Actions

Work Header

Lasabrjotr

Chapter Text

New York, New York. Home of…everything, if the brochures could be believed. You’d never been before, being a poor shlub from nowheresville, Iowa, but your best friend was rich enough to travel, and she dragged you everywhere.

“If I’m gonna be a successful sugar mama, I’ve gotta practice!” She teased. “So let me practice spoiling you! Be my sugar baby, without benefits!” You would always laugh, and just let her do whatever she wanted. Now she had dragged you all the way to this big, loud, full city, determined to show you all the sights. And that suited you just fine.

One of those sights was the newly reacquired and refurbished Avengers Tower. It was still a popular tourist destination, and it was also your first stop.

“I know how much you love those guys.” Tara had told you. “We’ll score you some merch, and if we’re lucky, maybe we can spot one of them.” You certainly hoped so. You needed to speak to one of them, any one would do. You just needed to know why your best friend was still alive, when you had seen her crumble to dust before your eyes.

You weren’t crazy. You knew you weren’t, though you had doubted yourself for some time. You remembered people dying by the billions, all across the world. In your own little corner of the planet, your father, Tara, your boss, and so many coworkers and friends had just disappeared, blown away on the wind. Most of your small town was simply gone. It hadn’t ended there either. With so many people gone, the world’s infrastructure began to collapse. There weren’t enough people left to do all the things that needed to be done. Not enough doctors, nurses, or caretakers. Not enough people to distribute essential supplies, like medicine, or food. Not enough people to keep power, gas, or water up and running. Parents had disappeared, leaving behind far too many helpless children, some of which had not been found in time. Half the world had died, and the other half started following them. It was chaos. It was the end.

And then it had never happened.

All that suffering, and no one you knew seemed to remember a thing about it. For a time, you’d thought you were losing it. But you’d found hidden communities on the internet, full of people like you, people who remembered. No one really knew what caused it in the first place, or what caused it to revert, but these people, only a few hundred out of the seven billion the Earth boasted, they remembered. They proved you weren’t crazy.

So you knew it had happened, you and all of them. You knew it had been real. What none of you knew, however, was any details other than that. There were dozens of theories, maybe hundreds, but no concrete answers. You were of the crowd who believed the Avengers had something to do with it. It seemed like wherever disaster struck, they were there, at least trying to help. You knew it was a long shot, but you had to believe they would help you as well.

As tours went, it wasn’t bad. If you hadn’t been so busy keeping a lookout for world famous faces, you would have found it pretty interesting. But you’d spent so much time trying to memorize everything you could about every Avengers' appearance, so that you wouldn’t miss one if you managed to spot them…

There! Two men, walking fast, one very big, one not as much. You allowed the tour to leave you behind while you observed as closely as you could. Yes, you recognized the big one. Most of the pictures of him showed long hair, but the features were the same. You’d found one. And on your first try too!

The other man felt familiar somehow, but you couldn’t quite place it in your excitement that the mighty Thor, a hero and a god, was right there in your view. Perhaps this man was a bodyguard? He was impeccably dressed in black, and more black, and looked as if he could be quite intimidating. No, that was a laughable thought. Why would a legendary god-king need a bodyguard? More likely this was an agent, or a handler, someone to help the otherworldly being through human protocol and customs. You would likely have to go through him in order to ask your questions.

You approached carefully, trying not to be spotted. They seemed to be in a hurry, discussing something between them in a language you didn’t know. When the tour was far enough away, you spoke up.

“Um. Excuse me.” The words came out tiny and weak, your excitement and apprehension stealing your voice. You cleared your throat. Neither man showed any signs of acknowledging you.

“Hey. Hello there. Pardon me!” You tried again. “May I speak with your boss?” Nothing. Either they didn’t hear you, didn’t understand you, or didn’t realize that you were talking to them.

They were approaching an elevator. You would never be allowed in there with them, security would kick you right out onto the street. It was now or possibly never. Desperate, you dashed up to the man in black, and grabbed him by the hand.

You only meant to get his attention. Just to stop them long enough to find your voice. But the instant your palm pressed to his a shock went through you and froze you in place. He stopped abruptly as well, turning to stare at you with surprise and distaste. Light flashed between your palms, followed by instant, searing pain. Lines of light slashed up your arms, unfamiliar, burning letters. All the while you tried desperately to let go, to get away, and it seemed he was trying as well, the both of you rooted to the spot.

Finally, Thor noticed, and he rushed back to the two of you.

“What is this, what are you doing?” He demanded.

“It’s not me!” The man spat out, runes burning up his neck and across his cheek.

“Well then let go!”

“I’m…trying!”

The light had reached his right eye, and from the dimming of sight in your own left eye, the same thing must have been happening to you. A powerful buzzing followed the pain, threatening to rob you of all your senses. You started to fall when Thor grabbed you both by the wrists, and forcibly separated you.

The man in black staggered, while you collapsed. You though you saw a knife in his hand, thought you heard Tara shouting, but the buzzing, and then darkness, overwhelmed everything.

Chapter Text

 

 

Loki awoke in a feverish haze.  That dream again. Again! For the past six months it had filled his sleeping hours, more and more often. It came every night now, and robbed him of rest. It wasn’t an unpleasant dream exactly, but it was accompanied by growing weakness. He was sickly now, and people were starting to notice.

Especially his brother, who shot him a concerned look when he stumbled into their hastily set up council chambers, sheen of sweat shining in the electric lights.

 He took his usual seat at Thor’s side, determined to be present, even though his head was swimming. Luckily the meeting was mostly discussion about delays of the next shipment of building supplies, due to their makeshift Bifrost’s continued inaccuracy issues. The thing worked, but just barely. It could only be used a few times a day, and tended to drop things anywhere from thirty to two hundred yards from their intended target. With the large, natural fen near the construction grounds; that inaccuracy was a potential problem. They’d already lost some supplies to the mire, they really couldn’t afford anymore.

The government of Iceland, and its people had been blessedly welcoming of their refugee nation; however, there was only so much aid they could give. The people of Asgard survived as they could, offering their knowledge and skills in exchange for the odd paper currency of this world. It was slow going; an entire year and they’d only gotten a few buildings up and finished. The creation of the makeshift Bifrost had been cause for celebration, but it simply was not effective enough. Their engineers were working on it every second that they weren’t needed elsewhere, but the old one had been completed eons ago, and none who worked on it still lived. The younger generations knew how it was supposed to work; they’d just never had the experience of actually building one.

The discussion turned to lists of necessary supplies, price lists and available funds. Loki drifted in and out, his mind sliding between the mystery of his dreams, and the thing that lingered on his hand. He still didn’t know what to make of it. Certainly, it was magical in nature, but he had no idea from where it sprang. That woman from the tower…of course it came from you, but the whys and hows eluded him. He had been assured firmly that it was not intentional, and once security arrived, there were no more chances to ask. You were whisked away, and he had been ‘encouraged’ to return home.

Yet half a year later, and he still remembered the face of a woman he’d spent less than a minute with. You were in his dream.

The meeting ended without him noticing, the people shuffling out of the room and back to their work. He had work to do today. He had work…

A heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

“Brother, are you…ill?” Thor asked, expression full of concern. Loki looked up into his face, reading it as confusion.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He said. “We don’t fall ill. I simply didn’t get enough rest.”

Thor sat back down next to him. “You’ve been having this problem for some time now.  Something has to be done.  We need you, Loki, and you’re not here. Is it the dreams?”

“What do you know of-“ He began.

“You mentioned it some months ago.” Thor interrupted. “A recurring dream you were having, but you gave no details. So you’re still having them? Dreams mean things to people like us. Tell me, perhaps we can come up with a solution.”

He didn’t want to.  Dreams were private things, and this one might be construed as a little embarrassing. But galling as it was, Thor was correct. Something had to be done. He was wasting slowly away, and it had to stop. He didn’t have to give every little detail, after all.

“Do you remember, some months ago, the incident in the tower?”

“With that girl? Did you ever figure out what happened?”

Loki shook his head. “If we still had our libraries, perhaps I could find something. But I have not been able to locate another single such incident happening in the history of this realm. It was magic, but other than that, I do not yet know anything else about it. But I see her in my dream. She is… in danger. “

It wasn’t a clear danger, just a nebulous darkness that tried to drag you in. In the way of dreams though, he knew it was dangerous, and so, he would reach out to you…

“I save her from it, but it follows her. I keep her close and safe.”

The darkness could not be dispersed, not by magic or force. It wanted to devour you. He’d once let it do so, and he’d been drained so badly when he awoke, he hadn’t been able to rise from his bed for hours. That was when he realized that the dream was connected to his health, somehow. After that, he made sure to always save you, and even began to enjoy it a little. Playing hero to a helpless little thing made him feel powerful, and the way you pressed against him in appreciation and fear, as if he were the only thing in all the realms strong enough to protect you, gave a welcome stroke to his confidence. He didn’t really want the dreams to stop. They were self-indulgent and somewhat pleasant, but if they were indeed related to his declining health, he had to put an end to them.

But in the dream, you had…

“She has a mark on her hand. Like mine.”

“Didn’t that heal?” Thor asked.

Loki rolled his eyes and held out his right hand. The illusion he held over it dissipated, revealing an odd, rectangular shape, and a collection of circles with pitchfork finials on each line, all burned into his palm.

“I didn’t want any awkward questions.” He explained. “And it hasn’t flared up again since that day in the tower. But it did not heal either, and I have found out what it is, if not why it’s here. The people here call it galdrastafur. Midgardian attempts at our magic, but nowhere near as effective, of course. This one is a little spell about locks.”

“Effective enough, if you can’t make it heal. Do you think she still bears this mark as well?”

Loki shrugged. “In the dreams she does, but in life? Who knows? Nothing has happened since then, except for those dreams. Which have been making me ill, in the way of a human…damn. I’ve been too burned out to make the connection.”

“Do you think these marks may be connecting you? Do you think you are sick, because she is?”

“If I am ill because of this, she may very well be dying.” He stood. “If she dies, we never find out what this is, or what caused it.” If you died, there might be no more pleasant dreams.

His brother stood with him. “If she dies, who knows what might happen to you? So. We find her?”

“We find her.”

“Very well. Though, I thought you didn’t care much for humanity.” Thor teased.

“I don’t. But we live on their land now. And besides, my reputation is fragile. If this woman dies, and it is pinned on me, her entire belligerent country may decide to take it out on us.”

Thor nodded.  “I will speak with Stark on the morrow.” Noticing his brother’s sour expression, he added, “He owns the tower, and his security will at least help us narrow down who we are looking for.”

“I know what she looks like.” Loki protested.

“But not where she lives, or what her name is, nor anything else about her, save some nebulous feeling of danger.  Stark may be able to provide us all of those things. Now you…” He steered Loki towards the door. “You are to take what I believe is referred to as a ‘sick day’.  Get something to eat, have a bath, and most importantly, rest. Rest as much as you can.”

Loki went along with it with only a cursory protest; a testament to how out of sorts he really felt.

The kitchen was always open, and stocked with simple, easy to eat staples. With so many workers and sentries about at all times of the day, it was a necessity. Loki grabbed a small bunch of grapes out of the fruit bowl, and headed back to his rooms, eating them along the way.

He knocked on the door to the guard room, just inside his suite and informed the live-in guard-a young man from a prominent Asgardian family-that he was retiring early. The young man took up his post instantly. He was decent at his job, even if he wasn’t strictly necessary.

Once the grapes were gone, he decided a bath really did sound very nice. He started the water running and grabbed a book to read while he waited.

There had been a lot of debate on how to go about building their nation. Thor hadn’t really wanted to burden the people any further with providing excess luxury just for himself and Loki. He’d gotten used to living in cramped quarters and dressing like a peasant in his time on Midgard.

Loki however, knew that it was important to put on a good show, not only of power, but of capability. Midgard could be an exceptionally savage place, and people who were perceived as having less, were all too often perceived as being less. There were nations here who would love nothing more than to use them until they were empty, take everything that they were, erase their claim to their own selves, and then discard them like so much garbage. There were more who would hold every Asgardian man, woman, and child responsible for the things he had done, and wish to punish them in his place. They had to show their greatness from the first step. For their own protection.

So there would be no golden palace. That was fine. But no one would say that Asgard was lesser. No one would be allowed to take advantage. Asgardian ingenuity, capability, and power would be shown to the world. They would be envied. They would be emulated. They would be coveted. But they would never be up for grabs. In the end, he and Thor had compromised.

This was why Loki got to have his large, sunken bath, but had to fill it himself. There weren’t really any royal servants anymore. Truthfully, neither brother really needed them. There were maids, and cooks, and sentries, and janitors of course, but aside from a few guards, there was nobody specifically to attend just to them. In their short years away from home, they’d both grown much more self-sufficient.

How much could happen in just a few years. It seemed no more than a blink of an eye, and suddenly everything was different.  Loki set his book aside, discarded his clothing, turned off the water, and slid into the bath. The hot water felt delightful, easing the ache of muscles that were sore for no real reason.

Why was that happening? What was causing it, this strange and detrimental connection to you in dreams? He raised his right hand out of the water and examined the mark once more. It hadn’t lit up since that meeting in the tower, but nothing he did made it fade. It couldn’t really have been you that caused it, no mortal could possess magic so strong that he could not undo it. That meant it had to have been him. Somehow. It was always him.

Loki sunk down to the neck in hot water. There was planning to do now. They had to find you, first of all. Bring you here to study what had happened. Erase it if they could. Find a way to deal with it, if they could not. He very much doubted that he would die from this thing, even if you did, but it would still likely be very uncomfortable, and not the desirable outcome. You would need a place to stay, certain basic amenities. It might be a few days, or it might be the rest of your natural lifespan. Either way, it wouldn’t be all that long from his perspective.

He stayed until the water began to chill, then drained it, toweled off, grabbed his book again, and headed to bed. He read until his eyes grew heavy, and the book threatened to slip from his hands. Heeding Thor’s advice for once, he allowed himself to drift away.

 

                                                                                    *****

 

The void pulled harder than ever, threatening to yank you out of his arms, but he planted his feet and held on. He was a god, he would not lose to a formless blob of darkness! But as he clung to you, defying the nothingness that loomed over you both, the pull only increased, the shadow unmoved by either godly pride or mortal fear. It stole his footing, sent you both crashing to the ground. He kept his grip on you, but he no longer had traction; the terrible pull towed you both toward the void. It swallowed your legs before he got back to his feet and tore you free. The darkness did not seem to care that it had been denied; it was not some stalking, thinking enemy. It simply existed. An inexorable danger that loomed, without wanting or needing anything, just being. It would continue being, continue growing in strength, until he either failed, or did something about it.

 

                                                                                       *****

 

It was late in the morning when he woke. He had a headache, but he felt a little better than he had yesterday. Getting out of bed and dressed was still tiring, but not so much of a struggle. Breakfast was actually lunch; half a sandwich, and a hearty soup to ward of the chill. Not that he needed protection from the cold, but it still tasted good.

When Thor found him, he was attempting to catch up on some of the paperwork he had neglected the day before. One look at his brothers dour expression told Loki he was about to hear bad news.

“Your meeting with Stark did not go in your favor.” Loki said flatly.

“He refused to give me any information about the woman.” Thor growled. “Oh, he knows who she is, but he won’t tell me anything.”

“Did you really expect otherwise?” Loki asked. “He is never very cooperative when I am involved.”

“I thought he might be, for the safety of his countrymen, but I can also see his point of view. We don’t really have much information to give him, just that some woman we don’t know is in some kind of danger, and you are somehow tied up in it. Naturally he wants to check it out for himself.” Thor sighed. “I don’t like it, but I understand it. Would I do any different?”

“The difference here being that Stark is not a king, and has no responsibility to the people around him, save what he decides for himself. Nor does he have any real authority over them.” Nor me, he thought.

“I left Brunnhilde with him, to plead my case.” Thor said, and Loki choked over a barked laugh.  “Stark bends more easily to strong women.” Thor explained.

“Oh yes, and the fact that she will drink through all his alcohol so quickly that he will soon be doing whatever it takes to convince her to leave has nothing to do with it?” Loki asked. The last Valkyrie was not a diplomat, but she certainly did have some political usefulness.

“I can’t imagine what you mean.” Thor said, the ghost of a smile sweeping across his face. “I’ve merely put Stark in a position to reconsider cooperation. In any case, we will hopefully have the information we need in a few days. Now, I’ve got to go meet with an environmental specialist, regarding the fens. I think they’re afraid we’re going to destroy them.  Do not neglect your rest.” With that, Thor left, and Loki set his paperwork aside.

This wouldn’t do. After last night’s dream, Loki had grown certain the there was no time left. Not for formalities, and certainly not for waiting for a stubborn Stark to come around. He left his paperwork with an aide, and headed back to his rooms to retrieve his cellphone.

Most of them had one now, though few of them had taken up the habit of carrying them everywhere in the way of humans. Thor was still not very good at handling Midgardian tech, but Loki had become somewhat proficient. He sent a quick text to Brunnhilde, and waited.

Can you expidite?

Why? You have a date?

Yes.

I don’t believe you.

All I need is the name and address. Can you do it?

Yeah, yeah.  I can probably do better than that, if this guy doesn’t have a fit first. Give me a few.

The Valkyrie was usually as good as her word. Loki grabbed his book, took a seat, and waited. It took an even shorter time than he had anticipated, the information popping up in terse snippets. Full name. Age. Address. Family. Workplace. He typed out a quick thanks as he went over it. It was with some small relief that he saw you were well into the human age of adulthood, but had no family other than a father. That would make your leaving easier. He wouldn’t have the time to convince, or cajole.

He left his rooms, left the limits of New Asgard altogether, and headed straight for the makeshift Bifrost. Heimdall looked him over impassively, taking in the light armor and the horns, and saying nothing.

“It is important to a life, that I go here, right now.” Loki said, showing your workplace address.  He thought it was about the time a person in your time zone would be going to work.

Midgard was so very, very large. The largest of the nine realms, by a great margin. So large, that it didn’t all exist at the same time, at least, by human reckoning.  Heimdall gazed out over the vast expanse, and twisted his sword in its socket. The narrow beam of light that made up the tiny Bifrost gathered up everything Loki was, and flung it out over the expanse of the ocean and beyond.

Chapter Text

 

 

“What are you doing here _____?”  Your manager demanded.  You flinched, and concentrated on looking healthy.  You knew you were failing, despite all the makeup you’d put on to hide your ill health. She marched right up to you and tried to take a box of raw, frozen, sandwich roll dough out of your shaking hands. You held on as tightly as you could.

“I’ve gotta work.” You said, voice small and weak. “Gotta make my rent.”

“I didn’t schedule you today.” She said tersely. You shrugged.

“I traded with Anette.” You’d pleaded with Anette. You’d lied to Anette, told her you were feeling so much better. You weren’t, but you were pretty sure you would feel so much worse if you got evicted.

You were sick. You were too sick to be doing your job, honestly, but at least you weren’t contagious. No one knew what was wrong with you. You’d paid doctors way too much money, just for them to give you clashing diagnosis, and prescribe medicines you couldn’t afford.

You had finally gotten one to admit that they had no idea what was causing your illness, but you knew what was wrong. You had been inflicted with a slow, wasting death. You had grabbed a vengeful god by the hand, and intended to demand something of him. No wonder he had cursed you.

That’s what the thing on your hand was: a curse, branded into your skin, a punishment for your insolence. You had made Tara promise not to tell anyone what had actually happened back in the tower, and whenever anyone asked about it, you just told them you had gotten very drunk when you were in New York, and had decided to get a body modification. Your manager didn’t care about it, since it was so easily covered up by the gloves you were required to wear.

What she did care about was your dropping performance, and your failing health. Working in a bakery, even a tiny, grocery store bakery, required a certain amount of vigilance and effort, and over the past six months, you had slowly lost your grip on both of those things. Much like you were losing your grip on the box of frozen dough.

You set the box down on the counter, and began arranging the dough on a large sheet pan. You only dropped a few of them, and none of those hit the floor. Your manager followed you, hands on her hips.

“_____, I can’t allow this. You are definitely still sick. Both HR and the Health Department will be down on me like a ton of bricks if I let you work when you’re sick like this.”

“I can stand, and I can use my hands.” You protested. “What more do you need?”

“A competent worker!” She snapped. You knew it was only frustration. She liked you as much as a manager was allowed. She wouldn’t fire you for this, since you hadn’t done anything against the rules. But corporate might fire you, if you missed any more shifts on account of being sick.

Beyond the looming threat of homelessness and not being able to pay your bills, the loss of your job would spell the loss of your last remaining anchor to other human beings. Tara checked up on you when she could, and sent you texts every day, but she had her own job and her own life. Your father, likewise, still had to travel a lot for his job. When you turned to your online communities for help with understanding what had happened to you, they quickly came together to discover that the man you had grabbed in the tower was none other than the outcast Asgardian prince, Loki, the Scourge of New York, an extremely controversial figure who, five years ago, had tried to take over the world. He led an alien army into New York and caused terrible death and destruction. Now, he showed up more and more often in Avengers custody. Some surmised that it was some kind of rehabilitation program, especially now that Asgard was being rebuilt in Iceland.

You hadn’t known any of these things, and you didn’t get much chance to learn more. Considering you compromised, the communities had banned you, and blocked you entirely. Finding communities that were more friendly to the idea of Loki was no walk in the park either; most of those catered to a particular type of person you considered pretty damn creepy. They didn’t have what you needed, but they did have lots of…desires. And pictures, so at least you’d been able to confirm that the man from the tower was indeed Loki, brother of Thor.

So now you were nearly alone, your only reliable point of contact was your job, and you might be on the brink of losing that as well. That would leave the rest of your presumably short life with nothing but the torment of your dreams.

That was part of the curse, these terrible dreams. They stole your strength and haunted your waking hours, always the same. There was a soft, velvety darkness that you wanted so badly to sink into. It was rest, glorious rest. It was gentleness, stillness, quiet and peace. It was everything your body and mind desperately wanted. And he was there to deny you, every night he denied you that peace. He dragged you away from that welcoming darkness, fought to keep you from its hypnotic draw. He would never let you rest, like a demon, slowly draining you of your strength and health. He bore the mark he had inflicted you with, flaunting it like an insult to you.

You wished you could go back, wished you could apologize.  That you could tell him you simply hadn’t recognized him with his hair grown out, without the armor, without the horns. Without the alien invaders.  You hadn’t meant any offense.

You also wished you could yell. Scream your anger and swing your fists. A little touch on the hand was no reason to do this to someone! You were just an ordinary woman who had made a small mistake. You didn’t deserve this! If you ever saw him again, you’d give him proper cause to curse you.

You heard a sound then, like a freight truck barreling down a street too small for it, like a hurricane wind. You shouldn’t be able to hear any of those things this far inside the building. The world trembled, and a burst of brightness outshone even the neon lights.

“The hell was that?” Your manager demanded. “Ladies, are you okay?” You and your coworkers chimed in with soft affirmatives. “Okay. We need to stay put and-“

The sound of screams began floating back from the entrance of the store.

“Nevermind.” She said. “Get to the back room, and out the emergency exit. Stay together.”

She led the little group of you out between the displays of cinnamon rolls and cornbread, all of you crouching low. Your hand ached, as if the mark was being pulled from inside. That couldn’t be a good sign. Nothing had made it react before, not for months and months, not since the initial cursing.

The world around you seemed to lose some of its reality. Everything moved slowly. You felt hot. There was a loud, heavy throbbing in your head, and you collapsed against a table full of cupcakes, unable to stand by yourself any longer.

So this was how it ended. You finally pushed too hard, and now this sickness was going to claim you among the cupcakes. You never thought you would die at work, but at least this way your body wouldn’t molder in your little apartment for a week, before Tara or your father finally found you.

“_____, what are you doing?” Your manager hissed, and took your hand. Agony shot up your arm, drawing a rough cry from you. “Oh my god, _____, are you okay? Come on, we’ve got to go!”

One of your coworkers screamed. You propped yourself up on one elbow and looked where she was pointing, terrified of what you might see.

He strode purposefully out of the produce section, and your world plunged into frigid horror.

Foreign armor. Dark leather and gleaming metal, just like all the footage you had watched, over and over again.

No.

Shining golden horns, curving a foot above his forehead, the silhouette unmistakable.

No.

The entire loss prevention department surrounded him, shouting, but unable to do anything. They weren’t equipped to deal with anybody more dangerous than the occasional shoplifter, not this. This was never supposed to happen. He pushed right passed them, paying no attention. His eyes locked on yours, wearing the smile of a demon.

No!

Your manager tugged your hand urgently, sending spikes of pain up your arm, causing you to collapse further. Cupcakes scattered as you hit the floor. From this vantage point, he looked even bigger, some kind of giant, impossible to stop.

Your manager released your hand and ran, just as he reached down and hauled you to your feet. You couldn’t even find it in you to be mad at her for abandoning you. She had kids at home. You had no one.

Besides, he had you in his grip now. You were beyond saving.

 As he set you back upright, the fever clouding your brain began to clear and strength returned to your limbs. You drew a deep breath, and it was like expelling sickness from your lungs. You felt almost good. Even with your coworkers retreating as fast as they could, with screaming customers rushing past, with Loss Prevention shouting and trying to assure you that everything was going to be okay, and standing in the far too strong grasp of the entire planet’s number one enemy, you felt better than you had in half a year.

“Ah, there it is.” He murmured, still completely ignoring all the shouting and demands. “Looks like I was right.”

You turned slowly to look up at him, stared him straight in the eyes. They looked so normal.

Then you smashed the heel of your palm upwards into his nose with all of your returned strength.

His head did not snap back, his nose did not break, his grip on you did not loosen in the least. He did look just a little surprised, but nothing else that was supposed to happen, happened. You really shouldn’t have given up your self-defense courses. But you hadn’t been able to afford them, and could they really teach you how to fight a god anyway?

His eyes narrowed, and for a moment you thought your head was going to roll. Then he burst into derisive laughter.

“Oh! She has spirit!” He exclaimed. “Not much common sense, though. Disappointing.”

“Not here to impress you!” You began to struggle, now that you knew you could. He wrapped one arm around you and pulled you flat against him.

“Heimdall.” He called, a word you didn’t recognize. It must have been some kind of magic, because seconds later, a flash of multicolored light blinded you, and a feeling of weightlessness set your stomach twisting.

For a few seconds your world was flight and light, then the sky seemed to spit you out onto a wide green field.

“Hmph.” He grunted. “Too far north again. We really must get that fixed.”

You saw men in the distance, one approaching at great speed. Loki swore quietly and released you. You dashed immediately. You heard him swear again, but only pushed yourself faster. You could see a river just a few dozen yards away, and you were a very good swimmer.

“Not that way!” He shouted, not far enough behind you as far as you were concerned. No way were you going to stop.

The ground beneath your feet gave way, toppling you forward. Within moments you were engulfed in sucking, freezing mud. What the hell was this? Quicksand? Quickmud? A National Geographic in the doctor’s office spoke of bog mummies found in Europe, but there was nothing like that in Iowa. Just where were you now?

Loki dragged you out of the mud before you could sink entirely, just as someone bellowed his name behind you.

“Oh good. You’re here. A proper welcoming party.” He said evenly in the face of his enraged brother. “I assume Heimdall tattled?”

“Loki, what have you done?” Thor demanded. “I told you to wait! Just a few days! You really couldn’t give it just a few days?”

“There was no time!” He argued. “She was dying when I found her. Tell him.” He shoved you forward. You tried to run for it again, but he caught you before you got more than a few steps. Taking you solidly by the shoulders, he leaned down and looked you right in your mud-smeared face.

“If you try to run again, I will let the land devour you.” He threatened.

“Went to a lot of trouble to kidnap me, just to let me die.” You snapped.

He sneered. “I’ve been known to change my mind on less than a whim.”

You looked at Thor, who shrugged slightly as if to say it was certainly possible. But Thor would help you, wouldn’t he? He would save you from this monster. Wouldn’t he?

Then why wasn’t he doing it?

“Please.” You pleaded quietly. Thor did nothing.

Loki took your chin in one hand and turned your head back to him.

“No.” He said. “You don’t look at him. You look at me, and you listen. You were mere steps from death, and I have saved you. Twice.” He wiped some of the mud from your cheek, shaking it off his fingers with obvious distaste.

“You’re the one who did this to me!” You shouted.

“I did not throw you into that bog.” He said.

“No, but you brought me here! And you cursed me in the first place!” You were aware that you shouldn’t be yelling at someone who was pretty much holding all of the cards, but one of Earth’s mightiest heroes was just right there, and he would help you eventually.

“I did no such thing-“ He began.

“Bullshit! You burned my hand back in the Avenger’s Tower, just because I touched you! And I’m sorry for that, but you went way overboard, cursing me with a slow death and constant nightmares like that! There was no call to go that far!”

He looked taken off guard for just one moment. “Nightmares? They were nightmares to you?”

“You didn’t even tell her what was going on, did you?” Thor accused. “Do you have any idea how much heat we are going to take for this?”

“You knew?” You shouted at him. “You knew he was doing this?”

Thor shook his head. “No, I was only just notified-“

“And the tower?” You continued. “When he cursed me, why didn’t you do anything?”

“It’s not a curse!” Loki protested. “Look, it’s on me too.” He held out his hand, but you completely ignored him.

“You were just letting me die! You were there when it happened, you saw it happen, and you didn’t even check to see what was going on!” Your temper was completely inflamed; you were shouting in the faces of gods. It was idiotic, but once you had started, half a year of stress, and pain, and fear came boiling out and you couldn’t stop. Loki was still trying to say something, but your anger was loud in your ears, drowning him out.

“I know you don’t know me, but isn’t handling him part of your job? You brought him back here, you let him back onto the world! Why are you just standing there? Why haven’t you done anything to save me from this monster?”

Your voice rang over the field as your words reached their end, all of the bile poured out. They were both just looking at you while you caught your breath. A tiny trickle of worry wormed into your chest. You’d gone too far, hadn’t you? There had to be some kind of reason Thor hadn’t swooped in to rescue you. He was a king, he had so much to do. You were some nobody from the middle of nowhere. Insignificant.  Regret grew behind the worry.

“I’m sorry-“ You began. Loki’s hand cupped your cheek; very gently snaked around to cradle the back of your head. Your breath caught. No one had touched you like that in years.

Then you saw the ice in his eyes, felt his fingers clench in your hair, and it snapped you right out of it.

“I have shared in your suffering.” He said. “You aren’t alone in this.” The words would have been comforting, if they hadn’t been said in such a threatening tone. If he hadn’t been wrenching your hair. “You have struck me.  You have disrespected me. You have insulted me and my family. Now you will listen to me. This-“ He held his right palm in front of your face, displaying the exact same mark you had. “-is an unknown affliction. I did not curse you with it. What fool would cast a curse that affected himself as well? That draining poison that stole your strength did the same to me. Ask him. He saw it happening.”

He turned your head forcibly to look at Thor, who held his hands up. “Okay, let’s calm down now. Brother, be careful.”

“You felt stronger the instant I touched you, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Strong enough to fight. Strong enough to run. When I first saw you, you could no longer stand on your own, and now look at you. Throwing tantrums in the faces of gods. That was me, that was because I came and rescued you. There was no time to explain. You were going to die, right there among your baked goods. I prevented that from happening.”

You tried to shake your head, but his grip was too tight. He felt it though.

“You need more proof? What about this then? What happens when I do this?” He took your marked hand in his, again seeming gentle, except for the fact that you could not move away.

The instant your bare palms came into contact, you felt the mark react. Like flipping a switch to start up a generator, a buzz of power rushed up your arm, trailing glowing runes in its wake. Just like back in the tower, you felt rooted to the spot, though Loki pulled you forward to press his forehead against yours, to get right into your personal space. Runes coursed over his cheek, infected his eye with their glow. The sight in your left eye became blurry, and you knew it was happening to you again too. It didn’t hurt this time, but it was overwhelming. A feeling of being filled up, like having too much blood, like your skin was too tight, and you needed to shed it. It robbed you of sense, of any thought other than getting out of your binding skin and becoming bigger than you ever had before.

“Do you feel that?” He asked through labored breaths. “I knew the instant I touched you that proximity was key. Too far apart for too long, and our lives drain away. But close up, we revitalize each other.” You saw light escape his mouth, unable to be contained even by him. It was hard to concentrate on what he was saying now, unfamiliar power overtaking your mind. You were shaking uncontrollably by now, your heart hammering your ribs.

“Enough, Loki!” Thor grabbed him by the shoulder to pull him away. “She can’t take this! Let go!”

Loki was drawn away from you, but kept tight hold on your hand, fingers laced with yours.

Not until she understands!” He snarled. But Thor again took your wrists, and fully separated you.

You tumbled to the ground, groaning and nearly senseless. Thor wrapped his arms tightly around his brother, partly to hold him up, and partly to hold him back. He was scolding Loki fiercely, though you could barely make out the words. You lay back on the grass and let the world spin around you.

Moments passed, and then Thor knelt beside you.

“I am so sorry about this.” He said, scooping you up, and handing you over to Loki, who carried you effortlessly, despite your being dead weight. “You were not supposed to arrive here this way. But you were in danger, and we are going to take care of you. And Loki isn’t going to do that again, is he?”

Loki grimaced, but nodded. “I might have gone a bit overboard. Might. But if this thing is a curse, it affects me as well. I will get to the bottom of it. Until then, yes, we will ‘take care’ of you. I suppose it’s only fair.”

“Could you have said that any more ominously?”  Thor asked.

“What? What did I say? I just agreed with you, what’s wrong with that?”

“Did you have to say it like a looming supervillain?”

“Thor, I am carrying her, I can’t not loom.”

“You are carrying her like you’re on your way to drop her on some railroad tracks.”

“I’m sorry, are you carrying her? Because it looks to me like I am the one carrying her. Do you want to carry her?”

“I think I can walk.” You spoke up. They certainly bickered like ordinary siblings.

“Are you sure?” Thor asked. You hesitated, then shook your head. While being in contact with Loki did make you feel better, your legs still felt like jelly, and you were definitely still dizzy from all that light being inside you.

“Was that magic?” You asked. Your voice felt small and far away. “Is that what magic is?”

“It was a kind of magic.” Loki said slowly. “Either very old, or very new. Or perhaps very obscure. It feels familiar, but I can’t quite place it yet.”

“Why is it trying to kill us?”

“I don’t think it is.” He explained. “Rather, I don’t think it has a motivation. I don’t think it had a mind. It’s just something that exists, and there are consequences for interacting with it, however inadvertently. I don’t think you are to blame for this, and for once, I don’t think I am either. Until proven otherwise, I am going to be treating this as a coincidence that we just have to deal with.

But I believe it’s abundantly clear that we have to stay in the same area at least. Hopefully not touching all the time; that would be terribly inconvenient for the both of us. But not far apart. And since, as you might imagine, I can’t go traipsing all over Midgard-I have duties, you know-“

“And a hel of a reputation.” Thor interjected. Loki glared.

“Yes, and that. Because of those things, it is you who had to come here. If there had been time, I would have simply showed up at your home and tried to talk it out with you. But there was no time.”

“You had six months.” You pointed out. “And you’re just figuring this out now? You had that mark the whole time, and you never wondered what it was?”

Loki pursed his thin lips. You couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or amused.

“Tell me, do you live a busy life?” He asked.

“Well…I work a lot. Or at least, I did. I worked as much as I could. I needed every shift possible, just to get by, especially when I had to start going to the doctors.”

“Mhm. I co-rule an entire nation that is attempting to rebuild itself from scratch. I am busy. The mark was a curiosity, the sickness was inconvenient, but I had much more important things to do with my time.”

“Oh.” You said, and went quiet for a time.

They finally approached the other man you had seen in the distance, the one who hadn’t moved at all. He stood on a small, stone pavilion, gazing out into the distance. He looked even taller than your escorts, dark skinned, wearing warm brown leathers and an ornate bronze helmet with flanges in the shape of a crescent moon. Asgardians seemed to have a thing for elaborate headwear.

Before him was a large sword, partly buried in an odd contraption unlike anything you had ever seen before. He glanced at you with the kindest and most beautiful eyes you had seen all day.

“She is a guest.” Loki said as he passed.

“I know this looks incredibly shady, but-“ Thor began.

“I will let you know when they are coming.” The man said in a deep, even voice. Thor thanked him, then hurried after his brother, who hadn’t waited.

Loki crested a low hillock, and the skeleton of a city came into view. Even from here, you could see teams of builders at work, their construction efforts kicking up clouds of dust. From the looks of it, the place was eventually going to be huge, but for now, it was little more than foundations.

It was interesting to look at. You’d never seen an embryonic city before.

“Welcome to Asgard.” Thor said. “It’s a bit of a work in progress, but we’ll find a place for you.”

“I’ve already got one.” Loki said. “It just needs to be properly refurnished.”

You felt much better now, though your wet, muddy clothes were getting very cold. All the construction made you a bit apprehensive, especially all that dust. This was kind of like enemy territory you were being brought into. If you went inside, would you ever come back out?

“I’m pretty sure I can stand now.” You said. If you were going in, it should be on your own two feet. Loki obligingly set you down.  “Um, my name is _____.” You said. It was likely that they already knew who you were, but control of your own name demonstrated what small personal power you still had.

“Pleased to meet you.” Thor said. “Stay close to us, and don’t stray. Security doesn’t know you yet.”

You did as he said, but you still felt vulnerable with so many eyes on you. Of course people would stop and look if their rulers came strolling down the street. And they did attract attention; Loki with his shining horns, Thor with his resplendent cape. And you, sandwiched between, tiny in comparison, wearing a mud-drenched, company issue uniform that had always fit you poorly. Function was far more important than fashion in your line of work. But the people still stared.

Asgardians came in a surprising range of colors and features, but they were all pretty tall compared to you. They wore unfamiliar fashions, and some were carrying loads that you were sure a regular human couldn’t handle. They looked human, but they weren’t the same as you.

Construction continued all around you; even the roads were unfinished. You were led along the only areas that were fully constructed, workers rushing to and fro all around you. They all stared, especially the kids, many of whom seemed to be trying to help out with the building. You didn’t know how legal that was, but maybe child labor laws were different in Asgard. Or maybe they just needed every available hand, or had no concept of babysitters.

An adolescent girl energetically sweeping up construction debris sent a large cloud of dust into the street. It enveloped the three of you, and suddenly, you were no longer there.

You were back in Iowa, in a summer drier than you could remember. The cornfields were dead for miles around, the destruction on such a massive scale that it had actually lowered the ambient humidity of the area. The town was mostly empty, streets choked with dust that stirred at the slightest breeze. You couldn’t breathe the dust.

You held your breath, lips pressed tightly together, heart speeding. You’d stopped walking, and someone was talking to you, but these were not your neighbor’s voices. You didn’t know them. The dust hadn’t settled. You couldn’t breathe the dust.

Panic beginning to rise, you frantically searched your soiled shirt for some patch of cloth that wasn’t soaked in mud. You held it over your mouth and nose, carefully trying to breathe through it. You couldn’t breathe the dust!

The dust used to be people.

A strong hand grasped your arm and dragged you out of the cloud. You looked into the face of a murderer and yelped in fear. The dust, a killer, an unfamiliar place…

“What’s wrong with you? Are you feeling sick again?” Concern over your wellbeing?

“The dust.” You choked out. Where were you? “The dust. Don’t breathe the dust. Cover your mouth, don’t breathe the dust. Please don’t kill me. Everybody’s already gone. Stay away from the dust.”

“What are you talking about?” A demand. You couldn’t answer.

“What’s going on? Look, she’s having some kind of fit.”

“We’re almost there, get her inside. Get her out of the dust.”

The Scourge of New York led you along, you couldn’t tell how far, but by the time they had brought you inside, you had started to calm down and remember your situation.

“S-s-sorry.” You said, still trembling. “I-I’m just overwhelmed.” It was clear from their faces that neither of them believed you.

“Just come along.” Loki commanded. “You need to bathe.”

You wouldn’t remember the corridors or the rooms, but you would remember the bath. It was bigger than any bathtub you had ever seen, and it was set into the floor.

How were you going to explain this? Tell them you had a phobia of dust? Would they buy that?

You sank into the bath and tried to let it wash you away.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“What the hel was that?” Loki demanded. “She was fine one minute, and then she falls apart over a mere face full of dust? Who does that?”

“I can think of a reason.” Thor said softly.

“Brother?” Thor was rarely introspective, and Loki didn’t quite know what to make of it.

“She’s had a hard day. She will need rest, but I have some questions first. “

“I’m sure we all have.” Loki grouched. “Seems like that’s all we have.”

 

                                                                                             *****

The bath was nice, though the toiletries all smelled of him. You were surprised by how much mud had gotten in your hair. You weren’t made for such bizarre happenings: magic, and kidnapping gods, and ancient civilizations being built anew. Nothing about today seemed quite real. Even time was wrong. A few hours ago you were clocking in for the morning shift at work. Now the sun hung low in the sky. Evening was coming. You’d lost an entire day. You supposed that made its own kind of sense, since technically, aliens were involved.

Where were you now? This couldn’t be your country. Yes, the U.S. was pretty big, big enough to cover several time zones, but you didn’t think there was any part of the continental United States that was dusk while another part was morning. You had to be all the way across an ocean, or somewhere similarly as far. What a pity. You would have liked to see that. Flying over an ocean must be beautiful.

The towels were nice, much nicer than you were used to. Everything was probably going to be higher quality than you were used to. Heroes or villains, these people were royalty, after all.

How were you supposed to talk to them? There was no real royalty in your country; you didn’t know the etiquette. How did one address a prince? A king? A god?

Someone had taken your clothes while you bathed. Of course you couldn’t put them back on while they were still so filthy, but it made you feel vulnerable all the same. The tunic you had been provided in their place did not fit correctly at all; it was too loose in the shoulder, too long in the arms, and too tight in the hips. This was obviously a man’s garment, olive green and incredibly soft. You didn’t want to think about it. At least the provided slippers fit correctly. Your legs remained mostly bare, but you didn’t think they were all that much to look at anyway. The tunic was made for someone taller than you, so it covered enough.

This little set of rooms was odd to you. Like a whole house inside of another building. Here a bath, there a library, there and there a bedroom. And when you tried to exit back out into what you thought was the main corridor, there was a young man in armor there to stop you. He was polite, but he spoke a language you didn’t know.

“I’m sorry.” You told him. “I don’t understand.” He led you back into the library and pointed at a chair. “Oh, I get it. Sit down and wait, huh? I can do that.”

He waited until you had gotten yourself seated before going back to his post. He must have had orders not to let you leave. Annoying, but fair; they wouldn’t want you running off, and after that small panic attack earlier, it might not be safe for you to wander around without a guide.

You started browsing through the books, but most of them were in unfamiliar languages. When Loki came to collect you, you were going through illustrations and diagrams that you couldn’t read, but found interesting nevertheless. You looked up from a beautiful drawing of a huge tree with little worlds hanging it its branches, and he was just there.

“Uh…How long-“ You began.

“You make so many little noises when you read. Do you fear silence, or are you simply that lacking in self-awareness?”

“It’s just a habit.” You said defensively. “No one’s ever complained before.”

“You lived completely alone. Who was there to complain? You will have to break that habit while you are within these walls. We cannot have incessant noise disturbing our guards, or my contemplations.”

You turned back to the illustrations, cheeks burning slightly. So it was just a little habit! It wasn’t that big a deal.

“You say it like we’ve gotta be joined at the hip all the time, but that’s obviously not the case, because I just had a nice bath without you. So unless you were waiting just outside the door-which would be creepy-then I’m sure my ‘incessant noises’ won’t be as big a problem as you’re making them out to be. “

You both let the moments pass in increasingly uncomfortable silence.

“I was harsh with you.” It was a statement, not an apology, but also probably the closest you were ever going to get.

“You were. I was…rude.” You conceded. You really must have crossed a line when you called him a monster. You had let your temper and fear run off with you.

“You were.” He agreed. “You were frightened. It’s only natural. And I was…frustrated. But that time is passed, and now the time has come for greater things.” He beckoned for you to follow him, and you did, curiosity growing.

Where could you possibly be going now? Some kind of magical laboratory, to run tests on your rune? A spiritual center, to meditate on this magical connection that sapped or restored energy based on how close the two of you were? A medical area, where they might operate on your hand to learn more about it?

“Where are we going?” You asked softly.

“Dinner.” He said airily, and you snorted. Greater things, huh? Still, something as mundane as dinner sounded amazing right now. You’d technically gone the whole day without eating. Something mundane sounded very nice right about now. You might not get that again for some time.

He looked oddly normal as well, which struck you as strange. It somehow never occurred to you that he didn’t look the same all the time. But all you’d ever had for reference was video footage of the battle. He wore armor to intimidate, horns to add height. Not that he needed it. The top of your head barely reached his shoulders. You would have never expected someone like him to even have casual clothes, if all those pin-tucks and diagonal shapes counted as casual. You tried to ignore the similar shapes on the ill fitted tunic you currently wore.

 It was hard to believe how much different he looked without that helmet. How much the sharpness of his face was softened by letting his hair fall lose around his shoulders.

“Like something you see?” He asked. “You’re staring, you know.”

“Sorry.” You said, embarrassment creeping in. “It’s just that you look…”

He turned to watch you, the corners of his mouth lifting, ever so slightly. “Yes?”

“You look like a man.”

He paused, the tiny smile fleeing. “As opposed to a monster?” Then he quickened his pace, and you struggled to keep up.

“That’s not what I-“

“Oh don’t worry.” He cut you off. “After all, I’ve never shown this world anything different.”

“Lo-“ You started, then held your tongue. No, you couldn’t call him by name. You weren’t friends. Whatever reasons he might have had, he was the architect of a major disruption in your life. There was no way you had a job anymore, and if you ever got home, you probably wouldn’t have your apartment either. Your houseplants were going to die. Your friends and father, and coworkers had no idea you were still alive. And all of this was quite literally by his hand.

How were you supposed to address him?

“Your…Highness?” You tried, and he made an affirming noise. “Can you tell me where we are?”

“Yes.” He said, and nothing else. It took you a moment to realize he was doing that obnoxious thing some teachers do in order to amend their students’ grammar.  How annoying.

“Please tell me where we are, your highness.” You said in a voice pitched higher than normal. Years of working in retail with difficult customers gave your demeanor a false show of being chipper. He noticed instantly, giving you a strange look.

“Within the kingdom of Asgard, but you would know this island as Iceland.”

“Iceland? How did-how am I-I…I’ve never been to Iceland.” You spluttered lamely. You had never been so far from home in your life. You’d never really wanted to be. You were well and truly trapped, weren’t you? If you found that you really needed to leave, there really was nowhere for you to run. Even if you could make it out of the unbuilt city, you didn’t know where any other towns were. You wouldn’t be able to speak to any people you might find.  They would know you shouldn’t be there, see that you had no passport, no identification. They’d haul you right to jail. That was all that awaited you outside the city. Death in a foreign landscape, or prison.

“Oh god, I’m an illegal immigrant.” You murmured.

“What are you talking about?” He led you into a large room with a huge table in the center, and then right past that table, and into a much smaller room, with a much smaller table, set with three dinners, and furnished with the king of Asgard.

“Yes.” He asked. “What are we talking about?”

“I don’t have a passport! I’m illegal, I’ll be put in jail!

Thor shrugged. “You’re a guest of the Crown, at least for a little while. You don’t have to worry about it. Sit with us; eat. Ease your worries. We’re going to take care of you.”

You took a seat opposite Thor; Loki sat next to you, not, as you expected, next to his brother. It almost felt like they were fencing you in, putting themselves between you and the door. Or between you and anyone who might come through the door.

The food was simple, and looked good, if a little unfamiliar. A bowl of hearty stew, full of vegetables and tasting of herbs your tongue had never met. A little pot of creamy white stuff, topped with orange sauce that turned out to be sweet instead of spicy. A chunk of something that was trying to be bread but was actually dried fish that you were supposed to spread butter on as if it was bread. And a glass of strong cider that you had trouble actually drinking. Alcohol was usually too pricy for you, and so you never drank much.

It was warm, and it was good, and it was what your body, confused by time zones, desperately needed. You ate every bit, even the buttered fish. But you said nothing, not until Thor addressed you directly.

“I know you have had a very rough day, and I know you must be tired and confused, but would you be willing to entertain a few questions?”

What choice did you have? He was right about being tired; the hot food and cider had hit you pretty hard. But it wasn’t like you could just tell him to go stuff it either, could you? You put your customer service face back on.

“Sure, ask away!”

He raised one eyebrow at the fake cheer in your voice, but made no comment on it.

“I’d like to assure you that we keep this place very clean. No dust, unless you go near construction zones. But, if it’s not too uncomfortable, could you tell us why you reacted like that? So we can keep you safer in the future.”

Damn. You should’ve known they wouldn’t let that go. Six months ago, you had been sure he would have an answer for you; now you just didn’t know. Would he think you were crazy too? But he was a god; was it possible to lie to a god?

“I’ll know if you’re lying.” Loki said, as if hearing your thoughts.

“There’s no need for threats.” Thor chided him.

“I wasn’t.”

“If you are comfortable talking about it.” Thor concluded.

“It’s difficult.” You said. “It’s not that I don’t want to; I kinda do, and I have for a long time. But it seems like some great big secret that I can’t bring up, because most people don’t believe me, and the ones that do are sort of paranoid of being thought crazy. Look, something happened about a year and a half ago, except it didn’t, but it did. And I know you probably won’t believe me, but-“

“Half your world turned to dust.” Thor said grimly. “People, plants, animals, everything. And then it all went back to normal, as if nothing happened. But not for you. In the time between the two events, you suffered. You mourned. You struggled and starved. And now you remember, when it seems no one else does.”

Loki stared at you. “That shouldn’t be possible.”

You had gone very still and very pale as Thor spoke out that list of everything you had gone through.

“I knew it.” You whispered. “I knew it. I knew it was real. That many people couldn’t have the same hallucination. I knew you knew something!”

Thor nodded, still looking very serious.

“That’s why I went to the tower in the first place! That’s why I tried to approach you! I knew one of you knew something!”

“But the spell-“ Loki began.

“What happened?” You demanded, excitement overcoming your sleepiness.

“It’s a lengthy tale, if you’re up for it.” Thor warned, but you only nodded in enthusiasm.

“Very well. It begins when the universe does.” Wow, he wasn’t kidding.

“Thor, are you sure this is a good idea?” Loki broke in.

Thor shrugged. “Looks like something went wrong. She’s not supposed to remember, but she does.”

“That spell was cast for a reason.” Loki protested.

“Which do you suppose was worse? Being one of the lives initially lost, or being one of those left behind to live in that broken universe? Do you know what that was like? Being the only one left? I say she deserves an answer. “

Loki rolled his eyes. “No, if you recall, I was dead at the time. Whatever, tell her what you will, but I’ll not be taking responsibility when it blows up in your face.”

“Wait, you…you died? Did you turn to dust too?” That even happened to the gods?

“Not exactly,” He muttered. “It was more of a hand’s on experience.”

“He was very brave.” Thor said.

“I was very foolish.” Loki retorted, but he looked more proud than angry.

“What happened?” You asked again.

“Yes, the story. Directly after this universe came into being, there also spawned a handful of concepts; embodiments of the things that make up the universe and everything in it. These things were given physical forms, shaped into shining gems of incredible power. Wars were fought over them, and with them, but only certain powerful individuals can actually use them. I have a friend who has seen what happens when someone who is too weak tries to handle one. Not pretty, apparently. However, Loki has used two of them before.”

Pride colored those last words, and Loki looked unsure of how to take being bragged about.

“For certain definitions of ‘used’, I suppose.”

“There was someone else who wanted them, a homicidal lunatic, name of Thanos. An absolute waste of space who brought nothing to the universe but mountains of corpses. Twisted. Worthless. Seems like all he could do was destroy. The Chitauri invasion? That was him.”

“That was him.” You pointed at Loki.

“Certain definitions of used.” He repeated.

You looked back and forth between the brothers. “What are you trying to tell me here?”

“He used the Mind Stone.” Thor said. “While at the same time, it used him. It affected everyone around it.”

“Wait, you mean mind control?” You asked, shocked by this revelation. “These things have their own will? Why haven’t you told anyone? Everyone thinks-“

“Do not mistake me.” Loki interrupted. “No matter how much my brother would like to paint me as an innocent in this, I still did what I did. Those were my actions and my decisions.  One can very easily be a victim, and be guilty at the same time. Take it as a demonstration of what I am capable of, just not everything that I am.” He sighed, but his expression remained neutral.

“It is however, correct to think that, without Thanos, without the influence of that stone, I don’t think I would have done any of it. But I did, and there is no way to erase that. Do not make of me something I am not. I was the person who did all those things. But I am not now, and will not be again.”

“I don’t know what to think about this.” You said, but internally you were a bit relieved. You hadn’t actually stopped being frightened of him, but it was very reassuring to know that all that malice, all that bigotry and hatred hadn’t all been him. If his words could be trusted, anyway. Thor wasn’t objecting though, so maybe he really was on the level.

“He did take his stand against Thanos though.” Thor continued. “We all did; heroes of Earth, of Asgard, of the stars. And every last one of us failed. Most of us died, either in his quest for the stones, or in the event he caused. He came into possession of all of the stones, which allowed him to reshape the universe as he wanted it to be. “

“Which was…nearly empty?”

“He was a madman. He was obsessed with his savior complex, but his bloodlust was far greater, and I think he forgot how to separate the two. So yes, instead of thinking up ways to change reality for the better, he felt the logical choice was to kill everybody.”

“He had no creativity or finesse, unless he was causing harm.” Loki muttered.

“Now this is the part I really can’t tell you about, which is a shame, because it was amazing. However, because of the forces involved, the fewer people who ever know about it, the better. But we few survivors took our battle to reality itself, and we succeeded. We regained what Thanos took from us, and erased his nightmarish vision of the universe.”

“Before separating the stones and returning them to their proper guardians, the sorcerers among us used them to cast a spell over everything and everyone; that none save those of us involved should have any memory of the event we erased. We wanted to undo that suffering, but we also wanted to prevent mass searches for the stones. We can’t risk it happening again.”

“Then how come I remember?” You asked. There was much more mystery surrounding you right now than you were comfortable with.

“That is an excellent question!” Thor said. “And since you don’t seem to have any answers for us yourself, we will simply have to add it to the pile of things we have to figure out.”

“I would like to have answers too, but right now, I’m so tired.” An involuntary yawn punctuated your words. “Pardon me.”

“Yes, of course.” Thor said. “Loki will take you to bed.”

“Absolutely not!” You screeched.

“Phrasing!” Loki snapped.

Thor looked like he was having a very hard time not laughing, which you didn’t appreciate at all. That was a terrifying prospect, and one you were not in the least willing to entertain. Loki looked perturbed as well, so at least you were both on the same page.

“I’m sorry, ____, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that!” A little laughter did escape him, fueling your annoyance. It wasn’t a laughing matter. Neither of these men had better start getting ideas. Just because they were divine rulers didn’t mean they could take liberties. You still had rights. Didn’t you?

“Buffoon.” Loki grumbled. “Come. I’ll see you to your room.”

You got to have your own room? That sounded promising. You followed along behind him, sleepy and quiet, swimming in the events of the day. It was all so much to take in, but maybe sleeping on it would help. Loki led you back to the set of rooms you’d earlier had your bath in, letting you inside and addressing the young man standing guard at the door. You couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the young man seemed mildly confused and upset. He kept shooting you curious looks, and eventually he patted you reassuringly on the shoulder, and nodded at you. Then he went into the smaller of the two bedrooms, gathered his things, and left. He even waved at you on his way out, as if he was trying to convey no hard feelings without being able to actually speak to you.

“Uh…Your Highness? Did I just kick that guy out of his room?” You asked, feeling very guilty.

“No.” Loki assured you. “These rooms are mine, and I decide who may use them, and for how long. There is room for him in our guardhouse, it was just more convenient for him to be close by. Now it is more convenient for you to be here.”

“Because we don’t know how far apart we can be, or for how long. I get it.” There wasn’t much in the room; a bed, a desk with a chair, a small dresser, and one window. The floor and walls were bare, and there was one lamp on the desk, but no other lights. Well, you didn’t need much right now, and you owned practically nothing here, not even the shirt on your back, so this was much better than you had feared it would be.

“I feel like we can probably have a respectable distance between us, just not miles, and certainly not an entire ocean. However, I also feel like we should sleep closer together. Partly for your own safety, and partly because it seems to me that the focus of this draining sickness was our mutual dreams. “

He took a seat in the chair while you crawled into the plain little bed.

“Will you tell me about them?” He asked. “I know we were both having dreams, and I think we were connected through them, but you said yours were nightmares. Mine were not. I wonder about the differences.”

“Ugh. They weren’t anything complicated, but they were always the same. There was this big blankness that I just wanted to sink into so that I could finally rest, but you wouldn’t let me. You just kept dragging me away, and you wouldn’t let me sleep. You were scary, and it was torture, not being able to rest.”

He nodded slowly, writing something down in a small notebook you were sure he hadn’t had just a second before.

“Mine were…similar, but the perspective was different. That void was death, and I was compelled to keep you from it.”

“Do you think we’ll still dream?” You asked.

“Only one way to find out.”

“Right. Can you, uh…”

“Oh. Yes, of course.” He left, closing the door behind him. You might have heard the lock turn, but you were already drifting off.

                                                                        *********

The void beckoned you, a promise of rest and freedom, but now you knew it might not be as benign as it seemed. Loki clutched your arm, frightening with his horns and cold eyes, but now you knew he might not be as malign as he seemed. You spent the rest of your dream there, between two deceivers, not sure which one to choose.

Chapter Text

 

You opened your eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling, having no idea what time it was. The window in your bedroom always spilled sunlight into your face in the morning, making sure that you woke up bright and early. The window in this room, however, was not placed to allow that to happen. You hoped your sleep schedule wouldn’t slip too much.

Someone had been into the room while you slept. There was a bathrobe-green-draped over the back of the chair, and breakfast was set out on the desk. That was where all the sunlight was, and you wanted to bask in it before whatever else was in store for you that day. So you stripped off the tunic, which you had slept in, slipped into the oversized robe, and sat down to eat.

There was very thick oatmeal with raisins, which was familiar and welcome, a glass of apple juice, another little pot of not-yogurt, topped with a red jam that you instantly fell in love with, a buttered slice of nearly black bread, and a tiny shot glass only partly filled with what turned out to be fish oil.

That seemed a little bit gross to you, but you guessed it was some kind of health supplement. You were so much further north than you’d ever been, and you knew sunlight could get a bit scarce at these kinds of latitudes. You gulped it down first, washing the taste away with a swig of apple juice, then tucked into the rest.

This was the first time in months that you had woken up feeling alive. You hadn’t noticed how hungry you were, how much weight you had lost in that time of barely being able to eat. You almost couldn’t wait until lunch.

You found your work clothes neatly folded up outside your door. They had been washed, and it looked like they might have even been ironed. You scooped them up and headed for the bath, hoping it wasn’t occupied.

Freshly washed, fed, clothed, and feeling healthier than you had in so long, you tried to leave the suite, but the young guard was there to stop you again.

“Yuu stae heer.” He said slowly. At your reaction, he shyly held out a little English phrasebook.

“Oh.” Well, wasn’t that sweet of him? “Okay. Yes.”

You headed back inside, once again scouring the library for something you could read. You had very little luck, but you did find some loose paper and pencils, so you passed the time trying to copy some of the illustrations you had found the day before. You used to be good at this kind of thing, but it had been some time since you’d had the energy.

“You’re even noisier when you draw.” Loki drawled. You jerked your pencil in surprise, completely ruining the line.

“Aw dang it!” You exclaimed. “I was doing so well too!”

He stepped closer to examine your work.

“I’m a bit rusty.” You said defensively. “It’s been half a year since I could get any practice in.”

“Come with me.” He commanded, completely disregarding what you were saying.

“You left your manners at the door, I see.” But you left your drawing behind, and followed him anyway.

He led you to a place that had ‘doctor’s office’ written all over it. So this was how the study of your hand started, was it? Well, a medical examination was probably best, as long as dissection wasn’t involved.

Loki handed you over to a tall, gentle-looking lady, with a command to do whatever she told you. Then he left.

“Uhhh, shouldn’t he be here?” You wondered aloud, as the door closed behind him.

“Would you really want him to watch me give you a physical?” The lady asked, her voice soothing, but sounding amused.

“Oh, geez, no thanks. I don’t know him that well!”

“I thought not. Now, undress and then up on the table. My name is Bjarkehild.”

“_____. I’m glad there’s someone else I can actually talk to.” You said, complying with her commands. “I’m afraid I don’t speak your language.”

“Oh, I’m not the only one.” She said. “After it became known that his Majesty had become interested in Midgard, it became something of a fashion to take an interest as well. I know several Midgardian languages.”

“Um, I’m sorry, but what’s Midgard? Is that what you call Earth?” You had thought she was just going to examine your hand, but she gave you a full, professional physical check-up. You hadn’t had one in years.

“Are you supposed to be doing this much?”

“Even if I wasn’t, I would anyway.” She assured you. “Even royalty may not harness a healer. You have been very sick, haven’t you? I was told to perform any and all health related procedures that you might need or request.”

“I can’t pay for that.” You said without thinking about it. It was something you had said so often that it was practically second nature by now. She gave you a curious look.

“Oh, right.” The king had promised to take care of you. Obviously, he meant it. “Do you have a dentist? Can I even get an eye exam? Allergy medication? An IUD? ”

“I’m going to have to look up that last one, but I’m sure we can provide. I have all day with you, if need be.”

Most of the day passed before you left the medical area, a little sore, but feeling better, cleaner, and safer than you had in years. Bjarkehild had barely even bothered with your hand, just asking you if it hurt, and checking the brand for possible infections. Mostly, she just wanted you to eat more, which you had readily agreed to.

Loki was in the waiting area, going through a pile of paperwork.

“That took forever.”

You shrugged. “It’s been like, six years since I had any kind of checkups. There was a lot of work to do.”

“Well, that’s item one checked off.” He gestured to a plate of sandwiches on the table next to his papers, and you fell on it ravenously. The dark bread they used around here tasted very strongly, but you could absolutely get used to it.

“What’s next for today?” You asked between bites.

“Well, I have to finish this.” He said, shaking a handful of papers. “I got a little behind while I was ill. Then, I suppose my brother will probably want to contact a few people, to let them know where you are. I did sort of kidnap you, after all. At least, that’s how your people will see it. We know better. What did Bjarkehild say about your hand?”

“Only that the brand doesn’t go deeper than the skin, and that it’s a magical burn, so it isn’t able to get infected, or open back up, or effect the flexibility of my hand. So that’s all good news.”

He nodded, gathering his papers. “Shall we move this all to a more appropriate place? The lady healer can be impatient with people who do not need her services.”

“Is there maybe another library in the building?” You asked.

“Oh, yes. Here, carry this and follow me.” He handed his paperwork off to you, but after all the good news you’d just received, you didn’t really mind. It wasn’t any heavier than a box of frozen bread dough, after all. “Do you mind if I do a little preliminary experimentation? Nothing too in-depth just yet, just a few things we both need to know.”

“I guess so.” You said. “Gotta start learning about it sometime.”

There were many more people in this area of the building. You figured out which ones were guards pretty quickly; they all wore the same style of helmet. The others came and went around you, giving obeisance to their prince, and giving curious stares to you. One of them relieved you of the stack of papers, and you sure hoped they were the right person to take them.

This library was a busy place, louder than you were used to a library being, but Loki led you to an empty corner, after waving away several offers of help. A simple wave of his hand conjured several objects onto the table between you. A small notebook, a thin piece of metal, and a scrap of leather. You gasped at the show of magic. You’d never seen anything like that in person before. You poked the leather, just to make sure it was really there. You thought you heard Loki chuckle, but when you looked back up at him, his expression hadn’t changed.

“Put your hand on the table, palm up.” He commanded, and you did. He held his hand up over yours. “I am not going to touch it, but I want to see how close I can get before it activates. Tell me if you feel anything.” You nodded, and he lowered his hand slowly, inching closer and closer, until you could feel the heat of his palm. “May I touch it?” He asked, and you nodded again. His skin just barely grazed yours, and you felt the buzzing begin. He removed his hand immediately.

“It won’t activate unless we touch. I see.” He flipped the notebook open and began writing. You couldn’t read the runes, but watching him write them was interesting. Like an exotic form of the calligraphy videos people posted on the internet. “So our wellness is dependent upon closeness, but the power transfer requires direct contact. Now I am going to test if contact can be achieved through solid materials.”

He lay a sheet of the notebook paper over your hand, then pressed his palm to it. Nothing happened.

“No.” Scribble. He tugged his sleeve down over his hand, and tried again. Nothing.

“No.” Scribble. He pressed the scrap of metal into your palm and tried again. Still nothing.

“No.” Scribble. Then the leather. Nothing happened for a moment, but you began to feel the buzz, as if from far away, slowly growing. “Interesting. I suppose it counts as skin. Yes, it appears skin contact is necessary. We should get you a pair of heavy gloves.”

Scribble.

“What does it feel like, from your perspective?”

“Well, the first time, it burned pretty badly. Like I imagine what being branded actually feels like. It hurt all the way up my arm. The second time, it didn’t hurt exactly, but it buzzed. Like when your arm falls asleep and you get pins and needles? But without the pain. And it felt tight all over, like I needed to shed my skin and get bigger. It didn’t hurt, but it was overwhelming. Overstimulating. The light got into my eye and made it hard to see.” He seemed to be writing down everything you said. You wondered if you could convince him to make a copy of his notes that you could read. “Do you think it would kill me if you held on for too long?”

“Hm. Possible, but I don’t think so. It’s far more likely that the power would reach a critical point, and discharge in some form. I doubt it would kill you, but you would probably find it extremely unpleasant.”

“Yikes. Let’s maybe not do that then.”

“Very well.” But it looked like he might still be considering it. “How do you feel about dinner?”

“Positively.” You said.

“Bjarkehild has bid you to eat more, hasn’t she?” He said with dry amusement. “That’s her advice to everyone.”

“Eh, she’s right though. I’m not supposed to be this thin. I mean, society would say I ought to be even thinner, but it’s not true. This isn’t a healthy me. I just haven’t been able to eat much these past few months, and now I’m just leeching energy from you I guess? I’ve gotta get my strength back.”

“Were you strong?” There was a touch of teasing in his voice as he stood and led you back to the less crowded hallways. The stares followed you. They probably would for some time.

“I could carry two boxes of dough at once.” You bragged. “I’m shorter than any of you, but I’m sturdy.”

“So you’re a drudge.” Still teasing.

“Is that fancy talk for modern peasant? Because you’re not exactly wrong, but still…rude.”

“Are you ashamed of what you are?” He asked, no longer teasing. You sighed.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I can really explain on the spot like this. Give me some time to find my words?”

He nodded, and a beautiful, armored woman appeared in front of you both, so suddenly that you nearly walked right into her. Loki stopped short, and while he didn’t exactly back up, he did shift his weight away from her.

“Hello.” She said. “Arm yourself.”

“They’re here already?” He asked.

“Almost. Is this her?”

“Hi.” You said, a little shyly. She seemed tense, but you were also instantly impressed by her. “I’m _____. Um, pleased to meet you?”

“Brunnhilde. What weapon can you wield?”

“Uhhhh, I can shoot a gun?” This was still the most normal conversation you’d had today.

“That’s impressive.”

“Not really.” You protested. “Everyone I know can shoot a gun. I don’t have one.”

“Here.” Loki pressed a small knife into your hand. You hadn’t seen where he’d gotten it from. “Don’t engage anyone unless you absolutely have to. Stay close to me. If you have to use that, do not be merciful. There are some very powerful beings among our enemies.”

“Are we going into battle?” You squeaked the last word. “I don’t know how to fight!”

“Stay close to me.” He commanded. “Brunnhilde, will you also-“

“Yeah, yeah. Shield the princess. I don’t mind.”

The three of you exited the building through a back entrance, weaving through evacuated streets. Loud noises echoed amid skeletal buildings, until you reached their source. As you approached, you saw Thor pick himself up off the ground, bellowing orders for the man from the fens to hold off.

Said man-Heimdall, Thor called him-had his sword drawn, a blade as long as you were tall, and was sternly facing down the attackers.

That was Iron Man.

That was Captain America.

That was suddenly very bad. You definitely couldn’t fight Captain America. He was your hero!

“All right.” Iron Man announced from up in the air. “First of all, she owes me twenty five bottles of scotch. Second of all, return the girl you stole right now! This ain’t the Viking age, we don’t abduct women over the seas anymore!”

“Are you all right Miss?” The Captain called out to you.

“Um, I’m actually fine.” You answered back. “Can…Can we not do this? I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“We’ve seen the security footage, Miss. Whatever he’s convinced you to say, you don’t have to worry anymore.”

“He’s an old man, my dear, and he’s gone as deaf as one.” Loki growled.

“Hey, that’s the soul of my nation you’re talking about! And he’s right about that footage being pretty damning. For all intents and purposes, you kidnapped me.”

“Saved you.” He reminded.

“And what do you think it looks like on film? You already said you knew it would look bad!”

The growing argument between Thor and Iron Man escalated into a full blown fight, causing Brunnhilde to leave your side for his. Repulsor blasts were so much louder in person. You cringed at the noise, and Loki shoved you behind him, standing firmly between you and any stray blasts or debris. Captain America and Heimdall both looked completely exasperated, rushing to try and contain the damage.

You felt a sudden touch, and whirled to stare into a window to another place. A hole in the world framed by orange sparks, out of which reached an actual fantasy wizard. He grasped your hand in one leather glove, the other bringing a finger to his lips in a shushing gesture.

You felt the burning buzz begin, as if from far away, fighting to reach through the glove and into you. The wizard looked startled; his grip faltered and you yanked you hand away.

“No!” You shouted, slashing the little blade at him, but missing badly. “Don’t touch me!” You couldn’t let it happen again.

“Shit.” The wizard hissed, and the window in the world closed, right as a thrown dagger passed through the place it had just been.

“Yes, run!” Loki snapped. “You aren’t welcome in Asgard you two-bit, amateur-“ A deflected blast rocked you both off your feet. He scooped you up when you couldn’t recover as quickly as he could, holding you close to his chest.

“Are you injured?” He demanded. You shook your head.

“A human shield, Reindeer Games? That’s a new low, even for you!” Iron Man exclaimed.

“All right, that’s enough!” You shouted. “Stop fighting! You-“ You pointed at Stark, still up in the air.  “Land! Everybody shut up and listen! I’m the one you came here for, right? So let me talk!”

You stormed away from Loki, placing yourself about halfway between sides.

“Come on home now.” The Captain said. “Your father is worried sick.”

“You talked to my dad? Well, that’s good. He knows I”m ill. Didn’t he tell you?”

“Yes. That’s part of why he’s so worried, and why we’ve personally come to collect you.”

“Okay, well that’s what I need to explain to you. I’m here because of my illness. I’ve been offered an…experimental medical treatment. Since none of the doctors I saw could tell me anything about my illness, I’ve decided to accept the offer. And it’s doing great, see! Yesterday, when that footage was taken, I couldn’t even stand up on my own. The prince had to come and get me unannounced like that because my condition had deteriorated so badly that it had become an emergency. I intended to contact people about it as soon as I could. Will you tell my dad that? I’m really sorry about all the confusion, so can we stop throwing weapons and energy beams at each other now?” You pleaded.

“Is this true?” The Captain asked Thor.

“It is.” He confirmed. “She is our guest for the duration of her treatment.”

“And how long will that be?”

“Well…” You said. “We aren’t quite sure. It is experimental, after all.”

“We want you to check in with us once a week.” The Captain said.

“Done!” Thor agreed.

“Cap, you can’t be serious.” Iron Man began.

“I don’t think she’s lying.” The Captain stated. “Though I wonder when Asgard decided to extend this kind of charity?”

“We were going to start with just this one case, and see how it was received.” Loki said. “Poorly, it seems.”

You wondered if it counted as a lie if he never said that they didn’t ever plan to have any more cases. Who knows, maybe they did plan to extend medical services to people, just much farther in the future.

“How did you think that specifically you teleporting a girl out of her workplace with no word on what was going on was going to be received well?” Iron Man exclaimed.

Loki shrugged. “I can’t stay isolated out here forever.”

“Oh, yes you can!”

“Okay, are we cool?” You asked. “I can’t go back home just yet: I’ll die. But I’m perfectly happy giving you regular check-ins, and since it seems like his Majesty agrees as well, I think we have an arrangement. Does that sound good? I hope so, because I’m getting really cold out here! The rest of you may be alien gods, or wearing advanced technology; I’ve got a polo shirt and khakis.”

“Right, of course.” Loki said, taking your elbow and leading you back toward the town. “We need to get you a coat. I’m taking her back inside now, that she might not catch her death again.” He announced.

“Please tell that wizard I’m sorry, but he scared me.” You said.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Iron Man called. “I didn’t agree to anything! You!” He pointed at Thor. “You stick around. We need to talk!”

“Keep walking and do not look back.” Loki muttered softly. “Really? An experimental medical procedure?”

“Well it kinda is, isn’t it? I didn’t lie.”

“Oh that’s precious. You’re practicing wordplay.”

“Bought us some time, didn’t it?” He couldn’t disagree, so he just led you straight back to your room, and had dinner brought to you.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

You woke to a full scale invasion of your room. A group of women entered with Loki at their lead, carrying your breakfast, and a bathrobe nearly identical to the one he was wearing.

Oh, you’d just known it. You’d known you had been wearing his clothes. It made you uncomfortable just thinking about it. Not only had he sneaked into the room sometime yesterday morning while you were sleeping, to leave you food and clothes, but also, the wearing of his clothing indicated a level of intimacy that the two of you definitely did not have and that you couldn’t even contemplate wanting. And now all of these women were not only going to see you wearing his things, but they would also know that he could and did access the room anytime he wanted. What were they going to think? You had only been here for two days; you did not want to get a reputation for being anybody’s ‘kept woman’.

 Loki set the food and robe down, and stripped the blanket from you, jovially commanding you to arise. At your squeak of protest, the oldest woman stuck her finger in his face, and though you couldn’t understand her, she was clearly berating him. It was a little shocking to see him being shoved out the door, scolded like a child, and even grinning like one.

But he had to have been a child at some time, hadn’t he? Maybe this woman had scolded him even then. She shut the door behind him.

“Ah, scalliwag that he be, let him not get thee in a tizzy, dear. Up, up! We must see to thee.”

“Er, yes ma’am.” Her tone brooked no argument. You rose, yawning, stretching. “What do you need me for?”

“We’re to provide thee with things a lady should have, but thee was brought without. We will be taking measurements for proper clothing, and providing what we may in the meantime. There must be little things as well, scissors for thy nails, a brush for thy teeth, a comb for thy hair. We shall see to them.  Ah, and this be Saldis.”

She brought one of the women forward, a young one with a bright expression and dark eyes.

“She will be thy caretaker for those things a man may not comprehend.”

Saldis held up a measuring tape. “We’re going to be making you a few things, and probably altering some items we already have. If you just wear the clothes you came with every day, the stitches will tear. They don’t seem to have been very well made.”

“Yeah well, in my position in life, cheap is the name of the game.” You said.

“Allow us to change that. Please hold up your arms.”

It took longer than you expected, but you’d never had formal measurements taken before, and only Saldis and the old woman-Roskva-spoke your language. You took care to inform them that your weight would likely be changing, as you were coming back to health after a long illness, and they agreed to add a few inches here and there. When they left, Saldis gave you a pad of paper, and told you to write anything you needed her to know on it.

“I’ve plenty to do around here, so I’ll only be able to check in a few times a day.” She said. “If you aren’t here, just leave me notes, and I’ll take care of whatever it is, okay? I hope I can make your stay here more pleasant.”

“Um, thanks.” Was all you had given her in return. As a member of the servant class yourself, you had no idea how to act around a maid. It felt weird and wrong to have one. You reminded yourself that she wasn’t yours, you were her side project, and that made you feel a little better about it.

Breakfast was cold, but you didn’t mind. The oatmeal had apples chopped into it, and didn’t have to be hot to be good. Cold coffee was also acceptable. The fish oil was gross at any temperature, but apparently a permanent part of the meal, so you swallowed it as quickly as you could, wondering if gods suffered from vitamin deficiencies. How did their bodies work? Did they pee? There were toilets, so clearly they did.

They were alive, like you were. But what did that mean? If these gods lived, and had bodies, and could walk among people, did that mean they had done so before? Legends had been told about them, hundreds, thousands of years ago, so they must have.

Thor and Loki looked no older than yourself. How long had they looked like that? How old could they possibly be? More importantly, possibly most important, were they the only ones? Was Bjarkehild a goddess? Was Saldis? Was the sweet young guardsman?

And what about legends from elsewhere in the world? Were there more gods? Were they all real, just on other planets, somewhere out in space?

You stared out the window as you ate, looking over the construction. Were there hundreds of little gods out there, right now, building a city for their people? Would this become a literal heaven on earth?

“Do you practice obliviousness, to perfect it so?” Loki asked from over your shoulder. You choked on cold coffee. “Surely you can’t be that deep in thought.”

You set the drink down carefully. “You sneak around on purpose; don’t act surprised if I don’t hear you when you don’t want me to!” You said, once you’d finished coughing. “But yeah, I was thinking of something.”

“Did the ladies trouble you?” He asked, but you shook your head.

“No, they were just fine. I’m not used to being waited on, but they didn’t bother me. L-your Highness, are there other gods? If you exist, they all have to exist. Don’t they?”

“Oh. Slightly larger question than I was expecting. What would it do to your little internal world, if I were to say yes? What if I said no? What would change?”

You frowned. That was a dodge for sure. “I don’t know.” You said. “I’ll have to think about it.”

“You do that. For now, we’re due to meet with Bjarkehild. She wants to observe what happens when we…” He searched for a good word. “…Link?”

“It’s way too early in the day for that.” You protested. “I’ll be useless until evening.”

“Insinuating that you are useful in the first place.” He jeered.

“Rude!” You complained, then finished your coffee in one last gulp.

 

                                                                                        *****

“From the looks of it, I would think that this originated from an outside source.” Bjarkehild announced. She had examined your marks very carefully, taking all kinds of measurements, asking questions that you didn’t know how to answer; questions about magic, about your ancestry, neither of which you were familiar with.  Questions Loki didn’t seem to like, especially about his own ancestry. Bjarkehild seemed to know something about him that he really didn’t want to talk about, for all that she worded it in a subtle manner.

“What makes you say that?” Loki asked, seeming relieved that she was no longer asking about ‘his forefathers’ or his ‘previous experiences with Midgardians’.

“They are exactly the same in every dimension, from width to depth, as if you had both grabbed the same burning brand. That’s why it looks so much bigger on her hand; your hand is much larger than hers, but the mark takes up the same amount of space on both of you. She tells me that she has no history of magic, and no previous knowledge of this kind of mark. You have assured me that you have not cast this spell, and that you had also never seen this mark before either. I don’t believe it’s possible to cast such a complex spell you have no knowledge of, even by accident.”

“A fair assessment. However, there is no one else on this planet who could do this. I am coming up blank for a source of power that could do this to me.”

“Perhaps they are not on this planet. It is still possible that you have been cursed. You are not without enemies, my lord.”

Loki grimaced. “You’re not wrong. Most of my very worst enemies are dead now, but a death curse is a very powerful thing.”

“That still doesn’t explain my part in this.” You pointed out. “I’ve never been anywhere but Earth; I never met any of his enemies. How could I possibly be involved in a death curse against him?”

“And besides, I do not think ‘May you be tied to the life of a human woman’ is the kind of curse any of them would have used.” Loki pointed out. “However, this world is very large, and very old. There are many sources and forms of magic that were developed and lost here; this could simply be one of those, coming out of dormancy.”

“It’s still so hard to believe that real magic once existed here.” You said.

“Oh, it still exists. There’s at least one school that has been continuously running for several thousand years.” Loki said. “That wizard you saw yesterday is one of them. Some forms of magic might return, some might be newly invented, and some might remain lost forever, but it was always here. We taught our own magic to your kind thousands of years ago, but others were already here from long before even us.”

“So this mark could be anything?” You asked, awed by the information.

“I don’t think so.” Bjarkehild said. “I believe it has to be tied to one of you, and I’m afraid it is probably you, my lord. This mark comes from a magical tradition that is directly descended from the magic our people taught to the ancestors of theirs. So I believe it is tied to you, but that it still came from a source outside of you. Your presence was very likely nothing more than a catalyst. Yours too, ____. We still don’t know what role you may play in this.” She sighed. “If only we knew your ancestry further back than your grandmother.”

“I wish I did too.” You said. “But gramma really didn’t get along with her family. She never talked about them, and none of them ever tried to contact us, so I don’t even know if any of them are still alive. She even changed her name.”

“Sometimes family does unforgiveable things.” Loki said softly. “Sometimes it all becomes such a mess that you really can’t ever go back.”

You shot him a curious look while Bjarkehild pretended not to have heard him.

“I would like you to connect so that I can see exactly what happens.” She said. “Are you comfortable with doing that?”

Loki shrugged.

“Not exactly.” You said. “But I won’t say no. It’s just really weird, that’s all.”

“Whenever you’re ready.” She said.

Loki held out his hand to you, expectantly, as if he’d done it a hundred times before. You didn’t want to bring it up, but this was a part of what made it weird for you. The intimacy, with him specifically. Maybe it would be different if he was somebody else, or if you’d actually had a date with anyone in the past year. But men had been less important than work, and they had mostly gone for Tara anyway. And though Loki had been somewhat absolved in your eyes, you were still far from any kind of easy trust.

You hesitantly slipped your hand into his. He curled his fingers around yours, bringing your palms together. The link sparked instantly, runes glowing bright blue, spreading up your arms. Bjarkehild  began writing them down as quickly as she could.

“What does it feel like?” She asked, pointing at you.

“Like I’m being filled up too much.” You gasped. “Like there’s just too much in me, too much blood, or too much air, something like that. Like my skin is too small. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s uncomfortable. My whole body’s too tight. It’s in my eye, and it’s hard to see. Can’t concentrate. Buzzing’s too big, I can’t…I can’t!”

“Alright, let go.” She commanded, and Loki released you. You slumped against him, and he sniffed in disdain, but didn’t shove you off. Bjarkehild would probably yell at him if he did.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

“Just give her a moment.” Loki assured her. “The effect of it seems to muddle her brain, but she will recover shortly. She will probably require food. Mortal bodies have a limited energy reserve.”

“I see.” She called for someone you thought was a nurse, and sent her for a snack. “Now for you; what is this like for you?”

“Not altogether dissimilar to what it is for her.” He said. “She has no experience in manipulating magical energies, so it is much harder on her. But it does feel rather like a sponge being filled up. Like light finding its way into every little space and trying to leak out when there is no more room. I don’t find it all that unpleasant, but I’ve found that if I let it go on for too long, it can be overwhelming. The energy is…large, but not heavy? Rather like a fog bank or a strong wind. It is difficult to transmute or manipulate, but I believe that I can. It still feels somewhat familiar. I must have come into contact with similar energies before, but I still cannot identify it.”

The junior healer returned bearing a plate stacked up with buttered slices of that dark bread you were growing so fond of. You ate three without stopping, then sheepishly offered the plate to the others. Loki waved it away, and Bjarkehild declined with amusement.

“Are you ready to try again?” She asked.

“I guess so?” You didn’t know how much of this you could actually take, but with a sorcerer and the senior healer watching you, you were pretty sure nothing that bad would happen.

Loki casually took your hand again.

“Now try to push to power back down into your hands.” Bjarkehild instructed.

“I don’t know how to-“You started to say, when you felt Loki push, and the power slammed into you. It felt as if your head would come off your shoulders.

You were on the ground, though you didn’t recall falling. The plate-and the bread-was in little pieces all around you. Loki and Bjarkehild knelt beside you, Bjarkehild lifting you effortlessly in her arms-so strong, like all Asgardians. Loki checking your eyes, your face, looking for any sharp fragments of plate that might have pierced your skin.

“We’re going to call that enough for today.” Bjarkehild said, finding a bed to lay you down on.

“I thought something like this might happen, if she got overfilled.” Loki said, the words coming out fast. He was scratching at his palm. “I didn’t know she would be so…receptive. I didn’t mean for that to happen, I thought there would be some kind of blockage or resistance, some kind of natural defense to the flow of power.”

“Obviously, you didn’t mean to.” Bjarkehild assured him. “But now we know we have to act as if we’re dealing with a first day student. She has no defenses, no control, no experience at all. I shouldn’t have asked you to do that in the first place. How do you feel, dear?” She asked you. “Do you hurt at all?”

“I don’t know.” You said, barely able to speak above a whisper. “I don’t understand what happened.”

“You took in too much energy at once.” Loki explained. “Your body converted it in order to protect yourself, but not very well. I did not know that you couldn’t push back. I’m not used to working with such inexperienced people.”

Again, not an apology, but close.

“Never knew magic was real before.” You said. “Never had a chance to get experienced. I’m sorry. I think I dropped the plate.”

“You didn’t exactly drop it.” Bjarkehild said. “What did happen there?” She asked Loki.

“Well, when I pushed the power into her, a little of my own went with it. I saw her manifest the energy outside of herself, into the plate and bread.”

“And that made it explode?” Bjarkehild asked.

“It exploded?” You repeated.

He shook his head. “No. The power found all the little structural weaknesses, the tiny cracks, the bubbles, the imperfections. Then it filled them in and sort of…pushed them apart . No heat or fire, just a good, hard shove to the weak points. That was just not a very well made plate, it seems. But don’t worry about that; it was not your fault.”

“You should rest for now, at least until we’re sure there’s no damage.” Bjarkehild directed. “I’ll send Ulfrun back out for more bread. Tell us if you feel anything unusual.”

You wanted to say that everything was unusual, but you were already drifting off.

 

                                                                              *****

 

“She has magical aptitude.” Loki said, once it was obvious you were asleep. “That opens up some possibilities.”

“That must be terribly rare among humans, for her to not know it.” Bjarkehild said.

“Not necessarily.” Thor said. “There are a lot more of them than there are of us. Things get lost.”

Bjarkehild jumped. “Your majesty?” The king followed behind Ulfrun, carrying a plate of dried stockfish.

“I heard your healer here speaking with the kitchen staff about exploding plates. I thought it sounded a bit interesting.”

Loki translated that quickly. I heard my brother might be getting into trouble again, so I came to check in on him. He fixed the junior healer with a dry stare. She did not meet his gaze. He knew her family, knew they did not really approve of him. Was she spreading rumors deliberately, or was she just a harmless gossip?

Thor set the plate down and took a seat, while Ulfrun hastily took her leave.

“The thing about humans, is that there’s over seven billion of them.” Thor said. “And they all used to at least believe in magic. It still exists here, but it’s a lot more rare that any of them gets the opportunity to learn. Magic may not be much more common among our people, but there are a great deal fewer of us, and that makes it so much easier to find out who can use it and who can’t. A human might go their entire life without finding out they have the ability. Generations might pass without a single sorcerer being trained. There may be a much larger number of magical humans than all our people put together, but the percentage compared to the rest is so low, that finding one is probably quite rare.”

“Perhaps that’s why this was possible in the first place.” Loki mused, gazing at his palm. “Latent magic that she never would have known she possessed, if not for one chance meeting. I wonder how many there really are?”

If humanity had not stopped training their mages, the Battle of New York might have gone very differently. Hel, he might not have gone any further than Stuttgart. Even a master could be overwhelmed by amateurs if there were enough of them, and even if only three percent of the population had magical potential, that was still several hundreds of thousands that could be mustered to defend the planet. 

“They are going to start figuring it out.” Thor said. “Humans are insatiably curious beings, trust me.  Once that bilgesnipe’s out of the bag, there will be no going back. So, what actually happened here? Your healer seemed rather frightened by our little mortals’ sudden ability to destroy dishes.”

“Just a small incident with her capacity to hold energy, that’s all.” Bjarkehild told him. “It discharged into the plate. She’s resting now. No sense in pushing her too far.”

You stirred in your sleep, shivering. Loki heard his name fall from your lips once, and he was standing by your side in the next moment. You weren’t awake, but you were shivering hard. He drew the blanket up further around your shoulders, but it didn’t seem to help.

“Bjarkehild.” He called, though she and Thor were already there, already trying to help.

“Magical exhaustion.” Bjarkehild suggested. “Her body isn’t used to it. Plus, she’s more fragile than we are.”

So this was his fault. Grand. Would he ever stop accidentally inflicting suffering?

“_____, can you hear me?” He asked softly. “You called for me. Here I am.” It was the first time you had called him by name, and you weren’t even awake. He patted your cheek to see if you would wake.

You calmed at his touch, the shaking subsiding.

“Keep doing that.” Thor encouraged. Loki rolled his eyes.

“No, I think I’ll stop and just let her shake out of the bed. Of course I’m going to keep doing it!”

“All right, how are you doing this?” Bjarkehild asked. “Normally, a person suffering magical exhaustion just has to rest and deal with the side effects. What are you doing differently?”

“It has to do with the link we have through the mark.” Loki explained. “When I found her, we were both feeling rather rough, but she was much worse off. It was closeness, especially touch that gave us our health back. I do not know why, and I really don’t like it. I don’t need my continued existence linked directly to some weak little thing who can die so easily.”

You took that moment to snuggle into his hand. Bjarkehild almost managed to mask the sound she made, but Thor didn’t even try to hide his expression. Loki pressed his lips tightly together, daring either of them to say anything. He knew they had both labeled you as ‘cute’, like a small animal, and he wanted no part of it. He didn’t want the attachment to so transient a life. Besides, you weren’t cute. You had tried to break his nose!

“She seems to be responding well.” Bjarkehild pointed out.

“Only because she is asleep.” Loki said. “Otherwise she would be steeped in distrust over my touch, and wiser for it.”

“And you, my lord?” She asked, notebook ready. “Does this affect you in any way? Does it feel draining? Empowering? Calming?”

“I feel…better? Like when you walk into a room and something smells very nice, and it uplifts you? It’s rather like that.  Gentle. Subtle, but it makes me feel…just better. However, I cannot just trail her around behind me, holding her hand like a child all day.”

“I’m sure we can schedule you in some healthy hand-holding time.” Thor said, almost teasing, but Loki only glared. When he finally removed his hand, you made a little noise, but did not resume shivering.

“Well, it looks like she will be staying here for a little while. What else is on the itinerary today?” Loki asked, as if seeking an escape from the soft moment.

“More discussions with the environmental specialists.” Thor said. “Building regulations, what can and can’t be done on the land, habitat conservation, and so on.”

“Sounds perfect. Let’s go.” Loki agreed, and exited with his brother close behind, leaving Bjarkehild to go over her notes.

Chapter Text

 

 

You woke up alone, hearing only soft, muffled voices from several rooms over. There was a plate of dried fish on the tray next to the bed, and you demolished it, though not literally this time.

You had done something magical. You could do magical things. How could you have never known this?

And what should you do about it?

First things first, you got out of bed. Your legs felt fine, you could walk without problem, you weren’t dizzy. Your hand tingled just a tiny bit. The little bits of plate and bread had been cleaned up, as if it had never happened. You really didn’t like it when there was no evidence left for things that you knew had happened, but that was probably just something that would follow you around for the rest of your days.

You took the plate, now empty of fish, and left the hospital area. You had no escort, and you weren’t really thinking about it; all your life, you had been taught to do things for yourself, and now there was a dish that needed to go back to the kitchen. Besides, you needed to apologize for the other plate.

You wandered for a little while, expecting the kitchens to be in some obvious place, but it seemed you were wrong. No matter what corner you turned, what hallway you traveled, there were no kitchens to be found. Soon, you were very lost, and gathering more stares by the moment.

“Um, anyone on kitchen duty?” You asked, holding up the plate. Someone did take it from you, but nearly the next thing you knew, you were facing down a pair of spears.

Two guards, who of course did not speak English, bound your hands and marched you away. You feared they were taking you right to whatever passed as a prison here, but instead they led you out through the city, all the way to the limits. Once they had gotten you past a perimeter fence, they cut your hands free, and forced you out into the countryside, away from the city limits.

What were you supposed to do outside? It was cold, and it would be dark soon.

There were other people out here; they cheered when they saw the guards, but it died down pretty quickly when they saw you being ejected. They were a varied bunch, some waving signs, some tending small fires, some dancing and playing instruments. Many looked like they belonged on a heavy metal album cover; even more looked like they’d just come from a medieval reenactment event.

Several of them approached you in a curious but friendly way. A young woman with her blonde hair up in complicated braids asked you a question in yet another language you didn’t know.

You sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

“Oh, English?” She said, accented but easily understandable. “Yes, I can speak that too.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” You breathed in relief. “I’ve gotta get back in there.”

She grinned. “We all feel the same. Are you hurt though? They aren’t mean, but they are not gentle either. I got bruised last time.”

“Wait, you tried to go into the city?”

“Of course! We all want inside, don’t you know? I’m Sofie. Come to my fire, let’s talk.”

It was cold. It would only get colder as the sun sank below the horizon. A fire was probably your best bet until this misunderstanding got cleared up. Not far in the distance there was an encampment, or rather, a collection of encampments huddled close together. Sofie led you to a fire circled with a mix of modern and archaic-looking tents, all decorated with what you were beginning to guess might be ‘viking style’ artworks.

She sat you down, draped a spare blanket over your shoulders, and poured you a cup of tea from a pot hanging over the fire. You gratefully warmed your hands on it.

“You are new here, right?” She asked. “I haven’t seen you before.”

“Oh, yeah, I just got in two days ago.” You answered. “Don’t really know what I’m doing.”

You probably shouldn’t talk too much about what had happened. Sofie was being very kind, but you still didn’t know what was going on out here, why all these people were camped out outside the city.

“We all come as we are called, I think.” She said. “You are here now, and that is all that matters. They will let us in sometime. Perhaps they will come to see us, and know we only want to be with them. Until then, we will stay here.”

“Who will?” You asked. You had no idea what she was talking about. Were the Asgardians going to let all these people move in? That might not be a bad idea; it would help them adjust to life on Earth.

She looked at you strangely. “The gods, of course.”

Oh. “Oh, right! Of course!” You said. You had an answer now, for Loki’s question of whether gods existing mattered. It very clearly mattered to some people. Enough that they would leave their homes to set up camp outside an unfinished city that kicked them out when they tried to enter. “Uh, have you been here long?”

“Most of a year. I came before almost everyone else.” She laughed when your eyebrows shot up. “It’s not as hard as it seems for me. I’m local, and I can go back home when I need to. I go every few weeks to get groceries for my group.”

“But don’t you have a job to go to?” You asked. “How do you fund this?”

“I am at my job!” She said, still grinning. She held up her phone. “I stream everything that happens, and I have many subscribers. The gods have many followers who can’t travel, so they support me, and I keep them updated. That reminds me; do I have permission to record you? I won’t if you don’t want me to, but I would like to tell everyone about our new friend.”

“Um, yeah sure. If it gets you a few more views, I don’t mind.” A few more bucks in her pocket might be all you could do for her.

“All right!” She said, and began recording. “Hello, everyone! Sofie Snowfox here, with a special English language update in honor of our new friend! Say hello to everyone!”

You waved at the phone. “Hi, I’m _____.”

“Isn’t that nice? And where are you from?”

I’m from Iowa.” You paused. “Uh, that’s in the U.S.”

“Oh, you came from very far away! And who have you come to be near? Or are you perhaps still on the journey to find who to devote yourself to?”

“Um…” You didn’t know how to answer this one. You weren’t an atheist, but you weren’t very devout either. Still, you had been raised in rural America, right in the middle of the Bible Belt. It felt weird to claim actual worship of any other god, even as a cover.

A male voice interrupted your thoughts, saving you from that particular decision. Sofie huffed as a young man sat down across the fire from you.

“Sorry friends, this interruption is brought to you by Fritjof. Again.” She turned her phone off.  “Engelsk.” She said. “What do you want, Frit?”

“Who is she?” Fritjof demanded. “You. Are you the one who just came from the city? How did you get in?”

“Uh, well, It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know you’re not supposed to!” You said, slipping back into your chipper customer service persona. This guy sounded pretty aggressive.

“Are you pure?” He asked. “Are you devoted?”

“Ugh, it’s none of your business!” Sofie insisted. “Why are you so creepy?”

“They are going to make the world right again.” He said. “There are people here who are not worthy. That’s why they won’t let us in. I will find out who it is.”

“And then what?” Sofie asked. Fritjof didn’t answer. “Creepy.”

“Are you devoted?” He asked again.

“Uh…” Sofie wore a golden apple as a pendant. Fritjof had a tattoo on the back of his right hand; a rune shaped a bit like an awareness ribbon. “Oh, uh, I’ve got this.”

You held out your hand, and they both gawked at it.

“A brand!” Sofie exclaimed. “How’s that for devoted? Who is this for?”

This, at least, you could be honest about.

“It’s Loki.” You said. “This, uh, brings me closer to him.”

Sofie nodded. “Yes, he seems like he would like the more extreme acts of devotion. Or any act of devotion, I think.”

Fritjof snorted. “Typical. Though I thought an American would not like Loki so much, after what he did there.”

“Well, I think there might be more to the story.” You said. “Things we didn’t get told. Things maybe no one knew.” Things you had just recently found out about. Beforehand, you had feared him just like everyone else in your country.

“Did you see him? Did you see any of them?”

You definitely shouldn’t say yes. Who knew what would happen? They would probably have so many questions that you should not answer. Being directly linked to Loki when you didn’t even worship him might not go over very well, especially with the intensity that Fritjof was showing.

“Um, I, uh, I saw Heimdall!” That might be safe. Heimdall seemed to stay outside the city. He was the god most likely to be seen.

“Oh that’s wonderful! You’re blessed! What was he like?” Sofie asked, turning her phone back on. “_____ saw Heimdall, everyone! She is going to tell us about him!”

“Oh, geez. Um. He didn’t say anything to me, but he seemed kind. He was very tall. He had dark skin, and beautiful eyes, and he-“

“That was not Heimdall.” Fritjof interrupted.

“What? Yeah it was.” Thor said his name. “I heard his name said.”

“That could not have been Heimdall.” He insisted.

“Frit, don’t be stupid.” Sofie said. “She saw him. Deal with it.”

“Heimdall is the brightest of the gods.”

“His helmet was certainly shiny.” You said. “It was golden and had horns shaped like a crescent moon.”

“Don’t spread your false information. Turn that off!”

“This is my stream, Frit, you don’t get to decide what goes on it!” Sofie snapped. “Leave my fire until you can stop being rude!”

“You are wrong.” He declared, but he did get up and leave.

“What’s his problem?” You asked as he stormed off.

“Ugh, he is stupid.” Sofie declared. “He has this idea of what the gods must be like, and can’t accept any argument to the contrary. Anything that contradicts his worldview, he hates. I’m sorry, but you are probably on his hate list now. Probably better stay away from him; he and his friends are big jerks. “

“What did I say that contradicted him?” You asked. “I just said what I saw.”

“You described Heimdall as dark-skinned.” Sofie explained. “Frit wouldn’t be able to accept that.”

“But he is! I saw him twice! And he has a great big sword, and he hangs out outside the city-“

“I believe you, but Frit can’t.”

“Ohhh.” You said, eyes narrowing. “So he’s like that, huh? Well, that’s how it is, and he’s going to have to get used to it. There’s a lot of skin colors inside that city. I saw them. It’s just like out here, in the rest of the world. If that’s what he means by them making the world ‘right again’, he’s got a lot of disappointment coming.”

“He is embarrassing.” Sofie agreed. “He’s not the only one. There is a whole group of them over there who have decided the gods must fit their worldview and theirs only. They twist the stories and use bad translations to support their weird ideas. They are so pushy! Frit is the only one who bothers to talk to any of the rest of us like people, and he is still creepy about it. The rest just play their music too loud, and sometimes shout to people like they are preaching. But their messages are not so good.”

“Yeah, I know the type. I live in rural middle America, I’ve seen a skinhead or two.”

Sofie looked confused. “Skinhead?”

“Eh, people with ideas kinda like his. They used to shave their heads bald, which is where the nickname comes from. That got too obvious I guess, so they use other hairstyles now, but they’re still bald underneath. They can’t hide it forever.”

“I guess their kind of insecurity exists everywhere, huh? Well, he has gone away, and might not try to talk to you anymore. He might be very jealous too. Not very many of us have seen any of the gods. You are very lucky to have seen such an important god, and more than once!” She leaned in, her phone ready. “You said he had beautiful eyes?”

You giggled. “Ha, yes. They were orange, and seemed very kind. I think he must be kind. He just felt like it.”

“Are you sure you are devoted to Loki?” Sofie teased, and you laughed.

“Yeah, well, no getting around that, it’s just how it is.”

She put her phone away. “Where is your tent? I’ll walk you there.”

How to explain? You had nothing but the clothes you were wearing. The sun was gone now, and you could see nothing but the fires that dotted the encampment.

“Um, the other side. I came in on the other side.” Technically not a lie. You were starting to feel pretty bad about all the technically not lying you were doing.

“The other side of the city?” She asked, incredulous. “You came all the way through the city?”

“That’s how I saw all those people.”

“How did you get so far?”

You thought about it. “Phenomenally unpredictable luck. If I had a superpower, that would be it.”

“Well, you can’t go back now! It’s too dark, too dangerous. You must stay with me tonight.” She insisted. “We can find your way back tomorrow. You might want to get your things and come back over here. It’s not as safe on the other side; there is some very marshy land over there. Easy to get stuck in.”

“Er, yeah, I know.” Oh boy, did you know. “Are you sure I can stay?”

“Of course!” She said brightly. “I have extra room just for things like this.”

She provided you with a can of soup and some salty black licorice that you found hard to get down, but couldn’t find it in you to refuse. Sofie wasn’t kidding about having extra room; her tent was huge. She had extra sleeping bags and blankets, and she even had cloth partitions that could be dangled from the tent roof. You snuggled quite comfortably into one of the sleeping bags, hardly touched by the cold. Tomorrow you would have to find a way back in. You would have to let Sofie know at least some of the truth. If you walked around to the other side of the city, if you could find Heimdall, he would probably take you back inside. He knew you belonged there.

You fell asleep trying to formulate an apology to Sofie.

                                                                                       *****

It was still dark when you awoke to the sounds of shouting and general excitement. Sofie woke you carefully, caution in every movement. She was holding an iron skillet.

“Quick, get up. Something is going on. Be careful though; don’t go running off anywhere. It might be dangerous. There have been fights before.”

You slithered out of the cocoon of warmth, aching and with a throbbing headache. Already? You had been away for less than a day.

 You crouched by the tent opening with Sofie. She peeked out, gasped, and then closed the tent flap very quickly.

“He’s here.” She said, her voice shaky. “He’s here, _____. He’s out there. Loki is outside, in the encampment! There is another with him. It must be Heimdall, just as you described! But they never come outside!”

“Er, does he look angry?” You asked quietly. She peeked again.

“He looks…stern. Why?”

“Everyone!” He called, his voice seeming to reach every part of the camp. Sofie looked back outside. “I am looking for a woman I believe has come out among you! She will have a mark on her left hand identical to this. I ask that you return her to me, immediately!”

Sofie gasped again, slowly turning to look at you.

“I-I’m sorry.” You whispered. “I didn’t know how to tell you…”

Fritjof ripped the tent flap open, shoving his phone in your faces. The security footage from your workplace of Loki kidnapping you had finally been uploaded to the internet. Sofie watched, her mouth hanging open.

“Do…you not want to go back?” She asked. “Maybe I can hide you, or sneak you away. If you want.”

Fritjof shoved her to the ground. “You betray the gods!” He shouted. Grabbing you by the arm and hair, he dragged you out into the encampment, throwing you at Loki’s feet. “I have brought her, my lord!” He exclaimed, kneeling.

There were a few moments of shocked silence as Sofie crossed the encampment after you. Fritjof looked up into Loki’s face and beheld a storm. He had barely enough time to realize he had done something wrong before Loki’s boot connected and sent him sprawling.

“Who told you to treat her like that?” He demanded. “I asked for her to be returned, not brutalized! Do you treat everything of value so callously?” He continued on in a language you knew nothing of, but you could tell the viciousness of the tirade by the tone, and also by how horrified and suddenly alone Fritjof was.

You cringed together with Sofie, clinging to each other in growing fear. You hadn’t actually seen Loki truly angry before; you could feel the power of it rolling over you. It seemed the entire camp felt it, and they all shrank back. The mark pulled at you, wanting to lead you closer to him, but your legs wouldn’t obey.

There was a very sudden silence, only the crackling of the fires indicated that time was moving. Fritjof lay where he had landed, curled up and trembling, absolutely no one moving to get any closer to him. Loki’s eyes flicked between him, and you, and the gathering of people; you saw him slowly realize that everyone expected him to-and was terrified that he would-kill the young man.

He growled in deep irritation. “One of you take him out of my sight.” He crouched next to you, and drew you out of Sofie’s arms.

“_____...” She whispered.

“It’s okay.” You whispered back. The instant he touched you, your aches and headache fled. “I’m supposed to go with him. It was an accident that I came out here in the first place.”

“Will you visit us again?” She asked.

“I don’t know. I hope so. I want to know more about you, and your faith, and all these people, and just you!” Loki pulled you fully away, from her arms into his own.

“No-“ He began.

“Please! She’s been so kind to me!” You pleaded. “She fed me and housed me, and protected me! She did so much, and she didn’t even have to!”

“Perhaps, then. But we are going now.” He led you away, holding your unmarked hand tightly. Maybe you could have dug in your heels, tried to stay a moment more, but it would have been like pushing back against a glacier; you wouldn’t have been able to slow his pull by an inch.

He waited until he’d gotten you all the way back to his rooms to turn his irritation on you.

“What in all the realms were you thinking, just wandering about unescorted?” He snapped, grasping your shoulders tight in his hands. “All of the guards have instructions to eject any unescorted humans from the city!”

“I didn’t know that!” You protested. “You never told me that! And why didn’t you just tell them all ‘hey, you know that obvious human that’s been following me around? Don’t kick that one out’? Do you want me to have to tag along everywhere?”

“You’ve been here for two days! I haven’t had the time to make any official announcements! Is it really so hard for you to just stay put and think critically for a few days until I can get everything in order? Do you have any idea what could have happened to you out there? What if you hadn’t been taken in by one of Idunn’s children? What if you’d gotten lost in the dark and perished of cold, or fallen in the river? What if that worm from the camp found you first? Do you have any idea what it would be like to feel you die?”

You didn’t. You hadn’t even though about it, Everything had happened so fast, you hadn’t had much time to think about it, just like everything over the past two days. Had it really only been two days?

“I don’t.” You said.

“Let’s keep it that way.” He released your shoulders. “You aren’t in your old home, this is not your old world. There are different rules here. You have to be patient. I don’t know why peasants have so damn much pride, but you have to learn to rely on me. You are my responsibility now.”

“You can’t do everything for me.” You protested.

“I can.” He said, infuriatingly matter-of-fact. You didn’t even know what to say to that. He probably actually could. You just didn’t think you wanted him to.

“I know, I know. You don’t want to be in my debt. You don’t want me to think I own you, you don’t want to lose your independence.” He held up his palm, displaying the mark. “It’s too late for that, for both of us. But we can make this easy. You simply let me handle everything, and you relax for what I’m guessing is the first time in your life.”

You sighed. Okay, he had you dead to rights there. You had never taken a real vacation. You couldn’t afford it, unless Tara was footing the bill. Maybe you could just look at this like a big, weird vacation. Which might last for years. Or forever.

“Okay, I’ll try.” You agreed reluctantly. “But you might like me less when I’m actually relaxed and comfortable. I can get really curious.”

“So, a drudge, but not a dullard? That might be refreshing.” The teasing tone was back.

“I will ask you the dumbest questions.” You threatened. “I will ask so many.”

“Oh please do. I cannot wait to waste all my time trying to fill your pathetic mortal mind with basic information.”

You tilted your head to give him the side-eye. “You messing with me?”

He turned you around and pushed you into your room. “Ask again tomorrow.”

This time you really did hear the lock turn.

Chapter Text

 

You awoke from dreams of other worlds to be faced with another tasty breakfast and a new set of clothing. You really hoped it was Saldis or Roskva bringing your clothes now, as there were various underthings among them that the men that were suddenly in your life simply did not need to know about. There were also some aspects of your new garments that you weren’t entirely sure on how to go about wearing, but you’d be hanged before you went to ask Loki to help you dress yourself. You were not a child; you didn’t need anyone’s help to put your own clothes on, least of all his.

The dark green dress was easy enough. It was somewhat shapeless, soft and comfortable, but clearly not new. There was wear in the shoulder and neck areas, and the hems and sleeves had clearly been shortened to fit your stature. They’d hidden the hasty alterations with a wide black ribbon, woven with a dark yellow braid pattern. Somehow, the fact that it wasn’t brand new made you more comfortable with wearing it. It would be so much easier and cheaper for these already busy people to simply recycle old clothes for you.

The loose drawstring trousers and thick socks that went under the skirt were very welcome. Your feet had been cold since yesterday, and there was no rug on the floor of your room.

You noticed with some surprise that your apron from work had been altered with decorative ribbon as well, and was clearly meant to be worn with the rest of the ensemble. You had seen some people out in the encampment who had been wearing overdresses that looked a bit like aprons. Maybe the Asgardian clothiers had though that’s what your apron was. You put it on like you always did. You’d grown so used to wearing it. Now it looked so lovely, with its simple ribbon addition, it was like you’d never seen it before.

Now you were confronted by the objects you weren’t as sure about. A braided yellow and green sash that you sincerely hoped was a belt, because that was where you were wearing it. A triangular piece of cloth that you thought might be some kind of mini cape. It looked warm and fluffy, and Loki had said he’d get you a coat. Maybe this was the best he could find? It draped over your shoulders easily enough.

There was a pair of oval pins, decorated with knotted snakes, a length of yarn braid strung between them. They were obviously meant to be worn as a connected whole, so you held them against various parts of your body, trying to guess where they looked best. You settled for pinning them to your sash belt. A pair of fingernail clippers and a tiny, cylindrical sewing kit with a single needle and spool of thread wrapped around a toothpick inside, both hung from short chains attached to hooks. You hooked them through the braided belt, tied the warm shawl around your shoulders, and stepped out into the library.

Loki was there, nibbling on some toast, leafing through a yellowed journal filled with odd-looking runes; like lines with tally marks on them. He seemed to be attempting to transliterate them into his own runes, in his notebook.

“What do they say?” You asked. Could you learn to read these things?

“They are descriptions of an artifact the writers were searching for. It had been used against them in war, and they believed it had been left behind when their enemies withdrew. They never found it.”

“Who were they?” You wondered. “I’ve never seen writing like this.”

“How many kinds of writing have you really seen?” Loki asked, slight mocking in his tone. You, who are poor and uneducated, how much could you know? Was that what he meant?

“Well, I’ve got the internet.” You pointed out. “I’ve at least seen words, even if I couldn’t read them.”

“Very well then, from where does this come?” He scribbled a few letters.

“I think that’s Greek? I can’t read it.” His pen moved again. “An Asian language. Probably Chinese? I can’t read that either, and I’m not good at telling them apart. I just know there’s a lot.”

“And these?”

“Those are the same runes you always use. So…Viking, I guess?”

“They are Asgardian in origin.” Loki explained. “Brought here and taught to the ancestors of your people, likely at about the same time this writing was.” He tapped the yellow page, with its strange, stick-like runes. “But these are not the same as what humans came to use. Humans did not learn Asgardian, they simply adapted our writing to their own purposes. Your kind is very good at doing things like that.

But this writing did not catch on as well as ours did. It seems to have disappeared and resurfaced several times over the centuries. That’s simply to be expected, I think, because the originators of this language, the Alfar, are a rather aloof people, and so their customs simply didn’t travel as far as ours did.”

He finally looked up at you, and another almost-smile tugged the corners of his mouth.

“You nearly got it right.” He said, almost praising. Then he casually reached out and unfastened the pair of pins from your belt. You made a startled sound, stepped back, but he bid you stay still while he re-pinned them in their proper place; at the shoulder straps of your apron. Your face burned at the closeness, and at the fact that you hadn’t known how to wear simple jewelry, and you looked away.

This sparked some amusement in him.  “You want to look proper when I parade you out in front of the guards, don’t you? You know, when I tell them all ‘hey, you know that obvious human that’s been following me around? Don’t kick that one out’.”

You brightened right up at that. You would get to meet some new people, and see more of the building. You had grown familiar with Loki’s rooms, and with the medical area, but other than that, you had no grasp of your surroundings.

How tiny your world had become.

Evidently there had been word of your coming. The yard outside the guardhouse was stuffed full of people in full armor and horned helmets. They were lined up in flawless order, each with a spear, and a beautiful round shield. They looked ready to take on anything.

“Gotta admit.” You whispered to Loki. “I’m super impressed.”

“It doesn’t take much, does it?” He quipped, then quickly raised his hand to shush you. “This is but a tiny remnant of the force we could once field. While it’s likely we won’t need a great army any time soon, it’s still a mere shadow of what we used to have. Almost half of them are new recruits as well. Not fully trained. It takes more than armor to make einherjar,  _____.”

“They didn’t…they didn’t come back? After you set the universe right?”

He shot you a quick glance.

“I mean all of you.” You amended. He hadn’t even been there. He’d been dead.

“They died before all that, I’m afraid, not because of Thanos. And this is all that’s left. They aren’t wasted though. Rather than battle, they are dedicated to the protection of the city and the people. And now you.”

People gathered in the street as Loki stood before the neat rows of guards, and addressed them in a ringing voice that filled the area. You couldn’t understand, but he placed his hand on your back and pushed you forward, and you heard your name among the flow of words. Knowing why you had come in the first place helped you get the gist of what he was saying.

Of course, he could be saying any kind of insulting thing, and you wouldn’t know. The guards-Einherjar-wore helmets that entirely covered their faces, and could betray no expression, and when you turned to the people gathered on the sidelines, you saw only a mix of adoration and distaste. It seemed Loki was a figure controversial even among his own people.

Or perhaps that disapproval was aimed toward you; a stranger, a human, standing at the side of their prince.

“Hold out your hand.” Loki ordered. “Let them see the mark, so they can recognize that, even if they do not remember your face.”

You held your hand up high over your head so they could all see.

“And if any of you were looking for an excuse to learn more Midgardian languages, may I suggest the challenge of English? For it is all she speaks, I’m afraid. You are all dismissed to your duties.”

With the dismissal, most of the guards left, either to their patrols, or back into the guardhouse. Some removed their helmets to converse with each other. The young guard from Loki’s rooms approached with a small smile.

“Yuu, stae?” He asked shyly.

“Yes.” You told him. “For some time, at least.”

“Guud. So I will…” He trailed off, looking for words, speaking to Loki with a searching tone.

“Ah. Andsvarr here wishes to convey to you his dedication to your personal protection.” Loki said, lips pursing in clear amusement. Andsvarr continued speaking. “He considers it an honor to see to the well-being of the first human resident of Asgard.”

“Oh. Uh, can you tell him that I appreciate his efforts?”

Loki obliged, and the young guard-Andsvarr, you would remember-beamed brighter than his armor. He was called away by another guard, whom you assumed must be his superior.

“No doubt you’ll be able to convey your appreciation without my help soon enough.” Loki said. “He’s proven to be a fast learner.”

“Are humans considered exotic or something?” You wondered. “Because the whole world is full of us. We aren’t exactly rare.”

“Oh, that’s not exactly it. There are a set of Asgardian that isn’t terribly fond of humanity as a concept. And then there is a set that wishes to adapt to our new circumstances as quickly as possible and, perhaps hastily, has decided to welcome humans with open arms. Andsvarr is one of the latter, but he comes from a family that is the former. And so he has embraced this new life with extra vigor.”

“Oh. Is that why you don’t allow any other humans in? Because some of your people don’t like us?”

“There are several reasons.” He offered you his arm, which you slowly and hesitantly took. You’d only seen that gesture in fairy tale movies. “Most of the area is a construction site. You don’t just let random people onto construction sites, do you? Why?”

“It’s dangerous.” You answered obligingly as he led you away, carefully avoiding areas where large amounts of dust were being kicked up. “People who don’t know what they’re doing could get hurt. Okay, that’s fair.”

“And maybe not every human in that camp out there is what they say they are. We have enemies. I have enemies, for what I’ve done. Thor has enemies, among the less kind of your species. And of course, there are the humans who feel threatened by outsiders, or who are jealous, or who are violently opposed to the theological questions we represent. Any such person could prove dangerous to us. Harm our citizens, or sabotage our work.

Also, at the risk of sounding dismissive, worshippers and admirers are simply too much trouble for now. While the prospect of worship is gratifying, we have so much to do at this point in time that we simply cannot have unvetted people running around underfoot. This is all for their safety, as well as ours. And yours. Just because the guards know who you are now doesn’t mean you can go wandering off wherever you want. Most of us have no idea how fragile Midgardian bodies are, compared to our own. There is still too much potential for an accident.”

That was annoying. The prospect of being cooped up all the time was driving you nuts, and it hadn’t even happened yet!

“Maybe you should put me in some of that armor.” You joked. He pretended to be mulling it over.

“You couldn’t even put those brooches on correctly.” He teased. “I can’t expect you to even know what a ‘pauldron’ is, much less how to wear it.”

You huffed. “All right, fine. I don’t know what that is. But you could show me, and then I would.”

“How about I show you more magic instead?” He offered. Part of you was elated. Magic was amazing! But the other part remembered the day before just a bit too vividly. Magic was also frightening.

“Can we not do what we did yesterday?” You asked. “That kinda fried my brain.”

“We are going to have to continue with the experiments, I’m afraid. But you won’t come to harm.”

The courtyard he led you too was lovely, and would be even lovelier, once it was finished. Loki had blankets and bread brought out and sat you down with him, like you were having a nice picnic. He took your hand and spread out your fingers.

“Did it hurt yesterday?” He asked, fingertips brushing the brand. It tickled.

“Well, not exactly. Not pain. Or not what I call pain. It was just too much, that’s all. It was like all the things that come with pain, without the pain part?”

He nodded slowly. “The power is probably circumventing your pain receptors altogether. That might be an involuntary defense mechanism, allowing your body to redirect the magic through the least damaging channels. Possibly partially converting or absorbing it?” He was barely speaking to you at this point, more like he was simply thinking out loud. “Definitely using a portion of it somehow, to maintain health through our closeness.”

Closeness indeed. You were both out in the open, for all to see, sitting cross-legged together on a blanket, heads close, holding hands. Anyone who saw you would get the wrong impression. How could they not?

“Will you let me join with you again?” He asked. You flinched. Did everybody in this city need to work on their phrasing? It seemed he mistook your expression, quickly adding, “I will not let there be a repeat of yesterday, don’t worry. We will be careful.”

“Geez. I guess so. What is the goal though?”

“Like yesterday, I want you to try to push the energy back down. Try to push it into me, through the link. You won’t hurt me, so push as hard as you like.”

You spent several hours practicing and experimenting with moving the energy back and forth. It was truly exhausting, for all that you never even moved from that spot. Loki explained the fatigue as being like exercising a whole new set of muscles that you had never used before, and it certainly felt like it.

When it got too much, he would let you take a break, leaning your head against his shoulder so you could wolf down the bread, while he slowly stroked your shoulders and back. The familiarity of it put you on edge. You wanted the comfort very badly. The past few days had been very stressful, and all you’d been able to do was let it sweep you along. You wanted someone to hold you for a moment, but you weren’t really sure you wanted it to be him. You didn’t have anyone else in mind, but he was, in some part, the center of half a year of suffering, and responsible for uprooting you from everything you had ever known, and setting you adrift. Even though he had vowed to take responsibility for it all, you weren’t sure you wanted it to be him.

When you resumed, the energy was easier to handle, and you could work a bit longer before weariness took over. You thought it must be because you were less tense for the work of his hands. He worked you until you couldn’t do anymore, until you movements trembled and your words came slow and thick, then he lay you down on the blanket to sleep while he compiled his notes.

It was evening before you awoke to Andsvarr calling softly through the door that it was dinnertime. You rolled out of bed to brush your hair and smooth your clothes-which you were very glad to find still on. You grabbed the pad of paper Saldis had left for you and scribbled ‘English Language Books’ for her to find.

Dinner felt awkward. Loki was still being casually tactile, and everyone seemed to notice but him. You probably should have said something, but for all the sleeping, you were still tired, still letting yourself be swept along.

When you were escorted back to bed, you fell right back asleep, and found yourself dreaming of golden spires and flying ships.

 

                                                                             *****

“Loki, may I speak to you?” Thor asked. Loki could hear concern and confusion in his voice. What was it this time?

“And what have I done to perturb you now brother? I do believe I have behaved myself adequately, at least for a few hours or so.”

“You’re getting pretty handsy with that woman.” Brunnhilde pointed out, punching his arm lightly. “Good for you.”

“It’s not like that!” He insisted. “Touch stabilizes the energy within her. It allows her to push herself further, to remain strong for longer, and mitigates magic fatigue. Bjarkehild, you know, the head healer? We all found this out together.”

“Oh, and I’m sure you put up such a fight.” She teased. “Oh no, I’ve got to get all cuddly with the cute little mortal girl, whatever shall I do?”

Loki heaved a martyred sigh. “Not you too.”

“What?” Brunnhilde shrugged. “She’s cute. Whatever. You lucked out.”

“I am bound against my will to a magical dilemma, which has forced me to bring mayhem into an innocent woman’s life.” He said gravely. “Luck has not favored me for years. I just want to do it right this time. Do something right, anyway.”

“Loki.” Thor said. “However you want to do this-“

“Yes, I know. ‘Be careful’. Now if you will excuse me, I believe I will get some rest as well.”

He listened at your door for a few moments, just to make sure everything was all right, then retired to his own room.

He dreamt of home.

Chapter Text

 

Andsvarr would not let you leave the rooms that day, and he did not know when Loki would be back. You understood that the man was a prince and had a great deal of responsibility, but you didn’t know what to do with yourself while you waited.

Saldis had been by, to deliver a disappointingly small stack of English language books.

“They were with the donations.” She explained. “So there’s likely to be more at some time. Until then, this is all we’ve got.”

Four books, that was all. One on world mythology, another on Icelandic history. One astronomy textbook, and the last, a volume of the works of Shakespeare, containing his tragedies.

Well, if all you could do was wait, then it couldn’t hurt to learn a thing or two.

The ‘world mythology’ book was much more of a ‘Greek mythology with a few short entries from everywhere else’ book, but the small Norse section nevertheless contained some rather shocking concepts. You did not recognize the Loki portrayed here, nor the Thor. There were many other names listed, none of whom you had met. Where were the rest of them? Had they all died in the tragedy that brought all of Asgard here to Earth? Or were they just out doing their jobs, like Heimdall, and you simply hadn’t crossed paths yet?

Once you’d read through the tiny section, wondering where the heck this Odin fellow was, you had to turn back to the much larger Greek and Roman section. They probably weren’t the same gods with different names, as you had once surmised, but they were contemporary with the Norse figures, and might help you understand godhood and your relation to it a bit better.

A few hours of reading passed, and the results were not comforting. Either the author had a major bias, or the gods were just kind of terrible. Every story seemed littered with assault and murder, suffering, revenge, and sexual misconduct-to put it delicately! Why could the gods turn humans into other things, but not turn them back? Why was every story so sad? Why so many non-consensual relations? Was that just the nature of dealings between man and god? If so, did the royal brothers simply see everything that had already happened to you-and everything that might happen to you in the future-as completely acceptable and normal? Where were the lines drawn?

Back on the fens, Iron Man had accused Loki of kidnapping you across the sea like it was still the Viking age. Loki hadn’t refuted the claim; he hadn’t even reacted to it. The last time an Asgardian had set foot on this planet, that had been seen as a completely normal thing to do. A legitimate way to get oneself a wife. Or at least, a female slave that they could do whatever they wanted with.

Loki’s time on Earth had been very short. What if he wasn’t up to date yet? What if that was how he saw you? What if he came to expect certain things from you? What might he do if you didn’t provide?

What could you do? Pretty much nothing, that’s what. This was exactly why you didn’t want to be dependent on him, or any man really, for your living conditions. You’d already been with someone who had gotten you into just such a situation. Him, you had been able to walk away from, eventually, though it had left you with scars and baggage. You had no means of escape from Loki.

And he had suddenly gotten so very tactile. Almost the very instant he knew that you would be staying, that he had gotten that concession to let him ‘take care’ of you out of you. Had he taken that as consent? How far was he going to take it? What could you do to fight back? Could you?

You set the book aside, and gazed out the window at the budding city, trying to calm down. Surely you were jumping to too many conclusions. There was no evidence for any of this, except for every entry in that book, which unapologetically painted the gods as major league assholes.

It wormed its way nefariously into your brain. Thousands of years was a long time to do truly awful things, and become jaded about them. Or simply forget they had even happened! A long time to justify, to normalize. What might be hidden, coiled up in his past, waiting to spring out at you? You didn’t know the man!

The book openly described him as a god of evil. Of trickery and lies, of deception. It didn’t seem possible. Evil wasn’t a solid concept. Acts could be evil, deeds could be evil, but evil as a concept was nebulous. It couldn’t be embodied by one person. People could, and did frequently do both.

But what if you were wrong? While you considered yourself as well educated as you could get on your own, it wasn’t as if you had never been fooled before. And if he was basically the god of fooling people, really so cold-hearted and vicious, really just playing a little game with your life, how would you ever know?

You were stuck trusting him, while the only source of information you had said that was a thing you should absolutely never do. So which did you believe; your own brief experiences, or an author who might be biased or might be an actual expert on the subject?

Did it matter? Knowing what he might do to you did you no good if you had no way to escape it. Maybe you should just steel yourself to the idea that he might not be done taking from you.

You were wound tight as a wire by the time you heard him enter the rooms, and you prayed to whoever might be out there that he would just skip checking in on you.

There might be thousands of gods in the universe, but they were all deaf tonight. Loki opened the door without even knocking.

“It’s dinnertime.” Was all he said, clearly expecting you to simply come along. So that’s what you did.

 

                                                                                   *****

Brunnhilde was a goddess too; the book had said that all Valkyries were. Not goddesses of anything in particular, apparently, but divine nonetheless. You were the only one at the table who was…lesser. Even Heimdall had come in and joined you all for supper.

Why Loki insisted on having you there baffled you. That first night was obviously a formality, but there was no reason to keep bringing you along. You felt even more awkward and out of place tonight, and he still kept touching you!

But with a bunch of gods at the table, maybe you could get a few answers.

“Um, if you don’t mind me asking, where’s Freya?”

Thor hadn’t been expecting the question, but didn’t seem offended by it.

“She’s on Vanaheim, naturally.” He said, as if it were obvious. As if you knew what Vanaheim was.  “Along with her brother, and her father. Among others. Right?”

He looked at Heimdall, who gazed at the ceiling for a long moment.

“Yes.” He said simply.

“Good. They are just elsewhere right now, why?”

“Well, I just wondered why they weren’t here with the rest of you.” You said. The book had said that Heimdall could see anything, anywhere. It looked like that part was true. Did that mean the rest of it was? “Or why you weren’t with the rest of them. Why you decided to relocate here instead of…Vanaheim, was it?”

“The Earth is among the largest of the ni-eight realms.” Thor explained. “There is room for us here. And to be perfectly honest, humankind is much better at adapting to the presence of strangers than any other people I know. It must have something to do with your unusually short lifespans. Or maybe the almost aggressively social nature of your species.”

“What are the eight realms?” you asked. Your book must have skipped over that part, in its brevity.

“I believe an astronomy lesson just got planned for tomorrow.” Loki said.

“History too.” Brunnhilde added. “How’d you like to be the first human in centuries to gain an education in Asgardian history?”

“Second.” Thor muttered very quietly.

Loki and Heimdall seemed to both find that one spot on the ceiling very interesting, while Brunnhilde attempted to stare more information out of Thor.

None of your business. You turned your attention to your serving of creamy yogurt stuff-skyr-and its delicious red berry topping. Why didn’t they have this stuff back home? It was amazing. You didn’t allow Loki to drag you away until you’d finished every bit.

 

                                                                                      *****

 

You ended up in the big library again, in another newish layered dress of green, black, and gold. They weren’t being very subtle about this. It wasn’t that they were bad colors, it was just that they were so very specific.

The prince and the Valkyrie had taken over an entire table, piled it high with books and illustrations. Loki waved you over excitedly.

“We’ve devised a joint lesson that you should find very enlightening. Come, sit. You will like this.”

He pulled your chair out for you, a noble gesture that was mostly lost on you. He took his own seat beside you.

“Let me start with the local galactic supercluster.” Loki said.

“The what now?”

“Yggdrasil.”

“The what now?”

He gestured grandly at the center of the table, from which a billowing figure began to grow and branch. Bright lights blossomed in places, glittering sparks shimmered across limbs of darkness. A masterpiece of tiny details, almost incomprehensible outside of context. It was incredibly beautiful.

“Is this…is it space?” You hazarded a guess. You hadn’t gotten very far in your astronomy book, but he had called it a ‘galactic supercluster’ which sounded rather self-explanatory.

“Oh yes. This is Yggdrasil. The Tree of Worlds, the Guardian of Wisdom. Is it not glorious?”

Another gesture, and the image began to slowly rotate.

“It’s very beautiful.” The way he was looking at you was so expectant. Was he showing off? “This is full of galaxies then? All these lights?”

“The lights are individual stars. But the glow you see is the combined light of tens of thousands of galaxies. Asgard once held influence over great swathes of this area, and our name was known and respected all throughout.”

You stared. This one image represented an area bigger than you could possibly comprehend.

“How?” You asked. It didn’t seem like there were enough Asgardians to even leave a single representative in every galaxy therein. How could the influence of one species reach so far?

“Same way everyone else does.” Brunnhilde said. “We’re really good at stabbing things.”

“There were a number of factors.” Loki said dryly. “Our great lifespans, prior connections made with other races, expansive colonies, the high number of Aesir born to us, and of course, the Bifrost. Other races had those other things to some degree or another, but no one else had a Bifrost.”

“That’s the beam of light that brought me here, isn’t it?” You asked. “That’s the thing that brought Thor, uh, the king back and forth between Asgard and Earth, right?”

“The one that brought you here is but the palest reflection of what we once had.” Loki said. “But give it time, and we will rebuild it to be as great as it once was, perhaps even better. I’m not sure you will live that long though. Maybe, if we are lucky, I can show you another planet someday.”

It was a good thing you were sitting down. The very thought of being on another world was both terrifying and elating.

“W-where would you take me?” You asked. What worlds were out there?

“Probably here.” The image zoomed in and in, past galaxies, stars, and nebulae, to focus on a very green and cloudy planet with one large moon. “This is Vanaheim. It isn’t dissimilar to what your own planet used to be a few thousand years ago. Here is Midgard, for comparison.”

The familiar globe of the Earth popped up next to Vanaheim, and your eyes widened at the difference in size. You were vaguely aware the Earth was the largest terrestrial planet in your solar system, but you hadn’t realized how big that really meant. The little image loomed over Vanaheim, nearly twice as big, and with much larger oceans.

“The differences look great, but Vanaheim is very similar to Midgard in composition, atmosphere, and ecology. Look.” Again, the image zoomed in, blowing through thick clouds, dropping down among tall forests that looked like conifers, though you knew they could not be.

At ground level, there was a small clearing from which a village sprouted. People moved here and there, looking just like regular people that you might see every day.

“These are the Vanir.” Brunnhilde said, taking hold of the conversation again. “Let me start a bit earlier in our history. Asgard became a space-faring civilization very early on, and we expanded into the star system that would become ours quickly. We conquered Nornheim, the only terrestrial planet in the system.” She gestured to Loki, who brought up an image of a large, dry, stony world, nearly as large as Earth, but without any blue or green, nothing but rock.

“This was back in Buri’s day, mind, and the Bifrost had just been built. Invading the planet was a test of its power. Turned out there actually was a race of people who lived there. They were rocks, just like everything else on the planet, but they really, really didn’t like us being there. And just like that, we were at war. We took the planet, but the rock trolls wouldn’t surrender. So we experimented with the Bifrost once more, using it to remove the trolls from Nornheim, and sending them to the next planet we found. That turned out to be Vanaheim.”

“Good lord.” You said, appalled.  “Why do all that in the first place?”

“Why do humans go to war?” Brunnhilde asked. “Not the fake reasons. Not religious or ethnic reasons, but the real, underlying reasons your ancestors always went to war?”

You thought for a moment, stripping away all the excuses, ideological differences, racial fears, age-old prejudices. What made the first man pick up a stone and smash the guy next to him?

“Resources.” You said. “Either need or greed, it’s all about what you can take from them.”

“You got it!” Brunnhilde said. “Buri was trying to build the foundations of Asgard and he needed as many mineral resources as he could get. And there was a whole planet of rocks, guarded only by rocks. So he took it.”

“Why not settle there?”

“Because it was just rocks! There was no water there, except in trace amounts in the atmosphere, and inside the rocks. No plants, no life other than the rock trolls. And Buri was obsessed with building an eternal realm for his people, from scratch. Before that, the pre-Asgardian people lived on fleets of ships, but most information from before they arrived in the Nornheim system and took over has been lost. No one knows where our ancestors first came from, and after Asgard was built, it was no longer considered important.

We mined Nornheim from then until very recently, and there was still plenty more left. It’s lost to us now. Perhaps new life will arise there again, who knows?

In any case, after the base of Asgard was built, we began looking outward again. The Bifrost allowed us to discover more worlds, and to rediscover Vanaheim. By that time, we’d actually forgotten about the whole banishing an entire species to a completely different realm thing, but the Vanir sure hadn’t!”

Nornheim disappeared, Earth disappeared, the wall of illusions focused back on Vanaheim and the Vanir.

“When we arrived, we hoped to take trees and topsoil back with us. But it turns out the Vanir had heard of us, from the mouths of a new enemy who had appeared suddenly to make war on them generations ago. And just like that, we were at war again.

The Vanir have always preferred to put down roots and stay where they are. We could have just left, and they would not have followed. But this was the reign of Borr, and Borr liked to conquer.”

You shuddered. It was a little disappointing to discover that the magical space gods ancestors had been just as bad as yours, and on a much larger scale.

“We lost.” Brunnhilde said.

“We didn’t win.” Loki corrected. “There’s a difference.”

The Valkyrie shrugged. “To Borr, a draw was as bad as a loss, because it was not a win.”

“Yes, he was rather rigid and uncomplicated like that.” Loki grumbled, as if embarrassed.

“This was your ancestor?” You asked.

“This was my grandfather.” He admitted.

“That recent?”

“It would not seem recent to you. And I never met the man. He died in war, long before any of us were born. A fitting end, I suppose.”

“It’s how he would have wanted to go, if he had ever expected to die.” Brunnhilde resumed. “The war ran long and fierce; neither the Vanir or Asgardians were very numerous at the time, but both were ferocious combatants. The Vanir are blessed with many of the strengths that our people once thought belonged only to them; long life, great strength, resilience, and so forth. And, to our great surprise, they had Aesir among them.”

“Those are gods, right?” The book had given that name to the gods, but hadn’t mentioned them belonging to different species.

“You would call them that, yeah. This was the first time we encountered them outside our own people, and it really threw us. Neither side could prove superior, so we had to try for peace instead.”

“Something Borr never tried again.” Loki interjected.

“Vanir custom demanded a trade of political hostages to ensure peace. From us, they gained Vili and Ve, Borr’s youngest sons. From them, we gained Njord and his children, Freya and Freyr.”

“So, they’re Vanir? Well no wonder they are on Vanaheim!”

“They come and go at their whims, now that we are allies” Loki said. “It’s better that they were there. Freya has a terrible temper, and while I would have personally loved to watch her punch Thanos in the face, I would not have liked to see her killed. I’ve never had anything against the twins.”

With a gesture, the trees and village swirled and coalesced into three incredibly beautiful individuals. A man who appeared to be closing in on middle age, decorated with seashells, his black hair attractively wind-blown. A gorgeous, voluptuous woman with a sword in her graceful hand, and a conspicuous golden necklace at her slender, tan throat. An extremely inviting young man with sparkling black eyes and a gentle smile, flowers in his tidy hair.

You reached out for him, without even realizing you were doing it. Your fingers passed right through, and Loki caught them on the other side, as the image dissipated around your hand.

“It’s just an illusion.” He said. “He’s not really here. A creature of base urges, are we?” He seemed annoyed.

Loki is skilled in the artifice of illusion, and he uses this to embellish his lies. So the book had said.

“Well, you made the illusion!” You said defensively.

“Oh, were you reaching for me?”

“No! I was just…” What had you been doing? You had just needed to try to touch the image of Freyr for some reason.

“Can it, your highness.” Brunnhilde interrupted, receiving a furious glare in return. “You know she couldn’t help it.”

“Is a simple image really so potent?”

“You’re Aesir, he doesn’t affect you in the same way. She’s mortal, and came from a land of grain. She was a baker, for the Norn’s sake! Of course even an image would affect her!”

“Why, please?” You asked above their rising voices. “I didn’t actually mean to do that. What happened?”

“Freyr is a fertility god.” Loki said dismissively. Oh yes, he was definitely annoyed. “He governs the cycle of crops, prosperity of all kinds, fruitfulness, and so on, and so forth. He and his retinue are associated with the baking of bread and animal slaughter; both as symbols of plenty, and as sacred offerings. You lived and worked in his domain, whether you knew it or not.”

His tone clearly indicated that he considered you weak for acting as you had, but his words sparked a pulse of pride. You had been doing, if not THE Lord’s work, then A Lord’s work.

“Oh, don’t look so smug. Fertility and prosperity gods are ridiculously common. They make up a huge percentage of Aesir across the universe. Coming under the influence of one or more is practically inevitable for mortal species.”

“You know, you asked me if I was ashamed of the work I did, or of ‘what I am’ was how you put it. And I’m not. My society really feels the need to consider poor people as less than dirt, and they take all the value away from low-paying jobs, but the thing is, those jobs are actually really important. All those jobs they say are for losers and failures are jobs that provide services that they desperately want. That they need even. Without those jobs and those workers, civilization would fall apart. What are you going to do without grocery stores? Or gas stations? Or sanitation workers? Or bakers?

The bad treatment did get to me. It gets to all of us who are in that situation, because we can see how wrong it is. But now I find out there’s a god somewhere in the universe who thinks bread is good and worth something, and surrounds himself with people like me. Why shouldn’t I be proud of that?”

“Oh, he’d like you.” Brunnhilde said.

Loki released your hand and crossed his arms. The illusion dropped away entirely.

“Anyway,” Brunnhilde continued as if nothing had happened. “We considered it safe to retreat back to Asgard at that point, and couldn’t do much invading for a while after that. But we did continue locating other planets across Yggdrasil. Some were empty, and we sent small groups to colonize them. Others were inhabited, but friendly. Borr conquered these through treaties and trade. But eventually, our army built back up. And then we located Svartalfheim. But before we go into that, would you like to take a break, to think about what you’ve already learned? It must be getting close to lunch time.”

“Yeah, actually.” You said, grateful for a small reprieve. Time to reflect on the information and ask questions without derailing the whole lesson would be welcome. So would the food. You wondered of you would ever stop feeling so hungry.

The three of you left the table as it was; according to Loki, no one would bother it for the rest of the day. You found yourself back in the side room off the banquet hall, enthusiastically tucking into a tasty lunch. At least the food was better than your budget usually allowed.

“So can you tell me more about the Aesir?” You asked.

Thor entered the room with a plate full of food.

“Specifically, why are there so many fertility gods?”

Thor immediately turned around and left.

“Coward!” Brunnhilde called after him. Loki snickered.

“Okay, what was that all about?” You asked. It was weird watching the mighty Thor retreat from a conversation.

“Oh, he’s just shy.” Brunnhilde said. “You know he’s a sky god, right? Lightning and thunder, storms?”

You nodded.

“And guess what else?”

“What, really? But I’m not drawn to touch him.”

“Eh, well, it’s kind of secondary to the thunder thing. He’s associated with the rains, but not the harvest. Freyr’s there from the beginning, to the end.”

“Gotta get me a man like that.” You mused.

Loki set his fork down just a bit harder than necessary.

“He’s married!” He exclaimed.

“Oh?” You asked, surprised that he seemed so scandalized. “To whom?”

Loki looked away from you, lips pressed into a thin line. Brunnhilde chuckled.

“A giant.” She answered.

“There’s giants?” You asked. Another kind of alien? How big could they get?

“That’s an entirely different lesson. You wanted to know about Aesir?”

You dug into a little cobbler of a blueberry-like fruit. They had called it bilberry. You called it delicious.

“Yes. So, are they just born at random, or what?”

“They can arise from any line, at any time.” Loki said. “We have recorded them in at least six of the ni-eight realms. But they do occur more commonly when there is at least one Aesir parent.”

“How do you know if you are one? You come out of the womb shooting lighting? Or does it at least wait until puberty?”

“Eh, it depends.” Brunnhilde said. “I assume they figured Heimdall out as soon as he opened his eyes. For others it’s a bit more subtle. But it gets figured out in the end.”

“But what causes it to happen in the first place?” You wondered. “This has presumably been going on for what, millions of years? When did it start? And why, and what keeps it going?”

“I’m sure every culture throughout time and space has their own mythos about it.” Loki said.  “My personal theory is that it involves the infinity stones. Which just means that I’ll never get to test it.” He grumbled.

Brunnhilde stared at him.

“Do they have an affinity for magic?” You asked. “The king said they made up everything in the universe.”

“They could be considered magical. Certainly they come from a source beyond anyone’s total understanding. There are stones that correspond to concepts so nebulous as Power, and Reality. I don’t suppose it would be too far-fetched to think they could have influenced the creation of beings such as us.”

“Excuse me!” Brunnhilde interrupted, earning a disgruntled look from Loki, who seemed to have been really getting into his theory. “Why does she know about that?”

“I honestly have no idea.” You said. “I remember what happened, but nobody knows why.”

“Is it because you have magical potential?” She asked. “His majesty said you were learning sorcery.”

“I…don’t know? Is it?” You asked Loki, but he was already hurrying out the door to yell at his brother.

“I think I know how to tell which humans can learn sorcery! Thor! She said there was a whole forum of them!”

“Thank you, Brunnhilde! You’re so brilliant!” She called out after him. “Oh, thank you, I’m aware! But it’s nice to hear anyway!” She laughed, shaking her head. “Well, there goes my co-instructor. Come on, you want to go learn about Svartalfheim anyway?”

Chapter Text

 

“And the Aether was one of the stones, only in liquid form?” You asked. “That’s just a thing that can happen?”

“It was the Reality stone, so yeah, I guess so.”

“And it was just…inside a person. Like blood. “

“I don’t know how it happened, I was across the universe at the time. Ask Loki, he was there.” Brunnhilde closed the book she had been reading to you from, hiding a terrifying picture of a being labeled ‘Kurse’. “I was under the impression that you might know about her. She’s a mortal lady, and she had a thing with the king for a little while.”

“Well…I might have heard of her, but I don’t really follow celebrity gossip, you know? It seems kinda skeevy.”

Brunnhilde laughed. “Girl, I’ve seen skeevy. I’ve been skeevy! You want skeevy, I could tell you some stories that would…probably scar you for life, actually. So never mind.”

“Look, I just don’t understand how ‘ Picture-Taking Creepo Stalker’ is a legal profession when it comes to celebrities, but a literal crime when it comes to everyone else.” You shrugged. “I hate that kind of double standard, and I won’t support it.”

“In that case, never leave the city with the prince at your side.” Brunnhilde warned. “There are some pretty obsessive people hanging out around the city, and we don’t know for sure what they might be capable of.”

“Hey, I met some of those people. And I can’t really argue with you, I guess. One of them was really nice! Like, above and beyond nice. And I’m sure most of them are. But there were some mean ones too. I, uh, I don’t think you’d get along with their crowd.”

“If by ‘get along’ you mean ‘crush under my heel’ then yeah, probably.”

“Yeah, probably.” You echoed. A bunch of campers probably didn’t stand much chance against a warrior goddess, no matter how much umbrage some of them might take with her skin color.

“I kinda miss them though.” Other humans. People who understood your world, and who couldn’t snap your bones by grabbing you too hard.

“Even the mean ones?”

“Ehh, well, I can’t say I feel all that sorry for that guy. He was really rude to me. But Loki taught him a hard lesson, and I can only hope he learned something from it.”

“Rather like the hard lessons the Svartalfari taught us, for our past invasion attempts.” Brunnhilde grabbed another book, opening it to a specially marked page. “Ha, you see what I did there?”

“I did. Very clever. So what am I looking at? I can’t read it.”

“Oh right. Well, this is Svartalfari writing on this page, and the Asgardian translation on the opposite page.  I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I wish Loki was here. His projections are very useful , since you can’t read any of this.”

Loki slid around a bookcase. “I heard that.” He purred smugly.

Brunnhilde groaned and rolled her eyes, dropping her face into her hands.

“Norns, cut my string.” She begged. “Well, since you’re here, care to pull up Svartalfheim?”

“Perhaps later. For now, _____ come with me. You are to use our computer, and contact this forum of yours-“

“No.” You said.

There was a moment of silence.

“What?” Loki asked, incredulous. A look of glee spread across the Valkyrie’s face.

“I said no.” Maybe it was a bad idea to challenge him so abruptly like this, but the imperious tone he’d been using raised your hackles. Ordering you around was not a habit you could allow him to get into.

“What’s brought this on?” He demanded, indignant.

“There’s just no call to talk to me like that, that’s all.”

He slid onto the bench next to you, graceful as a panther, and projecting just as much danger. You glared straight into his eyes, watching his expression fill with irritation. And just like that, you were in a stand-off.

“You are not my equal.” He said, voice velvety and threatening. Don’t back down now, don’t back down…

“I’m not.” You said calmly. You dealt with irate customers all the time. All you had to do was keep a calm façade. “But I’m also not your subject or your servant. I’m not even your employee. Therefore, I decide what orders I obey. It’s not going to be all of them, no matter what you want.”

He looked completely taken aback. Clearly, he had been getting too used to your obedience. Nip it in the bud.

His stare was getting a little too intense. You looked away, just to see Brunnhilde practically sprawled across the table, chin balanced in her palms. Her delighted expression only brightened as she noticed your attention, gaze spearing Loki as she silently dared him to do anything.

Fine.” He huffed. “Since you are being so particular, I don’t suppose you’d at least tell me why you won’t contact them? I assume it’s more than just a sudden burst of childish contrariness?”

Brunnhilde snorted.

“I can’t contact them because I’ve been blocked on the forums. You know, kicked out? Banished? Because of you. I can’t even access the pages. And you can’t make an account. You’re the reason they shunned me, you think they’ll talk to you? These people are paranoid, your Highness, they’re conspiracy theorists. Some of them have been institutionalized because of what they remember, and the rest are afraid that the same will be done to them. Not only do they have to live with the terrible things they remember, but they have to fear what might be done to them because of it.”

“I can provide them validation. Confirm that what they remember was real, and give them an explanation.” He pointed out, but you shook your head.

“They aren’t going to trust you, and you can’t reason with someone if they don’t trust you. And I can’t reach them anymore. The security footage from my work has gone viral. Anyone I talk to is going to think that you’re holding me hostage and making me say whatever you want.”

“Ugh, you really are useless!”

“Your reputation is not my fault. And besides, what are you even going to do with them? Tell them they all might be magic? And then what? You wanna teach them magic things? Where are you going to house them? Do you have a school? Are you just going to hunt down and kidnap the ones who don’t want to come? What’s your plan?”

“All I asked-“

Ordered.”

“-was that you contact them. I never said I was going to go on a people-snatching rampage!”

“Google your name right now! You are already famous for doing exactly that!”

“To save your life!” He shouted.

“Nobody knows that!” You shouted back.

He threw his hands into the air. “Enough! I’m leaving! Stay and see if you can’t learn something through your burgeoning contrariety, I’ll be seeking out reasonable company!”

He stormed away through the library, ignoring the attention he’d brought on himself. The library doors weren’t the kind that could be slammed, but he made a spirited try.

You blew out a long breath, willing your heart to stop pounding. Brunnhilde actually giggled.

“That was delightful.” She praised.

“I’m so dead.” You moaned. “My stupid temper always gets me in trouble. I’m a goddamn adult, why can’t I keep my mouth shut?”

“You’re pretty when you’re mad.” She pointed out. “Not everyone’s so lucky. Besides, he’s just pissed because he mistook a few days of you being mostly obedient due to shock, as you two getting along perfectly.”

“He’s gonna kick my ass. Not literally, probably. He doesn’t seem like the kind to punch a woman for disobedience, but somehow…”

“Yeah, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a snake in your bed tonight.” She agreed.

“Joke’s on him; I like snakes.”

“Do you really? Well, allow me to teach you about the supermassive black hole we’ve described as ‘gnawing the roots of Yggdrasil’. It’s swallowed multiple galaxies, and shows no signs of stopping. And so, we have named it Niddhogg…”

 

                                                                                      *****

 

The snake was not in your bed, but in your bath; very large, and very green, it circled the entire tub. You paused upon seeing it, unsure if it was real. Were there any snakes in Iceland? You would say it was too cold, but you had seen common garden snakes in the snow before, and it was perfectly warm in here.

You finally decided that it could not be real. It was far too big to have gotten in without being seen. You stepped past it into the water. It hissed, and then disappeared into a sparkle of green light.

The next one might be real though.

However, if simple little pranks like that were all you received in revenge for flouting the prince, you could handle it.

The shampoo fizzled oddly as you massaged your scalp. Your hair would smell like him against your pillow, something that still made you uncomfortable.

You hadn’t gone to dinner, just asked for a sandwich to be sent to the library while you tried to make sense of the illustrations you’d been shown. You had never gotten around to finishing the lesson on Svartalfheim.

You still had to wear his bathrobes. Everything here was his. You had to make sure you didn’t get added to the collection.

Passing his long mirror, you noticed that the fizzing shampoo had done something drastic to your hair.

It was green.

Fury rose in you, but you stamped it down. He wanted you to react. Yes, you were disgusted that he had physically altered your body without your permission, but if you just didn’t react, he might give up. Or he might try to do even worse things.

You went straight to bed after your bath, but found that your blankets held no warmth.

What a little bastard.

 

                                                                                   *****

The next day found you tired, cold, and stiff, with dark circles under your eyes. Your hair was still green. Saldis very kindly said nothing about any of this when she brought your clothes and breakfast. More tasty oatmeal, and more conspicuous green and black clothing.

“Any more books?” You asked.

She shook her head. “Nothing new, I’m afraid. Is there anything else I can get for you instead?”

“Well, I don’t want to ask for too much, but if you have any art supplies lying around…”

“I’ll see what I can scrounge up. I know for sure we have plenty of pencils and paper. Seems like we are in a new era of kingship, where great battles are won on paper and with words. I prefer it, but don’t tell anyone I said so. My mother and father are too fond of their swords.”

“Not much call for sword battles around here anymore.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way. But just in case it does not, my parents still know how to swing theirs. Need any help with dressing?”

“Oh, no. I can definitely put on my own clothes.” You refrained from mentioning your wrongful placement of the jewelry earlier. “But while I’m dressing, could you tell me about yourself? “

And tell me if I’m wearing something wrong?

 “Not all that much to tell, really. My mother is a palace servant, my father a guardsman. It’s a pretty common arrangement. I have mediocre swordmanship, but I’m very good at multitasking, so it was pretty obvious who I took more after. I went into training for the palace just after my schooling was completed.”

“Servants go to school too?” You asked.

“Certainly. Didn’t you?”

“Oh yeah, twelve years of it. But it wasn’t always like that. I think public schooling for everyone is pretty recent. And I’m not sure every country has it.”

“Well, we do. The law was set into place by Allfather Borr, about fifty thousand years ago. If I’m counting Midgardian years correctly.”

“Fifty thousand? “ You almost shouted. “But wasn’t he Loki-er, the Prince’s grandfather? He fought with the Vanir? It was that long ago?”

“Oh, have you been learning our history? That’s great! Yes, he was king before Allfather Odin, and he did a lot of great things. Pacifying and making reparations to the Vanir was one of them. Good thing too; they may not be as powerful as us, but they live even longer, so their memories don’t fade quickly. No one holds a grudge like a Vanir.”

You finished dressing and held your arms out from your sides for inspection. She declared you adequate, but decided to finish you up with some braids.

It turned out that Saldis was a braiding master. She knew dozens of ways to braid, for all hair lengths and textures.

Even though your hair was still green, and you still had sleep-sunken eyes, you felt fresher and less stiff. The breakfast helped tremendously. You almost felt presentable when you stepped out of your room.

Loki was in the small library again, still studying the Alfar book. He glanced at you briefly, smug smile crossing his features as he took in your green hair.

Don’t react.

“Will I be having more lessons today?” You asked.

“Not with me.” He said. “And likely not with Brunnhilde either. We’re both busy.”

“Oh. Nothing at all for me to do then?”

“Just stay put and be patient. Perhaps contact your captain, so that he doesn’t start thinking you’re trapped in my evil clutches, or some nonsense.”

Am I not?

“Sure. Do I just…you said there was a computer? I guess I could make a skype call or something. Do I need an escort?”

“Of course you do. You’re you. If I send you out on your own you’ll probably end up in Newfoundland.”

“It was one time!” You protested. “And it was your guards that kicked me out, might I remind you!”

“Speaking of…Andsvarr.” He called, and the young guard poked his head in. Loki spoke to him in their own language, lovely flowing sounds both foreign and soothing. Andsvarr nodded, bowed, then indicated that you should follow him.

“You speak with friends, yes? “ He asked on the way down the corridors. “Tell good times here?”

“Yeah, it hasn’t been bad so far. Kinda weird, but not bad. I feel like I should be freaking out a bit more than I am, but I’ve had it pointed out that I might be kinda in shock, which I guess makes sense.”

“Ah! Slow! Please.” Andsvarr begged, flipping through his little book. “Please. What ‘freaking’? Do not see.”

“Oh, sorry!” Loki had said he learned fast, but that didn’t mean he knew it all yet. Frankly, you were impressed he knew as much as he did in such a short time. You could barely pick out ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Asgardian. “That means to be scared. So much, you can’t think.”

“Scared, yes. You are?”

“I should be. More than I am, anyway. Maybe it just hasn’t come yet.”

“I will guard.” Andsvarr promised, and you smiled. What a sweet kid.

He led you into a little room, flanked on both sides by more guards, who only let you pass after you held out your hand, and Andsvarr explained what you were to do here. You assumed, anyway. One of them left before the other opened the door.

Inside the room were a few chairs, and one completely average computer, the kind you used to use at school.

“King knows how to work it.” Andsvarr said. “We wait for him now.”

You grinned wide, and poked the power button. Andsvarr gasped as the machine booted up.

“Midgardian technology.” You explained. “I grew up with this.”

He slapped his forehead. “Yes!” He laughed.

“You will still need my password, I’m afraid.” Thor said, stepping into the room. How did a man so large make so little noise? Andsvarr bowed deeply.

“You’re Alarr’s boy, aren’t you?” Thor asked. Andsvarr answered quickly and nervously, gesturing at you. You thought you heard Loki’s name in the flow of unfamiliar words.

“Oh, really? Well, good for you! It can be very difficult, not following your fathers path, but you seem to be doing quite well for yourself.”

Something strange was going on here. Andsvarr didn’t understand that much English, spoken that fast, but he seemed to understand Thor just fine. You didn’t know why the king was using your language to talk to one of his own people.

Thor typed in his password, and you started up the video call on your own. Both men hovered on the periphery, waiting to see what happened. It was amusing, but you didn’t want whoever picked up to think you were being monitored for content.

The screen lit up with the face of a lovely ginger lady.

“Well!” She said. “You’re not the king of Asgard.”

“Definitely not.”

“But I am.” Thor leaned over your shoulder. Greetings, Lady Potts, are Tony or Steve available? We have business.”

“So I’ve heard. You must be _____ _______.”

“Yes ma’am. I’m supposed to check in every week. So here I am!”

Andsvarr asked something.

“New York. It’s a city in a country across the sea.” Thor answered.

Andsvarr asked something else.

“No, their technology comes from a different source. It’s mostly electricity based.”

“Let me go get Steve.”

“Hey, what’s going on with that?” You asked while she was gone. “You’re talking to him, but in English?”

“It’s not English. Literally everything can understand me when I speak, if I want them to. It comes with being Asgardian royalty. Loki can do it too, but he doesn’t always use the ability. He likes keeping a few secrets.”

He would want to be able to say things you couldn’t understand. Give orders you wouldn’t know about. Set up things without you being able to see it coming.

  Captain America-Steve Rogers appeared on the screen. Your insides filled with butterflies. Here was your favorite hero, once again! He wasn’t even wearing his mask.

“Good morning. Mrs. Potts tells me you’re here for your check in? Hello Thor. Young man.”

Andsvarr looked at Thor, who grinned genuinely.

“Good to see you again! Keeping busy? You see we are keeping up our end of the bargain.”

“I see. Look, not to be rude, but could you and your man-“

“Get the Hel out? I figured it would be like that. If you have time for a chat afterwards…?”

“Actually, I do. We really need to catch up.”

Thor agreed, and led Andsvarr out.

“How are you doing?”

“So much better than I was. You said you guys contacted my dad? He told you I was sick, right? Like, barely able to get out of bed, sick?”

“Yes, he did say that.”

“We’ve figured out part of what caused it.”

“Did it have something with your meeting with Loki about six months ago?”

“Er, yeah. I wouldn’t call it a meeting really, I didn’t know it was him at the time. All of that really was an accident. But hey, do you know anything about magic?”

“If you’re expecting me to say I don’t believe in it, I can’t. Seen too much.”

“Well, that makes talking about this a bit easier then. It turns out I can do magic. Or I will be able to do magic, once I learn how.”

You explained nearly everything to him, save for your remembrance of the Tragedy that Never Was, and your conflicting thoughts about Loki-those fears were not yet founded and didn’t need bringing up.

He had messages from your father and Tara, from your coworkers. You cried a little at that point, missing them all, even your old job. Then you had to reassure him that you were fine, being treated well, that no one had caused you any harm. He had a lot of questions about Loki, most of which you couldn’t answer. Somehow, neither him, nor anyone else had offered any comment on your green hair.

“Are you comfortable with showing me this mark?” He asked you, and you nodded, holding out your hand. At least the damn thing wasn’t in some embarrassing place. “We can do some research as well, just in case Loki isn’t entirely on the level about helping you out. How has it been affecting you?”

“The past few days I’ve been mostly just eating and sleeping a whole lot. I look healthier now, but it's not all me. There’s some kind of…energy transfer, I guess? I don’t really understand it yet, but I guess I’m kinda leeching energy from Loki right now. Probably will be until I get healthy on my own again. But that’s the real reason I can’t leave. If I get too far away from him, I get sick again. I’ve already tested this; it’s true.”

“Experimental medical procedure?”

“Very experimental. But I’m okay here, I really am. No one has been cruel to me. Even Loki has been…tolerable at worst, pretty decent mostly.”

“He’s unpredictable.” He warned.

“I know. I’ve seen a bit of it. But I haven’t been hurt. I think maybe you might talk to Thor about that a little? Stuff might have happened out in space, you know?”

“Is that your way of saying you’re done talking to me?”

“Sorry! I just don’t have anything else to report. But these are good people here. Different, but good. So far, everyone’s been so kind to me, and they really didn’t have to be. I’m just some stranger their prince brought home, after all. But they’ve all been really responsible and nice. So like, if there’s ever anything that can be done for them-“

“Don’t worry about that. Thor has allies here, and all the Nordic countries have acted very positively towards this new Asgard. They have support. You just see to yourself. Make sure to tell us if anything causes you trouble, anything at all. I don’t doubt that these are good people-mostly. But they are not human, and they may not all see you as a life worth valuing. Loki himself might change his mind at any time. I’m sure Thor will try to keep him under control, but he has not always succeeded at that.”

‘I’ve been known to change my mind on less than a whim.’

“I’ll try to keep it in mind.”

“You do that, Miss. I’ll talk to you again in about a week.”

You nodded and said your goodbyes, then you went and fetched Thor, leaving him to talk, while Andsvarr escorted you back to Loki’s rooms.

Chapter Text

 

 

Loki was still reading the Alfar book when you returned, but he set it aside for a moment to inquire about how your check-in went.

“I told him the truth.” You said simply. “I’m not gonna lie to Captain America.”

“Oh, you fancy the old soldier?” He teased.

“I believe in what he stands for.” You said, lifting your chin.

“And what is that? Ah, don’t tell me.” He stood, and began to prowl around you like a cat. “Courage. Nobility. Self-sacrifice. Honor and glory! For God and Country! Amen!”

“Justice.” You said, as he completed his circle. “No more billionaires getting away with slavery and murder. No more cops killing you for having the wrong skin color. No more people thinking there even is a wrong skin color. No more kids going hungry in the richest nation on Earth. No blindly following unjust laws. Standing up, and making your little corner of the world a better place. We wanna believe America is exceptional? Then we have to make it that way. We haven’t, but we could.”

“And what do you bring to that table, little baker?” He questioned. “What’s exceptional about you?”

You had never been anything special. You were average. You had gotten average grades, came from an average part of the country, looked average. You were a hard worker, but you couldn’t be anything less, or you’d be homeless. Average jobs meant starvation wages. You hadn’t gone to college. You’d never stopped studying, but without a degree, all your extracurricular learning meant nothing. What could you have been, if only you’d had the money to make anyone believe in your worth? What could you do?

“I can do magic.” You offered.

“Can you? Why don’t you show me?”

So he was still going to be like that, was he?

You quickly grabbed him by the hand, and reached for a nearby glass. He caught you by the wrist before you could pick it up, and shook his hand loose from yours.

“Okay, yes. But can you do it without our contact?”

“Not yet.” You conceded. “But once you teach me how, I will.”

“So what you’re saying is that, for you to grow and reach your great potential…you need me.”

He fixed you with a positively wolfish grin. It made your stomach flip. You crossed your arms and stared up into his teeth. He just wants you to react.

“Or, you know, that wizard we saw before.”

“That presumptuous dilettante?” He growled. “The arrogant dabbler would have you scrubbing his floors to distract you from his lack of ability! He wouldn’t know what to do with you.”

“And you do?”

“Moreso than that cocksure novice!”

“Sure don’t like him, huh? What’s the deal? Did he scuff up your shoes one time, or something?” Now this was amusing! He sounded like an overdramatic teenager ranting about a rival.

“He’s a swaggering pretender playing with forces he barely understands. A baby given an incredibly dangerous toy. I have had centuries to grow and mature in the Art, he has the equivalent training of picking up a pamphlet and thinking he’s learned everything.”

“Mature, huh? Is that why you turned my hair green?”

He snorted. “It’s not green, you little fool.” He waved his hand in front of your eyes. “Go look.”

You did. Everything was normal again.

“The illusion was not on your hair.” He informed you. “It was on your eyes. Did you think nobody said anything about it out of respect? My brother would have mentioned it, even if no one else did.”

“Okay, I’m…actually less mad about that than I thought I would be. I didn’t know you could do that.”

“I can do an untold number of things that you don’t yet know about.”

“Oh.” That sounded mildly threatening. “Well…can you tell me more about Svartalfheim? I couldn’t finish my lesson yesterday, Miss Valkyrie was a little unsure about the details of its recent history.”

He frowned.  “You’re still on about that? I suppose it’s lucky that one of my meetings has been cancelled. But I cannot always waste time on your curiosity. “

“Rude! You think teaching your history is wasting time?”

“I don’t.” He sat down, patting the bench, inviting you to join him. Why did he do things like that? His moods and actions in constant flux. You never knew where he’d be a few moments down the line.

Loki is the trickster of the gods, an untrustworthy god of lies, deceit, treachery and evil. The father of lies and monsters, a patron of misleading actions.

You sat down next to him.

“It’s just that I hate Svartalfheim, and I hate the Svartalfari. Living through events that make it into history books is nearly always unpleasant in some way. But you are so cursed curious, so I suppose I must fill you in.”

He conjured an image of a black, cloudy world, orbiting a dim, eclipsed sun. There were no visible stars. Swathes of dust obscured the already weak light.

“It’s beautiful.” You breathed.

He gave you a look. “It’s dismal. Just look at it. It’s colorless, dry and depressing.”

“But how is it like this? How is the sun like that? Where are the stars?”

“Do you want history or astronomy?”

“Both!”

He sighed. “The galaxy in which Svartalfheim is located contains a great deal of dust and dark matter. Svartalfheim itself orbits a small, young star within an absorption nebula. Do you know what that is?”

“I know what a nebula is.”

“Okay, well there’s more than one kind. This kind does not glow with the light of the stars within it; no light escapes or enters. So, no stars, no constellations, no inkling that there might be someone else out there. There are but two planets in this system, no others have had time to form. There is Svartalfheim, small, dark, dirty. And then there is this enormous gas giant, just barely not a star itself. Both planets are very close to the star, so Svartalfheim is warm, despite the darkness. But by some fluke of development, both planets have the exact same orbital period. Meaning-“ He continued, noticing your slightly confused expression. “-that they have the exact same length of year. And so, this gas giant is forever between Svatalfheim and the star. The eclipse is permanent. A day on Svartalfheim is very long. Long dark days, and long black nights. Do you follow?”

“Stuff’s dark. I got it.”

“Yes. And so, no plants larger than lichens grow. That’s really all they have there. Lichens and mushrooms. The soil is poor, as is the ecosystem. Only a few species can live there, and the majority of those are carnivorous, feeding off small eaters of lichen, and each other. All of this contributes to the overall dreariness of the place. “

“I still think it’s beautiful.”

“Why?” He asked, seeming annoyed that you hadn’t instantly taken up his same dislike of the place. “It’s bleak. It’s empty. It’s hostile.”

“It’s different! It’s new, and young, and we’ve never seen what might live on a young planet. I didn’t even know life could form on planets in such weird circumstances.”

“Midgardian attitudes toward space are rather amusing, do you know that? You all have such a passion for it, but you’ve barely done anything with that passion. It’s as if you are obsessed with looking through your windows, but won’t take but a few steps outside your own door.”

“Well, I mean, we didn’t have a Bifrost, and we need, just, so much air? To survive? I already know we’re less tough and have shorter lives than you all, so that probably has something to do with it. We haven’t been able to build ships that could hold everything we need, and go fast enough to get us places within those short lifespans. And then I think some weird things happen to our bodies when we stay in space for too long? I’m not sure, I haven’t studied it before. Kinda want to now, though.”

“There is a Bifrost here now.” Loki pointed out. “Someday, it will be like our old one, and able to transport people to all of these planets. Svartalfheim is forbidden though, on order of the king. And myself. I’m afraid I can never take you there.”

“Oh. But why not?”

“Because we hate it. Or rather, I hate it, and my brother hates it and also sympathizes with it.”

“You’ve been beating around the bush here. Can’t you tell me what happened?”

“I can. But it’s unpleasant. You know, I assume, of my grandfather’s battle with the Svartalfari?”

“Yeah. And the Aether, and that it came back later in a human lady. Did you meet her?”

He cleared his throat. “Yes…we met.”

“What was she like? She had this stone inside her?”

“She was…interesting. Secretly powerful. You know only a few can handle the stones without terrible consequences. She didn’t exactly handle it, she could not utilize its powers, but she did contain it. If you were to touch one of these things, it would likely consume you entirely, understand? She held it within her body, and all it did was weaken her.

In the end, we rid her of its influence, but it fell into our enemies hands. Behold.”

A small figure emerged. It was entirely white and black; white skin, white hair, white armor that looked carved from bone, all wrapped and strapped in leathery black clothing. It wore an expressionless, hollow-eyed, white mask over its face.

“Okay, that’s creepy.”

“That’s a Svartalfar. Hideous, cave-crawling, hateful creatures.”

“Why do they look like us? Why do they all look like us?”

“What do you mean?” The planet and the person dissipated.

“Vanir, Asgardian, Human, Svart-al-far, we all look the same. Same body shape, same faces. We all have written languages, wear clothes, make fashion choices. Some worse than others. We should all be extremely different from one another, shouldn’t we?”

“Convergent evolution?” He suggested.

“I’m gonna have to look that up. So is that why they’re so pale? Because they live in caves?”

“Precisely. They are very insular, unforgiving of any weakness. They used to war against each other, having no idea there was anything or anyone outside of their tiny star system. They couldn’t do what humans did; they couldn’t look out into the stars and wonder if they were alone or not. When they found out that they were not, they did not react with wonder, or even fear. They have only hatred for anything that isn’t one of them. They try to destroy anything that is not Svartalfari.”

“Okay, but you guys didn’t exactly come with open arms, right? You wanted something that was on the planet, didn’t you?”

He sighed. “Metals. Mostly zinc and silver.”

“Uh-huh. So their first contact with another species was a bunch of warlike invaders who wanted to steal their stuff. But of course, they’re just ‘naturally inclined’ to hate all outsiders.”

“Now I know it seems like that, but we did attempt to open trade agreements first. We saw how poor the ecosystem of the planet was, and offered to trade food with them. Grain and such.”

“Did they not want that? Was it taken as some kind of insult?”

“No, not exactly. It just turned out our food was poisonous to them.”

“Oh no!”

“Yes. Our existence, what we represented-that is, an entire unseen universe beyond what they thought was ‘everything’-upset their cultural understanding of their place in existence. And this death we brought could only be interpreted as a deliberate attack. The Svartalfari are truly immortal, you understand; they can be killed, but they do not die on their own. Old age is an unknown concept to them. Due to this, their birth rate is incredibly low. They had a stable population of only a few tens of thousands, that’s it.

Hundreds died in the initial poisonings. That was when their hatred truly took hold. As the deaths continued, one of them rose to a position of prominence. He spread a doctrine of genocide among his people; that all others were a mockery of what the universe should be. That all others must die. They began by killing the Asgardian miners and merchants, and continued doing this until the armies came. This one man mustered all of his warring people under one cause, and claimed to have a weapon to back him up.

He had discovered the Aether. You know it as an Infinity Stone, the Reality stone specifically. With it, one can influence, or even change reality itself. He intended to use it to revert the universe to its initial state of darkness. It was possible only under a cosmic convergence that brings all the realms into line, and breaks down barriers between those worlds. He thought to use the stone then, to reach as far into the universe as he could, extinguishing the light along the way.

My grandfather and our armies routed them. Nearly the entire species was wiped out, and we left the planet permanently.”

“Didn’t stay for the silver?”

“I think, for perhaps the first time, my grandfather regretted a battle. He certainly liked to fight and conquer, but I do not believe he was genocidal. That takes a…a certain kind of insanity that rarely looks like what it is. So he forbid his people from returning, leaving the planet as a graveyard.

But, of course, they didn’t all die. Their leader, some of his soldiers, and a very few children survived. And so, thousands of years later, they tried again. In search of the Aether, which was within that woman, they actually invaded Asgard.

I was imprisoned at the time. You know, for my oh-so heinous crimes against your world, which my father had abandoned a millennia ago.” He sounded positively venomous for a moment. “You know, they broke all the other criminals out. Offered to free me, but…I just didn’t take the opportunity. You know, I think I still believed I’d be forgiven in time.  ‘Look Father! I had the chance, but I didn’t take it! I still have some honor after all!’ Hmph.” He grimaced. “The Svartalfari invaders murdered the queen while I stayed in a cage.”

And there was the reason their mother had never been mentioned. She wasn’t here. You opened your arms almost on reflex. Who had hugged him after that?

His hand was on your forehead in an instant, halting your compassionate advance.

“Spare me.” He said dryly. “It wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me that day.”

“What?”

“Well of course we sought revenge. Did you know my brother and Heimdall are traitors to the Crown? It was never just me. We broke so many laws together. Ah, good times. We headed right to Svartalfheim, got the Aether out of that woman, and tricked the Svartalfari easily. And then I was killed, and left behind on that miserable place.”

“What?” You repeated.

“Obviously I wasn’t completely dead, but I was very close. It certainly seemed like it; enough to fool absolutely everyone. Including myself. But I am Aesir, and I did not die. Oh, but they did. All of the invaders. I ended the life of my mother’s killer, but if I could have taken the head of every remaining member of the species, I would have.”

“Genocide takes a certain kind of insanity-“ You began to repeat his earlier words.

“Yes. It does.” He stared at you, face sharp and serious. “My brother has once again forbid contact with Svartalfheim. Any who survive may someday rebuild the species. I cannot bring myself to care.”

“Your highness.” You said firmly. “You should allow me to hug you.”

He gave you a long, silent side-glance.

“You do not command me, tiny mortal.” He proclaimed darkly. But he did lift his arm, and look away, giving you the opportunity to wrap your arms around his middle.

You took it.

Chapter Text

 

Days passed into weeks, but you never found your balance. Still being swept along, you attended history lessons, magical training, and regular check-ins. Everything blended into a blur, however, and you found it increasingly difficult to concentrate.

The pranks continued, small and unpredictable. Talking breakfast foods that left little messages from Loki, Andsvarr, or Saldis. Magical alarms playing out of thin air, to wake you in the mornings. Clothes that tickled you without warning. And always, more snakes.

They weren’t malevolent, but they were always unexpected, always startling and stressing you out.

There were still no more new books, so you read and re-read the few you had. The history and astronomy books were useful and educational, helping you understand your lessons, as well as the country you now lived in. The mythology book however, still caused distress and distrust in you, and the book of Shakespeare’s tragedies was even worse on your fraying mind. Nothing but gods and royalty being the worst they could be, as if it were normal.

You should have stopped reading them, but there was nothing else to read. With nothing to do, your thoughts ran in circles, spiraling down into ever darker places.

Both Loki and Brunnhilde became much busier as the weeks passed; your lessons ended up trickling off, leaving you bored and idle. For a while, you tried drawing to keep yourself busy, but the works showed the lack of vitality you now felt, and you eventually gave them up.

It was becoming harder to get out of bed. It wasn’t that you were getting sick again, just that you were sleeping more and more. It began to feel like that was the only way to make time actually move forward. Sometimes entire days went by without you sharing more than a handful of words with another living being. You still weren’t allowed to go outside.

What little time Loki did have for you was filled with exhausting magical lessons, which would have been impersonal and cold, save for his continued, perhaps increased tendency to get touchy-feely without asking.

Maybe he didn’t mean anything by it. Maybe that’s just how he was. Maybe he was just trying to make you feel like you belonged, despite all the stares you got whenever you left your bare, little room.

All it did was make you feel like he was prepping you for something terrible.

Everything around you smelled like him; his soap, his shampoo, whatever it was they washed your clothes with. You hadn’t worn anything that wasn’t green, black, or gold for almost a month.

You couldn’t confide in the Valkyrie; she was far too busy. There were new Valkyries now, and their training was taking up all her time. You couldn’t talk to Saldis or Andsvarr either; they were subjects of the monarchy, and unlikely to take your fears seriously.

So you were left mostly alone, spiraling down, and no one taking notice.

Days and nights passed, but the sun stopped setting, and you could no longer tell them apart. You should have found it amazing, but you only felt numb, with the occasional spike of anxiety.

Even your dreams were mostly empty, save for a pulsing blue light.

 It gave you headaches.

 

                                                                                     *****

“Andsvarr, give me your honest opinion.” Loki said, just outside his quarters. “Do you think something is wrong with _____?”

“Wrong, your Highness?” The young guard asked, looking back at the closed door, as if he could see you behind it. “What kind of wrong? She doesn’t seem ill, but she’s been very…withdrawn? She doesn’t talk much anymore. I used to hear her singing when she was alone in there, but she hasn’t done it in a while. Come to think of it, she hasn’t asked for any food today…”

“Hm. Well we can’t have that. Bjarkehild will have my scalp if I don’t make her eat.”

“I think she is lonely, sire. She hasn’t left here for days, and she has no visitors. Saldis can’t ever stay long, and I can’t leave my post.”

“And I have been far too busy to pay her proper attention, hmm?”

Andsvarr faltered. “I-I would never say-“

“Hush. You’re not wrong. I have been busy. Did you know the builders found a series of subterranean chambers running under the city? They’re left over from lava floes, I’m told. They will be very useful, once fully mapped out and explored, but planning and regulation has been eating up most of my time. I wonder if she would like to see them?”

“She would probably like to do anything at all, my prince.”

“Hm. You are probably right. I’ll be right back with a meal. Our human musn’t be allowed to go hungry, after all.”

He returned with a tray of food, artistically arranged, with little radish and carrot flowers.

“I think this will cheer her up.”

Andsvarr grinned in approval and opened the door.

 

                                                                                     *****

 

Loki had returned, after what seemed like an eternity away, just barging right into your room as if he owned the place. Well, he did. It wasn’t yours; he’d told you that on day one. The bed, the books, the clothes, none of this was yours. You had nothing.

He noticed you curled up in bed, though it was late in the day, and set the tray he was carrying down on the desk. You scrambled out of bed, loathe to make it easy for him to overtake you there, if he had finally decided to do so.

“Did I interrupt your nap?” He asked. God, he seemed to fill the room.  “My apologies. I hear you may have forgotten lunch, so I have taken care of that.” He gestured at the tray. “Enjoy.”

You stared at him silently, but he did not move. When it became clear he was not going to leave until you had eaten, you slouched over to the chair, and stared out the window, rather than look at him.

It raised the hair on your neck, knowing he was just looming behind you, watching you eat. He had provided you all your favorites, had made the meal beautiful to look at. You briefly wondered if you were supposed to eat the little vegetable flowers, deciding to do it anyway. You were a peasant, after all: food couldn’t go to waste.

You glanced at the window again, to see his reflection, faint against the neverending sunlight. Like a ghost, he stared down at you, hands behind his back, a self-satisfied smirk crossing his face. You looked away again, unsettled.

He leaned on the desk after you finished eating.

“Was it to your liking?” He asked. When his hand caressed your arm, it was so unexpected that you gasped and pulled away.

You hadn’t done that before. He drew his hand back, brows coming together in concern.

“Are you all right? Oh, have I truly neglected you so badly that you have forgotten me?” He joked.  “Greetings _____, I am Loki, Crown Prince of Asgard. It is a great pleasure to meet you.”

He took your hand, and brought it to his lips. You yanked it away and turned your back.

“I’m s-sorry.” You stammered. It was horrible how much you had missed him, while still being so afraid of his ultimate intentions. “I’m just…not in the mood?”

Damnit, now you needed to work on your own phrasing.

You heard the door open and close quietly. When you finally turned around, both he and the tray were gone. You sighed in combined relief and regret. The room seemed so much emptier now.

So much safer.

                                                                           *****

 

“Thor!” Loki exclaimed, rushing into their favored dining room. “I need to know how to make a Midgardian woman happy!”

Thor jumped up from his seat, a big, goofy grin overtaking his face.

“Brother-“ He began, opening his arms. Loki held up his hands to ward him off.

“Ugh, not like that! It’s _____, something is wrong with her. She seems distressed. I think she’s been forgetting to eat. I just brought her lunch, and she acted like she’d never seen me before! I haven’t been that distant, have I?”

He paced. “I know I’ve been busy these past weeks. Perhaps I should have made time. Well, what would you do?” He entreated his brother. No one else here had experience with human women.

“Making time is a good start.” Thor said, still smiling, but a little more serious.

Good, Loki thought. This is serious.

“She will want to know she hasn’t been forgotten. This is doubly important for someone in her position. Most other people, if you forget or neglect them, they can just leave. _____ is stuck, no matter how we treat her. So it becomes our responsibility to do a little extra for her sake.”

“My responsibility.” Loki said.

“I’m sure we can share. Take a little of the burden off of you.”

“Not necessary. I can handle this.”

“Oh, I see. Well, in that case, I would start setting aside time to spend with her, or time that she can spend with others. Just make sure she isn’t always alone. You and I both know what that can do to a person’s mind. If you want to take care of this all by yourself, then I suggest you take her outside. Show her the countryside, perhaps even take her into a town. If I’m remembering correctly, she is from a small town, yes? Full of farmers?”

“So she says. So you think she requires walking?”

“Loki…”

“Joking. Perhaps she likes horses?”

“That is a good train of thought. Follow that. After all we can’t have her…getting sick again?” He asked, trying to gauge Loki’s investment in your happiness.

“Exactly.” Loki said, just a little too fast. “That would be a disaster. I will make some plans then, try to squeeze in some _____-time between meetings.”

“Perfect. I’m sure she will be appreciative.” The brothers sat down to eat, Loki scheming, Thor still grinning, but not pushing any further. As far as he was concerned, everything was now on the right track.

 

                                                                               *****

Over the next few days, the little pranks changed rather drastically in nature. The ephemeral alarms changed from ringing to birdsong. There were no longer snakes in the bath; they had been replaced by water lilies. Perfume rose from your footsteps, and occasionally, flower petals rained down on you. The implications weren’t lost on you, but after reading Titus Andronicus for the tenth time, and revisiting the entries on Zeus’ many ‘conquests’, it only left a hollow little pit in your stomach.

Never be dependent on a man, you had told yourself, over and over. Not after the last time. And yet here you were again. Trapped. Utterly trapped.

Today’s  breakfast was beautiful. Eggs on toast. Strawberries, sliced, looking like little hearts. Skyr with lingonberry, which you adored. Little flower-shaped melon slices, and grapes. And the fish oil, of course, but you were getting used to that. The trick was to drink it first, and then follow it immediately with a drink of something else.

Today’s dress was also something special. It was much heavier than normal, a thick, plush wool, all green, sleeves gathered at the elbows, with diagonal pintucks all the way down the forearm, ending in asymmetrical hems at the wrist.

Well, that was Loki all over.

There was a full cloak, also green, with fur trim, and a golden yellow horse embroidered on the back. It had far too many legs, but you had read something about this. Odin’s horse, mentioned in passing in your mythology book, was supposed to have twice the normal number of horse legs.

Upon closer observation you noticed that, yes, this cloak was older than the dress, and had been hemmed to your height. You wondered who it had belonged to previously.

Such warm clothing. You could guess at what that meant, though you hardly dared hope.

Loki actually knocked this time, only entering when you said so. He too, was dressed warmly and finely. He paused a moment to take you in. He seemed pleased with what he saw, and you resisted the urge to back away from him.

“Ah, good. You’re dressed. That suits you very well. You may have surmised by now that we are going on a trip outside. If not; surprise, we are going on a trip outside. Tell me, do you like horses?”

Back home, there had been a woman who ran a farm mostly by herself. It was rumored that she was gay, but you didn’t care. As a child, all that mattered was that she had horses, and she was very nice to all the kids, and she taught you all how to ride the horses. She’d moved away very suddenly, years ago.

You nodded. “Yeah, horses are good. I can ride, if that’s what you mean.”

“Glad to hear it! Come with me. We shall go out riding.”

That sounded very nice; a simple ride through town-or what there was of it. You eagerly followed him, as he retrieved a cloth-wrapped bundle and lead you out of the Main Building. It wasn’t exactly what you would call a castle or palace, but you weren’t sure what to call a city hall that also housed rulers.

On the East side of the building, where you had never yet been, was a very large yard full of tiny flowers, purple and white. Under the undying sun, they flourished. Oh, to be like these flowers again!

To walk among the vast cornfields of home, to be in a garden, to even have just your houseplants again!

After what felt like so long stuck inside, bored, idle, and paranoid, being outside, with the noise, the air, the sun, the colors; it was a little overwhelming, and very exciting.

The stables held a variety of horses, and stablehands, who looked at you warily and gripped their tools a bit tighter. Loki said something to them, sending them all back to their business, and, aside from a few curious stares, they no longer seemed to care that you were there.

Loki’s horse was huge, black, elegant and beautiful, because of course it was. The horse you were introduced to was not exactly beautiful, but she was very cute. Small and stocky, extra fuzzy, with a short, shaggy mane. She was friendly, and accepted you with a placid manner; all the better, since it had been years since you had ridden, and needed to get the feel for it again.

Side by side, though very different in height, you both wandered through the city. People stopped to observe their prince and his strange guest as you passed. You briefly wondered how often Asgardian royalty had to deal with things like rebellions or assassination attempts. Loki had brought no guards with him, not even Andsvarr. He was either very secure in the belief that his people loved him, or very secure in the belief that he could handle anything thrown at him.

He steered you into one of the less finished parts of town; full of skeletal buildings, and empty homes. The further you went, the less developed the land became, just disturbed earth and roads marked with sticks and string. Before you knew it, you were passing the perimeter fence, and meandering into the countryside.

The beauty of the landscape was enthralling. Mountains rose in the distance, the low vegetation bursting with flowers. Before you knew it, the city had disappeared behind you, and the two of you were lost amidst the rugged terrain.

Loki stopped you near a copse of pine trees-the first real trees you had seen since coming here- and helped you dismount. Confused as to why you were stopping, you watched as he dismantled the bundle and laid it out: a blanket, and a basket of food.

A blanket on the ground, near the only trees in the area. Far from the city, where no one could see you or hear you. Where no one could come to your aid. The pit in your stomach opened up again, deeper than ever before.

So this was it, then? This was when he would take you? You sucked in a shuddering breath, fists clenched as he set out plates and little portions of fruits and cheeses. He was even humming softly to himself, not even seeming to notice you trying to steel yourself to the oncoming horrors.

He patted the blanket next to him. What could you do? You couldn’t run. You couldn’t leave. All you could do right now was sit.

He handed you a plate, gazing gently down at you. It chilled your blood. But it seemed he was going to let you eat first. Perhaps you could just eat really, really slowly.

Maybe it would go easier for you if you just focused on his good points? He did have them, after all. He was incredibly beautiful, for one. Of course you had noticed. Graceful and regal, and he always presented himself very well. He kept clean and well-groomed, and he always smelled nice.

Yes, think of that. Think of how clever he was, how much he knew and had seen. How strong he was, how powerful. How easily he could lift you up. Or pin you down.

No, don’t think of that.

Think of his sense of humor, and how softly he touched you. Maybe you could convince him to be gentle?

“Are you cold? You’re shaking. Here, do you need my cloak?” He draped it across your shoulders, placing his arms around you casually. Finally, your temper caught up with your fear.

You reared up on your knees, throwing off the cloak and scattering your plate of fruit and cheese, little fist cocked back.

Oh, he would never be gentle with you now.

Before you could throw the punch, something struck you in the back, sharp like a rock or a hornet. It stung terribly. Were there hornets in Iceland?

You fell into Loki’s arms, pain spreading through your back. Something slid free from your flesh to thump on the ground. Loki drew his hand from your back with a gasp. It was red.

What was going on? What just happened?

Why did you hurt?

A shape broke free of the trees, a person in a camouflaged cloak and hood. It raced past both of you, threw itself on your little horse, and rode the startled animal away at top speed.

Loki shook himself from his shock and flung his hand out at the retreating figure. You saw a flash in the eternal sun-a blade.

No, it might hit the horse!

You threw your own hand up, as if to catch it, though it was much too late for that. Power sizzled through you, out of you, like an extension of your own arm. It grasped the flying blade, and pulled it back to its sender.

“What are you doing?” Loki hissed. “What did you do? They are escaping!”

“H-horsie…” You whispered. The power swirled in your head, leaving you dizzy. It almost seemed to whisper.

Learn me. Learn me. Learn me.

You collapsed entirely in Loki’s grasp.

 

                                                                         *****

 

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! This was supposed to be a scenic picnic! This was supposed to make you smile! Now you were bleeding and senseless in his arms, and you had expended your very first act of independent magic on preventing him from bringing justice upon your assailant.

He should have been able to praise you. To show off what you’d done. There was no time. He took the knife, and hefted you in his arms. There was no catching up to the escaping miscreant now; it was far more important to get you to safety.

Imagine! Defying Crown justice for the sake of a horse! At least you understood the value of such a beast.

It was a good thing that mortals were all so light, and his own horse more than strong enough. The ride back seemed to take an excruciating length of time. Why had he chosen a place so far from safety? There were places closer to home that were equally beautiful, what fool would go so far with no escort?

The berating didn’t stop when he returned to the city, nor when he turned you over to Bjarkehild, nor when he explained to person after person what had happened, and especially not when he was finally left alone with his own thoughts.

Who was that cloaked person, and why had he not sensed their presence? Why attack you?

That was a real hang up. You were a mere mortal, absolutely harmless. As far as he understood, you had never given anyone cause to hurt you. Even your occasional explosions of temper were ultimately innoxious, even endearing. That might just be because you were unable to hurt him, no matter how hard you punched, but he couldn’t imagine any person whose face had met your fist would hate you enough for it to hunt you all the way here and try to assassinate you.

What if you were not the target, but him? You had reared up for some reason, very suddenly, right before the knife struck. Had you sensed danger? Had you been just about to tell him? Had you been trying to protect him?

Foolish, little, weak, human idiot! If that was the case, he would lock you away in your room, and only let you out with a full contingent of guards around you at all times. He would keep you safe, no matter what it took. He had given his word, and he meant to keep it this time.

“Your Highness.” Bjarkehild said gently, shattering his spinning thoughts.

“Yes? What? How is she? Let me see her!” He demanded.

“Your highness.” She repeated firmly, holding her hands up to halt him. Her hands were clean, he noticed. That was a good sign.

“She is going to be fine. The knife hit at an angle; whoever threw it was either unlucky, or unskilled. The cut was deep, but it is just that-a cut. The blade did not even clear her ribs. She sleeps only because the combination of sudden injury and magic fatigue hit her hard. She will recover swiftly. As always with her kind, she must simply rest.”

Loki relaxed the slightest bit. You were safe now. Now was time to hunt. Now was time for revenge.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Hear me, loyal followers!” Loki addressed the gathered encampment. ”You who persevere through cold nights, you who make your devotion known with your presence! I have need of your assistance in an important matter!”

Perhaps he was laying it on a bit thick, but it had netted him the attention of every human in the camp; even the little worm he had berated before.

“Just this morning, outside the city, an attempt was made on the life of my…”He hesitated for just a moment. “My Seidkona. Perhaps some you remember her? She came out among you a month ago. This craven assailant then stole a horse, and rode back this way. He used this blade.”

Loki produced the offending weapon and held it out for inspection.

“I will not require you to throw the coward at my feet this instant; I would not expect any of you to put yourselves in that kind of danger. However, if any of you have information, I expect it to be delivered to any of the gate guards very soon. Until then, go about your business, with my blessing.”

A few of them winced at that last part, which filled him with a dark satisfaction. So there were intelligent individuals out here after all, those who might understand that the blessing of the God of Mischief may have many edges.

Let them band together or tear each other apart now; it didn’t matter. As long as he got what he was after, who cared how these mortals produced it?

He left them to their tents and fires, marching back through the city, glaring at practically everyone who approached him.

That was one possibility set in motion. Hopefully the strength of their faith would allow the campers to turn on one of their own, if one of them was really the culprit. He would see that a handsome reward would go to any of them that provided information. The camp humans hadn’t been shown any special regard so far, but keeping them firmly on the side of the gods might be more advantageous than he had previously thought. They had to know every human in the area, because they were every human in the area.

Loki made straight for the large library, where, on his orders, most of the remaining Asgardian historians were gathered. Here, he presented the blade once more, bidding them to search any sources they might have, to discover if the weapon had any known history. If it had come from within Asgard, they had the best chance of finding out.

That was the second possibility. If any of his Asgardian enemies were behind this, he would not show them mercy either. You were human, but you were under Crown protection. An attack on you was treason, and no matter how above the law some families thought they might be, he was all too willing to remind them of how wrong they were.

Now for the most annoying part. Passing the guards and entering the sparse, shrine-like computer room, he switched the machine on and entered his own password. He brought up a video call, and waited.

Tony Starks’ smug, stupid face popped up on the screen.

“Hey Thor, you need a genius today or wh-“ He noticed who he was talking to. “Oh, fuck off!”

He stormed away from the camera, quickly replaced by Pepper.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Potts.” Loki said evenly. “Good to see a professional.”

“Kiss my titanium ass!” Tony shouted from offscreen.

“Er, what can I do for you?” She asked, eyes flicking to the side as Tony began going into a full rant. “I’m sorry, it looks like I need to transfer you. One moment.”

“No, we don’t apologize to him! We do not-“

The screen blacked out for a moment, coming back online in an entirely different part of the tower.

“Hello? Who is…hm.” A familiar face and voice went from curious, to cold in no time flat. Loki smiled, but not in a friendly manner.

“Hello, Clint.” He said in a low, gentle voice. “How are you doing today?”

“I was better twenty seconds ago. What do you want?”

“I would not assume you are ignorant of what is happening in my area of the world. Why would I call?”

“Either something is rotten in the state of Asgard, or something concerns the woman you stole. So which is it? Straight talk; I don’t have the time or patience for your knotted speech, so just get to the heart of it.”

Insufferable. Why couldn’t Banner have been there? He could at least talk to Bruce. This was going to be like flinging words at a wall.

Loki explained what had happened, playing up your vulnerability, and the injustice and cowardice of your attacker. Clint had a soft heart underneath all his skill; he would want to help you, even though he had never met you.

“What I want to know is if she had any enemies among her peers that would have the means to get here. Or alternately, if you know of anyone who would make an attempt on her for being close to my brother and I.”

“Oh yeah, that’s not a huge number of possible suspects or anything. Let me just get right on that, it’s not like I have anything else to do for the rest of my life.”

“I didn’t say it had to be you specifically, but if you are volunteering…”

“I’ll see what can be done. No guarantees.”  Hawkeye then abruptly ended the call.

Loki sighed at the blank screen. The only consolation was that eventually, this entire generation of humanity would die, and he might be able to make a fresh start.

Now to wait.

No, now to check on you.

 

                                                                                 *****

 

Loki led you gently by the hand through the most lavish building you had ever seen. There were entire gilded rooms, glowing, warm; tapestries as long as the halls, gloriously detailed in the history of Asgard. Every floor a mosaic, every pillar carved with the delicacy of lace. Foreign music floated on the air.

You felt as if you were floating as well, wrapped in loose clothing, light on your feet. Loki wouldn’t let you make any sudden moves, bidding you to just walk slowly and take in everything around you.

You were vaguely aware of a stiff feeling in your back, of your surroundings being smaller than they appeared. Loki’s scent was all around you, comforting. Here, you had no fears. In this beautiful palace, he ruled, and you were safe. No sickness, no dead fields, no evil; just tender hand-holding, and justified pride in thousands of years of Asgardian artistry.

Your clothing tangled around your legs, but you didn’t fall. A sheet? You were wearing a sheet? And bandages? You could feel them around your torso, not too tight, but enough to be noticeable.

The music changed, fading into a low hum. You had heard this before, in the medical wing. Bjarkehild had described a machine that showed everything that might be wrong with a patient. She’d called it a ’Soul Forge’, explained that what they had now was a very stripped down version of it. Like the Bifrost, it was one of the things they were slowly rebuilding, always improving upon.

Were they near the medical area of the palace? What wonders might be there? You asked if you could go see it, and Loki simply smiled and nodded.

The place he led you to was just as lovely as the rest of the palace; clean and sterile, but not lifeless, decorated in soft, calming colors. You’d spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices and hospitals over the past year, but none of them had seemed so comforting.

Loki scooped you up and placed you on one of the beds. It was so soft and warm. The sheet spread out around you. He tucked it up around your shoulders, sat down next to you, and took your hand again, under the sheet.

If only you could stay like this. Safe and unafraid. Warm. Happy.  You knew it couldn’t last; you lived a life of impermanence. Once you opened your eyes, this would all be gone.

You opened your eyes to find yourself only partially correct. You were in a bed, and you were in the medical area. You were in a sheet, and wrapped in bandages. Loki was there, and he was holding your hand under the sheet.

But there was no ancient palace, no beautiful art or architecture. And unlike what you now realized was a dream, you were still filled with fear and apprehension.  You drew your hand away.

“Ah, you’re awake.” Loki said, standing to hover over you, worry in his tight expression. “How do you feel?”

“Not sure yet.” You said, groggy. “What happened to me?”

“We were attacked. Some craven bastard threw a knife at you.”

“Oh. I thought it felt like getting punched by a fist made of wasps.” You said. You didn’t mention that a sneaky knife attack sounded like the kind of thing Loki would do. Perhaps it was only ‘craven’ when someone else was doing it.

“Did you hit the horse?”

Loki sighed and sat back down. “No. You actually guaranteed that wouldn’t happen. Not that I would have struck the animal anyway; my aim is always precise.”

“I messed up your throw. Sorry.”

“Oh, a bit more than that, I’m pleased to say. You performed your first feat of independent magic. Teleportation. You brought my blade right back to me. It was very tidy, but you’ve had an excellent teacher, so I expect no less.”

So smug. You would have found it endearing, if you weren’t so caught up in yourself.

“It doesn’t hurt as much as I thought.” You said. “Don’t get me wrong, it hurts a lot, but I thought it would be more debilitating.”

“The knife did not penetrate far. Luckily, our assailant was clumsy with his throw, and left you with no more than a nasty cut. The only reason you are here right now is because dealing with a sudden injury and with sudden magic fatigue at the same time overwhelmed you. But you will be fine now. Look, I have grapes.”

He handed you a little bowl full of the green and purple fruits, which you dug into ravenously.

“I can teleport?”

“You can teleport objects, at least. Small ones. But perhaps bigger, with time. Perhaps even something as big as yourself, someday.”

“So…kinda like a little, walking Bifrost?” You wondered. Loki went silent, mouth opened, mouth closed, absorbing the idea.

“That is actually a very interesting thought. What a clever little thing you are! Look at how your value grows. A movable Bifrost would be precious indeed.”

His expression darkened.

“All the more reason to find this enemy and neutralize them. I’ve got several investigations ongoing, but for now…” He placed his hand on top of the sheet, trying to find yours underneath. You moved your hand away.

“I know I have been busy, and you’ve been cooped up like a doll in a closet. But while this threat is still looming, I intend to keep you close by. You may have to sit through some terribly boring official meetings, but at least you will not be alone. It’s either that or being locked into your room, I’m afraid.”

“Is that allowed? I’m not a dignitary or anything. Isn’t some of that stuff secret?”

Loki regarded you with some amusement. “Tell me, what is it you think royalty actually does?”

“I dunno.” You grumbled. “Top secret government stuff.”

“Ha! You think we have garden parties and eat treats all day, don’t you?”

You thought about Hamlet. Lear. Othello. All the blood, the distrust, the betrayal.

“Not exactly. I guess I just don’t know.”

“Prepare to learn. And if you get bored, you can just bring a book.”

You groaned.

 

                                                                                  *****

Loki had been right: some of these meetings were super boring. You couldn’t understand most of what was being said; only when Thor or Loki were using their ‘allspeak’ magic. Even then, you only got their parts of the conversation.

Loki had dressed you up like you were something special, but it hardly seemed to matter. The people meeting with the brothers either ignored you completely, or seemed annoyed that you were there at all, no matter how you looked. Maybe he’d just done it for his own pleasure. He had referred to you as a doll, after all.

One fellow in particular seemed very displeased to see you there, and had a lengthy-and if Loki’s expression was any indication-impertinent argument about your presence. Loki had used Allspeak the entire time. Either he wanted you to know how disgusted this man was by you, or he wanted you to know he was defending you.

“It is final, Alarr.” He said firmly. “It is not your concern.”

The man, Alarr, bristled and huffed, speaking back with obvious disrespect.

“Actually, you do.” Thor said. “He is my brother, my advisor, my second-in-command. He is your prince, and it is important that everyone remembers that, especially people with your influence. It is of utmost importance that we remain united as we rebuild. There are too many people who would see us divided.”

Alarr gesticulated broadly. You thought you heard the name Odin somewhere in the tirade.

“This is all true. However, these times are different from our golden age, and calls for a different kind of leadership. Even our father grew weary of conquering and made sincere attempts at peace. So too, will we. But it must start with tolerance for the presence of the people who were here before us. There will not be another Nornheim.”

Alar stroked his braided, blonde beard. He was clearly still displeased, but seemed to acquiesce, though he shot suspicious glances at you for the rest of the meeting. He seemed to be demanding that the camp be removed, viewing them as a safety hazard, a possible harbor for enemies.

To your relief, both king and prince believed that to be unreasonable and unnecessary. Not to mention unsustainable.

“How many Einherjar do you propose we remove from their posts and their training, to fruitlessly patrol the fens in search of itinerant humans?” Loki asked. “And by what rights do we remove citizens of this country from land that is still theirs? What measures do you suggest we take to repel them? Do we become violent toward the very people who have harbored us?”

The argument went back and forth, but Loki’s defense of the camp stuck with you. He didn’t even like the people out there. He too, had said that he considered them potentially dangerous. You didn’t see what he got out of defending them. It couldn’t be because of you, and you doubted it was simply because it was the right thing to do.

“He is literally always so unpleasant, all the time, every day.” Loki said, after Alarr had left.

“He’s of the old guard.” Thor said with a shrug. “He will get used to the new ways. There isn’t really any other choice.”

“He’s going to be trouble.” Loki warned. “He does not see me as a legitimate authority, and he barely tolerates you as one.”

“And what do you suggest then? We can’t imprison him for ‘general unpleasantness’. For one thing; we don’t have a prison.”

“What, you guys don’t have spies? Can’t you just watch over him?” You interjected.  They both turned to look at you, their movements almost comically mirrored.

“Eh, never mind.” It wasn’t really your place to speak here. Who knew, maybe all their spies had been killed in the destruction of Asgard, or were trapped offworld, with no Bifrost to bring them back.

“It’s nothing you need worry yourself about.” Loki said. “You needn’t worry about anything.”

Or do anything, if the entire boring day was any indication. At least Loki and Thor got to talk to people, even get into interesting debates. You got to sit still and say nothing. You couldn’t even get really comfortable, the slash across your back twanging every time you put any kind of pressure on it.

He was probably just trying to reassure you of your safety, but the boredom was almost torture. You could have stayed locked in your room and been safe enough. At least then, you could have had a nap. But Loki insisted on keeping you within arms’ reach. The attack must have really spooked him.

You probably should have felt more conflicted about it than you did. Someone had tried to kill you! Or, at least, someone had tried to hurt one of the two of you. Loki could not be ruled out as the intended target of that knife either.

Oh, he had been so ticked off, demanding to know if you had seen the danger coming, if you had tried to protect him with your body. You had told him how stupid that was; he was thousand times tougher than you, he could take a knife without needing your help. That seemed to mollify him, but now you wondered if you should have lied and gotten yourself locked up.

Again, at least you could have taken a nap.

Loki left his chair to crouch before you.

“Are you hungry? Do you hurt?” His hand stroked down your back, causing you to wince away. “Oh, you do hurt. Do we have anything that can alleviate pain?”

“We need to stock up on some human medications for you.” Thor said. There was a sort of sparkle in his good eye as he watched his brother. “They’re completely ineffective to us, I’m afraid.”

“Er, speaking of that, I’m definitely going to need some, uh, feminine hygiene products.” You hadn’t wanted to talk about this, but there wasn’t any getting around it. “I’ve got the insert, but it takes a little while to dry everything up.”

Both brothers stared at you, baffled.

“I know what all of those words mean individually…”Loki began.

You sighed. “I think I need to talk to Bjarkehild.”

Chapter Text

 

A tent in the encampment had burned down in the night. No body was found, so it was hoped no one was inside at the time, but every single thing within had been reduced fully to ash, or little lumps of melted metal and glass.

For as intensely and completely as the tent had burned, the fire hadn’t spread at all. It was a small miracle within the tragedy. The plot was cleaned up, and a newcomer set up their tent in its place.

No one came forward as the owner of the tent.

Sofie made sure to greet the new campers, offer them assistance and guidance. She also made sure to quietly confront Fritjof on the way back.

“I know nothing more than anyone else.” He insisted. “Some people don’t know how to fireproof their tents. It happens. With all the fires around here, it should have happened sooner.”

“Doesn’t anyone know who that tent belonged to? They might have tried to hurt _____. I know you don’t like her, but-“

“I no longer have anything against her. She is chosen. So be it. She spoke the truth before. So be it.” That last was delivered bitterly. Most of Fritjofs friends had left the camp after Heimdall and Loki’s brief appearance a month ago. Gone home to do some soul searching or find something else that catered to their exclusionary beliefs. The few that remained from ‘that side’ of the camp had mostly withdrawn to figure themselves out. For once, they were quiet.

But Fritjof’s tent was near to the one that had burned, and it was hard to believe that he didn’t know who it belonged to, when he made a habit of interrogating everyone who came to the camp about their faith.

“They might have left with the others.” He suggested. “Some proved faithless, and left everything behind.”

“But not you.”

He shrugged. “I was tested. But the gods are here. It doesn’t matter anymore what shape they have taken this time. They are real, and they are here once more. The wisdom of our ancestors will return to us. That’s the important part. Isn’t it?”

Sofie nodded. “I think so too. Here, come help me distribute apples to the newcomers. They’ll want to know what we have seen.”

 

                                                                               *****

 

“You’ve found the animal? Where?” Loki asked the stablemistress.

“Wandering the fens. Some children found her while they were out berrying. She’s lucky to be in one piece, but she seems to be fine. Full of berries, most likely.”

You would want to know that the horse had been found, and in good health as well.

“Was anything else found?”

“No, I’m afraid not, your highness. She was still wearing the same tack she left with, but nothing more than that.”

“Oh well. At least we have her back.”

Two probable dead ends. At least there had been no loss. The horse had returned, and the burned tent had caused no harm. He would be venturing out later with a handful of Einherjar to look over the things that had been found at the crime scene.

Your injury was healing significantly faster than usual for a human, due partly to the advancement of their medical facilities, and due partly, he was almost certain, to his touch. The more he had carefully stroked your back, the more the pain seemed to recede, the more you had curled up on yourself-probably in relief.

He had bid you to rest, and given Ansdvarr a few friends to help watch over you, making sure there was food for you when you woke.  You seemed so subdued. It must be the amount of energy it was taking to heal yourself. He waited until you were asleep to take his leave. He just wanted to be sure.

He met his small entourage just outside the city, and they all traced their way across the idyllic landscape, to the little copse of trees. The remains of his ill-fated picnic were still strewn about the area, though some small animal or another had made off with the food.

Loki instructed one of the Einherjar to gather things up, then he followed the sergeant in charge of investigating the area to what she had found.

“There are two areas of interest, your highness. This is the first.” It was little more than a blanket draped over a low branch to create a simple shelter. A small bag full of food wrappers and an empty canteen were the only other items.  They didn’t look Asgardian in origin.

“These are all Midgardian in make.” The sergeant confirmed. “It seems some mortal was making camp here, but from the debris blown into the tent, I’d say they haven’t been here for a few days. At least as long as it’s been since you brought your woman out here.”

“She’s not my woman.” Loki said quickly. You would probably take offence at that. “She is a guest. We are watching over her due to a magical anomaly. You were shown her hand with everybody else.”

“Ah. As you say, your highness. Forgive my assumption. But this is not the only thing out here. This way.”

She led him all the way to the other end of the patch of trees, to another tent. This one was more spacious, and far from being a hasty shelter, was properly set up and staked down. It was well camouflaged, and inside were a variety of things.

More interestingly, there appeared to be a mix of Asgardian and Midgardian items. The tent was clearly Asgardian, but the blankets and pillows were from Earth. It all came together to form a sordid picture.

“Hm.” Loki said. This probably should have been expected.

“Indeed.” The sergeant agreed. “It appears to me that this is evidence of one of our people and one of theirs…cohabiting. At least occasionally.”

“It’s not illegal…”Loki said.

“I wonder if perhaps it should be.” The sergeant mused. “Mortals are…well, they are mortal. They are fragile and short-lived. All such unions are doomed to a sad end.”

“All things die.” Loki said simply.

“Of course, your highness. But we don’t even allow them within the city. Even this relationship is kept secret, hidden away from the eyes of others. What happens when it eventually bears fruit? What happens to those children? Where do they live? Do we keep them away from one of their parents? Sire, I don’t think we’re ready for this.”

“Calm yourself sergeant.” Loki said. “We have been ready for this since my brother first set foot on this planet. Beyond that, the king and I, as well as the entire council, have been planning and debating for this very eventuality. And it is inevitable. They are too much like us for these unions not to develop.”

“Have you grown fond of them, your highness?”

Loki gave her a long, flat stare.

“Er, forgive me.” She said, fidgeting. “That is not my place.”

“My feelings on the matter are meaningless in comparison to what is best for the people. If there is nothing else here…?”

“Not that we have found.”

“I say we leave everything where we have found it. Set someone to watch this area and report any activity. Everything has been recorded? Good. I want a copy delivered to me, and I wish to be notified first with any new information.”

Returning to his horse, he noticed that the dishes had been placed back in the basket, his discarded cloak and blanket folded neatly, and secured to his saddle. He could see your blood on the blanket. It made him want to tear it. Even if the stain could be cleaned, he probably wouldn’t ever use it again, nor would he want you to wear his old Sleipnir cloak again, even though he’d had it altered for you. It would be bad luck to let it touch your shoulders once more.

Perhaps he really should teach you what a pauldron was.

 

                                                                                     *****

 

“Look, I’m sorry, but he’s not here.” Andsvarr told the old skald instructor. “You’re going to have to wait until he comes back. Did you have an appointment?”

“Yes.” The old teacher huffed. “Some youngster tried to tell me it’d been cancelled for some trivial investigation, but I’ve had this planned for months, and my whole class has been waiting as well.” He gestured at the small gathering of people behind him, each holding a notebook and an instrument.

“Oh. But he’s still not here. There’s nothing I can do about that.”

“You could let us meet with the Midgardian woman. She’s part of the lesson plan. My students need to become familiar with mortals; their flaws and virtues, so that they might properly write them into verse.”

“We definitely cannot do that, milord.” The supplementary guard interjected. “We have strict orders to keep anyone from seeing her. She is convalescing.”

“Wait.” Andsvarr said. “If you’ve been planning this for months, how can _____ be a part of the lesson plan? She’s only been here for one month and a little more.”

The instructor glared at him, crossing his arms. “Are you sassing me, young man?”

“No sir. Only doing my job.”

“Well so am I. And if you don’t let us in, I’m going to take my complaints straight to-“

“To me, Beli?” Loki said. “I am right here. What have you to say to me?”

“Ah, your highness! Just who I wanted to see! We had an appointment.”

“Which was regrettably cancelled due to an unfortunate assault against a guest of the Crown.”

“-And I have brought my class all the way here to meet with your mortal visitor.”

“Who is resting after her injury.”

“And these smart fellows won’t let us pass!”

“On my orders.”

“And so I was just telling them-what?”

“My specific orders, Beli. No one other than myself or the king can come in here. Your appointment was cancelled. That means it cannot happen today. Because someone tried to kill our only human. And now she must stay in bed and rest.”

Poor old Beli. He’d been one of Loki’s teachers, for music and sagas. He’d been Thor’s teacher, and Heimdall’s and Frigga’s. He seemed like he’d been around since the dawn of Asgard, yet he was as inflexible as the golden spires, and seemed unable to fathom that plans could change.

The door behind them all opened, and you peeked out.

“Aha!” Beli said. “Behold class: a human!”

You shrank back.

“No, no, come out young woman. It is a woman, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Loki said through gritted teeth. “I believe I have indicated that several times.”

You slipped into the hallway, obviously intrigued by what was going on, looking around at all the instruments.

“So loud out here.” You whispered. “Is something wrong?”

“She looks sick.” One of the students said.

“Well, what did you expect? She got stabbed.” Said another.

“It’s just a stab.”

“Not for a mortal, it isn’t!”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Loki said. “Go ahead and go back inside. I’m sending them along now.”

“Now, just a moment!” Beli said. “Since you’re both out here right now, why don’t we-“

You took that moment to collapse. A gasp rose from the gathered students, which quickly became clapping as Loki easily caught you.

“Beli. Esteemed teacher. Let us compromise. Your appointment is…postponed. Good afternoon.”

Loki scooped you effortlessly into his arms. You were so light. You would always seem light, no matter how much you weighed. He swept into his rooms, kicking the door closed behind him, leaving poor Andsvarr and his friend to take care of the musician class.

He laid you down on your sparse little bed, noticing with alarm the coldness of your skin. This wasn’t just because of your injury, or the energy it was taking to accelerate the healing.

“I was gone too long, wasn’t I?” He said mournfully, gathering you up into a sitting position next to him. He’d been miles away from you, for almost the whole day. He should have known better than to do that! You were injured; the detrimental effects of the link between you clearly reacted harshly and more swiftly when you weren’t healthy in the first place.

“Gone too far away, and for too long. Oh, you poor thing.” He wrapped one arm around you to hold you up, tenderly stroking your back. Had it been frightening, feeling the incapacitating sickness creep up on you again? He’d barely noticed it.

You shuddered in his arms, so he wrapped the blankets around your shoulders.

“Well, we’ve found out some possibly interesting things, but nothing solid, I’m afraid. We will find who did this, however. I promise you justice.”

You shivered again, but remained quiet. Loki wasn’t even sure you had heard him. He laid you back down, tucking you in and waiting until your breathing became slow and even before leaving your room.

These simple little acts of care were reassuring to him. He had cared for an entire kingdom for several years, he could do the same for one mortal woman. He could do this.

Chapter Text

 

Two days passed before the historians came to Loki with information about the dagger. It was a troll weapon, of a kind once prized as war trophies among Asgardian soldiers during the conquest of Nornheim. They were usually passed town as heirlooms, though only a few now survived.

None of the historians could tell him what family this knife might have once belonged to, nor how it came to be in human hands, if it was a human who threw it in the first place. Their best guess was that it had been lost in the last Asgardian visits to this world, roughly a thousand years ago.

They presented the knife to Loki with reverence, emphasizing how precious it was. It had been cleaned and restored, no trace of blood or dirt remaining. He could see his eyes reflected in the blade.

He’d seen items like this, in the palace’s armory display. Rock trolls had been surprisingly proficient crafters; of stone, crystal, and metals at least. They lacked Asgardian sophistication however, and could not even come close to the capabilities of the Dwarves of Nidavellir.  Still, as a reminder of Asgards first conquest, such items held great cultural importance. He knew just what to do with this one.

A young secretary contacted him on his way out of the library, to inform him of an incoming call on the computer. When he arrived however, there was no one on-screen, only an empty room presumably in the Tower. An alarm was ringing, and a red light flashing. It seemed something had rather suddenly come up.

Loki wondered for a few moments whether he had time to wait or not, when the alarm and flashing light abruptly ceased.

“Mr. Lang, you’re still here?” A soft voice called. “There’s a call open on the monitor, what should I do?”

“I dunno, who is it?” Someone else called back.

“Umm…” A masked face-red, with cartoonishly huge, almond shaped white eyes-took up the whole screen. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve met him before, but he looks familiar. Oh, shoot. The sound’s on. Uh, hi! Avenger’s Tower, how can we help?”

This person’s voice was altogether too young.

“Please tell me you are an intern.” Loki said.

“I’m Spiderman.”

“Man?” Loki repeated, incredulous.

The boy rolled his eyes. Or, at least, he tilted his head and moved his shoulders in the way that comes with rolling one’s eyes.

“Hey who is that?” Another face- this one thankfully adult-shoved into view. “Oh wow! Kid, that’s Loki! He bashed up New York a while ago, don’t you remember?”

The boy shook his masked head.

“But you live in New York!”

“C’mon, it was forever ago! I was like, ten!”

A heavy feeling settled inside Loki. How many buildings had he damaged that day? How many vehicles did he destroy? And all the while, this child had been there, somewhere, his life barely measuring the double digits.

How many people? He’d never found out.

“I am Loki, Prince of Asgard, and…look, is Barton there? He should have some information for me.”

“Just left.” The adult said. “Looks like he left some notes though. I can read them out for you.” He picked up a notebook from the desk. “Ooh. Looks like Tony left some notes too. I’m, uh…” His eyes flicked from the notebook to the masked boy. “I’m not going to read those out loud.”

“I can hazard a guess as to their content. I doubt he has added anything important. Read away.”

“Alright well, it says here…’Ex-boyfriend, angry and vocal on Facebook. Toothless; cannot travel. No prize’. Huh. Okay. And then ‘mixed opinion news articles, none seems to know her personally. Sensationalist at best.’ Uh, ‘Security video viral; massive debate in the comments. Conspiracy theories. Over four hundred million people have seen Loki get punched in the face by a woman half his size.’ And here Tony adds ‘nice’. And that’s the only one of his comments that’s safe to read.”

Loki frowned.

“What? You’ve gotta show me that video.” The boy said.

Loki frowned deeper.

“And lastly, ‘Second video uploaded by someone called Sofie Snowfox, currently residing outside New Asgard. Shown alive and well, described as “Devoted to Loki.”

Loki perked up at that. Yes, that sounded rather nice.

“Most long-time subscribers positive and supportive, but recent waves of American commenters overwhelmingly negative. Accusations of treason, death threats, unflattering sexual speculation, more conspiracy theories.”

That sounded far less nice.

“I have no idea what this is about.”

“You don’t need to-“

“He kidnapped some lady, but I guess it was supposed to be a good thing. Maybe?”

“What? You stole a whole person?”

“I didn’t steal her, I saved her-you know, never mind. If you have not already been informed of this, you don’t need to know. I have the research I asked for, and I have no more time to waste here. Goodbye, Spiderchild. And also you.”

He ended the call without another word, and stalked away from the computer.

So. Your people had abandoned you. Typical. Thor was so optimistic about humanity, but Loki had seen the rot underneath. While his brother would praise how strong and helpful human’s natural social bonds were, Loki knew how they used those same social bonds as a weapon; to shun, to manipulate, to control.

Now you were outside of that control, and your country had turned on you. Viciously. Predictably.

No matter. You had him now; he would take care of you. He had sworn it, and he meant to keep his word this time.

But that meant that your assailant had to be found. This couldn’t be let go, not if he didn’t want them to feel empowered to try it again. You required some means of protection. And he had just the thing.

He found his way to the equipment stores, speaking briefly to the quartermaster. She was a formidable, battle-scarred woman, but when he explained that he wanted some of the old, busted up knife sheathes to attempt to fix up, she was happy to let him rummage around.

During the exodus, people had mostly just grabbed whatever they could find to bring with them. Unfortunately, some of it turned out to be trash. The quartermaster had been saddled with far too much unusable equipment, and Loki was able to come up with several sheathes that, between them, should provide enough intact material to put together a new one. Loki thanked her, and left with his prizes.

Prince or not, Loki had always taken care to know how to maintain and repair all of his own equipment, even learning how to make certain things from scratch. With the amount of knives and daggers he used, a simple sheath would take no time at all.

He found a place away from anyone else, where he didn’t have to be a prince, and could concentrate on being an artisan instead. A wave of the hand brought him his tools, and he went right to work.

 

                                                                                 *****

 

“So the big mystery about the Jotnar, is that it’s clear from their extensive colonization of multiple worlds, that they used to be a space-faring race. But they aren’t now, and no one knows why or how that knowledge was lost to them.” Brunnhilde explained. The Valkyrie had moved this lesson into your room, where you were still being asked to stay. You had been longing for companionship for what seemed like such a long time, so long in fact, that you were now uncomfortable to have it. You hadn’t gotten out of bed, just sat up with your pillow to lean against. Brunnhilde evidently thought you were injured worse than you actually were, and made no comment about it.

“We’ve encountered them in several galaxies, always slightly different. Thousands, possibly millions of years removed from wherever they originally came from, and an unusually flexible genetic structure allows them to adapt to whatever planet they live on within just a few generations. For instance, here are Aegir and Ran.”

She held up a book, showing you an illustration of two people with deep blue skin, round black eyes, and green hair that was textured like seaweed. They were both adorned with shells, coral, and pearls, and not much else.

“These two rule a world of oceans. They’re pretty friendly with Asgard, and let us build small colonies on their islands. That’s the only land on their planet, and the Jotnar that live there don’t have much use for dry land. They make such exotic alcohol.”

You managed a weak smile. Of course she was impressed with the booze.

“Freyr is married to one of these?” You asked. You still wondered how big they were.

“No, no, these are sea giants. Gerd is a mountain giant. I found a picture of her earlier, give me a second…”

Brunnhilde leafed through the book.

“Are the Jotnar all just named after the terrain they live in?”

“Yeah, basically. They adapt so fully to their environment that they almost seem to become a part of it. So we usually just call them what they look like. Desert giants, and forest giants, and fire giants, and frost giants. All kinds. Ah, here she is!”

She turned the book back to you, showing a picture of a powerfully built woman, whose snowy white skin and hair shimmered with a diamond-like quality. There were long streaks and patches of silver skin on her bare arms that reflected light like a mirror.

“Wow.”

“Yeah, she’s a keeper.  We get along with some of the giants; others not so much. Frost giants for one. Our most recent war involved them. We won but relations are still pretty tense. I only fought in the very first battles of that particular war, but it was only about a thousand years ago.”

Only a thousand?” You were still constantly startled by the massive age differences between you and the Asgardians. It was hard to comprehend a person who was older than most modern countries.

There was a knock at the door, and Loki let himself in without waiting for very long. He looked slightly excited about something, but the expression disappeared the instant he noticed the Valkyrie in the room.

“Oh, we are learning, I see. It’s good to see that kind of determination, but you shouldn’t overdo it.”

“The cut is almost gone, and I’m going crazy in here.” You protested, cursing the edge of a whine that snuck into your voice. “I thought another lesson would be low effort and give me something to think about.”

Something else to think about. Something other than him, and what he might eventually do to you. Why was he waiting so long? The fear and torment was making it harder and harder to think of anything else.

You shouldn’t think about it. Brunnhilde was here. You were safe for now. Think about giants.

“What is today’s subject?”

Brunnhilde turned the book to him.

“Look, it’s Gerd.”

“So it is. Jotnar? What, ah…what about Jotnar?”

“Different kinds. Sea, and mountain, and frost. Friends and enemies.” You said. He fidgeted a bit, rubbing at his palm. “I just kinda wonder how big they are, if we’re calling them giants. Are they really very tall? I’ve never seen one before.”

The Aesir’s eyes flicked back and forth to each other, as if expecting one another to say something.

“Well!” Brunnhilde said brightly, breaking the increasingly uncomfortable silence. “Why don’t you show her a comparison? With Gerd!”

“Oh that’s easy! Here. So this is Freyr…” He gestured and the image of the man with flowers in his hair popped up. Loki caught your wrist as you reached out. “Still not here.”

Heat crept up your neck. Stupid involuntary reaction! You really needed to get a handle on that.

“And here you are…”

A little image of you popped up next to the other, clasping your hands behind you and beaming happiness. It was adorable. Brunnhilde pressed her lips together to swallow a smile.

“And here is Gerd…”

The shining woman appeared next, easily two feet taller than both of the other images, to scale.

“Wow! Okay that’s pretty big.”

“Oh this is nothing.” Loki said, some of his earlier excitement creeping back in. “Here’s Aegir and Ran.”

The sea giants appeared, even bigger than Gerd.  “And the tricky mason who owned Svadilfari.”

A pale, rocky giant sprang up next. He would have been taller than a multistoried house.

“I bested him in combat, and took his horse. He was of the same line as Sleipnir, which is what gave the fool away in the first place. My Leynarodd is one of only two survivors of that line.”

“Yes, and we all know you’re very proud of that.” Brunnhilde interrupted. “How about you show us a frost giant?”

“How about I don’t?”

“I’d like to see one.” You interjected. Loki seemed to recede in on himself.

“I’m actually pretty sure you wouldn’t. They are hideous, brutish savages. You wouldn’t like them at all.” He said bitterly.

That was so infuriating. You were growing to hate the way he described other races. He was always so nasty about it.

“You know, your highness.” You said, sitting up a little straighter. “You say that about pretty much every race that isn’t Asgardian. How will you describe me to people in a thousand years, I wonder?”

He lifted his chin, mouth pressed thin.

“As a mouthy twit who thought she knew more than I did about subjects she hadn’t even learned yet. I’ve seen frost giants. I’ve fought and killed frost giants. I know about them, and you do not.”

“Then show me!” You challenged. “Because right now, you just sound like a huge bigot, and like a bigot, you’ve got nothing to back you up!”

Brunnhilde quietly chuckled.

“You insolent little-You think you can just sit in the bed, in the room that I provided you, and say such things to me? I am your prince, and-“

“Not mine!”

“-and your benefactor! Are you fed? Are you clothed? Are your medical needs seen to? Yes! You have me to thank for that, me and no other!”

“Now just a damn-“

“If the Bifrost could handle it, I would drop you on Jotunheim right now, and see how you fared, you little ingrate! Here!”

He tossed a little bundle onto the bed.

“I intended to present this to you properly, but I feel no need to waste any more time here. Figure it out yourself, since you know so much.” He whipped the door open. “But before I go, here is Surtr, the largest giant yet known.”

He slammed the door behind him, just as the illusion of the enormous fire giant filled the room and began knocking things over.

 

                                                                               *****

“So then I had to fist fight an illusory giant.” Brunnhilde said, cleaning grime off her favorite sword. “It was pretty cathartic, actually.”

“What did he give to her?” Thor asked, running a whetstone down the blade of his axe.  Norns, but his brother was bad at this. Scheming, manipulating, planning, organizing, oh yes, all of that and more. But openly caring about someone? Practically hopeless.

“No idea. She was not in a good mental place by the time I beat Surtr, and then her maid came and saw the state the room was in. Poor girl was beside herself. But at least _____ doesn’t have much to get tossed around. Still, the place was a mess, and she was of no mind to even open the thing up and look.”

“If he keeps on like this he will lose all chance of gaining her respect. He keeps moving forward and then taking a flying leap back.”

“Don’t know if it’s just her respect he wants. But this might not be as bad as it seems. For one thing, his wall is thinner around her. The things he feels he has to prove to her are different than the things he feels he needs to prove to us. He’s more open with her, probably because he thinks she is harmless. Now granted, that openness includes childish tantrums, but at least he isn’t closed off and stagnant anymore. He’s moving forward.”

The Valkyrie examined her sword closely, searching for any leftover dirt. Finding none, she dribbled oil onto a cloth, and began wiping the blade.

“For her part; I haven’t seen that fire in her for some time. Something is going wrong there, but I’m not sure what it is. She seems unusually passive, you know, she hasn’t even been asking questions like she used to. I think she might be afraid of something, or holding something in.”

“Because someone attacked her, and we don’t know who or why? I can see why that would be frightening.” Thor set the weapon aside, and began polishing his armor instead.

“Possibly. Probably. I know you don’t like to think of it, but we really do need some kind of prison facilities built. Criminals still exist, and if you don’t want to execute them…”

“Absolutely not.” Thor asserted.

“Then we need a place to put them. Whenever we catch this person-and I’m sure we will- we’ll need somewhere to stash them. If we get to them before Loki does, anyway.”

“Loki knows better now…” Thor began.

“Oh does he? Well that’s great to hear. How many milliseconds do you think he’ll hold his composure where the safety of his ‘responsibility’ is concerned?”

Thor scrubbed until he could see his eye reflected in the bosses of his chestplate, then began checking the scale and chain portions for any captured bits of debris.

“About sixteen. Which is ten longer than he would have done previously, so things are getting better.”

“If you say so. I’m not completely sure this has to do with the attack though. I saw signs of _____ withdrawing in on herself even before then, and just didn’t notice what was happening at the time. I wonder if there isn’t something around here that is bringing back memories of bad times. It’s easy to forget she lived through that damn ‘snap’ just like we did. We don’t know how she lived during that time, or what she went through. There might be all kinds of triggers hidden inside her, and the only way to find them is to accidentally trip them.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Thor said, inspecting a nick on his helmet. That was unlikely to buff out, but he tried it anyway. “Probably unavoidable though. We’ll just have to be ready, be understanding. Which means Loki will have to get a handle on his temper.”

“We’re just a big bundle of problems each, aren’t we?”

“Part of being alive. Besides, better that we suffer than the alternative.”

“Psh, speak for yourself, your Majesty!”

“I do believe I am.”

Loki stalked into the room, clearly still disgruntled. Noticing what his brother and the Valkyrie were doing, he took a seat of his own, and began seeing to the maintenance of his own weapons. As the minutes ticked by, and more and more daggers piled up, he seemed to grow even more annoyed.

Finally, he slapped one last knife down on the pile. “Thor. Am I a bigot?”

“Oh yeah.” Thor said.

“Absolutely.” Brunnhilde agreed.

Loki made an offended noise.

“You are not unlike a great many Asgardians in that respect.” Thor continued. “I was like that as well, until recently. You remember.”

“I was too.” Brunnhilde added. “The social climate under the previous Allfathers practically guaranteed that. I only unlearned it by spending a thousand years at the ass-end of the universe, surrounded by people of every species, all of us knowing that we lived and died at the whims of a single madman.”

“I had to be stripped of all my power, and then choose to die at the hands of an ancient weapon forged by my own people, while protecting a non-Asgardian species.” Thor said.

“Well, what do I have to do?” Loki demanded. “I’m not going back to Sakkar, and I’ve already died! Where’s my magical personality cure?”

“I mean, it did take me a thousand years.” Brunnhilde reminded him. “And I don’t think ‘depressed, alcoholic, slave-taker’ is really the kind of personality you want to aspire to. “

“Besides, there is little chance of being able to make amends with the Svartalfari, or the Frost Giants, at least, not for quite some time. And I stand by my decision to forbid contact with the Dark Elves. Never again. If any remain, let them be.”

“Agreed.” Loki said. “But that still doesn’t help me. You didn’t see how she looked at me.”

“I did.” Brunnhilde pointed out.

“And you have no doubt regaled my brother on all the details. But that does me no good. I cannot simply stop feeling how I feel.” He paused. “Can I?”

“If you’re thinking about trying any memory or emotion altering spell, I must advise strongly against it.” Thor warned. “I know you can handle dangerous powers, Loki, but even the smallest mistake, and your entire self could be lost.”

“I know that!” Loki snapped. “But if I need to stop, how do I start? To stop?”

“Well, first of all, maybe you could stop describing every other race as ‘uneducated, brutish, savages’ to your only student, who happens to be one of those other races…” Brunnhilde suggested.

“Loki!” Thor scolded.

“Well how would you describe a frost giant?” Loki demanded.

“Hm. Fierce warriors with strong ties to an ancient heritage.” Thor said. “I suppose that could be taken to mean the same thing as ‘savage’, but without such negative connotations. It might help you if you just rewrote the propaganda to remove the negativity. That’s all it is, after all. A great many things we were taught about the other races was just propaganda.”

Loki gaped at him.

“Moreover, since the only frost giant I personally know is clever, well-learned, and sophisticated, how could I possibly describe them so crudely?”

Loki continued to gape.

“Y-your time among the humans has made you soft.” He whispered.                                                                                 

Chapter Text

 

 

Loki entered your room to find you pacing back and forth, frazzled and anxious. He noticed the knife bundle sitting on the desk, and the tear tracks on your cheeks as you turned to confront him.

“Your Highness, I might have been out of line before, but you just keep-“

“Sh-sh.” He interrupted, pressing a long finger to your lips. You pulled away with an irritated growl. “I have come to make up for Surtr.” He explained, and handed you a plate of bread, slathered with your favorite jams. So, he had finally recognized your fixation on food, and thought he could bribe you with it.

Well…he might be right. You accepted the plate, but said nothing.

“There are some things I would like to discuss with you. Sit. Rest. You’ll wear a rut in the floor.”

He sat you down on the bed, and took a place next to you, rubbing your back lightly. Why did he think that was okay? Why did you never have the courage to tell him otherwise?

“This is a Frost Giant.” He said, and the image of a tall, long limbed person with powder blue skin and bright red eyes sprung into being, next to an image of himself, for comparison. The giant would easily be around ten feet tall in life, somewhere between his previous images of Gerd and Ran. It had raised markings on its skin, a little like cracks in ice, and its features were sharp and chiseled.

“They live on a planet that is entirely frozen over. It has deep oceans, and no actual land, just ice all over the surface. I believe there is a moon in your planetary system that is extremely similar to Jotunheim, and it is speculated that the planet may have once been a moon itself, torn from its former orbit, and flung out into a new one. Jotunheim is as small as a moon, and rotates retrograde. That is, backwards, compared to all the other planets in its system. It’s also situated in a part of the system where no other terrestrial planets formed, held in place by the orbital resonances of two gas giants.”

A wave of his hand brought forth a beautiful blue-white orb, crossed with blue cracks. There was a terrible blackened scar partway around the equator, like an enormous canyon.

“What happened there?”

He paused, appearing to be thinking his words over carefully.

“There are some tremendous destructive forces in the universe. Jotunheim was unfortunate enough to find itself in the path of such a thing.”

Your astronomy book had mentioned things like solar flares and gamma ray bursts. And even Earth hadn’t been spared from things like giant meteor strikes.

“As you may already know, Jotnar like to colonize worlds just as much as Asgard did, and we encountered many kinds in many places. Some were hostile, some were not, often within the same group. However, the Frost Giants were entirely hostile to us, and we’ve never known anything but war with them. My father…” He shifted next to you. “My father thought to broker peace with them, but his plans…backfired.”

The illusory Frost Giant returned, as Loki continued on about the ecology of Jotunheim, but you found yourself wondering if this individual, with his sharp, craggy features, actually represented a real person.

“Does he have a name?” You wondered aloud.

“What?” Loki asked. You hadn’t actually meant to interrupt him, but so many of his little illusions represented real people: Freyr, Ran, Surtr.

“Is this a real person? Does he have a name?”

Loki paused. “He…was a real person. His name was Laufey. He was the king of Jotunheim.”

“The whole planet? How does one guy rule a whole planet?”

“Ruthlessly.”

“Sounds like he’s maybe not around anymore.” He’d said ‘was’ quite a few times.

“He is not. He attempted to murder the Allfather in his sleep, and I…I slew him.”

“Oh.” It was hard to think of. You knew, of course, that Loki had killed people. He’d done so on Earth, so naturally, he’d surely done so on other planets. Asgard had influenced the old Norse cultures for eons, and those cultures had become famous for their great warriors. As a warrior himself, it only made sense that Loki would have seen battle.

But with the tender way he handled you, it was just hard to think of. Like the Loki who came to Earth those years ago was a different person. Like the Loki in your mythology book was a different person. How many different people could exist inside the same man?

“Just as I slew Surtr. I dislike threats to Asgard.”

“What? That fire giant? He must’ve been as big as a mountain, how did you even begin to go about killing that?”

“Surtr was extremely full of himself and the importance of fulfilling his ‘destiny’. He didn’t seem to realize that his supposed destiny would end his life. Or perhaps he didn’t care. I simply set into motion the series of events that would lead to his death. You see, not every confrontation can be solved by a hammer to the face. Sometimes, finesse is the only real weapon you have. Sometimes the right word at the right time is far more effective than a frontal assault. And sometimes it is best to let your enemy destroy himself.”

Loki left your side briefly, to retrieve the little bundle from the desk. A gift? He’d said before that he wanted to present it properly, but you hadn’t thought much about it since, moments later, he had summoned a fire monster to wreck up the room.

So this was how Loki apologized. Not with words, but with capitulation. Every time he had done something that he later realized had wronged you, he then gave you something he thought you wanted or needed.

After kidnapping you, he gave you a room within his own quarters. How many Asgardians might jump for such an honor? After inflicting you with a magical bond that made you weak and sick, he gave you his own living energy. You had no idea if it was draining him, or if it was uncomfortable; he never once complained about it. After interrupting your lesson on Svartalfheim in the library, and arguing with you he gave you a private lesson on the subject, and after unleashing an illusory monster upon your room, he was giving you the information on the Frost Giants that you had originally wanted.

Now he had a gift for you, which he unwrapped and lay down in your lap. On the cloth was a knife in a black sheath. A weapon. He was actually giving you a weapon?

The book was wrong. It had to be.

But what if it wasn’t?

You drew the knife from its sheath. The leather that made it up was worn, and seemed a little mismatched, but the blade itself was shiny and clean, as if it were new. It felt a little big for you, a little heavy in your hand.

“This is the blade that failed to slay you. It is a cultural treasure, so I expect you to care for it well. It’s yours now, and I will teach you how to use it.”

This was the same knife? If it was a treasure, should you even have it?

“I shouldn’t keep something if it’s precious. And do you even have time to teach me anything else?”

You hadn’t had a lesson in magic for a while now. How could he tutor you in two subjects when he didn’t even have time for one?

“I will make time. Things keep coming up, but I will make time. Are you feeling well enough to accompany me to another meeting?”

“I don’t know.” He made it sound like a date or some kind of formal occasion. “It’s so boring that it hurts.”

“Oh yes, sometimes. That is one of the many burdens of my job. What if I promised a nice dinner afterwards? Something a little fancy?”

“What kind of fancy?” Everything you had eaten so far had been delicious, and, while simple, it was still miles above the ramen, processed cheese sandwiches, and condensed soup that made up your usual diet. What was fancier than that?

You hoped it wasn’t anything too weird. There were some foods associated with the rich that simply sounded unappetizing, like caviar or foie gras.

“Lamb is common here, and the first harvest of laukas should be served up tonight as well. Want to be the first Midgardian ever to taste an Asgardian vegetable? I’m sure you will like them.”

Yes, he had you figured out all right. Food had always been a weakness of yours; even moreso after the Event.

“Okay…” He was giving you choices, which would have been a good sign, except that he only seemed to give you choices that he knew you would agree too. He was obviously trying to make it easier for you to say ‘yes’ to him, than ‘no’.

Loki is a master manipulator, seeing everyone and everything as a game to be played. So clever is he, that he can maneuver anyone into the position he wants them to be in, and many might just thank him for the opportunity to be used. Or so the book said.

“Then come along. Here.” He helped you fasten the knife to your braided belt, then offered his arm to lead you out into the hallway. “Your interest in the other races of the universe is commendable, _____. You seem to have such an easy time accepting it all. But I want a promise from you. In the unlikely event that you ever cross paths with a Jotun of any kind, I want you to stay away from them and hide. At least until someone can confirm that they are safe. It’s true that many Jotnar are non-hostile or even friendly to Asgardians, but you are not Asgardian. And if you know what differences to look for, your humanity is obvious, no matter how much like us you may appear. Will you promise me this? You don’t have to hate anybody, just show proper caution. A Jotun might crush you without even knowing you were there.”

“I…I guess that sounds reasonable.” You conceded. “I mean, when am I ever going to meet one? They probably don’t even know Earth exists.”

“Would that that were true.” He said, leading you into a slightly different meeting room than the one you’d been in before. This one seemed prepared for large groups or presentations, with a horseshoe-shaped table setup, and an old projector, like the ones used when you were in school. You glanced up at him, waiting for an explanation. He sighed.

“You’re probably not going to like this. You’ve made your opinions on colonization rather clear, and I’m inclined to agree with you to a certain extent, however…”

“Oh. Oh, were we…?”

“No. But we did try. And we weren’t the only ones. All the nine realms know of Midgard, and most of them have tried to colonize this world at some point. It is a most tempting realm. And yet, all have failed. Humans are so numerous, and reproduce so quickly. You go to war eagerly, for any reason. And you adapt to nearly any situation, even though you are weak and fragile compared to all of the rest of the peoples of the Nine Realms. Eight. Eight Realms.”

“The way you describe us sometimes…Are we scary to the rest of you?”

He scoffed. “I have no fear of you, if that’s what you’re asking. But it rather depends on how you look at things, doesn’t it? Longer lived races have fewer numbers, by necessity. But humans come in hordes, always. The sheer number of you is nearly unfathomable. You progress quickly. A mere eight thousand years from copper tools to space travel? Unheard of. That’s barely three Asgardian generations. It would be like you learning how to flake obsidian into blades with no idea what a planet even is…and then your grandchildren are sending robots to Mars.

“I sometimes think Odin claimed this place as one of the Realms, just to keep you contained. You might take this amiss, but if I try to think from his point of view, the notion of humans colonizing other worlds would be terrifying. You move so quickly. You adapt to so many living conditions. You would spread so fast. You know, the Frost Giants were the last to try to colonize this place?”

He pulled a chair out for you, right at the head of the table, next to him. Were you going to be involved in something here? You didn’t belong in that chair.

You sat down.

“They used a very powerful device to alter the landscape around them into ice. Didn’t slow the humans down at all. Multiple human civilizations continue to live in frozen lands. Your entire species developed and spread during a glacial period. Humans caused the Frost Giants so much difficulty that it allowed the Asgardian armies to not only drive them back, but to invade Jotunheim itself. They stole some important things from the Frost Giants, including the device, and that allowed us to force a peace with them, as well as declare Midgard as off limits. And so the races of the Eight Realms just sort of ignored the place. Until now, of course.”

He took his seat next to you, riffling through a small stack of papers on the table in front of him.

“Were you there?”

He paused. “…Yes…Barely. I was no more than an infant at the time. I have no recollection.”

“Oh. Um, should I do anything while I’m sitting here? I shouldn’t talk to anyone, should I?”

“You just watch and perhaps learn something. Our first guest won’t cause you any real trouble.”

The first guest turned out to be Beli, the old skaldic teacher you had seen a few days ago. He hailed you both with an elegant bow, and launched into speech. To your surprise, Loki began to translate for you.

“There’s an Asgardian holiday coming up soon; Buridag, held in honor of my great-grandfather, who built Asgard. Normally, the royal family throws a celebration for it, but we are going to have to do things a little differently this decade. Beli here is suggesting that Thor and I align ourselves to that cause, since we too, are building Asgard. I think it’s a good idea. The people need pride, and a reason to celebrate the future, as well as the past. What do you think?”

He was asking you? You had no idea. You had just now heard of this holiday; you couldn’t really understand its cultural significance.

“That sounds like a good idea, to start with.” You said. “I’m assuming you can’t throw the customary celebration because of the costs?”

“Unfortunately.” Loki said. “Our finances are limited for now. We aren’t suffering on a day-to-day basis or anything, but supporting a nation-wide holiday is a bit beyond us currently.”

“Right. So maybe everybody has to pitch in, right? You could…you could make a special kind of participation event. It’s building Asgard right? So pick a building that needs to get finished. Everybody works on it. Everyone puts up one board, or lays one brick, or one shingle, or something. The whole community builds one building, and that’s the main holiday event.”

Loki stared at you like he’d never seen you before, subdued delight spreading across his features.

“You…treasure! I am never letting you go!” You flinched back from the words, but he was already relaying your idea to Beli, who took it up with enthusiasm.

“Yes, of course, with the supervision of the engineers.” Loki was saying. “Even someone with no building experience should be able to put a nail in a board with their oversight. My brother and I can do the foundations, yes that seems appropriate…”

You were never going home. You would never, ever get to leave this place again. Had he even planned to let you leave in the first place, or had he decided, somewhere along the way, that he wouldn’t allow you to go?

The flow of excited planning faded away as you drew further into yourself.  Could you really be sure he hadn’t put this mark on you on purpose? How could you possibly know that he hadn’t lied about everything? You didn’t feel as though you had a handle on anything in your life right now; it was all just him leading you along. He had never meant for you to go back to your home, your own life. He’d taken it all.

“-Would that be alright?” He was asking. You jerked your head to look at him, seeing his expectant expression. You hadn’t heard a word he had said.

“Uh, yeah. That would be fine.” Well, you had to say something!

“Excellent!” The delight remained on his face, suffused with pride. In you? In himself, most likely. “We will arrange something proper for you, something spectacular, don’t you worry.”

Crap, what had you just agreed to?

Beli tried once again to schedule his class appointment, but was interrupted by a stern Einherjar. He said something in a quiet, terse manner, staring directly at you.

Loki sat up very straight. “Unfortunately, esteemed teacher, this will have to wait a little longer. Our guest’s attacker may have just been found.”

Chapter Text

 

Loki sent the messenger ahead to tell the stablehands to get his horse ready, spending just a handful of moments on finding you something warm to throw around your shoulders.

“Would that I could leave you behind, _____, but I cannot this time.” He led you swiftly through the Capital Building, out into the stable yard. People deftly slipped out of his way, his presence seeming to project ahead of him like a wedge.

“We’ve seen that we mustn’t be separated by such a distance, as the deleterious effects set in on you very swiftly. And more; you may be able to identify this person for us. I understand that it might be frightening to face someone who has tried to kill you, but-“

“We don’t really know that for sure though.” You pointed out. “They could have been aiming at you. This knife can hurt you, can’t it?” You patted the blade at your waist. “Normal weapons can’t, can they? But this is something special?”

“An astute observation. I’ll explain more about the knife later. Unfortunately, it has become much more likely that you were the intended target after all.” He hesitated. “_____, someone has been killed. Another human. You need to be prepared for…unpleasantness.”

You shuddered. Living with one murderer, and about to go face another. Though Loki might not have been altogether in control of the bloodying of his own hands, you had no idea if anything had been done for the families of his previous victims. Had anything been set right? Was he even a bit remorseful?

That was, of course, if he wasn’t lying about everything.

“I…can probably handle it.” You had seen dead bodies before. But those had all come back to life in the end; or rather, they had never died in the first place. This poor dead person was going to remain that way.

“There’s Einherjar there, right?”

“Correct. You will be safe.” Loki would be there too. If he wanted to keep you alive for his purposes-nefarious or not-he would have to protect you.

Loki’s beautiful horse, Leynarodd, was brought out, but no horse was brought for you. You’d heard the horse that had been stolen was returned now, and you were glad to hear it, but she wasn’t here. Instead, Loki helped you up onto the huge animal, then climbed up and settled down behind you.

The severity of the situation finally hit you, only as you were being borne inexorably towards it. An actual murderer awaited you, one whose victim was there, on site, where you were now heading. They had tried to kill you: earnestly tried to end your life. If the knife had been made for throwing, if you hadn’t been wearing thick layers, they might have succeeded.

And now you were travelling right to this person, someone who wanted you dead for reasons you didn’t even know.

Your heard raced faster with every hill and valley that brought you closer, but closing your eyes only forced you to concentrate on the power of the horse beneath you, of how closely tucked up against Loki you were. Of the perfect cage of his arms holding the reins to either side of your shoulders, thighs pressed the length yours, torso molded to your back. With your eyes closed, you couldn’t help but focus on how a person has to move their hips in order to effectively ride a galloping horse.

You were breathless and nervy by the time you arrived, so clearly anxious that when Loki helped you down off Leynarodd’s back, he held you between himself and the horse for a few moments, rubbing your shoulders in what he must have thought was a calming manner.

The area was a mess; the ground disturbed by scuffle, and strewn with garbage. Close to the trees, a bloodied Asgardian soldier was draped over a sheet-covered body, wailing. The sergeant in charge of the investigation approached, grim-faced.

“Oh no.” Loki breathed. “Is it-?”

“I’m afraid so.” The sergeant confirmed, speaking lightly accented English, for your sake. “I knew this would end in tragedy, but I didn’t think it would be like this. I should have known something was suspicious when she volunteered to watch this area so eagerly. If I’d known, I’d have sent someone else, and that poor man might still be alive. He was a citizen of this land. I don’t know if we should send word to the authorities yet.”

“Do you have the killer?” Loki asked.

“Oh yes.” She said. “The miscreant is over here.”

She led you several dozen yards away, over a low hill, out of sight of the grieving soldier. You found yourself curling your fingers around Loki’s and, noticing your apprehension, he did not pull away.

Restrained and surrounded, a scruffy, roughed-up man sat on the ground, scowling.

“You.” Loki said sharply. “You have murdered a citizen of this nation. What have you to say for yourself?”

The man ignored him, fixing his hateful stare on you.

“You’re still alive.” He growled, disappointed. He had an American accent.

Loki stepped forward to loom over the man.

“I am Loki, Prince of Asgard, and you will answer to me.” There was anger in his voice, the kind that had made you cringe in the camp. Now, as then, it was on your behalf, but it still made you want to shrink back. “Why have you killed this man? Why have you tried to kill this woman?”

The man flinched from the power of his voice.

“They’re traitors to their people!” He exclaimed. “Abetting you invaders, betraying their own for your attention! For you! A usurper! A mass-murderer! We aren’t going to sit back and let you invaders steal our women! And we won’t abide traitors to humanity!”

“A terrorist.” Loki sighed, voice full of disgust. “Cease.  That’s more than enough.”

“Is it good when he fucks you?” The man snarled at you. “Good enough to commit treason against your whole planet?  You’re the devil’s whore, and we won’t stop until you are in the ground, you-“

Loki’s boot smashed into the man’s already bruised face, sending him rolling over himself in the trampled flowers.

“Oh, I would like to kill you.” Loki hissed, as two guards hauled the man back into a kneeling position. “But I won’t make a martyr out of slime. All your hatred for us, and you manage only to harm other humans? Pathetic. You have murdered an Icelandic citizen, and you will be turned over to Icelandic justice. You will rot in a human jail and be forgotten. I don’t even care to know your name.”

With that, the prince turned his back and carefully pulled you away, sending the sergeant on a journey to the nearest settlement, to contact the authorities.

“Don’t you listen to a word he said, he is clearly a madman who knows nothing of the situation.” Loki helped you back up onto his horse.

“Did you know him?” He asked on the way back. You were riding at a much more leisurely pace, now that you were no longer in a hurry, allowing you to take in the magnificence of the wild Icelandic summer, and also allowing your heart rate to remain only a little elevated, instead of completely off the charts.

“I’ve never met him, but I think I’ve seen him before.” You said. “In the camp, I think? He was playing an instrument by a fire. I think that was him. Was he there the whole time? Do you think he followed me? He was talking like there were more people like him, do you think there are more coming? Or already here?” Your voice raised, becoming shrill with fear. “Will they just keep killing people until they get me?”

“Shh-shh…” Loki switched both reins to one hand, freeing one arm to wrap around you. A quiet whine escaped you through gritted teeth, finding little comfort in being held tighter to his body. “No one will ‘get’ you. Now that we are aware of this danger, we will all be ready. I…I did not sense any lies from him. Whether there really are others or not, he truly believes that there are. But even if there are more, there is at least one that is now out of the picture. I will see that he does not become glorified, that he is treated as any other criminal: reviled or forgotten.”

He held you tightly all the way back, trying to quell your flourishing paranoia, but you couldn’t help but stare at every person who passed you, searching for signs of hidden hostility. There were Asgardians who didn’t like humans. They could kill you just as easily, maybe moreso than another human. After all, other humans weren’t allowed in New Asgard. You were surrounded by Asgardians all the time.

You didn’t feel safe again until dinnertime, and that was only because you were surrounded by actual gods, that you knew were at least a little fond of you.

All of them were excited about the laukas that Loki had mentioned, which turned out to be something a little like leeks. They were very tasty, but not as exotic as you thought they would be. They probably meant more to the Aesir around you, like a taste of lost childhood. It was a miracle that they grew here at all.

Loki had briefly mentioned what had happened earlier, leaving out certain details, like the murderer’s tirade against you.

“How do you fare?” Heimdall asked you quietly. You didn’t think you could lie to him. You might be able to lie to Loki, and though he would know, he might not call you out on it, but Heimdall probably would. Besides, his concern seemed so genuine, it felt wrong not to be honest.

“Not very well. I’m frightened.”

“This is a harrowing experience, and I regret you’ve had to go through it.” Thor said.

“I hadn’t even thought about what a bunch of strangers might make of this. I never expected to be hated over this. I thought everyone would be mad at his highness maybe, but not me. None of them know what’s really going on.” It was all so completely unfair. You hadn’t asked for any of this. You couldn’t even enjoy your time here, as an impromptu vacation, like Loki had suggested. You felt like a prisoner.

“Everybody feels entitled to an opinion.” Brunnhilde said. “Seems like the less they know, the more details they have to make up, to have opinions about.”

“You can see anything, right?” You asked Heimdall.

“In theory.”

“Could you see if anyone has tried to cause trouble for my dad because of this?”

Heimdall fixed his amber gaze on some faraway point.

“Your father is in a large vehicle. He is singing along to music, and appears unharmed. There is a small, gray flerkin with him.”

“What?” Brunnhilde gasped. “Here? On Earth?”

“What’s a flerkin?” You demanded, startled by the reaction.

“We must do something!” Loki exclaimed.

“Everyone, settle down!” Thor commanded. “There are no flerkins on Earth right now. There are however, small creatures kept as pets that superficially resemble flerkins. Possibly a form of mimicry for defensive purposes. It’s very effective; they look exactly the same, but here, they are known as ‘cats’. _____, does your father own a cat?”

“Momo!” You exclaimed. “Okay, so he’s on a job right now. Good, good. I hope the other truckers aren’t on his case. Thank you so much for doing that for me.”

Heimdall simply inclined his head.

“Um, is it okay to ask you how it works? Like, is it rude to discuss god power stuff?”

“Well…” Thor began. “It’s not taboo or anything, but there are rude questions and polite questions, just like anything else.”

“I just wonder, when you look at those far away things, is it like you are actually seeing them in front of you? Or is it more of an image in your mind’s eye?”

Heimdall’s expression changed noticeably for the first time since you had met him, revealing pleased surprise.

“It has been a long time indeed since anyone asked me about that. In fact, if I remember correctly, the last person to ask me almost exactly that same question was, I believe, attempting to find a way to hide from my sight.”

Loki hastily shoved another lauka into his mouth.

“My sight has varied applications. I can see through others eyes, and share my vision with others. In a way, all eyes are my eyes. I can see just a little into the past, and a little into the future. However, when I look into far realms, and not through someone else, it is far more within my mind, as you would put it, and I remain aware of my immediate surroundings.”

“Wow. You know, I don’t think I would really want to be able to do that. You’ve probably seen all kinds of things you rather wouldn’t have.”

Heimdall smiled, flashing bright teeth. “You would not be wrong.”

“And you control storms?” You asked Thor.

“Kind of, yes. I can call lightening as I will it, and thunder naturally comes with it. I do have some control over weather, locally, whether it rains or not, and where, and for how long. Plants seem to grow more vigorously wherever I spend much time.”

“Children too.” Heimdall pointed out.

“That’s a good thing though.” Brunnhilde added. “Our numbers are few. But Asgard has never had a fertility god as king before, only war gods.”

Thor squirmed, both Loki and Brunnhilde giving him teasing looks.

“But brother, aren’t you proud to be such a great aid to your people?”

Thor squirmed more. “Cut it out. It just feels…coercive. That’s all.”

“It is simply Nature, amplified.” Heimdall said. “There is nothing shameful in passively assisting something that was going to happen anyway.”

You’d never thought of it that way before; of the responsibilities that might come with godhood. It was something one was born with, and surely some Aesir were not interested in being Aesir, but if they all had powers that passively effected their surroundings, there might be no escaping it.

“Besides,” Thor grumbled. “Father was a wisdom god.”

“Odin was a war god up until he decided to rebrand.” Brunnhilde pointed out. “And he was only able to take up the mantle of a wisdom god because of all the secrets he kept. Easy to seem wise when you’ve hoarded away all the vital information. And we all saw how badly that went.”

Loki covered your ears.

“Not in front of the mortal.” He said, even though you could clearly still hear.

The Valkyrie abated. “Dark as it may seem, we have an incredible opportunity right now. The both of you now know exactly what kind of things not to do. Odin kept too many secrets; Thor may be meant to air them out. Maybe that’s why he sweats ozone.”

The kings face turned bright red.

“You noticed that too?” You asked, prying Loki’s hands off your ears. “I’m not the only one?”

“He’s a breath of fresh air, in his own way.” She teased.

“And you have supreme battle goddess powers?” You asked Brunnhilde.

“Ooh, I like that.” Brunnhilde preened. “Also, I can see the dead.”

“What?”

“Well, the recently dead, anyway, and only those slain in battle. Furthermore, I can see how they died, and how they comported themselves in every battle they ever took part in. One of the Valkyries duties was to choose which fallen Einherjar got the honor of being interred in the Black Hall. That’s not really a thing anymore, so that ability is pretty useless now.”

“Hmm.” Loki mused. “I wonder if that might be helpful when the investigators of this land come around to ask us about this recent unpleasantness.”

“Maybe.” Brunnhilde glanced over his shoulder. “He did follow you home, after all.”

Your insides went cold.

“W-what?” You stammered, really hoping she wasn’t implying what you thought she was.

“He fought hard, for someone who was not a warrior. A lucky strike got him in the end, but he made a very spirited showing. Not quite Valhalla material, but nothing dishonorable either. “

You clung to Loki in utter horror. The living dead were real, and one had followed you home. You were certain that if you looked behind you right now, you would see nothing. Brunnhilde was probably the only one who could see it; maybe Heimdall could too. Not being able to see it, but knowing it was there was almost worse.

Loki let you cling, draping his cape around you like a shield.  You buried your head in it. Scary movies and ghost stories were one thing, but none of it was supposed to be real!

“Could you send him on his way, perhaps?” He requested on your behalf. “It won’t do for him to stay overlong. He might get stuck as a vengeful spirit, and his lady would not want that for him.”

Brunnhilde nodded. “She is fine.”  She said to the place beyond Loki’s shoulder. “There’s nothing for you to worry about. You can go in peace.” She tilted her head. “Really? Thanks for the info. Farewell.”

“Is he gone?” You whispered.

“Yes. But he did say that the killer mentioned that he had friends coming. We should probably get you trained up in self-defense.”

There was a round of agreement from everyone.

Your tasty lamb and laukas sat heavy in your stomach, and your distinguished company seemed to tower over you, so important and untouchable. How could you protect yourself? Maybe you could just ask Loki to lock you up in the little room, so you could sleep until this all blew over. Just stay in bed until everyone had forgotten about you, until you became nothing more than a legend.

You were already kind of an Asgardian cryptid, gathering stares wherever you went. That Beli fellow, wanting to use you as a teaching aid, the sewing ladies, dressing you up like a doll. Loki, parading you around as his personal prize. But who among them actually knew you? How could anyone know you, when you were starting to not even know yourself?

Learning how to use your new knife would be a good first step in taking yourself back. Whatever Loki’s plans for you, he had to make sure no one killed you beforehand. Whatever else he might do to you, he could at least be counted on to try to keep you safe.

 

                                                                                        *****

 

“Your lady is deeply troubled.” Heimdall told Loki, after you had been put to bed.

“I’m beginning to notice.” Loki said. “And she’s not my lady.”

“Please.” Brunnhilde scoffed. “You honestly think old Beli was gonna keep his mouth shut about your announcement? The whole court knows. All the Einherjar know. I give it three days before even the smallest child knows.”

“Then they can celebrate with us!” Loki said. “I know Father had no need of a seidkona after he married mother, but the tradition is still there, and I still have the right to choose my own. Even if I don’t exactly need sorcerous support, it’s still a good place for her, still within tradition. It should be acceptable.”

“Alarr and his posse are furious.” Brunnhilde informed him. “They are threatening not to appear for this Buridag celebration, and to keep their families at home. They are agitating to convince others from coming as well.”

“Of course they are.” Thor sighed.

“He’ll have a demon of a time trying to keep Andsvarr away.” Loki said. The boy was more than a little smitten with admiration. He would probably fight to get to the celebration, if he had to.

“What are her thoughts on the matter?” Heimdall asked.

“She’s fine with it!” Loki said. “I told her about it when we were discussing celebration plans with Beli. She came up with the most wonderful idea-“

“Are you sure she was fine with it?” Brunnhilde asked. “Or did you just tell her it was happening, and she didn’t think she was allowed to say no? She might not think she’s always allowed to say no to you, and that is a much bigger problem than you want to admit it is.”

“Now just a damn minute-“ Loki began.

“Does she even know what a seidkona is?” Thor wondered.

“She…might not, actually. I thought she did, but now that I think about it, it might not have actually been mentioned in detail…”

They all ganged up on him then, and as irritating as it was, they had good points. Did humans even have seidkona? How could she know how important this appointment was? How could she act in proper capacity for her title when she was still a novice?

“Look!” He said, raising his voice over the protests. “I’m going to address all of these issues. But not tonight. Buridag is still months away, and I will be training her up in magic and knifework for her own protection. She will not be unprepared.”

“But she’s got to understand what it means.” Brunnhilde said. “And Heimdall is right, something is troubling her, and it’s not just the assassination attempt. Although that didn’t help.”

“I’ll see to it.” Loki promised. “Starting tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

 

Loki awoke from a strange and somber dream, of which all he could remember was hopelessness and vast, empty fields. His phone indicated that it should be just about dawn, not that he could tell anymore.  The sun had not set for nearly a month now, a phenomena that he knew happened on any world with an axial tilt, but he had not been prepared for it at first. How terrifying it had been, that first time. How wondrous. How…busy, he had been, explaining the physics of spherical planets to panicked Asgardian commoners who had never stepped foot off the Shining Realm…

He headed to the bath, knowing that you wouldn’t be up for a few more hours. It was nice to be able to take his time.

He shed his bathrobe, and stood in front of the long mirror, carefully examining himself. Was he not perfect? Was he not godly?

No, not quite. He wasn’t big enough. He had the lean body and extra-long limbs of his true ancestors, which only served to make him look thinner. His frame just wouldn’t put on any more muscle; no matter what he did, he was never quite big enough. And as a Frost Giant, he was hideously small.

He allowed the blue to spread out over his body, counting the ridges, contemplating. How could anyone see this sapphire skin and not fear the searing ice of its touch? How could anyone look into these blood red eyes and not feel the gaze of a predator? How could anyone stand to be in his presence like this, when he chilled the very air?

Was he handsome, for a frost giant? No, how could he be, when he was deformed, a runt, cast out by his own unknown mother? He wasn’t particularly attractive for an Asgardian either; oh his face was fine, beautiful even, but the rest of him was lacking, always too small. And he couldn’t even grow a beard! He would always be smooth-faced, like a boy, not a man.

It had been brought to his attention however, that mortals found his particular set of features rather compelling. Maybe that was why your heart rate jumped whenever you saw him. Perhaps you liked what you saw?

That just meant that he couldn’t let you see this. Not yet. The blue receded, melting into the milky tone that he considered ‘real’ and ‘normal’.

You would probably find out eventually. Everybody already knew, though most people very politely refrained from mentioning it. That wouldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t come up sometime. You would find out.

Should he tell you? He should be the one to tell you. No, not yet, he just couldn’t face it right now. How would you react? Poorly, most likely. You’d been troubled lately, and though he had been trying to comfort you, a revelation like this would just cause you more undue stress. He had told you to hide from Jotnar, after all.

He entered the sunken tub, shooing aside the water lilies as if they were real. He would have to face some annoying nonsense in the upcoming days, he just knew it. The killer had been taken by the Icelandic authorities, but although he had confessed to his crime, things were a little complicated.

Midgard was large. Full of many different countries, with many different laws. And though this man had killed an Icelandic citizen, he was not Icelandic himself; he was an American citizen. On top of that, he had a charge of attempted murder against you, another American citizen, and a charge of aggravated assault against an Asgardian citizen. It was a mess. There were going to be arguments about where he would be tried, and by whom.

It might be that he would be sent back to the United States, to face justice there, but that meant that the witnesses would have to go back to the U.S. to testify. That meant that Loki would have to would go back to the United States of America; a place he himself was currently banned from entering, unless accompanied by Thor. Which meant that Asgard would be without its leaders for however long they were needed for the trial.

If that were the case, they might have to fight to keep the trial from becoming a media fiasco. Normally he would think that he deserved to be the center of attention, but American media was comprised mainly of sharks with jackals tied to their heads. The entire system was lawless, self-serving, vicious, parasitic, and merciless.  It was a force for misleading information and propaganda that he would have found impressive, if it hadn’t been so classless, and in many cases, predictable. He knew very well that if he had to be in any way involved in this trial, it would soon become all about him, and it would not be so pleasant.

He was a point of contention in the U.S. because Thor absolutely refused to hand him over to face their justice. His reasons were sound enough; he had simply claimed that, as an Asgardian citizen, Loki was facing Asgardian justice. Under Thor’s reign, Asgardian justice involved a lot more reformation and community service-which Loki fulfilled in his role of Crown Prince. And how could anyone serve their community more?

The United States government had responded by refusing to recognize New Asgard as a sovereign nation; lumping it in with Iceland, and attempting to put pressure on them instead.

In some of his more anxious moments, he wondered if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if he just turned himself over to them, but Thor always quashed those thoughts. He regaled Loki with tales of organizations such as HYDRA, how they infiltrated not only S.H.I.E.L.D., but multiple world governments. Of what they had done to the Captains dour, cyborg friend, using only horrific tortures and an outdated serum formula. Of how no one was entirely certain of HYDRA’s current status, of how it just never seemed to die out all the way.

Thor had assured him that he would never, not ever hand him over to any organization that had any history of HYDRA infiltration, and that included both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the United States government. It didn’t bear thinking about the things they might do to him, much less the weapons they could make out of him and his divine Jotun blood.

They were also going to have to clear the camp. He knew that simply banishing the human worshippers wouldn’t work; they would continue coming. He could question them, individually, seeking out lies, but that would be quite time consuming. However, if he made a bit of a holiday out of it, made a show of it, he could win further loyalty from the mortal pilgrims. And if he brought you out with him…Well, you would like that, wouldn’t you? You had asked, after all, to be able to go out again sometime. They would have to impose a ban on certain items though, especially in your presence. It wasn’t likely to be well-received, but it had become necessary.

You had so much to do now! You had to learn how to use your new knife, more magic, and you had to learn what a seidkona was, and what being one entailed. It was a courtly position, so you would have to learn at least the basics of courtly living. You would absolutely have to learn the Asgardian language. When was he going to schedule all of this in?

It didn’t occur to him to arrange for other teachers, not with possible assassins lurking about. You were his. His responsibility. He would take care of your combat training when he went out for his own. He would alternate history and magic lessons, and increase their frequency. He would bring you along with him more often, everywhere he went, so that you could observe the workings of the court, how he did his job, what his responsibilities were, and how to support him.

This way, if it turned out that this bond was permanent, you would have a purpose, and a job, and you wouldn’t have to pine away like some storybook damsel, waiting for a prince. You didn’t have to wait; he was right here.

He heard a small noise, looked up to see you walk into the bathroom. You were awake awfully early. You locked eyes with him from across the room, opened your mouth, and he stood abruptly up out of the tub.

Water rolled off his body in streams, his damp hair falling into his face. He had only the briefest of moments to realize what he’d just done before your eyes went huge, and you whirled away from the sight of him.

“WOAH, whoops! I’m so sorry! I’m going now!” You rushed back out of the room faster than he’d thought an average Midgardian could move.

“Wait.” He said quietly, hearing the more distant sound of your door slamming. “You can join me.”

Loki, like many Asgardians, didn’t mind sharing a bath. It would have been a good opportunity to talk with you about his plans. Instead, he’d jumped up like a witless buffoon, and given you an unasked for eyeful of his hidden virtues.

He dumped shampoo into his hair, scrubbing hard, as if he could wash away the embarrassment. It fizzed on his scalp, and he paused, remembering the little prank he’d played before. A soft chuckle escaped him. He had an idea for a new prank now, one that would show him that adorable flustered face again.

Oh damn it all, he cursed internally, the realization settling upon him. You were cute.

It looked as if that joke was on him.

                                                                                ******

You had not meant to see that! You hadn’t asked to see that, hadn’t wanted to see that, so naturally, you couldn’t stop seeing it!

You weren’t going to be able to look at him for days.

You weren’t going to be able to avoid him for days either. There was a lot to do, a lot to learn. Knife care, and magic, and history, dealing with this horrible murder business, and who knew what else.

If only everything wasn’t just the worst. If only you could fully enjoy even one thing in this place. When did everything become tainted with fear, and death, and paranoia?

Oh, probably when a renegade killer alien kidnapped you, and took you into his home, and dressed you in fine things, and fed you, and just hovered over you hungrily sometimes, and made a huge target out of you…

No. This wasn’t his fault. The blame belonged to the man who decided that the only solution to this was to kill you. To him, and to anyone else who enabled or encouraged him to do the things he had done.

Loki had said he wasn’t lying when he threatened that others were coming. You had to learn the use of some kind of weapon, no matter how uncomfortable that made you.

You drew your knife, and just looked at it. It was a pretty thing, in a way. The metal had a bright yellow sheen, and the handle was some kind of opaque, dark pink stone. You doubted that it was actually gold; after all, wasn’t gold too soft for this kind of thing? Despite the knife’s beauty, it was very simple in style. It looked like the kind of thing that every soldier might have on their belt, ready for everyday use.

It knew your blood.

There was a light knock on your door, and Saldis called from the other side. You let her in, attempting to hide your consternation. She gave you a little bow.

“Good morning, seidkona. I’ve brought some new clothes, and your breakfast. Which would you like first?”

You didn’t recognize the word, but you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you’d picked up a few nicknames. It didn’t sound like an insult.

“Clothes, please.” You had been nearly naked in a room, alone, with the prince. If he had dashed out of the bath and grabbed you then…

You knew he was faster and stronger than you. He could have torn away your bathrobe, dragged you back into the tub-Clothes. You wanted clothes. Lots of clothes.

Saldis had brought almost enough clothes.

Breakfast was an omelet, after which Saldis put a few braids in your hair, and even fixed a few decorative beads in them.

“Saldis, can I ask you a kinda personal question?”

“Yes, my seidkona.”

Okay, you were definitely going to have to ask Loki about that.

“What happened to Asgard? I mean why did you all have to move here? I know you can’t live there anymore, but I don’t know why.”

“Oh…Well. Well, it’s gone, that’s why. The whole thing is just an asteroid field now. Surtr destroyed it all, and the prophesy came to pass.”

“Surtr? The fire giant Loki killed? Wait, what prophesy?”

“His Highness killed-? Hmm.” Saldis pursed her lips and rolled her head from side to side, thinking about it. “Mmmm. Yes? I suppose that could be said.”

Oh? Had the prince been inflating his accomplishments a bit, perhaps?

“As for the prophesy,” She continued. “You know, Asgard used to be a conquering race. If you’ve been taking lessons, you have to know that. But we stopped doing that pretty suddenly, a long time before I was born, the reason being that Odin Allfather had a terrible dream. That happens to the Aesir sometimes; prophetic dreams. He dreamed of the world ending in fire and blood. It was so terrible that he decided to stop warring with other worlds and pursue peace instead. But he could not make it stop. Instead, he came here, to your Midgard, to see if we could settle here. He left his Highness to rule in his place, while he sought us out a new home.”

“Loki? Loki was king?”

“Yes, twice. Once, when Odin Allfather had fallen into one of his deep sleeps, and Thor Allfather was here, hunting down a malfunctioning weapon, and again when our new home was being sought out. He hid himself in Odin’s guise, so that we didn’t panic. He was very good to us, for those few years.”

“He was a good king?” Odd contrast to the madness in New York. But maybe this is who he really was?

“I know that must seem strange to you, given the troubles that followed him here-“

“No, no. I already know what happened. There was someone else behind it. Pulling strings. Maybe…Maybe that person threatened Asgard?”

Saldis nodded. “His Highness has always been severe about threats to Asgard. He would sacrifice almost anything…I’m sorry.”

“Nah, I get it. It’s awful…but I get it. What, ah, what happened to Odin? Allfather.”

“He died here, on Midagard. That was another reason his Highness had to disguise himself. Odin Allfather was very ill. He was dying, even as he searched for our safe haven. I think he knew he had little time left, and he spent it in search of our new beginning.”

“So they all worked together to make this happen.”

“Yes. The royal family has always been very loyal to the people.”

But not necessarily other people. Where did you stand right now? Whose “people” were you?

A soft chime sounded, and a handful of fragrant flower petals rained down upon you. Saldis stared. You sighed. She burst into giggles.

“Yeah, this is a thing that happens sometimes. They’ll disappear in a minute or so.”

“He does like his tricks! This is a nice one.”

“Better than rampaging miniature fire giants, that’s for sure.” You agreed.

 

                                                                                   *****

 

“You must be very careful.” Loki said, delicately demonstrating how to apply oil to one of his knives. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important it is to not cut yourself on your own blade.”

He hadn’t said anything about your earlier indiscretion, but there was a hint of mirth in his poise. Otherwise, this had been an entirely professional lesson in knife care.

“Do I have to do anything different for this blade, since it’s gold?”

“Clever question. Keep paying attention to those details. However, this is not gold. That would make a very poor blade. No, this is nornbein. It’s an alloy that occurs naturally in large deposits on Nornheim. It has to be specially made here though, since the materials are limited. Here, you must mix gold and titanium in a very precise way to create nornbein. Your Iron Man makes his armor from it, and so do we.”

He held out his hands, and his horned helmet materialized in them. Up close like this, you could see the little details and incredible workmanship. You could also tell that it was indeed made of the same substance as your knife.

“Can you imagine how useless this would be, were it made of gold? Someone as weak as yourself could bend the horns with your bare hands!”

You ignored the offhanded insult, just as you ignored the urge to grab those horns and see for yourself.

“His Majesty wears silver, though.” You pointed out.

“My brother wears a gray metal.” He corrected. “But it is not silver.”

“More norn stuff? Different than this?” Loki nodded. “So what’s this handle? ‘Nornrock’?”

“That?” He took a good long look. “No, no. That’s nothing unique to Nornheim. I’m pretty sure that’s just a ruby.”

“What? The whole thing?” You quickly set the knife down, suddenly afraid to touch it. The handle was as big as a stick of sidewalk chalk, and it had to have been hewn from a crystal that was even bigger

How valuable was this blade? A cultural treasure?

“Why did you give this to me?” You couldn’t understand what made you worth this. “Shouldn’t it be in some kind of museum?”

“Perhaps it should, but I am making a statement.”

Why?”

“Because it is customary. This weapon tried and failed to kill you. Thus, it owes you a debt. It belongs to you. That would-be assassin tried and failed to kill you, and by rights his life should belong to you, but…you do things differently here.”

He took your hand, and pressed the knife back into your palm. “This is yours. I want you to wear it. I want everyone to know that our customs, and our laws, also apply to you. I do not want you to be seen as an outsider forever. Just in case you have to stay.”

“I thought you had given up on getting rid of this thing.” You said, clenching your left hand closed.

“Not exactly. It’s just that the experiments I have been conducting, I would not put you through.”

“Such as?”

“Such as cruder methods of removal. As it turns out, the mark cannot be removed. By any means.”

That answer chilled you slightly. “What…what means?”

“Fire. Corroding agents. My own very sharp knives. Nothing is sufficient.”

“What? What? Loki, you didn’t-!” You set your knife down again and grabbed his hand in both of yours, pulling it towards your face, spreading out the long fingers. Whatever it was you dreaded to see, it wasn’t there. Just his regular pale skin, and the brand.

“A-another joke?” You asked weakly.

“Perhaps.” He said, voice soft. “Or perhaps you remember that we heal faster, and more thoroughly than your kind does.”

“That wasn’t an ‘either/or’ question, you know. It’s a simple yes or no.”

“Do you need one or the other, _____?”

Oh crap. You had called him by name. Was that against the rules? Were you in trouble now? You looked up into his face and saw a soft intensity there, that frightening, unnamed hunger.

“Y-your Highness?”

He snatched his hand from your grasp, and, quick as a striking snake, he bopped the tip of your nose with one finger. You jerked away like a startled cat, and he laughed.

“Put away your blade,” He commanded, rising. “it is time for more horrifically boring meetings.”

You groaned, sheathed the blade, and hooked it to your belt.

 

                                                                                 *****

“A bathing party?” Brunnhilde asked, looking the invitation over. “Sounds fun, I’m in. Thought little brother was a bit more prudish than that though.”

“It seems that there are some things he wishes to discuss, and it also seems that he wishes to be dramatic about it.” Thor grumbled. “Well. It is good to see this side of him peeking out again in a more harmless manner. Reminds me of our youth.”

“It that a good thing?”

“Yes.” He said. “Yes, I believe it is.”

Chapter Text

 

The meetings weren’t as boring as advertised, but you thought that was mostly because you weren’t meeting with Asgardians, whom you didn’t understand, but with other humans.

These were Icelandic officials, come to talk about such important but mundane things as zoning laws, environmental policy, and judicial jurisdiction. Loki spoke English for you the entire time, and, surprisingly, all of the officials could also speak the language. It was so refreshing to be able to understand everyone in the room, and to be among other humans.

The differences between humans and Asgardians seemed slight on first glance, but spending so much time among them was making you familiar enough to notice. They were all taller on average, than the human average, and from the snippets you had learned, they were heavier too. Your theory was that their bones were made of something different than yours; that their muscles and organs were denser, and that contributed to their preternatural durability, speed, and strength. Their eyes seemed deeper than human eyes, the colors more saturated, they caught more light, and reflected it differently.

You learned a lot about geothermal energy during the meeting, and decided that it was amazing. You couldn’t help but wonder if American volcanoes could be harnessed in that way. Probably, but the battle with oil companies would be very vicious. That was probably why it hadn’t been done already.

These officials were unexpectedly eager to see that you were well, which you suspected was a good part of the reason Loki had dragged you along. It was more than likely that some of these people were reporting on you back to your government, or maybe just to the Avengers and their peripherals.

It made you feel important, but you didn’t like it very much. It sure hadn't protected anyone from that murderer. And getting too much attention had never gone well for you.

Still, they were polite, and they didn’t stare at you, or make you feel as if you didn’t belong there, which was a pleasant change.

After the meeting, Loki took you to the kitchens, finally showing you where they actually were. The two of you left with a bowl of sliced fruit, and cups made of cow horns, filled with very sweet, very strong coffee.

“Did they have coffee on Asgard?” You asked.

“No. This is one of Earth’s grand inventions. Some of our people are going non-alcoholic, if you can believe that.”

Our’ people? “I can believe it. Earth has a lot of tasty things to offer. No doubt everyone will get to experience a lot of new flavors. Better watch your health though. Humans are kind of sugar-crazy.”

“Speaking of which, dinner will be a little late tonight. This-“ He held up the fruit bowl. “should see you through. We are going to go practice magic now, and I know you will need it.”

He wasn’t wrong. Practicing magic was exhausting in a way that was different from any other exhausting thing you had ever done. It was surprising how hard you could sweat when you technically weren’t doing anything physical.

“You should start an exercise regimen.” He suggested. “Since you are no longer ill, or injured. There is no scar?”

“Saldis said there wasn’t.”

“Very good.” He seemed proud about that, as if he had done anything. “Then yes, start exercising. It doesn’t have to be anything severe, but energy flows easier through a fit body.”

You made the mistake of looking him over when he said that, and he gave you an absolutely wicked grin. You drew back from him, from the little bits of fruit he was offering. Tempter. You could remember just how ‘fit’ he was from the bath. Terribly, enticingly ‘fit’.

But you couldn’t think like that. You couldn’t let yourself accept that. You couldn’t prove the killer right.

You still hadn’t had a bath. And now you were all sweaty and gross. Maybe you could squeeze one in before supper.

You started grabbing your own fruit from the bowl, to the seeming disappointment of your tutor. Let him be disappointed. You weren’t some pet, to be hand-fed.

Try as you might, you could not replicate the teleportation magic you had performed before; you couldn’t even come close. Loki told you not to worry about it, that it was a very tricky bit of magic to pull off, that you had probably only been able to do it because of the extreme duress you had been under. As if he understood!

Well, maybe he did. Maybe he really did know what it was like to feel helpless under the whims of someone who far outstripped him in power. To be in the clutches of someone so dangerous, and be unable to just go home.

Then why was he doing the same thing to you?

I couldn’t be that he didn’t know, could it? Surely he wasn’t so oblivious that he didn’t see your fear? He was just playing a game with you; you couldn’t lie to the god of lies, he had to know!

Then what was he waiting for?

Was he trying to drive you mad?

It was working.

 

*****

“Are those new bedclothes?” Andsvarr asked. “They are very nice.”

“They certainly are.” Saldis held the long robe up, its silky flow catching the light. “Bespoke, for once. She’ll finally be getting some nice things, with this new court appointment. The ladies are excited to get to work. After all, how often have we gotten to outfit a mortal? Once, in the past thousand years? Everyone wants to get in on this opportunity.”

“Looking for a promotion?” Andsvarr teased.

“You know I am.”

“Well, I hope you get it. But will you be too high then, to dance with a simple guard?”

“Says the heir to a noble house.”

“When I stand here, I am the same as any recruit.”

Saldis snorted. “Fancy sentiment, from the personal guard of the Crown Prince’s quarters.”

He wilted a bit. “Aw, come on, Saldis. Everybody knows his Highness only chose me to pacify my father.”

“Then for once, his Highness’ careful plans have failed.”

Andsvarr scowled. “Everybody knows that too.”

“Now let me in, I have to deliver this before she comes back to sleep. And if you want to dance with me during Buridag,” She added, as he opened the door. “Then ask me in a less pathetic way.”

*****

 

You basked in the soft smoothness of your new pajamas with great satisfaction. Sure, they were green, like every other scrap of clothing you had worn in the past few months, but they were otherwise perfect. So soft. So smooth. So much nicer than your old dollar store set.

Your bathrobe was still here, and Loki most definitely was not. You could get a bath now if you wanted.

When you reached the door, however, there was a little sign hanging from the knob.

‘Out of Order’.

Out of order? What, did his Highness clog the drain with his perfect hair? You snatched the sign from the doorknob. There was something on the back. It was directions, hastily sketched, to the nearest back-up bath. It looked like it was in someone else’s quarters, just up the hall. Well, it seemed that if you wanted a scrub, this was where you needed to go.

You headed out, with a wave to Andsvarr, and ambled up the hall. There was another guard to get by, who stared down at you severely, until, curious to see what would happen, you showed him your branded hand. He examined it briefly, then nodded, and opened the door. He even gave you a small bow, which you awkwardly returned.

This place was fancy. Well-furnished in warm colors, it gave off an atmosphere of simultaneous coziness and importance. There were partially finished murals on the walls; three men, a few women, a man and a woman together, some landscapes…And the Avengers, idealized, appearing as Asgardian nobles, alongside Thor.

Were you in the kings’ rooms? Why on Earth would you be rerouted here over something so simple as a broken bathtub? Come to think of it, Loki had never led you up the hall from his rooms, only down, away from here. Probably because ‘here’ was very, extremely, exceptionally off-limits. But the guard had let you in, and not even reluctantly. He must have had instructions to allow you in here.

It was kind of Thor, to indulge his brother like this, and to show you such special treatment. You didn’t talk to the king very often, usually only at the occasional group dinner you attended, and he was always polite. You couldn’t help but wonder though, if pity had something to do with it.

He had always been one of your favorite Avengers. So noble and strong, the deific alien, come to protect a world not his own, even from his own family, simply because it was the right thing to do. It had been easy to get caught up in the romance of it all.

Romance. Ha. Not for you. Not here. These people were an entirely different species, who would live nearly infinite lives. There was no one for you here. You also would likely not be leaving here either, so you’d better put any hopes for love on the back burner.

You couldn’t let yourself think of it. Not with the way Loki loomed large in your life, made your heart speed and your fear spike.

You stopped to examine a landscape featuring a colorful, glowing bridge, spanning an ocean out to a golden satellite. You had no idea what it was, but it was beautiful, and mysterious, and very alien. Just like…

You had to get a grip on yourself. Having a personal weapon should have helped, but the thing was so opulent and important. You weren’t that important. You didn’t want to be important. You didn’t want to be noticed, or famous, or thought about when you weren’t around. It had been like that, ever since the Event. You’d had your fill of being noticed then. It seemed like every single man left in existence had noticed you then, with their talk of ‘rebuilding the species’, when you couldn’t even scrounge up enough food to feed everyone who was left! They were a bunch of apocalypse fantasy enthusiasts with not a lick of sense between them, but they outnumbered you. One of them had even…

Bath. You were sweaty and smelly, and you wanted to stop being those things. You didn’t need to think about the past. You had enough to worry about in the future.

It didn’t take you long to find the bathroom; it was a solid wooden door with gold paint, and the design of a fish with a knotwork tail-just like the one in Loki’s rooms. Unlike that one, this one had a small antechamber where various towels and bathrobes were kept. Did Thor entertain guests here? In the bath?

That was definitely none of your business.

You stripped out of your sleeping gown, and wrapped up in one of the bathrobes. It was way too big for you, of course, but it was comfortable and soft, and you wriggled around in it just a little bit, enjoying the sensation on your skin.

You entered the bath proper through another painted door, and practically dashed to the tub, only skidding to a stop when you noticed that the spacious tub was occupied.

Loki, Thor, and Brunnhilde all looked at you blankly as you slipped, fell hard on your rear, your bathrobe flipping open. You screeched, and pulled it back around you, as Loki began to laugh.

Oh, no, no!

You scrambled to your feet and threw yourself at the door, only to find it locked. No, No!

“Come join us, dear.” Loki’s velvet words closed in behind you. “The water is lovely, and the company has only gotten better.”

“Loki, I don’t think…” Thor began.

“Did you lock the door?” Brunnhilde asked.

“Come take your proper place, _____.” Loki said, patting the water next to him. “It is time.”

Time? Time? Here? Now? In front of the Valkyrie? In front of his brother?

Evil. The God of Evil.

The door was locked. You were trapped, and all the terrible possibilities were right there in front of you now.

Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.

Though the other two looked a bit confused, Loki was still beckoning you to the tub, still laughing.

Your fury finally rose to match your fear, and something in your mind went off. Fine. Finally. Finally this was happening, finally you could just get it over with and move on with your life!

You stripped the bathrobe off and threw it on the ground, glaring at the tub full of traitors with your arms spread, just daring them to say anything. You stayed where you were though; if Loki wanted you, he could damn well come out and get you.

But he didn’t. Why didn’t he come out and get you? He should be ravishing you right now, you were waiting…

But instead, both he and Thor went wide-eyed and very red, and pointedly looked away. Brunnhilde shrugged.

“Eh, not bad.” She said.

“Shut up.” You snarled, and she raised her eyebrows, leaning back against the edge of the tub. She glanced over at the two blushing men.

“Lookin’ at a lot of cowardice right now, little brother.” She said.

“Loki, what did you do?” Thor whispered.

“She wasn’t supposed to do that!” Loki whispered back. “She was just supposed to be embarrassed and cute.”

“Absolute idiots.” Brunnhilde muttered. “The half-blind and the fully blind.”

“Are you telling me this was another joke!?!” You practically screamed. The men flinched.

Rage burned in every inch of you. The God of Evil!

You stomped into the water, storming right up to Loki, who drew away until he hit the wall of the tub.

“Look at me.” You demanded. He hesitated. “Look at me!”

He very slowly turned his head, allowing his gaze to fall on you. You punched him full in the face.

Your fist flashed with light as it struck, and to everyone’s surprise, Loki rocked back from the impact. So you struck again. And again. And once more before Brunnhilde found her pity and pulled you away.

You burst into tears in her arms, months of fear and internal conflict pouring out. You were so lost in the misery that you didn’t even notice the brothers leave.

 

*****

“I don’t even know what you thought to achieve, Loki.” Thor scolded. “They don’t do public bathing in her country!”

“Well how was I supposed to know? It’s not my fault her species is splintered into all these different nations and cultures! How does anyone keep it all straight?”

“You could have asked her.”

“That would have defeated the purpose.” Loki whined.

“And what was that? To humiliate her? To frighten her? Hadn’t we all agreed that something was wrong with her? Why would you do something to add so much stress on top of her like that?”

“She was supposed to demand to be let out. And then I would let her out, and bring her a gift later, and let her know that it’s okay to bathe with us.”

“Well, that’s not what happened, is it? She was furious, and I think that fury stemmed from fear. She was afraid of us, Loki. We have no idea the damage you’ve done here.”

“Oh, I do.” Brunnhilde interrupted, approaching with her arms crossed. “And it’s so much worse than you think.”

“Where is she?” Loki demanded. “Is she okay?”

“Oh, you care?” Brunnhilde asked. “She’s away. Somewhere else.”

“Please. Is she okay?”

“She was so distraught by this, that she struck you with magic. What do you think? Do you think she’s okay?”

Loki drooped. “No. I suppose not.”

“It’s not just this, you know.” Brunnhilde gestured towards the bathroom, the edge of steel growing in her voice. “It’s not just the prank, which, by the way, was basic and classless. I expect better from you.”

Loki drooped even further.

“What gift did you think you were going to give her, to make this all better?”

“Blue cloak of office.” Loki sulked. “It has our rune embroidered in knotwork on the back. Special trilobed brooch. Something nice.”

“You’re still gonna appoint her? You think she wants that? The attention? The responsibility? You think she wants to spend even more time with you, when you act like this? You think some shiny things are gonna make up for this?”

“It wasn’t that bad!” Loki protested. “She will forgive me. She is very agreeable.”

“You moron!” Brunnhilde scolded. “It isn’t agreeability, it’s survival! She’s afraid to say no to you. You’ve really got no idea, do you? Loki, she’s spent the last two months terrified that you are going to force yourself on her.”

It took a moment to sink in.

What?” The shock bleached his features further. “I-I don’t do that! I’ve never done that!”

Thor, quiet and shrinking into the background, eyed him apprehensively.

“I know what you’re thinking brother, and the answer is still no.” Loki snapped. “No, not even with a mind-control device in my hand, and a hateful voice in my head. Not even then. I have never done such a thing. Why would she think that?”

“Oh, I don’t know, might have something to do with the massive power imbalance between you. You know, the huge amount of influence you hold over her life? How she doesn’t actually own anything of her own, how it all belongs to you, and how you could take it all away anytime you felt like it?”

“But I’m not going to do that!” Loki insisted. “Her things are hers. Providing for her is a part of my respons-“

“Where the hels were your ‘responsibilities’ back there in the bath?” Brunnhilde snarled. “How can she possibly trust you not to coerce her by holding these things over her head? Where does she sleep, if you kick her out of that empty little guardroom? How does she eat, what does she wear, if you choose to withdraw your beneficence? She wears your colors, our styles. She is surrounded by people to whom she cannot speak. She can’t practice any hobbies, or little things that bring her joy; she can’t even take a walk outside by herself! She uses your toiletries; she even smells like you. She’s been slowly losing her identity, while becoming more and more dependent on you for survival. Her greatest fear is that you will pressure her into bed with your control over all of the things that keep her alive.”

“But I’m not!” Loki protested. “I would never-!”

“She doesn’t know that! Not with you putting your hands on her all the time.”

“But…but that was for her health…”

“You touched her without asking. A lot. It built up. Norns she was trying to tell us this whole time, even if she didn’t understand it herself. The withdrawing. The temper flare-ups. She told us that everyone on her old forums was paranoid, and she told us she was one of them. We just didn’t pay attention to what she was saying.”

“Where is she?” Loki asked, just barely not pleading. “I have to do something. I have to fix this.”

The Valkyrie just shook her head. “Not right now, you don’t. She isn’t gonna want to see you again so soon. She’s going to need time before she can even begin to accept an apology. And you’d better give her one. Not just pretty things to wear, not platitudes or promises. You owe her a boon for all the nonsense you’ve put her through, and it had better be good!”

*****

You were still awake when Brunnhilde came to check on you, even though you had been exhausted by your outburst, and the magic you had expended. You were curled up in the corner of her bunk, blanket bundled around you, the occasional tear still dripping down your cheeks.

“Brought you a sandwich.” She said, setting the plate down on her little end table, and sitting down in her chair, opposite her bunk. “Made it myself. I have no idea what you like on a sandwich, so I tried to keep it simple.”

Your hand snaked out from under the blanket, and snatched the offering. You hadn’t gone to dinner.

“Now, you can stay here as long as you want, or, if you prefer, I can bunk you in with the other Valkyries.”

“I’m not a Valkyrie though.” You said miserably. “I don’t really know what I am now. I’m not a wizard, I can barely do magic. I’m not a baker anymore. Not Asgardian. Not Icelandic. I don’t even know if I’m still American; do they even want me back? I don’t know. Don’t know where to go from here. Maybe I can get a job on the outskirts of the city. That way, I’m not too far away, but not to close either.”

“If it means anything to you, he looked like he’d been stabbed when I told him.”

You groaned. “You told him?”

“Of course I did! He needed to know exactly how badly he’d fucked up. He was horrified at the very thought. Wanted to run right to you and beg forgiveness.”

You stayed quiet for a moment, eating your sandwich.

“I’m sorry.” You finally said.

“You don’t have anything to apologize for-“

“No, I’m sorry. I was wrong, wasn’t I? I should have said something a long time ago, if not to him then to you, or somebody. I was too scared. Confused. And this whole time, I was just getting worse and worse, and it didn't even have to happen. Now I've gone and accused him of something awful, and I hurt him.”

“That isn’t your fault.” Brunnhilde said. “He should have thought about this. How things might look to you, how his actions might make you feel. He shouldn’t have been losing his temper with you, and he shouldn’t have been playing tasteless pranks; he should have been paying attention. When Asgardian nobility decides to foster someone, that person becomes nobility themselves. Loki has experience in that. He’s really dropped the ball here. Don’t you go thinking this is all your fault. Loki had responsibilities to you, and he didn’t live up to them.”

“So…what now?”

“I’m not sure. I think it mostly depends on you; what you want to do. It should have been like that from the beginning. Like I said, you can stay here as long as you want, or we can find other housing for you.”

“It’s not true, is it? I was wrong, wasn’t I? The book said so many things I didn’t want to believe, but I didn’t know what was true.”

Brunnhilde tilted her head. “What book?”

“The mythology book Saldis gave me. It talked about all of you. It said frightening things, but the way he acted made me think it might be true…But it’s not?”

“It’s not. He was very adamant about that.”

“Then... I’ll go back. To my room. His room. Eventually. Not yet though, I don’t feel right. I’ve got to think about some things.” How to apologize, for one.

“You ought to sleep on it for now. Think about things tomorrow, when you’ve had a chance to clear your head.”

You nodded, and stretched out on the bunk. “I’ll try, okay?”

“You do that.” She said. “If you need me, I’ll be right outside.”

 

Chapter Text

 

You dreamt of bars and panes of impenetrable glass, layer after layer of shielding, of safety. Layer after layer, hiding you away, hemming you in, keeping everything else out. Far away, through the many, many layers, you could just see a faint blue light, surrounding the form of a person. They pushed on the glass, pounded on it, trying to get through. You could just barely hear their voice, but you couldn’t make out any words. That was fine. You were safe behind your many layers, and even as they fell to their knees, you still couldn’t hear them.

You woke, wrapped so tightly in blankets that you could hardly breathe.

 

*****

“Your Majesty.” Andsvarr said with a deep bow. “Um, I don’t meant to bother you, but I feel it may be important to report that nobody came home last night. I understand that there are many things that are none of my business, but is everything all right?”

“You can stand.” Thor said wearily. “It’s easier to talk to someone who is facing you. Yes, everything is…eh, it’ll be something. The prince was with me, and will probably return shortly. The mortal is with General Brunnhilde. I don’t know when she will be back. Don’t worry about it too much, just send the maid to the Generals rooms for now.”

“Thank you sire.”

 

*****

“What happened?” Saldis demanded.

“I don’t know, he wouldn’t say.” Andsvarr said, wringing his spear. “Just that you should go to the Generals room instead.”

“Should I move all her things there?”

“I don’t know! I guess things have changed now. It’s too bad. I’m going to miss seeing you every day.”

“That’s sweet, but don’t be pessimistic. This might not be permanent. Now, it’s not our job to fix this, especially since we don’t have any details. It is our job to carry on as normal. I’m going to take her clothes to her, and test the waters.”

 

*****

“Soooo. How’s he doing?” Brunnhilde asked. Thor had come out to the Valkyrie’s training area, alone and exasperated, and just watched the women train for a while. Sometimes he offered to help out on the field, but today he was keeping to himself.

“Not as badly as I’d feared.” Thor grumbled. “But not very well.”

They left the training grounds together, swiftly surrounded by various aides and officials. Thor dutifully took the papers that were handed to him, signed what he needed to, answered questions that were asked of him, and gave or denied permissions as he was presented them.

The hounding ceased as soon as they reached the residential area of the building; one of the only places where privacy was to be had.

“Look, he might not be exactly personable right now; I don’t know what state he’s in.” Thor said, as the guard let them into his rooms. “Frankly, I hope he’s asleep.”

But the strong smell of alcohol, and the sound of mumbling greeted them upon entering, and Thor groaned. “Nope! Still pity-drunk.”

“Still?” Brunnhilde asked. “Like constantly? Since last night? He hasn’t slept at all? I’m impressed.”

Thor shot her a look; she just shrugged.

Loki was sitting at Thors big oak desk, several empty bottles lined up on one side, several full bottles lined up on the other. In between, Loki leaned, holding his finger out to a tiny illusion of you, who danced around on the desk and hugged his fingertip.

“Don’t worry!” The little image chirped, its voice slightly garbled. “It’s just a misunderstanding! I’ll come back!”

“Um, Brother?” Thor said quietly. The tiny image wavered, fuzzed at the edges, and disappeared.

“Wait!” Loki called. “Don’t go! Aww.”

“Loki. How are you feeling?”

Loki threw himself dramatically onto the desk, jostling the bottles.

“Oh, I’m a wretched creature, Thor!” He exclaimed. “Wretched, wretched! Utterly wretched!”

“So you’re feeling wretched, then?” Brunnhilde suggested.

He jerked his head up and stared at her suspiciously. “Who told you? It doesn’t matter. It’s true, it’s true! What prince? What god? I am a wretch!”

“Sad sack is what you are. Is he always like this when he’s drunk?”

“He doesn’t usually get drunk.”

“Well he’s not going to impress her with this kind of display.”

“Herrrr…” Loki purred. “I would have held her little face in my hands.” He cupped his hands together in demonstration. “I would have fastened the cloak of office around her shoulders. I can’t touch her anymore! It’s bad.”

“Well, you're supposed to ask first, if you want to step outside of the polite touching.” Brunnhilde pointed out. “You were starting to get a bit overbearing.”

Loki jumped up off of the desk. “You're right!” He exclaimed, and rushed for the door.

Thor hooked him with one arm and tumbled him onto a sofa. “Not like this, you don't. You stay in here until you've calmed down a bit.”

“I can't go anyway.” Loki pouted. “_____ hates me. She's scared of me. She punched me really hard!”

“Yeah.” Brunnhilde chortled. “That was pretty great.”

Thor shot her another look. She shrugged again. “What do you want from me?”

“Magic.” Loki said. “She can strike with magic. She's so great. My amazing protege. My...my...aww, she hates me though. Who will teach her?”

“You will, ya big goof. She doesn't hate you. She was very relieved to hear that she was wrong. It wasn't something that one would want to be right about.”

“Really?” Loki whispered, looking up pleadingly from where he lay, sprawled on the couch. He looked remarkably soft and vulnerable like this, Brunnhilde thought, and it was a good look for him.

“Yeah. She said she might be willing to come back to her room eventually, but she doesn't feel right about it just yet, so you'll have to wait. You can remodel in the meantime, maybe put a rug or a plant in there or something. Anything to make it look less empty and...temporary? I think making it look like a more permanent home will help her mindset. If you're serious about appointing her seidkona, and it isn't just another prank, then you have to be serious about making this place a home for her as well.”

“You're riggght.” Loki slurred. “You're right, I have been remiss. How could I miss so many details? I guess...I just wanted things to go right so badly, that I only saw what I wanted to, not what really was. I can fix the room. I can make it wonderful! Does...will she really come back?”

“I think so. But you'd better not be like this when she does. You really need a bath.”

“A bath?” Loki said, aghast. “I can't take a bath! The bath is cursed! I can never bathe again!”

Brunnhilde yanked him off the couch and shoved him towards the bathroom. “Get in there, and don't come out 'till you're sober.”

*****

 

“Can you do it though?” Loki asked. “I need only a single audience with the man, and it is for his daughter's sake. Surely he would be willing to speak to me just once, even if it is just to call me kidnapping bastard.”

“You joke, but a lot of people still think that's what you are.” Steve said.

“They aren't entirely incorrect, it's just that there were extenuating circumstances-”

“Yeah, yeah. Magical medical abnormalities. Whatever. I can try to get in touch with the guy, but he might be busy. He's a trucker; his schedule isn't predictable.”

“What is a trucker?” Loki asked.

“You serious? Huh, what would they call them on Asgard? You ever seen one of those big semi-trucks? Eighteen-wheelers? No? One of these?”

He brought up a picture, and Loki brightened with recognition. “Oh! Yes, of course. Those bring our building supplies to the nearest settlement, and we use the bifrost to bring them here. He is a caravan driver. Respectable profession; I wonder why she was so poor.”

“Eh, it doesn't pay much, but it's usually steady work. Everybody needs supplies delivered. You telling me there's no road connecting New Asgard to the next city?”

“Not yet. Why would there be? This area was wilderness before we settled here. We would not have taken occupied land. There will be a road, someday, but it isn't a priority right now.”

“But talking to this woman's father in order to make her room more homey is?”

“Yes.”

“I like hearing that kind of talk from you. I'll try to get him. I can't guarantee anything past that.”

“Neither can I.”

 

*****

 

“-And your pencils, and notepad, your knife, and your hygiene set.” Saldis said. “I couldn't carry any more by myself, but I don't mind making multiple trips. Do you want your pillow and blanket? Your books?”

“Um,” You said, fastening your knife on your belt. “I'm fine with the pillows and stuff here. But the books...No. Thank you, but not the books. I think I'm going to spend the rest of the day with the Valkyries.”

“I'm sure that will be educational. Is there anything else you would like, my Seidkona?”

“Yes, actually.” You took your pencil and notebook. “I'd really like for you to explain to me what that word means.”

Saldis looked very confused. “You don't know?”

“I don't know that many Asgardian words yet. I need a dictionary or something, but those don't exist yet, do they?”

“I don't think so. But, well, a Seidkona is basically a woman who performs magic. That's the literal translation, at least. But they're more than just that. They are specially appointed women who work for nobles or important businesses, or they can be attached to the military as well.”

“So it's a job?”

“And a title, yes. Not every lady mage gets to be a Seidkona, it's a special title that can only be appointed by the Crown. A Seidkona supports the people she is appointed to with magic and advice, and is usually very close to them. She is favored.”

“I...really don't understand. I can barely do magic at all. And I'm not Asgardian; why should I be given an Asgardian job? Who am I appointed to? Loki? He's already a wizard, he doesn't need me! When did this happen? I wasn't told.”

“Then I am confused too.” Saldis said. “This news has flown like a bird. Everyone knows. Unless this is some baseless, popular rumor, I can't imagine why you would not have been informed.”

“Well, I have been pretty isolated lately.” You suggested. “That's why I want to hang out with the new Valkyries. Meet some new people, you know? Since there aren't that many people here I even can talk to. I've really got to do something about that.”

“I think, among the new Valkyries, that Borgljot can speak some English. I am not familiar with the others, though. None of them strike me as unfriendly, but some might be disapproving of you. If anyone causes you trouble, do not hesitate to report it. As far as anyone knows, you are seidkona, and deserving of respect. Disrespect towards you is disrespect to your appointed, and since your appointed is the Crown Prince, that would be a very bad move on their part. Do not accept it. Although, if any of the Valkyries trouble you, I wouldn't pick a fight. Just tell the General, she won't stand for it.”

“Do you think any of them will?”

“Probably not. The Valkyries may be an elite group, but they come from all backgrounds. It's possible that there might be a human Valkyrie someday. And since Thor Allfather prefers to protect this whole realm, they will no doubt ride out to protect humans as well.”

“Is it true their horses fly?” The book had said so, but the book had been wrong. Well, wrong enough.

“Yes! On ivory wings. But there's only one right now, so the stablefolk are trying to cross her with other horses, in hopes for a new line. It's probably going to take a while. But maybe if you ask him, His Highness will take you to see her?”

“Oh, Eh,” You fidgeted with your pencils. “Maybe in a while? Well, I should probably go to the training area. Maybe I can learn something by watching. But thank you so much for doing all this for me. I know I'm being difficult.”

Saldis laughed. “Try working for the royal family for five minutes.”

 

*****

 

You lunged forward, ferociously jamming your knife as deeply as you could into your foes face, toppling it over into a lifeless heap.

“Ah. That is good, in its way.” The Valkyrie Borgljot set the straw dummy back up and retrieved your knife. “Fierce. Swift. Personal. But perhaps not the best technique for thee. The head makes for a tempting target, if thou can reach it. But thou'rt small, and many opponents would not present thee an easy strike. For one so little, there are more-oh, the word, what is it-ah, strategic targets.

Depending on how thy enemy is outfitted, thou might prefer to strike upward, under the ribs.” she demonstrated. “This knife hast the length to reach the heart or lungs. But if a breastplate is involved, this shan't work. In this event, 'tis best to aim under the arm, as so.” She showed you. “This is a vulnerable area, but few think on it.”

“How often do you think I'll end up in combat?” You asked, taking your knife back.

“One may hope not often, but one cannot know. Thou shouldst be learning magic to protect thyself, but if ever thou finds thyself in such a situation that thou cannot, then this is a good fallback. Of course, shouldst thou truly wish it, thou might always slash here-” She pointed to behind the dummy's knees. “And cut the tendons therin. This renders the leg all but useless, and brings them down to thee. Then they may present their heads to thy blade!”

“How is she faring?” Brunnhilde called, approaching across the field.

“Okay-ish? I think?” You said.

“She is very game, General. Straight for the kill, no hesitating. Very like she hast done it before, though she claims not.”

Brunnhilde looked at you questioningly. You just shrugged, but felt almost certain she could see the guilt in it.

“Her body requires strengthening, however.” Borgljot continued. “I know not the mortal standard. Her spirit hath strength, but her body lacks.”

“She's been sick for a long time.” Brunnhilde explained.

“Yeah. I'm just now getting better. That's why I was brought here in the first place.”

“I hast a brother among the Einherjar. He tells me thou hast a mark on thy hand? A magic mark? Might I see it?”

“I guess so?” You extended your left hand, palm up. Borgljot very carefully cupped it in her own large hand, as if worried she might damage you. She might just; her hands were rough and callused from many years of holding a sword.

“I was the guardian of a prosperous business, before my true nature was revealed.” She had told you earlier. “They were saddened to see me go, but justly proud to claim they hadst me at all.”

The Valkyries were a unique type of Aesir, all possessing very similar qualities. They had heightened battle capabilities, and many-though apparently not all-could see and communicate with the recently slain, to some degree. There were an unpredictable amount of them born every generation, though this entire, most recent generation had been all but skipped, due to the terrible tragedy that left Brunnhilde as the last survivor of the previous group.

Only a Valkyrie could recognize another Valkyrie, and with the loss of all the others, and Brunnhilde's absence, the ability to find and train more had been lost. Now that she was here, she was finding Valkyries of all ages, even young children. They gathered around to observe the mark with Borgljot, chatting among themselves. One of the young ones asked something in Asgardian, but all you could make out was 'are you', and 'Loki'.

Brunnhilde snickered.

“I didn't quite catch that.” You admitted.

“She asked if you were going to marry Loki, since Odin married his own Seidkona.”

“Uh...” Warmth blossomed across your face. “Too soon. Um, can you tell her I've got to learn how to be a Seidkona first, before I can begin to think about marrying anyone?” The kid didn't need to know about the problems between you and Loki. And you'd just gotten a tidbit of information about Loki's parents, that hadn't been mentioned in that treacherous book.

Brunnhilde obliged, and the girl looked satisfied with your explanation.

“What brought this mark about?” Borgljot asked.

“That's one of the great mysteries of my life.” You replied. “I don't know what caused it, but I know some of the nasty effects it can have on me.”

“Is it a curse?”

“I'm told it isn't, but sometimes it sure feels like it. Otherwise, it's just a complete mystery. I don't know anymore about it, except that it apparently can't be removed by any means.”

“And that's all anyone knows.” Brunnhilde said. “So how about, instead of looking for answers that aren't there, you all get back to work?”

With a chorus of “Yes, General”, the Valkyries all went back to their training.

“You've been out here most of the day.” She said. “You want to wash up and find something to eat? My bath has a lock on the door.”

“Best bribe I've heard all day.”

 

*****

 

 

Brunnhilde's bath was an actual above-ground tub, which you soaked in, grateful for the soothing warmth on your sore muscles. You hadn't done much physical activity for the past few months; you were definitely out of shape.

Magic moves easier through a fit body, does it? Well, you could certainly use the exercise. You had to think of it as a suggestion, not as suggestive. You had to go back and rethink all those interactions with him, re-contextualize them, without all the fear and suspicion.

He hadn't asked all the questions that he had needed to, but you hadn't provided answers either. All the things he had done, aside from the flights of temper, had all been for your sake. Looking back, he had really tried. He knew nothing about you, probably nothing about your culture, but he had tried for you. When was the last time someone had gone so out of their way?

The last time had been during the Event, when your benefactor had turned out to be a madman, bent on replacing his losses with you.

That was the real poison. That was what curled inside you and sprouted into paranoia; a past that you alone remembered. But Loki had nothing to do with it. You had to end its influence over you. If you wanted any real future, you had to overturn that false past.

So what did you really want from the future? For the past few years, you hadn't been able to bring yourself to think of that at all. After the Event, your mind had remained clouded by the habits of survival, living day to day, unable to conceive of future plans.

But it was over now. It was over and done with, and it would never be again. It was safe now, to think about tomorrow, the next week, five years from now. You would be here. Here would be here.

Maybe what you had needed was to be brought away from your old, familiar surroundings. The place where all the bad things had happened. When you looked out your window now, you didn't see vast expanses of dead fields. You saw plants and landscapes unlike anything back home. You saw a sun that acted strange, and people who dressed outlandishly, strangers all.

They didn't know you as a poor, sad, insane baker. They knew you as a seidkona.

Why shouldn't you become that?

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Hey! Hey, you kidnapping bastard! Give me my daughter back, asshole!”

 

“That's about the reaction I expected, yes.” Loki said, holding on to his composure in the face of your enraged father. He was an entire ocean away, and merely a mortal man of no consequence, but there was still some intimidation involved. Loki wanted a favor from this man; information. Also, there was something...important, about not being hated by your father, specifically. “Alas, I cannot. It's isn't safe for her, I'm afraid. Her health would deteriorate once more.”

 

“Yeah, the spandex squad said the same thing. They said it was some kind of magic? Sounds like bullshit to me.”

 

“You have lived through invasions by both extraterrestrials, and robots, yet you find magic difficult to believe in?” Loki pointed out.

 

“Yeah, well, you can punch an alien or a robot.”

 

“I dare say, one can punch a sorcerer as well.”

 

“Oho? She's been throwing hands?”

 

Loki cleared his throat. “Your daughter has been...most emphatic on several points.”

 

Your father drew himself up with pride. “Good. You best listen. And you'd damn well better be treating her right!”

 

“Actually, that is why I wished to speak with you. I would like advice on how to treat her more properly. Specifically, I will be remodeling her room into a more permanent residence, and I wish to know what kind of things she likes to have in her home.”

 

Your father remained quiet for a few long moments.

 

“So she's really not coming back.” He said finally. “Damn. I know all girls eventually leave, but she just seemed happy where she was...” He sighed. “Okay, fine. If it's gotta be up to you to take care of her now, then listen up. She likes doodlin' so get her some art supplies. She likes them little fairy lights. If you're getting her decorative things, she likes birds, and seashells, and flowers. No pets. She doesn't like having little things underfoot. Get her some houseplants, but only if they have bright colors, or make flowers.”

 

“How about toiletries? Does she have a preference?”

 

“Eh, more flowery stuff. Whatever's on sale, usually, but you can do better than that, can't you? The most flowery stuff you can find. Candles or potpourri, or whatever. Uh, she likes Pokemon. Don't know how much that helps you.”

 

“It would help me more if I knew what that was, but I'm sure I can find out.”

 

“It's some video game about fantasy animals. It's easy to find. Oh, and she likes space too. Stars and constellations and stuff. Likes learnin' about what's out there.”

“Oh, I know.” Loki said, perhaps a little too confidently. Your father glared. “But not too well.” He added. “Space. It is a good subject. There is much out there.”

 

Silence stretched out uncomfortably.

 

“How is she, really?” Your father asked.

 

“Distressed. That is why I am doing this. A great many things have happened to her in too short a time, so I am attempting to counter them with comfort. Her illness has all but disappeared, but we must remain within a mile or so of one another, and cannot be separated for more than a few hours at that distance before she begins to deteriorate. Were you told of the assassin?”

 

“Yeah. I was told she wasn't badly hurt, and that you caught the bastard.”

 

“Correct on both counts. She suffered a cut, but it has healed completely, and he will be facing justice eventually. I may still curse him into an early grave though, no matter what his sentence ends up being. Hmm. Perhaps forget I said that.”

 

“Nah, no one's hearing a peep from me.” Your father fidgeted as a gray cat peeked its head into the screen. “No Momo! Get down from there. Hey look, if she's gotta stay with you from now on, there's some things you oughta know. She's got some...problems. There were some major health issues that ran in her mother's side of the family; brain tumors mostly. Took her mom and her aunt while she was still pretty young. She hadn't shown any signs of it, but a year or so ago, she had this weird episode...Started insisting that everyone was dead, and the world was ending. The doctor didn't find any evidence of tumors, but said she was acting like someone who had gone through some kind of traumatic experience. No one could figure out what happened. She was fine one day, and the next, she'd completely changed. Got way more aggressive, kinda obsessed with food, has panic attacks over some of the weirdest things. And whenever something bad happens, she goes from one hundred percent ready to fight, to meek and numb in seconds.”

 

“I...have observed some of those behaviors, yes.” So this was what it looked like from the outside. Someone who had survived the Snap and remembered it must seem to others as if some great change had come over them. An entire year lived like that would not leave someone the same as they had been before. It was a shame Loki could not tell him what had happened. That your father would never understand you like he did. That he didn't even truly understand you.

 

You were just about as alone in this world as he was, weren't you?

 

“So if you've got some kind of magic health care over there, just keep an eye on her brain, okay?”

 

“As you say. I shall keep a special watch over her mind. I appreciate you telling me this. All of this. It will be most helpful.”

 

“Yeah well, as long as you take good care of her, I can't complain. Still hate you though.”

 

Loki smiled smugly. “I would expect nothing else.”

 

*****

 

Loki spent his time between meetings searching through various storage rooms for furnishings. He'd found a very nice rug; blue and green and silver, patterned with knotwork and ravens. Bedding was a bit more difficult: you felt the cold more keenly, and needed either more, or heavier blankets. He was having trouble finding good matches, however. He didn't just want to throw things together like some kind of motley. You weren't a peasant anymore, and you should have better.

 

But just for now, maybe the brick red bed set didn't clash with the green and blue that much?

 

In the end, he was able to gather plenty of bird-themed items, mostly ravens, eagles, and swans, and no shortage of floral décor. He commissioned a space-themed mural for one of your walls, though he knew it would take several weeks to finish. There were very few seashells to be had, but he did manage to procure a small hand mirror that was shaped like a scallop.

 

Perhaps this would do for now?

 

He called for Saldis and two others to carry things back you your room, stood back and supervised while they laid things out. Fairy lights and Pokemon would have to wait until he figured out what they were, and where he could get them.

 

As the servants put everything into place, Loki was drawn to your desk, and the little stack of books there. Astronomy, of course. That made perfect sense. A history of Iceland. Good idea. The collected tragedies of Shakespeare. Good stories, all of them, but perhaps not the best reading material for someone of your delicate mental state. Ah, there it was. World mythology.

 

Brunnhilde said you had mentioned something about a mythology book that had led you to believe some mixed up things. Well, what did it say?

 

He picked up the book, leafing through it as the servants moved around him, hanging artworks on the blank walls, a pair of flower-themed lamps replacing the old one, rolling out the rug.

 

The temperature began to fall while he read the entry about himself, stone-faced, but radiating a quiet anger that everyone in the room could feel. The servants slowly came to a halt, staring at him in silent worry.

 

“Sire?” One of them finally asked, her voice barely above a whisper. His eyes snapped up from the book to look at them, and all three flinched back.

 

“You.” He said, pointing. “And you. Out.”

 

Both women hurried for the door, throwing apologetic looks over their shoulders at Saldis, who stood in place, bewildered and a little frightened.

 

“Saldis...Odasdottir, was it?”

 

“Yes, your Highness!” She squeaked.

 

“You can speak English.”

 

“Yes, your Highness! Fluently, Your Highness!”

 

“A useful skill. More importantly, can you read English? I trust you know not to lie to me.”

 

“No, Your Highness! No more than a few words! I have Roskva translate for me!”

 

“I see.” He snapped the book shut with a loud clap.”So you know nothing of the contents of this book?”

 

“No, Your Highness! Seidkona _____ asked for English language books, so I just brought back all that the library had! I don't know what any of them are about!”

 

“This one is full of slander.” Loki seethed. Saldis began backing away. “Written by our enemies to defame us, clearly. I will be confiscating it.”

 

Saldis began stammering apologies, but Loki held up a single finger to silence her. There were no lies in what she said. She was no saboteur.“If you did not know, you cannot be blamed. However, I would be alone for a time.”

 

She took the dismissal for what it was, vacating the room in an undisguised hurry. Loki could just barely hear Andsvarr asking her what was wrong, as he stalked to his room and threw the book into the fireplace. Drivel! A poison of words, pouring into your eyes, into your mind. No wonder you were so frightened!

 

God of Evil? Ridiculous! Evil wasn't something one could be a god of; it was a nebulous concept that changed from culture to culture, and across time. Anyone was capable of it, but none could rule it. And that nonsense with the horse... He didn't even know anyone named Angrboda! Where had all that come from?

 

He had been to Midgard before New York, when he was a child, long before these concrete forests had sprung up in the place of the wooden ones. It had seemed like a very different world then, the storytellers weaving magic into their tales, spinning their words into decorative knots. He'd learned of the concepts of kennings and flyting from them...Was this what they had seen in him, or did it have some symbolic meaning, lost over the centuries? Did they see him as evil?

 

Or was it what had happened after? The burying of the old ways under the name of another god? Was that what had painted him in such a dark light? Or perhaps the author of the book had written it after the events in New York. Humanity had plenty of reason to consider him evil then, and a great many still did.

 

It didn't really matter right now. What mattered was that this had been influencing your perceptions of him, and now he had to reverse that. The room would be a very good start, a step in making this a real, permanent home for you. He would find out everything you needed, everything you wanted. He was a prince. He was a god! He could provide.

 

He sat down on his fluffy rug, watching the book slowly blacken and curl. It did matter. It mattered because it was part of the reason you weren't here. And he felt it now, now that you were gone, every minute making him more and more aware that you weren't there. There was a little, human shaped hole in the world, that only you fit into, and you were out of place.

 

When had you become important? He could no longer deny that you were. Honesty with the self was among the coping exercises he and Thor had had to adopt, once they realized that they absolutely had to be in this together. It was quite possibly one of the hardest things for him to do, to admit everything to himself, to open himself back up to all the emotion.

 

In the beginning, after he had been returned from death, all his walls had come down. Those had been hard times; he was nearly inconsolable, everything he had been through in such a short time was all there, up front. All the grieving he hadn't been able to do, all the anger and resentment, the self-loathing and loss of identity. Everything he'd never gotten the chance to heal from had all come down on him, all at once, and he'd thought he'd never stop crying again.

 

But once he had been given the chance to confront all those things, to work through them, to finally, properly mourn, when he'd put himself back together, and run dry of tears-and when Thor had done the same-that was when they had both decided to take the steps necessary to be better than they had been. For the people. For each other. And for themselves.

 

Communication with the self was easily just as difficult as communication with each other. Neither of them exactly had the hang of it yet, and it led them to mistakes like this. Mistakes like Loki believing that everything was just fine between you and himself because he wanted so badly to believe that it was. Tricking himself into thinking that your actions and reactions were those of a person in need of support and comfort from him, instead of a person who was afraid of him.

 

Five years ago, he would have seen it for exactly what it was, but he had been trying so hard to leave that version of himself in the past, where it belonged. He needed to be better now.

 

He needed to admit that you were important. He needed to understand why. You represented something to him; some kind of redemption. If he could take care of you, he could prove something to everyone, including himself. What was that thing? What did he need to prove? That he could be responsible?

 

That he was what he said he was. That he was worthy of being what he said he was. A Prince. A Ruler. A Leader. A Provider. A Man.

 

Not a monster.

 

He could give you everything. And he felt that you might even deserve it, you who had lost your mother, and then your world, and then your health, and then your autonomy. He could give you everything, and he kind of wanted to. But he had to step back now and take a different approach. It had to be for you, as much as it was for him.

 

He watched the book burn until it was an unrecognizable lump, thinking of ways to be better for you. Then he left his quarters in search of his brother. He had an idea that would set at least some of your fears at ease.

 

He passed Brunnhilde on the way, the Valkyrie carrying a sandwich on a plate. He stopped, then followed her.

 

“Is that for her?” He asked. “Because she hates that.”

 

“What? Well then what does she like?” Brunnhilde demanded. Loki listed a few things off the top of his head, and Brunnhilde headed back to the kitchen. “Guess I'll eat this one then. Heard you terrorized some of the maids.”

 

“I suspected one of them might be a saboteur. I was glad to find otherwise. I discovered a source of _____'s fear. That book you said she mentioned; I found it and I destroyed it. It will trouble none of us again.”

 

“That might not look good, you know. Might look like you're trying to destroy the evidence.”

 

“What evidence?” He sneered. “It was worthless. It was...do you even know what it said? It was like a parody, and it was deceiving her. I will find her other books.”

 

“You can't just curate her reading material.” Brunnhilde said, making another sandwich. “Not if you don't want to seem so controlling.”

 

Loki added a cup of skyr to the plate, and a spoon of redcurrant jam on top. “I'm not going to. I'm thinking of taking her into the nearest town, and visiting a bookstore. She can choose her own books, and not be stuck reading the same few over and over. I've already seen to her room, and so all that's left is to let her get some things of her own choice.”

 

Brunnhilde nodded. “That's better.”

 

“So, how are the Valkyries coming along? You mentioned a Buridag demonstration?” Loki asked, following her back out of the kitchens.

 

“About as well as can be expected for only having a year of training. There's a lot of work to be done, catching them all up. Lucky for us, most of them naturally gravitated towards combat lifestyles. The twins have a long way to go though.”

 

“Twins?”

 

“Valda and Velda. They're only about three hundred years old. They're having to start from scratch, but I can see the power in them. They're the real deal. They are also tiny children who can barely lift their own swords, and definitely can't wear armor. We can't have a demonstration without them, but there isn't much they can physically do. Maybe if I play up how important standard-bearing is, they won't put up a fuss.”

 

“One can hope.” Loki said with a smile. “Sibling rivalry can be a tough thing to navigate.”

 

“They get along well. Just because you and your brother had a rivalry for the storybooks, it doesn't mean everybody does. Speaking of, did Saga ever get back to you?”

 

“Yes. She's chosen fully sixteen texts to translate, and she will be doing each of them in seven languages. She's so happy. I was thinking of asking her to expedite the English translations, but I wonder if that isn't a little too selfish.”

 

“Well, technically, you're thinking of someone else, so it isn't 'selfish' exactly...” They stopped outside Brunnhilde's rooms. “Well, your Highness. You have some work to do, and I have some mouths to feed, so here is where we part.”

 

*****

 

“Dinnertime!” Brunnhilde announced, and you hopped up to receive it. Everything looked very tasty this time, and you tucked in without preamble. You'd worked pretty hard again today, not quite as hard as when you were practicing magic, but hard enough. The bath had been wonderfully relaxing on your sore muscles, but had done nothing for your appetite.

 

You should exercise now, eh? Surely this was a good start.

 

“So...” Brunnhilde said. “You're not a good liar.”

 

“Hrm?” You asked around a bite of sandwich.

 

“Whatever you told Borgljot, you've been in combat before.”

 

“Mrm.” You said, swallowing your bite. “Well, about that...I don't know if I would call it combat exactly...and besides, I didn't lie.”

 

“Oh? Oh. Because it technically didn't happen?”

 

“Yeah. Things went to hell during the Event, you know that. I can't imagine it was a walk in the park for you either.”

 

“Wasn't great. You wanna talk about it?”

 

You stopped eating. “I never have before.”

 

“You never had someone who believed you before either, did you?”

 

“Sure didn't.” You said quietly. “It's just, you know, everyone went a little crazy I think. You can't face a devastation like that and stay totally sane. And nobody really knew what to do. The guys were a pain in my ass, but there was this one guy specifically...his wife and kid turned to dust in his arms, and I think he just went completely insane. But quietly; no one noticed. He was always very nice to me, and normally, he wouldn't hurt a fly, but...he kinda started fixating on me.”

 

Everywhere you were, there he was. Being helpful. Complimentary. Said you reminded him of her.

 

“At first I thought it was a good thing. It kept the other guys from bugging me too much. See, out of three hundred and forty of us, only about sixty-seven made it through the Event, and only about a third of those were women. Some of those guys didn't even try to pretend that they weren't being predatory. But he kept the others away, and I appreciated it. For a while.”

 

Never saying anything creepy, but simply always being there, always ready to help out. You never found out how he scared the other men away.

 

“We had to try to keep farming in order to survive, but half the seeds had turned to dust too. We probably would have been okay, if the fields hadn't died, but we had almost nothing. Everyone was desperate. I was in charge of the potatoes. Had a good patch of them growing out in the East fields. One day, when I went out to tend to them, he followed me. Guess he just...finally hit that breaking point. Came onto me, using her name. When I told him off, he full-on attacked me.”

 

Mad-eyed, tearing at your clothes, sobbing and crying a dead woman's name.

 

“He wouldn't stop, so...”

 

Panic gave you the strength to knock him to the ground, desperation gave you the instinct to bring the sharp edge of your garden hoe down on his head.

 

“So I killed him. Chopped his head in half. I know what that looks like now.”

 

You didn't know when you had started trembling, but it was making your voice quiver.

 

“You were defending yourself.” Bunnhilde said. “It's a terrible, harsh edge of reality, and a shame that you had to see it. But you came through. Not gonna say it's okay, because it's not. But you came through.”

 

“It's...I think my problem is that I don't even think that's the worst part.” You said. “It's that, technically, it never happened. He's fine now. He's alive, his wife, his kid, all alive and well, and going about their lives. He's just like I remember him from before it all happened; sweet and harmless. He comes in to the bakery sometimes, after our cornbread. I'm sure he worries about me, because that's just the kind of person he is.”

 

“Well that's-”

 

“I hate him.” You interrupted. “I hate him so much. I should be glad that it all got erased. I should be glad that he's not a predator, and that I'm not a murderer. But I'm just so angry! He gets to have his family, and his sanity, and his life, and go happily about his business, and I have to remember what he did! What I did! It's horrible, isn't it? I shouldn't feel like this!”

 

“Honestly? I feel like it would be more wrong if you didn't.” Brunnhilde reached across the distance to take your hand. “None of this should be easy to accept. How long ago was it, that Thor crashed on this planet? Seven years? That's seven years for your whole world to realize that there's more people out in the universe, get attacked by those other people, get nearly wiped out by one of those other people. Then a small percentage of you has to find out that even reality itself can be malleable. And then on top of that, you, individually, have to deal with mans inhumanity to man, and that is all a terrible burden to put on such small, human shoulders.”

 

“I'm going to be a seidkona.” You declared. “Just as soon as I figure out how. I'm taking this as an opportunity to leave that all behind. I never have to see that guy again. I don't have to hold on to the hatred. I don't have to project it onto other people, I can start moving forward again.”

 

“You don't have to push.” Brunnhilde warned. “You'll burn yourself out. Set your own pace. You don't have to do everything at once, in fact, you probably shouldn't.”

 

“Where should I start then?” You asked. Once you had decided something, you were always full of energy and raring to go. But maybe she was right. There was a lot to do, and if you tried to do it all at once, you'd get overwhelmed.

 

“What all do you have to do? What tasks and goals are on your mind?” Brunnhilde asked. “And out of those, what are the simplest or easiest?”

 

“Um. I've got to...I've gotta learn how to use this knife. And my magic, gotta learn that. I should learn the language. Gotta be ready for the trial, I'm pretty sure I'll have to testify. Kinda torn there, I mean, I want that guy to go straight to jail forever, but I don't wanna be in the same room with him ever again? I gotta... research seidkonas. Learn about the past ones, what they did, how they worked. I gotta...I gotta go back to my room. Make up with his Highness. I have to, but also, I want to.”

 

“You looked at your palm. “Gotta learn more about this thing, if there is any more to learn. Gotta...Gotta yell at Beli! He's the one that spread this whole seidkona rumor around, isn't he? Only him and Loki knew; I didn't even know! And then everybody knew except for me! That is not right!”

 

“Oh don't yell at old Beli.” Brunnhilde said, pointing at your food. You took the hint and began eating again. “For one thing, it's a waste of breath. So, out of those things, what is easiest? What will you start with?”

 

“Um. Well, you'd think going back to my room and making up with Loki would be easiest, but in reality, it's terrifying. Probably can't research if I can't read the language. The trial can't be prioritized; it'll just happen when it happens. So, looks like knife is the only choice.”

 

“Well, there you go. I also have a suggestion. You should have a better grasp of your surroundings. If you'd like, I'll get someone to show you around. Also, if you have hobbies, you know, something you just do for fun, then you should do that a little bit.”

 

“...I'd like to bake something, if that's all right? I used to do that for a living, and I really enjoyed it too.”

 

“I'm sure that can be arranged. Let's go do that in the morning.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“You can just leave me here for a little while.” You told Brunnhilde. “I'm gonna bake up something tasty, but it'll take time.”

 

The kitchen staff moved around you, going about their own business, but not entirely ignoring you. You had been given permission by the kitchen supervisor to stay and make something, as long as you didn't disrupt his workers, or get in the way of the regular flow of the kitchens. Since you only wanted to use an oven, and a little space for making dough, you were pretty sure you could abide by those rules.

 

You rolled up your sleeves, put another apron on over your decorated apron, and began gathering ingredients. You became engrossed in your work quickly, lost in comfortable familiarity, so much that you didn't notice Brunnhilde leave.

 

*****

 

Loki sat at his desk reading stacks of papers, and setting them in piles; some to be signed permission on, some to be denied. There were all kinds of things in these stacks, but mostly, there were requests. For specialized building materials, for permission to sell certain Asgardian-made items on the internet, For leave to go into the nearest town and place a large order for food and toiletries for the Einherjar and trainees, for priority on construction of this building or that, and so on, and so on. The kind of thing that needed the permission of authority, but not quite material that the king needed to bother himself with.

 

Loki didn't mind much; even if they were considered of lesser importance, they still needed to get done. And there were many, many more of them needing attention than Thor ever saw. Didn't that make him of at least equal importance?

 

This was the part of royalty that no one ever really thought about. Oh, they saw and coveted the luxury, the wealth and power, the title, the name. No one ever saw the paperwork. The sheer amount of things one had to know how to do. Even the noble houses had no idea of the scope of it, though the merchant class likely did.

 

Ugh, speaking of the noble class...Loki read with distaste through a petition to classify certain titles and jobs as 'Asgardian Heritage Occupations', effectively barring any members of other species from them. This was so obviously in reaction to the rumor of your appointment to seidkona, and yet, even if it wasn't, he couldn't sign off on it anyway, or he'd be out of a job himself. He put the petition on the 'denied' pile, and moved on.

 

Saga wanted permission to go out into the human encampment-they had taken to calling it Trolekaerhalla, 'the Hall of the Faithful'-so that she could learn and record their stories. Sadly, that would have to be denied as well, for now. He hadn't questioned them properly yet. On the pile it went.

 

Ah, now this was interesting. Not long ago, builders digging the foundation for an expansion to the-well, Loki supposed this would eventually be a palace-broke through into caves. Apparently, they had been formed from lava tubes, produced by one of the islands many volcanoes. It was worth exploring these caverns; if they ran under the city, they might need to be shored up in places, to keep the above ground portions from sinking, and they might be useful for storage, emergency escape and safety, or even for adding a second level to their city, if the tunnels were extensive enough.

 

This report stated the discovery of a solid wall of ice, blocking progress in exploration. That was interesting. An underground glacier could also be very useful, as a supply of fresh water. They had the river, and the surrounding fens, but the environmental specialists were very adamant about limiting water extraction. This might solve all those problems. The report asked permission for miners to be brought in to dig through the ice, in search of a way to the other side. Loki signed, and set the report on the pile.

 

It might be nice to go down and look at the caverns. When you came back, he should take you to see them too. If you wanted. He thought back to the picnic and stifled an embarrassed flinch. He'd taken you out, away from the city, alone, near the trees where you'd be hidden...what must you have been thinking then? What must that have looked like to you?

 

The next paper was a request for...oh no. Absolutely not. It was another request from the noble house of Kykvendings that he meet with their daughter. They'd been trying this for centuries now. Unnar was a fine lady, but it just wasn't going to happen.

 

That one went into the 'denied' pile.

 

It wasn't that he disliked the woman; she was refreshingly honest and blunt for a noble. She'd stated outright that she simply didn't want him. As a person who both detected lies, and was constantly surrounded by them, he treasured the honesty. It was one of the reasons he'd insisted on keeping Andsvarr.

 

The boy had never expected to be much of anything, and had grown up as the baby of the household, able to express himself freely, and not caring a bit about courtly intrigue. Then all four of his elder brothers had died in Hela's attack, and suddenly he was the only heir. He clashed with his father constantly, but he hadn't lost his sense of freedom. That made him valuable in the world of nobles, as far as Loki was concerned.

 

He'd rather keep Unnar as a semi-ally among the noble houses than ever give her family the slightest hint of a marriage alliance. Especially since the entire kingdom now knew the truth of his heritage, and he was fully aware of how the lady looked upon Frost Giants. He wouldn't do something so cruel to her as to force her hand to someone she found so very distasteful, even if that someone was himself. And he certainly wasn't interested in being wed to someone that he knew for certain would never want him.

 

In this new age, arranged marriages would be a thing of the past. Technically, it already was, but it was still common practice among nobles and some merchants. He would see the subject brought up to Thor. His brother wouldn't hesitate to ban the practice altogether. If there was anything Thor had grown to hate, it was the curtailing of basic freedoms. He didn't even want to build a prison!

 

Yes, he would bring it up with his brother, and he might never have to see another expectant request like this again.

 

His stomach grumbled.

 

He'd lost track of time. At least his paperwork was done, and he could get a snack without any guilt.

 

He headed to the kitchens, seeking something sweet. He'd just wandered in and grabbed a twist of honey bread when he spotted you. Everything around you suddenly became inconsequential; you filled his vision, the deft movements of your hands, the flour that dusted your clothes and smeared your face, powdered you white nearly to your elbows. The contented joy on your face, an expression he had never seen on you before.

 

How it drained away the instant your shining eyes landed on him. How you drew in on yourself, mumbled something and retreated hastily into one of the back pantries.

 

Oh, that stung.

 

He ate his honey bread as if he held a grudge against it, chewing ferociously as he surveyed your room, looking for ways that he could make it better. He'd sent people out after beautiful houseplants, and fairy lights, once he had looked up what they were. It would take some time though, even on Asgardian horses; the nearest town was quite far away, and there was no guarantee that the necessary items could be found there.

 

He wanted to make this a perfect home for you, but how could he expect you to come home when you couldn't even stand his presence? He hadn't anticipated how much that kind of rejection was going to hurt, but it sure did.

 

He would just have to deal with it. Be patient. Accept what he had earned. Acceptance was always the hardest part for him.

 

At least he knew now that it wasn't entirely him that was the problem. Someone else had hurt you, and you had projected that hurt onto him. Something could be done about that!

 

He wasn't allowed to kill the man. Brunnhilde had talked him out of it, after finding him eavesdropping outside her door and kicking him in both ankles.

 

“If you were listening, you know how she feels about it.” Brunnhilde had said.

 

“Yes, she said she hated him.” Loki had pointed out. “I would be happy to take vengeance on her behalf.”

 

“What vengeance? She already killed the guy once. You go after him and she'll hate you, I guarantee it. Think of something else.”

 

So how could he shed the skin of your past pain, and present himself to you as a new man? He really should have thought about this before. Of course terrible things could have potentially happened to you during the Snap; disaster all too often begat further disaster. And you were a woman, and available, and not completely unattractive. You would have had to face certain things...But never again. How did he differentiate himself from your projection?

 

Grand gestures and high drama would have been his preference. He found it satisfying, and was quite good at it. But perhaps it was better for you if he exercised subtlety instead. Or at least kept the grandeur to private moments and smaller gatherings.

 

He'd spoken to Thor about his ideas, and his brother had approved of all of them, enthusiastically. When you returned, he would set them into motion. When you returned.

 

Not if. He couldn't accept if. He couldn't let it become if.

 

 

*****

 

Sofie and no few others watched Fritjof carefully, as he spoke with the newest arrival. She had come all the way from Siberia, alone from the looks of it. She'd brought a very large, conical tent made of skins, and dyed with blue geometric designs. She had deep tan skin, straight black hair, and wore thick, luxurious fur clothing, also richly decorated with colorful designs.

 

Sofie found her beautiful, and she was clearly very bewildering to Fritjof, who had approached her haughtily, and was having the tables turned on him. The woman had apparently expected to be confronted about her appearance; she had her phone out, and was pointing out historical articles while reciting her family tree all the way back to Geirmund Heljarskinn.

 

That was fairly impressive; Sofie knew Fritjof couldn't trace his ancestors back more than five generations, and this young woman was walking all over him. Perhaps it was a little unkind, but Frit could use the shaking up, in Sofie's opinion.

 

She didn't know who had led him to his conclusions, but his worldview had been done a lot of good by being shattered by the likes of Heimdall and the black Einherjar; by _____, and now this indigenous Siberian woman, who knew more about her own family history than Fritjof ever would.

 

He left her to continue setting up her tent, perplexed.

 

“Not what you expected?” Sofie asked.

 

“She...I didn't expect any of that.” Frotjof said quietly. He'd been more subdued lately, his aggression slowly waning. “She says to just call her Savane and to not ask further, as it's complicated. She knew many names. Apparently she is descended from a Norwegian king? Says she is Nenets, but her people were Sikhirtya before that, but what I don't understand is why she came here? She's clearly immersed in her own culture and ways. Why leave that to come here? Why bring it with her while she is here?”

 

“Why not?” Asked a heavily tattooed man who was sharpening a fish-boning knife nearby. Sofie remembered his name was Frodi. “Just looking at her, you can tell she knows how to take care of herself when winter comes calling. That's a boon to us; have you seen the tents those Australians brought? Like paper! Once she gets settled, I'm going to ask her about the construction of her tent and clothes. I might learn something valuable myself.”

 

Fritjof glared at the man, but it was a weak glare. His eyes seemed drawn to a tattooed Othala rune, flanked by ravens, that graced one thick shoulder.

 

“Precisely.” He said. “Why come here? She obviously doesn't need us. She doesn't need anything from us.”

 

“Why shouldn't she come just because she wants to?” Sofie asked. “Besides, she does have a connection. I know the name of her ancestor; he's famous here. She probably just wants to see the land of her ancestor; maybe she's drawn to the gods as well.”

 

“But doesn't she have her own?” Fritjof persisted. “Why does she need ours?”

 

“You do know that there isn't going to be less god to go around, just because there are more people here, right?” The tattooed man said. “You wanna have a go at me? I got Polish grandparents, you want to complain about that?”

 

“No, no.” Fritjof said. “It's just, she seems like she has everything. I don't understand why she would leave it.”

 

“Maybe it's we who need her. Maybe she was brought to us.” Sofie said. “You're right, she looks like she could teach us all a thing or two about winter survival. It doesn't really matter where she's from, she's a part of the community now, and we all help each other. Frit, you stay here and figure yourself out. I'm going to go greet her.”

 

“You know, this isn't all that hard to figure out.” The tattooed man said, as Fritjof watched Sofie approach the young woman with an apple. “You just have to get it through your head that you don't own anything. Gatekeeping is pointless. There's no gate.”

 

“And Odin speaks to you, does he?” Fritjof snapped. “You just know the way things are supposed to be?”

 

“Odin wandered the realms in search of wisdom. Where do you think he got it, the air? He learned from other people! Did our ancestors become great by staying home and never talking to anybody else? Use your head man! Humankind has always been on the move, always mixing, always learning from each other, always innovating. These are things that come naturally, but the gods inspire us to even more. Don't you hear them? Not in here.” The man pointed to his head. “In here.” He pointed to his heart.”

 

“There have to be rules.” Fritjof insisted.

 

“No. There don't.” Frodi countered. “There only needs to be what you alone know is right. Not what your message boards say is right, not what your government says is right, not what your father says is right. Why don't you take some time to think on what you know?”

 

“Why don't you mind your own business?”

 

“Why don't you?”

 

Silenced, Fritjof stalked back to his own tent, the sound of Sofie and Savane's laughter following him.

 

 

*****

 

You were still kicking yourself. After all that talk about going back to your room, and moving forward, and looking at Loki in a new light, a single glance at the man had sent you running. You had been able to cover it with a story about looking for powdered sugar to make glaze with, and the kitchen staff had kindly furnished you with granulated sugar and an old-fashioned mortar and pestle. It had taken a moment for you to get the hang of it, but once you had, you had gone practically medieval on it. It was a convenient outlet for your embarrassment and frustration.

 

The glaze had come out beautifully though.

 

You'd made cinnamon rolls. Apparently, it was a recipe new to Asgard, because your tray of gooey goodness had everyone's attention. You ended up writing down instructions and making another batch in demonstration before they would let you leave.

 

You made it out with a plateful, heading to the familiar, anxiety-ridden halls where royalty resided. Andsvarr was thrilled to see you, and also extremely interested in the cinnamon rolls. You cheerfully gave him one, on the condition that he split it with Saldis.

 

You also left a whole roll for Loki, but could not bring yourself to enter the rooms and present it yourself.

 

You left one for Thor in the same way, And also Bjarkehild, and one cut into bite-sized pieces for the Valkyries to sample. One more went to Brunnhilde, which left one sweet treat for you.

 

How long since your last cinnamon roll? Ten years? A hundred? An eternity, it seemed.

 

Only three months. Maybe a little bit more. Three months and a single bite of a familiar treat brought you back to a completely different world, a completely different life. Cornfields and tornado sirens, buzzards and fireflies. All things that defined your life up to this point, all things that didn't exist here.

 

Iceland was quiet, even out here in the wilderness. No amphibious harmony at night, hardly any birdsong in the day. With the sun never quite setting, time was hard to tell. It was surreal, and you knew that sometime in the future, you would be facing the opposite. After these long days, would come the long nights, when the sun disappeared, and there would come a winter unlike any you had ever faced.

 

How did people live through such a thing? Obviously people had, for hundreds and hundreds of years, but it was hard for you to imagine. What did people do in that eternal, frozen night? How deep would the snow get? How would people work?

 

Would they just stop until the sun rose again? Surely not. How could a country run that way?

 

Maybe it was because you were American, but you couldn't fathom the idea of not working for three months. How could anyone keep occupied for so long? Especially if the snow forced everyone to stay indoors. Most of the jobs you had seen being performed were either in construction, or government. Construction would have to stop when the snow fell. What did all those workers do when winter came?

 

Perhaps that was when they practiced other jobs? For when the city was finally all built up, and construction workers were no longer in such high demand?

 

Well, you knew what you'd be doing. Learning. Magic and language, history and politics. You probably would not be able to train with the Valkyries during the winter. Your body just wasn't as resilient as theirs, and you would not be able to withstand as much cold as they could. Better get in as much practice as you could, while you still had time to do it.

 

You finished your cinnamon roll, and decided to head out to the training area. As usual, you gained more than a few stares on your way, but you didn't stare back, and you had your knife visible at your belt. Nobody bothered you.

 

Maybe Loki's idea of showing off actually had merit? It might be that Asgardians were just polite, or perhaps wrapping you in fine trappings made you seem untouchable. You hurried though, just in case that spell wore off once people noticed you had no escort.

 

You arrived to find Borgljot instructing the others on the repair of armor, using a pretty beat up leather set. You raised your hand as you approached. She pointed at you.

 

“Ah? Yes, supplementary student? Thy query?”

 

“Which part of that is the pauldron?”

 

“Why, 'tis this right here.” She obligingly pointed out the shoulder part. You nodded. Well, now you knew.

 

Borgljot tensed, then dropped the armor, all of the trainee Valkyries diving out of the way as a huge ax split the air between them, trailing lightning. You jumped back even further, grabbing for your knife. Borgljot began shouting orders, though she'd reverted to the Asgardian language, and you were the only person on the field who couldn't understand her. You snatched up the old armor and held it up in front of you, just as the ax came wheeling back along its course, knocking over one of the trainees who had stood up too swiftly.

 

The enormous weapon flew unerringly back into the kings hand as he strode out on the field, winged helmet and bossed armor shining under the everlasting sun. The Valkyries rushed him, but he knocked most of them back with a swing of the huge weapon.

 

Once again, you were impressed with the incredible strength displayed by the Asgardian people. No one should be able to wield a weapon that large and heavy one-handed like that! And to be struck by it, and yet get back up, like the Valkyries were! It shouldn't be possible.

 

Valda and Velda threw themselves at Thor's right leg, one stomping on his foot, the other jabbing him hard in the back of the knee. They barely made it buckle, and a swipe of his hand sent them both rolling as he laughed and shouted praise.

 

The Valkyries were inexhaustible, continuously being thrown to the ground, rising, and throwing themselves back into the fray. Thor let it go on for a minute or so longer, then struck the ground with the blade of the ax, lightning spraying out all around him. The energy arced from warrior to warrior, flooring each one.

 

A stray arc sped toward you, and in terror, you flung the armor and knife away from you, holding your hands out. You felt something sear through your body, deeper than your bones, but it wasn't the lightning. Instead, solid metal slammed you to the ground, pinning you there. The electric arc dissipated before touching you.

 

The great ax lay on your chest, too heavy to move. You had teleported the entire thing right to you.

 

You crowed at the sudden victory, throwing your fists into the air. You had done it! You had finally performed magic on your own!

 

Borgljot began shouting victory with you, and the others picked up the call.

 

Thor approached and retrieved his weapon, grinning broadly down at you. He took you by the arm and helped you back to your feet.

 

“Getting the hang of it now, are you?”

 

“Yes!” You beamed. “I know what it feels like now! I can...I...”

 

You sank slowly down to the pebbly ground, your limbs suddenly leaden. Shivering overtook your body, so hard it made your teeth chatter. Your brain fogged, but you didn't pass out, wallowing in confusion. What was happening?

 

Thor crouched next to you, a large, steadying hand on your shoulder. It didn't help at all, though it was at least warm. He shouted something to Brunnhilde, who sent one of the twins back into the building, and shooed the rest of the women away from you.

 

You could hardly hear anything, and what you could was garbled and nonsensical. You couldn't seem to form words within your own mouth. All you could do was lay shaking on the sand.

 

“What is this?” Brunnhilde demanded, kneeling next to you in the dirt. “Are you injured? Did the lightning hit you?”

 

“It's the magic.” Thor explained. “It hits her harder. It's all right _____, just wait a moment. Loki will be here soon. You'll be all right soon.”

 

You couldn't help but hope that he hurried.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Loki kept his expression polite and even as Andsvarr presented him with the gift of a cinnamon roll, but internally he was dancing. A treat for him! From you! Yes, it seemed like several others were also receiving them, but he had got one, and that was the most important part.

 

He took it back to his desk, shoved the papers aside, and dug in.

 

Paradise.

 

Loki had never tasted a cinnamon roll before. Humankind had created such an incredible variety of pastries; it would probably take many years to sample them all. This was a good start. This was the best start!

 

He let himself melt away into silly little daydreams. Your flour-dusted apron, your shining eyes, your deft hands, kneading the dough. Wiping your face, smearing your cheek with flour.

 

Himself reaching out to wipe it away. You leaning into the touch instead of shying away. You don't hate him. You make him cinnamon rolls.

 

Loki was brought back from his lovely reverie, by an insistent knocking. With an irritated sigh, he rose, and found Andsvarr at the door, with a wide-eyed young child.

 

“Your Highness, she says that-”

 

The child began babbling, and all Loki could really make out was that you had been struck by Stormbreaker out on the Valkyries field, and now you could not get up.

 

He dashed down the hall at a dead sprint, not caring who might see. Stormbreaker weighed around ninety pounds. It was solid uru and living wood, nearly always charged with electricity. There was no angle on the thing that wasn't deadly.

 

Would he actually feel it, if you died? Would the rune flare, or fade, would he feel pain, or a sudden emptiness? Or would he be unaware, until someone like that child back there informed him?

 

He did feel a tugging on the mark, as he approached, gravel crunching and flying under his boots. Brunnhilde and his brother were kneeling in the field, while the trainee Valkyries huddled at a distance.

 

What nightmare awaited him? A crushed or mangled corpse? Was he to lose you now, after everything? After surviving an assassination attempt, did you now fall to an accident? Was there to be no reconciliation, the half-eaten cinnamon roll your parting gift to him?

 

The knot tightened in his chest with every speedy step. Thor and Brunnhilde moved away at his approach, leaving him to kneel next to you. You were shivering violently, and he nearly collapsed onto the ground next to you in sheer relief. Shivering meant life!

 

He gathered you into his arms, cradling you to his chest. The Valkyries were watching, but he didn't care. All of Asgard could see, and he would not care. As your shivering subsided, he felt the satisfaction of a purpose fulfilled, a service that only he could provide. You sighed softly, delivered from the discomfort of magic fatigue.

 

“Thor...”Loki growled. Thor made a nervous noise and glanced at Brunnhilde, who answered with a look that said he was on his own.

 

“You hit her with Stormbreaker?” Loki accused. “What in the soaring, glacial hel were you thinking? You can't swing that thing at mortals!”

 

“I didn't!” Thor defended. “I absolutely didn't! I would never!”

 

“The child said you did!”

 

“Valda may have been mistaken.” Brunnhilde cut in. “I should have sent someone older. He's right, he did not swing at her. Use your head now, you can tell he's not lying!”

 

Loki harrumphed and turned away from them both. Yes, he could tell. But this had left him agitated, defensive, like a ruffled rooster.

 

You cracked your eyes open to gaze tiredly up at him. “I did it.” You whispered. “I did the magic all on my own. I'm...seidkona...” You yawned wide.

 

“You did? Is that what happened?”

 

“Yes.” Thor said, smiling fondly. “Stole it from my grasp and brought it right to herself. It was too heavy for her to hold, though, and it knocked her down.”

 

Loki stood, lifting you easily in his arms. “You shouldn't be out here in the dirt. I will take you somewhere better. I've...Well, I've redecorated your room. Would you, perhaps, like to go there? I can also take you to Bjarkehild, or back to the Valkyrie's barracks, or wherever you would like, of course.”

 

“Redecorated?”

 

“Yes. Would you like to see? I've wanted to get your opinion on it. It's not quite finished, but we've got all the basics laid out.”

 

“I'd like to see.” You agreed. “I don't think I'll be walking around much more today.”

 

He didn't bother trying to hold back his smile. “Then let me see to your needs today. In exchange for the gift you gave earlier.”

 

“You got the cinnamon roll?”

 

“Is that what it's called? Such a simple name for such blessed ambrosia.”

 

“Oh, you don't have to...It's just a simple recipe my Nana taught me...”

 

Loki could practically feel the heat radiating off your face. Was that all it took to make you show him that adorable flustered expression? Just flowery compliments? If he'd known that, he would have taken a different approach.

 

He headed off the training field. Aides and secretaries approached, but seemed to unanimously decide to present their business at a later time, leaving him free to carry you back to your room. You hardly recognized it. There was color. Blue, and green, and gold, and silver, predominantly, with the bed in a warm terra cotta. That bed looked so soft and inviting now, with it's fluffy pillows and heavy comforter.

 

Loki sat you down on it, and you wiggled your way slowly under the blankets.

 

“Will you tell me about this Nana, of yours, who taught you the mystical art of the cinnamon roll?”

 

“Wow, you really liked it, huh? Well, Nana wasn't really my Nana, she was my aunt. Mom died when I was still a baby, and Beth was my aunt. She always wore yellow, so when I was a little kid I tried to call her Banana Beth, but it just came out Nana Beth. She taught me how to bake. She wanted kids, but she thought it was better that she didn't have any...Um. I should tell you, there's a medical condition that runs in my mom's side of the family. I might die early.”

 

Loki took your hand. “Not while I breathe.”

 

“Ah, um.” Your gaze fell. “It's not that simple. It's brain stuff, there's not much that can be done about it.”

 

He placed his other hand over the top of yours, forming a little shell of sincerity and reassurance. “I promise you that we can. We have the knowledge, we have the technique. Put that fear to rest. You will not die of any tumor. I will not allow it.”

 

“You can just...decide that.”

 

“Yes.”He assured you. “I can.”

 

“Well...that's...um. Ok.”

 

The face you wore now was less embarrassed, but no less adorable.

 

“How are you feeling now?”

 

“Like I bench-pressed an elephant. My arms feel so heavy; my whole body does. I know I'm gonna have a bruise. What is that thing made of anyway?”

 

“Stormbreaker? It's made from uru.” Upon your stumped expression, he held up the illusion of a lump of metallic stone. “It's a very rare metal, very hard to find and even harder to work with. There is none naturally occurring on Earth, and unlike nornbein, it cannot even be artificially created here. It comes from stars that have destroyed themselves by becoming supernovas. Hence it's rarity. Not many stars do that, and some of those that do, then go on to become black holes, which consume all the uru. Thus, we must find stars that have exploded powerfully enough to create uru, but not so powerfully as to swallow it all. And of those, some form nebulae, and new planetary systems, all of which are difficult to navigate, especially when one is looking for lumps of metal that can be of any size, and separated by millions of miles. Mjolnir was made of uru as well, and my father's spear, then gilded in nornbein.”

 

“The hammer? Whatever happened to that?”

 

“Eh, I'll show you later if you'd like. There is a hall we have set aside for Asgardian history, and there are several things resting there that I might show you.”

 

“I think I'd like to. It would be good to know more history. I mean, I guess that's going to be expected of me now. How do you work with uru, if it's so hard? Special forges?”

 

Loki smiled. “Oh yes. The most special of forges, unlike any others. Behold, Nidavellir.”

 

The image formed in his palms, cradled like a pearl.

 

You leaned forward to get a better look at the illusion. There was a strange light, and an even stranger ring-shaped structure surrounding it.

 

“Is...is that a star?” You asked, pointing at the little light pulsing slightly in the center. Loki nodded. “How?” You exclaimed. “That space station or whatever would have to be gigantic! Like, beyond reason!”

 

“Oh, no no. This is a neutron star. It's what you get when a collapsing star is too big to make a white dwarf, but still too small to create a black hole.” Loki explained. “This one is about the size of one of your larger cities. This ring is rather like the outlying suburbs that surround your cities. So yes, the structure is impressively large, but not quite to the degree you are imagining. This was the last of the eight realms to be added to the count, discovered by my father shortly into his reign. Being so small, neutron stars are not so easy to locate, though it does seem that even human technology has been able roughly estimate where some are.

 

But when Odin found this one, when he realized what he was looking at, he refused to attempt to conquer them through any violent means. Though there were protests, he could not bring himself to destroy even one member of a race capable of such craftsmanship. This star created the largest amount of uru in all of Yggdrasil, and the entire ring is made of it. The Dvergar that live within it have plenty more stored away as well. They are the only people we know of that can smith the metal.”

 

“Why?” You asked. “What's so different about the way they do it?”

 

“For one thing, they have a resource that no one else does. They use the star to power everything. The radiation of a neutron star is enough to melt uru for forging. They are also the only people who can withstand that radiation themselves. Someone like myself could not stay for long on Nidavellir. Perhaps only to make an order, or to pick it up. A day or two at most. And as for you...well, unfortunately this is another realm I can never take you to see. You'd burn in minutes.”

 

“Oh. Uh, yeah. No thanks. So how did they become one of your realms, if they were never conquered?” You asked. Loki couldn't help but notice the disapproval you placed on the last word. He understood that you found the concept distasteful, but didn't quite understand why. The entire history of your species was one of conquest. Not a single tribe or clan in all of human history was innocent of it.

 

But there must always be those who try, mustn't there? There must always be those who think and act differently. There must always be a new way. That was the kind of thing that resonated with him.

 

“Through trade and treaty. We could offer them things they could not get on their own, such as other kinds of metal, not native to the system, and also safe escort to other worlds.” At the inquisitive tilting of your head, he continued. “The Dvergar never managed more than very local space travel, just enough to sweep their system for all the materials it held. Mostly, they had uru, iron, and nickel. That was pretty much it. We brought in metals that, to them, were bizarre and exotic. They loved it! We also provided transport to other worlds, and kept them safe until they went home. You might well imagine that there were plenty of people out there who wanted their own, private, uru-smith, or who wanted to destroy the workers of the metal, so that it couldn't be used against them. And so, a Dvergar abroad is in danger all the time, and they are very limited in number.

 

So, often for only the price of the materials, they provided us with the finest metal crafts Yggdrasil has ever known. They created Stormbreaker and Mjolnir, my mother's sword and my fath-my spear. Several of my knives, and the enchanted berserker's staves. The Valkyries weapons as well, though only one of those is still extant. And that's just the weapons! We gave them silver, gold, and platinum, and they created the most exquisite artworks. We gave them copper and bronze, and they created the finest wire, the most delicate mechanisms.

 

Of course,” He said regretfully. “That treaty with them is now null. We can no longer provide them safe escort, or metals in any quantity, so I feel our usefulness to them is at an end. Even when we get the bifrost running, I know of nothing we can offer them that they would want.”

 

“It couldn't hurt to talk to them though.” You said. “Let them know how your circumstances have changed, and why. You lost your whole world after all, surely there can be some arrangements made. Especially if there's no bad history there.”

 

“Now that's what I like to see in a seidkona.” Loki praised gently. “Optimism, and a willing-to-try attitude. This is what we need in this time, in this place.”

 

“Oh, uh, um, thanks.” You mumbled, looking shyly aside.

 

Oh yes, that was fun.

 

“How did they make it?” You asked. “The ring I mean.”

 

“From what they tell, they originally lived on the belt of asteroids that it has replaced. They built bridges linking the larger asteroids together, with their little, local ships, and gathered up the smaller ones as they went. And they just kept building, and gathering, and expanding, until they had an entirely enclosed ring around the star, built up out of the very asteroids that once orbited freely. Technically it is the asteroid belt, only now in the form of one of the most stable structures in the galaxy.”

 

“I'd like to meet one, someday.” You said idly.

 

“They are not a handsome people. Also secretive and quite brusque. If they truly evolved on the asteroids, and were separate most of the time, that only makes sense. There are only about thirteen-hundred of them in all, and though they can share a fierce camaraderie when a challenge is laid before them, they more often go for decades without seeing each other. Just working away at whatever project occupies their thoughts at the time. They, unique among all the eight realms, are not a social species. However,” Loki amended, thinking that perhaps he was painting the Dvergar in too negative a light. “They are the ultimate crafters, perhaps in all the universe. They do not know cruelty, or war, only creation. They are honorable people; a Dvergar will never go back on their word, nor ever present less that perfect craftsmanship for trade. And though they are short of speech, that does not mean they are impolite, or inhospitable. Just that they do not share personal information, and they do not waste words.”

 

You lay back against the pillows, and Loki let the little image dissipate. You looked tired. Perhaps he should let you sleep now, and make the room your own.

 

“You can use a spear?” You asked suddenly.

 

“What? Yes, I can. I am trained in the use of a variety of weapons. Most of us are; we simply have weapons that we prefer over others. I like the swiftness and precision of small blades, Thor prefers something heavy enough to destroy armor and knock foes down, and father preferred...distance.”

 

“And you inherited your father's spear? Is it just because the king doesn't like to use it?”

 

“Sort of. My brother bequeathed it to me in something of a ceremonial act. Every king since Buri has held a spear, but it was given to me in acknowledgment that I was king before Thor. Also that he intended to break certain traditions, and also because I use it better than he does.”

 

“Can I see your spear?”

 

Loki kept his face very carefully neutral. He definitely should not say that you already had, no, he should absolutely not say that. You were tired, and not thinking about your phrasing.

 

“Later, yes. It is being kept in the History Hall. I'll show you the whole thing. Who knows, perhaps someday you will find mention there. The first human member of the royal court. A bridge between us and Midgard, in this dawning of a new age...”

 

But you were already asleep.

 

“Oh. Well. Being the first of anything is always difficult.” Loki whispered, drawing the blankets up around your shoulders. “I know. It's confusing, and there are no instructions, no rules. You must make your own. Tomorrow.”

 

He left just as you began to softly snore.

 

 

*****

 

You walked the road along the fields, whistling cheerily to yourself. Your garden hoe across your shoulders, a spade in your tool belt, and a song in your heart, you crossed over to an empty plot.

 

These were not the fields of home; there was no corn to be seen, and the white and purple flowers of Iceland dotted the verge. This was more of a community garden, and each plot bore strange plants, significant to the person who grew them.

 

You had no seeds, but intended to work the soil of your little plot, so that it would be ready whenever you got some.

 

You chopped at the soil with your hoe: how dry and hard it had become! How stony from neglect! Nothing had grown here for a long time, but soon it would. Just as soon as you had all the supplies...

 

You saw Loki approaching from a distance, resplendent in the heat shimmer, the eternal summer sun glinting off his fine armor, his gilded horns. In all his finery he came to you, and said nothing, just held out a handful of seeds. You did not recognize them, did not know what kind of plant would spring from them, but you decided to take a chance on them. You sprinkled them carefully over your plot, Loki standing silently at your side.

 

What would grow? What would it say about you? And would it be what you needed? Only time, care, and tending would tell.

 

You rolled over in your sleep and snuggled a pillow. You could almost smell the freshly turned earth.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Andsvarr sat on the end of his cot, face in his hands to hide his embarrassment and his rage. Moments before, his father had stormed out in a fury, after bursting in and, in front of everybody, causing a huge row. Someone had informed him that Andsvarr had been removed from the honor of a room in the royal chambers, and relegated back into the barracks with the commoners. Someone had told him that you were now in that room, and Alarr, ever ready to find insult to him and his, had drawn some unflattering conclusions. Andsvarr had naturally tried to defend you honor, after all, he knew you; his father did not. All it had led to was a wrathful argument, and a disturbance of the relative peace of the barracks.

 

He would hear about all the lost sleep later, no doubt.

 

 

*****

 

You were dressed and eating breakfast when Loki knocked on your door, and you bid him enter without any hesitation. He sat quietly at the foot of your bed, waiting to be acknowledged, which was very different for him, and you deliberately took a few more bites before saying anything. You weren't actually all that angry with him anymore, and after this week or so to yourself, just thinking and doing new things, you weren't all that frightened anymore either. Brunnhilde had told you that regular exercise could help with depression and anxiety, and she may well have been right. You felt strong now.

 

Loki was dressed rather fancy today, in a golden chest plate that was probably actually nornbein. It was covered in intricate scrollwork, matched to his bracers and greaves. He even wore his horns, though these were more of a crown than a helmet.

 

“You clean up nice.” You teased. “What's the occasion?”

 

“You are, my dear. I am taking you to see the History Hall, and it is being made into an Official Visit.”

 

So that was why your dress was more lavish than usual today. This one even had some beads sewn onto it, and the strings between the oval strap-brooches were no longer braided yarn, but strings of glass beads. Your sash was, again, no longer braid, but a length of embroidered cloth, with a buckle in the shape of a tail-biting snake.

 

“How Official, are we talking?”

 

“Oh, it's basically an inspection. That way, we will have the entire place to ourselves, and it will be sure to be in top shape. Afterwards, the king requests both our presences in the main throne room. This will also be very Official, if somewhat informal. It is to discuss your future: what you want, what we can offer, what it all means for you. So that you no longer have to be unsure of where you are going, or what to do with yourself. Does this sound acceptable?”

 

You nodded. “Yeah, I think that'll be really helpful. I like the room, by the way. It actually looks like someone lives here.”

 

“That is exactly what I was aiming for.” Loki said proudly. “If you would like, we can go into town, and I can take you to the shops, to get yourself some things. Toiletries, books, whatever you want.”

 

“I noticed that my mythology book has gone missing.”

 

“I removed it. It was full of misinformation, and it distressed you. I hope you don't find this too disagreeable?” He seemed to be actually apprehensive about your reaction; though his expression hadn't changed, there was a tenseness around his eyes.

 

“I'm not angry about that, if you're worried. I'm more...embarrassed by it all.” Finished with your meal, you stood nervously, and he echoed your actions. “I should have asked. I should have tried to find out if any of that was true or not, and instead I acted like...like that. I'm sorry, Loki. I'll always ask, from now on.”

 

You glanced up at him, entreating forgiveness, to find that he was not looking directly at you, but a little to the side. He held his arms slightly open, just far enough that you could fit between them. So that was his answer.

 

You stepped in and hugged him.

 

“There are many things I should have asked as well.” He admitted. “I was so sure I had everything under control. But you are a human, accustomed to a different life, and a different culture, with life experiences that I have no parallel for. I should have asked for your opinions, your thoughts. I didn't treat you like a person, and for that I...I also apologize. Going forward, let us not fear to speak to one another. Let us help each other to...Help each other.”

 

You looked up at him. He glanced down at you.

 

“It sounded better in my head.” He muttered.

 

“Loki Silvertongue, master of eloquence.”

 

“Now see here-” He mock-scolded, interrupted by knocking at the door. The two of you separated immediately, and Loki sighed heavily. “Yes, enter.”

 

Andsvarr peeked in. “Your Highness? A missive from the king.” He handed Loki a folded piece of paper, smiled and waved at you, and then took his leave.

 

Loki scanned the paper. “Hm. It looks as if we must rearrange our activities for the day. My brother wishes to see us first thing. The museum must wait for later in the day. Shall we?”

 

He offered his arm, and you took it.

 

 

 

******

 

The main throne room would soon deserve a better name, if the half-finished grandeur around you was any indication. There would be murals on the walls and high ceiling, several of them already sketched out and the painting begun. There would be tapestries or weavings, though right now, there was only one. It looked like there would also be ornate light fixtures, and perhaps some kind of mosaic on the floor. It was going to be very impressive, but for now, it simply felt like a construction zone.

 

One that, you noticed with gratitude, had been swept scrupulously clean.

 

Thor looked much more serious than you were used to, clothed in his own finery; silver and red. He too, wore a crown-like version of his helmet, shining wings framing his lengthening hair. To your surprise and confusion, he wore a golden eyepatch; something you had never seen him in.

 

“What happened?” You whispered.

 

“Oh, it's just eyeball maintenance day. The old thing needs regular cleaning and tune-ups.”

 

“I am suddenly thirteen times more nervous than I was before, thank you.”

 

“He has a mechanical prosthetic eye. Ha, did you think it was heterochromia?”

 

“After this, I'm going to go find a dictionary, look up that word, and then hit you with it.”

 

“The word, or the dictionary?”

 

“Step forward.” Thor commanded sternly. Your spine straightened. Oops. Probably should not be gossiping about the king, in front of the king.

 

The two of you crossed the rest of the gap between you and Thor, following the narrow strip of carpet all the way up to the stepped dais that held the throne. It was just a large and sturdy chair, nothing all that fancy. It didn't look very comfortable, but it did have a compartment on one side that held Stormbreaker. You wondered how often the King of Asgard needed a weapon in his own throne room.

 

“Loki Odinson, Aesir, Crown Prince of Asgard, Former King of Asgard. Heir of Ice. Spear of Ragnarok, Defender of Asgard. God of Mischief. Slayer of Laufey, Who Avenged the Queen, Foremost Seidmader, Secret Defender-”

 

It went on and on, a litany of Loki's names and accomplishments, spoken in a sort of sonorous almost-chant that reverberated off the walls.

 

“-Who is this that you bring before me? Present your petitioner to me.”

 

“I am pleased to present to you _____ ______, Native of Midgard, Bearer of the Sapphire Rune, Ax-Thief, Blade-Thief, Novice Sorceress, Survivor. Provider of Bread. Baker of Cinnamon Rolls.”

 

Wow, he had really liked them, hadn't he?

 

“I petition that she be appointed Seidkona to myself, that she may add her service to me, and that we may stand stronger together.”

 

“And why should I grant this appointment? State your reasons.”

 

Thor still sounded stern, but you could see the twitch of a smile on his lips, from the cinnamon roll comment.

 

This must all be some kind of special rite. Not only had Loki not lost an ounce of his noble posture under Thor's seeming 'doubt', but he seemed to expect it. Neither of the two had acted so formal before, but this ceremonial act must simply be the way these things were done, for the two of them to be so perfectly well-versed in the proceedings.

 

You, however, didn't quite know what to expect. Thor wouldn't really refuse this, would he? Depending on Loki's answer? This was all already planned. But maybe this was all necessary to make it really official. Like a baptism for someone who has already converted, or a second interview.

 

“First, and also foremost: I have, one way or another, the right by birth, to gather a proper retinue of advisors and attendants. The Seidknona is among the most important of the advisory positions, and I feel that _____'s fresh and outside perspective would be most valuable in navigating life on this planet.

 

As a human who is learning Asgardian magic, she will be an important bridge between our peoples, and as an individual with a unique, personal connection to myself, it would be well for me to keep her close, and heed her.

 

And thirdly, I have an obligation to her, and her care. I have pledged to provide for her, and that includes more than just food, clothes, and shelter. It includes pastimes and opportunity, education and career. All of this can be wrapped up in this single appointment, one I am owed by blood, and one she is owed by word.”

 

“All noted. And you, _____ ______, what do you say on your own behalf?”

 

Your turn? What could you say that Loki hadn't? What made you worthy?

 

“Um, well. I stole your ax right out of your hand, and I'm only going to get better. Also, I'll make you more cinnamon rolls.”

 

Loki actually broke posture to glance sharply down at you. “You too.” You reassured him.

 

Thor broke the same, by laughing. “A bargain! I agree! Now, I'll just need you both to sign this and it'll be official...” From behind the compartment that held Stormbreaker, he retrieved a large book, and a wooden box. The book was full of runic writing, which you could not read yet, but when Loki signed, you could almost make out his name.

 

“Do I...Should I...”

 

“English is fine.” Thor said.

 

“But what does it say?” You wouldn't sign until you knew nothing objectionable was hidden in the runes. You were pretty sure Thor wouldn't lie about that. “Sorry if that's rude.”

 

Loki was smiling. “Suspicion is freedom, my dear. Always trust that first, for as long as it takes to find the answers. But do try to find the answers. Suspicion alone will not inform you.”

 

“You just don't want to get punched in the face again.”

 

He shrugged. “That part wasn't so bad.”

Thor cleared his throat. “This is merely fancy writing that boils down to your official appointment to Seidkona-in-training, giving you permission to exercise the powers and privileges of that title, and securing your agreement to fulfill the duties of the office. I'll have a translated copy delivered to you, if you would like.”

 

“Before or after I've signed? I mean, if I sign, and then I find something disagreeable in the copy, then-”

 

“Then you may use the power of your office to dispute it.” Thor said.

 

You looked between the two of them. “I can do that?” It hadn't occurred to you that you could fight back against the king.

 

“Of course. This isn't actually an absolute monarchy, no matter how much it functions like one. We do have a constitution, and it allows for a wide range of legal protections, up to and including the right to take legal action against my person.”

 

“Oh. Well. All right.” There was a lot you had to learn, and all of it as soon as possible. You signed, just hoping that you really knew what you were doing.

 

“There are also a few other documents for you to sign, if you wish.” Thor flipped the page. “This one grants you Asgardian citizenship. I can't do anything about Icelandic citizenship; that'll have to be a separate thing, if you want it. But this guarantees that the rights and privileges of an Asgardian citizen belong to you, that you are subject to our laws, our justice, and out protection. With this, you can't legally be removed from New Asgard without your or my permission.”

 

That sounded just fine. You signed the page without hesitation.

 

“And this one transfers legal responsibility for you from Loki, to myself.”

 

You glanced back and forth between them. “I don't understand.”

 

“It is a failsafe to secure your quality of life.” Loki explained. “Since you will be appointed to me, and spending a great deal of time with me, we might...get on each others nerves, you might say? This agreement forbids me personally from issuing you any form of punishment that might effect your life. I will not be able to banish you, have you detained or imprisoned, have you removed from your lodgings, nor contained within them. I will not be allowed to issue physical punishment, nor deprive you of any necessities of life or happiness, nor rescind any gifts or privileges previously offered. It even specifically states that I may not use magic for any of these purposes either. The responsibility for all of that falls upon Thor, and I must expressly seek his permission for any of it. Which I am unlikely to do over some petty squabble.”

 

“You agreed to that?” You asked, shocked at the amount of power over you that he was giving up.

 

He raised his chin. “I suggested it. I cannot have a Seidkona who tiptoes around me as if there is glass in her shoes. You must not fear to speak. I will still be responsible for your safety and your keeping, but he will be responsible for your legality.”

 

You signed without another word.

Both brothers looked immensely pleased. You were sure you did too: this took a great burden of worry from your shoulders, after all. Loki's power over your living conditions had been a source of anxiety for you from day one, but now he had willingly given up all that power. He hadn't even been forced to do it!

 

“From now on, you will be spending a great deal of time with me.” Loki said. “You will need to shadow me, be beside me at all times, watch and learn from me. You'll be learning the language, the history, and I will be more attentive to your magical training. I know this sounds a bit overwhelming, worry not; I won't pile too much on you at once. And you have proven to be a swift learner. I have every confidence that you will pick things up with all speed.”

 

That was very gratifying to hear, considering how borderline insulting he had been in those first few days of knowing him. Though, come to think of it, he had never cast any real doubt on your intelligence.

 

“And you'll be getting a stipend as well, so you needn't worry about being entirely reliant on me. You'll be able to resume what hobbies you have. Do you use a cellphone? We can get you one of those as well, should you require it.”

 

“Actually that would be really useful!” You brightened even more. A real job, education, companionship, some of the trappings of actually existing within a society...This was what you needed, to feel like you were a functional member of a community.

 

As a vacation, this whole situation had been terrible. But as a new life opportunity...

 

It had potential.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

You stared at the sad little chunks of ragged metal that used to be Mjolnir, carefully lit and arranged in their glass display case. There was a large plaque affixed to the pedestal they rested on, all in Asgardian runes. You supposed it must be like any other museum, describing the object and explaining its history.

 

You didn't even know metal could shatter like that.

 

“So this is all that's left, huh?” You said. “Yeah, that definitely looks beyond repair.”

 

“We have all the pieces, including the haft. Once the Bifrost is more effective, we could take it to Nidavellir and have it reforged.” Loki said. “But I do not think we will. Thor is well armed, even without it, and there were certain special things about Mjolnir that were lost in its sundering. Things that can never be replaced. It may be best to simply consign it to history and move on.”

 

“What did this? What could do this?” What could shatter solid metal like that? And special metal, like uru, at that?

 

Loki very carefully and slowly placed his arm around you, hand cupping your shoulder. He watched you out of the corner of his eye, face serious, and you realized that he was waiting for you to reject or accept the touch. It also seemed as if he needed this, as a kind of support for what he was about to say.

 

“You need to know. It's definitely no secret now, though it used to be. It was her.”

 

He pointed to yet another partly finished mural. There were so many in this hall. This one depicted a very thin, dark-haired woman, whiplike and crowned with a tangle of thorns, like the branch of a locust tree. The sight of her made you uncomfortable. Like you were remembering something that you were sure you'd never known in the first place. Like a fearful instinct.

 

“This was Hela.” He said solemnly. “She was our sister. She destroyed the world.”

 

You scooted a bit closer to him. You didn't mind the touch in this situation, in fact, it seemed appropriate.

 

“Your sister...”

 

“We didn't know about her until after our father's passing. She was older than either of us by quite a bit. Hela was an Aesir as well, associated with death. Specifically, violent death, dealt by her own hand. So much did she revel in death, that she could even compel slain warriors to rise and fight on her behalf. She apparently grew too intractable, and just as we were born, Odin had to make the decision to imprison her. The Valkyries were sent to contain her. They were all but one of them slain.”

 

“So that's what happened to them. Brunnhilde never talked about it, but it seemed to me like something must have gone bad for them, for her to be the only one.”

 

“She doesn't talk about it with anyone. But I have seen it, in her memory. It was quite terrible. Hela did not know mercy, which is actually not the kind of person you want on a battlefield. Even I am willing to take prisoners. Even our father, severe as he was, knew that you didn't kill everyone.”

 

“How did she break the hammer though? Did she...did she somehow kill it? Is that possible?”

 

“Clever mortal. There was magic in the hammer, and magic is an energy. An energy can be caused to 'cease'. It might not have been apparent, but there was a powerful curse on Mjolnir, one laid by our own father. That the hammer would be useless to anyone who was not the kind of person who could be trusted to rule Asgard. Such people would not even be able to lift it. But a spell is a little like a living thing, and so, yes, Hela killed the hammer. And all the Einherjar, several civilians, and the Warriors Three.”

 

He gestured to another painting, this one depicting the same three men you had seen on the walls in the Kings rooms.

 

“They were brave and distinguished warriors, guardians of Asgard. And...my closest friends.”

 

There was a lot of carefully monitored emotion in his words. The loss of his friends must have been a terrible blow. He didn't seem to have many. There was just Thor, his brother, and Brunnhilde, who seemed to have taken up the role of older sister. Maybe Heimdall, though their relationship sometimes seemed a little strained.

 

And you.

 

“We couldn't talk her down. She just didn't want it. She didn't want peace. She didn't want...family. Didn't want us. She came out of her banishment exactly the same as she went in; seeking murder and conquest.”

 

“Look, I never had a sibling, you know, so I don't really know how it goes. But if she was really how you say, then whatever reason your dad had for banishing her, it's probably the only reason you and the king are still alive, right?” You reasoned.

 

“Do you think so?” He asked, distantly.

 

“Well you didn't even know about her right? So she was locked up for your whole lives. So she couldn't kill you as babies for being a threat to her supremacy. I mean, if murder was her thing, then she wouldn't be above fratricide, would she? She tried to kill you as adults after all, didn't she?”

 

“That she did.” He confirmed. “It was she who took Thors eye, and she tried to take all our lives. Her life and power was tied into the existence of Asgard, though I know not how or why. And that was why Asgard had to be destroyed.”

 

His hand on your shoulder tightened. “We had to sacrifice our realm, in order to save all of the others. She would have drowned them all in blood, as surely as Thanos did. We had to do it. But I am still the hand that caused it to happen, and I cannot help but wonder; was she that mad before her imprisonment, or was it just another one of Father's terrible mistakes, that came back to haunt us? Could she have been reasoned with if he had just given it more time and effort? Could she have been rehabilitated? The rest of us were. Why not her?”

 

“Is she dead?” You asked.

 

“She'd better be.” Loki said.

 

“Show me something else?”

 

“We will probably have to come back to this subject too often. This is within living memory for everyone. It's going to come up. But...”

 

He released your shoulder, his hand trailing down your arm to curl around your fingers, leading you along the hallway, absently describing the things in the paintings and display cases. Speaking about Hela had draped a pall of gloom over him, the subject obviously still fresh. All of this must have happened barely two years ago. That probably seemed like just yesterday to someone with such a long lifespan. The Event had been almost two years ago, and it effected you very strongly still. And it had all been reversed! This though, this was permanent. Loki could never make it go away.

 

You passed a display of knives, many of them very similar to yours in appearance, though not as opulent.

 

“Yours will go in there, once you...no longer have need of it. Unless, of course, you gift it to someone else before then.”

 

Once you died, he meant. You suddenly realized that, though you might have whole decades left to your life, it was going to seem like no time at all to them. All these people were becoming friends with you, each and every one of them would mourn at your funeral, and it would seem to them that you'd been here and gone in the blink of an eye. They were all going to lose a friend, and so soon, so soon.

 

That they would see you transform before their eyes, your hair would tun gray, you skin would wrinkle, your body would bow, and they wouldn't change at all. Andsvarr would still be an eager youth. The twin Valkyries would still be children. Roskva, though an old woman, would not gain another line on her face in your whole lifetime. Loki would remain as flawlessly handsome as he was right now, but he would have to watch you wither away.

 

You were mortal, and this was all just a formality.

 

The same gloom that had enveloped Loki, now swallowed you; the acknowledgment of mortality, the inevitability of entropy. That all things, men and gods, would end.

 

“_____” Loki said softly. “Do you still want to see the spear?”

 

“Huh? Oh, yeah, I do.” You answered, throat thick. Distraction, that was what you needed. There was no changing what would happen, you could only decide what to do in between.

 

He led you to the glittering golden weapon, taller than yourself, three elegant and ornately engraved blades shining in the light. Strangely, the spear was not behind glass, but propped up on a special rack, as if it was meant to be picked up at any time.

 

“This is yours? It's beautiful. Is it safe to touch?”

 

“Not very.” He said. “It is a very powerful artifact, and takes a similarly powerful person to safely wield it. It amplifies the magic within its wielder, and can even condense it into blasts of magic. Not something you would want to lose control of.”

 

“No definitely not.” You said, shuddering. Your magic was already unpredictable; you didn't need that amplified.

 

“The spear was the favored weapon of my great-grandfather, one of the first crafts of the newly created realm of Asgard. Every ruler since has held one, for better or worse. For now, this one is mine.”

 

“How many different kinds of weapon can you use?” You wondered.

 

“Oh most of them. I specialize in small blades and polearms however. Thor prefers mid-sized, heavy arms, Brunnhilde likes swords-”

 

“Why don't any of you use guns? You have the tech to make guns, don't you?”

 

Loki looked slightly affronted. “Of course we do. Guns, blasters, lasers, all of that. We can use them, but they are...” He trailed off, his hand circling in the air, searching for the words. “Huglausi is the word we use. Craven. They lack finesse. Prowess. Skill. Personal power. Only the weak, lowly, or desperate use them. We've been reduced to it before, but it is not ideal at all. It's a measure of last resort.”

 

“Oh. Wow. But Brunnhilde was impressed that I could use one.”

 

“The Valkyrie spent a great deal of time away from Asgard. Her attitudes toward certain things is different. But she still picked up the sword as soon as she got the chance.”

 

“Is that why you all do things in such old-fashioned ways? Because it shows your...your prowess?”

 

“Well, yes.” He said as if it were the most obvious thing. “Quality is paramount. The work of your hands has value, does it not? Also, I think it is not 'old-fashioned' if it still works well for us. For humans, well, there are billions of you. Industrialization and mass production has become imperative to your survival. But there are only a few thousand of us. And once, long ago, we came across the artifact known as the Tesseract.”

 

“That thing you were trying to steal in New York?”

 

“Not steal, retrieve. It belonged to Asgard, and so I had claim to it. It is from this artifact that the primacy of Asgard is derived. From it, the bifrost was built, and all our technology as well. We had no need for coal power, nor steam, nor electricity. Not when we could transport ourselves to other realms in a matter of moments, and not when we could simply ride across the entire realm in but a few days. So we retained what you would see as 'old ways', but we also kept our eye for quality, and the value of our workers.”

 

“A few days? On horseback?” You asked, a little confused. “How big was the planet?”

 

“Asgard was no planet, but a magical realm, built from scratch.” Loki looked suddenly taken aback. “Oh, my dear, did we really neglect to show you? I suppose when you are used to everyone knowing something, you forget that everyone does not, in fact, know. Well then. Behold. The Realm...Eternal.”

 

The little image that appeared in his hands was like something off the cover of a fantasy novel. It made no sense. All of the other realms had been simply planets, orbiting their stars, somewhere out in space. But this...This was all wrong. This was impossible.

 

Asgard looked as if someone had ripped an island from the crust of some world, and cast it into space. And then neglected to tell it that anything had changed. Water flowed from the edges, cascading down into the void. How did it replenish? How was there gravity to pull the water down from the edge? Somehow, clouds formed, though there couldn't possibly be an atmosphere. There was a city, and forests, farms and mountains, capped with snow. Where did the snow come from? How could there be seasons? At the heart of the city, rose a soaring palace of silver and gold, shaped presumably in tribute to-or challenge of- those very mountains, though it looked like Leviathan's own pipe organ to you.

 

Your eyes flicked upward to Loki's face. His expression was even and serious. He wasn't playing with you at all.

 

“Uh...How? Everything else is a planet, how was this...this?” You gestured at the slowly rotating space island. “How did it have snow? How did it have air, or gravity? How did it even have night? How did this exist?”

 

“Are you impressed?” Loki murmured.

 

“I'm confused!” You exclaimed. Loki scowled slightly.

 

“Did you not hear what I said earlier? It all has to do with the power of the Tesseract. It was a special containment unit that held and harnessed the energy of the Space Stone, and, after it fell into the possession of Buri's ancestors unknown eons ago, our people have used it for all our advanced technology. Including the building of Asgard. The Space Stone controls space. Movement through space, connecting one place to another, How much can exist within a space, and what kind of thing can exist there. The Space Stone could create the effects of gravity, enough to make something as small as this act like a full-blown planet. It could hold atmosphere in place, cause the falling water to return to its source, make the mist form clouds which brought us rain for our fields, and snow for our mountains.”

 

“But you lost the Tesseract here on Earth. Like, a thousand years ago. Say...were you guys trying to build something here?”

 

“This I do not know for certain. The circumstances of the Tesseracts loss were not recorded, intentionally, I feel. From later events, however, I personally surmise that it may have had something to do with our sister's imprisonment. I believe it was bait, to lure her from Asgard, to a place where she did not hold ultimate power, and then it was lost in whatever devastation that battle must have caused.”

 

He turned his hand, causing the image to flip over. The underside of Asgard was made of mountainous fused crystals, glowing softly blue.

 

“The Tesseract did not need to be present for its power to remain. Buri gathered millions of tons of crystal from Nornheim, and used the power of the Stone to fuse and transform the crystal into a base upon which Asgard was to be built, and to infuse it with that same power, that it could act as a generator. At that point, we no longer truly needed the Tessereact, but kept it for eons longer, acting as guardians and stewards of its great power.”

 

He dropped his hands, and the illusion disappeared in a sparkle of green light.

 

“Well.” He said. “That's the clean version. You already know what we were. And believe me, all the comparisons you could make, all the heinous acts that conquerors perpetrate...we did them all, and more. All the more reason to leave that behind. Now we can rebuild cleanly.”

 

“That's a noble goal, at least.” You said. “Something tells me not everyone agrees?”

 

“No, they most certainly do not.” He took the spear from the display. “But I hold Gungnir, the proof of royalty. My brother has Stormbreaker, the masterpiece of Nidavellir. They may not agree, but they will obey.”

 

“Is...is that all it takes?” You asked, heart speeding. His voice was so firm. What would he be willing to do, if someone took their disagreement too far?

 

“Not everyone can do it. One is not powerful because one can handle the artifacts. One can handle the artifacts because one is powerful. An average Einherjar could not hold this spear. You could not lift Stormbreaker off your own chest. These things are not mere objects. They cannot be taken from us, not while we are still worthy of our offices. And we are.” The last part was spoken very softly. “No matter what doubts there have been in the past. We are.”

 

“Saldis said you were a good king.” You said. His mouth curved into that almost smile you'd started getting used to.

 

“Did she?” He said thoughtfully. “It is gratifying to have my efforts remembered so fondly. Perhaps I shall have her authorized for a raise.”

 

He hefted the golden weapon.

 

“So, now that you have seen my spear, would you like to accompany me to the training fields before lunch?”

 

“You want to show off your prowess?” You asked.

 

Loki just smiled, broad and devilish.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

He'd gone out onto the field still wearing his breastplate, but he'd removed his cape and horns, opting instead to pull his long hair into a loose bun at the nape of his neck. While the training guards and Einherjar gave him all the room and respect he wanted, they didn't stop their practice, merely letting him slip in among them.

 

Although he was just going through drills, it became quickly apparent that his skill was on an entirely different level than those around him. Loki was faster by far, more precise, and did not tire.

 

You stood in the covered, raised walkway on the edge of the field, just watching him move. You were not the only one; the walkway was scattered with people, mostly young women and a few children, all watching, and so you didn't feel too out of place.

 

A crowd was drawing though, as pedestrians and errand-runners noticed their prince among the soldiers, and stopped to catch a glimpse. There was no telling if Loki even noticed, as he ran through all the basic drills and began executing more complicated and acrobatic moves. Some of them were so elegant and complex that his efforts got applause from the watchers, yet he hadn't even seemed to break a sweat.

 

The trainees around him also started putting more effort in, trying to move faster, swing harder, to add flourishes to their more basic actions. Some of the trainers scolded them, presumably for biting off more than they could chew.

 

The more you watched, the more you got caught up in the feel of things. You weren't a pacifist by any means, but you also weren't part of a martial culture. Oh, you knew your country's military was in everybody's business, but the home culture in your neck of the woods was agrarian. However, ever since Thor had become known to humankind, rumors of Asgard's noble warrior culture had flown.

 

In fact, it had brought some rather confused people out of the woodwork. Groups that described themselves as 'traditionalist', 'folkish', and of course, the Nationalists. Then it became known that the God of Thunder did not look kindly on fascism, and most of those people withdrew from the public eye in disgrace. Now there were mostly the odd, but usually benign reenactment groups. You had no doubt that those other, less savory elements were still stewing out there, but with the Asgardians actually here now, observable, approachable, you expected their conviction would eventually wane.

 

But you began to understand, watching everyone on the field, the appeal of the warrior culture. Seeing Loki move, and knowing that all that he was capable of could be brought to bear for your sake...it made you feel safe.

 

“Excuse me? Lady Human?” A small voice pulled your gaze from the field. Two young women stood next to you, one dressed far more richly than the other. The less fancy woman addressed you once again. “My lady?”

 

“Mm? Yes? How can I help you?” You answered, your chipper customer service voice coming out. You had never seen these two before, but the woman who hadn't spoken was looking at you as if you were a slug or something, and it made you uncomfortable.

 

“I am to translate for my mistress. She wishes to express her thoughts.”

 

“Well...if you want to.”

 

“She wishes to know to whom you believe your eyes belong.”

 

What? “Um...myself? Pretty sure they're mine. I made them myself, after all.” It was a weak joke, but such things usually diffused annoyed customers. The woman turned to her mistress and spoke in a serious and passive voice. The fancier woman-a noble of some sort?-scoffed and said something to her maidservant, who turned back to you.

 

“She says the rumors painted a grander picture of you. She is disappointed to find you as plain as you are ordinary.”

 

Oh, so that was how it was. “Has your mistress met many humans?” You asked, focusing all your attention on the maidservant, not even looking at her mistress.

 

She asked, was answered, and answered you. “No, my lady. She considers your species to be lowly, and does not sully herself with worthless information.”

 

“Is that why you speak my language, but she is incapable of doing so herself?”

 

“Yes, my lady.”

 

“Can she understand us right now?”

 

“No, my lady.”

 

“Okay. Would you like different employment?”

 

“I...think I know why you are asking, but for the moment, I don't believe I can leave, my lady. I was raised to this position.”

 

You shrugged. “Oh well. It'd sure ruffle her feathers, wouldn't it?”

 

The noblewoman, who had grown agitated with being ignored, and the prolonged conversation between you and her maidservant, cut you both off with a short barked command. The servant stiffened immediately, and murmured something softly.

 

The noblewoman pointed down at you, announcing something in an imperious tone. The others on the walkway moved away from the three of you, some looking scandalized, others smiling at the show.

 

“That's rather unfair to say to someone who can't understand you, Gloa.” Andsvarr said, from the field just under the walkway. You hadn't noticed him approaching. The noblewoman-Gloa-turned to glare at him in disgust. He rolled his eyes and repeated himself in Asgardian. This prompted her to turn her argument on him.

 

“Oh dear.” The maidservant said quietly to you. “The remaining Alarrson always speaks so boldly for so middling a noble. He seems to care nothing for the disgrace he might bring on his family.”

 

“Hey, she started it.” You pointed out.

 

“Is it true though? Were you really a commoner?”

 

“The commonest. But your Gloa was wrong. I'm not ordinary.”

 

Your whispering, and the growing argument were both silenced by a loud crack. You jumped, and jerked your head in the direction of the sound, just in time to see Loki slam the end of the spear into the ground again.

 

“You are disturbing practice.” He said, his voice carrying as far that the sound of the spear.

Andsvarr turned away from Gloa, bowing and speaking swiftly. Gloa also began speaking, trying to talk over him.

 

“Cease.” Loki commanded, and both silenced themselves. “Stars Gloa, you are so irritating.”

 

There were snickers around you as Gloa drew herself to full height, face reddening.

 

“Andsvarr, you are not free from blame either.” Loki continued. “Care to explain yourself?”

 

“I did act impulsively.” Andsvarr said earnestly. “I was seeing to the honor of the seidkona.”

 

“And did she indicate that she wanted your help?”

 

“Er, no your Highness.”

 

“Then get back to practice. Gloa. What was your purpose here?”

 

The woman began speaking again, haughty and angry from the earlier insult.

 

“I very much doubt that she either mocked or threatened you, considering that she does not yet speak Adgardian, and you have neglected to pick up any human languages. Besides, have you yet again forgotten that I can tell when you are lying?”

 

More tittering raised around her. Furious, she snapped her fingers at the maidservant, who stepped away from you and followed her, as she stormed away from the field.

 

“Well, that's done. Everyone can go back to what they were doing. That includes those of you who have put your errands on hold, to stop and watch. “Loki said with a charming smile. “I know our soldiers are an impressive force, but I am sure you have many things to do.”

 

A good three-fourths of the crows dispersed, either looking slightly guilty over putting their work aside, or happily skipping along as if it meant nothing too them. Loki either didn't understand, or chose not to acknowledge that it wasn't the soldiers they had come to watch, it was him.

 

At the end of their training, several of the soldiers wandered toward the walkway, to presumably flirt with the people who came to see them. Loki himself approached another woman you hadn't seen before, and gave a flourishing bow. She giggled and turned away with a little wave.

 

So who was she? You'd had some weird idea that he was going to come talk to you; he was the one who had brought you here, after all. Was she someone he knew? Someone he knew well? He'd never mentioned anyone like that before.

 

Well, there was no reason to get salty. It was none of your business.

 

He held her attention for a few moments more before making his way over to you.

 

“You have made an enemy, my dear.” He said, mild amusement crinkling his fine features. “I'm terribly proud.”

 

“I didn't make anything.” You protested. “She was like that before she even saw me.”

 

“Oh yes, Gloa has been like that for many centuries. She has a very developed sense of 'us' and 'them', and it has never looked good on her. She must bee seething over your closeness to the Crown.”

 

“I'm not close to any kind of crown!”

 

“I meant us, silly thing. Well, I've worked up an appetite. Shall we go have a lunch to celebrate your initiation into Asgardian nobility culture? Hating each other for no real reason is one of the very foundations.”

 

“Lunch, I would like. The celebration of a political enemy I could do without.”

 

He grinned and offered his arm. You took it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“So, what you're telling me,” You said between bites of dried stockfish. “Is that this goddess, your sister, was around for like, three thousand years, and was apparently a favorite of the entire army. You have those little bits of fresco painting to show me. But in the span of like, a few decades, everyone had forgotten her?”

 

“Or, at least, refused to speak of her, yes.” Loki said, passing a plate of buttered, dark bread your way.

 

It was just the two of you this time, in a little room beside the kitchens. You could hear the cooks working on the other side of the wall.

 

“I'm a bit leery to show you the frescoes just yet.' Loki said. “They're extremely unpleasant, and frankly, embarrassing. I brought several bits of the paintings that came afterwards, and those are much nicer. For one thing, I'm in them.”

 

You smiled indulgently. “That's the important part, right? Just how much stuff did you grab on your way out?”

 

“Oh, quite a bit.” Loki waved his fork on the air. “Practically everything I passed by, actually. I have quite a bit of room, though I admit, I stretched things a bit. Transporting living things that way is rather difficult.”

 

“Living things?”

 

“Leynarodd. The pegasus, a few others. Certain objects I thought would come in handy later, such as Gungnir. A few books, a few artworks. All artifacts now.”

 

You scooped lingonberry preserves onto a little cup of skyr. “But the point I was making was, there are plenty of your people that are old enough to remember her. So how come nobody ever said anything? Why were there no precautions taken to prevent her return?”

 

“From what we've been able to put together, Hela did have many supporters, despite her murderous tendencies. She embodied the endpoint of all that Asgard valued, the culmination of the 'noble warrior culture'. When our father decided to change his tactics to more peaceful means, there was, initially, a split in support. The commoners supported Odin; it seems they were a bit weary of being sent off to die in endless wars, no matter how much honor it brought their families. The nobles supported Hela, as they were loathe to let go of even an ounce of their power, no matter the consequences.

 

Then, apparently, Hela did some things that lost her all support. Brunnhilde says she attempted a coup, and murdered everyone in the palace as she went-hundreds of people, including many of her noble supporters. Heimdall remembers, and has hinted that she did something even worse, but he will not talk about it, no matter what we do.

 

And that's how most of the older Asgardians are. Those who are old enough to remember will not speak of it. Those who were there went about erasing her name and hiding her from sight, as if it would somehow make her wither away into nothing. We can't force them to talk, not yet. The people are traumatized after all this. Some of them saw their lives destroyed twice by her. We will simply have to wait until someone is ready.”

 

Loki grabbed a small bunch of grapes, and split them between you.

 

“As for precautions, well, I don't know exactly why Father failed so badly there. But he always did seem to have a blind spot when it came to his children.” Loki snorted quietly. “Specifically, the left side. The more I think about it the more it makes sense that he reacted so severely to Thor and myself when we displayed a lack of concern for the lives of others. He must have seen her, growing within us. He must have been terrified that we would take the same path, that all of his children would share the same fate...”

 

He slammed his fist on the table, suddenly angry. You jumped.

 

“All he had to do was say one thing about it, and all of this could have been avoided! He didn't even have to tell me, if it came down to it. He could have told Thor, and Thor would have told me! That's probably why he didn't. After Hela, he probably couldn't bring himself to trust even in his own children. But all of this, literally everything happened because he just wouldn't tell us what he needed to!”

 

His moods were still mercurial as ever. You might not ever get used to it, but you'd better try. You reached out and took the hand he had slammed down. He blinked in surprise, all anger draining from his face. He uncurled his fingers just enough for you to dip yours into his palm.

 

“Forgive me.” He said quietly. “That was unbecoming.”

 

“This is a part of my job too, isn't it?” You asked. “To help out with this kind of thing?”

 

“Technically, yes. Council is a part of the job description. I hesitate to foist that burden entirely off onto you however. I am...difficult at times, and you are not without your own traumas.”

 

“That's true, but you've dealt with them pretty well so far.” You pointed out.

 

“I have, considering how many of them involve hitting me in the face.” He chuckled at your mumbled apology. “I am not worried about it. And you have nothing to fear either. My fury could burn the very stars, and I would still never raise a hand to you.”

 

“Yeah, I kinda figured you weren't the type. You seem above that kind of thing.”

 

“Do I?” He asked, sounding pleased. “Though if a woman were to come at me with a sword, I would not just stand there and get stabbed. We've no shortage of ladies with swords in Asgard, and then there is Freya, of course...”

 

“Yeah? The book said she was a fertility goddess?”

 

“Hmph. That book was kinder to her than it was to me, but it was still incorrect. Oh, she and her brother are connected to fertility, of course. Freyr is the fertility of the tilled earth, that is well kept and fruitful. Freya is the fertility of the battlefield. Blood makes the grass grow, and she reaps a crop of the dead.”

 

“Uh...poetic?”

 

“I'm saying she is a battle goddess as well. Associations with war and combat are also overwhelmingly common among Aesir. The twins make a particularly effective pair; while Freyr is no pacifist, he also dislikes violence for its own sake. However, so great is his connection to life, that the life-bringers, that is to say, women, can never come to harm in his presence. That works out very well for Freya, who relishes battle as much as any Asgardian, and can lead her armies to battle without the slightest fear when her brother is around. She doesn't show much fear when he isn't around either.”

 

“But isn't that how Hela was?” You asked.

 

“Oh no, not at all. Freya loves battle, not slaughter. She does not bring combat to those who are not involved with it, she accepts surrender, she knows mercy. Hela would kill anybody, and once she started, she wouldn't stop until the last drop pf blood was spilled. She didn't spare anyone. She intended to murder every soul in Asgard, and was on her way to doing so when I brought the ship to liberate them.”

 

“You did that too?” You asked. Why wasn't he still king? “You know, for a guy who attacked my planet, you sure are some hero.”

 

Loki preened. “I take my responsibilities to Asgard very seriously. Not always in a straightforward or officially sanctioned way, granted, but sometimes a more obfuscated method is necessary. Sometimes, you have to trick people into doing things that are good for them. And sometimes, that makes you seem like a villain. And sometimes, you think you know how to do something that would be good for everyone, but it turns out you were a bit...overzealous in your efforts, and perhaps it wasn't such a good idea after all. And that can make you a villain as well.

 

Well, what I'm trying to say is that, both my brother and I have done decidedly villainous things, for reasons we felt were right. So it stands to reason, that we might both be capable of heroic things as well. And while I have not yet shown your planet anything but that villainous face, it is very likely that I eventually will.”

 

“Oh. Does that mean you've changed your mind about us? Most people think you kinda hate us.”

 

“I do not hate you.” He shrugged. “Nor your people. I don't think much of humanity, that's true. It's rather hard to, considering your relative briefness. Your constant moving and changing also makes it difficult to keep up, so why bother? Individuals, perhaps, but humanity as a whole? I'm not really interested. However...” He said, acknowledging your scowl with a tilt of the head. “Asgard is now Midgard. And so, to protect Asgard, I must also stand for Midgard. I will protect your mad planet, and you along with it.”

 

Heat washed across your cheeks. “That's, uh, quite a declaration.”

 

The two of you continued eating in silence, both ruminating over what Loki had just said. It ran over and over in your head, keeping your face hot. He would protect you, eh? Your whole world. Sure, he'd said it was for Asgard, but he'd made it sound so personal.

 

And the more magic you learned, the more you could help. If aliens invaded, you could teleport them into space! If robots attacked, you could...teleport them into space! Hey, it was fine to be a one-trick pony, if that one trick always worked.

 

“So, uh, what do we do next?” You asked. There were comfortable silences, and there were uncomfortable silences. This was beginning to feel like the latter, and you didn't want him to regret what he had said.

 

“The most important and prolific duty of royalty.” He stated gravely. “Paperwork.”

 

“Paperwork?”

 

“Paperwork.” He repeated. “Endless paperwork. That's what royalty is. Beneath all palaces, luxuries, and power, is a foundation of paperwork. I hope your eyes do not tire easily, because I want you to aid me with it. It will help you to understand the people a bit more.”

 

It made some kind of sense. Knowing what the people needed, or what they considered important enough to contact their most important people about, could tell you a lot about their values.

 

A small commotion could be heard rising from the kitchen next door; a great deal of laughter, complaints, and exclamations.

 

“What's that all about?” You wondered.

 

“Shall we investigate?”

 

*****

 

The entire kitchen staff was gathered around a crate, chattering. A tired porter leaned against a chopping table, demolishing some kind of drink.

 

“The suppliers must have found something unusual this time.” Loki said. “They are mostly wondering what it is, and how they can prepare it.”

 

“Lemmie see.” You said. “If it's an Earth food, I might know what it is.”

 

Loki raised his voice over the din, requesting one of the strange foods be handed over for inspection. A green oblong, tightly wrapped in leaves, was presented to you.

 

You took a single look and burst out laughing in delight. “That's just corn!” You exclaimed.

 

“You're certain?” He asked. “I've had corn before, you know. It's tiny and yellow.”

 

“I'm not playing a prank or anything, look.” You stripped back the husks, causing several of the kitchen staff to move back in surprise at the sudden, rubbery sound. You proudly showed everyone the milky white and yellow kernels underneath.

 

“This grows all around where I live. Miles and miles of it. This is some particularly good stuff. Cook it right, and you will have something fantastic!”

 

The cook asked something. Loki answered with what you had just said, and the cook asked something else.

 

“She wants to know how you suggest it be prepared.” Loki said, not bothering to mask his own curiosity.

 

“Oh boy. Okay, so you take off these outer husks, okay? Put them in the compost, feed them to the animals, whatever. These inner husks you just pull down, but don't tear off. Now you get the silk off, these little strings, you see? That part can get messy. You can compost those too.”

 

The entire group watched you closely, as Loki translated your instructions, but you were so used to doing this that you could get the silk off in just a few passes.

 

“Now that you've got the corn clean, and there's no worms or fungus, you can just rub a little butter all over the kernels. Then you pull these husks back up around the corn to hold the moisture in. Cook this just like it is on really high heat, for about half an hour. Once that's done, pull the rest of the husks off, rub on more butter, sprinkle over a bit of salt and pepper, and it's done! It's really, really good that way, and you can cut off the kernels after that, or just eat it right off the cob, if your teeth are good.”

 

Some of the staff began stripping husks, while the cook thanked you for the information.

 

“Now, this is sweet corn, and it's only available for a month or so, probably less here in Iceland. Otherwise, you can sometimes find frozen cobs, and canned or frozen kernels. There's also harder, dryer corn, some for popping, and some for grinding into cornmeal. You can make different things from that.”

 

“I'm looking forward to dinner now.” Loki said, as you headed back to his rooms. “If your taste in corn is anything like your taste in baking, I've much to anticipate.”

 

“You're very sweet. I got good at that because it was a precious resource during the, uh...Well, the dent corn would keep, but the sweet corn wouldn't. So we ate it in big batches, and we all got pretty good at cooking it. The butter was pretty rare though. Only a few local cows made it through.”

 

“I see...Does it bother you to eat it?” Loki asked.

 

“Oh no, not at all. It was one of the only good times in that whole year. Properly cooked corn is amazing, and it was one of the few times I wasn't hungry.”

 

Loki patted your shoulder gently. “You won't have to worry about that again.”

 

You felt full.

 

******

 

“So why is it that the request for more concrete gets priority over the request for more tile grout?” You asked.

 

“Tiling is for decoration or waterproofing, and usually only in certain rooms of a building. Concrete has wider applications, and on the tighter budget and time frame we're currently working in, we need to get as much done as possible. So the tile grout will have to wait until winter.”

 

“What do we do in winter, anyway? I assume the snow is too high for construction.”

 

“The snow does get very high. Most of the construction workers either work on the interiors of buildings, or they practice their other skills. Winter will be the time when the painters go back to work, the jewelers and smiths go back to full time, the textilers can get a great deal done. Once the construction is done, all those people will go back to their regular jobs. That will be several years though. You and I will be able to pass the hours with study, and of course, ever more paper work.”

 

He stacked the materials requests neatly in their 'approved' or 'rejected' piles, all of the edges perfectly even.

 

“Now we have...Ugh, another one of these.” He snorted, annoyed.

 

“What? What's the deal?”

 

“The Vinnalings request that I meet with their daughter. I wonder if they mean the widow, or the one who is still practically a child?” Loki said sourly, laying the paper down on the rejected pile. “I'm sure they are both perfectly nice, but I'm not interested in playing favorites among the noble families right now. I'm certainly not interested in being wed to some noble I don't even really know.”

 

“Is that what it's about?”

 

“Yes.” His sigh was closer to a groan. “It is irritating. I long ago tired of parents who use their children for political maneuvering. I suppose I won't be able to avoid it forever, but I'm avoiding it for now. And even when I feel ready, I certainly won't be marrying someone who is still in mourning for her husband, nor someone who is still a literal child! Maybe I can't expect love, but I can at least demand someone I can get along with.”

 

“That's...really sad.” You said, slightly distressed. He sounded so resigned to it. Fear of a loveless, arranged marriage must have been hanging over his head for centuries.

 

“That's royalty. Part of it. We all dream of a love match, but we know that's tremendously rare. Knowing that it's one more thing my father got to have, that I will not is just so...Well, I've accepted it, I just expected that it would happen to Thor first. I don't know how many of these he gets, but I know they come across my desk far too often.”

 

“Then ignore them. You're building a kingdom right now, and I think it would be obvious you don't have time for this.” You suggested.

 

“Oh? Is that official advice?” Loki teased.

 

“Yup. Look, not to pass judgment on a culture I know very little about, but you guys are way too advanced for something as barbaric as forced marriages. Most of this 'primitive' planet did away with that many years ago.”

 

Loki quirked a dark, perfect eyebrow. “That is very judgmental. However, I agree with you. And so does Thor, and so did my father. He began phasing such things out a short time before he married my mother, which was probably the driving force behind it. I continued his work during the time I was king, and Thor has expressed his intention to do the same. Thor...also has his reasons. Well, the tradition has only really continued among the noble families.”

 

“I've never known anyone who was in a miserable relationship, who could also work as effectively as they could when they were in a happy one, or even alone. You have to be as effective as you possibly can be, right? And, you know, if you keep putting it off in favor of building up the city, maybe you and the king can get more laws prohibiting it in place, and neither of you will have to worry about it.”

 

Loki chuckled. “It's very cute when you try to be conniving. You're so blunt about it. Like an eager child.”

 

“Hey!” You exclaimed. “I'm trying here!”

 

“I know you are, and your concern for my future happiness is appreciated. It will likely be many more years before this city is anywhere near done, with all the hurdles we must leap. Look at this one; a request for more supplies for the horses. What do you think?”

 

“Do it.” You said quickly. “Buildings don't need to eat, and they won't die under bad conditions either.”

 

“Agreed.” Loki said. “Good to know we are in accordance on that as well.”

 

“What kind of hurdles are you talking about anyway? Enough housing for everybody, right?”

 

“Yes, and adapting to the extreme weather of Earth, the unfamiliar flora and fauna. The culture shock from outside, the culture war from inside. Convincing humanity that we have a place here, convincing Asgardians that we must find a place here. The inevitable consequences of humans and Asgardians intermingling. The rebuilding of our technology, our prosperity. Learning the technology of Earth. Preserving our culture without rejecting outside influence. Adapting our culture as to not cause undue conflict. Not isolating ourselves entirely. How to relate to the incredible diversity of humankind.”

 

“Geez.”

 

“Those are all big picture items, that will likely take several human generations to achieve. But we will achieve them. We must. Your presence here will speed some of this along, I believe. When the people see your accomplishments, see that you are not the primitive savage that some Asgardians fear humans are, then they will learn to accept. Your coming here was most fortuitous.”

 

You snorted. “What's fortuitous? You spirited me away!”

 

“Are you still angry?” He asked.

 

“...No. I'm okay now. I just hope I can live up to all the faith you've put in me.”

 

Loki shuffled through a few more papers. “That's the thing about advice. If I feel you are very wrong about something, I can just ignore you.”

 

“Rude.” You mumbled. Loki smirked, but the expression faltered as he looked over the next paper. “What? What is it? Another date request?”

 

“The trial will be conducted in two weeks.” Loki said. “Both you and I are to be there to give testimony.”

 

You shivered. “Oh.” You really, really wanted to get all of that behind you, but you also really didn't want to be in that murderer's presence ever again. Loki placed his hand on your arm.

 

“Do not fear. He is powerless now. This will be the last time anyone ever has to see him. He will go to prison, and he will be forgotten. You will never have to waste a thought on him after this.”

 

You knew you would though.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

You flew through space, stars swirling all around you. Loki flew with you, his hand in yours, the magic of your combined rune powering your flight. Somehow, you weren't cold, and didn't need to draw breath, so you just let yourself fly to wherever it was you were going, admiring the beauty that surrounded you.

 

Starlight illuminated Loki's face, sparkling in his beautiful eyes, shimmering in his raven curls. He seemed equally enchanted by you, twining his fingers with yours. There was no sound out in space, but you could swear you almost heard his laughter.

 

A planet approached swiftly, one unlike you had ever seen. Its atmosphere was thick with storm systems, orange and hazy all over. You had no idea where you were, but the two of you were being drawn straight for the mysterious world. A little fear curled in you, but Loki was with you. You weren't alone. The strange world grew bigger and bigger, both of you floating down through the thick clouds to come to rest on a dry hillock, overlooking tidy fields, and a very large building that was in the middle of being carefully demolished. It appeared as though it was being taken apart in such a way that the materials could be used elsewhere.

 

You couldn't help but appraise the fields before you. They were doing poorly; perhaps not enough sun, perhaps not enough water, but you didn't recognize the plants, so you couldn't be sure. Here, you could draw breath, but it was uncomfortable. Pollution, or different atmospheric composition?

 

There were people walking along the rows, though they didn't seem to see you. You almost called out to one as they approached, but Loki gasped painfully at the sight, and drew you protectively into his arms. You looked up into his white face, wide eyes, and gritted teeth. Was that fear?

 

The person walking the row close by was not human, though he might be mistaken for one from a distance. He was much larger than a human, in all dimensions. Broader in the chest and shoulders, thicker in the arms and legs. He had giant, blunt hands and almost no neck. His head was hairless, his eyes small, his skin a light, mottled purple. His chin was quite large, one of the defining features of his face, and it had several long, vertical wrinkles reaching up to his wide mouth.

 

He wore an apron full of pockets over his long tunic, and as you watched, he retrieved a small vial full of clear liquid from one and popped it open. He then plucked a crinkled leaf from one of the struggling plants, crushed it between his huge fingers, and sprinkled it into the vial, swirling the liquid inside.

 

You watched the liquid turn a sour-looking yellow, and the large man sighed. He re-sealed to vial, and replaced it back in his apron, then turned to gaze at the remains of the building. There was a dense fog blowing over it, and moving closer. Thunder rumbled in the distance, heralding a coming storm.

 

“Mynos!” Someone called, rushing over from several rows away. “We must cover the plants before the storm hits! It sounds large this time. What do your samples say? Is there any hope on this side of the factory?”

 

“It is marginally better over here.” Mynos answered in a deep grumble. “Rain has washed soil from the hills into this area, and carried contaminated soils further down hill, closer to the factory. We may wish to experiment with terracing hillsides that face away from factories.”

 

“That will make them more susceptible to microclimactic changes.” His compatriot pointed out, and Mynos nodded slowly.

 

“That is why it must go into experimentation phases first.”

 

Thunder growled once more, the orange fog having grown closer very swiftly. You thought you could see lighting within it.

 

“Yes, this one looks much worse than the last one. Come. Let us get the row covers!”

 

Both of them rushed as fast as their stocky bodies would allow, joining many other people in the field in getting sturdy row covers in place, to protect the delicate, unhealthy plants from being flattened by wind, or rain, or...

 

The storm was almost upon you and you had only now noticed. These were not clouds of vapor, bearing rain, but an enormous wall of orange dust. It rolled over you just as you cried out, dust stinging in your eyes, filling your throat. You cried and coughed, and you tried to clutch on to Loki, but your arms were full of blankets, as you rolled out of bed and onto your rug, still coughing and watery eyed.

 

You were covered in dust; you gagged and spat, desperately trying to get it out of you mouth, to wipe it off of your arms. You could hear the corn rustling around you, the rare calls of a meadowlark. And above that, you heard the sound of running footsteps, the door to your room slamming open, bringing you back to where you really were.

 

And Loki, illuminated in the doorway, an ethereal god to your streaming eyes. You couldn't make yourself stand, your body just wouldn't respond, and it didn't matter. Loki scooped you up like you were a pillow, and carried you all the way to the bath. He was covered in dust as well; it caked his face and turned his hair brown.

 

He set you down gently in the sunken tub, and turned the water on, sitting down next to you and cradling you tenderly as the cleansing water rose slowly around you. You shivered in his arms, until nearly submerged in the warm water, then you cried until all the dust was out of your eyes and mouth. Loki scrubbed your arms and back, quietly asking if you wanted him to remove your pajamas, to which you shook your head violently. He didn't ask again, and kept his own sleeping clothes on as well.

 

“W-was that real?” You finally asked. “It had to be real, or where did the dust come from? The dust-it's everywhere!”

 

“Shh, shh, shh.' Loki soothed. “It's off, it's gone, it's washed away. You're clean. I'm clean. It's gone.”

 

“Where were we?” You demanded. “How did we get there? It wasn't just a dream! The dust! How?”

 

For the first time since you had met him, Loki looked completely uncertain. “I...I do not know.” He admitted. “I thought it all some kind of dream, until I awoke to your cries.”

 

“You were scared of that man. Why? Who is he?”

 

Loki shook his head. “I don't know him, I've never seen him before-”

 

“You were scared of him!”

 

Loki squeezed you hard, burying his face in your hair. Warm water lapped at your chin.

 

“I though he was Thanos.” He hissed into your ear. “They looked so similar.”

 

So it had been a nightmare to him as well. Perhaps worse for him, to see his killer again.

 

“Thanos is dead. Thor saw him die, didn't he?”

 

“Yes, and so did I. A woman named Nebula beheaded him. It was...fitting. But that man, that Mynos, looked so much like him. Those must have been Titans; that's what Thanos was. But they are all dead. The whole planet was laid waste by artificial disasters, rampant pollution and unchecked resource extraction. It's what initially caused him to go mad. All life on Titan was wiped out. Those people couldn't be there, they're supposed to be dead!”

 

“Was it the past? Could we have been looking at the past, before they all died?”

 

“I can't see how. I don't have that kind of magic, and you do not either. I don't know. I don't know what just happened.”

 

“Are you still scared?”

 

He hid his face further in your hair. “Yes.”

 

“Me too.”

 

The two of you sat together in the water until it began to go cold. When you started to shiver, Loki left to bring you a fresh towel and another of his long tunics to change into, then left the room to change into new clothes himself.

 

He sat you down in the library and sent the night guard out to get someone to change your bedding, which was still full of dust.

 

“I know you are probably wary of going back to sleep,” He said, as a few maids got everything in order. One of them had even brought you a mug of warm milk. “But there will still be work waiting in the morning, so I encourage you to try.”

 

“Maybe.” You mumbled.

 

“If you need, ah, assistance...” He began, but you cut him off with a shake of the head. He might still be feeling soft, but you weren't in that headspace anymore, and you did not feel right sleeping next to the prince right now.

 

“No, but thank you. I'll sleep.” You were already feeling embarrassed over the earlier moments of intimacy. It wasn't the touching that bothered you, not anymore. It was that you felt extremely odd about having someone so powerful-a prince, a god, an invader-hiding his face in your hair out of fear.

 

Like he wasn't a thousand year old ruler. Like he wasn't a veteran of hundreds of battles. As if he was just a man, no older or greater than you were. You felt as if no one was supposed to see him like that, least of all, you. Those were things that should be reserved for someone who was very special to him. Family. Lovers. You...You were an employee.

 

And that was fine. That was safe. There was a level of professional separation there, or there would be, if Loki didn't just love touching people.

 

You had finally noticed that it wasn't just you, it was practically everyone who got within arms reach. And most of them seemed used to it, which was a large part of the reason it didn't bother you much anymore. But you still didn't want him pushing any boundaries.

 

The new bedding smelled fresh and felt soft. You fell back asleep much more swiftly than you had expected.

 

******

 

 

Loki sat quietly on the black sheepskin rug, in front of the fire. The wood in the fireplace was made of iron; the fire itself was supplied by a strange gas that occurred naturally on Midgard. He could turn it on and off with a switch, like the tap in the bath. Fire that flowed like water: what odd things humans had come up with.

 

The innovative power systems of Iceland now powered Asgard as well, and so, this fire wasn't exactly necessary, but Loki found it comforting to gaze into the dancing flames and think.

 

He had an inkling of what might have happened just now, though he couldn't bring it up with anyone, not without proof. It could mean something very big, too big to openly discuss on mere suspicion.

 

Unfortunately, he could not even speak to you of it, though you had witnessed the Titans along with him. It was part of the things that he and the other galactic saviors had agreed not to share with those who weren't involved. You already knew much more than you should.

 

If the Titans were alive, what might that mean? They were supposed to be dead. That was a very important point that Thanos had made. The Lesson of The Titans, and the necessity of the trillions of deaths he proposed were a key component in Loki's 'reeducation' at his hands. Through the haze of burning and breaking came the psychological torment of relentlessly, endlessly being shown all the deaths that Thanos had ordered, that his cronies had executed, that his children had had a hand in. That Loki, himself had caused. Over and over, he had been forced to watch the destruction he had wrought on Jotunheim. The warriors, helpless to protect their people from the horrific power of the Bifrost. The women, trying to provide safe shelter for their families, the children, crouched fearfully in their hovels. Over and over, he had watched them burn, and been congratulated by his new subjugators. He had done right in eradicating so many. Their planet was obviously suffering. He had done right to kill without care of social status, to make it fair. To just plow the Bifrost through the most populated point on the planet, and let cold fortune decide who lived and who died.

 

And over and over, he had been shown the decimation of Titan. The starting point for everything. The reason for it all. It couldn't be allowed to happen again.

 

If the Titans were alive, what could it mean?

 

Possibly no more than that Thanos had been a liar as well as a madman, and that was something everyone already knew. But Loki felt it was more than that. Stark had been there, on Titan. He had reported nothing about there being any people; just a wasteland of dust and ruins.

 

Loki found himself wishing he could huddle close to you again. You were safe. You were weak, like he was, deep down inside, when the memories bubbled up. But he feared that he had once again made you uncomfortable with his touch, and needed to back off once more.

 

Why had you been there? How had you gotten there? Both of you had thought it was a dream, but clearly there was something else to it. Loki was no stranger to the informative dreams of the Aesir, and if it had been nothing more than a dream, then he could understand you being there. But the dust had proven that it was more than that.

 

If they were alive...

 

Loki stretched out on the rug. His mind ached. His heart ached.

 

 

*****

 

“Yeah, it's possible to teleport a whole person.” Brunnhilde said, keeping her eyes on the trainee Valkyries as they went through their drills. “Why? You wanting to give it a try?”

 

“Eventually.” You said. “But is it possible to teleport to, like, the moon? You know, just poof! And you're on a different planet?”

 

“I suppose so. You'd need a lot of power. And you'd also need to know if you could breathe there. I hear that's very important. Valda! Keep your guard up! Your opponents will be coming at you from above!”

 

“A lot of power, huh? Probably more than I've got. You think his Highness might be able to do it?”

 

“Loki? Possibly. He's always got a load of tricks up his sleeves. Down his pants too, probably. I wouldn't be surprised if he figured out how to do it. His Majesty told me how he found all the little naturally occurring portals on Asgard, and used them to sneak around the realms, so maybe that's why he never needed to teleport. I'll bet there are some here too. A planet this big has got to have plenty of secrets. Velda! What did I just tell your sister?”

 

You joined the trainees on the field, going over your knifework on one of the training dummies. Maybe it had been a dream after all. Loki had left you alone all morning, so maybe he had also come to the same conclusion: it had all been a weird dream, and you had both been so frightened that one or both of you had magically brought some of the dust out of the dream with you.

 

That was what passed as logic to you nowadays.

 

 

*****

 

Sofie watched with rising annoyance as yet another offroad vehicle tore through the flowers. Where were all these people coming from all of a sudden? That was the fourth in as many hours.

 

A new camp was setting up, a few hundred yards from their small settlement, and so far, none of the people there had tried to make contact. She was beginning to wonder if she shouldn't go over there herself to see what was going on.

 

There were a lot of United States flags going up with the tents. The vehicles kept on going all day, back and forth, from the city to the camp, bringing in more and more people. At least they seemed to be prepared; Sofie had seen quite a lot of food and water in some of those cars, and the tents looked like the well insulated kind from where she was standing.

 

But Sofie couldn't help but wonder why they hadn't just joined their already established camp? If they were all American, perhaps they only spoke English, and thought that no one here did? Perhaps they all knew each other, and wanted to stay as a group. She would go and greet them once they had gotten more settled. Perhaps there would be something they might need.

 

“They don't look too friendly, do they?” Frodi said, fashioning a fish hook. He had exposed his arms again, his raven tattoos shining in the sun. He'd made a habit of doing so, ever since his discussion with Fritjof, when Savane had come to the camp. Those two had been spending a lot of time together since then. It turned out Savane really liked to debate.

 

“I'm sure there's a reason. Maybe they think they're not allowed over here. I'll go visit them in a little while.”

 

“Take someone with you.” Frodi suggested.

 

“Are you volunteering?” Sofie asked.

 

Frodi just smiled, and held up his little hook for examination.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Something weird happened last night.” Saldis said. “The night girls were talking about it. The Prince and the seidkona both needed their bedding changed in the middle of the night. It was all covered in orange dirt. Apparently they were both acting really distressed.”

 

“Maybe it was some kind of magic?” Andsvarr said. Saldis had brought him a delicious lunch, which he was relishing so much that he barely cared about palace gossip. “Those two manipulate powers far beyond my understanding.”

 

“Are you satisfied with not understanding?” Saldis asked a little tersely.

 

“Eh.” Andsvarr shrugged. “There are always going to be things in the universe that I don't understand. One person can't know everything after all. Right now, I'm trying to be a better Einherjar, and a better me. Maybe in time, I can learn to be a better scholar.”

 

“Well. I guess that's better than embracing ignorance.”

“I should hope so. How's your English reading and writing coming along?”

 

Saldis glared, but then sighed, defeated. “I'm working on it.”

 

“Well, you know, if you need any extra tutelage, I am always ready to volunteer.” Andsvarr offered, a little smugly. It wasn't often that he could get the better of Saldis, and he was always thrilled by the opportunity.

 

“Are you trying to show off?” she accused, and Andsvarr grinned wide.

 

“Little bit.” He admitted. “Is it working?”

 

Saldis giggled. “I'll meet you after my shift.”

 

Chapter Text

Loki held your hand gently, allowing you to move energy slowly back and forth, but you could tell his concentration was weakened by the scent of warm cinnamon wafting from the basket nearby.

 

Oh, he was weak, weak, weak for Midgardian sweets. His eyes flicked back and forth between the basket and your face, and he kept sniffing the air, licking his lips. For someone with such a reputation for sneakiness, he sure wasn't being very sly right now. He refused to do or say anything about it, though, not until practice was over.

 

You felt pretty good after baking up the tasty treats; nothing quite got you going in the morning like the calm, domestic routine of a warm wash-up, and some simple baking. You usually made up some dough starter the night before, to be used the next morning; it made things go faster, but still allowed you to have fresh baked goods whenever. The cooks might be persuaded to put aside a little space in the cooler for you; you would make sure to ask about it next time you were in the kitchens.

 

His tongue swiped across his lips one more time, and you took pity on the poor, starving prince. You withdrew your hand and energy from his, and stretched hugely.

 

“Oh wow, what a workout!” You exclaimed. “I sure am hungry! What about you?”

 

Loki's eyes darted back to the basket. “If you are hungry, I would have nothing against joining you for a small snack.”

 

You snickered. He was so not smooth. “It's a good thing I prepared a little something this morning. Nothing big, just some rolls.”

 

“Oh, is that what the basket is all about?” Loki said trying to sound uninterested. “I thought perhaps you would need to bring food with you, since your energy reserves are not up to Asgardian standards. That's not your fault, of course, being an unpracticed human. So...if you ever need to bring large amounts of food with you, feel free.”

 

You could play this game. You slowly lifted the plate of cinnamon rolls out of the basket and uncovered it with a little flourish. The plate had his undivided attention.

 

“Well, you're right about my energy reserves, I'm afraid. My frail human body does need a lot of food to function. In fact, this session has been so tiring that I might just have to eat all of these.”

 

“All?” He choked out.

 

“I might.” You said. “I'm so weak, after all. So small. So needy.”

 

“So foolishly toeing the line.” Loki glowered. “You are teasing me.”

 

“You bet I am!” You laughed, holding the plate out to him. You had to snatch it back before he grabbed the whole thing, only letting him take one at a time. “Consider it proactive payback for whatever tricks you play on me in the future.”

 

Loki didn't even bother with a retort, he just shoved half the cinnamon roll into his mouth, making sounds you were sure ought only be made behind closed doors.

 

You may have created a monster.

 

You split the rolls between you, polishing them off quickly, and to great satisfaction. Loki couldn't seem to stop complimenting them, to the point that it made you bashful.

 

Once he'd finished eating, taking his time in licking the sugar off his fingers, he then took your hand back in his.

 

“I would like to try something new. If you will allow it, I would fill you with my magic, and see if you can use it as if it were your own. I believe I may be able to supplement your power with my own. If so, you might need not ever suffer the fatigue again.”

 

“Um...” That would be nice. The magic fatigue was terrible, and it would be nice to get rid of it. However, you weren't really sure how filled with Loki's...anything, you wanted to be. The relationship between you was getting confusing. The two of you were swiftly becoming close-and how could you not? You shared magic, and time, and proximity; meals, and opinions, and living space. You couldn't even move away from him, and you still wore his colors more often than not. He still tried to tutor you in everything, still coaxed your thoughts out over paperwork, and still held your hand in public.

 

Like right now, you were both on another one of your little 'picnics' in an open courtyard, sitting on a blanket, where anyone could see. You had known that you would eventually have to move on from just pushing energy back and forth, but to step right into letting him put this part of himself inside you...the part of you that accepted it as a logical next step in your training conflicted with the part of you that was trying to fight the increasing intimacy. You didn't feel like you were the right person for it, even though you were the only person for it. You were an employee, you kept telling yourself. A ward. A charity case, an inconvenience that had to be lived with and accommodated. You could be that. You knew how to do that.

 

But wasn't it a part of your job now, to be more? To be emotionally supportive, to be available, to be open and helpful? You would have to accept closeness as a part of it all, wouldn't you?

 

You'd had such a bad reaction to all that closeness before. You'd rebelled spectacularly, accused him of horrible intentions. Could you really turn it around so quickly? Wouldn't that make you a terrible hypocrite? Well, did that matter now?

 

“Um, I suppose so. Just...just go slow, okay? I haven't forgotten the plate incident.”

 

“Speaking of which, go ahead and put down the plate.” Loki suggested, and you did. You had to return it to the kitchen later, and you wanted it in one piece when you did so.

 

Loki breathed out slowly, and you felt him push as he did. It wasn't like the first time, where he just rammed magical energy into you until you 'popped', but gentle and careful. The familiar buzzing became a fizzing sensation, unfurling down your arms and legs, wrapping your bones, languorous coils filling your chest.

 

“You can hold it.” His voice reverberated through your whole body, strumming your nerves like harp strings. Your body sang.

 

“You can hold it. Just hold it for a moment. Acclimate yourself. Can you feel me? Can you feel how it differs from yourself?”

 

You could. He was effervescent, buoyant. He fizzled through you.

 

“I can't hold it!” You exclaimed.

 

“No, no, no, you've got it.” He encouraged. “You can hold it. Just a little longer. Let it flow around your body. Let it sink in and permeate you.”

 

“S-stop talking, please!” You couldn't take the play of his voice on your nerves. It peeled you open and left you raw and quivering in the sunlight.

 

“All right.” He whispered. “All right, now direct it.”

 

“G-g-give me a task! Tell me how!”

 

“That flower over there, the blue one.” He pointed out a tall lupine, blooming against the courtyard wall. “Bring the flower here, to your hand.”

 

You held out your hand, fighting for concentration. You could remember what it felt like to bring Thor's ax to yourself, and you tried to feel the same thing now, but the light that crept into your eye made it hard to focus on your target. The power swirled down your arm, uncoiled from your fingertips, and snapped out towards the flower.

 

It was in your hand a moment later, and Loki nearly bowled you over with his triumphant cry. You felt him withdraw his magic from within you, even as his other arm curled around your shoulders to hold you up. It wasn't the discomfort of magic fatigue that weakened you now, but the sheer, sore exhaustion of someone who had been working endlessly for hours.

 

Loki held you up, quietly praising. You couldn't feel his voice anymore, only hear it, and though you felt empty and hot, and weirdly alone, you could also still sense the shape of the runes that trailed up your arm, faintly taste sweet citrus on the back of your tongue.

 

He plucked the flower from your hand, examining it as you leaned against him. Whatever hesitation you'd had about accepting closeness had dissolved for the moment.

 

“Very good, very good.” He murmured. “Do you see? The break of the stem is very clean, but the lower part of the flower is crushed. We will need to work on your control, but this is extremely promising. You are doing so well. You always do so well. Do you understand how gifted you are, in this? I'm so glad that I get to have you, rather than some other, inferior sorcerer.”

 

The possessive tone in his voice cut through the floaty haze to clang jarringly against one of your mental alarms. You didn't belong to him! This was a work arrangement! You had to cling to that, you had to put, if not a wall, then at least a screen between you.

 

You shook your head and tapped the hand on your shoulder sharply: Loki withdrew it, looking down at you with a bit of concern.

 

“Little too much.” You mumbled. Loki held your gaze a few moments longer.

 

“I understand.” He said. Perhaps he did. “Would you like to bake again tomorrow?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“More cinnamon rolls?” There was unmasked hope there.

 

“Nope!”

 

He deflated. “Oh. What then?”

 

“Ever had elephant ears?” You asked. Maybe you were being a little mean.

 

Concern spread across his features once more. “I'm hoping that the name is a metaphor. I know humans will eat nearly anything, but...”

 

“It's puff pastry! I saw some in the kitchens earlier. Elephant ears are rolled up puff pastry. With cinnamon and sugar.”

 

“So...it's crispy cinnamon rolls?” And the hope was right back.

 

“You'll just have to wait and see.”

 

 

 

*****

 

He sat quietly in his prison room, not quite ready to sleep. The day was fast approaching.

 

He had no doubt that the trial would not go in his favor. That didn't matter. What mattered was, when the war came, when the invaders were finally eradicated, he would be remembered. His example would have inspired others to action. He knew they were out there, right now. He had received letters of support from many who felt the same way he did. There were others who saw the truth, and while he must pay the price for humanity's current blindness, those others would carry on in his place.

 

The invaders would be beset on all sides. In the media, on their stolen land, in the global markets, they would be pushed out. And as for their human supporters; there would be nowhere safe for such traitors.

 

Yes, he was perfectly resigned to be martyr for the cause; the safety and supremacy of the human race.

 

 

 

*****

 

Sophie had recently come to several distressing conclusions about the newly arrived campers. Firstly, they were not here to be close to the gods, but to protest them. They were putting up fences and vaguely threatening signs, and refusing contact with Sofie's camp. Secondly, there were not one new camp, but two, strongly divided based on ideology. One camp merely wished for Asgard to go elsewhere, someplace that was not Earth. The other camp not only wanted them gone, but they also wanted Loki handed over to face justice, and they wanted the separation of all humans from Asgard. This camp was harsh and vicious in their segregationist ideals: they wanted all contact with Icelanders to cease immediately, for Sofie's camp to be eradicated, and the people either scattered or arrested, and they especially wanted you behind bars. They held a special vitriol for you.

 

Thirdly, both camps would be growing in response to the upcoming trial. Sofie had a feeling that, no matter the trial's outcome, there would be trouble coming from these protesters.

 

“They'll fight each other as well as everyone else.” Frodi had said, as they sat around the fire. The sun was finally starting to dip lower in the sky again, barely kissing the horizon. “There are many people who are full of conflict, with nowhere to direct it. Give them a target, and they will latch on hard.”

 

“They can't all be here in search of violence.” Sofie insisted. “They do have some valid fears. Not even the sagas always explained the gods motivations, so how can they know that they mean us no harm? Loki did not show us his best face when he finally returned, so I can see where they're coming from.”

 

“We need to prepare.” Fritjof interjected, having invited himself, unbidden, to the fire, as he always did. “If they bring their fight to us, we have to be ready to defend ourselves.”

 

“We don't need to go that far, I'm sure...” Sofie said, but Savane lightly touched her hand.

 

“You will be needed.” She said simply. “Do you have a knife?” She offered one of her coveted blades, in it's reindeer antler sheath.

 

“I certainly hope it doesn't come to that!” Sofie exclaimed. “Maybe we ought to focus on the upcoming winter instead. Getting through it more comfortably than last year. Savane, would you be willing to teach us how to make clothes like yours? When the night returns, it will get cold very fast. If those other camps want to be antagonistic to us, maybe we can win by outlasting them. Being better prepared.”

 

Savane pressed the knife into Sofie's hand anyway. “I don't mind showing you, but you lack the materials. You have no reindeer here, and no beaver, and not enough foxes. You need the pelts to make my clothes.”

 

“We've got sheep.” Frodi pointed out. “Sheepskins aren't hard to come by around here, and they're pretty well adapted for the cold.”

 

“Hm. It might work.” Savane said, contemplating. “It will look strange, but it should be warm enough. I will draw up patterns.”

 

“Do you mind if I record it?” Sofie asked.

 

“No, I don't. It will be educational, and it might get some more money to buy the supplies.”

 

Both women headed into Savane's tent, leaving Frodi and Fritjof behind to take care of dinner.

 

“This is why we need all of us.” Frodi mused. “People like them form the core of a community. People like me build things, and people like you stand between us and the big, wide, world.”

 

“I don't need your flattery.” Fritjof said shortly.

 

“No, you need to continue learning about the oath you took.” Frodi answered back, pointing at the othala rune tattooed on the back of Fritjof's hand. “What drove the Allfather to his wanderings?”

 

“The search for wisdom and knowledge.” Fritjof sulked.

 

“The search for wisdom and knowledge, wherever it might be found.” Frodi reiterated. “He consorted with giants and dwarves, with Vanir and elves. He spoke to beasts and witches, and learned their ways, even though it was frowned upon. You too must decide what's most important to you, and pursue that with all of your being. Or not. I can't tell you what to do.”

 

“And yet, you keep talking.” Fritjof snapped, emptying a few cans of soup into a pot to hang over the fire. “As if the gods somehow speak to you.”

 

“A god spoke to you once.” Frodi pointed out. “Did it do you any good?”

 

Fritjof froze up, soup pot in hand. They didn't talk about that. Nobody talked about that. It seemed the entire camp was in agreement about it. They were embarrassed by him, and ashamed that no one had stepped forward to help. The entire incident had peeled back the veneer of their community, and showed it to be lacking cohesion.

 

It had also led to a major change in the camp. Campers who had never spoken to each other before started coming together, learning and sharing. Most of the more negative elements had decided to leave; the presence of multi-ethnic einherjar, and the undeniability of Heimdall forcing them to re-think their worldviews. Only a very few had remained, or returned. The camp was more united than it had ever been; swiftly becoming a true community.

 

All because Fritjof had been wrong, and Loki had been swift and brutal.

 

Fritjof knew more about the gods now than many others did. He knew how close they were to humanity, and how different as well. He was no stranger to physical violence, but he had never felt anything like that kick to the chest. Never heard anything like that thunderous voice proclaiming all his failings. The nature of his devotion had changed drastically that night, and it had needed to.

 

No longer did Fritjof believe that the gods needed him or his protection from 'dilution' or 'degeneration'. In reality, it was he who needed them, to provide some kind of identity, some sense of acceptance in a world that could very easily hate him. Community was what he sought more than anything, and now it was growing up around him, all because Loki had a short temper.

 

“Yes, I believe it did.” He said, hanging the pot over the flames.

 

 

*****

 

Brunnhilde sighed and rolled her eyes.

 

“About how many would you say have gathered?” Thor asked the einherjar messenger.

 

“Somewhere around a hundred. Split into two groups. They fly a white and red striped flag, with a blue corner, filled with stars.”

 

“That is the United States of America. Many of my friends are there.”

 

“I cannot tell if they are friendly or not, my liege. They have put up many signs, but I cannot read them. Some of them have pictures of the crown prince or his seidkona, with red slashes over them. Perhaps I misunderstand the culture, but this does not seem friendly. They keep coming, and the rest of the gate guards are becoming agitated.”

 

“Thank you for bringing this to us.” Brunnhilde said. “We'll send reinforcements to the gates for added safety. This will probably blow over after the trial.”

 

“The murderer of Adalheid's lover? The assassin who attempted the life of the seidkona?”

 

“Afraid so. Both of them also come from that country, and the whole thing has been awfully polarizing.”

 

“We will take extra precautions.” Thor promised. “This is going to be a trying time for many of us, but I want no violence from our side. These humans are driven by emotion and passion; there are not likely to be trained warriors among them, and even if there are, they are too easy to harm.”

 

“I will spread the word, your Majesty.” The einherjar bowed and took his leave.

 

“I cannot believe that I didn't see this coming.” Thor grumbled.

 

“You were optimistic.” Brunnhilde said. “And it did take them a while to get geared up. I'm surprised this is the first we're seeing of it. Maybe you oughta call your friends, see if they can't do anything about it.”

 

“I don't know what they could do. People have the right to protest whatever they want, and as long as they remain peaceful, and don't try to enter the city, then they haven't broken any laws, and can't be forced to leave. Maybe they'll go away when it gets cold.”

 

Trolekaerhalla has stuck around through the winter.” Brunnhilde pointed out.

 

“Yes, but they like us. Maybe I should go out and see them?”

 

“On the one hand, I'd say you're a fool for not doing that sooner. On the other hand, I can't advise it. You might start a riot. You should probably let your friends know what's going on. It can't hurt to keep in touch.”

 

“Perhaps they'd like to visit? You do still owe Stark a lot of alcohol.”

 

“He's the one who offered me a drink in the first place!” Brunnhilde huffed.

 

“He offered you a drink, not the entire liquor case! Anyway, we will double the number of gate guards for the next few weeks, and see if that doesn't deter any overly brave protesters. I meant it about avoiding violence. People are going to be afraid of us for a while, and there are still those out there who have a very legitimate hatred of my brother. He hasn't been able to make the reparations that he should, and there will be those who would not be willing to accept anything he offered anyway. Using force against them would not only be wrong, but it would also cast us all as villains.”

 

He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

 

“Why must everything happen all at once?”

 

Brunnhilde punched him lightly on the shoulder. “If it wasn't, you'd just be complaining that things were too boring. They should've called you the Grumbler, instead of the Thunderer.”

 

“I have not yet begun to whine!” Thor declared teasingly, leaping to his feet. “Come! Let us see if the hotel bookings have been made.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

You were absolutely, completely, off your head drunk; a condition for which Loki was solely to blame.

 

“No work today.” He had said. “We must speak with lawyers, and that is work enough.”

 

He's been right. You had thought about teasing him for his perceived laziness: imagine calling off all your princely duties, just because you had to talk to someone!

 

But talking to the lawyers was excruciating. They were frighteningly serious, determined to get every last bit of information out of you, calm, cold, and unsympathetic. They had to be; it was an important part of their job. You didn't blame them for it, but having to re-live the experience two separate times-one for the prosecuting lawyer and another for the defending-was exhausting.

 

They hadn't let you and Loki be in the same room while they were asking their questions, leaving him irritable, and you an anxiety-riddled mess by the end of it all. The sticky honey buns you had made that morning hadn't stayed with you, and so, after they lawyers had satisfied themselves and left, he had whisked you away to one of the little private dining rooms to the side of the banquet hall, and ordered a lot of food, a lot of drink, and one of Beli's apprentices to provide music.

 

Loki himself had served you, in a reversal of his usual role. And you had allowed him, and now you were totally drunk.

 

He'd served you something he called 'crystal mead'; a sparkling, bubbly drink that changed color depending on how the light hit it.

 

“This is very young.” He had said. “So it should not be too potent for you.” It was so delicious, that you couldn't seem to stop drinking it, and even the food had not saved you from drunkenness.

 

You swayed to the music, unfamiliar but beautiful, trying to hum along. You thought you were doing pretty well, but Loki snickered every time you tried.

 

“It appears you have proven me wrong, my dear. Be proud. Precious few have ever done so.”

 

“Ooohhh, I'm Loki, and I'm soooo smart, and never wrong!” You snarked thoughtlessly. “I'm sooo strong, and soo handsome, and I've got everything under control.”

 

Loki grinned widely. “Your accent is off. If you are to impersonate me, you will need more practice. Tell me more about how handsome I am.”

 

“You hush! You know how scared I am? I don't wanna go! I don't wanna see that guy again, and I'm tired of almost dying! Can I stop?”

 

Loki sighed. “You have my permission to stop almost dying. I...well, I can't say I'm exactly the paragon of not almost dying, but I'll do what I can to keep you from also almost dying.”

 

“Howwww many times have you almost died?” You asked.

 

“Eh, three or four times.” He shrugged. “Not that often, in the long run.”

 

In the long run. In a life of thousands of years, perhaps that wasn't very many. Still, you were pretty sure that Saldis had never almost died, so maybe it was much worse than he was trying to make you believe. To you, it was still an unacceptable number of times. Surely Loki could not be allowed to die before you did. It just didn't seem right.

 

You patted his hand sloppily. “Loki. Loki, Loki, Loki.” You repeated. “That's way too much. Don't do that any more. You've used up all your turns, so you have to stop.”

 

“Well, since my seidkona commands...”

 

“That's right! I'm seidkona, so listen to me!...I still don't wanna go. But I'll go. Gotta do the right thing.”

 

“Well, not always...” He trailed off. “But if you're feeling brave, then yes. Do the right thing. In this case, it seems that duty commands it.”

 

You started to take another drink, but Loki stole the mead right out of your hands, and replaced it with an apple juice.

 

“Wha? Hey! Gimmie that back!” You protested. “I'm not done!”

 

“I'm afraid you are my dear. We can't have you so drunk this early in the day, can we? It's not even dark out yet!” The teasing was heavy in his voice. You crossed your arms and huffed.

 

“It doesn't get dark anymore!” You grumped. “Night time doesn't exist! The stars are lies, and the moon is a ghost!”

 

“Poetic, but you still cannot have any more. Here, have some bread instead. This one has that jam you like so much.” He always seemed to make sure that jam was there. You chewed the bread as if you were angry with it.

 

“I miss Phil.” You mumbled. Loki crooked one perfect eyebrow.

 

“Who is Phil?”

 

“My philodendron. He's special. He's as big as me, and he had variegated leaves. That's pretty rare. Normally they're really expensive, but Tara got me a cutting from her aunt, and I raised it...raised it up...I hope he's doing all right...” You choked the words out around the sudden lump in your throat, and Loki went from teasing to concerned in less time than it took to look.

 

“_____, I-”

 

You buried your head in your arms and let the tears burst out.

 

“I haven't talked to Tara in months! I haven't even sent her a letter! I almost got killed, and I didn't even leave her a note to say I was okay! She's my best friend, and I just forgot her!”

 

“N-now, now, _____,” Loki quickly, giving your back an awkward pat. “I'm sure she understands that your life has taken an unforeseen turn, and that you simply aren't as available-”

 

“I haven't paid my rent!” You wailed. “They probably sold all my stuff! Or trashed it! My plants! My cookbooks! My sketches! I can't replace them! My plants counted on me, and I abandoned them to go play fairy tale in some mythical world, where it's never night!”

 

A gesture from Loki sent the minstrel away, leaving just you, you still sobbing onto the table, and Loki at a loss for what to do. Finally, he settled for draping one arm over your shoulders, and letting you decided the level of comfort you wanted.

 

“If you would like, we can contact your father, to see if he salvaged any of your belongings.” He offered. “If not, I intended to take you into town to get a few things for yourself anyway. We are going to be providing you with a cell phone, so you will be able to contact your friends and family. You haven't abandoned anyone, you've just been temporarily unavailable. Don't fret now, my dear, let all that stress go...”

 

He let you cry yourself out, offering the occasional coo or murmur of encouragement, and a handkerchief, as soon as you were done. It was, of course, brilliant green, with golden embroidery, and you almost felt bad for utterly wrecking it with your nose. Loki seemed to think it could be salvaged though, tucking it away somewhere in his magic pockets.

 

“Here, eat your bread now.” He said, pushing the plate at you once again. “And no more mead for a while. We will have to find a formula you can withstand. Your mortal blood is far too thin for our alcoholic accomplishments.”

 

“Rude.” You muttered, gobbling bread.

 

 

*****

 

“Which do you think?” Loki asked from in front of the full length mirror, holding up two sets of his horns. “The full helmet, or the hollow top?”

 

“Perhaps we should avoid wearing anything that could be considered martial in nature?” Thor suggested, sounding terribly bored.

 

“Hm, you think so? Well, I do have a set that more of a coronet-”

 

“Just braid your hair and be done with it, you insufferable dandy!”

 

“You can't call me a dandy!” Loki huffed. “You have beads in your beard.”

 

“They hold the braid in place, and they make me look dashing.” Thor preened.

 

“They make you look like a barbarian.”

 

“You are simply envious that I have a beard to put beads in!”

 

“Oh yes, so greatly do I regret my inability to fully cultivate the 'filthy vagrant' look! Whatever shall I do, with only my impeccable fashion sense to back me up?”

 

The brothers bickered and debated every thing from armor, to accessories, to footwear, eventually settling down so that Thor could wind green ribbons into his brother's hair.

 

You had been provided with a weeks worth of dresses, each finer than anything you had ever worn. You had never even imagined your wedding dress-if you ever got to have a wedding-would be of such high quality. Gratifyingly, you could tell that some of them were older, altered pieces, which you tended to prefer for practicality's sake. Even more gratifying: they weren't all green.

 

You, and Saldis, and Brunnhilde, and Borgliot had all been gathered in the King's chambers very early in the morning-or very late at night, with the sun misbehaving so, it was impossible for you to tell anymore-to prepare for your journey to the city. The king had said that it would take the better part of a day on horseback, and that the trial would likely not last long, as the defendant had pleaded guilty, with no remorse at all for his crimes.

 

Reservations had been made for a weeks worth of time, and Loki promised you that, whatever moments were spent outside the trial, you could chose to spend however you wished. Saldis would be coming along, for she spoke Icelandic as well as English, and could read it too; she would be there to translate things for you during those times that Loki had to be parted from you, and she was to see to your care and attire. She bubbled with an excitement you thought it was far too early-or late-for, showing you the intricacies of wearing a snake-shaped pen-annular brooch that twisted and turned in your hands like the very reptile it resembled.

 

“How...again?” You asked, unable for the life of you, to get the long pin in the right place. You'd been gifted a gorgeous deep blue cloak that was sure to keep you warm; Loki had been very solemn and proud to wrap it around your shoulders, but he hadn't bothered showing you how the pin worked when he'd handed it over.

 

“Just like this, my seidkona.” Saldis said, fastening the brooch with a quick movement. It looked so simple when she did it.

 

You sighed. “I feel like a child.” You complained. “Can't even dress myself.”

 

“High class clothing is complex.” Saldis explained. “Most nobles cannot dress themselves.”

 

“Besides, you kinda look like a child too.” Brunnhilde said, offhandedly, as she twisted her braided hair into a tidy topknot. “Mortals are all pretty small, but your little body, on that little horse...you're going to look like an elf.” At your crestfallen expression, she hastened to add. “But that's fine. Elves are considered lucky. All of the shorter Asgardians you see have Alfar in their backgrounds.”

 

All of the shorter Asgardians were still half a foot taller than you. Being short wasn't something you'd ever really noticed, before coming here. Among other humans, height variance felt far less pronounced.

 

“Methinks thou hast 'hashed it', my general.” Borgljot jested. “Our dear mortal is surely no child.”

 

You caught her gazing appreciatively at the way the diagonal elements in your clothes flattered your figure, and you grew a little warm. You hadn't been awake long enough to be able to appreciate flirting from anyone, let alone a six-foot-three warrior woman from space.

 

Brunnhilde nudged her sharply. “Mind your manners.”

 

“She is not incorrect.” Loki called from near the mirror. “I happen to know that my seidkona is very much a woman.”

 

You took in a deep breath, but decided not to tell him off in front of everyone. Later. Borgliot's impudent grin faltered as she glanced from the prince, to you, to Brunnhilde, who simply gave her a very pointed look. Her face fell, and she said nothing else.

 

Loki came to guide you to the horses, while Saldis gathered your luggage. Thor had convinced him to wear no armor at all; instead he had girded himself in an intricately beaded tunic made of velvet so plush that your hands itched to touch it, and trousers so well-tailored that your eyes simultaneously screamed to keep looking and to turn away. It was practically scandalous, and you were embarrassed by how intriguing you found just this one set of clothes.

 

Thor was also resplendent in his finery, with his doublet and red cloak, and shining buttons, his ribboned hair an opposite color match for his brother. It was a nice touch, in lieu of crowns.

 

In fact, the entire entourage was absolutely majestic, and you felt like a dog someone had dressed up in a matching costume. Your clothes were right, but you were out of place.

 

Maybe it was just the apprehension you still felt towards seeing your would-be murderer again, or towards being in a court of law. Being out among humankind again, knowing that some of them saw you as a traitor to your species.

 

“Would you like to ride the same horse as before?” Loki asked you, as the stablehands led Leynarodd out to him. You nodded. Technically, that horse deserved justice as well.

 

A loud and happy whicker caught your attention and you glanced around in search of the animal that could have made the sound.

 

“Who was that?” You asked. It wasn't Leynarodd, who was contentedly munching the apple Loki had offered her, and it certainly wasn't the shaggy, placid little beast that had been brought to you.

 

“Oh, that was the other horse I rescued from Ragnarok.” Loki said with a little smile, stroking Leynarodd's broad forehead.

 

The thumping of hooves grew, odd-sounding, almost like striking iron. The animal that approached was enormous; bigger than Leynarodd, bigger than any horse ever was or could be. He was shining silver-gray, ribbons and bells in his mane and tail. Thor perched atop his back like a scene out of legend, and, if all eight hooves striking the ground with the sound of metal were any indication, that's exactly what this was.

 

“Is...is that...?” You breathed out in awe. This creature was equal parts beautiful and terrifying, his perfection and wrongness impressed into your mind. It occurred to you that no one had ever said animals could not be gods as well.

 

“It is.” Loki said proudly. “Saddle up, my dear. Not all of us can keep Sleipnir's speed, and we have a long ride ahead of us.”

 

You mounted your sweet, small horse, who seemed not at all perturbed by the legendary beasts she was expected to travel with. Perhaps you ought to try to be more like her.

 

“Can you tell me this girls name?” You asked.

 

“Believe that one's Acorn.”

 

“Acorn?” The horse's ears perked, and you hugged her neck. “Oh, that's so cute!”

 

“And somewhat ironic, considering there are no oak trees here, so she's likely never seen one. Onward! The day is young.”

 

The procession wended slowly through the streets, the people gathering to solemnly wish you all well. This was not a situation that called for celebration; instead, the people waved squares of gray cloth, and played slow drum beats on the corners.

 

“It's to symbolize that we are going to a battle who's outcome is uncertain.” Loki explained. “Legal battles should be able to go either way, in the nature of fairness. But we know how this will end, if not all the details.”

 

The drums faded behind you as you reached the edge of the city, replaced by a slightly different sound; that of chanting. Angry chanting.

 

Past the gate, past the increased number of einherjar, blocking the road out, was a crowd of people, chanting louder and louder at the approach of your little cavalcade. Most of them were carrying signs, and too many of those had your face on them.

 

Dread rolled down your bones. Was there any possibility they were there in support? The red slashes you saw through your own face put those hopes to rest.

 

What had you done to deserve this?

 

It looked as though Loki was suffering the same treatment, with signs and chants, but aside from a slight scowl, he showed no signs of acknowledging the hostile crowd. Trying to take a page from his book, you turned away from the people, and fixed your eyes on Leynarodd instead.

 

Beautiful, shining Leynarodd, and her beautiful, statuesque rider. Just stay next to them, and you would be safe.

 

Someone broke free of the chanting ranks, darted into the procession, and grabbed you by the hand. You turned to look down into possibly the least expected-and least welcome of faces.

 

“Todd?” You squeaked, disbelieving. He couldn't be here. You didn't want him here! You hadn't seen him in over a year, and there was a good reason for that!

 

“_____, baby, I'm so glad I found you!” Todd exclaimed, as the horses came to a halt. He gestured at the einherjar currently closing the gate. “These clowns wouldn't let anyone into the city, even though I told them about us.”

 

You yanked your hand out of his. “There's no us, Todd. What the hell are you doing here? How did you even get here?”

 

The huge head of Sleipnir shoved between the two of you causing the ruckus from the crowd to calm in awe of his presence.

 

“What the hell? The fuck is wrong with that horse?” Todd nearly shouted.

 

“He's probably a little peckish.” Thor said dryly. “Oh, you mean the legs, of course you mean the legs, everyone means the legs. It's simple really. It's because he's twice the horse you'll ever be.”

 

“I...what...” Todd stammered. Loki reached down and placed his hand firmly on your shoulder, either comforting you, or holding you in place so that you could not hop off your little horse and run off with Todd. Little did he know that nothing was further from your mind.

 

“Forgive me, where are my manners?” Thor said. “I am Thor, king of Asgard, Avenger and defender of Earth. And you are?”

 

“Uh, Todd Emmerst, sir, your Majesty. Big fan of your work, sir. You see, I've come all the way from Iowa to see _____ again. Now, I don't know the whole story about why she's here, but everyone back home misses her a lot, especially me. I gotta ask; do you really need to keep her? I miss her so much, is there any way you could make it so you could give me my girl back?”

 

You rolled your eyes. “I'm not your girl, Todd!” You snapped. “The only thing I am of yours is your ex!”

 

Thor glanced at you, then back. “It appears there is some discrepancy.”

 

“We had a disagreement.” Todd said. “She was taken away before we got the chance to make up.”

 

“Did I take you away from him?” Loki asked in a low whisper. “You never mentioned anyone.”

 

“He's not my boyfriend.” You hissed. “And I never wanted to see him again! He's a total jerk!” He was exactly what you didn't need today, or any day. “Make him go away!”

 

Loki's prefect eyebrows scaled his forehead. “If my seidkona commands it.” He said, a wicked grin growing. You barely noticed a little twiddle of his fingers before the crowd started screaming.

 

With Sleipnir's enormous bulk between you and everything else, you couldn't see what had set them off, but if the shrieks of “Snake!” were any indication, you could certainly guess.

 

“Everyone get to a safe distance!” Thor shouted, and the crowd obeyed, opening up enough for the procession to pass.

 

“You know, Brother...” Thor said, when you were all far enough away not to be overheard. “You have been here long enough to be aware that there are no snakes in Iceland.”

 

“Oh, I am.” Loki said, oh-so smugly proud of himself. “But they clearly aren't.”

 

“They nearly trampled that man.”

 

“Oh, that's too bad. Nearly? I shall have to try harder next time.”

 

“Loki!” Thor scolded.

 

“I asked him to.” You piped up. “Todd can hold up a debate for hours. He would have tied us up all morning. So I asked him to hurry things along.”

 

“My seidkona demanded it of me, and I was helpless under the power of her voice.” Loki said, and your face burned.

 

“You really dislike him?” Saldis asked. “He seemed pleasant.”

 

“Oh yeah, he always does when he's in public.” You said hotly. “Then you're left to wonder what happened to that guy when you get home. Why he's like this behind closed doors, why he gets so controlling and insulting when no one else can see him. Or worse, if it's all in your head, if you're really just making it all up, or if it's just you. Yeah, no thanks. Not going back to that.”

 

“He sounds exceptionally huglausi to me.” Loki huffed. Borgliot murmured her agreement. “And you wanted to scold me.”

 

“He is behind us now, and will remain that way.” Thor said. “Hopefully that will be the last interruption for the day. We have reservations to meet.”

 

Chapter Text

 

This was only the second time you'd gotten out of the city, and the countryside was just as beautiful as the first time. So very different from the tall, orderly cornfields of home, that went on and on for untold miles of green, or even from the wild roadside margins, with their riot of luscious weeds. The plants here formed a dense carpet, confettied with colorful wildflowers, which climbed up the nearby mountainsides. Here and there, patches of tall lupines towered over their shorter brethren like miniature forests.

 

Endless ranges of mountains rose on either side, the river running sluggishly through the wide valley they created. Heading north from the city, you quickly came into contact with evidence of human habitation in the form of small farms, and a paved road that followed the river off into the distance.

 

The party had been forced to ford the river in order to reach that road, as it did not cross the water, but Loki had spared you with what you considered a tremendous feat of magic, teleporting both you, and sweet Acorn across the slow river, safe and dry. He didn't even break a sweat, and if you had wondered before about the upper reaches of his strength and speed, you were now in deep wonder about the limits of his magic.

 

You wondered briefly if any of those mountains were volcanic before Thor began to sing.

 

“When the sun shines through the summer

I find my thoughts turn to another

To a shining city

Writ in poetry witty

Whom I miss like an absent lover.”

 

You stared at him. Where had that all come from?

 

Loki seemed to be contemplating something.

 

“Is it the ocean?” Saldis asked. Thor shook his head.

 

“A reflection?” Borgliot ventured.

 

Oh, it was a guessing game! This was another thing right out of the fantasy stories; the proud and poetic warrior king.

 

“It's the moon.” Loki said.

 

“Yes! That makes it your turn.”

 

Loki thought a moment.

 

“O' sing of the Sapphire Brand

Living as Loki's right hand

Our two links we clasp

Like Jormagand grasps

it's tail, to encircle the land.”

 

Heat crept up your neck to wash across your face. That was really obvious.

 

“So...I'm guessing that's me?” You asked.

 

“Very good, my dear. You know what that means, don't you?”

 

“M-me? My turn?” Oh heck, you hadn't signed up for this. What did you say? How did you rhyme? What subject did you pick?

 

This was Loki's revenge for your teasing about the cinnamon rolls, you just knew it. Wracking your brain for a rhyme, you were only able to blurt out the first idea that came to your mind.

 

“Stories told before bed

It's supposed to be all in my head

But myth became real

Now I'm left to deal

With the path my saviors have tread.”

 

You lost the tune partway through, but got some applause anyway. Loki looked especially pleased, and you felt a spark of pride in yourself for having kept up.

 

“Could it be me?” He asked.

 

“Well, not exactly...”

 

“She said 'saviors' plural, you smarmy boy.” Brunnhilde interrupted. “She means us. The gods, the myths and stories we represent.”

 

You nodded. “Yeah, that's where I was going.”

 

“Oh.” Loki said with some indignation. “Well then, I suppose it must be the General's turn now.”

 

“Sure is! So, let's see...

 

Viewed with envy, but never with scorn

Shining long before I was born

But something eternal

Can still be burned all

to dust; even gods have to mourn.”

 

Nobody ventured a guess, but even you knew what she was talking about.

 

Asgard.

 

How did they stay alive and sane through all this? Even though you'd lost your home, you were still on the same planet, at least. There were still other humans all over the place. You'd been taken in, and given what you needed, accommodated, and even fawned over a little bit.

 

They had nothing. If things didn't work out, there was no old country to go back to. There was no other nation of Asgardians to emigrate to. They had to do whatever it was they did to survive.

 

What did they do? You hadn't asked how they afforded the materials for the city they were building, or for the food, or the electricity. Just how were they making their money? Loki had said they had enough for day to day affairs, but how?

 

That familiar feeling of money-anxiety weaseled it's way back into your mind. How much was this costing? How much were you costing? These dresses? This serpent brooch? Loki's promise to take you around and get you some toiletries and things for yourself; whose sacrifice was paying for that?

 

How did you pay it back?

 

Eventually, the riddle song game started up again, but you didn't venture any more guesses. Just listening to their voices was enough; their rhymes and subjects giving some greater insight into the things they liked and valued. For Saldis it was mostly objects, for Bogliot, places. For Thor, nature and traveling, and for Brunnhilde, the comforts of home and civilization. For Loki, most surprisingly, it was people. The people closest to him, the people he had known in his life, friends and family. He went through every member of the party, in more or less impertinent rhymes. You couldn't help but focus on how he had started with you.

 

It was very sweet of him to make sure you were involved.

 

 

 

******

 

 

Hours down the road, Thor turned Sleipnir down a short detour. All of the other horses followed him without the slightest command, reinforcing your guess that Sleipnir might be a god among horses. You'd have to ask later.

 

The group clattered up to a small complex, away from the road. You could just barely make out the sound of braying sheep before a few excited people rushed out of the nearest building, and began making a great fuss.

 

They seemed to know Thor, who dismounted, and greeted them, letting one take Sleipnir's reigns. The great horse graciously allowed himself to be led away, and the rest of the party began to dismount.

 

“-avail themselves of some of your feed, we would greatly appreciate it.” Thor said. “We have many hours to go, and mountains to cross, and we will need every bit of their strength. We also would eat, at your lovely cafe.”

 

The people agreed readily, though they viewed Loki with some concern. All of his earlier playfulness bled out of him, leaving him a pale, grim presence among the grinning and grateful Asgardians.

 

You stepped forward, legs wobbling from the hours spent riding, and allowed yourself to fall against him. He glanced down at you in mild concern.

 

“I'm not used to being on horseback for such a long time.” You said. “'Fraid my legs are a bit weak.”

 

He offered his arm without further explanation, and you took it with appreciation. As you had hoped, the chivalrous display of tender helpfulness towards another human being seemed to change the way the owners of this place looked at him.

 

It was a petting zoo, about the last thing you expected to find nestled into the lofty mountains. But Iceland, though a land full of tourist-attracting beauty, didn't necessarily have too many stops that would appeal to children. Looking out the window of the little cafe, watching the little lambs and goat kids frolicking together, you could imagine that this was a welcome respite for excitable children from the waterfalls and valleys that so captured their parents imaginations.

 

You found the animals compelling as well, envying their innocence and boundless energy. You were handed a menu, finding the offerings to have been helpfully translated into several languages, English among them.

 

You ordered a mocha and a hot lamb sandwich in a slightly hushed voice, trying hard not to side-eye the animals outside. It wasn't as if they could hear you, and it was very unlikely that any of their animals ended up on the menu, but it still seemed a little insensitive.

 

Loki also opted for a coffee, while Thor and Brunnhilde naturally ordered whatever alcohol was strongest. If the 'weak' crystal mead was any indication, the most powerful libations of man wouldn't so much as give the Asgardians a buzz, but maybe they'd like the taste.

 

Saldis and Borljot however, dared to try something new to them; Soda pop. They simply couldn't stop giggling about the bubbly sensation of the carbonation, though Borgliot declared it “Too sweet by far!”

 

Watching the others eat, it occurred to you that Asgardians all seemed to have huge appetites. Perhaps it had something to do with their different physical attributes. The denseness of their skin and muscle, the heaviness of their bones, it all probably required a great deal of nutrition. But if they were going to be eating like this the whole week...

 

“Where does the money come from?” You wondered aloud.

 

Thor paused in eating, never quite expecting your questions.

 

“Well...” He began. “Multiple avenues, actually. First of all, though the less than adoring crowds outside the city today might attest otherwise, there are a great many people in this world who look upon us charitably. We receive many donations of useful things; clothes and cloth, dishes, kitchen utensils, books, pencils and paper, and a great many other things, which lessen our daily costs. Otherwise, some of our scholars have been offering Asgardian language and history courses at the local schools, and our weavers, clothiers, and artists are facing a growing demand for their works. When the city is closer to being finished, we will open for tours. And, of course, I am a member of Earth's primary defense force, which pays well on it's own, not even taking into account the merchandise.”

 

“Oh, you mean the calendars?” You asked.

 

“What do you know about the calendars?” Loki asked, mildly scandalized. “Oh, you own one, don't you?”

 

“Uh...well...I did.” You admitted. “I doubt Dad would have saved it, even if he did manage to get some of my stuff.”

 

“What calendars are you talking about?” Saldis asked.

 

“Uh, well...They're sorta like...Do you know what a pin-up is?”

 

She shook her head.

 

“Well, they're...pictures that are kinda risque, but not outright...you know...pornographic.”

 

“Oh my.” Saldis said, and you ducked your head in embarrassment. “And you owned one of these?”

 

“I, uh, I owned the whole set. What?” You griped defensively. “I like the Avengers, and the calendars are kind of a hot commodity.”

 

Thor snorted with laughter.

 

“Well, I don't own them anymore! I hope they didn't just get thrown away.” It would be a shame if no one else was enjoying shirtless Iron Man, with his mysterious glowing heart, working on his suit. Or Shirtless Captain America, grease smeared artfully on his hands and face, fixing an airplane. Or any of the other shirtless pictures of various heroes, in teasing poses. Even the king...

 

Should you be bashful about that? Having seen the king like that?

 

“What picture did you leave on?” Loki asked suspiciously.

 

“It was May...Yeah, that Was Captain America, and some puppies.”

 

“Of course...” He said sourly.

 

“Why do you care? Were you in it?”

 

“Of course not! Do you really think I would debase myself so, as to participate in such a..a burlesque?”

 

“He's in next years.” Thor said conspiratorially. “We put him in a jail cell and handcuffed him to the bars.”

 

Loki went bright red in the face at Saldis' gasp, and Brunnhilde's bray of laughter.

 

“I-it's for Asgard...” He stammered. “All the proceeds come to us...I only did it for the sake of the people. It's not like I enjoyed it.”

 

“It's true.” Thor teased. “He complained the whole time.”

 

“I've got to get one of these calendars!” You declared.

 

“You'll do no such thing!”

 

“You can't stop me.”

 

“I very well can!”

 

“I'm going to get two.” Brunnhilde said. “And if you won't allow her to get her own, I'll give her one of mine.”

 

“Why must you torment me so?” Loki adopted a put-upon pout.

 

The rest of the meal passed in companionable jokes and conversation, though Loki continued to pout a little. No doubt he disliked being embarrassed in front of the likes of Saldis and Borgliot, but you figured nobody could be purely dignified all the time.

 

Never mind that this all could be considered your fault for bringing up the calendars, or even asking about finances in the first place.

 

 

*****

 

 

Soon enough, you were on the road again, all stomachs pleasantly filled.

 

“How many illicit photos do you think they took?” Brunnhilde asked. “You gonna charge them?”

 

“No, we ate most of their food, after all.” Thor said. “And besides, how would we even prove it? Confiscate and search their phones? Asgard is not a police state, and neither is Iceland.”

 

“Did they take pictures of us?” You wondered. “I didn't notice.”

 

“Not us, though they might have.” Brunnhilde answered back. “Sleipnir.”

 

“We tried to take him to a few horse shows, to drum up some quick cash.” Thor explained. “Of course, he was disqualified immediately. However, many people were eager to pay for pictures, so we didn't go away empty handed. There were even a few offers to put him to stud. If those offspring are found viable, we may have a very lucrative source of income indeed.”

 

“Oh wow, I'll bet!” A whole new breed of multilegged horses running around...The horse world would be turned upside down and shaken about!

 

Then again, hadn't Loki said that his Leynarodd was related to Sleipnir? She did look like a paragon of horse-kind, large and beautiful, but she had the normal number of legs. Perhaps functional polymelia was not a dominant trait.

 

A few hours later found you deep within a terrain that was unusual to both Iceland and Iowa: Forest. A lovely forest of pale, slender birches and furry-looking spruces, the understory a magical blanket of flowers. It was straight out of a fairytale; you half-expected to spot an elf peeking out from a particularly lush patch of blossoms.

 

But that was silly. Elves didn't exist.

 

Just gods. And aliens. And killer robots. And green rage giants. And century old, cryogenically preserved super soldiers. And wizards. And ghosts. And magic stones that could reshape the universe.

 

You continued looking for elves.

 

Leaving the forest behind, the road took a rather sharp turn, as a series of lazy switchbacks took you suddenly up the mountainside. As the air grew thinner and colder, you drew your cloak closer and leaned over Acorns neck. Even in summertime, you found the air a bit chilly. Back home, you would be sweltering, seeking the refuge of an air-conditioned indoor environment. Here, there hadn't been a single day where the sun had caused you to sweat, even though it graced the sky day in, day out.

 

The higher you rose, the more pronounced the chill became, wind cutting through all your layers of clothing, burning your ears. At your first tooth-rattling shivers, a thick, velvety, leaf-green cape was dumped over your head. You wrapped it tight around you, peeking out from the makeshift hood, to give Loki a grateful smile.

 

He remained as regal as ever, though now bared to the wind, which teased his sable hair.

 

“If you begin to feel faint, say so immediately.” He urged. “The air is thinner up here, and it may affect you. We will need to see to you as soon as possible, if you begin to grow weak.”

 

You agreed without any argument. You and Tara had once gone on a hiking vacation in the Rockies once, and you knew exactly what altitude sickness felt like.

 

These mountains didn't rise quite high enough to truly take your breath away, but the altitude did cause a painful pressure in your ears, Loki noticed you gritting your teeth and tried to stop the whole expedition to fuss over you, but you flatly refused.

 

“It'll go away once we get lower.” You said, deflecting his insistence that you stop. Maybe the discomfort was making you irritable, but you found his fretting to be annoying. You were already well aware that you were the weak link here, but you would not be responsible for slowing the group down over something as simple as temporary, manageable pain.

 

But on the other hand, maybe he was as worried about putting you back in that murderer's presence as you were. This man wanted to kill you! If any of a number of things had gone differently, he might have succeeded.

 

How many times might he have replayed the scenario in his mind? If you had died in his arms that day, what would he have done? Would he have returned your body home, or buried you here? Would he have hunted your killer down? Did he care enough back then? Would he have mourned? And what would the magical bond between you have done to him if you had died? He didn't even seem to know.

 

But you were going to die long before Loki did, so there was no way to avoid it: He would find out eventually.

 

You shook your head, trying to clear the morbid thoughts as well as the painful pressure. This was no time! That was the future, and you couldn't know what would happen. Besides, you were nearly at the top.

 

As you crested the mountaintops, and began down the other side, you were overtaken by the glorious view of the glittering fjord, sprinkled with ships and bordered by a thick band of green farmlands. In the distance you could barely make out the city. It seemed so small from here. It didn't even fully cover the inward edge of the fjord, lying clustered all on an outcrop on one side, surrounded by even more verdant farms.

 

A killer lay in its midst. You were headed right for him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Akureyri was the second largest human settlement in Iceland, and even to a small-town American woman, it didn't seem very big. Bigger than your hometown, but smaller by far than the nearest 'large' city in Iowa; a state famous for its large cornfields, not its population.

 

The group of you crossed a long bridge over the beautiful fjord, only to find even more protesters on the other side. At the first hint of a waving sign, you found yourself surrounded by horses, Asgardians on all sides. These protesters stayed beside the road, and made no moves to approach, being watched by bored-looking police officers, who also did not move from their spots.

 

Despite the much more peaceful appearance of these protesters, the Asgardians remained on high alert all the way to the nice hotel, and sent both Valkyries to lead the horses to their own reservations at the nearest stables. The rest of you stowed yourselves away in the restaurant area to await their return.

 

You were hearing a surprising amount of American English being spoken by the people around you. Either tourism was booming, or they were here for the trial. You never thought that the sound of your homeland's speech would awaken suspicion in you, but you found the Asgardian accents around you to be a barrier to the dread.

 

“Loki and I will be in one room, Brunnhilde and Borgliot in another, and _____ and Saldis will be in the last.” Thor said, and the chatter around you diminished. You noticed a young woman staring at you, though she looked away when you met her gaze. “Apparently, these were the last rooms available, as a large wave of tourists have arrived for the summer. The receptionist rather helpfully told me that this happens every year, but not quite to this degree.”

 

“No more mouth.” You tried to say in Asgardian.

 

“Pardon?” Loki asked, astonished.

 

“No mouth. No more mouth.” You didn't know how to say it, but when Thor had mentioned their sleeping arrangements, too much of that background English had abruptly stopped. People were obviously listening in, either out of pure curiosity, or for more suspect purposes. You couldn't tell them in English, because everyone would understand, but you didn't have the words in Asgardian yet.

 

“Mouth? Dear, I don't think...”

 

You flapped your hand like a puppets mouth, and his expression became understanding. He turned to Thor, speaking swiftly in a language you had never heard. All of the Asgardians seemed to understand, but all you could tell was that it was not Asgardian. They all seemed to agree with what he was saying, Saldis grabbing your luggage and leading you to your shared room.

 

“We really need to work on your Asgardian, my seidkona.” She said blandly, as you entered the very nice room.

 

“Yeah, sorry, I haven't picked up nearly as much as I oughta. Andsvarr tried to teach me some basic stuff, but I don't have nearly his gift for language.”

 

“It is something he is very good at. It's a shame his father wouldn't let him pursue a scholar's life, but nothing would do for him but that all his sons be in the royal guard.”

 

“His father is that Alarr guy? He seems, uh....”

 

“He is a donkey.” Saldis sniffed, hanging your dresses. “Always braying and stepping on other people's feet.”

 

“Woah. Are you supposed to talk like that?”

 

“Who is going to tell?”

 

You started laughing, because it certainly wasn't going to be you, but the laughter turned into a short scream, as Saldis disappeared in a cloud of smoke, to be replaced by a larger figure.

 

You fumbled for your knife, drawing it just as Loki cleared the smoke.

 

“Oh dear.” He slowly moved the point of your knife aside with one finger. “Have I startled you?”

 

“W-what's going on now?” You demanded. “Where's Saldis?”

 

“With Borgliot.” He said. “We saw fit to reassign our sleeping arrangements. There is simply too much potential for danger, for you to be left with a non-combatant.”

 

“You understood. Thank goodness.” You sheathed your knife. “Everyone was listening in.”

 

“Fortunately, no one in that room had the possibility of understanding Vanas. Unfortunately, that included you as well. I regret that we could not tell you what we were about to do, but we had no way to do it without also informing potentially dangerous eavesdroppers.”

 

“Yeah, well. Okay.” You put your knife away, laying the sheath on an end table.

 

“You should keep that with you.” Loki suggested.

 

“I'm in my own hotel room, and it's close by. Besides, I really shouldn't be carrying it here. I'm pretty sure it's super illegal. We came here to see justice done for a crime, so we shouldn't be committing another crime at the same time. So...are you sleeping here now?”

 

“There's two beds my dear. You needn't fear anything nefarious from me. Well, not much, anyway. Or, do you prefer your servant's company to mine?”

 

“Well she was putting my dresses away. Looks like now you have to finish that for her.” You quipped.

 

That might have been a mistake. Loki locked eyes with you, lifting a dress from the luggage, and reverently hanging it next to the others. The next one caught his eye, being green and soft, and sleeveless. You noticed that it had a surprisingly low neckline. Who had put that in there? It was nowhere near warm enough outside to warrant revealing that much skin.

 

Loki held the dress up to the light to examine, fondling the cloth, taking in all the little details. He then slowly approached you, holding the dress up against your form, as if trying to imagine what it would look like if it were actually being worn.

 

“Put this on.” He said, voice a soft whisper.

 

“Wha-now?” You exclaimed. He nodded. “Why? We're not going anywhere.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

You sighed and took the dress into the bathroom.

 

It fit. It fit really well. It also made you look like you belonged on the cover of an old fantasy novel, where everyone was wearing very impractical things to be fighting dragons, but sure looked good. You weren't sure you had seen anyone else in Asgard who showed this much skin.

 

“I...I don't know if I want to come out.” You called through the door. “I'm kinda embarrassed.”

 

“I'm sure you've nothing to be embarrassed about.” He called back. “Besides, twice this day you have commanded me as if I were a servant, and I have acquiesced. Come out, and show me the dress.”

 

You should have known that would come back to haunt you. At least he didn't sound angry. You steeled yourself, and stepped out into the room.

 

You'd expected a bit of ridicule. Teasing about your figure, or comparison to the graceful and powerful Asgardian women, or even outright dismissal. What you did not expect was for his breath to catch, or for him to fail to hide it. For his eyes to rake over you, or his lips to curl upwards with smug satisfaction.

 

“Uh...Do you like it?” You asked shyly. The last time you had dressed up privately for a man, he had ended as your emotionally abusive ex.

 

“Very much.” He said. “I knew I had good taste.”

 

“You put this in here?”

 

“No, no. I ordered it made for you, but I did not know it was done yet. We have galas and feasting holidays in the wintertime, and I wanted you to have something appropriate to wear.”

 

“You call this appropriate?” You asked, gesturing to the distressing neckline, and immediately regretting drawing his eyes back to your chest like that.

 

“It is not inappropriate, and that is the most important part.” He pointed out. “You would hardly be wearing the most risque thing I've seen at one of these galas.”

 

“Well, you're a legendary prince, you've probably seen all kinds of things during your fancy dances. Or after...” You halted that train of thought right there. That was none of your business.

 

The levity left his face as you spoke. “Have I caused offense? You look a vision, my dear, I thought you would see that when you put on the dress. I am not angry about your demands; I found the audacity amusing.”

 

“No, no, I'm just on edge right now, it's not your fault. I'm probably gonna be all wound up like this until the trial is over. I'm scared of all the people out there, I'm even scared of hearing my own language!”

 

There was a knock at the door. You jumped, crossing your arms over your chest.

 

“Well, in that case, it's probably a good thing I ordered dinner to be delivered to us.” Loki announced.

 

Green light flickered at his outlines, his appearance changing until the visage of Saldis stood before you. She wore Loki's expression, winked at you, then opened the door to accept the meal. Once that was done, he resumed his regular form.

 

“I didn't know you could do that!” You exclaimed. “Must come in handy!”

 

“You have no idea. Now, have a seat, let us have dinner.”

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Loki had known that dress was going to make you into a work of art when he had commissioned it, but he had not counted on just how exquisite the combination of cloth and bashfulness would be. He couldn't wait to show you off at the Buridag gala, but even deeper down than that, he wanted to hide you away so that no one else could see you like this.

 

He felt that was rather silly of him, considering that everything he had done so far had been specifically so that you would be seen. Seen, and known, and respected.

 

But he still didn't want anyone else to see this. To see you shy and squirming in a perfect dress of his own devising. Perhaps he was just feeling protective. You had been projecting distress all day, after all, and he wanted to lighten your mood just a little. Make you smile a few times before he had to allow you back into the presence of that murderous human slime.

 

How he wished you had let him kill the man!

 

Instead, he set the food down on a little table, and pulled out the chair for you. Producing a gilded candelabra with green candles, he lit them with a spell, and placed it in the center of the table. You mumbled something about the candles being green, but of course they were green, always green, like the verdant living lands, like farms full of food, like forests full of timber. It would always be green, green and gold, the twin colors of prosperity, success, and wealth.

 

He drew the heavy curtains closed, plunging the room into candlelit darkness. The sun wouldn't set for another month, but here, he could at least create for you a kind of faux night. He even poured the wine for the both of you, having chosen a unique and less powerful variety specifically for you. He still caught you eying it suspiciously.

 

“I'm told this is a very special wine. Locally made by the only winemaker on the entire island. They called it Kvöldsól, and it is apparently made without any grapes at all, but with wild berries, herbs, and rhubarb instead. I assure you, it is safe for human consumption. In fact, I am told that it is touted as a potent brew for the preservation of youth, driving away the ravages of age with something called anti-oxygen. Which sounds absurd; humans need great quantities of oxygen to live. But perhaps there is something to it?”

 

Yes, defending you from mortal aging was a worthy cause. It would be nice to keep you around for as long as possible.

 

“First of all.” You said, a gentle mirth in your voice. “I'm pretty sure it's 'anti-oxidants'. Second, are you implying that you don't?”

 

”Not as much as you, perhaps. Does it meet your approval?”

 

You took an experimental sip.

 

“Okay, yeah. It's good.”

 

It wasn't, not by Asgardian standards, but it also was at least a little different from the jumped up peasant fare that was nearly every other Midgardian wine. They were all either so sweet they might as well be desserts, or so dry they were tasteless. This, at least, had the excuse of being made with wild things, and if it was good for your health, he could make sure you had a supply.

 

Dinner was a charcuterie platter that also boasted a variety of fruits, nuts, crackers, spreads, and local cheeses, as well as what appeared to be one small smoked bird each, and one strip of cooked meat each.

 

Loki didn't suppose you could identify half of these things, except perhaps, the fruits, considering that most of them came from within Iceland, which you hadn't yet had the chance to see much of yet. He would have to arrange a royal road trip before the summer ended. What a great bonding opportunity that would be; on the road, alone together, learning more and more about what made each other work. He knew you would enjoy exploring, you had proven to be adventurous; even now you were choosing a little bit of everything for your plate, especially the things you were unfamiliar with. He wondered if he should tell you what everything was?

 

Most of this was finger food, and you ate with relish; it appeared lunch had not stayed with you. The journey through the mountains especially must have been grueling, he'd been able to tell by looking at you, but you had nobly refused help and just urged everyone to continue on.

 

“You've been so brave through all of this.” He said. “We will be here for a week, but this trial should not last that long. We can use the rest of the time to take a little vacation. There is a lovely botanical garden here in the city; we can get you some plants here, if you like. There are bookstores and museums. There are also shops, and a place to watch the whales swimming, and just across the fjord there is a waterfall to observe. We might be able to visit everything, if you like.”

 

“That might be nice. I've never seen whales before.” You regarded the little smoked bird and strip of meat with curiosity. They were different from the other fare before them, but you took several experimental bites anyway, and seemed to like them.

 

“Is this a quail?” You wondered. “It's so little. Tastes kinda weird. Not bad, but a little strange for a bird.”

 

“I believe this is a puffin. A type of seabird.” He elaborated at your blank expression.

 

“Like a seagull?” You asked. “You can eat seagulls?”

 

“Probably. I assume you can eat any kind of bird, they are all made of bird-flesh.”

 

“Eew, don't say bird-flesh.”

 

Loki held out his phone to you, having brought up a photo of a puffin.

 

“Ohhh, it's so cute!” You exclaimed. “Those live here? I think I'd rather see them than eat them.”

 

“I believe they used to be common fare, but now they only serve them to tourists. And visiting dignitaries, of course.”

 

“Okay, well I'll eat this one, because I don't like food to go to waste, but I think I'll stick with chicken from now on.”

 

“At least they understood our status when they sent us the sheep cheeks.” Loki said cheerfully, pointing at the strip of cooked meat. He had been rather impressed by the level of respect their hosts had shown by including it.

 

A bite stopped in midair, halfway to your mouth. “Uhhh...”

 

“What is it? Is something wrong?”

 

“I've just, uh, never eaten the cheeks off something before.”

 

Loki laughed quietly. “Of course not! That's kings fare. You would never have even seen such a delicacy. Meat from the head of the animal is always the best part, so it goes to the royal table. Unless, of course, you hunted the animal down yourself. So I suppose that's one way in which a peasant and a king might experience the same thing.”

 

“Don't like to waste food...” You muttered.

 

It was rather baffling to Loki, modern humans conceptions of what was good to eat. Granted, it seemed to change from region to region, but it seemed like, no matter where one went, there was some form of food that the locals turned their noses up at.

 

Perhaps he shouldn't judge too harshly. Some people simply couldn't digest certain things. Loki himself had some trouble with root vegetables. They sat like lead on his stomach, and made his bowels twist. Most people chalked it up to the pronounced pickiness of the nobility, but Loki could put forth his own guesses. Namely, that there was no such thing as a 'root vegetable' on Jotunheim.

 

He could change his face, but he couldn't change everything.

 

He still couldn't bring himself to tell you. Not yet. Certainly not now, when you had other things looming large in your mind. Later. When you returned home in triumph, and peace was restored.

 

Maybe.

 

It occurred to Loki that he had never actually told anyone of his true heritage himself. Odin and Frigga had always known. Odin had told Thor, and Thor had then told Brunnhilde and his Midgardian companions. And Loki had indirectly told all of Asgard, through the commission of his play, although that was after he had supposedly died a hero, and become beyond reproach.

 

But he'd never had to look someone else in the face and say to them with his own mouth 'I am a Jotun'.

 

It felt like admitting to a crime.

 

But it was not his crimes that were important here. The courthouse called, bright and early tomorrow morning. With any luck, this would all be over quickly and easily.

 

The time came to sleep, and Loki was as good as his word; he kept his back turned until you were changed and under your blankets, before turning out the lights and settling into his own bed.

 

As your breathing slowed, Loki allowed himself the tiny illicit thrill of imagining himself lying next to you, peacefully cuddling. Nothing inappropriate, nothing questionable, just gently holding you.

 

Loki knew that he liked touching you. He didn't put much thought into it; it was obviously because of the magical bond between you. His touch healed your body, your touch soothed his spirit. It seemed obvious.

 

He was not going to question a good thing right now.

 

Loki snuggled his other pillow, but it wasn't nearly as soft and warm as he imagined you to be.

 

Chapter Text

 

You'd only eaten a light breakfast, but it sat like a brick in your belly. Saldis had reappeared in your room once morning came, to help you dress and make sure you were ready. You weren't ready.

 

You certainly looked ready. Your hair was fine and your dress was fine, simple, plain, and modest. Your insides however, were spinning in frantic circles. What if the jury decided not to convict the guy? What if they all hated you too? What if somehow it got all turned around, and it was Loki that got thrown in jail instead? How would you help your prince then? You would have to go to jail too in that case, to stay alive. Would they put you in the same cell? Next to each other? Or would they find the farthest distance you could be from one another, and force you to stay that far apart?

 

No, no, those kinds of things only happened in television dramas. You had to ignore everything you had seen in the media about court proceedings; they were only written like that so that they wouldn't bore the viewers. Your only purpose here, Loki's only purpose here, was to give testimony. No one was going to try to put Loki on trial here, nor you. No one was going to let that man hurt you either. He was going to be confined to a chair, with no weapons, and there would be a lot of security. Brunnhilde and Borgliot, and even Thor himself would be there. You would be safe, and Loki would be safe, and soon this would be over.

 

But in order for it to be over, It had to begin. It couldn't be over until you had gone through it.

 

And so it was that you arrived at the courthouse, to find yet more protesters on the steps. Again, you found yourself surrounded by a protective Asgardian wall, though, to your surprise, many of these protesters seemed to be there in support of you. They had nothing but scathing denouncements for Loki though, viciously scolding him for his many crimes against humanity in general, and you in specific.

 

You wanted to tell them that it wasn't like that, but you didn't think they would be able to hear over their own shouting.

 

Thankfully, they were not being allowed into the actual courthouse, and would not be able to disturb the proceedings, though they had managed to disturb you. You hadn't thought about the awful things Loki had done on Earth for a while now, not when he showed you such consideration. He was so gentle with you, so...almost normal. But he had killed people, potentially many people. However, due to the secretive nature of some of the organizations he had attacked, no one had anything but rough estimates for how many deaths he was responsible.

 

No. You were here for a human murderer, and you would see justice done in this case at least.

 

The bereft soldier, Adalheid, was already there. As the primary witness to the actual murder, she had come to the city a few weeks ago for the preliminary hearing, and now waited in what you were calling the Witness Room with a few of the victim's family members. You couldn't speak with her directly, but with Loki and Saldis there, everyone was able to communicate fairly effectively.

 

To your surprise, nobody seemed to blame you. You were the reason the killer had even come here in the first place, but everybody placed the blame squarely on his shoulders, where it belonged.

 

“You cannot take the blame.” The victim's sister told you. “All you did was leave home. This man, he came with violence in his heart.”

 

“I knew that he would die long before I did.” Adalheid said through Saldis. “But I thought we would have some decades yet. That I might make him happy for the time we did have.”

 

“You did, dear. He always wanted to go back to you.”

 

It could have been you. People sitting around a room, consoling themselves over your absence. But instead, it was some guy who was completely uninvolved. If people back home thought you had somehow betrayed them for Loki, then ultimately, you could understand why they would be angry. Maybe even why someone would try to kill you. Somehow, it was more offensive, more cruel, that a man was dead now, just because he liked to cuddle with an Asgardian soldier.

 

Well, you would get vengeance for him. With the power of law!

 

It was, thankfully, nowhere near as dramatic as any of the television or movie trials you had seen, although there was the somewhat surreal experience of having the undivided attention of a room full of people who could neither speak to, nor understand you. Oh, it was likely that a few people here knew English, but maybe not well enough that you could communicate with each other.

 

That was Saldis' true purpose here. Being fluent in both Icelandic and English, she translated back and forth, able to effectively express nuance that might have been lost otherwise.

 

They wanted to know fairly simple things from you. Did you know the defendant? Had you ever met before, in person or on social media? Had you ever heard of him? No to all.

 

Had you ever met the victim? Had you otherwise heard of him? Not exactly, but from the little love nest Loki had described to you, you had surmised that someone like him must exist. You personally had never seen the evidence.

 

What did you remember from the day you were attacked? If you never saw his face, how do you know this is the same man who attacked you? Because he had blatantly told you at the scene of the murder itself.

 

All questions you had heard before, safe, rehearsed. No unexpected game changers from out of left field, no trying to twist your words around. No blame.

 

They released you from the stand, your head swimming in unfulfilled anxiety. That had been so simple. Your part was over now, and it almost felt as if you hadn't done anything at all.

 

You made your way back to the Witness Room, still edgy. That had been actually boring! The killer hadn't even looked at you! No one had said anything else to you, other than the questions you knew they were going to ask. They hadn't even gotten mad when you couldn't bring yourself to swear on a bible. Thor had actually brought you Stormbreaker to place your hand on. He'd been asked politely but firmly to put it away and not bring it out again while he was within the city, but nobody had said anything to you about it.

 

That stunt would have gotten you killed socially and in the media back in the States. But things were different now. You took meals with gods, and slept in hotels with them. You held their hands and scolded them. You weren't the same now as you had been then.

 

Saldis tried to convince you to sit down and wait, but you were just too wound up to rest. You paced round and round, jumping as the door suddenly opened and Loki swept regally into the room.

 

“My dear.” He said. “You look troubled.”

 

You stopped pacing and hurried over to him. “I'm just...I don't know...”

 

“I think I do. Lucky for us, our presence is no longer necessary. We can go wherever we like now. Would you like food?”

 

“You said there was a botanical garden? Can we go there?”

 

“Certainly. We can spend the rest of the day there, if you wish.” He promised, taking your hand.

 

“Your Highness, will you require my services any further?” Saldis asked.

 

“Not for today, I think. You may go where you wish, but do not go alone. Enjoy your day.”

 

Saldis bowed. “Thank you, your Highness.”

 

Loki led you back to the steps of the courthouse, where the protesters still gathered. They began shouting again, their fervor rising as they noticed Loki still holding your hand. Several people started screaming about love conquering all, but others jumped forward trying to separate you, to 'liberate' you.

 

“Oh, definitely not.” Loki muttered. He swept you into his arms as security guards rushed to restore peace. With a wild laugh, he sprang from the stairs, landing as gracefully as a dancer. Cries of awe and fear rose up behind you, receding as Loki ran down the street, carrying you off like a princess.

 

“You crazy bastard!” You gasped. Loki set you on your feet, and you leaned against the nearest wall until your heart stopped thudding.

 

“Those are very inelegant words with which to describe your prince and savior.” He said with a fake scowl. “Never fear; I can provide better ones. Gallant, for starters. Noble, courageous, clever, devastatingly handsome. Take your pick.”

 

“What kind of stunt was that?” You exclaimed. “What if you'd dropped me?”

 

“Oh _____,” Loki said, trailing a finger down your cheek. “When would I ever do that?”

 

You needed to lean against the wall for a little longer.

 

People started to notice you, or rather, Loki. These seemed like the regular residents of the town, and they did not try to approach, but you saw an awful lot of cellphones out and pointed in your direction.

 

The stroll through town would have been quite pleasant, aside from that. The place was very clean, and there were many cute buildings with bright paint.

 

“Loki, I think there are people following us.” You whispered, clinging to his offered arm.

 

“I know.” He whispered back. “As long as they keep a respectful distance, let them take their pictures and videos. What will it show to the world, save you and I sharing a quiet day in peaceful accord?”

 

“Is that your version of PR?”

 

“Given that the majority of Earth's footage of me is rather unflattering, yes. Let your internet flood with videos of myself chivalrously escorting you around the city. I don't mind it in the least.”

 

Nobody followed you into the gardens themselves, but Loki's presence did cause a stir there, gathering stares and whispers as he charmed the receptionist into appointing another worker as a personal guide and security guard. The poor fellow tried his best to clear the area, chattering about the history of the place, which Loki helpfully translated for you.

 

According to your new guide, the gardens were initially built in the early twentieth century, by a group of ladies who wanted to bring a bit of beauty to their far northern city. Over time, it grew and grew, encompassing some of the oldest buildings in the city, and containing, not only many examples of the hardy native flora, but also foreign species, carefully tended to keep them healthy.

 

There were plants here of types you hadn't seen in months. How could it have been so long since you had seen roses? Sunflowers? All these blossoms, so common to the landscaping of home, yards and gardens. You spotted a bed of purple coneflowers and found yourself fighting to hold back tears. These grew wild along the roadsides, little pops of pale purple swaying in the sparse breeze of late summer. When you were younger, walking home from school, you used to gather bouquets of them, leaving them in a vase for your Nanna Beth to find when she got home. They had been decimated by the Event, along with everything else.

 

Endless cornfields, and endless sky, and endless stars, and endless roads. Hedgerows and wildflowers on the roadsides, remnants of forest and prairie. The wide, flat expanse of living things, with just the occasional town tucked here and there, hidden among the life-giving corn.

 

It was still wrong somehow. Something was missing. Something was too still.

 

No butterflies. Almost no insects at all, just some small flies, hovering around the blossoms. For the first time you realized how quiet Iceland was. All the chirping, buzzing, and song you had grown up with were silent here. No crickets, no hornets, no cicadas, frogs, or grasshoppers.

 

You felt Loki's hands cup your shoulders. He had been speaking to you, but you had been too enthralled in the world the coneflowers had taken you back to. You turned and buried your face in his chest, and though he stiffened, he didn't seem entirely unprepared for a sudden reaction from you, and merely crossed his arms loosely around you.

 

Home was gone. Every time you thought you had come to accept that, something happened to awaken that ache inside again. Something was there to remind you of how far away and lost you were, how much of a stranger. But Loki was too, and you could turn to him. You both lived here now, but had come from far away places, very different from your new home.

 

How did he cope? For him, everything would seem wrong. The animals, the people, the plants, even the stars.

 

“Let it out my dear, I know you've been stressed. You have spent the whole day nearly vibrating from it. It is over now. You are unlikely to be called back to witness again, and no matter the outcome, he is going away. He will be subject to justice, the only question left is the severity of his punishment.”

 

“I know, I know! It's okay, I know. I was just...Those flowers over there, they used to grow...”

 

You found a bench to sit on, and told him everything; how isolated you felt, how out of place, how lost.

 

“But it's got to be so much worse for you.” You said. “How do you deal with it?”

 

“Well...I may not actually have it all that much worse than you.” Loki mused. “After all, my people are here. I am surrounded by them, by my culture. I hear my own language every day, see and wear familiar clothing, hear songs that I know.

 

You may be on the same world, but Earth is so large that the people in another area can be so different as to be nearly unfathomable. Yes, they're also human, but can you speak with them? Do you live in the same way? The rules may be different for them, and they have no way to tell you that. There is no one to protect and succor you. That's true isolation; to be alone, even among your own species.

 

Yet, you don't even have that. You no longer live among other humans. Everyone you see in a day is technically an extraterrestrial. Some are Aesir. None are humans, no matter how similar we might look, and something in your instincts knows that. Only a handful of people there know your language, and all sound foreign to you. The clothing is different from yours, some of the food as well. The culture is different, the architecture, the stories and holidays.

 

There are many things that are unfamiliar to me here. The fact that I cannot reach the edge of this world. Time zones. Seismic activity. But I am facing all of these things with my brother at my side, and my people behind me. So I really couldn't say which of us has it worse.

 

“I do feel lost sometimes. The sky here does not act right. The animals and plants of this world are terribly strange. Do you know how insane the concept of a whale is to someone whose world had no ocean? I do feel like I do not belong here, and I feel the isolation as well, on a deeper level than I can explain right now. At least one very powerful nation absolutely despises me, and they are not without reason. They have the ability to influence others, and are continually attempting to do so, even here.”

 

He leaned back against the bench with a deep sigh. Your guide continued trying to shoo away people with their phones, and you couldn't help but wonder how flooded with pictures and videos of the two of you the internet was about to be.

 

“I honestly wouldn't fret about it all that much, if not for the trouble my enemies try to bring upon those who are not my enemies. My brother. My people. You. There are already casualties, and I wasn't even involved! This is another reason I do not try to stop these people from filming me. The more normalized I become, the less controversial a figure. The more people see me as a person, the fewer people will attempt to do what this man has done.”

 

“And I can ultimately help with that.” You concluded. “Just by existing. As long as I look happy and healthy, and stay by your side, the more you look like a friend.”

 

“Indubitably. That wasn't the initial plan. There was no plan. But now...well, if there is a plan, it's a very loose one, it's just that I keep finding new and valuable facets to your company. So, If you find yourself feeling lost, feel free to come to me. We can be lost together.”

 

You sighed as well, this time in fondness. “You're very good at grand proclamations, you know? Is that part of being raised as a political figure?”

 

“Would you prefer me to be more succinct?”

 

“I'd rather you just say what you feel.”

 

“Oh my dear,” Loki said with a grin. “I hope then, that you are prepared to hear many, many words.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Loki gazed out over the city, triumph swelling in his breast. Everything had gone perfectly! All his enemies had fallen, one by one; a mechanical heart crushed beneath his heel, a spy murdered, a skull split, a soldier captured, a brother banished, and a monster subdued.

 

He stepped out onto the open balcony, watching with great satisfaction as his army wove through the city, decimating the rest of the opposing forces. They would wind throughout the nation, spreading the news of his reign. Portals would be opened all over the planet, dropping more of his soldiers, consolidating his power. He should be king within days. King Loki, Allfather of Midgard. What a lovely ring it had.

 

Standing beside him, Odin nodded slowly.

 

“I remember what this was like.” He said. “The eve of a successful conquest. The feeling is indescribable. What will you do with them now, my son?”

 

“I'm not-” Loki snapped. “If you fear that I will align them against you, do not. I care nothing for you or Asgard. I now have what I was promised, and I will rule them like a stern father. I will make them great, brook no insolence, and eventually, we will rise in prominence to become a galactic power.”

 

“Ah, yes, what was promised to you.” Odin said, unperturbed. “And what of what you promised? Those that facilitated this victory will come for their tithe. The price of your reign is half your own subjects!”

 

“There are billions of them” Loki snarled. “Losing billions only means that I still have billions left! And they breed so swiftly that their numbers will swell within a mere century. The Titan is a fool, and his price is a temporary setback at best!”

 

“Does the king consider his subjects to be mere chattel? To be traded as currency for power?”

 

“It's half or all. I am doing them a favor by ensuring their survival under my rule.”

 

“Perhaps. But you might be losing more than you understand. The true price of your reign might be as yet unforeseen.”

 

Loki sneered. “You use so many words, yet say nothing.”

 

“Then perhaps you should be shown, boy.” Odin placed his hand on Loki's arm, and they were whisked away to another place.

 

Loki found himself on a road, surrounded by orderly rows of tall plants that went on for miles on all sides. Before him was the edge of a town much smaller than where he had just been, its inhabitants being herded onto either side of the road, into the deep ditches that divided asphalt from field.

 

Yes, this was part of the plan. Every planet Thanos got involved in had to be purged-for the inhabitants own good. Even though Loki would rule, the Titan must still have his due. It didn't matter. There was no reason to care.

 

But there was a woman there, being shoved roughly into the ditch, facing down the death squad with all the ferocity of a wild animal. She was bruised, bloody in places, thrown back again and again as she tried to clamber back up out of the ditch. Her left hand bled especially profusely.

 

As his army took aim for their deadly work, she turned, the only one to notice he was here. Her eyes locked with his, filled with bewilderment and sudden curiosity, a plea for help.

 

He was the last thing she ever saw.

 

Something wrenched within Loki, a tremendous loss he couldn't place. A seething emptiness for something he hadn't known, but could have.

 

“There are consequences to every choice.” Odin said as the fields burned and the people died. “You must decide what it is that you really want. Not what anyone else has told you to to expect, but what is truly important to you!”

 

He was gone then, and the corpses were gone, and everything was gone, and he was awake in a Midgardian hotel room, and you were sitting up in the other bed, fretting slightly at the blankets.

 

Loki threw off his covers, flipped on a light, and crossed the few feet between your beds to kneel beside yours. He threw his arms around your middle, and lay his head down in your blanketed lap. You were shaking slightly, and didn't signal that you wanted him to stop, so he just nestled there.

 

“Is...is it just gonna be like that?” You asked. “Are we just gonna keep sharing dreams, whether we want to or not?”

 

“I hope it isn't so.” Loki mumbled. “My nightmares are frequent and awful.”

 

“Yeah, looks like. That was terrifying. Is that...Is that really how you were?”

 

Loki said nothing.

 

“Who was that man?”

 

“That was my father. It only makes sense that he would begin to appear in my nightmares.”

 

“Oh.” You said, absently stroking his hair. “Unresolved issues. And he's gone now, so you can only talk to him in your head. Loki, how did he die?”

 

“He willed himself to go. Ascended to Valhalla before my eyes.”

 

“Wait. Gods have an afterlife? Where...where do you go after you die?” It was clearly something you hadn't thought about before. Many humans didn't think gods could die, so why would they have an afterlife?

 

“Niflheim.” He said, gloomy and reverent. “The ninth realm. The realm of mystery. The land of the dead.”

 

“That's...a real place? Like one of the planets you showed me?”

 

“Yes and no.” Loki said. “It's a difficult place to pin down. We know it exists. We know where it is. But it's insanely difficult to get to, and those that go are all but guaranteed never to return. At least, not in the same form as they went. It's the only one of the realms I've never been to.” He raised his head from your lap with a slight frown.

 

“No, I suppose that's not true. I went there once. But I am not able to remember.”

 

“Because you died? And your soul went there, but it's still a real, solid place? I don't know if I'm really following here.”

 

“It is the realm of mystery.” Loki said simply. “There is a great deal of speculation surrounding it. But we know for certain that it is real.”

 

“Where is it?”

 

“Within a black hole.”

 

“I'm sorry, what?”

 

“It is within a black hole. Specifically, the one at the center of its galaxy.”

 

“But...I thought nothing survived a black hole. That's why they're so scary and compelling. That's why they show up in every space fantasy story ever written since their discovery. Because they're terrifying, inescapable destroyers.”

 

“Your people have no idea what happens beyond the event horizon of a black hole.” Loki pointed out. “And neither do mine. No one does; likely not even the inhabitants of Niflheim.”

 

“Which is totally a real place, where dead people live.”

 

“Which is totally a real place where spirits reside, and sometimes they still speak to us. And sometimes we remember a time when we were there, in between being one person and being the next. Niflheim is a realm, but it doesn't necessarily need to be a planet. It is where the spirit goes after death, and comes back to be reborn.”

 

“How? Light can't even get out of those things, how does a spirit escape? Do they swim?”

 

“It is not known. Photons may not be able to escape, but there are many types of energy in the universe, many types of waves that could comprise a soul. Things do escape black holes, through quantum tunneling. There are other potential ways, but we haven't solid evidence yet, and the few of us who did dedicate themselves to the realm's study have been disrupted. But...I was there, I know I was. I just don't remember.”

 

“Is that where Valhalla is? Did you go there?”

 

Loki shook his head. “Can't remember. I didn't come back to a different life, I was reinstated into my old one. I don't see how. I wasn't the kind of person who should sit among heroes. That's not who I am.”

 

“Says who? The king sure seems to think so. Most everyone I talk to speaks highly of you. And you've gone out of your way to help me. As it was described to me, you saved basically everyone's life when you brought the evacuation ship. And how many people did you potentially save when you set that absurd fire giant lose on your sister? How many people do you have to save, Loki? Like, what do you have to do? You said your dad willed himself to Valhalla? How many people did he save?”

 

“Quite a lot, actually. He's the one who initially locked Hela away. In Niflheim. He is the only person I have ever heard of who ever managed to open paths to the realm of mystery, and even then, he did it only thrice in all the millennia that he lived. I think he was only able to do it because of the kind of Aesir that he was: one connected to war and death. That's likely the only reason Hela could survive there, the reason the Valkyries were chosen to go forth and subdue her there. All associated with death.”

 

With all his exploring, all the paths and portals he had found, it was one of the only places beyond his reach. It had been frustrating in his youth, but now he had little desire to go back.

 

“Is that what heaven really is?” You wondered. “Souls sucked into a black hole, just waiting to escape?”

 

“Perhaps. That's what Niflheim is, but nobody can say for sure what it's like in there. The few people who can remember do say that it's divided up into lands, like an actual place. That there is some kind of reward or retribution for who you were when you lived. Aesir who ascend to Valhalla...their bodies dissipate into motes of light, and away they go. Thor didn't mention that happening to me, but sometimes it takes a while. As far as anyone knows, I was left a cinder, out in space, in the remains of a demolished ship. I didn't save anyone, _____. I failed, and died. That is what I do. I fail people, and I die.” A rueful laugh escaped him. “And they call that redemption.”

 

His death had solved nothing, not once in the several times he's been thought dead, and not when he had actually died. All he had left behind him was a legacy of ruin, where he had tried to help his people, and still caused innocents to die. Even here, people were beginning to die because of things he had done.

 

“Loki, that's not-”

 

“No.” He said firmly. “No platitudes. Not right now. I need to say this, please. I'm still doing wrong by you.”

 

“You-”

 

“Shh!” He pressed a long finger to your lips. “I wasn't meant to be this way. I know my reputation, and I earned it, but I didn't start out like this. I keep thinking if I can just successfully do something good...But I'm still just using you. To make me look and feel better, pushing my agenda and baggage all onto you.”

 

“I mean, You could have let me die. You didn't have to do any of this.”

 

“And what kind of choice is that?” He shot back. “Immediately leave your home and job, everything and everyone you've ever known, take nothing with you, leave your home nation, your culture, everything you love. Instead, live with people you do not know and cannot speak to, people who aren't even the same species as you, who live on timescales you cannot fathom, and manipulate powers you have no frame of reference for, tied to an evil villain who tried to conquer and enslave your people, and who murdered many of them. Or die. That is not a choice, that is coercion! That is what I have offered you. It is not some noble sacrifice on my part, the sacrifices have all been on you.”

 

“You're not an evil villain.” You said quietly.

 

“Oh, yes I am. Perhaps not actively, not at the moment. But it's still there. The things I have done, I did without remorse, without hesitation. Exactly like when I kidnapped you. There are things I've done you don't even know about, things whose consequences are still unfolding, and cannot be reversed or repaired. Dying isn't enough _____, I can never make up for what I've done. There is no retribution I can endure, no redemption I can hope for. I am truly wretched _____, and yet I keep striving for hope.”

 

You were quiet for a few long moments, long enough for Loki to wonder if he had said too much. You had the right to reject him, either for his past wrongs or his current pathetic whining, and he began to fear that you would.

 

“I'm not sure how to help you Loki.” You said, cradling his head. “I don't know what to say. I can tell you that you hide this well. But I'm tired and we just had a nightmare, so if you want you can stay next to me tonight.”

 

He craned his head up to gaze at you. “Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah. You're not gonna do anything bad. Get up here, and let's be lost together.”

 

Loki clambered into the bed next to you, all limbs and no grace.. He settled down next to you and, with your permission, cuddled right up.

 

There was something naturally comforting about the sensation of your living warmth against his body, of the occasionally discernible heartbeat, the gradually slowing breath. When you were sleeping, still and peaceful like this, he felt almost like a normal man.

 

 

*****

 

 

The next day found you on a ferry, crossing the beautiful blue fjord to a large island situated in the middle. There wasn't any blue water in Iowa; the streams and lakes were either clear and flowing, or thick with fertile, brown silt. The ocean smelled different from the waters of home, different even than the river that surrounded Asgard.

 

According to Loki-who was feeling much better this morning-the island of Hrisey promised to hold an enjoyable time for you, and so you had taken Acorn and Leynarodd north out of Akureyri, to the ferry.

 

Though the island was mostly ringed with high cliffs, there was a low harbor, and the rest seemed to be mostly flat. Loki took you to a small, seaside restaurant, which served some of the best fish soup you had ever had. The coffee was also very good, and both warmed you up very nicely. It was a cold morning for August, and you'd needed to put on all the layers you could. Your cloak would be getting quite a bit of use this winter, if this was any indication of the upcoming temperatures.

 

The little restaurant reminded you a lot of the old coffee shop back home, with its simple tables and chalkboard menu-helpfully written partially in English as well as Icelandic. Loki actually looked slightly uncomfortable in his surroundings for once, towering over everything, and seeming to take up way too much space. An extraterrestrial god-prince in a small town coffee shop. It was kind of amusing, and made you want to show him around back home. Or show him off, more precisely.

 

Oh, hey everybody meet my immortal god-boss! He's a real Prince Charming if you work for him, but he sure will slaughter the competition! Hahah, why are the cops here?

 

Yeah, that wouldn't go well. You did miss home, and it wasn't quite as old-fashioned there as people might think, but there were still people who painted bible verses on the sides of their buildings, and billboards that warned about the terrors of Hell. A known murderer claiming to be an actual pagan god was not going to be popular.

 

Loki leafed through the pamphlet provided when you'd left the ferry, while you ordered another coffee to-go. Hrisey supported only a tiny population of permanent residents; the majority of the island was a wildlife preserve, specifically for the seabirds. Outside of the single settlement, with its lovely, colorful houses, was broad, flat wilderness dotted with ferny puffs of fluffy white flowers, and patches of short juniper trees. The soaring mountains of the fjord were visible to either side, with only the shining waters separating you from them.

 

Using the pamphlet as a tour guide, the two of you visited the pair of museums located on the island: one focusing on historical life on the island, and the other specifically about sharks. That one was stationed in the oldest house on the island, a house that had once belonged to a man appropriately named Shark Jorundur, and detailed the history of shark fishing in the area, a profession no longer popular, but not entirely eradicated. Apparently, a traditional Icelandic dish was prepared from the fermented flesh of Greenlandic sharks, and you had never been less interested in tasting a local food.

 

There were many tractors in the little village, and you spotted one especially aged model with a trailer attached, loading up with people. A wave of familiarity crashed over you.

 

“Is that a hayride?” You exclaimed, dashing down to the street, leaving Loki to chase after you.

 

“Wait, no, ______,” He protested weakly. “You cannot mean to ride in that thing. Are we vegetable sacks, so lacking in dignity?”

 

“What's wrong?” You teased. “Scared of getting straw on your cloak?”

 

“This is beneath us.” He insisted.

 

“Not me.” You gestured at the cart. “This is essential summer and fall activity to me. You might have dressed me up and given me a different job, but you haven't pruned the cornfields out of this peasant just yet...” The people already in the cart were staring, some checking their phones and whispering to each other, some glaring. Altogether, they projected a rather unfriendly front. “...On second thought, a hike might be nice...”

 

Loki took your hand and led you away from the whispers and glowering, away to the lonely hiking trails.

 

“Looks like they recognized us...” You muttered.

 

“I am a rather prominent figure, and you are growing in notoriety. I do not see why they feel entitled to dominate the hayride, however.”

 

“You didn't even wanna ride it!”

 

“No, but you did.”

 

There were three paths, and you decided to take them all, one by one. You had the entire day after all.

 

The view was like a fairy tale from practically every inch of the island, and you let the magic of it sweep you away. It really was nearly perfect; beautiful surroundings, exploration, a mostly friendly village to return to, with delicious food waiting. A fantasy prince who held your hand and walked at your pace. He really was thoughtful sometimes. Willing to ride in a tractor trailer just because you wanted to. Taking you on this little vacation to calm your nerves and keep your spirits up while you waited on a verdict.

 

Loki seemed to like to go overboard on certain things. Now that he knew you were troubled, he was trying to overwhelm you with beauty. It was kind of working; you hadn't thought about the trial all day, and had only been bothered once, by the stand-offish stares of the people on the hayride.

 

The wind was biting cold though, whipping up off the water, the flat landscape doing nothing to slow it down, and even your plush cloak wasn't enough to keep your ears and nose from burning with cold, your eyes watering from the frigid gusts.

 

Again Loki provided a handkerchief for your eyes; you went much easier on this one.

 

“It appears that we will need to have another cloak made for you. Even this is clearly not sufficient. Fur lining perhaps? Heavier clothing too. It wouldn't do to let you take a chill. Your kind are remarkably adaptable, but you still fall to such things.”

 

Standing at the northernmost point of the path, Loki wrapped you in his cloak, so that only your face was poking out, the warmth of his body banishing the sting of the wind. You probably should have protested: this was far too casually intimate. This was boyfriend territory, and the thought of anyone calling Loki their boyfriend was just weird. It was so mundane.

 

But he had already said he didn't want you getting too cold, so you probably shouldn't worry about it. It was probably nothing more than Loki being extra. He was good at that.

 

“Behold.” He said softly, as birds approached, dapper little tuxedo patterned creatures, waddling and squawking with large, colorful beaks.

 

“Oh my gosh, puffins!” You exclaimed. The adorable penguins of the north. You watched them hop and cavort over the short, wild grasses, wrapped in the safe warmth of Loki's cloaked arms, and a little bit of joy suffused you. It would be wonderful to come out and do things like this every now and then. You'd hardly seen any of your new home, but everyone knew Iceland was beautiful. And also stuffed with volcanoes, which you hoped would not become a problem later. But as long as there were puffins, surely there was happiness in the world.

 

“They really are appealing little beasts, aren't they?” Loki mused. “Perhaps when we have the means, we can fund a wildlife sanctuary of our own?”

 

“You would want to do that? Loki, that would be amazing! There are so many places that need environmental help, but I've never been able to do anything about it.”

 

“Perhaps you will be able to, in the future. I don't mind helping. Your animals are whimsical and strange, and I rather like some of them. Contrary to popular belief, I do not actually hate the Earth. I never did, and Asgard has a long history of environmental conservation. Of course, that was for later exploitation, but the techniques were still effective.”

 

“Our own wildlife preserve...Maybe back in Iowa? There's a lot of endangered plants there, because of all the corn.”

 

“Would you like to plant them?” Loki asked. His face was awfully close, but you turned your head to look at him anyway, finding yourself captivated by those deep, glittering eyes.

 

“Yeah. I would.” You mumbled. So close.

 

A puffin hopped up on the path, and trod on your foot. It squawked loudly.

 

You looked down. “Oh my gosh!” You cried. “You're so cute! You're so brave! What do you want, beautiful birdie? You want scritches?”

 

“Meddling creature.” Loki muttered. “No wait!” He grabbed your wrist as you reached out to pet the bold bird. “It says in the pamphlet that we mustn't touch them. Their feathers have a special coating that protects them from the water, but our touch can destroy it.”

 

“Oh geez! Sorry little guy, I didn't know.”

 

“Here.” Loki said, enfolding your fingers with his. “Nothing to rub off here, except, perhaps, my many virtues.”

 

“Or your bad habits.” You snorted, giving him a small shove. Regret immediately flooded you; that wasn't the kind of thing you should be doing. That was something you did with Tara, or any of your old boyfriends, or school friends, or you dad. Not a god. Not royalty. Not your boss. Your hand-holding, surprisingly cuddly boss, who princess carried you, and snuggled you after nightmares... Okay, it could definitely be said that he started it.

 

Why was Loki so tactile? You couldn't help but wonder, as he kept hold of your hand, and began the long, leisurely walk back to the village. Was he like that with everybody? He didn't seem close with all that many people, and touching servants-even if it was in a completely professional manner-seemed like something everybody did. That was something you had noticed about Asgardians: They were not very proper about personal space, they were all back claps, and arm clasps, and tackles, and hugs.

 

Loki didn't seem to have any particular closeness with anybody. Even with his brother, he was somewhat withdrawn. He seemed to save it all up, to pour out on you.

 

Of course, you didn't yet know what he did, or who he was with when he was away from you. He could have plenty of friends you'd never met. He could have a whole mob of concubines...

 

No, that sounded wrong. Loki was very handsome, and very powerful, and had plenty of desirable traits, if anyone were to ask you. He was also a flirt, but oddly enough, he really didn't seem like a philanderer.

 

Still, you didn't know for sure. Not yet. Just that he seemed very comfortable with being close to you. Perhaps it was good for him, and maybe even a little for you as well.

 

There were whales in the water on the ferry ride back to the mainland, and Loki was particularly interested in them.

 

“Bigger than a bilgesnipe!” He exclaimed. “And humans used to hunt these with no more than harpoons? Preposterous!”

 

“We almost wiped them out. It wasn't even that long ago; some of them are still endangered.”

 

“It's a good thing Thor did not spend much time on this realm until recently. For certain, he would have joined in many such hunts with great gusto, and your whales would have been as much myth as we.”

 

“That would be terrible.” You said. “We've already caused so many extinctions. And just look at them out there. Wouldn't it be sad if they were all gone?”

 

“They are majestic.” Loki leaned on the railing, watching the huge animals swimming. As the ferry neared the shore, his phone rang. Whoever was on the other end of the line told him something he liked; his face stretched into a wicked, almost cruel grin.

 

“Well?” You demanded as he put his phone away. “What's that about? You look like a cat that just stuffed a dead bird in its owner's shoe.”

 

“Twenty years.” He said. “And immediate deportation upon release. Harsh, for Icelandic justice, but ultimately fair. The man did come here specifically to murder people, after all. Rejoice my dear. He shall never trouble you again.”

 

Relief flowed through you, lifting your stress, leaving you drifting on a kind of high all the way back to Akureyri. You floated through the entire evening like that, holding lightly on to Loki's arm while he took you out on the town, eating a lovely dinner, picking up a cellphone for you, and a little puffin charm to go with it. People followed you around, and everyone in the city must have gotten a picture of you, but none of that mattered to you for that night at least.

 

When you returned to your room, you actually gave him a real hug, full of solace and satisfaction. He took the opportunity to begin a slow dance with you, sweeping you effortlessly around the room until you were ready to turn in for the night.

 

You crawled under your blankets, looking forward to the rest of your vacation, and especially, a good night's sleep.

 

Chapter Text

You stormed into the bathtub, naked as the day you were born, and the fury of you pushed him back against the wall. It was hard now to remember that you were mortal. Small. Helpless. It was hard to remember when you approached, wrapped in burning rage, like a force of nature. Thor could not help, for he too, was weak in the face of mortal women. Brunnhilde would not help, for she knew, as Loki now did, that he had made a terrible mistake. He looked to them for support anyway.

 

They were not there. There was only you and him, in a bath that seemed increasingly too small. The water lapped at your breasts as you splashed towards him. He had tried not to look, he had really tried. But you had demanded it. “Look at me!” You had snarled, and he had, and he remembered every inch of skin he had seen before your little fist had connected...

 

Not again. It wasn't that the strike had hurt exactly, he hadn't minded that. It was the anger, and the hurt underneath it. It was knowing that it was all because of how callous and thoughtless he had been, when he was supposed to be better than that.

 

“Look at me!” You demanded, and he did, resigned to what was to come. Your hand shot out and grasped the back of his head, fingers curling in his hair.

 

What?

 

In a single, smooth movement, you closed the last of the distance between you and him, sliding up against his body and capturing his mouth in a searing kiss.

 

His entire mind blanked, and he just stood, dumbfounded for a few moments, until everything caught up with him. Then he flung his arms around you, crushing you to his chest and returning the kiss with equal fervor.

 

Oh, this...this was so much better than being punched...

 

He poured passion into you, wanting more, more, more. It had been so long since he'd had this, and even then, it was with suspicion and apprehension hanging over him. But this felt so pure, so true. He didn't want to ever stop.

 

He kissed you ceaselessly until the water went cold around him, and even then, he didn't want to stop. But the cold was creeping up his body, so, so cold. Cold and...hard...

 

He drew back suddenly, to stare into your unblinking, rime-covered eyes. Your face, your body, rigid like a perfectly detailed statue.

 

Loki tried to leap away, shouting in horror, but the bathwater was solid, trapping him from the hips down. He flailed, the blue of his skin catching his eye.

 

Odin was there, perched on the tiles on the other side of the tub. He was saying something, but Loki could not hear over his own screaming.

 

He opened his eyes to the false night created by the hotels blackout curtains, immediately rushing to your bedside. You were breathing softly, slowly, and he almost thew his arms around you in relief, only drawing back at the last moment, for fear that you would freeze at his touch.

 

What was getting into him? First, out on the island, he had almost...done something before that bird had interrupted. Had he almost kissed you? Why? Why was he dreaming about it now, why was he craving something like that? Such things were not for him, surely he was still too busy, surely he was not meant for trivialities like romance. That must be what the dream was about. He was still too broken, too untrustworthy, too dangerous. It would only end in disaster.

 

At least it was now obvious that you didn't share all of his dreams. You slept peacefully, unaware of the warnings his mind was providing him. A warning. He should heed it. Banish all thoughts of soft affections and closeness. It was just a warning to keep his hands to himself.

 

He had been getting too comfortable by far. Holding your hand out in public, putting his arms around you, dancing with you. Crawling right into bed with you, the instant you allowed it of him! He even tried running to you for comfort after this nightmare, even though he was the one who was supposed to be protecting you! Even though he was the one who was a danger to you.

 

That dream was incredibly unfair. He had never once lost control over his form, not ever. Only the touch of another frost giant, or their magic, could force him to revert, otherwise, he had perfect control. He had kissed others, and not frozen them.

 

None of them had been mortal though. Or rather, none of them had been as weak and lowly as a human. So soft, so delicate. So fragile. So brief.

 

He paused a moment to regain control of his breathing. There was something so appealing about your vulnerability, especially since you lived your life as if mostly unaware of it. All humans did, despite being the most frail of the peoples in the Eight Realms.

 

Retreating to his bed, he settled down, but did not sleep, visions of forbidden intimacy swimming just behind his eyelids.

 

 

******

 

You awoke, well rested and fresh. What lovely dreams you'd had. Traveling the universe, bathed in blue light, like a fading star. Something was attempting to communicate with you, not in words, but in impressions. It showed you dozens of worlds, peoples, stars, and other wonders. You could visit all these places, it promised, you could see all these things and more. All you had to do was learn how.

 

Bolstered by that potential future, you greeted the morning, barely noticing how quickly Loki switched places with Saldis, neglecting to tease you at all. At least you now knew you didn't share all of your dreams with him, not that you would have minded sharing this one.

 

You went out for breakfast with Saldis and Borgliot, and showed off your new puffin charm, and the seeds you had bought at the botanical gardens. Both women cooed over the puffin, just as charmed by the silly birds as you were. Saldis showed you a patterned, wool sweater she had bought to bring back to Andsvarr and a box of salted licorice for herself, and Borgliot had a bottle of Brennivin and a pair of very nice hiking boots for her brother, whom she told you was trapped on Vanaheim. There were a lot of families that had been scattered that way, with family members offworld at the time of Ragnarok, who had no way now to return without the Bifrost.

 

“We two shall meet again, I am certain.” Borgliot said. “In time, the Bifrost shall be repaired, and restored to its former power. We hast only to wait.”

 

Borgliot had time. She was maybe a little younger than the king, just young enough to have missed being discovered by the Valkyries before their last flight. Plenty of time left to see the Bifrost returned to full strength. You might not though.

 

Shame that. You did want to explore space, just like in your dream, but unless there was some breakthrough in building it, the Bifrost would be no help.

 

Saldis and Borgliot were going home today, since the trial was over, and they were no longer needed. Thor was swamped with press, and meetings with the local authorities, but he and Brunnhilde planned on leaving tomorrow, if they could conclude all their business by the end of the day. That would leave you and Loki alone in the city for two days after that, if you wanted to stay.

 

There was still a waterfall to visit, and more whale watching to do. Plenty of museums to visit, plenty of history to learn. Surely you could fill two days with education.

 

You saw the girls off on their horses with many well-wishes on their return, then rejoined Loki and Thor before the latter had to run off to another meeting. Brunnhilde, however, had other plans for you, dragging you away with her to input numbers into your new phone.

 

 

******

 

Loki watched you go with some apprehension. The Valkyrie could be unpredictable as he was, and Loki was disinclined to fully trust anyone who reminded him of himself. Still, he was certain that she would not allow you to get yourself into any real trouble, and said nothing as the two of you left.

 

“So...” Thor said, a jovial tone in his voice that Loki recognized as meaning some kind of brotherly teasing was on its way.

 

“Yes?” He said testily, not really in the mood.

 

“You have been somewhat...indiscreet this week, don't you think?”

 

“I'm sure I have no idea what you mean.”

 

“Oh, well then, allow me to show you!”

 

Thor held out his phone with a majestic flourish. His newsfeed was clogged with article after article full of pictures; you and himself walking together, holding hands, eating meals, hugging, leaning on each other, just being together. Headlines speculated every possible thought, though most of them were centered on whether or not you were dating. There was one that showcased a picture taken of him carrying you in his arms, and leaping from the courthouse stairs. He looked terribly dashing to his own eyes. The headline shouted in bold text:

 

DEMON OR DISNEY PRINCE: Could the Controversial Prince of Asgard Have Rethought His Stance on Human Inferiority?

He snorted. Possibly. But it wasn't anybody's business but his.

 

Directly beneath that article was yet another-there were stacks and stacks of them-that featured you clinging to his arm with an unpleasant, clearly photoshopped expression.

 

HUSSIE OF THE MONTH: Supposed Victim Actually Shameless Social Climber? Pictured Here Brazenly Clutching The World's Most Eligible Villain!

 

“My, that one is unfriendly, isn't it?” Thor said, disapprovingly.

 

“I am not that eligible.” Loki protested.

 

“That's the part you're concerned about?”

 

“There's so many of them. They just go on and on; why are there so many? Look at this: 'Fantastic Frenemies? The Lady Doth Not Protest Too Much?' Ugh, 'Loki's Live-In Lady'? Look, this one calls her a doxie! How dare they publish that! Is there no oversight? I hope she hasn't seen these yet.”

 

“Uh, well...I'm pretty sure Brunnhilde was going to show her...”

 

“Oh no.”

 

You have got to be kidding me!” You bellowed from where the Valkyrie had led you.

 

“Oh no.”

 

You stormed back up to him pointing at your new phone.

 

“Is this what you mean by PR?” You snapped. “I don't even recognize some of the words they're calling me!”

 

“I know, and I share your fury.” Loki assured. “I will find the addresses of these publishing houses, and I will utterly destroy them. No stone left atop another, I will raze them to the ground! I shall-”

 

“Loki!” Thor scolded.

 

“I shall write them a stern letter, detailing my disapproval!” Loki amended.

 

“It won't stop them.” You grumbled. “It's all clickbait, and it's all already out there. Once something's on the net, it's there forever. This is never going away.”

 

Loki placed his hands on your shoulders, leaning down to look you right in the face.

 

“Then we will do what those of us who are higher than they always do: ignore them. They are as ants to such as us, inconsequential and petty.”

 

You brushed his hands away. “That's easy for you to say, you aren't the one getting slut-shamed for no reason! Ugh! I need to take a walk or something.”

 

“Very well.” Loki said. “We can go-”

 

“I mean by myself.” You cut him off.

 

“My dear, I'm not sure that would be safe...”

 

“I just want some time to myself, is that too much? This shit is gonna spread like wildfire. By the end of the week, everyone's gonna see it. You get to be a prince, and I get to be a floozy. Great. I need to go stomp around a little. Meet me at the whale watching pier in a couple hours?”

 

“What? No, _____, I cannot advise-”

 

“See ya in a couple hours!” You stalked off, leaving him spluttering behind you. It was rude, and you knew it, but anger and distress burned through you, and you didn't want to take it out on him. Yeah, okay, Loki definitely had a bad reputation, but people weren't lambasting him sexually with no proof! You didn't need the added nonsense of dozens of news outlets accusing you of the same thing that murderer had!

 

So maybe you weren't a pure, untarnished virgin. But then again, as far as any of them knew, maybe you were! The point was, that it wasn't anybody's business but yours.

 

But they'd published it anyway, and were going to make a bunch of money off of it, and your dad, and Tara, and everyone you had ever known was going to see it, and so was everyone you hadn't even met yet. And it would inform their opinions of you, even if they didn't realize it, even if they tried not to let it.

 

And what would the people of Asgard make of it? You knew there were people there who already had a low opinion of you; you didn't want the general populace to get the impression that you were merely gold-digging trash.

 

“_____!” Someone called. “_____! You're _____, aren't you?”

 

You turned to face a small group of strangers, a few of whom you recognized from the courthouse steps. You drew back away from them. What did they want? Surely you couldn't have gotten yourself into danger so soon after blowing Loki off. That would just be embarrassing.

 

“Are you okay?” One of them, a young woman, asked. “Are you alone? Have you finally escaped the bastard? We can sneak you out, we think. Come with us, and we can get you home!”

 

Oh, they still thought Loki was some great, looming villain that you needed to be saved from. Well, it was several steps up from being threatened.

 

“It's...not that easy, you guys.” You said. It had been so long since you had spoken with someone who sounded like you, and these people at least seemed sympathetic.

 

“Has he threatened you? I'm sure there's somewhere you could go into hiding-”

 

“No, no, no, nothing like that. It's just that there's a lot going on, and I can't leave, I live here now-”

 

“And despite what you may have heard, I take very good care of her.” Loki said from directly behind you. He slid one hand smoothly over your shoulder, almost clutching, as the group of supportive protesters shrank away from him in fear.

 

“You wouldn't happen to have been following me while invisible, would you, your Highness?” You asked sourly.

 

You could practically feel his smugness falter, through the pressure of his hand.

 

“I might have.”

 

You tapped his fingers sharply, and he withdrew his hand.

 

“Just give me some time.” You entreated. He didn't say anything else, just walked back up the street with a barely perceptible hangdog expression.

 

“You can just...talk to him like that?” One of the terrified protesters whispered.

 

“Yeah, sometimes. He'll probably play some trick on me later, but it won't be so bad. Listen, you guys, there's been a lot of misunderstandings surrounding all this. C'mon, let's go talk about it...”

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Sofie put her phone away in disgust.

 

“Ugh! If I didn't need to ferry supplies back and forth, I might not ever go back to civilization!” She exclaimed.

 

“The pictures looked nice.” Frodi said. “They seem happy.”

 

“That only makes this disrespect worse.” Fritjof grumbled as Savane stirred their stew.

 

“Poor _____. She's really getting the worst of it.”

 

“She's an easier target.” Frodi pointed out. “She's not a god, and she's not threatening. There's nothing she can really do to get them to stop. Not that they've exactly spared Loki, but they can get really nasty at her expense.”

 

“Actually, I would like to speak with you about that.”

 

All four heads whipped around to face the unfamiliar voice, as Heimdall approached from behind the tents, the fire reflected in his eyes.

 

All four worshipers wordlessly moved aside to make room. With an appreciative nod, he took a seat.

 

“These gatherings are inevitable, and they are not unwelcome.” He began. “Truthfully, I find it flattering that any of you remember us at all, unreliable storytelling not withstanding. But even in the times of your distant ancestors, not everyone was welcoming of us. This hostility and confusion is nothing new.

 

The span of it, however, is. News traveled much more slowly in those days; there was more time to plan and prepare, to fortify ones position and allies. Now, there is less time for preparation, and people, including enemies, can move much more quickly from place to place. Your people could not fly, the last time I walked these lands. Now, you can traverse the whole of Midgard in mere days.

 

And now, entire camps of potential enemies have set up outside my city, motivated by hostility for one man, and confusion over one woman. I cannot look everywhere at once, and there are many things that currently require my attention.”

 

Frodi nodded. “And you want us to keep an eye out for potential trouble.”

 

“I want you to be wary of potential trouble.” Heimdall corrected. “I cannot advise that you enter into any kind of conflict. I do not believe that the majority of these people came here seeking violence, but that the minority who did might spread their influence if you are perceived as a threat. Eventually, there will be mingling. That too is inevitable. Welcome those who come to you, learn what you can. Many of these people do not truly understand the situation, and I cannot go explain to them myself without being seen as dangerous. It seems my presence stirs unease in much of humankind.”

 

This last was said with a pointed glance at Fritjof, who dropped his gaze.

 

“It might have to do with people having secrets, and you being able to see everything.” Savane pointed out bluntly. Fritjof and Sofie shot her quick glances.

 

“Probably.” Heimdall said, unperturbed. “Now, I am not conscripting you, and there is no reward I have the authority to offer, however, if these new people prove to be dangerous to your camp, I can move guards out here to patrol the borders.”

 

“That is very gracious. I'll inform the others. You too, Sofie.” Frodi stood, brushed himself off, and motioned for Sofie to follow. The two of them walked off into the camp, to visit the fires of others.

 

“Savane, I feel the soup could use some of your special spice blend.” Heimdall said.

 

“Yes, you see, that is exactly what I was speaking of earlier.” She said, but went back to her tent anyway.

 

“Fritjof, son of Jor, will you tell me why you set that tent on fire? You knew there was no one inside.”

 

“You saw.” Fritjof said apprehensively. “Of course you did. I believed its owner was the man who attacked Loki's seidkona, and I wanted him to have no shelter among us.”

 

“Decisive, but dangerous, don't you think?”

 

“If you saw me do it then you should know I had it completely under control.”

 

“And no one else knows? No one ever notices that your fire never goes out?”

 

“No. Will you tell them?”

 

“I will not. It is not mine to tell. But if you value your friends, you should inform them of what you are capable of. I do not believe that they will shun you for your difference. But then again, I was born to a people who value those with such special abilities.”

 

“I will think about it.” Fritjof said, but would not promise anything further. The thing that drove him out here in the first place, the thing that made him obsessed with blood and heritage, that thing was his own, and he did not trust it with anyone else.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

“-And she was so shy that it took her weeks just to hold my hand.” Todd was saying. A group of newcomers had gathered around his tent to hear his stories about the woman who was rapidly becoming legend.

 

“She's so sweet and innocent. I really worry about what that alien has been putting her through.”

 

“Why didn't you follow her to the city?” Someone asked.

 

“Oh, I'm no match for a horse's speed.” Todd admitted. “And she's doing something important there, that shouldn't be interrupted. Did you know someone actually tried to kill her? It's terrible! That never happened back home. She's gotta go witness at his trial, and I hope they put him away for good.”

 

“I wonder if it was one of those fanatic at the other camp?” Someone else mused. “They're creepy. You know they actually think these people are real, literal gods?”

 

“Yeah, it's a little weird. Don't know why you'd wanna worship someone like Loki. Thor, maybe, he seems like a decent dude, but he's definitely flesh and blood, not a god. Just an alien. This is like some Fifties pulp novel: Aliens Stole My Girl! Poor _____. She's got to be so confused.”

 

“Hey dude.” Said another camper, who had heard Todd's lament more than a few times. “If she's your girl, then what's all this?” She handed Todd her phone, and he scrolled down through all the articles that had made you so distressed, outrage plain on his face.

 

“This is bullshit.” He declared. “Whoever those reporters are, they sure don't know _____! She isn't like that at all. But him-oh, we all know what a liar and manipulator he is! He's definitely deceiving her; she's just kind and naive enough to be twisted around by him.”

 

“I bet he's using her just to make himself look good.” One of them said.

 

“Well, don't fall for it.” The other camper answered, taking her phone back. “He's still the same bastard he's always been. You don't just stop being a power hungry lunatic overnight. No matter how harmless or friendly he might seem right now, it's all part of a plan. If he was really serious about not being Earth's enemy, he'd have turned himself in to justice, or make reparations to the cities he terrorized, or even issued some kind of apology! He hasn't done any of that, and he doesn't intend to! He thinks if he just waits long enough, it'll all go away, and he can just do whatever he wants with impunity! He kidnapped a woman from her workplace and put her in harms way. No amount of cute pictures can change that. Never forget what he's done! Never forget! Never forget!”

 

The cry went up, a chorus audible from the gates of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

It was nice that you had made some friends, Loki thought, slightly annoyed at the continued presence of your little group of human followers. They had followed you around all day while you explained-surprisingly patiently-the abridged version of what had happened to you. They were fascinated by your potential with magic, by Asgard, and, much to his surprise, by him. He had tailed you, of course, in multiple human guises. He had to make sure you were safe, but he understood the need to be on your own. He didn't like it, but he understood.

 

They wanted to know everything, and for the most part, you didn't have any problems telling them. When some of the questions got a little sensitive, you just laughed softly and told them it was a 'political secret'-no matter what the subject was. They seemed to appreciate the joke.

 

“But what about when he attacked us?” One piped up. “Is that a political secret too?”

 

“No,” You sighed. “It's no secret, it's just something I don't know. We haven't exactly discussed it.”

 

Of course. The crux of every matter involving him, at least from the Earth's standpoint. It would always come up, in every conversation about him. He lounged against a wall, not so far away, only gaining notice because of the impeccably dressed and handsome shape he had taken. Otherwise, none of your little squad was paying him any attention, and he could eavesdrop with ease.

 

“I can tell you though, that it wasn't exactly his idea.” You said conspiratorially. “He was under someone else's control.”

 

Oh damn. You were talking about it. Well, he hadn't asked you not to, but it wasn't a subject he wanted to dwell on.

 

“Someone else was pulling the strings? Who?”

 

“His name was Thanos, and he was some kinda alien or something. But it's okay, he's dead now. Can't cause any more trouble.”

 

“Okay, but did he just tell you that? Do you have any proof he wasn't just making it up?”

 

“Thor corroborated.” You said. “In fact, Thor was the one who told me in the first place. I don't think Loki would have even mentioned it.”

 

“Why not?” A young man asked. “You'd think that would be the first thing he brought up. Get the blame off of him.”

 

It's shame.” You said so quietly that he barely heard you. “You gotta understand, Loki is royalty, and not just any royalty; his planet used to rule lots of other planets. He's a prince of whole worlds. He's a god. Like, actually a god, of the old kind that were way more like people, but still gods. For him to have been used like that, to be brought low like that...he'd probably rather we all think he's just evil, rather than have us entertain the possibility for one second that he might have ever been weak enough to allow anyone else to control his actions.”

 

Loki was boiling inside, but it wasn't with anger. The stew of emotions stuck in his throat like bile. One would think you'd been given Heimdalls eyes, to see through him so. Unsettled, Loki dug his fingers into the wall beside him.

 

“He actually takes his job really seriously.” You continued. “And his people seem to like him a lot, so he must be good at it. I mean, even the maids speak highly of him, and if he's nice to the servants, he must be pretty decent overall. And so far, he has been really good to me.”

 

“Are you dating?”

 

You had Loki's full attention.

 

You twiddled your fingers nervously. “Is this about all those so-called 'news' articles? We're friends. I think. I'm pretty sure. But I've only known him for a little while, you know?”

 

“Girl, it's been the whole summer! The sun's just weird here.”

 

“Wow, has it really been that long? I've just had so much on my plate, and I haven't thought about dating anyone in a long time now. Besides, he's an immortal god-prince, and I'm...I don't know what I am really anymore. Like, I'm working class, but I've been promoted? I dunno, I'm not royalty, so it's probably not even allowed.”

 

It was. Women in Asgard tended to marry 'up', so to speak. He could marry a peasant if he wanted to. Not without pushback from every noble who wanted to put forth their own daughters, and there weren't many strengthening family alliances that could be made with the lower classes. Not to mention, he simply didn't know many individual peasants, probably for those very reasons. But theoretically, it wasn't forbidden.

 

But it was something he shouldn't be contemplating right now. He had no time. No inclination. And there was no one of interest to him. No one...

 

“And anyway, I've got a lot going on, you know?” You were saying. “Gotta learn magic, Asgardian history, and language, and culture, court manners. You know, all that stuff. I can't think about romance right now. Maybe not ever again.”

 

Your new posse was quick to coo, and protest, and reassure you that that wasn't so, that you'd find someone. Loki wanted to agree. It wasn't as if he wanted you to remain celibate or anything, it was just that he didn't think you had many options. There weren't many humans for you to interact with, and fewer Asgardians who could be considered worthy of you. He supposed that was his fault. Appointing you as his personal seidkona had shot you up through social ranks in a way he didn't think you understood just yet. There were very few people on your level.

 

“It's not so bad though.” You continued. “I've got more than enough to occupy my time, and if I haven't run him off, Loki is almost always there. I'm not lonely or anything, so I don't necessarily need romance. Don't worry about it. I'm not.”

 

“Um, sir? Are you aware that you are damaging the wall?” A passerby asked quietly. Loki drew his hands away from where he'd been digging his fingers in, only then realizing that he had left dents in the plaster.

 

“I see.” He answered, just as quietly. “Thank you for informing me.”

The person moved on swiftly, a concerned expression on their face.

 

“There's always Thor.” Someone suggested. “We know for sure he's into humans, even if Loki isn't.”

 

Suddenly Loki was boiling again.

 

You laughed. “No way! He's not my type. Don't get me wrong, he's great, but just not my kind of guy.”

 

The bubbling inferno subsided to be replaced by a strange nervy, buoyant feeling. He'd never before heard a woman be so dismissive of the possibility of his brother's affections. From Midgard to Vanaheim, Thor was considered the pinnacle of masculine perfection, everyone knew that. To hear you so quickly declare him to be uninteresting to you was deeply satisfying.

 

He wanted to wade in among this little group of humans, to scatter them, and take you away. Yes, you needed interaction with other people, but this was all time you could be spending with him. Without any duties, without any danger, just being. You could be exploring the museums, or watching the great whale behemoths swim and blow water into the air, or sampling delicious dishes, which you so loved to do, or just walking the town, holding hands...

 

No wait, he wasn't doing that anymore. He was going to be more professional, more magisterial. More royal.

 

 

You stayed there talking until evening, when hunger presumably overtook you, and your new friends saw you back to your hotel in a tight, protective little group. Loki, of course, managed to get back into your shared room before you, and composed himself as if he had just been waiting for your to return.

 

“Pleasant afternoon?” He asked innocently.

 

“Yeah, actually.” You said. “Lotta good conversation, and I think I convinced them that I was fine. They might even hate you a bit less now too.”

 

“I am not concerned with their opinions.” Loki scoffed. You called that good conversation? Inane questions and senseless suggestions? You were better than that.

 

“Well, maybe I am. Loki, nobody knows anything about you except for what you did five years ago. Why haven't you done anything to defend yourself? If you just told people what really happened-”

 

“Would that make it better?” Loki interjected. “Would that gain me forgiveness? Would they even believe me, were I to apologize?”

 

Well...some would. Especially if you didn't do any other bad things, or did good things instead. Like the nature reserves...”

 

Loki stepped close and took your hands in his. He would stop tomorrow.

 

“_____ you know it wouldn't go that smoothly. There is a limit on what I can say. If I told people I was being influenced, they would want to know by whom. And if I spoke about Thanos, they would want to know more about him, his goals, and especially his methods. They would start looking for more answers, and we don't want that. Someone would stumble across information about the Stones, and go looking for them, and it would all start over again. I am pleased that you care about my reputation, but if I want to keep the universe safe, there is little I can do to clear my name.”

 

You hung your head, refusing to meet his gaze. “ I just thought maybe you could get people to like you, and then you wouldn't have so many enemies.”

 

Loki laughed. “I'm royalty; I'll always have enemies. I welcome them. They help keep me sharp. Now I need your help with a very important matter.”

 

“Yes?” You asked, looking back up.

 

“Where shall we go for dinner?”

 

 

*****

 

You ended up in an old, wooden building with a quaint, timber-framed interior, that was far too casual for the effort he had put into his impeccable suit and clean ponytail. He'd thought that you might appreciate seeing him in fine human style, after your day among your own kind, and indeed, it seemed to affect you. In fact, you'd had a hard time taking your eyes off him.

 

It was pleasant, noticing others staring at you in your beautiful Asgardian dress, and seeing that you were only looking at him. Perhaps he was a finer specimen than he had given himself credit for. But you both stuck out like jewels in a goat's ear, in this tavern-like establishment.

 

You had insisted though, as soon as you found out they served American food. It seemed your nostalgia was high.

 

“Pizza, Loki.” You had said. “I haven't had pizza in like, four months, and I just gotta have a pizza!”

 

So he had caved in, and brought you to this rustic restaurant, where you had ordered a pizza and a soda, and exclaimed about how it had been so long, and laughed at him when he tried to eat his slice of the messy Midgardian concoction with a fork, as was clearly proper. Somehow, you were balancing a floppy slice of the mess in one hand, and just eating it like that. Loki sighed and shook his head. Someday he would cure you of those peasant manners.

 

“Say, Loki...” You said between bites. “Am I allowed to ask you kinda personal questions?”

 

When have you ever held back? “To be honest, as my seidkona, you are not only allowed, but expected to question me. Just be mindful of the context, and the situation, and the nature of the question itself. I, on the other hand, need not answer if I do not wish to.”

 

You nodded slowly. “I want to ask you about the dream we shared.”

 

“Which one?” They were both unpleasant.

 

“The more recent one.”

 

“Ah. Well, if you will but indulge me...” He made a flourishing gesture, and the sound of the wait staff and the other patrons dulled and slowed. “We will go unheard now. It is as safe to ask as it can be.”

 

Your eyes flicked around the restaurant, taking in the altered noise. “Wow...That's really handy!”

 

“Your question?” He prompted.

 

“Oh right. Um. Were you really going to let them kill three and a half billion people?”

 

Yes that would be an important question to you. There was a fifty percent chance you would have been one of them.

 

“No.” He said frankly. “There's a reason that was a nightmare. That was the worst case scenario; what was likely to happen if all my planning went awry.”

 

“I mean, you could have died.”

 

“Unlikely. But it was something I included in my plans. That was the second worst case scenario.”

 

“Wait, wait. There was a scenario where winning was worse than death?”

 

“Yes, of course. Conquering your realm, but remaining under Thanos' boot would mean that all of my plans had failed, and I would never be free.”

 

“What exactly was the plan, anyway?”

 

“It's moot now.” He shrugged. “But a lot of it came down to control of the Mind Stone. It was caged within my scepter, and was what I used to control the Chitauri troops, as well as the handful of people I touched with it. I...was also being controlled, as Thanos exerted his influence over me through the stone. I was, on some level, aware of it, and everything I did on your realm was part of my plot to flout him. Defeat was acceptable to me, death was acceptable, but ideally, I would triumph.

 

I would have taken the realm with as little damage as possible. It was important to keep as much as I could intact, especially your weapons, your warriors, your resources. If everything had gone absolutely flawlessly, I would have defeated your Avengers, and added them to my army with the power of the Stone. With their power, their minds, their funds, I would have built defenses for the Earth, especially enhancing you space travel capabilities. I would have pulled hundreds of thousands of Chitauri troops in, and then cut them off from their mothership, leaving them solely under my control.

 

The Chitauri would then go into space, to patrol. This is when we would have begun building bases on your moon, and mining operations across your planetary system. All humans who were capable of it would be given basic military training, as everyone would have to be mobilized against outside threats, especially from Thanos. And he would have tried. Three of the Stones were here on Earth at that time; there is no way he would have let up.

 

Of course, I would have also gathered up all magically talented individuals for training, once I realized they existed. So I would have found you either way, my dear, even without this binding rune. And while I was raising your planet out of the galactic mud, I would have sent my brother to Asgard to take his place as king. Once enthroned, he would have allied Asgard, and the rest of the realms to Midgard, and under my banner, we would have purged the universe of Thanos, and all his allies. After that, I would have ruled your planet as a benevolent god. I would not have tolerated defiance, but I would have rewarded those who deserved it. No divisions by race or religion, or culture, or wealth. Merit would be all that mattered.

 

Ah, but that would have interfered with your precious 'freedoms', so it could not be allowed.” He sighed. “You throw celebrations for a royal wedding in a country you don't even live in, but you hate the idea of kings. Hypocritical nonsense. And more, you weren't even allowed to make your own decision about it. Some man in an underground bunker decided I could not be king, and so war was declared against me before I could even present my case.”

 

“You did murder a bunch of guys.” You pointed out.

 

“I did murder a bunch of guys.” Loki admitted. “Almost entirely combatants.”

 

“Almost?”

 

“The museum curator in Stuttgart was not technically a combatant. He was working for my enemies however so he was fair game.”

 

“Okay, gotta admit, you are sounding distressingly villainous right now.” You said it almost jokingly, but your soda glass shook a little in your hand.

 

“I did tell you I still had it in me, did I not? And you did ask. This is all just hypothetical of course, In reality, my neutral plan is the one that panned out. I was defeated, but not killed, and eventually, Thanos was overcome. And you and I met anyway, just a little later we might have, so perhaps the Norns interwove our strings in all their tapestries. We were always going to meet. So I will try to be less villainous, as I already was, but you will have to confront the fact that I have been truly nefarious, especially if you ask me about the times when I was.”

 

He cupped your shaking hand as you put your drink down.

 

“Yeah I guess if I'm gonna pry, I'd better be ready for what I find, huh? So you believe in fate, Loki?”

 

“The Norns weave the threads of each life into a vast work that forms the universe, and we can travel those threads in whatever way we see fit. But some knots they tie very tight, and those are hard to wiggle around. Most people can't, and even those who can, cannot escape them all. Some things simply must happen. I suppose that's...as close to a religion as Asgardians get.”

 

“Do the Norns really exist?” You asked. “Like, are they people you could meet? I mean, we used to think gods weren't real, solid people that you could meet, and yet, here you are.” You brushed your knuckles against his palm, sending little jolts of electric warmth down his spine. “Very solid.”

 

Loki cleared his throat. He wasn't supposed to be holding your hand. He would stop tomorrow.

 

“Uh, well, I've never seen them, but that does not mean they don't exist. As you've learned, a great deal of things that weren't supposed to exist actually do. Just as there is a great, wide universe beyond your Earth, There may be even more outside of that which is beyond even we Aesir.”

 

“Wow. Something beyond even you? I never thought you would admit such a thing!” Your voice was laced with sarcasm.

 

“I am clearly among the greatest men you have ever been privileged to meet, but yes. There are forces greater even than I.” Perhaps he was laying it on a bit thick, but it was better that you snorted at the pretentiousness, and turned your interest to the mysteries of the universe, rather than the things he had done. Or rather, would have done.

 

What would he have done, if things had gone entirely his way? Would he have found you after all? Certainly, once he'd found out there were humans that could use magic, he'd have had them all rounded up for training. But if there were very many, would he have noticed you?

 

Probably. You had such a knack for getting yourself in trouble. For curiosity. For poking at the core of him. Oh, he would have hated it. For he would have seen that you were a valuable asset and would not have brought you to harm, but you would have frustrated him greatly. You weren't disobedient exactly, just...mouthy.

 

It was a trait he simultaneously valued as a person, but despised as a ruler. He had liked it in his mother, he had liked it in Sif, he had even liked it in Jane Foster, and he...he liked it in you.

 

Yes, he likely would have kept you very close. Perhaps he would have made it his personal responsibility to correct you.

 

Oh, but he should definitely not be allowing his thoughts to wander down such a path.

 

He would stop tomorrow.

 

Chapter Text

 

Now that you had a phone, you sure were taking a lot of pictures. Of Akureyri, on your way out. Of Acorn and Leynarodd. Of all the sights on the way back to Asgard. And of Loki. One picture especially, of you and him crammed close together, to get both of you in the frame, you set as your lockscreen, and sent to Tara, whom you had begun texting earlier that morning.

 

After you had both stopped shrieking at each other-which had unsettled Loki enough that he hovered around you like a concerned hornet-you had spilled all the beans about what had been going on all summer. Everything, up to and including punching Loki in the bathtub. Loki had whined in protest over that: a mistake, because Tara heard him. You put her on speaker so she could sass him, and so he could sass her back. You thought they were going to go on forever, until Tara unexpectedly turned on you.

 

“So why does Count Chocula there get the most beautiful horse in the world, while you get the goofiest one?”

 

“I'm sure once I discover the source of that reference, I shall be sufficiently offended.” Loki muttered.

 

“How dare you!” You mock-gasped. “Don't you smack talk Acorn! She's perfection.”

 

“His horse looks like she was carved from black marble by Michelangelo himself. Yours looks like a soggy muppet.”

 

“You get over here and say that to my face! I'll put my fist between your teeth, you see if I don't! Don't you pay attention to a single thing she says, Acorn. You are the actual best.”

 

Acorn snorted and meandered placidly along.

 

“You really gonna threaten me with a good time while your boy toy is sitting right next to you? Risky.”

 

“He is not-” You began.

 

“You punched him right in the snoot, and you're still alive. You know he liked it!”

 

“I don't know that at all!” You couldn't help but to glance over at Loki, who was slightly pink in the cheeks.

 

“Well...I didn't hate it.” He admitted. “You didn't hurt me, and you were naked at the time, so it certainly wasn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me...”

 

Oh my god!” You wailed.

 

“Oh my god!” Tara squealed.

 

“We are not having this conversation. In fact, we never started this conversation. Never happened.” You stated firmly.

 

“Ohhoho, it happened all right!” Tara gloated. “I'm gonna bring this up everyday for the next three years, try and stop me.”

 

“Why must you torment me so?”

 

“Dude, you're starting to sound like MacBeth over there. Well, if you aren't dating him, I might. Hey War of the Roses, you wanna go on a date?”

 

“She's as bad as Stark...” Loki muttered.

 

“Oh my god, Tara! You can't just proposition my boss, you dork!”

 

Loki grimaced and stuck his nose in the air. “It is inappropriate to approach me in the way of a peasant. You are aware of my status, and I'll thank you to remember it, you impertinent tart.”

 

“Hey! You can't call me that!”

 

“Yeah! You can't call her that! But I can!” You cried gleefully. “That's your name now, it's going in my contacts!”

 

The two of you devolved into calling each other extremely rude nicknames, while Loki sighed and urged Leynarodd forward.

 

“I do not understand the intricacies of human friendship.” He said.

 

Afterwards, you begin describing you new home, its beauty and mystery. How the sun never set, and the unusual architecture and clothing of the Asgardians, Of the things you had learned about other planets. Tara, like you, always had great deal of curiosity about outer space and alien species; it was something you had played at as children, discussed and fantasized about as teenagers. She wanted every detail of what you had been taught about Vanaheim, Nidavellir, Svartalfheim, and all the Jotnar.

 

Loki interrupted every now and again, to amend a detail you had gotten wrong, or to praise you for what you remembered correctly. He even seemed slightly surprised when you listed the differences you had noticed between humans and Asgardians, as if he had never thought about it.

 

Eventually, your battery began to run low, and you were forced to bid Tara farewell for the day, with many promises of future calls.

 

You stopped in the small forest for lunch, peeking into the underbrush for elves and fairies again. Loki caught you at it while handing you half-frozen bilberries out of a bag, leaning in close to you and peering into the brush.

 

“What do you seek out there?” He asked. “Would you like one of those flowers? You could wear it in your hair-just so.” He twirled a strand around his finger. You swallowed, pretending your throat was just thick with berries.

 

“Er, no. It's kinda silly. This looks like the kind of place elves would live. But that's obviously not-”

 

“Well, there's only the one sun, but the length of the days in the summer is reminiscent of Alfheim, after a fashion.” Loki interrupted idly.

 

“I'm sorry, elves are real?”

 

He fixed you with an incredulous expression. “Yes, of course. You've already learned about Svartalfari-you know, the dark elves?”

 

“Well...yeah. But I thought they were just called that because they looked like elves, but they weren't ...real elves...” Now that you said it out loud, it didn't make much sense. If something 'looked like' an elf, what made it not an elf?

 

“What, do tell, are 'real elves' to you?” Loki asked. “I'm...actually too curious for sarcasm.”

 

“Okay, yes, that was silly of me and I don't really understand why I thought that way. I guess it's just that the elves from my childhood stories all live in forests, and they dance and sing, and are very noble, and magical, and kind. They live close to nature, and befriend animals. That kind of thing.”

 

“So...Ljosalfar.” Loki said, as if it were obvious. “The light elves of Alfheim.”

 

“So they're real too?”

 

“Very. Though they may not be quite what you had pictured. Alfheim is a place of endless sunlight, and life there has adapted to it. There is a system of three great stars, that are locked in an intricate dance near the heart of their galaxy. Shared between them is one planet, and seven moons. The system almost never experiences night. It is in many ways, the complete opposite of Svartalfheim.”

 

“So it's like this-” You gestured at the ever-present sun. “-All the time?”

 

“And often moreso. The sky is the palest blue- nearly white. The planet orbits the innermost and largest star, so there is nearly always at least one sun in the sky, and sometimes more. There are nearly always a handful of moons, even in the odd times when all of the suns have set. And even on the very rare occasions that all the suns and moons are out of the sky, the heavens of Alfheim are so packed with stars, that the world is merely dim, never dark.”

 

“That sounds like it would drive me nuts.” You said. “Like, it sounds incredibly beautiful, but I've already lost track of how long I've been here, and I've only got the one sun to mislead me. How do they even tell the time?”

 

“They don't.” Loki said with a shrug. “Alfar are effectively undying. They are beings of unparalleled magical aptitude, and it prolongs their lives. They live, until they decide not to. Some never make that decision. But they live as you say; dancing and singing whenever they feel like, living among the natural wonders of their worlds, and they are very friendly and very kind.”

 

He held his hands apart, and three huge suns appeared between them, spinning in a complex orbit. Around the innermost hung a large world, surrounded by many moons.

 

“As you can see, the foliage here is different than on Earth, or Asgard, or Vanaheim, for the suns are different, but it is even more lush and vibrant.”

 

Trees, bushes, and flowers sprouted from his hands, glowing in strange colors. The tallest trees were bright blue, their broad leaves riddled with natural holes and clear, membranous windows that filtered light down to the undercanopy, made up of mostly yellowish plants, that graduated down to orange at the lowest levels of growth. The flowers came in shapes and color combinations that you could never have imagined, visited by iridescent bird-like creatures, and metallic arthropods.

 

A creature emerged from the undergrowth, roughly humanoid, but oddly proportioned to your eyes. Its arms, torso, neck and face were long, making its legs seem short in comparison. Its skin was pearly white, and like a pearl, it shone with reflected light. Even its pale hair sparkled like it had been dusted with glitter, and its huge, sharply tilted eyes practically glowed, a row of pinpoint pupils crossing them diagonally. To the satisfaction of all your childhood fantasies, it also had long, pointed ears.

 

“They're very different, aren't they?” You asked. You found the little figure oddly beautiful, but also just unusual enough to be slightly unsettling.

 

“A little yes.” Loki agreed. “I've certainly seen stranger, but you've been stuck here all your life. Am I perhaps the first real extraterrestrial you ever laid hands on?”

 

“I think you mean eyes.”You said.

 

“I think I mean that the very first time we met, you grabbed me by the hand before you ever saw my face. So yes, you laid hands on me first.”

 

“...Okay, that's fair.” You admitted irritably. “I had no idea that was you, to begin with.”

 

“Clearly.” Loki said dryly. “No human had yet touched me with so little hostility. Obviously, you didn't know who I was at the time. You made up for it the second time we met, when you hit me in the nose and tried to drown yourself in river mud rather than be near me. That was much more par for the course.”

 

Oh, now you felt the guilt. Loki was probably used to being shunned by the people of Earth, but being used to it was not the same as being unaffected by it. You hunched your shoulders and looked away from the little figure.

 

“Now, now.” Loki said, cupping your chin in his slim hand, and turning your face to look at him. “Do not take it as an indictment. Your rather foolhardy bravery has served you well in my eyes, by bringing forward things I might not have realized in a timely enough manner. An Asgardian lets their deeds speak for them most of the time. And you did not hurt me. It was the emotions and causes behind your strikes that effected me, not the strikes themselves. You did not hurt me. You cannot hurt me.”

 

You just gazed fixedly into his eyes as he lied with such incredible expertise. You had called him a monster back then, and you had seen it hurt him.

 

But if he just meant physically...probably. It wasn't exactly an excuse for losing your temper, though.

 

He withdrew his hand abruptly, and scooted the floating images between the two of you.

 

“Now,” He continued, voice a little tight. “Unlike the Vanir or Svartalfari, who are rather homogeneous in appearance, Alfar are more like humans and Asgardians, in that they come in multiple 'colors'.”

 

So he was just going to continue on, as if he hadn't just interrupted the lesson to lay the guilt on you, and then absolved you in nearly the same breath? All right, you could keep up with him and his moods.

 

Several more figures emerged from the illusory plants, each distinctly Alfar in shape, some taller, some shorter, all willowy and delicate in appearance. Each different Alfar looked as if they had been dipped in a different color of chrome paint: Gold, copper, silver, bronze, even pale, steely blue, green, and lavender. Standing out among them was a completely black individual, an obsidian carving among gilded statues.

 

This individual possessed slightly different proportions than its fellows, much closer to humans and Asgardians, though its torso, neck, and face were still clearly Alfar.

 

“Ah, I see. All this shining precious metal before you, and yet, the mysterious Dokkalfar has enchanted you. You show uncommon taste sometimes, my dea-” He cleared his throat. “My little seidkona.”

 

“It's just so different from all the others, and I wonder why? Different environment?”

 

“Exactly so. Remember all those lovely moons that surround Alfheim? They are considered a part of Alfheim as well, as each one supports life, and each one is inhabited by Alfar. As well as Vanir, some Asgardians, and a few Jotnar. This is the place that Gerd calls home. Remember her? The silver-skinned giantess who so enchanted Freyr?”

 

“Um, yeah. Is that why she had all those mirror patches on her skin? Because the Alfar are metallic?”

 

“Hmm, well the reasons why she has them, and the reasons why the Alfar shine are the same reasons. Can you guess why they might have adapted that way? It's why I cannot take you to Alfheim unless I cover you from head to toe in clothes and wide-brimmed hats. Or else slather you thickly in your special lotions, with their high numbers of 'spiffs'.”

 

“I think you mean 'SPF'-oh, it's the suns! It's to protect them from sun damage!”

 

“Indeed! They simply reflect back whatever light they cannot absorb. Of course, this is not so easy for the Asgardian and Vanir colonists to do, but that is where the Dokkalfar come in.”

 

A pair of campers approached cautiously, staring at the illusions Loki produced. One asked something in Icelandic, which you had even less of a grasp on than Asgardian.

 

“No, miss. We will be leaving shortly.” Loki replied.

 

She asked something else, and you thought you hear the word 'Aesir' within the sentence. Loki smiled and nodded, dismissing the illusions before presumably bidding the campers farewell, as he began gathering up the remains of your lunch as soon as he stopped talking.

 

“They wanted to use the table, but were a little frightened of the magic. Christians, I believe. Not everyone turned to the old ways just because we returned, after all.”

 

“Oh. Right, Christianity would be your enemy, wouldn't it? Since you're a pagan god?” It would make sense for there to be a rivalry.

 

“Not necessarily.” He said, as you rode back through the forest. “I care nothing for the Christians of today. They are very different now that they were, because humans are different today than they were, though not by much. I had some hope that a thousand years might have allowed them to learn not to fear all things different than they. But since that's how their leaders gained power in the first place, it is unlikely that they will ever give it up. In other words, they may see me as a thing to fear, and even hate, but I do not see them that way. However, if you find yourself with the time and inclination, look up the history of conversion in Scandinavia, and perhaps you will understand why it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It was one of several reasons I never came back after my Midgard training module ended.”

 

“Well, uh, let's keep talking Alfar then.” You suggested. There was old regret in his words, a mystery that was shrouded in the mist of generations past to you, but but that Loki remembered from physically being there...Maybe he hadn't always looked down on humans, but had been bitten sometime long ago.

 

How much history could he return to the world? First-hand accounts of what was going on in Northern Europe a thousand years ago? How come there wasn't an entire camp full of dedicated historians parked on Asgard's doorstep?

 

“You have something on your mind.” He stated.

 

“Oh, uh, we were talking about Dokkalfar?” Maybe you shouldn't bring it up further.

 

Loki raised an eyebrow. You weren't exactly lying, but you were sidestepping the truth, and he probably knew it. Apparently, he decided to let it go.

 

“A little history is probably important at this point. Alfheim was discovered by my grandfather, Bor, shortly after the Vanir campaign, and he was seeking a definitive 'win' after the humiliating draw he'd had to declare with the Vanir. He also had three new Aesir to deal with: Njord and the Twins, and had been forced to leave his two eldest children with their people. He was very frustrated, is the point I'm trying to make. Alfheim broke him.”

 

Loki sighed, but it seemed almost to be with satisfaction. “The Alfar would not fight, and could not be killed. Any that were captured to be pressed into slavery simply willed themselves to die. When Asgardians were friendly and kind, so too were the Alfar. When Asgardians were threatening and violent, the Alfar were nowhere to be found, but monstrous wildlife, mysterious accidents, and magical subterfuge were suddenly unavoidable. Add to that the punishing sunlight that Asgardians were not adapted to, and the thick, un-navigable forests that cover all but a very small portion of Alfheim or any of its moons, and the fact that most Alfar live in the trees, and you have a recipe for a disastrous military campaign. One that didn't even need to be waged, because the Alfar were perfectly willing to share their resources with us in the first place.

 

“My grandfather was forced to call another truce, rather than lose more of his soldiers while making no headway. Egalitarian colonies were established there instead. Like the Vanir, the Alfar became allies instead of conquests, making us all richer in the process. One of the better things he did, if you ask me. Honestly, every time Grandfather failed, it always seemed like it was for the better.”

 

It was really strange to think of such an ancient civilization as Asgard having only had four leaders in its entire lifespan, and that three of them had turned out to be such jerks.

 

“Why was he so bent of fighting in the first place?” You wondered. “You'd think it would be a relief to find people who wanted to share their stuff and be your friends.”

 

“Grandfather was very single minded.” Loki answered. “He was the kind of king that left most of the actual ruling to his council, and his remaining son, while he took responsibility for expanding Asgardian influence and power. And he was very good at it! Like I said, even when he failed, Asgard found benefit in it. It's just that some Aesir seem to get caught up in their godhead, and it can cause a consuming madness that is not easy to escape. Some do not try. It's likely that this happened to my sister, and she simply could not free herself from the madness.”

 

He sighed again, but this time there was no satisfaction.

 

“Did that happen to you?” You asked, realizing that you didn't actually know what exactly Loki was the god of. You had asked everyone except him.

 

“We were talking about the Dokkalfar.” He pointed out. So he was going to be Like That. You would have to ask again later.

 

“Yeah, I guess we were. So what about them?”

 

“They evolved on the most distant moon, where the forests are taller, but the trees thinner than the others. These trees are so tall that they block most of the light, so the Dokkalfar evolved black skin to absorb light, rather than reflect it. And these trees are too slender to build homes in, making these the only Alfar to live at ground level. That is why they look different than the others: Adaptive pressures. It turned out the way they live is perfect for teaching Asgardians and Vanir how to survive in they system, and there are still several colonies on the moons. Especially this one.”

 

He held up his hand, the fifth moon of Alfheim spinning there.

 

“My mother was born here.”

 

Chapter Text

 

“So,” Thor concluded. “Three weeks from now? This is good for everyone?”

 

“Sounds great!” Peter gushed. “Can't wait to visit Asgard!”

 

“Seems like we can all be free then.” Natasha stated.

 

“As long as nothing comes up.” Tony added.

 

“Still confiscating Chitauri artifacts?” Thor asked.

 

“We were 'lucky' enough this time that almost all the Chitauri were confined to Wakanda. T'challa's been confiscating the hell out of all Chitauri objects, everything. Still, there was a lot, and of course some of it got out. We've just been picking up the pieces as we go.” Tony sighed. “Probably ought to let you know though, one shipment has gone entirely missing. When we questioned the transporters, they had no memory of it even existing. I don't need to tell you that's shady as hell.”

 

“We are rather isolated out here.” Thor said. “But we will be vigilant.”

 

“You'd better. You already know there's people crazy enough to take you on, who might be all too happy to get their hands on Chitauri tech. And with the media frenzy your brother and Rapunzel have been causing, it's got people real whipped up.”

 

“In my brother's defense...” Thor started, drawing groans from nearly everybody on the call. “Neither he nor _____ intended for that to happen, and both were reasonably upset. They were simply existing in the world. Each of you know full well by now, there is no avoiding the takers of pictures. Especially you Stark. Surely you have not forgotten the Whiskey Incident?”

 

“I have. If everybody else remembers, that's their problem.”

 

“Precisely.” Thor pointed out.

 

“Yeah, well, don't fake surprise when the journalists start hounding you. I love to say I told you so.”

 

“I know.”

 

“But...are they dating?” Peter asked. “I mean, they're so cute.”

 

More groans, and then almost everyone on the call started talking at once, mostly about how that would be a terrible idea.

 

“Friends, please!” Thor's voice boomed out over everyone else. “I would say this is not our business, but I believe you would disagree. What I can tell you for certain, is that they are friends, and, stars know, he could use more of those. Perhaps if he had had such support structures long ago, things would be different...” He shook his head. “But he has one more now, and she is good for him, and she is becoming healthier and stronger daily. You must continue to look at him from the point of view of Avengers, and there's value in that. I must look at him from the point of view of a brother and a king. And I'm happy for him. I have that hope again.”

 

 

The arguing calmed into a dull chorus of sullen acceptance, and Peter apologizing for setting everything off.

 

“Look, you will be able to see for yourselves when you get here.” Thor said. “We will gather in three weeks time, and you can each make your own observations on how well things are going.”

 

Thor left the computer room an hour or so later, after a long conversation about Asgard's integration into the rest of the world, eager to take a meal alone in his rooms and take care of some of his paperwork in solitude. You and Loki ought to be back sometime today. He would like to consult with Loki about the upcoming party; his brothers natural aptitude for extravagance was very valuable in planning celebrations.

 

One of the numerous aides approached with more paperwork, which he skimmed a little too swiftly in his haste to eat. It seemed to be that troublesome Alarr again, needing something from Loki. He handed the report back to the aide.

 

“I believe this one is actually for my brother.” He said. That was one issue with having more than one ruler in place; sometimes paperwork got mixed up.

 

He closed his doors behind him, relieved to see the meal that had been left for him. The upcoming weeks were sure to be busy with the planning and setup of several celebrations. The reunion, the setting of the sun, Buridag. If there was a good reason to be busy, that was it.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

 

Four members of the anti-Loki, pro-you camp had approached and spoken with Sophie and Frodi, each separately. They wanted to know why the faithful were here, why they were faithful. None of them had known that there were people still out there who actually worshiped the old gods, and one of them expressed quite a bit of interest in learning more, and in return for stories told them that the main goal of the protest camp was to secure your freedom and safe return to your home. None of them knew what the other, more unfriendly protest camp planned on doing. They had apparently taken a 'with us or against us' approach, and remained aloof.

 

One by one, they went back to their camp, bearing Sofie's promise that anyone was welcome at her fire. Then Frodi set out on the several hour walk around the city limits, to bring what little they had learned to Heimdall. The shining god actually thanked him sincerely, and though Frodi prided himself on his cool head, he was still appropriately awestruck by being in Heimdall's holy presence once again.

 

If Valhalla was not an option, Frodi wondered on his way back to the camp, perhaps living in the city, among the gods, would be a paradise that was more within reach.

 

There were a few new tents going up on the outskirts of the camp when he returned. There were newcomers several times a week now. Some stayed, many left. Some were only there as a sort of pilgrimage, others grew impatient with the lack of godly appearances, and some simply were not able to handle the rough living of perpetual camping in the extremes of Iceland. Everyone had their reasons.

 

Frodi greeted the newcomers, a pair of Americans, and offered to help them set up, which they gladly accepted.

 

“Gotta get these up before sunset.” One said.

 

“Well, I have some good news for you then.” Frodi said with a smile.

 

 

*****

 

“Your mom was an Alfar?” You exclaimed. “You're part Alfar?”

 

“No, no.” Loki scoffed inside. If only! If only he could be Alfar, if he could not be Asgardian. Or Vanir, or even hideous but respectable Dvergar! Even Human would be better... “No, mother was Asgardian, born among the colonists of the fifth moon, but raised communally by the council who oversaw the colony, all of whom were Alfar witches. Among the Alfar, children are all raised by everyone, but mother had a special gift of foresight, and so, was raised by a special group.”

 

“So Alfar are all magical, but some have special magic, even for them?” You asked.

 

“Yes, that's a very astute guess. Alfar with special magical sight or intuition are known as witches, and are held in very high esteem. They take in and raise all who show signs of special sight.”

 

You narrowed your eyes as a thought struck you. “Hey, wait a minute...”

 

Loki smiled. Sometimes you connected the dots very swiftly. “In case you are wondering what I think you are, yes, that is why Heimdall is said to have had nine mothers, and yes, he too was born on Alfheim.”

 

“So he can't reach his family anymore either.”

 

“We will get the Bifrost back to it's former power.” Loki stated with confidence. “The urgency is not so great, when you have centuries to work with. Do not worry so much for Heimdall; he can communicate with this family through his special sight.”

 

The countryside passed by as time and the horses marched on, Loki settling into the companionable silence. It gave him time to think about why he felt so much happier now. He knew he was a lonely man: it was hard not to be aware that he had next to no friends, or that the controversy of his rule, of his very continued existence, was not confined to humanity alone. His own people were deeply divided, and that many of them placed the onus of their new circumstances squarely on his shoulders-for better or worse.

 

He had almost convinced himself that he could handle it, that it didn't bother him at all, that he was the rock upon which the waves of hatred and suspicion would break.

 

And then you had come along, and forced him to remember what happens to a rock in the sea, if there was no one there to shore it up. He was rapidly forgetting what he had been like before you, remembering his life as if you had been there the whole time. He didn't even know if it was an effect that you specifically had on him, or if he was simply so starved for companionship, that he had begun pouring all of his friendship and attention upon the first one he happened to get.

 

But you, with your presence, had shown him that he did not actually want to go it alone. He wanted someone he could greet every morning, someone he could talk to, someone he could clap on the back. Not just someone he was responsible for, but someone he could actually care about.

 

And now that he knew he wanted that, he burned with want for it, just as he did with anything else he had ever desired.

 

He should open up more. Be friendlier with the nobles, and maybe the servants too. Perhaps he should answer some of those invitations to meet with their daughters, if only to expand his circle of people known. Even if he did not want to marry any of them, he could at least be friends. Maybe he should go out into the human encampment again, and see which ones actually liked him. It would be getting cold again, over the next few months. Perhaps they would appreciate a delivery of blankets. Or food. Or any attention at all. Perhaps they felt the same way he did; just frantically desiring a little attention. He could spare that.

 

But making friends with humans wasn't always a good investment. That was another of the reasons he had stopped coming to Midgard. The standard Midgard education course involved repeated visits spread out over a couple of centuries. Loki made friends easily in those days, not perceiving his differences just yet, but every single time he returned, the friends he made had either died, or changed so drastically, he no longer recognized them. He rarely saw the same people twice. Even darling little Sigyn,with her magic, and her fiery nature. His first, childish love, whom he had naively believed could be his forever, who had promised to wait for him. She had been carried off by illness after bearing children for another man, by the time he had returned, and he had carved himself a skin of stone to place between himself and the Earth, that he never have to think of her again.

 

But perhaps it was time to soften his heart to Midgard once more. Perhaps the fleeting nature of human lives added value to them. Their stories were short, and would only be told once, so they had to fit as much into them as possible.

 

“So, what will we do tomorrow?” You asked. So human. Always looking for tomorrow.

 

“Is there anything in particular that you would like to do, my dear?” He asked. You looked at him with a quizzical expression, having noticed the affection that filled his voice.

 

“Uh, well...” You said. “I figure there's a lot of paperwork to catch up on, since we've been gone a whole week.”

 

“You'd like to go over paperwork with me?”

 

“And maybe more magic practice. I don't want to get behind. And maybe I'll make more cinnamon rolls?”

 

“How delightful. That sounds like a good day.” To greet you every morning, to speak with you and split his work. To pat you on the back and hold your hand. To share your life. It filled him with a warm kind of contentment.

 

******

 

Loki had kindly used his magic once again, to float you and Acorn across the river, and back onto Asgardian land. The camps had apparently not been alerted that you were returning today, so the crowd of humans who came to greet you were hastily gathered, and smaller than it otherwise would have been. You saw Sofie in the crowd, and waved to her happily. But Todd was also there, and you greeted him with much less enthusiasm, which was to say, not at all.

 

Never one to just let something go, he pushed his way up alongside your horse.

 

“Did it go well, sweetie?” He asked. “Did that guy get what he deserved?”

 

“Pretty much.” You said shortly. “And I'm gonna stop answering you, if you don't quit it with the pet names.”

 

“I'm sorry. You've had such a rough time. Are you sure you don't want to come home yet?”

 

You drew yourself up on Acorn's back trying to hide your tiredness.

 

“It's out of the question, Todd.” You said coldly. Loki Glared at him even more coldly.

 

“I'm afraid if you wish to speak more with my seidkona, you will have to make an appointment.” He interjected. “And I'm afraid she will be busy for the foreseeable future.”

 

“With what?” A voice in the crowd shouted out. “Being your prisoner? Slave to the would-be conqueror?”

 

“Great Loki protects the seidkona!” Someone from Trolekaerhalla shouted back. “He fights for her!”

 

“So he can keep her trapped here!”

 

“Guys!” You yelled. “Hey, it's all right. I'm not a prisoner, I live here now. I've got a job, and I've got citizenship. You don't have to worry about me.”

 

Instead of soothing the crowd, the shouting just started up again, even more ferocious than before. Why hadn't that worked? The people in town had been willing to listen, but these people were now shouting about you being brainwashed, or threatened into saying things.

 

Loki pushed forward, with Leynarodd's help, bullying his way through the crowd. Einherjar came to escort you into Asgard once you'd gotten close enough, and then the screaming crowds were left behind. You hoped they wouldn't start fighting each other.

 

“I don't get it.” You complained, as Asgardians gathered on the streets, waving little gold cloths this time. “Why didn't they listen to me?”

 

“Because they were never here for you.” Loki said sourly. “They were here for pure hatred of me, with a mask of you painted over it. You're the excuse they use, to seem noble instead of grudging. If you strip away that mask, they have to paint it back with different colors. So, instead of them being wrong, you have to be wrong somehow. Brainwashed, or mind controlled, or threatened, or forced, or seduced, or a traitor. In a way, the camp that openly hates us for being here at all is more open and honest about their intentions. Not more admirable, but more honest. But the gates are behind us, and we needn't think about it any more. Look. The sun sits low, and dusk has returned to us. The people rejoice. You are home.”

 

His words warmed you. Home. The long journey was over. A hot dinner and your soft bed awaited you. You had books and plants and seeds to unpack. You could take a nice, long bath.

 

You could finally relax.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Medics rushed toward the infirmary, your unconscious body prone on a stretcher between them. Loki cleared a path ahead, barking orders and sometimes physically shoving people out of his way. He didn't know how much time you had. He didn't know if it wasn't already too late.

 

Panic stole all but a few starkly solid thoughts. The horrible sounds of a fist impacting your delicate flesh, and the startled little squeak you'd made. The thud of your head against the stone floor. Your silence thereafter.

 

Alarr was a dead man. Loki was going to kill him. Kill him, and dump his body in the river with no memorial. Let him wash ashore downstream, so that the animals might have him.

 

He hadn't felt this kind of hate, this swirling fury, for years now. He had almost let himself believe that he was past it.

 

But the part of him that could be driven to murder was still very much alive.

 

 

*****

 

It was promising to be a lovely day. His sleep had been blissfully nightmare free, and breakfast had been delicious. You had allowed him to eat with you in your room, while you arranged the new houseplants, planted your new seeds in their little starter pots, and put your new books on your new bookshelf. The space mural had been finished while you were gone: a sparkling star field, sprinkled with nebulae, star clusters, and distant galaxies. It had surprised and pleased you, and Loki had utterly basked in your delight.

 

He had planned on giving you a lesson in the Asgardian language later that afternoon, but first, there were a handful of petitions to see to; meeting with the Buridag planners, yet more Icelandic environmental specialists, authorities concerned with the growth of the human encampments outside the city, and Alarr wanted something as well. His missive had been addressed to Thor, but it involved Loki, and was apparently of 'utmost importance to keeping peace and order in Asgard', whatever he meant by that. It was probably just another complaint about all the humans outside.

 

Thor wouldn't be in the throne room today, so Loki had taken you there, to observe more examples of courtly business. And also perhaps just to show off a little what he looked like, sitting upon a throne. But before he could get you seated, Alarr had barged in ahead of everyone, though he was scheduled last. He had barreled into you heedlessly, and you had grabbed him by the arm to keep your balance.

 

“Pardon me.” You had said, in stilted Asgardian. But Loki had seen Alarr's face twist in disgust, and hadn't moved fast enough. Alarr had struck you across the face so hard that you had spun from the force of it. He hadn't been fast enough to catch you either, as you collapsed, unconscious, to the ground, cracking your head against the hard stone floor.

 

“Sully not my person with your filth, lowly creature!” Alarr had snarled, though it was obvious you couldn't hear. Then he choked as Loki grabbed him by the throat and flung him to the ground.

 

“You dare lay hands on my seidkona?” Loki shouted, alerting the guards, one of whom scrambled to the nearest medical station. “I'll see you stretched between horses for this Alarr!”

 

“You are acting the fool, Laufeyson, can you truly not see?” Alarr roared back, compelled not to rise by the point of a spear leveled at his torso. “You parade this opportunistic hussie around while humans take photos and make mockery of your nobility! You thumb your nose at the traditions that keep order, and do insult to all the noble ladies of Asgard by removing my son from his proper place, and installing your mortal whore in his stead! What does this say to your people? That both of our rulers are so easily seduced, so ready to abandon our own women for these pathetic mortals? She is not worthy, even of you, and yet, you debase yourself with a mortal no more important than a farm animal. How do you dare demand respect?”

 

The medics had arrived by then, carefully transferring your motionless body to a stretcher.

 

“Alarr.” Loki growled, rage blossoming like frost inside his ribs. “Were it not for my affections for Andsvarr, I would lay a curse upon your household that would see the Garprlings each wither away in failure and death, sparing you only until the last of your fold was gone, and then, finally, coming for you. Instead, I will settle with you on the field of challenge, two days hence. If you prove craven, I will remove Andsvarr from your family permanently, and set one of your cousins as the head of your household. Go back to your home and prepare yourself. I must away.”

 

And so he had left, a mere hair away from snapping and murdering Alarr right then and there. If you died, nothing would save the man.

 

He burst into the infirmary, bellowing for Bjarkhild, who had taken over the situation immediately, and so efficiently that Loki found himself expertly steered into the waiting room and coerced to stay there, upon pain of the lead healer's displeasure.

 

How did she do that?

 

Loki paced the room, fury and fear tearing at him. Somehow, he had never expected Alarr to take his displeasure this far. Whether he accepted you or not, perpetuating violence against a member of the royal entourage was an act of treason. Alarr knew that-the man was absolutely steeped in rules and traditions: he had to know the severity of his actions. How had he been allowed to lose respect to the point that he was willing to flout the laws he so valued?

 

She is not worthy, even of you. Of course. It was because Alarr did not respect him as a true prince of Asgard. His Jotun ancestry was known to the nobles now, to everyone, and some had severe issues with seeing him living up to his title. Even after all he had done for them, their traditions were more important than their experiences.

 

They would be reminded soon though, that he was no lesser. In two days, he would do his utmost to make sure that this never happened again.

 

But it wouldn't matter if you weren't there to brag to. What meaning did any accomplishment have if he could only whisper his stories to your memorial? What would he tell your father? If you died in his care, would it start a war?

 

Alarr, that thoughtless, brainless cur...

 

The rage bloomed again, drowning out the fear and pain of possible bereavement. Why didn't the man just think? Was this what Odin had gone through, when he had put an end to Asgardian expansion? What Bor had dealt with, when he abolished slavery? Thick-headed, short-sighted idiots unwilling to bend a single synapse towards growing and developing as a people?

 

This was so much more personal though. Alarr would never have touched Dr. Foster. The 'True Son of Odin' could be allowed his little dalliances with mortals, but when he did it he was a no-good, trouble making, Jotun foundling who was disrespecting his upbringing by spending time with lesser beings.

 

Thor burst in on his pacing. “Loki what in the frozen Hel is going on?” He demanded. “You got into a fight? You're going to perform a formal duel with Alarr?”

 

“Of course not.” Loki snapped, and Thor relaxed slightly. “I am going to execute Alarr.”

 

“Loki, you cannot-”

 

“He struck _____, and called her a whore!”

 

“...Oh.” Thor said. “Carry on then.”

 

Loki crossed his arms over his chest and continued pacing, a deep scowl on his face.

 

“Is she-”

 

“I don't know!”

 

Loki's pacing sped up considerably.

 

Finally, Ulfrun entered the waiting room, interrupting the royal brooding. Loki was on her in the blink of an eye.

 

“How is she?” He hounded. “Tell me! Now!”

 

Ulfrun cowered back from him. “I-I'm sorry, your highness. I have bad news.”

 

All color, all warmth drained from his face, drained from his body. He stumbled backwards, collapsing into a chair, with Thor's help.

 

What was he going to do without you?

 

“Loki...” Thor said quietly, but Loki's throat was so tight, he couldn't speak. He just shook his head. You'd lived through so much, and then this...it was all his fault. He should have sent you somewhere else as soon as he had seen Alarrs name. Would your spirit ever forgive his failure?

 

“Ulfrun, you little fool.” Bjarkhild griped. “You are as bad at speaking to people as you are good at healing them. Go back inside.”

 

The junior healer hurried back out of the waiting room, followed by Bjarkhild's impatient sigh.

 

“My Prince...” She knelt before him. “Please listen...”

 

“Don't fear.” Loki said weakly. “I don't blame you. I know you tried.”

 

“Listen...She is going to have to stay here for quite some time. The healing process will be long, and she will not be able to attend to her duties at all while she is here.”

 

Thor's hand tightened on his shoulder, and Loki, who had buried his face in his hands, parted his fingers so that one eye was visible.

 

“What?”

 

“Her skull has been cracked in several places, and one of her zygomatics crushed. Fixing this will take time; you must be patient.”

 

“She lives.” He whispered. Bjarkhild nodded, and Loki stood so abruptly that he nearly bowled her over. But Bjarkhild was the faster, and beat his rush to bar the door with her body.

 

“You cannot!” She said firmly. “You must be patient, my Prince.”

 

“I...I just want to confirm...” He said. The lead healer noticed the tears rimming his eyes, and relented with a long-suffering sigh.

 

“You must not be loud.” She instructed. “You must not disturb the equipment, nor try to rouse her. You must not touch her, especially not her head.”

 

“Agreed.” He said quickly. “Just let me see her!” He needed to know, he needed to see you breathe with his own eyes.

 

Bjarkhild stepped aside, and the brothers entered quickly, but quietly. Loki stifled a worried moan at the sight of you, your head swathed in bandages, your body hooked up to what seemed like a dozen different apparatuses. The golden glow of their mini Soul Forge blanketed your bed.

 

He wasn't allowed to touch you? He couldn't see how he could even get close! But from here, he could see your chest rising and falling, hear the soft chime of your heartbeat being monitored. You lived.

 

“Is it all right if he stays here?” Thor asked Bjarkhild. “It might be better if he were to remain. Perhaps it's possible that he could be allowed to hold her hand? We already know that his magic can help keep her strong; his presence should help her heal.”

 

“I suppose I could get him a chair...” Bjarkhild said. “But just the hand. No more than that. She must not be jostled. I cannot stress this enough: Her skull is broken. If you value her life, you must heed me.”

 

Thor stole up behind Loki and patted him on the shoulder. “You should take today to stay here, brother.” He said. “Stay with your love; I will take care of everything else.”

 

“She's not-”

 

Norns below, you were.

 

Loki took the seat the healer brought him, and twined his fingers carefully with yours. There he remained for the rest of the day.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“He's been in there for a pretty long time.” Brunnhilde pointed out, handing a revised armor design back to a hovering aide.

 

“He's with ______.” Thor pointed out. “He's figuring some things out, and he's staying by her side while she heals. It's where he should be.”

 

“I mean, I agree, but isn't the Garprling duel this afternoon? He's still got to attend; he's the one who called the duel. What does he plan to do about this?”

 

Thor finished one stack of paperwork and began on another, sorting through them swiftly, to sift out initial rejections.

 

“I'm certain he is still going to go through with it, but I don't know how he intends to finish it. Alarr must know that he has committed a high crime, but he may be counting on my intervention to prevent Loki from ending him. I don't know if I really want to.”

 

“Harsh.”

 

Thor sighed. “This is one of those difficult decisions that I always dreaded having to be responsible for. Alarr both agitates for the solidification of certain traditions into law, yet flouts those very traditions while relying on the law to bail him out. I'm not sure if I should do the bailing this time. It may be better for him to see consequences.”

 

“I also agree with that, but what do you expect him to learn, if Loki cuts his guts out and strangles him with them? Can't learn anything if he's dead.”

 

“That's where things get difficult. If we were back home, the course would be clear: His life would be dependent on the outcome of the duel. If Loki decided to kill him, so be it. But now...Now we cannot afford to lose people. But we also cannot afford to let the rule of law slip away.”

 

He began leafing through the papers that were left, signing the ones that didn't require further deliberation. He'd been seeing to Loki's stacks for the past few days as well.

 

“Alarr is in an odd place now. The Garprlings are only middling nobles, but he has the ears of many of the lower and middle nobles, and many of the merchants as well. He's been forced into a leadership position that he hasn't been trained for, all because he was loud-spoken about clinging to a past that cannot be returned to. I don't actually blame people for listening to him: people want their home back, and cannot have it. They fear assimilation, the abandonment of our ways. So they rallied to him, and now he thinks he has to be responsible. He has to be bigger and louder than ever, he cannot change course, cannot bend even a tiny bit, or they will turn on him. There is nowhere he can turn.

 

On the other hand, he never needed to go so big. He didn't need to rally others under his banner in the first place, he didn't need to advocate violence, and he certainly didn't need to commit what amounts to treason. He has still broken the law, even if he didn't think the law applied to his victim. But the law applies to all who reside within Asgard, and it must be enforced. Loki is well within his rights, and I honestly don't know if I should intervene. If Alarr dies, his followers may rebel, and cause much destruction. If Alar lives, he may not learn anything, and he may cause more trouble anyway.”

 

 

“This man is not martyr material.” Brunnhilde asserted. “Let the man be humbled. Let him be brought low, the illusion of his power shattered. You had probably better tell Little Brother not to kill him.”

 

Thor nodded slowly. He really would rather this be resolved without any death. Now if he could just get Loki to agree.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Loki nuzzled the back of your hand; gently, so gently. You hadn't awakened yet, and Bjarkhild assured him that it might still be some time before you did. The machines you were hooked up to showed strong vitals, but he had still been fiercely instructed not to touch anything more than your hand, and to remain quiet.

 

It was all right. It gave him time to think.

 

He loved you. Did he? Could he still love? Could he still care at all?

 

Yes, he was sure he could. He loved his brother. He loved Brunnhilde, whom he had taken as his sister. He still loved his mother, in her absence, and his father as well, despite all. It was love that had lead him to his death and his near-deaths. Yes, he was very much capable of love.

 

And his affections for you? From whence did they spring? It was true and very, very obvious that he cared for you, but was it love? Romantic love, or some other kind? Wasn't he still too broken and twisted for that kind of thing? Well, was he? Or was he just using that as an excuse to avoid allowing himself to be vulnerable to these feelings?

 

He wanted you to be close to him always, he wanted to share in your life and accomplishments. He wanted to be someone who could make you smile. He wanted your attention, and your affections. You and he were friends.

 

But he also thrilled at the thought of kissing you, even though his nightmares warned him away from it. He craved your touch, your warmth and softness. The thought of holding you...no, not just holding you, but you holding him back, responding to his affections with your own. To meet him with equal passion.

 

Passion. That was something he hadn't felt for another person in a very long time. Not since he realized that everyone who had approached him up to that point, had done so not for him, but for what he represented to them. Power, prestige, fortune. An escape from their family. A stepping-stone to his brother. But never, not once, for him. Never for love of Loki.

 

If you were to consent to his suit, what would be your reason? Convenience, most likely. You were here, and could not leave, and had to be near him all the time. Might as well.

 

Or perhaps a desire for safety would be the deciding factor. There were many things to fear in a life like yours, and he could keep you safe from most of them.

 

You cared about him, that he knew. You had admitted to being his friend. But could it be more than that? Could you love him, when nobody else had?

 

Not while you still slept.

 

He was much less enthusiastic right now, about what he had to do today. Not that he had forgiven Alarr; he most certainly had not. But Loki didn't want to leave your side, even to rain retribution down on his thick head.

 

The time was fast approaching though, so he tenderly lay your hand down, rubbing the back with his thumb, stood away from you, away from all the machines, and changed.

 

He wanted his finest armor, his most menacing horns. He wanted to be as intimidating as possible. He wanted Alarr to know fear, before Loki destroyed him.

 

He called Gungnir to him, determined to perform with as much royal pomp as possible. He would make this memorable, so that others might not soon forget what happened to those who trifled with you.

 

When he stepped back into the waiting room, he found Andsvarr there, wringing his hands. Ah, yes. Loki had been expecting this part of the issue to arise.

 

Andsvarrs head snapped up, his sunken eyes, red-rimmed and wide. “Y-your Highness...” He stammered, rough-voiced. “I couldn't talk him out of it. He kept saying he didn't have a choice in the matter. He thinks he can overcome you!It's ridiculous, but he just won't listen to me! He never listens to me...”

 

“Andsvarr, I actually appreciate your effort.” Loki began. “But a challenge like this is extremely serious. It is unlikely that there is anyone out there who could have convinced him to back down. You have done your part, and now I must do-”

 

Andsvarr threw himself to the ground at Loki's feet, gasping at his hems.

 

“Please don't kill my father!” He begged. “Please, my prince! My family is in shambles, we all still mourn my brothers. We are beset on all sides by people demanding action from us, and I don't even know how we got there! I am not ready to inherit! And he is my father! Please...please don't kill my father, please...”

 

Loki stood stock-still, shocked by the sudden outburst. Andsvarr had never seemed particularly close to his father; in fact, the two fought all the time. But Loki understood; he was much the same in his feelings towards Odin.

 

“Andsvarr...” He said, but the lad was crying into his armor and couldn't hear. “Andsvarr! On your feet this instant, soldier!”

 

Andsvarr might have been young, and new to the einherjar, but he was well trained. He leapt up, trying to swallow his tears.

 

“Andsvarr. Lad, I can't promise this. I can only tell you that I will try not to let it come to that. But Alarr has committed a crime. He has also repeatedly shown a lack of respect that lead up to the committing of this crime, and even after, he doubled down on that disrespect. He will continue in this kind of criminal activity, unless I put a stop to it here. Hopefully, a sound defeat in front of his peers will destroy his credibility with them. Perhaps it will lessen their pressure on your family, and convince them to go back to relying on their community and themselves, rather than trying to build up a little kingdom in the midst of our larger one. But I have to do something decisive here.

 

I can't promise. But I can go into it remembering you. Besides...” He looked back at the door he had come from, beyond which you continued to rest. “I don't think she would want me to kill him either.”

 

“How is she?” Andsvarr asked, weakly. “All I could learn is that she can't leave here.”

 

“She is badly injured, very badly. She shouldn't be disturbed, not even for this. She does not even know that this is happening.”

 

“Should I guard her door while you are gone?”

 

Loki regarded him with the suspicion that came from being who he was. It was possible Andsvarr didn't want to witness this upcoming battle, and was simply looking for an excuse not to go. But though he did did not think Andsvarr had the guile required to be a double agent, Loki was essentially declaring war on his family for today, and some member of the Garprlings might be inspired to preemptive revenge.

 

“No.” He said. “Go...go find Saldis. Do whatever she tells you to. Do not come back here for the rest of the day.”

 

Andsvarr left in a hurry, still not fully composed. Loki headed or the challenger's field, filled with fresh anger at the trouble Alarr had caused for everyone around him.

 

 

*****

 

People were shouting, whooping in enthusiasm for the upcoming fight. It made Thor a bit queasy; he'd had a hard time enjoying gladiatorial type combat ever since Sakkar. But battles for fun and to settle disputes were still popular, and he couldn't exactly skip out on this one, considering Loki's participation. This was going to be such a mess.

 

He hadn't been able to find Loki, to speak with him. There would be no chance to convince him to spare his opponent's life. It was in the Norns' hands now.

 

Loki entered the field so bedecked in armor that he practically sparkled with malice. Cheers erupted from the crowd, and even though Loki still had plenty of detractors, they merely held their applause. No one dared boo the prince.

 

There was danger in every line of his body, as he strode out into the center of the field. Everyone remembered that his was the man who had aided in the destruction of most of Jotunheims exalted warriors, the man who had slain Laufey, the great enemy. Who had destroyed the Kursed, and the guerrillas of Svartalfheim, who had invaded Midgard itself as a one man army, and might have won. This was a prime warrior of Asgard, no matter his parentage.

 

“My people!” He announced, his voice rolling out to reach the farthest observers. “As many of you are aware, I have taken into my entourage a human woman, whom I have named seidkona. Some few of you have met her, and know as I do that she is a creature of integrity and compassion, with a courageous voice and a stalwart heart.

 

I know some of you have concerns about human encroachments upon us. Just as your grandparents had the same concerns about the Alfar. Just as their grandparents had the same concerns about the Vanir. Time and experience have worn those concerns away. Thus, I have brought her among us, to show you, my people, the power and capabilities of humankind, which my brother and I have both witnessed firsthand.

 

I understand that many of us are finding difficulty in our transition to this new age, and suspicion is rife. My seidkona acts as an ambassador, a bridge between our peoples, a personage of great importance, under my personal protection. Imagine the disgrace-the insult-dealt by this treacherous attack upon her! When, right in my presence, in a non-combative situation, Alarr of the Garprlings struck her full-force, knowing full well her species is more physically delicate than his own...That act was not only treasonous, but craven! He assaulted someone he knew was weaker in body than himself, who had no weapon in hand, who had no combat in mind! Even now, she lies abed, recovering from the terrible injuries he has inflicted upon her!

 

I ask you, my people, is this the statement we wish to make to our neighbors and benefactors? Is this the conduct of the nobility of Asgard? Are we barbarous? Have our trials robbed us of our civility?”

 

The crowd bellowed disapproval.

 

“This is the lesson that Alar must learn this day!” Loki declared. “We will not sacrifice our decorum, nor our decency! This I shall impart upon him, when I have defeated him here, in honorable combat, before the judges of Asgard!”

 

The crowd erupted in cheers, which Loki drank in, open-armed.

 

“Seems in good spirits.” Brunnhilde said from Thor's side. “Considering.”

 

Brunnhilde and the Valkyries were the chosen judges for this duel, and so they were scattered throughout the crowd to observe the fight from all angles. Any treachery would be noted, and in the case of a draw, they would make the ultimate decision to who actually won, based on displayed prowess. A duel was a time to go all out.

 

Alar entered from the opposite side of the field. There were cheers for him as well, though they were somewhat subdued. His supporters surely wanted to laud his coming, but the presence of the prince, and the power of his speech had made it somewhat unseemly. Thor expected that Loki had counted on that, on the lack of open, enthusiastic support demoralizing Alarr.

 

Though the man was aging, he was not yet past his prime, and had decked himself in his old, battle worn armor from his days as an einherjar. It still fit well, and though it was likely his only suit of armor, it also served to show the crowd that he was closer to them than the prince, and more likely to understand and share their thoughts and beliefs. That was how he had gotten into this mess in the first place.

 

“My peers.” He addressed the crowd. “For centuries we have known each other. And for all those centuries, did the might of Asgard ever falter?” There were shouts to the contrary. “Only now, when we are cut off from the wider universe, when we are recovering from a devastating disaster, is there any real question that Asgard might fail. We are few now, isolated from our supply lines, vulnerable for the first time in millennia. And we are surrounded. By enemies, and by fickle friends, which are worse than enemies.

 

Those who have no fear of the natives of Midgard, those who dismiss them as inconsequential, are those who are not paying attention. I remember coming here, during the war with the Frost Giants. I saw what humans were like then. Though they did not have strength of body or weapon, they had numbers greater than could be mustered by Asgard and Jotunheim combined, and there are many times more of them now. Do you know the things I saw then? I saw barbarians who, when the giants were driven back, fell upon each other in their bloodlust. I saw a people who extorted and enslaved each other. Their own kind! They pillaged! They destroyed without reason, simply because they could! They committed atrocities upon their own, horrors we could never have imagined, and I was assured that this was the normal state of the realm.

 

They have not changed, though many of their generations have passed. Many of you have seen, or at least heard of the war camps gathering outside the gates. They are but the first waves that will come to wash Asgard away. More will come, mark me.

 

And for those who are friendly? How long do you expect that to last? The generation who show us mercy in gratitude for our kings great works here will be dead within a century. They are brief, and their care and dedication is even more so. We cannot count on them, and yet we allow ourselves to depend upon their fleeting charity! Has Asgard ever been brought so low?

 

Our rulers now bring one of them in among us, one that even her own people claim to be a lowly, grasping parasite.” Loki bristled at that. “Odin Allfather knew the lorelei's song of mortal attraction, and forbid our settling here for that very reason. Think of how fast they live, how fast they breed. A mere handful within the city now will grow to outnumber us in three centuries or less. Our rulers are kindly disposed towards mortals, and I think they do not understand the dangers. But I have seen the core of these people, and I have seen that they have not changed.

 

I work always only to protect our people, especially in these uncertain times. Like Odin before us, we must be firm and decisive, but we must also be responsible for our actions. And so I come to this impulsive duel, demanded of me from a place of the prince's emotions, rather than a place of his rational thought, to stand for the actions I have taken.”

 

The cheers were still not that loud, but they were steady. Thor knew that Alar spoke to many of the anxieties and insecurities prevalent in the people. It was clear now that he hadn't done enough to ease these fears.

 

When this was done, he would need to address that.

 

“Hoo boy.” Brunnhilde griped. “What a lot of hot air.” She stood, and flung a Valkyrie-blue ribbon into the air. The instant it touched the ground, both men launched themselves at each other, engaging in a whirl of yellow, green, and glittering, golden nornbein. It became quickly clear that Loki was by far the faster, but Alarr had a lifetime of experience more, and had not neglected his drills.

 

The two clashed, sword against spear, seeming to prove a disadvantage to Loki, who knew how to use a short spear in close quarters, but could not level the blade at his opponent. Alarr kept his round shield between himself and the spear, thrusting his sword out of the top and around the side, sweeping beneath to score Loki's greaves. Loki tried to hook the shield, to pull it away and expose Alarr's side, but the curved edge provided no purchase. A lucky twist as Alarr thrust out over the top allowed Gungnir's disarming barbs to catch the bracer of Alarr's sword arm, and slit the fastenings. The bracer fell away as the longer blade of the spear slashed his newly bared wrist.

 

That was first blood. Alarr could concede defeat now without disgrace. But as Brunnhilde called the strike, Alarr fought on, and Thor just knew that he was going to push it too far.

 

Alarr answered with a wild swing that caught Loki's horns, and ripped the helmet from his head. His spinning followthrough was clearly aimed at the prince's face, but Loki's great speed scored him only a gash among those raven curls, and exposed his back to the prince.

 

Loki's quick kick sent him sprawling in the dirt, and gave the prince the room to bring his blade to bear. He was ready when Alarr swung his sword in a wide arc behind himself. The blood from his wrist had made his grip slippery; Gungnir's barbs caught the sword easily and ripped it from his grasp. But the blood streaming into Loki's eyes blinded him momentarily, skewing the aim of the disarm. He lost track of where Alarr's sword was, the weapon spinning twice straight up in the air, and coming back down, heavy blade first, onto Alarr's damaged wrist.

 

Alarr's sword-and sword hand-clattered into the dirt.

 

The crowd began to scream.

 

All of the Valkyries jumped to their feet, bright blue ribbons waving in the air. Brunnhilde called the match right there, much to Thor's relief.

 

“Alarr Ullfrson of the Garprlings, I declare you no longer fit to fight!” She shouted over the crowd. “The duel goes to Prince Loki! Medics, take the field!”

 

The medical team rushed to Alarr, roaring in pain in the soil of the field, as Loki retrieved and replaced his helmet, paying no mind to the blood that matted his hair.

 

“Let this matter be settled!” He declared. “Treason has consequences! Lawbreaking has consequences! Huglausi has consequences! Remember our ways! Remember our hospitality, and I will not have to mete out such consequences again!”

 

With that, he quit the field.

 

“Well.” Brunnhilde said. “That went remarkably well.”

 

“Alarr is crippled.” Thor pointed out. Brunnhilde waved it away.

 

“He has another hand, and he got to keep his entrails, and most of his blood. Pretty damn good, considering the stories you've told me about little brother's rage.”

 

Thor watched the medics bear Alarr off the challenger's field. There were arguments among the observers concerning the outcome of the duel: several of Alarr's supporters were loudly proclaiming that he victory could not decisively be Loki's, only incidentally, because it was not Loki's blade that took Alarr's hand, but an accident. The attendant Valkyries pointed out that not only had Loki drawn first blood, but he had also disarmed Alarr, and had him on the ground. All points for Loki's victory.

 

Thor took his leave. It was over, and he didn't want to stay any longer. No doubt Loki had gone right back to you, and Thor had work awaiting him. He was starting to welcome it.

 

Maybe this was why Odin had so rarely gone out among the people.

 

 

*****

 

Loki stalked down a back corridor, where he knew only the servants every really went. It was a place for them to relax and enjoy each other's company; filled with windows and little sitting nooks. Several of these were filled with workers, taking breaks, snatching moments to have a meal, or spend time with one another. He found Andsvarr and Saldis in one of them, taking comfort in each other's arms. It was almost a shame to interrupt them.

 

Loki had known about them from the beginning, but kept his council. He knew Andsvarrs father would not approve, but that might just be moot now.

 

They held each other closer upon his approach, staring at the blood on his face with wide-eyed apprehension.

 

“He will live.” Loki said simply, then turned on his heel and left.

 

A soft sob echoed after him.

 

 

*****

 

Loki wasn't allowed back into your room until the blood had been cleaned up, the gash having already stopped bleeding and begun to heal. He changed back into far more comfortable clothing, soft, fresh, and as simple as anything a prince owned could be.

 

He rushed right past the gaggle of people gathered in the waiting room-doubtless there for Alarr-and headed straight for your room.

 

The light was low in here, so much gentler on the eyes. The warm glow of the healing machines kissed your skin with golden light. He returned to his chair, and took your hand in his once again.

 

“I did it, my darling.” He whispered. “I have avenged you. I have taken the hand that struck you and left it in the dirt. It shall never touch you again.”

 

He kissed your hand tenderly. “Won't you wake? I wish so much to hear your voice once more.”

 

But perhaps it was better that you hadn't. You might be in terrible pain otherwise. The machines had been set to heal your broken bones more slowly and gently than they would have for an Asgardian. You were not fully healed yet, and would not be for some time. Your whole head was still swathed in a protective layer of gauze and bandages, showing only one closed eye, and part of a cheek...covered in dark bruises.

 

The rage was still there, fed on a steady diet of the helplessness of waiting, the frustration of there being nothing more he could do. He would stay with you though; he would be here when you woke. He wanted you to be able to count on him for at least that.

 

Chapter Text

You spun through space, wrapped in Loki's arms. He seemed happier than usual, softer somehow, as the stars whizzed by. A small, icy planet loomed close, and Loki's smile faltered when you noticed and recognized the great, dark canyon along the equator.

This was Jotunheim.

Loki shook his head, and held you tighter: He did not want to go there, but there was where you were going, pulled along by the sparkling blue light that transported you safely throughout the universe. You realized by now that you didn't really have any control over your movement; it seemed to you that the light itself was in charge.

It placed you down on the rough snow near the great canyon, and you couldn't really help but to look over the edge.

The ice cliffs plunged down miles and miles, a dark line of open water at the bottom, appearing no wider than a hair at that depth. The sheer height made you dizzy; in fact, just standing up made you dizzy. Your vision began to spin, and you wobbled. The next instant, you were in Loki's arms.

He pulled you away from the edge of the canyon, wrapping you urgently in his cloak and holding you close to the radiating warmth of his body. The legendary cold of the frozen realm hadn't touched you, however. The blue glow still surrounded you, seeming to keep the frigid danger at bay.

Loki stared around you, head whipping this way and that, still dragging you away from the canyon. He froze in place, lips pulling back in a wide-eyed grimace-and then he disappeared.

You gasped, but felt a hand cover your mouth. You could still feel Loki's cloak around you, his warm body pressed close to yours, you just couldn't see him. When it occurred to you to look, you found that you couldn't see yourself either. Loki had rendered you both invisible.

Moments later, a procession of giants appeared out of the blowing, snowy fog, solemn and silent. There were many of them, ranging from children to the elderly, showing several blue skin tones, and either black or white hair. Men and women were not that different in appearance; both wore kilts, loincloths, or briefs, with bared chests, and intricate braids. Children and the elderly wore mantles or long tunics, and all were barefoot. Most were decked in ornamentation, strings of beads made of dyed ice, pendants of claws and teeth, leather fringe, carved bone, shining fish scales, shells, and even pearls. Some were layered on so thickly that they might as well have been shirts

Leading the procession was a wizened old giant in a cloak and hood, leaning on a staff of bone, and surrounded by what you assumed were body guards of some kind. They weren't armed that you could see, but carried drums instead. They were huge, even bigger than the other giants, who towered over you: Their heads were mostly shaved, a few retaining a knotted side lock, and many had bits of metal-the only you had seen-embedded into their skin like studs on armor.

They began pounding out a slow rhythm as they approached the head of the canyon, and the old giant begin to sing in a thin voice. The giants all waited silently until the song had faded away on the wind, then, one by one, filed down a stairway that had been chiseled into the canyon way. You hadn't even noticed it, so cleverly it had been carved. Down they went in a long line, the drummers keeping their steady pace.

“What's happening?” You whispered. You were getting the distinct and uncomfortable feeling that you were not meant to witness this.

“I have no idea.” He whispered back, barely audible. “Please be silent, my darling.”

You clammed up. Did he hate the giants so much that he didn't know anything about them? Or was this something new? Giants began climbing back up the stairs, their arms laden with lichens and fungus, eye-catchingly bright colors in the overall surroundings of blue, white, and gray.

As the giants carted these treasures away, you noticed that many of them were crying, tears like crystals on their cheeks. The drummers and elderly giant followed them back the way they had come. Now that you were looking, you could just barely make out the shape of ruined buildings in the fog.

“Is that normal?” You asked, after they were long gone. You had a terrible headache, and still felt dizzy, but also terribly curious. “They have a mushroom farm down there?”

“It must be a midden.” Loki guessed. “Flora is nearly nonexistent here, but if they were cultivating it on their own waste...”

“I'm gonna check it out.” You declared, extricating yourself from his cloak and arms, and heading toward the cliffs. Loki hounded your footsteps, keeping a hand on your shoulder.

“Wait, wait, wait, _____! You cannot climb down there, it's much too dangerous! And you're still...”

“Still what?” You demanded. “What is it? Something's wrong, I know it. Why does my head hurt so much?”

He hesitated.

“Whatever, you can tell me later. For now, I wanna learn as much as I can about this place. I know you'll never bring me back here, so I might never get the chance!”

You rushed to the edge of the canyon, peering over again. The sheer height made you woozy, or maybe it was whatever was wrong with your head. Maybe this was a bad idea.

But you would never get another opportunity, not while Loki clearly still hated everything about the place. For some reason, his aversion pushed you to know more. Someone had to know something about these people. They had children, and music, and fashion. They sang and cried.

You clambered precariously down the steps, Loki worriedly following. The stairs were still made of ice, and you slipped once. The sound that caught in Loki's throat grabbed your heart and drew out your pity. You reached your had out to him.

“Help me down.” You said. “Come with me. You said you wouldn't let me fall.”

He took you hand, hoisting you up into his arms, then carried you down the stairs. Part of the way down there were platforms and niches carved into the cliffs, caves that would be small by giant standards, but that the two of you fitted into comfortably. Inside, more niches were carved, huge basins of ice, overflowing with colorful growth. You climbed up the side of one, to prod a large mushroom.

It smelled terrible, but the mushrooms were strangely beautiful, overflowing their basins. If the giants really were using waste and refuse to farm food, you couldn't help but feel like that was terribly clever. Not only did they get rid of waste, but they also got food out of it.

But why all the ceremony? Why the crying? Perhaps flora was very sacred?

“Loki, this is pretty smart.” You said, glancing over your shoulder at him. “It's a great way to recycle...Loki?”

He was pale, almost as blue as the ice walls, and staring at a carving on the side of the basin. You slid back down to the floor.

“What does it say?” You asked. Frost Giant writing was very different from the runes you'd seen.

“Geirrod.” He said hoarsely. “We need to leave. Right now.”

His nervousness curled its way inside you, drawing you close to his side.

“What's wrong Loki?”

“This is more than a farm.” He said. “This is a tomb. They are eating what grows on the corpses of the dead.”

“Okay, I'm ready to go.” You said swiftly. He scooped you back up, and ascended the stairs.

What measures had to be taken, to survive in this harsh land? What extremes had to be gone to? The thought of farming on your own relatives bodies was horrifying, almost akin to cannibalism...to you. But you didn't live here. You didn't know this culture, you didn't know what they had to do to survive.

You were still going to steer clear of mushrooms for a little while.

Your head was pounding by the time he got you back to the surface, the dizziness overcoming you.

“Please.” You gasped. “Please set me down. I need to lie down.”

Very, very carefully, he set you down in the snow, cocooned in his cloak, and propped you up against a chunk of ice. He sat down next to you, huddling close. His breath didn't fog like yours did.

“Loki, do you know what's wrong with me?” Was your speech slurring now?

Loki nodded.

“Will you tell me?”

“When you wake up.” He said. “You just have to promise you will.”

He looked so worried. You nodded, another wave of dizziness washing over you.

“Go to sleep now.” He suggested. You closed your eyes against the twilight of Jotunheim and drifted away.

 

*****

 

Loki lifted his head from your belly, yawning wide. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, discreetly arranged the blankets to hide the drool stain he had left, and took your hand once again.

His hair was damp, probably from melted snow. He had been there, on the Frozen Realm, and you had been there with him. How? How were the two of you being transported like that? How could you be there in a dream, and yet also physically?

Well, partially physically. You had been suffering under your injuries, yet unaware of them. At least he knew now, that your mind had not been damaged. You still showed the potent, explosive combination of fire and curiosity; so very human, and so very you.

Bjarkhild opened the door.

“Out, your Highness. We must change her dressings and bedding. You should go get something to eat.”

He left without arguing; it was pointless with Bjarkhild anyway. She had been doing this long before Loki had been born, and would continue.

He arranged for breakfast, then hunted down his brother.

“Ah, is she awake?” Thor asked upon seeing him.

“No, not yet.” Loki said. “Not for a few more days at least. But she will wake up. She has promised me.”

Thor raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Instead, he handed Loki a sheaf of papers. Loki tucked it under his arm. He'd do his work at your bedside.

“How did you know?” He asked. “I didn't even know.”

“You knew.” Thor scoffed. “You are a very good liar, Loki, even to yourself. You've doted on her almost since the beginning. You were instantly attached. And you also made up every possible excuse, every other thing that it could be. Meanwhile, it grew and grew, and now you can't imagine being without her, can you?”

“Is that how it happened for you?

“No.” Thor shook his head. “No, I fell hard and fast as well, but I was fully aware of what was happening. At first I thought it was because I had been stripped of my power by father's curse. If I had been reduced to practically a mortal, then of course I would find comfort with, and attraction to mortals. But that wasn't the case at all. Jane stands all on her own merit. So too do Banner, and Natasha, and Stark, and so, so many others.

You and I were taught so many wrong things. Humanity may still be primitive in many ways, but they are so much greater than we were lead to believe. You and I both know that now.”

“_____ is not primitive!” Loki protested. “She just doesn't know everything that we do yet.” Thor pointed at him.

“Precisely! And you'll find that there are easily millions of humans who are worthy of our time, just like her.”

“There is no one like her.” Loki insisted, drawing a smile from his brother.

“Precisely.”

 

*****

 

You drifted dreamily, wrapped in cotton and velvet, dusted with perfume, lulled by a smooth, familiar voice whose words you couldn't quite make out.

Oh, it was Loki. Of course it was. For someone who was described as being so chaotic and unpredictable, he was remarkably steadfast. You kind of admired that. You expected him to be impulsive and impetuous, but the thought that you could count on him was such an unexpected bonus. You supposed that was part of the whole 'unpredictable' shtick.

Certainly, it made any of his good qualities come as pleasant surprises. You were rapidly coming to the conclusion that 'chaotic' didn't necessarily mean 'evil' or 'uncaring'.

You floated along on the back of his voice. The cadence suggested poetry. You knew you weren't quite awake, and not quite asleep either, not fully aware. But the more awake you became, the more clear it was that something was wrong.

Waking up was a struggle, as if something was trying to keep you asleep. Even as your consciousness surfaced, the feeling of being wrapped in gauze did not fade. The scent of sweet perfume lingered, the sound of Loki's voice sharpened, and a terrible pain consolidated in your head, but you still could not seem to fully wake.

Why couldn't you open your eyes? You could feel Loki's hand around yours, but you couldn't really move, couldn't open your eyes.

He must have noticed that your breathing changed, or the minute squeezing of his fingers, because you heard him stand, felt his presence hover of you, his breath on your cheek.

“____, are you awake?” He whispered. “Can you hear me? Are you there?”

You groaned, the sound coming out weak and thin.

He began almost babbling in Asgardian. You groaned again, struggling to move.

“No! No, you must stay still. Don't move, _____, I'll be right back. I must tell Bjarkhild that you are awake. Stay still, fleiri halfr minn hjarta, I will return with all speed.”

His fingers slipped away from yours as you still fought to open your eyes. Had he just pressed a kiss to your knuckles?

What had happened to you? You couldn't remember. You were somewhat aware that you must have been hurt somehow, but you just couldn't dredge up the memory. And now Loki was acting tender again, so it must have been bad.

He returned very shortly, and you could hear others with him.

“_____, his Highness tells me you have awakened.” Bjarkhild said. “Are you still awake? Can you speak?”

You tried, but all that came out was a stifled whine. Your head hurt so much; a throbbing ache worse than any headache you'd ever had. Even your teeth hurt.

“_____, if you are responding to me, try to make a sound again.” She said, and you did. The sound was no stronger this time; it hurt to do, and it felt as if your jaw was tied shut.

“And again.” She commanded. You complied. “Good, very good. In case you do not know, you recently suffered an injury to your head. You are in the healing wing, and we have you hooked up to a few machines that are gently speeding your recovery, but you will still need to stay for a while longer. I am going to remove some of your bandages now, but I must stress the importance of not moving your head around.”

So that was what was going on. You'd been hurt. Again. This was getting to be a bad habit.

Bjarkhild's hands were refreshingly cool, helping you to wake up further. However, the sharpening of your consciousness also sharpened the pain in your head, and you couldn't help but to try to move your hand, to push hers away.

You didn't make it: Loki snatched your hand up in his as soon as he noticed you trying to move it.

“Just hold still, my dear.” He encouraged. “Bjarkhild knows her craft. She was second only to Eir, may Valhalla embrace her.”

“Your praise is appreciated, your Highness.” Bjarkhild said. You felt the warmth and tightness of bandages loosening from around your jaw, your face, your ears and eyes. No wonder everything had felt so stiff and tight. Your whole head must have been wrapped up, like a mummy.

Soft gauze was removed from your cheeks, and you heard Loki gasp, ever so quietly. That didn't sound like a good sign. What had happened to your face to get that reaction? Was there something they weren't telling you?

You whined again.

As if sensing that he had worried you, Loki stroked the back of your hand with his thumb.

“You have extensive bruising on your face. It looks very uncomfortable, and I hope it is not too unbearable. It will heal though, it's just bruises.” He sounded a little like he was trying to convince himself.

You breathed out a little sigh. That explained the swollen eyes and lips.

“I am going to increase the power on one of these machines.” Bjarkhild said. “It will not speed the healing of your bones, but will hopefully take care of your more superficial hurts.”

Hopefully? Your first time seeing the prototype Soul Forge, you had been informed that there was only a single human record in the system, which you assumed had to be the king's ex. Now there were two human records, but that wasn't really enough for a full healing algorithm, was it? You were still physiologically different from Asgardians, and their medicine didn't have much experience with humans.

Maybe you could take a little pride in the advances you were providing to Asgardian medical science, with how often you were finding yourself injured.

By the time Bjarkhild was done and had left, you were almost ready to go back to sleep. The discomfort in your body and downright pain in your head kept you on the edge of wakefulness though, and Loki...well, Loki hovered.

He was very attentive, but he kept asking you questions that you couldn't answer. Were you comfortable? Did it hurt? Were you thirsty? Were you too hot? Too cold? Did you want to sleep?

The best communication you could come up with between you was hand squeezing; one for yes, two for no.

It did hurt. He apologized very sincerely, and promised that it would never happen again, but you couldn't ask him how he planned to make that come about. You weren't thirsty, or hungry for that matter, but you chalked it up to the machines you were hooked up to. You were a little hot as well, but you thought the machines must be responsible for that also. After Bjarkhild had adjusted them, you'd begun to feel a slight buzz, both on your skin and in your mind. It was starting to overcome the pain with it's soft warmth. You did want to go to sleep.

As the pain and discomfort receded, your hand relaxed in his. When Loki asked you if you were still awake, you couldn't squeeze an answer.

Chapter Text

Loki sat at his desk idly sketching out his ideas. You needed protection. Ideally, he would be able to surround you with an impenetrable wall of soldiers, but he couldn't trust his soldiers. Not with you.

He would have to screen special bodyguards for you, and make sure his entire entourage was both unswerving in their loyalty to him, and fiercely protective of you.

Until then, the best he could do was to commission some proper armor for you. A bigger challenge that he had initially expected: your smaller form meant that he couldn't just find something in the armory and have it altered for you. Unless there was some practice armor for adolescents out there somewhere, he would have to order it made from scratch. The materials would have to be lightweight, no uru for certain. You were sturdy for a mortal, but you would simply never have anything akin to an Asgardian body.

He could have some leathers put together for you, something not unlike what he preferred to wear, though he would have to raid the armory again, and pull some scrap leathers to recycle their materials. The beasts of Alfheim that contributed their hides to Asgard's superior leather goods were no longer available, and the animals here, while serviceable, were simply inferior. He would not trust your precious self with inferior armor.

You would need more than one set. And since you could not yet call your clothing to your body, any armor would have to be easy to get into and out of, requiring only one, possibly two people.

The idea of helping you into-and out of-armor that he had designed for you rose unbidden to his mind. He sighed dreamily, pausing his sketching to flesh out the daydream.

Armor consisted of multiple layers; there was all the metal, of course, which went on top and served to look intimidating as well as protecting vital areas. You wouldn't wear much of that, only over the very vulnerable parts. Otherwise, it would get too heavy. He'd get you pieces of nornbein, if he could, since it was hard and strong, but also relatively lightweight for metal. Over your chest of course, and your back. There should be plates on the shoulders, the upper arms, the forearms. The parts most likely to be aimed for. These few, select pieces would be fastened on over the leathers, and each piece, he would teach you about while he put it on you...or took it off of you.

Then there were the leathers. There would be more of that; the material was more available, flexible, and lightweight. He'd have them closely tailored to you, for ease of movement and he would share his diagonal motif as well; it broke up the lines of the body, redirected and distracted the eyes, and also looked very good.

Depending on how it was put together, he could pull the leather pieces over your head, or wrap them around your body, and fasten them there. They would protect your flesh from the slashing of unjust blades, and they would look beautiful as well.

One had to wear a little padding underneath, to avoid chafing and pinching. Only the finest quilted Asgardain silk would grace your skin. He could just see it; how the quilting would round out and soften your form even more, how the soft, natural shimmer of the silk would make you shine like a polished gem. Silk was surprisingly tough, and resistant to piercing, even on this world. Tightly woven silk, with raw silk quilted between would offer you some protection from pointed weapons such as poisoned darts or hidden knives. It would also keep you nice and warm in the coming Icelandic winter. He didn't really feel the cold, but humans certainly did, and you weren't even someone who had lived here and gotten used to it. You would need all the warmth that could be provided: Thicker clothes, more blankets, his arms.

If you were amenable. He also had a fireplace, if you felt more comfortable there. And the bath, which he would still very much like to share with you, under better circumstances this time. Warm and steamy, with cleansing soaps and fragrant oils.

But first you had to recover, and he had to get you your armor.

He wished he could have stayed in the healing wing with you, but Bjarkhild had kicked him out, with orders to get food and rest in his own bed. But he missed you. He couldn't stop thinking about you, lying alone in the healing wing, your poor face bruised and swollen, your poor head delicate, and healing so slowly. What if you woke up again, and he wasn't there?

A man had to be dependable, didn't he? If he was serious about a suit, he had to be. Loki didn't think he was unreliable exactly, but that he was selective about the people and subjects that he was reliable for. For you, he wanted to be someone you could depend on, for anything and everything.

He had no experience in this.

When he was much younger, he had thought to find a partner for himself, and to be the best possible partner available. He was a prince, he had the highest education, he could offer everything. This was long before he realized that he would never be a match for his brother in looks or popularity.

As he grew, his relationships had been few and infrequent, and always disappointing. He had a poets heart, but the only people who bothered to look at him were not really there for him. He became hard to approach.

Finally, he realized that, as the second son, he would be most useful in a political marriage, where love wasn't necessary, and that everything would be decided for him...so he had simply given up trying.

If not for his kingship and his continued mooning over his lost mortal lady, Thor would never have an empty bed. In fact, Thor had been sent crashing to Earth as a homeless, powerless, boorish drifter, and hadn't even spent an hour before he'd found someone willing to love him. Maybe he knew some things that could help Loki out. As long as those things didn't involved being born blessed and beautiful. There was nothing Loki was going to be able to do about that.

He began sketching again. You needed something for your head, a helmet of your own. Something that should be personalized just for you, so that any one who saw you would know who they were looking at. Something crown-like...

He was interrupted again, this time by Andsvarr entering the room, stiff as starched paper and carrying a bundle, wrapped in quality cloth.

Loki looked him over. “Well.” He said. “Out with it.”

“I bring a gift from the Garprlings. A blood-price for the lady.” Andsvarr announced, not looking Loki in the eye.

“...I took Alarr's sword hand.” Loki stated.

“And thus satisfied the insult done to yourself. This is specifically for the seidkona.”

Loki rose and took the bundle from Andsvarr. The cloth was a cloak, made of plush velvet, in a cool, minty green. It wrapped a partial set of armor, made primarily from nornbein and steel, sized for an adolescent.

“This is...fortuitous.” Loki said. “I see our thoughts are running along the same lines. Did this belong to you?”

“My second eldest brother.” Andsvarr said. “It was made for him upon his entry into guard training. It may need to be altered, but I think it is small enough.”

Loki set the pieces on his desk, next to his sketches. A steel and nornbein breastplate that would only cover the front, long, layered pauldrons in nornbein and good, Alfheim leather, that would reach nearly to your elbows, and a pair of nornbein bracers over worn leather half-gauntlets. All of those would likely need altering to fit you properly. There was a pair of steel greaves and poleyns for your knees, but both needed their leather backings and fastenings replaced. There was even a set of very flexible steel and leather tassets, that would not even require altering to fit you, they could just be tied around your waist like a belt.

“This is a very good start.” Loki said, blessing the stars that someone has seen fit to keep even a partial set of adolescent armor.

“No one argued when I took it. They know we owe her.”

“How have things been?” Loki asked casually, beginning a list of repairs and supplies for the new armor.

Andsvarr sighed and drew himself up. “Quiet. Our doors are closed. Mother has been turning away 'well-wishers' after the first few came with conspiracies and offers that would have caused more trouble. She is tired of all this. I am beyond tired of all this. These people seek only to use us, and it's been obvious from the start. But Father thought...I don't know. He thought something important would be lost, but I really don't understand his mind.”

“I know what it is that he fears.” Loki said. “And he is right to fear it, but wrong to believe that it will not come to pass. We will integrate. Our culture will change. There is no way around it. But the thing is, we need to change. We've needed it for a long time. My Father's prophesy is proof of that, I'm sure of it.”

“Father will never accept it I'm afraid.” Andsvarr said.

“That will not stop it from happening. All empires fall. No supremacy is truly eternal. The true measure of the people is how they persevere during the decline. As long as the people adapt and survive, they have a chance to rise again.” Loki gestured out his window. “You can see examples of this in high speed on this planet. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of nations and kingdoms have grown up and disappeared. Some survived through change, others suffered diaspora. Others crashed so hard that even their languages are lost. All on a planet of beings so brief that some of their greatest empires rose and fell within your lifetime, changing the landscape and culture around them, then retreating back to their homes. Their impact remains, and we should consider that, I think. What will our impact be? What do we want to leave behind, now that we are no longer the pinnacle of the realms? Is there anything we can do to remedy our mistakes?”

“Your Highness?”

“Just musing.” Loki patted the armor. “I made mistakes here. It cost lives. Maybe if I wasn't trying so hard to buck the Norns all the time, I might believe that she was brought to me by fate, so that I might make up for a fraction of what I did on this world.”

“Your Higness, I'm sorry. I should have realized something like this was coming, with the way he spoke of her.”

“You are absolved, Andsvarr. It was never your fight. Shouldn't have been hers, should have been mine alone. But she is part of my court now, and that exposes her. So we will cover her with armor. We are honored by your contribution.”

“Yes, your Highness.” Andsvarr said, taking his cue to leave.

*****

“Well,” Thor said gleefully. “He's admitted it!”

“What? No way, she's only almost died like, three times.” Brunnhilde said. “When did he tell you?”

“Yesterday. She hadn't woken up yet, and the head healer had kicked him out for awhile.”

“Damn. I really thought it would take a lot longer than that...”

“Well, it didn't, and you know what that means.” He held his hand out. “I win. Hand it over.”

Grumbling, Brunnhilde removed a flask from her belt and gave it to him. “I guess I'm glad for him. Little sorry for him too. This probably isn't gonna be easy.”

“There is nothing easy or simple about mortals. Speaking of, I am thinking about allowing Trolekaerhalla to observe Buridag with us. Perhaps in their own, fenced off area, so that they can't get into trouble in the city.”

“That's gonna require so many guards.” Brunnhilde pointed out. “Otherwise, it sounds like a good starting point for familiarizing them with us. Sharing holidays and such. How are you going to make sure the other camps don't sneak in?”

“I'm not.” Thor said. “If they want to come and learn more about us, they can. Everyone will be checked for weaponry at the gate, of course. No signs, no masks, just holiday merriment. We could share samples of Asgardian food, maybe little cups of drink-”

“They will die.” Brunnhilde stated.

“Okay, maybe just hot chocolate. And they will get the opportunity to be present at _____'s official seidkona declaration. An historic moment when our peoples will join.”

A sudden sadness washed over his features.

“I wish Jane could be there.”

Brunnhilde rolled her eyes. “Why don't you just invite her then?”

“I can't. She's so busy, and I'm so busy, and that was part of the reason...Why would she even want to come? Her last experience with Asgard was so terrible. And then there was all the trouble with the Restoration...she consented to see me one more time, and she had to deal with that damn Stone again! I'm sure she thought I was just using her. She just wants a normal life as the worlds greatest scientist, and anytime she comes near me, she ends up in terrible danger.”

“Uh-huh, and your massive fear of rejection has nothing to do with it.”

“Well, would you want your ex showing up?”

“Yeah, actually.” Brunnhilde said. “I'd actually love that more than anything.”

Thor hung his head. “Forgive me. I spoke like a fool.”

“You sure did, but you get it, so that's good.” Brunnhilde clapped his shoulder. “Give it a little thought though. We need all the allies we can get, and the world's greatest scientist sounds like a good one to have.”

“It's so much easier to focus on Loki's love life.” He groused.

“Why? Did little brother used to be some kind of womanizer?”

“No, very much the opposite. He's very honorable, and subsequently, has very little experience. And he knows nothing of mortal courtships.”

“So he's going to be a total disaster.” Brunnhilde said. “Well, that will be entertaining at least.”

“Heartless wench.” Thor snorted.

“You know it.” Brunnhilde joked, clapping him on the shoulder again. Thor winced.

Chapter Text

You awoke alone, your eyelids sticking together until you forcibly pried them open. It was painful; the crust of sleep had accumulated over however long you'd been asleep, even though the swelling had gone down quite a bit. Your head still hurt, and you felt stiff and filthy.

 

You had no idea how long you had been sleeping, but you probably didn't smell too good, considering you hadn't brushed your teeth or bathed in however long you had been there. There was only so much sponge baths could do, after all. It was probably why there was still so much perfume in the room.

 

You squinted against the soft golden glow that surrounded you, until your eyes got used to the light. You noticed that you were alone; Loki wasn't there. No one was there.

 

You also noticed that you were surrounded by flowers, the tall, wild lupines that grew out in the countryside. Every surface in the room was covered in great bunches of them, their soft colors muted even further in the shimmering golden light.

 

Perhaps you were dreaming again?

 

Your throbbing head still felt cushioned in cotton, and your body was still hot. Whatever machine Bjarkhild had focused on you, it seemed to still be working. You definitely couldn't get up; you could barely move.

 

How irritating. Your life had become far too eventful lately. If you were back home, you would probably be frosting cupcakes right now. That sounded nice and peaceful. You could remember vividly, the sugar scent of the icing, the crinkling sound of the packaging. You would drive home from work in your barely functional car, which had probably been sold or towed by now, probably have a sandwich for dinner, maybe a very simple casserole, and listen to some podcasts while making up a small batch of dough for the next days meals. It would be peaceful. Uneventful. Comfortable.

 

But you couldn't do magic at home. There was no one to teach you about far-away worlds, no friendly aliens to learn about. No handsome prince to hold your hand and get you into so much trouble.

 

Where was Loki? You'd had a silly thought that he would stay with you the entire time, but of course he had work to do. There was a whole kingdom to run, so he couldn't be by your side every waking moment. Still, you'd sort of hoped. You really shouldn't miss him, after all, you had only just woken back up. It wasn't like he'd been gone a long time.

 

Had he sent the flowers? The colors brought a flash of memory of the mushrooms of Jotunheim. Had that been real? Another dream? You had gone to sleep in the snow, and woken up here, but, like the dream of Titan, it was very hard to tell how much of it had actually happened. It made you uneasy though, and not just because of what you had seen. There was something important about it that Loki didn't want you to know. His explanations for his hatred of Jotunheim didn't always add up.

 

Maybe it didn't matter. Jotunheim was far, far away, unreachable. They couldn't hurt you, and they couldn't hurt Loki. They probably didn't even dwell on it.

 

You were starting to feel hungry now. Whatever machine you had been hooked up to that sustained you, must have been turned down. Maybe that's why you were waking up now.

 

“Hello?” You called, wincing. Oh that hurt. Wincing hurt too. “Is there anyone there?”

 

The door opened just a few moments later, flooding the room with much brighter light. You winced again. It still hurt.

 

The junior healer stepped in, shutting the door behind her. What was her name again? Ulfrunn.

 

“You are awake.” She said stiffly. “Do you hurt?”

 

“Yes.” You said quietly, trying to cause yourself as little pain as possible.

 

“Your head, yes? Anywhere else?”

 

“I'm stiff, but no more than that.”

 

“Can you move your hands and feet?”

 

You wiggled all your extremities. “Sure can.”

 

“This is good. You cannot leave yet. But we can begin to wean you off the machines now. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Good, that is a good sign.” She fiddled with some of the machines, and the golden glow dimmed considerably, appearing as nothing more than the occasional arch of glitter over your head. “I will notify his Highness.”

 

“You don't have to trouble him if he's busy.” You said, but the healer scoffed.

 

“No business will keep him from here. Just wait, there will be food and drink coming soon.”

 

She left then, letting you recover from the discomfort of speaking. You still couldn't tell if she disliked you or not, but as long as she did her job right, it didn't matter, did it?

 

Ulfrunn's prediction was spot-on: Loki hustled through the door minutes later, some books and a big bowl of food in his arms.

 

“You're awake!” He exclaimed in delight. “I've been told you need food, so I have brought some.”

 

He made room on the closest countertop to set the bowl and books down, then loomed over you, close to your face. “Let me get a look at you, The bruising was bad the last time.”

 

You saw the tiniest change in his expression as he took in your face, a tiny flash of shock which he buried almost instantly. Almost.

 

“What?” You whispered. “What is it? What's wrong?”

 

“Nothing, nothing at all.” He said quickly. “The bruises and swelling are nearly gone.”

 

“Loki, what's wrong with my face?”

 

“Nothing!” He insisted. “You're still beautiful.”

 

“What? Since when?” Your heart was pounding now, both because Loki had called you, a human, beautiful, but also because of the shady way he was acting about your face. “Why did you say that? What's wrong with my face, Loki? Is there a mirror here? Give me a mirror!”

 

His lips pressed tightly together, eyebrows raised in an expression of innocence and regret, as he passed you a small hand mirror. You were almost too afraid to look. Your blood pounding made your head throb as you raised the mirror to your eyes.

 

The face that stared back was bruised, but not too badly, not as badly as it must have been only a day ago. That wasn't the problem, that wasn't what had made Loki act the way he did. It was that you didn't quite recognize this face as your own.

 

Your cheek was shaped differently now, no longer even with the other, and it changed the overall shape of your face. You looked different now.

 

“What...happened...” You gasped, the throbbing in your head reaching a fever pitch.

 

“The lady healer told me that your zygomatic arch-that is, your cheekbone-was crushed...either when you were struck or when you hit the floor. They had to rebuild it...but the swelling must have gotten in the way. Asgardian flesh doesn't swell as much..._____, I...”

 

Your eyes stung. You'd never really been all that vain, but your face had changed...your identity. Would Tara recognize you? Would your father? You sniffled. Your head hurt so much.

 

“Oh no.” Loki mumbled. “No, no, no, no, don't-” He grabbed your hand, twining your fingers together with his. “Don't-we won't give up! We'll keep working on it until everything is back to the way it was. Everything will be fine!”

 

“How? If the bones have already healed, they'd have to be broken again.”

 

“Not here! This isn't Midgardian medicine, we can program our healing machines to recognize the difference, and heal it. It will be slow, you'll have to come back here for a little while every day, but we can do it! Don't worry, don't worry, it will be all right!”

 

“Loki...you don't know that for sure, do you?”

 

“...I don't. I works that way for us. But that just means our healing technology is that much more powerful! It should work for you!”

 

Tears squeezed out of your eyes, and Loki immediately wiped them away.

 

“I don't know how to feel right now.” You whispered. “How much of my identity am I going to lose?”

 

Loki laid his head down in the crook of your neck, arms on either side of your shoulders, still holding your hand. It was probably the best approximation of a hug that he could give you right now. He was wonderfully warm and comforting; it was a shame you couldn't fully appreciate it. You closed your eyes. The gentle weight he allowed to rest on you was helping to calm you down, as well as the familiar scent of him, the leather, the oakmoss, the light citrus resin of spruce.

 

What were you going to do now? Asgard was a warrior culture, did they value scars like this? You hadn't seen anyone with scars, but you hadn't met all of Asgard yet. Maybe they healed so fast and so thoroughly that they didn't get scars? Or maybe their healing technology prevented them from forming?

 

Thor was missing an eye, but it wasn't obvious when he had his prosthetic in. Maybe only pathetic mortals could get scars, or suffer permanent injuries. Maybe even the miraculous Asgardian medical technology couldn't even help someone so weak as you.

 

“I'm going to kill him.” Loki muttered. “I already cut off his hand, but I'm actually going to go back and completely kill him.”

 

“What?”

 

“I challenged Alarr to a duel for what he did to you. I removed his sword hand. You're safe from him now, he won't hurt you anymore. If he knows what is good for him, he won't even look directly at you again.”

 

“...How's Andsvarr?”

 

He squeezed your hand. “Stressed. But he's made his decision on where he stands. He has brought you a gift, but it needs repair before you can make use of it. He would stay beside you, even should the hordes of Hel be bearing down on him.”

 

“He's a good kid.”

 

“He is.” Loki agreed, raising his head to gaze softly down at you. His hair framed your face, tickling slightly. “You're still beautiful.”

 

“You don't have to say that just because I was crying.”

 

He frowned slightly, pulling away and sitting down close to your bed. “Ulfrunn told me you were hungry. Do you think you are up to eating?”

 

“Yeah.” Now that he reminded you, yes, you were very hungry. “What did you bring?”

 

He held out the bowl for you to see. It was filled with small bits of fruit, cubes of cheese, slices of sausage and pieces of the brown bread that you liked so much. “It looks very tasty.” You said. Loki carefully adjusted your bed so that you were sitting up, and began feeding you little morsels with his bare fingers. It wasn't as embarrassing as you thought it would be; the warmth that spread through your face had more to do with how much comfort you were finding in the intimacy of the situation.

 

They weren't going to be able to fix your face. Loki had been lying, saying whatever he could think of to calm you. They were only empty promises though, you just knew it. There was nothing that could be done now. You were still beautiful, huh? What had possessed him to say that, besides that he was panicking? You weren't beautiful, you were normal. Average. Well, you weren't even average now, you were lopsided. But he was still feeding you so carefully, and watching you with that soft expression.

 

You were tempted to bite his fingers just to snap him out of it. You were still alive, and, unless something was wrong that you hadn't been told about, you would be up and about soon enough. There was no need to act so delicate, or so...reverent.

 

It felt nice though. Maybe you wouldn't bite.

 

Once you were full of tasty food, Loki set aside the bowl and took your hand again.

 

“How do you feel?” He wondered. “Do you hurt?”

 

“My head hurts. The bones probably aren't fully healed. Talking hurts a bit. The vibrations in my head. My body is stiff. It's pretty uncomfortable, actually.”

 

“Poor little dear.” Loki said, carefully folding the blanket to expose your arm. “Perhaps I can help with the stiffness just a little bit.”

 

He pulled your arm straight, running his hands along its length, one after another, working his fingers into your skin. The stiffness radiated out of your muscles as he went, leaving pleasant relief behind.

 

“Loki? Are you...is this a massage?”

 

Loki nodded. “Mother taught me. I was never going to be able to use my power to heal, like she could. But there is a greater dexterity in my hands than in my brothers, and she showed me another kind of therapy.” He kneaded circles, causing your fingers to twitch. “It can help with relaxing the muscles, of course, and the benefits of relaxation are not lost on you, I assume. Perhaps I should have done this sooner, and saved you some suffering.”

 

“Wouldn't have been able to accept it.” You said quietly. His hands felt incredible, especially when he concentrated his attention on stretching your fingers and kneading your palm.

 

“And now?” He asked, low and smooth.

 

Your face burned, and you pointedly looked away. “Didn't say no, did I?”

 

“It seems you did not.” He lay your arm down, covering it back up with the blanket, and moving on to the next arm.

 

“This also helps promote the flow of blood through the body, which will certainly aid with your stiffness. It promotes healthy skin, and the movement of oxygen, which will help you heal.”

 

He didn't mention it, but there was also, of course, the intimacy. The frightening, vulnerable intimacy. Especially when he moved on to your legs and feet. They were extremely stiff and sore, and his hands felt so divine that you couldn't fully smother the pleased little sounds of relief as they escaped your lips.

 

That was so embarrassing, and it only seemed to goad him on. He cooed, and teased and let his hands slide further and further up your legs, until you lost control, and accidentally kicked him.

 

“Ooh, feisty. My favorite trait.” He joked, but stopped what he was doing. “Too much?”

 

“A little.” You mumbled. “It's been a really long time since anybody did anything like this for me.”

 

“You don't have to go so long anymore. If you don't want to.” Loki said, quiet and serious. “In fact, if you would consent to it, I have some oils specifically for this purpose, and when you are healed, if you would like-”

 

“Maybe.” Maybe you could let him put his wonderful hands on more of you. Just for the massage though. For your health.

Chapter Text

 

Loki wheeled you through the halls of the palace complex, Andsvarr on one side, another young guard on the other, keeping everyone at more than arms length from you. The concept of a wheelchair seemed very new to everyone around you, raising serious concern about disability accessibility in New Asgard.

 

You chatted back and forth with him about it as he pushed you towards your room. If humans were eventually going to be allowed in the city, then it would have to be accessible, and it was best to build that accessibility in from the very beginning, so extra money didn't have to be spent fixing it later. Since the city had barely been built, there was still time to include accessibility plans into the blueprints.

 

“And you'd better do it pretty quick, because I'll be old and frail in what seems like no time to you guys.” You joked. “I mean, I know you could probably just lift up the chair with me in it, and carry it everywhere, but it's way less awkward to just have a ramp.”

 

Loki seemed withdrawn for the rest of your trip. Probably thinking about accessibility, you figured. He parked you in front of your desk, which held a few new books.

 

“The Complete Icelandic Sagas.” You read. “And the Nibelungenlied?”

 

“Classics, apparently.” Loki said. “Though I must warn you; there are some very unpleasant things in these stories. They are rather like your modern day action movies. Full of violence, revenge, and adrenaline. I have helpfully marked each one with warnings, so that you can know what they hold before you start reading.”

 

You flipped the book of sagas open to find little notes tucked in between the pages.

 

This one contains many bodies, but the hero is a decent fellow after all.”

 

A horse is harmed in this story.”

 

The protagonist is a horrible person, and does many unforgivable things. Perhaps skip this one. It leaves a bad taste.”

 

A smile crept across your face. “That's very thoughtful of you, Loki. I'm glad you remembered to think of me.”

 

Loki preened at the praise. “Of course! You are the most important!” He declared. “Of my entourage, that is. As my seidkona.”

 

“Your entourage...Which consists of whom? Just me? Andsvarr?”

 

“There is you, and Andsvarr, yes.” He'd had the flowers brought from the healing wing to your room, and began arranging them idly. You were pleased to see that someone had been tending your houseplants in your absence. “Technically, since Thor and I rule together, we share some people between us. Several guards, since there is a shortage of them, and all the palace servants for example. Brunnhilde is an adviser to us both, and Heimdall as well, though he is far closer to my brother. Well,” Loki said a touch sheepishly. “That is probably my fault.”

 

“Probably?” You said sarcastically.

 

“Cheeky woman. Give you an inch, and you take a mile.”

 

“Isn't that my job?” You leaned back in your chair, gazing out the window. The sun was dipping down in the sky, and you realized with a little relief that night would soon return.

 

“And you just love your job, don't you?”

 

“Well, there are some parts I could do without.”

 

The light triple rap of Andsvarr's signature knock sounded on the door. Dinner had arrived, and he gave you a thumbs up as Loki took it from him. Now where had he learned that?

 

“Good to be home?” He asked. “Feeling all right?”

 

“I'll be fine. But yeah, it's better to be in my room, than cooped up in the healing wing”

 

His smile was so fake. Loki had said he was stressed, now he was probably trying to put forth a cheerful front for you. Poor kid. He should have never gotten caught up in all this, but sometimes parents left troubling legacies for their children, whether they meant to or not. You just hoped he wasn't facing too much trouble at home.

 

Loki shooed him back to his post, and set dinner down in front of you. It was a good, thick chowder, with soft bread, easy for a convalescing patient to eat.

 

“Do you need any help?” Loki asked, pulling up your desk chair and sitting next to you, very close.

 

“Pretty sure I can manage soup.” You said.

 

Eventually, you did need him to help you lean forward to eat, because doing so on your own made you dizzy. He held you effortlessly with one arm, eating his own dinner with the other.

 

“Hey Loki...I had another one of those dreams.” You mentioned.

 

“Ah. You remember. I wasn't sure you would, since you were so deep in your unconsciousness.”

 

“So it did happen. Are they real?”

 

“I honestly don't know. I know that we have shared dreams that are not real, because they pertained to things that never happened. But Titan and Jotunheim...I simply do not know. The Titans are extinct, but we brought dust out with us. I do not know the state of the Frost Giants now, but there was snow in our hair when I awoke. I do not know if our magic is creating the things we see in the dreams, or if we are truly there on some level, and bring things back with us when we return.”

 

“Do you think it means something? Should we be trying to interpret this as some kind of prophesy?”

 

“I certainly hope not.” Loki said with a sour expression. “The less I have to deal with either Titans or Frost Giants, the better. We have quite enough on our plates with rebuilding, frankly.”

 

After dinner, he carried you to your bed, and massaged your arms and legs again, this time with a nice, vanilla scented oil that warmed and smoothed your skin. When you realized you would need help bathing, he looked oddly hopeful, right up until you requested Saldis's help. He tucked you in tenderly, and made to leave before you stopped him.

 

“What if I need help?” You asked. “Can you hear me from your room?”

 

Loki had a hard time hiding his excitement as he bid you wait, leaving the room and returning minutes later with a folding cot, and his blankets. He set this up happily beside your bed, humming to himself.

 

It looked to you like Loki really, really liked feeling needed. Maybe due to many years of being overshadowed by his brother, the feeling of someone wanting him specifically was novel to him. If that was the case, you should probably ask him for help more often. He seemed so happy about it.

 

Loki turned off the lights and drew the heavy curtains to darken the room, then snuggled into his cot, thick blanket up to his neck, black hair spread out over his pillow, smiling at you like a kid at a sleepover. He sneaked his hand under your blanket, and took your hand.

 

“Just squeeze if you need anything.” He said at your questioning vocalization. “I'll awaken at once.”

 

This all felt so nice. Someone sleeping next to you, holding your hand, knowing that any needs you had would be fulfilled. Knowing that there would be food tomorrow, that this room would be here to live in. Knowing that your medical needs would be seen to, that your mental needs were being taken seriously, that your government took your well-being seriously.

 

As much as you sometimes missed Iowa, you had to admit that none of those things were guaranteed back home.

 

His hand felt so large and warm, enveloping your own. You drifted off, feeling full and as comfortable as your head would allow.

 

 

 

*****

 

You held Loki's hand, runes of light trailing up your arms and filling your eye, the both of you walking slowly towards a pulsing blue light. There was something important there, the answers to everything, you just knew it, but you could only approach a few steps at a time. It had completely filled and banished the void that had once threatened to harm you, replacing one mystery with another, but this one you didn't want to run from.

 

Till death do you part. A voice that was almost not even a voice repeated over and over again, a background for the pulsing light that filled your mind and poured out through your runes. Loki looked down at you, the lines of hardship gone from his face, blue light glowing from one eye. You noticed with a little fascination that his other eye had gone black, only the iris showing bright blue. No doubt yours were the same.

 

Forever?” He seemed to ask, though no words were voiced.

 

Forever.” You agreed.

 

Gods among gods. Legends. The whole of all things. Galaxies at your fingertips. Till death do you part.”

 

Squeezing his hand, you both walked into the light.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

You awoke to a soft shaking of your shoulder. No need to ask: you had squeezed his hand in the dream.

 

“What does it mean?” You asked groggily.

 

“I do not know, not for sure.” He whispered. “I wonder...but maybe it has something to do with the nature of our magic together. Your teleportation, my enhancement. You may be taking us to these distant places, in a sort of half-solid form, without even meaning to. I do not know that for sure though. You have yet to physically teleport a whole person. It might not be that at all. But I wonder.”

 

“Should I go back to sleep?”

 

“Yes, my darling.” He said fondly. “Go back to sleep.”

 

 

 

*****

 

You barely remembered the dream the next day, just a strong impression of blue light that you had seen in dreams before. Your head hurt, but Loki got you your medicine, and some breakfast, then called for Saldis to come help bathe and dress you. Saldis surprised you by lifting you up as effortlessly as Loki could; for a moment you had forgotten that she was Asgardian, and fully as strong as any of the rest of them.

 

She carried you off to the bath as if you were a new bride, and scrubbed you thoroughly, but carefully. Dressing was a bit more of a challenge; trying to get clothes on over your head without hurting.

 

“Oh dear, I do not think this is going to work.” She fretted. “However shall we get you dressed? Must I send out for another healing gown?”

 

“I might be able to help.” Loki said through the door, startling both of you. “I use magic to change clothes very often. It is much easier.”

 

“Might be our best bet.” You muttered.

 

“With your leave.” Saldis said, draping a towel over you. “He may be my Prince, but he does not get to cheat.” She said with a wink.

 

“All right, come in you eavesdropper!” You called, and he entered instantly, a cheeky grin stretching his face.

 

“Let's see...” He said gleefully lacing and stretching his fingers. “What shall you wear today? How shall we enhance that natural beauty of yours?”

 

“Oh, cut it out.” You said. Of course he would embarrass you in front of Saldis. It was perfect payback for the time you had done it.

 

“How do you feel about green, my darling?”

 

Saldis giggled, clearly enjoying herself. You rolled your eyes.

 

“As long as it doesn't clash with my bruises.”

 

“Oh no, never. I have a much better fashion sense than that! Besides, they are almost gone. You won't need my help much longer, so let me enjoy this, will you?”

 

“Oh, okay, get as fancy as you want.” You conceded.

 

“Just remember, you gave me permission!” He said swiftly, the emerald glitter of magic sparking from his hands.

 

“Okay...” You said, staring at all the flowing, green gauze and shining jewels in the mirror. “That's...a bit much.”

 

“You said as fancy as I wanted!” Loki pouted. “You said-”

 

“I know!” You cut him off. He certainly was the youngest child, wasn't he?

 

“I think you look lovely.” Saldis said, but the giggle was still there, behind her words. “Like a high-born lady.”

 

“But I'm not!” You protested. You weren't sure why you were so uncomfortable with being dressed like a princess, but it made you feel dangerously fake. Like an undeserving impostor that would insult all the real noblewomen.

 

Why did that matter? You were well aware that, having grown up poor, you had been bombarded with covert propaganda to make you believe that you didn't deserve better. But here, you had been shown just how dangerous an offended noble could be. Loki might be trying to impress you, but you weren't impressing his subjects.

 

“You are just as important as any Lady in our court.” Loki said firmly. “You must believe it, and own it. You are just as good as they are. You hold a place of supreme importance. In my entourage.”

 

“And besides, with his new reputation as Tyr's-bane, people will think twice about raising their precious hands to you.” Saldis interjected. “They are such a limited resource.”

 

“All right you impudent little thing.” Loki said. “You have other duties to attend to, do you not?”

 

“I can think of a few things, your Highness.” Saldis said, graciously taking her leave.

 

You still stared into the mirror, trying to recognize yourself. Your face, your clothes, all the jewels, all so different than the usual you. He'd even given you a tiara, for goodness sake, made of golden flowers, crusted with colorful jewels. Was this what Asgardian women wore in the prime of the realm's power and success?

 

It felt almost obscene.

 

Loki stood behind you, hands on your shoulders. “Does it really make you that uncomfortable? Do you not find these things beautiful?”

 

“I do, but...you know, all my jewelry was cheap plastic, all my clothes were clearance, almost everything I owned was just...” You trailed off.

 

“Prosperity...troubles you?” He asked, brow wrinkled in confusion.

 

“No, no, I'm just not used to it, that's all. Shouldn't these things go towards funding the rebuilding?”

 

“Oh, my darling. You are such a caring and generous soul. But we cannot sell every cultural artifact, now can we? Would we not lose some important part of ourselves in the process of commodifying our culture?”

 

“Oh. Well...”

 

“Besides, most of this is illusory anyway. I just thought you might feel better being stuck in that chair if you were also sparkling with riches at the same time.” A wave of his hand, and most of the gold was gone, tiara included. The green gauze remained, flowing over your figure like a wave.

 

“I could really get used to seeing you like this.” Loki said softly. “Could you?”

 

“Are you really the same guy who pulled me out of a bog half a year ago?” You asked jokingly.

 

Loki smiled brightly, with a slight shake of his head.

 

“No.” He said.

Chapter Text

Loki held your hand in one of his, the other on the small of your back, steadying you as you walked slowly across the room. Standing no longer made you as dizzy, but if you moved to fast, your head still spun, and Loki was not willing to let you fall again.

 

He hadn't really wanted to allow you out of your chair yet, but you had heard that Thor was throwing a bash for his friends, and there was no way you were being consigned to your room, or stuck in a chair, while there was an entire Avengers party going on.

 

You definitely didn't want any of them seeing you like this. You still checked in once a week, and each one you talked to-Captain America, Falcon, a young lady with an accent you couldn't place and who didn't bother to introduce herself, even Doctor Banner once-they all held your situation in negative regard. There were plenty of questions about your treatment and your captor. Nobody had a gentle word for Loki. The kindest had been Banner who had told you Loki was a 'bag of cats', but had bid you luck in 'finding the kitten'.

 

You couldn't let them know an Asgardian had injured you. Who knew how they might take it?

 

So you walked until you simply couldn't anymore, and Loki had led you back to your chair, showering you with gentle praises for your strength and perseverance.

 

Today he had magicked you into more modest clothing, the kind you had started considering 'normal'. A deep, blue-green dress, hemmed with ribbon woven with black and yellow chevrons. Tan apron overdress, embroidered with horned snakes and the phases of the moon. Warm, soft felt trousers underneath, comfortable padded slippers. The domed brooches on your shoulder straps were fancy today, with curling dragon patterns, and strings of gold and pearl beads to hang your little trinkets from.

 

You'd found out from Saldis during one of your baths, that the clothes you wore were Asgardian versions of attire once found on Earth. The clothiers who worked in the palace had only very old book illustrations to go off of, and did not know that humans didn't wear these things anymore; Asgardian fashion moved and changed far slower than Earth fashion did. They'd been trying to make you clothes that would help you feel comfortable, as a guest of the king.

 

That was actually pretty thoughtful of them, you thought. And you'd told Saldis that the humans out in the believer's camp wore dresses like this, or at least some of them did. It was a process known as reconstruction, where modern humans tried to bring parts of the ways of humans from generations past into their own lives. Some did it in little ways, like learning an ancient language, and reading texts those people left behind, if any. Some did it in big ways, like trying to live entirely like they did. Others participated in reenactment, where they lived, dressed, and acted as people from times past, but only for a little while every week or month, then went back to their regular jobs and homes.

 

“So it's not all that unusual for me to wear clothes like that, I guess, since the last humans who interacted with Asgardians in any numbers were all wearing them. And the people out in the camp are probably trying to get in touch with the thoughts and feelings of those people.”

 

“Can you tell me about them?” Saldis had asked you. “I never get close enough to the gates to see them, and obviously, they aren't allowed in.”

 

“Well, I was only out there for a short time, but they aren't all that different from me.” You said. “They come from different countries, and they feel a connection to the Aesir. Some of them worship them, some of them came to study, I'm pretty sure. Some probably came just to be a part of all this.”

 

“All this?”

 

You gestured around you. “A whole new alien species, now permanently residing on Earth. We're a really isolated species, you know? We didn't know for sure there were other people out there until, like seven years ago. And we haven't shared the planet with another intelligent species for tens of thousands of years at least, and that was just another species of human.”

 

“There were more than one kind of human?” Saldis exclaimed excitedly, prompting you to explain the human family tree to the best of your ability. She left vowing to find more books on the subject.

 

When you had been dressed and finished with your exercises, Loki wheeled you out into the palace complex, Andsvarr following close behind.

 

“Since we cannot practice magic or self-defense today, I will be leaving you in the library with a new teacher.” He informed you. “She has a 'Seidkona Express' curriculum laid out for you, or so she tells me.”

 

Once in the library, he took you to a smaller room that held even more library. The books here looked especially old and important. Some were made of metal, their covers crusted in gems and pearls, some were scrolls inside climate controlled cases, and some were no more than clay or stone tablets. There were even a few staves of weathered wood, carved all over with foreign symbols.

 

Obviously, you would be keeping your hands and feet inside your ride the whole time. There was no way you were allowed to touch anything in here. Some of these things might be older than the entire human race.

 

What a thing to realize: that there might have been some people writing epics, even before yours had figured out how to bash two rocks together.

 

There were a handful of ladies in the Special Library, all beautiful, dressed and coiffed very similarly to the unfinished murals of the Queen. They were all very friendly with Loki, and somewhat less reverent than most of the other palace workers.

 

You couldn't help but to side-eye him a little. Loki didn't seem like a philanderer, but that didn't mean that he had no history, and it definitely didn't mean that he didn't get around at least a little.

 

To think that one of these ladies-or more!-could be a former flame...or even potentially a current one...It made you feel strangely bitter. You held it back from showing though, after all, it wasn't like it was any of these ladies' fault that you'd gotten spoiled by being the sole recipient of all of his attention for all these months.

 

At least, you thought you were. But there were times when the two of you were apart, and who knew what he was up to then?

 

It was none of your business.

 

“Oh, you've finally brought her!” One of them exclaimed in perfect American English, startling you. She didn't even speak with the vague accent Loki and the King used when speaking; it was like hearing one of your old neighbors. She even had the very slight Midwestern drawl you were used to.

 

“It is a pleasure to meet you, dear! Loki has kept you away for way too long, especially for a new seidkona trainee! My, it's been ages since we had one. My name is Saga, and I am going to be teaching you about the history of Asgardian law for the next little while.”

 

“Saga is an Aesir.” Loki explained. “All of them are, actually. These ladies all used to be my mother's handmaidens, and are an elite force of stored knowledge. They will be able to teach you all of the things-”

 

“-That he hasn't got the patience for.” Saga finished. Loki pursed his lips in slight annoyance.

 

“She also will not hesitate to sass anyone who crosses her path.”

 

“I like her already.” You proclaimed.

 

“Of course you do.” He grumbled, but patted you softly on the shoulder before leaving you there.

 

“Now,” Saga began. “I have several translated manuscripts of law declarations made by our kings. Let's read and discuss the history and reasons behind them, starting with Allfather Buri's Declaration of Sovereignty Over Nornheim...”

 

 

 

 

*****

 

Loki arranged foodstuffs on a platter: dark bread, a pot of jam, cold sliced lamb, and a cup of skyr. You would be in lessons for several hours at least and, knowing Saga, potentially quite a bit longer than that. You would need something to eat, and it would be a good excuse to check in on you.

 

And to make sure Saga was teaching you to be as subversive as a good seidkona should be.

 

Buridag would be coming soon enough, and he could not wait to pin the cloak of office to your shoulders. A powerful message would be sent that day, many centuries of tradition would be broken. But it needed to happen, and if something needed to be broken, he was the ideal candidate. Things would change, even if he had to shove them through with a battering ram.

 

And you, so important, so central to it all...and he didn't think you really understood how vital you were. You still had a shy streak, a deep down belief in the bedrock of your being that you were somehow not worthy of what was happening to you...Well. Loki understood that feeling implicitly, but he did not know how to alleviate it in you. Loki had been through every possible stage of life and death, but relating to the feelings of others was still sometimes difficult for him.

 

He felt as though he could not court you properly, though, until you had removed that self doubt, and accepted your worth. If there was anything he could do to help, he would, without hesitation.

 

He also felt that it was becoming important for him to get to the bottom of the strange, quasi-real dreams you were sharing. It seemed to him that they were becoming more frequent. It seemed also, that something that should be within his grasp was being purposefully kept out of it, which was frustrating. There were many clues before him, and he either was not seeing them, or he was not connecting them.

 

He knew he was close, dancing right on the edge, which frustrated him all the more.

 

“My prince.” An errand runner approached him, breaking his train of thought. “There is a Midgardian man at the north gate who says he has come from Reykjavik. He says he is with Íslandspóstur, and that he has a package for your Seidkona. Well, he did not call her that, but that is who he meant, my prince.”

 

“Is that so?” Loki asked suspiciously. “She is not available. I shall see to it. Andsvarr, please take this tray to the library. I shall be away for a short time.”

 

He dismissed the errand runner and stalked through the half finished streets all the way to the north gate. The person waiting there was certainly dressed as a postman, in his red and black, although that was not a difficult uniform to procure. He waited anxiously, being heckled by a group of nearby protesters. When he noticed that it was Loki coming to greet him, his anxiety seemed to skyrocket; he couldn't wait to be rid of the package-a large, light, very taped up box, signed by Tara Miller, your irritating friend.

 

Loki took the package and let the postman escape with haste. They would have checked it for dangerous things, such as explosives or venomous animals, but he was going to check it again, in the safety of his chambers.

 

He took a different route back, stumbling across a road crew whose work had ground to a halt.

 

“Is there a problem here?” He asked, as the supervisor rushed up to him with relief washing over his face.

 

“Your Highness! Perhaps you can put to rest a disagreement we are having, if it does not waste too much of your time.”

 

“There is little of more importance to a city than it's roads.” Loki said. “Tell me of your problem.”

 

“It's this bloody great stone.” The supervisor pointed to a large boulder, jutting out of the dirt. “Those Midgardian fellows are very odd about their rocks and hills; they refuse to muck about with them, and they don't even break them or build over them. They advise us not to either, but this one is right in the middle of the road.

 

Now, I know we're not Midgardian,” He continued. “But I want to stay on their good side, since they're trying to help us out. So we're having a bit of a debate as to whether we should just smash the thing and incorporate the rubble into the road, and leave the Midgardians none the wiser, or if we should respect their superstitions and try to move the thing whole, out of the city, or into some courtyard somewhere.”

 

“I see. I suppose there is nothing wrong with not wanting to offend our allies. If you can move it, do so.”

 

“Thank you your Highness.” The supervisor said, turning back to his crew. “You heard him! No more debating now, we dig it out and move it!”

 

The workers approached the stone with shovels and levers, Loki leaving them to their job. Funny, the things that seemed to require a Royal Opinion.

 

Far down the road, almost out of earshot, Loki heard the crack of breaking stone, and rolled his eyes. At least they had tried.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Loki set the large box down on the sheepskin rug, in front of the fireplace. Knife in hand, ready to throw the entire thing into the flames if he had to, he slit the heavy wrapping of tape, and peered inside.

 

Loki was not inclined to feel guilt over going through someone's mail, especially not where your safety was concerned. Just because it was signed by your friend, did not mean that it really came from her.

 

There was a bright green, stuffed...creature, that did not resemble any earthly creature he knew of, which he checked for hidden dangers. It proved to be free of needles or poisons, or secret compartments, so he set it on the 'safe' side. There were several packets of snacks, which he set on the 'unsafe' side, to be sent to Bjarkhild for checking. There were several books, which he checked for hidden razors or pins, and of course, more poison. A tiny USB labeled “Music”. A knitted throw blanket. A few of what must have been your favorite articles of clothing and jewelry, all of it ratty and cheap.

 

Within another box was a very carefully wrapped leaf, large and variegated, its thick stem enclosed withing a vial of water. New roots were already growing. It was labeled “Phil 2: Electric Boogaloo”, a reference he did not understand, though he did remember you speaking of a cherished houseplant you had named Phil. This must be its offspring, a way to circumvent the extreme difficulty of shipping an entire live plant of the size you had indicated.

 

Beneath it all was a collection of papers, mostly keepsakes from the places you had visited with Tara, as well as a diploma from some place known as a 'High School'. Odd. You had told him that you had not been able to receive higher education, yet here was proof that you had not just attended, but graduated from a High School. Maybe there was a school that was even higher than that. A Greater or Grand School, perhaps.

 

Beneath that, were the calendars. THE Calendars. Tara had sent you all three, including the newest one. Loki hadn't even known it was available yet. There were still months to go before the Midgardian year ended.

 

Ugh. The calendars. How humiliating. He flipped the new one open, finding his picture on the month of November. How they had joked and teased each other, so friendly even though they were debasing themselves for money.

 

They had wanted him to put oil on his skin! He'd refused of course. If they wanted to glisten like sweaty, filthy, slime farmers, that was their prerogative; if he absolutely had to show skin like a trollop, then he wasn't going to do it like a common one.

 

They had eventually relented...then they had stuffed him into prisoner's clothes, opened them to the waist, tousled his hair, and handcuffed him to the prison bars! Everyone had had something scathing to say, some sly, insulting jest at his expense, their jeers bouncing off the walls.

 

After the photographers had gotten their shot, he'd snapped the cuffs with barely any effort, and had to be persuaded by his brother not to wreck the place.

 

He doubted he would be invited back for next year. He doubted he would want to go. But just imagine if there was a demand for it? A clamoring for pictures of Loki, outstripping even the desire for photos of the Noble Captain? The Playboy Philanthropist? Even his illustrious brother?

 

Did human women in fact, like a 'bad boy'?

 

Probably not.

 

Did you?

 

Definitely not, given the scoldings you had rained down on him.

 

But maybe...maybe if you came across him, in this particular situation; chained, unbuttoned, ostensibly helpless...what would you do? Would you help him out? Or would you 'help him out'?

 

He picked up one of the older calendars, idly flipping through as he floated on the thought of your sweet hands on his skin, right up until he noticed that for the months where Captain America was the feature, you had marked out all the days with hearts instead of crosses.

 

His heart sank in his chest, the reverie entirely broken.

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“No results.”

 

“Doctor's appt today; 9:45”

 

“No results.”

 

“Doctor's appt today; 4:15”

 

“No results.”

 

“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.

 

Ugh.

 

Wait.

 

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.”

 

“Loki-”

 

“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.”

 

“What?”

 

“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.

Chapter Text

You dozed lightly under the golden sparkles of the healing machines, while Loki sat by your side, going through his daily paperwork. You still couldn't help but wonder if this really would fix your face or not. These machines had not been built with humans in mind, so this was technically experimental medicine.

 

You'd been given back your snacks, deemed poison-free, and shared them with Loki. He was not particularly taken with your favorite cheese crackers, but he proved fond of chocolate covered peanuts.

 

He spoke to you about his paperwork, the complaints and requests of the people, his voice a soothing backdrop to your rest.

 

It wasn't just his voice. You had come to the conclusion that you were developing a hunger for his presence. What you weren't sure about yet was if it was because he made you feel safe-being strong, and magical, and powerful in many ways-or if it was something else.

 

If it was the former, that did make a kind of sense. Your relation to Loki was complicated. He was the cause of many of your worries, many of the dangers you now faced, but he also hadn't really done it on purpose, and most of the things he did for you were to ameliorate your troubles. He really seemed to care.

 

If it was the latter, if you were actually falling for the handsome prince, like in some fairy tale...Well, you didn't know what you were going to do. Was that even allowed? You weren't even the same species.

 

But the king had famously pursued Dr. Foster. So perhaps it was. Or perhaps that was one of the many changes to the law Thor had made, or at least proposed to make. Saga had had much to say about it.

 

But Dr. Foster was an astrophysicist with a PhD and everything. You were not. Everything special about you had been given to you, rather than earned. Forced on you, one could say. Loki had swooped in and done so much for you, and he clearly intended to do more. You couldn't expect him to love you on top of all that. No, it surely wasn't possible between you, and you found yourself hoping it was just the former.

 

You'd already had your heart broken, and worse. The reminder of that dark time in your life was camping outside the city, with a bunch of protesters who hated Loki, and everything they thought he stood for.

 

This was no time for romance. This was no time to even want romance. This was a time for you to be learning magic, and law, and self defense. Romance had to be secondary, tertiary, even quaternary to all that.

 

You shouldn't think about it. The more you thought about it, the more likely it was to become what you were telling yourself you couldn't want. After all, wouldn't it justify what that murderer was trying to do? Wouldn't it make you a traitor to the human race, the 'devil's whore' as he had called you?

 

No! Of course not! That guy was just a murderous racist, nothing he said really mattered. Besides, you couldn't betray humanity by caring about someone. Loki was no devil, and he wouldn't pay you to sleep with him, so you were no whore.

 

Oh no, shouldn't have thought about sleeping with Loki. Shouldn't have thought about it...

 

But you already knew the strength of his arms and the gentleness of his hands. The intensity of his gaze and the weight of his body on yours. The smell of his hair, the texture of his skin, the bubbling tingle of his magic inside you. You even knew what most of his body looked like by now, when you had seen him bare and dripping with bathwater.

 

The golden healing light always made you feel warm, but the heat crawling up your face had nothing to do with it this time.

 

Okay fine, maybe you had a little crush. You knew how to deal with living around what you couldn't have, and you were an adult. You could handle rejection.

 

You could also imagine what his voice would sound like, how his face would contort in the throes of passion...

 

“Are you all right, my dear?” Loki asked, concern lacing his voice. “You are squirming a bit. Is is uncomfortable?”

 

“No, I'm fine!” You shouldn't be thinking about things like that. He was sitting right there!

 

“Do tell me if there is anything wrong. If it becomes uncomfortable, I can turn the machine down, or give you another massage, if you'd like.”

 

Foul tempter. Maybe he was a devil after all.

 

A commotion approached, multiple voices spouting fast-paced Asgardian. Loki frowned, lines on his brow.

 

“It sounds like a construction worker has been injured. I'll go check.”

 

He left for a few moments, returning wearing a perplexed expression.

 

“It appears that he is not injured, but has come down with some illness from which he will not wake. His brother found him like this, and is going to be kept here as well.”

 

You sat up under the golden sparkles. “Now that's something I never thought of! Even between groups of humans, first contact always brought terrible diseases! Can Asgardians even get sick?”

 

“Asgardians fall ill, yes.” Loki confirmed. “Aesir do not.”

 

“Maybe that's why Thor didn't unleash a plague the first time he came here. But I've been surrounded by Asgardians for months, and I haven't gotten sick, or gotten anybody else sick. I'm sorta connected to an Aesir though, that might be why. Or maybe our diseases are just so different from each others, that they are just now starting to mutate into something that can infect one another. Loki, we've really got to look into germ science! We could be sitting on an epidemic!”

 

“Darling, I know!” He grasped your hand tightly, stroking the back of it to soothe you. “We have thought of this, and we have already begun. Humankind is very aware of the dangers of pathology that an alien species presents. We have submitted to your doctors, samples of every disease known to affect us...no matter how much some argued they could be used to make weapons against us.”

 

“Or vaccines!” You pointed out.

 

“Your optimism is a balm, my dear.” He said. “That was the initial purpose, of course. The Earth will be safe from our pathogens with your crude, but effective vaccines, and we shall be safe from your illnesses with the use of our own medicine.”

 

The commotion started all over again.

 

“Another one?” Loki wondered.

 

“Maybe we should go.” You said. “What if they need this room? My face can wait.”

 

 

 

*****

 

Blueprints and road plans, that was his life now. He'd been a mason before, and fairly idle: Asgard rarely needed new buildings, and rarely needed repairs done; it had been so solidly built in the first place. He's made most of his living in the colonies before...before.

 

Now he lived, crammed with the rest of the population into tiny apartments that he had helped build; temporary shelters for the severely reduced realm of Asgard, while the survivors of Ragnarok all pitched in to build homes, businesses, and roads. He was lucky. He'd had training in building things, and had been given authority over an entire crew of workers. Unfortunately, nearly none of them had been builders. They'd been butchers, metalworkers, artists, scribes. But they did their best, and the nation was growing up from the ground, sturdily if not quickly.

 

The door opened, and the figure of his wife hustled in.

 

“Hildegarde, sweet one, I did not expect you back so soon.” He smiled at her, still so blessed by her presence. They had come through so much together. “Let me get you something to drink.”

 

“Please, that would be lovely.” She said. “I left a little early today. As much was done as could be, for now.”

 

He dutifully fetched a pitcher of Midgardian ale-weak, but flavorful-for her. Hildegarde worked hard breaking ground and mixing cement, work only for those with strong backs and arms. He was so lucky.

 

She took a good, long drink, no doubt weary from a hard days work.

 

“Oh, I haven't the patience.” She declared, holding her arms open. “Come to me darling. I have a well-deserved reward for you!”

 

He chuckled, wrapping her up in a hug and bringing his lips to hers. Her kiss was more electrifying than he remembered, bringing a rush of pleasure and contentment. It went on and on, until her strong arms were holding him up, his legs no longer able to support him.

 

Still, he felt no fear, even as he weakened further, only pleasure, and the deep heartfelt love he had for his wife, even as he struggled to draw breath. She would not let him.

 

Not until his eyes had glazed over, and the last dregs of his life ebbed, did she drop him on the floor and leave, tail swishing behind her.

 

 

 

*****

 

You were much better able to walk the next day, though it was still easy to become dizzy and overbalanced, so Loki took you to the healing wing early, to absorb some healing light. There was wailing the wing however, as one of the men had died in the night, and the others-five in total-remained asleep. The newest had been brought in just before you had arrived, by his distraught wife, who claimed she'd been working deep into the evening and had simply fallen asleep at her construction site, only to come home in the morning to find him collapsed on the floor.

 

“This is spreading far too quickly.” Loki murmured to you. “We should come back later.”

 

Instead he took you back to the tiny library in his rooms, gave you paper to draw on, and began pulling old books from his shelves.

 

“Some of these are from my father's collection.” He said, flipping one open. “Here is a human temple once dedicated to him.”

 

He showed you an illustration of a large wooden building, ornate and clearly ancient.

 

“Alas, not a trace of it exists anymore. Wood is impermanent, and subject to a great many methods of destruction. Still, I hear it was nice while it lasted, for such a primitive construction.”

 

“Hey, I think it looks really nice.” You said. “So we're behind on our Nornbein technology or whatever. We still build some pretty cool things. Ever see the pyramids?”

 

“Of course I have. Not when they were new, no. They were old, even as I was young. I'm only a thousand or so, that's all.”

 

“Oh...that's all.”

 

“What? Brunnhilde is three, and Heimdall is nearly five. He might have seen them when they were new.”

 

“Okay, but they are pretty impressive, yeah? And they weren't built by aliens either!”

 

“Of course not! It would have taken much less time to build them, their decorations would have been more securely fastened in place, and, most importantly, aliens would not have built such things and then simply abandoned them.”

 

“Did you ever get a temple?”

 

“Unfortunately, no.” He crossed his arms sourly. “In my youth, a transition was taking place on your Midgard. In the lands where I and my people were known, a new religion and new power structure were taking over, and they replaced us. But Odin was pulling away from Midgard anyway, and so we disappeared from your world. Fewer and fewer of us came for our training modules, and we were gradually forgotten.”

 

“You sure aren't forgotten anymore! Maybe they'll build a temple for you now.”

 

“Hmph. More like a gallows.”

 

“Loki!”

 

“Yes, yes, alright. Perhaps I will eventually be accepted. But I doubt there will be even the tiniest shrines to me anytime soon.”

 

You shrugged. “I could make one. A shrine to the great god of...wait, what are you the god of?” He wasn't the god of evil, like that book had claimed, but no one had ever told you what, exactly, his Aesir associations were.

 

“How cute. What would it look like? Your little shrine to your god?” He asked, skirting the question entirely, leaning his chin on his hands, elbows on the table.

 

“Er, w-well...” Your god? You didn't worship him! You didn't really worship anybody right now. With everything that had happened over the past few years, you had some things to figure out, regarding spirituality.

 

“Well, I've never built anything before, so it wouldn't be very big, or very fancy. I think what I would do-” You began sketching. “Is to get a bunch of rocks or bricks, and make a circle. Then put layers and layers on top until it's kinda like a well? Then I'd put a plate inside, and make offerings of cinnamon pastries.”

 

“How utterly charming. I might just decree that you must do exactly that.”

 

“Try it and I might just leave plain cinnamon sticks instead.” You threatened.

 

“It comes in sticks? I could just have a bite of pure cinnamon?”

 

You laughed. “You don't want that! It's literally just tree bark!”

 

“Truly? You just peel bark from a tree and put it in your food? Humans really will eat anything.”

 

“Anything that doesn't instantly kill us, and a few things that will only kill us slowly. Though you'd be surprised how much of what we eat is just beans or grass. The coffee? Beans. The corn? Grass. The chocolate covered peanuts? Beans and beans. Bread? Grass.

 

But then there are the fun things: The herbs and spices. Well, herbs are just leaves, it's spices that get really fun. Spices are basically anything that isn't leaves. Cinnamon is bark. Ginger is a root. Saffron is the stamen of a flower, and cloves are just dried up flower buds. There's also lots and lots of seeds, and some berries, and even hot peppers, which are just dried fruits.”

 

“You really aren't helping your case, you voracious little thing.” Loki teased.

 

“Oh yeah? Well, you're making Asgardian food sound super boring.” You shot back. “Are you seriously telling me that you guys conquered whole worlds, and didn't try the food?”

 

“Oh no, we absolutely did.” He took a piece of your paper and began sketching. “But it was the Vanir and the Alfar that had the most culinary influence on us. The Vanir prefer delicate, subtle flavors, and the Alfar are very...natural eaters. As you might expect from the ecology of their worlds, they do not employ much fire, therefore, much of their food is uncooked.

 

We took these influences and added our own flair. We like a good sauce, or a nice, thick gravy, but we simply don't celebrate the riot of flavor that humans so prize. I suppose that will change in time, as humankind exerts their own influence upon us. Or perhaps it will be the other way around, and we will convince humans to cease over-spicing everything.”

 

“Never gonna happen. Humans have fought actual wars over spices.”

 

“Well, perhaps we can convince humans not to go to war over every little thing as well.”

 

You sighed. “That's...also probably never gonna happen.”

 

“Shame.” He said. “Sounds like you could use a strong, fair, firm ruler. If only you'd had the opportunity to acquire one of those...”

 

“Oh, cut it out. You've already told me why that wouldn't have been a good idea in the end.”

 

“I have said no such thing. Just that the Earth would have been in danger either way, and I would have whipped you all into shape, and led you to glorious power. Of course, I could just be talking about you in particular, rather than humanity as a whole. You, who now live with royalty within arm's reach. Would you like a strong, fair ruler?”

 

His pointed stare, his little smirk, the way he leaned in, chin in hands, had your pulse pumping so hard that it hurt your tender head.

 

Was he flirting with you? No way.

 

The instant you turned away and grasped your head, he dropped all of his teasing and scooted close, wrapping his arms around you and murmuring concern. It was really too bad that being in his arms like this just made your head hurt more; it made it impossible for you to enjoy the moment.

 

“Maybe we should go back to the healing wing? Things should have calmed down by now.”

 

He brought his paperwork with him, and even saw a few petitioners out in the waiting room, allowing you to doze contentedly under the healing sparkles. Only when he was certain you were deeply asleep, did he leave to find his brother.

 

 

*****

 

 

“So, when's little brother gonna propose?” Brunnhilde teased, as Thor wove a patterned sash from yarn. He'd taken up the habit to help with some of his issues after Ragnarok, the act of creation helping to mitigate the terrible memories of destruction. He occasionally sold his creations on human Etsy, under an alias. Very few people knew about it, and none of them were Avengers. Each of them was receiving a scarf for this winter's holidays.

 

“You jest,” He said, turning the dainty cards with careful delicacy, another skill he'd had to learn. “But you have not yet seen my brother in the throes of love. When Loki desires something, he begins planning immediately. He becomes consumed by that desire. It's actually a very common Jotun trait.”

 

“Yeah, they do get like that. You know, if you'd told me a thousand years ago that there would be a frost giant in the royal family, I'd have called you a liar and a blasphemer. And yet, here we are.” Brunnhilde shrugged. “He's a decent kid though, even if he has a few bad habits.”

 

“It's not as if I'm really that different.” Thor pointed out. “But my point is, I'm surprised that he hasn't been ordering her flowers, or draping her with jewels, or-”

 

“Thor!” Loki called, stalking into his rooms. “I need some good, Midgardian love poetry. Have you any recommendations?”

 

“There we go.” Thor said. Brunnhilde snickered. “And what is wrong with our poetry?” He asked.

 

“Nothing, in theory. It's just that I do not think it will translate well, and it's also full of concepts that _____ won't relate to. She's never been on a battlefield, under the stars. She's never experienced the whirl of combat, nor found any attestation to life therein. She's never had to fix the memory of a loved one in her mind while staring down a faceless horde in the moments before a war began, or heard the song of her lover in the clashing of swords or the whir of arrows. I don't think any of our metaphors will really reach her.”

 

“Have you asked her if she even likes poetry?” Brunnhilde asked.

 

“Everyone likes poetry.” Loki said. “Don't they?”

 

The Valkyrie shrugged. “Maybe. Why don't you ask her what kind she likes? It's not as if humans are strangers to battle; perhaps war poetry is popular here too.”

 

“I wanted it to be a surprise.”

 

“You know, I think she's had enough surprises over the past few months. She might actually like a little stability now. You might just consider including her in your plans regarding her every now and then, I bet she'd appreciate it.”

 

“Well...perhaps...Thor, your opinion?”

 

“I'd like to preface this by reminding you that, while I am the only person you know who has had a relationship with a human, that relationship ultimately failed. Do not hang too much upon my advice alone.”

 

“Well then, who else might I ask?” Loki asked in frustration.

 

“Humans!” Thor and Brunnhilde exclaimed as one.

 

“Hmph!” Loki crossed his arms. “I come to you for advice for once, and you blow me off! Typical.”

 

“I am not blowing you off, Loki, just saying that our experiences may be very different. There is no one way to court a human. Their wooing requirements can be vastly different from one another, and if you do not meet her individual requirements, she might not even recognize what you are trying to do.

 

Jane, for instance, has no interest in poetry, and did not want that from me. She found beauty and fulfillment in the vastness of the universe. Discover what she finds beauty in, and work with that.”

 

“That is...actually good advice.” Loki said. “What happened you you?”

 

Thor sighed, deep and dramatic. “I fear I may have begun to grow up.”

 

“Norns forbid!” Loki cried, clutching his chest, and both brothers broke into amicable chuckling.

 

“Yes, yes. You're both adorable, and I love you.” Brunnhilde interrupted. “But I have some concerns regarding your Buridag plans. Are you seriously going to let a bunch of unsupervised humans in here? Because they will be unsupervised. Because we don't have enough bodies to throw at the security detail. I think I've brought this up before, but, while I do think it is a good idea in theory, I don't know how we're going to swing the logistics.”

 

“By recruiting humans to police themselves, naturally.” Loki said. “Behold. A plan I have for securing the loyalty of our worshipers. And also benefiting them at the same time. That's the important part, truly.”

 

He held out the sketches he had made while speaking to you earlier. Thor took and examined them.

 

“Are these...These are longhouses?” He asked, baffled.

 

“Ooh, those look cozy.” Brunnhilde commented.

 

Trolekaerhalla is going to become a permanent fixture of Asgardian life; our friendly neighbors, who love and venerate us, as we deserve. They have defended us, they have sheltered _____ without question, and they are possibly the first and only human allies that I, personally, have on this planet. I propose that, as we are constructing a building to house justice for Buridag, that we also build this simple housing for our allies. You have looked upon the camp; you know some of those tents will not protect against the upcoming winter. These houses will protect them, as they did in the days of humans past. Updated for the modern setting, of course.”

 

“You want to build homes for the humans.” Thor said, his voice full of disbelief.

 

“_____ spoke about an oddly human concept called 'reconstruction' in which humans of today try to connect with the ways of humans from the past, so I thought this design would be well-suited to the humans in the camp. It shouldn't be hard to build in modern amenities either: electric wiring, and plumbing, and geothermal heating should all be easily-”

 

The King of Asgard grabbed his brother by the shoulder and pulled him into a crushing hug.

 

“Oof!” Loki grunted at the sudden squeeze. “I take it this meets your approval then?”

Chapter Text

Through a sleepy haze, you realized that someone had entered the room with you. It wasn't Loki, but an unfamiliar woman-probably a healer's apprentice-who approached you and stroked your face.

 

“Just one more to go.” She murmured. “It's you, hmm? How unusual. I wouldn't have expected that of Asgardian aristocracy. Oh well. He's brought this on himself.”

 

She left then, without doing anything else, leaving you wondering, in your drowsiness, if she had just been a dream.

 

 

*****

 

“Look, you can say that the royal family has a tradition of charity as much as you like, but we don't have a huge reserve of resources anymore.” Brunnhilde argued. “You can't just snap your fingers and get what you want. Where are we getting the money? Where are we getting the builders? Ours are all tied up in constructing the city! We don't have the bodies, we just don't have them!”

 

“I'll contract other humans to do it!” Loki suggested. They'd been at it for a few minutes now, working out kinks and blocks to his plan. “Humans built these things in the first place; they should know how it works.”

 

“They don't build them anymore! They build...I don't know, tasteful three-bedroom apartments, and things like that!”

 

“No, they do.” Thor interjected. “I've seen this 'reconstruction' Loki speaks of. I once visited Sweden on an Avengers world tour-press conference event.”

 

Loki snorted.

 

“Yes, I know, but it's not much different than a royal procession, is it? We needed the positive PR at the time. And they greeted me specifically with a longhouse they had built according to archaeological finds. They thought it represented Asgardian living quarters.”

 

Brunnhilde laughed. “Did you tell them?”

 

“Of course not!” Thor said. “They put so much work into it, and they were trying to honor me. It was a heartfelt gift. So I stayed there, and I 'consecrated' it for them. It's a museum now. But my point is; there are enough people who know how to build these things that they were able to do that, and it's not the only one they've made in modern times, so we should actually be able to hire contractors who know what they are doing.”

 

“Okay, but again, where are we getting the funds?” Brunnhilde continued. “This is a lovely plan, sure, but it's pure fantasy unless we get the cash!”

 

“I'll...just...figure something out.” Loki grumbled. “There's got to be some way a god can make money on this planet.”

 

“You could strip.” Brunnhilde suggested.

 

“I shan't!” Loki refused. “There must be something else, something less base. Besides, no one wants to see my flesh. Why don't you strip?”

 

Brunnhilde shrugged. “I could, but I'd be keeping the money.”

 

“How about you ask _____? She might have some ideas.” Thor suggested. “Honestly Loki, if you want to know anything about Earth, it's probably best to ask the locals.”

 

“Yes, yes.” He griped. “Fewer surprises, more involvement, I get it. When she wakes up, I'll present her with my idea, and see if she has any suggestions.”

 

“Do you have any meetings today?” Thor asked.

 

“Just a few. I'll get them done early, and we can discuss things over dinner. I wonder if she likes candles? I'll set a few out and see.”

 

Thor fondly watched his brother rush to his duties, still bursting with ideas. It had been a long time since he had seen Loki look so hopeful. This time would be better than the others, he was sure.

 

*****

 

 

You woke fully, what seemed like hours later, all fuzziness and drowsiness banished. You felt great, in fact. When you swung your legs over the bed and hopped to your feet, there was no residual dizziness, and when you rubbed the side of your head, there was almost no pain.

 

The healing machines certainly did a good job! Maybe they were adapting to your alien physiology? Either way, you were grateful for it.

 

When you checked your tiny hand mirror-one of the trinkets that dangled from your domed brooches, it didn't seem like your face had gone back to normal yet, but maybe it would take more time. Or maybe, since the bones had already healed, they couldn't be convinced to 'heal' any further.

 

Either way, you should probably go let Loki know that you wouldn't need that wheelchair any more. In fact, you were going to just leave it here, so someone else could use it, if they needed it.

 

Everyone in the healing wing was busy with the mystery illness, so it was easy for you to slip out unnoticed. No one else had died from it yet, but no one had gotten any better either. You didn't need to pull any healers away from their jobs to send for Loki; you would just go find him yourself.

 

And while you were feeling so good and fresh, perhaps you should discuss your feelings with him as well. After all, if you got it out into the open, and let him reject you, then you could get over it faster and start fresh, without it all bubbling over in your mind. Better to just get it over with.

 

 

*****

 

 

The last meeting was over, and Loki slumped wearily on the throne, exhausted by how many people still seemed to think they could live and make demands the way they used to. It had been so much easier when he'd been Odin. The people accepted his verdicts; they argued with Loki, lied to him, tried to manipulate him, as if constantly forgetting that he knew what they were doing. Or perhaps they simply didn't take it into account, perhaps they were just doing what they had always done, and were incapable of fathoming that anything had to change. But that woodenness, that rigidity always led to collapse in the end, and Loki meant to keep that from happening. They would have to learn flexibility.

 

But he was done with that for the day. Now he needed to drum up some candles for a nice dinner with you, and see if you had woken up yet.

 

Compassion. You clearly valued it, and so, he was going to show it. You would just love this plan of his, he knew it. He would show infinite kindness to these dedicated humans, and you would fall madly in love with him, and-

 

He was getting a little ahead of himself. It wouldn't be that easy. This was just one step in the journey to prove himself. You had seen the prince and you had seen a little bit of the god, but he still had to show you the man. Who was Loki, under all the titles and fame?

 

He looked up at the sound of the door opening, straightening up in the throne when he saw you quietly enter.

 

How swiftly the weariness fled at the mere sight of you! How his tired mood soared at the prospect of spending time with you. He thanked the Norns for you.

 

“Come, enter! I see you are walking on your own now. How do you feel? Do you hurt at all?”

 

You smiled at him. “Only a little sore, hardly at all. I'm walking just fine now, but if I have any problems, I'll let you know.”

 

“That's very good to hear. Would you like to take dinner with me? Formally, I mean, not in our rooms. I'll have something nice made, just for us.”

 

“You mean, like a date?” You asked, almost teasing. Loki sat up straighter.

 

“Well...if you want to look at it that way, I certainly cannot stop you. You can approach, you know. You don't have to keep your distance when I am on the throne.”

 

“I'm not interrupting anything?” You asked. “No more people to meet, no more problems to resolve?”

 

“Not for today. It's just us now.”

 

“Oh, that's good. There's something private I wanted to talk to you about.”

 

“Private?” That might be a good sign. If you wanted to open up to him, that meant you felt close to him, and trusted him. Something felt odd about this though. Like the hazy unreality of a daydream. Like you were reading from a script of things he wanted to hear.

 

He swallowed as you approached. Had your hips always swayed like that when you walked, or was he only noticing now that he had admitted his feelings to himself? Either way, it was doing things to him.

 

Thank the Norns he always had the prescience to wear long tunics...

 

“Loki...” You purred once you'd gotten close enough that he could hear you do it. “I need to tell you something. Now, you're free to take this as you will, I don't expect anything from you. But I can't hide this anymore.”

 

“Yes?” His voice came out more excited than he'd intended. Could it be?

 

You leaned over him, arms resting on the throne, and his pulse hit a fever pitch. His eyes torn between yours, your lips, the soft swell of your breasts under the modest clothing you preferred, the memory of which was still etched in his memory...

 

“I've been feeling strongly for you lately. I've come to care for you, and I think I might even be falling for you. I know that's probably not what you want from me, but I thought I should let you know.”

 

“No! That's exactly what I want from you!” The words burst from him like an inexperienced youth, someone so full of emotion that he could no longer properly manage it. He wrapped his arms around you and pulled you into his lap. “ I feel the same. _____, I adore you! I would do anything for you! Anything!”

 

Some tiny part of his mind nagged that this was too good to be true. The cynical part that didn't believe he deserved happiness. This was all happening so fast. But you had always been a little unpredictable in temperament; it was one of the things he liked about you. Perhaps you had simply realized how good he could be for you, and decided to go with it. How could he argue?

 

“Anything?” Your smile dazzled him, taking his attentions away from his doubts, the insistence of his lie-senses that something was off. “Then kiss me Loki. Have a well-deserved reward!”

 

You pressed your lips to his, filling him with pure, electric bliss. It drove every doubt from his mind; the slightly wrong scent of you, the suddenness of it all, the odd hollowness of your back, none of it mattered. Only the delightful experience of your mouth.

 

By the time he recognized his growing weakness, it was far too late to pull away, and he found he did not want to. He didn't want this moment to end; he was happy to die here.

 

It seemed you were going to make sure that he did.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Heimdall rushed through the halls, face layered with concern. He did not recognize what he had just seen, but he knew it meant danger. People jumped out of his path, knowing that he, of all people, must be given the right of way. Few things could make Heimdall run.

 

“Your Majesty!” He cried, bursting in on Thor's solitary dinner. “I have seen danger in Asgard.”

 

Thor leaped to his feet. “What? Where? What is it?” He demanded.

 

“I am not yet certain. I have never seen such a being before, but someone has invaded the city. Every time I looked, her face was different, but I can see the strings of life she trails behind her. She is responsible for the illness of the workers, though I know not how or why.”

 

“Where is this being?” Thor asked, grabbing Stormbreaker, which he had leaned against the wall nearest the door.

 

Heimdall's orange eyes scanned through the walls.

 

“The throne room.” He said finally. “Hurry!”

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

You wandered the halls, seeking out a guard who could speak to you in a language you could understand. When you finally found one, he seemed very confused to see you.

 

“Oh, you must go in circle. Must get lost.” He said, when you asked where Loki was. “Throne room. That way, then that way, then that way. Two doors.”

 

You got fewer stares nowadays, most of the people in the palace complex having seen you often enough to no longer find you all that unusual. No one bothered you as you made your way towards the throne room, wondering if the murals had been finished yet. There would be so many paintings on the walls by the time the artists were finished, that you didn't think there would be a blank spot anywhere.

 

You found what you thought were the doors the guard had referred to, trying to remember if this was the same place you had met the king to sign yourself to citizenship.

 

Well. It was time to confess, and come clean. Maybe he would reciprocate? No no, it was best not to hold that hope. This was just to clear the air, so that you could move on.

 

You quietly opened the door.

 

You quietly closed the door.

 

It seemed you didn't need to wait for his answer after all.

 

Chapter Text

A woman. There was a woman wearing a blue cloak, very much like your own. She was straddling Loki's lap, wrapped in his arms, sharing a passionate kiss with the enthroned prince. You hadn't seen her face. You hadn't needed to.

 

You leaned against the wall, shock, and sorrow, and dismay clamoring in your brain. You had known you couldn't have him, of course you had known. But you had thought that his rejection would come gently, politely. He would tell you he was sorry, but he just couldn't return your feelings. That it would never work out. You were two different species, who lived on different time scales. No one's fault.

 

Not this...brutal confirmation that, not only was there never hope to begin with, but that you simply didn't even know the man. You had no idea there was someone in his life. He had never mentioned, never even hinted at the possibility.

 

Well, it was none of your business, was it?

 

You wandered the halls, aimless. Now that the shock was fading, the hurt was setting in. How could you have been that foolish? You hadn't even been worthy of a decent human man, how could you have, for even a minute, thought you could mean anything to a god-prince?

 

And what had he been playing at all this time? Being so caring, so earnest, calling you all those pet names. He did call servants 'dear' sometimes, but you had recently been upgraded to 'darling'. What was that about, if he'd already had someone to squeeze?

 

You found yourself in a secluded alcove, empty of the usual palace bustle, and broke down into tears. This was so stupid. You were an adult, you shouldn't be sobbing over a man like a child. You'd told yourself when you left Todd, that you would never cry over a man again.

 

But you'd known that was a lie even then.

 

You lost time there, just venting your pain. You still had his handkerchief, and you used it viciously, to remove the messy evidence of that pain, trying to restore a mask of composure.

 

Okay, okay. You were calm now. You were calm. Deep breaths.

 

Thor and Heimdall rushed past; huge thudding presences that startled you, destroying that fragile composure.

 

Heimdall skidded to a halt, his head snapping in your direction. He grabbed Thor and hauled him back, pointing you out.

 

“W-what's going on?” You asked quietly.

 

“Is she her?” Thor muttered.

 

“Yes.” Heimdall answered.

 

Thor strode up to you purposefully, and in your fragile state, you cowered back from him. He was so big, how had you not noticed? Taut with urgency, he placed one huge hand on either of your shoulders, and leaned down to look you in the eye.

 

“Are you all right? I see you have left your chair behind, but your eyes are very red.”

 

“I just got a shock, that's all.” You said in a hushed voice. “I'll be fine with a little bit of time.”

 

“Have you seen Loki?”

 

You hung your head. “Yeah. But we shouldn't interrupt him right now. He's...with someone. A lady.”

 

His fingers tightened around your shoulders. “You saw her, and you just left him there?”

 

“W-well I wasn't gonna join in!”

 

Heimdall tapped his bicep. “She does not know.”

 

Thor released you. “Loki has no lady. That creature has been spreading illness and mayhem throughout my kingdom. We think she's an angry huldra. A creature that can mesmerize and drain the life from people.”

 

“The construction workers!” You gasped.

 

“Yes. You saw him in the throne room?”

 

“Yeah. They were...pretty involved.”

 

“We are going.” He scooped you up. “You are going to stay where I can see you.”

 

The three of you raced back to the throne room, throwing the doors open for a violent interruption of the illicit liaison.

 

Loki slumped in his throne, still and pallid, his hands dangling at his sides. You threw yourself from Thors' grasp, as the assailant turned to face your trio.

 

It was you.

 

Your face, your hair, your clothes, your cloak. But her eyes were aglow with power, and a cow's tail swished back and forth under the blue cloak.

 

Your shock was broken at the sound of Thor's bellow, replaced by fury. How dare she? How dare this creature hurt all those people, and steal your face to hurt your prince?

 

You pointed to the opposite end of the throne room, the rage within you flinging power in a net to envelop her. The very next moment, she was across the room, swaying in dizziness from the sudden teleportation.

 

You staggered. You had never teleported anything that big, nor anything alive before. Heimdall drew his sword and charged the disoriented creature, while Thor rushed to his enthroned brother, with you in tow.

 

Loki didn't move, not when his brother shouted at him, not when he shook him. He was cold when you placed your hand to his cheek.

 

“He's not dead.” You said, as much to reassure yourself as Thor. “I'd feel it. I know I would. My hand. Our hands.”

 

The mark was still there.

 

You had an idea.

 

“If she could take it away, I can give it back.” You whispered, climbing into his lap. The creature went down with a wound to her stomach, Heimdall binding her hands as she laughed on the floor, shedding no blood.

 

You took Loki's cold hand, lacing your fingers with his, squeezing your palms together to activate the mark. As magic buzzed through you, you carefully pressed your lips to his, concentrating on pushing power into him. You felt it feed into him, a trickle at first, then he began drawing it into himself, a draining pull that you couldn't stop.

 

Just as darkness began to fuzz the edges of your vision, his eyes flew open and stared into your own. Weakly, you drew away, smiling, ready to greet him back to the world.

 

You had done it. You had saved him. You could hardly breathe.

 

He flung you violently off of him and, if Thor had not been there to catch you, you would have smashed into the floor again. Loki came down on top of you with impossible speed, holding a knife to your throat.

 

Where is she?” He snarled into your face. “Bitch! Did you kill her?”

 

“Loki, wait-” Thor began.

 

“This isn't her, Thor!” Loki cut him off. “Do not let her fool you. This is some foul spirit who has stolen her face!”

 

“Loki.” The enraged prince followed his brother's gaze across the throne room, to where Heimdall stood guarding the bound creature. Her illusion was failing, mixing your features with those of others, and those of a cow. She let out a grating laugh.

 

“I knew I should have killed her first. I had the chance. But she committed no crime against me. A shame you did not murder her then and there. I would find much satisfaction, were she to be dead by your hands, and only then you behold me and realize. The pain it would cause you. The anguish would nearly match my own.”

 

“You...you're Huldrafolk, aren't you?” Loki breathed in disbelief.

 

“And you destroyed my home.” She spat. “I curse you, and everyone who did your bidding!”

 

“The stone in the road. It all makes sense now.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Thor wondered.

 

“Road crew quarter 73. There was a boulder in the way of their construction, so I bid them move it out of the way, but they broke it in the moving.”

 

“The humans have greater sense!” The huldra exclaimed. “They leave us be. But I remember Asgardian arrogance. I thought you all left long ago. Curse your return, for the lives of your men remain in me. Your life remains in me, and when you burn through the meager power she has granted you, you will waste away alongside her. Though I may die from lack of home, I take all your lives with me! I have my revenge.”

 

Loki stood, stalking toward the prone huldra, menace in his steps. Her laugh choked off as he grabbed her by the throat and hauled her roughly upright.

 

“You have something of mine.” He hissed. Then he forced his mouth over hers, and began to draw from her what she had taken from him.

 

The huldra struggled, eyes wide, feet kicking, but could not break away. The sight turned your stomach, the violence against this bound enemy, who still wore parts of your face.

 

Thor cursed quietly; even Heimdall seemed effected. Loki dropped the gasping huldra to the floor, like a discarded water bottle. He turned back to you, glowing with vitality, and you tried to squirm away as he approached, trembling with terror and disgust, arousal and shame.

 

“And I,” He knelt beside you and took you from Thor's arms, into his own. “I have something of yours.”

 

You were too weak to protest his capture of your mouth, too weak to kick your feet in mirror of the huldra's struggle. He breathed your life back into you, flooding you with power, as gentle with you as he had been cruel to her.

 

The second you had the strength to do so, you shoved him away from you, breaking the perverse kiss, and rushing to the prone huldra's side.

 

“____, what-” He spluttered.

 

“You live in a rock, right? And we broke it, and you'll die without it?” You asked her. She nodded weakly. “And you only did all this because we've effectively murdered you?” Another nod. “What if we could fix your rock?”

 

She cracked a broken smile. “You cannot. That's impossible.”

 

“You're like, thousands of years old, right? Have you ever heard of concrete?”

 

She shook her head. Behind you, Loki and Thor broke into a heated, whispered discussion in Asgardian.

 

“We can fix your rock. We can get all the pieces, and cement them back together. Then you won't have to do all this.”

 

“You are a strange human. Do you really think you can do this?” She whispered.

 

“It seems to me like we're the ones who owe you.” You said.

 

“I remind you that she killed a man.” Loki snapped. “She tried to kill more. She tried to kill me.”

 

“And look at her now.” You shot back. “Yeah, maybe she should have come and told us we'd done something wrong, but she probably thought she couldn't. She didn't know we could fix it. Sounds like you guys have a bad reputation from the last time you were here, and from what you just did, I think I can see why!”

 

“What I did-” Thor lay his hand on his brother's arm to cut him off. “Very well. We shall repair her stone. You have saved my life, and I owe you a boon for it. If you wish to use it to save hers, so be it.”

 

“Thank you, your Highness.” You said, and Loki's brows knitted in confusion at your tone. “Huldra, is it possible to give the workers their lives back, so they can fix your home? I'm sure if they had known you were in there, they wouldn't have messed with it.”

 

“Yes, I've kept them.” The Huldra agreed.

 

“Even the dead man? You can give him back his life?”

 

“I kept it.” She confirmed.

 

“Then let's do this!”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

The next few hours were a march of small miracles. The Huldra returned every bit of life she had taken, reuniting families. The situation was explained, and in gratitude, and no small bit of consternation, they went straight to work, gathering up all the chunks of broken stone, discarded at the side of the road, and dipping into the concrete supply.

 

At your suggestion, they began reassembling them in the area that would become the front courtyard of the courthouse they planned on building at Buridag.

 

“It's about justice, right?” You'd asked. “Instead of only punishment? Justice as a benefit, instead of just a reaction?”

 

Loki seemed incredibly proud, and extremely keyed up, and just a touched miffed at your cold shoulder towards him. You really hadn't liked what you'd seen today, and when you got back to the palace complex, you'd gone straight to your room. You declined dinner, declined company, and went right to bed, cuddling your stuffed Bulbasaur for comfort.

Chapter Text

You fell endlessly through space, stars and nebulae all around. Such breathtaking beauty, all for you to behold, even the sparkling bits of golden debris surrounding you shone in the soft starlight.

 

Loki fell next to you, slowly, gently, also surrounded by the shimmering gold shards. He looked startlingly young, no lines at his eyes, his hair short and hidden under his horns. He was sobbing openly.

 

“Loki?” You whispered. “What's wrong?”

 

“What if that's not really my name?” He blubbered. “What if she named me something else before she left me? What if she didn't name me at all, and I was never supposed to have a name, because I wasn't supposed to be here? What if I don't have a name?”

 

“You have a name. I know your name, everybody knows your name!”

 

“What he gave me! What if that's not really it? Everything else was a lie, what if you're all calling me the wrong thing? What if every single thing about me is fake?”

 

“I don't understand.” You said, reaching out across space to take his hand. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

 

Glowing runes trailed up your arms, sparkled on your cheeks.

 

“I'm not real. Nothing about me is real. A thousand years of lies. I always felt it, but I didn't recognize it for what it was. I trusted them so much, so I thought it was just the general pall of falsehood that hangs over the court at all times. It's torment, feeling it all the time, a background distraction forever in my mind, but it was them all along. I just wouldn't allow myself to believe it.”

 

You tugged, and he floated the short distance into your embrace. You still didn't understand what he was talking about. You knew he could sense lies, but you didn't really know what that meant. Was it like a little bell going off in his mind? A little thump? A pressure? Dealing with that constantly, like he described in the court, would probably drive a man mad.

 

“They were all just waiting to betray me.” He whimpered into your hair. “Everyone. It only took a few days for it to all break down. My so-called family. My so-called friends. They all hated me to begin with, and were just waiting for an opportunity...they got it.”

 

“No Loki, your family doesn't hate you. I know them, and I know they don't.”

 

“You don't know my family!” He insisted. “My family is dead! You never met them! Just...just him. It was all about him. I just wanted to show that I could be like him. I can't. I tried, but I couldn't do it. Now I have to die.”

 

“We're not dying!” You exclaimed. “We've been in space before, Loki. We'll be fine. It's all gonna be okay”

 

“No, it's not. You don't know what I did. I can't fix it, and I can't be forgiven. These weren't mere transgressions. These were the worst crimes that can be committed. There's nothing else but to give up my life. It's all I have left to give.”

 

“That's bullshit, Loki!” You said hotly. “I know you did terrible things, and I know why! I live on the planet you invaded, I know about it. And maybe you can't actually make up for the lives you took, but as long as you're alive, you can at least try! You can help people instead of hurting them. You can help repair the damage you did. You can't do anything if you're dead!”

 

Loki held you tight, his tears streaming above you; a line of shining, prismatic orbs, trailing off into the darkness.

 

“You don't know what I did. And you can't come with me now. You weren't there. No one was there.” He whispered mournfully. Then he flung you out into space, far, far away, while he continued to fall.

 

You woke with your arms outstretched and your runes fading, still trying to reach him.

 

 

 

*****

 

You didn't seem to want to talk to him much today. He didn't like it, but he could understand. Yesterday had been stressful, frightening. Surely you must feel violated and insecure over what that huldra had done. Yet you showed her compassion anyway.

 

Compassion. You were such a beacon of it. He still wanted to show you his plans to house the believer's camp; he just knew you would love it. And you would fall into his arms, and kiss him, really kiss him this time, really you this time.

 

By the Nine, he could just kick himself over his own foolishness. It was thoughts like those that led him to ignoring his senses, to endangering his whole kingdom, for the false touch of a false woman. He had absolutely let himself be led, nearly to his death, for a simple kiss. And it wasn't even really you.

 

But Brunnhilde had set him straight over that, much to his dismay.

 

“Oh yeah.” She had said, when he sat down next to her, and leaned his head against her, and she stroked his hair, dispensing advice in what he was beginning to think of as 'Sister Time”. He was pretty sure Thor did it too, in secret, just as he did. “Having someone steal her face and attack people has probably got her feeling some kind of way, but if what Heimdall tells me is true, that's probably not the only thing.”

 

“You pick up human colloquialisms so quickly.” Loki muttered into her shoulder. “What else has her so vexed?”

 

“You assaulted a prisoner.” Brunnhilde said simply.

 

“What? I did not, I only-”

 

“You only took your energy back from a mystical creature in the only way there is to do so, yes. I know that. Does she? You haven't had a magic lesson together in some time, have you? Have you taught her about the beings she shares her world with?”

 

“No...not yet.”

 

“Then think about what that must have looked like from the outside. From the point of view of someone who knows nothing about Huldrafolk. You became violent with a bound and defeated female prisoner. That's what she saw. Not a vengeful spirit of the land, but another woman, just like her. Remember that thing she was afraid you were going to do to her? Don't you think, from her point of view, what you did might have looked a little like that?”

 

Loki lifted his head to stare at her in shock. He hadn't realized. He would never in another thousand years have even thought of it.

 

“Yeah, I know.” Brunhilde said wryly. “There's things that just don't occur to you. They aren't in your sphere of things to worry about.”

 

“How do I deal with this?” He asked. “This is no time for there to be rifts between us.”

 

“Well, for one thing, don't go trying to force an apology on her if she's taking some time for herself. If you get overbearing, she's not going to do anything but close herself off more. You obviously don't want that, so just keep in mind, while she's adapting to life here, and to you, you might also want to adapt a bit to her.”

 

 

*****

 

 

And so your lunch came with some small fanfair, an artistic arrangement of open-faced sandwich and carved vegetable and cheese shapes. In pride of place, on a fancy dish, was the saddest cinnamon roll you had ever seen. It was dark with burned cinnamon, far more than would actually taste good, and it was flat and dense, as if it hadn't risen at all. Upon inspection, the dough was full of cinnamon as well, which wo