Stupid Thor and his stupid adventures, Loki grumbled silently as he eyed the farther reaches of the grand hall of Dwarfhome on the Realm of Nidavellir
The throne hall was an enormous underground atrium, at least ten levels high, with balconies and a cleverly designed system of ramps to slide down and a constant lift system to go up. It also meant they were almost entirely dependent on the dwarves to get them out. Loki could retrace the way they'd come in, and he thought he could probably find another exit, but with ten thousand dwarves between him and the surface, negotiation was a better plan.
Or it would be if Thor could learn to shut his mouth.
"Release us!" Thor demanded.
King Eitri, on his gold and jewel encrusted throne on an elevated dais, looked unimpressed by Thor's bellow. His hair and beard were grey, evidence of pronounced age for a dwarf, but he was still broad and muscled from his forging work. Loki could remember visiting with Odin many years ago, in a far grander procession. Not as prisoners.
"These Aesir invaded a restricted area, my lord," the king's adviser accused them.
"I only wanted to see the forge where Mjolnir was made!" Thor objected.
That had been Thor's original intent on Asgard, which Loki had told him was stupid. Dwarves weren't notoriously protective for their secretive smithing techniques for no reason, but Thor must see the forges. And since Thor must, so Loki must, and Fandral and Sif had followed. His attempt to divert Thor from this adventure with news from Vanaheim had drawn only Volstagg with Hogun, no matter how Loki had tried to convince Thor they should all go with Hogun to investigate.
"They were spying!" The black-bearded one snarled. "Outsiders on the forge level. Sneaking around like rats."
Thor's hand tightened on Mjolnir's handle, and he straightened in offense. "You call the son of Odin a rat?"
It was amazing how someone who came up to Thor's shoulder could look up with such a sneer. "If it fits…"
"You dare--" Thor started, and Loki had a flash of intuition that if he actually used Mjolnir down here, either the dwarves would know how to counter it, or these tunnels might collapse and they'd all die. Neither seemed appealing prospects.
Loki stepped forward, looking only to King Eitri and tried to smile. "Your Eminence, we trespassed, we admit as much. But it was through ignorance, not ill-intent. We meant no theft of your secrets, merely an innocent curiosity. There were no guards and no locks, we did not know we were entering forbidden areas." That was stretching things quite a bit; they had certainly known it was forbidden to outsiders, but they had managed to avoid the guards, so that part was true.
He spread his hands. "Please tell us what we may do to fix our mistake and restore honor to everyone."
The king didn't seem entirely persuaded, and the chamberlain scoffed. "Didn't know? Of course they knew! They are lying thieves."
Thor tensed at the insult, but Loki caught his forearm, saying through gritted teeth, "Don't."
Thor subsided, and they waited for the king to answer.
Eitri looked from Thor to Loki, and then behind them to Sif and Fandral. "You," the king said, pointing to her. "Who are you?"
She stepped nearer, level with Loki. "I am Sif of Asgard," she said. "Your Highness."
His attention turned back to Thor. "She is too tall but well-featured. She will wed my youngest son," the king declared. "And the rest of you may return above."
Sif's jaw dropped, so taken back by affront she had no words at first. "No, she will not," Sif answered coldly.
The king's dark eyes grew just as cold, and there was an anticipatory smile on his lips that told Loki he had picked something offensive on purpose. "Do you refuse my generosity?"
Loki's gaze flickered to the dwarven guards surrounding them. Axes, hammers, shields -- they were well armed, and they had the numbers. The terrain favored them, as it was difficult for the tall Asgardian party to manuever in all but the grandest tunnels. Odin would not appreciate either his sons being killed by dwarves, or his sons killing a lot of dwarves. This was going to be a disaster very shortly, as the Asgardian team readied to defend themselves.
But Loki thought he might have another way. "She means no disrespect, Your Eminence, but Lady Sif must refuse your most generous offer."
"And why is that?" the king looked at him.
Loki's smile widened and grabbed Sif's upper arm. "Because she is married already. To me."
Sif nearly blew it all, staring at him incredulous. "What?"
He turned to her. "I know we said we intended to keep it a secret, but I think it's time to admit it, don't you?"
The king looked at them, doubtful. "You two are wed?"
Fandral at least figured out it was a good idea to play along. "Oh, it was a lovely ceremony. By the falls. Only a few of us attended."
Loki looked again at Sif, smiling, "Our parents said we were too young, so we had to keep it secret." Then, because why would he stop there, when more would be more fun? "But we were just so in love we couldn't wait."
She smiled back at him, and managed not to choke to death, saying, "Of course." Her smile was fixed on her face, and looked more like snarl, and her eyes promised retribution. "Darling."
The king still looked dubious. "You allow your wife to travel to other Realms, into danger?"
Loki's laugh at that was genuine. "Few people allow the Lady Sif anything, Your Highness. She does as she pleases. That she pleases to love me in return is one of the greatest gifts I can possibly imagine."
Sif's lips tightened as if she might want to vomit on him, but he did mean it, more or less. It would be the greatest gift he could imagine; too bad it was all a lie.
Her right hand grabbed his, threading their fingers together so tightly she might wrench his off. "Yes, my love has no bounds," she said, her voice a little flat, but overall a decent effort for someone who had few deceptive cells in her entire body.
He liked the grip of her hand though. "So," Loki cleared his throat, trying to focus again. "Since her marriage to your son is, uh, not available, if there is something else we might do instead? Some task perhaps that we could perform in return, to earn your benevolent forgiveness?"
The king pondered a moment, and Loki did not like the glint in his eyes. Oh yes, he was a canny creature. "I think, yes there is. You can travel all the Realms, can you not?"
"Of course," Thor declared. Loki winced inwardly, wishing he'd put a caveat in there. Better for an opponent to underestimate their abilities, than overestimate them.
The king smiled and leaned back. "Excellent. Then to make up for your great offense, I have a task for you, Odinson. You will retrieve the Stone of Making from the Alfar. It should not be beyond you."
"Alfheim? Aye, we can reach it." Thor agreed, nodding. "Then my companions and I will retrieve it for you, You have my word."
"I'm sure I do, Odinson. But-- to ensure that you return here, I believe I will keep … them." His dark eyes flicked to Loki, who knew what he would say before he said it. "Your brother and his wife," the emphasis on that made it plain he still didn't buy the story, "will remain here, until you return with my property."
"I am a warrior, not a hostage!" Sif drew her sword. "And I will not be imprisoned!"
"Not imprisoned, Lady Sif, honored guests. Or," Eitri returned, "you can refuse this and I will know you Aesir for the honorless dogs you truly are. And put all of you to death."
"Starting a war with Asgard you cannot hope to win," Thor threatened.
King Eitri smiled. "Perhaps. Odin Borsson prefers the rest of the Realms believe that, but it has been long years since any tested it. Are you willing to test him? For something you did, Odinson? The first act of war is yours, not mine."
"Thor, Father would not want us to start a war with Nidavellir," Loki warned softly.
"Or to die," Fandral added. "I like living, personally."
"I would rather die," Sif snarled, glaring at Loki as if all of this was his fault. It was annoying, when he had said this whole adventure was a terrible idea from the start.
"Well, we could divorce and you could marry the dwarf prince if you prefer," he retorted, folding his arms. She was being so unreasonable.
She let out a frustrated breath. "Don't be stupid." More grudgingly she added, "I'm not going to divorce you. Fine. We'll be hostages," she emphasized the word, not that Eitri seemed to care what they called it.
"Sif, are you certain?" Thor asked her.
"No. But do it before I change my mind."
"Then you have a bargain," Thor said to Eitri. "They stay here, Fandral and I will fetch your rock."
Loki grimaced, unable to think of a worse combination than the two of them on a quest alone, but since he doubted Eitri would let Sif or Loki take Fandral's place, he said nothing.
The king gestured his chamberlain. "He will escort them to safe quarters. And I will explain your quest."
Loki didn't care for "safe quarters", and given the way her hand tightened on her hilt, Sif didn't either, but he didn't resist as the dwarves surrounded him and led him deeper into the hall.
The room was small, and the bed in it smaller still. It was also bleak in its plain carved stone walls and the heavy metal door that was held open for them.
Sif balked. "Our bargain was to be guests. Not prisoners."
The chamberlain looked up at her. "Your bargain was to stay here and not die. Enter the room."
Loki expected the dwarves were only speaking to her, intending a similar "room" down the hall for his own. Until the dwarf gestured and Loki felt a spearhead shoved in his back.
"You cannot mean to put us both in there!" Loki objected.
"But you are so in love, right?" the chamberlain jested, and Loki touched the hilt of his dagger, tempted to put it in the dwarf's neck. But there was a time for pride, and a time to watch, and this was definitely the latter.
Loki nearly hit his head on the low door, and straightened inside cautiously. The ceiling hung low enough he could stand on his toes and brush his hair against it. The door slammed shut with a crash, the echo of the small window in the door coming right after. His fist went into the door, suddenly furious, but the door did not rattle from the blow.
"Well, this is a great situation you've got us into," Sif grumbled.
He turned, arms folded. "Me? How is this my fault? Were you the one who told Thor this was a stupid idea three times? No, that was me."
"You told them we were married!"
"Well, you can hardly marry the dwarf when you married me!" he objected, reminding her with a flick of his eyes upward that someone was likely still listening. "Unless you wanted to marry the dwarf prince."
"Shut up. Of course not." She looked up at the ceiling, and reached up. She could touch it without straightening her arm. "Do you think they're eavesdropping?"
"I think we'd be a fool to believe they are not," he answered carefully.
"Well, isn't that convenient," she muttered.
He couldn't resist, teasing, "The bed is convenient."
Her glower probably could probably shatter the bed. She clenched her jaw, looked up at the ceiling, and responded, "It's too small."
"You'd normally say that was a challenge."
That pushed her a bit far as she drew her sword and leveled the blade at him, the point only a handspan from his chest. "Careful. I still have my sword."
Not worried, he laughed. "If you injure me, you have to tend my wound. And if you kill me, you have to marry the dwarf."
She narrowed her eyes at him, but lowered the blade. "Sometimes I hate you."
"And the rest of the time you love me a lot, dear wife." He leaned close, as if he might kiss her, expecting her to turn away or shove him back.
But her eyes took on that reckless glint and he saw a flash of a smirk before she curled a hand around the back of his neck and pulled their faces close, lips touching.
She was kissing him.
That so startled him, he stood there like a statue, hands frozen mid-gesture, wanting to touch her, but held back. A metallic clatter announced that she'd let go of her sword a moment before her other hand seized his coat lapel to jerk him closer. Her lips were soft against his, and the force of it first clacked their teeth together before her mouth melded better against his.
A shiver rolled across his skin, and he pressed into the touch, drawn deeper.
She yanked backward, eyes a bit wild as if that hadn't been what she intended to do.
They stared at each other, and her breath seemed as ragged as his which made him feel a bit better about it. He couldn't say anything he wanted to say, since it would all reveal the truth, so he could only look at her.
She had done it as revenge for his teasing, and it had worked even better than she could have hoped. Because now his eyes traced her lips and he knew what they felt like and now he would know exactly what he was missing. He could still feel the imprint of her lips on his and fought the urge to lift a hand to touch it. But he clung to the pretense and the jest, because admitting the truth of how much she affected him would give her leverage over him, and Sif always had enough of that merely by existing.
So he lifted a brow at her and smirked. "Are you quite sure about the bed?"
His question broke whatever it was that lingered between them in the wake of the sudden kiss, and he regretted it as her face tightened. "I'm not providing entertainment for our captors."
"Me neither," he agreed, more seriously. He lifted her sword into his hand with his boot and he handed it back to her, hilt-first, as a sort of apology. "I was jesting."
She took the sword, frowning at it before she slid it back into the sheathe at her back. "I know. Me, too."
He wondered if that included the kiss, but he didn't want to hear that it did. He sat on the bed next to her, for lack of any other furniture to sit on, and sighed. The corner held the barely adequate sanitary facility - a small continuous waterfall for drinking and washing, and the drain beneath for waste. There was absolutely nothing else of interest in the plain stone walls. If Thor didn't finish his quest quickly, Loki was going to go utterly mad of boredom.
He tapped his fingers on his knee, before pulling the dagger from beneath his vambrace to twirl it in one hand.
Sif eyed this activity. "Can you get us out?" she asked only a few minutes later.
He held the dagger up before him, narrowing his eyes, to concentrate on his sense of the Realm's structure. Nidavellir's heart burned fierce, and there were stress cracks on the surface and down deep, but nothing he would want to attempt without a much greater need. "Back to Asgard? I would need to find a gap in Yggdrasil and I sense none close."
"I meant out of the cell?"
He arched a brow at her and a deliberate glance up at the ceiling. "A bit early to plan our escape, is it not? Thor and Fandral may succeed." Of course, they'd probably also start a war with the Alfar, but Loki did not actually doubt that Thor would return with Eitri's stone.
She plucked the dagger from his hand and laid it on her other side so he could no longer twirl it. "I know you will be increasingly insufferable, and I would like to know I have another option than gutting you like a fish to make you shut up."
He thought about making a jest about the bed being her other choice for entertainment, but she seemed too ill-humored at the moment to appreciate it. Rising, he went back to the door to examine it. It was metal alloy, not uru thank the Norns, but probably too dense to teleport through. Perhaps he could use seidr in the lock to release it…
He feathered a touch, experimenting, not intending to actually open the door yet, just to see if he could.
The tendril touched something he didn't expect to find here, a counter-spell ward that reacted violently to his attempt to escape.
It hurled him off his feet, slamming him into the low ceiling. The shock of the blow was a curtain over his senses for a moment, before he blinked himself back to awareness. He was on the floor, in an ungainly heap, and as the shock wore off, the pain struck. "Oh, Ancestors. Ow."
"Loki!" He opened his eyes to see Sif kneeling beside him. "Loki! Are you hurt?"
"I… don't know, yet?" he answered, and started to push himself up. A flare exploded in his head and he lowered it again, groaning. "Oh. Did I hit it with my head first? I think my brain might be leaking out the back."
The alarm in her eyes at his poor jest was both amusing and warming, as she ran her fingers lightly through his hair looking for a wound. It got considerably less amusing as she found something and touched it. His vision whited out and a cry was torn from his lips.
"Sorry," she said hastily pulling her hand away. He stayed very still, trying not to breathe, while the small motion of his heart beating still made him hurt everywhere. His head was the worst of it, but his back ached, and his knee throbbed very unpleasantly, as if it had gotten caught the wrong way in the impact.
But the pain settled to something more tolerable, and he opened his eyes. Sif was still there and she asked, frowning, "Can you move to the bed?"
"Later?" he suggested, startled how whispery his voice was.
Her hand patted his gently. "Then, rest for now. So can I presume the answer to whether you can spell an escape is no?"
"I might be able to work it, if I am more careful and my head doesn't feel in pieces," he answered. "But soon? No."
Her hand was still atop his, as if she'd forgotten to move it after patting his hand. Or maybe she was feigning being his wife some more. Either way, he didn't want to move his own hand and draw attention to it so she would pull away, but he stayed still and enjoyed it, imagining that she was holding his hand to comfort him.
He closed his eyes, figuring it was probably for the best if he didn't heal quickly. This way he was less tempted to annoy Sif in his boredom, and she was less likely to resort to violence if he was already hurt.
"You have to be more careful," she chided him softly. "What would I have done if you'd been killed just now?"
"Call the guards to remove my corpse, and then have the cell all to yourself," he returned dryly.
She swatted his hand. "Shut up." Her eyes flickered up to the ceiling, and she added, "Beloved."
The grudging endearment made him smile. "I hope you would at least avenge me?"
Her fingers tightened on his. "I would," she promised in an unexpectedly serious tone, as if she meant it, and added deliberately, "Husband."
However false it might be, however briefly it would last, he decided he liked the sound of that.