It’s one of the parade of feasts that comes through around the time when winter turns into spring and life begins anew in the Nine Realms. They celebrate it in grand fashion in Asgard – grander even than Yule. The whole city turns out in flowers and in garlands, and the air in the palace is scented heavily with their perfume, so much that the highborn ladies who come to the halls to dine and dance leave off their own so as not to compete with it. They sparkle like gems in their new spring frocks, like the butterflies that are beginning to return to Frigga’s gardens from wherever it is they go when what passes for winter in the Realm Eternal grips them.
At these events the royal family enters together, the Allfather and Allmother and their two sons, the princes who are in that stage of turning from boys into men. Thor is beginning to fill out, eating even more than usual to make up for the fact he’s shot up five inches in the last two months and all his clothes have had to be let out or made anew to fit his frame as he grows tall and muscular. His brother is not nearly as broad – his bulk is in his mind while his body remains gangly – but Loki has grown just as much.
For all that he can speak finely, and has learned the game of clasping hands and kissing knuckles as well as anyone, there is not a lot of love for the second prince. Loki walks in Thor’s shadow now as they make their way through the groups of people and t is hardly different than it ever is; he has managed to set aside the bitterness that tends to pervade him in these times, but he cannot help but take note of how their smiles fade just a bit as he takes their hands after Thor. He is not the favorite prince, not with his wily ways and his books and his magic, but sometimes he thinks it would be fine to be on even footing with his brother just once.
Oh, there are those who keep their smiles in place – knowing that courting favor with both princes is better than just one – but having his own masks has taught Loki to see through others. Falsity is just as irritating to him as the ones who chill noticeably. Were he less in control, the frustrations of adolescence would have led him to show them the already-keen edge of his tongue, but though it is not what it will be in a few centuries, Loki is still able to pride himself on how he can contain himself.
It does seem that the realms conspire to test him at every turn, because there she is, standing with the Warriors Three and talking about something animatedly. Sif doesn’t deck herself out to the same extent as the other young ladies presented at this feast, but she doesn’t need to. Like that particularly fascinating spellbook just out of reach on the shelf, Sif draws him in.
After dinner, the musicians take up their place on the stage and strike up a song for dancing. Tradition dictates that Odin and Frigga open it, but they are joined shortly after by several other couples. Loki dances with a few daughters of friends of the throne, all prospects for marriage to a second prince, treats them politely enough. They are not who he wants to dance with.
Loki is taking a break, standing by one of the bright pillars that define one edge of the dance floor, when he smells leather, horses, sunshine and there is Sif before him with one eyebrow arched. He mirrors her expression.
“Enjoying yourself, Lady Sif?” he asks. “It’s such a fine fete.”
“You’ve been looking at me all night.”
He hides his surprise in a sip of watered wine (all that a prince not yet at the age of majority can get, sadly) and plays it off nicely. “You’ve food on your face. You’re as messy an eater as those three warriors you and Thor insist on hanging about with.”
“Only Volstagg is messy, and I haven’t got anything on my face, not one thing. Why have you been looking at me?”
“Wondering who let you in.”
“I was invited.”
Sif narrows her eyes at him. “I know you haven’t forgotten. You don’t forget things.”
“No,” Loki agrees. “I don’t.”
“Dance with me.”
For the second time he hides surprise; if the rest of Loki’s life were to be Sif surprising him with things, he thinks, he shall be very proficient indeed at hiding them. “I seem to recall the last time we did,” he said. “My toes were sore even after Eir looked at them.”
“Then maybe you’d best learn to dance better,” Sif snaps back, color high on her cheeks. “Do you want to or not?”
It’s sad that he first looks at her with a hint of suspicion, as though it might be some trick, for Loki has had more than his share played upon him by the other children. There is nothing but sincerity in Sif’s eyes, so he reaches down, willing his palms not to sweat, and kisses her hand in full princely fashion. “It would be my honor,” he tells her with mock solemnity.
It is the greatest five minutes out of the entire three hundred and twenty-seven years Loki has lived. Sif has improved, or perhaps it’s the grace she has in training showing. Before, they were both just on the cusp of adolescence with neither one of them completely understanding themselves or their own bodies (to be honest Loki doesn’t even now), and he’d left the dance floor wincing and certain she’d broken several toes. But even though she does step on his toes once, he concedes that perhaps he’d taken her through that turn a bit too fast and put her off the beat, and it’s a small price to pay when his hand is at her waist and she’s got hers at his shoulder and in his hand, and there’s just enough distance and height that he’d only have to lean down a bit to press his cheek against her temple, as some of the couples courting now do. He dares not for fear of her retribution, but the thought is a pleasant one.
When he’d first realized what kinds of effects Sif had on him, Loki had been rather alarmed. Being pinned in training was suddenly a problem; new gowns designed to show off her developing figure were even more of a problem, and sleeping through the night without waking up in uncomfortable and frankly embarrassing situations became nigh impossible after either of the other two. He pushed Sif away, flung words at her like the daggers he had had made specifically to fit his hands and needs, but she always seemed to return to him or he to her. It was as maddening as pulling on a favorite pair of trousers or boots and finding he’d outgrown them.
But for a moment, just a moment, Loki can forget; here he is not the second prince, the ill-favored one drawing the dirty looks, he can envision a life where dancing with Sif is not an entirely uncommon event. In that life he is tall and strong and sure, carrying himself with the same confidence that oozes out of Thor, enjoying the same favor that Thor has. He might never be king (something he knows nearly for certain regardless of what his father and mother might say), but supposing he was to be king, he could not imagine anyone else for his queen. The last strains of the dance fade, and for a moment it seems there is a flicker of something in Sif’s eyes when she looks at him, something that makes a place inside Loki purr its approval in the form of tendrils of warmth curling down his spine and across his belly.
“Brother! You cannot think to monopolize our dear friend Sif when there are others who wish to dance with her!”
He shuts his eyes on that image, and shuts his heart to it. Thor is an icy bath that quells the fever, however momentary it was. Illusions are his specialty; he ought to recognize them when they appear before him.
“No, of course I wouldn’t dream of it,” he says, in a voice that he makes to be his usual light tone, and steps back as Thor whisks Sif off across the floor. He cannot pretend not to see the looks they get.
Frigga cannot pretend not to see them either, nor the way that his shoulders bow just for a moment before they straighten. She watches him partner someone else, but his steps are not quite as light or as deft. Dancing was one of those things, she muses, where the right partner could make the difference, and hums thoughtfully to herself.
“Is something the matter?”
Frigga tears her eyes away from the dance floor and smiles gently at Odin, reaching over to place her hand in his strong, firm one. “No, dear,” she murmurs. “Nothing’s the matter at all.”