Actions

Work Header

God of Fire

Chapter Text

Goodbyes

I suppose you could say that my life has never been easy. I mean, not with the family I've got. But, hey, when you've got a bunch of superheroes as your family, is normal really a part of the equation?

No. No, it isn't.

I try to remember this as I hold the letter in my hand. The one that is going to completely change everything. Well, it already has changed everything.

I mean, it is technically all my fault. I just had to fall for the crazy psycho bent on world domination. Not to mention he actually has the start-up capital to be successful in that endeavor. All he needs is me. Well, I guess I should say that he wants me. Dad is royally pissed. Well, so is Pops and everyone else for that matter. I'm more pissed than all of them. I mean, I'm the one who has to completely uproot her life, abandon all of her research and searching, and move to a freaking alien planet to make sure he doesn't get his hands on me.

I can't help but sit here before Uncle Thor comes to get me and re-read the letter for the umpteenth time. It takes all of my willpower not to set the damn thing on fire. It's a pretty straight-forward threatening letter: generic threat of the city's population and my family's lives, list of demands (well, namely the one thing which is me), and the reassurance of said plans not being carried out if we all give in to the demand. Moron. Did he really think my family would give him what he wants? My family is not the type to give in. Especially my Pops.

Speaking of…

"Hey, sweetie. What are you thinking so intently about?"

I look up from the letter and stare at Pops. He hasn't changed much from when he was pulled from the ice. A little more tired, I guess, but I really wouldn't be able to tell the difference from a few years ago. Not like the rest of my family. His blonde hair is kept military short, big blue eyes shining with worry at the moment, and he's dressed in a simple white shirt and khaki slacks. Over six feet tall and with more muscle than anyone, he would normally be intimidating if it weren't for the fact that he's a giant teddy bear once you get to know him. His hugs are the best—it's easy to forget that he can still bench press a small car if necessary. Being a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers has helped to keep his figure and to keep his mind sharp. Not that the serum doesn't do the majority of the work, but at least it gives him something to do.

Dad trails behind him, the glow from the arc reactor lighting the way in the dimly lit room. Whereas Pops is blonde and blue eyed, showcasing a history of Northern European ancestry, Dad is the exact opposite. I used to call them the ying-yang just to piss them off. Not that it ever worked. His black hair is sticking up in all directions, meaning he's been down in his lab and the new energy project is being difficult again. Or he's worrying about me. Probably both. He has tanned skin that I would give an arm for and he's dressed in jeans and a Beatles t-shirt. His brown eyes take in everything when he walks in: the dim room, the letter in my hand, the bags packed by the door. Dad has always had a way of knowing what's going on in any given situation without needing much verbal input.

I sometimes wonder how these two are even able to get along. One is Captain America: the Golden Boy with the strong reserve and deep-set morals—the soldier out of time with the big heart and his stand-up-to-bullies attitude. Then there is Iron Man: snarky, sarcastic, better with robots than people genius, and oftentimes royal pain in the ass. For all intents and purposes, these two shouldn't be able to work. But they do. And I'm grateful that they do. Otherwise I wouldn't have a family now.

I sigh as they both sit on either side of me on the bed. "What do you think, Papa?" I ask back. I look over at him and all he can do is stare back at me in understanding. Pops and I have the type of relationship where we don't have to verbalize everything. We just get what the other is thinking. Dad and I have yelling bouts. That doesn't mean to say that I love my Papa more than my Dad, it just means we communicate differently to each other. However, even with this, I think Dad knows what's going through my head.

"JARVIS, how long until Thor is scheduled to pick her up?"

"20 minutes, Sir," says the smooth voice of the AI I've grown up with. JARVIS has always been more of my nanny than any actual caretaker that has tried their hand at the job. I'm going to miss hearing his voice.

"This is bullshit," I exclaim, breaking the silence. I stand up and start pacing the floor of my bedroom. "Why is it that I have to do this? I have so much going on right now! I'm on the verge of a breakthrough with my research in Norway and this has to happen now? I don't want to go to Asgard! Lord only knows how long I'll be there and by the time I get back, I may lose everything!" I look back at them with rage shimmering in my eyes. "Why are you making me do this?"

Pops shakes his head gently. "Sweetie, you know we are doing this to keep you safe."

"Safe?" I repeat at him. "Safe from what? He's not going to hurt me! He said so in this stupid letter!" I shake the letter before throwing it in their general direction. If I don't let go of it, I might just set it on fire. It sails in their direction before losing momentum and fluttering down to rest a couple feet in front of them. "And besides, it's not like I can't protect myself! I've only been trained by some of the best fighters in the world for the majority of my life!"

"Charlie, that's not the point and you know it." Dad stands up and comes to a stop in front of me, placing his hands on my shoulders to look me directly in the eye. "We're sending you to Asgard to keep you safe. We've failed to protect you in the past when this sort of thing has happened. You may be older and can protect yourself more successfully now, but we are not taking the chance of that happening again. Do you understand?"

I deflate at the raw pain in his eyes and nod. I do understand. I just wish he would stop beating himself up for something that wasn't his fault. I wish they all would. "This just royally sucks, Dad."

He gives me his half-smile and pulls me in for a close hug. "I know it does. But if we have anything to say about it, you won't be gone for long. Besides, with my tech, it shouldn't take long to find the bastard and then we can destroy him. Easy peasy."

"Please say that's a promise," I mumble against his shoulder, before pulling away to look into his eyes. "I don't think I can handle it if I'm gone from my work for longer than a month."

"Be careful, sweetie," Papa playfully warns, coming over to the two of us. I move away fully from my Dad so I can wrap myself in my Pops's arms. "You're starting to sound like your father."

"Le gasp!" I whisper in mock fright. My dad's workaholic tendencies are well known throughout the Tower and outside it, too. My dad gives a short "hey!" in retaliation. I grin for the first time all day. I pull away from Pops to look around. "Hey, where's Peter? I wanted to give him a goodbye hug before I left."

A third person walks into the room carrying what looks suspiciously like a giant cookie. I didn't hear the elevator ding, but I've been a little lost in my own world so I suppose that's not a surprise. He's tall, almost as tall as Pops, with brown hair and brown eyes. He's in his thirties but he doesn't look a day older than 25. You can attribute his freaky anti-aging and physical dexterity to a radioactive spider that bit him when he was a teenager. With it came a physical transformation that is only rivaled by our Pops. Except, instead of becoming freakishly strong (even though that was one of the gifts), he received many powers that resemble that of a spider. He is known as Spiderman by the public. But to me he is Peter, the goofy genius who is my older brother.

When he was fourteen, his aunt and uncle, who were his legal guardians at the time, died at the hand of a random shooting. Peter fell into the foster system because he didn't have any living relatives. He was adopted by Dad a few months after the shooting due to Peter's submission for a clean energy project for a Stark Industries scholarship. The winner got to meet with the Tony Stark and they kind of just hit it off. Dad didn't want him to get lost in the system, so he decided the best course of action would be to adopt him and have him come live in the Tower with the rest of our crazy family. The rest is history.

I roll my eyes at him and move forward to take a giant bite out of the cookie. He pouts at me before engulfing me in a giant hug. "I'm going to miss you, brat."

"I'm not a brat, jerk," I respond. This is our usual exchange. After I was adopted, he took to calling me brat. Being the snarky little thing that I was, I just called him a jerk in response. Let's just say it stuck. "And besides, I won't be gone that long if Dad has anything to do with it. So don't get too comfortable."

"Aw, man. And to think, I was going to have the movie room all to myself."

I punch his shoulder before grinning up at him. "You have to share that room with five superheroes and your three kids, Peter. Trust me, you won't be getting it all to yourself."

"Sir, Thor will be arriving in five minutes."

I sigh and look over to my bags. Guess it's now or never. Dad and Pops both take a bag—Pops the heavier one, of course—and Peter takes my arm, leading me to the elevator. I hear my floor shut down as I walk into the lift, all the electronics shutting off and the blinds closing over the wall of windows to shroud it in darkness. We go up the lift to the roof of the Tower where I will meet my uncle. The city's lights shine out over the pre-dawn. The sky is just now starting to light up with the coming sunrise. The rest of the family is waiting when we step out of the elevator. Aunt 'Tasha is standing with her back to the city, arms crossed across her chest, red shoulder-length hair blowing gently around her. She may not be an active member of S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, but she's the one who has trained me since the day I stepped into the Tower. Well, her and Uncle Clint. She's been my role model and one of my best friends for years. Uncle Clint is standing next to her in a similar position. I'm pretty sure I got his sense of humor more than anyone else. Both of them are retired from active duty, but they're both still signed on as advisors and always go in when the Avengers are called into action. And they can still kick anyone's ass. Uncle Bruce's glasses reflect the lights from the city. He is standing a few paces behind Aunt 'Tasha. I spent a lot of my time in his lab growing up. Between him and Dad, I was always exposed to some sort of lab experiment. I think they were trying to nurture a scientific brain in me. Unfortunately, it didn't work. I was always more like Pops in that regard.

A bright rush of energy and light signals the arrival of Uncle Thor. He walks out of the Bifrost, golden hair and red cape flowing behind him from the winds the rainbow bridge had caused. He still looks magnificent as he always has. He engulfs me (literally) in a bear hug. I was always his favorite. Probably because I begged him to tell me all about Asgard when I was a kid until he decided to take me there when I was eight. I've always been fascinated by it and the discrepancies between actual Asgardian history and the mythologies that evolved over the years here on Earth.

"Good morning, little one," he greets in my ear. I've been "little one" for as long as I can remember. He knows my name is Charlie, but I don't think he has ever actually called me by that name. I don't mind. He lets go after a moment and turns to greet the rest of his fellow warriors. I smile slightly and turn to Aunt 'Tasha.

"Remember your fighting abilities. Asgardians value warriors and you have those skills. If you have to stay for a long time, that is how you will gain respect. Just keep yourself safe." I nod in understanding before attacking her with a hug. Her tough disposition leaves in an instant. She is tough inside and out, but not when it comes to us. She kisses the side of my head and pushes me towards Uncle Clint.

"Be safe, kiddo. And if you come across Thor's brother, put an arrow in him for me." I smile and nod. While I've never met Loki myself, Uncle Clint's (and well, everyone else's too) dislike of him is legendary. Not that I can blame him. I would be pissed if someone rooted around in my head too. I give him a hug and promise to keep practicing with the bow. He only just recently taught me how to use one. I'm a really shitty shot though.

I walk over to Uncle Bruce who just gives me his characteristic small smile. He's always had a special place in my heart since I was little. Hell, he's had a special place in my heart since before I was adopted. I give him a hug as well. "Be safe," he says. "We'll get you home soon." I nod and let go.

I walk back over to my parents and Uncle Thor. Peter breaks off half of the cookie and gives it to me. I smile before taking a large bite. I break off half of it and give it to Uncle Thor. He was eyeing it out of the corner of his eye. He smiles and kisses my cheek as thanks. I munch on my half while looking at my parents while Uncle Thor wanders off to everyone else. "I guess this is goodbye for now."

"Yup." Dad comes over and gives me one more hug. I feel the arc reactor humming against my chest.

When he pulls away I put my hand over it. "Make sure to take care of this, okay? I don't want to come back to find my Dad was an idiot and didn't keep an extra close by during battle."

"Yes, ma'am." He smirks at me and moves aside so my Papa can give me one last hug.

"I know you're nervous. You don't have to say it out loud, but you are." I look up into his blue eyes and allow my carefully won mask to leave my face. I only allow my mask to fall when I'm around my family. Only they can see the real me. And right now, the real me is scared. Very scared. I'm just glad that my Papa knows without me having to say it out loud. Probably because I've been calling him Papa instead of Pops. That is my usual indicator of nerves. "I don't want you to be scared, okay?" he continues. "Just be yourself. Everyone there already loves you from your last visit, remember?"

"But, Papa, I was eight. I barely remember that trip. I'm twenty-four now. Some things have changed."

"Not everything." He kisses my forehead and lets go. "Now go have an adventure." Before he walks completely back to Dad and Peter he turns back and looks at me. "One more thing: be careful around Loki. I know Thor has said that he's different than when we last saw him, but just be careful, okay?"

I roll my eyes at him. "I know, Pops. I've heard all of your stories about him. And my specialty is mythology. I know enough about him to be completely wary of the guy."

He smiles. "Good. Now go." He turns and walks back to my Dad, wrapping his arms around his chest from behind.

I smile and turn around to Uncle Thor. He finishes speaking with everyone and walks over to me, my bags in tow. "Ready, little one?"

"As ready as I'll ever be." I relieve him of one of my bags and step closer. I don't really remember how this goes. Uncle Thor just makes it seem like he's walking.

Hoisting my duffel bag onto his back, he spreads his extra arm towards me. I walk into his outstretched arm. "Hold onto me." I wrap my arm around his torso and look up. He is also looking up into the sky. "Heimdall, whenever you're ready." I look back towards my family gathered on the roof and realize this will be the last time I see them for maybe a long while. Tears spring to my eyes as I whisper a final farewell as the bright lights engulf me and I'm whisked through the stars towards a whole new world.

Chapter Text

A few seconds later, we walk onto the golden floor of the Bifrost Observatory. Well, Uncle Thor walks across. I kind of stumble my way to the raised portion in the middle. I wonder if Aunt Jane ever got used to this? Granted, this is technically my second time using the Bifrost, so I suppose it's alright that I'm not that graceful.

I glance up at the large figure standing atop the platform. I remember him from when I last came to visit. Covered head to toe in golden armor, only his dark hands and face show. His piercing golden eyes look down at me before he breaks into a small smile. "Welcome back to Asgard, Charlie."

I smile in return, straightening my posture. "Thank you, Heimdall." I turn and look around at the spherical building and all of the circles that remind me of the gears of a clock that speckle the building. It is a building and device that is truly beautiful and amazing in its design and function. I turn back and put all of my focus on Heimdall. "I see you haven't changed a bit," I continue, a small grin tugging on the corner of my mouth.

"And you have changed much from when we last saw each other." He slowly walks down the steps until he is standing right in front of me. I'm only as tall as his shoulder, but it is still a dramatic difference from when I was eight. He doesn't seem nearly as big now. "It is unfortunate that this meeting is caused from such unfortunate events."

"I agree completely." I take a much more thorough look around the room before my eyes fall on the starry backdrop of the stars. The array of colors and pinpoints of light are beautiful and only a sight that can be seen through a telescope back on earth. It's truly breathtaking. "Are the stars still faring well?" I ask the stoic man beside me.

"The stars shine on," he answers in that deep voice. I look back at Uncle Thor and realize there are other people near the opposite opening. Oops. I give one last smile to Heimdall before turning around and joining Uncle Thor. My eyes immediately land on Aunt Jane and I give her a relieved smile. She comes over and gives me a tight hug.

"It's been so long, Charlie! How are you?"

"Not terrible, given everything that's going on." I give her a small squeeze before letting go. She holds on to my hands as she looks me over. It's been almost ten years since she last came to Earth. I was fourteen. When I was growing up, Aunt Jane was basically my mother. Well, between her and Pepper I was never short on women who mothered me. There is nothing wrong with having two dads for parents, but a girl sometimes needs a woman to answer some questions. After she married Uncle Thor, she moved permanently here on Asgard while she visited Earth periodically for her research and to visit friends. Her visits became fewer and far between as time went on until they stopped altogether. It's not like she doesn't have a good reason for not visiting.

"Charlie!"

Faster than I can process, two growths attach themselves to my legs. Their momentum causes me to lose my balance and the only reason why I don't fall over is because of my Uncle keeping hold of my shoulders. His deep laugh resounds through the building in response to the higher pitched giggling that is emitting from the growths attached to my lower appendages.

"Modi! Magni! Is that any way to greet your cousin?" Aunt Jane scolds, hands on her hips.

I laugh and wrap an arm around each of them. "It's fine, Aunt Jane. After all, I haven't seen them in a year. How are you two brats doing?"

They look up at me with playful smiles. Modi and Magni are both twelve years old. Aunt Jane tried to balance her lives on Earth and Asgard but after the twins were born, it became too difficult. So she decided to just stay and continue her research here. Every few years, the boys come to Earth to visit with their father when he is summoned, giving her a break. Something about exposing them to different cultures. I always ended up watching them. While they are twelve, their growth is stunted a little bit. According to Uncle Thor, the healers here believe they are aging something a little faster than half that of a mortal's aging progression. So, they're mentally and physically about eight. Being children of a mortal and semi-immortal, they age slower than humans but faster than the average Asgardian. However, they will live longer than my poor mind can comprehend.

Modi, the elder of the two, looks just like Uncle Thor: long blonde hair, blue eyes, and the stockiness that comes with being a warrior. Magni looks more like Jane: brown hair, brown eyes, but just as stocky as his brother. Oddly enough, their personalities are the opposite. Modi has the analytical mind with more focus towards ambiguous topics. He is usually the brains behind any operation and all you have to do is corner him to figure out what is going on whenever they are up to something. Magni, while also very smart, lets his emotions do most of the thinking. He is more of the act-first-ask-questions-later type. They are a devastating team when they want to pull a prank or feel the need for revenge.

"We're so glad you're here, Charlie," Magni says.

"Yeah, we have so many ideas that you can help us with," Modi continues.

"Why do I get the feeling that I should be very afraid of your ideas?" I ask, attempting to get them to let go so I can stand normally. They finally let me go but refuse to let go of my hands. I guess someone else is going to have to carry my bags.

"Well, we did learn from the best," Modi says with a cheeky grin.

I smirk in response. I was not a good influence on these boys when it came to their playfulness. Whenever they would come to visit, they would try to prank me but always failed. I can outsmart them by a landslide, after all. I have always been able to see right through their tricks and show them how it's really done. Besides, their mischievous ways are known by everyone so I knew to keep my eyes on them. Unfortunately, they stole some of my ideas and used them against people here. At least, that's what Uncle Thor has told me. I do kind of feel bad about that, but not enough to stop.

"Well, let's go get you settled in," Aunt Jane says, leading us outside where some guards and horses are waiting to take us. I help the boys up onto their horse, a tall grey stallion, before turning back to grab my bags. Uncle Thor is already strapping my clothes bag onto one of the horses while another guard is strapping the other onto the back of Uncle Thor's robust brown horse. I feel bad for the poor creature. That's my book bag: that's why it's heavier. Add Uncle Thor's own heavy frame and it's going to be a heavy ride. I shake my head before climbing on the black mare Aunt Jane pointed me to, patting the side of her neck in greeting.

If it weren't for my time in Norway, I wouldn't know how to ride a horse. Some of the dig sites can only be reached by foot or by horse, so I've had plenty of experience. I absolutely adore horses because of it. If it weren't for the fact that my permanent address is in New York, I would definitely have a lot of horses.

The ride across the long rainbow bridge and into the palace is a distracting one. I just trusted my horse to get me to the right place as I stared at the scenery around me. I forgot how beautiful this world is. I swear the palace and the majority of the city is made of pure gold. The sun shining makes the city glow, giving it a golden aura. No wonder the ancients thought this place was the home of the gods. The palace sits in the center, golden spires that remind me of an organ climbing up into the sky, many of which are taller than the skyscrapers in Manhattan. Speaking of, it's big enough it could probably house my home city with little problem. The city is nestled around it, stone architecture matching the futuristic golden spires of the palace in an oddly perfect way. I can see the complexity of the carvings in the stone as we pass them on the bridge. My eyes drift up to the sky. Next to the bridge we are riding across, the sky is the most colorful part of this realm. The nebula resting above our heads gives the blue sky more colors than is normal, the pinpricks of stars shining through with little problem. I could stare at this sky for hours and I probably will.

The ride takes less time than I thought it would and the guards lead us to the stables. I dismount and pet my horse's nose in thanks before helping the boys down off of theirs. Both horses are taken by a couple stable hands and led back inside. I try and take one of my bags from one of our many escorts only to be met by a shaken head. Before I can complain too loudly, Modi steals my attention by grabbing my hand and dragging me inside. Magni is holding both of his parents' hands as they lead us through to the private wing of the palace. I remember this place well.

"You'll be staying in the room next to ours, Charlie," Aunt Jane says, pointing out the doorway close to us at the end of the hallway. "The one across from ours is the boy's room. The room at the very end belongs to Odin and Frigga. You'll be seeing them right before dinner. We wanted to give you enough time to settle in and get some rest before presenting you to everyone."

"Presenting me to everyone?" I repeat, a small note of panic in my tone. I've never liked being in the spotlight. Again, I'm more like Pops in that regard. Whereas my Dad thrives on the attention he gets in the media, Pops and I do not. We've always been uncomfortable when we become the focus of attention. Pops can handle himself just fine though. I have never quite honed that skill. That's why I chose to be in a field where I can present my findings in written format instead of at a convention or something.

Uncle Thor comes over to me and clasps my shoulder. "Do not worry, little one. This is simply where you will be formally introduced to my mother and father and to the royal guard. It is just a formality."

"And then after is the feast!" Magni pipes up. "That's the best part."

"Anything involving food is the best part to you," Aunt Jane teases, pinching his cheek as we continue walking towards my room. Turning back to me, she gives me a reassuring smile. "You don't have to worry about saying anything. Thor and I will be the ones to speak. You just have to stand there and look pretty, which will be easy for you."

I roll my eyes at her in response. Is it a mandatory thing for extended family to always say something like that?

Well, at least I get the rest of the day to panic over this. Great.

My eyes drift to the door across from mine. Just like all the others in this hallway, it's massive. It's carved in intricate, golden Celtic knots. The rest of the negative space is a deep green in color. All of the doors have these embellishments on them, just in different colors. "Hey, Uncle Thor? Who's room does that belong to?"

His eyes follow where I'm staring at. "That would be my brother's room," he answers, his eyes watching the door with a small level of caution. "Don't worry. He spends most of his time with our mother or in the library studying."

"I wasn't worried," I respond petulantly. Well, at least not a lot.

"Hey, Charlie! Look," Magni commands. He's standing in front of his and his brother's door. I didn't notice him run off. He places his hand on the door and the colors shift and morph. It was originally gold and turquoise. As I watch, the gold becomes bronze and the turquoise morphs to orange.

"That is so cool!" I exclaim, watching it change with a smile on my face. "How did you do that?"

"The doors change color based on our favorite colors," Modi responds. "All you really have to do is put your hand on the door and it responds. It also changes the color scheme in the room inside. It's a spell Grandmother placed on the rooms years ago."

"It was really just to keep my easily bored children busy," says a new voice behind us. I turn to watch a very regal woman walking towards us. I smile. I remember this woman very well. Lady Frigga. Her long honey blonde hair is pinned back from her face but allowed to flow down her back. She has soft lines around her blue eyes indicating her age, but her brilliant smile makes her seem so much younger. She is wearing a casual blue dress with a silver armor plate covering her chest. She opens her arms when she is about ten paces away and I immediately run to her to receive a hug. "My, you have grown since I last saw you!" she exclaims in my ear. She separates herself only to cup my face. "You have grown to be a lovely young woman."

"And you have remained as beautiful as ever, Lady Frigga." I can't help but to smile in her presence. When I came to visit when I was eight, Lady Frigga was the one who kept an eye on me when Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane were unable to. She was the one who told me the stories and legends of Asgard and showed me magic. If I had to pinpoint when I became interested in stories and myths which later led to my career, it would always be when I was eight with Lady Frigga.

"Mother, I wasn't expecting to see you until tonight," Uncle Thor says before moving beside us to kiss her fondly on the cheek.

"Yes, well I decided that would be too long of a wait to see one of my prized students," she retorts, smiling at me again. "And I wanted to make sure everything was perfect in her room."

"I'm sure it will be," I say.

"Charlie! Come over and see your room! You'll love it!" Magni shouts.

"Yes! Go see your room, dear," Frigga agrees, ushering me towards the door. I walk up to the door and place my hand on it, watching in mild awe as the colors change. It remains gold but with midnight blue embellishments along the knots this time. The boys "ooooh" over the door. I push it open and take a step inside.

"Wow," I whisper as I look around the room. It is massive. The boys run off into the room as I continue to take it all in. I have half a floor on the Tower back home but this is at least twice as large as the entire floor. The ceiling is at least fifty feet up. Four massive golden columns break up the space in the center of the room. They also have the dark blue and golden embellishments that are on the door. The far wall on my right is completely covered in books all the way up to the ceiling. There is a dark wooden ladder leaning against it so I can reach the top shelf. A fireplace is centered on the wall with two blue overstuffed couches and two golden armchairs facing it. There is a desk off to the side made from the same wood that the ladder is. The four-poster bed is centered against the wall to my left. The bed is massive— bigger than any bed I've ever seen. At least ten people can sleep on it comfortably. Two stands sit on each side of the bed with lights for night reading. A chest sits at the base of the bed.

I walk forward to the double doors covered in translucent blue drapes in front of me. I open the doors and step onto the balcony which looks out to the ocean. The view is breathtaking. Two white wicker chairs rest by the doors with matching stands next to them. Lady Frigga walks up next to me and rests her hands on the stone railing. "It is a lovely view, is it not?" she asks.

"Oh, yes."

"I thought of how much you loved to watch the stars at night when you were little. Wait until you see it with only the moons as your light."

I smile. "You always did seem to know what I would like."

"Well, you're not much different from my other son, dear. You both share the same interests and talents—Oh, don't give me that look, it's a compliment. Anyway, why don't you go see the rest of your room?"

"There's more?" I turn around and walk back into the room. Sure enough, against the wall beside the nearest nightstand is a doorway. Upon entering, all I can do is stop and gape in wonder. Frigga and Aunt Jane both laugh at my expression. "This cannot be my closet." I walk inside. Yes, walk inside. It's a very large room. Not even my closet back home is this big! Frigga follows me inside as I pass my hands across fine silk dresses and lace covered tops and more practical leather and cloth pants. There has to be at least a thousand different pieces in here!

"I supplied your closet with as many clothes as you may need for your stay," Lady Frigga comments, walking along behind me. "There are dresses of many occasions, pants and tops for casual wear, and I have supplied you with armor for your training sessions, if you choose to train, that is."

"You really didn't need to go through so much trouble, Lady Frigga." I walk to the back of the closet, taking everything in. There are swords and knives of varying lengths and sizes adorning this wall. Probably so I can strap them where they need to go as I dress. I turn around and face my mentor again.

"It was no trouble at all, dear. Besides, between you and Jane, I can finally spoil the daughters I never had," she says with a small smile. She holds her hand out to me. "Come, let me show you the final room and then we will allow you to rest."

I take her hand as she leads me out of the closet and towards the wall of books. I'm still marveling at how many are there. I cannot wait to start pawing my way through all of them. Another door, one I didn't notice before, opens up into a bathroom. A tub—more like a small pool—rests in the center of the room. A sink and mirror lie against one of the walls and the other is full of towels of various sizes. Everything is gleaming marble.

We walk back out to the center of the bedroom, still hand-in-hand. The boys are sitting on the couches, remaining relatively quiet. Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane are sitting on the bed waiting expectantly for my reaction. My bags are resting at their feet. "This is more than I ever expected. Or needed." I look over to Frigga. "Thank you. For everything."

"Of course, dear. Anything you need—anything at all—do not hesitate to ask."

I nod. Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane rise and each hug me in turn. "Come on, boys," Aunt Jane calls. "Let's give Charlie some time to settle and get some rest." She turns back to me. "If you need anything, I'll be in our room. Just come on over."

With a promise that I will, I watch as they all leave except for Uncle Thor. He turns to me and kisses the top of my head. "Jane will be by when it is time to get you ready for the presentation. That will occur at sundown. Try and get some rest until then."

"But, Uncle, with all of these new books, how can I possibly think of sleeping?"

He smiles and starts walking towards the door. I trail after him. "Read in bed then!"

I laugh and say farewell at the door. I take one final glance outside my room. This place is too amazing to be real. I look across the hallway at the sound of a thud. I could have sworn I saw the door move. But nobody went in and nobody went out. Maybe I do need some sleep. Shrugging to myself, I close the door. I pick up my bag and take care of my clothes in the mall of a closet while also changing into some comfortable sleeping pants and a t-shirt. I'll take care of the books later. For now, I set the bag against the desk. My exhaustion is starting to make itself known. I may have joked with my uncle about not sleeping but I didn't sleep at all the night before—I was more nervous about moving to Asgard for the foreseeable future than I care to admit—and I am very tired. I take one look at that massive bed and swan dive into it. Reading and everything else can wait until later.

I'm out two minutes later.

Chapter Text

Blissfully, I slept without dreaming. However, my form of awakening was not a peaceful one. Rather than an alarm or a friendly nudge on the shoulder, I get loud shouts of "Charlie!" and jumping on the bed from two hyper-active children. I groan in annoyance and roll over onto my stomach. I happen to bump into one of the jumping boys and attempt to push him away. It doesn't work. He simply jumps on my back instead.

"Come on, Charlie! You need to wake up!"

"I don't wanna!" I whine, burying my head deeper into my pillows. "You can't make me!"

It suddenly becomes very still and quiet. That is never a good sign. I quiet my breathing and still all movement so I can listen to every little sound in the large room. I think I know what they are planning on doing but I refuse to let them succeed. I move my arms so my hands are braced on the mattress in front of me, readying my body to spring into action. Five seconds later, a war-cry is emitted from my left while the blanket is ripped off of me. Before they can attempt to grab my ankle to pull me off the bed, I bound up rolling into a standing position. I grab Magni by the arm and manage to get Modi into a headlock. Their cries of anger and frustration ring throughout the room while I laugh at their antics.

"Did you really think you could beat me?" I ask, getting Magni into a headlock as well. I flop down on the bed, forcing the two boys down with me. "I was the one who showed you two that trick, not to mention you did it wrong. Did you honestly think I would allow you to use it on me?"

"It was worth a shot!"

"Yeah!"

I roll my eyes before giving each of them a noogie. "You both are going to have to get a little bit more creative in order to beat me," I point out, shaking my head. "No use in using all of my old tricks." I let them go and they scramble off the bed, running towards the open door. Before they leave the room, they turn back to face me and stick out their tongues. I respond in kind. I laugh as they run out the door, probably to their mom. I look out the windows and notice that the sun is starting to make its descent and decide I should probably bathe and start getting ready.

The bathtub is already full and steaming when I enter the room. I look around a little warily before firmly shutting the door. I'm going to assume one of the boys ran it, or maybe Aunt Jane. I'll have to talk to her about that: if there are servants running my bath water now, I want to at least be warned when they come into my room. No need for me to accidentally attack a poor maid simply because she was doing her job.

A half hour later and I'm wrapped in a large fluffy towel while drying out my auburn locks with another. I have absolutely no idea what I am going to do with my hair. Should I just keep it down or put it up? And what the hell am I supposed to wear at this type of thing? I know it's supposed to be a gown—I'm not that much of an idiot—but how formal should it be?

I wrap the towel around my head and walk out of the bathroom. As I walk across the expansive space, I spy a gown laid out on my newly-made bed. Okay, whoever my servants are, they are fast. And quiet. Before I can contemplate this too much, there is a knock at the door. "Uh, who is it?" I ask. I can't exactly open the door… I may be covered up, but I am still essentially naked.

"It's Jane!" comes the muffled reply.

"Oh. Come on in!" I call. I walk over to the dress as Aunt Jane comes through the door and shuts it just as quickly. The dress is absolutely beautiful. It's a deep blue color, darker than the color of my walls making it look almost black if it weren't for the light hitting it in just the right way. Silver dots speckle the fabric to mimic a star cluster: the majority of them cover the bodice before spreading out into the skirt. The fabric feels like water on my skin when I brush a hand across it. Aunt Jane walks over to me while I am busy admiring the gown.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she says.

"There is absolutely no way I can possibly wear this," I respond, still staring at it. I'm almost afraid to try and put it on.

"You're not going to destroy it, if that's what you're worried about. It's quite durable." She walks into my closet and comes back out carrying a red robe. I turn my back and put it on, pulling off the towel and securing it in place. "Most of these outfits are made in case a battle breaks out. While it is peaceful here, Asgardians are usually prepared for anything."

"Still," I say, turning back around, "there is no way I can do that dress justice."

"Oh, shush," she reprimands me. She grabs onto my forearm gently, leading me over to a vanity sitting next to the door. She quickly unwraps the towel from my hair and finishes drying it off. Before I know it, my hair is up in an intricate bun with soft ringlets flowing down to frame my face. I don't know how she was able to tame my usual crazy curl so successfully, but I've come to think Aunt Jane is magical or something. She's also placed some silver star ornaments in my hair to match the dress. I decide the less makeup I wear, the better. I simply put on some eyeliner and mascara to make my green eyes look a little bigger than they actually are. A light pink lip gloss is added and that is all the time I am spending on makeup.

I open a tall standing cabinet next to the vanity and stare at the amount of jewels sitting within its depths. Jewelry of all types sparkle at me and I marvel at all of the different precious stones that I have been supplied with. I can only imagine how much this is all worth. I pluck out a pair of silver, twisting dangle earrings, putting them on. They hang down halfway to my shoulders. I pull out a small, five-point star necklace and a couple simple silver rings and place them on the vanity to put on later.

Shutting the cabinet, I get up and walk into my closet to put on some undergarments before trying the dress. I look at the wall of weaponry and decide that a small knife attached to my left arm couldn't hurt. I rarely move about without a weapon on me anyway. After I strap the dagger into place, I put on the pale slip and walk back out so Aunt Jane can help me put on the intricate gown. She doesn't comment on the blade. The dress ends up being two parts: the first is something you would find on Earth. The bodice is strapless and buttoned up the back tightly to pull my waist in and show off my curves. The skirt flows to the ground but it isn't poofy, thank god. I can't stand dresses with a Cinderella poof to them. The second part is placed over my chest. It cuts straight across my chest leaving my shoulders bare, but gives me sleeves that go all the way down to the top of my hands. The sleeves have their own train which reaches to about my knees. It is secured in place at the base of the bodice with some ties. The silver dots trail off into the sleeves just like it does in the skirt, truly giving it that imagery of a star cluster. The top piece allows me to use my hands while also looking sophisticated and regal as hell. It also hides the knife perfectly, which is why I bothered to wear it there to begin with.

I slide on some dark blue, strappy heels and walk over to the vanity to place the necklace around my neck and slip on the rings. I take a step back and look at my reflection. It is absolutely gorgeous. It's just weird seeing my face attached to such an outfit. It's not really me. But, if I am to meet the King and royal guard, I suppose I have to leave an impression.

Aunt Jane is smiling behind me and I turn to look at her. She is wearing the colors of Thor: red and silver. Her dress is not as fancy as mine but I think that is because she is already well known around here. Her dress also doesn't have the fancy top part. Then again, she doesn't have a defacement to hide. Her dress is a deep red with silver circles adorning it. She wears silver arm bands on her forearms and a silver necklace that suspiciously looks like a hammer dangling on her neck. She kept her brown hair down around her face. She is as lovely as ever.

I glance behind her and notice the light is starting to fade fast. She notices as well. "Well," she starts, hooking her arm in mine and leading us to the door, "let's get this over with."

I laugh. "My sentiments exactly."

When we step outside, Uncle Thor is there. He is wearing his full warrior outfit which hasn't changed at all since he first landed in New Mexico. The only thing that is different is the cape: instead of flowing behind him, it is wrapped more securely around his body. I noticed that he started wearing it like that not long after the twins were born. I can imagine that they constantly tugged or stepped on it just to annoy their father.

His eyes widen in delight upon seeing us both. "You both look absolutely wonderful," he compliments, kissing my forehead before sweeping in for a kiss with Aunt Jane. I roll my eyes and turn my gaze down the hallway.

"Hey, Uncle Thor. Where are the twins?"

"With my mother," he answers, coming over to me and taking both my arm and Aunt Jane's. "Mother decided it would be best to try and keep them occupied before they tried to destroy something."

"Lady Frigga is very wise," I chuckle. I can see Aunt Jane nodding on the other side of Uncle Thor. We walk down the long hallway in silence for a few moments before I break it once more. "So, what exactly is going to happen?"

"Nothing too dramatic," Uncle Thor says, looking down at me. "Jane and I are simply to introduce you to my father as my personal guest. In exchange, he will bestow the protection of our family on to you, which is the reason for the royal guard being present. It is nothing more than a formality."

"They're basically just showing you off," pipes up Aunt Jane, leaning forward to look at me around Uncle Thor's chest. I blush and look away. I'm having a hard time keeping my nerves from flying off the handle at the moment.

"In this dress? Obviously," I finally respond. "Do I have to do anything? Like bow or kneel or something like that? He is the king and all…"

"No, that is not necessary. As you are of Midgard, bowing before a king that does not rule over you is redundant. All you need do is bow your head when we announce your name. It shows the King that you recognize him as the leader of this realm and will uphold his laws and customs while you are here. Do you understand, little one?"

"Yes." I sound a little too breathy for my liking. Shaking my head, I school my features into the pleasant mask I have developed over the years, first under Aunt 'Tasha's teachings and then under my own experiences and practice. I refuse to let anyone in that room know that I am basically shaking in my boots, figuratively speaking. "So, how many people are going to be there?" I ask as nonchalantly as possible.

I sense Aunt Jane is laughing at me, even though I can't see her. I know she knows I'm nervous. Uncle Thor smiles. "Not too many."

We come to a stop outside of two of the biggest double doors I have ever laid eyes on. A design mimicking that of the very palace we stand in is etched into the doors in vivid color, precious stones and metals giving the mural life. What remains of the sunlight shine in behind us in golden waves. Uncle Thor lets go of both of our arms. I turn to look at them both, making sure to keep my mask firmly in place. Aunt Jane just smiles at me reassuringly. Uncle Thor, on the other hand, kisses the top of my head. "You will do fine, little one. Just remember, the man you will meet is the King. He will appear stricter now before everyone. You will get the chance to meet my father later."

"Ha. As if that is going to help with my nerves."

He just chuckles as the final rays of sunshine fade from behind us. With their passing, the two doors open wide to allow us passage through to the throne room ahead. Aunt Jane stands on my left while Uncle Thor moves to my right, both a couple paces ahead of me. We walk forward and I am proud to say my legs are still under me. Somehow. However, once I get a glimpse of how many people are actually in the room, I'm not sure how much longer that will last.

"'Not too many people,' he says," I whisper to myself. Seriously? There are, like, hundreds of people in here! If not thousands! How is this not a lot of people? And all of them are staring at us as we walk across the massive hall towards the throne at the very end. Aunt Jane giggles quietly next to me. She obviously heard me.

"This is nothing," she whispers in my ear. "You should have seen the amount of people that showed up for our wedding. Thor believes the entire kingdom was there."

It takes all of my willpower not to openly gape at her. My eyes widen in her general direction, though. There is absolutely no way I could have lived through that. None. As it stands, I'm having a hard time walking with all of these eyes on me. All I want to do is climb under the floor and never come back out. However, I refuse to let anyone see my discomfort. I keep my head up and my eyes forward, face a neutral mask and not meeting anyone's eyes. I see the throne at the end of the room with who can only be King Odin perched upon it. Whereas Lady Frigga is warm and welcoming, I do not get that same feeling from this man. This is a man who has seen war and is able to rule with an iron fist. I am told he is a wise king, but I guess I shall have to make that decision for myself. He is a little off-putting at the moment.

I see Lady Frigga standing on his right-hand side wearing a gown similar to mine, only a muted yellow with no more adornment to it. Her hair is done up in a fancy way, but still all that hair is trailing down her back in gentle waves. She smiles at me as we come closer to the dais and I smile in return, letting her know that I'm okay. The twins are standing beside her, wearing armor similar to Thor's, only purple for Modi and blue for Magni. They are actually standing still for once. If it weren't for the occasion, I would be more suspicious of them.

There is another man standing beside Lady Frigga. I've never seen him before. He is thinner than Uncle Thor but that should not be an indicator of his lack of strength. Even with him just standing there, there is a feeling of power and skill there that exudes from his very frame. He has black hair that flows just past his shoulders, styled back so it stays out of his face. He has very prominent cheekbones that help to frame bright green eyes. His armor matches his coloring; green layered fabric overlaid by black leather with a few gold pieces adorning his arms and shoulders. His hands rest at his sides as he watches us walk closer to the dais. His eyes shine with intelligence, calculating us as we move. His eyes sweep over all of us, different emotions shining through only subtly: respect when he sees Aunt Jane, disdain when he sees Thor. The emotions flit across his face so fast I am not entirely sure I read it right, but I'm going to run with it anyway. Our eyes meet briefly, but all that is there is indifference, if a small spark of curiosity.

He must be Loki.

On the right-hand side of the dais is Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, as my Uncle likes to call them. I met them all the last time I visited but never really got to know them too well. I was eight—they were a little intimidating back then. I did like Lady Sif though. I thought she was the coolest thing in the world because she was a woman who could lay any man on their back. They all give me a small smile and nod as well, which I return.

We come to a stop in front of the throne. Well, I come to a stop. Both Aunt Jane and Uncle Thor take a knee in front of the dais. I suddenly feel awkward being the only one who does not kneel. So, I stand there like an idiot blinking up at the King of Asgard, not quite knowing what to do. 'Nod to the King,' a small voice in the back of my head says. I comply. I get a nod in return. Giving a slight sigh of relief (and thanking the voice that is still thinking clearly), I relax a little. I think my portion of this whole thing is over. I stand with my hands clasped in front of me, waiting for something to happen.

"You may rise," Odin says, speaking to Aunt Jane and Uncle Thor. As they do, I take a closer look at him. While Lady Frigga appears to have retained some of her youth, her king does not. He is looking weary. I can see his white hair peeking out slightly from his golden helmet and his beard matches the light color. The lines around his eyes are very deep and his blue eye looks very old. I wonder how much longer he will be able to remain on the throne?

"Who is this that you bring to my realm?" he asks, staring down at my uncle. I keep my eyes on the king while my uncle speaks. It is clear that he is assessing me and I am by no means going to fail any test this man may be giving me.

"This is Charlotte Emma Rogers-Stark, Father. Daughter of Tony Stark and Captain Steve Rogers. She is here seeking asylum from a man who wishes to cause her harm. As her parents are dear friends of mine and comrades in arms, they wished for her to come here, as far from the threat as possible to keep her safe."

"Why would they come to you? There are other places upon her realm where she could be hidden."

With a sudden uncomfortable jolt, I realize that this is not just a formality. If it was, that question would never have been asked. I actually need the King to approve of me staying on his realm. And apparently my parents being good friends with his son is not a good enough reason for me to remain on Asgard. He could send me home right now if he wanted to.

Eyes a little wider than before, I listen to my uncle speak and pray that he can convince his father to let me stay. "While there are many areas of Midgard where Charlotte could hide, her adversary is a formidable one. He would find her easily and cause her harm. As she is like a daughter to me, I wish to prevent such harm from coming to her. Asgard was the only solution to keep her safe."

The king's silence stretches on for longer than I like, his face a neutral blank as he considers his son's words. Finally, he rises from his throne and proceeds down the steps. "Very well," he concedes, and I breathe a mental sigh of relief. Aunt Jane and Uncle Thor both move aside when he reaches the bottom of the stairs, allowing Odin to stand in front of me. "Lady Charlotte Emma Rogers-Stark, you are allowed to remain here as your sanctuary for as long as this villain threatens your life." I nod in gratitude. I notice movement from the corner of my eye and turn my head to watch Loki approach us both. If I wasn't tense before, I am now. He is carrying a small box with him. When he reaches us, he hands the box to Odin, keeping eye contact with me. With a small smirk, he nods once in my direction and then returns to his place by Frigga's side. I don't know what to make of that so I choose to ignore it and focus my attention back on the King.

Odin has already lifted the lid of the small wooden box and is pulling out what looks to be a very short, golden chain. On it dangles what looks to be a gold star. Now, when I say star, I don't mean the typical five-pointed star I see on Earth and that I am also currently wearing around my neck. This is like a mini-sun. It is spherical and its colors morph from gold to yellow to orange as I watch. And yet it is only the size of a nut or bolt. Uncle Thor walks around behind me and removes my necklace. Odin then proceeds to clasp the short chain around my neck in its place. The sun sits right at the hollow of my neck. "This is the sign of the House of Odin," he explains to me. "Any who see it will know that you are protected by me and my family and are to protect you and keep you safe at all costs." Once he is done with the clasp, he takes a step back and faces the warriors in front of us. "Let it be known to all that this child of Midgard is protected."

All four of them nod in understanding. Odin climbs back up the stairs and resumes his seat. Gripping onto the golden spear that was standing next to the throne, he bangs it once on the floor, the echo of the strike louder than expected. Suddenly, there is life in the hall: loud chatter and movement erupts everywhere. I look over to Uncle Thor and he gives me a nod and a smile. It's done.

Thank god.

Modi and Magni come running over to me and they both grab a hand to start tugging me back towards the entrance. "Come on, Charlie! The feast is about to start and that's the best part!"

"Whoa, slow down!" I laugh and physically attempt to slow them down. My attempts are in vain, though, as I stumble a little after them. "The food isn't going anywhere!"

"Yes, but if we don't hurry, Volstagg will eat it all!"

"I'm pretty sure Volstagg can't eat an entire feast on his own, boys."

The looks these two gave me was so full of pity at my obvious naiveté, I couldn't help but burst into laughter. Maybe my stay here won't be too terrible after all.

Chapter Text

 

Well, if I have to say one thing about Asgardians, they certainly know how to throw a feast.

Upon entering the banquet hall, all I can do is gape in wonder. The center of the room is sunken into the ground slightly so we all have to climb down a few stairs to get to the tables. One side of the room is open leading out to a balcony and is only broken by massive stone columns. There is one main table that stretches the whole length of the hall stacked high with food of all different types. Chickens, turkeys, bread of all types, more fruit than I can handle, and plenty of other dishes I don't recognize litter its entire expanse. How is that table still standing? On each side of the food rest long tables with plenty of chairs for people to sit. I figure this is kind of like a buffet: you get your food from the big table and then sit with your party or roam about the room if you wish. Bottles of wine and ale rest on the tables so guests don't have to get up to refill their glass. I spy a few servants loitering by a side door, ready to pick up empty plates and refill the casks of ale and wine when they start running low.

People file into the room behind me. Modi and Magni run off in the direction of the food in an ecstatic uproar. I shake my head fondly at their antics before turning my attention on Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane who had just walked abreast of me. "Now what?" I whisper at them.

Uncle Thor laughs. His laugh booms through the room but is soon drowned out by the chatter and clinking of dishes and goblets. "Now, we eat! I am sure my mother will drag you about introducing you to everyone soon. So eat now."

Great, party introductions. This isn't that different from those stupid galas and parties my family drags me to. There's just more food. I sigh, pick up my skirt slightly, and walk down the steps to the food. Might as well get started so I can get this over with.

Aunt Jane points out what everything is to me considering most of the food isn't recognizable. I basically pile on a lot of chicken, fruit, and bread onto my plate and decide to try the new stuff later when I feel braver. I take a seat in between the twins with Aunt Jane and Uncle Thor sitting across from me. Many people come to visit while we eat. I was introduced to each new person, usually when I had food in my mouth which isn't embarrassing in the slightest. Typically, though, I just sit here listening to all the stories that are swirling around me. I remember from when I was little that mealtimes are really just an excuse to regal everyone with tales of battles and see who can outshine who. Uncle Thor was telling the twins about some of the battles he was in during his youth, usually with Volstagg chiming in forgotten details. I remember all of these stories well. I heard them all at one point or another during my life. When his attention was grabbed elsewhere, the twins would tell me some of the different pranks they would set on the poor residents of the palace. It seemed no one was safe from their mirth. It was in the middle of one of these stories when Lady Frigga came to visit.

"So, there I was," Modi was saying very dramatically, "running down the hall trying to find a place to hide from the guard. I wish I could say that I was serious, but how stoic can you be when the person chasing you has bright blue hair? I happen to enter a room and there was no where I could hide. I tried to barricade the door, but the guard was able to enter easily. I wasn't about to go down without a fight. So with a mighty yell, I charged the guard—"

"And was promptly picked up and deposited at my room," came the amused voice of the Queen. I start laughing at the shocked look on Modi's face. If he honestly thinks I was buying any of that "heroic" tale, he has another thing coming. I look over to Frigga and see her smiling fondly at her grandson. "As I recall," she continues, "it took that poor man two weeks to get the dye out of his hair." She turns to look at me with a sly expression. "I remember a certain little girl getting in trouble in a similar fashion. Only that time the color was bright orange and it stayed in that man's hair for a month."

"Oh my god, I completely forgot about that!" I exclaim, smiling. "Did it really take him a whole month to get it out?" Modi is giving me an astonished look. He's probably wondering how I was able to make the dye semi-permanent.

"Yes," Frigga responds, her smile growing. "A full month before his hair was long enough to cut it off."

Modi's jaw officially hits the floor. I can't stop laughing now. Oh, I was such a little genius! I wonder if I could remember that recipe and save it for a rainy day at the Tower? Maybe I'll use it on Peter, only purple. Oh, that would be funny.

"I was wondering if it was alright if I stole you away for a time, dear," Frigga says, changing the subject.

Sobering from my laughing fit, I nod and say farewell to Modi. He is still gaping at me. I take Frigga's hand and she leads me over to the opposite side of the room. There I am reintroduced to my Uncle's closest allies. They are standing in a loose circle, appearing to be locked in a discussion of some type. Well, the men are: Sif looks vaguely annoyed. Volstagg seems to be more focused on building a sandwich, a hand resting against his round belly while he sprinkles a spice over the bread. I can just make out a smile in the midst of his red beard. Fandral is talking at the moment, a playful smile on his face while he talks to Volstagg. His blonde hair is styled in a sweep across his head. Hogun stands between the two, dark eyes darting between them, face as impassive as I remember.

"Ah, Lady Charlotte!" Fandral announces as soon as he sees me, opening his arms in surprise before leaning forward to kiss both of my cheeks in greeting. I cringe slightly at hearing my whole name. I'm so used to hearing that when I'm in trouble that it's become uncomfortable to actually hear anyone using it in a casual way. I smile though and pretend that I'm not bothered. "You have certainly grown up from when we last saw you! You barely reached my waist then."

I grin. "Yes, well given enough time, children tend to grow," I respond. Sif and Frigga laugh. I get a grin from Fandral.

"That they do, and all too quickly," he replies. "Just know that if you need anything at all during your stay on Asgard, please do not hesitate to call on me." He gives me a sweeping bow and I can't help but to think that he looks like a musketeer. It could be the mannerisms, or the way his blonde hair is styled, or his blonde goatee and beard. But it's probably because of the two women that are waiting for his discussion with me to end so he will return his attention onto them. He then kisses my hand and returns back to the girls. It takes all of my self-control not to raise my eyebrow at him. As it stands, Hogun does that for me.

"Don't mind Fandral. He is always like that," Sif says to me, capturing my attention. "He will flirt with anything on two legs."

"I would not say anything on two legs, my Lady Sif," Volstagg implies. He has a massive sandwich on his plate that I can't help but marvel at. How does he fit something that large into his mouth?

"Close enough," Hogun contributes. I smile at the silliness of the conversation. It sounds so similar to a conversation that could be held on Earth and makes me feel a little bit more relaxed around them all. Maybe it won't take too much effort to fit into this world.

"I hope you are enjoying the feast, Lady Charlotte?" Volstagg asks me, immediately taking a bite of the sandwich. I still don't know how it was able to fit and I watched him do it.

"Please, just call me Charlie. No need for this 'Lady' business," I tell them, blushing slightly. "And yes, I am. The food is absolutely wonderful, if a little different than what I am used to."

"Have you tried everything yet?" At the shake of my head, Volstagg shoves his plate over to Hogun, who barely catches it, and immediately grabs another filled with more food that was sitting at the empty spot of a nearby table. "Here, try everything! It is all very delicious and full of everything that will keep your strength up."

"Oh, god, I couldn't possibly eat another bite," I respond, placing a hand on my stomach and eyeing the food warily. "I already feel like I'm ready to burst."

Before he could protest, Hogun steals that plate and shoves the sandwich back at Volstagg. Distracted by the magnificence that is the sandwich, Volstagg forgets about my refusal and goes back to devouring it. I smile gratefully at Hogun who nods back.

"Again, if you require anything from us, please let us know," he says quietly before grabbing Volstagg's arm and dragging him off to wherever Fandral had wandered off to.

"So, Thor tells me you have become quite the warrior since we saw you last," Sif starts, moving to close our small circle. She appears to be sizing me up.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that. I have been training to protect myself if that's what you mean. I've never actually been in a battle or serious fight."

She makes eye contact with me again. I don't know what she was looking for, but whatever it was, she appears to have found it. "Thor has mentioned that you are good at hand-to-hand combat and with knives."

I nod, smiling slightly. "I've also just taken up the bow, but I'm not good at it yet."

She nods. "Well, if you would like, I could train you during your stay. Teach you the Asgardian ways of combat. We do not use too many weapons that use projectiles like your realm does, but I can teach you to use a sword."

My eyes widen. "You would do that for me?"

She smiles. "We need to keep you in shape. Besides, we might as well teach you a thing or two while you are here."

"I would love that, thank you!" I glance over to Frigga who is smiling as well. I can't help but think that she was the one who planted the idea into Sif's head about teaching me. Not that I mind. It will be nice to learn how to use a sword. It will also give me an excuse to exercise more than just the yoga I always stick with. If I'm feeling adventurous, I'll run through some knife drills or katas, but I tend to get lazy when I'm away from home and don't work out as regularly as I should. This should keep me in line.

"Good. We'll discuss times at a later date." Her eyes stray around the room and stills on the opposite end. She tightens her ponytail before speaking again. "If you'll excuse me, I need to go harass someone who lost a bet." She bows to the queen and quickly walks off.

"She is a very interesting young woman," Lady Frigga says, linking her arm with mine and guiding me around the outside of the room. "She was the first woman to become a warrior and join the army of Asgard."

"I thought all women of Asgard knew how to fight."

"Oh, we do," she says, smiling. "We are all taught by our mothers and sisters how to wield a blade. When our husbands are away fighting, someone needs to be able to protect our homes. However, none of us had made a career out of it, choosing to stick to with paths that keep us close to home. That is, until Lady Sif. Now, many young girls are following her example."

"Wow," I mumble. Yeah, I always thought she was cool, but that is just amazing. Okay, I'm a little starry eyed over the warrior woman, but can you blame me?

Frigga cocks her head to the side and looks at me out of the corner of her eyes. "My husband thought for the longest time that Sif would end up marrying Thor."

I give her an incredulous look. "Really? I figure they would end up destroying each other."

She laughs. "Oh, I would not doubt that they would. Luckily enough, they just never saw each other in that way. And now Thor is with the beautiful Jane and I have two grandsons I can spoil."

We continue to walk leisurely around the room, talking quietly. Every once and a while, she would point out someone and tell me a random story about them. She seemed to know everyone in the room. That's impressive for a queen to be able to recognize at least two hundred faces. I know I never could. Well, I can recognize the faces but attaching a name and story to them is a different story. I enjoy our brief interlude from the feast. These things can get exhausting.

"There is one more person I should introduce you to," she announces suddenly, walking a little bit faster and leading me to the end of the room. "I get the feeling you two will be running into each other quite a bit during your stay."

After giving her a confused look, I turn my head forward only to see Loki standing by the doorway. He stands apart from everyone else, quietly observing them all. I suddenly understand what my family was talking about whenever they said he radiated intelligence. And he really does. Just looking at him you can tell he could deduce everything about you with one glance. I could also understand what Uncle Thor told me about him: that he kept everything at arm's length. He was standing alone in a room full of people, after all.

Uncle Thor told me all about Loki's past and the fight that consequently ended with him falling into an endless void and Thor with a lost brother when I was a teenager. I always thought it was curious that Loki seemed to hate Thor and Odin so much once he found out he was adopted. It made no sense to me. I mean, I understand that he was confused and hurt that he had been lied to for the majority of his life, but that doesn't mean that his family didn't love him just as much. I can tell with Uncle Thor that he still very much cherishes his brother even if he is more wary of him. Odin I can't judge—I don't know him. Maybe I can figure that out while I'm here. After all, I don't know Loki's side of the story.

I'm not looking to befriend the guy, just understand him. I still have all of my family's stories to fuel my caution of him.

It doesn't take long for him to notice our approach. Having the full force of those calculating eyes on me makes me a little self-conscious. I don't know why. I just feel like he is plotting something. Hell, from what I know about him from all the stories, he probably is. I kind of wish I knew what he was thinking—maybe I wouldn't feel so paranoid.

Then again, maybe I don't want to know.

When he finally looks over to Frigga, his entire demeanor changes just slightly: his eyes soften and his body relaxes. It's an interesting change. Then again, I'm more relaxed around my parents too. He holds out his hand for Frigga to take and she smiles at him. She has the same love shining in her eyes when she looks at him as she does when she looks at Thor or her grandchildren. The unconditional love of a mother.

Frigga turns to look at me. "Charlie, this is my son, Loki." Turning back to her son, I notice his eyes are back on me before they shift back to Frigga when she speaks again. "Loki, this is Charlotte. I trust you will help to make her feel comfortable for however long her stay with us lasts."

He makes eye contact with me again. If it's possible, I am even more nervous. Maybe he can sense my nervousness like some carnivorous beast because his mouth twists into a small smirk. Amusement is definitely shining out of his eyes and I do my best to not let him see through my mask.

Nope, I'm not afraid of him. Not at all.

"Of course, Mother," he finally responds. "Anything to make the Lady Charlotte comfortable."

Then stop looking at me like you want to eat me.

"It's just Charlie," I say automatically, trying to keep my face pleasant and not let on just how nervous I feel. "No need for the formalities with me."

He bows his head, acknowledging my request. Those green eyes never leave me. He's sizing me up, I can tell. Except he isn't looking for the same thing that Sif was looking for.

Before the conversation can continue, there is a giant crash behind me. We all turn to see one of the tables had overturned, spilling wine and food everywhere. My eyes widen at the sheer immensity of the mess laid out on the ground. There is no movement within the hall and my eyes dart around, trying to figure out who sent it toppling over. No one seems to know what to do until Uncle Thor starts laughing. Volstagg and Fandral join in and before I know it, everyone is laughing. I'm still lost. I look over to Frigga who is shaking her head with a small smile on her face. "What just happened?" I ask her.

"Take a look around. Notice anyone missing?"

I look around the room. No one really pops out at me. It takes me longer than it should have though. Two pint sized boys seemed to have disappeared from the crowd. Suddenly, I remember a little prank I set on the Avengers one day when I was particularly bored and was trying to show the twins just who the master prankster was.

"Those little brats," I mumble. "They stole my trick!"

"This was your idea?" Loki asks, taking in the mess.

"Not exactly. One of the times they came to visit, they were trying to pull little tricks on my family and I all day. I decided to show them how it was really done and when we were all having dinner, I tied the leg of the dinner table to my Pops leg so when he got up the table would move with him. The entire table toppled over, leaving a giant mess. It took hours to clean up." I smile fondly, recalling the memory. "It was worth it seeing the look on the twin's faces though."

"I swear, between you two and the twins, this palace will never be safe again," Frigga says, shaking her head. I smile innocently at her. Loki simply raises his eyebrow. "Well, I'm off to help Jane find them. I'll be back in a few moments."

Wait. She's leaving me? Alone? With Loki? I'm going to die. I watch her retreating back in what can only be described as rising panic. Okay, I'm not going to let this guy intimidate me. He cannot make me feel inferior without my consent. Nope. I can handle this.

"So, you are the woman the twins love to ramble about," he states, turning his full attention back onto me. I meet his gaze (I don't flinch. Yay!) and raise my eyebrow in question. "You are the one they discuss after every visit to Midgard."

"I can't have left that big an impression."

"Obviously you have," he says, gesturing towards the floor and the mess. I wonder if I should help clean that up? It kind of is my fault. "What is that saying your people have? Mimicry is the highest form of flattery?"

I raise both of my eyebrows at that. "I admit I have helped to give them some ideas, but I'm not that amazing. And besides, it's not as if they don't have plenty of bad influences here as well." I look at him pointedly. I'm sure he's given them plenty of ideas, moreso than I have.

He turns his gaze away from me finally. "Hm. Maybe you are right."

"About?"

"You really are not that amazing."

I stare incredulously at the side of his head. Did he really just go there? "Oh? And what basis do you have for that assumption?"

He points out the mess once again. "While clever, it really does no one any good this trick, other than surprise. A prank should do more than just leave a mess to clean up."

"Really? Pray tell, what would you have done to make this lasting?"

He grins slightly, a gleam entering his eyes. "I would make it so the food chased those in the hall."

A surprised laugh leaves me before I get control over myself. I can't help it, the visual is too great. I can see Uncle Thor being chased by a 20 pound chicken and him waving that hammer of his bellowing about a chicken not besting him in combat. "While that is a wonderful idea," I say, finally able to talk around my giggles, "not all of us were granted with magic as an inherent skill."

"Indeed."

The conversation comes to a halt when I see Frigga and Aunt Jane enter the hall once again. Aunt Jane is carrying Magni, who appears to be sleeping on her shoulder. Frigga is leading a barely conscious Modi by the hand. They both stop in front of us. "It appears the twins fell asleep in the servant's side chamber waiting for their prank to take hold," Frigga explains, looking at each boy in turn.

"I'm going to take them to bed," Aunt Jane says, looking at Magni then at Modi with a small smile.

I grin at Modi who can barely keep his eyes open. "I'll help," I offer, picking him up and resting him against my hip. His head immediately lands on my shoulder. He turns his head to look at Loki.

Loki smirks at the little boy. "Well done," he compliments quietly. I quirk my eyebrow.

"Thanks, Uncle Loki." He turns his head and buries his face into my neck and is out a second later.

"Will you be coming back to the feast?" Frigga asks Aunt Jane and I. We both shake our heads.

"I'm just as exhausted as these two," Aunt Jane replies.

I nod, silently agreeing with her. I'm not actually tired, but I don't really want to feast anymore. Like I said before, this kind of thing has always made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I just want to get out of this dress and into some pajamas and read until I can't see straight.

"I will see you at breakfast then," Frigga says, kissing us both on the cheek. I nod at Loki as a farewell, which he returns, before turning with Aunt Jane and heading back to our rooms. We walk in silence for a couple minutes before I can't take it anymore.

"Do the boys and Loki actually have a good relationship?" I question, barely able to contain my curiosity.

Aunt Jane laughs quietly, so she doesn't disturb Magni, before answering. "We all have a pretty good relationship with him." At my incredulous look, she laughs again. "Loki and Thor still have a pretty rocky around each other, and Loki certainly was not my favorite when I first started coming here. In fact, the first time I met him, I punched him."

"Seriously?" I ask, a smile pulling across my face. "You punched Loki? In the face?" At her pleased nod, I start laughing. "You are my hero, Aunt Jane."

"Yes, well, he certainly didn't seem fazed by it. He smiled at me immediately after. I think that gained a small amount of respect from him. I saw him all the time because we were both always at the library. We didn't start getting along until I won an argument against him. I don't remember what we were talking about, but he tried to be the smarter one and it kind of failed." She rolls her eyes. "I don't think he was used to anyone being able to keep up with him in the intelligence department until me. We have an odd friendship."

"Let me guess," I interject. "When Uncle Thor is driving you nuts, you go to Loki to vent?"

"Loki or Sif," she confirms. We both laugh. Modi groans into my shoulder and I quiet down. I rub his back as an apology.

When the twins were born," she continues, "I think Loki saw it as his chance to help redeem himself in the eyes of Odin. He helps Frigga and I teach them when they aren't with their tutors. Frigga teaches them magic and the history of Asgard, I teach them of Earth and science, and Loki shows them how to use magic and strategy in combat."

"I assume Uncle Thor just teaches them how to fight."

"And what it means to be princes of Asgard."

I nod. I always forget that these little knuckleheads are in line for the throne. They just don't seem like they would be princes. They're so carefree and young, simply looking to have fun. I don't want either of them to become like Thor and Loki, fighting for who is worthy to be on the throne. Modi is the one who would ascend to the throne after Uncle Thor, only beating Magni by a few minutes. If their relationship is forced to deteriorate because of birthright, it will break my heart. But I also don't want them to be like Odin—I only just met him but he seemed so distant from everyone else. Both of these boys are able to get along with anyone. I don't want to watch them withdraw just to become a wise king.

Then again, the likelihood of me seeing them become old enough to become kings is nil. I'll be long dead before that happens.

Aunt Jane and I walk the quiet halls in silence the rest of the way. Upon entering the twin's room, I immediately notice the mess. Aunt Jane just shakes her head and deposits Magni in the bronze bed. I lay Modi down on the orange one on the other side of the room. I go around, picking up the strewn books and replacing them on the bookshelf and putting all of the clothes back into their shared closet. Aunt Jane takes off their armor and puts them into some more comfortable clothing while I pick up their room.

When we are both done, we walk out and head to our separate rooms. I wish Aunt Jane a good night and enter my room, sighing and rubbing the tension out of the back of my neck. There is a fire burning in the fireplace already. Now that I'm here, I'm completely wide awake and restless. First order of business is getting out of this dress. And then I can figure out what I am going to do for the rest of the night.

I change into some sweatpants and a t-shirt, take off all jewelry except for the new pendant, and shake out my hair so it rests against my shoulders and flows down my back once again. I amble towards the bookshelf, eyeing the hundreds of tomes placed within it. Maybe I should read? Usually that can make me tired enough to want to sleep. However, I'm still feeling restless. I look over towards the door. While I am very familiar with this wing of the palace, there are many that I have never explored. It would be fun to just wander and see what I could find. And if I get lost—which, let's face it, I probably will get lost—I can probably just find a guard and ask them to give me directions.

With this flawless plan in place, I go over to my bag (which I still need to unpack) and pull out my small Starkpod. It's like the iPod, only it holds way more songs and the battery life lasts for forever. My dad specifically designed it so it could handle both his and my music addiction. Grabbing the same knife I had on for the majority of the night and restrapping it to my arm, I walk straight out the door.

This should be interesting.

Chapter Text

 

Yep. I'm lost.

I've only been wandering for maybe an hour—okay, probably two hours—and I am completely and thoroughly turned around. This place is so big, it's ridiculous. I mean, who needs this much space to begin with? Okay, it's not like I can complain, what with how much space Dad has built into the Tower. But this palace makes the Tower look miniscule in comparison. And what do they use all of these rooms for? I must have passed at least three halls that compete with the throne room in size, maybe a hundred private rooms of various sizes, two fighting arenas, and that was only in the first two wings. I haven't even found the library or the kitchens yet.

Sigh.

I appear to have entered a completely separate wing of the palace. And yes, I am in another giant hall. The room is decorated in gold just like the rest of the palace, but with simple carvings and murals. But what makes this room stand out is the giant tree sprouting in the middle of it. There are nine main branches suspended in the air, each holding what appears to be a spinning galaxy. The tree encompasses the entire hall with only enough room to walk around the trunk. The roots are massive and I would just love to climb in there and stare at the scene above it. This must be the tree of Yggsdrasil. Uncle Thor told me all about it. I just didn't realize it was an actual tree. I always thought it was some type of metaphor for the universe. Well, I guess it's both. Staring up into the higher branches, I can't help but marvel at its beauty.

However, I am still lost and staring at a tree—no matter how beautiful it is— will not help me find my way back to familiar territory.

Walking back out of the hall, I look down the hallway once more. I don't remember which way I came. I shrug and decide to go right. Might as well explore some more until I pass something that looks familiar. Or a guard. Whichever one happens first. I pass many doorways, but every one opens into an empty room. I get the feeling I've found an abandoned wing. Or at the very least a wing that is used very rarely.

See? This place has way too much room.

I pass through another doorway which leads to another hallway. This one is shrouded in darkness and I come to a stop before deciding if I should venture down it or not. I probably shouldn't. But I really want to. I turn back to take one of the lit torches off of the wall and walk over the threshold once again. I look both ways before deciding on going left, walking along cautiously. It is clear from the dust on the floor that no one has really been this way in ages. There probably isn't anything down here in that case, but my curiosity is piqued.

I walk down the hallway, trying to see beyond my little pool of light. I don't pass any doorways and I reach over to shut my Starkpod off so I can listen to any noise. I don't know why, but I'm feeling a little paranoid. Okay, it's because of the lack of doorways that I feel that way. I finally enter a circular antechamber with three massive doors, one in front of me and the other two on each side. I feel like I'm on that game show where you have to pick a curtain to see what prize you get. I don't remember the name of it. I look at each door in turn and decide to go for door number three—I mean the one on my right.

I open the door and peer inside. I slam the door shut almost as fast as I had opened it, bracing the door with my back to make sure it stays shut. There is a giant wolf in there. And when I say giant, I mean it could probably swallow me without chewing and I wouldn't even be considered a snack. I can't help but to wonder what the hell that thing is doing in there? It looked like it was asleep (thank god) but how can it stay in there like that? I didn't notice any chains or bindings on it preventing it from moving. Maybe this is its resting place? Is it Odin's attack dog? Oh my god.

Okay, okay, whatever. Whatever that thing is, it's obviously none of my business. Backing away from the door, I watch it carefully, keeping the torch slightly in front of me. I am waiting for the beast to come tearing through the doors and eat me but it never happens. After a few more minutes of wary staring, I slowly start to relax. I'm suddenly a little bit more nervous to look through the other doors. Maybe I should just leave them well enough alone.

Looking at the other doors though makes my resolve waver. Okay, maybe just one more door. Then I promise to go back and find my way out of here.

The phrase "curiosity killed the cat" runs through my mind as I walk towards the door on the opposite side of me. I push the thought out of my head before very carefully opening the door and take a look inside. There is a blue light emanating in this room, but I don't see any living thing. Oh good. Taking a step inside, I lift the torch a little higher to try and give the room more light. The fuel is starting to run low so I don't know how much longer I will have it. Oh well.

There are very few things in the room: a few tables line the outside walls, some of them with a few absurd looking objects on them. But the object that captures my attention is the blue looking rectangular thing at the end of the room. It's chained to the podium it sits on leading me to believe it's not supposed to leave this room. I wonder what it is. It looks vaguely familiar, but I know I've never seen this object before. Stepping a little closer, I bend down to look at it. It is rectangular in shape, with two metal handles on either side of it to grasp. The blue light coming from the center swirls similar to what you would find in a pool, only a richer blue. There are lines within the casing that reminds me of ice cracking on top of a lake. When I reach out a hand to touch it, a severe cold radiates outward from it. I snatch my hand back. It's already a violent red and I didn't even touch it.

"I would not touch that unless you want to cut off your hand."

I jump about a mile in the air and whirl around to face the sudden voice that came from behind me. My heart is racing in my throat as my training kicks in and I unsheathe my knife, leaning back into a defensive stance. The man standing a few feet behind me lifts his hands in the universal "I'm harmless" position, his eyes falling on my drawn knife. I take the time to take this person in as I straighten my posture. I refuse to put the knife away though, keeping it clenched tightly in my grasp.

First thing that is noticeable: he's blue. I can't help but to immediately think of "Avatar". My Pops loves that movie, for whatever reason. However, other than the blue skin, that is the only similarity. His eyes are completely red—and I don't mean just the iris. The entirety of his eyes are red, including the areas that should be white. It's a little off-putting to be perfectly honest. Lines are etched across his face in circular sweeps that could possibly be tattoos, but for all I know are actually a part of his anatomy. His black hair is slicked back from his face. He is wearing a black tunic and leather vest with black pants and boots to match. Almost no skin shows except for his face and hands.

I'm still kind of fixated on the blue skin. Sorry, I can't help it.

"Who are you?" I ask, still standing defensively with the knife grasped tightly in my hand. He may indicate he means no harm, but I still don't trust him yet.

"A prisoner," he responds.

"Then shouldn't you be in the prison?"

A self-deprecating smile twists his mouth. "My imprisonment is not conventional." He pauses and takes in my appearance. He then glances at the object behind me. "You might want to step away from the casket."

I quickly glance back at the object and back to him. "Why?"

"You do not know what it is?" he asks, a smirk growing on his face.

"Does it look like I know what it is?" I probably shouldn't be a smartass right now, but I can't help it. He makes me feel like an idiot and all he has done is say a few words.

He chuckles quietly. Great, now I know he's laughing at me. This is just getting better and better. "It is called the Casket of Ancient Winters. Ever heard of it?"

"It rings a bell." Okay, it rings more than just a bell. Uncle Thor used to tell me all about this thing and what it was capable of. In fact, it was because of those old stories that I got into my career. It takes all of my ability not to turn back around and stare at it. But to do that would be to have my back turned to this new guy and I can't afford to do that until I know he means me no harm.

He nods. "As it should. You are a friend to that blonde oaf in line for the throne, correct?"

I glare at him. "He's my uncle, so please don't insult him in front of me unless you want to get stuck with a knife."

He smirks at me again but nods his head in acquiescence. "Well, you must have heard the tale of how Asgard defeated the armies of Jotunheim?" I nod. After all, that is what the basis of my research is. "That is one of the relics taken from Jotunheim at the conclusion of the conflict. Unless you are Jotun, coming into contact with it will ensure a removal of a limb."

I raise my eyebrow at him. I'm not so sure about that.

"So, if this is a confiscated relic, what are you doing in here?" I ask, putting away my knife. I highly doubt we are going to get into a physical confrontation. Right now, it seems as if he is just trying to annoy me to death, even though he seems to be trying to help me as well. He is sending me very confusing signals.

"I just wished to see a piece of my own history." He sounded vaguely sarcastic. He pauses for a second, looking me up and down again. "What are you doing in here?"

I blush under his scrutiny realizing that I am not exactly wearing appropriate clothing. Compared to his clothes, my sweatpants and thin t-shirt is downright revealing. I cross my arms over my chest and glare at him. "I was just exploring. I got lost and just stumbled on this place." I look around the room again and decide then and there to take my leave. "Well, thank you for attempting to save me from losing my hand. I will leave you to your history." I bow my head and walk around him towards the door. He moves a couple paces out of my way as I pass.

"Before you go," he calls and I turn back around to look at him, "I wish to know something." I raise an eyebrow, trying to keep my annoyance from flitting across my face. He meets my eyes dead on. "You know what I am. Are you afraid of me?"

I give him a confused look, my eyebrows furrowing. "Why would I be afraid of you? I don't even know who you are."

"I am a Jotun," is his only response.

"So?" I shrug. "Why should I be afraid of you simply because you are Jotun?"

"Everyone else is."

I smirk at him. "I am not everyone else," I reply, taking a step back towards him. "The way I see it, the only difference between you and me is the fact that you have blue skin and I don't. Why should I be afraid of you for that?"

He takes a step closer to me as well. "I can harm you with hardly a touch."

I snicker. "You and plenty of other people I know." At the annoyed look he gives me, I decide I should probably take this seriously. "Look, you may be able to hurt me by simply touching me, but you won't. If you wanted to hurt me, you would have when I was distracted and had my back turned. And besides, I'm a little tougher than what you make me out to be."

"You are a mortal," he says, shaking his head. "You are one of the weakest creatures in the nine realms. And you believe you can handle my icy touch?" He snorts, obviously not believing my silent claim.

"Okay, hotshot," I reply, holding out my arm. Just being this close to him without touching him causes goosebumps to rise on my skin. "Try me." He scoffs and steps back from me. I decide to press him further. "And besides, that isn't what I was trying to say. I was saying that it takes more than just your parentage to be a monster. Your actions define you more than your blood does. And I know you won't hurt me if you do touch me."

He doesn't respond, continuing to eye me warily. I decide to take matters into my own hands. Rolling my eyes, I walk up to him and grab his hand. He tries to pull away, but I hold on. I may not be as strong as he is, but I am able to keep my hold on him. And yes, his hand is freaking cold. A frost covers my hand and begins to travel up my arm. I clench my teeth and refuse to break the contact. I can handle it. He finally is able to wrench his hand from mine and take a few steps away from me. He holds his hands behind his back, probably trying to keep them away from me. His eyes are wide. I look down at my arm and watch as the frost slowly melts away. A red glow is emanating from my skin and my body temperature has shot up trying to compensate for the sudden cold. But my skin isn't blackened or falling off. I'm perfectly fine.

I look up and watch him stare at my hand in wonder. "I told you you wouldn't hurt me." I rub my arm and hand, trying to lessen the redness. It goes away after a few minutes, my skin returning to its normal white. He still hasn't responded, so I decide to continue speaking. "I don't believe I got your name."

"No, I do not believe you did," he mutters, his eyes finally jumping up to meet mine.

I shrug. "Fair enough." I turn back around and head towards the doors again. He stops me once again, though.

"Why is it that you do not think I am a monster?"

"Because you could have easily let me touch the casket, when you believed it could hurt me." I turn back around to give him a semi-curious look. "Why did you stop me?"

"We are all under orders to keep you safe." Absolutely no emotions cross his face.

I smirk. "Okay. Good night, Jotun man."

I walk through the door before getting a response and close it behind me. It's not until I am halfway down the hall that I realize that I left the torch on the ground back there. Oh well. There is enough light ahead of me that I can see where I'm going.

Walking back through the halls I had just passed, I attempt to retrace my steps while trying to find someone to lead me back to my room. My thoughts wander back to the blue man I had just met. I wonder what he meant about him being a prisoner? That room was not locked, keeping him trapped in there. And he isn't in the prisons. Could he be a slave to someone in the palace? I don't think slaves are a part of Asgardian culture, but I could be wrong. I'll have to ask Uncle Thor about him. Maybe he will know who the Jotun man is.

I just can't shake the feeling that he was completely alone. He just radiated loneliness and pain.

I pass the hall with the giant tree and happen to see the billowing of a yellow cloak pass to another hall. I chase after it and see a guard. Sighing in relief, I stop him and ask for directions back to the royal wing. After bowing in thanks, I make my way back and reach my room in less than fifteen minutes. I crash into my bed and decide to just remove the Jotun man from my thoughts. No point in worrying about someone I may never meet again.

Chapter Text


Considering how I was woken up the last time it was time to get around, my awakening this morning was downright peaceful.

I am drifting in a sea of black bliss when there is a loud scraping sound reminiscent of metal on metal accompanied by a bright intruding light on the other side of my eyelids. Scrunching up my face, I open my eyes a crack and see that the curtains had been thrown open to allow the light to shine in unrestrained by the curtains. Groaning in annoyance, I roll over and attempt to bury my head in the sea of pillows. However, that doesn't seem to be the plan today.

"It is time to wake up, Charlie."

I blink open my eyes and glance up after hearing the queen's gentle voice and I look around the room trying to find her. I heard her, but I don't see her. Blinking a few times to get the fog out of my eyes, I sit up and yawn widely, stretching my arms over my head and feeling my shoulders pop. I glance around my room one more time looking for the queen. I know I heard her. She has to be in here somewhere.

Or maybe I'm just delusional. Either one.

Two seconds later, the very person I was searching for walks out of my closet carrying various pieces of clothing in her arms. She smiles, seeing I'm awake. I just blink at her. I'm really not a morning person. Before she can say anything, I promptly fall over onto my side. I don't want to get up yet and I will protest! Nonverbally.

"Oh, none of that!" she scolds. I can practically hear her roll her eyes. She throws the pile of clothes on top of me. I grunt at the unexpected hit of something harder than pure cloth and I sit up again, pawing through the items she threw at me. They appear to be a set of leisure clothes mixed with some armor pieces. Before I can ask her what they are for, she starts heading towards the door. "Breakfast will be ready soon. Get yourself around. Jane and the boys will guide you to the dining hall." With a parting grin, she is out the door.

I sit there blinking at the door for a minute, trying to get my foggy brain kick-started for the day. I need coffee. Yawning again, I drag myself out of the warm and inviting bed and dress myself into the clothing Frigga had picked out for me. The black pants fit closer to what I would expect leggings would, only they are made of a much more durable material. The lavender shirt is similar to a tunic, only the arms of the shirt are tight to my body, as is the waist and bust so the armor won't scrunch up the tunic. It comes to a rest about mid-thigh. The armor is silver and rests over my chest and covers to my waist. A belt goes around the top of my pants where I can place blades and other weapons if I need to. Some black leather knee high boots complete the outfit. I decide to strap two daggers to the belt and slip a small knife into one of my boots.

After freshening up (and by freshening up, I mean making myself look human after waking up), I make sure the sun pendant is resting on my neck and walk out the door. No one is outside in the hallway except for a couple guards. I nod at them in greeting, which they return, and walk over to Aunt Jane's room. Before I can knock, the door is flung open by the woman I was looking for. "Oh! Good morning, Charlie!" she greets in surprise.

"Morning," I reply, lowering my arm and stepping to the side so she can get out. I never say "good morning." I consider that an oxymoron. My Pops says it's a habit I picked up from Dad, but whatever. We have the same philosophy about mornings. Now, if morning happened at noon, I would consider saying it.

Okay, maybe not even then.

We walk across the expansive hallway and into the twin's room. Oddly enough, they weren't there. Assuming they were both already waiting on the food, we leave and head down the hallway towards the center of the palace. I can't help but notice that the two guards start following us as soon as we leave the hall. They are staying a respectable distance away, but it is still a little unnerving.

"They are my guards," Aunt Jane whispers over to me. I assume she saw my not-so-subtle glances at them.

"Your guards?" I ask.

"Yes. When I am not around Thor, they stay by my side to protect me in case of an attack."

"Oh. Does everyone have one?"

She shakes her head. "Only me and the boys. I can't really protect myself if someone really wanted to hurt me, and the boys are still too young."

I nod. It's nice knowing that they have an extra security blanket in case someone wanted to attack them. Uncle Thor can't be around them all the time to keep them safe. I know on Earth, they would probably be facing assassination attempts just for being married and related to the heir of Asgard. I don't know if that is the case here—after all, Uncle Thor would hunt down anyone that would try to intentionally hurt his family—but it's nice to know that they are safe regardless.

We turn a corner and Aunt Jane leads me into a small dining hall. As predicted, the boys are sitting in the seats in the middle of the massive table, heads together whispering about something which means nothing good. Lady Frigga is seated at the right side of the head of the table. Uncle Thor is beside her, engaged in a conversation with her. Aunt Jane sits beside him giving him a morning kiss which makes the boys groan at the display of open affection. I grin as Uncle Thor gives them each a hair ruffle, laughing. Frigga directs me to sit across from her which means I'll be sitting next to the King. I take a seat and stare at all the plates of food laid out on the table. I load my plate with some fruit and sausage before sitting back to wait for some more direction. I figure I should be polite and at least wait for everyone to arrive before digging in.

Uncle Thor is busy retelling the story of how Aunt Jane and he met—which resulted in an argument about whether he was felled by a van or not—when Loki enters. He walks around the table giving everyone a casual greeting. He kisses Frigga on the cheek fondly before taking a seat next to mine. "Good morning, Charlotte."

"It's just Charlie," I reply automatically. I'm pretty sure I asked him to call me that last night. He responds with a smirk. Oh, great. He's going to be one of those people that call me Charlotte just to annoy me. Just what I need.

Before any conversation can get started, Odin walks in. He looks very casual wearing a black outfit with very little adornment. He gives his wife a kiss on the cheek as well before taking a seat next to me and starting to eat. He seems like a very silent man. He must always have a lot on his mind. Everyone around me starts to eat as well, so I decide to join in. Might as well try to get some energy for the day. My brain still isn't working up to speed.

"I trust that everything is in order with you room, Lady Charlotte?" Odin asks suddenly, breaking me from my inner struggle of consciousness.

I blink at him for a moment before swallowing my mouthful of juice. "You can call me Charlie. And yes, everything is perfect. Thank you for allowing me in your home."

He nods his head. "We should probably discuss who will be guarding you while you are here."

I cock my head slightly. "Guarding me, sir?" I ask. I glance over at Aunt Jane. She points towards the doorway. Oh! Like those personal guards she has.

He nods again, taking a sip from his goblet. "While you are here, we want to make sure that you remain safe. Having a guard with you will help to ensure that safety is well met."

I glance around the table and notice that Uncle Thor and Frigga are watching me carefully. The twins aren't even paying attention, too busy in their own conversation. Aunt Jane seems to have her attention split between the boys and us. Loki looks to be completely disinterested in being in the room let alone the conversation going on next to him. "While I appreciate the offer, sir," I reply, trying to remain as respectful as possible, "I can adequately protect myself. I don't wish to cause any trouble for you or the men under your command."

He meets my gaze with his one blue eye. I suddenly feel a little bit more intimidated. I'm sure not too many people challenge his decisions. Well, besides maybe his wife. "I have heard of your skill. My son speaks quite highly of you. However, you are still mortal. Anyone that would come to fight you will be much stronger and more skilled. You will require adequate protection."

"I understand that, sir. But I am pretty sure I can protect myself against many opponents." I glance over at Uncle Thor. "Thor has trained me as well as my mortal teachers. I can hold my own fairly well, especially if I have a knife in my hand." I hear a snort from next to me. I glance over at Loki. His focus is on the plate in front of him, but the small smirk tugging at his lips proves that he is really paying attention to the conversation going on next to him. "Care to share your thoughts, Loki?" I challenge.

He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. "While I am sure your skills are quite… formidable, I doubt you would be able to defeat someone of Asgardian skill."

"And why do you think that?"

"You are a mortal."

"Your point?"

"Your skills are limited." He turns his head and looks me dead in the eye, a smirk spanned fully across his mouth. "You can never best someone of our skill and strength."

I smirk right back at him. He has another thing coming if he doesn't think I won't do anything to prove myself to this bunch. Before I can reply he continues speaking. "And your skills with knives can never compete with—"

Before he can finish, I unsheathe one of my knives and slam it into the table right where his left hand is resting against its surface. The blade sits snuggly in between his middle and ring fingers. My action completely freezes him. I know because I never took my eyes off of his face as he dismissed me. I was trained by Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton. My accuracy is dead on.

"Whoa, Charlie!" Magni says, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. "How did you do that? Your aim was so on point!"

"What are you talking about, Magni?" I ask, never taking my eyes off of the man in front of me. He slowly turns his head and meets my eyes. I smirk at him. "I missed."

I wasn't actually aiming for hitting his hand, but nobody else has to know that.

I let the blade go and relax back into my seat. I look back over to Odin who has a slightly impressed mixed with curiosity expression on his old face. Uncle Thor is attempting to hold back a smile but is failing miserably. Aunt Jane just has a surprised look on her face and Frigga is shaking her head at the both of us. Loki finally moves his hand and removes the blade from the table.

"Hm, maybe we should evaluate your skills," Odin mutters, capturing my full attention. Sitting a little straighter in his chair he nods to himself before making eye contact with me again. "At midday, you will face six Asgardian warriors. If you can beat them all, you can go about your business with no need of a guard." I nod, understanding the task he is setting before me. Sounds good to me. "There is one condition: you may not use a weapon." At my incredulous face, he chuckles before explaining himself further. "The likelihood of you being armed when an attack happens is small. If you can prove you can protect yourself with no need of a weapon, then I shall consider you a formidable opponent."

I nod again in acceptance of the conditions. I just have to kick six guys' butts using nothing but my bare hands. I think I can manage that.

OoO

I am standing in an outdoor courtyard of some sort. There's a raised platform in the very center where what looks to be a well is sitting on it, but I haven't moved closer to get a look at it. Otherwise, it's just a wide open space with three walls enclosing it and the fourth side is where you walk back into the palace, which is to my back. The royal family, minus the twins (their studies don't just end because I'm going to duel) and Loki (I have no freaking clue where he might be), are standing on a balcony behind me. I am wearing the same outfit that I wore at breakfast, minus all three of my knives. It's been a while since I have fought without at least one blade, but that's okay. I can still beat most men who are armed without needing to use any weapons anyway.

I am standing here, staring at my first opponent. He is tall, at least half a foot taller than I am. He is also big. Bulky big. His helmet and armor look heavy and he is wielding a spear in his hands. He has a cocky grin on his face and I have to resist the urge to smile right back. He is obviously underestimating me. A lot of people do that when they first see me. I don't know why, considering I'm not small—I am 5'8" with the muscle mass and curves to boot—but I guess it's because I'm a woman. Most men always underestimate a woman in battle, which makes us the perfect targets.

And also the biggest surprise.

He charges me and I stand there, fairly relaxed given the fact a 6 foot tall man is charging at me. He points his spear at my chest. Just before it makes contact, I bat it away with an open palm and hit him on his forehead with my other open palm as I spin to the side and move a few paces away. He wasn't expecting that. I didn't hit him hard enough to leave a bruise, just to toss his head back and mess with his balance and orientation. He turns his head to look at me and I relax my stance again, only having enough tension in case I have to defend myself. He narrows his eyes in anger and I smirk in response. My prey is already following my dance quite well. He charges me again and I quickly spin out of the way and knock the back of his helmet with a closed fist as he stumbles past me. His head jerks downward and he is thrown off again. He turns to face me with an enraged look and I just smile innocently. Adjusting his helmet, he tries again.

We continue this interesting dance of him attacking and me spinning out of the way and hitting him lightly before I decide to end it after maybe five minutes. He is very pissed off at this point and I'm about to start laughing at the poor idiot. He is doing one thing though that is more to my advantage than anything else: he's slowing down. I figured all of that armor is pretty heavy. His breathing is labored now. When he charges me this time, I grab the staff of the spear and twist it out of his hands while also hitting him in the solar plexus with the flat of my hand, using his own momentum against him. He lands on his back in a heap, struggling to gasp in some much needed air. I step forward and point the spear at his throat and the match is mine. I drop the spear next to him before walking over to the middle of the courtyard. There is my next opponent.

This guy is smaller, but that doesn't mean he isn't formidable. He isn't carrying a weapon which means this is going to be a fist fight of some sort. I let all of the breath out of my body and relax into my defensive stance, hands up in loose fists to protect my upper body. I get the feeling this guy is going to be more difficult to beat than the last one. Similar to my last opponent, he charges me head first, only with a raised fist. I lean my body to the side to avoid the hit and raise my leg to kick him in the chest with my knee. He catches my leg though and attempts to throw me. With some quick acrobatics, I am back on my own two feet and fighting away again. I'm very grateful to Aunt 'Tasha for teaching me a lot of her moves.

This fight lasts awhile. It doesn't end until I am able to twist my body around his to land on his back and suffocate him, which was a struggle in and of itself. He struggled, twisting and turning to get me off him. I held on with all that I had until he was on his hands and knees. I don't let go until he was face down in the dirt. Once I got up, I checked his pulse while turning him onto his back. Still alive. That's good. I'm not trying to kill them after all—just get them to concede defeat. Or knock them out. Whichever one comes first.

I walk away from that with a few more bruises and my breathing a little more labored. But I am ready for the next one. The next two fights go pretty much the same way, only much longer. My opponents are getting better with each one I come up against. The fight was probably rigged that way on purpose. It took me bashing the third guy's head into the stone platform to get him to not get back up. And he gave me a pretty bad bruise on my back after slamming me into the same platform. I am going to be feeling that one for days. The fourth guy I was able to make concede defeat: he had a mace on him that I was able to steal.

I go into the fifth match with a pretty battered body and more trouble breathing. But I was going to do this. I only have two more opponents and I won't need a personal guard to follow me around like a shadow. This guy is wearing absolutely no armor, which is a first. The others wore varying pieces of armor, not as much as the first guy but at least a few pieces. He is my height and my size and he carries no weapon with him. Once he starts moving, I realize why: he specializes in some type of martial arts with a lot of aerial stunts and flying feet. I keep my distance from him for a while, just trying to figure out his style. I can pull some pretty fancy moves myself, but I don't use them unless I plan on snapping someone's neck.

I don't plan on doing that today.

After ten minutes of dancing around each other, I am finally able to finish the fight by knocking him into the well. It took me a long time to maneuver it so that it would happen. I was able to get it so that we were exchanging blows on top of the platform. He jumped up onto the sides of the well to gain a height advantage and all I had to do was kick at his feet. It took me a couple tries, but I eventually was able to get him to lose his balance and he fell right in.

Leaning against the edge of the well for support, I gasp in some much needed air while also checking for the guy. I can't see all the way down very well, but I can hear some splashes from the bottom and some spluttering yells. He's fine. I grab the rope attached to the side of the well, tie it to the pole hanging over it, and toss it down to him. He should be able to pull himself out. I straighten up once that task is complete and face my last opponent. Only one guy stands between me and my freedom.

And that guy happens to be Loki.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding," I mutter, deflating slightly. Of all the people I have to fight, I have to fight him. Right now. While I can barely breathe. Why not someone like Sif? Okay, I probably couldn't take her either, but I would at least have a fighting chance! Not to mention she would probably at least be... well, kind to me and my less than pristine state.

He raises an eyebrow at my muttered outburst. "Do you need a moment to catch your breath, Charlotte?" he asks, his voice brimming with fake sincerity.

"Why? Are you sleepy?" I retort, jumping down from the platform to face him on the same level. I am not about to let myself lose to this guy. It will only make his head bigger. I stand up a little straighter and face him dead on. "Bring on your worst."

"Gladly." Faster than I can comprehend, he whips a couple knives out of nowhere and flings them at me. On instinct more than anything else, I backflip away, missing all of the knives. Well, one is still able to graze my cheek, but I don't let the sting bother me. I've had worse. Much worse. I land on my feet again, but before I can really get a solid hold of my balance, he is on me.

Fighting Loki is different from fighting the other guards. He doesn't use fancy moves or weapons: just a knife, brute force, and deadly insight. I'm already at a disadvantage because I'm tired and weaker than when I started, so I make stupid mistakes. But, I am glad to say that I was able to hold my own for about ten minutes.

I roundhouse kick him in the face. However, I land on my other foot and my balance wavers. Seeing his opportunity, he rushes me, completely knocking me to the ground. He lands on top of me, straddling my waist with a knife pressed to my throat. Unable to do anything without risking my neck, I simply lay there, tensed and staring up at him while I try to catch my breath. Something passes through his eyes faster than I can process it. It almost looks like some type of acknowledgement or respect. Too bad I know better than to think he would ever give me respect.

Clapping sounds fill the air and I watch Uncle Thor approach out of the corner of my eye. Loki closes his eyes and withdraws. I sit up. "Not bad for a stuffy old prince," I remark, glancing up at him, brushing my hand across the cut on my cheek. It's not bleeding too terribly bad.

"Not terrible for a weak mortal girl," he retorts. I snort slightly before pulling myself up. I think that is the nicest thing he will ever say to me. Fine by me.

Uncle Thor walks over and gives me a hug. "Fine job, little one!" he compliments. I nod, too tired to do anything else. My energy has left with my adrenaline and all I want to do is soak in a hot bath. The rest of the family comes over as well. Aunt Jane and Frigga both congratulate me on a job well done. I nod and lean against Uncle Thor for some mild support. I can start to feel the bruises make themselves known.

I am going to feel this for days.

Odin is the last to speak, watching me quietly. "You fought well." He glances around the courtyard at all of the fallen and semi-conscious men before his eyes rest on Loki. "However, the terms stated that you must beat six opponents. You only defeated five. Therefore, you will be assigned a personal guard." I sag in disappointment but I don't protest his decision out loud. He is right. I was supposed to beat six and I was unable to beat Loki. Oh well. I will just have to get used to having an extra shadow around. "Frigga and I will discuss who will be best to guard you in the future. For now, rest. We will inform you of our decision at a later time."

I nod and stand up fully, trying not to groan as my back protests the movement. That bath is officially calling my name.

Chapter Text

 

I must have been in that bath for at least an hour-and-a-half. And it was worth it.

Getting out, I decide to catalogue the damage now that I have the sweat and dirt off of me. The cut on my cheek is already bandaged up and as long as I apply a cream one of the healers gave me twice a day, it should be gone in less than a week. Mild bruises are riddled along my arms and legs where I was struck and had to block hits, but most of them aren't as bad as I thought they would be. They will be gone in a few days. As suspected, there is a massive bruise about the size of an orange in the center of my back where I was slammed into the edge of the platform. It's purple right now and will probably change to that sickly green-yellow color over the course of the week. It makes my already stiff back worse which means I am going to have to stretch every day to get my back to work right.

Well, at least it distracts from the scars a little bit.

I throw on some comfortable clothes—loose black pants and a long-sleeve white top—before perusing the books in my room. I decided in the bath that I should just relax and allow my body to relax after the beating it took today. And this is probably going to be the best time for me to do some research. I'm thinking of looking up Asgard's ancient history, just to see what it was like before they became the guard dogs of the universe. Maybe they were more like Earth?

After an hour of looking at all of the books at my disposal, I have come to one conclusion: there are far too many books on this one topic. I've pulled at least fifty from the shelf and that was only on the first half. My back is starting to protest the constant vertical position I am in so I just pick a book and settle down into the chair on my balcony. The sun is shining brightly and I bask in its glow as I open the book to the first page.

It doesn't take long for me to realize that I can't focus on the book in my hands. I keep thinking back to this morning and the verdict. I have to get a guard now. I'm not okay with that. I may have agreed to it, but I really don't think I should be forced to have a guard. Even after defeating five of the royal army, all with ranging skills, and Odin still doesn't think I can protect myself? Okay, I understand his worry: I'm human. I'm a mortal. I am much weaker than Asgardians and the majority of the other races in the universe. I shouldn't have been able to beat any of them, to be perfectly honest. The only reason I was able to is because of my extensive training and my ability to strategize and figure out the best way to beat each man I fought as I was fighting them.

The first one was easy: he was cocky and arrogant. I used his "charge first, ask questions later" strategy to my advantage. He was also very easy to anger—and if you allow your anger to get the best of you in a fight, you will always make a mistake. The second man was harder, as most fist fights you can't really strategize against. It really is just half instinct and response and half skill. But he left an opening for me to wrap around him and I was able to finally suffocate him. The third guy was more luck than anything else: after smashing me into the platform, he was almost able to get me to concede defeat. I was pretty much winded with the force of the hit and he took advantage of my stunned state to straddle my hips with his arm pressed over my throat. However, that is always a bad place to rest on someone. I was able to flip us using my hipbones as the focal point and then bashed his head against the edge until he stopped moving.

One of the many tricks I learned from Aunt 'Tasha.

The fourth guy had the mace. When it comes to weapon users, if you are able to get their weapon away from them, you're pretty much golden unless they are skilled in hand-to-hand combat as well. Not all people are. Luckily for me, this guy was one of those that relies far too heavily on his weapon rather than his own skills. Once I got the mace out of his hands, there wasn't much he could do. I hit him on the head with his own weapon and down he went. The fifth guy I was able to maneuver and get him to fall down the well.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I wonder if they are all okay. I hit a lot of them on the head.

And then there was Loki. Loki wasn't like the other men. He left absolutely no openings for me to take advantage of and I was always on the defensive. He didn't toy with me either, like I did with my first opponent. He didn't bother with fancy moves or weapons really. I mean, he did throw knives at me, but I feel that was just to get me moving and to ensure that my balance was a little off when I landed. He was all brute force and deadly accuracy. But he didn't use enough force to actually harm me. It's no secret that most Asgardians could probably just kick me and I would have broken bones and internal bleeding. Loki and the other men only used enough force to cause mild bruising.

Oh my god. Were they going easy on me?

I slam the book closed and glare out over the scenery. I don't want them to go easy on me just because I'm a mortal. I can take a lot of damage—hell, I have taken a lot of damage. I know how to avoid and deflect hits that are going to cause massive harm. I think I know what I am doing by this point.

Then again, if they were being gentler with me than they normally would have, those fights would have taken a lot longer than they did. And I wouldn't have been able to knock out three of them. I don't really know what to believe right now.

I keep thinking about Loki and the way he fought. There was really no reason why the fight lasted as long as it did. He had to have seen the other fights I had with the other men. He would have known my strengths and weaknesses and should have ended the fight almost immediately. He strikes me as the type that would rather finish it quickly rather than letting it draw out. So, does that mean he didn't see me fight? If that's the case, then he was gauging what kind of fighter I was. Or at least my skill. I know I am nowhere near his level—the guy has been fighting for centuries after all—but he still praised me after the fight. That means something, right? Unless it was veiled sarcasm. And he didn't use magic to beat me either and I know that's a staple of his typical technique. So that shows he is at least an honorable opponent. I think. After all, it could mean that he didn't think I was worth the effort of him using his magic against me, in which case honor has nothing to do with it.

This guy is so confusing! Comparing the man I have met to the one I have heard stories about is completely boggling my brain. And I've only had to interact with him three times.

And now I have to have a guard. What does that even mean? I should have asked Aunt Jane more questions about this. Does a personal guard go with you everywhere? Or are they just a silent shadow? What if I just wanted to study quietly in the library or go to the ladies room or something? Would they follow me there too? They aren't similar to servants, are they? Am I allowed to talk to them? What if I'm taking them away from families or other responsibilities so they can guard me?

I start lightly banging my head against the back of the chair. I can't take it. I have too many questions I need to get answered. I toss the unfinished—well, unstarted, too—book onto the little table beside my chair and rush inside and out of my room to Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane's room. I knock and pray that Aunt Jane is there. I can't stand not having these questions answered before I get assigned one.

A minute passes and I just about give up before the door swings open. There Aunt Jane stands, covered in a substance I have never seen before. It looks sticky though. And orange. And it is covering her from head to toe, the majority of it on her upper body. I purse my lips together in an effort not to laugh. She glares at me and that's pretty much all it takes. I start laughing.

"Oh, shut up!" she commands, turning on her heel and walking back into the room. I follow, clutching my stomach as the laughter continues to pour out. She just looks so ridiculous!

I collapse into a deep red chair and watch as she disappears into a door. I look around the room while I try to get a handle on my mirth. Their room is set up differently from my own: it's more like a kind of suite or apartment. I'm currently sitting in a type of sitting room that leads out onto a balcony, a fireplace against one wall with the other being full of books. I notice a lot of Earth books on the shelf, all of them scholarly. Two hallways lead off on opposite sides. I assume one at least leads to a master bedroom. No idea where the other one might lead. Aunt Jane walks out of the room carrying a small basin of water with a rag draped over the edge and I realize it was a bathroom. I smirk once I see her again. "What happened?"

"The twins is what happened," she responds, taking a seat on the couch across from me and starting to wipe off the substance from her arms and neck. "Apparently they didn't appreciate not being able to watch you fight today. This is how they took it out on me."

"Ooh, let me guess," I say, bouncing in the seat. "Bucket over the door trick?"

"Yep," she confirms, popping the "p" a little. "Over the bathroom door, to be precise."

I shake my head as I continue to watch her slowly mop up the mess left on her. That is one of the oldest tricks in the book and yet it still manages to catch people constantly. I haven't been the victim of it in a long time. Dad and especially Peter used to do that to me all the time when I was young, so I got into the habit of opening doors and waiting a second before walking through them, especially if they open outwards.

"So," Aunt Jane starts, briefly catching my gaze before going back to cleaning herself up, "to what do I owe the visit?"

Remembering why I came here, I sit up a little straighter in my chair. "Can you explain to me what it means to have a personal guard? I would prefer to know all that it involves before getting one forced on me and I end up doing something stupid. Like accidentally ordering him or her to go away from a place they have to be, or something."

She laughs quietly to herself. "Seems kind of daunting, doesn't it?" she asks. I nod in response. I really don't like this. "Getting a personal guard is nothing more than having an extra shadow," she continues. She finishes mopping up the substance from her body and puts the washcloth back into the now orange water. She still has quite a bit of it in her hair, but only a bath will solve that problem. "There are places where they won't be trailing after you, like your room or whenever you are with Thor and Frigga. However, anytime you are about the palace without one of them, they will be there to follow and keep you safe."

"So, I don't have to worry about them coming to the bathroom with me?"

"No, of course not," she laughs. "They will go to places with you, but if you want them to, they can stay outside a room so you can feel some semblance of privacy. As long as they are shouting distance away, it really doesn't matter."

"Are you allowed to talk to them?"

"Of course. Frigga and her guard are very close friends. He has been guarding her since she became Odin's fiancé."

I raise my eyebrows at that. "Wait, why does Frigga need a guard? She can protect herself, right?"

She nods. "Odin was very paranoid about her safety when she first moved into the palace. Frigga resented her guard for a very long time until she finally accepted his presence. Now they are like best friends. He has been through everything she has gone through and has been a steady presence in her life. And he hardly ever guards her anymore. His main job is on the council. He is a major head and is one of Odin's most trusted advisors."

I nod in understanding. While I feel a little bit better about this, I still have my reservations. I quite like my privacy and now that I won't be getting much of that, I can't help but not like this idea. "Charlie," Aunt Jane says, taking both of my hands in hers. "There is nothing to worry about with this. Take this as a chance to get to know someone that isn't a part of the royal family. Trust me when I say it won't disrupt your everyday life. Okay?"

"Okay, Aunt Jane." I squeeze her hands and let go. I snicker again at the ridiculous color of her hair. "I'll go so you can wash that out before your hair permanently becomes orange."

She grins crookedly, standing up and shooing me to the door. "If you happen to see my sons, please give them a noogie from me," she requests before shutting the door behind me. I laugh again. I will admit, setting it up over the bathroom door is pretty smart. No one would really suspect that their own room is booby-trapped until it's too late.

"Hey, Charlie!" The shouts ring out through the hallway and I turn and watch the two pint-sized knuckleheads as they run towards me.

"Hey, boys! How were your lessons?" I ask as they slide to a halt beside me, panting to catch their breaths again.

"Not nearly as fun as it would have been watching you fight," Magni says.

"Yeah. We heard you got to fight Uncle Loki!"

"And that you beat five of the royal army."

"With no weapon!"

"And no magic!"

I laugh and hold up my hands in surrender. "Alright alright, I'll tell you guys all about it!"

Two shouts of triumph are let out and they both grab an arm, dragging me into their room. "When you're done, can you finish that tale you were telling us of Achilles?" Modi asks as he sets his books down on an end table. "It was so good! And I was so upset when you had to leave and didn't finish it!"

"Really? Because I remember two knuckleheads falling asleep on me before I could finish the story," I say, slipping onto the couch. I'm surprised they even remember it. I started telling them that story the last time they visited Earth about a year-and-a-half ago. It was really just to get them to calm down and go to bed. It worked at the expense of them not knowing the end. I had to leave for Norway early the next day to start a new dig.

"Never mind the details!" Magni says, shoving his brother down into a chair before taking a seat in the one next to it. "Tell us about your battles!"

I laugh. I spend the rest of the afternoon telling them about my fights and of the Battle of Troy.

OoO

"So you mean to tell me that the great Achilles was felled by an arrow to the ankle?" Magni asks, tightening his arms around my neck slightly. I'm carrying him piggyback as we walk down the hallway towards the dining hall. Modi is running along next to us, hitting random pillars with his small sword he pulled out and yelling about Trojans and Greeks. Telling them the whole story of Troy took a little longer than I thought it would. The twins are the perfect audience: they oohed and ahhed at all the right places and are never short on questions. Which isn't surprising given I was telling them a story that they have no background understanding in. I only reached when Achilles was killed when we were summoned for dinner. Magni immediately jumped on my back, causing me to wince slightly because of my bruise, and here we are.

"Well, it was the only place on his body the River Styx didn't touch," I explain, looking over my shoulder at his incredulous face. "Remember, that's where his mother held onto him so he wouldn't get swept off into the river's current."

"Still," he grumbles, settling his chin on my shoulder. "Doesn't seem like a great way to die."

"Are you kidding?" I exclaim, following Modi through the open door. "He died avenging the death of his lover." I crouch down, allowing him to clamber off my back and then turn to meet his eyes. "There is no greater honor than dying for the ones you love. Even if that means you are dying to avenge them rather than protect them."

Magni nods before chasing after his brother. Huh, I wonder if he gets it. They are both still pretty young. I slowly stand back up. Seems my back is stiffer than I thought. I roll my shoulders trying to get the skin to loosen up while I glance around the room. Frigga, Uncle Thor, and Aunt Jane appear to be locked in an important conversation. Odin is missing. Loki is watching me as I stretch. His gaze unnerves me a little. Hell, almost everything about him unnerves me. I crack my neck and make my way over to the seat beside him. Modi is sitting on his other side with Magni across from him.

"Do you honestly believe that?" Loki asks me quietly as I settle into my seat.

"Believe what?"

"Dying for the ones you love is an honorable death."

I meet his strong gaze unblinkingly. "Yes, I do."

"Why?"

"Why?" I repeat, slightly incredulous. "I've seen some amazing things happen because of love. I've seen grandmothers lift cars off of their grandchildren when they were trapped. I've seen an unemotional, unattached woman become the fiercest lover and protector. I have seen a monster be tamed at the thought of hurting the ones he cares about. I've seen the most damaged man stand in between a bullet and his children. Why wouldn't dying for love be honorable?" I search his eyes while I speak, looking for one shred of an emotional response. Anything that would indicate that he understands what I am saying. Unfortunately, he has a better poker face than I do. "In my eyes, dying for love is more honorable than dying because it was your duty."

He breaks eye contact and stares at his plate. I turn away and see that Frigga and Uncle Thor are watching me. I didn't realize we had a small audience to our soft conversation. After a small silence that is broken only by the twins squabbling, he responds. "Love is sentiment. Sentiment is weakness."

I snort. "Or it could be strength." I glance back at his profile. "Besides, you don't really believe that." I don't ask it, I say it. I know that he is lying like I know I need air to breathe. He didn't look me in the eyes when he said that. Rule number one when telling lies: maintain eye contact and don't flinch.

He meets my eyes again and I can't quite read the emotions in his gaze. Before he can respond, though, Odin enters the room and takes a seat. Whatever he was planning to say never leaves his mouth. We all fill our plates with various foods and dig in. I speak with Frigga about my training with Lady Sif. She has requested to spar with me in the mornings, starting a couple days from now. It works for me. It's not like I have any responsibilities or plans anyway. Frigga agrees to relay the message to her. Odin asks me various questions about my family. I give a brief explanation about how I was adopted and basically raised by everyone in the Avengers. He seemed to be interested about how I was raised. Well, that's nothing new. Most people are fascinated about that. You can definitely say that my childhood was not a conventional one.

Overall it was a pleasant dinner. I feel like this is one of the few times the whole family is able to be together in a somewhat normal setting. They are all allowed to drop the royal pretense and relax around each other. I'm just glad I am able to witness it.

Leaning away from the table, I place a hand on my somewhat swollen stomach, indicating without words that I can't possibly eat another bite. Uncle Thor and Magni are working on their third massive sandwich. Frigga and Odin are done with their food and are discussing something about the palace. Loki and Modi are both finished and appear to be sitting quietly. However, Modi is smiling slightly and I know something else is going on. Aunt Jane is also watching them suspiciously. Considering she has the most experience dealing with these two, I decide to keep an eye on them. Not even two seconds later, a half-eaten chicken that was in front of Uncle Thor springs to life. Everyone's attention is captured by the moving poultry, conversations coming to a halt. Uncle Thor and Magni both stop mid-bite and stare at it as it walks off the table and out the door, acting for all the world like a live chicken. Just, you know, without it's head. Or skin. Or feathers. We can all hear surprised shouts from the guards standing outside the room. Everyone looks over to Loki and Modi. Loki looks like an innocent puppy that I am immediately suspicious of. Modi can barely contain his laughter.

"Who is responsible for that little spectacle?" Frigga asks, her eyes dancing with mirth. You can tell it is taking all of her ability not to smile.

Loki and Modi glance at each other before shrugging. "It was me, Grandmother," Modi confesses. I glance at him with wide-eyes. I knew the twins were learning magic, but I didn't know they were that good with it already.

Frigga raises her eyebrows at him. "Well done. But try not to cause the guards to have a heart attack, dear. They got plenty of surprises from these two as it was," she finishes, pointing at Uncle Thor and Loki in turn. Oh, I can only imagine what those two were like when they were children.

Modi nods in understanding. Loki glances down at him in pride. The expression is subtle, but it's there.

"Okay, boys," Aunt Jane starts, standing up. "Let's go get washed up and you can finish terrorizing the palace, okay?"

Magni and Modi run out of the room with Aunt Jane trailing behind them after saying some farewells. Terrorize the palace indeed.

Before I can decide to follow after them, Odin clears his throat and sits a little straighter in his chair. All of our attention is immediately brought back to him. He turns his head so he can meet my gaze. "Charlie, Frigga and I have decided who it is that shall become your personal guard."

I glance quickly over to Frigga, who looks fairly serene, until you look in her eyes. There is a mischievous little glint there. I can't help but feel like I'm not going to like this. I nod, asking him to continue. "This person is to be your protection against those who would harm you, should you need it. They will guard you when you move about the palace, anywhere you may go. You may discuss boundaries, but realize that if there is a chance these boundaries will impede their ability to protect you, they may be ignored. The only place where their services are not needed is the personal wing of the palace and whenever you are with someone in this room." He pauses for a moment, making sure to give me a very serious look. "I trust you understand all that I am telling you. I understand this may seem unnecessary, but in these dangerous times, it is very necessary."

I swallow and glance around at the other faces in the room. Frigga is now very serious, as is Uncle Thor. Loki looks vaguely confused, which sums up how I am feeling. Is something going on that I don't know about? I shake away the thought though and nod again at Odin, letting him know that I understand and accept everything he has told me, even if most of me doesn't necessarily like it. 

He sighs quietly. "Your guard is already in the room with us." I furrow my eyebrows in confusion, glancing around the room again. There is no one here except for the royal family. Is the guy invisible? Loki and Uncle Thor look vaguely confused as well. Before Odin speaks again, understanding hits me like a shot of lightning. Oh my god. Please say it isn't who I think it is. Please please please let me be wrong.

"Your guard, from now until your stay with us ends, shall be Loki."

It's him.

Chapter Text

Stunned silence wraps around the room after his declaration. I'm too stunned to really even think about moving besides blinking at the king in complete bafflement. I don't know what everyone else's excuse was. All I can think is how I'm stuck with… oh my god, I am stuck with—

My own thoughts can't even finish that sentence.

The silence lasts for all of a few moments. Then, an explosion:

"Father, I must insist you rethink this."

"You can't possibly think this is a good idea!"

"I cannot be saddled with her!"

My head snaps to Loki. "'Saddled with'" I quote back at him. "Well excuse me if I am just a waste of time to you."

Our green eyes clash. I'm pretty sure a spark could be lit in the space between our bodies from the pure intensity of our gazes. "If you are asking me to retract my words, you are going to be disappointed," he retorts, his glare intensifying. "I do not intend to waste my time babysitting a mortal girl who could die from a simple infection. Let you be someone else's responsibility."

"Loki!" Frigga reprimands. I'm assuming she looks either appalled or stern based off the tone of her voice, but I'm too busy glaring at the man sitting next to me to even spare her a glance. I can see Uncle Thor has stood from his seat out of the corner of my eye. He is watching us carefully, probably ready to intervene in case this turns to blows. I'm not entirely sure that it won't.

"Well I am terribly sorry if I am no more worthy than the dirt beneath your boots," I sneer at him.

"You are not."

"Oh, do explain why that is."

"You are mortal. You are fleeting. I am a god."

"Oh, please!" I exclaim, rolling my eyes to the ceiling. "Just because you happen to live for thousands of years does not mean you are a god! Come talk to me after you live for eternity and possess the ability to create life and worlds and universes and possess the ability to destroy it all. And just because I live for a fraction of what you will does not mean that I am unimportant." I'm keeping a strong hold on the arms of my chair, strong enough that my knuckles are turning white. I feel like I could break them off. I need something to hold onto so I don't actually punch him in his arrogant face. My body temperature is rising to match my anger. Not a good sign.

"Of course you are unimportant. What could you possibly accomplish in so little a time?" He looks behind me to the king, basically dismissing me with only a glance. "Give her to a new guard so I do not have to waste my research time."

"I am not something to be shoved off from person to person as a responsibility!" I shout, recapturing his attention.

"Well obviously you are, seeing as your parents shoved you off on my brother without so much as a warning."

"Loki," Uncle Thor mutters, almost in warning. But, the damage is already done. Silence rings almost painfully loud in the dining hall after his statement. I, unfortunately, have nothing to say to that. In fact, it rings a little too close to the truth for me. I immediately shut down, my neutral mask slamming over my face like one of my father's Iron Man face plates. I lean back into my chair and let go of the arms to place them in my lap, folded tightly. My blood pressure and temperature returns to a somewhat normal level. I just stare at Loki with very cool eyes. I can't let him know that what he said actually hurt me.

Granted, it shouldn't have. It's not like I haven't thought that a hundred times since my parents made the decision to send me to Asgard. Hell, even when I was a teenager I thought I was no more than a burden to my family. Someone that they had to keep an eye on and protect from everything.

I really hate feeling that way.

I finally break the eye contact we had been sharing to stare at my lap. A couple of seconds tick by before I slowly stand up, bracing my arms on the table. I turn to look at Odin as soon as I am completely straight. "Thank you for allowing me at your dinner table, sir, and for your offer of protection while I am in your home." I turn to Frigga and Uncle Thor next. Frigga is staring very pointedly at Loki while Uncle Thor keeps his eyes on me. "I am going to retire to my room for the night. If you need me for anything, you can find me there." Frigga finally looks up at me with soft eyes. I bow my head to them all before slowly walking out of the hall. As I leave the doors behind me, I can hear Frigga's soft voice. I don't know what she is saying or to whom. Not that I care right now. I'm too angry to really try and listen in.

I make the short trip back to my room in silence. I close the doors behind me and crawl into my bed. I'm proud to say I made it all the way here before I allow the tears to fall. I clutch a pillow tightly to my chest and allow myself to cry relatively silently in the dimly lit room. The sun is already setting beneath the horizon. I watch the flicker of the firelight dance around the walls of my room, trying desperately to get the tears to stop falling. But once they start, it's very hard to get them to stop.

I don't know why I'm allowing what he said to get to me. But, like I said, he confirmed the thoughts I have had since this whole fiasco started. We received the letter from Adam, my ex, about a week ago. The next day, my parents came into my room with the news that I was going to Asgard. There was no discussion about it, no options—I was just going. I've never had too many options when it came to that sort of thing growing up. Unlike other kids, I was never allowed to make plans with friends or go out anywhere spontaneously. And if it was a planned event, it had to at least be a month in advance with some sort of parental figure there. And I'm still pretty sure that there was actual S.H.I.E.L.D. surveillance during some of them. I didn't start resenting my parents for it until I was fourteen.

Yes, I can protect myself. Yes, I can take down grown men twice my size. And yes, I can apparently hold my own against some Asgardian warriors. But you would never know it with how my family treats me. I am something to be guarded and protected.

I hate it.

Before I can wallow too deeply into self-pity, there is a soft knock at the door. I sit up and try to hide the evidence of my tears. "Who is it?" I call out. My voice is shaking a little bit. Damnit.

Instead of a response, my uncle's head pops around the edge of the door. He gives me a half-smile. "May I come in?"

I nod and he enters the room, shutting the door behind him. He climbs into the bed beside me and I cuddle into his side. I rest my head on his chest and listen to his heart beat for a few minutes. This is one of the things from my childhood that I miss: cuddling.

We sit in companionable silence until he finally breaks it. "I am sorry for the words my brother spoke to you. They were callous and out of line."

I shake my head slightly. "You don't need to apologize, Uncle Thor. You didn't say it. And besides, it's not like he didn't say anything I haven't thought myself."

His hand grips my shoulder a little tighter. "You know that he is wrong, right?" he asks. "You are not some burden to be passed around. We all love you very much."

I sigh and sit up so I can look at my uncle a little bit more closely. "I know that you all love me, Uncle—I've never questioned that. It's just…" I trail off, not quite sure how to put this. "Ever since I was little I've always been protected by someone. Even when I got older and learned how to better protect myself, I was always with someone who could do the job. Or I had a schedule I had to follow so everyone knew exactly where I was at any given time. Can you blame me for feeling like I'm a burden to everyone?"

"You know why we were all so careful about your safety when you were younger," he says, his eyebrows furrowing.

I sigh and nod. "Yeah, I know. My first kidnapping made everyone extra paranoid and my second one made everyone downright scared. I do get it." I look down at my lap and finally shake my head. "But I was six and fourteen. It's a little different when you're twenty-four and you still can't make decisions without your parents' go-ahead." I look back up at him to meet his serious blue eyes. "That's like Lady Frigga and King Odin telling you that you can no longer help to protect the nine realms or can no longer visit Earth."

He chuckles quietly. "Yes, that does seem a little bit silly." He reaches over and pulls me back down so he can ruffle my head a little bit easier. "But you were our first daughter. We have only ever cared about your safety, little one. You are not a burden, and nor shall you be."

"Even with this stupid guard thing?" I ask, looking up at his face. "Because I still feel like I'm being a burden, even if it is Odin's burden now."

"Especially with this 'stupid guard thing,' as you so eloquently put it," he responds, smiling slightly. His face sobers after a second though. "I probably should not inform you of this, as I have not even told Jane yet. But, the reason why my father feels it is important to give you protection is because Asgard has received a threat."

"A threat?" I question. "From who?"

"From another king of the satellite realm to one of the other realms. Father does not believe it to be a serious threat, but we must take all eventualities into consideration." He looks down at me. "I agree with him on this account. It may end up becoming an empty threat, like most have in the past. But, I would feel much better knowing that someone is there helping you in case I am unable to."

I narrow my eyes at him. "You said helping me, not protecting me."

He smiles. "If a fight were to break out, I doubt you would go to a safe place. You would be right there in the middle of it all, causing chaos in your wake."

I laugh. He's right. There is no way I would just leave a fight if I could help in some way.

"As it stands," he continues once I stop laughing, "Loki is still assigned as your personal guard—"

"Are you kidding me?" I exclaim, sitting up again. "Was that outburst in there not proof enough? We are not going to be able to get along! We're probably going to end up killing each other!"

He puts his hands up in front of his chest. "It is out of my hands, little one. My father believes it will be good for him to be truly exposed to mortality."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"While my brother has gotten close to Jane in the past few years and has come a long way since when we fought on Midgard, he still looks down on Midgardians and others within the nine realms as below him. He is still delusional about humanity. My father believes spending time with you on a day-to-day basis will help him realize the folly of those beliefs." He shrugs at me.

I sigh and glance around the room. The sun is officially gone and the stars are shining brightly now. "What do you think about that, Uncle Thor? Honestly."

"Truly?" He looks out the window with me, giving it some serious thought. "I once thought the same that my brother does now: that Asgardians were above the other races of the nine realms. It is a very righteous and naïve view of the universe. It was not until I spent time with Jane and my comrades from Earth that I truly realized just how wrong I was." He stops from his self-reflection and meets my gaze again. "It took me being banished and stripped of my heritage to truly understand compassion. I do not feel the same method would work for my brother."

"Why not?"

"Well, he would simply resent the actions placed on him by Father, creating a bigger rift between the two. Also, the people of your world would be able to recognize him and would probably hunt him down, if the wishes of Clint are any indication."

I giggle in response. Oh, I can think of a few people that would hunt him down back home. Uncle Clint would be the ring leader in that chase.

"I feel if he was sent to Earth, he would use someone as leverage to either get his abilities back or he would continue to covet ruling over Earth. The trick is teaching him that humanity is something more special than just a place to rule. That mortals, while weaker than us, are still just as important in the turn of the universe as Asgardians." He pauses, glancing out the window again. "That is not an easy lesson to learn. It has been almost twenty Earth years since he last visited Earth but he is still greatly deluded."

"And your father thinks I can help change that?" I question. That seems like a very tall order to me.

Uncle Thor chuckles again. "Maybe not completely change his opinion, but nudge him in the right direction."

I give him a dubious look to which he simply grins. I shake my head before resting back on his chest, both of us falling into a comfortable silence. A few minutes pass before the door creaks open again. Lady Frigga comes in and smiles down at us on the bed. "I just came to tell you that Loki will be starting his post as your guard starting in the morning, dear."

I raise my eyebrows at her. So he agreed to do it? Great. I'll make sure to make his life a living hell. "How long did it take you to convince him to do it?" I ask. I genuinely want to know.

She smiles. "Oh, not too long. A mother has her ways of getting her children to do what she wants them to." With that, she wishes us both a good night and leaves. I sigh again. Now I really want my stay to be short. Odin may think I can help Loki's self-righteous mind-set, but I certainly don't think so. I'm a hot-headed archaeologist who is better at fighting than I am at beating someone with logic. How the hell am I supposed to show him that mortals are no different than Asgardians?

I'm starting to think Odin may be out of his mind.

"Hey, Uncle Thor? Can you tell me of the Battle of New York again? I love the way you tell the story and I really need to think about something other than this for a while."

I glance up to see that he's smiling at me. He gives my head another hair ruffle before settling into the tale, his deep rumble filling the space around us. For the next hour, he recounts the story I've heard probably a million times since I started living in the Tower. I drift off somewhere around when the Hulk and Uncle Thor were fighting side-by-side on the giant Chitauri space whale. Too bad. I really like that part.

OoO

I jerk myself awake some hours later. I was falling into one of my nightmares. I'm not usually able to pull myself out of one of my them, but I will take what I can get. The stars are still shining outside my window. It's only the middle of the night, but I can't think about going back to sleep now. I pull myself out of bed and wander towards the door, slipping on the flats I had tossed off earlier. I might as well wander a bit and try to get my thoughts in order.

When I leave my room, I stare at the door on the other side of the hallway. Well, I suppose one convenient thing about having Loki as my bodyguard is that he sleeps across the hall from me. And I know I'm not taking him away from any family. I don't feel guilty about that at least.

I turn away and head off deeper into the palace. I wish I could get these thoughts out of my head just as easily as turning away from Loki's door is. Let's face it, we are not going to get along. I could be like my Pops and just hope for the best with this horrible situation. He would tell me to take it one day at a time and to try and put myself in Loki's shoes, or something philosophical like that. I'm just more like Dad though. I wasn't always so pessimistic about people and situations. Neither was he, at one point. But, I guess, we have both been through bad things that make us see the world for what it is: a pretty dark place.

Not that Pops doesn't see the world that way. He's just been able to retain that optimism I wish I still had.

I turn a random corner and trace my hand along the gilded wall. Our world calls Loki the god of mischief and lies. I've always considered mischief to be a two-sided coin: one side is the playful prankster that is out to get a laugh, much like the twins with their silly attempts at outsmarting the adults around them. The other side of that coin is complete chaos. It is what is left over after the prank is done and you have to deal with the consequences of your actions, especially if the trick did not pan out the way it was planned. The twins are still young enough that their tricks get laughter and maybe a small punishment. But there will come a time when a prank completely backfires and they're left scrambling to fix the problem they themselves created. I would know, I've been there. If Loki is the one who stands for all of this on my world, then how can I trust him to guard me here? Obviously I don't believe all of the old Norse myths about the man, but I do know the stories of what he had done here and on Earth. Can I trust the person that used anyone and anything to get himself further in life to protect me if I need it?

God, I really hope I don't need him to protect me. My thoughts jump to what my uncle mentioned earlier. A threat, huh? Who would have the ability or the audacity to threaten Asgard? I have a general understanding of the other realms based on what my uncle has told me. I don't know their histories or anything like that, but I know the races that rest on each realm and how evolved they are. While very few worlds are on the same level as Asgard, most if not all of them are more advanced than Earth. We seem to be the new kids on the block. But that takes me back to the original question: who would be able to threaten Asgard and actually be able to back up the threat?

Nobody comes to mind. If anything it reminds me of the tales Lady Frigga told me when I first came here of the Dark Elves and the war that was waged to stop them. But they were wiped out, so they can't be the threat. It can't be Jotunheim—they have no way to transport here without the casket. Then again, how could any realm attack Asgard? I was under the belief that only Asgard had a bridge like the Bifrost. So even if this threat could back it up, how are they going to get here?

Now I understand why Odin and Uncle Thor don't believe this threat is really serious.

I feel a breeze rip through my thin shirt and I pull myself out of my thoughts to look around. I appear to be in some outdoor courtyard. Well, more like a walled-in field. I can vaguely see targets on the far end of the field. The white of the targets shine under the two moons that are above me. Stone walls that come up to my waist separate length ways across the stone floor until it reaches the grass of the field. I look around and see bows and arrows lining one of the walls. I appear to have found a practice range. Shrugging my shoulders, I decide to start practicing a little. I did promise Uncle Clint I would.

And besides, if I get really good at archery, I can actually shoot Loki with an arrow for my uncle. But only if he's being particularly annoying.

Smirking to myself, I walk over to the wall and pick up a long bow and shrug a quiver of arrows on over my shoulder. I walk over to the very middle of the sea of dividers and nock an arrow. I take aim at the closest target. I think it's only fifteen yards away, but I am a terrible shot. I let the arrow fly after a second and watch as it hits the outer edge of the target. Man, I really do suck.

I let my body get used to the rhythm of practice: nock the arrow, take aim, fire. I miss the target every single time. I don't even hit the outer ring. After five more tries, I walk over to the target and collect the arrows from the edges of the target and the ones that riddle the ground. Walking back, I decide that maybe I should just picture Loki's face as the target. I'm still pissed that he made me cry. Narrowing my eyes, I take aim. I picture the arrow piercing through that stupid forehead and let the arrow fly. Instead of it going where it was supposed to, it flies far over it and lands in the grass somewhere behind the target. So much for that idea.

"You really are a terrible shot."

I jump at the sudden voice and spin to face the intruder. I forgot my knife in my room. Stupid and careless of me. I hold up the bow in a two-handed defensive grip and look at the man sitting casually against the stone partition next to me, his arms crossed across his black clad chest. I immediately recognize him and relax. Slightly.

"Jotun man," I say as a form of greeting after breathing out a sigh. "We seriously need to stop meeting like this."

"Like what?" There is a smirk on his face and I know he knows what I am talking about.

"Like you are trying to scare the life out of me." I turn back towards the target and nock another arrow. "No longer feel like staring at your history?" I ask.

I hear him stand up fully by the rustle of his clothes. "Felt like wandering around myself," he responds. I let the arrow fly and watch it land in the dirt right beside the target. I scowl at it. Just once I would like to hit the actual target. "You're too tense," he says suddenly.

I look over my shoulder at him. "What?"

"You're too tense," he repeats, walking a little closer to me. He still keeps some distance from me though. "You hold the bow too tight and your shoulders are tensed as if you are expecting a blow. Relax both and the arrow will fly true."

I raise an eyebrow at him. He just nods his head at the target. Sighing, I nock another arrow and get into position. He walks around me, obviously getting a close look at my stance. "Relax your shoulders. Lower your arm so it is parallel to the ground. And lessen your grip on the bow." He doesn't touch me, just quietly commands my body into the right position. "Now keep both eyes open and look along the shaft of the arrow. Breathe in." I do. "Hold." A second goes by and I stand there, waiting. "Release."

I let go and the arrow flies, sinking straight into the second circle. I cry out in triumph. It may not have hit the center target, but that's the closest I have ever gotten. There is a quiet chuckle from behind me. I turn and smile at him. "Thank you! That's the closest I have ever gotten to hitting a target!"

He bows his head. Deciding to leave it for the night and not push my luck, I go and collect the arrows and put them all back where I found them. Walking back over to him, I jump up and sit on the same partition that he was lounging against when he first found me. He walks over and sits beside me, still far enough that there is no way we could accidentally bump into each other. I think I freaked him out a little bit the other night.

"Why exactly are you practicing archery this late at night?" he asks, looking over to me.

I meet his red gaze. "Couldn't sleep." I shrug. I don't feel like explaining my nightmares to a complete stranger. "I'm a little restless and a lot has happened today. I just needed to think."

He nods. "I was informed of your battles earlier today."

I raise my eyebrow again after he stops talking. "What about my battles?"

He smiles. "You left quite the impression upon those you fought."

"Is that so?" I question. "I hope it was a good impression, at least."

"The men you fought said you are a formidable opponent, even without a weapon." He looks over the archery field. "However, I heard you were unable to defeat the prince."

I sigh and look away, trying not to roll my eyes. "I'm starting to think I wasn't meant to beat him," I respond. I notice his eyes are watching me again out of the corner of mine and look back at him. "How could I possibly defeat someone who has been fighting for centuries and has been trained by the best in this realm? And the fact that he didn't use his magic also raises a red flag." He gives me a confused look at the saying. I shake my head. "A warning sign. He didn't use magic which I know is central to his fighting style. I know I wasn't meant to beat him. We fought only for Odin to assess my skills as a warrior." I sigh again. "And now I am stuck with him."

"Yes, I did hear that the prince was now to be your guard." He smirks slightly.

I glare in response. "Yeah, and we are going to end up killing each other."

He chuckles. "Why do you think that?"

I give him a deadpan look. "You weren't there when Odin broke the news. He dismissed me like I was nothing and then blatantly told me I was no more than a burden to those who loved me." I break eye contact and look down at the ground "I don't want to be a burden to those around me. And if that's all I am to him, how do I know he will actually protect me if the time comes that I need it?"

It's quiet for a minute. "He hurt you," he mumbles finally, almost as if he was coming to a realization. I glance up at him, wide-eyed. His head is cocked to the side slightly. I didn't realize I had let my hurt feelings show so easily.

I laugh and shrug, trying to play it off. "He didn't hurt me. It's not like he didn't say anything I wasn't already thinking."

He grins. It's not a happy grin. It's more like the kind you give when you are only humoring someone. "You're lying."

I glare and turn away. I am not about to talk about my feelings with a complete stranger. I have a hard enough time doing that with my family, let alone people I've just met. "Yeah, well, that's neither here nor there. The point is that we're stuck with each other until I can go home and it is going to be a living hell."

He grunts but let's the topic die. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye. "You know," I start, "I never did get a name from you."

I receive a genuine smile this time. He stands up and starts to walk away. Before he can disappear around the corner, he turns and looks back at me. "Have a good night, Charlie. And good luck." With that, he walks away, leaving me in the courtyard. I still can't quite figure him out. I wonder if I will ever get his name.

But at the very least, it appears I've made a new friend in this strange world. And I met him all on my own. That's pretty amazing.

Chapter Text

If I don't end up killing him before the day is through, it will be a freaking miracle.

Today has been the worst day yet. And I can blame it all one particular Asgardian who has been a major thorn in my side since the day began. After last night's mini adventure, I ended up back in my room. I spent the rest of the night laying on the railing of my balcony, staring up at the night sky. It's easy to forget about your problems when you are watching a sky that is different from the one you are used to. I was able to forget about all of my worries and stresses for just a little while, drawing pictures in the stars. And I got to watch the sunrise. The only difference between Earth and Asgardian sunrises is the fact that the stars never actually fade from the sky here—not completely, at least. It's still just as beautiful: the sky turning deep pinks and blues as the sun slowly crests over the distant horizon, highlighting the gold of the city and palace. After that, I went back into my room, grabbed a book and read for a few hours.

That's when everything went straight to hell.

I was quietly sitting in front of my fireplace, curled into the couch, reading and listening to my music on a fairly low volume, minding my own business when in walks the prince in all of his green and black glory. I heard my door open but I didn't turn and look. I could tell who it was through the reflection of the glass windows on my left. I didn't turn to acknowledge him or anything. Frankly, there was no reason for him to even be in my room in the first place. So I just sat there, eyeing his reflection out of the corner of my eye keeping my head bent as if I was still reading and my Starkpod still playing My Chemical Romance.

After quickly scanning my room, he marched straight towards me. Before he could reach the couch though, I spoke up. "Can I help you with something?"

He stopped directly in front of me and looked down at me. I plopped one of my earbuds out of my ear and just looked up at him, eyebrow raised in question. We had a mild staring match before he finally decided to answer my question. "We're going to the library. Hurry up and get changed so we can depart."

I shut my book closed but otherwise don't move, continuing to stare up at him. "Actually, we are doing no such thing," I responded, giving him cool eyes. "I really don't want to go to the library. In fact, I was planning on staying here all day." That wasn't a lie, either. I really was planning on staying in my room. I was still very sore from the previous days' beating and I really just wanted to stretch and relax before I train with Sif tomorrow morning. I really need my back to be flexible which requires a lot of yoga. However, Loki did not seem to believe me.

"As your new guard," he started, grimacing slightly at the word "guard." I could just see him replace the word with babysitter in his own head. "I am obligated to follow you if you leave this wing of the palace. As it stands, if I simply leave you behind and do whatever I wished with my time, I would be failing in my new unwanted duty." I narrowed my eyes at him slightly. I don't want you to have this job either, buddy. "So, you are going to join me at the library."

I gave him a pretty sarcastic grin that would have made my Dad proud. If he honestly thinks I am just going to roll over and submit to his will, he has another thing coming. "Really?" I questioned, making sure to coat as much sarcasm into my tone as possible. "Because it was my understanding that I give the orders in this new-found relationship we've got here." I stood up to give myself a little bit more of an intimidation factor. I still only come up to his shoulder, but I felt better glaring at him now that I was a little closer to his eyes. "If you want to go to the library, by all means, be my guest. But I am not going with you."

With that, I turned away from him and stalked my way into my closet, promptly dismissing him. I still needed to change from yesterday's clothes. Now that I think about it, I kind of wish my closet had a door. It definitely would have been more dramatic if I could have slammed a door in his face. Oh well. As I perused the collection, I bent backwards trying to stretch out the skin of my back. It had tightened up a bit from sitting in one position for hours on end. I finally decided to wear my black skinny jeans with a long-sleeved, deep blue shirt. I strapped a pair of knee high boots on and a pair of knives onto my forearms. I braided my hair down my back so it would stay out of my way. I made sure that the sun necklace was attached to my neck before walking back out into my room.

It appeared as if he had finally left. Sighing in relief, I headed back towards the couch to try and finish my book. However, before I could reach it, an arm grabbed me around my waist and hoisted me up onto a strong shoulder. "Hey!" I shouted in surprise and indignation. I twisted around to see the back of Loki's black, wavy hair and immediately started flailing. "Put me down!" I could have easily gotten out of his hold, but I really didn't want to start a physical fight. Or snap his neck. But I wasn't going to make that transport any easier for him.

Yelling at him certainly wasn't working. As he carried me past hall after hall, I got the joy of seeing the confused and shocked faces of the people we passed. Some faces were highly amused. I wanted to punch them all for finding amusement in this. I did not think it was funny. He ignored my punches and shouts like they weren't even happening and he was using his arms to keep my legs pinned and still.

A few more minutes of me shouting obscenities to the back of his head and we entered the library. All of my fighting came to an immediate halt as I took in the magnificence of that room. To say this place was big would be the understatement of the century. The library is bigger than anything I have ever seen. It completely dwarfs the New York City Public Library and could give the Natural History Museum a run for its money. Loki just kept walking, completely ignoring my apparent surprise. Before I could process what was going on, he dumped me into a chair unceremoniously and started to walk away.

"Ow," I growled. "And where do you think you're going?"

He turned around and gave me a fairly creepy grin. "Shhh. It's a library," he whispered before stalking off.

It was at this point that I decided I should figure out how I would like to kill him first.

To say it was a tense and uncomfortable morning is like saying the Sun is big. By the time I had finally had enough of the library scene, it was midafternoon and I had decided that strangling him would probably give me the most satisfaction. Loki appeared to be deeply engrossed in a book covered in runes and I was quietly reading a book about Vanaheim. Well, reading implies I was paying attention to what the book was saying. I absorbed maybe 2% of what I had read. The rest of my brain power was spent plotting how to maim and kill Loki mixed with glaring at him over said book.

I finally slammed the book closed. "I'm hungry," I announced, crossing my arms across my chest and staring at him pointedly.

"You should have attended breakfast then," he responded, never taking his eyes off of the book in front of him.

I roll my eyes. "I wasn't hungry then. I am now." I could have just gotten up and left. He would have had to follow me. But I felt like pissing him off first.

"Well that is truly unfortunate."

"You should take me to the kitchens. Find me food."

"Do it yourself."

"It's your job to protect me, Loki. You don't want me to die of starvation, do you?"

"You would hardly die from starvation." At this, he finally looked up from his book and scanned my body. Just the way he did it immediately made my imaginary hackles rise. His eyes were very much implying something you should never imply to a woman. I tried my best to shake it off though. I wasn't going to snap before he did.

"Are you so sure?" I asked. "After all, I'm just a weak mortal woman that could die so easily from something like lack of food."

He rolled his eyes at my tone and drew his gaze back to his book. "Cease your whining. You can wait a little while longer for dinner."

"Whining?" I questioned, my eyebrows raising. "Oh, this is not whining. This is complaining." Then using my most annoying, high-pitched, spoiled little girl voice, I showed him exactly what whining was. "This is whining! I want food! And this place is soooo boring! How can you be so mean to me?"

Loki cringed away from me and I continued to wail along that vein. While the library was by no means full, there were still plenty of people that were glancing over at us. I was being quite loud. That little sadistic part of me was dancing around inside my head doing the victory screech while I watched Loki stare at me in thinly veiled horror. I can be a bitch when I really want to be.

"Fine!" he shouted, interrupting my whiny rant. "I will take you to get food."

"Good!" I exclaim, allowing my voice to return to normal. I popped up from the chair and headed toward the exit. "So where exactly is the kitchen, oh loyal guard?" I asked, laying on the sarcasm extra thick again.

He led me there in silence. That was probably a good thing. I made myself a small sandwich when we got there, the cooks looking over my shoulder the entire time. They weren't hostile or anything. I think they were just trying to keep an eye out so I didn't eat too much with dinner right around the corner. But, now that I knew where the kitchen was, I wasn't exactly planning on showing up to dinner. I really just wanted to get back to my room so I didn't need to be around Loki anymore. I was already exhausted and we didn't even do much besides annoy the crap out of each other. His impatience while I ate rolled off of him in waves. So I, of course, deliberately ate my sandwich as slowly as possible.

The rest of the afternoon went by in relative silence on both of our parts. That is, until now.

We are walking back to the family's wing of the palace so Loki could join his family for dinner. I'm not feeling hungry and I am completely exhausted still. I just plan on going back to my room so I can do my yoga exercises and attempt to relax. I also need to try and sleep tonight so I can be ready for my training in the morning. Maybe a bath will help me relax enough so I can sleep comfortably? At least, I hope it will help loosen my skin a bit. It's starting to become uncomfortable. We walk up to the hall where he is going to turn whereas I keep walking straight. Before I can get far, he stops me.

"Where do you think you're going?"

I stop walking, but don't turn to face him. I am so completely done. "I am going to my room. Enjoy your dinner." Oh, look. I can be civil.

Before I continue to keep walking, he materializes in front of me. I glare at him. "For someone who was complaining about being hungry earlier, I would expect you to be quite famished by now," he states, crossing his arms.

"Yeah, well, I'm not." I cross my arms and pop a hip. I don't care about being formal or proper anymore. He is now standing in between me and my bath. That is not okay. "Now, please move."

"You will join us for dinner."

I am getting really sick of him ordering me around. "No, no I will not," I respond. "And for future reference, if you want to get me to do something, try asking me, not commanding me. I am not someone you can order around." I try walking around him but he steps in my way again. I'm starting to get really frustrated. "I was under the impression I didn't have to have you around when I was in this part of the palace. So feel free to leave at any time."

He glares at me. I don't think he likes it when I order him around either. But, hey, I have that ability now. Even if he hasn't followed a single thing I've asked him to do today, I can still tell him to leave me the hell alone if I want. "Do not make me repeat myself," he finally says, his voice lowering to a menacing note. I will admit, the look that accompanied the threat was frightening. But, I don't let people's glares influence what I do.

"Go find someone else to terrorize," I hiss back. "It won't work on me. And if you're so damn concerned about me eating, just order someone to bring me another sandwich. I don't really care. I'm just trying to get the hell away from you."

"Am I that repulsive to you?"

I roll my eyes in response. "Oh, please. Don't think you're that high up on my opinion scale. You just happened to insult me and piss me off all at once so I really don't want to be around you. And besides, you've made it perfectly clear you don't want to be around me either. Consider this me granting your wish." I mock curtsy and attempt to get around him again.

He grabs my upper arm with enough force to stop me in my tracks. I turn my glare onto his hand. He really needs to let me go before I do something I will regret. "You will do as you are told, mortal," he hisses into my ear.

That's it! I've had enough! I twist my arm out of his grasp and unsheathe one of my knives. I spin to face him head on. However, before I could do anything else, I am thrown back and slammed into the wall behind me. It was such a sudden force, I was unable to brace myself. The force of me hitting the wall makes me drop the knife and knocks the wind right out of me. A force is keeping me held against the wall so I don't collapse into a heap. I glare at Loki who's hand is glowing green just slightly as it is held out towards me. I know immediately he is the one pinning me to the wall. I feel my body temperature flare up with my rising blood pressure. It takes all of my ability to keep myself in line.

I glare at him as he slowly stalks toward me. He matches my glare with equal malice. "Do not begin to think you could ever be on the same level as me," he finally mutters. "I am superior to you in every way. I am a god and you are a mortal who will do as I say when I say it. Do you understand?"

I spit at him. Not very refined, I know, but it gets the message across. I will not submit to him. Not now, not ever.

"Loki! Put her down this instant!" a voice rings out from down the hall. Both of our heads twist to see Lady Frigga marching up towards us. I breathe an internal sigh of relief. I will never give in to his Lord High and Mighty, but it doesn't mean I can compete with him either. He has abilities I will never possess. Frigga does not have those same limitations. And she's his mother.

Before she can get too close, Loki takes a few steps back and lowers his hand. The green light disappears and I slide down the wall onto my feet. I return my glare onto him. I immediately take a few steps forward and punch him in the face. His head reels back from the force of my strike and I smile in satisfaction at the surprise on his face.

"Charlie!" Frigga reprimands me. She comes to a stop right beside us, her gaze jumping to the both of us in disapproval. I feel slightly guilty for punching her son right in front of her, but not enough to apologize. He deserved it. And I feel better at least.

Frigga simply shakes her head at the both of us. Before Loki can open his mouth to try and give lies to the situation, I speak up. "I'd recommend getting away from me, Loki, before I give into my fantasies and try to kill you." I smile sweetly up at his face and turn back to Frigga. "I'm going to my room. I don't think I can handle being in the same room as your son right now." Without receiving an answer from either one of them, I turn on my heel and stomp my way back to my room. I slam my door shut—well, attempt to slam. That door is very heavy. I pace the center of my room in a seething rage.

See? There is absolutely no way this arrangement is going to work.

A few hours pass. I do my yoga stretches. I soak in a bath for an hour. I accomplish everything that I wanted to. However, none of it does anything to calm my anger. My rage slowly descends from a raging inferno to a simmering boil, but it's still there. I sit in front of the fire in my room and stare into it, trying to get myself to calm down. Just the fact that it's taking this long for me to do just that is unnerving. I don't usually fly into a rage this hard. And I am always quick to calm down. Uncle Bruce says my anger is like a long dormant volcano: it erupts all at once, but then immediately calms down after the initial blast. It takes a lot of pressure to get me to that point, but give me one little shove and it sets me off. But this… this is more like the active volcanoes of Hawaii—and I can't get the lava to stop flowing.

Lady Frigga enters my room while I am still meditating before the fire. She takes a seat next to me and joins me in my contemplation. I finally look over to her after a few quiet moments. "I'm sorry for being so rude earlier," I mumble. "It has been a long day trying to deal with your son."

She nods. "I can imagine." She looks back into the fire. "May I ask what it was that set you both off so violently?"

I sigh and also look back towards the flickering light. "He was commanding me," I explain softly. "I am not the type of person to just follow anyone's command unless I trust them or know them to be a good person." I lean my head back against the head of the sofa. "Add the constant insults and I just couldn't take it anymore." I see her nod out of the corner of my eye. I close them and think back on today. "I was raised to be stubborn," I start, trying to explain why I can't get along with Loki. "I was raised to make my own decisions and follow my heart. Your son has a strong will, and that's good. But he has no compassion or empathy for how he executes his will. I will not bend to it."

She chuckles quietly. I open my eyes to look at her in mild confusion. Did I say something funny? "You remind me of myself when I was young," she says, still grinning. "You have the soul of a queen in you." I look at her incredulously. Is she kidding? Seeing my look, she rolls her eyes at me. "It takes a strong will and stubborn spirit for a girl to get what she wants. You are a warrior, a woman who is as strong as the blade she wields. But," she continues, holding up a finger in warning, "sometimes you need to be pliable, like a chain. If you stand too strong against an opposing force, you will shatter."

"Are you saying I should just follow your son's commands?"

"No." She smiles gently and cups my face. "I am saying you need to compromise with him. My son has the same strong will and stubborn spirit as you, dear. If the two of you continue to clash and refuse to bend, you both will break. I do not want to see two of my most precious people be broken over suborn will." She kisses my cheek and stands up. "Lady Sif will come to collect you for your training in the morning. Loki will not be with you tomorrow, so use this time to reflect on my words." She nods once, giving me a pointed stare before saying good night and leaving.

I stare back into the flames of the fire. My anger has left me in one quick rush. I have a lot to think about.

Chapter Text

You'd think that because I am amazing with knives of almost any width and type, I would at least be good with a sword.

You would be dead wrong.

I'm laying on my back in the middle of the sunlit practice courtyard, staring up at the blue, star covered sky, panting and trying to capture my short breath. I had just been thrown on my back by Sif after my failed attempt at charging her head on. She threw me back using her small shield and pure muscle. Sif is only an inch or so shorter than I am, but damn is she much stronger. She wields her shield and her sword as if they are extensions of her very body. I can do the same with my daggers, but this sword that I have in my hand is so freaking big and heavy. We've been practicing for most of the morning, but I still can't get used to its weight.

Sif walks over to me and watches me as I attempt to relearn how to breathe. She smirks down at me in pure amusement. "Not so easy, is it?" she asks.

"How is it," I pant, letting the handle of the weapon fall from my grip, the metal clanking against the stone floor for a moment, "that a sword can be so much more difficult to wield than a dagger?"

Her smirk grows into a genuine smile. She takes a seat beside me, giving me time to catch my breath. "Well, for one, the weight is greater in a sword than in a dagger or even a short sword. Not only that, but you have to deal with much of the weight residing in the blade rather than distributed evenly between the handle and the blade. Other types of blades are usually designed so the blade and the handle are equal in weight and thus easier to use. There are swords that have a good balance, but most are broken easily when crossing against a heavier weapon." She pauses for a moment, her gaze traveling over the rest of the courtyard and the people sparring around us. "Also, using a sword is harder than using a knife. A knife can easily be switched between hands and positions, can be thrown. Swords cannot."

I nod. I know all of this already. You just don't realize this until you actually have a sword in your hands and have to face all of those problems. I definitely prefer the flexibility knives can afford me. "So, why does Fandral use such a thin sword?" I ask, genuinely curious. I've seen his sword before: it looks like something a fencer would use on Earth. A rapier, I think it's called?

"Fandral's sword is made of a denser element than just iron," Sif replies. "This allows his weapon to stay strong against any weapon."

Huh. Interesting. Silence envelopes us for a few minutes. My breathing is finally starting to return to a steady pace, thank god. It's sad how I'm the only one winded here. Sif doesn't even look like she broke a sweat. So not fair.

Once I get my breathing back to a manageable level, I sit up, crossing my legs in front of me. I look over to her. "So, does your weapon have any magical ability like Uncle Thor's hammer?"

She looks down to her shield and the sword that is sheathed in it. "Yes, they do. My shield mends any damage done to it almost immediately and my sword can become a double sided blade. It can also create an electrical current. Not like Mjolnir, mind you. The hammer is able to create lightning and conjure storms. My sword can only cause an electric shock. However, the intensity of the shock can range from mild to fatal, depending on how much I wish to destroy my opponent." She glances back up at me. "All weapons are forged to have a magical power to them, ranging from small to great."

"Is it the weapons themselves that have the magical ability?"

"Not quite." She looks off to the side, as if trying to figure out a way to explain something in a way that I will understand. "I overheard Thor explaining it to the Lady Jane like this: we all have magic within us. Asgardians are taught when we are children to bring it forth so we can harness it. However, unless we study for extensive periods of time or just have an inherent skill at it, most of us have a difficult time bringing it out. Our weapons are able to better take our magical ability and manipulate it for our benefit."

I blink. "So, if I'm understanding this right, your weapons are just taking the magic you all possess and harnessing it in a way that will help you in battle."

"That is exactly right."

I nod. "But what about when you're not battling? Do you use magic then?"

She sighs quietly. "Not many of us choose to. Like I said, harnessing our magic comes as a challenge for most. Magic is not a substance that is like a limb or organ that simply comes out and acts if we will it. Magic is more volatile than that, almost with a mind of its own. It takes extensive study and hours of practice to use and control it in even a small way. Most Asgardians study the art so they can use magic in small ways off the battlefield, but abandon these studies eventually. Those that do not are usually scholars." She glances around the busy courtyard. There are many people out practicing today with various types of weapons. Many are giving off sparks and the ringing of metal on metal can be heard bouncing off the stone walls. Other than the electrical charges, I don't see any other forms of magic being thrown about. "The two biggest exceptions are Lady Frigga and Loki."

"Exceptions?"

"Lady Frigga is the most well-learned magic user in the realm," she explains, a small wistful smile tugging on her lips. "She taught us all as children about magic and the importance of it in our blood. She encouraged us to always learn and utilize it in our lives." Her smile falls away and her face becomes serious. "Loki uses magic like a weapon itself. His ability with magic has always been far superior to any of us. He is cunning and sly, just like the element he so freely wields."

I watch her for a moment before responding. "You make it sound like many don't like magic that well."

She sighs. "Many do not. Asgardians believe in attacking dead on with brute and honest force. Magic is often used to do the exact opposite." She leans back on her elbows and looks up to the sky. "I suppose that is why people have always been so wary of Loki, even before he tried to take the throne."

Well, now my interest is piqued. "What was he like before everything?"

She smirks. "Quiet." I laugh. That wasn't what I was expecting to hear. She laughs as well. "I suppose I should elaborate," she continues, still grinning. "Compared to Thor, he was as quiet as a mouse. He didn't really stand out. And he wouldn't. He was not big and brawny with a big weapon to swing around. He usually kept to himself with his books. But we all knew that if there was a battle to be fought, Loki would have to be there. He was and is deadly smart with a tongue like quicksilver. His magic and his wits have been invaluable in many battles and saved our lives more than once." She pauses, her eyes staring off into the distance, unfocused. The mood shifts to a serious one again. "We all picked on him but never too seriously. We all knew that he was Thor's favorite. If Thor had to pick one person to go into battle with, he would have picked Loki every time."

"Do you think Uncle Thor still would?"

"I do not know. Loki has been grounded since he was brought back to Asgard with almost all of his magic stripped away. Thor has been forced to take other warriors in his brother's place because of his restrictions."

I furrow my eyebrows in mild confusion. "Wait. I thought you said magic was in your blood."

She nods once. "It is."

"Then, how could his magic be stripped from him?"

Her eyebrows raise in understanding over my confusion. She sits back up. "Magic is in our blood," she says. "However, it is not nearly so contained. It is its own force that tends to reside in our bodies. The Allfather has the power and knowledge to strip that away, as well as our heritage and semi-immortality. You are familiar with how Thor originally came to Earth?" she asks and I nod. "It is similar. It is basically a process that stripped Loki of his magic and the Allfather had it contained so Loki could remain in the palace and not locked away."

"Why wasn't he locked up?" I ask. "I figured after all that he did on Earth that he would be locked away for the rest of eternity."

"Did Thor never explain it to you?" she asks, her grin somewhat crooked. At the shake of my head, she shakes her own, a look of annoyance crossing her face. I get the feeling she is more annoyed at my uncle rather than me. After all, I wasn't told any of this. "The Lady Frigga appealed to the Allfather to stay his hand and allow her the time to bring Loki back to where he was before. She could not do that if he was locked away. Odin agreed as long as Loki had no access to his magic and was never to leave the palace without an escort."

I hum. I wish I could say I was surprised that it was because of Frigga that Loki was still wandering about, but I'm really not. It's been plain as day that she truly loves Loki and what mother wouldn't try to save their children any way they could?

I hear Sif sigh and my gaze jumps back up to her. "As it stands, Loki was granted the gift of his magic back to him only a few days before your arrival. I do not doubt it was because of you that he was allowed to have it back."

"Me?" I question. I watch as she stands up and picks up the sword I was using. She slides it back into its sheathe and offers a hand to me. I gladly accept her help and she pulls me up effortlessly.

"Yes, yours. Do you honestly think it was a coincidence that you arrived and he was made your guard?" She raises an eyebrow at me. "The King and Queen knew of your arrival a few days before you actually arrived. I believe they came to this decision long before two days ago."

That makes an awful amount of sense. Especially considering Uncle Thor believes I am supposed to help with his redemption. So if his parents really believed I could help, then of course they would make that decision way before I actually arrived. I still don't see how I am supposed to help with that though. Especially after the disaster that was yesterday.

Sif hands me the sword and I grip it in my hands. We both turn towards the interior of the palace, walking through the massive archways and begin the long walk back inside. We walk in the general direction of the public dining hall. "Speaking of Loki," I start, twisting the sword in my hands, "how am I supposed to get along with him?"

Sif laughs. "Yes. Thor told me of yesterday's escapades."

My face falls into a flat expression. "Frigga told him, didn't she?" At her nod, I sigh. Figures. "Well, I'm sure you didn't hear about the whole day." At her curious look, I fill her in about everything that happened yesterday, from when he barged into my room to when I punched him. She seemed to find the majority of it highly amusing. By the time I was done, we were seated in the dining hall, fixing ourselves lunch at an empty table in the immense room. After that arduous morning, I was very hungry and everything looked so good. I didn't know where to start.

I finish telling her what Frigga had told me the night before, absentmindedly building myself a sandwich. She was nodding her head in agreement as she chewed on her own. "I know that I should try and compromise with him, I just don't know how. I will not just follow his commands like a common slave." I take a savage bite out of an apple and watch as she lowers her eyes to her plate in thought.

She swallows and looks back up. "You both have been put into an unwanted situation: he certainly did not want to take time away to guard a mortal, and what you know of Loki has made you wary enough that you want to keep your distance from him, which is understandable. However, picking fights with him is not a wise decision." I open my mouth to protest but her stern look shuts me up before I could even start. "You may not want to admit this, but it is nothing more than his restraint and honor that was preventing him from hurting you yesterday. It is easy to blame him for the unpleasant situation, but it is not true. And it is just as easy for him to blame you. The only advice I can give you is to confront him with no more than your words. No sarcasm, no higher motives. Find him and speak to him."

I sigh. I munch on the apple for a few minutes, chewing slowly. I know she's right. I was awake the entire night before thinking about it all. I know I was being entirely too childish. I may be twenty-four, but I still get shocks of pure immaturity that can rival that of a spoiled brat. I was taking my frustration and anger of the situation out on him. It didn't help that he treated me like crap when the news broke out, too. He basically solidified himself as a scapegoat for my anger. Not that that is any excuse for my actions. If anything, I owe him an apology.

I just really don't want to seek him out.

I groan and hang my head. "I'm gonna have to be the bigger person, aren't I?"

Sif chuckles. "Yes, that would be a wise course of action."

I sigh and lift my head back up. "So, all I have to do is find him, apologize, and see what happens?"

"It would also be a good idea to take the time to set some ground rules with him that you can both agree on," she adds, lifting her goblet. "Compromise will not be easy, but setting a routine may be a good idea until you both are on more solid ground with your new relationship."

I nod. Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Maybe I can get him to stop commanding me around, at least.

God, I really am Tony Stark's daughter.

The conversation pauses for a second so she can sip from her drink. "As it stands, I would like to continue your training." Her eyes narrow at me for a second, her eyes darting to stare at the sword sitting on the table next to me. "I believe it would be a better idea to get you trained on a short sword before moving on to a heavier weapon. It may come more naturally to you, as well."

"How big is a short sword?" I ask, somewhat warily. Now that I haven't been using the heavy weapon for a while, my arm is starting to complain. Loudly. I can practically feel my muscles start to become sore. It's been a long time since my arms protested from practice or training.

She smiles at my obvious discomfort. "It is no longer than your forearm. It is longer than a dagger though, so it will take some time and practice to really master the weapon. Lady Frigga is also well versed with the weapon, so she could also help you in case there are weeks I cannot come."

I cock my head to the side in confusion. "Why wouldn't you be able to come?"

"The realms are not always peaceful. There are times when us warriors are sent to settle skirmishes to the realms that request our aide. Even so, I intend to train you every week at the same time as today. If I should be called upon to fight, you can ask Lady Frigga to train you or you may run through some drills I will give you to practice on your own."

"Okay," I agree. Seems simple enough.

I spend the rest of the afternoon in my room reading on my balcony—after I stretched, of course—and avoiding the task I had set upon myself. I placed the sword in my closet with the rest of the weapons in there and promptly ignored the nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I should just get the confrontation over with. Nope, I am going to put if off for as long as I possibly can. I watch the sun set beneath the ocean and watch the pinpricks of stars shine even brighter in the twilight sky.

Okay, I don't think I can put this off any longer. If I don't do it now, then I will never do it and we will have another catastrophic day tomorrow. Sighing, I close the book in my lap, stand up, and head out of my room. I stop in the middle of the golden hallway. I have no idea where he might be. I seriously wish JARVIS was here—I could just ask him and I would have an answer immediately. As it stands, I'm standing in the middle of a vast hallway looking like an idiot and not knowing where to start.

I suppose I could look for him at the library. He seems to spend most of his time there anyway. However, that requires me leaving the private wing of the palace and I can't do that without my guard. Well, I could, but then he would probably get in trouble which would lead to him blaming me and then another miserable day. I would really prefer not having to deal with that, so I won't go to the library. I'll just check the dining hall and see if he's eating.

After making the short trip, I come to discover that no one is in the dining hall. Sigh. I walk back and think about asking one of the random people walking by to just give him a message that I want to speak with him. Maybe they will be able to find him? I throw that idea away, though. I don't want to inconvenience someone else simply because I couldn't find my guard. I look at the doors speckling the hallway and my eyes are immediately drawn to the green door across from my dark blue one.

I can be really dense sometimes.

Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I walk towards his door and knock. If he doesn't answer then I'll just leave him a note. I wait a couple minutes before the big door swings open. There isn't anyone on the other side. I roll my eyes at the blatant display of power and walk in, the door swinging shut behind me.

His room is as big as the other rooms in this hall. Meaning, it's as big as my room. It's layout is similar to mine rather than Uncle Thor's and Aunt Jane's suite. It's way more cluttered than my room, though. I don't mean messy—I mean he's got a lot of stuff. Just like my room, he has a wall filled with books and tomes of various sizes and languages covering the expansive space with a fireplace centered in the middle of it. He has a desk and a massive bed as well. However, that is where the similarities end. There are weapons of all types decorating the empty spaces of the walls, as well as maps of Asgard and other various worlds. Columns are placed strategically holding what I can only assume are valued pieces of art that he has collected over the years. His desk is the only messy area of the room: it is covered with piles of books and written documents, all strewn about haphazardly on the surface of the desk. It appears he just dumps those items there rather than actually using it.

And the color scheme is green, black, and gold. Big surprise there.

I spy him sitting on one of the chairs by the lit fireplace. He appears to be reading casually, but I have no doubt that his entire attention is on me. I walk over and continue to look around his room. He has a lot of cool stuff. The doors to his balcony are open and a breeze causes the sheer green curtains to billow slightly. I trace the Celtic knots that adorn a supporting column in the middle of the room as I pass it. I come to a stop beside his chair and wait for him to acknowledge me. I'll try not to be rude as I am in his domain. There may be a trapdoor under my feet and I would never know it.

After what feels like an eternity, he looks up at me, his eyes rolling up to stare at my face but his head remaining bowed to the book in his lap. His eyes are cool and a shiver runs down my spine at the coldness of his stare. I take a deep breath and start what I came here to do. "I wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday. It was childish and immature and I took my anger and frustration out on you." This manages to get his full attention. He turns his head to look at me completely and shuts his book. Well, at least I know he's listening. "I realize that this arrangement is not only hard on me, but you as well. I'm sorry that I forgot that."

Pops would be so proud of me.

Loki stares at me for a moment. I'm trying really hard not to squirm under his intense stare. He seems to come to some conclusion because he bows his head, accepting my apology. A breath I didn't realize I was holding escapes me and I relax a little. Well, step one is now complete. On to step two.

"Considering this is not something either one of us can get out of, I suggest we figure out a schedule of some kind."

"A schedule?" he asks, eyebrows lifting in apparent surprise. Or dislike. I can't tell the difference.

"Well, yeah," I say. I'm so eloquent. I take a seat in the chair in front of him, sitting on the edge of the green cushion rather than sinking into it. "It's obvious that you are studying something fairly important to you and I don't want to take you away from that. That would be cruel. And I want to do other things, like explore the palace and Asgard as a whole. I don't think it's fair if one or the other of us has to sacrifice their desires for the sake of the other. So, a truce."

"I am listening," he says, propping his head on his hand. And he really is. His eyes haven't left my face since I started talking. It's a little unnerving.

I look away, thinking. "Well, Sif wants to train me on this day every week, so you don't have to worry about looking after me unless she's gone. We could spend the mornings at the library so you can do your research or studying or whatever is it you do, and then we could spend the afternoon doing what I want to do." I shrug, my eyes jumping back to his. "Or something like that."

He gives it some serious thought. "And to be perfectly honest," I add, almost as an afterthought, "the likelihood that I will actually be spending my afternoons alone or with your family is pretty high, so you will most likely have the afternoons to yourself."

"I do not see how that could not be doable," he says after a short pause. I sigh in relief. At least he isn't fighting me on this. "However," he adds after a moment, "I will not be your guide should you feel the need to wander."

"I didn't ask you to be." I shrug. "Usually when I explore, I prefer not to have a guide anyway. So you just have to follow, I guess."

He nods in understanding. "I believe this arrangement will work just fine."

"Good." I stand up. "Thank you for speaking with me." I begin heading towards the door before one more thought pops into my head. "Oh, and Loki?" I turn back around and see that his eyes are still on me. "I meant what I said yesterday. If you want me to do something, ask it. Don't command me to do anything. It is a sure-fire way to get me to do the exact opposite." I pause and look down to the ground. "Besides, if you don't command me, I can promise I won't command you either."

I don't wait for a response. I'm not really expecting one. I turn back around and head towards his door. All things considered, this went pretty well. I was kind of hoping he would apologize for his words from a few nights ago, or even for his own behavior from yesterday. But I wasn't really anticipating it. He doesn't seem like the apologizing type. I can only hope that he will heed my warning. I swear if he does start commanding me again, I will punch him again.

Right before I turn the handle on the door, his voice rings out behind me. "For what it is worth, I am sorry as well."

My head whips around, my hand still on the handle. He is no longer looking at me. He is staring down at his lap where his book is resting. I can't help the small smile that pulls on my mouth. To say I'm surprised is an understatement. But I am pleased. Maybe we can be civil after all.

"Thank you," I mumble before turning back around and walking through the door, closing it solidly behind me. I walk back into my room, the smile still on my face.

Chapter Text

The past couple of weeks have gone by pretty well, all things considered.

I've gotten into a fairly set routine. I wake up within the first few hours after dawn, do my usual morning routine of hygiene, getting dressed, and yoga, walk with Loki to the library and spend the mornings there reading various things while he researches whatever it is he researches, have lunch, then spend the afternoon with the twins, Lady Frigga, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Thor. I've only gone wandering a couple of times and Loki was very serious about not being my tour guide. All he will do is give me a warning about rooms that I shouldn't go in. Otherwise he is just a silent shadow as I explore areas of the palace I have never been. The days that I train with Sif, I usually don't see him until dinner. I spend the majority of my dinners with the royal family, which is always an event in itself. The stories are very entertaining most nights. Then I go back to my room and spend the rest of my night on my own.

Uncle Thor went back home for me about a week ago. Dad and Pops packed me some more things so I can stay entertained. Reading is fun, but after a while, I need something else to do. Pops packed my stash of yarn so I can work on my crotchet projects. Dad packed me a few portable, blue-tooth speakers for my Starkpod. One is in the bathroom and the other is sitting on my desk. He also sent up my research materials, but without access to the internet, continuing my research is basically pointless. I need access to databanks and archives that I can only get from the internet if I'm not in Norway itself. I'm trying not to think too much about how much time has gone by. Dad wrote me a letter explaining that my ex is better at hiding than anyone thought. Even with S.H.I.E.L.D. helping to locate him, all of their leads have gone dry. Basically, I'm going to be on Asgard longer than I thought.

I seriously wish I could bring a TV and Blue-Ray player here. I have plenty of TV shows I could be getting caught up on.

It's a good thing I have a routine set in place considering my stay is going to be long.

I'm currently sitting in the library with Loki. While we have a truce going on and we are being perfectly civil to each other, we don't talk much ever. Which is fine. I guess. Besides, I don't want to interrupt whatever it is that he is studying right now and it's a good idea to be quiet in a library anyway. However, it's a little more... aggravating outside of the library. He's just so silent. I'm attempting to interpret a book in runes right now. Uncle Thor taught me runes when I was young because of the books he would bring me. However, this is some heavy stuff. The runes back on Earth are nothing compared to what's in this book. I've been at this for about two hours and I'm only on the tenth page.

I'm starting to get a headache.

Just as I'm about to suck up my pride and ask the silent man in front of me for some help, two small people run into the room rather loudly. Before I can look up and process what they are doing, they shout, "Charlie!" and "Uncle Loki!" and dive under our table. I can feel one of them wrap their arms around my knees.

Loki and I exchange confused expressions before we both glance under the table. Modi and Magni are attempting to hide further under the table, not that there is anywhere else to go. "What's with you two?" I ask, watching as Modi clutches my knees a little tighter.

"Just hide us!" he hisses up at me, burying his face into my knees. Magni is doing no better. He looks like he is trying to melt into the ground, his entire body lying flat on the polished floor.

As hiding places go, underneath a table is not a great one. At the right angle, anyone can see where they are hiding. But as I watch, the shadows begin to thicken around them until I can't see them anymore. It's not invisibility exactly, but the shadow underneath the table make it look like they are no longer there. I glance back up at Loki in confusion and he gives me a small smirk. He turns his attention back to his book without any explanation, as if we weren't just bulldozed by a pair of twins. I straighten my posture fully and also look back down to my book. However, I can't really return my full attention to it as Modi is still clutching my knees tightly. And the amount of strength he is using is entirely distracting.

Besides, I wouldn't have gotten a chance to fully delve back into the runes anyway.

My back is facing the doorway, so I don't see who comes and who goes. It would drive me nuts if I did. However, I immediately know when the next person walks in. Everyone that happened to be sitting around me openly turns and gawks at the doorway. I see Loki glance up but he immediately returns his gaze back to his book, a small smirk on his face. It takes all of my ability not to turn around and look. I get the feeling I will know soon enough.

I hear heavy footsteps stomp their way to us—well, stomp up behind me. Oh, I really want to turn around. I can feel Modi shake and I realize it's with laughter when I hear Magni snicker under the table. Now I really want to know. However, I am going to follow Loki's lead. See what this person does first.

This should be interesting.

The man stomps around so he is standing next to me where I can finally see him. I finally glance up to take him in fully and immediately wish I hadn't. It takes all of my ability not to start laughing. It's hard enough to choke down the snort caught in my throat as it is. He is a burly man, tall with a lot of muscle. I'm going to assume he is wearing the standard gold armor characteristic of the guards, but I can't really tell. He is covered from helmet to foot in bright blue paint. Even his face is dyed that wonderful color. And to make it even better, purple feathers are covering him in strategic places: meaning his upper chest and crotch area. There is a trail of feathers behind him, leading me to believe there are more feathers on his back as well.

I want to give the twins such a big hug.

I cough, attempting to dislodge my laughter before it actually escapes out of my throat, and look back down at the book. My eyes are a little too wide. Loki has yet to acknowledge the man standing at our table. I hear another snicker under the table and I lightly nudge Magni with my foot to get him to stop. We are attempting to hide him, after all.

"What can we do for you?" Loki finally asks, still keeping his eyes lowered on the book in front of him. This man has an amazing poker face. Absolutely no hint of amusement crosses his face or inflects his voice. I wish I had that ability. It would make this entire situation so much easier.

"Where are the twins?" the guard asks back. I glance back up at the guard in surprise, my mirth leaving me fairly quickly. How is it that he can just demand an answer from one of the princes of Asgard?

"I have not seen them," Loki responds, finally looking up and giving the guard a piercing stare. "Have you seen them, Charlotte?"

I give him a small glare. I can't get him to stop calling me Charlotte. It's like he is still maintaining that one thing to irritate the hell out of me. "No, I haven't," I respond, looking back at the guard.

He doesn't even bother giving me a glance. How rude. His eyes narrow at Loki. "I saw them run in here. I know they are here."

"That they may have. But it does not mean I have seen them." He gives a condescending smile. "If two small boys can outsmart and outrun you, then maybe you need to be more vigilant in your training."

Oh, he's good.

"Where are they?" the guard demands once again. His patience is starting to wane. I don't know what it is that makes me realize this, but something about his demeanor changes. Maybe it's the lowered tone? Or the clenched fists? Either way, the already high tension goes up a little bit higher at the table.

Loki meets his heated glare with a cool one of his own. "Are you implying that I am lying?"

"Of course," he says back.

"Are you implying that I am lying?" I pipe up. I'm trying to prevent a fight from breaking out. I don't want the boys to be caught in the middle of a confrontation like this. They may think it would be great fun, but I don't agree. They don't need to be caught in the middle of a fight, physical or otherwise.

"Yes," Loki says, glancing over at me. "Are you implying that my family's honored guest is lying about the whereabouts of her cousins?" He glances back up to the still standing guard, a shine in those bright green eyes of his. I see the guard wilt a little around the edges and he takes a step back from the table.

"Of course not," he says quietly, finally looking over at me. I see him glance down at the sun necklace around my neck and he bows slightly to me. I wonder if he realized who I was. Well, at the very least, he knows who I am now.

"Maybe you should be looking for them in the personal wing?" I suggest, mainly just to get him out of here.

He bows his head and promptly leaves the room without another word. Just like I thought, there are more of the purple feathers stuck to his back and butt. I release the breath I was holding and look back under the table. I watch as the shadow slowly dissipates and the twins grinning faces stare out at me. I try to be stern but it doesn't really work. I start giggling as they clamber out from under the table.

"I don't want to know how," I start once I finally get my laughter under control, "but I do want to know why."

"Yes, why did you do that to your guard?" Loki asks. Oh, that was their personal guard? That poor, poor man.

Modi shrugs. "He is not very nice to us," Magni says.

"Yeah, he is so strict and he never lets us do anything fun," Modi adds, crossing his arms.

"Fun meaning running around and terrorizing the palace?" I ask, eyebrow raised at them both. They both shake their head but I'm not buying it. Not for one second.

"And he's always around!" Magni complains. "He never lets us cut our lessons and he never lets us leave the royal wing unless someone is with us!"

"It sounds to me as if you don't like him because he is doing his job," I point out, giving them a stern look. They deflate a little, crossing their arms in annoyance. I shake my head at the both of them. I don't want to lecture them—that's not my job. I'll leave that to Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane. But I am not below pointing out when they are wrong. I am the older cousin, after all. I can encourage their antics while at the same time teaching them minor lessons every once in a while. I grin slightly at them again. "Still, that was a very good prank, boys," I compliment, giggling again. "It's going to take me days to get that vision out of my head."

"I agree," Loki says. He is giving the boys a warm smile. "Very well done."

I blink at him for a moment. I'm not used to seeing him give open affection. He's usually pretty cold and aloof to everyone. Well, everyone but Lady Frigga and the boys. I've seen this side of him maybe twice since he was assigned as my guard and it really does take me by surprise every time I witness it. It's nice to know that he actually does care about a few of the people in his life.

Modi and Magni give us both a big smile. Before we can continue, they give us both a hug. "Thank you for hiding us!" And with that, they are off running out the door to lord knows where. I have to suppress the urge to tell them not to run. Oiy, I'm getting old.

"Can I have just an ounce of their energy?" I mumble, turning slightly to eye the book of runes out of the corner of my eye. I sigh at it. Do I really have to continue this? I don't want to. Before I can decide to continue this horribly tedious task or not, Loki closes his tome of a book and stands up.

"I believe I am done for the day," he announces. I stand as well, glad for the change in plans. I nod and we head back to the royal wing. There are little feathers strewn about as we walk making me giggle all over again. We go our separate ways by the dining hall. I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon in my room relaxing. Loki informs me that he won't be far if I decide to leave the wing. I don't plan on doing that, but it's still nice to know that I have the option.

Yep, routine is good.

OoO

All I can feel is the cold. My clothes have been drenched over and over again from the freezing water and the metal cuffs binding my wrists must be made of pure ice. They feel like they are anyway. I'm shaking and no effort on my part can get me to stop. They only part on my body that isn't freezing is my back. No, that is searing hot. I make sure I don't move an inch in case the pain flares up again. The agony ripping throughout the muscle of my back has become my constant companion but movement makes it ten times worse.

The sound of a whip reverberates off the stone walls and each one makes my body jerk and a cry tumble out of my throat in pain. I don't understand. I keep telling them I don't know the access codes. I don't have the ability to get them what they want. But the whipping never ends. I should have listened to my family. I shouldn't have wandered off and been a stubborn idiot. I deserve the pain I am getting now. I wasn't strong enough to fight them off. I wasn't smart enough to stay with the people who could protect me. I'm not able to give them what they want. I can't fight myself free now. And I'm so cold.

Then there is fire. Screaming and cursing and prayers. I can feel the heat licking against my body and it starts to melt the ice and I feel relief. I'll be out of here soon.

A splash of icy water hits my face again. Wait, I don't understand. I managed to escape that house of horrors. Why am I back? Why am I being drowned? I can hear the whip again. Did I never escape? Was everything a dream my pain-filled mind conjured up to get me away from my harsh reality? I see the looming face of the masked man and scream out.

"Charlie," he says quietly. I feel the whip against my blood-soaked back. I'm screaming again. I don't have the codes! I can't get you in! Just leave me alone!

"Charlie," he repeats, only louder and more insistent. The whip and the clank of the chains drown out his voice. I don't want to do this anymore. I want to go home.

"Charlie!"

My eyes snap open. All I can see is the masked man looming over me. He has a hold on my shoulder and I scream again. I clamber away from him on all fours across the massive expanse of bedding and cower against the corner. He doesn't move to follow me. I blink a few more times and the mask finally drifts away only to reveal a very confused Loki. I look around and only see the room I was loaned while I stay on Asgard, lightly illuminated by the fire in the grate on the other end of the room. The small stone room finally starts to fall away from my vision.

The crack of the whip is still ringing in my ears.

"Oh, god," I whisper, only slightly aware of the constant stream of tears falling from my eyes. I pull my knees up to my chest and bury my face in them. It's been a very long time since I've had the nightmare be that vivid. A long time since I've remembered. I try to get my labored breathing under my control before I start hyperventilating. My heart is pounding in my ears but it still can't drown out that damn whip.

It's been ten goddamn years. I shouldn't still be doing this.

It's only then that I remember that I have an audience. I glance up at Loki. He hasn't moved an inch, still sitting on the edge of the bed. His hands are resting where I can see them and he is trying to be as relaxed as possible. He's giving me a look like what you would give a cornered and scared animal. I suppose I kind of am at the moment. "I'm so sorry," I sob out. Goddamn these tears. I wish I could stop but I just can't. I'm starting to slip into hysterics and I can't get myself to stop. "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry," I chant out, reburying my face into my knees. I think I'm still chanting sorry at him but I'm not really focused on that.

I don't know how much time passes before I feel the bed move. I think he is speaking to me. I can't hear much over the sound of the whip. I can still feel the cold from that damp place pressing into my skin and I wonder if I'll ever feel warm again. My scars are tight and I have slipped back into my habit of not moving so I don't irritate the pain.

"Charlie!"

My head snaps up and he immediately has my attention. He never calls me that.

"You need to breathe," he tells me very slowly. He is in front of me now. He is holding onto my elbows, giving me something physical to feel in reality. I feel a little more grounded now. The nightmare that has been clinging to the edges of my vision finally starts to leave. I no longer see the stone walls and can only see the shining gold and deep blue of my room. My shaking slowly starts to subside as the bone chill from before finally fades away. My breathing steadies and I feel my pounding heart slowly but surely slow down to a comfortable rate.

"Good," he mumbles, noticing my slowing breath and relaxing posture. He removes his hands from my arms and I immediately miss their weight. I would give anything to be home now so I can crawl into my parent's bed and have them soothe away my fears, like they did when all this began.

I swipe my hands across my cheeks, wiping the tracks of my tears off my face. I'm still crying slightly, but it's not the bone-wracking sobs from before. I roll my shoulders a bit, trying to get my skin to loosen up. That is the only thing that I can't quite shake off. I'm going to need to stretch or take a bath.

I glance out the window and notice it's still dark out. I look back over to Loki who is still watching me closely. He's probably waiting to see if I break down into hysterics again. I swallow thickly, resting my chin on top of my knees and stare back at him. "Why are you here, Loki?" I ask.

"I heard you screaming," he replies. "I thought you were being attacked."

The corner of my mouth twitches. Well, at least he's taking his job seriously. I break eye contact and look own at the destroyed bed sheets. I must have been flailing quite a bit to make them look like that. I can only imagine what he saw when he came in to investigate.

"I suppose, in a way, you were," he continues quietly. "What were you dreaming about?"

I shake my head. "It was just a nightmare."

"That was not just a nightmare."

I look back up at him. The only people who know the full extent of what happened to me are my family, and it's clear that Uncle Thor and Aunt Jane didn't share this with Loki. I haven't shared it with any of my friends or even Adam, my crazy ex. It's not that I don't trust them. I just don't want to get that pitying look my Dad sometimes gets when people talk to him about Afghanistan, or with my Pops about his life before he was iced. I don't want to explain this to him. I don't think I can.

I simply shake my head in response. "It's not important."

He doesn't look convinced. Before he can argue with me, I uncoil and get up to move away from the bed. I need to move around. I don't want to leave any chance for me to fall back asleep and dive straight back into that nightmare. I don't think I could handle revisiting that place twice in one night.

"What are those markings along your back?"

I immediately freeze. I forgot that I was only wearing a camisole to bed. It shows off my upper back for everyone to see. My back is riddled with white scars. They go from the base of my neck all the way down to the small of my back. I am very self-conscious of them so I always wear clothing that covers them up. The only time they aren't covered is when I sleep or shower. I'm not able to cover it up now either—he's seen them, so I have to explain. Damnit. "They're scars," I mutter, swallowing uncomfortably. "From a whip."

Silence meets my statement. I don't think he was expecting that answer. Not many people would, I imagine. Hell, most people don't even know I was kidnapped and tortured within an inch of my life. Most of the kids from my school thought I took a year off to tour Europe—I was a rich brat who could afford that, after all. The news of my kidnapping never reached the media, let alone my torture. I'm sure my Dad paid off a lot of people to keep it that way and I have no delusions that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't get involved too. I had a lot of people that prevented the population from knowing.

"What happened?" he asks, just as quietly as before.

"I don't want to talk about it." I keep my back turned to him. Maybe if I just continue to ignore him physically, he'll drop the topic and leave it alone.

"Charlie," he says, a mild warning in his tone. My anger is starting to flare. He's pushing a topic he really shouldn't push with me.

"I said I don't want to talk about it."

"Tell me."

"Fine! You want to know what happened?" I spin around and face him. I embrace the anger this is spilling out of me like an old friend. It's better than the fear and hopelessness I had been feeling this entire time. "Ten years ago I was kidnapped off the streets of Manhattan two blocks away from my home. I was taken by some old enemies of my Pops to an abandoned building in the center of the city. I was tortured for two months straight for information I didn't have. I escaped only when the house burned to the damn ground. I was hospitalized for six months due to pneumonia I had caught from the constant water torture and no heat in the damn building, a serious infection ravaging my torn apart back, and more mental problems than can ever be fixed."

His face remains a neutral mask. He gives me no hint as to what he might be thinking or feeling. I wish he would give me something. A reaction would be great. "I went home to only have these nightmares start up. I've gone two years without them being this vivid and real. Ten years. My mind must love torturing me because I shouldn't be doing this anymore!" I clutch at my hair and tug slightly in frustration. "I don't want to keep doing this!" I sigh and let my hands fall back to my sides. And just like that, my anger is gone. Now I'm just hollow.

"The mind certainly does have a way of destroying us, doesn't it?" he mumbles into the silence left by my outburst. His voice is almost too quiet compared to my own almost shouting. I glance back up at him. He is watching me carefully, but not with pity or fear that I might do something stupid. It's with understanding.

A humorless chuckle escapes me. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

He stands up from the bed. "Tell me: do those scars limit you in any way?"

I cock my head at the odd question. "They make my skin pretty stiff. If I don't stretch every day, I can have a hard time moving around. Why?"

"Simply curious," is his response with a one-shoulder shrug. He looks around my room one last time before heading towards the door. "I will leave you alone now."

I watch his retreating back for a moment before turning towards the fire. I need to feel its warmth and just think for a while. I'm glad Loki knows that rather than try to stick around. Sometimes people hover, thinking that I need company or just someone to talk to when this nightmare comes knocking at night. They're wrong. I need to be left alone so I can shove the memories back down to the box that I don't ever think about. And if I really needed someone to talk to about this, I would go and seek them out. I never want to talk immediately after this crap.

"Oh and Charlotte?" I turn back around. I guess he's back to calling me Charlotte again. "Don't expect me to do this every time you have a bad dream."

I grin slightly. "Wouldn't dream of it."

He sends me the smirk that I have grown very familiar with over the past couple weeks and walks out the door. Oddly enough, that parting comment made me feel a little bit better.

Chapter Text

It didn't take long for me to feel completely claustrophobic in my room. Which is odd, considering it's massive. But when I need to get out, I have to get out.

I grab my Starkpod and headphones off my desk, pull on a bulky, blue sweater to hide my scars, and walk out the door without a second thought. Listening to Josh Groban on my "Be Calm" playlist, I head down the hallway and try to remember my way to the stables. I found them the last time I went wandering. Loki seemed pretty surprised when I was so excited to find it. I love horses. Sometimes, when I was having a tough time with my research, I would leave my trailer and head to wherever the horses were being sheltered for that night on my digs and just take care of them—brush them, wash them, talk to them. It's oddly therapeutic.

The day that I found the stables with Loki, I spent about an hour in there, marveling at all the horses that were kept there. According to one of the stable hands that was there, that stable housed about one hundred of the horses that were strictly for Asgard's army. It was one of the smaller ones, he said. If that one is small, I can only imagine what the big ones look like. He gave me an invitation to come to the stables any time I wanted to help them tend to the horses after I had expressed an interest.

I hope that offer still stands.

Luckily for me, this stable happens to be attached to the royal wing which is probably why it's a smaller sized stable. That also means that I don't need to have Loki with me this time. I don't want to bug him after everything that had just happened. God, I can only imagine what he must be thinking right now. The only ones that have ever seen me that bad are my Dad, Pops, and Uncle Bruce. They were always the ones to pull me out of my Nightmare and to hold me until I calmed down enough to think straight. The rest of my family knew about my nightmares, of course, but Dad and Pops have the room closest to mine, and Uncle Bruce would always have JARVIS wake him when it happened when my parents were in Malibu or something. I have many more nightmares than just that one, but that isn't so much a nightmare as it is a memory. The other ones don't cause screaming fits and hysterics.

I wish I could just forget.

It doesn't take me long to walk to the stables. It's a massive wooden building separated from the palace itself, surrounded by grassy fields on three sides with the palace at its back. Upon entering, I see that the torches are low along the wooden building and it's very quiet. There are no people around. Good. I don't want to talk to anyone right now. I turn off my Starkpod and wrap the headphones around my neck as I walk along the long hallway, peering into various stalls. Most of the horses are asleep. I don't want to wake any of them simply because I need a therapy session. About halfway down the aisle, I find a horse standing at the opening of the stall. I think he heard me coming. I smile up at him. We met the last time I was in here. He had been coming in from a run, one of the stable boys leading him. I took one look at him and squealed in delight, much to the fright of my two companions. He is a gorgeous, black horse that towers over me.

And he also happens to have eight legs.

My inner mythology nerd was having a fit once I laid eyes on him. I rushed over to the stable boy and the horse and immediately started petting his nose, cooing about how gorgeous he was. Loki was looking at me like I was crazy while the stable boy just laughed. I don't think the horse knew what to do with me either. He handled my attention well though. In fact, he seemed to like the attention I was giving him, snorting and staring at me as he was.

"What's his name?" I asked the boy.

He smiled and said, "Sleipnir."

My eyes widened and I glanced behind me at Loki, who was busy staring at me with a confused expression written on his face. I stared at him for only a second before I busted out laughing. In my defense, I couldn't help it.

I couldn't meet Loki's eyes for an hour after that without laughing. He didn't understand why I was laughing and I was not going to tell him what humans thought his relationship with that horse was. He can figure that one out on his own.

"Hey, Sleipnir," I whisper, walking up to the stall. I start rubbing his nose fondly. "How are you tonight?"

He snorts at me while nodding his head a little bit. I glance around, looking for a brush and maybe some carrots or something that I could give him. "Mind if I brush you for a bit?" I ask, looking back at him. I figure it's probably smart to ask permission before I just do what I want. He seems like an intelligent being that can kick me if he doesn't like me.

I get a small neigh in response and he backs away from the door, his clomping footsteps echoing in the massive room. I smile and take that as a yes. I walk away to find the brush. It takes me a minute, but I find it hanging on the wall with many other utensils used for caring for horses. A bushel of apples happens to sit right next to this wall. I grab a brush and an apple and head back to his stall. He's waiting patiently by the back wall. He gives me a look when I enter though. I translate it as what took so long?

"I know, I know," I reply, feeding him the apple and petting the side of his head. "But, I don't know where everything is so I'm going to be a little bit longer than everyone else." He swishes his tail while he munches on the last bit of the fruit and I set to work brushing him.

Whenever people try to tell me that horses aren't smart, or can't communicate, I always argue. It's just not true. I've worked with and taken care of enough horses to know that they can tell you exactly what they are thinking with only a look if you take the time to pay attention. This one is no different. I found out the last time I was here that he was Odin's personal horse, which seems to fall in line with Earth's mythologies. I suppose that means he's a pretty big deal. But he doesn't seem to get a special pen or anything like that. I don't think horses care who rides them, just as long as they are being cared for properly. Anyone can ride a horse, but it takes someone special to spark a relationship with a horse and that isn't always the owner or even the regular rider of the horse. And it all starts here, with whoever is holding the brush at the end of the day. I take the time to care for horses because I find a benefit to it and I'm helping the creature too, so it's a win-win for the both of us.

I brush down his neck in silence for a few minutes. My thoughts trail back to what happened just an hour before. I seriously wish that hadn't have happened. It's been two years since that damn dream had showed its ugly face. Two years. Why would it show up now? Right when I was starting to forget again, it just had to come knocking on my subconscious door and remind me of all my weaknesses and the biggest mistake I have ever made. It's as if those people that took me are still haunting me, making sure that I don't forget what they did to me. And what makes it worse? They're all dead.

"Is it possible for the dead to haunt you?" I ask Sleipnir. He looks at me out of the dark brown eye that I can see. I move on to brush his sleek, black mane. "It's one thing if you're being stalked by the living, but people who have hurt you in the past can't hurt you in the present if they're dead, right?"

He gives a short snort and a tail swish as if he is agreeing with me. I hope he's right. I don't feel like that's the case though. I went to a therapist after I finally got out of the hospital. They tried to make me go to one while I was there, but I refused to see them. I thought I was fine and would be able to work through all of my problems on my own. My Pops made me go to one after I got out though. Especially after the nightmares started up. Oddly enough, they didn't start until after I left the hospital and was home safe. I still don't know what to make of that.

My therapist was a kind woman and she worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. Shocker, I know. She diagnosed me with PTSD among other problems. Again, another shocker. Anything that so much as sounded like a whip would set me off into a panic attack and I refused to be near cold water for a full two years. It took me months to have the courage to leave the Tower without someone from my family or S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tailing me. When I was seventeen, all of these symptoms had subsided and I thought I was good—even my nightmares had gone down from four times a week to maybe twice a month.

Took me three years, but I was finally getting back to normal.

Just when I was getting ready to start university life, the Nightmare came. The same one I had tonight. All of my previous nightmares had been tame compared to what this one can do. They were really nothing more than snippets of sounds and maybe a flash of the mask the men wore. But my Nightmare recounts my experience almost exactly, visually and auditorily. It scared me so bad I couldn't leave the Tower for a straight week. I also didn't sleep for that entire week. It was unhealthy, but as long as I wasn't dreaming, I didn't care. I had that dream maybe once a year throughout college. The last one was when I was getting ready to leave for Norway and start my research by myself. Every time it would come, I would stay homebound for at least a week, refusing to interact with anyone. I would put on my music, sit in the dark, and attempt to get my mind to stop torturing me. Not that it ever worked, but I kept trying.

"Crazy how one thing can change your life," I mumble. I've moved on to Sleipnir's back. He's being really good and keeping still for me. He's decided to bend down and munch on the hay that litters the ground of the stall. Probably a good idea. I should have grabbed more apples for him. I'll make sure to do that before I leave.

I can basically categorize my life into two sections: before 14 and after 14. I was completely disillusioned with the world. Well, with my world. You know how in high school English classes, there is always that segment on loss of innocence in a novel or whatever? Welcome to my loss of innocence. And I think that is what had affected me more than the kidnapping and the torture itself. I wish I could go back to that sweet, innocent, trusting, and hopelessly optimistic girl that I used to be. But I can't.

And, God, Loki got a glimpse of it. Okay, he got the whole damn show.

I thump my head on Sleipnir's flank, my hands resting on his side, and simply rest for a moment. "He must think I'm completely pathetic," I groan.

I don't know what's with me. I don't usually care this much about what someone—or anyone, for that matter—thinks about me. I mean, I'm the daughter of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. If I cared about what people thought, I would have died of mortification years ago. Not to mention I have my Dad's piss-off attitude and Pop's ability to ignore the negativity of the people around me. But when it comes to Loki, I care. Maybe I'm trying to impress him? No, that's not it. I don't need to impress anyone. Well, whatever it is, it needs to stop. He is my guard and nothing more. So what if he saw me have a mental breakdown and get a glimpse of something that only a few people have seen?

Okay. I care a lot.

I don't want him to start treating me with kid-gloves now. That's why I hid what happened to me to everyone I knew. I knew and still know that they would treat me differently. Like I was some kind of victim or survivor that needed to be coddled. I don't need to be shielded or coddled or protected. Hell, I just need to be left alone, usually. I wouldn't be able to stand it if Loki were to show me pity or condescension now. He didn't seem that phased by what happened earlier, but he has one damn good poker face and I just can't see through it to what he might be actually thinking. I can read people fairly well, but Loki is just a mystery the majority of the time.

Okay, maybe I care so much because I've been spending a lot of time with him? Even if that time is usually in silence and fairly… well, not amicable. Well, civil, but no one could ever call us friends. You don't have to be friends with someone to worry about what they are thinking, after all.

I notice Sleipnir raise his head out of the corner of my eye. I still have mine resting against his back. His head swivels to the stall door and he neighs at it. It's not in warning or anything, just acknowledgement. I guess there is someone walking by. I sigh and lift my head, turning around, fully expecting to see a stable boy or a guard. But my eyes land on blue skin and red eyes instead.

"Oh," I say, blinking in surprise at seeing him standing there. "Hello, Jotun Man."

He chuckles. "Are you always going to call me that?"

"Well, you haven't given me a name, so yes."

Sleipnir turns his head towards me and neighs petulantly. I mock glare at the horse. "Yes, alright. I'll finish brushing you, just hold on a second." I walk around to the other side of him and work my way back down his neck. He swishes his tail and bends his head back down to the hay again. "Attention hog," I mumble under breath, shaking my head.

I can see Jotun Man fold his arms on top of the door and lean against it out of my periphery, watching me as I work. "You are out late again, I see," he comments.

"An argument can be made that you are, too," I counter, glancing up at him.

He nods his head in agreement. "Is there a particular reason you are out so late?" he asks.

Hmm, should I tell him the truth, or a partial truth? "I just had a bad dream. I came out here to think and try and get my mind in order." Partial truth it is.

"And how is that working out?"

I smile mockingly. "Not very well." I move from Sleipnir's neck to his flank and back. "My thoughts are just going over the same material it's been over before in an endless loop that I can't seem to stop."

He hums. He continues to watch me work in silence. It's odd how his constant gaze doesn't unnerve me in the slightest, and yet when Loki does the same thing, I feel so damn self-conscious. I figure Jotun Man's red eyes would at least give me the heebie jeebies more than Loki's green ones do.

Jesus Christ, why am I thinking about Loki so much?

I physically shake my head, trying to get him out of my thoughts. Maybe I have been spending too much time with him. That's most likely it. It's weird that we have spent so much time together, but I hardly know anything about him. I only know what my uncle has told me about him, and Sif. We hardly ever talk, so I never get a sense of what he is thinking. Maybe that's why I'm so fixated on what he thought about my little show earlier tonight. If he could have given me just a little hint—

"Care to share your thoughts?" Jotun Man asks, interrupting my train of thought.

I glance back up at him again. "Not really," I respond.

"What did you dream about that forced you out here in the dead of night?"

I just shake my head and look back down at my task. It's bad enough that I had to tell Loki. I don't want to tell anyone else tonight.

"Allow me to chance a guess," he says suddenly. I meet his gaze once again. Oh, yes, please guess. I doubt anything he can come up with is as bad as what actually happened. Then I can just agree and we can drop this topic.

After a minute of contemplative silence that was only filled with the sound of the brush running over Sleipnir's hair, he speaks. "You had a nightmare. One about something in your past." I freeze. There is no way he guessed that already. "Something that still haunts you. You have not made peace with it yet."

I glance up at him, blinking in surprise. He smiles grimly at me. "I am correct, aren't I?"

My silence might as well have been an admission. I swallow thickly and go back to brushing Sleipnir. Now I am just trying to finish my task before he starts asking more questions. It doesn't mean I'll answer, but I don't want to snap at the only friend I have made on my own since arriving here. Surprisingly, he doesn't ask a single question, just continues to watch me as I finish up. I pat Sleipnir a couple times when I am done, rubbing his nose again. "Thank you. I'm going to go get you a few more apples, okay?"

Jotun Man moves out of the way when I exit the stall. I return the brush where I found it and grab four apples. Sleipnir is already waiting in the doorway. I grin and feed him one of the apples and set the rest on the ledge of the door so he can grab them when he wants. Whispering another thank you and farewell, I turn and start heading back towards the exit. Jotun Man is following me. I can sense it more than hear it. I swear, the guy floats for all the sound he makes. We exit the building and I take a seat on one of the stone benches outside. The rainbow bridge leading to the Bifrost is laid out before us on the edge of the grassy field directly in front of the stables. I can just make out the golden ball at the very end of it, and only if I squint. Maybe I should go visit Heimdall in a few days and watch the stars with him.

Jotun Man takes a seat beside me, albeit with plenty of distance so we don't accidentally touch again. It takes all of my ability not to roll my eyes at him. I thought I proved my point when we first met that he can't hurt me.

After a short silence, I decide to break it. "Yes, I had a nightmare about something horrendous that happened to me when I was still young. I don't want to talk about it. It will only bring back my nightmares."

He remains silent, staring up at the sky. I hope that's in acquiescence to my wishes. I watch the sleeping city for a while before turning my green eyes up towards the sky. I can never get enough of it.

"Did someone wake you?" he asks suddenly. I whip my head towards him. Why does he want to know that? "I simply ask because I hope that someone at least was there when you awoke."

I blink once before sighing and relaxing my tense shoulders. "Yes. Loki woke me," I answer. I chuckle humorlessly. "He got to see me at my absolute worst. The last person I want to see me like that and he did." I shake my head, looking away again. "I can only imagine what his opinion of me is now. It was never high to begin with, so it's probably subterranean now."

"I would not necessarily say that."

"Why not?"

I can see him look at me out of the corner of my eye, but I don't return his gaze. "Loki has an understanding of torture and pain that many do not. The big oaf in line for the throne does not know of physical and mental torture unless it deals with a direct battle. But being at one's mercy, he does not understand that."

I finally turn my eyes onto his red gaze. "How does Loki understand that?"

The corners of his mouth raise into a condescending smile. "Do you honestly think his time with Chitauri was peaceful?"

Huh, I never thought of that. My surprise must have shown on my face because he releases a humorless laugh. "You are not the only one to assume it was," he continues. "But it is not the physical torture that is the most gruesome part, even though that is horrible. It is being completely unmade and reshaped at the hands of the enemy."

I drop my eyes to my lap. "Everything I was before I was 14 is gone. I used to be a very bright person. I used to have a positive outlook on the world. I no longer have that. I never thought I was going to leave that house when I was there and I kept having dreams that I was still there when it was all over. I didn't know for the longest time what my reality was." I look back at him, my hands moving to tuck under my thighs to grip the edge of the stone bench. It's odd, but talking to him is just so easy. It's almost natural. "But the worst was knowing that no one would save me. I held out hope that my Dad or my Pops would find me and come in with guns blazing and get me out of there. But that never happened. My support was completely shattered. I've never felt really safe since."

He nods in understanding, but doesn't comment. He doesn't have to. There is a mutual understanding here. I don't know his situation, as he has yet to tell me, but I get the feeling that he understands everything that I am saying. I really want to know what happened to him, but I also know that he won't tell me.

"You don't think Loki's going to treat me any differently, do you?" I ask quietly. I hate feeling so damn needy for reassurance. But I know I won't be able to take it if he does treat me like a little girl who can't handle the world.

He smiles in response. "I can assure you he won't."

"How do you know so much about him anyway?" I ask. "Do you have nightly talks with him too?"

He chuckles. "I suppose you could say that."

"What does that even mean?" I ask, completely exasperated. He shrugs and I growl in response. "Has anyone ever told you that you are completely annoying with your cryptic answers?"

He just laughs. He has a nice laugh, when it's genuine. I don't think I've heard him honestly laugh before. It's sad that I am just realizing that.

He stands up and I look up at him. "Come. I shall escort you back to your room."

I stand up as well and follow him back inside. "You know where my room is?"

"I know where everything is in the palace."

"Of course you do," I say. We continue walking in silence. I want to ask him so many questions, but I know he will simply give me that infuriating smile that means nothing and tells me exactly zip. It's strange how he knows so much about me, but I know next to nothing about him.

"So, where have you been the past couple of weeks?" I ask once we enter the final stretch of our walk. My door is in sight. "I haven't seen you in a while. And I would like to see you once during daylight."

He smiles at me but remains silent. See what I mean? We walk up to my door. Before I can say goodnight, he finally responds. "I have been around. I have seen you many times, yet you do not seem to see me."

"What?" I ask, incredulous. "No offense, but you're kind of hard to miss."

"Then you need to keep a sharper eye out," he responds, the corner of his mouth raising in a half-grin. Before I can say anything, he gives me a small bow and turns to leave. "Have a peaceful rest of your night, Charlie."

"Oh, um, goodnight," I say quickly to his retreating back. Yep. That one is an enigma. I turn and go back into my room, my door booming shut behind me. I feel so much calmer now. I glance around my room, trying to decide what I am going to do now. There is no way I am going to attempt sleeping. Maybe I'll just read and relax until the start of the day.

And hour passes before I realize that I never once mentioned being tortured to the Jotun Man. I only confirmed that I was troubled about something traumatic. So how in the world did he know it was torture?

Chapter Text

I didn't sleep for the rest of the night. I was too afraid to try. I figured waking up in a screaming fit once tonight was all I would be able to handle. And if I woke up Loki again, I doubt I would be able to live it down.

I watched the sunrise before deciding to get ready to meet Sif. I'm starting to get pretty good with the short sword, if I do say so myself. I've been going through the drills she gave me on the days we don't meet, which has been helping me with handling the unfamiliar weapon and with my balance with it as well. She was right in that it isn't too foreign in my hands, compared to the long swords. I'm able to flip it around now like one of my knives. However, it's still too bulky for me to throw comfortably and too unfamiliar for me to try. There is a significant enough weight difference to throw me off. I'm nowhere near Sif's ability with the weapon, but with a few more weeks practice I'm sure I can give her a run for her money.

Well, I hope so.

I turn on my speakers and hook up my Starkpod while I get ready to go through my morning routine. I need something upbeat to keep me going. No sleep is draining on the mind and body. I sing along to Ke$ha while going through my yoga stretches, Lady Gaga while I gather my items of clothing and weapons for the day, and Maroon 5 while I bathe. The steam from the bath appears to be irritating my throat this morning and I cough to try and clear it. Once I am scrubbed and squeaky clean, I move on to the rest of my routine, Avril Lavigne playing across the speakers. I grin. I used to be obsessed with her music when I was growing up, especially her old music. Well, anything before her "Goodbye Lullaby" album. Her later work is good, too, but her old music is still the best, in my opinion. (I know, I know, how hipster of me, shut up.) I walk out of the bathroom after getting dressed in the black leggings, light green tunic, and chest armor that seems to be the norm of this realm, singing along.

"I just wanna scream and loose control, throw my hands up and let it go, forget about everything and runaway, yeah!" I sing out loudly with my eyes shut and a smile on my face. I freaking loved this song when I was a teenager and, honestly, haven't listened to it in a few years. I still remember all of the lyrics. Shocking, I know. I dance around for a second just singing along and letting myself drown in the familiar music. Anything to get my mind back to a good place.

Too bad I had an audience.

When I reopen my eyes, I screech loudly at the figure standing by my bed. I spin around so my back is facing him. However, I didn't miss that little amused smile on his face as he watched me. My face is flaming red. "Damnit, Loki!" I yell, mainly to myself rather than him. I cover my face in an attempt to get my humiliated blush to go away.

"Please, don't stop on my account," he says, a large hint of amusement in his tone. I can hear the creak of the bed and assume he took a seat. I guess he's not going away.

Once I get my blush under my control again, I spin around and pin him with a glare. "Haven't you ever heard of knocking?" He shrugs and glances out the window, that small smile still on his face. "Maybe I should put a bell on you," I mumble to myself, walking over to the vanity. "Maybe then I'll know when you're sneaking up on me."

"I would hardly call this sneaking up on you," he retorts. I roll my eyes. "I would not state it as my fault that you cannot hear a simple knock on your own door," he continues and I deliberately roll my eyes at him again. He simply gives me a flat look back. I sit down and clasp the sun necklace around my neck and pull my boots on. I cough a few times before standing and strapping the sword to my belt. I let the music play rather than responding to him, allowing the songs to relax me little by little. Loki seems to be listening to it as well while looking around my room in mild curiosity. I start humming along to Christina Aguilera (I could attempt to sing it, but I would fail horribly. I can sing, but not like her) while finishing getting ready for the day.

"You call this noise music?" he asks suddenly, breaking the oddly comfortable silence between the two of us.

I glance over at him from my desk where I am arranging some of the books that I had dumped here. He has a mildly disgusted look on his face. I break out into a smile. "While I agree it's not the best music my realm has to offer, yes, it is widely considered as music."

"Your realm is obviously confused on what is worthy music."

I roll my eyes yet again. Honestly. "I take it you have a better idea of what music is worthy of being listened to?" I ask, giving him a mildly annoyed look.

"Of course," he answers, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. I shake my head at him. Pompous bastard. I cough again before looking outside to see the sun is halfway up the sky. Odd. Sif is usually here by now.

I must have had a confused look on my face because Loki stands and moves towards me. He stops on the other side of my desk, placing a hand on the speaker and automatically shutting it off. "Sif and the other warriors have been sent to deal with a skirmish that has broken out on Vanaheim. If you would like, I can be your tutor for the day. Or you can ask my mother. I'm sure she will not mind instructing you for today."

I raise my eyebrows in surprise. "Wait. Let me get this straight. You are offering to teach me in Sif's stead?"

He nods his head.

"Do you even know how to use a short sword?"

"Of course." I get an eye roll.

"What's the catch?" I ask.

"There is no catch," he says, mild exasperation in his tone. He crosses his arms across his chest. "I feel the need to do something other than spend my morning wasting away in the library and you need a tutor. That is all. However, if the offer is so unappealing—"

"It's not unappealing," I interrupt, cutting him off. "I'm just surprised is all." And surprised is putting it mildly. He has never once offered to help me. Not since last night. Does this sudden offer have to do with that?

He shrugs. "Are you accepting then?"

"Yeah, sure," I reply haltingly, starting to mentally question this snap decision. I should have thought this through more.

"Good." He gives me a curt nod and turns toward the door. I follow—hesitatingly, but I follow. It's only as we are walking down the hallways toward the practice courtyard that I really start to question this arrangement. I mean, I know he teaches Modi and Magni, but does that mean he's a good teacher? There is a lot that goes into being a good teacher besides showing how to do something and do it well. There has to be patience and understanding, as well as being able to compromise. The Loki I know doesn't do that well.

Well, this is going to either end disastrously or spectacularly.

Once we enter the courtyard, the dynamic between us changes. I crack my neck and face him as I would any of my previous instructors and not as the man who has been my bodyguard and, frankly, the massive pain in the ass I have been viewing him as. Likewise, he becomes a mildly different person, his stance changing from casually relaxed to focused with one shift of his arms. He clasps them behind his back and I assume the modified "at ease" position of the modern American military: feet spread apart evenly and hands clasped in front of me. Something I was taught at a young age by my family as they have been my main teachers since I was a child.

I must admit, I'm surprised by Loki's change during our lesson. He reminds me of one of my college friends. I sat in one of her classes when she became a high school science teacher after we both graduated. She is normally loud, boisterous, and completely over-the-top dramatic, but as soon as she is in front of her kids, her entire demeanor changes to that of cool professionalism and kind words and patience. Loki's change is almost identical to that one.

After asking me what I know so far, he tells me to just show him what I can do. With that, our spar begins. He's actually a good teacher. I won't say better than Sif. Okay, I'm thinking it, but I won't say it. It will only inflate his ego. He is able to point out what is wrong with my stances and adjust them so I'm properly balanced, fixes my grip so the sword will be easier for me to use, and shows me a few moves that I can practice on my own. He even shows me a trick to throwing the sword if I ever need to, which is nice. Before, when I tried on my own, it would usually land far afield of where I was aiming. And I have damn good aim.

After the slight adjustments and instructions, we fight. He uses a short sword as well, only telling me that it will do me well to watch someone else use the same weapon so I can get a better idea of how it should be used. I agree with him and it is actually a massive help with my own understanding of what to do and how to do it.

I'm currently laying on my back staring up at the clear sky. Again. I seem to end up in this position a lot. My sword is somewhere. He managed to flip it out of my hand before flipping me onto my back and thus how I am currently blinking up at the sky and trying to relearn how to breathe. It's proving to be harder than usual, which is mildly alarming. I start coughing again. That tickle in the back of my throat hasn't quite gone away and I'm starting to think that it won't. I try to muster up the strength to push myself up but before I can, Loki is standing over me. "Stay down," he commands, placing my sword back into its sheath. He sits down beside me. "I think that will do for today."

I nod and cough again. Shit. I better not be getting what I think I'm getting. I close my eyes, pulling my knees up to rest my feet flat on the ground, and catalogue my body. I might get a few mild bruises from when Loki blocked my punches and when I landed on my back (yet again) but other than that, nothing too serious. I am pretty weak, though. I can usually last longer than this. I know it wasn't Loki that tired me out so fast—he used no more force than what Sif uses when she's training me. I can feel that tickle in my throat start to make itself known more prominently and I cough again trying to get it to go away. No luck.

I sigh and finally sit up once I get my breathing under control again. I feel exhaustion tugging at my limbs and I know it's not just from my lack of sleep. I feel a cool hand on my forehead and I turn to look at Loki. "You're warm," he says simply, raising an eyebrow in question, his hand dropping to his side once more.

That doesn't mean much. I am usually warm. But I get what he's implying and it's annoying. I sigh and hang my head. I will not admit defeat just yet. "Thank you, Loki," I say instead, attempting to change the topic. "You're a better teacher than I thought you would be."

"I have plenty of practice."

I snort. "I bet the twins give you plenty of trouble."

"The twins, their father…"

I glance over at him again. "Uncle Thor?"

He gives me a dubious glance out of the corner of his eye. "My brother may have always been a good fighter, but academics was his Achilles heel, so to speak." I laugh. I can see that. "I will admit, it is nice to instruct someone who is attentive, for once," he continues, his eyes fixated on the sky.

"That's me," I quip. "Attentive to a fault."

"That I doubt."

"Oh, shut up."

He snickers quietly and I roll my eyes, coughing into my hand yet again. Nope, still not admitting defeat, even if my throat is slowly turning to sandpaper. I blink, thinking back on what he just said. "Wait, you know of Achilles?" I ask, turning to look at him.

He rolls his eyes. "The twins felt the need to tell me the story you had told them in the middle of one of their lessons. With some mild alterations." He turns to look at me. "But, I was already familiar with the demigod's story, yes."

I grin slightly. "Cool. I didn't realize you would know of Earth mythologies."

"I am familiar with some of them, the Greeks probably being more extensive."

"Huh." I cough again. I growl in frustration once I get a hold on that bout. I don't want to be sick, damnit! Bagging the whole thing (even though I was quietly enjoying our conversation. I will never admit that out loud), I stand up and look at Loki while he also pulls himself up ten times more gracefully than I did. "I better get back to my room before I infect everyone," I say, rubbing my forehead a little. I can feel a headache coming on. He nods in agreement and escorts me back to my room.

Upon entering, I flop on my bed facedown, groaning. I don't want to move anymore. I roll over and pull off my armor, flinging it in the general direction of my closet. I stand up, pulling the plush blanket with me and walk over to the fireplace. I place my hand on the cool stone and watch as a fire roars to life. I figured out that little trick my first week here. All of the rooms are enchanted to accommodate those within them. Say I want a bath: the bath will be waiting by the time I get to the bathroom. I want a fire? Done. It also makes my bed and will take care of my clothing if I really wanted. It basically eliminates the need for a servant or maid to pick up after me (although, I still think someone comes in here to change the sheets when I'm not around) which is nice. Nothing wrong with having a maid or whatever, but I can see myself accidentally attacking someone in a half-asleep stupor or something. I'm not sure if it's a spell on all of the rooms in the palace, but I know Lady Frigga placed one on this room for my comfort, at least.

Now if only I could get my trailer in Norway to do that.

I turn my back on the fire and start arranging the blanket in a nest formation on the blue and green rug. I walk back over to the massive bed and start grabbing as many pillows as I can carry and another blanket to continue my construction. Loki is still standing by the doorway, watching my progress with a dubious/amused expression on his face. I must look quite the sight. I've gotten into the habit of ignoring him when he is on guard duty. Easier than panicking over what he might be thinking when I do something slightly off the norm. Which, I admit, is often.

"What exactly are you doing?" he finally asks, walking over to better see what I'm making.

"Building a nest," I respond. I finally get it to be perfect, the pillows arranged in a semi-circle with the blankets making up the floor padding. I climb inside and nestle down, cuddling a pillow to my chest. "I fully intend on sweating this virus or whatever it is out of my system and this will help me."

I can't see his face as I am facing the fire, but I'm sure he is shaking his head at me or something. Everyone usually does. "I will leave you to your sweating then," he says, a very large hint of amusement clouding his voice.

"Hey, Loki?" I call out before he can leave. "Can you do me a favor?" I don't get a response, but I don't hear his boots moving across the floor, so I take that as a go ahead. "Can you tell the boys and Aunt Jane to avoid me at all costs until I'm well again? I don't want them to catch whatever it is I got. And can you tell Uncle Thor not to worry?"

"Why would my brother worry?"

"Everyone does." I shrug. "When I get sick, I get sick hard. My immune system isn't as strong as it should be. Trust me, he'll worry." That's not the whole truth, but I'd rather tell him the important bits rather than trying to explain a childhood sickness that landed me in the hospital for the first five years of my life.

"I shall relay those messages for you."

"Thanks, Loki."

I hear him walk back across the floor and the bang of the door shutting. Only the crackling of the fire fills the sudden silence in the vast room. I forgot to turn on my music. Sighing loudly, I climb out of my nest and turn on my music to a low level. I put it on my classic rock playlist—which I find oddly soothing—and let the guitar riffs play. I walk to my bathroom and grab a few glasses of water to lay in reach. When I cough, I can feel a rattle in my chest, letting me know that this cold is really starting to take hold. Fantastic. Climbing back into my makeshift bed, I close my eyes and sigh again.

This is going to suck.

OoO

Whatever this sickness was, it was not your typical cold, or even flu. And it was a royal pain.

I don't remember much after the first couple hours of lying in my nest. I was in a delirious haze the majority of the time once the sickness really set in. I know Lady Frigga spent time with me. She was always there when I had a few moments of clarity, which were few and far between. But I can't be sure of anything else. I'm pretty sure I dreamed of Uncle Bruce and Uncle Clint. They were having an arm wrestling match in the corner of the room at one point. Uncle Bruce was getting so pissed that he Hulked out. I don't think that actually happened. Especially considering the Hulk and Uncle Clint got into an argument about cheating after that. My mind comes up with some strange things.

I saw the Jotun Man a few times as well. He was simply talking to me, his red eyes what I remember the most. I know that couldn't have been the case, though. He had his hands on my neck and forehead. The real Jotun Man would never do that. He's still very cautious about touching me. I'm pretty sure Loki was around at one point too. I remember him talking to Frigga about something quietly. I don't remember anything other than his voice, though.

Other than that though, I was only accompanied by strange dreams and heat. I was so hot. But, I am convinced that staying under the covers ultimately helped me get the virus out of my system.

I am currently walking down the corridor with Frigga keeping a gentle hold on my arm in case I fall over. I haven't quite gotten my balance back yet. We are heading to the dining hall so I can eat something. It's been three days and this is the clearest I have been in all that time. I'm still so tired. I don't feel like I slept at all and I know that's pretty much all I did. And I don't even want to talk about how weak I feel. But, I am standing and walking relatively on my own. I will take these small victories.

"I'm sorry for being such a bother," I mumble to the stoic woman beside me. I can't help but feel like I'm a nuisance. Not to mention, I'm hardly walking at my normal speed and it's taking us far longer than normal to reach the dining hall.

"You are not a bother, dear," she gently reprimands me. "I would take all the time in the world to help you be healthy again."

I smile slightly. I still feel like I'm being a bother, but I will take the help she is offering. We walk the rest of the way in relative silence, considering it is taking most of my concentration to walk in a somewhat straight line. By the time we enter the dining hall, I am overcome with relief. I can finally sit! Honestly, why is this place so damn big? I should feel more alarmed at my weakness, but I really don't care.

Aunt Jane comes over and gives me a hug, asking about how I was doing and feeling while also feeling my forehead for the now gone fever. Frigga answers all of her questions so I don't have to. I bare the sudden attention with as much grace as I can. I understand she was probably very worried about me. I'm just glad she listened to my request to stay away. The boys clamber out of their seats and also come over to see me and I smile at them, letting them know that I'm okay.

Well, relatively speaking.

We all take a seat and I sigh in contentment. As always, there is an overabundance of food. My stomach churns uncomfortably. I grimace slightly at the food, trying to keep the expression to myself. The last thing I want to do is eat, but I have to get something into my stomach. It's as I'm trying to figure out what to eat that will cause the least discomfort when Loki walks in. He takes a seat beside me as usual.

He places a cool hand on my forehead without any warning. I'm starting to get tired of everyone's fussiness. I'm just surprised that he is acting this way too. I turn my head to blink at him in askance. "I see you are much better than the last time I saw you," he comments, his hand finally falling away.

"When was that?" I ask. My memory is spotty at best and I don't know when we last talked.

He raises his eyebrows in surprise. "Last night. We even spoke. Do you not remember?"

I shake my head. I can only imagine what that conversation was like. I lean back and thump my head against the chair. This whole moving around and conversing thing is exhausting.

"It took you long enough to get well again," he says quietly. I roll my eyes. I feel like I do that a lot when we talk.

"Yes, because I have full control of my body's ability to fight a virus," I reply. There isn't too much venom in my voice though. I just don't have the energy.

He smirks in response. "You must be feeling better if you can respond with such sarcasm."

I shake my head. Honestly. There are times when I feel like he can actually be somewhat of an agreeable person and then he starts this crap up again. I honestly can't tell if he is trying to antagonize me or figure me out. Well, I feel that way about him sometimes, so I suppose it's a two-way street.

"And don't think you are not going to be eating," he continues suddenly, capturing my attention again. "You need to get your strength back up."

See? I can't tell if it's out of duty or genuine concern that he said that. Ugh, I'm thinking too much. Shoving these thoughts aside for the time being, I look at the table laden with food. I spot a lone pot of what looks to be soup. Yes. I will take that, please.

Before I can move to get myself a bowl, Magni pops up and pours the soup into an accompanying bowl. He immediately walks around the table and hands it to me. "Why, thank you, Magni," I say in genuine surprise.

"You're welcome, Charlie. If you need my help with anything, just let me know!"

Grinning at his cute offer, I tell him I will and watch him walk back to sit beside his brother. Aunt Jane is smiling in pride at her son. I'm surprised as well. While the twins are not horrendously selfish, per say, they do have a tendency to forget about others, as most children do. Maybe this is a sign that they are starting to mature a little?

A few seconds later, Odin joins us. He takes a seat and everyone digs in. I eat slowly, giving the soup plenty of time to cool before taking a bite. Frigga and Loki are watching me like a pair of hawks. I really want to roll my eyes at the both of them. I know I need to eat. I'm not dumb enough to not eat after going three days without food and being as sick as I was. I don't though. As it stands, I'm just trying to finish the small bowl that's in front of me. And it's proving to be harder than I thought.

After finishing, I lean back and rest my head against the chair again. Odin speaks with me for a moment about how I'm feeling. After confirming that I feel much better, he quietly requests that I take a few days to rest and if I need to skip my training session this week, that I do so. I nod. God, everyone was worried about me. It's only then that I notice a very large absence at the table. Wow, I must have really been out of it to miss him.

"Where's Uncle Thor?" I ask to the quietly eating table. Loki hands me a small piece of bread while I wait for an answer from the chewing King. I raise my eyebrow at it. Loki simply gives me a pointed look in response and I just sigh, pulling it out of his grasp. I start tearing it apart so it will be easier to eat.

"I had to send my son to help his warriors two days ago," the King finally answers, looking over to me. "The skirmish on Vanaheim is taking more time to settle than originally anticipated."

"Oh. Is everyone okay?"

"Yes, they are well." He grins at me slightly. "I believe everyone should be home by the end of this week."

"That's good to hear."

"Thor wasn't too happy to leave you," Aunt Jane pipes up.

"Yes," Frigga confirms, nodding her head. "I had to practically force him out of your room to get him to go."

I smile. That sounds like my uncle.

I finish eating my small piece of bread and let everyone else finish in peace. My eyes are already starting to droop in my exhaustion. And I didn't even do much. All I did was walk here and eat and I'm ready to climb back into my giant bed and pass out.

I must have drifted off. The next thing I know, I feel a solid hand on my shoulder and I jerk myself back to full wakefulness. Aunt Jane and the boys are gone and Frigga keeps glancing over to me with a worried look. Well, that was rude of me. "Come," Loki commands quietly. "I will take you back to your room." He stands. I shake myself to help wake up and stand up as well. The room spins for a moment, so I stand still until it finally settles back down after a few moments. I follow Loki's retreating form slowly, keeping my lacking balance in mind. After I finally make it out of the dining hall, he offers me his arm. I take it without question. I don't feel like questioning his motives today.

That would take the rest of the day, if not the year, to figure out.

I stumble over my own feet a few times, but Loki keeps me upright. By the time we get back to my room, I feel like a complete and utter klutz. Loki doesn't comment, thank God, just opens my door for me. Once I see my bed, I smile in relief and promptly fall into it. I maneuver into a more comfortable position—mainly my head resting where my pillows are—and immediately start to drift off. I feel a hand on my forehead, brushing my hair aside. Before I can say anything to the man in my room, I fall asleep, drifting in inky black clouds.

Not a single dream comes for me that night.