's too bad; I'd love a real Bulbasaur.”
“And this blanket...”
“Nanna Beth made that! I need to send Tara a present after this. Okay that should probably go over the chair, so I can wrap up in it when I'm working, or something.”
Loki draped the blanket over the back of your desk chair; its familiar pattern bringing a real taste of home to the room.
He proudly presented you with the clothes and cheap jewels Tara had sent, placing them in the dresser, and promising to have a jewelry box brought for you. Your books went on your desk, and the music USB went straight into your phone. Then there were all your papers; important identifications, milestones, memories. You had to explain to Loki what high school was, which brought up concerns about Asgardian public education. It existed and was supposedly top quality, but the population of children was currently very low, and most were in apprenticeship right now, while the schools were under construction.
You briefly brought up the idea of adoption, but it made Loki very twitchy. You dropped the subject and he went back to presenting you with your things.
Phil 2 absolutely thrilled you. Such a healthy leaf meant that Original Phil was being well taken care of.
“I'm gonna need a huge pot for this!” You gushed in excitement. “This thing is gonna get really big! Tall as me, easily!”
At the bottom of the box were your calendars. It gave you a good laugh to see them, and Loki's grumbled response just added to your amusement. He desperately tried to prevent you from looking in the new one, and you eventually agreed not to...until he had left. He hung this years calendar up on the wall, flipping to the current month-Banner, in an open lab coat and possibly nothing else-grumbling even more.
“He's not even that handsome!” He huffed.
“He's got a big brain, sometimes that's enough.”
“For a pin-up calendar? Isn't that all about looks?”
You shrugged. “Heroism is sexy.”
Loki harrumphed, cheeks reddening. Considering all the media speculation about him, it was rather unexpected and actually quite endearing to find out how shy and easily scandalized he could be.
Eventually he sat back down next to you.
“Buridag will be in a few months. There will be city-wide celebrations, and we will be building a courthouse, everyone participating, as per your suggestion. We will be allowing the camps into the city, so they might participate as well.”
“Oh wow! That'll be so exciting! I hope I can see Sofie again.”
“You might. This will also be when we will formally announce your appointment to Royal Seidkona. It's important for you to be aware that this will make you royalty yourself.”
“It's a formal title. You won't be a princess or anything like that, but you need an elevated title to be able to properly perform your duties. The Buridag festival will double as a formal titling ceremony. Now, I do not expect anyone to take a shot at you in public like that, but just in case, I am having armor altered to fit you. Hold on.”
He hustled out of your room and back with a handful of papers.
“This is what Andsvarr has donated.” He showed you a drawing. “They will fit you well with a little work, and should protect you from most dangers. And this is something I have designed for your head.”
He handed you another drawing. You'd had no idea before this that he could draw at all.
“Loki...Is this a flower crown?”
“Yes. I thought it appropriate, since you seem to like plants. But this will be nornbein and steel, rather than petals and leaves.”
It was a beautiful design. Loki had incorporated several different kinds of blossoms, their petals spread wide to cover as much of your head as possible, the golden nornbein and silvery steel contrasting to give the flowers color. The skullcap and cheek guards were patterned like ferns, and he couldn't help but to add a few jewels here and there, probably very hard and durable ones.
Loki was going to make you into royalty, and he was going to give you a crown.
Wasn't that a dream come true? Why was it so frightening?
“I really don't deserve-”You began, but he cut you off by placing his hand to your cheek again, and leaning in close.
“Please, won't you let me be the judge of that?” He asked softly. “Trust that I know to whom I wish to distribute my gifts and favors.”
“O-okay.” You whispered.
He leaned away, and begin describing a Seidkona's duties to you again, going over things you'd already heard. All you could think about was that, for a moment, it almost seemed again like he was going to kiss you.
For a moment, you were disappointed that he didn't.