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Aethereal

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Aethereal Poster

Aethereal

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale )

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

After missing him for so long, she knew that if she ever got the chance, she would do anything to protect her love, to make sure he would be alright, safe and sound, no matter the price to pay, the sacrifice to make... Asgard, and all the Realms will soon learn just how far Nightingale is willing to go for love.

Some things are only worth as much as you're willing to give for them.

When I woke up, there was a moment, just a second, maybe less, where all I could see was red. Not the bright red of roses or even fire, but the dark, almost sickly red of rust, or old blood... it was enough to send shiver through my spine, even if I didn't fully understand why.

Silbhé?!” I heard a voice call, sounding extremely concerned for some reason.

I'm fine.” I answered, automatically.

Truth was, I wasn't fine, not at all. Though it took me a little while to realize it. Until my mind finally cleared and I could remember where Jane and I'd just been. My reaction was automatic as I sat up abruptly, looking around me.

We're back.” Jane told me, somewhat unnecessary.

I can see that.” I murmured, more to myself than to her.

Are you sure you're alright Silbhé?” She asked softly. “I mean, I know we both blacked-out when whatever-it-was that happened, did... but you wouldn't wake up.”

I feel... fine... I think.” I answered, slowly.

Truth was I wasn't actually sure how I felt. I knew there was something just... not right with me, I could sense it, in the same manner I could sense the bond I had with Loki (in a way that went beyond the cuff around my wrist or the magical tattoo-ring on my finger).

Are you sure?” She insisted.

I didn't quite know how to answer that, since I didn't believe the answer anyway, so instead I decided to change the topic.

I think we should go look for Darcy.” I stated, getting on my feet slowly. “We don't know where we were exactly, or how long we were there, or unconscious, and if we've been missing for long... we need to find Darcy, and Ian.”

Jane nodded in agreement.

I knew she remembered why we were there in the first place. Darcy had pretty much gotten her out of a date with some guy named Richard (I didn't actually know him), to show her something. Ian had been there too, and they'd insisted on me tagging along rather than staying all alone in the apartment. I knew their intentions were good, but sometimes Jane and Darcy took it too far. As far as they knew I'd been engaged to the love of my life back when we were still living in New Mexico. Then, something had happened while he was away on business, and I'd never seen him again. I knew Darcy at least had the theory that he might have been in New York and was one of the civilian 'casualties' of the alien invasion that had happened that day (we'd been in Tromso those days, and it was until much later that we realized it was no accident, we'd been sent there on purpose, presumably for own safety; though the details were fuzzy as the man responsible for our move had died that same day).

The truth, of course, was much more complicated. What they didn't know was that I'd been with the love of my life. That while it wasn't actually legal, for all intents and purposes I'd already been married to him, still was. Even if I hadn't seen him since moving to New Mexico to work with SHIELD, teaching them all about Asgard and the other realms (I am one of two experts in European Mythology, Literature and History in the world). That the love of my life, my consort, my match, was none other than Loki...

Of course, as far as most people in our world knew (including everyone in SHIELD, and of course Jane and Darcy themselves), Loki was a villain. The 'evil' adopted brother of Thor, who had lead an alien army into our world in an attempt to conquer it. They didn't realize that things were so much more complicated than that, had always been. I would always curse the being that had taken him from my side, kept him from me in such a way that I didn't know to be there when he needed me the most. I'd promised to stand by him, to be there for him when he needed me, and yet when the moment of truth came... I wasn't. Because I didn't know to be. It made me want to cry and scream and curse the universe sometimes, much as I new it wouldn't change anything.

In any case, that wasn't really the moment to be thinking about such things, I knew that. So I took a deep breath and went after Jane, who was arguing with Darcy about the police the younger woman (though still older than me) had called while we were 'away'... apparently we'd been missing for five hours.

I was still trying to wrap my head around that when it began raining. I was still standing just inside the building where we had been, so I wasn't really getting wet. Even then I knew, deep inside, that the rain that moment wasn't normal. The confirmation came when Jane moved away from Darcy and straight to the blonde man in the other-worldly attire I suddenly noticed standing right there. It was Thor...

I decided to ignore our Asgardian visitor. Just looking at him made me think about Loki, worry about him, where he might, how he might be feeling... so I forced myself to turn away from him and Jane and instead focused on what was going on with the police... who seemed to be patting down Ian for some reason.

Excuse me!” I called loudly, ignoring the rain still falling as I approached them. “Is there something wrong officers?”

Are you Jane Foster?” One of the policemen asked.

His tone sounded a bit peculiar, almost disdainful, it made me defensive. I knew people tended to look at me and see nothing but a girl, a child... never mind that I was 23 years old and a highly respected scholar (in the right circles).

No, I am Professor Silbhé Kinross Salani.” I stated stiffly. “Dr. Jane Foster is a colleague. What is going on?”

Do you know this man?” He asked, signaling to Ian, his tone going down a notch, or three, as he evidently realized he'd made a mistake regarding me.

Yes.” I nodded, still stoic. “His name is Ian, he's one of Jane's interns, along with Darcy.”

There was a time when Darcy could have been more, so much more; but that opportunity had gone, along with Agent Coulson, and so many other things.

This is private property and you're trespassing, the lot of you.” The man informed me, with a hint of satisfaction for being able to exercise some authority. “You'll have to come with me.”

The moment he reached for me I knew something was wrong. I could feel it, running underneath my skin, like my beloved Maverick's magic had, more than once, only the new energy was nothing like it, and it felt... wrong.

I tried to hold it back, try to keep things under control, but in the end a burst of it escaped me right as the officer touched my arm.

The effect was instantaneous as the officer went flying several feet; others close being pushed back a bit as well, even Darcy and Ian. I went on one knee in shock. I could feel the dark energy rolling deep inside me, and it was taking all my concentration to bring it under control, to push it down enough that no one else would end up hurt.

Silbhé!” Jane was calling as she ran to me. “Sibhé! Are you alright?”

She was about to touch me, but Thor stopped her, which was probably a good thing, as I wasn't sure what might provoke the energy into acting up again, and I so didn't need to wear myself out fighting it back again.

What just happened?” She asked me, worried.

I haven't the slightest idea.” I answered honestly as I slowly stood up. “But something tells me it might be connected to wherever we were earlier.”

You were gone too?” Thor interrupted abruptly.

I... yes, we both were there... wherever there was.” I answered, I still had no idea. “Like a sort of other place, a huge cave and...

And a stone.” Jane finished for me. “A gigantic stone, with something red in the middle.”

Thor's eyes seemed to widen, just for a moment, though I was the only one that noticed.

Our conversation was interrupted then, by the police pulling their guns on us.

Place your hands on your head!” At least two of them called at the same time. “Step back!”

I reacted instinctively, waving a hand in front of me, causing the gun of the policeman closest to me to go flying. That only seemed to make things worse for the others.

She's not well!” Jane tried to defend me, getting close but not actually touching me.

She's dangerous.” The man I disarmed snapped.

So am I.” The Asgardian retorted.

I could vaguely hear one of the policemen in the back calling to someone through his radio, probably requesting backup... as if I were some dangerous criminal. It made me bristle in anger, but then Thor was calling my attention.

May I touch you?” He asked, offering me a hand.

His other arm was already around Jane, who was holding onto his torso in a mix of fascination and confusion.

What is going on?” I asked, even as I held onto his arm.

I moved slowly to make sure the energy inside me wouldn't react; but apparently it only did when it perceived a threat... though how 'energy' could perceive anything I hadn't the slightest idea...

We're going to Asgard.” He announced, before raising his head up.

And suddenly there were stars all around us, and light, and a rainbow of colors, and everything was moving so fast and my feet weren't touching any solid ground...

I actually stumbled when first feeling something beneath my feet again. And then my breath left me when my eyes laid on everything around us. Jane was still lost in the adrenaline-filled journey, but all I could think about was the sight around us, the universe at our feet, almost literally. Loki had described me the sight many times, always telling me that words would never be enough... I hadn't understood it until right then.

Álainn (Beautiful)...” I whispered softly, not quite noticing when I slipped into Gaelic.

Then I stepped our of the Observatory, following Thor and Jane, and properly in Asgard, and stumbled all over again, though for an entirely different reason: I could feel him, I could feel Loki, like he was in every cell in my body, in that moment even stronger than the alien dark energy that had invaded me. And just for that, just to be able to feel that, whatever else might come was completely worth it.

xXx

Though I couldn't be quite sure how it happened exactly, I ended laying on an exam table in the royal infirmary, a number of healers and even Lady Eir (Goddess of Healing) herself, looking over me (and, in a sense, through me) trying to find out what exactly the energy inside me was. I could only lay there, waiting to hear what they had to see, continuously taking deep breaths and running through some relaxation techniques to make sure some of the energy wouldn't snap out or something.

What’s that?” Jane was the one that couldn't seem to stop asking questions.

“Please try not to get in my way miss.” Lady Eir chastised her softly even as she kept moving.

“This is not of Earth.” Thor commented right then, as he looked at whatever the Aesir healers were pulling up through their tests. “What is it?”

“We do not know.” One of the healers admitted. “But she will not survive the amount of energy surging within her.”

I took a deep breath, refusing to show any fear at the idea, it wasn't like I wasn't expecting that already (or like it was the first time someone said I was going to die).

“That’s a quantum field generator, isn’t it?” Jane asked, focused completely on the energy field that was being used on me.

“It’s a Soul Forge.” Lady Eir corrected.

“Does a Soul Forge transfer molecular energy from one place to another?” Jane asked in turn.

“Yes.” The goddess sounded honestly impressed.

“Quantum field generator.” Jane repeated, satisfied.

I could only roll my eyes. Really, the Aesir thought they were so far ahead Earth of us humans that there was no way we could even understand them or the things they could do, if they only knew... if they only realized how fast humanity changed...

Thor was smiling at Jane affectionately, he was completely fascinated by her; it reminded me, almost painfully, of the way Loki would look at me, especially when he didn't realize I was looking at him at the same time.

And then the moment was interrupted, by the arrival of none other than Odin Allfather.

“My words are mere noises to you that you ignore them completely?” He demanded, completely ignoring Jane, and looking at me almost like I was dirt under his foot.

“She’s ill.” Thor tried to explain.

“She is mortal.” Odin stated in disdain. “Illness is their defining trait.”

I couldn't help it, I rolled my eyes; thankfully he didn't notice.

“I brought her here so we can help her.” The blonde insisted.

“She does not belong here in Asgard any more than a goat belongs at a banquet table.” The King deadpanned, not even looking at me.

I sat up abruptly, completely ignoring the healers' complaints at my moving, all I could think of was the insult the man had just dealt.

“Did he just…” Jane seemed completely shocked by that. “Who do you think you are?”

“I am Odin.” The man stated, full of authority. “King of Asgard. Protector of the Nine Realms.”

“Oh.” She wasn't expecting that, and suddenly didn't seem to know what to say. “Well I’m...”

“I know very well who you are. Jane Foster.” The King declared, before turning towards me. “You on the other hand.”

I could vaguely hear Jane saying something to Thor about him having told his dad about her; however, my full attention was on said father:

I am Silbhé Arianna Kinross Salani.” I stated formally. “And I do not believe it polite for any person, especially one who claims to be a King, to refer to another as if they were an animal. I may be human and I may be young, but I am no beast, Allfather!”

The Aesir King seemed to be honestly surprised by my response to his words, especially by the fact that him being a King didn't make me cower at all. He looked at me for a long time, I was beginning to wonder if he was waiting to see how long it would take before I would feel intimidated by him and looked down or something (and if that was the case, maybe it was a good thing I was already sitting, as we were in for a very long wait).

Thor didn't allow it to last that long.

“Something’s within her father.” He interfered. “Something I have not seen.”

“Her world has its healers, they’re called doctors, let them deal with it.” He stated in a dismissive tone. “Guards! Take her back to Midgard!”

The guards reacted to their King's order instantly and I couldn't help but bristle at his complete disregard for me and for everyone else in my world. It was enough to allow my control to slip, right as the guards went to take hold of me. They were zapped; it wasn't as bad as when the policeman in London, but still.

“No I wouldn’t...” Thor tried to stop them but it was too late already. “...touch her. Lady Silbhé, are you alright?”

I nodded silently even as his father approached me. I briefly considering letting the energy attack him too; but in the end I decided I wasn't that petty, and got it (and myself) under control just in time for him to run a finger up my arm, I could see the red glow beneath my light-rose skin as clearly as everyone else could.

“It’s impossible.” The Allfather murmured, in obvious disbelief.

“The infection, it’s defending her?” One of the healers asked, seemingly intrigued.

“No.” Thor murmured, realizing the truth probably at the same time the rest of us did. “It’s defending itself.”

“Come with me.” The King ordered, not even waiting for us.

I could only roll my eyes again as I jumped off the table. Really, after everything my Maverick told me it was a wonder I'd expected anything else from him.

Eventually we made it to the Royal Library, where the Allfather lead us all to a great book on display as he began his explanation:

There are relics that predate the universe itself. What lies within her appears to be one of them. The Nine Realms are not eternal. They had a dawn, as they will have a dusk. But before that dawn the dark forces, the Dark Elves, reigned absolute and unchallenged.”

“Before the eternal night, the Dark Elves come to steal away your light.” Thor read from the great book before us. “These were the stories mother told to us as children.”

“Their leader, Malekith, made a weapon out of that darkness, it was called the Aether.” The King went on. “While the other relics often appear as stones, the Aether is fluid, and ever changing. It changes matter into dark matter, and seeks out host bodies, drawing strength from their life force.” He was obviously talking about me. “Malekith sought to use the Aether’s power to return the universe to one of darkness. But, after eternities of bloodshed, my father Bor finally triumphed; ushering in a peace that lasted thousands of years.”

Hearing all that made me wonder if the Aether might begin to draw on Loki's energy through the deamarkonian if my own proved not to be enough. I didn't like the prospect.

“What happened?” Jane inquired right then.

“He killed them all.” The Allfather answered promptly.

“Are you certain?” Thor insisted. “The Aether was said to have been destroyed with them, and yet here it is.”

“The Dark Elves are dead.” The Aesir King insisted.

I couldn't help it, I snorted. Which, of course, made the Allfather look at me darkly.

Paraphrasing a bit what Napoleon Bonaparte said over two centuries ago, history is the version of events others have chosen to make public.” I declared with a small scoff. “There's also another saying: 'History is written by the victors'. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter what your history says happened, if its convenient to you I'll take it with a grain of salt, or probably a mountain come to think of it, until I see incontrovertible, impartial proof of it.”

For the second time the Allfather didn't seem to know quite what to say.

Jane was the only one who didn't seem particularly surprised at my words, she knew what I specialized in, and just how seriously I took my studies, so at least a part of her had probably been expecting me to say something like that from the start.

The silence lasted for a while, eventually broken by Jane herself.

“Does your book happen to mention how to get it out of her?” She asked.

“No.” Odin answered, not seeming to care much either way. “It does not.”

xXx

I opted out when Thor offered to show Jane around, I knew they would appreciate the time alone and I wanted some time to myself, to try and find a better balance, possibly even a better way to keep control over the energy inside me, the Aether.

A change of clothes was taken to my rooms, on orders of Lady Frigg. I liked that, as my clothes were still somewhat went and cold; not to mention that the back of my top and about half my skirt (I'd been wearing an off-white loose top and light denim skirt along with white flats when everything had happened) were more than a little muddy in consequence of both the rain and the couple of times I ended on the ground. The change of clothes consisted of a simple but beautiful golden strapless wrap long dress and nice sandals. Jane had received a similar outfit, and while on her the dress reached to the middle of her calves or so, on me it was almost touching the ground (I was several inches shorter, after all).

I spent a while sitting on the balcony of the huge room that had been assigned to both myself and Jane for our stay there (and what a difference my playing host to Aether was making, that Odin no longer seemed to be in a rush to kick us off the Realm Eternal). I cursed quietly the absence of my flute; it was one of the things I always kept with me, along with the remaining healing vials Loki had given me years prior for emergencies. But Darcy's 'invite' to seeing the oddity she'd found had come so unexpectedly that they just slipped my mind for a moment, and later on I didn't have the chance to go back and get them.

I was mentally debating whether it was a good idea to try and sing something, get my mind off everything going on... or if I could possibly be brave enough (and insane enough) to slip out of the room (and the guards I knew were down the hall, keeping an eye on me as unobtrusively as they could) and try and find my way to Loki. I knew I could do it, if I focused on our bond; though, at the same time, that was something I'd been avoiding doing, just in case it caused the Aether to begin drawing on his life-force too. I wasn't sure my desire to see my beloved again would ever be enough of a reason to put him in that kind of danger.

In an instant the decision was made for me, though it certainly was in favor of an option I could have never considered. I could hear noises coming from the distance, something was going on, something bad according to my instinct. Then I opened the door to find Lady Frigg and Jane standing right then, looking more than a little frazzled.

Follow me.” The Queen ordered, before moving down the hall.

Something's going on, isn't it?” I asked, even as I followed, not waiting for either of them to say anything. “Something bad.”

It began as a revolt in the dungeons, but now I think there's more going on.” Jane murmured, looking quite tense.

I knew she must be worrying for her beloved Thor. Her words, though, made me worry about mine. Loki was in the dungeons after all. I wondered if it was him causing the trouble, but dismissed the idea immediately. What was happening was simply too disorganized to be caused by him, much as he delighted in chaos, what was going on just wasn't his style.

He passed a hallway with several dead guards. Jane's expression twisted in a mix of horror and near-nausea; and while I certainly shared the sentiment, I was also pragmatic enough to push all that far in the back of my head and approach the closest body to take the weapons. There wasn't much, his sword appeared to have been lost, but there was a long dagger and a couple of small knives, which I decided would have to do.

Silbhé...” Jane murmured, shocked at my actions.

Judging by the bodies, whoever is attacking, is already inside.” I told her grimly. “I don't fancy being defenseless when they catch up with us.”

When, not if, because I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing.

I raised my head, after having secured the three blades to my person (I tried offering one to Jane, but she was too squeamish to even try), to see Lady Frigg looking at me with a hint of what looked like surprise, as well as a healthy measure of approval and possibly even respect. She knew why I'd taken those weapons and shared my opinion (I could see the naked blade in her own hand).

Come.” She said again, as she opened the main doors into her chambers. “Odin will be sending guards, but we must be ready ourselves. I want you to listen to me now and do everything I tell you, no questions asked.”

Yes ma'am.” Jane answered automatically.

I kept my silence, I couldn't guarantee obedience (it just wasn't in me); the Aesir Queen seemed to realize that, but she did not insist.

What followed was almost like a mix of a dream and the scene of a sci-fi movie. Jane and I were sent into one of the smaller, private rooms attached to the Queens main sitting room, with a door that could be hidden behind heavy drapes. I took advantage of that fact to keep the door itself opened just a bit, just enough to see into the room itself, know what was going on.

The Lady Frigg used her magic to create doubles of both Jane and myself, who were made to sit near her. A few minutes passed and I suddenly heard the echoes of battle nearby, followed by pained groans which were abruptly cut off, and then the sound of bodies falling, men dying.

Jane cringed and winced behind me at every sound. She hated violence so much, it was probably not surprising that she hadn't taken the weapons, but while I didn't exactly like it, I knew denial wasn't going to help us.

Jane.” I hissed at her, taking hold of her shoulders, forcing her to focus. “Jane! Look at me. I need you to focus.”

It took several long seconds, but eventually she seemed to stop hyperventilating as she looked straight at me.

Take this.” I told her, handing her the medium sized knife.

She began shaking her head at me immediately.

Take it.” I ordered her, pushing the sheathed blade at her until she did. “Lady Frigg is doing everything she can, but it might not be enough. If the worst comes to pass I don't want you to be completely defenseless.”

What are you going to do?” She asked me, suspiciously. “Shouldn't you be the one hiding? Running? If they're... if they're dark elves, then it's you they want.”

Maybe, but they don't know that.” I reminded her. “And as long as they don't know, I can use that to my advantage.”

And even if they did find out, they probably wouldn't hurt me, not until they got the Aether at least; and I did have an ace under my sleeve... or more than one.

It was a breath-taking sight, that of the Aesir Queen fighting Malekith, showing why she was a Warrior Queen through and through. I'd never seen, never imagined something like that. She was absolutely amazing. She actually managed to disarm Malekith, pinning him beneath her with the borrowed sword. It all going quite well, until the monster appeared, disarming her and lifting her in air in a vicious move, blade to her back.

One of you has something of mine.” Malekith stated as he approached the illusions of Jane and myself. “Give it back.”

It was useless of course. The illusions broke the moment he ran his hand through them.

Witch!” The dark elf snarled at the Aesir Queen. “Where is the Aether?!”

I'll never tell you.” Lady Frigg stated, voice full of pride, even in her precarious position.

I believe you.” The enemy hissed.

I knew what was coming, and I knew I just couldn't allow it. So, as insane as I realized it was, I pushed the door open wide and ran out, managing to cross half of the room, getting away from both Malekith and the monster, before anyone realized what was going on.

Leave her alone!” I yelled even as I moved.

Don't!” Lady Frigg called, though we both knew it was too late.

Another illusion?” Malekith hissed.

I'm no illusion.” I snapped, pulling a sword out and standing guard.

I knew I stood no chance against him... I only prayed someone who actually did would find us soon, very soon.

You have what I want.” Malekith muttered, practically stalking me.

And then, completely unexpectedly, Jane stepped out of the room too. Though she didn't run, just stood by the door.

No she doesn't.” She called, her voice shaking just a bit. “I do.”

For a moment Malekith didn't seem to quite know what to do, as he looked at each of us in turn. Then he signaled at the monster, who threw Lady Frigg at a wall, before moving in his direction. It didn't take long for them to decide as each of them approached one of us.

No!!!” Lady Frigg cried out, obviously horrified that her plan to protect us had failed.

I took advantage of the round table in the middle of the room, to keep distance between myself and the awful monster trying to reach me. Jane didn't have any such advantage, in no time at all Malekith was before her, a finger reaching for her face. She whimpered.

Thor!!!” She screamed at the top of her lungs.

It only seemed to anger Malekith, who slapped her harshly, throwing her to the floor. It caused her lip to bleed, as well as leaving a bad bruise on her face.

Stop it!” I screeched, horrified.

I knew what I was risking when I left our hiding spot, but I never expected Jane to actually follow me, I never wanted to put her in danger.

Jane's situation distracted me, and the effect of that distraction was two-fold. I stopped moving, which allowed the monster to get dangerously close to me; I also lost track of the energy inside me, lost control. The moment the monster touched me, my reaction was immediate, I exploded (not quite literally, but still), energy rushing from my body, throwing the monster a good number of feet, making him crash against a column.

So it is you...” Malekith murmured thoughtfully as he began stalking me, again.

I gave a step backwards, before tightening my hold on the long dagger.

Why did you come out?” Malekith asked, even as he kept approaching me.

I didn't answer, instead I pulled out on the smallest knife, throwing it at Malekith. It didn't do much, just a small cut on his cheek. Though my willingness to fight back, to defend myself, obviously surprised him. I just kept moving, trying to keep away from him; though I knew there wasn't much space to move to.

It's obvious the witch was willing to risk her life to keep you and the other one safe.” He insisted sounding curious. “Why did you come out then?”

I'm not the kind who lets others die for me.” I answered honestly.

Especially when they're the mother of the love of my existence, the one person to truly care for him, aside from myself.

When Malekith finally got close enough to me (and I had nowhere left to move) I raised my sword, trying to slash at him. I wasn't very effective, I knew nothing of sword-fighting. So it was really no surprise when Malekith had little trouble disarming me.

I took a chance then, taking advantage of the attention he was paying to the blade, I went into a sprint, dropping to my knees and pretty much sliding under the table, to the other side of the room. It went pretty well, except for the part when I ended way too close to the monster. I couldn't help myself, when I saw it, I screamed.

Silbhé!” I heard Jane call for me.

She was still on the floor herself, but when I turned my head I could see her using all her strength to slide the blade I'd given her before, in my direction. I reacted instinctively, taking the knife and stabbing the monster (he was close enough I just couldn't miss). Then I let go, just a little, of the energy inside me for good measure. It was enough to throw him again.

That's enough!” Malekith snarled, furious at me.

It was quite obvious he hadn't expected the Aether's host to actually fight him. But I wasn't the kind who went down quietly, never had been (Loki probably wouldn't love me as much as he did if I were).

My mind was working like crazy, trying to find a way to survive what I knew was coming and then, it came. The doors to the chamber were flung open violently, and before anyone quite knew what was going on, there was thunder in the air. Jane half screamed in surprise, while I let out a squeak myself in shock as I pressed my body to the ground as much as I could, not wanting to end up fried by accident.

There were several shots of lightning, and things only ended when Malekith was gone (he fled after one of Thor's attacks burnt half his face) and the Monster (Kursed, as I later learned it was called) was dead (the knife I stabbed him with apparently helped push Thor's attack into it, which helped kill it).

Is it over?” Jane asked quietly, followed by a low groan of pain.

Jane!” Thor cried out immediately. “Are you alright?”

Just fine.” She assured him.

It wasn't too effective considering the bruise on her cheek and the blood on her lip and chin.

She helped me.” I said quietly as I got up slowly. “When Malekith got too close to me, she tried to distract him. Then he got angry when realizing she didn't have what he wanted, and he slapped her hard enough to throw her to the floor.”

Then Silbhé called his attention again so he wouldn't kill me.” Jane added for my benefit.

I checked myself over. There were a few scrapes and light bruises on my arms as well as my upper back, my legs had been protected by the length of the dress. The gown itself was a bit ripped, though it thankfully wasn't too bad.

You knew Malekith was coming after you, and you came out?” Fandral, who'd been one of those to follow Thor into the chambers, asked in disbelief.

She was trying to help!” Jane snapped in my defense. “You should know that the blade on that monster, she put it there! And she also hurt Malekith once.”

It wasn't enough, in either case.” I pointed out with a light shrug.

Odin entered the room right then. His attention went to his wife first, and after making sure they were alright, he turned to us, before ending on the body of the dead Kursed. I could notice the moment he noticed something no one else did; maybe because I could sense it too.

You used the Aether.” He practically hissed, turning straight to me. “You... you controlled the dark energy?!”

I wasn't sure what shocked him more, exactly, that the Aether was used at all without Malekith somehow managing to reclaim it in the process; or the fact that I had apparently managed to control it (to a point).

She, both of them, only did what they did to protect me.” Lady Frigg declared before anything else could be said. “The dark elves would have killed me if the girls hadn't intervened.”

No one dared contradict, or berate us after that.

xXx

Of course the problems couldn't end there. They wouldn't end until the Aether was gone, as we didn't quite know how to do that.

I only got worse when, the next morning, I found a number of guards surrounding me for some reason. Jane knew instantly that wasn't good, and ran to find Thor. I decided to be a bit more proactive about things.

You touch me and I blow you all away.” I threatened, allowing my skin to turn just a bit red. “You know I can do it.”

Truth was I wasn't quite sure I could. Or in any case, I wasn't sure I could control the energy, only allow it free, so it didn't outright killed the Aesir. What had happened with the Kursed had been more luck than anything else. Every time I used the Aether it became harder to control. I knew there would come a time when I would be able to do nothing to hold it back anymore. I feared what might happen then.

I was still reasonable though, so I agreed to follow the guards to see Odin Allfather (I refused to follow them into the room where they wanted me originally, probably to lock me up). The King obviously didn't like it, but o one tried to make me leave either. So I just sat on a side and listened as reports were made to him.

We are still unable to restore the palace shields.” Fandral stated formally. “Our artillery cannot detect them, even Heimdall cannot see them. My King, we are all but defenseless.”
And then Thor went in, looking absolutely furious; Jane, on his heels, looked more than a little nervous, though the moment she saw me right there, she seemed to relax a bit.

She’s your prisoner now?” The prince demanded of his father.

“Leave us.” The King demanded of everyone else right then.

All the non-royal Aesir departed instantly. I refused to move from my spot; and Jane seemed to take courage from that to stay as well.

“I do not wish to fight with you.” The Allfather told Thor after resigning himself to the fact that we were staying.

“Nor I with you.” Thor told him calmly. “But I intend to pursue Malekith.”

“We possess the Aether.” His father stated. “Malekith will come to us.”

I rolled my eyes. He didn't possess anything, the Aether was inside me, and I was no possession of his or of anyone.

“Yes.” The blonde replied. “And you will destroy us.”

“You over-estimate the power of these creatures.” The Allfather said proudly.

You over-estimate your own power.” I muttered, mostly to myself.

Unsurprisingly, he ignored me.

“No, I value our people’s lives.” Thor said, trying to be reasonable. “I’ll take Lady Silbhé to the Dark World and draw the enemy away from Asgard. When Malekith pulls the Aether from her, it will be exposed and vulnerable, and I will destroy it and him.”

“And if you fail?” Odin demanded. “You risk this weapon falling into the hands of our enemies.”

“The risk is far greater if we do nothing.” His son insisted. “His ship could be over our heads right now, we would never even know it.”

It looked like the King might be about to say something else, when Lady Frigg intervened.

“You know your son is right, Odin.” The Queen told him softly but strongly. “The risk is great to our people.” She turned to her son next. “Yet your father is also right on the risk of the Aether falling into Malekith's hands. There is no guarantee your power, or even that of your Father, would ever be enough to destroy such an entity.”

What are we supposed to do then?” Jane inquired, concerned.

Considering this thing is inside me, shouldn't I be allowed an input in this conversation?” I asked, unable to keep the derision from my voice.

You're here, aren't you?” Odin practically drawled.

Yeah well, you wanted to lock me up, not the kind of idea I liked.” I retorted evenly. “Now, it's apparently equally dangerous to go after Malekith, and to stay here... but there's one thing I need to understand first. What happens if this thing, the Aether, stays in me much longer?”

You'll die.” Odin announced, without the slightest hint of remorse.

Right, and when I die, what happens with the Aether?” I asked next.

It moves on to the next suitable host.” Lady Frigg said softly, honestly worried for me.

What if it could be stopped from moving on?” I inquired.

I thought you refused to be locked up.” Odin almost hissed at me.

I rolled my eyes, but refused to be provoked by his attitude; I'd known beforehand that he would not be exactly nice to me. And to think he wasn't actually aware of who I was, especially in connection to Loki... I couldn't help but wonder what he would do then.

I knew what question needed to be asked next, had known it from the moment I first got into the conversation; and yet it was still hard to allow the words to come out.

What if I were to die and the Aether couldn't reach another host?” I asked quietly.

Silbhé?!” Jane cried out, horrified.

Thor and Lady Frigg were both looking at me with a mix of confusion and worry for what might be running through my mind... they had no idea.

What if I were to die, while inside some kind of shield or something that kept the Aether from moving on to another host?” I pressed. “Would it die with me? Can something like that even be done at all?”

It could be done.” The Allfather stated.

For the first time since our conversation began he was sounding honestly curious, and even less insulting than he had from the start.

However, it would be pointless.” He went on. “The Aether will protect your body from anyone and anything intending you harm until it finds a suitable host. It won't allow you to kill or hurt yourself either.”

What if there was something it couldn't possibly stop?” I insisted.

I didn't want to go into details because, as insane as it sounded even in my own head; the Aether seemed to have some sort of 'consciousness', it needed to, to act out when I was in danger; and I didn't want it to 'know' what I had in mind. Because a plan was forming in my own mind, had begun to take form before the first question actually left my lips, and while I knew quite well it was probably absolutely insane, it was still better than the whole 'damned if we do, damned if we don't' thing Thor and his father had going on.

You have a plan.” Lady Frigg murmured quietly, it wasn't a question.

I took a deep breath, knowing it was the beginning of the end, and spoke:

I have a plan.”

xXx

Are you sure about this, child?”

It was the next morning and I was dressed in a gorgeous sleeveless ice-blue silk gown with a low neckline and small pearls on the shoulders. Lady Frigg had also insisted that I wear a jewelry set that she owned, though she hadn't worn it for many years, with topaz, lapizlazuli and other semi-precious stones; it consisted of a pair of earrings, a necklace and a diadem.

I wasn't quite sure why I even should wear something so elegant (not the dress or the jewels) but the Queen had insisted, and it seemed too rude to refuse. In any case, it wouldn't change anything in the end.

The only things I still had that belonged to me were the deamarkonian and the tattooed ring. And I'd decided to go barefoot, rather than wearing any heels or other fancy footwear.

My mind's made up, my lady.” I said quietly but strongly. “This needs to be done, and since it seems I'm the only one who can do it...”

I was talking, of course, about the destruction of the Aether. Because it could be done, and I was the only one who could do it. Some people, like Jane and the Lady Frigg, and even Thor, didn't quite agree with my decision. Didn't understand why I was so willing to make such a sacrifice. Of course, that was because I hadn't revealed that part yet.

I was escorted to the Throne Room by the Queen's handmaidens (Lady Frigg had gone ahead). I'd been warned about what I could expect, so I wasn't actually surprised when I entered to find the whole council, a number of high nobles and warriors waiting on the sidelines. All eyes were on me from the moment I stepped inside (someone actually commented on my lack of shoes, though I chose to ignore them). I walked slowly across the room, until I went to stand before King Odin Allfather, sitting on his throne; his wife on his left, son on his right.

State your name and intentions.” Odin Allfather ordered.

I am Silbhé Arianna Kinross Salani-Hvedrungr.” I called formally. “And I stand here, on this day, to offer myself in service of Asgard and the Nine Realms.”

I only dared add the third surname because I knew there was no way anyone would ever connect it to my match; and in any case, the truth would be coming out soon enough. I also knew the importance of how I'd worded the second part of my declaration. It was a knowledge I'd had since before arriving to Asgard.

What service is this you're offering?” The Allfather inquired, not only for protocol or the benefit of our audience, but as one last chance for me to back down.

I can destroy the Aether.” I stated, with no hesitation.

There was one thing I hadn't told, not to anyone. I was losing control of the energy inside me. I could feel it. With every hour (every moment) it became harder to hold it back, hold it in. I knew if I didn't act right then, I might not have a chance later on.

Aware, are you, of the cost doing so will have?” The King asked next.

I am aware.” I nodded, quietly.

And I was. The cost was my life, and I'd known that from the start, from the very moment the first question had crossed my lips; even before that, in a subconscious level. And there had never been the slightest hesitation, the smallest doubt.

Such actions on your part create a debt of honor over Asgard.” The Aesir King pronounced the words I'd been waiting for. “How shall that debt be re-payed?”

I knew what I wanted and, more importantly, I knew it was possible. I'd asked more than enough questions to be sure. I'd never stated my intentions directly, though I suspected Lady Frigg might have seen through me. But that was alright, as long as it all worked out, I was ready. I was finally ready to stand by my match, the love of my existence.

I wish for one thing, and one thing only.” I stated, choosing my words with great care. “Not for myself, for I know that would be pointless. I have no family left, as my aunt died last year of a terrible sickness, my father the year before in a sea-accident, and my mother when I was very young. With them all gone there is only one person I have left, for whom I wish to intercede. I wish to plead for mercy for one man: Loki. I wish for him to be set free.”

Silence lasted for all of three seconds, then, it was pandemonium. I stood straight, right there, at the foot of the dais holding the thrones, refusing to flinch or back down in any way.

Odin Allfather stared at me and I knew he didn't like my request, he downright hated it... and yet he'd already put myself in my debt, he couldn't deny what I was asking, for doing so would make him Forsworn.

Why that?” Thor's question pierced through the loud whispers, the demands, the chaos, like the thunder he could command. “Why him?”

I smiled at him, but refused to answer. I wasn't sure if he would believe me, even if I confessed the truth; and what would it change anyway? No, it was better if he didn't know.

Shall it be done?” I knew it was against protocol to ask, rather than wait for the Allfather to finish the ritual, but I just couldn't hold back anymore.

Silence seemed to last forever though, deep down, I believe we both knew there was only one way things could go. I was fortunate he wished, needed, the Aether destroyed more than he wanted to keep my beloved in prison.

The debt of honor incurred shall be re-payed.” He declared eventually. “Loki shall be set free, my lady, for your service.”

I bowed deeply at him in gratitude. I knew he didn't like it, but I also knew it would be done, he'd given his word. Which meant it was my turn to do my part.

If I may have a few words with my friends before...” I didn't finish the sentence, but they knew anyway, we all did.

Why are you doing this?!” Jane practically shrieked as she hurried to my side.

So many answers that question could have.” I murmured softly. “Because I have to, because it's what's right, because it's the only way I can uphold my most sacred vow...”

You do know Loki.” Thor commented unexpectedly. “I'd wondered.”

I do.” I didn't see the point in lying anymore.

You speak like him.” He murmured, cocking his head to a side. “I hadn't noticed.”

With all due respect, you didn't notice much of anything that wasn't Jane.” I deadpanned.

My apologies, my lady...” He began.

It's alright.” I assured him. “I would never begrudge you two the love you share. If you're willing to listen to my advice... you both know it won't be easy, being together. But if you truly wish for it, if you truly love each other. Never stop fighting for each, never stop standing by each other, nothing else will ever matter more than the love of your match...”

Silbhé...” Jane murmured quietly.

She obviously knew who I was thinking about, though she was still under a misapprehension regarding what had happened to him. I didn't pay attention to that, it's not like it really mattered. Instead I focused on the folded paper I had in my hand.

Could you give him this?” I asked Thor, handing it to him. “It's a letter, it's... an explanation, I guess, of all this.”

I'll give it to him.” He assured me immediately.

Thank you.” I turned to Jane next. “I already gave you my earrings.” She was wearing them. “They're an heirloom, from my mother. There was a time when I wondered if I would one day get to give them to my daughter... but that will never happen. I know it might seem insane...”

I will give them to my daughter.” Jane interrupted me, her voice watery, eyes teary. “I'll tell her its a gift from her godmother, watching over her from the skies.”

I smiled, while I wasn't overly religious... I did believe in a Higher Power and in... something that existed beyond death, beyond life, and everything else we knew.

Will you hold onto this?” I took off my pendant next, placing it in her hands.

What shall I do with this?” She asked quietly, holding tightly onto it.

She knew how special that necklace was to me. It'd never been said, but I knew both she and Darcy were sure my fiancée had given it to me before dying (not the exact truth, but it was close enough, and it wasn't like I could explain the rest).

Give it to him.” I whispered softly, fighting to keep my voice stable.

To Loki...?” She wasn't expecting that.

I knew she didn't understand, and a part of me wished that there were enough time to explain, but the story was too long, and there just was no chance.

You'll understand.” I assured her softly, giving a step back. “It's time.”

You're losing control, aren't you?” Thor asked knowingly.

Jane turned to look at him in shock, while I simply nodded.

It's only to be expected.” The blonde Aesir explained to his human beloved. “No one knows how the Lady Silbhé gained such control over the Aether, or why, but we knew it couldn't last forever. In the end, we're dealing with a singularity, no living being, human, Aesir, or anything else in between, was ever going to be strong enough to hold it for long.”

That's why this needs to happen now.” I reminded them.

Thor nodded, bowing his head respectfully at me before walking away, taking Jane with him (she was still holding my pendant tightly between her hands).

I turned my back to him, walking silently to the center of the throne room, straight into a circle that had been prepared there, formed by delicate carvings that had been made directly into the marble floor, and reinforced with crystals, candles, incense, water and salt. It was the strongest magical circle in creation. The shield that would ensure the Aether perished with me. And the moment I stepped in, it went up... it was too late to turn back (not that I would have), nothing living was coming out.

xXx Thor's POV xXx

There was a quiet dignity in the way the Lady Silbhé held herself, the way she walked. I couldn't help but notice these things as she stepped into the magic circle that had been drawn by the best spell-weavers in Asgard, lead by Mother herself. The lady reminded me so powerfully of my brother right then, that I couldn't help but wonder how I hadn't noticed it right from the start, when I'd seen her raise back to her feet after the Aether had activated, just enough to throw away the Midgardians who'd tried to restrain her. She'd held herself exactly the same way then, it should have been so obvious... and yet I wasn't looking, not really.

The lady was right when she said I had eyes only for my Jane. She claimed not to begrudge me the inattention, I wondered if I should anyway, if Jane should. Though, knowing what I knew, I didn't believe it would have changed anything in the end. Then again, I'd trusted Father to be much more reasonable than he proved to be while we were discussing a course of action, before the lady offered herself so selflessly. Maybe it had something to do with Mother and how close we came to losing her, I certainly wasn't unaffected by that, or by how close Jane came to the same fate (the dark bruise on almost half her face had been a stark reminder, even if it was erased by Lady Eir soon enough).

I didn't really know what to say, as I watched Lady Silbhé drop to her knees slowly, fluidly, almost elegantly even; before twisting her body just enough to sit on the floor, her legs curled up close against her. Once again I was reminded of my brother, in his cell in the dungeons; who, regardless of his surroundings, never stopped acting in the same manner. As if he were still in his rooms, as if he remained in that place by his own choice. I'd watched him many times, concealed around a corner, unsure of what his reaction might be, were he to see me there, witnessing his fall from grace. I was, after all, the only one to have seen him when he was so lost in his pain, in absolute insanity that he didn't seem to quite know what he was doing (provoking Midgard's best warriors as he did were not the actions of the clever, tactical Loki I'd known for most of my life).

At first I'd believed that it was the commodities Mother insisted Loki be able to have access to, even in the dungeons, that made him act the way he did. And yet, watching the Lady Silbhé walk into that magic circle with that same strong bearing and quiet dignity made me reconsider my thoughts on the matter. She was literally walking to her death, without the slightest hesitance, the smallest doubt; and her only comfort were the Allfather's assurances that Loki would be released and the two gifts she'd left with Jane and myself...

On that thought I couldn't help but turn slightly in the direction of my Jane who was still holding whatever her friend had given her, tightly in between both hands.

What is it she gave you?” I asked quietly, unable to help my curiosity.

Oh...” She obviously wasn't expecting the question. “It's her pendant, one of her most valuable possessions, along with her mother's earrings...” She signaled to the ones she was wearing. “And the black-jade flute she left back in our flat in London. Long have Darcy and I believed it was a gift from her fiancé, all she has left of him since... well, since she lost him.”

Lost him?” I wasn't expecting that, so the lady hadn't just lost her blood family, but also her would-be husband.

Yes, three years ago.” Jane answered quietly. “I... we think he might have been in New York when... well, when It happened.”

I didn't need her to clarify what 'It' was, I'd been there after all. And the idea that the beloved of the wonderful woman sitting before me, before us all, might have died that day... as thankful as we all might be for the service she was providing to Asgard and to all the Realms through her sacrifice, it was truly a tragedy that she'd suffered so much to get to that place. And yet... something just didn't fit in my head, for some reason I couldn't comprehend. I was missing something, I knew it.

May I see it?” I asked my dear Jane quietly.

Slowly she opened her hands, revealing to me the length of thin but sturdy chain, which looked deceptively like silver, and yet I could feel the touch of something else, something more in it, and then the pendant. It had so much power, magic in it, and I could feel it, even without laying a single finger on it; but even if I hadn't, the shape was telling enough.

A nightingale...” I breathed out, shock filling me so fast I almost lost my breath. “The Lady Nightingale...?” I turned to look at my Jane once more. “What did you say the name of Lady Silbhé's intended was?”

I didn't say.” She answered, looking curious. “I think his name was Luka. I don't know his last name, neither Darcy nor I ever met him and...”

I turned away from her, I knew it was an insult but I couldn't help myself.

Thor, is everything alright?” I heard her ask.

I didn't answer her, there was no time, so much needed to be done and there was no time to do it.

One of you, get my brother.” I ordered my friends.

The ceremony isn't finished yet.” Fandral said, doubtful.

Your Father hasn't given the order.” Volstagg added for good measure.

Anger invaded me quite abruptly, didn't they see? Didn't they understand? It was all so painfully obvious in that moment... And yet, I hadn't seen it either, not with all the clues right there, not until Jane had shown me the pendant. Still, in that moment I couldn't help but remember and understand the many times my brother had lost his patience with my friends.

Father has already given his word.” I reminded them. “And considering the Lady is doing what she is for him, I assume she might like to see him before the end.”

The words tasted bitter in my mouth, especially because regardless of what understanding I might have gained, it was already too late. Things had already been set in motion and there was no possibility of going back. Still, a chance to say goodbye was the least we owed the lady who was so willing to give her life...

Surprisingly enough, it was Sif who followed my orders in the end, taking a couple of guards, she left the Throne Room in a rush. I knew she understood, just like I did, that time was of essence, even if she probably couldn't see either why I was so insistent on having Loki present.

Several minutes passed as the Head Councilman explained to those present a little about the history of the Aether (being careful to omit the part where we'd all believed it to be destroyed, and Malekith and his Dark Elves to all be vanquished, for thousands of years). Then followed a quick explanation of royal services, honor-debts and everything else that allowed for the sacrifice Lady Si... the Lady Nightingale was about to do, and what would happen in return. The lack of reaction regarding Loki's freedom told me that either no one knew why he'd been sent to the dungeons in the first place, or they didn't believe he would actually be released; perhaps thinking it was all part of an elaborate lie to give the dying girl peace in her last moments. They probably didn't understand that once the Allfather's word had been given, there was no going back, like with everything else leading up to that moment.

I wondered for a moment, what I'd do if it were my Jane in that circle... I couldn't even finish the thought, it was too painful to consider for long. And in the end, there was one thing we still did not understand. It'd been made clear that no attempts at suicide or execution would work, the Aether would simply 'protect' its host until it found the next one (hence the shield); however, the Lady was confident that she had a way, a method the Aether wouldn't be able to circumvent or stop in any way...

The Norns bless you, my lady...” The Councilman finished his long speech.

Similar blessings echoed all across the room, the words falling from the lips of everyone present. I wondered if it was just me who felt them completely empty...

Spirits bless you, Silbhé...” I heard Jane whisper by my side.

I understood, instinctively, that those words were closer to the heart of both my beloved and Lady Nightingale than the ones pronounced by the Councilman, so I repeated them respectfully. My friends followed my lead, and then several of the handmaidens, Mother and it extended from there until people didn't know why they were saying those words, they just were.

The Lady Nightingale turned in our direction, managing to paint a serene smile on her expression as she nodded once at us. There was neither fear nor doubt in her expression, only acceptance, and peace. I envied her that serenity.

We all watched in an expectant silence as she pushed two fingers of her left hand to the golden cuff in her right wrist. For a second nothing happened and then, with a low click that seemed to somehow echo across the room, the bracelet released, falling off her wrist and neatly onto her lap. However, it didn't stay there, for she, with fast motions, took it in one hand, before throwing it away with all her strength, out of the circle and several feet, until it fell with a loud clang at the Allfather's feet...

For a handful of seconds not a word was said, then there was a sharp intake of breath from the lady, as she began paling too fast for it to be natural.

What is happening?” I heard Sigyn, mother's head handmaiden, ask, worried.

There was no answer, none of us had the slightest idea. It didn't seem natural, made me wonder what the bracelet she'd taken off was, exactly. Why she'd taken it off, and why it seemed to have made such difference, so fast and...

The silence was thick and heavy, as everyone kept their eyes on the young woman in the middle of the room, who in that moment seemed to painfully young... too young to die. And then...

NIGHTINGALE?!?!?!”

The scream tore through the silence like the howl of a wolf at the moon. All eyes turned to the doors then. To where Sif was standing beside Loki. He was heavy with chains, however he didn't seem to care about that at all, he didn't seem to care about anything but the lady in the magical circle. The look of absolute horror in his face as he saw her there was enough to make me lose my breath completely.

Before anyone could so much as question Loki's presence at the door, he was gone, disappearing from the spot in an instant, chains falling empty to the marble floor. He didn't go far though, in the next next second he was standing right before the magic circle and the lady inside it, looking so full of horror, and grief, and pain...

A loud clang echoed in the room, or so it seemed, and all eyes were drawn to the object that had just been dropped at Loki's feet, by my brother himself. It was golden, circular, a cuff-bracelet... a perfect match to the one the lady had taken off just before his arrival. I still didn't know what it meant, not at all, but I knew deep down it was important, somehow.

Whispers were beginning to rise, demands for the 'prisoner' to be sent away, but they all went ignored. Word had already been given that he was to be released, what did it matter that he came out before rather than afterwards?

Not a word was said for the longest time, and we all saw Loki drop his knees, his face contorting terribly in his misery. A white hand was raised, but it never reached the lady, his lady, his fingers instead coming in contact with the transparent barrier formed by the shield.

Why...?” He asked, so quietly, so brokenly, yet we all heard him.

M...Maverick...” She gasped in return, somehow a bright smile managing to appear on her face. “You're here...”

Why are you doing this?” He half-demanded, half-begged.

Because this needs to be done.” She answered softly, heart-felt. “And because it's all I can do anymore, for you, to protect you...”

Nightingale...” For the first time ever, my brother, the Silvertongue, seemed to be at a complete loss for words.

Sh...” She whispered soothingly. “It's not your fault, my love. Never. You've been through so much. And your intentions were only ever the best, I know that. From the start the task was too hard for you to achieve on your own.”

I wasn't alone, never.” He assured her. “I always had you.”

Yes, you did.” Her smiled turned just a bit sad. “And you will always have me, my Maverick. No matter what happens today. What happens to my body... my heart and soul will always be yours. For you're the love of my life, my husband, my match...”

The words, said in a very precise, and absolutely heart-felt tone, seemed to rob the whole room of its oxygen. Even the councilmen and the hardest of nobles didn't dare insist that Loki leave after that. In fact, no one was saying a word anymore, all seemingly completely entranced by the scene taking place before us.

I felt bad about it. My brother and his consort, my sister for all intents and purposes, were suffering, and we were all bearing witness to that tragedy. What should have been their most private moment was taking place right there, before all of us. And it had to, the witnesses were needed for the ceremony to take place as it should.

What am I to do without you?” Loki asked softly, brokenly. “How am I to survive without you, my dearest one?”

The same way you did before I ever came and complicated your existence.” She tried to quip, not quite managing.

I didn't live before you came into my life, not really.” He insisted.

I wish I could promise I'll see you again, that some day, somehow, the universe will grant us the blessing of being together again... but I'm not one to make empty promises, and no matter how hard it might be, to go with this uncertainty, I will not lie to you.” She told him, pained.

Nothing I might say will change your mind, will it? Make you step out of that circle, come into my arms, where you belong?”

It's too late to step out of this circle. Nothing's coming out of it alive.”

He didn't ask her why she was doing that, there obviously was no need for that. The reasons that concerned them were obvious enough, and as for the others... there had come a point when Nightingale's skin had stopped paling and instead it had begun gaining a red-hue, the Aether was fighting her, and, somehow, it was losing.

Just what is happening?” One of the council-ladies asked, evidently confused.

For a moment nothing was said, but at Nightingale's slow, shaky nod, Loki opened his mouth.

She's sick.” He said, in a perfectly blank tone, never taking his eyes from the trembling form of his beloved. “She's been sick for years... almost died nearly a decade ago. I saved her. The bracelets...” He touched his bare wrist briefly. “I created them to save her. They were enough to keep her alive, but not to erase what ailed her. She's survived the last nine years despite her sickness, through my energy. And now, with the deamarkonian gone, she no longer has access to that, so the sickness it taking her, like it would have when she was fourteen...”

A death the Aether cannot fight...” Lady Frigg murmured quietly in understanding.

Nothing more was said, there was no need. Time passed, slowly, it might have been minutes, or hours, it was hard to tell for sure. Eventually the lady couldn't hold herself up anymore, so she laid down on her side. Loki himself laid down as well, keeping in front of her as much as he could, two fingers tracing the edge of the magical shield consistently, obviously wishing he could reach through it and touch his beloved. The lady kept a hand curled close to her side of the shield too, though she didn't touch it, probably afraid of breaking it.

I thought there was a chance Loki could take it down, if he really wanted to. But perhaps he realized it was already too late for it to do any good, or he just respected his consort's decision too much to go against her. He just laid there, waiting.

Eventually the lady's breath grew faint, and we could all see the red glow beneath her skin grow darker, sharper, I could only wonder at the pain it might be causing her (though if it was, she never allowed it to show, her expression never betraying anything, her eyes never straying from Loki's own). Then...

Mo anam chara...” She whispered, almost too quiet to be heard, in a half-broken, rough voice.

Mo anam chara...” Loki echoed the words, tears falling from the corners of his eyes.

And then she was gone.

We could all see the moment her breathing stopped, no more panting, her chest not moving any longer. Then, after a second that seemed to extend into eternity, came an explosion of red that consumed her entire body, almost like fire. It was the Aether, breaking through her form in an instant, trying to get out and find a new host.

A sound similar to that of glass breaking echoed through the throne room... the shields were failings. Even the power of all the most powerful spell-weavers in the Real wasn't enough to hold back a power such as that of the Aether (and I still couldn't comprehend how Lady Nightingale had managed for as long as she did).

For a moment there was panic, as the people realized what was happening and their desire to flee, to escape the danger, rose and then...

I didn't actually notice the moment Loki move. All I knew was that suddenly he was on his knees, both of his hands on the breaking shield, and they were pulsing... in fact, his whole body seemed to be pulsing with a green glow, his magic...

It was true, when I'd considered all the most powerful sorcerers... I'd forgotten one, my brother. He was almost as powerful as Mother, and she was sure he would surpass her one day... or perhaps he already had, we just had been too blind to see. That thought became particularly strong inside my head as I saw what looked like layers, falling on top of the shield, one after the other, strengthening several times over, until the cracks no longer matter. The Aether kept crashing against the shield, and it did nothing.

Loki was sweating and trembling, yet he didn't seem to notice, his whole attention on his task.

Brother...” I whispered, unable to help myself.

Don't distract me.” He ordered sharply. “This is what she wanted done, and it shall be done. No matter what!”

Another eternity seemed to pass, and ever so slowly the red light began diminishing, the Aether's power fading ever so slowly. It couldn't survive without a proper container, or a host to feed it, and in that moment it had none. Still, Loki didn't let up, didn't move an inch from his spot until it was all gone, until nothing remained: the Aether, and the lady both... Not even ashes were left.

It is done!” The Allfather announced solemnly, his voice breaking through the thick silence. “The Aether is gone. Through the Lady's sacrifice...”

Nightingale!” Loki interrupted abruptly, as he rose to his feet and turned to face the Allfather. “Her name i... was Nightingale, and she was my match.”

No one seemed to quite know what to say to that. Just like when the lady herself was referred to that fact. None of us had known Loki to be interested in a lady, much less a mortal one, and after what she had done... and regardless of what it might mean for Asgard and the rest of the Universe there wasn't a doubt in my mind that she'd done it all for him, for my brother.

Through the Lady Nightingale's sacrifice, all the Realms shall be safe from Malekith and the Darkness.” The Allfather finished, still solemn. “She's brought great honor to her name... and yours, Loki Odinson...”

She shouldn't have done it.” Loki practically hissed in disdain.

Son...” Mother didn't seem to know quite what to say.

She obviously hurt, both for the Lady Nightingale's actions, the pain they were causing Loki; and she didn't know how to help. I didn't think anything could, at that point.

It wasn't worth it...” He stated coldly, so much self-loathing in his voice several of us flinched. “None of us were worthy of it.”

And just like that, he was gone.

xXx 3rd Person POV xXx

Asgard was getting ready for a celebration, and it was obvious no matter what direction one turned. The cooks were preparing a large feast, servants were making sure everything was ready, visitors from every realm had been arriving in the last few days; everyone was ready for what was taking place that night. The coronation of a new ruler.

However, while it all meant a flurry of activity in most of the palace, there was one particular hallway that was noticeably lacking in such activity. Instead a single person was standing there: a young woman, probably in her late teens, petite, with light-brown hair covered with an off-white scarf, wearing a simple off-white skirt and a loose lilac top. The less Asgardian clothes anyone could have expected someone in that realm to wear.

That wasn't the most interesting part about her, not, that was just where she was standing. Right in front her was a piece of art. An oil painting of a beautiful woman with curls of dark auburn hair and bright hazel eyes dressed in a gown the color of ice, wearing expensive jewelry (earrings, necklace, diadem and a bracelet) of gold, pearls, lapislazuli and topaz. She was sitting on the ground, with her legs curled up underneath her, surrounded by dozens of roses in full bloom. It was a breath-taking image. 'Aethereal' read the label on the frame, and there was something in the image that truly gave a surreal quality to it all, especially to the lady in it. 'Lady Aethereal', she'd heard some people in the palace call it.

Many people talked about her. There were those who believed she'd been a great heroine of the Realm Eternal, a woman of great power who saved the universe; others stated she was a mortal who was turned into a symbol because it was convenient due to the lady Prince Thor had chosen to court; while others (smaller in numbers but perhaps stronger in their faith) believed she was a woman who made the ultimate sacrifice out of love...

The girl watching it didn't quite know what to believe, she liked a bit of each version after all, and she wasn't quite sure it actually mattered, which version was right. The lady had certainly been important enough to merit a painting in the Royal Hall...

She looked nothing like that...” A male voice murmured suddenly.

The girl almost jumped out of her skin, turning abruptly to face the newcomer. There wasn't much she could see, actually, the man was completely covered in a forest-green cloak, hood up, just a bit of dark hair could be seen, and an alabaster hand as he extended it in the direction of the painting very briefly.

You knew her then?” The girl couldn't help but ask. “The Lady Aethereal?”

He snorted quietly, and shook his head, turning away.

Hey!” She called, feeling offended by his actions. “You didn't answer me!”

I knew no Lady Aethereal...” He answered simply, not turning back as he kept walking away, adding more quietly, to himself. “I knew the real her... my Nightingale.”

xXx

Thor let out a breath as he stood before the mirror in his bedroom, looking at himself dressed in his formal attire, which he hadn't really worn in many years.

You sound particularly melancholic, brother...” A voice commented to one side.

Thor turned abruptly, to find none other than his brother, Loki, leaning against the column nearest to the balcony.

Loki!” Thor cried out with a bright smile. “You came!”

After you sent missives to every single realm in contact with Asgard, asking for my presence tonight, how could I possibly say no?” Loki said, only half-sarcastically.

Thor really had been quite insistent on his brother being there that night, and Loki decided that he could bare returning to the Realm Eternal for one day. And it might even do good to him, to see his mother and brother again.

I didn't actually expect for it to take you this long to step up onto the throne.” Loki commented.

Thor didn't say a word, just looked at his brother with a small smile. It was then that Loki began noticing things. From the start he couldn't help but feel something about Thor was wrong, but he had no idea what it was, until that moment.

You look...” He began, not quite sure what word to use.

Old.” Thor finished for him.

Diminished.” He finally decided.

I suppose either one is fair.” The blonde shrugged. “I am mortal, brother. Have been for a number of years now.”

Ho... Why?” Loki couldn't seem to decide what question to ask first.

Some might say that for love.” The thunderer answered wistfully, before elaborating. “If I learnt one thing from... Her, it was to do anything it took, to stand by my beloved, by my Jane. She's mortal, so... it was only right.”

But... Idunn's apples...” The Trickster knew he was missing something, but not what.

I married Jane almost twenty years ago. Father wouldn't accept her, not as my consort, and not as Asgard's princess, but I made an oath to have no other.”

I guess he didn't like that.”

Not at all. He refused to allow Jane to partake in the apples. She didn't mind, at all, and at first I didn't either. I thought we had time... until David...”

David?”

Our youngest. The pregnancy was hard on Jane, even harder than the twins'. She almost didn't make it. It was only thanks to Mother and Lady Eir that she survived through the birth, same with David himself. Still, there were repercussions, everything that was done to her to allow her to survive has also made it so she will never be able to take the apples now.”

Oh...” Loki honestly didn't know what else to say.

I went to Helheim after that, made a deal with my niece.”

You made a deal with Hel?!”

I did, and she agreed.”

What did you do Thor? You didn't just give up your immortality, did you?”

It was what I intended, actually. But your daughter's idea was better. She took half of my life-span, and gave it to Jane. She still will never be able to live as long as an Aesir, and now neither will I but...”

But you will have two thousand years together.”

That we will. And they will be perfect.”

I see...” Something else occurred to Loki right then. “But wait a second, if you're no longer an Aesir, then that means...”

I cannot take the throne, I'm not.”

Then who is?”

Thor just smiled, a huge, bright smile full of love and pride.

xXx

In the evening Loki found himself once again dressed in green silks and black leathers, clothes he hadn't worn in twenty years, not since leaving Asgard without looking back, just an hour after the ceremony his Mother insisted on having to honor the life and sacrifice of his match. While the Allfather insisted on focusing on the destruction of the Aether (and every time Thor would worry about the next attack of the dark elves, for he seriously doubted the loss of the dark energy would be enough to stop that megalomaniac), Lady Frigg instead chose to focus on the sacrifice that had been made, on the life that deserved to be honored... Loki wasn't quite sure which one he hated more. He'd still stayed around just long enough that when his Mother presented an urn before all those present (filled with the ashes of the clothes Nightingale had been wearing upon arrival, and the ones that had been leaned to her during his short time in the Realm Eternal, as nothing had been left of her actual body), he stepped forward and, with a wave of his hand, the urn was completely surrounded by dozens of roses (every single blossom that had been in his private garden, he'd cut them all). He had a feeling that whoever had done that painting in the Royal Hall, had gotten the idea for the roses from his actions that day.

That day he stood there, on the dais, beside his Mother (who was delighted to see him); the Allfather was, as always, on his throne; while on the other side stood Thor, Jane and their two sons: Svein (19 years-old, he had a lot of Aesir blood in his veins, he was also part of Midgard's heroes) and David (14 years old and completely human, he was beginning to manifest gifts, though nothing definite yet).

The bells rang right then, and Thor's eldest offspring stepped into the room. His daughter was petite compared to her twin brother, though not quite as short as her younger sibling. Her skin was a creamy pink, unblemished, her hair was a light brown and fixed in what looked like a very complicated twist that allowed a few stray curls to fall just enough to frame her face, and her eyes were the most striking hazel. She was wearing a rather simple but still obviously well made elegant silk gown that seemed of a color in between the softest sky-blue and the lightest lilac, on her feet white slippers. Loki also noticed (after doing a double-take) that the only piece of jewelry she wore was a pair of old earrings, her Nightingale's old earrings.

She entered the room to respectful silence, nodding slightly at the people she passed every now and again, moving with perfect poise and elegance. The image of a perfect princess and heir to the throne (and some people couldn't help but remember Thor's quasi coronation and his own showy display that day).

Eventually the young princess stopped at the foot of the dais (and Loki couldn't help but think that Odin must be truly desperate for an heir after the loss of Thor, especially if he was willing to pass on his throne to a nineteen-year-old girl! Though her attitude and serenity thus far at least showed a level of maturity higher than Thor's had been back when...).

The crown princess dropped on one knee fluidly and with the same elegance she'd displayed thus far, and that seemed to be the cue, as the Allfather stood from his throne, striking Gungnir against the floor loudly once.

Gungnir, it's aim is true, its power strong.” The King recited, full of effortless authority. “With it I have defended Asgard and the lives of the innocent across the Nine Realms for thousands of years. And now the time has come for a new individual to take on that duty, to wield Gungnir with honor and grace.” He stared straight at the kneeling girl as he went on. “Risa Johanna Thordottir Janedottir, my granddaughter, my heiress...”

Loki couldn't help it, he smirked to himself as he wondered what the Allfather thought about his own heiress's name, especially because he was quite sure that he hadn't been the one to decide to name both parents in it... it wasn't how things were done in Asgard usually. And the prince didn't think things had changed that much in the last twenty years, though perhaps the loss of Thor as an heir, especially since one might say it was caused by Odin's own stubbornness and refusal to accept Jane as a daughter-in-law, might have just been enough.

Today I entrust you with the greatest honor in all the Nine Realms.” The King went on. “The sacred throne of Asgard. Much has been sacrificed to achieve peace. And now the turn has come to the new generation to honor that sacrifice, and make their own. Responsibility, duty, honor. These are not merely virtues to which we all must aspire. They are essential to every warrior, to every King... and every Queen.”

There were quiet murmurs in the background and, to Loki's surprise, not a single one was negative, it seemed that every Aesir thoroughly approved of their queen-to-be. It made the adopted prince curious about what she might be like; though he was beginning to suspect she might be the girl he'd seen earlier, admiring the painting of his Nightingale.

Risa Thordottir, do you swear to guard the Nine Realms?” The Allfather questioned.

I swear.” She answered solemnly.

Do you swear to preserve the peace?” The next question came.

I swear.” The answer was the same.

Do you swear to cast aside all selfish ambition and pledge yourself only to the good of all the Realms?” The final question.

With the Norns' and the Spirits' help this I swear.” The crown princess decided to change the last response, just a bit.

Still, that did not seem to surprise anyone in the slightest.

Then on this day, I, Odin Allfather, proclaim you, Risa Johanna Thordottir Janedottir, as Queen of Asgard and Protector of the Nine Realms.”

The young woman got on her feet fluidly, walking up the steps of the dais to take Gungnir as the Allfather held it out, before inclining her head to allow him to place on her head a circlet made of white gold, intricately carved, and perfect crystals, her crown.

Hail Lady Risa Johanna, Queen of Asgard!” Svein and David called loudly.

Hail Lady Risa Johanna, Queen of Asgard!” The Aesir chorused. “Long live the Queen!”

xXx

Hours later the celebration was still going strong. It appeared everyone in the Realm Eternal was delighted to have a new Queen. There hadn't been a new ruler in thousands of years, not since Odin's own coronation, and after Thor's own failed one... well. What surprised Loki the most though, was the fact that it was Thor's daughter who was taking the throne, rather than his son. Still, he'd chosen not to ask.

Eventually though, the boisterous celebration became too much for the sorcerer, and he decided it was time to take his leave. He didn't quite notice where his feet were taking him until he was standing but a few yards away from his old garden. A part of him wanted to turn and walk away. He hadn't been around for two decades, didn't even want to imagine what the place might look like (especially considering that the last time he'd been there he'd pretty much cut every single flower with little care for what might remain).

And then he heard it, a voice, female, almost too beautiful to be real, singing:

In this world you tried
Not leaving me alone behind
There's no other way
I prayed to the gods let him stay
The memories ease the pain inside
Now I know why...”

“All of my memories keep you near
In silent moments
Imagine you'd be here
All of my memories keep you near
Your silent whispers, silent tears...”

He'd never heard that song, and yet there was something about it that called to him, to a spot deep inside him, in his heart and soul, a part he'd buried deep down, locked tight, long before... or maybe it was the voice, so beautiful, so enchanting... like that of the greatest songbirds...

“Made me promise I'd try
To find my way back in this life
I hope there is a way
To give me a sign you're okay
Reminds me again it's worth it all
So I can go home...”

“All of my memories keep you near
In silent moments
Imagine you'd be here
All of my memories keep you near
Your silent whispers, silent tears...”

Loki had experience with songs carrying meaning and magic, and it was obvious that the person singing, and her song had both. It made him wonder just what and who she sang for. At the same time he realized it was the first time in twenty years the memory of his beloved Nightingale, the carrier of the most beautiful voice he'd ever heard, didn't bringing him pain and grief, only a sense of melancholy and peace. The memory of her songs, her devotion, her love...

“Together in all these memories
I see your smile
All the memories I hold dear
Darling, you know I'll love you
'Til the end of time...”

“All of my memories keep you near
In silent moments
Imagine you'd be here
All of my memories keep you near
Your silent whispers, silent tears...”

“All of my memories...”

As the song slowly reached its end Loki began noticing a few things, like the fact that the garden didn't look like the mess he was expecting; instead it was perfectly well groomed. There was still a huge lavender tree in the middle, and many roses around; though other plants had been added to those: like orchids of many colors, violets, lilies and a few others.

A cloud moved in the sky just enough to allow enough starlight, and then Loki knew who it was that had just been singing. It was none other than the new Queen: Risa Johanna. She had let her hair down from the fancy twist, and her bare feet were touching the grass, but aside from that she looked no different.

She turned around right then, facing him.

You're... Loki, correct, the Maverick?” She asked, looking at him curiously.

I am Loki Friggson.” The sorcerer introduced himself, before bowing his head and adding. “Honor to meet you, Your Majesty.”

Please, don't...” She actually sounded pained as she said that. “I... I don't like that.”

Shouldn't you be used to it already?” He questioned, curious by her attitude.

Doesn't mean I have to like it.” She muttered, before seemingly noticing something. “How did you find me here?”

I didn't actually come here looking for you.” The man admitted with a slight shrug. “This used to be my private garden, twenty years ago.”

Oh...” Risa didn't seem to quite know how to respond to that. “I'm sorry for invading, then.”

It's alright. You've obviously cared well for it. The place looks good.”

I found this place when I was about eleven... shortly after I had a particularly unsettling dream. I couldn't go back to sleep, began walking around and somehow ended here. It looked something awful back then. When I asked about it no one seemed to know what I was talking about, except for grandma. She told me it was alright if I took the garden for myself so...”

It is quite alright. Like I said before, you've done a good job caring for the place. It looks quite beautiful. More than I could ever have done.”

I'm sure that's not true. Though I do try. Especially in the nights where I cannot sleep.”

You still have nightmares, then?”

They're not exactly nightmares. Just dreams, so vivid it sometimes feel like they're actual memories... except for the fact that they show places I've never been to, people I've never known, some who have been dead longer than I've been alive!” She hesitated before adding. “I... I think I've seen Her too...”

Her...? You mean...?” He didn't dare finish the question.

The lady in the Aethereal painting. Except in my dreams she's always called by another name...”

Nightingale...” Both whispered at the same time.

How do you know that name?” The question came out sharply than Loki had intended.

It's what I hear her be called in my dreams.” Risa said defensively, before blurting out. “It's what you call her.”

Me?!” Loki couldn't help the absolute shock at that. “You've seen me too?!” He realized something else then. “That's why you called me Maverick...”

It's what... she calls you.” Risa finished.

Loki just knew there was something else. The girl-queen was being evasive about something, and it was connected to her dreams, and to whatever reason she'd been seeing his Nightingale... she knew more than she pretended to. Still, he could see the tension in her and realized it wouldn't do any good to pressure her, so decided to change the topic instead.

Why didn't you like it when I called you 'Majesty'?” He asked.

I told you, I just don't.” She was probably being unnecessarily petulant about it, but the whole exchange was making her feel more than a bit stressed out already.

If you don't like it why did you become Queen then?” Loki insisted.

So Svein wouldn't have to.” Risa revealed after what seemed like forever.

What...?” The Sorcerer certainly hadn't been expecting that one.

Papa cannot take the throne because he vowed never to do so without Mama, and Mama cannot be Queen because she's technically mortal still.” The young woman explained. “Which meant the responsibility fell down to us children. David being both the youngest and a mortal too meant he wasn't qualified, which left Svein and myself... He was going to do it, you know? Even though he didn't like it. He hated disappointing Papa... So I decided to do it instead.”

Even though you didn't like it either.” Loki really didn't understand.

Even then. Svein has a life, back in Midgard. He's an Avenger now, he has friend, someone he loves, a life! I... I don't have anything like that. I did go to school, studied music and history and linguistics, but I'm not really tied down to anything there. And...” She hesitated before adding. “And then there's my dreams. About you, and her and... I just feel drawn here, like I belong here. So I decided I'd do it, I'd make Papa proud, make sure my brothers wouldn't have to give up the life they love...”

What about what you love?”

There's nothing...”

Yes, there is. I can see it in your eyes. There's something you love, no matter how much you might try to ignore it.”

It's nothing more than a dream...” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.

Something inside Risa seemed to snap as she jumped to her feet (she hadn't even noticed when it happened, but at some point the two of them had ended sitting side by side on the bench beneath the lavender tree), her flight response at an all time high. And yet, she didn't get to give more than two steps before a hand was holding her in place, grasping tightly her right wrist.

The wrist was bare (Loki had noticed that the only jewelry she wore was the triquetra earrings), she'd even taken off the tiara. However, he could feel there was something on her skin, which made him pull her back towards him.

Risa turned sharply towards him, opening her mouth to say something; though whatever it might have been it was lost upon noticing the intensity of his stare.

P... L... Maverick...?” She tripped over something to cal him.

The sorcerer didn't really notice, his whole attention was on the raised mark on Risa's wrist, almost like a scar...

It's a birthmark.” Risa corrected.

Loki hadn't even noticed he'd spoken out-loud. It didn't matter though, what mattered was the shape of the mark, one he knew quite well.

It's my symbol.” He breathed.

Risa had known that already, of course she had.

Loki acted fully on instinct then. He pulled at Risa just enough to make her crash against him, her body flush against his, she was almost a full head shorter than him, and yet fit perfectly against his body, something neither of them failed to notice. The sorcerer lowered his head just enough for their breath to mingle, the young queen's eyes widening dramatically at his proximity.

Mo Anam Chara...” He murmured, voice barely audible.

For one second, it was as if all his dreams, hopes, his whole heart and soul hung in the balance and then... then came the answer.

Mo Anam Chara...” She breathed out.

Risa's eyes closed almost automatically, at the same time she rose on her toes, just enough to close the small distance still separating them. And their lips connected...

Writers have described kisses, especially first kisses, in all kinds of ways. Loki and Risa could attest that there was no burst of magic, no firework, no shaking of the ground beneath their feet and the world certainly didn't tilt on its axis... and yet, in that one instant, the moment their lips connected, it was like the whole universe changed irrevocably.

The kiss wasn't exactly the most passionate, though it was certainly intense and seemed to last almost an eternity.

My Maverick...” She breathed out as they broke the kiss, though they were still in each other's arms, holding on like their life depended on it.

My Nightingale...” He whispered back.

It would be impossible to tell how long they stood there, a midst the roses, with the young woman quietly singing pieces of songs while her beloved swayed side to side with her tightly in his arms. The stars had long since left the sky, and the first rays of the sun were beginning to appear over the horizon, and yet the two just weren't ready to let go, not after so long...

At some point something occurred to Loki, who pulled an arm away from his soulmate's waist just long enough to pull the chain from his neck, holding it before her.

I believe this belongs to you...” He murmured, even as he clasped it on her.

It was her nightingale pendant. Back on her, where it belonged; just like the two of them, in each others' arms, exactly where they belonged.