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Wintersong

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Wintersong Poster

Wintersong

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

Words can be lost in the wind, or buried somewhere deep, but the song… the song endures, it carries on, in the air, in the hearts and souls of everyone who hears its melody. One day a melody was created, forged from an eternal winter: clear as ice, pure as new-fallen snow and as beautiful and unique as a snowflake…

Motif

We were who we were at our very cores, and that would never change...

I opened my eyes, briefly wondering when and why I'd closed them, but that didn't seem to be too important. I felt dizzy, like the world was spinning around me with no control, my brain kept pulling up things: scents, images, sounds, memories, and a part of me couldn't help but swear that more than half of those hadn't been in my head the day before…

And then a voice called to me, I'd no idea what had been said, I wasn't paying enough attention, but I knew it was calling to me, so I spun around, half-absently noticing the touch of what felt like silk against my legs, I was in a floor-length, sleeveless, lilac dress, sandals on my feet, my long auburn hair falling in loose curls to the middle of my back. The moment I finished turning I laid eyes on the one who'd called: standing tall, more than a head taller than me: with thick curls of raven-black hair cascading down her back and almost to her waist and green eyes so light they looked almost like glass; her skin was pale alabaster and one half was perfectly unblemished, while the other side was covered in many thin silvery scars; she was wearing a long-sleeved, floor-length black gown, elegant but sad, like a mourning dress…

"Helena..." I didn't even think of the name until it was coming from my lips.

And then it hit me, the one standing before me was no mere woman, I knew her, she was my daughter! (Technically she'd been my daughter, centuries and a lifetime prior, but I cared not for such details; she was mine and that was that).

I was embracing her before I quite knew what I was doing, and as I did, things began falling into place inside my head, inside my heart and soul.

"Oh Nana (Mama)..." She whispered in that quiet yet strong voice of hers as she held me close. "I was so afraid… so afraid Ada (Papa) would be too late, that the deamarkonian would not work… I did my best to keep you breathing, your heart beating, and even then I… you almost didn't make it. And I thought I'd lose you again… that again you'd be gone and I'd be left here, helpless, alone..."

My own memories followed her words. I remembered my current life, as Silbhé Arianna Kinross-Salani, human, daughter of Aislinn and Sebastian Kinross-Salani, niece of Kathryn Salani. Mom dead due to blood cancer, dad always working, aunt Kathryn always with me. And then the cancer, the same sickness that had taken my mom had threatened my life too, and Loki… my dear dear friend had taken it upon himself to save my life, any way he could. That had ended with him creating something that had before only existed in fiction (in a novel I'd been reading while bed-ridden, in fact), the deamarkonian: a set of bracelets that connected the life-force of two individuals, allowing them to share it. It was meant to allow his energy to help me survive the leukemia. According to Helena's words I'd gotten it on just in time… barely. Would have died if she hadn't been using her own power to keep me on the side of the living. I went on my toes and with some effort managed to place a kiss on her brow in a quiet thank you.

Her comment about me almost not making it, about being gone again… brought forth even more memories, of a past and a life long gone. One where I'd been Princess Tinúviel of Alfheim and Asgard, who'd renounced the crown of the elves out of love for the second prince of the Realm Eternal. A Jotun by birth and Aesir by adoption. Who'd given birth to the most beautiful little girl, our little light, our Helena… and then… I'd been pregnant with our second child, another girl, when everything went wrong. Amora, and her plots, her coveting of something, someone, who was never meant to be hers… and I was the one who ended up paying for that, me and my unborn child both. But I was back, I'd been given another chance (two, if one counted surviving the cancer as well) and one day Meril would have hers too.

"I'm here Helena..." I whispered softly as I ran a hand soothingly through her hair. "I'm here now, and I'm not leaving you, not again."

I vaguely noticed that in my new life I was shorter than I'd been before, but that wasn't too important. Looks weren't really what mattered, it was all about the soul… and regarding the soul, I could feel another pulling on mine.

"Go nana." Helena pulled away just enough for me to see her nod. "Go, Ada's waiting for you."

"Promise me you'll come see us as soon as you can." I told her instantly. "I don't care about the Allfather's ancient rules. You are already very much a part of my life, you can get involved in it. Lives and names aside, I'm still your mother, cala amin (my light)..."

"Yes, yes you are." She nodded, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes.

It was the last thing I saw before the mists of Helheim cleared from around me, and my soul went back to my body and the world of the living…

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was: blue. Ice blue skin, with tribal-like markings the color of dusted snow. His face was the same, with eyes that were red and black, shocking and exotic and absolutely gorgeous.

"Fintalëharyon (Trick-prince)..." I breathed out, a smile on my lips.

"A'maelamin (My beloved)..." He replied in the same soft tone.

"Not that you don't look absolutely stunning like this, but what's up with the skin?" I asked, hoisting myself up on one arm to look at him better.

He was wearing nothing but black boxer-shorts, which left a lot of skin bare to my eyes, and I couldn't help but eye him appreciatively.

"The deamarkonian." He explained, signaling to the cuff-bracelets we were both wearing. "There was a completely unexpected side-effect to them. Apparently all spells upon me, upon us both, were broken the moment they were activated…"

Which explained why he was blue, and apparently also why he remembered me… because it would seem at some point the Allfather had erased all memory of me from his mind, and from that of everyone else in Asgard, in an attempt to stop my match's downward spiral, caused precisely by us being a match. We weren't meant to be without the other, and as romantic as that notion could be, the dark side was that if one half died and the other didn't do so instantly as well, he/she became self-destructive in an instinctive attempt to join their other half. Loki didn't die when I (Tinúviel) did, but a part of him had really wanted to, had done everything short of turning a blade on himself… and his father did probably the only thing he could think of, believing that if he no longer remembered he'd lost someone, that would somehow erase the loss itself. He'd no idea. The worst part was that, afterwards, my love was still in pain, he just had no idea why; and no one really understood why he acted the way he did.

"I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come back to you…" I told him very softly, running a hand down his cheek.

"I have a feeling it wasn't up to you." He replied gamely, before his eyes gained an odd glint as he added: "At least now I know why the name Nightingale suited you so well from the start..."

Indeed: Nightingale… Tinúviel… that had always been my name, in whatever language.

"I cannot go back to Asgard like this." Loki announced abruptly, sitting up.

"I don't understand." I admitted. "I mean, I understand the Allfather's glamour falling, but you're a shape-shifter it should be easy enough to change..."

"It is." He proved it, right then and there, returning to the form I knew better on him: alabaster skin, emerald green eyes, obsidian black hair slicked back, dressed in green silk and black leather. "But as I put distance between the two of us..." He left the bed, walking to the far end of the room, and I could see his image growing slightly blurry and almost flickering. "It gets worse the more distance there is. I can still travel the branches of Yggdrasil, but once I leave Midgard I have no control over my magic anymore. If I were to appear in this form in Asgard..."

"You don't think they remember." It wasn't really a question.

"No, I don't." He agreed. "And even if they did, the truth of my origins was never really public knowledge, only Erynion and Sif knew outside my family, and perhaps Heimdall." His face twisted as he added: "Things will not go well if Thor sees me like this right now."

"He's your brother…" I tried to say to him.

"He is." He nodded grimly. "But he's not the brother you remember, my Nightingale. He's..." He shook his head. "He's not the brother I once loved as dearly as if we'd been born as such. Make no mistake I still love him, but nowadays… things haven't gone right since we lost you."

I knew that for a fact, and not just for what he was saying, and what he'd told me in the three years since we'd met in my current life, but I could sense the emotions coming from him (Empathy, a gift that apparently had followed me into my new life, I just hadn't know there was anything especially about me always being able to tell what others were feeling…), and I knew it went beyond Thor not remembering me, and it probably wasn't good.

And then we were interrupted, in a most unexpected manner.

"Silbhé!" It was aunt Kathryn. "Silbhé darling, are you alright?"

It hit me like a bucket of iced-water. She was worried about me, and why wouldn't she be? Just the day before I'd been dying… in fact, shortly before dawn I'd been as good as dead, if it hadn't been for my love and his creation… I had no idea how I was supposed to explain any of it to my aunt, and apparently we weren't getting any time to make a plan. We'd have to improvise.

xXx

We didn't actually tell her the truth that day. Loki pretty much panicked and went invisible a fraction of a second before she opened the door, and while I didn't like lying to my aunt, to the woman that was as good as my mom, the only one I had any real memories of… I wasn't going to push him into something he wasn't ready for. So I let it go. I think she knew, even then, if not exactly what was going on, at least that something was. Then again, I'd been dying the night prior, and then she found me to be alright? Of course something was going on.

It took three days for us to go to her with the truth, about everything. She never backed away from him, not from his name, his skin, or his history. I know it couldn't have been easy, not with how complex it all was, and especially when my part in it all came up. I was fourteen years old, yet I had memories and experiences that spanned more than a century…

"I always knew you were an old soul..." Aunt Kathryn said almost wistfully. "I just didn't realize quite how… literal, that statement could be."

I loved her so much…

One of the reasons we went to her was because Loki was having trouble reigning over his power. That is to say, he was unable to do much magic away from me (the farther away he got, the worse his control got), and his Jotun abilities were tricky even when near me. He needed to focus whenever he touched someone, to avoid giving them frostbite; I was pretty much the only one he could touch without a thought and not hurt, which was both a relief (a guarantee he'd never hurt me, consciously or not) and not so much (because that meant he still couldn't touch others). At least he did not hate himself, like I knew he'd have, if he didn't have the memories of his parents having explained it all to him, back when he'd first found out the truth (the time he'd been made to forget once).

It's not like we ever expected Aunt Kathryn to be able to help us directly, but I knew she knew a lot of people, and I knew she'd worked for the government for fifteen years before retiring so as to be able to help dad raise me (in the kind of job that you couldn't talk about over dinner…). As it happened, we were right, she knew people. It was how we found ourselves, a week after my life was saved, standing at the gates of the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters.

My love did not say a word as we went up the long driveway, and then to the door, where a green eyed, red haired woman was waiting for us.

"You must be Silbhé and Luka, correct?" She asked kindly.

"That's us ma'am." I nodded with a small smile. "You must be Dr. Grey."

"That's right." She agreed before turning around. "Follow me please, the professor is waiting for you both in his office."

The office was at the end of the hallway, and inside we indeed found Professor Charles Xavier, the headmaster of the Institute (and, as we'd eventually discover, the leader of one of the two factions that lead the mutant community).

"Welcome." He greeted us with a smile. "You know, you don't have to hide here."

Loki's hold on me tightened compulsively at that. We were holding hands, had been since teleporting out of my house; it allowed us to feel safe, at the same time it allowed him to keep a human glamour up with ease.

I said nothing, leaving it up to my match. A few seconds passed still, as he took a deep breath, then he slowly let go of a my hand, at the same time he dropped the glamour. We both heard a sharp intake of breath from behind us, something that made Loki tense all over again.

Dr. Grey, who was still standing at a side, turned her eyes towards whoever was at the door (behind us). She said nothing out-loud, but I had a feeling she didn't need to.

"I'm unaware how much Ms. Salani explained to you through the phone, Professor." Loki said in an even tone. "I am not a mutant, neither of us is. I am actually a Jotun."

"Excuse me, what is a Jotun?" Dr. Grey inquired softly.

"Some people call them Frost Giants, though they prefer the term Jotun." I clarified.

"Frost Giants… like in Norse mythology?" A male voice behind us (Mr. Summers) asked.

"Not like those, exactly those." My love corrected.

"Huh?" It was obvious none of them were expecting that.

"Indeed, there is life beyond our planet, and some things we believe to be myths are actually real." I announced calmly. "I still think they're all aliens rather than gods… but I suppose that's mostly a matter of perception."

"Your name's not actually Luka, is it?" Ms. Grey asked with sudden insight.

"No, it's not." My Maverick seemed to decided to take a chance as he announced. "My name is Loki… yes, that Loki. God of Mischief and Lies..."

"… and chaos, and magic, and mayhem… and so many other things. It depends on who you ask really." I added in my most blasé tone.

Loki actually laughed at my comment.

"And you, miss?" Mr. Summers inquired as he fully entered the room.

Tall, blonde… it didn't surprise me when Loki tensed at him. The dark glasses covering his eyes and part of his face, in a material that wasn't glass or plastic, and shone red, gave us a very good idea of where his mutation might be focused.

"Oh, my name really is Silbhé and I was born human." I nodded glibly.

I wondered how long it'd take each of them to pick up on my specific wording.

"Why are you here…?" He asked next.

Loki's tension reached whole new heights and none of us missed the way frost began to form on the chair he was on. My reaction was also instinctive as I entwined my hand with his. I could see from the corner of my eye as the two younger mutants made to say something, or perhaps try to stop me, only to freeze (figuratively) when noticing that the frost didn't affect me in any way.

"Does this answer your question?" I asked evenly, turning my eyes to them again.

"How old are you?" Mr. Summers asked next, apropos of nothing.

It actually took me several seconds to parse out the feelings I was getting from him, and make sense of the way they fit with the looks he kept giving me, us, and our hands… it eventually hit me though, and I didn't like the implications.

"I am fourteen years old." I answered, before narrowing my eyes at him and going on. "And before you even dare think something negative about Loki let me say this: I know my body is young, but my mind and soul are older than you could even begin to imagine."

"Past lives?" Ms. Grey's eyebrows raised abruptly in surprise.

"Possibly." I shrugged. "At the very least one, I have memories of one. Nine centuries ago give or take. Lived to be about 120 or so… and I was married to him for 95 of those."

That shut Mr. Summers up immediately. Ms. Grey just looked at me with a mix of nervousness, awe and disbelief.

"I know how it sounds." I went on, more calm than before. "I swear I am not lying. We don't know all the details. We do know that I have a past-life, that we were married then, until an Enchantress called Amora murdered me, furious at me for foiling her attempts at enthralling Thor." I shook my head, that part wasn't that important. "Aunt Kathryn knows about this, if that helps." I let out a breath. "I know how it looks. I'm fourteen, and most people look at us and think: statutory rape, or something. The thing is we've not done anything like that, and we won't until I've reached age of consent; though really, if we wanted we could marry right now with my aunt's consent, and I know she'd give it." I shook my head, knowing that my rant wasn't helping. "What you need to understand is that when I say we're a match, that we're soulmates, I'm not being a classic teen-aged girl rhapsodizing about the wonders of eternal love, without having the slightest idea what it is about. I know, I've been married for longer than most humans live! And I'm still as much in love with him as I was the day I said my vows. We love each other; time and space have changed nothing. One day we'll marry again, and it matters not if it's tomorrow, in two years, four, or ten. We're going to be together for the rest of this life, and as many more as might come afterwards." I let out a breath. "And this, us, has nothing to do with why we came here. We came here because Aunt Kathryn believes you can help us, help him with his powers."

"Well, we've never had someone quite like you Mr. Loki, but we'll do our best." He promised, looking at my love with a small smile.

"Odinson." My Maverick stated. "My name is Loki Odinson. Luka Hvedrungr is the cover I go by in this world, but my true name is Loki Odinson."

"Very well Mr. Odinson." The Professor nodded. "Welcome to the Xavier Institute."

xXx

There were a few complications upon our first settling into the Institute, and in the end we had to go ahead and get married, once we went back home to gather my things so we could formally move into the Xavier Estate. The teachers outright refused to allow us to share a room, no matter how much we insisted and cajoled, so in the end we took the decision out of their hands. Since Dad was spending most of his time out of the country, Aunt Kathryn legally had sole custody of me; she signed the necessary forms, and with her intervention we got a judge to sign on it as well, we were married before returning to the Institute the following Monday.

Mr. Summers and Ms. Grey were quite obviously shocked by our actions, as were most of the younger members of staff; only Prof. Xavier and Ms. Munroe (the other senior member of staff) seemed to be mostly accepting of our actions. I knew that our decision might make it harder for some people to accept us, but for me it was more important to feel secure in my bond to Loki, and for him to feel the same. And that began with us being allowed to stay together, even to sleep in the same room. We shared a bed, but there was nothing sexual going on, even being husband and wife, I knew my body wasn't mature enough for that, and we were in no hurry. In our minds and souls the two of us had been married long enough, we didn't need sex, there were other forms of intimacy that were enough for us. We particularly loved cuddling, especially in little clothes, the touch of skin on skin was pleasant, and comforting.

We wore no wedding-bands, but had tattoos on the right finger instead, the design of claddagh rings in the same golden color of traditional bands. The only pieces of jewelry I really wore were the deamarkonian, the trinity-knot earrings in three golds that were an heirloom from my mother and a nightingale pendant forged in mithril that my match had commissioned for me from the best jewelers in all the realms, the dwarves of Nidavellir.

As much a shock as our marriage was when first introducing the notion, it didn't take long for people in the Institute to either forget about it or simply decide it was no longer interesting. And so we moved on.

The next shock came in my love's true form. We knew we couldn't keep holding hands all the time. So the day after installing ourselves in our room, we stepped out with him in his real skin. No one ran away, or looked away in disgust, there was a mix of curiosity and fascination. The warning not to touch him seemed to fall on deaf ears, until a few boys ended with frostbite in their fingers, and then they decided it might be a good idea to listen to us. I only rolled my eyes before going ahead and healing them. That, somehow, appeared to shock them even more than my love's obviously blue skin.

"I don't understand." I admitted when everyone staring began unnerving me.

"Are you aware just how rare true healing is?" Dr. McCoy, one of the Professor's former students and a guest lecturer asked with obvious fascination.

"I'm quite aware." I said in a drawl. "It's a gift, and it has limits. Surface injuries are a piece of cake, piercing wounds and the like can be exhausting, but it can be done. Nerve damage I can do nothing about, nor about healing what is no longer there, or problems or sicknesses I don't know exist in the first place." I thought it over before adding. "If one of the children went and broke their leg today I might be able to heal them, depending on how bad the break was; but something like for example a spinal injury… the nervous system is completely beyond me."

I very purposefully did not look at the Professor, though I had no doubt he knew I was talking about him; just like we both probably knew Dr. McCoy had been thinking about him when bringing the topic up.

*Thank you anyway, Miss...* The Professor's words touched my surface thoughts.

Loki and I knew about his own mutation and we'd agreed to allow him into our minds on a near permanent basis, understanding that reading minds was to him like feeling emotions was to me, or magic itself was to my match. As long as he didn't try to go deep into our heads, we had no trouble. We had enough control of our thoughts not to just offer up all our secrets, and were accepting enough that we wouldn't mind if something did escape and he happened to pick up on it. We didn't miss the mix of surprise and gratitude that shone on Charles's aura and expression was something that neither of us could miss, it left me wondering how many people had been as accepting as us before (I had a feeling that not many…).

*Silbhé.* I whispered mentally to him. *Call me Silbhé.*

It was the middle of the summer, and thus there were no formal classes in that moment. Though there were still a number of students, among those who either had no families to take them in, or who simply couldn't (or wouldn't) go back to them. Our priority was for my Maverick to learn to control his icy touch, and perhaps even his ice magic. We hoped that once we'd managed that he'd be able to gain control of his shape-shifting next which would, in turn, allow him to change into Aesir again, though only if he wanted it.

It was near the end of the summer that we met Darcy Lewis. She was a former student from the Institute, studying in Culver, though she'd changed majors twice: first Law, then History, she hadn't liked any and hadn't yet decided which one to try next. She had a college fund, set by an uncle or something (she was never clear on that); the only thing she seemed to truly enjoy was learning languages (I understood that part at least). She'd apparently dropped by the Institute seeking some kind of guidance, believing she'd nowhere else to go, no one else to go to; her parents were dead and she had no other close family or friends.

Professor Xavier introduced her to us when I took a cup of elven tea to him. (Loki had had the herbs in a pocket dimension, and Charles shared the like for it with me, so I usually made enough for us both). Darcy Lewis was a young woman of average height with lightly tanned skin, thick dark brown curls to her shoulder blades, blue-gray eyes beneath a pair of glasses and a very curvy figure; she favored simple tops and jeans and there was a hint of mischief in her expression I knew all too well.

"Silbhé, Loki, meet a former alumni of the Institute, Miss Darcy Lewis." He introduced us. "Miss Lewis, two of our more recent additions, Silbhé and Luka Salani-Hvedrungr."

"Nice to meet you, around here they call me Wallflower." She said in return, shaking each of our hands in turn.

With recent training my Maverick was beginning to gain control over his icy touch, though he hadn't had much opportunity to practice; apparently the people in the Institute had taken the not-touching too strongly. Still, Darcy had no reason to hesitate, and it went well enough.

"We don't really have code-names yet." I admit with a shrug. "Being new around and all that."

"If you don't mind the question, why Wallflower?" My love asked almost immediately.

He was still so awed at the whole concept of mutations, had been since first finding out about it, about mutants in general; there seemed to be no end to his wonder as he saw each mutation, no matter how big or small.

"Don't know what a Wallflower is Lucky?" She asked cheekily.

Loki arched a brow at the nickname but said nothing about it.

"You go unnoticed?" I asked, cocking my head to a side, curious.

"Something like that." She nodded, then proceeded to close her eyes, concentrating.

I could see the moment she went, mainly because I could no longer see her, not with my eyes, though a part of me could still vaguely sense her. Beside me, my husband stared at the spot where Darcy had been standing (was still standing) for all of two seconds before going into raucous laughter. I'd never heard him like that, it was enough to shock me, and to make Darcy return.

"Is he alright there?" She asked, evidently confused.

"Oh Norns!" He cried out in Ancient Norse. "I never thought my eyes would see something like this! Such shocking wonder..."

"Hey!" Darcy cried out. "What the hell man?!"

My love stopped laughing as he looked at her carefully. Connected as we were, I was beginning to see the connections he'd made, and it truly was a wonder…

"Oh stars… you really have no idea what it is you can do..." He murmured right then. "I did wonder, if your chosen name was a mistake or the best trick ever seen!"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Darcy demanded, and I could sense her losing her patience with us.

"What you do Darcy, it goes beyond going invisible, or not being noticed." I explained to her calmly. "What you're actually doing is stepping into another plane, sort of another dimension."

"That's impossible." She shook her head vehemently. "I would know if I were doing something like that, something cool… wouldn't I?"

"Probably not, particularly if you don't know it can be done." I offered.

"You see, there are dimensions in the universe, planes… you could also see them as layers." My beloved did his best to explain it in terms they could understand. "There are many, and different forms of life exist in each. Some don't have living beings, but energy instead. Like, there is a level that holds the energy that some individuals channel and turn into their magic (not him, because his magic was very much a part of him). Now, the layers that interest us right now are the one where we live, lets call it the Material Dimension. Outside all those layers is the abyss, the emptiness, outer space, whatever you wish to call it. Now, between us, this world we live in, and the abyss, are a number of layers that conform what is by most simply known as the Shadow Plane. It's a tricky plane, not just anyone can survive in it, and those few of us who can, can also use it to navigate from one place to another, either in our world, or others, as the Shadow Plane is part of Yggdrasil and as such connects all its Realms. The Shadow Plane can also be further split into several Dimensions, the closest to us being the Mirror Dimension which, as its name suggests, looks exactly like this one. Except reality there can be changed, bent to the whims of those with power, magic. Whatever happens there does not affect us, not directly. It's not too good for transport though, as one needs to cover the same distance we would in the real world." He shook his head, turning his attention back to Darcy. "When you activated your mutation, you stepped out of this dimension and into the Mirror one."

"What?!" Darcy squeaked at that. "No! That's impossible! I didn't even know about this Mirror-whatchamacallit! How could even step on it, or in it, or whatever?!"

"Miss Lewis, calm down." Charles called.

I could tell he had a hard time getting through to her, even with his telepathy; made a part of me wonder if it had always been like that, if it may be part of her mutation. With us, I knew that while he could read our surface thoughts, and might be able to dive into our inner ones; that was mostly because we allowed it, my love's magic would stop him if we chose it to, and we always knew when he was there…

"Darcy, easy..." I whispered, running a hand up her forearm and calling on just enough of my own power to help her calm. "This is not about things to know or don't. Your mutation has not changed, you simply know more about it than before."

"You said she went into the Mirror Dimension." Professor Xavier said suddenly. "You don't think that's all she can do, do you?"

"No, I don't." Loki admitted with a shrug. "Even if it were, that would be useful enough. But I do believe there's more she can do. I'd be willing to help her find out..." He turned to look at Darcy again. "That is, If you wish it?"

"I..." It seemed to take forever for Darcy to make up her mind. "Yes, yes I want to learn."

The following weeks she made arrangements and dropped out of college, didn't tell us a thing until it was all said and done, and when I asked her if that was really what she wanted, she surprised me with her answer:

"I only went to college because Uncle Eli gave me a card with money for it, and I had no idea what else to do." She admitted with a shrug. "I've known I'm a mutant since I was twelve, but there never seemed to be anything special about my mutation. I mean, yeah, I could make it so people didn't notice me, but that didn't seem special at all. I always wanted to help, but didn't see how I possibly could… Yet now. Now Lokes is telling me that there's more to my mutation than we ever knew, who knows? Maybe it won't amount to much in the long run, at least it'll keep me entertained before I make up my mind or my next major… But what if it does mean something? What if this is my chance to finally discovering what it is I can do to make a difference, to matter? Who knows, maybe this is what I'm supposed to do…"

I didn't try to insist further then. And so we added her own training into our rather eclectic schedules. Soon Darcy had become our best friend, almost like a sister even. She was the only one who seemed to think nothing at all about the fact that I was fourteen and married.

"Hey! You act like you're older than me!" She said simply one day. "I mean, not like I think I'm old enough to be married or anything, or like I intend to marry anyone, or even have someone I'd like to marry..." She cut herself off, shook her head then seemed to revise. "The point is. If it works for you? Awesome! It's your life, your choice and no one else has any right to complain about it. Not like you married them or anything..."

I couldn't help it, I laughed at that. She was so right! Darcy Lewis definitely made our life more interesting than it used to be.

xXx

We were right in our deductions about the progression of Loki's power and control. It took him nearly a month to gain enough control not to give frostbite to anyone not me. Then a couple more months before he began getting the hang of his ice-magic. About half a year after our arrival to the Institute he finally had enough power and control to shape-shift back into his Aesir form, though, unlike the one the Allfather had been responsible for, the new one allowed some of his markings to carry through, only they appeared a very light, almost white, blue, like frost on his alabaster skin. In my (biased, but so what?) opinion, he looked absolutely gorgeous.

Then the next surprise came, when we discovered I could call on my beloved's magic at will. It was a bit tricky, for all but the most frequent spells (those I did so often they became second nature) I needed to trace runes in the air and call to them. Still, it was a most unexpected bonus.

And while getting his ability to shape-shift back meant that he didn't need to be blue anymore, sometimes my Maverick changed back into that form for no reason. He knew some of the kids actually liked it. Especially Bobby, who called himself Iceman, he loved to play with my love, and learn tricks for him. At times when looking at him I couldn't help but remember many years before, when Helena had been young… I also wondered if Loki would look just like that the next time. When I was old enough to lay with him again, to give him a child… It was a nice dream.

The rest of the year we juggled my learning to use his magic as efficiently as possible, his re-traint (as the loss of all spells had also meant losing all the blockers he always kept on his magic, and thus having to learn how to re-balance all that energy and power), and teaching Darcy the full scope of her own mutation. Turned out we were right, she could move through the Mirror Dimension, could also step fully into the Shadow Plane and travel through there… though she couldn't stay there too long, and couldn't go deep enough to actually move through the branches of Ygdrassil… still, it was more than anyone ever expected.

Sometime near the end of Spring in 2007 I decided it was time to put some of my old plans back on track, which meant college. Darcy was all for joining me, even when I explained I was not going to Culver. Norwich was still offering me a place, and while I had every intention to take the necessary online classes to qualify for degrees in Mythology and History (the subjects I'd been taken online classes on thus far), I'd switched my focus in the year since arriving to the Institute. I applied to NYU with an aim for both Sociology and Linguistics, with some Nursing classes thrown in for good measure, hoping that learning more about such would help me guide my healing. Darcy decided to go for Political Sciences, hoping for a Master in Arts of Politics later on. The real surprise was seeing my love filling an application for Law in the same University. After much thinking it over he'd decided not to even try going back to Asgard, even though we were all sure he was ready for it.

"I… Nightingale..." His voice broke as he tried to explain it to me, tears clogging his throat. "They don't remember me love, not the real me. They do not know you beyond the legend that has been shaped since your loss. I cannot go back to that, back to pretending that you don't exist, that you're not at the very core of me, everything that's good and pure in me… and I especially cannot go back to just being Odin's second son, the trickster prince… I'm more than that, I am Loki Silvertongue, Sky-Treader, I am mischief and lies and magic and chaos… I am also ice, the youngest prince of Jotunheim, an illegitimate son I might be, but of the royal line nonetheless. I cannot un-know all that, Nightingale; cannot pretend like I am any less than what I am… I cannot do it, please don't make me."

"I will never make you do anything you don't want to, my Maverick." I promised him, holding him as tight as my body was able. "Ever. If you wish not to go back, that is your choice to make. I will support you."

"So we'll do this then?" Darcy called from the door.

No comment was made about how long she'd been there, the things she might have heard. In the year we'd known one another she had become as good as our sister, and we loved her as such. Almost as much as we'd once loved Sif (and that was yet another loss we both mourned).

"We'll do this." I agreed.

The plan was fairly easy. Go to NYU, get one or two Master Degrees, and then work together, in Mutant Relations. We knew it wouldn't be easy, it would put us in the spotlight in ways most of us weren't fully comfortable with. But someone needed to do it, and while both Professor Xavier and Dr. Grey did a good job when they had to do it, it was dangerous. If enough people turned against them, they could also end up turning against the Institute… there was a reason why Dr. McCoy was only a guest lecturer; he spent most of his time lobbying in favor of mutants. And he did a wonderful job; I still believed we could do more, we only needed the tools to understand the world we lived in, the laws, the people… and that was why we'd chosen the subjects of studies we had. It was likely some people wouldn't like it, but we weren't the kind who gave up, no matter how hard things got.

xXx

All in all, I had no idea just how hard things could get. We spent four years at NYU, with little to no free time, signing up for as many classes per term as we could in order to finish our studies. We came on the other side completely exhausted, though also quite satisfied. A number of offers were made to us, some even knocked at our door (we'd decided to rent together an apartment to be closer to the school, and put some distance between us and the Institute, just in case). We turned them all down, having already made our own plans.

There was a meeting of World Leaders that would be taking place sometime in late May or so of the following year, and that was our end game. But first we needed to get our ticket there. Dr. McCoy gave us a hand to start, put us in contact with other lobbyists, and people he knew were in support of mutants. It didn't take us long to realize that just lobbying, talking to important people wasn't enough, there had to be other ways of making a difference. And then it happened, we were in a support meeting and heard about a young man who'd just lost his job, simply because his daughter was a mutant and he wasn't ashamed of it. Before I knew what was going on Darcy was offering our services to him. We agreed of course.

By the end of the month Mr. Andrews had his job back, his boss had been fined and we had half a dozen cases more, and they kept coming. Luka gave his services as lawyer pro-bono (not like we needed the money, really), Darcy worked on PR for us and the mutants (mostly putting things on the internet, calling people's attention to groups' and individuals' plights, it worked). I worked on mediating between the two sides: humans and mutants. With human parents who had mutant children, couples, friends, colleagues, everything that was necessary.

The three of us were publicly known as mutants: Maverick, Wallflower and Canary they called us. The first known for his tricks, which some compared to a magician's, though with him you'd never be able to see the 'trick'; Wallflower had a knack for going unnoticed; while I was known for having a nearly hypnotic voice and light illusions. We downplayed our gifts, a lot and we knew it, but it was easier to deal with humans (especially the kind who either didn't like or didn't trust mutants) when they believed our mutations to be innocuous, not dangerous at all.

Finding myself pregnant before the end of that first summer was an unexpected, though not at all unwelcome development. It didn't even slow us down that much. I went to doctor appointments as needed and while my white-blood cell count was cause for concern (my doctor couldn't understand how I was living like one in remission, when I so obviously wasn't; the cancer was there, yet I was quite clearly alive and having little trouble), but we handled it.

Six months after beginning we were more than a little famous. It had gotten us a few enemies, of course. Like Senator Kelly, the staunchest supporter of the Registration Initiative or, as some were beginning to call it, the Mutant Registration Act. I hated it, SHIELD and its Index was bad enough; they went after enhanced mainly, and sometimes managed to land an actual gifted. I wasn't sure if they didn't go after mutants because they didn't really have the ability to identify them, or if they feared the consequences. Magneto's Brotherhood was relatively well-known, after all, though they didn't act out as often as they had back in the sixties and seventies (either that or whatever they were doing in recent years was the kind of thing the government would rather keep on the down-low); and Professor Xavier was no pushover either.

Practically from the start of my pregnancy (certainly from the first night I knew for sure I was pregnant) I began having dreams. Half of them showed me what I somehow knew was our baby, in the future: she was petite, with skin like strawberries and cream, long dark mahogany hair in waves, and eyes that seemed to go from the warmest brown I'd ever seen to an intense mix of red, orange and black that seemed to shift like a living flame. Some of the glimpses I got of her future showed her surrounded by fire, flames dancing around her, upon her, yet never really burning her. In a couple of them she wasn't alone, standing beside a tanned young man, with eyes like steel and platinum blonde hair with brunette roots (it always seemed to be wind-swept). I couldn't know for sure, of course, but an instinct inside told me that my daughter and that young man were as connected as Loki and I were to each other.

The other half of my dreams managed to be even more cryptic: there was a young version of the Professor, some younger than others, the youngest version of him actually walked! I'd never asked how he'd ended in a wheelchair, hadn't dared; but from the first time I had a dream of him standing… running, I just knew whatever had brought that loss couldn't be good. And it wasn't even just him, there was a man, he seemed to be very close to the Prof… Charles (I couldn't help but see the youngest version of him as Charles, rather than the Professor), especially in the oldest flashes, Charles called him Erik, and it took me a ridiculous amount of time before I realized that he was none other than Magneto! And suddenly the tension between those two and their factions took an entirely new dimension!

In March we found ourselves in the middle of a very intense, and not a little tense debate. Only Darcy and I were there that day, Luka was in court, fighting a high-profile murder case where the accused, a mutant woman, had drove half a dozen people to suicide through psychic harassment and near torture; the reason? Those same people had done everything from physical abuse to rape and one near-murder of young mutants and never been prosecuted due to lack of 'undeniable proof'. It was a delicate case, we all knew Rachel (the accused) would be sent to jail, we were doing our best to avoid the death penalty, and to use her case as proof so other instances of abuse and crimes against mutants would not be so easily dismissed. She knew the odds and had agreed completely with the plan.

It was how Darcy and I ended being the only ones present that day in City Hall. Senator Kelly was presenting (not for the first time) his initiative for a Mutant Registration Act, and we were there as his opposition. Darcy was the one actually on the floor, fighting back each and every argument Kelly took, I was on the edge, ready to help in case it was necessary. Sometimes my mere presence helped, I was a well-known figure after all. Pro-mutant, married to a very gifted man (it'd been a bit of trouble, when it came out just what age I was when we got married, but in the end the law was on our side) nearly eight months pregnant with a baby that no one doubted would be gifted as well, and with a following of my own.

On the other side of the 'political arena' stood Senator Kelly's PA, as well as his bodyguard (for all intents and purposes I did the work of Darcy's PA, and it was known we needed no bodyguard though my husband at times played the part). The most interesting part was that I was sure of several things regarding the two on the opposite side from me: they knew each other, not just that, they were deeply connected, partners in the job (which meant she was probably a bodyguard as well, meant to act as a last-line of defense) and quite possibly personally as well; but the one that stayed with me the most was that I was quite sure those two were mutants…

I was still pondering that over when closing arguments took place. No decisions would be made that day, though there were rumors about there being some form of voting soon to decide what would be done. We could only hope Darcy's words had had an effect. I'd just gotten on my feet and was considering talking to the presumed mutants on the other side (I was quite sure Kelly was unaware of their status, and did not want to make things harder for them) when all hell broke lose without a warning.

It was insane, I hadn't been in such a battle since a lifetime prior (and that had been an epic battle where I'd lost my two dearest mortal friends of the time). I wasn't ready. My specialty laid in a bow and arrows, or throwing knives, and I'd neither available to me in that moment; and I had to be careful with calling on too much magic, as my baby needed it to survive, and I wouldn't put her at risk, no matter what, not when I… when we finally had a chance at getting her back. For that same reason ice magic was a no-no in that moment.

The two bodyguards soon revealed themselves and it was like I suspected, they were both mutants, and Kelly had had no idea (the look of shock in his face when he realized it… when they used their gifts to save his life…). Darcy was quite skilled at keeping herself safe and I focused mostly on keeping a half-moon shield before me in order to keep the aggressors at bay. I was quite enthralled by the battle, which was probably why I never sensed the person coming at me from behind, not until a flash of pain came and consciousness deserted me.

xXx

I regained awareness before proper consciousness. There was a voice calling me and I tried to respond, not quite noticing at first that I was doing so in a number of languages that weren't English, or that the voice was inside my own head in the first place. My match was calling to me, through our soul-bond…

*'m a'right…* I muttered mentally, not quite coherent just yet.

*My Nightingale!* Loki exclaimed, obvious relief coming from him.

*Yes my love, I'm here.* I finally began processing things properly. *I know not yet where it is I am exactly, but I am alright, as is our Little Rose.*

*I can use our bond to track you, Darcy and I will be there to get you...* He was immediately formulating a plan.

*No!* I refused unexpectedly (even for me). *I… I promise I'm alright. I think… I think I need to stay here.* I could feel a sense of urgency, the same that colored the background of every X-Men dream I'd had in recent months. *I cannot explain it right, but I believe there's something I must do while here. Something related to the dreams I've been having, about Charles and Erik...*

*You mean Magneto…*

*I mean Erik Lehnsherr.* I made a pause, struggling with finding the right words to express my thoughts, my feelings on the matter, in the end all that came out was: *They're a match.*

It was almost curious, because I hadn't actually known that for a fact, not until that moment. I'd had nothing but suspicions with the traces of a bond I kept perceiving in those dreams/visions, something that at times looked almost like an immaterial ribbon formed of multi-colored light… in that moment they were not suspicions, I knew the truth behind the words I'd just pronounced, knew it instinctively and without an ounce of proof. It was insane. Though no less true.

My Maverick trusted me, and so he stayed away. Turned his full attention to his case, allowing me to turn my own to my own surroundings (though I know that if, at any point, he'd reason to believe the baby and/or I might be in danger he'd drop everything and be by our side as fast as magically possible).

The first thing I became aware of was arguing, apparently some of the people around me didn't agree with those who'd decided abducting me was a good idea. I didn't even need to open my eyes to know who all I was hearing, their identities came to me after moments of hearing their voices: Sabretooth (a feral, blood-thirsty, hardly in control, he'd once been a good man but there was no way of knowing how much of Victor Creed still existed in him), Toad (once a good boy, got hurt one too many times, leaving an unfeeling creature in its place), Mastermind (his main ability was to create complex telepathic illusions, he was also a sociopath, incapable of even the simplest human emotion), Destiny (a blind precog, she'd never been seen actively participating in the Brotherhood's activities, yet she was very much a part of their organization), Magnetrix (grown up as an orphan, she was in fact Magneto's illegitimate daughter and appeared to share all his abilities, though to a lesser degree, she lived to make him proud), Mystique (the best mutant shape-shifter ever known, she was also once Raven Xavier, Charles's little sister…) and finally there was Magneto (Erik Lehnsherr, Max Eisenhardt, Magnus… I'd seen so much of him I couldn't help but feel like I knew him already).

"The lady's awake..." Destiny announced in a soft but powerful voice, I also didn't miss the accent, the certain cadence, so much like that of other precogs I'd known a life prior…

I didn't say anything to that, just opened my eyes slowly, taking in the people in the room. I was sitting on a simple chair, held to it with seamless bonds that had obviously been put in place by either Magneto or his daughter. The chair was hard and somewhat uncomfortable, but aside from that things weren't too bad, so I made no complaint, just waited in silence for one of them to say something and get the ball rolling.

"Who are you?" Mystique finally asked, cold and hard.

Her tone did not affect me, I could sense it was nothing but armor, I could almost visualize the little, innocent, kind girl she'd once been, hiding beneath lawyers of ice and steel and poisonous spikes. A part of me hurt for that little girl, even though I knew there was nothing I could do about it, about her.

"Silbhé Arianna Kinross Salani-Hvedrungr." I gave them my full name.

"Not your slave name, your real one." She spat at me.

"I am no slave." I informed her with my head held high and narrowed eyes. "That is my name and it always will be." I made a pause before compromising. "If you're interested in knowing what other mutants call me, it's Canary. Though I'm sure everyone here knows that already."

"Yes." She hissed. "I'm aware who you say you are, what you claim to be… Liar!"

That one took me by surprise, enough to make me blink, though I did not flinch back, even when she got into my personal space, which I was sure was her intention.

"Excuse me…?" I asked, tilting my head to a side.

"We know you're not a mutant." Destiny explained from behind her. "Your blood tests show no X-gene, no mutation whatsoever..."

My brows arched enough they probably went into my hairline at that. Since there was no doctor among them, that meant they hadn't conducted the tests right then (also, genetic test was not done in a couple of hours, which was more or less how long I'd been unconscious), which meant that they'd gotten that information from someone else. The only blood-tests I'd gotten done away from the Institute in the last… stars-know-how-many years had been during one of my check-ups, my OB/GYN… I did not like the implications of that.

"That my blood shows no traditional mutations, doesn't automatically mean there are no mutations there at all." I replied evenly.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" She demanded.

For a moment I was sure she would strike me and then…

"Mystique!" With a single word, Magneto stopped her, then he turned his attention towards me. "We will discover your secrets, Ms. Canary."

"Perhaps." I shrugged, careless. "Though I do wonder how you'll know when you have. How will you recognize the answers, when you don't even know the questions?"

It probably wasn't the bed idea, antagonizing them, all of them really, like that, but I just couldn't help myself. Besides, I wasn't the kind to act the part of quiet, intimidated prisoner, no way!

Thankfully none of them took it personally, if anything they seemed to see it as a challenge. I answered all questions they made about my job, the things all three of us did, and was quite sincere when explaining why we did not care about getting paid for what we did. I also had no compunction about admitting to having been in the Institute, even if just for a year, that I knew I wasn't a mutant, though I refused to tell them what I was exactly (other than I wasn't human, not completely), I admitted that I downplayed my powers, all three of us did, but wouldn't tell them what all I could do (and surprisingly enough no one insisted on that).

"I really don't understand." Mystique admitted hours later. "You have all these ideas, about changing things, about making them better… why the hell would you ally yourself with someone like Xavier?"

I bit my lip at my first response, I wasn't sure if anyone other than Magneto, and possibly Destiny, knew about her connection to Charles, and had a feeling it might not be the best idea to bring it up. So instead I took a different approach:

"You know what I've never understood about your modus operandi?" I asked in turn. "What makes you think that killing people will make people take your side?" I raised a hand before anyone could interrupt me. "Lets break it down, shall we? First you're going to tell me that you don't need humans taking your side, but truth is that more than half of the inhabitants of this world are human, and even from the other half, not all are mutants; and most of them are way too young to make a difference in any way that counts." I shook my head. "Pushing that thought aside for now. You cannot really get rid of all the humans, it's unfeasible; and even if it were somehow possible, do you honestly think it'll help you, to commit genocide to that level?"

"It's survival of the fittest." Sabretooth hissed.

"Yeah, until it gets you killed." I deadpanned. "Now, consider this. Some of you might have been born to mutant parents, but I'm willing to bet most of you were born to humans. Now, you might not like your families, and there might even be a good reason for that, but have you considered all the mutants that will never have the chance to be born if you actually manage to annihilate all of the baseline humans? And what about those mutants whose human families do love them, support them, would fight for them? Do they deserve to die to? And do you think those mutants would thank you for killing people they loved simply because they did not share a genetic mutation?"

"What? Are you going to tell us a sob story about your family now?" Mystique challenged.

"I have no need for it." I answered calmly. "My mother has been dead since I was three, my father lives in Europe, I haven't had hardly any contact with him since I first attended the Institute, he doesn't know I'm gifted, never cared to find out. Aunt Kathryn does know, she supports me, it was actually her idea that I attend the Institute, she met Professor Xavier back in the eighties." I made a pause, then added. "And yes, she's human."

No one said a word to that, though I didn't know if it was because they didn't care for what I was saying, if they didn't believe me, or if I was getting through to them.

The conversation ended there with them. I didn't actually have to stay in that chair. I was allowed more or less free-reign in the house where we were staying, though I still had a seamless metal bracelet around my wrist (the one without the deamarkonian), which I imagined Magneto and Magnetrix used to keep track of me.

The deamarkonian was a source of curiosity for both mutants with magnetic abilities, same with my nightingale pendant. Apparently they could sense the metal in both, yet they couldn't actually manipulate them, which made Magneto very interested, while it seemed to drive Magnetrix more than a little crazy.

I checked in with my love mentally thrice a day so he didn't worry. He had no idea why I hadn't left yet; he knew I was quite capable of it, I didn't know how to explain myself, other than say I needed to be there for something. Something was coming, and I needed to be there to help when the time came…

xXx

Three days later things were getting more than a little boring. All kinds of questions had been asked, some repeatedly, and while I answered a lot of them, I still refused to give them some of the answers, and it drove them all crazy. Yet even Sabretooth didn't dare try anything against me, apparently my being pregnant was enough of a deterrent, somehow.

There was only one person I knew for a fact did not want me there, she loathed me, in fact, I could sense it (It'd been quite disconcerting, as I'd never felt such negative emotions directed at me). She hadn't been there when I'd first woken up, though my unborn baby's precognitive gift told me that she was known as Blindspot and I had no idea what her gift was, other than it was psychic. She could not read my mind or anything, though she was still quite angry at me for reasons beyond me. She also cared very little for my baby and had tried to convince Sabretooth more than once that I should be killed. I had a feeling that she was going to be a real problem sooner or later; yet I had no idea just how much.

In any case, that particular day there had been very few questions, it seemed that no one knew quite what to say or ask anymore, so I was mostly left alone. I was beginning to get tired more easily than before, and my back ached. Pregnancy wasn't easy, especially with my body already being so small, and my baby more than human. I'd taken to sitting on a window-seat that overlooked the country-side. I had no idea where we might be but I didn't focus on that. I didn't actually notice when I began singing, it was something that just happened sometimes with me:

"Uh..."

"Cannot swallow the soil, make it all beautiful?

Cannot carry you, carry you, carry you now?"

"The truth can't bare the sunlight

You're afraid for the day it does

Hell when I told you so

I got burn, burn, burned again"

"Heaven forbid that my heart is for sale

Hope in the end truth prevails"

"I'm gonna run to the edge of the world

Run to the edge of the world

Feel that I'm gonna get home if I try

I'm gonna run to the edge of the world

Run to the edge of the world

Need to find my way home, home"

"Uh..."

"He earns fire as a god, but I believed in your heart

And I'll be leaving you, leaving you, leaving you now"

"The truth can't bare the sunlight

And don't pretend to be my guide

You said you'd change it over

But I got burn, burn, burned instead"

"Heaven can wait 'cause my soul is for sale

Hope in the end truth prevails"

"I'm gonna run to the edge of the world

Run to the edge of the world

Feel that I'm gonna get home if I try

I'm gonna run to the edge of the world

Run to the edge of the world

Need to find my way home, home"

"Home..."

"I'm gonna run to the edge of the world

Run to the edge of the world

Feel that I'm gonna get home if I try

I'm gonna run to the edge of the world

Run to the edge of the world

Need to find my way home, home"

"Just to fall out,

No more rain

Once upon a time"

I was so lost in my own melody I didn't sense the danger until it was practically upon us already:

"BEWARE!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, putting all the force of my magic behind my voice and that single word.

Almost everyone responded to my scream instinctively, throwing themselves to the ground or behind something that might serve as a shield. I didn't have time to go anywhere, so I dropped to my knees and curled up as tightly as I could, trying to clear the window. There was an explosion that blew it up and I could feel the glass slipping across my skin leaving no marks thanks to all the protective spells on my nightingale pendant.

*Nightingale!* Loki yelled mentally, having sensed the change in my situation.

*We're being attacked.* I informed him succinctly as I waited for what might be coming next. *Military, probably black ops… I don't think this is a sanctioned move.*

*It cannot be.* My husband agreed. *With everything going on in the Senate the government wouldn't want to provoke the Brotherhood into acting out precisely now. The last thing we need is to go back to the tensions there were between humans and mutants in the seventies.*

I knew he was right, which meant that the current situation was probably more dangerous than it would have been otherwise.

*I'm on my way love.* He assured me.

I knew he'd be, and he wouldn't be arriving alone, which meant I only needed to make sure the Brotherhood lasted for a few minutes, and that things didn't go to hell in that same time.

It wasn't easy. The group attacking us had cut off the power and phone lines, had even had time to set up a perimeter which included traps fixed so we couldn't run away. And we were forced to leave the house when the use of rocket launchers meant it was likely to fall on our heads at any given moment.

Magneto was furious, in between using his abilities to attack the black ops and keep his team safe he kept yelling at Destiny for not having warned him about our predicament. That worried me too. After months getting precognitive dreams or sometimes just instincts, something so huge happening and me not knowing about it wasn't exactly normal. Much like the attack that left me unconscious in the first place…

It took several very long minutes, but Magneto and Magnetrix together managed to disable the weapons from the military. Some thought that meant we'd won… and then Toad fell, with a bullet to his forehead. A plastic bullet.

Curses flew all around, even I couldn't help but do the same. The Brotherhood closed ranks and somehow (not sure how, exactly) I ended in between them. They might not have been the heroes, but they weren't villains either, and I was a pregnant woman, a gifted pregnant woman, at least some of them wished to protect me.

I wasn't that surprised to not see Blindspot among them, though a corner of my mind told me that was but a sign of something bigger, something that was there, that should be obvious, and yet somehow I failed to grasp it…

"Why the hell didn't we see this coming?!" Mystique practically snarled.

And then the answer came, in the most unexpected manner… at the same time the 'obvious' hit me with the force of a sledgehammer: with Blindspot walking forth from the row of black ops, dressed in fatigues, and carrying one of their plastic guns.

"Surprise..." She drawled.

There was so much hate in her, anger and a dark glee… I almost felt sick.

*Hold on!* My match's sudden announcement made me sway for a second. *We're coming!*

They'd be arriving in a few seconds… though it took me less than one to realize we didn't have that time. I made up my mind then.

"My match's coming." I said quietly to the mutants closest to me. "Don't kill him, please."

I went into motion at the same time as Blindspot gave the order for all the soldiers flanking her to shoot us. No one suspected what I was about to do, or so I suspect, as no one tried to stop me until it was already too late. I stepped out of the circle even as I twisted my fingers, tracing symbols in the air, stopping a couple of steps ahead of the Brotherhood at the same time as I slammed my open palms against the air, as if there was something there.

"Algiz!" I cried out, calling on as much magic as I could, willing my magic to follow my wishes, to form a dome rather than the simpler half moon shield I was used to.

For a moment the sound of shooting drowned everything: the cries of those in the Brotherhood who seemed to be honestly shocked by my actions, and those either furious or terrified at the attack… and then they realized that the bullets weren't touching any of us. Pinging almost harmlessly against the translucent lilac-ish dome before me, right where my hands were braced.

"What the… What is this?" Magnetrix asked in wonder.

"Magic." I deadpanned.

It took almost a full minute, but eventually the shooting stopped. I'd felt each and every bullet, like a pin-prick against my skin. I'd probably have some minor bruises where I'd been hit most, but nothing to really worry about. Still, I just knew a shield wouldn't be enough, not in the long run, especially if they brought out high-caliber weapons. I'd to stop that from happening, had to give my love time to get through the Shadow Paths and to me.

I made the decision in a second, twisting my wrists around, pulling my arms to me and then throwing them out again in a sharp motion, as if I were throwing something hard. The effect was instantaneous: we all heard the shield breaking, like glass shattering, except that the metaphorical pieces didn't fall upon us, instead they were thrown out, straight at the black ops team, like a sort of shockwave. None of them saw it coming.

I knew it wouldn't kill them, wouldn't even take them out for long, but it would give us time, and that was all that was really needed… still, it happened to be more magic that I'd used since the end of my first trimester; I wasn't surprised when I began swaying. The last thing I was aware of was the change in the air around me as my love appeared a couple of feet away from me, he wasn't alone, and it wasn't even just our sister; two more were with him, wild fighters both of them. Their names came to my head unbidden: Wolverine and Rogue. And then I blacked out.

xXx

Pain woke me. I discovered I was in the hospital, and right in the middle of labor. Apparently the excessive use of my magic had put my body in enough stress that my baby decided it was time to be born. I nearly went into a panic attack at that. The thought that my choices might have hurt my baby, that my desire to help others might end up with me losing my unborn child, again, it was almost too much. And then my match was there, holding me tight, whispering reassurances into my ear in every language I knew.

It took a while but eventually I managed to calm down. I wasn't quite eight months pregnant but my doctor had already checked me over and she was confident that the baby was fully formed and quite capable of surviving if born. She might need a few days in an incubator, but even that was unlikely. And so I began pushing.

At 1:15 of the morning of March 20th, 2012, Rose Alfdis Salani-Hvedrungr was born. She was small, so rosy she looked almost red, with delicate-looking tiny curls of bright auburn hair (which I knew would darken with time) and big red-orange-black eyes that shifted in a way that could only be defined as magical. She was utterly perfect.

"Little Rose..." I breathed out as the baby was placed in my arms. "Our precious little miracle..."

My love did not say a word, he just looked at us with so much love in his eyes and in his heart, I felt like I could drown in it. It was breathtaking.

Despite being born six weeks early Rose did not need more than a night in an incubator, and even that was done just in case, as there was no problem with her. And then the surprises began:

First was the basket full of tiny roses in every shade of pink and white, along with some baby's breath and other smaller flowers as a finishing touch. The card was a generic 'Congratulations for your new baby...' the only handwritten thing was the signature and it read: RK. Even with no proof I'd very strong suspicions what that meant and I couldn't quite believe it.

It only got more unreal when the news showed footage from a live press-conference Senator Kelly was giving, in which he announced he no longer supported the MRA, in fact he was to soon begin working with several pro-mutant groups, including our little firm, in search of better rights for the Community.

"It'd seem that having mutants protect him put things into perspective." Darcy commented.

I just hoped the development would make things easier for us. Really, Kelly had been the only important politician pushing for the MRA, which might just mean that without him it'd fall to the side. Loki, Darcy and our new friends had managed to control themselves enough that almost no one from the black ops group that attacked us died; there was also enough proof of their actions, both in the auditorium where the debate had been taking place, and the safe-house in New Jersey where I'd spent three days with the Brotherhood.

Really, only three people had died from that attack: Toad, none of us had been able to do anything. Blindspot, my match had killed her, having learned that she was the one responsible for me being involved in the mess at all (she had put not just me but our baby in danger, I might not like killing, but I understood why it sometimes might be necessary, and nothing would ever make me turn my back on my love). The other was the man behind the whole operation: Colonel William Stryker, the men arrested had given his name up but by the time a team went to arrest him he was already dead, killed savagely. Those investigating the matter believed he'd been murdered by one of the mutants he'd been trying to brainwash, after he or she managed to break free. At least that was one less thing to worry about.

The last surprise was even bigger, and one none of us could have ever expected: I had Rose in my arms, with a thin blanket partially covering her face to let her sleep and not overwhelm her with the sights and smells and sounds of the city. We'd just stepped out of the taxi when we found someone waiting for us just outside the apartment building.

"Hello Mr. Lehnsherr." I greeted him with a nod of my head before my love could say a thing.

I didn't miss the way his eyes went straight to the baby in my arms, even mostly hidden as she was beneath the off-white blanket.

"Mazel tov." He murmured automatically.

"Thank you." I inclined my head at him again. "Would you like to come in?"

Even without the precognitive gift Rose had allowed me while inside me I couldn't miss the rush of emotion that passed through Magneto's eyes in the space of one blink. The mix of confusion, surprise, disbelief, and nestled in between all those, a tiny spark of hope.

"I would not want to inconvenience you Mrs. Hvedrungr." He told me politely.

"It's no inconvenience." I pressed a bit. "Come with me."

My Maverick said nothing, just opened the door for us and went straight to get some tea done. He knew I wouldn't be letting go of Rose for a while yet. Not for any negative reason, but simply because a part of me felt a need to be holding her, to make sure she was still there, that I hadn't lost her again, like so many years prior… As for Lehnsherr. I believe my match saw himself in the man, saw a shadow of what he could have been, in different circumstances. We were so very lucky, the two of us; even with my past death and long absence, we'd found each other again, he'd been willing to give up Asgard and I was willing to give up the life I once thought I wanted, all to stay together. Our love was stronger than anything else that could have pulled us apart. I knew not everyone was so fortunate. Aunt Kathryn hadn't been (I knew not the details, only that something had happened in the past, when I was still an infant, a decision had been made, by her and the man she loved, and it had pulled them apart); and then there were Charles and Erik…

The two of them were a match, I had no doubt about that; and yet for more than fifty years, their ideologies had been stronger than their love for each other… I couldn't fathom it, couldn't imagine anything ever being stronger than my love for Loki. And yet, they were still alive, and as long as that remained true, there was hope, hope that one day they might learn to see the world through the other's eyes, see themselves as the other saw them, and compromise… who knew? Maybe that day was closer than even I expected.

"I'm leaving the country tonight." Erik announced after what seemed like forever.

I didn't say anything, waiting for him to get to the point. And he did, pulling an envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket, which he passed on to me.

"I was hoping you would be so kind as to deliver that to Ch… your Professor." He said simply.

I didn't ask why he didn't do the delivery himself, I could still see inside my mind, like pieces of a puzzle, the memories/visions I'd been having, about him and Charles. The last time the two of them had said goodbye, Charles had wanted so much for Erik to stay… but Erik still believed in his cause so much, and he also believed that his presence would only put the Institute, and Charles himself, in even more danger.

"You didn't ask how I did the things I did that day in Jersey?" I commented in what most would have considered a complete non-sequitur.

"I didn't ask why you didn't leave the moment you woke up, though we both know you could have." He said for all answer.

Yeah, we were both aware that there was a lot more to my powers than most would assume by my code-name alone, and it wasn't just me.

"There's one thing I do want to know." He said unexpectedly. "That song you sang that day, just before the attack. Why did you do it?"

I heard the question he wasn't asking as well, it was so clear on his face: What did you do to me?

"It just… it felt right." I shrugged, mostly to myself. "It's just something that happens sometimes. I need to get my feelings out, or someone else's and I sing about them."

"Someone else's feelings..." He repeated, as if only then realizing it. "You're an Empath."

"Among other things." I admitted with no hesitation.

"You took a great risk, revealing as much of your power as you did, that day." Erik said.

"I did what was right." I replied simply.

For several minutes none of us said a word, we just kept sipping at the tea Loki had prepared. Surprisingly enough it was my love who broke the silence eventually.

"So that's it then?" He asked, brow arched. "You finally got the government on your side, and the greatest threat against mutants is gone, and you will just walk away? Give up? I expected more of the man who many believe is meant to one day lead the Mutant Community..."

I could sense the shifting emotions coming from Erik. They were so strong, almost wild. It was a wonder they didn't drive him crazy. It took seemingly forever for him to settle but when he did… I looked into his eyes and saw the man that had one day rose his hand and stopped a hundred nuclear missiles in their tracks…

"What do you propose then Mr. Hvedrungr?" The mutant finally asked.

"Trust me." My husband answered honestly. "I will take your case."

And so we got involved in what would probably become the most insane case of our careers…

Chapter Text

Theme

Each decision we made forged a path, shaped the future, ours and the world's.

Taking Erik Lehnsherr's case put us into SHIELD's path for the second time (or put them in ours, however one wished to see it). It wasn't easy because while there were those who supported us and our decision to help him, there were many others, humans and mutants alike, who did not agree. They even tried to kill Erik just as we exited City Hall after the first audience, a non-magnetic bullet… he'd have died if Darcy hadn't been close enough, and alert enough, she took hold on his arm and shifted with him into the Mirror Dimension. It was just for a second, just long enough for the bullet not to hurt them, though I could sense the unease coming from Erik once they were back, it was normal for someone (someone who wasn't meant to be there) being taken into other dimensions for the first time.

In the end fortune was on our side, there was no proof that Magneto had been directly involved with any of the things he was being accused of, not even Kennedy's murder (which was actually the crime the district attorney was most bent on imprisoning for). It was absolutely insane.

And then something we expected even less happened: an electronic file (or more like a caché of files) was delivered to Darcy, no return address, not even an IP address we might track it from. Only a short message: "From one Gray-Hat to another..." it was signed IronSmith.

"He's like, the third best hacker in the world." Darcy explained when she passed the file to us.

She didn't say it, but we both knew that she, under the user-name TaserQueen was the best hacker in the world, known by some as the Queen of Hackers… the 'Gray Hat' was an epithet that made reference to the fact that she was neither a criminal nor one of the 'good guys'.

The file was… amazing in so many ways we could have never expected. It included interviews from the seventies, to Erik Lehnsherr and other people who'd been presumably involved in the plan to assassinate Kennedy. The most shocking of all was the one that revealed that the Kennedy family had mutants in it, mainly the former president's brother, though the president himself was believed to be one, only with a passive gift. That was why he'd been assassinated; which of course meant that there was no way Magneto could have done that. He'd known, he'd been there to try and protect the man, and instead he'd been made to take the fall. Erik Lehnsherr had spent more than a decade in a tiny cement and glass cell, at the bottom of the Pentagon, for a crime he did not commit. It was insane.

The last few files were even more shocking, at the same time they put things into perspective in a way nothing else could have. The files were from some long-defunct top-secret organization listed as Division X, which had apparently operated during the 60s. The files specifically depicted an operation that had taken place during 1963, beginning with investigating something called the Hellfire Club, a man called Sebastian Shaw (aka Klaus Schmidt); his moves with both the Soviet and American militias. It spoke of work the Division had done with a group of gifted, of mutants, which had been lead by Erik Lehnsherr and another mutant whose named had been blacked-out. I knew the named that belonged there, I still remembered enough of my dreams/visions to know it: Charles Xavier… I also knew every person that had been part of that team, and their code-names. And I remembered how it had all ended… the reports revealed that part too. The way the mutants had defeated Shaw and his team in a beach in Cuba, only to then be fired on by the combined might of the Soviet and American navies… was it any surprise that Magneto went off the deep end after that mess?

However, perhaps the biggest shock of all came when Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert arrived to the place of the audience on the second to last day of the trial. They'd been called by the district attorney as experts in mutations; also because Dr. MacTaggert was a former CIA Agent and the only one connected to the operation mentioned in the Division X reports, who was still alive. The man hadn't even warned us, probably thought he'd get one over us. He had no idea, no idea at all…

When MacTaggert spoke of the mission things went insane. It was a mess, as the trial had become a very public matter; SHIELD hadn't wanted to make any information from Division X public (on the one hand, because one of their 'mother' agencies was Division X and they didn't like making their actions public; on the other, because apparently the information we were using was one that had been lost to them upon the destruction of their own base, courtesy of Shaw… which made our possessing it all the more interesting, though Darcy used all and every law to protect her 'source' and won that one). It only got worse when MacTaggert's testimony showed Erik as a hard yet compassionate man who had suffered much in his past, who worried about his people and was willing to do anything to protect them. He might have made mistakes, bad ones, but he wasn't the one that started the 'war' against the humans, the humans did that.

And then came Charles's testimony…

"My name is Charles Francis Xavier." He announced very formal. "I have Doctorates in Biology, Genetics and Psychology. I own the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters, which has recently gone public as a school for mutants and other gifted people. I created it with the hope of giving them a sanctuary, a place where they might feel safe, where they might grow up and learn. It's not about separating us from the rest of humanity, but about showing everyone that we're people, just like everyone else." He made a pause, taking a sip from a bottle of water before saying: "That is what the world knows of me. What most don't know is that I'm also Professor X, founder and leader of the first generation of the team known as the X-Men. I am the person whose name is blacked out in the reports you've been given, the one who accompanied Erik Lehnsherr the summer of 1962 in those recruitment trips, who helped train a small group of extraordinary young people, who helped save the world from a third world war."

It was pandemonium, I had no idea what anyone could possibly do at that point. It was quite obvious that the DA hadn't been expecting Charles to say any of that. And Erik… his face looked blank, and yet there was so much emotion coming from him, I felt like I'd drown, and the way he wouldn't take his eyes off Charles, something told me those two were in their own little world, having their own conversation… I hadn't the slightest idea of what they might be saying to each other in the privacy of their own telepathic bond, but suddenly I heard in the back of my head Charles's voice, come from memory (or more like the memory of a dream/vision): "Come Home..." there was so much feeling in those two words, such intensity… it left me breathless. Those two were a match, and I could only pray to the stars that they might give each other, give their bond a chance this time…

Eventually I noticed that Charles wasn't alone. Dr. McCoy and Mr. Alex Summers (an uncle or something of the Summers I'd known in the Institute) were sitting in the gallery, as the remaining members of the first generation of X-Men, and behind them sat the current generation, in full uniform and with glasses or half-masks to disguise their identity.

With Charles there to confirm everything in the report Darcy had provided there was little the DA could do. Erik Lehnsherr had gone from quasi-terrorist to almost a hero, it was insane.

On our way out we came across the Professor and his X-Men. The press was waiting outside City Hall, but they'd managed to stop us while still in the lobby.

"Why did you do it?" Erik asked, it sounded like it wasn't the first time he asked that particular question recently. "Why reveal yourself to the humans now? You know they'll never leave you, any of you, alone after this!"

"This has been coming for a while now." Dr. McCoy commented. "Ever since the truth behind the Institute came out. It was just a matter of time. And really, with the truth about the Cuban Missile Crisis coming out, we were unlikely to get a better opportunity."

"I'm your enemy!" Erik half-snarled half-groaned.

"No, you're not." It was Alex who spoke then. "You were once our mentor, our leader, our friend, then you were a dick and turned your back on us, some of us might have considered you an idiot for thinking you needed to take on the world on your own, and for being so stupidly unwilling to compromise with Charles at all… but we never considered you our enemy. None of us."

"That might have changed." Scott went on. "The way our paths were going, one day we might have truly been enemies. But if that future was ever possible it's gone now, so no reason to worry about it anymore."

I could tell that Erik wasn't sure if he should feel honored or affronted by that, but in the end he just looked down, to where Charles was sitting on his wheelchair beside him. It was only then that I noticed the way their fingers were brushing, almost unnoticed, and the way Charles was staring straight at Erik…

"Ok..." The silver-haired mutant nodded.

None of us had any idea what he'd said 'ok' to exactly, but the soft smile on Charles's face showed them all it was something good. And my match and I… we couldn't help but entwine our own hands as a ribbon of multicolored light twirled around the two mutants, almost dancing as their bond solidified…

xXx

We ended in the Institute, where there was soon a party going on. It only got bigger when a green-haired woman who introduced herself as Lorna Dane arrived and expressed a desire to stay in the Institute as well. She had chosen to leave the name Magnetrix and was in the process of choosing a new mutant-name. Still, she'd heard a lot about the X-Men, and she would like to give it a try. Charles, of course, received her with open arms.

Hours into the party Erik approached me, sitting beside me where I was on a bench (the party was taking place outside). Luka was by the pond, blue and helping Iceman freeze the surface so some of the other children could play on the ice. Rose was in Darcy's arms and they were sitting on a blanket with some of the youngest children (though none quite as young as my baby).

"That song you sang the day of the attack..." Erik said quietly. "Why did you sing it?"

"I told you that day it's what felt right." I reminded him calmly.

"You spoke about someone else's feelings." He murmured. "Were you talking about Charles?"

"Rose will be gifted." I began, seemingly apropos of nothing. "It hasn't manifested just yet, but the gift is in her already. It's strong… so strong that a part of it touched me when she was still in my womb."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Erik obviously wasn't expecting that.

"Rose has the Sight, or will have the Sight, however you wish to see it." I clarified. "While I was pregnant with her I saw some things. The future… and the past. I saw you Erik, you and Charles both… that's what prompted that song last month. Not you, or Charles, but the two of you together. The potential… it's there, it has always been there."

"What potential?" His eyes narrowed at me.

I didn't answer verbally, looking at him, waiting to see if he really didn't know or if he was waiting for me to spell it out for him. He gave me no answer, and even his feelings were tightly clamped down, not like he wasn't feeling, but like he wasn't allowing those feelings to fully flourish, like he refused to allow things like hope… and love, out. Something needed to be done about that, and I knew I'd have to be the one to do it.

*Beloved…?* I called mentally.

He didn't even ask me what the situation was, he didn't need to. Some things were instinctive. We came together in the middle of the backyard, just at the beginning to the paths leading to the gardens. I was swaying as I moved, following a rhythm only I could hear, he was the first to sing:

"Aren't you somethin' to admire

Cause your shine is somethin' like a mirror

And I can't help but notice

You reflect in this heart of mine

If you ever feel alone and

The glare makes me hard to find

Just know that I'm always

Parallel on the other side"

I swayed and half-danced in my spot while he sang, before taking the unspoken signal to begin:

"Cause with your hand in my hand

And a pocket full of soul

I can tell you there's no place we couldn't go

Just put your hand on the glass

I'll be tryin' to pull you through

You just gotta be strong"

We were both smiling then as the duet truly began, our two voices coming together like they had so few times before, never in our current lives. Though that mattered not, it was natural, almost instinctive. Just like breathing, and living, and loving each other with every beat of our hearts:

"Cause I don't wanna lose you now

I'm lookin' right at the other half of me

The vacancy that sat in my heart

Is a space that now you hold

Show me how to fight for now

And I'll tell you, baby, it was easy

Comin' back into you once I figured it out

You were right here all along

It's like you're my mirror

My mirror staring back at me

I couldn't get any bigger

With anyone else beside me

And now it's clear as this promise

That we're making

Two reflections into one

Cause it's like you're my mirror

My mirror staring back at me

Staring back at me"

After the end of the choir it was my love's turn to sing on his own again and I began dancing a bit more around him as he did, feeling the magic and love we were shaping with words, our song:

"Aren't you somethin', an original

Cause it doesn't seem merely assembled

And I can't help but stare, cause

I see truth somewhere in your eyes

I can't ever change without you

You reflect me, I love that about you

And if I could, I

Would look at us all the time"

It wasn't a hard song to follow, and I could tell even as my turn came to sing again, that most people around us had stopped whatever it was they were doing and were focusing on us. I wondered how much of what we were singing they truly understood, not the words themselves, or even the magic woven into it, but the meaning behind them, the true message we delivered:

"Cause with your hand in my hand

And a pocket full of soul

I can tell you there's no place we couldn't go

Just put your hand on the glass

I'll be tryin' to pull you through

You just gotta be strong"

It wasn't a choice, not for any of us, but the moment the second choir came we simply began dancing together, even as we kept singing. We both knew there were eyes on us, many eyes, but none of that mattered in that moment, nothing but each other, our song, our love, really mattered:

"Cause I don't wanna lose you now

I'm lookin' right at the other half of me

The vacancy that sat in my heart

Is a space that now you hold

Show me how to fight for now

And I'll tell you, baby, it was easy

Comin' back into you once I figured it out

You were right here all along

It's like you're my mirror

My mirror staring back at me

I couldn't get any bigger

With anyone else beside me

And now it's clear as this promise

That we're making

Two reflections into one

Cause it's like you're my mirror

My mirror staring back at me

Staring back at me"

Memories came unbidden, of all the things I'd seen while pregnant with Rose, the past and the future. So much that had been, and more that would never be. That was alright, or it would be:

"Yesterday is history

And tomorrow's a mystery"

All movement stopped, and my love and I did nothing but look at each as we sang three lines:

"I can see you lookin' back at me

Keep your eyes on me

Keep your eyes on me"

My love sang next, again the same chorus, though he was the only one singing, I contented myself with echoing some of the lines and dancing around him, reveling in the magic spinning around us, the love. I hadn't feel so much of it since the last time we sang a duet a lifetime prior!

"Cause I don't wanna lose you now

I'm lookin' right at the other half of me

The vacancy that sat in my heart

Is a space that now you hold

Show me how to fight for now

And I'll tell you, baby, it was easy

Comin' back into you once I figured it out

You were right here all along

It's like you're my mirror

My mirror staring back at me

I couldn't get any bigger

With anyone else beside me

And now it's clear as this promise

That we're making

Two reflections into one

Cause it's like you're my mirror

My mirror staring back at me

Staring back at me"

All movement stopped and I raised both hands, clasping them with those of my love, looking at him straight in the eyes, pretending the world around us (and the dozens of mutants staring straight at us) did not exist as I spoke the following two verses straight at him, into his eyes:

"Show me how to fight for now

Cause I don't wanna lose you now"

We were, indeed, each other's mirror, a perfect match, meant to be together from the time the universe was born, and until the last star blinked out of the sky. Together to the end of time…

"It's like you're my mirror"

Cheering and clapping ensued the moment the song ended, the children absolutely delighted. Though there were some present who didn't move, they weren't even looking at us, but instead at someone else, very specific people… and I knew those were the people who truly understood the meaning behind our song. Those who'd found their mirrors…

Perhaps the biggest surprise was discovering Darcy was one such person, though she wasn't looking at any specific person, her eyes to the side, to something in the distance only she knew was there, only she could sense…

xXx

Just a few months later a warning in the middle of the night from Destiny sent a lot of us rushing to Arizona. Luka and I had taken Darcy, Polaris (the name Lorna had chosen for herself), Storm and Nightcrawler with us as we used the Shadow Paths (Darcy could travel them but had trouble taking others, and long distances still taxed her a lot) to get to the location a long faster than we'd have otherwise (the rest would be taking the Blackbird).

We reached SHIELD's Pegasus facility (beyond top-secret) to find the place already half through an evacuation, even as the earth groaned and rumbled beneath our feet.

"They'll never get everyone out in time..." Storm whispered, horrified at the realization.

"That's why we're here." Darcy reminded her. "Get moving people!"

We split, Storm and Nightcrawler were helping the people closest get as far away as possible, with Polaris using her powers to delay the collapse of the buildings as long as possible, giving chance for more people to get out. There was some surprise, when they saw us arrive, but once the people there realized we were actually helping no one said anything, they just kept moving. Darcy, Loki and I split as well, going deeper into the facility, hoping to be able to use our powers to get those who would have no hope otherwise, out.

We combed the place as best we could. Then, my love and I reached the lowest level of the facility roughly at the same time. There were people still there. Five men and one woman, though two of the men were dead already. And the reason became obvious as we all saw the glowing blue cube the African-American man in a black leather duster and wearing an eye-path was trying to place inside a special briefcase… without having the object discharge on him, like it had so obviously done on the ones already dead, and the blonde woman holding her hands gingerly against her chest and moaning in pain even as another man held her.

My first instinct was to go to the woman, heal her hands if I could. I wasn't expecting the vicious curse that abandoned my husband's lips right then.

*Love…?* I asked tentatively in the privacy of our bond.

*That's the Tesseract.* He explained seriously. *The humans have obviously been experimenting on it. It discharged, which is why the whole place is collapsing right now. However, that's not the most worrying part… no, depending the kind of experiments the humans have been doing here, the discharge might have reached any number of places. An echo of power from the Space Stone would be interpreted in a number of ways, depending who detects in exactly…*

*You believe the wrong kind will pick up on this, don't you?* I deduced the core of his anger.

*Midgard is not ready for the kind of monsters that can be found among the stars… you know that as well as I do, my Nightingale.*

*I do. We'll have to keep a closer eye on things from now on.*

*And we'll need to relieve SHIELD from their little toy…*

I smiled mischievously at him. There was no need to say a word, he knew me so well… so with that I stepped out of the shadows.

It was a fairly simple plan. I knew Fury did not like us mutants in general, and since he (like most) still believed me to be one, that made things easy. The moment I materialized in the middle of his super-secret lab he nearly had a stroke, he was absolutely furious with me. I ignored him completely focusing my whole attention on the injured doctor, healing her hands and then telling those still alive that they needed to run because the place was about to fall on top of our heads.

The youngest man in the place, a blonde agent helped usher the scientists out, and when Fury got difficult he did the same with the black man. We were already at the door when Fury remembered the suitcase but then coincidentally (a bit too much of a coincidence, actually) in that exact moment a piece of the ceiling fell (probably all the way to the next level's floor, in fact), on top of a good deal of the equipment, and completely blocking our way to where the suitcase had been.

"We need to get out now!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.

We ran all the way out. Several times I considered slipping into shadows, and bringing others with me but I knew if I tried Fury would want to me to use that to go back for the Cube. So in the end I held back and kept running.

When we reached the ground floor I realized that, by most people's estimations we were too late. It was likely the only reason why the ground beneath our feet hadn't collapsed yet was because someone (either Polaris, or Magneto if he'd arrived already) was holding it up; but while the building likely had enough magnetic materials to allow for that, the same couldn't be said about the land outside.

I caught the flash of pink-purple almost from the corner of my eye, it was enough to make me change course mid-step, almost falling but managing to call on some instinctive elven grace to regain my footing and keep running.

"Follow me!" I yelled to the others.

"The closest door is that way!" The Agent yelled, waving in the direction we'd been running, even as he followed my order and prompted the others to do the same.

"Yes, and right now it leads to a sinkhole at least 30 feet deep, possibly more." I retorted, never stopping. "When I tell you to jump, jump."

They had no idea what I meant, but it was too late for them to question me. We reached the side door right as the ground began giving beneath our feet. There was nothing before us anymore, nothing except a ring of pink-purplish light surrounding a vortex; nothing could be seen clearly through it, like a sort of mirage. Then again, that was perfectly normal when it came to Blink's portals, so I did not worry, I just ran faster and jumped, in the last moment yelling at the others to do the same.

I instinctively went into a roll the moment we came on the other side. The Agent (Barton, I'd eventually learn his name was, Clint Barton) did the same, as well as Fury; the scientists landed in a sprawl but they didn't seem to mind too much. At least they were alive.

I soon realized we weren't on actual ground just yet, but instead on what could literally be called a flying sheet of metal. Which was being kept in the air by Magneto. Polaris was with him, though I suspected she'd been the one keeping the building up as long as possible, while Blink (also there) conjured as many portals as possible to get the last people out of the facility.

My husband landed beside us, making it look like he'd just jumped through another of Blink's portals. A silent signal from him all I needed to confirm that the Cube was safe.

A minute later or so we landed in actual ground, at the edge of the mile-or-so wide crater that had formed where the top-secret SHIELD facility had been. Fury was spitting nails about 'his cube' so we ignored him. The rest were quite thankful for our intervention, a gratitude they expressed also to the others. Blink just smiled at them, though Polaris and Magneto didn't reply, they still had a hard time dealing with humans thanking them for being what they were, and doing what they did with their abilities (it made me wonder how different the world might have been if the US and USSR had never turned against them in the 60s).

Darcy was waiting for us when we stepped off Magneto's creation, and with her was an average looking man in a simple but elegant gray suit.

"Silbhé! Luka!" She called to us brightly. "Meet Agent Phil Coulson. Phil, these are my siblings in every way that counts, Silbhé and Luka… though you obviously know about them already."

My husband and I said polite greetings to the man. We'd met him before, of course, he'd been in the Courthouse the last day of Erik's trial. Apparently someone decided to send him after Darcy tasered Agent Sitwell when he refused to take no for an answer and tried to take IronSmith's files from my sister by force.

I hadn't spoken with the man that day, though I knew Darcy had. And apparently it hadn't been just that day, for the moment Phil Coulson stood beside my heart-sister it was as if the last piece of a puzzle had fallen into place, and suddenly the look that had been in Darcy's face when Loki and I sang 'Mirror' made perfect sense…

It was insane, a mutant and an Agent of SHIELD (it was no secret that SHIELD did not like mutants, or gifted in general). And yet they were a match, nothing could ever be truer than that. I said nothing to them that day, neither of us did, though my love and I promised ourselves we'd do our best to be there for them if they ever needed us. Darcy was as good as a sister to us both, and if Phil was her match, that made him part of the family as well.

Things went quite well. Fury did not get his Cube, but most of the people who'd been there were simply too happy at being alive after what had happened. Also, neither Fury nor anyone else had reason to believe we had the object, so that was good. My love took off for a couple of days to place the Tesseract somewhere safe, where only we would have access to it. Then it was back to work. Mutant-human relations were improving, but there was still so much to do…

xXx

Nearly two years later (Spring of 2014) we got a hell of a shock when two women arrived to the Institute without a warning. The first was easily identified as Destiny, though she'd been going by her 'human' name of Irene Adler. The true surprise was the woman with her, who looked like she might be in her early to mid thirties (at most), lightly tanned skin, straight black hair to her chin and clear blue eyes. My senses were screaming at me who she was, even before Charles said a word, but my brain had trouble processing it all.

Raven Xavier-Darkholme… Raven… the former Mystique… except no.

We didn't actually live in the Institute. It simply wasn't feasible. Instead Darcy, Luka, Rose and I shared a townhouse in Washington, where we were still working, though Dr. McCoy had become the image of mutant-human relations since his appointment as Secretary of Mutant Affairs the year prior. The plan was to train others to be able to do what we did and eventually moving to New York where we all believed we would be more needed.

Charles called us because even with other lawyers and the like who'd been taking on the task of helping mutants, the three of us were still the best at what we did, especially when working in tandem. It took no effort for us to realize what he wanted: for us to help Raven like we'd helped Erik two years earlier.

Charles and Luka immediately began discussing particulars, with Darcy taking notes and offering her own two cents every once in a while. Somehow I was the first to notice the minute wincing in the black-haired woman every time the name Raven was pronounced. It took me a few seconds more to fully understand the emotions coming from her but once I did… it was so obvious. I slipped off the chair I'd initially taken beside my love and went to sit on the couch on the corner, where the 'de-powered mutant' was curled up.

"Hello Mystique, do you need anything?" I asked her as I sat.

No one missed my choice of address, or the way she actually turned to look at me.

She asked for water and it was easy enough to retrieve a bottle and hand it over to her. I was very careful to actually stand and go get it, rather than call it to me, or conjure it, I didn't want to give her any further reminders to her lack of power.

I waited for several minutes while she drank the water, then played with the empty bottle and eventually I took it from her, put the bottle aside and took her hands in mine.

"You're Mystique." I told her straight out.

"No I'm not, not anymore." She retorted. "I'm a human now I…"

"You are whoever you wish to be." I cut her off. "If you wish to be Mystique, then that's who you are, regardless of the color of your skin. You may not have the power you are used to, right now, but that doesn't mean it'll stay gone forever. If there's something I've learned about such things, it's that no one can take that which is yours, not really."

"They took it from me!" She shrieked. "They cured me!"

I felt the tension from my husband and sister but I myself refused to react, to so much as flinch at her words, her tone. I just tightened my hold on her hands and waited for the peak of her emotion to pass before I spoke again.

"Were you sick?" I didn't actually wait for an answer before going on. "No, because mutation isn't a sickness, it's a part of you. You cannot heal that which isn't sick, or broken, or wrong. It doesn't work like that."

"But then that would mean…" The young-looking broke off.

"Whatever was in those darts they shot you with either suppressed your mutation, or simply messed with your system enough to block your gift, but it's not permanent, it could never be." I decided to be dead serious, hoping it'd help. "What we are, what we do, is in our genes, it's encoded into the very core of our beings, you cannot undo that. Undoing it would mean killing us, and you're not dead, are you? I know I'm not a mutant, but that's irrelevant. We're both gifted, so the same applies to us both. All you need to do is be patient, allow your body to fight off the drug, to recover, you will be alright Mystique..."

She nodded once, and I could feel very body relaxing ever so slowly as she fully processed everything that had just been said. On her other side, Irene was smiling (a part of me wondered how much she'd known beforehand of what I'd say… and if she'd been waiting all along for me to do it, was that why she hadn't done it herself?).

"One more thing." I added. "Being Mystique, or being Raven, those don't have to be mutually exclusive. You can be both, all the time, or at different times, it's your choice. A name is a part of you, it represents you, or at least a part of you, but it doesn't limit you. I know this because I've had quite a few names myself, and I'm proud of them. I am Silbhé Arianna Kinross Salani-Hvedrungr legally, it's the name my parents gave me, along with the name I got from my husband of course. I'm proud of that, I always will be. Canary is the name the children here in the Institute gave me, because I'd sing them to sleep, and that makes me happy as well. And then there's the one of Songtress, which you and the others in the Brotherhood began using, and that one gives me pride in its own way, because it's another facet of me. Oh… and my husband calls me Nightingale, so there's that as well."

"Who are you, really?" She asked me, curious.

"All of them, all of me." I answered with a smile, then smirked. "It's a hell of a story, if I'm to be honest. I might tell it to you one day."

I had no idea how she and the others might react to the truth about me. Charles knew some of it, but not everything, not yet. We might yet tell them someday…

xXx

As it happened, I was right, in more ways than one. The legal case went well, easier than with Erik even, especially when we got proof of all the things she'd done through the years to help mutants, like in the war, when she'd rescued as many as she could, both from the enemy military and those like Stryker (and Trask) who were looking for an excuse to turn any and all mutants into prisoners and test-subjects for their experiments. Of course, her baring the name of Xavier did not hurt any.

I had no way of knowing if it had been my words, a very private talk she'd later on with Charles, or something else entirely, but Mystique eventually came to accept that she could be that, and also Raven. Charles was so thrilled at the developments, at getting those he loved the most back, I felt almost as if I were high whenever his emotions touched me.

Loki and I also eventually shared our story with them, as well as Irene and Erik, and a few others. Charles already knew the basics, but no details. I could sense the mix of wonder, awe, horror and fascination as we went through the story. Sometimes with the aid of illusions to exemplify things.

When we left that particular evening, Darcy turned to me:

"You know what surprised me?" She commented. "How none of them asked for clarification or proof about the whole 'match deal'."

"When you really love someone you don't need proof, you can feel it." I quoted at her, then smiled. "Likewise, when you're part of a match you don't really need someone to explain what it is, or how it exists, to you."

She said nothing to that, and I wondered if she realized that she was one of those who'd never asked such questions. Probably not, her bond with Phil was still developing; and yet, they were both clever individuals, if they hadn't realized the truth yet I was confident it wouldn't take them long. What happened after that would be up to them.

xXx

Things calmed down, for the most part, after Mystique's trial. Also, we were proven right when a few weeks later her skin began flickering every so often; about three months after first being shot with the cure, she regained her 'true' appearance, it took her nearly three more before she could shift again, and it was still a bit of touch and go for a while, but just being back in her blue skin made such a difference for her…

It was discovered during the trial that the would-be cure came from the Worthingtons. Something their Labs had been working on years prior, before the mess with William Stryker and Erik's trial had turned the opinion of mutants almost completely around. Then the project was abandoned; abandoned, but not destroyed. An extremist group, off-shot of the more widely known Friends of Humanity (who preached a lot but hadn't done that much, especially since so many people had began looking at mutants positively) calling themselves Purifiers had found the half-finished drug, loaded it into darts, rifles and began using it against any mutant or suspected mutants they came across.

Mystique was actually one of their first victims, as she'd been investigating the rumors of such a drug existing in the first place. Only her girlfriend's timely intervention had saved her from being killed by the Purifiers after the loss of her ability. Then they'd taken the shortest route they could to Westchester (even after so many years and everything that had happened, Raven had never stopped believing in Charles, that he would help her…).

Things had actually gotten worse for a short time. While we discovered that the cure wasn't really permanent on mutants; others had discovered something else: the fact that it was lethal for humans. It was something no one could have ever expected, at the very least it helped stop the Purifiers; when their choice of weapon was more likely to cause their deaths than that of those they were pursuing… the risk was just too great. It didn't take long for the drug to be declared a poison, its use illegal. Many would later claim that it was done to protect humans rather than mutants, but since both sides benefited the matter was soon enough dropped.

Thankfully things did, indeed, get better afterwards. A new team took over from our duties in DC and we all moved back to New York, though Darcy didn't stay with us for long, as she chose to move in with Phil. None of us knew exactly when that relationship had begun, or how, but as long as they were happy neither my love nor I would pry. The three of us still worked together though, and Darcy would stay over sometimes, when we were working on a case or another together, or she didn't want to be alone; which happened relatively often, as Phil was working with a new team, completely off-books, pursuing a group intending on creating the next super-soldier. The three of us were probably the only ones outside a few select people in SHIELD who knew what was going on in that front, and I was quite sure Fury didn't know we were so informed. He would have never stood for it.

At some point after our first contact with SHIELD (a most indirect contact, in the form of job offers for all three of us), before we'd taken our first complex cases, before we became known across the country as some of the staunchest supporters of mutants and their rights, Aunt Kathryn met with us and told us a story. About her past, the fifteen years she'd spent working for the government (or, technically, governments, two of them), first with MI5, a single mission in Africa for the MI6, then the SSR, where she'd met Shannon Carter and Marge Carter-Sholto (a legend better known in some circles as Agent Peggy Carter); and then had come SHIELD. She'd been part of the first team formed in the agency. A team that had reached legendary status, they'd been known as the Elites, and she was given the code-name of Sphinx.

Nick Fury had been there too. He'd been the final third to their team (Shannon being the second). And yes, even back then he had shown a marked dislike for those most would consider 'not normal' (though really, what was normal anyway?).

In any case, that particular conversation helped enough that when we first came truly in contact with Fury we weren't really surprised by his attitude. Though I did wonder if we were fated to clash with the man at every turn, or if there was hope that one day he might become, if not more understanding, at least more accepting.

There was one thing that Aunt Kathryn never told us, though in the end we didn't need her to. The fact that she and Nicholas had been involved once, and it hadn't just been an affair, or a romance, or whatever, it'd been serious, enough that she still kept a sand-glass necklace and a yellowed piece of paper in a secret jewelry box she thought no one knew about. Important enough that Nicholas knew who I was, had known since I'd said my full name (probably the Salani in there). It made me wonder…

xXx

We knew the Convergence was coming, of course we did. We were all curious about it. Seeing how the event only happened every five thousand years none of us had ever witnessed it before (or if we had, in another lifetime, we had no memory of it), and we were curious enough to want to. We couldn't just shadow-walk there. We could have, in the most literal sense, but if the British government had found us in their territory without having entered legally it would have been way too much trouble. And we were simply too famous for someone not to notice us (the downside of the fame). Also, it would have been an abuse of our gifts, and the complete opposite to what we promoted, and tried to convince the government about.

So we made sure our passports were in order, bought tickets and got on a plane. Rose was staying home. Aunt Kathryn had quit her job in the small hospital in Westbrook and moved in to help us with Rosie back when she was a newborn. The first year I'd done my best to work from home, so as to spend as much time with my baby as possible, aunt Kathryn was always there too, ready to help with whatever we might need. Whether in the family, or our jobs. After that first year though, Aunt Kathryn had gotten a new job as a nurse in Metro-General's ER. It wasn't too far from our apartment and she still helped with Rose when we needed her, especially as I began working more out of home as my baby got older.

At that point Rose was three years old and we hadn't yet decided if we'd be sending her to preschool, or have her home-schooled by someone we trusted. Aunt Kathryn had offered to help with that too, but we really didn't want to impose on her. It was enough that she'd taken a few days off work to look after Rosie while the three of us went to investigate the Convergence.

We had known the Convergence was coming. Yet we had no idea just how messy things were going to get… We made it to London alright. It didn't take long for certain people to learn we were in town, knowing already who we were exactly. Much as we didn't like it, we did meet with a number of different individuals, including two men who shared the surname Holmes yet were as different from each other as the day from the night.

We knew who Sherlock Holmes was, of course. Or I suppose that, technically, Luka knew who he was. He'd been fascinated by the man's exploits, especially since discovering the blog of a man called John Watson, who seemed to be completely focused on making his and Mr. Holmes's adventures public. The idea of a man with such an intellect, the things he could achieve, it was completely opposite from Asgard, and yet it fit perfectly with my love. He respected Sherlock Holmes and even admired his skill. So when a man called Mycroft Holmes, who seemed to take a very personal interest in our presence in England. Like he considered himself personally responsible if we ended causing some kind of trouble…

We were invited to have lunch with him, while he asked us all manner of questions regarding our job back home (we were vague, of course, it was none of his business), what we knew about gifted in his country (very little, aside from the fact that at the very least mutants there didn't seem to be pursued by military the likes of Stryker…), and why exactly had we decided to travel to Britain in the first place (a vacation, of course; it wasn't exactly a lie, but not the full truth either, as we weren't about to explain about the Convergence). Darcy soon grew bored with the 'battle of words'; she was good at them too, but tended towards the blunt side of things, and we couldn't afford to antagonize a man with the power Mycroft Holmes had (he'd said nothing about it, but we weren't fools and could read between the lines in him, his assistant and our surroundings, particularly the deference with which some people addressed him). So Darcy soon took off, promising to let us know if she found anything 'interesting'.

A couple of hours later or so I got a message from Darcy, informing us she'd found a sort of space-loop in an abandoned property. The message was followed by a short video that showed a bottle falling, time and again, through the same space; disappearing inches from the ground before reappearing at the top, never stopping. It didn't take us too long to excuse ourselves, and then we were on our way (taking the subway, a cab, and then walking the last bit because we didn't want to be tracked, and we couldn't risk teleporting or shadow-walking anywhere with the Convergence taking place). We were still a mile or so from the location Darcy had given us, when she vanished from our awareness.

Loki and I froze the moment we felt Darcy disappear, completely. We knew it wasn't a matter of her powers. We knew what it felt like when she went into the Shadow Plane while we remained in the material world. No, what had just happened was different. We had no idea what had transpired, and we definitely didn't like it.

We knew nothing about Darcy for almost twenty-four hours and then, right as the two of us were about to go crazy with worry, we sensed it. A number of things in fact: someone traversing one of the Hidden Roads into Earth, and Darcy returning. We were pondering how risky it might be to seek her out, when my phone rang. The moment I saw her name I answered and put her on speaker immediately.

"Darce!" My love and I called at the same time.

"Hey guys, I'm alright, I'm safe, I promise." She assured us.

"Where were you?" I asked.

"What happened to you?" My husband demanded at the same time.

"See, when I got exploring the place with that little loop I showed you I found some kids." She explained. "They were the ones to discover the loop. They told me that a woman had arrived there earlier, a Dr. Foster. She'd disappeared abruptly and they'd no idea where she'd gone, though her car was still there. So I thought to look for her, make sure that the 'anomaly' hadn't hurt her or something. Things got really freaky when I found her, when I tried to touch her this… energy burst from inside her, attacked me. Would have got me if I hadn't moved just in the nick of time." He could hear shuffling before she went on. "Anyway, so I was about to call you guys to see if you knew what might be going on, when there's this flash of light, and big, blonde and buff drops from the sky..."

I could feel the tension in my love, neither of us had any doubts just who she was talking about.

"It was Thor!" Darcy confirmed in her next breath. "Insane, can you believe it? I mean, Norse Gods! Whoever knew they were real?!"

She'd known, of course. I knew she was only saying those things either to keep appearances before whoever she might be with, or to pass on what she believed was necessary information to us before we joined her.

"So he went all Shakespeare on us, tried to touch Jane, and the energy reacted to him too." She went on. "Next thing I know he's calling to Hem-something and I barely managed to get a hold onto him before we were careening through the stars! Next things I know I'm in a hell of a different place, where everything's way too bright and gold, and everyone insists on going around in horses and flying ships… They didn't like me there, though of course I didn't give a fuck about that. I mean, some alien pseudo-god had just kidnapped a human scientist! That's the stuff sci-fi stories are made of. So I refused to allow them to send me back without Dr. Foster. The poor girl was so enchanted with the place, and the rainbow bridge, and the blonde hunk that hadn't stopped holding her hand… she clearly wasn't focusing properly on everything that was wrong with the picture. Which only got more wrong as we learned that the thing inside her was apparently an ancient power called the Aether..."

"What?!" My love couldn't hold back his yelp at that.

"Yep." Darcy went on. "So, bad news all around. The All-Daddy..." I nearly burst out laughing at that part, but managed to control myself as our sister went on. "… went all storyteller on us, going on and on about the Dark Elves, and some bastard called Malekith, and his desire for the Aether… but it was all fine because they were all dead! Except of course they weren't dead and they went after the Aether, and we almost died!"

What followed was a rather harrowing tale, an attack on Asgard, a terrible battle. Darcy might have tagged along on a few of Phil's team's missions, she might even have some training, but she wasn't a warrior, and she was the first to admit to that. It was obvious the whole thing had been rather traumatic to her, and then she told us what exactly she'd done, right when the Kursed had been about to kill the Queen…

"You shadow-walked… in the middle of the Convergence?!" I almost squeaked.

My Maverick, in contrast, was deadly silent. And then I caught the tenor of his thoughts, and the single word that kept repeating in his mind in a loop: MomMomMom…

"Darcy..." He said after what seemed like forever, voice almost choked with so much feeling. "My sister… Thank you..."

"You're welcome brother." Darcy answered, and I could almost see her bright smile.

He knew her story, the family she'd grown up with: a father in the FBI's Most Wanted, a mother that never paid much attention to her, a cousin she'd loved and grown distant from, due to an uncle who didn't want her around anymore, no siblings, no close friends either at school, her hometown or even the Institute… and then we'd come along.

And then we got to the most important part (at least for the time being). Malekith and what remained of his dark elves were on his way. Apparently at some point (with help from Queen Frigg), Sif, Thor, Jane and Darcy had made it out of Asgard and to Svartalfheim, where they tricked Malekith into taking the Aether from Jane before escaping. In the process Jane had managed to catch a glimpse of the dark elf's nefarious plan: to release the Aether's power at the zenith of the Convergence, in Midgard.

We didn't even need time, there was no choice to be made.

"We'll be there." I informed Darcy, before hanging up, then turned to my love. "We knew this day was coming."

Yes, we had. We couldn't have known it'd be like that. With a battle that, considering the stakes and the Convergence, was likely to be witnessed across the 9 Realms. And yet that didn't make us back down. We were guardians of our world and we wouldn't stand down, no matter what the consequences to ourselves might be.

We ran then, towards where we could sense the power gathering. On the way I made several quick calls: one to Charles, to inform him what was going on, he assured us he'd get in contact with Mr. Summers Sr., who apparently headed a mutant school in Scotland, we hoped he and his own people might be of some help. I then called Mr. Holmes to warn him of what was coming, mainly so he might keep other humans away from Greenwich, they'd be safer that way.

We never stopped on our way to what was to become a battlefield. Words weren't needed among us, not even inside our bond, we knew what needed to be done, and were willing to do it. We only gave a passing thought to the possibility of discovery, while we'd prefer for Asgard not to know about us, especially not about my love, it wouldn't be the end of the world if they did find out. I knew they wouldn't recognize me, I looked different enough from my past life and, after a minute or so of consideration, my match made up his mind and shifted into his Jotun skin.

He was wearing a dark-blue button up, dark-jeans, black leather jacket and sturdy boots, all which had been magicked to prevent them from being frozen or damaged by the temperature of his skin, or the ice he'd be conjuring. I took off my jacket, sending it into a pocket-space so it wouldn't hinder me; leaving me in a long-sleeved black top with transparencies in the sleeves, washed-out jeans and black-leather boots. I pulled my shoulder-blade length hair back into a knot at the nape of my neck; nothing fancy and it wouldn't last long, but at least that way it wouldn't be in my face. My skin had gone down a few degrees with my love's change, nothing too serious, but still, part of our bond. As final touch I called on my bow and arrows. The very ones I'd used a lifetime prior, Helena had kept them in a safe place, sent them back to me at some point, along with a collection of blades spelled to return to my hand at a mere thought.

There was no need to ask any questions. We both felt it the moment the battle began, we knew exactly where to go. My love sent me a last look; again, no questions were needed, a single nod was enough. With a deep breath, we threw ourselves straight into the melee.

Darcy must have warned them we were coming, for no one said a word, the two Aesir warriors simply took a look at us and adapted. They did a sort-of double-take at my husband's blue skin, but I imagined they must have convinced themselves that he couldn't be Jotun, for neither of them said a word about it, not even when he began conjuring ice left and right.

We sensed Malekith before we saw him. His first act the moment he left his ship was shoot an energy attack straight at Thor who, in turning his attention to him, stopped paying attention to the rest of the elves, who looked full ready to take advantage of that. A mental nudge at my match was enough to have him focus on guarding my back while I began shooting arrows as fast as I could at the elves trying to get at Thor's back. No one tried to get in my way, not even Sif, though I could tell she was surprised by the speed and effectiveness of my arrows.

The battle didn't last long though, to my honest surprise, the key to defeating Malekith wasn't any of us, but some devices created by Dr. Foster, which somehow forced portals open in specific locations. Thor used them to send pieces of the Dark-Elf king away, one by one. Then, when they ran out of such devices Darcy stepped forth and banished the head as deep into the shadow plane as she could.

My Maverick and I took advantage of the distraction to use our full magic to gather the Aether together and seal it into a new container. It wasn't easy, took a lot of magic and effort, but we managed, I then sent it into a pocket space a moment before we both pretty much dropped to the ground in exhaustion.

"L… Maverick! Nightingale!" Darcy called, rushing to us, worried.

"We're alright..." I assured her, panting just a bit. "Only tired."

"Ok..." Darcy hesitated, looking over her shoulder. "I promised I'd help them send Malekith's ship back to Svartalfheim..."

"Go." I waved a hand carelessly at her. "We'll be fine."

"We'll be right here." My love added for good measure.

We were so tired I wasn't sure we'd have been able to move, even if we'd wanted to. So we just sat there, in the middle of the University of Greenwich's yard, backs propped against some debris caused during the battle.

I didn't even notice it when I began singing. It just seemed… right… somehow, for that moment.

"Winter has come for me, can't carry on

The chains to my life are strong

But soon they'll be gone

I'll spread my wings one more time"

"Is it a dream?

All the ones I've loved calling out my name

The sun warms my face

All the days of my life, I see them passing me by"

I hadn't quite processed what it was I'd fixed my attention on, before that point. Head tilted back, eyes looking straight at what was shown through one of the portals naturally formed by the Convergence… it was Alfheim. The mere realization of that made tears spring into my eyes, but I didn't even think about stopping them. I let them form, let them fall, as I kept singing. I realized in that moment that, unlike most of my songs, in that moment I wasn't singing for my match, or even for our daughters… I was singing for everyone else I'd once known… loved… and lost…

"In my heart I know I can let go

In the end I will find some peace inside

New wings are growing tonight"

"Is it a dream?

All the ones I've loved calling out my name

The sun warms my face

All the days of my life, I see them passing me by"

I could feel my husband's hand in mine as we sat there, side by side. His skin was cool but not uncomfortable at all against mine and I could tell he knew what I was thinking, exactly as I sang. He didn't interrupt me, just held my hand and gave me his support, like he always had. At some point I closed my eye and just… stopped thinking. Focused on nothing but the song on my lips:

"As I am soaring I'm one with the wind

I am longing to see you again, it's been so long

We will be together again"

I sensed the moment the Convergence ended, felt the change in the energies buzzing around us, and the way the ground beneath us seemed to almost shudder for a moment before settling. Like everything was in balance once again. I thought nothing of it, there was a reason why I'd chosen to close my eyes. Seeing Alfheim, seeing my old home, and knowing how against me the odds were of ever seeing it again… I'd rather not focus on the bad things. I'd such a wonderful life, there was no point in focusing on the few things I couldn't really have. I was happy, I really was. Alfheim was my past, and I was at peace with that, at peace with my present and my future too. Perhaps one day something might happen, might change things, but I was happy with my life.

"Is it a dream?

All the ones I've loved calling out my name

The sun warms my face

All the days of my life, I see them passing me by"

It took me a few seconds after the song came to an end, to realize that the sun wasn't warming my face anymore. I felt my husband tense minutely, and it was that which prompted me into opening my eyes. From the corner of my eyes I could see Darcy, standing beside Sif and a doe-eyed, brunette woman who was probably Dr. Foster… apparently holding them back. And then I caught up with what I was seeing before me: the tall, muscled, golden-tanned man with blue eyes and wavy blonde hair, looking not at me, but at my love.

"Brother…" Was the first word to abandon his lips.

The hold on my hand tightened almost convulsively and I could tell my beloved was considering the possibility of dropping into the shadows (with the Convergence passed, it was safe again) rather than face Thor. Especially a Thor who'd managed to recognize him, even in his Jotun skin. I didn't think the blonde had ever seen Loki like that except… except in the days following my passing, and preceding the change in memories… my breathing caught.

Thor's eyes fixated upon our joint hands for several long seconds, and then he followed that arm to me, he was looking straight into my eyes as he spoke the next word:

"Sister… elen sîla lumenn' omentielvo..." He spoke in low (and somewhat choked) elvish.

I could have never hold back the smile that lit my face in that moment.

"Brother..." Loki gasped, as realization hit him.

xXx

It turned out my singing kept having unexpected effects. Even knowing that I could imbue my voice (our voices) with power when singing, I… we didn't exactly control the ways the magic shifted. I knew I was capable of helping people sleep, even children who'd been under terrible ordeals, who felt insecure, afraid…

Charles had been especially thankful to me after my singing had managed to calm down one of his more volatile young students, a boy called John, with a gift for pyrokinesis. The kid had suffered terribly before making it to the Institute and didn't trust any of the people around him, or the things they offered him. Then, three days into my singing them all to sleep, it was as if something had shifted. He was still very jaded, but willing to move on from his hard past. He'd become inseparable with a boy his age: Bobby, who had a thing for ice (and if that wasn't a huge irony, I had no idea what it was).

We'd also known that singing about love both showed others how serious our relationship was, and tended to make other matches sort of… resonate. Which had been showcased with our little duet in the Institute.

We never expected a song to break the spell/potion/whatever keeping memories of my past life sealed. And yet both Thor and Sif remembered, and they hadn't known before arriving to our world to fight Malekith and the Dark Elves. Those were definitely two boons I never expected, the brother and sister of my heart, held equally dear by my own love.

The only downside was that, Thor and Sif being there, remembering us, also served as a reminder of Queen Frigg, and the fact that she did not. It gave me grief, and I know it was much worse for my match, for he loved her with all his heart and soul, regardless of any blood-bond, or lack thereof, Lady Frigg was his mom, and that was all that mattered in the end.

Thor and Sif stayed the night, with Dr. Foster hanging around, she'd an obvious crush on Thor, though I soon began to suspect it being more than 'just' a crush. Though I pushed the thought aside for the time being. In the end Dr. Foster, Jane, as she insisted we called her, guided us to a small townhouse that belonged to a relative or other of hers, where she'd been staying while researching the 'gravitational anomalies' caused by the Convergence. It was a small place, cozy, and certainly more private than the hotel suite where we'd been staying.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to telling our stories. The past where it concerned Tinúviel was touched very briefly, only enough for Jane to understand, at least a bit, the depth of our bond. The recent years we discussed in more detail. Thor was obviously upset at the fact that his brother had not returned after saving my life, though even he'd to admit that doing so, with what had happened (his blue skin) would have been nothing short of a disaster. He definitely did not like finding out that we weren't planning on going back to Asgard any time soon. Neither he nor Sif did. They simply did not understand why we'd choose to stay on Midgard.

"This is our home now, brother, sister." I tried to explain to them. "Our families are here. I am no longer Princess Tinúviel of Alfheim and Asgard. I am Silbhé Salani-Hvedrungr. I am a gifted, and a social worker. I help families deal when new gifted manifest, or when they get hurt; I help the gifted who've been hurt, find their way again. I also assist Loki and Darcy in helping mutants and other gifted in many different ways. This is who we are, what we do. We have friends here, family, I… we will not abandon them."

Mention of Rose and an offer to get to know her did calm them down some. Not completely, but at least we managed to convince them that us not going to Asgard did not mean we couldn't stay in touch. We weren't forsaking them, just staying where we were needed for the time being.

We weren't expecting the mess that fell upon us the following morning.

Having finished with our Taichi work-out and jujitsu katas, I'd left my husband to his additional practice, while going to the kitchen to prepare some tea for both of us. I loaded a tray with three cups (as Darcy practiced her own martial arts with my love too) and some pastries and was just about to step out of the kitchen when a sense of danger hit me with the force of a rock, and it was coming from my love! I didn't even notice when I dropped the tray, didn't stay long enough to hear the porcelain break, in less than a second I'd called my weapons to me, while almost simultaneously teleporting to the corner of the terrace where I knew Loki and Darcy to be.

I landed in a crouch, over the stone railing, a perfect vantage point. I didn't even take the time to ponder on why my loved ones were being attacked, just balanced myself raised my bow, and began shooting. It took about four seconds and half more as many arrows for me to realize that the ones attacking us (or technically my husband) were Ljósálfar. Though that did not explain why the hell they were doing that. At least Darcy'd had the good sense to slip into the Mirror Dimension for her own safety. My Maverick was using his power to stop any arrows and magical attacks from touching him, but wasn't really fighting back.

I didn't even think about speaking up, trying to reason with them. They had attacked my match! That was enough to make me want to take them down with extreme prejudice. Still, I managed to control myself just enough that the arrows I shot disabled and pinned them down, without killing or permanently maiming anyone (only the fact that they hadn't managed to so much as nick my love kept me under control).

I only lowered my bow when I was sure no one was in any state to attack Loki anymore. The warriors rendered immobile or too hurt to move, the couple of spell-weavers present knocked out (it was easier that way).

"Now, begin talking, fast." I ordered in my most commanding tone. "I want explanations as to why this cowardly and entirely despicable attack upon my consort was perpetrated and who ordered it, and I want the answers now!"

I didn't actually notice it at the time (though Darcy pointed it out later), the fact that I'd started my rant talking like a human girl and ended with the kind of speech-pattern even Loki rarely used anymore (the Shakespearean talking, as she called it).

For all answer I got a bunch of exclamations which could be summarized as various forms of 'princess', 'my lady', and 'Your Majesty' in both Sindarin and Quenya (the two versions of elvish, common and royal, respectively).

I was about to go into a rant, when another voice called to me:

"Tinúviel!" It was a male voice.

I spun around instantly, the hand on my bow tightening almost convulsively, though thankfully I didn't need it. Before me stood a man I knew well, despite the time and many things that had happened since we'd last laid eyes on each other (a lifetime's worth of both): he was tall, about the same height of my love, with alabaster skin, long, straight raven-black hair and deep-blue eyes that shone like stars, he was dressed in tunics and ceremonial armor. He was Erynion, Lord Protector, one of the best warriors in all of Alfheim, head of the Royal Guard; and, once upon a time, he'd been my personal bodyguard, and the closest thing I had to a brother before Thor.

The moment I laid eyes on him there was a part of me (the part that was solely Tinúviel, even when I'd long since assimilated both sides of my soul and heart into one) that wanted to run to Erynion, hold him tight and cry into him like a little girl… or more like I had so many years in the past, when trying to somehow deal with being the crown princess of Alfheim and in love with Prince Loki of Asgard, while knowing I couldn't do both at the same time. But I couldn't do that. I actually had a decently good idea of why exactly my love was being attacked, if the Ljósálfar had somehow discovered about me being Tinúviel's reincarnation… Alfheim might tolerate Jotnar more than even Asgard, but that didn't mean they liked them, and I was fairly sure they'd never abide by one of their royals (even a princes who'd long since abdicated any right to their throne) to be bound to one of 'them' (and they didn't even know he was of Laufey's bloodline!).

So I couldn't be a little girl thrilled at finding her brother, or even a woman delighted at finding old friends again; no, I needed to be the warrior-lady, and the wife…

"Lord Erynion." I greeted him with cold-politeness, mentally begging forgiveness. "Mind telling me why, with no cause whatsoever, my consort was so viciously attacked?"

"He's Jotun!" Several of the elves snarled.

"Yes, and?" I prompted.

"But Princess…!" Several began in obvious disbelief.

"Lets make one thing very clear ladies and gentlemen." I stated as serenely but strongly as I could. "I am not your princess. Yes, I was once Tinúviel, I will not bother denying that. I am not her anymore, haven't been for centuries, and even if I were. My bond to my match will always trump anything else. Loki Odinson is my match, he always has been, and always will be. You raising your weapons at him, meaning him harm, is an insult to both him and myself. I care not about your trust issues, misgivings. The past is painful, yes, I haven't forgotten, haven't forgotten all the blood spilled and lives lost in the Bloody Night, but that tragedy is not on Loki and you will not take your righteous anger out on him. I will not allow it!"

"You are, of course, right, my lady." Erynion said in a very polite and detached manner. "I hope you will forgive my men. In their excitement to learn our dear Princess Tinúviel was walking the Realms once again, they appear to have deprived themselves of any measure of common sense and decorum. You can be sure such a shameful incident will never be repeated."

"I am sure it will not." I nodded.

A small wave of my hand vanished all the bolts, releasing the trapped elves. I briefly considered healing them, then decided such actions would render it all moot. They needed to understand that what they'd done was wrong.

"If it's alright with you, my lord, my lady. I shall escort them to the Hidden Path that leads to Alfheim myself." Sif offered.

I imagined she must have arrived with Erynion, wherever they might have been beforehand. Thor and Jane were standing just inside the house, looking out, thankfully having enough sense not to intervene in what was already a very delicate and volatile matter.

The elves took their leave then, Sif guiding them; which incidentally allowed Erynion to stay behind, at least for a little while… it was all I needed, The moment I was sure the elves were out of range (sight, smell, hearing and any magical senses they might possess) I jumped off the railing and pretty much threw myself into Erynion's arms.

"Muindor!" I breathed out against his chest, as I held on tight.

He held me back just as tightly.

"You're tiny." He commented with a watery smile, after a short eternity.

He was right, of course. Even as Tinúviel I'd been on the short side, when compared to most elves, especially those born into warrior bloodlines like him and Thenidiel; but in my human body I was more than a foot smaller than him! Not that it stopped me from doing whatever I wanted or needed to, or intimidated me in any way.

"It is good to see you again Erynion." I assured him.

"I know." He nodded with a soft smile.

His tone told me that he'd known, that my attitude wasn't against him, that he hadn't taken insult. He'd known I needed to make a stand and would support me, as he always had.

"Who sent them?" I asked, completely serious. "And why now?"

And really, if we were in danger of being attacked again, I needed to know.

"The Elders are behind this." He told me sincerely. "I was of the belief they should not have been so rash in their choices; but alas, I was ignored. Long have some of them believed me to be too close to the situation, to you..."

"Why?" I half-demanded, half-whispered. "Because you deigned to be more than an unfeeling bodyguard to me? Because I saw you as a brother? Or is it their own inadequacy they're trying to foist upon you? Like they tried on me when I refused to dance to their tune so many years ago?"

"A bit of all, I think." Erynion admitted. "As for your second question. It's rather obvious, is it not? The Realms have never forgotten your voice, and every single one of them heard your song yesterday. Tinúviel… your match gave you an apt name."

My mind filled in the blanks. All the realms had heard me sing, but no one outside our own had heard through the end. That, and simply being close enough to be touched by my magic was the reason why Thor and Sif remembered, why the spell had broken on them, when it had with no other. With Erynion and the others… from what I'd been told they had never been under any such spells; they'd refused, disgusted at the mere idea.

"I suppose there are those who still do not like my love." I admitted with a sigh.

"And them learning of his heritage did not help matters any." Erynion added for good measure.

Beside me, my Maverick shrugged, not like he'd apologize for being who he was.

"Even in my last life I knew Loki's heritage could end up causing trouble, particularly with those who did not like my abdicating the throne in the first place." I let out a breath. "It's ironic, you know? How much everyone claims to believe in the teachings of our ancestors, in our legends… until they go against their own plans. They were all willing to believe a match was a gift from the stars, was a bond that could not be denied… until my own pulled me away from the path they wanted me to take. Nevermind that I was never meant for the throne in the first place." I shook my head, mostly to myself. "I should have never been a princess, much less a queen, but I wanted to help Alfheim so much..." I almost felt like crying. "You must know Erynion, I love Alfheim, always have, always will but…"

"But nothing will ever be more important than your match." He finished for me. "I know, I understand… sister."

We made plans for him to visit again (perhaps with his match, Thenidiel), through different Paths so he might see where we actually live, meet our other friends, my human family, our daughter… we also planned on visiting Alfheim ourselves, show Rose my childhood home maybe.

Things weren't perfect, but that was alright, because perfect was boring, and we didn't do boring. We thrived on challenges. Midgard had so much to offer, and one day the rest of the Realms would learn that. Until then, we'd keep on living, getting ready for when that day came.

Chapter Text

Variations

Fate forges our destination, and through Destiny we craft the road to it.

The consequences of the Convergence and the battle against Malekith, his dark elves (and the Aether) were more on the side of interesting and intriguing (and sometimes funny) than worrying. SHIELD and most governments knew what we'd done, and while the existence of aliens, and especially the fact that some were on the side of humans, while others wanted just to destroy, left many an agency going nuts; the three of us didn't worry about that. As far as they knew, we were 'only' mutants. The day would come for the truth to be revealed, but not just yet.

SHIELD actually detained Dr. Foster for all of three days, until a messenger from Asgard made an unexpected appearance, looking for Lady Foster… Prince Thor's intended. It didn't surprise me, though SHIELD went crazy over yet something else for a while. They didn't understand, had no basis for comparison:

"They're a match." I told Phil, trying to make him understand.

He and his team had been called in to deal with the aftermath of the battle against the Dark Elves, which meant we had to debrief them regarding what had happened exactly. They'd been around when the mess with Jane had kicked up, had witnessed her departure with the messenger, and they still didn't understand why.

"You use that term a lot." Melinda May, one of Phil's team-mates commented. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

"A match, mirror, One True Love, Mo Anam Chara, the silver cord, the red string of fate..." My love enlisted in an almost bored tone.

"Like soulmates?" Grant Ward asked, obvious disbelief in his voice.

"Matches made in heaven!" Skye exclaimed at the same time, hope in her tone.

"Yes." I nodded. "Exactly. Though to be honest, there can be two kinds of soulmates: those that you see as closer than friends, as the brothers and sisters of your soul; and those you love with everything you are: body, mind, heart and soul." I made a pause, then added. "In our case, Darcy fits the first category, she's our sister in every way that counts; while Luka and I are romantic soulmates, we're a match..."

I held back from mentioning Darcy and Phil; with their disbelief I did not want to bring trouble to those two. They noticed and nodded at me minutely.

I decided to change tactics, focusing completely on May.

"You're high enough in SHIELD, I imagine you probably know what age I was when I married." I commented calmly.

"You were fourteen." She nodded.

"What?!" The shock and disbelief came immediately.

"Most believe it was done as some sort of political move, due to you both being gifted." May added for good measure.

"It was, and it wasn't." I told her honestly. "Luka and I are a match, getting married was always in the cards. We didn't actually consummate the marriage until I was over the age of consent. So, marrying at the time when we did was, in some ways, a political move. Luka was having trouble controlling his ice, so we went to Xavier's for help, but while we tried to explain our bond to them, they didn't understand, not like Aunt Kathryn did. Refused to allow us to share a room and stay together as much as possible… so we took the choice out of their hands."

"When did you learn you were a match?" Skye asked, very quietly.

One look told me there was more to that question, but I chose not to insist for the time being.

"A week or so before we went to the Institute." I told them honestly. "Though we'd known each other for three years, thanks to some irregular visits." I shook my head, that wasn't the point. "I had cancer, was given three months to live. Luka swore he'd find a way to save me, and he did. I still have cancer, but these..." I willed the deamarkonian to be visible. "… connect our life-forces, his energy keeps the sickness in my blood from weakening me too much, or killing me even. This is what changed everything. Being so close to death, minutes in fact, from what we've gathered. And then connecting our souls like this… it had consequences. It kick-started our bond. Usually, bonds like ours wouldn't have become obvious until later. I mean, the bond is always there, but the meaning behind it changes as one grows. When I first met him when I was eleven he was a great mystery, who then became a good friend, a trusted confidant… the evolution would have continued from there, until I was eventually mature enough to see him as a man, as a lover, and for him to see me in the same manner. As it was, we had no interest in laying with each other until I was fully mature, though we needed other forms of intimacy."

I could see more than one person blushing, not used to talking about such personal topics, so openly; but they needed to understand, not just for us, but for Thor and Jane, for Darcy and Phil, and however many other matches there might be…

"And here's where we come back to Jane." I went on. "Yes, she only met Thor less than a week ago, but I… we believe that the Aether being inside her… her life being in such danger, it pushed their bond into place faster than it would have otherwise."

"How can they even be soulmates, or a match or whatever?" May wanted to know. "They're not even from the same world!"

"So?" My love asked, with a shrug. "The Nine Realms are connected, you may be human in this lifetime, but who knows what you might have been in your last one, or in your next one."

"Reincarnation…?" May snorted. "That's what you're going with now?"

"It doesn't matter whether you believe us or not." My Maverick said loftily. "Matches, souls, reincarnation… all are things that will continue to exist, regardless of your personal beliefs."

"We're not here to make you believe, or stop believing in anything." I said, trying to sooth out any hurts my husband might cause. "That's not up to us. We're here to explain things as we know them, so you might have an easier time dealing with them. The path you're walking will put you in many such situations, and only with an open mind you'll be able to handle things. There's a lot in this world, in the universe, that you will never understand, that you're not meant to, We are not meant to. In the end, believe in soulmates or not, believe in reincarnation and past-lives, in a level of being that goes beyond what our mortal senses and minds could ever hope to comprehend… this is not a religious speech, this is beyond any one religion. You may think me insane, obsessed, naïve… I don't care. I've known the world was far more complex than most believe, since I was fourteen, and I'm not so proud to think I know it all. In the end, only you know how much you can deal with, and how much you rather not know."

"What?" Ward demanded testily. "You'll now say that ignorance is bliss?"

"Sometimes." I didn't bother lying. "Other times it only makes things harder than they have to be. And lying to oneself, pretending ignorance? It never works. Only makes things all the more painful in the long run."

I wasn't even sure why I said that. It's not like I'd done anything to make me feel like that and yet… it was like I somehow knew those words needed to be said, like someone there needed to hear them for some reason.

Loki and I left London the next day, wanting nothing more than to see our little rose again… Darcy chose to stay, her own need for her match driving her to stay with his team for a while longer. We understood her and did not insist. She knew we'd always be family.

xXx

Rose Alfdis first manifested on the very day she turned five. I entered her room in the morning to find tiny little flames all around her room. She'd always loved candles, kept them on every available surface… except the candles were no more, there was all gone, melted, and yet there were still tiny flames floating above the remains.

Rosie wasn't like mutants, her control of fire was instinctive. We still took her to the Institute every so often, give her a chance to use her ability freely. John loved her like a little sister and was soon teaching her all kinds of tricks. I could feel the boy's heart healing, ever so slowly, first thanks to Bobby, and then with Rose. It was like making sure she did not fear her gift was somehow allowing him to believe that same thing himself.

Life was good. Certainly not what I planned when I was a child, or even after I managed to survive the leukemia; and yet it was a good life. I had a family and we were helping people, some in ways I never imagined possible. I would have never wanted the fame we had, living in the public eye wasn't easy, not before the 'superhero boom' and especially not afterwards. It was no secret that we'd been in London during the alien attack, the fact that we were three of the people who'd fought, the only ones from Earth (nevermind that my love wasn't… they didn't know that part); there had been Dr. Foster and Dr. Selvig of course, and while they had done much, they weren't warriors, so it fell to us. There was also the fact that Dr. Foster was gone, off to Asgard to get to know her home, the realm she'd one day rule beside her prince. Dr. Selvig too was gone, working with SHIELD in some top-secret project or other.

We weren't expecting it when we got a call from Iron-Man of all people. Two gifted had just tried to kill him. They obviously hadn't been expecting some of his security measures, or the fact that the Starks weren't defenseless. I wasn't quite sure why Tony wasn't calling Charles directly, the two men knew each other after all, it was made clear when we arrived.

"I didn't want to say this on an open line, just in case." Tony told us once we arrived. "These two aren't just any gifted, they're mutants, late bloomers if I were to hazard a guess. They're also not exactly locals."

"How not-local are we talking about?" My husband wanted to clarify.

"Sokovia. Novi Grad, Sokovia" Tony told us honestly, before calling on some images in the nearest screens to show us pictures and files. "Meet Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, twin children of Django and Marya Maximoff."

"Magnus… Magda… Anya…" I couldn't help but murmur under my breath.

"Huh?" Tony looked at me oddly.

"Magnus Eisenhardt was… I suppose it technically is, one of Erik Lehnsherr's aliases." I did my best to explain. "In the late forties and early fifties he was married to a woman, a Romani, called Magda Maximoff. They had a daughter called Anya…"

"So you think they belong to his line?" Even as he asked the question I could see he was already ordering JARVIS to run tests.

Erik's DNA was already on record, so it could probably be done. I didn't tell him Anya Maximoff Eisenhardt had died in a fire when she was five. I also didn't tell him about the other two children that had existed, that had borne the surname Maximoff, that had belonged to the same bloodline, and Erik had never known they so much as existed. Odds were the twins were grandchildren or something like that, from one of them. I knew Erik had enough of a hard time being a father to Lorna, all the time he couldn't be there for her, when he hadn't so much as known she existed… no need to make it worse. Also, it wasn't like someone had trusted me with the information I had, I'd obtained simply because my daughter was meant to be a Seer… it wasn't right for me to use it. Those weren't my choices to make.

"That's not everything." My Maverick said, in a tone that showed it wasn't a question.

"Yeah so… apparently the Maximoff twins have been orphans since they were ten, when an SI bomb dropped into their apartment, killing their parents instantly, they were trapped for two days in the ruins of their home, with a second shell." Tony revealed as emotionlessly as he could.

"A bomb that did not go off?" What were the odds? I couldn't believe it.

"Actually, two bombs that didn't go off." Tony clarified. "If the first had, it'd have pretty much vaporized the whole place, themselves included." He shook his head while pinching the bridge of his nose. "I don't make faulty weapons. I may not be proud of them anymore, or of all the people I've indirectly killed by creating them and not noticing the kind of deals Stane was doing all those years behind my back… but I know the kind of work SI does, that I do. If those bombs did not go off, well, it's one of two options: either they weren't armed, which means they were being transported and someone shot off the plane carrying them or something; they were stolen at some point and whoever shot them had no idea how to arm them properly; or they are two products that did not pass the quality testing and somehow still got sold… probably as part of one of Stane's black-market deals. I still haven't been able to track down all of those." I could sense the mix of guilt and self-loathing coming from him, it tasted bitter and awful. "It's relatively easy to track down weapons in storage, some I can even destroy from a distance. But those that have already been used… it's next to impossible. I'm aware I will never know just how much damage my weapons have caused, how much death..."

"It's not on you." I couldn't hold back anymore, the dark feelings in him… they were too much. "Yes, you made mistakes. But you did not intend for things to go this way."

"Didn't you know?" He snarked at me. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

"So?" My husband could tell what I was trying to do, and he chose an entirely different course of action to achieve it. "You created something to protect your people, it was used to destroy others, innocents. There's nothing you can do about that now, it's in the past, already done. I know all you've done to ensure it doesn't happen again. That's good, that counts. But if you remain forever fixated in all the things you've done wrong, that anyone has done wrong, all the things you cannot change… that's pointless. Mourning the dead forever will not bring them back, and it doesn't help the living any either."

I was hit by an image then, a powerful one, of our old garden in Asgard ravaged, covered in frost, and my love screaming himself hoarse. It was just a flash, there and gone in the fraction of a second and yet I couldn't help the clenching of my heart. My love had suffered so much at my loss. Yet as much as it pained, to have been, in some way or another, the reason for that pain; he was right that fixating on it did nothing. I was back, we were together, we had our daughter, and even Helena was around, even if she couldn't exactly drop by for a visit. What else could we ever ask for, really?

Helena was actually around more than she'd been in the past. I didn't know all the details just yet, only that it involved the newest incarnation of her match. Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon turned sorcerer. His was a complicated story, I'd read everything I could online, and I knew there was a lot I did not know. I just hoped he and Helena would be able to settle down soon and pay us a visit. I wanted so much to see what my dear daughter looked like when her other half was by her side… I'd never had that opportunity, but I knew it must be wonderful.

We took the Maximoff twins with us that day. Taking off for the townhouse rather than the apartment in Manhattan where we usually lived. It was a rather intense first week as we tried, and failed, to reason with the twins. They both kept doing everything they could think of to get out, not realizing that their abilities, amazing as they might be, would never compare to our magic (Loki was known as one of the two best sorcerers in Asgard, after all, the other being his mom). We warded the basement and kept them there. My husband would send them food and drink magically, and as the basement was pretty much a self-contained apartment, they had their own full-bathroom and more than enough space so as not to feel trapped.

It took me all of one week to grow tired of them, of the fact that despite all the times and ways my match kept trying, the two refused to give him a chance, to even talk to him without trying to attack. He only ever projected there, an illusion, which meant it was never really dangerous to him; it also meant that the slightest attack would dispel the illusion. I decided enough was enough and a different approach was necessary. So after making sure my husband was distracted (he'd have never allowed what I was planning), I took a deep breath and teleported straight into the basement's sitting room.

I wasn't a fool, I knew what I could expect, dropping in on them like that. I was ready. The moment I felt ground beneath my feet again I dropped to my knees, folding onto myself except for my hands, which I kept over me, to hold the shield that kept Wanda's magic from touching me. I waited almost thirty seconds, when the attacks stopped, then a few more seconds to be sure there was no more coming. Then I waved the shield away and rose.

Shock was coming off of the twins in waves, they hadn't been expecting for me to be real. After the week they'd grown used to my love's illusions and didn't quite know how to react to me. Also, I couldn't help but notice that both of them, but especially Pietro, stared at me as if he were trying to find the secrets to the universe in some part of me.

"Why are we connected to you?" Wanda's question threw me completely for a loop.

"What…?!" I had no idea how to respond to that.

"It's more Pietro than I but I can see the strands, we're connected to you in some way I cannot understand." She insisted, accent heavy in every word.

I was trying to think of something to say to that, though I couldn't even begin to imagine a possible reply, when my husband suddenly appeared beside me.

"By the stars, what were you thinking?!" He demanded, holding my face tenderly between his hands and looking me all over, making sure I was unharmed.

I felt and saw our bond resonate… and I wasn't the only one.

"What is so special about you?!" Wanda demanded shrilly.

"Huh…?" My Maverick seemed as confused by the whole thing as I was.

The next thing took the cake, as the interfon rang briefly, followed by a voice:

"Mama! Papa!" It was Rose.

Again, our bond resonated… though not just ours. I suddenly could see bonds coming from the twins: one the gold-tinted white of a family bond; the other the multi-color almost silver light of a match. The realization was enough to leave me breathless. My husband, being connected to me, could follow my line of thought easily enough. I could sense his recoil the moment realization hit: Rose was a child, not quite six years old yet, and already someone would claim some kind of right to her?!

"Please…" The change in Wanda's tone surprised me completely. "Please don't keep her from us, from my brother. I swear to you we mean no harm. He… we don't want to take her from you, we'd never do that. We just want to be part of her life, to have her be a part of ours…" She took a moment before adding. "Pietro and I… we've seen her in our dreams for years. I think since before she was even born. I think it was only supposed to be him, but we're twins and…" She shrugged almost helplessly. "When we suddenly found ourselves with these powers… she's probably the only reason we didn't go crazy."

A part of me ached for her, for both of them. All they'd suffered, and to think that the only comfort they had was a dream version of Rosie… but I couldn't forget everything else…

"What about Stark?" My husband asked, arching a brow.

"Stark already took our family once, our parents." Wanda stated, like a lioness defending her pack. "We will not let him hurt anyone else that we care about."

Loki was about to reply to that, but I stopped him before he could. He was angry, and anger wouldn't help in that moment.

"I am grateful that you wish to defend our daughter so." I told Wanda kindly. "But you must be careful, least you end up making enemies where there once could have been allies." I paused, giving her a moment or two to process my words before adding, in the softest tone I could: "Tony Stark is not your enemy Wanda, he never has been, and never will be. He created weapons, yes, but he's not the one to fire them. Others did that, others hurt you, and they used Stark weapons to do so, weapons they acquired through illegal means, with the help of one who betrayed Tony Stark. If anything, he understands your plight; he will be willing to help you, if you give him the chance. But not if you label him an enemy, if you try to kill him, before even giving him the chance to explain his side of the story."

"Dai (Mother), Dadro (Father)… they died." Wanda began rambling, almost ranting. "They're dead, that's not an accident. Someone was responsible for that!"

"Indeed..." I agreed, not letting her emotions affect me. "But that someone was not Tony Stark." I cupped one of her cheeks in one palm. "You're such a bright soul Wanda… do not let a desire for revenge, for destruction, taint you so, especially by aiming it at the wrong man. That is not the way things should be..."

Wanda did not reply, but the way she inclined her head into my touch told me that she was at least willing to listen to me. I hoped that would be enough.

xXx

Having someone trying to kill us wasn't much of a surprise, all things considered. Our jobs being what they were, it'd always been a possibility, due to the people who might not like what we did (a guarantee, actually, more than a possibility, on both fronts; after all, we worked for the benefit of mutants, and not everyone liked that). Having the Winter Soldier of all assassins in the world coming after us… that was something else.

It's not like there was ever any chance that he'd kill us. Not really. The nightingale pendant made of mithril and with more protective spells than any other single piece of jewelry in existence (except pieces owned by our daughters) protected me; and then there was Loki's magic, which was also available to me. And the twins…

It hadn't been easy, to convince the Maximoffs to give Tony Stark a chance. Still, from the very beginning they were very 'connected' to us. It was mainly to Rose, but the bonds branched from there. They'd been living with us since, and while both my love and I still had some trouble accepting the fact that Rose would one day marry Pietro, we at least knew we could trust him to do right by her (and she certainly wouldn't be marrying at fourteen!).

Helena and Stephen were in touch too, they were living in New York, in a building he called the Sanctum Sanctorum of our area. We saw them every so often, and visited too, when we had the chance. Rose loved Stephen's apprentice: Sachiko, like a big sister. She also seemed to have a soft spot for a man called Karl Mordo. He was a sorcerer too, though he'd mostly walked away from the Order. Apparently Helena and Stephen had managed to convince him to visit every so often, even if he refused to remain permanently. I'd no idea what the reasons for the tension might be, but trusted Helena and her match could handle it.

I was right, seeing my eldest daughter, my light, with her match, was something precious. I could only hope that happiness I saw and sensed from her, from both of them, would last for a very long time, hopefully for the rest of our lives…

We knew about Hydra. Darcy had dropped by, completely unexpectedly earlier in the year (it was 2018). As we found out there had been a mission to South Italy, things had gone horribly wrong and Skye (their hacker, the youngest member of their team) had come very close at being shot at close range; if her boyfriend, the specialist Grant Ward (who was also training her as an Agent) hadn't arrived right in time to kill the person about to shoot her… things would have gone way worse. Then, as if that hadn't been enough of a shock, the moment they were back on the Bus, Ward had walked himself to the 'cell', handcuffed himself, before announcing he was Hydra. He was on a mission to spy on the team and he turned traitor… out of love for Skye. Because he knew who'd ordered her shot, and he wouldn't follow that man anymore. His own SO…

Darcy'd had no idea what to do, who to trust, so she came to us for help. We'd been present for his interrogation, offering suggestions, but mainly acting as sort-of 'human lie detectors'. Ward never even tried lying, he was completely honest about both turning on Hydra and the reasons for it. He loved Skye, and even though he knew he'd probably lose her over his past, he'd made his choice. In the end the team believed him, and Skye chose to give him a second chance. They'd done their best to keep on the move, make it so Ward wouldn't have to meet with his former SO, so they wouldn't risk him finding out the truth. None of us had any idea what to do about Hydra. Even Ward didn't know more than a few people who were Hydra for sure, and unless we could get a good number of them (preferably all) in one go, doing anything would just alert them.

And then the Winter Soldier was sent after us…

While Loki and I weren't in danger of actually being killed by him, we were strong enough to protect ourselves; and in a worst case scenario, we knew the twins would protect themselves and Rose (Helena and Stephen were keeping their distance for the time being, something made easier by the fact that there was nothing tying them to us in reality). Still that wasn't good enough, not in the long run.

"We've let this go on too long." My Maverick stated as we gathered to make a plan. "We can run around the world over and over, but that won't change his orders."

"If this go on too long, things may, and probably will, escalate." Darcy pointed out. "Same thing if you take him out."

"Hydra needs to go down, and it needs to happen now." Phil decided.

"Get in contact with IronSmith." I told Darcy. "The two of you might be able to hack SHIELD, and Hydra, enough to tell us who exactly we need to take out."

It was unlikely that I'd be a direct part of that, but I wouldn't shy away from it either.

"Ah… I might be able to help too?" Skye offered shyly. "I'm known as BlueCloud..."

Darcy smiled wide at that revelation, and I knew why. She and IronSmith were the best, and third best hackers in the world, BlueCloud was the second.

The three of them got to work on finding the Hydra Agents, while the rest of us did our best to find allies who might help us take out said Hydra Agents; or if not that, at least try and keep those who might find themselves in the middle, safe.

Of course, whoever sent the Winter Soldier after us had to choose that exact moment to run out of patience. The Soldier was sent into the Triskellion in DC, where he killed all but one of the members of the WSC: Alexander Pierce, and almost killed Nick Fury, the Black Widow and Captain America. As if that weren't bad enough, someone somewhere managed to spin things around so my husband and I were hailed as accomplices to him, with Darcy herself cited as a 'person of interest'.

Erynion, Thenidiel and Sif (Thor couldn't visit himself, as he and Jane were being trained by King Odin and Queen Frigg in preparation to take the throne the next time the Allfather went into the Odinsleep) arrived with just enough time for us to explain the situation to them and direct them towards the hackers working, and then my match and I were off. Helena, Stephen, Karl, Sachiko, Wanda, Phil, his team, a few more sorcerers and the rest of the Avengers had committed themselves to either taking out Hydra agents, or helping keep the loyal SHIELD ones safe. (Pietro was staying with Rose at the safe-house, just in case).

It was like the most demented game of tag ever. The kind no child would ever play, since that tagging happened with guns and other assorted weapons, rather than with a hand, and no laughter ever followed.

It all came to a rather abrupt end in Washington DC of all places. I used myself as bait, something Loki didn't like at all, though he understood why it was necessary. It worked. Since by that point it'd become quite obvious that long distance attacks did not work on us, the Winter Soldier came after me on foot. My Maverick intervened in the last moment, and the two engaged in a vicious hand to hand fight. Such wasn't my love's specialty, but even with his obvious status as a super-soldier, Loki had some advantages of his own.

When the Winter Soldier tried to strangle him the balance shifted in an unexpected manner. The burns caused by the extreme cold didn't appear to slow him down much, and they healed fast; but my beloved purposefully held himself back, just enough for the Soldier to forget about it, to use his metal arm to try and choke him, and the Loki released all the power in his Jotun skin again. Even Aesir armor turned brittle and crumbled under such cold, the Soldier's arm did not stand a chance. And that was when the fight took a turn.

In a matter of seconds the Winter Soldier was down, Loki on top of him, an ice blade pressed against the super soldier's bared throat.

"Daro (Stop)!" I called, not even noticing when I slipped into Sindarin (common elvish).

"Nightingale...?" He turned my name into a question.

"I just… there's something wrong with him." I admitted, approaching slowly.

"Of course there's something wrong, he's trying to kill us!" My love snapped, mentally apologizing for his harsh tone just a second later.

"I don't mean that." I told him, waving his wordless apology away as unneeded. "His emotions… they're… muted, or restrained. It's like…"

"Like he's being controlled." He finished for me.

With quick moves he pressed a point in the Soldier's neck, rendering him unconscious, before vanishing the ice blade and pulling back. Almost as an after-thought, he spelled the half-mask off the assassin's face (his glasses had been lost at some point during the fight).

"Oh my..." I breathed out, being the first to process what we were seeing. "This is worse than we thought… much, much worse."

Indeed, for the man we were looking at, was none other than James Buchanan Barnes, better known as Bucky, Captain America's best friend…

xXx

We took Barnes's case, of course we did, that was never in doubt. Not only because we had the experience with such cases, both in taking them, and wining them; but also we were two of a very small number who had no problem telling no, to Steve Rogers. The man was absolutely fixated with Barnes, and not in a good way either, we understood it, at least to a point, but it just wasn't healthy, not for either of them.

"That's enough!" I called, loudly, when I ran out of patience. "Mr. Rogers, I understand how you must be feeling right now..."

"You have no idea..." He interrupted me, desperate. "You have no idea what it's like, to close your eyes believing you're about to die, and then open them to discover you're still alive, but you might as well be dead for everything you've lost. The woman I once wished to marry, my best friend, the men I saw as family, as brothers… they're all gone. Peggy… when I first woke I thought I'd still have her, even with the sickness. They told me she suffered from Alzheimer, that she was always forgetting things… it took me three visits to realize there was something else going on. The things she claimed to remember… they were missing details, and there were other things from that time she should know, yet didn't. It was her granddaughter, Harriet, who told me the truth. The fact that Peggy, my Peggy, died a long time ago, and another took her place. A friend of hers, it was even Peggy's idea, she claimed that the world needed her, someone in her place, paving the way for others. So Marge took her place, only she, Jacob Sholto, whom she married eventually, and Dum Dum, knew the truth at the beginning, and then the secret was carried by their children: Stephanie Sholto, and then Harriet Watson… She cried, you know? Harriet, I mean. When she told me the truth. Said she never wanted to lie to me, but both her mother and grandmother were so insistent about keeping up the lie… Marge doesn't even have Alzheimer, but age is getting to her, and making people believe she has Alzheimer makes it easier for others to trust less what she says, lessens the chance of someone listening too closely, finding out the truth. It was her choice to be committed."

"She's a faithful woman, loyal to your cause, and to your Peggy..." I told him softly.

I waited several seconds for him to mostly calm down before speaking again:

"I cannot imagine what it's like to think you'll die and find yourself alive, no, but it's not that different from the things I do remember." I told him quietly. "Tell me Mr. Rogers… do you believe in reincarnation?"

I could see the question threw him for a loop. He didn't say yes, but he didn't say no either, and I decided to count that as a win.

"I remember a life, centuries ago, when I was born Lalaith Mirloth." I explained to him serenely. "I was born an elf, in a world called Alfheim, one of the Nine Realms, like Asgard, like Midgard, Earth…" I could see disbelief in his eyes, but he didn't interrupt me, or walk away, so I went on. "When I was five years old there was a great tragedy, our Queen died, as well as the Sisterhood of Princesses and the Legion of Lord Protectors. Everyone, slaughtered in the middle of the night by our enemies, ice-warriors from Jotunheim. Our people did not know what to do, we depended on our Queen and Princesses to guide us. You see, among the Ljósálfar, the Light Elves, royalty isn't born, it is chosen; mainly because there are no royal bloodlines, queens and princesses do not marry, much less have children, their lives completely devoted to their duties. My sister, Merilwen, was one of our princesses. I… I don't know what pushed me to do so, but I offered myself to take her place. I hadn't been trained for the position, nor had I been chosen to be one of the Sisterhood, not like Merilwen was, but there was no one left, and after the Bloody Night, no one was in any hurry to offer themselves. So I was accepted. I became Princess of Alfheim."

I made a pause then, taking a deep breath. I could still remember that time, those dark, uncertain days. I'd been so afraid… yet I somehow knew that was the path I needed to take, and even if I never became queen, there was no doubt in me I'd done the right thing; how else would I have ever met my match?

"Nineteen years later, preparations began for me to become Queen." I went on. "It was something that couldn't have happened before, as elves only become off-age at twenty-five. The steps for the coronation took place throughout the year, a number of tests and ceremonies. I was ready for them all… or so I thought. And then I met Loki."

Roger's eyes flew to my love instantly, he just smiled at the blonde super-soldier and wiggled his fingers in a mischievous manner. I'd no way of knowing if the captain believed that my love was a reincarnation too, or if he suspected something else already; no idea either if he'd connected my match with Thor yet… but the time for that would come.

I didn't even know what had pushed me into telling my story to Steve Rogers of all people. It's not like we were friends or anything, but somehow it seemed right. Necessary even.

"In Alfheim, a Queen is married to her realm, sees all of the Ljósálfar as her children; she cannot have a match, for she could never split her attention equally, and that would be unfair to her, her beloved, and the rest of the world." I tried my best to explain the next part. "As for what a match is exactly. It's a mirror, a romantic soulmate. The elves believe that such bonds are a gift from the stars, a blessing. A Queen had never been known to have a match… and then, like I said, I met Loki… I met my match."

"But you were never meant to be a princess." Rogers commented right then.

"Exactly." I smiled at him a bit. "I think we actually forgot that for a while. I'd been a princess for almost twenty years, and we'd been so sure I'd one day be Queen. I think at some point we forgot it wasn't supposed to be like that, that I wasn't the one chosen to bear the crown… I tried to hold back, I really did, tried to remain loyal to Alfheim, to its people… but in the end my love for Loki was too much. I couldn't do it. So on the day of the last test, six weeks before the coronation, I abdicated. The Elders didn't like it, but they couldn't fight it either, they couldn't go against their own teachings. And so they let me go."

"And Loki?" My love asked, turning towards my husband.

"I grew up as Loki Odinson." My husband took over the story. "Brother of Thor, yes, that Thor. Second prince of Asgard."

"Why didn't Thor say something…?" Rogers began asking, confused.

"We'll get to that point, captain." My match assured him. "Now, where was I? Oh yes. I met Princess Lalaith on the day of the first ceremony before her coronation. It still took me a while to fully understand why I felt such a pull to her. Then it took even longer for her to accept me." She ran a finger, softly, up my cheek. "I understood it, of course, she was faithful to her Realm, to her people, I admired that about her. Eventually we just couldn't fight it anymore."

"How did your family take it?" Rogers wanted to know.

"There were some complications on that end." My beloved admitted. "I'm adopted, and I did not know that, back then. My father had had plans for me, for my future, and they were no longer possible with a match in the picture. It was a very tense period in my life, in all our lives, but we fixed things eventually. I married my love and she took the name Tinúviel, the name I used to call her, in honor of her beautiful voice." He smiled at me tenderly. "In a relatively short time we became known across the realms for her voice, my magic and our diplomacy. We made some trips to this world back then too, met some very interesting people, some became dear friends..."

I knew why he broke off, I could remember Sharifa and Kontar too, the pain of their loss had been great on both of us. We'd stopped our trips completely for quite a while, and didn't fully recover until years later, the next big event in our lives.

"We had our daughter." I took over. "The light of our lives… Helena..." My expression turned impish as I added. "I think mythology calls her Hel, or Hela, most of the time."

Rogers opened and closed his mouth, like a fish out of the water. It was hilarious. My love let out a loud guffaw, probably guessing what must be going through the super soldier's mind:

"Yes, she was our only daughter." He stated. "No, I never gave birth to a horse, never had a wolf or a giant serpent as children either. Though all three of them exist. Sleipnir is the Allfather's steed and I helped the mare who birthed him, there was a bit of a magical accident as I did my best to save the foal, which is how he ended with eight legs. Fenrir is… the last of his kind, a being from a distant planet that no longer exists. Though we've found some a bit like him, here on Earth, they call themselves skinwalkers… I hope he'll get the chance to meet them one day. The only real different is the wolf form he takes, it's much bigger than any wolf of this world, like the extinct dire wolves, perhaps. He needs no moon to change, it happens at will, though there's a wildness about him. The first time he wanted to court someone it didn't go well, it's how he ended chained in the deepest part of the Asgardian Forest. Things are better now, he's still pretty much trapped, but he's not alone, he has us, and his match, a Valkyrie called Ylva. I've known him since he was very small, did my best to help him, though it wasn't always enough. I suppose, in some ways he's as good as my son, and Tinúviel's too." He shook his head. "As for Jor… he was my pet once. There was magic involved there as well. You see, he was so small at first, I worried about him being able to survive with other predators in the area, so I used magic to help him. I did not expect for him to grow so fast, or so much. In the end it would have been dangerous for him to stay in the Asgardian sea, both for him, and for the fish; so Mother helped me get him to a bigger ocean, your world has the biggest and deepest ones." Another pause was made, a moment of consideration. "Vali and Narvi have never existed, and most likely never will. I cannot begin to imagine who could ever think such cruel a destiny for two children, my own or anyone else's. As for Sigyn, she's an Aesir lady, and one of Mother's handmaidens, she's a good friend of mine, but that's all she's ever been, all she'll ever be."

Rogers nodded, showing he understood.

"At some point, Amora came into the picture." I went on. "Amora Enchantress, she's known as, and that's exactly what she was. Talented in some areas of magic, though of course not as much as Loki, or the Queen." My love scoffed at the comparison. "She had one obsession, though: Thor. She wanted him, wanted to be his wife, and one day Queen."

"But Thor and Dr. Foster..." Steve began, obviously confused.

"Jane Foster is Thor's match." I clarified. "This was, of course, many centuries ago. But still, Amora cared little for something like that. She wasn't in it for the love, but for the power, economical and political. I became aware of several of her plots and thwarted her. So she turned her anger onto me, believing that if I hadn't been there, she'd have succeeded."

"All things being fair, she probably would have, at least until Mother or I noticed what was going on, then she'd have lost her head for trying to trick the crown prince of Asgard into a marriage." My husband offered in his most deadpan tone.

"That did not stop her anger at me." I went on. "She tried to kill me, several times. The last time… the last time she did more than try." I took a deep breath, forcing myself to go on. "I was pregnant then, with our second child. Amora's plan was very complex, she managed to get Loki, Thor and most of the warriors out of the palace, leaving me vulnerable. Then she came after me. Helena, a young adult at the time, and even that just barely, tried to stop her, but she just couldn't. Amora threw magic at me, a sphere of pure magic, it tore me from the inside out. Helena tried to help me, almost paid with her life. I died, and our unborn baby died with me."

Rogers didn't say a thing, but the look he directed at my love made his question rather obvious.

"I killed Amora." He said with no regret. "With Mother's help we managed to save Helena. Though to this day she still carries the scars of what happened, of what Amora did." He let out a breath. "Nowadays she says they're a badge of honor, a proof of what she was willing to do for her Nana, of how much she loved her… It didn't change the fact that my consort, my match, the love of my existence was dead, and there was nothing I could do about it..."

"It's the other side of the coin, where matches are concerned." I explained quietly. "A true match is bound at soul-level, the death of one half… your soul keeps reaching for something that just isn't there anymore, and that is a pain few can imagine, much less comprehend. If they're lucky, they will die together; either killed by the same thing, whether that be age, sickness or an enemy. If they aren't… then they will go mad, self-destructive, seeking a way to join the one they've lost. Not suicide, killing one's self leaves a stain on the soul that nothing can take away, it damages one's core and… and it may hurt the match as well, which means that it's not something a half of one would ever consider." Unless they were far beyond reason by that point, but there was no point on focusing on that. "No, instead they will seek death in another way."

"You did not die with her." Rogers wasn't asking, he'd managed to read between the lines just enough as he stared straight at my love.

"I did not die with her." My match confirmed. "Couldn't even wish to, driven as I was to avenge her, and then to saving Helena, our dear child… And then it was too late to just let go. I tried provoking others, did all kinds of pranks, getting progressively worse, but Thor and Sif were always around to diffuse the situation. And then I snapped, I destroyed our garden in a rage, also then revealing my true skin, my blue skin, before them, as well as Erynion. I told you I was adopted, truth is I was born the son of Laufey, the barbarian King of Jotunheim, I belong to the very race that slaughtered Alfheim's court, including my match's own sister. I believed that revealing myself in such a way would be enough for Erynion to kill me… he was after all a Lord Protector, the head of Alfheim's guard; and not only that, but he was also the only survivor of the Bloody Night. Why wouldn't he want to kill the monster and avenge his people?"

"Erynion loved me, he would never hurt those I love." I offered before the captain had to ask any questions. "He may be a Lord Protector, but we're also the closest each of us has to a sibling."

I held back from saying the rest, the only circumstance upon which my elven brother would have killed my match: if he'd asked. It was truly as simple as that, Erynion was one of the few who'd seen how much the two of us loved each other, and he understood our bond in ways few could (thanks to Alfheim's tradition, mostly); if Loki had asked for death, Erynion would have done it. Thankfully it hadn't come to that.

"What then?" Rogers wanted to know.

"Father decided I was too far gone." Loki shrugged a bit, probably trying to make it seem like less than it actually was. "He… he didn't want to lose me, I suppose. He thought if I could no longer remember what I'd lost, that would also take away the pain… he was wrong. The hole was still there, only I no longer understood why it even existed, that I was missing anything at all." He shook his head. "Some of my behavior continued, but people no longer understood why I did the things I did, why I acted so erratically. Even Sif and Thor supported me no more, they didn't even know why I'd need their support at all! Erynion remembered, and the rest of the Ljósálfar, but they drew away, they saw Father's actions as an offense against their princess."

"So you had no one." Rogers let out a breath, then turned to look at me. "But you're here now… and you said something about reincarnation?"

"I am here now." I confirmed. "It took us centuries, almost nine of those, to be precise. I was born Silbhé Arianna Kinross Salani. Mama died around the time I turned three and my father… even before he went to live in Europe he was hardly ever around, always working… he died in an accident in the Mediterranean a few years ago. I was raised almost since the death of my mother by Aunt Kathryn, she's the closest thing I remember to a mom. She used to work for SHIELD. You can look her up one of these days, if you want, her name was Kathryn Adler then."

"Was…?" He was trying to be kind while asking if she was dead too.

"She changed her name when going to work for the government." I clarified. "Her legal name is Kathryn Salani, she lives in NY, works at the Metro-General nowadays." I let out a breath. "So, back to the story, and getting to the important bit. I met Loki when I was eleven years old. He's always liked visiting our world, the fast pace and chaos humans live in apparently fascinate him." I rolled my eyes mischievously. "He didn't expect me to be there, or for me to be curious rather than scared. He tried a glamour that would make him look like a child but it didn't work, his eyes looked much too old. We became friends of sorts, he gave me my black-jade Chinese flute, it's my favorite instrument. I used to play for him at every opportunity. Then, when I was fourteen, the cancer came back." I realized then I'd skipped that part. "I was diagnosed with leukemia at four, spent a few years very sick, both because of the cancer and the chemo to treat it; entered remission when I was nine. Then, at fourteen, the leukemia came back… the prognosis wasn't good. I was given no more than three months to live. Even the harshest treatments didn't promise me more than a year. I rejected them anyway, the last thing I wanted was to spend the last weeks of my life in a hospital bed, feeling too sick to even enjoy being alive at all. And then came Loki… he refused to let me die."

"You found a cure for cancer..." The captain gasped in disbelief.

"No." I hurried to correct him, having already been expecting that, it was only a natural mistake to make, after all. I willed the deamarkonian to be visible. "He created this. The deamarkonian, they're a set, and unique. Basically what they do is bind our life-forces, the energy that keeps us alive. With those bound, his energy can help mine fight off the effects of the leukemia. For all intents and purposes I still have cancer, I'm just not as badly affected by it. We've also discovered that the constant stream of his energy is changing me. I'm no longer purely human anymore, then again, perhaps I never was. Our best guess is that I'll eventually become a mix of human, Aesir, Ljósálfar and Jotun." I shrugged, not caring too much for that detail. "That's not the most important part though. No, what's most important is that when the bracelets were activated… something happened. We don't know exactly what. We know I was seconds from death, and there was something in our energies combining when I was already on the very edge, at the end of my tether… it made all spells collapse…"

"The memory spell..." Rogers breathed out in realization.

"The memory spell." I confirmed, smiling at the way he was paying attention. "It technically was only him, of course, but we're bound, and his memories being restored somehow allowed for me to gain mine. And suddenly I was a fourteen-year-old girl with memories of more than a hundred years of living, most of them married to my one true love… there was also some trouble with Loki's ability with ice, which is how we came in contact with the X-Men. We spent a year at the Institute before going off to college."

"Is that why you didn't go back to Asgard?" The blonde asked my husband.

"I wanted to stay with my Nightingale, of course, but that wasn't the only reason, no." Loki answered, but wouldn't explain further.

"And this is where we go back to the beginnings of our conversation, Captain Rogers." I told him kindly. "You claimed we couldn't understand you… but now see things from our point of view. We remember another life… well, for Loki it's the same, but the point remains. We remember a time that no one else in Asgard does. Well, Thor and Sif do now, but that was some kind of freaky accident and we have no idea how to go about replicating it. We are together and we know we belong together. But right now the Allfather would give us a hard time, simply because I was born human. Also, they don't remember having talked to Loki about his heritage, about the plans that were never accomplished. All that is gone, as if it never happened. Asgard hates my match for all the things he did while he mourned me, and they aren't even aware he was mourning anyone, and there's no way to convince them of the truth. Not with the spell in place." I let out a breath. "That's why we haven't gone back to Asgard, none of us. Why even Thor and Sif haven't insisted on it. Going to the Realm Eternal, facing people we consider friends, family… and having them not know me, not understand why we are the way we are..."

I didn't dare finish, but there was no need for me to do so, Rogers understood. Finally, after all the arguments and the tensions, we were on the same page.

xXx

In the aftermath of the mes that was Hydra-in-SHIELD (which, thankfully, very few people outside of the organization itself, and those of us who'd gotten involved, knew about) some changes needed to be made. The WSC was gone (because, of course, the only survivor of that particular mess had to be the biggest head of the freaking snake!), and the UN took that as an opportunity to step in, putting their own chosen into a new Council that would oversee SHIELD. It was allowed with a few conditions, mainly the use of advisers depending the circumstances: Phil Coulson, Maria Hill and Melinda May (the three who'd once been an Elite team, the second such generation; with the first one having been: Nick Fury, Shannon Carter and Kathryn Adler) were called on regarding SHIELD issues; while each group of gifted had chosen their own representative.

Then there was us, because of course we had to end up involved in some capacity, we were too well-known not to. We never stopped doing our job, but the UN helped give more backing to our actions and choices, and it allowed us to reach people we never could have before. It also allowed the UN to gain the trust of the gifted, who'd have never trusted a government body formed almost entirely by baseline humans (there were gifted among their number, of course, but none too well-known or obvious about their differences).

It was sometime in 2020 when Rose first dreamt of brass-colored creatures wearing primitive armor, with circlets around their heads, carrying energy lances and guns. She was eight years old. It didn't seem that important at first. Rose had many dreams, and not all were prophetic. Also, dreaming about aliens (however ugly they might be) did not seem as especially important. And then other precogs began having the same dreams…

It still took us close to a year to understand what they all meant: the aliens were coming, an invasion was coming.

Getting that information out was insane: there were those who did not believe in the word of the precogs (nevermind that Destiny of the mutants, Angel of the inhumans, Doctor Fate of the JSA, Angela Petrelli of the evos, Phoebe Halliwell and several other witches and warlocks among the magical community, and other lesser known groups had all said the same); there were those who did believe, yet were against most of the world finding out the truth, stating it'd bring panic.

Skye ended taking the matters into her own hands: hacking what records she could find about the visions in SHIELD and secretly sending them to all her contacts in the Rising Tide (making sure no one would know the information came from SHIELD… or from her). In a week the whole word was whispering about the alien invasion. Not everyone believed, but at least the warning was out. Only those who really knew Skye suspected her of being behind the revelation, and no one said a word about it.

Even up to that point we still had no idea why the chitauri were traveling towards us, what their interest might be on Earth… and then Rose saw him, the leader of the Chitauri, a being most of us had believed to be nothing more than myth (either that or long dead), the Mad Titan, he-who-courts-death (he-who's-freaking-insane, according to Pietro): Thanos.

"Earth will never be able to stop him." I said what both my match and I knew already.

"We'll need help from Asgard." Darcy guessed.

She didn't expect it to be too hard, Asgard's crown princess was a human, after all. For all Jane had earned her citizenship in Asgard and had gained the same life-span, she was still of human origin, something she made sure everyone knew.

"We'll need help from a lot more than Asgard… a lot more." My husband corrected, looking me straight in the eyes.

I knew what that look meant, it appeared we'd be facing our destinies a lot sooner than expected.

xXx

We took time to make our plans, discussed how we'd handle things, in the end we decided not to go in anything that might connect us to Alfheim, or to Asgard, instead we chose some of the human clothes we favored, to show not what we'd been, but who we were, our present and our future. Even if one day we might move into another realm, Midgard/Earth was important. I chose a long-sleeved black sheer blouse with a thin-strapped top of the same color underneath, dark skinny jeans, black ballerinas on my feet and a black leather jacket on top, auburn hair down. My husband for his part chose a forest-green button up, dark-washed jeans, heavy boots and a black-leather jacket on top, black hair styled back.

Rose and the twins stayed with Aunt Kathryn, promising to raise havoc if we did not return in a week, or less. Helena and Stephen actually promised to go and get us if the worst should happen (though none of us thought it'd get to that point, Thor and Jane were in Asgard, and they were on our side). We did promise to hurry, though.

The visit to Alfheim was easy. Some of the Elders did not like us, but I cared little about that. The Queen shut them down when they became too annoying; according to Erynion, she hadn't been like that, my choice to fight back for my match had apparently inspired her to stand her ground for things she believed in (he'd also said something about me managing to corrupt the Queen without even being in the Realm… my love just laughed at that).

Queen Faelwen listened to everything she had to say and immediately offered her support for the upcoming war, promising to send Erynion and Thenidiel with a legion of warriors and at least a squad of their best spell-weavers when the time came.

We also dropped by Jewel Forest and my old home briefly to check in on my secret caché, and the Aether. It was still there, heavily shielded and there was no sign that anyone so much as suspected the caché existed, much less what was hidden inside. It was something very important, we needed to keep the Stones safe and as far away from Thanos as possible. Stephen had the Time Stone and neither of us would ever think of asking him to surrender it (and we knew that with the Eye of Agamotto answering to him… there was a very high probability we'd need such power during the coming war). The Mind Stone we believed might be in Thanos's hands already, which wasn't good, but no reason to despair just yet either. Power, Rose had seen was in the hands of another group, individuals we'd be coming it contact with eventually. And Soul… the Soul Stone had been lost since the last Universal War, before the last Celestials perished, and while I suspected that at least one of our daughters knew what had become of it, I'd decided not to ask; if they hadn't shared that information, there must be a reason.

The biggest surprise was, perhaps, when a visiting ambassador from Nidavellir asked to see me, only to then inform me that the dwarves were offering their assistance as well. I'd no idea who'd told them about what was coming (for all I knew there were precogs among their people as well), but knowing that a race known across the Realms for being so isolationist (really, Wakanda had nothing on the dwarves of Nidavellir) was willing to go to another realm, to go to war, for me, for things I'd done as Tinúviel… it was a most humbling moment for me.

After three whole days in Alfheim, the time had finally come for us to go on to Asgard. We used the Shadow Paths and soon stepped out into an alleyway half a mile or so from the palace. A pair of tanned cloaks to cover our non-Asgardian clothes and we were on our way. After much consideration we'd decided it was better to approach the Allfather in public, just in case. We did not think he'd turn against us or anything, but much as we both might love him, King Odin had never been too keen on mortals, and we didn't think he'd be exactly happy at the prospect of sending his warriors to fight for them. So we needed as many people to find out the truth straight from us as possible. Also, the fact that Alfheim and Nidavellir had pledged their support to our cause already could only help us.

We waited until business was finished for the day and a spokesman called for whoever might have something urgent to address, that was our signal. As agreed, the two of us walked directly to the middle of the room, in sight of everyone, and without pulling off our cloaks, I began talking (it had to be me, because my love's voice would be recognized immediately, and things needed to be made public before we were interrupted).

"There is a matter of great urgency that we are here to bring to your attention, Allfather." I called in my strongest voice. "We come from Midgard and are here to warn you a storm is coming."

"Why should we care about Midgard and its storms?" Someone from the Council scoffed.

Jane let out a wordless exclamation, but Thor stopped her before she could say anything; a part of me wondered if it was curiosity, regarding our news, or if he somehow knew who we were, and how important it was for us not to be interrupted.

"Because if Midgard falls, you will follow, all the realms will follow." I replied evenly, ignoring any and all attempts to be interrupted. "For the storm is an invasion, and the one leading it is no other than the Mad Titan, Thanos..."

That definitely got a reaction: that of absolute denial. Practically everyone in Asgard was beyond convinced that Thanos was dead, had been dead for millennia… they'd no idea, a creature like zir could not just be killed, not even by the Celestials.

Beside me I could feel my husband tense, like a coil about to spring, I kept a hand on his wrist, conveying as much serenity as I could. If he replied to the denials, the shouts, the insults… it'd never end. We needed to remain detached from all that.

"Who are you, lady?" The Allfather finally. "And what guarantee have we that the information you bring us is the truth?"

"As for guarantees, not much I'm afraid." I admitted with a shrug. "Only the word of every single cognitive in Midgard. I'm sure, Allfather, that you know as well as we do that the Mad Titan is very much alive. As for why he'd even go to Midgard, he wants what he's always wanted: the Infinity Stones, and three of them have popped up in that very realm in the last decade…"

That certainly called everyone's attention. Even those who did not believe that Thanos still lived, believed in the Infinity Stones.

"As for who we are..." The time of truth had come, with a deep breath I pushed back the hood of my cloak and let it fall open; knowing that beside me, Loki was doing the same thing. "I am Silbhé Arianna Kinross Salani-Hvedrungr, the Nightingale, reincarnation of Princess Tinúviel of Alfheim. And besides me stands my match and consort…"

"Loki Odinson, of Asgard." My love finished in his most dramatic tone.

I was expecting insanity, perhaps denial, had even accounted for the possibility of insults; the one thing I never planned for, was what followed: it was as if no one moved, they hardly breathed for a handful of seconds, like someone had pressed pause on the world, and then that moment passed and, almost in unison, everyone present except the royal family (Jane included) dropped on one knee, calling greetings to both Loki and I, calling us by our titles: Prince Loki, Princess Tinúviel, of Alfheim and Asgard…

*What in the void just happened?* My love asked in the privacy of our bond.

I could sense his shock at everything going on, and I felt the same.

*I think…* I swallowed, not quite believing it could be that easy… *I think they… all of them, just remembered.*

*Remembered…?* He repeated, though I could tell he suspected already what I meant.

*Me… you… us…* I couldn't find the right words to define it, but something told me that was enough, at least for the time being.

"Brother!" Thor's enthusiastic approach broke the solemn moment.

I was in shock still, in ways I found myself unable to express, even to my beloved. Was it really that easy? Could we have had everything if we'd just visited Asgard before and introduced ourselves? If I had acknowledged my past?

*Darcy…* My Maverick whispered softly into my mind.

He'd obviously heard enough of my thoughts to guess what I was thinking. His single word also did something else, it served to remind me everything we had, not just Darcy but Phil, his team, Aunt Kathryn, the twins, Charles, Erik, the Institute… so many people we wouldn't know, wouldn't have been able to help and befriend if we hadn't been there. And while I'd no doubt that someone else would have been able to do the things we did (or most of them at least), I was so proud of everything we'd achieved, so happy of the family and friends we had… no, I could never regret the life we'd lived, even if we'd been forced to stay away from other people we'd always loved too.

xXx

Things went much smoother after that. We had no idea what exactly had broken the Allfather's spell of forgetfulness exactly, but we were certainly grateful it'd happened. Lady Frigg refused to let us go for the longest time, and the moment she learned we had a second daughter, and that Helena was married to her match she began making plans to go to Midgard. Surprisingly enough, Odin was the first to notice that there was no surprise coming from three certain someones…

"How long have you known?" He asked straight out.

"Since the Convergence and the battle against Malekith." Thor did not see the point in trying to lie. "All the realms saw them, heard Nightingale sing… but Sif, Jane and I were the only ones who heard the full song, as the Convergence ended before its end. It did something to Sif and I, cleared our minds, we knew who she was, what that meant, for both her and my brother. We also knew why they couldn't come back with us."

No mention was made of just how hard it'd been to convince him at the time, it was unnecessary.

"The Realms know you're Jotun then." Odin commented right then.

"Alfheim knows." My love pointed out. "They did not like it. Were quite… explicit in their disapproval, though my Nightingale showed them the error of their ways, of course. The rest could not have known who I was, exactly, at the time of the Convergence."

"The dwarves know." I pointed out. "That much was made clear when we talked to their ambassador while in Alfheim. Both realms have promised their support for the coming war with Thanos and the Chitauri."

"I will not hide, Father." Loki decided to be perfectly clear. "I may not intend to announce my heritage, or the bloodline I carry, but if I need the ice I will not hide it, nor the color of my skin. Asgard will react however they wish, I'm through concealing a part of me because it might make things harder for some people."

I couldn't stop smiling, knowing I had played a part (however big or small) in him feeling that way. In him knowing he didn't need to be angry, or afraid or anything else negative about the color of his skin, about his power, about anything at all.

xXx

We were never asked about the Infinity Stones that had 'popped up' on Earth, either they didn't really expect us to know where they were, didn't think we'd tell them, or no one had really paid attention to that part. We didn't mention it either, though at one point Loki did make sure the Tesseract was still where he'd put it, safe. It was all we could do. Also, the less people that knew where the Stones where, and who had access to them, the better. We knew Stephen had a plan, a contingency in case worse came to worst, to make sure the Time Stone would never fall into Thanos's hands; we never asked.

We returned to Earth with enough time that no one had any reason to worry. Helena was satisfied with how things had gone, and Rose was very eager about getting to know her uncle, aunt and grandparents. She was oddly unafraid, despite everything going on, and the fact that, with her being one of the precogs, we couldn't hide the seriousness of the situation from her. At first I was unsure if it was bravery, naivete, or something else entirely, the answer surprised me:

"I know things will go well, you will win Mama." She told me with absolute confidence.

"Did you see that, darling?" I couldn't help but ask her.

"No Mama, but with you and Papa doing everything you are, everything you can, I know we have to win." She said simply.

Her level of trust, of faith in us… it floored me. An opinion Loki shared when I passed the little exchange through our bond, to him.

"Well, you heard the little princess." He said after what seemed like forever. "We have to win, there's simply no other option."

He was right, of course he was. Even if I hadn't the slightest idea of how we would do that, how we would win, considering the number of enemies coming our way; I did believe it could be done (I had to, couldn't let my little girl down…).

What I found curious was the way everyone else reacted when they heard about that conversation with Rose. Their fear did not disappear, but their doubt somehow did. It was as if somehow Rose believing in them pushed them to believe in themselves.

"Our little goddess of faith..." My match murmured softly after I told him that.

And he was right. That's exactly what Rose was: Goddess of Faith… She was barely ten years old and yet… at times it was as if she'd lived for ages. There was a light in her eyes, like she was older than her looks, much like myself, like Helena… made me wonder if somehow, during her visions, she might have seen more than just the present, near past and future; perhaps another life? I knew not, and I'd rather not ponder on it; things were complicated enough already.

xXx

When the war came, we were as ready as we could be. Alliances had been made, teams of gifted and human soldiers were stationed across the globe; elves, dwarves, aesir and vanir wherever they might be able to do the most good (or where we expected the battle to be most intense).

The civilians knew what was going on and, to the surprise of many, while children and some of the elderly had been sent to refuges, most of the adults had offered to help in some way: either as a last line of defense, assisting in hospitals, taking care of those who couldn't fight, manning communications, cooking for those fighting… there were many jobs, and enough people to cover them. It was truly amazing what could be achieved with everyone working together.

The best part was seeing other races' reactions to it all. For the longest time Midgard had been seen like a primitive realm, so far behind any of the others, simply because humans had short lives… and because ours was the only world not unified in one way or another (even Vanaheim, where its people lived in pretty much self-contained tribes, there was a sort-of realm-wide government that acted when needed) they'd no idea how fast our world had progressed. It was a kind of evolution that did not exist in any other realm. And our gifted…

By the time Loki and I got back Fury already knew what was going on. Aunt Kathryn decided to take matters into her own hands and tell him the truth. He did not like it, not at all, but at least he didn't get on our case. In fact, I was quite convinced there was something between them, or had been at some point, as far as I was concerned Fury gave up too easily, considering how he could be, most of the time.

And then it happened. All precogs woke up one morning after having the same dream/vision: Thanos and his army had just entered the Solar System.

It was almost like a countdown to doomsday or something. It would take them a week, perhaps two (if they stopped to establish some kind of base in another planet or even the moon) to reach Earth. We were all on edge. And then a ship appeared, seemingly out of nowhere; though, as we later learned, it'd actually reached us through one of the Hidden Paths, from Svartalfheim. The ones on board weren't dark-elves though, no they were a rather mismatched group from distant planets. They called themselves the 'Guardians of the Galaxy'… and they had two stones with them: Mind and Power.

A moment came when the chitauri got close enough to Earth, people with telescopes good enough began being able to see them. There was some panic, particularly among those who'd refused to believe our word regarding the upcoming war up until that point; but for the most part things were alright. Battle was coming, and we were as ready as we could be, to deal with it.

Still, that did not make it easy to try and sleep the day before it all began. For most of us it was actually next to impossible. We were in Central Park, which was expected to become a battlefield the following day, and while tents had been set so we could rest beforehand, there was too much tension for me to even think about trying to sleep. I wasn't actually sure when it was I decided to sing, and yet I wasn't the only one who did. We were all communicated as best as possible and thus, while we weren't in the same place; that didn't stop us. Helena was in Kamar-Taj with Stephen and some of his best sorcerers; the rest equally split between the three Sanctums. Rose was in Avengers Tower, as young as she might be, and as much as we hated having her so close to danger, she was powerful enough to protect herself, and her Sight would be much too useful to even try and send her away (not that I think she'd have gone, had we tried). So, soon enough the three of us were singing and surprisingly (or not, all things considered), people (human or not) everywhere were stopping whatever they were doing to listen to us, to our voices, to our song:

"Fear not this night

You will not go astray

Though shadows fall

Still the stars find their way"

"Awaken from a quiet sleep

Hear the whispering of the wind

Awaken as the silence grows

In a solitude of the night"

"Darkness spreads through all the land

And your weary eyes open silently

Sunsets have forsaken all

The most far off horizons"

"Nightmares come when shadows grow

Eyes close and heartbeats slow"

"Fear not this night

You will not go astray

Though shadows fall

Still the stars find their way"

"And you can always be strong

Lift your voice with the first light of dawn!"

"Dawn's just a heartbeat away

Hope's just a sunrise away"

I had no idea where the song was even coming from, and doubted either Helena or Rose knew, and yet the fact that all three of us were managing to sing the same melody in perfect sync, without having practiced it beforehand… I couldn't help but take it as a sign, not just of the bond the three of us so obviously shared, but of the fact that there was something special in the song, something that needed to be shared, not just between us, but with everyone in our alliance. And so we did exactly that, we shared the song, our voices and the magic woven through it all.

"Distant sounds of melodies

Calling through the night to your heart

Auroras, mists, and echoes dance

In the solitude of our life"

"Pleadings silent arias

Gently grieving in captive misery

Darkness sings a forlorn song

Yet our hope can still rise up"

"Nightmares come when shadows grow

Lift your voice, lift your heart"

"Fear not this night

You will not go astray

Though shadows fall

Still the stars find their way"

"And though the night sky's filled with blackness

Fear not, press on, call out and take my hand!"

I did not know it at the time (none of us did) but it wasn't just those with us in Central Park, the Tower and Kamar-Taj listening to the song, everyone in the Alliance was listening in; and as always happened when me/us and singing was involved, our song soon was a lot more than just words being thrown to the wind. It was something I found curious: the spoken word could be so easily lost in the wind, turned to nothing, yet a song… there was something in the song that allowed it to endure, no matter the distance, the time, or how many ears heard it. It was its own form of magic, and we, all three of us, were both creators and subjects of it at the same time.

"Fear not this night

You will not go astray

Though shadows fall

(Still the stars find their way)"

"Fear not this night

You will not go astray

Though shadows fall

(Still the stars find their way)"

"And you can always be strong

Lift your voice with the first light of dawn"

"Dawn's just a heartbeat away

Hope's just a sunrise away"

I remembered Rose's words, and the conversation Loki and I'd had afterwards; we had to win, there was simply no other option. There had been such faith in those words, in our daughter that day. That faith had never vanished, no matter the time that passed, or how close to actual war we got. And somehow… somehow that song managed to do something most would have believed impossible: it passed that faith on to everyone who listened to it.

Somewhere a bell tolled, marking the hour (a different one for most of us). High in the skies, dark ships appeared. War had begun…