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Book of Thorns

Chapter Text

The mirror glanced back at me. Amidst its unforgiving glare, I saw the form of a girl I did not recognize, even as the same frown on my lips burdened hers, and the meager, though not nonexistent, flame of silent defiance darkened both our eyes.

My fingers swiped across the bloodstone at my neck, the gem cold and callous as a shard of ice upon my skin. 

"A fine jewel," Mother said, warming my shoulders with her hands. Her face in the glass brought me back to the present; now, I realized that the woman in the mirror was none other than myself. Mother traced the necklace as I had done, slowly, carefully, as though one miscalculated touch, one single misstep, might make it lose its luster. Once her fingertips had defined every edge of the stone, she stopped, and cast her gaze to mine in the mirror. "Gifted to you by Lord Kvasir."

Mother's voice soothed my heart. But her reassurance, however firm, was now tainted with another sentiment; one that weighed dark and heavy on every word, retracted from the sincerity of her advice. Perhaps it was sadness, that I should be parted from the family. Maybe it was guilt - remorse for the pawn who had once been a free child, a joyful babe, her daughter.

But there was no time for tears. No time for resentment to fester in the chest of the woman who would form an alliance between two realms, infiltrate the golden heart of Asgard, become the liberator of her people - the purpose for which she had been born. 

Such a virtuous title, and yet... I knew this was a gamble, the greatest risk my family had ever taken, the inevitable step I had feared ever since I'd begun my training. I could see it in their eyes; in Father's last night, and in Mother's now. Our realm had nothing grand to offer apart from experienced woodworkers, but the Aesir didn't seem to be in dire need of wood supplies anyway. Arriving at the palace, I'd had to refrain from squinting my eyes at the blinding sunlight bouncing off of brazen structures. 

Asgardian buildings stood strong, fearless and refined, and I had to be the same if I wanted to survive and earn my place amongst the golden gods.

"The prince is handsome, is he not?" remarked my mother, as her hands moved deftly at my hair.

She spoke of the Thunderer.

She hadn't dared speak his name aloud, and for that, I was thankful. 

"He is," I nodded numbly, subtly. But I do not know him.

Cordial, blue orbs clouded my memory, as well as the monstrous, dark arms that could have crushed me upon first embrace. They had not knocked the breath from my lungs then, but they would surely do so once I lay beneath him in his bed. 

Fear thrummed in the pits of my stomach. I didn't understand it; I had trained in this area, learned how to please my betrothed in the flesh the moment Mother deemed me of age. 

Perhaps, after all the years of merely reading about men and their ardent passions, I had underestimated how it would truly feel to finally be taken by a god. 

"Does he please you?" Mother's question was idle, yet a smile ghosted her lips. 

"Very much." I did not wish to dwell upon this matter any more than I wished to be here, standing before the mirror, wrapped in a gown the color of blood and bottled rage. Yes, I thought, my bitterness strengthening, this would no doubt draw eyes towards the prince's grand prize - a wife bartered for the allegiance of an entire nation. 

"How can you bear it?" Mother ceased her ministrations. I turned from the mirror, away from that sickening caricature, to face her. "How can you bear to watch as I am ripped from my home, away from you and Father?"

A mask of ice befell her features. Then a gradual sorrow softened the corners around her eyes. She placed her hands over my arms and turned me around; the scarlet stranger scowled from within the glass once more... only this time, I held my chin high against her gaze. "Darling daughter," Mother caressed my back. The muscles tensed beneath her palm. "Do you remember the procedure?"

On demand, the scriptures on rites of passage ran through my mind. I recalled each step, each custom, what was acceptable and what was not. 

"No large strides, never let my gaze fall to the floor, never look at the prince until I am granted permission to do so."

Mother hummed in satisfaction. "And your vows?"

"Of course, Mother," I replied, the sacred oaths swift and ready upon my tongue. 

"And when you arrive at the alter?"

I cleared my throat. "Accommodate his height, never allow him to stoop to mine. Entwine arms and sip from my cup, no gulps, but quickly, so that we may finish our drink together. Do not speak unless I am told, and when I am, I must speak loud and clear."

"You forget the most important rule of all." I melted into Mother's embrace, imprinting her scent, her warmth, her words into my memory, not knowing when I would be blessed with such an opportunity again. She cradled me in her love, and for a moment, I forgot what awaited me beyond the door.

"Always wear a smile, no matter how many barbs are thrown your way..." she whispered, a solemn edge seeping through that I couldn't quite place, "for your beauty is your greatest weapon."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I fled desperately to the library after having excused myself from the Great Hall, where the King and his son were dining heartily with all the noblemen from every realm who were invited to the wedding.

With pain and a sense of unjustness in my heart, I did nothing but sink to the floor behind the nearest bookshelf, my body racked with sobs.

"Father..." I retrieved an ageing book from the shelf, absent-mindedly stroking the dust from the rough leather surface, clouding my fingertips a sorrowful grey. "Why would you allow me to wed a man with whom my heart does not lie?"

"The sorrow of a woman is always loud as a storm, yet no one listens."

My crying ceased, eyes wide at the sudden voice that had invaded my thoughts. I stood, turning to face the man who had spoken and gasped as my forehead came in contact with a firm chest, the smell of leather and steel dizzying my senses. In a moment of uneasiness I stumbled back, only to be caught by a set of strong arms keeping me on my feet. I pushed him away.

"How dare you!" I whispered spitefully, "I am the bride of Thor Odinson, crown prince of Asgard! You dare disgust me with your impropriety?!"

An amused chuckle came from above me, rumbling warmly through his chest. His voice was like a serpent, his piercing emerald gaze sharp as silver as I looked up to meet his eyes.

He was beautiful.

Eyes of crystalline jade, skin of fine marble and hair slick like the feathers of a raven were presented before my eyes, sending my heart into an endless frenzy.

"Even the crude stain of tears do not cause Your Highness's beauty to falter."

My eyes narrowed. "You dare speak to me with these words?"

He laughed again, mischief twinkling in his eye in accord with the light of the moon that seeped in through the library windows.

The man stepped aside, mockingly paving a path leading out of the library and back into the Great Hall - the last place in all of the Nine Realms I wanted to be at that moment.

"Your Highness seems eager to return to the prince's side," he said, a hint of bitterness in his jesting tone, "allow me to humbly escort you."

I stood speechless, finding myself unable to move from where I so firmly wished to stay. After a while, not caring who this man was or where he had come from, I let slip my forbidden thoughts. "I... I don't want to."

His devilish lips curled up into a smug little smirk as he cupped his ear, as if unable to hear what I had just said. "I beg Your Highness's pardon?"

I gritted my teeth in irritation. "I said, I don't want to return to the feast."

"But it is your wedding day. You must go."

"Whether or not I attend my own wedding feast is up to me and not you." I snapped, eyes glazing over his beaming expression. I scowled. "Who are you, sir?"

He smiled slyly. "I am Einar, a humble servant of the King." He bowed elegantly, cunning eyes never leaving mine.

"Th-then you have no business being anywhere but in service of the King in the Great Hall."

"Forgive my boldness, My Lady, but...” his eyes darted back and forth between the library door and me, "neither do you."

"I -" My voice caught in my throat and I found myself unable to come up with a suitable response as to the reason behind my reluctance to return to my own wedding feast. I couldn't tell a mere stranger, much less a servant, that I was upset over the fact that my father had agreed to wed me to Thor Odinson of Asgard, a man I had only been acquainted with on a handful of occasions.

"Then I cannot place blame on you for your distraught state. Thor Odinson is quite the oaf."

I stared at him in shock. "How did you..."

"Magic, my dear." He made a dismissing gesture. "Now come, we must return, lest your new husband forgets entirely about the marriage and chooses to bed one of his maidservants for the remainder of tonight."

I glared at him, but it was all in vain as my frown curled up into a playful smile. Deep in my heart, I hoped that every night, Thor would always share his bed with another woman and never I.

"Take me back into the Great Hall, Einar."

"’Twould be my honor, Your Highness."

Taking his arm, I allowed him to escort me back towards the dining hall. I could have sworn that I felt a sort of predatory gaze burning into my skull, but chose to ignore it once we came upon the Great Hall.

Upon our arrival, the auburn illumination of candles and cheer surrounded us like a quilt, warm yet too humid for comfort. I caught Thor's eye from across the hall, watching as his face light up in genuine happiness.

"My bride!" he bellowed merrily, drinking clumsily from a large mug of ale and letting it fall to the floor with a loud crash. The noise seemed not to reach his ears as he pushed past some comparably smaller guests to reach me.

"Greetings, My Prince." I bowed slightly, plastering a tight smile across my face for fear it would fall into a frown at any moment.

He hurriedly pulled me into a warm embrace, pressing my burning cheek against the cold steel of his breastplate. "My sweet love, we are now man and wife! We have no need of these pointless formalities." He pulled away from the embrace, grinning at me with gentle blue eyes and features of candor. He was indeed a very handsome man who treated me as if he had known me since his youth, which I appreciated greatly.

"Of course," I smiled sweetly so as to hide the uneasiness in my eyes, "this feast is simply splendid, Thor."

"I could not agree more. And how are you, my beautiful wife? How are you enjoying yourself this fine night?" he beamed, placing a large hand on my cheek and tucking away a stray hair with his thumb.

"I am thankful that I am in your thoughts," I replied, "I am very much enjoying myself."

"Then I may enjoy the night content!"

Thor gazed at me with a funny sort of hesitance and I could have sworn that his robust cheeks were painted a slight pink hue. After a few moments he leaned forward ever so slightly, placing a shy kiss on my lips that lasted an adorable second.

"I shall come to you tonight, my love", he whispered fondly, "wait for me." Planting another kiss on my forehead he left to join his fellow warriors and friends, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg.

It was only then that I realized Einar had seemingly vanished from my side and was nowhere to be found in the vast, luxurious halls. I was confused, but decided that he must have slipped away before Thor had come over.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Sif, a charming and beautiful warrior with features sharp as a hawk's and a cool yet alluring demeanor. She was standing miserably by the ale barrel, filling her goblet and drinking from it with a vacant expression. I decided to go and put in some nice words to give myself a good impression.

It was no surprise to me when I learned of her love for Thor Odinson. Despite being a proud, independent woman, her heart had not hardened - it belonged to my new husband. The fondness in her gaze upon looking at him did not escape my notice the first time we met.

Upon noticing my arrival, her lips visibly tightened into a thin line as she bowed politely.

"Greetings, Your Highness."

"Please, rise," I helped her up by her arms, "what are you doing all on your own here, Sif?"

"I am well; Your Highness should not waste your concern over me."

"Nonsense. You are a great friend of Thor's; it is only right that we should become friends ourselves."

Sif smiled, putting down her empty mug. "If that is what Your Highness wishes. I trust that My Lady is enjoying herself?"

"Forgive me for my childishness, but this array of tables and ornaments fills my heart with an odd sort of joy!"

"I am sure Thor will be elated to know that you feel this way, My Lady."

"Yes, my husband is indeed glad."

We exchanged awkward smiles, her melancholy eyes telling me all I needed to know. I could only offer a look of comfort in return and change the subject, taking the opportunity to relieve my curiosity.

"Would you happen to know a servant of the King named ‘Einar’?"

Her dark brows furrowed in confusion. "'Einar'? I am unfamiliar with the Allfather's servants but I am certain that this name has never been spoken in the halls of Asgard."

My eyes widened, a tightness in my chest rising hotly to my head. Who was the stranger from the library? And, more importantly, why did my heart skip a beat at the thought of him?

"My Lady?" Sif's worried voice snapped me swiftly out of my reverie.

I forced a reassuring smile. "I am perfectly fine. Thank you for your concern."

After dismissing myself, I too indulged in a hearty mug of alcohol before almost stumbling out into the royal gardens for a breath of fresh air, relishing in the peace and quiet. The night air was cool and calm, the bushes a deep blue and the roses violet beneath the night sky. The tranquil song of the nightingale was all that could be heard amongst the vast array of flowers imbedded neatly into the earth.

I took a deep breath, allowing the anxiety coursing through my veins to escape through the air out of my lungs as I exhaled slowly. This calmed me for a mere moment before I nearly jumped from shock at the touch of an icy hand on my right shoulder. I screamed, squeezing my eyes shut and blindly swinging my fists at the stranger before a familiar voice of silk sliced cleanly through the silent air, resting there like a daunting serpent.

An unforgettable, coy chuckle made me cease my movements as I met the gaze of none other than 'Einar'.

"Let go of me!" I shrieked in panic, bringing my palm forcefully across his cheek. He brought his hand up to his face, smudging the growing redness with a swipe of his palm, though not ridding his face of that infuriating smirk.

"Your Highness, there is no need to fret. It is only I."

"'No need to fret'?!" I tried desperately to push him away to no avail, for my arms were no match for his firm grip on my wrists, which he held tightly against his chest. "You dared deceive me as to your true identity! You will tell me who you really are now or you shall be thoroughly puni-!"

"The roses, though blue under the moonlight, pale in comparison to the sorrow you hold in your eyes."

The stranger leaned forward, slowly, slowly, his lips coming to rest against the side of my ear, gently grazing the tender cartilage as he whispered, causing my breath to hitch in anticipation.

"I hope to Odin that you're ticklish."

Before I could register what had just been said, his arms gripped the sides of my waist and lifted me up into the air; a shriek left my lips, lost within laughter at the sudden touch on my side, a helplessly sensitive area. I kicked aimlessly at the air, trying to scowl but the tickling prevented me from doing so. Raucous laughter disrupted the quiet that I had originally been seeking.

"Put me down at once! Put. Me. Down!"

Chuckling softly, he proceeded to set me down onto the stone pathway, smiling as I giggled. As my feet reached the ground I found myself unable to pull myself away from this wonderful man - his hands on the small of my back kept me flush against him, trapping me in his embrace. My cheeks grew hot as the coolness of his torso mingled with the burning flame he had ignited within me, sending my mind and soul into a blissful disarray.

He spoke my name, softly, like the mellow falling of snow, "Do you hear that? Our hearts," he took my hand carefully in his and pressed it against the center of his chest, "beating as one. Do you feel it? The link that exists between your heart and mine, the void inside me filled upon receiving your touch."

I could feel his cool breath against my lips with every passing second, time slowing around us until him and I were the only people in the world who mattered.

"Tell me," he said, almost urgently, "tell me you feel the same."

I looked into his eyes, surprised at his pleading expression. All mischief within the magnificent green pools had been replaced with sincerity.

"I-I can't."

His face turned dark. "Why not?"

I looked at him incredulously. "'Why not'?! I am married to Thor Odinson, and today is the first time I have met you!" I pushed him away will all the self control I had and turned my back to him. Looking at him would only tempt me further into acting out my sinful desires.

"Love is not measured by time," he argued, wrapping his arms around my frame so that my back was pressed against his torso. He nestled his face into the crook of my neck, the harsh contact with his marble skin sending electric shivers down my spine.

"I don't even know your name!"

"Does it matter who I am?" He held me firmly in his embrace, leaving me not a single chance of escape. "I am infatuated by you."

"That is not love."

"Is that what he can give you?" he sneered, grip tightening, "'love'? That imbecile does not love you! He will use you like a worthless plaything and reduce you to nothing more than a whore to cater to his cheap whims!"

"But there is nothing I can do about it, is there!" I spun back round to face him, furious tears streaming down my face. "I don't love him, but I am a woman of honor. I've no choice but to comply with the ways things have been planned and the very least I can do is be a faithful wife."

He shook his head, unwilling to listen to what poured out of my mouth. I could not believe what I was saying either.

"You must feel something for me," he cupped my face, voice wavering with emotion, "something, anything!"

He searched my eyes for an answer but seemed not to find one as they were clouded with tears. His face hovered an inch above mine, and I could see every little imperfection, marvel at every little dip and curve of his features.

I was drowning in want, an uncontrollable desire for him - his body, mind and soul...

I had answered his wanton plea in my mind, as if I knew that he would hear me.

"... Yes."

Immediately, he claimed my lips in a passionate kiss, ardently cradling the curve of my neck as his wandering hand came to rest on my waist. He tasted of mint and ice, of fire and sin, sating the intense craving that devoured my being to the core.

I knew that no matter how hard I tried, my deep desire for this stranger would prevent all men from entering my heart. My heart was bound to him and him alone. My fate had been sealed.

He pulled away, breathing heavily, onyx orbs glazed over with lust, smiling at my eagerness. The ale I had foolishly downed earlier had started to take effect, this was wrong. No, no, no! This was not right-

"I assure you, my love... I have never felt my actions more right than up until this moment," he placed tender kisses along the line of my jaw, making his way down the side of my neck and along my collarbone, nibbling gently at the sensitive skin, causing me to suck in a sharp breath of arousal. "I want you," he muttered against my heated flesh, gently reaching behind my back, slowly unlacing the ribbons that held my gown together.

Insides churning with anticipation, I looked deep into his eyes, intoxicated by his beauty beneath the moonlight. With his voice in a low growl, hoarse with want, he whispered into my bare shoulder.

"Do you want me?"

I kissed him again on my own accord, passionately, greedily. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to stop, yet my mind and soul betrayed me. "Take me, please." He wiped away my small tear with his thumb, holding my face delicately in his hands. "Take me away from here. Make me forget we were ever strangers."

None but the moon and the stars bore witness as I allowed the man who had so cleanly stolen my heart, to kiss me. Taste me. Take me, and break me. Make me his beneath the calm evening sky.

Chapter Text

I awoke the next morning to the soft chirping of the birds and the amber magnificence of the sun pouring in through the lavish windows, bathing me in a pleasant, flaxen warmth that placed delightful kisses on all parts that made my naked figure. I attempted to arise from where I lay when I came to the sudden realization of how I had somehow returned to my new bed in the palace of Asgard following the events of last night. I dug deep into the unseen crevices of my mind, trying to generate some recollection of myself undressing and climbing into bed, but surfaced with none. I drank in my surroundings; they were indeed of my new bedchamber. An amiable scent of rosin and sundew filled my senses as I rose from the bed and placed my bare feet on the cold floor, only to cry out due to the sudden sharp sting of pain between my legs. I fell back onto the bed, gasping at the acceleration of my once stable heartbeat. Had it not been for the lone arm that I had supported myself with, I would have ended up on the floor, a mess of sweat and shame to match the coldness of the marble floor.

Memories of what had transpired the night prior flashed vividly across my mind in an erotic, garish blur. The image of two pale bodies, fearlessly intertwined in the darkest pits of scandalous desire, the carnal rise and fall of labored breath, the feel of skin against skin, the moist heat in a haze of passion, the searing intensity of gripping pleasure engulfing my senses, the sweet whisper of forbidden promises...

The obscenity of the pain that paid the price of pleasure, as punishment for the sin of temptation.

My hands trembled as they gripped the side of the bed - all the warmth within the room that had seeped in through glass panes seemed to leave the way it came while the creeping talons of shame took its place, filling the room with a frigid aura.

I draped a hand across the other side of the bed, heart sinking at the feel of cold linen against my fingertips instead of the heat of my lover's toned, lean chest. I sighed in disappointment, though I could not bring myself to admit the cause of my unease. 

Slowly, I sank back down into bed, pulling the covers over myself until darkness was all I could see and hear. The thought of facing Thor with the very face that had indulged in the illicit caresses of my paramour filled me with shame that scorched my conscience, twisting my thoughts to focus on the endless string of wrongs I had committed in my lifetime. I was drowning, begging for mercy in the unforgiving waters of my own mind until -

I jumped, startled at the three heavy thumps that shook the door. 

"My sweet wife!" Thor boomed, the fullness of his voice reaching my ears even from his position outside, "are you decent?"

Panic filled my chest and heat rose to my cheeks as I glanced worriedly upon my nude body, inspecting it for any careless marks that might have been made to be sure no suspicion would be raised. I let out a relieved breath at the majority of my skin that retained its original tone, with the exception of my abdomen bearing a red trail down the center of my stomach where ivory teeth had teased. My thoughts once again drifted to the unforgettable happenings of that night.

What was it that he had said last night, while placing erotic, open-mouthed kisses along my desire-inflamed stomach?

"You are most exquisite like this, bare for my eyes only, your back arching with need for my touch..."

Stop it! I shook my head in desperation to rid my mind of the filthy thoughts. Stop it this instant!

Thor's voice rumbled intrusively through the door a second time. I hurriedly grabbed the nearest nightgown that was neatly draped over a chair and slipped it on without first inspecting myself in the mirror. "I am decent."

Carefully, my husband peered in, stepping inside once his indigo orbs found my form from across the room. Once again a smile was brought across his face, twisting my insides with a nagging guilt.

"Good morrow to you, my fairest." Thor pressed his lips to my cheek, rough stubble grazing the delicate skin of my jaw.

"Good morrow to you, My Prince."

"Is your bedchamber much to your liking?" asked my husband, looking genuinely interested in my answer.

"My room exceeds my expectations by far, thank you Thor."

"Then I am glad."

We stood, him staring at my lowered face in awkward silence, his expression morphing surprisingly into one of an apologetic nature.

My brows furrowed in puzzlement and concern for the golden-headed prince. "Whatever is the matter, My Prince?"

He cupped my face in his large, calloused hands, careful as if handling the wilting petals of a delicate flower. "I am sorry that I was unable to visit you last night."

Oh, Odin! I had almost forgotten Thor's promise to visit me after the feast so the marriage could be -

Consummated.

"'Tis alright, My Lord."

"Nay, 'tis not." His hand enveloped mine as his expression turned serious. "You waited for me and I failed to keep my promise. I neglected you, and instead of tending to your needs, I allowed myself to fall into a drunken state. I was a fool. And I am sorry."

I let out a laugh at how ridiculous he was being in a poor attempt to rid my body of the shame coursing wildly through my veins. "My Prince, it is really quiet alright-"

I was taken aback when he produced a single rose from his belt, silencing my half-hearted dismissal. It was a lovely hue, the color of sweetly flushed cheeks and the sunrise at dawn. The meadow-colored stem was cut short, accentuating the glorious full bloom of the plant - a true beauty amongst the flora of Asgard.

He slipped it carefully into my hair so that it rested on the side of my head, just above my ear.

"I know that this is no compensation for my wrongs," Thor admired his work, a warm smile spreading across his lips, "but I give you my word that I will always be by your side when you are in need of me."

I did not know why, but I was crying - crying tears not of sadness, but happiness, contentment and gratitude for this man. This... Thunderer, who had been forced as stiffly into a marriage as I had been, but was still willing to honor and respect me and my position as his wife. I had tried so desperately to hate him, think him a brute, but the wallowing guilt within me prevented me from doing so. No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to loathe him. I could not hate Thor.

"Th-thank you."

"What's wrong?" he asked worriedly, "have I upset you?"

"No," I replied with a small smile, tears retreating into my eyes with a blink. "You've made me so very happy."

Hearing this, Thor pulled me into a soft embrace, resting his bearded chin snug atop my head. "Then I shall keep you happy till my last Asgardian breath." After a few warm moments I was the first to pull away, too overwhelmed by the mixed rush of happiness and guilt coursing through my veins.

"Will we be joining the Allfather and Allmother in breaking our fast this morn?" I asked timidly.

He placed a hand on my shoulder in approval. "Indeed, my love. They shall be most delighted to speak with you. My brother will also be joining us, and I am certain that he will be glad to make your acquaintance."

"Your brother?" I inquired, intrigued. "The God of Lies?"

I had heard a good many rumors circulating the younger prince - one of them being his questionable reputation amongst the young servant girls of the palace.

"Yes, my brother. His name is Loki, a renounced mischief-maker, a great wielder of magic..." Thor trailed off, facing me with a crooked grin, "... and quite the seducer."

An uncontrollable hotness rose to my cheeks. I knew only one seducer, and no man would ever compare.

"I am sure that Prince Loki's... 'skills' do not in the least surpass yours, My Lord."

Thor laughed heartily, his deep tenor bounding off the walls. "You have quite the silvertongue, just like my brother. I am sure you will get along well."

"Thank you, My Prince."

"Loki is not the only one with certain tricks up his sleeve." Thor whispered, holding my arm in a firm yet comfortable grip. "I shall make use of my 'skills' tonight." The seductive wink he displayed for me would have brought any other maiden to her knees. I blushed furiously, shrieking when he buried his bearded chin playfully into my neck. "Now, hurry and dress! Father and Mother are waiting at the dining table."

Leaving me to change, Thor had also left me with great trouble in choosing a gown. Atop my vanity lay one of a flaming crimson velvet, gold thread lining the modest neckline and woven between each seam in lavishly embroidered patterns. It was a short dress that would reach just below my knees at the front, all the while trailing far behind me in my wake. This design was obviously to Thor's taste, and would please him if I chose to don it to breakfast. However...

I glanced at the comparably plainer silk dress folded over the stool, noting that it did not blind me with color, unlike the one before. It was a wonderful lush green, the tint of glossed leaves, the gleam of a jade icicle. The neckline was lined with finely trimmed leather and the hem with gold thread - an appealing spectacle.

Without a second thought I slipped it on, unable to resist the allure of the gown and how much it resembled his clothing.

I had been intoxicated by ale that night, but these little memories clung to the back of my mind like a vice, and it hurt to try to let them go.

Without time to spare I could only make sure the flower in my hair was in place, hoping it would make up for my sleep-tousled locks.

The King and Queen greeted me with welcoming smiles and open arms as I made my way to take a seat opposite Thor.

"Good morning, King Odin, Queen Frigga." I nodded my head respectfully at the rulers of Asgard whom had also become my parents-in-law. Despite my reluctance to the marriage, being bonded to royalty still rang surreal in my mind.

"My dear, did my son not tell you not to address us with these formalities? We are all family here!" The Queen patted my hand, a kind yet lively twinkle in her wise eyes. "You may call me Mother."

"Yes, Allmother." I complied with a smile, still finding it out of place to address her as my own guardian.

"The girl is well-mannered as she is beautiful." stated Odin with pride, leaving me grinning like a fool. "You must treat her well, my son."

"My wife is indeed incomparable," agreed Thor proudly, "I shall shower her in my care to the best of my ability."

I lowered my head gratefully. "I shall be satisfied with whatever you gift me, My Prince."

"She has quite the silvertongue as well."

I froze, every muscle in my body tensing at that familiar voice as a sharp coldness enveloped me - that same serpentine smoothness, that round, sly sound...

"Loki!" Frigga beckoned warmly. "Come, my son! Sit."

No, no no no no! It couldn't be -

"Yes, Mother." To my horror, he slid into the chair to my immediate right. I felt heat rising rapidly to my cheeks, stirring the looming dread in my stomach. 

This entire time... 'Einar' - was Prince Loki?

"Are you alright, my child?" asked the King, "all the color has drained from your face!"

Had I truly committed adultery with my husband's own brother?

I looked up at Odin with a forced smile, which ended up resembling more of a wince. "I am well, thank you, Allfather. I am still light-headed from last night's ale, is all."

And... if I had known, would it change the way my heart beats in sync with his?

The raven-haired man raked his playful eyes over my dress, lips curling upwards snakily in approval. "Your taste in attire is most applaudable, My Lady."

Frigga smiled proudly. "Indeed, those are Loki's favorite colors. Surely, you shall soon become inseparable!"

Inspecting my agitated state, Thor grew concerned and grasped my hand from across the table. I could have sworn I'd heard the faintest growl of disapproval from my right at this motion. "Do you need rest, my sweet?"

Loki's lips curled a fraction of an inch upwards. "What seems to be the matter, My Lady?" he asked, feigning concern.

I shot him an icy glare, only to receive a mischievous smirk in return.

"I shall grant you leave whenever you see fit," said the Allfather casually, "you must keep yourself healthy, fit to bear my grandchildren and produce many heirs for the sake of our kingdom."

"Yes, Allfather." I swallowed deeply, already afraid of the prospect.

"Excellent! My son will..."

The King's voice faded into nothing as white noise filled my ears at the sudden icy sensation dominating my thigh. Slender fingers, ghosting slowly and tantalisingly across my leg, rekindled the flame that had refused to die out within me. Pleasurable shivers washed over me with every touch, causing my thigh to convulse slightly beneath the table. I sensed a lingering gaze searing my skull, sifting through my thoughts. I did not dare meet Loki's eye, in fear that I would lose myself to him right in front of everyone present.

"... Wouldn't you agree, child?" The Allfather's voice startled me out of my trance. I panicked, mouth opening to answer but found myself unable to utter a word.

"It would be my pleasure to keep her company." Loki said in an obliged manner as he made sure only I alone knew what dark implications hid beneath his tone. 

"Yes, quite right, Father," agreed the elder prince obliviously after a hearty gulp of wine. "Loki shall show her around the palace until she is fully accustomed to her surroundings." 

The younger prince's icy palm came to rest on my knee, sending a surprising and terrifying jolt through my legs and lower body. The more he caressed me with his finger tips of ice, the more my skin grew hot, goosebumps forming quickly from fear.

Remaining unnoticed from the others at the table, I kept one hand feeding myself with a silver fork, the other cautiously reaching down to my knee. I brushed the wandering hand off of my leg, lips forming a thin line - only to find long fingers tightening immediately round my wrist as his thumb brushed intimately over my racing pulse. 

Suddenly the room seemed akin to an inescapable furnace, my heart racing at inhuman speed as the color once again drained from my face like a faded portrait. My grip loosened on my fork, and I winced at the piercing clang of silverware on porcelain. All movement ceased. All eyes turned toward me. A quivering saline bead trickled down my temple, painting a gleaming strip in its trail. Frightened and exhilarated at the same time, I cleared my throat, refusing to meet the eyes of Thor and his parents.

"Apologies, Allfather, Allmother." I stumbled from my seat, forcefully freeing my wrist from the vice-like grip beneath the table. "I have been struck with a ferocious headache."

Thor's features contorted into an expression of immense worry. He stood, catching me in his rippling arms before I could fall to the ground. His arms engulfing me made me feel safe and protected, his kind eyes gentle and affectionate.

"I shall take her to my chambers," said Thor, effortlessly sweeping my limp frame into a bridal carry. 

Loki stood as well and stepped in front of Thor, blocking his path. "Brother, you must stay and break your fast. I shall return her to her bedchamber where she may rest most comfortably."

The Thunderer looked from my half-lidded eyes to his brother's, convinced by Loki's masterful act. He sent me hesitantly into Loki's lean but powerful arms, looking his brother in the eye.

"Care for her well. I shall visit pay visit tonight."

Loki smiled, arms tightening around me. "Rest assured, Thor. You wife is in safe hands."

Chapter Text

The comforting brush of cold sheets did much to soothe my pounding heart and frenzied mind as I was laid delicately onto a bed of white. The rush of cold air filling the room in Loki's austere presence left the hairs on my bare skin tingling as I opened my eyes. The room appeared an interesting mesh of cream and vermilion - one that reverted to the familiar surroundings of my chamber once my vision cleared. The sinking feeling of cerulean eyes burning through the back of my head caused me to gulp in a mix of fear, and strangely, anticipation. Taking in a sharp breath, I turned my head slowly to face him.

We gazed into each other's eyes, relishing in the rare moment of being able to see each other in the light of a lover. In those moments when his eyes would meet mine, the world would seem to blur into nothingness; an empty void which only served to compliment his crippling beauty.

Eyes trained on my own, he took a seat on the edge of the bed, pale hand slowly creeping to rest on mine. My heart was sent aflutter as I entwined my fingers eagerly with his.

"You're beautiful," he whispered, eyes filled with affection. 

I loathed it. How the mere thought of his touch sent me weak in the knees. How I would commit any crime without second thought just to be in his presence, even if at the time I had convinced myself that what he felt for me was nowhere near the magnitude of my feelings for him, but a mere infatuation that would fade with time.

How he was an unobtainable lover, on which the fault of his demise would fall on me if our affair ever came to light.

My eyes were trained on his. At that moment, I wondered if his heart had ever been broken; I had to be cruel. Heartless. Colder than the vast, icy plains of Jotunheim.

Exhaling sharply, I retracted my hand from his. "Thank you, Prince Loki."

He flinched at the sudden dullness of my expression, brow furrowing in confusion as he spoke my name in question. Oh, that sweet, sweet sound - the vivid memory of my name rolling off his tongue in a husky moan flooded my ears, enveloping me in insatiable desire once more.

"You may now leave me to my rest. Your help is no longer required."

He seemed taken aback by my curtness, hand moving to touch my face. I turned my head sharply, not allowing his fingers to brush my cheek in the way that I so desperately needed him to.

"My love," he asked in such innocent confusion that it pained me, "why are you acting this way?"

Sorrow tasted bitter on my tongue as I caged my tears through gritted teeth. I knew that I could not meet his eyes no matter how much I pined to look upon him, in fear that the seduction of the unattainable prospect of a good future with him would get the better of me.

The warm moisture of my tongue felt hot against my dry lips, soothing the cracks in flaked skin and conscience.

He stared at me in disbelief. I made no response, forcing myself to focus on the intricate floral patterns woven into the silk mattress. But all the beauty the Nine Realms could offer would never compare to the mystical allure of Loki's being - a flame. I imagined his cold eyes narrowing in anger, and my stomach twisted in guilt.

"Look at me," he spoke calmly, though anyone could tell he was anything but calm. I kept silent, afraid of the impending wrath I was aware I had brought upon myself. I prayed silently that he would never hurt me. "Look at me." He hissed through his teeth this time, roughly grabbing my chin to face him as I cried out in terror. I had never thought myself to be afraid of him because of his Jotun heritage, but the sight of his strange other form struck fear into the deepest depths or my heart. I was met with flaming orbs which held the undying passion of glowing cerise, yet served as a furnace in which the golden fires of rage, sadness and betrayal danced. The blue of the deepest ocean made his complexion, swirling in eerie yet beautiful patterns along his features.

"Why?" he whispered, fists clenched till his knuckles turned white. It was more of an agonized gasp; a product of the pain that I was causing him. His steely hold on me grew numbing as moments passed, dangerously. A calming indigo replaced fiery crimson as Loki closed his eyes, breathing heavily. His breaths turned ragged with hurt, tears stinging at his eyes, which were glazed with despair. In a hoarse, broken whisper, he asked me a question that made my heart catch in my throat.

"Do you love him?"

All thoughts in my mind ceased as I stared in disbelief and incredulity, eyes gleaming with burning sorrow. All worry in my mind had been displaced by the pain I felt from these words. Pain, like a thousand daggers piercing the fragility of my soul.

I had given Loki my heart, mind and body, everything I held dear; every last part of me belonged to him - and he dared accuse me of loving his brother?

Slowly the heartache faded; a cold, hollow anger taking its place. My gaze hardened upon the man I loved, defiance evident in their depths. Unsatisfied with my silence, Loki's expression darkened into a frightening mask of fury.

"I said," he roared, his hand violently diving through my locks, pulling at my hair, "do you love him?!

His raging stare landed on the flower in my disheveled hair - the only thing that remained beautiful in this painful, ugly scene. Nostrils flaring, I watched in horror and strange intrigue at the currents that continued to weave themselves onto his cobalt skin. Only the fearful wrath in his voice prevented me from reaching out to touch those patterns.

"Did he give you this?"

"... Yes!"

"Did you let him bed you?!"

"No! Please, no-"

"Liar!"

Thor's rose was yanked from the tangles atop my head and thrown to the ground in jealous rage. I cried out, pleading for him to release me. Loki's breaths were heavy, as were mine. The room grew colder by the second, and I could feel a light wind on my face. I looked at him solemnly, an eternity passing before breaking out in mirthless laughter, causing him to search my eyes in confusion, fury disappearing in an instant.

The laughter died down, and all that was left of me was the shell of a person I was tired of being. "I thought-" I tasted salt on my lips, cheek stained with emotions. "You said you loved me."

Loki cocked his head, still not understanding my meaning. 

"I gave you my heart and soul." My voice dropped to a low whimper. "I gave you my maidenhead, my... love - all that I had now belongs to you. And still you ask me if I am in love with Thor?!"

Loki watched as I took his hand and pressed it against my chest. I shuddered as the feel of fingertips, cool as marble, brushed over my collarbone. "Do you hear that?" I sneered, mimicking what he had asked me that unforgettable night. "The shattering of a heart, the destruction caused by you alone."

"I don't understand-" 

"I dared to hope that you actually loved me like you said you did." I brushed my lips softly against his trembling hand, resting my face against its smooth back. "But you lied. Which proves an easy feat for you, 'God of Lies'."

Loki growled in frustration, shaking me roughly by the shoulders. But I felt empty. "What in Odin's name are you talking about, you wench?!"

I let out a short, humorless laugh. "I thought I was in love with a man who loved me as well," I hissed against his ear, making sure he heard every damn word. "But now I know that I am nothing more than a toy you stole from your brave, strong big brother to prove to the world - no, yourself that you are more than just your brother's shadow."

His nostrils flared angrily, and even then he maintained the majestic aura of a jade dragon. 

"How dare you-"

"All you wanted was to claim something of his for your own. You couldn't bear the thought of him having yet another cause for happiness, and so you acted out of raging jealousy!"

"I did not-"

"You took advantage of me." I cried, pushing him off the bed with all the remaining strength I possessed. He fell back, too shocked to resist the weak attack. "I was intoxicated and you knew it!"

He clamored back onto the bed, opening his mouth to speak but was silenced at my placing my hands on either side of his face. I inched my face closer, and closer, until my lips hovered closely above his, almost touching them. The smell of fresh snow and raw hunger clouded my senses, dizzied me, but I had to stand my ground. I bit my lip, fully aware of the gravity of the lie I was about to tell.

"You seduced me in a fit of childish jealousy, and I refuse to be a part of this disgusting affair."

"Why?" Loki sneered, shifting back into his striking Asgardian form as he pulled me closer with a forceful hand on my waist. "Does thinking of what I did to you that night, the filthy things I made you scream and beg, bring you disgust?"

"Yes." 

 

A single word.

 

A cruel answer.

 

Unwavering.

 

Unfeeling.

 

He seemed shocked at the haste of my answer, as did I. The need to assure myself over and over again that this was for the safety and wellbeing of Loki was strong while I prayed he would somehow know that none of the barbs I was about to spit at him held any truth.

"Every time your filthy hands roamed my body, every time your lips burned my mouth, every time you entered me, your jaw slack as a drunken lord, I was revolted to the core."

"You whore," he spat, though I could hear the pain behind the feigned menace. I gasped as my neck was entrapped in his vice-like grip, the air sucked out of my lungs in a single moment. I was growing faint, but the determination to break his heart and end this once and for all was greater than my psychical suffering.

Gasping for air, I managed to choke out, "do you.. want... to know... why?"

Loki's hold loosened, as if hearing the cause behind my cruel words would be the death of him. He was shaking. I was trembling in fear and gasping for air as he continued to strangle me. But for him, I wouldn't show it. Because for him, I would do anything - and right at this moment, I had to do everything.

I spat, quietly, uglily into his face, "every time.. you whispered in my ear.. that you loved me... I imagined you... to be my husband... I imagined... him making love to me while... you were!"

The walls pounded upon receiving the crashing impact of a glass vase, books, candelabras and other fragile items flung against them by an invisible force, followed by a deafening silence to balance the numbing volume. The angry flame roared and cackled in the fireplace, emitting a sweltering heat into the chamber before dying down to nothing but a grey wisp of smoke. The room grew silent once more. The prince let me go, and I turned sharply away from him.

Afraid to meet the burning agony in his eyes, I said quietly, "leave me be, Prince Loki. Please, for your sake and mine."

With hollow eyes he nodded, staring into nothing for what seemed like an eternity. 

Then I felt a weight lift from the other side of the bed, soulless footsteps echoing in the back of my mind, growing fainter with each step. Immediately the room grew cold as winter and my heart, emptier still.

He was gone.

I closed my eyes gravely, slipping into a sleep where I was haunted by all the ghosts of my sins, rendering me restless.

Chapter Text

A faint whisper echoed through my ears, warm breath soft against the side of my face. My eyes fluttered open when the unintelligible sound cleared into an affectionate call for my name. The earthy scent of musk and ale went to my head, comforting me and dulling the melancholy thoughts that sunk my heart heavy. Burying my face into his broad chest, I inhaled the familiar scent generously, lips curling into a small smile as golden tendrils fell softly onto my face.

"Thor."

"My love," he mumbled, hand coming to rest on my forehead. It was large and calloused from battle, warm upon my troubled mind. "Your servants made to invite you for dinner in the Great Hall, but came to me when they saw you in your slumber. You have been asleep since this morning. Are you still unwell?"

"No, I-I am well." I glanced at his unconvinced expression with pity. "You did not have to leave your feast to see me, My Lord."

"Nonsense," the prince replied, kissing my cheek tenderly. "You are my wife, and I do not sit and do nothing when my wife is feeling ill."

I laughed at his thoughtfulness, touched by how his eyes of pleasant azure brightened when he was successful in coaxing a smile from me. Just as before, gleaming tears of joy spilled uncontrollably from my eyes.

Thor's smile fell immediately into a horrified frown as he brushed away my tears. "My darling, are you in pain? Should I send for the healers? What has upset you? Have I -"

He was interrupted by my lips falling on his, engulfing them in an affectionate kiss. Surprised by my actions, he stiffened, but took little time to reciprocate this intimate act. I pulled away, blushing intensely as he chuckled.

I needed to bring us closer, ease the bond between man and wife, in order to forget about the ugly deeds I had done against my oblivious husband. Fleeting memories of Loki's passionate, needy touches flashed across my eyes in a garish blur, swarming my head and heart with guilt yet again. My heart ached to see those green eyes hold the same tenderness towards me as Thor held in his, if it were the last thing I would see before leaving this life.

Suddenly, my back hit the plush white mattress with a thud. Surprised, I met Thor's cyan eyes and was startled to see that his concerned and loving gaze had turned into one of pure desire. Without hesitation he claimed my mouth, tongue swiping across my lower lip in one sensual, fluid movement, no longer holding back. I granted him access, caressing his muscular chest that bulged through the thin fabric of his crimson shirt while he ran his hands over my sides, gentle palms coming to rest on my breasts. The kiss grew hot and lust-filled, and I began to tug at the hem of his shirt in my haze of uncontrollable want.

I felt a firm hand on mine, bringing our flustered act to a halt. "Are you truly ready for this, my love?"

Time slowed, my heart pounding in my ears as I reflected upon my answer. But by then, I had already decided. I had a duty to fulfill, and I would not let one single mistake alter the lives of the people I loved.

"Yes."

 

 

 

Zephyr caressed the study in the middle of a cool night in contrast to the blistering, blazen fire burning earnestly in the hearth. I wrapped my arms lovingly around the broad frame of my husband, who was seated in a grand armchair lined with gold and scarlet thread. A crooked smile became his handsome features as he pulled me into his lap, silencing my squeals with a king's handful of kisses. He sighed contentedly with me in his embrace, then returned to his letters. "The King and Queen of Alfheim are expected to pay greetings to the future queen of Asgard on the morrow."

"It has been two months," I leaned over to kiss Thor's cheek, "have they only just been informed of the marriage?"

"Aye, they have been busy with the matters of the realm. The rulers of Vanaheim have yet to agree to their peace treaty."

"Do they mean to propose the possibility of an alliance?"

"They are known to be the most peaceful realms in all of Yggdrasil, though not lacking in political influence. The motive behind this proposal remains a closely-guarded secret."

"Will you ask them to shed light on the matter once they arrive?"

"That is, of course, necessary," he answered, stressed, "though I know not how. They are not easy to persuade."

I sank into deep thought. The rulers of Alfheim were said to be reasonable folk. My eyes came alight with the appearance of an idea. "Why not have the servants prepare goblets of the finest Asgardian silver and napkins of light blue, to appeal to the divinity of the Light Elves?"

Thor inclined his head in peaked interest. "Do you suggest the use of flattery?"

I nodded. "My Lord, if I may," I inclined my head politely. "It would be wise to gain their trust before introducing the subject of the treaty into the conversation."

Thor gave me a look of admiration and shook his head, as if he could not believe his eyes. "My sweet, that is a grand proposal... but, I shall have to speak to my father if we are to discuss the use of proverbial arse-kissing."

Giggles erupted from the top of my lungs as I slapped his arm playfully, enjoying the warm hum of Thor's rumbling laughter bounding off of the walls. I loved the way the sides of his twinkling eyes crinkled with joy, similar to that of a blessed child. He pulled me into a short kiss, making sure to rub his beard into the sensitive skin of my cheek in an attempt to annoy me.

"But, Thor, my darling, I do not jest!" I insisted as our laughter died down, "it may be that a warm welcome and idle chatter is the key to our success!"

"That is indeed a clever thought..." the crown prince made a mock gesture of deep contemplation, "but I'll be damned if I have to kiss the boots of these petty tree-huggers."

I gasped, though I was unable to control the smile creeping onto my lips. "Must you be so stubborn?"

"You know you love me for it."

He kissed me again, more ardently this time, but did not see my smile fade as he pulled away.

 

 

 

The King and Queen of Alfheim were akin to celestial beings in appearance and the way they seemed to glide effortlessly across the marble halls without making a sound. With skin of ivory and flowing silver locks, they emitted a soft glow that caused all eyes upon them to stay strained on the mirage of fairness and purity that were the rulers of the Light Elves. They were both an elegant height, their figures slender and gracefully sculpted, as were the refined ears that curved gently at their pointed shells. Their robes were of a lavish cream, golden roses embroidered into the fabric from the body to the far silk trail behind them. A vision of majesticity, they each bore a crown of glossed leaves and elderberries - an expression of great wisdom and long life.

When speaking with them I found that they appeared intimidating at first, but had a fragility to them as the gentle wisp of their tone flitted past our ears in greeting.

"So this is the future queen," the Elvenking stated, an air of approval in his speech that made me warm with pride. "She is beautiful - and does not lack intelligence, I sense."

"Your Majesty is too kind." I bowed respectfully, marveling at the swirling embroidery of their robes that were even more entrancing upon closer inspection. I watched as the Queen of Alfheim glided over to greet my husband, her radiant smile never faltering.

"The realm of Alfheim is elated at the news of your marriage, Thor Odinson."

"As is the whole of Asgard at your visit, My Queen." answered Thor, directing a mischievous wink at me over her milky shoulder. It took me great effort not to unleash a fit of giggles in the sacred presence of a Light Elf.

Even from where we were seated across the stretching oak table, the distinct scent of lavender and sun-bathed woodlands did not escape me.

As lush greens were served to our guests on silver platters, Thor notably wrinkled his nose in distaste at the plain vegetables placed before him, while the features of the elves brightened in delight and appreciation.

"Oh, King Odin, you are ever thoughtful."

Odin grinned. "'Twas not I who arranged for your stay, but my good son and his wife."

I wore an obliged smile. "We have always been fond of the healthful prospect of a vegetarian meal, and what better time to host it than the arrival of Your Majesties?"

The Queen beamed gratefully. "Your generosity is overwhelming, my dear," she said, eyes raking the entirety of the dining hall, "but where, might I ask, is the younger prince?"

"The frost giant, you mean." stated the King with distaste, features contorting bitterly. His wife stared at him in shock and anger; emotions that took away from her beauty.

"This is unacceptable - how many times have I told you not be uncivil towards Prince Loki because of his heritage?!"

"I'll not sit at the same table as a Jotun!"

My insides churned with anger at the ignorance of the Elf King, knuckles turning white as I balled my fists beneath the table. There existed a rage within me that I could not understand - one that gave me the desire to pounce upon him and shout to the world that Loki was the most beautiful being in all of Yggdrasil.

Queen Frigga looked as pained as I to hear her son be the cause for such disgruntlement, and would've succeeded in explaining that Loki would be down soon, were it not for the utter ruckus the old married couple had orchestrated. Before further barbs could be hurled at the name of my prince, I stood. Furious expression was replaced with saccharine smile. 

"I believe that Prince Loki will be arriving shortly. Let us not be interrupted by his tardiness."

Frigga sent me a disapproving but appreciative look, as if she knew that I had told them what they wanted to hear. I returned to my seated position, calmed by the sudden silence that filled the room. I glanced to the left, meeting a deep blue stare of adoration.

"You handle matters well, my light." he murmured, eyes trained on my lips. I hardly had any time to register what was happening before he kissed me in the presence of the four rulers. His lips felt soft, the sweet taste of mulled wine finding my tongue as our eyes fluttered shut.

"Apologies for my lateness, Your Majesties."

I pulled away abruptly, nearly choking at the unmistakable voice that had penetrated the air. I turned and saw none other than Loki, imposing and charming as the night I had met him. Embraced by gold and green attire, the vivid Light Elves almost drained in comparison to the captivating viridescent spectacle of his being.

But despite the polite smile fixed across his refined features, his glaucous eyes were pained and tired, complexion a sickly alabaster upon entering the room.

This was the first time I had seen him since the bitter event of two months before, where I had hurt him beyond repair. If only he knew that it was for his own sake.

He took the seat furthest away from his brother and I, next to the Queen of Alfheim.

Thor bore a mighty grin. "Ah, brother, how lovely of you to finally join us."

"I could not bear the thought of being absent during His and Her Majesties' stay," Loki replied smoothly. Only I could hear the underlying tension in his tone, or see the way his lips pressed into a thin line as he gazed upon my husband.

The sight of my love breaking his fast mere meters out of my reach was almost unbearable, and even more so when I saw him meet my eyes for a split second before sharply glancing away. I missed the way he pressed me tight against his chest, feeling our hearts beat together as one. I missed his cool lips upon mine with all the passion and tenderness in the world, the exhilarating tang of icy lakes and fresh mint lost within mingled breaths. I ached for his embrace, his palm against my cheek and sweet whispers in my ear.

I wanted everything and nothing.

 

The meal continued smoothly without interruption. Gradually, Thor had introduced the subject of Alfheim's treaty with Vanaheim into casual conversation, following our careful plans. He was not quite so cautious in some areas, almost revealing the true intentions for his prodding at one point, but Loki always made sure to sway their attention with his experienced tongue, and the elves appeared to gloss over it.

We discovered that an elf visiting Nidavellir had been tragically slain by an unknown attacker in her own chambers, thus causing panic and uproar in the realms of the Vanir and the Light Elves. Since the people of Nidavellir were struck by grief, unable to take part in the investigation, the council of Alfheim decided to take action, asking the involvement of Vanaheim's high powers to seek the enemy.

"We did not plan to inform the Aesir of this, in fear of bringing down joyful spirits in the wake of the new marriage."

Odin looked ahead with a grave expression. "It was wise of you to seek our help in times of such tragedy. We shall aid your search for this merciless perpetrator."

As Odin, Frigga and the elves continued to discuss further plans, something strange about the Elvenqueen's wine maiden caught my eye. Her face was lowered, servant's cap pulled tightly over her eyes so that no man could gaze upon them. As she poured the dark red liquid into the Elf Queen's crystal goblet, I noticed an odd dust staining her attire that followed her despite the wind blowing in the other direction.

Then, I saw it.

Sunlight... reflected off of a cold, glinting blade, tucked into the belt of her apron.

Without hesitation I stood, chair knocked to the floor as I ran to the Elf Queen's side. Never had I felt such coiling trepidation turn to heated panic course through my veins. Every step I took gave the assassin more time to pull out the knife, as she had surely realized by now that I was aware of her malicious intentions.

I cursed my satin gown for weighing me down as I ran as fast as my legs could carry me, aware that a single second slowed could cost the life of the Queen of Alfheim. It was only a short distance, but at that moment it felt nothing short of a mile.

 

The knife was out, but I had already tackled her to the ground. I smiled in relief, but no one in the hall had time to react before a sharp blade sliced through my abdomen.

I fell to my side and she climbed above me, eyes of pure coal gleaming with twisted enjoyment as she brought the knife down into my stomach once more, creating a bloodied gash that bled my gown a deeper shade of scarlet. I sputtered, crimson droplets spilling from my mouth as nothing but pain burned through me.

My relentless attacker was pushed off of my limp frame and I sucked in a breath, only to cough and wince at the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I heard numerous voices scream my name - none were recognizable to me except one.

Emerald orbs and raven hair flashed before me in a blurring mural as I felt something drain from my body. I felt a cool hand upon my face and another pressed firmly onto my gaping wounds.

"No!" he gasped hoarsely, as if he wept for me. "No, please... my darling, no, not like this, never like this!"

 

My vision soon faded, and I fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

Here's another link to the video except it actually works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Gp4onvhv4o

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the beautiful sensation of a familiar cool breath upon my lips that prompts me to call out for him.

 

Loki...

 

The warmth of his embrace that ignites untold desires within my soul, bursting with cries of my undying love for him, like the heat of a thousand suns against the icy reaches of his reciprocated devotion.

 

Loki...

 

Shameless promises exchanged beneath a clandestine, moonlit sky - shackled vows never to be broken.

 

Loki...

 

Those notorious eyes of green; saturated dewdrops upon the aftermath of sweet rainfall.

 

Loki...

 

Oh, peaceful thief of my heart...

 

"Loki..."

 

Steal me far away.

 

"Loki-"

 

I awoke with a jolt, beaded sweat flowing down my sore temples as I cried out at the stinging, intense pain in my abdomen caused by my sudden movement. The sharp sensation wrung my insides for a few tender moments, fading into a tolerable numbness as I felt a strong hand press me back down onto the bed. My eyelids peeled open slowly, assessing the comforting scene of velvet drapes and luminescent candles that made the healer's ward. A mild pine incense drifted around the room, gently gliding upon my glistening skin in a cooling touch.

"Be still, Your Highness," said a chastising voice to my left, "or you will open the wounds again."

The healer tending to my wounds had a fair face with a golden head of hair and cheeks flushed with honey. I lifted the warm, beige quilt that covered my injured body to look upon my wounds, which had surprisingly sealed up with darkly caked scabs around each opening over the course of a few hours. The flesh surrounding the two stab wounds held a pinkish hue that felt tender to the touch, but showed the remarkable work of the healer, who, at that moment, was applying a fresh ointment of soothing herbs onto the injuries with slender fingers.

"Thank you..." I hummed in gratitude as the oil was spread across my burning skin in soft swirling motions. 

"You're welcome, Your Highness."

"Pray tell, what is your name, good healer?"

"My name is Bergdis," she answered with a strange stiffness in her tone - a confusing contrast to her initial welcoming expression. "I work under the teachings of Eir, the royal physician."

"Eir's skill shines through in your swift hand, Bergdis. It is thanks to you that I may live to see another day." 

She answered with a smile, though her voice held no appreciation at my praise. "Your Highness is too kind."

My eyes averted to the closed oak doors that kept the ward deathly silent. The white shift I had been changed into hung loosely over my shoulders and straight to my naked ankles, allowing cool air to travel beneath and dance along the fine hairs on my skin. 

"Where is Thor?" I asked casually. I had expected to see him by my side, as he always was whenever I awoke from sleep. His vivid cobalt eyes and victor's grin made for warm and pleasant motivation to see him.

Bergdis' rosy lips fell quickly into a frown. "How strange it is," she mused cautiously, "that you appear to desire your husband, yet the name that falls from your lips in your sleep is that of another man."

Inevitable dread loomed in the very pits of my stomach. All I felt was fear - a cold, coiling fear that engulfed me like a slowly grasping hand waiting to drag me into the endless depths of complete and utter darkness, where everything I had feared would become a horrific reality. 

I swallowed deeply, eyes hardening as all the signs of health left my face. "... I beg your pardon?"

"And Prince Thor's own brother-!" her brows furrowed in a mixture of horror and sadistic amusement, much to my anger and humiliation. "Who in all of Yggdrasil would have thought!"

"This means nothing." I spat, my eyes narrowed to slits at this lowly healer, "I am the wife of Thor Odinson. I am to be queen of this realm, the realm you live in. So you heard another name slip from my lips, what of thatNo one will take note of what a single healer such as yourself claims to have heard the Queen utter deliriously in her sleep! Furthermore, what proof do you have? What 'crucial piece of evidence' shall you present before the Allfather to have me damned to Hel, and stripped of my position? Is that what you wish? Or do you wish to have your throat slit in your sleep, and your kin gutted in theirs?!"

My lips curled into a satisfied grin at the look of unadulterated fear woven into her features. Never before had I used my power in this regard - not until I realized at that very moment that I could.

But my words were all for naught when Bergdis revealed the hold that she had on me, and it was my turn to feel the unyielding clutches of fear snapping at my heels. 

"I beg of you, Your Highness, it is not my intention to seek trouble! Please leave my family be! They had no part in this."

Bergdis gulped and removed her hands from my exposed abdomen. I noticed that they trembled slightly from barely-suppressed anxiety.

"Do not think that I don't still possess the power to crush you, fox." I trusted my voice not to waver, maintaining the steel that kept it strong and threatening.

"Please," she sighed, almost pleadingly. "I mean to tell you... that you were fortunate to have survived the attack - but your child was not."

This sudden revelation made me pause in my actions, rendering me unable to generate an answer, nor think of anything but the horrid news I had just learned. 

I had a child?

My hand came to hover over my belly. 

"It was killed due to the rapid blood loss you suffered when you were stabbed, Your Highness. While Eir and a number of other healers were tending to the injuries of the Elf King that he'd sustained when protecting his wife, I did the best that I could alone to save your child - but it was too weak, having been conceived only two months prior. There was nothing more that could have been done."

My eyes fluttered shut as a rush of immense sadness washed over me. I turned my head to the side, away from Bergdis as I wept into the pillow, hoping that it muffled my racked sobs. Fresh tears brimmed at my eyes at the painful realization that I had lost a baby. My baby. A life that I hadn't even been aware had started to grow within me. My very own son. I did not care at that point if anyone saw me weep, for at that moment, I was struck with the most excruciating despair. My lips were parted, quivering as my body shook in grief, yet no cries came from them. Just silent screams holding the multitude of a mother's loss as I held myself in this time of tragedy. 

It seemed to last for hours and hours until my sobs quietened, my outburst of emotion fading into a painful calm. 

"Has Thor been told?" I asked, cringing at the harsh, broken sound of my weakened voice. My lips were dry and salted from the tears I had shed for my lost son.

"No, Your Highness."

I raised my brow in question and anger. "And why is that?! It's his son! He must know!" With heaving breaths, I began to cry again, unable to control my tears in the wake of such happenings. 

"Your Highness..." she paused, pursing her lips in agitation, "I specialize in childbirth and fertility, giving me the ability to sense certain life forces when a child is born. You see, Your Highness, I placed my hand upon your womb and sensed that your son..."

"Spit it out!" I cried, annoyed at her hesitance. Bergdis cast her eyes to the floor in fear.

"I could sense that the child... had not a single drop of Asgardian blood coursing through its veins."

 

No.

 

No, no, no, no no no!

 

Not his child!

 

Not Loki's son!

 

Bile rose in my throat and I leaned over the bed, numbly emptying the mashed contents of my stomach onto the cold marble floor below. I smelt foul and reeked of blood and tears, but I clambered back onto the bed without any thought of the mess I made, being too consumed in an almost maddening despair.

I knew that it was beyond cruel of me to have thought this; I was grateful for Thor's kindness and care in our marriage, but I was in love with his brother, and that made me mourn the child the latter had fathered a thousand times more.

I was a horrible, horrible woman.

Maybe this was the will of the gods - those who judged me so righteously and had condemned me to spend my days in misery for my unspeakable crimes against the son of Odin.

But I couldn't help it; I simply could not control the tears that stained the once pristine sheets as I struck the bedpost in agony, numb to the impact of my knuckles against hard mahogany. I was almost completely spent after that, and could only lay there in a limp and motionless mess of exhaustion and harrowing sadness. I felt my chest tighten and my lungs clench as all the breath was sucked from them in my immense tiredness.

"Your Highness?" said Bergdis in a nervous whisper, voice wavering when I turned to her with a deadly glare.

"Who else knows about this?" I asked.

"N-none but I, Your Highness."

My eyes narrowed at the yelp she gave when I enclosed her arm in a steely grip. "No one can know."

"Your Highness, please! Do as I ask, a-and I'll not tell a s-soul-"

"Do you dare threaten meyour future queen?! Do you forget that I could order my guards to plunge a sword into your heart right here, right at this very moment?"

Once again, the look of fear in her pathetic little eyes gave me the smallest satisfaction. I could not believe the audacity of her words, but was interested nonetheless in knowing what I had to do in order for her to keep this secret.

"N-never, Your Majesty!" she cried, falling to the floor. "I beseech you, please, help me! My mother is ill, and will not survive another night in this sweltering Asgardian weather. She is in the city, and none of the royal physicians may tend to her!"

I gazed at the weeping healer in confusion. "And why is that?" 

Bergdis composed herself, sniffling shortly into her sleeve. "My mother's illness is strange, and may only be healed using ancient spells and foreign herbs which far surpass the skills of even Eir, if they are to be used effectively."

"Why come to me for help? Why not simply beg the Allmother to supply you with the scriptures you need?"

The healer licked her lips in anxiety and glanced at me timidly. "Word has it that a master of dark magic hides in the city, selling spells for large amounts of Asgardian coin. He can cure my mother, I know he can! Though I have not the riches for his remedies," she clambered onto the bed and grasped my hands, "but you do, Your Highness! Please, save my mother!"

"A dark sorcerer? In Asgard?" I yanked my arms away from her weak hold. "Now I know the reason behind your hesitance to seek the Queen's help - dark magic is forbidden in this realm!"

"He is my only hope!" cried Bergdis, limply grasping my struggling arm. "You are my last hope! Please, Your Highness, save my mother! All I need is your word that I may take what I please from your coffers, and no one will ever know of the half Jotun-born child!"

A grunt of pain escaped my lips as one of the closed wounds tore open yet again when I moved to strike the insolent healer. I yelled at her that it was forbidden and I would not betray my King, but she was relentless.

Scrambling back to my blood-soaked bedside, eyes filled with pathetic hope, Bergdis whispered: "Please, mistress. Please help me, or no one will."

From the sadness in her eyes I could gather that this was the last of her begging, as she grew as exhausted as I. I wanted so badly not to help her, and yet-

In my mind came the serene face of Loki as he caressed my cheek with gentle hands - hands that would be in chains should our secret be exposed, never to fall gently on my face in a tender touch again. I thought of his mischievous verdant orbs from which their gaze had the power to make me obey his every command; eyes never to train so affectionately on mine again should he be imprisoned. And his lips... so cold yet so passionate, as precious as winter rainfall, and unforgettable as the divine taste of menthol in the aftermath of a kiss. I could taste him and feel him on my skin at the mere thought of the raven-haired prince.

And so, I could not risk losing him.

"Bergdis," I muttered reluctantly, "for the sake of Loki and for the sake of Thor, I grant you riches from my personal coffers to purchase the aid of this dark sorcerer-"

"Oh, bless you, Your Highness," she cried emotionally into my sleeve. "Bless you to Valhalla and back! Thank you, oh, thank you!"

"Get your traitor's hands off of my wounds."

"Oh, Your Highness, I am sorry!" Bergdis moved quickly to peel away my bloodied shift and repair the damage that our dispute had created. The herbal ointment stung torturously upon first contact, but soothed when she started to utter spells of healing under her breath, closing the torn wound.

"Where is Thor?" I asked as she wrapped my torso in a firm, cream bandage.

"The prince is in the Council, interrogating the dark elf prisoner."

"A dark elf?" I asked incredulously.

"Aye, Your Highness, 'twas a dark elf who attacked your person."

"Well, what do they want?"

"I do not burden myself with the matters of the realm, Your Highness. Perhaps Prince Thor will enlighten you when he visits in the morning-"

"-And Loki?"

My smile fell as I registered the words that had mindlessly slipped from my lips, revealing my carelessness in a haze of worry for the younger prince. Bergdis stiffened notably, but carried on with tending to the stab wounds that marked my abdomen in two large gashes.

"Prince Loki has been in his chambers since the events of this morning," she finally answered, visibly choosing her words, "we as servants of the kingdom do not mean to gossip, but... his chambermaids have informed me of his disoriented state."

Worry clutched at my heart as I felt an aching concern resonate from within me. "Is- is he well?"

"I do not know, Your Highness. But I am sure that he will be relieved of the news that you are well."

I scoffed, tone turning bitter. "I am not 'well'."

Bergdis was silent.

When she had changed me into fresh garments and cleaned the bloodied bed, I granted her permission to take as she wished from the small chests placed beneath my vanity. I watched reluctantly as she hoarded gold coins, wares of pearl and the finest Asgardian gems that had been gifted to me by my husband and officials of neighboring realms. I was surprised by the wealth I had accumulated over the first few months of my marriage.

Bergdis looked at me apologetically one final time before leaving for the city.

 

 

 

My servants assisted me in moving back to my own chambers where I would rest more comfortably, and it wasn't long before Thor came to inquire upon my recovery. He had returned from the meeting, hastily rushing to my side a few moments after I had awoken from sleep yet again... several hours after Bergdis had left with a portion of my wealth. My husband smelled of frustration and anger, sweat glistening on his skin as fury pulsated from within him in the bulging veins that wove along his neck and arms. No sooner had I turned to meet his gaze did I feel a large, warm hand on my forehead.

"My precious wife," he spoke, placing a relieved kiss on my cheek, "how do you fare?"

"Now that you're here, my Thunderer," I chuckled into his chest, "I have never been better."

I was treated to a hearty laugh that bounded charmingly off the walls as Thor pulled me flush against his broad, armored chest. Endless giggles were coaxed from me in the midst of kisses that were peppered onto my face, neck and temples. When it was over, his smile faded and he cupped my face in his hands, brushing the stray hairs from my eyes.

"The attacker was interrogated today." His expression turned bitter, as if something foul lay on his tongue. "The creature was a dark elf. One of many, sent to eliminate the Light Elf rulers and all who stand in their path of seizing control over Alfheim by force."

"I was not aware that elves still lived in the Dark World!" I gasped disbelievingly. "But why are the elves of Svartalfheim interested in taking over Alfheim?"

"It has been a silent realm ever since The First Battle of Svartalfheim, where the Asgardians emerged victorious, knee-deep in Dark Elf blood. The remaining few must be leading a revolt in attempts to take the next, most unsuspecting realm."

"How dreadful."

"Dreadful indeed, my love." The golden-haired prince exhaled deeply, eyelids fluttering to a close. "There was a time when I could not care less about such matters. When I could down barrel after barrel of mead without consequence, and take as many maidens to my bed as I wished without shame... though none with as fair a face and heart as you," he added quickly, making me laugh. "Such were the days of my youth, some hundred years ago. I used to wish for battle, so that I might feel the thrill of smashing the skulls of my enemies, the strength of Mjolnir resonating with power from my lone arm. But now," he hung his head tiredly, "now, I wish for nothing but peace - eternal peace and happiness for myself and those I hold most dear."

Thor captured my lips in a tender kiss, cradling the back of my neck as I pressed a palm against his breastplate. The pleasant tang of wine and maturity remained on my lips from the fruits of his affection.

"Soon I shall be king, and you, my queen. Together, we will make sure that the people of Asgard live out their days without doubt that we will protect them."

"Yes, My Lord."

He kissed me again before rising from my bedside. "I want nothing more than to stay with you, my darling. But I must go. Father wishes to see me ab-"

"-It's alright, Thor." I laughed, wincing inwardly at the pain that came with it, but was careful to hide my discomfort. "Attend to your duties. I'll be fine."

With a final kiss to my temple, he disappeared from my chambers and into the hallway.

I fell back into a slumber, where my mind was blanketed in dreams of a dark-maned mare galloping amongst a field of green snakes.

 

 

 

The halls were silent as he stalked toward the room just mere footsteps from where he so quietly continued. He could hear his conscience pleading with him not to advance any further, yet his heart beckoned him forward like a siren to a weak-willed sailor. His head was clouded and his steps grew heavier as he neared his destination. He chuckled softly to himself, stopping abruptly by the entrance of a room draped with familiar vermilion and cream - the very nest of his festering heartbreak, and chamber to a sleeping enchantress.

Already, he could hear the soft rise and fall of her breaths, occasionally turning ragged... a sound that hurt him to no end, yet filled him with undeniable desire to be the cause of that shallow, hoarse inhalation, be it through pleasure or exquisite pain. 

Because that was what he needed more than anything - to make her feel the same way she did him.

Without a word, he slipped into the room like a daunting serpent gliding through the shadows while advancing toward the maiden in her undisturbed slumber, all the while marveling at her unmistakable beauty. He stopped. Green eyes steadily traced the fragile curve of the neck to a proud shoulder, succeeded by the curve and dip of her waist and hip - a breathtaking string woven through her sun-kissed hair that unfolded across her body and ended at the ankles.

The very ankles that had effortlessly wrapped themselves around his legs, bringing their bodies closer together in a unison of bliss and intense pleasure, while sweat glazed the surfaces of flushed complexions.

He dared bring himself closer to the face that crippled him with overwhelming lust and love, letting out a small sigh of disappointment beneath his breath at the eyelids that forbade him from seeing the beauteous orbs responsible for his undoing. The gentle bridge of her nose led him to her tender lips; ones that drove him mad with the desire to kiss them and quench his thirst for the nectar that poured from her passionate tongue. He brought a hand to his lips... the intoxicating taste of her skin still lingered in his mouth.

He smiled. Indeed, he had grown insane - insane with love for this siren who had so swiftly reaped the heart from his body on the night she was supposed to have pledged herself to his glorified brother, but chose to do so to him instead. That sheer fact alone empowered him greatly, causing him to gain so much more than glory.

Unable to restrain himself, he moved to brush a strand of hair from her face with a gentle finger, almost shuddering at the electrifying contact that left him immediately craving more. But his movements ceased when he could not help but notice her features; fixed in a troubled, melancholy expression, causing worry to clench at his heart at the sight of her suffering. Something so painfully beautiful could not be made to suffer, he thought, hovering a cool hand above her heated forehead, pondering the cause of her sorrow. With the low mutter of a soothing incantation, her furrowed brows broke apart into an expression of complete and utter relaxation, much to his happiness and contentment.

No woman he had ever loved so deeply had managed to shatter his heart so thoroughly through nothing but hateful words. But despite all the happenings of late, his burning love for her remained; ferocious and ardent as the morning sun.

And, just as quietly as he entered, he exited her chambers, once again returning to his own through the vast hallways.

 

 

 

A firm shoulder collided with Sif's as she strode through the halls in search of Thor, knocking her to the side. Her dark locks were disheveled by the impact, but did not prevent her from glaring at the dark figure leaving the scene as swiftly as he had entered it.

As the warrior dusted off her shoulder with a stable hand, she noticed the door of the Lady's chambers slightly ajar, making for a possible, suspicious connection between Thor's pretty little wife and his mischievous, cunning brother.

Eyes of oak trained on the raven-haired prince's back in a steel gaze, the corner of Sif's lips curled up into a crooked smile at her new discovery.

Maybe there was hope for her and Thor after all.

Chapter Text

It seemed that I would never find peace when I was awoken yet again by the sound of hurried footsteps echoing across the marble floor, hastily making their way towards the side of my bed. Instantly, I felt unkempt and improper in the presence of my visitor, basked in a day's worth of sweat in a translucent nightgown that clung to my skin with the organic adhesive. The light of the morning sun bled through the glass windows and into the room, falling upon my skin with its tingling orange glow.

Seeing my visitor, I attempted to rise in greeting but was stopped by a hand on my forearm that guided me back onto the bed with the care and authority of none other than the Queen of Asgard.

"Your Majesty-"

"I have told you before that there need not be formalities between us," she smiled fondly, brushing away a matted clump of hair from my moist forehead. "We are family now, my dear. You may call me your mother."

"Yes, Allmother."

She let out a long sigh, placing a kind hand over mine. "The Queen of Alfheim is unharmed, thanks to you, my child. But you must remember that while we cannot be more grateful for your awareness and bravery, you and Thor are the future of Asgard. In order to rule this realm righteously by the King's side, you must first take care of yourself, and your children in the future."

Frigga's lips curled upwards into smile, her expression holding a motherly tenderness as she went to fill a goblet with water for my use. It felt shameful to just sit there, allowing the Queen to pour me a drink in the manner of some servant to a royal, but that was the last of my worries and troubles at that point.

You must first take care of yourself, and your children in the future, echoed the candid voice of the Allmother in my mind. I made sure she did not see bitterness take the form of my tightened lips when she returned to my bedside with the golden cup.

"Thank you, Your Maj- Allmother," I caught myself just in time, grinning at the playfully chastising look Frigga gave me as I greedily quenched my thirst with the gleaming liquid that shimmered from the brim of the goblet like the sweet nectar of Asgard's rivers. A pleasured sigh left my lips as a sliver of my strength was replenished by the cool streams traveling down my burning throat.

When I had drained my drink to the last drop, I held the cup in my hands, fingers pressed against the cool, metal carvings and shimmering gems embedded onto the exterior of the golden goblet. My eyes drifted to the Queen's seated form and marveled at how beautiful and kind she looked, despite her age. Robes of sky blue and gold made for a divine compliment to her rosy cheeks and cerulean orbs, much resembling the features of her eldest son. Her gentle lips held a smile that radiated goodness and care into all who laid eyes upon her, spreading warmth throughout the kingdom of Asgard.

I would never be as good a queen as Frigga.

"Allmother, you have never looked more beautiful." I stated with a genuine smile, my nervousness melting away when a lovely crimson stained the Queen's merry cheeks. She laughed a charming chuckle and placed a warm hand upon mine.

"You know how to charm an old crone, my dear."

My eyes widened incredulously at the utterly ridiculous term she had used to describe herself and opened my mouth to object, "but My Queen, you are the Goddess of Marriage, above all Aesir Goddesses, the wife of the Allfather! You are of such beauty and grace, you must not liken yourself to some elderly commoner!"

"Oh, but it is true!" The Queen sighed and took a strand of my hair, stroking it with the soft pad of her thumb before letting it fall back upon my breast. "I am no longer the handsome maiden, fair of face, that diffidently sought Odin's favor some three thousand years ago. You must understand that all things come to an end, child. Odin's reign, for instance - can you believe it? Neither can I."

We shared a laugh, and I realized that this was the first time I had truly felt any semblance of joy since the loss of my child. "I am certain Thor will live up to his father's name... and better," said I, with sincere confidence. Frigga smiled in agreement.

"My time as Queen of Asgard has been so very wonderful. But yours, my dear," she held my face in her gentle hands, "will be even better."

"I have been blessed by your wisdom, My Queen." A strong ray of sunlight shifted into view from the windows, illuminating Frigga's heartwarming features in scattered beams. "I am much in need of instruction; might I be indulged with more words of advice, if Your Majesty does not find it too inconvenient?"

To my imminent surprise she waved her hand generously in dismissal, signaling that she would be more than pleased to stay here and talk with me for the rest of the morning. I found myself enthralled by her compelling advice, captivated by the Allmother's engaging anecdotes of how she had come to be queen and the responsibilities that followed since her succession. It seemed that we would be chatting all day until she brought up the hardships she had faced in the many stages of parenting her two 'wonderful sons'. As she delved into great detail of stories of Thor's triumphs and failures and Loki's, the sinking feeling in my chest was difficult to ignore. The grief rose to my chest and once again my sorrow was freshened. I did what little I could to hide my pain, gritting my jaw till the flesh of my mouth held a dull ache. In fear of her realizing that something was not in order with my emotions, the first question I could produce slipped clumsily from my lips.

"How is Loki?" Oh no. Stupid, foolish little girl!  "-And Thor, I mean."

Immediately she paused, gaze transfixed on my face, which had surely paled from trepidation in the tense moments that followed as the Queen looked at me, expressionless. There was something in her eyes, I noticed, something out of the ordinary as it differed from the usual candor that twinkled within those beautiful teal orbs. In this second of aggravation, the lines of her face truly came to my notice and made her seem less celestial than I had initially thought her to be, yet so much more intimidating. The crinkles surrounding her eyes suddenly increased, and when I looked to see the cause of this I realized that a sad expression was now etched across her features. The way her eyes never left mine communicated an almost mutual understanding of what transpired within my heart and mind, and as much as a wanted to I could not look away. I could have been under the influence of a powerful spell, but Queen Frigga seemed far too kind for an unappreciated one. 

When at last she looked away, I let out the breath hitched in my throat. I nearly laughed at myself for being so afraid of an idea that did not exist. There was no way in the Nine Realms that the Allmother would know anything about my past affair with her younger son, much less... the child I had lost just the day before. 

Or so I thought.

"Thor is well," she answered at last with a smile that was no longer as convincing as all the others, "but eagerly awaits your full recovery so that he may take you riding. I am aware it may seem like he is always preoccupied with his duties as heir, but I ask that you understand the importance that he is involved with the matters of the realm, especially in light of the recent tragedy that almost cost the life of Asgard's future queen." She patted my hand. "Thor has come very far since his careless, drunken ways and has grown into the king Asgard truly needs, and for that I could not be more proud. He is deeply worried for your well-being and visits as often as is possible for a stubborn man like him."

I joined Frigga in a fit of chuckles and replied; "Indeed, Your Majesty. Prince Thor has treated me so well, I could not ask for a more thoughtful husband."

I had lied through my teeth so many times that these words of deceit, entrapped in their pearly casing, came as smoothly as fingertips dancing across a sheet of glass. But this time the lie held some truth, which caused the creeping tendrils of guilt to seize the depths of my stomach. 

Her eyes were trained on me yet again in uncomfortable silence before she broke it in a strangely cautious tone of voice. That was when my fears began to become a reality. 

"Loki has not been seen outside of his room since... the incident. As his mother, I worry for him greatly. The servants seem to believe he has gone mad, having seen the disorientated state of his chambers and person-" The Queen choked a worried sob, tears gleaming at her eyes at the mention of her troubled son. "I refuse to believe it, but I cannot ignore this drastic change in behavior of his. It is very troubling and disturbs me to the core as his mother." I watched as she wiped away her tears with the lush green velvet of her sleeve, vast emotions brought out within myself as well from what I was hearing about the man I loved, and the pain he was in. Loki's pain, Frigga's agony - I was the cause of it all. The sole perpetrator of their despair.

"Allmother..." 

"Yes, my child?"

Will Loki be alright? I wanted to ask her so desperately, knowing that she was as blind as I as to the answer. But I cleared my throat in an effort to keep my voice from wavering. "Though the reason for his state is unknown, I am sure Prince Loki will undoubtedly return to the way he once was."

At this, the Queen looked down at me with the most sorrowful smile I had ever seen. "The way he once was...", she repeated my words in a tone without acidity, but with hopelessness; the sound of one's dreams shattering into the wind, scattered across unreachable plains. "Loki has not been the same since he discovered his Jotun heritage. He is as stubborn as his brother - even more so, if I am to be honest. Somehow he cannot bring himself to believe that we still love him unconditionally, just as we always have and always will, regardless of the Jotun blood that runs through his veins. He fails to see that we are his family, and that we have cared and sheltered him ever since Odin brought him home to us as an infant, left to die on a frozen rock. The Loki I raised was a confident, happy, albeit mischievous young man to whom I taught my magic and entrusted my skills, just as Odin trained and placed his faith in Thor. He may be Laufey's son, but we - Thor, Odin and I, and now you, are his true family."

 

 

 

The Queen's confession left me affected, her words harrowing in their intensity as they continued to echo through my mind long after her visit. Despite not having moved from my bed I was exhausted. As soon as the sound of her leave found my ears, I let my emotions run free while I buried my face into the sheets. I wept and wailed, clutched at my stomach, clawed at my own throat, trying to feel some semblance of the pain I felt that had no physical shape or form I could tear in to. It seemed like a massive striking to the face, really, at the way thoughts of Loki, Thor, Frigga and my lost son were all lined up before me as if to mock and jeer at every mistake and failure I had come across in the short span of my life up until that moment. 

There I lay, tired and drenched in the aftermath of the sudden wave of self-loathing that had washed over me. The weight of my eyelids was exasperating to ignore as they slowly fell to a close...

But my eyes shot open and I sat up. Enough rest, I told myself, and no more crying.  

I was unsure if it held any meaning or that it was merely the first place I arrived at, but I soon found myself standing in the twisting, turning pathways of the royal garden. The floral arrangements looked even more beautiful in the amber daylight, bringing out vibrant hues of violet and gold which could never be seen in the dark. The scent of roses, so explicit in its strength, combined with me just being back here where it all began - brought a deranged sense of peace and closure to my mind. 

A single white rose caught my attention and without hesitation I reached for it, fingers closing around its thorny stem. I plucked the flower from the bush and brought it to my nose, drinking its intoxicating fragrance as its tender petals brushed across my lips. 

"My Lady?"

I turned to see Lady Sif dressed modestly in a plain beige dress, raven tresses tumbling from her shoulders. I suddenly felt just a tad under-dressed in the loose chemise that clung to my skin from the sweat induced while making my way to the gardens.

"Lady Sif!" I exclaimed awkwardly, the words coming through as more of a question. "Your attire becomes you."

Her lips were pursed as she lowered her head with respect. "Thank you, Your Highness. Forgive me for my boldness, but, should Your Highness not be resting within the safety of your chambers to ensure a hasty recovery?"

"I thank you for your concern, Lady Sif. I thought the crisp morning air would do my pained lungs some good."

"Your Highness, if I may," she met my eyes with an air of disapproval in hers, "Prince Thor would surely worry when he finds that you are not in your bed."

"Well, I'll just have to make sure he never does!" A giggle escaped my mouth in an attempt to familiarize myself with the beautiful warrior. But the frown did not leave her face, as if etched onto her stern features like the unmoving lours on the many statues decorating the gardens. 

"It is my duty to protect and serve you as I serve the prince. Allow me to escort you back to your chambers."

"Oh, your thoughtfulness is much appreciated. But it really isn't necessary, as I really would like to take a nice stroll-"

"I insist."

I met her powerful stare, sensing for the first time that something was amiss. The dark pits of her eyes, the stiffness in her shoulders and brow all communicated an unsettling message. Perhaps it was the first sliver of impending danger that caused my eyes to narrow carefully, alert and prepared to handle the situation with care.

"Lady Sif," my tongue darted out to soothe the crack in my lip, "I could not be more grateful for your sincerity, but I really am fine on my own. I would like to take a morning walk and admire the wonders of Asgard's flora."

"You are to be queen, My Lady. It would be dutiful of you to act responsibly."

With Bergdis, I had seen the look of immediate regret in her eyes after disrespectful comments had spewed from her tongue, but not with Sif. All I could see on her face was distaste... a subtle anger, even. And hatred. 

Those mahogany orbs told me that she was every bit as aware of her dislike for me as I.

I felt the skin on my cheeks tighten along with my smile while my expression morphed into one of a devilish, fiendish nature. She was just a hopeless competitor, nothing more.

"I would appreciate it very much if you would not speak in such a distasteful tone towards me. I am soon to be queen, after all."

"Oh, but I do enjoy a little amusement every once in a while."

By now we were mere inches from one another; minuscule distances within distances separated us physically, yet did not prevent her spite of me from radiating off of her, engulfing my form, seeping in my pores and coursing through my veins like an exhilarating acid. It burned away at me slowly, but that was alright, I assured myself. As long as my loathing eats at her core just as much as hers does mine. The morning breeze and the leaves scuttling at our feet went unnoticed as she bore into my skull with frightening intensity, just as I did the same to her. Being trapped with Sif in this duel of hate was akin to suffocating in a furnace together, waiting to see who would burn to death first. The tension in the air made my head spin and the contents in my stomach lurch, and any sound, touch or movement would cause it to be broken, allowing one of us to erupt. 

"What is the meaning of this, Sif?"

The warrior feigned confusion, yet mockery dripped from her tone. "I'm afraid I don't understand-"

"I am confident that you understand completely." I snapped, disgruntled that she seemed to be enjoying this far more than I was. "Surely my husband would be distressed to hear of the utter insolence that his wife has been subjected to... by none other than his ever-loyal warrioress friend."

I lost myself in rage, rendering my feelings transparent to the one person upon whom I needed to impose fear. I almost gasped at this sudden deviation from my normally composed attitude, as I had always been able to suppress my anger and distaste with a collected facade - but something about her ticked me off, and she had found her way beneath my skin. Losing my composure had never once been a problem yet it was happening at the worst possible moment. "You must always wear a smile, no matter how many barbs are thrown your way; your beauty is your greatest weapon", my mother's stern voice echoed in my mind. 

Sif's prominent frown hardened into a sneer. "'Ever-loyal'? Hm, on that, Your Highness, we are agreed. But whether I would use the phrase to describe you, I am not so sure."

Fury stirred in my chest, but sunk to the ground when realization dawned over me. Did Sif... somehow knowSurely not! I was sure my face had paled from fear at this bold insinuation. Every sliver of confidence that had filled my heart was gone, leaving only a hammering terror.

I cleared my throat, determined to keep my voice from trembling. "Are you making an implication of some sort, Lady Sif?"

I had to proceed with caution, test the waters before unleashing my wrath upon this unnervingly fearless woman. For my entire life I had trained to become the snake in the midst of careless sheep, striking when necessary while remaining unseen. And now, an eagle scoured the ground from above, flying dangerously close to the slipping serpent.

"Not only do I make an implication, Your Highness, I am accusing you of adultery - an offense against the crown, a betrayal of the prince, a disgrace to the kingdom of Asgard and to the realm you hail from as well! You have committed treason of the highest sort and will be tried for your crimes."   

The ravenous bird swooped down from the skies, icy talons ripping the serpent from the hoard of innocent lambs, taking it up and away into the unfriendly air.

My heart had ceased to beat as the blood drained from my lips, painting my skin a sickly hue. I was trembling now, tears forming in my eyes from my first taste of hopelessness while an insidious coldness devoured me slowly, numbing me to the very core of my helpless soul. 

Yet still, stubborn as I was, I would not give up so easily. What propelled me to laugh in the face of impending death was lost on me, but a giggle left my throat without warning, slicing through the thick air. Then came another. And another. And soon I doubled over, placing a hand on my abdomen from the pain of both the contractions from howling laughter and the harsh jolts of agony from my wound. I drank her confusion gladly, wiping away a tear from my eye as the laughter died down. 

"Oh...! Oh, Lady Sif, you are exemplary with jests!" The corners of my lips curled up into a malicious smile. "You would be entertaining to us as a town jester, seeing as your life has been made up of such hilarity. Perhaps you would consider performing at the upcoming ball?"

Now it was her turn to clench her jaw with a glare so frightening, I would have been murdered if looks could indeed kill...

And I was all the happier to see it.

"An interesting suggestion, My Lady, but I do not jest. Especially when Prince Thor, whom I have sworn to protect with my life, has been betrayed by the snake who is to be queen of this realm."

"I shan't listen to these empty accusations when they hold no substance. Unless you have evidence of the supposed 'adultery', I shall confess immediately before everyone in court."

This was a rather risque gamble, but something in me was sure she hadn't the evidence to incriminate me just yet.

Sif shot forward, pressing her forehead to mine so that her steely eyes were all that I saw. I would have been lying if I said her boldness had not startled me. Her breath was hot when mingled with mine; I wondered why admirers still had yet to come her way, as she really was exquisite.

"I saw Prince Loki leave your room last night," she snarled into my face, "alone."

I looked at her with puzzlement. Either she had mistaken someone else for Loki as they left my chambers, or she was merely conjuring stories to justify the empty threats she was throwing my way for if Loki had truly visited the night before, I had been unaware of his presence.

But something in her eyes indicated truth, and even I knew Sif was not one to act so discordantly because of a nonexistent occurrence.

Could it be?

"That is hardly anything to base your sloppily-made conclusions upon."

"As of the past few months, the prince has been seen outside of his room only rarely. Yet I witnessed him leaving your chambers last night appearing... emotionally compromised."

"I was asleep at the time you speak of and I am certain Prince Loki heard about the attack and came to see how I faired out of concern."

"Too much concern, don't you think, Your Highness?"

"I really wouldn't blame him. I am the future queen, after all."

Sif was silent; the only sound I could hear coming from deep exhales escaping her flared nostrils. Her eyes were trained ever so tightly on mine and I almost found myself lost within the dark forests that were the depths of her scorching gaze.

"You may have his heart, but you shall never be worthy of him. And no matter how aggravating the task shall be, I will gather enough evidence to have you executed - as payment for hurting him."

"At the very least, Thor loves me." She stepped away with a sharp intake of breath, eyes closing in pain. I knew that I had gotten to her. "Don't you understand, Lady Sif? You are the finest warrior in all of Asgard, and the best to have fought by his side... if it's any consolation, he will  never think of you otherwise."

I flinched as she whipped around, pupils now reduced to dark pits on either side of her head. Although they were frightening, the sadness hidden within had slowly surfaced. Sympathy almost conquered my hate for her. After an unending silence, the both of us wallowing in our emotions, Sif inclined her head in a stiff gesture and coldly retreated.

"Apologies, Your Highness. I take my leave."

Then she was gone. Without a trace, without another word, leaving me in the dust. But I was glad. I let out a breath that had gone stale from being held in my constricted lungs for so long a moment and under such distressing circumstances.

I glanced down at the innocent flower still in my grasp and slipped it into my hair, while guilt continued to quiver in my stomach.

Chapter Text

Sif stared blankly at the luxurious garb draped neatly across the chair of her dresser. It was a fine shade of violet crafted with expensive silk by the hands of who Sif guessed was most likely one of the best dressmakers in Asgard. The dress was gifted to her by the Queen for the sole purpose of attending the ball for which she was supposed to be preparing. The room was warm and dim from the setting sun, with the last of its light glimmering upon the silver gems embedding each seam of the ballgown before it sunk into the hungry mountains. 

The dress beckoned her, called out to her so fiercely she thought it had whispered to her to don it. Yet she could not; for there was something about the attire that seemed so... dreadfully materialistic, and reminded her of all the things she wished to forget.

She stood, still clad in the armor that defined her; made her who she was. What she was.

"You are the finest warrior in all of Asgard, and the best to have fought by his side. If it's any consolation, he will never think of you otherwise."

Suddenly Sif wanted to scream, loud enough for all to hear, loud enough to drown out the sympathetic voice of that infernal woman that would not cease to ring raucously in her ears, taunting her. The fact that these words still affected her two weeks after the confrontation infuriated Sif; all her efforts at avoiding contact of any form with Thor's wife had been for naught. Her tone had held sympathy, but Sif knew she hadn't really meant to assure her of Thor's appreciation for her skills on the battlefield. 

She had stated it to gloat, to mock her for her unrequited devotion.

How had she come to know of this? Sif tore angrily at the steel pieces adorning her body and watched as they fell to the floor with an earsplitting clank. The warm evening air hit a new part of her ivory skin each time a new piece of clothing was shed - first her armor, then her corset, undergarments, belt, and boots. She was now bare, completely exposed to the gradually cooling breeze, chest heaving, a sheen of sweat outlining her lithe frame. 

Looking into the mirror she let out a small sigh of frustration at the dirt that had gathered in clumps, clinging to her skin and hair from the afternoon training.

The body of a warrior, thought the troubled goddess, wryly.

A change would be nice. To step out of her warrior's skin, put on a lovely dress and pretend that she was among the fairest of maidens in Asgard, worthy of a prince's favor. 

To imagine that someway, somehow... she stood a chance to be with him. 

Almost scrambling into the bath she rinsed the grime from her glistening skin, lathering her shoulders with the scented suds. The water was warm and welcoming and contrasted pleasantly to the coolness of the evening breeze, submerging her body in a blissful sensation. Sif inhaled deeply, catching the scent of roses from the fragrant soaps she had bathed in. 

Roses.

She scrubbed herself ferociously after that and was finished in mere moments before drying herself with a towel. Before regret could settle in, she took the dress from the chair and slipped into it smoothly, watching as the bodice clung to her torso like a second skin. 

Sif was beautiful. Or at least, she thought she looked beautiful. 

The ebony roots from which her hair stemmed were made bold upon her milky forehead, as were her brows and the dark taupe of her eyes. The lavender gown settled nicely upon the ivory of her complexion, hinting at untold secrets while glinting gems aligned every crease and edge. This was the most feminine piece of attire she owned and yet it made her feel so strange - like she had stolen the shell of a noblewoman. 

After a moment of contemplation, Sif called the servants in to pull her locks into an appropriate style just minutes before the Great Hall was to be opened to guests.

Perhaps, she thought, things will change tonight.

 

 

 

"Thor?"

The golden-haired prince turned, "yes, my love?"

"I-I am afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

I glanced at the floor sheepishly and bit my lip. Meeting his questioning gaze I could only offer a meager smile in return. Thor lifted my chin with a gentle finger.

He repeated himself when I failed to answer. "What is troubling you, my fairest?"

I cannot bear the thought of Loki marrying another woman.

I stepped away from him so that my back was all that could be seen, cheeks burning crimson. "I am worried, Thor, that I shall forget the dance we have practiced and cause you embarrassment amongst your guests instead."

I heard him chuckle softly, eyes twinkling with a teasing light once I had calmed myself enough to meet his eye. "And why, by Odin's beard, would you think that?!" 

"Don't laugh at me like that! You know I can't dance!" I cried, genuinely serious, which only served to turn his chuckling into resounding laughter. By now I was fuming with shame, making to retaliate only to yelp in surprise when he pulled me flush against him and ravished my face with kisses.

"Thor, stop it! Thor, I am serious! Thor! Thor!"

In spite of myself I laughed, allowing my husband to relish in the glory of having drawn a giggle from my lips after I'd looked on him in anger. Heat rose to my face and I felt the frustration drain from my fingertips and through my toes, tension fading as I melted into his hearty embrace. I fed on his warmth and drank his kindness deep; my fingers gripped the deep maroon of his inner tunic as I held on to his love in fear of losing it.

Thor pulled away and cupped my cheek as his eyes roamed my figure with vigor in his movements. "Trust me when I say that out of all these travelling maidens, you shall be the most beautiful."

"And how exactly would you be sure of that, without even having seen these other women yet?" I asked with mock suspicion and a twinge of a smile.

I drew in a sharp breath when he darted behind me, pressing my back against his broad torso while his lips found the back of my ear, leaving a ticklish trail to the side of my neck, across my trapezius to my shoulder, trimmed stubble grazing my skin with each touch.

Against my shoulder I caught him murmur, "you are the only woman I want to see."

"Thor..."

 

I am infatuated by you.

 

Thor's mouth turned to shards of ice - cold and numb to my trembling body. If he had continued to kiss me, I feared that I would freeze over, paralyzed in a stone encasement of my own shame. Yet that voice... his voice! It would not cease to torment and twist me from within.

 

I feel as if a link exists between your heart and mine.

 

My stomach lurched. The past had come to taunt me again, using his voice as its unholy prophet. The dim candlelight allowing a thread of visibility between Thor and I began to glow, brighter and more scintillating than any flare of yellow I had ever seen. The dark halls around us seemed to shrink and blur before my eyes and before long, everything spun into motion.

The sight was garish in its intensity. Visions of my mother and father came to mind in fleeting frames. Then the golden shimmer of a lake from my childhood residence and the friends I had left behind on my realm. And the vibrancy of Asgard's incandescence blinding me upon my arrival. King Odin's ashen beard and Frigga's welcoming arms, stretching out to embrace her son's reluctant bride. The glaring reds and resplendent golds of a lavish wedding ceremony. All eyes on me, every head turned in the direction of their future queen as she spoke her vows, swore her undying loyalty to the crown prince of Asgard...

Green eyes burning into the back of my head all the while.

 

You are mine, and mine alone. 

 

Then there was Loki, with his raven hair and unmistakable smirk. His eyes - emerald pools swimming with notorious mischief, a gleam of cunning concealing the bottled years of envy and despair within his misunderstood soul. The orbs made for a tortuous maze, twisting and turning, leading so far into his past so that those who dared lose themselves within them might taste the bitter torture of neglect and deprivation of love he himself had known his whole life.

I felt his smoldering touch, heard his desperate pleas and ragged breath. His voice enrapturing me and claiming me while I begged him relentlessly with my own. The slick heat of his stomach, the gleam of pale hands dominating heated flesh, manipulating my very being into submission. The sheer intensity of it all - his name on my tongue, mine on his, my heart in his grasp, his trapped in mine. The clutches of passion and my inability to escape from my darkest desires.

And love.

The rose which, without rhyme or reason, had chosen to bloom from nothing.

What I felt for him was love - so deep and profound in the multitude of my feelings for him that it could not be described by even the most powerful of words or amounted in coin. It was tumultuous, monstrous even, yet since the moment I had laid eyes on him in the library where it all began I had wound up in his arms, ensnared in a dance of lust and sweet, sweet truth.

For that was what I sought. Truth, out of every lie and fable I had told to snake my way out of trouble and onto the throne. Truth, for it was I who had learned of Prince Thor's preference for the color red, and dressed accordingly at our first meeting to catch his eye. 'Duty before pleasure', I was taught repeatedly, until I had convinced myself that I did not need the latter.

Yet I needed Loki, because I could shout to the world: "I love him!" and not feel guilt or emptiness each time I made this claim to Thor. Loki was the only semblance of truth that remained for me - salvation that had come from our sin, light that had emerged from the darkness. He was, in the ironic sense, my one chance at redemption.

As if to add to the realization, I recalled the coldness of Thor's kiss - the emptiness I had felt, and the foul aftertaste of guilt which followed every time he treated me with respect and unreciprocated care. 

Then black, murderous eyes flitted past my vision and there was the memory of pain; unspeakable pain from the edge of a dagger. Cold and merciless, piercing through my abdomen, past the veil of muscle until it had punctured the womb beneath. Not severe enough to end my life, but...

I shuddered at the sight of crimson, bleeding through my dress, wet and warm and stinking of copper as a life was lost inside of me. To Hel with the Queen of Alfheim, to all of them! I did not need them!

This was not what I wanted! I wanted so desperately to settle with Thor's affection and find satisfaction in the security of living a lie, but my heart forbade me from doing so. I craved for the man I loved to claim me and breathe new life into the dead silence that filled my body. If it were not for this blasted duty to both my family and Thor's, I would’ve long thrown myself into Loki's passionate embrace and eloped... far, far away from those affected by the destruction I had already caused.

 

I jerked away from Thor's gentle hold. My eyes flew shut as I held on to a stone pillar, gaining stability through the coldness beneath my palm. I exhaled deep and gradual and awaited the fade of the dizzying visions. 

When at last I opened them, Thor was looking upon me with a concern that gnawed at my heart. It was so genuine, so heartbroken - I wondered if he would still feel the same if he knew he'd taken a viper for a wife.

"What is it, my sweet?" He stepped towards me hesitantly as if he were afraid I'd run from him again. His gaze flitted to my stomach and I followed it, noticing that I was holding my lower middle with a shaking, pallid hand. I dropped it immediately, fire brimming at my eyes.

"You are trembling." he whispered, more in question than in statement. I shot him a smile (which was more of a wince) without meeting his worried gaze.

"I am alright." I cringed inwardly. Another lie. "I am merely nervous that I will cause you shame."

My tone was tight and I was afraid of knowing what expression he wore. I would be forced to end myself if he bore yet another worried yet oblivious face to remind me of everything and everyone I did not deserve.

Instead he spoke, with a soft voice: "You could never cause me shame."

I doubt that quite sincerely.

"But I just know I'll fall over."

"Then I shall be there to sweep you off of your feet and make you try again."

"But I shall fail again after that, over and over until you tire of me."

With that Thor laughed, lifting a small weight from my chest. "Then I shall catch you, time and time again, until you finally manage to dance without care of how others see you."

Frustrated, I sighed. "It matters what they think, Thor! They need to trust in a queen, not some clumsy, deficient foreigner!"

"You are not deficient. You possess intelligence surpassing that of many if not all maidens of this realm and the next. 'Twas you who proposed that we preserve leftovers from our royal feasts to feed the poor. You alone who granted post to the people of Asgard and gave them a means to live by making use of their skills. Were it not for you, the Queen of Alfheim would be long gone, plunging an entire realm into imminent chaos."

The seriousness and gratitude in his eyes scared me, for it was unusual for the golden-haired prince to act this way. He merely sighed, "Heimdall brings news of a dark force concealed amongst the commoners in the city. We are uninformed as to whether this poses a threat. Were it not for you handling most of the other issues, the council would surely have collapsed beneath the strain of overwhelming responsibility."

My breath hitched in my throat at the mention of dark magic in the city, but was unable to continue this thought before I found myself wrapped in the safety of his reassuring arms. The scale of him was truly glorious and so very intimidating for those who had yet to be treated to his sentimentality. I surrendered and melted into his embrace, for it was far easier to take than to give.

"Now come," he held out an arm, which I took with relief. "The Allfather is expecting us."

 

 

 

A crowd of boisterous nobles fell silent as the great doors parted with a prolonged creak; a sound that hinted at an arrival most grand, the age old movement of steel hinges that begged the attention of every lord and lady. They were all too familiar with the majesticity of that resonating note. It had stunned those within the hall into immediate quietude for many a century, for it always prepared them for who would walk through these doors.

King Odin and his Queen were already seated on their respective thrones while the Warriors Three and Lady Sif stood dutifully by their side. They too turned to stare at the figures stood atop the royal staircase.

Even from such great distance, Sif could make out the handsome features of Prince Thor and the manipulative nature of his wife's smile. She sneered inwardly at the sight of the woman who had caused her such humiliation. She could almost feel her, smell her arrogance, her superiority and cunning. This harlot couldn't have truly cared for the villagers of Asgard when she'd made her 'saintly' proposals, could she? No, this woman had to be a snake - one that never gave willingly without first assessing the benefits.

She was perfect for him.

Sif could only watch in silent despair when Thor seemed to whisper something in his wife's ear, leaning ever so close to her sickeningly beautiful person. The envy cracked and boiled beneath Sif's skin; she should be the one up there, the one to possess the right to call him hers. Her fists had clenched, knuckles paling, nails digging painfully into her palm yet Sif was numb to every emotion except envy. It dominated her thoughts and clouded her judgement, completely severing all attachment to reason and calm in her mind. Of all the years seeing Thor emerge from his chambers with barely-clothed whores, this mere gesture of affection now twisted and broke something within Sif. 

That serpent did not deserve him. No, she could not just stand and watch as such injustice took place. She had to do something.

The warrioress cast a glance at Loki who was not granted a seat despite his title, instead having to stand by the King in his illustrious green and gold attire. 

She smiled crookedly. Fitting for a Jotun.

The stiffness of his posture as he gazed at his brother's bride only served to widen the smile of the eagle observing. Sif noticed his stare travel from the lavish extravagance of her layered skirts to the jewel-encrusted belt of gold (which, Sif noted unhappily, had only ever been sported by Queen Frigga) adorning her waist. Loki's wandering eyes did not stop there. They followed an invisible trail to her bodice which was laced with elaborate embroidery and the swirls of an ancient Asgardian scripture. Then straight to the scandalous low of her neckline, prompting a scoff from Sif. At least she'd had the decency to trim it with gold.

It was no surprise to her when Loki's lingering gaze fell on her face. The way his hard eyes softened a fraction with yearning only fanned the flames of resentment in the heart of his clandestine spectator. Pathetic, she thought as the same pain eating at her heart became visible in his weary expression. To anyone else, Loki would seem just another bored attendee of a ball held for a ridiculous purpose. But his love rendered him transparent to the eyes of Lady Sif, and she could not help but wonder if love really was one's greatest weakness. 

The ebony-haired warrior almost pitied the would-be brides of Loki who had come to the ball with hopes of romance and nuptial fortune. Poor maidens... they would have to dance with the shell of a man in love.

 

"Good people of Yggdrasil,” Thor began in a resounding voice that made the walls tremble with anticipation. "I, Thor Odinson, son of the Allfather and heir to the throne of Asgard do welcome you all most humbly..."

He stopped abruptly as panic rose in his eyes. The crowd looked on uneasily. The woman beside him gave him a gentle nudge as she leaned to whisper in his direction. Thor swallowed deeply and attempted to continue. 

"... to these royal halls, where we pray you shall have your fill of food and drink, and dance to the music of our gratitude until you are spent and sated with enjoyment."

This elicited a few giggles from the crowd below and even howling laughter from Volstagg and Fandral. With renewed confidence, Thor cleared his throat and carried on with a wide grin. 

"But, as you know, the purpose of this feast was not so that we might steal from you in your drunken stupor," hearty chuckles from the people, "but to present my dear brother with a sea of fair maidens in hopes that he shall at last pick one."

From the end of the room, the King and Queen beamed with pride for their son while Thor's wife mouthed something unintelligible into the ear of her husband. Though Sif could not hear it, she had seen the movement of her lips, and from their formation read: "you are doing so well, My Lord."

Loki had allowed his scowl to loosen in order to send his brother a small smile. Sif guessed it was pride for his brother's humorous antics.

"My wife and I," he took hold of her hand and raised it high, "hope with all our hearts that one of you will at least put a smile on that face. Loki is known for his rather... glum attitude at times." Thor put on a dramatized expression of worry. "Brother, I sure hope you have rehearsed the dance."

Loki let out a laugh this time, shaking his head as if he could not believe his brother's nerve. But he seemed genuinely impressed.

"But above all, Loki - I wish for nothing more than for you to find happiness," Thor placed a tender kiss on his wife's hand, "just as I have found mine."

As the audience clapped and cheered for their good prince, Sif almost laughed aloud at the immediate drop of Loki's devilish grin. From the angle where she stood, she was unable to see the whole of his face but was certain that his short-lived happiness had plunged to a gloomy low. 

"And now, since so many of you are present, we shall take this opportunity to address a predicament of urgent notice. Magnificent as Asgard is, many faults still remain. Societal issues - ones that hinder our efforts to ensure happiness for all. Not just noblemen and people of the palace, but the families in their villages who go to bed hungry at night as well."

Sounds of sympathy came from the guests, oozing with support for their prince. Loki rolled his eyes, still unaware of his keen observer.

"These are men who must work for a full day so that they might live to see another one. Women and children who need our protection. Only we can help them, and the council already have. From this day onward, the leavings from our great feasts shall go to the hungry. A portion of our victories from battle will be shared with those in dire need, and commoners shall be offered small positions in the palace as further means of earning coin.

"When I am king of this realm, gone shall be the poverty that destroys honest lives. Financial issues shall be resolved to the very best of the council's ability, for we strive for greatness in all aspects of life for all inhabitants of Asgard. No child should have to be raised suffering, sifting through the slums because of our negligence. Together, we shall remake this city, and give its people the fruits of their labor - a better life, a better future!"

Applause erupted through the banquet hall like a mighty crack of thunder, searing through what once was an intent silence. The crowd yelled and sung his praises with the enthusiasm of a nation completely and thoroughly trusting in its ruler. Sif found herself doing the same, moved by the promise he held in his speech and all the more in love with him for the splendid way he had matured. 

Music filled the room and instantly the guests began to break into conversation among themselves, resuming their dancing and drinking. Thor looked on fondly then proceeded to escort his wife down the golden stairs of the grand hall. Sif could only watch wordlessly as the pair sifted through the crowd, greeting and thanking visitors for their attendance. It did not take long for them to weave through the ocean of guests and reach the end of the hall where Odin, Frigga, the Warriors, Loki and Sif were situated.

"Allmother, Allfather. Sirs." The woman inclined her head at the King, Queen and Warriors in greeting before turning to the object of her unease. "Lady Sif," and then uncomfortably to Loki, "My Lord."

The Warriors went to embrace the couple while the younger prince lingered behind and masked his bitterness with indifference. 

"A magnificent speech," King Odin spoke, his voice dropping to a full low, "from a most worthy heir."

The smile on Thor's face broke into a grin as he basked in the glory of his father's praise. Hogun patted his shoulder, looking at his friend of many years with surging pride. Breaking out in merry laughter altogether did not come as a surprise for any of them for they all believed the prince had earned his cause for happiness.

All except one.

Sif could not resist a quick glance in the younger prince's direction, eager to see how he fared as Thor went to kiss his mother's beaming cheek. Loki's were tight from the merry mask he'd been forced to wear to this (in Sif's opinion) meager event. Too intrigued by his reaction to his brother's splendor, her eyes failed to leave his person while she wondered why anyone would find him so desirable as to prefer him to his dashing brother. She could not deny both their appearances to be most fanciable, she could give him that. But how a woman could resist Thor's righteous appeal to Loki's wiles and devious charm was lost on her.

To this day, the childhood memory of the trickster butchering locks of her hair while she slept still sent her shuddering with anger.

And her. Sif began to silently fume at the thought of the one she so despised. She, with her ridiculous fortune, arranged to wed Thor Odinson when a hundred good women could only dream of spending a night with him?! How dare she abuse her luck?

"Lady Sif?" A voice struck through her train of thought. Difficultly, she tore her gaze away from Loki to see none but the crown prince standing before her.

"Th-Thor?" The way she said his name could almost be taken for a whimper. Curiosity had distracted her and now all of a sudden her heart was full of Thor - his voice, his hair, his eyes and smile, all pulsating through her veins like fire. She could only stammer, her mind blank with nothing but the joy of hearing him speak to her and the anxiety from being unprepared for his glory. 

"Sif. I would like to thank you for your allegiance and the support you have shown me all these years. We have trained together, fought and protected each other on the battlefield. I have won many victories in my lifetime and could not be happier to have shared them all with you, my great friend and certainly most beautiful comrade in arms."

Words could not describe what she experienced as she drank his gratitude deep, deep until she felt her heart might burst from the restraints of her corseted dress. Normally she would mask the true extent of her joy with nothing but a hint of a smile but on that day, she felt the need to let free her grin and allow her happiness to soar along with her spirits.

Thor chuckled.

"It has been the greatest honor one could have to fight by your side, My Lord."

"Only if you are amongst the fiercest of warriors in Asgard, which you are, Sif. Though I must say, your choice of attire on this fine evening will make any unsuspecting young man fall prey to your wiles."

"You think too unfairly of me, Thor."

"Do I?"

"Yes." And as she spoke, the smile faded from her lips and she saw Thor do the same, obviously troubled by her sudden change of demeanor. There was no hint of a jest in her eyes, just concern and underlying desperation which was so rarely found in a warrior like Lady Sif. 

Her raspy voice lowered to something above a whisper. "I only want what is best for you, My Lord."

His golden brows furrowed in confusion as she glanced around for listeners. "I do not see what you mean-"

Her heart pounded now, not from happiness but with fierce determination. "This regards her, Thor. Your wife. And Loki. Don't you see? She-"

"Lady Sif."

The warrioress almost jumped at the sharpness in her tone when she appeared at Thor's side at the very moment Sif had planned to expose her. That damned woman, the whore who had been cavorting with Prince Loki despite her marriage to Thor. Her very presence oozed an air of manipulation. She was a snake and the embodiment of sin and everything Asgard stood against. The ice in her glare struck Sif to the core with paralyzing fear, and she felt filthy being so dreadfully close to her person. 

The woman moved closer - close enough for Sif to catch the unmistakable scent of perfume wafting from her neck area. It suffocated and trapped her in an inferno of smell, tormenting Sif with that blasted fragrance she'd hoped to never be reminded of again.

Roses.

The bitch had done this purposefully, with every intent to taunt her with memories of the humiliation.

"Ah, my dear wife." Thor pressed a kiss to her forehead, oblivious to the change in Sif's expression as she watched them. It was painful... more agonizing than any wound from the poisoned steel blades her enemies had used to maim her flesh.

"I do so condone your choice of dress, Lady Sif. It is most fitting."

"Thank you, My Lady."

It took all the strength Sif could muster not to appear begrudging, but this oppression of true emotions was starting to affect her deeply.

"Since my marriage to Thor, I have seen the way he has slowly changed into the compassionate and reasonable man he is today. Thor, I am so very proud of you and I just know that you shall make a most wonderful king."

"Yes." Sif interrupted, unable to resist a little tampering of the rose's sensitive thorns. "I could think of no better ruler than Prince Thor, apart from the Allfather, of course." Thor laughed at that. "And Queen Frigga, of course, is an excellent queen. It is not often that a king and his queen share the sort of profound fondness evident between our rulers. Marriage is sacred, My Lady, is it not?"

"Yes, of course!" Thor agreed, "when a man and woman are joined before the gods..."

The sound of Thor's voice breezed past their ears as the two women locked eyes. The banquet hall, though so vast in size, seemed to close in on them in their wordless duel. The intensity thickened the air and yet, they remained the only ones aware of the underlying animosity between them. Sif narrowed her eyes slightly and the princess did the same, taking advantage of Thor's inability to see her seething expression from the angle where he stood.

"... don't you think, my love?"

"Hm? Oh," she tore her gaze from Sif, the scowl disappearing into a saccharine smile at the speed of a bolt of lightning. "Yes, Thor, of course."

The prince grinned contentedly, "Yes. In any case, we really should go and dance... and maybe mingle with some of the guests to make a warmer welcome in the meantime. You as well, Lady Sif. I'm sure Fandral would like to take you as his partner."

Sif could only wince when Thor winked suggestively and gestured to an awaiting Fandral who, to everyone's surprise, did not yet have a comely maiden in his arms.

"Come, Thor." His wife proceeded to lead him away from the warrior but not before one tentative glance in Loki's direction, "the guests await us."

 

After the first piece of swirling music had come to an end, Fandral looked at Sif pitifully in reaction to her glancing one too many times at the happy couple twirling gracefully just a few feet away from them. Sif caught his sympathetic eye.

"What?"

"Is something bothering you, Sif?"

"I know not of what you speak."

He too followed the object of her gaze with understanding clear in his voice; "He is happy, Sif. You should feel the same for them."

How can I, she thought, when only I know the truth?

"I am happy, Fandral."

The dashing soldier was unconvinced. The music took a deep and beautiful turn causing the dancing pairs to sway into a different set of movements to match this new melody. Sif, who was familiar with intricate compositions due to her complicated battle maneuvers, had no trouble keeping up with the dance every member of the kingdom had heavily rehearsed weeks prior. Fandral lost his footing at the abrupt change of music but smoothly adjusted a moment later, gliding gracefully into the next sequence with his partner.

He caught her staring once again at Thor and his wife and sighed. "I have to admit, it'll be strange not seeing Odin and Frigga on the throne."

The warrioress followed Fandral's gaze to the King and Queen of Asgard who were seated on their chairs of gold. It was a sight the kingdom had come to recognize as the icon of Asgard and would be hard to forget in favor of the fresh faces that would soon occupy the throne. Sif could only agree, seeing that Odin and Frigga, dressed in shimmering royal garbs, seemed to blend with their equally luminous surroundings. It was difficult to imagine Thor and his wife in their place in these golden halls that had been so long under the rule of a great old man. Compared to them, their son and daughter-in-law would look to be younglings who had stumbled upon the wrong realm.

The second her eyes lost sight of the blond prince was the moment her gaze wandered to where his significantly less-merry brother brooded. To her surprise Queen Frigga was there as well, pushing forth a timid young girl with what could only be labeled as a mother's enthusiasm. To her left stood a man who looked to be Odin's age who sported a fine wisp of white hair on the shine of his head, rendered nearly invisible due to the brightness of the room. He too was happy, eyes agleam with excitement as he patted the shoulder of a stiff Loki.

Before she could observe more of the situation, Sif was whisked away by the constantly rotating position of the dancers and could only watch in dismay as both Thor and Loki disappeared into the sea of swirling reds and golds.

She needed only to wait a moment before a familiar green and gold figure emerged from the crowd once again. Sif was delighted with where they danced for it presented her with a clear view on the situation involving Prince Loki and this mysterious new girl. She saw Frigga laugh, prompting the maiden to turn her head so that her features were visible to the spying Sif.

And by the gods was she beautiful.

Her skin, like alabaster, stretched tight upon her prominent cheeks without a single blemish in sight. The bridge of her nose and curve of her lip seemed to have been sculpted by the goddess Freyja herself, untouchable beauty replicated in the face of this lovely maiden. One could have mistaken her eyes for emeralds glinting in the dark, their piercing green so rich and desirable, any gaze lasting short of an eternity would not be enough to sate a man's needs. The soft, rosy tint of her mouth resembled a plump fruit as her lips parted in awe of Loki, appearing somewhat mesmerized. Dark tresses framed her face in a modest arrangement to compliment the lush green of her sumptuous gown. 

Thus ended the second song, treating each dancer to one silent pause for preparation before moving into the third sequence just in time with the renewed melody. Loki and the maiden in green were lost once more as another pair rose into the line of Sif's vision.

Thor... and his distressed-looking lady, who looked as though she might lose her step from the shock of something in particular she had seen.

Things had gotten dreadfully interesting.

Chapter Text

The music filling the hall was unlike any I had ever heard. Each note rang richly, gracing my ears with passion and cheer as we swayed and yielded to its playful harmony. I had really surprised myself with how well I was executing each sequence seeing as I'd been so nervous before Thor and I had even entered the banquet hall. I harbored a nagging fear of possibly making a mistake or tripping on the hem of my dress, but performed splendidly under the supportive eye of my husband nonetheless. As soon as I'd forced my shoulders to relax, dancing became rather enjoyable for me, serving as an escape from engaging in pointless conversation with the many people I did not know in the ballroom.

"You are doing spectacularly."

"I suppose I am, Thor."

"Nay, you are truly magnificent. You move with the elegance of a thousand summer birds; rainbows scattered beneath each sweep of your moonlit dress as we share this dance."

"Waxing poetic, are we?"

"No amount of poetry could do your beauty justice." He was so sweet. He looked offended as I giggled. "I speak the truth!"

"Of course you do, Thor," I murmured softly, leaning into him as our feet and arms moved steadily with the flow of the lively tune.

My eyes could have fallen shut were it not for the sight before me that caused them to snap open in disbelief. There, mirroring our movements in the center of the hall, was the God of Mischief - dancing away with a ravishing young maiden in his arms.

He was smiling.

And her very aura was alluring beneath the amber glow of the ballroom lights as she grinned in return, revealing a gleaming row of elegant ivories.

What is this? How dare he-

Then I remembered; he did not owe me anything. I was married to his brother, and this ball was held for the sole purpose of finding Loki a suitable wife. He could not come into my arms and hold me as his lover without first scanning his surroundings for unfortunate onlookers. He could not kiss my lips without tasting sin, nor could I proclaim my undying love of him for fear of death as punishment for this simple crime.

So naturally, the stirring restlessness in my stomach could not be justified?

"Who is she?" The question tumbled from my mouth before it could pass through my mind. There were just too many answers I sought and the identity of this girl was just one of many that could serve to calm my pounding heart. The dull thud of a headache overtook me as the adrenaline from the thrill of dancing slowly subsided into numbness. 

Thor raised a brow in confusion for a short second before his eyes shot open, his mouth forming a small 'o' of realization upon noticing the object of my interest. He grinned widely.

"That is the good Lady Sigyn," he gestured in the direction of the waltzing pair with a small nod of his head, "the intended of my brother."

The heart-wrenching image of Loki in the arms of another woman had already been hard to swallow, but this? The thud of my heart came to a gradual slow as the weight of Thor's words heaved itself upon my aching chest. My head swam with tiring thoughts of duty and the same recall of his burning touch, the carnal passions he had elicited from within me and how I still ached for the music of his voice. The lust in his eyes, ablaze like sunlight littered on the surface of an ocean in the calming aftermath of a storm.

Then, from below the sea he emerged... robust and glorious as the light that dripped from his raven hair. His lips curled fondly and at that moment I let myself believe that his smile was meant for me. 

Before I could return it, a dark figure brushed past me to stand by his side. It was Lady Sigyn, the pristine gleam of her cheek apparent as she melted into Loki's embrace with a smug simper.

Intended?

A million queries raced through my head in the form of doubtful voices speaking their dread for what this meant. I was so deep in confusion, I could have likened myself to a young child attempting to learn the wisdom of ages.

"Intended?!" I said aloud, too in shock to mind what impression my tone of voice gave Thor. "Was this whole event not held for the purpose of-"

"Finding Loki a wife? No, not really..."

The hesitance in Thor's expression did nothing but agitate me further and I could not deny the slow confirmation of my suspicions. 

"What do you mean? What was the point of organizing this ball if he is already betrothed?"

Did Loki know? Did he agree to the arrangement? Had he been a willing participant in this pointless show?

The questions came like flitting pellets, stinging my skin with each impact. I prayed they would not fall too close to my heart. Throbbing pain engulfed my mind and blocked every orifice with a hammering sense of disbelief and dread. 

My husband sighed and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I am not permitted to speak of this, but... months before this day, Mother had already arranged for my brother to wed Lady Sigyn. She knew he would not appreciate the idea of an arranged marriage so she bade me organize this event, hoping to make it appear otherwise."

If it were possible for my heart to sink any further, this was the time. The layers of my skirts grew heavier with each step as numbing exhaustion plagued my trembling legs. I couldn't lie to myself any longer; I was upset. Upset and disappointed, though I knew I had no right to be. Devastated that the love of my life, the man who held my heart in his tender grasp, had been promised to another. Unnerved and apprehensive at the ghastly thought of those skilled hands roaming Sigyn's body, caressing her, sharing the intimacy he had had with me. I could never complain for I was most at fault. I, being the one who had spoken vows and broken promises, should have instead been pleased with this orderly arrangement that would bury our crimes and save our lives from punishment. No longer would any servant or handmaiden suspect anything amiss, for Loki was for Sigyn, and the sacred act of marriage was something the nation upheld.

The Queen of Asgard and the Jotun Prince? How ridiculous! I imagined they would laugh among themselves, brushing each rumor off as some languid jest.

But one question plagued my mind to no end - had Loki known about these plans prior to the ball? 

And if he was indeed aware, he had smiled at her, laughed and danced with her... did this mean he did not love me as ardently as he claimed to?

"None bear this knowledge except for Lady Sigyn, her father, Mother and I. Loki is none the wiser." Thor's steady voice cut through the mist of depressing thoughts swirling in my mind. The resolute sound cleared the smoke of my troubles and comforted me. Loki did not know of the arranged betrothal, allowing me the small joy of clinging on to the shred of hope that he still cared.

Fine, I thought, wed her if you will. Just do me this small justice, and never forget.

Harmonious strings flood the room with song at the last resounding note, signaling that it was time to change partners. I was reluctant to pry myself from Thor's safe arms in worry of winding up in the embrace of a stranger. The vastness of the banquet hall seemed all the more unfamiliar at the thought of sharing my first dance with someone I'd never met before. Within these golden walls, the air grew shrill, the light dimmed and its people were naught but shadows waltzing in an empty room as they were told to...

I pulled away from the prince's grasp, the look in his eyes unwilling.

"It is time to take a different partner." he stated, an oddly sad tone in his voice. But he smiled. "You will do well."

And so I let go. The music carried me along its gliding currents and I complied, allowing myself to fall into the arms of the very first man who managed to sweep me into immediate dance. My eyes fluttered close as I felt myself drift further and further away from my husband and out into the wild, the melody lulling me into a trance as my limbs moved automatically to its uplifting rhythm. 

A soft brush of cool air caused me to open my eyes. A dark green shade filtered through the cracks of my lashes. 

As I pondered the familiarity of this specific color, the faint smell of leather took charge of my senses and I seemed to recall something that nagged at the back of my brain. Before I could fish the forgotten thought from the depths of my mind, another scent filled my nostrils as we drifted elegantly about the room - the mint of fresh snow, an enthralling though unnameable spice, the clear sweetness of dew and elderflowers settling in the morn. The familiar heat of fire crackling in the hearth, kindling desire in the smoldering depths of my soul. I knew this scent, this taste, this emotion, had felt it overwhelm me long ago when I had confided in the silent moon not to tell a soul beneath its knowing watch.

Thus, with a gasp, I looked up.

Portals to a deep, inky greenwood, his piercing eyes met mine. Emotion suffocated me, unable to even think or speak with my mind and body so lost in those twisted emerald labyrinths. They were watery and wide, fierce and yet so undeniably melancholy. 

My mouth was agape with the desire and need to tell him of how I longed for his embrace, his love and passionate words... of his child, of Sif's jealousy, of everything that had happened in the months of our separation. But he only stared, as if begging me not to break this silent barrier between us in fear of bursting with the raw longing coursing through our veins.

It was an unspoken plea to just allow him the small pleasure of holding me in his arms as we danced to the haunting, gradually discordant music. 

 

 

 

"I fear, Sif, that it is time to change partners." Fandral's sharp tenor pulled Sif from her thoughts like a fish from murky waters - spluttering and unready for this sudden slap of reality. The bustling hall quietened a sliver with a pause of the music, indicating that the time to transition to the next partner had come. Sif glanced around her, slightly glad to depart from the prying soldier but felt trepidation in letting another man put his hands on her waist and shoulder. 

When she fell into the hold of the first man who swept her away, even then, her stare refused to leave Loki. He had also ceased his movements, placing a kiss on the new maiden's hand before bowing politely and moving on to the next eager girl. 

It was her. His mistress.

The surprise in Sif's throat caused her to choke at the revelation that Loki had taken Thor's wife as his next partner in dance. Rage boiled beneath her skin as Sif's jaw clenched in anger; were they not ashamed of what they had done?

For a fleeting moment, Sif contemplated abandoning her partner amid the sea of twirling limbs and marching over to where Loki and the future queen danced, just to pry his trickster hands from her waist in attempt to restore the dignity of the God of Thunder. She continued to eye the pair intently without any care to see the face of the man who rested his digits on her own slender hip and the skin of her bare shoulder. She would never have let any man touch her like this were she not so focused on the interactions occurring between the pair across the room. Sif was numb to these graceful movements, her feet working almost mechanically as she twirled and fell against her partner again and again.

Then a chuckle rumbled through her chest.

She paused, wondering if the laughter belonged to she herself. But it was much too deep, too masculine to be her own.

It was then that she realized it belonged to her partner, whose chest was pressed to hers in the particular sequence of dance they were now performing. And on this chest, Sif recognized in horror, was red silk, stretched upon broad muscle. Her dazed focus trailed from his impressive pectorals to his collarbone, until the first traces of a golden stubble came into view on the strong width of his chin. It ran along his firm jaw and disappeared above his fond lips, bringing her to the crinkles at the corner of his cordial, cobalt orbs. 

His perfection was crippling in Sif's eyes; he was a god in every sense of the word. And to be this close to him...

Suddenly, the fingers on her shoulder burned through her skin like a flame. The hand on her waist made her shake with anticipation as its heat radiated through her core. She found that she could not suppress a smile at the intimacy of the situation and at once, Loki and his whore drifted from her mind, forgotten.  

"You are the second to appear so interested in my brother's conduct this night, Sif."

The warrioress almost cursed at the reminder. "I was merely curious as to whom Prince Loki was dancing with prior to the transition."

"Ah," Thor spoke and licked his lip, "she is Lady Sigyn, daughter of an influential Asgardian chancellor."

"She is very beautiful."

"Aye, she and Loki make a fine match."

Sif imagined Sigyn would be the one to marry Loki and aid in the cover-up of his liaison with the future queen of Asgard, judging by the utterly smitten look plastered across her face when she danced with him. Sif knew this expression well - better than she would have preferred. But if Loki were to announce the engagement in these particular times, there would be no chance of the scandal escaping closed doors. Her position as queen would be secure and Loki would be safely married with no chance of them ever having to suffer the consequences of their affair. At the sheer injustice of it, Sif bawled her fists in loathing.

"Ah yes," Thor addressed with interest, "what was it you wished to tell me about my wife?"

Once again she opened her mouth, wanting with all her heart to let her knowledge spill from within like a fountain of truth, exposing his woman and brother to the world so that they would receive the punishment they deserved. Thor would be free of their lies at last, and Asgard would no longer be plagued with their dishonesty. 

But there was reason in Sif. She knew that saying the words would only cause Thor to morph his expression into one of incredulity, then dismiss her suspicion with a laugh.

Because he loves her.

He would not believe her ridiculous accusations that seemingly came from nowhere. And Sif had to admit, it was true. All that had led to this conclusion was the memory of Prince Loki leaving her chambers, the insightful encounter in the gardens and the suspicious reaction she'd had to Loki's interactions with Lady Sigyn. Suddenly the whole ordeal seemed ridiculous to Sif; what if it all turned out to be paranoia stemming from her own intense love of Thor? Had she really stooped so low as to question this woman's fidelity through the hate bred from her petty jealousy? By Odin, she was a warrior! Not some intolerable, juvenile princess!

Bitter disgust tainted her tongue. The Warriors had once jokingly remarked about whether Thor's lady would survive past the wedding ceremony with Sif present, if he were ever to marry. Each time she had shaken her head with a chuckle, brushing off their taunts and suggestive smirks. Now, ever since Thor had wed, these jokes had ceased. She wondered why.

Refusing to meet Thor's eyes, she told a lie.

"I simply wished to ask if she has recovered, is all."

Her heart sank, hitting the floor with a clunk as a smile of gratitude spread across his lips. "She is very well, thank you, Sif." 

Sif returned the smile meagerly then assessed the room, subconsciously looking for Loki and his lover one last time. They were out of sight, lost among the crowd, and Sif could not be happier.

For now, all she wanted was to spend the night in Thor's arms. Gathering evidence would have to wait.

 

 

 

The new piece opened with a simple tune before merriment burst forth in the form of a symphony. The music was steady, full and romantic, boasting melodic charm as the couples around us broke into the next sequence with little effort, save for one or two renowned warriors who were more accustomed to situations involving brawn over finesse. The tune filled the night air with calm, as if it were a soothing sheath made to envelope my senses and rid me of my darkest thoughts.

I remembered Frigga's worry and the heart-wrenching concern in her tone when she had expressed her perturbation for her son's well-being. I hadn't wanted to believe it at the time, yet seeing Loki now, so close, turned my doubt to harrowing guilt.

Faint redness surrounded the shine of his emerald orbs. His ashen complexion appeared almost sickly, the dryness of his lips flaked with neglect. He looked just as he did in the night, when dreams of his love plagued my slumber until I would wake, gasping for his embrace, his eyes, his affection.

Loki held my stare. Fire blurred my vision at the sudden revelation that despite all that had transpired, I was here - in his arms, the crib of his love, and not anywhere else. A sudden swell of emotion brimmed at his eyes as he held me, dug his nails harshly into the flesh of my shoulder to keep from falling over the verge and losing control. The sting of pain struck ferocious but I endured, for every touch, every sensation burned into my memory and I was grateful. His tears glinted in the passing light while his mouth; wet and agape in unspeakable agony, grew numb with the hopelessness that ripped the voice from his constricted throat.

He was so... vulnerable. So tired. Tormented by the insatiable demands thrown his way, day after another, for eternity. 

The changing position of the dance caused him to remove his grip from my shoulder. I hissed, features contorting in sharp pain from where he had clung to me. He saw this and growled at the blood he'd drawn from my delicate skin. I was brought into an elegant twirl in which I tried to mask the ache with a stiff face. Immediately after that, cool fingers brushed over the crimson marks, sealing the small wounds that had caused my discomfort.

I melted into his healing touch. I could not recall him ever using magic to soothe me, and yet... the sense rang familiar at the back of my mind. Was it true what Sif had said, about seeing Loki leave my room while I slept?

At the strangest moment, he spoke. 

"I hurt you."

Nothing could have prepared me for the sound of his voice. It was artful, like molten silver dripping from his tongue. For so long, I had yearned to hear him speak again. Since that night, I dreamt of the silk of his tone enrapturing me into submission, easing the trouble from my aching body. It was as though he opened his mouth and out came a song; the anthem of hope and anguish that relieved my craving to taste the man behind the monster. 

He had spoken the regretful words of an apology yet nothing in his eyes echoed an ounce of remorse. Only pain. Endless pain.

"It is nothing, My Lord."

Still wincing, a low growl escaped his throat as he stared at the remaining crimson caking small crescents in my shoulder, despite the closed wound. "You're bleeding."

I shook my head and the music seemed to sway with it, leaping and bounding into a whole new form of melody that was so different from what it had been before. Our movements grew more vigorous by the second, each touch of our palms and every mingled breath searing my flesh with passionate intensity. My chest heaved. Knees trembled. Arms grew in weight and I struggled to maintain the graceful lifts.

Then a high, sustaining note stole through the air and lingered; cue for the male to sweep his partner off her feet.

His hands were on my waist in an instant to bring me off from the floor, and I swear I could no longer register the fact that solid ground existed beneath me. His fingers pressed  beneath my golden belt through the satin of my dress, gently kneading the flesh of my hip in what was not supposed to be a sensual gesture - but still the heat shot through me as the icy contrast of his scalding palms possessed me like a vehement current. Muscles frigid, I shuddered from his touch and the breath I held in the brief time my body was suspended in the air. I could just see a sliver of green and the ebony ends of Sigyn's flowing locks as she entranced and captivated the lord she was carried by. Then I was lowered to the marble floor once again, my eyes losing sight of the beautiful goddess.

Loki's gaze burned into my forehead; I could feel the jagged emeralds of his stare slicing at the skin, seeking refuge in my mind, so I reverted my gaze to each emerging figure I mistook for his betrothed. Any course of action seemed more likely to result in a better outcome than meeting Loki's eyes.

I cast my eyes to the floor and watched the hem of my gown draw long shadows about the meandering black of the marble floor. 

"I am quite alright, Prince Loki," I assured him again, though my voice was painfully short of convincing.

I heard him suck in a harsh breath, the sound piercing my ears abruptly. I cursed inwardly. His name upon my tongue had surely caused some emotions to stir within him; I could feel them, swimming in his core as I was pressed against his torso. I craved this touch, this delicious contact which should have been modest but made me feel like the subject of a great scandal.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to my footwork. One of the gleaming gems fastened onto the toe of my shoe caught the hem of my dress. Maybe it had been frayed from all the dancing but none of that mattered - there was no use in pondering this issue whilst I was taking a fall.

And it was quick. My eyes snapped shut as I fumbled for support. I could no longer see the vibrant colors of the ballroom or the rich greens of sweeping dresses. I could only feel the wind breeze across my face. Cold air beneath my fingertips as I stumbled forwards. Then the familiar grips of leather and the dreaded touch of cold skin, all adding to the impact of my unexpected collapse, heart beating against the cage of bone in my clenched chest.

Oh god, I'm going to die. 

Maybe death would have been the perfect solution to all this. But when were the gods ever on my side?

Suddenly, a forceful grip pulled me from my reverie. His iron hold was as rough and unrelenting as I remembered it; the muscles in my arm began to ache from the crushing pressure of his grip. The pad of his thumb burned painfully into the bone of my forearm while he whispered harshly against my ear in a manner akin to the low growl of the wind, broken and disoriented.

"Enough of this! No more games, no more lies, my love, please! No more..."

"Loki, let go of me!" I cried out, thrashing against him, pounding my fists weakly against his chest; he was so warm, and somehow, I found some twisted pleasure in the closeness of our bodies. This was rare - and I cherished it with every sharp inhale as the struggle died down and tears trailed down my cheeks. 

We were turning heads faster than time sped towards the chime of the late hour. Soon, murmurs flooded the hall and wormed into my ears. We were surrounded by watchers, a crowd who belittled and judged without full knowledge of the situation and conjured stories between themselves with their wild imaginations. 

I turned my gaze away from him, searching amongst lords and ladies for some merciful look of reassurance. Loki grasped my chin and wrestled my focus back to his eyes. His eyes, those watery, crazed depths, fueled with the desperation of a madman. For a second, I noticed the redness in his face... the product of alcohol. I was never aware that he'd been one to drink till intoxicated, now being the worst of times for me to realize this. His expression was tortured still, as was I when he continued to chant, "damn you! Damn you, I need you, I need you-" 

The strength in me was building; the pent-up shame burst forth in a cloud of guilt as I forced his body from mine and fled, not wanting to see him stumbling backwards into the nearest group of horrified guests. 

My vision blurred but my feet moved, like a mechanism taught to remember itself as I ran in any direction, away from Loki. My carelessness caused me to collide yet again with the figure of a young woman, who screamed in shock and dropped her glass. Its contents emptied onto my gown, faster than I could realize it.

I looked down. 

A red liquid started to seep through my crimson dress, from the line of my waist to the bottom of my skirts. Scarlet trails running through the creases of my gown, darkening it to the deep maroon of wine. 

Then pain. The dagger buried in my abdomen, my blood on my dress, the loss of my child. I was reliving it all again from nothing but a stain on my ballgown. My eyes grew wide, my knees felt as if they would give out beneath me. Amidst all the chaos, I craved collision with the floor if I really were to surrender to my weakness. I desired the touch of ice, the soothing release of my cheek against marble. The dull thud of hurried footsteps and muffled gasps of surprise following me into unconsciousness. 

"My Lady," a voice, "are you alright?"

 

 

 

"Get away from me, you bitch!"

The dancers ceased their twirling and heads turned. Gazes were averted with interest to the future queen of Asgard, who had run into Lady Asta and was now covered in a generous splatter of fine wine. Lady Sif had come to her aid, but to the horror of the crowd around her, she had screamed profanities at the warrioress and retreated hastily to her chambers, visibly shaken by the events that'd unfolded in a blur. As the clatter of her footsteps left the hall, the room erupted with confused murmurs, whispers that drowned out the short-lived silence in the wake of her sudden leave.

Sif, who stood stiffly by the exiting doors, tried not to break out in mirthless laughter. But of course, none saw the corner of her lips twitch, held back by nothing but fierce determination to keep her joy to herself.

Eyes then fell onto Prince Loki. He seemed disoriented and lost, his stare full of tears as if he were in the aftermath of a deranged battle that had stirred from within him. The ice in his glare caught many of the guests by surprise, but did not stop them from recounting what suggestive things he had uttered so desperately to his brother's wife. One by one, they turned to each other and whispered petty speculations right before his watchful eyes. They were shameless. As was he in his passion for her.

These people... Loki looked to his father, whose face was stern with that same disapproval, then to his mother and Thor, who seemed worried and strangely, afraid. This unnerved him, until he looked once again upon a crowd of imbeciles who road on the downfall of others in order to soar. Creatures who lapped at every drop of one's dismay with their ignorant tongues, then proceeded to spread it to others with the same impetuousness. These... monsters, who spoke behind the back of the woman for whom he would withstand the snapping jaws of the great hound of Hellgate just to hold in his embrace. 

The prince left without another word, ignoring the pleas of his mother who had followed him from the banquet hall. 

Chapter Text

"Loki Odinson, you will look at me when I am speaking to you."

"I am not Odin's son."

"But you are mine, Loki. And though you are not born of the Allfather, you surely take after him in terms of temper."

"Mother, I would like to be left alone."

"And you shall be, once you explain the cause for your behavior tonight."

"Mother, please, I need to be alone..." the prince swallowed, his jaw clenching back the tears that nipped at his eyes, "it's what I do best."

"No. I shan't leave till you've told me about what happened and, more importantly, why."

Loki groaned inwardly as he felt the space on the bed next to him compress under the weight of his stern-faced mother, who was now looking at him and eagerly awaiting an explanation. He turned his head away from her patient gaze. As much as he despised it, the truth was, his mother had always been the only one to see through his lies and break through his thick facade. Frigga was the one who raised him, taught him magic he'd never thought possible, gifted him books from Asgard's great archives to widen his knowledge. Loved him like her own son. 

She had given him all this skill, and what for what? He smirked mirthlessly. For me to become Loki Liesmith, Asgard's favorite frost giant trickster.

"Take your time, my son," came the Queen's soothing speech. "Though I must admit that your hesitance to even look me in the eye worries me immensely."

A shaky sigh left his lips while his eyes closed in mild irritation at his mother's insistence. He remembered times like these. In the past, he had placed blame on his brother for his own mischief and foolishly underestimated Frigga's understanding of his personality, lying through his teeth when confronted. He could almost chuckle at how far he'd come from the naive little boy he was once was. In the days of his youth, Loki desired nothing more than for the faces of his victims to contort in anger as the full extent of his ludicrous pranks dawned upon them. The memory of Sif's blade slicing furiously at his heels as she chased him through the halls for cutting her hair still brought a small smile to his face each time he remembered it.

And now?

His eyes opened. They were harsh, almost blaring with melancholy. Now, he wanted other things. Like his father's approval, the love of the public, the boisterous cheer of a crowd upon his arrival. To step out from the darkness of Thor's shadow and into his own light, where he would bask in the adoration of those around him, and perhaps, rule over them someday. Loki wanted his brother's power to make others applaud the sound of his name and every deed he committed, whether it be just or not. He wanted that life and the respect that came with it. Loki wanted to take Thor's wife from his clutches and proclaim her as his own, then throw a wedding more lavish than any other ceremony in Yggdrasil. He would kiss her and hold her for all to see and make their love known without having to deal with these ridiculous consequences obstructing their passion.

Loki wanted. 

He desired many things, and wished he could recede to childhood where the world was still a blooming garden of opportunities. In his dreams, he was a brave and most worthy son who fought to conquer kingdoms and held the praise of his father, and the approval of a doting mother. No oaf of a brother, no hiding behind him as Thor received an entire episode of applause from a loyal legion of Asgardians.

He exhaled deeply and calmer, facing away from a pressing Frigga. He would just tell her another lie; after all, she'd be disappointed in him anyway upon hearing the truth.

"I was not wary of how much I drank, and I am truly sorry for causing any distress in the ballroom tonight. I should have been more careful."

"You of all people should know that I can smell a lie when I am told one."

The look his mother gave him brought back a torrent of embarrassing memories from when he'd stolen from the kitchen and framed Thor by placing bread crusts beneath his bed. The Queen had called him out immediately for his fibbing with a stern, motherly tone.

Loki would never admit that he wanted to tell her everything. He needed to confide his troubles in someone he trusted, someone who would listen and understand without contributing with unnecessary input. The emotions rose and gathered in his chest, his rib cage a weight which held the scorn that threatened to burst from his throat. He wanted to address his jealousy of his brother, and his own love for Thor's unwilling wife. He sought the comfort of knowing that he was not alone in this time of dire need.

The truth boiled upon his tongue like a scalding broth waiting to spill from aching lips.

"I tell no lie, Mother."

"You've told one now."

"I... do not wish to speak of it-"

"So you admit that you are lying to me." Frigga narrowed her eyes with a knowing smile, "you do not still take me for a fool, do you, my son?"

No answer came. His mouth was dry as cotton, words pushing against his lips till they grew numb from staying shut. The same words played over and over again in his mind.

I love her.

By the gods, I love her.

He sneaked a glance at his mother and felt dread line his stomach at the absence of a smile on her face. She had always looked frightening when she was completely and utterly serious, like that time after he'd cut Sif's hair in her sleep and laughed about it afterwards. Frigga's expression was solemn and unamused, as if she had just been exposed to a life-threatening revelation. Loki was as afraid of her as ever - nothing had changed. And for that, Loki was almost grateful.

"Loki..." his mother said calmly, almost like she was composing herself as well as her son, "is this... about your brother?"

Loki didn't believe this was truly what his mother thought to be the cause of his distress. She didn't look to believe it herself.

"Yes." He gave a straight answer. "And no."

Frigga placed a gentle finger beneath his chin and tilted him to face her. Her eyes were watery and clear, blue as Thor's yet infinitely deeper. Loki would never dream of not seeing them each day, having her there to help and hold him, like she always did. With a steady voice, she asked him:

"Is this about her? "

A dreadful silence followed the lingering weight of her words. She was right in a sense; he was indeed thinking about her. Every step, every glance, every breath he took, the image of her beneath him, writhing in the darkness, suppressing strangled cries as he took all that was hers still stayed on his mind. Over the months that had passed, he could honestly say that he'd been up to no good at all. In the course of less than a year, the prince had engaged in an affair with his brother's wife, lied to his family and took part in countless other dark deeds... Loki hoped his mother would not be so diligent as to take a hint on all that he had done. He feared that if he did not tell the truth now, that it would somehow worm itself out from inside him when he least expected it.

"Yes... and no."

Frigga inclined her head slightly as her eyes looked on at him in sadness. He did not know how to respond to that; for the first time in years, the look on her face held true, unadulterated disappointment. He would always accuse her of preferring Thor but in the end she had always loved him unconditionally, even after the many wrongs he had done her. It was this particular melancholy in her eyes that shook him to the core. 

"Oh, Loki..." she sighed, as her deep blue orbs glazed over with worry. "How can you- how...?"

He bit his lip and shied from her touch. "Mother..."

"No... you couldn't have...! Loki, she is your brother's wife!"

"I know that."

"You clearly do not, or you would not have-" Her lip quivered in a moment of denial. She placed a hand over her chest, hoping to calm her beating heart from the fact that her worst speculation had come true. "Have you... have you done anything with her?!"

 

Silence.

 

Frigga looked as though she could burst with despair. Her voice dropped to a low, desperate whisper. "When...? When did this happen?"

Shame overtook Loki as he lowered his gaze to the floor. The lump in his throat was the only thing there to keep him from crying out the answer. He loathed seeing his mother seem uncertain, skeptical even, of the true nature of her son.

"On the night of the wedding, I..."

"No... oh, no!"

He exhaled. "Mother, please-"

"How could you do this?! How could you take what is not yours?" Frigga rose from the bed and began pacing distressingly. Loki opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by her icy glare. "Do not tell me that you are in love with her, Loki. I know you, I know that you did this to anger Thor. To hurt your father, all of us!"

"No, Mother," glossed emerald orbs met deep despairing blue as Loki met her gaze. "I am in love with her. I have been ever since I saw her at the wedding, and even more so after that night in the gardens. My actions may have stemmed from the mild jealousy I hold towards my brother, but I do not regret pursuing her love."

"You... you speak the truth!"

"I do, Mother. I love her. With every ounce of my being, every fiber of my existence and though I wish it were not so, I have never loved anyone more!"

"My son, do you not understand?" The Queen stalked over towards him and cupped his weary face in her quaking hands. "She has married and pledged herself to him and you have robbed him of his dignity without even a shred of his knowledge!"

"She did not want to marry him. She never wanted a part in any of this!"

"And you think she wants to marry you, if I am not mistaken?"

His mother had once again caught him off guard. In the many hours he'd spent pining for her touch, her love, there'd been instances wherein the prospect of him taking her as his own wife had come to mind. Loki could even recall once envisioning her in a lavish green gown, standing beside him at the altar during one of his many dreams of splendor. His heart swelled at these precious thoughts, these little wishes he kept locked away for when he was alone in the safety of his chambers.

"It would complete me, Mother."

"Are you even certain she feels the same way? Does she make you happy? Does your heart soar at the thought of her, or does it weep?"

"Mother..."

"Does she smile when she sees you and even when she does not? Do her eyes come alight when they find yours? What do you know of love, Loki?" She held his gaze; the look on his face expressed his reluctance to crumble with emotion. "You are young, my dear son. You are already acquainted with Lady Sigyn who is beautiful as she is charming - both of which are attractive qualities. Will you not consider her? Love should build and raise you, not break or destroy your resolve."

"But I-" Loki began to say, unable to find the strength to argue on with a woman who was a thousand times wiser than he, even if he would never care to admit it aloud.

"Say no more, Loki. It hurts my heart to think of what you've done!"

"Why?" A sneer spread across his tired features. "Does this force you to realize the failure I've become? Do you finally see me for what I truly am?"

"Yes." Frigga answered firmly with an incredulous confidence. "I see you as I have always seen you - as my son."

"A disappointment."

"A success."

"A liar."

"A man misunderstood."

"A monster."

"An angel. My angel, dear Loki. You are my son, and I love you, just as your father and your brother do in their own way, whether they express it by words or more discreetly by actions. Pride keeps them from speaking these words; they are alike, but you are smart... and intelligent, cunning, even. Different. But that has not hindered us, your family, from loving you as our own."

"You lie. Everyone has always favored Thor. Never the frost giant, never the Thunderer's shadow, because he only does tricks. Tricks and lies, deceit and mischief in the dark, alone as he laughs at a world in which people need only look upon a man before deeming him a monster. My fath- the old fool still sitting on that throne did not rush to comfort me as you did. Your beloved golden boy is still in there, standing stoic and being too big of an oaf to go and comfort his wife, who is upset and all alone and in need of someone to hold her-" He inhaled harshly, unaware that he'd been speaking under a single breath all this time. It's all out now, he realized with a sigh. He was at the mercy of these unstoppable thoughts and feelings which, for the first time, spewed from his lips in the presence of someone other than himself. 

Regaining his composure was easy. Finding the courage to speak again proved difficult for a man whose teeth were stained with the remnants of the many lies he told to every passing face, every passing day. "It should be me."

Frigga looked on forlornly as he placed a hand on his chest in a notion of heartfelt sincerity. It was real, that his mother could tell. And it shattered her heart.

"It should be me," he whispered, "I should be the one to hold her, love her, shield her from harm. Why did she have to be his? Tell me, Mother. Tell me why everything I hold dear is out of my reach."

"Loki..." 

The prince scoffed. Tone dripping with venom, he lashed out in a fit of hatred at his own misery. "You can't, can you? Of course you can't. No one understands how I feel, just as nobody has ever cared to make me think otherwise."

"My son, please-"

"There are many things I have done across these difficult months, Mother. Terrible things, and not just..." he glanced at the blood embedded beneath his nails from that earlier touch, "this. Deeds that would surely have you hate me for all eternity."

"I could never hate you." The Queen was solemn and severe, eyes hard and lips tight as she embraced her son and held on to him, not wanting for Loki to slip away and recoil into his own pit of self-loathing any longer. She had been close to losing him in the past... but she would not let that happen again. She felt the rapid rise and fall of his chest against her own, just like first time she had held the abandoned babe to her bosom with the warmest affection a woman could give to her child. Hesitant arms coiled slowly around her as she balanced on her toes to take in all of his tall frame. 

Just as she'd begun to sink into the comfort of his arms, a lengthy exhale breezed past Frigga's right ear, prompting the abrupt fall of his arms from her back. It was like the warmth had vanished in an instant, the moment absent and never to be retrieved once more. 

"We shall see."

He moved to the other side of the bed and picked up a book from the nightstand, plopping down onto the mattress as nonchalantly as a man who had not just spilled his heart and soul to the one he trusted most in the world. 

Loki kept his eyes strained on the empty words on each yellowing page, wishing he were deaf to the sobs of his mother as she escaped the saddening air of his chambers.

 

 

 

The halls of Asgard were silent, save for the dull hum of white noise creeping along alabaster walls and the breath of the wind seeping through windows ajar. Pale moonlight fell onto marble tiles in scattered beams, illuminating selected crevices and corners of the palace's design. Not even the gentle song of a bird in the night could be heard at this time of rest, where even the strongest of warriors and mightiest of kings were enclosed in the grasp of slumber.

Healers, especially, needed their nourishment to continue saving the lives of those in the kingdom with their well-learnt skills.

After the ordeal with her mother's sickness and meeting the dark sorcerer in secret, the last few weeks had proved difficult for Bergdis to relax. She could no longer turn a corner without peering behind her, shoulders stiff, expecting the dreaded cobalt of the wizard's blazing eyes staring back at her from the darkness. Nervousness burned through her entire body. Now, her hands shook wherever she went; never warm, not nearly as nimble as they used to be. 

The money from the Lady's coffers she had taken to pay for his remedies had been spent, save for a single coin she'd salvaged from the amass of gold and jewelry which was now gone from her hands. The icy face of the coin against her breast was hidden by her modest healer's garments and served as a reminder of the gratitude she held for the queen-to-be. Bergdis thought her selfish and manipulative at first, but could not help admiring the intelligence and incredible resolve of the woman who had had a child with the heir's own brother but lost it shortly to a dark elf's blade.

Bergdis slept lightly, plagued by endless nightmares consisting of piercing blue eyes watching her intently. 

A sudden gasp left her throat at the cold sting of steel against her frail, white neck. Eyes wide, she caught the glint of a sword pressed dangerously at the skin below her chin. Her muscles were frigid upon the bed that seemed to grow hard as wood as a deadly whisper fell upon her ears.

"Hello, Bergdis."

Tears streamed down her face as a swift hand clamped down on her mouth, muffling the strangled cries that would have woken others from their deep sleep. The silent perpetrator leaned in closer, closer... until the healer could feel hot breath burn her cheek and scalding lips against the shell of her ear, the attacker's clear words clouding her frantic mind.

"You will tell me everything you know about the great whore of Asgard."

Chapter Text

The rattle of chains against the marble floor echoed off the walls of the age old Asgardian throne room. The suspension of unease hung in the air, thickening it so that one might cut the tension with the edge of a dagger. No other sound pierced the silence, save for the low snarls of a prisoner as she was dragged to the center of the vast room, bound by shackles which dug into her pallid flesh. As the guards dropped her to the floor, the steel binds ground her skin with a painful friction that sent her alien features contorting in pain.

"Speak, you disgusting creature."

The elf glared back at the crown prince with sunken, black eyes. The soldiers had stripped her of the mask she wore in battle, exposing her defined Elven features to the hot Asgardian air. Slowly, her twisted lips split apart in a sickening grin as she broke out in taunting laughter, sending Thor's blood to a boil while his iron grip tightened upon Mjolnir.

With a thundering crack, Thor brought his palm down on the dark elf's bony cheek with all the force of a galloping heard of horses charging onto a vast field. The elf spluttered blood and groaned through lips that had burst apart from the impact. Her cheek darkened to a deep blue, immobilizing the very muscles needed to form words. Any sound she made was guttural, hoarse and far too quiet for anyone who did not lean in close. 

"I... would never... speak for you..."

"I did not ask for your opinion on the matter. We already know of your intentions to seize Alfheim. Tell us how you managed to infiltrate our staff and what your kind has planned for us. Let's not forget that you gravely hurt my wife - a deed for which you will pay dearly."

Through the blood pooling in her mouth, she grinned against the pain in defiance. Thor was further aggravated by the playful resistance in her soulless orbs, designed to unsettle any being with an ounce of compassionate in sight. He realized bitterly that the darkness was every bit as strong as the light the Aesir had come to dwell in since birth.

Thor clenched his jaw. Small shadows fell over tense muscle as he held her gaze with the steely nature of a king.

"I will not ask this again. How many of you survived the clash of eons ago? How did you escape? Who commands your attacks?"

"So m-many... questions... from so many fools..."

The ground shook under the crackling force delivered from the tip of the prince's mighty boot, into the elf's quivering stomach. Thor stepped back in disgust at the spurts of crimson tainting his shoe. No guard dared make a sound as the prisoner's faint wheezing filled the room in which Odin sat expressionless at its head. 

The prince let out a humorless chuckle. "In all my years of battles won and raids victorious, I have never struck a maiden till she collapsed, clinging to the last sliver of life left in her body from my wrathful blow." The prisoner winced and raised a feeble hand towards Thor as he knelt to her level, leaning close. Menacing. Blue eyes blazing in fury, agleam with perverse mirth. "But you are no maiden, are you? No. You are naught but one soldier out of an expendable many, made to follow orders like soulless slaves. By placing you in shackles, we have aided you in fulfilling your true purpose."

There was something in his voice; something that diverged from the candor surrounding his jovial reputation. Every time he assumed a new posture, he posed as the embodiment of a threat, as though a hidden darkness existing inside him was only now scraping the surface. This alone frightened the dark elf to the point of paralysis; her black eyes blared at him, blood pooling around her, the truth knocked from her form like the breath from her battered lungs. The prospect of yet more pain overshadowed her. 

Then she told him everything. 

 

 

 

One.

Two.

The gatekeeper kept count of every blow the prince dealt to the trembling creature in the throne room. He was stoic as ever and stood in his usual position - knees a foot apart, shoulders broad, sword in his firm grasp. Muscles strained to tautness, hardened like cold stone. Irises burning amber as they flitted to take in each scene, every movement, every release of breath across the Nine Realms. 

For many a moon, Heimdall's interests had been directed to the strange interactions between Asgard's renowned trickster and the one he was to address as his queen in a few years' time. But that would have to wait. The interrogation of an enemy thought to be long gone advanced immediately to the top of his priorities.

The flame in his eyes shone bright as he peered into the scene, sharp and intent as a hawk. Were it not for his ability to see all that there was, his intense focus on Thor and the prisoner would have rendered him blind to Frigga's hurried entrance. Shimmering golden tresses danced in his peripheral vision as the Queen made her way to stand next to him. 

"What is it you wish to know, My Queen?"

The gatekeeper's booming tenor would have startled most, but not the Queen of Asgard, whose visits had increased in frequency as of late. 

"Tell me what you see in the throne room, Heimdall."

Heimdall managed a small tilt of respect in her direction, and felt the force of worlds weighing down on his head. "As you wish, My Queen."

 

 

 

There she lay, motionless and worn upon cold stone. Even the sight of red that swept across her cheek in his wake was harsh to her, inducing hammering dread beating deep inside her broken body. 

No more, her own voice begged in her head as his bloodied footwear came into view, no more pain.

It was beneath her kind to crawl and plead at the feet of lesser beings, much less the enemy. Almost humbled by the pain, she would have wailed and begged for mercy even longer if that would only reduce his cruel mutilation of her flesh. Her cries for compassion would ring loud and clear throughout the halls of Asgard if only he would stop hurting her. 

If only she could speak. Her lips, split and caked with blood, stung with pain with each passing of shallow breath. He wasn't touching her now, not at all. He merely stood before her so that she could smell the mud on his cape and see the dark grey of his shoes. Pain thudded dully inside her long after the last time he'd shattered a portion of her rib cage. 

Never would she have anticipated this distasteful turn of events. How could she have known that Prince Thor's wife had much too observant an eye? That did not end well for her, the elf chuckled darkly to herself. It came across as more of a short exhale through the nose in her weak state. 

Thor's voice struck her like the hammer he wielded. 

"You mean to tell me that once your leader became aware of his imminent defeat, he pulled what little portion of his army he could still salvage into the safe suspension of time... only to be awoken centuries later by a powerful force, the key to dominion over the realms, that we ourselves took from you and locked away all those years ago?"

"What more... do you wish to know?" the elf rasped, having gained sudden strength from the fuel of her anger. "How many centuries have yet to pass for you to accept your defeat? Our leader will bring us to a glorious end, the start of a new era when we smite you beneath our feet."

Odin's eyes narrowed upon hearing a chuckle that was, unmistakably, not Thor's. The booming laughter of his eldest son and heir had always been jovial, loud, presumptuous and everything not present in the sound that had just erupted from his lips: a snide exhale, dry of humor which dripped all the while with the damp humidity of sinking, slipping malice.

Thor's fist dove through her disheveled white tresses and tugged. A ferocious cry tore from her throat. The sharp pain in her scalp should not have stung as it did, but Thor made it so nonetheless. 

Blood filled her mouth and she drank it warmly. It tasted foul but at least it was liquid; something she had not been offered since her capture for attempting to slit the Queen of Alfheim's throat.

"I will tell you one final time," the prince hissed through his teeth, "I will ask the questions and you, my dear, shall supply the answers." Once again, she turned her face sharply from his hot, dangerous breath. "Only the answers."

At these words, his eyes flashed a bright green before shifting back to their original blue hue.

The elf was petrified.

 

 

 

Frigga paced behind the gatekeeper, back and forth in sync with her hammering heart.

"How were the dark elves awakened from the suspension, if not by the Aether itself?"

"It was, My Queen. The prisoner says it was found."

"By whom?"

"By a mortal. She says the Aether flows through the Midgardian's veins, like the very blood which sates her being."

"And the elves felt it from within her?"

"Yes, My Queen. They know she cannot contain it for long."

"Such power must be protected, and the mortal saved from harm. I shall send Thor and the Warriors to retrieve her promptly."

"A course of action most wise, My Queen."

The silk of her violet gown fluttered at her feet as she turned to leave. Glinting, gold locks left Heimdall's peripheral vision. 

He heard the footsteps slow to a halt. 

"And what of the light elves slain in Nidavellir? Was the Queen of Alfheim targeted for nothing?"

The gatekeeper's glowing orbs narrowed a fraction as he continued to observe the interrogation. "The prisoner claims," he paused to hear the elf speak, "... that the lives of Light Elves lost play a part in something far greater."

The Queen's brow furrowed, perplexed. "What could this mean?"

"'Once the final member of a dark council is resurrected'," Heimdall repeated the dark elf's words, "'they will wage a war more destructive than any battle we have lived to see. It shall claim lives by the multitude as darkness rises to power whilst light dwindles in submission to the greater force'."

Frigga did not reply, having just envisioned the frightful potential of the future spoken through the gatekeeper's ominous drone.

 

 

 

She lay motionless, wrapped in his arms, like a dove burrowed deep into its nest for maximum comfort. No simple, slight smile graced her lips but serenity like a silent veil settling upon skin, soaking the flesh with the warmth and dull hum of peace. 

Often times, Loki wondered if her sole purpose on this realm was to scratch and gnaw at him until the deepest darkness within himself burst free and made him a monster. But in those rare moments, ones where he would let in the seductive promise of renewed hope, moments with her seemed to last a brief flit of time. And yet within each stolen glance, every hurtful barb spat through teeth, every cry of pleasure and of pain, those were all, each and every one of them, eternities.

It was his curse yet also his greatest blessing to dwell in each and every rare infinity, right where he belonged and where he longed to stay.

This was the reason his eyes burned and his heart churned at the sight of her in his brother's arms; the both of them asleep and unaware of the man watching them. 

 

"Brother," Thor had said lowly as the prince pulled him into a corner. The look in his eyes had been serious and so solemn which would have frightened those who'd grown accustomed to his usual cheer. "Brother, I am in need of your help. My wife... she is not well-"

"Seek the healers, then." As soon as Loki had replied, Thor's expression faltered visibly. The raven-haired prince was taken aback; he hadn't meant to sound uncaring, but the edge and the nonchalance in his tone must have led his brother to assume otherwise. 

If only he knew of the pulsating ache in his chest at the mention of her name.

"'Tis true, the healers are able to close the most severe of wounds or cure any frightening ailment of the body. But they cannot cure those of the heart and mind. Please, Loki. Father has just called for the interrogation of our prisoner for which I must be present, but my wife cannot be left alone. I fear for her life, dear brother. She needs me; I cannot neglect her as I have so selfishly done in the past."

Loki remembered clenching his jaw and biting back the ferocious words which threatened to spill from his mouth. 

I have never, nor would I ever leave her alone if only she were mine to pledge my love. 

You do not deserve her.

He'd swallowed dryly. "Do you know what it is that you ask of me, Thor? Taking a metamorphic form in the presence of your father is a great risk. Especially when he himself is familiar with this magic."

"If I must drop to my knees and beg, then so be it. She no longer seems to trust any servant to be alone with her. She speaks a name unknown to me in her sleep and seems alright to everyone in the day, yet I know she is anything but. Take my place at the interrogation, Loki. Exact our revenge on the prisoner who has damaged my wife - the future queen of Asgard."

The tips of Loki's fingers grew cold, like the insidious beginnings of frostbite hours before it drew the last sliver of warmth from one's body. 

"What does she say when she sleeps?"

 

 

 

Einar. 

'The lone warrior'.

A servant fabricated from the depths of his bottomless imagination. An alias that had grown popular among pretty handmaidens in the palace in the wake of each new effortless sexual adventure.

The dashing soldier with whom his brother's wife had fallen in love with the night of her wedding. 

Loki felt emptiness engulf him from the inside at this revelation.

It was him she had loved all along.

Not Loki.

Never Loki Laufeyson. 

The door of her chambers closed without the slightest creak when he left. He wiped his sleeve furiously at his eyes but the tears did not cease to fall.

Chapter Text

Night turned to day, and days, weeks. The flaxen glow of the sun rising in the east was lost to Loki, for the only light which caught his worn eye was the gentle phosphorescence of the moon late into the night. It had no eyes to observe nor ears to lend as listener except silence and serenity to watch on in empathy. Such light, such luminescence, surrounded by endless darkness. The moon could never escape the black scape to which it was born. 

Maybe this was why the prince identified with it.

Since he'd learned the truth behind her constant rejection, sleep had evaded him once again. He obliged the insomnia though; perhaps every restless night was deserved, as he'd let himself be blinded by sentiment and affected by the disadvances of his brother's whore. 

He clenched and unclenched his fists as the word left a foul taste in his mouth. He could never call her such a thing, not even in his mind - because she wasn't one. 

The things she said that morning on her bed, the stronger voice inside him raged, they are unforgivable.

Loki wanted desperately for his stomach to churn in disgust at the woman who held his heart in her soft hand and, instead of crushing it mercifully, continued to latch on and wring it like a vice, digging her nails into his sensitive core and prolonging his torture. He wanted to take violent hold of her chin and mar her comely features so that no man or woman might look upon her body with such damning desire as that of his. He wanted to make her suffer for all the pain she'd caused him with nothing but a mere stolen glance or simple touch. When the palace fell silent at midnight, Loki imagined wringing her beautiful neck with his hateful hands until her eyes glossed over like smoke in the wake of a smoldering flame. The sight of her wrapped in his brother's powerful embrace had stirred many urges within him; one being to pry the snake from her burrow and pass a blade through her throat.

Wishing death upon Thor's wife was not new to him. The night he had taken her in the gardens never left his mind, as each breath, each blazing touch and every hushed word had given him life. It was as if she'd breathed part of her spirit into his the first time their tongues dueled in a dance of riveting desire. The scent of her hair, the curvature of her hips and the taste of her skin haunted his dreams. He repelled these thoughts just as much as he held them close, like a man driven by a sweet addiction.

He would kill her if he had the chance. 

Over and over again, the scene of her blood painting his face in droplets played out in his mind. 

But then he would see her; pass her by in the halls or meet her distant eye across the table, and his heart would fill to the brim with hers. 

All thoughts of watching her life drain into warm blood would vanish... and dissipate into the softness of her lip between his teeth.

Life without her posed impossible for him. 

Loki took to his bed where his cape lay tangled in a mess of sheet and silk. It was a fine lush green, like the sun filtering into a hidden forest. Soft to the touch yet powerful in the heft of fine material from which it was made. Without a second thought, he slipped it onto his firm shoulders, eyes tired and in need of the caresses of the cool night air.

The sole of his shoes were silent upon the marble corridors, his footsteps accustomed to slipping through the darkness leaving no trace of any shape, form or sound. His body stole through the halls, like a bounding shadow. Swift and cautious, he escaped into the midnight exposure of the royal gardens.

Crisp air sent a tingle through his pale cheeks and slipped into the creases framing each eye, soothing the tiredness there. His mouth was dry as cotton as he sucked in a delicious breath of fresh surrounding. Despite the serene white glow that doused all flowers in its snowy shade, Loki could still make out the many variations of Asgardian flora. The familiar fragrance of roses filled the air as he turned a corner of the floral labyrinth, a reminder of the cruelest kind of what would forever be out of his reach.

Nature cried in warning for him to turn back. Every dizzying smell, every taste, each rough patch of shrubbery under his fingertips prayed for him to be wary of their heed but it was no use. 

He'd seen it.

A low figure, doused in shadow beneath the moon's watchful light, appeared motionless in a hunched position. Loki's tongue darted to wet his lips in rising trepidation before he stepped close, eager to see who or what had escaped into the garden so late at night.

The moonlight fell upon tumbling tresses, bounding against a defined shoulder before filtering through the fine material of a nightdress; a silk sheet that billowed gently atop surrounding roots.

Loki's thoughts at first were of Lady Sigyn's pale complexion - one he knew to hold a radiant translucency, as if her skin held a jade-like opacity over the underlying bone. But Loki had escorted her off personally that night and seen her leave with her stump of a father...

He could cringe with disgust at all fathers willing to pawn their daughters off to royalty for a pathetic scrap of gold. Unluckily for Loki, the figure before him was not that of his beautiful betrothed. 

From the shifting shadows peered two glowing orbs. Icy blue, blazing, staring eerily out at the cautious prince.

Eyes that he knew all too well.

"What are you doing here?" he asked steadily, warily conjuring a wisp of energy that warmed his palm.

A shiver crept along his spine at the unnatural laughter punctuating the air. It surrounded him, closing in until the insidious sound drowned out the tranquil hum of silence he'd sought from the gardens in the heart of night.

"You are mistaken, Jotun heir," hissed the strange voice cloaked in darkness. "I am not in the splendorous confines of Asgard's lavish garth, but the darkest, unparalleled depths of your own mind."

"Spare me this needless discourse. You didn't worm your way into my head for a little chat, did you?"

Once again, a warped chuckle sent a shiver of unease down Loki's spine. It was the voice of indomitable magic trapped in the spirit of one who had managed to subdue its capabilities for their own gain. 

"Indeed, I did not come to all this trouble just to witness this blatant exhibition of inept seidr tricks."

Loki felt the confident pull of a smirk at the corner of his lips. "I won't hesitate to put them to use should you continue to evade my question."

"You forget that you could not harm me even if you died trying, for I am not truly in front of you." The cobalt orbs narrowed, almost in disbelief. "Hmm. I would have expected a comment in regard to my current form, were it not for your present... situation."

An inexplicable heat rose to Loki's cheeks and the nape of his neck, fire taking the form of sweat building in his palms - but he suppressed the growing anxiety, as he had always done. "Why you have chosen to parade as my brother's wife is beyond even the extensive lengths of my comprehension."

"The lady is, of course, exquisite in both mind and body", mused the impostor darkly, "so much so that I did not think twice before... 'slipping into her', if you will." He seemed particularly amused at the way the ice in the prince's furious glare confirmed the offense taken at his verbal quip. "By the Norns, you could render a man dead with that look alone."

"'T'would not be the first time something of the sort has occurred."

"You have the confidence of a king, Laufeyson." There came an unsettling pause. The glowing orbs observed Loki as his chest rose rapidly with seething rage. "Tell me, heir of Jotunheim, do you think yourself above consequence?"

Loki's jaw tightened, withholding words which would have been unwise of him to spill. 

"No." 

"Really?" The voice was skeptical, made colder by the humorless chuckle that followed. "Your actions thus far lead me to assume otherwise."

"What exactly do you mean?" snapped Loki with an air of annoyance. "Shall I keep listening to your futile riddle-speak while you rob me of another night's rest?"

"You are not entitled to express your irritation before me - especially when it was your utter incompetence that put such a hindrance in our operation."

Loki stopped in his tracks, all thoughts of anger gone in the instant. "But- how?! I was disguised-"

"As a pitiful merchant, yes, I am well informed. Unfortunately for us all, a child witnessed you entering my tent in the city last we met to discuss plans. You left the tent with the scriptures you needed for the cloaking spell which were inscribed with ancient runes - ones that emit a powerful blue glow after first initiation."

The prince inhaled sharply. A sinking weight seemed to fall upon his chest. "The child... saw this glow, I presume."

"You are correct, Laufeyson. Subsequent to your carelessness, the child went on to spread the word that a wizard resided in the city of Asgard. I began to receive visits from commoners asking for wealth, fame, love, a fruitful season, every pathetic request imaginable of the poor. And so I granted their wishes, in exchange for their secrecy. Only if they promised not to reveal my whereabouts would I even consider helping them. But these commoners are no honest folk. They are cheap, ravenous, unreliable. More and more of them arrived at the mouth of my tent until I decided to set a price: a hefty sum of gold to reduce the affordability of my remedies, and their written consent allowing full access to their minds so that I could judge for myself whether they were trustworthy. Of course, I had no use for gold. I could have entered their untrained minds and discovered their darkest secrets by force, as I have attempted with you, all on my own volition if I wished. But I had to quieten the bustle about the 'dark sorcerer' so that it would not reach the one we both work for."

"I work for no one. I am simply aiding him in certain endeavors that will earn me my rightful place as king of my people."

"Do not forget that I agreed to this in pursuit of my own goals as well. For the sake of this operation, I have tarnished the name of sorcery and used it to fashion love potions for lowly peddlers. A practice carried by generations, ridiculed! I am risking everything so that this goes completely as planned, and I will not let you jeopardize all we have achieved."

"You cannot blame me for a single miscalculation. The Svartalf woman passed by the gatekeeper unnoticed-"

"Thanks to my spell-"

"That put to use during the arrival of the Light Elves, just as he asked."

The sorcerer scoffed. "And what has come of your 'achievement'? The Queen of Alfheim remains alive, thanks to the Thunderer's clever bride, and our assassin has now been taken prisoner and interrogated by none other than the crown prince himself!" The sorcerer spat each word as if they were foul to the taste, glaring indignantly at the raven-haired spy. "There is no doubt he now knows everything the prisoner does."

"I must interrupt, for you are in fact incorrect on the matter," Loki proclaimed with an accomplished smirk. "Masquerading as Thor in the presence of my father proved to be an easy feat."

The sorcerer shot him an incredulous glance which turned into one of reluctant commendation. "That is, quite simply, very impressive. Though if you wanted the elf punished for harming your secret lover, you should have just asked."

The smugness faded from Loki's features, replaced by the foreign furrows of fear. In fact, he could dare say this was an emotion he hadn't felt since he was a mischievous child, and for the most part of his life after that. He characterized it as a shadow that none could see nor hear, yet induced violent turns in his stomach and caused his heart to thump rapidly as the insidious shadow overtook his senses, regardless of whether or not he was willing. It forced from within him a weakness invisible to others; a piece of his soul prone to the monsters beneath his bed Mother had often mentioned in one of her elaborate tales. That pure, unparalleled sensation of harrowing dread where nothing was as it seemed; a world where he was alone with none but enemies to keep him company. 

A lump formulated in his throat. Swallowing proved difficult; his mouth was parched, thirst unbearable. Resolution trembling, words caught between his teeth. At these times, Loki thanked the pride inside him that forbade him from crumbling before a man who was clearly beneath him... though partaking in the same plan under the orders of the same authority.

Expecting his silence, the sorcerer continued. "Fate has her plans for all of us, including you, Jotun heir. Imagine my bewilderment when a young woman came asking for the cure to her mother's mysterious ailment, only to reveal as I scoured the depths of her mind that she was in fact a royal healer sent from the palace by none other than Thor Odinson's consort, having sworn her to secrecy in exchange for my payment!"

"And how does this concern me? What have I to do with this traitorous healer?"

"Fool! Do not think that Malekith is oblivious to your little dalliance with Odinson's lady. Should any Asgardian discover your affair, it would not be long before they acquired witnesses, and if they managed to question the one that visited me, they would surely trace, from her, evidence of our correspondence in which you and I prepared for the smuggling of a dark elf into Asgard!"

"Don't be dramatic. Odin's followers haven't the mental capacity to deduce the whereabouts of a fly if it were laying its eggs atop their noses."

"You try my patience, Jotun prince. I came bearing a warning from our leader."

"Let me guess, he wants me to stop seeing her?" It came across as more of a statement than a question, which it was at heart. The prince scoffed and turned away from the sorcerer's wrathful glare. "You can tell him that I've done nothing of the sort as of the past year."

"He understands this, I assure you. But heed my advice: you had best never act upon sentiment again... lest you face expulsion from our council."

"Of course," said Loki, "anything that is necessary."

"I do not want to have to meet under these circumstances again, Loki."

"Understood."

"You could start by at least acting as though you mean what you speak." Slowly, the sorcerer rose to their feet, bringing the weightless billows of the future queen's nightdress with them. It fell against the curves of her figure and towards the earth at her ankles, white as the moon that slipped through the fabric with its gentle light. "Perhaps you are in need of a prompt."

Only when he stepped from the shadows did Loki remember that the sorcerer had taken the beautiful form of the woman he loved. He knew very well that this wasn't truly her and yet - he could not look away from her face, and the way it was framed so softly by the hair he yearned to run his fingers through, and the gentle curve of her breasts made visible by the incandescent light, caused a gripping tension in his core. The body standing before him was only one of the sorcerer's many suits, but it drove Loki mad with lust and detrimental love all the same. 

His desire did not go unnoticed by the sorcerer who assumed a cunning smirk. Loki's gaze flitted to her eyes, and with a sudden gasp of horror, saw all that wasn't his beloved within their conniving gleam. The sorcerer laughed... only this time, in her voice.

Loki cursed inwardly as he started to shake with emotion. He was fully aware it wasn't really her that had emitted that sound, but it had been so long since he had seen her smile, let alone laugh in any form of content. Through all the confusion, he swore with his life that he would hold on to this image, this exquisite mirage in which her lips would part and set free a note of sweet joy.

"I wonder if she'd remain so enamored with you if she knew you were the one who let the assassin into the realm."

Somehow, hearing this in her voice affected him all the more, and Loki was sure that this was every bit the sorcerer's intent. "How could I have known that the elf would attack her instead?! The least I can do is be grateful with the fact that she is alive, for which I am - eternally!"

"Surely you must know that there are other far severe results of the attack?"

A single glance at Loki's puzzled expression caused a sad smile to form across her lips. This confused the prince all the more, and as she turned to leave, she spoke a final warning with such a genuine sincerity that Loki had never thought he would ever hear from the sorcerer.

"Remember your place, Jotun heir. Or you will lose everything."

 

 

 

Loki awoke with a jolt. Beads of sweat left glistening trails along his throbbing temples. As he fisted the sheets beneath him, he realized with disgust that they were soaked with the liquid heat of his back. He could have compared the sensation to a thousand daggers simultaneously plunging through his skull, which Loki decided was an accurate depiction of the feeling of someone trying to pierce the veil of his mind in order to gain unwarranted access. 

At the absurdity of his own thoughts, the prince would have laughed if only he weren't in agony. 

Like all nights, he lay on his back and stared aimlessly at the ceiling and waited for the pain to gradually disappear.

It never did, of course. 

So he would allow his eyes to close, and conjure the image of that sweet laugh until the nightmares plagued him no more.

Chapter Text

Amidst a field of green snakes, I waded, in a frantic attempt to stay above the mass of sliding bodies. I felt the smooth caress of their sides against my ankles as they squirmed and slithered between the cracks of my toes and across my bare feet. The slipping serpents were like tubes of ice beneath my soles as I continued to traverse the sea of shifting clusters. The mass emulated a vast ocean from afar, rippling sage with each bending movement of the hectic ophidians.

My eyes, overwhelmed by flashes of bright green, scanned my surroundings... only to find that they were limited, without even a horizon to cast my focus upon. Never had I laid eyes on such a vivid scene which gripped at my soul and filled my heart so fully with hope. Patches of green, with shades varying from dark to light, begged me to cast a glance their way. As I yielded to their request, minuscule black eyes returned my stare by the millions. Each pair watched me intently, never concealed by their lids for they remained open without fault. It should have felt greatly unsettling for some and yet, as I peered into those beady, curious pools of black, something within me seemed to swell and grow magnificently. A feeling of renewal, of surging energy, reborn from grief, pushed against the confines of my innards as it shot through my body to the very tips of my fingers. 

Then out of nothing, a whisper. 

My name. 

I whipped my head round to the direction from which I reckoned the voice had come. I waited intently, ears perked for any noise apart from the curious hisses of the serpent crowd. 

I continued to look around until my eyes fell upon a slender, black form just a few feet away from where I stood. Another snake; similar in length to all the others but glossed with a coat of pitch lay in a motionless state, though I could tell it was anything but dormant as the surrounding reptiles visibly parted to reveal a grassy path on which the black snake rested. Like the still air, I waited - my breath suspended as the serpent slowly but surely lifted its head. A flicker of tongue darted from its mouth in a steady hiss. 

The stirs of impending danger wallowed in my stomach, and I was overwhelmed by a strong sense of unease. I stepped backwards instinctively, hoping to be rid of the suffocating distress that caged me. As soon as I did so I froze with regret. The grass crunched in disturbance beneath my foot, disrupting the silence that had unsettled and calmed me all at once before I'd moved. I could already feel, without a doubt, that the snake's attention was now undividedly on me. 

Inky pools, observing my every movement akin to a hawk monitoring its subject of prey. 

I heard my name being called again, this time as if someone were speaking it directly into my ear, briefly distracting me from the glinting fangs on either side of the serpent's jaw as it parted into a vicious grin. 

 

A sudden energy surged through my veins, causing me to bolt awake in my bed. Frantically, my eyes searched the surrounds for some semblance of familiarity while my heart thumped against my rib cage in trepidation. No hints of green lay coiled in dim-lit corners, nor was the dark serpent anywhere to be found in the room that I gradually remembered to be my chambers. In fact there was no trace of those hues at all, for the space was draped in similar shades of scarlet and a rich, milky fabric, lined with artfully frayed gold thread. Never had it crossed my mind that this was by far my least favorable combination of colors, so why I'd been subjected to this excessive array of aggressive-looking decor was far beyond me. 

The warmth of my name being spoken a third time engulfed me once more, and I turned to be met with the tender furrows of Thor's golden brow. He placed a large hand on my forehead and felt the slick heat of stray hairs against my temples. I leaned into his touch and drank comfort from his tender caress. 

He said nothing but from his eyes, I knew he ached to ask me why I was drenched in sweat, gasping and trembling so suddenly. 

This was not the first time those teal orbs had gazed into my own with such concern and an almost innocent curiosity as to the cause of my distress. And like always, I returned the look with a pleading one of my own. 

Thor had always respected my decision not to reveal what nightmares disturbed my sleep. Just as he did this time. 

I followed his gaze as it trailed down to my lower abdomen which, I realized suddenly, was covered by my own hand. No sooner had I felt the way my fingers clutched at the scarred flesh on their own accord did I pull away from Thor's embrace, eyes wide and anxious. To my surprise, a low chuckle rumbled through his chest at my reaction. I turned to look back at him, my brow quirked with confusion and slight anger.

"Do not mock my disquietude, I beg you." I said, my voice barely above a whisper. His laughter only grew louder.

"We have all the time in the world to produce an heir, my love." Thor drew me close to his chest and pressed a kiss to my hairline. "You mustn't spend too much of your time thinking about it, especially when you should be resting."

"But I'm tired of resting, Thor! It has been so long since I've been allowed to roam the palace alone, without the company of some guard who won't stop breathing down my neck wherever I turn!"

The prince gave me a look of unadulterated care and worriment, one that I had seen him wear each morning every day for the past months. He released a sigh of defeat before meeting my gaze with a small smile. "Lady Sigyn arrives at midday to discuss plans for the wedding. I had hoped for you to speak with her, or should I say, encourage her to be at ease around us while introducing to her the magnificent expanse of our palace."

Another mention of that woman's name and I would have fallen apart in a pit of despair. To talk to her was the last thing I wanted to do in that moment. But of course, Thor was not aware of how desperately I had tried to forget about the flawless features of Loki's intended. 

But if this was my once chance at escape from the confines of those blaring walls...

Looking towards the floor, I gave a small nod of reluctant obligation. Thor let out an amused snort. "You and your bashfulness," he cooed jokingly, "I would never have believed I could grow to care for you as I do, if I hadn't the pleasure of keeping you company every day." My hands were engulfed in the heat of his while his orbs glinted beneath the sun, searching the depths of mine as he tried to understand what was going through my mind. Like always, he soon gave up.

"I should get ready, then."

"Yes," agreed my husband, "let us break our fast, and then we shall meet with Loki for further instruction. There is still much to discuss regarding preparations for the wedding ceremony and the mortal we have yet to retrieve from Midgard. And then..." With a gentle finger, Thor guided my face towards his tender gaze. "We shall set forth our proposal to feed all families in the city this month without fail."

Despite myself, a smile ghosted across my lips, replacing the somber curve of a slight frown I had sported up until that moment. "Will we have to beg the Allfather like we did when we asked for a hundred and fifty seamstresses to be employed at the palace, so as for them to craft blankets for the poor?"

"My love, and I say this with utmost adoration, you are very skilled in the art of persuasion. If you were my enemy, you'd need only cast me a glance before I fall to your knees in submission."

Giggling proved difficult to suppress. "Are you not already at my mercy, My Lord?" Thor growled and buried his bearded face into the crook of my neck, eliciting a shriek from me as the weight of him pushed me back onto the mattress with a soft thud. I erupted into a fit of giggles as his hands roamed my sides playfully before they came to rest on the curve of my buttocks. The heat of his breath against my lips made mine hitch in my throat, a finger tracing a sensual line on the inside of my clenched thighs. 

"Indeed," he murmured against the corner of my mouth, "I am a slave to your mind, and a servant to your body. I am-"

Abrupt knocking filled the room with its hollow sound, and Thor groaned in annoyance. "Your Highness," came a masculine bellow from beyond the door, "the Allfather requests your presence in the dining hall."

The prince looked as though he wanted to scream vulgarities and wake the whole palace, which made me laugh in amusement. Cheeks reddened, breath quickening, he was every bit as flustered as I as he reluctantly removed himself from atop me and went to move for the door. "Join us when you're ready, my wife. We have much to discuss." My golden-haired husband turned to wink a flirtatious eye at me before leaving my chambers, hoping I did not notice the glare he shot the innocent guard who had disturbed our 'conversation'.

 

 

 

Her flowing dark mane caught my eye before that of her horse's as she trotted alongside her father and his steed with the noble postures of what I could only describe as the like of a renowned clan. From a distance, her eyes were narrow as she peered through the blinding sunlight towards us. The lady dismounted her horse; swift without stumble, then assisted her father with doing the same. Pale pink lips parted in a charming grin whilst she ran to embrace a stoic Loki, who returned her fondness with a courteous smile of his own. 

Like all the other times we had crossed paths, Lady Sigyn sported a gown of emerald that lightened the lines of her figure beneath the sun, setting her aglow. I had never been one to believe in perfection, but as I stared at her face which lit up in blatant joy - everything I thought I knew about beauty seemed to bend and merge into the form of her flawless frame. 

"Hello, Loki." Sigyn looked toward the ground with her lip between her teeth, biting back a smile. "Did you miss me?"

The younger prince bent to kiss the space on her forehead, just above a tasteful band of gold. "More than you can fathom."

A bitter taste fouled the tip of my tongue. My jaw tightened to maintain the smile I'd worked so hard to form. 

The short old man with rounded, red cheeks stepped forth from behind her and spoke, in a scolding tone; "My dear, you have yet to greet Prince Thor and his wife!"

Sigyn gasped, a white hand flying to her mouth in shame. "Oh, how thoughtless of me to have forgotten! Prince Thor, Your Highness, it is always the greatest honor to be invited to Asgard, and to be in the presence of you all."

"Do not be ridiculous, Lady Sigyn," said I, taking her hand in my own, "we are all friends here."

Sigyn beamed in appreciation and I did my best to return it with a welcoming air. "If that is what Your Highness wishes."

"Father and Mother suggested that you are shown around the palace before we join them for dinner. My wife shall introduce you to our head of staff and guide you through the halls so that you are better acquainted with your surroundings." Thor gestured for her to stand beside me but cast a knowing glance upon her eagerness to keep her eyes trained on his brother. "I've no doubt that you would like to spend all afternoon with Loki, and believe me I will not deprive you of that wish for long. There are just some matters we must discuss before I pass him on into your sweet embrace."

Sigyn's cheeks flared red as blood as Loki glared icily into the back of his brother's golden head. "Awfully charming today, aren't you, brother?"

"Merely delighted for our company."

"I would be happy to show her around, my love. Just don't get up to too much trouble when we've gone." Sigyn looked up from the ground and smiled gratefully at me as I began to lead her away from my grinning husband and her unamused betrothed.

 

 

 

"Tell me, Lady Sigyn," I inquired steadily as we traversed the east corridor, "what is your stance on the management of our palace? Do be honest with your criticisms, Thor and I strive to bring the best out of our staff for our guests."

Her smile was meek. "My visits to Asgard, though few, have been nothing short of amazing. Forgive my emotions, Your Highness - but each time I am graced by the scenes of this realm upon my arrival, I cannot contain my excitement." 

A near childish gleam shone bright in her eyes, and seemed to hold such gleeful joy that my heart could not help but lift at this display of innocence in its purest form. 

We passed by the royal kitchens from which the frantic clanking of steel pots and a pleasant smell of cooked meat and fresh bread wafted forth. My mouth parted slightly, allowing the delicious scent to find my tongue and warm my throat. I laughed inwardly at Sigyn who was undoubtedly doing the same.

"The cooks have been working all day in preparation for tonight's feast. I cannot stress how delighted we are that you and your father are with us once again."

"Oh, Your Highness," her dark brows knitted in worry, "you should not have gone to such trouble for me and my father alone!"

I waved a hand dismissively. "You are of great importance to us all, as you are aware. You're soon to be part of our family, how could we not treat you as such?" Seeing her distress, I threaded an arm through hers so that we were connected by this gesture of trust. Though I would have liked to say it was all an act; a cruel ploy to gain the faith of an adversary in love, I couldn't help but envision a future in which this naive girl and I were friends. My train of thought was disrupted once I realized my smile had faltered, so I renewed it the best I could. "Besides, you are not the only guests who'll be joining us tonight. A few citizens of Asgard should be arriving soon to negotiate plans to provide the poor with necessities."

Sigyn gave me a vacant look which confirmed, to me, the concerns that plagued her mind. A sigh escaped me before I could stop it. 

"Your Highness-"

"I apologize for my misbehavior at the last ball." I strained to speak as we reached the end of yet another decorated hallway, "it must have frightened you. But you must be lenient with me, it had not been a year since my marriage to Thor, and I was very much unaccustomed to the stress that came with my role as future queen of this great realm. I had been upset that night due to my exhaustion in preparation for the banquet - and do not like to think of what our guests must have thought."

The timid expression on Sigyn's face fell into one of utter mortification. She shook her head desperately, pleadingly. "Surely I deserve death for bringing up such a terrible memory! I swear on my life it was not my intention, I was thinking about it only out of admiration for how composed and... queenly you seem today, it's true! Your Highness, I am so very sorry-"

"It's quite alright." Sigyn looked no less horrified and no more convinced. I breathed out a sigh, hoping that it did not sound as unstable as my resolve at that moment. "I'm glad you think so highly of me. If this is not too much to ask, I'd like everyone to forget as quickly as possible."

Nodding frantically, Sigyn promised never to speak of it again. "Understood, Your Highness."

Lush green shrubbery came into view, signaling the beginnings of the garden trail. Even from a distance, the sight of rosy hues and cool violet blossoms invoked a sense of calm within me as we approached the marble walkway, hooked at the arms. 

"Lady Sigyn?"

"Yes, Your Highness?" Her nervous swallowing did not go unnoticed by me, especially when I felt slight vibrations against her skin as she trembled. 

"What's wrong? Is the flora not to your liking?"

"No, I just..." she retracted her arm from mine and slowly walked to stand in front of me. The short exhales of shaking breath and the crimson of her cheeks could have been likened to one of the single roses quivering in the wind. The face of fear, unafraid to express the true extent of her uncertainty. "Loki does not yet know that we are to be wed."

I thanked the gods in silent prayer for Sigyn who, whilst looking away had her eyes clouded with tears, so that she could not see my own. To keep my voice above a whisper I cleared my throat audibly. "I am sure he will be elated with this arrangement once he does."

The bottom of her lip trembled. She appeared suddenly so frail, like a young petal barely clinging to its source flower. Doubt was the wind, relentless in its endeavor to detach her from the whole of herself. "But," her voice cracked with emotion, "what if he does not love me?"

I pray he does not. "Why would you say such a thing? He adores you!"

"We've only met a number of times."

"Do not try to fool me into thinking the number of encounters between you both, however few, has stopped you from being completely and utterly smitten with him."

Sigyn cracked a smile. "It's true. I've grown terribly fond of him, I don't know what I'll do if my feelings are unrequited." Sigyn led us to a sheltered stone bench and bade me sit beside her on the cool rock. "As a child, I was told countless tales of frost giants and their monstrous and relentless nature. When Father first told me of Prince Loki's true heritage, I wept and wept, terrified of what was to come. But after we were introduced at the ball... I cannot express it in mere words. It is as though he has placed a charm on me so powerful, I am forced to think of him every waking moment and each restless night." Every word that fell from her lips under the dangerous curse of unadulterated honesty could well have been a thousand daggers maiming my flesh and digging into my spirit beneath it. She must have noticed my silence, for her smile faded once more to a conscious frown. "You must think me so weak. I'm no better than a wanton whore to desire a man so passionately after first glance."

"You must never speak of yourself in that manner; your beauty must have earned you many suitors, and this time, you've merely found the right one."

 

 

 

"So," said the crown prince, quirking a brow, "what do you think of Lady Sigyn?"

Cold grey walls stretched out for a number of long strides before parting into an open path that coiled round the training square. Soft grass rustled beneath their feet, the audible difference in the weight of each brother's steps mingling with the distant birdsong. "She is a virtuous young woman."

The raven-haired prince jolted forward as his brother put a hand on his shoulder in a firm pat. "Come now, Loki! Is Sigyn not the comeliest maiden you have ever laid your eyes on?"

Loki rolled his eyes and looked away from his brother's hopeful grin. "I am not oblivious to the attractive design of her features." With his gaze trained on the path ahead, he shook loose of Thor's hand and continued forth in quickened strides. "Furthermore, I can place a most confident wager that the maidens I have taken to my bed are all, every single one of them, fairer than those you've managed to coax into yours."

"So you find her attractive?" Thor gained on his brother with a wide grin plastered across his bearded face. It came out not as a question but rather a statement looking to be confirmed. Loki's exasperation could hide no longer, and he exhaled in irritation. 

"Physically, yes. I think you've made it quite clear that you agree."

"And do you not find her eligible as a partner?"

"Careful now, brother. You're married."

"And you should be too!" By now, the birds that had been perched on high branches had fled into the sky from the sheer volume of Thor's enthusiasm. "Have you not even for a second considered taking Sigyn as your wife?"

"No."

"What sane man would refuse such a lovely damsel?"

"I regret to think what your wife would say after hearing words of such adoration for another woman pour from your mouth."

"She knows full well that I'd not sleep beside anyone but her. Dote on Sigyn all you will, brother, but she will never amount to the fairest in all of Yggdrasil."

"That would be true if I had ever 'doted on', or thought 'dotingly' of Lady Sigyn..." the ice in Loki's glare halted Thor in his tracks, "which I have not."

"Brother, believe me; I shared your state of mind when my wife and I first met as one another's betrothed. But after a period of courtship, we've grown to love each other quite ardently; I cannot think of another woman more fit to rule Asgard by my side."

"She was forced into a marriage with you after meeting you on but two occasions. You hardly 'courted', and given my deep understanding of your character after countless centuries of being your brother, you most certainly do not love her."

"And what would you know of 'love'?" Nostrils flaring slightly, Thor's rippling chest heaved in quiet anger. He stepped away from the younger prince in confusion, taking up a cautious stance. "Why do words of such hostility fall from your tongue today?"

"Spare me your theatrics, Thor. I may be silvertongued, but I'll speak the truth when it must be spoken."

"My wife and I happen to be very fond of each other!" Loki was not oblivious to the anger rising dangerously in Thor's defensive state. He had always secretly commended his golden-headed brother for how much he had matured and changed throughout the years, from a brash, entitled little boy to a brave warrior who was, as much as Loki would never admit it, eligible as king. But the one thing that hadn't been lost from Thor's transition of worthiness, the only flaw the heir had not managed to conceal, was his inability to hide or control his ferocious temper.

How could he rule a kingdom if it takes but a few barbs to ignite his fury?

For a moment, Loki fell silent. His heart, though fortified by stone, could not take more pain from the reality of his unrequited love, as much as he denied the shaking in his core as Thor continued to cling to the subject.

But, despite the guilt, the emotion which gnawed at his being, aggressive as an unrelenting parasite, he felt a resonating need so incredible, so strong, it was impossible to ignore.

The need to know.

"Please, enlighten me as to the extent of your 'fondness' for one another, and I shall see if it amounts to the passionate love you claim to share."

Despite having tolerated neglect and self-loathing all his life, Loki had never allowed others to destroy him from the inside with mere words, save for Odin's cruel confession as to his true origins, which had since etched a mark of pain on Loki's heart and stolen from his self-worth. At the time he could have prevented it, could have just ceased to retaliate and accepted the harsh slap of reality with a clenched jaw and balled fists, as he always had.

Thor opened his mouth and Loki shut his eyes in preparation for the truth that was to come.

Alas, his curiosity never failed to shine through everything he had worked to be, all he'd spent blood and sweat to achieve, everything he had tasted the iron and grime on his tongue in pursuit of... and it would destroy him now.

 

 

 

"He treats me very well."

"Like a queen?" Sigyn flashed me a playful grin, revealing a row of ivories that glinted like a line of pearls beneath a welcoming stream of sun. A smile stretched across my own lips, which had begun to crack from the dry heat.

"I would say so, yes."

Sigyn directed her stare to the vibrant greens of the shrubbery ahead, her tone hopeful. "My greatest wish is for a day to come when Loki and I share a love as sweet as that between Your Highness and Prince Thor."

There was determination in her glazed emerald orbs, a light that shone bright as the day and ferocious for a woman so young and so frail. It was delicate, yet overwhelming, sending a jolt of powerful resolution through me and shattering what little confidence I'd had in hopes of Loki's trembling professions of his undying love for me being true.

This woman - no, this girl, this solution sent by the gods to hide our unforgivable sin, was far more beautiful than I could ever hope to be. Her resolve was like a moonstone; opaque upon first glance, yet subtle and bright from within. In her innocence, she was far stronger than I.

What a fool I had been to think that Loki's tender promises to love me held any semblance of truth! There was no way, no sudden impossible turn of events to indicate that the man for whom I would spill my own blood would keep interest in me over a young, obedient, beautiful lady.

A harrowing wave of solemn struck me and, seeing as Sigyn was looking ahead, I let my smile fall to a frown as my heart grew heavy under its grave weight. 

For the first time since my arrival at Asgard, I wished for naught but emptiness.

 

 

 

Maybe the gods bestowed their mercy on me in the form of an altered seating plan. 

I had to refrain from breathing a sigh of relief when Thor chose a seat at the other end of the elongated dining table, far from where the King and Queen and Loki and Sigyn dined upon furnished oak. The halls filled with bustling laughter on one end and the murmurings of gossip on the other, filling the room with cheer and a trivial sort of inquisition. 

The skirts of my modest gown folded like sheets of gold underneath the table as I took my seat, my bodice the color of the fine wax that dripped from the many candelabras adorning the dining hall. Dressing for the occasion and blending with my surroundings all the while had become quite the routine for me - perhaps too much so for a woman who was about to inherit the role most demanding of social interaction in the realm. 

Unable to stop myself, my eyes flitted to where Loki sat. The muscles in his back strained beneath leather as his posture straightened profusely, uncomfortably, almost as if he were aware of my stolen glances.

A shiver ghosting my spine alerted me to the insidious pair of eyes upon my face after a mere instance of returning to my food. I angled my head towards Thor in attempt to appear uninterested, scouting for the source of the stare with my peripheral vision all the while. At last, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her. It was Sif, dressed in earthy garbs, drinking alone across the hall, peering in my direction with a dirty sneer. 

I was immensely annoyed, but also strangely thankful, for her relentless surveillance would allow me to concentrate on the matters at hand. 

Between lords and ladies, representatives of the city and us the royals, negotiations were amiably discussed. The select few of townspeople were surprisingly understanding and seemed appreciative of our incentive to finally take action in helping the poorest in the city. Barely an hour had passed before major agreements had been made: the leftovers from palace feasts would be delivered to those without food in the town, the seamstresses would be dispatched from Alfheim and other neighboring realms to decrease the number of the unemployed and supply poor Asgardian citizens with blankets and clothing. Women and children of age would also be allowed to work in the palace for a source of income, meanwhile populating the palace staff and increasing productivity. 

This was our first meeting in which everyone of importance was gathered to make these decisions and determine the future of Asgard's citizens. Despite being new to this, a surge of beginner's pride radiated throughout me as I signed my first treaty excitedly. 

Three crystal chimes echoed across the dining hall. The crowd fell silent, each head craned to look at the Allmother who had met silver with glass before setting it back down alongside an array of gleaming cutlery. As usual, a radiant beam was plastered across her lips as she proclaimed energetically, "fellow lords and ladies, spokespeople of the city, ambassadors from afar, the King would like to make a most joyous announcement."

Odin placed both hands on the armrests for support as he arose, the chair creaking quietly under the stress. The grey wisps of his beard were not nearly as frayed as the hair normally was, instead falling tidily as a sign that he had groomed beforehand for the event.

"As you are all aware, I made a marriage of my son Thor, to his beautiful wife not long ago." The crowd erupted in vigorous applause when the King nodded towards us before turning to face the dark-haired prince and the woman beside him, candid eyes flitting mischievously between the two. A look of genuine confusion painted Loki's features while tremendous anxiety fell upon Sigyn's. "Prior to the ceremony, her father and I deemed each other's offspring a suitable match for our own and subsequently, they were wed. Now another arrangement has been made."

"What is this?" A whisper fell from Loki's lips in dread, following the trail of the King's focus to the blushing Lady Sigyn. Her father grinned happily beside her.

"For too long our son Loki has been without a wife, a partner to accompany him for the rest of his immortal life. Because of this, we have found him an appropriate match and have been granted gracious permission from her father."

I was never prepared for the moment Loki's eyes sought my own across the vastness of the dining table that evening. They were wide, blazing with betrayal infused with the sharp gold flares of underlying anger, challenging me to hold his stare, begging helplessly for any explanation I could provide him. 

I staggered to give him one but emerged with none, only reading his thoughts from his eyes while struggling to conceal tumultuous emotions of my own.

I'm sorry. 

"And thus, I, Odin Allfather, permit and announce the coming union of the lovely Lady Sigyn and our son, Loki Odinson."

Chapter Text

The guests stood from their seats with vigor, encouraged by the King who had his goblet raised in celebration. Chairs were kicked back in jovial spirit, the tablecloth stained with the spillage of wine as the guests rose eagerly with the Allfather. Even Sif, who had jeered inwardly at the scowl on Loki's face, joined the crowd in cheering with the rest of them. I saw her eyes fall on Sigyn, and in them was a look of sympathy. 

"Let us drink to my brother and his new bride!" Thor directed his gaze toward Loki and for a moment, distraught orbs met brief satisfaction. Loki looked as though he might collapse from the sheer horror of seemingly no one being aware of his confusion. The guests erupted in cheer and drank heartily from their goblets of ale.

"To Loki and Sigyn!"

My fingers curled round the armrest in an iron grip, the oak digging into the palms of my hands. Despite it all I was smiling; unsure of whether or not it would be safe to let my smile falter beneath the eagle's constant gaze. Maybe I should have just excused myself and feigned illness once again... after all, that was what I'd been doing on a good number of occasions since my arrival on Asgard. As the people around me returned to their seats, I drowned in memories of when I'd first arrived, eager to get away from the commotion and catastrophe that was the result of this sudden celebration.

Glancing into my lap, I became transfixed by the creases in the material. A warm hand encased my shoulder as Thor leaned in close, the banter of guests fading into a distant blur. My breath caught in my throat and I froze, unsure of what my husband had planned.

"My love..." His breath ghosted the shell of my ear, words sultry, drawn out, and low. I met his gaze immediately and was lost in those gleaming pools, blue as the bright sky in which soaring herons roamed free and proud. Fondly, I let my fingers trail from the rough hairs on his jaw to the gold on his chin, coming to cup his face in my hand as he leaned into my touch. The black of his eyes, never leaving mine, blew wide with desire as the pad of my thumb brushed the top of his lips. In that moment they seemed incredibly soft, almost like cotton beneath my gentle touch. Heat danced across my knuckles from the quickened breaths of my husband who was searching my eyes so hungrily, I felt it would be cruel to deny him what he so clearly and desperately wanted.

We had not been intimate with one another for a long while, so I could imagine his frustration when we were interrupted this morning. Whenever he had slid his hand atop mine or brushed the tips of his fingers against my thigh in the past I'd say I was too tired, and he, being an honorable gentleman, had never once gone against my wishes.

"Yes, My Lord?" I could no longer play coy when a particular little flick of his tongue left the tender skin behind my ear coated in wet heat; a fire began to ignite shamefully in my core and by now I was squirming in attempt not to catch the notice of the men sitting on either side of us, who were fortunately too engrossed in conversation to pay us heed. The flesh of my cheek ached between clenched teeth as I suppressed a wanton whimper at the spasms of tingling heat across my skin when Thor pressed his lips in a trail to my shoulder. My chest heaved in anticipation, "Thor, we are in a public place."

"Then we have all the more reason to seek privacy elsewhere." he murmured against my skin, tickling the crook of my neck with his unshaven jaw. Without warning the heat of his hand fell on my rear in a firm grip, and I gasped audibly. Across the table an older woman stared at us in disapproval before continuing to slice through a large helping of broiled meat. I erupted in a fit of giggles like a complete fool, made happier when Thor did the same. The crown prince gave me one last tender look before guiding me from my seat and away from the dining hall with a roguish grin plastered on his face all the while.

 

Loki felt afraid. He experienced a fear so full of uncertainty and doubt of everyone and himself that in the moment Odin announced the union, he was frigid from head to toe. Frozen, trapped in an encasement of betrayal from the King, betrayal from Thor and his mother, and his 'intended', Sigyn. 

'Intended'... oh, how he loathed the word. It was one that belittled love in its truest form, reducing it to some grand event that could be plotted and anticipated by others. It could well have been used to describe the actions of busy palace staff in preparation for a coming solstice, or a present waiting to be gifted. That was exactly what Lady Sigyn was, wasn't she? A beautiful maiden served to him on a silver platter, green garbs intact, ready for him to do as he pleased with her.

His stomach churned at the thought. 

Frozen with apprehension, he let his eyes wander to the woman seated far from him on the end of the table, exposing himself to her eyes in his most vulnerable, most naked form. His eyes swam with weakness and fragility as he bared himself to her without a thought, drinking frantically at the emotion in hers that comforted him for some deranged reason. Never before had his desire burned so brightly in his core as he searched those watery orbs once more for the answer to the question he'd asked all those nights ago, beneath the secrecy of the moon.

A gentle hand came to rest on his forearm. Loki broke from his reverie and followed Sigyn's gaze. She was staring off towards the end of the long table where Thor and his wife seemed so blissfully enamored with each other... far from Loki, whose blood was boiling beneath his skin.

"Look, My Prince!" the girl whispered gleefully, "see how they forget the world around them as they gaze into one another's eyes."

"You pay my brother too much heed, Sigyn."

"I only admire their bond."

"Admire them any longer and I should think you in love with my brother."

A pleasant floral sent swept through his senses from the crown of Sigyn's dark head laid on his shoulder. "Don't be silly, Prince Loki." She turned to look up at him with large, lively eyes that mirrored the shine of his, "I only have eyes for you."

But the prince's stare was upon anywhere but her. He growled lowly, throat parched, jaw hideously clenched at the sight of the first born son leading his wife away from the dining hall, slipping into the darkness. Stealing what was rightfully his, oblivious to the gravity of his innocent crime.

"Sigyn?" 

"Hmm?" The maiden hummed contentedly in question. The muscle on which her head rested grew tense as stone, before Loki retracted his arm sharply from beneath her. An iron grip engulfed her wrist as he hoisted her from their seats at the table.

"Come." The command was curt. "We are heading to my chambers."

"W-what-" her confusion fell on deaf ears, and she stumbled behind him on their way out of the bustling room. Quickly, the drunken chatter of the guests faded into distant murmurs as Loki pulled her into the darkness of the palace hallways. "Loki, what are you doing? Why are we going to your room? Why are you-"

"Will you ever learn to be quiet?!" 

Sigyn jerked in response to his sudden change of demeanor, in fear and an instant of hurt. His eyes were burning with irritation, chest heaving after his outburst, soft, unkempt hairs draped across his face. She had never seen him like this, nor believed the implications of many palace staff of what the man she loved was truly capable of until the moment his fingers dug into her wrist so tight that all feeling was lost from her hand.

"L-Loki..." Burning tears threatened to spill from her eyes; her lip quivered uncontrollably. "You're hurting me...!"

The dark-haired prince dove his fingers through her tresses and pulled her against his torso in a violently hold. A small whimper fell from Sigyn's lips. "Is this not what you always wanted?!" he snarled, watching her turn from him as many had done before. "For me to take you as mine and... fuck you until you can't even remember your own name?"

"Loki, please..."

"We don't even need to reach my chambers if you are truly desperate." He dragged a cold finger down her wet cheek. "I could have you here if you like, slam you against the wall and take from you what you have cherished since birth."

"Loki!" The prince had expected to see terror in her eyes and frown but instead, all traces of fear were gone, tear stains painting the face of a new woman, completely foreign to him. In her eyes was a gleam of anticipation, lips curled into a ghost of a smile as her chest heaved visibly beneath the shadows cast from dim light. Ever so slowly, she laid a white-winged hand atop his and guided his finger to graze the skin of her collarbone, finally coming to rest on the curve of her breast. Loki froze against her, incredulous and... excited by her boldness.

"Sigyn...?" He quirked a confused brow as his hand unwittingly cupped her soft flesh. 

A little sigh left her lips as she leaned into him and fisted the fabric of his shirt for support. "Do you see what you do to me, My Lord?" Loki brushed his fingers along the silk of her slender waist. All of her felt smooth beneath his touch, like a thin sheen of glass on every curve and dip of his wanton maiden. The prince had never expected this naive little girl to submit so aggressively to her inner desires, but he could not find the will to complain. The quick breaths that filled his ears as he molded and manipulated this woman beneath his fingertips ignited a growing tension in his core. Sigyn was his. She was his... not Thor's, not his father's, and sharing her would never be required of him. Her mind and body belonged to him, placing him in power, fueling his lust for dominance. Eyes hard, they never left hers as her body arched and yielded with every flick of his skilled tongue and every brush of his fingers, until the unbearable tightness in his groin made his need rise up into his head. Crimson flushed alabaster cheeks, spreading to his chest and the inside of his drenched palms. The whole of him simmered with feral hunger.

"I love you, Loki..." The words were barely audible, having been muffled as she murmured into the crook of his neck in the haze of her pleasure.

Suddenly, her body swept over with cold. So lost in blissful heat was Sigyn that it took her a moment to pry her eyelids apart and see that the dark prince had stepped back. Quivering candles cast shadows upon the broad of his back, dancing across the fitting leather. Sigyn could almost hear the tension of skin upon his knuckles as he clenched and unclenched his fists in aggravation. 

Feebly, she called out to him. 

"Is it true?" The man turned his head so as to acknowledge her presence at last. A beam of light fell across his cheek, painting the surface in a soft amber sheen. His voice hardened, "do you truly love me?"

"Yes!" cried Sigyn as she fell at his feet, "I love you!"

Loki whipped round and looked down at her. Eyes of glass gazed back at him in the dim light, lips parted with each heavy exhale. The sight of her chest heaving so deeply set his beastly desires aflame, free to unleash upon the fair maiden on her knees.

"Look at you..." he slipped his fingers amidst her dark locks and tugged. A cry of pleasure left her open mouth, reduced to little whimpers as he trailed his cold digits over her delicate, pale throat. All that ran through his mind was that she felt impossibly smooth, even more so as he drew the pad of his thumb across her sinuous lips. "So restless, so eager to submit. Tell me, my sweet victory... are you truly prepared?"

"Yes! Yes, My Prince!" Sigyn cried, her fingertips resting on the waist of his leather breeches; a barrier that grew increasingly tight upon the ache in his groin. "Take me this instant!"

Eyes fluttering to a close, he allowed her to remove that which constricted his throbbing need with her quaking hands. Nothing could have prepared him for the sheer heat, the wetness of her mouth which engulfed him and he hissed through his teeth, curses spewing beneath his breath in a strangled growl. Tears brimmed at Sigyn's eyes as the pull on her dark tresses burned her scalp but still, she persevered through her pain, flushed with happiness that her actions brought the prince such intense pleasure.

"Such skill... for a girl... who has never... been claimed..." he muttered through ragged breaths in revelation. Suddenly the searing heat was gone, replaced immediately by the cool drift that swept throughout the palace halls. He shuddered from the lack of contact, feeling so incredibly exposed to the caresses of the subtle wind. Eyelids fluttered apart... he kept his gaze on the maiden who had ceased her ministrations and was now looking up at him. Incredible pools of sapphire filled to the brim with adoration seeped into Loki's soul and knocked at his beating heart. They were loving; he drank the warmth that poured into him through her affectionate gaze.

"But I am pure, My Prince," her tone was soft and true, "no man has ever touched me the way you have done. Since the moment I first saw you, I..." she let out a little laugh and shook her head, "this must sound so silly to you, but I felt myself fill with the strongest love I had ever felt for anything or anyone in my life, and each night after that I've dreamt of what you could do to me... how I could submit to you and please you the way you send my heart aflutter." She caught her lip between her teeth in a look of such unbelievable innocence. "I've always been a passionate woman. I can't control my thoughts, or conceal my feelings for you... oh!"

Loki flipped her over, catching Sigyn by surprise as he buried his face into the back of her neck. There was something wrong with this; a sense of immorality nagged at the back of his mind like a starved rat scrambling for food in the slums while the sweet scent of forbidden fruit drowned and intoxicated him. Even the smell of her was wonderful and, to his dismay, this only served to fuel his raging lust. Without warning, the material of her bodice tore in a swift movement. His hands were on the smooth plains of her back in a flash of crazed passion, exploring the alabaster. Youth, beauty... her skin was rich soil beneath his palms, feeding his carnal need for release. 

The dress was pushed from her shoulders in seconds. Sigyn wormed out of it herself, impatience evident on her reddening features as the silk dropped at her ankles in a surrounding pool of lush green material. Loki did not even stop to admire the slender curve of her hip, nor the way her mouth parted in desire for none but him alone. In his head existed nothing but the red, searing hunger of a man driven to the brink with feral ardor. Her hands moved to remove her undergarments but he pushed her against the floor; flushed bodies collided with icy stone but were given no time to recover as the dark prince traveled beneath her underskirt with a rough hand in search of the source of the ferocious heat radiating from her core. 

Obscene. It was damnably obscene - the music that escaped her lips when his fingers ghosted over the fabric which confined her, a wanton cry of submission that never ceased to shake his being with fierce arousal during all those years of talking women into his bed. 

"My little pet..." he cooed, gently pushing the material to the side. Sigyn moaned as a slight breeze ghosted beneath her shredded skirts. Suddenly everything slowed around her... the air, the noise, her shallow breaths of anticipation and his hand, which came closer and closer to that which was most precious to her. Closing the distance, he parted her at an agonizing pace and felt the slick wetness of her need coat his fingertips. "All ready for me. Coveting your king."

At first came a shudder of delight, then Sigyn's features contorted violently; a silent scream caught in her throat as Loki began to stroke and toy with her wanton state. She was too far gone. Already impure, no longer the sweet maiden who knew nothing of the world or the people who lived in it, once protected by the sweet embrace of innocence. 

A small whimper pierced the draughty air, and Loki's face split in a carnal grin in response. His own desire pulsated with his racing heart and the rush of blood through his veins like a thirst just on the verge of being quenched - a gripping hunger about to be sated. 

"Please, Loki-"

"Quiet," the prince growled lowly in command. Sigyn yelped in surprise when forced onto her stomach. Her chin throbbed with pain from the impact and her mind spun whilst Loki held her firm against the floor by her forearms. Then the starved prince knelt between her legs. Spasms of numbness spread across her splayed limbs as he pinned her down, pressed her left cheek to icy marble. Dark tendrils cascaded before her vision, obstructing her view of him. Loki could not see her face either, and instead leaned against the crevice of her parted thighs. Once again he teased and taunted her, shifting his hips wickedly over the cleft of her searing flesh. 

Sigyn tensed; pale thighs clenched, and quivered, her desire so intense it coiled in her stomach where it would remain torturous until fulfilled. It possessed her, making her a mess of needy gasps and salacious demands: "Take me now Loki, my love, victor of my heart! Be the first to claim me with your mark, let them hear my cries-"

"I said, quiet." A rough hand clamped down on her mouth and she tensed, jaw rigid as he positioned himself at her entrance and sank into the exquisite heat, sheathing himself deep in the delicious, gripping constriction of her quaking flesh. Pain tore through Sigyn's body and she cried out, nails digging into the strained muscle of Loki's forearm for support. It was done. Her eyelids fell shut as her innocence trickled down her leg and bled through the material of her undergarments. With a grunt of warning, Loki moved again and hissed through his teeth at the fire that engulfed his senses as he buried himself within his betrothed. Hot tears formed in her eyes at the searing pain of his movements, which grew increasingly feverish with each rise and fall of erratic breaths and groans which indicated his closeness to the verge of release. "You are pathetic," he sneered, "and naught but a filthy harlot under the clever guise of a shy maiden." The prince fell against her back, each vibration of his pounding heart passing from his chest into her small frame as they rutted like animals under the blanket of night. 

Suddenly the walls seemed to close in on them, the sweltering heat almost suffocating in its intensity as they drew nearer and nearer still to oblivion. As the coil in her stomach tightened ferociously in pleasure, Sigyn moaned of her love for him as truthfully, ardently as if she were soon to be separated from Loki, never to see him again. "I love you, Loki! Please, ohh yes...! Take me! Violate me!"

But Loki heard none of her cries, for all that flooded his senses was the deafening ring of white noise as his eyes fluttered closed. 

 

Beautiful bodies entwined, pale limbs thrashing in rhythmic passion, the gentle brush of grass beneath slick skin as two lovers consummated their attraction.   

 

Evoking feelings buried in the deepest depths of his heart; some of which he had never been aware he possessed until she had pressed her lips to his, and his heart to hers. 

 

The curve and dip of her chin, the hollow of her throat tasting of salt and rosy perfume, whetting his sweet cravings for her body and soul. 

 

"Say you love me, Loki..."

 

Then the thud, thud, thud of their bodies upon the earth as claimed her with all his strength. Her arms closed around him, holding him to her heart for dear life as they stumbled upon the brink of release. 

 

"Please," Sigyn's voice rang distant amidst the haze of his thoughts, "tell me you love me, as I love you!"

 

Lips captured between his, teeth grazing the soft rosebud as she whimpered into his mouth, hungrily, urgently. Passion flushing through their bodies when they tensed, muscles strained as they pushed through the rippling bliss, their apex, and fell... deep, deep into the dangerous pit of all-consuming emotion as one. 

 

"I love you..." he whispered, his voice cracking as his climax possessed his body with a powerful jolt. Sigyn smiled against the floor, the words having found her ears while he collapsed atop her small frame, spent and panting heavily. 

Once his eyes shot open and the stars faded from view, Loki wasted no time in removing himself from her and smoothing down the creases in his garments, dressing quickly until he looked no different than how he had first appeared at the start of the day, save for the bead of perspiration on his brow and the lingering scent of passion on his person. 

"Get dressed." Sigyn flinched as the remains of her gown landed at her side, "I don't need you drawing more attention to us if you're seen like this."

After slipping into the damaged gown, she took his outstretched hand and let him guide her to her chambers for a change of attire, finding that the smile etched on her features would not dissipate as the weight of his whispered words echoed in her mind.

Chapter Text

"Stop that."

"Hmm?" Heat rushed to her cheeks when Sigyn became aware of her own heavy breathing. It had rung so loud, Loki had mistaken her lengthy exhales for the howl of the evening wind and not merely the result of a young maiden's bubbling anxiety. "I'm sorry!"

The muscle behind his eyes grew numb from the excessive rolling of them; his features stiffened, immensely irritated as the girl flushed crimson with embarrassment.

In truth, the prince was thankful that their absence went seemingly unnoticed by the lot of merry patrons who, in the time he'd escaped the bustling scene, had gotten more inebriated than they had initially appeared. Save for a few occasions that merited indulgence in drink, Loki never failed to retain some level of clear-headedness and drank only for the purpose of frugality. 

Those who succumbed to the comfort of liquor bared themselves to the world - stumbling, giggling, screaming, spilling dire secrets, rendering themselves brainless and allowing those who witnessed their drunken glee to brandish them as fools for no purpose other than to be free of all burdens for a mindless moment. The prospect alone was ridiculous to him; after all, he could not recall anyone desiring a fool. 

But Loki was no fool, yet the world withheld from him any compassion or praise for his knowledge or skills in the art of magic. Talents he himself had honed and practiced all his life with but one goal in mind - to earn the Allfather's approval. To make Odin proud of his second son, and most of all, earn his place as his brother's equal. How could it be that despite all that he'd worked for, they all still favored Thor? Why was it that the Thunderer, with his moments of drunken stupor and brawn without brains, received love and admiration by the swarm without ever having to work for the exaltation readily bestowed upon him from his father and the people of Asgard?

Their surroundings burst to life as they reentered the dining hall, once again subjected to the copper light which served as ample illumination. Tiny golden flames quivered atop candelabras adorning the walls. They had stolen back to their seats and avoided the notice of the crowd just as a round, booming voice shattered the balance of moderate chatter. "Don't think we didn't notice you two slinking away into the dark, My Prince!" Sigyn's heart jerked against her rib cage, her hand tightening around the armrest. 

The familiar rumble of Thor's laughter filled the room with its warm quality, and both his brother and his reserved betrothed let out an exhale of relief. "You have the eyes of a hawk, Lord Theoric."

Loki turned to Sigyn, having noticed the strained veins of her neck, undoubtedly caused by the abrupt tension in her body. A small wheeze of apprehension came as Loki glanced from the dashing young lord back to his intended, who had her head facing away from him, afraid of being seen. "What-" his brow climbed higher as a glistening bead of perspiration formed at her temple. "How do you know that man, Sigyn?"

"He's a soldier." Sigyn replied curtly, toying with the material of her gown in her lap. "Assigned to the Crimson Hawks, and one of the four main protectors of the Allfather."

"When I ask a question, I expect to gain new knowledge." Sigyn lowered her head before the exasperated prince. He spoke again, careful to enunciate each word. "How are you acquainted with Lord Theoric?"

Silence. Only fretful swallowing served as her answer, giving Loki all the more reason to continue casting a suspicious eye at the handsome warrior engaged in conversation with Thor. He had a defined jaw and a youthful appearance; a blond wisp of hair fell out from beneath his helmet as the soldier threw his head back with a hearty chuckle. Having summoned her courage at last, Sigyn confessed: "I've known him since we were children. As we grew into adolescence, Theoric... attempted to court me, is all."

"Why do you hide from him?" There was an air of suspicion present in his voice. Grimacing, she sneaked a quick glance at the noble warrior in question.

"I believe he is still in love with me. Madly, at that."

"What makes you think so?" As Theoric seemingly turned in their direction, she buried her face into Loki's shoulder without warning. His eyes grew wide, startled by her strange antics. "By the Norns, woman-"

"When I told him we were to be married, Theoric vowed to run away with me when 'the time was right'," Sigyn swallowed harder under the piercing gaze of her intended, who looked on with intrigue. Her cheeks flared crimson, eyes screwing shut in embarrassment; "he also said he'd make s-sweet love to me, and that he wanted us to produce a dozen beautiful green-eyed children together, and watch them frolic by the seaside..."

"Brother!"

"Thor!" The crown prince approached them with an open heart, bringing his wife and the soldier who made the look in Sigyn's eyes grow furtive. Loki had never been more grateful for his brother's rumbling laughter, a sound that ripped through the air with its sheer might. Dear god, if he were to be subjected to any more of Sigyn's rambling... 

"Prince Loki," Theoric lowered his head politely. Masking his astonishment at the neutrality of the soldier's tone, Loki found it hard to believe he truly raved for her as Sigyn claimed. 

With a convincing smile, Loki returned the greeting. But as soon as Theoric's gaze fell on the young maiden beside him, Loki, paralyzed in dread, recognized the look in his eye. He knew  that glance. The face of a man so mad with tenderness, he could be made weak by the mere sight of his beloved; the keeper of his heart. Disgust fouled his thoughts as Loki found himself dreading the possibility that he himself could become the product of crazed obsession that was Theoric. 

It was unlikely. But he could not deny what he'd seen, and that was his own heart, reflected in the pained expression the warrior bore. 

"Lady Sigyn." Theoric's voice dropped to a hushed tone, almost as if pleading for her to look up from her clenched fists in her lap. Sigyn refused and instead leaned into the crook of Loki's arm, mumbling 'help me' into his tunic with such fear, the prince reluctantly obliged her. Groaning inwardly, he draped an arm round her shoulder and drew Sigyn close, where the mass of her dark curls found his mouth. A pleasant fragrance invaded his senses as he kissed her, much to the dismay and sorrow of the handsome soldier standing watch. 

He had almost forgotten she was there. His love, on the arm of that ignorant oaf, her eyes wide and lips compressed in a taut disapproval that only Loki could detect. Something urged him to pull away, a dark feeling akin to shame screaming for him to stop. But then he remembered who he was, and what he was to them all.

I am Loki, Prince of Asgard.

Sigyn is my intended.

There should have been no guilt inside him when his lips lingered upon Sigyn's crown. There was no shame in sharing affection with the one he was to call his wife, the maiden he had lain with, was there? This was no sin, nor should he have felt in the wrong watching the princess's jaw twitch in discomfort. 

Sigyn smiled into Loki's chest, relishing in the warmth of his hold.

"You must excuse my betrothed, Lord Theoric." Loki kept his explanation courteous. "She has had one too many sips of wine."

Theoric responded after a disheartened pause, "of course."

"Gentlemen, excuse me for a moment." All focus turned to the princess, who held a hand to her forehead in persuasive nausea. Thor caught her as she stumbled backwards, and Loki suppressed a scoff at her purposeful misstep. "Forgive me for my intolerance to a cheerful crowd, but I do feel in need of some quiet."

"I shall accompany you."

"Thank you my love, but I require a little peace," Thor's brows furrowed, causing hers to echo the notion at his inability to understand her meaning. Increasing the clarity of her words, she repeated: "I want to be alone, Thor."

"Ah." The Thunderer grinned sheepishly. "Then by all means. But do not stray too far-"

"You know I'd die before I could possibly disobey you." He took her hand in his, secretly taking pleasure in how soft it felt in his gentle grasp. That playful smirk remained as she nodded farewell to the rest of them and slipped away, the warmth disappearing with her touch.

"What a fine queen we shall soon have!" proclaimed a recovering Theoric. 

"Aye." Thor agreed, staring after his wife as she shifted through the amass of guests. "All that remains is for us to surveil her health. I confess my fear of leaving her alone but she can be quite insistent."

He eased into the supportive hand on his shoulder. "Well, for what it's worth, I wish you both the best of luck..."

"You have my thanks, Theoric."

The soldier's eye shone with a funny gleam. "In producing an heir. Maybe more-"

"You are too much, my friend!"

"My Prince, it is no secret that you have attempted to do so multiple times."

"You dare shame the son of Odin?" Thor drew his fists before him in a playful gesture, both men erupting in raucous laughter. Their banter provided ample time for Loki to remove himself from the room and slip from sight, with naught but a single goal on his mind. 

"Where are you going?" asked Sigyn, her lips curled into an innocent pout. She was met with no reply, for the enigmatic frame of the man she loved had already disappeared into the dark, taking with him renewed rage.

 

I knew he would follow the moment I excused myself from Thor and the others. As I made my way to the door, dread had already wrapped its icy talons around me amidst everything I'd felt in that room. I had felt their eyes burning into the back of my head as I walked away; I swear I'd heard his footsteps echo each of mine through the din of people and their talk, growing ever closer, more daunting with time. This fear, or rather- uncontrollable nerve seemed to gnaw at my innards, like a ghastly insect eating furiously at a rotting fruit, slowly destroying it from within. Leaving the dining hall had never been a more arduous process, so much so that I had no choice but to depart from the place where I was exposed to Loki, for his beauty, and the way he held the little wench overwhelmed me like never before. Not even like the time when he'd placed a kiss on her forehead upon her arrival, or smiled so softly towards her at the dance. 

But his face in her hair, breathing in like he could not get enough of her... it had looked so pure, so genuine. He had stayed like that, lips to the line where ivory met tresses of ebony, pulling her flush against him as Thor so often did with me. 

Perhaps he loves her. My thoughts of late were malevolent with a mind of their own. She is fair, strong, and young. And pure.

A vicious cold spread throughout my body as his breath, white-hot and impossibly close, ghosted the hairs on my neck. There had been no sound of warning, but I knew without the slightest doubt that Loki had come for me.

"What do you want?" the words tore from me in a cracked whisper, and all of a sudden I became aware of my parched throat. 

"You know better than anyone what I want." I trembled, possessed by the vibrations passing through me from his voice. I had never forgotten the power he had over me, or what I could be reduced to under the influence of nothing but his clever tongue alone. Sometimes I found myself yearning to submit to the delicious fervor of his dominance once again, but my lust was the very thing that had nearly driven me to inescapable ruin since the beginning, and I could not afford to make that same mistake.

"I'm afraid I don't, Prince Loki." A slight waver weakened my tone. "Step away from me, please."

"How long do you plan on playing this atrocious game?" I stepped forth and spun to face him, met with the dark outline of his seething stature. "For how long will you continue to pretend as though you did not give yourself to me, and I you, that long ago night?"

Slowly, he advanced, daring me to stand my ground. The heat of his rage grew ever closer with each infernal step; I would be lying through my teeth if I claimed not to feel the most harrowing fear travel down my spine. "I am not afraid of you."

"Will you not acknowledge the damage that has been done?" Loki's voice shook with emotion, and out of nothing formed searing tears of my own. "Are you so cruel as to promise me your heart, chain me to you with your vows, only to break them again and again as you fuck Thor like you fucked me?!"

"Do not talk to me of broken promises, you bastard!" I was beyond enraged, too deep in consuming anger to care what barbs fell from my mouth as long as they were as vile as could be. For a brief moment he stopped, startled by my sudden fury. But how could he say these things to me and expect patience? "You held your new whore like you loved her and now that you have truly upset me, you will not grant me rest?!" 

"You haven't the slightest idea how many nights of rest you have robbed from me!" Each word he spat dripped with malice, and as he stepped into the candlelight it revealed a near murderous glint in his eye, a face distorted in despair. He looked almost... ugly. "You are a heartless whore, a merciless manipulator of emotion!"

"How dare you, you monster, you venomous snake! I would not be in this state had you not seduced me for your own sickening amusement. Don't you understand, I was a girl... forced into marriage with a man I did not love, given the title of future queen when I wanted none of it! Don't you see? You stole what was left of my happiness, and for that, I will never forgive you. If it weren't for you, I-" 

I would not have had to suffer the loss of our child.

No one could have explained to me just how powerful anger could be. It overwhelmed me to the point where I could no longer form proper sentences as all my focus was on the part of his face I wanted to maim, soaked in my own sweat while my body tried to rid itself of the boiling in my blood. As my rage dissipated into silence, I felt, for the very first time, truly broken. A lone tear trailed down Loki's cheek and he spoke, exhausted and afraid, "do you really hate me, my love?"

"No." I answered almost immediately, cursing the tears brimming once more in my tired eyes. "Never."

It came from him in a string of strangled words. My god, I had been terrified of the impact this would have on me, and I'd been right to feel this way.

"I laid with Sigyn tonight." 

The floor seemed unbalanced beneath my feet, as though my body were splitting apart into agonized shards. I thought my soul was crumbling inside of me until I realized it was merely my heart irrevocably breaking, despite all the time it had had to mend itself. I wanted to tell him it was alright, for it was. I wanted him to know there was no shame in laying with his betrothed, for there was not. After all, I had been intimate with Thor countless times since I was made Princess of Asgard. I had committed no sin, for he was my husband. There should not have been any guilt between us at all, for this was how we were supposed to heal after defying the sacred laws on the night of my wedding. I ached to tell him that what he'd done was right, for this was what they expected of us. 

Instead I said nothing, heading towards my chambers with a heavy heart. And this time, he let me go. 

Chapter Text

All those deemed most important in the Aesir realm gathered at a rounded oak tabled that spanned an incredible length across the plain and spacious council hall. These were the lords and ladies who had true influence over Asgard's politics, from managing the population and organizing costly events to distributing new members of the palace staff at their posts. 

In comparison to the rest of the royal abode the room was decoratively lackluster, boasting only billowing patterns in rich mahogany and cream-colored drapes. Having grown tired of blaring reds, the mitigated tones controlled my nerves as I listened intently to the inquisitive note of the chancellor's appeal. 

"Perhaps the safest option would be to keep Jane Foster in our vicinity. Contain the Aether and monitor the mortal's condition-"

"You forget, Chancellor," spat the captain of the guard, "that by harboring the Aether on Asgard, we would be exposed to the threat at hand if the enemy knows we have chosen to keep it in possession."

This response hit the council bluntly, flooding the hall with murmurs of debate. I remained silent for the rest of the conversation and watched awkwardly as it grew with rising fervor. Soon the matter was settled; the council moved on to sort out another issue with renewed energy, each member eager to provide input. The sweat upon each burdened brow hinted at affairs of their own, but with the coronation growing ever near, no other thought reigned our minds. The topic of our discussion shifted from the Midgardian to the matter of Alfheim and the Elvenqueen's questionable health, with brief comments on our progress in supplying the city with food, until the subject we all anticipated appeared amidst the conversation. 

"As we had discussed in one of our earlier meetings, may those who have readied propositions please present them before the court?"

Lord Kvasir was the first to speak. His idea to let the people spectate Thor devouring a broiled hog whole and a dozen of Idunn's apples was amusing at best, but did not suit the type of event we were wishing to hold. Though his substantial eating would no doubt impress the public, I don't suppose it would have done much to better familiarize the people of Asgard with their soon-to-be monarchs. I laughed inwardly at Thor's obvious peaked interest but was indifferent myself, and politely awaited the next proposal.

The next few ideas lacked creativity and failed to convince me, until a rotund woman (with whom I had never been acquainted) fanned herself enthusiastically in defense to the heat streaming through the glass as she produced a small metallic sphere and placed it excitedly on the table. I, along with the rest of the council members, craned my neck in pursuit of a better glimpse at the device, which was engraved with curious geometric markings.

Elders on my realm had told me of Asgard's impressive technological advances, but no story could have prepared me for the realism or dimension of the hologram that appeared above the sphere, flickering before it stilled into the flawless likeness of an arena - one I'd seen before when glancing down at the citadel from my quarters. The image hovered above the table, rotating steadily to give everyone a perspective of each and every inch of the projection. 

With pure amazement, my fingers reached for the mirage expecting the coarse touch of stone, only to be met with the empty air and a few amused chuckles from the other courtiers. Thor laughed and I drew my hand into my lap in embarrassment. 

We were brought back to the matter at hand by the lady who cleared her throat and placed her fan of grey silk upon the table. She rose from her seat, now at level with the floating depiction of the arena which contained the image of the prince and a scaly beast engrossed in battle, dueling for eternity at the heart of the stadium. Satisfied with the interest she had garnered, the woman beamed, proclaiming: "I propose a tournament!"

"A 'tournament', Lady Octavia?" the Allfather inquired. 

"Yes, My King, a tournament." The hologram enlarged so that Thor and his beastly foe were in focus, now dueling in full animation. "A grand event held in the very core of the city to showcase the combative talents of our beloved heir." Octavia paused, taking in the reactions of the council before she continued, pleased. "Soldiers and townsfolk alike would be welcome to partake in the great contest, with none but Prince Thor emerging as the victor in the end. But of course, we must guarantee Prince Thor's safety at all times, should such a tournament commence; which is why the challenge will be but a mirage - the creatures shall be but illusions cast by Her Majesty the Queen, to maintain utmost realism in each battle. As a result of the Allmother's involvement, the 'beasts' shall be bested immediately and with ease by our prince and the citizens of Asgard will fall to their knees in respect of Odin's son."

The chancellor's worn features tightened in dislike. "A clever scheme, Lady Octavia, but a scheme no less."

"I agree." Thor shot up from his chair, startling me and surprising those seated close to him. The end of the table averted their gaze toward Thor as a collective, the attentiveness in their eyes a symbol of their unwavering respect for the golden-haired prince. I could not help but yearn for a day to come when the same people would look towards me with that same admiration and loyalty. Bearing an wry smile, Thor continued, "I do not wish to deceive the people who live honest lives with cheap tricks. Mother, knowing that I am fully capable of defeating false beasts with my combative talents, need not lower those of my rivals in order for me to best them with ease. 'Tis a great shame that you have never seen me train with Mjolnir, Lady Octavia."

"My Prince, I never meant-"

"Surely the Lady never intended to insult Your Royal Highness," Chancellor Iwaldi spoke in the terrified old woman's defense with the bravery and kindness I'd seen replicated in his daughter, who had unmistakably inherited her lively green orbs from the nobleman himself. A twang of hatred twisted my innards at the thought of young Sigyn. 

I was brought back to the present by Thor's gentle hand on mine, slowly coming to the realization that I'd been squeezing the armrest with an iron grip. I let out a shuddering sigh; the same occurrence had happened on many occasions, where spontaneous rage would simmer in my breast for no reason, always on the verge of coming to a violent boil. This was not the time nor place to break out in jealous fury, as much as it would bring me pleasure to do so. 

Iwaldi looked toward me with a hopeful smile. "Perhaps Your Highness could grace us with further thought on the subject? The council was thoroughly inspired by your ideas to appoint common seamstresses to the palace. Truly a move most innovative, My Lady."

"I am flattered, Chancellor, but the act could not have been made possible without the undying efforts of the council and palace staff." Heads inclined with respect at my words and I relaxed, reassured I had chosen the right words. I waited for my breath to settle in my chest before beginning carefully: "In regards to the tournament, I quite enjoy the notion and find it a most creative means of demonstrating Thor's skill on the battlefield. After all, what could better secure a realm's confidence in their future king than the certainty that he is able to protect it?"

"Thank you, Your Highness." Lady Octavia shone with satisfaction. My lips parted to speak hesitantly, as I knew my coming remarks could upset at least one, if not many, members. 

"Which is why the use of Mjolnir in the competition should be avoided at all costs."

"Nonsense!" I flinched as Odin stood abruptly, anger evident in his exposed eye. The unforeseen transition between a composed ruler to a seething old man frightened me, sent my blood racing in terror. Frigga too appeared startled, though upset herself when she scolded his name in disbelief. 

"Your Majesty, I beg of you! Punish me if it is your wish, but I believe the use of Mjolnir in combat to be an unfair advantage over the rest of the competitors. No one but my husband possesses the power of Thor, so how would it be an honest fight?" I gasped for breath, hoping that if I spoke quickly I would not be interrupted. Thor held my hand and I met his panicked gaze, "forgive me, my love, that I fight for your inconvenience." Mustering all my strength, I turned to face the King. "But your son is the greatest warrior in all of Asgard, is he not? Some illusory foes would not stand a chance against Thor, even in swordplay!" 

Odin's rage only heightened after my speech, shown by beads of perspiration forming at his brow. "You, his wife, would endanger the crown prince? Strip him of protection, gamble his life to impress the commoners? Have you no concern for his safety, no love for your husband?!"

At this point I could no longer breathe. My eyes screwed shut, lips parched, throat swollen as the King lashed out at me in his rage. My hands fumbled for Thor's shirt and to my relief I was pulled into his embrace. I could only brace myself in his arms and let their voices ring deafeningly in my ears. I craved silence, an escape from the noise that suffocated me. The air was thick; I felt a curious stir in my chest but could not concentrate on anything but the defensive bellows of my husband's retort. 

His words were loud, shredding my mind, scrambling my senses and I could only understand broken segments of speech.

"Trust... confident in my skills... easy victory... train with the Warriors... sword..."

Each phrase emerged in between painful throbs, the onsets of a headache as unbearable as nails digging into my skull. 

Maybe King Odin and his son had not been engaged in a heated argument at all but I had no way of knowing, for even the slightest raised voice was enough to induce a sharp pain in my mind. The ringing in my ears was starting to fade, filling my heart with happiness as my hearing cleared. A bead of sweat fell from my chin and I caught it, my eyes damp as they slowly opened to focus on the droplet in my palm. 

I tried to concentrate on the flecks of light within it before it disappeared into the many cracks between my fingers. Then, still pressed against Thor's rippling chest, I looked up. 

Having suspected that I was going mad for a long time, I still could not be sure whether my frenzied imagination had conjured the strange stare of normally-candid Queen Frigga, or that she truly held some peculiar distaste for me which looked so untoward on her face of such a warm, rosy hue. A shudder trailed down my spine at the ice in her gaze and taut lips. 

My eyes escaped to the thick veins on Thor's neck, which were strained in anger while his mouth produced sounds I lacked the energy to comprehend. Even from this angle the prince was handsome, like his Queen mother. 

I looked back at her and noticed with dread that it was gone. No strange look, no unsettling scrutiny, nothing. 

Not a trace...

Odin dismissed the council with a begrudged scowl; his subjects scurried away from the scene, understandably frightened by the Allfather's unwarranted outburst. Thor helped me to my feet and out of the room. Only when we had established a sizable distance from the King and his courtiers did the knot in my stomach disappear. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Thor who had a tender hand to my face, holding me close, the ever-present look of concern plastered across his affectionate features. 

I hated it. 

"Just as you begin to recover, my father upsets you..." the prince's tone wavered in anger. I laced my fingers with his and broke the clenched fist. He felt warm as ever. "The old man should have known better! How dare he-"

"Thor..."

"I love you."

The words came quickly, the declaration short. Yet they burned into my heart all the same - a most terrible feeling, worse than the creeping talons of near death, tasting more bitter than gnawing jealousy. 

"Thor?" I could only stare through my tears as he pressed his lips firmly to mine. Rough hairs on his jaw tickled my chin but no giggle escaped my lips, for all sounds were lodged in my throat and I could not speak. 

Thor rested his forehead against mine. The warmth of his breath fell on my face and I tensed. "I love you, my beautiful heart. On the day I took you as my wife, I had sworn to myself to treat you with respect but never foresaw my own fall. I should have known from the moment I gave you that rose that my heart, too, would in time belong to you."

His powerful arms swept me into a fierce embrace. I whispered his name again, too lost, drowning too deep in undeserved adoration, wishing with every fiber of my being that he did not truly feel this way for me, the one who had betrayed his love.

But I loved those three words he had uttered, and that disgusted me like nothing else. 

"Which is why it pains me to leave you in the morning."

"What?" I broke from the embrace in disbelief and dread.

Thor exhaled painfully. It hurt me to see the exhaustion around his eyes from upholding his duties as heir, along with accompanying me every time of day. "Father won't let me fight without Mjolnir unless I train with Sif and the Warriors each day until the tournament."

The prospect of weeks without Thor by my side left me trembling once it struck me that there was simply no way I could live alone in my condition. I no longer felt safe in these halls... just stalked, hounded by the many predators I had roused and provoked. 

And Sif - oh, the poison with which she could fill his head now that they were to train extensively together...

Panic turned to rage without rhyme or reason. "You would leave me alone in my state?!"

"As soon as my sessions end I shall visit you, I will stay through the night if you so wish-"

"No." I shook my head vigorously and the throbbing returned, seizing my mind. "No Thor, you are leaving me, just like-"

"I will come to you as soon as time will allow, I swear it! I swear by my love for you, I will come. I will come, my love."

"You said you loved me..."

"I do! More than anything..." Thor kissed my quivering lip, stilling it between his. Caressing my shoulder, he pushed a strand of hair from my face and looked deep into my eyes. Thor's eyes were such a brilliant blue, gleaming with emotion and willing me to see the truth in them. It had been a while since I had truly seen him so vulnerable, so bare for me as his eyes brimmed with honesty. "I would bend time if it were possible, my love."

"Thor..." I threw my arms around his broad frame and held on for my life. I couldn't be alone now. Not ever. And so I begged him, softly, so soft it would break his heart. "Please, don't leave me here... alone."

Only when he took me back into his arms did I hear my own sobs, or feel my body quake against his chest. We stood, locked in an embrace that felt like an ending. But Thor only promised relentlessly, again and again as I wept for myself and for him. 

"Shhhhhh... I will visit, my love, I swear it. Without fail, I will come to you."

And I believed him.

Chapter Text

Thor kept his promise. 

On the day I'd wept in his arms, the Prince of Asgard had told me he loved me. I remember the sheer desperation in his movements when he'd laid his hands on my face, fingers entwined in my hair so soiled by sweat and tears, any other would have been repulsed at first touch and yet he loved me. 

Thor came that night, hurrying back with aching arms outstretched, cradling me in them like a babe until I succumbed to much-needed slumber. Without the warmth from his sun-kissed skin on mine, his Thunderer's embrace, I grew more restless and irritable by the day. Though Thor came to me as often as he could, he could not hide the exhaustion from his eyes, nor the mild annoyance in his frown at my dependence on him. I'd cry in his arms, chastise him for leaving me alone before drifting off into a painful sleep after he'd placed a kiss on my brow and left the room. 

I struggled to eat the delicious meals the servants prepared, but knowing of their hard work I would always take a sip of wine or a bite of bread if only to express my appreciation. Before me, they would smile and greet me as 'Your Highness', only to scoff and indulge in rumors when they believed I wasn't looking. 

I am always looking. 

Late in the afternoon, the servants dressed me in a modest grey gown as per my request; I could no longer stand the bright reds and golds which unfortunately decorated my chamber. The golden sun beckoned me toward the corridors where I'd taken up a habit of strolling to clear my mind. Asgard's halls were often vast and empty, making them a perfect escape when I sought the comfort of silence.

"Good afternoon, Your Highness," came a welcoming chirp. I turned and saw Laila, a young chambermaid, dusting the windows. I was quite fond of her, as she had taken a great effort in nursing me back to health over the past hard times. My eyes darted to the small bump of her abdomen - small, but noticeable nonetheless, and dreaded the bile rising hot in my throat. 

"You... you are with child?" I asked in a tone colder than intended. A faint blush crept onto Laila's cheeks. 

"Y-yes, My Lady."

"Is the head of staff aware of your condition?"

"No, My Lady."

"Unacceptable. You should be resting, not laboring over the same windows and drapes you dusted yesterday."

"I assure you, Your Highness, it is truly no bother-"

"As your mistress, I forbid you from performing your duties until your child has been delivered. You are relieved from your post."

The tint of Laila's cheeks deepened in embarrassment and slight panic. Perhaps I'd spoken too harshly, or colder than I'd intended. But I could not suppress the emotion that stirred in my stomach, the dull ache of a distant memory lodged deep in my breast upon discovering Laila's... situation. I knew immediately that I could not bear to have her present in these halls. I could no longer handle the sore sight of her bulging abdomen which served only to remind me of what I had lost. A horrid feeling of guilt washed over me, filling my veins with shame at what I was doing. But does a princess not possess the right to dismiss her servants?

"Please, Your Highness, this job is my only means of providing for my child-"

An almost agonizing affliction rose to my head in an instant, filling me with an unexplainable rage. Hot tears burned at my eyes, and Laila flinched at the ice in my glare. "Did you not hear what I said?!" I spat, no longer able to maintain a facade of composure. I wanted nothing more than for her to leave my sight, and for the pain coursing through me to subside.

The chambermaid whimpered, terrified. "Your Highness..."

"Leave! Take your child and exit the palace! Go home! Out of my sight!" I roared in a sudden burst of fury, the world around me spinning out of control. The emotion I felt was an unearthly torrent of anger, annoyance and grief... grief most of all. Numbness took over my body until I was paralyzed; trapped in the menacing confines of my own feelings. My knees hit the floor before I became aware of my own exhaustion. The sound of Laila scurrying away was drowned out by the heaviness of my breaths, so erratic I could barely hear the dull thud of my own heartbeat. 

"Out of my sight," croaked a voice which I almost did not recognize my own, my lips forming coarse and hollow words on their own accord. "Out of my sight, out of my sight..."

My legs crumbled beneath my weight; I could only stumble towards the window to break my fall. The cold glass kissed my fingertips as I gripped the window frame for support. My breathing refused to slow. My head throbbed, a glistening bead of sweat forming at my temple. From here, I was usually treated to a view of the royal gardens during my daily strolls. Desperate for a distraction, my eyes searched the distant floral displays for something to fix my attention on, something to calm my beating heart, but the beautiful hues of the season were now irritant to my eyes.

It was then that I spotted figures seated on one of the benches on the side of the main garden pathway. Though partially hidden, I strained to make out the form of two people, facing each other, as though engaging in deep conversation. One; a maiden with dark tresses that cascaded down her shoulders, whose face I could not see as her back was turned toward me. The other, however...

Loki. 

His lean arms wrapped round her petite form, muscular and hungry-looking, his lips curled into a twinge of a smile. The maiden turned her head to the side to reveal the unmistakable features of a blushing Sigyn. The sunlight bathed her skin in an incandescent glow, illuminating the thin layers of her gown to frame the slender silhouette of her body. My breathing filled my head, the drum of my heartbeat invading every orifice, drowning out my own stifled cries of betrayal and disbelief. 

Loki placed a finger below her chin to lift her face to his. Although hidden from my view, I closed my eyes and could almost picture the tender, affectionate brush of his lips against hers. My heart sank into the pits of my stomach as a thundering headache overtook me. The sight was killing me yet I couldn't tear my eyes from it; the need to see it for myself was too great. With each moment spent watching the man I loved hold another so close to his heart, I could feel the life drain from me little by little. Some might have thought it lewd or perverse that I continued to stare in disbelief, unable to process the revelation that my deepest fears had come true. 

Watching the scene unfold before me served to confirm my suspicions that Loki had finally fallen for his intended. Just as he was meant to. Just as it was meant to be: 'the dark, devilish Prince Loki and the beautiful, innocent Sigyn, together at last!'

His heart was finally rid of me. Just as it should be. There could be no other explanation for the affection in his eyes as he held her close, obscured by the rose bushes like she was one of his secret lovers.

Loki pulled back from the kiss and pulled her into a gentle embrace, resting his head on her shoulder. His face, now completely visible to me, seemed relaxed and content.

Without a warning, his eyes snapped open. The wicked emeralds, filled with venom and some form of twisted glee glared unblinkingly at me. They gleamed under the blaring sun, catching me completely by surprise. My breath hitched in my throat and my limbs grew numb when his crooked lips formed a dreadful, ugly smile that was completely unbecoming of his hard features. It was as though he took some unholy pleasure in tormenting me, purposefully hurting me deeper... killing me. Naught but mere seconds may have passed, but to me they seemed like the most grueling eternity. 

Finally unable to hold his stare any longer, I turned away. I flung my back against the cold stone wall beside the window and allowed an agonized cry to escape my throat. The sounds which tore from my dry throat no longer sounded human to my own ears. The brilliant golds of Asgard's halls spun around me at high speed, kaleidoscopic, flitting across my vision in a dizzying blur. Then my legs succumbed to the floor, trapped beneath my own weight. 

Slipping into the darkness felt familiar and kind, and so for once, I willingly let it take me.

 

 

 

Ivory skin, pale bodies entwined. Moving in time with each breath of the wind, each dewdrop upon the grass, each cry of ecstasy. Two people, brought together by the darkest of desires, the most carnal craving. Giving the world to each other. Connecting, deep and true. Sharing. Fulfilling. Moving, moaning, groaning, sweating, thrusting- 

 

Loki and Sigyn...

 

...Fucking.

 

"No, stop, I beg of you-!"

I darted awake. Panting and drenched in sweat, I noted that I was once again back in the confines of my chambers. The material of my gown now clung uncomfortably to my skin, the friction irritating me further as I wiped the tears that now trailed down my face in the aftermath of my dream. I despised the feeling of being in bed; I felt as though I had spent the majority of my time in Asgard in bed, sweating, crying, and sleeping. It disgusted me and yet... the familiarity of the bed always gave me comfort and a sense of security. 

"Your Highness is awake, I see." 

That voice-! My eyes snapped to the corner of the room, cast in shadow, and the dark figure who stood there. In a fleeting moment, I recalled the memory of his wicked stare and immediately felt uncontrollable fear. The tension in the air was so dense I could feel it closing in on me, pressing against my skin and whispering in my ears. 

It was almost impossible to keep my voice from wavering. "Prince Loki." The words came out, cracked with emotion instead of cold and firm as I'd intended. In a room alone with him... I was completely and utterly at his mercy.

"How do you fare, Your Highness?" His tone was saccharine, condescending, almost mocking my title. Anger boiled beneath my skin but I forced a smile equally as insincere, too exhausted to handle another argument.

"I am well." I knew I should have ordered him to leave my room, but time and time again, I let my curiosity get the best of me. I rose unsteadily from the bed, cautiously making my way towards him. Mustering the remaining shreds of courage within me, I asked; "Was it you who found me and brought me back here?" 

"Yes, Your Highness."

"... Why, Loki?"

"I happened upon you when you were on the floor, unconscious. What brother would I be if I had left you there, alone and unwell?"

His words left a foul taste in my mouth. I cringed inwardly, repulsed by his nonchalance, his unfeeling attitude, the way he just stood. "You are not my brother."

"You are my brother's wife. Odin and Mother have taken you under their wing. What are you to me, if not my sister?" Loki spat the word; I heard the grin fall from his face when he spoke, his tone turning bitter. Once quaking in fear, my body now trembled with fearsome rage. I detested the way he jeered at me, as if he understood even a shred of what I felt, and how hopeless I was in the midst of all this. 

"Show yourself when you are speaking to me!" I stormed across the room, furious. My footsteps echoed in time with my thundering heartbeat as I drew closer and closer to the man who could kill me, right then and there. He could wring my neck so that my cries for survival would not reach those occupying other regions of the palace. He could let my body crumble to the floor, lifeless, and vanish without one trace of evidence left behind to tie him to my murder. He could slit my throat in one fluid motion, clean and simple, before walking away. Or, worst of all...

"You would enjoy that, wouldn't you?" spoke the God of Mischief, baring teeth that held a malicious glint. I cursed beneath my breath, for I realized he must have read my mind again using his magic, despite his long-ago promise to me not to do so ever again. My eyes brimmed with hot tears. I felt betrayed, shocked, deceived. "But would you be just as eager if this..." slowly, he emerged from the darkness, revealing his Jotun form, "... monster, were the one to touch you? To sweep you off your feet? To be your- 'Einar'? "

I stumbled backwards in shock. All anger drained from my body in an instant; cobalt skin and icy, crimson eyes were all I could see. My chest tightened from the initial panic of Loki advancing toward me ever-so-slowly, his eyes flashing a murderous red. It was a truly magnificent sight, though I must confess that the overwhelming fear for my own life overtook my desire to stop and admire Loki's beauty. 

"Loki!" My hand flew to my chest. My heart thudded aggressively beneath my palm. Fear soon became regret; I was only momentarily surprised at the transformation and did not fear his frost-giant form itself, but I knew that Loki would interpret my reaction in the wrong way.

The coldness in his stare faltered for a mere moment, replaced by a look of sorrow. The deep sadness in his eyes cut through my very soul, and I found my heart bleeding for him once again. But this had gone on for far too long - I would not allow myself to be manipulated by him any longer. Determined to stand my ground, I held out a defensive hand, hardening my gaze.

"Are you truly afraid of me?" He asked with a pained rasp. "Do you loathe the monster as the others do? Or worse, are you like his mother who does not care to admit that she feels for him only pity?"

"What do you care how I feel?! You've no right to my mind, no right to my thoughts! How dare you, how dare you!" Loki took a step back, holding his hands out in mock surrender. His features morphed into that trademark smirk, the one which trivialized every serious situation, the mischievous grin I both adored and passionately detested at the same time. An urge to punch that smirk off his face overcame me, causing my hands to ball into tight fists. But then I remembered the injury I'd sustain if I were to touch a Jotun's skin with my bare hands. Reluctantly, my hands relaxed, knuckles reverting from white back to the neutral tone of my flesh. "You promised me you would not do this ever again! Does your word mean nothing to you?"

"Is it not blindingly obvious that the word of the God of Lies should never be trusted?" 

"Do not taunt me, Loki-"

"Your Highness needn't fear me in that regard." I seethed when he ignored me and began to circle me leisurely. "The women of Asgard know me as the devilish, exciting sort. So many eager maidens; how could I even think of taking one by force-"

"I am not in the mood for your despicable games, Loki. I am to be your queen soon, and once I have assumed the position, I shall assign the entire garrison to my door, making it impossible for you to steal into my chambers like a common thief, unattended."

Loki paused, and scoffed. "Even then, I would have no trouble-"

"Why did you save me, Prince Loki?" My annoyance of him grew greater in my stomach but I forced it back; it would take patience to get Loki to listen, especially when he knew he held complete power over me in that room.   

"'Twas my duty as your humble servant, Your Highness." I gritted my teeth and growled in painful frustration. For a long while, I contemplated my dangerous decision to move closer before steeling myself and following through. Unable to meet his gaze, I instead directed my focus on the bridge of his nose, silently marveling at the lapis-like sheen of his skin.

"Why are you really here, Loki?" I asked slowly, enunciating every word. Perhaps if I'd poured every ounce of sincerity I had into the question, he might finally understand that I was wholly and thoroughly serious. On the verge of tears once again, I relished in the sudden silence that filled the room... a confirmation that I had finally succeeded in gaining at least a trifle of his respect. After taking a moment to compose myself, I continued calmly but firmly. "You have saved my life and fulfilled your duty as my husband's brother, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. But remaining in my chambers, watching me sleep, attempting and failing to frighten me in your Jotun form? You have crossed unspeakable boundaries, Loki. So I ask you again, My Prince, why are you still here? Why did you not leave once you had returned me to my bed, as would have been appropriate? What say you?!"

Silence. Crimson eyes were fixed intently on my own. Though we stood a fair distance apart, I could have sworn I felt the solemn rise and fall of his breath on my face. Loki turned sharply away from me. 

"I remember this scene," he mused, though I heard the unmistakable pain in his voice. "It's been so very long, but the memory still plagues my dreams nonetheless. The morning after we..." A reminiscent smirk. "I carried you back to this very room, where you, after seeing my true form for the first time, rejected my love."

"You have twisted that memory into something so hideous and unrecognizable from what actually happened! I did not 'reject your love' because you are a Jotun; by the Norns, could you be any more stupid? Don't you understand that the reason I refused you was to save your life? You horrid, despicable man!" I could no longer contain my anger and disappointment. I no longer cared if my voice was raised. All I needed was for him to understand. "If I had agreed to love you behind Thor's back, you would not be here mocking me, humiliating me for something I have no control over! You would be executed by Odin's orders! You would be dead!"

"So would you." Loki spun back round and met my glare with one of ice. The smirk had disappeared entirely from his face, replaced by a look of bitter rage. "You do not expect me to believe that your actions were for my sake, do you? You were ashamed of me, afraid the crown would slip from your grasp if they knew you'd spent your wedding night with a frost giant!" His mouth formed a crooked smile as a single tear streamed down his cheek, forming a trail of ice along rippling blue skin. Loki trembled visibly, causing fear to surge through me once again at the menacing nature of his expression. "You want to live a lie forever, so long as you get to sit in a golden chair next to Asgard's favorite golden prince! You are not in love with Thor, yet you play the part in hopes that you shall one day rule alongside him. You want to be rid of all that was between us, all that is between us!"

"There is nothing between us, Loki." A lump formed in my throat at the lie. Oh, how it pained me that I could not run into his arms and let him engulf me in a passionate embrace, but I could not afford to let him know. My hands fisted the material of my gown anxiously. "I love Thor."

"Oh?" His eyes narrowed to slits as he moved closer still, narrowing the space between us. Paralyzed with fear, I could only stand there and endure the coolness radiating from his frozen skin. "You love my brother?"

"Y-yes."

"Really?" A low chuckle followed, one that sent a chill along my spine. "You seemed distressed when you were... spectating our exchange in the gardens. Upset and, maybe even... jealous?"

"What you do with Lady Sigyn is none of my concern. What would she think if she knew you were in another woman's chambers, accusing me of... of shameful thoughts, unlawful desires for her intended? Have you no consideration for her? After all, you love her, do you not?"

Loki threw his head back in a humorless laugh. "Wherever did you get that idea?" 

"I see the way you look at her. You even told me yourself that you had bedded her, and I have witnessed your affection toward her for myself. This... this is the reason that I, at times, cannot bear to even look at you, Loki. You think you can seduce me, work your charm on me so that you might have two women's hearts in your possession at once. Two slaves, willing to let you toy with them, manipulate them, draw them in only to throw them back into the water once you grow bored. But while Sigyn may be content playing your games, I am not." 

I began to make my way towards the door, unwilling to let Loki see the heartbroken tears welling in my eyes. I didn't want him to think I was vulnerable; he had to understand that I was strong. He had to understand that I knew Sigyn was the one he truly loved, and that he couldn't trick me into believing his lies any longer-

Loki grasped my shoulder before I could reach the exit and turned me around, slamming me onto the wood. I cried out in pain as my back came in contact with the door but was silenced by an icy hand clamped firmly over my mouth. He had shifted back into his Asgardian form; furious, confused, glistening emerald eyes trained intensely on mine. I screamed again, body going limp with hopelessness as the sound was muffled entirely by his powerful grasp. He struck the wood beside me with sudden force, causing me to flinch in terror. 

"Sigyn is but a trifle to me, but at least she is mine! Do you know of the sleepless nights I have endured, of the pain I have had to conceal from waking in cold sweat without you beside me? Do you know how it torments me to see you with that oaf, how it kills me to know that I have already been forgotten?!" Loki's voice began to shake with emotion, the anger in his gaze softening. He brought his other hand to my cheek and traced a slow line along my jaw. "Have you any idea how the mere sight of you," I trembled under his touch, "... ignites a dark flame within me?"

I watched as his eyes darkened under the light. He searched my gaze intently, breaths growing shallow. His lips parted involuntarily, and he stared at me with what I fearfully yet hotly recognized as intense, smoldering desire.

I felt intimidated and afraid, but could not ignore the heat that burned in my core, against my own will. Without breaking his gaze, Loki removed his hand from my mouth, gently cupping my cheek. I shivered at the coolness of his fingers against my skin, but whimpered at the searing heat of his torso pressed against mine as he trapped me between the door and his towering body. Loki's gaze turned to my quivering lips. A tongue darted out to moisten his own before he moved. Slowly, carefully, inching closer and closer until his nose gently brushed mine, his labored breaths mingling with my own in anticipation.

Loki paused, eyes fluttering shut. For an eternity, we stayed in the state of burning lust and painful control, of searing desire and consuming hatred, of chaos and reason, fire and ice, sin and virtue, and-

"I love you..." he whispered reluctantly, as though he hated the way it felt on his tongue. He despised his own feelings and so did I. I felt my heart ache at his words, words I had wanted so long to hear from him again. A torrent of indescribable emotions stirred in my chest. This man, this trickster, had left me broken for so long, caused me loss so great and pain I had never thought imaginable before being swallowed whole by it. He was the only thing that stood between me and my life as Queen of Asgard, the only detriment to my happiness. He had been with another and severed our trust. All this time spent trying to forget him, attempting to banish my love for him like a demon from my body...

Right here, in his arms, was where I belonged. 

At that moment, all thoughts of responsibility, duty and of Thor were vanquished from my mind. His eyes opened, freeing glistening tears that rolled down his cheeks, falling from his chin and onto my face. A tear found my tongue and I savored the bitterness, the salt of our shared suffering. Then, without another word, Loki pressed his lips eagerly to mine, bridging the gap between us at last. 

Chapter Text

A bleak overcast lingered above the realm of the Aesir on the day of the tournament. The sun, held prisoner behind a fortress of billowing mass, struggled to caress the city with its usual morning radiance, dulling even the glistening golds of the great Asgardian structures. Such was the state of the kingdom in the beginnings of the onslaught of winter. A draft stole into the palace halls, a crisp chill settling into every crevice and corner. Because of the dismal undertones that streamed through the windows and into the princess's room, her chambers were unpleasantly ill-lit - the crimson hues were corrupted into a murky burgundy, the golds tainted an earthy yellow. 

As her handmaiden helped her dress for the event, the princess's mind was elsewhere. Earlier, she had been asked to choose between two ravishing sets of attire, to which she answered by gesturing to the gown on the left with disinterest, paying no heed to whether or not it suited her own tastes. 

Her limbs moved to the convenience of her handmaiden as she slipped the chosen garment over the princess's weak frame, whilst her thoughts drifted into the recent past, pondering the encounter that had plagued her mind for weeks... 

 

"I love you..." he whispered reluctantly, as though he hated the way it felt on his tongue.

His eyes opened, freeing glistening tears that rolled down his cheeks, falling from his chin and onto her face. A tear found her tongue and she savored the bitterness, the salt of their shared suffering. Then, without another word, Loki pressed his lips eagerly to hers, bridging the gap between them with fervor.

Her body froze under the influence of his magnetism, his heat, his passion. Her limbs were rigid, trapped against the door beneath his towering frame, his hands secured on each side of her face as he parted her lips with his ravishing tongue, exploring her wet mouth like a man starved, claiming her soul for his own. She was paralyzed, unable to pull away, yet incapable of reciprocating the sudden ferocity of his movements. 

He was suffocating her in a way more draining than she had ever known. It was powerful and electric, numbing, overwhelming. The same, stinging scent of mint and spice she had craved for years flooded her senses once more, burning her tongue and igniting the flame in her core which had simmered quietly for many a moon, only to be awakened with roaring intensity by the god who had put it there. 

Without further thought, she returned the kiss with equal ardor, mind spinning from the lack of air. Loki did not give her any opportunity to gasp for breath, and instead grinned wickedly against her lips as he ground her harshly into the wood with his hips, a guttural growl escaping his mouth from the pressure. Sensing his throbbing arousal so close to her own, she only kissed him harder, fueled by a love so aggressive, it dampened her urgency to breath underneath his iron weight. 

Loki resurfaced from the kiss for stolen second and looked at her through lidded eyes. The green in them had disappeared, completely obscured by an intoxicating, inky black she could drown in. But before she could succumb to their dangerous depths, teeth grazed and nibbled at the corner of her lips, then her jawline, and then the delicate skin of her neck. Her head fell back against the wood as her eyes slipped shut. He resumed his calculated ministrations on her soft flesh, nipping and sucking a particular vein, then soothing the area with his cool tongue in a motion so shameful and obscene, yet impossibly tender. 

Her eyes rolled back into her head. She bit down on her own hand to stifle a moan as his tongue dipped deliciously into the hollow of her throat. While his lips found the sweet swell of her chest, his hands roamed her body with exhilarating urgency, leaving trails of fire along her skin even through the fabric of her dress. His touches engulfed her in all ways possible. He was all she could smell and taste. All that filled her ears were her own strangled whimpers and his muffled moans against her flesh as he kissed her, right above her beating heart. She thought of nothing but the softness of his raven hair in her grasp, and felt nothing but his body flush against hers, his tongue on her skin, his scorching hands on her hips, then her shoulders, then her breasts, and then- 

She cried out.

Suddenly, three hurried knocks came from behind the door, the prompt vibrations jolting her out of the pleasurable haze. Pulled from her passionate trance, the princess remembered the immorality of their deed and the lives at risk from their forbidden love. Her eyes snapped open abruptly, momentarily meeting his with dread, sorrow and disgust - not at him, but at herself for allowing her indulgence to go so far after she had sworn fidelity to Thor, time and time again. 

Loki tore himself from her, a hand flying to his lip with a hiss of pain. Panic flashed over his features; an expression so rarely seen on his face, one so very besides his usual mask of complete and utter composure, intimidation, and control. Freed at last from the pressure of his heaving chest, she stumbled back into the door, bracing the wood for support, her movements hindered by her own breathlessness. Confused by Loki's actions, she grimaced at the bitter metallic tang forming in her mouth, realizing with a start that she had bit him. 

"Your Highness?" a concerned voice inquired from beyond the door, "are you all right?"

Their eyes met once more, bound by some deep, irrational connection she found impossible to ignore. He looked hurt, confused, frustrated. She watched his gaze travel from the blood on his fingertips from where he'd touched his lip, to lock on her own a third time. Unwilling to drown in the molten depths of his endless stare, she turned sharply towards the door and cleared her throat, answering, "yes, Unjarr. I am fine."

Her tone was hoarse and so very different from her usual charismatic quips that she cringed inwardly at how unlikely it would be for the guard to believe her words of reassurance. Unjarr paused, obviously taken aback by the poor state of her voice and asked with increased distress: "Are you in pain, Your Highness? Shall I send for the healer?"

"N-no, that won't be necessa-" 

Her eyes searched the dim chamber for the familiar lithe figure she both loathed and desired with a passion, but the dark prince was nowhere to be found. He had vanished with a turn of her head, leaving behind a chill that caressed the hairs on her skin with its icy talons. Those emerald orbs, cast in disappointment, were now etched into the back of her mind, poisoning every exquisite memory of him. The pain burned fresh and real each time she let her eyes flutter to a close. Moments ago, she had wanted nothing more than for him to leave, yet now the void in her chest ached to be filled more than ever.

She blanched in dread at the familiar feeling of searing bile rising to her throat, helpless as her body lurched forward. Hearing this, Unjarr burst into the room and caught her before she collapsed, making to call for a healer before a weak hand gripped his shoulder. 

"Please..." she choked a plea between each strained breath, "I do not need... a healer..."

He looked at her incredulously. "But Your Highness-"

"I have been sick many times, Unjarr... y-you yourself have seen this."

"But, Your Highness-"

"You will call for my handmaiden and nothing more. Is that understood?"  

The conflicted soldier opened his mouth to protest, but pursed his lips in disapproval under the ice of her glare. Unjarr was no stranger to the princess's famous impositions of authority - a topic which had stirred debate amongst the palace staff and beyond after the seemingly inexplicable dismissal of Laila, a pregnant chambermaid. It had recently emerged that Laila's living conditions in the city were poor and unsuited for a young mother, whose child would soon be born to a pitiful life of poverty. This spurned hatred against the Lady and her increasingly curious antics, and a majority of the kingdom was quick to forget all that she had done for Asgard since her marriage to the crown prince. Much of the town gossip revolved around her state of mind, which seemed to suffer a slow decline in the eyes of prying outsiders. Unjarr pitied the poor princess, whose reputation was the latest to fall victim to malicious hearsay. He had not forgotten who appointed him to his current post, and so his gratitude eliminated all desire within his heart to perpetuate these rumors. Every time the princess fell ill, word would spread and she would once again become the object of disdain and ridicule. 

After a while he let out a reluctant sigh. "Very well, Your Highness. But you must know that this puts me in a rather difficult position with Prince Thor."

"Thor doesn't need to know, and neither does anyone else."

"Of course, Your Highness."

 

"My Lady?" The handmaiden's timid voice roused her from the past. The princess turned her head in the direction of her servant; a gesture of acknowledgment, despite her vacant gaze remaining unmoved from the space ahead. This had become a regular occurrence and one that the maid herself regarded with incredulity when in discussion with other servants. Some days, Her Royal Highness would be full of life, her sharp tongue rivaled by none other than her wit, while Asgard rhapsodized over her effortless charm and the allure of her prospects. And others...

Sighing sympathetically, the maid tucked a loose strand of hair behind her mistress's ear. "Come, My Lady. Prince Thor will escort you to the tournament grounds."

 

 

 

The city center bustled with enthusiasm upon the arrival of Asgard's royals. Several contenders could already be heard releasing shouts of determination as they trained in the arena in preparation for the grand duel. 

"What a waste of strength," remarked the dark prince as he dismounted his steed, scouring the expanse of the battle arena. It was a structure of ancient rock, built to withstand the most torrential of storms and even resist the gradual destruction of age. Loki helped Sigyn from his horse, piercing eyes trained on the couple riding in front of them all the while. 

As soon as the heel of Thor's boot came in contact with the dirt, the crowd erupted in applause and cheer in welcome of their beloved Thunderer. The prince returned the affection of his people with a broad grin, raising Mjolnir to garner even more screams and vocalizations of support. 

"They love you," spoke his wife warmly, placing her hands on his shoulders as he helped her dismount. Thor cupped her face in his mighty hand and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips, the glimmer of excitement in his eyes softening into a glow of tenderness.

"And they adore you no less than I do."

The look in her eyes showed that she was far from reassured. "I fear that may not be true, My Prince."

"You fear a great many things, my love. D'you remember the dance? You feared failure then, yet you moved as gracefully as any other."

Brittle laughter left her lips. "Let us not forget exactly what happened at the dance."

Thor sighed and threw an arm around her waist, pulling her close. "You knocked a goblet from Lady Asta's hand. Hardly a crime."

"I called Lady Sif a 'bitch', Thor!"

"Well... you weren't entirely wrong-"

The grin disappeared from his face. The brows of her concerned husband knitted in a manner so familiar to her, it would have made her laugh were it not for the tightness in her jaw and the burning tears that threatened to fall from her eyes. She had always made some attempt to conceal her emotions before her husband in fear of irritating him even further than she assumed he must have already been, but Thor always saw right through her pitiful facade. 

Swallowing, her voice fell to a wavering whisper. "I embarrassed you, Thor." A glistening bead caught at the curl of her lashes before a gentle thumb brushed it away. She lowered her gaze to the ground, "and I embarrass you still."

"No my love, no!" The prince frowned, panic evident in his tone. "I feel no shame when I am with you. My heart fills with pride each day, knowing that each night, my beautiful wife is there to grace me with her company upon my return."

Thor had showered her with endless praises and hushed endearments long since their union, but even the most beautiful rose cannot retain its intoxicating fragrance forever, and Thor's sweet words were beginning to lose effect. 

Though her cheeks grew taut from greeting Lord and Lady after Lord and Lady with a rehearsed beam, the ache was no match for the sensation of a familiar pair of eyes burning into the back of her skull. 

 

Soon, the royals took their seats in the grand amphitheater as the last hundred spectators pooled into the venue. Cushioned chairs had been prepared for the King and Queen, and by Odin's prompt command, both princes and their consorts were provided with more comfortable accommodations. The Allfather and Allmother sat proudly in the center as the bold face of Asgard, whilst their sons and their women were situated on either side, much like vigilant guardians. Frigga had appointed a renowned artist to capture both the statuesque image of the royal family, and the exact frame of Thor's predicted victory against her conjured foes. The council members of Asgard were seated on a row below the royals, their hearts thrumming against their ribs in anticipation of Lady Octavia's plan being put into action at last. 

Loki leaned to the side in observation of the painter's canvas on which a rough but sure sketch of the royal family had begun to take form. He watched with an unreadable yet undeniably intense expression as the artist's brows furrowed in deep concentration, each stroke of his pen forming the familiar faces of the royal family seated on the steps. First the wide, majestic form of Odin took shape on the barren surface, followed by the careful lines of Frigga's regal posture and candid eyes. Then came the unmistakable frame of his brother's lounging body, muscles rippling and bulky, almost forcing the woman beside him into the armrest. Loki's gaze softened as the ink traced the gentle curve of the lips he had crushed with his own, then the defined jawline he had tasted, sucked, licked, mapped with his mouth... 

His tongue flickered to wet his lips. Loki continued to follow the artist's movements as he worked on capturing the devilishly defined features the prince recognized as his own. Loki's eyes narrowed in displeasure. The hairline was much too close to his brow, the eyes too cat-like, the jaw too slender, everything about the painter's depiction of him seemed to bring Loki distaste. And then it struck him, like the most disheartening epiphany; this must have been what the people of Asgard saw when they looked at him - a serpent, a feline, or every cunning creature they could name apart from a prince of Asgard. Anything but one of their own. 

Anything but an equal.

All his life, Loki had tried to understand the reason behind their hatred of him. He was but an infant when Odin had taken- no, stolen him from the frozen rock upon which he had been left to die on Jotunheim. Being Laufey's only heir, he could have succeeded him and been King of the Frost Giants, allowed to claim his birthright as ruler of his true birthrealm. But Odin had taken this away from him. The King had brought him back to Asgard, coaxing him into stepping into the shadows as Thor rose to greatness, luring him with the prospect of one day sitting upon the throne when in truth it had never once been a possibility, deceiving him with the glittering gold facades and luxurious mirages which hid a much darker truth - Loki was a frost giant, and would always be regarded as such. Treated as what he was. 

"A monster!"

Startled for a split second, Loki snapped out of his reverie, scouring the expanse of the crowd for the source of the fearful exclamation. A strange feeling coiled in his stomach and gnawed at him from within as his eyes settled on a young child seated quite a distance from him, almost so that she was facing his direction. His blood ran cold for a moment when her frightened eyes seemed to lock onto his, her little mouth opening once more to cry out:

"A monster! Look, mother, a monster!" The child tugged insistently on a woman's sleeve and pointed to the arena, where the first of Frigga's illusory beasts emerged from the gate. A wave of relief washed over Loki and he leaned back, lazily watching as the first contender stepped out into the arena to meet his foe. The cheers from the crowd fell on deaf ears when he overheard a rather unsavory conversation between two peasant men from a few rows behind him. 

"I do believe Prince Thor has asked his brother to participate in the event!"

"You mean Loki? Loki Laufeyson?"

"Who else? Thor must be so generous, so benevolent and kind to let a frost giant compete in a grand Asgardian tournament such as this."

"My thoughts exactly! And he doesn't even seem ashamed!"

"And so small too, for a Jotun. I wonder why that is?"

A snort. "Must have been born a runt!"

"Quite right, quite right!"  The man raised a goblet to his lips. 

A second later there was a great cry. The man sputtered and coughed and gasped; the goblet tumbled to the step below and the wine bled over the rock. The two men stared in horror as an infestation of maggots squirmed and writhed in the dark red liquid. 

A conniving smirk tugged at the corner of Loki's lips. The tingling wisp of energy faded from his fingertips amidst the uproar of the masses in response to the first competitor's failure against his enemy. Soon the second stumbled out onto the battleground, facing the beast with foolish determination. 

"What are you thinking about?" His little victory was interrupted by Sigyn's sweet inquiry, and he turned to face her. She returned his gaze earnestly, batting her eyelashes and blatantly reveling in his attention. 

"I'm not thinking of anything, pet."

"Yes, you are, with that sly smile of yours. Have you been up to any mischief, My Prince?"

Loki snickered inwardly. "No, my songbird."

A naughty grin split Sigyn's beautiful features apart as she rested her head on his shoulder, clinging snugly to his arm. "I sang for you a few weeks ago, when you barged into my chambers and threw me onto my own bed." A content sigh fell from her lips. "I so enjoyed that night."

The prince stared ahead, expressionless. Suddenly, the air grew thick and his armor too tight, constricting his flesh to the point of numbness as he recalled the events that had plagued his dreams each night, like scintillating embers that refused to fade. "Oh?" 

"You seemed furious at something before you arrived. Positively fuming, and immensely upset, and so impossibly hard. But I didn't care, because you made me feel things I never thought were possible."

Loki's breathing quickened. "Perhaps you'll sing for me again tonight."

A rosy hue spread through Sigyn's cheeks. She bit her lip. "Maybe if you're in spirits similar to those you displayed that night."

Before Loki could respond, the commotion grew deafening as the crowd stood and cheered with renewed vigor. He turned to see the crown prince descending the steps, clad in armor, the sun glinting upon the golden locks which protruded from beneath his winged helmet. Several children tugged at the crimson cape that billowed proudly in his wake, their eyes aglow with awe and admiration. 

Thor set foot into the arena and held up Mjolnir, basking in the eruption of approval from all visitors across the realms. The great cheer and excitement was suddenly replaced by thunderous silence - whispers and murmurs of bewilderment and confusion spread across the multitudes when the firstborn prince of Asgard lowered his fabled Uru hammer, setting it on the ground behind the gate.

The painter readied his brush, determined to capture the frame of Thor's imminent victory.

The prince then drew a sword and advanced toward his growling adversary with slow, confident strides. The creature snarled, spittle flying onto Thor's face. He recoiled in disgust, swiping a palm across his chin, and shot his mother an amused glance before breaking out in sonorous laughter. The Queen's crystalline orbs flashed with humor, though her features remained unmoved. 

The beast circled the prince steadily, its stance defensive and claws twitching in anticipation, ready to lunge at any given opportunity. It seemed to take its time watching him, surveying his muscular form as if acknowledging him as a being more powerful than the hundred others it had just defeated. Thor smirked to himself; he'd have to thank his mother for this nice touch after the tournament. 

"Well, what are you waiting for?"

The beast stopped, snarling aggressively in his direction. The thrill of battle coursed through his veins like a natural narcotic. His eyes twinkled with excitement as the ground shook beneath the creature's advances. The monster gradually broke into a sprint, bringing its snapping jaws closer and closer to the Prince of Asgard. The crowd looked on in terror, filled with both worry and anticipation in the few seconds wherein the beast rumbled towards Thor, its eyes blazing a malicious crimson. It drew closer still, dead set on its target. 

Any other soldier would have cowered in fear from this monstrous foe as they stared straight ahead into the face of death. But while a gripping sensation formed in his chest, it was not the fear of death that made Thor Odinson's heart pound to the daunting rhythm of a war drum...

It was the rush of a challenge.

The beast struck first. The people gasped. Some looked away, or shielded the eyes of their young. It took the crowd several moments to recover, but they soon rose in enthusiasm, eyes enlarged and enraptured by the sight before them.

Thor had lodged his blade between the creature's bloodied fangs, so that it could not push itself further unless Thor relinquished his strength. The prince pushed back against it, his neck and rippling arms blotched with veins as he fought against the force that threatened to crush him. A shout of frustration pierced the air; he had not expected an illusion to hold such strength, such endurance, that it could almost rival his own. He had envisioned a quick and easy victory, far from the drawn-out, grueling match against a ghastly phantasm that could have passed for a living, breathing beast. 

Despite the compromise, no sliver of regret crept into his mind. He had refused his mother's offer to go easy on him. He had let go of Mjolnir. He had approved the event himself. He had asked for a challenge and now here it was, snapping at his face, fighting back against the sword between its teeth. 

He had wanted this. 

And now...

Now, he would show them the true strength of a king.

A rush of bravery jolted his mind into action. He was assured long before the event that he would not be harmed even if the monster managed to land an attack, but it would not mask the lack of injury on Thor's person, therefore exposing the trick behind the entire operation. The threat of shame alone overpowered any initial tremors he had felt before the battle.

In a fraction of a second, the sword came free of the creatures mouth. Time seemed to slow as the beast's jaws made to snap shut in a position perfect for the prince's head to be crushed between each row of saber teeth. The audience cried out in dread. But Thor leaned back, sliding under the creature's belly as its mouth closed around thin air, propelled forward by raging hind legs. It collided with the wall with a ferocious rumble that shook the arena. The rock split apart with a resounding crack upon the impact. The animal lurched backwards, dazed from the painful collision, which gave Thor the perfect opening for attack.

"Well, I can't say you didn't try, dear beast." 

The creature, furious and confused, turned to see its enemy running forth one final time before it arched its back in pain from the sword driving through its spine. Thor perched atop the beast with a triumphant grin, pushing the tip of the blade through its body to emerge from the other side in one grim stroke of finality. The monster let out one final moan of agony before dropping to the ground with a resounding thud. Once its eyes had glossed over from the loss of life, Thor pulled the sword from its grisly carcass and held it to the air, letting the sun wash over the fluid that stained the Asgardian steel. 

The sound that tore from the horde of spectators was nothing short of deafening. It was magnificent, loud, boisterous, a symphony of admiration all for him and him alone. Every pair of lips in the arena formed his name, chanting ceaselessly in glorious celebration of their future ruler, the first to be victorious in the grand tournament. Though he had been met with such volumes of support on countless occasions throughout his life, he never tired of that ecstatic feeling of being loved and adored by thousands. 

As he exited from the gate, Mjolnir flew into his grasp, like a loyal companion. His calloused fingers tightened happily around the handle, feeling whole once more. The thrill of victory still coursed through his veins as he made his way back towards his place on the steps, nodding appreciatively in the direction of Sif and the Warriors who all beamed with pride. Odin and Frigga were aglow with delight, greeting their son with praises upon his return. 

With the crowd distracted, several soldiers dragged the massive corpse out of the arena until it disintegrated behind the gate, thoroughly hidden from the view of the masses. A flicker of light wavered in its place, taking the form of a new beast with the subtle wave of Frigga's hand. 

Thor's attention then turned to his wife, who stood to pull him into a tight embrace. "You were amazing," she said, flashing him a polite smile. As she made to sit down again, something took hold of him. Whether it were pride, excitement, or a sudden rush of confidence, he did not know. But he caught her waist with a rugged arm, another hand finding the back of her neck to press her lips against his own. Obviously caught by surprise, she seemed hesitant to respond. Her body felt unusually stiff in his arms, far from the way she normally relaxed against his own so many times before. This troubled him to a slight extent, and he considered pulling away before the whistles and cheers of encouragement from around them seemed to put her at ease. Her mouth parted for his tongue and he kissed her with relief, deep and passionate before a thousand eyes and a million smiles. 

Sigyn yelped, pain jolting through her arm from Loki's nails digging into her palm. She looked up at him in shock, searching his face for some sign of emotion other than the fixed scrutiny that hardened his features. 

"Loki?!"

He ignored her, staring ahead into an abyss only he seemed to see. She cried out, her attempts to break free from his grip proving futile when he paid no heed to her protests. Sigyn struggled against his tightening hold, her cries growing louder until her only hope was to shout if that meant breaking his indiscernible train of thought. 

"Loki, please!"

The look in his eyes when his head snapped to meet her gaze could be described as nothing but dangerous. Sigyn flinched as though truly pierced by his glare. Her blood ran cold beneath her skin. This was not the Loki she knew, nor the lover who had always looked fondly upon her. No, this was far from her darling betrothed - this was another side of him, another darkness she had only heard of in stories and never once dared to believe herself. His features were handsome and chiseled as always, but there was something terrible about his eyes. Something... deadly. 

"Brother!" Thor's bounding tenor distracted Loki from his rage, if only for a second. He released Sigyn's wrist with a tremulous sigh and she quivered, watching his eyes fall shut in annoyance before a perfect mask of politeness swept across his face as he turned to meet his brother. 

"Congratulations on your latest victory, brother. Though I must confess, I would much rather not take part in this event." His words flowed smooth and practiced, never once betraying the violent emotions that raged beneath his flawless composure. 

Thor's face fell. "And why in the Nine Realms would you change your mind?"

"If I recall correctly, it was you who insisted I participate." The dark prince crossed his arms, displeased. "I never wanted to fight Mother's childish illusions."

"'Childish illusions'?!" Thor looked deeply offended; a twinge of a smile ghosted across Loki's lips. "Did you not see the monstrosity-"

"Brother, if I wanted to battle a beast, I would simply cast a cloaking spell over Mjolnir and wait in your chambers."

"Loki." The sudden plea in Thor's tone took him by surprise. "You promised me you'd do it."

"Do what, exactly?" Loki snapped, words cutting through the air. "Lose against the beast in emphasis of your greatness?!"

"That is not what I-"

"I could do it, you know." His voice dropped to a harsh whisper, the muscle tense in his jaw. "I could outsmart it, with my 'magic tricks', as you so love to call them. I could bring it to submission with my abilities, make it beg for mercy before I cut it down, swift and effortless."

Thor was silent for a moment, his smile sad. "I know you could." Loki blinked at the words, not expecting them to ever fall from his brother's lips. He swallowed, cursing the thickness in his throat. The elder prince's gaze turned to the men sat behind him who had insulted Loki and subsequently suffered the consequences. "You know, I heard the things they said about you."

"Filthy peasants."

"The nerve of them!" Both men broke out in laughter, sharing a joy they had not experienced together in a long while. Despite their disputes and their everlasting rivalry, Loki could not suppress the warmth growing in his heart no matter how badly he sought to deny it. And for a fleeting moment, Loki almost forgot the instances in which he had been wronged because of Thor in the past, and the many things he'd been denied throughout his life for the simple but damning reason that he wasn't Thor. For a beautiful while, the image of his brother's tongue invading the mouth of the woman he loved slipped from his mind. His brother placed a hand on his shoulder, eyes brimming with pure, unadulterated sincerity. "Why don't you prove them wrong?"

Loki held his gaze for an eternity. Thor was hopeful, pleading, and puzzled as he pondered the mechanisms of his brother's mind - an ancient mystery yet to be solved. After a few more moments of deep thought, Thor's cheeks split in a gleeful grin when Loki conjured his golden helmet, placing it atop his head with a reluctant exhale. 

Once again the crowd fell silent as the Jotun prince walked out onto the battlefield, brazen horns catching the sunlight, cape of sage swaying in the wake of each measured step. A dagger graced each of his hands, greeting the air with their dangerous gleam. To all who were watching, Loki seemed to glide into the area, his presence silent and sure, casual yet calculated. 

From her position, the future queen observed him. Every move caused a stir in her chest; each step towards the gate wrung her insides. 

Once the bloodthirsty shriek of his foe tore from beyond the rattling barrier separating him from his adversary, Loki readied his blades in anticipation, eyeing the gate as it began to rise. 

Chapter Text

A momentary lapse of judgement saw Loki re-sheathe the twin blades into his belt in favor of a much larger sword, similar in design to the weapon Thor had used to slay his opponent. Loki's fingers tightened around the hilt of his sword, knuckles whitening at the heft of his chosen weapon. The skin of his palms ached, unaccustomed to the weight of the sizable blade. The prince abstained from combat as often as possible. So often had he been told that he was not as skilled on the battlefield as his brother, that he no longer found solace in the slashing and thrashing of blades and bodies and instead preferred the company of books - words and scriptures that exercised the mind and trained thought, over muscle. 

The beast emerging from the gate appeared different to the one Thor had fought, void of fur and instead bearing a sleek, squamous hide that extended a great length to form a meandering, whip-like tail. The creature's claws dug into the stone with each sinister step, shoulder blades jutting at ghastly angles on either side of a row of jagged plates that protruded along its back. Its eyelids separated vertically, parting the thin film that hid two orbs of deathly white, each void of a pupil that would have otherwise indicated some sign of life within the monster. 

Stopping opposite the Prince of Asgard, the beast's features split in half upon opening its hideous mouth as it let out a blood-curdling shriek, revealing a cavern of glinting daggers. 

Loki bit the inside of his cheek, almost hard enough to draw blood. He refused to flinch before a crowd that bet on his imminent death, for naught but determination burned bright and real within his chest, stronger than any fear or uncertainty that had begun to coil in his stomach. Some part of him trembled in anticipation; the other smirked with amusement - Mother had made him a more horrifying caricature of the previous beasts. There could be only one reason for her designing it so...

She was to have his victory painted. Just as Thor's had been.

Somehow his resolve grew more brazen still, but doubt lingered in his mind. Having one's victory painted would be to have one ingrained in Asgard's history for something greater than being a part of royalty. This was different from being depicted in a family portrait on the throne room ceiling, which was a mandatory practice. This was an honor of the highest order; a great badge of heroism reserved only for the likes of someone such as Asgard's crown prince. 

Loki had braced himself for disappointment all his life and was now mostly immune to the feeling. It no longer devoured him from within like it did when he was a child, but he could not help but think...

Did Mother regard him so highly? Did she truly believe he would succeed? 

He positioned himself into a challenging stance, ready for the first attack.

Would Odin allow it? 

The shrill cry of his slippery foe roused Loki from his thoughts and forced his attentions back onto the task at hand. It bounded towards him, milky orbs growing closer and closer, row upon row of gnarly teeth prepared to slice cleanly through flesh. Each thud of its claws digging into the ground brought the enemy closer, its rancid breath strengthening with every charged leap. 

Thundering footsteps drowned out his own shallow breaths as the prince raised the sword to meet the creature's gaping mouth. It tilted its head to the side and passed beneath the blade to avoid damage, causing Loki to stumble back in brief shock. Now thoroughly provoked, a rattling roar tore from the beast's throat, releasing an acrid odor from the bowls of its stomach. Stopping to catch his breath, Loki could not help but admire his mother's handiwork; incorporating the element of smell and other senses into a visual illusion was no easy feat. The Queen's mystical prowess shone through in the beast that had the ability to inflict serious damage on the prince if he did not try his best. 

Frigga had conjured the animals in such a fashion that they would not be able to kill her sons, for once it had the chance to strike a 'fatal blow' the illusion would disappear and reveal the conspiracy. So far, none of the competitors had entered a state of near-death when facing the beasts, much to the relief of the council. To create such challenging adversaries could only mean she truly believed in her sons' abilities.

This filled Loki with stubborn reassurance. He swung the blade as the creature reared its ugly head once again. Fire burned lean arms as they struggled to keep hold of the weapon now caught in between the hundred razors lining a cavernous orifice. The enemy thrashed and wrestled with the prince, wailing each time the metal cut through cheek and tongue, movements increasingly erratic as it grew desperate to be rid of the sword lodged between its teeth. 

Suddenly a twisting, turning appendage darted out from its throat. It coated Loki's face in a foul, thick substance that prickled his skin and burned his eyes. His fingers relinquished their hold on the hilt, scrambling to wipe the liquid from his features instead. 

A sharp sensation stung his cheek. His eyes darted open. The sword now lay on the ground a considerable distance away from him... and the creature was free. 

Loki brought a finger to his face and winced at the crimson coating his skin. Faint laughter poisoned the arena, but their sneers only served to fuel the prince's anger and determination to prove them wrong. His eyes flitted between the neglected sword and the advancing beast. 

Perhaps he could reach it in time...

Without further contemplation, Loki broke into a sprint, urgent stare trained on nothing but the weapon he was stubbornly intent on retrieving. But the beast held the same objective, and before the prince could reclaim the heavy blade, it disappeared beneath the weight of a monstrous claw. When Loki hissed and stumbled back, the creature stepped away from the weapon to reveal broken steel, split cleanly into two dull parts. 

Gasps echoed amongst the spectators. Upon the steps, the royal family watched as Loki struggled on the battlefield. Thor's brow furrowed and his jaw clenched; the crown prince leaned forth in his chair, unease taking hold of him at the sight of his brother who now stood unarmed before his foe. Beside him, his wife sat expressionless, though the heaving of her chest and her vice-like grip on the armrest betrayed her trepidation. Lady Sigyn's eyes glistened with fearful tears.

"My Loki! Oh, no..." The young girl clasped her hands against her thrumming heart as she made her way to the Queen's side, body racked with sobs. "My Queen, please... you must help Loki! You must - you must make it easier for him! Easier for my prince, please..."

Frigga's eyes expressed concerns of her own. She had faith in her sons, certain that both of them would emerge from the event victorious and immortalized in paintings for their bravery. But as she stroked Sigyn's raven hair, no words of reassurance fell from her lips. Sigyn was ignorant of the scheme, therefore unknowing that the only thing Loki risked in fighting this beast was his honor and that of Odin's family. Despite this, Loki was still prone to injuries that would affect his eternal lifetime. The Queen wanted to reach out to her son and ask him why he seemed so bent upon defeating his opponent with a sword and not magic, for she had designed the beast with the intention to test his abilities in that very aspect. They could only observe as the creature lashed at the dark prince, knocking his body against the wall with an unprecedented flick of its tail. The crowd gasped in horror. 

Sigyn screamed and fell against the Queen's chair. "Please, Your Majesty, please! Save him!"

"My son..." Frigga cried, apprehensive as Loki writhed in agony, clutching at his abdomen. His eyes protruded and the vein on his temple strained against his skin like a mark of his pain. As the beast took time to re-calibrate and focus on its target after its attack, Loki appeared to recover slightly, limbs trembling as he scrambled to a stand. The corner of his lips were tainted crimson from the liquid that seeped from his cracked lips. Seeing this, the Queen began to consider interfering with the duel by lowering the difficulty so as not to subject her son to humiliation. Just before the incantation could fall from her tongue and her elegant hand could rise to complete the action, Loki's gaze snapped up from the arena to meet his mother's on the steps. 

No matter the great distance between them, the Queen could still feel the gravity of his glare and the hardness of his heart; her hand froze and her lips shut slowly, gaze never leaving the ice of Loki's. One subtle shake of his head caused his mother to lower her hand and close her eyes in fear for his fate, her only solace the searing tenacity she had seen in his soul. 

The dark prince returned his gaze to meet that of his challenger. Sporadic movements and twisting limbs accompanied its furious cry as the creature sprung towards his injured frame with renewed aggravation. 

"What is he doing?" 

"Why isn't he moving?"

"Won't he fight?"

The tension in the arena was palpable. Some men yelled at the prince to stand and fight, others rolled their eyes in cruel disappointment. Mothers shielded the petrified eyes of their young whilst their own squeezed shut in terror. The council looked toward the Queen and at each other with panicked glances. Odin narrowed his good eye, Frigga's breathing quickened and Thor shot up from his seat and bellowed his brother's name - all in reaction to the impending fatal blow.

There was a thundering crash. Both the behemoth and the prince vanished from sight, obscured by a thick veneer of dust that clouded the scene a shimmering gold. 

Silence.

A piercing howl bled through the air in the atmosphere of confusion and grief. Sigyn wept and wept, the horrible sound an earworm biting and eating into Queen Frigga's thoughts as she trembled in regret. The King's head lowered so that his expression was hidden from the people of Asgard. The golden-haired prince fell to his knees in disbelief, despair etched onto his features in anticipation for the bitter humiliation that was to come. Waiting for the dust to clear, the council members cringed for their prince's well-being and for their own endangered reputations. 

The princess looked on into the indiscernible haze, her blood frozen and skin pale with denial. The bitter taste of iron pooled on her tongue - she had drawn blood from chewing on the inside of her mouth, too lost in the happenings of the battle to register her own pain. 

Come on, Loki. 

The slightest movement within the dissipating cloud caused every observer's attentions to peak. They leaned forth and peered into the arena, eager for the dust to disappear yet dreading the gruesome sight that would surely be revealed. 

I trust your strength.

Sigyn's crying was reduced to quiet sobs as she, too, looked ahead with hope. Some of the audience covered their eyes while curious children peaked through the gaps of their mothers’ fingers. The princess swallowed thickly as the beginnings of a long, swiping tail emerged from the amber fog. 

I believe...

Black claws dug into the rock in irregular patterns. The head of the beast flailed restlessly in apparent confusion as its eyes scoured the expanse for its green and gold target. Its frustrated orbs rotated erratically, and it grunted with impatience when it failed to see through the last wisps of fading dust. Gasps and surprised sounds erupted across the masses when the prince did not appear beside the creature once the haze had cleared completely. Most of the people could only surmise that he had been swallowed whole by his fearsome opponent - but his family knew better.

... in you.

"Contrary to my brother's beliefs, hitting does not solve everything."

The smooth, molten words poured from a familiar silvertongue from the opposite side of the arena. Standing there, with his hands clasped behind his back, mouth twisted naturally into sly smirk, was the Prince of Asgard - alabaster skin unscathed, features unharmed and armor intact save for the dust coating the extremities of his swaying cape. The animal turned to face its combatant and roared in frustration before preparing itself to charge at the devious trickster once again. Loki's arms were spread in a gesture of mock welcome, the confident gleam never leaving his eyes as the monster ran towards him for a third time.

"Although it's awfully fun, isn't it?"

Loki's form glimmered white before it vanished a split second before the monster could collide with the illusion. Suddenly, the impressive visages doubled at a rapid rate, increasing and expanding until the arena was filled with a hundred sneering Gods of Mischief, amplifying the maniacal laughter which flooded the arena. They surrounded the beast, disappearing one after another as it attempted to attack each and every mirage of the cackling god. The creature let out a shriek of resentment each time an illusion dispersed into thin air, despite its efforts, until only one 'Loki' remained. He stood at the farthest end opposing his foe with that same excited expression and a crimson slash on his cheek, awaiting its final attack in a stance of true challenge.

Duped by the trickster for the last time, the monster collided with the wall as the illusion shimmered into nothingness. The impact shook the ground, as did the agonized wail that tore from the creature's throat. The beast appeared dazed and crippled, momentarily concussed by its own misguided attack. Wasting no time, the real Loki pounced upon its slick back, evading the spiky plates and fractured scales to reach the head. Then he pulled out his twin daggers, admiring their deadly gleam before rooting their edges into the monster's waxen eyes. It thrashed and flailed for survival, throwing Loki beneath its body as one final means of overpowering the clever prince. But having been robbed of sight, the creature could not prevent the blades from piercing its underside and freeing its entrails as the God of Mischief relished in his hard-earned victory. 

Loki had paid no heed to the cheers of the crowd as he defeated his enemy, but the true gravity of his achievement began to sink in as the applause grew deafening, and the chants of his name came so closely in time with each pulse of his heart that he thought he must have imagined it. The fire brimming at his eyes felt terrifying and wonderful and warm, like the embrace of returning home after centuries of wandering down a lost path. It was glorious and purposeful. 

The prince looked toward the woman he loved and let the tears fall freely down his face as she returned the smile. She stood, like all the other applauding spectators, yet the expression on her features shone like a bright beam amongst the other smiling faces. The corners of her lips raised upward slightly, subtly, at him for the first time since the night he had claimed her years ago. In this silent exchange, they were equals - in this moment, all wrongdoings and resentments were forgotten... and perhaps forgiven. 

The next competitor entered the battlefield as the 'beast' was dragged behind the gate to be replaced by another illusion. Loki climbed the steps to be greeted by the crushing embraces of Sigyn and Queen Frigga, who both wept against his breastplate and sang words of relief and celebration. Once they released him, Thor brought him close and congratulated him on his victory as the crowd continued to sing his praises for the first time, seemingly putting aside their prejudices to commend the prince for this amazing triumph. Odin looked to him with an approving nod without further vocalization of his appreciation. With one last stroke of his brush, the artist completed his work, proud of the detail and accuracy of his depiction of the trickster's infamous smirk. 

"Well done, brother! Though you did not surpass my speed in the arena, Asgard commends you." Thor slapped Loki's back with a grin, to which Loki rolled his eyes and smiled.

Unable to resist, he approached his brother's wife, taking great care to keep a proper distance from her before hundreds and thousands of watchful eyes. She met his gaze, maintaining a polite mask of composure which hid the gnawing urge to hold him close that was evident in her eyes. 

"Congratulations on your success, Prince Loki." His breathing quickened when his name rolled off of her tongue. His gaze flitted to her lips before he could stop himself, which did not go unnoticed by the princess. Her cheeks flushed the lightest tint of red before she continued; "Tales of your bravery in the tournament today shall be woven into Asgard's history and sung in songs as each new generation flourishes."

"Thank you, Your Highness."

Loki's smile disappeared, replaced by a subtle frown as the distance between his brows narrowed in growing concern. The princess noticed this, confused by his sudden change in demeanor. Fear spread in the pits of her stomach; all thoughts of formality escaped her. "Loki? Is something the mat-"

Colors blurred before her eyes. A flash of green and gold and she was on her back, trapped beneath the heat of the prince's body. His grip on her arms burned her flesh and she struggled against his hold on instinct, confused and eager to find out what had caused him to act this way. Her cheeks grew hot. Strands of raven hair fell against her face as she looked up at him. He was looking to the side, the vein in his temple pulsing. She followed his gaze to the feathery tail of an arrow lodged into the stone, upon the step where she had stood just seconds before he had saved her.

Loki had... saved her.

"What happened?!" A low voice bellowed in anger. Whispers of uncertainty echoed throughout the arena. It was revealed that one of the competitor's arrows had been deflected by the impenetrable, hard skin of the beast's hide, thus redirecting its course towards the unsuspecting princess. 

Her eyes widened at the deep scarlet gash on his shoulder that started to stain his garments. It was a superficial wound, much to her relief, yet he still winced when her tentative fingers gently brushed the bleeding tear. Loki stared at his injury for a long moment, as if he were in deep contemplation before their eyes came to lock onto one another's. Neither possessed the power to look away. His cool breath fell upon her lips with each steady breath.  

"You're hurt." She looked at him searchingly for any sign of pain as the crowd were distracted by the immediate arrest of the archer. But there was no pain... only tenderness within his lidded orbs. 

"Are you alright, Your Highness?" he almost whispered. 

"Yes."

"... Good."

There was no mischief in his voice. No sly syllables or coy play of words. Only concern. Only care.

Loki abruptly pulled her into a standing position in time for Thor to envelope her in the confines of his rippling arms. The crown prince breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Are you alright, my love?!"

"Yes, yes, of course, My Prince."

Thor led his wife back to their seats while Loki returned to Sigyn's side, separated by the proud King and benevolent Queen of Asgard.  

When the first drops of rain dampened the tournament grounds, the council made the decision to conclude the event. Out of the hundreds upon hundreds of competitors, only nine emerged victorious, with Thor Odinson defeating the monster in the shortest amount of time. He was declared the rightful champion of combat and met with the support and proud faces of his people. The sky grew dark and the air turned cold with the approach of evening, by which the royal family had already mounted their steeds, exhausted and eager to return home. 

Chapter Text

A hum of contentment eased from my lips as I sank into the bath, willing the warm currents to lap at my skin. For a blissful moment I did nothing but fall lax against the tub, watching dainty droplets fall upon glass amid the winter fog and leaden sky. The gentle tapping of rain on the window soothed my ears and calmed my heart.

Upon our arrival back to the palace after the tournament, I sought the remedy of a cleanse above all else. My handmaidens had rushed to prepare hot water while some others helped me undress before guiding me to the bath. Rose petals drifted idly around me on the surface of the rippling water. The mild scent of mineral salts filled my nostrils and I relished in the feel of steam caressing my exposed flesh, forming cool beads upon contact. 

My personal bathing chambers had become one of my favorite destinations in the palace. By day, my eyes would feast on the flora of Asgard's lavish gardens and the intricate tapestries integrated into the drawing room decor. By night I would arrive here, bask in the rare solitude and admire the architecture, mesmerizing for a room as simple as one's lavatory. No matter how much I still resented my father for pledging me to a stranger, I would not deny the advantages of marrying into royalty; luxuries such as this had played a great part in easing me into life with the Aesir. 

When my eyes slipped shut, the scene of Loki battling his monster began to play inside my mind. I opened them again, surprised and angered at myself for allowing my thoughts to drift. My reflection in the mirror stared back at me, features twisted in disgust. I tried to relax, tried to draw my attentions elsewhere before my eyelids once again grew heavy. 

The creature lashed at the dark prince, knocking his body against the wall with an unprecedented flick of its tail.  

Panic seized my heart. My eyes bolted open to meet the familiar marble walls of the bath chamber as that same feeling of unbearable dread knotted my stomach and dug into my chest. I could feel my ribs contract and pull the muscle between them, the tightness in my lungs, the talons of fear wrapped around my heart and the swell of my throat. Every horrible emotion I had felt when I witnessed Loki dance upon the edge of death took over my body once again. Despite knowing he could not have been killed, this reassurance had not dwindled my worry in the moment. All I could think of was the danger, the harm that could have come to him. It frightened me then, more than anything I had ever seen... and it frightened me now every time my eyes dared flutter close. 

A minute passed. I closed my eyes for a third time. 

Loki's arms were spread in a gesture of mock welcome, the confident gleam never leaving his eyes as the monster ran towards him for a third time. 

Wasting no time, the real Loki pounced upon its slick back, evading the spiky plates and fractured scales to reach the head.

The way he looked at me in the aftermath of his victory filled me with a warm sense of pride. It was wondrous and strange... I felt that if he looked any longer, I could have forgiven him for all that he had done to me. And when he came to me I wanted to hold him to my chest, thread my fingers through his raven hair and let our bodies meld until we could be parted no longer. 

But I didn't. When at last the vile little wench released him and he came to me, we exchanged empty formalities. I could scarcely remember the hollow compliments which tumbled from my perfect veil of polite composure as the love inside my heart beat against its cage, begging for release. And then...

His gaze flitted to my lips. Fire burned in my cheeks. A little thrill traveled along my spine and into the crevice between my legs.  

My fingers thrummed the porcelain rim of the tub. An inexplicable restlessness overtook me as the water grew hot around my skin, seeming to press and shift and skim across my sensitive flesh. I lifted a leg above the surface and gasped at the cool air that swept across my knee, and the sudden brush of water upon the juncture between my thighs. 

Against my own will, the powerful rhythm of his heartbeat on my own flooded my memories. His touch on my arms, his form on top of me, burning my flesh. The confusion and anger towards him and most of all, towards myself that had boiled my blood. A maddening myriad of relief, fury and sorrow churned inside of me, entangled with the damned lust coursing through my veins. And most of all, the intimate rise and fall of his breath mingled with my own and the appreciation- no, happiness I had felt when he had saved me. I saw the concern in his gaze, the tenderness in his eyes as they bore into mine. The ticklish tendrils of hair on my face. The alluring musk that emanated from him. The blood he had spilt for me. 

It was all for me. I am his and he should be mine-

But he wasn't. I often wondered how many times the notorious three words could fall from his lips before I would truly believe them. He told me he loved me, that he wanted me more than any other - and yet I doubted him. How could I believe the words of a silvertongue? How could I trust a trickster when I could not afford to lose all I had sought to achieve since my coming here? How could I love a man who'd whispered intimate promises he could never keep, coaxed me into complete and utter submission, only to speak the same sweet words to another woman as though the vows we had shared meant nothing at all?

I barely suppressed a gasp as my fingers brushed experimentally across the throbbing heat of my core. Shame and resentment fueled my needy movements, overpowered by the pleasure that accompanied each wanton stroke. I felt my own wetness, the result of my desire as my fingertips glided along the slit with growing intensity. A whimper escaped my throat at the burning touch of my own digits moving deep inside me, establishing a feverish rhythm that wound my muscles tight and slackened my jaw. 

Impending release began to coil in the pits of my stomach. My efforts grew desperate. I wanted it to just go away. I needed to rid my body of this immoral passion, this ghastly ache fermented in my bones. 

The memory of his lips on my neck only roused the flame to unspeakable heights as I gripped the edge of the tub, bracing myself for the powerful climax that was to come.

A firm knock sounded from the door. I flinched at the sudden interruption and retracted my hand in shame, disgust replacing pleasure as it pooled in my stomach. 

"My Lady?" The wooden barrier muted the sensible inquiry of my handmaiden.

I muttered a curse under my breath. "Yes, Frida?"

"Prince Thor requests your presence in his chambers once you have finished bathing."

"I have finished." I stepped out of the tub and left the warm water in favor of the cool evening air. I felt disgusting and if anyone could lift my spirits it would have to have been my perfect husband. "You may enter and help me dress."

The door creaked open to reveal the polite face of Frida who carried with her a towel and fresh clothing. "Of course, My Lady."

 

 

 

The halls were dim-lit, cold and foreboding when I stepped out into them. The darkness shrouded me in discomfort; an aura of unease settled in the air around me at the deathly quiet permeating the vast corridor. It was unusual to see the palace in such a state - calm and unstirred, tranquil without the bustle of the royal staff or even the King's courtiers. I assumed everyone had just retired to their chambers after the grueling tournament to bathe themselves or rest before the celebratory feast that was to be held in honor of Thor's victory. My stomach growled in anticipation for the opportunity to replenish my energy with delicious foods in a few hours.

As the door to my husband's chambers came in sight, a dark figure approached me, cast in shadow. My eyes raked the familiar silhouette, and though I could not see clearly in the darkness of Asgard's halls, the confident stature that obstructed my path filled me with dread. 

"Good evening, Your Highness."

"Good evening, Prince Loki." 

I cursed the returning ache in my core. To my dismay, the need inside of me had not disappeared from my earlier ministrations. It was stronger than ever, a pulsating lust I could not quell no matter how hard I tried to drive my thoughts elsewhere. The infernal heat fluttered within my stomach, taunting me for the desire I could not, for the life of me, dispel.

Mustering every pathetic scrap of self-restraint that still remained, I gave him a stiff nod before making to walk past him.

"And where, might I ask, is Your Highness headed?" The way his mouth formed those words caused a quiver in my resolve. Each calculated rise and dip of the seamless nuances were rounded and smooth, an overtone of playfulness rendering him impossible to refuse. 

I halted when I shouldn't have. I would have walked away without a second thought if it were anyone else in the Nine Realms, but it was him. And he had weakened me.

Despite stopping in my tracks I stared ahead, unwilling to face him. I would not face him. "My husband has called me to his chambers."

"Ah." The indifference in his voice infuriated me even though I knew my rage to be unjustifiable. I prayed he would cease his temptations and just bid me goodbye. I pleaded with the gods that Loki would show me his mercy.

He did not move. No footsteps faded into the distance to signal his departure.  

Internally, I was fuming. This unbearable silence only magnified the carnal hunger produced by my body's betrayal. I took the time to reflect upon all that had transpired between us and found myself repeatedly recalling the look in his eyes when he had saved my life. I thought of the pain twisting his features when I'd touched his gaping wound and suddenly my anger disappeared, replaced by an emotion I never believed I would feel for the God of Mischief.

Guilt.

"Is your wound healing properly?" I asked, cringing at the wavers of my voice. I heard him come closer, tantalizing footsteps echoing across the empty halls one after another. By the time his breath fell upon the sensitive hairs of my neck, I was frozen - paralyzed by fear and shaken by the sheer extent to which I craved him.

"Yes," I flinched at the feel of his lips hovering inches above my skin; I imagined they would soon graze my flesh. "It was but a mere scratch, Your Highness."

I did not reply. Remaining there was against everything I stood for but I lacked the strength to move on, to tear myself from the trance I'd allowed myself to come under. In my compromised state, I grew tired of running from my own feelings. I did not run from Loki, however, even as he placed his hands on my shoulders and turned me to face him. His movements were slow... so slow, his grip gentle as if allowing me to escape at any moment - after all, what need had he for physical force when he'd already mastered the strings of my heart? 

Still, as he took hold of my chin and tilted my face to his, I cast my gaze to the floor for fear of falling into those depths forever. My hands came to rest upon his lean chest. The elevated cadence of his heart was like an instrument beneath my palms. My body ached with desire but my heart burned more violently than ever before. Every fiber of my being screamed for his touch; the void in my soul had never felt more hollow.

In a moment of nervousness I looked up to protest. Someone could see us, I wanted to tell him. Someone could-

 

He was kissing me. 

 

I shivered. Hot tears trailed down my face. My thighs trembled, numb from the intensity of the slick heat between them. I wept as his mouth dominated my own, screwed my eyes shut in shame as a runlet of my wetness trickled down my legs. I feared him more than anything else. What being was he, that gave him the power to throw me into wanton turmoil at his whim and watch me attempt to scramble out from the flame?

"No..." It came as a whimper, muffled by his sensual tongue. I pushed weakly at him and was met with little but definite resistance. It felt as though the air was being sucked from my lungs. Loki was a wraith, and if I let myself succumb to his seduction, it would threaten my dignity and my life. "No."

"Shhhh..."  he cooed against my lips, then captured them once again without addressing my weak protest. A hand cupped the back of my neck and another snaked round my waist to pull me even closer. My fury returned, boiling beneath my skin at how he'd just dismissed me. Suddenly, the heat of his touch grew cold. My tears fell all the same, but this time they were not of fear or shame - they were of hate. 

"No!" With a push, I was free from his sinful spell. I stumbled backward and watched his hands fall to his sides, vexation clouding his hardened features. "You will not defile me a second time!" I spat reproachfully. "You - you're insane! This - all of this," I gestured toward the space between us with exasperation, "has been nothing but madness! Complete and utter madness!" 

"Is it madness?"

"What?"

His hands contracted to form bloodless fists. I could make out the tautness of his jaw in the dim light, my bravery dwindling when a shuddering exhale filled the halls. "Is it?"

"Loki-"

"Is it?!" His rapid approach shook the foundations of my newfound courage. His voice was like the broken howl of the wind, his anger more turbulent than the fiery plains of Muspelheim. "Is it mad that as the bitter taste of my own blood filled my mouth in the arena, as Asgard sneered and mocked while I struggled, the only thing that kept me alive was the thought of you?" Loki seized my wrist in his painful grasp, forcing a yelp from me. I begged him to release me but he only grinned, a deranged, theatrical smile that bared his teeth and emphasized the glint of anguish in his eyes. "Is it mad that I had hoped you might appreciate my triumph? Oh, what a pitiful hope I had."

"Release me at once!" With my free hand, I struck his chest hard enough to hear a thump. A piercing numbness overcame my wrist, followed by a dull pain. I yanked myself from his hold and stared in horror at the blackened, frostbitten strip around my wrist and back at him. He looked at his hand, the skin of which was now tinged a blue color. It faded as soon as it came, but the damage did not. 

For the first time since we had met, his gaze bore naught but true remorse. I was in shock, saddened and angered, for this was the first time Loki had lost control and hurt me in this way. I had imagined the time would come when his anger would get the better of him, but actually living in the moment after he had just maimed my flesh was a surreal and particularly painful blow. 

He reached out to touch me, perhaps in an effort to obscure all evidence of what he had done but I recoiled. I didn't want to see him. I didn't want anything to do with him. So I did what I should have done all those years ago, before I'd been struck by the irreversible plague of love.

I left.

 

 

 

My world was thrown into chaos. All rhyme and reason escaped me as I burst into Thor's chambers, my body hot and wanton and charged with adrenaline. The mere sight of the prince's powerful arms and comforting broad frame was a source of immediate relief for me. He met my sudden intrusion with a confused glance, standing from his bed as I stalked towards him. His mouth parted, likely to ask if I was alright, or if there was anything he could do to soothe my troubles but I crushed my lips against his, swallowing his words of concern.

He let out a noise of protest but I ignored it, the thundering pulse of my desire drowning out my surroundings as I entangled my fingers through his golden mane, damp from his bath, and kissed him roughly. He reciprocated it hesitantly, shoulders stiff and unfamiliar to this unusual act of passion. It was as though he'd been startled by my aggressiveness and wanted to make sure I was alright before giving in to me, even though our intimate encounters had grown scarce as of late, and I'd refused him on the numerous past occasions where he had expressed his interest. If I were rational at the time, I would have feared his rejection. But with my core ablaze and turgid with insatiable need, my first priority was to expel it from my body before it made me a rampant madwoman. 

My tongue dueled with his in a ferocious dance of lust and anticipation, and slowly Thor began to ease into the kiss as his calloused fingers fumbled to remove my shift. My hands clawed at his rugged chest and tore the loose bathrobe from his physique in one ungraceful movement, shoving him onto the mattress without ever removing my ravenous mouth from his. I groaned at the press of bare skin on my own. His hands raked the expanse of my naked back before coming to rest on my rear. I gasped into his mouth when he kneaded the sensitive flesh, overwhelming my body with electric shivers. Unwilling to wait a second longer, I reached between us to grasp his pulsing arousal, savoring the deep groans I elicited from the God of Thunder with each stroke of my hand on his rigid length.

"My love..."

"Thor..."

I sank onto him and felt him harden deep inside of me, digging his nails into my hips until he was fully sheathed within my entrance. Thick veins appeared upon his neck as a strangled cry escaped him, which I captured harshly in another savage kiss as I thrust my hips upon his member with carnal vigor. The hot slap of flesh against flesh, slick with sweat and burning need bounded off the walls, thickening the air with the intensity of a thousand suns and the labored breaths that came between feverish moans. The filthy music of our union sullied the peaceful state of his chambers but I could not have cared less, for the pressure in my groin was far too delicious, too intense for thoughts of propriety to surface now. 

Soon I'd find my release and this would be over. Then, perhaps I would stop craving the touch of a man who didn't truly love me and instead finally surrender myself to the incredible husband who did.

One who would never hurt me.

I was close... so very close. A string of beautiful words and sweet nothings poured from Thor, but his murmurs of affection were lost in the haze of my pleasure as I fucked myself on his cock in desperation. Loud moans morphed into wanton sobs. My thighs burned from the repeated motions in feral pursuit of release. Thor propped himself up on strained arms and placed a hand on my back, guiding me over his shaft. 

With a thunderous roar, Thor finished deep within me. I felt him twitch as his scorching seed filled my womb before I came, my walls clenching around his thick cock as I rode out the remains of my climax. Our thrashing limbs slowed to a stop and he flung his arms around me, spent, holding us together in the wake of our lovemaking.

We stayed there for a long while; him still sheathed inside of me, our bodies trapped in embrace, listening to the calming drone of deep breaths and beating hearts. My mouth was swollen and red from the rough hairs of his beard, at which he chuckled tiredly.

For an incredible moment, I was satisfied with this; my husband and I against the world, ready to embark upon the path of sovereignty as the rulers of Asgard. Bearing and birthing his heirs. Fulfilling the role which was expected of me since birth as the wife and confidante of Thor Odinson.

For a wonderful while, the prospect of being with him forever was enough. 

Then a cold sense of desolation washed over me, replacing the comforting warmth of sexual satisfaction. Yes, the desire was gone, but the void remained - a chasm so unspeakably empty, I feared it would swallow me whole, until there was no way I'd be able to return from the hollow abyss of my own guilt.

I climbed off of Thor and slumped onto the space beside him. I felt violated and dirty, yet the only one deserving of blame was myself. If I had only stopped myself from indulging in drink that night. If only I had stayed in the crowded setting of the wedding feast, safe in my husband's arms and away from the eyes of his brother. If only I hadn't met Loki Laufeyson.

But marrying into the royal family had made this impossible. Laying next to Thor as these thoughts invaded my mind made me reach the most terrifying epiphany for the ultimate time in my life. I would no longer doubt by feelings or deny my own heart, for this had only served to worsen my situation time and time again. This had to stop, one way or another, and it was I who needed to act first. 

I would not continue to deceive myself.

Loki had stolen my mind, body and soul... all that made me who I am. And it was no longer up to me to give them away. 

A swipe of the thumb over my knuckles brought me back to reality. Thor brought my hand to his lips, kissing each and every knuckle as his darkened eyes bore into mine, their corners crinkling with amusement. 

Then a frown overtook his usually amiable features. I followed his look of troubled alarm to the mark on my wrist and immediately blanched in fear, trying to pull my hand away but it was too late.

Thor had seen the frostbitten flesh.

 

"What is this, my love?"

Chapter Text

I bolted upright, failing to retract my hand from the prince's iron hold. My eyes, severely downcast, masked the underlying panic surging through my body. "It is nothing, Thor."

"Do not lie to me. This is frostbite." There was a firmness in his tone that I had never heard from him before. I swallowed, heart palpitating violently as Thor shifted his position so that he could thoroughly inspect my injury. My fingers were splayed out on his palm, small and dainty in comparison to his, which were wide and sun-kissed. His gingerly touch grazed the reddened surroundings of my injury, and he frowned at my lack of response. Fear crept into my stomach when he pressed the darkened flesh with the pad of his thumb and I felt nothing.

"I don't feel you."

A grim expression befell him. "The skin may be dead. You need immediate medical attention for this before it spreads."

"I know, I-"

"I will have Eir see to this." Draped upon the nightstand were a shirt and trousers which he reached over and grabbed before hastily dressing himself. I picked up the discarded dress from the cool marble floor and slipped it over my head, making sure not to touch my injury. With great care, my husband wrapped a protective arm around my shoulders and rested my numb wrist on his other. He pulled us to a standing position and slowly guided me to the door as if I were a delicate flower, soon to crumble in his embrace if he were to apply too much pressure. 

We stepped into the palace halls which were now candlelit, to my relief; the soft amber glow illuminated the corridor, retracting the coldness from the evening air. At a brisk yet cautious pace, we walked to the infirmary where the head healer greeted us at the door, her courteous demeanor turning to deep concern upon seeing our troubled expressions.

"What seems to be the matter, My Lord?"

"My wife has been frostbitten." Thor said before I could explain my own predicament, exposing the dark skin of my wrist. "Can this be salvaged, Lady Eir?" 

I swallowed thickly as the healer's eyes narrowed in concentration as she held my arm in her secure grasp and glanced at the area in question. "How did you come to attain this injury, My Lady?" she asked with an indiscernible tone.

"I..." A million excuses raced through my mind, all of them as ridiculous and impractical as the next. What could have given me such deep frostbite in such a short amount of time? How would Eir, the great healer of Asgard, companion to the Queen, not see past my obvious evasions? No matter how hard I racked my brains for some kind of plausible explanation, I only ended up dismissing each one. 'I fell into the snow outside'. No, no - it was much too early into winter for snow. What to do? Then I settled for the last idea that came to mind, and winced inwardly at the rapid stream of nonsense pouring from my mouth. "I put my h-hand into the ice bucket by my bath because it was too hot inside my bath chambers. By the time I awoke, my wrist had turned black."

Eir nodded vaguely, her attention still trained on my injury. I was unsure whether or not she believed me, but it was Thor's silence that caused the instantaneous flare in my cheeks. 

At last, the healer broke the silence. "And when did this occur, My Lady?"

"Not three hours ago, Lady Eir." I replied, confidence returning to my voice.

Again, she reacted with a distracted nod. "I see. You are lucky that you are not Midgardian, for the fragility of their skin would render the damage irreversible and then I would have to resort to debridement."

I felt the blood drain from my face at the mere thought of a scalpel removing my flesh. Thor must have felt the same, for his hold on me tightened notably. Eir smiled reassuringly and led us inside of the ward where dozens of competitors, wounded from the tournament, lay on row upon row of beds where other healers tended to their bruised limbs. For a fleeting moment, I caught the tentative stare of Bergdis in the far corner. She had paused from her duties as soon as we entered the room, but quickly averted her gaze to the floor when I returned her focus with a glare of ice. All patients and staff greeted us politely and some even attempted to stand to congratulate Thor on his victory, but were sadly hindered by their condition and ushered back into bed by the healers.

"Please sit here, My Lady." Eir gestured to the couch nearest to the door which I assumed was reserved for the royals only, judging from the silky design of the piece that stood out amongst the other beds as the most tasteful and comfortable. Thor sat beside me as the healer proceeded to tend to my injury by first wrapping a warm towel just below the frostbitten flesh and submerging my arm in hot water. "Hold that position while I perform the warming ritual, My Lady."

"Yes, of course. Thank you, Lady Eir." She smiled respectfully and began to smear an unknown ointment into my skin, chanting a language I did not understand but found beautiful nonetheless, the words weaving an elegant tapestry of ancient spells with every nuance that fell from her experienced tongue. I felt a twinge of pain in my wrist as a gradual warmth began to spread throughout the area. 

"It was Loki, was it not?" a contemplative baritone inquired next to me. It came as more of a knowing statement rather than a question, and the fact that I could not detect anger, hurt, nor any other emotion within his voice terrified me. The blood in my veins ran cold. I couldn't breathe without giving away my fear. The insidious thump, thump, thump of my own heartbeat hammered deep in my ears. 

Lacking the strength to look him in the eye, I bit the inside of my cheek and pleaded, "Thor..."

"How could he do this?!" By now, the fury in his tone was apparent. I turned and gulped in fear at the sight of his clenched jaw and heaving chest. Monstrous veins emerged from his neck, each resembling a bolt of lightning that branched to the underside of his chin and the crimson flesh behind his ears. "I knew something was amiss the moment he laid hands on you at the ball."

His anger drew in the stares of many patients. Eir's movements slowed for a second, but she didn't dare pry and continued as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. But behind her professional guise, I knew she was listening intently. 

"Please, my love, not here."

"But why?!" Thor's voice continued to rise, breaking the peace in the ward with his wrath. "In all our time together, not once have I thought him to be truly malicious."

"I-it was an accident!" I grabbed the rigid muscle of his arm before he could stalk off in search of his brother. The rage in his eyes told me that I was right to assume his doing so would have resulted in bloodshed. Thor halted, an intent expression crossing his face - one of eagerness to hear an explanation, for he too must not have wanted to believe his brother capable of such a deed, regardless of whence he hailed. I did not want to believe it myself, but what Loki had done surpassed the limit of mischief... and entered the dangerous realm of gradual destruction.

I should have told Thor what he'd done. That he had hurt me - that a filthy frost giant, a ghastly criminal, a monster had abused me for his own sickening pleasure. I would have freed myself of all consequence, severing all ties with the God of Mischief if only I weren't still wholly and irrevocably in love with him. 

I had already made a vow to myself never to deny my own feelings again and instead face them like the brave queen I was soon to become. The truth was that I cared for Loki - deeply and sincerely. It was a fixation beyond infatuation. Beyond the fire between my thighs. Beyond the press of his chiseled bones against my face. Beyond the softness of his searing lips engulfing my own.

It was a love beyond reason. 

And because of my love for him, I could not bring myself to tell Thor the truth.

"Prince Loki didn't see me approach him. He grabbed me because I startled him! It was all an accident, I swear it-"

"You mean to tell me that my brother did not hurt you by his own will?"

"He didn't mean for this to happen, and before he could help me I ran into your chambers. There was nothing he could have done."

Gradually, the angry crease of his brow softened in relief. The veins disappeared from his neck and arms, his posture no longer taut with brimming fury. A wave of immense relief washed over me like a cool and comforting tide as I stared searchingly into the rich azure of his eyes for any confirmation of his being convinced. My free hand cupped his face, caressing the strong jawline as gently as I would trace the edge of a dagger. His eyes fluttered to a close beneath my careful touches before a fit of rumbling laughter escaped him. 

"'Twas a great relief you explained to me the true situation, or I'd have had his head on a pike brought before you this very insta-"

"I doubt I would have found that very pleasing, My Lord." Thor's roguish grin inspired a flare in my cheeks as he pressed his forehead to mine. I could not resist the smile tugging at the corner of my lips as his large hand enveloped my own, spreading a pleasant warmth throughout my entire body. Then his eyelids parted, revealing cerulean eyes that bore an untainted adoration which seized the breath from my lungs. With him, I felt purely and unconditionally cherished.

 

Once my injury had been treated, I was left with a bluish patch of skin that Eir assured me would fade in a few days. I accompanied my husband to the Great Hall and dined with courtiers, exchanged pleasantries with lords and ladies and indulged in drink with the King, who appeared to be in high spirits. The Queen was not present; I was told this was due to her need to replenish her energy after having conjured such interactive beasts for an entire day.

Despite myself, my eyes scanned the dining hall for any sign of Loki or Sigyn, but my efforts were fruitless as no evidence of the couple could be found. With great difficulty, I instead focused on filling my belly with hearty meats and fragrant breads, as did Thor, before we all retired to our respective chambers for the night. 

We walked, or rather- stumbled to the entrance of Thor's bedchamber where we shared one more graceless kiss before he disappeared behind mahogany. Left in the darkness of the palace halls, I turned to leave when a sinewy arm reemerged from the door and wrapped itself around my waist, pulling its willing prey into its lair for another night of passion.

 

 

 

The morning that followed began as pleasant as any other. Although no flaxen sunlight graced the realm with its warm caress, the air was crisp and the coolness refreshing as Asgard awoke to a wintry draft drifting throughout the streets. Thor and I arose together and made our way to the dining hall, where the Allfather already sat devouring a delectable-looking dish of stuffed pastries. Loki and Sigyn sat on the opposite side of the elongated table, breaking their fast. The young lady gave us a cheerful smile upon our arrival which I returned graciously. Taking our seats beside Odin, the great divide did not stop my stomach from churning, for the air around me grew unbearably humid with a tension I could feel in my ribs. 

Suddenly, my love of food was not quite as profound as it had been on the journey to the dining hall. 

"Where is Mother?" asked Thor with mild regard. 

"Still exhausted from yesterday's event, I'm afraid." Odin sighed sympathetically, "I have called for the servants to take her morning meal up to her chambers. Your mother must rest until her strength returns in its entirety."

We proceeded to eat in silence. I snuck an occasional nervous glance at Thor, fully expecting to see the prince glowering across the table at Loki, but was happy that no such interaction occurred. Perhaps there wouldn't be an issue that needed resolving. 

Afterwards, my husband and I found ourselves aimlessly wandering the palace halls. Thor's burly calves often moved at a pace I had trouble keeping up with, so I was grateful that he made an exception for me by taking more leisurely strides.

"Now that the tournament is over, I shall spend the rest of my day with you," said the prince.

"Do you really mean that?" I was elated at the prospect of enjoying a full day with him, uninterrupted. The truth was that at times, I enjoyed his company far more than I liked being alone. "You aren't going to leave me in the middle of the day to tend to the matters of the kingdom, are you?"

Thor shook his head. "I will do no such thing. Now where in Asgard would my precious wife prefer to venture first?"

My eyes narrowed in mock irritation at the emphasis. "I would prefer to stay on the palace grounds, if My Lord doesn't mind." 

A frown crossed his face, though the playful glint in his eyes told me it was not sincere. "What a shame! I was hoping we could go riding together..." He threw an arm around my waist so abruptly that I collided with his chest. "You, me, just the two of us on a misty mountain-"

"I lack the energy for a ride!" I whined, genuinely against the idea of travelling amongst commoners who bore hatred towards me, even though I had gained the favor of some in the past. Or worse, there was the possibility of encountering the dark sorcerer who resided in the city... no, we mustn't leave the palace. "Why don't we go someplace quiet? Calm and peaceful... like the library."

"The library?" The incredulous disdain in his reply made me feel slightly disheartened. It sounded very real, almost as if the notion of surrounding himself with the great archives of Asgard was somehow offensive and absurd to him. "What would you have us do in there? Sit and read for an hour?!"

"Well... yes-"

Thor snorted. "You're just like my brother."

"Have you ever, in your entire life, opened a book of your own volition?" I made no effort to hide my annoyance, however mild it was. The prince responded with a broad grin.

"No."

"Wh- have you ever even opened a book?!"

"Once, as a child. My father let me touch the cover when teaching me about the history of Asgardian architecture- ow!"

Thor stopped in his tracks, rubbing the part of his bicep where I had struck him. I gritted my teeth, unwilling to visibly recoil from the pain in my knuckles from hitting his arm of steel. "You asked me where wanted to go and I told you!"

"I'm sorry, my light." He moved in front of me but I crossed my arms and turned sharply away. His mouth fell shut and he paused, as though carefully contemplating his next words, only to stir the rage brewing in my chest even further with his next remark. "The library, it's... well, it's terribly boring, isn't it?"

"What do you suppose we should do, Thor? Hm? Since you're so against what I have in mind."

"Since you're so adamant on staying on the grounds of the palace, let's just stay right where we are."

All that talking and shoving and wandering had led us outside to the royal gardens. In the aftermath of yesterday's heavy rainfall, the smell of damp soil and drenched leaves were intensified, swallowing my senses with a natural fragrance. In the distance, a mass of tiny white blossoms cowered amidst the lush green shrubs, glittering dewdrops speckled upon their waxy sheens like minute gemstones. My favorite rosebush stood strong and unyielding in the center of the garden, flowers seemingly untouched by the cold weather, save for a few drops of rain resting on their delicate petals. 

I pulled Thor over to the shrubbery, cupping a large white rose in my hand. Its softness felt like a lover's touch against my palm as I brought it to my nose and drank its intoxicating perfume until my head swam with nothing but its exotic essence. 

"Do you reckon they'll survive the winter, my love?" I asked him. He looked at the blossom in my hand with interest.

"Of course. Even if the royal gardeners fail to maintain these roses, Mother would surely step in anyway."

"I did not know Her Majesty cared for roses so much."

"They're her favorite flowers." Thor smiled warmly as he gently removed my hands from the rose and held it in his own, careful not to touch its cunning thorns while he plucked it from the bush. With his broad fingers wrapped around the thin stem, the prince placed the rose in my hair and stepped back to admire his work.

I frowned. "Now this one will die upon my head."

Deep laughter rumbled through his chest. "It is only one rose, darling wife."

Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice interrupted our conversation. "My Lord, the Allfather requests your presence in the throne room immediately." We turned to see our messenger: a young guard with a full head of auburn curls and a face lowered to the ground. My husband made a noise that sounded something akin to an irritated groan. 

"Tell my father I'll speak with him on the morrow."

"But, My Lord!" The guard stumbled towards us just as we turned to leave, his tone laden with urgency. "There has been another murder on Nidavellir!"

My heart dropped. Thor halted abruptly as a grave expression sullied his features. More often than not, when Odin called his son to attend to the affairs of the realm, it would be a full day until he returned. A long silence occurred; the messenger's desperate gaze darted between us while my husband stood beside me, acknowledging me with a regretful glance.

I knew I had every right to be upset, and I was. But I also understood that I was married to Thor Odinson, heir to the throne of Asgard. I had so hoped we could spend the day together, free from all thoughts of responsibility if only for a little while.

"It's alright, My Prince," I smiled, withholding the sadness from my voice. "Please see to these matters. Report to me what you have heard when you return in the evening."

"I am truly sorry-"

"You have nothing to be sorry for. Go to your father."

I pushed him lightly in the direction of the guard who looked anxious not to disappoint his king by turning up without his eldest son. A heavy sigh escaped Thor and he pressed a tender kiss to my forehead. "I'll make it up to you, I swear it," he promised. One more sad smile and he was gone. I watched his towering form disappear into the palace, feeling alone and frustrated.

After a moment of contemplation, I felt the overwhelming urge to go where I'd most wanted to be before Thor had dismissed the place as 'boring' - the royal library. I couldn't just go to my room and sit in wait like one of his handmaidens until he returned from the meeting in the evening! I trembled in excitement and anticipation for the tranquil serenity awaiting me. After all, what better way to pass the hours than to read?

With a huff, I hurried back into the palace, away from the numbing air.

 

 

 

I was immediately intimidated by the legion of bookshelves inhabiting the library. They stood tall and foreboding, like graceful giants offering scriptures acquired over the centuries encased within their mahogany shelves. Oh, how I loved the serenity of the place, the calming atmosphere when I did not crave the companionship of my husband. I often shied from visiting it because of the burning memories that clung to each leather binding of every book, but when I grew tired of pandering to the kingdom's needs and wants, something about sitting alone in such a spacious expanse, in the presence of such knowledge, resonated with me like nothing else. Being inside this haven of solitude allowed me to be at peace with how alone in the world I felt. 

Even after so many years, I had not made any friends of my own, save for Thor. I longed for somebody to talk to, somebody to listen to me and regard my situation without judgment, but this was impossible. As future queen of Asgard, no one dared come near me, and if they did, it was not to propose a friendship. Keeping such a dark secret hidden, concealing such a terrible scandal was not a possible feat for one who had many companions. 

A book beckoned me towards it with its enticing burgundy spine. My fingers worked to remove it from the shelf, careful so as not to disturb the perfect placement of the others. I blew the dust from the cover; a thick cloud of grey swept up into the air, revealing a title woven in fraying gold thread: 

A History of Midgardian Literature.

I tucked the hefty book under my arm and made for the reading nook at the far end of the second floor - a secluded little spot where the window looked out onto the garden and, if one leaned out far enough, the training grounds. My body slumped against the glass as I brought my knees to my chest, resting the book upon them and flicking through the first few pages. 

A faint slithering sound caught my attention. I stopped, listening intently for any further noise, but soon resumed reading, albeit with heightened caution when none came. 

Occasionally, my eyes wandered to the garden scenery where Sigyn and her betrothed looked to be merrily inspecting the beautiful lavender plants that decorated the stone pathway. Instantly, my heart filled with spite, but also immense relief that I had made the decision to leave the garden before I'd had the misfortune of running into the couple. 

Before I could dwell further on my feelings of jealousy, the insidious hissing returned in full in my ears. It was loud and horrifying, almost as though a serpent were right atop my head-

I ran a hand through my hair and yelped when a snake fell out of my tousled locks onto the floor. I staggered from my seat in panic, the book sliding from my lap and onto the rug next to the squirming serpent. Then all of a sudden, a white flare engulfed the snake and it disappeared, revealing the white rose Thor had given me, discarded on the floor. 

A mischievous cackle echoed throughout the library. Loki stepped out from behind me, making me scream a second time. A fleeting moment of fear quickly turned to boiling anger at the trickster who stood triumphantly before me, hands clasped behind his back and a foul grin plastered on his sharp features, looking every bit like a villain from one of the many Midgardian fairy tales offered in Asgard's archives. 

"You absolute f-"

"Careful, love. Screaming profanities is prohibited in libraries."

"That was cruel, Loki." I spoke solemnly, retrieving my book from the carpet. Then I shot him a horrid glare, one which encompassed every feeling of rage and humiliation I felt, hoping he would cease his infernal tricks. "Do not think yourself above me. Have you forgotten who I am to you?"

The grin morphed into a saccharine smile. "Ah, yes. I apologize for the prank, Your Highness."

"Apology accepted. Now, let me pass." 

I stalked to the other side of the nook where I could leave without touching him. The wooden walkway forked into two separate balconies where two separate bookshelves stood. As I made my hasty way along one line of books, Loki followed leisurely on the other, trailing his slender fingers along the polished banister. Despite his pursuit, I was thankful that we were now at least a dozen meters apart. 

I could feel his eyes on me, piercing my skull. To be followed and observed like prey was petrifying and eerie. The balcony seemed endless, stretching further and further as I neared the opening of the staircase that would allow me to get to the ground floor and thus escape my merciless predator. But before I could reach it I stopped cold, recalling the promise to myself I had made. 

I had to confront him and end this, once and for all.

I couldn't let this twisted game of cat and mouse continue any longer.

I didn't want to end up dead for what I had allowed this to become. 

The footsteps halted behind me. Then I remembered what I had just seen in the garden. This... this could not be possible! How could he be here, unless-

"You coward." Hatred and hurt dripped from my tone. I tasted the bitter tears that were rolling down my face, unable to hold them back when they burned painfully at my eyes. I turned towards him, injured by his betrayal. "You couldn't resist, could you? Toying with me using one of your illusions while your true self takes a lovely stroll in the garden with your betrothed? Parading before me during the one moment of peace I managed to find for myself, knowing how I would react?!" The prince advanced toward me, bearing an unreadable expression I treated with mistrust. At that instant, being so close to him made the bile rise from my stomach to my throat. "Because it's all a game to you, isn't it, Loki?"

A light shake of his head and the snicker that escaped him indicated his dismissal. "Darling, I-"

Adrenaline surged through my veins as I hurled my book at him with all the strength I could muster, fully expecting it to pass right through. Truth be told, I was trembling inside; my heart pounded violently in my chest for fear of what he might do next if angered. 

A loud thump bounded across the library's infinite walls. I could only stare in shock at the book sprawled at Loki's feet, embarrassment stinging my cheeks as realization dawned on me. I was left a stammering mess, trying to figure out what to say in the wake of my assault towards the Prince of Asgard who was, after all, still the Jotun who had hurt me just yesterday. He arched an unamused brow, his stare never leaving me as he bent down to pick up the book that had just collided with his chest. He didn't speak, only wetting a finger with his tongue before skimming distractedly through the crinkled pages. 

"'A History of Midgardian Literature'." mused Loki with an air of condescension that made the heat rise to my head. "Quite the read, save for a few dull parts."

"Why are you not with Sigyn?" At last I rediscovered my voice. His emerald gaze snapped up to meet mine. 

"Why aren't you with Thor?" he quipped darkly. 

I tried my hardest to ignore his predatory stare, but to my aggravation it crept along my spine and sent shivers through every part of my body. Where his eyes traveled, my skin was set aflame, but I steeled myself, for I would not stand for a man looking upon me as though I were his next meal. "My husband has been called away to the throne room to meet with the King."

"Has he now?" Something else slithered into his voice - something fluid and pensive and... murky. I swallowed as he took a step forward; he seemed to grow taller, overshadowing everything in his path with each passing second. "He'll be gone for the whole day, I presume?"

"Please step away from me."

Loki ignored my plea in every sense of the word, instead reaching out to brush my hairline with his thumb. I shuddered under his caress and glared tearfully at him, loathing the subtle smirk painting his face yet craving the fire of his soft touch. "In that case..." the back of his knuckles grazed my cheek, and he slowly leaned down so that his sweltering lips met with the shell of my ear. "Why don't we have some fun?"

I shoved him backwards as my hands balled into fists. "You cannot be serious..." my jaw ached from my failed attempts to bite back bitter tears. "No. You always do this, you always. Do. This.

His mouth opened in retort. "Please, don't-"

"No! You listen to me. All I've ever asked of you was to treat me with respect. And now, I demand it." I waited for his lips to shut, until he finally seemed to decide to bestow upon me the attention I had long deserved. "I know you want me to succumb to your seduction once again, given the number of occasions on which you've tried to terrorize and threaten me. I suppose you've heard the rumors then, hm? Of how the future queen of Asgard has begun her 'descent into madness'?" The words poured out of my mouth, thick with emotion. I couldn't stop. "Do you think me mad, Loki?" 

"Of course not."

"Oh, well you must! Seeing as you clearly think I'm such an easy target for your- your tricks and your infernal games!" I ran a hand through my hair and tugged at the tousled strands in exasperation. This was it. I was losing my mind. "I bet I was a good fuck too, wasn't I?"

"Do not speak of yourself that way."

"You are in no position to dictate what I am and am not allowed to say. And I'm right, aren't I?" A mirthless laugh broke free from my throat. "You loved fucking your brother's bride because it gave you the illusion that if you could play with his trinkets first, you were somehow better than him. That's all I am to you after all - a trinket. You picked the helpless little girl and toyed with her body and mind, assuming she would never grow into a woman who would one day see through your despicable antics!"

"You're wrong." Sorrow and frustration darkened his orbs, though I could no longer tell whether the emotions were genuine. "I had you because I loved you, and I love you still. I thought I made that quite clear."

"No, no. It disgusts me that you dare use this sacred word against me. You expect me to trust a man who would maim my flesh when I don't let him have his wicked way with me in a darkened hallway?!" Loki cast his gaze to the floor, then made to say something else but I interrupted him. "Go on, tell me another one of your lies. Is that not your finest skill? Lying?" This time, Loki remained silent, his jaw hard and his expression severe. I screwed my eyes shut for the endless tears had completely blurred my vision. I continued to speak, barely enduring the pain of my own cold words. "I used to think you were in love with Sigyn, but I see that I was wrong. You're not in love with her... and you certainly aren't in love with me."

"Come now, my love-"

"You don't love me. You never have, and I know that now. Everything that was- no, everything that is between us, as you said... has always just been lust. Nothing more. You and I, all of this," it became difficult to suppress my choked sobs, "spawned from your jealousy. I don't know what this is, but I-I want no part of it."

"Do you really believe that?" His voice was below a whisper though the hurt laced in his tone was evident. For all I knew, this could have been another one of his melodramatics, another ploy to gain my pity. Another plot to soften my heart. Yet despite all these possibilities, I still wanted to believe him more than anything in the world. "After all I've done for you, all the times I have risked my own life for the sake of yours-"

"Oh, spare me your hollow words, your theatrics, your relentless manipulation! You saved my life two times and for that I am eternally grateful, but do not speak as though I owe you anything."

"Answer me, you insufferable wench!" Loki snapped, venom dripping from his curses. All trace of a sneer had vanished from his face, replaced by a glower of wrath filled with glistening tears of ruin. "Do you truly believe that I do not care for you more than any other man or god you can name?!"

"Thor cares for me."

The words left my lips before I could register the gravity of my statement. The prince's lean jaw shuddered, then closed. I was suddenly aware of the deathly quiet surrounding us. Fear returned in the form of sharp talons winding round my palpitating heart as Loki paced toward me, a dangerous flare present in his eyes that made me fear for my life. I expected a thundering blow, a strike of lightning, any kind of fatal crack upon my skin, but none came. Instead, his heated breath came to rest upon my lips in tense, daunting intervals. 

"Oh? Is that what this is all about?" he asked in a manner of unnerving calm. Each movement of his lips caused my own to twitch from the sheer closeness of his face to mine. "You have grown tired of me, after all these years? Is my brother better suited to your many needs?"

"It has been so long, Loki. Whatever form of infatuation I might have had for you when I was younger can no longer exist. I am married to the heir of Asgard. My title is an honor that I care to uphold above all else, but you - you would forsake morality, risk losing the respect you have garnered from your victory and take your position amongst the Aesir for granted... all to prove a point."

No sooner had I finished speaking did I feel strong digits wrap around my neck, holding me in place. Loki's stare bore into my own while his hand locked onto my throat, squeezing just enough to render me unable to escape his grip. Once again I stood paralyzed by fear, staring down the god who must have had every intention of snapping my neck like a twig between his fingers. "You can lie all you want about your love," whispered the Liesmith reproachfully, reestablishing his hold on my neck while my trembling fingers clawed at his chest, "but I won't have you belittling mine." 

He promptly released me from his overpowering grasp. Regaining my composure as best as I could, I demanded that he not approach me from that day forth unless my husband was present. 

"And why is that?" I saw through the feigned nonchalance in his voice. "You know you're free to just walk away from me whenever you like. You always have been," he added.

I acted per his instruction and made my way down the staircase, leaving him in a short-lived state of surprise before I heard the agile thud of familiar footsteps follow in my path. "It has to be you, Loki." I found my exit: the looming wooden doors that would open into the hallway. My fingers pushed against the gold handle with mild force, allowing the cool winter breeze to enter the library and sweep through my skirts and over my skin.

"Why?" he asked, curiosity and unwillingness both evident in his inquiry. I stopped but did not look back, afraid I would be lured back to where it all began if I did.

"Because..." A trembling exhale. My voice dropped to a shameful whisper. "Because I don't trust myself not to fall under your control."

A heavy silence thickened the air. My cheeks were aflame but I did not let him see my face. I could not allow him to discover the agony in my eyes. At last, he spoke - though in a strange, monotonous manner that hid another emotion I could not discern. 

"I understand."

With Loki Laufeyson, it was never clear as to what his intentions were. It was always enigma after enigma, riddle after cursed riddle...

Another pause. "Good. I will pretend to enjoy your company and be cordial with you... for Thor's sake. But do not be so foolish as to think we are on good terms. Goodbye, Prince Loki."

Then I slipped through the gap and walked away.

 

 

 

Loki ran his thumb along the center of the white blossom in his hand. An impressive rose with an intoxicating scent - doomed to wither prematurely all for the whim of a callous woman. 

The walls of his chambers blared at him in anguish and rage at the memory of the pale flower in her hair. He had been thinking of her again. Her harsh truths lingered in his mind and he replayed them all, over and over. In spite of himself, he replayed them. Images of her radiance, her sharp tongue, caricatures of her heart of stone... they wouldn't leave him, no matter how many times he uttered curses beneath his breath. 

Even after she had left him in a state of desolation he could not drive her voice from his thoughts. That infernal voice he both loved and loathed, calling him a liar, a philanderer, and worse- 

A forsaker of morality.

He could have laughed were it not such a painful task for the wretched prince. She was right, after all. 

He watched as minuscule icicles formed on each white petal, the clear flakes encasing the rose in his palm until the whole flower was sealed within a sheet of crystal. Now, the petals were hard and brittle in his grasp and vulnerable to his every touch.  

Loki's fingers compressed the hopeless bloom, crushing it in his tight blue fist. 

Chapter Text

"You wanted to see me, Your Maje- Allmother?"

"Ah, yes. Come in, my child."

The door groaned faintly as I pressed it shut behind me, sealing us inside the Queen's vast abode. Tranquil silence possessed the bedchamber, disrupted only by a gentle tinkering of glass surfaces that seemed to come from the far end of the room where Frigga stood. With her back turned to me, I could only see the intricacies of her modest updo through which light filtered, illuminating the clandestine outline of her figure while the rest of her honey-colored tresses rested over her shoulders. Because she stood by the window, she almost appeared as a silhouette; it was difficult to determine exactly what she was doing from my position at the entrance, other than focusing on a task of her own on the bedside table, indicated by her shifting elbows. 

Seeing as she did not lift her gaze from the table in acknowledgement of my presence, I took the opportunity to sneak a quick glance around Her Majesty's personal quarters. Images of grandeur and complicated designs would fill my mind whenever I had imagined what wonders the Allmother's room entailed prior to my entering it for the first time, but none of the visuals I was surprised with in the Queen's dwelling followed my initial expectations of lavish luxury.

Earthen tones basked the place in calm and comfort, with ornate mosaics furnishing the walls and pillars just enough to remain tasteful. Grey light shone through latticed windows and draped the stone chamber in an everlasting warmth. The bed itself was, to my astonishment, the same width and length as my own, supported by four robust bedposts with unnameable symbols carved into the wood. Soft, pleasant smells such as floral fragrances and intriguing spices drifted throughout the space. To the far left, a washbasin rested, its waters subtly rippling in the wintry zephyr. 

The first fall of snow had arrived but a few days after the tournament took place, and the council was praised for their smart choice of date in anticipation of seasonal change. Flecks of white glided across the windows, mellow and unhurried.

This was my sixth winter at court, and yet, it was just as melancholy as all the others. 

"Was Syn civil with you?" came the pleasant voice of Frigga as I finally approached her workspace. 

I smiled politely at the thought of the stern yet respectful handmaiden guarding the door. "Of course, Allmother."

Assorted herbs and flasks of all shapes and sizes were laid out on the desk, the plants colorful, peculiar and totally foreign to me, save for a couple of dried rose petals in her hand which she placed into a mortar and began grinding as she turned towards me. Curious as to what else the mortar contained, my eyes flicked to the rim where a thin, blond hair protruded amongst a few other ingredients I could not identify. Then I diverted my attentions back to the Queen.

I almost took a step back when I saw the fleeting look in her eyes - gone in a second, but I could have sworn some form of disapproval or scrutiny had crossed her face before her usual benevolent grin commanded her features. But even then, as she took my hands in hers and guided us to sit by the table, I could not shake the feeling that the twinkle in her eyes was unnatural and her smile forced. Something about her seemed stiff and her air intimidating, so subtle I would surely have missed it were I any less clear-headed. 

Needless to say, a chill slithered down my spine, and I proceeded with heightened caution. 

Unable to hold her gaze for long, I diverted mine to the wooden mortar in her lap in which she ground the petals into a fine pink powder in soothing, swirling motions. The rhythmic scraping of the granular substance against polished oak gave me a sense of comfort in the tense environment. Unwittingly, I began to relax into the repeated sounds, Frigga beaming at me before giving the pestle a final tap against the rim and setting the tool aside. Her elegant hands slowly engulfed mine, placing them beneath the mortar so that I cupped it in both my hands. 

Her palms over the back of my hands felt warm and gentle but intimidating all the same. A sense of unease washed over me; I felt trapped, unable to break free my damp fingers from the gaps between hers. Sweat drenched the skin of my palms; heat crept onto my cheeks in embarrassment but the Queen only smiled as though she meant to say, 'everything is alright'.

Everything is alright, my child.  

"You have been informed of your coronation date, correct?"

"Yes, Allmother." The thought of finally assuming the throne sent a thrill throughout my body of both anticipation and fear. 

I never desired the throne. Never had I been overcome with some unquenchable thirst for power often mentioned in tales of tyranny and treachery. When I first came to Asgard, I would have traded all my possessions, everything - just to escape the responsibility, the life that had been laid out for me since birth. But now, after having lived that life, after having endured pain and loss and tried my hand at the duties placed upon me with success, I found myself counting the days until the crown would at last land on my head. 

The fear, however... was no longer of the difficult dilemmas I would be expected to resolve, nor the demanding tasks which would be bestowed upon me as queen, but of restriction. It would no longer be acceptable of me to sneak off into the library when I saw fit, or claim illness when I didn't want to make a public appearance. I would have to bear Thor's children and raise them to become kings in order to live up to Frigga's name. The realm would fall into Thor's hands and I would rule it alongside him, just as I was born and bred to do. 

"You shall bring great pride to our name, my beautiful daughter." My father would say to me, each day of my life spent training to become the affectionate wife, the demure queen. 

"Preparations have been made for the ceremony to take place on the final day of winter," Frigga said, jolting me from my reverie, "I'm sure you are eager to finally take my place after all these years, aren't you, child?"

I paled in horror. "Your Majesty, I never-!"

"Hush! It was but a jest." Her eyes held a twinkle of mischief in their sapphire depths, so damnably reminiscent of the man I would do anything to forget. Frigga then cast her gaze elsewhere; a weight seemed to immediately lift from my chest. She shook her head, a chiding smirk warping her flawless features. "Ever so respectable, always proper. You need not remain so frigid around me."

"But Your Maj- Allmother, is that not what is expected of me as Princess of Asgard?"

Her eyes found mine again and I swallowed, watching them narrow like an eagle surveying not its prey, but one of its own kin. It was a level-headed, cool and almost approving stare that unnerved me yet made me feel valued all at once. 

"At the first betrothal ball," she began steadily, "you and your family were invited to the event. The moment I laid eyes on you; the maiden in red, timid in demeanor yet charming with such brazen strength in your eyes, I knew there would be no maiden more fit for my eldest son."

"Allmother, you are much too kind." An exhilarating surge of pride coursed through my veins. I bit the inside of my cheek, scrambling the depths of my mind for the perfect words with which to respond to the Queen's praise. "To devote myself to Thor and remain beside him until the end of my days is an honor I shall never be worthy enough to uphold."

"You are very well-spoken," she observed, her tone impressed. 

"My mother was my only mentor, Allmother. I would have no one else teach me the ways of nobility."

"Indeed, your manners are impeccable! Your family has taught you well."

"On behalf of my father, I thank you, Your Majesty."

Frigga let out a soft hum of satisfaction at my response as the pads of her thumbs brushed my knuckles in slow, circular motions. A strange warmth grew inside of me, radiating from the tips of my fingers all the way through to my toes and the skin behind my ears. 

"Have you comfortably adjusted to life on Asgard?" said the Queen in a timbre so soft and quiet, it was close to a whisper where the only audible vowels in a sentence were the harsher ones. 

"Of course, Allmother. I have had a wonderful few years to grow accustomed to the ways of the Aesir and am beyond proud to call it my home." With a pair of endless blue eyes, holding more wisdom than the ocean depths locked on my own while thumbs caressed my hands in soothing repetition, I found my eyelids growing heavy and my limbs weary, eager to fall lax into the goddess's arms and embrace whatever she had in store for me. 

"Has Thor been good to you?"

"Better than I could ever hope for him to be, Allmother."

"How do you feel in regards to your impending coronation?"

The sensation grew warmer still - a living, breathing fire overtaking my lungs and spreading through my insides which lulled me into a state between illusion and reality. A place of complete and utter relaxation, quietude and trust. "It is a joy I have dreamed of each and every night of my life." I replied, addled by the sudden thickness in my chest which made it unusually hard to breathe. 

"Well, I hope the glamorous facade of our golden halls have not filled your head with any fanciful expectations, my dear. I trust you are clever enough to know that while the throne may look to be just a golden chair, this role is certainly not just a title, but an eternal burden you shall have to bear for the good of the realm."

"That is not what I meant, Allmother. I am fully aware of the responsibilities that come with the crown and the luxury. These responsibilities are the very thing I fear being dragged under. I have witnessed you rule the kingdom beside the Allfather with such compassion, grace and seizing decisiveness; qualities which shine through in both your beautiful sons..." I had to pause before I ran out of air, for the warmth continued to grow deep inside of me, almost choking in its intensity. "Qualities I fear I sorely lack..." My eyes screwed shut, my vision suddenly blurred beyond recognition as each layer of composure, every front and guise of calm I'd hid behind was stripped away slowly but surely, one after the other. When at last I regained some clarity of the Queen's face and realized the bold nature of what I had said, my eyes snapped open. "Oh no, forgive me Your Majesty, for I have spoken out of turn-"

"Nonsense! You should know I value honesty before all else." By now, the soothing nuances of her voice were like honey in my ears, drowning out any other sound that may have distracted me from its velvety perfection. "If it is wisdom from me that you seek before you are forever bound to the Asgardian people, then allow me to impart upon you this advice: it is of utmost importance that you do not deceive yourself or undermine your own ideals for fear of disapproval from others." Her feather-light touches now felt hot and inescapable, as was her almost hypnotic gaze. "Stay true to yourself. That is my wisdom."

"Thank you, Allmother. I shall cherish your sacred advice."

"Attempt to flatter me with your sweet words any longer and you shall have already missed the point entirely." Her tone was chastising, yet a small smile brightened her cheeks. Curiosity burning, I risked a glance toward the mortar resting between us on our knees...

The rosy powder rippled in its confines, shifting in circular patterns in a way that would be impossible without direct intervention. I looked to her, eyes enlarged with fear and intrigue to which she responded with a broader smile. When I tried to remove my hands from her grasp, panic seized my chest when my fingers did not so much as twitch in accordance with my own intention. 

They were paralyzed - melded to the wooden receptacle. I blinked to focus my gaze on Frigga's face once more, my mind too indistinct and hazy to comprehend what words or incoherent sounds tumbled from my mouth. 

"Y-yes! Forgive me, Allmother."

Through the daze of garish colors bleeding into one another before my eyes, I detected the Queen's playful smirk. "Must I torment you with more cruel jokes until you finally agree to call me 'mother'?"

"No, My Queen..." I realized my mistake. "I'm sorry, Mother... I don't f-feel very well..."

"Did you come to Asgard to gain the favor of its people only to reap the benefits of being queen afterwards?"

"No, Your Majesty, I-!" Words joined with the other when they poured from my lips; each and every limb fell lax against the chair while my neck struggled to keep my head upright. My tongue worked in earnest to form intelligible responses. "I came to serve your son, Mother. I came to serve Asgard. I came because my father is indebted to the King's kindness..."

"What do you think of Thor?"

"He is good to me." I blurted immediately, unable to focus on anything but my heart hammering in my ears and the Queen's soft, slow voice, asking question after question until I began to run out of prepared answers. "I can wish for no better man to be my husband and king of the realm than him."

"Are you ready to stay by his side for the rest of your life?"

"... Of course, Allmother. That is what I came here to do."

"What is your top priority before you assume the throne?"

"That would be to bear a son for Thor. To birth an heir for my husband would be the greatest honor of my humble lifetime... I really do feel quite ill, Mother. May I please be excused?"

"In a moment, my dear. You are doing spectacularly." As I opened my mouth to insist, she interrupted me with another question. And another after that. And another. After what seemed like an eternity of trivial conversation, her inquiries gradually descended into more intimate territory. "And what of Loki? Has he been good to you?"

A blow of intense heat struck me at the mention of his name. The way it rolled off of her tongue was nonchalant, as if it were the most unremarkable thing in the world for one to ask me. 

"I b-beg your pardon?" I couldn't shut my mouth quick enough after what I had said when I realized that the only unnatural thing about the entire situation was how I responded to these questions. After all, they were completely warranted. The Queen had every right to ask me about my life in the palace, my motives for marrying into the family and about her sons, so why did this feel so horribly wrong? 

She didn't know anything about... us, right?

The Queen couldn't know. 

Loki would never... this was against his every interest; surely he didn't-!

"Has Loki mistreated you in any way? I am aware he may seem unpleasant at times, even towards those close to him, but you must believe that he does not hold true malice in his heart." She paused as a deep, disappointed sigh escaped her lips at the same time as an exhale of extreme relief left mine. "I ask because of the red mark round your wrist. I assume you have forgotten it was there?"

I opened my mouth to tell her the same excuse I'd told Eir, only to freeze when the words did not come. Somehow, no lie could formulate amidst the scattered thoughts and scrambled sights which made the haze of my mind, leaving me with the only option - one that blared at me in blazing letters, tormenting me until I finally relented to its glaring message.

 

Tell the truth.

 

"I... Prince Loki, he..." I stammered and sputtered like a captured fish. All speech blended into one muddled drawl as I fought with all my strength against the blinding command in my head.

 

Tell the truth!

 

"W-when I went to meet Thor... in the halls, Loki... he..." No. Fight it. "In the bathroom, I- oh, Queen Frigga, what have you done to me...?"

 

Tell the truth!

 

"No!" I forced my eyelids apart. The letters were gone, yet the sound remained - a horrible, endless white noise at the back of my ears just faint enough to allow unsettling murmurs to seep through, unfamiliar voices of all frequencies from different directions all imploring me to speak nothing else but the truth. I wanted it to stop more than I wanted to live, but I refused to succumb to its tempting pleas... I knew the truth was a danger to myself and to those I held dear, and I myself feared it more than I loathed the continuous drone invading my ears. And then, out from the heart of mystical confusion, a hot, pulsating determination arose in me like a phoenix reborn from the flame.

No matter what spell or charm she must have placed upon me, she would not have the truth.

"I put my hand into the ice bucket because my bath chambers were too humid for comfort. I fell asleep and when I awoke, there it was. That is where I attained my injury, Your Majesty."

A pause. "I see." Once again, I was unable to determine the true emotion behind her response. Loki must have learned his air of secrecy from the powerful sorceress who had raised him. "Then you should do well to avoid a similar incident the next time you bathe, my dear. One final question and you will be free to leave, child."

Whether or not I was able to suppress a groan of frustration was the least of my concerns when fire seemed to engulf my hands and burn a flaming trail through to my heart, head and limbs. I could not move, nor tear my blurred gaze from Frigga's in attempt to escape this inferno I was trapped in. 

Imprisoned in my own body, my only hope was to await My Queen's last question. 

"Do you love my son?"

Now, the letters blinded me in my peripheral vision, roaring their message with the enthusiasm of a thousand beasts into the caverns of my suffering ears. Scorching tears burned greater than the flame that had seized my shell and trapped my soul. The experience was not something I could describe with solid certainty, for absolutely nothing about my encounter with the Queen of Asgard was something I could recall with complete, untainted clarity. 

An almost otherworldly occurrence. That was what came to mind as the Allmother's silky touch and smooth encouragements brought me to the brink of confession. Despite how unbearable the sensation was, it was not painful. No, this exceeded the effect of pain by far; I was placed into a state of pure repose, a calm that felt amazing and beautiful and clean - a comfort she threatened to take away whenever I so much as considered fighting back against it. 

Somehow, without brute force or seductive words, she had taken me into a realm of blissful warmth, made me enjoy it so much that my own muscles fell inactive against my sheer desire to remain in that pure, content state. 

"I-I don't know..." unintelligible slurs spewed from my mouth as I began to cry, overwhelmed by the purity and blessed euphoria I did not deserve. "My Queen, I don't know what you ask of me...!"

"I ask for the truth, my child." My gaze was drawn to her perfect pink lips when they formed the next words, surely and carefully, so that they were the only thing I could understand amidst my trance. "Only the truth."

I began to doubt myself. In a brief moment, the need for more of this warm contentment overpowered my resolve, and I forgot what exactly I was fighting for. 

Why do you resist? The stubborn voice inside my head raged in desperation. Why do you fight? 

 

"I do..." 

 

Raven hair. Chatoyant eyes of deep green. Mingled breaths and poisonous tongue. Swirling dresses on marble. Moonlight over soft grass. 

 

"I do...

 

Bitter tears and rambunctious rain. Lonely hearts and fearsome pain. 

 

"I do...

 

Crimson arrow, frozen flower...

 

"I love him..."

 

Bind the broken chain of power. 

 

Suddenly all was clear. The pounding ceased and all thoughts disappeared from my mind into the winter breeze... all but one. Suddenly, my purpose came flooding back, a renewed resistance flushing out the doubt and confusion that had conquered my mind and body. I knew one mistake could jeopardize the lives of everyone who mattered most in my life, as well as my own. 

If Loki had truly dared disclose our secret to his mother; the secret I have guarded with my own blood and flesh, then he must trust her more than any other being in the Nine Realms. 

The very thought caused the blood in my veins to boil even further. Unfortunately, after all I had sacrificed to protect myself and him, the trust I once possessed in my heart no longer seemed to be my own to give. 

He may have betrayed my trust, but I would not stoop to his level and betray his no matter what became of me.

"I do love your son, Mother." I managed a smile, though my jaw throbbed with exhaustion. "I love my husband with all my heart and would lay down my life for him."

It was true. I did love Thor... in the way that I would never be able to repay him for everything he had done for me.

A lone tear slipped from my face, gathering at my chin before it dropped into the mortar which, I noticed with a gasp, now carried a steaming, colorless liquid. The cream-colored stone confines of the bedchamber sharpened as the warm feeling faded, making way for a new sense of calm that belonged to me alone. The effects of Frigga's magic lingered in the form of my thumping heartbeat and the sheen of sweat on my flushed skin, but with each deep breath I found myself more and more at peace with what I had just experienced. 

The Queen still held my hands in hers while she uttered a hushed incantation, and a pleasant coolness spread throughout me. Though I did not understand the ancient language of the chant, I could've sworn I'd heard it somewhere before...

"You are strong, my child." Another smile found her features, though this one was smaller and... sad. "You will make an exceptional queen; I am sure of it."

"Thank you, Mother."

She lifted the mortar to my lips. When the hot liquid reached my tongue I let it slide down my throat without resistance. It was tasteless; I could have easily mistaken it for water had I not been present for the arduous process during which the liquid was made. As I downed the odorless draught, I was left wondering what exactly it would do to me. What more could the Queen possible want?

"I only needed to be sure I was right in choosing you," she set the container aside and brushed a stray hair from my forehead, "and now that the day is near when I shall relinquish my place on the throne for you, I do not regret my decision."

"Thank you..." I closed my eyes and leaned into her tender touch, thinking of my own mother. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

She let go of me and reached beneath her pillow, producing a hand-embroidered piece stretched out on a golden band, with the unfinished image of a petite red rose stitched delicately into the fine silk. Frigga handed it to me and I ran my fingers over the skillful padded satin stitch composing the pale green stem.

"My Queen, this... this is remarkable work!"

"And worthy of completion, don't you think?" The Allmother stood and walked to the table to inspect a fresh set of herbs for whatever spell she must have been preparing for next. "Lady Freyja is due to arrive here in the afternoon. If you could finish it for me, that would be most pleasing."

"I fear I may disappoint you in that regard, Mother."

"Take as long as you may need, dear child! You'll find a way." I rose from my chair and bowed in respect, knees still weak from the earlier experience. As I walked to the door with the embroidery in hand, the Queen's last call stopped me cold in my tracks. "I will say one more thing before you go. It is easy to lose sight of one's ambitions in pursuit of another goal that may seem of importance at first, but will ultimately lead you to stray from achieving true greatness. This, you must understand, before you are queen."

"Yes, My Queen." I replied as flatly and casually as I could manage before emerging from her chambers at last, gasping for fresh air the moment I shut the door to that suffocating atmosphere. 

I understand completely

 

 

 

Clutching the embroidery against my chest, I ventured into the library and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of around a dozen servants busying themselves about the room, some sweeping dust from the surfaces of ancient Asgardian tomes and others carefully restoring volumes whose pages were succumbing to age. Just as I had requested. I couldn't bear the thought of being alone with Loki once more. I simply didn't trust myself to do so. 

They all inclined their heads in respect as I headed to the reading nook, my beloved private sanctuary. 

Private. 

Preferably uninhabited by anyone but me and certainly without a raven-haired liesmith lounging within it. 

As I stared at the prince who sat reading by the window, I contemplated my options: leave without a word, greet him then move to a different spot, or greet him and take a seat beside him as was my right. 

Logic bade me carry out the latter option. After all, wouldn't suspicious silence only rouse unwanted attention?

My fingers grasped the strings attached to Frigga's work as though they were the last shreds of my dignity as I straightened my back, lifted my chin in an attempted gesture of confidence, and walked over to the window. Loki's gaze never once broke from his book since my arrival, though the forced nonchalance in every flick of the page and feigned engrossment in its contents was something I'd learned to distinguish immediately after so many encounters. 

There were moments when I thought he might greet me himself, though to my aggravation he never did... each movement was agonizing and slow, seemingly cold and disinterested yet daunting and almost playful, like he meant to taunt me until I finally caved and spoke first. 

"Good afternoon, Prince Loki." I cowered as my voice cut through the silence with its unpleasant, nervous twang. He acknowledged me at last, two viridescent orbs snapping up to meet mine whilst tiny flecks of gold danced within them with the usual challenge.

"Good afternoon, Your Highness," said the prince with a smile so forged I felt the urge to knock it off his face. He resumed 'reading' his book and I fought the need to roll my eyes, sitting down on the opposite armchair. The constant reminder of bustling servants working around us held me from sneaking fleeting looks in his direction as I began familiarizing myself with the Allmother's work in order to plan the next step in completing the beautiful image. 

It didn't help that I still harbored tumultuous anger towards him for confiding in the Queen, of all people, about what had occurred between us over the years. Clearly, he had yet to understand the gravity of this terrible decision. 

Minutes passed so slowly, I mistook them for hours. I encountered many complications when trying to replicate each flawless stitch, realizing with a groan that I'd severely underestimated the time it would take for me to finish the piece. Embroidery was a mandatory part of my education but I had never been outstanding in the field, so no matter how long I spent concentrating and fussing over every stitch, there was still a notable difference between Queen Frigga's needlework and my own. 

Overcome with boredom, I decided to indulge my gnawing curiosity. 

"What are you reading?" I asked, trying to sound as indifferent as possible. Anger simmered underneath my skin when I practically heard him smirk in some strange form of satisfaction. Had he really been waiting for me to engage him all this time?

He looked at me again, his expression amused. What exactly was so amusing to him?

"'A History of Midgardian Literature'." My face fell. He closed the book and turned it over in his hand. "I stand by my previous review of this work that it has its ups and downs."

"Well, I'm sure you'll come to enjoy it a lot more as you approach the closing chapter," I said after a moment, deciding to for once play along especially while in the company of the servants. "That is, in my opinion at least, where the most insightful and informative material lies."

"Hm." Loki reopened the book towards the end. "Ironic, isn't it? How the most engaging part of a book lays hidden in the final chapter, forcing the reader to first trudge through the dull main body of the work."

"Perhaps the most important things lie in the outcome. Think about it," I leaned forward in my chair, "many things emerge in the end, like revelations or epiphanies, or..." my voice collapsed to a serious whisper, "secrets. I know you've told Frigga everything."

His eyes stayed buried in his book. "And what if I have?" 

"You had no right. You have betrayed me, you told her the secret-"

"It is my secret as much as it is yours!" A couple of heads turned to the source of the raised voice. I glared at him to keep quiet, lest the others succeed in eavesdropping. Loki inhaled deeply and appeared to compose himself before leaning forward, bringing his tone to a low whisper. "I had every right to confide in Mother and I can assure you that she will not tell another soul."

"That is besides the point. You should have asked me first."

"I can't ask you when you have expressed to me quite clearly on a number of occasions that you never want me to approach you at any time or place for any purpose ever again." 

A sharp retort hung from the tip of my tongue but I swallowed it, suddenly affected by the hurt laced in his tone. Then I reminded myself that this could be yet another trap, another act to lure me into a state of guilt. 

He swallowed and continued, snide. "You hardly gave me an opening to speak my mind the last time we met."

"Alright, Prince Loki." My tongue flicked to wet my lips. "I'm sorry I allowed my sentiments to get the better of me during our previous meeting, so here is your chance. I ask you again," my voice, though quiet, was hard and unwavering, "what do you want?"

The prince laid back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other, smugly relaxed. Steam rose to my head when a simper ghosted his features. "A more spacious bedchamber, a smarter brother... oh, and perhaps some comelier handmaidens."

"What do you want from me?" He relished in my rapidly deteriorating pride, no doubt knowing I had no choice but to go along with his game. He intended to humiliate me and make me say everything aloud, but I didn't care.

I needed answers.

Loki's eyes bore into my skull; I felt his gaze pierce my brain with its intensity, despite the ambiguity of his true emotions. At least he was smiling no longer; I could not afford to get riled up any further by his taunts or tricks. The existing struggle of containing the urge to both curse him to Hel and fling myself into his embrace was already unbearable enough.

He spoke at last, an absurd statement delivered so bluntly and casually it curdled my blood all the more. 

"Be with me."

I blinked. "What did you say?"

"I said I want you to be with me."

It took several moments for his words to sink in, for they were the furthest things from what I expected would come out of his mouth. The way they were spoken, without a trace of hesitation or need for correction, took me aback. 'Be with him'? What did he mean by that? I couldn't be with him... by the Norns, did he forget that I was married? No single word could encompass what I felt at that exact moment as I sat face to face with the God of Mischief, turning his words over in my head again and again. 

Was it shock and confusion? Most definitely, but beyond mere surprise.

Offense? Yes, I loathed his belittling tone. 

But there was something else I felt - an emotion which manifested in the form of fluttering in my stomach and a quickening of my heartbeat. Surely this was just another cruel jest? Something to elicit a reaction out of me which he could then laugh at afterwards?

I tried to keep the foolish hope from filtering into my voice as I held his stare, to show him that I truly meant each and every word. "I've no patience for your tricks, Loki."

"Why do you always insist on dismissing my truths as tricks?" hissed Loki through bared teeth, aggravation dripping from his words. "Is it really so hard to believe that I could actually be in love with you?"

"Quite frankly, I don't know if you are capable of that if your idea of love is to hound and stalk the people you claim to care about by hogging their favorite destinations."

The prince narrowed his eyes. "You do not own the reading nook."

"That is also besides the point." I huffed in frustration, "and it cannot be a coincidence that you are always present every time I come here."

"Surely you do not believe yourself to be the only one in the palace who enjoys the company of books?"

"I would have no quarrel with you if you were truly here to read."

"Oh? You think I come to the library just to seek you out and play tricks on you?"

"That is exactly what I think."

"Isn't that a little self-absorbed?"

"Would you like to take this conversation elsewhere, My Prince?"

"Now, now, there's no need for hostility at this time of day."

"You're right. Now why don't I return to my sewing and you to your book, to prevent any further... disagreements?"

I forced my focus back to the initial task of removing a failed stitch in order to correct my mistake. My fingertips fumbled along the dampened silk as I grasped it tight in my sweaty palms, threading the needle in preparation for the next step. It took a few minutes for my hands to rediscover their rhythm as I progressed steadily, while my cheeks still burned beneath watchful eyes. 

Suddenly, the material vibrated just as I brought the needle through the silk, causing it to puncture the skin of my forefinger. A hiss of pain left my lips as I withdrew my hand and brought my finger to my lips, suckling the bitter crimson before it had the chance to quiver upon the white silk and ruin Frigga's image. I shot a glare at the prince, whose small smile betrayed wicked mirth.

"You did this, didn't you?!" I growled through clenched teeth. Then I remembered where I was and that I needed to be quiet.

"Must you always assume the worst of me, My Lady?"

"You shall address me as 'Your Highness' and I will not settle for anything else."

Loki quirked a slender brow. "Can't the titles be used interchangeably?" 

"How dare y-" I stopped, realizing how far we had strayed from what really mattered. Maybe I had purposely avoided bringing it up again for fear of how doubtful of my own feelings it made me? Loki hadn't yet expressed any desire to revisit the subject... perhaps this time he had let it slide?

"What thoughts run through your head this time, Your Highness?" he asked with an inquisitive lilt. I stayed silent, glancing at the crimson bead on the tip of my finger. The prince held out his hand; I leaned back, unsure of his intentions. 

"What are you doing?"

"Allow me to take care of that for you."

No. Absolutely not.

"Don't you dare touch me."

"Would you prefer I loudly proclaim my deep sorrow at your refusal to let me heal your wound?"

"You wouldn't dare."

"You of all people know that I most certainly would."

A string of vulgarities welled in my throat. I shoved them down with a huff and reluctantly took his hand, shivering upon contact. "Insufferable trickster."

"You will address me as your Prince and I won't settle for anything else." The corner of his lips curled smugly upwards, as though he had somehow 'bested' me in conversation by mocking me. However, I did not find him quite as hilarious or clever as he clearly found himself. 

I rolled my eyes for a second time. "Get on with it."

A cold, tingling sensation clouded my finger as a tiny white flare engulfed it. His fingers brushed against my palm and I fought the flame creeping along my neck, hoping to Odin that no visual indication of my embarrassment appeared, such as a pink tint on my cheeks. Then came a long, uncomfortable silence. While his hands worked to close the injury, I felt the lingering burn of his gaze on my face and neck, down to the exposed cleft of my chest. I sucked in a sharp breath when his digits enclosed my wrist in their firm hold, the heat of his touch sending my pulse into a fanatical frenzy. 

"So..." whispered the prince, "do you accept?"

"Accept what?"

"I won't say it again, darling."

"Why not?" A particular surge of boldness sparked my need to push further. "Why won't you ask for what you want?"

"I already stated-"

"Well, I want to hear it again." My heart thudded in anticipation, a secret excitement filling my chest that I didn't dare show. Loki sighed, swallowed thickly and cast his gaze toward the window to his right. My heart sank to the ground when I concluded that he wouldn't say it again after all. 

"Be with me," he said abruptly, speaking my name for the first time in a long while. A beautiful, warm feeling grew in my chest and fluttered about my skin when he captured me in his indecipherable, glistening green orbs once again. His voice was soft, undemanding, like he only wanted to present his thoughts and leave them there, suspended, for me to do whatever I pleased. 

"Be mine."

Chapter Text

"Was she compliant?" Loki paced the room, footsteps shattering the quiet which had previously settled over Queen Frigga's chambers like a veil. The approach of evening cast harsh shadows upon the line of his jaw and the crease of his brow in the dim light, pale hands locked behind his back as he stopped before the latticed window.

"She was stronger than I anticipated," his mother replied, her eyes trailing after the prince's stiff form, "but cooperative in the end."

He gave a short, brittle laugh. "I assume the most resistance occurred when generating the spell?"

"But of course," replied the Queen, thoughtfully. "Implanting the idea into her mind was straightforward, but... encouraging it to grow into a charm of her own was no easy feat."

"And did you hear it?" Loki asked, turning to her. "Did you hear her spell?"

Frigga slowly shook her head as a look of sympathy colored her features. "Only the magnitude of its energy. I felt it from deep within - her anguish, her passion and her determination. From this energy, she forged an incantation of immense power and recited it in her mind over the sacred herbs, rendering the draught as potent as I had hoped."

He bit the inside of his cheek in disgruntlement. "You should have looked deeper. That way, you would be sure if it worked-"

"I know it worked." The Allmother went to him, her lips pulled into a taut frown. "Do you doubt my magic?"

"I simply don't understand why you refused to push just a little further to ensure that she was doing it right!"

"The girl was at the limit of her capabilities," Frigga scolded, golden tresses billowing around her in motherly disapproval. Even as Loki's lean build towered over her smaller frame, the goddess had never felt the need to draw herself up to his height, for she knew her son would always take her stern words at face value. "Unlike you and I, whose minds train to expand for the purpose of holding more knowledge, hers still has its limitations like all non-practitioners of seidr."

Loki swallowed his retort, though a scowl remained etched upon his face. 

His mother placed a gentle hand on his face, soothing her thumb over the sharp cheekbone. "I did not enjoy troubling Lady Freyja for the ingredients needed to make this particular concoction."

"What did you tell her it was for?"

"I told her exactly what it was for, Loki." Her eyes shone with strict sincerity. "I do not like to deceive. Besides... she is not the type to object to what you have done." 

"And what of your prattling handmaidens? What did you tell them?"

"No one else knows," she assured him as her eyes clouded with guilt. "Not even Fulla, and you know how much it pains me to keep from her my secret counsel. And Var... oh, Loki, she can never know...!"

"I'm not afraid of that meddling oathkeeper." His features contorted in annoyance, and he pulled away from the Queen's tender touch. "Did she drink it?"

Her lips formed a sorrowful smile. "Every last drop."

There was a pause. Frigga could not see her son's expression as he looked to the floor, his emerald eyes obscured by inky shadow. His shoulders tensed a fraction, then relaxed in some gesture of... resignation? Defeat? She could not tell. 

Even when he spoke at last, there was no hint of humanity, no trace of sadness nor any other emotion behind his words. It was a voice the Queen feared; a monotonous drone infused with half-hearted amusement to hide the underlying anguish. It was a sound that indicated his desire to conceal his pain, even before his mother, the one he trusted more than anyone else in Yggdrasil. 

Frigga's heart bled each time he failed to understand that no matter what he had done, she would never forsake her dear disciple, her little mischief-maker.

Her beloved boy.  

"Good. I went to embarrassing lengths to obtain that hair," a weak laugh, "especially when rummaging through Thor's pillows is something I'd rather not do ever again."

"Loki..." she went over to her son and embraced him from behind, resting her head on the strained muscle of his back. She planned her next words carefully, praying he would at least contemplate them once they were spoken. "There is still a possibility that the spell may fail..."

"It won't." he answered without hesitation, and Frigga heard the agony and hatred in his heart, feeling his despair tear at her own. 

"My son, please... you cannot know what lies in her heart. Will you not at least consider the possibility that her actions may not reflect what she truly feels deep within?"

"Mother, stop. I won't hear any more of this. The spell will work, no matter how much I wish it won't." Suddenly, he spun round to face her. Impulsive rage flashed across his eyes but his mother was unfazed, only waiting in sadness for her son to compose himself from the onslaught of sentimentality. "Is this not what you wanted? Why do you, the Goddess of Marriage, mean to stir doubt within me when I am trying to right a wrong that goes against the very thing you stand for?!"

"Because, child, an elixir made to encourage the binding of hearts cannot be deceived if one's heart does not truly wish to be bound to the intended other. My morals do not in any way affect the potency of the draught." Frigga took his face in her hands, matching the intensity of his stare with her own. "You should already know this."

 

 

 

Fandral doubled over in pain, clutching his side where Sif had landed her boot in the midst of a friendly spar. The warrioress set her foot back upon the snow, brandishing her victory by the smug smirk plastered across her features. Booming laughter thickened the air as Thor stepped out onto the field and approached her, applauding slowly. 

"I expected no less, Lady Sif. You really bested him this time!"

She lowered her head in thanks. "And without using even half of my full force."

"Hey!" said Fandral between grunts, recovering from the attack, "now that's no fair!"

The princess laughed from the bench, hands clasped demurely in her lap. "I'm sure you tried your best, Fandral."

"Why can't you be more like the Lady, Thor?" The soldier moved toward her in dramatic, slow, shuffling motions and offered her his hand, for which she set down her wine goblet and took, allowing the dashing man to pull her into a theatrical twirl. A grin split his face in half as he spun her round, prompting uncontrollable giggles from the princess. "More charming..." he placed a kiss on her knuckles, frivolity glinting in his eyes, "... and likable."

"Oh?" The woman smiled, amusement brightening her merry complexion. "You find me likable, My Lord?"

"I doubt you'll find it quite as likable when my fist collides with that pretty nose, Fandral." The firstborn prince pulled his wife back into his own embrace, shooting the playful soldier a glare which was contradicted by an impish grin; Fandral was unsure as to whether he should have been relieved or scared, and could only raise his hands in feigned surrender. 

Thor turned to his princess, softening his gaze as soon as it fell upon her reddened features. She practically slumped against him, burying her face into his athletic chest. 

His hands cradled her head against him; it fit in his palms with ease, and he entwined his fingers in her soft tresses. Thor pressed his lips to her crown and murmured, "I told you not to drink until you are well again, my light."

"Well, I haven't been bed-bound for the last three weeks, have I?"

"I understand, but you don't appear to be in the best of health either," his voice descended into a whisper as he spoke, gently pulling her head back to look up at him. His thumbs brushed the darkened circles around her eyes and spanned both her cheeks which, he realized in disapproval, were hot to the touch. 

"No more wine." His stern eyes bore into hers, his love for her taking the form of fierce sincerity. "That is final."

A pout overtook her lips. "You're no fun."

"That's not what you said last night."

"You brute."

She pulled him into a clumsy kiss, her fingers knotting through his hair as his hands locked her frame against him. Hogun cleared his throat and turned away, while Fandral snickered and Volstagg shared a knowing glance with his comrades. "The wine's sure made Her Highness merry, hasn't it my friends?"

"Aye," mumbled Thor as he emerged from the kiss, eyes lidded and grin wide, "it really has." The group moved to a shaded platform on which a table stood, surrounded by around a dozen stone chairs, which were crawling with twisting vines. The Thunderer set Mjolnir down on the center of the table; the marble wobbled beneath its weight, before stilling, much to everyone else's relief.

Fandral shrugged. "Must be worthy, then."

"I believe that's enough combat for today," said Thor as he guided his wife to her seat, palms glued to the curves of her shoulders. He looked back to the bench where his brother and Sigyn still sat, watching silently. "Brother! Lady Sigyn! Come join us round the table."

At first, Loki seemed not to hear the prince's booming beckoning, or more likely, pretended not to hear it as he sank further into his book. Sigyn's head was laid on his arm, and as soon as she caught the company's eyes on them, she tugged on Loki's sleeve and whispered something to him, causing him to roll his eyes and slowly rise to his feet, leaving the book dejected on the bench behind him. Thor grinned as he approached the table with Sigyn scurrying in pursuit. 

A servant appeared beside the eight, head lowered and a golden plate of assorted fruits outstretched in her hands. Volstagg made a grumble of appreciation and took a fistful of strawberries, trails of red juice trickling from the cracks between his engorged fingers. Sif grimaced in disgust. The fruit maiden set the tray down onto the table, bowed, and left. 

Thor took a vine of bulbous green grapes from the platter and plucked one from the bunch, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger before offering it to the princess. She declined it with a subtle shake of the head, smiling. "Why don't you have it, My Lord."

Thor frowned. "You must eat, my love. Frida informed me of your lack of appetite these last few days. Is there something bothering you?"

"I'm just... not hungry, Thor." Her eyes pleaded with him not to pry further and cause a scene before all their friends. After a moment, he nodded in reluctant compliance. 

"So, Thor," Fandral changed the subject, "what's the situation with the mortal?"

"Jane Foster is secure on Midgard for the time being. The council has decided to move her between Asgard and Midgard every six months to ensure her safety until we find and neutralize the enemy. We have assigned members of the guard to Midgard to protect her during her stays in London."

"It must be awful..." All attention averted to the princess, whose features were clouded with solemnity and compassion. "Being moved around from place to place like property, just because some powerful force decided to seek refuge inside of you, when you had absolutely nothing to do with it."

"Always thinking of others, my love..." Thor's lips met her hairline chastely. "Rest assured, Lady Jane has been very understanding thus far."

Fandral laughed and smiled mirthfully. "Oh, come on, Thor! That's not all you had to say about her when we went to retrieve her for the first time." 

"You'd do well to keep your mouth shut, Fandral."

"Pray tell, what could my husband possibly have said about the mortal that would make his face so red the moment the topic enters our discussion?" she smiled, nudging his elbow with her own; the prince said nothing, but the flare coloring his cheeks betrayed him. 

A wicked grin slithered onto the soldier's face. Thor shot him a glare of warning which he happily ignored. 

"He made an enthusiastic comment on her rear."

"That's enough!" Thor shot up from his seat, knocking it to the floor. The prince's face was red as the ripe apples laid out on the table. Nobody had expected him to get truly upset at the joke, however daring a decision it had been for the soldier to expose this amusing secret. Real fear crossed Fandral's eyes, but as always, it was mixed with a brash sense of playfulness when he turned to all the others and shrugged. 

"This was information I could not, in good conscience, withhold from the Lady."

"Traitor! You'll pay for this, Fandral-"

He felt a strong tug on his arm and looked down to meet the stare of his wife; she silently begged him to sit down again, but he was hesitant. The princess laid a gentle hand upon his; it felt almost like a feather over his skin but it was warm all the same, and he found himself just barely recovering from his bruised pride. "Appreciating one's beauty is hardly a crime," she began carefully, warning him all the while with her eyes, "and I appreciate Lord Fandral's honesty. I thought you would have interpreted his intention for what it was - a harmless jest." 

"I won't allow him to disrespect you with his words."

"Well, I don't feel disrespected, Thor." At her sudden outburst, he fell silent. Frustration evident in her inverted brow, she exhaled shakily, on the cusp of tears. "This is what you always do. You think I can't speak up for myself when need be, and you turn every little thing into something bigger than it really is, simply because you have the absurd idea that everyone is out to insult you."

"Alright!" Fandral stood abruptly, motioning for the quarreling couple to part. "I'm sorry for speaking out of turn. I only wanted to liven your spirits, not cause such disgruntlement between you. I'm sorry, Your Highness, I really am."

Thor stalked to the edge of the platform. The princess sat back down and crossed her arms, chin harshly turned. The training grounds were cast in silence as the Warriors averted their gazes, while the dark-haired prince suppressed a smile.

 

"Be with me," Loki pleaded, searching her eyes for the same desperation that ruled his own. "Be mine."

"You know I can't."

 

Tension overruled his jaw as the events of their prior exchange played once more in his mind, each word and every touch still ringing clear as day. He watched idly as one of Thor's rambunctious friends attempted to ease the strain by changing the subject. Their drivel melded with the sounds of nature around him, enclosing him, trapping him, encasing him with nothing but the feel of Sigyn's head on his shoulder and the slow agony of unfolding memories to keep him company.

 

"Why not?"

"I won't betray him again."

 

Loki watched his brother's monstrous paws clench and unclench, slick gold strands matted upon the nape of his broad neck. Deep breaths indicated a great attempt at calming down as the crown prince's frame rose and fell in time with each speck of snow. Loki risked a fleeting glance at the Lady, who pulled her shawl snug about her shoulders, trembling fingers disappearing into cream fur. Yet again, confusion overthrew him as to why she refused to meet his gaze. Why, after all the times she had abandoned him and made her hatred of him known, did he still harbor the feeble hope that she would see through the spell and somehow prevent it from fulfilling its purpose? It was a question that perturbed him to no end; a source of resentment, frustration and pain.  

 

"Nobody would know. We could be discreet, like we always are."

"Have you no shame?" she spat, retracting her hand from his hold. "I don't understand you, Loki. I don't understand how you can just throw everything away- for this."

"Why do you continue to question my sincerity?" 

Bitter laughter. "Don't pretend you know the meaning of the word."

 

More minutes passed; Thor's breathing slowed to a regular pace - heavy, rhythmic exhales that brought enormous relief to everyone who had just witnessed his sudden outburst. Fury faded from his complexion and he turned, his face darkened by a deep scowl as he slowly made his way back to the table. The princess acknowledged her husband's return, begrudgingly shifting to accommodate his size once he resumed his seat beside her.  

 

A flicker of anger crossed his face before he assumed an unreadable, cold mask. "What will it take for you to realize that you cannot run from what your heart desires?"   

"You've no idea what my heart desires."

 

Loki saw the shadows around her eyes, the accentuated hollow of her cheeks, the crimson tint of mild inebriation on her skin... and it made him shake with both crippling sadness and aggrieved satisfaction at the sight of her suffering. In all the times she had insisted to him her own despair and declared him as the cause of it, he had never once believed her. No, he would never believe that her torment could ever level his own, for he was convinced that no man had ever felt, nor would ever feel, such indescribable pain.

 

"I fail to understand what you ask of me. You want me to betray my husband, leave my home? Throw Asgard's hospitality right back in its face? Risk the lives of my mother and father, all for what?" Her back was against the chair again, eyes full of spite as they trained on his. "To run away with you?"

"I'm not going to beg, woman."

"I'm not asking you to beg, Loki." She brought a hand to her face in anguish. Her eyes snapped shut and when they reopened, they were glistening with tears. "I'm asking you to leave me alone."

 

Every instant the goliath's hands touched her skin was a moment in which Loki pictured burying a blade into each of those filthy claws. Each of the few minutes in which she continued to ignore his attempts at a pathetic apology were minutes Loki treasured, grasping them to his heart before they could eventually pass and before Thor would once again be forgiven. The jealous prince let his gaze glide over the lightning bolts meandering the backs of his brother's hands.

Those thick veins... would each spurt of blood be just as hot as his temper?

 

Defeat stopped him like death. Realization pushed him backwards into the chair; Loki sat there for a long while, numb, slumped against the fabric. "You drank it, didn't you?"

"Drank what?"

 

"I'm sorry?" An abrupt question stirred him from the past. He struggled to formulate some reasonable excuse as to why he hadn't been listening.

"You weren't listening at all, were you?"

Loki responded to Sif with a glare of ice. The warrioress only rolled her eyes, gesturing for Volstagg to repeat his question. The red-bearded giant cleared his throat, "I'd like to congratulate Prince Loki and Lady Sigyn on their upcoming wedding. Have all the preparations for the ceremony been made?"

"Yes!" Sigyn hugged the prince's arm, an enthusiastic smile broadening her features. She looked up at him in clear adoration. "We marry in three days."

"Are you excited, Lady Sigyn?" asked Sif, raising a goblet to her lips to conceal her smirk. 

"More than I've ever been in my life!" The maiden pecked Loki's cheek; the corner of his mouth twitched at the quick touch. Sigyn turned to the princess with an appreciative glance. "Thank you ever so much for helping me choose a gown, Your Highness. They were all so beautiful, I would have fussed over all of them for a whole day had it not been for your guidance!"

The Lady’s smile was wide as she took Sigyn's delicate hand from across the table. "You would have looked absolutely ravishing in all of them, regardless of my intervention."

Her apparent willingness to allow the union to go forth pained and angered Loki. She had expressed her objection to it before, so why was she encouraging it now? Had she finally given up on her heart, on himOr, worst of all... did she truly love him no longer? 

Had he been a mere dalliance to her all along?

"And what about you, My Lord?" Sif leveled his stare with one of iron, though she wore a courteous smile. "Are you excited for the wedding?"

Ah, yes. It all made sense now... 

Thor's wife had had her fun, and now she meant to wipe her hands clean of him. 

Spite consumed the dark prince. He lifted Sigyn's dainty chin with a slender finger and kissed her before them all, thoroughly and deeply. His betrothed sank into his affection almost immediately, velvety tongue engulfing his as he swallowed her whimpers down his own throat. Sigyn had always been... vocal when overwhelmed by passion, so it was no surprise when the rest of the company shifted uncomfortably out of the corner of his eye. 

When at last they broke apart, Sigyn's face was flushed with embarrassment. The princess looked away, robbing him of the reaction of distaste Loki so desperately sought from her. 

"I think that answers your question, Sif," laughed Fandral after a brief pause of nervous hesitation. 

After a period of stale conversation and awkward exchanges, the princess rose from her seat. "I must get back to my sewing; the Allmother will want her swatch completed before evening so that it may be incorporated into the ceremony decor." 

Sigyn frowned. "Oh, you needn't go to so much trouble, Your Highness!"

"It's no bother. In fact, I've grown quite fond of embroidery. I find it... calming." Thor caught her hand as she left, but she feathered a thumb over his knuckles without meeting his apologetic gaze, and pulled away. The group bade her farewell and watched her figure disappear back into the palace. 

Loki and Sigyn left the scene shortly after, followed by the Warriors Three in time for dinner. Thor smiled at Sif and made to leave, but she caught his arm in her firm grip, hard expression beckoning him to linger just a while longer. 

"Thor."

"Do you wish to tell me something, friend?" he asked, brows infamously furrowed in curiosity. Sif let out a steady sigh, hoping he would forgive her for the horrible truth she was about to impart on him.  

 

 

 

The guard approached with diligent strides. The princess had stopped in front of her chambers and beckoned him to meet her, and so he did. It was impolite for a soldier to look a royal in the face when so close together, so he kept his gaze upon the floor and awaited her instruction. 

"Good sir," she began, placing a non-hostile hand on his arm, "would you happen to know where Thor is at the moment? I haven't seen him at all since dinner."

"Lord Thor is in the throne room with the King, Your Highness."

From what he could see, her body relaxed as though defeated, and her next words were laced with disappointment. "So he'll be coming here late in the night, I presume?"

The guard licked his lip, reluctant to bring forth the news. "Lord Thor told me to inform Your Highness that he'll be retiring to his own chambers upon his return tonight."

He was met with silence. The soldier shared her confusion, for the prince always shared a bed with his wife no matter how late his dismissal from Odin. Once, the garrison assigned to her door at dawn had seen his towering figure approach at daybreak, requesting entrance to his wife's quarters as though the sun had not already risen by half. What had changed this time?

"I understand. Goodnight, sir."

"Goodnight, Your Highness."

He resumed his position as she returned to her room.

 

 

 

Bitter tears and rambunctious rain.

 

Eyes of pure coal gleamed with twisted enjoyment as the knife was brought down once more. The bloodied gash darkened scarlet satin. What could have been new life was instead reduced to crimson droplets, spilling onto the floor... then there was nothing but pain. Burning, scorching, scraping pain.

 

"No, please... my darling, no, not like this, never like this!"

 

"There was nothing more that could have been done."

 

Lonely hearts and fearsome pain. 

 

Patches of green, with shades varying from dark to light, begged for a glance. Minuscule black eyes stared back by the millions.  A feeling of renewal, of surging energy, reborn from grief, pushed against the confines and shot through the husk to the tingling fingertips. 

 

A ravenous bird swooped down from the skies, icy talons ripping the serpent from amongst a hoard of innocent lambs, taking it up and away into the unfriendly air.

 

Crimson arrow, frozen flower...

 

Slender fingers lifted a dainty chin. A kiss followed, one thorough and deep and wet. Slithering appendages, twitching flesh, sensual swipes over one another in the hollow of their cheeks, him swallowing her moans down his throat like a silky wine.

 

Ivory skin obscured by emerald sheets, pale bodies entwined upon a king bed. Moving in time with each breath of the wind, each footstep outside the door, each cry of ecstasy. Two people brought together by the darkest of desires, swept up in a torrent of lust, sating the hunger lodged deep inside like the marrow filling their bones. Joined in the most intimate way by which two beings could connect. Sharing pleasure. Indulging in one another. Fulfilling each other. Moving together, moaning, groaning, sweating, thrusting and rutting like dogs in the emptiness of a dark hallway.

 

Heads turning in accusation. Sneers and pointed fingers. Spiteful emeralds and icy glare. 

 

"You said you loved me."

 

Cold, cruel, humorless laugh. "Wherever did you get that idea?"

 

Bind the broken chain of power. 

 

She awoke to nothingness, trapped in a sweltering cage of sweat and tears and something else, something that restricted her movements when she tried to shift away or attempted to scream. A fire burned inside her head; she registered that same heat around her shoulders, wrapped round her form, pressed against her back-

Breathing down her neck.  

Her hands fumbled and felt at the firmness hooked around her body. Arms. Powerful, tense, toned arms. 

A sigh of relief escaped parched lips. "Thor?"

No reply.

Insidious fear coiled in the depths of her stomach. She swallowed; it hurt her throat. The breaths were clearer now... slow, feral, dangerous. A headache tore into her brain, momentarily distracting her from the creeping dread as her hands continued to wander up along the arms. As she drew closer and closer to the shoulders, the breathing quickened in warning but that failed to deter her exploring touch. When at last her thumb landed on the joint, that soft area between shoulder and torso, there came a hiss of agony.

Blood turned to ice in her veins. The name fell from her lips as a realization of horror. 

"Loki-!"

Now her eyes were open to the darkness of her own room as well as the form of her captor as he clamped a searing hand over her nose, lips and jaw, his body a vice from which she struggled to escape. 

"Shhh...!" he begged her to cease her flailing, holding her to his body as though she were the last source of warmth in the world. Her screams were muffled by his unrelenting grip, the whites of her eyes exposed when they widened, baring the look of a person seized by fear for their life. He allowed her elbows to strike his chest and her tears to burn through the cracks of his fingers. He endured her frantic cries for her husband, gritted his teeth when her nails dug into his arms and his face, bit back curses when she sank her teeth into his hand, pulled his hair, or grasped the wound on his shoulder. 

"Please, I'm not here to hurt you," Loki whispered against her temple, now worried himself that someone might hear them from outside. She responded with a glare of doubt and continued to resist him. "Please, darling, just- listen to what I have to say."

Her attempts at fighting back weakened, but the strength in her gaze did not. Loki kept her to him, waiting for her attacks to subside and her stubborn resolve to wane, assuring her all the while that he wouldn't hurt her, that he was only here to talk. "Hush now, love. Please, I need to talk to you."

Minutes passed and her efforts died down to numbness. He felt her quiet sobs vibrate from within her chest through to his own as she slumped against him, her limp hands upon his arms signifying surrender. Deep breaths filled the midnight air as two people relished in the brief silence - the only shred of comfort that could be found amidst disheveled sheets and disoriented minds. 

The calm was broken by Loki, whose voice was completely void of threat. "Promise me you'll be quiet when I release you."

She met his gaze and nodded severely. He removed his hand from her mouth and she craned her head to look up at him; the area around her lips was red and raw, streaks of tears tainting her cheeks which he carefully brushed away with his knuckles. For a while, her glance was soft, tender and full of need. Then it hardened to hurt. 

"What are you doing here?" she asked, ice present in her voice. 

"You called for me."

"Did I?"

"You're running a fever." Loki's expression was unreadable as cool fingers felt her burning skin. Almost instantly, a soothing sensation spread across her forehead and neck where the sickness burned greatest, but she fought the urge to lean into his touch. He kept his focus on her brow, her cheek, her jaw - anywhere but her eyes, which were silently watching his every move, her face just inches away from his. This fascinated her; his apparent hesitance to even meet her eye, despite all the other times he had intimidated and terrorized her using his own. 

Suddenly, his hands fell from her sides. He turned his head from her and coldly declared, "I will call for a healer to see to you immediately."

"Were you woken by my dreams?" 

Loki paused. "... Yes."

Icy betrayal crept into her voice. "You saw them again, didn't you?"

"I had no choice, you called for me and I came-"

"How could you?" her words were thick and sad. "How could you see what you weren't meant to see?"

"I had no choice!" He caught her fist just before it could collide with his chest. The burst of frustration dwindled in seconds, followed by quiet guilt. "I couldn't stop it. I had to see what was happening, what you saw, to make it better!" The struggling came to a halt; she looked straight into the watery, emerald eyes that begged her understanding. She watched him tearfully but with an air of caution, like she expected some trace of a smirk to emerge upon his face at any cursed moment to mock her forgiveness. Seeing no evidence of disingenuity on his features frightened her. Did he truly mean what he said? Or was it her own wishful thinking, just as it always seemed to be?

There was a lump in her throat she could not swallow, along with all the curses she wanted to scream, all the desperate apologies waiting behind her teeth. "What do you know?"

Still, he refused to look at her, but the answer he gave confirmed her dread.

"Everything."

What followed was a blur of grief and anger and submission, and Loki saw no choice but to persevere through it all, bringing her close to him once again when her body crumbled and shook, violent yet subdued for fear of alerting unwanted ears. The moment she pressed her face into his chest was one he would cherish forever - this, cradling her in his arms, touching her, holding her close, would no longer have to remain the distant memory that had once plagued both his sweetest dreams and most harrowing nightmares. This was a new sensation, a fresh warmth he eagerly ingrained into his head, fermented in every bone, buried deep within his soul. 

Here she was, at last... safe beside him, her breast pressed to his heart. 

It wasn't until she pulled back to look at him again that Loki was reminded of just how much he needed this. Although the nature of their heated bodies tangled amidst the sheets did not go unnoticed by him, what he felt sitting beside her ventured far beyond mere desires of the flesh. All he knew was that he craved more - more of this feeling to fill him to the brim, a feeling he could only begin to encapsulate once his mind, heart and being were wholly replete with her.

"I'm sorry..." she said at last, collapsing into another fit of sobs which she quietened into his shirt. His hands soothed her back and stroked her hair for a long while. The gravity of what he had seen in her dreams slowly dawned on him in the dark. 

"Why didn't you tell me from the beginning?"

"I..." Watery eyes searched his with guilt. With trembling hands, she cupped his face, biting her cheek almost hard enough to draw blood. None of it mattered, for it would not even have begun to amount to the pain in her heart anyway. "I couldn't. I'm so sorry."

"Our son..." Her eyes fell shut in agony upon hearing the words while Loki stared blankly ahead, lost in the strangeness of the phrase on his tongue before he could realize his own grief. "Were you going to keep this from me forever?"

"No, of course not." She did not look as though she believed herself. She brought his hand to her lips and kissed each knuckle with care, her movements unhurried. Then she laid her cheek against the back of his hand and released a wavering exhale. "I just didn't know how to tell you."

"It's alright." His reassurance sounded stiff to her; she registered it as distrust and failed to perceive the true reason behind his distant demeanor. He swallowed the reason, deciding that a better time for his confession was yet to come. All he could do in the present was continue to hold her close.

"Don't go." The plea came barely above a whisper, but he heard it all the same... and it touched him. But he'd left Sigyn's bedside in the night, surely she would question his whereabouts in the morning if he stayed?

"You're sick, love. You're not thinking straight."

"Please, Loki..." Her eyes bore into his once more, devouring every doubt he had harbored of what he wanted within their depths. "I don't want to be alone."

He nodded subtly before gently pressing her down onto the bed, feeling his pulse race at her refusal to let go of his hand. He lay beside her as promised, drew her close to him until her back was pressed against his chest, and rested their clasped hands just below her clavicle, right above her heart, her very essence, allowing its steady rhythm to lull them both into sleep. 

Whether this was a result of the fever was the last of his concerns. All he knew and all he needed, as he descended into darkness, was the pulsing heart in his hand.

Chapter Text

Muted birdsong infiltrated the darkness. The morning melody was so soft, so faint, I mistook it for a fading fragment of some dream still lingering in the back of my mind from the prior night. 

Roused by the charming tune, I felt the first caress of cool wind fan my face, followed by another, and then another light breeze that swept over my neck and glided beneath my shift. I shivered at the pleasant chill that soothed my exposed flesh, sighed under its touches over the glistening visage of cold sweat on my skin.

Mellow outlines sharpened into strict edges once my eyes blinked away the sleep around their corners. Gloomy, grey light poured in from the far window as usual; the clear panels displayed a crisp, new layer of snow that had formed over the ground, just like a thick sheet of foam spanning the foundations of the palace. 

It also looked like a colossal dollop of cream. 

The impatient grumble in my stomach begged for acknowledgement. Heat spread across my face; I had only just awoken, and yet the very first thing I did was anticipate my first morsel of the day?

I sucked in a fresh breath, now completely conscious. Instantly, a desert became my mouth, and the canals of my nose, cotton from the dry air raiding my senses.

Water.

I need water. 

The moment I made to reach for the pitcher on the nightstand was when all clouds and cobwebs of drowsiness cleared, shattering fogged glass to reveal memories buried beneath, the barrier broken by frozen fear.

Foreign claws bound my hands to my chest.

Every inch of me tensed. A warm presence shifted against my frigid form, sending ripples of heat between my shoulder blades then all along the hardened curvature of my spine. 

I’d come down with a fever last night. 

I kept my cheek to the pillow, facing away from the madness lounging beside me, the chaos nudging the nape of my neck so tenderly, so bashfully. Already, fire welled behind my eyes; I kept my breaths shallow and movements subdued as I pondered a means, any means - of escape. 

Then I had dreamt a terrible dream - a vision of death and destruction, suffered and survived a night of terror in all its infernal forms. 

Valiant pupils alerted me to the used candle by my bedside, and the brass handle supporting old wax. If only I could free my hands from their prison...

Gathering all my courage, I looked down as endless possibilities and outcomes churned through my head. All the potential ways I could pry my fingers from his grip, the possible confrontations that would result, all the fearful awakenings and failed escapes, alternative routes of safety as opposed to more daring options interwove into one ghastly amalgamation of panic, settling around my brain until my eyes found our knotted hands. 

There, resting on the center of my chest, was us - pale and smooth palm enclosed over my own, slender digits threaded between my fingers in a way that was possessive, assertive, sincere

Loki's hands were beautiful. This I could not deny as I marveled at their elegant design, a form I would have recognized as belonging to a fair lady were it not for the muscle pulled taut over bone, visible and pulsing under alabaster. Thick tendons stretched from the wrist to each defined knuckle, similar to the menacing detail of marble claws attached to the many stone beasts adorning the palace. They strayed completely from the appearance of my husband's hands, for where Thor was littered with fibrous gold hairs, Loki was not, and while Thor's skin emulated honey transpierced by the morning sun, Loki's was snow in the dead of night - cool, white and untarnished... alluring and mildly aglow. 

The veins over Loki's hand demanded my wonderment as well. No prominent bolts of lightning branched out upon his skin but small tapered streams, snaking across the snow and in between his fingers with their electric blue made visible by his translucent complexion. I had not noticed them before... until I realized the reason for this was that I'd never dared come so close to the prince of my own accord - not since that night in the gardens.

I felt the warmth of our threaded fingers over my chest, between my breasts, felt it seep through the skin and penetrate the muscle between my ribs to wrap around the beating soul beneath. His touch melded with mine in a sight so natural, so normal, so- visceral and at peace, I couldn't help the feeling of awe that overcame me as I abandoned all thoughts of escape, just to watch the clasp rise and fall over my heart in time with my breaths. 

I was enthralled. Captivated. Moved by the gentle exhales behind my ears, touched by the surrealism of how the hands that had burned me, shoved me, tightened round my throat and injured my wrist, now held me for the first time in years, exhibiting a kindness I had never known from him; a mercy only the God of Lies could grant me. 

A heavy feeling washed over me. It was thick and full and aching inside my chest, before it spread throughout my limbs to the very hairs on the back of my neck. I couldn't place the exact nature of this emotion, nor define the cause behind it, but it brought upon me the devastating acceptance that no matter how much I willed it, we could not stay here, entwined in my bed, forever. 

I knew he was awake when he feathered a thumb over mine. A flush of heat crawled up my neck. I braced myself for the reaction that was to come once I spoke first. 

"This was a mistake."

I hadn't meant to sound so cold, so cruel, but it was true - the first thing that had seized my mind was the fear of being discovered, the shame of lying next to my husband's brother, sleeping in a frost giant's embrace without so much as a single objection. The onslaught of scandal that would drag us both under the current, especially since the wedding of Loki to the chancellor's daughter was tomorrow. 

And what of Thor? I hadn't seen him at all last night; what if he decided to visit now?

"This was perfect," Loki said suddenly, and I could feel his body adopt a foreboding tension against mine. "Everything was- you were..." he paused as if unsure of what to say, or too hurt and shocked to know exactly how to communicate his meaning. "Why? Why did you have to defile it with your cruel words?"

I didn't answer. I couldn't! I only stared beyond the window at the icicles that formed upon the glass, the coldness now mirrored in the forced disentanglement of our intertwined hands. Still, continual cowardice prevented me from turning around to face him.

The bed shifted under his weight; I didn't dare see how he moved, how he looked, what tortured expression he bore as liquid scorn dripped from every word passing through his teeth. "Perhaps I failed to satisfy the sweet woman who fell asleep in my arms last night, for I see she has left me once again."

"She can never come back, and you know it." My jaw ached from holding back tears as I prayed to every imaginable deity that Loki would treat me to his mercy once more and leave the room. "I've said all I needed to say. You know everything. Now you must marry Sigyn and let us go our separate ways."

"Just like that? You seek my comfort, my presence, only to cast me out when you no longer have use of me?"

"Please don't twist my words."

"Oh, but it's true, is it not?" The mattress groaned in protest when he stood. I heard his daunting footsteps make their way around the bed, circling slowly until his towering figure came into view, standing at the foot of my bed. I didn't look at him. His barbs took on a new bitterness, something vicious and icy and oh, so painful to hear. "I know you rue the day you fled to the library and met me. I know the memory of my hands on your body, my cock filling your cunt, haunts your nights." He did not warn me of the gentleness his touch would bring as more spiteful words stung my chest; I had expected a powerful whip, a crack of lightning, an icy fist- anything but soft fingers tilting my chin to face his fury, whilst hatred burned from his tongue. The confusing contrast of delicate touch and brutal derision sent a chill down my spine. 

"Tell me, sweetheart," he sneered, features twisted in contempt, "do these thoughts make your skin crawl? Does the touch of a filthy frost giant send a shiver through your trembling form?"

"This isn't you." Hesitation flickered across his eyes; a flash of gold vanished into inky resentment just as soon as it appeared. But now that he'd forced my gaze, I needed to keep it trained on his, despite the flood of emotions which blurred my vision. "Don't be the monster who parents tell their children about at night, the tyrant Asgard calls you."

"The people label me a beast, a serpent, the very embodiment of chaos and untruth." He swiped my damp lashes with a gentle thumb. "And I have learned to wear that title like armor to my breast." Now his finger passed over my cheekbone, his palm rested upon my jaw. I quivered when his touch found my lips; first tracing the upper edge with tantalizing patience, then bringing the same intense calculation to the lower lip, parting them with a careful tilt of my head... before Loki dipped his thumb into my mouth. 

"I have grown to accept the name they have chosen for me..." the cold digit sliding over my tongue ignited a fire in my groin, a primal need between my thighs which only grew once desire corrupted his eyes to onyxes. His grip on my face tightened, forcing a suckle on the invading finger - a dark hum rumbled in his throat. "But do you, wife of Thor, successor to Frigga's crown - accept yours?"

Short, detached sobs possessed my body as Loki's shadow imposed on where I lay. This man- nay, monster blocked the light from my skin with his louring silhouette and his dragon's gaze; each sinew and bone in his body filled to the brim with a violent thirst for revenge. 

"Are these tears of fear," the prince removed his thumb from my mouth; I gasped for breath, "or of hatred?"

The answer poured from me, raw and untamed. "They are tears of remorse."

Loki fell silent. Perhaps this was not the answer he had expected, but it was the truth I needed him to hear. Just one last apology, one final attempt to give him closure for all the wrongs I had done him before the man I loved would forever remain out of my reach.

A wedding gift, I thought dryly, already forming sentences in my mind. Or, more truthfully, a parting present - before the inevitable separation. Before the coronation. Before his life would be bound to Sigyn, and mine to Asgard. 

I knew this could very well be the last chance for me to tell him everything, and admit to him just how much I-

"I'm sorry, Loki." I took his hands in my own and stood, regaining my bravery. He looked back searchingly, fierce emotion now muted by perplexity. With the leaden sky behind him, framing his figure, sweeping over his stark white skin, he appeared just as he did in my dreams, the kind I had only let myself wish for on rare, lonely nights - bright, undefined, and beautiful. Guilt wallowed in my stomach as the weight of our locked hands grew heavier than worlds. 

"I'm sorry," I continued, strained, "for keeping our child from you when I should have told you the moment he..." I cursed the frown that distorted my face; I must have looked an utter misery here in front of Prince Loki, a perfect trickster after whom the women of Asgard lusted, the subject of my perpetual torment. He had never once called me 'pathetic' to my face, which came as a surprise, for I had seen contempt in his eyes many times before. I expected nothing different now.

"Did you think I wouldn't care?" A hollowness sunk his words. A flame flickered within deep green orbs. "That I would dismiss your suffering and the death of our baby for lack of mind? Is that truly your judgement of my character?"

"I just couldn't bring myself to tell you that I had lost our son-" Tears sprang to my eyes. I bit them back no longer, letting them fall freely over my cheek. My head turned away instinctively. "Every time I closed my eyes, I would see red, smell the stench of copper, and seeing you reminded me of everything I had lost. I was afraid you'd turn from me, blame me, punish me for what I'd done."

I felt naked, stripped down to the essence of my identity by allowing him this glimpse of vulnerability, this bare admission of my regret. 

Crying in front of Thor hadn't been easy, but this... this was a new frontier altogether, and this time, I was without the delirium of a fever to help me overcome it.

Was this a sign of submission? Of weakness? Perhaps. But I owed him this. I was a woman of honor, after all. 

"What you'd done?" he echoed, overcome by incredulity and something else; Loki blinked, and once his eyelids parted, revealed heavy emotion of his own. "Don't tell me you're foolish enough to believe the death of our child was in any way your doing."

My eyes snapped up to meet his. The conviction in his tone had gripped my heart, but the strange reluctance in his gaze sprouted questions in my mind. I couldn't place that rare, distant look as I watched his thoughts turn in his head through glazed orbs. 

Could it be... guilt?

Yes, I realized in shock, but for what?

"What do you mean?" I asked cautiously, loosening my grip from his. The prince stared at me, wordless for a long while, grave expression unchanged. It was like a battle raged within his head - a score being settled, an internal war I could never begin to comprehend. It would be a hopeless endeavor anyway - I was tired of trying to solve the riddle of Loki's thoughts, only to emerge even more misguided than before. 

Loki's hands fell to his sides and formed tight fists. "You could not have known an assassin was nearby."

"Oh, but I did," my words were much too heavy, my tears too hot, "I felt that something was wrong. And despite my own instincts, I charged straight into the fire like a moth, why? Why was I so foolish?"

"You wanted to protect the Queen of Alfheim." 

"And at what cost?"

"One you didn't know of."

"And if I had?" Loki frowned as I looked on in agony. "Our son would have lived, Loki. He would have lived."

The deathly silence which followed was more than I could bear. It was not until he spoke at last, that the will to face him again returned to my body. 

"If our son had survived," Loki's words were grave and worn, "they would have discovered us. They would have killed him regardless, along with you." His burning eyes captured mine; an unspoken promise trembled on the verge of his lips. "And I will never let that happen."

A pull at the corners of my mouth sent a stab of pain through my cheeks. To him, it might have been a grimace, a broken smile, even. But I knew it was a break deep inside, an unprecedented change of heart, an excruciating lapse into defeat. "I can't do this anymore."

"Do what?"

"Lie." The word caught in my throat like poison. "I'm not built like you; I'm prone to being broken down by guilt. I feel remorse burn through me for what I've done, for all the people I have hurt since I've been here." I tried, damn it, I tried not to fall before him, not to allow him the satisfaction of seeing such a display of weakness - but one stolen glance at Loki saw my downfall. "I'm nothing but a disease, a slow-burning sickness posing as future queen of Asgard, a snake to which they entrust the crown." 

"You have done far more than they are humble enough to thank you for."

"You don't understand. You never will. What does it matter if I've done good for the people, if I can't even give them the honesty they deserve?" 

"Do you think yourself a savior?" Loki glared through my skull. Through wide eyes, he willed me to take on a new perspective, goaded me into witnessing my own delusion. "Do you believe you’re the only hope of your people? Their one salvation, just because a father was cruel enough to pawn his own daughter off to the son of Odin?"

"You’d do well to hold your tongue, trickster."

"No, Your Highness,” the heat of his heavy breaths scalded my face; he was close again - impossibly close, and rage radiated from his skin in waves. "I won’t stand in silence as you drone on about your- your fantasies of liberation, of leadership. You think the people will sing your praises when Thor is king? Is that really what you believe?"

"Stop now, or I’ll-"

"Where was their gratitude when you saved her life?" He advanced - I stepped back, the sudden brush of his torso having burned my skin. Loki paid no heed to my discomfort. "Where was their support when you lay bedridden, without your husband to care for you? Where is their love when Thor isn’t standing by your side?"

"Please, don’t make me-"

"Apart from your mother and father, and the Allmother, I suppose, who else has fooled you into thinking you have any say in the matters of the kingdom? When the time comes to make a great decision; one that will determine the fate of both realms, and Thor’s ideals conflict yours, what makes you think anyone would stop for a second," he lifted an accusatory finger, "to listen to you?"

"Loki..."

"Do you think they would have cared about my victory at the tournament, had Thor not stood and applauded me first? Is it your belief that defeating one foe and having my face painted in books would automatically warrant a serenade of my triumph? Do you expect the King of Alfheim to gladly accept a seat at the same table as a frost giant, now that I've 'made a name for myself'?! Do you truly believe our lives matter in the grand scheme of things?

"Tell me, Your Highness," sneered the prince, ensnaring my waist with an arm like a viper, "what use would the Aesir have for a realm of carpenters?"

Suddenly, the title I had worn with pride now stung like a vulgarity, a ghastly bitterness on the tip of his tongue. 

Up close, he was a terrifying creature. Complexion too pale, cheekbones too defined, jaw jagged and eyes like a wolf. Black hair only complimented each arresting feature, and as he tilted his head back, grey light cast stark shadows upon all the nuances of his face. "There is no place for those like you and me in this world. Soon, you will become like Mother was - obedient, quaint, and pregnant. Then, once you fulfill your 'purpose', you will be trapped - right here, in these glittering confines, forever an ornament by the King’s side, until he dies and you perish with him."

"And you?" I didn't bother swallowing questions I had. I ached for this to be over, but also to discover where he stood in all this, what his part was amid the mayhem we had created. "What will become of you?"

"Me? Well, I shall be cast out into darkness." Unnatural laughter tore from his lips as I fought his hold, which tightened upon my hips with ease. "But rest assured; one day, I will make them see what they neglected to see from the very beginning. I will crush their legions and bring upon them glorious vengeance... perhaps, even with an army of my own."

"Empty threats will not make them love you." My eyes darted about his face for some sign, any sign of rationality within his hard stare and shark's grin - but there was none. Now, a stranger locked me in his cold embrace, and I could do nothing but cling on to the last shreds of my own sanity. "How will you gain their trust by becoming the very thing Thor swore to protect them from?" 

His lips closed upon his grin. A thin line sliced across his face, then spread to the ends of his jaw in a fracture as clean as it would be on the cracked features of a golem. I did not understand how one man could wear so many faces; it pained me to think of how he could possibly bear such confusion, such havoc in the hole of his own identity.

"What makes you think I plan to gain their trust?"

"It's useless to think these things, anyway." His grip slackened from my hips for a fraction of a second. I contemplated shoving him aside to make my escape, but that prospect was momentarily crushed by the power of his stare. "Sooner or later, you must accept Thor's rule. He will be King of Asgard, and I, his queen. You're only denying the inevitable."

"No..." Venom slithered into his voice, right in between the cracks of my crumbling resolve. He leaned in closer still, until the tip of his nose dug into my temple, and his lips cut the flesh of my cheek. 

"That would be you."

This was my chance. I dug my nails into his face and brought his head down upon the nearest bedpost. Without delay, I fled from the scene, wishing the distant roar of pain would cease to grapple my heart. 

Acid burned in my legs. I ran as fast as they could carry me, away from Loki, away from his mad prospects and fearsome grip, far from his poisonous tongue and broken conscience. Passing golden drapes and swirling patterns made bile rise in my chest. I needed to get away from the palace and its delicate designs, its luxurious facade and glimmering games. 

 

I needed to breathe.

 

Irksome birdsong flooded my ears as I stumbled out into the garden. I trudged through the snow, past the icicles suspended from naked branches, past the crystallized and brittle blossoms, past my beloved rosebush that still stood unyielding against the unforgiving winter. 

Perched high upon a twig, a cardinal preened and guzzled a native berry. Its crimson feathers prickled in awareness; black, beady eyes turned to me, before the bird took off in search of new fruit.

I stopped before the sheltered stone bench, where none other than Sigyn sat, cloaked in fur against the cold. 

I was suddenly aware of how poorly dressed I was, wearing only a billowing nightdress to protect me from the frigid chill. Her eyes came alight when they fell on me, then clouded with immense concern. "Your Highness-!"

"Sigyn..."

"What are you doing out here without your shawl?!" she grasped my arm and led me inside the gazebo, hastily removed her cloak, and draped it over my shoulders. We sat round the table; a silver tray rested near the edge, containing an ornate pitcher and a single cup. Sigyn's obvious determination to be of help dissuaded me from refusing her antics. The additional cold sweeping beneath my flimsy shift left me no choice but to oblige her. 

"Prince Thor will be furious if he finds you here. You need to recover!"

"I..." she eagerly awaited my answer, the curious green of her gaze stirring guilt inside me. Excuses raced through my head. This was my chance to beg her forgiveness, to confess my sin. What little morality that still existed in me could be salvaged right here, right now, if I had the courage to look her in the eye and reveal to her my deepest, darkest secret.

Instead, my mind formed a question, a distraction, a decoy. "Why do you sit alone in the cold?"

Immediately, she opened her mouth, only to close it as sadness crossed her eyes. "Loki did not call upon me this morning." Her head turned to the cup on the table, then back to me. A timid hesitance crept into her tone. "May I... talk to you about something, Your Highness?"

My brow arched in vexation. "Of course, darling girl." Her hands, clasped in her lap, trembled notably. In spite of myself, I enclosed a palm over hers. 

A shuddering sigh left her lips. "Loki hasn't- visited my chambers for a while. In fact, I only ever see him now when the b-both of us are called to dine with Prince Thor and the Warriors."

"Well," my heart churned against my ribs, "why do you think that is?"

"Father said it is common for a prince to take multiple consorts before marriage, and to perhaps expect the same even after we are wed. I didn't like the sound of that at first... no, not at all. I remember saying: "To Hel with him if he shall not stay faithful!" A single, forlorn laugh. "But now that it's happening..."

Ice seized my pulse. "You mean to say Prince Loki has been- seeking the companionship of others?" 

No. It wasn't possible. It couldn't be possible!

Sigyn's face burned red. She replied with great difficulty. "That... is what I believe, yes."

Loki, the promised prince, taking whores to his bed? Behind Sigyn's back... behind mine? 

"How can you be sure?" The girl flinched when my hand clamped down on her own. I didn't mean to frighten her with my anger, my disbelief, but I couldn't control the growing wrath from bleeding into my voice, hot and quick.

Sigyn gulped. "I've seen handmaidens... his own, of course- leave his chambers."

"That means nothing!" I snapped. A barrier shielded me from the reality that, should I choose to accept it, would disprove everything I thought I knew about the God of Mischief. I knew my walls were futile and my denial, stubborn but still - I defended Loki. To the ends of the earth, I would defend him. "Handmaidens come and go from our rooms all the time-"

"No, Your Highness, I saw-" Tears broke free from her eyes. Not even by gritting my teeth, biting my cheek and drawing blood, could I hold back my own. Perhaps a throb in my mouth would retract from the suffering inside my chest. "I saw him... with her, with one of them. I forgot to knock and went inside- oh, Odin, I should have knocked! Why didn't I knock?!"

I watched her cry. Her sobs pierced the air like daggers sheathed in snow. Even in her weakest moment, in her darkest hour, she remained undeniably beautiful. Sigyn looked my way again; "I know it may seem insolent of me, but Your Highness... how do you deal with it? Please, tell me how you cope-"

"I'm afraid I cannot help you, Lady Sigyn." The words came like steel - cold and unforgiving. "My husband has always been, and will always be, true to me. I have never had to 'deal' with his betrayal, and for him to sully our marriage with such blatant disrespect as your intended has shown you, would mean the end of our trust."

Sigyn stopped, stilled her quivering lip, and smiled.

It was an expression that would follow me forever - a visible break in a maiden I'd long despised and dismissed as nothing more than a charming husk, a pretty exterior, a hollow nymph.

"If that is true," she said, "then this must just be my misfortune."

Her fingers wrapped around the handle of the pitcher. I envied their length, their slender form, the way they were pale and untouched like the snow surrounding us as she poured a clear liquid into the cup. Gentle wisps of steam circled the rim in a manner which was... oddly familiar.

"May I have a sip?" I gestured to the drink with interest. Sigyn wiped her eyes with her sleeve, and shook her head. 

"I would love to treat you to some, but Queen Frigga made it very clear no one is to drink this draught except for me."

"The Queen has fashioned you a draught?"

The girl nodded. "She called me to her chambers and bade me drink it."

"Did she ask you a series of questions?" My claws dug into her shoulders and shook them, as if the information might fall from her lips like a key from a contraption. I was so close - my feet danced right upon the verge of understanding, and I would only tumble over if she gave me the final, most vital piece of the puzzle. 

"Erm, it happened so long ago, I don't think I remember-"

"What did she say it was for?" Urgency thickened each word, tightened my grip. "Please, Sigyn. Try to remember."

Alas, my own experience with the Queen, when I tried to recall it, had been reduced to a misty haze of velvety words and spices and mosaics, despite the encounter having taken place only weeks before today. 

"A mortar..." Sigyn uttered at last, glancing at the cup on the tray. "She held my hands upon a mortar."

Thank Valhalla. "What was in the mortar, Sigyn?"

Her eyes screwed shut in concentration. I followed each flicker of her eyelids with manic attention, cursing inwardly when they opened again and she answered apologetically, "... I can't remember."

"You can, precious girl, you can. Look at me, look straight into my eyes and nowhere else." She obeyed, forest green portals riddled with frustration and uncertainty. I made sure each and every word came through loud, clear and concise. "What did she make you do afterwards?"

"The Queen..."

"Yes, yes, the Queen! What did Her Majesty do next?"

Sigyn stared vacantly ahead for an eternity. Then, like the tide, she turned. "A spell."

"What spell, Sigyn?" I clutched her hands, feeling the tremors of fear and disorientation. "What did she say?"

"No, she didn't say anything. I-I think..." she struck her fists against her temples and let forth a grunt of irritation. I should have felt sorry for causing such inner turmoil... but in the case of Sigyn, I didn't. "I think it was me."

"What do you mean?"

"I think I'm the one who spoke over the mortar and made the potion."

"Potion, you say?"

"The Allmother referred to it as such. That's all I can recall. After that, it's become a weekly habit of mine to collect a pitcher from her chambers. I don't really know what compels me to do so, but- it feels like she told me to. It feels like... something I need."

Ice shards pierced my heart. "A prescription."

She held my stare, surprised. "Precisely."

I stood. The bitterness of the breeze was no match for that in my chest as I swiped the tray off the table with a roar. A deafening clatter tore through the wind. Sigyn jumped to her feet in hurt and confusion. 

The colorless liquid splattered onto the snow, disappearing into white as soon as they had touched. 

"What is the meaning of this, Your Highness?!"

"You must never let that liquid, that- poison, past your lips ever again. It means to rob you of all free will, barter your heart like cheap jewels at the marketplace!"

"But... why?" Sigyn stepped back when I moved, a bold wariness in her eye. "Why would Her Majesty do such a thing?!"

I let my gaze fall upon the palace, suddenly emboldened by rage. "Why, indeed." 

Rolling my shoulders back and straightening my spine, I stalked away from the gardens, leaving Sigyn behind in the snow. My bones were iron under cold skin, my muscles fire reborn from old ashes, my heart a fist lodged deep within my ribs. 

Not even the piercing bite of winter would deter me from reclaiming the answers I sought. I didn't care if that meant dragging my numb body around the palace in search of the Queen herself or him, so that I could demand the explanation Sigyn and I, the Ladies of Asgard, deserved. 

I heard the girl call after me through the draft, but I did not stop. What I'd learned by bumping into her that morning could only have been branded as three things: cruel fate, a sickening jest, or the work of the gods tampering with our lives for their own short-lived amusement. 

Nevertheless, I would show them.

My heart was not to be toyed with. 

 

 

 

Feet against marble. Fists by my sides. Icicles on my skin. I burst into my chambers to find them empty, tidied, clean - without a remnant of what havoc we had wreaked not an hour before. I took to his room next, scowling at the virtually untouched decor, and at the young servant who busied herself inside. 

"You there," I hollered; she jumped at the sound, dropping the books she'd been organizing as her grey eyes blew wide in alarm. "Where is Loki?"

The chambermaid blinked once. She was pretty. Young, shy and untouched... 

Just as he would prefer. 

She stammered beneath the glare of diamonds, timid as a little mouse under the watch of a cat. "I don't know, My Lady."

Curses! I continued through the halls, hasty, unrefined. I'd wandered about for so long, the fire in my blood had begun to burn out. Aimless marching took me to an unfamiliar part of the palace. Foreign halls, pervaded by eerie silence. Plain pillars lined the empty space in rows. They divided the filtered sunlight into orderly segments of white, so that while every other column basked in light, each of the others were cast in shadow. 

It was unlikely that I would find anybody skulking behind one of the columns, so I turned to leave. 

My blood froze. My heart lurched to my throat, suspended by hitched breath. 

A tall, dark figure approached. He stood, barely exposed by a beam of sunlight under the stone arch from where I had come. Muscle hardened in my jaw when I saw the Prince of Asgard. 

Only it wasn't the broad frame of my husband fuming at the end of the hallway. 

It was Loki. 

I fought the panicked urge to move backwards, to run, to flee from the murder in his stare and the menace in his movements - slow, patient, and waiting to strike. As a crimson trail glistened upon his temple in the sun, his intention was clear. 

I had pushed past the boundary too far, broken it in a fit of fearful haste. And now... there was no going back.

"You're afraid." Loki stepped forward. I heard the desperate palpitations of my heart deep in my ears. The air turned sour and humid.

"And I have every reason to be," another step, "what reassurance do I have that you won't kill me right here, right now?"

A sickly smile mangled his mask. "I wouldn't dream of it."

"... Good," I said, persisting even as he continued to advance, "then we may speak at last."

"We speak all the time, Your Highness. I'm afraid I don't quite understand-"

"I have been enlightened."

For a brief moment, his brows furrowed in genuine interest. "'Enlightened'?"

"Yes." Already, tears of anguish threatened to overflow. "I have learned a great many things today, things that make me curse the day I ever thought to place my trust in you."

"Trust?" He stepped forth once more, his words reduced to broken hisses. "You want to speak of trust?!"

"You've told me before - it's a foolish endeavor; trusting the God of Lies, the Trickster of Asgard, Loki Liesmith-"

He was within arm's reach now. "Best hold your tongue, or I'll-"

"You'll- what, My Prince?" His hot breath fanned my lips. I resisted the instinct to recoil in discomfort and shock, instead leveling his stare. "K-kill me? Snap my neck? Or, better yet, give me frostbite, just like the last time you failed to control your anger."

He receded, surprise crossing his face. "What's turned you so feisty, sweetheart?"

"Do you think yourself above consequence?" I asked, glancing at his parted lips, then back to the trouble in his eyes. "Do you feel nothing when you abandon Sigyn; the girl who has devoted her life to you, for days on end? When you are... hounding me, damning me to Hel for the simple crime of wishing to remain loyal to my husband?" I fought the ugly frown molding my face, but it, coupled with the hot sting of tears, was too hard to hold back. "When you take servants- whores to your bed, with no regard for the shame you bring upon your betrothed? Upon yourself?"

Then came the feared touch. He grasped my forearms, leaned in close, spittle flying as he spat; "I fuck whores because it is within my right as Prince. I am bound by no commitment as of now, until tomorrow..." Loki breathed in deep, eyes falling shut as he swallowed, "but you... you have always belonged to Thor, yet here you are again."

"So it is true." Hearing him say it was akin to having a blade pierce my heart. I suddenly felt so- stupid, foolish and naive as I recalled all the times where I'd defended him, or kept our secret hid for fear it would threaten his safety. What was it all for? "You lie to Sigyn and openly disgrace her name. You claim to love me, all the while fornicating with other women you would throw away once you tire of them, just as you will do with us."

"It is not their names I curse when I wake in the night, restless and wanting." His gaze raked my face; I felt it burn the skin to the bone beneath. His words stirred a flutter in my stomach. "You think you're innocent, righteous, above me in each and every way... but I beg to differ."

"Don't pretend to know anything about me."

"Then tell me this - where was your husband in your dream? Or did I interrupt it before he could appear?"

Damn him. "You had no right to see them-"

"Ah." He bit back a smug grin. "The virtuous Lady of Asgard, perfect, proper, pristine, has revealed herself to be a woman after all - with wants and desires, secrets and impure inclinations..."

"And who's fault is that?" I growled, shoving him back. Sunlight hit his face, and I could see every crevice, every imperfection upon the man I had once thought perfect. Blood ran down his cheek. His chest heaved as though it contained fire, his glower hardened with brewing rage and confusion. I ignored it. "Who's fault is that?!"

Loki looked at me, anger simmering down to uncertainty. I shouted. I no longer cared if anyone overheard, or reported us. I would have deserved that, anyway. "At first I thought Frigga wanted the truth from me, so I complied... as any good wife would have to the mother of her husband, as any loyal subject would have to their queen."

"What are you talking about?"

"But then, when recalling the strange questions she had asked me, I knew this had something to do with you." I walked into the light, towards him, looked him in the eye as hazy memories and terrible discoveries merged into one clear consensus. "I thought it was poison... yes, I did. I thought both you and the Allmother were making an attempt on my life. I thought you plotted to get rid of me because of my involvement with you."

His expression was unreadable, but his eyes held... pain. "It wasn't a poison."

"I figured that wasn't the case when you continued to seek me out. You said and did horrible and impossible things, like when you asked me to be with you, or when you kissed Sigyn in effort to arouse my jealousy. Then, in a feverish daze, I let you sleep beside me. I trusted you, Loki, only for you to threaten me again. I ran into the gardens, and spoke with the woman who is to become your bride tomorrow.

"As we conversed, I learned she too had visited Her Majesty, and like me, she'd been prescribed a draught she helped make... only we've both nearly forgotten what happened. I thought this was rather peculiar, since I only drank it less than a month ago. But later, I connected this detail with my own feelings, and now all my torments and irrational desires are finally explained.

"It didn't make sense that I still wanted you, after all these years. There was no reason for me to pine for you, dream of you, love you after what you'd done to me. You, who gave me a child, only for it to be torn from my body before I had a chance to hold him in my arms! You, who would toy with the trust of men and the hearts of women, hinder my happiness with my husband. Sigyn remains eternally devoted to you as well, and I fear I know why.

"It was not a simple draught, nor a poison you conspired with your mother to give us. It was a love potion, wasn't it? Designed to tie us to you, so that we would react at your whim. Poison would have taken our lives; our deaths would mean the end of the game, and god knows you want to keep the game going, no matter how atrocious the rules. Well, guess what? I'm ending it now."

I caught my breath. The words poured from me uncontrollably - all bottled feelings, all hidden suspicions, were now set free. 

The prince looked at me for a long time. In the light, I saw him for exactly who he was... what he was. 

And he saw me. 

"You're right," he said, giving a small smile. He blinked, and a lone tear rolled down his cheek. "The spell was supposed to strengthen attraction, to ease the difficulty of settling into an arranged marriage. Mother brewed a potion for Sigyn, and one for me."

Just when I thought I had figured out Loki's intentions, he posed yet another enigma. "So... you drank it as well?"

"Do you think I didn't try to love Sigyn?" His voice was coarse as the intensifying wind pelting against the windows. "You think it was enjoyable for me, a philanderer, as you have so unkindly labeled me, to be thrust into a betrothal with a girl I would sooner see disappear than call my wife, had I the choice?!"

"Have you truly no care for her? No kindness you can spare for the poor girl?"

"Do not make as if you don't hate her as much as you wish she weren't engaged to me."

"If the potion worked, then you and your mother have done her a great disservice."

"It worked for her, yes." He paused, never escaping my gaze. "But Mother does not practice dark magic, no matter how ardently I have recommended to her its uses. So even when I sought her help, forcing someone's emotions was out of the question. She insisted on encouraging attraction and letting it grow into a deeper connection, not forging infatuation."

"But I don't understand; why did it work for us and not for you?"

Loki bit his lip. He seemed suddenly nervous, and perplexed. "It didn't work for you. It was supposed to make you love Thor, after I told Mother about us."

I blinked once. Then again. And then again, until I regained some semblance of clear-headedness, some bare excuse for composure. 

The blond hair.

Frigga's words. 

Everything was clear... and I had dug myself into a grave. 

"But you don't love Thor, do you?" His voice held a challenge, a revelation, relief. 

I wasn't in love with Thor. I was never in love with him, but I'd grown to care for him beyond what I thought myself capable. Still, this did not change the fact that I wasn't in love with him. Time had allowed a bond to form between us, but in the end...

I was not in love with my husband. 

The path to my succession should have been easy. I had trained to command the affections of men, studied the mannerisms of the public and tailored my approach accordingly to gain their support. Surely, learning to love the man I was to call King should not present such a struggle?

I was wrong.

Before Loki, everything I knew had been set in stone. Father would praise me for all my little accomplishments, and Mother would do the same. I was always their darling daughter, their 'little queen', always right. Before Loki, I'd never truly doubted my purpose on Asgard, or my goals, for that matter. They had stayed the same throughout my entire life: marry Odinson. Inherit the crown. Make peace between the realms. Support your home. 

Make your family proud. 

Indeed, pride was a shield I held to my chest, warding off those who dared question it. For if I must sacrifice my happiness for duty, then could I not at least have pride as my one true possession? 

Now, I was forced to set it aside for a man who took pleasure in humiliating me. Who held my heart in his hand and refused to return it. Who I could not escape no matter how passionate my hatred burned, but was also the only one who had humbled me, and made me consider the possibility that I was more than the destiny others had planned for me. The one who came to me in sickness and held me as I slept. The man I'd cast out and abandoned, simply because the mere sight of him forced me to confront my own truth - the truth I'd denied for far too long. 

For once, in the entirety of my life, I allowed an error in my purpose, a lapse in my ambition, to prevail.

"The spell won't work if you're in love with another," said Loki, eyes glistening with bright, beautiful hope. No other sight would ever match this. No other sensation would ever amount to the warmth flooding my chest, flowing through my veins, shining from my eyes like the rays of winter sun cast upon us in the empty hall. "That can only mean-" The prince appeared shocked, disbelieving, the pieces falling into place in his head. His mouth opened, then closed in distrust, then parted once more to say something but I silenced him with my lips. 

I kissed and kissed him, knowing I would never be brave enough to claim him like this again. I kissed the moisture from his eyes, savoring the bitterness there, worshiping the skin on his nose and cheeks and chin, and oh, how sweet he tasted! I buried my fingers in his hair; so dense and lush, pressed him to me and kissed his open mouth - greedy, fervent, unashamed. When he growled, he breathed fire into my body; trembling hands skimmed indecisively over my waist before pushing me against a pillar by my hips. 

This was just as I remembered. Leather under my palms, body burning my own, lips hot and unrelenting as the summer sun, whose warmth I would have forgotten were it not for the reminder of Loki's searing touch. Cold air disintegrated into his bruising kiss, and would have swept me off the ground had the icy stone against my back not tethered me to reality. 

And when we broke apart at last, needing air, I took his face in my hands and smiled, laughing as he brushed my tears away with a shaking thumb. 

I didn't want to be hisI needed him to be mine. 

 

My Loki. 

 

Just for now, before sacred vows could take him from me forever.

Chapter Text

Loki was mine. 

He was here, at last - not as the cruel apparition who had tormented me in dreams, but in the flesh... holding me, touching me, loving me. He was here, pressed to my heart, claiming my lips, breathing life into my lungs and clutching my face in his hands as I held them in place, unable to get enough of this wanton kiss, the sweet sync of our mouths, the nectar on our tongues. We broke apart for air. He drew a sharp breath, and as the hard evidence of his need brushed the inside of my thigh, no words could describe just what I craved. 

Dark eyes bore into my own. A brief pause followed, filled only by the intensity of shallow breaths. Maybe I should have filled it instead with heartfelt words, or even lusty declarations of what I wanted to do to him, but in that moment; lost in the space between dreams and reality, I knew no language but the passion of his mouth as he crushed it against mine, fueling the ache in my core. Wandering hands crawled along his arms, kneading the taut flesh, bracing the powerful muscles keeping me trapped against cold stone. 

An icy finger brushed me through the front of my shift. A shock passed through my body, so sharp it was almost painful. He pressed my sex through the silk, grinning against my lips as the fabric grew damp beneath his touch. Another graze of his palm against my core and I tore from the kiss, eyes screwed shut as I whimpered into his neck. 

The scent of leather engulfed my senses. I drank it like a smooth wine, intoxicated by mint and spice and all the smells that were unmistakably and irrefutably him.

"Enjoying yourself, darling?" he chuckled, sliding his hand to the underside of my thigh. I gasped when he brought it round his waist; the hem of my shift fell back, exposing my skin to the cool air. Icy palms trailed fire along my thighs. As his touch drew close to my pulsing center, I thrust my hips toward his hand, and mewled impatience when he withdrew it. 

He tilted my head back, eyes agleam with wonderment as a coy smile formed across his lips. "Ah ah ah! Patience, my love..." Cool knuckles soothed my cheek, his playful tone laced with a dark need. "I mean to savor this moment."

I felt him tug at the material that concealed my heat. Panic gripped me as I seized his arm. "What if someone sees?"

Loki's hand slipped beneath the fabric, fingers hovering just above my quivering flesh. I met the fervor of his stare. Each labored exhale burned my lips; I thought he was allowing me a second to collect myself, but all efforts to regain any form of composure were swept away when a low whisper ripped from his throat:

"Let them."

He parted my slick folds; my eyes rolled back into my head as every inch of my body tensed. An exquisite warmth coiled in my abdomen as I received his merciless touch; a taste of what was yet to come, and relished in every curl of his finger before he added a second, then a third-

If there existed solid ground beneath our feet, I did not feel it, nor desire to feel anything but the ruthless strokes from deep within, assured first by the assertiveness of his grip that he was ready, and second, by my own trust in him to bring us to completion one last time.

I released a sharp moan, which he devoured in another kiss as his free hand fumbled about my hair, grasped my shoulders, before finding the swell of my heaving breast. The urgency in his movements increased, his mouth hot and wet over mine as the stiff press of his hunger against my leg became impossible to ignore. I reached out to touch him, to give him what he so desperately wanted, but he barred me by stepping away. 

A shiver passed through me at the loss. Stripped of the heat of his embrace, the wintry breeze enabled my thoughts to clear. I watched Loki's eyes as they flitted to take in my form, as though I were the subject of an intricate study, or some calamity he could not tear his gaze from... and that was when I believed. 

 

You love me. 

 

After all these years, despite trials and tribulations, all the wrongs I've done you...

 

You love me. 

 

He lifted his fingertips to the light. They were coated with the remnants of my lust, and when he slowly brought them to his mouth, time slowed to a stop. This was obscene. Shameful. Dirty. Just the thought of him, tasting me like a nectar, frightened me like nothing before. Something so blatant, so unseemly, so lewd - he wouldn't dare... 

"No, wait, don't-"

Lips closed around glistening digits; black eyes locked on my own. 

Magic. 

Ecstasy pooled in my groin. The intimacy of this; my very essence on his tongue, now inside him, brought upon a feeling of connection I had never, in my life, experienced with another person. The shame of it all caused a flare in my face, but the desire...

Loki's stare never left mine as he savored me on the tips of his fingers, taking care to suckle each one, all traces of urgency eased into teasing deliberation. A faint flutter of unease broke my trance; what if my- taste, was not to his liking?

Pale tongue lapped his finger once more. His eyes fell close. "Oh, Your Highness..." he sighed, hoarse and dark, "you never cease to surprise me."

I pulled him to me by the collar and tasted myself on his mouth. Bitter. Saline. Earthy. The musk of a woman starved. 

My hand slipped beneath leather to grasp his stiff length, feeling it pulse and strain against his breeches, all for me. I don't know if I'd truly loved him from the start, but there was no denying I'd wanted him since our chance encounter in the library, since he was... Einar. 

I no longer yearned for him to assert control. Gone was my thirst for subjugation, for the groans that escaped the prince, as I manipulated his heart in my palm, were far more divine than any growl of command he'd produced in the past for me to kneel. I ran my thumb along his weeping head, smirking at the piercing hiss my strokes upon his shaft elicited. 

"Keep this up, and I won't last long enough to fuck you," Loki breathed between sudden gasps, hands planted on my waist with such force, I feared my ribs might touch. 

A sharp squeeze of his member made his body jerk. Curious to see how far I could push him, I assumed a mock frown. "But I don't want you to fuck me. I want to make love."

"That doesn't ring quite nearly as desperate as the former-" The prince growled at another tight clasp, and I giggled. A firm hand wrapped around my wrist. "And I am desperate to have you."

Before I could offer a playful retort, he let go of my wrist, features distorted in worry. "Your injury..."

My heart warmed. Hot desire dulled to soft happiness, as I raised myself up on my tiptoes, and eased the furrow in his brow with a tender kiss. "It healed days ago."

Regret flickered in his gaze. "I'm sorry."

He caressed the soft skin of my wrist, and then that of my cheek. I removed my hand from his breeches and threaded my fingers through his. Our palms were warm against my face, and when I saw his stare fall upon the wet shimmer on my thumb, an unholy thought crossed my mind. 

I took my thumb into my mouth, never once breaking our gaze. Loki tasted, first and foremost, of the sea. Then a delectable bitterness engulfed my tongue, hot and delicate. I watched his lips part in anticipation, fueling the fire between my legs. 

"The gods sent you to kill me." Distorted by a deprived rasp, his voice was no longer recognizable. 

I withdrew my finger and bit my lip, unable to contain a smile. "And what if they have?"

He swept me into a furious kiss. When he pulled back, all the green had disappeared from his eyes. "Then I shall gladly die by your hand."

I freed his rigid cock, relieved and wanton as the leather pooled around his ankles. Firm arms hooked under my thighs and hoisted me up to his waist without hesitation. My legs entwined behind his back, bringing his body to my own. He made to remove my shift, but I stopped him with a look that embodied our reluctant understanding. 

The danger of our union was too great for us to disregard. Now was not the time to strip bare, let forth our cries of pleasure, lest someone discover our sin. We had to do this clothed, quick, exchange final words through hushed breaths and silent tears, then leave - knowing our dark secret could never leave these vacant halls. 

As he lifted the material to the side, exposing my heat to his hard arousal, all dreams of what could have been fell away into an exquisite burn as the man I loved pushed inside of me. He unleashed a shuddering gasp. Perspiration mingled with the blood on his temple as I clenched around him, shaken by the gripping sensation, my body and heart full of Loki. The world collapsed into his hands beneath my thighs, nails digging into my flesh, hearts beating to a blood drum as he pulled back - and sheathed himself within me with even greater ferocity. 

My fingers pressed into his shoulder. Loki flinched; I realized I'd disturbed his injury, the one he'd earned when rushing to my defense. When a wayward arrow had nearly killed me.

It should have struck my heart, granting me a merciful death, a tragic exit for my people to keep in their memories - anything but this. Anything but stand watch as my beloved, my Loki, swears his eternal devotion for another woman. Anything but continue along the path others chose for me, that I, through blood, sweat and tears, had finally managed to escape, if only for tonight. 

But Loki saved me. 

Was it his intention to make me suffer this life? This painful existence, slaving for the favor of the people, clutching cold jewels to my chest for comfort? 

Was this his revenge?

The knot in my mouth, which had formed in response to his thrusts, left the question unspoken. His thrusts were steady, violent, and every drive of his cock knocked the air from my lungs. I saw the great intensity in his eyes, the fierce concentration, arched my back to the turbulent movements of his hips over mine. 

He had me now. Would he remember me, us, the link between our lips and hearts and minds, when he fathered Sigyn's children, and I bore Thor's? When I lay dying, surrounded by my children and loving husband, would I recall the time of centuries past, when we used to share a love so profound?

The friction of his stomach against my clit jolted me from these thoughts. I bucked against him with wild abandon; stars and garish lights flashed across my vision as his throaty moans enveloped my ears like honey, and his strokes increased in vigor, soothing our shared need with every forceful oscillation of our bodies - filling the aching void under my ribs and between my thighs. And as I chanced a glance at my lover - dark, unruly locks falling over his face, crimson glistening upon his hairline, features contorted in unadulterated bliss - I knew I would never again lay eyes upon the beauty of his most natural, peaceful, undisturbed state. 

Einar had taken me under the stars. Now...

I would bring Loki to his knees. 

His grip trembled on my skin. I pushed him back as I set my feet upon the floor, gasping at the sudden loss of his heat in my own. He slumped to his knees, face falling lax in exhaustion, while his cock stood tall, unyielding, purple at the crown. I knelt over his thighs, reaching between us to bring him inside me again, a raw moan erupting from my throat. Loki put a hand on my shoulder and tried to push me onto my back, but I refused - and instead, began to shift my hips in deep, rhythmic motions. 

A strangled cry left his lips. Straddling him, overpowering him, looking down at Loki as I brought him such pleasure, was Valhalla in itself. An exhilarating surge of confidence allowed me to meet his gaze as I rode him into oblivion, grasping at his hair, as he took a fistful of mine. He passed his other hand over my throat, across my collarbone and the space between my shoulder blades, hips jerking to meet my movements. Our erratic breathing and suppressed moans thickened the air, seeped into each crevice and corner, forever entombed in these silent halls. 

Loki reached between us to rub my clit. I knew he was close - and with every rapid flick of his thumb, he brought me closer. Passionate groans darkened to grunts, whimpers to needy sobs. I needed this, I needed him, if only for now... just as he needed me. 

"You... are..." a harsh gasp cut him off; Loki pressed his face against my throat, and sighed. Amidst the throes of passion, my confidence wavered, like a dwindling candle in the dark. You are... what? Beautiful? Yes, that might have been it, but something in his eyes stirred doubt. You are... my triumph? You are...

Mine?

Loki opened his mouth; I feared any of these words would leave his lips, but he only grinned against my skin, before short, stifled cries tore through the air in quick succession, and his grip pressed hard enough to bruise. Warm seed spread through my insides, filling me immediately, too quick for me to grasp the present as his climax triggered my own. Suddenly, I was clenching around him, muscles frozen in place, lost amongst the stars behind my eyelids as an orgasm rippled through me.

Never mind what Loki had meant to say. I believed him. But I needed to know...

The question left my lips before I'd had a chance to fully formulate it in my head. Inside was a mess of starlight and whispered words, of renewal and desolation. It was done. And as the prince stilled, then relaxed into my arms, my mouth opened to free it. 

"Why did you save me?" 

Deep, heavy breaths were his answer. Only when they slowed to a regular rise and fall, did Loki's arms encircle my form, and pull me close. His sharp chin dug into my neck. Dense, raven forest found my nostrils, and I breathed in the smell of him, again and again until I was sure I would retain the scent forever. 

I remembered he was still inside of me, and I kept my weight on him, did whatever I could to keep it that way. Loki, no doubt amused by my antics, chuckled. Warm laughter rumbled through my chest. His head fell back to look up at me, treating me to those beautiful green eyes once more, as a roguish grin spread across his face. Despite the mischief in his tone, his cheeks just barely supported the smile, and his eyes were worn. "Run away with me."

I threw my head back in mute laughter, then returned to his emerald pools. "Take me away from here, make me forget we were ever strangers!" I feigned distress in a dramatic delivery of how I'd begged him that night, in the voice of the girl who'd once feared the woman in the mirror, only to become her in the end. 

"Gladly, Your Highness." I could tell he recognized the saying, by the way his grin widened an inch, but the twinkle disappeared from his eyes. Smoothing his palms over my forearms, he brought his soft lips to mine. When he pulled back, his features were clouded with solemn thought. "If there were a way for us to be..."

I brushed his hands from my shoulders. "Why do you say such things? There's no use for such talk now. It's- improbable."

"Do you reject the idea because it is improbable, or because you still want the crown?" The hard edge in his voice stopped my breath. Any other question would not have sucked the air out of my lungs the way this one did. 

For a while, I could not think of an answer. The truth would no doubt hurt him... but if I chose to lie, Loki would see through my deceit regardless. In the end, I blinked to stall time, imagining how the words would feel on my tongue before I spoke.

"I want the throne." Immediately, a fallen look crossed his eyes, and my heart bled. "I want my people to love me and flourish in the fortune I shall give them. Yes, my succession is the solution to many problems our people face. Humble woodworkers and their families would suffer no longer. Our realms would be bound by the allegiance of allegiances." I swallowed, and lifted his chin with a gentle finger. "But I also want you."

The prince stared back, eyes suddenly alight with hope and faint shock. Then a small, crooked smile found his lips. "You want a great many things, don't you, my love?"

My cheeks burned red; I tried speak, but found myself swallowing the words, until at last I rediscovered my tongue. "Yes. And it is this greed that I must expel from my heart, if I am to become the queen my people were promised."

For a minute, we sat in silence; neither of us could quite figure out how to fill the void. Then I said, "Loki?"

Idle fingers threaded through my hair. "Yes, Your Highness?"

"How do you do it? How do you break from your chains so easily, in pursuit of what you want? Teach me, tell me how."

A single laugh. "Reputation or love, you mean?" he asked in a soft voice, tinged with something I could not quite decipher. I nodded. The little smile on his face narrowed. "My dear, I was never very reputable from the beginning," he soothed his knuckles over my jawline, cool and careful. "So why try and salvage what is already lost, when I could have a woman who, after seeing me for who I truly am, can still bear to touch me?"

Bright, beautiful, soft love warmed my chest and the corners of my eyes. "Oh, Loki..." I leaned forth until our foreheads touched, closed my eyes, and let our breaths mingle in what little space remained between us. "It is not quite so simple for me; I have a kingdom to protect, after all."

"But if there were a way..." he said after a pause, fingers weaving through my hair to the scalp, holding me against him. There was no trace of jest in his voice now - instead a slight, sharp pang of urgency, which I would have missed if my face were any farther from his. "Would you leave your kingdom behind? For me?"

I didn't understand. Perhaps this was his attempt at comfort, and I had neglected to appreciate it. So I chuckled, brushing the strand of hair, matted with black blood, away from his eyes. He leaned into me still, until the bridge of his nose rested over mine. My lips captured his in a final, fervent kiss - one that burned my lungs and stained my tongue, before I emerged, breathing deeply. "I don't know. I love my family. I love my people."

I flung my arms around his neck. The knot in my throat unraveled into a trembling, tragic whisper. "And I love you."

Chapter Text

Sage speckled in crimson, a forest consumed by flame - Lord Kvasir's bloodstone rested on my chest, cold and hard as the heart beneath it. 

I adjusted the necklace, watched it shift into place upon my neck as small tremors passed through my fingers. Broad shoulders, high chin, fixed hair, modest maroon gown, and elaborate gold trim stared back from within the glass. Frightened eyes stood out in stark contrast to the orderly rest, much like two flickering stars in a barren sky. 

Solitude had never felt sweeter. I breathed in the crisp, morning air, relishing in the way it dried my throat like cotton. Instead of reaching for the ear adornments glittering in wait upon my vanity, I stared, letting them blind me with their soulless gleam. Yes... the longer I spent standing in my chambers, eyeing my jewelry, 'getting ready', as I'd told Frida - were moments salvaged before my life was set in stone, changed for the better... or for the worse. 

Winter birds sang, sunlight warmed and clouds cleared, all in favor of the wedding of Prince Loki and Lady Sigyn. 

As if by the doing of magic, the wind that had swept across the realm last night no longer battered the windows, and the grey cast of cloud no longer obscured the sky like clumping cobwebs. Instead, ivory sheets glimmered teal over every stretch of land; all seemed well in Asgard, for days like these, on which the sun persisted in spite of winter, were as rare and fine as the caliber of gem upon my breast. 

It had been a while since I'd worn it, for its robust beauty became a cruel reminder of my sin, my eternal secret, which I'd much preferred locked away in my coffers until today. My fear morphed into another sentiment; one that allowed me to appreciate this stone for what it had now become - the sole survivor of my forbidden love, my once-upon-a-time. Like all relics, it held an inexplicable weight, sinking down upon my chest, burdening my heart with the torrid tale of my husband's brother and I, forever fused in between marbling red and green.

A knock at the door. "My Lady?"

"C-come in." I flinched at the sudden interruption and ran my fingers over my vanity in a panic, grasping the peal wares just as Frida slipped through the door and closed it quietly behind her. I heard her scurry across the room before cool, worn hands closed around my own. It was only then that I acknowledged the uncontrollable shaking... the vibrations claimed every inch of my body and would not subside. Frida only sighed, and guided my trembling hands to place the adornments in my ears. 

"It is a day for celebration, My Lady." Her hands found my shoulders. Frida's smile was sympathetic. "I can request the west balcony be prepared for your comfort, if My Lady commands."

Her touch reminded me of Mother, and filled me with a brewing mix of anticipation and dread at the thought of seeing my parents at the wedding. "No, thank you, Frida. I need to be there with my people."

With a gentle nod, she extended an arm for me to take and began to lead me from the room. I glanced back at it, a strange mournful feeling tugging at my heart. "Any word from Thor?" I asked, already knowing the answer. 

My handmaiden shook her head.

As we made our way to the throne room, I willed the feeling to go away... unsurprisingly, to no effect.

 

 

 

By the time we arrived, Odin had already taken his place at the head of the room, his great stature peering ahead at the sea of guests and courtiers that threatened to swallow me whole. It'd been quite a while since I'd set foot in this room, as I often thought of it as a void into which my husband would disappear when summoned to attend to matters of the realm. I never preferred the company of crowds, but I always appreciated the gracious smiles of a welcoming people.

What had I done to provoke such a change of heart? How had I managed to turn those I'd aided in times of desperation against me? 

Loathsome thoughts burrowed into my mind as I rolled my shoulders back and continued ahead, hoping the curious stares of the crowd did not burn my face a viscous red.

Then there, beside the Queen, I spotted Thor. His golden armor shimmered in the light, and hints of red fabric completed the garment. He stood tall and still, hands clasped firmly at his front. The sight of my husband caused a wave of relief to wash over me. It seemed forever ago since I'd seen him. I missed his Thunderer's embrace, the warmth of his smile, the affection in his eyes. 

I called for him as I ascended the steps. Thor's eyes flickered toward me, their deep blue flashing with panic. I stopped in my tracks, my enthusiasm quickly turning to confusion, then dread.

Panic slowly turned to pain, then burned, like a roaring flame above dark waters. As Thor tore his gaze coldly from mine, the worst of my suspicions became a reality. 

He knew.

Of course he knew. I'd been gone for far too long; long enough for someone- that viper, to have told him everything. Yes, someone could have revealed to him the terrible truth, and worse still, it would not remain a secret that I had stayed beside the man I loved... a man who was not my husband, as they told Thor of his wife's adulterous ways.

But a foolish slip of hope still lingered; what if I was mistaken? Maybe it was something else I had done to invoke such anger within Thor?

After forging a smile for Odin, I approached my husband cautiously. When he did not meet my gaze, I took my place next to him.

I could feel the heat of his body beside mine. We were close, so close that if Thor were to so much as angle himself in my direction, our arms would touch. Yet Thor did not grant me the warmth of his caress, as he had so often done at previous events. When the Prince of Asgard seemed to notice the imminence of such a touch, a small gasp of pain left his lips, and he stepped away. My eyes prickled with tears. The distance closed in on me and slid in between my bones, icy and unbearable.

The bustle subsided following the anticipated creak of the great doors. They parted slowly, demanding attention, drawing the focus of the crowd away from us long enough for me to wipe away my tears.

Wandering eyes found two figures standing at the entrance, then widened as they began to advance along the carpet, a serpent-like mass stretching through the room and beyond which sought to fill the palace with its forest-green presence.

It was the Queen, her modest garbs obscured by a warm, golden fabric that billowed about her lithe figure. Out from beneath the cape extended a shapely elbow, which then entwined with another clad in black leather. 

The sight of him stole the breath from my lungs. Leather, green in places and dark in others, pulled taut over muscle. Gold plates hung upon his lean breast and the width of his form. Like a cat he moved, gliding along the carpet beside his mother with a familiar dangerous conviction... although this time, he moved as though each step would bring him closer to some imminent threat. The clean, slick arrangement of his raven hair revealed a smooth expanse of white skin, untarnished as the snow that befell Asgard. Those imperfect tresses framed piercing green orbs; I'd feared finding them, for when they seized my gaze without warning, there was no looking away.

The adoration in them, the resistance, the need - it burned through my soul and behind my eyes. I blinked in defeat and felt the first of many tears cascade down my face, the trail of fire hotter than the ache in my jaw. I didn't care if the likes of Odin, Frigga, Lord Kvasir, or even, Mother saw - I wanted him. I wanted him in my life. I wanted peace with my own heart. But with each thrum, every minute past, Frigga took her place beside the King, while Loki turned in wait above the steps. As he faced the great doors of melancholy, I could no longer see what expression he bore; not the sorrow, neutrality, madness, nor the smirk I utterly despised, but had grown unable to live without.

Chancellor Iwaldi emerged from the doors with his ravishing daughter. There was a collective gasp of admiration at the radiant beauty of the prince's young bride as her stout father escorted her along the aisle. Her black tresses were piled high upon her head in the kind of glamorous but grueling updo which had often caused an ache in my neck in the years I'd worn it to Odin's royal parties. Blood-red lips parted sweetly, drawing attention to a slender neck and tasteful cleavage. Just as I'd expected, her gown attacked my vision with its vibrant green hue, and gems glinted upon silk with each shuffle of her dainty feet. The serpent would have devoured the elaborate tail of her garment, were it not for the silver embroidery which set it apart from the carpet. 

Part of me wanted to take that dress and tear it to shreds. And yet, the part of myself I'd seen in Sigyn, something so rare, so valuable, so easily lost, scotched the fires of hatred inside me. 

Loki stood opposing his smiling bride. He parted his thin lips, and from them poured the sacred oaths I myself once recited so fluently all those years ago, burned into my brain by the fear that any slip of the tongue had a potential to erase the progress my family had made towards binding the realms forever. Now, the vows passed by my ears like a drone. Nothing but monotonous white noise; I couldn't tell when his speech ended and hers began. All I could digest were the approving faces of the crowd and the emptiness in my heart.

My urge to vomit surged when a servant brought in a red cushion, upon which were two silver goblets. Sigyn thanked the servant and eagerly took one shining cup in her hand, looking toward her betrothed encouragingly. A momentary pause delayed Sigyn's happiness, but against all my hopes, Loki took the remaining cup, smiling in a manner reminiscent of the way he had looked at her in the gardens one summer morning.

I watched, desecrated, as they hooked arms, careful not to touch one another, and prepared to drink. The way she looked at him like he was a morning star, a fire in winter... a shuddering sigh escaped my lips in defeat.

Perhaps I should accept reality, however cruel.

Yet despite what reason begged of me, I failed to brace myself for the pain of loss, the grief that overwhelmed me and made my body shake. I knew, as they drew their goblets closer to their lips, that the moment they bound themselves together by ritual, I would lose Loki forever. With each passing second I was losing him... to Sigyn, to Asgard, to nothingness-

"Stop!" a furious voice bellowed. Eyes scouted the room for the source of such passionate objection toward the union. Who would dare interrupt a royal ceremony? Fiercely curious, I too searched for the insolent guest who dared object a royal arrangement - only to discover that it wasn't a guest at all. 

Blood hardened to ice in my veins when Lady Sif stepped smugly out from the masses. Her face, twisted in a sickly sneer, held a wicked triumph which pierced through me from the tip of her accusatory finger. "People of Asgard and friends from across the realms," she addressed the crowd, lips fixed in a cruel smirk, "apologies for the interruption. Such a lavish ceremony... 'tis a shame the two traitors in this very room defile these efforts with their filthy crimes."

Instantly, the crowd erupted in murmurs. King Odin stood in rage, towering over the warrioress with his almighty shadow. "What is the meaning of this, Lady Sif?!"

"Forgive me, My King," Sif smiled as a rush of footsteps signaled the arrival of the garrison, "but this union cannot continue. It is my duty as a Warrior of Asgard to remain loyal to the crown, and I will stand for no injustice against it."

Armor clattered, clink, clink, clink... a sound so harsh, I could barely register how many soldiers filtered into the room as I suppressed the sickness rising in my throat, induced by the cold glare of their golden breastplates and silver swords. A few expressionless guards surrounded Loki, who looked to me with rare fear as the rest stormed uniformly in my direction. 

I should have known it would come to this. I made to run, not caring if I stood a chance against the men of battle and their heavy footsteps. I cursed myself for having underestimated the true threat Sif presented. I cursed myself for being so careless, how could I have been so careless-

Pain shot through my arm. I looked where a monstrous hand seized me, then up into the eyes of my husband, only to cower beneath those grey whirlpools of confusion and desolation.

Don't run, my love.

I glanced fearfully at Loki. The taste of true fear was strange and bitter. Everything I had ever loved seemed to be slipping quickly through my fingers; my husband, my family, the respect of the people, the reputation I'd built for myself as a noble, the wealth I'd accumulated, the man I loved, the throne... everything.

Sif continued her merciless announcement. Each word sealed a decree of death. "You see, Your Majesty," Sif spoke, advancing towards me with her black stare, "this 'godsend', wife of the crown prince, savior of Asgard, your future queen..." she turned to address all watchful eyes, venom dripping from her tongue, "... is but a traitor, an adulterer, a snake in our midst!"

"How dare you..." the words fell apart in my mouth, every fiber of my being vibrated with this violent outburst; my eyes burned with defiance. "You will not disrespect Frigga's heir-"

"The only one guilty of disrespect is you, Your Highness." This was it. She planned to expose me in front of Odin's court, humiliate me as I had humiliated her all those years ago, through and through until there was nothing and no one left for me to hold on to. "Did you think I would let you go so easily? No... I spent the years gathering what evidence I could to show the court what you really are."

"Lady Sif, I would advise against speaking to Her Highness with such insolence." My eyes snapped to Loki, whose stare ripped through Sif like ice shards. A thin vein formed at his temple, its pulsing blue sharp as the edge which had crept into his voice. Sif turned to him, and with one long, slender finger, drew everyone's attention to the dark prince. 

"Insolence? Why, Prince Loki, I think the both of you are quite deserving of my 'insolence', seeing as you've been warming her bed in his absence."

Gasps of disbelief marked the impact of the accusation on the hoard of guests, who were now covering their mouths, some even pushing through to get a better look at the perpetrators. Most of them stared at Loki, but as Sif slowly redirected her finger towards me, I froze, lacking the strength to even cower as Thor's grip grew ever tighter. 

I never expected such a turn of events; not having done something about Sif since I got here would prove to be my downfall. I never imagined she would expose me before my own mother and father, before the kingdom, before the Nine Realms at an event such as this. I never thought she would disclose my crimes in such a brutal, careless way. I had underestimated her hatred towards me, and now, she planned to ruin everything I had fought for. 

My trembling heart tread on the meager hope that the evidence she had gathered was not quite damning enough. 

"Surely you can't be serious, Lady Sif?" Loki said, somehow able to maintain a frightening calm. "You dare interrupt my union to my beautiful betrothed, all to announce your delusions before the court?"

The warrioress snarled. "As I said before, I now have the evidence to prove your guilt, Prince Loki. The problem is, well... you and the whore will have to let us escort you both to the dungeons, where you will rot until we deem you fit for trial, though I believe the law grants more mercy than you deserve." 

The clutter of armor upon marble sounded as the garrison closed in on us. A kind of fear I'd never felt before gripped my being, as did another cold, empty feeling I couldn't yet register. Perhaps it was helplessness, the realization that I'd already lost everything. 

"And if we don't?" asked Loki lowly, glare now trained on Thor. Paralyzed with terror, I could not move, nor speak - I but begged him to surrender using my eyes. Loki did not meet my gaze. 

Sif chuckled darkly. "As you can see, we came anticipating some resistance." The shrill of swords drawn sent a deep shudder down my spine. In one swift movement, Sif tore the golden garbs from her form to reveal her own coat of metal. "I expected no less from the God of Tricks and Lies."

"What of you, brother?" Scorn twisted Loki's pallid features. "Will you continue to stand in silence as they throw your wife in the dungeons? Will you keep your mouth shut when they murder her?"

"Loki, please!" I could contain myself no longer; how could he fail to see that antagonizing Thor would only lead to more suffering? 

Only when the people gasped at the familiarity towards Loki I'd displayed did I realize my mistake. Despite this, Loki continued, as though driven by some crazed determination to unleash Thor's wrath. 

"You've been silent all this time, giving this mewling quim a chance to insult your woman again and again-"

"Watch your tongue, brother." Thor's pain raged behind a clenched jaw. I winced as the vice of his grip tightened around my arm. "You've done enough already."

Loki's lips contorted in a sneer. As his voice continued to rise, his stare hardened - relentless, ruthless. "Have I? Well, I believe I'm quite obliged to continue, seeing as you haven't expressed a desire to do anything at all."

"Loki, that's enough-"

"Is it?"

I didn't understand why he intended to worsen the situation in the midst of this already devastating reality. I didn't see how provoking the crown prince of Asgard before the King would help us at all. And above all, I feared what would ensue the moment one of Loki's barbs succeeded in striking a nerve. "Loki, stop this madness-"

"So it's true, Thor? You'll sit by and watch as your wife and confidante of seven years, whose policies have only ever improved the lives of your people, is dragged away? So much for justice-"

"You don't know a thing about justice." Thor's anger grew in intensity; he had always had trouble controlling turbulent emotions - a feat at which his brother would forever be superior. "Please, for once in your life, just swallow your damned pride and do the right thing."

A deadly coarseness crept into his tone. "Ah, yes, doing the 'right thing'. That's always been a strength of yours, hasn't it?" 

"I won't ask a second time, brother."

Loki met Thor's grave warning with a smile... then his eyes found me. "Nor did I, before she let me into her bed."

What followed was chaos. Thor released me and I fell back. The impact sent a shock through my spine and abdomen. For a moment, the world fell away into a muted blur, where nothing was real except for the twinges in my stomach. Then I lifted my head and saw the thundering mass of Thor's body sprawled out over the ground where Loki had stood just seconds prior. 

White flashed in the corner of my vision before an arm wrapped around my middle, pulling me swiftly off the floor; I shrieked and kicked and jerked against my captor until I realized who it was. 

Screams of panic flooded the room as Loki raced down the aisle with me in his arms at bewildering speed. My nails dug into the leather behind his shoulders and around his waist, holding on for dear life. I looked up in a daze and caught the black wisps of his hair as it whipped against the blistering sunlight. His eyes, glinting with iridescent energy, concentrated on the great doors which were now at a mere arm's reach. 

Two guards advanced from both sides of the entrance. I glanced fearfully at their drawn blades, the strength of their stances. Loki noticed this at once and faced his free palm towards the wooden doors. A warm and powerful glow shot forth; the doors flung open with incredible force, repelling each soldier to opposite sides of the room with a roaring thud. The bare halls of Asgard stared back at us, inviting us out. Before I could steal a glance at him, he grabbed my hand and we turned a corridor, already far from the commotion in the throne room. Dull, thudding footsteps and cries of 'traitor' followed distantly behind. As we sprinted in one direction, I caught sight of a mirror image at the other end of the hall. It was a recreation of Loki engaged in violent swordplay with one of the guards as I hid behind him. Seeing an illusion of myself stirred unease within me, but the realism of it would serve as an effective distraction for Sif and her garrison while we escaped in another direction.

"Over there!" A rough command directed clanking footsteps toward the dueling illusions. Loki's grip on my wrist loosened in relief as we scurried away from the squadron. 

"Where are we going?" I whispered, anxious. Loki turned to me for the first time since he'd initiated our escape. I watched the crease fade from his brow and a smile form across his lips. 

"Home."

Suddenly his eyes widened, and before I could ask what he meant, I was shoved against his chest. His body shifted, shielding me from a blow I had not anticipated at all. It was a guard of the west corridor, whose sword produced a metallic clatter that must have attracted the attention of our pursuers. Once again, the hot thrill of being chased burned behind my ears and electrified the hairs on the nape of my neck. Loki relieved the soldier of his blade using magic and kicked him in the shin, holding him to the ground with the heel of his boot. As he writhed in agony on the cold marble floor, Loki towered over him. This particular gleam in his eyes was the only thing I did not like about him; it was rarely seen, but spoke of some deep, primal desire to hurt... I loathed and feared the possibility that the man I so loved might possess some hidden capacity to inflict such suffering and take pleasure in doing so.

"Loki, my love..." My hands trembled upon his, which had grown cold and hard. "We need to leave now! The guards will be here soon..."

The murder in his stare disappeared with each steady breath, like the thaw of winter. Sif's angered shouts were now joined by the recognizable tenor of Thor. This time, I took Loki's hand and we fled, finding momentary solace in the warmth of our palms and in the hope that another one of his illusions would buy us more time.

Only when we neared the Bifrost bridge did I realize what Loki might have meant. "You mean to escape to Jotunheim?"

"Yes, my love. Laufey is dead. I will take the throne, and you will be my queen. Together, we will build an empire of our own..." A desperate string of words fell from his lips; I didn't understand all of it, but despite the ache in my limbs, the dull pain in my abdomen, the unease that turned my bones to lead, I let him drag me along the bridge. Its garish colors blinded me, reminding me of how long it had been since I'd first been amazed by it, and although my eyes were bleary and sensitive I could never tire of marveling at its undeniable beauty.

When the stoic figure of Heimdall came into view, Loki turned and whispered, "I've got a plan. But you must trust me, my love."

"Loki, what do you mean to do?"

"You must trust me, darling. You have to keep quiet."

"But-" A pale green flare engulfed me. I looked down at the seemingly endless layers of lush green fabric which hung from my waist, then at my now dainty white hands and jewel-encrusted bodice. I made no effort to hide my displeasure from Loki, who grinned in amusement.

"Mmm... you look ravishing, My Lady. I do apologize for the disruption at our wedding. Care to commence with the ceremony?"

No doubt such fiery contempt had never burned this bright behind Sigyn's young eyes. "This had better be a damn good plan."

In a flash, Loki pressed a small blade against my neck. I flinched beneath the cool metal, afraid and confused as to why he would do this. I looked at Loki with alarmed urgency; he did not return these emotions and instead locked me against him, calmly and cautiously approaching the gatekeeper, hovering the knife over my throat all the while. 

"Let us pass, or she dies." His words were so full of promise, they invoked uncertainty in me. There was no trace of a trick in his eyes, no sign of a bluff in the forceful, brutish way he held me. 

Heimdall's blazing eyes betrayed no emotion. Then they fell upon me; I felt them pierce my body, scouring every part of my being for any trace of untruth. 

"Are you alright, Lady Sigyn?" he asked. Again, no urgency pervaded his voice. 

Loki's hold tightened. As much as I loathed being in this form, I knew it was best for me to stay silent lest I say something uncharacteristic of Sigyn. Knowing there wasn't much time left, I allowed the terror in me to speak through my eyes. 

"If you do not grant us passage, I won't hesitate to throw her right off this bridge!"

Heimdall only peered ahead, cool, calculating. After an intense pause, he pursed his dark lips. "Do you think that you can deceive me?"

Loki's smile twitched. "You must be mistaken-"

"I do not make mistakes. I see all and know all; to challenge me is to wish for death."

The prince released me and chuckled. "I'm impressed. Unfortunately, I have no plans to die today."

"None do." 

Heimdall pulled forth his golden sword, but not swiftly enough - Loki had seized the girth of his wrist. I watched in amazement as his skin flared cobalt and his eyes a blood red, stunned by the icicles creeping along Heimdall's form until the gatekeeper was fully encapsulated in near impenetrable frost. The tip of his frozen blade cut air inches from Loki's face. Amber eyes burned ahead, as though he would break from the ice sheath to resume his mission at any moment. 

Carefully, Loki gripped the handle of Heimdall's mighty blade and tore it from the gatekeeper's grasp. The crackle of ice shards ripped through the air and seemed to echo a great imbalance in the realm. Loki stepped back, experiencing the heft of Hofund, and entwined my fingers with his. A cold sting shot through my arm, warmed immediately by a green glow which surrounded me briefly. I was myself once more. 

Distant shouts and thundering footsteps disrupted the silence. "Come on, darling. We have to go." Loki pulled me into the golden dome with renewed urgency. As the familiar figures of Thor and Sif came into view, I knew it was only a matter of time before they would arrive. 

Without a second thought, Loki plunged the sword into its sheath; bolts of light burst from the point of contact, meandering into finer beams and filling the space with magnificent light. The floor rumbled beneath our feet as age-old mechanisms sprung to life, fueling both the anticipation and unease rising within me. 

Just as I made to join Loki, the pained voice of my husband called my name. I hesitated, cursing the torrent of grief and guilt which threatened to tear me apart. 

"You must come now, my love," my focus snapped back to Loki, who held out a straining hand, "we haven't got time." The energy of the Bifrost was reflected in his eyes; he was so incredibly beautiful, and yet, at this moment, I feared him more than I had ever feared anything or anyone in my lifetime.

Thor called my name once more. I turned to face him at last, and realized with dread, hatred and sorrow that I could not bring myself to leave this place.

"Please!" Thor called from a narrowing distance, his voice raw and urgent and honest. "Please come back; you will be granted a fair trial, I give you my word."

"Not long now, love." The light bathed us in white; I could no longer make out the nuances of Loki's features, but the unrestrained desperation in his voice crushed me. I didn't want to solidify his fears, not when he had done so much for us to get to this point.

"I-I can't." I didn't dare meet his gaze. I couldn't let him see my tears, my uncertainty. It was cruel of me to do this, especially after what I'd told him, even more so after all the promises we'd made, but I lacked the clarity needed to explain that the moment such an opportunity presented itself... I truly didn't know what to make of it. 

Perhaps a deep, dark part of me had always refused to believe that Loki truly loved me, and as a result made it easier for me to embrace my future prospects as queen of Asgard. I loved Loki with all that I was but somehow, despite many years of resenting the role I was born into, Asgard had become just as much my home as the realm from where I'd come. 

I feared seeing Thor again for just the reason that I would realize my devotion for Asgard... and my lingering desire to rule over it.

I loved Asgard. I didn't know a thing about Jotunheim! And if being with Loki meant leaving my family behind, then...

Hearing the confidence drain from his voice gutted me. "Don't be ridiculous! You've got to come with me now or we won't make it-"

"I'm sorry, Loki. I can't-"

"Why not?"

"You know why." Breathing had never proved so difficult until I became aware of the intense sobs that racked my body. Still, I started back toward the bridge, eyes stinging and limbs dense as iron as if held back by some unrelenting force. In front of Loki, the light parted in a circle to reveal the glaring, vivid workings of the Bifrost. It was only a matter of seconds now. "You must go, Loki, before they capture you!"

He made a noise of pained frustration. "You're a fool to think I'll even consider-"

"Loki, please, for your sake and mine, go!"

"I don't understand..." Denial dwindled to a final, broken plea. "Please, darling, stop this nonsense and come with me. W-we've come so far."

If it weren't for the light concealing his hurt, I would not have found the strength to leave that dome, to leave Loki. As Thor hurried to my side, the dark prince's voice emerged from within, cold. Spiteful. Betrayed. 

"I will return, and when I do, you will join me... willingly or not."

With one last push of the sword into its golden sheath, the light surrounded him as a great blast ripped through the skies. Once the light disappeared and the tremors subsided, Loki was gone. 

He had vanished.

My knees gave way to the irregularity of my emotions, a culmination of overwhelming relief and gutting uncertainty at whether or not I had made the right choice. Thor caught me before I hit the floor, but no bruises sustained would have rivaled the agony in my heart. 

I wasn't aware of the exact moment Sif and her soldiers arrived at the scene. I didn't remember what furious reasoning Thor gave to keep me in his arms when a few members of the garrison attempted to take me away. 

I had refused Loki, and Loki had left me to wallow in regret- no, I would not give in to regret, not after what it cost me to make this decision. 

But I could not shake these thoughts from my mind. I'd refused the man I loved because there would be nothing for me where he wanted to go. But choosing to stay in Asgard...

Was there anything left for me here at all?

Chapter Text

Blood rushing, body trembling in shame, I could hardly tell whether the strong arms that cradled me belonged to some guard or were in fact, my husband's. I chanced a glance up to see the familiar features of the golden prince, now hardened into-

I cast my eyes back to the floor as Thor carried me back into the palace.

When I finally succumbed to the desires of my heart, it was as though I'd been set free in every way possible. Yet my husband, my confidante, was now naught but a stranger. My future, shaken with uncertainty and gnawing dread. Loki... my Loki, gone into the unknown. How was I to pay the price for all this suffering?

Familiar golden walls came into view when my head lulled back against Thor's chest in exhaustion. The lavish surroundings I'd worked so tirelessly to call my home now appeared as more of a prison... and worse, it became clear to me that this revelation had come seven years too late.

Crippled with fear, my lips moved to form some semblance of 'where are we going?'.

He answered, distantly. "The Allfather wishes to speak with you in the throne room. The guests have been sent to the royal gardens, for now."

My blood ran cold at the thought of facing the King's infamous wrath. Having once been on the receiving end, I failed to imagine what kind of punishment he had in store to remedy a crime such as mine.

The prince set me down with a gentleness now foreign. I cowered at the sight of Odin in his chair, and Frigga who had risen from hers upon our entry. Sigyn glared, still dressed in her decadent wedding gown.

Standing beside her was Sif, lips twisted in a smirk as the garrison emerged from behind her with a small woman in tow.

No, it couldn't be...!

I grabbed Thor's arm and found his gaze in a silent plea. Sorrow darkened his eyes before he engulfed my hand in his warm paw and removed it from his arm. I slumped back, emptiness flooding my body as Thor took his place beside the Allmother and Sigyn.

I was truly alone.

"Find him," came the grave command of the King. A captain nodded and led his squadron from the palace. Odin cast his gaze to the floor and gave a solemn, heaving sigh.

The room fell quiet in anticipation of His Majesty's next words. Those which would solidify my fate. 

Eyes flitted. Mouths parted in cautious breaths, dampening the air with a suffocating mist.

With some amazing bout of courage, I lifted my eyes to meet the Queen's in one final plea. She looked back with stern aggravation before turning to the silent King. As she moved to help Odin he held up a mighty hand, to which she nodded and stepped back.

Sif cleared her throat. "My King-"

"Have you evidence to support your claims, Lady Sif?" Odin slowly lifted his head to look at me. Even from the pedestal, his eye tore through me and I was powerless to stop it. The strength of his gaze often made me forget that it came only from one eye. I imagined a monstrous red glow from behind that golden plate, boring into me with the judgement of a thousand generations.

"Certainly, My King. I spent seven long years gathering what evidence I could to condemn this traitor. At last, it is clear that justice is at ha-"

"Justice will be served where it is due." His gaze lingered on me still, unflinching and unreadable. The familiar sting of tears crept behind my eyes. "Present your evidence, Lady Sif."

Sif stepped aside as the guards shoved the small woman forth. She was paler than I remembered, and her face seemed to express a crippling weakness, some blind submission even the honey in her hair could not liven.

"What is your name, girl?" Sif began, coolly.

"Bergdis."

"And how do you relate to Her Highness, the wife of Prince Thor?"

The healer swallowed. She had a sort of timid air about her that was present when I'd threatened her all those years ago. Some small, defiant, mousy confidence she'd possessed when she had blackmailed me. I saved her mother from death. She wouldn't betray me. She wouldn't dare-

"I was assigned to the Lady while all the other healers tended to the King of Alfheim, seven years ago."

"And this was during the attempt on the Queen of Alfheim's life?"

Bergdis nodded. "She'd been stabbed in the abdomen, you see. I dressed her wounds, and then the Lady awoke with the prince's name on her lips-"

"Which prince, Lady Bergdis?" Sif was grinning now. Rage and loathing rattled my spirit, screaming through the fire of my gaze on the both of them. One took pride in condemnation, the other cowered.

And they call me the snake.

Refusing to meet my eyes, the healer spoke. "Loki. It was Prince Loki-"

"Lies!" I spat, trembling with something stronger than hatred. A true desire to kill. "Fox! Coward! You would lie to your King? You are naught but a lowly healer, you are nothing-"

"That will be all, whore." Sif gestured to the guards. A hand clamped over my mouth, muffling my protests. "Continue."

"She called for Prince Loki in her sleep, My King! She threatened to make her guards kill me if I told anyone of their affair!"

Sif looked to Odin with a satisfactory grin. "This explains Loki's eagerness to elope with her in the midst of his own wedding-"

"But she did not 'elope' with him, Lady Sif." I looked up in surprise; Thor started down the steps, brow furrowed in uncertainty, still avoiding my gaze. "My brother agitated me, grabbed my... the Lady, and disappeared. When we arrived, Heimdall was encased in ice... this was no doubt Loki's doing... he held out a hand, and she did not take it."

Thor was... defending me? Even now? Even still?

Sif's lips tightened into a thin line. Something in her faltered. "There is... more evidence... something that will prove their guilt, My King." She looked at Thor with hesitance, then at me with something I recognized with disbelief as pity. "Though I would have restrained from presenting it. You leave me no choice."

A guard brought out a small chest. Inside was what appeared to be a small bundle of cloths, dirtied with age and brown stains.

No...

My resolve crumbled when the guard carefully peeled back the dirtied strips. Even Sif's voice wavered as I pleaded, begged, beseeched her with my eyes... my eyes... I could barely see through burning tears.

"This was discovered in Bergdis' personal quarters, hidden beneath her bed."

The ground beneath my feet gave way. A numbness like death washed over me, then painful terror. My teeth sank into the hand which silenced me. For a moment, nothing muffled my gasps and incoherent sobs. I could barely hear myself over the cry of the injured guard. What I might have been screaming, warbling in a frenzy was 'no, no, no no no no NO please, don't-! Don't make me look! Don't make me look, please don't make me-'

Violent hands restrained me once more. As the cloths unraveled, I screwed my eyes shut, tasting bitter tears and blood. Sick. Sick fucking bitch. To have kept him this long, like some relic, some-

I felt sick, faint and weak. My heart threatened to erupt from my throat, even more so when horrified gasps filled my ears.

 

They are looking at him.

 

"What is this, Sif?" The Allfather's voice was grave. "Explain this at once."

 

They are looking at him.

 

"This was removed from the womb of the Lady in a surgical procedure performed by Bergdis. It is the... deceased fetus she was pregnant with at the time of the assassination attempt, preserved by Bergdis as evidence should this ever come to light. I am sure that further inspection from several healers, including Eir, will confirm its parentage. As an apprentice of Eir, Bergdis believes the fetus to be half Jotun, conceived around the time of the wedding between the Lady and Prince Thor."

"Stop looking at him..." a second voice outside of my body seemed to beg over and over. Stop looking at my son.

Above my pleas, a horrified wail ripped through the air and my eyes shot open. Slowly, it turned into deep, sparse sobs. Frigga's head was buried into the King's shoulder, her body shaking. It took me a moment to realize that the Queen was crying for my son, her grandchild. The guard held the chest up close to Odin's narrowed eye, which fell shut in grief.

My son died for Alfheim and for Asgard. For peace between the realms. I sacrificed everything for my family, for Thor, for Asgard, for justice. I was prepared to never know the blessings of life with my true love. I was ready to rule a kingdom that wasn't my own. I stayed behind when I could have escaped, clinging to some desperate sliver of hope that my selflessness would be met with acceptance, kindness, or love.

I looked at Thor, at Odin and Frigga, at Sigyn who wept into her cupped hands, at the marble pillars and gold embellishments which made the palace. A picture most quaint, without me in it.

I stayed for you.

I finally began to understand how Loki must have felt all that time, all those centuries, out of place yet wanting nothing more than to belong. We had met, after all, as lone souls. It was difficult to put myself back into the mind of that naive young girl who once found solace in books, hoping they would sweep her away into their worlds of magic and romance. I wept, thinking my life had ended because I'd married Thor. Little did I know, the man who came to the library, who swept me into his arms, into his world of intensity and tenderness, would bring about my true end.

Was I selfish? I spent my whole life learning how to manipulate and please with my body, my eyes, my words. I fell in love with a man and he loved me.

He loves me.

Then slowly, I fell in love with a kingdom. I was willing to sacrifice happiness. After all, a queen's job is not to be happy, but to serve her people. When faced with danger, she stands at the forefront and takes the blow. Between happiness and honor, she will always choose honor. She will sacrifice her own flesh and blood, sacrifice freedom, all for the sake of the realm.

All for Asgard.

But Asgard humiliates and shuns if you do not glitter gold like its walls. You do not belong. You have never belonged.

Am I selfish?

Now, hearing the shared cries of Frigga and Sigyn, seeing the King's pain and Sif's discomfort filled me with a twisted sort of peace. Now the grief was not only mine and Loki's to bear, but Asgard's as well.

I wish he were here, so that I might have looked him in the eyes and told him:

We are alone no longer.

"Sif, this is hardly necessary. Please." Thor moved in front of Sif, meeting her gaze grimly. Behind the prince's towering frame, I managed to see the guard close the chest and carry it away. My stomach churned.

"Thor..."

"If this is true..." the prince looked at me at last, hurt and sympathy dueling for reign over his eyes. They gleamed in the light for a moment before he turned solemnly to his father. "Then he should be granted a proper funeral. It is his birthright."

The Allfather let out a sympathetic sigh. "You know it is not."

"Loki is my brother, and..." Thor's gaze fell on me sadly. "The child deserves passage to Valhalla."

"Enough! This is a matter for another time. I will decide what to do with it after Loki is found."

"He is my son, Your Majesty." Each time they referred to him as some kind of creature, my blood boiled and my heart hurt. He was no 'piece of evidence', no 'amalgamation', no 'hybrid'. "Whether you acknowledge him as your grandchild or not, my son took the knife for the Queen of Alfheim. He died a warrior's death. Do not-" Choked sobs forced their way up my throat. "Don't let him remain forgotten any longer. Don't make him suffer for what I have done."

The King silenced me, danger in his tone. "Do not forget that you have betrayed my son and shamed the kingdom. I, Odin Allfather, will not bargain with you."

A retort brimmed in my chest but was buried by Sif's interruption. "There is more, My King. Bergdis has confessed to purchasing spells from a dark sorcerer hidden in the dens of the city with Asgardian coin... under the Lady's instruction."

"It's true, My King! My poor mother was sick, you see? You must understand, I had to do it! She said I could take from her coffers and help my mother, but only if I kept her secret. Look!" Fumbling, Bergdis produced a faded coin from her breast. "The last coin remaining."

"You threatened me, fox. You left me no choice but to-"

"Silence, traitor! Or we'll do it for you." Sif motioned for one of the guards to step forward. Light glinted off the item in his hands, and upon realizing what it was, I struggled and kicked against the arms which restrained me.

"You would muffle me like a dog?!"

Odin rose from his chair, thunder incarnate. "You will never know what loyalty means as a dog does. You, who would betray the kingdom you swore to protect, the realm which would have been yours to rule! Asgard welcomed you with open arms, placed its trust in you and for seven longs years you have deceived us all. You dirtied the royal coin we bestowed upon you for your dedication to the people, only to discover it was feigned!" The King raised a finger to me in contempt. "Do you have any idea the danger you have brought to Asgard? The shame, the discord to follow should people learn how their future queen concealed the use of dark magic in their very streets? Listen girl, and listen well! What Asgard gives, it can take away." A seething giant, the King glared down in rage. Shame burned through me. I was powerless against the tears falling down my worn face.

A harrowing silence followed.

Slowly, rage softened into grim disappointment. "And to think... I once found you worthy of my son. Worthy of the crown."

I did the only thing I could, and pleaded. "Your Majesty-"

"Go to the city and find this dark practitioner. Interrogate him. Discover his origin and purpose." The King seemed distant now, the flame now dampened. At Sif's command, half of her squadron departed in perfect formation, the clink, clink, clink of their armor making way to deathly silence. Odin reclaimed his seat, his beard now appearing grey as ash. "Darkness has no place in Asgard."

"I believe the Lady's crimes against the crown; adultery and complicit involvement in the practice of dark magic, constitute as treason of the highest sort and therefore lay the grounds for execution."

Through all these years, Sif and I had played cat and mouse... but never would I have guessed that her hatred extended to truly wanting me dead.

"No." All eyes snapped to Thor who shook his head, eyes trained on Sif in shocked disappointment. "No, this is unreasonable. She holds the right to a fair trial."

"My Lord, you mustn't let sympathy cloud your judgement. She betrayed you. She betrayed us all."

"And this calls for us to be void of compassion?"

"There will be no talk of 'compassion' in the face of traitors," Odin growled.

Thor looked at him with defiance. "What of justice, then? Is she to die without the chance to explain herself? Without the chance to explain... why she chose to do this..." His words wavered, the muscle of his jaw rippled, and his hurt confusion became visible at last. He met my gaze, but tore away quick enough to destroy me. As my tears fell, he returned to the Allfather with a solemn resolve. "Despite what she has done, she has... served Asgard well. A fair trial will pave the way for true justice, as per the Asgardian way."

Why would he protect the one who had betrayed him as his wife and closest friend? Perhaps in my selfishness, I mistook his desire for justice for concern over me. But seeing him speak in my defense with such eloquence, such composure and above all, kindness, brought back memories.

 

"You could never cause me shame."

 

Had I loved him when we practiced our dance together for Loki's betrothal ball? All those nights spent honing and perfecting Thor's speech, all the times he recited it to me? All the summers spent picking roses? All solstices past? Laughing, drinking, feasting?

Perhaps I'll never be certain. The only thing I know is he has always been worthy and I will always be proud.

"Seven years is but a blink of an eye to the Aesir, if that." Odin glared, rivaling the fierce determination of his own son. "Why should we not be rid of the serpent here and now? Asgard will forget, and all will be as it was before."

"Thor is right," said Frigga, a contemplative look on her features. Her eyes were unreadable as they fell upon me. "Without justice, there is only pain. What honest victory can we claim if she is not given a chance in court?"

I looked between the one I called 'Mother' and Thor, moved. It was no wonder the prince knew only fairness and compassion.

"Father, this may be our only chance to find Loki. I think..." the prince's eyes fell shut, "I know he will return for her, and when he does, we will apprehend him so that they may both stand trial." He shot Sif a cold glare. "As is fair."

Silence.

At last, the Allfather leaned forward. The softened quality of his voice sent chills down my spine all the more. "Very well. It is by the mercy of Frigga and my son that you may live to see another day. You will stand trial tomorrow, where the people of Asgard may vouch for your character... or condemn you. As for now..." Odin sat back, glowering at me from higher ground. "You may ponder your crimes in the dungeons tonight."

Biting, kicking, scratching, I resisted. "No, Allfather, I have been loyal all these years! I have served you humbly! You cannot do this, please-!" I lashed out at Bergdis, screaming, snarling like a feral beast. "Traitor! How dare you, I helped you...!" With my remaining strength, I threw myself at Thor, clinging to his shirt in a desperate plea. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Thor. I know you may never forgive me, but I am still your wife and I never thought- I never wanted this to happen, you have to understand, please..."

Almost immediately, the guards restrained me again. Nothing compared to the fear, the uncertainty, the contempt and regret pumping through my veins, the hot sting of shame and adrenaline as the guards dragged me away. Thor's face, all their sorrowful faces, grew smaller and smaller until they faded from view.

Everything was crumbling, collapsing around me. Were the foundations of trust so paper-thin? The fear of being taken prisoner would often keep me awake at night, but to face it in reality...

I could only watch, idly, emptily as candelabras, curtains, drapes, walls and pillars flitted by. When the last ray of sun disappeared from view, I shut my eyes in calm defeat, succumbing to our slow descent...

 

Down...

 

Down...

 

Down...