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you would not feel sadness if you've never tasted joy

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The green fabric of Loki's cloak is wrapped tight around the god's closed fist. He wets his lips. His shoulders rise and fall, his breath excited. He is poised on the balls of his feet, rocking steadily in anticipation.

In his right hand he wields a slender, razor-edged dagger.

At the other end of the taut cape crouches Lady Sif – her hand, too, bound in green. There is a hungry grin on her lips, her dark eyes rapt on Loki. In her right hand she, too, is armed with a light, wicked blade.

The cloak held between them is sole rule in their game. No further apart shall they be; neither shall they relinquish it.

"Ask me sweetly for mercy," Sif says.

"My knife will make my case and your blood will give answer," Loki demurs.

Sudden violence: Loki feints; Sif lunges; Loki's blade slices toward her; Sif parries; Sif yanks hard on the cloak; Loki obeys her force but drives his heel into her toes. Steel chimes against steel; Loki retreats; Sif drops low and kicks him in the calf, hauling down on the cloak at the same time. Loki goes down on one knee, but dodges to the side; Sif's knife whizzes past his cheek; Loki stabs true but Sif deflects him with the steel bands that hug her wrist. Both leap to their feet, retreating to the ends of the cloak, walking a slow, wary circle as polar opposites.

"Blood!" Thor bellows, vigorously raising his crystal goblet of wine high in the air. Its contents slop over the side. "We want blood! Enough of this faerie dancing!"

"By my faith, you're every inch the woman Sif is!" Fandral cheers, tipping his goblet to Loki before drinking deep.

Hogun stands silently with his arms crossed. Volstagg is seated upon a bench, guzzling wine between bites of boar. His enthusiastic grunt could be for either contender.

Though silent, Sif and Loki fight a contest of will. Eyes narrow; faces flinch; tell-tale flickers of devious thought play across Loki's brow; Sif's wild eyes and exhilarated smile threatens yet-unrealized gore.

Faerie dancing it isn't, but faerie music plays: airy chords plucked from harp strings vibrate through the air from far off. Somewhere, a voice is singing.

They are in Álfheimr, but Thor had enough of soothing and mild Álfr company. Though the Álfar are fierce in battle, and indeed a great joint campaign against the dark elves, the Svartálfar, has just concluded, in peacetime they are sedately artistic.

Absconding with liquor, Thor led his band away from the courtly entertainment provided for the visiting Æsir. They are down one floor, now, where the walls are bare stone, and now they make merry like Æsir.

"If I win, I shall have your hair off again," Loki flirts sweetly, grinning evilly as anger passes over Sif.

"If I win, I will have you one week as my slave in every way," Sif exults, her anger giving way to even greater enthusiasm for bloodshed.

Thor and the Warriors Three whoop and holler.

Loki dives for her, at the same time wrenching the cloak toward him. Rarely does he act so forcefully. He catches Sif off her guard; she deflects his blade, but barely. Sif uppercuts him with her cloth-wrapped fist; he kicks her away with a boot to the stomach before she can capitalize on his dizziness. The cloak that binds them keeps them both on their feet, their grasps tight – their momentum opposite and equal.

Sif pushes off against the stone floor, rushing Loki without catching her breath; blades clash. A flurry of successive strikes and parries ignites the air with the ring of steel against steel.

The spectators, as dear friends as they are, see not the contest fought.

With every adder-quick strike, Loki cuts a streak of raw resentment through the air. The sight of Sif's gleeful vigor for combat cannot be divorced from memories of a sweat-soaked Thor, disheveled from battle, sharing glad smiles with the lady on the fields of victory. No such smiles does Thor share with Loki, for he holds Loki's underhanded ways of fighting in low regard.

With each bid to drive his blade home, Loki seeks to slay the whisper that he is second, second, always second best.

Loki may share lidded looks with Lady Sif and touches that linger a beat too long when tailored clothing shows one or the other an unfamiliar flash of skin, or draws the eyes to the contours of bodies full of strength and maturity; when a shared delight sets them both laughing; when they've been at their cups together – but no flush of sexual attraction and no stolen bouts of adolescent passion in a distant past when their changing bodies were an adventure and hormones ran hot will erase that Thor, golden and leonine, is forever lord of the lady's heart.

Sif rains down blows of blade, boot and fist with equal fury. The others do not see through Loki as Sif does. They see a boy, a rascal, a jester. Sif has watched, Sif has seen him true and Sif knows better. Sif has marked each time Loki's sly tongue, insidious wiles and gilded lies have dimmed Thor's moments of triumph.

Loki cannot eclipse his brother's shine, but, oh, all the ways he that tries with carefully placed, dismissive words in the retelling of bold adventures; with twisted taunts that leave Thor looking the fool; with covert actions that embarrass Odin's first born and heir.

Sif is hot to draw life's red liquor from Loki's pale skin because he has wronged her time and again. Once her locks flowed golden, but in their youth, in his pettiness and spite over her greater martial prowess and all the delight Thor took in it, Loki worked a spell with the cutting of her prized flaxen hair – the echo, all said, of the great Freyja's. He stained it forever black as his.

As Sif has warred for the respect and esteem of her male peers Loki has been, at his worst, an enemy. When the Æsir are victorious at war and boons are doled out, their liege-lord Odin, Loki's own father, has heaped upon Sif the greater portion of rings, treasure and honors. It matters little or not at all that Sif knows Loki with his guile comes to the aid of his more valorous companions over and again despite winning little gold with his subtle ways – Loki is cruel to her and ways he is not to Hogun, Volstagg or Fandral.

All this they pour against each other in the hallowed halls of Álfheimr to the cheers of their drunk, exuberant and unwitting brethren. The depths of those glorious halls are not sound enough to contain it. Álfar and Æsir, hearing the fight from afar, have come to stand in the stairwells and doorways and watch the combatants match each other for prowess.

Sif and Loki's clothing is soaked with sweat. They fight to the blood, but they are Æsir and their few nicks on each other's bodies with their red beads do not count. With peerless skill they deny one another the prize of wound-stricken flesh.

It comes at last: the finale.

Loki is swift and he is malevolent but he is denied free rein with his exceptional mobility and is worn down by the ferocity of Sif's blows. One step too sluggish and Sif's knife finds home in Loki's abdomen. Cursing aloud he staggers backward, dropping the cloak to clutch with both hands at his bloodied side. Sif has drawn the dagger free, all the freer for Loki to bleed. Carmine liquid sprouts from the wound, a bloom that wells over his fingers and runs in rivulets down Loki's hip, slowly sinking into his leather trousers.

"Do you yield?" Sif asks, panting for breath.

"I yield," Loki says between clenched teeth. He takes three steps backward and sinks onto a bench to nurse his injury.

The violence abated, one of the Álfar comes forward with a healing stone and Loki, glowering, takes it. Leaning back against the table behind him he dissolves it over his open wound, its magic mending his knife-rent skin sufficiently enough to staunch the bleeding.

"You will draw me a bath," Sif commands.

Loki's lip curls in rage, but he holds his tongue. He stands unaided, hands smeared with darkening, drying blood. Valiant though he isn't, he holds his honor dear. It is a vain, unbowed creature that stalks from the servants' dining hall to attend to Lady Sif's whim.

----

The lands outlying the great nation of Asgard's manicured hillsides and gleaming skyscrapers grow wild down to the coast of this island in the great sea of the cosmos. Here the Æsir hunt stags and boar and contest predatory beasts. It is here the Lady Sif comes to ride to test the mettle of herself and her speckled stallion, a fine beast that has served her three centuries.

So, too, follows her thrall on this fourth afternoon of his sentence. He is Sif's match in the saddle and minds not the challenging terrain. It is on point of stubborn pride, then, that he maintains frigid reserve.

In a land so long inhabited even the wilds bear traces of habitation. Riding through a hillside meadow, Sif and Loki come upon a copse of Idunn's bounteous apple trees. Sif draws her stallion up, surveying her prospects. She smiles.

"Slave," Sif says, "I want that apple."

The lady's finger points to a ripe, golden prize hanging high in the branches of a tree burgeoning with lower hanging fruit.

Loki rolls his eyes, climbing from his saddle to the ground and approaching the tree. He is tall, but the tree much taller. He peers up into the branches, shading his eyes from the bright, day-lit sky. His fingers skirt his sleeve; he draws a knife from the leather bands that sheathe it. A flick of his wrist and the branch is slit. The apple falls neatly into his hand. He paces off to retrieve the blade, now buried in the soil nearby, and tucks the knife away before polishing the apple on his coat and diligently bringing it to the lady atop her steed.

Sif fights her smile but doesn't succeed in suppressing it, though she presses her lips tight together. Sighing defeat, she takes the apple from Loki's hand, amusement lighting her eyes as she takes a bite.

Loki fails, too, to hide his smile, unable to feign resentment when he's so particularly pleased with himself.

"Your fatal weakness is that you are exactly as clever as you think you are," Sif forewarns, shaking her head beneath the folds of her hood.

Loki disarmingly widens his eyes and honeys his voice with sincerity.

"I don't see how that's in any way a disadvantage."

Sif clucks her tongue.

"You're just as much of a showoff as Thor, and eventually it's going to catch up with you."

Annoyance sours Loki's expression. His eyes slide away; he expends his irate gaze on a hapless, lichen-covered tree stump.

Sif snaps another crisp bite from the apple, appraising Loki as she enjoys its sweet flesh, the corner of her lip turned up in a smirk.

"I can see you counting the seconds until you're a free man," she teases.

Loki curses under his breath and stalks away. Sif can see only his back. His shoulders are stiff and his arms held rigid at his side. Sif knows Loki and that he's fuming. With a frown she dismounts, too, stopping to let her stallion take the apple in his teeth. He sets it on the ground and eats it in bites despite his bit. Sif hears her steed crushing it under his teeth behind her as she approaches the prince.

"Do not dare," Loki warns without turning, a hot undercurrent of rage roughening his voice.

Sif stops mid-step. She exhales silently, lips pursed and uncertainty riddling her brow.

Loki closes his eyes, seeing orange, the daylight bright through his eyelids. The sharp, thin line of his lips quivers with anger.

Loki need not see Sif to know how she pities him.

"—you needn't serve the rest of your time," Sif says. "I release you."

Loki spins around. His teeth bared, he is inarticulate with anger.

"I need no charity from you," he says at last, glaring from beneath a stormy brow.

"I offer you no charity." Sif lifts her chin, no one to be cowed by his anger. "I rid myself of a sullen little boy dogging my footsteps."

Loki draws forward, walk as smooth as any predator's. He is looking down at her now, but she is no slight woman, nor does she give ground – instead she reaches up, pushing her hood back onto her shoulders that it not cast shadow on the defiance she displays.

"I am no boy," he says with a serpentine tilt of his head. "Nor do you mistake me for one," he articulates carefully.

Sif relishes the heat his words stoke in her cunt. It is indeed a man who stares her down. The last baby-softness disappeared from Loki's sharp cheekbones centuries ago. His hair, swept back, reveals a high hairline, the faintest thinning of which accompanied his sexual maturation, announcing virility.

Loki remembers the flush of youth. The excitement Sif's breasts provoked in him when he first slid his hand up her dress, cupped their fullness in his palm and marveled at the softness of her nipple as his thumb stroked it and she groaned an un-ladylike groan. Sif remembers pushing the boy Loki was up against the garden wall in the dark, remembers his cock surprisingly soft in her grasp; remembers his foreskin sliding against its shaft as it swelled under her strokes until it was truly stiff and Loki breathless.

Those were the games of adolescents – the precocious, eager explorations of the two brightest children of their generation. That was knowing looks while Fandral and Thor made fools of themselves; giggling together at dinner; blushes and learning to kiss with tongues and exciting but most of all safe.

Those bright, guileless children grew up.

Sif's glances fell on other boys, and then, one day, as if she had not known him all her life, on Thor.

Loki's predilections led him to the beds of both men and women –Æsir, Vanir, Álfar, humans, dwarves and bedfellows yet more strange than that.

This moment between them, today, though full ripe, is a fruit left un-plucked.

In a tense silence heavy with possibilities Sif, grows wet for him. Loki grows hard in the tight confines of his leather trousers.

"You dismissed me too readily, for now I see you had not begun to exhaust my uses," Loki says.

"I do not subdue or subjugate my men," Sif scoffs.

Loki brushes Sif's loose hair behind her shoulder with his knuckles and then his fingertips light on the lady's proud neck. Sif's hand gives bold answer grasping the nape of Loki's neck. She rocks up onto her toes as he presses forward. Their mouths collide; it is a soft collision, lips sweeping over lips, mouths drawn to puckers and then open, but so barely open skin never parts from skin, again, their kisses wet caresses as they gravitate closer.

In his mind, Loki gloats, for here is the sudden truth: Sif loves Thor – Loki has known that since the day she fell for him, he watched it happen; Thor may come to know it, in the years ahead, butthis Thor will never know and Sif will always remember.

Sif, too, thinks of Thor, as if she holds Asgard's princes on a set of scales: in one platter, platinum, on the other, gold – except this is flesh, and emotion; the pleasure of a skillful lover's touch in the daylight, not dwarven bankers counting out metal under the earth. She spares a passing thought to when last she dissolved the stone that, in the same way a healing stone spends its power, preserves her from pregnancy; she marks the date as suitably recent.

Loki pinches the braid of leather on the neckline of Sif's breastplate and passes his fingers down it slowly. With Sif's aid, Loki shrugs off his coat. His frame is narrow but his shoulders square and his arms strong. His hands rest at her waist upon the plate metal that girds her sides like dragon's scales.

She has his face in her hands, his skin smooth beneath her palm. Strange to say, but Loki has developed into manhood in all ways but to grow a beard, as if his face simply forgot. Sif slights him not for it, because there is a sharpness and firmness to every facet of him. His masculinity passes undoubted.

Loki's cock has made a tent of his heavy trousers, a valiant effort when contending against so much leather. He wants rid of his clothes and rid of Sif's and his nimble fingers go to work rooting out clasps and unfastening them one after the other. All the while their mouths play: Loki bites Sif's lower lip; Sif suckles his tongue; Loki's tongue strokes the back of her teeth; Sif draws away to lick a long stripe up Loki's bare neck.

Loki's teasing voice is full of mirth as they step apart to disrobe, shedding piece after piece of armor.

"Think of me tonight, when we dine; when my brother and our dear friends sit near. Think how thick my cock was inside you – how readily you took it. Think not of Thor, lady, tonight."

"Be worth remembering," Sif says: a dare.

They are not fully naked but neither are they dressed. Sif's trousers still hug her shapely thighs and her chain shirt and the fabric beneath it hang on her upper body. Loki stripped off his vests and gloves, but a metal-studded shirt has remained on while he attended the more urgent matter of divesting himself of the covers of his boots and the boots themselves. Now, with a sigh of great relief, he has loosed the trousers fitted so close to his skin. These he sheds, though Sif laughs at him for it; he stands grinning at her, shirt still on, his substantial cock erect, its head gleaming pink in the bright of day, his balls with their dark curls drawn up tight beneath it.

"You mock me, but your clothes don't crush you. You're only soaking your trousers through."

He gestures toward the garment's damp seam. Sif makes a face, feigns annoyance, but aches with delicious heat. Inhaling, she holds his gaze; it's her chain shirt that she peels off slowly, links jingling together as she uncovers her upper body but for the undershirt that creases at her erect nipples.

His eager eyes fall to the sight of her uncovering her skin, tongue moistening his parted lips. His fingers curl and relax against the air. A glinting drop is forming at the slit tipping his cock.

A throb of arousal pulses in Sif's cunt. In this moment, with Loki's gaze upon her, Sif is caught by surprise by his beauty. You know that he is beautiful, she chides herself. She steps forward; she takes his hand and guides it to cup her breast, so that when his thumb brushes her nipple through that thin shirt they are twelve hundred years younger and dizzy with possibilities.

Loki silently lets his heart break. From her high brows to her fine nose to her upper lip, the curve of a bow, and her lower lip, a pout, from her sculpted jaw to her firm, high breasts Sif is as beautiful as if a master artisan had chiseled each detail of her extraordinary body – but Sif loves another, and Loki cannot truly imagine himself keeping the same lover, year after year.

Never mind, then, that Loki is cursed with a romantic soul.

He meets her eyes and finds lust for only him burns in them. That is enough, today. With a touch like a ghost he lifts her shirt from her skin, sliding it up her arms, over her head, and letting it drop.

He pulls her fiercely against him, now, fingernails digging against the leather that follows the curve of her ass too tightly. Her nails catch in the textured fabric of the shirt. Clinging together and mouth ravenous against mouth they sway barefoot in the meadow grass until, in the sudden fury of their ill matched passion they collapse onto their knees. Still sucking and biting at one another's mouths Loki's fingers fly over the clasps of Sif's trousers; Sif pulls Loki's shirt up his muscled abdomen.

They part, each finishing what the other started, naked now in the daylight with their clothes strewn across the grass and their disinterested stallions grazing nearby.

Loki pushes Sif onto her back, climbing atop her body, his smile fiery and her hair spilled in raven waves across the grass. Her head falls back as he sucks at the skin of neck with his fingertips tracing a path down her stomach to realms lower. Sif slides her fingers into Loki's hair, back arching beneath him as his long, elegant fingers card through the whorls of soft hair wet with arousal to the soft folds of her cunt. He laps a trail up her sternum, one wet kiss and stroke of tongue at a time. At the same time he draws small circles over her clit. She groans his name and grasps at the cool field grass which slides through her palm, a few strands snapping free of the earth.

Loki's fingers press deeper, tracing the edge of the small ridge of her vagina's little mouth, parting it with gentle pressure upon the next circle, pleasure a white burn through Sif's hips.

"Soaking," Loki whispers triumphantly, for his fingers glide over her arousal-swollen skin as smoothly as a swan through still water.

"I appreciate so few things better than a well-oiled sword."

Sif is light headed, her voice breathy, eyes sightlessly searching the sky. She gasps as two long fingers delve into the hot depths of her body. She feels his caress drawing those circles, now inside her. Her cunt spasms around his knuckles. His tongue slowly wets his lips again; he's watching her face, even as his fingertips ply the flesh high inside her and his thumb gives her clit a slow stroke.

She is blissfully obliging as he withdraws his fingers and, with a hand on her shoulder, rolls her onto her side. He reclines beside and behind her. She folds her arm, pillowing her head against her wrist.

"Can you so little stand the sight of me?" she asks dryly.

"I could linger long in the sight of you," he promises, voice a whisper behind her ear. His palm travels her side, callused and always surprisingly cool. Mother says I'm a winter child, he'd said once, many hundred years ago. He grasps her hip, pulling her against him, his long body hard and powerful. He slides his hand beneath her thigh – lifts her leg, Sif pleased by his not inconsiderable strength. She closes her eyes, wetting her lips in turn as the head of his cock pushes her vagina open around it. She savors the thick length of his erection gliding through her wide-parted lips. He begins to thrust and her cunt aches with pleasure around him.

Sif draws her legs up, knees crooked. Loki's hand drifts upward over the contours of her hips. He runs his palm over her belly, his fingers splayed, in sharp to him moving within her. He nibbles at her shoulder. His breath is cool against her neck. He traces his knuckles up her sternum, between her breasts – then his fingers splay wide, again. He presses her against him, thrusting at his leisure, a syncopated rhythm, fast and forceful, and then suddenly excruciatingly slow; long but heavy strokes and then, as she whines, short but unsatisfying staccato thrusts. Sif gasps for air, breathing in the scent of soil and the musk of their arousal, her eyes closed; he relents not, each time changing his pace the moment before she gathers her wits so that all she knows is the stroke of his erection.

The orgasm that sears through Sif has her crying out as it erupts through her body like the explosion of a star. It isn't Loki's name – only a cry in the wilderness.

"You at my mercy. Now, that's something," Loki says, dripping smugness at her back.

Sif, prideful, collects her thoughts through the haze of her pleasure. She reaches behind her, grasping the prince's hip. No fool, he stops. In their stillness there is only the sound of their panting breath and, nearby, their stallions pulling up grass.

"Showoff," Sif says.

Loki curses virulently, pushing himself back from and out from her. With an angry groan, he sits up, heaving for air, waiting for his mind to clear. He scowls down at his unspent erection, as silently furious as he is visibly aroused.

Sif rolls onto her back and sits up beside him. She already misses the contact of skin on skin and his cock in her deliciously aching cunt. –one orgasm has hardly spent her.

Loki winces as Sif reaches out to him, placing her hand on his arm. The understanding in her eyes discomfits him. How she could understand what he himself for all his cleverness cannot articulate maddens him. At the same time he lusts for her, his cock starving to spend itself inside her, and so he doesn't push her hand away, only looks at her in silence.

When she sees he does not mean to make an argument of it, Sif crawls closer to him and swings a leg over his thighs, kneeling above him. Uncertainty sweetens Loki's brow. His eyes flicker over Sif's body. He sees the strength in her limbs and her taut, flat abdomen and the damp way her curls cling together, set off by the bright, wet head of his cock.

She is watching his eyes; the gravity of her gaze draws his to her face. The sober maturity of her expression steals his breath. Paranoia that she now acts out of pity burns away. It's pleasure she craves, and it's on his erection that she means to take it.

Although a smirk sneaks onto her lips as she reaches between their legs and clasps his cock in her slender fingers and Loki's thoughts tangle together as she again receives him into the velvet heat of her vagina, the unmistakable fact that she finds him as sexually desirable as any brute warrior that she could have instead – as desirable as Thor – brands itself in Loki's mind.

He leans back on one arm and clasps a hand to the small of her back. She rests a hand upon his shoulder and draws breath. Her hips start to roll, sweeping him up in molten pleasure. His mouth falls open and his brows knit. His hips rise from the grass in sharp jerks. Sif grins while she rides them, grinding her cunt against him until he whimpers, a sliver of pre-orgasmic heat lancing through his abdomen.

She trails her fingers down his chest, resting her fingertips upon the pink scar of healing tissue where, five days ago, her knife found purchase. She dips near, nipping his lower lip, voice low with passion and brimming with mirth, teasing:

"Repay me in kind."

Thoughts escape Loki, purpose demanding their place. His eyes close; his hand holds her close upon him; his thrusts are deep stabs, her cunt a soaking hot caress; her body draws tight, hard circles against his pounding hips. Loki's cock spasms; his seed rushes into her. There is not the daylight, nor the grass, nor the horses – Sif alone; Sif everything; an ocean of heat around him her fingernails dragging down his chest.

He is still reeling, still recovering, still being ridden, he knows, and his hips jerk mindlessly while her weight bears down on him. He hears her gasp and knows in some dizzy place that her own breath-stealing pleasure has washed over her again.

Loki lets himself collapse onto his elbow, and then lowers himself onto his back in the cool grass with a satiated sigh; his moodiness has evaporated in the heat of their lovemaking. Sif laughs as she dismounts from astride him. Loki writhes comfortably against the ground, although pebbles dig against his skin. He casts his gaze to her, a smile on his lips, all her slights forgotten. He finds her unimaginably lovely naked beside him with the daylight shining off her dark, disheveled hair.

Sif's wistful gaze drifts down Loki’s lithe body. She bites her lower lip before the grin upon it grows any wider. Later, because he is Loki, he will be petty and vain and unbearable, but right now he is lean, muscular and relaxed and she sees only the firm contours of his collarbone, his nipples dark against his pale chest, a belly button stretched over strong abdominal muscles, a still-considerable though softening erection and poetically lithe legs corded with muscle.

"Tonight, at dinner, I will think of you, my prince," she promises. "Although we must take great care in straightening our clothes, or I think everyone will know it."

"I have but to cast a simple glamour and no one will be any the wiser," Loki says, plucking a strand of grass and holding it up to the sky and then flicking it aside.

That is the only way it can be, Sif tells herself.

As a shield maiden she need not put on any pretenses of virgin honor. When fame of valor ennobles a battle-tested warrior of Asgard, she or he may make love to men and women without censure even in those situations where other Æsir might draw ire.

Obfuscation is, then, only a necessity of privacy. Because he is a prince, and nobles gossip. Because for untold weeks they would be made to endure the good-natured taunts of their friends.

Because they live in a culture where it is a point of honor for a bachelor brother of a dead man to marry his dead brother's wife, and should Sif ever have Thor's hand fate might yet bind her to Loki.

Sif knows they can never speak of how cruel it is that they might come to such an end after Sif has so many times passed Loki over.

Loki is startled – and then, with a soft groan, compliant – as Sif leans over, places a hand to his cheek and his kisses his lips.

They waste an idle half hour at kissing, their wandering hands mapping the new dimensions of each other's adult bodies.

Later, they speak nothing of their dalliance.