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Of Mutual Trust and Other Myths

Chapter Text

 

“I wish there was an easier way, child. You know how I hate to watch you suffer.”

The man’s fingers cupped her cheek, as if prepared to catch any tears that would fall. Her blue eyes looked right into his soul, but there were no tears building up. She looked at him with an expression that said nothing.

“What a relief it is for you, then… that you won’t have to be watching me for quite a while.”

If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought it was a bitter remark. But her soulless eyes only confirmed that her training had been a success. She played the role perfectly – the way she formulated the response and how she voiced it. Everything about her was perfect. Even if he’d probably never see her again, neither chose to bring it up.

“You are humanity’s only hope. Take pride in that,” he continued. The woman’s gaze lowered, and he slid his hand to the back of her neck, pulling her closer to him in some sort of a hug. “Sleep well, Lo. Don’t let me down,” he eventually said, before letting go and stepping out of her room. He knew he wouldn’t get an answer from her. He knew her too well.

Of course she wouldn’t let him down. Of course she wouldn’t let humanity down.

While Annette Hanshaw was singing ‘My Sin’ on the radio, the woman put her dark blonde hair into a bun, lifted the window, and lit herself a Lucky. The wind rushed into the room, making her long satin robe flutter behind her before she could sit on the threshold and pin it down. She inhaled the smoke, knowing it was the last cigarette she’d ever get to smoke. It only made her draw more passionately from it. She stared absently at the moon while the radio played in the background. It was the last time she’d get to listen to jazz.

…You've found your happiness

And your love is over, too

But my sin is just the same

I'm still–

The song ended abruptly after she elegantly pressed two fingers against the radio button.

 


 

A few weeks later in the  Asgardian Palace...

There was an unsettling humming in the library, probably caused by the wind that blew through both open windows, but Dolores didn’t give it much thought – not even enough to bother closing one of them. She was absently dusting off a shelf, somewhere near the main entrance of the library, but with her back turned to the massive double doors. And as she rearranged a book that seemed to stick out a little more than the others, her eyes fell upon the title of another one, next to it. ‘Creation of Midgard,’ it read, though in a language that everyone back home called Old Norse. It struck her that if she ever referred to it as ‘Earth’, or to the language spoken here as ‘Old Norse’, everything she had worked towards for almost twenty years would have just gone to waste.

Her training had begun since early age, when she was but a kid hiding in sewers or pickpocketing in order to survive – so one could easily say it was the only thing she had known for most of her life. Lying had come naturally to her, even though she had been chosen mostly for her resemblance to the Asgardians. In time, Dolores had managed to lick into shape the necessary skills for this mission, learn the language and customs of Asgard, as well as memorize the basics of each domain – history, medicine, technology, much to the pleasure of her father.

While her boss wasn’t exactly her father, as she often called him, Dolores did see him as a father figure, since he was the only person close enough to call family. He was the one that had taken her off the streets, offered her food and, most importantly, a purpose. It only came naturally that she would end up wanting to please him, no matter what. Besides, she was doing this for the whole world.

However, she had never met the Asgardian that had contributed to everything. He had never directly coached her or spoken to her. She had heard his voice once, through the telephone, when she had to be assessed. If it hadn’t been for his approval, she would never have ended up on Asgard. But even while being taken to Asgard, she had to be sedated, in order ‘to keep the spell intact’.

It didn’t really phase the woman, besides the fact that she had no certainty if her father had successfully gotten rid of the Asgardian. He had confessed to her that was his plan for after her transport. But since it had already been a few weeks and nobody had come searching for her, it could only mean everything was still going according to plan. Dolores held that thought for a few moments; she realized she didn’t really know how many weeks had passed.

Her short moment of spacing out was interrupted by one of the doors creaking behind her. To that, she didn’t turn around, but just kept dusting off the shelves, hoping that whoever had entered would know how to find what they were looking for. Unfortunately, she heard the footsteps coming closer to her, until they eventually stopped right next to her. She turned her head to look at the visitor, while still maneuvering the cloth.

“I have never seen you around,” the man stated. Before she got the chance to answer, he added, “Where is Rangvald?” He was referring to the old librarian. While she could clearly distinguish a faint smile on his face, she didn’t really feel like returning it in any form. Instead, she went back to focusing on the dust again.

Her response came accompanied by a neutral tone, “Resting. We work in shifts now.” A short moment of silence followed, during which she could feel the man’s eyes fixated on her. She left the cloth on the shelf and eventually offered him her full attention. “Can I help you?” The man raised an eyebrow, his faint smile now having turned into a smirk. His long, black hair framed his pale complexion in a way that made his blue eyes seem even more piercing, but she wasn’t analyzing him like one would analyze a painting, she was merely trying to figure out who he was. There was a glimpse of superiority emanating from him, which only helped her put two and two together, so she continued the question by addressing him directly, “…Loki?”

“So you know who I am. For a moment there, I thought I’d have to introduce myself, judging by your tone.” Of course he’d react that way.

“My tone was in no way meant to be insulting,” she countered. “I apologize if it came out that way.”

Again, there was a brief moment of silence before he turned his back to her and slowly started to walk away. Dolores kept her eye on him, however, but when she decided she could go back to work, the man stopped. She watched him from the corner of her eyes as he only seemed to look around. But then, he broke the silence.

“What’s your name?”

It would have been a lie to say she hadn’t practiced this moment over and over again, until she had almost convinced herself that she was telling the truth. “Ingrid,” she said, not too quickly, nor too late. Knowing she was facing the one and only god of lies, as was one of his aliases back on Earth, did not exactly make her confidence skyrocket. She had eventually learned that she could easily mask that by acting indifferent. So indifferent she became, turning her attention back to her task.

Loki realized that, which made him turn around. He had not sensed any kind of emotion coming from her, which intrigued him slightly. It was expected she would either be nervous or excited to meet him. He was, after all, Loki Odinson. Not everyone had the chance to have a one on one conversation with him. Instead, the woman was just casually minding her business, as if she had met some regular peasant.

“And how long have you been here for?” he continued the questioning.

“A few weeks.”

It almost felt as if someone was repeatedly slamming a door in his face, something he was not used to. As a natural reaction, Loki resorted to the advantage he had over her. “I want you to find this and bring it to me,” he said in a demanding voice, while making a small piece of paper appear into his palm out of thin air. But Ingrid only turned around to look at him when she realized he wouldn’t walk towards her to hand her the piece of paper, thus missing the display of magic. She rapidly walked in front of him and read the title written on the note.

“Sure. I’ll be right back,” she said, already starting to walk away.

“No, you’ll bring it to my chambers.”

She stopped and turned to look at him. “I don’t know where your chambers are.”

He grinned softly as he explained to her how to get there. It seemed bizarre that his chambers were so disconnected and underground, but there was not much she could question. While she knew the plans of the public side of the palace by heart, private chambers and the like had been omitted during her training. Once Loki had finished explaining, she nodded and watched him walk away. Maybe there was something about that grin that made her doubt he was telling the truth.

Since he had not exactly insisted on delivering the book in a short amount of time, Ingrid took her time to finish what she had started, before going to the back of the library to search for the location of the book. She opened the registry book and began searching for the index, not really focusing on the subject of the book. It was only on her way through the dark halls of the palace that she started to wonder what could possibly interest him in a book on botanical arts.

Following Loki’s instructions, she ended up two floors underground, on a dark hallway that was barely being lit by a small torch. It wasn’t enough to fully light up the other end of the hallway, so by the time she got there, Ingrid’s eyes had to adjust to the darkness and she had to guide herself based on the shadows. When she finally reached the wooden door, the rumbling noise coming from behind it signaled that it may not be such a good idea, but she knocked on it nevertheless.

“Come in.”

It was clearly Loki’s voice, but something about it seemed off, as if it had an unusual echo. It wasn’t evident, so she dismissed it, thinking it was just her mind being too paranoid. She searched for the handle and pressed it, pulling the door towards her, and the faint rumbling noise stopped. However, the room was pitch black, and she didn’t quite know what to do. Stepping inside was just too much after all the uncertainty that led her there.

Before she could make a decision, the rumbling reappeared, only this time louder, and it rapidly transformed into a growl. She shrieked when a pair of glowing yellow eyes emerged from the darkness, along with an immense set of sharp teeth. Her reaction came quick enough to drop the book and focus her whole energy on shifting behind the door and trying to push it back, but the creature’s head was stuck in-between. It kept growling, and she could see its paws stretching through the opening, clawing at the floor and trying to push itself out.

She was stuck – it was either she let go of the door and ran away as fast as she could, or she risked being overpowered and maybe even thrown to the floor by the force. Either way, both meant letting loose a beast within the Royal Asgardian palace, in the middle of the peaceful night. Thoughts and options rushed through her mind, but she lost focus when she caught sight of the beast clawing at the book she had thrown to the floor. It dragged the book closer inside, and she could feel the push getting weaker. Eventually, she managed to close back the door and ended up slamming her back against it. When she turned around to check if there was any lock on it, she was met with a completely different view.

Even though the lighting wasn’t in her favor, she could clearly distinguish that the door now had the shape of a vault kind of door, and when she reached out to touch it, it was certainly not made of wood anymore. It was, instead, cold metal. She confirmed it by knocking again. The sound that it made was completely different this time.

“I said, come in.” The same voice greeted her, but there was no echo this time. The voice came from the other end of the hallway, and was followed by a short snicker, as well as a question that would have made her blood boil, had she not been in a delicate situation. “Where’s my book?” She didn’t respond. “And why are you exactly four floors lower than you were supposed to be?”

Ingrid took a few steps towards what she could only assume was Loki’s silhouette. “I am where you told me to be. Go down two floors, you sa–”

Up two floors,” he interrupted her. She looked at him as he stepped out of the shadows with her mouth still slightly open after having been cut off. “Go up two floors, I said. Again, where’s my book?”

“Right behind that door, where you told me to bring it.”

They were now close enough to clearly see each other’s expression, and while his anger didn’t seem completely serious, her straight face could possibly betray the opposite. Hearing her shriek had amused him far too much to be able to play the pissed off part, but he tried nonetheless, just to get a reaction out of her. They both knew he had clearly instructed her to go down two floors. “You lost my book.”

It would have been a blatant lie to say she wasn’t tempted to completely go off at the man, but she was looking at her ticket to infiltrating the royal family, so she had to play her card wisely. “I will search for a similar one for you. I apologize. I clearly misunderstood your directions.”

Loki frowned at her. Was she stupid? Was she scared? How could she just give up like that, when it was more than obvious he had lied to her face, and was even rubbing it into her face? No, she couldn’t be scared, judging by the way she was looking right into his eyes. There was no hint of anger – her expression was calm, even. He tried to push her even further. “I wanted that book. Not a similar one.”

Ingrid kept her gaze locked on him. “I will try to find you a copy, then.”

“There is no copy.”

By the gods, how tempting it was to just tell him to jump into the vault and get it back himself. “Then I deeply apologize.” The response silenced him, but he didn’t move out of the way. That caused a good few seconds of heavy silence, as they just stared at one another.

“You’ll be paying for this, you know,” he finally spoke. It seemed to her he really had a hard time trying to figure out what to say in order to provoke her, but she stood her ground.

“I know. I’ll let Rangvald know myself.”

There it was again, that door slam. This encounter, as the previous one, had caught Loki completely unprepared. He was used to tormenting people, especially people that mostly had no power over anything, and each time he could predict the result. Either this woman had an enormous death wish, or she was just incapable of reacting to the environment. Both intrigued him slightly. He kept going, trying to find his exit in exaggeration, “That was Odin’s favorite book.”

Ingrid frowned at him, the doubt in her tone evident. “Was it?”

Loki simply laughed it off and turned his back to her. “Don’t shriek so loudly in these corridors next time. Who knows what other creatures you might wake up.”

A shiver ran down her spine as he walked away back into the darkness, and seemed to completely disappear. She lingered a few more seconds, before rushing through the hallway and back up the stairs, only stopping to regain her focus once having arrived in one of the main halls of the palace. Her heart was beating way faster than liked to admit, but she was finally free to relax. Every effort of controlling herself seemed ten times harder when it came to this man, and they had barely faced each other for more than a few minutes.

It was just something about the fact that he was one of the most probable people to figure her out. And after what he had pulled on her, it seemed the tales of Old Norse mythology weren’t so far from the truth, after all. Up until that day, she had not met any of the members of the royal family – only a handful of councilors and strategists, maybe. While she had made sure to ensure a future connection to some of them, none had until then tried to kill her.

Ingrid stretched her right arm, which she had slightly injured while pushing on that damned door. In hopes that whatever spell had been put on her back on Earth could help her heal as well, she started walking towards her quarters, thinking that maybe tomorrow she’d not feel the bruise anymore. Or maybe she’d gain a new one, after telling Rangvald of how she’d lost a botanical guide to some underground imprisoned creature.

 

Chapter Text

Ingrid woke up the next morning in the quiet of her own chambers, after a rather peaceful night, in the absence of any dreams. It seemed bizarre, since after what had happened she was convinced it would haunt her at least for a little while. However, after a few minutes of just laying in bed and staring into the darkness of the room, she realized she could not remember any kind of dream. Then, the thought struck her - had the events of the last evening been, in fact, the dream? She pondered upon the idea, before trying to switch to the other side of the bed. It was then the pain in her arm came back to remind her that what had happened was, in fact, real.

It wasn’t a crippling pain, but it did radiate throughout her body whenever she put pressure on it. On that note, she tried to get up as delicately as possible, and walked cautiously towards the windows, stretching her arms forward to feel the curtains. When she finally caught them, her fingers travelled to their middle ends of each, and the room instantly brightened as she pushed them to the side.

The sight she was greeted with wasn’t as grandiose as the one from the windows of the library, but it had its beauty. Instead, there was a small garden with a two meters high tree in full bloom in one corner. It was the only point of focus, since there were no plants growing in the garden but grass. It looked like an empty canvas waiting for some flamboyant painter to decorate it, or rather finish decorating it - the tree did have its majesty.

She let the cold morning air blow through the window before walking away to get done with her morning routine. It mainly consisted of brushing her hair, arranging it in a low-maintenance hairdo, washing her face with ice cold water and massaging some oil into her skin. Ingrid had read about the oil so many times, and heard the women of Asgard brag about it even more in the few weeks she had been there, so she just had to try it. She wasn’t sure what it was exactly, besides being an extract of some plant, but she had found it gave her face a significant glow throughout the day.

Her wardrobe wasn’t as extravagant as she liked it to be back on Midgard. While she missed the colorful and short dresses, or the pompous hats and hair accessories, she could not risk drawing any unnecessary attention here. She was, after all, a librarian, and had to play her role well. Therefore, she chose a long simple lavender dress, not for its looks, but for its plainness.

Downstairs, Rangvald was eating his breakfast and mumbling to himself. He was an old man now, and while Ingrid could be considered his apprentice, he did not care much about teaching her things. There was a silent agreement between the two - he let her do her thing, and she let him live the last of his days in peace, doing whatever made him happy. She’d only come to him with important queries, as he was not the one to delegate tasks. At first, she had thought of gathering intel from him, but each time something of importance was brought up, he’d completely stray away from the subject and start telling her stories of his past that ended up having little to no significance. It was as if he was purposefully denying her information, but the part of her brain that wasn’t distorted by paranoia told her that it was just the way old age had gotten to him.

He looked up at her with his icy blue eyes as she was walking down the stairs and waited until she acknowledged him. “I made you tea,” he informed her. She simply thanked him with a nod and a smile and grabbed the cup he had gestured towards. Ingrid never ate in the morning, and it had taken him a few days of wasted food to learn that. Still, he always insisted on making her something.

“I did something stupid yesterday,” she bluntly stated, before taking a sip of her tea. Her eyes were avoiding him, and she was instead looking out the window, but after a few seconds of no reaction, she looked back at him. Rangvald was studying the food in his plate, as if he had found something in it. She continued, “I lost a book.”

He didn’t look up at her, but kept playing with his food. “How come?” He clearly did not care, but she couldn’t tell if it was because he hadn’t realized what she had just confessed, or if he really did not care that much about the library anymore. Truth be told, she had behaved perfectly until then, so she was unsure how he would react to a mistake.

“I…,” Ingrid’s voice trailed off as she thought of how to put it. “I was taking it somewhere, and it was dark… I tripped over something and it fell out of my hand. I…,” she trailed off again, as she realized Rangvald was really not paying attention. She might as well test it. “...I got attacked by a four headed beast and lost my arm.”

It took him a few seconds to recognize that she had finished answering him. To that, he looked up at her with a curious expression and flatly stated, “Well that’s a pity. Can’t you go back and check for it?”

She smirked. “I’ll try.”

Their gaze met, and Ingrid’s smirk started to slowly fade away as her eyes focused on the man’s many wrinkles, boney face and white hair. She almost felt a shiver run down her spine when she wondered how many thousands of years this man had lived. How much he had seen. How’d she’d not even be able to see a tenth of all that before looking like him. And how, despite all of the knowledge he’d acquired and how wise he had become, time had turned him into a shadow of his former self, unable to focus and sometimes forgetting things that had happened mere minutes ago.

“Take care, child,” she heard him say as she walked out.

That day, she couldn’t say anything eventful had happened. As in the weeks prior to meeting Loki, she spent her day arranging books where they belonged and sometimes catching free time to read some for herself. Quieter days followed, until, about three days after her encounter with Loki, one particular young girl visited the library.

She wouldn’t have caught Ingrid’s interest if she hadn’t specifically requested a book on the magical arts. The girl was young, and could easily be confused for a twelve year old on Midgard. Ingrid was unsure how to estimate her real age, though. Before handing her the book, she hesitated for a moment, and pulled it back playfully. The red-haired girl was visibly enthusiastic, so Ingrid figured out she could toy with her for a little.

“Now before I hand this over to you, I need to know you’re going to use it wisely,” she said while flashing a smile. “Can you guarantee this?”

The girl smiled back at her. “Of course. Queen Frigga will make sure of it,” she responded proudly.

Ingrid resisted changing her expression to a confused one. “You are being trained by Frigga herself? Then I must say, it is my honor to hand you this book.” She stretched her right arm holding the book towards the girl, who grabbed it and held it tightly against her chest. “It must be exciting.”

“It is but my first day, but it sure is exciting!” The girl’s smile only grew larger as she spoke. While she could tell the girl was also quite in a hurry, Ingrid just had to dig deeper.

“I can only imagine. She must have trained the best of them.”

The girl only nodded and excused herself. Ingrid watched her run off with her teeth clenched, but with a smile plastered on her face nonetheless. The girl would hopefully return, and, possibly less rushed, would give her more information. In the meantime, all she required was patience. It had only been a few weeks since she had settled on Asgard, and enough had already happened for her to expect the mission to go smoothly. It was only a matter of time until she’d successfully get under the right person’s skin, be it one of Odin’s close advisors, Frigga’s apprentices or maybe even Loki himself. She did however have second thoughts when it came to Loki, since that was probably the most complicated alternative. But it also seemed the most fruitful.

With a sense of accomplishment and even a hint of optimism, Ingrid returned to where she had been sitting before meeting the apprentice, and opened back the poetry book she had chosen at random. All she had to do was wait for people to come to her.

And wait she did. For a few more days, nothing of importance happened. The apprentice had still not returned, and the library had been unusually empty. It didn’t discourage Ingrid; she used the time to research and skim through the vast collection of books.

Then one particular late afternoon, Loki visited her again.

She caught him just as he was entering the library. It made her stop dead in her tracks and their eyes met for a short glimpse of a moment, before he made his way towards one of the wooden reading tables. He sat down and looked at her, as if he had just entered a bar and was waiting to be served. Ingrid started walking towards him, noting his serious expression. It seemed as if something was bothering him, but a small part of her expected to be surprised nonetheless, and not trust the first impression he gave.

“I need everything you have on Vanaheim,” he demanded.

Ingrid raised an eyebrow. “That’s at least a few hundred books,” she dryly stated. Something was definitely bothering the prince of Asgard, but it seemed peculiar he was so open about it. He sighed in frustration and almost slammed his elbows against the table, before resting his chin on both hands and looking away from her. Ingrid continued nonetheless, “Perhaps you could be more specific.”

That specific remark made Loki look back at her, but with a frown this time. “Alright. Get me that diary my father took the last time he went there… Carr’s diary.”

It seemed wisest not to push him any further - that frown he had given her had already made Ingrid feel uneasy, and after whatever he had done to her the last time, combined with his current demeanor only fortified that decision. She simply nodded and started walking towards the registry book, where she could find the exact location of the book within the library. But as she rushed away, she could feel his eyes on her.

After reaching the supposed location of the book, Ingrid could still not find it. She checked each shelf, returned to the registry book three times so make sure she had gotten the location right, and even then checked each particular book in the bookcase. Had someone misplaced it? It clearly existed, and no record of anyone borrowing it, ever , showed up in the registry. It took Ingrid almost forty minutes until she finally gave up and made her way back to Loki, whom she wasn’t sure was even still waiting for her.

When she returned to the table, it was clear he wasn’t waiting for her anymore. In fact, he was skimming through the pages of the very same book she had been searching for.

Loki looked up at her once she was close enough, and simply flashed her a smile. “I helped myself. Thank you.”

She swallowed, as if that would cleanse her increasing anger. “I spent forty minutes searching for that.” It shocked her how his disposition had changed in not even an hour, but her reply came in a monotone voice, as if she was only saying it matter-of-factly, and not essentially complaining.

“And here I thought I was doing you a favor.” He widened his smile for a split second and returned to reading the book. She gritted her teeth but kept staring at him awkwardly. He obviously knew she was still there, but chose to ignore it. It only angered her more, almost enough to make her want to turn around and leave. But she had a higher purpose than starting a fight with the Asgardian. She could control her anger, but she could not control her thirst for intrigue.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” she stated, in a completely different tone this time. He didn’t lift his eyes from the book, but gave a shrug.

“I’ve been quite busy. Why, did you miss me?”

“You can’t just attempt to murder me and then leave. It gets boring afterwards,” she cheekily responded to his irony. That was enough to make him look at her again, this time with a smirk that almost made him seem proudly surprised. It made her relax a little more, seeing him like that.

“I must say, I did not expect to see you continue working here,” he stated. “I take it Rangvald went easy on you.”

She glanced at her feet. “Not exactly. He was furious. Said he’d only keep me around until he’d find another apprentice if I don’t bring the book back. I’m not sure what is going to happen to me after that.” A clear lie, but playing the victim was one of the things she did best. After a short pause, she looked back at him and added with a bitter smile, “Here’s to hoping it will take him some time until he does find one.” Loki’s expression had changed slightly, and while he was still keeping the smirk up, his eyes weren’t in tone with it anymore.

“There are always more fun things to do than to handle books all day,” he stated after a short pause, in which Ingrid fidgeted with one of the rings on her finger. He glanced at her from top to toe one last time and eventually went back to his book.

She abandoned the subject. “I’ll be in the registry room if you need me. There are some things I need to take care of.” With that, she crossed her arms and turned her back to him, walking away rapidly with her head hanging low.

Loki did have the intention to reply, but something stopped him. Instead, he focused on the last word of the phrase he had already re-read at least four times since he had been trying to pretend he was interested in the book. He had found what he had been looking for in it since before she had come back from searching for it, but decided to stay out of curiosity. And, of course, to see her face once she found out she had wasted almost an hour searching for a book he had already taken.

It perplexed him, how she seemed to never really care that much about the bad things that happened to her. He knew Rangvald was very selective with whoever he chose to have by his side, so gaining the position implied rather hard work on her part. If she was so deserving of her position, why was she handling losing it with such calmness? It had been his fault, after all. There was evident sadness in her expression when she spoke of losing it, but there was no anger towards him. None that he could perceive, at least.

Moreover, it seemed she had not told anyone about his role in all of it. Rangvald wouldn’t have hesitated to complain to Odin if he had been that furious about the book and if he knew Loki had something to do with it. No one had come to confront him about it. It could only mean she had taken all the blame for herself, something which he could not understand.

 


 

Even though Ingrid had isolated herself in the registry room, she could not sit still. She could not help but wonder if she had made a good decision, and a small voice at the back of her head kept telling her she should have stayed more and try to get more out of Loki. One thing she had learned though, both from being a woman and from her training - that sometimes playing disinterested yielded the biggest rewards. Trusting her instinct had rarely turned into a disadvantage, but until proven wrong, she would always doubt such risky decisions. Who knew when she would get to see him again?

After a few hours, Ingrid shut the immense registry book and walked out the door. One more hour and she could go home, anyway, so she had to make sure everything was in check before she left. Curiosity drove her to table Loki had been sitting at almost immediately, but she slowed her pace when she realized he had already been long gone.

When she reached the table, however, she noticed another book laying next to the diary he had requested. Ingrid furrowed her brows and grabbed it quickly, her fingers lingering on the cover as if she was trying to make sure it was real before touching it. She opened it and skimmed through the pages, smirking to herself. It was, indeed, real.

And it was the very same botanical guide she had thought was lost forever.



Chapter Text

“...and I finally feel as if I am going somewhere. As if all the work I have put into this is finally showing results.”

The red-headed girl, Frigga’s apprentice, was looking into the distance, her palms resting on the opened book in front of her, while nearly having finished explaining her whole life story to Ingrid. They were sitting down, facing each other at one of the tables in the reading section of the library. It was already late in the evening, and they both knew they had spent way too much time talking, and way too little time working. While Ingrid had no superior to actually worry about, except for the other librarians shooting her dirty looks, the girl suddenly realized the extent of her procrastination, and it showed on her face. 

“I was supposed to finish reading this book by this evening!” she exclaimed, almost a little too loud for a library. Ingrid looked at how many pages she had left to read, and estimated around one hundred. “I’m going to be in trouble… and I distracted you, as well.” They looked at one another and Ingrid could only smile at the girl’s worry.

“I really should not, but I suppose I can make an exception. Take that book with you, bring it back tomorrow… or whenever you can,” she comforted the apprentice. The girl’s face lit up before Ingrid even got to finish her sentence.

“Are you sure? I know you said you’re not supposed to let people borrow these...”

“It’s either this or having to stay here past my bedtime just to watch you read,” Ingrid replied, her smile still present. She rested her hand on the girl’s shoulder before reassuring her that she wasn’t exactly being inconvenienced, “...and I’m not sure I could keep myself from distracting you further with our little talks.”

They both stood up, while the girl kept thanking her continuously, before rushing out of the library. Ingrid watched her run away with a melancholic expression, as she remembered her training days and how they had been nothing like hers. While Frigga’s apprentice was excited about everything that was happening, Ingrid had no memory of such excitement. Her training had been filled with nothing but anger, tears, and hardship until she ended up not even being able to feel them anymore.

 


 

“Again.”

Her head hurt. Her arms hurt. Her legs and feet hurt. In fact, she wasn’t sure there even was a body part that did not hurt. But the teenage girl got up anyway, dusted herself off and on shaky feet, regained fighting stance.

“Asgardians are far more resistant than humans,” her father explained to her. “If anything happens and you are hurt this easily, they will be able to tell.” Tears had begun forming in the corner of her eyes, as she wiped away the little drops of blood coming from her nose. “I cannot make you feel less pain, but you need to learn to conceal it.”

He pushed her by her right shoulder, not with too much force, but enough to make her take one step back. Ingrid grunted; this wasn’t supposed to happen, she knew it. She was supposed to stand her ground, not lose her balance. She was supposed to fight back, but she just couldn’t bring herself to continue. All that she could focus on was the unbearable pain her body was in, and it was then that it struck her that even grunting wasn’t allowed. She had to remain expressionless, as if what she was experiencing was just a mild headache.

Then, while she had been focusing on her own mistakes, her father had pulled out a metal bar and struck her behind her knee. She fell to the ground, crying in pain, her fingers digging into the ground as she attempted to stop herself from screaming. Times like this, the most cruel and wicked thing seemed to her not that he continued punishing her, but that she could not force herself into losing consciousness. There had been moments years before that, when she would fall to the ground by herself, without having been struck yet, shouting for mercy for she had realized she had made a mistake.

Mistakes were forbidden.

“Again, Dolores.”

 


 

She knew there was no point remembering specific events like that. She was not Dolores anymore, she was Ingrid. Ingrid, daughter of Ingvarr, born into a supportive family that always had her back - that understood her thirst for knowledge and did everything in their power to make sure she got the best education and opportunities. Her mother had recently passed away, and her father had died in battle trying to repress a rebellion on Vanaheim. Rangvald had taken her in and let her rent the room above his as an act of kindness - to make dealing with the loss of her mother easier. Every now and then, she would stare at a sketch of her mother that she kept on her nightstand. She didn’t exactly know who the sketch really was of, but after days of initially ignoring it and eventually ending up staring at it before falling asleep, she had almost begun to feel a connection with whoever the woman was.

After years of training, of being mentally torn apart and put back together every time she failed, it wasn’t hard for Ingrid to play her role. She had ended up somewhat believing most of her backstory and the lies she had to tell. It could also easily pass as a spin-off of her actual backstory - her real parents back on Earth had indeed tried to offer her the best life they could, but had died in a tragic accident when she was just a child. They were now faces she had no name for. Every person she had met on Earth, including her mentor, was a face without a name. For she had taught herself that in order to best hide a secret, you have to hide it from yourself first. She had to keep it in a dark corner at the back of her consciousness as part of her, but never let it emerge into any shape that could be given a name.

But that part of her didn’t matter now. Ingrid didn’t exactly count the days until she could return to Midgard, because she didn’t exactly wish to return. She was already home.

The short moment of introspection shattered she noticed something sparkling on the table, and her eyes drifted towards it. In her rush to get back home and study, the girl had left behind her pen and notebook. The notebook looked rather worn, and there were several pages written in it, so Ingrid figured the girl would probably be needing it. She decided she could make a detour and bring the notebook to the apprentice’s chambers on her way home, if the girl did not return for it before closing time. If she still felt like it, of course. The girl had made sure to share an extreme amount of information, including where she stayed during her apprenticeship. Apparently, Frigga liked to keep them close.

It had already been a few minutes, and the apprentice had not returned. Ingrid’s eyes followed the other librarians as they exited the library and excitedly chattered, probably talking about their plans once they got home, or about going out for drinks. They had never invited her to come with them, even though she had overheard them several times organizing night outs.

She waited until everyone left, and walked out the large doors, while at the same time pulling them behind her to shut them. They creaked at the exact same spots they always did, and Ingrid locked them the same she always did, every night, with a golden key almost just as large as her hand. She tucked it away in her coat, which now made it heavier on one side, but it didn’t bother her.

Now, she could either walk her usual path home or make the detour through the palace and drop off the notebook. Ingrid sighed to herself and took a sharp left, heading for the apprentice’s chambers, slightly annoyed but at the same time unsure whether the guards would let her go all the way so close to Frigga’s personal chambers. The last time she had wandered off, she had almost died, after all.

Eventually, Ingrid reached a patrolling guard and walked directly towards the man, instead of trying to pretend she belonged there. The guard stopped pacing when he noticed she was heading towards him.

“Hey, excuse me…,” she began, searching herself for the notebook and pulling it out to show it to the guard. “I need to get this to Frigga’s apprentice… the red-haired one.” She realized she had never cared to ask the girl for her name, but she quickly opened the notebook to check for a name, just in case. It was written in golden letters in the bottom right corner of the first page. “...Eyja,” she read, before continuing her explanation. “She forgot this in the library - I’m the head librarian.”

He looked at her as if he was waiting for her to continue. “And?” he eventually asked.

Ingrid closed the notebook and put it back inside her coat. For some seconds, she was confused, until she realized the guard wasn’t exactly considering her an intruder. She didn’t need an explanation for being there - that’s how much confidence they had in their people and their security. “And I was just wondering if you could give me directions,” she improvised.

The guard’s expression softened from a confused one to a friendly one, while he explained how to get to Frigga’s chambers. He wasn’t sure which one belonged to Eyja, the red-haired apprentice, but Ingrid remembered well the girl had told her she was just at the end of the same hall. With the directions in mind, Ingrid nodded at the guard to thank him and rushed away. She was still perplexed by how she had almost given herself away. Apparently, there was a bad side to being too cautious as well.

She had to knock twice before the door opened. The girl flashed her a visibly forced smile, as if there was someone behind her pointing a weapon at her back. It seemed odd, but Ingrid just assumed the girl was stressed. Before she could explain why she was there though, the girl took a step back and rapidly gestured her to come in. Ingrid hesitated at first - she did not feel like spending any more time there than necessary, but there was something in the girl’s insisting eyes that made her feel she didn’t really have a choice. So she stepped in.

“You forgot your notebook. I thought I’d drop by and bring it to you…,” Ingrid began explaining, while at the same time examining the place. It was chilly in the room, enough to send a shiver down her spine, but the way it was decorated surprised her - with what looked like marble walls, and black, gold and green accents every here and there. While most things were darker in color, every part of the room had a hint of bright gold or emerald green that lighted the place up, even at such a dark hour. The light from the few candles and small lamps was reflecting in them perfectly.

“I know.” 

Another shiver ran down Ingrid’s spine now, but not because of the change in temperature, but because of the change in voice. She had her back turned to the apprentice, but as soon as she realized it was a man’s voice that had responded, she instantly turned to face who it had come from. But it was still only the girl’s figure standing in front of her.

“Did you just…?” she frowned at the girl, who had already closed the door behind her and was now leaning against it. The apprentice tilted her head, waiting for her to continue. “Is… is this a new trick you’re learning? Changing your voice?”

The girl chuckled, this time in her normal voice, before switching back to the masculine one. This time, however, the change went further - a bright ray of light formed at the top of her head, and as it slowly went down, revealed the real owner of the masculine voice. It was no other than Loki.

Of course.

Ingrid stared at him, but didn’t say anything. “You’re so much nicer to me when I’m a little girl. Look at that blank face of yours again,” he teased. She just kept staring at him as he walked past her and threw himself on the sofa next to the massive windows. For a few seconds, Ingrid considered turning around and just walking out. “Don’t run away just yet. We need to talk.” 

To that, she raised her eyebrows and tilted her head a little. “Yes, I think we do. Is the girl even real?” She couldn’t tell where the annoyance was coming from - what did it matter to her if the girl was real or not? - but it was surely building up.

“I promise you she is. I placed that notebook there before she arrived. That’s why she didn’t take it with her - it wasn’t hers,” he explained. Before he could continue, she interrupted him,

“And the guard? The girl told me where her chambers were, and he directed me towards them.”

“That was me too. I directed you to my chambers. I was the guard,” he said the last word rather mockingly, as if he was making fun of her use of it. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter now. As I said-”

“It does matter. Why am I even here?”

Loki frowned. “That is exactly where I’m getting at, if you would be so kind and stop interrupting me. Take a seat.” He gestured towards the smaller sofa, right in front of the one he was sitting on. The two were separated by a small coffee table made of glass, with a small lamp shaped like a snake on top of it. Ingrid sat down and fixated her eyes on the lamp, pretending to be fascinated by it in order to avoid having to look at the Asgardian. 

“Go on then.”

“I need your help,” he bluntly stated. This made Ingrid immediately switch her gaze to look at him, trying to figure out whether he was making fun of her again or if he was being serious. She would have expected that type of phrase - coming from him - to be embroidered with at least a small amount of shame, but he had said it in a surprisingly confident manner, with a wide grin on his face, as if he was doing her a favor. She squinted her eyes a little. “There’s this man that I am convinced is responsible for all the trouble that is now unraveling on Vanaheim. I will not bore you with the details, but my father trusts him too much to even consider my idea that he could be plotting against his will.” Loki’s grin had faded a little, but she could sense the frustration in his tone. There was also that feeling of superiority emanating from him, as when she had first met him. “Which is why I plan on capturing him and making him confess. But I have to do that without Odin or Heimdall finding out.” 

Ingrid pushed herself into the sofa, crossing both her legs and arms, still squinting her eyes at him. “And I come in where, exactly?” 

Loki lifted his chin and mimicked her sinking into the sofa. “I already know how to get him to Asgard without anyone noticing, but I am going to need to keep him somewhere while I convince him to confess,” he replied. Ingrid didn’t know whether to wait for him to explain further, or to just bluntly decline and invoke Rangvald finding out as too much of a risk. Her confused expression probably gave him way to elaborate. “Let me hold him in that room you keep the registry book in, or some other confined space within the library. You just have to make sure no one enters while he is there.”

There was a short moment when both pairs of blue eyes met, which she spent trying to figure out whether this was another trick of his that would lead to major trouble. Knowing how easily he had tricked her earlier, and the times before, it was only natural for her to stay cautious. Many things did not seem to add up, however, and to be honest, she didn’t really feel like going through all that trouble. Ingrid was sure he had other alternatives that implied less to no effort on her part.

“No.”

The word echoed through the room, spoken a little too confidently by her, which made it seem forced. She kept thinking about that in the moment of silence that followed, while their eyes were still making contact with Loki’s. Ingrid didn’t want to break the eye contact, as to not seem unsure of her answer, and he certainly did not want to break it either in order to try and intimidate her. Neither plan seemed to work.

“You’ll be greatly rewarded,” he calmly said, as if he had already prepared for her rejection.

“I will not jeopardize everything I have worked for until now. I’m sure there are other places you can keep him. Besides, I have other things to look after,” she replied, still maintaining eye contact.

Loki tilted his head to the side. “I’ve been trying to figure out what drives you, you know,” he said, as the change in subject and tone took Ingrid by surprise. “And my best bet is... knowledge. You’re curious, but you long for a little adventure, don’t you? Which is why you keep humoring me. I am offering you just that - as a reward, I shall grant you a tour of Odin’s treasure room. All you have to do is guard a room, a small price if you would ask me. If anything happens, you can always say you did not know.”

Ingrid could feel her heart starting to beat faster, which made her finally look away. Her thoughts raced and her mind was trying to balance everything. Of course, entrance to Odin’s famous treasure room was a jackpot for her, and for the moment she did not really wonder how he would be able to sneak her in. They were plotting against Odin himself though, and that posed a great risk. Ingrid stared at a particular candle in the near distance as if she could melt it with her eyes, trying to make order in her thoughts.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” she asked, in a much softer tone now. “And that no one will find out?”

Loki’s grin visibly grew wider seeing her change of heart. “Of course. For all Heimdall knows, I am now outside admiring the new statues being built,” he assured her, while placing his hands over his knees. Ingrid didn’t notice it however, as her gaze was now wandering around the place again.

“Why don’t you just keep him here? Or in some hidden cave somewhere…,” she muttered.

“Here is the most obvious place they would search if they suspected anything,” he replied. “And I also need to have eyes on him at all times.”

“What if he screams?”

“He won’t.”

She looked at him again and noticed the absence of his grin. In fact, even his posture had changed. Loki was now leaning forward and looking at her with what seemed like sincerity in his eyes, but there was something about the way he had assured her the prisoner would not scream that made her feel uneasy. And she wasn’t sure how good of an idea it was to associate sincerity with Loki. Ingrid swallowed and averted her eyes.

“There’s a storeroom no one really uses. But I don’t want him there for more than two days.”

They both stood up almost at the same time. “I am going to go after him tonight,” he added.

Ingrid straightened her dress and fixed her coat. “How are you going to sneak him in?”

“Leave that to me. Your only concern is to be there when I arrive and make sure we are alone.”

There was still time to change her mind, she thought. She hadn’t exited the room yet, but she was on her way. Slowly but surely, Loki guided her towards the door as she second-guessed herself. Risky as it was, he was right - she could say she had been tricked into doing it or that she didn’t even know, in case they were caught. Would everything go according to plan, not only could she possibly earn Loki’s trust, but she would also get an exclusive of Odin’s treasure room. Had the request come from any other person, she thought, she would have had no hesitation in accepting it. 

Before reaching the door, Ingrid stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to face Loki - who had stopped as well, but just a few inches away from her. She could almost distinguish the pores on his face from that distance, but that was not her point of focus. When she realized how close they were, she decided to concentrate on a golden garment embroidered just underneath his collar.

“You still left one question unanswered…,” she started, as he raised his chin a little, in order to look at her from above. “Why am I here, and not someone else?” She had begun to lift her gaze while asking the question, but much to her relief, the eye contact didn’t last long.

Loki scoffed, as if disappointed by the question, and just walked past her. Ingrid turned around, watched him walk towards the door and rest his hand on the handle. “Because you can get it done, of course. I have spoken to Rangvald, and I know you lied about the book. Apparently, you lie about a lot of things. You’re a natural.”

Ingrid frowned at him. “That’s not true.”

With a short chuckle, Loki opened the door and gestured for her to get out. “See you soon, accomplice.” She angrily wrapped her coat around herself and rapidly made her way outside.

“Don’t push it,” Ingrid mumbled, trying to not look at him while the distance between the two grew shorter.

“I suggest you sleep in the library,” Loki almost whispered in her ear as she passed by him.

Chapter Text

Truth be told, there had been a brief moment when Ingrid considered following Loki’s advice to sleep in the library. But the night had other plans for her, which included keeping her awake, restless and annoyed. She had returned home after meeting with Loki. She had also told Rangvald she would spend the night cleaning up the library since it would be easier and less busy at night time. Instead of asking for details, the only thing Rangvald asked was whether she wanted to grab something to eat before. She agreed, and they ate their midnight snack in silence for about thirty minutes. During that time, Ingrid kept battling the temptation to ask him if he had talked to Loki recently. There was a great chance the subject would spiral into an endless rant, so the best choice was to postpone it.

Within the library, however, there was no cleaning going on. In fact, one could say the opposite was happening - Ingrid had cleared up space in the storage room by moving all the clutter to the registry room. Anything, from brooms to lamps, burnt-out candles, broken chairs, was now taking up space within the room where the registry book was being kept. The registry room was supposed to be easy to enter and exit, void of dust and dirt, and brightly illuminated. She figured she would tell the others that an important artifact had arrived, and that it had to be temporarily stored in the room she had cleared up. There was a risk it would drive curious eyes to check out the room, but at that moment her mind couldn’t exactly come up with anything else.

And after all, it wasn’t supposed to last for more than two days.

The rest of the night, Ingrid spent doing what she did best - waiting. She either paced around the library or laid on her back on one of the tables in the reading section, and stared at the ceiling. She had tucked her coat to act as a pillow, but the hard wood still had her back aching after long periods of immobility. All this combined only served to send her into the vicious circle of pacing, her legs growing tired, having to lay down, her back hurting and legs growing numb, then back to pacing again.

The knock eventually came and caught her while she was resting on the improvised bed. There was no way to tell exactly how much time had passed, but it surely had felt like an eternity to her. Therefore, it was no surprise that she responded to the disruption excitedly, hurrying to get off the table and unlock the door. But an unexpected sight greeted her after opening one of the massive wooden doors. It seemed impossible to still hope not to be surprised when it came to Loki.

In front of her were two handmaidens. One had a wide smile plastered across her face. The other seemed to be staring into nothingness, showing no particular expression besides a slightly open mouth, as if in awe. But no other part of her face looked surprised. Ingrid’s eyes scanned them from top to bottom, laid for a while on the broom the expressionless one was carrying, before stopping to look at the smiling one.

A high pitched voice, coming from the smiling creep, explained their visit, “We’re here to help you clean.”

Ingrid looked past them, into the darkness that had encompassed the hallway. She checked to see if anyone else was accompanying the two women, and slowly stepped to the side to let them enter. “How thoughtful of you,” she responded. It felt like she was acting in a very shitty play.

The door quickly closed behind them, and the three of them were left standing in somewhat of a circle, looking at one another. Well, actually, only two of them were looking at each other - the third one was still staring into nothingness. Ingrid sighed, turned around to lock the door and led the way to the emptied storage room. There was enough light inside the library to figure out their surroundings. Despite this, the handmaiden carrying the broom still kept loudly thumping it against the furniture.

Ingrid grabbed a lit candle before opening the door to the storage room and waited for both of them to come in before closing the door. She placed the candle on one of the shelves that was still left and leaned her back against the wall. “Great plan so far,” she mumbled while turning her attention back at the two women.

Much like when Loki had revealed himself to have taken Frigga’s apprentice’s form, a ray of light surrounded both women and traveled to their feet. This revealed their true appearance. Loki stood straight and somewhat proud, while the one accompanying him fell immediately to his knees. He then fell to the side, causing two loud consecutive thuds. The other man looked old, but not as old as Rangvald or Odin, just enough to exhibit a significant amount of greyed hair and wrinkles. He seemed quite tall and bony, and the way the candle lit up his face made him look even sinister, almost dead.

“Thank you,” Loki nonchalantly replied as he crouched to pull the unconscious man up into a sitting position. He then proceeded to wrap a pair of handcuffs around the man’s wrists, before stopping to look around. She brought the candle closer to him as he started to wrap a chain around the pillar on which the shelves stood. “He will be unconscious for most of the time, but as a safety measure…,” he started explaining, before attaching the chain to the handcuffs. “I haven’t had the time to perfect this particular spell, and his mind is too weak to withstand it. I am afraid I will not be able to start questioning him before tomorrow night. I doubt he will wake up before you’re supposed to open the library to the public.”

Ingrid bent over him to have a better look at the man. She could barely distinguish a breathing pattern. “Well, that leaves you with only one day to finish the job, I guess.”

Loki didn’t respond. He finished tying the man up, with chains and ropes, until she could barely distinguish his clothes anymore. It seemed a little over the top, which made Ingrid suspicious. “Are you absolutely sure no one knows you are here? That no one followed you?” she questioned him. Loki stood up and faced her, which forced her to straighten her back as well. The flame of the candle lit up both their faces from below, and the dancing flame cast equally agitated shadows on them.

“I have been successfully avoiding Heimdall’s intrusive eyes for centuries now. Trust me,” he said, but there was nothing reassuring about it. His tone still made Ingrid feel like he was mocking her, and the idea that there was something else buried beneath this whole scene resurfaced at the back of her mind. “I have taken care of every possible scenario. Besides, haven’t we already established that you can excuse yourself by telling everyone that you had no idea what happened?”

Ingrid cleared her throat. “Yeah, and that I had no idea what got over me when I felt the need to move half of the things stored here into the registry room.”

A slight chuckle escaped Loki’s lips, which made her gaze switch to them for a fraction of a second. His classic grin was back, and his whole face seemed more relaxed. She made sure to get distracted by the shadows dancing on his face instead of looking him in the eyes. “Then I guess you’re fully invested, now,” he concluded.

Loki walked past her, almost brushing his shoulder against hers because of the tight space. Now on the opposite side of where the prisoner was seated, Loki slid down against the wall and sat on the ground, resting his one elbow on his bent knee. He dangled his arm while analyzing the unconscious man sitting in front of him, as if only now trying to conjure up the plan on how to make him confess. Ingrid watched him in silence for a few seconds.

Nights in Asgard were incredibly peaceful compared to what Ingrid was used to. At first, it felt strange to not have to immediately switch to being extremely cautious as soon as the darkness settled in. It had taken her some time to get used to the idea, to the security of the place. While on Midgard she had to be fully alert at night when wandering around the streets, here there seemed to be no dangers. Combined with the quiet of it, now each dusk brought her some sort of relief she couldn’t really describe.

Now, the night seemed to bring nothing but tension and uncertainty. Loki, however, seemed as calm as ever. It occurred to her that maybe he was just as good at hiding his fear as she was.

“I take it you have a history of breaking the rules, then,” she concluded. He looked up at her and tilted his head a little.

“That’s like saying water has a history of being wet.”

“I doubt water is as proud of being wet as you are of wreaking havoc,” she said as she placed the candle at her feet, in the middle of the room. Ingrid then stepped towards the wall between the two men and sat down as well, legs crossed. They were now only three people sitting around a candle inside a storage room, one of them pretty much half-dead. Nothing unusual.

“Have you forgotten why I am doing this?” he asked.

She shrugged. “No. I’m just wondering if there weren’t any less messy ways to achieve what you are trying to achieve.”

Much to her surprise, Loki chose to remain silent. Instead of answering with a snarky remark like she had expected, it seemed like he was simply letting her have this one. Ingrid glanced at him from the corner of her eye and saw him stare the unconscious man down again. She then decided to imitate him, but stare the candle down instead. But the silence felt awkward to her - it wasn’t any kind of comfortable silence. Whatever type it was, for her, it begged to be broken.

“There’s this… tale they have on Midgard, you know…,” she started, and shortly after noticed his gaze was directed towards her again. “...in which the gods eventually have enough of all the trouble you keep causing.”

“I never cared much for Midgard,” Loki interrupted her. His absent remark was intentionally made to miss the main point of the story, which intrigued her. Did he already know what she was going to say? Had something similar already happened?

Ingrid ignored his comment, however, and went on with the story. “They capture you, chain you to the rocks within a cave, and place a snake above you - a snake that drips its venom on your forehead.” She distinguished a faint rolling of his eyes as he looked away from her again. “But it rarely gets to you. Because your wife sits at your side with a bowl to catch all the poison.”

“Wife.” He repeated the word followed by what seemed to be a short bitter laugh. It was hard for her to tell how he felt about the story because of the poor lighting and the fact that she could only see one side of his face. But the tone in his voice, even though he had only said one word, hinted at him mocking the story.

“You escape, though.” This time, there was no audible reaction from his part. Loki simply kept staring at his prisoner. “You set sail on a ship made of the fingernails and toenails of the dead when Ragnarok arrives.”

Still not having moved an inch, and with an obvious disinterested voice, he pushed her to continue, “And how does that play out for me?”

“You and Heimdall end up killing each other.” It felt unnatural to tell a man the tale of his death, but this was mythology they were talking about. Ingrid did not much believe in those tales, and Loki, on the other hand, did not seem to care about their existence at all. While she was not completely sure what she was expecting out of this conversation, and why she felt the need to bring that particular story up, there was something at the back of her mind hoping it would open the gates to a more insightful conversation with the Asgardian, instead of the usual banter.

“So I’m on the bad side?” he unexpectedly asked, which made her let out a little laugh.

“You’re... on your side,” she replied. “Good, bad, what does it matter? It’s a Midgardian legend after all - probably told from human to human until they ended up with some completely different narration. It has no more purpose than to entertain.”

She could see Loki’s eyes moving to a lower point, and they seemed to focus on the candle in front of him. “Unless you know who came up with them.”

A short moment of silence followed. For some reason, Ingrid could not come up with an answer to that. She could have asked what he meant, and who he was referring to, but she doubted he would care to explain. Part of being a good conversationalist means being able to change the subject when things become awkward. After all, people remember you based on the way you make them feel, rather than what you talk about. And it was too early to have him stray because he regretted opening up so easily or because of an uncomfortable conversation. He wasn’t that hard of a person to read, it seemed to her, but she felt like she had to tread carefully nonetheless.

“It’s almost morning,” she eventually said, her voice a little creaky. “You should go.” Ingrid slowly started to get up, stretching her arms while she did so. The lack of sleep was starting to show its first signs. She knew it would take her a while to get used to it since she could not remember the last time she had not had a good night’s sleep.

Loki was still absent-mindedly staring at the candle that was now close to burning out, but he got up when she took the candle out of his range of sight. She opened the door and stepped outside, while he lingered for a few more seconds. Realizing this, Ingrid turned around and watched him stuff a piece of white cloth into the prisoner’s mouth.

“In case he wakes up,” he explained on the way out. She watched him walk away, with a feeling of dread she didn’t really feel like acknowledging slowly building up. “I shall see you in the evening, then.”

Ingrid simply responded by mouthing a ‘yes’, perfectly conscious that he could not see her anyway, as he had his back turned. His form had switched back to that of a handmaid and was now walking out the heavy doors of the library. Ingrid shut the door to the storeroom and sighed audibly once she was sure she was alone in the library again. Well, kind of.

The switch in Loki’s mood had been evident. When he had arrived, he had seemed at least cheerful and confident everything was going according to plan. All this, even as he explained the minor setback of the prisoner being unconscious. Her warning that his time to talk to him would be shortened did not seem to phase him either. Now, while leaving, he seemed too caught up in his own thoughts to even make a coy remark or try to make fun of her again. Was this all part of some plot to make her even more curious?

There was a part of her, she had to admit, that was pure curiosity. Loki had been right when he had stated that knowledge was one of her main motivators. While taking a peek at Odin’s treasure room sure sounded tempting, there was also a personal quest she had just then realized that she had embarked on. Everything would fall into place perfectly in the end, she thought. But she wanted to get so deep under the Asgardian prince’s skin that there would be no stone of his personality left unturned. It was the least she could get for all the trouble, and it was necessary in order to manipulate him and get the intel she needed out of him.

When the other librarians had started to come in, they were surprised by her earliness. She wasn’t known for being an early bird; the reason why she always stayed behind and locked up the library was that it seemed only right the last one to arrive had to be the last one to leave. So it was an unwritten rule that she always carried the keys, and thus had more liberty around the place. Being Rangvald’s only apprentice also contributed to her slightly higher rank.

Of course, some asked what the reason for her being there before everyone else was. Others asked if she would return home earlier, and if they would have to lock up the place in her stead. Ingrid had come up with various reasons and excuses. She ended up telling them she had come in early to personally oversee the safe storage of a made-up artifact. The artifact had to sit in the occupied storage room and that it could not be subject to any kind of light. That warning alone, she supposed, was enough to keep everyone from trying to open the door to where the prisoner was being held in.

There still were times where she felt the need to excessively pace around the general area of the storage room. It felt as if the man could, at any moment, barge out screaming. Actually, even the sound of him screaming from inside would be enough to raise suspicions. What if the piece of cloth Loki had stuffed inside his mouth had fallen out? What if the man had powers of his own that could break the chains he was being held in? She knew nothing of him, and even if he was to escape the storage room, Ingrid would have no idea what to do in order to defuse the situation.

This made her extremely uncomfortable. Not having a safety net was not her usual modus operandi, no matter the gravity of the plan. For every small detail that could go wrong, she’d always have a thoroughly studied strategy to fix it. This time, she was left completely floating in the uncertainty of Loki’s arrangements. Had she not been so preoccupied with uncovering the outer layer of Loki’s personality in their free time that night, maybe she could have asked him questions about the prisoner, and what to expect in case he tried to escape.

It annoyed her that she had let herself be distracted by a whim enough to sabotage herself. Ingrid made a note to avoid that in the future, but shortly after excused herself that maybe the sleeplessness was making her sloppy. Yes, that had to be it.

Contrary to her worst expectations, the day unfolded smoothly. After explaining how photosensitive whatever was stored inside the forbidden room was, nobody really cared much about it or the mess inside the registry room - she had, after all, promised it was temporary and that she would handle it herself.

What she did not expect was another librarian offering to help.

“You look overworked,” he noted. Ingrid had stopped her pacing and directed her attention to the man. He was quite tall, but the awkward smile he flashed her immediately canceled the otherwise imposing figure. His light blue eyes had some sort of kindness in them that told her he was sincerely worried about her. “Are you sure you don’t want someone else to handle this while you go and take a nap or something?”

She shrugged. “It’s only a few days until they find a suitable place to store it. I’m alright. Thanks.”

He insisted, though. “Well, it’s not like they are going to do anything to it during the day, right?”

It took every last drop of self-control she still had not to snap at him. Ingrid shot a quick glance over to the door of the storage room and then looked back at the assistant librarian. “They put me in charge. If anything happens, I am responsible. I don’t want you or anyone else to waste your day and risk your job by guarding a stupid door so curious eyes don’t destroy what’s in there.”

“What exactly is in there, though?”

She furrowed her brows and grimaced. “As far as I know, it’s something from Svartalfheim. It dates back to when the Dark Elves reigned the universe.”

The man nodded slowly. “Well, that explains a lot.” He seemed satisfied with the answer, even though Ingrid had come up with it on the spot. “Anyway… I know we aren’t friends or anything but… I was thinking, if you want, of course, we usually go out for drinks every three days or so. Maybe you’d like to join sometime.” His eyes traveled at random across the floor as he extended the invitation, and only when he stopped speaking did he look back up at her. Ingrid relaxed her face and gave him a little smile.

“I’ll think about it. Thank you.”

The conversation was over, but the man lingered for a few seconds as if he wanted to add something. Perhaps he wanted her to reconsider letting go of her responsibility and rest, or he wanted to add to or even retract the invitation. Either way, he brushed it off and walked away before she got to ask him if there was anything else he needed.

Ingrid watched him walk away and thought about his offer. It flattered her a little, though she had convinced herself she didn’t really care about their relationships outside of working hours. It was mainly a way to distract herself from feeling left out whenever they made plans behind her back. Later that day, she saw the same assistant librarian have what seemed to be a heated conversation with another colleague. She was too far away to hear what they were talking about.

But she had other problems on her mind. She decided not to give it much thought.

The day went on feeling like it would never end. When everyone finally seemed to start leaving, she made eye contact with the librarian that had invited her out. He didn’t smile at her though, he barely nodded as to say ‘goodbye’ and turned around to leave with the rest of the group. Ingrid sighed and locked the doors once she was alone in the library.

A few minutes later, there was a double knock on the door. She unlocked and opened them, only to be greeted by Rangvald, which only made her freeze in her tracks. Before she could ask what he was doing there, the old man winked at her and pushed her to the side in order to enter. Ingrid didn’t resist and let him pass, making sure to lock the doors again once he was inside. It was the wink and, of course, the timing, that made her suspect this wasn’t exactly Rangvald visiting her.

He walked straight towards the storage room and she followed, preparing the keys to unlock it.

“I don’t think he’s awakened yet,” she mumbled while struggling to find the key that would fit. She looked up to the man after hitting the right key, in order to try and figure out based on his facial expression if they were in trouble yet. He seemed relaxed, but then again Rangvald’s face always looked relaxed.

Once inside, Rangvald revealed himself to be, as suspected, Loki. Ingrid scanned his face again, but he showed no sign of concern. If anything, he looked confident and rather cheerful, much different from the Loki that had left the library that morning.

The prisoner was awake, however, and mumbling something. The cloth Loki had shoved into his mouth was still in its place, as were all the chains tied around him. Ingrid shot him a worried look and figured he would have been too weak to even run out the door, had he somehow managed to escape his chains. Her worries had been, apparently, unfounded. The prisoner was barely audible.

“I take it he has not caused any problems,” Loki concluded, ignoring the struggling man on the floor. Ingrid shook her head slowly, while still staring at the prisoner. There was something in his eyes that gave her the impression he was begging for mercy, now that he was staring back at her. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen to him, though. Loki pretended not to notice their exchange of glances, and merely continued, “Has he had anything to eat? Do you know for how long he has been up?”

Ingrid switched her gaze to Loki now. “I haven’t opened this door since you left. I’m tired and I don’t want any part in this. I’ll be outside.”

With that sudden aggressive remark, she turned around and left the room. If Loki had replied, she hadn’t heard it. But since he didn’t walk out after her, she assumed he was okay with her leaving. It was partly true - she’d rather not watch him torture the man, or whatever he was planning to do to him. Seeing it with her own eyes meant she would have to lie further if questioned by any authority. While she was good at lying, there were cases she preferred not to. Like in this case, where she would have to lie to high Asgardian authority, or to Odin himself.

Ingrid decided to take that time to rest, instead. While she was conscious whatever sleep she’d get wouldn’t be as refreshing at what she’d get in the security of her home (where no laws or direct orders were being broken) whatever she could catch there would have to suffice. Sleeplessness and being put in an uncomfortable situation did take a toll on her, though. It even annoyed her that Loki hadn’t asked how she was feeling. Especially after she had dedicated two days to his ridiculous plan and had not even been given a simple thank you .

Again, doubt started to make shivers run down her spine. How could she risk blindly trusting the plan of a man that had done nothing but make a fool of her for the short period they had even known each other? Ingrid sat down at one of the reading tables, crossed her arms over it and rested her head over them. In the few hours of waiting, she’d probably gotten a total of fifteen minutes of sleep when she heard the door to the storage room shut.

Loki rushed to sit next to her and she lifted her head lazily.

“He has agreed to come clean to my father,” was all he said. He sat down straight next to her, somewhat stoic. He was clearly proud, and he looked at her with a reassuring gaze, one that seemed to tell her, ‘See? I told you everything is going to be okay.’ Ingrid nodded, too tired to think of anything to say. She didn’t exactly feel like congratulating him either. “It will have to wait, however. He is still too weak - he has fallen unconscious again. Hopefully, he will still remember everything when he wakes up, and will not experience any kind of… change of heart.”

This made Ingrid seem to wake up at full energy back again. “You mean I have to keep him here for another day? No. I’m tired. Take him somewhere else.”

“Moving him now means risking everything we have accomplished until now,” Loki stated. It was the first time he actually included her in the successful completion of the plan. It made her soften up a little, but she still wasn’t fond of the idea.

“It’s already suspicious enough. If he has agreed to confess anyway, why don’t you take him to your father as is and have him wait for him to wake up?” she tried to divert, but the scoff Loki gave told her she had completely missed the point.

“He did not listen to me when I suggested his ally might be working behind his back. How do you think he will react to me telling him I have kidnapped his precious ally and forced him to confess? He will not care unless the confession hits him in the face,” he mumbled the last part, but Ingrid could tell it frustrated him. It frustrated her more, that things had to be this complicated.

She sighed loudly and looked away, while moved his eyes away from her as well. They spent a few moments in silence like that, thinking about alternatives. Or at least she was thinking about them. For all she knew, Loki could be pretending to do the same, or be thinking of ways to convince her to give in.

The quiet was interrupted by a loud thud coming from the entrance to the library, to which neither she or Loki had a direct vision. Ingrid felt her heart skip a beat, as loud pairs of steps could now be heard coming from the entrance. Coupled with that, she heard the most menacing voice she could imagine loudly echo throughout the library.

“Where is he?”

Every part of her body immediately tensed, and she could barely move her gaze enough to notice Loki’s reaction. He was staring, wide-eyed, towards the direction of the intruders, for some seconds just as immobile as her, but he stood up straight shortly after. She wanted to, but Ingrid could not do the same. They were in deep shit.

Loki stepped away from the table, and she looked up in the opposite direction to see who had stormed in, even though part of her wanted to stay ignorant. She didn’t need to see him to figure out Odin himself had intervened, but she confirmed her suspicion nonetheless. Right before them, stood the Allfather, surrounded by half a dozen now halted guards. She must have turned so pale, since she could almost feel her blood leaving the capillaries of her skin, as if trying to hide itself from the oncoming rage. For Odin was extremely furious and did not bother at all to hide it. All that energy almost made him look younger than she had imagined him to be.

“Father-,” Loki had tried to start, but was, as expected, immediately interrupted.

“No! Don’t you even try!” he shouted back at him. “I will tear this place down before you even get to try and manipulate me with your pleading. Where is he ?”

For some moments, Ingrid felt relieved Odin had begun by completely ignoring her. Maybe his rage was at fault for that, but she kept herself from doing any sudden movements - or any movement at all. She sat completely still, as if that could eventually render her invisible. Loki pointed towards the door of the storage room without saying a word and two of Odin’s guards rushed towards him. The rest of the guards stayed right where they were, as did Loki and Odin.

“He confessed, you know. He is unconscious now, but you will get the truth out of him once he wakes up,” Loki started to try reasoning again, but was abruptly cut off once more before he could continue.

“Lies! You went behind my back, captured a dear ally of mine only to plant ideas in his head so you could be right! I am tired of your schemes. He will not talk to me when he wakes up because when he wakes up he will be back in his home, with his family , and not remember playing any part in this scam!” Odin retorted, before adding, in a deeper tone now, “And I will make sure you never leave Asgard without my permission again. You will also never take part in any discussion involving the safety of the Nine Realms again.”

Loki raised his voice when he spoke again, “At least wait until he wakes up and see for yourself! You are so caught up in your idea of peace that you cannot admit it when people are scheming right behind your back! You would rather take it out on me. How is it so easy for you to believe your own son is the enemy?”

There were moments when Ingrid thought his voice would break. Her mind tried to go over all possible things she could say once the attention would be directed towards her. But she was too caught up in their argument to come up with anything good. They had caught her sitting right next to him, in the library, after closing hours. It was obvious she had not been one hundred percent oblivious to what was happening. Her best bet was to blame it on Loki and say she had been lied to as well and forced to obey him.

It didn’t feel right, shifting even more blame on him. But it seemed the only reasonable way she could get out of the situation with minimal damage.

“All you do is lie and cause trouble! Of course I don’t believe you when you are so adamant to be right you go to such lengths as to manipulate people into lying and risking their own lives to prove you are indeed right. Do not act as if this is the first time this happens. As I said, I have had enough ,” Odin said, but in a calmer tone.

He had done this before? Ingrid looked at Loki from underneath her lashes, not wanting to move her head. Had he really thrown other people away to be blamed just to save himself?

“Just wait and listen to him when he wakes up. That is all I ask. You should be able to tell if he is under any kind of spell, which I promise - no, I swear to you he is not. Just a few more hours, that is all I need. I will take whatever punishment you deem right for me in case you think he is being manipulated. And you can wipe his mind free of all this mess afterwards, if you want to,” Loki continued, this time uninterrupted. His tone had calmed down as well, trying to reason with his father.

The prisoner was now being carried out of the room. Seeing his state seemed to cancel everything that had contributed to Odin calming down. “Look at him!” he shouted. The prisoner was indeed covered in bruises and marks from where the chains had been pressing against his skin. Ingrid had glanced over to him, but Loki didn’t flinch. “Just look at him! You mean to tell me this man, in this condition, admitted to betraying me? Of course he has! He looks like he could admit to anything just to get out of the torture you put him through!”

The two guards continued to escort the prisoner out of the library, this time with the rest of the guards joining them. The three of them were left in silence. Odin’s attention had still not shifted towards Ingrid. Loki sighed loudly.

“Just a few hours. Please,” Loki began speaking again. He seemed defeated, and Ingrid feared that if the argument died down Odin would redirect his anger towards her. Secretly, she hoped Loki would have a strong comeback, either to convince Odin or to anger him even more.

“This conversation is over. You cannot expect me to believe he confessed when you were the only one listening. You, out of all people. I would have expected you to be smart enough and involve someone a little more trustworthy at least, like your brother,” Odin shut him down.

Ingrid noticed Loki clench his fist. For a few seconds, he looked ready to lash at his own father, but he released his fist shortly afterwards. Odin was still waiting for a reply, however, and another short moment of silence followed. Loki pressed his lips together in an attempt to regain his focus. In that time, she saw Odin look at her for a split second before looking back at Loki.

The Allfather had noticed her.

Then, it struck her. She didn’t know what got over her, but Ingrid felt as if this was her cue. As if she had been tossed down a black hole, and found out there was a light at the end of that kind of tunnel as well. It also felt as if the more she lingered, the heavier the pressure on her was. A pressure that hadn’t even been felt until Odin had looked at her. Instead of making her stomach churn and knees weak, the action had instilled some sort of confidence into the woman.

The past few days had been nothing but one bad decision after another. She had placed her bets on Loki, but now he himself risked being thrown out of the inner works of Asgard. Going back to the boring old politicians and strategists that she had started to lure into her net before meeting Loki was the equivalent of condemning herself to an eternity of small talk and ennui. If there was a minimal chance of dragging Loki out of this mess, she had to take it. All she needed to do was say three little words.

“I was there,” she said, and shortly after realized her voice was too weak. Ingrid coughed one time before continuing, “I watched him confess.”

 

Chapter Text

I was there.

Out of all the lies Ingrid had ever told, this had to be the most stupid one. People usually lie in order to get out of trouble, but one could argue she seemed determined to get as deep into it as possible. And she had thought so herself, before carefully weighing the consequences of such a lie.

The heavy silence that followed could have made her regret her own words. Odin had given her his full attention now, and Loki had probably done the same. She wasn’t looking at him though — her gaze had met Odin’s for a split second before she lowered it. It wasn’t a sign of shame or guilt, but a way for her to show respect. She had seen enough in that fraction of a second to figure out Odin was rather perplexed than angry.

“And who might you be?” he asked, showing no sign of annoyance at her intervention as she had expected. His tone was quite plain and bore no subtleties to it.

“Ingrid, daughter of Ingvarr. Head librarian and apprentice to Rangvald, your Majesty,” she replied and stood up, like a student forced to answer a teacher's question. The heavy chair screeched as it made room for her legs.

Odin lifted his chin a little to look at her, as if trying to recall if he had seen her before, or if he had heard of her father. But then came the real inquiry he had, “You knew about all this?”

“Father—” Loki tried to intervene but was immediately cut off by her speaking again. It was almost funny how often he had gotten interrupted in those last few minutes.

“I knew, yes. He came to me and explained everything in detail. I agreed to help. If I may add, my father died in a battle on Vanaheim in rather suspicious circumstances many years ago. I led myself to believe that a different perspective could finally bring him justice.” Ingrid glanced at Odin once again, only to lay her eyes on a completely different person. He had let her finish talking, which she hadn’t expected. Not only that, but his expression now told her that he had calmed down a little, and that he was genuinely interested in what she had to say. “I did not know we were disobeying direct orders. I assumed we were hiding him from other trusted confidantes of the palace, so that they would not worry about being interrogated as well. I fear words cannot convey how much I regret it now, but I want to apologize nonetheless.”

“Look at me,” he ordered, and she obeyed. Now was the time to employ every little trick she had learned, Ingrid thought. She made sure her expression would convey that was sorry about what had happened, and not only that. She looked scared for whatever punishment would come. Her eyebrows twitched, her breathing was heavy and even her eyes were at the verge of being watery. But she looked the Allfather in the eye and tried to find the right words to continue.

“He did confess, though,” she said, her voice a little shakier this time. “Despite all the broken rules, I want you to know that your son did the right thing. There was no mental or physical torture involved, besides being held in chains. I watched him switch from being in denial to being indeed sorry for what he had done. Regretting it. Wanting to make things right again.”

She was improvising, but with vague details. It was the perfect combination of trying to get Loki out of trouble and shifting her part of the blame over to him as well, she thought. Speaking of which, Loki had apparently decided to stay completely silent. He didn’t even care to contradict her when she implied that he had tricked her into doing it. After all, they did have some sort of a deal that she could lie her way out of it and claim she had no idea. The least he could do for her now was to take as much of the blame as he could. But was he really a man of his word? Every other action had led her to believe that he was not. This was the time and place to prove it, she thought.

“Then why is he unconscious?” Odin asked, in a way that might have sent shivers down her spine, had she not have an answer prepared for that, too.

Ingrid swallowed. “When we first brought him here, we thought he would cause at least some disturbance. I could not risk it, with people visiting the library during the day. To avoid that, I asked Loki to make sure he is asleep for most of the time. He might have… overdone it.” She looked over at Loki now, who only nodded, but then decided to play along after Odin switched his gaze toward him as well. 

“I never got to practice that spell much - that is on me,” he concluded while looking away with an absent gaze. Then, he turned to face Odin and with all seriousness, added “Father, please. Just wait until he wakes up and you will find out the only one that has been lying to you is him.” 

There was a brief moment in which Ingrid didn’t know whether to intervene or not. She couldn’t tell if Odin had calmed down enough in order to even consider giving them both a chance, or if he was simply tired of the situation. Like a child waiting for their parent’s decision, Ingrid chased away the urge to keep nagging him. She refused to exchange worried glances with Loki, as well, even though she could see him look at her from the corner of her eye.

“I will listen to him,” Odin finally concluded. Ingrid’s body tensed up, but she stayed silent. She could see Loki rapidly turn his attention to his father. “But I cannot ignore the fact that both of you have gone behind my back, even if you were aware of it or not.” He emphasized the latter and shot Ingrid a stern look, to which she lowered her head and nodded. The Allfather went on, “If I find out any of you has lied to me, your punishment will be far worse. If any of you try to escape Asgard while that man is still unconscious, no matter the outcome of his confession , you will pay for it by being forever imprisoned within its dungeons.”

Again, the scene resembled a parent scolding his two children. The way Odin analyzed one and then the other. The way they both avoided looking at him directly when his attention turned to either of them. A moment of silence followed, which was supposedly meant to give them a moment to reconsider what they had said. She spent it processing everything instead, and almost flinched when Odin broke her little trance by speaking again.

“You come with me,” he said and looked at Loki, who was now almost grinning. Ingrid couldn’t help but frown a little when she saw him like that, thinking that his gesture would tick the scale to their disadvantage again. Odin didn’t seem to mind, though, and turned around to walk away. Before she could wonder what was going to happen to her, the Allfather stopped halfway out of the library. Loki, who was now following him, did the same. Ingrid took a step to the side to have a better vision over the two of them as they were leaving. Seeing that the both of them had stopped, she decided to remain where she was.

“Ingvarr, you said…,” Odin’s voice trailed off. He turned around and looked at her. The distance between them made Ingrid more comfortable, but she let him finish. “Did he get a proper funeral?” 

The sudden change of subject took her by surprise. Ingrid had never really thought about that part of her story. Supposedly, her father had died when she was still very young, and that was all there was to it. Nobody would bother to ask about such details when faced with someone left without a father at a young age. But Odin did. “He did,” came her reply.

“May he find his peace in the halls of Valhalla, then.”

The Allfather swiftly turned around after uttering those words, his long white robe swirling as he did so. She felt relieved he hadn’t waited for a response on her part, but then she looked at Loki. The man had not joined his father yet, but stayed behind and looked at her, his grin now gone. When the doors to the library opened, Loki nodded at her and quickly walked away to return to his place next to his father.

All the chaos was now gone. There was nothing but silence and darkness, and Ingrid dwelled in it. Averting a hurricane such as Odin’s anger was a task she never thought she would be up to. But only in the calmness of the now empty library did she realize what she had actually done. It was funny how, if she had known beforehand that she would need to go through this, she would probably have chickened out. Put in the face of the problem so abruptly, the adrenaline rush had made her completely immune to fear and insecurity, blocking those kinds of feelings like a dam. 

But dams could break. And since the danger was now far away, her adrenaline levels went back to normal. The dam broke, and everything she had involuntarily repressed hit her like a deluge would hit a small and unprepared village. 

A sudden uncontrollable tremor made her fall to her knees. It affected her breathing and made her feel like she no longer could draw in enough air to fill her lungs. As if something was stopping the passageway, and her mind could not figure out what it was, where it was exactly, or what to do to get rid of it. It seemed her only option was to sit there and wait to die. Even if there had been something she could do, she found herself unable to move anyway. Her blood had started to pound in her ears. She had enough air to stay conscious, only to feel nothing but fear that it could be gone any second. Fear. Every rational part of her had withered away, and there was nothing but fear left to cling to. 

She wanted to scream for help, but nothing came out. And she knew that it would have been useless anyway. There was no one around that could help. She was alone. There was nothing she could do about it. There was nothing she could do about anything anymore. If this unexplainable way was how she had to go, Ingrid could do nothing but feel angry about it.

This went on, she couldn’t tell for how long, but long enough to make death seem like a relief either way. 

Her breathing slowly became normal again after a while, but she wasn’t sure whether to trust it or not. She had never experienced anything like that, where it felt like her body had just decided it would fail for no reason at all. Her arms were still twitching every now and then, as if they hadn’t completely forgotten what had happened.

Ingrid started to draw in slow and deep breaths, while her senses slowly returned to her. For all she knew, she could have aged three years in those moments. She felt weak, and she wanted to throw herself on the floor and just sleep. Forget everything that happened. Maybe even wake up and find out everything had been a dream. That she was still waiting for Loki to arrive with the prisoner, and that she had dozed off in the library in the meantime.  

Nothing of the sort happened. Ingrid rose to her full length, despite her body protesting by cracking at random places and feeling ten times heavier. She instinctively brought her hand to her cheek and wiped off a tear. When had she even started crying? How many other things had she done that she could already not fully recall?

After locking the library and arriving home, Ingrid still felt as if she wasn’t inhabiting her body completely. For whatever reason, she feared it would move uncontrollably and that she would wake up trying to strangle Rangvald in his sleep or performing some other irrational behavior. She lingered in the kitchen for a while before searching for some small snack to eat. A couple of plain biscuits would do since her stomach would probably reject anything else more flavored anyway.

Rangvald was probably asleep, seeing there was no light coming from underneath his door. Sometimes, he would stay up and she would hear him stumble in the middle of the night searching for gods knew what. Other times, he would knock himself out early in the evening and wake up at noon the next day. There were times when he would nap for a couple of minutes and then head out completely refreshed. He was a strange man when it came to sleep schedules, but as every other peculiar behavior of his, Ingrid pinned it on his old age.

Ingrid was still sitting at the kitchen table minutes after having finished her biscuits. Her mind was too tired to think of anything in particular. All she wanted to do was go up and throw herself into her bed, but there was something she had to do first. Something she kept postponing until she realized it was almost the crack of dawn.

Groaning, she lifted herself up and made her way towards the door to Rangvald’s bedroom and softly knocked on it. She decided to do it like that first because she was unsure if he was a light sleeper or not. After understanding that no answer would come, she knocked again, a little harder this time. She heard something rumble within the room, and shortly after heard Rangvald’s footsteps coming towards the door. 

“It’s me,” she said before he got to open the door. When he did open it, he only left enough space to fit his head through it. She instantly regretted waking him upon seeing his confused expression, and almost decided against telling him why she had to wake him up.

“Did something happen, child?” he asked, his voice hoarse and weak, but concerned. Ingrid smiled at him wearily. 

“I’m sorry I woke you up. Can you… perhaps...” her voice trailed off. She mentally scolded herself for not having prepared the request in her head beforehand. “Can I take the day off tomorrow?”

Rangvald looked at her, scanning her from top to toe. “Of course you can. I can take over. Why, what happened?” 

This was no time to start explaining everything to him. While he still looked concerned, she could tell he was still half-asleep as well. “Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow,” she replied, trying to reassure him, and then followed with a classic change of subject. “Will you be alright? Did you have something else planned?” 

“Nothing that can’t wait until the day after tomorrow, or whenever you want to return. I’ve been wanting to check out things at the library, anyway.”

Her smile widened and turned into an amused one. “It’s only for tomorrow. Thank you, Rangvald. Sleep well.” 

He wished her the same, and then closed the door. Ingrid walked up the stairs thinking of what he had said — I’ve been wanting to check out things at the library. Well, he would find out the registry room was a mess, and that Odin was extremely pissed at the head librarian. Rangvald didn’t deserve to take in the aftermath of what she had caused. They had a deal, though, which she often found herself forgetting about — that even though they were supposed to work in shifts, she could take over his whenever she wanted to. It was convenient for both of them, and she had asked to cover his shift so many times she didn’t even need to ask anymore. 

The library wouldn’t burn down if one of them wasn’t there though. But she had felt the need to tell Rangvald she wanted to take the day off, and he had instantly seen it as a cue for him to go in her place. If he had wanted to check things out, he could have done so when she was there as well. It made her feel bad, sending him there after she had done what she had done. Maybe she should have insisted on him staying home as well. 

Those thoughts were gone as soon as her head hit her pillow. In all that haze and weakness, Ingrid hadn’t even bothered to change into nightclothes, or shut the door to her bedroom. Everything that concerned her faded into nothingness as the coldness of her sheets embraced her body. 

 


 

When she woke up, the door to her bedroom was closed. The light was shining shyly through the curtains, which she couldn’t remember closing either. Everything that had happened was still a blur, but there, in the comfort of her bed, she felt safe for the time being. Which is why she lingered way longer than usual, trying to fall back asleep but failing miserably. She couldn’t tell what time it was, what had happened while she was asleep, or for how long she had been asleep. 

Ingrid slid off her bed and went on to wash herself and do her usual morning routine, even though the light outside told her it wasn’t exactly morning. When she went down the stairs, she saw Rangvald, and he greeted her with a suspiciously cheerful smile. 

“Beauty sleep, indeed,” he said. Instead of thinking of an answer, Ingrid’s mind took her for a short trip down memory lane.  

 


 

A few weeks earlier...

“I thought it was called beauty sleep, not beauty coma,” Rangvald joked. Ingrid had just woken up in the strangeness of what was to become her new bedroom for the next years. She had been instructed on how to behave when arriving on Asgard. No weird questions, no weird acting. The curtains had been raised, and the price for fucking up a line could be her head.

Moreover, the reasons for which Rangvald had accepted her as an apprentice were never to be questioned. For all she knew, she could have been randomly selected from a pool of students. She didn’t know if Ingrid, daughter of Ingvarr really existed and had been replaced by her, or if it was a made-up persona. Rangvald acted as if he had known her for years, however, which led her to believe that there had been some history between the real Ingrid and the old librarian. 

You will take on the name of Ingrid , her father had said while giving her a file. It contained all the information she needed to know about her character, from its backstory to its traits. While every single detail of the backstory was extremely important, the traits acted more as a guideline. A suggestion for what kind of character is best viewed among Asgardians.

Upon arriving at Rangvald’s home the day before, she hadn’t been completely unconscious. Her motor functions still worked, but her mind would not register anything but simple commands, such as that of a hand tugging her to move in either direction. It was a strange kind of feeling, and to say she hadn’t experienced second thoughts before being put under the spell would have been a lie. She had feared it would make her act bizarrely. Her father had given her countless guarantees that she should not worry about that part. 

And she ended up not giving it much thought at all after realizing she could not remember anything about how she had gotten to Asgard. So as for waking up in the bed, Ingrid only assumed that whoever had brought her there had guided her to the bedroom and told her to go to sleep. And her body had happily obliged.

“Good morning,” she shyly replied, ignoring his joke.

The old man had prepared breakfast, and was now brewing what she thought could only be tea. Ingrid slowly descended the stairs, her legs a little shaky and weak. “Come and eat. You look like you need it. You were so tired yesterday evening you barely spoke.”

Ingrid let out an embarrassed laugh. “It’s all so new and strange to me. I’m sorry if I came out as rude.”

Rangvald poured tea equally into two mugs. “You were not, child. Make yourself at home. I will show you around today, and tomorrow we can start working together.”

Ingrid sighed. She had hoped the man would give something away, without her having to ask. Something along the lines of, I’m glad you finally accepted my offer, or perhaps, I’m happy I haven’t trained you this long for nothing. Anything, really, that could give her an insight into who Ingrid really was, if she existed already, and why everything had come so perfectly together. To her, it seemed to be the hand of a mastermind, something that she could only aspire towards. 

Her father couldn’t have done all this by himself. She knew he had help, but how many people in Asgard knew of her real origin? Did Rangvald know? If he was an ally, why had her father forbidden her from getting too close to Rangvald as well? Did it mean he had been somehow tricked as well? By who? 

Soon enough, she would find Rangvald didn’t really care about getting too close to her. He made sure to meet her basic needs, but not because he had to, but because he wanted to. He had never had a family, she would find out. He couldn’t really focus anymore, and he suffered from short term memory loss sometimes. He had a short attention span as well, and never asked too many questions, mainly because he didn’t care.

All of these could make him the perfect confidante, but Ingrid knew better than to overshare. No matter how comfortable she was with someome, she knew better than to fall into that kind of trap. So she curled her fingers around the cup of tea that Rangvald had pushed towards her and flashed him the kindest smile she could give.

 


 

“How long was I out?” she asked, a guilty smile plastered on her face. Her fingers lazily trailed down the railing as she slowly stepped down the stairs. 

“For the rest of the night, and for most of the day. I came home a little earlier, I figured the assistants could handle it,” he explained. Ingrid was now standing across the dining table, watching him as he prepared something to eat. She wasn’t sure what problem to address first. “That prisoner of yours, he woke up,” Rangvald added out of the blue, dissolving her little dilemma.  

Ingrid’s eyes widened, and she immediately attempted to justify herself, “About that—”

“Shush. He confessed, apparently. The prince, Loki, came around and searched for you. When I told him you were at home, asleep, he seemed to hold back a laugh and asked if I could deliver a message. ‘Tell her the prisoner woke up and confessed,’ he said. Strange one, he is,” Rangvald said the last part more to himself, but Ingrid caught it. He turned around and placed a plateau of snacks on the table. 

“Why would you say that?” she asked, but did not put any kind of emphasis on it. For him, it would sound like a matter-of-fact type of question, but Ingrid’s heart skipped a beat after hearing him say it. Maybe it had something to do with how Loki had found out about how she had lied about her punishment for the book. 

“Well, what is so amusing about you sleeping?” 

Ingrid stared at him blankly and shrugged. There was no point in trying to dig deeper, as it was more than obvious Rangvald was already starting to divert. It was a surprise he had even remembered Loki’s message, word for word apparently. She watched him take a bite of the food he had prepared from the table, but she couldn’t bring herself to do the same. Her stomach was the least of her problems — Ingrid was still attempting to digest the news, and figure out how she should feel about it.

Chapter Text

Ingrid decided to take the rest of the day off as well. After promising Rangvald she would be back to work the next day and focus on clearing out the registry room of all the mess she had made, of course. It was already afternoon, and after listening to endless rants about the most random subjects one could conjure, Ingrid excused herself out of the house and told Rangvald she would head out for a walk, to clear her mind. So she went back up to her room, changed into proper clothes and exited the house promptly.

It was a strangely liberating feeling, walking aimlessly through the streets. For once, she didn’t have to head immediately into the library. Her pace was slow, matching that of the other people who were simply out enjoying the day. Maybe they had things to do, but they weren’t rushing. Most of them were families, with at least one kid jolting up and down excitedly. 

But there was another feeling, a nagging one, at the back of her head. One she couldn’t really put her finger on, but it made her uncomfortable and unable to relax. When her eyes shifted towards the grand royal palace, glistering in the sun, she figured it out. She was wasting time .

Unsure what to do, she still lingered in the streets for a while. Maybe she should have brought a book and read it on some bench. Just sitting down and staring at people would not silence her thoughts, which she knew she deeply needed. Then again, if she just sat down on a bench and waited, there was a possibility someone would join her and strike up a conversation. That could help.

But the palace kept catching the corner of her eye, similar to someone tugging at her sleeve for attention. Ingrid ended up sheltering herself from the sun at the shadow of a blooming tree. She turned her back to the palace and leaned against the trunk of the tree, focusing on the people moving back and forth instead. No one really seemed to notice her.

Still, she was restless. Even without the palace — her duty — in sight, she still could not take her mind off it. No matter how much she tried to breathe in the surprisingly cold and fresh air, or how much she repressed a smirk when children would look up at her and grin widely, Ingrid’s thoughts led her right back to what had transpired the other day.

A gust of wind shook the branches of the tree she was hiding under, causing a rush of white petals to fall from it. Her eyes followed them as they calmly landed on the ground, while her hand absently brushed off the ones that had landed on her shoulders and in her hair. Ingrid sighed loudly and walked around the trunk, shooting the imposing palace a look of indignation as she made her way towards it.

If she could not get any peace of mind, at least she would get her reward.

She remembered the way towards Loki’s chambers like it was the back of her hand. Every feeling that surrounded the memory was still fresh in her mind — the confusion, the annoyance as well as the excitement, as much as she hated to admit it. Everything had gone well as far as she knew, and she had kept her end of the deal — even sweetened it a little bit. So it was no surprise that when she knocked on Loki’s door, she did so with confidence and with the hint of a smirk plastered on her face.

The door opened slowly and revealed the dark-haired prince, dressed in full armor. His eyebrows were both raised, waiting for her to state the reason for her visit. Ingrid looked at the half-opened door, and then at his frame, blocking the entrance to the room. 

“Can we talk?,” she asked. Loki didn’t move from the doorway.

Now ?” he asked in response, his eyebrows furrowed in what seemed a concerned look. 

Ingrid mimicked his expression. “Yeah. Now. Why, were you busy?”

“I was quite in the middle of something, yes…,” he began. Then, as he seemed to change his mind, Loki stepped to the side and opened the door a little more. “But I suppose I can spare a few minutes, if this cannot wait.”

Ingrid rushed inside and waited for him to close the door behind her. It closed without him touching it, which took her by surprise, before she remembered who exactly she was dealing with. She crossed her arms and shot him a stern look. “I heard you came looking for me.”

Loki walked past her, his hands well hidden behind his back. “To let you know things worked out, which I am sure you already know by now. So, what do you want?”

“You know what I want. Payment,” she replied. Her eyes followed the Asgardian as he seemed to restlessly pace around the room. His chambers still felt chilly, but this time there was a scent to it that she could not describe. It was fresh, almost fruity, but faint at the same time. It took her a while to pick it up.

“Oh, about that.” Loki smirked at her, which only triggered a signal of distrust in her. “It will have to wait. I cannot risk angering my father again this soon,” he explained. He turned around and was now looking out the window, waiting for her response. There was something about his calmness that irritated her. Moreover, he spoke in a tone that made her feel he was sneering at her.

“I don’t care. I did more than I was supposed to do anyway. You got what you wanted, now let me get my part,” she insisted. 

Loki chuckled. A mean, rude kind of chuckle. “You wanted adventure. I offered you adventure. Don’t tell me all that didn’t excite you. Getting caught breaking the rules…,” he trailed off, his back still turned to her. 

“We had a deal ,” Ingrid growled and started to step towards him. Loki heard her walk, but didn’t react.

“A deal that I will honor, but not now,” he bluntly stated. “Have some patience, will you?”

The fact that he didn’t even bother to turn around and look at her while spitting out all these lies made her blood boil. She was used to people lying, of course, but she could often read it right off their faces. He had his back to her, so the only thing she could use to pick up nuances was his voice. But the tone of his voice only screamed disrespect and amusement. She should have known better than to trust him when they struck the deal, but the temptation of the prize had blinded her. 

From the outside, it was true that she acted like a spoiled child. But with all the knowledge she had gathered about him, she felt like she was on the right side. He obviously didn’t care about angering his father, and taking her to visit Odin’s treasure room was nowhere as dangerous as kidnapping a trusted ally of Asgard and lying about it. She knew he was stalling. 

When she was finally close enough to be able to touch him, she reached out to grab him by the shoulder.

“You could at least have the decency to—”

Ingrid let out a little shriek as her hand simply went through Loki’s shoulder, and her body followed it almost halfway out the window. Her other hand had grabbed the wall, and she found herself staring into the abyss that seemed to engulf the palace. The distance to the ground was more than enough to kill her. From that height, the people walking across the streets looked more like ants.

While straightening herself, Ingrid struggled to regain her normal heartbeat. Hearing Loki chuckle behind her didn’t help. When she turned around, ready to shout obscenities at him, he simply disintegrated. A door in the near distance opened instead.

Walking away now meant he would still get his way and be rid of her nagging. That was an outcome she wasn’t exactly content with, but neither was walking towards that door. Who knew what was behind it? Maybe another beast, or maybe she’d step into the room and suddenly find herself several feet above the ground again. Before she moved, Loki’s distinct amused voice shouted from the other room.

“Come in, I don’t bite. I promise .”

“I don’t think that word means what you think it means,” Ingrid mumbled. She headed for the door, not caring if he had heard her or not, but with evident uneasiness. When she thought her body couldn’t get any stiffer, she instantly froze in the doorway when she realized what she had just stepped into.

The room was decorated in the same way his chambers were, but mostly in gold and white now. There were unlit candles waiting around, since the light of the day was enough to lit up the room. The air was quite hard to breathe, even at the entrance, because of the heavy steam that encompassed the place. The pleasant scent she had acknowledged earlier was much more intense now. In the middle of the room, on a slightly raised platform stood a round, massive bathtub. And relaxing in it was no one other than Loki himself. 

He was resting his elbows on the edges of the tub, looking straight at her. The wall behind him was made entirely of glass, and the light shining from behind him made him look — she hated to admit it — like a god. His slick black hair was glistening from the water that was still dripping off its ends. The water level was right above his abdomen, revealing his immaculate, muscular chest. 

Had she been a painter, this would have made for a great portrait, she thought. Almost having forgotten all her anger, Ingrid lingered in the doorstep for a while, thinking of what to say. Maybe it was better if he tried to kill her again instead.

Eyes on the prize, she thought.

“If you wanted me gone, you could have told me. No need to stage a suicide,” she eventually said, her throat drier than she expected.

“What, that? A few scratches, at most.” Loki smirked at her, tilting his head slightly. She thought about it. Of course, Asgardians were more resistant. Falling from that height probably meant little to them. “Besides, you did it to yourself. I told you I was busy. You should be grateful I even bothered to have an illusion of myself listen to you.”

It irritated her how much her disposition had changed since she had seen him like that. Minutes ago, she was ready to yell at him. Now, she just wanted to go home and forget about everything. And more than that, she knew that he knew it as well. She could tell by his smug expression and his berating manner of speaking. Ingrid hated the disrespect, but speaking her mind meant ruining all that week’s worth of work. Still unsure how he would react to snarky replies and comebacks, Ingrid decided her best bet was to hold her tongue and not throw any personal attacks. However, she still needed to hold her ground.

“You should be grateful I saved your ass in front of Odin,” she reciprocated. It only made Loki turn his smirk into a wide grin. 

“Do you really think I would have been lost without your intervention?” he asked, his tone mocking. “While your little show was — I admit — impressive, there was no need for it. I have been through these kinds of situations with Odin far more times than you can imagine.”

Ingrid frowned. “Yeah, I could tell by your scared look.”

Loki chuckled and sunk a little into the water. “Don’t be silly. I saw you use the same tactic and the same scared expression. Making him feel superior, enticing mercy. We’re not so different, you and I.”

His gaze was piercing through hers, which made Ingrid look away for some seconds. This was a battle she could not win. She focused on one of the massive mirrors, even though it was covered with steam. “Either way, I fulfilled my end of the deal. I want you to do the same. If not now, I want at least a guarantee,” she finally spoke and looked back at him. 

Loki rolled his eyes. But instead of replying, Ingrid noticed him shifting his weight onto his arms. She took a sharp breath and went back to staring at the steamy mirror, realizing what he was about to do. The water splashed against his body as he raised from the tub, fully naked. She could see him from the corner of her eye, but only enough to distinguish his movements. Ingrid dug her nails into her own palm as she battled the urge to glance over.

“As I said, I will. But not now,” he explained. 

Hearing Loki speak made Ingrid instinctively want to switch her gaze towards him, but she stopped herself in the last moment. Her heart was beating unhealthily fast again, and much to her terror, the mist on the mirror was starting to fade. This meant she would probably be able to see his reflection in it. Looking in the opposite direction was also impossible without closing her eyes. Something dark green fluttering caught her eye, and she supposed he was going to use it to cover himself.

And she was right, only she glanced over at him a little too early, as the dark green bathrobe had not completely covered him yet. She pursed her lips while the silky material slid over Loki’s behind. This felt worse than hanging from the window.

He turned around and nonchalantly continued speaking. Either she hid it very well, or he really didn’t care how it had made her feel. “I’m going to Midgard for a few days to solve some matters for my father, as part of my punishment . When I get back, I will take you to the treasure room,” he said, now walking towards her. 

It was impossible for him not to notice her rosy cheeks. As much as she tried to, that was one part of her she could not control. She could blame the steam, but most of it was already gone by then. However, he made no comment about it, and simply walked towards her until they were mere inches apart. She went back to staring at the mirror, which was now safe to look at.

“Is that alright with you, or do you want a little something to make the wait easier?” 

The way he said it, so menacingly yet somehow seductive, triggered a tingling sensation in the lower part of her lower abdomen. It also made her not really want to know what he was referring to. She lowered her gaze at first, tracing an imaginary line towards where Loki was standing. His robe was long enough to cover his knees, but there were some parts where it would stick to his body, revealing the outline of what she was already imagining was hiding behind all that silk. 

Her eyes quickly shot upwards to meet his. He was waiting for her answer, but Ingrid’s mind could not even come up with a single coherent sentence. Being in that kind of situation was something she had never expected to happen, so she’d had no way to prepare for it. 

“I’m alright,” she said under her breath. 

Their gazes were still locked. She stared into his blue eyes, surprised that she had even managed to utter those few words. Why did it take her so long to regain control over herself? Was this some kind of spell as well? Or was she just that… a prude ? It wasn’t the first time she had been in the presence of a naked man. Hell, she had even had to seduce her fair share of men back on Midgard.

But they weren’t Loki. No, he had something different about him. As if no matter what she did, he would drag her back into his orbit by any means possible. Why? Because he could. And because it was fun to watch. What she wouldn’t realize until later was that she liked being in that position - dragged into uncertainty and forced to find her way out of it. It was a challenge. And challenges were interesting.

Loki chuckled at her. “Well then?”

His question seemed to make her regain her senses. She frowned at him. “Well then, what?”

He took a step forward, now closing the distance between them to a mere inch. There were parts of his body she could feel brushing against hers, as he leaned over and whispered in her ear, “You’re standing in the doorway.”

Ingrid felt blood rush to her cheeks, but she turned around quickly enough for it to go unnoticed (or so she hoped), and walked away. That short moment when she didn’t have to look at him anymore made it easier for her to regain her senses, and adapt to the situation. But most of the damage had already been done, and she had already exhibited a shameful amount of vulnerability. To an untrained eye, it would have seemed she was only slightly uncomfortable, but she knew Loki could read people better than others.

Loki walked out of the bathroom, now holding a towel in his right hand, water still gliding off his body and dripping on the floor. He rose the towel to his head and absently dried out the soaked ends of his hair, while still looking at her. The silence combined with being watched like that made her uncomfortable. Ingrid chuckled nervously.

“I’m curious, though. What was it you were going to offer me to, you know, make the wait easie r?” she asked, in an attempt to regain control of the situation. Could she even regain something she probably never had in the first place?

In response, Loki’s expression switched to a serious one. His eyes narrowed a little, and his lips were not curled up anymore, but slightly parted. With a casual gesture, he dropped the towel to the floor and took a few more steps towards Ingrid, who was now back to her previous frozen state. As he walked towards her, only one silly, childish thought encompassed her mind — he was naked under that thin layer of silk. And she already knew what one side of his naked body looked like.

His eyes never left hers, and both their breathing had now grown heavier. Was he about to kiss her? Why, what sense would that make? Until then, she had only assumed he was toying with her. But now, standing so close to him, actually hearing him breathe heavily made her question what had really happened in the bathroom before. Plus, she had no idea what to do now, how to react. Should she close her eyes? Should she try to subtly avoid it? Was there even a way to subtly avoid it? Did she want to?

Before she knew it, Loki had raised one hand and was bringing it to her hair. Great, she thought. Now he would grab her by the back of her head so she could not avoid it. Contrary to what she had expected however, his hand stopped a little too early to reach the back of her neck. His eyes now looked away from her, at his own palm. He seemed to grab something, and then he brought it in front of her so she could examine it herself.

It was a small, withered white flower. Similar to the ones that had fallen from the tree she had rested under before visiting him. 

Ingrid swallowed.

Loki let the little flower go, and she watched it slowly fall to the ground. When she looked back up, her eyes met his again. He was shamefully close again, and his freshly-bathed scent hit her senses. From that distance, she could examine every detail of his face, even some she hadn’t even noticed until then — such as the faint wrinkles above and between his eyebrows. She looked over to his lips when he regained his usual grin.

“You refused and I am afraid it was a one-time offer. There’s no point in taunting you with something you may never have,” he finally decided to reply to her question. The way he worded it and how it combined with his deep voice made a shiver run down her spine. It made her snap back to reality, and for a few moments, she struggled to remember what her question had been. His breathing was no longer heavy, but she had to remind herself to start breathing again, since she had been holding it for quite a while.

Loki played her like a toy. His reply was only meant to tempt her even more, she could tell. But this was where she would put an end to it. Ingrid had come over to get what had been promised to her, only to have to return home like a dog with its tail between its legs. Mentally defeated in a battle of wits, made fun of and empty-handed. The least she could do now was to make a symbolic exit that could wash away some of the shame.

So without much thinking, and taking advantage of how close they were to one another, Ingrid brought her hand slightly forward. Loki visibly flinched when she touched his thigh and let her fingers slowly travel upwards. He hadn’t expected it; he stood straight, his grin now gone. A smirk curled up one corner of her mouth for a split second upon noticing his surprise. It disappeared the moment Ingrid started to lift herself on her toes to be able to whisper in his ear this time.

“Don’t be so sure.”

When she retreated, she noticed he wasn’t as stiff anymore. Loki watched her step back, and it seemed to her he was both surprised and amused. Ingrid removed her hand that had in the meantime managed to reach his upper thigh, and walked past him. She eyed the door like a tiger eyes its prey, hoping nothing would interrupt her way out. 

She heard Loki shout after her. “I could bring you a souvenir from Midgard, if you want,” he teased. Ingrid stopped for a few seconds, taking in the offer, but walked out of his chambers without replying, her cheeks flustered. 

At home, she was tempted to take a long, relaxing bath to wash off all the shame and strangeness of the day. But she quickly gave up on the idea when she realized that, for some odd reason, it would only make her mind go back and try to relive the moments. Ingrid decided to wash herself as quickly as she could instead, and distract herself with other matters that did not involve nakedness and steam.

Chapter Text

“Ingrid, this is the second bath you’re taking since you’ve arrived. Are you alright?”

She stopped before setting foot on the first step of the staircase that led to her room. She frowned to herself, and then turned around to face Rangvald, who was eyeing her curiously from the kitchen table. When had he become so attentive?

“Yeah. I’m fine. I just… I guess I forgot,” she replied, grinning sheepishly. 

It had already been a week since Loki had left for Midgard and, most importantly, that scene in his chambers. A week in which Ingrid had tried her best to get her mind off it, and try to convince herself she would deal with it when he came back. But day after day, she only kept coming up with various scenarios of what could happen next. Everything was as quiet as ever in the library, with Frigga’s apprentice busy going through trials and trying her best to prove herself to the queen.

This night, however, Ingrid was supposed to go out. She had caved in and accepted the invitation extended to her by one of the assistant librarians. It took her surprisingly long to get ready, but she settled on a knee-long black dress with a leather corset with subtle golden embroideries. The dress had already been there when she had arrived, and it was one of the more extravagant ones — at least for her taste. Ingrid didn’t like to stand out, but this time she could indulge herself. She was going out, after all, even if it was just for a few drinks with her coworkers. Showing up looking like crap would have been more suspicious than at least attempting to look her best.

Back on Midgard, things were so much different. She could put all kinds of weird feathery accessories in her hair, wear high-heeled sandals and abuse her make-up set. Most times, she would even try to match her cigarette holder with her outfit. For how advanced Asgard was in all other matters, fashion didn’t seem to be one of them.

Ingrid didn’t give it much thought, however. By that time, she had already gotten used to the way people on Asgard liked to dress, as picking up on their fashion sense wasn’t hard. She wasn’t one to dwell over past times either, so with unusually high expectations, she set off to join her coworkers, flashing Rangvald another grin on her way out.

And as usual when one has high expectations, she ended up let down by it all. It seemed that the only person truly on-board with her joining the table had been the one who had invited her — Leif. Everyone else kept to themselves, while Leif just tried his best to hold a conversation with her, or include her in the general conversation by asking her opinion on the matters discussed. After she stated her point, however, someone always changed the subject.

Ingrid had noticed it right away but didn’t take it to heart. She appreciated the man’s efforts to make her feel comfortable but internally swore to never go out with them anymore. As they kept on drinking and laughing louder and louder about subjects she was not familiar with, Ingrid only smiled politely and spoke when spoken to. Maybe it had been different if she could drink as they did. But she couldn’t risk even sipping on the mead with all of them there, and in such an open space as that tavern. It was too strong for her, so she settled on simple juice. Even Leif had started to ignore her at one point, since the alcohol had gotten to his head as well. But he turned to her and apologized shortly after.

How bad would it look if she excused herself to the bathroom and then just never returned? She would have to face them the next day, however. But as she pondered ways to leave as politely as possible, she overheard something that made her change her mind. The people at the table suddenly stopped talking and laughing so loudly, and instead leaned forward and spoke in a much lower tone.

One young woman, barely containing her giggle, spoke, “Did you hear about the mess on Midgard?”

Another man grinned widely and replied, “Good thing Thor handled most of it, but Odin still had to intervene to get rid of their traces. Apparently, they still can’t know about us.”

“I don’t really understand that. It would be so much easier if they did,” another one intervened.

“That’s what Loki thought, too,” the young woman said and started to giggle. 

Ingrid, noticing Leif seemed to know what they were talking about, tugged on his sleeve and when he turned to face her, she whispered, “What happened on Midgard?” 

He smiled, probably finding it cute that she was unaware. “For some reason, Loki thought it was a good idea to show some of them his magic. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but everyone is gossiping about it now. And everyone at the palace is pretty pissed off about it, especially Odin.” Ingrid nodded thoughtfully and thanked him, but he seemed to remember something and continued, “Didn’t the prince get you into trouble as well, a while ago?” 

“I…,” her voice trailed off, trying to think of what to say. “Let’s say I volunteered.” 

The answer didn’t seem to satisfy Leif, but he accepted it anyway. They both turned their attention to what was being discussed at the table, but Ingrid’s mind was, in reality, someplace else completely. She mostly wondered what had happened to Loki, but there was also a small part of her focusing on the fact that Odin didn’t want her kind to know about them. And for some odd reason, she couldn’t make sense of it. After all, she was a Midgardian and she knew about them. It wasn’t as if her brain had imploded when learning about Asgard. 

Leif offered to walk her home, but she refused. Again, he apologized, and she replied by telling him there was nothing to apologize for. If anything, he should have apologized to his coworkers for dragging her in. It was evident they felt awkward talking about whatever they wanted at first, until they decided to ignore her. 

Ingrid didn’t get much sleep that night. Not because of the awkward night out, but because of what she had learned there. Maybe it was time to do some serious digging around. 

The first half of the next day went slowly. Other than the occasional nod of acknowledgment, none of the other librarians bothered to communicate with her. But as much as she thought their attitude towards her didn’t affect her, it was starting to nag at the back of her mind. Maybe she sucked at being in charge, or maybe they were envious, but there would come a point where she would want to be on good terms with everyone. If it hadn’t been for Leif inviting her, she probably would never have found out about Midgard, or know that Loki had returned.

And one thing she knew, Loki was still indebted to her.

So while Ingrid sat at a lecturing table, trying to review her own behavior towards the other librarians, seeing where she could start fixing things, Frigga’s apprentice made her way into the library. It was already afternoon, and an unusual sight. The redhead would either come in early in the morning and spend all day there or pass by in the evening to return books. That was, before she was busy with her physical training.

Ingrid noticed her but didn’t sit up. Eyja made her way towards her, and her face didn’t light up like it usually did. Ingrid could tell there was something on her mind.

“Queen Frigga wants to speak with you,” Eyja simply stated, not bothering to greet her first or anything. The girl almost seemed scared.

Ingrid swallowed. “Queen Frigga knows I exist? What happened?” She finally stood up and walked towards the other side of the table where the apprentice was standing. Even though Ingrid had the intention to pull out a chair for her, she stopped once she realized the girl was more confused than scared.

“I don’t know. But she asked me if I knew the head librarian, and told me to get you to drop by sometime.”

“Maybe she meant Rangvald,” Ingrid suggested. 

The apprentice shook her head. “I quote, ‘Do you know her ?’ I think she meant you.”

A sense of dread took over Ingrid when she realized she would actually have to go. But another part of her welcomed the challenge. Any other person whose mission was to gather intel on Asgard would have considered this a success. In such a short time, she had managed to work her way up to a personal meeting with the queen herself, never mind the reason. Maybe it was the quick unraveling of events that made her feel uneasy, or the thought that whatever came this easily was probably destined to fail. 

“Alright then,” she said, accompanied by a nonchalant shrug. The apprentice involuntarily frowned for a second, but turned around and walked out of the library with Ingrid following close by. “So you really have no clue what this is about?” she asked again, once outside the library. 

Eyja sighed. “She has been a little distracted ever since that thing on Midgard… I suppose it has to do with that. I’m not sure.”

“What exactly happened on Midgard?” 

“I don’t know.”

There was so much mystery around it that it made her expect something horrible. What exactly had Loki managed to do to her home planet? Either way, it had been fixed. Thor and Odin had fixed it. Or at least, that was what everybody was saying. 

When they finally reached Frigga’s quarters, Eyja made sure to knock and step in first, sharply closing the door behind her. She left Ingrid outside for a few seconds, before exiting the room and signaling her to enter. Ingrid nodded and carefully pushed the door to enter the room. She closed it just as carefully, and when she turned around, she found the queen standing right in front of her. 

“Your Highness,” she greeted, following with a quick bow. 

Frigga smiled tiredly at her and nodded. “Ingrid, right? Thank you for coming. Would you like some tea?”

“I’m good,” Ingrid replied, secretly hoping this wasn’t going to be the kind of meeting where they sit down and talk nonsense before getting to the point. Frigga widened her smile, however, and walked over to sit on the armrest of one of her sofas. Ingrid didn’t move. She wouldn’t move unless invited to.

“I know — you must be busy,” Frigga mentioned, her voice soft but clearly worried. She had most of her blonde hair let down, except for some side braids, and was obviously not dressed for going out. “Odin mentioned you briefly before sending Loki off to Midgard. I thought it would be nice to get to know you.” Frigga analyzed Ingrid from top to toe, while the young woman wasn’t sure what to say. Then, before she could think of something, Frigga gestured towards the sofa. “Please, sit.”

Ingrid nodded and quickly made her way to sit on the sofa, next to the queen. There was an obvious height difference between the two, but Frigga didn’t move. Ingrid had to tilt her head slightly to look up at her.

“I don’t really see why I would be worth mentioning,” Ingrid finally muttered. 

Frigga chuckled. “Odin was set on punishing you too for the stunt you pulled with my son. I talked him out of it, however.”

Ingrid shifted a little in her seat, cursing herself for not asking for tea. Then, she could at least pretend to be busy sipping it in order to gain more time to think of what to say. “I appreciate it, Your Highness. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder why you would do such a thing.”

“I understand very well where Odin’s reasons for doing things lie, but we do have different ways of… instilling respect.” With that, Frigga left a wide-eyed Ingrid alone on the sofa and walked away to pour herself some tea. 

There was a heavy silence that Ingrid felt the need to fill, but she knew Frigga was going to elaborate on her own terms. The queen returned, and this time decided to sit next to her, on the same level, her hot cup of tea steaming.

“My son is in chains,” Frigga stated. She was looking at her own reflection in her tea, but then glanced back at Ingrid. “He toyed around on Midgard and ended up almost killing someone. Not only that, but he revealed himself and his powers to those people. I have been trying to help him for so long, but there come days when… I simply cannot.”

Ingrid bit her lower lip, her mind analyzing where this was going. She didn’t know Loki had ended up in chains, so learning that surprised her. But this was not the time or place to play dumb and try to get more details. The Queen was clearly upset about the situation, even though she was trying to hide it. “How long is he going to be locked away for?” she eventually asked. 

Frigga shrugged. “Until Odin decides he has had enough. He is getting more and more tired of this behavior. And I understand him. But I cannot stand the thought of Loki being chained up in a cell either. I want you to talk to Odin.”

Was she being serious? Ingrid frowned as her lips struggled to curl up. “I doubt any of my arguments could convince the Allfather to—”

“No, the arguments won’t,” she interrupted. “But the fact that you tried, will.”

Frigga took a sip of her tea and let the young woman digest the proposal. Ingrid was now looking away from the queen, trying to make sense of what was happening. Even if she were to walk up to the Allfather, what would she even say? 

“Why would me trying to get Loki out matter?” she asked. 

“It will. Trust me. You are exactly what both of them need right now. A bridge to communicate.”

Small pieces of the puzzle were slowly being put together. Ingrid could tell there were no bad intentions behind this. There was something about the Queen of Asgard that made you want to throw yourself on the floor and become her personal doormat. There was no doubting her proposition as there had been when Loki had suggested they kidnap a war hero. Besides, getting Loki out of prison benefited her, too. 

But becoming a bridge between father and son, as the Queen had put it? It meant dealing with Odin, and the last time she had done that, she had ended up suffering a full-blown panic attack. It was all moving too fast for her, and not even Frigga’s support could make her feel more comfortable about the whole situation. Because she knew that if Frigga found out the truth about her, even that support would be gone.

Apparently, Ingrid’s silence had conveyed her worry to Frigga. But when their eyes met, Ingrid felt a sense of relief that relaxed her shoulders. The Queen patiently awaited her reply, and her gentle expression took away all the pressure Ingrid had felt until then. She still couldn’t really come up with the right words, because she didn’t exactly know what she wanted. Frigga, obviously, could tell.

“You don’t have to do it, of course. It is entirely up to you. But allow me one question, while you decide whether it is a good idea or not,” she interrupted the silence. Ingrid’s expression lightened up as she raised her eyebrows. “Why did you do it? Take his side, I mean?”

A million reasons ran through Ingrid’s mind at that point. She took a deep breath and looked away for a few seconds. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure what the real reason behind it had been. Did she want to gain Loki’s trust? Had it simply been the result of adrenaline pumping through her veins, convincing her she could stand up to Odin? 

Seeing Ingrid was again taking her time to respond, Frigga spoke again. “Let me rephrase that — how did you two meet? How did you end up in that situation?”

Ingrid looked back at the Queen with a hint of a smile this time. Frigga tilted her head slightly in response to that and widened her own smile. “He… he came to the library, asking for the head librarian...”

Timid at first, Ingrid began telling the story. Every detail of it. She told the Queen about how Loki had tricked her into delivering the book to a different location and what had awaited her there. About how he returned it later when he found out losing it had gotten her into trouble — even confessed that she had lied to him about Rangvald wanting to fire her. It made Frigga chuckle, until Ingrid got to the part where Loki had told her about how no one would listen to his theory about who was causing all the trouble on Vanaheim. She skipped the part where he had promised her a tour of Odin’s treasure room, but instead mentioned how he had come to the library disguised as a handmaid. That was enough to make the Queen let out a little laugh again. Her tale ended with her standing up to Odin, as she omitted the fact that she had met Loki one last time before he left for Midgard.

Once done, Ingrid took a deep breath again and pursed her lips. She knew what Frigga’s next question would be.

“It sounds as if he has caused you enough trouble to not want to associate yourself with him anymore. Why did you keep allowing him to do this to you? I am sure measures could have been taken if you felt he was harassing you.”

Ingrid frowned. “To be honest, looking back, I think it was rather entertaining. I never thought of escalating the matter — I never felt like it. Besides, he does have a way to convince people.”

“He does.”

Frigga suddenly stood up, after placing her cup of tea on the small coffee table in front of them. Ingrid did the same, and straightened her clothes as she rose to her full height. 

“Take your time to think about it. I am sure whatever you choose to do — or not do — it will be the right choice,” Frigga said as she started walking towards the exit. Ingrid didn’t move yet, however.

“I’ll do it.”

Unsure what had made her say it, she swallowed, as if that could take it back immediately. Her throat became instantly dry afterwards. Frigga graciously turned around and flashed her the same warm smile she had presented before. “Are you sure?” 

Ingrid nodded. “I’ll think of something. I trust your judgment, Your Highness. If you think it could help Loki, then I am going to do my best to talk to Odin.”

Her mind immediately went blank after those phrases. Whatever Frigga followed up with and however she ended the meeting was a blur to Ingrid — she only came back to her senses once outside the Queen’s chambers. And when reality started to fade back in, all that echoed within her head was a single word. A word repeated over and over, until she whispered it to herself. The silence of those hallways and the haze of her mind made it seem to reverberate as if it was some sort of wounded animal’s screech.

In reality, it was but a whisper - loud enough for only Ingrid to hear, but embodying a thousand emotions.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Had this been a mission briefing, Ingrid would have been eager to step into the room and talk. After all, everything was going extremely well – she had managed to secure countless meetings with the Prince of Asgard, one with the Queen, and was now about to talk to the Allfather for the second time in less than a month. But here lied the problem: it was the Allfather she was going to speak to, not her father. She knew what to expect of her father, no matter the type of request. Now, Ingrid was standing in front of the doors to the throne room, and she had little to no idea what was going to happen in the next few minutes.

She came to realize the weird nature of her relationship with uncertainty. It wasn’t something that she could avoid, nor did she make a goal out of it, but it frightened her and at the same time it also excited her. It wasn’t always balanced – this time, it leant towards terrifying. In a strange way, it was something that brought her a sense of accomplishment once it was over, no matter the results. Even if said results included panic attacks.

The large double doors opened widely, and a large, bulky silhouette made its way out. At first, she couldn’t tell who it was because of the backlight (the hallways and the library seemed to always be poorly lit compared to more important parts of the palace). Then, as he passed by her, she realized the blond man was no other than Thor, angrily making his way through the many guards watching over the hallway. Whatever they had discussed didn’t seem to please him. Ingrid wondered for a brief moment if she had just seen a glimpse of what was going to happen to her as well. Maybe it was a sign. It wasn’t too late to turn back.

“You may come in, young lady.”

Well, now it was.

A knot had formed in her throat long ago, and Ingrid knew she wouldn’t be able to swallow it away. She had nothing to swallow, anyway – her mouth was as dry as the desert. When she stepped into the grandiose room, she felt a rush of adrenaline. Odin was sitting in his throne, but from that distance he looked so small it almost gave her a boost of confidence. He was still far away; she could use the time it would take her to cross the room to remember the stupid speech she had prepared.

“I hear something troubles you,” Odin spoke. His voice echoed through the room, and through her mind equally as terrifying. There was a hint of sarcasm in his tone, as if he already knew what this meeting was about and knew how it was going to end – with him mocking her and refusing whatever she wanted to achieve.

“I am, indeed worried, Your Majesty. I do not wish to waste your time – I am worried about the prince, Loki.” Ingrid secured her place in front of the throne, and tilted her head slightly as she looked up to the Allfather. Her breathing was uneven, which caused her voice to come out as weak and almost cracking, but her posture showed the opposite.

“The prince is fine; he is being taken care of. He enjoys three meals a day and has guards watching over him. What could possibly worry you?”

Ingrid took a deep breath. “He is… in chains, from what I have understood.” Playing stupid seemed to be the best option, since Odin was clearly messing with her.

“Do you want to join him? Is that why you have come here?”

“I have come to ask you to release him.” Her statement was bold, but there was no point in giving in to Odin’s attempts at belittling her. In the worst case scenario, he would just humiliate her further and kick her out of the throne room, but at least she could say she tried her best.

Odin grunted. “Do you even know the reason for his imprisonment? Do you think you are the first to bother me with such a request? I suggest you mind your own business, child. Just because I once gave you a few moments of my time does not mean I have to keep doing it. Guards!”

Eyes widened, Ingrid thought of what to say before the guards reached her. “Allfather! Please! At least let me visit him…”

The two guards had made their way to her side, and were awaiting orders while Odin rested his head on his fist. He had a look on his face that she couldn’t quite decipher, but he didn’t seem as angry anymore. “Visit him? For what purpose? I have forbidden anyone from visiting him.”

“Just… just to talk.”

“About?”

Ingrid swallowed. “About whatever drives him to do these things.”

“Ungratefulness. There, I have spared you a visit!”

Ingrid’s shoulders lowered in disappointment; she had been left speechless. There was no arguing left to do, and the only next move that seemed logical was for Odin to have his guards escort her outside. But a strange silence followed, in which neither Ingrid or the two guards next to her knew what to do. The Allfather seemed to be the only one not bothered by the silence – his gaze was to his side, but he looked absent.

Then, he looked back at Ingrid, his eyes piercing through her almost teary ones. Her shoulders immediately stiffened back, and for a few seconds there, she even held her breath.

“Leave,” he muttered after glancing over to the two guards. They obeyed, and Ingrid was left standing all by herself in front of him. “You think I am in the wrong for putting him in chains.”

Ingrid pursed her lips while thinking of the most appropriate response possible. “I think he can do good if given the chance, Your Majesty.”

Odin nodded slightly. “And how certain are you of this?” Ingrid frowned, but before she could answer, Odin continued, “I will allow you be the one to release him.”

Again, before she could even think of what to say, the Allfather straightened his posture, and from the fist he had been supporting his head with, a subtle flash of golden light shone through. When he opened his palm, he revealed a strangely shaped stone, with sharp ends like those of a star. He casually tossed the stone towards Ingrid, which she barley managed to catch, having been taken by surprise.

She was still staring at it when Odin continued speaking, “…however, should you choose to do so, you shall take the blame and punishment for whatever crime he commits afterwards.”

Finally, she looked away from it and straight at the Allfather, her eyes wide and legs almost shaking. “I…”

“The choice is yours. You have the key. Show that to the guards, and they shall let you pass. The rest, you can figure out.”

It wasn’t how to use the rune that troubled her, but the conditions that this action came with. Ingrid was still staring at the Allfather, her words stuck in her throat, while he simply looked down at her with a neutral expression – neither angered or amused.

“Is there anything else you need?”

She closed her hand into a fist around the rune, and slowly shook her head while her gaze lowered until it fixated on a random spot on the marble floor. Other than muttering a thank you and bowing, she didn’t know what else to do. She hadn’t expected this kind of outcome – for some reason, it was either he kicked her out or he somehow gave in and freed Loki. But dumping all the responsibility of freeing him on her had never crossed her mind.

The two guards escorted her out of the throne room. Her hand was firmly clenched around the rune, to the point that the pointy ends almost pierced her skin. What was she supposed to do now? Go and tell the queen of her half-success? She couldn’t exactly trust her advice in this situation – any mother would sacrifice a stranger for their child.

As she walked the halls of the Asgardian palace, Ingrid took the long way towards the dungeons, trying to give herself more time to think. She was going to visit him, that was for sure. But whether she was going to unchain him was still an uncertainty, with the balance tilting more towards not sacrificing herself, of course.

What was the point of setting him free, anyway? Just to please Frigga? It had been her request, after all. She would be lying if she said she didn’t miss him slightly, but Ingrid convinced herself it was the opportunity she missed, in fact. She could have profited greatly, but not now that Loki was in chains. Every step forward of hers had been thanks to the prince, after all. Having the chance to talk to Odin or Frigga – none of that would have happened if Loki had not taken interest in her.

He also has a promise left to fulfill.

However, would she still go through with it, knowing she would be the one to take on the punishment? Risking being caught in Odin’s treasure room did not seem so worth it anymore.

Her mind involuntarily traveled to the time she walked in on Loki while he was taking a bath, and a tingling sensation in her lower stomach made her stop dead in her tracks. This was certainly not a decision to be made with such emotions running freely. Whatever he had awakened within her back then had to be completely ignored while balancing this situation.

Therefore, she struggled to tuck those feelings far at the back of her mind, with the promise to come back and analyze them another time.

Could she trust him not to do anything stupid again, after this incarceration? No. Could she try and tell him his actions will have consequences on her, and expect him to behave more carefully as a result? Definitely no. In fact, she wasn’t even sure she could tell him what the consequence of her freeing him was. There was no certainty he would not jump at the occasion to mess with her even more, and just send her to rot in his place.

But how could she possibly make sure he stays put, in case she freed him? Telling him Odin declared Loki would be executed if he commits another crime seemed unrealistic. There was nothing to threaten the prince with, and all outcomes urged her to simply keep the rune and save herself.

Would Odin really go through with it, though? Would he really imprison her for a crime she did not commit, only to teach her a lesson about his son?

Ingrid had to stop again to make order in her thoughts.

Aside from all the questions she had, old memories had started to resurface as well. The way her father always told her not to think of herself as a person, but as a tool to serve humanity. A pawn in a bigger picture and plan, that she would one day see in its entirety, as her father supposedly did. Sacrifices had always been necessary, but then came the question: what was the point in sacrificing herself if she could not complete her mission? Wouldn’t it all have been in vein?

Doing nothing was against her nature, though. Every move she made, it had to lead her forwards. And the only action that could move things forward in this situation was to free Loki. In this situation, she had to risk it. Come the time when she would have to be punished, she would have to think of a way to deal with that situation. As procrastinators say, it would be a problem for another day.

Ingrid had already made her decision when she reached the guards watching over Loki. She showed them the rune, and as Odin had predicted, they let her through and gave her directions.

The part of the dungeons where Loki was held was even more frightening than she had expected. It was dark, cold, and she could have sworn she heard whispers every now and then, as she approached the end of the hallway. She had thought it was going to be more like the time Loki had tricked her to go into the basement of the palace, but it was worse. The scenery was not the most gut-wrenching thing, however.

She finally distinguished what had to be Loki’s silhouette, but stopped for a moment to regain her senses and waited until her sight could adjust to the darkness. His breathing was heavy enough that she could hear it from that distance, and he would occasionally let out a heavy grunt between deep breaths.

It almost made her pity him.

When she took a few steps forward, she made sure to make enough noise for him to notice her arrival. And when he finally did, she was met with a somewhat heartbreaking response.

“You? Of all people, you?” His voice seemed weaker than usual, but a patronizing tone still stained it. Since Ingrid’s eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, she couldn’t yet notice his prominent dark circles and unusual pallor.

“Were you expecting someone else?” she asked softly. 

“I wasn’t expecting anyone. Not even my brother has bothered to visit.” Even though she could not yet distinguish his features in detail, the way the words rolled off his tongue gave her the impression that he was smiling. A bitter smile, probably, since it accompanied a bitter remark. 

“So you were expecting someone.”

Loki scoffed. “I merely pointed out how much of a surprise you coming down here is. My brother put me here – out of all people, he should have been the one to make an appearance and apologize. Not you, pretending to be what you are not.”

She could now see him a little clearer, and began to understand his hostile responses. It made it easier to keep her cool, seeing him like that. The chains wrapped around his wrists made it impossible for him to sit down without his arms hanging above his head, or to stand up at his full height without them pulling him down slightly. He had settled for a position where he sat a little bit higher, by tucking his leg underneath him. She could not help but wonder if all that time in those chains had made him start hallucinating.

Brows furrowed, she tilted her head slightly in response to his assumption. “What is that even supposed to mean?” 

“That Midgardian legend you told me… about me in chains and my wife taking care of me. That’s why you are here.” Tempted to laugh at it, Ingrid repressed her amusement. It was strange at the same time, that he suddenly remembered that random story she had told him to pass the time. He hadn’t even asked why she had come there, but instead jumped to such a bizarre conclusion, he had to be have lost his mind. Or at least part of it.

“I thought you did not care for Midgardian legends.” It also did strike her, how aggressive he suddenly had become. Maybe that’s what being kept in chains does to you. Him thinking Thor had abandoned him must have played a role in his bitterness as well. She wouldn’t tell him Thor had tried to help him just yet. There were other things catching her attention.

“Why are you here then, if not to pretend you are taking care of me? Or do you want to play the part of the snake and drip your poison upon me slowly? Flaunting your freedom and what not?”

It was Ingrid’s turn to scoff. It was obvious his attitude would change once he saw what she really was there for. “I’m not here to be your wife, Loki.” She stepped towards him, and reached down in her pocket for the rune Odin had given her. Her voice came out as almost tired, as if she had been trying to explain something for the millionth time. “I’m not the snake, either. Nor am I the poison. If you want to compare this situation to that legend so badly...”

She stopped while standing right in front of him. He was sitting on one of his legs, making his face reach the height of her stomach. He looked up at her, still quite menacingly. Ingrid glanced down at him for less than one second and took out the rune, placing it where it belonged, just above where the chains that held him began. 

“...then, I suppose you could say I am the bowl that holds the venom.”

The rune lit up, and what seemed to look like small, thin golden vines lit up around it as well. They travelled to where Loki’s chains met the wall, and once they reached all ends, the chains vanished into thin air. Ingrid had taken a step back already, but Loki just sat there, his head hanging forward, so that she couldn’t exactly figure out what he was thinking.

It was almost as if time had stopped. Ingrid didn’t know what to do – lift him up, call out his name, leave? She stood there and watched as Loki’s breathing slowly returned to normal. He started moving his arms, rotating his wrists until he finally stood at his full height. When their gazes met, he no longer looked like the hopeless prisoner she had first seen.

He had a confused expression, that was true and to be expected. But as he stood there, head tilted slightly, a devilish grin curled the corner of his lips… and a shiver ran down Ingrid’s spine.