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She tracked him along the vibrating cords of the universe beneath the universe, across vast reaches of dark and empty space, through the hollows left by rotted stars, to a gutted moon that had lost its circuit. There, in that dead place, Sif found Loki.

 

An unnatural snowfall, its progress dream-like and slow, whitened the ruined rock. The jagged edges of the moon, split apart like the exit wound of a ballistic weapon, were freshly made, too ragged and too sharp. Aimless trails of rock had led her to this, the source of the blasted wreckage sent tumbling and wheeling through the vacuum.

 

Sif bore her shield, strapped to her forearm (always so, for if her hand was lost or the arm broken, she could still lift her shield before her). Bani-friðr, her blessed spear, she left sleeping on its sling across her back, in its customary place of honor with its hilt at a height with her jaw.

 

She pushed on through the snow. Pockets of some discharged magic filled her nose with an acrid smell and her mouth with a metal taste. Shadows flickered between flurries, a trick of movement in her peripheral vision. He was here. She knew he must be. The expanse of some old, ancient lunar mountain loomed before her, and Sif stood in its shadow.

 

“I know that you are here,” Sif called, to the mountain’s worn peak if nothing else. “Spare us both the exercise and show yourself.”

 

His breath touched her ear. Sif brought her elbow up sharply on instinct, driving it back in a blow that would have crippled another man. But Loki was not there. He stepped around her opposite shoulder, out of the cold air and the drifting snow.

 

“That’s unlike you,” he said. “Usually you’re the last to surrender.”

 

He looked much as he had the last she’d seen him, but perhaps for the coolness of his face. Then, he’d been limned with fire and snarling as he tore free of Asgard’s guard. The scars pocking his lips and cheeks, gifts of his work in Midgard, had not changed. Perhaps they were whiter.

 

“I haven’t come to surrender,” said Sif.

 

“Oh?” His gaze flicked minutely. He feigned indifference, but the old tells remained. “Then what, precisely, have you come here for, Sif, daughter of Asgard?”

 

She snorted at this; she couldn’t help it. That he should even ask!

 

“Don’t play obtuse,” she rebuked him. “I’ve come for you, to take you with me back to your home.”

 

Loki laughed. He did so loudly, tipping his head back. Another time, when they had been younger and the nature of their games much different, she had told him she could see right up his nose when he did that. He’d asked her if she enjoyed the view. The old ache bit at her chest.

 

“Well, here I am,” he said, turning on his foot to walk through the mountain’s great shadow. “You’re welcome to try. Though I must warn you, it will be very difficult for you to take me someplace lost long ago.”

 

“Asgard is real, and it remains your home,” she countered. “Your place is not here, on the edges of the cosmos, skulking like a—”

 

“Like an exile?” he suggested. He turned slightly, so that he might look at her sidelong.

 

Forcefully she said, “You were never exiled.”

 

Loki conceded. “Only imprisoned.”

 

“You gave us no choice!” She stalked after him through the shadows, and though her frustration was great and his pace languid, he remained ten steps ahead of her. “The night Thor returned you to Asgard, you broke your bonds and attacked—”

 

“Yes, I was there.” He was too shadowed to read, the delicate work of the facial muscles he could not yet force to his bidding too obscured for her to look for his tells. “But refresh my memory. There are a few things I seem to be missing. Such as, when was I ever given a choice?”

 

“The men you slaughtered,” she said. “The people you’ve hurt. You chose to do those things. No one forced you to do them.”

 

He stopped walking and came about to face her directly; still, he was too far. Sif stopped as well. The distance between them stretched on.

 

“And if I refuse to go with you,” said Loki. He looked to her shoulder. “Will you force me?”

 

Bani-friðr’s weight had long been so familiar as to be unnoticed. Now Sif felt it acutely, as she would a strange burden.

 

“You will notice I did not come to you with blade drawn,” she said quietly.

 

“But you did bring it,” he said.

 

She had. She could not be so foolish as to go without arms, and she knew that he knew this, too. He smiled a little at her, and it was a smile without humor and without love. She could not stand to see him smile so.

 

“Why can you not believe that you are loved?”

 

“Am I?” He looked curious. “By whom? My brother, whom I would have killed? My father, whom I betrayed? Oh, but then I must ask, which father?”

 

“Thor loves you,” said Sif, cutting him off, “you know that he does.”

 

“I find that hard to believe given recent evidence,” said Loki, and she knew then that he had been lost far longer than she’d thought. But Loki went on: “And my mother? What of her? She must be eager to see her son gagged and in chains again. The Warriors Three, no confusion there.” He tapped his chin. “As for Thor’s lapdog…”

 

Sif darted forward and, bracing her shielded forearm before her with her free hand, she drove the shield against his chest. Loki, so rarely caught off-guard, stumbled and fell back on one knee.

 

“I am no one’s lapdog,” she snarled. “Do you have any idea of how long I have followed you? How far I have hunted? How many worlds I have seen, all in pursuit of you?”

 

He did not rise. Instead, he remained there on his knee in the dust before her, his face turned up to her and snow falling to melt on his pale face. His features were carefully schooled, even that fluttering muscle at the corner of his eye gone still, but his tongue, as ever, cut as readily as a knife.

 

“And on whose orders did you make this great sacrifice?”

 

Her lips pulled back from her teeth. “No one’s.”

 

Loki stared unblinkingly at her. The snow had thickened; now the flurries were fat and wet. She’d water in her eyelashes, making Loki glimmer. His lips parted. They thinned.

 

“How am I to believe you?”

 

Sif dropped to her knees before him. The ground was hard, littered with dust and loose stones. A sharp one dug into her shin through her boots and guards.

 

“You don’t have to believe me,” she said. “But you always did before.”

 

He was still, still and strung tight. The angle of his shoulders was flat and unwelcoming.

 

“Only a fool would believe you when you stood next to Thor,” said Loki in a low and unkind voice.

 

Fiercely, Sif snapped, “You were only a fool for choosing to see what wasn’t there.”

 

His eyes lidded; the corners of his mouth pinched. In a moment, less, he would slip from her reach. He would lie to himself that she lied to him. Some hot, furious thing split open inside Sif. She had hunted him through the endless expanses of one universe, another, passing between stars and through the gaping lesions that connected a myriad of universes. All this she had done for him, and now he accused her of – what? Infidelity.

 

“I have only ever loved you,” she growled, and she grabbed him by his throat and kissed him hotly on his lying mouth.

 

She had not come to him with the intent of doing this. It was only— Their lips mashed. His teeth were hard and flat beneath his lip. The shape of them was known to her, known well. He’d a chip on the inside of the left canine that he’d never repaired. Did it remain?

 

Loki exhaled into her mouth. His hand was at her shoulder, as if to push her away; then he moved to embrace her by her nape. The pieces still fit. She hadn’t forgot.

 

“You would have been a fool to love me,” he breathed, but he kissed her, too, lips split and teeth sharp as he bit at her.

 

Sif grappled punishingly with him, her hands at his jaw, her nails in his cheeks, tipping his head back so that when she kissed him, she devoured him. He opened readily to her. The hand at her nape tightened till her bones ached with it. Still, she did not let go. His tongue was slick, his breath warm. Snow dotted his face; it wetted her fingers.

 

She remembered him as he had left. Fire billowed about him. His face was twisted in a horrid rictus of hate. She wanted to see that torn out of him. Sif licked at his teeth, the lined roof of his mouth, the pebbled length of his own tongue. Love was a heavy, hot, hateful thing inside her. She would have wept if she remembered how, but she had given that up long ago.

 

Loki’s fingers dug into her neck, the tip of each finger in counterpoint to a ridge in her spine. His teeth flashed. He bit at her again, then again, as if to consume. Sif wound her arm about his shoulders and drew him near; she pushed him back. They fell together, her hips ground down against his. He was erect and she was unsurprised, for it had been how long since they had last touched each other? There had been nights, chasing after him, when she had slept only after sliding her fingers down her folds and into her core, recalling the taste of him, the breadth of him, the particular color of his eyes as his pupils expanded and his breath came quick. Her skin itched now.

 

Drops of melting snow dotted his face. His breath came in abbreviated spurts, a little gust of mist between them. Sif shoved her hand down, grasping the length of his thickening cock. His hips jerked, his erection pushing hard into her hand, and Loki bit down on a laugh that had slithered up his throat. A memory burst open inside her:

 

Loki laughed as he knelt before her. His tongue slipped down her labia, parting the folds of flesh. Sif said, “Stop playing,” and Loki murmured, “Oh, of course,” before he bit at her clitoris and worked it between his teeth. His finger had pressed into her then, and she’d come some minutes later with his tongue and two fingers inside her, and Loki’s fingernail worrying her most sensitive nub. That had been before, long before Thor was announced as heir. When Loki rose to kiss her, his face was slick with her, and he laughed again.

 

Sif fumbled with his ties, her fingers catching in his breeches. History had conditioned her to expect a smart remark (“so soon?”) but Loki’s fingers were in her hair now; his mouth was wide beneath hers; greedily he sucked on her tongue. The pinch of his nails in her scalp was such that she felt it like lines dragged down her spine, into her gut. She wanted, she wanted, she wanted.

 

Loki wanted, too. He abandoned her mouth for her throat. His teeth drove in; he sucked forcefully even as he bit down. Sif got her hand down his breeches and his breeches down his hips.

 

“Sif,” he said to her throat. “Sif.” Whatever he said next he buried in the juncture of her throat and shoulder.

 

The snow embraced them, cold and wet on her skin, on his skin. The scars knotting his face glossed over her shoulder. Sif stuck her other hand down and ripped his breeches open at the crotch. Thus no longer supporting herself above him, she fell against his chest, and the familiarity of him, the known angles and lean curves, was such that she closed her eyes; better to pretend, in some fleeting moment of weakness, that the events of the last few years had not happened. Rock bit into her knee. Her ears were numb with cold. She grappled with her belt.

 

His hand dropped to her waist when she pushed down, taking his cock into her as easily as if they’d never been apart. Loki’s head bowed; he hissed painfully and bit her throat again.

 

How long? Too long since she’d had him last. Sif breathed out and shuddered, but already it was too late. She’d wanted him; now she had him. Even distended to bear him, she knew she could not back off. She wanted this, and as she rolled her hips to take his cock deeper, a hot thing slithered up her spine.

 

But there was nothing gentle to this. Another thing lost to the years of silent chasing. Sif bore down on him and he surged hotly to meet her. His teeth flashed; his nails bit. She shoved him back down into the dirt and the snow. Wildly, cruelly, she forced herself down, down. His hips moved in counterpoint to her every roll. Now he filled her; now she withdrew, leaving him without. She hooked her fingers around his hips, holding him down, but Loki dug his own nails deeper into her scalp and dragged her into another vicious kiss.

 

Heat built in her, an unwelcome heat. She was not ready. He slipped a hand between them then, to pull at and twist her nub, to tease her as she teased him, to punish her as she punished him. I miss you, she thought as she bruised his hips with her thumbs. I love you, she thought as he dragged his teeth down her jaw. He said nothing. Perhaps he thought nothing.

 

Pleasure was mechanic. He twisted her clitoris until the tension in her thighs and the small of her gut popped, and then Loki bucked savagely upwards once, twice, a third time into her welcome, wet heat, and came.

 

Another stray memory. They’d laid together in her bed once. Loki wound hanks of her hair about his fingers as she read from a book of strategies. “I don’t see why we should fight when we could play instead,” he’d said, and Sif had smacked his hip fondly in rebuke.

 

Now, she turned her face up to his. His eyes were dark. His mouth twisted, the shining flesh of each scar distorted. Pain flashed through him. She knew it well enough. It had been her companion all these years.

 

“You shouldn’t have come for me,” said Loki.

 

And he was gone.

 

Sif caught herself in the dirt, in the snow, her own trousers pulled unevenly down her hips. She was sticky, sore. Her heart roared. In her ears, she heard the passage of her blood, thundering. Cold snowflakes nipped at her nape. Her hair hung before her, pooled in the half-melted imprint Loki had left. She closed her eyes and breathed. A breath in, a breath out. Again. Again. Again, till her heart steadied.

 

“I will find you,” she said lowly. “Wherever you go.”

 

Silence met her. There was no other answer. But Sif knew he was out there.

 

Rising, she buckled her belt; she checked her shield; she felt for the weight of Bani-friðr, the-peace-of-death.

 

Then Sif began the hunt.