Loki thought they were coming, at last, to take him to his death, instead they made him king.
There had been no trial, but he was expecting the sound of six guards marching down the hall for some time. He knew himself to be a political tool that outlived his usage, a sick beast, and he was prepared. During his imprisonment, for short, intensive spells, he flirted with the possibilities of escape, and ignored them. He did not wish for further humiliation, so he would suffer staying in his cell until Odin decided what was to be done with him. Running, after a while, grew exhausting. Perhaps, if the chance of escape presented itself he would exploit the opportunity, but he wasn’t willing to put effort towards it.
He let them take him without struggle, only wishing his mouth wasn’t gagged so he could comment, take one last stab at Thor’s soft heart. However, even that was fine. Perhaps a month ago he would have begged for forgiveness, for his life, but imprisonment had numbed him to the idea. There was more dignity in silence, and he merely wished it to be over. Even if he escaped or was freed, the Chitauri were waiting on the edge of the ordered universe, and their torture would be worse than anything Asgard offered. He exited his cell ringed by guards, prepared to face his death more with boredom than bravery.
When they arrived in the Great Hall of Asgard, the first person he saw was Frigga, and his heart clenched around itself. Sif and the Warriors Three were also there, all with somber eyes. The Three were looking down, away from him, but Sif met his eyes – defiance in her grief, and it was why he’d always enjoyed her. In the corner of his eyes, he caught a flash of blue and white and red and gold, and with a sickening sensation realized that the Midgardians were there, and they all looked ill. Every eye in the room turned to him as he entered. Under the muzzle, he sneered, and he hoped it reached his eyes. An audience was more than he could have hoped for.
Then he saw the raised dais at the base of the throne, and the two still forms resting upon it, covered with white sheets.
He stopped, suddenly feeling dizzy, simultaneously wondering and knowing who it was under the death masks.
He hollowly let them walk him to the dais, where his mother stood. He didn’t need to view their faces to know.
His throat felt like it locked in on itself, because they were gone and he could see that they were very dead.
Frigga motioned to one of the men. “Take that thing off of him.”
The gag was removed with a snap of static energy and a hiss of air. His voice broke when he tried to ask what had happened. He stretched his jaw, unable to tear his eyes away from Thor’s veiled body, because that couldn’t be him. “What happened?” was all he could manage.
“Illness,” Frigga offered. “It threatened Asgard and Midgard with epidemic. Your father was the first struck, and your brother the last to die.”
“He is not…” Loki began, but stopped. There was no one to posture for now, nor could he go back to the way things were. “Why didn’t you bring me? Mother, I could have aided against a magical illness.”
“The guilty parties will be held accountable,” Frigga said, not answering his question. “There are graver things to discuss.”
A weak, sardonic smile crossed Loki’s mouth. “Graver than the death of a king and his heir?”
Frigga met his eyes. “Thor was not the only heir Odin had.”
Loki stood in stunned silence while the Three and the Midgardians all made sounds of indignation, Sif’s voice rising in the fray. Frigga turned to the Midgardians, “I understand why this concerns you, but remember that your presence here is a courtesy to honor my son and his service to your world.”
“Excuse me, your ladyship…queenness…majesty! Your majesty!” Tony Stark stepped forward, and Loki felt annoyance creep up his spine. He was still wearing his armor, but his helmet was in one hand – there was crusted blood in his hair, and Loki could see his suit was severely damaged in several places. All of them looked as though they’d been in a fight and almost lost. He pointed at Loki. “That guy tried to invade us, and you want to hand him full military and political control of your world? Is there seriously nobody else?” He pointed in the direction of Sif and the Warriors Three. “Her. I like her. Or mustache guy, even. Mustache guy looks like he’d make a fantastic king. Very kingly things going on over there, I can tell. Anybody but him.” He ended his tirade gesturing back to Loki.
“Do you know what happens to a country when there is no clear line of succession?” Frigga asked him. “For millennia Odin has ruled Asgard. Millennia. When your progenitor first sparked fire, the Allfather sat on this throne.” She paused. “Tony Stark, you are a merchant in your world, are you not?”
“That’s one of the nicer things I’ve been called.”
“Imagine for a moment a business rival of yours dies suddenly, with no clear transfer of authority to another individual. What would their partners and subordinates do?”
“Vie for control and hurl lawyers at each other,” Tony answered simply.
“Exactly,” Frigga offered. “And what would you do while your rival’s enterprises were weakened?”
“Three years ago,” he started, “I would have completely exploited their division, bought out what I could, and gutted their investments. Corporate feeding frenzy.”
“Precisely,” Frigga nodded. “Then you understand what we are faced with. Asgard needs a king, and it needs its prince to be its king.”
“Ivan the Terrible was driven mad by his viziers so he would be deemed unfit to rule,” Natasha offered to no one in particular, “the whole thing kind of backfired on them. Just thought I should mention it.”
“King doesn’t mean immunity,” Steve Rogers said, “People don’t like to be oppressed as much as much as you seem to think they do.”
Loki, after a long moment, grinned at Stark and the other Midgardians. “Oh my, this is certainly a surprising turn of events. After all your fighting and raging, I am a king.” He broke off in a low laugh.
Sif took a step forward, her spear clattering violently on the ground. “You are standing over the body of your brother and your king. You will show respect or I will make you.”
Loki turned to her, waiving a hand in a lazy gesture of peace. “I mean no insult. It is just that this is the greatest joke that has ever been played on me, and I so enjoy good jokes.” He grieved with laughter, with wan cackles, and he rationalized that Sif should have known that about him, if she cared to pay attention.
In the background, he heard Stark turn to the others. “Okay, who wants to break the news to Nick Fury when we get back?” he touched his nose. “I call nosies.”
Frigga coughed to get their attention. “The concerns of Midgard are not lost on me, which is why I have a proposal.”
Loki’s smile drooped as he watched her. “What do you propose, mother?”
“A dual crown, a king and queen sharing equal authority.”
“It is a fair concept,” Loki started, “but I have no propositions. It would take months to find an appropriate woman, and we do not have months to stabilize the situation.”
“She’s in the room,” Frigga said, drawing attention to Sif.
Her mouth opened in shock. “I do not understand, my lady.”
“Complete control of the Asgardian military, guards, and border patrols shall fall to you, as queen of Asgard.” Frigga, in a display of support, took Sif’s hand. “Loki, as king, shall make laws, but it is you who shall have the ability to enforce them. I have already spoken with the high council that rules until the coronation. They agree with me.”
Sif numbly sat upon the great staircase. She now looked like the one being walked to her execution. Loki felt slow, indignant fury rise in his chest. “I do not need a nursemaid.”
“Your actions on Midgard supply that you do,” Frigga scolded. “Those are the criteria. I have no doubt, my son, that you can be a great king, but my primary concern at this moment is the stability of our world. The people need a face they can look towards for protection – not just the man who waged war with Midgard. Jotunheim is also aware of your actions against them, and I assure you this will not come without trouble. You are a great man, but Captain Rogers speaks the truth, you will not rule for long without a counterweight. Or you will go mad with power. It is addictive, and you have already shown yourself to be weak to it.”
Loki stood, listening and seething. Rationally, he knew Frigga to be right – perhaps she had been able to keep his Jotun heritage from the populace, but she and Odin could not (would not) have hidden his discretions against the Nine Realms. He sighed, facing Sif. He hated the look on her face – like marriage to him would be so terrible.
It was an annoyance, but this would hardly be the worst compromise he’d made recently. “If the lady will have me,” he said pointedly towards Sif, “I will gladly be a king.”
Every eye in the room turned to Sif and her glare. She was all fire – she’d just watched one of her greatest friends wither, and now she was told to marry his brother for the sake of the realm, a brother she had always had an uncertain friendship with. She looked halfway to heaving, and then closed her eyes, steeling herself. “One cannot ask for a better bride-price,” she said it to Frigga, not to Loki. “I accept, for the good of Asgard.”
Loki smirked to hide a very real twinge of hurt at being ignored. She would be his wife, yet still she rejected him, but it mattered not. He had what he wanted.
He looked down at his brother’s body, and swayed on his feet.
He had what he wanted.
There was a funeral, a wedding, and a coronation in quick succession. Thor and Odin were borne to the great boats that would take them on their final voyage. Loki did not shed a tear as he lit the fires and pushed the boats off into the harbor, instead watching the light with an eerie surrealism, and the same, strange dizzy sensation he’d felt standing over their corpses. He was haunted by the silent urge that he could have made things right, that Thor would have welcomed him with open arms if not for his stubbornness. As with most things in his life, it was too late to turn back, so he said nothing.
“You were very calm as you lit their pyres,” Sif commented coolly as the procession ventured back to the palace. They were surrounded by people, in low whispers and sobs. It gave them a strange sense of privacy.
Loki struggled not to look at the Midgardians, who had stayed for the funeral. He couldn’t wait for them to leave. Thankfully, they would be leaving soon. “They believe I was somehow responsible.”
“Thor’s death was not for your lack of trying.”
“Trying for something, but I did not always try to kill him,” Loki replied flatly. “What do you believe, lady Sif?”
After a long while, she said, “I don’t believe you were responsible.” And that pause was a curse, because it gave him time to ponder how she looked in the firelight, and it stirred old feelings Loki had sworn were long buried. “But you also do not seem remorseful.”
Something icy sat in his chest. “Remorse, if I feel it, is for no one but myself – not for you, for Thor, and especially not for the Midgardians. The dead are beyond my guilt, so what does it matter?”
The wedding was the most private affair out of all of them. They were both ceremonially cleansed beforehand. He ventured to the crypt of her father to find his sword, and she claimed Odin’s spear from his altar. They exchanged the weapons, murmuring soft promises of duty and mutual respect before sealing it with a shared drink of mead. There would be another, more public wedding, but for now, this would be enough. The high council, with Frigga at the lead, announced the changes in rulership and the heightened authority the new queen would have. She allowed for no arguments.
Loki was regarded with suspicion, driven by a certain fear of his proven hunger for power, and nobody was truly comfortable giving power to someone who had abused it so thoroughly. Sif was loved – respected among the warriors and the ladies alike, and most doubts about Loki’s stability as a ruler were cast aside vainly in favor of conversations about how beautiful she looked in her armor and gown. They walked to their throne hand in hand to the cheers of the crowd. Both of them fed off of that energy. Tomorrow, they would officially hold court and be faced with the issues behind ruling the realm, but for now it was about the new, a bright future for Asgard that their young king and queen would gladly lead them through.
For a moment, they felt united, in sync. Loki truly felt like a king with Sif at his side.
It wasn’t until that night, when they consummated their marriage that the sick sensation returned.
She mounted him, quickly, efficiently, but she would not look at him. It was forceful, like anything else he would have expected from Sif, but there was no heart to it. The entire time, her face remained pressed against his cheek, her eyes either closed or staring aimlessly into the pillow behind him, focused entirely on the mechanical motion of their hips.
When he finished, she pulled off of him, staggering immediately from his bed and taking a robe from where she had deposited it earlier.
Loki watched her go, suddenly, inexplicably hurt. This was a political marriage. What right did he have to expect anything from her? “Thor regarding me as an equal is beyond my grasp now,” he began breathlessly, “but I’d thought as your husband, you would at least be forced to notice me.”
Sif stopped, the loose, silken garment falling just over her shoulders. “Perhaps I will, when you prove to be my husband.” She always knew just how to cut him, “and to regard me as a wife, not just a discarded prize from your brother’s collection.”
He stared at her, mouth held shut so she wouldn’t see his surprise. “Do you think so little of me?”
“Yes.” Sif’s throat jumped, and for the first time in centuries, he was sure she would cry. “…No. I do not know what to think of you.” Grabbing her sword, she swung the scabbard over her shoulder, leaving his chamber without so much as a glance backwards. “Good night, my king.”
As the door closed, Loki sank back into the sheets of his bed.
He knew no one trusted him. That was all fine – ruling through fear was effective. But he’d wanted, more than anything, to be accepted and regarded as their king. As it was, he was a spare, and his victory came with a bitter edge. Even Sif could only define him in terms of Thor.
He could not force them to love him, and with Sif in control of Asgard’s military, he couldn’t force them to fear him, either, any more than he could make the dead regard him as an equal.
He realized, dully, angrily, that this was not what he’d wanted.
For the first several months, Sif split her time evenly between Asgard and Midgard, serving as an Avenger in Thor’s stead. Although it displeased him, Loki had no choice but to allow her to do whatever she wished. The first couple times she returned, he tried to be passive aggressive. Once he turned every outfit in her wardrobe an abysmal yellow, another time, he simply did not speak to her for days. None of these tactics proved effective, which irked him. Eventually, he decided it wasn’t worth it, and tolerated her absences in agitation and distance, taking out his annoyance on the first worthy candidate. Whenever she left, his attendants walked on egg shells for the first few days.
Sif fit in well with the Avengers. For weeks at a time, she would stay on Midgardian soil, in the tower designed by Tony Stark. Staying in the rooms that had been made with Thor in mind was melancholy, at first. She resolved to spend as little time as possible there, instead choosing to train in the sparring room with Steve Rogers or Natasha Romanov.
She fought with them as Thor had. It was a needed break from the monotony of holding court, which mostly involved sitting in one place for hours and listening to people’s problems. They weren’t problems that required a military solution, so she frequently lost interest. Loki was surprisingly fair with his judgments, saving his legendary cruelty for those that truly stroked his ire. She felt largely safe leaving the domestic issues in his hands, and if she had to listen to two more farmers argue over property lines for an hour, she was going to go on a killing spree. Loki swore vengeance on whomever it was that kept letting the private disputes reach his ears, and she trusted the reform to be in place by the time she returned.
It was good to be around people who had known Thor. There was a comfort to the warm conversations over dinner or the sharing of fond memories. Although she was busy there, she was also in her element, and it gave her time to heal she wouldn’t have had as queen.
None of them mentioned Loki to her. She wasn’t sure if it merely made them uncomfortable or they were just trying to be polite.
Barton was the one who finally brought it up. He’d mostly stayed away from her. Barton was polite and professional towards her without being friendly. Her assumption was that it had to do with Loki’s personal transgressions against him.
He came to her while she was practicing her hand-to-hand on a bag in the training level. Sif needed to be doing something kinetic as often as possible, otherwise she would go mad. She heard his approach and allowed him to watch her for some time. Stilling the bag, she said, “Is there something you need, Mr. Barton?”
“Do you know what he’s done?”
“I am aware,” Sif replied, ripping the protective bandages from her hands. “I’ve known Loki to do terrible things since before you were born.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Of course it does,” Sif said, “but I also know him to be capable of great kindness and good.”
“You really think he’s going to be happy sharing the crown with you?”
“I do not understand your meaning, Clint Barton.” She did, it just wasn’t something she wanted to think about.
“I’ve seen inside his head.” Clint’s voice became flat, haunted. “He won’t settle for second place. To anyone.”
“He knows I help him keep stability.”
“Just…” he trailed off, “watch your back, Queen Sif.”
“Do you not think people can change?”
He stopped at the threshold of the training area, one hand on the door. “Oh, I know people can change. I just don’t think he can change.”
Barton hit a raw nerve. The conversation troubled Sif for some time. Loki had surprised her with his actions before, to the point where she wasn’t sure she knew him anymore. She didn’t think he was responsible for the death of his brother, nor was he beyond murder in a rage. Whether she could trust him or not weighed heavily on her conscience for days. Suddenly, her hesitation to share a bedchamber with him wasn’t just from discomfort – but also from the secret, nagging feeling in her mind that he could cut her throat as she slept. Years ago, she would have at least trusted her life with him, because of their past friendship. She had also seen the footage from when he led the Chitauri attack; she wasn’t sure how much of the Loki she knew remained.
However, she knew that he knew she wasn’t the only one who would mistrust his intentions. Whether he could change or not was irrelevant. At least for the time being, he needed her.
Sif had long been respected by the warriors of the realm. Resistance to a female commander by a vocal minority was, however, inevitable. While riding with a border patrol, she suffered an ambush from men dressed as forest berserkers. Five of her men were killed and she was wounded, but they managed to fight off the forces until support from the nearest outpost could arrive. She took one of the attackers alive; he died before he could tell them anything, much to her disappointment.
Loki’s spies, in response to the attack on Sif, reported within three days that four of her generals had orchestrated the attack, and had intended to kill her. He rounded them up so he and Sif could face them together.
“There is one thing I dislike more than betrayal,” Loki began rather ironically, fingers playing at the runes on the spear, “and that is my wife returning home needing an arrow pulled from her shoulder, not too far from a major artery. It puts me in a foul mood, to say the least.”
“Your families have paid the wergild for your crime. As such, your lives shall be spared. Exile instead of death,” Sif was proud and controlled; he could tell she wanted to pummel them as much as he did.
“Oh, do we have to spare them, sweetling?” Loki intoned, sounding bored.
Sif turned her back and motioned to the guards. “Deposit them beyond our borders. If they try to return, kill them.”
“Oh glorious day,” one of them said as he rolled his eyes. “We have two women sitting upon the throne of Asgard.”
Sif felt the danger in the air in the seconds before Loki’s face snapped to a grin. It was crocodilian, and she knew what was coming. “Are you familiar, friend, with the Midgardians’ analogy of the ant and the boot?”
In the general’s confusion, he brought the spear down in a brutal twirl, neatly beheading him. His body dropped, head rolling to the side, a lump of flesh hitting the marble. Next to him, his co-conspirator flinched, and Loki stuck his spear into the man’s stomach, twisting as his hand wrapped around a fat throat until the convulsions stilled. Another turned to flee, and Loki swung his spear in a low arc, breaking one of the man’s knees. He screamed at the pain, dropping to the floor instantly to clutch at his useless limb. Loki paused, and touched two fingers to the temple of the fourth man. Sif saw the glow of magic. The other man’s eyes glazed over in a wash of green light; he started mumbling at the vision he was trapped in.
Sif’s guards watched onwards, looking to her for her orders. She had none. When he was done, Loki flung his weapon to the side, freeing it of some of the traitors’ blood. He smiled at one of the guards. “Well, that was therapeutic. You may take the living ones to the border and the dead ones back to their families.”
“We had a deal with them,” Sif said, voice thick. “They paid the wergild.”
“Then give them their coin back,” Loki quipped. Snapping at an attendant, he ordered a cloth and a washbasin. When she forced his attention, his face lapsed to frankness. “A threat to your authority, Lady Sif, is a threat to my authority, and that is not something I will tolerate. Besides, I didn’t see you rushing to stop me.”
She didn’t need to ask for clarification to know his message.
If they refused to love her, they would fear him.
Sorry it's been so long in the making, everyone! I needed to do more thorough planning for this story than I previously had. Now that I'm over this hump, the rest should flow fairly smoothly. Thank you to everyone who expressed support after the first chapter!
“Are you sure, mother?”
Sif thought he looked strange, standing over Frigga in his formal attire. While she could never be described as fragile, her disposition had grown weary in the last week. Loki was as strong as ever, in an armored tunic tailored by the finest hands. Next to Thor, he’d always struck Sif as shorter than he was, but he towered over Frigga now, one hand placed on his mother’s shoulder with a gentleness Sif forgot he possessed.
Frigga nodded, bringing her palm over his hand. “Yes, Loki. I just need rest.”
He looked like he wanted to say more, but sighed instead, frustration unmistakable. “Very well. I will have food sent to your rooms.” Sif saw him turn a concerned glance into a long-suffering eye roll. “Please eat all of it this time.”
“You take good care of me.” She patted his hand.
“One must start somewhere.” He ghosted a smile. “The next feast? Please? I’ll go mad if I must entertain the clan matrons all by myself.”
Sif was uncomfortable. She was uncomfortable seeing Loki be kind again, and she was uncomfortable seeing Frigga so sad.
It wasn’t the typical sadness of wailing widows. During the day, she seemed fine. As vibrant as ever, a pillar of decorum in troubled times. It troubled Sif to see that lapse when Frigga thought no one was looking. She would sigh and hold herself, on the brink of something Sif didn’t understand. Just seeing it happen brought Sif a moment of empathetic loneliness, and it troubled her that she had no idea how to reach out to tell Frigga that she was not alone.
Usually, it was the women of the family that were expected to comfort one another in mourning, but Sif’s position was so unique she wasn’t sure how to approach the situation. As proud as she was to be the high commander of their forces, she also knew her position was a tar trap as far as customs went. She had mastered the art of being a maiden and a warrior. This was something different. No king in the history of Asgard had shared authority with his queen – her responsibilities were that of a second king, and what the people expected from her was, at times, contradictory and perplexing.
While Loki and Frigga spoke behind her, she was distracted by a small, wooden sword and shield resting against a wall in the corner. They looked so familiar...
“Please, don’t touch that.” Frigga’s voice was like ice in Sif’s spine, shooting through her arm to the tips of her fingers.
She stood at attention, knotting her hands behind her back, surprised that her little transgression had warranted such a visceral reaction. “I’m sorry, my lady. I merely…when we were children, Thor and I played with toys much like these.”
“Thor will always be a child to me,” Frigga stated, a sad smile coming to her face. “He was always such a little boy in so many ways.”
Sif shuddered at that, because no matter his accomplishments, no matter how old he was or how many battles he won, Thor would always be that rambunctious toddler to Frigga. She felt a sympathetic pang and again, wished she knew how to make it better.
“That is not a point I would debate,” Loki murmured finally, even as his hand squeezed on Frigga’s shoulder. Sif had the impression that he was just as uncomfortable as she was.
Frigga kissed Loki’s palm and smiled warmly at Sif. “Enjoy the feast, both of you. Remember that it will be important that the people of Asgard see their crown united.”
Truth returned to both of them, and they bid Frigga good night.
They left her rooms with Loki already in a poor mood.
“Wasted love,” Loki said as they walked towards the great hall. “Centuries in creation, dashed in a heartbeat.”
“Just because something’s lost doesn’t mean it’s wasted,” Sif replied, voice edged with her own grief. Thor had been her friend for so long. Her gut still clenched to think about his death from sickness – the smell of bile and waste would never leave her. It was not a fitting death for a warrior. To her, that was the greatest waste. At least she told herself that.
She wasn’t even sure Loki heard her reply, because they stepped into the din, royal grins donned like breastplates for the battle.
The raucous cries of the great hall would only grow louder as the night wore on and they all became more inebriated. It was early, still, and already Sif could tell Loki had a headache. That much had not changed. The slight crumple to his brow and the way his smile was gradually becoming more like a grimace betrayed him.
She laughed and joked with the nobles seated closest to them at the table. Loki did do his part to maintain the front of the happy, united couple, splitting his time between relatively subdued conversations with others and grazing his fingers lightly over Sif’s arm when he knew someone was looking. When Sif stood up to tell a story of a battle she’d been in with Fandral and Loki, he smiled and graciously helped Volstagg exaggerate the details. Sif took his cue, and exaggerated further.
Each touch sent a jolt up her spine that pleased him. He wasn’t sure how much of her display was acting and how much of it was real affection. Sif was clever, but never known to be a great actress. The disparity bothered him, so he made a game during the feast of trying to get her mask to slip. Sif knew he was doing just that, and began playing back, even stealing a quick kiss at the corner of his mouth when she reached for more mead. He was stunned into silence for several seconds, which Sif took great pride in. In retaliation, he took her hand in his, kissed it, and continued to hold it for the rest of the meal.
When an elder noblewoman – one of their duchesses – approached, they’d just been ready to take their leave. Sif smiled sweetly, and Loki cordially kissed the older woman’s hand, visibly put-off by needing to be civil for a moment longer.
“I just wanted to congratulate your majesties,” she said, voice slurred slightly, a little too loud. “It is good to see such resolve in these dark times.”
Sif tilted her head sympathetically. “Many lost loved ones in the Blight.”
“May they eat themselves fat in Valhalla,” Loki said, shortly. Sif caught the insult wrapped in the condolence. She squeezed his hand to the point of bruising in the hope it would encourage him to behave for a little while longer.
The duchess didn’t notice, instead taking it as a genuine expression of sympathy. “Thank you, your majesties.” She swayed. “I remember when you and your brother were just little things – hanging all over Frigga’s dresses and sneaking around under the council tables. Always getting in trouble, you were.”
Sif saw Loki’s lips twitch inwards. He didn’t like where this conversation was going. “Everyone was a child once. Some of us are even fortunate enough to grow out of it.”
The woman’s hand reached over and tapped Sif warmly on the shoulder. “I should imagine we’ll be seeing little heirs running around, soon.”
The words sent a dash of heat to her stomach and her cheeks that she couldn’t put a name to. In her hand, Loki went tense, somewhere between fury and panic. He dropped it like it was white hot, offered the duchess a half-smile, and left immediately.
“His majesty is tired,” Sif offered, “we were just about to retire. Please, enjoy the feast.” The older woman swooned away, eventually aided by one of her older sons. Sif’s façade dropped, and she immediately went to pursue Loki. They’d almost gone the entire feast without incident, and she supposed she should count herself lucky.
She watched the door to his bedchamber close, only to slam it open again, bursting in after him, and closing it behind her with a thunderous sound. “What, pray tell, was that about?”
He whirled around, teeth grinding together. “What business is it of hers?”
“She was merely trying to be friendly; something I fear is lost on you.”
Anger, always present, lashed to the surface. “Oh, do tell how enquiring about our habits when the last heir’s ashes aren’t even cool yet was friendly?”
“It just is!” Sif snapped back, feeling her own temper rise. “Perhaps it wasn’t polite, but you are overreacting.”
He stormed over to her until he stood inches from her face. She met his ire evenly. “Oh,” he mocked, “don’t tell me you actually wish for a brat of your own?”
“I never said that! Certainly not now.” Sif shoved him aside, desperate for some space between them, because as much as she’d never even wanted to think about these things, she was less prepared to argue them. “I’ve never…” She was torn, she’d never wanted to be a mother, and she’d never wanted to marry, either. This was not something she was ready to talk about, especially not when they were both angry.
“You forget what I am.” His voice was quiet, but she saw the rage shake through his body, from his face to his fingers. “Frost Giant. Jotunn. Monster. The ancient enemy of Asgard.” His breath came out broken. “What were you planning to tell the midwife when our child comes out half-blue, with eyes as red as blood? Tell me, do you know if it will come out a scholar or a mindless beast that rips its way out of your womb and leaves you dead? Half breeds are so unpredictable.” He jeered, and she heard genuine fear mix with the wrath. “Would you lie to our son or daughter every day for centuries, pollute the line of Asgard with cold blood?”
“Since you seem intent to argue a point we agree on,” Sif said, already exhausted, but he was being cruel, without even listening to what she had to say, and she felt like returning the favor, “You live in lies. What difference is there in lying to a child?”
“I was raised in lies. It’s no surprise that’s what I became.” He slashed his hand through the air. “I know such deceit is poison, and I swear this one will die with me.”
Sif opened her mouth to say something hurtful, to hurt him like he was hurting her, but she stopped. It wouldn’t help anything. “I’m sorry, I just-“
At the look on her face, his voice softened, and he pressed his hand into his temple. “Please. Get out. I wish to be alone right now.”
Sif’s own anger boiled over. Why was she the one who needed to be reasonable with him? Why did she constantly have to be the one to bow and placate to his sensitivities? If she couldn’t apologize to him, then she’d wound him. If that was the only thing he allowed her to do, then so be it. “This is why I didn’t mourn for you when you fell into the Bifrost. In every sense, you are a coward. Cowardly life, cowardly death, and a cowardly husband.”
Loki went still, as if she’d slapped him. Or stabbed him. She watched the anger lapse into sadness, then back to anger; immediately, she regretted her words. He was unstable, and she knew she’d overstepped some sort of boundary. She’d said too much to turn back.
“Was it not cowardly,” he said, voice going deceptively calm, “when I sat upon the throne of Asgard and you followed Thor to Midgard? Was that not a betrayal to your oaths, lady Sif?”
“You sat on the throne through deceits and the illness of your father.” She replied, shuddering with anger of her own, which built to a roar in her mouth. “Without right or merit then, only convenience gives you your crown now!”
“If that is my truth, then it is yours as well, my queen.” He snarled it to her back, spat like a bolt. She slammed the door behind her, desperate to shut out those hurtful words. This itself was odd. She was a hairs breadth from challenging him to a duel, but the right to succession stopped her. He was the king, their lawmaker, and her oath to him as a warrior saved him well before her oath as a wife or queen.
Sif stormed away, hot tears burning her face that she wiped away before their guards could see. She’d long ago mastered the rule about never crying in front of others. This wasn’t right. He wasn’t right. Even before, they’d fought, but never so bitterly. Friendly squabbles, at worst. The rage that bubbled up in him did not scare her, but it was not something she had expected from Thor’s younger, controlled brother. He’d changed. She wondered, as Thor often had, how long Loki had harbored those feelings, what they had done to him that those feelings ate him from the inside and drove him to do the things he’d done. Now it was constantly beneath the surface, ready to lash and snap.
It was easiest to hurt him back. It was most satisfying to hurt him back. That only seemed to make everything worse. She stood by what she said. He’d still been out of place, and Sif refused to apologize. It was pain she was unprepared to inflict on him or receive. It had inevitably escalated.
Sif didn’t know how to fight that.
They avoided each other for weeks after the fight. Sif went on any expedition or adventure that would take her away from the castle, and Loki watched her go, wondering if he should say goodbye. If his silence made it worse or allowed for healing, he knew not. Sif was a mystery to him in matters like this. He didn’t know if she would prefer him to speak, to allow the situation to normalize, or if she desired space.
Meanwhile, Loki threw himself into reconnecting Asgard with the rest of the World Tree. There were already fine engineers and mages working on repairing the Bifrost, but it would take decades to recover all the needed materials, and Asgard could not afford to lack a presence in the other realms for so long. It held a vital peacekeeping presence.
There was only one option, really. The irony stung his ego for days.
When he was not holding court, he spent his time organizing and building a suitable focus for the raw power of the Tesseract.
On Midgard, controlling the Tesseract had been a more difficult task. He had used the human Erik Selvig to best make use of the materials at his disposal. On Asgard, he had technologies he’d been forced to make from scratch with shoddy substitutes before, and it made part of the task easier. Focusing the Tesseract was the most difficult task, as well as calibration for different locations. Such tedious work required his complete attention. In light of the trouble with Sif, he was glad to give it.
Sif would be pleased, he hoped. He knew her to harbor some concerns about military maneuvers while the Bifrost was shattered. Hopefully, this would sate them.
Besides, for several days, he was able to justify shutting down scheduled communications with Earth. He hoped there was an emergency.
“My King,” he heard the low, rumbling voice behind him as he stood in the location he’d chosen – an ancient temple on a peninsula housed the Tesseract, as well as his efforts to tame it.
He grinned, and turned to face Heimdall. “Gatekeeper, you have left your post.”
The Guardian’s sword was sheathed, even without it; he had presence Loki had always understood, even if he did not appreciate it. “I wish to give counsel.”
“I did not ask for your counsel,” Loki replied, then reconsidered, “but I will hear you.”
Heimdall’s great gaze fell to the Tesseract. “There is a reason Odin hid it on Earth, your majesty.”
“I know,” Loki gave a smile, “I know what dangers it holds.”
“I am sure you have accounted for outside parties opening the gate from another side.”
At those words, Loki shuddered. He had. “I do not doubt my precautions.”
“You should,” Heimdall stated. “I cannot see beyond the edge of the ordered universe, yet I know forces may stir against you.”
“Beyond where physics breaks down and the husks of dying stars illuminate only a vast expanse,” Loki whispered, as if reciting something, “That is where the Chitauri dwell.”
“There were myths, whispers, stories of creatures that lurked in the darkness, waiting for opportunity, striking like locusts,” Heimdall droned. “And there are other, more certain stories of the Mad Titan.”
Loki’s throat went dry and his heart rate increased. “Do I look like I’m hiding?”
“No, I just hope you are not planning to.”
Loki had to think about it. In Asgard, he was probably safer than he would be anywhere in the universe. Which, if he decided to make a move, was not very safe at all, but Loki understood that if the Chitauri or their master were ever ready and willing to call their debt, nowhere would suffice.
“If I did?” Loki ran a hand over the great metal casing he was designing to house the Cosmic Cube. “Then what?”
“What would I do if you abandoned your people to a deadly and overwhelming force?” Heimdall answered after a long moment. “I would cut you down.”
Loki had expected no less. “Good then, Gatekeeper, let us hope that day never comes.” Because he would certainly run and Heimdall could potentially kill him. He didn’t even bother to disguise his disdain. “You are dismissed.”
He heard Heimdall leaving. Against his better judgment, he spoke up. “Asgard has a sworn duty to the Nine Realms that cannot be accomplished with our transport crippled. We are already using the Tesseract for travel and communication with Midgard; I merely seek to make it more efficient.” He paused before swallowing his pride. “Am I truly wrong for that?”
“Not yet. Now that you have a crown, I hope you are worthy of it.” Heimdall replied, and then turned back, “And I know not what you have done, but I would recommend you apologize to Her Majesty.”
Loki bristled. “Thank you, Gatekeeper, for your sound advice.”
As a sign of goodwill, he spelled her crown so that she could see poisons. The golden round was left on the red velvet of her pillow, waiting for her return from Midgard where she helped the humans fight off an invasion of lycanthropes or some such nonsense. He scribed a small note describing its purpose, and telling her that if she wished him to remove the spelling, he would.
She did not ask him to remove the spelling, nor did she reach out to him after the gift. He did not know if she was happy or not, but he did see her wearing it every night as she dined or for official functions.
He’d purposefully spelled it so that it would see any poisons.
Especially the ones he might use if he lost control again.
He wanted her to trust him, he realized. Part of the problem was that he didn’t trust himself, so he took protective steps.
He slept well, that night, a brief respite from a normally troubled cycle.
The first thing they needed to do after the focus for the Tesseract was complete was journey to Jotunnheim.
Sif stepped through the gate with Loki, Hogun, and nine of the Queen’s Own. Just as it had the first time, the first breath of frigid air took her breath away, and she shivered against the chill as she raised the hood of her cloak to guard against the wind.
She and Loki had not spoken since the night of the feast, excepting the barest necessities of contact for running the realm. Mostly, she had thrown herself into battle. She patrolled Asgard for threats from within. She fulfilled her duty to Midgard fighting for their realm. She generally thought about anything that was not Loki or the conflict hanging between them.
They had a mission, an ancient task to uphold, and Sif would not let their trouble interfere with that.
They were taking a risk with this meeting. Hogun knew of Loki’s heritage. Sif had carefully selected her guards from among those she trusted most. All the same, it was too dangerous to go without a small contingent. She was also concerned with Loki’s own mental state. He had not reacted well when faced with that part of himself. She worried he would lose his mind staring at the vacant glaciers and nigh-perpetual darkness. Then where would they be? Jotunnheim was the kind of place where soldiers went mad and wandered off into the wasteland to die.
He confessed to her that he revealed his true origins to Laufey, but Laufey was dead, and the Frost Giants in attendance were also probably dead. Loki hated a sloppy clean-up, but even on Jotunnheim nobody would believe one or two lost soldiers from a fallen dynasty.
“What have they done without their king?” Sif asked as they traveled to the meeting place, followed by quiet eyes in the darkness from every angle.
“Laufey was a king in the loosest sense,” Loki replied formally. “Frost Giant culture is tribal in composition, with one ‘high king’ selected. I’m not sure how the high king is chosen, I’m afraid, since our records of Laufey’s rise to power are tainted, at best.” He was scanning the snowy landscape, searching for their watchers. “I assume it was bloody.”
Sif listened, absorbing the information. Jotunnheim was probably at war with itself in the frenzy to select a new high king. They were probably meeting with some sort of council, made up by the leaders of the various tribes of Jotunnheim. Loki, mindful of their spies, had told her in no uncertain terms what their angle would be diplomatically--- Jotunnheim was tearing itself apart from within, they were already spread thin and unprepared for the open war Laufey had declared. They would probably try to hide that fact, and Loki would grant some kind of shallow concession in exchange for peace after a polite negotiation. She hoped it would be enough. In the back of her mind, she knew that the Jotunnns would invade Midgard first. If this mission went poorly, her allies there would likely suffer for it.
They came to a great circle of ice, with huge spikes striking skyward in every direction. Two guards – from their warrior elite – waited outside.
“Only the two of you,” one rumbled.
“Unacceptable,” Sif said, instinctively.
“We shall bring one guard for each of us,” Loki supplied, “and we will not remove our weapons. Surely you would not demand the king of Asgard not abide by the customs you hold yourselves to?”
The Jotunns exchanged looks, as if someone had told them to prepare for this event, and they respectfully stepped aside.
Sif selected two guards to accompany them. Hogun would stay and direct their guards if there was an emergency, and, if necessary, would fight his way in to provide a little extra assurance.
They walked up the great ice staircase, and she saw the corner of Loki’s mouth quirk up. “Not expecting trouble, Lady Sif?”
“Not even the slightest,” she said innocently. “I merely thought Hogun would prefer the scenery from the outside.”
“Yes,” he said, voice serious, “The scenery. Of Jotunnheim. It’s lovely this time of year.”
She hid a smile.
They came to an inner circle, ringed by several thrones of ice and a single, elongated stone table, itself a carved abnormality, bearing roughly carved scars not unlike the marks each Jotunnn had on their skin. Sif checked the towering spires to see if there were any obvious threats lurking above, and she could see large shadows moving behind the surface of the ice, their frozen javelins glistening, blending in.
There were twelve seats. Three Frost Giants were in attendance.
One of them had markings very similar to the ones Sif remembered seeing on Laufey and his guards. She wasn’t familiar enough with them to determine if it was the same based on nuances. Another was, to Sif’s great surprise, a female. She was covered in furs, with skulls of various, strange creatures hanging from her tunic on beaded threads. Her hair was likewise adorned, white and braided back in the same ridges Sif had seen on the heads of the males. She had never seen a giantess, and their rarity produced many jokes among veterans of the war. The rumors seemed mostly untrue – she was as tall and heavily muscled as the others. Two long, wooden posts were leaned against the wall behind her, and she merely observed them, where one of the two male Jotunnn looked ready to jump from his seat and rip Loki’s head off.
The third, sitting between them, was covered in a sort of scaly armor, a hide surely from a beast not unlike the one that Laufey sent after them on their first visit. Two long, black antlers of ten points each spiraled up from his helm, which seemed to have been ripped from the head of a demon stag. His markings were entirely different than the others – circles and spirals, ten pointed stars instead of rigid lines.
“I am Loki, King of Asgard,” Loki intoned.
Sif followed suit, pulling down the hood of her traveling coat. “I am Sif, Queen of Asgard.”
The giant in the center spoke first – a low rumbling, like the sound of ice breaking into the sea, that Sif never got used to. “I am Mimir.” He motioned to the Jotunnn sitting next to him. “Skald, of the North.” Then, lastly, he pointed to the female. “Skaoi, of the Mountains.”
“Have you no tribe, Mimir?” Loki asked.
“I am the Harbinger of Jotunnheim. I need no power or title beyond that.”
Sif listened carefully. He was their high priest. The most holy of their holy men.
“So,” Loki began, motioning around them, “Is this all that’s left?”
“We could say the same to you,” Skaoi ground, “A king and a prince dead in the span of less than three days?” Sif tried very hard not to reach for her weapon as those red eyes settled on her. “Is this all that is left to Asgard?”
Loki smiled. “Why yes, I know all about the death of kings.”
“Like when you killed ours,” Skald’s teeth were grinding together as he spoke, “after you lured him to Asgard under the guise of assassinating the Allfather.”
“And if he had not been so blinded by hate for Odin, he would have seen it for what it was,” Loki replied. “In the end, all seems fair.”
Skaoi made a noise. “I am more concerned for how he tried to eliminate our entire realm.” There was a beat, and she crossed one great leg. “Why do we not demand he be turned over for his crime?”
“Whatever his transgressions,” Sif wasn’t sure she believed it as she said it, “he is King of Asgard now, and he is who you deal with.”
She saw Loki’s grin widen out of the corner of her eye, and he spread out his arms, stepping forward. “Friends, the internal matters of Asgard and Jotunnheim are not what we have come to discuss. I look instead to external problems.” He folded his hands behind him. “Such as the fact that our realms are still at war. I seek to amend that.”
They were quiet for a long time, until the priest Mimir spoke up. “You crave peace now, Asgardian, after seeking to annihilate us?”
“Yes,” Loki said, sounding unapologetic, “During war, I committed an act of war. Circumstances have changed for all involved.”
“Oh?” Skaoi interjected. “What has changed so drastically that we are expected to accept a branch of peace from you? What guarantee do we have that it is not false.”
Skald leaned forward. “Put his head on a platter. Then we will discuss peace.”
“Jotunnheim has no High King,” Sif offered, positioning herself between Loki and Skald. “Asgard recovers from a great loss. Both parties benefit from reestablishing the treaty that was in place before the attempted theft of the Casket of Ancient Winters.”
“It is not enough,” Mimir was talking, hands folded underneath him in a thoughtful pose. “The Casket. Return it to us and you will have your peace.”
There was a long pause. Sif almost laughed.
Loki tilted his head upwards. “I accept.”
She turned to him, mouth agape. “Loki…”
He raised a hand, his eyes shifted to her, shifted to the snow as he took one more step forwards. Trust me, that look said; Sif did not trust him.
“And we request that Midgard be opened to us.”
“I do not extend the protections of Asgard to Midgard.” Loki gestured dismissively.
At that, Sif held her head high, and shot a nasty glare at the side of Loki’s head. “Midgard is under my protection, and this is not something I will allow.”
“Some king,” Skald hissed, “to share his throne with his wife.”
When she spoke, it was directed to Skald. “King Loki has left me to deal with matters he sees as beneath him.”
“The Casket of Ancient Winters shall be returned to you, as a show of good faith,” sensing violence, Loki interrupted, “and afterwards the ancient treaty between our peoples shall go back into effect.” Reluctantly, he eyed Sif. “Including the protections established to Midgard by my late brother and my wife.” He smiled. “Have we a deal?”
“We must deliberate,” Mimir said. “We shall relay our answer to you within one Asgardian week.”
Loki smiled, and they turned to leave, Sif did so reluctantly, her hand occasionally shifting to the hilt of her glaive.
She stayed quiet until they were back with the others. Hogun noticed the deep scowl on her face to match the satisfied grin Loki wore. They returned to their extraction point.
Heimdall opened the Tesseract, and despite everything, Sif tensed. It was different than traveling by way of the Bifrost. It was like being disassembled and reassembled across two different points in the universe. It was unsettling, and it left her feeling like her skin had been exposed to a very harsh sun.
As soon as their party returned to Asgard, she grabbed Loki’s cloak, pressed him against the side of the ancient temple selected as the site for the Tesseract, and hissed, “Leave us.” to the soldiers. Heimdall bowed respectfully and stepped outside with the others (though he did not go far).
Loki was grinning. “Clever, wasn’t it?”
“I hope you have some plan or scheme for this,” Sif said, running a gloved hand over her face, “or I swear I will leave you a bloody mess on the temple stones.”
He raised his hands. “It is not me if there isn’t a scheme, Sif.” He looked down at the hand still pressing his outer tunic to the wall. She released him, and he immediately straightened his armor. “The plan is simple. I’m surprised you’ve not already guessed it.”
“I am in no mood for games. Why are you giving them the very thing Odin fought for centuries to rid them of?”
“You see how divided they are,” Loki sneered. “Two leaders of two tribes sit on the cusp of the throne, with, presumably, equal support from the others on both sides, and I plan to upset that. Can you tell me why reintroducing the Casket will upset that?”
Sif thought about it for a moment longer, and immediately felt dumb. “Of course. Twelve tribes of Frost Giants. One magic box. They’ll split into all-out war with each other long before they seek to attack Asgard again.” She bowed her head. “That is a lot of death, Loki…”
“Death they will bring on themselves in a mad dash for power,” he crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, “Something I know all about.”
“You were never held to any kind of responsibility. What right have you to demand it of others?”
She saw his nostrils flare. “Peace, Loki. I do not wish to fight.” She bowed her head. “It is a dangerous play you’ve made, but it buys us time and ends the war. I merely wish you’d told me that’s what you planned from the beginning, so it would not come as such a shock.”
“Your reaction helped sell it, Lady Sif,” he was sure of himself.
“I don’t care. Next time, tell me.” She looked out the old window.
“I would have, but we were not speaking.”
She started, and almost slapped him for being so manipulative – before she saw how tight his shoulders were, the awkwardness that he had whenever he was telling the truth.
“I suppose only time will tell if that is true.” She searched for something more to say. His words were sobering, though, and she needed time to think. She paused at the exit, one hand on the great stone gate. “Our argument…”
“It is in the past,” he said quickly, not meeting her eyes. “We agree. I pushed it beyond reason. It was uncalled for.”
“I did mourn,” Sif said without facing him, because she wasn’t sure she could do that. “I still am.” Every time she could tell he was going to that place in his own mind, every time she saw footage of his invasion of Midgard.
“I didn’t die,” Loki said voice quiet, “I merely changed. I can change again.”
“I hope so.” Sif shook her head. “If you wish me to trust you, you must give me someone I can trust. I will…try to be sympathetic, but I will not tolerate you taking it upon me.” She tapped the side of the stone wall. “And no matter how dire the argument, we must still collaborate on things like this.”
When he spoke, his voice was quiet, and it was the closet to an affirmation, or an apology, she would probably get. “I’ve never liked arguing with you.”
“I pray this is worth it.” There was a beat, and she took a risk. “Would you…like to dine tonight?”
He looked stunned then, with a cordial bow and a curve of his arm followed her out of the temple.
Three days later, Jotunnheim accepted the terms of the new treaty. By the end of the week, the Casket was returned to them, only it was not designated to whom it would be returned.
A bit of a departure from the last couple chapters structure-wise. The stories from this point onwards are going to be a bit more focused.
Also, I recently learned that Odin's staff has a name. If you see the name Gungnir pop up in this story where I've previously just been calling it "the staff" or "the spear" that's why~
Thank you for everyone who has been so patient and so supportive in the reviews! You guys are awesome.
Out of all the diplomatic missions necessary since his taking of the throne, Loki went to Midgard last. They were in a transport vehicle; his staff and helmet were neatly folded into a pocket of space-time. Doing his best to look bored, he studied the ocean as it swept beneath them. Sif, seated next to him, cast a glance to the nine armed guards and two fellow Avengers brought to see to them. Fury did not take that single searching eye off of him once.
Everything that had been repressed or he thought had been sated since his great defeat was coming back to him. All the hatred he pinned behind that gag was bubbling to the surface. After his coronation, he’d merely adjusted to a new role, borne out of survival more than duty. Between the responsibilities of his title, the constant struggle of balancing power with Sif, and his mother’s declining health, he didn’t usually have time to entertain thoughts of dipping Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in boiling oil. Power brought with it flirtations with revenge, but with Sif in control of Asgard’s military and herself claiming a role with them, that avenue was closed to him. So he accepted it, as best he knew how.
“So many precautions, Fury,” Loki broached, “It’s almost as if you don’t want anyone to know you’re meeting with me.”
“Director Fury,” Sif said, “was all of this truly necessary?”
Captain Rogers was standing near Fury’s right shoulder. Since the jet’s stop to collect the Asgardian royals, his gaze hadn’t left Loki once. Rogers looked to Sif, as if for some kind of cue. Out of the corner of his eye, Loki saw her shake her head. The soldier looked at her for a moment and smoothly transitioned his attention to checking in with Stark, who was escorting them to SHIELD’s helicarrier in his iron suit.
Fury gave Loki an indulgent smile. “You made a lot of people mad last time you were here. I’d hate to have anything happen to our esteemed guest.”
“Are they to protect me from you or to protect you from me?” Loki met that with his own smirk. They were nervous, and Loki felt a gleam of pride that he was responsible for that. He may have been defeated, but no one on Earth would soon forget what he had done.
Fury’s expression altered only a fraction, and Loki felt something inside him sing because he knew Fury wanted to say more, but his self-control wouldn’t allow it.
He met Captain Rogers’ eyes, and his smile widened.
He hoped every time they had a nightmare, it was about him.
They began gaining altitude. A quick glance to the left told him that Sif looked uneasy – her fingers were knitted together as she sat, shoulders hunched as she watched their ascent. She looked guarded. He wasn’t sure what troubled her, and had he been in better spirits, he might have asked.
They approached SHIELD’s great sky fortress less than half an hour later, and set down gently on the landing pad of the carrier.
“My,” Loki said as the engines hummed to a stop, “it looks much better without smoldering holes in the side.”
Rogers and Fury ignored him completely, which skirted the realms of disappointing. Sif also said nothing, even though he could see the line of her mouth darken. “Sif,” Rogers addressed, “Hawkeye’s got the landing pad covered, Black Widow will meet us outside and I’ll take point as we move into the interior.”
“I shall watch our flank.” Sif rose to her feet and readjusted her shield on her arm. “And what of Iron Man and Bruce Banner?”
“Iron Man’s landing on port. He’ll meet us inside.” Rogers gave her a smile that made Loki’s skin crawl. “Banner’s in the lab and that’s where he wants to stay.”
Rogers stepped outside, and Sif followed, happy to have a job that entailed something other than watching Loki cross words with the humans.
The exchange bothered Loki in a base, irrational way. For months now, Sif had been fighting beside the heroes of Earth, and he knew that sort of camaraderie forged the strongest of bonds. This was the first time he’d seen how strong that union had grown. It wasn’t surprising in the least that she was friendly with the people responsible for his downfall, since the very characteristics that allowed them to succeed were ones that Sif idolized. What bothered him was how happy and relaxed she seemed now. She wasn’t just friendly; she was more comfortable with the Midgardian warriors than she was in her own home. If possible, his mood dipped further, and he followed them onto the sun-scorched surface.
As their small party made its way across, he cast his eyes up to the radio tower. He couldn’t see Clint Barton hiding up there. He still knew exactly where the archer would be.
When he looked down, he saw that Agent Romanov was hovering near his shoulder and caught the barest flicker of her eyes that said she was studying him when he wasn’t looking. She walked opposite Sif, who had been looking the other way. He wasn’t sure if she’d seen or not. Fortunately, he didn’t care.
Once they were inside, he had distinct recollections of the last time he was walked through these hallways. Some he knew from observation, the rest came from what he was able to glean from Barton’s mind. The sector was cleared of all non-essential personnel. Last time he’d been taken to the cell block; this time they moved in another direction. Sound-proofed meeting rooms at the heart of the vessel (one way in or out, easy to secure for his armed escort) would be the site for their meeting.
Rogers led the way. Sif followed him in. Loki slithered in behind her, steps graceful and confident as he crossed the threshold and claimed a seat near her. He heard Fury enter the room behind him, with Romanov at his heels. Two agents stayed by the door.
Loki met Fury’s low-level contempt with an easy smirk, and a quick glance around as if to imply he expected someone more impressive. “You speak for the people of Earth?”
“I speak for SHIELD, and all matters relating to the safety of the Earth.” Fury tilted his head. “You know, you’ve made a few jumps in the world yourself. How did that go again? Exile, prisoner, heights of power?”
“Oh, how disappointing. I hoped I might finally be able to meet your handlers.”
The look Fury returned was balanced, although he may well have been thinking, If I ever get to punch this bastard’s face in, I can die happy. “Let’s just move on so we can get this out of the way, if you don’t mind?”
“What exactly is the purpose of this meeting?” Loki asked. “Do they want some guarantee I shall make no move against your people?” He motioned towards Sif. “If that is the case, then you need look no farther than Queen Sif. All military matters fall to her.” He leaned into the table, placing his arms. “However – and I believe this to be far more likely concern, since my wife seems so enamored with you all – it is entirely my domain whether I choose to give reparations for the damage done by the Chitauri. My guess is that that’s what you seek.”
Loki was about to speak again, when sudden disquiet fell on his shoulders. It was strange for Sif to remain quiet after he presumed something about her, and he wondered where her mind was wandering.
“Odin was in the process of making arrangements for something your people call a wergild. We ask for no more and no less.”
Next to him, Sif tensed, but said nothing. This annoyed him, and he was tempted to do more to pull some kind of reaction from her.
Before he found his place again, the door beeped with an authorized entry and slid open.
“Why did no one tell me the meeting wasn’t going to be on the bridge? I was up there for like five minutes before Banner told me it was down here. Shame on all of you.” Stark strode into the room and immediately pulled all attention to himself, taking a seat near Agent Romanov that he tested with a couple expert bounces. “Ooh, spinny chairs! I thought we weren’t allowed to have these on here. You know. Turbulence.”
Fury gave Stark an expression that said, I want to punch your face in, in no uncertain terms. Stark was either oblivious to the looming threat or didn’t care.
“So glad you could join us, Mr. Stark,” Captain Rogers said, voice edged between aggravation and resignation.
Stark settled. “What’d I miss?”
Romanov was kind enough to fill him in. “Loki was in the process of denying our request.”
Loki looked between the two of them, and took the opportunity to twist his hand under the table, calling a small, wooden box out of the void. He slid the lid open, and let the small, rune-encrusted insects hiding inside spill out underneath. He could feel a beetle flutter its wings near his finger, while a centipede crawled over the back of his hand. The runes on their backs allowed them to walk between the abyss and the material plain – they were not perfect spies, but they couldn’t be located by human sensors and they required no food or sleep. They would suffice as a safety measure.
“Oh, so I didn’t miss anything.” He leaned back in his chair and motioned to the rest. “Continue! Act like I’m not even here.”
“Thank you so much, Stark,” Fury deadpanned.
“Now that we have your approval, how could we not?” Under the table, Loki whisked the empty box back into nothing.
“King Loki,” Sif said with stilted formality.
Loki looked at her expectantly. Finally. “Sif?”
“I remember that you once told me that the first action of a new ruler cannot be to undo the final order of the last,” she said evenly, unaccustomed to this sort of wordplay. “Although this is not your first action, I feel as though the principal can still be applied.”
His first instinct was to laugh her off, but something stopped him. When he said that, it had been a convenient excuse not to remove the banishment on his brother. There was a real political maneuver behind it that Sif was carefully reminding him of. There were still people on Asgard that questioned his legitimacy to rule and his sanity. Sif was liked and trusted, but they did not hold the same feelings for him. It would be childishly easy for naysayers to build an argument against his claim, especially if his heritage was ever uncovered. Even the most half-witted, drooling ape of a politician could unseat him then.
She’d not trapped him, but she presented a solution that, while personally vile, would help strengthen his connection with Odin in the eyes of Asgard. He would accept because it was the most logical solution, and if he declined, he was letting spite get the better of him. Spite was something he could nourish, but not when it put his right to rule in jeopardy. His rule was the only barrier between him and a large, angry universe. He felt a flicker of rage that she’d caught him in his own game so easily…but also pride.
“Queen Sif leads me to my next point,” he admitted calmly, lips folded as he fingered a scrap of paper on the desk, “and that is that the wergild to your people shall be delivered as promised.”
Everyone was surprised. Loki was feeling even fouler before Sif, unbeknownst to her allies, ran her hand over his. For a few seconds, he forgot what exactly he was angry about. He decided that it pleased her and it was barely scraping the royal coffers. It was a far lesser concession than the Casket of Ancient Winters. Midgardians or not, he came out ahead in the deal.
The next hour or so was spent making arrangements for payment. The deal was not sealed with a handshake – a tradition both he and Fury were glad to shirk. Fury took several agents with him and left for the bridge. The rest immediately began the walk to the docking bay.
From behind him, he could hear Romanov tell Sif something – he couldn’t hear what – but he could hear her stifle a laugh. That wasn’t so unusual, but he turned in time to see her lightly shove Romanov in the shoulder, smiling with her eyes. It was understated, a personal moment between colleagues that was still utterly professional.
On Asgard, she played at their old friendship. Here, he could see she was calm. There was no playing, no uncertainty, these were her friends now. In the past, he saw her behave that way with Thor and the Warriors Three, never with him. It didn’t matter that there were good reasons for that. It didn’t even matter that he’d never particularly wanted that kind of interaction. Any reasons or thought for the complications at home all became unimportant. His single, dominating thought was that he was married to someone who was utterly uninhibited and happy on the site of his failure, around the people who caused his failure. Isolation bubbled up with the low level anger that gnawed at him ever since they landed.
With a smirk, Loki shifted forward in the group, and pressed a series of buttons on the touch pad – not the password, which changed constantly, but the security override.
“I hope you don’t mind?” he said with feigned innocence. “Agent Barton showed me how.”
Delight bubbled up when, from the corner Stark took a threatening step towards him, and Rogers placed a hand on his shoulder to tell him it wasn’t worth it. He couldn’t see Romanov’s reaction, he didn’t need to.
“Loki,” Sif hissed, gripping his wrist, “I have been patient thus far…”
“Why?” he cooed, leaning into the touch, “Why have you been patient? Could it be you don’t want to dishonor yourself in front of your allies? Perhaps even being married to me is a dishonor?” At her stunned look, he pushed further. “As if you’ve made your leanings here a secret.”
“I do not know what has come over you, but you try to bait me as you tried to bait them. They don’t fall for it, and neither do I.” The entire exchange was spoken in hushed whispers, inaudible to their audience. Sif threw his arm down and stepped away, saying in a clear voice. She looked hurt; not that he could see any reason for her to be hurt. “I plan to remain here for some time.”
Loki watched her turn her back with a cold thread working up his spine. He’d known he wouldn’t leave Midgard without an argument from her, and for once he was glad of it.
Silence ruled as they entered the docking bay, the remaining Avengers pushed to forced civility. It was a large area with planes and cargo of all types.
“Security checkpoint,” Agent Romanov said into a sounding device on her wrist, “Clint?”
A blast rocked the bay.
Loki’s emergency wards flared to life – black, smoky tendrils of magic protecting him from the worst of it. He made an effort of will and called Gungnir and his armor to him – the light version without the helmet or extra metal. Movement was a priority.
He took stock of the Midgardians – Stark was unconscious, two of the agents were dead and one was dying, and Rogers and Romanov seemed to have moved in the seconds before the detonation, already lunging for cover while the remaining humans struggled to orient themselves. From behind the planes and the ceilings, several black-clad figures opened fire. The bullets harmlessly bounced off his armor, swallowed into space by smoky tendrils of magic around his head and neck. He lifted the staff, and fired several lances of light, immediately removing two assassins and striking at the knee of a third.
Sif lunged into the battle, having heard the explosion from down the hall, and she drove a dagger hilt-deep into the vest of a man behind him. She moved past him, shield lifted to protect her head and neck from the spray of bullets.
They were in crossfire, and Loki released raw energy at two more as he stepped forward, cutting through their ranks like butter. Behind him, two more went down in the firefight.
Behind him, he saw Sif leap and drive her glaive deep into the chest of an attacker. He teleported a short distance and drove his spear into the side of a man who fired at her in turn. A blue and white shield went sailing over his head to bounce off the chest of another firing from on top of one of the jets, freeing Sif for a counterstrike on the ones pinning Rogers to his cover.
Loki sneered, because this was easily the most half-witted attempt on his life he’d ever endured.
Through the chaos and confusion, he felt it, a pinprick on the back of his neck, numbness spreading from the point of contact. Immediately, his limbs felt heavy, and his hands fumbled at the spot, suddenly clumsy. He dropped to his knees, in the hopes that he would be less dizzy with four points of contact. It worsened.
Sif saw him go down. She twisted her blade from someone’s heart, and came running over to him.
His inept, heavy fingers reached to the point on his neck, and someone grasped his hand, pulling it away from the spot – Agent Romanov. Her fingers were soft, and the motion was overtly thoughtful. But she held him when he tried to move, and right then she was too strong for him. Romanov let him to the ground, and it was carried out like an unwanted kindness, the same way smothering a sick man was considered kind. She used the opportunity to feel at his neck, and he heard more than felt the sound of sucking flesh as she plucked something from the skin there.
“Loki’s down! We need medics in here!” he heard Romanov yell over him, even as Sif stumbled to a stop and began pulling his armor off. Loki tried to talk, but nothing came.
Sif stood at his bedside, arms folded tightly behind her as she watched the IV drip and the respirator pump. He’d been stripped of his armor down to the thin silk tunic and breeches he wore underneath it. Wires ran from his arms and chest to the life signs monitor, buzzing with displays that seemed inappropriately colorful.
It was wrong to her, seeing a king of Asgard need a machine to breathe for him.
She reached to the leather band behind her shield and withdrew the crown he enchanted for her.
His entire body was flooded with sickly yellows, purples, and sludgy black. The auras pulsated and flowed with his blood, carrying the taint with it, circulating further with every pump. She looked to see if she could tell where it had originated, but the poison had spread fast and quickly. With a dismayed sigh, Sif took her crown off and let the colors fade away, tucking it back to its place behind her shield.
There was a knock at the door. Bruce stood there, holding a clipboard in one hand and looking like he wanted to apologize for something.
“Meeting’s in five.”
She nodded and turned back to Loki.
“…Sif, um, are you okay?”
Loki looked pale – pale like the time they’d brought him home holding pieces of his skull in with bandages, an unfortunate battle with grendels that left them all worse for wear. She swallowed, and remembered being sure that he would die then. Now, that same certainty was a heavy weight on her shoulders. He already looked dead.
“I am fine, Dr. Banner,” she cut him off, voice abrupt. “I’ll be there.”
She could tell he wanted to say more; with Bruce there was always more. “It’ll be…okay?”
Sif squeezed her eyes shut, and shifted her shield on her arm. It was sliding too much, she’d have to have the blacksmiths see to it when they returned home. “Thank you for trying, Bruce. Comfort does not come easily to me, either.”
She cast one final glance to Loki before turning away. She couldn’t do him any good here.
Together, she and Bruce walked up to the great circular table on the bridge of the helicarrier. She took her seat, with Tony on one side and Bruce on another. Across from her, Natasha sat and spoke quietly with Clint; Fury stood over them all and pressed his hands into the table. Agent Hill stood next to him.
“What the hell happened out there?”
“Group of agents went rogue,” Hill supported. “That’s what we know so far.”
“We confirmed all of the attackers were SHIELD agents?” Steve asked, and Sif heard the hurt in his voice.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Hill replied.
“The ones pinning Steve and me were firing rubber bullets,” Natasha added, thumbing through the report.
Tony was still nursing a nasty wound in his head. “Just like the rubber grenade and the rubber shrapnel.”
Clint stared at Tony through his sunglasses, “Might as well have been for all it bounced off your thick skull.”
“We haven’t been able to get much out of the survivors,” Hill continued tolerantly, “but we think the explosive might have been a late development.”
Fury looked around at all of them. “Someone attempted to assassinate a sovereign ruler on our boat and I want to know why.” He paused, perhaps reflecting on how the conversation with Loki went, and all other meetings with Loki thus far. “Nevermind, I know exactly why someone would want to kill him. I want to know how.”
“Director,” Bruce stood, carefully, “If I may?”
Fury motioned for him to begin.
“I’m – I have the report from the medical staff.” Reading glasses were produced from his pocket. “Whatever he was hit with, it was a…very powerful cocktail. The clinical manifestations indicate multiple toxins. They think one compound caused almost immediate paralysis; they found a neurotoxin – or something that’s acting like a neurotoxin, and a compound that’s causing extreme tachycardia. The more his pulse increases, the faster the poison spreads.”
“And the more stress is put on his heart,” Steve added.
“If his pulse keeps rising, he goes into cardiac arrest,” Tony commented, “and even if it doesn’t, the rest of the cocktail kills him anyway.”
Bruce flipped the page on the report. “They’ve been giving him CNS depressants and atropine to try and slow it down. SHIELD is running a battery of tests to narrow down possible toxins, but without knowing exactly what they’re looking for, there’s not much they can do. It was quite the doozy.” He looked at Sif. “With, um, all due respect, Sif, if he was like you – you know, Asgardian – he would be dead. As it is, since he’s a Frost Giant, his metabolism is slower than yours.” Bruce grinned ironically. “It probably saved his life.”
“I’m not sure how glad he’ll be to hear that.” She instantly regretted implying that he would be around to have an opinion about it; it felt like she was handing the universe a stick to hit her with.
“Sif,” Steve started, “is there anything you can think of that could have gotten to him? Any weak spot in his defenses?”
She looked taken aback by the question, and Steve realized how it could be taken. “You know I’d never ask if it wasn’t important.”
Thinking backwards, she shook her head. “Everyone has weak spots, but I can’t imagine any that a human could have taken advantage of. Loki is very thorough, I assure you.” She nibbled lightly on her lip. “There is one thing, although I thought he fixed it somehow during his time in exile. His wards and shields are meant to capture objects moving at high speeds – they do not activate with slower projectiles. They were meant to catch only what he couldn’t dodge.” She shook her head. “That adds little to what we already know.”
“Sif,” Fury began, “if you’d like to sit this out…you can.”
She was startled. “I may be his wife but I am also his vanguard, and first to fight in his name. I’ll not sit weeping by his bedside when there is a chance action may save him.”
“You misunderstand,” Fury continued. “If we want any hope of finding a cure, we’ll need the perpetrators alive.”
“I assure you,” Sif said, trying to hide the dangerous dip in her voice as her mind flashed back to the last time she needed to fight for the cure to a terrible illness, “that I understand restraint.”
She’d always been careful to follow orders. It aggravated her that they thought Loki’s inclusion would affect her ability to perform her duty.
Natasha leaned forward, folding her fingers carefully over the table. “How it was administered doesn’t matter. We need to find the person or people responsible.”
“Couldn’t have gone far,” Clint added, “no traffic to or from the Helicarrier since the attempt.”
Fury was glowering at him. “Yes, it has crossed my mind that the perpetrator is still on this boat.”
“Sir,” Hill’s voice was slightly higher with surprise, “Just about everyone who was on here lost someone or was injured in the attack and all of them have some degree of espionage training. You’re talking about a suspect list of thousands.”
“Then I guess we should get started,” Fury replied, every word a deliberate challenge.
“We can start with the duty rosters,” Steve began, “Make sure everyone was where they said they would be, and account for anyone who wasn’t.”
“Already on it,” Tony announced. “Also siccing a machine learning program on the personnel communications logs – I don’t think anyone would Tweet about assassinating a god, but we can always dream it’s that easy.”
“All right,” Fury told them, “the rest of you are dismissed until we have something more concrete.”
They rose, and Sif remained sitting. She didn’t want to go back to Loki’s room. It saddened her to watch him dying and not be able to do a thing about it. If they were back on Avengers tower instead of the Helicarrier, she could have gone to train with Steve or Natasha. If she were on Asgard, she would have been the one leading the investigation. Until they knew more, she was stuck.
She hated being in his sickroom. Even though she knew it was where she should be if he died – as his wife, and as his queen – it made her uncomfortable, and at this point she doubted it did him any good. He once told her regret did the dead no favors, and she supposed the same was probably true of the unconscious.
Sif retreated to her room, a small storage space with near crew quarters, and settled into the cot.
Their last argument was like a weight on her shoulders as she pulled the wool blanket around herself. No matter how unpleasant or unreasonable he was being, she never wanted this. Every insult to her allies made her want to thrash him…but seeing him collapse in a heap on the floor made her heart skip.
One of her friends would summon her if and when there was a fight. Until then, she could rest and sharpen her mind.
“Sif, please,” he was hoarse from retching, eyes caked with delirium and sleep. He reached out to grab her wrist. She almost recoiled at how weak he felt, as if he could barely hold her there.
“I will find the cure and bring it back to you,” she said, not looking at him, her lip held in a hard line. “If those responsible will not lift the curse willingly, I will make them lift it.”
“Asgard will not lose its prince to this.”
“Sif?” there was question there, strength in his voice even though, an hour ago, it hadn’t sounded quite as weak.
“No.” She turned to Thor, gently cupping his hand in her own and placing it at his bedside. “You will be fine.”
“Please,” he begged, “it cannot make this worse now.” He swallowed, and she saw his eyes roll up in pain from the motion – the illness was eating him from the inside, it seemed, and his throat was raw and bleeding. “I do not want Valhalla’s gates shut to me.”
Tears were forming in her eyes. “They will not shut their gates to Thor Odinson for this – sickness is nothing when you live your life in battle.”
“Even still,” he said, and gave her a smile with a shade of blood in it, brilliant teeth a bit too dark against the candlelight. The darkness hid the worst of it. The expression lapsed away, replaced by resolution. “Do me this favor.”
Sif nodded, cheeks wet as she reached for the thin dagger he’d hidden in his sheets. It was the finest steel, and would make the cleanest cuts. Slowly, carefully, Sif pulled the blankets away, exposing his chilled, pallid form.
She worked carefully, as tenderly as possible, scouring thin slices all over his body, before digging further, deeper, making longer gashes. Avoiding anything vital was difficult, but practice had brought her an intimate knowledge of anatomy. By the time she was done, there was no inch of his body not covered in injury, and blood from dozens of flesh wounds darkened his sheets, and she instantly regretted that his nurses would have to clean the mess. When she was done, Thor let out a pained breath and thanked her. With these wounds, he could say he died in battle with a great warrior, and no one would deny the claim.
It was an honor to both of them, an ancient rite.
Sif refused to believe it mattered, refused to believe she would outlive him…but it was what he wanted. Until they found those responsible for the Blight, all she could do was sit and wait, knowing he grew dimmer as each hour passed. If it gave him peace, she would gladly give it to him until they could claim a cure.
“I know I’ve already asked much of you.” After a slurred word, and as sleep threatened to take him again. “I need you to tell Loki something for me…”
Sif reached out, touching his hand to silence him. “Live, and tell him yourself.”
Sif awoke to a gentle chattering in one ear, and a light tickle on her neck that surprised but did not alarm her. She reached to her neck to pull off the small beetle – pitch black with an iridescent green rune carved onto its back.
It was one of Loki’s. The design had changed somewhat since their childhood, but it was the same creature. A spy. He must have planted them on the Helicarrier sometime after they arrived. It had only been a few hours since they boarded. It was more than enough time for them to multiply and infiltrate every dark corner. She took a breath and tried to think past her anger at him. This wasn’t a magic Loki had used in a long time, and she puzzled over what that meant. It was convenient enough. Still, she knew he had better ways of spying and obtaining information than these strange insects.
She took a breath, placed the beetle on the metal table beside the storage room cot, and tried to think of what that meant.
The runed insects could relay information. Loki deliberately chose a form she would recognize and understand, presumably so that she could receive messages he might need to pass in emergency or in secret. So he had saturated the Helicarrier with them.
The creatures had been hiding, and only revealed itself after Loki’s injury. He’d probably planned for just such an event.
“Do you know who tried to kill Loki?” Sif asked.
There were a series of clicks, and the Allspeak told her it meant ‘yes’.
She stored it thoughtfully and continued. “Do you have any proof to fetch? An item that might lead me to the assassin?”
‘Yes,’ again, and Sif nodded.
“Very well, then.” Gently, she picked up the insect and tucked it into her hands before making her way down the hall to one of the crew lavatories. After locking the door behind her, she stood over the sink, beetle held in the palm of her hand.
From the pipe, hundreds of tiny bugs, spiders, and insects all crawled up. First one, then a dozen, before long the base was coated in a mass of writhing, segmented bodies, all marked with the same sigil. They disassembled and reassembled bits and pieces from two different locations, capable of transmitting information as fast as one of the nanomachines Tony Stark bragged about. When Sif feared the mound would flood out over the top of the sink, it began to die down, Loki’s messengers retreating to where they came from.
She reached into the mass, feeling for the object they brought her. Ants climbed around her hands when she pulled it up, and a centipede dropped from her wrist onto the ground below as she stared, numb, at the hint they brought her, a token of the assassin. Only once in her life could she remember experiencing this degree of shock and betrayal.
A simple, black arrow sat in her palms.
Sif held on to the railing while powerful winds batted at her hair, whipping her dark ponytail around her face. She loved the view from the outside of the Helicarrier – on those occasions when she became homesick and her human friends were unavailable or their company wouldn’t suffice, she would step out onto the outside. She came here to feel the wind, to breathe air that was too thin for humans but was passable for her. For ten minutes at a time, she would gaze at Earth’s stars, or feel the heat of their sun burning her skin, and the clouds bleed as the sun sank and feel the workings of the universe tugging at her center. When she opened herself to it, Sif was acutely aware of everything. The rotation of the Earth around their sun, the metal under her feet floating on a sea of storms, and all of it grounded her. She felt connected to everything, and even Asgard’s walls and gentle climate seemed near to her.
Now, it only served to remind her how far from home they were. She knew Heimdall could see the plight of their king, but messages could be lost, and time was a funny thing from galaxies away. Experience said that sometimes meanings were lost for hours or days. With sickness, that margin was too wide. That optimistically assumed Loki didn’t decide to veil himself from Heimdall’s sight as soon as they arrived.
She had no idea if help was coming, or if it would come in time.
Sif closed her eyes and whispered something.
The roar of thin air stole her breath. She turned back to the porthole, and stepped back into the inner workings of the Helicarrier, the arrow heavy in her hand.
She left to return it to its owner.
Hawkeye noticed everything, and Sif made no effort to be silent. She found him in one of the newly constructed simulation rooms. This one was more of a glamourized gym. Tony kept saying things about holograms and algorithms for the others, but Sif would believe it when she saw it; to her, nothing could compare to sparring against a real opponent.
He didn’t address her when she entered, but he was focused on one of the moving targets. She waited quietly just beyond the door while he loosed arrow after arrow.
Clint was an expert in the kind of weaponry that could have breached Loki’s shields, and that wasn’t lost on her. More importantly, she realized, of the Midgardians, he was the one who had spent any significant time with Loki. Granted, she was sure it wasn’t something Loki advertised, but Clint had very good eyes and he always watched. If anyone on the helicarrier was aware of that weakness, it would be him. He was in the docking bay when the attempt on Loki’s life was made.
And of them all, Clint had the most reason to want Loki dead. It was a good one.
Clint pulled his last practice arrow, and it stuck in the dummy with a heavy thud. His breathing had barely picked up, and she saw the trace of a satisfied smile when he turned to look at her.
Means, motive, and opportunity, as the human crime shows went.
“Sif,” he acknowledged her as he stepped over to the towel rack. “What brings you by?”
She watched him carefully, twirling the arrow behind her back when he turned around. “We have a lead.”
His reaction was neutral. “Oh? Are we suiting up?”
“I don’t believe anything so drastic will be required.”
“Why not---“ he started to turn, and Sif was leaning against a bulkhead, holding one of his arrows, and he knew. “Oh.” His expression shifted from surprise, to acknowledgement and quiet remorse. “That’s where that went.”
Sif rose to her full height. “Without my knowing, Loki brought his messengers aboard with him. When I asked them if they knew how I could find the assassin, they brought me this.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Clint Barton, of Earth, I am going to ask you as my ally and my friend – did you attempt to kill my husband?”
“You’re asking me? Yes or no. Just like that?”
Sif wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer. “Do I have to ask again?”
For a long time, he stood, watching her, and she wondered what was going through his mind, what chances he was calculating.
“No,” he admitted. “I didn’t try to kill your husband.”
“Then you know who did?” The insects didn’t lie, they wouldn’t have brought her to Clint if he wasn’t somehow deeply involved.
“But you aren’t going to tell me.”
He stood there, and he smiled without gloating. It was sad. “I can’t.”
“That poison though...” Sif crossed her arms, mind working franticly. She didn’t need the assassin. Loki would be frustrated that an enemy remained free. As far as Sif was concerned, he could live with it. All she needed was the antidote. “It was measured specifically to take him down. It was a ranged weapon and it was developed to account for a weakness only someone who has fought with him would know. True, I doubt he told you much when he had you under his control, but I have seen the footage from the Chitauri attack. You fired an arrow and his shields didn’t deflect it. Instead, he caught it.”
“But he remained mostly unharmed by the force of the explosion,” Clint finished. “Yeah, I figured out the thing about his defenses a while ago. I created the delivery system.”
“You designed the toxin that was used on him?”
“Please, all I want is his health,” Sif stepped forward, and she was surprised by the begging tone that came out when she did, “I know of no professional assassin who carries a poison for which they do not have an antidote. All will be forgiven if you give it to me.”
“You’re optimistic about how forgiving he is.” Clint started, and there was the slightest stubborn square in his shoulders. “What if I don’t?”
“If you refuse to give me the identity of the assassin and you refuse to give me the antidote?” Inside, Sif felt something crack. She never wanted to be in this position, and she always thought Loki would be the one to make her choose. “If he dies, you shall be held accountable. I’ll have no choice but to bring you back to Asgard, by force if necessary, where you will be tried for his murder.”
“Great, based off our last stint with Asgardian justice, you’ll make me your new king.”
“I know you are angry. I know how childish and petty he is, and I will never defend or try to justify his actions. I can only think of the future,” Sif hissed. If she did nothing but focus on the past, her heart would have shattered long ago. “Clint Barton, I know I can never understand the injustice Loki has done to you---“
“You’re right, you can’t.”
“---but I cannot sit idly by while he dies.”
“Why not?” Clint’s voice was a little louder this time, fresh hatred rising to the surface, ready and lashing.
“Because Thor believed in him!” Before she knew it, her voice raised. “When he was returned to us the only reason I did not cry for blood with the rest was because I knew of how terribly it would hurt Thor, because finding Loki only to lose him would be too much to bear, because I loved him too much to do that to him.”
Clint was the first to break eye contact, shifting uncomfortably onto his other foot. He shied away, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “Thor’s dead.”
“I know,” she snapped.
Opposite him, Sif shied away from her own outburst as if hit by the echo of her own voice. She calmed herself before speaking again. “Thor went to Valhalla believing Loki was worth saving. How can I honor his memory if I believe no less, myself?” She blinked, and her cheeks felt wet. “I could not protect my prince. Loki has his penance to pay, I have mine.”
“You don’t owe anyone anything,” Clint said. “You don’t owe Loki – he tried to kill you in New Mexico, I don’t think he thinks he’s paying his dues, he didn’t even blink at Thor’s funeral. He - dammit, Sif, he’s a sociopath. He’s possessive. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t love you.”
It took everything in Sif’s power not to show Clint how much the last comment stung her.
“That’s his concern, not mine.” She wanted to take the time to explain, again, how long the lives of Asgardians were, and how everyone was everything to someone else once or twice.
He made an uncomfortable little motion. “As hard as it is for you to believe, you don’t owe Thor, either.”
“I watched my greatest friend waste away in front of my eyes. You were there, Clint. You saw him on his deathbed. How can you tell me I don’t owe him anything?” She hesitated, chest heaving, threatening tears she promised herself she would never shed, because Thor was with his ancestors, fighting and drinking and free, and his name would live on for aeons. As senseless as it was, that was nothing to cry for. “You were there when we returned to Asgard and the horn was heralding the death of the crowned prince. You were there when I broke my vow. Please, don’t make me break another.”
In front of her, Clint’s eyes shadowed over. Sometimes, she thought he was as haunted by the memory as she was. They’d been friends. Thor had thought so at least, if his fond tales of battle alongside the greatest archer in the Nine Realms were anything to go by. Sif remembered scoffing at the idea, until the day she saw Clint fighting to save Thor’s life, and how it gave new life to the stories he’d told her over the hearth fire.
She fought the tight knot that formed in her chest, because he was a fool and she missed him so much. Everything from his death, to the unexpected burden of the throne, to Loki, to his present illness and Clint’s involvement, all felt heavy. She prided herself on meeting every battle with courage, slicing through her troubles like wheat. Right then, she felt so tired. She wanted the troubles to stop for just a little while.
Loki was so many things to her – he was a scion of the past, a symbol of everything she’d gained and lost, but he was also her compass to the future.
She couldn’t lose him. Not now.
“Clint,” Natasha stepped out from somewhere, her voice clear and loud enough to be treading the waters of concern, “Clint, this doesn’t have to get any worse.”
Natasha moved closer to Clint, looking torn, although Sif didn’t have the energy to guess why. Her insides felt like soup from her own anger and exhaustion, the things she’d been holding inside for the better part of a year having finally bubbled over and left her burning. Sif gladly let her through, and didn’t mind seeing the conversation narrowed away from her.
“No,” Clint said firmly, “it was a stupid mistake made by a stupid kid and I’m not going to throw anyone to Loki’s mercy,” he hovered over the word like it was a punch line, “to save Loki. Not worth it.”
Natasha faced Clint down, and Sif noticed the slightest drop in her shoulders, incremental, microscopic cracks in a look she was trying desperately to maintain. She looked torn between disbelief and hurt and the steely rage Sif knew to be just beneath the surface, like the answer was completely, utterly simple and Natasha couldn’t believe he wasn’t seeing it. “It’s not worth you.”
Clint took a deep breath, options turning in his head like lottery numbers.
Natasha turned to Sif while Clint thought. “I was coming to find you. I needed to tell you that Loki’s condition has deteriorated. I thought you’d want to know.”
Sif was trying to will away her tears. Curse it all, she’d learned never to cry. Never. If things kept going like this, she would lose Loki, and then she would lose Clint. It was too much. “It was a dart of some kind, wasn’t it? You were the first one to reach him when he fell. When you called for assistance you must have taken it. Where is it now?”
“…Overboard.” Natasha closed her eyes and looked down. It was an apology without shame, an admission of guilt but not over Loki. “If there was damage, I needed to minimize it. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
On the other side of the room, Sif could see Clint go pale. He was surprised Natasha admitted to it like that.
Sif watched Natasha closely, looking for any sign of a lie and deciding it didn’t matter. “I understand, Natasha. You were putting yourself at risk to protect a friend. I can’t fault you that. I don’t care I just…I only wish to put this behind us.” She directed the last part towards Clint, who was still fixated on Natasha.
“We may never have another opportunity like this,” Clint interrupted, voice so quiet he was almost talking to himself, “so I know I’m going to regret this.”
Slowly, he reached into one of the side pockets on his vest, and retrieved two small vials of clear fluid. “This will counteract the neurotoxin – make sure they give all of it to him. After that, the meds they’re using to bring his pulse back down should be enough. The paralytic is short term. It’ll wear off on its own.”
He handed them to Sif. She thanked him quietly.
Clint stared at her for a moment longer before grabbing his bow and storming towards the exit. “I need to be alone right now.”
Sif watched him go, struggling to come up with something to say. She couldn’t think of anything. She was relieved to have the medicine, but the look in Clint’s eyes was enough to make her wonder if she was doing the right thing. Loki inflicted horrors on Clint. This Loki was a Loki who had given in to his darkest desires and relished in them. She once told Clint that she knew Loki to be capable of cruelty since they were children. It was a half-truth, since all children were capable of cruelty. His actions on Midgard were something else entirely, and she knew Clint had been in a prime spot to see them. Here he was, helping her save the life of the man who had tortured him and laughed. She felt a pang of guilt, because she felt like she forced Clint into it.
She supposed that if she wanted to find out if Loki was capable of being the man and the monster, he would have to live.
Beside her, Natasha placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. With her opposite hand, Sif placed her palm over it.
“Come on,” Natasha said as she began to lead them out, “We need to get this to Fury ASAP.”
They spoke to Fury. When he asked them how they came by it, they told him it had been delivered outside Sif’s room with a post-it note attached; the assassin must have had a change of heart. He’d stared at them for quite a while, with the sort of scrutiny Sif associated with a weaponsmaster grilling two recruits about a nasty “fall” they had somehow suffered simultaneously.
In the end, he decided it wasn’t worth it and it was better to let them work it out for themselves. The antitoxin was delivered immediately to the medical staff. Sif knew it was with the stars now.
“I feel terrible,” Sif admitted. “I just made him help save the life of the person he most wants dead.”
“Clint will come around,” Natasha said. “He wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t the right call.”
“Why did you help me? You aren’t any fonder of Loki than Clint is.”
Natasha smiled. “I don’t have to like someone to know they’re an ally. Sort of. Besides, we both wanted someone out of this situation alive.”
Sif stiffened and looked in the observation window as the nurses diluted the serum into saline and added it to the IV. “He is dear to me. It’s corrupted and sick and utterly lonely, but he is.”
“Caring is like that, sometimes.” Natasha’s voice was soft. For all their differences, if there was one thing they both understood, absolutely, implicitly, it was that loving hurt.
“Do you miss Thor?” Sif didn’t know where the question came from. Talking about his death with Clint left her feeling so empty she was amazed to find anything there at all.
“We all do.” Natasha confessed. “Steve still has one of the Asgardian books Thor brought with him to Earth – he loves drawing things from the runes, even if he doesn’t understand them. I sometimes catch Bruce or Tony telling Jarvis to play an old recording. The Hulk likes to sit out on the roof when there’s a thunderstorm on. I’m surprised you didn’t…notice any of that.”
“I wasn’t ready to.” Sif was only just now admitting this to herself. It was a regrettable truth that helped fill some of the hollow spot in her gut. Being around them following Thor’s death gave her an escape without separating her entirely from the mark he’d left. They never candidly discussed what transpired during the Blight. “What do you have?”
“I sit out there with the Hulk sometimes. I think he gets lonely.”
In that moment, Sif realized that she had Loki.
Sif smiled fondly before her eyes settled on Loki again.
“You don’t have to go in there if you don’t want to,” Natasha assured her, “The medics will let us know if anything changes.”
“I’ve done what I can,” Sif pondered. “I should be with him.”
Natasha nodded. Her gaze darted to the critical care room. “If you need anything, you know how to reach us.”
Sif watched her go before she pressed her palm to the reader on the side of the automatic doors and they hissed open for her. Things were as she’d left them – Loki still looked to be on death’s door, and there hadn’t been any improvement on his vitals yet. Letting out an impatient huff, she knitted her hands behind her back and glared at him. It was his own fault. All of it. Assassin or no, he’d brought it on himself.
She thought back to the way he’d acted before the attempt on his life had been made. Midgard made him uncomfortable, and Sif realized she’d been too concerned about making sure he didn’t do anything to jeopardize their alliance that she hadn’t been thinking about why he might be acting that way. She supposed this was the first time he’d seen her with the Avengers. She thought of his outburst, his razor-edged jabs at wounds that would still be fresh, and thought back to the way he’d acted when they were children. Loki never made it obvious when something bothered him.
With a huff, she sat down beside his bed and rested her head against the wall. In what proper universe did a diplomatic venture to Jotunheim go well but one to Midgard ended in an assassination attempt?
She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the respirator and the low thrum of the machines.
Sif first awoke when she heard the change in his breathing pattern; she opened her eyes, caked with sleep, and waited. The machine was programed to stop when the patient began breathing on their own, and she could tell it detected his improving condition some time ago and deactivated. She heard medical tape rip as he tore it out, then, the frustrated growls as he began to sit up and tear every wire from his body. The monitors went wild.
Sif stood up, and he watched her out of one glassy eye, looking as annoyed and violent as she’d ever seen him. He swayed and ripped the IV out of his skin, leaving it to dangle and leak onto the floor. “I want his head.”
At the door, medical personnel began to file in. They stopped at a wave of Sif’s hand. “Leave us.”
They were only too happy to oblige.
Sif faced Loki, and he looked back to her, every bit of energy he could conjure pointed towards murderous goals. “I want. His. Head.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Sif calmly took her seat while he tried – and failed – to climb out of the infirmary bed.
“Barton tries to kill me and you take his side?”
“Clint wasn’t the one who tried to kill you,” Sif explained, voice calm. “In fact, you owe him your life.”
Sif began telling him everything that happened since the assassination attempt when Loki’s attention darted to the door.
Clint walked in.
Sif began thinking of various ways she could keep them from killing each other if it came to blows. She wasn’t foolish enough to step between them, although that would be the fastest way to keep them from killing each other. Sheets ruffled as Loki again tried to crawl out, but his legs still weren’t responding to him, and a thin sheen of sweat was forming on his skin. He settled for using his words. “Poison was surprisingly industrious of you, Barton.”
“Just wanted to prove a point.”
Loki whirled to Sif. “I don’t care who poisoned me. Giving someone the antidote to a toxin you created specifically to kill them is no favor.”
“Clint,” Sif felt a torrent of exhaustion that she was trying to keep out of her voice, “what are you doing here?”
Clint squared his shoulders and stared Loki down, which made the side of Loki’s lip curl up. “I just wanted to make something clear in case there was any confusion. – I did it for Sif, because as far as I’m concerned you’re the lowest kind of scum, but something tells me that as long as you’re on the straight and narrow she’d walk through fire for you. My words, not hers. I don’t know about you but that matters to me.”
“Perhaps I’ll take what you have to say to heart when you stop trying to shield my would-be murderer?” Loki tilted his head, mimicking a fox puzzled by the newest installment to the lock on a chicken coop. “Only a marksman of your caliber could have made that shot. That’s perhaps, what - four mortals in all of Midgard? Five at most? I’ll figure it out sooner or later.”
“I’m not sorry you almost died.” The smile Clint shot Loki was frigid. “You make me regret this? I won’t stop. Not ever.”
“I won’t kill you for threatening me, for Sif,” Loki said pointedly. He moved and Sif heard his shoulders crack. “You’re boring me. Leave, and be glad I don’t rescind my offer of a wergild over this.”
“I said what I needed to say.” Clint gave Sif a glance over his shoulder, and a shrug of his shoulders that said ‘I hope you know what you’re doing’. She wanted to talk to him, alone. Her heart sank. The crisis was averted – she still felt dread clawing at her stomach.
“Clint,” Sif said, “could you please tell them to turn off the security cameras? I must speak with my husband alone.”
Clint gave her a salute at the doorframe and let it shut behind him.
“You’ve engendered a great deal of love from them, if you could convince Barton to save me.” Loki was pulling himself out of the bed, forcing his feet to balance and obey.
“You may want to stay in bed.” She remembered a time when he would have remained in bed just to read when he was ill. Now, he was unable to oblige that weakness. His time in exile still showed in things like that – the need to be able to move, to fight or run no matter what.
He ignored her, and called Gungnir to him from the ether. Using the spear to stabilize himself, he straightened, even as his face knotted in pain. He shuffled over to his armor. Since it had been taken off by hand, he would need to replace it by hand, and he looked disdainful at the idea. “Are you going to tell me why you didn’t demand they reveal the person who tried to kill me?”
“Are you sure the security cameras are off yet? We don’t know if it’s safe to speak.”
He smirked. “You met my little friends, didn’t you? They’ll make sure our conversation remains between us. – So I’ll ask you again, why are you helping them?”
“I’m not. Getting the antidote was a priority.”
“Because I’d rather have you alive and the assassin free.” Sif had expected this hostility. “Did I say or do something to hurt you?”
She heard him stop, then continue getting his armor on.
“I’m talking about the way you were acting around them. If I did something to slight you, I am sorry.”
He stayed silent; she didn’t know if that was a good sign or not.
Fighting a surge of frustration, Sif rose to her feet. “Forget it.”
“You didn’t do anything.” He spoke quickly, like someone needed to reach into his throat and drag the words out. “It was nothing you did.”
Sif paused, and sat down on the bed, so they were back to back. It wasn’t something she was normally inclined to do, but if Loki wanted her dead, he could have killed her months ago. Sometimes it was easier to talk when they didn’t have to look at each other.
“My turn,” he went on, and she heard him hiss as he slid an arm through is leather overcoat, “how did you convince Barton to give me his antidote?”
She decided it would be tactful to avoid mentioning Thor. “I told him we both owed Asgard a debt.”
“You are my jailor then? Here to make sure I comply?”
“Yes, as you are mine. That’s why Asgard hasn’t fallen apart yet, isn’t it? The balance we keep.” Sif continued, listening for any change in his position. “Earlier today I thought you were going to die. It’s…damn it, Loki, I do not want to be at war with you. No matter what we were, we are something else now.”
“I don’t wish to war with you, either, Sif. We make a decent team, and if I was forced to have a partner, I’m glad it’s you.” He sat down on the other side. “That does not mean your friends are my friends.”
“They don’t have to be, but they are our allies.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Could you please be civil in the future?”
“…I can,” he allowed. He made a pained sound again, and she heard something clatter to the floor. He cursed.
Sif picked up his breastplate off the floor and was helping him attach it before he could complain. “It’s a two-person job.”
He reluctantly sat still while she fitted it to him. When it was on, she arranged the metal pieces on the bed and helped him make the final adjustments. “You still look sick.”
“I feel sick. I’ll rest when we get back to Asgard.” His eyes quickly darted away. “That is, if you’re coming with me.”
She remembered her promise to leave and remain on Midgard for a time. “No, not quite yet. Not because of what happened earlier, I just need to think. When I return, we will talk.”
He didn’t look happy about it, but he calmly accepted. “About what?”
“The future,” she said quietly as she busied herself with one of the fixtures for his vambrace. Neither of them talked about how she held his hand for a little longer than necessary, because it didn’t mean anything. Only that morning, she’d been afraid to lose him, and fear did strange things to confused feelings.
After Loki exchanged a few choice words with Fury and was mostly back up to appearances. As a gesture of good faith, he promised to remove his insectoid spies, although he did so with utmost reluctance. Sif accompanied him on the quinjet ride to land, where Heimdall brought him to Asgard in a flash of blue energy. As the energy gathered, he turned to her, and told her he would hold her to her promise to talk when she came back. Sif didn’t have time to agree before he was gone, and she decided simply to be relieved the ordeal was behind them, instead of dwell on what exactly they would discuss.
Afterwards, Sif returned to the Helicarrier and sought out Clint, who wouldn’t return to the Tower with the rest of them for a few more days. She needed to talk to him before then.
“We need to talk,” she softly declared as she entered his quarters.
He was busying himself with calibrations to his quiver. “Nothing we need to talk about. I meant what I said.”
Sif took a seat on one of the bolted metal chairs in the corner. “I would like to talk about it.”
“If it wasn’t for you, yeah, I would have let him die. That’s on me, not you.”
“But why did you confront him like that?” She shook her head. It couldn’t have been what he really wanted.
Clint shrugged, and said, voice in a low, satisfied drawl, “Gave him someone other than you to be mad at. I wanted to see his face when I confirmed I made the thing that took him down.” His expression darkened as he tightened a strap on his quiver. “I wanted to show him I wasn’t afraid of him.”
Sif let her silence speak for her. She supposed if that was the closest thing to closure Clint knew he would ever get, his behavior made more sense. “Are we…?”
“We’re fine,” he replied with a smile, and she could feel how much he meant it. “I was upset at first, yeah, but…you know.”
“I do,” she replied gently, before she took another risk. “Natasha and I were talking, Clint.”
“Oh? About what?”
Instantly, Clint’s whole back tightened up.
Sif spoke softly, carefully, the way she would have with Loki. “She told me that all of you kept your memories of him close. She told me about everyone, except for you.” Sif dared Clint to meet her eyes, because she needed to know. “What of Thor’s do you have?”
The silence was so absolute; Sif could almost hear Clint thinking it over before he finally walked over to the large plastic trunk near his cot. He shuffled around to the bottom, and removed a long, thin box of a rich, red wood. Sif recognized it – it was from a tree that only grew on Asgard, so rare that only royalty could afford it. The box alone was worth a fortune. Reverently, he laid it on his bed, and opened it with two hands. From the velvety interior, he removed a golden arrow. Sif’s breath caught when she saw it, because it was a valuable gift indeed.
“Thor gave me this,” he lifted it up to his eye and stared down the shaft. “You know what it is?”
“Yes.” She rose to her feet. “It will strike the heart of any target, without fail, but may only be used once.”
“So, you understand what Thor gave me?” he tilted the arrow down, held it in the palm of his hands. “I did take into account his physiology when I designed the toxin. When we had him in containment SHIELD scientists got a lot of quality readings on him. After I came back, I looked it up. I knew his metabolism wouldn’t work like yours.”
“You only meant to slow him down.” Sif wasn’t sure if she was happy at that revelation or not.
“And make him suffer a bit,” Clint added, before motioning to the arrow again. “This is my real ace.”
“Thor gave you a way to kill Loki,” her voice came out tired, but maybe a little more peaceful than it had before.
“He wasn’t sure what would happen on Asgard,” Clint replied. “He wasn’t sure your prisons could hold his brother forever so…he gave me this for if Loki ever came back, if he ever tried to take our world or hurt the people I cared about. Thor, you know Thor, he knew he couldn’t end it. So…he gave me this, because he trusted me to know when there was no other choice.”
“I thought…” Sif’s mouth was open. “I thought he believed in him.”
“He did,” Clint affirmed, “but he was smart enough to know there was a chance it made him blind. I think he felt this was the only way he could make it up to me. I don’t think he ever counted on leaving me alone with it.” He turned away and replaced the arrow.
“Thor did believe in Loki,” Sif stated, “but he also believed in you, to have trusted you with this.”
“I promise I’ll never use this in anger, Sif,” he said, voice serious, “I promise you I’ll never use this unless there’s no choice.”
She moved to his side, just to run her fingers along the smooth surface of the box. Despite everything that had happened, it gave her a great deal of comfort. Part of her worry had always come from not knowing when things might be pushed to their breaking point – and here Clint was telling her exactly what that looked like. He said it, and she believed him. “I know. Thor trusted you with this, and I do, too.”
Clint . “Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he was right about everything.”
Sif reached out for his hand, and he let her take it. “I know that. He was downright thick about a lot of things, but he had a good heart, he was my prince, and he was my friend. More importantly, I know you, Clint Barton, and I think he was right.”
Sif bade him goodnight. Behind her, she heard him say, “I trust you, too,” and that was the last they ever needed to speak of it.
Loki stepped forth from the Tesseract portal into a pair of healers, who immediately rushed to his side. He was weaker than he wanted anybody to know, but he let them help him walk down the stairs of the dais at the center of the old temple.
At the base of the staircase, Frigga grinned and greeted Loki. He tried to stand straighter.
“Are you well, my king?” Heimdall asked.
Loki made a choked noise in the back of his throat. “Well enough.”
Frigga led him onwards, and he motioned for the healers to let him walk on his own. “And where is Sif?”
“With her Midgardian friends,” Loki remembered his promise, and practiced at keeping the bile from his voice, “They tried to kill me.”
“Not hard enough, I see.” From anyone else, that could have been a threat – from Heimdall, it was merely fact…or possibly a joke.
Frigga motioned for him to follow her, and he noticed a now-familiar tiredness in her movements. Her shoulders, her hips, all seemed worn, like her body wasn’t responding properly. It had been this way since he took the throne – and he could see that it was getting worse. He hated what grief could do. “Mother---“ he started, and she shushed him with one hand on his chest. A year ago, he would have hated it, and another person reaching out still gave him a start, but he welcomed it for what it was.
“Quiet. All is well, Loki,” she kissed his hand. “I’m glad you’re home.”
When she did that, Loki was struck by a sudden sense of foreboding, a sinister presence that slithered into his core such that Gungnir responded with a sort of resonant strength. It stole his breath, and he almost leapt to defend himself before he realized there was nothing to defend against. He looked around. Heimdall wasn’t responding, but there were some things that were beyond his sight – important information, although it didn’t tell Loki much.
Experimentally, he took his mother’s hand, searching for the presence again. She interpreted it differently and seemed to glow in response.
He waited for it to return, but it was gone. He wasn’t enough of a fool to think he’d imagined it, but for now, all he could do was follow his mother back to the palace and let the healers tend to him.