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set me on fire and watched as I floundered

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Balder loves his brother's Lady.

The Lady Loki is graceful and lovely, a pale face in a mass of dark curls, two emerald eyes framed by dark lashes. Her smile curls her little mouth into a perfect Cupid's bow; her slim hands fold neatly in her lap. The green of her dress is sharp and sudden against the white of her flesh, the gold of her jewelry so thick that he must wonder how her slight figure remains unbowed beneath the weight of it all.

She is beautiful.

The Lady Loki came to them from Jotunheim, a King's daughter, a witchling, her Jotun ice tucked carefully away behind Aesir flesh. She arrived as a girl, only a few summers older than Balder, but many winters younger than Thor.

Thor, who is her husband now. Thor, who is golden and bright and loud, the perfect image of Asgard. Thor, who will be King. Balder's King.

Thor, who takes other women to his bed.

Thor, who leaves the lovely Loki cold and alone, who does not take her hand as they walk, nor kiss her face when they part.

Rumors say that Thor has done no more than kiss his Lady on her wedding day, that she will never be the Queen that the marriage alliance wished her to be, that Thor is repulsed by the mere thought of the monster lurking beneath that pretty shell. That she is a witch, infertile, a demon, a heathen.

Balder believes none of it.

Whispers fill Asgard: the Lady is a spirit, the Lady has taken a female lover, the Lady goes to bed with the mortal named Doom, the Lady goes to bed alone, and shuts the door in Thor's perfect golden face. She is a virgin, a whore, a traitor to her people, a spy for her father, an assassin, a fool of a girl, too clever for words, nothing but a lovely face.

Balder does not know what to believe, and Thor never says a word.

The Lady Loki has few friends in the halls of Asgard: Sif, of the Warriors Three, walks with her in the gardens, her face stern and her shoulders straight, and the Lady Sigyn is often found near her, their heads bent together as they whisper, the Lady Sigyn's soft face even softer from sweetness, and the Lady Loki's face as inscrutable as ever. Only with the Lady Amora does the Lady Loki smile, or laugh, golden hair beside raven curls, the hems of their dresses just barely touching. But the Lady Amora is a known witch and a thrice-blooded whore, and no one knows what to make of such a friendship.

Volstagg nods his head to her, and Fandral sweeps too-deep bows to her, and Hogun blinks solemnly at her, and Thor does not look at her.

Asgard takes its cues from Thor.

So the Lady Loki is alone, adrift in a foreign place with few whom she can trust, and a man who swore to love her through gritted teeth. She has a palace at her beck and call, and the loveliest gardens in all the world to walk through, and the most complete library in Asgard at her fingertips.

And still, she is alone.

Thor is Balder's blood-brother, his kin, which makes the Lady Loki Balder's kin. His marriage-sister.

Balder does not feel like the Lady Loki's brother. Does not wish to be a brother to her.

The day that Laufey-King placed his daughter's hand in Thor's, the day he trusted his only daughter to the house of Odin, the Lady Loki had turned to Balder and whispered, “Well, Balder the Bright, son of Odin Allfather, brother to Thor Odinsson. Am I an acceptable sacrifice? Shall my heathen flesh shine prettily in the light of my prison? Will my body buy my people's blood?”

Balder had never found himself so robbed of words before that moment.

Finally, he had managed a reasonably polite, “My Lady will make a lovely Queen.”

The smile the Lady Loki had offered him had been exquisitely empty.

“And so, a very lovely statue Queen I shall be.”

Balder watches his brother's Lady pace the halls of Asgard, pace the walls of her golden, glowing prison, and tries not to feel the ache in his heart.

Loki looks at Balder over books, across rooms, and always through lowered eyelashes, and watches as her seed of discontent begins to take root.