Actions

Work Header

Sanctuary

Work Text:

Sanctuary Poster

Sanctuary

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale -and Lost and Found-)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

When Loki left to work on his double-play against the Titan he didn't come back, when Nightingale discovered the surprise life had prepared for her she chose to step back to protect her precious blossom. Through battles and imprisonment life went on, always the same, until a picture changed everything...

Some find refuge in a special place, others, like myself, find it in a person...

xXx Loki's POV xXx

I am old... or young, it depends on how one looks at it. As far as the Aesir, the people I grew up with, those I believed myself to be one of for most of my life live for millennia. An average of five thousand years, sometimes even longer... And for that matter, it wasn't just them, but most races across the Realms, except the humans, inhabitants of Midgard, whose lives are measured in decades, who are called simply mortals by many others. I, on the other hand, humans would call me immortal, even if I'm anything but; still, I'd barely passed the first fifth of that lifespan.

And yet, I'd spent much time among those Aesir called mortals, I'd grown to appreciate the ways they had taken to counter just how short their lives truly are. I could see how much they valued each year, each day they live... and through that same appreciation, a thousand years at times seemed like forever to me.

Or maybe it's not a matter of perspective at all, maybe it's simply what I've done in the last dozen years or so... yes, that sounded right somehow, even in my own mind. It all came down to her... most things did. Her, my Lady Nightingale, my closest friend, my truest confidant, my lover, my beloved, my soulmate, my true love, my wife, my match... my everything...

Most don't believe she exists, not really, I'm quite sure everyone except mother thinks she never did. Then again, there's one key piece no one knows, never has... she's human. My dearest love, my Nightingale, is a human girl...

It all began in such an unexpected way. She'd been eleven, nothing more than a child, so small, so innocent. I never knew how it was I didn't realize she was there before I stepped out of the shadow paths and into her garden, with her still there; didn't know either how she managed to see through my glamour of a thirteen-year-old boy and realize the truth about me, not only my real age, but even who I really was. That was just the beginning, ever so slowly she became a part of my life, until she was all that truly mattered.

The last time I saw her she was nineteen. I'd spent what seemed at times like a month and a lifetime lost in the depths of the abyss; subjected to all kinds of tortures. It took everything I had to convince the Mad Titan I was breaking, without actually doing so. I managed to return to her side, where she took care of me, nursed me back to health. And then she gave herself to me, all of her, her innocence, her devotion, her love... and in turn I gave her all of me. A bond was form between us, sealed by the pronunciation of the Ancient Rites the following night. She was my wife, if not exactly legally, she still was, in the truest sense, before the Higher Powers, mine, just like I was all hers.

She saved me, when I couldn't find a way to save myself. When I discovered that so much of my own life was nothing more than a lie, she became my absolute truth as well as my anchor. I knew I'd forever owe her for it all.

We spent a wonderful summer. She'd just graduated from school and was already being sought by several people who knew she was the best in her fields. Still, she chose to take the summer to travel through Europe... with me. It was like a honeymoon.

And then... nothing. We had a plan. I knew the Mad Titan was planning a move against Midgard. And I couldn't allow that, for her, and for those she loved. So I told her all about it, and then we decided (technically I did, she never liked that part) I would go back to the abyss, stall Thanos for as long as possible, give time for Midgard to get as prepared as they could be. Only... something happened, something I could have never expected, could have never planned for.

Somehow the Mad Titan knew. He knew I wasn't loyal, not really, he knew I was planning to betray him... so he made it so it was no longer my choice. It was torture, in some ways even worse than the physical one I went through during my first period in the abyss. I could still see everything going on, all the things, terrible things, my body did, yet could do nothing to stop it, to stop myself. My will, pushed back by Thanos's own and the power of the Mind Gem, could only do so much. I managed to stall for two years, and even that took almost all I had.

I saw myself invading Midgard; taking over a number of people; being the cause, directly or indirectly of dozens of deaths of innocent humans in just the first day; and then came an attack on the human flying fortress, and the invasion of the city of New York (which brought so many more deaths...). I woke to find myself lying on the broken floor of Stark's Tower, the green-rage-monster's attack on me (the way he'd beat me up bad enough it'd take days for even my bones to properly heal). The Titan's influence was gone, finally... and yet it was already too late to change, to undo all the evil I'd caused.

My only saving grace was that my Nightingale wasn't around when it all had taken place. I could remember having spied on a conversation between Thor and the Son of Coul (one of many lives lost to my hand and Thanos's will), he'd mentioned that my love was on vacation (she worked for SHIELD, which had been the part of the plan I didn't like, yet could do nothing to stop her, just like she couldn't stop me from mine); he'd managed to convince Director Fury not to take her from the house where she was enjoying her time off and onto the helicarrier. A part of me would always be grateful for that... I couldn't imagine the pain (for both her and myself) if she'd had to see me as I was then. The part I regretted was not being able to see her one last time...

Surprisingly enough I didn't get the sharp side of an ax the moment I set foot back on Asgard. I was sure there could be no other consequence, and a part of me prayed to the Norns that my love would find out in time, at least enough to decide to unlock the deamarkonian. At the same time I couldn't help but know that she'd never forsake me, even if it meant her death, and that hurt me as much as it filled me with love. So it was quite the surprise when not only I wasn't executed, I was simply sent to a cell. Granted, I was expected to be there for the rest of my life... but I didn't really mind that part so much. That meant my match would get the chance to live her life, fully, and when the day came and she passed away, I would follow her... maybe then I'd get the chance to lay eyes on her again, even if it was only for an instant before my soul was banished into the depths of the underworld...

It was probably not the brightest line of thought to have, but for me it was enough. Just knowing she was alive, that she had a chance to be happy, that was enough. Getting regular visits from Mother (even if she was only an illusion) was helpful too. Regardless of how I might choose to disavow my f... the Allfather for his lies, and Thor as my brother for his own mistake (ours, if I was honest with myself, the mistakes came from both of us most times); in the end Frigg would always be my family, my mother...

Which was why losing her hurt me so much... I felt like I was breaking inside. A part of me simply refused to contemplate it. It wasn't supposed to happen like that! I was supposed to die many, many years before she did! My mind couldn't grasp the fact she was gone, victim of a dark elf called Malekith and the monstrous creature that served him. And the mere thought that I could have done something to stop it, to save her, and instead I was trapped inside that norns-forsaken cell! It was almost more than I could bare.

I never thought I'd be thankful for Thor, not until he stood by my cell, ordered me to drop the illusion I kept to hide my complete lack of composure after my loss... and even as I did that, I was just waiting for him to mock me, to claim my grief to be less simply because I wasn't mother's son by blood. He did none of that, he didn't offer any condolences either (I probably wouldn't have taken it well, if he had). He wanted my help, to get his lady-love (a midgardian! Wonder how the Allfather was taking that one...) out of Midgard (they couldn't use the Bifrost, the King wouldn't allow it) and to Svartalfheim. As I later learned, she was acting as host for the Aether, which would kill her unless it was taken out... only Malekith could do that. I knew Thor also hoped to be able to destroy it in the process, which was absolutely ridiculous. The Aether was more than just a stone of power, a relic, much more... it was one of the greatest powers in the universe, a singularity. One cannot destroy a singularity! It simply isn't done.

Still, I couldn't help but approve of his plan, the idea of going after Malekith to avenge Mother's death. So I agreed. I even followed the plan (which, in the end, I didn't fully know, but still). I got Thor and Dr, Jane Foster out of Asgard and to Svartalfheim through one of the Hidden Paths (it wouldn't have been safe to drop into the Shadow Plane with her carrying the Aether, not only because I hadn't the slightest idea how such a power might affect my ability to travel through it, but because I feared it just might be enough to call the Mad Titan's attention, and I definitely didn't want that).

It all changed once we were there.

"You should say goodbye to her while you still have the chance."

We were still on the skiff, floating across Svartalfheim, looking for Malekith, when the words came out of my mouth before I could stop to think about them.

"Not this day..." Thor grumbled in denial.

"This day, the next, a hundred years, it's nothing, it's a heartbeat." I said, voice weighed by an immeasurable sadness. "You'll never be ready. The only woman whose love you prized will be snatched from you. And you will feel lost... you will feel like gravity no longer holds you, like the sun cannot warm you, like there's no beauty left in the world... you'll feel like you cannot draw breath, and yet still keep living..."

I knew he didn't understand. Why I was saying such things, how I even knew how it all felt, but either he realized I wouldn't explain myself, or he was just too shocked by it all, because he didn't ask. And I just felt I needed to make him understand. Much as Thor might annoy me at the best of times, there was a part of me that still saw him as a brother, and I felt he needed to know, needed to understand, to prepare, before it was too late.

"Why are you telling me this?" Thor asked, tense.

I knew I couldn't tell him the truth, couldn't tell him about my own pain, about my Nightingale, and how I knew the chances of every seeing her again were next to none... he probably wouldn't believe me, I knew already he didn't trust me anymore. I'd hurt him too badly, too many times. And maybe it was better that way, at least that way there was one person less I had to worry about possibly losing. Nightingale and Mother had been bad enough...

"Even a blind fool could see that you love the mortal woman." I told him, forcing my voice to sound uncaring. "It's also obvious she reciprocates. However, I'm sure you're well aware of the Allfather's opinion regarding humans, if you try to make the lady your betrothed, he will not give his blessing, ever. Even if she turns out to be capable of gaining the respect and approval from Asgard... that will not make her one of us, it will not make her an Aesir, will not grant her our lifespan... without your Father's blessing she will not be able to partake of Idunn's apples..." I made a pause, fighting not think about my own lady and would never be. "Which means that one day, whether it is a year, a decade or a century from now... you will lose her."

"Why are you telling me this...?" He asked again, and I could almost hear the 'brother' that was missing from that sentence.

"You need to be aware of what you're setting yourself up for." I said simply.

"You seem to know, better than I would have ever expected you to." He said, his mind catching up in a way I never expected him to. "Who've you lost...?"

I refused to answer him. As much as a part of my heart wanted to scream about my own lost love, my Nightingale... who, even if she still lived, I would never see again... I was all too aware how fickle Thor could be. He no longer trusted me, no longer called me brother, the chances that he would reveal whatever I told him to the Allfather were too high, and the consequences that would bring to my match were too terrible to even contemplate.

He didn't insist, instead just turned away to focus on Jane Foster were she slept at the front of the skiff, as we kept floating away. I could have almost sworn I heard him whisper:

"I wish I could trust you..."

Truth was, I couldn't help but wish for the same, deep down... in the end such wishes were pointless. There were other things I needed to focus on. We both did. Like fighting Malekith, and avenging Mother's death.

When the plan came I couldn't help but be surprised, in more ways than one. Thor claimed not to trust me, and yet he was placing his own life, and the life of his mortal (and oh so fragile) lady love on my hands... what kind of person did that?! I was insane, beyond that even, evil or not, the mere idea that Thor, whom I hurt more than anyone else in all the realms, would trust me that much (all while loudly claiming not to be able to do exactly that...) it just didn't fit. I didn't know if I should be calling the blonde a fool or thank the Norns that somehow, even after everything that had happened, Thor hadn't given up on me.

Though I will never admit it out-loud, a part of me was probably feeling dejected enough I was walking the edge of being suicidal. Not quite, because there was a part of me that could still remember Nightingale and what my dying would do to her, but still. I wasn't as careful as I could (should) have been considering the enemy we were going up against.

The plan was relatively easy. Pretend to betray Thor, to not care for Frigga (that was the hardest part, actually), and then offer Jane Foster as a gift to Malekith, knowing he'd want to take the Aether out of her before anything else. It all went quite to plan, to the point where Thor was able to use Mjolnir to call on his full power and unleash it on the Aether while I took care to cover the human woman from attack... and that was when everything changed, in a way. Due to a small, seemingly innocuous object that had apparently slipped out of Jane Foster's jacket (why the woman decided to put her Midgardian jacket on above the beautiful blue-silk Asgardian gown mother ordered for her, I'll never know). The object was small, thin, glossy, a picture... but it was the image it showed that changed everything.

I kept moving out of sheer instinct. As Thor's plan to destroy the Aether failed (as expected) and the two of us then went on to fight the dark-elves, unable to stop Malekith from escaping. I'll never forget the moment the Kursed used that norns-forsaken grenade. I could only barely push Jane Foster out of the way in time, yet its vacuum was pulling at me before I could move; and then, fractions of seconds before all would have been lost, my brother had been there, saving my life, again after so long.

"Brother..." The word slipped out of my lips before I could stop it, not like he seemed to hear.

I couldn't help the memories that came then. Mostly of our early childhood. All the times I would have bad dreams (I used to hate the cold... probably repressed memories of my origins and ancestry or something like that), and end up in Thor's bed, seeking his warmth. He never seemed to mind. Even in our early adolescence, when we began to realize my slight body made battle training harder than it was on almost anyone else. Thor was always there, pushing me to try harder, consoling me when I couldn't do something, reassuring me that I was good and would find my own way to do things, even if they weren't the traditional ones...

Then the so-called Warriors Three came around, and everything was ruined. It wasn't actually them, or not just them. It was all the warriors that were always praising Thor for his ability, while at the same time ridiculing me on my failure. Most of the time Thor would ignore them, and tell me to do the same; when the insults got bad enough he would defend me and my honor... yet as some of those Warriors became his friends, he began chastising them less and less. Until the day came when he seemed to agree with their critiques and their slurs. It was painful... it was also the day I realized Thor and I would never be as close again.

Him saving my life in that moment made me think about that, and also about all the times he'd tried to do the same in the last few years. His visits every few months to my cell, his insistence every occasion we met during the conflict in Midgard (though, to be fair, I wasn't exactly myself then), his attempts to stop me on the Rainbow Bridge... maybe if he hadn't arrived back from his exile, so convinced of my own darkness, mind poisoned once again by his so-called friends' careless comments, things might have gone differently. I think he, of all people, might have been able to pull me back from the ledge I was precariously balancing on since finding out the truth of the blood that ran in my veins. Not even mother was enough back then, for she knew the truth and lied to me about it. But Thor... he hadn't known, and if he'd accepted me. Well, there is a midgardian saying about crying over spilled milk.

Still, I had to return the favor not even five minutes later. A part of me actually enjoyed it, not because it might be something to rub his face in, but because I was (finally) getting the chance to protect my big brother in battle, to save him... When I ran that monster through with the long sword I'd pilfered from one of the dark-elves I'd killed before I couldn't help the deep satisfaction I felt... yet even that wasn't enough. Yet even that wasn't enough, the creature turned around, blade sticking out from his chest, and went at me.

For a moment, my mood was such that I couldn't help but wonder what it'd be like to just stand there, to allow that blade to run me through, to stop fighting, to just... let go... But then I saw Thor's expression, the mix of pride (in me, hopefully) and growing fear (for me, rather than of me for a change); and I remembered the glossy picture I'd picked up from the floor, which was even then inside the folds of my green tunic. My magic reacted before even my mind did, as I jumped (teleported) from the spot before the kursed, briefly to his side and then behind Thor.

"Are you alright, brother?" He asked me, through a pained groan.

"Just fine." I assured him, fighting not to touch the scratch on my chest, on the very spot where the sword would have pierced if I hadn't moved just in time.

"Help me up Loki." Thor told me. "We need to finish this."

"It's finished." I told him calmly.

And it was, he realized it around the same time the monstrous creature did. I'd activated the grenade still on its side, and it was activating before he could throw it away. The kursed was consumed and all I needed to do was stand there (and make sure the vacuum effect wouldn't pull either of us in).

It was done... we'd killed the monster, we'd won... except Malekith was still alive, and he had the Aether (I just knew that couldn't be good).

"What should we do now?" I asked quietly.

A part of me wondered if Thor would decide I'd done enough already and should be sent back to my cell. It's not like he needed me anymore, not really...

"Thank you brother." Thor said suddenly, completely ignoring my question.

I just shrugged, not wanting to reveal everything that had gone and was still going through my mind... all his words, his gratitude truly meant.

"I'll tell Father what you did here today." He assured me, as if he truly believed that would change anything with Odin... and maybe he was still that naive.

"I didn't do it for him." I stated simply.

I refused to say anything else, give away more than I already had. I was already making myself more vulnerable than I liked, admitting that much. If the fool still didn't understand...

"I saw what Malekith's planning." Jane Foster's words broke through the mood quite efficiently.

"What...?" We both couldn't help but turn in her direction at the same time.

It definitely wasn't good. Worse than anything I could have imagined. It was one thing to know that Malekith was an insane bastard who'd once tried to plunge all realms into darkness... another entirely to know he was about to take over where he'd left off the last time. He needed to be stopped, we needed to stop him. Again, I wondered if Thor would allow me to stand beside him, or choose to send me back to the dungeons.

"Brother..." I heard him call.

His hand on my wrist, the way he pulled me to his side... that was enough of an answer. One I'd cherish for as long as I lived...

I was in such a good mood that I actually decided to save us all the walk across the blackened lands of Svartalfheim and pulled both Thor and his lady-love into the closest shadow, through the Paths and straight to Midgard (though I cheated by tracking down the place that had the thickest trace of the woman in it, her living abode).

I could see the looks the other mortals gave us as we appeared. There was mostly happiness to see Thor, and fear to see me; my brother defended me, of course and, surprisingly enough, Jane Foster did the same. What I couldn't help but notice was the young brunette in the loose sweater and tight jeans, with blue-gray eyes and thick-rimmed glasses, looking straight at me; there was no hate nor fear in her expression, instead I saw something akin to curiosity... I learned her name was Darcy Lewis, she was Jane Foster's intern and had worked with SHIELD, with the Son of Coul for a while... that did not explain her attitude regarding me (rather, if she'd been close in any way to the Agent, she'd have despised me).

I had a chance to see for myself how clever some humans could be, particularly my brother's chosen match. She'd gotten but a short glimpse of the Aether's power as it was pulled out of her by Malekith, and that had been enough for her to make out his plan and how he was likely to carry it out. From there we all worked on planning a way to stop him.

It all came down to a battle, of course. Though I was pleasantly surprised when part of the plan also had Foster and Selvig using some strange devices the older doctor had created to provoke anomalies (holes in reality), which would help them get rid of the dark elves, sending them elsewhere. It probably wasn't right to just be pushing our troubles onto others, but in that moment I didn't really care, and the others either didn't realize it or didn't care either. Still, that part of the plan showed a level of cleverness, of trickery that I could admire, and the fact that Thor approved it so readily made me think that maybe he was learning after all...

Halfway through the battle a part of me began wondering what we'd do next. Once Malekith was done for, there would be peace again, Mother would have been avenged and... then what? Was I to be returned to my cell and rot there? For the longest time I hadn't really cared, not at all, but things had changed so much, in the most unexpected ways... I abruptly decided it wouldn't end like that, I wouldn't let Thor put me back in that awful cell. Not without a hell of a fight. This time I wasn't giving up.

It was quite convenient when Malekith got his last burst, when he called on all the power of the Aether, sending it spinning upwards in the direction of the Convergence, like a magical twister. It was even more convenient when Thor went into it to fight it, with me at his side, and then lost consciousness even as he achieved victory... I was gone by the time he woke up.

xXx

I approached the old stately manor in Solva, Wales more slowly than was, perhaps, absolutely necessary. I hadn't been there in years (not since the first weekend of that wonderful summer which my beloved and I'd spent practically locked up in her bedroom in the manor). The place was older than Salani manor in Maine. She'd told me once it was the place where her father's family had originated, centuries prior. Though only a part of the house remained as it was originally, as a good deal of it had burnt almost to the ground at some point. Presumably it was after the fire that the family decided to emigrate to America, where they established themselves. Generations later a descendant returned and reclaimed the estate, putting it back in the family name, and eventually the family dwindled down enough that by Cyrus Edgard Salani's generation (father of Sebastian Edwin Salani, my own match's father), there was a single line left, who owned the properties on both countries.

My body relaxed almost instinctively the moment I crossed the limits of the property, and even then I didn't stop walking as I went around the great building, the sweetest, most beautiful voice I'd ever known slowly reaching my ears:

"Lost in the darkness,

Hoping for a sign
Instead there is only silence,
Can't you hear my screams...?"

"Never stop hoping,
Need to know where you are
But one thing is for sure,
You're always in my heart."

"I'll find you somewhere
I'll keep on trying until my dying day
I just need to know whatever has happened,
The Truth will free my soul..."

It took me several lines of the song, but eventually I realized it wasn't just any song I was hearing in that moment. My Nightingale was singing... to me. She was calling to me through her songs with such intensity I felt an ache deep in my heart. It'd actually begun earlier, when I first noticed that glossy picture on the black grounds of Svartalfheim (and which I apparently lost at some point during the battle in Greenwich). Yet in that moment I couldn't really regret the loss, for that was merely an image, a print, nothing could ever be more important that the real people standing right then across from the backyard, just a few yards away from me. My love was there, and she wasn't alone, not at all. The scene before me, just like in the picture, had my beautiful wife, with her cream-and-roses skin, auburn hair and bright hazel eyes, sitting on the ground, her back against the tree, and nestled against her a small rosy-cheeked, chocolate eyed, red-haired child. Her child... our child... our beautiful daughter... It was like a dream come true.

"Lost in the darkness,

try to find your way home
I want to embrace you

and never let you go."

"Almost hope you're in heaven

So no one can hurt your soul...
Living in agony 'cause I just do not know
Where you are..."

"I'll find you somewhere
I'll keep on trying until my dying day
I just need to know whatever has happened,
The Truth will free my soul..."

My beloved somehow didn't seem to notice me for the longest time. Even as I walked across the yard, slowly approaching her and the huge tree she was sitting underneath. She was so lost in her song, in the feelings and the magic she was (knowingly or not) spinning through the air, it was like nothing but her existed in that moment. The child noticed me though, her knowing eyes tracking me, observing me silently, even as she refused to move from her mother's side. I dropped to my knees less than a feet away from them and, instantly, my beloved's hazel eyes opened wide, staring straight into my emerald-green ones. There was so much emotion in those eyes right then, so much love... for a moment I thought she was going to forget all about her singing and jump straight at me, but she didn't; with the girl still in her arms, she kept singing, even as crystalline tears shone on her lashes as she looked straight into my eyes, her voice didn't waver, not even for a second, though the emotions in her voice had shifted completely since her previous verse: from the deepest, most absolute sorrow, to the sharpest, brightest hope and joy and... love.

"Wherever you are, I won't stop searching.
Whatever it takes, I need to know..."

"I'll find you somewhere
I'll keep on trying until my dying day
I just need to know whatever has happened,
The Truth will free my soul..."

The song came to an end, and in the next second my beautiful match was in my lap, her gentle hands cradling my face, mindful of the cuts and bruises the recent battles had left on me, even as she pulled my mouth to hers in a kiss that seemed to carry all the love I'd been missing for the last five years... the last eternity...

Eventually we pulled away, turning our eyes at the same time to the four-year-old child sitting on the grass, looking straight at us with her wide, warm eyes. There was recognition there as she looked at me, like she knew me, even if we'd never met.

"This is Rose..." My love said quietly.

She didn't bother to try and explain who she was to me, to us both, she knew it was unnecessary. I could see the likeness in the child, while she mostly looked like my Nightingale, there were traces of me in her as well; and even if there hadn't been, I could sense the connection. She was mine, in the truest sense possible.

"My Rose..." I breathed out as I opened my eyes to her.

That seemed to be all the invitation she needed, as she threw herself straight into my arms, deceptively small-looking arms winding around my back as she pressed her button nose into the hollow of my neck, breathing me in:

"Papa..." She half-whispered, half-sobbed, making me hold her even tighter in reflex.

Yes, she definitely knew who I was.

xXx Thor's POV xXx

I wasn't expecting what I found when I woke up. It was surprising in more ways than one. I'd been fighting Malekith, using Selvig's devices to tear him into pieces, while my brother made sure to keep the destructive power of the Aether away from the Convergence. I knew it couldn't be an easy feat, and not for the first time I wondered why it'd taken me so long to realize the value his magic truly had, how it was much more than 'tricks'.

It would be easy to say that everything that went wrong between us was Loki's fault. After all, he was the one who did all those pranks on people, some downright cruel; he was the one who changed Sif's hair from her original golden to black and then said it couldn't be changed back; he who let Jotun into Asgard on the day I was to be crowned; he who lied to me about Father's state, who lied to Heimdall about his intentions, who tried to keep my friends away, sent the Destroyer after us all, tried to destroy Jotunheim, and fought me on the Rainbow Bridge... Yet at the same time, wasn't I the one who stopped seeing his magic as amazing and brilliant and began dismissing it as cheap tricks? Wasn't I the one who stopped reassuring him that he could be great even if he didn't have my strength and instead joined other when they criticized him for things that went beyond his power? I chose to turn my back on my brother and take my friends' side, and then was surprised when that same brother turned his own back on me...

And yet, after so many years, so many mistakes, so many horrors, I was calling him my brother again. The same day when I'd finally decided to give up on him, and had told him so, he'd done so much... he'd helped Jane and I get to Svartalfheim, he followed my plan, helped me fight, protected Jane's life when it was necessary, and saved my own life, putting his own on the line... I realized that that day, for the first time in years, I was seeing my brother again.

The things he told me, about my lady Jane, about love, about loss... he almost seemed to be speaking from personal experience, and yet that couldn't be, could it? I would know if my brother had had a love, if he'd lost someone so dear. He's my brother, I would know, right? Considering how long we'd spent at odds, I wasn't sure.

Such thoughts made me wonder what had become of the Lady Nightingale. There had been a time when Loki would mention her often. His dearest friend, his confidant, he'd never allow myself or our... my friends to meet her. I thought he was just being over-protective, or perhaps even jealous to a degree (how many times had ladies lost interest in him after meeting me? There was a chance he feared something like that happening, or so I thought). There came a time when Fandral began implying that perhaps the lady did not exist at all, that Loki was only making her up so as not feel alone. I made fun of it at the time, and yet, years down the road, I couldn't help but wonder what happened. I did not believe my brother made the Lady Nightingale up, not at all, but I did wonder what became of her. If maybe she'd have been able to do something to help Loki, to bring him back to us, when even mother and I failed... maybe I should have asked him more about her, should have shown more interest in him and his... then again, maybe if I'd done such things I'd have been able to save Loki myself.

"Everyone okay?" Erik's voice slowly brought me back to reality.

I opened my eyes to see the vanishing portals into the other Realms. The Convergence was coming to an end. Malekith was gone, in the absence of a wielder the Aether had collapsed into its simplest forms. And Loki...

"Where's Loki?" I asked, sitting up abruptly. "Where's my brother?"

No one knew. According to both Jane and Erik they hadn't seen him come out of the red-and-black cloud of power. He'd simply... disappeared.

"Should we warn SHIELD or anyone else that your brother might be on the rampage again?" Selvig asked with no little bite in his voice.

I flinched but didn't say anything, I knew my brother had hurt Erik.

"Maybe he just didn't want to go back to the dungeons?" Jane offered, though she didn't sound quite so sure.

Darcy was the only one not saying a thing, though I didn't really pay much attention to that. Especially not when the other young man, I couldn't remember his name, just that he too assisted my dear Jane in her work, called.

"Hey!" He said loudly, as he picked something up from the ground. "Did one of you drop this?"

He raised it up. It was a photograph. Small and glossy, showing two females. The first a young-looking woman with long curly dark-auburn hair, creamy skin, in a white button-up and a gray wool sweater, eyes closed; nestled against her side was a child, no older than perhaps four years old, with rosy-skin, straight light-auburn hair to her shoulders in a flower-print dress and a forest green sweater. There was enough likeness for them to be mother and daughter, though I hadn't the slightest idea who they might be... the others did, though.

"That's mine!" Darcy cried out right then. "It was in my jacket!"

"I'm sorry Darcy." My Jane said sheepishly. "It's probably my fault. I actually thought I'd lost it when we were in Svartalfheim, for the life of me that I couldn't find the picture when I took off the jacket you lent me..."

"How did it end here, then?" Selvig asked, curious.

"I haven't the slightest idea." Jane answered honestly.

She wasn't wearing the same jacket anymore (she'd insisted on getting changed while we were at her living quarters).

"When did you take that picture anyway?" Jane asked Darcy right then. "I thought Silbhé didn't like to have her picture taken. Or Rose's for that matter."

"She still doesn't." Darcy admitted with a small shrug. "But I wanted to have a picture of my goddaughter and her mother with me. I took it on Rose's last birthday, six weeks ago."

"Guys..." The young man, assistant, called right then. "I know this probably sounds completely insane but... what if Loki had that picture?"

No one replied to that, no one seemed to know how to.

"I mean," The boy began to babble. "Dr. Foster says she pretty much lost the picture in Svar... that other world. And yet its here. And Loki was here, and now he isn't..."

"You cannot think he'd go after Silbhé and Rose just because he saw them in a picture!" Darcy cried out, absolutely scandalized.

"Well, the guy is supposed to be insane, right?" The boy shrugged.

Surprisingly enough I wasn't the only one to open my mouth to snap a denial, and I also wasn't the only one who didn't seem to quite know what to say in the end... though I'd no idea what Darcy might have been thinking.

I slowly took the picture in my hand, and could feel it right then, the thrum of leftover energy, of my brother's energy...

"Loki had this on him." I said quietly. "He didn't only touch the picture, he kept it close long enough for it to pick up a trace of his magic."

Nobody knew quite what to say to my statement, to be honest, neither did I.

"You think Silbhé and her daughter could really be in danger?" Jane asked me quietly.

"I..." I didn't want to admit the truth, yet I had to. "I don't know. Who are these people?"

Everyone turned to look at Darcy, obviously expecting her to be the one to answer my question, yet all she did was bite her lip. She didn't want to answer, for whatever the reason.

"Silbhé is Professor Silbhé Salani." Jane finally spoke. "She was recruited by SHIELD five years ago or so, a few months after what happened in New Mexico with you, actually. She's our expert on Asgard..."

"Expert on Asgard?" I didn't understand.

"She's mastered several areas of study here in our world, specifically History, Mythology and Literature." Jane explained. "As you know already, some of our mythology closely relates to you and to other realms. So she was hired to teach those working in SHIELD all she could about what we ought to expect from Asgard and everything else."

I nodded. I wasn't sure how trustworthy whatever myths midgardians might have could be, but it wasn't the time to focus on that.

"Rose is her daughter." My lady-love went on. "From what we know she was born Rose Kinross, daughter of Arianna Kinross, Silbhé's cousin, who died in childbirth. Silbhé was apparently the baby's closest relative and thus, they became family. Silbhé actually began working less hours to take care of her, only going to SHIELD HQ when it was absolutely necessary. I lost contact with her, just like I did with Darcy, a year or so after New Mexico. The two went to New York, while I was sent to Arizona, to work on another facility." She made a pause, as if remembering. "Then New York happened and... things began dwindling. Before I truly realized it SHIELD had pretty much lost interest in my work, Darcy was once again my only intern, and Silbhé had resigned from her position to dedicate herself fully to raising Rose."

"Where does she live?" Ian asked quietly.

For a moment no one answered, and soon I realized they were all looking straight at Darcy, it seemed like she was the only one who knew the answer to that question.

"In the old Salani estate, in Wales." Darcy answered finally.

"Est... did you just say estate?" The boy blurted out, like there was something special about that.

I knew that my lady-love Jane, the lady Darcy and Erik Selvig lived in a small place called an apartment (they'd always lived in small places), and I knew different people had different means for living places (like the Man of Iron's Tower, or SHIELD's base). I still didn't understand the significance of this Professor and her daughter living in an estate... In any case, it didn't change the fact that I needed to get there; because Loki was missing and if he'd gone there for whatever the reason I needed to make sure he wouldn't hurt anyone.

It took a while, but we managed to convince Darcy to lead us to the Salani Estate. With the arrival of some SHIELD Agents, Selvig insisted that the three of us go ahead, while he and Ian dealt with the agents. It took five and a half hours, but eventually we made it to a rather large property with an old, elegant home in the middle. There were no actual gates at the entrance to the estate itself, and we went up the long driveway. Where Jane immediately began ringing the doorbell. There was no response.

"You think something's happened already?" My lady-love asked hesitantly.

I wasn't sure, but fear made me react, I raised Mjolnir and was about to call on its power when I abruptly felt Darcy's hand gripping my wrist.

"Stop it!" She hissed with unexpected authority.

"Darcy..." Even Jane didn't seem to be expecting that.

"I... why must you always think the worst?" She asked, hesitantly. "You think that Loki is here, and granted, maybe he is. But what makes you think that he would only be causing trouble and pain, wherever he might have gone? Why cannot you consider the possibility that there might be other reasons for him to be here?"

"Like what?" Jane challenged.

Darcy bit her lip stubbornly.

I knew my Lady Jane was frustrated, but I could see Darcy knew something, something she refused to share. She was trying to protect someone, but who? My brother? The Professor? And if so, what made her think that keeping her silence was protecting either of them?

"Come this way." She stated after what seemed like forever.

She lead us around the house (and the walk actually gave me a chance to truly appreciate the size, bigger than any other dwelling I'd been in during all my visits to Midgard). Halfway down we began hearing voices, laughing voices, mostly a child's, it sounded almost like crystal bells. And then, a keener laughter, though just as beautiful.

"Is that...?" My Jane sounded honestly surprised.

"Silbhé's laughing." Darcy nodded with a small smile. "She must be having a good day."

The sidelong glance she directed at me told me what she thought about our presence there, and that I better not ruin her friend's day.

"I'd never heard her laugh." Jane admitted quietly.

We reached the corner of the manor and I was about to step into the backyard, when once again I felt Darcy's hand on my wrist.

"Wait." She said softly. "Watch."

She spoke so softly, and in a knowing tone, like she already knew what we would see there, like maybe she was expecting it. And then I actually did as she told me... and I was left breathless:

The scene was unlike anything I could have ever expected, could have ever even dreamed of. There was a child, the same child from the picture, she was wearing a dark skirt and an off-white shirt, her short hair shining red under the sun. She was running, around a huge tree and the young auburn-haired woman in a yellow dress sitting on a blanket. The most shocking part, though, was my brother. Loki was running around behind the girl, making grabbing motions, though never actually touching her, and he too was laughing, like I hadn't heard or seen him since we were both young and carefree children.

"I don't understand..." I admitted quietly.

The answer came in the next second, as Loki finally ran just a little faster, enough to take hold of the girl around the waist, holding her up to her shriek of laughter. And then...

"Papa!"

Some sound must have escaped me, I honestly didn't realize. Though the reaction was quite obvious to us all: Loki straightened up in an instant, turning the child around in his arms, pressing her tightly, protectively, against his chest. Realizing they'd seen me already I moved to approach them, I got halfway there, when something else changed. The young woman, the girl's mother, went on her feet fluidly, though instead of going to stand by Loki's side, she stood carefully in front of them both, using her body as a shield... and not only that. I saw her raise both hands, slapping them harshly against the air, and it wasn't until I ran smack into an invisible barrier that I realized just what had just happened. The young woman (the girl, she looked so painfully young and small) had just conjured a shield.

I thought I'd been surprised enough for one day, that I'd had all the surprises my mind could process... I realized I was wrong the moment the next word came out of my brother's mouth:

"Nightingale...?!"

xXx Nightingale's POV xXx

That day had begun the same as every other in the last few years. It was what I considered a good day. Not too dreary (either in the weather or my own mood). I'd finished writing the needed articles and reviews for a couple of national magazines and one in the States and needed only to give them a last read-over before sending them to the editor. There would be no need for grocery shopping for a few more days yet. Which meant I had the day all to myself, and my daughter.

It made for a rather boring life, I knew that; however, it was necessary. I still remembered a time when things had been different, so very different. I'd been the genius girl of Norwich University, finishing three bachelor degrees by 16, the same up to master's level at 19; certified in a dozen languages. I'd spent summers traveling through Europe to improve on them and was capable of speaking in each of them with practically no accent. As if that weren't enough, at nineteen I'd taken a job with one of the biggest and most secret organizations in the world: SHIELD. I was their 'Asgard' expert; my knowledge in Norse mythology as well as European Literature and History making me ideal for helping them understand the worlds we were just beginning to learn existed. I was one of two people in the whole world with such knowledge. I'd worked closely with Dr. Foster, one of the people who'd been in contact with an Asgardian in their most recent visit and the one who seemed to know most about how our worlds connected. After a year I was moved to New York to help educate all agents in whatever they might need to know...

And that was only the part that was publicly known. There was a whole other side. Like the fact that I myself had been in contact with an Asgardian since I was eleven, who'd saved my life from blood cancer when I was but fourteen; he was the reason and the motivation for most of my studies, and in a sense also for working in SHIELD. And he wasn't just any Asgardian: he was Prince Loki Odinson... well, no, not technically, as he was adopted and he really didn't like his f... the Allfather anymore, perhaps the best name would be Loki Friggson (for we both agreed she would always be his mother, no matter what). However, that wasn't the important part, no, the most important part was he was my perfect match, my husband since I was nineteen... and I'd lost him but three months later, before either of us knew of the miracle forming inside me.

Rose Alfdis Salani-Hvedrungr, that was my... our girl's name. Her father had never met her, he didn't even know she existed, though she certainly knew about him. I made sure to show her the few pictures I had of him often, and was always telling her about him. I made sure she knew that if her papa stayed away it wasn't by his own choice, he would have never chosen to leave us... I knew what had happened in New York, all the things he'd done, and there was no doubt in my mind that something had been very wrong back then, he would have never hurt so any people of his own free will.

A lot had changed in the year after the invasion of New York. Not everyone approved of the Avengers Initiative, or Fury's decision about them. There was little they could do about the heroes themselves, all but those who worked directly with SHIELD had pretty much scattered to the four winds after the battle. Still, they managed to influence enough. There supposedly was no need for new agents to learn about Asgard, after all, we had someone who was supposed to help us; and it wasn't like my teachings had helped any during the invasion... and just like that, I was no longer necessary at SHIELD.

They didn't actually say it like that. In fact, Fury refused to truly fire me. Instead I'd gone from full-time consultant to part-time, meant to be on-call in case of an emergency. If I was honest with myself, I didn't actually mind. It gave me more time to spend it with Rose... while at the same time allowing me to keep Rose away from SHIELD. Everyone but family believed Rose to be my niece and adopted daughter, rather than such by birth; I'd chosen to do things that way to protect her, in case anyone ever found out about my connection with Loki. Later on the extended distancing became necessary when Rose began manifesting. At first it was just the way the ambient temperature seemed to change around her, until it got to the point where her body would get so hot at times a couple of babysitters thought she'd a high fever. The first time her eyes changed from the warm chocolate brown she'd been born with to a red-orange-black, like the tiger's eye stone, I knew it was too dangerous to stay around; SHIELD didn't exactly have the best record when it came to their treatment of people who weren't quite 'human'. I'd been lucky enough that no one had asked more questions than absolutely necessary regarding the cancer and my miraculous recovery (or that, technically, I still had leukemia). Still, I wasn't about to subject Rose to that kind of risk.

I met Professor Charles Xavier, headmaster of the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters and leader of the mutant group known as the X-Men (the school was for mutants too) once, when Rose was still an infant. Apparently, even though she wasn't technically a mutant, she was enough like one she appeared on their 'radar' so-to-speak. Professor Xavier told me they'd never had a child so young, but he was willing to help me, help us both. He offered me a place in his school, where I would be able to teach History and Literature if I wished, while raising Rose in a safe environment. In the end I chose not to. It was nothing against the man, I was very thankful for his offer, but I was technically still contracted by SHIELD and didn't want to know the kind of alarms that would be raised if I were to move to Westchester.

It'd be hard to tell what made me decide to move to the UK in the end. I knew something was off with SHIELD, though I couldn't tell what it was exactly. Darcy warned me when several attempts were made to look too close into Rose's documents, she'd even been able to trace the attempts back to a computer inside SHIELD HQ. I had no way of knowing if it had been Fury, or someone else entirely; I just knew someone was showing a bit too much interest in my daughter, so I decided it was time to leave. Aunt Kathryn had passed away shortly before, one of the many tragic victims of the Ebola in Africa (she'd been working with Doctors Without Borders). I ended up using that as an excuse, claiming Rose and I needed a change in surroundings, and thus we moved to the house my aunt had left me in Wales, the old Salani estate (which had been mostly empty since our original move to the States, back when I was but an infant).

Years passed and things were... I wouldn't exactly call them good, not really, not without my match, my Maverick. But Rose and I were alright, and regardless of how much time passed I kept the hope that, sooner or later, my love would come back to me, to us... even then I cannot say I was exactly ready when he did.

The day had begun the same way as any other. We'd celebrated Rose's fourth birthday recently. In the company of Darcy (as she was Rose's godmother). The bittersweet note was in the absence of the two men who, more than anyone else, ought to have been part of my daughter's life (maybe I should have counted three, but my father too had died, before Aunt Kathryn even, and he'd never been truly close to Rose, too busy with his second wife and her children in Germany). No, the two men whose absence I truly regretted were Loki, Rose's father; and Rose's godfather: Phil Coulson. He was one of few men I truly trusted, enough to tell him the truth about my little girl (or almost all of it, not her father's true identity), enough to ask him to be her godfather. And then so much had happened: from his tragic 'death' right before the battle of New York to the even crazier things that followed.

Darcy and I knew he was alive, though neither of us had the slightest idea of how, exactly. Matter of fact, all records still marked him as dead... then again, Darcy isn't one of the best hackers in the world for nothing. I'm not quite sure how she found out, or what even tipped her off, made her look for it. I knew she'd arranged to meet him through a number of codes they'd prepared during the time they'd worked together (while we were living in New York) and they'd had a top-secret meeting (no one, not even Fury knew they'd met, that we even knew Phil was alive), and they'd kept meeting since then, always in the utmost secret.

In any case, Phil still couldn't be there for Rose's birthday, and even if he'd made sure to send her a gift and a card, it just wasn't the same.

It had been about six weeks or so since that day, and we were in the start of May. Once it got warm enough outside I gave into Rose's desire to go out. Though even I wasn't sure what had stopped me before; cold hadn't bothered me at all in years, and it'd need to be very extreme before it would bother her (as my girl's body naturally ran at a higher temperature than most humans). She'd yet to manifest any actual powers, though I had my suspicions, judging by her body temperature and the way she seemed to favor heat... I suspected that Rose might have the gift of fire (which wasn't logical in any way, her father was ice after all and I... well my body seemed to have adapted well enough to that).

Rose ran around our backyard (which seemed to be half forest, according to what Darcy had said the first time she visited) for a while, letting out all her energy, before eventually going to sit beside me, I had my back against the biggest tree in the area.

"Sing mama, please." She said brightly.

She loved it when I sang, said it was her second favorite thing from me, the first being whenever I told her stories about her papa and I. I didn't think much about it, simply began singing, one of the many songs I had about Loki, that day in particular I decided to sing one about my hope of one day finding my love again, being reunited to him... I never expected for my words to come true before my eyes right then:

"Wherever you are, I won't stop searching.
Whatever it takes, I need to know..."

"I'll find you somewhere
I'll keep on trying until my dying day
I just need to know whatever has happened,
The Truth will free my soul..."

I don't know where I found the will to finish singing that song once I saw him, kneeling right there before me. And yet, singing had been my own personal brand of catharsis for so long I couldn't help but finish it, I felt I needed to... so I did. The moment the last note left my lips all bets were off and I threw myself into my beloved's lap. And even though a part of me wanted nothing more than to eat him with a kiss... I couldn't help but notice the marks on him, scratches and bruises and I was sure there were more in places I couldn't see right then. So instead I raised my hands, cradled his face in them, and slowly pulled his lips to mine in the gentlest, most tender kiss I could muster, trying to let him feel all the love I had for him, which I'd never stopped feeling, not even for a second, despite all the time apart, all the love that would never stop.

Eventually we pulled away, not so much for lack of air (though that probably would have become an issue soon enough), no, it was Rose, who was still sitting right beside me, warm chocolate eyes coming alight. I knew without a doubt she recognized my love.

"This is Rose..." I introduced her quietly.

I didn't bother saying anything else, I knew I didn't have to. Even if Rose looked mostly like me, I could see him in her too, in the shape of her eyes, in her nose and so many other details... and I was sure he could too. And even if the looks weren't enough, we were both connected to her, she was a part of us and always would be.

"My Rose..." I heard him breathe out as the truth settled deep inside him.

Rose didn't need any more invitation than that, as she imitated my earlier actions, and jumped to her papa's lap; her small arms (which I knew only looked small as she was actually quite strong) going around him as she embraced him for the first time, and pressing her nose into the hollow of his neck. She was taking him in, his scent, memorizing every little detail about him; like every child did with their parents as a baby (except she hadn't had the chance before that day).

"Papa..." She half-whispered, half-sobbed.

I almost broke down crying, hearing her say that word for the first time ever to the real person rather than a photograph or a memory.

My Maverick looked at me over her head, eyes shining with tears as he realized that yes, she knew exactly who he was, and she already loved him, how could she not?

xXx

We stayed in the backyard for hours. There was enough leftover Italian (still our favorite) in the fridge for a nice picnic lunch; we finished by sharing a big slice of chocolate cake from my favorite bakery with some dark tea (Rose drank chocolate milk). Afterwards Rose was pretty insistent, and eventually managed to convince my Maverick to leave my side to play with her.

It was like a dream, the kind I'd never want to wake up from. Like a mix of hide-and-seek and tag, our little girl ran around the backyard, with my love constantly on her heels. It was quite obvious that Loki could have caught her at any time, but they were both having so much fun just running around, laughing. It was absolutely perfect.

I was so happy... probably too happy, it was really the only way to explain how I didn't notice we had uninvited guests until they were already there.

One moment Rose was running past me, only for Loki to finally reach her, taking her by the waist and holding her up to a shriek of laughter. I was laughing too, finding almost as much delight as my match to our little girl calling him Papa so brightly... and then the wordless exclamation, and I suddenly realized we weren't alone anymore.

There were three people in the edge of the backyard, by the manor. I first noticed Darcy, looking apologetically at me, a thousand apologies in her expression; I had no idea what had made her decide to give away my... our location, but trusted her enough to know she had done what was best in the end. Jane I didn't know what to think of, while we'd gotten along well enough while together in New Mexico, in the end the scientist held Thor in too high a pedestal to be open-minded where it came to my love (not that I could claim to be objective about him either). And then there was Thor...

I reacted almost before I was fully conscious of it. I didn't even process properly what was going on. All I knew was that someone I didn't trust, who'd hurt my love more than once, had invaded my home uninvited and was approaching the two people I loved most in the universe. I needed to know nothing else. Before I even realized it I was on my feet, completely ignoring the way the folds of my frilly yellow dress curled around my legs. I didn't even wait to trace runes or call them out-loud, in that moment my concentration was perfect; I just raised my arms and slapped my hands wide open against the air right before me, a transparent barrier materializing just in time for the blonde Aesir to smash straight into it.

He stared straight at me, and I stared right back, unblinking, with my husband and daughter at my back. I'd felt my whole body shake at the impact with the Aesir prince, and yet I'd managed to hold, as I always would.

"Nightingale..." I heard Loki call behind me, a mix of surprise and confusion.

"The last time he came anywhere close to you I lost you for three years." I answered, directing cold eyes at the blonde. "Rose hadn't met you before today. We're not losing you again. I won't allow it. Not for anything."

When the god of thunder finally spoke, the words to come out of his mouth were not the ones I'd been expecting:

"Are you truly the Lady Nightingale?" He sounded so quiet, so confused.

"I am." I stated seriously, straightening to my full weight (short as it might still be). "I am Nightingale, wife and match of Loki."

"The little girl..." He murmured next, an unreadable expression in his face.

"She's our daughter." I stated simply.

For a longest time there was nothing but silence. I didn't understand. So long I'd been convinced that Thor and any other Aesir (except maybe Queen Frigg) would be nothing but a danger for my love... and yet. In that moment the blonde prince wasn't looking at my love with hate, not at all, instead all I could read in his expression was sadness.

"You didn't know, did you?" He asked, not to me but to his brother.

"No, I didn't." Loki admitted calmly.

"Until you saw that picture." Jane blurted out next.

My Maverick didn't actually answer that, a nod was enough.

"What picture?" I inquired, confused.

"It was kind of my fault." Darcy admitted, a hand rubbing the back of her neck. "I took a picture of you two during the birthday celebration a few weeks ago. I kept it inside my favorite jacket... which I happened to lend Jane the same day she got in trouble and Thor ended taking her to his world or whatever..."

"I found it on the ground in Svartalfheim." Loki stated quietly, moving lose enough to place a hand on my arm, our daughter on his other arm. "It gave me the hope to survive the battle against Malekith and the Aether, pushed me into looking for you... I had to see you again, I had to see Rose... our daughter..."

I couldn't help but smile. There was a reason I'd been against pictures being taken, mine but especially Rose's. I always feared what might happen if she was found by any Asgardians, or anyone else who might follow the belief that Loki was evil. It's not like I was unaware of the total lack of acceptance my step-daughter Hel had. And I wasn't about to allow anyone to so much as look at my bay girl wrong.

"Brother..." Thor murmured quietly.

"I don't think there's anything you need to worry about right now, love." My Maverick said quietly. "I'm sure Thor won't do anything to hurt our daughter."

"Never brother, I would never do that." The blonde Aesir assured.

I wasn't quite sure if it was his use of the word 'brother' or my own love's belief, but I decided to trust him and let the shield vanish.

At first things were a little tense. But as the minutes passed I couldn't help but relax slowly and then came the moment when Rose twisted to one side and the other until she slipped off her papa's lap and went to stand before Thor.

"You are papa's brother?" She asked, curious.

Because of course she'd heard when the blonde called Loki that.

"I am." Thor nodded, going on one knee before the little girl. "My name is Thor."

"Uncle Thor?" Rose offered.

"Yes, your uncle Thor..." The Aesir's voice sounded a bit strangled at that.

"I am Rose Alfdis." She introduced herself, carefully pronouncing her middle name.

She was quite young still, but had carefully learned how to pronounce such words to be able to say her name, as she was very proud of it.

"Pleased to meet you, little rose." Thor nodded, kissing her brow.

"That's what mama calls me!" Rose smiled joyfully.

For a few seconds nothing else was said, and then:

"Are you gonna take my papa away?" Rose asked suddenly.

None of us seemed to know quite what to say to that.

"Because I just met him." Rose went on. "And I love him very very much, and I know mama loves him lots too. And I don't want him to go away again." She looked straight at Thor with wide eyes. "Please, I want papa to stay with mama and I."

"Of course, little one." Thor's words almost stumbled out of his mouth, and I could see the well of feeling in his eyes. "I will never let your papa be taken away from you."

"Promise?" She asked him, full of so much innocent hope.

"I promise." He assured her.

"Thank you uncle Thor!" She cried out in delight, embracing the blonde tightly.

None of us commented on that promise, though I'm sure we all knew how impossible it was to truly guarantee something like that. Even being the crown prince of Asgard, he wasn't the one who held the throne, not yet.

"Sing mama, please." My little girl said suddenly, smiling brightly.

And as always, I could do nothing but oblige her. I was so happy having my love, my consort, my match my... everything again by my side, that of course the song had to be about him, for him:

"You were insecure but I was so sure
But I wanted you
Yes I'm powerful, and a little girl
But I wanted you
So I told you so, wanted you to know
We've just one life to live."

"And I told you all my dreams and fears
And you looked at me and your eyes filled with tears
And you said those three words I'd been waiting for
You became a part of me, yeah."

"You're mine, for life
And I'll be by your side
We are entwined.
You're mine, for life,
Hold me until we die,
I'm yours and you are mine."
"I'm yours, You're mine
I'm yours, You're mine"

There were no explanations needed as the song went on, everyone knew who I was singing about exactly. It seemed the most natural thing for Jane and Thor to nestle against each other, just like Loki and I did (with Rose in between, pressed tightly against both of us). Darcy was the only one who didn't have anyone to hold onto, though I didn't miss the way she kept her fist tightly closed around a certain object that hung from a sturdy chain around her neck. I had never actually seen it, yet I knew exactly what it was: her engagement ring, the very same Phil had used to propose to her the one time they'd managed to meet in secret, in person (they'd talked since, privately, but hadn't had a chance to meet face to face again since that one time, as Phil was being too tightly monitored). All that would change soon though, I had no doubt about it, they'd be together again. They deserved nothing less. And if Loki and I had gotten our chance... I believed they would as well, as would Thor and Jane when the time was right. They were matches, soulmates, chosen for each other by the stars/spirits/higher powers; no one and nothing could stand against that.

"Now I'm so happy you found a place for me
Boy you wanted me
Some security and two heartbeats
Boy you wanted me
Then you told me so, wanted me to know
You let the past go."

"And I told you all my dreams and fears
And you looked at me and your eyes filled with tears
And you said those three words I'd been waiting for
You became a part of me, yeah."

"You're mine, for life
And I'll be by your side
We are entwined.
You're mine, for life,
Hold me until we die,
I'm yours and you are mine."

"I'm yours, You're mine
I'm yours, You're mine"
"I'm yours, you're mine,
I'm yours, you're mine"

I was his, just like he was mine. That was a truth of our lives (our existences), had been since the Ancient Vows had been pronounced by us both, back when I was nineteen, probably even before then. There were times when I honestly felt like we'd been together forever, and would remain so till the end of time.

xXx

The hours passed. Eventually Darcy went and ordered some takeaway, beef and cheese tacos for all of us. We ate together in the kitchen (I favored it over the too big dinning room) and after putting Rose to bed (it wasn't easy as she refused to let go of her papa for the longest time) we all went to sit on the top-floor terrace, close enough to Rose's bedroom and with a clear view of the starlit sky and the nearby forest.

"What will happen now?" Darcy decided to be the one to break the very tense silence when none of us dared.

"I'm sure this is obvious already, but I'll say it anyway." I stated seriously. "No one is taking my match away without a hell of a fight."

"I told my niece I wasn't taking her papa away, I meant it." Thor assured me.

"You know it won't be up to you in the end, brother." My Maverick said softly. "The Allfather will never allow this... and Nightingale and Rose will be in danger."

It looked like Thor didn't want to believe that, though a part of him knew it was true... I wondered what might have happened that made him believe Loki so easily, or was it that he was doubting the Allfather. I wasn't quite sure which one it was, but it was still surprising. I also realized that the two hadn't stopped calling each other brother through the whole afternoon, made me wonder what had changed, my love hadn't referred to the blonde as such since the painful revelation of his origins all those years before. On the same line I'd expected Thor to demand explanations, to want to know everything about me and Rose, how Loki could have a wife, a daughter, a whole life he didn't know about... and yet he hadn't asked anything.

"There are those who will take us in, who will give us asylum if necessary." I pointed out.

There was Charles, of course, but it wasn't only him. There were two magical covens I'd met in the last few years, and while one of them tended to get in too much trouble for me to feel safe having my daughter around them, the others I trusted more.

"That's probably a good idea." Jane admitted quietly.

"Even then." Thor stated. "If the Allfather, or anyone else, ever finds out about your family brother, I swear to you it won't be from me."

I didn't quite know what to say to that, all I could do was nod in thanks.

"Brother?" My love too seemed to have trouble dealing with that promise.

"From what I gather, no one saw you leave the battle." Thor explained. "It won't be hard to convince them that you were lost while we were making our final attempt against Malekith and the Aether. No one will doubt it."

"What if the Allfather finds out you're lying?" Loki asked quietly.

"That's why you must leave this place after today." The blonde said quietly. "That way, if they learn the truth somehow, if they manage to track my energy here, they still won't be able to find you, any of you."

"The Allfather won't be very forgiving if something like that happens." My love stated.

"I don't care." The Aesir shrugged. "It's something I know I must do, it's what's right..." He made a pause before adding. "It's what Mother would have done."

I could feel a pang inside me, the echo of the pain my beloved was feeling. I knew what had happened with their mother, Lady Frigg. The woman had died, to protect Asgard in general and Jane in particular... I wondered if it was that sacrifice that had changed things so definitely between the brothers; or maybe what had happened in Svartalfheim (I didn't quite know all that had happened there, but I knew enough).

"We will leave first hour tomorrow, then." I decided. "Will leave the country and..."

"It might be better if none of us know where you're going." Jane offered softly.

Darcy let out a breath before nodding her agreement. I knew she hurt, could almost sense it. She loved Rose dearly, and knowing that they wouldn't be seeing each other again, at least not for years, it wasn't easy... at the same time, I knew it was an opportunity. She finally had a reason to go after Phil and leave everything else behind. I hoped the two of them would be able to be happy together again, whatever else might be going on.

And, just like that, the decisions were made. Only one thing could be said afterwards:

"Thank you brother..."

xXx 3 rd  person POV xXx

The next morning Thor was back on Asgard, where he spoke of the events in Svartalfheim as well as the battle in Midgard.

The Allfather knew about the second, in fact, many people seemed to, as the Convergence had allowed for there to be witnesses from every realm; all of whom agreed that Loki had gone into the Aether cloud at Thor's side to fight, and they'd never seen him come out. Thor spoke of what Loki had done for both him and Jane in both confrontations against Malekith, using words like honor and loyalty and many others in such a way that Loki probably would have snorted if he'd heard him. Still, Thor felt every word.

All the while as he spoke, Thor couldn't help but think about Loki and his family, how small the chance of ever seeing any of them again; and he accepted that as necessary. As much as he loved his father and always would, he'd seen the way he'd treated Jane, as being less, as being little more than an animal simply for being mortal. He didn't know how the Allfather would have reacted to Nightingale's existence, much less Rose's... truth was he was actually afraid to even think about it.

And while all that was happening in the Realm Eternal, in Earth a small family had made sure to pack everything of any importance, putting the bags in a subspace pocket, before Loki took the two most important girls in his life and used the Shadow Paths to take them away.

The little family came out in the biggest crossroads of the small island-town of New Salem, Massachusetts in the United States.

"What's this place?" Loki asked quietly.

He'd followed his beloved's mind to the location where she wanted to go, but he didn't know the place. Still, he could feel the power in the earth and the very air around him, magic...

"Our sanctuary." Nightingale told him softly.

"You are my sanctuary." Loki replied, kissing her hair tenderly. "The only one I'll ever need."

Nightingale flushed and smiled as she pressed a kiss to Loki's collarbone before continuing:

"The Circle will be able to help us. They're a group of witches and warlocks." She said. "They know about me and Rose, and in general terms about you too, here we'll be safe."

"I trust you." Loki nodded calmly, letting Rose down, though still holding her hand.

Immediately the girl raised her other hand for her mama to take, and together the three members of the small family began walking up the street. There were twelve houses, all of them big and old, some empty, and all of them had at least a trace of magic, which made at least a few things quite clear: the coven lived there. They'd just reached number 11, the second to last home, when people came out of it. Eleven young adults, none of them over twenty-five.

"Nightingale! Rosie!" They received the two women.

Rose seemed quite delighted to see them, though she still didn't let go of her papa (which meant Loki ended going around the group, listening as his daughter quickly introduced everyone, she'd known the coven her whole life).

A young blue-eyed brunette, one of the three leaders of the Circle, approached Nightingale.

"We're glad you're here." She said quietly.

"I suppose you saw us coming." The auburn-haired mother replied.

It was well-known that from everyone in the Secret Circle Muse (which was the code-name/title they all gave the youngest member of the leading triumvirate, though her legal name was Cassandra Blake-Conant) was the one with the sharpest Sight. She'd probably seen Nightingale and her family coming to Crow Haven Road before any of them even knew such a move would be necessary.

"I told you years ago that the Little Rose was fated to be an important part of the next Circle." The witch reminded the mother. "However, I didn't quite know how it'd happen exactly, until yesterday morning."

"We worked all day to make this place as perfect as possible." Cassie's husband (and soulmate) Adam Conant stated with a wide smile. "The restorative work wasn't easy, but we managed."

Which was only to be expected, it was an old house after all, which probably hadn't been inhabited, at least for the last decade and a half. They probably wouldn't have managed even half of that without the magic.

"In one day..." Nightingale blurted out, shocked.

"Faye is a hell of a taskmistress." He deadpanned.

It took a handful of seconds more before the smaller woman fully processed the full implications of what was being said:

"Wait... but then... does that mean...?" She didn't even know how to say it.

"Welcome home, my friend." Cassie stated softly, embracing her.

Nightingale held back tightly, feelings almost overwhelming her for a moment.

Just that morning she'd had to hold back tears as she said goodbye to the place she'd called home for the last three years, the only home she'd left, for all intents and purposes (she still didn't know what was going on with SHIELD, which made Maine not quite safe). And to find there was a new place a new home waiting for her, for them, it was more than she, than any of them could have ever hoped for.

"Thank you..." She murmured quietly, unable to find better words, even while knowing a mere thank you would never be enough.

Like Loki had said, she was his sanctuary, just like he was hers, and with them and the help of the Circle they would give a true home, a safe place for their daughter to grow up. In that moment their future, their lives were looking brighter than ever before.