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The first time she faced the tall, dark and, as she later concluded, hauntingly beautiful God, Ailee was on her way to Tony's lab with a strong cup of coffee in her hand, smiling sheepishly at her latest gift for the millionaire turned hero. She could not help buying the mug as soon as she layed eyes on it.

It was black and read in golden letters: “I love T.S.”

A victorious smile on her face, she could already guess Tony's reaction to the gift. He would love the fact that the first thing that had come to her mind when she found the cup in a music store had been – him. Tony was ridiculously lovable with his big heart, overgrown ego, reckless mind and wacky sense of humour. He indulged in everything that rubbed his ego up the right way, especially when the attention came from his “little angel” as he nicknamed her – which she kind of tolerated, because Tony happened to be the most precious person in her life – he was the closest thing to family she had.

Ailee blamed her height and rather young appearance for the fact that everyone in the tower treated her more like a girl rather than a woman, even though she had the strange feeling that she was a lot older than she looked. Nobody knew her actual age – least of all she. As she walked down the hallway towards the lab her thoughts wandered to the fateful day she now remembered as the first day of her life. The day she woke up in a hospital in Manhattan, in incredible pain with tubes and cables sticking out from all over her body. She remembered the panic, the feeling of not belonging there. It all had felt so foreign. The doctor's brushed it off as trauma and a consequence of her amnesia, but the feeling – this feeling of being in a foreign world - had never really left here since.

Focused on not spilling the coffee, she did not look up when somebody stepped out of the lab just as she was about to enter, so she stopped briefly to let the person get past, but could not avoid brushing against him.

“Watch where you are going, mortal.” A deep voice hissed.

The amount of hostility in it making her flinch so that she ended up spilling the hot liquid over her hand. Cursing under her breath, Ailee turned to watch the tall, dark-haired stranger stride down the corridor as if he had some kind of glorious purpose, leaving nothing but the faint scent of leather and something lingering in the air.

Asshole.

But, that scent. Leather and … what was it? Rich forest soil or cool mountain air? It was vaguely familiar. She creased her brow, then shook her head, unable to place it.

 “Angel! What are you up to?”

Tony's voice ripped her out of her thoughts and she quickly stepped into the laboratory, beaming as she held out the cup to him.

“I made you coffee.”

“That was very sweet of you … oh...” That's when he saw it. He smirked and cocked an eyebrow. “That's my girl. Always bent on stroking my ego.” Tony came over and pressed a brotherly kiss on her forehead. “I love you too." he whispered. Pepper was absolutely right about him, acting like a big brother around the small woman. He could not help it. Everyone was fond of her, she had a gentleness and innocence in her nature that melted even his heart.

"You deserve a reward for all your strenuous efforts of being nice to me, angel – although to be honest, I am not entirely sure if the reward deserves you.”

She gave him a puzzled look.

“I found someone to teach you how to use your abilities, but that someone might not be the teacher you had hoped for. He can be … well, to be honest ... he has a dreadful sense of humour and seems to be in a state of permanent disgruntlement … I am not even sure if this is a good idea, now that I am thinking clearly … Thor kind of talked me into it.”

Tony ran his hands over his face.

Maybe this was a bad idea after all.

But when he looked at Ailee, her eyes were alight with pure excitement. He could not remember seeing her as happy as this. Over the past couple of years, he had grow so fond of this girl, that he would give her anything to make her happy. Endure anything. Even a damn, grumpy-ass God. But looking at her now, he was not so sure about his decision anymore.

“Look, maybe -”

Ailee fell around his neck and hugged him tight.

“Thank you, Tony. Thank you.” she whispered. “This is the best news. Thank you.”

Ok, well, damn it. Here we go.

“Easy, angel, you're squeezing the life out of me.”

Ailee slowly pulled away and beamed up at him.

“So, who is it? When do I start?”

Tony scratched his head. Was he doing the right thing in asking a former Super villain to train her in magic? Why had he let Thor of all people let him talk him into this? It must have been that Asgardian wine. To think of Loki training her ... she was just so … fragile, childlike, innocent. Now that he thought about it, he liked the idea less and less.

“So? Tony! Come on, spit it out! Who is it?”

The excitement in her voice made him chuckle. 

Well, they could give it a try. If Loki fell out of line, they would just send him back.

“One step after the other. You will meet with Thor first. He will explain everything to you, because he is – well, he is not biased as I am about this situation – and then you will decide if you want to do this. All going well, you may start tomorrow.”

“Thor? Tomorrow?”

She grinned, then leaned forward to press a kiss on Tony's cheek, and gave him another tight hug.

“I finally get to meet Thor properly? I can't wait.”

And another hug.

Ok, maybe it was worth giving it a try. She was obviously over the moon about the prospect of having somebody teach her.

“Well, in that case, I better get back to work – enjoy your coffee. T.S.”

She winked as she walked out, then halted and turned in the doorway.

“Who was that rude ass leaving the lab when I came in?”

“Oh. That?” Tony frowned, giving her an apologetic look. “That was your new teacher.”

Chapter Text

An hour later, Thor's eyes narrowed as he watched the girl who was sitting across the table from him, currently using her fingers to inspect a roll of sushi before she seemed satisfied and popped it in her mouth. She noticed him staring and shrugged apologetically, her soft hazel eyes locking with his.

“I am vegetarian. I don't like fish. And sometimes they put this squishy fish stuff in, no matter how often you mention the word vegetarian.”

The God of Thunder laughed softly. There was such guilelessness in her voice and demeanour. Before today, he had only seen her twice on his visits, but now he understood why everyone was so taken with her. She had the innocence of a child. Tony explained to him that the girl had suffered a complete memory loss as a consequence of Loki's attack on New York. The man of iron linked her childlike behaviour to the head injury she had suffered. He thought that her mind was not polluted by limiting though patterns, but rather simple like a child's. Maybe that was why she was able to wield magic. Nobody knew if she had the ability all her life or if it was something that developped after her accident.

Thor watched curiously as she flicked her hand and a bottle of Soy Sauce appeared on the table. Ailee proceeded to pour it over her Sushi, sending it back a moment later. The movements reminded him of Loki.

“How do you do it?”

“I don't know, that is the problem. I do it intuitively, which means that it only works when I don't think about it. As soon as I assert some willpower to it, I cannot do it. That is why I need someone to teach me. Do you think your brother will be able to teach me?”

When her hazel eyes met his, Thor blinked. Staring at her for longer than necessary. There was a definite resemblance. He had not been able to put his finger on it right away. Why she looked familiar. But now he could see it. Even with the short hair, she did look like –

“Thor? You ok?”

The God of Thunder pushed the painful memory away that had started to surface in his mind and forced a smile on his face.

“My brother - I must warn you that he may be – well, he may be difficult at times, but I want you to know that he has atoned for his crimes and I trust him. If he agrees to teach you, I can promise you, you will not find a better teacher in all the Nine Realms.”

“For his crimes? – He is a criminal?”

“He is a God of Chaos.”

“Oh.” Was all she said, chewing on another piece of sushi and waiting for Thor to continue.

“I ask you not to judge him to harshly.”

“Well, I never met a God of Chaos before, so I guess I have nothing to compare him with?”

Thor smiled.

“He was responsible for -”

But Ailee raised her hand and cut him off.

“You just said that I should not judge him, but if you tell me what he has done, that would lead me to judge him, wouldn't it?”

“But you might want to know that he was the one who-”

“Uh. I will know what I feel when I meet him. I trust my feelings.”

“As you wish. Shall I send for him now?”

“Yup. Can't wait to meet my first God of Chaos.”

 

---

 

“Brother, must I really do this? I am the most powerful sorcerer in the realms. And I am to be … babysitting a mortal?”

Ouch, asshole.

The tall, dark God ignored her completely as he entered the room, his eyes were fixed on Thor and carried a dangerously annoyed look in them. Thor sighed and offered you an apologetic smile.

 “You owe Tony a favour I would say.”

 “He still owes me a drink.” Loki answered tight lipped.

 “Loki, why do you have to make things so difficult? Why not just assess the girl's magic and see what you can --”

 “L-Loki?”

 Both brothers turned to look at Ailee, who now stood, her hands flat on the table, staring at the God of Mischief. Her lips parted slightly as his blue-green gaze met hers. There was a flickering feeling in her chest, but it disappeared before she could hold onto it, making her doubt that it was ever there.

 Why did his name sound so familiar?

 She watched as Loki's eyes widened, emotions whirling inside them that she was unable to decipher. A moment later, it was all gone - his eyes and face an unreadable facade. When he spoke his voice was as cold as the expressionless mask of his face.

 “I cannot teach her.”

 With that he turned around, about to leave the room, when the door slammed shut on its own in front of his nose. The god did not even flinch. Ever so slowly he turned to face Ailee, who stood entirely still, her eyes moving from the door to Loki. His eyes glinted with anger, jaw set tight.

“Loki, she does not know how to control it.” Thor tried to salvage the situation.

 Ailee watched in awe as the Loki spun around gracefully closing the distance between him and Thor before the other could react, before he knew it Loki had grabbed him by his collar.

Beautiful. The way he moved was - beautiful.

 “I. Will. Not. Teach her, Thor.” He hissed.

“And you!”

Oops.

Loki turned towards Ailee, pointing a finger at her threateningly. “You have the audacity to stand against a god?”

Well, maybe he did have a bit of a god-complex.

When she saw the fire in his eyes, Ailee swallowed, and yet, felt no fear. 

 “You did not even give me a chance. It is not fair.” She stated bravely.

 Loki raised an eyebrow, before he broke into a malicious grin.

 “Life is not fair, you should know that by now, living a pathetic existence on this meagre planet.”

 He moved towards the door to open it, but stopped, when a small hand settled on his chest. Loki's eyes betrayed his confusion and surprise, as Ailee looked at him.

 “I am sorry I offended you. Can you just give me a chance? Just – I don't know – assess my magic or whatever you do? I really want to learn to control it.”

The girl's soft voice wafted through Loki's mind, triggering an avalanche of memories. Painful memories. Her voice. It was not only her face and her eyes. It was even her voice that tortured him. He closed his eyes, forcing back the pain. The dark prince thought that he had put his insanity behind him, but this mortal girl seemed to stir it all up again.

He shook his head in an attempt to shake off the memories that threatened to come back.

 “I cannot.”

 She pulled her hand away, and he did not wait to see the look of disappointment in her eyes before he opened the door.

 “Brother ...” Thor attempted, but Loki waved him off and slammed the door shut behind him without looking back.

 

 There was an awkward silence for a couple of minutes.

 “I will go and speak with him.” Thor sighed.

 “If he despises us humans so badly, why did he agree to this in the first place?”

 “He did not have much choice in the matter. It was my father's decision for him to come here and, by teaching you redeem some of the damage his past actions afflicted to this realm.”

Ailee frowned.

 “He was forced to come here to make up for – what exactly?”

 "I attempted to tell you earlier.”


“Tell me what?”

 “That my brother caused the attack on New York that took your memory. My father saw it fit for him to come here and help you in any way he can.”

 She sank down into the chair.

 Loki. Of course, that was why the name sounded familiar. His name had been all over the news after she woke up.

“So, he was sent here to do community service? ... and I am … his atonment ? No wonder he hates me.”

“My brother does not hate you.” 

“Well, he sure looked like it.” 

“There may have been other things on his mind, that disturbed him.”

Ailee looked up at Thor. He was keeping something from her, wasn't he?

“What are you keeping from me, Thor?”

“Nothing.”

Liar.

She bit her tongue not to say it out loud.

“I must apologise. Tony was concerned about your feelings, since Loki was involved in your loss of memory. He did not think that any of this was a good idea. I persuaded him, since I desired to help my brother.”

“Thor? I don't know what Loki's problem is, but I – I don't blame him for anything that happened to me. I know that what happened in New York was unspeakable terror, but I refuse to blame him for my fate. I have a wonderful life now, one that I am grateful for. I have no clue what kind of life I had before this. It seems that sometimes terrible things can turn out to be great blessings.”

The thunderer considered her words.

“You carry a deep wisdom inside your heart, Lady Ailee.”

She shrugged.

 

----

 

“Tony?”

 

The upper deck was beautiful at night even more than during a day, when the large glass windows displayed the magnificance of the city that lay below. At night they turned into dark mirrors, dotted with sparkling lights. Tony stood staring out onto the city below. His reflection glanced briefly at her before he turned around to face her.

 

“I am sorry it did not work out, Ailee.”

 

He took a swig from his glass before he met eyes with her, looking somewhat guilty and tired.

 

“Sorry? About what?”

 

“Thor told me that Loki is not going to go through with it. It was stupid of me to make the deal in the first place – I don't trust him, I just know how much you want to control your magic, so when Thor came up with the idea that Loki ...”

 

To his surprise, she laughed softly.

 

“This man … uhm … god, is not somebody who likes to be forced into situations. And I can't blame him.”

 

She moved over to him and gently lay her hand on his arm, her touch causing him relief and he let out a breath, before he downed his drink.

 

“It's not your fault, Tony. I just came to tell you that I will be fine. There will be someone else who can teach me – maybe Strange can help me. He said it's different magic, but maybe he can at least help me control it.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

She chewed on her lip, making Tony realise that she was worried.

 

“What are you worried about?”

 

Her eyes snapped to his, fear evident inside them and he creased his brow. 

“Are you scared?”

 

“I was angry at him. I slammed the door shut in his face, and I – I didn't even mean to do it. I was just angry.”

 

Tony laughed.

 

“Well, wouldn't say he didn't deserve it.”

 

“What if I get angry again? What about the things I do unconsciously ? What if I hurt someone?”

  

He put the empty glass in his hand down and opened his arms.

 

“Come here.”

 

She wrapped her arms around him and leaned in, nuzzling into his chest.

“You and Pepper are my family, I just don't ever want to hurt you guys.”

 

“I know.” He rubbed circles on her back.

 

Damn Loki.

 

He had managed to make Ailee afraid of her own power by not even doing anything. Well, he had made her angry, which was an almost impossible task considering the girl's ever bright and gentle nature, but not surprising, considering how infuriating said god could be.

 

“It'll be ok, I will talk to Strange. When he is back.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

For a while they just stood there, Tony comforting her, it was the least he could do for someone who had been nothing but good to each and every single one of them.

He didn't like the thought that Loki had disturbed her.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Are you sure about this, Loki?"

"Quite sure."

Thor sighed, dropping onto the couch next to Loki, which elicited a soft chuckle from the god.

"Graceful as ever, brother." Loki rolled his eyes.

"I have not seen you this troubled in a while, Loki."

The dark gods lips tightened, and he ran a hand through his hair as Thor continued. 

"I am not blind either, brother. She looks like Tara, even with the short hair. But she is mortal, Loki. It is a coincidence, nothing else."

Loki evaded Thor's eyes and laughed softly, shaking his head, and when his eyes came to meet Thor's, they held something dangerously close to insanity.

"I cannot possibly do this." 

Thor's large hand settled on Loki's shoulder.

"Are you still blaming yourself for her death?"

Loki stood abruptly, almost pushing Thor away from him. 

"I have no desire to speak about this."

"Loki -"

"I MEAN IT, Thor!"

He nervously ran a hand through his hair again. He had not meant to yell at Thor, but he could not bear the memory. He could not go there. Not now. Not ever. 

"I will be leaving for Asgard tonight."

Thor watched Loki warily, he had not realised how heavy the guilt still weighed on Loki's shoulders. That he still blamed himself for their sister's death. If only he could find the right words to soothe his brother's pain. Maybe it was best to let him go. He had redeemed himself over the past years, had taken on the duties of a prince of Asgard and served as an ambassador between the realms. Thor had hoped that Loki had made peace with his past, and seeing him like this, the touch of madness lingering in his brother's gaze, made his heart ache.

"Maybe it is for the best, brother. I am sure Heimdall can take you from the roof. I will stay for a few more days."

Loki's gaze softened. 

"It is not her fault. You can let her know."

Thor's eyebrows rose in surprise. 

"I will. She will be relieved to know, as she thinks you hate her." 

Loki huffed. 

"Daft little mortal."

 

---

 

Loki found her crying pitifully on the rooftop. While he was sure that she had not noticed his presence and he could easily slip back inside without wasting another thought on her, he hesitated. Maybe he should call on Heimdall regardless of her being there. He owed her nothing. He just wanted to go back home. And forget.

No. The noise and light of the Bifrost would likely terrify her. He could always leave first thing in the morning. 

Loki returned to the door that led back inside the tower and halted. The sound of her quiet sobbing pulled at his heart. 

You owe her nothing, Loki. Go back inside. 

 

Ailee only noticed he was there, when he crouched down in front of her and his smooth voice interrupted her sobs.

“What happened? Has somebody hurt you?” His voice was unexpectedly kind.

“It's - it's okay. I am okay.”

She hurriedly wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her shirt. 

“Evidently.” Sarcasm dripping from his words. More like the god she had met.

“You can just leave. Pretend you have not seen me.”

Loki huffed. Maybe he should. It was not his responsibility to care about the girl's misery or happiness. But instead of leaving, the god settled on the floor beside her, leaning against the wall of the building. As much as Loki hated to admit it to himself, he could not just leave her there. Thor was right, she resembled Tara in many ways. But it was not only her looks and her voice, it was her innocence that brought back memories of their sister. Loki leaned his head back against the wall. The Norns were cruel in weaving his fate. They never allowed him to forget his misdeeds.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Ailee eyed him sideways. 

“Why are you still here?”

Why, indeed?

“I intended to enjoy the fresh air when I came up here, and I will not let a mortal's pitiful crying deter me from getting what I want. Apart from that you cannot just send me away. I do not yield to a mortal's command. I am a God.”

She could not tell if he was serious, because his eyes were looking straight ahead, and his tone was cold. Still his words made her chuckle softly.

"Hm. Right, you're a god."

An annoying god. And a little daft, maybe.

Loki's eyes snapped to hers and her own eyes widened.

Ooops. Daft? – uh – well, still godly - kind of - and beautiful - In a way ..

Loki quirked an eyebrow and grinned. Ailee scowled at him, all her troubles momentarily forgotten.

“You - you can read my mind?”

“Only if I wish to.”

“Then stop it. Right. Now. Have you never heard of privacy?”

“I simply wished to know what is troubling you.”

“And I did not wish for you to know. That's how it works here on earth. We like to keep secrets. We don't read other people's minds. We let them be if they do not wish to talk.”

His brow furrowed.

“That just means that you are afraid of looking at the truth.”
“Is this a lesson in truthfulness from the God of Lies?”

“Lies are often not far from the truth.”

“They can be just as painful though.”

“Even more so.”

“Oh. I - I am sorry.”

Confusion crossed Loki's features. 

“What for?”

Her gaze trailed off before she answered him.

“I am sorry, that you were hurt.” 

“What?”

“Someone hurt you by lying about the truth?”

Her tone was gentle and purposefully posed as a question so not to push him. Loki huffed and leaned his head back against the wall, eyes wandering skywards.

How was it that she was so perceptive?

“I do not need your pity, child.”

And how was it that he was so - tired of hiding?

Although his words were harsh his voice lacked the cold. Ailee noticed that he sounded wary, tired.

Fine. You won't get it then.”

The girl shrugged. Loki chuckled at her response. Both sat in silence for a while.

“What are the stars like in Asgard?” She finally broke the silence.

“Magnificent. The sky here cannot compare to the beauty of myriad diamonds scattered in the blackness of space. It is like an enchantment, like magic itself. But like with many other things, we often do not appreciate them until they are gone.”

“You miss your home?”

“Asgard is not my home.”

“How come?”

He turned to look at her.

“You are expecting me to answer all your questions when you have denied me the answer to the only one I asked?”

“I am curious.”

“So am I.”

“If I tell you, will you tell me the reason you hate me?”

“What makes you think I hate you?”

“The way you looked at me, as if you'd seen a ghost. You went so cold after that.”

“Just because I do not wish to teach you, does not mean I hate you. Seeing you brought back -" he broke off, "Wait. I think I have earned an answer to my question first."

He studied her face.

“I – I cannot sleep because of the dreams I have. And I don't like being stuck in my room, feeling miserable, so I usually come up here to cry.”

“You have nightmares?”

“Well, yes and no. I don't remember ... the only thing I remember is that I should remember something, but I can't. And I wake up feeling panicked every single time. I know that I am meant to do something. Something important. I just can't remember. I am always looking for someone, but I can't remember who it is I am looking for either.” Tears rolled down her cheeks again and she wiped them off with the sleeve of her sweater. "I know this is silly, but it terrifies me nonetheless."

Before she could protest, two strong arms wrapped around her. Without any effort Loki positioned the girl between his legs and leaned back against the wall, carefully pulling her against his chest to gently rub her back. She stiffened at the touch, but soon relaxed into his embrace. It felt oddly safe. 

“What are you doing?”

“Comforting you it seems.”

“Are you allowed to do that as a God of Chaos?”

He laughed softly against her hair and she shivered as his breath cascaded down her cheek.

“The advantage of being a God of Chaos – I can do what I want."

"You just create your own rules."

"Exactly. Are you cold?”

She shook her head, but snuggled a bit closer.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome."

"You could have been like this from the beginning, you know."

"I had a reputation to uphold." 

"Yeah, people don't seem to like you very much ... I think you're ok."

Loki purred softly.

"Just don't tell the others, it would ruin my reputation and we would not want that, would we?”

It made her chuckle.

“You actually have a sense of humour.”

“I used to make people laugh.”

“Why not anymore?”

“Because I have not felt like laughing for a long time.”

He felt her small hand coming to a rest over his heart, warmth seeping through the thin fabric of his shirt.

“I like your laugh, Loki.”

The smile that spread on the God's lips was warm and genuine, but Ailee did not see it because she had already closed her eyes, revelling in the feeling of safety and she suddenly felt very sleepy. She also missed the single tear that escaped the god's eye and rolled down the pale skin of his cheek. Loki closed his eyes, rubbing one hand over his face before pinching the bridge of his nose. For so long he had tried to forget. Forget. Forget. And now this girl so brutally made him remember. It tore his heart apart. He would never be able to forgive himself for what he did.

And yet ...  maybe Ailee truly was his atonement? Maybe he could somehow set things right by make things right for her? 

Chapter Text

“Let me assess your magic, mortal. I will decide if teaching you is worthwhile.”

Ailee spun around at the sound of the deep familiar voice, surprised to find Loki standing only a few feet away from her in the lounge. The God's face unreadable.

She cocked an eyebrow at him.

Mortal? Who did he think he was? The God of i-change-my-mind-whenever-i-want-and-pretend-to-be-an-ass-on-top-of-it?

She chuckled softly at the rather long nickname she had just given him and was pleased to find that Loki was not actually reading her mind this time, because he asked,

“Would you care to enlighten me what is amusing you?”

“I – well – I thought - uhm -”

He waved her off.

“Cease the pathetic stumbling over your words and come here.”

Ailee narrowed her eyes at him.
“Between last night and now, have I done anything to offend you? Because the last thing I remember is falling asleep while you comforted me, so, if I have, I am utterly unaware.”

Loki sighed, his composure cracking a little.

After he carried her to her room, the dark prince had spent the rest of the night staring out the window over the city. He had been determined to leave at first light, and yet, when the sky lightened and the grey of dawn awakened the city beneath, he had found himself pacing the lounge. By the time the sun came up over the horizon, he had come to a decision. He would teach her. But he would reign in his sentimental feelings, control his mind, and would not compare her to Tara. He would be her mentor, nothing more.

All mortals are terribly unaware.”

Ailee rolled her eyes.

“Ok, fine, you want to feel superior and think of me as inferior. Right, I can live with that. Let's get on with it then. How are you going to assess my magic?”

A moment of silence followed as Loki studied her, trying hard to suppress his amusement. 

“Come.”

The God gracefully settled on the floor in the middle of the lounge, gesturing for her to join him, so Ailee sat down opposite of him.

“What is your reason for wanting to do this?”

“To learn about magic?”

He nodded. She tried to figure out what he was thinking, but could not read him.

“Because I want to be able to control it, so I don't accidentally hurt anyone when I am – when I am angry with them.”

There was a seriousness that settled over Loki's face and his eyes seemed to become deeper (if that was even possible) when he spoke.

“First of all,control is an illusion. You can control your mind, you can calm it, allow it to open. But you cannotcontrol your magic. Magic is a living thing. It is the essence of the universe. You harness it, dance with it, become one with it, manipulate it. But you can never control it. You can only control yourself.”

“Oh, ok.”

Ailee had to admit she was impressed. Loki's haughtiness was replaced by a deep wisdom that was tangible in his voice. Thor had mentioned that Loki was over a thousand years old, even though Loki's behaviour had seriously let her doubt that wisdom developed with age. Right now, in this moment, he did somewhat sound like a Jedi Master.

“Secondly”, Loki continued, “it seems that your anger is directed at one particular person. Why would you care if they get hurt?”

“Because a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never to attack.”

She smirked. Loki looked at her, confusion mixing with the irritation in his gaze. She shrugged.

“Quote from a movie I watched, I think you would like it. There is a 900 year old magic teacher who -”

The God cleared his throat, the blue-green eyes piercing her, now just irritated, even though she could swear that there was a smirk lingering on his lips.

"Right. I do not want to hurt people. Even if I am angry with them. Even if they would deserve it. I want to use magic for good things.”

“Sentiment. A weakness that will become your enemy.”

Ok, maybe he sounded more like Darth Vader than ObiWan. He definitely looked the part.

“A weakness I see as a strength.”

His eyes hardened.
“Are you aware of who I am? What I am?”

He hissed and there was ice in his gaze that literally made the hairs on her back stand on end.

God of Chaos and Destruction. Of Death.

“What – what kind of question is that?”

She held his gaze and allowed herself to feel the fear that it elicited inside her body.

“It was I who attacked your city. I am responsible for killing thousands of human beings, killing your friends and family members. Does it not bother you to share a room with a killer?”

“I – I don't know.”

You do not know?”

Well, if he was a God of Chaos, was it not in his nature to cause the latter? She remembered that she had cried for all the innocent people who died during the attack and in its aftermath. All the destruction. The pain. People had lost their dear ones. And yet, she could not judge him. She remembered his soothing embrace, his soft words, how he said that he used to make people laugh.

“I don't know because I – I cannot judge people. Judgement confuses me. It – well, it actually hurts me.”

“You have a very childish way of seeing the world.”

“I like to trust people.”

“Trust will get you hurt. Do you not have any sense of self-preservation?”

“I trust my feelings.”

Loki huffed.

“Apart from that, I can't remember if I lost any friends or family, because the head injury I suffered wiped my memory and life ever after has been a very good life so far. Tony and Pepper are my family now and they care for me deeply, so, there is not really anything I can blame you for.” 

“I saw the anger in your eyes when we first met. Was it not about New York?”

“I was angry, because you weren't giving me a chance. You were just going to walk out on me.”

Loki studied her quietly.

“Because you are a mere child. Full of sentiment.”

He watched with silent satisfaction as her eyes glinted.

“I am not a child!”

“It seems that I anger you quite easily. Maybe being your teacher would not be such a good idea after all.”

Loki made to rise, but Ailee was already at her feet, her small fists clenched at her side, she stood, glaring down at him.

Who do you actually think you are?”

“The God of Lies, Chaos and Destruction.”

Loki replied smugly and tried hard to hide his amusement.

“Touché.”

As quickly as the fire had erupted, she had pushed her anger away.

"Ok, you have a point, Loki."

“I always do, little mortal. But I appreciate your impetuosity.”

She looked at him in surprise. The way he spoke, his words soft, she would have said there was a hint of affection in it. She closed her eyes briefly, gathering her senses. His behaviour was starting to give her a headache.

“Well, you are not as intimidating as you think, God of Chaos.”

Loki stared at her before he laughed softly.

“Because you have no idea, what I am capable of.”

“Well? Are you going to hurt me?”

He looked confused for a moment.

“I can assure you that I have no interest in hurting you.”

“Oh. Well. That's … reassuring. Coming from the God of Lies.”

She teased and rolled her eyes again, and she could have sworn that the corner of his mouth twitched a little before his face became unreadable again.

“Shall we begin then?”

With an otherworldly grace, Loki straightened his back, resting his hands on his knees, reminding her very much of the pictures of Shiva she had seen in the Indian shops when Wanda had dragged her to in Jackson Heights in Queens to see one of the fortune tellers there. An old Indian Lady who had smiled at her knowingly, then told her that she had the blessings of the Gods, and fate would guide her, before she told them the fee for her advice was 200 dollars. Ailee had been shocked. But the old Lady had winked at her and cupped her face. "You are a precious little thing. I was joking, my dear. Friends of Wanda are friends of mine. Yet I cannot tell you more than I have. They won't allow it." The memory faded as Ailee watched Loki in awe. The way the sunlight touched his silhouette from behind created a thin corona of sparkling hair around his head and a rim of light around his body. She blinked.

Otherworldly, indeed.

Loki eyed her with curiosity and lifted an eyebrow.

“Never seen a God before?”

“Not close up, no.”

She retorted nonchalantly and quickly turned her gaze away.

“Sit.”

While Loki made an inviting gesture with his hand, his tone reminded her of  someone commanding a pet.

"Blessed by the Gods." she thought sarcastically. How right the old lady had been. Ailee settled on the carpet opposite of him, mirroring his posture.

“Now what?”

“Clear your mind.”

“What? How?”

Loki exhaled sharply.

“Do you not even have the most basic knowledge?”

“Well, obviously NOT. That's the whole reason you are here, isn't it? To teach me.”

Without warning Loki leaned forward and reached for her hand, she instinctively pulled it back and he studied hers curiously.
“I said that I would not hurt you, there is no need to be afraid.”

“You startled me.”

“Give me your hand.”

She offered it to him but when he touched it an electric shock jolted up her arm and she jerked it back. Wincing in pain Ailee stared at him, shock written all over her face.

“What did you do that for? That hurt!”

Loki's expression faltered.

“I – I did not do that.”

“God of Lies!”

She hissed and his eyes snapped up to hers.

“Why would I lie to you if I wanted to hurt you?”

“To make me feel safe? To prove to me that you are right? That it is childish of me to trust you?”

The dark God frowned at her and Ailee herself was surprised at her reaction. She covered her eyes with her good hand and sighed.

“You are giving me a headache with your constant change from being nice to being an ass, Loki.”

There was a soft chuckle before cool, soft fingers removed the hand from her eyes.

“Welcome to the world of chaos.”

“You can't always blame things on your title, Loki.”

Loki let go of her hand. His eyes glued to the back of the hand she held protectively against her chest, the skin was starting to blister where he had touched her.

“It seems that my touch prompted your magic to revert itself.”

“To do what?”

“It turned against you. Let me see.”

He offered to take a look at her hand but she shook her head.

“It will not hurt again, I was unprepared the first time I touched you.”

The look she gave him twisted his heart, because what he saw in her eyes when she hesitantly stretched out her hand, was the fear of betrayal.

Did she truly think he would stoop that low? Hurt her when she least expected it? And then, that was exactly what he was known for, wasn't it?

His chest tightened. She hadn't blamed or judged him for his actions in the past, but now she looked at him as if he was about to hit her and he could not stand it.

“It will not happen again. Let me heal you.”

“Promise.” She pouted like a child when she looked at him, and it made him grin involuntarily.

“I promise.”

The girl relaxed and allowed him to take her hand. Cool finger wrapped gently around her wrist, while the other hand hovered just above the burns. The pain lifted and the blisters disappeared. All that was left was smooth skin.

“As good as before.”

“Wow! How did you do that?”

Ailee felt stupid as soon as the question had left her mouth, but Loki just smiled at her and winked.

Magic.”

Chapter Text

Not everyone in the tower was pleased to have the "Dark Lord", as Tony so affectionately called him, residing amongst them. Steve was surprisingly good with Loki, even trying to include him in after dinner movie nights, which was not as appreciated by Clint, who still held a grudge against the god. Natasha had made it her new mission in life to keep a close eye on Ailee, and, while the girl appreciated the assassin's concern, she could not help but notice Natasha popping up out of nowhere whenever Ailee was alone with Loki, which made the God-of-Sass even more unbearable than usual. Much to Ailee's relief the red-head settled back to normal routines after a couple of weeks and trusted Loki enough not to kill his young apprentice.

Ailee enjoyed the times when Loki and her just hung out together, he relaxed when nobody was around. She never asked about his past, instead, she focused on trying to figure out what he liked. Ever since he told her that he had not felt like laughing for a long time, she was determined to make him smile, and surprised to find that it was rather simple things that did it. Salted caramel slice, a cuppa and a good book, lying on the roof top star gazing (grandiose illusions of the stars of Asgard that Loki conjured), roller coaster rides and candy floss (even though it took a while for him to admit it) and it seemed most of all he liked - beautiful gardens. It seemed that he had an innate love and admiration for nature. It gave him peace.

"Those creatures are so innocent." 

Loki's voice was soft, so not to scare off his newly found feathery friends who were greedily picking seeds from the god's hand. Ailee found him on the roof, well, it had taken her a while to actually find him, since he had conjured up a beautiful, wild garden - complete with fountains, hedges and rose arches. Loki sat on the grass feeding some birds who had obviously been fooled into believing there was a lovey new roof garden in the area. He did not say anything else, only beckoned her to come closer and placed some bird food in her hand. One of the small feathered creatures cocked its head and hopped straight onto her hand without hesitation, which elicited delighted squeak from her part that made Loki smile. They sat for a while, in silence, feeding the birds and enjoying each other's company. One thing that puzzled Ailee was that the animals showed no fear of Loki. 

"Did you charm them?"

"There is no need to. They instinctively know that it is not in my nature to harm innocent creatures."

But as soon as the words left his lips, Loki's smile fell and a pained expression ran over his handsome features. He quickly stood and wiped his hands on his black leather pants. Stating a flimsy excuse he left a moment later, leaving Ailee perplexed on a now barren rooftop, a small bird still sitting in front of her looking just as confused as she felt.

In moments like this she wished that she could ease Loki's pain. 

And then there were those other moments ... when she wished she could - do whatever to shut him up. It seemed that Loki could never resist to taunt and tease, and, befitting his penchant for precision and excellence in everything he did, he always had impeccable timing saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. One day Ailee threatened to tape his mouth shut with duct tape, which appalled him so much that he did not speak with her for the rest of the day - which served the purpose, but made Ailee feel terribly bad. 

For Ailee, Loki's presence was an emotional roller coaster ride. He seemed to bring out every emotion she had available, even the ones she had never been aware of. The only one she refused to allow to take form was her anger, it was the one thing that she feared to face. She was afraid of hurting others, and anger held a fire and force that she felt beyond her control. And it terrified her.

And then there was Magic. Practicing magic was just as exhilarating and exhausting as the presence of the god who taught her, but Loki was surprisingly patient and praised even the smallest success. While he was an excellent teacher with deep wisdom.

---

Christmas came around, and so did Tony's big party, which Ailee always looked forward to. It had become somewhat of a custom that Pepper and her went off to the spa together, then ate out in a nice restaurant before they came back to prepare everything for the big night.

“Let's get you a new dress, Ailee.” Pepper took a spoonful of her dessert, humming contently. 

“Really? What's wrong with the ones I have?” 

“They are nice but a little plain, I think you could do with some sparkle.”

Ailee smiled at her over the rim of her glass before she took a sip of her drink.

“Are you trying to indulge me?”

“I should have made more effort to spend time with you over the past months."

"I was busy too. Magic training is taking up a lot of time - and energy. It is quite exhausting. I need a lot of sleep nowadays."

"You know that you can come to me anytime if you are in trouble, do you?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Is he treating you well?”

“Loki?”

“Loki.”

“Why is everybody asking me this? Isn't it obvious that I am happy to have him teaching me?”

“I am sorry. I guess, some of us have not yet forgiven him for what happened here."

Ailee just shrugged. "He has not either, I think."

"You seem to get along well, what is he like?”

“He is lovely and annoying as hell.”

Pepper laughed.

“Sounds like someone I know. Maybe there is hope that they could get along one day.”

Ailee shook her head and grinned.

“No way. They are too similar.”

 

On their way back to the tower, they stopped at a small boutique. The sales lady greeted Pepper with a big smile and disappeard out the back for a moment to come back with a mighnight blue dress that was jewelled with different size glass crystals that reflected the light in a mesmerising way.

“This is the young lady you told me about?”

“This is her.”

A few minutes later Ailee found herself on a small stool, the lady adjusting the sides of the dress for a snug fit. Ailee stared at herself in the mirror. As if she was gazing up into one of Loki's illusions of the star scattered sky of Asgard. 

“This is so beautiful, Pepper.”

“I hoped you would like it.”

“It is otherworldly, you know. I love the stars.”

The dress was simple and elegant. Sleeveless with a waterfall neck, it fit snug around her waist and from there the fabric cascaded down her thighs to the floor. Ailee had never owned anything this beautiful or expensive.

“All done, my dear.” The lady straightened and stepped back to get a better look. “You look like a goddess.”

“I feel like a princess.” Ailee beamed.

Pepper gave her sweet smile and nodded her head.

“Yes, I think he will like it.”

Ailee gave her a confused look.

“Who?”

“Your prince.”

Pepper winked and pulled out Tony's credit card.

---

When Loki entered, the party was already in full swing. His gaze swept over the crowd, meeting Ailee's eyes for a brief moment, before he was distracted by a woman who leaned in to talk to him. The dark prince wore a Asgardian style waist-coat made of fine black silk, embroidered with silver patterns, a black button up shirt and black slacks. Ailee thought he looked more like the devil than a god. She watched him for a while, amused by how his attempts to get across the room where frequently diverted by someone offering him a drink, or some attractive woman shamelessly flirting with him.

“He is quite popular, isn't he?”

Natasha took the free seat beside Ailee, casually leaning on the bar while they watched as another woman literally threw herself at the dark god.

“The perks of being a God of Chaos - emitting fatal attraction.”

The red-head laughed at Ailee's assessment before she leaned over the bar, pointing her finger at the bar tender.

“You! Come here, handsome.”

She crooked her finger, beckoning him over. Like most Christmas parties, Bruce had taken his place behind the bar, because as a scientist and doctor, he felt at home mixing concoctions and studying their affect on those who indulged in them. Tea towel slung over his shoulder and glass in his hand, he obediently trotted over when Natasha beckoned, reminding Ailee of an overgrown puppy. She liked Bruce. Well, who would not?

“How can I help you, my lady?” He even offered a slight bow, before he braced himself on his elbow. Natasha smirked.

“My lady? You have been spending time with Thor.”

“Yea, seems we are bonding a little.”

“That's nice. After all, he is someone who could even handle the big guy.”

Ailee turned towards Bruce and wiggled her eyebrows.

“Really, you are looking for someone else who can handle the big guy? I thought Natasha quite capable.”

Bruce coughed and quickly adjusted his glasses and Natasha slapped Ailee's arm.

“Good god, that Norse Devil of Mischief is having a very bad influence on you.”

Ailee chuckled.

“Speaking of the devil.”

Natasha's gaze wandered over Ailee's shoulder as she watched Loki approach them. Finding the seat on Ailee's other side occupied, he straightened up to his full height and gave the person sitting on it a murderous glare. Much to Natasha's bewilderment it worked. They cowered and fled, so that Loki could slip into the now free spot, smiling innocently when Ailee turned around to face him. Natasha rolled her eyes. 

When she turned back to Bruce he smiled and leaned over the bar to press a quick kiss on her lips.

“Hm, how lovely." Loki purred. "The monster and the assassin.” 

Ailee kicked his shin, even though she doubted he would even notice it. She had learned that his body was unusually “punch”-proof. To her amazement she had also learned that he responded to each and every touch, no matter how light, if it was intended with care.

“It's Christmas, Loki, a celebration of peace. Just pretend to be nice tonight.”

“If that is what you wish, my lady.”

Natasha quirked an eyebrow and side-eyed him.

“You have been flirting too much."

"Are you jealous?" Loki winked at her.

"You seem to be quite popular with the ladies.” Ailee tried to divert the conversation, but Natasha was not going to let him get away that easily.

“Yes, it's surprising how under the guise of a villain turned hero you can fool people so easily.”

“Humans have a weakness and I call it sentiment.”

"You -"

Bruce interrupted Natasha before she could even start.

“Guys, it's Christmas.”

He placed fresh drinks in front of them and Ailee gave him a thankful look. Natasha nodded raising her glass, and decided to join Bruce behind the bar. Ailee could feel Loki's tension and without thinking she put her hand on his thigh and squeezed it gently. He relaxed immediately. She blushed a little when she realised what she was doing but before she could remove her hand, Loki's cool fingers settled on top of hers.

“You look beautiful tonight.”

It was the last thing Ailee expected to hear from Loki's mouth. Everyone else had paid her compliments, and yet, Loki was not one to comment on her looks, unless of course she looked too tired, or ill. He never paid her a compliment concerning her appearance, or anything really - apart from her magic skills.

“Thank you.”

He smiled at her. A genuine, kind smile. There was something in his eyes when she met them, a softness that made her smile and want to tell him how much she appreciated all he had been doing for her. He might be an ass more often than not, but he had proven – just as Thor promised – to be an excellent teacher. And a great friend. He made her laugh, and he comforted her when he found her crying on the couch or the rooftop. Loki seemed to have developed an uncanny ability to sense when she needed to be held. Then, he just held her, letting her know that she was not alone, whispering into her ear that he was there, that everything was fine. That she was safe. And she believed him.

Almost everyone had started to accept Loki's presence in the tower. Tony even thought that it might be worthwhile studying Loki's magic and considered asking him for advice on certain projects. Tony, who had asked her ten times a day how Loki was treating her, if he was behaving, or if he acted out of line. After a few weeks he calmed down, probably seeing that Ailee was happy, and since Loki had managed not to destroy anything or kill anyone, Tony let them be. Even though, she could still feel tension between them when they were in the same room.

 All this was going through her already light head as she gazed into the god's eyes, who finally broke into a grin.

“Will you tell me what is going on inside your head? I am very tempted to read your mind right now.”

“Don't you dare!”

The dark god chuckled, his eyes alight with amusement. That very moment the volume of the music went up and people started dancing. Mischief in his gaze, Loki leaned close. Very close.

“Where you enjoying such lewd thoughts that you are afraid to tell me about them?”

His breath tickled her skin, and the insinuation in his words sent a surge of warmth through Ailee's body.

Wait. What?

“Are you drunk, Loki?”

She pushed against him, pretending to be annoyed, but the slight blush on her cheeks did not escape Loki's attention.

“Would you like me to be?” He purred seductively.

“W-what?”

What the hell?

She panicked. A moment ago she had been tempted to pour her heart out to him, to tell him how grateful she was to have him in her life. And now - she just wanted to get away. Was everything only ever a game for him?

Loki pulled back in that moment, sensing her resentment, noticing too late that he had done something to upset her. Before he knew it, she slid from her chair and he quickly reached out to gently grab her arm.

“I was jesting, Ailee.”

To his dismay the glint of tears shimmered in her eyes when she looked at him.

“You're an ass, Loki. Just leave me be.”

The words stung.

But before he could say anything else, she had slipped from his grasp and disappeared in the dancing crowd. Loki sighed. Of all the people he wanted to run from him, Ailee was not one of them. He had even looked forward to tonight, because he rarely had the opportunity to spend time in her company in public. How was it that he managed to offend the most gentle person in the entire building? Loki ran his fingers through his hair. He should not have teased her, but when her warm hand settled on his thigh, something inside him could not resist. Something inside him had actually meant every word he said. He downed the drink.

"Banner."

Bruce turned towards him with a smile.

"Another drink, Loki?"

"I will have some of that ghastly whiskey."

"Sure, coming right up."

"Banner."

"Hm?"

"Just hand me the bottle."

–--

 

“Angel!”

Tony waved wildly above his head, gesturing her to come over, before he pointed at the person standing next to him. Ailee's eyes lit up when she recognised it was Stephen Strange. 

“Stephen! Hi!”

The tall man offered her a polite smile and lifted his glass in greeting.

“Hello Ailee. How have you been?”

Hm. That accent. Almost as nice as Loki's. Almost.

Oh, nonononono. Ailee. Stop. Right there.

God, the alcohol was really getting to her.

“I thought it would be nice to catch up with a fellow magic wielder, since the only other one around is a Sith Lord.” Tony said nonchalantly.

“And an ass on top of it.” Ailee added.

“Intriguing, as the singular of the word Aesir is actually Ass. Although I am not sure if you were aware of the word's ambiguous denotation. I would dare say both meanings befit the subject of the conversation.” Stephen deadpanned.

You laughed.

“Wait, you mean every time I call him an ass, I actually pay him a compliment, because it means 'god'?”

Norse God.”

“Ok, I will have to find new insults then.”

“I am sure Tony could supply you with a few.”

Stephen took a sip of his drink and gave her a quick up and down.

“How is your training coming along?”

“I can show you if you want.”

“I would be delighted.”

Ailee glanced around.

“Not here though, let's go upstairs. Do you mind, Tony?”

“Not at all, you two go and have fun.”

He winked at her and Ailee grabbed Stephen's arm to pull him through the crowd towards the stairs.

 

“So, I can summon things now – well, so far only small things – and I can create illusions. It takes a lot of energy to do it willfully, I never thought magic would be this exhausting. Loki said it will get better with practice though. It hardly costs him any energy to uphold illusions, because magic is basically in his blood. He doesn't think about it anymore.”

They had reached the lounge at the top, and Stephen smiled at the Ailee's perkiness. She kept talking as they walked, while a cup appeared in one of Ailee's hands, a teapot in the other. When they reached upstairs, she walked over to the bar and pulled out a small kettle from underneath.

“I know you like tea. Do you take milk or cream?”

“Milk, thank you.”

She nodded, conjured the ingredients and proceeded to make a cup of tea. Stephen watched with satisfaction that Loki truly was worth his weight in gold. The girl handled magic like drinking water. 

“The first couple of times I summoned things were funny, because I could not get them back to where they came from and we ended up with a room full of random stuff. Or I would put them back in odd places. Good thing is that I can still use my lack of skill as an excuse, like that time when Natasha found Loki's pyjamas on her bed and walked into the lounge showing them off to everyone.” Ailee chuckled as she remembered the murderous look on Loki's face. One of the few times she had paid him back in his own coin.

Stephen laughed softly at the thought of the God of Mischief getting pranked. He could not say that he liked Loki, but the god was an excellent sorcerer and much better suited to train Ailee than Stephen himself. The level of power that the girl's magic held was different to anything he had encountered on earth and he still wondered about her abilities as they seemed so closely related to Loki's magic. More as a routine than fearing a threat, Stephen kept an eye on the dark god's movements, mostly to keep Tony happy. 

“Show me one of your illusions.”

She handed him a cup of tea and vanished all the equipment back to their respective places.

A black cat appeared on the bar instead, gazing lazily at the sorcerer.

“This is the largest living creature I am able to do so far, but Loki thinks I am a quick learner, so he keeps pushing me to try larger ones. Objects are much easier than living things.”

A large armoire appeared in the middle of the lounge. Then a scooter. A statue. And a Christmas tree.

“I can do objects of even larger size, the stability of an illusion of living things is much harder to maintain. Loki blames it on me being human, of course. Human minds are so limited, ha, it's a miracle that I have not yet developed an inferiority complex working with this god.”

Stephen took a sip of his tea, his eyebrows raising in surprise.

“This is an excellent cup of tea.”

“I thought you will appreciate it. I have a really good Assam that I save for special occasions, but this one is actually -”

she glanced around, leaned forward a little and whispered “It's Loki's. I know where he keeps it, so I borrowed it. It's from Asgard.”

There was a glint in her eyes that made the sorcerer smile, it seemed that Loki had to watch his back with this girl around. She was evidently not afraid of him, and possessed her own dose of mischief.

“You two get along then?”

“M-hm.”

The illusions shimmered and disappeared as they moved towards the couch to sit down. Neither of them noticed that the black cat was still sitting on the bar, green eyes narrowed and tail twitching.

“Thank you.” Ailee said and glanced up at Stephen.

“What for?”

“For not asking me how he is treating me, or if he has been behaving. For not suspecting him, I guess. Everyone else is constantly on their toes, expecting him to – I don't know what they expect him to do - to kill me or something?”

“Well, he is a criminal as far as some people are concerned, and most of your friends share a history with him.”

“But maybe he would be less of an ass, if he felt more welcome?”

“Maybe if he made an effort to be part of things, they would get to know him."

The hair on the cat's back raised ever so slightly.

"If he is truly redeemed like Thor claims, Loki would be an asset to the team's skills.”

When Ailee put her hand on Stephen's arm and squeezed it, the cat rose to its feet ready to pounce.

“Loki is the best thing that has happened to me."

The black cat settled back down, dumbfounded.

"And it's not that there have been any bad things happening in my life really. But Loki is on top of the list, even Tony is ranking only second now.”

“You trust him.”

“He probably thinks that I shouldn't but, yes, I do. I have never told anyone, but I think he keeps me from having nightmares. They come so rarely nowadays. Most nights I am able to sleep through.”

Ailee did not feel the need to tell Stephen that Loki comforted her, because she knew how sensitive the dark god was about revealing such an intimate thing about him, but she wanted to tell someone how good Loki had been for her. With her. 

“He is my friend. And a precious one to have.”

---

The cat vanished. Loki appeared in his room, slumping down on the bed not so gracefully. He had watched Ailee drag Strange upstairs and decided to follow them, expecting – well, he wasn't sure. Maybe he had expected Strange to meddle with her mind, maybe he had been jealous, because he wanted to be the only sorcerer in her life.

The dark god sighed and let himself fall backwards onto the covers. As much as Loki hated to admit it, Strange was a good man, an honourable man, and that was why his little mortal had poured her heart out to him. She had an instinct for goodness. Watching her show off her skills with such innocent enthusiasm, had made him swell with pride. Thinking that he had almost ruined it by dropping his disguise. That he would have never heard those words.

He still remembered the tears in her eyes earlier this evening, and yet, in front of Strange she claimed that he was the best thing in her life?

Loki pinched the bridge of his nose hard.

He had not meant to hurt her. Maybe he could find a way to apologise? Maybe do something to make her smile?

You would be proud of me right now, Mother. The proud prince of Asgard considers apologising to a mortal. 

 ----

Stephen and Ailee had returned to the party and were mingling amongst the guests, when Ailee suddenly felt cool fingers wrap around her hand.

“Come.”

Loki's voice was right in her ear, but when she turned around, she found the space behind her empty. There was a tug on her hand, Loki wanting her to follow him.

“What are you doing? Why are you invisible?”

“Cloaked.”

“Why are you cloaked?”

“I was unsure if you would like to see me. The last time you faced me you – well, I – you did not look happy.”

“And you care for my happiness? That is sweet of you.”

Her words were sincere. Loki stopped and Ailee actually bumped into him, even it looked as though there was no one in front of her.

“Would I waste my time consoling you when you have nightmares, if I did not care for your happiness?”

Ouch. He really had a way of making kind actions sound overly burdensome.

Before she could answer, he started moving again, pulling her through the crowd until they reached the hallway. She followed her invisible friend to the elevator.

“Where are we going?”

“Surprise.”

“A good or a bad one?”

“Have I really been that ghastly?”

There was a slight tremor in his voice. She wanted to see his face, to see what mood he was in.

“Loki, uncloak yourself.”

“Not yet.”

The elevator doors opened and they slipped inside. The button for rooftop was pressed. Loki was still holding her hand.

When the doors opened she followed him onto the roof, where he dropped his cloak and stood before her in full Asgardian armor. She had never seen him like this. I made him look even taller, she thought, and more like the god he claimed to be. The breeze ruffled his dark locks and when her eyes met his, she noticed that they were lighter than usual. No, the colour was the same, it was just that he looked lighter … happy? Excited?

“Do you trust me?” His hand stretched out towards her.

Without answering Ailee placed her hand in his and earned herself a beautiful smile. She gasped when Loki suddenly pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her.

“Heimdall.”

Was the last thing she heard before they were engulfed in a flash of bright lights and her body felt as if it was being stretched out on a roller coaster.

 

Chapter Text

“Heimdall.”

Was the last thing she heard before they were engulfed in a flash of bright lights and her body felt as if it was being stretched out on a roller coaster.

A few seconds later it was over. She felt dizzy and a little nauseous.

Too scared to open her eyes, she clung to Loki's chest even when his arms loosened around her.

What. T he. Hell, Loki?

“Quite the opposite of Hel, actually.” He replied smugly.

“Are you reading my mind again, you a--, you abominable god?”

He chuckled against her hair and ruffled it affectionately.

“Only to ensure you traveled safely.”

“Traveled? Where are -?”

“Open your eyes.”

She squinted. It was bright. They stood in a large room with a golden floor, and walls .. well if they were walls - they seemed to be moving slowly and there was an archway that opened up to something like a bridge straight out into – space.

She gasped.

“Welcome to Asgard, little one.” Loki whispered.

Ailee slowly pulled away, looking around cautiously. Behind her, in the centre of the room towered a tall dark-skinned man with bright golden eyes. His gaze rested on her and when she locked eyes with him, he gave her a nod which she returned, along with a smile. Loki was surprised to see the corners of Heimdall's lips move upwards slightly, before the guardian turned his gaze to Loki and his smile vanished.

“She is mortal, Loki.”

“Observant as ever, Heimdall.”

“Your father will not be pleased to find her here.”

My lips shall be sealed, so he will not hear it from me.” Loki made a zipping gesture in front of his lips. “We shall not be long and you can keep a watchful eye on us the entire time, I will not hide us from your view.”

Heimdall regarded him for a while before he nodded in agreement.

Loki smiled at Ailee and lead her out of the observatory.

“Loki”, Heimdall's voice made him turn around. “The Allfather is holding a meeting with Vanir ambassadors in the Great Hall at present. He will be engaged for a while.”

The dark prince was taken aback. Was Heimdall actively helping him smuggle a mortal into the palace under his father's nose?

“Thank you, Heimdall.”

“Take good care of her.”

Loki shook his head. Heimdall's behaviour was – odd

“So, this is Heimdall? From what you've told me, I expected him to be much more serious. He seems very nice.” Ailee stated sweetly.

“Uh. Yes. Maybe he is - unwell.”

She laughed and punched the god's arm.

“He's nice. Just admit it.”

Right then they stepped out of the observatory and Loki relished the look of complete awe that transformed Ailee's face as she gazed out into the infinite scar scattered space that surrounded Asgard. Her eyes full of wonder and a smile widening on her lips. 

You are safe with me. I will never hurt you.

A memory flashed through Loki's mind and something twisted inside his chest. He pushed the memory away. No, he would not give in to the pain that was about to rise inside him. This was not about him. He was here for her. To make her smile and see her happy. To make up for all the times he had treated her callously and for all the things he would say and do to her in a future that was beyond his control. He had broken this promise before. He would never give it again. 

Loki's arms wrapped around her from the back and inhaled the scent of her hair. She was happy. That was all that counted right now.

“I cannot promise that I will not hurt you, little one.” He whispered absentmindedly.

She turned to look up at him and frowned.

“What did you just say?”

The god straightened, regaining his composure. 

“Nothing.”

Still frowning, Ailee's small hand settled on his chest, a gesture that Loki had come to crave as it comforted him instantly. Without thinking he put his hand on top of hers.


“Are you happy, little mortal?”

Ailee gave him a bright smile and nodded.

“This is the best Christmas gift I ever received.”

“First, I thought of casting an illusion of my Mother's Gardens for you in your room, but then I decided that it would never do justice to their real beauty. And it would be much more of an adventure to come here.”

Her eyes widened, the excitement in her voice made Loki laugh.

“We are going to see your Mother's Garden?”

“Gardens.

“Thank you.” She leaned against the stiff leather and metal that covered his chest, then poked her finger at it.

“This is totally impractical for hugging.”

Loki chuckled.

“Armor wasn't exactly designed for hugging. As long as we are here I am afraid you will have to grin and bear it.”

"If I must."

She released him and spread her arms out wide, throwing her head back to look up into the infinity of space and took a deep breath. It felt so good to be here. It was like coming home.

“Let's go.” she said, “I am ready.”

---

"When then rain is blowing in your face, and the whole world is on your case.

I could offer you a warm embrace to make you feel my love." 

(Bob Dylan)

 

The beauty of Asgard was hardly comparable to earth. The plants, the trees, even the grass seemed to glow from inside and a subtle, sweet fragrance suffused the air. Ailee had thought that she was leading a peaceful, but only now she realised what it meant to find peace. As soon as she had sat foot in Frigga's garden, it was as though Loki's mother herself was embracing her in a thick tangible air of peace. 

Odd, that you would find a place like this in a world that was ruled by a god of war?

"You are quiet. How are you feeling?"

Loki's voice gently lifted her consciousness back to her surroundings. After walking for a while, both had settled on the grass beside a pond with blue lotus flowers. Loki lay stretched out on his side, head propped up on his hand, watching Ailee who sat cross-legged on the grass next to him. She had not moved for a while, just sat there and gazed at the large azure flowers swaying in the gentle breeze.

"I feel at peace."

It was the only way to put it. In this moment, there was nothing she wanted, desired or even cared for. She was right here, right now. There was nothing else. 

And then she looked down at the god next to her. It struck her how beautiful he was. Not handsome. Beautiful. His eyes were sparkled like pools of crystal, the alabaster skin was smooth and flawless, and his black, soft hair seemed to shine even more than usual. 

Oh my god, Ailee. Quit it!

A mischievous smirk appeared on Loki's face. Ailee's narrowed eyes on him.

"Are you reading my mind again?"

The look on his face was a mixture of amusement and feigned innocence, as he dropped onto his back, holding up both hands in surrender.

"I swear, I did no such abominable thing."

He chuckled.

"You!"

Ailee blushed furiously and punched him in the side, which caused more damage to her hand than Loki's armor.

Loki laughed hard, and after a moment she could not help but fall in. His laugh was seriously contagious.

"By the Norns, the look on your face!" he sniggered. "I wish I could have taken a picture on your phone."

Ailee started punching him again, while she was in fits of laughter.

"Mercy, my lady." Loki laughed holding his stomach.

It was exhilarating to see him like this. To share an innocent bout of laughter with the god who often seemed so clouded by his own darkness.

Tears were running down Ailee's cheeks by the time she dropped onto the grass beside him, trying to catch her breath. Loki was still chuckling, but his breath soon became steady. 

"I really wish I would have read your mind just then."

"You are insufferable, Loki."

"And you are - lovely, Ailee." 

Surprised, she turned to find him gazing at her softly. Neither of them moved. He could not read her. But he could feel her. Somehow being here, at home, in Asgard, he could feel her. And he wanted her to feel him.

Loki moved to prop himself up on one arm. Eyes still locked with Ailee's, he carefully reached out to brush the tears off her cheek with his thumb. His fingers resting on her cheek, he leaned forward slowly and immediately felt Ailee stiffen under his touch.

"Shh. It's not what you think", he murmured before he gently pressed his forehead against hers, her nose touching his, their lips merely an inch apart, she could feel his breath against her skin. And then everything disappeared and images flooded her mind. 

A beautiful woman kneeling next to the pond, arms wide open to welcome Ailee inside her embrace. She felt the love that poured from the woman's heart, and the warmth that grew inside herself. 

"Mother!"

"I am so proud of you, Loki."

Ailee's mind pulled away slightly from Loki's as she recognised the scene as his memory, not hers. Even being aware of that, she experienced everything as if sharing his body, his emotions and thoughts.

The scene changed, they were still in the garden, Frigga sitting on a bench now Loki resting his head in her lap and reading. He glanced up at her as her fingers smoothed his hair. There was a lightness in his heart, and so much peace. 

The memory shifted again, now Loki was holding a wounded bird in his hands. Ailee's heart clenched and tears spilled from her eyes, feeling his worry and concern for the helpless animal. He was crying. Running to his mother he placed the bird in her lap. Frigga's hand cupped his face, bringing him instant relief from the pain he felt. Then his mother's hand hovered over the feathered creature, light seeping into the tiny body. It took a moment before the bird twitched, fluffed up and cocked its head. 

A wave of relief washed over Loki and joy filled his entire being. His heart opened wide when the animal chirped before it took off and disappeared in the sky. 

"Teach me, mother. Teach me how to do this, please. I wish to learn."

It almost hurt, when Loki pulled his own mind back, leaving Ailee unsupported for a moment. Then she caught herself, recognising fully that this had not been her own memories. It was an odd feeling to slip into somebody else's consciousness, seeing the world through his eyes. And the way Loki saw the world was so different. Intense. Filled with sensations. Loaded with emotions. It was awkward to come back from it. Back to her own limited awareness of existence. 

She focused on her body, her surroundings, the warm ground underneath her, the soft hair between her fingers, the warm breath on her skin and the cool skin against hers. 

"Loki."

Her fingers threaded through his hair, thumbs caressing his temples, while he still rested his forehead against hers, reluctant to pull back. When he did move, he hovered briefly over her face, eyes flicking to her lips before he closed them and pulled away to sit upright. Ailee followed suit, and they stared at each other for a moment. Barely contained vulnerability and fragility in the gods eyes.

He had acted on impulse. Had shared some of his most precious memories with her. What in Odin's name had overcome him to do this?

Seeing his gaze falter, Ailee quickly leaned forward and put her arms around his neck. Hesitantly his hands found their way to her back and he pressed his face into the crook of her neck as she pulled him closer, running her fingers through his hair and holding him in a tight embrace. Loki shivered. The grip on her tightened as he desperately held onto her. Ailee's heart broke when she realised that he was crying. His body trembling slightly as quiet sobs left his throat. All she could do was stroke his hair and hold him. He had done it countless times for her, but she felt as though she failed miserably in providing him the same feeling of safety and care. 

They stayed like this for a long time, when his body finally stopped quivering, Ailee moved. Fingers still entwined in his raven locks, she carefully pulled back, before cupping his cheeks and planting soft kisses on his face. His temple, his eyes, his cheeks. Her thumb stroked his cheek, before she pushed a wayward strand of hair behind his ear.

"Loki?" she asked softly and he slowly opened his eyes. This close she noticed the green rim around the clear blue irises, but even though they had just shared an immensely intimate moment, the look he gave her was unreadable. He swallowed and cleared his throat. 

"I should take you back, it is getting late."

She did not push him, just nodded.

Loki closed his eyes briefly before he rose to his feet. Sharing the memories had brought everything back to him. The shame. The guilt. The pain. The loss. That he had so carefully hidden behind a facade of spite.

The moment Ailee had touched him, his walls had shattered and behind the facade, there was nothing left of him. He was broken. In that moment Loki knew he would hurt her, just like he had hurt everyone else who loved him. Who he loved. 

He would destroy her because it was in his nature to destroy.

It was just a matter of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"They say it's what you make
I say it's up to fate
It's woven in my soul
I need to let you go

Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide"

~ imagine dragons, demons

 

Ailee sat on her bed and cried. She had looked forward to Loki's return but the turmoil of emotions that the God of Mischief had put her through since his arrival left her confused and rather despondent. His father had summoned him back for some kind of diplomatic mission. Loki had only been gone for a week, but it was as if a different person had returned from Asgard. One she did not know.

When Tony said that he knew somebody who could teach her magic, who had a dreadful sense of humour and a talent for getting himself into trouble, she had not anticipated how meeting the Aesir sorcerer, would fundamentally change her life, and ever since the God of Chaos had become her tutor he had been exceedingly patient with her. No matter how many mistakes she made, how many times she failed in her attempts to conjure illusions, Loki had only ever been encouraging. Not only that. He was someone she could trust and rely on. He gave her comfort, made her feel safe. He was her best friend, even something more she had hoped, but this hope had been nipped in the bud.

Life had changed dramatically in the last 24 hours.

It was clear that her feelings for Loki ran much deeper than his feelings for her. The feelings for the Loki she used to know. This new version of him that had returned from Asgard, was unpredictable, cold and heartless. Even though it pained her to judge him so. 

 “You allowed your feelings to distract you. You are human. Weak and vulnerable. You cannot allow yourself to let your feelings control you. I do not know why I have wasted so much of my precious time on you, when you fail to comprehend such basic things as controlling your thoughts and emotions.”

The thing that pained her most was that he was right. She had let her feelings get in the way. She had been proud of herself because she had finally succeeded in making solid illusions, while he was away in Asgard, and she had been eager to show him as soon as he returned. But when he did, Loki did not even take the time to say hello and ignored her completely until much later that day, when he showed up for her magic training.

This was her first mistake. Pride.

Pride comes before the fall. Oh, how right they were.

Loki's indifference had hurt her pride. She felt even more disappointed (quite literally) when Loki arrived and there were no tender words exchanged. He claimed to be tired and wanted to get "over and done with this". Of all things, Loki decided to teach her how to shield an attack. Blasting her with his own power, so that she would learn to use her magic to reflect it. The force of his attacks made her wonder if he was for some inexplicable reason upset with her.

That was the second mistake. Doubt.

Had she done anything to upset him? To hurt him?

Do you really think you are capable of hurting me? Don't flatter yourself, mortal.

Where did his complete indifference come from? Loki had always been interested in her advances with magic. What had she done anything to get in his bad books?

Do you think that I have nothing better to do all day, than to praise my little pet mortal's magic skills?

Third mistake. Insecurity.

She realised her insecurity stemmed from the fact that she had come to care for Loki, far more than she understood. And far more than she should.

Did you forget that I am a god? Did it ever cross your mind that my life does not revolve around you and your petty little world? 

His behaviour disturbed her deeply. All she could do was search fault in herself. Unfortunately she could not find any. She was not aware of what she had done wrong. But she could not judge him either, because it would make her angry. No. It would make her furious. And it would hurt him. She did not want to hurt him.

You have the audacity to think you are worthy of my undivided attention? Have you forgotten your place, mortal?

Her heart shattered.

And that was when she made the last mistake. The mistake of allowing her mind to wander, her emotions to flow untethered. A mistake that distracted her only for a split second. Long enough for Loki's magic to hit her, blast her through a glass wall into the adjacent room and destroy Pepper's favourite fish tank which was positioned right in Ailee's flight path. It would have been funny, had it not hurt so badly, and had she been able to stay conscious.

Hours later, Ailee woke up in the infirmary, dizzy and body aching all over. When she tried to sit, she noticed that even though she was sore, her skin seemed fine. She figured that Loki must have healed her cuts, because the last thing she remembered was lying in a puddle of blood.

“Hey Bruce”, she said groggily as he walked in.

“Hey. How are you feeling? You looked a mess when Loki brought you in.”

“Did he heal the cuts?”

“Most of them.”

She groaned when she moved her legs to get off the bed. Bruce shook his head.

"Why don't you lie back down and rest for a little longer?"

“Is Tony upset because I busted his wall?”

“Tony has been driving everyone crazy by pacing the corridor in front of this room for hours. That was after he and Loki had a yelling competition that almost made me turn green.”

“You're kidding."

"Tony almost summoned his suit."

"It wasn't Loki's fault.”

“Tony does not seem to see it that way, he is ready to send him back to Asgard. What in God's name happened? ”

“I – I got distracted. It wasn't Loki's fault, it was mine. I should have deflected his magic but got distracted.”

Ailee tried to stand up and winced. Bruce hurried to her side, grabbing her upper arm to stabilise her.

Everything hurt so badly.

“I have to go and speak with Tony.”

“No need to get up for that.”

Tony leaned in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest and while he seemed relieved, his face looked weary.

“Tony, don't send him back, please. It's really not his fault.”

“You are right.”

“I was thinking about something else, and I was annoyed and I forgot to deflect his magic when – what?”

“I said, you are right. Loki is pretty worked up and upset about what happened. Well, we both are. I don't trust him, but I think I can tell when he is lying, and I hate to admit that I believe it wasn't his fault. Apart from that, I know you wouldn't want me to get rid of him.”

He pushed away from the door and walked over to sit down on the bed beside Ailee.

“You almost gave me a heart-attack, angel. Don't you dare do that again.”

Tony opened his arms and she leaned into his embrace.

“I'll do my best. Thanks for not sending him home, Tony.”

 

From there, it all went downhill. 

 

“You are late.”

“Well, I am here now so let's start.”

The dark god did not look up. Just motioned for her to sit down, so she settled on the floor across from him.

“Focus.”

Ailee tried, but his frosty demeanour, let the confusion over her feelings towards the Norse sorcerer well up immediately. She did not like leaving things unspoken, yet she did not know how to approach the subject either. Before there had never been a problem speaking openly with him, but now she was insecure, and afraid he would hurt even more.

“I said, focus.”

Loki's sharp voice pierced through the veil of her thoughts.

“I am doing my best.” She grumbled.

“No. You are not. You are indulging in your feelings." There was a heavy sigh as he shook his head in displeasure. "We might as well call it a day. I do not have any time to waste with somebody who is unwilling to focus.”

Ailee felt her stomach drop, then she dared to raise her eyes and look at him. Frozen glacier blue was staring back at her. 

He hated her. No, even worse, he was totally indifferent.

There was not even a hint of feeling in his gaze.

What had she done to deserve to be treated like this?

Something flickered up inside her. Fire. Seething fire. There, she focused on that.

“That's better.”

The corner of Loki's mouth twitched and she expected him to break into a smile. Tell her that all this was simply one of his pranks. To her disappointment, his eyes stayed cold.

Ailee growled in reply.

After two hours, she had exhausted her capacity and lost focus. Loki rose. 

“I see you have enough for today.”

With that he walked past her and left the room.

No niceties. No kindness. No nothing, actually. As if they had never shared more than this.

Ailee stared at the spot he had occupied a few seconds ago, confusion running riot her mind again.

Was he angry with her? Did she annoy him? What had she done to make him hate her?

She felt helpless. Torn. Part of her was angry, yet another part was falling apart.

--- 

Loki closed the door to his room and leaned his forehead against the cool, smooth surface of the door as if it could help him soothe his soul. His hands came up beside his head, clenching into fists. He had almost faltered. Almost.

Seeing her exhausted from practicing magic was good, because it meant she took her training seriously. Seeing the hurt in her eyes and feeling her doubt, took all the self-control he had not to take her in his arms and assure her that nothing had changed. That he was still there for her.

But he could not. Seeing her lying in her own blood that day, had snapped something inside him.

Only hours before that, Odin had accompanied him to the Bifrost, seeing him off.

"A mortal's life is fleeting, Loki."

The Allfather was no fool, Loki had to confess to himself that Odin knew him far too well.

"There is no need to lecture me on the details of mortality, father."

"You are fond of her."

"And has fondness become a despicable crime in the realm of Asgard?"

"So, you admit it then."

"I had no idea I was expected to confess my sins to you before my departure. However, I am afraid I must leave you disappointed as I have no confessions to make."

"Loki. I simply ask you to consider the Vanic offer. The Vanir trust you as an ambassador it would be reasonable to go there. And the mortal girl does not require your assistance anymore. She has succeeded in creating solid illusions while you were here in Asgard."

"Have you been watching her?"

"I wanted to know what kind of woman captures my son's attention."

"Stop. For mother's sake, Odin. Stop meddling with my life."

"You are a prince of Asgard, Loki, and my son."

"Thank you for reminding me so very kindly."

"A liaison with Vanaheim would be appropriate."

"Not - not right now."

"Consider it. A mortal life is but a heartbeat. You will never be ready to loose her."

"Farewell, Father." 

He had left angry. Angry, because he knew that Odin was right.

Had he himself not used similar words to taunt his brother years ago? 

A few hours later, when he was covered in her blood, carrying her limp body to the infirmary, he knew that Odin was right. He would never be ready. He needed to let her go.

Besides that, it was her feelings for him that had nearly killed her. She let herself be distracted by her sentiment. And he would not allow her feelings for him to endanger her. Better she hated him. 

Loki slammed his fist against the door, denting it in the process. Why was she so weak? So helpless? If he left her now, she would break. And he could not bear the thought.

Why could she not just snap? Yell at him? Scream, rage? – do whatever it took to admit to her power. He was willing to take whatever it took her to hate him. He was willing to teach her this one last lesson.

Loki groaned. He was going insane over this. He missed her touch. He longed for her. He wanted her. Needed her.

Did she still long for his touch? His comfort? Did she still want him? An insane god, who was doomed to destroy everything he touched?

It did not matter. She would hate him in next to no time. He would leave. But at least she would be happy. And safe.

 ---

“Loki?”

The dark god slowly raised his head and she knew something was wrong when she met his eyes. But before she could react, he grabbed her by the hair and spun her around, closing his fingers around her her throat, using her to shield his body. Ailee rang for air.

“Let. Her. Go.” Loki's voice rang loud and clear, from the other end of the corridor.

There were two of them? The Loki who held her laughed.

“She invited me in, you know the rules. Only she can kill me." He laughed a hollow laugh. "She hates you now."

“What?” Ailee croaked.

“It is your own fault, love. You invited me into your life. And you gave me the key to destroy him forever, because he holds you very dear to his heart."

Loki's lips where right by her ear as he whispered the words.

“She means nothing to me.” The other Loki hissed, and the one who held her laughed.

“Then you will not mind if I kill her. Right here, in front of you? Don't fret, love, it will be a slow death. With a lot of pain."

“She means nothing to me. Let her go.”

“I have looked into her mind, lie-smith. I know the truth.”

Green light shot from the other Loki's hands and the blast knocked the one holding her back, enough for him to loosen the grip on her throat, but not without the green energy slamming into Ailee as well. She gasped at the impact. Then she felt something appear in her hand. One of Loki's daggers.

“Do you think your magic can hurt me, Son of Laufey?”

“Kill him.” The Loki down the hallway said.

Without hesitation, Ailee slammed the knife backwards and it plunged deep into Loki's torso with a blunt noise. He stumbled backwards and fell, dragging her down by her hair with him. Loki used his magic to tie him to the floor.

“Again.” He hissed and another knife appeared in Ailee's hand. “Through his heart. Put it through his heart.”

Ailee raised the knife when her eyes met the ones of the man lying on the floor before her.

The man she loved. 

“Don't” the Loki on the floor whispered. “He is tricking you. Please, Ailee.” His hand tried to touch her, tears welling up in his eyes. "Please."

“Don't listen to him Ailee. Kill him. Now.”

“Ailee. My love.” The fear and hurt in Loki's eyes were evident, and his face turned soft. His hand came up to stroke her cheek. Her hands were shaking. The knife was still pointed at his heart.

This was Loki, how could she hurt him?

“Ailee.” the voice startled her. “I cannot hold him down much longer. Look at me, Ailee.”

But she could not take her eyes from the broken man on the ground, a knife in his side, breathing hard. The man she loved.

Had she stabbed Loki? No. No. No. no.

“LOOK AT ME!”

She flinched as the voice sliced through her.

“It's an illusion. Not real. You must. Kill him. Kill me.”

But the Loki on the floor shook his head, eyes wide.

"NO."

“Kill me, Ailee!”

“I can't. Please, don't make me, I can't.”

“Don't listen to him. He wants to hurt you. I will never hurt you. I promise I will never hurt you.”

Loki collapsed onto his knees, panting, his seidr wearing out.

Ailee blinked.

She grasped the dagger with both hands and plunged it through Loki's chest, who convulsed in a cry of pain. The girl released the knife and scrambled back against the wall shielding her ears from the wailing as she watched Loki's body turn to dust before her eyes.

No. NO.

“LOOKI!”

Her scream pierced the silence that had settled over the room. 

Loki's hands cupped her face.

“Look at me, Ailee, I am here. I am here, Ailee.”

But her empty eyes just stared at him blankly.

 

Loki awoke with a gasp. 

 

Chapter Text

And I’d give up forever to touch you cause I know you can feel me somehow

You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be

and I don’t wanna go home right now.

~ The Goo Goo Dolls, Iris

 

 

“What's wrong, angel?”

Tony sat down beside her on the couch, a scotch in his hand. Ailee kept her eyes on the book she had attempted to read for the last half hour, while trying to calm her feelings at the same time.

“All good”, she said softly, avoiding his eyes.

Tony leaned back and took a good look at her before he sipped on his drink.

“So this is why you been staring at the same page for the last twenty minutes?”

She blushed and let the book sink into her lap, turning to face Tony. Her mouth opened to answer but closed when she saw Loki enter the lounge, watching him settle in the large chair by the window. Conjuring a book to read out of thin air he settled back comfortably. Tony looked from Ailee to the God of Mischief and quirked an eyebrow.

“Is Reindeer-games giving you trouble?” The question was loud enough for Loki to hear. “He has been in a rather foul mood ever since he came back from Asgard.”

Loki ignored him and Ailee got up to head for the kitchen. Tony was quick to follow her.

“If he did anything to upset you -”

“It's not him. He didn't do anything. It's just me, I am - I am not feeling well.”

“The two of you are behaving – awkward. I never thought I'd see the day I would be concerned about Loki's behaviour being normal – but I am. He is unobtrusive, inconspicuous and well, I might even go as far as calling him boring.”

Ailee ignored Tony, but by the way she nervously fiddled with the coffee machine, Toni could tell he had hit the spot.

"Since when do have coffee? I thought you preferred tea?"

"I have trouble sleeping. Coffee seems to work better to keep me going during the day."

“You know you can always come to me if he gives you trouble?”

Ailee looked up and gave Toni a sincere smile.

“I know, thank you, Tony.” After a moment, she sighed and turned to him. “Maybe I just need a hug.”

Tony opened his arms. Ailee wrapped hers around him and he held her tight, gently rubbing her back.

“ You are much smarter than he is. Don't let him get under your skin, angel.”

Too late for that.

--- 

Darkness. Complete darkness.

The ground underneath her felt damp. She could not move.

She felt helpless. Trapped. Alone.

A faint voice whispered in a strange language she could not understand.

Someone was there in the darkness. It terrified her..

The voice grew louder and Ailee squeezed her eyes shut. The darkness drew closer, pressing in on her with cold hands. She gasped, tried to scream, but no sound escaped her.

Terror froze her entire being. 

She was alone.

Abandoned. 

Alone.

“Shh. I am here. I am here, Ailee, you are not alone.”

“Loki?”

Strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her into his embrace and the darkness lifted. The dream shifted and changed. She was in her bed, cradled in Loki's arms who held her tightly. 

This is a good dream.

"I had a nightmare."

“I am here now. I won't leave you. I am here.”

She moved a little and Loki's hold loosened before he gently turned her around and pulled her back against his chest. Ailee could feel the heat of his body seeping through the thin fabric of her nightgown, it was as if all pain drained away in his embrace. One of his hands slowly moved down to her waist, gingerly roaming her hips and thighs, before it slipped under her night dress, coming to a rest on her tummy, the pad of his thumb gently stroking her skin. She purred.

This is a very good dream.

She nestled up to him, enjoying the warmth of his body and the touch of his hand. 

"Forgive me." 

It was the last thing she remembered before she drifted into a deep dreamless sleep.

At least in her dreams Loki was still her friend.

 

The nightmares stopped and gave way to dreams of Loki comforting her. Which made the time she spent with the real Loki bearable. Sleeping in his warm embrace every night gave her a feeling of security. It gave her the illusion that he cared, so when she was around him during the day she felt more balanced. No matter how cold he was to her, she would remember how caring he was in her dreams – even though it was only her imagination.

"Imagination is a powerful tool." Loki had once said to her, referring to its use in magic. Not only for wielding magic, she thought.

--- 

Since she only saw Loki for her training lessons now, Ailee had a lot more time on her hands and spent most of it helping Pepper and Tony with random things. After the nightmares ceased and she was able to sleep through the night, she took up her daily running routine again.

"Are you heading out for a run?"

"Yup."

"Do you mind if I join you?"

"Not at all, I doubt that I will keep up with you though, Steve."

"Really? You seem pretty fit."

"You too, considering your age!"

He laughed. 

"I will take it easy. Do you have a favourite route?"

"Just thought of going into Central Park."

The warm rays of the early autumn sun caressed Ailee's face when they stepped out of the building and made their way down to the park.

"I could take you to new ice cream cart, I discovered the other day. Think Loki would like to join us as well? I noticed he's got a sweet tooth."

Ailee's face dropped.

"Uhm, I don't - I don't know. I don't think he will be into it."

"Is everything ok between the two of you?"

She bit her lip. Of course, the others would have noticed. It's been over a week since Loki's return. When she did not answer, Steve decided to prod carefully .

"Is it because of the accident? He looked murderous that day. But I felt that he wanted to murder himself, rather than anyone else."

"What do you mean?"

"He blames himself for what happened."

"But it wasn't his fault."

"Well, the look on his face told me that he felt the opposite. Even Tony caught onto it, that is why he backed off in the end and let him stay."

"I - I don't understand. It was entirely my fault. I did not pay attention, failed to deflect his magic, that's the only reason I got hurt."

"He definitely looked guilty. And ashamed. Underneath all the anger that is. I was surprised myself to see him like this, but he felt terrible for hurting you."

Ailee looked at Steve as if he had just sprouted two heads. 

But he had told her that she was to blame. Her lack of control. Her incapacity to control her mind and emotions. 

"He hasn't spoken to you about it?"

She just shook her head. 

"Since the accident, we have been training together, but otherwise I haven't seen him much."

"But you seemed like - friends."

"We are. - were."

"You guys should talk."

"Not sure if that's a good idea."

They crossed 59th Street and entered Central Park. Steve did the pacing and he stayed true to his word and kept it easy. 

"I really think you need to. You have not been yourself lately."

Ailee looked away, watching some squirrels chasing each other over the park benches.

"I am sorry, Ailee, I know it's not my place to chip in my ten cent's worth."

"No, Steve. I appreciate your concern. He's just being - difficult. I don't know what happened, I must have done something to upset him."

"Don't blame yourself, Ailee. You're a wonderful person."

"Thanks. It's just that we used to be - close. I just don't understand what happened."

"You're not here to fix his problems, you know? He might even be beyond fixing. Have you ever considered that? He's not human, don't forget that."

He was a god. Ailee had imagined god as a loving, compassionate being. 

Ailee stopped and Steve slowed and turned around, looking stricken when he realised there were tears in her eyes. 

"I am sorry, I didn't mean to -"

She waved it off. 

"No, you're right. I am just so stuck in feeling helpless. I can't figure out what I did wrong and his behaviour hurts."

Trying her best to hold it together, she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her top. It was true, she felt so - powerless in the face of this. 

"Maybe the fault does not lie with you?"

Steve was pained by her distress, he had always had a soft spot for Ailee and seeing her cry pierced his heart. 

"Maybe he's not worth it, if he makes you feel this way, Ailee."

He stepped up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. She just shook her head and kept crying. Steve waited. When she calmed down, he squeezed her shoulder lightly.

"Come on, we'll skip the run and I shout you breakfast down at Brooklyn's Diner. What do you say?"

She looked up at him with red eyes. 

"Thanks for trying to make me feel better."

"The least I can do."

She laughed softly.

"Wow, not everyone has Captain America to save their day."

"Well, you definitely deserve him. Come on, a Bulldozer Smoothie is exactly what you need right now - and maybe some Belgian waffles."

That's how it started. And over the next weeks, they spent more time together. Steve did not hate Loki, but he did not trust him either. And the fact that he had managed to make Ailee cry did not exactly impress the soldier. She was like a flower. A flower should be appreciated and cared for, not trampled on. And while she had innocence and a rare purity of heart, she also had the helplessness of a child, and this was not always in her best interest. She needed to find some strength inside her, not depend on others for her safety and protection. That was why the Captain insisted on teaching her self-defence together with Natasha. 

Ailee enjoyed Steve's company, his concern and his care. It soothed her, and while she felt drawn to find consolation in his embrace and was flattered by the sweet compliments he paid her, it became clear to her that no matter how hard she tried to ban Loki from her life, the resident Norse God still captured her tattered heart. She had offered it to him long before she had been aware of it. Not only her heart. All of her. She was pained to admit this truth to herself. And she intended to keep it that way - to herself. She never wanted him to know, it would only give him more reason to hurt her. 

Six weeks had passed since Loki's return from Asgard and the situation between them did not improve, on the contrary, Loki seemed to grow colder every day. She hated herself for feeling so helplessly at his mercy. But then, she would rather go on suffering than face the painful truth of loosing him. It was stupefying. But she was lost in her own powerlessness. 

The only consolation she found was that every night, when she closed her eyes, Loki was there. Full of affection, concern and love.

Paradoxical. The further Loki slipped away from her outwardly, the closer they came in her imagination. 

 --

She nuzzled her face against the cool skin of his hand and Loki hummed contently behind her, gathering her closer against him. His arm lay around her, hand positioned so that she could use it as a pillow for her head. They did not speak much in her dreams. Maybe she just needed to feel him. She understood feelings better than words. Especially his words, that were often spiteful. In a way, Loki and her had always communicated best through touch and emotions. She gingerly ran her fingers along his arm and felt him melt against her. Ailee moved her head off his hand to take it into hers and placed a soft kiss on his palm before she let it go. 

Loki moaned softly against her hair. For a moment he lay still. Then he ran his hand slowly over her the front of her body. 

“Take this off, little one.”

He breathed into her ear, while his fingers ghosted over her hair and soft lips touched down on her shoulder. Ailee did not think twice when she pulled her nightdress over her head, discarding it on the floor beside the bed before she sank back against his naked chest.

Wait, when had he discarded his clothing? Hmm ... the perks of the dream-world. 

“Hmm, much better.”

Loki's voice was a purr, the words vibrating against her skin, as he let his lips travel down her neck before nuzzling his face against her shoulder. It was careful. Sweet and tender. 

His hand roamed slowly from her thigh to her waist, before it travelled upwards to tenderly cup her breast, gently tweaking her nipple. Ailee groaned. Loki chuckled softly and rolled her onto her back to carress her breast with his lips and tongue, while both hands were now free to roam her body. He proceeded to kiss his way down her middle towards her thighs, inhaling her scent, moaning softly as his tongue darted out to lick the soft skin.

“Loki."

Ailee gasped when he placed a kiss on top of her mound, before he slowly moved back up to claim her mouth. When his tongue carefully dipped into her mouth, her hands came up to his shoulders, nails digging into his skin. Ailee lifted her head to meet him the moment he moved on top of her. Loki parted her legs with his and lowered the weight of his body down. When their lips parted Ailee closed her eyes.

Another good dream.

Loki halted and is fingers gently closed around her chin.

"Look at me, Ailee."

His voice was strained. Their eyes met, just as Ailee felt him pushing against her entrance. Her lips parted in anticipation. 

“Is this what you want?"

Loki eyes were so clear.

She opened her mouth to speak, but no words formed. 

How could she even begin to describe that every fibre of her body was yearning for him? His touch, his taste, his scent.

Good god, girl, you must be really desperate to have a dream like this about the very man who tortures you with his presence every day.

Loki closed his eyes and his image faded.

No. please, that's not fair. Not fair!!

Ailee groaned and her eyes snapped open. She was in her bed. Alone. Staring at the ceiling of her room. It was early morning and the grey light of dawn seeped through the curtains.

“This is what I want”, she whispered into the darkness of her room. “This is exactly what I want. Oh God, Loki, I hate you.”

When she turned to her side burrowing her face in the pillow and became aware that she had discarded her nightgown. Groaning in frustration she let one of her hands roam down her body imagining his touch. The dream left her desperate for relief. When her fingers found her warmth, she was amazed how good it felt. How eager she was. So she brought back the sensation of his lips on her skin. His breath. His eyes. His voice. And pushed her fingers deeper.

The God's name tumbled from her lips as she found sweet relief.

 ---

Steve and Ailee had been out, running in the rain, and were completely drenched but laughing, when they entered the open plan kitchen that was part of the common area. She shivered and Steve rubbed her arms to keep her warm.

"You are freezing. Let's get you something hot to drink."

Ailee did her best to ignore Loki, who lounged in a chair by the window, sipping a cup of tea while seemingly absorbed in a book. But as soon as she saw him, she remembered the sweet pleasure Loki had been the object of just a few hours earlier, and she suddenly felt very self-conscious. She quickly turned around and braced herself against the kitchen counter. It was then that Steve decided to gently put a hand on her lower back as he leaned forward to fish two mugs out of the cupboard above her head.

Ailee was suddenly very aware of Loki's presence. Steve stood behind her, irrefutably closer than would have been appropriate for a friend. Loki's presence made her uneasy. Steve being so close felt wrong.

And yet, why did she feel bad? Loki had been nothing but nasty to her. It was not as if her fantasies about him were real. They were just that – fantasies.

Even so, when Steve's hand settled lightly on her waist, her stomach twisted. 

And even though the odds should have been entirely against the dark god, Ailee felt as though she was betraying Loki.

Damn this God. He's not worth it. Not worth it.

But something inside her told her differently. Something inside her wanted Loki to be the one who touched her like this, not Steve.

This whole situation was just as insane as the god she had fallen for. She liked Steve. He was good to her. He would certainly never hurt her. Not even by mistake.

There was no reason to feel bad because he touched her, even if he had ulterior motives. She was not betraying Loki. There was no one to betray, because for that there would have to be someone who cared for her. But Loki could not care less about her.

What if she was not betraying Loki, but herself?

Was she just using Steve as a distraction?

Ailee rubbed her eyes. This was all too confusing.

“Hot chocolate or tea?”

“What?”

“What do you prefer?”

“Chocolate.”

She smiled at Steve, but could not meet his eyes. He moved away to prepare their drinks. 

Steve was such a good person, then why did she long for the biggest asshole in the tower? Sure, he was beautiful, but looks weren't everything. 

Out of the corner of her eye she glanced over at Loki. Immersed in the book in his hands and taking a sip of his tea ostensively oblivious, he seemed unaware of what was going on around him. But Ailee knew him to be anything but that. If she had learnt one thing, it was that Loki was always aware of everything going on around him.

It was the Loki of her dreams she wanted. The sweet, caring god who made her feel good about herself. Gave her stability.

“Training room?”

Ailee nodded, then she looked at him.

“I will be there in a minute, I'll just go and change into something dry.”

"Sure."

Steve smiled, took the steaming drinks and disappeared out the door. Ailee pushed herself off the counter and shook her head. As she turned to leave, Loki's velvet voice made her stop in her tracks.

“Why do you encourage him?”

She turned and stared at the God of Mischief, whose eyes were still on the book in his hands.

“And why would I not?”

“Because you do not desire to be with him.”

Was it really that obvious?

“And how would you know what I desire?”

The corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.

“Because I know that your mind was absorbed in someone else's presence entirely when you pleasured yourself this morning.”

He lifted his eyes to hers and her own widened.

“And the name you moaned so sweetly over and over again was not Steve.”

Ailee blushed.

A whole tsunami of emotions crushed over her.

But instead of insulting him, yelling at him and slapping him for his indecency, she just turned and fled.

 

Chapter Text

I want to hide the truth,

I want to shelter you

But with the beast inside

There's nowhere we can hide.

This is my kingdom come.

~Imagine Dragons, demons

 

 

He had overstepped her boundaries.

He had invaded her mind.

Her dreams.

Her most intimate thoughts.

Ailee felt betrayed, deceived and violated.

And completely overwhelmed.

 

She stopped going to her magic lessons. She stopped sleeping, so that she would not dream of him. She withdrew to her room and avoided the others as much as she could, telling them she was down with the flu.

All along she thought it had been her imagination. Now she knew that it been real. Loki had been there, comforted her, made her feel loved. And yet every time he had faced her in the waking world, he was as cold as an ice block.

It had been nothing but a farce. A trick. A game. He wanted to seduce her. Used her.

She had never been so angry with anyone. Especially not with herself.

 

A few days after her encounter with Loki in the common area there was a soft knock on the door.

“Ailee, it's Nat. Can I have a word with you? I need to get something off my chest.”

Reluctantly Ailee opened the door to find the red-headed assassin standing in front of her with a frown on her face.

“So, what happened?”

“Nothing?”

“Is that why you withdraw to your room and cry your eyes out? You look terrible.”

Then Natasha noticed the dark circles under the girl's eyes.

“Have you had any sleep lately?”

Ailee hesitated but finally shook her head, feeling defeated.

“Oh honey, what is going on?”

Voice full of concern, Natasha stepped forward to take Ailee into her arms, who started sobbing quietly against the assassin's shoulder.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“Three days ago – I think.”

“And why is that?”

Ailee just sobbed but did not answer. Natasha sighed. She could tell someone had seriously disturbed the girl and she had a pretty good idea who that someone was. As she rubbed Ailee's back in slow circles, she envisioned all the things she would do as soon as she got her hands on him.

"Come."

Natasha put her arm around Ailee's shoulder and led her back into her room, pushing the door shut with her foot. She walked her over to the couch, and pulled Ailee down beside.

“Has he touched you?”

“NO!”

Ailee realised it had come out too quickly and far too loud.

"I am going to kill the bastard."

“Nat, please. It is not what you think – it's not -” Tears filled Ailee's her eyes again. “It's worse, because I wanted it. It is all my fault."

"I knew he would slip up one day, but I hoped for your sake that he had truly changed."

"I wanted him to hold me so badly, I thought that he cared -”

Ailee shook her head.

Why was she feeling so helpless again? She hated herself for being so pathetic. So weak. So helpless.

“Tell me what happened."

"He - he slipped into my dreams. I thought it was all my imagination. I wanted him to care. But he doesn't care - he - he hates me.”

“He doesn't hate you.”

“He does. He hates me because he knows that I have feelings for him. That I am weak.”

"He is taking advantage of this, but he doesn't hate you. You fell in love with your tutor, Ailee, that is normal. Him taking advantage of it, is a crime.”

“It wasn't really his fault.”

“That is exactly what I have heard countless times before from victims defending their rapists.”

Ailee pulled away.

“Please, he didn't...It wasn't like that. Please, don't do anything.”

“You want me to just sit around and be quiet?”

For a moment Ailee wondered if a furious Natasha would actually stand a chance against the god. Maybe she would at least be able to break Loki's nose - despite being an invulnerable god and all. The thought was surprisingly satisfying. Something stirred inside her. Something she had succeeded to suppress for a long time, because she did not want to hurt others. She had been afraid. 

"So? I would be happy to kick his ass for you." 

Out of the powerlessness that had drenched Ailee's being until a few moments ago, grew something new. She had been hiding like a coward. She had made herself small. Believed herself undeserving. Loki had tricked her. She had given him a power over her that he did not deserve to have.

Now she would take it back.

Maybe she could even break that nose herself.

Ailee sat up and wiped her tears away, a determined expression settled on her face.

“I will handle it."

Natasha cocked an eyebrow. 

"I can't always hide behind others or ask for protection, so I will go and talk to him." The girl looked straight into the assassin's eyes, the corners of her mouth turning up. "If I cannot sort it out, I promise you, you can do whatever you see fit. But make sure it hurts.”

---

“Look, who has finally mustered the courage to seek me out.”

Loki stood in the middle of the training room, hands clasped behind his back and a devious smirk plastered on his face that Ailee could not wait to wipe off.

“You have missed your lessons over the past days.”

In only a few strides Loki had closed the distance between them and stopped right in front of her. His vivid green eyes locked on her face.

“Have you also missed my warm embrace?”

She slapped him so hard across the face, that his head jerked to the side and before he could open his mouth, she slapped him again. Loki slowly turned to her, running his fingers along his jaw, a wide grin spreading on his lips.

“I see you are finally discovering your fire. It took you longer than expected to get there. You are so full of helplessness and self-pity, it is agonising.”

He spat the last words at her but caught her hand before she could slap him another time.

“Now that you know I manipulated you – do you hate me? Or do you desire me?”

Before Ailee she could react Loki caught her other wrist and backed her up against the wall. She felt his magic dragging her upwards so they were at eye-level and wrapping around her to pin her in place. Her feet were dangling in the air and when she kicked him, his body pressed against hers. Practically immobilising her.

“My touch, that you so sweetly desired only days ago … does it repulse you now?”

He leaned in and brushed his lips against her ear.

Damn this man! .. this god .. or devil ... or whatever he was.

The countless conflicting feelings that rose inside her rendered her speechless. As much as she wanted to hate him, she knew she was beyond it. She could be angry with him, she could be furious, but her love would never turn against him. She could never hate him. She could only hate herself for allowing him to mishandle her.

Answer me.”

“No.”

“No what?”

“No, your touch does not repulse me, Loki."

She could hear his breath stop.

"… and I do not hate you - I - I hate myself.”

It took a moment before he inhaled.

Good.”

He was incredulous. Fury swept through her again. 

What?!”

“It is good that you choose to take responsibility instead of hiding in your weakness, like a victim.”

Loki's voice was calm, all force had left it. Ailee side-eyed him, confused, her fire dimming.

“And it is good that I hate myself?”

"No. There is no avail in hating yourself. Just accept whatever you feel.”

His lips were still next to her ear, the soft locks tickling her jaw. She turned her head in an attempt to look at him and her mouth brushed his cheek unintentionally and sent a shiver through both of them.

So soft. His skin was incredibly soft. 

The anger she had felt a moment ago, turned into something else entirely.

God help me ... preferably the god presently pressing against me. No, no. He's an ass. He used you.

Ailee suppressed a whimper.

Why was he so unbearably confusing?

Loki exhaled sharply and leaned his forehead against the wall behind her. He was loosing his own game. To have her this close made him falter. He had tried so hard to make her hate him. To push his own feelings for her aside. Control his emotions. He had hurt her, made her suffer at his hands. And yet, even in her anger, she did not abandon him, even though she had every right to do so. He could feel it so clearly. 

She was a beautiful creature and it hurt him that he had made her suffer. It may be too late for him to redeem himself in her eyes, but at least he could help her deal with the emotions he had invoked inside her. 

“Your anger, your grief, your fire - let it flow through you. Let it burn. Do not supress it any longer, allow it to flow. Allow your magic to flow.”

Ailee could feel his magic merging with hers. 

“Loki, what - what the hell are you doing?”

“I am your teacher, Ailee. I am teaching you to feel your fire, to accept your emotions - all of them. Doubt, fear, insecurity, anger. All those things you fear. You are not helpless, you are just denying your own power."

He sniggered softly, sounding more like a madman than a god.

"The truth is, nobody can control or manipulate you, unless you allow them. Not even a god. You always have a choice. At least the choice of how you let things affect you. I was willing to teach you this lesson, even if it meant you would hate me.”

“You were playing with me the entire time!?”

“Everything is a game to me, little one. I create my own rules because I can break them just as easily. I am chaos constantly seeking order.”

Ailee closed her eyes. Trying to understand what he was saying.

“Feel it,” he said, “Stop thinking.”

And Ailee complied. She delved into her emotions. Into the fire that burned inside her – her anger. Her fury. Her wrath. Her lust. Her passion. She had been so afraid it would destroy her if she allowed it to burn.

"Feel it."

The fire brightened and consumed her. She gasped when she passed through it and was bemused to find a pure, solid power behind the intensity of her emotions. Solid peace. Emotions were an expression of this energy. Her pain came from denying it. 

“Whatever you feel, accept it without judging yourself.”

She closed her eyes. She felt him.

Loki. A ruthless tornado of emotions, an ocean of love, an uncontrollable wildfire.

Fire can warm you and give you comfort, but it burns you just as easily. She had longed for the Loki of her dreams, the one who comforted her, but now she understood that this was not who he truly was. He was much more than that. He was ruthless in love as well as destruction. He was a god. A god of chaos.

What had she expected?  But was she willing to accept him? Just the way he was?

Ailee took a deep breath. When she finally opened her eyes, Loki's were watching her with interest.

“I want you."

Her voice was calm and steady. Loki raised an eyebrow and backed off slightly. Evidently thrown off by her words, and she continued.

"I expected you to love me back, that was my mistake. That was why it hurt so much. Because I gave you everything. Everything I am and you tried to destroy it. But I cannot deny that I want you, and I choose to accept that now.”

Loki's composure faltered.

By Odin, this girl was truly going to be his downfall. Could she not simply despise him?

“I hurt you. You suffered. For weeks. I betrayed your trust, invaded your mind. Why can you not simply hate me? Is that too much to ask?"

"Tell me honestly, Loki, what it is that you feel for me?”

“Respect … mostly.”

“How can you treat me like you did, if you respect me?”

“You are so dependent on others. Dependent on me. I wanted you to abandon your helplessness. You have to be strong for what lies ahead of you. You have to claim your own power.”

She shook her head, vaguely aware that for the first time in weeks, they were having an open conversation. That this was her Loki, no matter how insane he seemed, how manipulative, and cruel. It had been him all along. 

“Did I imagine you in my dreams or were you really there?”

“It was not your imagination, you know that. I came to you, because you called for me.”

"I called for you?"

"I could hear you in my mind. I am a god, Ailee, gods respond to being invoked. Even though there are not many who would dare to invoke me. I could not abandon you to the terror you felt."

"Then why did you not tell me? Why did you let me doubt you? Why trick me? Why kiss me? Why take advantage?"

“I did NOT take advantage of you, neither did I toy with you. Will you just get that out of your head? I could not bear to see you suffer in your dreams.”

"And yet you did not have a problem to see me suffer every time we were together?"

"I hoped you would grow to hate me."

"Why? Why did you hurt me?"

Ailee struggled to free her hands, but Loki held her in place, nevertheless there was a hint of shame in his eyes when they met hers.

"So that you would forget me. I wished you to be safe. Ailee, you have to understand that everything I touch - that every time I care -  I destroy."

"That's an excuse. You yourself just told me that we have a choice!"

"You are human. I am a god. Do I have a choice? Can I turn you into what I am? I will live for a few thousand more years, and you - your life is fleeting. That day when you lay in your blood ..."

"You were the one who distracted me that day. It was your harsh words that made me loose my focus."

Loki averted his eyes.

"You were an unspeakable, horrible, condescending ... - I can't even find a word that is bad enough!"

"Forgive me."

His voice was but a whisper. 

“How? How can I?”

“Because you will find that I – I did not do these things to hurt you. I do not enjoy your suffering. You are - I have ... I have a weakness for you. You are my weakness. I have such affection, such a sweet longing …" His grip loosened, the pads of his thumbs rubbing over her wrists, when his gaze came up to meet her, his eyes were clear and deep. "Do you really not know what I long for?”

“Maybe I don't.”

"Then let me show you."

His lips brushed her jawline and Loki closed his eyes, inhaling the scent of her skin, before placing a gentle kiss at the corner of her mouth. Ailee leaned into his touch turning her head to meet his lips. They were soft and cool, in contrast to his warm breath and tongue that seeked entrance into her mouth. Loki let go of her wrists to cup her face, keeping her in place with just his magic, and when their lips parted, he leaned his forehead against hers.

But just as the images started forming in Ailee's mind, he suddenly pulled away and the pressure of his body against hers lifted as his form dissolved into thin air.

Ailee gasped as she was freed from the grip of his magic and landed on her feet, gaping at the spot where Loki had been just a moment ago.

Seriously? Right in the middle of sharing an intimate moment? He better have a good excuse for this.

“Is everything alright?”

Steve walked into the room and Ailee realised it must have been the reason for Loki's sudden exit, but she wondered if the God of Mischief was still around.

“Uhm, yes, everything is fine.”

She tried to smile and rubbed her wrists absent-mindedly. Steve came up to her, regarding her carefully, before he placed his hands on her upper arms rubbing them soothingly.

“I thought I heard you speaking to someone. Nat told me you were sick and worried about you, Ailee, if there is anything I can do, if you need to talk -”

She gave him a shy smile.

“I appreciate that, Steve. My life has been very confusing lately. I just need to sort my thoughts and feelings.”

She pushed away from the wall a little, but Steve did not move, still holding onto her upper arms gently, his eyes locked on hers.

“A few days ago, if my touch made you feel awkward, I am sorry. I knew he was watching us and I guess I was trying to coax a reaction from him. I am sorry."

And here she had been worried about how to tell Steve that whatever had blossomed between them would not work out, because of a insufferable dark god.

"You tried to trick the god of lies?"

The thought made her smile. Steve let go of her and ran his fingers through his hair. 

"I don't know what came over me. I put you in danger .. if he'd gotten angry ..."

She shook her head.

"I am not afraid of him anymore."

Something dropped on the floor with a loud thump. Ailee narrowed her eyes, trying not to smirk. Loki was listening – and watching. Did he feel guilty or was he trying to convey to her, that he did not appreciate where this conversation was going?

Well, tough luck, mischief.

“Yes, I was afraid of him. But not anymore. Loki can be an ass, he can be a real, insufferable scumbag, but he - he was teaching me a lesson.”

"Teaching you a lesson??" Steve shook his head in disbelief. “By making you afraid? By hurting you? What kind of educational benefit would that have?”

She looked at Steve for a long time.

“He is a god, Steve. No matter how insane he seems, he does stand above our moral values and beliefs and his methods can seem rough. He can also be terribly selfish, but he actually did me a favour. I - I understand that now.”

She meant it. In all the confusion of feelings, hurt and the insanity of Loki's actions, he had made her realise that she had been trapped in her powerlessness like an animal in a cage. She had taken the blame, had surrendered to her suffering, given her power away. Instead of confronting him, she had cowered before her own insecurity. Loki was right, she needed to find her power.

“He killed a lot of people and regards human beings as 'lesser mortals'.”

“I am aware of that too, believe me.”

Ailee rubbed her hands over her face.

“Promise that you will come to me before he hurts you again – and I mean not on a physical level.”

She searched his eyes, finding nothing but concern in them. 

“I promise you, Steve. Natasha and you will be the first ones to know. Does that ease your mind?”

Steve took a moment before he finally nodded.

“Please, be careful around him.”

"I will be."

"Nat's been looking for you, by the way. She's in the lounge."

---

Ailee felt Natasha's eyes on her when she walked into the kitchen area to make a cup of tea. The red-head was sitting at the bar eating a sandwich, and since no one else was around Ailee decided to get straight to the point.

“I talked to him.”

Natasha remained quiet, chewing on her sandwich, watching Ailee put the kettle on and proceed to get a teabag and a cup out of the cupboard, then search for some sugar. Finally Natasha huffed.

“I can still kick his ass for you, if you do not have the courage to do it. It will teach him better than talking.”

“Funny, you should offer that, because that was exactly what he tried me to get to do.”

Natasha's eyebrow went up and she looked at Ailee questioningly.

“Kick his ass?”

The kettle boiled and Ailee poured the hissing water into her cup.

“He intended to make me loose my temper, so that I would kick him out of my life. He is trying to spare me his presence, apparently I am far too nice for him and this world.”

Ailee offered with a sarcastic undertone.

“Well, even though I hate to agree with him, I admit he's more perceptive than I gave him credit for.”

Natasha took another bite and Ailee scowled at her.

“It still does not give him the excuse to seduce you.”

“Natasha, he did not seduce me.”

“It sounded like it last time we spoke!”

“Who is seducing my favourite little angel?”

Ailee turned to Tony who leisurely strolled into the kitchen. Judging by his ruffled hair and the Black Sabbath t-shirt he had already worn two days ago, Tony had not gotten much sleep over the last couple of days either. 

"So?" He asked expectantly. "Sounds like I need to kick someone's ass."

Funny how everyone is suddenly after Loki's ass. Well, there was no denying it is attractive. 

Ailee bit her lip and suppressed a smile at the thought, Natasha just rolled her eyes.

Tony's voice was light, but when Ailee met his eyes she could see that he was about to start a serious interrogation.

Nothing happened, Tony. Nobody seduced me, it was a … misunderstanding.”

He glanced over at Natasha to gage her reaction, but the assassin kept her eyes on Ailee, not betraying anything.

“You are under my responsibility, little one, so if anyone gives you trouble you need to let me know.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You are not a saint either, Tony.”

He held up his hands defensively and winked.

“I would never try to seduce you.”

“No, but you flirt.”

Natasha quipped and smirked.

“Well, there is nothing wrong with that, is there? When do you ever get the chance to flirt with an angel?”

Ailee slapped his arm.

“I am not an angel. Stop calling me that!”

"Alright, alright. You seem to be in a much better mood than last time I saw you, so I won't complain. Are you feeling better?"

Ailee nodded. 

"A lot better."

She fished the teabag out of her cup, squeezed it and stirred in some cream and a little sugar.

"So, does that mean that you and the Sith-Lord have sorted things out?"

"What?!"

"Your moods seem very 'interdependent' and I just ran into him on the way up from the lab. I must say his insults were balm for my soul. It's good to have the old grumpy god back."

Ailee just stared at him and shook her head.

“I think I should still kick his ass. Would hate to miss the opportunity.”

Natasha muttered as she left the kitchen.

---

Ailee was surprised to find Loki sitting by her door when she arrived back at her little apartment in the tower. He sat on the floor, back against the wall and his long legs stretched out across the corridor. His eyes were closed, but when he became aware of her, they opened. He did not move, just looked up at her from where he was sitting. 

"You understand the God of Chaos better than he does himself."

Ailee punched the security code in and opened the door before she looked down on him. 

"It is not in my nature to judge, Loki. Judging others pains me deeply and what you made me realise is that I do not wish to regard anyone as 'bad'. It destroys me. Call me naive, or weak or even stupid. I am not embarrassed to admit that I choose to forgive and see good in others. But that does not mean that I am willing to suffer - or get hurt anymore."

Loki stared at her, then gave her a small nod. He looked defeated. 

"I have been selfish."

"If you truly have respect for me, like you claim, the best way of showing it is to treat me with respect."

He averted his eyes, gaze falling on the hands in his lap. 

"And don't you dare tell me you do not deserve me, or you are not good enough for me, or that you are a monster, or whatever else you come up with as an excuse to stay in that - that place."

"What place?"

"The place where you go when your eyes grow dark and you look like you have committed an unforgivable crime."

He swallowed. His eyes wandering to the wall straight ahead. 

"But I have."

"And what pray tell can be so bad that not even a god can be forgiven?"

Loki exhaled sharply.

"I killed my sister."

Ailee just stared at him. Suddenly feeling afflicted for making light of Loki's feelings and she was not entirely sure how to handle what he had just told her. 

"And my father, but at least I did not love him." He leaned his head backwards against the wall. "Not even a god can find atonement for these crimes. They haunt me where ever I go."

Ailee's heart clenched and she reached out her hand to him. Loki took it and stood. 

God, it still surprised her how tall he was.

"But you are right. I should not use this as an excuse to hurt you."

She nodded.

"Why don't you come in?"

Loki hesitated.

"Come."

Ailee slipped inside and the dark god followed. She shut the door and waved her fingers to turn on some of the lights then she conjured some matches to light the candles in the lanterns that were arranged all around the room. Loki glanced around, finding himself enchanted by the softness of her chambers. They were decorated in light colours, and undeniably feminine. Vases with flowers and beautifully carved lanterns were placed around the room, there was a couch with far too many cushions - all in different shades and patterns of smoky pink and purple - along some of the walls were elegant cream coloured shelves, filled with books and small decorative trinkets. Crystals. Beautiful statues. 

He walked over to inspect a blue figurine that drew his attention. It depicted a cross-legged man on a tiger skin, a trident at its side. Intrigued, Loki ran his fingers over it.

"Shiva." Ailee had finished lighting the candles and came to his side. 

Loki gave her a questioning look. 

"The Hindu God of Dissolution and Chaos. Master of magic, shaman and yogi. I studied him to understand you better."

Loki turned to look at her. 

"You studied him?"

"He is a lot like you, apart from the fact that he is a lot more balanced."

"You have met him?"

She laughed softly, shaking her head at the innocence of his question.

"No. I think one god of chaos is more than enough in my life. I read books on him and went to the places where he is worshipped - there are quite a few Hindu temples in New York. You reminded me of him the first time we practiced magic, and when I heard that he was the Hindu God of Destruction, it caught my attention. He is intriguing, you know."

There was a look in Loki's eyes that she could not decipher. Disbelief? Wonder? ... Reverence?

"So are you, little one." 

He lifted his hand to bring his fingers to her face, but then just let it sink back to his side. 

"What is going to happen now, Loki?"

Ailee held his gaze, searching for an answer. He cast his eyes downwards and laughed softly, and she realised how she had missed the small dimples that appeared on his cheeks when he laughed.

"What would you like to happen, Ailee?"

"I want to feel you. I want to feel that boy who carried a wounded bird to his mother to heal it. The young god who enjoyed reading books while he rested his head in his mother's lap."

He opened his mouth to say something but she put her fingers on his lips. 

"I know that there are other sides to you, and for some insane reason I am willing to accept your flaws, because I know that they are part of you. But I also know that somewhere in here", her hand moved from his lips to his heart, "is the god who loves beautiful gardens, and feeding birds and roller coasters and candy floss. And I miss him."

Cool fingers came to a rest on top of hers.

"It is you who keeps him alive, but I fear that he 'comes with the package', as you so eloquently put it here in Midgard."

His eyes softened and his fingers intertwined with hers. 

"Yes, I have to admit, I definitely got a lot more than I bargained for."

Loki lifted her hand to her lips and placed a soft kiss on it. 

"Loki, I know I am just a mortal to you, but I need you to understand that I will not allow you to hurt me anymore. I expect you to communicate with me - it does not have to be with words." She took a deep breath. "And I am not entirely deluded by my feelings for you, so I ask you to be sincere with me when you grow tired of this - this affair or whatever you may call it."

His eyes widened slightly and he opened his lips to say something, but was not even sure how to reply to that.

Affair?  That was the last thing he would call it.

"You think me unable to engage in a committed relationship?"

"With a mortal?"

The words stung.

And yet, that had been the very reason for making her suffer in the first place. His fear of loosing her.

"Loki, I do not expect that level of commitment from you. I just ask you to give me a little warning, ok?"

"You are already expecting me to abandon you?"

"I just went through hell for a few weeks, so I guess it is natural to have that on my mind."

"I am sorry."

"I tried to resent you and it made me bitter, so I prefer to forgive you. It makes me feel better. But I am also cautious."

"And do I truly deserve it? Your forgiveness?"

"Today I realised that forgiveness is not so much about others. It is more about ourselves. If we cannot let go of the thought that others are responsible for our misery, we will always be trapped in our pain. You know that better than anyone. We can never be happy."

"You are a wise little mortal, little mortal."

The genuine smile that spread on his lips made her heart warm. 

"I missed you, Loki."

Ailee leaned forward and slid her arms around his torso.

"I missed you too, little one."

She sighed happily as she felt him nuzzling her hair and his arms came up to gently rub her back. They stood like this for a while. It was peaceful. Loki's magic flowed around her in a gentle embrace and finally merged with her own. She could feel him. No barriers, no secrets, nothing hidden from her. A whirlwind, no a tornado of intense emotions raged around her, but she had entered the eye of the storm. Where all was peaceful and calm. 

Walking the path of Shiva is like falling into a bottomless pit. You do not know where you are going, if it is good or bad, but you know you are going somewhere. Falling. The good thing about a bottomless pit is that you cannot hit the bottom. Chaos exists to compliment order so that there can be balance in the universe.

The words floated to the surface of her mind. She could not remember the exact words but they described explicitly what she was going through.

"I would like to try something."

Loki's chest vibrated pleasantly when he spoke and brought Ailee back to reality. She could not tell how long they had been standing in the middle of her apartment, absorbed in each others presence.

"Hm?"

"I would like you to try and get in touch with your magic. With the essence of your being. It is a ritual the sorceress of Vanaheim practice, called embrace of the soul."

"Why?"

"To help you remember."

"What if I do not want to remember?'

"I can always wipe any memories you do not desire to keep."

"Wow. That sounds like cheating."

"Darling, you are dealing with the God of Lies."

"Yes, I guess I should be more aware of that fact."

He squeezed her in response and chuckled. 

"Careful, little one, I have you in my grasp right now. I would choose my words wisely if I was in your stead."

Oh god, how she had missed him!

"Apart from that, I believe that you are starting to remember, Ailee."

"How come?"

"Your voice. Your speech. It has changed."

"Really?"

"You express yourself more eloquently, I admit that I find that rather attractive."

"Silver tongue."

Was it true? She had not really noticed.

"So, what do you say?"

"About?"

"The investigation of your magic."

"Well, what does it entail?" 

"You will need to face your darkness."

Ailee froze. 

"I will be there with you."

She could not even tell what it was that she feared, but just the thought of the darkness that engulfed her in her dreams terrified her. 

"I may not always be able to be there for you, little one. As soon as my father decides that my stay on Midgard has served its purpose, I will need to return to my duties. I would rather know you have learnt how to deal with your nightmares. Although, I will always come when you call on me. That I promise."

He kissed the top of head and closed his eyes. He did not like to think about this.

Ailee had never thought about what would happen when Loki's teaching arrangement was over. Hesitantly she pulled away from him, tilting her head to look up at him. There was a smile on the god's face, but his eyes betrayed the pain he felt. Loki furrowed his brow, before he pulled her back into his embrace, pressing her tightly against him.

  ---

Darkness was pressing in on her, forcing the air from her lungs. She could hear the pulse in her head. The faint whisper of a voice that spoke to her in a language she could not understand. She was frozen in fear. Unable to move. 

Focus on your breath. Focus on your breath and then on your magic. This is an illusion.

The fear made it difficult to breathe. She needed to get rid of the fear. 

Breathe. I cannot breathe.

Ailee forced herself to focus. Focus on the fear.

Face the fear with courage. Do not focus on it.

Maybe she needed to accept it, not fight it. A breath of air slipped into her lungs and she inhaled it greedily. 

Breathe.

Then her breath hitched as she heard footsteps in the darkness, he was coming closer and she knew he intended to hurt her. Take everything she knew from her just to abandon her. She felt a cold hand gripping her throat and as her mouth opened to scream, the darkness poured into her lungs, filling her. Suffocating her. Drowning her. 

Ailee sank into the darkness. On the brink of her mind, she was barely aware that there was something she needed to remember. She had come here to do something important. Find someone. She needed to find him.

Loki. 

With a gasp she sat up. It was still dark. Cold. The footsteps were coming closer.

“There is someone here with me, Loki."

“I am here. You are safe.”

“I cannot feel you.”

She held her hand out into the pitch black that surrounded her and two warm arms wrapped around her and pulled her to her feet. Ailee shivered.

“I feel afraid. Why do I feel so afraid?”

“Shh. Let it be. Surrender. Let go.”

A small spark ignited inside her heart, and a tiny flame flared up.

“Something is happening.”

“Let it happen.”

Flames grew and flickered upwards inside her. Not hot, but soothing golden light that spiralled upwards through her body. Instinctively she raised her arms above her head and felt Loki's grip loosen as he stepped away from her. The golden light ascended through her head, when a surge of white flooded her from above and for a few moments she was lost in swirls and sparkles of white and gold fire that engulfed her completely. Then she felt a tug between her shoulder blades and a pair of giant white wings unfolded.

Ailee gasped.

“This is who you truly are.”

Loki voice was laced with reverence and awe.

When she turned to look at him, his face glowed with a golden hue and he offered her a genuine, soft smile.

“What am I?”

“You are beautiful.” Loki whispered.

Chapter Text


I kept the right ones out and let the wrong ones in.

Had an angel of mercy to see me through all my sins. 

There were times in my life, when I was going insane, trying to walk through the pain.

 

It's amazing within the blink of an eye you finally see the light.

 It's amazing when the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright.

~ Aerosmith, Amazing

 

She opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling of her dark room. With a sigh Ailee rubbed her face and pulled the sheet around her, rolling onto her side she glanced at the clock on the bedside table.

3am.

Her heart sank a little. He said he would come. If she wanted him.

Maybe she had not made herself clear enough?

She yawned. She was too tired to even be angry with him. He was probably still in the lab with Tony.

After their magical excursion into the dark depths of her being, which had exhausted her badly, Loki insisted on cooking dinner. And even though Ailee insisted that she was not that exhausted, Loki had carried her to the kitchen and placed her on the kitchen counter beside him, while he prepared the food. The God of I-do-what-I-want-and-of-course-I-am-excellent-at-whatever-I-do was indeed an exceptionally good cook. A talent he tried to keep hidden from the other occupants of the tower, claiming that he would end up slaving away in the kitchen all the time, feeding mortals. He made it a point to express how appalling this thought was. Ailee assured him that nobody was keen on having a cranky, old god as their kitchen maid anyway - no matter how good the food was.

"So, I am old and cranky now, yes?"

"No, Loki, you have always been old and cranky."

"Your mouth is far too big for someone so small. Why not make yourself useful and help?"

Ailee leaned forward and stole a cherry tomato out of the frying pan, blowing on it before she popped it in her mouth. Loki scowled at her teasingly. She shrugged.

"I am helping. I am sampling the food. So far it is delicious."

She grinned. There was a glint in Loki's eyes, before he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. It was a chaste and soft kiss, and over so quickly that it left Ailee completely stunned. 

"Lost your tongue, little mortal? Be thankful that your god found use for you. You sample my food, I sample you. So far you are delicious."

Ailee regained her composure and slapped his arm.

"My, my. Where does all this aggression come from? We need to work on releasing that." Loki chided, shaking his head.

"You are insufferable."

"Yes", he sighed dramatically, "I hear that all the time."

Loki divided the food on two plates and sat them on the table, before he rinsed the pots and pans, dried them and put them back in the cupboard. Ailee regarded him with a smile on her lips. As he moved around, a tea towel slung over his shoulder, performing such mundane tasks as cooking and doing the dishes - he looked perfectly domestic and she felt a warmth grow in her chest. She was still watching him intently, when Loki sat down next to her, sprinkled some parmesan over his food with his fingers and proceeded to lick the remnants of the cheese of his thumb. Not without humming approvingly. He looked up at Ailee.

"What?"

"I just realised that you are not only a drama queen, you are also a domestic goddess."

Glancing innocently at the god she put a forkful of food in her mouth. Loki narrowed his eyes at her.

"Insolent little creature."

He leaned forward over the table towards her, but quickly drew back as Tony walked into the kitchen.

"Hm. That smells divine. Who's cooking dinner?"

"There is only enough for two, Stark."

Tony placed his hand over his heart.

"It pains me that you did not think to invite me, Darth." Loki shot him a glare and Tony raised an eyebrow. "Apart from that, I was unaware that gods needed to eat. Don't you live on light or something?"

Loki rolled his eyes, and Ailee chuckled. 

"You can share mine, if you like, it is delicious." She offered and earned a dark glare from Loki.

"You need to eat to regain your strength, he is well capable of organising his own food." 

Tony smiled at her.

"I was joking, angel. I ordered some Shawarma for Bruce and me." 

Ailee shrugged and Tony walked over to ruffle her hair, pleased to see Loki's eyes darken dangerously. He still did not like the god, but Loki was definitely growing on him, especially when he was all protective about the girl. 

"Loki, would you mind coming down to the lab after dinner and look at something that Bruce and I are working on? I'd appreciate to hear your ten cents worth."

Loki looked at him, mildly confused. 

"To have your opinion on it. Maybe we could even test it?"

"Is it a weapon?"

Tony cleared his throat. 

"The use of it is yet to be determined."

Loki did not look happy, but he nodded nevertheless. He should not have shared so much of his knowledge with Stark, the man was smart and worked hard, but Loki did not trust him. Well, at least he would know how the technology worked, so that he could find ways to manipulate it if he needed to. Tony made himself a coffee while Ailee and Loki ate in silence. After dinner the dark god excused himself and was about to disappear to the lab, when Ailee grabbed his arm. 

"Will you come and stay tonight?"

He searched her eyes before he leaned forward to brush a kiss on her forehead.

"If you want me. Now go and get some sleep, you need to recover."

 

3am.

Ailee turned over and groaned. 

Just tell yourself he is still in the lab. It's easier.

“Are you actually serious about this? Or did you just seduce me because you were bored?” She muttered into her pillow.

Maybe it was better this way. Take it slow. However, having shared her bed with him for weeks, it was awkward not to feel him by her side. Empty. Maybe he was right, maybe she had grown too dependent on him. And yet, as much as she longed for him, the thought of having him next to her also made her nervous. They were not just going to cuddle if he joined her tonight. 

At least that's what I hope.

Just thinking about his touch made her shiver.

"God of Seduction." She murmured and sighed. A title that evidently needed to be added to his multifarious epithets.

"Or maybe the God of Lies had suddenly developed a conscience? Was that even possible?"

Don't think about him. It's only going to make it worse.

"Oh, Loki, you are driving me insane. Why not just come and get over and done with it?"

She groaned loudly and buried her face in the pillow. A low chuckle came from behind her and Ailee felt the bed dip a little as he climbed onto it. 

"I was simply awaiting your consent to join you, little swan."

Right, he always had an excuse ready, didn't he?

"You never bothered to ask my consent to share my bed before, oh god of false propriety."

His hand came to a rest on her waist, thumb caressing her skin through the sheet. 

"There was no need to ask."

He nuzzled her ear, before he brushed her hair aside to place a kiss on her neck.

"Why not?"

"Because you were not aware of your true nature. As long as you are unaware, a god has every right to do as he sees fit with you, little mortal."

She turned around, facing a very mischievous looking god who had a large grin plastered on his face.

"Has anyone ever told you that you are a narcissistic god with a superiority complex?"

"Now that you mention it ... No.  But I have been accused of being insanely smart and incredibly good looking."

Loki's eyes radiated affection as she laughed softly.

"I have missed you, Mischief."

She cupped his cheek, and watched as Loki closed his eyes relishing her touch.

"Did you really wait for my consent?"

"I did. You have experienced your soul, your true nature, I would commit an offence against the cosmic law if I came to you without your consent."

"When have you ever been one to respect the law?"

"I uphold it every time I break it." He quipped.

Ailee chuckled. 

"That is one way of looking at it."

"Not having your permission would be equal to forcing myself upon you." The smile faded as he lowered his head to kiss her collarbone. "I would never wish to do that. Seducing you is so much more satisfying."

He whispered the words against her skin, lips brushing over her neck as he spoke, making Ailee purr.

"And I will never purposefully hurt you again." He sank his teeth into the spot where her shoulder met her neck and Ailee cried out in surprise and pain. Loki's tongue soothed the tender flesh. "Unless, of course, it is combined with pleasure."

She shivered.

Maybe those Norse religions had it all wrong. Maybe he was the devil after all?

Loki's hand traveled from her waist upwards and pulled the sheet down to expose her naked form. 

"You do not feel the necessity to cover yourself with garments anymore? So much better." He purred as he moved her onto her back and placed a kiss between her breasts. 

"I know you prefer it. I hoped to lure you in."

"Seductress." He growled as he moved his lips along the curve of her breast, tongue and teeth caressing her nipple a moment later, leaving Ailee moaning and threading her fingers into his hair.

"Not such a little angel after all." Loki purred. "Stark would be shocked."

Ailee tightened her grip and pulled his hair to tilt his head up and make him look at her, Loki could not hold back a little moan as she asserted herself.

"Have you been eaves dropping on our conversations?"

"It is no secret that Stark is overly protective of you. As is everyone else, and since they are not overly fond of me, it gives me a reason to reign in my own needs and desires when it comes to you, little swan."

"Why would you care about what others think?"

"I do not." She let him go and he scraped his teeth over her shoulder, emitting a noise between a purr and a moan, before he kissed the spot. "But I care about you."

"What is so special about me that everyone is so protective? Why would a god like you care at all for someone like me?"

Loki did not answer. Instead he sealed her lips with his. Nudging them open and pushing his tongue against hers, engaging Ailee in a kiss that brought heat to all the right places.

"Enough talking, little swan."

He pulled away, sitting up to drag the sheet off her completely. She shivered when the cool air hit her skin. Loki's eyes seemed to glow red for a moment. Ailee blinked. She had imagined it for sure. Before she could pursue the thought, the god in her bed started to trail kisses down her body and forced her mind to abandon all coherent thought. Sinking his teeth into the soft skin of her belly, he moaned, and Ailee instinctively pushed her hips upwards. Loki took the opportunity to slide his hands under her back, squeezing her buttocks as he kissed his way further down.

"Loki." She gave his hair a sharp pull. The god yielded and let her guide him back to her face, bracing himself on his elbows to keep his weight off her, he searched her eyes.

"I - I have never done this before. At least, I cannot remember it."

Loki's eyes, that had been full blown dark with desire, softened instantly and a comforting smile graced his lips. He placed a soft kiss on Ailee's lips.

"Do you trust me?" 

She nodded.

He moved, gently pushing her legs apart with one hand, while lowering his body between them, all the while holding her gaze. Ailee gasped when she felt his hand glide between her legs and he gave her a mischievous smile before he dipped his head to suck and lick her breast as he pushed his fingers inside her. It did not take long for Ailee to melt under his skilled touch, softly moaning his name over and over. Loki carefully extracted his fingers, hooked his hand under her knee and lifted her leg over his hip. Ailee's fingers dug into his shoulders when she felt a soft nudge at her entrance. She bit her lip as she looked up at him, and Loki brushed his lips over her cheek, cupping her face tenderly with one hand as he pushed into her. 

The god hissed, more from pleasure than pain, when her fingers entangled tightly in his hair. Ailee pulled him towards her for a kiss, and he eagerly met her tongue, groaning as he edged forward until he was fully sheathed inside her warmth. He stilled and took a deep breath.

Loki had not realised that he had closed his eyes, until he opened them to see a sweet smile on her lips and soft eyes gazing up at him affectionately. There was such passion in her gaze, and yet, the fire was mixed with a sweet warmth that brought about a sensation within the dark god that he had not felt for a long time. Peace

You may be my undoing, little swan. But you are worthwhile every single moment that is given to us. 

“Are you happy?”


Ailee had no idea why the question suddenly sprang to her mind and she immediately felt silly for asking, but Loki's gaze softened and he leaned down to kiss her and his deep voice purred against her lips.


“I am, little swan.”


Then he started moving in slow deliberate thrusts, and Ailee lost touch with the world around her. 

*** 

"it is your innocence, little light."

"Hm?"

It was all she could articulate, as she snuggled closer against his chest. She felt utterly exhausted. In a good way.

"Your innocence is what makes the others so protective of you. It is a rare and precious thing. Not only in this world." 

"Hm." 

"It drew me to you from the beginning. It is what I wished to protect, before I would get a chance to destroy it."

Now she moved her head, propping it on her hand to look at him.

"Do not flatter yourself. You do not have an absolute monopoly on destruction."

Loki raised his head to regard her, there was a sleepy but mischievous smile playing on her lips. 

"You dare to challenge me, little mortal?" His voice was soft.

"Always."

Loki huffed, then he chuckled and Ailee purred and stretched out over his chest like a cat. He placed a kiss on top of her head.

"My little light."

"Why do you call me so?"

"It is what your name means, is it not?"

"True."

She nuzzled him and burrowed her nose in the crook of his neck, placing her arms around him in a gentle embrace.

"You are not entirely not innocent either, you know." She breathed softly against his skin.

"I wish." Loki heaved a sigh.

"No brooding over the past tonight, Mischief." Ailee yawned. "Just go to sleep."

"As you command, my lady."

Ailee opened her mouth, but then decided otherwise. She was too sleepy to actually muster a snarky reply and a few moments later she dozed off.

***

 

Loki lay awake, absent-mindedly playing with the girl's hair and relishing the feel of her warm body splayed over his chest.

So, she was a Valkyrie, a Swan Maiden. It was impossible to mistake those wings for anything else.

Only the purest souls were chosen to become winged warrior maidens, many of them had been lost in the Great War, and even fewer came to be initiated after it. The few Valkyries that were left graced the halls of Valhalla and rarely came to the Palace of Asgard.

Curious little boy he was, Loki once secretly watched an inauguration ceremony held in the Golden Hall. As the warrior maidens knelt before the Allfather to accept their duty, their wings unfolded under his touch, radiating a power and beauty that left the young dark god mesmerised. Never had he witnessed such beauty. Such purity. Such power. 

Valkyries were magnificent creatures.

And here he was, holding one in his arms.

A Valkyrie in human form. 

Loki had heard about it, of course, the stories of swan maidens sacrificing their immortality in favour of a mortal lover. And yet he never understood how such beautiful, powerful creatures could be drawn to those weak mortals.

Did Ailee have a mortal lover somewhere? Someone she had sacrificed her existence in the Realm Eternal for? Someone she had lost together with her memory? 

Was that who she searched for in her dreams?

Loki closed his eyes as his heart contracted.

Would she return to her lover if she regained her memory?

Was a mortal truly worthy of her?

Was there a way to bring her back to Asgard? To ask Odin ...

Loki, get a grip. Odin is not going to help you. The Allfather wants you to liaise with Vanaheim ... as more than just an ambassador.

A soft, content sigh escaped the sleeping girl and pulled Loki out of his thoughts, conjuring an involuntary smile on the god's face. If he was honest with himself, he had never minded her mortality. He had to admit that he even started to admire how humans existed with such limited awareness of time and space in a universe of manifold worlds.

It had been Ailee's innocence, her sweetness, and her pure heart that had drawn the dark god to her, just as it seemed to draw in everyone else. Maybe she truly had a connection with Tara. The thought pained him less than he expected. Ever since Ailee, in spite of knowing his crimes, had welcomed him into her apartment the day before, Loki's heart had lightened. He had believed that the Norns had cursed him by bringing a mortal girl into his life, who reminded him in so many ways of his beloved sister. Now he wondered if it was a blessing really. A second chance. Maybe even an opportunity to heal those broken parts of him. 

He dared not to admit it, but Loki desperately wished for it to be so.  

 

Chapter Text

I'll be your dream, I'll be your wish, I'll be your fantasy,

I'll be your hope, I'll be your love, be everything that you need.

I love you more with every breath, truly, madly, deeply do.

I will be strong, I will be faithful, 'cause I'm counting on a new beginning,

A reason for living, a deeper meaning.

~Savage Garden; truly, madly, deeply

 

 

"Do you not truly feel the gravity of your crimes? Wherever you go there is war, ruin and death!  And all this because Loki desires a throne."

"It is my birthright!"

"Your birthright was to die! Cast out on a frozen rock. If I had not taken you in, you would not be here now to hate me."

"If I am for the axe, then, for mercy's sake, just... swing it!"' 

 

Loki opened his eyes and blinked, unable to recognise his surroundings for a moment. Shear cream and gold curtain swayed in the soft morning breeze, partly covering a large window that revealed the faint blue morning sky. He rubbed his eyes, the memory of the dream still lingering in his mind.

By the Norns, why were these memories still haunting him?

The subtle fragrance of Lillies rose to his nose and he looked down at the girl resting peacefully in his arms. Her complete trust in him was unfathomable and downright comforting. He pulled her closer to him and buried his face in her hair. He did not want to go back to sleep. He would simply lie here and take pleasure in her presence. There was nothing else he desired in this moment.

 

Ailee woke feeling Loki's warm chest pressed against her back. Their legs were tangled in the sheets and his arm draped around her in a secure embrace that tightened when she stirred

"Good morning, little swan", he whispered sweetly and nuzzled her neck. She heard him inhale deeply as he buried his face in her hair. It made her smile.

"Where is Loki and what have you done to him? Your affection scares me."

He chuckled and pulled her closer.

"I know I can be terrifying at times, but I can assure you that you have no reason to fear me."

She turned around in his arms, brushing a couple of dark locks out of his face, and furrowed her brow.

"You look like him. You smell like him. But Loki is an arrogant ass, so you could not possibly be him."

Before she knew it, Loki had her on her back, both wrists pinned down on the mattress next to her head. The glint in his eyes told her she was in for trouble.

"If you insist on insulting your god first thing in the morning, I may have to consider administering an appropriate punishment for your insolence."

"My god?"

"Your god."

Ailee smiled smugly at him. 

"Loki, my Ass.” She said, her voice was exceedingly sweet and Loki growled dangerously. “As in Loki, my Norse God, of course.”

She chuckled and the God presently hovering above her, presented her with one of his most devious smiles.

Challenge accepted.

"I see that I have been far too lenient with you. And I will have to have a word with that sorcerer next time I see him."

Ailee grinned before she pushed her hips up and slid one of her legs over his thigh. It had the desired effect.

Loki's mouth came down on hers, tongue invading her greedily, while the grip on her wrists tightened. The kiss was messy. So different from the gentleness of the last night. Ailee moaned approvingly and Loki moved his body, so that his naked chest rubbed against her breasts, smooth skin brushing over hers. She started writhing impatiently under him.

“Let me go, I want to touch you.” She was breathing heavily when their lips finally parted.

“Must I remind you that a god does not yield to the demands of a mortal, but that it is supposed to be the other way around?”

With that he brought her wrists together above her head, and she felt something wrap around them, keeping them in place when Loki removed his hands.

Magical fetters? That wasn't fair.

Ailee scowled at him and tried to pull her hands free. Loki leaned back to admire his handiwork, the sly smile widening while his eyes darkened with desire.

Oh, how badly she wanted to touch him.

But Ailee saw it in his eyes. She was in for long, slow torture.

Loki smiled.

“I am glad you are not opposed to my plans.” He whispered as he leaned down to pepper kisses along her throat.

“Are you reading my mind again?”

“There is no need to read your mind, it is all written very clearly in your eyes.” He spoke against her skin.

Danm him. Seductive god.

His tongue and teeth worked their way down her body agonisingly slow and by the time his hands parted her thighs, Ailee was ready to surrender. When his lips started to caress the soft skin of her inner thighs, her breath hitched.

Please, do not stop. Please, do not stop.

Loki pulled away to sit back on his heels and look down at her.

“Don't stop!”

“Still attempting to command your god?”

“Oh, god, Loki please.”

He chuckled. And slowly traced his fingers over her skin.

His little Valkyrie.

His fingers moved between her thighs, seeking out her warmth and Ailee mewled softly in response. Loki enjoyed the delicious little noises she made. Sweet and yet so needy. She was like putty in his hands, completely surrendered. But he wanted to see her loose herself in complete abandonment.

When his tongue and lips touched her for the first time, Ailee flinched, a moment later she melted into the soft but insistent touch and her hips seemed to find their own rhythm, engaging in a slow dance with Loki's mouth. When he pulled away just before she found release, Ailee desperately tugged on the restraints.

“Loki, please.”

He leisurely braced himself on his elbows to cover her with the entire length of his body, his own need very noticeable against her thigh. Ailee purred.

Yes, please, yes.

As much as Loki loved to hear her beg, she was nowhere near where he wanted her.

“Loki, please.”

His lips brushed her ear.

“Please, what, little swan?”

Please.” was all she managed.

She should have known something was awry, when he chuckled against her ear before his tongue traced over it, making Ailee press her whole body against him in desperate need.

“Do you want me?" He whispered. "Are you begging me to take you?”

Yes. Damn it, Loki. Oh, god. Please. Stop torturing me!”

“Oh, you beg so sweetly, little mortal.” His lips sucked her pulse point now, driving her nearly insane. “But I am afraid I cannot grant your wish.”

With that he pulled away and sat back up.

What? WHAT?! How dare he!

A wave of fury swept over Ailee. When her eyes snapped open to look at him, they were burning with a seething fire, and Loki was quite pleased with himself to have managed to awaken this kind of fierce power in the gentle creature.

“You look ravishing, little mortal. Ready to devour me alive with your wrath.”

Every word of his only stoked up the fire.

“Let me go! Now!”

“And what will you do if I free you?”

“Put you in your place, you vexatious god!”

Perfect.

Loki purred as he leaned forward to dip his head between her legs again, making Ailee hiss and moan loudly. It had been hard to hold himself back, because everything about her was alluring, but this was entirely worth it. He brought her to the brink of relief again, before he kissed his way up her body.

Devour me.” His lips breathed the words into her ear, before the fetters around her wrists fell away and her hands were free.

Fuelled by this newly found fire that desperately needed release, Ailee pushed against him and Loki let her rolll him onto his back. The god could not help but admire her beauty as she straddled him and sank down onto him without wasting another moment. Her face a mixture of pleasure and relief. His hands settled on her thighs and rubbed them gently, in stark contrast to Ailee's hands that pressed hard against his chest, nails digging into his skin, before they traveled upwards to slide under his head.

Tamed.

She tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled his head back to expose his throat, a moment later her teeth were scraping along the sensitve skin and settling over his larynx. A gesture of assertive dominance that made the god groan loudly.

Tamed by his little swan.

His hands traveled down Ailee's back, settling on her hips to support her movements. And she growled softly as she left small bite marks along his throat, digging her nails into his upper arms as she came closer. The tension was unbearable, She needed release. Ailee sank her teeth into Loki's neck and bit down hard. When her name tumbled from the god's lips together with a loud groan, it pushed them both over the edge and they found their release together.

***

Loki stood in front of the mirror, inspecting the marks on his neck.

“I cannot believe that you actually managed to mark me, little swan.”

Ailee came up behind him, pulling a t-shirt over her head and leaning in to look at the marks. Some of them were slightly raised and purple. She ran her finger over them, before she placed a kiss on his naked chest and hummed. He smelled good. His own scent that reminded her of a lush green forest, mixed with the subtle fragrance of jasmine and coconut from her shower gel.

Loki pressed a kiss on top of her head and she leaned against him.

“We need to get ready, little one. Stark has scheduled a meeting in 10 minutes.” Ailee sighed.

“I wish we could just stay in here all day. And night. And then all day again.”

Loki laughed softly. Ailee caught one of the drops of water that were running down his chest from his dripping wet hair. Ailee grabbed a towel and pointed to the rim of the bathtub.

“Sit down, my tall god. I wish to attend to your hair.” She mimicked his speech.

“Oh, the fair lady is finally attempting to gain favour from her god.”

“Do not flatter yourself, Mischief. My god has yet to win my favour – especially after what he did to me this morning.”

“You enjoyed every moment of it.”

Loki sat down and Ailee dried his hair with a towel, before she reached for a brush and started to run it through his dark tresses. The god purred loudly and closed his eyes. Ailee smiled. He was like a big affectionate cat sometimes. When she finished, she put her arms around his neck and Loki pulled her onto his lap, slowly opening his eyes to regard her.

“Tame me.” He said as he leaned forward to brush his lips over hers. She kissed him softly, then rested her forehead against his.

“I do not think that it is necessary. Neither do I think I would want you tamed, my insufferable god. Your beauty lies in your fierceness as well as your gentleness.”

Loki sighed. And then he melted his mind with hers, taking her to those moments that were most precious for him.

When he had comforted her the first time on the rooftop. When she had smiled at him for the first time. How he had felt in her presence while they were sitting in the roof top garden reading. He allowed her to feel how soothing her presence was for him. How calming.

Then the images changed to the first time he had seen her after coming back from Asgard. The pain he had felt as he had insulted and hurt her. The pain of seeing her covered in her own blood. The fear of loosing her.

Then the chilly emptiness that had filled him whenever he watched her suffer from his indifference. The coldness. The heartlessness.

Ailee gasped, tears dripping down her face.

Loki filled her mind with pleasant memories again. Their first kiss. How he had felt this morning when he awoke and found her in his arms.

Then he slowly pulled away.

“That heartless creature, who watched you suffer, is this really what you want?”

She shook her head.

“No. Because it is not you. You are intensity. You feel. This is not you, Loki, it is your shadow.”

“It is part of me.”

“I know.”

He rose and gently put her on her feet.

“We need to go. I will see you at the meeting.”

Brushing a kiss on her lips, he disappeared.

***

Loki was on his usual god-of-ass behaviour as soon as he was surrounded by the other occupants of the tower. He was grumpy, sarcastic and pretty much unbearable. Although he managed to make Ailee snigger, when he changed the writing on Tony's cup from "I love T.S." to "I love LOKI". Bruce, who sat opposite him noticed it too and could not suppress a smile. Thor threw a pen at Loki's head, and mouthed "pay attention!". Loki just shrugged and rolled his eyes.

After the meeting everyone went to the lounge for lunch and Tony came over as Ailee made herself some tea.

“So, I thought, now that you and Reindeer Games are friends again, maybe you can work on domesticating him?”

Ailee turned to look at Tony.

“Seriously, Tony? He is not a pet. In fact, he is not even human, he is a god for god's sake.”

“Well, you seem to have a good connection to the celestial world.”

“And you seem to be not as opposed to having him around anymore. Do you finally believe me that he has changed?”

Tony rubbed the back of his neck.

“As much as I want to trust the Sith-Lord, I don't. He is protective about you, so I don't think he's gonna hurt you, but I am not sure about everyone else. I wouldn't want to be around, if he should ever snap.”

“Loki has been here for six months now and nothing has happened.”

“Even more reason to grow suspicious.”

“Ok, I will see if I can talk him into a movie night or something. Maybe if he spends more of his free time with people, everyone will relax a little.”

“He is good to you, right?”

Where did that question come from?

“Of course, he is. There is no need to worry over me, Tony, really, I am good.”

He nodded before he trailed off and Ailee took a seat beside Natasha on the couch, sipping your tea. The assassin side-eyed the girl, but did not say anything, so Ailee grabbed one of the sandwiches from the table and started to eat. Natasha leaned close.

“So, is Loki as good in bed as he lets on?”

Ailee almost choked on her sandwich.

“What – what?” She asked in shock, her mouth half-full.

“No need to try and deny it, honey. The after-glow is all over you, noticeable for everyone to see.” She glanced around the room. “I need to correct that. For every woman to see.”

Ailee swallowed the rest of her bite.

"Is it really that obvious?"

Natasha just smiled.

“So, what is he like?”

What did she expect? A detailed description?

She just laughed at the shock in your face.

“Don't be embarrassed, malyshka. I am just curious if he lives up to his claim of being a god. He hasn't convinced me of his godliness otherwise, so hopefully he fulfils his promise in the bedroom.” She said deadpan.

Ailee slapped Natasha's arm, trying to keep the heat from rising to her face.

“Nat!”

The red-head smiled warmly and reached for a sandwich herself.

“Since I've never seen you glow like this before, I guess it means, I have to accept him as a god.” She smirked and Ailee shook her head, before she leaned back into the cushions.

"And, judging by the way he looks at you when he thinks nobody is watching, you have been able to tame him.”

Ailee glanced at her. Funny how Natasha would use the same expression Loki had used earlier.

“I do not wish to tame him. I like him the way he is.”

“Well, he still seems to be pretty untamed in many ways.” Her words made Ailee blush again and when she looked up, she noticed Loki and Thor who had just entered. Loki searched the room and when he met her eyes, he smiled warmly. Ailee returned the smile.

“Just as I thought. Tamed. You are the first person I know who has domesticated a god, malyshka.”

Ailee slapped her arm again. Natasha sniggered softly.

“Ok, I admit it. I like to see the two of you together. He has been good for you, even though he deserved to have his ass kicked for hurting you. But you stood up to him and he respected that. And there is no denying that you bring out the best in him. I am not entirely sure what the others will think about this – liaison though.”

“We are not planning on making it public.”

“Why not?”

Bruce settled next to Natasha on the couch and you took another bite of your sandwich, not intending to continue the conversation in his presence. Natasha patted your knee affectionally.

“Enjoy it as long as it lasts. And don't let others deter you.”

***

When she arrived in her room that evening, she found a certain god already sprawled on her bed, leisurely reading a book.

“What took you so long, little one?”

“Tony and Pepper are sorting through old files and asked me to help them.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Well, they are files about the attack on New York. And, and about me. They are looking into them again because they want to figure out where I came from.”

Loki's expression darkened.

“And what do you want? Do you want to remember?”

“I do not know. I am happy the way things are. But Tony is worried about something – or someone, who has been snooping around in my files.”

Loki sat up and Ailee climbed on the bed to sit next to him. He let the book disappear and pulled her to sit between his legs, resting against his chest, while he leaned back against the headboard.

“Somebody is trying to gather information on you?”

“Looks like it.”

“I never asked you this, but how did you come to be with Stark?”

“He found me in a hospital. Pepper and him where there looking for a friend of hers. And I - apparently I caused a bit of a commotion because my magic went haywire while I was unconscious. Apparently it was not easy for the nurses to tend to me with pillows and supplies randomly appearing and disappearing, or flying through the air. They kept me sedated most of the time. Don't ask me how, but Pepper and Tony convinced them to let me go and they took me home. Maybe the doctors and nurses were just happy to get rid of me.”

“And you do not remember anything?”

“I remember waking up and being in a lot of pain. Nothing else.”

Loki breathed against her hair, nuzzling her softly. One hand gingerly down her back.

“The scars on your back ...”

Ailee stiffened slightly as he reminded her of the unsightly evidence of the attack. She had forgotten about the ugly scars on her back.

“Apparently a building collapsed over me and ripped my back open. It was a bloody mess. It is actually a miracle that it healed so well.”

The god closed his eyes, fingers tracing over the scars on her back. He could feel them through the fabric of her shirt. He had never made the connection before, but now he saw it clearly. Her wings. The scars marked where her wings had been. And yet, it did not make sense. If she had chosen to give up her immortality, Odin or Freya would have released her from her vow. Her wings would have naturally disappeared. Loosing her wings would not leave scars. Unless ... Loki swallowed. Unless someone had cut them off.

His arms pulled her closer.

“Tony thinks that Shield are taking up their investigations again, so he is trying to get ahead of them.”

“I see.”

“Let us talk about something else, ok?”

She turned and nestled against him, slipping her arm around his waist. His soft lips placed a kiss on her temple.

“Whatever you wish, little one.”

Chapter Text

 If I told you what I was
Would you turn your back on me?
And if I seem dangerous
Would you be scared?

~Imagine Dragons, Monster

 

All was going well.

The dark god and Tony's little angel returned to their usual schedule of training in the mornings, then spending time together in the afternoons if Ailee was not busy helping Pepper or taking combat lessons with Natasha and Steve. The assassin had not asked her any more about Loki, and it seemed that except for Natasha, no one had caught on to their more intimate relationship. 

Like everything that came with being around Loki, when it came to intimacy, it covered the entire range of emotional states. Everything from wild and passionate to sweet and tender.

You just never knew what you were in for, and Ailee did not complain.

She loved it, when Loki made her loose all rational thought and pushed her to abandon herself to only one desire - him. And even though she had thought herself open-minded when it came to religious beliefs and Polytheism, Loki made an effort to convince her that (for her) there was only one god. And she that she needed to worship him accordingly.

Despite all the possessiveness that overcame the dark god in her presence, he was always willing to surrender to her completely. Loki loved power. He loved to be at her mercy just as much as he loved to assert his own power over her. It was rather exhilarating, Ailee had to admit.

And then there was the other side of their intimacy, which covered plenty of cuddling, sweet moments and tenderness shared without even a hint of sexual innuendo. It was full of laughter, sweet words and teasing. And chaste kisses. 

One thing Ailee realised, was that whatever Loki felt, whatever emotion he displayed, it was always genuine. He never faked. Even when he faked it. He always believed in what he did. And while his paradoxical behaviour puzzled her, it also allowed her to understand him a better. 

All was going well.

Until Saturday arrived.

Loki had disappeared from her bed in the early hours of the morning only to show up for breakfast a few hours later, exceedingly moody. Ailee failed to cheer him up. She would have loved to kiss him tenderly and ask what had disturbed his mind, but people were coming and going, not leaving them much privacy. It was the first time she wished that they could let the others know, so that she would have the liberty to wrap her arms around her lover and kiss and comfort him, to show him that she cared. Even though, she doubted that Loki's pride would actually allow him to show any vulnerability in front of others.

After breakfast, her dark god claimed that he needed to speak with Thor, and left her with a frown on her forehead and a foreboding in the pit of her stomach.

She met up with him a few hours later in the training room, after a rather exhausting session with Natasha. Maybe Ailee's tiredness had not been an ideal prerequisite to deal with a god whose mood seemed to swing between heaven and hell, topped with just a sprinkle of emotional instability and tempered with irregular bouts of coldness. She was reminded of her first encounters with the God of Ever-changing-mood.

“You are doing the headache-thing again, Loki.”

She said and rubbed her forehead. 

“I beg your pardon?”

Loki's voice was a dry.

“Your emotional tides. They are giving me a headache.”

She had not meant for it to sound so callous, but she was tired and -

“So, would the lady prefer to be rid of my pain-inducing presence then?”

Oh, great. Of course he was getting it all down the wrong pipe. How could she have expected otherwise?

“Can you please just stop thinking about yourself for a moment? I did not mean to-"

"Thinking about myself? Is that what you think of me? That I am an egomaniac who only ever seeks to please his own ego?"

The words hurt her, but above that, Ailee realised with horror that the words she had spoken so mindlessly had actually hurt him

"No, Loki. That is not what I think of you. Why do you twist my words?”

She took a step towards him and he retreated.

Not good.

“Loki, I know something happened. Please. Where did you go in the morning?”

“Am I suddenly accountable to you?” He hissed, but she could not help notice that his hands were shaking slightly.

“Loki, please.”

"Do you think because you share my bed, you have the right to question me?"

Ailee just looked at him. He looked frighteningly cold, devoid of emotion.

That heartless creature, who watched you suffer, is this really what you want?

She searched for a hint of the Loki she knew, the spark of vulnerability that made him susceptible to her touch, her care.  Her love. She would not let him push her away this easily anymore. He himself had taught her not to.

"Yes! I have the audacity to think that you would share your troubles with me - and apart from that, you are sharing my bed, dear god."

Loki's eyes narrowed dangerously, but the fact that he did not hurl an angry retort at her was a good sign. So she tried something. It would take a lot of her energy, but Ailee focused and allowed her magic to wrap around the dark god in a gentle embrace, before she quickly closed the distance between them to do the same with her arms. She felt him stiffen and it took a long moment for his arms to find her and his lips to lower onto her head. The tension did not leave his body, even when he whispered her name reverently.

But it was all she needed. 

"What happened, Loki?"

"Nothing of importance."

"God of Lies."

He did not chuckle, which made her wary.

"You are angry. What made you angry?"

Loki took a deep breath and lay his cheek against her head before he answered.

"I had a conversation with my father this morning."

Okay, well, that explained a lot. 

"Surely he cannot be as bad as you make him out to be, Loki?"

"No, he is worse. And stop defending him, you have not even met him."

"Well, maybe I should hope I never will and I am not defending him. I just think that he must have done something right to have a son like you."

Loki sighed against her hair.

"I am not his son. I am adopted."

Oh.

"Oh."

"Yes, oh, little swan." He sighed against her hair. 

Then something clicked into place. She had not paid attention to his words back then, maybe because the fact that he claimed to have killed his sister had been too overwhelming to process to take in anything else. But now she remembered.

I killed my sister ... and my father, but at least I did not love him.

"You killed your real father?"

Loki exhaled sharply. He really had not intended to discuss this with her. Not now. Actually, not ever. He had hoped to keep her in the safe little haven she called her little world. But then, he could not lie to her either.

"I did."

"So, he hurt you? Was it to defend yourself?"

Loki tucked her head under his chin and closed his eyes.

"As much as I would like you to believe I am free of guilt - it was not an act of innocence. I knew who he was. I killed him deliberately because it served my scheme."

It was out. And it was somewhat liberating to admit it.

Still, the words pained him. Paradoxically, the act of killing Laufey should have been his insurance to prove himself to his parents, but in truth it had been the act that had torn his life apart. The final straw that pushed him over the edge of sanity into the abyss of madness.

Ailee took a deep breath and he could feel her little fingers twisting the fabric of his shirt as she held onto him. 

This was it. She would finally realise what she had gotten herself into. She would finally run from him. 

"It is in the past, Loki. It is not who you are now."

Her small arms tightened around his body, pressing her own against his. Instantly soothing him.

How did he deserve this beautiful creature? More importantly, how could he protect her from his own insanity?

"You are so tense, do you not want to tell me what made you angry?"

"I rather not. It would probably be wise to seek out Thor and spar with him to release some steam."

"Or you could let me try the new moves Natasha taught me. May not be the same as grappling with Thor, but could still release some steam?"

Loki huffed.

"I would probably hurt you, little one." 

"Flattering yourself again, are you?"

He chuckled, when she punched him in the side playfully.

"You really want to do this, do you? I would hurt you."

"I know I am no match for you in strength, but let's see if you can actually get hold of me long enough to hurt me."

She loosened her arms and he released her. Loki pierced her with his gaze, the fire in it sent a tingle through Ailee's body.

"You better run, little swan."

He moved with inhuman speed, but Ailee so it coming. She ducked, rolled and kicked him in his knee - which of course only made him chuckle. Loki tried to catch her foot and she narrowly escaped, twirling around and jumping up to grab the gymnastic rings hanging from the ceiling. She used the momentum to swing over his head and landed behind Loki.

"I am impressed, little one, but I am not sure if it is wise you to tempt me to hunt you."

He turned around, eyes glinting, as he darted forward. His hand narrowly brushed her shoulder as she spun around and extended her leg to kick him again, this time in his abdomen, which elicited a little grunt. Ailee giggled proudly. She knew she could not hurt him, so this was fun. At least until Loki caught her leg and made her loose her balance and she smacked into the matt on the floor. He chuckled, but let go of her ankle.

"Is this all you can do, little one?"

Ailee recovered quickly, taking advantage of his wide stance, she leaped through the gap between his legs, rolled to her feet and pounced onto his back. Her elbows around his throat, legs around his waist. Loki reacted instinctively when he grabbed her arms and pulled her over his head to slam her into the floor. He caught her just before her back collided with the mat.  

"Ailee. It is hard to control my instincts, I may hurt you."

She stumbled to her feet. The adrenaline had flushed all tiredness out of her and made her a little boisterous. She wiped her hands before she put them on her hips.

"You are much slower than I thought you would be ..."

Loki's eyes narrowed.

"... but considering your age, you are still fairly agile."

"You and your brazen tongue."

There was an air of desire in his voice as he moved, too quick for her to react. With a growl he pinned her against the wall, one of his hands closing around her throat. Loki panted. Ailee searched his eyes, and saw that his anger had transformed into something she could deal a lot better with. Or rather, she had had a lot of practice with. His passion.

She knew exactly what he needed right now.

As Ailee leaned her head back, exposing her throat to him, Loki's eyes darkened. Her own held his gaze. She licked her lips, when his thumb stroked over the sensitive skin of her throat. 

“Devour me.”

If it was possible, Loki's eyes darkened even more at Ailee's command.

Unfortunately Tony chose this very moment to walk into the room.

 

And what Tony saw when he walked in, was Ailee pushed up against a wall with Loki towering over her, one hand squeezing her throat.

“Take your hands off her, Reindeer games.”

Tony growled. Loki's eyes held hers, but he did not move. Ailee opened her mouth to say something and he tightened the grip on her, ever so slightly shaking his head, so she remained silent.

“Let. Her. Go!” Tony said again, this time raising his voice. He seemed calm, but Ailee knew him well enough to catch the slight tremor in his voice.

“Or what?” Loki's eyes met Tony's briefly before he looked back at Ailee. “How would you prevent me from crushing this delicate little windpipe of hers before you get to me? And even then, you are no match for my strength without your armor, man of iron.”

She bit her lip, eyes pleading with him to stop this. When he did not respond, she attempted to say something again, but this time Loki's hand tightened around her throat to such an extent that it became hard for her to breathe. Seeing her struggle, the look in his eyes changed. And when he spoke again, his voice was low and clinical, the tone of a scientist who experimented on live animals, recording their reactions with detached curiosity. 

“Do you know that she is not afraid of me, Stark? Even now, when I could so easily take her life. I am not sure if I should think of it as bravery – or – stupidity.”

Ailee noticed the god's eyes darken dangerously with an entirely different kind of lust. One that did not burn, but was dark and cold.

“DAMN IT, LOKI!” Tony yelled, “You don't want to hurt her.”

“Hmm. Maybe not.”

Loki stepped back and released her. Ailee instinctively rubbed her throat, looking at him with narrowed eyes.

“Angel, get away from him.”

“Tony, we were just -”

“Step. Away. From him, girl.”

She shook her head, and Loki chuckled at her stubbornness before he vanished into thin air, leaving only a lingering green mist behind. Tony rushed over to inspect her throat. He looked more frightened than angry.

"I am okay, Tony, really."

“Damn that bastard! You will not be alone with him anymore.”

Ailee stared at him in disbelief.

“Tony, we were training. You happened to walk in at the wrong moment. He was playing, he did not mean what he said.”

Tony glared at her and shook his head.

“This was not funny. I never trusted him completely and after what I saw just now, the look in his eyes, I will not allow this anymore. You will keep a distance.”

"Tony, that is so unfair!"

"I know that look. I have seen it before and I don't plan on seeing it again. I'll go and speak to Thor, and you, you  will go and let Banner take a look at that." He was pointing at her throat. "I'll kill him, if he actually hurt you."

Ailee opened her mouth but Tony just looked at her and she knew there was no use in arguing. 

What the hell was Loki thinking?

 

Ignoring Tony's request to go and see Bruce, Ailee went straight to Loki's quarters, about to bang on the door, when, much to her surprise, it opened. Loki raised an eyebrow.

“You are here without a handler to keep the beast of Asgard in line? I am surprised Stark is letting you see me all by yourself.” He said sarcastically.

“What the hell was that all about, Loki?”

Ailee scowled at him crossing her arms over her chest, staring him down - well in her case it was actually 'staring him up', as he stood at least a head taller than her. She looked positively adorable when she was angry, and Loki could not help but smirk.

“Just a bit of fun.”

That was not funny. It scared him and now he is worried that you will hurt me.”

“And maybe that is a good thing?”

Ailee shook her head before she took a step forward and slid her arms around his waist.

“Jarvis is watching your every step.”

“I do not care if anyone sees us.”

Apparently Loki did, because he pulled her inside and closed the door before he wrapped his arms gently around her, one of his hands rubbing her back.

“I meant what I said.” He murmured while his hand traveled up to the small of her neck.

“What exactly?” she asked pressing her head against his heart, she could feel it beating through the fabric of his shirt. Slowly. Much too slow to be mistaken for a human heart.

“That I am not sure if you are brave or stupid for not fearing me.”

His lips brushed the top of her head and rested there. Ailee tightened her embrace.

“Neither”, she said.

“Tell me what it is then”, Loki breathed against her hair.

“You know what it is Loki.”

"Maybe I simply need to hear it."

There was a heaviness in his voice that made her aware of the seriousness of his question.

"It is love. How can I fear someone I love?"

She tilted her head upwards without letting him go, standing on her tiptoes to catch his lips with hers. He responded slowly, his hand tightening in her hair when her tongue slid along his lower lip, seeking entrance. Loki yielded and met her tongue with his.

“I trust you.” Ailee said against his lips.

“I would ridicule anyone else who uttered these words for their foolishness.”

“What happened that you suddenly doubt me? Doubt my feelings for you?”

“It is not you I doubt.”

Without letting go of her, Loki moved to a large armoire and sat down, pulling her sideways onto his lap. His lips rested against her temple and his breath fluttering against her skin made her shudder. One of his hands slowly wandered up to her throat.

“Did I hurt you?” he whispered.

“You didn't.”

He paused. One of his fingers gingerly trailing along her skin.

“There was a brief moment when I wondered what it would be like - what it would be like to take your life. I was tempted. I could feel the power surging through my veins. The fragility of your body. How I could so easily extinguish the light in your eyes. It would have been easy to break you.”

He did not look at her as he spoke, but Ailee felt the regret and shame that laced his confession. She remembered how his eyes had changed when he had squeezed her throat. How they had shifted from lust and mischief to the dark gaze of a predator ready to kill. And yet, she had felt no fear. She trusted him in whatever he did.

“You could see it, could you not?”

Her hand came up to cup his cheek and she nodded.

“I could see it. In your eyes.”

“Yet you were not afraid. You are too trusting. I bring death and destruction to those who love me, and I do not wish to offer you either.”

He pulled her closer, holding her as if he was afraid she would run from him any moment. It was uncomfortable but Ailee let him have his way, and waited until he loosened his grip slightly before she gently pushed away to look into his eyes.

"But you did no such thing. You did not hurt me. You did not kill me."

There was a sadness in Loki's eyes that cracked her heart.

“Loki, I am well aware that you could break me or even kill me – but I am not afraid of that. Quite, frankly, I would rather die at your hands than any one else's.”

Loki closed his eyes and shook his head.

“Maybe my insanity has rubbed off on you after all, you foolish girl. Are you not afraid of anything?”

“Yes, I am. I am afraid of what it would do to you or to anyone else if you were to hurt me. I am afraid that you could hurt me by mistake and never forgive yourself. I am afraid that you could hurt me and the others would feel justified to turn on you. I am afraid that you could leave me, because I am too fragile, too human. I have a lot of fears, Loki, but I am not willing to give into them. I trust you, so please don't -”

There was a loud knock on the door

“Loki?” Thor's voice boomed from outside.

Why did everyone have to have such bad timing today?

Loki cursed under his breath and Ailee thought her vision blurred, as the room around her dissolved. An instant later, she found herself sitting on the bed in her room. Confused and a little dizzy she looked around.

What? -

Loki had teleported her back into her room.

“God, Loki. I do not care if Thor sees us together.”

She went back to his room, knocking, banging at the door, but he did not answer. After a long time, she left. Maybe he needed time. Maybe she could try and speak with Tony. Maybe she could catch Thor and clarify the situation.

When she inquired with Jarvis, he informed her that Tony and Thor were unavailable for the time being, so Ailee retreated to her room. She tried to distract herself watching a movie. Then she tried reading. Finally she went out in search for Natasha, who, she found out from Jarvis, had left the tower together with Clint only a couple of hours earlier.

Saturday was not her lucky day. It brought chaos and confusion. And it also brought nightmares.

 

 

Chapter Text

I know it's hard to keep an open heart

When even friends seem out to harm you

But if you could heal a broken heart

Wouldn't time be out to charm you?

~Guns'N'Roses, November Rain

 

When Ailee walked into the living area late the next morning she found it eerily empty. 

“Jarvis? Where is everyone?” 

“Mister Thor and Mr Loki have left for Asgard, Mr Stark and the team were called to the Shield headquarters, they should be arriving back early this afternoon.”

“Thank you.”

Ailee felt her mood sink.

After a basically sleepless night, she would have loved some company. It was the same dream that repeated itself over and over, since the day she had woken up in the hospital after Loki's attack on New York. She lay in the dark, unable to move. She was terrified. And there was a voice, whispering in a language she could not understand. Someone was there with her, but she was afraid, because she knew his touch would bring her pain. After a while, the scene would change to downtown Manhattan under attack. She was running through the streets, desperately searching for someone, while buildings collapsed around her and people screamed in panic. She needed to find him. It was important. But she could not even remember who she was looking for. At that point she would wake up in a panic.

Ever since Loki had started to share a bed with her, the nightmares had completely stopped. Was it her subconscious that brought them back as soon as she felt alone? She rubbed her face.

So, Thor and Loki had gone to Asgard? That did not sound promising. She wished she would have risen earlier, but sleep finally found her after sunrise and she had given in due to her exhaustion. Now she was worried.

What if Tony had overreacted and persuaded Thor to take Loki back?

Ailee really hoped that Tony would not do anything like that without discussing it first.

Apart from that, Loki would not just leave her.

And yet there was a little nagging voice of doubt gnawing at her faith in the dark god.

No, he would not leave her … not without saying goodbye.

The thought stabbed her heart.

Saying goodbye?

No no no.

Everything would be fine.

Surely, Thor and Loki would return soon.

***

Ailee shot upright in the spot where she had fallen asleep on the couch, the book she had been reading dropping on the floor with a thump.

What was that? Did Jarvis say that Thor was back? 

She heaved a sigh of relief.

They're back!

Wait …

“Jarvis? Is Loki with Thor?”

“No, miss. Mr Thor has returned by himself.”

Ailee's stomach churned. She threw off the blanket, about to jump up and make her way to the elevator, but the God of Thunder beat her to it, when he entered the lounge that very moment. Obviously hungry, because he walked straight over to the kitchen area.

“Thor?” 

He turned around slowly to meet Ailee's gaze but she glimpsed the grave expression that lay on his face before a smile came to his lips.

“Lady Ailee.”

“Can I have a word with you?”

“If it concerns my brother - I wish to apologise on his part.” 

“Nonono. Thor, please, he did not hurt me. He did not do anything wrong. He was upset with his father and I suggested that he let off some steam. I was -” She stopped when she took in the god's pained expression. The sadness so evident in his eyes. And she knew.

He took Loki back to Asgard.

Panic rushed through her at the thought of her dark god being gone. He had not gone to some other country, or continent. He had gone to another world. One she would not be able to follow him to. There were no flights from Earth to Asgard.

“This - this kind of punishment is unjust. You cannot just take him away.”

Thor looked at her, his gaze suddenly full of empathy.

“Loki is not staying away as a means of punishment. It was of his own choosing to forgo his role as your tutor. The reason I apologised on his part was for I think him foolish. I think he is making a mistake.”

Ailee felt her heart clench. Her fingers trembled when she pulled her cardigan tighter around her. All of a sudden, the temperature in the room seemed to have dropped by a few degrees.

No. Loki would not just leave her.

“He – he did what?”

She blinked at Thor, daring him to tell her that this was just a joke, but the expression on the god's face spoke more than words and her gaze drifted away searching for something to focus on as she felt her eyes brimming with tears.

No. Loki would not. He promised. He would not ... or would he?

A vulnerable part of her, that part that had learned to stay open around the dark god, so that she could feel him and respond to him appropriately – be it with tenderness or the fire of her anger – that part of her collapsed. She was able to deal with Loki face to face, because she had learnt to feel him, talk to him and guide him back to her. But this situation was altogether different and she was not sure how to handle it. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

Loki had taught that she always had a choice. But by making the decision without including her, he had robbed her of that choice. And he had gone. He had even taken the choice of her yelling at him. 

"You always have a choice. At least the choice of how you let things affect you."

And how was she going to deal with this? How could she not let this affect her? How could she prevent her heart from shattering? 

“It seems that I am correct in my assumption that you care for my brother? As her cares for you?”

She looked at Thor and simply nodded.

“Loki is not one to share his feelings, but I believe his decision has something to do with what happened in your last lesson. It must have disturbed him deeply. I know that the friendship with you has brought him only gifts, and I dare say that I have not seen him happy and light-hearted since the days he fell into darkness, but Loki tends to push away those who come too close.”

I bring death and destruction to those who love me, and I do not wish to offer you either.

Ailee slumped down on one of the stools by the breakfast bar and rubbed her face, before she glanced up at Thor who settled on the seat opposite.

Loki had left her.

Without a talk, without a struggle, without a fight, and without giving her a choice in the matter.

After all they had shared, Ailee's mind found it difficult to comprehend, and her emotions were already raging between despair and fury and threatening to consume her.

Ailee's first instinct was to push the pain away, because it was all far too intense to deal with. But then one of the things Loki had taught her was that she needed to feel and accept whatever emotion came up. So, she allowed them to rise.

“Am I correct in assuming that your feelings for my brother go beyond what one would consider a friendship?”

Ailee smiled weakly at the cautiousness that laced his words. He truly cared.

“You assume correctly, God of Thunder.”

“Is my brother courting you?”

Ailee weighed up her answer. Thor already 'assumed' all the right things, he was no fool and he knew Loki better than the others.

“I do not know what courting entails in Asgard ... Loki and I might have taken a step or two beyond courting?

Thor sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

“I feared as much. That you are lovers. Loki is a bigger fool than I thought, but he must care deeply because he left Asgard to accept an assignment in another realm.”

“Care for me? He is running away!”

Thor smiled apologatically at her.

“It is his attempt of keeping you from harm, while at the same time he is distracting himself so that he can forget you. And will not be tempted to return.”

Keep me from harm, the hell.

“Who does he think he is that he can decide over my life?” Ailee's hands clenched into fists as her fire swept through her. “It is arrogant and stupid. And yet he always bragged about being the intelligent one out of the two of you.”

Thor chuckled softly at her reaction. He could see why Loki was taken with her.

“I can assure you, he is not happy about his decision. I know he cares for you, but I believe he is afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Hurting you unintentionally. Loosing you. You are mortal. Fragile.”

She had been afraid of that too. That he would leave her because of her mortality. It was evident that Loki regarded it as an inferior trait. Ailee had thought that since Loki was the god in their relationship, naturally it was him who held the whip hand. Now she realised that in this relationship, Loki was actually the one who had drawn the short straw. He was a god, pretty much invulnerable and would live for a few thousand years … compared to his life span, hers was ridiculously short - and for the short time they were together, he was forced to live with the fact that he would loose her eventually.

If he was lucky, she had a long life so he could watch her whither and die. In the grand scheme of things, even a hundred years were no more than a heartbeat. It would be over before it had even begun. But the pain of the loss would be the same. No, for Loki, this pain would have been present throughout the entire length of their time together.

"You always have a choice. At least the choice of how you let things affect you."

Compassion flooded her heart and washed away the anger.

For the first time she understood. The cruel reality of the absolute awareness that, no matter how hard Loki tried, he would inevitably loose the person he loved. This cruel reality was right there in his face, every day, every second, every moment. 

“So, it is easier to leave me, than to loose me?”

“Loki has not had the fortune to be treated with the kindness and trust you offer him since our mother passed. You are offering him gifts that he may feel does not deserve. This and the knowledge that he will loose you, be it by his own hands, by a trick of fate or by old age. I believe he feels helpless in the prospect, and Loki is not one who likes feeling helpless – or heartbroken.”

“Oh, curse his stupid pride.” Ailee muttered softly, but her anger was long gone and she could feel tears filling her eyes. It was ironic that the person who had offered her so much, would deny these gifts himself.

“So, what am I to do?” She ran her fingers through her hair. “Am I to let him go and spare him the pain of loosing me, or am I to go and persuade him that I am worth every moment he spends with me?”

“That is a decision that is entirely yours to make. I am sorry that I cannot help you.”

Ailee kept her head in her hands.

Was she just too attached to this dark god who had stolen her heart? Why could she not just grant him freedom? Let him go? Was going after him worthwhile?

What if he did not want her?

No, that was the one thing she had no doubts about. Loki wanted her.

She smiled.

Yes, he had seduced her more than once ... if this was the way to win him back, then two could play this game. 

“I cannot let him get away with that." She straightened and looked into Thor's grey eyes. "If I were to seek him out, would you help me?”

The god beamed at her.

“Count me in, Lady Ailee.”

 ***

 Vanaheim was a strikingly beautiful world although different to ethereal beauty of the realm of Asgard. Vanaheim was a realm of magic, nature and vibrant life energy.The very air here was filled with a sweet, sensual scent and Ailee understood why this was the home of fertility deities. Maybe the perfect place to win back the affection of a capricious dark god. They arrived in the early evening and Thor brought Ailee before the elders of the village to introduce her as his protegee. Ailee noticed that one of the priestesses present regarded her with undeniable interest, but it was not until she was escorted to the small cottage where she would stay that the woman came forward to speak with her.

“You are here to see the dark prince?”

Ailee was startled by the question.

“I am. How do you know?”

The woman was beautiful. Tall with clear, steel-blue eyes and dark hair that flowed over her shoulders down to her hips.

The perks of being a celestial being, I guess.

“Most Vanir have the gift of sight. There is not much which remains hidden from us. My name is Anat, I am a priestess of the Goddess Innana, the great Mother.”

"I am - just Ailee."

Anat smirked amused at the girl's answer.

"May I ask what it is that you seek in the Lord of Chaos?”

Ailee blinked and cast the priestess a bemused glance.

“What I seek in him? I – I have to admit that I never thought about that. He left me and I came here to win him back.”

“We cannot possess what longs to roam free.” Anat said in a soft, compassionate voice and Ailee's heart contracted at the woman's words.

How did she know that this was her greatest fear?  That she was too attached to Loki?  That she would drive him away instead of bringing him closer?

“You seem to read me like an open book, Anat.”

The priestess gave her a warm smile and took one of Ailee's hands.

“I do not mean to discourage you. You are a precious gift to him and Laufey's son will find what he seeks in you.”

“Is this his name? His real father's name, I mean?”

“It is. But I cannot reveal his secrets to you if he does not wish to reveal them himself, so do not ask any further.”

Ailee nodded.

"So, you know him then?"

"The Lord of Chaos is a traveller between the realms, he has served our people as well as his own as a messenger and ambassador of Asgard. Loki is respected here for his magical skills as well as his silver tongue."

"Respected? That sounds nice."

"We understand that chaos is the basis of orderly existence. Destruction may be necessary in order to allow something new to grow. The God of Mischief and Lies may have lost his way, but he is not lost. He has a role to play and he has yet to find his balance, his light."

"Find his balance, yes, Loki is quite extreme in anything he does."

Anat laughed softly.

"Anat, is there anything I can do for him to find his balance?"

"You know what you can do. The universe is held together by one force which acts as the fundamental coherence of all things. It always brings balance, even in the midst of chaos."

Ailee looked at the tall woman. 

"Love?"

The priestess smiled. 

"There is a reason why you found him again. Have courage, the Goddess is blessing every step of yours."

They walked the rest of the way in silence. They came to a small cosy cottage that belonged to a young priestess called Amara, who made Ailee feel welcome right away. Ailee dropped her travel bag on the bed and freshened up a little before she returned to the small living room to chat with Amara - she had a lot of questions about Vanaheim.

A short while after there was a knock on the door.

"Lady Ailee?"

The girl hurried to open the door when she heard Thor's voice. All of a sudden Ailee felt nervous. Nervous about Loki's reaction.

Would he be happy to see her? Or would he be angry with her for coming here? Would he --

"You are thinking about my brother. Cease your frown and your worries, Lady Ailee, Loki will be more than happy to see you."

"I wish."

"He is presently not in the village, but will return from Frey's Hall later tonight. I shall show you Loki's lodging on the way to dinner, so you can await his return there should you wish to do so."

"Hopefully, it will be a good surprise."

"There is no reason to doubt yourself. My brother is infatuated with you."

"Thank you, Thor."

"Allow me to take you to dinner."

The God of Thunder offered her his arm and she took it gratefully.

Dinner was peaceful. They sat in the garden of a cottage that seemed to be an inn of some kind, a place where people from the community came to eat. Ailee was charmed by the village that consisted of thatched cottages and yurts with lush gardens and trees. She was catered fruit, a delicious stew with roots and vegetables, small savoury pastries and cheese, while Thor also received a large plate of meat of some kind. The god had informed them that Ailee preferred to abstain from meat, which had been accepted with a nod and a smile. Being warriors by nature, the Aesir consumed a lot of meat, while the Vanir - a peaceful people - had a large variety of foods and since Vanaheim was a realm of agriculture, it was abundant with vegetables and fruit. Ailee enjoyed her dinner thoroughly. She chatted and laughed with Thor, and watched as the colour of the sky changed from blue to a deep purple as dusk settled over the village. The sun sank slowly behind the horizon drawing out the twilight, just like on summer evenings on earth. By the time Ailee said goodnight to Thor and made her way back to her cottage, fireflies started to flicker between the huts. 

The plan was to go home and change into something more enticing. She had brought the blue dress that Pepper had given her for the Christmas party and also packed some matching lace underwear, which she knew Loki loved. Might as well haul out the big guns. Now that the moment of seeing him drew closer, her heart started quickening out of excitement rather than nervousness.

She followed the narrow path between the thatched cottages that led back to her lodging, when suddenly and much to her bemusement, she stood at the edge of the village.

Wait, had she taken a wrong turn? How did she end up here?

Ailee was about to turn around, when a large bird landed on a pole next to her and croaked. She considered the raven with curiosity. In turn it cocked its head, blinking at her with black eyes. It seemed to regard her with just as much interest. Without thinking, she reached out her hand. The animal did not back away, but allowed her to touch its chest before it squawked and flew up just to land a few feet away. Ailee giggled and followed, attempting to touch it again. The feathery animal allowed her to come close and then hopped out of reach in the last moment. After a few minutes Ailee found herself at the edge of the forest that surrounded the village, where the raven finally flew up and landed in a tree above her. 

Where are you taking me?

She turned around to the village then to the opening between the trees in front of her.

It was getting dark now. She should be going back. But then, Thor had said that Loki would not be back for another hour or two. Maybe she could just explore for a few minutes ... 

She stepped into the forest. To her surprise, it was not dark like she had expected. The foliage of the plants and trees emitted a soft shimmer of green light and the flickering lights of fire flies added to the enchantment of the world that opened up in front of her. Ailee's eyes widened at the sight of the majestic trees that stretched their branches upwards, creating a glowing canopy of leaves above her head. Soft moss covered the ground and she decided to slip off her shoes and feel it under her feet. There was a squawk a few feet away and she looked up. 

Why did you lead me here?

"Do you wish to remember?"

She froze and looked around.

"Huh?"

"Do you wish to remember who you are looking for in your dreams, child?"

Ailee spun around, searching for the owner of the deep vibrant voice.

"How - how do you know about my dreams?"

"Dreams have their own reality, it is easy to access."

"Who are you?"

"Who I am is of no importance. What matters is - do you wish to remember who you are?"

"Who I am?" A shiver ran through her. "What - what do you want from me?"

"I wish to know if you are still ready to give up your life for him." The tone of the voice was grave now, but there was a noticeable hint of sadness in it. 

Ailee took a step back. 

"Give up my life?"

"As you did when you followed him into darkness and lost your right to reside in the realm eternal."

What the--?

There was a flash of light and Ailee covered her eyes.

Turn around, Ailee. Turn around and run. Run back to the village. Run while you can.

But she could not move, instead she sank to her knees, keeping her eyes covered and she heard herself whisper,

"Then test me, if you must."

****

 

“I expected to see you in a better mood this morning, brother.” Thor said lightly with a smug smile on his face.

Loki just rubbed his forehead and attempted to ignore him. 

“Let us get over and done with this. Speak, Thor, what brings you here?”

For a moment Thor thought that Loki was joking with him.

Had the Lady Ailee not explained to his brother that Thor had merely come to Vanaheim as her chaperon?

The look in the dark god's eyes grew increasingly impatient as he regarded his brother, and Thor could not help but notice how weary Loki looked. Downright exhausted. The God of Thunder would have expected Ailee's presence to lift his brother's mood. Maybe he had been wrong about Loki? Maybe Ailee's visit had displeased him? But if that was the case, would his younger brother not have grabbed him by the throat by now, in an attempt to throttle him, and declare him a witless oaf with no brain?

An eerie feeling overcame the God of Thunder and he straightened to his full height. Loki, alert by his brother's sudden change in demeanour, did the same.

“What is wrong, Thor?”

When Thor's storm-grey eyes met Loki's green ones, the God of Mischief immediately knew that something was well and truly amiss.

What is it, Thor?”

“Your lady, Ailee. Have you not met her?”

Loki's eyes narrowed as he took in Thor's words. As soon as realisation dawned on him, all weariness vanished from his being and Loki suddenly felt very alert. The dark god strode up to Thor, piercing him with his gaze.

“And why, pray tell, would she be here? In Vanaheim?”

“Because I brought her here last night.”

Before Loki had time to respond, Thor was already rushing outside.

“We have to go and find her!” He called to Loki over his shoulder.

What?! Why in Odin's name would you bring her here?” Loki's disbelief quickly turned to anger as he followed his brother outside. “THOR!” He yelled, his anger soaring by the time he caught up with the god.

Thor kept walking while he spoke. He did not fear much, but right now he was not sure what he feared more - that the girl had been harmed or that Loki would loose his sanity over this. He had to keep calm. And focus. 

“She wished to talk some sense into you and I could not deny her request. She loves you, brother, and even if you may deny your feelings, I am aware that you care for her. But all this is of no importance now. We need to find her. Last I saw her, she was well, and on the way to your quarters. Evidently she never arrived there.”

Thor cursed and under different circumstances Loki would have raised an eyebrow at his brother's choice of words, but a sudden panic assaulted him.

“You brought her to a foreign world without keeping constant watch over her?”

“Should I have accompanied her to your bedroom, brother?”

“She was - what?”

“She was going to persuade you to return to Midgard. I am aware that you are lovers, Loki.”

They had reached the cottage that served as Ailee's lodging and Thor banged on the door. The smile of the young priestess who opened the door fell, as she beheld the grim looks on the princes' faces.

“The Lady Ailee, is she here?”

The woman shook her head. “She told me last night that she would not return until later today, so I was not worried. Is something the matter?”

Thor took a deep breath. Loki growled.

“Do not trouble yourself. If she does return kindly urge her to come and see me.”

Thor turned and Loki just glared at him. The rage in his younger brother's eyes had vanished and Thor's chest contracted when he saw the fear that briefly lingered in Loki's gaze before it darkened.

“I cannot believe you --”

“Loki, had I not felt her safe, I would never have brought her. Do you truly think me so careless?”

"How could you --"

"There is no time for blame, Loki, we need to find her."

The expression that crossed his brother's face reminded him of the fateful moment when Loki had chosen to let himself fall from the broken Bifrost. There was pain, fear and irredeemability. Then a shadow crossed the dark god's features, clearing them of all emotion.

"She felt betrayed Loki, and yet she was ready to forgive you. When she asked me, I could not deny her my help."

Loki pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head, and trying to fight back the tears that threatened to well up in his eyes.

"Why would she feel betrayed? I thought her insightful enough to understand that I have duties that call me away." He shook his head, clearly confused. "Did she not read the letter I sent with you?"

Now it was Thor's turn to be confused.

"What letter?"

"Bright as ever." He huffed. "The letter I sent to your room before I left for Vanaheim. I did not wish to waist anymore time running around to find you. Odin was very clear - the sooner my task here is done, the sooner I can return to Midgard."

"There was no letter, brother."

"I handed it to one of the servants, by the Norns, are even the servants in the palace witless oafs?"

"Wait, you were planning on returning to Midgard?"

Loki stopped and looked at Thor.

"Evidently."

"I do not understand, brother ..."

"No surprises there. You were never the brightest --"

"No, Loki. I mean, I do not understand why ... why would father lie to me?"

"What does Odin have to do -- What did Odin say to you?"

Thor ran his fingers through his hair. He had always looked up to his father, he knew him to be wise, brave and insightful, yet he had never fallen victim to the side of Odin that was known for his trickery. Thor could not believe that his father had actually lied to him ...? Unless -- 

"Are you speaking the truth, Loki? I must know it. Would you have returned to the girl?"

The glint of anger returned to Loki's eyes. 

"The girl, as you so reverentially call her, is my lover. I gave her my word that I would never hurt her, and I intend to keep it. As ridiculous as this may sound, coming from the God of Lies."

Loki all but spat the words at Thor and the God of Thunder rubbed his hands over his face with a groan. 

"Loki. Brother, forgive me, I made a mistake in misjudging you."

"Would not be the first time."

"Father called me to him after he had spoken to you in private. He said that you had accepted to take an assignment in Vanaheim to clear your mind, and that he had freed you from your role of tutoring Ailee, because the girl did not require any further training. When I argued, he said that you made the right choice. He also told me that the Vanir had offered a liaison between our people and you were not opposed to it." Thor cursed again. "I believed him."

Loki's eyes never left Thor's, but he felt something akin to compassion stir in his chest at seeing the look of disheartenment in his brother's eyes. For some reason he wanted to make Thor feel better.

"He did not lie to you, Thor. He merely tricked you. Odin told you what you needed to hear so you could make up your own story. You do not trust me fully, you believe me to have no loyalty, so it is no surprise that you thought I would leave her. Especially after what had happened in the training room."

Thor hung his head.

"Forgive me. He used me. I brought her pain. It is my fault ... I put her in harms way."

Loki patted the god's shoulder in a brotherly way.

"What did you tell Ailee?"

"Brother, I am sorry."

"What did you say to her, Thor?"

"I told her you chose to forgo the assignment as her tutor and that you moved to Vanaheim to execute your duties as an ambassador of Asgard."

Loki grabbed Thor by the collar, pulling him close to his face.

"You did what?"

"I told her that you left her, Loki."

Just as quickly as it has risen Loki's anger dissipated. Loki let him go, eyes staring at nothing.

"No, Thor, you did much worse. You told her that I left her without so much as a word of farewell, or even a struggle or a fight. You told her I did not care. What right did you have?"

"Loki, I thought that you were running away again. That you were afraid of hurting her, afraid of loosing her."

Loki's head whipped up as he yelled at the God of Thunder.

"And I AM! I AM ALL THAT!"

Thor offered him a confused look. And the dark god raised his hands to look at them.

"I am terrified of hurting her. I am terrified of the fact that she is fragile. She is like a leaf in a breeze - anything could take her away at any moment."

He let his arms fall to his sides, and looked at Thor.

"I am terrified that I am forced to watch her grow old, to see her die, while I shall live on for a few more millennia. She terrifies me."

He huffed and, much to Thor's consternation, when a stray tear rolled down his brother's cheek, Loki did not make a move to wipe it away, but only laughed softly.

"I - the mighty God of Chaos - am terrified of a human - and yet, this fragile little creature is brave enough not to give into her fears. I would be a fool not to honour this and I would be a disgrace not to afford her the same trust. I considered it. I considered leaving her. Breaking her heart. And the truth is, after the initial pain, she may well forget me, but I would never be able to forgive myself." Loki took a deep breath. "And I am done with hurting the ones I love."

Thor just stared at his brother, wide-eyed, unable to find any words whatsoever.  

"We must find her, Thor, but if she is harmed, I cannot promise that I will not kill you."

 

 

Chapter Text

Ailee slowly opened her eyes.

It was dark.

There was a trickle of water somewhere in the distance and the floor she lay on was cold and damp. She shivered and tried to brush her hair out of her face, but could not move her arms.

Restraints?

Now she could feel them around her ankles as well. Her mind snapped into high alert.

What was happening? Was this a dream?

She felt something brush against the bare skin of her arm and froze. It was a soft, featherlike touch. Holding completely still she waited. Listening into the darkness. Nothing happened. After a while she had to move her shoulders as they were starting to ache. There it was again. The feathery touch that felt like birds wings. Ailee moved her shoulders again and her eyes widened at the realisation of what it was that she felt.

Wings.

Her wings.

No no no no no. This was not possible. They were not real.

She struggled and finally managed to get into a kneeling position, but the large wings that seemed to be bound with constraints as well constricted her range of motion.

This must be a dream. Why did it feel so real?

She groaned in frustration.

“Hmm, somebody has awoken.” A deep throaty voice echoed through the darkness.

Ailee felt the hair raise on her neck. It was the same voice. The voice that whispered in her nightmares. His voice.

Her head snapped up, eyes wide as she stared into the blackness that surrounded her, hardly noticing the small pieces of gravel on the ground, that dug into the skin of her knees.

If this was dream, then why – why did it feel so real?

A wave of panic washed over her and she had to force herself to stay calm. Nevertheless, her voice quivered when she opened her mouth to speak.

“Who – who are you?”

A soft snigger.

It was him. The man from her dream. He would hurt her. She knew he would hurt her.

“I am the one who clipped your wings.”

He was closer now, his voice clearer, and Ailee gasped as she recognised it.

“L-Loki?”

There was a movement in the dark and she craned her neck towards the noise to find only darkness.

A soft chuckle, followed by a flicker of green light.

It was Loki. Thank god it was Loki.

The dark prince knelt down before her and grabbed her chin, tilting her head up to look at him.

“Did you come here to make me yours? Did you come to win me back?” A devious smile appeared on his face. “I fear that it does not work this way, my little swan. You cannot possess me. You cannot help me. You cannot save me from my darkness.”

There was no warmth in his voice that was more like a hiss than a whisper, and Loki's eyes were like ice.

“But since you are so eager to be with me, I shall make you mine.”

Ailee had seen this look in his eyes before, yet it had always lurked in the background, much like a shadow. Now it was alive. She opened her mouth to speak and when no sound left her lips, she shook her head.

This was not Loki.

“You will learn to fear me.”

When his lips brushed over hers, it was disturbing that her reaction was not one of fear.

Not Loki. This is not Loki.

“Where are we?”

“Somewhere safe.” He purred, then he dug his hand into her hair and forcefully pulled her up with him as he rose to his feet.

She winced.

“So fragile.” Loki breathed, fingers ghosting down her neck, closing around her throat. Her eyes were still locked on his.

“What happened to you, Loki?”

“I fell. And you followed me. So desperate to be mine. And I shall give you what you want. I shall give you all of me. My darkness. My pain. My suffering.”

His lips crashed down on hers, hand closing around her throat, forcing her to open her mouth so that his tongue could ravish her. He kissed her deeply, wrapping his arms around her at the same time Ailee felt a seering pain in her back. She cried out and tried to push him away, but Loki held her tightly against him with one hand, rendering her unable to move.

“Shh.”

The pain that followed was excrutiating. Ailee dug her teeth into the leather of his armor and screamed against it. She could feel the warmth of blood trickling down her back. Weight lifted off her shoulders as something large dropped onto the ground with a thump. Now there was only a raw, throbbing pain were her wings had been.

She sobbed and cried against the god's shoulder in both pain and shock.

Loki cut off her wings.

“Shh” Loki's voice was soft and comforting, “You are safe with me, now that you cannot fly away. I am all you have now. This is why you came for me. I am all you have left.”

“What have you done, Loki?”

“It was your own choice. Your choice. You just need to remember.”

“It – hurts.”

“Remember.”

“I – I can't.”

The ground opened up underneath her feet and she slipped from Loki's grasp, only to fall into a bottomless darkness. Wrapped in pain and devoid of any other senses.

A groan escaped her throat when she finally hit the ground and for a while she just lay there. And cried.

“Loki?”

There was no answer.

With effort she pulled herself up onto her elbows. Loki was gone. She was alone.

The pain in her back was unbearable, clouding her mind and almost robbing her of her sanity. Another wave of despair washed over her and Ailee was unsure how long she lay in the blackness and cried, or when she noticed the faint orange glow in the distance. Despite the pain in her back and shoulders, she tugged at the restraints on her hands and feet and managed to loosen them. For a while she kneeled on the ground, panting from the pain, before she removed them.

When she gathered her strength a little, Ailee scrambled to her feet and stumbled towards the warm glow in the distance that turned out to be an opening into a cave, lit by torches along the rock walls. A hissing noise brought her to a halt and she listened for a while before she mustered the courage to step forward, the view of a large cave opening before her. In its centre lay a man, chained to the rocks underneath his naked body. Next to him knelt a woman, dressed in a light blue gown, who held a bowl above the man's head. That was when Ailee notices a serpent that writhed on the rock above the pair. It looked as though the woman was catching a liquid that dripped from the snake's mouth in her bowl. As quiet and peaceful as the scene seemed, the air was drenched with grief and for a moment Ailee forgot her own pain. A tear slipped down her cheek. She cautiously moved closer and the woman turned around to smile at her.

“Welcome.”

At her words, the man moved his head to face her and opened his eyes. Ailee gasped.

“Loki.”

A lump began to form in her throat and her eyes filled with tears. She sank onto her knees next to him and reached out to caress his face, while his gaze lingered on her, his eyes deep and full of suffering.

“You came, little swan.”

His voice was strained, but a tiny smile appeared on his lips. Ailee just nodded, cupping his face with her hand and Loki briefly closed his eyes as he leaned into her touch.

“You gave up Forever to come for me. You found me.”

Ailee's lip quivered. The tears were dripping from her face onto Loki's skin. She could feel his pain.

“What can I do?” she whispered.

“Remember who I am to you. Remind me of who you are to me.”

He closed his eyes and his head rolled to the side to rest on the rock again.

“I need to empty the bowl,” the woman said as she got up, “Kindly stay with him.”

A moment later Loki's screams echoed through the cave, his body writhing violently as the serpent's poison dripped onto his face. Without thinking, Ailee threw herself forward with outstretched arms and cupped her hands to catch the poison. It burnt into her flesh like acid. She wanted to scream but bit her tongue to spare Loki the evidence of her pain. She forced herself to stay quiet, as she felt Loki's body convulsing underneath her but slowly coming to a rest, his chest still heaving. Then her hands were replaced by the bowl and Ailee pulled them against her chest, cowering on the ground next to Loki, letting her magic flow into the burnt flesh, which soothed the pain a little.

“Be brave.” Ailee lifted her face towards the woman and looked into her light blue eyes. “Don't let doubt or fear poison you. Your love is your strength.”

“Who are you?”

“I am his treasure and he is my existence.” She smiled and the cave around her started to fade. “You must go now.”

There was a loud noise and the ground trembled when a cloud of dust enveloping Ailee. She coughed. The noise around her grew louder as the dust lifted. People's screams mixed with sirens and shrieking car alarms which were underlaid by drum rolls of thunder – or was it explosions?

Aching all over, Ailee rose to her feet taking in her surroundings.

Sky scrapers flanked the street she stood on, rising proudly above the dust and chaos on the road. In front of her cars were wedged into each other blocking the road, abandoned by their drivers. A man came running towards her.

“Run, girl!” he yelled, shoving her to the side as he ran past.

Ailee stood frozen, staring straight ahead, where some kind of giant flying monster appeared overhead to rip pieces out of the buildings as if they were made from paper as it moved past them. There were smaller flying objects, shuttles of some kind, firing randomly at civilians on the streets. Instinctively Ailee started running towards the one building she knew best here.

Stark Tower.

She needed to find Loki before it was too late. She needed to tell him that she was alive ... that it was not too late for him ...

The noise was terrifying, worse so, the fear and panic that drenched the air. And the throbbing pain in her back was getting worse with every step, slowing her down. She felt so weak. As if her energy was draining away. With a groan she fell to her knees.

By the Norns, it hurt. How could anything hurt so badly?

After a short moment of rest she scrambled back to her feet.

Find Loki. Just focus on finding Loki.

She managed to get closer, but when she turned a street corner that was only a block a way from the tower, she found the road that lay ahead blocked with rubble.

Focus. Focus, on Loki.

The first mound of rubble took her a lot energy to climb over, but behind it the road was clearer. After a short break, Ailee started moving again, when she heard a faint whimper. It belonged to a small girl who was trapped between the rubble of parts of a building that had collapsed onto the road. The child's face was smeared with blood and tears.

“Shh. It is ok, I am here now.”

She squatted down next to the girl and started digging rubble away around the small body. She was so young. A child. Ailee carefully cupped the girl's face and the child held out her arms. She had freed her enough to pick her up, but wondered if it was a good idea to move the child, as she could have suffered internal injuries. When the buidling beside them shook and shards of glass came raining down, the child started screaming and Ailee scooped the small thing up into her arms.

“Shh, little one. It is going to be fine.”

The child in her arms, Ailee rose to her shaking feet, as another explosion hit and nearly made her loose her footing.

Why am I so weak? Because you are mortal now.

Mortal.

The girl cried softly against her shoulder, alternating sobs with quiet mewls. Ailee's stomach clenched and she tightened the grip on the child.

“I am here, I will take you somewhere safe. Everything is fine.”

Her energy was draining far too quickly. The pain making it hard to breath and keep her mind focused.

Nonono. Focus. Remember what you have to do. Remember to find him.

She silently repeated the words to herself like a mantra as she stumbled over the rubble, trying to get away from the open street and closer to the tower. Driven by adrenaline, she kept moving, even though her body was screaming at her to stop.

Focus. You need to find him. You need to tell him.

She felt so weak. Her legs were so heavy. The noise around her grew louder, as her body grew more exhausted.

Keep going.  Just keep going. Find him.

She stopped, to catch her breath. Just then, Ailee felt the tiny body in her arms go limp.

“Little one?”

She shook the little girl gently, and listened.

There was no answer. No reaction.

Her heart broke in that moment. And she came to a halt to take in the destruction around her. See the suffering. The pain.

The thunder of the explosions fainted. People's screams died off, until there was only the faint  noise of car alarms and sirens left.

So much suffering.

Cradling the lifeless child in her arms, she sank onto her knees and cried.

Oh, Loki, what have you done? What have you done?

Someone yelled at her to move, but she only vaguely noticed it and a moment later everything went dark as part of a building collapsed over her.

****

Thor saw her first.

“Loki! Over here!”

The God of Thunder started running towards the small figure that had appeared between the trees, and was now staggering out onto the meadow. Thor did not get to her in time to catch her before she collapsed into the high grass.

“Ailee!” His voice thundered through the air.

When he reached her, Loki was already there. Crouched down next to the girl, his hand trembling as he gingerly touched her face. Her complexion was unnaturally pale and waxy. His magic reached out to her with his touch, terrified of what he would find. Then the God of Mischief closed his eyes and a sigh of relief left his lips.

She is alive.

He could feel her magic pulsing under her skin.

“You scared me, little one.” He whispered almost inaudible.

Loki did not look up when he heard Thor approach, his eyes swept over Ailee's body taking in her condition. Her hair and clothes were disheveled and stained with blood. There were cuts and bruises all over her arms and legs. She looked like she had been to Hel and back.

The dark god cursed under his breath.

“Brother, I -” Thor fell silent when Loki shook his head.

“She is alive, Thor. The Norns know what happened to her, but at least she is alive.”

He would have never been able to forgive himself if any harm had come to her. He would not bare to live through this pain again without loosing his mind. The pain of the knowledge that he was responsible for killing the person he had claimed to love.

The dark prince carefully gathered the girl in his arms, and rose to his feet before he turned to look at Thor.

“I know you are not to blame. Had I not left without giving her a proper explanation, she would have had no need to come here.”

“Loki, you cannot blame yourself.”

“Oh, I cannot? Everyone else seems to be allowed to blame me for all and sundry.” The dark god hissed.

He purposefully brushed against Thor's shoulder as he walked past him, back towards the village. Thor caught up with him but decided to stay quiet, until his eyes fell on Ailee's hands.

“What happened to her hands? Are they burnt?”

Thor lifted one of her arms, turning the palm of her hand up so that Loki could see it. It looked as if drops of liquid flames had burned deep into her flesh.

“Let me smell it.”

Thor moved the hand closer to Loki's face and the dark god grimaced as he sniffed.

“Svafnir.” Loki muttered.

“Dragon poison?”

Loki nodded.

“It is a miracle that it has not taken the flesh right off her bones or dissolved her entire hand.”

He shuddered at his own words, the thought of it making him sick. As they approached the village, Anat came towards them. Taking one look at Ailee she turned around and motioned for Loki to follow her.

When they reached the priestess' cottage Loki placed Ailee on the bed and the the woman knelt down beside her placing both of her hands at Ailee's temples to let her magic flow into her. Ailee's face twisted in pain.

What are you doing?”

Alarmed Loki moved forward, but Anat shook her head.

"If you interfere, I may not be able to bring her back, son of Laufey. You must trust me."

The god's eyes widened at the name she gave him, and he took a step back. He could not hide his uneasiness though as he watched the priestess. Anat stayed focused on her task, her voice was completely calm when she explained to him what she was doing.

“She is lost in the inner realms and there is no time to loose. If I cannot bring her back quickly, she might not awake or she may not regain her mental capacity and stay trapped between the worlds in a delusional state. Be patient, Loki, I am not hurting her.”

Loki nodded and waited with astounding patience while the priestess worked on Ailee. The girl moaned softly as if in pain, but then her eyes fluttered and the colour returned to her cheeks, she took a deep breath and sighed. Anat seemed content and removed her hands before she tenderly brushed her fingers over Ailee's forehead.

“She is strong. She will wake, but she needs to rest.”

“What happened to her?”

“I do not know. I can merely see that her magic has changed. She has sight now. But whatever she saw must have put her through extreme emotional distress and forced her to withdraw to protect herself.”

As she rose Anat looked at Loki.

“It would be good if she was not alone when she wakes, you are welcome to take her to your quarters, but if you cannot spare the time to be with her, I will ask one of the priestesses to tend to her.”

He shook his head.

“That will not be necessary. I will look after her. Politics can wait.”

“I can send a healer to help tend to her wounds, if you wish. They should be cleaned before you heal them.”

“That would be appreciated.”

Loki stared at Ailee. She looked even more fragile than he remembered. With a sigh he picked her up and turned to leave, it was then that he noticed that Thor was there as well. The God of Thunder rubbed the back of his neck, obviously still feeling guilty.

“If there is anything I can do, brother.”

“My duties here are not demanding, Thor, it will not matter if they wait for a few days … And now that I have no reason to make haste, it will not matter.”

“In that case I shall find out what happened. Who did this to her.”

Loki nodded at Thor, then at Anat, before he left the cottage to take Ailee to his temporary home.

****

He cautiously put her down on his bed and started undressing her. As promised, a healer came a short while later and helped him wash the girl and clean the cuts and grazes on her body before Loki healed them carefully. The open gashes on her back where her wings had been were the worst, and Loki wondered what she had seen to make these wounds reopen after they had already healed and produced scar tissue. A terrible uneasiness grew inside him.

When the healer tended to Ailee's hands, her eyes widened.

“Is this what I think it is?”

“I am afraid so.”

“You will not be able to heal this.”

“I am aware that Svafnir can only be healed by the person who carries the wounds … if it will heal at all.”

He avoided to meet the eyes of the healer, as else it would have betrayed how the thought that Ailee would have to live with this pain horrified him. Even Aesir were unable to heal wounds caused by dragon poison easily. Ailee was human, she would suffer from these burns for a long time.

The healer finally took her leave and Loki fetched one of his tunics. Sitting down on the bed he pulled the sleeping girl up against his chest, before he proceeded to push the garment over her head. Ailee's arms disappeared entirely in the large sleeves. Loki pulled the tunic down to cover Ailee's front before he continued to roll up the sleeves.

So fragile.

When he pulled her into his arms to push the garment down her back, Loki halted. It looked as if the scars on her back had reopened again. Hesitantly he ran his finger over the jagged edges of the inch-wide lines and let his magic flow into the cells of her tissue. The wounds closed under his touch and he sighed with relief.

“Loki.” Her voice was so soft that the god might have missed it had he not been so close. He carefully lay Ailee back against the cushions.

“I am here, love”, he whispered caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. He was aware that she was talking in her sleep, even so he stayed close and kept stroking her hair.

“What have you done? What have you done, Loki?” it was no more than a breath, but her voice was filled with such grief that Loki's heart contracted painfully.

He watched as a tear drew a wet line on her skin as it slipped from her eye.

Loki paled. 

Whatever was going on inside her mind, he was the cause of it. She suffered because of him.

The god climbed onto the bed and pulled her body close to his. He buried his face in her hair, closed his eyes and whispered.

“Whatever I have done, forgive me, my love. Please, forgive me.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I took for granted, all the times
That I thought would last somehow
I hear the laughter, I taste the tears
But I can't get near you now

I wonder how we can survive
This romance
But in the end if I'm with you
I'll take the chance


Whatever it takes
Or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you
Waiting for you

~Richard Marx, I will be right here waiting for you

 

She woke to the soothing chirring of the night zicadas and the comforting feeling of a strong, warm chest pressed against her back. For a while, Ailee lay there with her eyes closed, slowly adjusting to the world around her. When she stirred a little, the arm around her tightened and Loki nuzzled against her neck.

“I am here, you are not alone,” he whispered soflty, “You are safe.”

He sounded sleepy and downright exhausted. Ailee searched for his hand and pulled it up to her lips to kiss his fingers. Loki purred, then he stirred and braced himself on his elbow, voice but a whisper.

“Are you awake?”

“M-hm”

There was a pause. Neither of them sure what to say or do. Loki's first impulse was to take her into his arms and kiss her, but after what he had gathered from her mutterings while she was unconscious, he might not exactly be the company she sought. He remembered her words only too well.

Loki, it hurts. Don't leave me here. What have you done? You hurt me. Loki, please don't. So much suffering. Loki, what have you done? 

He rembered her tears. Her sobs. Her gasps of pain.

So, he just held her gently, hoping his embrace gave her at least a little comfort. Ailee finally broke the silence. 

“Where are we?”

“Vanaheim.”

She nodded.

“I had a really bad nightmare.” she groaned. “It felt so real, I cannot even remember what happened last night."

Loki hummed against her hair.

"I cannot remember coming to your quarters.”

“What – what is the last thing you remember?”

She closed her eyes.

Thor. Dinner.

“Talking to Thor and then heading towards your quarters. Did we --”

“Did we what?”

“Did we come to an arrangement? I mean, it looks like we made up last night, otherwise I would not be in the same bed with you, I guess?"

Loki drew a deep breath and pulled away from her, waving his hand to light some candles and illumine the room enough so that he could see her face, so that he gauge her reaction. To him. His words, his presence. He did not wish to hurt her anymore than he already had.

Ailee turned around to look at him.

“What?” she asked, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I -", he started and broke off.

What was he going to say? Apologise? Where would he even start?

"You never came to me that night, Ailee.”

She noticed the lack of endearments and could not help but wonder about the seriousness in his tone as he spoke.

That night?”

“Three nights ago. You disappeared that night and we found you in the forest the following day, you have been sleeping since we then.”

Confusion clouded Ailee's eyes.

Three nights ago?

“I – I do not understand.” 

Loki merely looked at her, there was something in his eyes that she could not decipher.

Fear?

"Can you remember what happened after you had dinner with Thor?" He tried carefully. 

Ailee closed her eyes.

I wish to know if you are still ready to give up your life for him.

The words jolted through her like lightening. Ailee squeezed her eyes shut as the voice echoed through her mind.

As you did when you followed him into darkness and lost your right to reside in the realm eternal.

“No.” She said out loud and covered her ears with her hands. “Nonono, it was - it was all just a dream.”

Suddenly alert, Loki sat up.

“Love? Ailee?” he reached out to touch her, but when her eyes met his, the god drew back his hand.

Hurt. Pain. 

The memories came flooding in.

The forest. The voice. The bright light. The cloaked figure that had appeared a few feet away from her.

“You have no need to fear me, daughter.”

“Why did you bring me here?”

“To ask you if he was worth it. Worth disobeying me and condemning yourself to a mortal existence.”

“I do not understand.”

“You blindly gave up your immortality to save him. You fell for him. ”

"My immortality? But I am just ..."

"Now you are merely human and my hands are bound because of the choices you made. I cannot bring you back, but I can give you the choice of an existence without him. There was a reason why you forgot, but for you to know it you have to remember."

Then she fell. 

Everything rushed back to her with the force of a raging waterfall, Loki's attack on Midgard, how she had tried to find him. It was him she had tried to find that day. It was him she tried to find in her dreams.

She had given up everything for him. She had come to find him, save him, but there, on the street of Manhattan, she had lost him. She remembered the dying child in her arms, the screaming, the destruction, the suffering. It was overwhelming.

All she wanted was to forget. Forget why she had come. Forget him

Forget Loki.

Her eyes searched his blue-green ones.

Was he worth it?

"Ailee?" his voice was cautious. "Can you remember anything?"

Everything.

The pain of loosing her wings. The pain of loosing her hope. The pain of wanting to forget him so badly that she lost herself.

Ailee shook her head.

"I cannot."

How she got away with blatantly lying to him was unfathomable, but Loki just looked at her and nodded. He behaved so awkwardly out of place it was unsettling. A long silence descended upon them, not the comfortable kind that she was used to, until Loki leaned forward and pressed a very soft kiss on his forehead, then he rose from the bed.

Ailee remembered whatever she had experienced and she had chosen to lie to him. It hurt. It hurt to feel her so distant. It hurt to see the pain in her eyes. It hurt that she did not come to him for comfort. 

No matter how many times he had pushed her away, she had never distanced herself from him. No matter what, he had always been able to feel her. Her love. Her trust. It hurt that she cut him off. He did not know what she had seen, but it was clear that it made her withdraw her trust.

All the times he had wished for her to run from him. Leave him so that he could justify his loneliness.

Was it not ironic? Now all he wished for was to feel her.

He had taken it for granted, when he should have treasured it as a rare gift.

He had no idea how the love they shared would be able to survive. But he knew that if she was willing to give him a chance, he would wait for it. No matter what it took he would be waiting for her.

Stop thinking about yourself, idiot. This is about her. What you can offer her. Start behaving as though you actually wish to make an effort.

There was so much he wanted to say, and yet, his silver tongue had turned to lead.

"You must be hungry." He finally said. "Anat said that I should go and fetch you some food as soon as you wake."

Loki gazed at her as if to ask permission to leave.

"I am starving. Food would be great."

The god bent his head in a nod, but kept standing next to the bed for a moment longer, eyes cast downwards, a shamefaced expression colouring his features, reminding Ailee of a little boy who did not know how to apologise for a mischievous trick he played on someone. She almost wanted to take him into her arms. Tell him that ...

Well, almost.

He was a grown up ma- uhm, god - how could he not know how to apologise? After all he had done, could he not cast aside his pride and ask for forgiveness? 

Ailee's heart contracted at her thoughts. It was not in her nature to be resentful, and yet, as much as it pained her to see him like this, she did not have the heart to tell him that it was all going to be fine. Because it would be a lie. 

Loki finally turned away to slip into his pants and tunic before he left. Ailee sank back onto the cushions, staring up at the wooden beams that decorated the ceiling. A warm breeze blew in through the window and yet she had never felt colder. She closed her eyes. 

What had happened to her life? Her life had been thrown into complete chaos.

She could not remember anything before her "fall".

Who had she been? Where did she belong to? How did she know Loki? Had she loved him? 

Too many questions. Too much pain. 

She turned her face into the pillow and cried. 

 

When Loki returned he found her staring at the ceiling and his heart contracted at seeing her look so distant.

"Ailee?"

His voice was velvet and honey as he sat down on the bed beside her and she looked at the dark god. 

Still so hauntingly beautiful.

With a groan she sat up and Loki reached behind her to adjust the pillows so that she could lean against them, before he handed her a bowl of delicious smelling stew, which she wolfed down, all of a sudden very aware of how hungry she was. When she finished, Loki took the empty bowl from her hands and sat it aside. 

"Loki?"

"Hm?"

"I think, I - I need some time for myself."

The god averted his eyes. Something in his chest contracted so painfully that he was sure he would suffocate any moment. 

He had lost her.  She was going to leave him.

Stop it. Just stop thinking about yourself. She needs time. Give her time.  

A sigh escaped his lips before they tightened in a thin line.

Time, was not exactly a thing to be squandered considering her life span.

Loki took a deep breath, before he glanced up at Ailee, the glitter of tears lingering in his eyes.

If you cry now, Loki, I will not be able to do this, and I need some time. Please, just give me time to know what I want.

He did not let them fall, the tears, instead he rose to his feet. 

"I shall be in the other chamber, pursuing my duties, if you need anything. If you wish to return to Amara's cottage in the morning, I will take you there. Rest now."

Despite the fact that everything inside him crumbled, he kept his voice soft and steady for her. Loki straightened to his full height. The paperwork would be a welcome distraction. The god strode out of the small sleeping chamber when her voice made him halt.

"Loki?"

Had she changed her mind? Would she allow him to stay?

Hope rose in his heart.

"Yes?"

"Thank you. For giving me space."

His heart cracked a little.

He would wait. 

And hope.

*

Chapter Text

I can't stop loving you I've made up my mind
To live in memories of a lonesome time
I can't stop wanting you it's useless to say
So I'm just going live my life in dreams of yesterday

Those happy hours that we once knew
So long ago still make me blue
They say the time will heal a broken heart
But time has stood still since we've been apart.

~Brian Adams, I can't stop loving you

 

Dusk settled over Vanaheim, the deep purple sky reflecting in the calm surface of the small pond making it appear as if the waterlilies floated in a sea of purple. Loki sat on the grass underneath a tall weeping willow that sheltered him from view of anyone coming past, the branches reaching down so low they were almost touching the surface of the water. He had never minded to be alone. As long as he could remember, fate had never graced him with a place he belonged. It seemed that he never fit in, no matter how hard he tried.

In stark contrast to a loud and boisterous Thor, Loki had been a shy child, who did not derive joy from sparring or bullying others or rolling around in the dirt like Thor and his friends. He had tried. And always ended up underneath Thor, humiliated and ridiculed. As much as he had fantasised that his brother and friends would accept him, and they would roam the realms as the famous five, Thor and the Warriors Three had only ever made him feel like the fifth wheel on the carriage. They took pleasure in putting his obvious weaknesses right into his face. Loki preferred to read rather than roll around in the dirt, he longed to watch animals rather than hunt and kill them, he was quiet and shy rather than loud and impetuous. 

So, early on Loki had started to withdraw. His mother tried to encourage him by pointing out that his differences were what made him unique, that they were truly his strengths. As much as Loki wished he could believe her, it was Thor who always earned his father's recognition. It had been a lonely life, one that Loki grew to get used to, albeit with jealousy and spite. He could not understand where he had gone wrong. Why he was so different. Why it was not acceptable for him to be this way.

Once Frigga started teaching him how to use his seidr his hopes had grown that he would finally be accepted, but even possessing the knowledge of the magical arts turned against him, as it was considered unmanly. A true warrior had no need for magic tricks. 

It seemed that whatever he did, he could never get it right. He would always end up an outcast.

And Loki decided that there was no use in cherishing false hopes or harbouring illusions. He rather created them.

The prince learnt to fight in his own way, use his seidr to get what he want, and his charm to win favours. Because where Thor was proficient in muscle-power, Loki was skilled in language, and soon the young god discovered that cheating and tricking brought him just as much attention as Thor's showing off muscles.

But peace he only found in the presence of his mother. Frigga was his save haven for a while, until ...

Loki drew a sharp breath.

He was not sure if he was ready to allow the memory of his sister back into his life.

The god's gaze dropped and he extended his hand, gingerly touching the grass in front of him, feeling the cool softness of the green blades under his fingers. So smooth and gentle. So, humble. Grass never complained when someone stepped on it, even when it was done with malicious intent. The soft blades bent without judgement and offered themselves willingly to whoever chose to walk on it. A quality he would consider as weakness in anyone, and yet, if those green blades were not serving others so willingly, how beautiful would the worlds truly be? It was not a weakness on their part, it was a weakness of those who chose to walk upon grass without recognising the beauty in humility, in goodness and in kindness.

Tara.

She had been like a blade of grass. Humble, gentle and soothing.

Just like Ailee.

And what about him? 

Loki closed his eyes and groaned.

He had become exactly what he never wanted to be.

All his life he had tried to fit in or pay people back for making him suffer. He had been so consumed with his own artificial needs and wants that he had not recognised the most precious gifts, when they were placed right in front of him.

No matter what you touch, you destroy it.

The thought flitted through his mind, immediately bringing pain as well as protection. Pain in the face of knowing that he would always be alone, protection from the dreadful fear of getting hurt. 

No matter what he did, he would always hurt the ones he loved, would he not? Was he not destined to? Was he not a god of chaos? Was it not against his nature to yearn for love? To long for forgiveness? To find peace?

His life always seemed to be out of his control. But how could one control chaos? Or fate? As much as Loki tried to be in control, the odds seemed against him.

He sniggered.

Here he was, feeling sorry for himself, and yet it had been the very fact that his life was constantly skittering out of control, that had made him so skilled at finding solutions where others saw no way out. The ability to think independently, to disregard rules and find his own path. 

But his path was one that was littered with loss. 

He lay back on the grass, taking a deep breath before allowing his gaze to wander up into the now indigo sky where the first stars twinkled as if to encourage him.

The stars. 

Tara, his little star. HIs light, his fire, his burning. 

A lump started growing in his throat. 

Tara.

Was it not ironic that only a small twist of this word could change the meaning from star to tear? 

Was it a curse of fate, that Loki's brightest star had been the cause of his most bitter tears?

Astin mín. My beloved.

He had loved her since the day he spotted her in that golden cradle. Loki himself was just growing into a young man when Frigga carried the child, and the prince had spent many magic lessons with his unborn sister, but nothing had prepared him for seeing this tiny, fragile thing with a fluff of soft hair and large bright eyes that stared up at him full of immaculate beauty, just before her lips curled into a smile. It had melted his heart. Right from that moment, Loki had become Tara's perfect slave. A fate that was soon shared by pretty much everyone in the palace, including his father.

Elsku dúllan mín. My sweet one.

The god closed his eyes.

Forgive me. Forgive me, my beloved.

“Nobody should ever be cause for your tears. Not even Thor. Forgive him, sweet one, he might be an oaf but he loves you.”

Loki had been so pleased to see a small smile appear on his little sister's face when he told her this. 

"I love you, Loki."

As if to affirm her words, small arms had wrapped around his neck and she hugged him tightly. Loki gathered her close, revelling in her trust. The fact that she preferred him over Thor, made him love her even more. Tara adored her brothers, but out of the two of them Loki was her favourite.

The dark god conceded to open his mind and heart to the memories floated to the surface of his consciousness. 

Frigga's garden, a mild afternoon sun warming his skin. He was lying on the grass, reading, the sleeping girl curled up at his side when all of a sudden she stirred and sighed. 

“I love you.” She breathed.

The god quirked an eyebrow but said nothing as she snuggled closer against him, muttering sleepily.

“You are not like Thor who only cares about weapons, battles and beating others up."

"No? What am I like then?"

Loki asked, amused and touched by the little girl's confession.

"You are soft. Everything about you is soft. Your skin, your hair, your heart.”

It made the god chuckle.

“My skin, my hair and my heart?”

“M-hm. So soft.”

She hummed.

“Are you still asleep, krúttið mitt?”

He asked chuckling softly.

“M-hm.” She purred.

Loki let one of his hands sink onto her head to ruffle her hair playfully and when she yawned and sat up to look at him, he put the book down on his chest to regard her.

Unruly locks of shimmering hair framed her face, much to his mother's amusement (who tended to roll her eyes in feigned drama at the state of the girl's hair) and the maid's dismay (who tended to fuss over his little sister), Tara did not like having her hair braided. Loki agreed with her, wholeheartedly, because she was beautiful in a wild, untamed way.

“What about Thor? Do you not love him?”

Now it was her turn to chuckle and she shook her head.

“Of course, I love Thor. But you know what he is like. He is so strong, he could carry me on his shoulders all day and never get tired, he will always protect me, but he is also pretty annoying sometimes. He can be mean. He tells me that I am weak, and that I cannot do certain things because I am a girl. He makes me cry, while you make me laugh. You take the time to explain things to me, when I do not understand them, while he laughs at me for my stupidity." She blinked at him and tucked a stray stand of hair behind her ear. "I wish to be as kind and smart as you are one day. You taught me how to read and write before I even started to study, you take me to the gardens and the library with you and you let me sit on your lap on the swing in the garden. When I am with Thor, everything is about him. When I am with you everything is peaceful and quiet. When I grow up I hope that, I will be able to return all the kindness you give me now.”

Loki sat up, putting the book beside him on the grass before he pulled the little girl onto his lap. There was a lump in his throat and an overwhelming feeling inside his heart that flooded him with a sweetness, he would have defined as gratitude.

“There is no need for that. You are already giving me more than I deserve, little one. Elsku dúllan mín.

As the memories flowed through his mind, a tear rolled down the dark god's cheek.

Then another one. 

He had promised that he would protect her. He had promised that he would never hurt her. 

And she had trusted him. 

With her life.

***

Ailee had spent most of her day in bed. As promised, Loki had accompanied Ailee to Amara's cottage in the morning. After he made sure she had everything she needed, the god lingered in the doorway for a moment, watching her.

“I am here, if you need me. You are not alone.” 

“I know.”

Ailee replied and the dark god left, albeit hesitantly.

She did not like not knowing what to feel for him, so she snuggled up in bed and wept silently into the pillow before she eventually fell asleep again. 

Amara managed to soothe her heart though, as the young priestess was made Ailee feel completely looked after. Loki came by with some food at lunch time and enquired about her, to his credit, he respected Ailee's wishes and kept his distance. He stayed at the door speaking to Amara, loud enough though for Ailee to hear his voice.

His way of letting her know that he cared.

It twisted her heart a little. She knew Loki cared and she had turned him away without even giving him a reason. And yet, the god had relented to her will, rather than pushing his own.

Was she being unfair towards him?

She stared out the window, watching the lush green branches of the apple tree in the garden sway gently in the breeze.

Do you still love him now that you know what he has done? 

The tall cloaked stranger haunted her dreams.

Back in the forest, he had offered her a choice. If after all she had seen, she still decided to be with Loki, he would give her back her memory, with the knowledge however, that she would never be able to return to the life she had. Or he could erase all memories of Loki from her mind, so that she could go back to her peaceful life on earth. 

A raven landed on the branch of the tree. 

There was another knock on the door, and Ailee perked up as she heard a familiar voice boom through the cottage. 

Thor.

She smiled and slid from her bed to greet the God of Thunder with a hug, before he even had the chance to open his mouth. Taken aback, Thor gingerly wrapped his arms around her. He still felt rather guilty about not watching over her more vigilantly, but after a few moments in Ailee's presence he brightened up, returning to a lighter mood.

"I take it you are feeling better, then?”

She pulled away to look up at him.

“I missed you.”

She truly had. Thor was boisterous and full of himself, but she always felt protected in his presence. 

“I am sorry that I did not take better care of you, Lady Ailee, I was worried for you.”

“Just Ailee will do fine, and I am good, so do not worry.”

He nodded.

“How have you been? Are you feeling better?”

“I am. Still fairly tired though.”

She climbed back onto her bed, wrapping herself in one of the woolen blankets and sat up agaisnt the head board, before she patted the spot in front of her.

“Have a seat.”

He slumped down onto the bed and Ailee squeaked. Thor looked at her questioningly.

“You still have your boots on! Do you gods not have anyone teach them manners up there in Asgard?”

He laughed.

“My mother tried very hard, but it seems that Loki is the one who was more receptive manners than I was.”

Ailee smiled, but it did not escape Thor that the smile never reached her eyes, the god let out a breath and leaned forward, elbows on his knees and made a vague gesture with his hands.

“Why are you staying here, when Loki could easily take care of you?”

“Because I like it here.”

“And he – he agreed to it?”

“I do not require Loki's permission to make my own choices, do I?” she could not hide the irritation in her voice.

She did not want to discuss Loki. Not now. Not with Thor. She did not even want to discuss him with herself.

She missed him.

She did not want to miss him.

“I merely wondered, because I know how concerned he is about you. Those two days, while you were sleeping, he never left your side. Hardly slept and ate. I know that he was anxious of what would happen once you woke up. He was so angry with me for bringing you here.”

“It is fine, Thor. Everything is fine. I just need a little time.”

“So, he did tell you, did he not? That it was my fault?”

“What was your fault?”

“That I misjudged him, when I thought that he left you, because he intended to return to Midgard as soon as his task here was done.”

“He is the God of Lies, Thor, and your brother, you should know him better by now.”

“This was no lie. I saw the look in his eyes, and I will never forget that look.” Thor stared down at his hands for a while and when Ailee did not say anything, he continued. “Loki cares for you in a way I have never seen him care - not since our mother passed. I do not know your reasons for keeping a distance, but I ask you to give him a chance. You came here to win him back, did you not?”

“A lot has happened in the meantime and I – I do not know what I – if I want to …" Ailee could not say it. That she may not want to stay with him. She wished that she could tell Thor what she had seen, what she had experienced but she had not even told Loki. He would surely feel hurt if she spoke to Thor first.

It would not hurt to find answers though, if she could.

"Thor, before Loki fell, did he - did he have a lover?”

The god's eyebrows rose in surprise.

“A lover?”

“Well, someone in Asgard – or anywhere - someone he cared for.”

“Why -”

Ailee quickly waved her hand in a dismissing motion. Maybe not a good idea after all.

“Nevermind, just forget it.”

Thor looked at her curiously and she pulled the blanket tighter around her.

“Would you tell me about Asgard?”

“Certainly. What would you like to know?”

"Anything, really."

She let her fingers play with the lightly woven fabric of the blanket while he spoke. It was a soft pink, the same colour that she loved so much and had used in her room at Tony's Tower.

Tony! God, she had completely forgotten about Pepper and Tony.

Ailee groaned.

How could she forget? They would be worried sick by now.

“What is the matter, Ailee?"

"Is there a way I can send a message to Tony and Pepper? They must be really worried. I was meant to be back yesterday.”

“We could send a raven?” Thor offered cheekily.

It made her laugh.

“Is this meant to be the sophisticated technology of the higher realms?”

The God of Thunder just chuckled.

“Tony knows you are with me, so he will not be worried if you take a few days longer, but I can pay him a visit tonight if you want to.”

“I would appreciate that. I feel bad that they might worry over me ... do you truly send ravens?”

“On Asgard we do, yes.”

Interesting.

“Interesting choice of birds, but then – in Harry Potter they use owls.”

"Harry Potter?"

"Oh, a book. Kind of Midgardian mythology if you wish."

“I see. Ravens are my father's sentinels, naturally these birds are highly respected animals in Asgard.”

Odin's sentinels? 

Her mind wandered to the cloaked figure of her memories. She had never seen his face as the hood was always drawn low, covering his face.

Could it be -?

No, it did not make sense, surely Odin had better things to do than to mess with her memories. Why would he have any interest in her at all? 

But then, what if he did not agree to her and Loki's relationship? Was that why she had been offered to return to her peaceful life on earth? To leave Loki?

Loki was always wary of his father. She had heard so much about Odin from Loki that it was difficult to figure out how much of it was coloured by Loki's own loathing.

“Do you think your father would agree to Loki courting me?”

“Loki has never been one to listen to my father.”

“That was not what I asked.”

“Quite frankly, I do not know, Ailee, but I fear that father would not be pleased.”

Well, she was a mere mortal while Loki was the son of the ruler of the Realm Eternal. Not exactly the match a father would desire for a prince ... or a god.

Still, it did not explain why Odin would take the trouble of meddling with their lives.

And why would he want her to remember that she was not mortal? Would it not have been better to let her live in the illusion that she was?

It did not make sense. 

“Loki did not have a lover.”

“What?”

“In Asgard, before he fell, he had not had a lover for decades. He had flings and whores, but nobody owned his heart.”

Oh.

Flings? Whores? ... Her dark god was getting darker by the minute.

Well, they obviously had not been lovers then. They must have known each other in a different way.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

You're far away, so far away.
Have to believe that you can still feel me
And I can only wait and miss you.
Now we're locked in time, out on the wire
I wish that I could fight the war for you.
I'm always on your side.
If I could trade places, you know I would.

Hold on
Don't let go
Just stay on that road in that heartbeat.
You're not alone in the dark, can you see me?

Cause I'll be lighting fires - fires, for you.
I'm there in the light when you need me, to find your way home.

I'll never leave, you know I won't.

~Ronan Keating, Fires

 

It was a mild summer evening, Loki and Tara had settled under a tree in their small garden. A garden the dark prince had discovered centuries ago, as a young boy, and it was back then that he had shielded this place with his magic to turn it into a sanctuary where he was safe from Thor and his friends, and even Heimdall's vigilant gaze. Not even his mother knew about this garden. He only shared it with Tara.

She raked her fingers through her brother's soft hair, whose head was resting in her lap, Loki kept his eyes closed and relished the tender affection his sister bestowed upon him. She made him feel at peace with the world. At least in this small world of his.

Even though she had kept her childlike innocence, Tara had grown into a young woman far too quickly. Loki knew that it was only a matter of time until their father would find a worthy husband for her. She would be paired with a beautiful, perfect god who worshipped her as the goddess she was. Loki was sure that Odin would find the perfect match. And Tara would leave - and forget her untoward brother. Imperfect as he was, who could blame her? The dark prince dreaded the day he would loose her to somebody else.

Loki opened his eyes to look up at her and noticed sadness veiling her gaze.

“What troubles you, sweet one?”

“Right now? Nothing.”

A smile graced her features.

“You never used to evade my questions, and I can see it in your eyes. Tell me, what it is that is on your mind?"

“Thor.”

Thor?

“He said that I … he said I have grown into a beautiful woman, and that I would – that father would find me a worthy husband soon.”

“And why would that trouble you?”

Loki forced himself to smile up at her, while his guts twisted at the thought.

“I am not overly fond of the idea, Loki.”

“The idea of growing into a beautiful woman or the idea of gaining a worthy husband?”

He kept his tone light and teasing.

“Both.”

“Why? You have grown into a beautiful goddess, and being father's little gem, he is sure to find you the perfect consort.”

“But I do not wish to marry.”

Loki sat up and turned to face her, a smug smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

“You are not still bent on marrying me, krúttið mitt?”

She slapped his arm and Loki chuckled, but when his eyes met hers, his smile fell. There was a glint of tears in her beautiful eyes and the dark prince's heart contracted painfully. He had not meant to hurt her with his teasing.

“Do not jest about this, Loki.”

“I am sorry”, he said quickly. “Thor spoke without thinking. You are still too young to marry, so do not trouble yourself with things that are not imperative."

“I do not wish to leave the palace. Leave mother."

"Nobody will send you away.”

Yet

He thought bitterly.

"I do not wish to leave … you.”

Her voice was but a whisper.

What?

A tear slipped down her cheek as her eyes dropped to the ground and she sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, just like she had always done ever since she was little. Even though Loki had witnessed her doing it countless times, the gesture sparked something in him that the prince had rather not felt. As his eyes flicked from her mouth to her eyes, then back to her lips, he realised with discomfort that she truly had grown into a beautiful woman.

Had he simply denied himself to see it?

The urge to lean forward and lick the salty tear off her skin before kissing those soft lips was suddenly overwhelming. 

This was insane.

Loki resigned to wiping the tear away with his thumb. True, he had always loved her. But the kind of attraction he felt towards his sister in this moment was less than appropriate. He slowly drew his hand away and cleared his throat, suddenly feeling self-conscious, when Ailee leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, nuzzling her face in his shoulder.

“Promise me, Loki. Promise me that no one will take me away. Not even Father.”

Why did she feel so helpless?

The awareness of having to leave tore her apart.

She was a princess, Odin's daughter. Why could she not decide freely over her life?

Strong arms hesitantly closed around her in a gentle embrace.

Tara rested her head in the crook of Loki's neck, inhaling his scent, feeling the soothing coolness of his skin. She was happy here. With him. She did not need anyone else. The thought of giving herself to another unsettled her heart.

... Another? ... Tara, what are you thinking?

She stiffened in Loki's arms as the realisation hit her. Her heart was not hers to give away anymore. It already belonged to someone and she was not willing to give it to anybody else. Ailee's breath hitched.

But this was – impossible. She could not possibly be in love with --

“You are overthinking, little star.” The velvet of his voice interrupted her thoughts. “Shh. Stop thinking. There is nothing to worry about.”

“Then promise me, that you will not allow it.”

Loki sighed deeply.

“You know that I cannot promise you this, even if I wished, and you do not know what the future will bring. You may fall in love, you may wish to leave, so do not worry yourself about things that lie beyond your control. If you truly desire to stay unmarried, you need to speak with father.”

He was so reasonable. Always thinking about what was in her best interest.

What would he think of her if he knew her thoughts?

Her cheeks flushed.

Surely he would tease her. He would call her childish. He may even be appalled.

“You are right. I am sorry, Loki, I am behaving like a child, maybe I should not take Thor's words to heart.”

“That's my little flower.”

When she pulled away from him, he placed a finger under her chin and tilted her head up to look into her eyes.

“Needless to say, I am always right, you should know that by now.”

The self-satisfied smirk on his face made her roll her eyes and she playfully punched his chest, which made him chuckle softly. But the moment she sank back against his chest and closed her eyes, Loki's smile faded and he swallowed hard as he held her against him, fingers playing absent-mindedly with her hair.

Her warm body against his own elicited an array of feelings in him, that he needed to get under his control. The dark prince drew a deep breath. Fortunately he had mastered controlling his senses and he would not allow them to betray him - or destroy the innocent love his sister held for him.

She was, without fail, the most beautiful being in all the realms and he felt entirely wretched for being aroused by her touch.

And yet.

He could not deny that he longed for her.

What was wrong with him? 

Loki willed himself to stop and blocked his mind.

If she would read his thoughts right now, she would surely be terrified.

By the Norns, he was her favourite brother. Her guardian. Her protector.

How could he have thoughts like this?  How could he have feelings like this towards her?

No matter how hard it would be for him. No matter how much restraint he needed to exercise to keep his urges under control. He could never let her know how he felt right now.

Tara's breath became steady as sleep overtook her and the God of Mischief cradled her to his chest.

Convincing himself that she was nothing but an innocent child. Nothing more but an innocent child.

**** 

"Anat?"

The priestess raised her head to look at Ailee, who had stepped into the garden of a small cottage where a few women and children were gathered around tables, sorting through herbs. When the dark haired priestess beheld her, a benevolent smile appeared on her lips.

"Ailee, the dark god's little light." Ailee chewed on her lip and the priestess laughed softly and came up to her to give her a gentle hug.

“How are your hands?”

She carefully took the girl's bandaged hands into hers.

“Better. They hurt, but it is bearable.”

Anat nodded, her gaze meeting Ailee's.

"What troubles your, my friend?"

Friend?

"Apart from an insufferable god with a broken heart, I mean?”

The priestess' smile was still in place, albeit a little more smug now. Ailee's eyes flicked to the ground before they came back up to search Anat's dark blue ones. 

“When I arrived here, you asked me what I seek in him."

Anat nodded. 

"I am afraid that I seek something I will never find."

"And what would that be?"

"Innocence."

The priestess held Ailee's gaze for a while before she placed the herbs in her hand on the table next to her and called over a young girl who was working nearby.

“Ullya, would you take these to the healers for me?” The girl nodded and Anat thanked her with a smile.

 "Come, walk with me, Ailee."

They left the small garden and took a path between the cottages, that led towards the centre of the village.

“Tell me, what have you seen when you were in the inner worlds?”

“I – I remembered.”

“And what did you remember?”

“That I lost myself so that I could forget him. I wanted to forget Loki, I chose to. I saw the terrible suffering he caused.” She broke off trying to find the right words. “I think I loved him, but if his love brings such pain, do I really want this? Is it worth it? Is he worth it?”

“Do you trust your mind or heart, when things all seem to fall apart?”*

Ailee's lips opened to speak, but she hesitated.

“My heart is not specifically trustworthy, it seems.”

“Neither is the God of Lies, and yet you trusted him. You did not judge him until you saw what you were not ready to accept.”

“What do you mean?”

“Our heart is not logical in its choice of whom it decides to love, and our mind does not understand the ways of the heart. The mind is limited. It likes to doubt. It tries to understand, but the nature of the mind is to divide. While the nature of the heart is to unite.”

“How can I love him when he constantly pushes me away? When he hurts me by constantly deciding what is best for me? When he does not give me a choice?”

“I believe that he has seen the error of his ways, because I can see how much he fears to be judged by you. The Allfather has forgiven him, can you not find it in your heart to do so either?”

“What about him? Has Loki ever asked for forgiveness?”

“Many times, although not with words. The dark god may have a silver tongue, but it deserts him when it comes to his own pain. His tears are more precious than a thousand words from his lips.” The priestess placed her hand on Ailee's arm to draw her gaze to hers. “The Lord of Chaos has shed more tears in your presence than he has in many centuries. Does that not count?”

The woman's dark blue eyes held hers and Ailee allowed her words to sink in.

"You know him well, do you not?"

"I have known Loki for most of his life."

Anat halted and Ailee became aware of their surroundings. They had reached the centre of the village, which held what had looked to her like a park, but now she saw that it was a circle of trees that held yet another smaller circle of tall rocks. Soft grass and wild flowers covering the area. The priestess stepped between the trees and Ailee followed, immediately becoming aware of a strong current of magic that passed through her like a river.

"Loki is a god. How can he behave in such an ignorant - such a human way?"

"Everything in existence is bound to form, Ailee, even the gods. We are not infallible, because we too are bound by certain laws. But some of us have the potential to go beyond even this. The dark god is one of those who are able to dwell beyond good and evil, even though you may not see it yet."

"What do you see in him?"

"Chaos."

"And what is chaos?"

"Chaos is the matrix of creation, the fertile soil from which the entire universe came into existence, and which underlies all workings of our existence. Every living being is conditioned from the day it is created. Most of us are conditioned towards a behaviour that is aligned with rules and regulations designed to establish order and control. But there is a limitation to this, because by identifying with these rules, we limit our experience of reality. We allow ourselves to be defined by our beliefs. Defined by what we think is right or wrong, dark or light, good or evil. Most beings are trapped in this limited reality. It is Chaos that offers us the opportunity to grow beyond this.”

The priestess led Ailee through the outer circle of trees towards the smaller one in the centre, that consisted of large rocks that were planted upright in the ground.

“In truth, reality is not limited to polarities. Reality, in its purest sense, was created from Chaos, because Chaos holds all possibilities. It cannot be confined to good or evil, because it has the potential to be just about anything. When Chaos touches our existence, it offers us the opportunity to transcend the limitations of our beliefs, so that we may experience life to the full. It is much like a child, innocent, wild and beautiful. This innocence makes it attractive, seductive even, that gives comfort and hope. But because it is wild and untamed, it can tilt from being rewarding to being destructive. It is in innocence that Chaos finds its beauty, its stillness and its courage to transform destiny.”

“But how can he be innocent after what he did?”

"Innocence is not a result of actions, it is the state of mind. More than any other God, the Lord of Chaos needs an innocent mind, because when he looses his innocence, he will destroy himself. Chaos and Innocence are two sides of the same coin, one cannot exist without the other."

“I do not understand.”

"Ailee, understand only this: what you seek, is what you need to offer."

They came to a halt in the centre of the circle of stones, and Ailee glanced around. It was as if the ground under her feet was pulsing with energy, she felt it tickling the soles of her feet and streaming upwards through her body as if she stood in an upside down waterfall.

“What is this place, Anat?”

“It is a Sacred Grove. A shrine for the Goddess.”

“I can feel its magic.”

The priestess smiled.

“It holds powerful magic. The magic of the Goddess, who is the source of primordial chaos.”

The girl beheld the woman in front of her. Anat's azure blue eyes seemed to sparkle, and for a moment Ailee had the sensation of recognising an old friend on the street after not having seen them for a long time.

"Who are you?"

“Your friend.”

"I – I know you, do I not? I knew you."

The priestess held out her hand and Ailee placed her own in it.

"Do you wish to know? Or do you wish to forget and go back to your life on earth? I can take care of that if you should choose to. You will wake up in your bed, in Stark's Tower, and you will not remember anything. No visits to other worlds, no chaos, no Loki. I can take him away from your memories and ease your suffering."

An existence free of Loki?

The girl's lips parted.

Would it not be easier? To simply forget him? 

To go back to Tony and Pepper and live the rest of her life in peace? 

Had it not been a peaceful life until Loki had disturbed it? 

Would it not be less of a burden to live in ignorance of his existence?

“What is it you choose, Ailee?”

"I – I cannot go back. I have come too far."

"Very well. Be aware that I can give you back your memories, but not your immortality. It may be even more painful, once you remember everything."

Ailee bit her lip.

Better to be aware than not to know, right?

"What do you wish to know?"

"What - what am I? What was I?"

"A Valkyrie."

When she saw the question in Ailee's eyes, Anat gently tapped the girl between her eyebrows and the scenery around them changed.

As the lush green of the Sacred Grove vanished, a dusky sky spanned over them and a misty battlefield stretched out before them. It was littered with bodies. About a dozen other women stood a few feet away from them, all from various races. A couple of them were dark-skinned, others tall and pale with shimmering golden hair. 

When Ailee's eyes fell on Anat, she was taken aback as she found a different person standing next to her. The priestess' hair now flowed like shimmering gold over her shoulders and her face radiated an ethereal beauty, only her eyes were the same. She wore some kind of silvery white armor, holding a shield and a staff. She smiled at Ailee before she bent her head in a nodd.

As if on cue, Ailee felt her wings unfold and so did those of the other women she noticed. Magnificent, white wings. The other women started roaming the field of bodies, gathering golden shapes into their arms. Subtle bodies of light. The souls of those who had fallen.

Ailee remembered.

She gasped, as she realised that these were her memories. She was inside her memories.

“I will never get used to seeing you by my side, little star.”

Anat turned to her and Ailee heard herself answer.

“I am not a child anymore.”

“Evidently not, otherwise you would not be here with me now. And yet, you should not be here, on a battlefield, choosing the souls of the fallen, you should not even grace the halls of Valhalla with your presence. But you should live a happy life amongst the ones you love.”

“Ironically, it was the one I loved who brought me here in the first place.”

“And your love for him astounds me. Do you never loathe him for taking your life away from you? Condemning you to an existence of roaming the fields of the dead and serving the halls of Valhalla? Because while it is a worthy existence and reserved for only the purest of souls, it is not what you were born for.”

“He is gone. What would life be able to offer me, without him?”

“How can you still speak of him as though he loved you? Was he not the one who betrayed you?”

“No, Freyja, Loki did not betray me. He betrayed himself and it cost us both dearly. It is only by my mother's grace that I am here now. Although sometimes I wish that she would have let me pass and I could join him wherever he is now. Even if it was the realm of the underworld. I would deserve to be in Hel just as much.”

“Still so innocent. Have you not learnt from all this, Tara?”

As Ailee looked out over the battlefield, she could feel her emotions well up at Anat's words. 

“You knew, Freyja. You knew that we were lovers, and yet you encouraged me. And you know my heart is true to him, and him alone, so how can you speak such cruel words?”

The goddess let her gaze roam over the field, regarding the Valkyries doing their duty, before she turned back to face Ailee.

“I needed to be sure.”

“Be sure of what?”

“That you still burn for him. That you are still his light, his burning flame, his Lokabrenna.”

Ailee's heart ached hearing the name.

“How do you know? How do you know this is what he called me?”

“I would not be the Goddess of Love and Desire if I did not know lover's secrets. Especially the secrets of clandestine lovers who share a forbidden love.”

“Please. Stop tormenting my heart, Freyja, you know that I cannot forget him, why do you torture me so?”

“Because I needed to know that your love for him is unwavering before I ask you.”

“Ask me what?”

“How strong is your desire to be with him?”

“Do not jest with me, Freyja, this is not a matter of ridicule, you should know that better than anyone.”

“You are like a daughter to me, and your love is dearer to my heart than most others. I ask you this only once more, as I know that Odin's spies are ever watchful. If Loki was not himself, if he was broken, yet alive, would you still wish to be with him?”

“I would give up my life for him, if that was what it took to be with him.”

Freyja's eyes met Ailee's, the dark blue had turned stormy and the breeze blew strands of her golden hair into her face. The goddess' gaze was piercing her.

“Following him would be worse than giving up your life.”

Ailee felt panic rushing through her, then joy, then fear, then – hope. She had not felt hope in what felt like an eternity.

“So, it is true? He is alive? You - you know where he is?”

“He is not the god you knew. He is broken and he needs to heal.”

“Then I will heal him.”

“This is what I hoped and feared.” The goddess muttered.

Forgive me for doing this to you, little Brenna, but a broken god can only be healed by a broken goddess.

“Have you seen him?”

“I have seen him. With my own eyes.”

“Then tell me. Tell me where he is, I must go to him. I must tell him that there is no need to worry. That I am alive. I cannot bear that my last memory of him were his eyes full of self-loathing and guilt. He thought he had killed me! I must set things right.”

“You cannot. You cannot just go there, Brenna. You are a Valkyrie now, you cannot go to Midgard, unless you are released from the oath you have given, and you know that there is only one person who can free you from it.”

“Odin.”

“And he is unlikely to give you his blessings. Loki's heart is poisoned by jealousy and fear, and his mind blinded by hatred."

"Then there must be another way. There is always a way."

"If the Allfather does not give you permission, there is another way to Midgard – but  - that would be worse than death itself.”

“I do not care, I will do whatever it takes.”

“You do not understand – you would have to become mortal.”

“Is that - so bad?”

Freyja shook her head at the girl's artlessness.

“You would need to do give up your immortality. But it must be done of your own free will.”

“Then I shall.”

“Tara, you do not understand.”

“No. No, I do not! So, for Odin's sake, Freyja! Tell me how!”

“Shh, Brenna, do not call the Allfather's name if you do not wish to draw his attention.”

“Maybe I should. Maybe I should go and ask him to release me. Confront him and find out why he has not told me that Loki is still alive? How could he keep something this important from me?”

“It is because he fears of what is to come. Loki is changed. He is broken.”

“You are stalling, Freyja. You said there is another way. If Loki needs my help, then how can I deny him? If he is broken, how can I just sit by and leave him without comfort?”

“You would have to break the cosmic law to see him. Even Loki would not wish for you to do this. Not for him. Not for anyone.”

“How?”

“You would have to fall. Severe your wings - by means of your own magic.”

“But that would be – suicide.”

“As I said, not even Loki would ask you to do this."

 

 

Chapter Text

 What you never know won't hurt you
What you never know won't lie
What you never know won't desert you
What you never know won't say goodbye 

 

 

I'm falling for you
I'm falling for you
*My heart's torn in two*
I'm falling for you

 What you never know won't hurt you
What you never know won't lie
What you never know won't desert you

What you never know - unless you try

 

~Hayley Westenra, what you never know

 

 

Thor stretched, his muscles bulging impressively and Tara quirked an eyebrow at the display. He grinned at her, before he lunged forward without warning to wrap his arms around her delicate body and lift her up. The girl pulled a face as the god pressed her against his dirty chestplate.

“Thor! You are filthy!”

A loud laugh rumbled through the God of Thunder's chest.

“I missed you too, sister!”

He placed a sweaty kiss on her cheek, which made her laugh and pull a face at the same time.

“Let me down, you oaf.” She giggled and the god obliged, keeping hold of one of her hands while placing her safely back onto her feet.

“You sound more and more like Loki, you two are spending too much time together”, he teased and she slapped his arm.

“Leave the poor boy out of this." She glanced behind Thor at the other soldiers that were coming back from the battle in Niflheim. "Speaking of him - where is he?”

Thor's smile fell and he released her hand to run his fingers through his hair.

“Tara, --”

He stopped to take a breath and the girl's eyes widened. Her hand went to her mouth.

“Did something happen to him?”

The blonde god rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. That was all it needed to make Tara panic.

What happened, Thor?” Her voice was a whisper and her hands grabbed his arms, as she looked up at her older brother. “What happened to Loki?”

“He was wounded in the last battle.”

Thor kept his hand on his forehead, he could not look into her eyes, if he did, he would surely burst into laughter.

“Norns – is he alright?” By now Tara's eyes were filling with tears and her fingers dug into the armor on Thor's arm. “Is it – is it bad?”

“You should go and see for yourself. He was taken to his chambers.”

Before he had even finished the sentence, his little sister started running down the hall.

Thor grinned to himself. He did feel a little guilty about making her worry. But he meant no harm, his little sister had simply always been such a perfect victim to their pranks. Thor knew how much she loved Loki. Plus, it had not been a complete lie either. Loki had been wounded, but it was nothing that would not heal over the next days.

Tara would be relieved to find Loki in good health after the initial shock and afterwards she would be furious with her older brother, most likely trying to get him back for it. Thor took pleasure in making his little sister fume – she was a little spitfire and utterly adorable when angry – and no matter what, in the end she would always embrace him, tell him how immature he was and how much she loved him. And how could she not forgive them afterwards?

 She was the Goddess of Innocence. She embodied love and compassion, she would always forgive.

And being innocent by nature, she was predestined to be pranked by her brothers. 

 

“Loki?!”

The door to Loki's bedroom flew open, causing the god to look up in surprise as his sister rushed in, stopping in front of him, panting. Her eyes brimming with tears and her lower lip quivering.

Still in his battle armor, Loki had sat down on his bed to take a moment to collect himself, before he was going to draw a bath and scrub the blood and sweat from the battle off his body. But when he beheld Tara, Loki's look turned from one of surprise to one of concern.

“I something the matter, Tara? Did something happen?”

“Loki.”

Was all that left her lips in a shaky voice.

“That would be - me?” 

He offered innocently and smirked a little, one eyebrow slowly raising in question.

“You – you are not wounded?”

He frowned.

“Nothing that will not heal overnight. Why? Tara, what --”

Before he could finish the sentence, the air was forced from his lungs as she pushed him flat onto his back, literally jumping on him, and wrapping her arms around Loki so tightly that he struggled to breathe.

“Thank the Norns.” She breathed.

It elicited a wheezy chuckle from the dark prince.

“I may have survived the battle, but you are squeezing the life out of me, little one.”

She loosened her grip a little, but made no move otherwise.

“I am sorry.” Her voice was but a whisper.

“By the Norns, Tara, you behave as if I died and came back to life. What is the matter?”

The girl did not respond right away, just lay on top of him, arms tightly around him, her face buried in the crook of his neck. Loki became uncomfortably aware how pleasant it was to have her body against him like this, her breath fanning over the sensitive skin of his neck.

The God closed his eyes.

Stop, Loki.

You need to stop this! She is your sister.

She has touched you countless times over the past 700 years without  ever stirring your loins – and she should NOT be.

What is the matter with you?

It took all his focus to reign in his urges. And he reminded himself of the reason he had spent less time with Tara over the past weeks – namely his inexplicable incapacity to stop himself from being attracted to her in a way that was entirely inappropriate.

“Thor is an ass.” Tara muttered against his neck and Loki laughed softly.

“Tell me something new. We have known this for as long as we have been in this family.”

The god relaxed a little and allowed his arms to come around her, one of his hands gingerly petting her hair. He could not stand having to be so careful when touching her, and he could not stand that touching her made his body respond like it did. She moved her face a little and Loki felt the wetness of tears against the skin on his neck.

“Are you crying, Tara?”

He could feel her shake her head, but his skin was definitely wet. Loki pushed himself upright, positioning her so that she was straddling his lap, before he carefully pried her away from him, to regard her. A golden strand of hair had come loose from her braids and clung to his armor so Loki unhooked it with careful fingers, before he tucked it behind her ear.

“What in the name of Hel did the oaf do to make you cry, sweet one?”

When she did not meet his eyes, so he placed a finger under her chin to lift it. Another hot tear rolled down her cheek. Loki gently wiped it off.

“Is it so bad that you cannot even angry with him?”

“I am. It is just - it is that – I was – I was scared.”

“Scared?” Loki laughed. “Pray tell, sweet daughter of Odin, what would be able to scare you?”

Something in her eyes stopped Loki's laughter the moment her gaze came to meet his own. They were full of hurt, fear, and something else ...

“I was afraid you were hurt.”

… longing?

“I was afraid that I might loose you. I cannot loose you, Loki. I cannot loose you.”

Before he could reply, two gentle hands cupped his face and she leaned forward to press her lips on his cheek.

Loki closed his eyes.

Another touch of her soft lips. This time on his temple, then another on his eye.

There was a distinct stirring in his loins now.

“Tara, what are you --”

The words were lost when she sealed his lips with hers.

Nonononono.

But the feeling of her warm, soft lips on his rendered the god utterly helpless.

Her lips tasted ...

Sweet.

Delightfully sweet, actually.

No, Loki ... Nonono ...

Like nothing he had ever tasted.

He felt her warm breath against his skin, her tongue seeking entrance to his mouth as it gingerly glided along his bottom lip and Loki yielded, parting his lips to meet her, fingers tightening in her hair.

Sweet Valhalla ...  She tasted delicious.

There was no way to hide what he was feeling right now, and a large part of him did not care. Both of Tara's hands threaded into his hair, and his own free hand roamed from her hip to her waist to pull her closer.

They kissed for a long time, both lost in the sensation, lost in the longing that had tormented them for far too long. Finally, when their lips parted they sat in silence, foreheads resting against each other, until Loki opened his eyes and gathered the courage to look at her.

Tell her that this is wrong.

You are the older one, you need to be responsible.

Tell her.

“I should go take a bath, I smell like horses and battle.”

Tara nodded and edged off his lap, so he rose and walked into the bathroom. After a long cold shower, Loki soaked in the bathtub for a while, trying to grasp what had just transpired.

She wanted him.

Tara wanted him.

Norns help us, this is destined to end in disaster.

When he returned to his bedroom Tara was there, asleep on top of the covers. Loki conjured a blanket and draped it over her.

As he regarded her peacefully sleeping form, he knew that there was no way to pretend anymore. No way to convince himself that he did not want her. That he did not desire to hold her, kiss her, fondle her, feel her.

It felt right.

How can it feel right, Loki? HOW can it feel RIGHT?!

He sat down on the edge of the bed, buried his face in his hands and groaned in frustration.

Delicate fingers gently threaded through his hair, tenderly massaging his scalp.

“You still have your braids.” She murmured sleepily as she sat up to lean against his back. “Will you let me do them next time you go into battle? You used to let me do them all the time.”

“You are not a child anymore.”

“But I am the one who you hold dear to your heart, am I not?”

Loki turned around.

“Tara --”

She pulled back and averted her eyes, readying herself to hear him requesting her to leave. Loki could feel it and his chest contracted.

By Odin, by the Norns, by …

... who was actually going to help him in his plight? Who was there to call on, when a GOD needed help?

He would surely go to Hel for this, even if he died an honorable death in battle.

Loki sighed and pulled her into his arms. He was too tired to find the words to send her away.

She snuggled up to him and a short while later, they fell asleep.

Loki had never felt so content.

So at home.

And so guilty.

 

***

Tara blinked, confused for a moment as she realised she was not in her chambers but then she felt a strong arm tightening around her midriff, gently pulling her back against a warm chest.

“Good morning, elsku dúllan mín.”

Loki's voice was rough from sleep, but undeniably soft and content. She turned around in his arms so that he could see his face. Loki's eyes were closed, but the corners of his mouth curled up slightly. Tara leaned forward to press a kiss his forehead.

Both of them knew that it would be wise to excuse last night as a mistake. To pretend it never happened.

But neither of them were ready to do it.

Then Loki took a deep breath. 

"Tara ..."

He could not say it.

“Why does this feel so right, Loki?”

The instant his eyes met Tara's, he knew that he was loosing this battle. Her eyes were open, clear and devoid of all lust or longing. The only thing he found inside those warm depths was love. Innocent, pure love.

Goddess of Innocence. My sweet one. 

I am going to ruin you.

Loki sighed.

He had to do it for her sake.

“It – this– " he gestured between them, "it cannot be.”

He exhaled sharply. Finally he found the strength to say it, and yet there was no power behind the spoken words.

“Let me be there for you.” she pleaded softly. “I know we are not meant to be attracted in this way, but I cannot pretend that I do not have those feelings for you. I do not wish to force myself to stay away from you anymore, or avoid spending time with you alone, as I have done over the past year. I would have to grow cold and indifferent towards you – and eventually - I would loose you. Last night I realised that I cannot loose you, Loki. You have been with me my whole life. You are what I live for -”

Loki placed a finger on her lips. The gaze of his green eyes holding hers.

“Do not say such things. I am not who you live for. You have your whole life ahead of you, Tara. I do not wish to loose you either, but I must be prepared to.”

“Then why does it feel right when I kiss you, and wrong when I kiss somebody else?”

A deep crease appeared on Loki's forehead and the dagger of jealousy twisted in the god's gut.

“You - you kissed somebody else?”

“The prince from Vanaheim. I think father would like us to grow closer, and I like him.”

“The wretched boy dared to touch you? He dared to kiss you?!” Loki hissed, and she felt a wave of cold rage coming from him and surging through her.

There it was. The side of her brother that made people afraid of him.

She merely put her hand on his cheek and he calmed immediately.

“Well, to tell the truth, it was I who kissed him not the other way around. As you said, I am not a child anymore. I am a goddess, Loki, I can choose my lovers now.”

Loki did not like where this conversation was going. He growled softly.

It made her chuckle.

“Are you jealous?”

“Maybe...” He rolled onto his back, resting one arm over his eyes.

“I kissed him to see if I felt the same way I feel when I am around you. The past months have been torture, you know that.”

“So, tell me then, without any further torment - what did you feel when you kissed him?”

“It felt good.”

“I am not sure if I can bear to hear anymore without having the urge to kill him.” He groaned. She chuckled.

“I felt attracted to him, so I should have been melting into his arms. But when I closed my eyes to feel him, all I felt was – you. I imagined it to be your hair, your lips, your arms. I do not know what cruel trick the Norns are playing on us, but I cannot be with anyone else, because you already own my heart, and my mind – and my soul - and I – I do not want it any other way.”

“Tara, you know not what you are saying.”

“Then let me show you.”

She leaned towards him, but Loki held his fingers to her lips before she could kiss him.

“It is unacceptable. Inappropriate. I should send you away." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "And yet ... I cannot bring myself to do it. But we need – we need rules.”

Tara's eyes pierced his soul, and Loki briefly wondered if he would have a soul left if he went ahead with this and followed his feelings. 

Rules? Is that truly my unruly brother speaking? The God of Lies and Mischief?”

“Who, in this very moment, is frightened to death by the Goddess of Innocence.”

She smiled as she placed her fingers over his and pulled them from her lips, keeping hold of his hand.

“Does Innocence truly frighten you?”

“It frightens me how much I need it. It feels as though I cannot live without it.” He confessed.

“So you do feel the same?”

“Even if I did. This love cannot be, Tara.”

Love?

“Rules?”

“Rules.”

Loki let out a deep breath.

What was he getting himself into?

Tara's gaze was clear, regarding him with nothing but love.

“Kissing only. Do not tempt me to do anything else, because I may not be able to control myself, and I mean it.”

She nodded.

“Anything else?”

“You cannot spend the nights in my quarters – or I in yours.”

“You are afraid, Loki.”

“For you, mostly.”

“I have rules too.”

“I am all ears.”

“No self-loathing. No guilt. No cursing yourself for bringing this upon me, or for not deserving me, or for hurting me.”

Loki's eyes went wide.

“I would never hurt you.”

Her eyes turned sad.

“And yet you are afraid of. I can feel it. There is not much you can hide from me anymore, now that you allowed me to touch your heart. I am your innocence." She cast her eyes down before she continued. "But in truth, it is I who should asked your forgiveness. Because, I am causing you pain.“

Loki pulled her into his arms and pressed a kiss on her forehead.

“It is in your nature. You are like a child, and you do not understand the consequences of this, while I fear them. I cannot promise to obey your rules, but one thing I can promise you. I will never hurt you. You will always be safe with me, astin mín. I will never hurt you.” 

 

***

 

The vision of the battlefield blurred, dissolving into lush green trees and grass, as Ailee's consciousness came back to the Sacred Grove in the small Village in Vanaheim, and she found herself staring into Anat's dark blue eyes.

Freyja.

She remembered Freyja.

She remembered riding at her side over the fields of Fólkvangr, where those brave souls resided that did not go to Valhalla. It was a place of splendour, just like the goddess who ruled over it and who had been her friend since she had been a little girl.

The goddess of love. The goddess of beauty. The goddess of death. The leader and mother of the Valkyries.

Freyja was a strong and independent goddess and Ailee had been honoured to ride at her side. She also remembered that the goddess had been her confident, the only one who knew of the secret love she held hidden within her heart.

Her love for Loki.

And yet Freyja had also been the one who inspired her to give up her immortality. To suffer. This was all so confusing.

“I am aware that you feel I betrayed you. I am afraid, this is the fate of those of us, who can read the threads of wyrd and have to act accordingly so that things may come to pass that are meant to come to pass. Trust me, Brenna, my heart suffered with you. It still does. But a broken god can only be healed by a broken goddess – you are the only one who can bring him back to balance. And the God of Chaos is the one god who can break the rules of wyrd, so I hope that he finds a way to return you immortality to you.”

Ailee stared at her, unaware that tears were dripping from her face. A tornado of emotions was raging within her. 

“Am I just a pawn in a game?" Her lip quivered. "Do I not have any feelings? Is there anyone who has not manipulated me for my “own good”?"

Freyja reached out her hand, but Ailee flinched away and took a step back.

"You call me a friend, and yet you sent me straight into hell! And - and - god knows what Loki himself did to me. You said he betrayed me, and I - well, I paid for his mistakes, did I not? He stole my life from me."

"Brenna - Ailee, Loki is not to blame."

Ailee shook her head. She could not think. There were so many emotions that lay beyond her control, pulling at her nerves. She felt utterly overwhelmed and helpless. 

"No? Then why was our love a secret? Why did he think he killed me?" Tears veiled her sight. "Is there anyone - anyone who ever cared about how I am feeling in all this?"

"I can only ask you to forgive."

A sob tore from Ailee's throat.

"Tony, Pepper, Steve, Natasha ... Bruce ... the only ones who treated me with kindness and respect are mere mortals, as you call them. Maybe I made the wrong choice. I should have stayed in ignorance rather than seek the truth, because the truth is too painful. I cannot stand this existence!”

Freyja's heart clenched. 

Sweet Allmother, please, help her.

Ailee cried out and brought her hands to her head.

"I cannot stand it any longer! If there truly is a Goddess here in this place, and if she is the Mother of Creation, she can surely release me from this unbearable life."

The girl sank to her knees, sobbing, supporting herself on her arms, as more memories flooded her mind. Scenes of how she had lost her right to reside in Asgard. The pain of falling, so much pain when she lost her wings, and fell ...

... and for what? For the sake of a broken god, who did not love her anymore.

A broken god who lay waste to a world that was not his to rule.

Who hurt the ones that had treated her with kindness.

Who had callously caused suffering.

Ailee's tears soaked the ground as she touched her head to the warm soil.

The pain she carried inside her heart was unbearable.

So much calousness. So much suffering.

Where was the love?

There was no love.

No love.

Was love not meant to be the essence of the universe? 

Was it not the essence of her own self?

A desperate, blood chilling scream tore from her throat.

Take me back, Goddess. Please, free me from this existence, because it is nothing but pain. Nothing but suffering.

Too much to bear.

Please.

Take me.

Take me away.

“Ailee.” A gentle hand came to a rest on her head and calmed her instantly. “Daughter, forgive what happened.”

Her sobs stopped and when she felt fingers gently stroking her cheek, Ailee looked up. 

She blinked.

Before her knelt a beautiful woman, dressed in a golden gown, so much light radiating from her face that Ailee had to avert her eyes. But she felt the woman's arms come around her to cradle her against her chest.

“Be brave. Have courage. If the worlds loose you, they will find their demise. His wrath will destroy them, if he looses you again. He needs you. You are his balance."

"What am I?"

"You are what you seek. You are innocence, most precious, but rarely valued as that."

Ailee felt love pour from the woman's heart into her own being, soothing her soul.

"You are Tara, the Goddess of Innocence, the one who saves when all hope is lost. You are compassion, you are love and forgiveness. You are Tara, the star that guides those who are lost, the light that liberates those broken. The inner wisdom that leads to transformation and freedom. You are the Faithful One, the Fierce Protectress of those who are innocent by nature. ... But most of all - you are my daughter."

Ailee leaned her forehead against the woman's chest.

“I do not remember you, I mean, I cannot. I am sorry - so sorry - I remember your love - but I cannot --”

“Shh. You will remember me - in time.”

The beautiful Goddess kissed the top of her head and allowed Ailee to cry. And with every tear that flowed from her she could feel the weight lift. It took a long time, and when Ailee eventually opened her eyes, she lay on the soft grass in the centre of the Sacred Grove, alone, staring up into the sky. 

The clear, blue sky.

Her mind was calm.

And there was hope growing in her heart.

 

***

 

His legs did not carry him fast enough, and he could not teleport if he was not sure where to. But he knew something was wrong. Loki's heart pounded wildly, adrenaline rushing through his system, as he sprinted down the pathways towards the village centre, where he had picked up the trace of Ailee's magic.

Her scream and let his blood run cold.

And he had panicked.

He could not loose her.

He needed to go faster.

He was going to be too late.

He needed to run faster.

He would not make it in time.

Run faster.

Too late. Not again. Cannot loose her.

He needed to stop his stupid mind from driving him crazy.

Calm down. For her sake, Loki, calm down.

The trees of the Sacred Grove loomed large before him and as he came closer, he could finally see her and slowed down. 

She was safe, thank the Norns, she was safe.

She was with his mother.

Loki skidded to a halt, his eyes widened as he beheld the scene that unfolded in front of him. There in the centre of the Grove was Frigga, kneeling on the ground, hugging Ailee to her chest, only that it was not the mortal girl she held in her embrace.

It was Tara.

His Tara. His Brenna.

Impossible.

It was then that his gaze fell upon Freyja, who stood to the side, watching the pair. When the goddess felt his eyes on her, her own came up to meet his gaze. The goddess' eyes were dark and stormy. 

It is true, Loki.

She is Lokabrenna. Your burning, your clandestine love, God of Mischief.

Tara. Your Innocence that you threw away so carelessly, God of Chaos.

Ailee. Your guiding light, that led you from darkness, prince of Asgard. 

His lips parted, as he listened to Freyja's voice in his mind.

How? 

He took a step forward but Freyja shook her head. 

Be patient.

But patience was not a feasible concept, in a time when all of his grief and pain boiled up inside him, leaving him completely confused and angry.

He needed answers.

 

****

 

“Loki.”

“You know why I am seeking you out, Heimdall?”

“I am aware that you are seeking to know what happened to your sister.”

“Why? Why has nobody ever bothered to tell me? I even brought her here not long ago, was that why you were so kind to her? Why you did not tell Odin?”

“What good would it have done?"

“I demand answers.”

“And you shall get them.”

Loki knelt before him and Heimdall placed his hand on his forehead

The dark prince gasped as the floodgates of his mind opened and Heimdall poured his own sight into Loki's mind, where it mingled with the god's memories.