Once again, she found herself far to the North of the realm of Midgard.
There was some villain or the other to defeat, a day to save, a conflict to be confronted – whether with words or steel - and with the face of their team, they certainly had both in abundance. The mortal man who called himself Doom – a name which had Sif rolling her eyes and remember childhood games which she had played with the princes long ago – had holed himself deep within the mountain Spåtind, in the north of Europe – the lands which Sif remembered dearly from the ancient times.
There was good humor from the team about Victor's location – the man of iron complained about the cold, and wished for Malibu, for which the sharpshooter teased him mercilessly. Natasha had a way of walking across the snow that was soundless, and Sif found the echo of an old soul in the woman who may very well have passed her way before in times past. Steve had stories of campaigns in mountain climates much more unflattering than this, to which Thor had tales to tell of dealing with the Nordic people centuries before – back when humanity believed in Gods, and the Gods still believed in humanity.
Near the back of the group, it's shadow as always, was Loki, the winter reflected in his eyes. Sif lingered at his side, slipping easily over the footprints that her comrades had left before her. Her hand was on the hilt of her sword, even though they were on their return trip to the town of Lillehammer. She did so, not for any visible threat, but for the possibility of one. For the villain they had faced and felled was a tricky sort – who had the uncanny ability to pop up alive once already slain before.
But the forest around them was silent, and only the chatter of their warrior group was to be heard on the stiff breeze that tried to sweep between the trees.
Normally, Sif herself was not one to aide the mortal circle of heroes – the Avengers were Thor's soul and great devotion - but Asgard was bereft of two men she would call her own due to the group, and Midgard could boil in her veins for a little longer before the stench of War all around her forced her back to the realm of her home. There was always a villain to plague Earth, and inevitably, the stronger the protectors of the realm became, the stronger that those ready to tear it asunder became as well.
She would call the day spent facing Doom – who held steel and sparks in his veins in the most literal of senses – cleansing, but her armor did bear a new dent that was vexing. Doom grew stronger every time they faced him, and there were many others in his circle who did so as well. The hand that wasn't upon the hilt of her sword came to trace over the new mark upon the metal encasing her, curious fingers feeling the latest evidence of a battle survived and triumphed over. The mark was high on her breastplate, rather close to the leather that lipped at her throat, and she could feel the muscles there work as she swallowed. Her gloves were colder than they had been when she drew them away, for the winter here was resilient as its residents, it would seem.
At her side, Loki was watching her carefully. He was silent addition to the group, as he often was – for he was there for his brother, and his brother alone; and no matter how many times he may have wished to turn his spells on Stark, he refrained for Thor's sake. The weight of his gaze was a familiar one to her, and she lifted her head high at it rather than bite her lip as she wished.
Doom had an unpleasant tendency of keeping several mechanical doubles of himself at his disposal and call. And while facing one, a second was normally to be found at one's back – and no matter the advantages of such a large team, there were times when such things fell through the corners of even the strongest defenses. She had been yanking her glaive from the sparking carcass of the bot she had felled (annoyed with Midgard's fascination for the unnaturally cold sentience of machines), when she heard Thor shout from a few feet away where he had been silencing a whole ring of bots with Mjölnir. She had yanked around instinctively, and the blow that had been fatally intended had instead glanced against her armor, still too close for comfort.
Her footing was tricky for a second, with her glaive still trapped, and her body twisted so; but she did not need to snap for the dagger at her hip - for while she stared at the black nothingness that the machine held for eyes, a stream of ice had appeared from her right, angry and fervid as it splashed vengefully around the clone. No amount of warmth from the bot could fight the wasteland's hold, and ice, glacier-strong and winter-born, gave the creature a living undeath as it was stopped in its tracks.
Sif darted her gaze to the right, surprised at such an attack upon her foe, and while logically she knew it was Loki who had done so, she was still taken aback to see her friend with ice still glowing at his fingertips. His eyes were a flaring crimson; angry and darkly satisfied . . . In theory, she knew of his control over the waste's magic; but she had not yet seen him act so upon it. She had not even seen him hold his true form since that first time; that awful day in Asgard when everything had fallen down around them . . .
The blue retreated from Loki's skin as the ice at his hands had died, but the crimson staining his eyes was slower to fade. She let the battle around her fade out in order to watch the shift, her eyes staying upon the black slashes on his face – a story in themselves, detailing the exact syllables of his heritage – until she could see them no longer.
She was not the only one in the group to see – Thor too had stopped to curiously watch his brother. There was an odd look about his face – fascination and an odd sort of pain that she could think of many ways to interpret, and she wondered for a moment if he had ever seen his brother so. She felt an unexpected twinge of pain at the thought that he hadn't.
“Hey, Blue Man Group – could we get our heads back into the problem at hand? Please and thank-you,” the man of iron had said from further into the melee, and the moment was forgotten as the Aesir leapt back into the battle.
The fight had ended soon after, and Loki had been careful not to meet either she or Thor's eyes.
Now, the forest eventually gave way to the town of Lillehammer, a city shadowed by the mountains and blanketed by snow. There was an inn in town where Pepper had already made reservations for them, and there they were all to stay for the night until the Quinjet could make it that far north in the morning to retrieve them. The storms to the south delayed its course just enough to leave them stranded for the time being.
Sif herself did not mind – the morning departure delayed her return to Asgard, and this far into the land of her memories, the War which Midgard so viciously extolled was peaceful – calm.
Once they made it to the inn, Thor and Bruce made their way to the buffet that was off the side of the lobby (no doubt Pepper's arrangement, as well) – for the slip of a scientist could out-feast even Volstagg (even though he was eating for two, he had pointed out with a dark humor). As they did so, Clint made his way up to his room to see if he could get a signal back to SHIELD headquarters – where Darcy was no doubt staying late awaiting his call. Natasha disappeared without Sif knowing where she went to, and she did not spare a second thought for the woman. Steve left almost immediately to report to Director Fury, and Sif made a face at the thought of the calculating man who oversaw the Avengers.
Loki was still silent at her side as she took the key from the receptionist, and she would have no more of the heaviness of his gaze. Her jaw set in determination.
“Come now, I wish to get this armor off of me,” she bid him, tugging on his hand to break his thoughts away from whatever dark place they had settled in. His skin was still so very cold. He wore no gloves against the winter, and his body snatched almost greedily at the heat of her own.
There was an exaggeratedly obnoxious cat call from Stark at that – one which Thor paused from filling his plate to slap the man on the back for in protest. “My appetite,” Thor mock lamented.
“More for me,” Banner shrugged, grabbing another roll, and Sif rolled her eyes at the well meaning camaraderie.
Leaving the others, she led Loki up the wooden stairs that still creaked with an old world weariness. He was a shadow to her back as she worked the key to get into the room that had been appointed to them. The room was comfortable and warm; if not as opulent as Asgard's chambers, or as streamlined as the room she normally borrowed at Stark Tower. But she liked it. Outside, the storm pattered against the windowpane, the wind throwing the snow in angry patterns this way and that – and she wondered what new insult Stark had came up with then the blizzard gusted angrily – knowing how the weather even instinctively answered to Thor's moods.
There was a disjointed tune on her lips (something which Darcy had been playing on the fascinating piece of metal she called an iPod) as she stood before the one mirror in the room in order to start the laborious task of removing her armor. Her fingers were still cold, and they caught in the buckles.
Loki still had not said a word, but that did not trouble her. She had been used to his silences for centuries at this point - whether it be when he was engrossed in the library and she would wait somewhat patiently by his side, or the moments when his father's favor fell hard upon his shoulders, or at the times her mouth ran off like her sword, and he simply listened in bemusement as she rattled on and on. Now, the absence of words was heavier, but she let him collect his thoughts together, knowing what weight he placed on words rightly spoken. He would not ponder so long over a lie, and she was curious to see what truths she would later find form his lips. Even still, habit was habit, and he came over to assist her with her armor. His fingers were long and deft, and her protection was a formation he knew well.
They worked together easily, freeing her from the metal plates and the mail. Underneath, the leather that encased her was warming under the heat of the room; it had been still and harsh in the winter beyond in the midst of the battle. His fingers lingered on her breastplate as he placed it down next to her gauntlets, touching the dent that she would take to the dwarfish blacksmiths once she returned to Asgard.
“It was a close one,” she commented, her smile wry. “I had meant to thank you for that.”
“It was nothing,” Loki whispered. It had been instinctive, she would wager – an attack that he had not registered performing until the ice had leapt from his fingers. One always did resort to the most natural of gifts when the tide turned away from their control in a battle's heat.
“The spell was powerful,” Sif said carefully. “I don't believe I have ever seen such a thing placed in aide.” And that much was true. The skills of the Jötnar were impressive, but Sif – or any of the Aesir, really – had never seen them outside the realms of battle. There had been something almost beautiful to watch about him in that moment, shaded the colors of winter, with ice glittering like diamonds and starlight around him. It was something she'd like to see again – to study outside the heat of battle.
“Most likely not,” Loki agreed in bemusement. His voice was soft, giving nothing away to her searching ears.
Sif bit her lip. “I have not seen you hold that form since the day of the bifröst's destruction,” she said frankly when her brief attempt at subterfuge went awry.
Loki's fingers stayed in the strings of her leather. After a long moment, he said, “I do not see why you would wish to.” Surprise colored the undertones of his voice, and she frowned at hearing it as such.
“It is apart of you,” she said simply, as if that should explain everything – mean everything. “Why would I wish to see that hidden?”
He took a step back from her, and she let him for the moment, laying down her vest of mail over her shield. The enchanted weapon was glowing softly in the half light, and Sif watched as it flickered in time with Loki's breathing.
She shrugged off her leather undercoat. Underneath she wore a plain linen shirt, the sleeves long and billowing once freed of her outer layers. She made a face at the soiled fabric, and cast an eye around the room, wondering where her traveling pack had made its way too.
Loki saw her eyes search, and at the wave of his hand, her pack answered his call and came forward. She smiled wryly, but instead of picking the case up, she stepped over towards him, her hands coming up to rest playfully on the long sweep of his helmet's horns. She tugged on him, bringing him down so that she could meet his eyes with the utmost seriousness.
“Could I see you?” she asked simply.
His hands came up to cover her own. “You do now,” he answered with a smirk, ever insufferable.
She rolled her eyes, but helped him take the helmet off anyway. He shook his hair out once she did so, the black strands inky and wet at his neck. His hair was growing longer once more – and she wondered if he would have her cut it soon. She was getting better with using a blade for so fine a task, at any rate, and she was almost proud of her skills. “That is not what I mean – stop deflecting me,” she chided.
“You already have once before,” he pointed out.
“And we have both admitted that that was not the best of times,” his face was carefully still, carefully serene, but she watched the cast of his eyes like she would an opponent. He was not as unaffected by his memories as he would have her believe.
“No, they were not,” he agreed, and she remembered him vengeful upon the throne of Asgard as he spoke of killing one father to win another, the winter-born tones of him clashing with the forest green and gold of his armor.
“Things are different now,” she pointed out, reaching out a hand to cup his cheek. Her thumb swept over the high sweep of his cheekbone, tracing out where she remembered his markings to be.
He raised a hand to cover her own, staying her movements. “Yes, and I would keep them that way.”
“It is a part of you,” she wouldn't let the subject drop. “I do not understand why you would hide it away so.”
“Yes, it is – and it is a part of me I would rather stow away until all forget its existence. Including myself.” He stepped away from her, as if the distance would give aide to the strength of his argument. He started to work at the fastenings of his armor, first letting the heavy expanse of his cape fall to the ground in a tired rustle of material. She stood watching him for a moment with her jaw locked, her hands propped upon her hips.
Years with him had showed her the similarities of crossing words as well as steel, and so it was with a soldier's march that she crossed over to him. “And yet it was the form most instinctive to you when you saw me falter in battle,” she pointed out as she reached out to the buckle he was working at, helping him with the elaborate getup.
“Instincts – nothing more than base emotions made to be triumphed over. And harnessed.” His gaze was pointed.
As always, she ignored him. “How much magic do you spend hiding your true self away? Imagine how much easier it would be for you to walk about as you were meant to.” She helped him shrug off the plates at his shoulders, and the larger pieces that swept down from his neck to his chest. The mail underneath scraped pleasantly against her fingertips.
“There is not . . . There is no strain upon my magic. The Allfather's spells were powerful when he set the concealment upon me, and now the form I wear is as natural to me as my true form. To hold the form of a Jötnar takes as much power as it does to hold the body of an Aesir.”
His words troubled her. “That is wrong,” she whispered. “That is not how you were met to be.” She pressed the palm of her hand flat against his chest, feeling his heart beat strong and steady even through the chain-mail.
“And yet, it is how I am.”
“Then let me share that with you,” she asked once more, her voice earnest and her eyes sincere upon his own. She was not the craftsman he was with her words, and she knew he would read her gaze well enough.
His gaze finally shifted, and she could see his hesitance – his own unease with his Jötunn blood, and the disgust he no doubt expected her to hold – that he himself held. And so she spoke before he could. “I do not fear you . . . and you know that I hold no abhorrence for your heritage. There are many frightening things about you, Loki Laufeyson, but not one of them is the form you show.”
“Sif,” he said her name like a sigh, a warrior from the opposite side of a battlefield seeking absolution.
But she would grant him no mercy. “Loki,” she returned, the name a mock on her lips.
He looked at her long and steady, searching for something unnameable in her gaze. She tilted her chin up, and let him seek unhindered.
Finally, he exhaled deeply, and she knew that she had won.
Biting her lower lip, she watched as Loki took a step away from her. He took his time shrugging out of the rest of his armor and leather, and she let him buy the few moments he could. Finally he sat down almost carefully on the bed in the middle of the room. Almost eager, but trying not to appear so, she sat down besides him, a smile tugging on the corner of her lips as the mattress dipped to her weight. She finally folded her knees under her, peering forward to not miss a moment when Loki dropped the spells.
There was something almost fond at the corner of his eyes at her curiosity, but it dipped away as he knit his brows together in concentration. Sif could smell magic on the air – like the sky charging before lightening struck, and she breathed in deep at it, as always associating the smell with Loki and home.
The first shimmer of the spell was like a blink. His eyes fluttered, and before her the white cast of his skin retreated as if it were water poured over him and flowing away. The first shade of blue upon him was light and milky almost, flushing across him in a pale shade of cerulean. As she watched, the tone darkened, finally flushing a chilly shade of blue – like the darkest shadows upon a glacier.
Peering carefully at her, his eyes were a flash of flame. Nothing about them was cold – instead it was as if someone had dropped two embers amongst the snow; the blaze of them harsh enough to fight every urge to extinguish to the cold. Those eyes were carefully blank now, but she could see him watching her closely, carefully – studying her for any sign of disgust or disapproval. Within the memories of her childhood, stories about the Jötnar played and replayed before her ears, and her stomach twisted horribly when she remembered Odin Allfather laughing with them at the feast, telling them all of the monsters they had slain. She remembered Thor and Loki pretending to slay her, chasing her about the golden rooms and bellowing children's warcries – Járnsaxa, they had called her, the horrible Jötunn warrioress, and she had bared her teeth and acted the part of fiend without thought.
Now, she held one of the enemy before her, and her heart ached for every ignorant moment she had ever spent that now made him shy away from this form.
His next breath was heavy as the spell completely unraveled, the echo of his lungs now deeper within his chest. He looked for a moment like he wished to rise, to put a more easy distance between he and her, and she reached out without thinking to take his hands in her own, not letting him draw away. His fingers were stiff and taut, and at her firm grip they relaxed ever so slightly. The bones beneath the skin felt stronger somehow – like iron, and she marveled at the feel of him. He seemed taller before her, stronger even – but only just so. Odin's spells at his infancy had done their work well, and he would never hold the physical status of his father's people, so much as he would hold onto a skin deep illusion of being one of their kind.
Sif looked down at the hand she held, and was quietly fascinated to see that his skin was not one shade of blue. The color was marbled, as if the wind had blown together an artists pallet, and let the tints dry wherever they may have laid. She ran her finger between his knuckles, curious as to the small marks she found there - archaic symbols that told a tale she could not translate. They were symbols she did not recall seeing on the Jötunn she had felled before – were they a sorcerer's mark, or were they upon every one of his race, and she had simply never seen before?
He was still watching her carefully, his whole form was a bowstring, pulled back completely, and she wished for him to relax before her. She would not dub him the monster he thought himself to be. Wishing to put him more at ease, she asked: “What did it feel like, summoning the wastes so?”
“Warm,” she could see his breath hitch, trapped in his long throat. “More like summoning fire than summoning ice.”
“It is a great asset to you in battle,” she whispered. “When your silver tongue cannot spin your way out of a fight, that is.”
“I shall keep that in mind the next time I face Thor in the practice ring,” Loki's smile was a watery thing.
“Or the next time the man of iron lets his mouth slip away, and his Pepper is not there to chide him.”
His words were light in return to her easy words, but she could see the war in his eyes. The memory of him that time ago, angry upon the throne and determined to kill his entire race so that his own form did not matter struck harshly at her. How uneasy he had always been in his own skin . . .
Biting her lip, and pushing her thoughts away, she plucked at the black linen he wore, wishing for it to be off of him. He shed the shirt without protesting, silent before her as he subjected himself to her probe – no doubt hoping that if she was satisfied once, she would hide her queries in the times to come.
The markings from his knuckles continued up his arms – long and sweeping lines that accentuated the slender form of him. She let her fingers trace the patterns, mapping out new paths over the rise and fall of muscles that she had already thought to know so very well. His skin was cool to the touch – even more so than it normally was – and a shiver went through her, passing from his skin to hers.
While the markings upon his body were long and silver, there were darker ones upon his face – black lines etched into his skin like cracks in a sheet of ice. She remembered seeing such patterns upon Laufey's face, but upon few others, and she knew that this was a sign of his rank - a prince's mark, enchanted into his very skin. These marks told a story that a different time, a different place, would have boasted of. Here he hid himself away from the eyes and tongues of the Aesir – of the humans, but on Jötunnheimr, such things would have been an absolute ranking. The magic at his fingertips would have been a cause for prestige rather than confusion; for the Aesir were creatures meant to defend the elemental arts rather than channel them, and few had understood the second prince's taste for spells over steel even before certain revelations had been brought to light.
Curious, she pressed the tip of her nail against the end of the three marks that ran beneath her eyes – jagged like lightening bolts. The markings were upraised on his skin, like scars, and they warmed to her touch. He sucked in a slightly deeper breath at her caress, and at that, she raised a brow. “Do these pain you so?”
“No,” he exhaled. “They are . . . sensitive, actually.”
The corner of her lips turned up at the revelation, something almost sharp about her smile. With a gentleness she had to make herself concentrate to express, she leaned forward, and pressed her lips against the marking her fingers had just traced. A low shudder spun through his body at the gesture from her, whether from surprise or sensation, she could not quite tell.
She brought her hands up to steady herself upon his shoulders as she let her mouth trace over the paths her hands had just learned. Her hands did not sit still for long though, for they knew the map of his body even without the aide of sight. She let her hands trace out scars from old campaigns – the long white one beneath his throat that he had taken in place of her against the Dark Dwarfs who followed Malekith the Accursed. There was a burn mark under his wrist that he had gained the one time he had tried a potion past his talents at the time, and the cauldron had literally erupted in his small work-room. Spattered here and there were a dozen mementos from centuries of warfare – ones that Eir could not completely heal. And then, some scars were new. She felt a frown touch her lips as she felt by his third rib on the right where he had taken a rather brutal hit from Steve's shield in that first battle. There was a long gash on his left arm he would always bear – the mark telling where Banner had broken his arm in his hulking form, and the bone had pierced skin – even at an opposite end of the battlefield, she had pitched forward, sickened at the pain that had bloomed on his face before he had spelled it away.
She touched the scar like an apology now, relief coloring her caress like a prayer as she brushed her lips against his like a sigh. He finally caught her wrist in his hand at that, no doubt sharing the same memory.
“Why are you still here?” he finally asked the question that had loitered on his lips the whole of the evening through. His eyes were heavy, and she could easily tell that he was overwhelmed. She let him keep his distance, but refused to move away as he wished her to.
“I am still here simply because the weather is too brutal out to let me return to Asgard,” she smirked, using his favored tactic of hiding behind the obvious. “And unless you would rather me share a room with Tony for the evening . . .”
He snorted. The hand that held her wrist trembled ever so slightly. “I believe that I would rather you sought my brother's chambers first.”
“Jane Foster,” Sif said with the utmost solemnity, “can throw quite the left hook. I would not wish to cross over what she has claimed as hers.”
He took a deep breath, and she finally peered carefully at him. “Someday, I will have convinced you that there is no other place I'd rather be.” Her words were simple, for she did not weave them together as he did, but she hoped that he could read the truths that dwelt there.
“I still expect you to wake up one morning and realize just who you fell asleep beside . . .” Traitor. Criminal. False brother. False comrade. False friend. Liartongue and Laufeyson . . . She could read the titles easily enough in his eyes. “I never expected you to stay.”
Sadly, she placed her hand over his. “Already you have scripted us such bleak endings, even when the plot before you should show quite the opposite,” she sighed, suddenly weary. “I have loved you for years, even when I would rather not – when I knew that I should not. I have loved you, even when I would have liked nothing more than to take Mjölnir to your thick skull. You know that much to be true, I have to believe.”
The corners of his lips peaked, and she hoped that he shared the same memories that she did – of the boy who had been her dearest friend, and the warrior she had wanted at her back upon the battlefield when such trust had to be absolute – of the young man whom she grew to adore, and the man she eventually held in her heart and in her bed. Centuries had done little to show her a wiser path, an easier path, and she did not expect the times to come to do any differently.
Loki was still silent, watching the emotions play in her eyes, but there was something about his gaze that was lighter. She would have the shadow there lift even more completely, still.
“Know this – whether you are Loki Odinson or Loki Laufeyson, you are still Loki. Whether you hold the form of a Jötunn or an Aesir or anything else, my feelings will forever be unchanged.”
He held her stare, his mouth working as if he would speak, but his syllables were caught somewhere behind his throat. She smiled at the sight, seeing a victory that was hers for the taking. And so, where he could not find his words, she leaned over to answer him with her deeds. The battle from earlier still beat with a fever in her veins, and taking the spoils granted to the victor, she pushed him back upon the bed, determined to show him how very little the skin he wore played a detriment to her desires.
The next morning she awakened to find Loki already up and dressing for the day. The black of his human garb settled once more against pale skin, and upon seeing so, she blinked, her lips twitched upwards in pleased memories. His back was to her as he slicked his hair back, and she remained easy against her nest of pillows, content just to watch him.
When he turned to bid her a good morning, she immediately saw that his eyes were the verdant shade that she had so come to adore. But, underneath his eyes were three jagged markings, the black of them stark against the white cast of his skin. They were pointed before her gaze, even more noticeable than they were when he wore the form of a Jötunn.
“Good morning,” he greeted her, his eyes a careful smirk as he watched her reaction. “I trust that you slept well?”
Sif couldn't keep the grin from her lips as she reached over to tug him down next to her once more. The hand that she had tugged on also bore markings – ancient letters upon his knuckles that she passed her thumb over, a pride deep within her throat that she could give no voice to.
“You . . .” she couldn't complete her thought, choosing instead to smile stupidly at him instead.
“The great Lady Sif, speechless?” he teased.
“Between us, I am not the one known for my words,” she finally returned, still running the pad of her thumb over the markings on his skin. “And these?” she asked when she could get her tongue to work for her gain. “You are comfortable with these?”
He was silent for a moment. “These,” he covered his other hand over her own, sandwiching her. “Simply proclaim my worth as an enchanter. Frigg explained them to me . . . more will appear as the centuries continue on and my powers grow.”
He lifted her hand up, letting her fingers come to rest against the markings upon his face. “And these proclaim me to be the heir to the House of Laufey, and first son of Jötunnheimr. It is not what I am comfortable with, as you say . . . so much as it simply is what I am.”
She could see the trepidation in his gaze, the unease. But, this was a first step – a momentous step, and she could feel the joy bubbling in her throat as she drew him close and kissed him. He returned the affection easier than he had since before his fall, and she pressed against him in return, hoping that she could be something almost liquid to him – capable of soothing over and filling every crack and crevice of him until he was whole before her.
Later, the majority of the team was relatively silent to the new markings upon Loki's skin. Banner nodded in approval – knowing easier than most the difficulties of consolidating halfs into wholes. Stark had something – or quite a few somethings – sarcastic to say, but that was affection from Tony under the best of circumstances. Clint took pictures with his phone to send to Darcy and Jane back at SHIELD – apparently they had a bet going on how long Loki would have lasted before showing himself so.
Thor simply looked at his brother long and slow, something warming the stormy cast of his eyes. “They suit you, brother,” he finally said simply, and at his words, Loki nodded sharply, the muscles in his throat working in a telling way to show how much he truly did feel at Thor's approval.
And at Loki's side, Sif kept her hand through his, her thumb brushing against his knuckles at every chance she could steal; as always, a shadow ready to be used.