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From The Same Star

Chapter Text

“There, there, Zera, that’s it…”

Zera’s mother watched her hands glow as she touched a pot in the kitchen. The water inside had just begun to boil, confirming her mother’s suspicions that Zera was gifted with heat as well as with light.

“Fine work, little one,” she said. “You almost rival Loki.”

Zera sighed. “Loki’s quite talented, mother. I don’t see need for rivalry.”

Her mother’s gaze on her daughter remained pleasant. “He’s talented because he gets the attention of a prince. You are a servant. To be as talented as someone with formal training makes you even more impressive. And you have to be impressive.” Her mother ran her fingers through her daughter’s red curls and shook her head. “You have to prove that you belong here, dearest.”

The girl had heard this speech close to a thousand times before in a thousand different ways. “You have to be twice as good to get half as far!” It was about as droning and repetitive as a drunken bard.

She understood her disadvantage. She was only half-Asgardian, she had dark skin, she wasn’t thin. But she didn’t feel the need to be reminded of something she saw in the mirror every morning.

Besides, her fate was set, she’d grow up to work alongside her mother in the kitchen, and when her mother became too old, she’d take over. If she was lucky, she’d marry someone and have a child of her own to train. But that would only happen if she were very, very lucky. Regardless, she was still very much a child herself, and there were days where the work, and her magical training, became a little difficult to stand.

Zera’s salvation came in the form of Prince Thor poking his head around the corner. She spotted him and let out a small gasp, he pulled his head back.

Her mother eyed her. “What was that, child?”

She cleared her throat. “Nothing mother…” She kept her eye on the doorway, she could still see a bit of Thor’s hair. “Mother, may I go for a walk? I’ve been in this kitchen all day, and it is stifling.”

Her mother smiled and kissed her on top of her head. If she knew where her daughter was really headed, she’d never let her go. As fond as she was of the royal family, she didn’t want her daughter getting involved with them, or getting her hopes up about them ever being equals. Zera had become close friends with both of the young princes, but she feared they were perhaps too close, and didn’t want to see her daughter’s heart be broken.

“I expect you back in under an hour, today’s lessons are far from done.”

Zera kissed her mother on the cheek and ran out of the kitchen. Once out of her mother’s sight, Thor grabbed her hand and they snuck down the hall, trying their hardest to suppress their giggles.

Thor led Zera outside of the palace and into the garden, they ran through the fields of flowers, and then into the forest. In the center, there was a group of trees that’d grown in such a peculiar way that they created a sort of hideaway. The two had been to that tree dozens of times, they’d even carved their names into the dark bark.

They sat inside of their hideaway and Zera caught her breath. She sat on her heels to avoid getting her clean blue dress too dirty.

“We’re going to need a bit of light, Zera,” Thor said.

His voice was only beginning to crack, and it was noticeably deeper than the last time they’d been together, which had to have been a month ago. She’d certainly missed him and, judging by the smile on his face, he missed her too. They were both changing, but their bond didn’t change.

“You cannot possibly still find that trick the least bit amusing,” she told him with a giggle before rubbing her hands together, creating sparks of warm light. It was dim at first, gradually becoming brighter. She opened her palms and the light shone between them, lighting their faces with a gentle glow.

“Still amusing,” Thor told her.

“Why are we out here, Thor?” she asked.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a necklace with a purple stone hanging from it, and he held it towards her. Zera smiled and gently took it from him.  “My mother told her maidens to get rid of it, but I saw it and I thought of how it would compliment your green eyes.”

She looked up at him and then looked away. “Thank you, Thor. It’s gorgeous.”

“May I put it around your neck? Would you mind?”

She shook her head and lifted her hair up. He fastened the necklace around her neck and grinned. “I’m glad you like it. Will you wear it always? As a token of friendship?”

She nodded, batting thick eyelashes. “I’ll look at it and think of how you so often get me in trouble.”

“I don’t mean to!”

“I know you don’t mean to.”

He smiled at her and reached out to touch her hair, which was done neatly into three braids at the crown with the rest of her curls flowing freely. There were tendrils of s-shaped curls framing her face. She almost looked like her mother.

“Pretty…” he whispered. “Like the flowers in the garden.”

“Thank you, Thor.”

The light between them began to dim, which was perfect to conceal the sweet look in Thor’s young eyes. Zera quickly rubbed her hands together to bring it back. “My apologies, my mother tells me I’ll master that in due time.”

He nodded. “You will. My father says he’ll teach me to properly wield a sword next year!”

“Brilliant, Thor! You’ll be a great warrior.”

“I hope you’re right…”

“Are you nervous?”

He adamantly shook his head. “Never.”

“There’s no shame in it, Thor. I get nervous a lot.”

“What helps?”

She shrugged. “I have to believe in my heart that every problem has a solution, just as I believe that you will be great.”

“I will remember that.”

She started laughing again. “You almost have the voice of a man yet you still have the chubby face of a boy.”

Thor blushed. “Loki sounds worse than I do.”

“I doubt it!”

“He does, he sounds like he is croaking.”

"You sound like you are croaking, eldest son of Odin!”

“I give you a necklace and this is my reward?”

Zera nodded and ran out of their hideaway and Thor chased behind her. They ran back into the palace and he almost tackled her to the ground when he caught up to her. Frigga and Loki, who was reading a book of magic, spotted them and the queen smirked.

“Greetings, Zera,” she said. "Greetings, Thor."

Zera pulled away from her son and straightened out her dress, curtsying as she was told to do in the presence of the royal family. While she was extremely familiar with Loki and Thor, she hadn’t had as much contact with Odin and Frigga, they still made her remarkably nervous. “Greetings, All-Mother.”

“You look very pretty today, Zera, did Lady Cathenna braid your hair?”

“Yes, my mother braided it, All-Mother.”

“Zera, you know you don’t have to be so formal with me… Say, is that my necklace?” Zera shrunk, thinking she was in trouble. “It suits you. Exquisite choice, Thor.”

“It is a token of friendship!” Zera told her.

Loki laughed. “Right… Friendship. A gift of jewelry to a pretty friend. Thor is so friendly.”

Frigga noticed the blush on Thor’s cheeks and suppressed a pleased grin. “Ahem, focus on your studies, Loki.”

“I’m very focused!”

“Zera, we should start walking back towards the kitchen before your mother gets irritated,” Thor said.

“Wait, Zera, we should practice magic together sometime soon.” Loki said. His eyes moved to Thor’s. “That should be fun.”

Thor started gently ushering Zera along. “We really must be going, goodbye mother, goodbye Loki!”

When they left, Frigga crossed her arms. “Loki, that was unfair.”

“He’s never going to tell her how she feels, I’m expediting the process, mother.” He smiled. “No harm in trying to help my brother be happy is there?”

“Part of me thinks you’re also doing it to see the reactions from Lady Cathenna and Audhild, and that’s not very kind, Loki.”

“Well, Audhild, certainly. I doubt she’ll be able to restrain her emotions once she catches her Thor in Zera' arms.”

Frigga rolled her eyes. “Such a troublemaker, you are.”

At the doorway of the palace kitchen, Zera tucked the necklace into her dress and adjusted it so that the stone didn’t protrude. She touched it again and looked up at Thor.

“When do you suppose we shall meet next?” she asked him. “Please don’t make me wait another month to see you.”

He grinned. “I will meet you here again in two days.”

“It’s set then. Thank you, again, friend. The necklace really is lovely.”

“Anything, Zera. You know that. All you have to do is ask.”

She hugged him and rushed back into the kitchen and, as he always did, he left with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

The years passed by quickly. Things were beginning to shift in the palace. The princes were now full-time warriors, and Zera was now performing full tasks in the kitchen with her mother. She could do anything now, cook, clean, generate light, start fires, boil liquids, she could even cause things to combust (although she preferred not to use that ability).

It was expected of the princes that, due to their duties, they would begin to distance themselves from childhood friends, including servants. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, especially in Thor’s case. No one would be able to tear Thor from Zera, at least not forever. To Thor and everyone who only knew him from a distance, it was merely a close friendship. But his mother, his brother, and most of their friends saw it for what it really was: The young prince was completely in love.

It was common to see Thor lounging around the kitchen, gardens, and forest with Zera. They’d mess around like they did when they were younger children, they’d look at the stars, they’d talk about favorite stories and frustrations and fears. There wasn’t a person in Asgard, besides his mother, who Thor felt easier with.

The night that Thor and Loki returned from a week of battle, there were only two sounds in the palace kitchen: Cathenna and the others scrubbing the surfaces, and Zera pacing from the kitchen to the door every time she saw someone pass by. So far no one had any news other than that the warriors had all returned, which eased her, but she wanted to know if Thor and Loki were wounded or not. It was only becoming more than annoying for the other servants in the kitchen.

“Dearest, you will hear of the details tomorrow morn, don’t worry about it tonight.” Cathenna assured her. “We know they survived, that alone should suffice.”

Zera shook her head and looked at the door. She kept scrubbing the counters raw, pausing to look for someone in armor. “I have worried about Loki and Thor since I woke this morning, since I was born, probably! I haven’t ceased to worry since.”

Cathenna chuckled. “Do you really feel that you must worry for them? They seem capable.”

“Capable or not, mother, they’re my friends.”

Sif walked past the doorway and Zera gasped, running out to catch up with her. She heard her mother try to stop her in the distance, but ignored her.

Sif embraced the red haired girl excitedly, smiling and holding her round face. Sif’s own face was covered in dirt and a bit of blood from the battle. “Zera! Just the woman I had hoped to see!”

“Is Thor well? Is Loki? What of their conditions?” she asked.

Sif giggled. “Zera, worry not! They’re in brilliant shape. A few cuts and bruises, as to be expected from such an event. Oh I wish you’d seen it! Thor was so magnificent. He and Loki are natural warriors. Took down three gigantic bilgesnipe all on his own! Not to brag but I found my own performance equally impressive.”

Zera smiled. “I’m sure you exceeded all expectations, Lady Sif.”

“I was not looking to exceed any expectations besides my own, but if I exceeded the expectations of others, so be it.”

“Where’s Thor now?”

“His chambers. In fact, he told me to have you to meet him there, he has so many tales to tell you from tonight’s victory.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course he couldn’t simply walk to the kitchen. He had to send you like a messenger.”

Sif started walking away. “There’s a reason we get along so splendidly, Zera. We understand one another.”

Zera bit her lip and ran back to the kitchen. “Mother, may I go see Thor in his chambers?” She cringed, realizing she’d actually mentioned the fact that they were meeting in his chambers, thus opening up the seventh seal of the apocalypse. “Not his chambers, we just-”

“Zera, I trust you not to do anything scandalous, go.”

Surprised by how easy that was, her eyebrows raised. “Really? Heh, if you approve, I suppose I’ll be on my way then.” She started running off, but quickly returned. “We probably won’t stay in his chambers, we’ll probably sit in the forest. It’s beautiful tonight.”

“I already said you could go, Zera.”

“Right. Apologies, mother.”

Zera rushed off to Thor’s bedchambers. On the way, she ran into the Warriors Three, all worn from battle. Fandral already managed to snag a lady for the night, that wasn't a surprise. He offered Zera a place under his other arm and Volstagg punched him in the shoulder when she just laughed and walked away.

"Thor will sooner fight you himself," he warned him. "You saw what he did out there."

"Well, it would be wise of Thor to start moving if he wants to get anywhere," Fandral replied. "Zera's even prettier than we thought she'd be, and maidens like that only get prettier as the years go on."

Hogun shook his head. "Don't talk about Zera that way, she's our friend, too."

"Our pretty friend."

Zera also ran into one of Frigga’s maidens, Audhild.

Audhild was Asgardian perfection. Tall, slim, blonde, blue-eyed. She carried herself with the posture of someone of higher status despite practically being a servant like Zera. She hadn’t had a long conversation with Zera since they were quite young children, and the conversations they did have were pleasant but there was something unspoken that made the environment extremely uncomfortable.

“Greetings, Audhild.” Zera said with a grin.

Audhild grinned back. “A glorious evening for Asgard, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, our warriors fought bravely…”

“You must be on your way to see Thor.”

Zera tucked her hair behind her ear. “I am, actually.”

Audhild smiled. “I do love how close you two are,” she told her. “It is a rarity to see such friendship in this palace.”

“We have a bond forged by fate, that’s what the All-Mother tells me.”

She seemed rather surprised by that comment. Her eyes grew wide for a split second, and she fidgeted with the skirt of her dress. “Hmm. Did she tell you that?”

Zera nodded. “She told me that only a day or two ago, whenever the last feast was.” She gathered her skirt in her hands. “I don’t want to keep Thor waiting, Lady Audhild, please excu-”

“Zera!”

Thor came walking towards her, smiling. He was covered in dirt and blood, like Sif, but he’d made some attempt to clean his face,. Audhild could only watch as he wrapped his arms around Zera’s waist, lifting her and spinning her around in the air.

“I was expecting my friend Thor to meet me here, not this man. Who are you?” Zera joked.

He set her down and stared at her smile. It was akin to coming home and sitting by a fireplace. She had a warmth about her, and it wasn't just her powers that did it. “Not a single hair on my head has changed. But I must say, you seem to have gotten taller. Maybe you’ll be able to reach the top of my head now.”

Zera playfully rolled her tongue along her cheek. “Oh, the prince returns with jokes. What good would reaching the top of your head do you? I cannot reach inside that head and make you any more responsible. I can't exactly make you calm.

Thor took her hand. “You may later discover that you have that power, you have so many already, it seems.”

“I don’t have powers like Loki, he’s incredible. I hear he learned to duplicate himself. I can't imagine...”

“You don’t need powers like Loki’s. Each day he finds mischievous uses for them and you’re so good I doubt you have the capacity for mischief.”

Zera crossed her arms. “How you’ve managed to say something that sounds like both a compliment and an insult, I will never understand. Shall we go out to the Bifrost? Or go to the forest?”

“The forest, of course.” He looked up at Audhild who was still standing there. “Greetings, Audhild.”

She forced a grin. “Good evening, Prince Thor.”

“You don’t have to call me that, we’re amongst friends.”

He pinched Zera on the bum and she squealed. “I told you not to do that, Son of Odin!”

“I don’t recall, the battle has completely decimated my memory.” She glared at him and he released a hearty laugh before waving goodbye to Audhild. “Tell my mother I’m with Zera, if she asks.”

“Sure, Prince Thor…”

Zera and Thor made their way to the forest, and Audhild walked on in the opposite direction, occasionally looking back at them. That would prove to only be the beginning of her suffering.


 

Zera and Thor rode out to the forest on his horse. Thor had his steed rest and they laid on their backs, looking out into the infinite night sky beneath the canopy of trees.

“What did Odin say when you and Loki returned?” Zera asked him. “Was he pleased?”

“He was,” Thor replied. “I don’t recall ever seeing such pride on his face.”

She grinned and turned to him. “I’m sure there was great pride the day you were born.”

He laughed. “I’m sure, but I was the firstborn. There is always pride in the firstborn.”

“Oh please! From what I hear, you came out of the womb with the twinkle of a warrior in your eyes.”

“I came out of the womb like everyone else, including you. Crying… Naked…”

She turned her eyes back towards the stars, watching a surge of lightning pass through. That was Thor’s doing of course. He knew how much Zera enjoyed how lightning ripped across the night sky. “My mother says it’s foolish of you to align yourself with everyone else. You are positioned to be the next ruler of Asgard.”

“That may be true but if that means me assuming that you are less than me, that’s twice as foolish. I can’t imagine my life, or Asgard without you, Zera.”

“You don’t have to, I’m not going anywhere.”

She sighed and he stared at her. The flashes of lightning hit her green eyes, making them twice as bright for only a split second at a time. Her lips slightly parted in awe of the storm. Lately he’d been thinking about her lips often, what he would give to kiss her just once to get it out of his system. He shouldn’t have been thinking of her that way, and he understood that.

“Imagine if things were completely different,” he said. “What would you be then?”

“Silly question.”

“No it isn’t, Zera. What is your passion? Where would you want to be?”

She thought about it for a second, then she had to laugh at herself. “It’s so boring, I don’t want to tell you!”

“Oh come on! I know you, you could never be boring.”

“You’ve just told me that you ripped a creature’s arm off with your bare hands and now you want me to tell you my silly little dream?”

“Absolutely,” he said, without a trace of humor. “You know there’s no place on Asgard more interesting than your mind.”

She sighed and turned to him. “I want to be a palace librarian.”

He grinned. “Really?”

“Well, you know I love stories, especially your stories. I spend most of my free time, when I’m not with you, in the library anyway. I’d love to work there.”

“What about the kitchen?”

Zera shook her head. “Between you and I, I can’t stand the kitchen.” She put her finger on the tip of his nose. “But that stays between you and I.”

“Of course…” He smiled. “The library… I should’ve gathered.”

“I almost feel embarrassed for telling you.”

He reached over to her face, pulling a stray curl and watching it bounce on her face. “You shouldn’t be.” A rumble of thunder shook the ground and Zera covered her heart. “Did that scare you? I’m sorry.”

She shook her head and smiled as big as she could. “It excited me.”

 

Chapter Text

Thor had been given strict instruction by Cathenna not to disturb Zera when she was working, especially the day of a feast, which this happened to be.

To him, that just meant “be sneaky about it”.

He crept around the corner and peeked into the kitchen. Zera was busy making rolls. Her mother had gone to check on the mead. He slipped in quickly, sliding beside his friend with that handsome grin of his.

“Greetings, Zera,” he said. “The sweat of the kitchen looks good on you.”

She giggled and shook her head. “You and I are different people, that is for certain,” she told him. “This morning, I looked in the mirror and all but loathed the girl in front of me.”

He shrugged. “I haven't the faintest idea why, she's ravishing.”

“Your sweetness is noted. I'll save you some styrie.”

“Oh, I love your styrie!” he exclaimed. “But I don't jest about your beauty, Fandral keeps telling me how keen he is to dance with you tonight.”

She rolled her eyes. “I should be here most of the night, so I doubt there will be time for dancing. By the nine, how typical of Fandral. He's a cherished friend, but I think I may be the last girl in the realm who has yet to give into him. Aside from the girls who fancy girls.”

“By my count, all that remains are Audhild, a few others, and you.”

“We're an elite group.”

“Mmhmm, or a selective group.”

The way he said 'selective’ raised Zera's brow. “Thor Odinson, are you calling me a prude?”

“Are you not one?” he teased. She playfully pushed him. “I meant that in good humor, Zera, but your reaction intrigues me.”

“How so?”

He let out a small laugh that probably offended her more than anything else he’d said so far, even more than the quizzical expression that followed. “I've never seen you flirting with anyone. I’ve never seen you kiss anyone. I've never seen you in anyone's chambers…”

“I've been in yours, Thor.”

He tried reaching around her to get his hands on the bread rolls, but she stood in his way. Momentarily defeated, he settled for resting his chin on her shoulder. “That's true, but never for the night, and never for more than conversation.”

She pushed him away and laughed before putting all of her focus back into kneading the bread. “That's because I know your tricks! You are calling me a prude!”

“Does that offend you?”

“I’ll have you know I'm virginal as they come, but prudish I am not. I can't be when I'm constantly beaten about the head with the exploits of you lot! This is why I like to go speak with Heimdall.”

Thor laughed. “Oh Zera, that's all talk. Most of us are as virginal as you are.”

“So you, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg are just virgins who find fantasizing as a group entertaining?” She giggled. “Quite like maidens...”

“We're a lot more alike than you think.” He finally stole a freshly baked roll from the bunch and Zera tried snatching it back, but he pulled it further away before taking a bite. “They're best straight from the oven.”

“Oh, how I want to fight you right now.”

“Then you should come and meet with me by the library in a hour.” He took another bite before walking away.


“I must admit when you said 'meet with me by the library’, I assumed we'd be spending time in the library. The lack of foresight is my own fault.”

Thor chuckled. “It is. That is true.”

Zera walked quickly behind her friend as they made it outside. She should have predicted this, they always found their way back to the forest somehow.

“Your mother knows you've gone, the feast isn't for another hour, you'll be fine. What's the harm in allowing yourself to breathe in the fresh air and revel in the last few moments of sunlight? I know you can't resist a contest, Zera.”

The word 'contest’ drew a groan from deep in her gut. “What frustrates me most is that you're right, but I still think we should go inside before this turns into calamity.”

“Calamity? Nonsense, you and I seek adventure!” He nodded and extended a hand to her. “If danger finds us, I will shoulder the burden.” She looked at his hand and shook her head. “Why?”

“Thor, as much as I value our time spent together in the forest, you get me into more trouble than anyone else. You say you’re my friend but do you mean that?”

He chuckled. “You're far more than a friend to me, Zera, I love you.”

"Oh please..." She crossed her arms. "What contest did you have in mind?"

“I will race you through the forest, to our tree. If you win, we will return to the palace.”

“If I lose?”

“Then I request a kiss, Zera.”

“Thor!”

“On the lips.”

Zera blushed. The redness showing even beneath her dark brown skin. They were still so young then, only beginning to experience the buds of infatuation. One kiss was innocent enough, it didn’t have to mean anything more. Teasing Zera was always one of the joys of Thor's life anyway.

“This is what I mean, you know I can’t run faster than you.”

He grinned. “You’ve surprised me before. I’ll even give you a running start.”

Zera wasn’t a warrior, even physically she wasn’t built like a typical warrior, she was soft-bodied, with a round face and gentle hands. It was one of the things that made Thor and her other friends so affectionate with her.

But that didn’t matter now, the prince of Asgard was challenging her to a foot race that she knew she had a low chance of winning...

So, she took off immediately.

“I didn’t say ‘Start’!” Thor shouted in a fit of hearty laughter. “Zera!”

She looked back at him and smiled. “Keep up now! You started this!”

He started running behind her. They ran through the trees, looking over at each other and just barely missing collisions with bark. Zera managed to lose her sandals along the way. In her focus and determination, they fell right off. Thor could see her red hair in a blur amidst the tree trunks, the sight almost distracted him. It was like watching red fire blaze through the trees.

After a few more minutes, and losing sight of Thor, Zera made it to their tree, caught her breath and looked around. She assumed herself to be the winner.

“I wish you were here, Thor!” she said, dancing around. “To see how victory looks on someone else for a change.”

She heard him bellow out another laugh and looked up to find him sitting in the tree, quite settled. “It looks something similar to this, I’d imagine!”

Zera huffed. “I knew you would win!”

He leapt down beside her and pulled her into their hideaway. “You have to know the shortcuts.”

They were almost too big to fit in the hideaway anymore, they were a bit hunched over, but still comfortable. “So you cheated?”

“Not exactly the word I would use,” he said. “I was simply using any advantages at my disposal to secure a victory.”

“Oh hush, you would have won anyway! You just want to kiss me.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Why else would you have made it the condition of my loss?”

“Perhaps I knew you’d find the idea strange and wanted to see the expression on your face,” Thor said. She tried changing her pouting expression but she couldn’t, making Thor smile even more. “Absolutely priceless. Even so, Zera, you owe me a kiss.”

She looked around as if other people could see. “It would be most inappropriate for me to kiss you.”

He leaned a bit closer. “I don’t see why not.”

“Because I am being groomed to be a palace servant and you are a prince. Even for this silly game, it’s-” He cut her off with a gentle kiss to the lips. Her eyes grew wide but she didn't pull away. When he did, stared at him, half-surprised, half-confused. “Thor, you kissed me.”

“Aye, I believe I did.”

She blushed again. “Did you mean to?”

He licked his lips. “I did.”

She looked away from him, pressing her fingers to her lips. It didn’t feel half bad. She couldn’t let him know that of course, he'd never let her live it down.

"I apologize if you were startled," he told her. "I won’t do it again. Not unless you ask it of me.”

She looked up at him. His eyes glittered with genuine concern. She smiled to dispel his fear, and she had one of those smiles that lit her entire face, and made his heart skip a  beat. “All’s well, Thor. You just surprised me.”

With those words, he seemed to perk right back up. “Shall we return to the palace then? Loki may be in the library.”

“You know I hate bothering your brother. He does nothing to me. Besides, I should be getting back to the kitchen.”

“You don’t have to tease him with me, but it is always more fun to tease him with you trying not to giggle behind me.”

She bit her lip and looked at her bare feet. “I need to find my sandals first.”


That night the great Hall was filled with song and dance, celebrating the return of the princes. Zera helped the rest of the kitchen servants keep the mead and food flowing out. The warriors’ stomachs were about as large as their muscles.

Queen Frigga spotted Zera pouring mead into someone's cup and an idea appeared in her head. It was a very naughty, meddling idea, but she couldn't help herself. This had to have been the result of raising Loki.

She called Zera over, and Zera gladly poured mead into her glass. “Zera, why aren't you dancing?” she asked.

“I'm serving, All-Mother.”

“Tonight? Of all nights? But you look so pretty and Thor seemed so excited about dancing with you tonight.”

The queen's statement seemed to catch Zera off-guard. "He was?"

Odin leaned over. “Oh, come on, dear. The girl's trying to work.”

“She's always working, she and her wonderful mother do nothing but work, I doubt our sons would want her working tonight.” Frigga took the mead from her hands and grinned. “Go dance, Zera. Thor and Loki are waiting for you.”

Zera smiled warmly, and thanked her, before running off to the where the warriors were sat. Thor smiled at her. “Zera, you've finally decided to join the revelry. We're drinking our way to Valhalla."

They all laughed and Zera took his cup and took a sip. “The queen has just relieved me of my duties for the night, so I can spend it with you scoundrels.”

Loki shook his head and laughed. “If only you'd waited until after Fandral had a maiden on his arm.”

Fandral rolled his eyes. “Zera is allowed to dance with whomever she chooses.”

“So it's settled then!” Thor said. He stood up and took Zera's hand. "Lead the way."

She smirked at him. “How bold of you to assume I wish to share this first dance with you, Odinson.”

“I thought my boldness to be a trait you admired.”

“You thought correctly, although your head seems to have grown two sizes since taking my hand.”

Thor led Zera out and they danced and danced. The rest of the warriors joined them, twirling, laughing, and prancing around the Hall. Sometimes they'd alternate partners, Zera was lifted and spun by practically everyone, but Thor only had eyes for her. Even when they were split from each other, he couldn't tear his eyes away from her.

Across the room, Cathenna watched them dance. She knew that look in Thor's eyes. It was the look Zera's father once gave her, it was the look of a lovesick boy, and he was looking at her only child.

Cathenna didn't want to interfere with her daughter's happiness, she really didn't, but she couldn't only see heartbreak on the horizon for them both. She didn't want them getting hurt, but she didn't know how to prevent the heartbreak without hurting her daughter in the process.

On the other side of the Hall, Audhild, who'd arrived late because of how elaborately she'd done her golden hair, watched as well. But she didn't watch with the concern of a mother, although she also saw the way Thor looked at Zera. In that moment, she was the one feeling heartbreak. Every smile they exchanged felt like a dagger to the heart. So she turned around and left the feast, she couldn't bear to watch for another second.

Chapter Text

There is something quite wonderful about girls talking to each other without ill-will and without a sense of competition. Just two young girls talking about themselves and each other, everything from the mundane to the abstract is on the table as their minds go like machines.

Sometimes they were just silly. As Sif and Zera were so often.

“So after the feast, I help Hogun walk Thor back to his chambers, because Fandral and Volstagg are far gone. Let me tell you, Thor is quite the emotional drunk. Despite not having much to say, he starts crying about something funny like how much he loves us, or the color of your hair.”

Zera gasped. “By Odin's beard, you are joking!”

“Oh, dearest, I wish. He launches into this speech about your hair being the color of wood that has recently been lit on fire. All I could do was nod and agree.”

“I went to the library with Loki quite late last night, he wanted to see my powers.” She giggled. “The mead almost made our magic reckless. I think he asked me to burn him at some point in the night.”

“Doesn't surprise me.”

“How?”

“Loki fancies pain if we're being honest with one another.”

Zera scrunched up her nose. “I’d prefer not to dwell on it. You handle your mead rather well, Sif.”

She shrugged. “I didn’t have nearly as much as my prideful masculine counterparts, but I’m not lightweight by any measure. You only had a sip from what I saw.”

“That’s because I’m a lightweight by every measure.”

They laughed and Zera undid some of the day’s braids and combed her fingers through her curly mane with a sweet smelling oil her mother made. Sif picked at a plate of sweets Zera snuck in from the kitchen.

“I envy you, though.” Zera said. “You carry yourself with such confidence, and you can truly match any man who dares to oppose that. I, on the other hand… I often cannot stand to argue with my own mother. Too often I think I’m wrong.”

“Wrong about what?”

“Anything, really? I feel quite silly in my own skin. The other evening I told Thor I wanted to work in the library. He didn’t laugh, but that surprised me, because I’ve just told the future king that I wish to spend my days surrounded by books and scrolls.”

Sif rolled her eyes. “Why would Thor dare laugh at a dream of yours? That would be most unlike him!”

“I know but… It’s still so small.”

“Dreams are never small. You don’t have to be a warrior to have value, Zera. You have inherent value. In your heart, and in your beauty.”

Audhild appeared in the doorway in her sleeping gown and Zera grinned at her, gesturing for her to come in. “Do join us, Audhild, we never talk.”

Sif winced and made room for Audhild on the foot of Zera’s bed. The maiden of Frigga entered slowly, daintily sitting at the very edge. Zera held up the plate to her, but she politely refused.

“What are you two doing up at this hour?” Audhild asked.

Sif sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. “Talking, eating. I never see you eat, Audhild, you’re so thin.”

“I want to remain desirable.”

The warrior raised an eyebrow. “Then you should eat.”

“I do eat, I just don’t gorge myself on sweets and mead.”

Zera giggled. “You’re small, Audhild, but it suits you.”

“I can’t stay for very long,” Audhild said. “The queen requested I attend to her unusually early tomorrow morning. I can’t be too sure about why. Do you have any idea, Zera?” She shook her head. “Could be anything, I assume.”

“Yes, just short of Thor’s hand in marriage.” Sif said, keeping her eyes on Audhild. “It’s high time she start looking around for suggestions, isn’t it? Although it is ultimately his choice that decides the matter.”

Audhild glared at Sif. While she didn’t cross paths with Zera often, she crossed paths with Sif quite often. Her relationship with Zera was ambiguous, but she loathed Sif. Sif was an eavesdropper, and she knew too much about her. She knew enough to get her in serious trouble with anyone.

“I suppose it is his choice,” Audhild said. “Not that it makes a difference, I’m not too keen to place my name in the pool of potential wives. I assume you aren’t either, Sif.”

She shook her head. “No, I know Thor too well.”

Audhild turned to Zera. “What about you? You and Loki seem to get along rather splendidly these days. Both of you have magical inclinations. I can only imagine a marriage between you two would be… Entertaining.”

Zera shook her head. “Loki’s a friend, but that’s the extent of our… relationship, so to speak. I’m not throwing myself at the chance to become his object of desire, and I do mean desire. I can’t imagine Loki Odinson falling in love.”

Audhild raised an eyebrow. “What about Thor?”

“No…” she replied, keeping her eyes low. If they could only read her mind, they’d see that the kiss she’d shared with the young prince seemed to flash each time someone mentioned him. It was getting distracting. “I can imagine Thor falling in love… Not with me. No, never with… Never with me.”

Audhild made a pleased noise. “Fandral?”

Zera giggled. “Why does everyone wish to see me with Fandral ? Why not Volstagg?”

Sif shook her head. “I hear Volstagg has his eye on someone…”

“Well, why not Hogun?”

Sif smirked. “Aye, why not Hogun?”

Zera hit her friend with a pillow. “Oh hush! It was a joke!”

Audhild cleared her throat. “I really should be going to sleep now. Good rest to the both of you. I assume I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, Audhild!” Zera said.

Sif waved her away. “So long.”

Audhild scowled at her and left. Once she was far from earshot, Zera hit Sif with a pillow again.

“What was that for?”

Sif shrugged. “Am I not allowed to dislike someone?”

“Of course you’re allowed to, just don’t make it so obvious, Sif.”


 

The next morning, Zera reported to work on time, but a bit tired from the night with Sif. She yawned as she tied her apron around her waist and tucked some hair behind her ear. Her mother noticed her tiredness and grinned.

“You have always been so popular, my dear,” she mused. “So quiet, but such a socialite.”

Zera smiled and washed her hands, not needing the water to be hot because she heated it herself once it hit her skin. “These warriors gravitate to me, mother, I cannot say I’ve asked for this constant disruption to my routine.”

Cathenna shook her head. “You have your father’s eyes and also his charms. I’m not quite sure if that’s meant to be a compliment yet.”

Zera nudged her mother with her elbow. “I have my mother’s looks, which helps.”

She kissed the top of her daughter’s head. “Your mother’s mind, too.” She looked up at the door and put her hands on her hips. “Speak of the devils.”

Loki and Thor were standing there. Again, it had been a long period of days since they'd all seen one another. Thor smiled at Zera while Loki seemed particularly preoccupied with the green magic floating a stone between his palms.

“Sorry to interrupt, Lady Cathenna, but we wanted to show Zera something,” Thor said. Zera’s mother sighed and gave them permission. Zera walked over to her friends. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome, princes.”

Loki held out his hands. “Watch, Zera. I’ve learned to make things levitate so much higher!”

Zera kept her eyes on the stone, which wasn’t small. She was used to him floating rocks and pebbles, but this was a large stone, almost the size of his palms. It started floating higher and higher, over their heads, with Loki in complete control.

“Is that not astounding?” Thor asked.

Zera nodded. “Loki, that is a spectacle.”

He thanked her, keeping his focus on his magic. When he wasn't being a trickster, Loki was impressive. “I was hoping you would say so, because I have an idea.”

“Oh dear…”

“While it is in the air, could you make it combust? Do you think?”

“Alright, that’s enough,” said Cathenna. “No combustion in the kitchen.”

“What about outside of the kitchen?” Zera asked.

Cathenna crossed her arms. “You said you didn’t want to do combustion anymore.”

“I know but… I also feel curious about Loki’s idea.”

Zera pleaded with her eyes and her mother eventually gave in. That was starting to happen much more often. She couldn’t possibly have gotten away with that as a smaller child.

“Be careful, combustion seems to take so much out of you.”

The three adolescents stood in the hall, with Loki keeping the stone in the air. Zera rubbed her hands together and took a deep breath. She pointed her palms towards the stone, focused, and the stone exploded. It shattered into a million pieces, almost hitting their eyes. Despite that, they couldn’t have been more pleased with themselves.

They all started giggling excitedly, and Thor noticed Zera’s sudden exhaustion and put his hands on her waist. “Steady, steady… I’ve got you, my firestarter.”

She looked up at him and he still wore that look from the feast, which was several nights ago now. The fondness was still etched into his eyes. Zera cleared her throat and regain balance.

“Thank you, Thor… I need water.” He helped her walk back into the kitchen and got her a cup of water. Concerned and attentive, Thor refused to leave until he knew Zera was fine. Loki whistled and pretended that he wasn't listening in. "You're always saving me, you know that?"

He smiled. "The duty of a prince is to protect what matters most, isn't it?"

She rolled her eyes. "So dramatic." She scraped her teeth across her bottom lip. "Is there somewhere you two need to be?"

Thor shook his head. Loki stepped back into the conversation. "Yes, there is."

"Right, right, there is... Lessons."

"I'll see you soon, then. You should go."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm certain, Thor. There's nothing wrong. My powers simply require much from me." She pinched his cheek. "Go learn something."

"I will see you later, Zera."

"Yes, you will."

They hugged. Zera's mother looked back at them, and Loki looked at her. There was a moment where they both seemed to share a thought. Something happened, and they weren't sure what that something was. 

When they pulled apart, Zera threw her arms around Loki. "I'll see you around, too."

Loki gave his brother a knowing glance over her shoulder. "Of course, Zera."


"Do tell me what that was about," Loki said.

"I don't know what you're referring to." Thor walked a little quicker, but Loki stepped in front of him. "We'll be late."

"Oh please, you're late all the time! How long have you and our good friend Zera been an item and how were you planning to tell her mother?"

The blond prince blushed and tried to play it off, but that seemed to only make his cheeks get pinker. "We're not an item! I can't imagine where you'd get that idea."

"It's all over your faces, you look as though you've been lovers for years. When did it happen? After the last battle?"

"Stop, Loki."

"Sounds like an admittance of guilt."

Thor stopped walking and took a deep breath. "We're nothing, Loki. We're friends, I love her. But we're nothing. I doubt she thinks of me that way, and I really enjoy us as we are, so please don't meddle the way that you always do."

Loki smiled. "Anything you say, brother."

 

 

Chapter Text

Not to pat himself on the back, but Loki considered himself a rather good brother. He and Thor didn't always see eye to eye, they argued a lot, but that didn't mean they didn't care.

Seeing Thor pining away for Zera all those years was painful and annoying. Hearing him deny his feelings for her over and over was even worse. It was as if Thor thought no one could possibly know where his heart was by the expression on his face. Thor was an open book about practically everything but this.

Loki himself loved Zera, finding her to be of rare wisdom and power. If the future held her joining their family by marriage, he couldn’t possibly be displeased. He knew Zera liked his brother back, but she was also in denial.

Deeply in denial.

“Has Thor stopped shaving?” Zera asked Loki.

They were in the library, Zera was looking over some poetry while Loki had a bit of difficulty finding something to read amongst the stacks of things he’d read a million times.

He turned to her. “I can’t say that I’d know.”

Zera chewed on her bottom lip and tried to focus on reading. There was a moment of silence, and then she sighed. “It doesn’t matter at all to me, it is just… remarkable how quickly we’re all getting older, that’s all.”

“Is this a happy observation, Zera?”

She sighed. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“What’s the worst that could happen, really?” he asked. “Aye, you become head of the kitchen, marry someone worthy of you, have a few children. Live a precious, quiet life like your mother.”

Zera cringed and set her poetry book to the side. “That sounds utterly terrific.”

“Oh, you have other plans?”

She looked up at him. “Plans? No. I have other dreams.”

“Do tell, I’m intrigued.” He grabbed a chair and sat across from her, propping himself up on his hands

“Well, for one thing, I’m not sure I want to be a mother,” she admitted. “I have a fling with some man I think I’m in love with only for him to leave me alone to raise a child the same way my father did my mother? Not ideal.”

Loki chuckled. “You think your mother’s troubles with relationships are as heritable as her powers?”

“Yes!”

“My dear, you understand how that sounds, right?”

She rolled her eyes and got up to put away her poetry book. “If I knew I’d be judged, I never would’ve shared with you...”

He laughed. “No, no, I mean no judgement, I’m simply worried for you. I fear you are predicting your fate based on the fate of your mother, and that is a most problematic method of prediction.”

“Thor will end up like Odin, or you will end up like Odin if Thor continues to run his mouth the way he does. I swear he's going to flaunt himself in front of the wrong creature one day and they'll make a meal of him."

"I agree, but I don't see your point."

"Your futures are set and they have been since the moment of your conceptions. Is that not predicting fate using the fate of your parents?”

Loki grinned. “Well… Once again, you leave me without answers.” Of course that wasn’t necessarily the truth. Loki always had answers. “Consider this, though. You get older, you devote yourself to your magic, become a magical adviser of sorts to the All-Father.”

She shook her head. “I doubt my powers would be of any use to the All-Father.”

“Hmm… Then, let’s say you marry, um, Fandral-”

“Oh, I will stop you there.”

“Alright then, let’s say you marry Thor. He showers you in anything you could ever want or need, your mother is taken care of, you no longer have to lift a single finger. Our father passes on to Valhalla, your husband becomes the new All-Father, and you become a queen.” Zera became noticeably flustered and tried to conceal it by picking up the closest book. “Perhaps then, when you’re settled, you have a son… Name him after your favorite brother…”

“Your imagination is… fantastical.”

“Is it?” he asked. “I’m not so sure.”

“Me? Marry Thor? I can’t even begin to imagine it…”

Loki walked up to her, taking the book from her hands and flipping through the pages. Zera reached to pick up another, but he used his magic to nudge it back in place. She crossed her arms.

“Why?”

“I don’t think that I believe you, Zera.” Loki told her.

“Thor would sooner marry Audhild or Sif than me.”

“That’s blatantly false.”

She raised a eyebrow. “Do you know something that I don’t?”

“I know that he seems to think more highly of you than anyone else,” he told her. “That he happened to be thinking of you the day we went off to our first battle.”

“How could you possibly have known that?”

“He mentioned you. He said, ‘I hope Zera isn’t worried, she worries so much’. Like you’re his wife.”

“Or... like a sister.”

Loki had to laugh at that. “We could test that, I’ve recently learned how to change my appearance, I make a lovely girl.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Show me that later.”

“Of course.” He handed her the book back. “I believe it’s been an hour, I should go.”

“Oh you have someone else to bother?”

He smirked. “Yes. My brother.”


 

Thor wasn’t sure what he disliked more, being defeated in training or being defeated in front of Loki. Both had embarrassing outcomes.

“What a fascinating technique, brother! Letting Sif knock you down.” Loki said with a laugh.

Sif helped Thor stand back up. “Oh, please spare me just this once.”

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll be tempted to show you how it feels,” Thor replied. He blew some hair from his face and stretched out his shoulder. “Where were you?”

“I was in the library.”

Thor grinned. Of the pair Loki was trying to meddle with, Thor was definitely the less subtle one. But he was still deep in denial despite the lack of subtlety. “Aye, with Zera?”

“Indeed, with Zera.”

“Is she enjoying her day off?”

Sif giggled and readied her shield. “Of course, she’s in the library.”

Thor swung mjolnir towards Sif, and she blocked it with her shield. “Have you seen her mother near the library?”

“No, should I have expected to see her?”

“Well…” Thor blocked Sif’s offense with her sword, laughing when she missed him completely. “Aiming for my body could help.”

She sucked her teeth. “I’ll aim for your heart if it pleases you.”

Thor and Sif tried knocking each other down, tasks easier said than done. It probably would've been simpler had they not also been overly-competitive giggly children. Thor tried carrying on the conversation while they sparred. “On the subject of Lady Cathenna, yesterday mother met with her to discuss Zera, at my request."

"What about Zera?" Sif asked. "Has something happened?"

He shook his head. "No, I just suggested to mother that Zera be allowed to work in a place that suits her better than the kitchen. Twas only a suggestion of course, I meant nothing by it..."

Sif gasped. “Thor… Has Zera been given a place as a librarian?”

Thor smiled. “I cannot say for certain... But yes."

“Invite me to your wedding, please.” Loki said with a wide smile. “Your little quest to woo Zera may finally produce some tangible results after all, brother. That is quite the gesture."

Sif poked Thor’s armor and he groaned before getting back into starting position. “Loki, you really kill me with this talk about Zera and I possessing feelings for each other beyond the bonds of friendship.” Sif and Loki both laughed. “Don’t tell me you believe this, too, Sif.”

Sif put her hands on her hips. “Nay, certainly not. I, like you, firmly believe that the way you constantly stare at her as if she is the very thing that causes the sun to rise is perfectly within the bounds of a normal friendship and not a product of infatuation at all.”

“Yes, thank y- Wait…”

“Thor, you’re in love with Zera, and I think you know it as well as we do.”

Thor nervously rubbed the back of his neck and Loki stood back, remarkably pleased that he no longer had to do all of the work in this scheme of his. “I will admit that Zera is… Beautiful, virtuous, and kind… Whoever she chooses to marry, if she chooses to do so, they should know how fortune has smiled on them.”

Loki groaned. “How long are you going to carry on with this illusion? Are you going to torture yourself until the day she invites you to dance at her wedding feast, after she’s been pledged to someone else.”

“I don’t want to think about that.”

"Why not?" Sif asked. "Does it shake you? Thinking about Zera's heart belonging to someone else?"

Loki could see his armor cracking, and decided to dig once more. “Oh, will you decline her at her wedding then? I’m sure her husband will have no problem entertaining her the entire night.”

“Stop!” he exclaimed. Loki and Sif exchanged a look and then looked at him. He released a deep breath and kept his eyes low, and he took another deep breath before saying anything more. “We’re getting older and I fear she’ll learn that she can live, and love, without me. She loves the library so much, I wanted her to have her dream. But I hate that a part of it is me being selfish and asking her to remember how much she means to me… She deserves far better than that.”

Sif sighed. “Tell her this, please. Don’t torture yourself.”

“I can take it,” he told her. “My heart is far stronger than you think, I am to be a king. Besides, I can only imagine that if I confess to her how wonderful she makes me feel, she’ll reject me or perhaps think that I assume that being a prince entitles me to her emotions. What I share with her now is too important for me to potentially sabotage because my emotions outweigh my reason.”

They heard someone running towards them down the corridor. Thor quickly wiped the tears he’d felt slip from his eyes and tried to put on a much happier face for whomever it was. Zera came running in with her mother walking behind her. She ran all the way over to Thor and threw her arms around him.

“Thank you!” she said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, my friend! I don’t know how I could ever repay you for your kindness, Thor!”

He held her tight, and looked over her shoulder at the three pairs of eyes staring back at him knowingly. He spun her around. “Don’t thank me for anything, you will be wonderful in the library, Zera!”

He let her down and she smiled up at him, her smile quickly faded however and she reached up to his eyes. “Have you been crying, Thor?”

He grinned. “Sif is a rather difficult opponent, I’m afraid.”

Zera turned to Sif and smiled. “Ease your hand. Just for today.”

Sif nodded. “Sure. For you.”

Zera hugged Thor again. “Thank you! I’ll make you something sweet in the kitchen one last time, I promise you.”

She kissed him on the cheek and left the room, and her mother followed. When he no longer heard Zera’s footsteps, Thor set the hammer down and took off his armor. “I require a bit of a walk outside, if that is fine with you two.”

Loki and Sif watched him walk out, and Loki turned to her with an expression that was only pretending to be apologetic. "One day he'll grow tired of concealing his feelings."

"Aye, but we should only hope that day be sooner rather than later."

Chapter Text

The day began as every other. Zera woke up, bathed, and got dressed. Then she spent a great deal of time braiding her hair to keep most of her spiralling tendrils out of her eyes, although a few were almost guaranteed to break free. She rubbed a sweet smelling perfume on her neck and the insides of her wrists, then she grabbed the book she’d read the night before and headed to the library. After years of this, it was muscle memory.

The library brought quiet and solitude. When it was empty, she’d read anything that caught her eye. She was so happy in the library that she’d usually go undisturbed when she was working. The library was particularly quiet that day. Until, that is, Frigga entered with her ladies by her side.

Zera was busy sorting scrolls, which took some time because she liked to read them before returning them to their proper places. Frigga walked up to the ladder she was standing on and gently knocked on the side of it. Zera smiled down at her.

“How lovely to see you, All-Mother!” Zera put the last scroll on it’s shelf and descended down the ladder, curtsying as soon as she touched the ground. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Frigga grinned. “I haven’t paid you a visit in some time, I’ve come to return those books you recommended to me, dear. As well as two of my sons’.”

“And what did you think of my choices, All-Mother?”

“Exceptional, as always.” She turned to Audhild, who’d grown into quite the beauty queen. There were even more murmurs about a possible betrothal to Thor, but Zera didn’t believe it, he would’ve told her. “Audhild, you can put the books down on that table, and please try to find that book that Loki mentioned while I talk to Zera.”

Audhild sighed but put on a happy face. “Yes, All-Mother.”

Frigga put her arm around Zera. “Has Odin visited lately?”

She nodded. “He has, we had a compelling conversation just this week. He was describing what it was like to lead a battle, very fascinating.”

“I’m only asking because he mentioned you in passing yesterday evening, and I wasn’t aware that he’d spoken to you. I’m glad he has so that he can finally see why the rest of us care so much for you.”

“That is so sweet, All-Mother, thank you!” She fidgeted with her fingers and looked down. “Thor will be so disappointed with me…”

Frigga laughed. “I can’t possibly imagine it, but why would you say that?”

“I promised him a dance at tonight’s feast, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it.”

“Really?”

Zera nodded. “On one of the Warriors Three’s last escapades they brought back a large amount of literature from Vanaheim, I am the only librarian willing to sift through it, it could take days.”

Frigga sighed. “He misses you, Zera.”

“I know, I miss him, too. But we have grown up and, sadly, that means there is less time for us to spend together. I wish it were different, All-Mother.”

“I do, too. You two are quite a pair, you always have been.”

Zera picked up a few books she’d set aside for the queen and carried them over to the table where the returned books were. “We are certainly of the same mind, Thor and I.”

“I’ll tell him you won’t be able to join him for a dance tonight, but you know what he’ll do…”

She giggled. “I know, I should expect a visit from him.”

Audhild picked up the books and Queen Frigga gave Zera one last grin. “Goodbye, Zera.”

“Have a restful afternoon, All-Mother.”

“Don’t let Thor bother you too much, you are very much in charge of him.”

“I’m not sure that’s true.”

The queen and her maidens started making their way to the exit. “Oh, it is, trust my words, dear.”

Audhild looked back at Zera and that feeling, that acidic feeling, crept it’s way into her chest the way it always seemed to when she saw her.

She tried not to harbor resentment against Zera, as the bookish girl was nothing but kind to her throughout the years, but it was hard. Zera had grown to be quite beautiful too. She seemed to sparkle when she smiled and she held the eye of everyone around her at feasts just as Audhild did. More importantly, she still held the eyes of Thor, and Audhild was starting to realize that perhaps she always would.

She stayed behind for a moment and walked back over to Zera, leaning in close to her ear. “If it pleases you, I could dance with Thor in your place,” she whispered. “We’re all close enough.”

Zera smiled and shook her head. “That would just be strange, wouldn’t it? Dancing in my place?”

The blonde maiden chuckled. “I suppose you’re right, that would be strange.”

She picked up a book to put it on the shelf before turning back to her. “You can dance with Thor, Audhild, if that is what you want.” A sigh followed, and Zera idly flipped through the old book’s pages. “Perhaps tonight you and Thor will have a moment of epiphany in each other’s arms.”

“I doubt it. It will be a bore without you,” Audhild said. “Your sense of humor always seems to lift the princes’ spirits. Fandral called me ‘humorless’!”

Zera knew that wasn’t true. She was there when that statement was made, and Sif was the one who called her humorless, not Fandral. “You’re not humorless, far from it. You only need to allow yourself to relax and not be so stiff. Thor used to say that to me all the time.”

Audhild gave her a nod of appreciation. “Well, I must be going.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

Audhild left, running to catch up with Frigga, and Zera went back to her work.


That night Zera found herself surrounded by candles she’d lit with her own fingers, huddled over Vanir scrolls, reading of legendary battles. She didn’t notice the hours roll by until it came time for her to change into her nightgown, which she did, before quickly returning to library to finish her work.

After a few more hours, when she could hear people passing the library to go to and from the feast, a bulky shadow appeared over her. She shook her head, not even needing to look up at the person casting the shadow to know who it was.

“If you’re here to steal me away, Thor, you’ll need a far better reason this time than the one you tried to use the last time."

“I’m not here to steal you away.” She looked up at him. He was holding two glasses of mead, one was being extended to her, and she took it with a grateful smile. “I’ve come to join you for the night.” He now towered over her in height and stature, with a full blond beard and a warrior’s physique. But he always spoke so softly with her.

She moved over so that he could sit with her. “You are a most unusual librarian.”

“Am I not here often enough?”

“Too often for no reason, Thor.”

“Well, that’s because the lovely librarian is such a joy to bother.”

Zera rolled her eyes and held her glass up to her lips, trying to be careful with the scrolls. “Regardless, this is really a job meant for one person, and you're wasting a night of fun. Return to the feast, the crowd of ladies waiting to dance with you is growing impatient, and the crowd of ladies hoping to end up in your chambers tonight is already impatient.”

Thor laughed and took a sip of mead. “The lady I had hoped to dance with tonight is working in the library."

"You shouldn't worry about me."

"I know, you're still happy here. It suits you."

She reached up and rubbed his beard. "As this suits you."

He smiled. “Then I’ll never shave again.”

Zera giggled. “Please do, or else next time I see you it might touch your knees, I’ll be able to braid it.” She set the scrolls aside and turned to him. “Are you really going to stay here with me tonight?”

He pretended to think it over, stroking his beard. “Hmm, how long will you be here?”

“Possibly until daybreak.”

“Alright, I’ll fetch us some blankets and we’ll-”

“Thor!”

“My Zera, I haven’t spent more than a moment with you in such a long time. Let me pester you tonight. You'll be rid of me in the morning if you want.”

She ran her fingers through his hair. It had been too long since they spent hours together. She wanted to hear about his battles. She missed his loud laugh and his hugs. “You are such a distraction.”

“I could say the same about you." He set his mead down beside him and turned so that his entire body was facing her, giving her his full attention. "So, what have you been reading lately?"

"Lore from Vanaheim," she replied. "Also some poetry."

"Poetry? About what, may I ask?"

"Love." He responded with a look of fondness, but she took it to be amusement and became bashful. "I know it's so girlish, but the language is so beautiful, Thor. It is as if the poets bleed themselves onto the page." She bit her lip. "There's one I think you'll really love, and I know exactly where it is."

She snapped her fingers, creating a small flame to light their way. Then she stood up and took Thor's hand in her other one, running her thumb across his knuckles.

"Follow me."


The next morning, Loki was searching for his brother so that they could go to training. He looked everywhere, and asked around, but couldn’t find him. He went to the library to ask Zera if she’d seen him, but what he found was even more satisfying.

“Well, good morning.” Loki said, when he found Zera braiding Thor’s hair. He crossed his arms. “What have you two been up to? I’ve been looking for you all morning.”

“I slept here last night. Zera and I spent the night talking and reading.”

Loki smirked. “I should’ve known to ask Zera first. Unfortunately, I’m here to collect him.”

“Good, he outstayed his welcome when he fell asleep on my shoulder last night.” She finished braiding and Thor stood up. “Thor?"

"Yes, Zera?"

She smiled at him. "We should do this again soon. You know where I am."

Thor smiled back at her. "I don't want to distract you."

“Should I allow you two a moment alone?” Loki asked. When he received two matching glares in reply he just laughed. “In that case, I’ll speak to you later, Zera.”

Thor hugged her one last time and they had a quiet exchange that Loki didn’t feel like listening in on. Then Thor followed his brother out and into the hallway. Loki could barely hold in every single comment he had on the display he’d just witnessed, as always.

“Sure, you were only talking and reading last night,” he said. “You and the woman you’ve been pining over since you were a child were wrapped in a blanket all you did was speak to one another.”

“Yes, that’s all that happened.”

“Sure.”

Zera took Thor’s blanket from around her shoulders, meaning to fold it and return it to his chambers later, but she stopped for a moment and grinned because it smelled like fresh air and royal perfumes, it smelled like her sweet distraction.

Chapter Text

Cathenna fell in love young. Actually, she didn’t fall, she stumbled blindly.

On her own realm, amongst her own people, she was practically un-marriable. She’d died twice and her people do not return from after a third death. If she’d gotten hurt badly enough one last time she’d be dead and leave her husband alone. No one would dare marry a woman like that.

After an attack on her realm left only her and few scattered survivors, a fleet of Asgardians came to assist. She was offered a place in Asgard that she gladly took. Once there, she offered her services to the kitchen in the palace, around the same age that her daughter would take a position in the library.

She met him there, the man that would steal her heart.

He was quite handsome, but not handsome beyond humilty. He had olive skin, sparkling green eyes, and fiery long red hair. He began pursuing Cathenna the moment he saw her. It didn’t take much, just the normal sweet talk of an Asgardian warrior, coupled with the devotion of a man that truly meant it. Within a few months, she was pregnant and they were engaged to be married. She was happy.

But, unlike her people, Asgardians die once and they’re gone. She’d forgotten. She didn’t know how to mourn, she’d never really had to before. She was so used to people returning, that when someone she loved so dearly was never to return, it broke her.

After her lover was killed in battle, months passed where Cathenna barely spoke a word. The other ladies in the kitchen were concerned but didn’t prod, and continued to take care of the distressed, pregnant girl as best they could.

Suddenly, she was alone with an infant daughter, who had the red hair and green eyes of her father. Her distress was gone, her sadness had all but disappeared from her. If she ever missed her fiance, she would just stare into the eyes of their daughter and see him smiling through her. But Cathenna held a lot of nervousness for her daughter, as any parent would.

She told Zera about her people when she was still very young. She told her that she could die twice, and returned in flames each time, stronger than she was the last. But Zera was too young for it to matter to her. It was in the same realm of fairy tales for her, so far in the back of her mind that she didn’t really consider it. She didn’t consider death, and the toll loss would take on her, or the toll her loss would take on others.

Zera still had enough naivety to read fairy tales, and she sometimes had enough to believe them.

“Mother, do you think there are trolls on Midgard?” Zera asked her one day when she visited her in the library. “I read a strange story days ago that almost gave me nightmares, about trolls attacking some poor Midgardian child who’d wandered too close to their home. It was fantastically grisly. I couldn’t imagine walking through our forest and something so violent happening to me as a child.”

Cathenna giggled. “To be fair, you were a bit of a feisty child, so attacking you wouldn’t have been as simple as it looked. But I haven’t the faintest idea what roams Midgard, my love.”

Zera huffed. “Well, Heimdall says he saw it happen on Midgard, but Heimdall likes to scare me. Always has. He must get bored on the Bifrost.”

“Maybe he gives you those answers because you have a head filled with questions.”

“Heimdall is used to my questions by now, he has to be. Thor says that he just says some things to see the expression on my face. I told him that it is such a mystery where he gets it.”

Cathenna sighed and leaned against a bookshelf. “Thor still bothers you?”

Zera smiled from ear to ear.  “When he can,” she replied. “Far more than Loki these days. He always visits before he has to leave for more than three nights. It’s a comfort, I must admit. I gather it’s a comfort to him as well.”

“You must worry greatly.”

“I do… But he’s my friend, of course I’m meant to worry for his well-being when I can’t see him.” She paused, then turned to her mother, meaning to say something more, but held back. Whatever she didn’t say seemed to make her nervous, skittish even. She suddenly changed the subject completely.  “Speaking of Loki, I found a spellbook that he might really like… I think I remember where I set it down. That’s the one thing about working in this place, I read so much that I often misplace books.”

“Have you been practicing with your own powers lately?”

Zera nodded.  “I still try to practice with Loki when I can.”

“Good, if you leave them unattended for long periods, you may end up starting fires when you’re angry.”

“I know, mother. I haven’t forgotten what you’ve taught.” She reached out and touched her mother’s cheek. “I miss seeing you constantly. These books make fine friends, but you are still my only mother.”

“I will be your mother forever, my dear. You can speak to me even when I am gone.”

“Don’t make me think about that. I can’t bear to think about what my life would be like without you. You and my friends are worth more to me than the very galaxies.”

Cathenna looked at Zera’s neck, she was slightly taken aback to find that it was bare. “Where is the necklace Thor gave you? This is the first time I’ve seen you without it since he gifted it to you.”

She sighed. “I don’t know. It must have been stolen from me when I was sleeping. I woke up this morning and it wasn’t around my neck. I have looked all around but it’s nowhere to be found. I’ve been avoiding Thor all day, hoping he doesn’t see me without it.”

“I hope you find it, my love.”

“I hope so too, but maybe it’s a sign.”

“Of what?”

“Of what’s to come." She took a minute to gather the words she needed to explain herself. "Thor likes to act as if nothing has changed but, well, I rarely see Odin. Neither do you. I don’t know any servant who sees him as regularly as they see Thor, Loki, and Frigga. One day, Thor will take his place, then I will rarely see Thor. He’ll forget all about me…”

“Odin and Thor are very different, my sweet, I doubt that.”

“Doubt all you wish, I know it could happen. Nothing prevents it from happening.”

Cathenna hugged Zera and kissed her on her forehead. “Thor could never forget about you. The very idea sounds ludicrous to me.” She pulled away and patted her back. “Have a wonderful day, my dear. The kitchen is probably sorely missing me, I should return to it.”

“As it should, mother,” Zera replied. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”


 

Later on in the day, Cathenna was working in the kitchen when Thor walked by. There was a part of her that didn’t want to get involved in her daughter’s affairs, but the other part of her knew how much that necklace and that gesture meant to her. It meant a lot to her too.

She dashed out of the kitchen and caught up with him. He turned around. “Lady Cathenna, what troubles you?”

“Zera lost her necklace. The one you gave her as a child. She says it must have been stolen because she can’t find it anywhere in the palace.”

Thor knit his brows. “Then I will find it and the person who stole it, mark my words.”

Cathenna licked her lips. “Give her another one.”

“Another necklace?”

“You love my daughter,” she said. “I know you do, there’s no sense in hiding it from me. I know how Asgard operates. Love is sweet and precious when you’re young, but you are to be the king, and you may end up betrothed to some princess of a neighboring kingdom, and that will break my daughter’s heart. But until that day comes, don’t stop being sweet to her. Don’t stop after. One day my heart will stop and you will be all that she has.”

Thor put his hand on Cathenna’s shoulder and looked her in her eyes. “I can assure you, Lady Cathenna, that I will never abandon Zera. The day her heart breaks is the day mine breaks, too. I... I love her." He felt so free admitting it to Cathenna, admitting it to anyone at all. "That will never change, no matter what the future holds."

She grinned at him “Those are pretty words, Thor. You're a good man and I know you mean those words, but I hope you can prove to her that you mean them as well. Show her that you won’t forget about her.”

"I will," he promised. "I will do anything it takes to make that plain to see."

Chapter Text

Dawn had barely begun to show it’s face in the sky and already there were feet gently crunching through the garden. Zera’s mane of red curls peeked out from beneath a thin hooded cloak that was barely keeping her warm, and her hands provided enough light for her to see what was in front of her.

She couldn’t sleep for some reason, sometimes she just got restless, her mind would be too busy for sleep, and when she got restless it always seemed to help when she went for walks through the forest.

Under the cover of the tall trees, she removed her hood and made her way to her and Thor’s place, the place they’d spent so many hours in as children. It was still the same but with a bit more moss and growth here and there, like them. She walked closer and ran her fingers over the bark and extended a grin like it was an old friend. Then she sat on a stump, pulled out a book, and started to read.

After a moment of serenity, there was some rustling in the branches above her and she stepped away as a blond blur jumped down to the ground to greet her.

She shook her head and set her book down. “Odinson… Will I ever be free of you?”

Thor laughed and turned to her. “Did you know that I would be here?”

“How would I have known? I can’t exactly see into your mind. You do come here about as often as I do, however, so I suppose I should have anticipated you being here.”

“Fair,” he said. “But this is marvelous timing, are you sure you don’t have the powers of a psychic? Are you certain your mother hasn’t given you some sort of soothsayer abilities?”

She leaned on the tree. Thor’s jokes were about as cute as he was. “I wish I were, I think I’d be of good use being able to read the future or read into people’s minds. I’d be able to be one step ahead of Loki and his antics.”

They laughed and Thor shuffled on his feet. “He’d probably try to trick you even within his own mind.”

“I don’t doubt it.” She sighed. “What is it that you desire of me, Thor?”

The way she said that made the prince more than a little tongue-tied. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Desire of you?”

“Well, you said it was marvelous timing, what could make it so marvelous, hmm? Is there a favor you needed from me?”

“No, but I wanted to speak to you because I was a bit heartbroken when Lady Cathenna told me that you’d lost the necklace I gave you when we were children.”

She gasped. “Did she really ? Oh, I told her not to. At least… I think I have. It was implied. I should’ve known, she is my mother and I can’t exactly be bothered to listen to her constantly…”

“Why didn’t you tell me when you’d lost it?”

“I thought you would be upset with me. That necklace was a token of our friendship and I wear it in your honor, and it’s so awful that I’ve lost it. Just as it’s awful when you’re upset with me.”

He grinned. “It’s only happened about three times during our lifetimes, Zera. I’m not so easily provoked by you.”

She opened her mouth to respond to that, but changed her mind. “Yes, I awoke a few mornings ago and it was gone, mysteriously, without a single trace. I haven’t the slightest idea where it went.”

“I’ll find it, Zera.”

She shook her head. “I do feel rather naked without it, but I don’t need the necklace to feel the tenderness that I have for you.” Thor blushed. “By the nine, Thor Odinson, are you blushing right now?”

He looked away. “You revel in opportunities to tease me, don’t you?”

“It isn’t teasing , I’m being observant!” She smiled at him, moving closer and reaching up to tuck some hair behind his ears. “You are not given nearly enough praise for how handsome you are. It’s always how brave and strong and never how absolutely handsome.”

“I think it is often assumed that the royal family is attractive, Zera.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, as your friend, and not merely a subject in your future kingdom, allow me to remind you how handsome you are, oh brave son of Odin.”

He cringed. “I loathe it when you call me that.”

“I know, formidable son of Odin.”

He wrapped his arms around her. They giggled and wrestled with each other until Zera lost balance and they both came tumbling to the forest floor. Leaves got caught in her hair, and she felt as free as a child again. Even the dark of the night couldn’t conceal Thor’s bright smile, especially once they’d settled, and his eyes scanned her face.

“I meant to give you something,” he said, digging into his pocket. “To replace the necklace you lost.”

Zera stared up at the sky. “Thor, I said you don’t have to-”

He dangled the necklace above her eyes, this one was certainly not taken from Queen Frigga. It was custom made, just for her. The stone hanging in the center of this necklace was fiery orange and red, with gold filling the cracks. It was strung by a gold chain and the way it caught the light made it look like the flame of a wildfire.

She reached up and ran her fingers over the smooth stone, taking in every detail in disbelief that this was really his gift to her. Thor grinned. “Take it, it’s yours.”

“It’s…. magnificent.” She sat up and moved her hair out of the way to wrap the necklace around her neck. “Oh it’s so beautiful, Thor! You shouldn’t have gone through such trouble for something so wonderful. Aside from my lost necklace, what be the occasion?”

“No occasion, Zera,” he said. As she stared at the stone, Thor took a leap of faith. “I love you.”

She smiled and laid back down on the leaves. “I know, and I love you, too.”

He shook his head and ran his fingers across the soft, warm skin of her cheek. The dark brown hid most of the faint red blush that’d suddenly built, but she felt the heat.

“You love me as a friend, and I will accept that to the end of my days, that is my word… But I love you with everything in my being. Ever since the days of our youth it has always been you. It was always you I’d dreamt of marrying, and you I’d dreamt of growing old with. I have been foolish for not showing you my true feelings, but I am a man now. I must choose to be bold, even with matters of the heart, and you, Zera, are my heart.”

She stared up at him, and he waited for the rejection with the tip of the knife already pressing into his heart. They were silent for a while, her mind was racing. So everything her friends had told her was true, Thor had feelings for her and she was too oblivious to notice. What did that mean? Did it mean anything? Who was to say they were meant to be? They may have been adults but they were still young, they still clung to youthful naivety…

“Do you remember those years ago when we raced and you kissed me?” she asked him.

He nodded. “I could never forget.”

“Is that when this began?” He shook his head. “... Oh Thor…”

“I know, I know, it is madness but I cannot help but feel that the very stars that hang above us have chosen you for me. It can be no coincidence, all that led to us becoming friends. Don’t you see that, too?”

She nodded. “I do.”

“I only want you to know how I feel. If you don’t return those feelings, I don’t mind. I won’t ever speak of it again, Zera. I promise you that I won’t.”

She searched his eyes for uncertainty and found none, then her hand went behind his neck, and she slowly pulled his lips down to meet her's. It was perfect. The silence of the forest made their secret kiss so much more special, and they both felt so free in that moment that hot tears began to roll down both of their cheeks.

Thor held her soft waist as they explored each other’s lips, mouths, tongues. Everything that they’d held back was now bursting forth. It was clear that their kiss was becoming rather heated, as Zera's hand moved further down her friend's back. Taking that as permission, Thor moved between her legs, pushing the skirt of her gown up with his knee and running his fingers across her newly exposed thighs. He moved his face to the crook of her neck and started kissing her there. Zera, still a virgin, felt wetness begin to pool between her legs. She almost couldn’t believe this was happening near their hiding place, right after Thor admitted to loving her. It felt too good to be true.

And it was.

Just as Thor moved to start undoing his own clothes, they heard other footsteps approaching and quickly scrambled to conceal what they were almost about to do. Thor pulled Zera behind a tree and they watched to see who was coming.

Audhild strolled by in her cloak, holding a basket filled with fruits from the palace garden, a few of which looked a bit odd in the hands of a maiden of Frigga. But Zera thought nothing of it, because she was just doing something perhaps equally as scandalous with Frigga’s eldest son.

Once Audhild passed and was out of earshot, Zera started making her way back to the palace. Worried that he'd gone too far, Thor caught up to her and pulled her back.

“I didn’t frighten you, did I?” he asked.

She smirked. "I didn't throw you off of me, Thor. Just give me some time to consider all that has... happened."

"Take all the time you need, my love. I can wait."

She kissed him on the cheek before running off. Thor felt his heart race out of his chest and that would, for a while, be the morning that he would consider the best of his life.

Chapter Text

Zera was always blunt with Sif, one couldn't help but be blunt with Sif. Anything other than bluntness would make the warrior suspicious, and hiding information from her was no easy task. Besides that, Zera valued the fact that she could be so open with Sif. They spoke candidly and often, which is probably what made hiding a secret so difficult for her.   

After that morning in the forest, Thor gave Zera space, as she asked, to think things over, and think she did. She found herself thinking about being taken by Thor almost any time she was bare. She found herself thinking about him telling her that he loved her any time she had a moment alone.

But her senses wouldn’t let her forget her position. It was practically unheard of for a prince to marry someone of her class, unheard of but not forbidden, but she wasn’t sure she wanted all of those eyes on her. She wasn’t sure she could handle the whispers and the disruption to her quiet life and all the time that would be spent away from her mother. She certainly didn’t think she could stomach worrying about Thor as his lover when he went off to fight, it was hard enough worrying as his friend.

In the end, she knew she loved him. She’d spent a long time denying herself that feeling. She tried to ignore the way Thor’s smile would make her heart cease to beat or how his gentleness with her made her wonder how he would be with their children. She didn’t feel this for anyone else. From the moment they met, it was always Thor.

But these thoughts were private, and she couldn’t imagine how quickly whispers of an affair with Thor would spread through the palace, so she kept everything to herself. That meant keeping it all from Sif as well, something quite easier said than done.

“We're in pursuit of this beast! The likes of which I've never seen on Asgard! I grab it by it's tail and climb up to it's neck only for Loki to use his magic to confuse it.” Sif groaned dramatically as Zera picked at a flower’s petals. “The creature starts bucking and I fly off as if I weigh nothing to it! Mark my words, Loki got a piece of my mind when the battle was won… Zera?”

“Hmm…”

Realizing that her friend hadn't listened to her tale, Sif raised an eyebrow. “Zera.”

“Yes, Sif?”

“Tell me where your mind has gone today, it isn't here but, judging by your grin, I wish to join it.”

Zera quickly tried to clear the grin from her face, but even as it slipped away it threatened to return. “My mind is here, listening to you.”

“You know not to be false with me.”

“I'm only saying the truth, Sif!”

“You swear it?”

“Where else would my mind be?”

Sif smirked. “On a book… or a man.” Zera shook her head and forced a laugh. Clearly, Sif had dig by other means. “Earlier I overheard Fandral talking about Audhild. He said something about how round her bum is.”

“And did you respond to him?”

“Of course, I said ‘Zera’s is so much rounder’.”

Zera gasped. “You didn’t!”

“I did! Fandral looks at me, and he accosts me for eavesdropping, but then he agrees that your bum is much rounder than Audhild’s but insists that since you’re with Thor now, he wouldn’t dare make comments like that.”

Zera’s amusement wavered, only a little. “I feel as if I’ve said this countless times but I’m not with Thor.”

“I told him that. That joke is so old now, anyway. We all know you could never have feelings for Thor. He’s far too battle-minded.”

“Right…”

“No, you want to settle with a lover who is gentle with you. Someone who could spend hours exploring your mind. Thor’s sweet, but he can be oblivious, can’t he?”

“Not really…”

“And, ugh, Thor’s reputation . Women dangling from each arm. It isn’t true, of course,  but who’s to say he won’t  one day decide to indulge in his royal power.”

Zera shook her head. “He wouldn’t use his crown that way, Sif. You know him better than that. Thor has taken lovers before, but they were always treated with the utmost affection. He always made them feel like the center of his world.”

“Speaking from personal experience, are we?”

“Well, yes, but also-” Zera realized what she’d just said and she froze. The satisfied smile on Sif’s face said it all. “I mean, no, I wouldn’t- I’d have no way of knowing firsthand, but I’ve seen him with girls and I know… Did that conversation with Fandral happen?” Sif shook her head. “Oh, you are a tricky one.”

“How long have you and Thor been together, or how long have you been together between the sheets of his royal bed?”

In all honesty, Zera replied, “We’re not together.”

“Zera…”

“I’m serious, I say this without a trace of falsehood, may Heimdall look into my heart and say that I am lying if I am.”

“Well if you truly aren’t with Thor, then why is it that Audhild’s been pouting and moaning ‘round the castle like a widow?”

“I can’t say, I haven’t seen her.”

“She’s usually smiling as if she were already queen, but now she’s despondent. I wish I could describe to you how much joy that brings me, but language has not yet created the words for it.”

Zera rolled her eyes. “Sif, something’s wrong with Audhild, we should ask her what’s happened instead of rejoicing in her pain. She’s never done anything to us.”

“Yet, Zera, yet! She has had her eyes on you and Thor since you were young, you can’t tell me it’s surprising that she’d be in such a state if she even thought you two were an item.”

“I don’t think she’s like that.”

“She is. Audhild is infatuated with Thor to an immensely irritating degree. Frankly, she seems not dense, but certainly… Unhinged. If she were in her right mind she’d see that she and Thor are not a match by any standard. As if Thor would spend a moment with someone who acts like they love him despite knowing nothing about him! What would they speak on? I’m sure after she compliments his physique for the third time, he’d be contemplating throwing himself from the nearest height.”

Zera couldn’t help but laugh because, though she didn’t dislike Audhild, she did find her rather peculiar, and her commitment to knowing Thor’s every move could be grating. “Sif! Instead of speculating like a pair of dull old women, we should go ask Audhild what troubles her. It might be something quite practical, you won’t know unless you extend an ear.”

Sif pouted. “You’ve changed. The library’s changed you. You used to be far more ruthless in your younger years. I think you’ve spent too much time with the wrong son of Odin.”

“If I were as close to Loki as I am to Thor, I’m not sure it would make such a difference.”

“You’d be dangerous,” Sif said. “Far more dangerous than you already are.”

Zera rolled her eyes and stood up from the grass, brushing off the skirt of her dress. Sif was still sitting, bouncing her leg impatiently. “You wish for me to speak to Audhild alone, don’t you?”

“Without a doubt.”

“Alright, but only because I doubt you’ll be kind about it and I certainly don’t wish for there to be a battle in a palace corridor.”

“You’re only saying that because I’d win.”


 

Later that day, on the Bifrost, at the golden gate guarded by Heimdall, Thor found himself wandering. He sat beside the gatekeeper and looked out into the infinite sky. The two said nothing at first, but then Thor took a deep breath.

“You’ve told her that you love her,” Heimdall said, before Thor could even think to get it out. The prince looked up at him and he grinned. “I don’t need to have seen it to know. But I must ask, why not go to your father, or your mother?”

He shook his head. “It’s premature. I have told Zera that I would give her time to think over us and what she’d prefer we be.”

“Wise, allowing her a choice. Are you hoping that with some reflection she finds that she wants to be with you?”

“Of course that’s what I’m hoping, Heimdall, I’ve wanted nothing more than for her to be mine since I was young.”

“And if she says ‘no’?” Heimdall turned to him. “What say ye if she decides that she doesn’t want to live a life beside a prince?”

Thor sat up straight. “I will accept that.”

“And then what, I ask, will become of you, son of Odin?” he asked. “I would advise you as a friend and as a subject, not to let her possible rejection harden you. Don’t let it make you bitter.”

“I can’t, I would still want her by my side as a friend and someone to confide in. You think that impossible, Heimdall? Will she be able to remain my friend now that I’ve told her…” Thor ran his hands over his face. “Have I made a grave error in admitting my feelings so soon? It was spur of the moment. I meant to just give her the necklace, why didn’t I-”

“Whatever the outcome, you did something brave. Knowing Zera, that is a mark of your character that she would find most admirable. Don’t worry.”

Thor stood and smiled at his friend. “Thank you, Heimdall.”

“Be careful, Thor. I'm afraid not all are as they appear to be.”

Thor said goodbye to Heimdall one last time, and then left the gate.


 

Meanwhile, at the palace, while Zera kept an eye out for Audhild, Audhild was keeping an eye out for someone else. She stood outside of the queen’s chambers as she was told, listening for footsteps, hoping the person she was waiting for would show their face. She was antsy, bouncing on her heels and turning when she heard the slightest noise at either end of the corridor.

She heard the sound of boots. They were light, swaggering steps that Audhild knew because she’d heard them countless times since she was a child. She painted a smile on her face for the performance and the prince grinned back but didn’t appear to give her much thought. She called out to him, and he approached her.

“Lady Audhild, is there something you need of me?”

She bit her lip. “Aye, there is." She approached him, coming close to where their lips almost touched, her body was flat against his chest. She blinked her pretty blue eyes at him, feigning innocence while her behavior suggested anything but. "Would you like me to join you in your chambers tonight?”

The prince smirked. For the first time since she’d walked through the forest, Audhild smiled genuinely. “Your advances surprise me but I’m certainly not one to refuse a maiden who says she has a need.”

“Oh, it is a great need, Loki,” Audhild said. “I swear it.”

Chapter Text

Nervousness chewed at Thor’s stomach when he’d gotten a note under his bedroom door from Zera telling him to meet her in the library one morning. For some reason he felt the impulse to take extra time with his appearance, he made an effort to smell good and trim his beard. He didn’t know what the outcome would be, but he was excited nonetheless.

He was making his way down the hall when he saw Audhild sneak out of Loki’s chambers wearing something he’d seen her in the day before. Her hair was rather tousled and she was walking as swiftly and quietly as she could.

Thor cocked his head to the side and walked over to Loki’s door. His brother was putting on a shirt and stopped when he saw him stood there.

“Good morning, Thor.” Thor pointed in the direction of where Audhild was headed, and Loki snickered. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

“Astoundingly so, I wasn’t aware she fancied you, brother.”

“Why, are you jealous?”

He shook his head. “Far from it, it’s just… Strange to me.”

“It’s strange to me, too. But I learned not to question it after the third night.”

“It has been three nights now, Loki? One after the other?”

Loki fixed his hair and looked at himself in the mirror. Thor leaned on the doorway, clearly waiting for more of an explanation. “Not one after the other… She’s an interesting girl, I must say. I always thought of her as not particularly bright, but she’s not to be underestimated.”

Thor grinned. “You really like her?”

Loki shook his head. “I enjoy her company at night but there is something she’s hiding from me, from all of us I fear. I just haven’t quite figured what that is yet. Where are you headed, brother?”

“Zera asked that I meet her in the library.”

“Oh, she asked you? You aren’t waltzing in as you usually do, you’ve been summoned at the lady’s request. This must be quite the occasion, do tell me what she says later.”

Thor smiled hopefully. “I will tell you everything.”

Loki put his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t make the mistake of stumbling over your words here, brother. As long as she’s known you, she knows your heart, don’t find yourself nervous.”

Thor nodded. “I’m just worried, that’s all. This could be the beginning of something, or it could be the last time we speak.”

“I wouldn’t be so dramatic,” Loki said. “The very realm would have to split for you two never to speak again.”

“And you call me dramatic.”

They laughed and Loki squeezed Thor's arm. “Go on now, get your girl.”

Thor rushed off towards the library, trying not to look suspicious or nervous and really trying to avoid running into any other family members as he made his way through the palace. It was early enough in the morning for the corridors to be empty, so the library had to have been empty as well. Luckily for him, it was. Zera, beautiful as ever, sat huddled over a book by the window. Her leg was shaking, and she stopped everything when she looked up and saw Thor standing in the entrance.

He walked over to her and she stood up, taking his hand and leading him to a much more secluded place, a place no windows could see and no one but those who working the library would know to find them.

He looked down at her. “What is it you must tell me, Zera?”

She inhaled deeply, holding the air in her chest for a moment and then letting it go in a hot breath that could have easily been a fiery one had she not been more in control of her powers. “I have considered all that there is to consider, and my mind has exhausted every inch of our situation, and I’ve come to a conclusion but I fear you’ll be upset with me considering how I’ve made you wait.”

His heart sank into his stomach, and his jaw clenched. “Speak now, please . You will never upset me.”

Her eyes started to well with tears. Somewhere she found the strength to finally respond. “Thor, I love you and I would love to be yours, but I don’t know if I could manage being in your light.”

He looked down. “I should have known not to burden you with this.”

“No, no, don’t do that to yourself!” She held his face, forcing him to look down into her eyes. “I have wanted you to tell me that you loved me since we were children, Thor, and I have fought those feelings and denied them for as long as I have felt them. You did nothing wrong… But you are going be a wonderful, beautiful king, and I don’t want there to be whispers ‘round your throne, my love.” He sniffled and she pulled him closer. “Please don’t cry… I don’t want to be the broken heart that ruins you forever, I’m far from worth it.”

He pressed his forehead to hers. “You have already ruined me,” he whispered. “No woman on this or any realm will have me the way you always have. I will respect your wishes that we not pursue this further because I love you and, just as you don’t want gossip surrounding me, I’d rather not have to fight my own subjects for your honor.”

She laughed, and the laughter was only slightly stifled by her crying. “I know you would.”

He smiled. “Without a trace of remorse, I can assure you. I would do it right now.” He wiped her tears with his thumb. “I am perfectly at peace with this as long as I can keep you at my side. When I return from battles, I look for you, because you are home to me just as the palace is.”

Relieved by his reaction, Zera wrapped her arms around the waist of her prince. He rested his hand on the back of her head, and he actually felt content because he hadn’t lost her, not yet.

“You have half of my heart, Thor. You are my home, too. Don’t think for even a moment that that feeling can go away in a matter of days.”

“Thank you, Zera.”

She pulled away from him and smiled, but then remembered something. “Wait, Thor, have you seen Audhild?”

He nodded. “Indeed, I have, just this morning.”

“Did she look upset? Sad? Out of the ordinary?”

“Not particularly when I saw her.”

Zera nodded. “Sif said she was rather upset, I was going to go talk to her, but I haven’t seen her in days.”

Thor was completely tickled by the situation and could barely contain his joy. But Zera couldn’t tell a cheeky twinkle in his eye from the twinkle she usually saw. “If I see her, I will let her know that you’re looking for her.”

“Thank you!”

She bounced on her toes, ready to kiss him on the cheek, but drew back at the last moment, deciding it was best not to play with fire. He took a step back, too, establishing a bit of distance, but it was clear that he didn’t want to leave, and she didn’t want him to leave. So, she left first.

 

Chapter Text

About two weeks later, all was seemingly returned to normal. There was a feast being prepared for the evening, so Zera lent her mother and the other cooks a helping hand in the afternoon, then caught up with Sif on the way back to her room.

“Lady Sif, so odd to see you out of armor.”

“Odd to see you out of the library, Zera. How kind of you to grace the rest of us with your presence.”

“Frigga has given me the day off, what’s your excuse?”

“ Aye, I needed a rest from those men, the drinking has begun early today.”

Zera rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, Volstagg or Fandral.”

“Fandral, this time. Volstagg’s planning to be sober tonight. Seems a proposal is on his mind…”

Zera gasped. “Volstagg? Married? How lovely!” She smiled. “What a wonderful night for it, too. The kitchen smells like paradise, or something akin to it. Good food will put us all in good spirits.”

“It always smells that way to me, just passing it by I could feel my stomach growling like a beast.”

“Has he told Thor?” Zera asked. “Because that man cannot keep secrets, he will spoil the sweet surprise of the moment before Volstagg even has a chance to make his move.”

“I’ll row him the moment I see those lips of his part to say a word to Volstagg’s lady. Loki, too. I’ll sew both of their lips shut if I need to.” Sif shook her head. “It’s a shame you aren’t witnessing all of this scandal with your own eyes. Probably the wildest thing I’ve see is Thor not promising a dance to a maiden earlier.”

“Thor didn’t promise someone a dance? Are you serious? You saw this happen?”

She nodded. “She was very confident. She approached him and asked if he would save her a dance to something slow, and he told her that he wasn’t planning on doing much dancing tonight.”

Her eyes widened. “That is… out of character…”

“And I heard something about you promising Fandral a dance, but the two are unrelated rumors, surely.”

Zera rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s not a rumor, Sif.”

Sif leaned in closer and put her hand on Zera’s forehead. “Well, you aren’t feverish…” She pinched the skin of her arm. “I’m not dreaming…”

“Fandral approached me in the library, he was sweet about it, I said ‘yes’.”

“You’re the mystery woman he was speaking of earlier?” She smacked herself on the forehead. “By the nine, it’s all been further complicated as always…”

“It was rather complicated before Fandral prepositioned me, actually.”

“What does that mean?”

Zera groaned and pulled Sif aside. She explained everything that’d happened between her and Thor from the beginning. It felt good to get it all off of her chest, she felt rather exhausted having to hide it from everyone. But she knew SIf wouldn’t tell a soul, not even Thor. So she felt safe finally revealing it.

Though she was also aware that Sif’s reaction would be… colorful.

“You said ‘no’?!”

She couldn’t possibly have been more shocked at the way it all ended. Actually, shocked was probably an understatement. It was clear that she was both trying not to raise her voice but was also moments from squealing. She couldn’t quite discern if she was excited that they weren’t hiding feelings anymore or frustrated that they decided to go nowhere with those feelings.

“Zera, I shouldn’t need to explain why that makes so little sense to me.”

Zera continued walking to her room, and Sif followed closely behind. “So much doesn’t make sense these days, Sif. Why dwell on something as small as this?”

“Because it isn’t small! What are you planning to do at the feast tonight? Dance with Fandral in front of the man you actually love?”

They walked into her room and Sif sat at the edge of the bed. “We’re still friends. That much hasn’t changed, it never will.”

“You are not friends, Zera. That vessel has long left the port, it is miles into the ocean, you can no longer see it from the shore. You kissed! You confessed love for one another in terms that lead me to assume that you won’t find similar loves any time soon, but one meeting in a library closet and all of a sudden you’ve returned to acting as if you aren’t madly in love with each other. You two will spend eternities suffering so long as you don’t risk hearing whispers of your names as you pass the kitchen. It’s amazing how you two are made for each other, you’re really bound at the soul, because you both act as if you have everything under control when there are some things you can’t control.”

Zera chuckled. “We have this under control!” She opened her closet and examined all of her gowns. “It seems strange now but us remaining platonic was just the wisest decision. Was my red dress too much at the last feast?”

Sif nodded. “It was the dress with that hair, you looked like a ball of fire…” Zera sighed and shuffled through her other gowns. Sif kept trying to make sense of Zera and Thor’s ‘agreement’ “I realize that this may be the sensible thing, never before have I heard of a librarian queen, sure, but never have I heard of a match like you two. You work with each other like the stars do the sky. And he just adores you. I’m sure someone else will one day, but not like that, Zera. It can’t be healthy to just pretend to not love each other.”

“I know.”

“Is it not worth the risk?”

“To risk it going wrong and compromising everything we have? I don’t think so.”

“Do you think pursuing this isn’t worth the risk, or do you think that you are not worth the risk?” Sif asked. “Who could convince you that you are unworthy of Thor? Because it certainly wasn’t Thor who did it.”

“It isn’t a matter of me being worthy, it is a matter of us being practical.”

“Oh screw practicality! You and Thor both operate on emotion and you’re forcing yourselves to do otherwise.” There was a knock on the door. Sif got up to answer while Zera searched through her closet for the perfect gown for the feast. “Besides, it’s not as if the other son of Odin has made any wise choices in terms of who he’s been choosing to share a bed with.”

As if on cue, the person knocking at the door was Audhild with her hair in perfect braids and curls. She seemed to now glow from her exploits with Loki, and her grin was nothing short of self-satisfied. “Hello Sif.”

Sif grimaced. “Audhild…”

“How lovely it is to see you here, still smelling like a battlefield.”

“Rather a battlefield than a brothel...” Sif replied. Audhild cocked her head to the side. “Sweet, you must truly be as dense as I’d always assumed to not think that Loki has told most of us what you two have been doing.”

“If he’s pleased enough to want to tell all of you what we’ve been doing, then I don’t see it as a detriment to me whatsoever.”

Zera turned. “Have you really been with Loki, Audhild?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Has Thor not told you?”

“Thor tends to not share details of his brother’s personal life with me, figures that be his business.”

“Oh… So, he hasn’t mentioned it?”

She shook her head. “He mentioned that you were in good spirits, but that was all.”

“Oh… Oh well, that’s um-”

“This is the gown!” Zera turned around holding a lavender colored gown against her body. “Isn’t this the mostly lovely color? Audhild, I’m glad you’re here! It’s good to have second opinions.”

Sif smiled. “That’s the one! It would look fantastic with the bronze armbands you bought.”

“Thank you! What do you think, Audhild?”

Audhild stared at her. It certainly was a lovely color, especially with Zera’s dark skin and fiery hair. Wearing that dress, she would hold the attention of everyone in the room. Everyone…

“It suits you, yes…” Audhild said. “You would look wonderful…”

Zera smiled. “Thank you, this is the dress I will wear.”

“I heard Fandral will be dancing with you tonight,” Audhild said. “Here I was thinking you would never give him a chance.”

She shook her head. “It’s not exactly a chance… Fandral’s a friend, it’s nothing serious.”

The blonde girl giggled. “He always beds the maidens he dances with, Zera!”

“That’s not true… He’s just a flirt…”

Sif scrunched up her face. “He does have a bit of a talent for that…”

Zera scoffed. “Not with me!”

“Don’t worry, when a quick song is played, I’ll sweep Fandral out of your arms. Maybe Audhild will lend you Loki for a moment.”

Audhild forced a grin at that. “Maybe so.”


 

The feast began uproariously, with a toast from Odin celebrating another victory at his sons’ hands. The bards played quick triumphant songs, and everyone drank to their hearts’ content. Even Heimdall joined the merriment.

“Tell me, gatekeeper, how it appears on Vanaheim,” Hogun requested.

Heimdall grinned. “All is well, they are at peace, my friend. Peace without you there acting as a trouble maker.”

Fandral laughed and eyed a woman across the room. “Hogun doesn't make trouble, trouble follows him.”

“You would know, wouldn't you?” Thor asked with a laugh beginning to rumble in his voice. He looked around the room, then back at his friends.

“Where's Sif tonight?”

“Probably with Zera.” Fandral said.

Loki nodded. “Audhild last saw her getting ready with Zera.” Thor took a long drink of his mead and Loki watched with a concerned eye. “Pace yourself, the night’s just begun.”

“I know.”

“I hope the music slows by the time Zera arrives,” Fandral remarked. “I’ve finally worn her down to agreeing to dance with me.” The others groaned, except for Thor.

“I have a feeling that if you keep telling everyone, she’ll change her mind,” Volstagg said.

“What gives you that feeling?”

“Having known her for years now gives me that feeling.”

“The only person here who knows Zera down to a science is Thor, and he hasn’t said a word on the matter so I’ll assume he’s on my side.”

“Certainly…”

Thor took another drink and, when he lowered his glass, Sif walked in with Zera. Although he’d seen her a thousand times, he was made breathless. Her lavender gown seemed to float around her body, cinching at her waist. She’d braided small flowers into her hair, the way her mother did when she was young, and her makeup made her appear to glow. He stared as she made her way over to her mother, who was pouring drinks into mens’ glasses on the other side of the hall.

“Good evening, mother!”

Cathenna smiled wide at her daughter and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You look lovely. You do as well, Lady Sif.”

“Thank you, mother. You’re really sweating, tell me you aren’t overworking yourself.”

“Zera, I’m fine. I may be getting older but I feel quite young, my sweet.”

She sighed. “I know, I’m sorry. I just worry.”

Cathenna caressed her daughter’s cheek. “That’s the consequence of having such a caring daughter. Go dance! Don’t drink too much.”

Sif patted Zera on the shoulder. “I’ll watch her, Lady Cathenna.”

“Thank you, Sif.”

The girls danced for a while before walking over to the other warriors, where they were greeted with whistles and replied with eye-rolls. Sif locked eyes with Fandral and pinched his ear. “It’s as if you buffoons have never seen women before.”

Fandral cried out in pain and tried pulling her hand away from his ear. “What is your problem?”

“We have much to discuss, Fandral.”

Sif dragged him out towards the dancing crowd, and he looked back at Zera. “I’ll be back in a moment!”

Zera grinned and sat in Fandral’s place beside Thor. They didn’t look at each other. Cathenna walked over to them and poured Zera some mead, and not a word or glance was exchanged.

Meanwhile, Sif was treating Fandral to a few rather violent dance moves, and her pretty smile hid the fact that she was threatening him through gritted teeth.

“You asked Zera to dance with you?!” she hissed. “All of the years I have spent trying to get her and Thor to admit their feelings and you compromise it in one fell swoop. You really are something, Fandral. You are a marvel.”

“Pardon me? I’m on your side. I know Thor as well as you do, and the only way to get him to be vulnerable with someone is to push him to it.”

“So you’re trying to make him jealous.”

“Now you’ve got it!”

She swatted him on the back of the head. “You realize that is the most idiotic ‘plan’ you’ve come up with?”

The music shifted to another quick song, and Fandral raised a blond eyebrow. “Are you sure I’m not actually a genius?”

“Quite sure.”

In his usual dramatic fashion, he started making his way back to Zera. “Well, Sif, prepare to be proven wrong!” He extended his hand to Zera. “Will you do me the honor of this dance, Zera?”

She smirked. “Are you quite done being tossed around by Sif?”

He laughed. “Don’t encourage her.”

Zera took his hand and they started dancing. They were quickly joined by Audhild and Loki, but Thor stayed seated and stayed drinking. Zera drank quite a bit too just in that short frame of time while she was sitting. It really was a recipe for disaster.

The time came in the song for them to switch partners. Before Audhild could protest, Sif pushed Loki towards Zera and grabbed Fandral.

“Now you’re getting it!” Fandral exclaimed.

“There’s just one problem, Thor isn’t dancing.”

“Look again.”

Sif turned and saw that Thor had in fact joined the dancing, pretending to enjoy himself with the girl who’d asked him to dance earlier. When they switched partners, Audhild quickly moved to Thor, and Zera twirled into Hogun’s arms.

“What are you two scheming?” Loki asked Sif as he grabbed her waist to dance.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s only Fandral, I refuse to take credit for this.”

Thor was now close to Zera, ready for the next partner switch, but then a smiling Fandral swooped in at the last moment, seizing her away from him. He knew this would work, it would have to.

Just a bit drunk and more than a bit jealous, Thor nudged Fandral with his elbow once, thinking Zera wouldn’t notice. Then nudged him again, harder, and that time she noticed.

“What are you doing? Are you drunk?” she asked. Her being drunk herself didn’t help the question’s tone.

“No,” he said. “It was an accident.”

“Oh please!” She stepped away from Fandral. “You’ve been acting cold this entire night. You didn’t even greet me when I walked in, that’s not like you. What are you upset about?”

“I’m not upset!” She huffed and took his hand. “Where are we going?”

“Away from here.”

Zera pulled Thor outside of the hall and the palace, out to the garden, where she knew no one else would be and it would be quiet. They were in the dark of the night. With only light from the palace windows and the stars allowing them to see one another.

“I know why you’re doing that to Fandral and it’s awful. You’re never mean to Fandral.”

He took a deep breath of the fresh air and tried to sober himself. A minute passed before he could gather all that he wanted to say. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t control myself,” he said, genuinely. “I’m sorry that I saw you with Fandral and… Something went wrong.”

She softened a bit, but didn’t let him win just yet. “You couldn’t control yourself?”

“I’m trying, Zera. I’m trying to honor what you want and hide what I feel for you, but it’s hard.”

“Do you think I don’t know how you feel? We are partners in this, as we have been partners since we were young, I pulled you away from the feast because I saw that you needed to cool yourself, that is what partners do. If you are so certain that you won’t be able to handle seeing me with other men, then tell me so and I will keep it out of your sight.”

No amount of mead could have prepared Thor for hearing that fall from Zera’s lips. Even if she were with other men out of his sight, he would know. He would know why she wasn’t there. He would probably be able to guess who it was she was with. It wouldn’t hurt any less than seeing it for himself.

“No, please, don’t think to spare me that way. Have your fun, I won’t say a word.”

She crossed her arms. “Don’t think of it that way…”

“There’s no other way to think of it. You are within your rights to see other men and I shouldn’t stand in your way.”

“The tone you're taking isn’t nearly as compromising as your words.”

“Because I’d be lying through my teeth if I pretended to be fine with seeing you that close to someone else.”

“I know you aren’t fine with it!” she exclaimed. “I’ve barely come to terms with it myself, don’t you understand that, Thor? I only wanted one man this entire night! I thought that if I danced with other men, it would take my mind off of him, but it hasn’t! Then he makes an ass of himself, and for some reason I love him even more, it’s madness! Don’t you see? There is no one like you, Thor! In fact, if were to let anyone in that hall have me tonight, it would have been you!” Thor took a step back. Hearing her say that sobered him instantly, it sobered them both. She looked down, tears rolling down her face. She wiped them quick, smudging her eye makeup.  “I-I didn’t mean to say that, I’m drunk.”

“No, I shouldn’t have been so inconsiderate of you, Zera. Please forgive me.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want this to be us, this is exactly what I’d feared…” she said. “That if we became something more than what we have always been, that we will grow old and resentful of each other. That we will miss all of the freedom of our youth. I didn’t want you to find one morning that I am the thing that keeps you from feeling full.”

He shook his head. “Don’t ever think that you are anything less than the very thing that keeps my life whole.” Thor drew her close to him, holding her tight to his chest. She needed that, his strong arms around her. She need the contact with him. He smelled like mead and royal perfumes and she was intoxicated more by him than by the drink.

She looked up at him. Their faces held expressions as if they were in a haze, but the moment was so vivid, and they were so lucid. They couldn’t be anything but present in each other’s arms. It was a warmth that demanded to be felt without hindrance.

“I probably look horrible right now,” she said. “That is the last time I drink well above my limit.”

Thor laughed. “I think you look beautiful.”

She grinned. “A lovely compliment from the golden Son of Odin, I should feel so flattered.”

“You should, maidens are begging to dance with me tonight.”

“And yet you are here in an empty hallway with me, that’s generous. Spending time with your subjects is truly charitable.”

“Perhaps if they all looked like you, Kings would spend all of their time among their subjects...” He stared into her eyes. They hadn’t moved from each other’s arms, and the feast was so far beyond them that they couldn’t even think of returning.

"What are we doing, Thor?" she asked him. "What are we really doing?"

"I'm not sure."

She sighed. "We have to make a final decision right now, are we taking the plunge or are going to keep hiding this thing that's driving a wedge between us?"

He swallowed. “It's rather cold tonight, Zera. Are you not cold out here?”

She shook her head slowly, noticing the starry look in his eyes, but not feeling an urgency to pull away from it. That was his answer. She understood him perfectly. “I’m never cold, Thor.”

“Right…”

“But if you’re cold, we should go inside where it’s warm.” She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. "Can I keep you warm tonight?"

“Are you sure, Zera?” he asked. “Because once we cross that threshold, there is no returning for me.” She stood back and took his hand. Thor could feel his heart racing. She was deadly serious. This wasn’t in his imagination. “Light the way, my love, and I will follow.”

Chapter Text

In her dreams, Zera often saw herself tending to brown-skinned children who smiled like Thor. Sometimes she'd dream of waking up beside him. Sometimes it was just her, him, and the glow of the Nine Realms above them.

Tonight felt like one of those dreams.

They didn't start right away. Zera started undoing her dress but then abruptly stopped to say a few words about the moment.

“Have you had many girls in this bed?” she asked.

“A few, yes.”

She bit her lip. “My mother told me once that being with an experienced man was preferred because they know what it is they're doing. You have much experience so this must really be fortune smiling on me, I suppose.”

“Smiling on us both, Zera,” he said. “You're nervous.”

She laughed. “Me? No. I trust you.”

“Trust me or not, your face deceives you, my love. We mustn't do anything until you're comfortable and feeling safe.”

“Damn my face..."

“Are you ready, Zera? I need an answer or I won't touch you tonight. I need you to tell me with confidence that you want this, on this night and with me.”

“Still my nerves, you are usually so adept at knowing what I require to feel at ease.”

“Tonight I don’t wish to read your mind, I want to hear you speak it.”

Zera cleared her throat. “Will it hurt?”

“It might be a bit uncomfortable at points.”

“Am I ruining it?”

He chuckled. “No, I appreciate the questions, you have always been so cautious, dear one, do you have any more questions?”

“Will I be a secret?”

“Is that what you want?” She looked down and he lifted her head back up. “It is entirely up to you, my love. I will understand either way.”

“Can we save that conversation for later?”

“Absolutely.”

Thor’s gentleness made her heart flutter, even more than it always had. He didn’t have to be gentle with her, he could have told her anything if this were just about his pleasure. As pleasurable as this night would turn out to be, to Thor this was more than carnal desire. Zera was his everything, he wanted her to believe it.

Zera looked into his soft blue eyes and reached out, pressing a nervous hand on his chest. Her body was already heating up from the inside, like a furnace. She needed relief. She needed to work up a sweat.

“Be soft with me, son of Odin,” she said.

There was a mischievous glimmer in her eyes as she took a step back and worked at undoing the final latches on the bodice of her dress. Thor kept his eyes on hers, dark pupils starting to grow as his desire took over him. She let the gown fall to her feet then sat herself on the bed for display. Thor almost couldn’t believe how gorgeous she was like this, lying on his bed, red hair cascading over her shoulders and breasts. Her warm dark skin shining in the light from the window. She was all curves, thick thighs, a full waist, full breasts. Everything seemed so soft when her clothes were on, he could only imagine how soft her naked form was.

His Zera was a firestarter by birth, and now was no exception.

“By the Nine, that bodice was tight.” she whispered.

Thor laughed and started stripping off his own clothes. “Who did you ask to assist you in putting it on? Sif?”

“Aye, it was Sif.”

“Alert me before doing that again, I’ll be as happy to help you dress as I am to see you undressed.”

She rolled her eyes. “Will you hurry up?”

He was naked now, and he slowly climbed into the bed, giving Zera time to admire his sculpted, immaculate body. He was all muscle now. His golden locks shined as brightly as his eyes, and he had something to be quite proud of between his legs. A beautiful man, inside and out, and he was her’s now.

His face hovered over hers as he made his way between her legs, planting his hands on either side of her shoulders. With a cheeky smile he asked, “You dare rush the future king of Asgard?”

She giggled. “The future king of Asgard is so slow.”

“This is something to savor, sweet one.”

He pressed his lips to hers and they kissed like two lovers who'd just reunited after a long period apart. Thor was dominant, leading her lips and her tongue with a force that she matched with equal fervor. She ran her soft fingertips across his muscular shoulders and down his back. She was still shaking a bit from nervousness, Thor took note of that and pulled away from her lips. He kissed her cheeks and whispered more assurances that he'd never hurt her, never.

Zera almost didn't know how to feel when Thor ran his hand across her thigh and in between, then started touching the place that had never been touched. At first, his fingers felt foreign, cold in comparison, but soon they warmed up and so did she.

“Thor…” she moaned.

It was almost too much for the warrior to handle, so he focused on the task at hand.

Her eyes widened when he found her clit and rolled across it with his thumb. She writhed beneath his heavy body but he held her down, kissing the skin on her neck and chest. He was using his other arm to support himself as his tongue grazed one of her brown nipples, causing it to become erect. His tongue felt cold on her skin, too. For some reason, she found that that alone was turning her on.

He licked and teased her sensitive breasts, drawing louder and louder moans from his lover and, for a moment, he wondered if there was a type of magic that could have made this last forever. His fingers teased her entrance and he felt her tense under him so he leaned back up to her face and kissed her gently.

“I'm sorry.”

He shook his head and went back to rubbing her clit, which she liked very much. “Don’t apologize, your body is as bright as you are, it hasn't known a man yet, I am no exception. Relax, my love, I promise nothing you cannot handle. But I am curious about one thing...” He stroked his beard with his free hand and scrunched up his face. Zera laughed just as he'd hoped, he knew that would make her more comfortable.

“What are you curious about?”

Thor pulled himself over the edge of the bed until his head was resting comfortably beneath her thighs. She could feel his cool breath against her wetness and let out a small whimper. She needed him to touch her, right here and now. “I need to know how you taste.”

He spread her thighs apart and held them still as his mouth went to taste her for the first time. His tongue licked the juices dripping from her lips, and he groaned. She tasted divine. Sweet, like the honey that made mead, and warm too. He'd never tasted another like her.

He was a master of his tongue. He would try anything to get her moaning and it worked. Her sweet mewls were like music to his ears. Thor thought he died and gone to Valhalla.

Zera was speechless. His tongue was working her over quicker than she'd thought. She was panting now, tears pricked the corners of her eyes as her body felt pleasures it couldn't have dreamt of.

Zera's first orgasm would be by Thor's tongue. She felt it build, quick, overwhelming. Her body tensed and Thor felt it and licked at her clit, eager to have her sweetness on his beard. Her mouth opened wide and her eyes squeezed shut and she came with a loud cry. Thor's slurping was drowned by her moans. He wouldn't stop his assault on her clit and she came a second time.

He slowed down and then pulled away, lifting himself back up to her lips. She could taste her sweetness on her tongue, his head was still baffled by her taste.

“My love, have I soothed your nerves?” he asked. She could feel his hard length against her inner thigh, and she whimpered with a need to be filled. She'd never before felt so empty, so wanting, so wet.

“What you do with your tongue could soothe the nerves of a beast.”

He laughed into her shoulder and kissed it tenderly. “You had me drunk.”

“May I show you the things I've read?” she asked. “I can't be the only one with nerves that need soothing.”

He quirked up a brow. “What is it you had in mind?”

She pushed him onto his back. “I've never done this so patience would be much appreciated…”

“Zera, you d-”

She put her finger to his lips. “I want to serve my prince as he has served me.”

She climbed on top of him and kissed him. She kissed his lips, his neck, his shoulders, his broad chest. She licked and kissed his abs, making him moan her name as she did his. As her lips reached his hips, her hand wrapped around his long, thick shaft, making it twitch. It was aching and hard and pink and the sight of it made her mouth water. A bead of precum trickled out and she licked from his base to tip.

“Zera…” he groaned.

She teased his head with the tip of her soft tongue before taking him into her mouth as best she could. She lifted her head and then took more, until he was hitting the back of her warm, tight throat. His eyes rolled back and he tried so hard to stay still and make this easier for her. The sounds he made were filthy, accompanied by a crack of thunder beyond his bedroom window.

“Oh my dear, you have read well indeed…” He propped himself up on his elbows and petted her hair. “I underestimated you. Oh, Zera…”

His head fell back and he gripped the sheets at his sides. She experimentally hollowed her cheeks, holding him tightly between her lips. His fingers tangled in her hair, the warrior prince, completely under her control. Rain mixed in with the thunder now, the storm raging quietly outside no match for the storm inside. Thor couldn't be silent as she bobbed her head on him, he could only resist fucking her beautiful mouth for so long. He could feel himself getting close, but he didn't want to cum this way.

“P-Please, sweet Zera, grant me this…” he said hoarsely, but with the dominance typical of Thor. She slowed but didn't stop, making him hiss as he held back his release. “I want to feel your cunt wrapped around me before this night is done, I need it as I need blood in my veins.”

She lifted her mouth from him and he had her on her back in moments. Thor was addicted to her now. He could barely pull his lips away from her for a moment. He'd loved her his entire life and that love seemed to grow by the second, with every breath she took, with every sound she made, with every inch of dark skin that he kissed.

He readied himself at her entrance and felt her tense again. She wanted to kick herself, she shouldn't have been nervous, this was Thor. He was her lover but he was also her closest friend, a man she trusted more than all else. She felt awful for her body not trusting him here to be gentle with her.

Thor didn't say a word about it. He didn't seem to mind. He just stared into her eyes with a wide, dreamy grin.

“I love you,” he said. “I would battle with the very stars in the sky for you.”

She smiled up at him. “I can believe it, you never have turned down a fight.”

“I would if you told me to.”

“No, you would argue with me and then go off to fight anyway.”

He laughed. “If I do that just wrap your arms around me, and I'll remember where my time is much better spent.”

Zera was lovesick. Those words made her stomach flutter and all she wanted to do was spend days in bed with him, just like this. She loved him so much, she absolutely did.

“Mark me,” she said. “I want to wear you on my skin, I want to belong to you and only to you, Thor.”

“Aye, I will mark you.” His tip slowly pushed into her swollen, wet lips, and he groaned as he slowly entered her. “You are mine and I am yours.”

He pulled out slightly, and pushed back in, further this time. She gasped, feeling slight discomfort at the new sensation, but keeping her eyes on Thor's. She reached up to touch him and he laced his fingers with hers as he pulled slightly out and then back in again until he was fully seated. He stopped for moment to let her adjust. She slowly breathed through the discomfort and he held her chin, turning her head to give him access to her neck. Then he bit her, something she would never have expected to make her moan and writhe underneath him. He bit and licked and sucked hard trying to bruise her, to mark her like he said he would. While his mouth was latched to her skin, he slowly moved inside of her, and she sighed blissfully. He filled her totally, and her heat accepted him as if he'd belonged there.

The storm was still going outside, allowing a cool breeze through the windows as the girl with the fire burning within her made love with the god of thunder.

Their fingers stayed laced together and Thor found himself lost in the feel of her around him. She soothed every ache, like sitting by a fire place, drinking mead, or having a laugh. He stretched her, feeling pulled in by her heat. He started adding speed and power to his thrusts, little by little. It was enough to have her really singing for him. Moaning his name over and over.

He looked down where their bodies met and moaned. “Look how well you're taking me, my Zera…” he whispered. “You feel so good, you're perfect…”

Everyone was still at the feast there was no one else within walking distance of them, no one could hear them, they could only see the storm.

“I want... to mark… more of you.” He pulled out for a moment and she whined, pulling a chuckle from his throat. “Only for a second, Zera.”

He helped her onto her knees with her hands holding onto the headboard. He held her waist kissing behind her back, she moved her hair and he kissed her reverently along her spine. One of his hands wandered down to her bottom and she giggled.

“You never could keep your hands off of my bum.”

He smiled and leaned close to her ear. “I don't know why you assumed I would start now.”

Just as he'd done before, he bit down into the skin on her shoulder blade, reentering her in a single stroke. She cried out from pleasure, rolling her hips back against him. They found their rhythm again and went on from there. The room was spinning with the heat from her body and breeze from the storm mixing with the scent of sex and sounds of them grunting, sighing, and moaning. As their momentum increased, skin slapped against skin. Thor's fingers and teeth dug into her flesh. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her back on him, away from the headboard. He reached between her sweat-slick thighs, finding her clit and rubbing it in quick circles while he hit her most sensitive spot. Now she was screaming for him. Had there been anyone around to hear, they would've heard every filthy syllable of it.

“Yes! Thor, please, Thor, don't stop!” Her pitch got higher as she felt her third orgasm building. He was close too but he wanted her to cum first. “Yes, yes, please!”

He could barely hold himself back with her sounding like that. He needed to finish soon. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her head back towards him so he could see her face. “For me, Zera. Cum. For. Me. Ze. Ra.”

She took a sharp breath as she reached her peak. Mouth forming an 'O’ as the elastic was pulled further and further before finally snapping. She came, loudly, almost painfully around him. Her head fell back and he kissed her neck, still going at the same pace through her release as he found his own. With one last cry of her name he spilled into her, every drop of him. His hips snapped forward, and she was so spent she didn't even move with him.

They stayed like that for a moment, catching their breaths, and he pulled out. It took a while to come back, the storm finally began to calm and Zera's body cooled against Thor's chest.

“Damn…”

“Aye…”

“That was far from the worst thing we've ever done together.”

Thor grinned. “And you still have the energy for wit, I suppose I truly have found my match.”

She giggled and turned to him, capturing his lips in a gentle, slow kiss. “If you've gotten me pregnant, I will kill you, son of Odin.”

He rolled his eyes. “I'll bring you something to assure that won't happen, my love.”

She sighed, not wanting to leave him or the bed. “I should go.”

“Why not stay with me for the night?”

“Because everyone will know what happened if I'm crawling out of your chambers in my gown with my hair absolutely everywhere, Thor.” She kissed him on the cheek and climbed out of the bed on aching thighs. She gathered her gown and quickly pulled it back on. “Besides, I have work tomorrow, and need sleep, and I doubt I'd be sleeping if I stayed here.”

Thor smiled and laid back. “That is a correct assumption.”

She smirked. “Yes, exactly, so I'm leaving.” She walked over to him and kissed him again. “I love you.”

“That's adorable.”

She giggled and turned to leave. “I’ll get you for that somehow.”

She left his room and Thor stared up at the ceiling, still only a prince but feeling like a king.

When Zera returned to her room she first went to shower. She didn't want to wash any of Thor from her, not his smell or his sweat, but she knew she had too. When she stepped out of the shower, she looked in the mirror and saw deep purple marks on her neck and shoulders, and she smiled.

“I am yours and you are finally mine…”

It was all starting to come together now.

Chapter Text

The morning after the feast was quiet. Everyone was returning to sobriety and their work. If it were a good night, everyone would be in a good mood. Still, Queen Frigga found her eldest’s giddiness to be something remarkable.

She sat down for breakfast and Thor grinned at her. “Does the morning find you well, mother?”

“Hm,” she said. “About as well as any other, my son. You're in particularly lifted spirits.”

“Last night was lovely, don't you think?”

She nodded. “But I didn't see you after a certain point.”

“Zera and I left early to walk through the forest as always. It was something we both needed, I suppose.”

“She left Fandral alone?”

“He found a partner in Sif when I saw him last.”

She laughed. “Oh dear, sounds like trouble.”

“It very much was.”

Frigga looked at her son, hoping his body language would give away the truth. She had an idea of where he went with Zera, but she didn't have proof. She wouldn't bring up the storm that raged, he would never have admitted to being the cause. “I'm glad that you and Zera are on speaking terms, you hadn't spoken much about her over the past few mornings. I was beginning to feel concerned.”

“Worry not, mother. My relationship with Zera is precious to me. Only a fool would allow themselves to drift apart from a friend like her.”

“She is a valuable friend, a beautiful girl, like her mother. I remember how adorable she was when she was younger and her red hair overcame most of her face unless it had been braided back.”

Thor smiled. “She is...very beautiful.”

“Whoever she marries will be so lucky,” Frigga said. “I have seen her loyalty to you, I could imagine such loyalty to a lover.”

He shook his head, idly running his index finger on his thumb as he reflected on his years with Zera. "Zera deserves someone who will admire her, and admire the way she won't be loyal to someone who would not be good to her. She takes care of herself first, and she should. I know I've certainly valued the times where she has told me outright that I'm being thick-skulled."

“Here I was thinking I’d done that enough.”

“Of course you have, mother. No one can replicate the lessons you’ve taught me.”

She grinned. “I know, I’m only joking. Zera is a woman of sound mind. She’s very rational. You need someone like her.”

“Like her? There is no one like Zera.”


Meanwhile, Zera was back to work. She hadn't done much to wrangle her curls that morning, and she wore a dress that hid most of the dark marks of passion from her night with Thor.

She couldn't stop thinking about it, not just the sex but the way he looked at her. There was a love in his eyes that she thought was only written about in poetry and mostly reserved for girls who looked like Sif. But she knew what she had with Thor was uniquely theirs, and that made it all the more special.

She hummed a pretty tune while checking that all books were in their proper places, and then Audhild strolled in. She'd just finished waking the Frigga, and she had time to kill before she was needed at her side once more.

Zera turned to her and grinned. “Don’t think ill of me, but I find myself so bemused when you come here…” She crossed her arms. “Is there a book that the All-Mother wants?”

She shook her head. “Actually, Zera, since Loki and I have become somewhat of an item and he is so well-read, I wanted to start reading more.”

Zera nodded. That made sense, she'd never known Loki to spend much time around a mind he couldn't prod into. “That's very sweet, what did you have in mind? Or would you like something that Loki himself has read?”

Audhild cleared her throat. “Do you know the reading habits of the princes fairly well?”

“Yes, I do. It is my job to know everyone's reading habits." She combed her hair out of her face and ran her fingers along the spines of the books while she searched for something that Audhild would be interested in. "Let me think... Loki is very much into magical tales and stories of trickery. Thor is far more interested in old lore. Most people don't envision him as a reader, but he will read anything if I say it is worthwhile. Oh, Odin is funny, he-”

“I think Thor and I are fairly similar, what would Thor read?”

The librarian blinked slowly as she dug into her vast memory, and then walked along the stacks looking for the section on her mind. Audhild stayed still where she was, watching carefully as if she were tracking Zera's every move.

After moments of searching, Zera found a book that Thor loved. “This one is quite fun, not a difficult read.” She brought the book over to her. “Anything else?”

“Are there any books on your people?”

Zera pointed to herself. “Like my race? My realm? My mother’s homeland?” Audhild nodded and she thought about it. “Yes, there is one, my mother had me read it when I was young. Aye, you have an interest in my dead realm? When did this come about, Audhild?”

“A sudden curiosity,” she said. “The woman who caught Fandral's eye must come from a strong bloodline.”

Zera chuckled. “There are many who've caught his eye, as well as other parts of him I would rather not dwell on.”

Audhild cocked her head to the side. “You and Fandral are not... Courting?”

Zera shook her head. “I hold a great fondness for Fandral, but he and I are nothing more than good friends.”

"So who was it you disappeared with during the-"

“The morning looks well on you, Zera!” She looked up and saw Thor standing in the doorway with a smile on his face. “I thought such a late night would wear on your face but not a thing has changed since we said goodnight to one another, my friend.”

My friend. Zera had to laugh at that. “Spare me the poetry, I read enough in a day.”

"That hair is poetry, I don't think I've seen you wear it completely loose in ages. You look..." Remembering that they were in mixed company, Thor turned to the other woman in the room. “If it isn't too much to ask, may we have some privacy, Audhild?”

She shook her head. “It isn't much to ask at all, I am your servant.”

He put his hand on her shoulder and she looked down. “You are a friend, dear Audhild. Never forget that.”

Zera grabbed the book on her realm and handed it to Audhild. “Enjoy! Please come to my room anytime to share your thoughts on the first one, it becomes so scandalous in the middle.” Audhild gave her a grin and walked off. Zera watched her go over Thor's shoulder. "She's gone. Finish your thoughts on my hair."

"With your hair down and untouched, you look so free." he whispered. "I look at you and instantly think of the forest, so free and absolutely stunning."

"And you swear you don't have a way with words."

"This morning, I could think of nothing but how I sorely missed holding you in my arms, never before has my bed felt so empty. Tell me, love, do you regret it? Did the morning bring you clarity?”

Zera shook her head. “Unfortunately, when my eyes opened this morning I found that my heart was still bound to you despite the ache in my thighs.”

Thor chuckled. He pulled her somewhere quieter and kissed her with a chastity that he certainly didn't have the night before. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down and kissing him deeper.

When they pulled away, Zera smiled at him. “You may not practice magic but those lips have done something strange to me.”

“I think it's your magic. I've never seen lips so fit to be kissed.” She kissed him again and he smiled against her lips. “I want to have a moment with you. When you are done your day's work here, meet me in the forest, in our place between the trees.” Thor tucked her hair behind her ear. “I only wish to talk.”

She furrowed her brows. "Is it something serious?"

"Quite..." A smile betrayed his serious tone. "I love you and I want us to be alone."

She giggled. “I can't refuse such an offer. I will meet you there, in our place.”

“Good.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small flask of white liquid. “I recalled you saying last night that you were worried about possibly becoming pregnant so I brought something to remedy that. All you would need is a single drop.”

“Thank you, Thor.”

“Anything for you.” He kissed her one last time. "Sorry for the ache in your thighs, your body has me rapt, my firestarter."

"Any more compliments, my love, and you will have me feeling overconfident."

"Good."


When night fell, Thor stood in the forest waiting in the tree. His heart could barely rest as he looked out for Zera's light. Eventually he saw it and her, crossing the garden and going quickly and quietly into the woods. He jumped from the tree. When she saw him, she smiled and ran over to him, nearly knocking him back as she threw herself into his arms.

He kissed her and then eyed the small sack in her hand. “Are there sweets in there?”

“Absolutely.”

“How many?”

“Enough to get me in trouble with my mother later if she finds out, which she always does.”

Thor shrugged and took the sweets from her. “As always, a risk well worth taking.”

She rolled her eyes. “To you? Of course it would be.”

He chuckled and they sat on the forest floor, eating and talking. Thor couldn't help himself now when he wanted to tell her how beautiful she was. Now that she was his, he wanted to say it all the time.

“If you do that when others are around, there will be whispers.” She reminded him.

He waved the thought away. “Let people whisper.”

“I just feel that we should wait before announcing ourselves to all of Asgard.”

He reached over to her and lifted her chin up. “Let people whisper,” he repeated in a tone meant to calm her anxiety. “We don’t have to say a single word of confirmation or denial. We will be as we have always been, and the people shall speculate as they have always speculated. Besides, we already know that Heimdall knows.”

Zera covered her face. “I’ve all but forgotten Heimdall and his all-seeing eyes.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t an unpleasant sight for him to see…” He stared at her, watching her become flustered and adorable with a full mouth of sweets and a sweet glitter in her eyes. “What is Valhalla worth when paradise is smiling in front of me?...”

“Thor, please. You are being too sweet with me. If you use all of your sweetness now, you might run out of it later.”

“One day our hair will grey, and I will have to settle down beside you in the fatigue of old age, and it will be lovely because I’ll be by your side. As my lover, yes. But, first and foremost, as my dearest friend. I will be as sweet to you then as I am now.”

“You see us growing old together… Then please be more careful in battles, Thor. I worry so much.”

“Why worry?”

She gave him a look that told him he probably knew why. “Your mouth can sometimes be louder than the bloodshed.”

“I will try, my love.”

She grinned. “I will know if you haven’t. Sif will tell.”

Thor smirked, running his hand along her arm. It tickled her a little, but she felt herself become flushed at Thor's light touch. "Will you be angry with me? Because I haven’t been the recipient of your anger for some time, so do not hesitate to remind me what it looks like.”

Zera dragged her tongue along the inside of her cheek and fed Thor a sweet. “Darling, you aren’t ready for that kind of fire.”

He leaned in close until their lips were so close that they could taste each other's sweet breath. "Then show me the fire I am ready for..."

Her fingers went to the fastens at the front of her dress, and she toyed with them a moment, not moving her face from his. "Here?"

"What better place than this?"

In a moment, his mouth was on hers. They quickly moved out of their clothes, petting and moaning. Desperate to feel what they'd felt the night before. Thor was so hungry for her now, his perfect Zera. He gave her every bit of him again and again, and each time she asked for it just once more. He became one with her, and the stars were their only audience as they marked their part of the forest floor. When they were done, they laid there naked, staring up and catching their breath.

"You were right," Zera told him. "What better place than this?"

Chapter Text

Loki was curious about Audhild.

Unlike the other girls in the palace, with the exception of Zera and Sif and a scattered few others who spoke to him on occasion, Audhild gave away so little. Other girls were practically tripping over themselves to let him and Thor know that they would make fit and pleasing brides. They paraded themselves around like trophies. He liked them for a night or two, but they were boring and empty to him. Audhild wasn't empty.

She knew her audience, that was for sure. She played the innocent servant girl role better than anyone. But sometimes Loki would catch her in a crowded room. Her eyes locked on people as if she were reading them. There was a world behind her eyes and he wanted to explore it.

“Do you want to walk with me?” Loki asked her. “Somewhere quiet?”

She shook her head and stared straight ahead through his bedroom window. “I am lost in thought as it is, I will be literally lost if I go following you royal lot through the forest the way Zera does.”

Loki laughed and traced his fingers down her back.  “Zera follows Thor because she fancies him,” he said. “Otherwise she is much like her mother, not keen on breaking rules.”

She turned towards him, a mass of blonde hair and blue eyes and the faint afterglow of sex. She was starting to smell like him. She didn’t mind, but it wasn’t a place in his bed that she was clamoring for. “Speaking of Cathenna, I'm reading a book about her realm," she told him. "The way she is described makes her sound like a princess, whose smile was the brightest the author had ever seen. I can barely imagine her smiling."

Loki raised an eyebrow. “That book by Zera's father? That's the one you’ve chosen to read? I find it interesting but I wouldn't have expected you to read it.”

“There are worlds and ways beyond Asgard, Loki. Not all of us are content with confining ourselves to this palace.”

He pulled her closer. “Since when do you feel that way?”

“I’ve always felt I was meant for more.”

“In that case, you’re far better off reading of realms that still very much exist.”

Audhild sighed and sat up. “I should go.”

“So soon?”

"I do have to work." She turned to him and grinned. “You wish for me to stay, Prince Loki?”

He shook his head. “No, but I do wish that there were a way I could read your mind, Audhild.”

“Why’s that?”

"Unlike most people, I feel I know even less about you the more we spend time together."

"I haven't the slightest idea why that is."

"Well, you've never shown much of an interest in reading or Zera before, suddenly you have an interest in both." He kissed along her shoulders and his hand idly ran down her arm. "I am obviously not complaining..."

She chuckled. "It sounds as if you are, Loki." She turned her whole body towards him and smiled. "Is there any reason in particular why this perplexes you so much, my prince?"

"Again, I can't read your mind, I have no idea what is going on behind those eyes. Of course... No, that can't be it..."

She blinked. "What can't be it, my prince?"

He was surprised that she fell so easily into that trap, but he imagined that she had already begun concocting several ways to dig her way out of it. "It's silly but, when we were younger, there were rumors that you were quite preoccupied with my brother and perhaps resented his friendship with Zera as a result."

She scoffed. "Oh those silly rumors."

Loki laughed, but watched her face closely for any sign of the mask starting to break. "Yes, they didn't exactly paint you in the best light, but that is all over now." He lifted her chin up. "You are mine, aren't you?"

"Yes, you don't even have to ask." Her eyebrows knit together. "Unless... Unless you believe those rumors." When Loki didn't immediately respond, she became angry. Her smile faded and she pushed herself from the bed and gathered her clothes. "Unbelievable..."

He chuckled. "Audhild, the rumors were not exactly unfounded."

"I found myself infatuated with your brother as a child, but I was child! I'm here with you now, isn't that proof enough?!"

"I've always felt that your heart was merely half-tethered to the idea of being with me."

"Half-tethered..." she whispered mockingly. "This is madness, Loki! You really think I still have feelings for your brother as an adult based on rumors started by who? Sif? She's always hated me."

"Well, there's that, but you and Zera aren't exactly friends either..."

“Is that a requirement for work in this palace?" She snapped. "Loving Zera? Although we are not the closest, I know that without her this palace would be a far different place. You should know that she was rather excited about me wanting to learn about her people. I’d thought you would be the same since you care for her so deeply... Or maybe that's it. Maybe you love Zera and you've been hiding it all these years. Maybe you're taking it all out on me."

He made an amused expression and pulled himself out of the bed. "I consider her to be family, but I could understand why someone would love her. I especially see why Thor does."

For a moment, he thought he'd caught it, a flash of hurt crossed her face. She repressed it about as quickly as it emerged, but it was there. He reached out and caressed her cheek. “Is that really why you’re doing this? For me?”

She looked into his eyes, making her own as round and soft as she could possibly manage. “Yes. I want you. Otherwise I would not be here, I'd be with him.”

Loki noted that statement, but stored it away, as it seemed to be a slip of the tongue. “You don’t strike me as the type to change herself for her lover.”

“Then what is my type?” She raised an eyebrow. When he didn’t answer, she chuckled. “As I thought. For a moment I deceived myself into thinking that you were more evolved than this. Of all the men I've met, I thought you would be beyond believing childish rumors."

She left his room, and Loki leaned with his back against the door. Audhild was under the false impression that she could out-wit him. The more time he spent with her, the more he saw that side of her which was cold and unfeeling. Because she was so golden, it was easy for her to conceal that nature, but Loki could see the mind behind those eyes moving in a dozen directions. Every movement she made outside of the privacy of her room was carefully orchestrated down to the blush on her cheeks. 

Too curious to stop himself, he waited a moment at his door, until he knew she’d made it to the end of the hall and turned the corner. He quickly assumed a disguise of one of the other maids and started to follow her. After turning the corner, Audhild hadn’t headed in the direction of her bedroom, she’d actually turned in the opposite direction, towards the garden. She was walking on light feet, swiftly, trying not to draw attention to herself by any means. Loki kept his distance behind her. She didn’t notice a thing. Audhild might have been calculating, but she wasn’t too observant.

She stood by a window and looked out into the forest. It was as if she were sure something was about to happen. It was quite early in the day, so at first Loki couldn't fathom what she was waiting for.

"What are you up to?..." he whispered, low enough that she wouldn't hear.

Soon he saw it. Thor and Zera walked hand and hand out of the trees, smiling and laughing. Zera was in her night gown, and Thor's hair was unbraided and undone. Thor pulled the hood of Zera's cloak over her head and kissed her hand before they parted ways. He'd seen them come from the forest dozens of times since they were children, but this was different. This was far different.

He turned to Audhild, who wasn’t pleased at all. In fact, she watched them as someone would watch a stranger wearing their old clothes. There was a deep rage in the tight expression on her face, but there was also a sense of deep loss. A loss of what, Loki wasn't entirely sure.

Loki cleared his throat, still in his maid's disguise. "Lady Audhild, I've been searching for you, we have to go attend to the All-Mother."

She turned to him. “Yes, Sigrid.”

Loki cocked his head to the side and walked closer. “Your hair is unkempt. Allow me to fix it before we attend to the queen.”

He took her hand and led her down the hall to her bedroom. When they got inside, Loki removed his disguise, and Audhild’s face froze. He laughed. "Oh, you vile, manipulative trickster! I ought to tell your mother that you've been spying on me!"

“You’re truly showing your indifference to Zera now aren’t you?” he asked her. “How long have you known about them?”

She swallowed. “Long enough,” she replied. “They've only been an item for a week or two. It’s none of your business.”

“I feel that it is, Audhild, because they are none of yours.” He moved closer to her. “I knew you could never recover from your childhood obsession with my brother.”

She pushed Loki away. “I am not obsessed!”

“Why don’t I believe that?”

“Because you’re an arrogant boy and you don’t know anything about me,” she told him, coldly. She huffed and started making her hair neater.

"You stood by a window and waited for them as if you have memorized their routine, is that not obsession? Did you follow them out into the forest last night, too?"

“I'm watching over Thor. I'm a protector of the throne.”

“No, you are not. Sif is. The Warriors Three are. You have no connection to the throne. As it stands, the closest you will be getting to the throne is cleaning it.”

She slapped him hard on the face, and instantly pulled back with a gasp. The slap left a bright red mark on his cheek, and his eyes widened in shock, as no one had ever dare do that to him. At first she seemed apologetic, but she didn’t apologize. She just went back to attending to her hair, and adopted a softer tone.

“If you felt this way about me all this time, then why allow me to sleep with you?”

Loki rubbed his cheek. She took a few cautious steps away from him. “Why did you even come to me, I wonder?”

She glared at him. “Because I thought you would take him off of my mind.”

“Liar.”

She stared at him for a moment and she knew he wasn't falling for it. That meant that he couldn't possibly help her. She didn't need him anymore.

“You should go,” she told him. “You don’t belong here and, frankly, we don’t belong together.”

Loki watched her expression go neutral as she crossed the room. His eyes moved back over to her vanity, and he noticed a familiar looking necklace dangling from her mirror. He walked closer to it to ensure that his eyes had not deceived him. It was an old necklace of his mother’s, one she’d thrown out long ago. It had a purple stone dangling from a golden chain. Loki eyed the familiar thing, then waited for Audhild to walk into the bathroom so that he could quickly grab it.

“I will miss our nights together, certainly.” He said. He slipped the lost necklace into his pocket and opened the door. “You are quite beautiful, Audhild. Don’t waste it before it’s gone.”

“I’m not planning to waste it, not for very much longer.”

Chapter Text

“Do you suppose that if you were to travel far enough on different realms that you will find someone exactly like you on each one?” Zera asked Thor. “Imagine it: same faces, mannerisms, voices, but different clothes. Different lives.”

He thought about it, stroking his beard and grinning. “Does that mean that there might have been a version of me on your mother's realm?”

She shrugged. “Who's to say? I might have ended up with him instead.”

“I don't think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don't desire to think so.”

They laughed, reminding themselves that they were hiding before they got too loud. They were in a quiet corner of the library. Thor had just gotten back from two weeks away, and he'd told her a story of someone on the realm they visited looking something like Sif. Of course, Zera found that absolutely hysterical.

Having been together for about four months now, they'd established a bit of a routine. When they knew that others would be awake, they'd keep their sweet words in whispers, go somewhere quiet. When others were sleeping, they would go back to his room, make all the noise they wanted, the storm would muffle the sound anyway.

Zera was wearing her old necklace again. Upon discovering it, Loki immediately returned it to her room with a note about keeping her eyes open. When she asked him where he'd found it, he told her plainly that he found it in Audhild’s room. Zera asked Audhild about it, but she lied and said that she'd found it in the garden and was meaning to return it but forgot.

“My apologies for not getting it back to you sooner,” she said.

Zera grinned politely, but she wasn't stupid. Inside, she was questioning the whole story and it couldn't possibly have been true. Zera checked the garden when she first searched for her necklace, thinking that she'd dropped it somewhere somehow. It wasn't there. None of the gardeners had ever found it there either.

Still, Audhild had always been nice to her, and she didn't want to think of her as a thief, so she just celebrated the fact that she had her precious necklace back.

She never stopped wearing the new one that Thor gave her, she just wore them both. As a quiet gesture when he'd go off to battle, Zera would stand with the crowd sending the warriors away and kiss both of the stones on the necklaces to wish him luck.

He didn't need that luck. All he needed was her to be there, and he'd fight harder knowing he had someone to come home to. Each time he returned to her he seemed to love her more. He would be gone for so long that his heart would ache with a want to hold her and hear her voice.

And when he returned, he would make up for lost time phenomenally.

“Say, for a moment, that you do manage to discover someone who is exactly like you in all of the ways you have mentioned. What if they're competitive?”

Zera raised an amused brow. “Is this about to become personal, Thor?”

“What if they are so petrified by the sight of another them that they try to destroy you?”

Zera hummed. “Would they possess the same powers? The same skills?”

“If they do, the battle would never end and if they don't…”

“You would have to come out of the battle a Victor or 'kill yourself’... Loki can make doubles of himself, we should ask him what that's like.”

Thor chuckled. “It wouldn't be the same, Loki creates those, you wouldn't have created the alternate versions of you.”

“An excellent point. Smart, very smart, Prince Thor.”

He blushed. “I'm only thinking like you.”

“Don't be so modest, that is the mind of a great man. A mind that I love.” She kissed his forehead, then sat back on her knees. “It's quiet out there… My mother used to tell me that in the quiet she could still hear her mother's voice. Although our realm is dead, the dead have left something behind.”

“They always leave something,” Thor said. “Legacies, memories, treasures, people…”

Zera noticed his mind going and cocked her head to the side. “What do you hope to leave behind?”

Thor grinned to himself. “I want people to remember me with fondness. I want to be able to say that I had a joyous family and wonderful, loyal friends.”

“What will you say of me when I'm gone?”

He laughed. “You are a part of that joyous family, and you are certainly not dying before me.”

“You don't know that.”

“I do.” He took her hand. “I am doing all that is in my power to keep you safe, and keep you alive, my love. Besides, I only have one life, you have two.”

“I can't imagine living without you.”

He smiled. “As if death could keep me from you.”

She giggled. “Are you now threatening death?”

“A threat would imply that I am anything less than certain. Aye, this is my promise to you. I'd fight death to see you.”

Zera squeezed his hand. “You haven't the slightest idea how much I love you.”

He shook his head. “It is wholly eclipsed by how I feel for you.”

Zera leaned over the light in her hands and kissed him. He tangled his fingers in the back of her hair, pulling her deeper into the kiss. His lips lingered on hers for a moment, brushing them but just barely. His mouth opened as if he meant to say something, but instead he just kissed her again, brows furrowing and eyes squeezing shut. The kiss was thoughtful, gentle, decisive. Thor's strategic skill had his mind racing far faster than his mouth as always, but what he was considering was far too serious for him to blurt out in a moment of impulsiveness. He wanted to be completely certain, and certain for the both of them.

He pressed his forehead to hers and looked into her eyes with a level of seriousness she'd seldom seen. “Marry me.”

At first, Zera thought her ears had deceived her. "I'm sorry?"

“I swear Zera, I will do all I must do. If I have to beg your mother, if we must marry in secret, I will do it. I am destined to be your husband. I am fated to love you. I will never feel this way for another.”

"But, my love," she whispered, she could barely hear her own voice over her pounding heart. Despite her doubt and cautiousness, Thor's words had her stomach fluttering with lovesickness. The smile threatening to show itself on her face was relentless.  “As simple and wonderful as that would be, this is far from uncomplicated.”

He shook his head. “We will always wish for things to be less complicated.”

“What if the All-Father doesn't approve of me? What if he threatens you or your place in line for the throne because of me?”

“It will have been well worth it.”

“I am worth possible exile or disownment?”

He held her face. “Yes, without a doubt, you are worth it all. The throne means nothing to me if you are not there with me. Please.”

She looked into his eyes for hesitation and found none. While she was sure he would regret this later, she knew that she wouldn't. She wanted to be his wife. She wanted to carry his name and his children. She wanted to wake up beside him each day for the rest of her life. His encouragement and support was everything to her. His affection was overwhelming. He filled her days with endless laughter and surprise and she needed him. 

“I will marry you, Thor. But not now, when things are so hectic.” She looked around herself for things she could give him to make their “engagement” official. Then she got an idea. “Do you have a dagger on your person, my love?”

He nodded and gave it to her. She cut off a small lock of her curly hair that had been braided and beaded. Then she handed the hair and his dagger to him.

His eyes grew wide. “But you love your hair…”

She smiled. “I love you more, Thor. This is just something tangible before you can propose to me formally.”

Thor took the lock of hair and put it in a pocket that he knew it couldn't fall out of. Then he took the dagger to his own hair and cut a lock for her to keep. “For everything you sacrifice, I will sacrifice something as well,” he told her. “For you have just made me the most joyous man in any realm.”

She smiled and held his hair to her heart. "We're getting married..."

"We're getting married!"

Thor practically leaped from his seat and wrapped his arms around his love's waist, spinning her in the air. When she was on her feet again, he leaned down and kissed her.

“Will you join me tonight, my betrothed? Celebrate this with me properly?”

“Of course.”

He took her hand and led her down the hallway to his room. The happy storm began just moments later, when Thor had his bride-to-be against his door, his hands creeping up the skirt of her gown while they giggled against each other's lips. His mouth began to travel down her neck, down her shoulders, pulling the collar of her dress with it. One of his wandering hands finally met her center, a place now so familiar to him that he would be able to find his way to it in his sleep. She moaned and held tight to his shoulders, spreading her legs wide for him. 

"One day," he mused between kisses. "I will have you, not as my lover but as my wife."

"When that day comes, you make sure Valhalla hears me say your name."

He lifted his head up and laughed. "I'll have to let them know that it is I who belongs to you and not vice versa."

Zera smiled. "Of course."


The next day, Cathenna was working alone, and quite peacefully. Peacefully, that is, until Audhild showed up.

The blonde maiden leaned on the doorway of the kitchen's entrance and grinned at her. Cathenna turned and grinned back politely. “Strange to see you here. Can I help you with something, Lady Audhild?”

“There isn't anything that you can help me with, I've come to speak with you about something that very much concerns you,” Audhild told her, in the voice of someone delivering a grievance, executed with deceptive precision. “It's about your daughter. I've just discovered something that I'm not sure how to tell you about, or even if I should be telling you about it...”

Cathenna stopped cooking and turned all of her attention to Audhild. “Is she alright? Has something happened to the library?”

She shook her head. “Oh, it's the strangest of situations... She's been keeping secrets from you, Cathenna. It's out of character for her, is it not?”

“I suppose so... How grave are these secrets? You seem quite scandalized, Audhild. Is my daughter in any sort of peril? Should I be worried?”

Audhild walked closer. “I'm not sure. You see, I've just caught her leaving Thor's room,” she said. “With the storm last night there's no doubt in my mind about why she was in there.”

"The storm?"

"Storms always appear when Thor is rather... emotional. I think they've be copulating. It's most indecent if it's true, I know. I didn't know who else to tell."

Cathenna sighed. She knew. She had no proof, but she knew. She could sense a change in her daughter. She wasn't as rigid. She wasn't as nervous. She glowed and her eyes twinkled with the light of the lovesick. But she didn't bother with it, because a part of her knew her own daughter. She knew her daughter's cautiousness. An affair with Thor seemed like too large of a risk for her to take, and her mother had always warned her about the risks associated with the throne.

“How long do you suppose that this has been going on?”

Audhild shrugged. “Could be days, could be weeks… could be months…”

Cathenna cleared her throat. Suddenly, she felt choked up, and it was not because of what Zera had been doing at all. “I'll speak to her. Thank you, Audhild.”

Audhild smirked. “You're a mother to us all, Cathenna, and therefore you hold my respect.”

She turned and left. After breaking it off with Loki, Audhild realized a few things. She knew now that going to the royal family would prove useless because they loved Zera. Attempting to make Thor jealous would be useless. But Lady Cathenna was a firm mother, one who made her apprehensions about her child's friendships with Thor and Loki quite clear. If anyone had the power to end this, it was her.

Audhild was the most excited she'd been since completing that book on Zera's people, something that also had much to reveal. Much that she didn't think she would have to resort to, but time would prove her to be very wrong.

Chapter Text

“Thor!”

Thor and Loki were rather surprised to see Zera running down the hall while they were on their way to training. She was trying to mask her distress but Thor knew the look in her eyes and met her in the middle. Loki stepped away to give the two of them a moment. She was a bit out of sorts from running, so he pulled her over for privacy.

“What is it? Is something wrong, precious?” She caught her breath, putting a hand on her upset stomach, and he resisted the urge to touch her since there were eyes all around them there. “Take your time.”

“I think my mother knows.” His expression grew slightly startled. Actually, she wasn’t sure if he were startled or afraid. “She asked to speak with me in private about what she describes as 'rumors she's been hearing’.”

Thor scoffed. “If it's reached the kitchen, I'm surprised my mother has not asked to speak with me.”

She glared at him. “Thor, the worst your mother will do is suggest an outfit for our wedding, my mother thinks she knows what's best for me, always, there is no doubt in my mind what she'll say.”

He took a deep breath and put his hands on her shoulders. “Zera, she cannot stop me from marrying you. If she tries, I'll make it as taxing for her as possible.”

Zera let out a weak laugh and chewed on the inside of her lip. “If it becomes a choice between you and her...”

“No, Zera, it won’t come to that. I don’t want to come between you two. If that is what she wants to speak with you about, then I hope she can learn to accept us. Let her know that I would consider it an honor to be her son.”

She looked uncertain, but nodded anyway. “I will, Thor.”

“Don't tear yourself apart over this either, love, please. I know this has been a source of great stress as much as it has been joyous for the both of us.” He saw the tension in her shoulders start to fall away and he smiled. “Meet me in my room tonight, I'll run you a hot bath.”

A bit of the usual twinkle returned to her eyes. “Sounds divine. All I have to do is survive the rest of this day without the urge to thrust myself through one of the library's windows.”

“You really need that bath." Thor turned to Loki, then back to her. "I have to go. I love you more than words can say and I'm sure this will all be resolved without conflict." He quickly kissed her knuckles. 

Zera watched him walk off. "Be safe, don't start any fights!"

Thor laughed. "Me? Start fights?"

"I'll watch him!" Loki exclaimed, elbowing his brother in the side.


When the moment came, Zera went to her mother’s room. Lady Cathenna was busy tying up her hair for the night, and she acknowledged her daughter with nothing more than a gentle nod when she walked in. There was light rain outside. Inside, Zera didn't pace, she didn't panic, she stood in front of her mother fully willing to take responsibility.

Cathenna looked out the window and chuckled. “Oh, that man, does he know how to feel anything without bringing about rain clouds?” She turned to Zera. “When Frigga was pregnant, there was thunder whenever he kicked.”

Zera grinned nervously. “Some things don’t change.”

“No, they don’t. He really is Odin’s son, you know? The same rawness, the same… volatility.”

Zera crossed her arms. “What is it that you’ve heard, mother?”

Cathenna didn’t answer that directly, but she did close her windows. “When you, Thor, and Loki were toddlers, I used to watch you play with them and I used to think about how carefree you were, just children, you didn't care about things like royalty or status. It used to make me sad thinking about how one day that would have to change. So I tried to raise you as a realist. I tried to instill in you the knowledge that Thor and Loki were at the peak of Asgardian hierarchy and we, the refugees, the servants, were far lower. But you never learned…”

Zera looked down. “I did learn…” She tucked hair behind her ear. “Who told you?”

“Audhild.”

Audhild… I should have suspected…”

“She made an excellent point to me when she told me. You've never hidden anything from me before, Zera. You've never lied to me. I've never lied to you, in fact I couldn't fathom the thought of it because you are the center of my world. You are all I have left.”

“I know that, mother. Please, let me explain.”

“Sure, first explain why you didn't tell me about Thor,” she said. “How long has it been? Months? Years ?”

“Just months, I swear!”

“Long months… In my heart, I knew, but I didn't want to believe it only because you said nothing to me.”

“Mother…”

“After all we've been through…”

Zera looked down. She felt like she was a teenager again, a child afraid to admit their honest feelings to their mother out of fear that feelings would be hurt. But she was mature enough to understand that the only way to convey this was just to be blunt about it.

“I thought you would take him away from me..." Zera explained. “The one thing in this life that has ever been and will ever truly be mine! He's mine and mine alone! He gives me confidence and affection. He compliments me, he wants me to grow. He loves me without prejudice, without motive, without anything insidious, just as my father loved you! I wanted to protect what we had from anything that could take it from us.”

Cathenna stared at her daughter, eyes wide with shock. Zera waited for her to say something, the tension making the moment of silence feel as if it stretched on for agonizing hours. Cathenna searched for the words as her bottom lip trembled and her eyes began to gloss over with tears.

“You think that lowly of me?” she asked. “That I would deny you your happiness because I can no longer have mine?”

“That isn't it.”

“Then what is it?!” she asked. “Dearest, I don't care if you and Thor love each other. I knew you loved him before you did. I saw it in your eyes. I know all the lovely things he does for you. I know how he compliments you. What tears into me, into my heart, is that you think I would take any of that from you. How awful I must have been all these years to make you think I would be so spiteful. What have I done to you?”

Zera shook her head and held her mother's face. “You weren't awful.”

“Are you sure?”

“Your grip felt a bit tight at times, but you were my best friend. Before Thor, before Loki, before Sif. You were the first face I saw when I took my first breaths. You nursed me! You gave me a love of books! You ensured that I was raised in this palace, safe and secure, where I would grow with the man I will soon marry.”

Cathenna smiled, tears rolling down her dark cheeks. “You and Thor will be married?”

Zera nodded. “We are a secret now, but once it is all together, I will be his wife, mother. He is so happy to be becoming your son."

They pressed their foreheads together, Zera's long red hair acting as a curtain in front of their faces. "I'm so sorry that I made you believe you had to protect this precious thing from me."

"Don't be sorry. You were protecting me the same way I was protecting my love."

The rain slowed and eventually stopped. Zera rolled her eyes. “One moment…” She opened the door and Thor was standing by it, eavesdropping, just as she’d suspected. “You are incredible, son of Odin.”

“I was very nervous, my apologies.” He waved to Cathenna. “Hello.”

Cathenna wiped her face and gestured for Thor to come closer. He approached her carefully, and she took both of his hands in her warm ones. Zera stood watching behind them.

“On our realm, it is custom that the groom-to-be eat a meal served by the bride’s parents and bring wine in exchange,” she explained. “But Zera only has me, and there are only so many hours in the day when I can cook for you in secret.”

“There is a feast in the Hall in two nights, Lady Cathenna. I’m sure that, at some point in the ruckus and celebration, I can sneak away to the kitchen with Zera.”

She scoffed. “You? You’re the life of the feast. You could never sneak away unnoticed! You don’t have to perform the ceremony, we could always wait until your parents are aware of your betrothal, and simply perform Asgardian customs, it would be no problem for me.”

Thor looked into her eyes. “Your daughter is a part of my soul. That means honoring the beautiful customs of her people. We will find a way.”

She reached up and touched the face of her new son, marveling in the ways this man so loved her daughter. She kept recalling what Zera told her. She set her on this path. The path to happiness, the path to security, the path to love… She finally felt as if she'd done well. 

“I believe you will always find a way, Prince Thor." She softly pinched his cheek. "Handsome, just like your father."

He smiled. "Your daughter takes after you."

"Awww!" Zera said. 

Thor laughed and turned to Zera. "You were so worried."

She gasped. "Me?"

"Yes, you."

"You two be careful," warned her mother. "Royal marriages stir up strong emotions, oftentimes in the wrong sorts of people."

"I'll keep her safe," Thor promised.

"Keep yourself safe, too, Thor."

Zera gave her mother one last hug before she and Thor left her mother's room for his. Lady Cathenna smiled as she tucked herself into bed, and whispered a little prayer of protection for them. 


 

Thor ran that bath he promised her. Hot just like she liked it. She sat between his legs and let him clean and scrub all of her anxieties away. 

"When we're married, can I remain in the library?"

"You can have anything you want." She grinned and he started laughing. "Would that have been your only objection?"

She leaned her head back on his shoulder. "Being a princess sounds lovely but my heart is with those books."

"I know, and I wouldn't take that from you. In fact, I believe the people of Asgard would take very well to a queen with a love of the library. My mother loves the library."

"That's true." She sighed. "I just can't imagine myself as a queen."

He grinned down at her. "I can, and you will be a great one."

After a while, the water started to cool. Thor knew her body wouldn't react well so he helped her out of the tub and wrapped a warm towel around her, then carried her bridal-style to the bed. He held her flush to him and kissed the top of her head. "Now, 'Queen Zera, the Firestarter' has a lovely ring to it..."

She giggled and kissed him. "Go to sleep."

Chapter Text

The world seemed a bit brighter when Zera and Thor were at their happiest. They both filled the palace with smiles and optimism, enough to light all of Asgard for years, and it was just because they loved each other.

In the morning, she was still there. It was a rare thing to wake up with her in his arms, grinning up at him, but he loved it all the same. “So warm.”

She giggled. “You’re just cold.”

“That’s true.”

Zera slowly sat up, brought her knees to her chest and looked out the window. When they were married, she would wake up to this everyday, the perfect view of Asgard, and the far more perfect view of her husband. It felt too good to be true, and part of her was still waiting for the moment where she would wake up and find that all of this had been a dream.

Thor reached out and started twirling one of her curls between his fingers. "Has your hair gotten longer or is that in my imagination?"

She shrugged. "I haven't noticed, but I also haven't cut it in ages."

"I haven't cut mine either."

Zera smiled. "I know." She watched the golden rays of the rising sun illuminate the golden palace with awe. Travelers in scrolls she'd read always described Asgard as being a thing of unspeakable wonder. She'd lived there her entire life, so she didn't always see it that way, but sometimes the wonder would show itself. That morning was one of those moments. "When we were little, I was always so jealous of your room. Of all the things to be jealous of...”

“Why’s that?”

“At night it looks like you can see every star from here, and in the morning it’s like watching the kingdom take its first breaths.”

He put his hands behind his head and stared out the window with her. It was true, you could see anything in Asgard. He’d just never taken to time to really appreciate it. “I was jealous of everything about you when we were young.” He admitted. “The way you spoke, how you didn’t feel a need to prove yourself to anyone. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to not worry about running a kingdom one day.”

“Do you worry about that when you’re with me?”

He shook his head. “I don’t worry about anything with you. With the exception of the one fear that I have.”

“What fear?”

He turned to her. “That one day you’ll wake up and realize you are far too good for me.”

She leaned down and kissed him, resting the palm of her hand on his beating heart, which raced the moment their lips touched as if it were the first time.

It killed him to pull away, but he did. “You have work, Zera.”

She nodded. “You’re right… Wait, I have to get dressed.”

“It’s still early, the sun hasn’t fully risen, no one should be awake yet.”

She bit her lip. “I just don’t want to leave.”

He smiled and kissed her again. “I’ll come to you later, my love. I promise.”

Zera nodded and crept out his bed, running out into the hallway in her nightgown. She'd made it to her room undetected when felt her stomach churn and rumble. She hadn’t been this sick in years, and she thought it had only been her nervousness but it had gone on for too long for that to be it. Pushing the thought aside, she got cleaned up and dressed for the day, then headed off to the library. Nothing could get her down, because she knew that waking up that morning beside Thor would just be the first time.


 

Sif and Loki elected to spend some of their day with Zera in the library. She was more than glad to have them around but she was also realizing that her minor sickness was only getting progressively worse as the days went on, and it was really interrupting her focus.

“Zera, as I much as I enjoy this, you really don't seem well.” Sif said as she held her hair back. “You've been complaining of an upset stomach for two weeks, I thought you said that telling your mother would cure it.”

“It has,” Zera said into the small bucket Loki brought her. He was standing off to the side, staring at her. “Vomiting means my body is purging itself of anything not meant to be there. As far as I know, I am healing.”

"How often has this happened, my friend?" Loki asked.

Zera thought about it. "Only once or twice a day for a few days, nothing to worry about."

Sif and Loki exchanged a worried look. “Maybe you should retreat to your chambers for the day,” Loki suggested.

She lifted her head up and sniffled. “No, the library needs me and it always makes me feel better.”

“There are no nurses here.”

She rolled her eyes. “Not that way.”

Sif rubbed her back gently. “Sadly, books and scrolls do not protect people from nausea. What do you have left to do here, anyway?”

Zera stood upright and went back to work. She pointed to the table behind them which was covered in books. "I have to put the rest of that enormous pile of returned books back into their proper places and then a certain prince requested that I choose a few more books for him to read later."

Loki shrugged. "I read a lot, you should anticipate this by now. "

"Anyway, after that's done, I have to be here to help teach a few little ones to read, and then Thor is coming to visit me. So I have to stay here all day."

Loki gasped. “Has Thor cooked for you?” he asked. “Because just the thought of that is causing my stomach to churn.”

Zera rolled her eyes. “His cooking isn't awful . But, no, he couldn’t have been the culprit. I’ve eaten nothing out of sorts, but I have been hungrier lately… Though I've read tales of people with anxiety having odd and demanding appetites, and I’ve certainly felt anxious.”

“Anxious? About what? Marrying my brother?” Loki asked. “It’s certainly silly but it's not anxiety inducing.”

“Oh shut it!” Sif said.

Zera walked over to him and pinched his nose. “You say it’s silly but I’m marrying into your family.”

“I know. It’s rather silly, Zera.”

Sif eyed her for a moment. She held Zera’s round face up to hers and closed one eye as if she were inspecting her through the lens of a telescope. When she appeared to come up with an answer, she bit her lip and let go with an extremely self-satisfied grin.

“Yes, Lady Sif?”

“Lady Zera, when is the last time you and your beloved… consummated?”

“It wasn't long ago, why do you ask?”

“So, you two make the beast with two backs quite frequently, aye?”

Zera caught on and shook her head. “No…”

“You’ve gained weight, you’re vomiting, you have cravings, your hair has grown…”

Zera's reached up to her hair for a moment. First Thor and now Sif... She looked over to Loki, who was staring at her with a curious and amused eye. “That is ridiculous , Thor and I have been very careful about it, almost to the point of meticulousness. I challenge you to find two more careful people in this entire realm.”

“Nobody is too careful for mistakes!” Sif reminded her. Zera walked away from her, but Sif and Loki followed. “Say you got rapt up in the bliss of love-making and you forgot all about preventing babies.”

“All the signs are there, Zera, at least consider it as an answer.”

She turned to them. “Consider that I am not an Asgardian and that pregnancies may look different for people of my race.”

“You’re half-Asgardian,” Sif said. “But let’s humor that for a moment. Where’s your father’s book?”

Zera walked them to the stacks containing studies of other realms, where her father’s book was lovingly displayed in the center. Loki picked it up and checked to see if there were any mentions of pregnancies before promptly finding the page where there were. Zera waited with a patient exterior, but her heart was racing. Although she knew Thor wanted children in the long run, she could not possibly have been sure if he wanted children right now, especially since his parents weren’t aware of their relationship as it was.

“It says that pregnant women often painted their bellies blue as good luck,” Loki read.

“How sweet,” Sif said.

“Ah! ‘The way the women here determine if they are pregnant is by attempting to breathe fire. If they cannot, that means that their bodies are storing that heat in order to protect the baby’.”

He raised an eyebrow at Zera. “I’m not going to breathe fire for you, the trick is uncomfortable eno-”

“Zera…”

She sighed. “Fine.”

She had them step back and then took a deep breath. She could feel the heat in her throat and smirked, knowing that meant that she could generate fire for the trick. But when she actually open her mouth, nothing but smoke came billowing out. Her eyes widened and she covered her mouth.

“Zera…” Sif whispered. “You're pregnant!”

She looked down and laid her hand against her stomach. She was nothing short of terrified. She wondered how Thor would react, how her mother would, how Odin would. But another part of her was excited, she was already wondering who the baby would most resemble. She was already thinking about what a sweet father her Thor would make. Her realism was at odds with her optimism, and it was a little overwhelming. 

“Maybe I should go back to my room for the day…”

"We have to tell my brother," Loki said. 

Zera grabbed a bit of parchment and wrote a quick note to one of the other librarians. "No, I have to tell your brother. If I truly am pregnant, it's our baby. I can't have too many voices running around this palace whispering or it will catch the wrong ears." She left the note beside the stack of books and started towards the library door. All she needed was air, cold fresh air. The sooner she got oxygen to her brain, the better. "You go join the others at training, I think I will be in the forest for a while..."


“Thor, we must stop and ask Lady Cathenna if she still makes those amazing little sweet cakes she made when we were children!” Fandral said. They’d just gotten out of training and Thor already had plans to shower quickly and meet with Zera in the library, but his friend had other plans. “I woke up thinking about them.”

“Something tells me this isn’t the first time,” joked Hogun.

Thor laughed. “I can’t bother Lady Cathenna right now, it’s late and this is the night before a feast, she’s always busy.”

“Oh, come on, she loves you! Actually, she loves her daughter and by extension loves you, either way you have an advantage that few others have. You could do this for me.”

“What? Your famous charm doesn’t work on Cathenna?” Sif asked. Fandral glared at her. “Besides, Thor has better places to be right now, much more important places.”

Sif's slightly nervous tone caught Thor a bit off-guard but he dismissed it as Sif being Sif. “She’s right.”

Fandral scoffed. “You always take her side! Look, we’re right next to the kitchen, can we stop in just for a moment?”

Thor sighed and turned towards the kitchen. “Alright.”

“Thank you, Thor.”

“Hold your gratitude.”

He walked into the kitchen, and the first thing he noticed was the darkness. It wasn’t unusual for Cathenna to be the only one there at this hour, but it was unusual to see the lights completely out when she was. He turned them on and found himself with even more questions. There was something unfinished on the table. The fire was out. It was too quiet. Thor thought that maybe Cathenna had gone too bed earlier than usual, but when he made it to the back of the kitchen he saw something that would drain the blood from his face.

Chapter Text

It was difficult to render Zera speechless.

She was quiet. She was introspective. Her circle of friends was small by Asgardian standards. But she always had something to say.

When she was sitting in the forest, beneath the tree where she and Thor spent so much time together, knowing that she was probably carrying their baby, her mind couldn't form a sentence. There was far too much at stake, far too much to consider, and so suddenly. She didn't cry, not tears of sorrow or of joy. She didn't pray to her mother’s old gods, the way she was meant to. The only person she ached to talk to in that moment was Thor, but the person she'd wanted to stay away from her in that moment was also Thor.

Zera found comfort in the silence. Under the trees she was truly alone, with nothing but the animals to interfere with her thoughts.

She fell asleep at some point, and night fell. She dreamt of someone in the forest watching her, a dark figure in a hooded cloak with glowing green eyes, holding a dagger that reflected the moonlight as it circled her body. Although she saw it and was afraid, she couldn’t move. As it came closer, she screamed, only to be ripped from the nightmare by the sound of a horse approaching.

Zera lifted her head and saw Loki riding towards her, holding a torch to light his way. She rose to her feet and conjured her own light to help him see better. Loki stopped in front of her, reaching out a hand.

“You need to come with me, Zera.” he said. "Something has happened in the palace."

"What happened?"

"I don't want to tell you here, I know how special this place is to you."

His eyes were panicked and she feared the worst. “Has something happened to Thor?”

He shook his head. “Not Thor. Sister, please, come with me.”

She took his hand and he helped her onto his horse. They rode back to the palace, as quickly as they could. She wanted to ask again what had happened but she knew she would get answers when they arrived. She was just terrified of what those answers would be.

At the palace doors, some of the other warriors, and Frigga, were waiting to receive them. Loki lifted her off the horse and she gathered the skirt of her dress in her hands and ran up to the queen.

“Tell me what has happened, All-Mother. Prince Loki gave no answers.” Frigga’s eyes were filled with tears. She held Zera’s face in her hands and took a deep breath. Zera’s hands started to shake but she reached up and gently held onto the queen's wrists. “You’re frightening me, what’s wrong?”

“Your mother has died, Zera. I’m so very sorry.”

Nothing could have prepared her for that. Zera felt a sharp pain in her chest, like a knife had been stuck through, cutting out a piece of her heart.

Her mother wasn’t old, not old enough to die so suddenly. She wasn’t ill. She wouldn’t have done anything to herself. She had only just seen her, she’d only just spoken to her. Cathenna had only just given her permission to wed Thor. She didn’t know that she might have been pregnant. There was so much that she felt her mother had yet to teach her.

Loki put a gentle hand on her shoulder and she took in a large breath as if she’d just come up from under water. Frigga opened her mouth to say something else, but chose to spare her the details for now. Tears started to stream down her cheeks and Frigga wiped them away with her thumbs.

“Can I see her?” Zera asked.

“Not yet.”

Everything that happened next happened in slow motion. The queen’s arm was around her shoulders and she was being led into the palace. She saw faces as blurs when she passed them by. A small crowd of Asgardians had gathered in the corridor leading to the kitchen. Frigga just pulled her away from them.

Zera was ushered to the throne room, where Thor was waiting for her. He rushed over to her, pulling her close, letting her cry on his chest. She looked into his eyes, red and swollen, he’d been crying too.

“Wh...Where is the All-Father?” she asked, pulling away from him and wiping her face.

“He is looking into your mother’s death, Zera.” Frigga replied. “Don’t worry. You’re here because Thor and I wanted you to be somewhere quiet.”

“How did it happen?” she asked. “Why all the secrecy?”

“I’m afraid Lady Cathenna’s end was not peaceful,” Thor told her. He clenched his jaw. “I found her lying on the kitchen floor in a horrid state, I knew you wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of it.”

Zera blinked in surprise. “Are you saying that someone did this to my mother?”

“It appears so,” Loki said. “It was planned, as well. The murderer left nothing behind.” She scoffed. “Zera…”

“So they’ll just get away with it?”

Thor shook his head. “We will find who did this. I swear it. They’ll will pay in full for what they have done.” He sighed. “However, I do want to keep an eye on you.”

“Do you think they would come for me?”

“I think that they will try, but they won’t get far.”

There was a lump in the back of Zera’s throat. She felt hot, and a bit dizzy. She gripped tightly to Thor’s arms. “Thor, there is something you must know…”

“Zera? You don’t look well…”

Her legs felt weak. Her tongue tied, and the weight of everything began to hit her in the chest so hard that she couldn’t breathe. “I’m… I think that I’m…”

Thor helped her into a chair and she took a deep breath. “You need to rest… Can we please have a moment alone?”

“Of course, would you like anything, Zera?” Frigga asked. Zera shook her head. “You and your mother have always been very dear to me, I cannot express how much I will miss her. She’s raised a wonderful young woman.”

Loki and Frigga left. Thor lifted Zera up and slid into the chair, sitting her in his lap. He held her close and let her have this moment of mourning, but he refused to let her have it alone. He laced his fingers with hers and they were together in the silence this time.

After a while, Thor broke that silence when he noticed that she’d stopped crying. “Are you sure you need nothing, my love?”

She shook her head. “You are here and that is far more than enough for me.” He squeezed her hand and she squeezed back, finding comfort in his cool touch. “It’s strange that I am so sick with fear and sadness but I find you in this darkness every time.” He grinned. “Thor, there is something I am so afraid to tell you, especially now with my mother gone.”

Thor caressed her face. “You don’t have to tell me tonight, Zera. You don’t need any more worry.”

Her heart was too heavy to disagree. She laid her head down on his chest and let his strong heartbeat lull her into a dreamless sleep.


The next morning, Thor snuck out of his bed, trying not to wake Zera from her well-deserved rest. Loki arrived at his door to tell him that the All-Father wished to speak with him immediately, so he was up and dressed without delay.

They walked into the throne room. Odin was sat on his throne with Sif and the Warriors Three standing to the side. They looked as confused as Thor was.

He knelt in front of his father and rose back up slowly. “Have you discovered who did this to Cathenna?” Thor asked.

“We have yet to find the murderer, but that isn’t the reason I’ve called you here, son.” Odin stood. “When were you planning to tell your mother and I about your betrothal?”

Thor furrowed his brows. “Father, how-”

“You are to be married to Zera and we’ve only just learned of this last night.”

Thor turned to Loki. “From who?”

Loki threw his hands up. “I swear it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

“It doesn’t matter who told us, what matters is that you didn’t.” Thor crossed his arms. “Do explain yourself, it is not a crime to have a bride to be. I just wonder if you have considered that one day Zera may be Asgard’s queen.”

“Of course I have considered that, father.”

“Has she considered it?”

He looked down. “It frightens her. But I think she will make a wonderful queen nonetheless.”

Odin sighed. “I’m only worried that if she isn’t prepared for that, she may not be prepared to marry you.”

“If you would only speak to her you would see how brilliant and how capable she is, father! She is gentle, impartial, and intelligent. Is that not a queen?” Odin considered it for a moment, and Thor took the moment to get his Zera a chance. “After we hold a funeral for her mother, after she has had some time to heal from her broken heart, perhaps we could arrange something for you to see what I see. Please?”

The All-Father sighed. “Your mother speaks highly of Zera. If you love her that much, I will try to see what you see.”

Thor smiled from ear to ear. “Thank you father.”

Chapter Text

Per Zera’s request, Cathenna was given an Asgardian funeral. In the end it didn’t matter so much what was done with her body, all that mattered was that Zera wear her indigo mourning robes with a formal ring in her nose, and be there to anoint her mother’s head and say a final prayer over her.

Tradition, Zera found, was a small comfort.

When the funeral was done, the mourners all left. They gave Zera their sympathies and then allowed her space. Thor stayed by her side the entire time, admiring her ability to remain so composed through all of this. She was so restrained. He told her she didn't have to put on a brave face, but she insisted. It wasn't until they were alone again by the water that she finally let the tears fall.

“A lot of people came…” she said, half to herself and half to him. “Everyone happily remembered her selflessness, and I’ve spent a great deal of my life resenting the way she poured so much of herself into me.”

“She knew how much you loved her.”

She looked down at her hands and he took one of them. “She would want me to be stronger.”

“You are one of the strongest people I know, love. Especially tonight, you were so very brave.” He kissed her knuckles. “You cannot force yourself to heal, time will do it for you.”

“I wish I had the power to turn back time… Although I’m not sure what that could have done. They say she was killed by magic. I’ve never seen magic draw so much blood.”

“Don’t think about that now, this is your moment of peace.”

She shook her head. “This is chaotic. My heart feels like it is caught in a maelstrom.”

“Can I be of any comfort?”

She looked up at him and gently caressed his face. Seeing her so sad made him feel helpless, he couldn’t reach inside of her and mend her heart. She knew he was trying.

She spotted something out of the corner of her eye and tucked her hair behind her ear. “There are too many ears here.”

Thor looked around and spotted Hogun and Sif standing by. He told them to move along, but Sif shook her head.

“We are under orders from the All-Father to guard you.” Hogun said.

Thor laughed. “I hardly need guarding.”

“Not you!” Sif told him. “Obviously, it’s for Zera.”

"The All-Father has ordered protection for me?" she asked.

It had only just hit her that she was really joining the royal family and would be treated as such. With the loss of one mother, immediately gaining another felt like a welcomed safety net. Still, it was an extraordinary net.

He sighed. “Can we please have a moment to ourselves. If we are attacked, I’m sure I can handle it.” Thor raised an eyebrow. “Or are you to follow us everywhere?”

Sif cleared her throat and Zera blinked incredulously. “Are you?”

“Technically, yes. But I won’t do it.” Sif replied. Zera and Thor looked at each other. “You could go to the forest if you really need the privacy. Our orders were rather vague and said we are only meant to follow you around the palace."

Zera took Thor’s hand and started leading him out of the room. “Thank you, Sif. I think we’ll do that.”

Hogun and Sif followed the lovers out to the palace doors and stopped there, allowing them to go into the woods together alone.

Zera kept looking behind her, lately she’d been feeling quite paranoid, as if she were being watched. Of course, she was being watched for her own protection, but she felt antsy even in private. Thor noticed that she would jump at sudden noises, and she wasn’t sleeping well at all. It had him worried sick.

They arrived at their place and Zera started to pace. “I have something I must tell you now, but I don’t know how,” she explained. “But I have to say it because it involves you… But I’m not sure how you’ll react with all that’s happened and all that I assume will happen…”

He walked up to her and held her face. “Shh, just tell me. Whatever it is that’s on your mind, please, just tell me.”

“It’s not simple, well, nothing really is with us, is it?”

The corners of his mouth quirked up. “It never has been, why start now?”

She swallowed. All she had to do was tell him. All she had to do was tell him and there would be one less weight on her chest, yet each word felt heavier than the last. “Thor, I’m pregnant.”

His smile fell into deadly seriousness. She thought he would back away from her, but he was frozen, looking into her eyes for traces of humor, but there were none. Even if she were joking, it wouldn’t have been a very funny joke.

“Are you really?” he asked, his voice little more than a shaky whisper.

“I’m sorry, I should have been more careful. If this is an inconvenience to you-”

“An inconvenience? You are not an inconvenience, Zera. How long have you known?”

“As long as my mother has been dead,” she replied. “That’s why I kept it from you, because I wanted her to verify it for me and tell me what to do."

Thor noticed the fear on her face. “Do you want the child, my love?”

She sniffled. He wiped her tears with a brush of his fingers. His gentleness calmed her a bit. “At first, I didn’t, and it scared me. But with my mother being gone and having you by my side for all of these days… Now it is all I want.”

“What changed your mind?” he asked. “I just want you to be absolutely sure.”

“What is inside of me is half-you and half-me. And the half that is mine is also partially my mother. I see her when I look in the mirror. I want to bring more of her light into this world, and more of yours, too.”

Thor smiled. “Oh your light shines so much brighter than mine.” He kissed her forehead. “They’ll have your green eyes, I bet. I hope they look so much like you, my beautiful firestarter.”

Zera giggled and put her hand over her belly. “They’re also the child of Thor, son of Odin.” He rolled his eyes and she playfully pushed him. “Get over it!”

“It’s so taxing being reminded who your father is all the time.”

“Aye? Imagine how they’ll feel.” She sighed. "You have no fear? No reservations at all?"

He shook his head. "My only concern is that you're happy."

He looked down and tried to imagine what her body would look like months, even weeks from now. The thought of her being round and glowing, carrying their child, made him too emotional to think straight. Now he was in tears, which took Zera by complete surprise.

“You’re crying, Thor."

He lifted her up. “Because I’ve never been happier!”

She threw her arms around his shoulders and squeezed him tight, and they stayed like that for a while, letting it all sink in.


 

Loki, always observant, was quick to notice someone missing at Cathenna’s burial. After giving Zera a hug and his condolences, he snuck away. He searched all of the halls. He searched nearly every room. He searched the library. He searched his own bedchambers. Out of curiosity, he even searched the kitchen.

Then he came to the one place he knew the person wouldn’t be: Her bedroom.

He walked inside of Audhild’s room and immediately noticed how disorderly it was. The last time he’d been there, it was so clean, so polished, like Audhild herself. Now, it looked as if it’d been hit by a storm. The sheets hung off of the bed, her clothes were everywhere, long locks of blonde hair were on the ground leading to the bath. She had her curtains closed and Loki suspected that this was why she'd seemed so much paler and thinner as of late. 

He looked on her vanity and found a piece of parchment with some writing on it. A note to someone. He picked it up. It smelled like perfume.

Dearest Thor, Son of Odin,

If it is not too late to win your heart I should like to enter the competition. Don’t be shy, love, we’re made for each other.

Forged by fate.

Love,

Audhild

“‘Forged by fate’, you must be joking…” Loki muttered. “Fate has a sick sense of humor if that’s the hand it’s dealt my brother…”

He turned around to her bed. There was a book hidden under her pillow. He slid it out from it’s hiding place and raised a brow. It was a book for those who could perform magic. He’d read it a thousand times himself. His mother loved it dearly.

Audhild couldn’t perform magic… At least, he thought she couldn’t.

He flipped through the pages and noticed notes that she’d written to herself to track her progress through the book, some of those notes were years old.

Trick performed with ease on my own, father says that I’m a natural.

After many attempts, I’ve finally learned this one. It’s rather fun. I think I can now change shape.

Attempt at invisibility failed, will try again… Failed again, I have to perform whilst naked, I think I’ll try it in the woods. Maybe Thor will see me there…

Loki rolled his eyes. He came to a page where the notes were different, written more sloppily. They weren’t related to the spells at all. “Oh dear…” He’s kissed Zera, I know he has! Silly, why her? It’s probably nothing…

A few pages later there was a similar note. HOW DARE HE SOIL OUR BED BY TAKING HER MAIDENHOOD! HE IS MAKING A GRAVE MISTAKE! HE IS RUINING ASGARD WITH THAT LOW-BORN FILTH!

There was a section on spells to use in combat, ones that were quite violent and brutal, without a doubt those were the ones used on Cathenna. A few of these spells were circled. The page was stained with drops of blood. When he turned to the next page, he dropped the book. He quickly closed it and shoved it back under the pillow as he'd found it. He didn’t need to read anymore, he just needed to get to Thor and Zera as quickly as possible, quicker than Audhild.

They hadn't been paying nearly enough attention to the blonde girl, in the way she would have liked or in the way they should've been. She'd been left to fester for too long, and it seemed like she was finally ready to do something about that, because on the page was her last note:

I’m afraid it’s time to put the fire out.

Chapter Text

Zera’s complete lack of handmaidens never struck her as a disadvantage until she was standing in her bedroom with Sif trying to decide how to properly prepare for an evening with the All-Father and Mother. They’d seen her quite a few times as Zera the librarian, but that night they had to see her as Princess Zera. Frigga had offered some assistance in the form of a beautiful jewel toned gown but, beyond that, Zera was on her own.

She’d done her hair neatly, twisting her mass of red curls and kinks into a bun above her head with a few s-shaped ringlets framing her face. She polished and wore her best jewelry. Her lips were painted deep burgundy which brought out the flecks of gold in her bright green eyes.

She exuded royal beauty but she also had to master royal charm. Everything down to the way she would sit was rehearsed and when all was said and done, Zera felt that she was preparing to perform in a play as herself. Her anxiety sharpened itself to a point and started prodding her in her stomach.

One of her mother's oldest friends in the kitchen made her a special drink to guarantee a healthy baby. It was a sweet, milky drink that had a comforting taste. She drank that instead of mead, although she desperately wanted to drink mead because she was so stressed. 

The environment provided no escape from reminders that her life, as well as the baby's, had been threatened. There were guards posted outside of her and Thor’s rooms. There were guards outside of the library. There were guards ordered to follow Zera around the halls. For her safety, Zera wasn’t even allowed to go to the woods, and her heart was aching for it.

If Audhild wanted to make Zera miserable, taking her from the forest was a masterful touch.

“You have nothing to worry about,” Sif assured her. “You could charm Odin easily.”

“He is a far more difficult audience to please than the rest of his family from what Thor tells me.”

“To be fair, Thor might have that point of view because he has a habit of being an impulsive bull-headed ass. But I think Odin knows that you aren’t one of his impulsive decisions, Zera. You are the finest choice he could’ve made.”

In the mirror, Zera's eyes were lit by the candle light. Her mother’s voice was in her head, reminding her not to think of herself as less than anything. She was worthy of Thor’s love, there was no question of it, if she weren’t worthy, she wouldn’t have gotten it.

She took a deep breath and held her head up. “You’re right, Sif, as usual.”

“As always .” Sif grinned and admired her friend from the side. “That is a princess if I’ve ever seen one.”

“Please don’t curtsy.”

Sif laughed. “I promise to never curtsy in your presence. What will you wear to be wed?”

“Traditionally, brides of my culture wear black. I’ve not been to any Asgardian weddings.”

“They’ll probably want to have the ceremony soon so the child isn’t considered out of wedlock.”

“I don’t believe it will be, if we’re going by Asgardian marital law.”

Sif was astounded by her friend’s intellect as always. “You know marital law?”

“I know most law, I have a lot of spare time in the library.”

“And yet you couldn’t figure out that Thor had obvious feelings for you?” Zera chuckled. “You laugh, but that still baffles me.”

Thor knocked on the door and Sif answered. The sight of Zera in royal clothes caught him by surprise, and he felt the same fluttering in his stomach that he’d felt since they were young. 

“Has my wife gotten lovelier or do my eyes deceive me?” he asked, delivering a soft kiss to her lips. "Are you ready, Zera?"

Zera reached up and wiped her lipstick from his lips with her thumb. “I’m not yet your wife, love.”

"Not officially."

“I suppose I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Do I really look alright? Don't exaggerate to spare my feelings."

"Zera, you look stunning, you look like every dream I've ever had."

She smiled. "Thank you... My husband."

Thor grinned. “I have a wonderful feeling about this evening.” He bent down and pressed a kiss to her stomach. “Nothing to worry about.”

When Thor was this doting it almost brought Zera to tears. She could practically picture the expression he would wear on his face on the day their child is born.

He stood upright and extended his elbow to her. “Shall we go, my love?”

Zera nodded and linked her arm with his. She thanked Sif for her assistance and constant kindness with a hug and they walked out into the corridor.

All eyes were on them, every servant in the palace who knew Zera watched her walk past them on Thor’s arm, but she didn’t feel that any of them were particularly envious. A few of those who knew her mother well seemed excited to see her accompanying the prince.

She pictured Audhild among them, hiding her true feelings behind a painted smile. Her instability wasn't Zera's fault, but a part of her was weighed down by guilt. Perhaps, in a perfect world, Zera had stolen Audhild's place at Thor's side, but how miserable would he have been? Eventually they would both be miserable. They were a match who were practically perfect on paper, with no substance, nothing to hold it together, nothing but vague ideas of what 'should be'. 

Zera loved Thor, and she hadn't fallen for him on purpose. Sometimes she wondered if their love, so precious and real, were actually cursed. But she didn't regret pursuing the relationship, and she wasn't about to start, so she wiped Audhild's face from her mind and strode on. 

They got to the great hall and Zera took a deep breath. It would only be her and royal family. That was a small, intimate audience, most of whom knew her quite well. She had her love at her side and her mother in her heart, so she could conquer anything.

Frigga greeted the couple with a warm smile, opening her arms to embrace Zera. “Hello, dear.” She held her by her shoulders and admired her appearance for a moment. “My, how pretty you are.”

Zera curtsied. “Thank you, All-Mother. You look lovely as well.”

Loki was already sitting at the table, and Odin was sitting beside him. Frigga took Zera’s hand and led her to her seat, which was between Loki and Thor. She bowed to Odin, then sat. Nervousness ate away at her stomach like an animal, but she was determined to have this evening go well.

Odin eyed her in a manner that wasn’t judgemental, it was simply the keen eye of a wise king examining her as it would anyone. The king immediately launched into small talk. He asked about the library, what she’d been reading, and what his family had been reading. He asked about her mother and how Zera had handled this great loss.

Zera spoke candidly- unpretentious- unlike any other person Thor had brought to his parents. She had the humor of a common person but a wisdom beyond her years that Odin seemed to find intriguing. Slowly, Thor saw the tension in her shoulders fade away, and he felt a lot better. Watching her have a conversation with his father felt natural to him. 

“My dear, I don’t believe we’ve spoken this much since you were but a little one, aye?”

Zera nodded. “I believe so, I was too small to see over the kitchen counters, my mother had me standing on her toes.”

Odin thought for a moment and remembered, his eye lit up with an amused glitter. “That’s right! How you’ve grown. From what I’ve seen tonight, you are as bright as you are beautiful. Both of my sons had high praise for you and you’ve met every expectation exceedingly.” She looked to Loki out of the corner of her eye and he winked. “Nevertheless, you must understand that this marriage would not be an ordinary undertaking. You would not only stand to inherit property, but a kingdom, a realm.”

“Yes, All-Father, I’m well aware of this.”

“Are you prepared?”

She looked at Thor, whose hand had slipped under the table and gently taken hers. His calloused thumb ran against her knuckles. “I am prepared to be Thor’s wife, with all that it requires. The title and responsibility is something I take seriously but our union will be built on love and, consequently, I believe our reign would be too.”

“I believe that, but I’m still worried. Would you be able to handle seeing men, your husband included, off to war, when they may not return? I know that years of funeral pyre can take a toll on a gentle soul like yours.”

“I’m gentle but formidable. I grew up without a father. I’ve seen Thor and Loki off to battle many times and worried that they might not come back. My heart is weathered already, but I have so much love for Asgard. I can put aside my emotions and fear for it’s protection, All-Father.” She swallowed. “This palace has always treated me well and I’ll treat it well. I know this isn’t an ideal marriage-”

“Nonsense!’ Odin said. “What is ‘ideal’? Nothing is perfect. My marriage isn’t perfect. But I trust my son, I believe in his ability to discern right from wrong, and I trust you.”

Thor and Zera glanced at each other, confused. “Father, I was under the impression that you were disapproving.”

Odin shook his head. “I was surely skeptical but your Zera is most pleasant. She will make a lovely bride, a wonderful mother, and a beloved queen.”

Of course, these were things that Thor already knew, but his father’s blessing still meant the world to him.


After a night of joy and celebration, Thor and Zera left the great hall for the night. On their way out, Loki pulled Zera aside. He’d been keeping an eye out for Audhild’s tricks, it was to protect Zera but it was also out of fascination. Whenever he found something new, he would immediately deliver that news to Zera in the most realistic terms he could.

“I have reason to believe that Audhild has begun using her powers to sneak in and out of the palace…” Zera’s eyes widened, Loki put his hands on her shoulders. “I don’t think it is reason to be alarmed yet, sister. She’s only been going into her room to collect things before I can see them.”

“How is that not reason to be alarmed?”

He gave her a mischievous sideways grin. “It’s not reason to be alarmed because I am watching her every move.”

“Oh, trickster, do tell what you have up your sleeve.”

“I can't tell you my plans because these walls have ears and eyes, but I am planning to leave a message… I’ve also taken a few things from her. Things she could use to hurt you.”

“Why haven’t you told Thor any of this?”

“You know how he is,” he said. “You and I see problems and conflicts as puzzles and he, well, sees them as obstacles.”

“Sometimes they’re both.”

Loki shrugged. Truthfully, he knew that getting Thor or Odin involved would only escalate the situation, and that would make Audhild do something perhaps more violent than what she already had planned. He trusted Zera with the details, not just because they concerned her, but also because he knew that she didn't want a huge panic. It was one of those things that really balanced out well with his brother's contrasting personality. 

"I've gotten no wind of Audhild or her plans, but she has hurt you too and doubt she would think twice before doing it again, so please be careful, Loki. Joining this family will be far less fun if I'm not gaining you as a brother."

"Don't worry about me."

Zera pulled him into a hug. Over her shoulder, Loki noticed Thor watching them with a deeply tickled expression. “Thank you for protecting me, you have been my friend for as long as Thor has, I’ve never forgotten that.”

“Zera, you're starting to show affection like Thor."

"It's the baby, and it's for the best." She pulled away and smiled at him. “Stop worrying about Audhild tonight Loki, go find someone to spend the night with! She'll still be a problem in the morning.”

He rolled his eyes as she rejoined Thor. “Does a good book count as someone?”

“It depends on the book!”

Chapter Text

It was deep into the night when Audhild snuck into her room with a black cloak over her hair as if she'd been in mourning. She used magic to go through the door. All she needed was her spellbook and she would return to her hiding place with her plan in motion.

Her room had been torn apart, mostly by her. She didn't care, that part of her had long been left behind. Gone were the days of serving the Queen. She would die before bowing to Zera.

She found her spellbook on her pillow, rather than under it. This concerned her, but only briefly, she had to act quickly. She turned to the section of love spells. There was an enchantment she'd found that she was planning to use on Thor once she had him alone. One that would secure her future no matter what. She flipped through the section once and didn't find her marked page, so she looked again.

She took a patient breath and flipped through each individual page before she saw that a page had been torn out. A note had been left in its place:

Remind me to apologize to Zera for ruining a perfectly good book.

Love, Loki

Audhild stared at her book with furious eyes. In that moment of anger, she could have squeezed the life out of an infant with one determined hand. She could have set the entire palace on fire without blinking an eye.

“You really shouldn't leave things out…”

She looked up and Loki was standing in the doorway of her bathroom with a satisfied smirk on his face and his hands behind his back. Challenging her to act, he walked closer to her. In her mind she was envisioning slitting his throat, he could tell.

“You poisonous, evil child…” she hissed. 

“That's rich coming from you.”

Audhild slapped him, hard. He almost lost balance. “Where's that page? I will turn your cock into a happy memory.” She drew her dagger. “Where is that page, son of Odin?”

Loki chuckled and held up the crumpled page before making it turn to dust in his hand. “I thought you liked my brother, Audhild. I find your choice in spell curious. A spell that enslaves the soul to the point of insanity… If you're wondering why he prefers his betrothed, that's why.”

She held the dagger’s point to his throat. “I have half a mind to cut off every finger for that.”

He cocked his head to the side. “Your hair is turning white…”

“What’s that to you?”

“How long have you been dabbling with dark magic?”

“Long enough to know you can’t stop what I have planned, not even this little stunt will keep me from what I want.”

“I find it ironic that you want the throne yet you’re eliminating all possible routes to the throne.”

“Of course I want the throne, everyone wants the throne even if they won’t say so. But the throne is only part of it. My life has been stolen from me and given to Zera, and that is something I cannot just stand idly by and watch happen. You will not get in my way, Loki. I will have you in a funeral pyre before I let you do that.” Loki grabbed her dagger and turned it on her, pinning her to the wall. “I’m sure you miss this, but I really ought to go.”

“Zera will turn you into kindling before she lets you harm her child and I’ll slit your throat before I let you hurt Zera.”

Audhild smirked. “Neither of those things will be a problem.”

A swirl of smoke surrounded them and suddenly Audhild was nowhere to be found. Loki looked around the room with wide eyes.

“Oh this is not good…”


Later in the day, when the sun was setting, the warriors were taking a break from training and decided to join Zera by the garden. Of course, the only thing they wanted to discuss was anything having to do with babies.

“Do you know any lullabies?” asked Fandral. “Will you share a tune with us?”

Zera giggled. “They're all about fire.”

“Why of course,” Volstagg said. “Your people delight in fire.”

She snapped her fingers and a flame appeared. “I was an anxious child, if you remember.”

“We do,” replied Thor.

He was sat behind her, braiding flowers into her hair, which was growing massive from the pregnancy. He still felt a tinge of shock every time he remembered that his Zera was pregnant. Odds are, he’d never get over how fulfilling it felt. It was his dream come true.

She rolled her eyes. “My mother used to sing a song to me to calm me down and get me to sleep. That’s the one lullabye that I remember in it’s entirety.”

“Sing us the song, Zera!” Sif exclaimed.

“Alright, but I’m not the best singer.” Zera cleared her throat. “Keep the candle lit, my love. The night is all around me. Keep the flame burning long, let your love surround me. The light will chase away my fears, and I will know you're with me. Keep the candle lit, my love. The night is all around me.”

“Oh beautiful!” Volstagg cheered. “I'll teach it to my own little ones.”

“It isn't actually a lullabye, it's the song for when some is about to die for the final time. My mother said that the homes of the loved ones of those who had finally passed away would each have torches lit in their memory. But my mother sang it to me as a sort of blessing.”

“What a wonderful way to pass her memory onto your little one," said Sif. "Thor tells us you’ll be returning to the kitchen tonight."

She grinned. “Thor’s mouth lacks gates.”

“My mouth hasn’t troubled you before.”

She reached back and covered his face with her hand. “Anyway, I’m going back to the kitchen because I need to teach the other cooks how to make the wine for our wedding feast. Odin preferred my mother’s way but I’m the only one she taught it to.”

“Can I come along?” Fandral asked.

“You just want to drink.”

“So?”

Sif sighed blissfully. “A wedding… a baby… I feel like I’m watching my own children grow up. I’m so proud of you. Well, I’m proud of Zera, she’s the one carrying the child.”

“Our child.”

“Yes, in her body, Thor.”

“I’m very nervous,” Zera admitted. “I’m not sure why, I just have this feeling of foreboding, and it’s been hovering over me for some time.”

“You are protected, my love.” Thor assured her.

“Too protected.”

Thor caressed her cheek and she leaned on his hand. “After the wedding, we’ll have our privacy.”

“Have you put any thought into a romantic holiday on Vanaheim?” Hogun asked. It’s lovely this time of year, we have hot springs.”

“So you keep saying.” Fandral said. “Your women aren’t too kind.”

“No, they’re quite cordial. They just aren’t too kind to you.”

Loki ran out of the palace and into the garden. His face paled with panic and his chest heaving as if he’d just run around the realm and back. He put his hand on Thor’s shoulder and caught his breath.

“We need to talk, right now,” Loki said.

Zera looked back at him. “Has something happened?”

Loki started pulling Thor away from the rest of the group and gave his friend a half-hearted grin. “Don’t worry, Zera, it doesn’t pertain to you. I just have a message from mother.”

Thor followed Loki inside until they were far enough that the others couldn’t hear. “What is it? What’s mother said?”

“That was a lie, I didn’t want to worry Zera with this.” He took a deep breath. “Late last night I had an altercation with Audhild in her room.”

Thor raised an eyebrow. “In her room? Are you trying to tell me something?”

“No, Thor. I tried to trap her. She used a spell to get away from me. I’ve been searching for her ever since, but she is nowhere to be found. I went to Heimdall and he cannot see her.”

“How is that?”

“I’m not sure. Her magic is strong enough that she can hide from him, so she can hide from anyone.”

“Oh dear…”

“Yes, you understand the gravity of this. Well, I don’t mean to make it worse but, when I spoke to her, I believe she threatened your child.” Thor’s jaw clenched. “Don’t draw attention to yourself, brother.”

“Are you asking me to remain calm when my child’s life is being threatened before it has a chance to begin?”

“Yes, for their mother’s sake.”

Thor looked back at Zera, who kept a nervous eye on them. He put on a false happy face for her, and that calmed her, slightly. “Am I not supposed to tell her?”

“Her nervousness could kill the child before Audhild has a chance to so, yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.” Thor scoffed and Loki touched his shoulder. “We will take care of this without Zera knowing. Audhild will be a distant memory. But in order for that to happen, I need you to think before acting for once in your life.”

Thor crossed his arms. “I can do that.”

“Oh please…”

Zera walked inside and kissed Thor on the cheek. “I’m headed to the kitchen, my love. I will see you both at dinner tonight.”

“Yes dear,” Thor said softly.

“Is something wrong?”

He shook his head. “No, Zera, nothing’s wrong.”

She turned to Loki. “Is he lying?”

Loki laughed. “Nothing’s wrong, Zera.”

Thor lifted her chin up and kissed her. “Go make wine.”

Unconvinced, Zera walked away. Thor looked down. “I hate lying to her. She is the most honest person I’ve ever met and she deserves to know that her life is in danger.”

“She knows, Thor. She isn’t stupid. She just won’t know the severity of it.”

“I want to speak to Heimdall.”

Loki nodded. “Then, let’s go to the Bifrost.”


Zera walked into the kitchen and a wave of emotions hit her. She hadn’t been inside since her mother’s death, but her mother’s hand was on anything. The kitchen was still arranged exactly the way she would have ordered it, and the other cooks greeted her like an estranged daughter, so ecstatic to welcome her home, even if only for the night.

“Welcome back, princess!” said her mother’s oldest Asgardian friend, who kissed her forehead. “But I must scold you for not having your hair up.”

Zera bit her lip and quickly tied her braided hair up. “My apologies, second mother.”

Her eyes lit up. “You haven’t called me that since you were so small!” She put her arm around her. “I wouldn’t dare put my hands on your mother’s wine so you will be teaching Elfa.”

The old woman pointed to her young daughter, a quiet, mousy haired girl who didn’t appear too keen on being there. “It’s painless,” Zera promised. “My mother had a talent for making the complicated simple yet effective.”

The girl nodded and Zera led her to where the wine was.


Thor and Loki rode out to the Bifrost and Heimdall addressed them before they even opened their mouths. “I haven’t seen her and believe me, I am searching.”

Loki groaned. “You shouldn’t need to search, that’s what’s troubling about all of this.”

“Is Zera safe?” asked Thor.

“Safe and quite happy,” Heimdall replied. “She is guiding young Elfa… But, that’s strange…”

“What?”

“Elfa does not have a twin sister… I see Elfa sleeping in her bed.”

Thor’s heart stopped. “So who is with Zera?”


Zera dipped a cup into the wine. “Would you like the first taste, dear?”

Elfa shook her head. “I don’t drink, ma’am.”

She scoffed. “An Asgardian who doesn’t drink? Are you Asgardian at all?” She sniffed it and took a sip. There was something in the flavor of it that tasted odd, a bit more bitter than she'd expected. “It tastes… odd. Was something added before I got here?”

Elfa shook her head. “No, ma’am.”

“Maybe it needs something to sweeten it…”

“I’ll get that for you!” Elfa’s mother volunteered.

Zera took another sip under Elfa’s pleased eye. “The aftertaste isn’t awful, but it’s slightly sour.”

“Have you chosen your baby’s name yet, princess?”

“No, I won’t until I see them. Thor will look into their eyes and we’ll choose the first thing that he says.”

“How risky.”

She giggled. “If I don’t like it, I’ll suggest an alternative.” Zera blinked as a dull pain hit her right below the stomach. “That’s strange…”

“What’s strange, princess?”

Zera cleared her throat. “It’s probably just the baby.” Elfa’s mother handed Zera the sweetner and she started to pour it into the wine slowly. Another cramp came and Zera handed the pouch to Elfa. “Alright, maybe not the baby…”

The other cooks noticed the pained look on Zera’s face and rushed over. Her vision was starting to blur, and she felt so hot. Hotter than usual. She started to panic.

“There’s something in the wine… Don’t drink it…”

“Let’s get you some help,” said Elfa’s mother. She took Zera’s hand and started leading her out of the kitchen. “Get Thor!”

Zera collapsed and all the cooks ran to her aid, except for Elfa, who remained at the back of the kitchen until Thor and Loki raced down the hall. She gave them a satisfied smile and disappeared.

Chapter Text

Zera woke up slowly and looked around her. She was surrounded by nurses, being monitored and attended to. Thor was stood behind them, watching over her with focused, anxious eyes. She couldn't remember why it was she was there to begin with, but she had an awful feeling.

She was in a great deal of pain. Her hips and back hurt terribly and she'd already all but given up on the idea of sitting upright, as if the nurses would let her.

Thor saw that her eyes were opened and Zera grinned at him but he didn't grin back.

“Thor?” she asked. “What's wrong? What's happened?”

“Don't panic, Zera, we're attempting to alleviate your pain,” said one of the nurses. She kept her eyes on her sullen betrothed, who couldn't even look at her. “He'll tell you what's happened when he's ready, princess.”

“Thor?”

He took a deep breath. Upon further inspection, Zera noticed that he'd been crying, and she felt herself fill with fear. What would he need to be ready to tell her? What awful news was Thor holding in his chest? She couldn’t imagine.

“Thor, come here.”

He walked up to her and took her hand. His own hands were shaking but he smiled down at her with the usual warmth he held for his love. Despite his expression, he was happy to see her, of course. In fact, watching her eyelids flutter open gave him so much joy he thought he would start crying again.

“I'm so happy you're well, my love,” he whispered. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her head. “It’s been a long two days.”

Shocked, Zera put her hand over her heart. “Two days? Am I well? I'm surrounded by nurses and in terrible pain, how is this wellness?”

“It is wellness because your heart is still beating…” he replied. “You were poisoned.”

“By who? Audhild?” He nodded. “By the nine…”

“We haven’t found her yet. We’ve been searching all over but she’s hidden well.”

Zera shook her head. For some reason, she never suspected that Audhild would use poison. It wasn't like her to do something that wouldn't garner some sort of direct attention from Thor. “You lot might be underestimating her. She’s always been smart, always crafty. If you are not ahead of her, you might never be.” She propped herself up on her elbows. “I never meant to hurt her.”

“I don't think you would have had to.”

Thor had one more thing to tell Zera, but he didn't have the language or desire to do so. He wished that she could read his mind, so that she could know his grief without him having to speak it into certainty and make it real.

Before Zera woke up, Thor had been silent. His family had left him alone with his thoughts, and most of those thoughts were of Zera. He wept thinking of Zera cradling a baby in her arms, singing that sweet lullabye to a babe who looked just like her. It was too much for him.

“Son of Odin, your eyes speak volumes about what you dare not tell me…” she said. “I know your heart but cannot read your mind. Whatever news causes you so much pain, share it with me. Soon we'll be sharing everything, remember?” A tear rolled down Thor’s cheek. “Tell me.”

“You were not the target of Audhild’s assault,” he said, his voice shaking under the weight of his grief. “Our baby was.”

Suddenly the world stood still as stone and drained of color. Zera became aware of her own emptiness. Her body no longer held two heartbeats.

“I should have been there to protect you, I never should have left you alone.”  

Zera was so in shock that she could barely hear him. She looked down at what should have been her growing child and rubbed her skin.

Thor climbed onto the bed and curled up with her. The nurses wouldn't have tried to stop him. Nothing could've stopped him.

“I loved them so much already.”

“I know, my love… I did too.” He kissed her cheek and it was so hot that he pulled his lips away. The tears streaming down her face became vapor upon contact, and Thor knew he had to soothe her quickly before further harm was done. “Zera, calm yourself for your sake.”

“Who's to say she won't return each time my womb is blessed with one of our children? If she's done this once, what keeps her from doing it again?”

“I will. I will make sure she feels all the pain she's forced you to endure, I swear.” He pressed his forehead to hers. She was beginning to cool down, so he kissed her. “You are my wife, Zera. I will protect you, fiercely. We will bring life into this realm, just as we have brought love into it. All will be well.”

After a moment of mourning, the nurses had Zera sleeping again, regaining strength. Thor stayed with her for hours.

He still thought of himself as lucky, still saw Zera as the one woman his soul was linked to. But his heart and his love had been so bogged down with sorrows, he wasn't sure how to act.

In this moment of his youth, his instinct was violence. His instinct was rage. He thought about having Audhild drink the poison she gave to Zera. Shaving off her hair. Throwing her in the lowest prison. But those thoughts were quickly interrupted, by wistful visions of a newborn face with sweet brown skin and Zera's eyes. All he wanted was his baby back.

The nurses worked around him. They tried to extend as much privacy as they could. He ignored them for the most part and only spoke to his child, the one who would never be born. Singing the lullaby that Zera wanted to sing to them, as best he could.

"Keep the candle lit, my love. The night is all around me. Keep the flame burning long, let your love surround me. The light will chase away my fears, and I will know you're with me. Keep the candle lit, my love. The night is all around me..."

He gripped tight to Zera's dress. The fabric was light, and let him see her belly. That part of her was warm to touch, even warmer than the rest of her. It reminded him of the feeling one gets when they sit in a place that someone had only just recently moved from. 

“Little one, your mother was forged by fire, like a sword. But she is so soft, like I imagined you would have been. Her tenderness is beyond comprehension. I fear I haven’t earned it… I love you so much. If your mother and I had met you, we would have loved you even more. We are still so young, so foolish. Maybe this was our fate, we will have you one day when we're wiser.” Thor’s tears rolled across Zera's belly like a blessing. “If I were a fiercer warrior I would have kept you safe.”

He planted a kiss to his betrothed’s dry lips. His Zera, his firestarter. Words could not express his gratitude to Valhalla for allowing her to stay with him. If he'd lost her, he'd lost himself. His mind could barely handle the thought of it.

He got up from the bed and took one last look at her. One of the nurses gently tapped him on the shoulder. "What were you hoping for?" she asked. "A young girl or young boy?"

"I would love to see Zera raise a girl," Thor replied. "A bright girl, just like her... We would have named her Cathenna."


 

Thor walked to the throne room, where Odin and Loki were waiting to hear from him. He didn't look at them, he only sat down, eyes on the floor.

“She's well. Heartbroken, but well.”

“She's awake?” asked Loki.

“She's sleeping now, the nurses needed to calm her. I want to be proud of her for having such strength but she shouldn't have ever had to endure this sort of pain.”

Odin walked over to him, placing a supportive hand on his shoulder. “You musn’t blame yourself for the actions of the deranged.”

“I’m not blaming anyone, I’m just furious.”

“Good, fury is exactly what we need.”

Loki shook his head. “Fury’s irrational.”

Thor shot him a look, and Loki immediately regretted saying that. His brother’s blue eyes were glazed over with fury. The sadness and mourning had all but passed and only anger was beginning to take it’s place. “Really? Tell me how to be rational then! Tell me how to rationally face the death of my unborn child!”

“That isn’t what I mean and you know it, brother!” Loki put his hand on Thor’s shoulder. “Would you prefer that Zera had a dead child and a bitter husband? She would have to mourn both. Is that what you want?”

“No!”

“I didn’t think so. Thor, we will catch Audhild, and we will punish her, but we will do it in a way that does no more harm than has already been done.” Loki thought for a moment, and got an idea. “In fact, when we catch her, I should speak to her.”

Odin laughed. “She poisoned the future princess, she’ll have no opportunity to speak!”

Thor shook his head and turned to his father.  “I want to hear what she has to say,” he said. “I want to hear her plead for her life the way my child never got the chance to.”

“I won’t plead for anything.”

Startled by the new voice, they jumped and turned to Audhild, who was approaching them slowly. She had dark makeup on her eyes, her blonde hair was now silver, and she was holding her hands behind her back.

“Zera would have been safe if it weren’t for you, Thor…” she hissed. “You couldn’t resist! You couldn’t keep yourself away from her. You broke the natural order, and now I must restore it.”

Thor, unarmed, walked closer to her. Loki tried holding him back, but it was no use. “Natural order? Spare me! You were never meant for me, Audhild. I don’t know who you were meant for. You are a palace servant, just as Zera was.”

“But I am a full Asgardian.”

“And a traitor to Asgard. A crime punishable by death. But I think that would be too kind for the injury you dealt upon us.”

Audhild laughed and circled him. “I am more powerful than death. I am more powerful than you, than the All-Father, and most certainly more powerful than Zera.” She stopped and looked at Loki. “Anyway, I didn’t really come for conversation. Not with you three, at least. I’ve dealt with the child, but I still have unfinished business with the mother.”

Before Thor could grab her, Audhild was gone in a cloud of black smoke that grew and grew. Thor found the smell of it foul and covered his mouth, but the spell was already dragging him into a deep sleep. Loki and Odin felt it, too, but tried escaping the throne room.

Meanwhile, Audhild was already on the other side of the palace, taking a new disguise. She walked up to Volstagg, who was guarding Zera’s sleeping body, and he smiled at her without the slightest idea what was hidden behind the mask.


 

Fresh air and the dew of the grass. Zera knew where she was when she woke up. Her vision was blurry, but she saw Thor, and saw the lake in the heart of the forest. There was something comforting to her about seeing him there, looking out at the lake. It was like they didn’t have a care in the world. She almost thought it was a dream.

“My tender love…” she says.

Thor turned back and grinned. “You’re awake.”

“When did I end up in the forest?”

He walked over to her, crouching at her side. “I brought you here.” She reached out to him and he smiled, but it is not the warm smile that she is used to. “I thought you would want to be in the forest.”

“Yes, of course, but…” She looked around. “This isn’t our place. I’m actually not sure where this place is.”

“But isn’t it beautiful?”

“I suppose…”

Thor looked back at the lake. He picked up a stone, walked over to the lake, and dropped the stone in, watching it slowly sink. “I thought it would be best to take you here, since fire runs through your veins, and I can only imagine how your body is handling all of this stress.”

Zera wriggled, uncomfortable. She tried moving her legs, but it was far more difficult than she anticipated. She tried again, this time looking down. Her eyes grew wide with terror, her ankles had been bound to a large weight.

She looked back at “Thor”. An alarm sounded in her mind. She shifted so quickly from fear, to anger, then back to fear. Killing the child was only the beginning, it was the precursor, it was a test.

“No…”

“Don’t bother moving… or screaming…”

The only things around them were trees, grass, and the water. Zera didn't see anything that could break her out of this. Her heart raced. It raced so fast that she was sure it would stop before her captor could do anything to her. “Audhild… Please…”

“I want you to know, Zera, that I never hated you.”

Panicked, Zera used all of her strength and dug her fingers into the soil. She turned herself on her front, huffing and panting, as she dragged herself across the forest floor.

She didn’t get far. “Thor” grabbed her by her waist. She screamed at the top of her lungs. Thinking fast, she took a deep breath and turned back to her captor, breathing a fiery wind into their face.

The burn was horrendous. “Thor” cried out and let her go. Zera felt one of her ribs crack, but immediately went to work trying to pull the chains from around her ankles.

“YOU FILTH! YOU’RE A WHORE, ALL YOU WILL EVER BE IS THOR’S FAVORITE CUNT!”

“Better a cunt than a murderer!”

Slowly, Audhild lost her disguise. But her face was still burning. Half of it was still the gorgeous Asgardian. The other half was unspeakable. Zera turned away from her.

“What have you done to me?!”

“I should ask you the same!”

Audhild, in pain, grabbed the weight she attached to Zera’s ankles and started dragging Zera towards the lake. Zera continued undoing the chains. She whispered a prayer to the spirit of her mother, and tried to think harder. But the only idea that she can come up with frightens her completely.

But she had to do something.

She rubbed her hands together and held onto the chains. They turn bright orange under her touch, burning her dark skin. But the heat is enough to allow her to break the chains with her bare hands.

Zera frees herself and stumbles as she breaks off and away from Audhild. Audhild turned, furious, shocked. She used her powers to raise the root of a tree, causing Zera to trip and fall. She teleported herself over to her victim. Climbing on top of her with the hot chain in her hands.

“Do not make me reconsider my remorse, Zera.”

Zera pressed her hot hand to the burnt half of Audhild’s face. Audhild screamed but did not let go this time. She tied the chain around Zera’s wrists. Tears ran down Zera’s face and Audhild frowned.

“Don’t cry. Think of it this way, my friend. When you’re gone, he won’t want me.”

“So why are you doing this to me?”

Audhild thought about it and used magic to bind Zera’s lips shut. She dragged Zera to the edge of the lake. Zera's red hair began to feel heavy as it got wet. Zera knew this death would be more than painful. It was winter. Her body could handle cool water, but it wasn't meant for water that was this cold. Cold water made her sick, it made her weak. It made her defenseless. Suddenly, she was thankful that Audhild killed her baby before they had to suffer this fate.

Before pushing her into the water, however, Audhild paused. “I think I'm doing this to you because you stole my possibility from me.”

Chapter Text

Under Audhild’s enchantment, Thor not only found himself asleep, but he found himself looking at the bright sun’s light streaming in through his bedroom window. He blinked into alertness and looked around. It certainly wasn’t his bedroom, it was bigger. Even the bed was bigger. It was the bedroom of the king.

Startled, but careful, Thor slowly sat up. What was he doing in there? It wasn’t decorated the way his father liked, instead it seemed to be his taste, his and someone else’s.

The bedroom door creaked open. Whoever opened it hid from his sight long enough to make him all the more guarded. His fists clenched at his sides, and his jaw tightened. He waited for the attacker to jump into the room so that he could show them what happens when someone dares to ambush the son of Odin.

But the person continues to wait.

“Who goes there?” he asked, attempting to be intimidating despite his fear.

His question is met with giggles. Gentle, childlike giggles. He slowly rose from his bed and walked over to the door, pushing it open. There was no possible way for him to have predicted who was standing there.

It was a little girl with brown skin and glittery cheeks. Her eyes were his shade of blue, but that hair. That was Zera’s childhood mop of blazing curls, raging like the fire they were on his beloved. The sight of the beautiful little girl choked him.

“Good morning, Cathenna.” said Thor.

The little girl smiled from ear to ear. “I was going to surprise you, father!”

He couldn’t help but to smile back at her, his daughter. The daughter that was taken from him. She was standing there, a bit small for an Asgardian child, but obviously confident enough to appear twice her size. “My apologies, princess. I will allow you a second chance.”

Her eyes lit up and she giggled again, shutting the door and waiting for the sound of her huge father climbing into bed. He got under the covers and felt cold tears fall down his cheeks. If only this were more than an illusion, he’d be the happiest being alive. But he knew he would have to say goodbye to his new love as soon as he awoke, and he’d be plunged back into a reality in which her mother’s life was in dire straits. So, for now, he would savor this.

The door creaked open again and Thor laid still. The little girl crept in and climbed onto the bed at his feet, being careful not to move them. She climbed all the way up to his face and looked down at him, dragging her tiny hands across his cheeks to wipe his tears. He opened his eyes wide and gasped at her, wrapping the girl in his arms and kissing her hot cheeks.

“Oh how you’ve surprised me! It’s not easy to surprise a king!”

She smiled. “Mother says she surprises you all the time.”

“Surely she does, that’s why I love her.” He sat up and she sat on her knees in front of him. “You look so much like her. An image of pure light.”

Cathenna kissed her father on his prickly, bearded cheek. “You must wake up, father!”

“I know.”

“Mother’s in the lake! If you do not fetch her body from the lake, she won’t be able to forge fires from her ashes and be reborn.”

Thor started to panic. “Is that so?”

“Bring an army. Audhild will not be easy to subdue.”

“How do you know this?”

“Father, from my place beyond birth, I see all. I live and grow here in your dreams as unfulfilled memories. But there are great memories to be made in the realm of the living still. There will be more children for you and mother. Ones you will grow to love as much as you already love me. You will serve lands beyond the Bifrost and create peace. But you must hurry! You must wake up!”

“Will I ever see you again?”

The blue eyed girl smiled and ran her soft fingers over his eyelids. “My eyes are your eyes.”

In a moment, he awoke, his ears ringing, his eyes unfocused. He pulled himself off the ground just in time to see Sif and The Warriors Three rushing in behind Heimdall. The gatekeeper helped lift him to his feet, he was unsteady at first but moved regardless.

“We have to hurry,” Thor said.

Heimdall pushed mjolnir into his hands. Behind them, Loki slowly roused himself but refused Fandral’s assistance. “I saw nothing before I saw her being pushed under the water, had I known-”

“Don't dwell on it, Heimdall, you can only do so much. She's in the lake in the heart of the forest. The one the sun's light cannot see.”

Sif was noticeably distraught. She kept a pace above everyone else's as they ran to their steeds. “Strange, she craves so much attention but does this in the shade.”

“We can't predict people like this.”

They mounted their horses and rode into the woods. It was dark as night although the sun was still high in the sky elsewhere in Asgard. In the thick of it was the lake, and Audhild was sat by it with her head bowed. Thor jumped from his horse and approached her slowly with his hammer ready in his hand.

“She hasn't been under long.” she told him. “The water probably hasn't reached her lungs. If it has, oh well, the deed’s done with nothing more to say.”

“Is that remorse?”

Audhild looked up at him and they jumped back, aghast at the state of her burnt face. It chilled Thor to the bone. The inner decay within Audhild had finally claimed her looks. “I wouldn't have endured this if I thought what I was doing was unjustified. I just wish it didn't have to be Zera.”

“It was only ever going to be Zera.”

“I know. I think I always knew that.” Thor rushed to the the water and Audhild took hold of his ankle. “I can't let you undo this.”

He turned and kicked her back. Sif, Heimdall, and Loki ran into the lake. The others surrounded Thor with their weapons ready, unsure of what Audhild would do.

She looked up at him. Her eyes were blue stones, unfeeling and unwavering. Her hands were in tight fists at her sides. It was a challenge to her, it all was. Thor, most of all, was her challenge.

“Look at us, Thor,” she said. “I’ve never seen you angrier. It suits you.”

“Give me a reason not to end your life now.”

Audhild shook her head. “Dear, you can’t return from something like that. If you do that, it will cement a cruelty in you that I’ve always seen the capacity for.”

“I’m not like you.”

“No, but you’re surely like your father.”

“You dare speak ill of the All-Father with his son standing over you?” asked Fandral.

She rolled her eyes. “You think I’m afraid of that old man?” Audhild rose to her feet. “Why did you ruin everything? Why did you have to throw us all into chaos for your heart’s whim?”

“Zera?!” exclaimed Loki.

Thor turned and saw Sif bobbing above the surface of the water, pulling Zera up with her. His heart leapt from his chest with a sense of victory, but that celebration was short lived.

“She’s freezing!” Sif shouted.

Audhild grinned. “That doesn’t sound good…” Thor whipped around and grabbed Audhild by her throat. “Does the prince really wish to have this on his record before he assumes the throne?”

“No, he doesn’t, so you’d better hope there’s a chance of her returning.”

“I’d prefer that you kill me.”

She conjured daggers and sliced Thor’s forearm. When he released her, she turned her magic onto the rest of the warriors. Pushing them back as far as she could.  “I was born to be Queen of Asgard and I will end Odin’s line here if I must.”

Thor held his arm to stop the bleeding. His friends were pulling Zera onto the lake’s shore. It almost made him ill to see her so violet, so still. He stumbled over to her, forgetting the pain, forgetting wound. His hands brushed her cold cheeks and he looked into her lifeless green eyes. When he placed his hand on her heart and didn’t feel it beat, all the rage that he’d only just felt was gone and had been replaced with a sorrow so great that his own heart literally began to ache.

“No…” he whispered. He pulled her into his arms. “I’ve failed you, Zera. I’m so sorry. My first and last love...”

The warriors hadn’t seen him so distraught, so torn. It incensed them against Audhild even more. They charged towards her, and she fought each of them off. Her magic was quick. It relied on playing with people’s eyes and blunt, violent force. It was as if she were a tornado of her own invention.

“Seize yourself, witch!” shouted Volstagg. “No use in fighting, we’ll have you dead before we let you use more tricks.”

“This is what I wanted…” she said, looking at the mourning prince. “For Thor to realize his mistake.”

Loki walked up to her. “His mistake was ever mistaking you for a friend.”

She laughed. “That’s rich coming from you. No one has more of a split mind about Thor than you. No one has tried to harm him more than you. If anyone in Asgard were ever a danger to Thor, it wasn’t me, the serpent is in the blo-”

Her words were cut short when a knife pierced through her heart. Her mouth hung open, releasing nothing more than a choked, surprised whimper. She turned and saw a second Loki, grinning down at her.

Blood spilled from the sides of her mouth and she collapsed. The Loki in front of her disappeared. The last thing she saw in her miserable death was Thor holding woman he loved most in his arms, with his back towards her as always.

With Audhild gone, the warriors gathered around Thor. They weren’t sure how to comfort him, if he could be comforted. Heimdall put a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he looked up at him.

“Lay her down away from the water.”

“Put her beside your tree,” Loki suggested. He looked down at the girl he quietly loved as well, perhaps not as strongly or in the same way as his brother, but still strong enough to be called love. He missed her already. “She loved this forest so much, it’s only right that she stay here.”

Thor carried Zera to their tree. The night that Audhild created had disappeared and given them sunlight again. He set her down in the light of the sun, so she’d be warm.


 

Hours passed. Thor was in his bedchambers. People had been in and out to comfort him. He wasn’t weeping any longer, although the pain in his heart was still very real.

Frigga and Odin stood at his door and watched him look out the window. Odin wasn’t exactly one for comforting, so he waited for Frigga to speak before imparting any wisdom onto his eldest. But what good was wisdom? To have wisdom, one would have to have a clear mind, and Thor’s was anything but clear.

Thor’s world was always a thunderstorm, a rumbling cloud beyond the distance, but he’d never been surrounded by fog before now.

Frigga sat beside him. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t touch him. He laid his head on her shoulder and she rubbed his hair.

“I can’t imagine what great pain you feel, my son,” she said. “A broken heart is one thing, but to have it broken in this way? That is a different matter entirely.”

“I’ve been begging the stars to bring her back to me.”

Odin looked down. “The stars owe you nothing, son. No one ever said the stars were fair. They are as cruel as any other part of nature. All we can do is decide what all of this means.”

“The stars are so cruel that they would give to me the one thing I have always hoped for and then tear her from me? I’d rather not see the sky ever again.”

Frigga turned to her husband, hinting for him to allow her to handle this on her own. He nodded and left the room. She lifted up Thor’s head and conjured a stone, just like the one on the necklace he’d given Zera when they were little. She dropped the stone into his hand and closed his grip around it.

“She’s with you still,” she assured him. “In some way, I know this. I was almost her mother but I still feel her. If she were wholly gone, I would feel that, too.”

“That’s what’s wrong! I still feel her. I don’t feel as if something’s been torn from me, but I held her body in my hands, mother. I don’t want to feel her but not be able to touch her. I don’t want her watching from where I cannot reach her.”

“Who said you couldn’t reach her?” Thor looked down at the stone in his hand, and Frigga kissed his forehead. “She hasn’t left you, Thor. Trust me.”

After his mother left, Thor stared back out at the night sky. If her body couldn’t burn on it’s own, they would have to bury it. But he couldn’t bear the thought of burying her. Burying her was too final for him. It was too certain. Zera’s death had been too sudden and soon for her to have communicated the sort of funeral she would have liked.

He didn’t entirely feel comfortable giving her an Asgardian funeral pyre. To disrespect her native culture would’ve been like killing her twice, but he also couldn’t handle going into the library to find out what her traditions for burials were.

Thor rubbed his thumb on the stone until it felt warm. He thought about sleeping for a moment, but the bed still smelled like her. He stood up from it and paced. Would it have been calming to go to the garden? No. She loved the garden. He could see her and Sif laughing there in his mind’s eye.

There was no place on Asgard that didn’t remind him of her.

He decided that he needed to see her again. If he was really never to see Zera smile or hear her speak again, he had to see her.

He rode out to the forest. Loki joined him. He wore a black cloak of mourning over his head. He thought about bringing her flowers, something beautiful to surround her until it was time for her to be finally buried, but decided against it.

“Do you think anything’s touched her?” asked Thor. “Like animals?”

“I don’t know. Don’t think on it too much… Maybe we shouldn’t have left her beside the tree…”

Thor raised an eyebrow. “It was your idea.”

“It was a lovely gesture in my head at the time. You spent so much time with her there…” There was a moment of silence and then Loki was surprised to hear Thor actually laughing. He looked up at him with slight concern. “What’s so funny?”

“Remember when we were young, and you tried to hang me from a tree by my foot?” Thor asked. Loki nodded slowly. “I’d promised Zera that I would pick berries with her. She was so angry with you, and I’d never seen her angry.” He laughed louder. “She picked up a twig and started beating you with it until you cut me down.”

Loki smiled. “If she hadn’t been so deadset on picking berries, I think she would have found my trick as funny as I did.”

“Maybe so. But I think… I think that’s the moment I fell in love with her.”

“It was a good moment.”

“Yes, as good as a moment can be.”

They got off of their horses and Thor hesitated. His eyes fixed on the sky and grew wide. Loki looked back at him. “Look, brother, we don’t have to do this.”

“That isn’t it.”

“Then what is?”

Thor pointed up towards the sky. There was a yellow light, the sort that would only come from a bonfire, and it was in the direction of the tree that Zera was laying under. “Something’s happening.”

He ran past Loki and towards the light. His heart raced. When Zera was pulled from the water she was cold as stone. There was no way, there was absolutely no way…

Where Zera’s body had been, there was now a great blaze. The blaze consumed the bark of their tree and created a pile of ashes by the branches. Thor stood back and fell to his knees in front of it. He prayed under his breath that this was what he thought it was and not merely in his hopeful imagination.

The fire danced in front of him for a moment longer, warm and inviting as Zera was. Then the ash seemed to swallow it.

Loki caught up to him and looked down at the ashes. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Silence. Still. Everything stopped except for Thor’s breathing and his heart.

A hand reached out from the smouldering ashes. Thor, ready, took the hand, then the other one, pulling them through. When red hair started to poke through, Loki smiled.

It wasn’t long at all before Zera’s head was out of the ashes, she gasped for air and coughed but kept pushing through. She kept digging.

Now the princes finally realized why her people called this a rebirth. The ground was bringing Zera back from the dead, naked and crying, like a newborn.

When her legs were through, Thor pulled her close to him. She was hot as coals, but he didn’t care, she was alive.

Zera was alive , breathing, more beautiful than when he’d seen her last. Thor put his cloak around her and she tried standing, but immediately stumbled into his arms.

“I’ve got you…”

He brushed the ashes from her face, and she looked up at him. At first, she seemed terrified, and he was worried that she’d forgotten him, but it was merely the shock of being brought back, and the terror immediately dissipated once she realized whose arms she was in.

“Oh... Son of Odin... if you ever let me die again, I’ll kill you.”

Thor didn’t have the words to respond. All he could think to do was lean down and kiss her.

When he pulled away, she smiled at him. “How long was I gone?”

“Only hours. Felt like years.”

“Dramatic…” She looked around. “Where’s Audhild?”

“Dead,” Loki replied. “I killed her.”

Zera looked down. “She’s dead… I’m supposed to feel happy, aren’t I? She tried to kill me, she killed our child.”

Thor kissed her forehead. “I think it’s kind of you to feel for her.”

Zera noticed a grin at the corner of his lips and her own smile grew. “You don’t feel for her at all, do you?”

“No, I just find it sweet that you do.”

She kissed him again. He stood and started carrying her back to his horse. There was something different about her. Perhaps her hair was brighter shade of red or her eyes a more vivid green. Maybe her skin was clearer or her smile was brighter.

“Is the wedding off?” she asked. Thor shook his head.  “What if I told you that I saw something strange after I went into the water? It was a little girl with my hair but your eyes.” He chuckled. “What?”

“Nothing, what did this girl say?”

Zera rubbed her fingers against his beard, and tears fell against her hot cheeks but quickly vaporized. “She said you would be there when I came back. She told me all would be well.”

“Sounds like she had your wits as well as your hair, my love.”

“No, that optimism is entirely yours.”

Thor helped Zera onto his horse. Her body was rather sore and it probably would’ve been better for her to walk, but she needed his comfort. There was a moment when she didn’t think she would be returning to him. She thought she would have to watch him mourn her, watch him weep, and see that light she loved so dearly fade. But it was good to know that fate was on her side.

“I think… we’re going to need a bit of light, Zera.”

With a smile, she rubbed her hands together and a glow, unlike that which she’d ever been able to conjure before, lit the way back home.