Her nose itches. It is a banal thing, a tiny thing amidst this horror, and she fixes her mind on it, on the itching that she cannot scratch because she is holding the bowl. Tries not to think about how her arms ache and tremble, her arms that have been aching for years now, because she is holding the bowl. Her head aches, her eyes burn with weariness, but she cannot sleep, because she is holding the bowl. She stands in the cave, and there is only her, and the snake, and her husband who is mad now with pain if he was not mad before, and this is all there will ever be, and she can never leave. Because she is holding the bowl. Bound to the rocks by bloody chains, the hair tumbling around his face long and matted with sweat and pain and blood and venom, her husband sleeps, finally. Because she is holding the bowl.
Sigyn weeps, silently in the dark, and the tears stream down her face unchecked, because she cannot wipe them away. Because she is holding the bowl.
Venom drips from the snake's fangs, splashes into the bowl, and at the sound the man bound to the rocks twitches instinctively, caught in the memory of pain. The snake sways above him, its tongue flickering as it tastes the air. The woman standing below does not move, she barely blinks. She only watches, wearily, as the droplets seem to hang in the air, seeming to fall in slow motion, the tiny sound of it landing in her bowl ringing out across the cavern like a bell. The ripples of its landing spread lazily, slowly fade. Another drop falls.
Not quite rhythmic, not quite regular, but close enough to be hypnotic, when you are too tired to do more than stare.
Sigyn's eyes sink shut, and she struggles to blink them open again. The scene before her flickers and wavers before sinking to black, and she stands with her eyes closed, still holding the almost-full bowl. There is no sound but the rasp of Loki's breathing, and her own, and every so often, the splash of falling liquid, and the sound of the snake's scales shifting against the rock.
Sigyn breathes, slow and even, and in her ears her weariness rings with a sound like the sea, and she stands swaying, sleeping as she stands.
In her hands, the bowl wavers but never falls, ripples dancing across the surface of the liquid it holds.
Sigyn holds a brimming bowl of mead in her hands, gleaming golden in the dancing light of the fire. The scent of honey drifts from the bowl in her hand, and of smoke from the fire behind her, and of roasted meat and warm fresh bread from the tables. The sound of laughter and of chatter drifts towards her, a soft hubbub from which she does not trouble to decipher words, only lets the sound roll over her. She is warm, and there is food in her belly and just enough drink – the mead in her blood wraps around her like a lover or a mother, and everything is warm and comfortable and safe, and soft a little at the edges.
One by one the Aesir come to her, and she pours them mead from the bowl in her hands, and they smile, and she smiles, and they pass on by.
Thor's eyes crinkle at the corners as he grins through his beard, taking his cup and draining it.
Odin's one eye is bright and laughing as he lifts his cup.
Hodr's unseeing eyes flicker past her as he holds out his cup, but he smiles as he drinks what she pours for him.
The smile on Baldr's bright face is dazzling as she fills his cup.
Tyr's one hand holds out his cup, and his eyes meet hers over it, and he too smiles.
Heimdallr's smile comes slow, but smile he does as he drinks.
One by one each of them comes and drinks and passes on, and last comes Loki, and his eyes dance as he holds out his cup and his smile is wild and wicked as ever it was, and their eyes lock as she lifts the bowl, and tilts it to pour.
Nothing comes out, and, puzzled, she tilts the bowl further, but it is empty. She stares bemused at the bowl, upended now. It is empty, and she has nothing to give him, he to whom she most wishes to give.
She opens her mouth to speak, to apologize, to – but he comes to her and covers her mouth, and kisses her, and she gives him herself instead, and he is warm against her, and her arms come around him and his around her and the bowl clatters to the floor –
She wakes with a start, and the brimming bowl in her hands shudders. Liquid sloshes over the rim, splashing over the skin of her hand. Surprised and sleep-mazed, she does not even bite back her scream at the burn of it. Pouring over her hand, it lands on Loki's chest, and he too cries out, twisting in his chains. Above them, the serpent writhes, more venom gathering on its fangs as it sways above Loki's face.
Sigyn fights not to drop the bowl, gritting her teeth and blinking back tears as she turns away to pour out the rest of the vile liquid.
Behind her, Loki screams again, curses her and the world and himself as the poison falls, thrashes in his bonds as his skin burns.
Sigyn does not look. Her hands shake as she pours out the bowl, and it is not only because of the pain that sears through them.
If they were here now, she thinks, I would smile as I gave them this to drink.
“Sigyn – ” Loki says, and his voice is cracked and painful, and he is staring up at her, and his eyes are wild and lost, and there he stops, and turns his head away.
(Sigyn knows patience well enough)
The venom drips in the silence, marking time.
Loki does not look at her when he says, slowly, as if the words are being dragged from him, “ – why are you here?”
Sigyn stares at him, at her husband lying bound to the rocks with the entrails of their murdered son.
Why is she here?
How can she answer that?
Sigyn is here because her husband killed his blood-brother's son.
When Baldr was dead, Frigga came to Sigyn, as she came to everything and everyone in the nine worlds, and she asked her to weep.
And Sigyn wept, but she did not weep for Baldr's sake, or for Frigga's.
Sigyn wept for her own sake, and for her husband's, for the reckoning she knew was coming, for the dread of it that had sat, sick in her stomach, since before Baldr's blood first sprang from the arrow-wound. Sigyn wept for what had been, and what was coming and what she would lose.
Sigyn wept for the one who she knew would not weep. And because he would not weep, and because she is the one who weeps for him, they are here.
Sigyn is here because she could not save her children.
Strong hands held her fast as they were borne to the cave, and held her though she fought and screamed and begged and sobbed, and she could do nothing but watch and bear witness. Nothing but watch, through the tears that blinded her, as they took her son and warped him and remade him into a ravening thing that snarled with mindless ferocity.
A thing that leapt at her other son's throat, that pinned him and mauled him as he struggled, and though he tried not to scream, he could not keep back his cries as his brother ripped him open and his entrails spilled out.
And Sigyn screamed too, wailed and sobbed as they dragged her wolf-son away, bloody-mouthed and snarling, and heard him howl too in the distance, and part of her knew with a sick certainty that they had given him back his mind at the last if not his body, and he knew what he had been made to do, would always know as she would know.
And she watched as Odin plunged his hands into the warm red mess that had been her boy and was now nothing but steaming meat and a spreading stain on the hard ground. As he drew out ropes and ropes of her son, a grim smile on his face and his one eye hard and cold.
And with them he bound her husband to the rocks, and warm meat became cold iron around him.
And so they are here, Sigyn and her man and the tatters of their child.
Sigyn is here because she fell in love.
She is here because there were warm hands once, and a dancing, wicked smile, and eyes that leapt with a fire that was home and warmth and desire, that was not only a killing flame.
She is here because he bound her long ago, and she him, with fetters more tender and more eternal than the bloodstained iron that holds him now.
Because there was laughter, once, and food on the table and a fire in the hearth, because there was Loki with mischief in his eyes and a child on his knee, because there were his hands on her in the dark dancing in all the right places, and the nip of his teeth sharp at her lip as they kissed.
Because he might go but he would always return. And his touch would be fire in the dark again, his scarred mouth hot on her and his hands clever and wild and his silver tongue whispering to her in her dreams. Because she is the incantation-fetter, and she has bound him, bound him to her and herself to him, with a magic deeper than blood. Because he is the fire that warms her and she is the hearth that will always hold him, in the end.
And Sigyn is here because you cannot truly love the fire if you are not willing to bear the burns.
Sigyn is here because she cannot bear to leave.
She is free to go, if she leaves him, leaves him bound and screaming on the rocks, screaming forever, with the venom dripping, dripping, dripping on him forever, with no relief and no comfort and no surcease until the ending of the world.
And a Sigyn who could leave, who could walk from that cave with her husband's screams ringing in her ears, knowing that because she was leaving he would scream there alone forever, would no longer be Sigyn. Something deep inside of her would have broken, something that could never be repaired. And that betrayal would break her as this pain cannot.
Sigyn is here because there is nowhere else she can be.
She made her choice and she chose to stand with Loki, and she will never be at home among the Aesir again, for what kind of mother could call her son's killer kin, what wife name her husband's torturer friend?
Sigyn is here because Loki is here.
It is simple enough, in the end. As simple as pain. As simple as love.
She is here because he is here, and as long he is here, she will not leave him.
It is simple.
Simple has never been the same as easy.
At first, he only asks her why she stays, as if he cannot quite believe that she will.
Then Loki begs her to leave, he pleads with her, in the end, to go.
Finally Loki curses her, and screams to her that pain unending would be better than the bitter cycle of relief and torment and relief again. That in the end it is worse to wait, watching the drip, drip, drip of venom and know that soon the bowl will be full and the pain will begin again. That she is the one torturing him now.
That is when Sigyn weeps.
He will hate her if she leaves and he will hate her if she stays, as she will hate herself.
And she hates him for bringing them here though she loves him still.
She hates him for making her love him.
She hates Skadi and her snake and Odin and his chains and his implacable judgement and Baldr for dying and Hodr for letting Loki sway him and Frigga for giving Loki a challenge because do none of them understand Loki yet, that he will always find the forbidden thing and do it for the sake of it – and oh, how she hates him for that now, for that impulsive unconstrained contrariness that has been the doom of them both – and the list of her hate goes on and on forever and in the end she hates herself for hating and for standing by.
Sigyn weeps in the dark and her tears run hot down her face and drip, drip, drip like the venom.
And when they fall on him, Loki writhes beneath them as if they too were poison.
The venom drips.
The snake sways above them.
Loki strains in his bonds, and the earth shakes with his struggles.
Sigyn stands, holding the bowl, brimming with pain.
And every hour is an eternity.
The space between drops is an eternity.
And all of these eternities run into each other in an endless chain of torment.
And eternity passes, in the dark of the cave.
Until the breaking of all bonds, Fenrir rages in the grip of Gleipnir, bound with silk and sorcery and the broken faith of Tyr, but even that binding will one day fall away, on the day when Ragnarok comes and the world tree falls and the sun is torn from the sky.
Under the earth Fenrir's father lies bound with iron that is the blood of his son and the magic of his blood-brother, bound with pain and with broken oaths and with vengeance.
There is no chain in all the worlds that will not one day snap. There is no fetter that can bind eternity, no iron that will not rust, no rope that will not fray, one day.
And with the breaking of the bonds, there will come a reckoning. The captives know it and their captors know it, and that knowledge binds them all, binds them to the ending of the world.
By Loki stands Sigyn, and she is bound, too, bound with love and hate and duty and need, and maybe one day, that bond too will snap. But not before the ending of the world.
And the day comes when Loki's chains crack and split, when, weakened by ages of his spasms and struggles, one link finally shatters.
It clinks on the stone as it falls, and at the sound Loki falls still in the midst of his flailing. Sigyn lets the bowl she is emptying slip from her hands. Even the snake stills.
And then Loki is struggling from the rocks, and Sigyn is by him and together they fling away the chains, and the venom falls on both of them and though it burns them the end is in sight and in the glory of that knowledge the pain is not worth noticing, and Loki, free, reaches up and seizes the snake and drags it from its perch, and with a vicious twist he snaps its neck.
Loki slumps, exhausted, by the rocks, staring at the corpse of his tormentor, and he does not smile.
Sigyn lifts her husband, and he is light, light in her arms, no burden at all as they walk finally towards the sun.
Out on the hillside, then, Loki turns the ruin of his face up towards the sun, spreads arms stiff from binding and pain slowly to the air. Sigyn stands a little back, in the shadow still, long hair lank over her face, eyes screwed up against the sun that is so bright, too bright, too warm, too clean.
She steps forward, slowly, onto sun-warmed earth, grass that whispers against her filthy feet, green and fresh and alive. She stands on the green grass, under the blue arch of the sky, and the world all around her is beautiful and warm and alive, and seems to sing with the joy of it. And though she knows she should be joyful too, all her bitter years of pain and anger and grief seem to have killed all capacity for joy in her, and all she can feel is a dull and weary ache, a hollow emptiness inside that will never be filled.
And Loki's arms fall limply to his sides, his face turning from the sun as she walks towards him across the green, green grass of summer. And he says, in a voice cracked and hoarse from screaming, creaking like the rusty hinges of a forgotten door, “I'll kill them for it, Sigyn. Kill them all.”
And he staggers, his knees buckling under him, and she catches her husband in her arms and they sink to the ground together, and she whispers: “Yes.”
And then, Ragnarok.