Asgardian winter was relentless and beautifully cruel: to the stars, which rested motionless and obscured within icy darkness; to the earth, besieged by torrents of swift-settling snow and beads of hail that lodged into the slush blankets like fearsome gems; to the moon, hung low and lonely, a beacon to those huddled deer who sheltered themselves beneath firs branched with needles of frost, clinging to brittle wood with whispered instinct.
Yet the atmosphere within the shining palace walls betrayed the outside world entirely: halls ringing with life and light, great gold walls and ceilings and hearths bursting with warmth to rival even the sun’s breath.
The kingdom knew no restraint in the art of celebration, and no expense was spared during the twelve days of Yule: splendid silver decked the long corridors, baubles cast in the heavenly glow of firelight; in the dining hall, spotless tables boasted the finest fare—roast pork and boar, golden loaves and steamed herbs on vast plates and goblets upon goblets of spiced wines and ales.
Still further indicative of Yuletide’s arrival was the chatter—consuming, boisterous, alive with anticipation of the coming season, the advent of renewed life. The corridors sang with it, the castle grounds: laughter and cheer, the sound of joyous souls.
Asgard’s winter dances never lacked in magnificence: rich with marble and marvel, the cunning gleam of tinsel reflected in electrum gowns, polished boots which swept so gracefully along white floors that stretched for ages. The whole of the realm seemed to be in attendance of the first night’s ball, some more fluid on the floor than others but all brimming with the spirit of the season.
Sif, as always, joined the dancing under duress.
She greeted the minstrels with a carefully measured smile and allowed herself to be led by a blundering Thor, whose expertise in the arts of dance fell painfully short before his skill on the battlefield. His stance was too wide, his form hulking and awkward; but his grin was infectious, his eagerness arousing the couples surrounding them, posessing their feet: a deep swing here, a wild turn there. Nearby, close to the northmost wall, Sif caught the politely amused smile of a radiantly-dressed Lady Frigg, who observed her subjects with a twinkling eye.
She did not search for Loki’s face among the mass of Asgardians, the dark hair swaying amongst a sea of yellow. She did not do it out of principle, and when at last the younger prince drifted into view, she did not pause to meet his gaze.
He danced with the grace and poise of a winter swan, his movements liquid silver; no noise betrayed his boots, steady and sure as he led his partner—a slender, white-blonde woman whose gown trailed the marble floors blue and beautiful, a mirror to her eyes.
A fragment of control wilted from beneath Sif's fingers, abrupt and unamended, crushed under the din of smart-tapping footsteps and flushed conversation—wilted because he was aware of her, and let her know it, would always let her know it, even in the absense of speech.
His presence was corrosive, but sleekly so, like oil to rust. To further slick such caustic metal would be a mistake, a fool’s errand and, to one such as Sif, a fitting challenge. Yet the warrior must possess intuition, and she thought at times that perhaps she alone of the whole kingdom knew enough of Thor’s clever younger brother to see any challenge at all.
So, she did not turn to face him when he glided up behind her, some time later.
“Enjoying the festivities, I trust.”
Her sneer did not reach his eyes, could not have; but she knew he was aware of its presence, could taste the curl of her mouth on his tongue.
“I am in fine spirits for the turning of the season,” she remarked to the front wall, tracing her heel along a line in the marble.
“Certainly you seemed overjoyed to dance among the crowds,” Loki said easily, and Sif could feel the simpering smile staining his lips. “And your movements—so flourished. Your skill precedes you another year.”
At this she turned, her eyes darkened from such a blow. He spared her his laughter, but she could see his tongue snaking behind his teeth, wicked and coated in the metallic scabbard that was mischief’s armor. “A pity we warriors cannot spare time enough to become so talented as you,” she regaled him, “the prince of the floors, the dance-master Loki.”
He laughed. “A pity, indeed.”
“You are insufferable.”
“I suffer for untrained boots and scuffing heels, and everything more.” He ghosted the fingers of a pallid hand across her bared arm, allusive, drawing into her skin. “Let us go.”
She followed him without a word.
Sif was granted the privilege of her own rooms, by merit of being both a warrior and female, within the barracks: lofty and sparsely furnished, with comfort and simplicity taking precedence over luxury. Loki’s chambers, by contrast, were vast and decorated richly with fine woods and furs, artisan daggers arrayed in an artful line against cleverly glimmering walls. They each knew the other’s most private quarters intimately; yet neither location was to be the pair’s destination this night.
She had masked her surprise on the first Yule that Loki had led her not to either of their rooms, but to a small shelter edging the warrior’s grounds. The little hut was situated into the rough-hewn interior of an open-faced cliff a measurable distance from the palace; now, she looked upon it with mulled pleasure. Perched high above the land—above trees and water-falls, above so many fish whose fins grappled against the elegy of cold—they could bear witness to the war of years, the battle waged unending between Nature and Time in a barrage of ice and wind.
The moon was a curious spirit, and a resilient one, though subtly so: its pale light stalked the sheets of falling snow, faceted shards of ice with a sallow luster; it hung not much higher in the heavens than they, watching their interactions, illuminating their resting place with an amiable presence.
The fur of her cloak brushed soft and comforting against her neck, a heated whisper. When Loki kindled the fire in the hearth at her back, she sighed with the warmth of it: the gentle crack of flame, the scent of pine and char sweet and heady in the surrounding air. Gratefully she removed her gauntlets, tossed them headway, extended her arms to welcome the heat’s embrace.
His fingers curved, and only for the sake of convention was Sif undaunted when he produced a cask and goblets from nowhere at all. The mead poured hearty gold against the fire's livid breath, and Loki’s hand had warmed the metal of the stem when she took the goblet from him, sighing, and let the honey soak thick into her tongue.
“The coming of the new year,” she proposed, and they both drank.
He wasn’t particularly fond of the mead, in truth, preferring wine; but to watch the stiff curve of Sif’s body unravel into a more slovenly state was a tradition as much as the kingdom’s lavish feasts, and one far more sacred to Loki. And when she arched against the mold of the hearthfire, her breath steeped in honey, and kissed him, he found it pleasingly similar to the memory of so many Yules past.
“How eager you are,” he taunted, torpid and soft like fresh-fallen snow. Sif stifled his words again with her lips, with the warning graze of teeth.
They stumbled to the bed, small and swathed in furs that settled against skin like quiet voices. Her fingers strained and found for their efforts the indent of a leather seam, followed its path to his breast and onward to the longcoat’s edge, to the looming promise of removal.
Someplace generously distanced from their shelter, a skeltering wind carried to their ears the calamitous voices of a troupe of carolers—straggling warriors, no doubt, likely heartened with drink, pitching their odious songs against the onset of the winter storm. Sif shook her head at the muffled noise, pulled Loki’s body to hers in frustration, muscled thighs rigid beneath his touch.
She scowled when he paused to tug at a boot, and in the galling mist of his laughter was lost to the time in which he managed to free them from the articles lodging their feet. Sif instead found work in trailing his coat from his shoulders, in gliding her palms along his hip, fretting the knots of the laces crossing his trousers.
And it was as familiar as the dawning of the sun: the hushed beat arising from thick leathers pooling into the floor, the cadence of her thumb as it brushed over the planes of his chest, the tangle of long fingers in her hair. The god of mischief flushed cold against her skin, like winter, his lips an ember to keep concord with the hearth, harsh to her own; the taste of his tongue as silver as memory.
It was a peculiar song and dance, their tradition, one wherein both partners led: he knew that she would arch her spine when his hands reached to tend to her breasts, she knew how he would take her lip between his teeth when she slid a palm along his erection, choking his growl; and both of them knew that their words would remain locked along with their counsels within the safety of their own minds, their own thoughts, burnished with the heated fragrance of woodsmoke to swirl ever-unspoken in their lungs.
Loki’s mouth branded bare into her neck when she positioned herself above him, his nails loathe for traction against the sweat-slick of skin flushed with flame and so much besides; as she lowered herself down, set to move rapid and rough, his teeth marred her throat to impede the moan rending his own. And memory was the influence which harkened Sif’s silent smile when she sensed the quickening of his breath only too soon, the sound of her name pooling wanton on his lips, like water, like wine.
And later, when the embers had exhaled their last breaths and her hair lay splayed across his chest like the Yule-dark sky, Loki charted the fine-measured rise and fall of her abdomen against the shadows, the serpents of errant light, and traced the mold of her jaw with a thumb.
“We will need to return to the palace,” Sif said idly, because it was what she always said, because it was her nature.
“Before the dawn,” he told her, concealing the request threatening to seep into the words with a sweep of his tongue. He snatched a lock of her hair between his fingers, a treasure; twisted it, committed to memory the dance of those final shards of light which clung to the strands.
“You’ll have me stay, doubtless,” she remarked to a stray shadow, and then added, “even you cannot trick time into forsaking its duty.”
“No,” he said, in a tone woven of silk and silver, guileful and lovely: a ruse Sif knew only too well, and yet still one to which she succumbed every time it caressed her ears. “But I can trick you.”
So she stayed, another day, another year; and she greeted the season from his bed, the lore of memory dancing as illusive and arcane as the light of the winter moon.