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Lost and Found

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Lost and Found

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

When Loki left to work on his double-play against the Chitauri he never came back. When Silbhé was brought onto the Helicarrier to debrief the newly-formed Avengers Initiative, she knew something had to be done. What no one expected was the kind of power she could wield, and how far she was willing to go…

 

Missing

I lost him, never knew if I would ever find him again… but I never stopped loving him.

We said our vows, giving all we had, all we were to each other.

Afterwards, we were together a full week; spending most of that time either taking walks through the garden or unleashing our passion in my bedroom. My father was still on his business trip and my aunt was staying with her sick friend for the time being. I was enjoying the longest period of time I'd ever had with Loki. At least something came out from him not being able to return to Asgard. Though I still didn't like the situation he was in with the Chitauri…I would feel a lot better once it was all over. Though it probably wouldn't be happening for a while yet.

That particular day, as we laid together in silence enjoying the afterglow of our activities, Loki seemed to suddenly remember something. He made a motion with his hand before reaching into empty air. I recognized what he was doing, having seen it before, a subspace pocket, where he usually kept things he didn't want to lose. What he brought out of it was a beautifully crafted pendant about two inches long and one and a half wide of a bird with its wings fully open. It was a nightingale…

"Oh Loki…it's beautiful…" I declared, marveling at the gift.

"I had it custom made for you." He told me as he put in on me. "It's Asgardian metal, far more resistant than any Midgardian metal could be. I also wove many protective spells on it, it will help keep you safe in the hard times to come."

"It's a wonderful present, thank you." I smiled at him, kissing his chin when I couldn't reach his mouth properly.

"When I ordered it, I meant it to be a graduation present, but now…I think it fits well as a consort gift." He declared.

"Consort gift?" I was surprised by that.

"I'm not sure if you didn't realize what you did when you repeated my declaration a few nights ago, word for word, but we're bound now." Loki explained to me in a sudden monotone. "Not quite like with the demarkonian, but still. With those words and the fact that you were pure upon the night of our union, and your desire to belong to me…we are married as far as the most ancient of Asgardian traditions go. Of course I doubt very much that m…the Allfather would recognize our union considering he sees me as a traitor and you as a mortal, but it's not like I care for his opinion either…I only care about yours."

I could hear the unasked question: did I regret it.

"Well, I will admit that you have surprised me." I admitted calmly. "I did not know the kind of magic that was in those words when I repeated them…but I won't take them back. If I had known beforehand I would still have said them, and meant them." I smirked at him. "A heads-up might have been nice though, so I could get you a present too…"

"You are all the present I could ever wish for." He assured me, kissing me, obviously relieved by my declaration.

"I still will get you something."

I did get him something, eventually. It was a circular golden locket, about an inch in diameter, with a heart made of Celtic knots engraved on the front; on the inside, one side held a miniature picture of me, so he could 'see' me whenever he wanted, while the other held a microchip in which I'd had someone record myself playing the flute, the very first melody I'd played for him. He'd loved his gift, made him change his mind about not needing anything else…He had it on him always, hidden beneath the collar of his shirt. I, on the other hand didn't have to hide my pendant, my friends even knew my boyfriend had given it to me…they just didn't know who my boyfriend was exactly…not sure what their reaction would be.

After that week of bliss was over, Loki and I both had to get moving. He had to go back to the Shadows, with Thanos and the Chitauri, to play double agent (well, it would be, if he had someone aside from me backing him up on this side). While I began making plans, trying to find a way to help him. I didn't expect the opportunity to fall straight into my lap the way it did. It was truly the most magnificent coincidence.

 

xXx

Magnificent coincidences aside, I still wasn't beginning my new job until September, which gave us a chance for an actual honeymoon of sorts. Using the excuse with my father and aunt that I wanted some time for myself, to spend traveling, before I began my new job, neither of them raised any objections when I boarded a plane for Europe on the last days of June. I had just checked into my suite in my favorite hotel just outside London when Loki joined me.

That became our arrangement for the following two months. I would travel like a normal human (because if I didn't some people might start to wonder how I was getting from one place to the next, there needed to be records). Loki meanwhile would be doing whatever it is he needed to do, elsewhere. I knew he hadn't yet gone back to the abyss, I knew I would be able to feel it when he left the realm; and he hadn't, except to walk the shadow paths.

We traveled through England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy and many other places during those two months; never staying anywhere for more than a week. Those were two wonderful months, the best of my entire life and then…everything changed.

I got back to Portland a week before I was to show up for my new job in Puente Antiguo, New Mexico. Loki had been with me until right before I boarded the plane, had warned me that it might take a while for him to visit again, since he was going into the abyss, to see the Chitauri. I did my best to hide my worry and nervousness about him; giving him a kiss goodbye, wishing him well, and boarding the plane back to the United States.

Days passed, I packed my things and moved to New Mexico, where I got installed in a small room in the one hotel the town had. It looked a little worse for wear (which wasn't too surprising, considering what I knew had happened to them less than four months before).

On my first day in the job I met my direct boss: Dr. Jane Foster, astrophysicist who led a team of scientists and engineers who were attempting to create an Einstein-Rosen bridge that might connect us to Asgard. Along with her was her mentor: Dr. Erik Selvig (who wouldn't be staying long, as S.H.I.E.L.D. was calling him to work in another project); and her personal assistant: the newly graduated Political-Science major Darcy Lewis (who, unknown to all but a scant few, was also one of the best hackers ever). Aside from those three I also met my boss's boss; our contact with S.H.I.E.L.D.: Philip Coulson, better known as Phil.

I got settled into my job easily enough. It's not like what I had to do was that complicated. I was to teach everyone in the team Norse mythology, so they could be somewhat prepared for Asgard. They had made a great deal of letting me know what 'truly happened' in New Mexico, made me sign about a dozen confidentiality forms, etc. (As if I hadn't known everything, and more, before they said a word).

Days passed, and weeks, and I didn't hear from my love. I could still sense him, though vaguely, just enough to know he was alive, and not in Midgard. And time kept passing, weeks, and eventually months, until eventually I had to accept I had lost him. Something had gone wrong, even if I hadn't the slightest idea of what or why. I could only hope that he would find his way back to me eventually, or I would find my own way to him…

In any case, eventually I had other things to focus on, like my own health. I was badly sick for months. It was a good thing Jane and Darcy had offered me to move in with them, in a house on the outskirts of New Mexico not long before; otherwise I would have had no one to help me. I almost died mid-March… and through it all, I never saw Loki. It broke my heart, for him not to be there when I needed him most; at the same time my blood froze in the realization that something must be truly, horribly wrong… for I couldn't imagine anything short of that being able to keep my love from me. And I knew he loved me, that was one thing I would never doubt, no matter what happened.

The summer came again. Darcy had earned herself a second major through online courses, this time in computer sciences. We hadn't seen Erik since Christmas, and Jane was invited to work on a special project for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Tromso, Norway; when we were forced to pause the work on the recreation of the Rainbow Bridge after a dangerous explosion nearly killed all three of us, seriously injured a considerable number of the people working with us, as well as the facilities we were working in. They didn't want us getting back to it until after they were all completely sure it was safe… or as safe as it could be.

It was at that point that Phil approached both Darcy and I (who had pretty much ended up jobless when the plug was pulled on our project and they sent our boss overseas). He offered us jobs in more direct contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. I would pretty much be doing the same as I had back in New Mexico; only this time I would be lecturing everyone in the organization, not only those directly working on the project. Darcy was offered a position as Phil's assistant; he needed one, apparently had for a while, only his assistants never lasted. Phil had hoped that if Darcy had managed to deal with someone like Jane (half-crazy, more-than-half-obsessed, extremely meticulous and way-too-chaotic), she should have no trouble with him.

Things went pretty well. Darcy and I had become great friends during our year in New Mexico; things were still pretty good in New York. We lived together in a two bedroom apartment provided to us by S.H.I.E.L.D.; we weren't exactly downtown, more like on the outskirts; but it was good, since the S.H.I.E.L.D. offices weren't downtown either. Things all changed in the end of March, when Darcy decided to move in with her boyfriend; they'd been together for a year (apparently my almost dying served as a catalyst for him to finally ask her out…). I was just waiting to hear they would be getting married. I was happy for them, truly, those two were good for each other; and they were both my best friends, so… everything was perfect on that front.

I was honestly surprised that even almost a year after first being hired to work directly for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a consultant I still had a job. I mean, I didn't think there was anyone I hadn't given the same lectures to, already; unless they were new to the Agency. I had the belief, though Phil refused to confirm or deny it, that they just wanted to keep me around in case something happened and they decided they needed me. In the end, it's not like I was about to complain. They were paying me well, I had my apartment, my friends close by, and even if I didn't have the chance to try and find Loki…I didn't actually think I would be able to do much even if I had the time. Not like I had the slightest idea where to even begin to look…

A considerable number of new agents had joined S.H.I.E.L.D. at the beginning of the year, and after they'd all gone through weeks of what was considered as 'basic training'… (It was bad, I had to go at least through half of it myself, even though I was only a consultant, supposedly because of how high my rank actually was, being their mythology –read Asgard- specialist and all that) they were sent to me. Somehow I ended up spending what should have been my Spring Break, teaching a bunch of newbies, most of who had the classic better-than-thou attitude (particularly with those of us who weren't full agents like them), trying to get at least enough information into their thick skulls so they wouldn't get killed the next time an Asgardian 'dropped by for a visit'.

Of course it might not be all their fault, most thought Fury was a bit too paranoid (me… I'm not sure, I've heard it's not really paranoia when the danger is real… and in our case it was very, very real); they just didn't understand the importance of learning the things I was teaching. They didn't know an Asgardian was already somewhere around, and would be on the move openly at any time. And his move would, hopefully, prompt others to do the same…

Really, a war was coming, and no one but me knew it. Because I hadn't forgotten. Even after nearly two years, I still remembered everything Loki had told me, and everything I'd found out on my own (either through my research, or thanks to what I could feel through our bonds). The Titan and his army of Chitauri were going to attack Midgard, were going to attempt to either conquer it or destroy it, as well as acquire the Tesseract (which I knew was in possession of S.H.I.E.L.D.; it was the 'top secret project' Erik had left to work on shortly after my arrival to New Mexico). Only the date of that war had yet to be set…

I could sense it, it was coming. Even if I hadn't seen Loki in so long… our bonds still existed. I still loved him, would always love him; and regardless of whatever may have happened, he still loved me too. Even if I couldn't hear him, or see into his mind, I could sense some of his moods, of his feelings… the war was coming… it would be upon us very soon…

Of course I never expected it to interrupt our vacation! Phil knew how much I wanted those vacations, some quiet, down time when I didn't have to worry about dealing with too many egos in one room… so he'd arranged for me to have two free weeks beginning on the 28th of April. I'd be going back to work on the first Monday of May (technically the second week). Also, what made things even better was that Darcy got those same two weeks off. It was awesome!

We spent the first week in my family house near Portland (which only Phil and Darcy even knew about). Darcy even got the chance to meet my Aunt Kathryn, who happened to be in town. Then, as things were, she invited us to spend the second week of the vacation at the South Hamptons. A friend of hers had a house there, though she only lived there during the summer, in any case my aunt had a standing invitation to use the place if she wanted. Darcy immediately said yes, loving the idea of spending a week in a beach house. I liked the idea of going somewhere that had no connections to our everyday life… at least it didn't until two Agents came knocking on our door on Wednesday morning!

 

xXx

Even as I finally stepped off the black quinjet and onto the helicarrier (S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mobile HQs and one of their greatest secrets) I still hadn't the slightest idea as to what exactly was going on, who had thought it a good idea to get me out of my temporary home before noon without giving any explanation whatsoever, or what exactly did they believe could warrant something like that. I was still dressed in a ¾ sleeved ivory-white loose peasant blouse and short light denim skirt. Darcy had thrown a pair of grey over-the-knee socks and white flats, which I was still putting on while on the jet already (they hadn't even given me enough time for that!) It truly was ridiculous! Phil and Fury were going to be hearing about it! Aunt Kathryn was not pleased, and with her past experience in working for the government I didn't even want to imagine what she would do… particularly since she hadn't known I worked for the government! (Technically, S.H.I.E.L.D. was overseen by a World Council rather than just one government, but the point was the same in the end).

When I stepped properly into the halls of the helicarrier I was holding my beach-bag (an off-white knitted bag adorned with brown, white and sand colored beads and ribbons in other various shades of the same colors), in which I had managed to place my most important possessions.

"Agent Romanoff, would you show Doctor Banner to his laboratory, please?" I heard Fury saying right as I entered the main room.

I froze briefly, my mind working a mile a minute as I considered what exactly might be going on that Dr. Banner suddenly was back in America… particularly considering the events that had made him leave years before. Still, I didn't allow my thoughts to show, instead jumping straight into what I'd previously planned on doing the moment I saw Fury.

"Fury!" I called loudly as I reached the very center of the main deck. "Wanna explain to me what the hell I'm doing here in the middle of my long-overdue vacation? Heck! How the hell did you even know where I was?! It's not like the house is registered in any name you might be able to connect to me!"

"Professor Salani, you were brought here over a very delicate and highly dangerous matter." Fury stated, easily ignoring my tone.

"You haven't told me how you knew where I was." I reminded him.

"That is my fault…" I heard Phil call from a side.

"Oh Phil…" I called in a sing-song voice as I spun slowly on his direction. "Darcy is quite upset with you right now. As is Rose!"

Phil's eyes just widened at the mention of those two names. Two of the people he cared the most about, he didn't like them being upset with him.

"Tell me this is worth it." I told him.

"Very much." He hurried to nod. "World-in-danger kind of situation."

I just sighed, shaking my head.

"And if I'm being called in, I imagine this includes Asgard in some shape or form." I declared, dropping onto the closest chair.

"Agent Hill will put you up to date." Fury informed me. "The situation is quite serious."

"Fury…" I called, remembering something right then. "I need an allowance on the confidentiality clause of my contract."

"What for?" Fury's brow furrowed, obviously not liking it.

"Well, considering that your Agents almost dragged me out of the house where I was spending my vacation, without any explanation except their usual 'top secret'…" I rolled my eyes. "It wasn't just Darcy and I in that house. My aunt Kathryn was there with us… an aunt that didn't even know I work for S.H.I.E.L.D. or anything of the like!"

"We can give you a cover." Agent Hill offered.

"Ah ah." I shook my head pointedly. "Not gonna work. My aunt worked for the government in the past, she's a former agent herself. She's not gonna buy any kind of cover story you give her."

"Your aunt was an agent?" Fury was honestly surprised at that. "Why isn't that in your file?"

"She didn't serve the American government but in the United Kingdom; she also retired when I was still an infant." I clarified. "Still, she was an agent for fifteen years… Oh, and it was under another surname, so as to protect her brother, my father…"

"What name?" Hill looked very interested suddenly.

I knew things were going to get quite interesting once I answered the question. After all, while my aunt might not have worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. directly, she had liaised with them. She had been part of the team the MI5 had sent to help in the search for Captain America back in the late seventies and eighties. She of course didn't know I knew what she had done in that time (as far as she knew I worked as a consultant for a group in the private sector). It all was in the past for her; doesn't mean she wouldn't demand explanations after the morning, though.

"Kathryn Adler." I stated, finally.

Fury just stared at me for the longest time. While most weren't paying much attention to our conversation, busy as they were with the helicarrier; some like Hill, Phil, the-not-yet-departed Romanoff and Banner and, surprise of surprises, Captain America himself; could only watch as Fury looked honestly shocked for what had probably been the first time ever.

"I've heard that name…" Hill muttered pensively.

"She was part of the team MI5 sent to aid in the search of Captain America." I explained. "I don't know if she was ever connected to S.H.I.E.L.D., but still." I turned back to Fury. "So, like I was saying. She's not just going to forget what happened this morning. She will want explanations… that is, of course, if she hasn't managed to get the truth out of Darcy just yet."

"Sir?" Phil called quietly from a side.

"Permission granted." Fury stated simply. "Everyone else get back to work. The clock is ticking and we have a world to save."

With that they all got in motion.

"So." I stated, straightening up and mentally readying myself for anything. "What's the situation? Who is threatening the Earth this time?"

"Psychotic god, claims to be from Asgard." Hill told me as she turned on the monitor before me. "Goes by the name of Loki…"

I could almost feel the blood draining from my face, even as I prayed they wouldn't notice; I also thanked the fact that I was already sitting, for my legs wouldn't have been able to sustain me in that moment… I really had only been fooling myself… I wasn't ready at all…

 

xXx

Thankfully, in the end Hill thought my lack of vocal response after his announcement was caused by my surprise at 'discovering' that the Norse gods truly existed… I let her continue with that idea. As soon as I could I got someone to guide me to the room that was going to double as my sleeping quarters and office. There I had a computer upon which's hard-drive was a copy of every single file I'd ever used or even written since coming to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. I connected my own tablet, with my personal virtual library, opened the first file that was believably useful and then just stayed there, pretending to look at was written there, to be studying it attentively; while in the inside I fell into pieces.

That wasn't even the worst moment. No, at some point after I left the main deck for my temporary quarters Loki had been sighted in Germany (this I knew because I was receiving updates on the situation straight on my phone, thanks to Phil). Captain America was sent with Agent Romanoff and some other Agent to 'arrest' him.

Loki's not stupid, I knew that. Which meant that, if he was calling that much attention onto himself, there must be a reason. I suggested the idea to Phil citing that, as God of Mischief and Lies, the whole thing in Stuttgart being a ploy would certainly fit Loki's likely MO. Phil, Fury and Hill all agreed with me and sent a secondary team of Agents to canvass the vicinity even as Captain America, and later on Iron Man, battled Loki. By the time they found out just what Loki's actions were a distraction for, it was too late to do anything about it.

I stayed in my room for a long time, until I was sure I could face everyone with a straight face; that I wouldn't give up anything no matter what…of course, it was just my luck that right as I was walking down a hallway I happened to see a group of very armed Agents passing by… escorting Loki to his cell!

Fate just had it that he turned in my direction right as they were passing me, for a second our eyes met and… nothing, there was no recognition at all. His blue eyes showed no reaction at all before he turned to the other side, to smirk at Dr. Banner in his lab, before being lead away and… wait. Blue eyes? That had to be wrong. Loki's eyes were green, not blue.

Still, the short meeting, and mainly the lack of recognition had hit me hard, I just spun around and went straight back to my room. Deciding not to come out until I was called. And to keep myself distracted, I played my flute, it was the only thing capable of soothing, as high-strung as I was in that moment.

I'd known, when Loki didn't return from his visit to the abyss and to the Chitauri, that something had gone wrong. I'd known that, if I wanted to help protect the Earth from the upcoming invasion I would have to place myself in a position to be of help. I knew that, if my worst fears were true, and Loki had been turned somehow, that would mean facing him, while on different sides of the battleground (so-to-speak). I still hadn't been ready, not for any of it. I had no idea how long it would take me to be ready, though something told me I might never truly be… and yet, the time was up. The battle was upon us, and it was time I did my part.

 

xXx

The next morning I managed to get myself a tea and some toast before an Agent summoned me to the main deck. Fury wanted me to 'educate' the Avengers in everything I knew about Loki… well, obviously I wasn't going to do that. Not only I could not justify a great deal of the information I possessed; there was also the fact that possessed or not, remembering me or not, I wasn't about to betray my match.

When I entered the huge main area of the helicarrier the image of Loki was being shown in some of the monitors, apparently they were all keeping an eye on him. I took a second to focus all my will and keep my façade in place, before I finally began paying attention to what was being said:

"Loki's gonna drag this out." Rogers was saying as he turned to the other blonde sitting beside him. "So, Thor, what's his play?"

I couldn't stop my eyes from widening at least some. So that was Thor! Loki's brother… and my own brother-in-law for all intents and purposes.

"He has an army called the Chitauri." Thor began explaining. "They're not of Asgard nor any world known. He means to lead them against your people. They will win him the Earth, in return, I suspect, for the Tesseract."

I couldn't help but wonder where and how he'd gotten that much information; if Loki had been lost to the Chitauri since the end of that summer, almost two years before… then how had Asgard been able to learn that much? The Titan didn't seem like the kind to grow careless and let things slip, it wasn't his style, as far as I knew.

"An army, from outer space?" Rogers inquired.

"So, he's building another portal." Banner seemed to ponder the situation for a bit. "That's what he needs Erik Selvig for."

"Selvig?" Thor seemed shocked.

"He's an astrophysicist." Banner explained.

"He's a friend." Thor qualified.

I couldn't help myself, the words were coming out of my mouth before I fully realized it.

"Erik is involved?" I asked.

"Professor, you're here." Hill nodded in my direction, signaling me to a seat.

"What's happened to Erik?" I asked, even as I did as bided.

"Loki has them under some kind of spell, along with one of ours." Romanoff stated quietly.

I imagined it must have been someone close to her, probably her partner, seeing how she was alone in that moment. I felt for her, wondering what Loki had done exactly.

"Is Jane alright?" I asked next.

"Jane's fine, Silbhé." Phil assured me as he stood beside me. "After Loki took Selvig we moved her to a safe place. We also have some of the best Agents keeping guard."

I nodded. If Loki hadn't taken her yet, he wouldn't be doing it… at least I would do my best to make sure of that. And of course Darcy was alright… I would know if she weren't.

"You know Erik and Jane, my lady?" Thor asked, turning to me.

"I do." I nodded. "I'm Silbhé Salani. I worked for Jane for almost a year before working directly for S.H.I.E.L.D., Erik left shortly after I arrived, but I knew him as well. I also know Darcy… in case you were wondering. All three speak highly of you."

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Silbhé." Thor bowed his head at me.

Automatically I responded in the same manner, barely managing to stop myself from telling him to call me Nightingale, afraid it might be away too much. Loki had told me how he'd mentioned my nickname before his brother and their 'friends' on several occasions, though none of them had ever inquired about it. Not truly interested.

"Thank you." Thor said, looking at Phil and I in turn. "It does me good to know that at least Jane and Darcy are well and safe. It's no accident Loki taking Erik Selvig. I dread what he plans for him once he's done. Erik is a good man."

"Silbhé was saying the truth, they all talk about you a lot." Phil told him. "You changed their lives. You changed everything around here."

"They were better as they were." Thor shook his head in regret. "We pretend on Asgard that we're more advanced, but we…we come here battling like Bildschneip."

"Like what?" Phil and I asked at the same time.

"Bildschneip." The blonde Asgardian repeated carefully. "You know, huge, scaly, big antlers. You don't have those?"

"No." Phil shook his head for emphasis.

I could only shiver in a mix of horror and disgust.

"Huh! Well they are repulsive, and they trample everything in their path." He clarified. "When I first came to earth, Loki's rage followed me here and your people paid the price. And now again. In my youth I courted war…"

"War hasn't started yet." Fury interrupted as he joined us. "You think you can make Loki tell us where the Tesseract is?"

"I do not know." Thor admitted. "Loki's mind is far afield, it's not just power he craves, it's vengeance upon me. There's no pain would prise his need from him."

"A lot of guys think that, until the pain starts." Fury deadpanned.

I couldn't help it, I hissed. Several eyes turned to me, but no one said a thing, they probably just thought that, being a civilian, I didn't understand the truths of war or that I was just against torture in general. As a matter of fact, I was against torture; but more than that, I was wholly against anyone hurting my love in any way, shape or form.

"What are you asking me to do?" Thor asked, voice and pose both tense.

"I'm asking, what are you prepared to do?" Fury asked in turn.

"Loki is a prisoner." Thor said simply.

He was trying to appease Fury, which I knew to be useless, but I kept my silence.

"Then why do I feel like he's the only person on this boat that wants to be here?" Fury hissed in a very annoyed tone.

I didn't have to ponder the question, I knew it had to be true; however, I still didn't say anything. It was taking already enough of my concentration not to snap against Fury after what he'd just insinuated; I didn't need to put myself in the spotlight, it would only make things trickier. Particularly since I hadn't the slightest idea of what I could do to help at all.

"I wanna know why Loki let us take him." Rogers put in his two cents right then. "He's not leading an army from here."

Well, that wasn't necessarily true, but in any case, I wasn't about to give up any of my love's secrets; like I'd told myself before, I wouldn't betray him…

"I don't think we should be focusing on Loki." Banner countered. "That guy's brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him."

I winced, at least internally; knowing what he'd said was, at least in part, true; but then again, if Loki was crazy, so was I, and more than two other people currently in the room, so…

"Have care how you speak." Thor hurried to defend his brother's honor. "Loki is beyond reason but he is of Asgard, and he is my brother."

"He killed eighty people in two days." Romanoff deadpanned.

I couldn't help but let my brow furrow. Killing that many people in such a short span of time didn't really fit Loki's character… which meant that, either there was more wrong with him than I suspected initially, or they were pinning deaths on him he wasn't truly responsible for. However, all thought I may have concerning that were chased away with what Thor said next.

"He's adopted?" Thor shrugged.

I couldn't help it, my control slipped for just a second.

Abruptly, the screen closest to Thor seemed to short-circuit, the sparks jumping onto Thor, shocking him harshly, even if just for a second.

There was a reaction immediately as Hill hurried to cancel the flow of energy to that screen, while Phil made sure there was no damage. Thankfully no one seemed to notice the minuscule sparks dancing on the tips of my fingers, which I quickly hid beneath the table I was seated by. The last thing I needed was for the secrets to be revealed before I was truly ready to own up to things… not that I had the slightest idea when exactly I would be ready, but still.

"I think it's about the mechanics." Dr. Banner interjected, choosing to change the topic. "Iridium, what do they need the Iridium for?"

"It's a stabilizing agent." Stark began speaking the moment he stepped into the room. "Means the portal won't collapse on itself like it did at S.H.I.E.L.D. Also means the portal can open as wide and stay open as long as Loki wants."

There was some banter between Hill, Fury and Stark as the millionaire made a huge deal of ordering people around and checking things on Fury's screens. I just ignored him, focusing instead on the image of Loki that had appeared on the screen before me at some point. With the way his gaze was fixed straight on the camera I could almost believe he was looking straight at me…except he hadn't the slightest idea of who I was…

"The rest of the raw materials, Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily." Stark eventually went back to the main topic. "Only major component he still needs is a power source of high energy density. Something to kick start the Cube."

"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?" Hill asked, surprised by his extensive knowledge on the matter.

"Last night. The packet, Selvig's notes, the extraction theory papers… am I the only one who did

the reading?" He seemed to blanch.

There was no answer. I had no doubt that he, in fact, must be the only one to have read those papers; at least to the end. I had tried, but there was too much I didn't understand, even after having worked with Jane for months, so I eventually left them.

"Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?" Rogers wanted to know.

"He would have to heat the Cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier." Banner pointed out, thoughtfully.

"Unless, Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the Quantum Tunneling effect." Stark retorted.

"Well, if he could do that he could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet." Banner blinked as he realized what he himself was saying.

"Finally." Stark called dramatically. "Someone who speaks English."

"Is that what just happened?" Rogers inquired, looking at the rest of us.

I just shrugged. I knew I could act in a similar way when I happened to find someone who could understand what I was talking about (in my own specialties), and astrophysics, physics engineering and the sort seemed to be much more complicated than mythology, history and literature. Then again, to each our own, I guess.

"It's good to meet you, Doctor Banner." The millionaire genius hurried to greet the Dr. "Your work on anti-electronic collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you- lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."

He said it in such and off-handed tone I could help the chuckle that came out of me. That immediately seemed to remind everyone that I was there.

"Thanks…" Banner murmured, with obvious doubt, even as he too turned to me.

"Doctor Banner is only here to track the Cube." Fury informed Stark very seriously. "I was hoping you might join him."

"Yeah, sure…" Stark muttered distractedly, eyes fixed on me. "Who are you?"

The blunt question actually caught me by surprise, and for a second I didn't answer.

"You weren't in the files I was given last night." Stark pointed out.

I could guess what those files were about, and the obvious reason why I wasn't included in them.

"I am not part of the Avengers Initiative, Mr. Stark." I clarified. "My name is Silbhé Salani, Professor in Norse, Celtic and Greek-Roman Mythology, European History and Literature. I am a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D."

"She's our Asgard expert." Phil added helpfully. "With how similar Asgard seems to be to Norse mythology… and she's the best in that area."

"You look a bit young to have that many degrees." Banner pointed out.

"They're technically three different degrees." I clarified. "I have each of them up to Masters' level. I graduated when I was nineteen, in case you were wondering. Have been working for S.H.I.E.L.D., directly or otherwise, for almost two years now."

"Another genius!" Stark called out brightly. "This is wonderful."

"I know nothing of astrophysics, engineering, or any of your specialties, Stark." I stated.

"Of course not, like I know nothing of mythology or literature… I know some history though." Stark stated, still quite animatedly.

"Professor Salani is here to educate everyone on Loki, at least as much as she might know, possibly the Chitauri, and whatever else we might have to wary of at this point." Fury informed the group as a whole.

Everyone nodded, none of them complaining about a twenty-one year old 'educating' them. Not like it would change a thing, but still. It was nice not to be considered less. Still, the image of Loki still on my screen reminded me how complicated everything was… I would be lucky if I managed to get all of us through the madness that was coming, still with our lives.

The group split right about then, as they each went to work or train, or whatever else was necessary. I went to finish getting all the necessary material together. An agreement had been made to hold a 'lecture' of sorts after lunch. I just wondered if we had that much time…

 

xXx

I worked for a few hours before relaxing by playing a soft melody on my flute, a lullaby. It was the most relaxing song I had. After lunch (which I had to rush because I ended losing track of time when I began playing my flute) we all came together in one of the bigger rooms. Hill handed each of them tablets on which she had already saved the files I'd compiled for the current situation. Mostly concerning Loki and what little information I could justify on having about the Chitauri (I was forced to take great liberties and mix mythologies more than once as they really didn't exist in any mythology, but I couldn't just not give them information that could potentially save their lives… save many lives). Thankfully, since I was the only specialist on such topics, and especially the mix of them, there was no one who could say I was lying, or question where exactly I got my information from.

The session went well enough. We covered the main materials, and I let them know there were some other things in the tablet they might want to check out. They were free to look me up if they had any doubts, and we could arrange for another meeting if it became necessary.

That evening was a repeat of the previous one. Except that time I at least went to get some dinner. Afterwards I chose to talk a walk on some of the less used hallways of the helicarrier. There I pulled out my flute and began playing it, the same tune of the last two times. For a while there was nothing in my mind except the tune coming out of my instrument, until…

*Nightingale…?* I heard a low, haunting voice that came from inside myself, yet wasn't my own. *My Nightingale…?*

That was all I could hear, and yet it was enough to shake me to my core. I was quite sure I knew just whose voice that was. It didn't make the situation any easier at all, though. I still had no idea how I was going to get Loki back; because I was going to, no doubt about that (I wouldn't allow myself to doubt it, no matter what).

That night I could almost sense my love, beneath my skin… inside me. The fact that we were in the same location and yet I couldn't actually see him (images in a monitor don't count) hurt me in that moment more than ever.

 

xXx

When the next day came it began pretty much the same way. Until after lunch. I'd gone to the room where he'd held the 'lecture' the day before, in case they wanted to ask me questions or something. I stayed there for a while, looking through some things in my table while absently tracing the runes on my deamarkonian.

I'd been there at least for a couple of hours when I suddenly got the feeling something was going on. Something serious. Like the tension all around me was suddenly thicker. I hadn't the slightest idea of what was going on, but I still followed my feelings. What I found was nothing I could have ever expected: the so-called heroes, as well as Fury were in the lab Banner and Stark had been working in to track the Tesseract, and they were all arguing like crazy!

"Agent Romanoff, would you escort Dr. Banner back to his…" Fury was saying right as I reached the lab's door.

"Where?!" Banner yelled, angry. "You rented my room!"

"The cell was just…" Fury tried to justify himself.

"In case you wanted to kill me." Banner interrupted, as if it were obvious, and nothing at the same time. "But you can't, I know, I tried!"

I couldn't hold back my gasp, and yet no one heard me…

"I got low." Banner elaborated. "I didn't see an end so I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out. So I moved on, I focused on helping other people. I was good until you dragged me back into this freak show and put everyone here at risk!" He took deep breaths, as if calming himself. "You wanna know my secret, Agent Romanoff? You wanna know how I stay calm…?"

I was considering saying something about his speech…I certainly felt about his confession on having attempted suicide. However, I was distracted when I noticed exactly what Banner had done, even as he spoke… he was holding Loki's scepter in his hand. A scepter that was letting out a low but quite noticeable aura…

"Doctor Banner, put down the scepter." Fury ordered in his most serious voice.

Bruce did, before moving to the monitor that had just sounded a short alarm, announcing that what they were looking for had just been found.

"Sorry kids." Banner quipped as he focused on the information appearing on the monitor. "You don't get to see my party trick, after all."

"Located the Tesseract?" Thor inquired.

And that, somehow, seemed to devolve in another round of arguing. Did they not realize what they were doing? Right as I was about to ask that very question I could see the jewel on the scepter glowing. My instincts began screaming at me then, my body going into 'fight or flight' mode without me even realizing until I was suddenly holding both arms ready, a white-ish aura covering my hands.

"BEWARE!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Fury, Romanoff and Rogers, probably because of how used they all were to following orders, couldn't help but react to my voice, to the authority in it, as they threw themselves back and down, completely ready for anything. Tony and Thor too were wary, even if his reaction wasn't as strong as the others. Banner was the only one who didn't react at all, completely enthralled by what was appearing in the monitor. Against my own common sense and instinct I hurried to Banner, trying to get him to listen to me. However, by the time I reached him, it was already too late… for both of us.

"Oh…my…god…" Banner gasped.

I had just touched his arm, and suddenly the next thing I knew we were flying… no, not exactly flying. I hadn't actually become aware of the explosion that had blasted us in the first place until we were already in the air. Then, abruptly, we found ourselves on the floor, in what I guessed must be one of the equipment rooms. My side of my head crashed violently against the ground, nearly knocking me out and making me horribly dizzy.

I don't know how long I just laid there. Eventually I managed to force myself to focus (though my head felt as if I had suddenly developed one of the worst migraines of my life). Still, I forced myself to get moving.

"Salani!" I heard someone yell from above us.

"We're alright!" I yelled, not even looking where we were being called from. "But you better keep others away. We don't want trouble!"

I prayed he would get my indirect; we really didn't need Banner to Hulk out; or even if he did, to go on a rampage, I just prayed I would be able to handle it if he did anyway.

I tried to get on my feet and failed, my ankle was trapped beneath some kind of tank. Neither my ankle nor my leg were hurt, just stuck. I had to find a way to move that tank, which wasn't going to be easy; because if I tried to get free by force I would definitely end up hurt.

"Dr. Banner?" I called in my most neutral tone. "Are you alright?"

I heard someone approaching and immediately began waving them away. Hadn't they understood I didn't want anyone around?

"Doctor…" I began calling again.

"You need to get away… Professor…" I heard him call in a low, harsh voice.

"We will both get away doctor." I told him. "The helicarrier is being attacked. They need us."

"You… are the one in danger here." Banner panted.

"I trust you…" I told him soothingly. "Dr. Banner… Bruce… the Hulk is just a part of you. I am not a threat to you, therefore I'm not a threat to him… believe that, please."

The doctor didn't get to answer to me, he just roared before the sound of cloth ripping echoed.

I cursed mentally in several languages. With a rush of adrenaline I pressed the tips of my fingers to the tank, calling on the power I could sense beneath my skin… running in my blood. The tank went flying off me, crashing against a metal wall, causing pressurized hit air to come out harshly. I had to roll to evade part of it and the move had me landing closer to Banner than expected… dangerously close… particularly since he was no longer Banner, but the Hulk…

"Uh oh…" I muttered for myself.

"Hu…" He turned his big eyes straight to me.

Then, as I laid there, with the Hulk half beside me, half over me, I couldn't help but notice certain details in his eyes, his face… somehow, even with the green skin and the huge change in mass, I could see Banner in the Hulk.

"Hello Hulk." I greeted him, trying to stay as calm as possible.

"Little girl is greeting the Hulk…" He seemed confused by that.

"Yes." I nodded.

"No one but Betty ever be nice to Hulk." He said in a gruff, yet obviously sad voice.

"I'm not your enemy Hulk." I assured him. "In fact, I would like to be your friend."

"Little girl wants to be Hulk's friend…" That surprised him even more.

Before I could say anything else we both could hear what was obviously the sound of shooting, and a lot of it, coming from many different directions at once.

"Hulk, the situation right now is very dangerous." I told him as I managed to sit up. "We're being attacked. A lot of people are in danger. Will you help us?"

"Hulk help new friend." He agreed.

In that moment I truly couldn't understand why so many people spoke horrors about the Hulk. He might be huge, and green and almost primal in a sense, but he was no monster, not truly.

"If you help us I'm sure you'll make a lot of new friends." I assured him. "Just… please try not to kill anyone big guy? Some of the people won't understand you're trying to help, even those who might want to be your friends. So, be patient with them ok?"

It was obvious he didn't like much what I was saying, but he still went. I just hoped things would be alright. In any case I hurried to the closest intercom, managing to make it so my voice would be heard in all the helicarrier.

"Attention please." I called with as much authority as I could. "This is Professor Salani. Dr. Banner has transformed into the Hulk. He is on our side. I repeat, he is on our side. I ask that S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents don't attack him and let him help you. Again, Hulk is on our side."

"This is Director Fury, I second the Professor's instructions." I heard Fury suddenly over the same channel. "I repeat, I second the Professor's instructions."

I was still trying to ponder on what it meant that Fury was so willing to back me up, particularly when he had no way of knowing if there was any truth in what I'd just said. But I just didn't get the chance to think about that too much. I wasn't sure how it happened, but I ended up in the detention block. To be more precise, right outside the room where Loki's glass cage was located. I was about to hurry away, not wanting the temptation of seeing him, of helping him, to become too strong… until I heard him speak.

"The humans think us immortal." He was saying to someone else in the room, most likely Loki, his laughter harsh and cruel. "Shall we test that?"

I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to slip into the room without being noticed, on the side opposite from where Loki was standing, hand hovering over a control panel… and how had he gotten out? Well, that wasn't as important as the fact that Thor was in the glass cage… and it seemed the button was threatening to push was the one that would let the cage fall. Things were definitely going to go FUBAR (to use military slang) unless some miracle happened!

I never expected just what form that miracle would take. But then again, having known him for all of two years, and seeing how he was two of my best and most trusted friends… maybe I should have expected it.

"Move away please." Phil called as he entered through a secondary door, prototype weapon in hand. "Do you like this? We started working on the prototype after you sent the Destroyer. Even I don't know what it does. Do you wanna find out?"

I could feel the energy surrounding Loki and sensed what was about to do just a fraction of a second before it happened.

"No!" I screamed as I came out of my hiding place. "Stop!"

Somehow I managed to jump across the room (teleport), pulling Phil away from the spot he'd been in and pushing him behind me, all in the instant it took for Loki to teleport himself as well. When time began moving again as it should I was standing, panting, the tip of Loki's scepter less than an inch away from my neck; and the god was looking at me with absolute shock.

"Lady Silbhé!" Thor cried out in a mix of confusion and shock.

"Silbhé!" Phil cried out in panic. "What are you doing?! You shouldn't be here!"

"Too late." I said grimly as I faced Loki straight on. "I'm done hiding."

"Who are you girl?" Loki asked, lowering his scepter as he looked at me curiously. "They call you Silbhé. I haven't seen you… or heard about you."

"I am Professor Silbhé Salani." I said as I straightened up to my full (if not much) height. "You may know who I am if I tell you I am also called the Nightingale…"

Thor gasped, somehow managing to make the connection; though Loki himself didn't.

"Is that supposed to mean something to me?" Loki asked in a drawl.

I couldn't help it. In that moment, with that single question, something inside me snapped.

"Phil, get back." I ordered my technically-boss without actually looking at him.

"Silbhé…" He began, worried.

"Things are about to get really complicated." I half-explained. "I would rather you not get hurt in the process. Please Phil. You've always known I kept secrets, some pretty big ones. Well, here it is, my biggest secret."

As I said that I willed my deamarkonian and claddagh tattoo to become visible to everyone in the room; right as my nightingale pendant slipped from beneath the neckline of my blouse, somehow reflection the light of nearby lamps in the perfect manner to be seen by all.

"I can easily get rid of the distractions…" Loki smirked.

"You won't hurt him!" I yelled.

We both teleported practically at the same time; only to reappear on Phil's other side. This time Loki swung the scepter as if it were a glaive, downwards. I raised my arm high, managing to catch it in my hand… only the magic I channeled through my arm stopped the weapon from cutting straight through my hand, though I still was sure I would have a bad bruise.

"You are a spell-weaver…" Loki stated more than asked, curious.

"I am." I answered calmly.

"How?" He demanded, not liking not knowing something.

"That's a question you already know the answer to." I replied easily.

"I do not!" He hissed.

"You do." I insisted. "You just don't remember." My voice dropped to a low murmur as I added, with all the feeling I was capable of. "I know you Loki… better than you know yourself. And you know me just as much… you just don't remember."

"And why do you suppose I don't remember this?" He asked, raising a thin brow in challenge.

"Because your mind is being played with." I told him.

"Who would dare do that?" The god wanted to know.

"The Titan." I said quietly.

"He wouldn't dare…" Loki hissed.

"He would too!" I cried out. "Please Loki, you're more intelligent than this! The Titan is using you! With you taking lead of his Chitauri, if the invasion fails, he's away and safe from any repercussions; if you win he still gets what he wants! Please! You must be able to see this!"

For a second something in Loki's eyes shifted. Suddenly they were more green than blue and I could swear I saw the same light in his eyes that had been there on the last day of our summer-long honeymoon…

"My Nightingale…" I heard him gasp.

Regretfully, that chance was lost almost immediately, as abruptly his eyes were that unnatural blue again, and he was firing a bolt of energy from the scepter.

"Algiz!" I cried out in a hurry as I backed down a few steps to give space for my shield.

It miraculously formed in time and was strong enough to hold back Loki's attack. However, I knew it wouldn't be that easy next time.

"Phil!" I yelled even as I began preparing for everything. "Get Thor out of that cage! Now! And get out of here!"

With that I was off. Loki and I kept jumping through the room, throwing spells at each other over and over again. I was at a disadvantage, acting completely on the defensive, as I would never willingly harm my love… under the mind-control, he had no such compunctions.

Somehow, even with us jumping all around the room and attacks flying like confetti at a birthday party, Phil managed to open the cage and get Thor out.

Right in time, as I couldn't fully stop one of Loki's concussive waves and went flying… straight into Thor's arms.

"Lady Silbhé…?" Thor called.

I could see the questions in his eyes as he helped me onto my feet.

"Just call me Nightingale… big brother…" I whispered… my voice catching slightly.

"What…?" Phil looked bewildered.

"That's right." I nodded as I focused once again. "The crazy god over there is my husband… and I'm getting him back!"

Suddenly I got an idea, one I couldn't understand how I hadn't gotten it before… with a wave of my hand I called the black-jade flute to my hand. Then I immediately pressed it to my lips and began playing the first melody that came to mind: Nightingale… the first song I'd ever played with that flute…

It didn't work. Somehow my actions managed to infuriate Loki, who attacked all three of us. In a hurry I took hold of both Thor and Phil and teleported to the door I used to get into the room.

"Thor, please get Phil out of here…" I told him in al almost pleading tone.

"Silbhé…" Phil obviously didn't like it.

"Lady Nightingale…" Thor didn't either.

I couldn't help but smile at Thor acknowledging my claim even with no backing. It felt nice.

"Please." I insisted. "I need you to do this. And I need you to trust me. I can handle Loki. I truly believe I can bring him back… I have to."

I didn't give them the chance to insist anymore, simply teleporting back to where Loki was. For reasons I couldn't understand he hadn't attacked while I got the others away.

"I will get you back Loki…" I whispered as I held the flute tightly. "It's a promise."

At that I placed the flute against my mouth. This time I chose a different melody, playing the same lullaby I'd been playing ever since my arrival to the helicarrier.

The response to it was quite different, as Loki visibly seemed to be fighting against himself. It was a fight that lasted for minutes and right when it seemed like he (my Loki) might be willing it. He shot a beam at me. It all happened so fast there was nothing I could do. The protections on me made it so nothing happened to me, however the flute broke in two. There went my plan… or maybe not necessarily…

"I'm not called Nightingale only for the music I can play with a flute." I stated as I suddenly got a wild idea. "And my match well knows that."

I called on as many shields as I could in quick succession, layering them so I would be better protected. I just hoped I would be able to do what I needed, and wanted, without being interrupted… or killed. The moment I was sure I was as ready as could be… I began singing:

"They say I'm seeking up the danger

That one day you won't let me go…

I need you Aquarius

Enchanted I will have to stay.

I feel you Aquarius

'cause you're the sea, set me free

You call to me Aquarius…"

Attacks began hitting the shields, but they resisted (mostly) and I took the chance to continue the song I'd composed for my love during the last two years…

"I relinquish

To your powers

From your grasp

I just can't hide

I missed the danger

I had to conquer

You made me feel alive…"

Too many shields were fallen by that point, almost all of them, but I could also see I was getting through to my match. I couldn't give up… I wouldn't.

"They say I have to be aware

That one day you won't let me go…

I need you Aquarius

Enchanted I will have to stay.

I feel you Aquarius

'cause you're the sea, set me free…"

I never got to finish the song; because right as I had just finished that line the last of my shields flickered and fell and the next attack hit me straight on, however, right as I hit the wall, arching as a pained moan escaped my lips, I heard a voice that made it all worth it…

"My Nightingale!" 

Chapter Text

Rose

We were finally back together… and no one would take him away from me again.

The first thing I knew when I woke up was pain. My back felt sore, though the pendant's spell had managed to soften the blow greatly (both when the spell itself had hit me and when I'd hit the wall). I was sure I would have broken something otherwise, at least. Still, the whole thing hadn't helped my headache at all, which had finally turned into an actual migraine; that, coupled with the fact that my levels of adrenaline had gone down during the time I'd spent unconscious made it so when I finally woke up I was tired, in pain and wondering what could possibly have woken me when the oblivion of unconsciousness was much more preferable at that point. That was, at least, until I heard a voice calling to me…

"Nightingale…?"

I recognized that voice, I was sure I would be able to recognize it even if I spent years without hearing it (which I dearly hoped never happened, nearly two years had been more than enough torture). My eyes snapped open and I immediately began straightening up, until my head twitched in a particularly painful way and I had to lay back down.

"Silbhé?" this time it was Phil, who was kneeling beside me, my head in his lap.

"Bag…?" I called hoarsely. "I need my bag."

I could vaguely sense a slight shift in energy telling me that Loki was using his magic; a second later my bag was in my hands. Blindly I reached into it, bringing out a small box which contained only two pills, they were meant for my strongest migraines, and I wasn't to take more than one in any given month, and never during more than three consecutive months.

Phil silently offered me some water to wash it down, something I was thankful for.

"I have a migraine…" I explained quietly. "It will take a while for the meds to kick in."

I took a deep breath before finally opening my eyes again. Lights didn't affect me much, even with a migraine, unless they were too bright and pointing directly at me; which was thankfully not the case in that moment. Sounds didn't bother me either, as long as there was no shouting, things like music and low talking sometimes even helped me.

The real problem with having a migraine was how uncooperative my mind became. I was unable to think of more than one thing at any given time and I couldn't actually focus properly on anything. It was a nightmare.

It was also the reason why it took me laying on the cold ground for almost a full minute more, my head still throbbing but not as keenly as when I'd first moved harshly upon waking, that my own line of thought brought me to why exactly I'd been in such a hurry to sit up in the first place.

"Loki…?" I called quietly, searching with my eyes around me.

"I'm here…" He answered just as quietly.

I turned my head enough to see he was kneeling on my other side, though far away enough that he couldn't actually touch me.

"Come closer." I told him.

"I don't think I should." He shook his head. "I don't want to hurt you again."

"What happened wasn't your fault, you weren't attacking me of your own will." I assured him. "I know you would never hurt me if you had the choice…"

"What if I lost that choice?" He asked.

"I'll bring you back, again, and as many times as I need to." I deadpanned. "Really Loki, I knew what I was getting into. Besides, this migraine wasn't only caused by a fight, I had an earlier fall, hit my head when I landed. So, once again, this is not your fault."

He still didn't seem fully convinced, but at least he came closer, enough that his knees were brushing my side and he was able to lay a hand on my matted hair (not sure when I began, or for that matter stopped, bleeding). Phil, surprisingly enough, didn't say a word, just motioned for Loki to take my head onto his lap while he moved backwards.

We stayed there, the three of us either kneeling, sitting or laying on the ground for the longest time; until Thor (whom I hadn't noticed until then, standing by the main door to the room in the detention block where we were still) interrupted the moment.

"The Director is growing impatient." He informed us.

"Let me up." Instructed the other two.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Phil didn't seem to agree with me.

Loki didn't say a word but I knew he too had his doubts.

"The pain has dulled." I told them. "I can function properly now."

I knew the migraine wouldn't completely go away, such pains usually didn't for hours, maybe even whole days; but there were things to be done, things I needed to do…I did not have the time to just lay there and contemplate on aches…

With some effort on my part and no little help from both Loki and Phil I managed to first sit up and then get fully on my feet. And just in time, because right then someone outside managed to override the codes Phil had used to seal all doors until we were ready (most likely Hill or Fury himself, as they were the only ones above Phil in rank).

Like expected, Fury came into the room, closely followed by the Avengers and at least half a dozen armed soldiers. The moments I laid eyes on them adrenaline started running through my veins again; putting me in high alert.

"Did the 'real power' have trouble getting away from some insignificant humans?" Fury raised a brow at Loki before ordering his men. "Seize the prisoner."

I moved before I was fully conscious of it. Standing before Loki, arms wide open in a defensive gesture, even as I felt the power begin to rise inside me.

"You will not touch him." I hissed.

That through them all for a loop, enough that I managed to push my mind enough to know what I could do, at least to gain some time.

"I am S.H.I.E.L.D. Consultant and Probationary Agent, Professor Silbhé Salani." I stated in my most formal and authoritative tone. "Level 8. Authorization code: Alpha-Five-Seven-Epsilon-One-Five-O-Alpha-Five."

That brought everyone into a stop. Even Fury. He might have given me that level of authorization and personally instructed me on how I was to use the authorization code… I don't think he ever imagined me actually using it, and especially not in such circumstances.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Salani?" Fury demanded sternly.

"The right thing." I stated back in the same tone. "I'm standing by my husband."

Perhaps not the best way to reveal the truth, but it was going to come out sometime so… yeah.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Fury demanded in an even stronger tone that before.

"Isn't it obvious?" I allowed myself to lean against Loki's chest. "I'm married to this man."

"I took you for someone with some more common sense than that, Salani." Barton snarled from some point in the back of the group.

"You do not understand." I shook my head. "And I know why that is. You've only known Loki as he's been for the last few days, possibly the last couple of years. But I've known him for a decade, and loved him for at least half that long… You met a psycho trying to destroy this world, someone being manipulated as much as yourself Barton! There's more to him…" I turned my head to look at Loki. "So much more…"

"You better have a damn good explanation for your deception Salani, a damn good one!" Fury growled at me. "And I want to hear it now!"

I could feel my match bristling behind me, obviously angry at the way Fury was talking to me; but even in my own complicated mood I knew he had the right. I had, after all, deceived him, deceived almost everyone in the room for as long as they'd known me.

"I met Loki when I was eleven years old." I began the explanation, already planning on being as brief as I could. "I didn't know for sure who he was on our first meeting. But I've always been a curious person, it didn't take me long to find out. He kept visiting, and we eventually became friends. He gave me the black jade flute I have…"

As I said that, Phil offered it to me, and I was painfully reminded of the fact that it was broken. My most precious possession was gone… at least until Loki waved his hand above it, making it whole again. I couldn't help it, I smiled brightly before turning and planting a kiss straight on his mouth (which was not easy with our difference in height). I eventually had to break the kiss at the harsh call of everyone else in the room. The reminder of the fact that we weren't alone made me flush a bit in embarrassment, though I still didn't regret it.

"Right." I cleared my own throat before I went on. "He was an influence in my life, part of the reason why I chose to study the things I did. Then, right after I graduated… things happened. You might know what I'm talking about if I remind you all I graduated two years ago."

"New Mexico…" Phil mumbled in shock.

"I wasn't actually there, nor did I have anything to do with what happened there." I clarified. "However, I know all about what happened, knew it long before any of you told me. Before I even knew S.H.I.E.L.D. existed. I saw it through Loki's own eyes…"

I heard Thor gasp from one side and I knew the reason, the dangers of connecting the mind of a mortal with that of an immortal. Only our bonds allowed me to retain my sanity and my life. Still, I wasn't about to go into details on the matter.

"It was in the aftermath of that, that I came to marry Loki." I continued my explanation. "He came to me after he finally managed to escape the abyss. I treated his wounds and watched over him. Then, after he revealed to me everything that had happened… Well, by that point I knew I loved him, and I needed him to know the same. Needed him to know he'd someone on his side, who always would be there. I wasn't exactly planning at that point to end up married to him… doesn't mean I regret it. Loki and I are bound by vow, deed and soul, and that's something I don't regret… something I shall never regret!"

I could practically feel the bonds that connected us in that moment, each of the singing a song that could only be heard by the ears of the two of us…well, no, the marveled look in Thor's eyes showed he could sense them, maybe even see them, as well.

"Is this marriage even legal?" Romanoff inquired from beside Barton.

"Very much so." I answered. "And before you ask, all records were sealed before I became S.H.I.E.L.D.'s consultant full time."

"If you're so proud of your marriage, why hide it?" Romanoff challenged.

"Because Loki was missing!" I snapped. "He was missing, and I didn't know what to do, and it wasn't safe! So I got my aunt to help me, we sealed all the records and then I went back to my life. Make no mistake, Agent Romanoff, Loki was missing from my life for one year, eight months and nine days… and not a day passed when I didn't miss him or when I didn't try my damn best to find him!"

I ran a hand through my hair slowly as I fought to calm myself. I knew loss of composure would help no one. It would make me lose credibility and it might end up with Loki losing his own temper, and that was one thing we certainly didn't want.

"For the last two years I've known this day was coming." I stated in a low, dead-serious voice. "This day… this threat against the Earth. I knew it was coming. Loki and I talked about it during that summer we had, about the Titan that had Earth in its crosshairs, who wanted to use Loki for his plans. The plan back then was for him to pretend to serve, to agree to plan and then use his position to stall the invasion for as long as he could, while I did my best to make sure we would be prepared to fight this war when it finally came to us. There was no stopping it, sooner or later it would come, we knew that; but we could be ready for it. And then… the summer ended, Loki went to the abyss and didn't come back and our plan pretty much went to hell!" I took a deep breath. "This, what you see here right now was the best I could do. I came to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., even against my Aunt's recommendation, she always said I would regret it if I ended up working for the government. Well, she was right, and I knew that even before I got involved. Still, I needed to get in the best possible position to be of help!"

"So what?" Barton inquired. "You came to spy on us?"

"No!" I hissed. "Spirits gracious! Why is it so hard for you all to understand I'm only trying to help you?! That it's what I've been trying to do all along?! I've spent the last year of my life dealing with too many foolish people with better-than-thou attitudes; ignoring their faults because I knew how important it was for them all to learn as much as they possibly could about the dangers out there, in the other realms. Even if none of them understood it; if they thought my teachings were unnecessary, ridiculous, and even product of paranoia. In the end I came, I taught and I did my best to make sure you all would survive what I alone knew was coming."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Rogers wanted to know.

"Oh… how to answer that…?" I said sarcastically. "First of all, the probabilities of anyone believing a word I say were next to zero… second of all, even if they listened, if they believed. What do you think they would have done when they learnt how exactly I had this knowledge? Who I owed it to? They would have never trusted Loki's wife, they most likely would have placed me in some cell and thrown away the key… or worse, just send me away, blowing any credibility I might have ever had! In the end I would have become useless!"

"And you think the world would be screwed…" Stark added.

"No!" I could see I surprised them with that answer. "I'm not that egocentric! I honestly believe you would have won… somehow. But not all of you would have made it… The mere idea of innocents, especially people I care for, dying… it hurts."

"Well, considering how many people your hubby killed you might have fooled me." Stark commented in a deadpan tone.

I couldn't help but flinch at that.

"Don't you dare pin those deaths on her!" Loki spoke for the first time, angry yet managing to control himself. "My actions are my responsibility alone. It's not like she could have done anything to stop me. You might have missed the memo Tin Man, but I've been lost, in more than one sense of the word, for over a year! I even attacked her! Her! My match! My bonded! I could care less about the mortals who, regretfully, were in my way when I was out of my mind… but I came close to killing her!"

That shut everyone up. I just ignored them, spinning around to face my love, holding his head in my hands, angled so he would look straight at me.

"Listen to me Loki…" I stated in my most serious voice yet. "You were out of your mind. You had no control over your actions, at all… the Titan was manipulating you. I could see that in your eyes. He knew I was a threat to his hold on you, and therefore to his plans. It's why he made you destroy the flute when it began working, and why he tried so hard to get you to kill me when I used my voice. He knew his control could be broken and wasn't keen on allowing it. And yet… we defeated him. You're here, you are in full control of yourself again. I got you back… that makes anything and everything worth it… I got you back…"

It hit me right then. Loki was there… I truly got him back…

Gasps and cries echoed all around when my legs abruptly gave up beneath me; I would have fallen if Loki hadn't reacted instantly, scooping me up and cradling me against his chest, where I immediately pressed my face against his collarbone…

"Nightingale?" He asked, worried about me.

"I got you back… I truly got you back." I repeated in a sob as I placed kisses on what skin I could reach. "Spirits… I feared this day would never come… I love you… I love you so much…"

No one said a word, I think it might just have hit them right then just how serious it all was. What our reunion truly meant for me.

xXx

Phil helped us so we could get to my room. He warned us that guards would be posted outside the door, but in that moment we just didn't care. There were other things we would rather focus on, like being together again. I'm not sure how Phil did it, but I'll always be thankful that he arranged for us to get that afternoon to ourselves, dinner was even sent to us both, with a note warning that Fury would want to talk to us the next morning.

And that's pretty much what we woke up to on Saturday morning. Loki was kind enough to summon a change of clothes for me (since I was wearing borrowed ones from Romanoff since my shower the previous day). So I ended up in jeans, a sleeveless light top and a jacket. I was still carrying my beaded bag. My match for his part shifted into clean clothes, though pretty much the same ones he'd been wearing before, not wanting anyone to forget exactly who and what he was.

We were just about to enter the cafeteria when suddenly my phone rang, it was a very specific ringtone too: a line of high flute notes.

"Hey Darce!" I answered brightly.

"Oh! You're alive…" I heard her on the other side. "You should have called an hour ago girl. You know better than taking too long to call, especially after how those bastards got you out of that house in the Hamptons!"

"I know, I know…I'm sorry." I apologized. "So much has happened. Darcy… I have him back. My match is back…"

She was the only one who knew everything about me, including the truth about Luka Hveðrungr, about him being Loki, my match… everything. In fact, she was the one who had hacked into the necessary databases to register my marriage when I asked her (I'd later on asked my aunt to seal those records so S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't be able to find them).

"Loki is back!" She yelled so loudly even my love heard.

"Yeah." I couldn't help the girlish giggle that came out.

"When are you coming back?" She asked, suddenly very excited. "By the way, we're back at your home. Just so you know. Kathryn didn't like the idea of us staying in the Hamptons when we'd been found there so easily…"

"That was Phil's fault." I pointed out.

I heard her grumble and couldn't help but laugh at her. Yes, I too had been angry at first, but having Loki by my side made it all worth it.

"I don't know when we'll be getting back." I admitted. "I hope soon… but I honestly don't know. Fury wants to interrogate us, and I'm sure everyone else wants some answers as well…"

"I see." She sighed. "Well, Rose and I miss you, we'll be waiting."

"I know you will." I sighed. "I… we'll see you both soon. Take care all of you, bye bye."

"Bye." She hang up.

It was until I turned to look at Loki again that I realized that there was so much about the last two years I had yet to tell him. He might have been possessed and be wanting nothing more than to forget that time… I was a different case entirely.

"So… you're living with Darcy… the same Darcy who used to be Thor's girlfriend's sidekick?" Loki asked, eyebrow rising. "And some other girl named Rose."

"Yeah, pretty much." I shrugged slightly. "There's a bit more to that, but I'll tell you when we get a chance to be alone."

He just nodded, guessing there were things I just didn't want S.H.I.E.L.D. to know; he wasn't far from the truth, so I left it at that.

With a deep breath we finally entered the cafeteria hand in hand. Heads immediately turned to look at us, however, I refused to allow them to bother me in the slightest. Instead I just kept walking by my love's side.

Phil called our attention to the table where he was sitting. He was alone, which I knew was normal for him, as most Agents (pretty much all of them except for the two he was handler of) tended to keep a distance from him, feeling intimidated. I just found the whole thing funny. Especially considering how Phil was behind the façade of serious, solemn, emotionless agent. I'd seen him in a private setting, and the way he was with me, with Darcy, with Rose… and even with his two Agents when they weren't on a mission… it was nothing like the Agent Coulson so many of the junior Agents seemed to fear. On the other hand, it had its uses, as the Agents learnt I was Phil's friend and they didn't dare bother me out of fear of incurring his 'wrath'.

Loki heard everything that was running through my mind in that moment, or almost everything. I few details I was still holding back until I had the time to explain them to him. Still, he laughed, finding the situation as funny as I did.

"Good morning Silbhé." He greeted me as I took a sit in front of him. "Loki…"

He signaled to one of the younger agents hanging around and he immediately brought a tray to the table. It had enough toast for both Loki and I, a bit of fruit and, sadly, two cups of coffee.

My love just rolled his eyes slightly at my expression of distaste when face with the coffee, he waved his hand once and the coffee changed into cocoa.

"Thank you." I smiled at him before taking the cup.

"You could do it yourself, you know?" He commented. "I could see you using magic yesterday. The way you fought… if you can do that it should be easy to do something like this."

"My magic… isn't exactly what you would call stable." I admitted with a sigh. "Mainly because it's not mine at all."

"I know." And of course he did. "You were drawing on my magic. I could sense it. It's also why we kept cancelling each other."

"A good thing, since I don't want to imagine the kind of damage we would have dealt the helicarrier if some of those magical collisions had actually turned into explosions." I admitted with a small shudder. "Still, I have trouble keeping control of the magic unless I'm doing very specific things I can direct with certain words, like my personal version of spells."

"I noticed." He nodded. "You were using the names of runes to guide your powers, mostly."

"Yes." I nodded. "The only things I can do without that are a sort of concussive wave… though I have trouble directing and controlling that one; and teleporting, which I'm a bit better at."

"How long have you been able to call on my magic?" He inquired, interested.

"I began doing a little of this and that about five months or so after you left." I admitted. "Mostly when I was highly emotional for whatever the reason. It began stabilizing thirteen months ago, give or take a week. Though I'm still working on it. I'm fairly good at shielding, teleporting, the concussive waves and a few other minor things, nothing too elaborate…"

"What's wrong with the protective spells on the pendant?" He asked next.

"What?" I wasn't expecting that one.

"I can sense they have weakened drastically in the last two years… too drastically." My love commented thoughtfully as he fingered the pendant on my neck. "Regardless of any craziness you might have gotten yourself involved in since I went missing; they should have lasted longer."

I looked down, really not wanting to answer that particular question.

"Nightingale…" He called softly.

Thankfully, or regretfully, depending on the point of view, I didn't get the chance to answer him, as Hill approached all three of us.

"Director Fury is waiting for you in the Conference Room." She informed us.

She walked away stoically. I could tell she didn't like me. In the past I had noticed that she didn't trust me, being someone who wasn't from S.H.I.E.L.D. and yet held such a high rank, and even had a password that could override the orders of almost everyone in the organization (obviously not the top three, which were Fury, Phil and her… but still).

"Let's go." Phil declared. "It's better if we don't keep Nick waiting."

The two of us nodded, though I could sense Loki in the back of my mind, reminding me we would be finishing that conversation later on. I knew we would… I still didn't know how.

No one came close to us as we walked to the Conference Room. Fury was already there, along with Rogers, Stark, Banner, Barton, Romanoff and Thor. Hill and Phil left us to go and sit at Fury's sides, as his 'seconds', while Loki and I ended up on the opposite side of the table. It almost seemed like we were marking an obvious separation. Which I guess was logical, in a sense… at least until one person broke that accord.

Banner got up from his place and went to approach me.

"Thank you." He said in the sincerest tone I'd ever heard.

"What for?" I hadn't been expecting that.

"What you said, when I… Hulked out, down there, yesterday. It helped… more than you might imagine, more than you might ever be able to understand." He assured me.

"I understand more than you may imagine yourself, Dr. Banner." I told him with the same deep, raw honesty he was using. "I understand what it is like to be seen as monster without truly being one, and all for things that were absolutely out of your own control, of anyone's control…"

It seemed like he couldn't help himself, the doctor turned to look past me, straight at Loki. Who was looking at our exchange quietly. Eventually both men nodded, as if recognizing the similarities between each other, accepting them.

"Until yesterday I never thought I would ever be able to accept what became of me after the gamma radiation accident." Banner admitted calmly but honestly. "You changed all that Professor. You changed me…"

*It seems I'm not the only one whose life you've irreversibly changed.* Loki whispered into my mind. *I'm also not the only one completely grateful about that change.*

"I'm just glad I could be of help." I answered both of them at once.

"You really do mean that, don't you?" Banner marveled.

"I tend to mean the things I say." I told him calmly.

"Unlike your hubby." Stark deadpanned.

"No." I shook my head, I wasn't going to allow such a serious conversation to begin with them insulting my love. "He too tends to mean what he says, it's not his fault you don't understand him. Contrary to popular belief, my husband is not a pathological liar, or anything along those lines. Instead he enjoys playing with words. He always says what he means, it is the rest of the universe that doesn't always get the meaning of his words right."

It was obvious none of those present were expecting a reply like that, for none said a word, at least not until Fury spoke again.

"Well, I hope for the duration of this meeting both of you can contain yourselves to things we normal humans can understand." The Director drawled.

I briefly took offense to him calling me abnormal, until I realized he was pretty much classifying me as the same as my love, that made me care little about the fact that I knew he hadn't actually meant it as a compliment; I would still see it as such.

"We shall do our utmost." Loki said dramatically.

I could hear him snickering in the back of my mind at the way I was taking the Director's words, however, he chose not to comment on it. He too knew how important it was for things to go well in that meeting. Of course, his focus was on the matter of how essential it was for me, while I was more worried about him… it was just how we were.

"Explain what has been going on." Fury instructed.

"You do realize that your question holds implications that go back further than this problem has been yours?" Loki inquired, before going on regardless. "While most of the mess didn't come to a head until two years ago, the truth is that it all began over a thousand years ago… for Asgard that time is what a few decades would be for you; little for those already in adulthood, a good number for those who have grown into it during that time… though nothing compared to the time they still have before them." He shook his head. "It was during that time that Thor, firstborn son of Odin Allfather and his wife the Lady Frigg, was born. It was also during that time that the war that had been waged for ages between the Aesir and the Jotun –the Frost Giants of Jotunheim-, finally came to an end; and upon that end the Allfather made a decision that even today is hard to understand. He had just won, when he found a baby, a runt among the Jotun, left in the ruins of a temple to die… Odin decided to take him in, to Asgard, to his family… only, he never told this child the truth. No, instead Odin lied, to the child and to the whole realm; for over a thousand years he lied… until the lies could hold no more. Until that same child, an adult now, discovered abruptly that there was a good reason why Thor had always been favored over him, why the throne would never be his… he was cursed, had been from the moment he was born, and no one had seen fit to tell him. He was no Aesir, and he was certainly no Odinson… no, instead he was Jotun, he was one of the monster Asgardian's children's nightmares are made of! Nothing more than a monster…"

I couldn't help the anguish that took hold of my heart at those words. In that moment I wanted nothing else than to embrace my love as tightly as I could, hold him and never let him go… then, I felt strange, as if actually were doing exactly that, even though I hadn't moved an inch. It was until I felt Loki's own love and gratefulness filling me that I realized what was going on: magic. I was somehow using my magic to embrace him when I couldn't do it with my arms… he could feel it, and he was thankful for it. It made me very, very happy to be able to offer support and comfort without affecting his image, his front.

We could both see the deep grief in Thor's eyes, even as, slowly, everyone else present began understanding the implication of Loki's words. Then, as if the words hadn't been enough, and knowing that at least one of them would always doubt words, Loki extended an arm forward, willing it to change. The skin turned cobalt blue almost instantly, black tribal-like raised markings appearing in patterns; the rest of his body followed that hand in the change. While he was still wearing Asgardian clothes, the change was noticeable enough.

Every single person froze (figuratively) at the sight. Finally understanding and accepting what Loki was telling them. The truth of his past, his origins… the basis of all that had gone wrong in the last two years, it was there: in all its glory.

As the silence kept lengthening I could see my love growing tenser by the second, until I could stand it no more. I clasped one of his hands in mine. Loki just turned to look at me, sending a wave of gratefulness through our bond, as he held my hand a bit tighter.

"You can hold him without burning!" Thor cried out in shock.

"What?" More than one of those present was confused by the statement.

"The touch of the Jotun burns those who aren't part of the same race." Thor clarified. "I know that, I've seen it…"

"Loki would never hurt me." I said as it should really be that simple. "You forget I'm bound to him. His touch has never hurt me."

Just to prove the point I pulled Loki slightly towards me, placing a long kiss on the corner of his quite blue lips. Nothing happened to me… obviously.

"How long have you known… this?" Phil was curious.

"Since about a month after he himself found out." I answered honestly. "About the time when he finally managed to get out of the abyss and to me."

That gave everyone pause.

"I think it might be best if we start from the beginning." I declared with a sigh.

So we did. It took a while, especially with everyone interrupting every so often on clarifications: Why had Odin told Thor and Loki when children that they were both born to rule when he always knew Loki didn't have a chance? No idea, we too would like an answer to that question. How could Loki appear as an Aesir when he wasn't one? Loki was a shapeshifter, and he'd changed to the image that better suited the people who were taking him even back when he was still an infant. How could he never have known the truth of his heritage? Being a Sorcerer, a lot of the innate abilities that might shown up and would usually been connected to a Jotun, were instead considered to be because of his magic. How come he didn't notice how wrong things were going right when Odin exiled Thor? He was preoccupied, having just seen his own skin turning blue for the first time. Why didn't Loki revoke Thor's exile when he became King? Loki's first order couldn't go against his predecessor's last, it set a bad precedent, would garner him no supporters and made it look like he just wanted to go against Odin. Why did he send the Destroyer to Earth? It was supposed to delay Thor's and the other's return to Asgard, giving Loki time to finish his business with Laufey, while at the same time pushing Thor to recovering full power; specific instructions were given to make sure no one would end up killed. Why did he try to destroy Jotunheim? Odin liked Thor, and Thor always said he would one day slaughter all the Jotun… all Loki was trying to do was be like the son Odin actually liked…

"Why did you let go?" Phil inquired.

The last question and answer had already caused enough of a reaction in everyone; none of us were expecting someone to question why exactly Loki had let go of the staff when he and Thor had been hanging off the Rainbow Bridge…

Loki didn't answer, not a word. I wished they could see, could understand what had happened in that moment, off the edge of that bridge… but at the same time I didn't dare say anything that might make Loki look weak or vulnerable, I knew he hated that.

What neither of us expected, was for the one other person present who knew what had happened that day to reveal it:

"It was our father…" Thor stated in a voice that showed he was trying very hard to hold back his feelings on the matter. "When I smashed the Bifrost both Loki and I fell. It turned out our Father had woken, he caught me, and in turn I caught the staff, which Loki was holding. Then… Loki told father that he could have done it… for him… Father said no…"

"What?!" Surprisingly, the yell of rage came from none other than Stark.

Loki flinched, hard enough it was outwardly visible. I couldn't help the spike it caused in my own temper and sparks flew from the free hand I kept fisted over the table. That caused everyone who wasn't looking at Stark in shock due to his outburst to turn to me instead.

"You're the reason that monitor caught fire!" Hill realized.

"I didn't like what I was hearing." I shrugged.

Thor actually winced, probably remembering what exactly he'd said.

"Wish I'd had the presence of mind to enjoy it when it happened." Loki smirked.

"So… everything that happened was what…? A bunch of Daddy issues? A tantrum?" Natasha hissed in disbelief.

"You haven't the slightest idea." I practically snarled.

However, the greatest surprise was when I wasn't the only one who said that: Stark did too, exactly at the same time, and with pretty much the same amount of feeling. However, when the others turned to him once again, he wouldn't say a word.

"My brother had every right to feel bad about our father's lack of support." Thor turned to Loki. "And no matter how many times you say that we are not brothers, and that he isn't your father; truth is we are. We are a family, have been for over a thousand years. We may now have certain knowledge we didn't before, but why should it make a difference? We are the same people we've been all along, that's never changed. The only thing that has changed is that now we know… and at the same time I would like to believe that we're better prepared to deal with that knowledge than we were in the past."

"You call what has already happened, dealing with it?" Hill asked in a disbelieving tone.

"Compared to the war I nearly began the last time my temper got the best of me?" Thor inquired in return. "And that time it was Loki who solved matters, too!"

"By assassinating a King!" Natasha hissed.

"Aren't you an assassin?" I drawled. "Or are you gonna tell me you've never killed someone in a position of power for the good of your own people, of yourself? Loki was doing exactly that! He killed an insane ruler so both of their realms wouldn't end up involved in another bloody war!"

No one had anything to say to that.

"The bastard was too much of a coward to do things himself!" Natasha replied, incensed. "Instead he brainwashed some of our own to do his dirty job! To kill us!"

"Really?" I arched a brow. "Tell me one thing Agent Romanoff. You're alive, aren't you?"

She didn't answer, just piercing me with a glare I ignored.

"You fought Agent Barton yesterday." I went on. "How many times did he shoot at you?" I shook my head. "Let me rephrase, how many times did he shoot and miss you?"

That made everyone stop before a single question or complaint could be made.

"Do you think it was a coincidence? Good luck?" I drawled in my most sarcastic tone. "You, as well as Phil, Hill and Fury were all in Hawkeye's crosshairs more than once since this whole mess began. And yet… you're all here right now. What does that tell you?"

"That your hubby is bad at brainwashing?" Barton suggested.

"That even all-powerful gods make mistakes?" Stark quipped.

"A tactician of his prowess wouldn't make such a glaringly obvious mistake… unless it was deliberate." Banner stated, as he himself began contemplating the possibilities.

"Meaning?" Hill obviously hadn't expected that.

"Meaning that, all along, he wasn't trying to kill us." Banner went on. "In a very bizarre way, he might even have been trying to help. Does anyone here truly believe it's chance that it took the Chitauri two years since Loki first met them to ready an attack on our planet? They already had the army, the weapons, and the desire to invade. Loki knew where the Tesseract was, and with the scepter he had the means to take over anyone he needed to make things happen as he wanted them to… and yet two years passed before anything did."

"I wouldn't go as far as saying I was trying to help you." Loki half-smirked. "That would make me a hero… and I'm nowhere as boring goody-two-shoes as the lot of you. However… you are right that I didn't actually desire to see the Chitauri and… their leader, succeed."

"I thought you were under mind-control yourself." Fury commented suspiciously. "How could you make that kind of decision when you weren't in your own mind?"

"Some things are just instinctual…" He began, before hesitantly adding. "And a matter of self-preservation, I guess."

I nodded in confirmation, it sounded logical, from a certain point of view

"What does that mean?" Rogers asked, confused.

"Instinctively he didn't want to destroy the world his bonded was a part of." Thor answered before I could. "Even if he couldn't actually remember her, a part of him still knew she existed, and that if Midgard was attacked, it would affect her." His brow furrowed. "I don't fully understand the self-preservation part…"

"If one dies, the other does as well." I deadpanned, as I placed my hand with the deamarkonian over the table, for all to see. "This is what saved me from dying from leukemia when I was fourteen. It doesn't cure cancer, just allows me to live with it. His energy is in my veins fighting the sickness, allowing me to keep living. It also ties our lives together, if one goes, we both do. It's as simple as that."

Not quite, but there were certain things I would rather not go into.

"If the Chitauri won, and the Earth was destroyed, you would die… and so would he." Barton nodded, understanding the idea.

"Why not take it off?" Rogers inquired. "I mean, why didn't he…whoever the real leader of the Chitauri is, make you take it off? If it was compromising your loyalty to his operation…"

"He didn't know anything." Loki explained simply. "The deamarkonian cannot be seen unless we will it. And even if he'd wanted to take it off. It cannot be done. This is permanent."

No, no it wasn't; and not only because there was actually a key, if only one, and it was in my possession; but also because, unknown to my match, the deamarkonian had ceased working many months prior… there had been consequences to my 'near-death' over a year before, he just didn't know it yet, and since it was miracle enough for me to be alive, I wasn't about to complain.

"So, what happens now?" Phil inquired.

Yes, the most important question of all: what happens now? I wasn't sure if any of us had an actual answer. Though we certainly could come up with one, or so I hoped.

"There is one thing you must understand." Loki stated in a business-like tone. "Right now it will all be ready for the invasion to take place. Selvig won't open the portal until I give the order, and I certainly won't right now… but that doesn't mean the Titan won't find some other way to push his plans forward. I may have been the one he chose to lead his army originally, but only because it was convenient to him. There are others who could do it."

"He would still need a portal." Fury pointed out.

"Not necessarily." Loki shook his head. "A portal is convenient. It opens at specific points, allows for a higher level of planning. However, it's not the only way. I can travel using what's known to some as the Shadow Paths. It's a level of existence that is outside of this realm, outside of any and all realms, yet not quite in the abyss…"

"The abyss?" Hill asked, confused.

"The emptiness off of Yggdrassil and the realms that exist in its branches." I clarified. "In simple terms, it's space, outer-space…"

"The Shadow Paths exist on the borders that connect all the realms, as well as the abyss." Loki added. "It's what allows me to travel not just to very separate parts of Midgard, but also from here to Asgard, Jotunheim, or any other realm I wish. That's also why even all-seeing individuals like Heimdall and the Allfather cannot follow me there, because the Shadow Plane is not an actual reality, but the converging point of all…" He shook his head. "In any case, there is a chance that the Titan can travel the Shadow Paths as well. While he wouldn't be able to get his army to this world like that, having that ability would allow him to use the Shadow Plane to create a tear in the fabric of this realm, open a chaos-portal into the abyss."

"What's the difference between this chaos-portal you speak of, and the one that you were going to create with the Tesseract?" Rogers asked, not understanding much of what was being said, but still wanting to have all the information possible.

"The difference is the control." Loki said, as if it should have been obvious. "With the portal I planned I get to decide when to open it, and even if and when to close it. A chaos-portal… well, like I already said, it's a tear in the fabric of reality. A tear has no direction and no control, it can be very small, or huge, it cannot be contained, and it's next to impossible to close. So… you might understand how risky it would be. Also, with the Titan doing everything we would have no way of knowing when it would happen, or where, nothing at all…"

"So, let me see if I'm getting this right." Barton stated, voice heavy with sarcasm and disbelief. "We were actually lucky when you were the one leading the Chitauri… and you suppose now we will all be screwed if you don't? Are you trying to get us to allow you to go along with this insane thing? Is that it?"

"It's not your place to allow, or not, anything at all, Hawkeye." Loki stated coldly. "I just tell you how things are. You might actually be able to defeat the Chitauri, still won't change that there will be loses, like with every battle. And with them out of control… you can expect a lot of civilians to be lost, no matter where that portal opens in the end. About myself… once again, I couldn't care less. I'm back exactly where I want and need to be, and the only reason why I'm not just letting your world burn, is because of my Nightingale."

Silence followed that statement, no one dared say a thing. If it was because they thought it crazy or because they (or at least one) agreed with what Loki had just said, I had no way of knowing.

"Is there any chance someone would be able to return to the abyss and destroy this Titan you've been talking about, before the invasion can take place?" Fury inquired, considering possibilities. "Whatever army the chitauri are, it is bound to be lost without its leader."

"I see you haven't fully understood the implications of what I've said thus far." Loki shook his head. "What we Asgardians know as the abyss, is what you Midgardians usually call space. It is impossible for any of you to survive in such a place. Even Asgardians cannot do it."

"What about you?" Banner raised a brow.

"I'm not Asgardian now, am I?" Was all Loki said for an answer.

"Would you be able to do it?" Hill asked next.

I knew the question was coming, and I was on my feet and replying on it before I was even fully conscious of what I was doing.

"No!" I yelled. "No way!"

"Nightingale…" Loki began quietly.

When it seemed like I just wasn't listening to him he got on his feet too and tried to hold me.

"You're not going on a suicide mission Loki." I said, turning to stare right at him, ignoring our height difference. "I won't allow it!"

"Silbhé…" Phil tried to be the voice of reason. "I know you don't like it. But we have to consider all possibilities if we want to save as many lives as we can. Even Loki must be able to see this."

To my horror, Loki nodded stiffly.

"No!" I yelled even louder, sparks jumping from my skin as I slammed my hands on the table. "You cannot do this Loki…"

"But love, you must see the Son of Coul is right." He told me in the most soothing tone I'd ever heard from him. "I may care little for this world or most of the mortals than inhabit it, but I care about you, and I know you care about your friends. You don't want them to suffer. And this would stop such a thing from happening."

"You cannot do this Loki…" I repeated, my throat beginning to close with emotion as I searched my mind for something that would make him stop. "I need you…"

"I know…" He whispered, kissing my hair.

"Your daughter needs you…" I blurted out.

I didn't even realize what I'd just said until the words were already out of my mouth. I could hardly believe then that I'd actually said it. On the other side of the table Phil sighed, while the rest just looked at me with absolute shock.

Ever since I'd seen Loki again three days prior I'd known things were bound to get complicated in more ways than one. Then, when I'd managed to get him back the day before… I knew there was so much he didn't yet know, the reminder of which had come even that very morning in the form of Darcy's call. And still I'd continued waiting… hoping for a right moment. Until I'd finally run out of time.

"My… daughter…" He repeated in a low, hesitant voice, before switching to mind-speak. *Something tells me you're not talking about Hel.*

*No, though I have met her.* I admitted quietly.

*How…? When…?* He was very alarmed at the prospect.

*I almost died last year.* I admitted. *In fact, I technically did die for a moment there. Hel helped me so I could come back. I was needed here.*

*You were needed here… our daughter needed you here…* He began to understand, though it was obvious he was still in shock.

For what seemed like forever none of us moved in the slightest, not a word was said, in our minds or out of them. The others remained just as quiet, probably waiting until more information was given, or just too shocked still to say a word.

"My Nightingale…?" Loki began.

"Silbhé…" Phil interrupted him quietly. "Darcy says they're ready. Your aunt was demanding to come as well, but Darcy convinced her to wait until whatever is going on was finished. She imagined you might not have enough energy to bring all three of them at once."

I nodded, thankful for the amount of thought they were all putting to the situation. Particularly since I hadn't even considered actually bringing them in, it had been Phil's idea. Slowly so as not to hurt him in any way I slipped away from Loki, going to stand near an empty corner of the room. There I stood with my hands pressed together as if in prayer; I focused hard on the people I was summoning as I began calling on my power, slowly separating my hands at the same time. A spark of power appeared in the middle of my palms, soon growing into a spiral of magic, an off-white color (the color of my aura). It grew, until I abruptly flicked my wrists outwards, pushing the spiral of power away from me; it seemed to form some kind of twister just a couple of feet in front of me. There was a flash of light and the next thing everyone knew two people were standing there.

The first was Darcy: in her usual attire of top, jeans, jacket and boots; her chocolate brown hair, blue eyes and glasses the same as ever. However, what truly caught everyone's attention wasn't Darcy herself, but the girl in her arms. The child was an infant, small for a one year-old, though she was actually almost fourteen months old, her skin was like cream and roses; the hair auburn, though a redder shade than mine and straight like Loki's; the shape of her face was very much like mine had been at that age (or so my aunt said); but her eyes were the strangest thing: like the Tiger's Eye stone: a mix of light-brown, honey, and an almost golden color. She was wearing an off-white short-sleeved dress and a very small pin of a white rose on what little hair she had; on her little wrist was a charm-bracelet meant to act like my pendant, even if it was only temporary (I'd passed some of the magic in my pendant to the bracelet, so Loki's magic would protect our little girl too. It was the reason why my own protections were somewhat weak).

"Mama!" The little girl called brightly the moment she laid eyes on me.

I moved automatically, opening my arms to her. Darcy didn't even ask what was going on, why I had summoned them to that place when it was supposed to be something I would only do in case of an emergency… well, I classified the situation we were in as an emergency, so yes.

Darcy placed my daughter carefully in my arms. And the little girl immediately went for the closest lock of my hair she could touch. She had a thing for my hair, though I did not know why. She also liked my nightingale pendant.

"Hey baby girl…" I cooed at her as I held her against my chest. "How's my little rose?"

"Mama!" She cried out once again, smiling brightly at me.

I placed a quick kiss on her brow, it felt good to be holding her in my arms again. Truth is I'd never been separated from her for more than a few hours since we all got out of the hospital after her birth. And then the Agents had taken me on Wednesday morning, and it was already Saturday afternoon… so yeah, I'd missed her, a lot.

When I raised my head I could see Loki looking at us with the strangest expression on his face. Like he was standing on the edge… about to fall.

"Hey Rose…" I called my baby's attention as I purposefully approached Loki. "Look who's here." I turned her so she faced Loki. "Do you know who this is?"

My baby just raised her head, looking at the man before us for a while, until her face showed the brightest smile ever:

"Papa!" She cried out in delight, raising her arms at him eagerly.

I could see that Loki was moving before he was actually fully conscious of it. It was until he had Rose in his arms, and she placed a hand on his cheek, muttering gibberish excitedly, that I could see the full truth of everything actually dawned on him. And of course, I helped:

"Meet Rose Alfdis Salani-Hveðrungr." I told him brightly. "Rose for short."

"We have a daughter." He gasped.

Next thing I knew he was holding both of us tightly against his chest. It was like he no longer remembered the rest of the people in the room, or he just didn't care… probably the later. The presence of his child was much more important.

We stayed like that for what seemed like a very long while. Until we eventually calmed down enough to return to our places. Loki keeping Rose with him, sitting her on his leg, bounding her just enough so she would be happy.

"She's beautiful…" Loki whispered, still marveled by it all. "And she looks just like you."

"Her hair is straight, like yours." I pointed out, caressing it. "And I think some of her eye-color came from you… your other eyes."

He seemed to ponder that for a few seconds, but didn't say anything about it.

It was until that point that we turned to look at the expressions of shock (some concealed, some not) from all but two people in the room.

"Something tells me I'm not the only one you just threw this bombshell on." Loki quipped with a smirk, even as he kept holding onto Rose.

"Honestly?" I half smiled. "Before this very moment only four people knew Rose was my daughter, most believed her to be my niece. Also, from all those people, only one knew she was yours, the only person who knew about us."

Before he had to ask he noticed Darcy waving at him from her spot behind Phil.

"The records showed her mother's name as: Arianna Kinross." Fury pointed out, brow furrowed.

"That's right." I nodded calmly. "Arianna is my middle name, which actually doesn't appear in most of my records. Kinross was my mom's maiden name. It was all meant to protect Rose. She needed to be safe, especially if something ever happened to me. I didn't know where Loki was, or how to find him, Rose was always the priority."

"How does she even know who he is?" Stark was truly curious.

"I've showed her pictures." I shrugged calmly. "Our home is full of pictures of Loki, and of the two of us together."

"How come I've never seen a single picture?" Barton wanted to know. "I have been to the apartment. There's never been anything."

"When I said home I meant my family home in south Maine." I elaborated. "It's not registered with S.H.I.E.L.D., obviously, and few people have actually been there, much less know how to actually get there unaided."

Loki nodded, it all sounded logical to him, obviously. I'd done everything in my power to protect our baby girl from anyone who may wish her harm, either because of him, or me, or both.

"You named her Alfdis…" Loki commented quietly. "Do you know what it means?"

"I've found two different meanings." I admitted. "Spirit and 'divine woman', I liked both. Anyway, it wasn't I who chose that name actually. I thought you should be a part of it, but since I didn't know where to find you, I did the next best thing… Hel chose that name."

Loki only watched me in shock for a few seconds, he hadn't been expecting that, and it was quite obvious he didn't know just what to say.

"You said you'd met her… and that you almost died last year." Loki remembered quietly.

"Yes." I took a deep breath before doing my best to explain. "Rose is a miracle, even more than I am. According to the doctors it should have been impossible for me to carry her to term; hell, I shouldn't have been able to get pregnant in the first place. I came close to losing her actually, about two weeks or so after I saw you for the last time. It was only the fact that Darcy found me in time and got me to the hospital that saved Rose…" I smiled at my best friend. "After that things were touch and go for a while. My pregnancy was considered high-risk, for both the baby and myself, some stupid doctor even dare suggest that I get an abortion… for my own good!"

Loki actually growled at that. Children were sacred in Asgard, as they were rare; the mere idea of someone suggesting to kill a baby, and especially his baby… Regardless what some may think, Loki doesn't hate children. He does love Hel, even if he hasn't always known how to show it, and just taking a look at him was enough to know he loved Rose too, even if it hadn't even been a half hour since he even learnt she existed.

"I moved in with Darcy and Jane after that." I went on with the story. "They were the only ones who knew I was pregnant. Well, and Phil found out eventually."

At that everyone turned to look at Phil, who growled playfully at me.

"Thanks for that Silbhé." He mumbled with false anger.

"You know you love me." I smirked at him. "There's a reason I made you and Darcy, Rose's godparents." I turned very serious. "You are two of the few people I trust with her."

Phil dropped his fake anger to smile at me, as did Darcy. They knew the kind of trust I had in them. The only person I trusted as much as them was my Aunt Kathryn, though she wasn't around as much as them.

"Anyway, back then I was only working with Jane's team, and the only S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents who ever came around were Clint and Phil, so hiding wasn't that hard." I continued. "Darcy helped me make our marriage legal, and later on my aunt helped me seal both the marriage certificate and Rose's birth certificate. For her protection."

"Why did you almost die?" Loki was focusing a lot on that.

"The records show she was in the research facilities when the latest experiment failed." Hill stated, having read the reports. "She was one of the worst hurt, along with two Agents on guard-duty. And yet… what was never explained was how, Darcy and Jane, who were supposed to have been with her, were unscathed."

"That's because we weren't there." I explained quietly. "I went into labor at some point after lunch. At first I thought I could ignore it until we were finished with the experiments, but then my pressure plummeted and I fainted. I woke up quickly enough, but it was still enough of a scare for the girls to choose to get me to the hospital. We were actually on our way out already when the explosion happened. Some of the Agents saw us on our way out, and since Jane and Darcy were practically carrying me between them he thought I'd been hurt, even drove us to the hospital in one of the vans. However, as he then had to go back and report on what had happened, he never found out what was really going on." I chuckled. "It was very funny actually. The closest anyone came to ever discovering my pregnancy, and he missed it in the end. Anyway, the labor was long, over 24 hours. The doctors were worried, but I couldn't have a C-section because of how delicate my condition was already. Eventually the moment came: Rose was born on March 20th at 5:21 P.M. she was a little on the small side… still is actually. But pretty healthy so that's no problem." I took a deep breath before throwing the next bombshell. "So she was born, small, and rosy, with a tuff of red hair and those big eyes… I got to hold her, to name her Rose and… and then I died."

I could see in the tension in his whole form, and in the flash of pain and horror that reached me through our bond. Hearing that hurt him, and yet, he needed to know.

"It wasn't for long." I clarified, before switching to mental-talk. *It was then that I met Hel. I told her who I was and she allowed me to come back, for Rose.* I didn't go into any details before switching again. "Still, the doctors insisted that I stay for a few days under observation. It's how everyone began believing that I'd been so badly hurt in the explosion. Since we were keeping the fact that Rose was my daughter hidden, we didn't deny the rumors. Instead I contacted my aunt and then we made everyone believe that Rose's mother, my cousin: Arianna Kinross, had died giving birth to her child, I was her closest relative, and because of that she would be staying with me." I smiled. "No one thought of the fact that my mother only had one sister: Siobhan Kinross, and she married Henry Evans; both my cousins are Evans." I shrugged. "In the end, it worked out my way, so I'm not about to complain."

"And you made Darcy and the Son of Coul godparents to our daughter?" Loki asked.

"Yes." I nodded. "I made all the arrangements as soon as I got out of the hospital." I wasn't sure how to explain that part. "I… I couldn't be sure how long I had… how long we had… for all I knew I could be dropping dead any moment. I needed to make sure that if such a thing happened that the right people would be taking care of Rose."

"I'm sorry you had to live in such fear." Loki told me quietly, caressing my cheek.

"The other side of the statement if that it made me appreciate ever day, every hour I had all the more." I pointed out. "Ever moment I had with my little girl, with my friends was precious; not only because of what I myself had, but also because every moment I was alive, was one you were alive as well. As long as you were alive there was the possibility I might find you some day."

He pulled me to him, kissing my hair, and I could feel the depth of his love.

"So, going back to the original topic of conversation." I turned to stare straight at Fury. "You aren't sending my husband on a suicide mission. You won't be the cause our daughter ends up an orphan, not after we managed to survive two years of the Titan and his madness!"

"I agree with the Lady Nightingale." Thor stated.

"Of course he would…" Natasha began in a hiss.

"I agree too." Stark interrupted her.

Everyone turned to stare at him. Really, he'd been on our side practically since the beginning of our story…it was so strange…

"What?" He shrugged at the looks everyone directed him. "Look, my parents may have been shit, and it's quite obvious that Rein… Loki's weren't much better; don't know about the little lady but the point is this: after the childhood I had, I promised myself that if I ever had a kid, I would be nothing like my father. I would be a good dad. It's quite obvious that they're trying to do the same. And we cannot ruin that by sending him on a mission, which we don't even know if he will be able to fulfill, and when our only guarantee is that that little baby girl is going to end up alone in the world. We're supposed to be the heroes, right?"

No one had an answer to that.

"I'm worried about one thing, Lady Nightingale." Thor told me. "You said your pregnancy was hard on you… that you almost were dead… I am just surprised that you, being mortal, were able to carry the child of a Frost Giant to term."

Loki flinched slightly.

"That wasn't a problem." I glared at him. "Rose's body temperature is actually a few degrees beneath what's normal for someone fully human. But that's never affected me, just like Loki has never hurt me, even when in Jotun form." I shook my head. "The problem was me, never him, and never Rose. I am sick, have been for most of my life. What Loki did might be able to keep me alive, but it doesn't take away the sickness. The Cancer will be a part of me till the day I die!"

Thor actually lowered his head, though I'm not sure if it was because of the anger I was directing at him, or because of the reminder of my mortality.

"We will find a solution." Phil stated, so serious and confident I couldn't help but believe him.

Before anyone else could say a single word Loki was abruptly so tense it looked like he might snap at any moment.

"Nightingale take the baby!" He cried out suddenly.

I reacted instinctively, pulling Rose off his knee and against my chest and then moving backwards, almost falling over my own chair before kicking it away.

"Loki…?" I called, very worried about my beloved.

Loki began shaking violently, either hitting or kicking the table and the closest chair every so often. I was so stressed out, and just didn't know what to do. And then Rose burst out crying, wailing actually… and I was about to go crazy myself.

"Give her to me, Silbhé." Suddenly Darcy was standing beside me, arms open wide. "Come on, hand Rose over so you can take care of her papa."

That was enough to make me move. Instantly I placed my daughter in her godmother's arms, half-absently kissing her brow in an attempt to calm her at least a little, before I rushed to where Loki was still twisting and trashing. His chair half broken on the ground, the edges of the table bend due to his force.

Darcy just pressed the hiccupping Rose (at least she wasn't crying anymore) against her chest while hurrying to the nearest corner, doing her best not to be in anyone's way.

The Avengers tried to interfere and it ended with Steve being thrown against a wall, Barton and Romanoff on the ground as he pulled her back to evade an attack, and Stark with a slight cut on a cheek when he didn't fully evade a move from my love. Fury and Hill were both pointing their guns at him and Phil was trying his best to dissuade them from shooting them.

"Loki!" I cried out as I hurried to him.

I knew what I was doing when I stood in before him, pulling him to face me, blocking Hill's and Fury's guns while at the same time taking care of my husband.

"Loki look at me." I told him, trying to get him to focus. "Look at me! You have to fight him! Fight him! This is your body, your mind, you're the one in control! You cannot let Thanos win! Fight him! For me! For Rose!"

"Did she just say Thanos?" I could hear Thor's shock behind Loki.

"Who's Thanos?" Several voices inquired at the same time.

"The Mad Titan." Darcy cited what I'd taught her, just in case. "There's no record of his existence, or that of any Titan, really, in Norse mythology. But then again, we know already that their information isn't without mistakes, so… the best theory Silbhé was able to come up with is in derivation from Roman-Greek mythology, the Titans as the origin of the universe, as the first generation of living creatures. If the Titans created the universe as we know it, the realms as they know them, that means that before that, they inhabited the bare universe, the abyss. Hence why they would have no problem existing there even now. Thanos is one of them, he might be the only one, he might not; he leads the Chitauri, the remnants of a lost race from some world that either has been forgotten or simply was never known. We have no theories of why exactly the Chitauri would choose to attack the Earth except for it being simply the will of their leader; and why that would be? We don't know."

Everyone was looking at Darcy in shock after that.

"What?" She asked defensively. "Silbhé made me memorize all that after she explained me the mess that is her life. It was supposed to be in case worse came to worst and she wasn't around when the information was needed."

That might have made everyone sober up, I'm not sure, I was too busy trying to convince my love to keep fighting for autonomy. I tried humming, but it didn't work and I was too stressed out to think of any song…I honestly didn't know what else to do.

"…ep…er…ce…ter…" Loki began muttering. "scep…ter…"

It took me forever, but eventually I managed to understand what he was saying. I reacted instinctively, taking a few steps away from him before extending both hands at once and calling on my… his… our magic. The scepter materialized in my hands. I could vaguely hear the others around me, some shocked, but most yelling imprecations at my actions; still, I ignored them all, focusing only in the object in my hand. The object that was practically vibrating with power, with a gem that was glowing blue, the same blue that was fighting to take over my husband's eyes; and it was beating, almost like a heart…

"Thanos is using the scepter to take control over him again…" I managed to whisper.

"He has to fight it!" Phil exclaimed.

"This is a Titan we're talking about!" I replied, completely panicked.

Yes, it was a Titan, but there had to be a way to help him. There had to be a way to at least help Loki. Take away whatever advantage Thanos might have, so they would be on more equal footing, so Loki had a better chance… my hands tightened almost convulsively on the very object I was already holding on them. The scepter, that was the key of everything… And yet, as I kept looking at my love trashing and twisting, fighting for his mind, for our lives… I knew helping him this time was going to be even harder… 

Chapter Text

Hope

Hope is not the absence of fear, or doubt, or despair… just the belief that there's more beyond all that. And I would never stop hoping…

It was all chaos, absolute chaos. The whole hospital was a mess. There had been some sort of accident right as we were leaving the research facility… some kind of explosion… I wasn't sure, hadn't been in all my senses at the time. Something had gone wrong with the experiment we'd been working on when I'd fainted. It was likely that if the gals hadn't insisted on getting me to a hospital, for my baby if not for myself, that we all might have ended up trapped in that explosion. We might all have died… my baby might have died…

I bit my lip as I help back another scream, I'd been in labor for hours… so many hours… Jane had left at some point, wanting to check on her employees, particularly those who had to stay in the hospital because of the very explosion we'd miraculously managed to avoid ourselves.

Phil dropped by at some point. Apparently there were rumors going around that I was there in the hospital because I was a victim of the explosion. With all he knew, Phil had a better idea of what was truly going on, but knowing that I wanted to keep my baby a secret, hadn't said a thing. I was thankful to him for that.

He and Darcy, they were the only ones who truly understood, or if not understood at least accepted, the fact that I wanted to keep the existence, the reality of my baby in secret. Darcy even knew just who my baby's father was. It was why I'd chosen them to be godparents. I knew that if the worst happened, either during the delivery, or at any point afterwards, they would take good care of my child. I trusted them, like I'd never trusted another being in my life except for my own match… it was both a marveling and a humbling thought.

Hours passed, and I noticed I was growing weaker. I didn't say anything, but I could feel the weariness settling in, and I began to wonder if, when the time came, I would have the strength necessary to actually bring my child into the world. While I'd long since gotten over the fear of my own death, I was terrified at the possibility of killing my baby by not being strong enough to actually give birth to her… I even told Darcy that, if things got to that point, she was to tell the doctors that my baby was the priority, no matter what, they were to save the baby, my little miracle, the proof of Loki's and my love… Darcy hated hearing me talking about such things, but promised she would make sure my baby lived.

I kept losing and gaining consciousness again and again as I reached the 24 hours-labor mark. The doctor were beginning to get as nervous as I was already and I knew why, under normal circumstances they would be recommending a C-section right about that point; but in my case, something like that just wasn't possible, not if they wanted me to survive, I didn't have the strength to survive a surgery anymore.

Finally, the moment came. The doctor told me to push… I did not think I had enough strength left to do it, but somehow I did… I wondered briefly if Loki was somehow responsible for that. Had he, wherever he might be, sensed my delicate state and was trying to help me? I did not know, but I did not ponder on it too long, instead focusing on following the doctor's instructions.

Darcy was beside me, holding my hand in one of her own, and running a cool, damp cloth over my sweaty face and neck every so often. We were so close I'd begun hearing murmurs about us being a couple. I would have laughed if I'd had the energy. But all the energy I had I focused on pushing, on bringing my baby into the world…

There was no cry, no great fuss to announce that my child had officially become a part of the world. And yet, it had happened, my child… I could see… I could feel… it was amazing.

"Ms. Salani, here's your baby." The nurse announced as she placed the tiny rosy creature in my arms. "She's a girl, Ms. Salani. Congratulations."

"A girl…" I gasped as I held her against my chest. "We have a girl!"

"She's so beautiful Silbhé…" Darcy told me with a smile.

I smiled as brightly as I could while still so tired.

"My baby…" I whispered as I kissed the tuff of red hair on her head. "My little rose…"

"Rose?" Darcy inquired. "Will that be her name?"

"Yes." I kissed her head again. "My little Rose… I love you…"

I didn't even notice when I lost consciousness again, to a darkness far deeper than any before. The last thing I was half aware of was Darcy calling my name with increasing hysteria as someone took my little girl from my lax arms. I wanted to tell Darcy I was alright, even though I knew very well I wasn't; I wanted to tell the doctors not to take my baby girl away, that she was all I had… and yet I had no strength left. I couldn't talk, couldn't open my eyes, I could hardly even think… there was nothing I could do. So I just let go.

It surprised me greatly when I returned to awareness, it certainly was something I hadn't expected to experience ever again. I had no idea where I was supposed to be, all around me seemed to be mist and a never-ending emptiness. My mind felt sluggish, making it harder for me to even begin to wonder what was going on.

Suddenly I wasn't alone anymore. There was a woman standing before me, in such a way I could only see her profile; she was tall, around a foot taller than me; she seemed to be around my age, though I wasn't very good at telling someone's age, so I wasn't sure. She wore a fancy midnight blue floor-length gown, with long sleeves open on the outside and a golden sash. The peach semi-translucent tone of her skin reminded me powerfully of someone, though my mind was so lost I couldn't pinpoint just who; her hair was long, straight and a shiny ashen black color, the eye fixed straight on me was jade-green, almost like… Loki, she reminded me of Loki!

In an instant it was like my mind came together. Suddenly I was painfully aware of just who I was: Silbhé Salani, professor, Jane's assistant, Loki's consort, Rose's mom… Rose, my baby girl, who along with losing her mom was going to lose any chance of ever knowing her dad… life wasn't fair… more than that, it was downright cruel…

"You're a strange one." The woman called my attention back to her.

I turned to look at her, but before I could say a single word she turned to face me fully and I could suddenly see the left side of her body. Her skin looked dark, as if it were either burnt or rotting; the hair on that side of her head was brittle and gray, like that of an old woman; and her eye was a red pupil on a black sclera.

Her appearance took me by surprise, though I wasn't scared. No, after the revelation of Loki's heritage and his true image I promised myself I would never let physical differences sway me. Besides, with my mind working properly I could connect what I was seeing to a specific name:

"Lady Hel." I bowed respectfully at her.

"You know who I am." Her brow arched, apparently not having expected that.

"I do, my lady." I nodded. "Though I am surprised at your presence. I do not imagine it is normal for us mortals to get to see the ruler of the realm of the dead."

"No, it is not." She replied. "Truth is, I find you intriguing. In the past I have seen mortals give up. The mark of death on their souls before their bodies actually give up. You are like that, gave up hours ago…" She sighed. "But it wasn't only that. Like I said, I've seen others like you before. However, none before have had the kind of power beneath their skin that you do, the magic running through your veins, the bonds on your very soul… you are the Nightingale, you are Loki… my father's match."

"I am." I nodded with a small smile. "It's a pleasure meeting you. Even if the circumstances aren't really the best ones."

I had just said that when I suddenly became aware of something horrible. I wasn't the only one dying… no, Loki was dying too. And it was all my fault.

"No!" I cried out, absolutely horrified. "Nonononono… This can't be happening."

"Lady Nightingale?" Hel inquired, confused.

"Loki is dying!" I cried out. "And it's all my fault!"

There was no reply, but as I kept looking at her, something dawned on me.

"Lady Hel." I bowed deeply to her, knowing what I wanted to ask of her was huge. "I know I have no right to ask anything of you, but I would request a boon."

"A boon?" She inquired, elegant eyebrow arched. "Do you wish to cheat death?"

"No." I shook my head. "I know better than to try such a thing. What I wish is for death to claim only me." I showed her the deamarkonian. "This was given to me by Loki, to save me when I was fourteen and dying from the Cancer. It makes it so our lives are intertwined. I wish just for a few moments more, just enough so I can unlock it. Just enough so my death won't be the reason he dies too. So my… so our daughter might have the chance of one day knowing her father."

"So you do wish for life, only not for yourself, but for Loki?"

"He's done so much for me… it's not fair that he die with me. I always knew one day my death would come, I've never had any delusions on that matter. However, I truly believe he deserves to keep on living. And Rose deserves to someday know her father…"

"You have the Lady of Death standing before you, and you plead for someone else's life?"

"I do." I had no doubts about that.

"Someone who isn't by your side…"

"Loki loves me, I have no doubt whatsoever about that. If he's not by my side there must be a reason, something outside his power. He deserves better than to fall dead because of my own weakness. And Rose deserves better too."

"Yes, Rose, your daughter… a hybrid, a mix of two races… nothing like her has ever existed before, except maybe me and well… you have seen me."

"You're beautiful. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but beautiful still. Likewise, I will always believe Rose to be beautiful, whether she keeps looking human, or changes at some point."

"I believe you…" She sighed. "Wonder how different things would have been had you been my mother instead of… well…"

"You wouldn't be who you are today Hel, if anyone else had brought you to the world." I told her with a smile, touching her chin, purposefully on both sides of her face. "I would be honored if you would consider me part of your family, in whatever capacity you wish."

"I would love that… mama…"

I couldn't hold myself back, I embraced Hel tightly. It was hard to wrap my head around it: I had just given birth to one daughter, my first, and yet at the same time I was taking in another, one centuries older than me, and who even with that called me her mother…

We stayed like that for a while, I have no idea just how long, but eventually she pulled back just enough for us to continue our conversation.

"I can help you." She told me quietly. "I can send you back. Not for a second, or for a minute. You will go back to your life, to your child, long enough to make sure she will be alright, long enough to reunite her with her dad… then… the magic will run out."

"Oh…" I could hardly believe it.

"You have to understand." She went on. "I cannot just erase death. However, I can delay it. Long enough for you to make all the arrangements. But this will run out eventually. Also, the deamarkonian will no longer sustain you. My magic will instead. It will hold you until the moment you know, without a sliver of doubt, that Loki is there and will be able to look after your child, to care for her like a father should. Then you will have to let go."

"Ok." I didn't hesitate in the slightest, she was already giving me far more than I could have ever dreamed. "Like I said before, I've never had any delusions of immortality or the such. I will take what I can and be happy with it. I will always be thankful with Loki for the additional six years he gave me. Likewise, I will always be thankful to you for this chance."

"I wish I could do more…"

"You're doing already more than I could have ever asked for Hel… Thank you, my daughter." I smiled brightly. "And you know, this is your baby sister you're talking about."

"Baby sister?" Hel repeated, marveled at the prospect. "Alfdis…"

"Alfdis…" I repeated. "I like it."

"What?" She was shocked.

"Well, under normal circumstances I would be asking Loki for his input on our daughter's name, but since he isn't here… you said Alfdis?"

"It's a name I like, that I've always liked…"

"I like it too. It's beautiful. And I'm sure it would suit her well. I'm also sure she would love to one day know her big sister had an input on her name."

"I thought you had named her already."

"One can always have two names." I pondered on it slightly. "Alfdis Rose…"

"I like Rose Alfdis best." Hel offered.

"Rose Alfdis it is then." I nodded.

"You have to go back now." She pointed out.

"Thank you Hel. We will meet again someday… when all this finally comes to an end."

"I shall dread that day and grieve when it comes, even if it will be a chance to finally see you again." She assured me.

"It will be alright. When that day comes, Loki will be there. Rose Alfdis will have him, and so will you Hel. Even if I have to go, neither of you will be alone…"

"It will not be the same without you mama… nothing will ever be the same without you…"

"I love you Hel, my daughter."

"I love you too mama…"

For a few seconds I felt like I was falling, falling through endless darkness, a darkness which eventually engulfed me completely, turning into unconsciousness.

When I woke up I was laying on my hospital bed. Phil was beside me, asleep on what I'm sure must have been a very uncomfortable chair. Darcy was pacing at the foot of my bed, holding my baby girl in her arms. She noticed I was awake the third time she passed me. The delight in her expression at seeing me was such like I'd never seen before.

Phil woke up right then, but as thankful as I was for his presence, his interest, I didn't pay him any mind, all my attention on the beautiful creature in Darcy's arms, whose eyes, surprisingly focused for one so young, were directed at me: eyes the color of the Tiger's Eye stone: a mix of brown, honey, gold, and hints of black and red. I had no doubt of just where those eyes came from. It was the irrefutable proof of just who my baby's father was… and also a reminder of the deal I had made with my other, older, daughter. I was back from the dead, for Rose, and I would be there until I knew for sure Loki would take care of her… then I would have to go. It was the deal I'd made, and I accepted it, as much as it would pain me to one day say good-bye; my daughter made any sacrifice worth it. My little girl, my precious child. My Rose Alfdis…

xXx

It was almost as if time had slowed down, or maybe it was just that my focus had narrowed so much I was paying minute attention to certain events. I was no longer aware of anything anyone else might be doing, only three things I truly noticed: my trashing match in front of me, our daughter sniffing in a corner with her godmother, and the pulsating mind jewel in the golden scepter in my hands.

"Anyone that can tell me anything useful about this thing?" I asked out-loud, trying to expand my focus a bit. "Stark? Dr. Banner?"

"How come he's Dr. and I'm just Stark?" the millionaire pouted.

"I don't have time for childishness right now Stark!" I hissed at him, dead-serious. "In case you haven't noticed, the life of my husband hangs by a thread, so either help me or shut up!"

Even he didn't dare complain at my harsh words.

"The scepter, and most specifically the jewel, has some sort of connection with the Tesseract." Bruce informed me seriously. "They both emit the same kind of energy. There's also a degree of radiation coming off it. Not enough to be considered truly dangerous, but still."

"It looks a lot like the HYDRA weapons." Steve added helpfully.

I nodded. I had seen the records of those things. Not nice at all, in fact quite the opposite, but the comparison was at least something I could work with.

HYDRA weapons had been destroyed in the past, though mostly by others of the same kind or by Captain America's shield. I didn't actually have access to either at the moment. And I wasn't sure I had the time to convince anyone to let me use them… so I would have to get creative.

"Anything else?" I inquired, even as I kept trying to make a viable plan.

"The scepter is completely unaffected by normal destructive means." Stark offered. "You know, things like an electric shock, a blowtorch, that sort of thing…"

I couldn't help but arch a brow at him, had he really tested that? And judging by the expressions around me, I wasn't the only one wondering, not only that question in itself, but also just how far beyond insane Stark actually was.

"What?" He shrugged, ignoring the looks before focusing on me. "I thought it was something we should test for. Just, you know, in case we decided we needed to destroy it… like you seem to be thinking right now…"

"The scepter is a valuable artifact that cannot just be destroyed…" Fury began.

"If my husband's life depends on it you can be sure as hell that I will find a way to destroy it and I will do it, Director, your orders be damned." I spat at him.

"You are supposed to follow my orders Salani!" Fury practically snarled.

"Not when it's my match's life on the line." I retorted. "At that point the only orders I follow are those that may allow me to save him. Which means yours shall hereby be ignored."

Even as I was saying the last part, I'd already made up my mind, and it was obvious that Phil and Stark at least could see it, judging by how they began to discreetly usher everyone else as far away from Loki and I as they could. They weren't trying to stop me, which was a plus (even if it wouldn't have made much of a difference even if they had tried), I just hoped the crazy plan I had in mind would actually work.

"If this works…" I whispered, mostly to Loki, though the others heard me. "…and it will work. You will be there for Rose. I know you will." I took a deep breath, bracing myself for what was coming. "Which means the time has come." I turned slightly over my shoulder. "Darcy! Remember what you promised me!"

"What?!" She was in shock. "Silbhé! Don't go and do something stupid now!"

"I promise I won't." I smiled sadly at her. "This time was coming no matter what. I just choose to do things in my own terms." I sighed. "Just protect Rose, please."

"I promise, now and forever." Darcy said, the most serious anyone had ever heard. "Phil and I will take good care of her. And she'll have Loki too, of course."

"Thank you…" I whispered. "You're the best friend I could have ever asked for." I turned to the godfather. "You too Phil… thank you for everything. And just so you know, the things I didn't tell you, it wasn't that I didn't trust you, I just didn't want to compromise your loyalties in any way. I trust you, with my life… I trust you with Rose! That should tell you…" I sighed. "I know you don't understand right now. But my life hasn't been mine since I was fourteen, and especially not in the last year. I was always meant to leave this world, and now my time's up. However, I will do one last thing before I go…"

"I know you don't trust me Salani." Stark interrupted before I could end everything. "But I will make sure your baby will be safe. No one will touch her."

I knew we were thinking about the same people when he said 'no one' and I nodded. Truly thankful for his assistance; it certainly gave me peace of mind.

"Nigh…tin…gale…" Loki whispered.

He was still fighting Thanos for his mind; but at the same time he could see something was wrong with me…

"I'm sorry my love, my husband, my Maverick…" I whispered in the most heartfelt tone I could muster without breaking down. "This is my choice… for you… and for Rose… live…"

I could see the moment my love won, at least for the time being, his fight for his mind. His eyes turned completely green, and there was such panic in them… he might not have known yet what I was going to do, but he knew it was bad. I just smiled sadly at him, I wasn't going to change my mind. In the end, no matter what happened I was going to die, and if the last thing I did in my life was make sure my husband was free and safe and that he would be there for our daughter, then that was enough for me…

"Loki is not yours Thanos!" I screamed, willing him to hear me somehow. "Do you hear me?! He's mine! And you cannot have him! Not now, not ever!"

I held the scepter with both hands, raising it over my head, before swinging it down with all the force I was capable of, smashing the top of it, and most importantly, the mind gem, hard against the metal floor; all the while willing all the magic that might be in me to aid me in the destruction of the evil object. The explosion that ensued was such I was thrown backwards violently and yet, I never felt myself hit the wall, everything became black before that…


xXx 3 rd  Person POV xXx

Darcy opened her eyes slowly once she knew for sure the danger had passed. She was crouched on her corner, baby Rose in her arms, wailing. And while Darcy knew she should be doing something to sooth her, she just couldn't think of anything, not when all she could think about was her best friend, who was now gone…

Phil was crouching in front of her, hands against the wall; he'd covered her and the baby from the explosion as best he could. They were his main priority, would always be. Stark was beside him, having used a concussive blast to minimize the effects of the explosion as much as possible. Hill, Fury and the rest of the Avengers were around the room in various spots and positions, where they'd either shielded themselves, or been thrown to when they couldn't move in time.

"Nightingale…?" Loki's voice was the first to be heard. "My love…?"

Darcy closed her eyes tightly, knowing already what was coming, and how awful it was going to be… she had known for a while, and yet, it didn't make things any easier.

"Brother!" Thor exclaimed, pretty much jumping onto his feet. "You're alright!"

He tried to help Loki but the Asgardian Sorcerer pushed him away, all his focused drawn by the one figure that wasn't moving… at all.

"NO!" Loki's scream was heart-wrenching.

He went to kneel by his wife's side, tried all he could think of to wake her, but it was useless. She wouldn't wake-up, she couldn't, for she wasn't alive anymore. He still cradled her in his arms, with her head limp against his chest, as he fought once against in his own head: for while a part of him wanted nothing more than to break down and scream and wail… the other wanted to make the world burn, to make every single realm, every living creature feel the pain he was feeling in that very moment, at the loss of the one woman he'd ever loved in all his centuries… the one woman who'd ever loved him, all of him…

Right as he was about to let out another soul-chilling scream, something unexpected happened. A woman appeared in the middle of the room, with ashen black hair, jade green eyes, in a floor-length midnight-blue gown.

"Hel?!" Loki cried out in absolute shock.

The young-looking woman just watched Loki holding Silbhé in complete sadness; the grief in her eyes there for all to see; even if only one person knew who she was.

"Hel!" Loki did a 180 abruptly. "My daughter… You're here… what are you doing here?" He shook his head. "Forget that. You can help us, help her. Give me back my Nightingale, please. I do not even understand how I can be alive when she's not…"

"There's nothing I can do, father…" Hel told him quietly as she elegantly knelt before him and his dead match. "Not anymore…"

"Anymore?" It was actually Stark who blurted out the question first.

"Mom died last year, right after giving birth to my little sister." Hel explained in her most soothing tone, directing a quick look at the crying infant. "I met her then. She was accepting of her death as something unavoidable, at least until she realized that her dying meant so did you. She was so kind, so sweet, so perfect… she was my mom… I helped her." One sole tear fell down Hel's cheek. "You know father that I cannot erase death, that goes against the law set down by the Allfather. However, I can delay it."

"What were the conditions?" Loki wanted to know.

"She would continue living until she knew, without a sliver of doubt, that you were alright and would be there for Rose." Hel answered promptly. "Also, since she was making the deal with me, the deamarkonian would no longer be what sustained her, my magic would instead. She might have still worn the bracelet, but she did not actually need it anymore."

"So…" Phil dared speak. "What you're saying is that Silbhé would have died soon, even if not today, no matter what?"

Hel nodded.

"She told me." Darcy admitted quietly, holding the sniffing Rose tightly. "Not everything, of course. But she told me she wouldn't live long. I kept telling her that she was being pessimistic. That having flat lined so soon after giving birth to Rose had affected her… and yet, with how sure she sounded… it made me wonder… She made me promise that no matter what Phil and I would take care of Rose, protect her, and help Loki when he eventually met her."

Loki could only look at his baby with a lost expression. Even having just met the child he already loved her with all he was, and yet… losing his match… it was a pain greater than anything he might have experienced ever before… He loved baby Rose, but he had no idea how he was supposed to go on after losing his Nightingale…

"It's not over yet…" Hel whispered in lowest tone ever.

Only Loki heard her, and yet his reaction, when his head raised once again to his daughter so fast it must have given him whiplash, was telling.

"What…?" He was breathless just asking.

"I didn't tell her at the time." Hel admitted, looking at the dead body between her and her father. "I didn't want to give her a hope that might not work out in the end but…"

"But what?" Loki demanded, tightening his hold on his beloved. "Tell me Hel!"

"The bonds…" The Lady of Death whispered in a barely audible tone. "The threads of magic that tie your souls together… You are bound father, beyond any magic, or word, or deed, beyond what those bracelets you created could have ever done. You are not bound in body, but in soul…" She took a deep breath before fully throwing the bombshell. "If she refuses to move on, if she holds onto you… then she won't really die…"

That was all Loki needed to hear, he practically folded over Silbhé's body, holding her as tightly as he dared, whispering all kind of things in her ear, anything he could think of, hoping she would hear, that she would listen and return…

Darcy seemed to understand the implications of what Hel said as well, at least to a point. She went to kneel beside Loki and Silbhé, placing the fussing Rose over Silbhé's lap.

"Mama…?" The baby called in a high pitched tone.

"Yes honey, that's your mama." Darcy agreed. "She's sleeping. And we have to wake her up. Wanna help me wake your mama up sweety?"

There was no way of knowing how much of what was going on with her mom the infant truly understood; though it was unlikely she realized the young woman was practically dead, and that, somehow, they had a chance at getting her back.

Phil crouched beside where Darcy was sitting on the floor, a hand on her back, offering what comfort he could. There was nothing else he could do. Darcy was being incredible strong, and he knew it was only because of Rose, he didn't even want to imagine how shattered she would be if they weren't able to get Silbhé back… those two truly were as good as sisters… and then there was Loki. He was a wild card as far as Phil was concerned. Only the day before an enemy, and all he'd done even then had been so strange… now to see him as a probable ally, and the husband of a dear friend, the father of his own goddaughter… the Agent was quite sure he hadn't fully grasped it all just yet. Maybe eventually he would… maybe once he stopped worrying about Silbhé, and Rose and Darcy…

Fury and the others just stayed standing where they were, silently waiting for what might happen next. Usually they would say it was ridiculous, to believe that someone who clearly had died could come back. But until that day they were convinced they could know who was good and who was evil without a doubt, they were convinced Silbhé Salani was nothing more than a young professor and consultant who didn't know how to fire a gun and would never make it in the 'real world' (or what for them was the real world), and just a little over a year before they had honestly their world to be the only one… so yeah, they were no longer sure of a lot of things, so who said the dead couldn't come back because they were bound to a god? Or whatever it was that the Lady of death had implied with her words.

Loki just kept talking, over and over, as Rose kept calling for her mom, each touching and caressing her body over and over, as if hoping their voices and touches would bring her back. Maybe they were hoping for that exactly…

Abruptly, a bright light shone and Silbhé's body seemed to catch on fire, a strange white flame that wasn't actually hot. Darcy reacted instinctively pulling the infant off the body, even as Stark and Phil each took hold of her on one side and pulled her away. Hel teleported a few feet away instinctually, even when not even she knew exactly what was going on; she never took her eyes off her parents, though. Loki for his part didn't move a muscle; the white fire didn't burn him, though it did consume Silbhé rather quickly, leaving only the Nightingale pendant behind.

xXx Back to Nightingale's POV xXx

"Nightingale… my Nightingale… my love… my match… come back to me… please, come back… I want you, by my side, for all eternity… I want you back… please return to me… for me… for our Rose… please… my Nightingale… my Aquarius…"

"Mama… Mama… Mama…"

Two voices, so very different, yet both equally important. There was nothing more important in all the realms, in the whole endless universe than the people those voices belonged to. I wanted to answer them, wanted to go to them, but for the longest time I wasn't sure I existed, much less had any way to connect with them.

And then… light. The brightest white light I'd ever seen. It was so bright… yet I wasn't blinded, like a fire lapping at my skin without burning.

It vanished as fast and suddenly as it had appeared, and suddenly I existed again. I was standing near the front of what looked like a conference room… no, not a conference room, the conference room, the very place I'd been when it had all gone to hell! Looking down I could see the pieces of the broken staff at my feet, the very object I'd smashed, that I had destroyed to protect my beloved, I had died doing that… so how was I alive then?

I shifted my focus from the floor to myself, noticing I was wearing an off-white robe made of linen or some other similar material. I was also barefoot and my hair loose down my back. My earrings were the only piece of jewelry still on me, and while I had lost the deamarkonian at some point, the runes that used to be engraved on it were on my skin, as if they'd been there all along; the claddagh tattoo was also a part of me still.

I was still contemplating what was going on, when a bunch of voices threw me back into reality with the same force as if I'd just fallen off the Rainbow Bridge myself:

"Nightingale!"

"Silbhé!"

"Mama!"

I latched onto that voice instinctively. Instantly pushing everything else away: my confusion, my death, my return, Thanos… nothing mattered in that moment except the little voice calling for me with such heartfelt devotion…

"Rose!" I cried out, instantly turning to look for her.

I was half aware of Loki and Hel standing each on a side, looking at me with absolute shock (and when and how exactly had my other daughter come to be in Midgard?); all my focus was on my little girl, twisting and fussing in Darcy's arms, continuously extending her arms in my direction.

"I'm here baby…" I cooed at her.

Darcy didn't doubt, even when Stark tried to hold her back, only to be blocked by Phil. She went and handed Rose to me.

"I'm glad to see you alright, Silbhé…" My best-friend said with a small sniff as she placed Rose carefully in my arms.

"I'm sorry if I hurt and worried all of you." I told her, cradling Rose against my chest. "It was never my intention to cause grief. I didn't know I would get this chance… even now I do not understand what happened exactly."

"Neither do we." Darcy admitted, then shrugged. "I don't think it really matters. What matters is that you are, indeed, here."

I nodded. It felt so good to be able to talk to her again, without the burden of all the promises I got her to make in the event of my death. Just like it felt wonderful to hold my baby in my arms, to hold her and know I would get to truly be her mom, to see her grow…

"My Nightingale…" Loki whispered in a slightly broken yet hopeful voice as he wound an arm around my waist, holding me tight against his chest, his free hand on Rose's cheek.

And it wasn't just me. It was Loki too. He had Rose and I; as I had them. I had both the most important people in my existence there with me, as I would for the rest of time… We would be together, a family, forever… It was perfection.

I felt Loki's hands gingerly around my neck, almost tickling, and looked down in time to see he was clasping my nightingale pendant once again around my neck; I could also sense it was once again at full power. And not only that, right as he let go of my neck my robe shifted into a lilac pleated goddess dress with a straight neckline that left only a bit of my neck collarbone and shoulders visible, it was sleeveless and floor-length, the cloth soft and delicate, like silk; white sandals on my feet.

"It's good to see you again mom." Hel whispered as she approached me.

Silently I passed Rose to Loki so I could embrace my older daughter tighter with both arms.

"Thank you…" I whispered against her head. "Thank you so much my dear, for everything."

"It's my pleasure mom." Hel assured me with a smile. "Now you won't be leaving us."

"Never my dear child, never." I assured her. "Even if this miracle hadn't been possible, I would still have been your mom Hel, now and forever. All this means is that I get to be here, physically, as well as in heart and spirit."

"I'm still glad you're here." Hel insisted. "And I'm sure dad is too."

Loki just nodded. I think the whole situation was only hitting him, making it harder for him to say a single word.

"Oh!" Hel cried out suddenly. "I brought something for my little sister. I hope you don't mind." She brought a delicate chain with a pendant from her clothes. "It was supposed to be a birthday present, but I have trouble leaving Helheim just because… so it had to wait until now."

"It's alright." I assured her. "I'm sure whatever it is you got her will be wonderful."

She showed it to me, to us, then. It was a pendant, very much like mine, except it was a rose instead of a nightingale. A rose right in mid-bloom…perfect.

"It's beautiful…" Darcy gasped as she saw it, being the closest to us.

"It's like yours." Hel told me, signaling to my own.

"You included magical protections too." Loki noticed as he brushed a hand over the pendant.

"I did." Hel nodded. "It took a while. I'm not as proficient in magic as you are… but I made an effort this time." She smiled sheepishly. "I'm sure that, if you consider it necessary, you can place more spells on it, or replace any."

"No such thing will be necessary, I'm sure." I assured her.

"You did a wonderful job." Loki assured her, caressing her cheek briefly. "I couldn't have done it better. Rose will have the best protection possible."

With that he held the baby up so Hel could place the pendant around the neck herself. All Loki added was a small charm to make sure the necklace would never come off (all the protections would mean nothing if the necklace fell or was ripped off, or whatever).

"You know, I imagined that you would want your wife in a green dress, or something like that." Stark pointed out right then.

"While she would have looked gorgeous in green… and it would have certainly brought out the green in her eyes." Loki pointed out with a grin. "Also it would suit my possessive streak… Nightingale is her own person. I will not allow anyone to think anything else, even through something as basic as the color of her clothes."

Several of those present thought it was all too convoluted, but still.

"Well, once the scares and theatrics have passed…" Stark drawled. "What now?"

I didn't get the chance to reply to that comment, and if someone else did I was too lost in the sense that suddenly filled me to pay attention. I shivered almost violently as I sensed the deepest darkness, coldness, evil, I had ever known… and just by the feeling I had in the back of my head, I wasn't the only one feeling it. Loki at the very least had too. And I had a feeling Hel was getting some of it as well, though in a lesser degree than us.

*Was that…?* I didn't even know how to word the question I was thinking, not even when still inside our minds.

Before any answer could be given the door to the conference room was opened abruptly.

"Director Fury!" An Agent yelled even as he hurried inside.

"I said I wanted no interruptions!" Fury called, more by instinct than for any real reason.

If anyone thought there was anything strange about the way we were all standing, the people who were in the room and hadn't been at the beginning, or the fact that parts of the room were scorched, caved in or downright broken; he still didn't say a thing.

"I know director, I apologize." The Agent stuttered a bit before turning on the main monitor behind the Director. "You have to see this sir!"

Nothing else was said, we all just turned to the screen. It was showing the New York skyline. One building stood out among all: it was Stark Tower (impossible not to see it with his name emblazoned on it). And from the very top of the Tower was coming a beam of blue light, which disappeared in the cloudy sky… a sky that was turning dark… or no, it wasn't the sky, or the clouds, it was a dark hole…

"Is that a portal?" Bruce was the one to ask what must have been in everyone's minds.

"I thought this wouldn't be happening now." Romanoff hissed.

"I didn't give the order." Loki defended himself. "I couldn't have done it without the scepter!"

"No, this has to be Thanos's doing…" I muttered. "He did not take well losing control over you. It was obvious he wasn't going to take that lying down." I shook my head. "Though I still wasn't expecting him to be able to do something like this so soon."

"This cannot be allowed to stand." The Captain began.

"It won't." I decided right then.

*Nightingale…* My love began softly.

*Don't even try it my Maverick.* I shook my head. *You know I'm too stubborn. So let's skip the argument and move on to dealing with the problem.*

Loki just rolled his eyes (though he did not deny what I'd just said) before passing Rose over to Hel, who didn't even ask what we were going to do, her knowing look showed he already had more than just an idea.

"We'll handle this." I announced.

Before anyone could say a thing about anything Loki and I held hands and we vanished into the nearest shadow, thoughts focused on New York and Stark Tower.

We stepped out of the Shadow Paths and straight onto Stark's terrace, a few floors from the top of the Tower. Loki had decided it wasn't a good idea to materialize straight to the top, since we had no way of knowing exactly what was going on up there. While usually he was the kind to throw himself right into the situation (usually because he'd known it was coming and was thoroughly prepared for almost anything that may happen) this time I was with him; and also, we both had something very precious to go back to, two somethings in fact: our daughters.

"Careful now…" I mumbled, mostly to myself.

We teleported to the top, appearing on a corner. Loki had taken care to make us invisible beforehand, so we weren't seen by the person up there. It turned out to be Erik Selvig. Whose eyes were still that eerie blue.

"How is he still under mind-control?" I asked Loki in a whisper. "It doesn't make sense. I smashed the scepter!"

"Who knows?" My love shrugged slightly. "The scepter belonged to Thanos. It's quite possible he had other similar objects or simply other means to exercise the same power."

"The portal is mostly opened already." I pointed out.

We both looked at the black hole miles over our heads. It looked certainly daunting. And I didn't even want to imagine if the chitauri actually came…

"Is there any way to make that thing short-circuit or something along those lines so we can close the portal?" I inquire.

"Let me ask." He said simply.

Before I knew what exactly he was doing he was straight behind Erik, dealing a blow to the back of his neck. The scientist collapsed in a heap at my love's feat.

"Was that really necessary?" I inquired, arching a brow.

"Honestly?" My match laughed, as he always did when saying that word. "I have no idea. But since it's what the Widow did to get the Eye of Hawk out of my control…"

I just shook my head, choosing not to point out how he just wanted to hit something, or someone. Instead I got on my knees, brushing my hand over the spot where my love had hit to ease the pain, before waving my hand to wake Erik up.

"Did you just use healing magic?" Loki practically demanded as he pulled me to my feet.

"Huh?" I did not understand why he seemed so tense about that. "Yeah, I think so. Have done it before, a few times in fact. What's so bad about it?"

"Not bad, not exactly…" His brow furrowed. "It's just not possible."

"Why not?" I challenged. "I mean, the fact that I just did should prove just how possible it is!"

"Because you're using my magic!" Loki snapped. "And there's no way I can be a healer!"

"What's so wrong about being a healer?" I really, really did not understand.

"It's not that anything's wrong per say…" He pulled at his hair slightly in obvious tension before explaining. "Healers, real healers, the kind that can heal with just magic, are blessed. In all the history of Asgard there has been less than half a dozen. One is Eir, the Goddess of Healing and Royal Medic…" He sighed. "You being able to use true healing magic would mean that I have such magic. Even if I cannot use it and that… that would mean…"

He didn't finish his statement, but I didn't need him to, he'd said enough. Me being able to use healing magic meant he had it; and he'd already said such individuals were blessed. Which meant that he himself was blessed, rather than cursed, as he'd believed himself to be ever since the discovery of his Jotun heritage. It must certainly be something shocking to find out just like that, that every negative thing you've convinced yourself of in the last two years is wrong… I, for my part, was extremely happy about it.

Our moment was interrupted as Erik finally recovered consciousness fully (Loki had pulled me away before I could do it), his eyes immediately laid on me.

"Professor Salani?" He asked, confused.

While we'd barely known each other a couple of weeks when I'd first arrived to New Mexico and he'd been called to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQs shortly afterwards, we'd met a number of times since Darcy and I had gone to work directly for S.H.I.E.L.D., as he and his team were some of the first I'd lectured on mythology and its relation to Asgard, just in case.

"Hello Dr. Selvig, glad to have you back on this side." I told him with a smile.

It was right in that moment that Erik laid eyes on Loki. His whole body stiffened for a second, before he was rushing to his feet as fast as he could and doing his best to pull me to him.

"Dr. Selvig?" I inquired, confused even as I let him pull on me a bit. "Erik?"

"You need to get away from him Professor Salani!" Erik explained, tense. "He's dangerous. The one who attacked us and…"

"And he's my husband." I finished.

"And the one who wants to take over the Earth." Erik finished at the same time, before doing a double-take at what I'd just said. "He's your husband?!" His eyes widened dramatically. "Are you on his side then?!"

"Things aren't that simple. Dr. Selvig." I tried to explain to him. "You need to understand something: Loki is not the bad guy. He was as much under mind-control as you were. Only he was being controlled by the leader, the true leader, of the army about to invade us."

"But…" He obviously had trouble wrapping his head around the whole thing.

"We really don't have time to argue over this right now doctor." I interrupted him. "We're about to be invaded. I need you to tell me, tell us, if there's a way to close the portal. Maybe take away the energy that's powering it up or…"

I could see the moment he pushed all his doubts and confusion away to focus on the real problem in that moment. It didn't mean he believed us, or trusted us, or anything along those lines; simply that he realized what the bigger problem was.

"No, it will have become self-sustaining by now." Erik moved to the laptop nearby, typing almost frenetically on it. "The only way we'll get the portal to collapse now is to get the Tesseract out. But between the energy shield protecting the whole machine right now, and whatever it is the cube is actually made of, we just cannot touch it."

"You cannot touch it, we just might." I pointed out before turning to my love. "Can we just call the Tesseract to us with magic?"

"Most likely." Loki nodded. "It won't be easy, but it's possible."

"And why aren't we doing it already then?" I knew there had to be a reason why he hadn't acted yet if it was possible.

"Because I believe we need to see this as an opportunity." Loki began.

"Opportunity?" Erik cried out in horror. "For what? Absolute destruction?"

"Shut up Erik!" I hissed at him, waving my head to shut him magically for good measure, before turning back to Loki. "What do you have in mind?"

"We need to make sure Thanos won't be attacking this realm again." Loki explained. "Even if you are no longer bound to it I don't think you will want that kind of danger hanging over every human, particularly your friends."

"No, I don't." I admitted. "What should we do then?"

"We need to cause enough destruction on the other side that whoever survives it will still think twice, or more, before trying to attack us again." My love explained.

"Stark is the expert in weapons." I told him. "He used to be a weapon manufacturer. Then became Iron Man… and, granted, he might no longer make weapons for the army and such, but whoever says the Iron Man itself isn't a weapon is either blind or stupid."

"Then we need the Man of Iron here." Loki decided.

Seconds later Stark was there in full armor except for his face-plate; and he wasn't alone, Thor and Hel were with him, apparently she was the one who had gotten them there after Loki had communicated with her telepathically and explained the situation.

"Don't worry." She said the moment she laid eyes on me. "Rose is alright. She's with your friends: Darcy and Phil."

"So, what's the what?" Stark inquired, eying the portal grimly.

"We need the biggest weapon you have, the one that will cause the greatest destruction, to cause as much damage to the chitauri as we possibly can before we close the portal." I explained to him. "Meanwhile Thor and Hel will make sure none of the enemies actually get out of that portal, while Loki and I get ready to make it collapse the moment you're done."

"So a deterrent then…" Stark muttered slightly. "Not something I would support usually."

"This is no deterrent, Stark." I corrected him immediately. "This is no Cold War, we aren't showing off weapons and threatening to activate them if anyone so much as looks at us funny. The time for that has passed. We're gonna light the bastards on fire, with enough power so that any of them who might survive will realize the kind of danger they are facing if they so much as think about attacking Earth again."

"Now that I do like." Iron Man admitted. "Cannot one of you do something with your nifty and god-like magical powers?"

"It would require too much power." Loki told him. "Besides, the point of this is for you to prove that the Earth can protect itself, not that Asgard will protect you. Therefore, it must be your own power that deals with this menace."

"That I definitely like." Iron Man decided. "JARVIS, get the Kamikaze ready for deployment."

I had no idea what the kamikaze was supposed to be, but unless Stark had been laying it on way too thick when naming it, it must be something good.

And so, we each got to work on what we needed to do.

The Kamikaze, as it turned out, was a suit. Unlike the Iron-Man suit it was black, and according to Stark's brief explanation, the weapons it carried were much more powerful than the ones we carried in the normal suit.

"That's because the fire-power in this suit requires: first: too much power to function, more than would be safe to take from my own arc-reactor." As Stark spoke he placed a new reactor inside the suit, which he wasn't putting on. "Second: using too many of the weapons in close succession will activate the final protocol of the suit. Self-destruction. It will convert whatever power is left in the arc-reactor at the time into fire-power before blowing itself up. With the reactor I just placed inside I expect the explosion to be about the equivalent of a nuke, more-or-less."

"And how do you plan on getting it in there?" Loki inquired. "Since you're not putting it on?"

"Hell no!" Stark chuckled darkly. "I'm not that suicidal…" He placed an elaborate headset on himself. "That's what this is for."

I could barely hold back my shiver, because no matter what he might say, he had to be suicidal to a point just to create a suit like that. Still, I didn't say a word, just watching how he gave JARVIS some instructions before focusing all his attention on the headset he'd placed on him, which he used to direct the Kamikaze.

"Oh, one more thing." He stated right then. "If I could get to that black hole without firing any weapons beforehand, it would be preferable."

"Nightingale…" Loki looked at me significantly.

I nodded. While I didn't like to leave him to handle the Tesseract on his own, I still knew he was more than capable of doing it, so I focused on getting the few Chitauri that managed to get past Thor's and Hel's own techniques, before they could attack the Kamikaze.

Those were probably the most tension-filled minutes of my whole life, and yet, at the same time the most thrilling. The way we were all working together: two legendary gods (one believed to be an enemy), a demi-goddess and lady of death, and one of Earth's 'heroes' (as well as genius, millionaire, playboy, philanthropist, according to his own words), and then there was me: the technically-dead human girl, professor, matched to a god, mother to a demi-goddess… It was all absolutely insane!

At one point Thor had to cut off on the lighting, otherwise he would have fried the Kamikaze as well. Which left us girls having to handle the chitauri on our own for a very long, very exhausting minute. Still, we managed. Thor still took care of whatever Chitauri managed to get past the portal and past us, so it wasn't that bad.

"I'm having trouble with the signal…" Stark announced at some point. "And the arc reactor is flickering. This is not good…"

"Can you still do what you said?" Loki demanded.

"Yes." Stark nodded. "Though I do not know how effective it'll be in the long run if I cannot get to the very center of this army…"

"Can't you just give it a last order, sort of directions and then set it to blow off at the right moment, like with a timer?" I inquired.

"I could, but if the arc reactor shuts off before that happens it will all be for naught." Stark admitted in a grim tone. "I think the only reason it's still working right now is because of the magic you placed on it to protect it from the other attacks."

"If that's it I can siphon more power into that shield, make sure it'll last longer." I offered.

He liked the idea, so that's exactly what I did. It worked, for a short time, soon it wasn't enough anymore, but he had gotten the Kamikaze into a better position, quite close to what he called the mother-ship.

"JARVIS." Stark called in a very serious voice. "Activate destruction protocol on the Kamikaze. Effective immediately."

I couldn't hear JARVIS's response, but for the way Stark relaxed slightly I imagined it had worked. We actually saw it seconds later, as a great ball of fire could be seen through the portal.

"You need to close that thing before the effects of the explosion get through." Stark stated.

Loki didn't need anything else to be said. He instantly turned to face the machine keeping the portal open and called the Tesseract to him. I reacted automatically too, erecting as many shields as I could the moment the Cube was on his hands. We still ended both on our backs, but I it wasn't as bad as it could have been, the shields had really absorbed much of the backlash.

Stark, for his part, was a good distance away from us and he kept his eyes on the sky, where we could all watch the portal collapse in on itself. Still, it wasn't until it was fully closed and not the slightest sign of it was left on the sky that Thor and Hel left their positions on nearby rooftops to join us and we all let down our guard, finally…

"We won…" Stark gasped, obviously not quite believing it just yet.

"We won…" I echoed.

Not a single life was lost, and even the damages to buildings and such were minimal. That had to be a record! Granted, none of that erased everything my love had done in the previous three days… but still, we'd won!

xXx

We got quite the reception upon our return to the helicarrier. At least from those actually happy to see us, like Darcy, Phil, even Bruce… and of course our beloved Rose. In any case, Fury in particular and S.H.I.E.L.D. in general were at least grateful that we'd dealt with the problem (even if, as Hill put it, Loki had caused it in the first place, so it was only proper for us to deal with it ourselves).

It was strange, to have waited two years for a threat that hadn't manifested exactly as I'd imagined it (though it was no less terrifying), a superhero team that had never truly assembled, and a battle that never fully took place. On the bright side, it all meant that the Earth didn't actually have to deal with the kind of trauma that would have come with being invaded by an alien army…doesn't mean it wouldn't happen someday thought. So, in the end it was a good idea for S.H.I.E.L.D. to still keep the Avengers Initiative as a possibility, after all, you never knew when there might be a threat only a team of super-powered individuals can handle. 

Chapter Text

Forgiven

Forgiveness is divine… and also one of the hardest things to both get and give…

On Sunday morning preparations were made for Loki to return to Asgard with Thor and the Tesseract. The blonde God of Thunder was grumbling the whole way about not being able to see Jane before, to which Tony promised he would personally see to it that Jane had the best funding possible to get the Einstein-Rosen bridge up and running, that way he would be able to return soon and then come and go as he pleased. Thor liked the idea.

"Is this really necessary?" I asked Loki as I was dressing Rose.

While both he and I were immortal and had magic (which meant we both could clean up and change clothes with just a thought… though we still enjoyed taking baths together), Rose was still half human (though Loki assured me she was immortal and magical, so we didn't need to worry on that front); the point being, I still bathed and dressed her every day. I didn't mind, I actually had fun watching her play in the water and giggling at the bubbles around her. Loki had laughed just watching her have fun. (It was a good thing we'd spent the night in Stark Tower, at Stark's own insistence as it wouldn't have been possible in the helicarrier's communal showers).

In the end Loki and I were in his (and what became mine) usual attire, while I'd gotten Rose in an off-white baby-gown with lilac and soft green trim and a golden sash. On her hair was her favorite rose-clip (so small and entirely unnecessary, but she liked it, and so did I).

"It is." Loki nodded. "In order to bring you to Asgard and make sure you'll be given the honors you deserve as my wife, and the mother of my child, I first need the Allfather's forgiveness. I know it won't be easy…"

"He could punish you!" I exclaimed nervously. "The kind of punishments I read about during my studies… they are barbaric things I couldn't stand happening to you!"

"While I do not hold Odin in the highest regard, I doubt he could be as cruel as to tie me up, placing a snake and having it drip venom onto me every second for the rest of eternity." Loki commented trying, and failing, to sound flippant. "Also, I do not have animal-like children for him to tie me against or with, and there's no way he would ever turn against you or Rose… even if he were crazy enough to think it, Mother would never allow it."

"I know." I assured him. "While there's no love lost from me to your father, I know how much you love your mom, and that's enough for me to hold her in high regard as well. I still don't think you should be doing this on your own."

"Why don't I like the sound of that?" Loki arched a brow in dread.

"Because you know me." I deadpanned. "I think Rose and I should go with you."

"No!" Loki snapped immediately. "Just… no!"

"Didn't you just say they wouldn't hurt us?" I challenged him. "And even if they tried, it's not like I'm defenseless, and I would never let anything happen to our daughter. We could even convince Hel to go with us for extra protection."

"Even if it were just you I still wouldn't like the idea." He grumbled.

"Look." He may be the silver-tongue, but I'd been married to him long enough to learn a thing or two. "You say you're doing this for us, so it's only right that we stand with you. What kind of image does it present for you to go on your own when it will be known that you have a wife and a daughter? We have to stand together in these things, please."

"I don't like it…" Loki muttered before sighing in defeat. "But something tells me you're going to keep insisting until I agree so I'll just save us both the argument."

"Clever boy…" I mocked with a smirk.

"Yeah, yeah…" He just shook his head, taking Rose in his arms.

"Things will be alright." I assured him as best I could. "You'll see. We'll make the Allfather see that you're no longer the lost man you were two years ago, and that most of what happened in the last few days was not really your fault."

"What if we can't?" My love couldn't help but ask quietly.

"That won't happen." He was being way too pessimistic, but still. "And if it does, I will still stand by you. We all will. We are your family Loki, beyond any ancestors, or adoptions, or whatever. Hel, Rose and I, we're your family… you'll never be alone… ever…"

We ended up in a three-people embrace; and while we had to let go eventually, inside ourselves, we were still holding on.

Down in the penthouse level everyone was waiting for us. For whatever the reason they all wanted to see us off (Not like it was that big of a deal, we would be going through the Shadow Paths, since Loki considered them safer than the Tesseract, especially for baby Rose).

Thor didn't say anything when I announced Rose and I would be accompanying them to Asgard, he probably was expecting that already. In the end, it's not like either of us required a personal invitation from the Allfather, Rose was half-Asgardian, and due to Loki's and my bonds I was as good as too. Hel just announced she would be going as well.

So we had one last brunch all together. It was absolutely insane as Bruce, Pepper, Clint, Phil, Darcy and I all worked in the kitchen at the same time, in different things; eggs, fried bacon, French toast, other pastries, waffles, pancakes, sliced fruit, a variety of juices, teas, coffee and of course cold chocomilk… It was wonderful in a very bizarre way.

Eventually it was all over and the time to depart came. I was standing in the center of the formation, with Rose held tightly in my arms; Hel and Loki were each holding one of my arms, as they would be the ones actually working the shadow walking; finally, Thor was in front of me, a cylinder with the Tesseract inside in one hand, Mjolnir in the other, while Loki and Hel placed their free hands on his shoulders. After that Tony only needed to switch off one of the lights to allow a shadow to form right beneath our feet and we were off.

xXx

We stepped off the shadows and straight before the huge gates of the Golden palace in the Realm Eternal of Asgard.

"Shouldn't we have arrived on the bifrost?" Thor inquired as he noticed where we were.

"I wasn't about to subject my wife or my daughters to Heimdall and especially not to the staring and censure of every single Asgardian we would have encountered on our way here." Loki stated in a no-nonsense tone. "I haven't yet forgotten how they treated my older daughter in the past, I won't allow them to do something similar to Nightingale, and certainly not to our little Rose."

"We sent Heimdall a message before we came." Hel added. "He knows we were going to be coming straight here… even if he doesn't actually know the reasons for this."

Thor nodded, he couldn't fault their logic on the matter, and at least Heimdall had been warned. He would have warned Odin, which meant they would be waiting inside already… or at least that's what Thor hoped.

While we may have managed to avoid the staring and censure from the people outside the palace, that didn't stop those inside who happened to see us passing by from gossiping. I heard all kind of things: from comments on how Loki was supposed to be dead, people wondering why he wasn't in chains (what the hell did they think they know?), all kind of theories concerning my possible identity (particularly since I was on Loki's arm), snobbish comments concerning Hel's presence in the realm, and then they turned their eyes to Rose…

Several yelps and screams were heard as people hurried away.

"Loki…" Thor began in a chiding tone.

"It wasn't me!" Loki cried out, in a tone that made it hard to believe him, except…

"He didn't." Except it was me. "I did that. Think I cannot hear everything they're saying about me? About Hel? I decided I wouldn't allow them to use their malicious tongues against Rose as well. As simple as that."

"What exactly did you do?" Thor seemed almost afraid to ask.

"Well, in Midgard some mothers have the tradition of washing their children's mouth with soap whenever they say a bad word, or something like that… so I gave them that kind of effect." I shrugged, I was very satisfied.

Of course, I had never been subjected to such punishments, though I still knew about them.

"Creative." Loki praised.

Thor just shook his head, probably realizing it would be useless to try and scold me about it, not only because I was so obviously unrepentant about it… even I could see the smile tugging at the edge of his mouth.

Hel just shook her head while she whispered something quietly to Rose, who was in her arms (we had decided that, since Loki was likely to be the one more at risk, and I refused to be anywhere but on his arm since we were proving a point, Rose would be safer with Hel, she agreed); Thor had tried to assure us things would be alright, but we just wanted to take precautions.

"Wait a second." Thor seemed to realize something right then. "How could you understand what they were saying when not all of them were talking in English? In fact, most of them weren't…"

"Right, I'm not sure how this was never mentioned in the last few days, but I'm a polyglot." I answered. "Meaning, I speak several languages. In my particular case: ten, including Norse."

Thor nodded, looking quite amazed by the revelation. He probably had trouble understanding how someone as young as I was could have learnt so much already… then again, Loki had told me more than once that his brother wasn't one to have much interest in learning, either from books or teachers, it just wasn't 'his thing'.

Loki and I stood directly behind Thor as he pushed the doors to the Throne Room open. The place was huge, and there were quite a number of people present. Either we were expected or there was that much activity in the place usually (I suspected the former).

"Father, mother, I return victorious!" Thor announced loudly as he strode across the place like he owned it. "The chitauri and their leader have been defeated, Midgard is once again a safe realm! I also bring joyous news to our own realm and family."

"The news of victory is joyous indeed, what else can there be?" Odin asked, even as he looked past Thor to stare at us.

Aside from the widening of his only eye there was no actual reaction from the Allfather, but there didn't need to be, I could very well sense the tension that had fallen upon us all. I still ignored it, though, as I kept walking on Loki's arm.

"Joyous news indeed!" Lady Frigg declared as she looked at both her sons with obvious love in her eyes. "Loki, my boy, your return brings relief and delight to my heart."

Before Odin or anyone else could so much as try to stop her she was hurrying down the steps where the throne was located, she passed Thor silently, brushing a hand on his arm to show her love before going to stand directly in front of us; as Loki stopped walking in deference to her.

"I too am glad to see you again, mother…" Loki nodded with a respectful bow.

It was quite obvious that Frigg would have none of that. I barely managed to let go of Loki's arm a second before she was upon him, hugging him tightly. I lowered my head slightly, holding back my tears; being a mother myself I understood her being happy for seeing her son again, I just couldn't imagine one day believing my Rose to be dead… or Hel. It was too painful.

"And who is this young lady?" Frigg inquired, looking at me up and down.

"My name is Silbhé Salani, your Majesty." I said softly as I curtsied before her respectfully. "Though if it pleases you, you could call me Nightingale."

The way her eyes sparkled told me she knew exactly what that name meant, particularly when she looked past us and to both Hel and Rose.

"I believe you should present Lady Nightingale before your father and the Court now, my son." Frigg told Loki with a smile.

"Of course mother." Loki nodded, smiling back at her.

I could feel the happiness he himself felt at having her support, I was glad for it too.

"You have returned, my wayward son." Odin stated, in a tone that didn't actually sound chiding, but more like a mix of tired and hopeful. "And you have not come alone."

"I am back… father…" Loki began, with some hesitation.

I could feel his nervousness at referring to Odin as father, after everything that had happened… so much seemed so completely uncertain… and yet, regardless of how much he might deny it, I could feel how much my love really wanted to have his family again. No matter the race, the realm, the past… he wanted his old family back, to share with the new. I truly hoped things would work out alright for him, for all of us.

"It is true I am not alone." Loki and I went to stand at the foot of the dais. "This is Nightingale, my match and consort." He gestured to the two behind us, who went to stand on his other side. "And our daughters, Hel and Rose Alfdis."

Of course everyone knew I wasn't Hel's birth-mother, there was just no way. But the fact that he was addressing me as such and she was acknowledging it, while holding a baby with Loki's aura and my looks, showed that Hel stood by those words too.

Still, that didn't stop the murmurs rising all around us. I took them all in rather calmly, until I caught one that made my blood boil.

"Enough!" I yelled, purposefully, in ancient Norse.

I was so livid that my magic got slightly out of my control, causing a line of sparks to come from my tightened fist on my side.

"I have no idea who just dared call my baby a bastard-child… but I will not stand for it!" I hissed, this time willing my aura to manifest so everyone could see how serious I was.

I didn't actually need to know who it was, as a second later we could all hear a scream and people immediately turned. The woman screaming had a number of snakes on her hair and her arms. I had a feeling they'd been ribbons until Loki had used his magic.

"That is the only warning I will be giving." Loki announced simply. "Our daughter is no bastard-child, for I am married to her mother."

"Under what laws are you joined to her, for I have not sanctioned this union?" Odin inquired.

"We are joined under Midgardian laws." Loki explained first, and before the murmurs could begin again he added. "And also under the ancient rites…"

Murmurs rose again at that.

"That's impossible!" An old man yelled from one side. "She's mortal! A mortal cannot be joined to a god through the ancient rites! She shouldn't even be here!"

"Nightingale may be of Midgard, but she is no longer mortal." Loki stated with fake calm. "She is as immortal as I, as immortal as anyone else in this room. And that's a status she earned on her own right, quite recently in fact."

"Really?" Odin was very interested. "What made her worthy of immortality? Particularly since it was achieved without one of my tests."

Loki didn't answer, though I could feel the pain through our bond, it hurt him to remember.

"Sacrifice, father…" Thor answered for us, though he seemed unwilling to go into any details. "Some of the details are unclear to me, but it was a life sacrifice. The spirits saw fit to give her back as she is now."

No one had anything to say to that. They most likely still didn't believe it, but they didn't dare say anything that might look like they were calling Thor a liar.

"I would like to know more about the ancient rites…" Frigg commented for her part.

I could see in her eyes that she felt for me, even without knowing the details of what had happened, she already cared, and that was something I was very grateful for.

*Want to give them a show?* Loki asked mischievously through our bond.

*What do you have in mind?* I asked, smirking internally.

*I believe you Midgardians call it: a renewal of vows.* He replied with the same kind of smirk.

I liked the idea. I liked it a lot.

Loki didn't need me to actually answer, he took hold of my left hand with his own before moving his right arm away from me, turning so we were facing each other, our left hands entwined in such a way that we were practically showing our claddagh tattoos to the other.

In that moment, it was like the whole world disappeared, we were smiling widely (in Loki's case, it made him look almost like a maniac) as we repeated the very same words we'd used when first becoming a match nearly two years before… and in ancient Norse too!

"I promise you that you will be my only one. I shall look at no other the way I look at you, I shall think of no other the way I think about you, I shall talk to no other the way I talk to you, I shall desire no other the way I desire you, and I shall lay with no other the way I lay with you. I shall be with no other for you are now and forever shall be my one and only; my friend, my lover, my partner, my match…"

Right after the last word was said we kissed. It was a short and pretty chaste kiss, but still pretty intense. It wasn't actually necessary for what he hoped to achieve, but still.

When the last word was said the light show began. We hadn't seen it the first time around (or at least I didn't) with Midgard not being a magical place, but in that moment, in Asgard, the result of our words was pretty visible. Loki and I still missed the first few seconds of it, eyes closed as we kissed. Still we could see it the moment we opened our eyes, the ribbons of multicolor light, of magic and love that bound us together, as they twirled around us… almost as if showing off as much as we were ourselves.

"That's impossible…" An old woman gasped from a side.

I just rolled my eyes, really?

"If it's that impossible, how are you seeing it?" Hel challenged.

The woman didn't get the chance to reply…which was probably a good thing.

"It's so amazing…" Frigg said from her spot once again beside her husband. "Beautiful."

I actually had to bow my head sheepishly. It was one thing to think on how pretty my bonds to my husband were… I never considered what others might think about them. Loki just chuckled quietly inside my head at my self-consciousness.

*Look at my mother…* Loki whispered inside my mind.

I raised my head again, right in time to see Frigg directing a hard and quite significant look at her husband. Not a single word was being said, but it was as if a long conversation was taking place in that very moment… or argument more likely (I wondered if they were bound too…)

"I see the two of you, and I have seen the bonds that bind you." Frigg declared eventually, turning to look at us lovingly. "You have my blessing."

"And mine." Thor and Hel called at the same time.

"Mama! Papa!" Even our girl seemed to agree!

I couldn't help the slight giggle that came out as I heard her, even Loki was smiling.

"I declare your match as sanctioned, by me and by all of Asgard." Odin agreed before turning to look over our heads. "The Court is dismissed. I would like to talk with my family in private."

While it was quite obvious that there were a number of people who did not like that, particularly some old people I imagined must be the Elders, there was nothing they could do, they had been dismissed. So they left.

"Let's adjourn to more pleasant surroundings." Frigg decided.

None of us said a word, though we all followed her to what seemed to be her private sitting room. At some point it looked like Hel was hesitating at following us, but Loki talked quietly to her and soon she was with us. I knew what made her so unsure, her previous experience in Asgard hadn't been the best. But she was family, and we wouldn't let her, or anyone else, forget that.

xXx

Lady Frigg ordered some tea and pastries before dismissing her handmaidens so only family was left. The lady, Thor and Hel (with Rose) went to seat, but I stayed where I was, watching as Odin and Loki stared at each other until, finally, Loki let out a breath before slowly executing a deep bow. There were several gasps behind me but I ignored them all; what was happening was necessary, as much for my love as for the Allfather, and while it pained me to see my match in such a submissive position, I stood there, silently bearing witness to it all, as I remembered why exactly the scene before me was taking place:

Rose was sleeping deeply after her bath in a crib Loki had conjured, at the foot of the bed in the room Stark had allotted for us. We were talking about his return to Asgard. I was already contemplating the idea of going with him, either with or without Rose, but I hadn't yet told him, and I wouldn't until it was absolutely necessary. No, in that moment I was focusing on what he (we) would be doing once in Asgard.

"I do not know if I will actually be subjected to a trial." He admitted.

"Well, the invasion to Midgard didn't actually happen, not with you in charge in any case, and you were a great help in stopping the Chitauri, so that should count for something." I pointed out thoughtfully. "And regarding what happened two years ago… well, Asgard wasn't affected, nor was anyone really…"

"The guards died during the first infiltration." He reminded me.

"Right…" I had forgotten that. "Well, you stopped a war from happening, and protected Odin from being murdered by Laufey in his sleep…"

"I'm also the reason why Laufey managed to get into Asgard in the first place…" He muttered.

"True." I sighed. "But it's not like you ever planned on allowing him to hurt your father! Or anyone at all! Shouldn't your intentions count for something?"

"They never have before." He stated softly, resigned. "I just need you to understand that with or without an actual trial, I will be punished by Odin, and depending on the punishment, I may be away for a while…"

"I don't like that." I admitted in a low voice. "Rose just met you… it's not fair for you to be taken away from her now…"

"I don't like it either." He agreed. "But I need to do this. If this was just about me it would be simply a matter of staying away. But if I want the Allfather to recognize you as my wife, and Rose as my daughter then I need to play by his rules."

"That might be true. But I also think you need to forgive as much as you need to be forgiven…"

"Nightingale…"

"Don't Nightingale me my Maverick. It might not be what you want, but it's certainly what you need. You may say that forgiveness from the Allfather is just important so Rose and I will be recognized, and that may be important, but it's not the only thing…" I sighed. "You, you personally, need your father to forgive you… and you need to forgive him."

"I think you're reading too much into things."

"Am I?" I shook my head. "Like I said, you may not like it, you may not want it, but you certainly need it." I placed a finger on his lips before he could deny it again. "Odin and Frigg and Thor are your family Loki, blood, or race, or realm, or whatever, they are your family as much as Hel, Rose and I are. You need them, as much as you need us. And, more importantly, you deserve them!" I smiled at him softly. "You have been family for over a thousand years my love. As immature, wild and somewhat-careless as Thor might be, he still cares about you, believes in you, trusts you… he might not always know how to show it, but we both know it's the truth. Thor will always do his best to have your back, as much as I do. Also, it doesn't matter if Frigg didn't give birth to you, we both know she loves you as much as she does Thor. Odin… well, I honestly don't know what makes that man be as he is… but the truth is: he found you on Jotunheim, at the end of a bloody war, alone, defenseless, already condemned to death, the son of his worst enemy… he could have killed you, he could have hurt you… hell! He could have simply left you there. Instead he took you in, made you his son… whatever his intentions might have been, he took you in! You became family by choice, not by accident, and you are still family. Deep down you will always be family. You need each other…"

He didn't say anything at first, just pulled me to him, kissing my hair in a gesture that screamed so clearly I-need-you I felt like I might cry.

"Thank you my Nightingale." He said simply. "My Aquarius…"

"That's the second time you call me that…" I commented with a half-smile. "And you do know that, while the meaning might apply, in the song I didn't mean Aquarius as a zodiac sign (which would be me), but as the avatar of a god…"

"Exactly." He nodded. "And you're my goddess…"

I just smiled back at him, cuddling against him, laying my head on his chest, the rhythmic beat of his heart relaxed me.

"I will love you till the day I die." He whispered as he ran his fingers through my hair.

I just kissed his bare chest in reply, knowing he could feel my love through our bond. Sometimes it was better to simply not use words. Words could lie, feelings couldn't.

Loki was not one to say I love you too much, and not because he didn't feel it, I knew, I could sense it through our bonds. No, it was simply that, being the God of Lies, he knew how fickle words were, how easy to manipulate. He knew how many people might say 'I love you' one day, only to change their mind the next… or maybe they just never meant it. So, because one could never fully trust words, Loki chose to show his love, rather than talk about it. It was in his every gesture, his every expression, his every touch, kiss, smile… it was also why, the few times he did choose to actually say he loved me, were so very special…

And so there we were: standing in Lady Frigg's private sitting room, with my love bowed in a perfect 90º angle before the Allfather while I silently watched from a side.

"I humbly offer my sincerest apologies for the trouble and grief I've caused in the past years." Loki stated formally, head lowered in ritual penitence. "I offer whatever you may ask of me in restitution and beg your forgiveness."

It took all my will not to cry out at those words, or at least cover my mouth with my hand. But I couldn't, I had to stand by him in everything, including what he was doing right then, I had to support him, and that meant accepting what he was doing. So I remained calm on the outside, making sure there was no expression in my body, my face, or even my eyes; I even made sure to hold my emotions back from the bond.

"Do you understand what you are doing by placing yourself under my mercy?" Odin inquired in a very serious voice.

"I do." Loki nodded just as seriously. "I am ready to answer for my crimes, to face the consequences for my actions."

I was almost sure Odin looked a bit hesitant, but what they were doing was in fact an ancient ceremony of penitence and forgiveness, and once begun it couldn't be stopped.

"Very well." Odin nodded, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Loki Odinson, you are here to answer for your actions, to pay for your crimes. Now answer: did you help a group of Jotun enter into Asgard occluded and get to the Weapons' Vault unnoticed with the intention to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters?"

"I did." Loki nodded solemnly. "It was never my intent to cause the death of those guards, though. I never intended to cause any actual harm."

"Was your intent to stop Thor's coronation?" Odin asked next.

"Yes, it was." Loki nodded. "I never intended for Thor to be exiled, though. I never believed you would do any more than some minor reprimand at most. You never seemed interested in truly punishing him before…"

I could almost see Odin wince at that, though it was obvious with Loki's tone that he didn't actually mean anything negative with those words, he was just stating a thought.

"Did you seek to cause trouble between Jotunheim and Asgard?" Odin asked next.

"No, never." Loki shook his head empathically. "May actions may have been harsh, unorthodox and questionable most of the time; but every single action I took, I did so with the best interests for Asgard, however hard that might be to believe."

I wanted so much to help, to interfere, and yet I knew I couldn't. Loki had once, in the past, explained to me what the 'Rite of Penitence and Forgiveness' was, the ancient way to ask for and/or offer forgiveness to and from those who had been grievously wronged in some way. Loki invoking that rite was as good as calling his own trial, except that it was far more private than a trial would have been; though, on the other hand, unlike a trial, the magic of the ceremony would accept nothing but absolute truth in each word was said, as well as absolute forgiveness to end it. If Odin didn't truly forgive Loki, from his heart… the rite would go wrong, Loki would be punished, and not by the Allfather, but by the magic of the ceremony itself.

"Was it your wish to become King?" Odin questioned next.

"No." That answer seemed to cause the most surprise. "I've long since accepted I would never be King, and I'm alright with that. I just didn't think Thor was ready for the position either. I also believe that has since changed…"

"Did you intend to die when you let go on that bridge?" Odin asked very softly.

I nearly snapped at that point. Such a delicate question, and the way my beloved reacted to it, it was only because of Hel placing Rose in my arms, of the instinct I had of having to protect my daughter, and that included not upsetting her (and if my mood changed, she got upset, as if she could pick up my tension, my emotions…)

"Honestly? No." Loki said wistfully after taking a deep breath. "I believed I would be able to jump onto the Shadow Paths before I got completely lost in the abyss. But I couldn't focus my magic, and the battle against Thor had left me weaker than I expected. I couldn't call on my magic right and I ended up falling straight into the deepest part of the abyss. It took me forever and a month to get out of there. When I did I got myself to my Nightingale, like I'd intended to all along. She took care of me, nursed me back to health… It was after that that we made our vows and became a match. We spent the summer together most of the time. Then, when she was to return to her home to prepare for her job I finally returned to the abyss. We had a plan. I would sabotage as much of the Chitauri's plan to invade Midgard as I could, delaying it so the Human Warriors would be ready to fight back but… I'm not actually sure what happened. Thanos found out what I was doing, and he imposed his will upon mine. I knew that if he found out about my Nightingale he would hurt her, I had to protect her… so I sealed anything and everything that had to do with her in the deepest corner of my core, where the Titan could never hope to reach her. In the end, he was satisfied, getting me completely under his control…"

"And yet you still managed to delay him for two years…" Thor couldn't help but gasp.

I could only nod, it was something I was still marveled by, how far my love would go to protect me, to protect us all… even when half out of his mind and with no conscious knowledge of my existence or my love for him.

"How did you come back to us?" Frigg asked from the edge.

I wasn't sure if the rite usually allowed for external questions to be made, but I supposed since the answers were beneficial to what they were hoping to achieve it wouldn't hurt anyone.

"My Nightingale…" Loki answered, a soft smile on his face. "The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. called her as the expert on the human mythology that more closely relates to Asgard. She was on their flying fortress when I was brought in. Of course I did not recognize her upon arrival, or in the next day. Not until those I had taken over attacked the fortress as part of my plan… she stepped in when I was about to grievously injure a friend of hers. Then we began a magic duel. Even then I did not recognize her… though I knew in a corner of my mind that our spells shouldn't just be cancelling each other… Then she began playing the flute… I could recognize the tune, but couldn't actually place it. And when that failed… she sang. That broke Thanos's control over me, as well as the lock I myself had placed on anything connected to her. It was fitting, I thought, only my Nightingale could bring herself back to me, and me to her…"

"A sacrifice was mentioned…" Odin commented.

"Yes." Loki actually had to take a breath before continuing. "Thanos tried to take back control over me… he used the Mind Gem on the staff he'd given me to use as a weapon when I lead the Chitauri… My Nightingale smashed them both at the same time, putting all the magic she could call on in that one move… it killed her."

"If I may." Hel offered. "Mom died right after giving birth to Rose, I stepped in at that time. We made a deal. I would delay her death long enough for her to make sure dad would be there for Rose… I cannot stop death, only delay it. Mom was always going to die." She took a deep breath before finishing. "Though I will admit I always hoped for this outcome."

Yes, Loki had told me how it was Hel who told all of them that my bonds to him might be able to bring me back… it was my second chance, my forever…

"I see." Odin nodded, then, straightening to his full (considerable) height, he added in the most formal tone yet. "I have made a decision."

We all knew what that meant. It was only thanks to the slightly fussing Rose in my arms that I managed to remain mostly calm, though it was obvious that she sensed my tension, and likewise was a bit tense herself; Hel, Frigg and Thor too. Loki did not say a word, while talking he had half straightened again, but as Odin announced he would declare a sentence he went back to his deep, penitent bow.

"Loki Odinson." The Allfather stated formally. "My son… because I will state right now, that regardless of your past, of the lies and misunderstanding, you are and will always be my son. You have lied, cheated, betrayed… and at the same time you were also lied to, cheated and betrayed. Your actions may not have always been right, but your intentions were good, I honestly believe that. I also believe that there can be no worse punishment than what you've already gone through: spending almost two years lost inside yourself, without your match, without even knowing about your child, coming so close to losing both… and then actually seeing your match sacrifice herself for you, while being unable to do anything about it." He shook his head sadly. "Yes, I believe you've paid for all your crimes already. So, my son, you have my honest, heartfelt forgiveness."

"Thank you… father…" Loki answered in a low, emotional voice as he straightened up.

I smiled brightly. However, before I could embrace my husband as I wanted, I was shocked stiff by Odin's next actions, as he bowed to Loki, just as deeply as my love had bowed to him before.

It was obvious by his expression that my match had no idea what to do.

"Father?" He asked in a small, slightly hesitant voice.

"I too wish to ask for your forgiveness, Loki, my son." Odin explained quietly. "I failed you. When I was unable to see how I was favoring Thor, and especially how much that hurt you; when I did not see how others didn't treat you the way you deserve as a prince and my son; when I didn't allay your fears of being rejected, of being bad, a monster… of not being loved; when I kept your origins a secret for so long… in my defense, I thought I was protecting you…"

I could almost hear my own voice in my love's mind, the reminder of what I told him the previous night, about him needing to give forgiveness as much as he needed to receive it.

"I forgive you father." He finally stated in one of the softest tones I'd ever heard from him (he only spoke softer when talking to our daughter). "Truly and completely."

"Thank you, my son." Odin actually smiled at him.

I am quite sure it wasn't part of the ritual, but the two still embraced. And while I couldn't truly hear Odin as he whispered to Loki, I could hear my match as the words resonated deep inside him mind, heart and soul:

"I am proud of you, my son…"

xXx

I knew things weren't over, even with how well they were going… actually, one could even say they would never be over. I was immortal, living in the Realm Eternal… no, things would never be truly over in a sense.

Also, Thor still needed to find a way to go back to Midgard and fulfill his promise of returning to Jane, the two would then have to find out if their relationship had a future, and if so make it; if they decided to be together eventually Jane would have to go through the trials (because I very much doubted that Odin would allow another Midgardian woman to become immortal without testing her, especially one who would one day be Queen…)

I also had to decide whether to let Fury notify my family of my 'death' or keep my life on Earth (that part I had to discuss with Loki, since he would of course be with me and Rose).

As soon as the Rite of Penitence and Forgiveness was finished Frigg had insisted we all sit down and talk, she wanted to know everything about me, particularly the time since I'd first met Loki. She found many of the things in the early years cute and sweet, and seemed particularly delighted as I revealed to her, to everyone, some of the conversations Loki and I'd had later on, when I was nineteen, particularly right before Thor's coronation, and then the one after he'd finally managed to get out of the abyss and back to me (of course I carefully edited the quite-willing seduction that had taken place then). Through it all Frigg also seemed very happy about being able to hold Rose in her arms. She may not be her first grandchild, but Loki had explained to me once that Hel's mother (birth-mother, I was her mom now) had not been Asgardian, she in fact had downright refused to ever be in Asgard. Hel had arrived to the Realm Eternal until years later, after her mother had passed and the rest of the race had rejected her, Loki had sent someone for her. And yet… by that time she was already very quiet and withdrawn, so there had never been that connection between her and her Asgardian family, not like with Rose. And also, because of how much Rose enjoyed being with Hel (and one could see her delight in the way her eyes sparkled, hear it in her giggles every time Hel was holding her), it was also a second chance for my older daughter, a chance for a real family.

The very next morning, when Court opened, Odin announced that Loki had been completely forgiven, the clarification that an ancient rite had been used for that stopped any and all complaints that could have taken place. The Allfather also announced a feast and ball to take place a month and a week later, in honor of family. In the end it was no accident that the party was arranged for the very day Loki and I were celebrating our second anniversary, the real intent was to introduce Rose and I as Loki's family (we convinced Hel to stand with us as well), but he couldn't exactly say that when some still were more than a bit uneasy about my match.

The night arrived. We were to enter the ballroom until all the guests were already there, make an entrance. Rose and Hel would be with us, of course, though the baby would be taken to bed by one of my new handmaidens at the appropriate time (the rest of us had to stay at least until some of the most important guests had left). Hel had decided to use a glamour to cover the dark side of her body, like the one she'd had when arriving in Midgard to the helicarrier. While Loki and I insisted it wasn't necessary, we also understood why she preferred it and did not try to change her mind. In the end, it's not like the people wouldn't know who she was, and if they tried to bother her about anything we would be there for her.

And so the moment came. We were in formal attires. I, in particular was wearing a beautiful, delicate circlet of what looked like white gold in the design of intricate vines and small blossoms across my forehead; the sign of my status as a Princess of Asgard. Hel had a thicker, yet at the same time simpler circlet made of onyx, with an emerald resting in the very middle of her forehead, it brought out her eyes. Rose was in an Asgardian baby gown white with gold thread and a black sash (the colors tribute to all three of us), she was also wearing the pendant given to her by Hel. Hel and I were each on one side of Loki, our hands on his arms, while I held Rose on my other arm, the baby was wide awake and looking at everything with great curiosity.

Finally, the huge doors before us opened, the mere move calling everyone's attention to us even before we were formally announced.

"Prince Loki Odinson of Asgard, his match: Princess Nightingale of Midgard and their daughters: Lady Hel, Ruler of Helheim, and Princess Rose Alfdis of Asgard and Midgard."

I liked being introduced as Nightingale. While at birth I had been named Silbhé Arianna Salani, and I truly liked that name; Nightingale was a name that would always be close to my heart. It was the name a god had given an eleven-year-old girl he barely knew, along with a beautiful flute, just because she'd said she wanted to be one such bird… those two things together had completely changed my life. They, along with Loki himself had given me purpose, motivation, inspiration, my beloved husband, our sweet child, as well as another, equally wonderful daughter… had given me life in more ways than what the deamarkonian or any magic could have ever achieved… In the end, I am the Nightingale, his Nightingale, I always will be… and it's all thanks to my match, and our love…

We strode into the room with swift, confident steps. We presented our respects to Lady Frigg, Lord Odin and Thor, as was expected of us, before taking our seats on the table. The feast went as expected. It was followed by a dance. We mingled with the guests, allowing Loki to introduce Rose and I to members of the Council and the Court until eventually she began falling asleep and I got my handmaiden to get her to bed.

Everyone seemed to want to know how Loki and I ended up together when we weren't even from the same world, how I'd gained my magic, immortality and such. We told them some things, but not all, and never details, some things were too personal to share with anyone not family. Some of those present looked down on me for my origins, just like others looked down on Hel for her real appearance even without being able to see it. We didn't really care, though Loki still made a point of defending our honor. Hel and I just enjoyed the little spells he used to get back at anyone who dared insult us, even if we didn't actually notice the insult… they were minor, mostly harmless tricks. No one bothered to try and chastise him, and after finding out why exactly he was doing such things Thor fully supported his course of action (of course, compared to the other things he might have done to 'avenge our honor', minor pranks and spells were nothing. After a while those individuals learnt to keep their insulting words and attitudes to themselves.

The hours passed and eventually I grew tired of the party. Loki could sense it and he guided me to the huge balcony connected to the ballroom, while even that place was occupied, there were a few small alcoves connected to it, my love guided me to one where we could settle comfortably, a small spell making it so no one would be able to see us there.

"Is everything alright, my Nightingale?" He asked me, caressing my shoulder.

"Yes…" I sighed. "It's just… I still find it hard to believe that all of this is real…"

"Well, Asgard is called the Realm Eternal for a reason, many people believed it to be the most beautiful of all the realms…" My love began.

"I'm not talking about Asgard." I shook my head. "Though being here certainly is shocking enough." I sighed again. "No, when I think about how incredible it is to be here, I mean it in an entirely different way. I mean that it is amazing for me to be here, to be anywhere. For over a year I've been so sure that any day I would die, and I would never see you again… or Rose, or Hel… Darcy, Phil, my Aunt Kathryn…" I shook my head. "It's sad, but I had already accepted some facts as reality, as my reality; suddenly seeing them not only as optional, but even as unlikely… it's enough to leave me breathless sometimes. Because… I'm here. I'm alive… in a sense. I have you and Rose, and Hel. My friends are alright. Your family is alright… I still need to do something about mine… the other two members of my family I mean, but still. This is so much more than I could have ever dared dream of…"

"This is no dream, my match…" He assured me, whispering into my ear while embracing me from behind, my back against his chest. "It's all real… it will always be… I promise you…"

"I believe you." I nodded, closing my eyes and smiling. "I love you Loki…"

He didn't reply verbally, but he didn't need to. He just kissed my hair and I could feel the depth of his love enveloping him like a secondary embrace, warm and deep and amazing…

"Sing for me my Nightingale…" He whispered in the softest voice ever. "Let me hear your beautiful voice one more time…"

"The first song of forever…" I replied with a smile. "The beginning of our eternity."

"It shall be." He agreed. "We're bound now and till the stars fall from the sky and the universe as we know it ceases to exist…"

I smiled brightly. He could be so poetic sometimes… yet he wouldn't believe me if I were to tell him. Still, I had not forgotten how he'd asked me to sign, so that's exactly what I did.

"Mysterious, that's what I call you

I'm curious about you

I'm scared and not sure that you are safe

But your eyes seem to say that you are good…"

"This is not a dream that I'm living

This is just a world of your own

You took me from all that I knew

Showed me how it feels to hope…

With you with me, facing tomorrow together

I can learn to fly

Feels like I'm living in a lion's mouth

But the lion is…an angel…"

I did not know it then, and I wouldn't be finding out the exact details of it all until much later. But as it turned out, the alcove we were in had wonderful acoustics… perfect for my voice to carry through it, the balcony, and all the way to where the feast and dance was still taking place. The musicians had long since stopped playing, as no one was dancing anymore, being so late and considering that a number of people were already either drunk beyond reasoning or leaving, or both! Still, somehow they all (or at least a considerable number) managed to be coherent enough to hear my song, really hear it, the message woven into it, into the words, and my voice…

"Wise eyes, you see the core of me

Your gentleness melts me

And now I know that words cannot describe

The power that I feel when I'm with you…"

"This is not a dream that I'm living

This is just a world of your own

You took me from all that I knew

Showed me how it feels to hope

With you with me, facing tomorrow together

I can learn to fly

Feels like I'm living in a lion's mouth

But the lion is…"

I lost myself in the song, like so many times before. It was something I'd always loved about the music, and about singing myself. The way that I could focus on just one thing and then… I let go. It was like the whole universe just ceased to exist, everything except myself and my point of focus, the center of my universe… Loki. True, there was Rose now too, and Hel as well. And one day I might even write songs for them, but in that moment, it was all for Loki:

"Peace and power, love forever

Who am I to stand before you?

I am speechless but in my weakness

You are here and all is well…"

"You took me from all that I knew

Showed me how it feels to hope

With you with me, facing tomorrow together

I can learn to fly

Feels like I'm living in a lion's mouth

But the lion is…an angel…"

"This is not a dream that I'm living

This is just a world of your own

You took me from all that I knew

Showed me how it feels to hope…

With you with me, facing tomorrow together

I can learn to fly

Feels like I'm living in a lion's mouth

But the lion is…an angel

Is an angel…"