"I can assure you it will be absolutely safe here in my collection."
"See that it is."
Sif turned on her heel and started away, eager to be away from the strange Collector and his even stranger collection. She and Volstagg now only needed to board a transport that would take them to the nearest location Heimdall could reach with the Bifrost. With luck she hoped to back to Asgard within a few days. She was worried for Thor and wanted to see with her own eyes he was well.
As well as he could be under the circumstances.
Thor was still recovering from his injuries resulting from his pursuit and fight with the Dark Elves. He'd been gravely injured in his battle with the Kursed One, yet still pursued Malekith to Midgard. Sif shuddered to think what could have happened if Odin had not roused from his grief and anger and gone to Midgard to aid him.
Thor would recover from his injuries. This was certain. He grew stronger as each day passed. But even as his body healed, Sif still worried for his spirit. The loss of his mother, the queen, had broken something within him, as it did his father. As long as Thor had a goal set in front of him, defeat Malekith and put a stop to his plans, he coped with his loss. Now, there was nothing to focus his attention away from his grief.
Sif found herself wishing Loki was there.
There had never been anyone more adept at distracting Thor from his troubles than his younger brother. She felt ashamed, knowing how selfish and cruel it was to wish Loki alive and thus have to suffer the loss of his mother also. Her death would have devastated Loki as much as it did Thor, but surely they would have supported each other in their grief. She'd observed few things in her life that roused Thor to action faster than the knowledge Loki needed him.
But Loki was long dead.
He died years ago after falling from the Bifrost and into the Void. Sif's mind still shied away from thinking on it overlong. Thor never spoke of what happened between him and his brother when he returned from his exile, saying of Loki's death only that he fell by accident, the result of the Bifrost explosion. As much as she never was overly fond of Thor's petty, conniving brother, the thought of his dying in such a way, lost in the Void, out of reach of his home and family still made her breathe catch in her throat.
Thor's grief had been crushing then as well. But he coped, she reminded herself. That was Thor. He always found a way to move forward.
Sif wanted to go home.
She was within steps of the doorway when something caught her attention. Along the edge of her vision, something...familiar. She turned to look.
And she stopped breathing.
She exhaled sharply only when Volstagg ran into her back.
"Oof!" he said, falling back a step. "I'm sorry, Sif. I didn't see you stop. Sif?"
In her mind she answered him. In her mind she pointed to the far wall where she was looking. In her mind she was hopping about making undignified squeaking sounds.
She said nothing. Just stared.
"Sif? What is it?"
She couldn't answer. Volstagg turned to see what held her attention. She didn't see his face, just heard his shocked intake of breath. She knew then she wasn't seeing things. Volstagg saw it too.
The realization freed her from her paralysis and she was across the cramped space in moments, pressing her hands against the case and looking at the object inside.
She searched every bit of it she could see clearly. It looked intact, save for the helm. She looked about her at the surrounding cases, in case it was here. She couldn't see it. Just the formal golden armour complete with the richly coloured green cape once worn by the second-born Prince of Asgard.
But Loki was dead. Lost in the Void.
She turned to look at Volstagg. He was at her side, looking just as intently at the armour within the case. He met her eyes with a grave expression.
"How can this be?" he asked.
There was a flurry of movement behind them and they turned as one to face the Collector -- Tivan, she remembered -- as he approached.
"I can not help but notice something has captured your eye," he said. "Ah, the Asgardian armour. Of course. A wonderful addition to my collection."
"Where did you get this?" Sif asked.
"The purpose of my collection is to gather all that is unique in the universe. The magic-infused armour of an Asgardian Prince is most certainly a treasure worthy of being collected."
"Where did you get this!" Sif shouted, taking a threatening step forward. She felt Volstagg lay a hand on her shoulder. She wasn't sure if he meant to calm her or prevent her from lunging forward and seizing Tivan by his neck.
If Tivan was concerned by her anger, he gave no sign of it. "I acquired it."
"From whom?" Volstagg asked.
"I'm afraid I cannot compromise the confidentiality of my -- urk!"
In one smooth motion Sif stepped out from under Volstagg's hand and pressed her blade against Tivan's throat. She backed him into one of his cases.
"You will make an exception," she said sweetly. "And you will tell us everything we want to know. Do you understand?"
"Yes. Of course," he tried to nod, but quickly thought better of it when her blade pressed deeper into his skin.
Sif withdrew and sheathed her blade, keeping her hand close to the hilt. She raised her eyebrows expectantly at him.
"Two years ago I was visited by a man, Asgardian. He said he heard about my collection and wanted to see if I would be interested in purchasing a new piece. I don't make a practice of purchasing my treasures, and told him so. He said, 'Not even the armour of a Prince of Asgard?'. I admit, I was intrigued. And once I saw it, I made an exception."
The Collector stepped around Sif and moved closer to the armour case. "Royal Asgardian armour. I've never had anything like it before. It's so unfortunate it's not complete. To have the helm as well, then it would be perfect."
He turned back to them. "Do you know where I might find it, per chance?"
"No," Sif said. "This man, who was he?"
"He did not give me his name."
"Did he say where he got the armour?" Volstagg asked.
"No, just that it belonged to a former prince, now dead and gone. Very sad. If only I could have had the prince in my collection -- well," Tivan cleared his throat in the face of Sif and Volstagg's glares. "Are you sure you don't know where I might find the helm?"
"Describe the man," Sif said.
"Oh, urm, let me see. He was tall. Male. Asgardian. And -- I said he was tall?"
Sif huffed impatiently. "You must remember something!"
"It was years ago, my dear. But, oh wait!" he added quickly when Sif put her hand back on her blade. "Let me check my security recordings. I keep them all, of course. One cannot be too safe. He's on them. Somewhere."
Time seemed to drag as Sif and Volstagg waited for Tivan to find the correct time frame. He searched through the museum's inventory records to locate the date the armour was added into the collection, then queued up the security recordings to match. They all watched the small screen that showed a trickle of people flowing in and out of the Collector's museum.
"There he is," Tivan said at last. He leaned forward and squinted at the screen. "Oh dear, that's not helpful at all, is it?"
Sif wanted to scream in frustration. The man who entered the shop on the screen was outfitted in a ankle-skimming cloak with the hood covering his head and obscuring his face. He carried with him only a large satchel slung across his torso. They watched on the screen as the man spoke face-to-face with Tivan for a few minutes before reaching into the bag and pulling out Loki's armour, piece by piece. The saw the man waiting while every inch of the armour was thoroughly examined by Tivan. They seemed to haggle for some time over price, but finally the deal was struck, the man was paid, and he turned to leave the shop, never revealing his features.
Sif turned again to Tivan. "Now that you've seen this again, can you remember anything else about him? Or how about anything he said."
Tivan was shaking his head when Volstagg interrupted. "Wait, wait!"
"What is it?" Sif looked back to the screen just in time to see the man leaving the museum.
"Can you go back? Go back. And watch." Volstagg pointed at the screen.
Tivan obliged. Sif watched carefully, not daring to blink lest she miss something. As the man walked through the museum to leave, Tivan's assistant crossed his path and he turned his head slightly to look at her as she walked by him.
And Sif saw him. The recorder caught only part of his profile as his hood shifted. His face was shadowed and mostly still hidden. But there was no doubt in her mind.
The man was Loki.
She looked at Volstagg and saw in his expression he saw as she did. She wondered absurdly if her face held the same flabbergasted expression as his.
"Is there anything else of which I can be assistance to you?" Tivan asked.
Sif shook her head and stepped away. As she crossed through the museum she could hear Volstagg thanking Tivan for his help and then falling into step behind her. When she was again within steps of the exit, she turned her head to get one more look at Loki's armour before leaving.
She and Volstagg walked for a time, saying nothing. They threaded their way through the bustling crowds, and around the taverns and market stalls that dotted the colony. They stopped when they reached a fairly quiet, low-travelled area.
"Heimdall," Sif spoke at last to bring about the Watchman's gaze. "Heimdall, you must take a message to Thor and the king. Tell them...tell them Loki is alive."