Actions

Work Header

Absolution

Chapter Text

 

Absolution Poster

Absolution

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

 

She made a choice once: to always stand by him. When his breakdown after discovering his true origins threatens to destroy him from within, it is time to make another choice: to let things be as they may… or reveal herself and risk it all for a chance to save him. In the end, there was really no choice to make.

 

Decision

My choice was the same one it had always been: I would stand by my match.

"Today Father announced who will be taking over as King of Asgard while he goes into the Odinsleep." Loki informed me.

I kept my silence, knowing it was better to give him time to talk and just listen. Maybe that was all he truly needed, for someone to listen to him. And if not, when the moment came, I would try to do what was needed.

"It was Thor, obviously." Loki went on, his voice turning mocking briefly. "Thor Odinson, the man who can do no wrong…as if." He snorted, before talking normally once again. The Councilors, and other assorted high members of the Asgardian Court seemed to be of the belief that there was never any other option. Even the possibility of me ever ascending to the throne never so much as crossed their minds!"

"I thought you once told me you disliked the idea of being King…" I commented softly. "Something about considering it too boring…"

"Of course I do! All the pomp and circumstance…" He shook his head. "Not to my liking, I'm more the 'working behind the scene' kind of guy. Still, what angers me is that they never so much as considered the possibility that I might be as deserving of the throne as Thor. It's like… like I don't exist, maybe they think I shouldn't."

"Those who believe that are ignorant beings and you shouldn't bother with them Loki. If they cannot see your worth it's their loss. They're idiots."

"Wonder what they would think if a Midgardian ever told them that to their face." He snorted.

"I would if I could, not that I think it would mean much to them."

"No, it wouldn't. And that's yet another area where their ignorance shows. And in this case, not only the councilors', but also Thor's and Father's…"

We got off topic for a while, talking about the Asgardians' disregard for us Midgardians and our world, their apparent disapproval for any kind of connection between our worlds (which gave me an idea of just how hard a time we were gonna have when our connection was discovered; because I knew better than to think we could hide forever).

I tried to be patient, I really did, but eventually I had to push us both back to the original topic: Thor's upcoming coronation … and while I knew Loki never expected to get the throne, I still couldn't help but feel frustrated for him. He would be such an amazing King… I was sure of it. While he might not appear to be the 'nicest' person, he was kind, honorable, fair, he knew the political game like no one else I had ever known and had both the courage and the wits to do whatever it took to protect those he saw as deserving of his care and protection.

"So…if Thor being the heir isn't what's truly bothering you, what is it?" I tried to be kind even as I pushed for us to return to the main topic of conversation.

"First of all. I don't think Thor is ready. He's reckless, arrogant, temperamental, prone to acting before thinking. Who knows what kind of disasters he might bring upon Asgard if he becomes King as he is right now!"

"Have you shared your thoughts with your father, or Thor himself?"

"Ha!" Loki snorted. "Thor has little respect of my opinions whenever I'm not getting him and his friends out of mortal danger, even after I've just done so…" He shook his head. "And Father… if he trusted me in any way we wouldn't be in this situation, would we?"

I didn't say a word, waiting for him to go on, it seemed like we were finally reaching the crux of the matter, at last…

"I have no wish to be King, you know that. I always thought that one day Thor would ascend to the throne and I would be standing there to support him…maybe I could be his Head Advisor, or something like that."

"The position would fit you well." I agreed.

"Yeah well…seeing as he practically never listens to me, I'm not so sure…but that's not the point. When we were children, Father always said Thor and I were princes, both with equal right to the throne, both born to be Kings…why then does he disregard me so easily when the time comes for him to actually choose someone to take the throne? I don't wish to be King, I wish for my father to believe that I could do it if I had to!"

That, there it was, the core of everything: Loki wanted Odin to believe in him…

"Oh Loki…" I whispered, taking his hands in mine, trying to be as comforting as I could. "I'm no Asgardian, no one important who could possibly say anything to the Allfather to convince him to open his eyes and see what he's missing. He's blind if he doesn't realize the value you have. You might not be a warrior like Thor is, but your magic, and your cleverness, and your heart…you are a wonderful man Loki, and I truly believe your father will see it one day. Just give him time. A day will come when you will get the chance to prove yourself and your father will realize how amazing his second son is…"

Angels and Spirits above! If I had only know what would be happening in the following days, the way my words would be twisted and torn in the face of an impossible situation, a tragedy of immeasurable proportions…

 

xXx

I had finished my classes, handed in my last paper the night before Loki dropped in on my dorm room and we had the rather tense chat regarding Thor's future coronation. While I knew a few students chose to stay during the month before the proper graduation, either because it was easier for them or just so they could spend the time with friends and partying… truth was I had never made that many friends, that many attachments really. While I got along fairly well with a few students and a handful of professors I had no illusion about keeping in touch with them on the long run. While I didn't actually have a plan on what might be in my future, I still didn't believe it included staying much longer in or around Norwich University.

So I took a plane back to Maine and I waited… for six days I waited. My nights filled with dreams, with restlessness, with fear. Something was going on, I knew it with the same certainty I knew the sky was blue, with the same certainty I knew the deep feeling I had for Loki inside my heart would hold for the rest of my life…

I searched through the news, both on the TV and in the internet, trying to find something that would give me a clue as to what might be going on… though considering that Loki was supposed to be on another realm I wasn't sure what made me think there would be anything on Earth to signal what was going on… except there was. I found it on a blog, the news of a strange object, supposedly a broken piece of a satellite. It had crashed on the New Mexico desert, a few miles away from a small town called Puente Antiguo. For three days the object had attracted locals and tourists, all who competed, trying to lift the supposed piece of debris; except no one could. Not with their own physical strength, not even using cars, and trucks and all kind of machinery. And then the government had arrived, claimed something about radiation, danger, etcetera, and the whole area was cordoned off… Really, if that wasn't enough to let anyone know that something was going on… or maybe it was just all the information I had beforehand.

That night the dream was particularly perturbing… Loki was standing there, in his Asgardian garb, all dark green, dark leathers and golden armor, a helmet with horns long, curved horns. He looked imposing, powerful… lost. I had no way of knowing how I got that idea, but there was something in his eyes that made me feel like he was lost, like I was losing him…

I woke up screaming his name, arms extended, hands trying to grasp something so far out of my reach it was almost laughable…

It took me forever to calm down. To the point that I received the dawn while pacing from one side of my room to the other. And then I made a choice: I had to find Loki. I didn't know how, I wasn't even sure such a thing was possible, but I just had to try! Because if my dream came true, or worse yet, if it was already in the process of happening… I couldn't handle losing Loki, I just wasn't strong enough for that.

I was standing at the lobby of the mansion, dressed in simple jeans a blue blouse and a low leather boots. I couldn't help the stray thought that I looked even more my nineteen years of age when I was wearing that kind of clothes… At my feet I had a duffel bag, nothing extraordinary, enough clothes for about a week or so, my bag of toiletries, a smaller denim handbag with some essentials and a jacket. I was waiting for the taxi that would take me to the airport when the door opened and I came face to face with none other than my aunt Kathryn.

"Silbhé?" She asked, raising a brow at the bag at my feet.

My mouth felt dry, I hadn't the slightest idea of how to even begin to explain what I was doing, or why I was even doing it… and then she went and took me completely off-guard (even more than I already was) with her next words.

"So you're finally doing something about it." She stated, rather than asked.

"What…?" I really wasn't expecting that.

"You've been very restless all week darling, more than is healthy for any one person. I've been waiting for you to do something about it." She explained as if it were the most normal thing in the world… I still couldn't understand. "Where are you going?"

"New Mexico." I answered without much thought.

"Mmm…" she actually stopped to think about that. "What do you expect to find there?"

"I have no idea." I was dead honest. "I just know I have to do something, and New Mexico is the best idea I have right now."

"Because of the supposed satellite…"

I didn't even have a response for that.

"This is related to that young man, isn't it? The one who saved your life five years ago?"

I believe I might have begun resembling a koi fish right about then, because I hadn't the slightest idea of what to say, what to even think about that.

"Aunt Kathryn…" Really, there were no words.

"Oh darling… I might not seem as attentive as I should. But I know better than to believe anyone can be dying of cancer one day and then perfectly healthy a week later… I have no idea how he did it, and I don't care. He saved you, that's all I've ever needed to know."

I made a choice right then, to be absolutely honest with my aunt, she deserved that much, and she already knew more than I ever expected her to.

"His name is Loki, of Asgard." I told her quietly. "He is the God of Mischief and Lies, as hard as it might seem to believe. He's also a spellweaver, a sorcerer, very powerful." I willed my deamarkonian to show. "He created this, based from something we saw in a book. It's called a deamarkonian, and it's one half of a pair; he has the other half. This is what is keeping me alive despite the Cancer…"

"Yes…" She nodded, observing the bracelet carefully. "Dr. Gerard never could tell how all your tests could show the leukemia was as strong as ever and yet you lived as if you were in remission, or what's more, perfectly healthy…"

"I will never stop having the Cancer, this, the magic in it, just allows me to live with it." I admitted quietly, still as marveled by the whole thing as I'd been the first day.

"So… a god… Loki…"

"You believe me?"

"I heard, and saw, quite a few 'unbelievable' things when I worked for the government darling… Captain America wasn't the only thing lost in the sea, and certainly not what we found back then…" She shook her head. "But that's not important right now. What is important is for you to find your young man. Help him like he helped you…"

"I will Auntie." I smiled at her.

There really was so much she understood, and so much more she didn't, but she was supporting me, my crazy decision… I couldn't ask for anything more.

Right then we both heard the car outside. My taxi had arrived.

"Darling!" My aunt called right as I was about to leave. "I know that if your friend is from another world you might… fall off the radar at some point. Just please don't forget to let me know you're alright as soon as you can. And don't forget your graduation is next month. If you're not back by then I will get involved."

She probably still had quite a few connections from her days with MI5… and if she'd really been involved in the search for Captain America… at least she was giving me a chance to do things my way. I had four weeks more or less to find Loki and make things right.

The honk sounded again and with a last quick kiss to my aunt's cheek I grabbed the duffel bag at my feet and hurried outside.

The plane I took in Portland got me to Albuquerque; once there I had to get on a bus to Santa Fe, as there were no planes until a small one the next day; and then in Santa Fe I hired a taxi to get me to Puente Antiguo. It was a long, tedious journey, but very worth it if I managed to find my love, as far as I was concerned.

The taxi left me right outside of the town's only dinner, which had less than a dozen rooms for rent on the upper floors. It was a really small town.

"Hello." I greeted the waitress, whose tag read Isabel. "Any chance I could rent a room?"

"Well…" The girl seemed pretty embarrassed as she answered. "I actually don't have any available right now. What with the tourists visiting the place where that satellite crashed…"

Before I could say a single thing I heard a snort from a man, a trucker by his appearance, a couple of places down from me.

"That thing didn't look like no satellite." He stated as he drank his coffee.

"Really?" A woman, the cook by her clothes, asked testily. "And you would know how?"

The man didn't answer, just sneered at her.

"Well, whatever it was, it was very heavy." Another pointed out.

"I just hope we won't be affected by the radiation." A girl declared, unsure.

"It's all nothing more than a government conspiracy!" A teenager cried out from a corner.

That caused yet more snort and murmurs of denial.

"If you have no rooms, do you have any idea if someone around here might be renting?" I asked Isabel in a low voice.

"Well, some people around town have been renting out their spare rooms." She told me with a small smile. "Just walk down the street and you are sure to find someone."

I nodded gratefully, grabbing my bag and taking my leave. My bad luck held when I walked down a handful of blocks to find that practically everyone who rented rooms either wasn't renting them out anymore, or still had them occupied. I was beginning to wonder if my whole 'mission' had become absolutely impossible.

I was so lost pondering about impossibilities, because I just had to find Loki, I couldn't give up… I was no longer looking where I was going, not noticing anything at all until I found my walk interrupted quite abruptly. I crashed against what felt like a brick wall, except it was a person; and the impact was hard enough I ended up on the dusty sidewalk, my bag fallen beside me. An exclamation of pain left my lips before I could even think about stopping it.

"My lady!" The man I'd crashed against exclaimed in evident distress. "Are you alright?"

"Perfectly sir." I answered automatically.

I was still feeling the after-effects of the hit, to the point that I didn't pay much attention to anything until he had me back on my feet, and by then two, maybe three other people were calling to us as they approached. Then I looked up… and up. He was tall! Taller than Loki even. Wide-shouldered, blonde, with wide sky-blue eyes, some facial hair that gave him a look I imagine some girls would catalogue as 'ruggedly handsome' (I, personally, prefer my men wiry, with eyes as green as emeralds and hair as black as midnight).

"Are you sure you're alright, my lady?" He inquired, obviously worried.

"Yes, fine." I nodded, shaking my head to clear it a bit. "I was just a bit surprised…" I sighed. "My apologies sir, for crashing into you. I'm afraid I wasn't looking where I was going."

"It's perfectly alright, my lady." He assured me. "I was worried you might be hurt."

"Thor!" I heard three voices call.

I had to do a double-take at that.

"Thor?!" I blurted out in shock.

"Yes, that is my name, Thor Odinson." He introduced himself respectfully.

So lost I was still in my surprise at seeing him, Loki's brother! That I nearly introduced myself as Nightingale, until the oldest of the two women approaching us, reached us.

"Thor!" She called yet again, before turning to me. "Are you alright?"

"Yes fine, I was just distracted, didn't see Thor there…" I tried to appear as sheepish as possible. "I am Silbhé, by the way. Silbhé Salani."

"Jane Foster." She introduced herself, shaking my hand, before waving to those behind her. "That's Erik Selvig, a colleague of mine, and Darcy Lewis."

"A pleasure to meet you." I nodded at them.

"Hey! Are you new around here?" Darcy asked, very interested in me. "I mean, this town is so small I thought I knew everyone already, but I'd never seen you before."

"You could say that." I gave the first excuse I could think of. "I just finished school last week and decided to take some time to myself before graduation, real life… you know."

"Aren't you going to college?" Erik asked, surprised.

I just looked down at myself, deciding the clothes must really be making me look young… on the other hand, being nineteen, I suppose most girls my age would be on their way to college.

"Actually I just finished grad-school." I admitted with an embarrassed smile. "Master Degree."

That seemed to catch Jane and Erik by surprise though, surprisingly, not Darcy.

"You're the genius girl from Norwich!" She cried out in obvious delight.

"Do I know you?" I didn't believe I did.

"Probably not." She shrugged. "I'm from the University of Arizona, Poli-Sci major… but everyone has heard about you. The girl-genius who finished three undergrads at sixteen, and would be finishing those same degrees on master level soon… I suppose that's now."

"Yes." I really couldn't believe I was famous, it seemed so strange.

"What are your subjects of study, if you don't mind me asking?" Erik inquired, curious.

"European Mythology and Folklore, History and Literature." I enlisted, not being to help being quite proud of myself.

"European mythology…" Erik repeated. "Like the Norse…"

I nodded, wondering if they would be able to find me out… though I honestly did not know how they would be able to, just with that…

"That means you know who Thor is!" Darcy cried out with obvious delight.

"I know…" I answered seriously, maybe a bit too seriously.

Jane and Thor were the only ones who noticed my demeanor, and I could see that at least Jane was all for questioning me about it; however, they never got the chance, for we suddenly weren't alone anymore, four more people, three men and one woman, all in quite odd not-of-this-time clothing, had just arrived…

"Found you!" The one who seemed the biggest of all cried out as he slapped Thor in the arm hard enough to make him stumble a bit to the side.

All new-arrivals were decked in what I recognized as Asgardian-style clothes and armor. The biggest was a broad-shouldered redhead with a long beard; the next was a blonde, unlike his companion he was lean (though not as much as Loki), with clear eyes and an expression I didn't like in them, too much self-assurance, too big an ego… the last man looked to be of Asian roots (or he would be, if he were from Earth), with dark hair in a top-knot, he looked like what I imagined a Samurai must have, five hundred years ago… it was interesting though, how I could see each of them representing the best of warriors of quite different cultures: Celtic, Roman, Japanese… Quite interesting indeed… Then there was the woman, with her long dark hair and flashing eyes, her armor showing that despite being a warrior she was also a woman; the Goddess of War indeed!

"My friends!" Thor exclaimed happily, hurrying to greet them.

"I don't believe it…" Selvig muttered in shock.

"Who are they?" Darcy inquired, confused.

"If I had to guess?" I piped in. "Lady Sif and the Warriors Three…"

I shook my head, trying to push away the excess of information I had, way more than I could ever justify with my studies… all courtesy of Loki's stories of course! Wonder what those four, and Thor too! Would think if they knew just how well I knew all of them, how much I understood each of them, their interactions with each other… the way each of them had hurt the man I loved with all the strength my human heart was capable of… would they even care?

I came back to my full senses to hear Volstagg boasting about people a thousand years ago worshiping them all as gods…

"Yeah, well, it's well known that people either fear or worship what they don't understand, that doesn't mean you're necessarily anything special in the grand scheme." I couldn't help but quip.

They all turned to look at me right then, obvious surprise in their expression, probably at the way I was dismissing their 'greatness'; only one didn't look shocked, Darcy, she just laughed.

"You would know." She snickered.

"Oh… I know a great many things." I agreed, my eyes fixed straight on Thor.

I knew I was giving a lot too fast, but if I expected him to help me somehow, in anyway; if I expected to be able to help Loki… then I would need him to understand, at least enough to help me find Loki in time… and something told me we didn't have a lot of that.

"My friends, I've never been happier to see anyone, but you should not have come." Thor stated with a sort of sad joy, a pained happiness, that didn't seem to fit him at all.

"We're here to take you home." Fandral stated outright.

Jane's eyes widened considerably at those words, though I didn't think anyone noticed except I, and maybe Darcy; she seemed to be quite attached to the god of thunder…

"You know I can't." Thor said quietly, pained. "My father is dead because of me. I must remain in exile…"

"Thor…" Sif's voice was quiet but incredibly strong. "Your father still lives…"

Thor was obviously still reeling about the revelation, but I couldn't keep waiting, some instinct deep inside told me things were going to go to hell in a hand basket any second, and I needed to at least begin to understand what was going on if I expected to be able to help anyone.

"Excuse me…" I called as casually as I could in the situation. "Anyone mind telling me what exactly is going on. Being the new girl around and all…"

"You seem extraordinarily at ease with everything that's been said thus far… being the 'new girl' and all." It was Jane who called me on my bluff.

Selvig was obviously still too shocked by the whole thing, and Darcy in too much awe (either by the gods or still remembering my record) to say anything.

"I've been studying European mythology for years." I tried to justify my attitude. "The idea of there having been actual people with abilities of some kind, even if they deep down were perfectly normal, who were called gods just because their talents exceeded the average of the time is not a new theory Dr. Foster… Yes, I know your name. I know your theories. The fact that you're still standing here, in this company, when I can deduce it's been close to a week since Thor first arrived means you believe what he claims to be true, at least to an extent."

"You seem to be doing more than just believing the word of a stranger…" The doctor insisted, still very suspicious.

"Ah! But what qualifies a stranger?" I inquired. "How long do you have to know someone before they're considered a friend, or at least an acquaintance? A week, a day, an hour? Is it a matter of time, or the quantity of knowledge? Or something else entirely unrelated?"

I couldn't help the play of words, what can I say? Loki has been certainly a huge influence on me, and not always a good one…

"You know things, my lady." Thor stepped in. "I cannot tell how you do, or even what makes me think it, but there is something about your demeanor, about the ease with which you're handling everything, that tells me you know far more than you've revealed thus far."

"I do." I admitted straight out. "I will not deny that. But you might not believe me if I tell you how I know the things I do. Besides, why should I be the only one to reveal all my cards? Who tells me you won't take advantage of the things I don't know, once I've revealed what I do?"

"You speak in riddles, girl." Sif stated, with obvious distaste in her eyes. "Talking a lot, while saying very little… like a certain someone we all know."

Yes, I knew exactly who she was alluding to, yet I did not reveal that; I wasn't willing to give up that much about me without some kind of guarantee…

And yet, I never actually got that guarantee. For right then our tense convoluted conversation was interrupted by a strange storm forming in the distance. It looked almost like a mix of a sandstorm and a tornado, except localized, and it carried a power so strong it made the hairs on my arms stand on end even as I inhaled sharply… I could feel the power in that storm, so big, so bright, and with a tang of ice and something else that was entirely Loki… He had made his move, whatever it was… things were about to come to a head. And yet, when I had that thought I never factored a five floor tall robot in… it was insane!

We all reacted instinctively the moment we saw the huge metal thing begin its path of destruction, still a few miles away from the town. Coordinating an evacuation as well as we could. Darcy also did what she could to get the animals from the pet-store into one of the trucks taking people away.

At some point Thor and I found ourselves standing side by side. My first instinct had been for the people in the hospital, and most of the Asgardians had caught up quite quickly, helping with the patients who couldn't move on their own. I, while being quite small, managed to somehow help people keep cool heads and keep moving. It took a while, but everyone in the hospital was evacuated, just a few people who refused to just up and run arguing with Jane, Erik and Darcy, as well as the government agents I couldn't believe I'd missed earlier, apparently preparing for the evident arrival of the metal-monster.

"This isn't your fault, you know?" I told Thor as off-handedly as I possibly could.

"I cannot think what else could possibly bring the Destroyer to this world." Thor said in a heavily-guilt-ridden voice.

"Still doesn't make it your fault." I insisted, then took a deep breath before adding. "Look, I may not understand why the hell all of this is happening, but I do know one thing: we each make choices in our lives, each of those choices has a consequence, and we've got to live with them. I don't know what you did that made you end up here on Earth, particularly without your powers, or what choice made whoever it was that sent that monster-thing here…" I wasn't about to mention Loki, not yet, not unless I had to. "In the end we each can do nothing but worry about our own choices, about dealing with those consequences. You've chosen to stay and help, even knowing that you cannot really fight that thing; Jane and the others chose to stay and help too, each of their own reasons…"

"You chose to come here…" Thor finished for me. "Why? What could possibly bring you, right to this place, right this day?"

"You would never believe me if I told you…" I whispered dejectedly.

Really, when I saw him, I could imagine the reckless, wild, dangerous man Loki had told me about just a week before, the one who wasn't ready for any throne… and yet, in that moment, without the power of his birthright, without the power his name and position commanded, it was like he'd changed. I wondered if that had been the plan all along… whoever had sent him to Earth so vulnerable, no… human. Had they planned all along for him to change like that? Had it been Loki's plan, or Odin's? And what was Loki's involvement in the whole thing? I needed to know, I needed to understand if I hoped to be able to help my love.

My love… yes. That's what he was. I might have been avoiding like crazy to say it, or even think it; but I knew already that I loved him, that it wasn't a feeling that would be going away any time soon… now I just needed to stand up and own to it! And wasn't that what I'd decided on doing when I first took the plane to New Mexico? Maybe, maybe that had been my intention all along but I hadn't done it just yet, not until others knew…

The first explosion caught me by surprise. It wasn't close enough to hurt me, or Thor, but enough to get the adrenaline up and make us move. We rushed to where Jane, Darcy and Selvig were waiting. They had gotten everyone else out but since Jane refused to leave, the other two refused to leave her behind.

"You should leave." Thor told me as we ran to the others.

"No." I shook my head. "There's a reason I'm here, a choice I've made, and the consequences have yet to come."

"You truly know more about this, about us, than it seems, don't you?" He asked, seemingly out of the blue. "Who are you, my lady?"

"You would not believe it if I told you." I whispered.

I didn't get the chance to say anymore. Distracted as I was I tripped on some debris and would have fallen if he hadn't been there to pull me up. It took several seconds for me to realize his hand had stayed on my wrist longer than absolutely necessary. I realized why a moment later as he pulled my hand up, eyes fixed straight on the cuff-bracelet on it… I had no idea when I'd willed the deamarkonian to be seen, maybe when I felt the power and the Destroyer arrived, maybe before… in any case, Thor was seeing it right then, and his eyes were straight on a certain symbol on the inner side of it, something that, to most, would seem like a double rune of eternity, we both knew it to be a lot more…

"That's Loki's symbol…" He whispered.

We were interrupted, yet again. This time by the Destroyer blowing up Isabel's empty diner after Lady Sif and the Warriors Three failed to stop it.

"Go now!" Thor yelled at us. "Run!"

We tried to, really, we did. But the chaos was so great, the destruction so much. Another building blew up and the glass flew at us so fast…

Instincts took over. Darcy was the one closest to me and I pushed her to the ground, covering her with my body (I might be small, but was still capable of ensuring she wouldn't end up killed). The moment the volley of glass reached us I could only close my eyes and pray we would make it out of it alive.

I don't know how long I laid there, it might have been just a few seconds, it might have been minutes… I kept waiting for pain that never came and then…

"Ouch!" Darcy's exclamation made me react.

Still moving more on instinct that reasoning it I rolled to the side and off the older girl.

"Hey!" She called, alarmed. "Should you be doing that? What about the glass on your back?"

"I'm alright." I said almost automatically.

It took a couple more seconds for me to realize that I was, truly, alright. I was feeling the fall, as was Darcy, most likely, but that was all the pain I was feeling; and even as I carefully examined my arms I couldn't see any glass, no scratches or cuts caused by the flying glass. It was so strange… so… magical?

"Are you alright?" I asked then, turning to the brunette.

"Perfect, except for the part where I had the air knocked out of me, and how you somehow shocked me when I touched you a moment ago." She said with a half-nervous, half-confused air. "And how exactly did that happen?" She shook her head. "Anyway, you took the brunt of the glass, except, I don't see any cuts on you!"

She was obviously marveled by the whole thing, even if she didn't understand it; of course, she didn't have all the information I did; and I knew that if I were to tell her right then she would never believe me. After all, how could Loki possibly be protecting me, or his magic in any case, when he was the one who'd sent the Destroyer in the first place? Yep, not logical at all!

"Darcy! Silbhé!" We heard Jane call.

Apparently she and Selvig had doubled back when seeing we weren't with them.

I was still half lost in the implications of Loki's magic somehow protecting me even without him present (not even in the same world) when Lady Sif and the Warriors Three reached us. Volstagg was badly injured, and the other three weren't much better, but they still pulled Darcy and I to our feet before beginning to herd us away, saying something about retreating and Thor having a plan… I had a bad feeling about that plan…

"Wait!" Jane called, spinning around.

I obviously wasn't the only one with the bad feeling.

"What's he doing?" Jane asked, breathless.

I just stood there, watching as Thor approached the Destroyer slowly; I had a bad feeling I knew exactly the kind of 'plan' he had, and yet I still had a hard time believing it. Sacrifice… it was a part of my instinct, I knew that deep down, and I knew it was a commendable instinct in a King, to be willing to die to protect their Kingdom, their people… it still didn't fit what I'd known of Thor before that day…

What followed was the hardest, most breathtaking, heartbreaking, thing I've ever seen. From watching Thor walking to the huge metallic monster, whispering things to the wind we couldn't hear… to being hit hard enough to send him flying a few feet before crashing painfully on the ground… Jane's gut-punching wail as she saw him down, her cries as she rushed to him, wanting to save him yet not knowing how…

I felt a strong shiver as the breath left Thor, I knew what had happened for Jane's reaction, even as the rest of us remained frozen where we stood; yet I could somehow sense, instinctively, that it wasn't over just yet, there was some kind of anxiety, of anticipation in the air… whatever Loki's play had been, whatever his plan, it wasn't over just yet, there was something missing…

I could feel the storm even before it came, like the energy in the air was growing exponentially every second. I had no idea what it meant, just that it was how it was supposed to be.

"Jane!" I screamed without stopping to think about it. "You have to get back! Now!"

She refused to listen to me but, thankfully, Selvig did. He took hold of Jane and pulled her away from the unmoving Thor even as she kept crying her denials. And just in time; they hadn't even reached us again when a storm cloud appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the sky and then thunder struck down, straight on Thor!

I shivered, rubbing my arms as I wondered if it was normal to be so aware of the power of Asgard as I was, as I'd been since first setting foot in Puente Antiguo. Maybe it was just because it wasn't a power I was used to, not like Loki's…

The electricity of the thunder seemed to form some kind of cocoon around Thor; and when it finally dissipated he stood there, tall and strong, in what was obviously Asgardian garb and armor, so much like Loki's, yet also so different at the same time, his color red rather than green, his armor hard steel rather than flashy gold.

"Oh My God…" Jane gasped.

Better, truer, words were never spoken.

What followed was a rather one sided fight, on the opposite side than the first part of it. It took a few minutes, but eventually Thor managed to take the Destroyer down, and without a scratch on him! In fact, the wounds he'd gained before, particularly when the monster had pretty much thrown him away…

"So, is this how you normally look?" Jane asked, looking him up and down.

There was definitely something there between those two, even if they themselves hadn't realized it just yet, considering the way Thor was looking back at Jane.

"More or less." Thor admitted with a smile.

"It's a good look." Jane stated with an appreciative expression.

They smiled a bit more to each other before Thor turned to his companions.

"We must go to the Bifrost side." He told them calmly but full of authority. "I would have words with my brother."

I was wondering how exactly to convince him to take me along, when someone else interrupted.

"Excuse me!" It was one of the government agents. "Donald? I don't think you've been completely honest with me."

I couldn't help it, I snorted which, of course, called the agent's attention to me.

"Professor Salani…" He called with a nod. "It's a bit… unexpected, finding you here."

"Why am I not surprised you know my name?" I asked in turn, rolling my eyes.

"Considering the situation we've been keeping an eye on everyone who arrives to town; not that many people have, since tourists stopped coming to try and lift the alien object…" The agent admitted quiet easily. "Besides, you were already in our radar, considering your area of study…"

That surprised me. I didn't think a week to be long enough for them to realize how closely related mythology was to Asgard. Or maybe they'd known before that? After all, the Tesseract was connected to Asgard too, right? Maybe they'd been interested in the topic since back then, and it's not like there were many scholars who could boast the kind of combination of subjects I'd studied, and that's without considering the languages…

"Know this, Son of Coul." Thor called the agent's attention back to him. "You and I, we fight for the same cause, the protection of this world. From this day forward, you can count me as your ally, if you return the items you have taken from Jane."

"Stolen." Jane punctuated.

"Borrowed." Coulson corrected before sighing and moving on. "Of course, you can have your equipment back. You're gonna need it to continue your research." He turned to me. "We would be very interested in having you work us too, Professor Salani."

I didn't answer. If things went the way I hoped they did there was no guarantee I would be around to work for him.

"Would you like to see the bridge we spoke of?" Thor asked Jane suddenly.

"Sure." She didn't even need to think about it.

Thor pulled her against him, their bodies flushing together, and I could almost swear that for a fraction of a second I saw a ribbon of bright, colored light twisting around them.

"Wait!" Coulson called loudly. "I need to debrief you!"

It was too late, with a rush of wind the two were gone.

"Lets go!" Darcy called almost right away.

I turned to see her getting behind the wheel of a jeep; Selvig on the copilot seat, while the other Asgardians hurried to the back.

"Mind if I tag along?" I inquired as I rushed to them.

"Sure, hop on." The older woman declared with a thrill.

I wasn't sure if it was the adrenaline or the eagerness of discovering something new, something out of this world, but she sure was in a good mood; and Selvig seemed to finally be moving on from the shock. I knew the government agents would be following us sooner or later but I didn't much care about them at the moment. My priorities were quite different.

We arrived to the Bifrost site a few minutes later. Darcy and Selvig had told me the story of what had been happening during the week, beginning with them running over Thor one night while researching a possible Einstein-Rosen bridge; Sif and the Warriors filled in the blanks concerning Asgard and Loki's actions. And yet, with what I knew about them and their less than positive disposition concerning my beloved I knew better than to just take their word about it. It was quite obvious that something serious had been going on, that Loki was in the middle of it (which wasn't new, really) but I didn't quite believe that Loki had done everything just to spite his brother, to destroy him, that just wasn't him; besides, I could still remember the words I'd heard Loki pronounce in my dreams, that first night:

"You're my brother and my friend. Sometimes I'm envious, but never doubt that I love you."

As we arrived to the place in the middle of the desert we found Thor standing over what looked like glyphs painted on the sand, calling to the sky the name of the Guardian of the Rainbow bridge: Heimdall.

"He doesn't answer." He announced as we all arrived.

"Then we are stranded." Volstagg sounded obviously unhappy as he said that.

"Heimdall!" Thor called to the sky again. "If you can hear me, we need you now!"

He kept calling, again and again, until, finally, I felt the power begin to grow again, the Bifrost was opening. As the strange twister began to form in the sky Sif and the Warriors rushed to stand over the markings in the sand. Thor looked back, obviously searching for Jane before leaving; however, in that very moment I decided that if I was going to make a move, it had to be then.

"Thor." I called quietly, approaching him.

"Yes, my lady?" He inquired, confused by my approach.

There was no easy way to say what needed to be said, so I just went and said it straight out.

"I know this is going to sound absolutely insane, but I need you to take me with you."

That definitely called everyone's attention. Everyone was looking me like I was crazy (and maybe I am, but that's not the point). Thor, instead of looking at me straight on, had his eyes fixed on the deamarkonian instead.

"There's a lot I cannot explain right now, we do not have the time." I said in a rush. "There are things I know, and it's not just because of the things I learnt in school…"

"You wear Loki's symbol." He stated.

"I do." I raised my arm so everyone could see the bracelet. "And that's part of the explanation-too-long-to-be-given. I know you have no reason to trust me, but Loki needs help…"

"Loki is an insane bastard who's been trying to kill Thor all week, ever since the ruined coronation party!" Fandral sneered.

"And I wouldn't be surprised to find out that was his fault as well!" Sif added scornfully.

I almost winced at that; to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if it was like that either. But that didn't change the fact that I loved Loki and wanted to help him.

"Loki needs help." I insisted, looking straight at Thor, trying to convey the depth of my feelings in one look. "I need to help him…"

"What makes you think you could do any difference?" Jane inquired from a side.

It was obvious that she had no idea what was going on, except that I was somehow connected to Loki, the same person who had just sent the monster that nearly killed us all… it changed nothing for me, I would always be loyal to Loki.

I had no idea what to say, what reason to give, how to gain their trust. Only one thing came to mind, and there was no way to be sure it would be enough, yet it was all I had…

"I am Nightingale." I stated simply, directly.

By the way Thor's eyes widened considerably it was obvious he realized the implications of those words, at least to a point. He nodded then, signaling for me to join the others above the markings of the Bifrost before turning to say his goodbyes to Jane.

"Do you honestly believe you can save Loki?" Sif asked, a mix of condescension, anger and honest curiosity in her expression as she looked at me.

"I don't know." I admitted quietly. "But I've gotta try."

In no time at all Thor joined us. Placing one hand on my arm, probably to make sure I wouldn't get lost on the way. Then, in a flash of white light and colors, we were gone.

Chapter Text

Test

Some say life is full of tests, others that life itself is a test; whichever the case, I'm not afraid.

I stumbled a bit as we landed on the circular metallic looking room; might have fallen if it weren't for Thor's hand on my arm. He held me long enough to make sure I'd gotten my footing, then focused on the figure laying on the floor by the dais with a big sword in the middle: he was black-skinned, tall and wore golden armor: Heimdall.

"Get him to a healing room!" Thor ordered his companions instantly.

"Wait!" I called as I focused once again. "I can help."

I tripped a bit, still not in all my senses after traveling from one realm to another; I also felt strangely breathless, as if some kind of energy were reaching to me, not quite touching me yet, but it was just a matter of time…

"What can you do?" Fandral inquired, confused.

I didn't answer, I had trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time, so instead I got into action, dropping to the floor beside the fallen man. I reached into my handbag which, thankfully, I still had strapped to my waist. I pulled out an even smaller, protected bag from it, full with half a dozen glass vials. Two were bigger than the others, and I took one of those out.

"What's that?" Sif inquired, curious.

"Healing elixir." I answered half-absently as I uncorked it and pushed it to Heimdall's lips. "It's really the dust of one healing stone mixed with the purest water found on Earth. It being in liquid form allows for a better healing of internal injuries; which really isn't possible usually with the stones. The vials are spelled to allow it to keep its properties as long as they remain corked; also, I am the only one who can uncork them."

"Ingenious." Fandral admitted.

"Loki made them." I pointed out with satisfaction.

The blonde blinked a few times, obviously not having expected that. Hogun just shook his head, he could obviously see what I was doing, or trying to do.

"We still need to get to Loki." Thor reminded me.

"Yes." I nodded.

As fast as I could I got my things together again and rushed after him; what I never expected was what happened the moment I stepped outside the arrival room of the Bifrost. It was as if the tidal wave of energy that I'd been feeling brushing against me suddenly had nothing holding it back anymore; and the moment it actually touched me it pulled me down, literally. I couldn't help the loud gasp as my legs stopped holding me, my body pretty much folded upon itself and I hugged myself tightly, as if trying to force my body to retain its shape against the force of the feeling overtaking me all of a sudden.

"Lady Nightingale!" Thor called loudly.

Had it been any other moment, any other situation, I might have wondered at the fact that he was so easily accepting my other name and what it was supposed to mean; in that moment all I could think about was the river of power drowning me, and the most likely origin of it.

"Loki…" I gasped, forcing myself to speak through it all. "Thor…you have to hurry… Loki… we're losing him…"

"Lady Nightingale…?" Thor and Volstagg inquired at the same time, confused.

"I can feel… him…" I had no idea how to even begin to explain it right, there was so much to feel, so much to deal with. "So much… so awful… Loki… he's losing himself… you have to hurry… Thor please!"

I had no idea if I'd been clear enough, but judging how he nodded seriously at me before turning around I judged it had been enough.

"Bring her as soon as you can." The prince ordered as he left. "I will find Loki!"

"Please… hurry!" I insisted in a gasp.

Thor nodded once more at me before running in the direction of the palace.

As I turned a bit to the other side I noticed that Heimdall seemed to be recovering, and Volstagg wasn't as injured as it had seemed at first. In any case neither of them seemed in much of a hurry to get to the healing houses. Hogun stood by them, observing the slain Jotun a few feet away, while Fandral knelt beside me, Sif behind him.

"Are you alright?" The blonde inquired quietly.

"I… I don't know…" I admitted. "I'd… never… felt this much…"

I kept taking deep breaths, forcing my body to take in everything Loki was letting out, accepting it instead of fighting the tidal wave of power and emotion. I needed to adapt, to deal with the outpour and find the way to function again; otherwise my insistence to have Thor take me to Asgard would be for nothing.

It took a few more minutes but eventually I got well enough to get back on my feet with some help from Fandral. By then Hogun had arranged for some horses; which was good as there was no way I would have ever made it to the palace walking.

Fandral was helping me onto a horse, about to get behind it himself (as he probably guessed I didn't know how to ride) when I spoke again.

"I know the kind of 'fame' you have, 'Fandral the Dashing'." I told him in my most serious voice. "But my only interest here is in regards to Loki. Alright?"

"Perfectly, my lady." He nodded, respectfully.

I nodded, allowing him to jump onto the horse behind me.

"I cannot see you." Heimdall said suddenly.

I turned to him, for a moment wondering what he was talking about.

"You're right here, in front of me, and I still cannot see you." He insisted.

Then I understood what he meant. Loki had mentioned it once or twice, actually; how he'd placed a spell on me, to occlude me from Heimdall's eyes, to make sure neither he nor anyone else in Asgard would ever know about our connection. Well… I did always know that they would be finding out someday (even if, back then, I could have never planned that it would be I making the big reveal myself, and certainly not in the current circumstances).

"And yet you've seen so much…" I whispered, only half knowing myself what prompted those words. "Enough to judge things, people, you could never begin to understand…"

"Loki…" He spoke in realization.

"Loki." I agreed, more calmly than I actually felt, showing off my deamarkonian.

"How can we trust the chosen match of the one responsible for the chaos and danger we're all currently in?" He demanded.

"The way I see it, if Loki were the evil bastard you're trying to portray him as, why aren't you dead?" I asked in return. "On the other hand, if Loki is still, right on this moment, your King, why are your actions so treacherously against him?"

That seemed to be enough to at least give him pause. Enough for me to use what little I'd once read about horse-riding (in an old, Victorian-romance novel, years prior) I held tight onto the animal with legs (mainly my thighs) and hands, trying not to pull on its hair, and then nudged it with a heel into motion. It ended galloping off faster and harder than I was expecting; thankfully Fandral was fast enough and good enough on a horse to keep both himself and myself from falling off the animal when it took off.

"You know, I don't think anyone has ever talked to Heimdall like that before." The blonde commented as we rushed down the bridge. "Questioning him… challenging him… I don't think anyone besides, maybe, the Allfather himself, would ever dare…"

"I tend to do that, or so I've been told." I said absentmindedly.

Loki had mentioned that a number of times, when I'd challenged my teachers when I believed they weren't being fair in their tests and such; and then there were my opinions concerning practically every single Asgardian who'd ever hurt my beloved in one way or another; which, in fact, included Heimdall, Fandral, Thor and even the Allfather, so…

"Can you really feel what Loki is feeling?" Fandral asked abruptly.

I just nodded, breathing deeply and unable to speak as another wave went through me. It was like I was suddenly hearing a voice in the wind:

"And your death came by the son of Odin…"

Such was my luck, that by the time we made it to the palace, it was too late already. Fandral guided me to a terrace where a beautiful woman in a golden gown was screaming two names:

"Loki! Thor!" She was obviously distressed.

"Your Majesty…" Fandral called respectfully as we arrived.

It took me a few seconds to fully process what I'd just heard, as I was still half-lost in the deep emotions Loki kept sending out. However, when I did I could only gasp… that was Queen Frigg?! That was the Queen of Asgard?! Loki's mother!

As she turned in my direction I dropped into a respectful curtsey before I was fully conscious of what I was doing (it didn't go very well, considering I was wearing jeans… but still, it was the intent that mattered, or so I hope). It was just instinctive, I didn't fully realize it, not until she was standing right in front of me, laying a hand on my head, and suddenly there was a flash of light and I could see over half a dozen colorful and intangible ribbons that seemed to originate behind me… or maybe even in me, only to get lost far behind the Queen.

"You're Loki's match…" Frigg gasped.

I blinked a number of times slowly as I fully processed what she'd just said. Really, it was the second time someone called me Loki's match and I still didn't know what it was supposed to mean. It wasn't an expression I was familiar with.

"You really don't know, do you?" she asked, a tinge of awe in her expression.

"I know how I feel." I admitted quietly, shy under the gaze of the powerful woman. "I do not presume to know how he feels…"

"The fact that these…" she signaled to the ribbons still floating around me. "exist, is proof enough that your feelings are reciprocated."

Knowing that, feeling deep down that she was telling the absolute truth, did more to allay any fears that might exist inside me than anything else she or anyone else might have said or done.

"Might I know your name, young lady?" Lady Frigg inquired.

"I was born Silbhé Salani, my lady." I said respectfully, smiling at her. "But your son has given me the name of Nightingale, and it is one I carry with pride."

"You are the Lady Nightingale!" She seemed delighted by that fact. "I have heard of you. My son mentions you every so often, though I was never sure where you were supposed to be."

"I am from Earth… Midgard, your Majesty, I am human…" I informed her quietly. "I came with your other son when he was able to return from his exile, after he regained his powers and the Destroyer was deactivated."

In that moment, when I chained it all together in one single sentence, I suddenly had an epiphany.

"That's it!" I couldn't help but cry out, delighted.

"What is…?" Both Fandral and Frigg seemed confused by my sudden change in demeanor.

"I know what Loki's been trying to do all this time!" I explained brightly.

I really couldn't hold back my satisfaction. It made me feel almost vindicated, that I was right and Loki wasn't evil, there was a reason for everything he'd done all along!

"Really?" Obviously Fandral didn't believe it. "I would like to hear it."

"So would I." Another voice called from behind.

I spun around instantly, only half aware from the corner of my eye as Fandral dropped to one knee; even before I laid eyes on the new arrival I knew who he would be, and I couldn't help the way two instincts fought inside me: one half of me wanted to follow protocol and kneel as well, or at the very least bow in proper respect, the other half remembered quiet clearly all the times Loki had been hurt by the words and/or actions of the man before me, remembered how I'd always said I would one day give him, give them all, a piece of my mind, make them realize how wrong they were to hurt my Loki…

In the end I managed a sort of compromise for myself: I did a curtsy, dropping my head only the bare minimum; enough to show some respect while still driving in the message that the respect wasn't absolute; and also the fact that I respected the Queen more than I did the Allfather.

"Who are you, young lady?" Odin asked with all the authority.

I could feel his power pushing onto me, almost as if demanding submission; but I was just too stubborn, have always been according to Aunt Kathryn. I stood my ground, refusing to so much as lower my head anymore. I might be considerably shorter than him, and with nowhere near the power or authority he possessed, but I still wouldn't back down.

"I am Nightingale." I introduced myself proudly. "I am Loki's match."

As I said those words, as I believed them, I could feel once again the ribbons of light connecting us; their magic, their warmth bringing me some comfort even when I knew how precarious the situation we all were in, was.

Before another word could be said I felt yet another wave of feeling, despair chief among the onslaught of emotion; and, once again, Loki's voice in the wind:

"I never wanted to be King! I only ever wanted to be your equal!"

"Loki!" I screamed as I spun around in the direction of the Rainbow bridge again.

I held tightly onto the ribbons, wanting nothing more than to be where my beloved was, immediately. I didn't care how it happened, I wanted… no, I needed to be with him…

I suddenly felt someone pulling me back, it was Frigg.

"My lady?" I asked, confused.

"If you keep trying that hard you will only hurt yourself." She told me quietly.

"I don't understand…" What had I been doing exactly?

"You're pulling at your connection with Loki, at him. You're trying to use magic to get to him, when you don't have any magic to call on." Frigg explained. "If you keep trying so hard you will end up hurting yourself."

"I need to get to Loki!" I hissed, too put out by everything happening to stop and consider how I was speaking to the Queen of Asgard.

"Odin will get you there." She announced.

By the look on the Allfather's expression it was quite obvious that she hadn't exactly asked him his opinion on the matter; however, I could also sense he wouldn't deny her.

Which is how, less than five minutes later, I found myself on yet another horse: this one the mythical Sleipnir, with Odin; riding hard and fast to the bridge. How ironic, we were going in the very direction I'd come from less than half an hour before…

It didn't take long for us to be close enough to the end of the bridge, to where the battle was taking place, we soon could hear as Loki and Thor screamed at each other while fighting.

"I'm not your brother!" Loki cried out in a mix of fury and distress. "I never was!"

"What?!" I was in shock by that.

There are many myths that talk about the origins of Loki, almost all (if not all) of them talk about him being of a race that is in no way related to the Aesir, in no way connected to Odin and Frigg. However, those same myths tend to assign to my beloved a number of children, most of them not even barely human-looking; children I know are not his in any way. I actually asked him once, to my eternal embarrassment!

He had explained it to me once: Sleipnir was the offspring of a mare that had been his, his favorite animal when he was young. She'd helped him in a half-prank, half-mission concerning a group who had been building a… wall in Asgard (I forgot the details). While the myth claimed he had been the mare, that wasn't true, at all. Fenris and Jormungandr were magical creatures he had empathized greatly with, until the Allfather had felt threatened by them, by their obscure nature, their questionable actions, and punished them. While there was, indeed, an Asgardian lady called Sigyn, and some might even call her Loki's friend (or the closest he had to one among the Aesir) there was nothing romantic between them, therefore, also, no children there. Hel was the only child of my love, one child I hoped I would be able to meet, who I hoped would accept me as part of her family one day.

So, yeah, I hadn't had much faith on many of the myths I'd read in the past. But something a good number of them had in common suddenly hit me hard: a Jotun… Loki was a Jotun! By all the Spirits and the Angels!

"When did he find out?" I asked Odin quietly.

"What…?" For a moment he didn't seem to know what I was talking about.

"When did Loki find out that he wasn't born your son?" I clarified.

"Five days ago." Odin answered after a few seconds, before adding. "You don't seem surprised."

"You might be surprised by the things that appear in Midgardian mythology, things concerning Asgard, and probably other realms as well." I told him in turn. "I stopped believing a lot of it a long time ago… I might have to revisit my opinion on some of those…"

Yes, I would have to, but that was neither the time nor the place for it. My reevaluations of what might be true and what might not could wait until I was sure my Maverick was alright.

Odin got off Sleipnir, before helping me do the same. We'd gotten close enough to the fight already. Thor and Loki were battling on the bridge, a few feet away from the capsule-like construction where one actually transported to other realms. Heimdall was there with Hogun, behind what looked like a semi-translucent shield; something told me that shield was the only thing that had stopped the two fighters from having their duel inside the construction itself.

Right then Loki was saying something to Thor about becoming soft, and a woman… maybe Jane? I didn't understand what exactly he was saying, though I did manage to catch up what followed from there:

"It was!" Loki hissed icily at Thor right then. "Well, maybe when we're finished here I'll pay her a visit myself!"

Was he threatening Jane? Why? I didn't understand. And then, like a flash, I realized it: he was doing all he could to provoke Thor into a fight…

"And what about your lady, brother?" Thor asked in return. "What about the Lady Nightingale?"

"What do you even know about Nightingale?!" Loki seemed suddenly very stressed out. "She has nothing to do with this!"

"Neither does Jane, yet you're threatening her!" Thor pointed out, he shook his head before adding. "And your lady does have something to do with things, Loki."

"Do not speak of what you could never understand!" Loki yelled at him. "You do not know her!"

"Oh, but I do brother." Thor insisted.

"I am not your brother!" My love snarled.

"She's here!" Thor sentenced.

That seemed to be enough to freeze my beloved in place for a few seconds, until he shook his head harshly, laughing darkly.

"That is impossible." He denied.

I tried to approach them, to stop their fight, but Odin wouldn't let me.

"I don't know what makes you think it's right to let them fight and possibly kill each other." I hissed at the Allfather, caring little for his titles or powers in that moment. "But I'm not going to stand here and watch someone I love get hurt while doing nothing about it!"

Yeah, it was a dig at him, possibly even below the belt; I didn't care. All I cared about in that moment was saving my love.

"They need to sort this out for themselves." Odin insisted.

"Yes, because they're dealing with the revelation of Loki's parentage so well…" I hissed sarcastically. "Loki is in denial. The intentions behind his actions might be good, but that's not stopping him from hurting others, or himself. It won't stop him from destroying himself, not right now. I won't let that happen! I won't just stand here and watch the man I love more than my own life destroy himself over something that is in no way his fault!"

I knew he wouldn't let me move to them, and the fact that I was yelling and the others weren't reacting at all to us was telling enough about something being done to keep our presence a secret from the combatants. Well, I wouldn't just stand there and take it!

Suddenly, I had an idea. There was no way of knowing it if would work, if it had any chance at working, but I was willing to try.

"You seem so convinced that Loki is good, despite the fact that his actions in the last week say differently." Odin declared darkly.

"And what does the fact that you lied to the whole realm, and what's worse, to your own son, about his lineage, say about you?" I demanded in turn. "What's worse, what does the fact that you claim to be a good father and then keep favoring one son over the other say about you? About your parenting? What does the fact that one of your sons feels lesser than the other, and you never noticed, say?!"

That was enough to shut him, at least for the time being.

Making the decision to at least give my wild plan a try I dug into my handbag, pulling out another of the objects I kept there, kept close to me at all times: my black jade flute. Then, praying to any and all powers that might exist, I brought it to my lips and began playing the first thing that came to mind.

It was no specific melody, no real song, more like a mix of notes, of feelings; almost like what I used to do when I was a child, when I would sit among the rosebushes, trailing nightingales with my eyes and doing my best to imitate their own song with help of my flute.

It took a few seconds, I could almost imagine my music fighting against whatever power of Odin's was keeping me away from Loki, until my music, my love, won.

It was quite evident the moment Loki heard the melody, truly registered what it was he was hearing; for he stopped abruptly mid-motion. It's also good that Thor was such a good warrior, for he managed to stop just in time, right before completing a swing of Mjolnir, a swing that could have taken Loki's head in that moment.

"N…Nightingale…?" Loki called softly, hesitantly.

I turned to look at Odin, putting as much coldness in my expression as I could. I needed him to let me go, to let me get to my love. With a sigh, he did.

In an instant I put my flute down and rushed to my love, throwing myself into his arms before he had time to say a single word more. He held me tightly, so tightly I almost couldn't breathe… however, just a few seconds later, he was pushing me away, holding me at arm's length.

"Maverick…?" I asked, confused by his change in attitude.

"You're real…" He gasped, in obvious shock. "How are you here?"

"That's quite a crazy story." I admitted sheepishly. "The short version of it is that I knew something was wrong, and after a week with no news from you aside from knowing things weren't right with you… I took a plane, then a bus and then a cab, made it to New Mexico a couple of hours ago or so… Then convinced Thor to let me tag along when he came back. Would have met you in the palace with him, but Asgard's magic, and your own, hit me harder than I expected… still. Here I am."

"You cannot be here." He shook his head.

The moment he let me go I felt so cold… I could almost swear my own blood was freezing in my veins… my breath became harder.

"Loki…" I gasped, trying to touch him, yet not being able to.

"You cannot… should not be here." He was in denial yet again. "It's not right."

"Why not?" I demanded. "I am here Loki. I am not one of your illusions, or a hallucination. I am here and you cannot deny my presence!"

I was too stubborn to allow him to deny me, or push me away.

"Because nothing in my life is real!" He screamed at me. "My father is not my father! My brother is not my brother! My Kingdom is not mine, it never was! I am nothing! And you do not exist!"

"I do exist!" I yelled straight back at him, refusing to back down. "I am who I've always been. I am the same girl you met in a rose garden, at eleven-years-old who wouldn't take your crap of a disguise, as if someone with your eyes could ever be believed as a thirteen-year-old! The same whose life you saved at fourteen, creating a magic that only existed in a science-fiction novel! The same who has told you, time and again, that she would stand by you, which is exactly what I'm doing right now! And you're the exact same man who gave me this flute, and the name of Nightingale… who has been my best friend for the last eight years… who has saved me again and again… who knew Thor wasn't ready a week ago to be King, and was willing to do anything that was necessary, even if it showed negatively on himself, to protect his realm, his people…"

"I am no man…" Loki shook his head. "I am nothing but a monster!"

"That! Is indeed a lie!" I hissed back at him.

"That is the only truth of my existence…" He replied.

There was such a note of defeat in his voice, as he gave several steps back, away from me, I could feel keenly the pain running through him, for it was going through me just as strongly. So much pain it was a wonder we were still standing!

Then, before I could say a single word more, things changed… he changed. Beautiful alabaster skin turned abruptly a cobalt blue color, marked with twisting tribal-like black markings. Loki went as far as ripping off a good part of both sleeves, revealing that the change in skin tone wasn't limited to his hands and face.

"I am a monster!" He practically wailed.

"No!" I held onto my denial.

"I am Jotun!" Loki stated next.

That, I could not deny.

"I know…" I whispered, quietly.

Somehow, that statement had more of an effect on him that everything I'd screamed before. It was an opportunity I took hold of with both hands, with all I was…

"Remember all those myths I stopped having much faith on, since they seemed to get so much of it wrong?" I asked quietly, though I didn't actually wait for an answer. "Most of them had you being something other than Aesir, especially this, a Frost Giant… though I still think you had it better than most mythical versions of you." I snorted at the way that sounded, even to my own ears. "In any case, you had… have a family that loves you."

"They're not my family." Loki shook his head.

"But they are." I insisted, almost eager to make him see what I did. "Maybe not by blood, but there's more to family than just blood."

"Blood is thicker than water…" Loki cited darkly. "Isn't there an old proverb that goes like that on your world?"

"There is." I nodded, finding a smile inside me. "However, the original meaning of that phrase has been lost in time, and it's mostly the opposite of how it's taken nowadays. The original full phrase says: The blood of the covenant runs thicker than the water of the womb…" I gave them all a few seconds to process it before continuing. "You and Thor may never have shared a womb, but you have fought together, bled together, you have a connection of blood, of word and deed much stronger than any familial bond could possibly be. And you have similar bonds to the parents who chose you, regardless of your race, of your blood…"

That brought him short. Apparently my love had forgotten just how stubborn I could be, and how much like him… I wasn't about to allow him to defeat me in a play of words!

"Also, I remember quite clearly telling you, when I was eleven that I didn't care if you were blue, red with horns… or something to that effect." I added with a triumphant smile.

"You had nothing against it, only wished for a heads-up…" Loki finished for me, quietly, still half lost in everything that had been said. "I didn't exactly give you a heads up…"

"I don't think you got any kind of heads-up yourself, so I will let it pass this time." I smirked at him a bit, before turning serious again. "I am here Loki. I am real. The words I pronounced all those years ago are just as real. I don't care if you're white or blue, if you're Aesir or Jotun… you're still the same man I've always known…" I was already putting so much of myself on display, I decided to just go for broke. "The same man I fell in love with."

He wasn't expecting what I did next, no one on the bridge was… even I was a bit surprised at my own boldness. At some point during my speech I had begun moving, had gotten close enough to Loki that when I finished my last declaration all I needed was to take him by surprise (which was easy enough), and jump to kiss him…

I didn't know that Jotun's shouldn't be touched… I didn't know that their touch was supposed to burn those of other races… and even after I kissed Loki I still wouldn't have known if it weren't for Thor's own yelling about it.

By the time either Loki or I heard Thor's yelling and made out at least most of it Loki was holding me up, an arm around the small of my back, and I could feel his cold touch against my back where the blouse had been pulled a bit up; his other arm was around my back, touching my bare arms as he held me up, my cheek resting against his as I took deep breaths to recover after the rather… intense kiss.

"What the hell are you screaming about, brother?" Loki hissed, head buried in my hair.

His voice sounded so calm, unhesitant, as he called him brother… as if everything was perfectly alright with them once again. I knew it couldn't be that simple, but still, it made me happy to know there was hope for them yet.

"The touch of a Jotun burns!" Thor insisted.

"Really?" I asked, honestly curious, as I followed my bare skin to my love's. "I'm not feeling any burning… or at least not the kind of burning you would be concerned about."

I couldn't help the quip, and it was until Loki let out a peal of laughter and I heard the rumble of half-laughter half-something-else that I remembered who else was around. I was suddenly so embarrassed I buried my face in Loki's neck, wishing to be able to disappear.

"Nightingale…?" Loki called, worried.

"I am so embarrassed!" I wailed against his neck.

He just laughed again.

Of course the good atmosphere had to end at some point. It's not like any of us could actually forget the tense situation that had been taking place just a few minutes earlier.

"Brother…" Thor called in a low, serious voice.

Loki put me down on my feet once again before turning to face Thor.

"I wouldn't hurt your Jane." Was all he said.

It was all that was needed. At least, it was all Thor needed him to say, that guarantee that no matter how crazy things had gotten, thins may still get, Loki would never cross that line, he would never hurt a woman his brother loved; because he understood the heart-and-soul deep pain such a thing would cause.

The way he looked at me right then, there was fear in his eyes, and I could understand it, at least to a point. I had been able to stop his mad rage against his brother, and before that, Thor had been able to stop whatever it was my love had had in mind when making his way to the Bifrost. That still didn't change the things that had happened in the last week, Loki wasn't being seen as a good guy by many, and whatever judgment that may fall upon him was likely to affect me as well; as my only connection to Asgard was to him (and I was already in a pretty precarious situation being a mortal who had gotten to Asgard with no permission, not to say the way I'd been speaking to the King since meeting him!)

"Loki…" A strong, thick voice called him.

With a deep breath Loki turned around slowly to face the Allfather. For second he just stood there, as if considering what his actions should be. When he let go of me I felt somehow colder than when I'd been touching his Jotun skin…

With a wave of his hand Gungir, the Royal Asgardian staff, flew to his hand. For a second he stood there, tall and powerful, all the image of the King he was supposed to be… then his armor disappeared and he dropped to one knee, carefully laying the scepter down, at Odin's feet.

"My King…" He pronounced, quietly.

Then he shifted position, so he was on both knees; I knew what was coming before he completed the motion, what his intentions were…

"Loki…" I gasped, not knowing what else to say.

"This is how things should be, my Nightingale…" He whispered sadly to me. "It's time I face the consequences of my actions… as harsh as I know they will be. I just hope you won't end up hurt because of them…"

"I won't leave you." I told him with all the conviction I could muster.

Before he, or anyone else could say anything I shifted to stand by his side, dropping to my own knees as fluidly as I could.

He looked at me, saying nothing at all, yet his eyes spoke enough. He was asking me if I was sure of what I was doing, relieved at still having me even as he feared what the consequences of remaining by his side might be for me. I looked back at him with the same intensity, willing him to read in them my confidence, my faith, my love and my complete lack of regrets.

Then, in synchronized motions we extended our arms back and folded our bodies over our legs in penitent positions. We were surrendering ourselves to Odin's judgment, together as one, as was supposed to be; it would be Odin's choice what the consequences would be for our actions in the last week would be. We were completely at his mercy. And even knowing everything I did about Odin's penchant for… creative punishment, with my love by my side I felt no fear at all.

xXx

Minutes later Loki and I were sitting side by side on a love seat, there were cuffs on our wrists and ankles, connected to chains that Hogun and Fandral were holding gingerly (Thor downright refused to be the one to do it). We were all in one of Queen Frigg's sitting rooms, talking; Frigg wanted to know everything about me, about the time since I'd known Loki…

It wasn't easy, explaining in the right words everything I'd been through since being eleven. I tried my best to avoid some topics, like my sickness, the last thing I wanted, or needed, was for Loki's family to pity me. Eventually we came to another important matter: the events that had taken place in the last week.

The recount of the last conversation Loki and I had had since the mess in New Mexico brought a few disbelieving exclamations from Sif and the Warriors; Thor and his parents, on the other hand, reacted quiet differently.

"You were right." Thor stated with no hesitation.

That surprised his friends.

"He was right." The blonde insisted. "I was all those things: reckless, careless, more than a little wild, irresponsible… I won't try and pretend that the last week has changed everything, that I've grown and changed and am a completely different person, because I'm not. However, I am learning, I know now I still have a lot of growing up, maturing and learning to do, but I believe I've had a good start in the last few days. I now know things aren't as black and white as I liked to believe before, they're not that simple. I might be a Warrior, and proud of it, but that doesn't mean I have to live for war… I can still live just to live, and be happy about it." He sighed. "I hope all that will one day make me the King Asgard, and everyone in it, deserves."

Loki couldn't hold back with satisfied smile, things were changing indeed. I could also see the approval in Odin's eyes, he too was happy his oldest son was maturing. The question was: would he recognize who had made that change possible?

"Who taught you that?" Frigg wanted to know.

"Her name is Jane Foster, mother." Thor told her with a smile. "She's a woman of science in Midgard. She has a theory, about some Einstein-something bridges, which is really just the name they've given to the Bifrost. She believed in its existence even when no science in their world had been able to prove such a thing was possible."

"And she was your teacher…?" Fandral asked, moving his eyebrow suggestively.

I was surprised when Thor turned to his brother, giving him some kind of signal with a hand; a second later Fandral let out a distinctively female screech I had no idea what was going on, but seeing him with a hand inside his pants while he let out all sort of imprecations was enough to let me know that, whatever it was Loki had done, I didn't want to think much about it.

"Loki!" Frigg chastised her son.

"Fandral needs to learn to respect the ladies, mother." Loki told her seriously but calmly. "Especially Lady Nightingale and Lady Jane."

Thor nodded in whole-hearted agreement.

"Never thought I would agree with Loki on something, but I do now." Sif declared impishly.

Loki just nodded once in her direction before flicking his wrist a bit, Fandral quieted instantly, signaling that his torture had finally ended. I wondered if it would make any difference at all in the long run… maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't, in the end it meant the same to me…

"You keep saying that everything Loki's done all week has been meant to help Thor, I still don't believe it." Voltagg declared right then.

"It is true I interrupted the coronation." Loki admitted straight out. "I needed Father to realize how much Thor just wasn't prepared for the throne. I knew that if Frost Giants were found to be responsible for things, Thor would react, and Father would see the mistake he was making appointing him to the throne."

"So, all along you sought to get the throne yourself." Fandral hissed angrily.

Loki just laughed at him, and I with him. Thor just shook his head, I hoped he would remember what his brother had said about just not being interested in the throne.

"I knew the throne would never be mine, long before Father announced Thor as his heir." My love pointed out succinctly. "The throne has never been a goal of mine. No, my problem was never that. My problem was Thor getting there and then bringing ruin to Asgard because he just didn't have what it took to be a good King. He was too interested in war, cared too little about others, and just didn't seem to have the predisposition to put others ahead of himself; he didn't even do it with his friends, much less an entire realm!"

Thor actually lowered his head at that.

"Most of that has, since, changed." I pointed out. "I don't know what might have happened during most of the week in New Mexico, but I was there this last day. I saw Thor accept his weaknesses in comparison to Lady Sif and the Warriors Three when it came to the confrontation against the Destroyer; I saw him help in the evacuation, help protect others… and I saw him being willing to offer his life to protect others, both friends and complete strangers."

Thor lowered his head again, though I guessed it might have been embarrassment this time.

"You were helping as well." Thor reminded me. "And Lady Jane and her friends."

I shrugged. It's not like my actions mattered, I wasn't the one changing, he was.

"Yes, and on that front, I don't know if to be thankful or regretful that I never saw you." Loki commented with a mix of horror and petulance. "You could have gotten killed in that mess! On the other hand, if I'd been aware of your arrival I just might have had a stroke!"

That surprised me. I hadn't expected for the spell he'd used to occlude me from Heimdall and Odin to end up working against him at some point… on the positive side, things had gone fairly well, no one was dead or too badly hurt.

"That might have saved us a few troubles." Sif deadpanned though, somehow, she didn't sound quite as harsh as I had expected.

"Yes, Thor is changing, that still doesn't explain why the hell the Destroyer was sent after us if Loki is supposed to be… good." Fandral drawled.

"Well, the way I see it, the Destroyer is supposed to take down enemies of Asgard, of the King, right?" I asked, not actually waiting for an answer. "You betrayed your King… for all intents and purposes you were traitors, and therefore, enemies of your king."

That actually gave them pause.

"I never wanted to be King." Loki went into the actual explanation of things. "I never wanted it, yet when I found myself with Gugnir in my hands… it wasn't like I could just ignore it, or the power it carried. I had to step up." He sighed. "I accepted early on that I would need Thor if I hoped to make it through my reign with my sanity, or whatever might be left of it at this point… Regardless of if Father slept for a few days, weeks or even months, I needed my brother. However, I couldn't just bring him back." He turned his eyes to Sif and the Warriors. "You fools, thinking it was that easy. That I could just ignore the Allfather's last order, undo Thor's exile and there would be no consequences!"

Odin didn't say a word, but the looks he directed to Thor's friends said enough.

"Are you all completely stupid?" I didn't hold back my tongue. "Really, a new King, using his power to have his first order undo the last from his predecessor? Ignoring the fact that it would completely undermine his own Father's power and that it would gain him no allies with Lord Odin's supporters… do you really think that Loki just 'choosing' to 'allow' Thor back would have returned him his power, his birthright?!"

That seemed to finally chastise them all properly.

"I was worried about that, about how to get Thor back." Loki admitted. "Though I knew it wouldn't be as simple as they were trying to make it. I had no idea how to handle it. Until mother said something…"

Everyone turned to look at Frigg, who just stared right back at Loki, not quite sure what it was her son was referring to.

"You said Father always had a plan…or something to that effect." Loki clarified. "I realized then that he wouldn't have sent Mjolnir to Midgard, after making Thor human, unless there was some way for my brother to regain his power, to reclaim the hammer. I didn't quite remember everything that had been said when Thor was exiled, but I recalled something about being worthy… so I went to see Thor. Nothing was different. So I told him a lie, an outright lie, which really isn't my style, regardless what most of you might believe… I told him Father was dead. And considering neither Mother nor I were sure when exactly he would wake up… I decided it wasn't actually that much of a lie. I hoped it would make him react, would make him change. But it still wasn't enough!" He turned to Thor. "I needed help! I needed support! And you weren't there! No one was! And then Heimdall and your own friends went behind my back to get you back! As if it were that easy!"

Loki was on the edge, just about ready to snap, and I didn't know what to do to help him.

"What exactly made you think the Destroyer was a good idea, at all?" Sif inquired, her earlier distaste and anger finally shifting fully to honest curiosity.

"The situation with Jotunheim was deteriorating, and fast." Loki ran a hand through his hair, unsure of how to explain himself on that front. "They were using Thor's temper tantrum to say that Asgard wanted war. They were threatening with it. Can you imagine what the Elders would say if war broke out during my watch? Forget about the fact that it was Thor who had provoked it in the first place, they would still lay all the blame on me. And I have no doubt they might have even been willing to serve me up in a silver platter to try and pacify the Jotun. So instead I chose to do exactly that to Laufey and his strongest supporters."

"So you… what? Pretended to help them assassinate the Allfather while instead you were planning on assassinating them?" Volstagg didn't quite believe it.

"That was basically the plan, yes." Loki admitted with no hesitation. "Of course then you all had to go and do something stupid, distract me. I almost didn't get to Father's chambers in time! Mother ended up hurt! And it could have been worse!" He laughed darkly. "And, just so we're clear on that front, the Destroyer was under strict orders to cause chaos and delay your return, no one was to be killed."

Which, of course, explained why none of the explosions had been directed at any of us, except when Sif and the Warriors had gone against it. The closest we'd come to getting injured was with the flying glass and debris from the last big explosion, and even then my bonds to Loki had been enough to protect me and Darcy, and the others had been far away enough not to get hurt.

"You killed Thor!" Sif insisted.

"That wasn't part of the plan!" Loki yelled back at her.

It was like a ripple; suddenly, his skin, which had gone back to the Aesir color when we'd left the Rainbow Bridge, had turned back to his Jotun form.

"When did you find out you're Jotun?" Hogun's voice, and his very specific question was enough to catch everyone by surprise.

"The day we all went to Jotunheim…" Loki admitted sullenly. "Fandral and Volstagg were injured already; someone yelled that the touch of the jotun burned, right about the same time that one touched my forearm… except their touch didn't burn me, instead, my skin turned just like theirs: blue and cold." He sighed, relaxing enough for his skin to return to alabaster. "I still wasn't sure until a couple of days later. I went into the Vault, I touched the Casket of Ancient Winters… it revealed my 'true skin' so-to-speak. Father found me I demanded explanations…"

I could feel his pain at the memory of whatever had happened in that moment.

"And before I could give them, I fell asleep." Odin finished for him.

For a few very long minutes no one said a word, until Odin spoke once again.

"There is only one thing you need to understand, Loki." He said, looking his youngest son straight in the eyes. "I might have lied, but my intent was never to hurt you. All I wanted… all I've ever wanted, was to protect you… both you and your brother."

It wasn't an apology, but something told me it was the closest he was likely to get to one. And while it didn't justify everything that had happened in the last millennia, at least it was a reminder that he truly did love his sons, both of them.

After a short break to drink some tea and eat something (I hadn't had anything since breakfast, and didn't want to even begin to wonder about the others) we began talking about what would be happening next. Because of how Loki had surrendered himself, in a ceremonial manner, he had to really answer for his crimes. A trial had to take place, and because I'd chosen to stand by him, whatever judgment fell on him would fall on me too.

"I don't like this." Lady Frigg stated for what was probably the tenth time.

She was referring to the chains, but also the trials, and the fact that we all knew the punishment was likely to be the worst possible thing the Elders could think of, it's not like they'd ever liked Loki, and they would care little about taking a mortal woman with him. Not when they were finally being given the chance to get back at him for everything my love had done to them, and to many others for centuries.

"I don't either." Thor agreed. "The Elders will have no mercy, and they will care little about Lady Nightingale being an innocent."

"I have made my choices, and I do not regret them." I stated, surprisingly calm considering my rather precarious situation.

"Really…" Sif snorted. "Not even if they kill you?"

"Death is as natural as life itself." I answered her still with the same levity. "And I, personally, made peace with my own mortality years ago."

That surprised everyone, though I wasn't too willing to explain.

"Nightingale is sick." Loki explained for me. "Has been for most, if not all, of her life. Something called leukemia, cancer, a sickness that runs in her blood. It would have killed her when she was fourteen if I hadn't interfered…"

"The bracelet she wears with your symbol." Thor understood.

"There was this novel she was reading back then." Loki elaborated. "It was called… 'Dream Chaser' or something like that. In it there were these bracelets, called deamarkonian, they were tools used by some supposed gods to kill others. The bracelets would bind someone strong to someone weak, and by killing the weak you would kill the strong…"

"And you recreated those bracelets…" Frigg gasped at the implications of it all.

"Nightingale needed to live, I needed to save her." Loki said, as if it were that simple, and maybe for him it was. "My power fights off the sickness in her blood, it doesn't erase it, but allows her to live with it."

"So… if the bracelet is unlocked…" Sif began, tentatively.

"It cannot be unlocked." Loki stated coldly.

I considered, briefly, if I could possibly make an offer, my life for his…

*No…* I heard Loki's voice inside my mind. *No, I refuse to allow it.* He sighed mentally. *Besides, you must know already it would never work. The Elders want to destroy me too much. At worst they might say yes only to see me suffer with your death before moving on and punishing me anyway.*

"There has to be a way…" I whispered, not quite noticing I'd done so out-loud when he'd only spoken into my mind.

"A way to what?" They all asked, wondering what was going on.

"Isn't there something I can do?" I asked softly but strongly. "Anything to stop these Elders from getting away with punishing Loki however they see fit?"

For a very long minute there was no answer. I could see Loki shaking his head, still trying to protect me; Thor seemed bothered by his inability to help us in any way; Frigg's eyes had watered, wanting to protect us, yet being unable to. Until Odin spoke…

"There is one possibility." He stated.

I was instantly all for it; even having no idea what it might be; anything that might help me protect my love was something I was willing to try.

"What…?" It was obvious no one knew what Odin was talking about.

"Trial by Combat…" Odin began.

"No!" Loki, Thor and even the Warriors Three jumped on my defense instantly.

"Odin… you cannot expect a mortal girl to fight any Asgardian warrior." Frigg told him quietly. "There is no way…"

"I did not mean it exactly like that, but a variation of it." Odin justified himself before turning to his youngest son. "Tell me Loki, how serious are you about your lady?"

"She is my chosen match." My love replied simply.

It was a rather simple answer, simple and to the point; there was no elaborate declaration of love and devotion, but once again, it wasn't needed. Loki, whenever he wasn't playing word games and driving people crazy with them, was a fairly simple man. Besides, he understood so well how one could lie without ever actually saying a lie, just twisting words and intentions around, he preferred to use as few words as possible when he was being completely honest; it allowed for less confusion, for more clarity.

"For that to stand she would have to pass the test, to gain immortality, become a citizen of Asgard." Odin explained. "The Elders will never allow for a mortal, a human to be a Bride, especially not to a Prince of Asgard."

"They will not allow me to remain a Prince after they're done with me anyway." Loki reminded his father calmly.

"They are not being given a choice on that matter." Odin stated with the same calm. "You are my son Loki. You will always be my son, no matter what happens."

Loki nodded his head, a mix of respect and thankfulness I could sense quite clearly through our bonds, as clearly as his despair earlier. It was nice, for him to be having good feelings, to be sharing that. He was finally beginning to realize that no matter his blood, his race, his past rather questionable actions… he was still an Odinson, still Thor's brother, Odin's and Frigg's son, Asgard's Prince… he would always be all that.

"What I am proposing here." Odin went back to the matter at hand. "Is to turn her test into your trial. Declare Trial by Combat, but have her fight be the test. If she passes, she will earn her immortality… as well as your freedom."

I liked that plan, predictably, Loki didn't.

"For that to be acceptable the test would have to be hard, harder than any done in millennia." Frigg reminded her husband, as well as the rest of us. "The Elders won't stand for anything less."

"It is up to you, of course." Odin signaled to us.

"I will do it." I declared immediately.

"My Nightingale…" Loki began.

I could hear it in his voice: the doubt, the fear, he didn't want me to take that kind of risk…

"I will do it, my Maverick." I told him softly but strongly, looking straight into his eyes. "The way I see it, if I do the test and pass it, we will both win, if I fail it, we will both lose… and if I don't do it, we will both lose no matter what. The Elders will never give you a fair trial, and our lives are intertwined already… At least through this test I have a chance at winning, for us both."

"You do not know the kind of test you will be put through." Loki whispered, a pained expression on his face. "The kind of things I have read regarding them…"

I didn't say a word, just held his hands in mine, pressed my forehead against his, letting the feelings in my heart speak for me. Hoping it would be enough.

After almost a full minute we separated, Loki placing a kiss on my brow and each of my hands before looking me straight in the eyes:

"I, willingly and with no reservations, place my life in your hands." He said, straight at me, but loud enough for everyone to hear. "We are one."

"We are one." I agreed. "Mo Anam Chara."

He smiled, familiar enough with my history, my lineage, to know what those three words meant; I could feel his whole-hearted agreement.

"Mo Anam Chara." He kissed me.

xXx

We didn't give the Elders any chance to complain or try to stop our plan. That very evening the announcement came out: a Midgardian woman, a mortal, was undergoing the trials to be a citizen of Asgard, and to be the bride of Loki; also, because of our pre-existing connection, the Test would also count as a 'Trial by Combat'.

The Elders didn't like it, and they made sure to make their opinion known; the most they managed was to be allowed to choose the test themselves. That was sure to make things harder than they might have been otherwise, but we had known beforehand the likeliness of something like that happening, so it was really no surprise.

There was a family dinner after the announcement was made. Lady Frigg's way of showing support. Odin was mostly emotionless, I had no way of knowing if he was expecting me to pass the test or not. At least I no longer saw him as a complete bastard, it was obvious he did love Loki, even if he didn't always show it.

I spent the night in Loki's arms, in his private quarters. It went against tradition, but everyone was willing to ignore that fact, and it's not like we did anything more than cuddle and sleep, our own way of giving each other support.

In the morning after a private breakfast just for Loki and I, a bath was prepared for me, it was long, relaxing, and filled with herbs; part of a purification ritual; it wasn't actually usual protocol for a test, but still, I was thankful for the chance to relax before it. After the bath I put on the clothes I'd been given especially for that day: a simple off-white floor-length, tunic-style dress with elbow-length loose sleeves opened on the outer side; a forest green sash (showing my allegiance to Loki) marked my waist and trailed down almost to my knees. My only pieces of jewelry were my triquetra earrings (an heirloom from my mother), the deamarkonian bracelet on my wrist and something else I was presented with that very morning: a nightingale pendant that practically hummed with my beloved's magic.

"I had this made especially for you, as a graduation present." He told me quietly. "I have weaved into the metal every single protection spell in existence. It won't stop the test from going into effect, but still." He made a pause before adding. "While I originally meant for it to be nothing more than a graduation present, now I would wish for it to be more…" He took a deep breath before stating. "I would like for it to be a symbol of a promise. A promise that you will be my wife after the test is done."

"I thought that was already a given…" I admitted a bit sheepishly.

"Maybe." He shrugged. "But I want our union to be more than just a matter of politics. My Nightingale… I want you to want to be my wife."

"I do." I giggled at noticing the words I'd just pronounced. "I want to be your wife." I embraced him tightly. "I will never want anything more in my life…"

He kissed me, a bright smile on his face.

I got an idea right then. Giving him a quick peck on the cheek I turned around in his arms to face the mirror on the vanity. Very carefully I took hold of one of my longest locks of hair, plaiting it quickly and as perfectly as possible. Once I was done I took a leather tong Loki offered me (even though he still didn't understand what I was doing). Once I'd tied the plait I fished the dagger I could see the handle of, on his arm, using it to cut the plait off my head as close to my scalp as I dared before my love had a chance to say a word.

"What exactly did you do that for?" He asked after a few seconds.

"There's not much I can offer you at this point, except myself." I explained to him before holding the plait to him. "This is not much, but it symbolizes what I am offering you." My tone softened as I explained further. "I know it won't be easy for you to watch me go into that test, especially if it's as bad as we both imagine it will be… I want you to keep this with you today. Let it serve as a reminder of why we're doing this, and of the amazing future we'll have after we're done with this. Because, I promise you, I am going to pass this test."

"I know you will." There was no doubt in his voice.

Minutes later, finally ready, we left the room arm in arm, ready to face our destiny.

xXx

At the appointed time I stood in the middle of what looked like an arena. As part of the ceremony a herald had already explained how a barrier of sorts would separate me from the spectators standing on a second level. They would still be able to see me, but I wouldn't see them, then the test would begin.

"State your name and intentions for the record." One of the heralds called to me.

"Born Silbhé Salani, from Midgard, I've chosen to be Nightingale." I answered calmly. "I am here to pass this test, to become a citizen of Asgard and defend my match, Loki Odinson, as is my right, duty and pleasure."

Granted, the last part of the statement might have been a bit much, we weren't actually married just yet; but the bonds, the beautiful ribbons of light and color that I'd seen more than once, showed that, for all intents and purposes, we were a match already. That was enough.

"Any last words?" The herald inquired.

He almost made it sound like I was walking to my execution rather than a test… I wondered if it was intentional… In the end, I ignored that detail, directing quick, respectful bows to Odin, Frigg and Thor before focusing straight on Loki; thankfully he wasn't in chains, but he still seemed pretty stressed out. I smiled at him as brightly as I could, raising the nightingale pendant to my lips to kiss, as I couldn't kiss him. It was a gesture he returned by raising the plait of hair entwined around his fingers, to his own lips.

"Mo Anam Chara…" I called in a strong voice, enough to carry to him.

The herald seemed confused about what exactly I had just said, as did the Elders and guards around, but I didn't care, Loki understood and that was the only important part.

I didn't want to see the stress in Loki's eyes as the barrier was formed between us, didn't want to see Thor's nervousness, Frigg's fear, Odin's coldness. So instead I went to stand in the very middle of the room, closed my eyes and waited.

"Let the test begin." The Herald called.

I could feel a small ripple of energy before darkness engulfed me.

I opened my eyes after a short time, only to realize it made no difference. The arena was so dark I couldn't see anything more than an inch away from my face anyway.

As I waited for whatever it was the test included, to begin, I focused on what little I'd been told about it. No details had been given of the actual test, only that it lasted an hour, and that if I tried to leave the arena or if someone else interfered with the test for whatever the reason, it would be declared as a failure.

I knew nothing really about the kind of test I was supposed to undergo. It wasn't part of any myths recorded on Earth, nor literature. The closest was a reference about some Test of Odin for Unfaithful Wives, something that had supposedly appeared in some movie a while ago… not like I knew what it was supposed to be, or seen the movie anyway. And not like I was any wife of Odin's to be undergoing that particular test, so…

I was still waiting when I felt the temperature in the arena begin to go down. I felt like I'd been waiting for a while already, but had no way of knowing exactly how long it'd been. The change in temperature, combined with the lack of light seemed to make me hyperaware to everything. Like the brush of the skirts of my dress as I move the bare minimum, the air as it brushed my arms… and how could there possibly be any breeze when the place was supposed to be sealed?

Abruptly I felt a very cold touch on a bare spot of my back, almost like someone or something touching me…

"Loki…?" I called quietly.

The coldness of the touch reminded me of him in Jotun form; and while I'd seen him in his Aesir form when standing on the viewing deck, and no one but those of us on the bridge the previous afternoon had ever seen him as a Frost Giant, I still couldn't help but think about the possibility.

Another touch came next, near my ankle, though it wasn't as casual and soft as the first one; instead harsher, sharper, as if someone had tripped, or kicked…

By the time the third touch came I was already expecting it, at least to a point. Still I couldn't help the gasp at the pull on my hair, my ear receiving the brunt of the freezing rush of the touch. I was being touched/attacked, little by little, by someone I was supposed to believe was my beloved! The bastards were trying to make me believe Loki would actually hurt me!

I gritted my teeth together, which actually helped me hold back the pained gasp when I clearly felt something akin to a slash on my left calf, the skin numbing even beneath the dress.

So it wasn't just a matter of making me believe my love would hurt me; no, it was more than that, they were trying to make me believe Loki would betray me, that he would actually go against me, hurt me, try to kill me!

I wasn't sure if I should feel offended, annoyed, angry, or all at the same time… I mean, did they believe me so weak that I would actually fall for that cheap trick? That my love for Loki wasn't strong enough? Or… it suddenly occurred to me, maybe it was all part of a plan to bring down not only me, but also my love because, with the stakes as they were, if I didn't pass the test it would make it seem like I didn't truly love Loki, didn't believe in him… Oh those bastards had made a huge mistake thinking they could use me to destroy my love! That was one thing I would never allow, not in a thousand years!

My mental cursing was interrupted when I sensed a very slight pull on the bonds, my love was worried about me. I smiled to myself as I focused on sending a burst of love and reassurance through the bond. The Elders were underestimating me, believing my love for Loki to be weak, to be easily torn down… I would prove them wrong.

I felt a slap next, hard enough to make my head turn, still with the biting coldness that might usually signal the touch of a Jotun, although it also burnt some… it reminded me what Thor had said about a Jotun's touch supposedly burning those of a different race. I was immune to that… even more proof that the individual, or power, attacking me, had nothing to do with my beloved Maverick at all.

And then they upped the ante:

"Nightingale…" A low, icy voice whispered in my ear. "The foolish little girl who believes she has what it takes to be a goddess… as if a mortal could ever hold the same worth of a true goddess… as if a human could ever be worthy…"

That was just the beginning. I don't know how long I stood there, enduring insults, slaps, hit, slashes and other kind of attacks. All I took allowing nothing more than the barest sounds to leave my lips.

I got it at some point. The purpose of the test, aside from using Loki and I against each other. If either the physical or the emotional pains caused enough distress I would cry out, I might surrender, fail; and even if I didn't, my crying out would call Loki's attention, and he might try to interfere to save me, and then I would fail… the test was engineered to make me fail… Good thing I'm too stubborn to just lie down and take it! I wasn't going to let them win.

I felt the next attack coming, bracing myself just in time before something that felt like a punch hit me in my stomach, followed then by what I could have sworn was a pretty deep stab, except that, when I brought my hand to it, there was no blood… I still couldn't stop my body from folding in half at the very real pain, biting my lip as I held back a scream, using all my strength of will to hold as much of the horror and the pain back from the bonds as I could. Throughout it all I just did my best to remind myself why I was going through it all: Loki, my love for him… it was enough to make anything worth it.

xXx Loki's POV xXx

I was pacing. It was all I'd done from the very moment the shield had separated the arena from the viewing deck and the former had darkened considerably; granted, we could still see what was going on, and while that was marginally better than having no idea at all of what might be happening to my Nightingale… it didn't change the fact that she was in a very hard situation and, one way or another, it was all my fault. My love was in the worst danger she was likely to encounter in all eternity, and it was because of me.

My love… it sounded so strange, even in my own mind. Not being in love with her, because that didn't actually surprise me, despite the fact that such a thing hadn't actually occurred to me until the day before, on the bridge, when she'd screamed she loved me and then kissed me, not caring at all about my blue skin, my recent actions, my obvious slip into insanity…

It's easy enough for me to see now that I am in love with my Nightingale, have been for a while; what I do not know is when exactly I fell in love with her. All I can think of is that it happened slowly. I came to love each aspect of her, each thing that made her… Nightingale: her music, her voice, her eyes, her dreams, her honesty, hope, faith, devotion, love… until suddenly I just loved her. I loved Nightingale.

To think that just a few years ago I would have seen loving someone, anyone, so much as a weakness; and yet, with my Nightingale, I felt like it made me stronger, because she was a source of strength, of will, of love…

I didn't want to even begin to imagine what my life would have been like if I'd never met her. As insane as I thought it all was when she first revealed to knowing I was Loki… or if I'd lost her to her sickness five years ago… It was a thought I couldn't even hold properly. It hurt so much. So that might have been the reason why I wanted to save her so much. Maybe I already loved her back then; but she was still little more than a child, and I would have never held my own desire to save her life over her head, used it to keep her at my side. No, that was a choice she made all on her own… a decision I'll be forever thankful for.

I was distracted from my thoughts of feelings and the past when a piercing pain hit my middle abruptly. It wasn't the first time I felt ghost pains since the test began, but it was the worse yet. The only reason I hadn't gone over the edge yet was because I kept receiving feelings of love and reassurance from the bond. Whatever the hell Nightingale was going through in that arena she's sure enough of herself, of being able to handle it, she didn't want me involved. I wouldn't do her a disservice, show distrust by stepping in when she didn't need help yet… however, if things got bad enough… the Elders had disliked me enough in the past, they'd never known me to be truly angry. Which was exactly what would happen if my beloved was permanently injured in any way or traumatized by the whole thing…

I was only half aware of my own actions as I ran my tongue over my lower lip. I could almost taste blood, as if I'd bit my lip or tongue, yet I knew it hadn't been I… I had no problem connecting the dots, as I unconsciously pressed a hand on my own stomach.

"Brother?" Thor asked, placing a hard on my arm, worried. "Are you alright?"

"She's in pain, Thor…" I whispered quietly to my brother. "My Nightingale is in pain. She's biting her lip to keep from crying out even… and there's nothing I can do about it."

Thor moved faster than I could have ever expected from someone his size. Ignoring completely the disapproving looks from the Elders and guards all around me he embraced me tightly. The hug was brief, but still helped more than I could have ever imagined. For the first time since the whole mess had taken place I was able to ponder on how close I came to losing my brother forever… and how fortunate I am to still have him, to have everyone.

"Can she handle it?" He asked me quietly.

"She feels she can." I nodded. "She… She's the one in pain and yet she keeps trying to reassure me through the bond!"

"Sounds like her." Thor actually chuckled at that.

I got a sense of relief from the bond. Apparently there had been some kind of pause in the test; or at least whatever was going on wasn't hurting my love from the time being. As I turned to look over the edge of the deck I could see her standing in the middle of the room once again, hands on her knees; she was a bit crouched, panting, but seemed fine otherwise.

For most people in the viewing deck it would seem like nothing was going on. Like Nightingale was just standing there, moving erratically every so often. But I wasn't anyone: I was a sorcerer, the best in all of Asgard; illusions and anything that bent reality was my specialty, I knew what was going on with my lady, even the things I didn't manage to pick up through the bond. There were some details I still couldn't understand; like, I knew she was being hurt, not just physically, but hurtful words were being said to her, repeatedly, questioning her beauty, her loyalty, her worth… however, I knew there was something else: more than just words being said to the air and false attacks to the body. There was more, I just didn't know what.

"Brother?" Thor called once again, quietly.

"She's alright." I reassured myself as well as him. "She's recovering from the last bout." I shook my head. "She's being hurt in ways I cannot fully grasp; I know there is something I am missing, something beyond the illusion of touch, of attacks, and a voice hurting her." I ran a hand through my hair. "Then there's the time illusion, making her feel like time moves slower at times, faster at others. It only serves to confuse her even more."

"It's all part of the test." Thor reminded me.

I just sent him a rather scathing look. It's not like I didn't know that already, didn't make things any easier, though. Nothing would ever make easier accepting that my beloved lady was being hurt, and she was enduring it for me, for us both really, but I still felt responsible in the most part; after all, if the Elders didn't hate me so much they might not have been so vicious with her test… I still trusted her. She believed she could do it, and I believed in her. Always had, always would. How could I not? I only believed in her with the same intensity she believed in me! Anything less would be an insult!

"There's one thing I've been wondering." I tried to distract myself from the test at least for a short while. "How, exactly, did you end up bringing Nightingale to Asgard?"

Thor actually chuckled; it was obvious that whatever had happened, it made for one interesting memory as far as he was concerned. It made me even more curious. Nightingale had told me the basics the night before, but not that much, and I wanted to know. Also, talking about her was one of the few things that helped me endure the wait.

"She told me that after six days feeling something was wrong she finally decided to try and find me." I elaborated. "She'd seen the news about the supposed 'fallen satellite' and how no one could lift it. Midgardian governments might have tried a cover-up, but my Nightingale could still read between the lines. So she took a plane and went to New Mexico. Told me she was looking for a place to stay for a few days, someone who might be renting a room as the local hostel was full, when she crashed into you."

"She definitely did." Thor chuckles a bit more. "I was standing outside, contemplating what had happened in the last few days, since Jane and her friends got me away from the government agents who took her research… we'd been talking about Yggdrassil, about the realms, science and magic… I felt overwhelmed, wondering if I would ever find my way back, pained about the fact that my father was dead and it might be my fault…"

I couldn't help but wince slightly at the reminder of that; it didn't help when I felt a hint of phantom pain on my back; my love was being attacked once again, and this time the wound carried with it a sense of… coldness?

"It's alright." Thor probably thought my wince was only because of his words. "I understand now why you said those things. I only regret I couldn't be there for you when you needed me. This might have never been necessary if I had done things differently…"

"The test would have had to happen at one point." I tried to be objective about the matter, as hard as it might be. "The fact that there is little love lost between me and the Elders means that they would still have been hard on her. Maybe not this much, maybe just as much."

"Doesn't make it any better though, does it?" Thor inquired quietly. "Knowing that she's doing this for you?"

"Not at all." I had no regret in being honest about that. "Though, once again, even if this were just her test, she would still be doing it for me, in a sense. Wonder how you will feel when it is Jane in her place and you in mine…"

"I… I don't know if we will ever get there." Thor admitted, a strange vulnerability in his voice and his expression.

"Do you not love the lady?"

"I do. Yet I do not know if it is enough."

"What the hell are you talking about Thor?"

"Is love enough of a reason to rip her away from her life?"

That brought me up short. It was one thing I'd never stopped to consider, the lady in question having a life aside from me, or him… it was so different from my situation with Nightingale… But the fact of the matter was, I'd known my lady for eight years, since she was just a child, in body if not exactly in mind. And ever since that time it seemed like a good deal of her life revolved around me: her languages, her school degrees, her music, her very name… In almost a decade our lives had entwined so much, we were as good as married already.

Jane Foster was a completely different matter. Older, both in age and in experience, she'd had a life long before knowing Thor, a life that, while it was connected to Thor, to the realms, it still didn't depend on him. A life she might not want to give up.

"If she becomes your match, she will have to give it all up." I reminded him soberly. "Her job, her old life, her friends, her world… she won't be just an Asgardian, just a lady. She will be your match, a Princess of Asgard… and unlike my Nightingale, a future queen too."

"That's what worries me." Thor admitted.

"You're not sure that she would choose you above her current life?" I inquired.

"I'm not sure if she should. I love Asgard, the realm, its people. I also know what's expected of me, being who I am… while I may not have always been serious about a lot of matters, I know now what my responsibilities are. Should I really put this kind of burden on Jane? She wasn't born for this, and she already has a life…"

"I think this is a conversation you should be having with her, not me; these are questions you should be asking her. In the end, regardless how hard, how complicated things might be… it is Jane's life, she's the only one who had any right to make a choice regarding it." I took a deep breath before adding. "I will never be completely sure that Nightingale made the right choice; standing by me. Giving up her whole life to hopefully live, yet quite possibly die, with me. And yet… I will never stop feeling blessed that she made that choice…"

I stopped talking right then, feeling ghost fingers wrapping around my neck, almost chocking me, only it wasn't I who was being strangled…

"My Nightingale…" I couldn't help but gasp, holding my own throat where I could feel the ghost of the touch hurting her.

"Loki…?" My brother began.

Abruptly I became acutely aware of the biting coldness of that ghost touch, the final piece of the puzzle, one my love had been trying very hard to keep from me; she'd lost control just for a fraction of a second, as she fought to regain her breath, to keep herself calm…

"You're trying to trick her into believing I am the one attacking her?!" I roared at the Elders. "Trying to make her believe I would ever dare hurt her! Hit her! Slap her! Stab her! Strangle her! Like I would ever dare lay a single finger on her with any emotion other than the deepest, strongest, most absolute love?!"

Mother actually gasped at my rant, it was obvious she had no idea what was going on with my Nightingale, she would have never allowed it.

"You do not know…" The herald began.

"But I do know!" I interrupted him with no compunction. "I am a sorcerer, one of the most powerful in all the realms! Illusions are my specialty. I know you're weaving illusions of touch and sound and time; I know you're making her believe that time is running differently than it actually is, and you're also hurting her, all the while trying to make her think I'm the one doing it! As if I would ever…"

"If you interfere she will fail." One of the Elders reminded me in a biting tone.

I couldn't help it, I laughed, a dark laughter.

"Brother…?" Thor was obviously worried, about Nightingale and I both.

Before I could say a thing I became aware of something, a shift in my love. Ignoring completely the Elder I turned to look at the arena, where my love had just sat down on the ground, legs crossed, arms laid almost casually over her knees; her eyes were closed, her breathing slow and easy. It was as if she had no concern at all.

I began feeling more phantom pains then, more in number and coming faster than ever before; though, at the same time, they felt almost as if farther away, as if they were a dream, not quite real… I couldn't help it, I laughed again, my laughter quite different from the one I had let out less than five minutes before, but really, I couldn't help it.

"Son…?" Mother asked, obviously worried about me.

I smiled briefly at her, unable to hide the glee I was feeling inside. I was sure everyone could sense it, even if no one could understand what it was supposed to mean. Still feeling that same delight I spun around to face the Elders, smirking straight at them.

"You've lost." I announced with great satisfaction.

"You cannot interfere in this test…" The Elder began once again, in the same condescending, annoying tone as usual.

"Oh I'm not interfering." I assured him, never letting down the smirk. "I don't have to. I told you. You've lost already."

"The test isn't over yet." Another Elder insisted.

"It doesn't matter." I shook my head, still smiling. "Once she's gotten like that… it doesn't matter what you might do. It will all be useless."

"What did she do?" Thor wanted to know.

"She's in deep meditation." I answered honestly.

When it became obvious that no one actually understood what I meant with that, I elaborated as best I could (without going too much into details).

"My family knows already that Nightingale has been sick for years, a serious Midgardian sickness that, in most cases, is fatal." I said as emotionlessly as I could. "In its last stages it also tends to be very painful…" It was becoming harder for me to swallow, remembering that time was excruciating. "Nightingale never liked taking the strongest meds, said they messed with her head, made her feel fuzzy, unreal, disconnected… She hated it so much she searched for alternatives to handle the pain. She tried everything: special teas, exotic herbs, supposedly-natural remedies, relaxing music, hypnosis… and then she discovered meditation. It was the one she actually liked, and she was good at it. Capable of retreating into a corner of her mind, where she would be safe, where she didn't have to feel any pain, didn't have to suffer… It also allowed her rest, when normal sleep wasn't enough anymore."

"And she's in that deep mediation?" Odin inquired, curious. "She's not feeling anything?"

"She feels still, but it's low enough that she can handle it more easily, has less trouble convincing herself that it isn't real…" My smile only grew brighter as I finished my statement. "I imagine it must also help her differentiate what's real from what isn't." I stared straight at each Elder. "You will never be able to convince her now that I am the one trying to kill her. Not like you had much chance of that before, but now it truly is impossible. You've lost!"

My laughter after that must have sounded almost maniacal, but I was just so thrilled by it all. My love had found a way to fight back at what was being done to her, without actually invalidating the test. There were no rules against meditation, because no one ever expected it to be used against them! That was just her style, all passive aggressive… my Nightingale… My lady… mine… my bride… my match… all mine!

Chapter Text

Trust

The trust we had in each other made everything else easy, even the impossible.

The problem with meditation, as far as I'm concerned, has always been losing track of reality. Considering the test I was being put through, losing track of reality definitely was a better option than straight out physical and emotional torture.

I first discovered meditation when I was fourteen and waiting to die from the leukemia. Aunt Kathryn had tried to convince me to take all kind of high-end pain meds after I refused the morphine drip, but I kept refusing all of them. They made me space out a bit too much, made me forget what was real and what wasn't, made me disconnect… and I didn't like that, not only because it made me feel, deep inside, like I was gone already, something I hated even though I didn't actually fear death. Truth is, I knew I was going to die, and while I may have accepted that hard fact, I was going to do all I could to stick around as long as I possibly could; and doing so while not being 'quite there' didn't seem worth it. There was also Loki, my time with him seemed to have been cut short abruptly, but I was still going to make the best of it; enjoy his presence for as long as I could…

Discovering meditation was my saving grace, Aunt Kathryn's last ditch attempt to help me somehow, and it was the one thing that worked right. It didn't quite work like I read in the books my aunt got me, or in the internet, but it still worked, and that was all I cared for. It was nice, right when the pain began to escalate, to be able to regulate my breathing and then almost dive into a deep corner of my mind. My 'special spot' was actually a mix of my beloved rose garden, along with a mix of places Loki had told me he'd seen in his travels, both from Midgard and Asgard; places I had once dreamed of going to eventually… in that moment, while traveling seemed impossible, it was still a good dream, a sanctuary.

Being in that protected corner of my mind, I never forgot there was a real world outside, a life waiting for me. I would just stay there long enough for the stabs of pain to stop coming, just long enough to be able to handle it; then I would emerge. Like coming out of my room after sleeping some sickness off… or at least the worst of it. Being in my sanctuary never stopped the pain, but lessened it enough to make it manageable, made me able to keep living…

Retreating to my sanctuary in the middle of the test, while being especially aware of the bonds connecting me to Loki changed the stakes a bit. My mental haven was still what it'd always been, but it was as if, even as I sat there, among the flowers, I could feel Loki standing behind me, in some invisible corner, watching me. I couldn't see him but I still knew he was there. I wondered if I would be able to connect to him from my haven, if it would be easier or harder than the exchange of emotions and vague ideas we'd been doing in the last day…

In any case, one thing was definitely easy: while I could still feel the attacks that were technically part of the test, fear and pain no longer threatened to take me over, and the coldness no longer felt so much like Loki's skin. Oh, I never believed it was him, no way, but it had still made me uncomfortable. My haven allowed me to distance myself from the attacks on my body, which seemed to come faster and be harder as time passed. On the other side, while in meditation I had less of a handle on time than I had during the test.

I had no idea how much time had passed, before I went into meditation, or since, but a moment came when I felt a hand on my shoulder and when I looked up I could see a ghost-like Loki.

"Time's up, my lady…" He called in a gallant tone. "You need to wake up."

The words were pretty simple, but I had no problem understanding what they meant, what he meant, so I just smiled at him, allowing him to pull me up at the same time I let go of my hold on meditation and my sanctuary; by the time I was on my feet there was no garden, no eclectic constructions, instead it was once again the arena around me.

I actually looked down, checking myself over for injuries I knew subconsciously wouldn't be there. And they weren't. There wasn't a single mark on my skin, nor on my clothes, except for the sand of the arena's floor that had stuck to my legs or the skirts of my dress.

"Are you alright?" Loki asked, looking me over carefully.

"Perfectly." I answered brightly. "You said time was up. Does that mean I passed?"

"With flying colors." He assured me with a half smirk.

I couldn't help the peal of laughter that left my lips, which only grew as he took hold of my hips, holding me up and swinging me around in glee; both of us laughing like crazy. Our bout of laughter was only interrupted when he pulled me closer to him, for a kiss so intense I lost my mind. Until Thor had to go and crash our private party.

"Brother, sister, I believe you're making a few people uncomfortable." He called, though it was obvious by the tone of his voice that he was laughing.

"Partypooper…" I think I might have actually pouted at that point.

Loki just laughed some more.

"Silbhé Salani." Odin called with all the authority I knew he was capable of. "Lady Nightingale."

Both Loki and I instantly turned our whole attention to him, to everyone still on the viewing deck (Lady Frigg was looking particularly happy with the course of events).

"You have passed the test." Odin made the result official. "And the Trial by Combat as well."

"So, that means Loki is completely free, right?" I focused on what was more important to me first. "He has a clean slate now and no one will ever try to use the events of the last few days against him. Ever."

"So mote it be." Odin made my words law.

"So mote it be." Thor and his mother repeated.

"So mote it be." The Elders seemed a tad more reluctant, but had no choice in the matter.

I was actually surprised by that turn of things, but happy nonetheless; my love was safe, I was able to do something to protect me, which I'd dreamt of for years!

"You are also now a citizen of Asgard." Lady Frigg added.

Just like that Loki was suddenly holding a golden apple right in front of me: one of Idunn's apples, the fruit of immortality. I turned to look at him in surprise. While yes, we had talked about the test granting me immortality, I'd never stopped to consider what it meant.

"Eat it." Loki whispered to me.

There was no hesitation in me. I just took the fruit in my hand and bit into it. I had eaten apples before, though not very often; I'd never liked apples on their own much, only eating them in slices and covered in honey. Idunn's apple didn't need any honey, it was the sweetest, tastiest, most amazing fruit I'd ever tasted.

When I finished the apple, still standing right there, in the middle of the arena, Loki vanished the core. I felt something like an adrenaline rush deep inside; and while nothing outwardly changed, I knew I wasn't the same person I'd been. I was immortal…

"My Goddess…" Loki whispered, embracing me tightly and kissing my hair.

I felt a strange shift and when I pulled back I noticed I was no longer in the off-white tunic with the green sash; instead I was wearing a lilac goddess-style floor-length sleeveless dress with a white sash and white sandals. The attire was quite beautiful, and in my favorite color too, though I hadn't been expecting the change.

"While I'm sure you would look gorgeous in green…" Loki whispered huskily to me. "You're your own person, and I want everyone to know it."

"Lady Nightingale…" Odin called from above right then. "Bride of my youngest son… I expect the ceremony will be taking place soon?"

When Loki looked at me with an intensity that I felt like he was looking straight into my heart and soul, I knew he was planning something, and for the hint of mischievousness in the corner of his eyes and mouth, I was sure it was something big and sure to cause more than a little craziness. So, why not? I was certainly up for some chaos.

"Mo Anam Cara?" He said, though it sounded more like a question.

"Mo Anam Cara." I answered with no hesitation.

The moment he held one of my hands with each of his, right to right and left to left; our arms crossed in between us, I suddenly had a very good idea what he had in mind. I still didn't hesitate, it wasn't like I was against making chaos every now and then! And not like I wasn't ready for the commitment, so…

I could hear him whispering the words inside my mind, allowing me to pronounce them at the same time he did; making it seem like we had prepared it all beforehand instead of having just thought of it right then:

"I do so swear that you will be my only one. I shall look at no other the way I look at you, I shall think of no other the way I think about you, I shall talk to no other the way I talk to you, I shall desire no other the way I desire you, and I shall lay with no other the way I lay with you. I shall be with no other for you are now and forever shall be my one and only; my friend, my lover, my partner, my match…"

We finished our declaration with a short but passionate kiss, right as magic exploded around us in light and colors. It reminded me a bit of the last thing I'd been aware of before the Bifrost had sucked us up and off the Earth, except more intense somehow. Also, when we separated I could see that the number of magical ribbons connecting us had doubled (either that or there had been more than I'd first believed from the very beginning). It looked almost like a hand-fasting ceremony, only more magical.

As we turned to the viewing deck we could see Lady Frigg smiling in obvious delight, Thor was trying to hold back his laughter at our unplanned actions, Sif and the Warriors just shook their heads silently (they probably were expecting us to do something already), while Odin remained pretty much emotionless… except for the slightest tug on the edge of his lip, and the hint of… something in his eyes. The Elders were, obviously, completely shocked.

"You're insane!" One finally called. "A commitment like that cannot be entered so lightly! You haven't the slightest idea what you've just done!"

"Doing it now, in a week, a month, a year…" I drawled quite calmly. "What's the difference in the end? We were still going to do it. And, if you ask those who saw us yesterday, we were already bonded before this so…" I shrugged.

Really, I didn't see what the problem was.

It wouldn't be until some time later that someone would see fit to tell me that, while vows like that one, magical bonds were an ancient and well respected form of marriage, it wasn't the usual one. Why? Because it was too much of a commitment for some people. Being all immortal, or the closest there was to that, some found 'eternal commitment' too much for themselves. I thought they were the crazy ones, but I've always believed in things like soulmates, eternal love, and all that so… who knows?

In any case, we were as good as married, before enough witnesses that no one would ever be able to doubt it. All that was left was an official announcement to the rest of the realm… oh, and to notify my own, mortal, family, of what was going on… that was going to be beyond crazy!

xXx

A feast was being organized for the end of the week, but not everything was joy and roses. Thor was very tense, had been since the very first night. It turned out that he'd promised Jane to go back for her, to her; and he hadn't been able to yet. Things had, at least, gotten a little less tense after Loki had used his powers to send a letter to Jane. None of us could yet leave for Midgard again, but at least Thor was able to use the letter to reassure his lady that things were alright and we would be going back in a few days. Jane had gone as far as to leaving a note on her vanity (where Loki had sent Thor's letter) with a short response, just enough to reassure Thor that she was fine, working with S.H.I.E.L.D.… and apparently Agent Coulson was going crazy trying to find out who exactly I was, and what my connection to Asgard was! I knew that nothing he found in my records would help him, and also wondered how he and his superiors would react when I returned no longer as Silbhé Salani, but as Princess Nightingale, wife of Loki. It was a strange prospect, and one I still had no idea of how to explain to my aunt and father; mainly my Aunt Kathryn, I rarely ever saw my father since he remarried.

What we weren't quite expecting was the news Heimdall brought to us a couple of days before the feast to celebrate Loki's and my union.

"My Lords and Ladies." Heimdall bowed respectfully. "We have a problem… with Jotunheim."

Indeed there was a problem, and once it was explained one had to wonder how no one prepared for it beforehand. Laufey had been assassinated, that had left the realm of the Frost Giants without a leader, with the former King's two sons fighting to get the position (other sons who weren't Loki). The oldest of them, Laufey's second, was the less violent of the two, the more political one; he was hoping to secure his position by showing his people he could get them justice for their old King, and he believed Asgard would help… after all, the last thing the Allfather wanted was more war, and Helblindi had promised a truce if the Realm Eternal helped them get the throne. Most of us didn't quite agree with the plan, most downright hated it.

"I think this might be something I need to do." Loki pointed out after a very long argument.

"No!" Lady Frigg, Thor and I cried out at the same time.

"I need to make amends with more than just Asgard." Loki said to all, though his eyes were fixed straight on me.

"You are not going to Jotunheim to get yourself killed." I hissed back at him.

"I am not getting myself killed…" He was trying to convince me, but I doubted he fully believed the words himself.

"You're not one to lie to me, don't try to start now." I chided him.

"I'm not lying…" He tried to insist.

"Very well." I nodded. "Then I'm going with you."

"No!" He cried out instantly.

"Why?" I challenged. "Because if the next words out of your mouth are that it's too dangerous for me, then it certainly is too dangerous for you!"

He didn't actually have an answer for that; and I decided I wasn't going to give him time to come up with a plan to put himself on danger. No way. I knew what I was going to do was harsh, pretty much below the belt, but if it allowed me to help I was willing to do it.

"Allfather…" I called respectfully to Odin. "I would like to be allowed to act as Ambassador and Negotiator with Helblindi and Jotunheim in this matter."

"What…?!" Thor and Loki were totally shocked by my petition.

"I know you, my love." I told Loki softly. "You believe this is something you need to do, and regardless what I say, you'll do it. Well, for that very reason I am going with you, no matter what. If the Allfather allows this I will even get the chance to be of some help." My mind was beginning to formulate a plan, crazy but viable. "Besides, I think that if I introduce myself initially as someone separate from this matter, someone neutral, I might be able to convince them to allow for some negotiations. Peaceful negotiations… which don't end with your head on a pike or all of us back at war with the Frost Giants!"

No one had any reply to that, and I could see that at least some of them recognized the political value of what I was proposing. My position as Loki's wife and princess of Asgard wasn't quite official just yet, it wouldn't be until the feast in a couple of days; if there was a moment to do a move like that, it was then.

"I want to go down as saying this is very dangerous, and I don't like it." Loki stated in an almost petulant tone of voice.

"Duly noted." I couldn't help my half smirk in reply.

"Go down saying…?" Thor inquired, confused. "Aren't you going to stop her?"

"It's quite obvious you don't know my Nightingale yet, brother." Loki shook his head with a small half-smile. "If you didn't you would know there's no way to 'get' her to do anything she doesn't want to, and certainly no way of keeping her from something she does want so… no, I won't even try. Better just to accept her and think of ways to protect her."

"I am as protected as I need to be." I pulled a bit on my necklace, reminding him of the power he'd poured on it.

"I will allow this." The Allfather declared. "They are your decisions, and I will stand by them. However, do not put yourselves in danger." His voice turned softer as he added. "I don't want to lose my daughter before Asgard knows her…"

I nodded in his direction, with a smile. The last few days had allowed me to know him better; had allowed us all to know each other better; and while Odin still wasn't my favorite person, I knew he wasn't as bad as I'd once believed, same with Heimdall. They'd made mistakes, yes, but everyone did and it was not a sin, it was just… human.

xXx

We actually worked out a plan, of sorts. It was decided that I would arrive to Jotunheim, introducing myself as Lady Nightingale, Ambassador and Negotiator for Asgard, I was to reveal that I was a new citizen, with Midgardian origins; we all hoped that would make me seem less threatening, maybe even make the Jotun, Helblindi especially, more willing to talk with me. I had power to do executive decisions as long as they didn't imply a challenge to any current laws or a danger to Asgard or some other realm. Also, I would be with four guards, one of which would be Hogun (he'd volunteered to the task) and another who would be Loki under disguise (he would be answering to his Midgardian alias while we were there). The last part was because Loki had refused downright to allow me to do the trip without him; and yet we knew it wouldn't be a good idea for him to arrive so openly to Jotunheim. He was to stay under disguise until some deal was reached unless I was in danger.

And so we appeared in Jotunheim. I was wearing what, since passing the Test, had become my formal attire: the lilac goddess-style dress with the pearly white sash; only, in consideration to the rather different climate, the dress had transparent sleeves that reached almost to the tip of my fingers, I wore also dark leather boots and a heavy dark plum cloak with a white-gold nightingale clasp (it had been a gift from Odin and Frigg). My hair was piled up on the top of my head elegantly with some curls loose. All in all, the perfect image of a princess (or a lady) or so my new handmaidens declared when they were finished with me.

The arrival to Jotunheim went well enough. The cloak was spelled to keep me warm regardless of how cold it might be. The guards seemed obviously surprised that I was there with four guards rather than someone 'more important', but none said a word, just escorting us to the Main Hall of their ancient castle.

Things got a bit hard there. As the Jotun were so much taller than any of us a dais of sorts had been placed in the center of the room, for me to climb upon so I wouldn't be so far down from everyone else. The place was narrow enough that only two of the guards could climb with me (Hogun, and obviously, Loki, did). Still, it was a precarious climbing as the stairs were covered with a thin layer of ice, making it slippery. Somehow I managed to do it without slipping more than the slightest bit a couple of times, nothing that would call attention to myself.

"State your name and intentions here in Jotunheim." A spokesperson ordered me, in a tone that reminded me of the test I'd gone through a few days before.

"Lady Nightingale." I introduced myself formally. "I am here to act in behalf of Asgard as Ambassador and Negotiator."

"We didn't ask for an Ambassador." One of the Jotun called loudly from a side.

"And we already offered what Negotiation we were willing to do." Another added from the opposite side. "We want the head of that traitor on a stake!"

"Excuse me?" I pretended to be shocked by the demand, though I actually was by the accusation. "Did you say traitor? I understand you hold a grudge against L… Prince Loki, but where does the accusation of treason come from?"

"He made promises to us…" One began, before being shushed by Helblindi with a signal.

"Prince Loki is an Odinson, a son and Prince of Asgard." I pointed out as evenly as I could. "Aiding you in any way that went against Asgard, against the Aesir… that would have been treason. What makes you think you have a call on his loyalty?"

"He's nothing more than a dog!" A Jotun screeched from somewhere behind me. "Kinslayer!"

Things actually got complicated when a knife made of ice was thrown in my direction. I barely managed to push enough calm through the bond to convince Loki to let me handle it, at the same time I raised my hand to block the blade before it could impact my neck or face; it smashed into pieces when coming in contact with my skin.

"What the hell was that?!" Several called, obviously not having expected that.

"I am not defenseless, people." I deadpanned, before diving straight back to the matter at hand. "Now, what allows you to accuse Loki of being Kinslayer?"

"You may not know this, Lady Nightingale…" For the first time Helblindi actually spoke. "But the man you call a Prince of Asgard is anything but. Your 'Prince Loki' is Laufeyson, not Odinson, and my brother. His actions aided in the demise of king Laufey, our King, our father. He must be brought to justice for that."

I actually had to stop a few seconds to ponder on how to handle the revelation. Yes, I had known all of it; I just hadn't expected him to try and use it in his own favor… and then, I had an idea:

"Just so we're all on the same page, Lord Helblindi." I informed him calmly. "I did know all that before coming here."

"Then you understand why Loki must pay…" He began.

"What I don't understand…" I interrupted him, ignoring the scathing looks all around. "Is what makes you think it makes any difference whatsoever."

There were hisses and growls of disapproval from all around, and I could see from the corner of my eye as Loki tensed, ready to protect me at a moment's notice; but there was no need to, because I suddenly knew exactly what to say:

"You know there is an old saying in Midgard: 'The Covenant of Blood is Thicker than the Water of the Womb'." I said with an easy tone. "It doesn't matter what blood or race, or whatever other relation you might have with Loki; nothing will ever be stronger than the bond of blood shed side by side, the pact of comradeship and brotherhood he's formed with Prince Thor, with Lord Odin and Lady Frigg, with Asgard… Laufey might have been responsible for his birth, but he was also the one who abandoned an infant, not even a week old, in a broken temple, in the aftermath of the worst battle, the worst war ever… Laufey left his son, his firstborn to die. The Allfather took him in, made him his own, an Odinson, cared for him, raised him…"

"If things were so perfect, why did your prince come looking for our King?" The spokesman demanded. "Why did he call on bonds of blood?"

"It's perfectly normal to want to know more about one's origins, it's also absolutely normal to feel a bit off, confused, when first finding out said origins aren't what you thought they were." I replied, still evenly. "In the end, it doesn't matter if Odin was a perfect father or not, it doesn't change the fact that he is, in fact, Loki's father, has been for the last thousand years; whatever right Laufey might have had to him, he gave it up in the first few days. And why? Because the child was small?" I snorted looking down at myself to emphasize my disdain at the idea. "Size isn't everything…"

"No, it certainly isn't." Helblindi agreed. "As you are proving right now, my lady. I do not know any female, any creature, in any world, who can talk with the passion, the eloquence and also the trickery you've made use of in the last few minutes."

I didn't reply verbally to that, just bowing my head briefly in thanks to the compliment (because that was how I was taking it). The surprise came when he actually got on his feet, walking to the middle of the room, until he was able to get on a knee in front of me, just a few feet over me.

"You certainly are something, little lady." He commented. "Who are you really?"

"I was born Midgardian, I answered honestly, took the name Nightingale later on." I was willing to reveal a lot, but not my connection to Loki yet. "I passed the Immortality Test a few days ago, became a citizen of Asgard."

"And what could have made the Allfather interested in giving such a young woman, and from a world he seems to hold in nothing but contempt, a chance for immortality?" He inquired, seemingly growing more interested in me by the minute.

I just shrugged, discreetly rubbing at the base of the ring finger of my left hand with my thumb. Neither Loki nor I had ever been ring people; also, they weren't exactly a tradition in Asgard. However, if there was one tradition I loved it was that of the claddagh, and Loki knew it. The tattoos had been his idea: created by magic, and therefore painless, also imbued with the other's power, they added to our connection in many ways.

According to Lady Frigg our bond had become the strongest she'd ever seen, with about a dozen colored-light ribbons tying us together. The basis being, not just our love, loyalty and devotion; but also the physical signals in the deamarkonian, the tattooed rings, even the memories of pain from the test that had secured my immortality and his freedom…

"Maybe she's a bride…" I heard whispered theories around. "Maybe she's Prince Thor's bride."

"So, my lady, since you seem to have all the cards, what is your plan?" Helblindi inquired.

"First, I want to leave something clear." I stated. "And that is the situation Laufey put you all in. He was making a deal with a 'supposed' traitor, to kill the King of Asgard. He believed that the son he gave up to death for something that was never his fault, would help the worst enemy Asgard has ever had, to kill the only father said son ever knew? In what crazy reality could such a thing ever work?"

Helblindi blinked, taking in my words, and probably how downright ridiculous, even stupid, the plan sounded when in those terms.

"Now, can you begin to realize the position it would have put you, your people, your realm in?" I inquired, my voice softer than ever since the beginning of our talk. "Let's imagine, for a minute, that Laufey succeeded. That he managed to assassinate the Allfather and then managed to return to Jotunheim without getting discovered and killed by the Asgardian Guards first. What do you think would have happened after that? Do you think Asgard would have just stood back and taken it without some form of retaliation? Even in the extremely insane case that Loki might have chosen not to act against you, there's still Thor…

"He was in exile!" Something called loudly from the side. "Nothing more than a weak mortal lost in a primitive realm."

I turned to the speaker, arching my brow, signaling to myself. A silent reminder of what I had just revealed were my origins. The Jotun didn't reply, just sneered at me.

"The exile was conditional." I pointed out. "By that point in time, when Laufey was attempting to assassinate the Allfather; Prince Thor had already regained his power and birthright and was on his way back to Asgard. Being the firstborn, and with the situation as critical as it would have been with the death of the King, it is likely he would have been asked to step up to the throne, either for Loki and him to act together, or for Thor to take over. And can you imagine the kind of reaction he would have had to Laufey… to Jotunheim, attacking Asgard, assassinating the Allfather in his sleep?"

No one needed to think much on it, the answer was as clear as the ice all around us.

"War." Several voices answered at once, grimly.

"Is that really what you want?" I asked quietly. "For your people? For yourself? Because, let me tell you, that possibility is still very real. You are demanding for Loki's death! Do you really think his family, his chosen family, will stand back and do nothing? They will never allow Loki to die or suffer by your hands, and if you try to press the matter… well, war is the least we will all have to worry about. And considering how bad things are said to have gotten the last time the two realms were in conflict."

I couldn't help the shiver. Myth and even literature might be limited on some fronts; but it wasn't hard to connect some 'mass tragedies' and 'natural disasters' with the time the last war between Asgard and Jotunheim was taking place… and if they'd gotten to Midgard, there was a pretty big chance that it hadn't been the only realm to become collateral… Another such war, and with the resourced Earth had in the twenty-first century… it wouldn't be good, for anyone.

"You've been asking me what is it I want, what is my plan…" I went on, allowing a tired sigh to pass my lips. "Truth is: I do not know. I don't actually have a plan. All I know is what I do not want: war. I don't think any of us really wants that…"

I felt myself almost sagging; all throughout my speech I'd managed to keep myself straight, steady, giving no quarter, showing no vulnerability; but I was tired… Politics had never been my cup of tea, I was only doing all I was because of Loki, because I was willing to do anything for him… I just hoped it would work. I didn't know Helblindi or his people enough to make a guess on how he would react after everything I'd already said.

The heir-apparent of the Jotun throne didn't say a word, apparently waiting for me to offer something before compromising on anything.

"Everything I've seen and read thus far shows that Laufey wanted two things only: Odin's destruction and war with Asgard." I stated as emotionlessly as I could. "He didn't care about his people, and certainly not about his sons: none of them. The question is: what do you want: Lord Helblindi? You are, for all intents and purposes, the next King of Jotunheim. What do you want for your realm? For your people? Would you rather hold Laufey in a pedestal regardless of his faults, try and make him a martyr, a reason to create the war he always wanted? Or would you rather seek the peace and possible good relations he was never interested in? Would you rather please a dead man or a living crowd?"

It didn't get any simpler than that. We had been going around the same thing for at least and hour and, in the end, it was all up to him.

I could feel a shift in the air and from the corner of my eye I could see the slightest shift in Loki's position. None of us had any idea of just how Helblindi would take my words and my match was getting ready to protect me if things got dangerous.

Almost a full minute passed in absolute silence and then, the Jotun Prince spoke.

"Peace." He said solemnly, looking me straight in the eye. "I choose peace."

I only smiled brightly.

When he extended a hand to me I wondered if he had forgotten the danger of his own skin or if it was supposed to be a test. After all, almost anyone in my position would have to risk either insulting and refusing to shake the hand, try and avoid it through some other gesture, or take the burn and just shake the hand. Of course, my situation was quite particular.

Not a word was said when I placed my hand on the Jotun's, too big to actually shake, but still, it was the gesture that mattered. There were a few seconds of silence, as if they were all waiting for something, we learnt what when one of the other Jotun called put:

"Why isn't she burning?!"

I couldn't help it, I laughed.

"You're truly a most intriguing creature, Lady Nightingale." Helblindi said with a charming smile. "Truly an amazing Ambassador and Negotiator, even if you seem a bit new to this political business… And you did say you were a new citizen of Asgard?"

"Very true." I nodded. "And lets just say I have… personal interest in this matter."

"So, not so neutral then?" He inquired, cocking his head to a side.

"I am neutral regarding Asgard." I only half answered the question.

I really wasn't giving him anything more until he made a commitment for peace higher than just saying he wanted it.

He must have seen something in my face, because he nodded and got on his feet, gesturing to someone behind him.

I wasn't too surprised when the same guards who had escorted into the Main Hall guided us to another room, it seemed like an office of some kind. What did surprise me was to find Helblindi and at least one of his closest followers at a size closer to us (or to Loki). While I knew that not all Frost Giants were actually giants, most were still several times the size of a human, Helblindi, being the child of Laufey, in particular. Also, not just any Jotun had the ability to change his size. It told quite a bit about his power, his lineage.

"Lady Nightingale." He nodded in respect to me. "I hope you won't mind that I've taken the liberty to have my own scribe get a treaty ready?"

As he said that he turned the piece of parchment around so I could read it, I could see his signature was already at the bottom, along with his witness's. The calligraphy was very good, and while I'd been doubtful of the conditions that he might have included, in the end the treaty was fairly simple and direct: the situation with Laufey would be put to rest by both realms, allowing for a clean slate. Helblindi would take over as the new King of Jotunheim with the blessing of the Allfather and, in the future, if things went well, Asgard might consider returning the Casket of Ancient Winters…

"I cannot promise the last part." I told him quietly. "If I am perfectly honest, I think it would be good. That Asgard and Jotunheim could learn to coexist peacefully… but the return of the Casket is not something I can negotiate. Though you can be sure I will do my best to intercede in your favor before the Allfather."

"Why would you do that?" The to-be-King asked, honestly curious.

"Because, in the end, we want the same thing, peace for our people, for our realms." I answered with complete honestly.

With a flourish, I signed the treaty.

"As we have apparently finished with the business that brought you here." Helblindi stated, looking straight at me with curiosity. "Will you tell me, Lady Nightingale, what your personal interest is in this matter?"

"Your advisors actually were pretty close." I admitted with a small smile. "They just missed a detail. I am a Bride, only not Thor's. And anyway, my match would have never allowed for me to come in such a mission alone…"

The eyes of all but two people in the room immediately went to the man on my left: Hogun, as he was still standing on full alert. Helblindi, for his part, was looking straight at me, and my hand, as it entwined with the man on my right side.

The moment we touched Loki allowed his disguise to fall, startling everyone except Helblindi, who just watched us quietly.

"Prince Loki…" He muttered in a low voice.

"King Helblindi." Loki nodded respectfully.

"Why am I not surprised?" Helblindi questioned rhetorically before turning to me. "So you are his match then? I suppose that explains your way with words."

"I guess I did learn from the best." I admitted with a shrug.

"I'm surprised you would allow her to negotiate in your behalf…" Helblindi turned to Loki.

"I know better than to try and stop my lady when she really wants something." Loki said honestly with a smirk. "She is no meek little girl, no weakling either."

"She must be someone truly extraordinary to have called your interest." The Jotun King pointed out. "A mortal girl… I guess I've seen some of it today…"

"You've seen but the very tip of the iceberg." Loki said with near-glee. "My Nightingale is the most amazing creature you will ever find… in any world."

"Loki!" I hissed at him as I slapped his arm, unable to hold back my embarrassment anymore.

"I speak only the truth, my match." He assured me with a smirk.

Those words would have sounded ridiculous coming from his mouth at any other time… in that moment I was only embarrassed.

"Indeed she is…" Helbindi muttered, before turning very serious all of a sudden. "If you would follow me please."

Both Loki and I picked up on the change in demeanor, tensing; Hogun picked up on that, getting on guard instantly.

"I promise you I wish nothing bad for you or your lady, brother…" Helblindi began.

There was a hiss around us, which only made the delicate situation, worse.

"Should you be calling me brother after everything that has happened?" Loki inquired, cocking his head sideways in contemplation.

"I realize the bond we share isn't like the one you share with Prince Thor." Helblindi stated. "But we're still brothers, one way or another. And if you consent to the personal favor I wish to ask, even more so."

"My Lord…" His second called, full of doubt.

"This is a personal matter Shakren, I shall not need you, or the guards." The Jotun King told his second before turning to Loki. "Would you consent in following, only you and your lady. I'm afraid my guards might have a problem with me going on my own if any of your guards try to follow us at this point. Not only for my own safety either at this point, as I wish you to follow me into the royal wing…"

That surprised me, either he trusted us a lot, or he was very desperate.

"I am more than enough to protect my match." Loki stated as an answer.

And of course, as I had proven before, I wasn't exactly defenseless.

Hogun didn't even complain when Loki and I followed after Helblindi; he probably knew too that Loki wouldn't need any help if things got hard enough, my beloved had saved him, Thor, Sif and the rest of the Warriors enough times in the past.

It didn't take us long to get to the royal wing of the palace. He bypassed a number of rooms, until we reached the one before last (which, I guessed, was Helbindi's). The room was a nursery, and it wasn't until we were all actually inside that I realized we were walking to a set of furniture in our size (human size).

There, in a dark metal crib we saw a bundle, a baby boy who couldn't be even a year old, with a tuff of inky black hair and piercing crimson and black eyes, burrowed in dark blankets, except for one, a turquoise blue one… he was clearly a Jotun baby, it was obvious in his eyes, and in his cobalt skin and dark markings.

"This is Hákon…" Helblindi announced, caressing the baby's head with a hand. "He's my youngest son…"

"A runt…" Loki said just as quietly.

Indeed. A runt. Just like Loki had been. Except Helblindi hadn't given his son up, he had kept him, the baby must have been at least six months old, Helblindi was at least trying, something Laufey never did for Loki.

"His mother was Merenwen…" Helblindi began.

"The youngest princess of Alfheim." Loki finished for him.

"Yes." Helblindi nodded. "I met her during a business trip. It was supposed to be just a fling…" He turned to me and added. "While it is true that we can give frostbite to others, we can choose not to, if we're relaxed enough. When I offered you my hand I never meant to hurt you; however, I did know that most who know of the possibility of a burn choose not to risk it; you never doubted, just took my hand."

"You cannot hurt me." I revealed to him with a small smile. "I am Loki's match."

Helblindi nodded, as if that was answer enough to all and any questions, and maybe it was.

"Merenwen wasn't my match." The Jotun King stated the obvious. "Like I said already, she was supposed to be a fling, nothing serious. And she knew that. I had a wife before, an arranged union, I have other children, and I've never been interested in tying my existence to someone for all eternity. When Merenwen discovered she was pregnant… things got complicated." He sighed. "I don't know what happened in Alfheim exactly. Merenwen just arrived, in the middle of the night, with her closest handmaiden, pregnant. She was crying, inconsolable. It was Elanor who explained things to me: apparently when Merenwen's parents found she was pregnant with my offspring they took it badly. They wanted to take the baby away, were even willing to sacrifice her when she refused to give up on her child. Elanor helped her princess escape the palace, and then the realm as a whole." He shook his head. "Things only got worse after that. The baby wasn't compatible with Merenwen's body, but still she refused to give up. I honestly don't know how she managed to hold on for as long as she did… She died before she could give birth, but the baby survived long enough inside her for Elanor to get him out. I couldn't give him up after that. I knew Father wouldn't like it if he heard one of my children was a runt, no one would; but I couldn't just give up on Hákon after Merenwen fought so hard so he could live… she gave his life for him, the least I could do was protect him."

It was quite obvious, at least to me, that Helblindi didn't actually love Merenwen; like he said, she was just a fling to him. However, he respected her loyalty, her devotion, both to him and to their child. It was the memory of that devotion that had him protecting a child that, for anyone else in the realm, would be nothing more than an embarrassment.

"I know this is a lot to ask." Helblindi stated right then, seriously and softly. "But thing is: Hákon deserves a life, a good life. And I am honest enough with myself to know he will never get it here. No matter how much I may try to protect him, in the end, he's a runt, and that won't help him here in Jotunheim."

"You want us to take him." Loki finished for him.

"I believe you are the right people for him." The King didn't bother trying to surgarcoat it. "The ones who can give him the life he deserves. You understand what it means to be what he is, Loki, and your lady… if anyone can protect him and raise him right, make sure he's the best he could ever be, I'm sure she could do it."

"I am sure." Loki agreed.

Right then, as if by magic, Hákon began fussing, it looked like he might begin wailing at any moment. I reacted before I was fully conscious of what I was doing. In a second I scooped the baby out of his cocoon of blankets, leaving him only with the turquoise one, cradling him in my arms, pressing his blue cheek to my pink one. I could feel the coldness in his skin, which reminded me a lot of Loki's, I only cooed at him slightly before rocking a bit, side to side, soothing him as best I could.

I don't know when I closed my eyes, but when I opened them again the two Jotun brothers were looking at me; one with curiosity, the other with a knowing glint; and behind them: a tall woman, willowy body with alabaster skin and long dirty blonde hair, she was dressed in several layers of tunic, dress, leggings and a shawl, all in shades of green and brown; I guessed she must be Lady Elanor: Merenwen's handmaiden and friend, who had stayed in Jotunheim after her lady's death to take care of Hákon, probably the only one who would, aside from Helbindi… and there was also a chance that she had no other home anymore. If Alfheim had really been that against Merenwen having the baby, and Jotunheim in general… Elanor had given up everything for her lady, and been left with nothing but a baby Helblindi expected us to take away.

Loki followed my line of sight, seeing the same I did. I could almost see the cogs moving in his brain as he came to the same conclusion I did.

"We will take Hákon." He announced out-loud, talking to Helblindi but looking straight at the handmaiden and nanny.

We could both see the moment Elanor winced just slightly and her eyes dimed. She was going to lose everything, and yet she wouldn't complain.

"Would you like to come with us?" He offered her then.

Considering how Helblindi turned to look over his shoulder, it was obvious he hadn't been expecting that; I wondered if he never thought about Elanor, or what he thought would happen if we just took Hákon.

"Me?" Elanor obviously wasn't expecting that.

"We're still working on choosing my lady's handmaidens." Loki justified. "We were only bound a few days ago, and it won't be official until the feast, two days from now. And you would be able to continue caring for Hákon."

"You would allow that?" She seemed so hopeful it was almost painful.

"It would be my honor to have you there." I assured her with a smile, still holding Hákon close. "After all, who best to teach me to be a good mother to Hákon than the woman who's loved and cared for him since he was born?"

"I will be honored." Elanor agreed.

Just like that, a new sort of agreement was formed, between us, between Jotunheim; a pact far stronger than any written treaty…

xXx

The feast took place as planned. Things had changed just slightly. Loki had gone to Helheim to get his daughter for the event. It had been nerve-wrecking for me to meet my adopted daughter for the first time. And yet, she had accepted me straight on, arms wide open, almost immediately asking if she could call me mom… it moved me. Loki explained to me through our bond that the woman who had given birth to Hel had never been the mother she should have been, could have been; and Loki himself admitted to not have been a good father either, he had been so young, too young to understand the kind of pain he was causing his child at the time. A pain they had, surprisingly, managed to move past five years before…

It was something shocking to me, to learn that I was the reason Loki and Hel had made up, had finally become the father-daughter duo they were supposed to be. When I'd been dying from the cancer Loki had gone to Hel, willing to plead for her help in any way possible, a chance to help save my life… Hel had been unable to do anything herself, but in the end it had been her who had convinced Loki to take the risk and try to create the deamarkonian. So, in a sense, one could even say I owed Hel my life…

In the end, regardless of the past, I loved my adopted daughter as much as I loved my adopted son. Some people did not understand it but, for someone like I, who spent almost my whole life, believing I would never get the chance to be a mother, what's worse, that I was likely to die long before I ever got the chance to be a mother… a child, being the chance to be a mother, even to a child not of my womb, was the greatest blessing. Also, I had never been one to believe that a child needed to be of your blood to be truly yours (would have seemed a bit hypocritical, trying to convince Loki to accept his adopted family, that there was no difference, they were real, if I thought differently).

Things had changed, with me being a citizen of Asgard, an immortal. The Royal Healers believed that Idunn's apples were slowly pushing back the leukemia; there was no way of knowing if they would ever fully heal it. In any case, neither Loki nor I had any plans on taking the deamarkonian off any time soon. It's not like they would make any difference anymore, we were bound in so many ways, with or without the bracelets, we would still live and die together.

Another detail that surprised most was the inclusion of Elanor as my handmaiden, though her main duty wasn't to me but to Hákon. My logic had held though, she had been looking after Hákon ever since he was born in December, no one knew that baby better than her, it was likely that not even Helblindi. Loki had even arranged a charmed bracelet for her that allowed her to hold Hákon even when he lost control of his own power and reverted to Jotun form (which didn't happen very often, the baby had taken an Aesir form, guided by Loki, when we first arrived to Asgard after the treaty).

Elanor had been accepted in Asgard as a Royal guest, she wasn't a citizen, and wasn't especially interested in being either. Her race weren't immortal, though they did live for millennia, and aged quite slowly after reaching their prime. Elanor didn't need to ask for asylum, as no one from Alfheim was after her, they simply didn't seem interested in her anymore.

The feast ended and the true party started. Elanor left with Hákon so the baby could sleep, the rest of us stayed. There was some dancing, and a lot of talking. Everyone seemed interested in 'the mortal girl who had called the attention of the colder of the two princes' (and they weren't talking about him being Jotun). Then there were those interested in me for being the 'new goddess' (apparently that didn't happen very often).

Loki being a Jotun was another detail of interest. Someone (an Elder in fact, but he didn't know that we knew) had leaked the truth of Loki's origins, expecting to either make the Aesir hate him, or make him react violently, therefore getting the chance to punish him for something (he hated that I had taken that chance away through the 'Trial by Combat).

In the end, we faced the truth head on. And to prove that neither of us was afraid of it the four of us had gone to the market the following day, with Thor, Sif and the Warriors. We'd had a lot of fun and when Hákon got fussy (the heat was getting to him) and accidentally reverted to Jotun form, Loki simply shifted as well to help him cool down. The fact that neither of us reacted negatively to the change, and that I'd taken the still blue baby into my arms after a few minute seemed to be enough to convince most of those looking at us that there was nothing wrong, nothing extraordinary, about my husband and my kid being different.

We weren't really expecting for the Aesir to suddenly be completely willing to accept the Jotun as equals, but we at least hoped they would be less confrontational.

Loki and I were standing in a corner, and I was sipping on a goblet of what I was told was Asgardian wine. I was being careful, not wanting to risk any excesses, I'd never been one for alcoholic drinks (didn't like any, on Earth), but the Asgardian wine was very sweet, nothing like the beer, or the wines I'd tasted at some point on my home-realm. My love had promised to make sure I wouldn't get drunk, the last thing I needed was to make a fool of myself the day I was being introduced as the new princess of Asgard.

Loki was trying to convince me mentally to skip off, while I kept thinking that, since the feast was technically in our honor we should stay till it ended.

"Well, there is one question almost everyone in the room seems to share." Sif announced as she approached us along with Thor.

"Why Loki chose me?" I inquired.

"Or how she can stand me?" My love finished with a smirk.

Thor let out a loud laugh at that.

"No, though the second at least is a very good question." Sif replied cheekily. "No, the main question seems to be regarding the name. Everyone seems to have heard that you weren't born Nightingale, so, why the name?"

The way my love turned to look at me in that moment said enough about what he expected to happen next. I just nodded my agreement.

"She can show them." He announced simply.

Everything was set up for me to sing quite quickly. Lord Odin bid me to stand on the dais where the thrones were located. He, Lady Frigg and Thor were seating on their places, while Loki chose to stand beside me; which served me just fine. Everyone might be about to hear me sing, but I was still going to sing to no one but him…

My love arranged a rather simple spell that made the instruments follow my voice, giving the right kind of music to the song. So I began humming, marking the initial rhythm, quietly enough so no one but Loki heard me, and yet they all heard the music; then the song truly began:

"I'll give my all or not at all

There's no in-between

I'll give my best, won't second guess

This feelin' deep in me…"

"You make me want to love you

With every breath I'll love you, (oh) endlessly

I'll give my heart, give my soul

I won't hold back, I'll give you everything

All of me, completely…"

Sif might have claimed that there was one primary question among the people present, and that it was related to my name. However, both Loki and I had heard one other; not as much as the one mention by Sif; but that might be because only those who had been present during my test could make the question: and they all were: they were all questioning how I could have passed what was supposed to be an impossible test.

The answer was pretty simple to me, to both of us, yet I knew none of us would ever give it to them, because there was just no way they would understand. The answer was trust. For us it was a matter of trust; we trusted each other. Loki had trusted me to pass the test, had placed his life in my hands; then, during the test itself, he had trusted that I knew my own limits, that if I believed I could take it and be alright, I would. I had trusted Loki to allow me to do the test, to not interrupt, to believe in me and in what I knew I could endure. It was a level of trust not many people would understand, and I doubted the Elders would, just like they couldn't understand us using the Ancient Vows to commit to each other for all eternity… For them that kind of trust, of love, was unreal; for us, it was as easy as breathing, it was what we were.

"You fill me up with your love

Oh I just overflow

When we touch, can't get enough

And I want you to know…"

"You make me want to love you

With every breath I'll love you, (oh) endlessly

I'll give my heart, give my soul

I won't hold back, I'll give you everything

All of me, completely…"

Loki took advantage of a break in the song to spin me around in his arms, I couldn't help the string of giggles that passed my lips. I was still in his arms, my feet a few inches of the ground when I added a soft yeah to the music sounding in the back. After that my Maverick just refused to let me go, making me sing the last chorus from his arms.

"You make me want to love you

With every breath I'll love you, (oh) endlessly

I'll give my heart, give my soul

I won't hold back, I'll give you everything

All of me, completely…"

xXx

One more week passed before we could all make the trip back to Midgard; but Lord Odin wanted to capitalize on the positive reaction people seemed to be having thus far to the revelation that Loki was, in fact, Jotun. It wasn't all perfect, some people, especially older males, warriors, probably even some who had been involved in the last war against Jotunheim reacted quite negatively to my match, all from cold looks to veiled threats, to outright promises of violence if he got too close; a handful even tried to attack. But the attacks were always neutralized before they could hurt anyone, and Loki held himself back in retaliating. And while that didn't actually change the opinions of those attacking him in the first place, at least helped witnesses consider the possibility of things not being as black and white as they might have believed.

Thor was always there to support us, reaffirming his bond to his brother, his trust in him. It also helped when the two met with the Elders and Lord Odin. Thor's position as crown prince was reaffirmed and then Thor asked for Loki to be named, officially, as his future Head Advisor. The decision didn't sit very well with some of the younger Elders, those who probably were hoping to gain positions of importance when the prince finally got to be king. Odin and Frigg, for their part, seemed particularly proud. I was too, and so very happy, my love was finally being given the recognition he deserved. He wasn't in line for the throne, and would never be unless Thor appointed him as guardian of the throne, or a steward of sorts, were he to not be available, but like Loki had said time and again, the throne had never truly been his ambition. It just wasn't his style, no matter what others might believe; being Head Advisor was more for him. But the real important thing was, and would always be, knowing that he was appreciated, valued, and that his family was proud of him.

Finally, two weeks after our arrival to Asgard, and three after the whole mess had begun (and I'd last seen Loki the day of my last class in Norwich University), Loki, Thor and I could finally get Heimdall to send us back to Midgard; Elanor and Hákon would be joining us after we had made sure it was safe. While Loki could have used the Shadow Paths, we were doing an official visit; Thor wanted to see Jane again, and I was looking forward to seeing my aunt too; we were also supposed to meet with Agent Coulson and whoever his bosses might be to arrange a working relationship. Thor had declared Midgard to be under his protection, and that was one statement that needed to be followed on.

I wasn't surprised to find a structure had been built around the landing site (considering how fast they'd built the base around Mjolnir…). Thor didn't like much when one of the underlings that met us told him that Jane wasn't on site, though Loki and I considered it a good precaution; Jane Foster was their most valuable asset, the one who had the information related to Asgard and actually understood it. There was no way they would allow her to stay all the time in a site where there was the risk an enemy would make landfall at any time (they didn't need to know that Loki didn't have such constraints and if he ever became their enemy they would never see him coming, would likely not know a thing until it was all said and done).

We hadn't been sitting in the mirrored interrogation room for even three minutes when none other than Agent Coulson stepped inside. He looked over Thor briefly, if he was surprised at all about Loki's presence he didn't show it, and then he fixed on me…

"Professor Salani." He greeted me with a nod. "So good to have you back."

"It will be Professor Salani-Hveðrungr, soon." I revealed with an impish smile.

"I see." He turned to Loki. "Wife of Luka Hveðrungr…"

Loki and I did a double-take, we hadn't expected him to know that; yet we managed to recover quite fast, continuing the conversation as if it were nothing.

"Technically we're already married under Asgardian law." I told him easily. "But we plan to make it legal here as well. It wouldn't do to have people whisper behind our backs, about the couple living together in sin… and what would they saw about our son?!"

Coulson coughed a bit, it was obvious we had really caught him by surprise with that little tidbit; it was enough to make Loki and I chuckle in return.

"I am actually quite surprised that you've managed to get my alias, Agent." Loki revealed as he looked the man up and down. "I didn't think I'd left anything so much as resembling a trail."

"You didn't." Coulson admitted. "It was mostly a… coincidence of sorts."

That just made us all the more curious.

"Professor, you have in your power a black jade dizi flute, do you not?" Coulson inquired.

I just nodded. It was, in fact, inside a cloth bag tied to my waist, it, along with the small bag with the healing vials were the kind of things I always carried with me.

"In fact, you played it for a concert the Norwich University organized a couple of years ago to collect funds for the local orphanage." Coulson went on. "And not only that, but you also allowed the flute to be placed in a showing case for a week. You know the worth of that instrument."

"I know." I nodded quite calmly. "Though, to me, its personal value is higher than any a museum might put on it."

"One of my agents is a bit into trivia games." Coulson was really going into tangents, one could only hope he got to the point eventually. "He knew how rare dizi flutes made of stone are, particularly ones that are actually tuned correctly. We did some research on the matter. All historical pieces are either in museums or in the hands of specialized collectors. And yet… there was one piece that wasn't historical at all, having been created less than a decade ago, by one who is, perhaps, the best craftsman in all of Asia." He actually smiled. "There was no real paper trail, as the piece had been paid for in cash, with a considerable tip to account for the oddity of the project and its quick delivery. However, as it was something that took some days to be created, there was a name in the file: Luka Hveðrungr."

"You truly have done your homework Agent, I'm proud." Loki declared, only half joking. "You know who I am, who we all are. What do you plan on doing about it?"

"First I would like to know what your plans might be." Coulson said in return. "Thor might have stated a wish to take our planet under his protection… but I remember quite clearly that just two weeks ago you seemed pretty intent on having us all killed… and yet, for the last eight years you've getting along famously with a girl from this same planet…"

"What happened in the course of that week is regretful, though I have to admit it was in no way related to the Earth." Loki admitted uncomfortably. "The situation in Asgard was more than a little delicate, it had a lot of us on edge. I've always been known for unorthodox methods to solve problems, but it got out of control and your realm ended up paying the price. Still, I can assure you that aside from the direct confrontation between the Destroyer and my brother, in no moment was there any lethal intent in anything I did. Even then the intent wasn't lethal, things just, like I said, got terribly out of hand."

It was one way of putting it, and Coulson might not like it, but even he had to admit that no one had died; in the end, not even Thor.

"We all wish for the same thing here, Son of Coul." Thor spoke for the first time. "To live in this realm, to enjoy its pleasures and protect it from its possible grievances." He made a pause to consider before adding. "You may just see Loki as the one behind a lot of what happened during those days… but there were a lot more players involved, and the stakes were a lot higher than you could possibly imagine. Also, my brother is a lot more: he's a sorcerer, a trickster, a strategist… if you allow us to reside in this realm, with all of you, peacefully, you will have the best allies you could possibly wish for."

"Not like I can stop you if you truly want to stay here." Coulson muttered in a low tone. "I've seen what you're all capable of."

"I would really prefer to live my life in peace, and without having to look over my shoulder every minute." I interjected with a twist of my mouth. "It would be very inconvenient, and not the best environment to raise a family, or two…"

Thor just chuckled lowly at the reminder of his Jane, of conversations they still needed to have, I just hoped he wouldn't ruin it, trying to make decisions for her.

"The universe just keeps getting weirder and weirder…" Coulson muttered in a low tone with a resigned sigh. "First Stark becoming a freaking superhero, then that doctor going all green and huge in anger, Captain America, mutants, and of course, now freaking gods as well! Just what are we all coming to?!"

When he put it all like that it really sounded like something was coming. Something big… maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to be around and ready to help when things came to a head.

"In any case, you now might be able to keep them for making everyone crazy." Coulson decided as he opened the door of the interrogation room, leading us out. "I swear if they keep at it much longer everyone in this base will file either a stressed out report or want to take their vacation time at the same damn time!"

"They…?" I didn't understand what was going on now.

For a couple of seconds I was distracted. Apparently someone had gotten Jane during our 'very interesting interview' with Coulson; and the reunion between the scientist and the blonde god was intense enough to bother some of the people watching them. Loki and I just chuckled… wonder what they would say if they were ever to see us… I'm not exactly an exhibitionist, but with my love's mile-wide mischievous streak… who knows?

"Nicholas if you're purposefully being difficult to keep my niece away from me, so help me God I swear I will shoot you!" I heard a harsh female voice call loudly a few feet away.

"Your threats are useless." A deep male voice replied. "You forget you haven't been an agent for almost twenty years. I, on the other hand… well, you've seen where I am."

"Oh, I have, and it means as little to me as seeing you as a newbie thirty years ago did." The female hissed back at him. "Besides, shooting isn't that complicated, like riding a bike…"

"My Nightingale?" Loki asked quietly, noticing my attention was away from him.

"I could swear I recognize that voice, but it cannot be…" I whispered, disbelief coloring my voice even as I searched with my eyes.

As it turned out, it was more than possible. As I stepped forward I could see behind a half wall enough to notice just who were the ones talking: a tall, broad-shouldered black man with no hair and a patch covering one eye; arguing with a tall, lithe brunette woman I knew almost as well as I knew myself… well, I thought I knew her until that moment.

"Aunt Kathryn?!" I called out in shock.

"Silbhé!" She immediately spun in my direction, hurrying to me. "You're here. You're alright." She embraced me tightly. "I'm so happy to see you again darling."

"Auntie, what are you doing here?" I asked, confused by that part. "You said you were giving me a month to get things sorted."

"So you did know!" The black man hissed as if I had confessed to some great crime.

"That was until I saw the news, what happened to Puente Antiguo!" My aunt deadpanned. "Then I took the first plane available and began harassing anyone I could on your whereabouts."

I could feel Loki's mix of guilt and sheepishness at the reminder of that particular fact.

"We were quite shocked." The black man interjected. "We never knew Professor Salani to be in any way connected to former Agent Adler…"

"I haven't been Adler in sixteen years, I told you that already Nicholas." My aunt hissed back at him, before choosing to ignore him instead.

I wondered just where they knew each other from, though that part I could guess; what I was really wondering about was the connection between them, it seemed almost… personal…

"Nick Fury." The man introduced himself to me right then. "Director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, S.H.I.E.L.D. for short. I have a few questions for you Professor Salani."

"I already answered everything pertinent to Agent Coulson." I told him in an almost bored tone. "And by the way, the name is soon to be Professor Salani-Hveðrungr."

That actually seemed to take Fury by surprise, one my Aunt capitulated on, as she took hold of my arm, pulling me with her. I barely managed to react in time to take a hold of Loki, pulling him with us, to several people's confusion and glee.

"Nightingale!" He cried out in surprise even as he followed.

"Come on Loki, Thor will be getting all mushy with Jane and my aunt is as good as my mom, I want her to meet you!" I told him.

That seemed to be enough to convince him as he stopped struggling (even if it had been mostly a joke) and actively followed after us.

xXx

Two weeks more later, on the 11th of June, I walked through the stage to receive my diplomas, officially attaining my masteries in all three areas. I was Magna Cum Laude in two of them and just Cum Laude in the third and already had several job offers from Norwich University as well as some others I had attended for additional programs during the summers and for the semester I spent in Europe. I turned all of them down, claiming to have other interests (not like I could tell them I was planning on working for a secret government organization focused on protecting the world from superhuman and extraterrestrial threats…)

After thinking about it for a while Loki and I had decided to hold our wedding the night before the graduation. It had been a simple ceremony, in the beautiful gardens of Salani mansion. My father had actually arrived a whole day early for my graduation (I later found out it was no accident, my aunt found him when I failed to, informed him I was getting married). If he was surprised or confused by the fact that I was getting married to a man he'd never met, he didn't show it. Then again, it's not like he could complain, we hadn't really been a family in years; and it's not like I'd seen his new wife more than a handful of times before he married her!

Hákon was introduced to everyone as Loki's son from a previous relationship. It was stated that the mother had died in birth and Elanor (who had taken the alias of Eleanor Vesper) was a nurse specialized in childcare who had been helping him take care of the baby all along, I'd decided to keep her in our employment since I was a new mother and was afraid to make mistakes, besides, there would be the need a babysitter for my new son whenever work got too hard for Loki and I to keep him with us

Loki's alias had gained a background, as a Scandinavian millionaire and scholar, he would be working for S.H.I.E.L.D. too. In fact, only Coulson, Fury, Thor, Jane, Darcy and Erik even knew who Loki, Thor and I really were (though none of them actually knew just yet that I was technically a goddess, having passed the test).

That evening Loki and I were standing in the middle of the rose patch of my garden, swaying slowly to music only we could hear. Elanor was inside with Hákon, probably both already asleep, in the room that had been set as a temporary nursery (we would be moving to New Mexico to work with Jane and her team).

"It's been some crazy days, hasn't it?" I commented at some point. "Though most would argue it's been more like an insane month."

"May you live in interesting times…" My maverick quoted with a sigh as he embraced me from behind, holding me tightly around my waist.

"Not sure they had this kind of thing in mind when that quote was written." I pointed out with a small not-quite-sane chuckle as I rested my head on his chest. "Anyway, but it still fits. It doesn't get any more interesting than this…"

"You know, just for that, things are going to get even more 'interesting' in the future." Loki pointed out with a smirk.

I could feel the smirk as he kissed my shoulder.

I sighed. I was true, I had jinxed us… at least I had him we had each other. We were both gods, immortals, together… we could handle anything as long as we were together… and we also had a wonderful family and friends backing us up, that was important too.

"Come what may…" Loki was either hearing my thoughts, or his just were running down the same paths. "Together forever. Mo Anam Cara."

"Together forever." I agreed wholeheartedly. "Mo Anam Cara."

There, beneath the moonlight, in between the roses, in the very spot where we'd met for the first time eight years prior… we sealed that promise with a kiss.