Asgard is Sif's home, and it is filled with wonders. She has many favorite places, but the balcony in the Allfather's palace overlooking the training yard is the first.
When she is too young to train as a warrior herself, it is a place of wishing, of longing. When she is older, and counts herself amongst the fiercest youths in Asgard — even if few others yet do — it holds other attractions.
Below, Odin's sons test their mettle with blunted practice swords.
Thor's form is perfect, Sif well knows, his attack relentless. She has sparred with him enough herself. His brother is studied, far more than competent, but this is not his strength. It will never be his strength.
Sif rests her chin against her hands and watches his approach. Sif could blame caution or hesitance or Thor's superior strength, but it's something more than that. The whole of the realm knows that Odin must choose his heir just as surely as they know who will be chosen. It does not stop the contests being met, but for one such as Loki, who thinks and thinks until Sif is certain that if he tilted his head all his thoughts would come pouring out of his ear, it is unlikely it is ever forgotten.
He is disarmed for the third time in a row and Thor's triumphant laughter carries all the way up to where Sif stands. Sif huffs, frustrated, and for a moment wishes she was closer so she could yell at Loki to concentrate, not on whatever was floating around his skull but what was happening in front of him. It's grating to watch.
Sweat sticks Loki's dark hair to the nape of his neck and his chest rises and falls swiftly. His face is pink and Sif swears she can almost see his pulse fluttering in his neck, the line of it a long smooth curve. He walks to pick up his sword and pauses as his hand closes around the hilt.
She senses that he's going to look up the moment before he does.
Sif looks away, looks at Thor, stares until she's sure that Loki's gaze has fallen elsewhere.
"You are a good friend to my son," Frigg says softly, suddenly. She appears at Sif's elbow, her steps whisper-soft. Even while startling, her presence is still a comfort. "To both of them."
Sif looks at her, confused.
"Loki wins at thrown weapons more times than not," Frigg offers casually. Her hand is warm on Sif's shoulder.
"Yes, my lady," Sif replies, because that's what you say, and swallows nervously.
With his mother's appearance, Thor waves up at them, his smile wide. Loki peers at them and bows slightly at the waist. He would not mock his mother, but Sif always feels, with wild annoyance, as if he's mocking her.
She waves back at Thor. She wants to twitch out of her skin, as if her entire body has an itch she can't quite reach.
Her limbs are still a bit too long, but her hands are strong enough: to grip a sword, to twist an arm. Her body is also swift and flexible enough to make wrestling her a challenge.
She slips from Thor's grasp and sweeps his feet from under him. He crashes into the grass, and his breath rushes out in a great gust.
Thor's brother sits, cross-legged. He stares fixedly at his book in a way that Sif interprets as indicative of the fact that he wasn't just a moment ago. He has not abandoned his training, as some whisper when they wish to mock him, but he has developed a distaste for recreational combat.
Sif turns to face him, hands on her hips, still slim — barely a jut — and says, "Fight me!"
"Apologies, Lady, but I'd rather not," Loki responds, looking up at her, eyes pale in the sunlight.
He talks like that now, more and more. He was always even, sometimes sharp in anger. Now, his voice drops, deepens, not to the rumbling boom that makes its way out of Thor's throat with increasing regularity, but into something smooth and soft.
Sif imagines she can see him measuring his tone behind his eyes.
Things of hers go missing. Small things, but not so small as to escape her notice. They turn up in strange places — places that she goes herself to be alone. Places that no one should know she visits. There is a small clearing, just beyond a glen in the forest. She practices there sometimes. She found a lost knife of hers there once, stuck in a tree trunk, as if she would ever throw it and then forget it.
She could suspect many, but she doesn't.
"Coward," she spits and does not break eye contact.
Thor steps back into her line of sight and cuts off the retort Sif could sense building in Loki's throat. The growing knot of tension in her gut unfurls, flags, withers. Thor laughs, good-natured, meant to defuse.
"My brother loves his books, Sif!" Thor says. "You won't convince him otherwise so best leave him be."
She turns away. Loki's gaze is hot on her back.
The princes of Asgard enter the dining hall.
Thor marches when he walks, and his brother walks beside him, trailing slightly. Thor is ruddy and he is broad and growing ever broader, but Loki is tall and slim and pale. He glides, and Sif feels like he's sliding up under her skin and along her bones.
All eyes turn to them, hers included.
Thor smiles at the room. Loki does not.
He catches her stare and, carefully — almost hesitantly — inclines his head slightly in her direction.
Sif stares down at her plate, face burning. Not only with anger, but she pretends.
"Return what is mine," Sif demands.
Thor has passed by, eager for freedom after their lessons. His brother is more leisurely in his departure. Sif stands, immovable, to block his way.
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," Loki says. He doesn't smirk, but Sif can read it in his eyes, the way the corners crinkle.
"My scabbard," Sif clarifies. She would go further. She has many blades and many scabbards to go with them, but he took it. So, he knows.
"Perhaps you misplaced it," Loki suggests.
"Perhaps you're a thief."
He purses his lips, then wets them, briefly, his tongue a flash of pink.
"I'm wounded by your accusations, Lady," he intones. "Is there no trust between friends?"
She wants, impulsively, to press a finger into his mouth, to still his tongue, to scrape along his teeth. There's a hold she could initiate from there, a way of hooking her hand in his jaw, but she's not sure whether she would actually do that at all. Or something else.
So she says, "I'm not your friend. I'm Thor's."
His eyes, so green, go cold.
"Then why don't you ask my brother for help keeping track of your things?"
He sweeps away before she can say anything.
He sweeps away before she can decide whether she wants to.
Her scabbard reappears, not elsewhere, but right in its proper place as if it had never been moved.
Sif checks everything she can think of, upends the entirety of her room, but nothing else is misplaced.
She stands in the center of her scattered things — the eye of the storm — and crosses her arms. She clenches her jaw.
He is not easy to find — impossible for most, she suspects — when he is hiding, so when she comes upon him, Sif assumes it's only because he wants her to.
The day is ending and the sky is violet. It paints the golden halls in darker hues. He stands and looks out over his father's kingdom, his skin stark again the vista.
"Have more of your baubles gone missing?" he asks as she walks up beside him.
"You know that they haven't," she responds tightly.
He looks at her, eyes searching. She is not as practiced as he is at modulation, and her voice always gives her away.
"You sound disappointed," he notes. "I'm sure there's something else you can plague me about. You and your friends can-"
"Shut up," Sif says and grabs hold of his ears. He bends and voices spluttering protest as she drags him into the deep shadows cast by the fleeing daylight, then presses her mouth to his.
He shuts up.
His mouth is cool and his lips fit well against hers. She worries the bottom one and presses her fingers into his shoulders. He sinks a hand into her hair, shifts so he's not leaning down at an odd angle, and then she pulls away.
Sif shoves him back and, off guard, he stumbles two steps.
"If you ever tell anyone," she declares. "I'll pull out your tongue and beat you to death with it."
He stares at her and she sees his smirk threatening in the twitch at the corner of his mouth. She turns on her heel and stomps away.
He never tells anyone.
Sif is meant to love Thor. This much is clear, has been clear to her for the breadth of her memory, even before her hand first itched to pick up a sword. He makes it easy, and everyone does love him, so golden and gleaming and bright.
Sif is not immune. She loves him and deeply. She would follow him anywhere. She would give her life for his.
He is her dearest friend.
Sif comes of age and passes it. The people of Asgard speak of her beauty and her strength, of her prowess in battle and how she has earned the favor of Frigg and of Odin himself.
They ask, from time to time, what she thinks of being queen someday.
Sif laughs. "I've no reason to consider it."
They think her modest.
Sif presses her tongue past Loki's teeth.
Bawdy laughter explodes in the dining hall, one of Volstagg's more colorful stories, Sif assumes. She can't devote more thought to it than that as she's pre-occupied with starring in one of her own.
She can taste the wine he was drinking before they ended up here, as they so often do. She sweeps her tongue along his teeth, then nips at his upper lip before she ends the kiss — a test to see if she can break his extraordinary focus. Dubious, but the effort has its own rewards.
As expected, he barely stutters. Loki has long since mastered the logistics of pinning her against a wall dark with shadows, of propping her up with the weight of his own body, of sliding cool hands up under her gown and smoothing them along her thighs.
Her hands scramble at him. She digs her nails into his shoulders. She stares at his brow, slightly creased. Sweat beads near his hairline. She presses her mouth just there and tastes the salt on her tongue.
Ankles crossed at the small of his back, one of her slippers hangs off of her foot and swings like a tiny pendulum from her toes, back and forth in time with the movement of his hips.
One noisy group breaks off from the feast and spills into the corridor. If they turned, if they came closer, if they cared to look, then Sif and Loki would be seen. The hand under her skirt that is not otherwise occupied — long fingers at her apex, rubbing and pinching — gestures sharply. It flutters against her hip.
Nothing changes to Sif's perception but the barest impression of green at the corner of her eyes.
"Shh," Loki hisses softly. Masking both sight and sound evidently requires more concentration than available to him at the moment. This is triumph enough to make Sif laugh, full-bodied from her abdomen, and he groans at the way it makes her inner muscles contract.
Both sounds mostly fade into the ruckus and inebriation takes care of the rest. The group stumbles along its way.
Loki meets her gaze and presses two fingers against her mouth. Sif tongues at one then bites the other.
Sif is not a very good liar. Loki is.
It doesn't matter, in either case, because it's a very easy secret to keep.
Many assume Sif's attentions lie elsewhere, or will in time. And even among the most dedicated of gossips, rarely does Loki's name trip from their mouths as such a prospect. Loki has many talents, but few are held in very high esteem by the people of Asgard. They assume that Sif, great among them, values what they do and in all of the same ways.
She has also long been, and remains, short-tempered about his pranks. So, if she understands him a little more than she ought and sometimes elbows Volstagg or Fandral when they tease him like children at play, no one pays it any mind.
Some suspect it of Loki, if not of her, but that is only because they assume that he covets everything his brother has.
It is often a trial not to flush in public, when they speak of Loki's silver tongue.
Her hands card through his hair, disappear into the dark strands as his head bobs between her legs. He licks into her -- his tongue rolls against her like a cresting wave.
She exhales, her breath a tremulous thing. His grip on her hips is tight, and when she bucks against his mouth, he doesn't hesitate to remove one hand and press a finger into her.
She would cry his name, but it seems a moot point. Her thighs are clamped tight against his ears and it's really only meant for him to hear. She twists her hand in his hair instead. One of her heels casts up and down his bare back, following the curve of his spine.
He nuzzles at her core, then latches on, suckles, worries at her with his lips and just a hint of his teeth. She comes apart with a wordless exclamation.
He kisses her once, just below her navel, before climbing back up to lie beside her. His arousal trails against her side as he does, and Sif wills her breathing to continue slowing and not to stick in her throat.
They lie there, facing each other. She likes him best like this. She's ruined his hair. It's in a dark tangle she's sure the like of which hasn't been seen by anyone else since he was a boy. His eyelashes are thick, so thick she wonders how he keeps his lids open, and his eyes clear and bright. He's quiet, like this. Not always, but sometimes.
He reaches up to touch her hair. He runs his hands through it again and again, his eyes following it as it slips along his skin. There's a flash of metal at the corner of her eye and then it's disappeared as quickly as it came. His hand comes away with a wispy lock of her hair wound about his fingers.
"A token?" she asks, raising her eyebrows. It's overly jovial because she saw the knife, registered its presence, and she wasn't alarmed, and that is something she can't think about. "Is there a encroaching battle I don't know about?"
She wriggles closer to him until her breasts just brush against his chest.
"Or is it a reagent?" she suggests. "Will you use it in your arts? Do you plan to ensorcel me, my prince?"
Her grin is wolfish.
"A memento," he says simply.
It's a challenge, writ plain on his face. He dares her to comment on the likelihood of its necessity, of her continued presence in his bed, in his life. He thinks of the future more than anyone she knows. It spills out in front of her, endless, and both of limited interest and comprehensibility because of that breadth.
She could believe that Loki marks out every day.
She reaches between them and wraps her hand around his hardened length instead, watches the flutter of his eyelashes as she strokes him. His eyes darken with want, a ring of green around black.
"I'm insulted you think you'd forget," Sif says.
Sif hates the healing rooms, not so much their function — injuries are a part of the warrior's life — but the entire atmosphere of the place, filled with all the calm silence of death, thanks to the spells of the healers.
As such, it is a relief when her wound is declared well enough for her to be on her way shortly after she arrives.
In her own quarters, she strips out of what remains of her battered armor. Bare from the waist up, she admires her souvenir in the mirror, hair swept out of the way.
It's already closed to a thin pink line, raggedly running from her left shoulder down between her shoulder blades to end in the middle of her back. It will make an impressive scar, she thinks.
"He's going to get you killed," Loki says, voice too controlled, even for him.
She doesn't know how he came in or when, but she rarely does. She turns to face him, brazen.
"And I will die a warrior's death," she says.
"You will die an idiot's death."
He's already shed his battle raiment as well. He was uninjured. He has always been quite talented at avoiding danger.
The high collar on his black tunic hasn't been buttoned all the way up. She can see his throat working every time he swallows. This one bit of disarray says more about his emotional state than anything else.
She advances on him, blood still singing in her veins. She winds her arms about his neck, tilts her face towards his.
"Are you worried for me?" she asks. She leans closer and smiles against his neck. "Would you like to kiss it better?"
Loki doesn't move away, but he wraps a hand around her wrist, interrupting her attempts to further undo the clasps on his tunic.
"Do I look as if I'm laughing?" he asks. "You follow him. You follow him everywhere and-"
Sif wrenches her hand from his grasp.
"So do you," she interrupts, and rips his tunic open in one swift motion for good measure.
He sheds the garment without hesitation, lets it pool on the floor around their feet as if it was his idea all along.
"He's my brother. And someone has to protect him from himself. You don't have an excuse."
Sif finishes stepping out of her trousers and meets his gaze. He's already closed it away, the mask set, but she could feel it slamming down. It's been long enough at this for that at least. She knows what he wants to hide. Everyone knows, after all.
"You say I have no excuse, but you think that I do," she replies, hands on her hips. "You think that you know what it is."
He allows himself to be backed towards her bed and she tumbles him into it.
"I said no such thing," he responds with remarkable calm.
"But you think it."
She climbs astride him, towers over him, fearsome.
"Liar," she declares before she bends to kiss him.
He kisses her back with ardor, holds her face in his hands as their mouths work furiously. She has never seen him caught in battlelust, but she considers for a moment that she was looking for it on the wrong field of play.
"Why do you always assume I'm lying?" he asks when they pull away, panting.
"Not always," Sif assures him. "But now."
She sits up again and perches on his thighs.
"So tell me," she commands as she undoes the stay on his trousers. "Why do I follow your brother, Loki?"
She begins to tug his trousers down, but he sits up, winds an arm about her waist and turns them over. Her bedding is cool against her still fading wound.
"What reason is it you think I have that Fandral and Hogun and Volstagg do not?" she asks as she looks up at him. "That the whole of the realm does not?"
His hair falls down around his face, a dark curtain. His left eye is like a distant celestial body, obscured by the inky night.
"I don't like this game," he whispers in a tone meant to make her toes curl.
Sif rubs her thigh between his legs, nudges the stiff proof of his arousal.
He rolls his eyes, though part of it is just them rolling back at her ministrations, at the steady pressure of her thigh against him.
"You mistake my enthusiasm," he says.
"And you mistake me."
He pushes his trousers halfway down his legs and she toes them the rest, then hooks her knee around his waist and drags him closer. She reaches between them, arm brushing against his stomach, quivering, and guides him as he enters her.
She exhales. His breath catches.
Her hips roll and she rocks against him. She smooths his hair out his face and looks into his eyes.
"You'd do well to remember that I am not a liar, Loki, son of Odin, in word or in deed."
They make each other no promises. Neither of them asks to be publicly acknowledged as whatever it is they are.
Her adolescent edict of secrecy stands firm. They never speak of the alternative and she's not sure whose fault that truly is.
Sif is a warrior and so she thinks, often, of death. She thinks of herself dying, gloriously, and she thinks of Loki unable to mourn her. She imagines him, stone-faced, with just the right amount of detached sympathy, pretending that his pain is for others and not for himself.
Or, perhaps, she thinks, in some distant part of her mind — weak with self-doubt — it really would only be for others. For her parents. For his. For Hogun and Volstagg and Fandral.
Sometimes, she wonders. Sometimes, she's glad she'll never have to know.
Loki's bedroom is cavernous and seems more so every time Sif visits it. She knows he's put some sort of enchantment on it, though he never specifies. ("Just one?" he asks once, smiling, and Sif is forced to work diligently for some hours hence at wiping the smirk off of his face.)
There are few weapons — few that she understands, at any rate — and some small, presumably magical, bits and bobs. Mostly there are books, piles and hills and mountains. So many books that Sif cannot fathom how he has time to do anything else but read them, and still she imagines that there are yet more, out of sight, hidden just as he always keeps some small part of himself hidden. Even when he's stripped completely bare.
She sprawls crosswise on his bed, naked and spent. One of her legs lies, like a felled tree, across Loki's stomach. Idly, he drums his fingers just above her knee.
Sif twists and reaches — if the jostling bothers Loki, he makes no note — until she has palmed a few morsels from the nearby platter holding Loki's dinner. It sits, untouched, as it was when she first came to him hours ago.
His hands have stilled on her leg. Now they just rest there as her leg rises and falls slightly with his breath.
Sif looks at him spread out before her, his long body limned in the dim light. He stares, unseeing, at the ceiling.
Sif thinks to kick his foot, but finds that she cannot reach. She settles instead on toeing at his shin. Deftly, he brushes his fingers against the sensitive spot on the underside of her knee. Her entire leg twitches. He shifts, slightly, and is still again.
In Sif's hand are: a stem with five grapes that were set close enough to the glazed boar to smell faintly of pork and honey; and two pieces of cheese molded in the shape of flower petals. She puts the cheese in her mouth. She bounces a grape off of Loki's forehead before starting on the others.
He engages a slightly less marginal movement in order to cast a withering look at her.
"Stop sulking," she commands, when their eyes meet.
He has been a foul mood for days, ever since the final arrangements for Thor's coronation were set in motion and it started being impossible to walk side-by-side with his older brother lest you be bowled over by the sheer girth of his pride.
He hasn't insulted her by pretending that she needs it articulated; she hasn't insulted him by pretending that she doesn't know.
"Thor will preen and he'll bluster and he'll be absolutely unbearable, and then it will be over."
"No," Loki says. "It won't."
His brow furrows.
"If he-" He stops, but the 'if' still rings in the air, in her ears. They are discussing a matter of absolute certainty.
"It won't," he finishes.
"The worst of it," Sif insists.
"Do you think him a worthy king?" He asks, casually, as if this is something they discuss. It is chief amongst the things they never discuss.
"I think him the chosen heir," she says, without hesitation.
"That doesn't quite answer my question." One of his fingers traces a nonsense pattern above her knee.
She doesn't know what he wants, besides things it is not in her power to grant him — things that she thought he knew better than to want anymore. He already has most everything she could give. Usually, she thinks, he understands that.
She pulls her leg away, then tucks it under her as she sits up.
"It's the only answer I have," she says, peering down at him. She sweeps her thumb across his brow, as if to smooth out the crease by force alone.
His hand cups her waist, and she lies down beside him. She studies his profile as if she does not have it long memorized.
"Of course." He smiles, his mouth a thin, curving line. "It's the only answer there is, isn't it?"
He's lying, though not well enough that he expects her to believe it. In this matter, that is the most he can offer. In this matter, she will not ask for more.
"It will be over soon," she repeats. They will all stand. Thor will be king. Loki will endure it, as he always has.
He sighs with such exaggeration it's almost comical. She traces the line of his jaw with her fingertips. He drops a kiss on her shoulder.