Sif has never been frightened of the All Father before. Though she is one of the young princes’ closest companions, she has until now only encountered their father at a distance – sitting on his throne in the great hall, at the head of a feast or the royal procession through Asgard. He is an imposing figure, to be sure, but Sif has never had cause to fear his wrath.
However, in the face of not only the All Father but the entire royal family, guards, and her own mother, she refuses to show her fear. She may only be a child but she will not cry and grovel and beg for forgiveness in front of them. Behind her, her mother is very nearly doing just that, her voice quaking as she apologizes repeatedly to the All Father, who paces wordlessly in front of them. His steps echo in the great hall and Sif imagines they are loud enough to rattle the walls as surely as they rattle her bones. He is not looking at her or her mother or anything in particular; he just paces, seemingly unmoved by her mother’s pleas.
Sif looks beyond him to the All Mother, standing a few feet behind him. Frigga is a more familiar figure, a teacher and friend to many of her sons’ companions and Sif especially. Loki is clinging to her skirts, half hidden behind the flowing blue fabric. He peeks out briefly, long enough for Sif to catch sight of the blackish-blue blooming around his left eye and she can’t help feeling a sense of satisfaction. She glares right at him and he ducks his head back behind his mother. Thor, to the All Mother’s right, not even bothering to contain his amusement at the whole fiasco, snickers and grins.
Suddenly, the All Father stops and stands directly in front of Sif. She holds her breath.
“Please, All Father.” Her mother is still going on and on. “I cannot apologize enough for my daughter’s behavior and I assure that she has been taught the proper respect – ” Odin raises his hand to silence her and the hall goes distressingly quiet. Sif steels herself for a blow, for the All Father’s wrath to come crashing down on her shoulders.
Instead, he begins to laugh.
No one else in the hall makes a sound, taken aback by his unexpected reaction, but Sif feels much of her earlier trepidation dissipate. The All Father kneels before her. Still chuckling, he looks like a very different man from the one pacing ominously only a few moments ago, very different from the omnipotent figures she has always known him to be. He seems almost fatherly.
“Tell me,” he says with a smile, “what did my son do to incur the wrath of the young Lady Sif?”
He’s teasing her, she realizes bitterly. She doesn’t appreciate being made fun of, especially in front of an audience; she meets Odin’s gaze head-on and says nothing. From the corner of her eye, she catches Loki watching her nervously, waiting for her to speak. She may have knocked him into the dirt in the schoolyard less than an hour earlier, but she won’t betray all that passed between them.
“Sif,” her mother hisses, mortified that not only has her daughter given a prince of Asgard a black eye, but now she is directly defying the All Father himself.
“It’s quite alright, my dear,” Odin says, smiling at Sif as if he knows everything she hasn’t said. “Let them have their secrets.”
She is dismissed, unpunished.
Sif is not in the mood for partying.
She stands against the wall while the feast carries on without her. The air is filled with laughter, singing, the clinking of glasses, and the occasional undignified belch from Volstagg. Thor’s voice rings the loudest. Sif watches her friend as he knocks back a chalice of wine and regales his guests with one highly exaggerated tale after another. He seems so happy -- and why shouldn’t he be? He’ll replace his father as ruler of Asgard soon.
Maybe that’s why Sif feels change in the air. Lately she’s been unable to shake an inexplicable sense of foreboding -- it’s nonsense, she knows, but it affects her nonetheless. Any other time she would be right there beside Thor, telling her own stories, putting away more wine than half the men. She’s still nursing the same glass of wine she’s had all evening. It should have been enough to take the edge off at least, but it has only made her more placid. The noise and activity of the feast are beginning to exhaust her, so she quietly makes her ways outside.
She might have expected to find Loki out here. Rarely one to join the festivities, he’s leaning against the balcony, looking out at the night sky over Asgard. She joins him quietly and for a long moment he does not outwardly acknowledge her presence, though Sif feels the air shift around them.
Finally, Loki speaks. “Shouldn’t you be drinking my brother under the table? Being alone at parties is more my forte than yours.”
Sif smiles. “Neither of us is alone.”
“True. But your friends will notice your absence.”
“Do you think we do not notice yours?”
Loki hums and finally turns to face her. He seems to hesitate before speaking, mulling the words around in his mind before giving life to them. “People see you,” he says. He gestures toward the great hall, echoes of of laughter reaching them even out here. “They see you. They do not see me.”
There is no sadness or anger in his voice; he says it a matter-of-factly as he might tell her that there are nine realms. There is only a faint trace of resignation, and Sif supposes what he says is not entirely untrue. Thor and Odin cast long shadows and Loki is very different from them -- different, but not lesser, at least not to Sif’s eyes. She has never been quite sure what they are to each other. Friends, yes, but not in the same way that she and Thor are friends. She can’t put a name to it, but she knows, though neither of them has spoken of it, that Loki feels it too.
“I see you,” she blurts, before her mind has a chance to catch up to her tongue. Perhaps the wine has affected her more than she thought. But it is too late to take it back and she finds that she doesn’t want to. They are older now, there is no sense in being childishly coy any longer. Loki has gone quiet, staring at her, clearly as surprised by her words as she is. She holds his gaze, determined to make sure he knows what she says is the truth. “I have always seen you.”
The moment stretches between them and neither of them speaks another word. Though the silence is not uncomfortable, Sif is suddenly aware of the chill in the night air and takes another sip of her wine.
A memory comes swimming unprovoked to the front of her mind and she begins to laugh. “Do you remember when I punched you in the schoolyard?”
Loki laughs then, too, the seriousness of their previous conversation slipping away. “I was relieved my father found the whole thing so amusing. I was worried he might banish you to Niflheim.”
“So was I,” Sif admits, leaning against the balcony rail, letting air cool her face. The memory has made her feel lighter, her earlier foreboding forgotten -- is it the memory alone, she wonders, or simply Loki’s presence, the freeing feeling of being able to let her guard down just for a few moments? “I was terrified of him.”
“You? Terrified?” Loki smiles at her. “I didn’t think you were afraid of anything.”
“Well, I was only a child,” she says. The distance between them has dwindled to almost nothing and when Sif leans her head closer, like a child would to whisper some secret to a playmate, her face is only a few inches from his. “Do you remember why I hit you?”
For a moment, Loki seems almost bashful, a small smile tugging at the edge of his lips and a light pink flush coloring his cheeks. Sif feels a sense of satisfaction at making him so flustered. “If memory serves me,” he says. “I told you I liked you.”
“I wonder,” Sif says quietly, more to herself than to Loki, but still he meets her eyes, waiting for her to continue. “Do you still?”
Another long moment passes between them and the rest of Asgard seems to disappear. The way Loki is looking at her has already answered her question but she waits, wanting to hear him say it.
Instead his expression changes. There is a familiar glint in his eyes and when he smiles she catches a glimpse of the mischievous little boy from the schoolyard. Smirking, he asks, “Are you going to hit me again if I say yes?”
She just might, she thinks to herself, but she takes a different route instead. She finally, completely closes the space between them and presses her lips gently to his. He responds eagerly, answering to her kiss by pulling her even closer to him. It feels long overdue.
When they finally break apart, she presses her forehead to his, not wanting the moment to end. But as the outside world slowly comes back into view, she notices the hall door bursting open, Thor and his friends spilling out into the night, drunk and loud. No one has noticed the two of them yet, so Sif enjoys these last few private moments.
Before it ends she asks, whispered into Loki’s ear like a secret, “Will you visit me later tonight?”
The playful twinkle still lingers in his eye and he bows, smiling. “As you wish, Lady Sif.”
Change is coming -- she’s felt it for some time now, but as she takes her leave, looking back at Loki, she allows herself to hope it will be, after all, change for the better.