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under the misteltein

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Tromsø, Norway (December 24th)

The last gleam of twilight flickers upon the water; the atmosphere itself seems to shiver with the rush of dimensional upheaval and Jane moves back inside for a moment to flick a switch, set low in the wall near the glass patio doors. There’s a split second where the living room remains in darkness and then with a faint crackle and a flood of warm light the Christmas decorations she’d spent most of the afternoon hanging burst into life, the ceiling aglow with a web-like canopy of white while ropes of scarlet and silver drip from picture frame and curtain rail alike. The pine tree in the corner glistens, kaleidoscopic colours refracting merrily from baubles and snowflakes hung upon its branches and Jane gives a little smile as her small sitting room becomes an enchanting grotto of dancing light and colour.

It can’t compare to the bifröst, exploding out of the upper skies to deliver its passengers to her back door, but for the first time since she moved into the bungalow on the Tromsø coast eight months ago, it feels like home.

“Darce,” she calls, cocking her head with a soft smile as she hears the other woman clatter out of the kitchen. In a sparkling blur of blue and green, beaming a white-toothed smile, Darcy rushes into the room in time to witness the blinding impact of the bifröst on the back lawn. She glimmers tonight in a pretty party dress that sways about her knees with every movement, her chestnut curls tumbling wildly down her back as she joins Jane on the patio and waves to the first of the evening’s guests.

It hadn’t been Jane’s intention to host a party in her home in the run-up to Christmas, since she’s not exactly proud of the disarray in which her long (self-imposed) working hours have kept the place. In her head she forgets it’s been eight months; forgets even that nearly four years have passed since she first came to Norway. Four years, since the day she’d touched down on the airstrip to find the face of the man she’d thought lost all over the international news, having contributed to the salvation of the earth by most accounts, and had swiftly enough realised that her sudden invitation to the Tromsø facility had been been little more than a thinly-veiled attempt at keeping her out of a chaos god’s vindictive reach. No, it hadn’t taken her long to see through what some might call a benevolent gesture on the part of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it hadn’t been that much longer before she’d made the best of an opportunity and secured a place for herself here.

Over the past few years she’s developed her initial research on the Tesseract into a viable experimental theorem (much to the astonishment of the scientists and S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives assigned to her project). But then, she’d pointed out sourly when someone had been a little too impressed with her work ethic, she wasn’t going to waste the trip to the facility just because it hadn’t originally been offered with genuine spirit. That had shut them up, and made Thor chuckle at the determined adaptability of his Midgardian sweetheart: in her resilience, and refusal to make anything but the best of a given situation, Jane reminds him often of Sif. It had been a long time since he’d visited Scandinavia – since any of the Æsir had, in fact – but he did not doubt that she would acclimatise to the cooler weather as she had done the warmer climes of New Mexico. And in the three years since, she’d done just that. Only recently had she found a more permanent home on the coast, though, and he had been her first guest in the spring. Well – him and Eric. Somehow (and Jane suspects that if she looks hard enough she might just find Darcy’s hand behind it) their help had been enlisted in unpacking her belongings and setting up her equipment in her new home. Neither had complained, though.

She thinks that Darcy might also have something to do with tonight – with the party that seems to have magically arranged itself around her – especially since more than merely Thor will be arriving via bifröst tonight, and the former intern is possibly the only one who would invite the Asgardians to a festive soiree. She’s come along with Eric, since she’s completing her doctorate at Culver, and the others…well, they arrive with quite literally a flash and a bang, as the dizzying vortex of the rainbow bridge deposits them in her backyard.

And sure enough, along with Fandral the handsome warrior (who’d struck up a warm sort of camaraderie with Darcy on his previous visits) come two of the Æsir Jane possibly least expected to see at her party.

The Lady Sif emerges from the updraft of whirling snow first, brushing white dust from her bare arms with fastidious grace before striding forward and holding out a hand to clasp Jane’s forearm, a warm smile on her windswept features for the two mortals waiting on the patio. Out of her sculpted armour, clad in a scoop-necked dress of dark green and faded gold ballet slippers, the striking swordswoman looks almost like a Midgardian. Almost. She is still, to Jane’s informed eyes, absolutely alien – an enchanting alien, all tangling black hair, liquid eyes and hard curves, but an alien nonetheless – though she seems to suit this colder landscape better than she had done the desert.

Space Vikings, Jane recalls Darcy’s nickname for them. Scandinavia’s where their legend arose, after all. The Norse myths are woven in and around the personal histories of her party guests, though the accuracy of those myths…well, she’s grateful that it can safely be rejected. If there had been a touch more truth to them she might never have found herself an Asgardian partner, might have seen him followed to Earth five years ago not by a quartet of loyal warriors, but by his faithful wife.

Looking at Sif now, Jane can’t see a woman content with the life of a demure spouse. Sif seems the sort that would, if she even felt the need in the first place, seek out a lover who’d challenge her – give her something to fight for, rather than to cling to.

That thought does nothing to prepare Jane for the next few moments. Following Sif comes Fandral, also dressed in the manner of Earth and shadowed by (and here Jane has to force herself not to stare) Thor’s brother. Loki, the one whose attack had brought her out here in the first place. She eyes him cautiously, until Fandral swoops down on her hand and plants a kiss on her knuckles.

“Fair Jane,” he begins, “Our sincerest thanks, for your most courteous invitation.”

She waves his sentiments away with a smile, but his blue eyes and his charming smile are already on Darcy and she doubts he even notices.

“Er…hello,” Jane turns to Loki, who bows his head to kiss her hand as Fandral had done, though with considerably less warmth. Nevertheless his smile is polite and his own greeting seems heartfelt enough; Jane casts a curious glance over her shoulder as he follows Sif indoors, and then Thor is upon her.

He doesn’t bother kissing her hand, or offering a flowery greeting. He simply sweeps her up into his arms and crushes her in one of her favourite hugs – the kind that crams their heartbeats together and seems to weld him to her until they aren’t even separate beings from separate worlds anymore, merely Thor-and-Jane, Jane-and-Thor, and the others might as well have disappeared.

-

“Misteltein?”

Loki turns towards the soft-spoken observation. Sif peers up to where the bright green plant hangs in a pretty garland from a light fixture above their heads, dripping coiling leaves and pearly berries to capture her curiosity and interest.

The others have retreated to their own spaces throughout the little house – Thor and Jane outdoors to indulge in their favoured pastime of stargazing; Darcy to a corner of the room where she might better flirt with Fandral, and Eric to the most comfortable armchair he can find to fall asleep in – and until Loki had joined her, Sif had been alone by the Christmas tree. The warm glow from the squat fir incongruously potted and decorated a few feet away gilds her in a hazy luminosity, highlighting the contrast between her creamy skin and dark, smoky eyes as she turns back to him. “Some mortal custom?”

“A trifling thing,” Loki nods, closing the distance to stand beside her and twine his fingers with her own. She lets their hands tangle together, realises that if she chose she might rest her head without difficulty on his shoulder, and she would fit perfectly into the curve of his arm if he were to only lift it. She doesn’t move, though, content with the gentle pressure of his hand enclosing her own. There aren’t many moments like this, but they’re sweet enough to compensate for their rarity.

“Is it for luck?” she asks, reaching up to brush a twisting tendril of mistletoe with one finger. It sways at her touch, turning slightly, and Loki shakes his head.

“The mortals kiss beneath it. They seem to believe it has some sort of power to dissolve social conventions and allow for intimate contact between mere acquaintances and even strangers.” He snorts, mildly scornful: “I know not why – Eir could tell you more of its properties than I.”

Sif chooses not to argue with that claim; she is well aware that Loki knows more of this particular plant than just about anyone in Asgard. But tonight, no doubt he seeks to forget it. That and a great many other things.

The little clock perched on the mantelpiece makes a faint chiming noise, and Loki realises that the hour of midnight has come and gone.

The twenty-fifth. Another day, another god born. Who was it this day? Mithras? No…one came after him. I think by that point we’d stopped paying attention.

“Midnight. Merry Christmas, I believe is the phrase.”

Sif smiles, “Yes. Merry Christmas, Loki. Blessèd be.”

In silence they stand for a few moments more, side-by-side watching the stars soar by through the window, and then Loki casts a glance up at the mistletoe garland.

“Though I suppose,” he continues an earlier thought, “There must be a form of good fortune in it.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.” A faint smile quirks the corner of his mouth. “I – and many others, I do not doubt – would count themselves lucky enough to stand beneath the mistletoe with you, Sif.”

Sif bites her lip to keep from laughing. “You know, sometimes I can’t tell whether you’re flattering me out of some misguided sense of kindness, or because you want something. Which is it?”

“The latter,” says Loki with a smirk. He isn’t about to reject a somewhat-useful Midgardian custom just because it borders on nonsensical in nature, not when it’s Sif, so warm and glowing at his side, whose kisses are the prize.

She mirrors his mocking smile, her eyes flashing with merriment. “Of course. How foolish of me, to even doubt. What is it you want, Loki?”

He doesn’t dignify her teasing with an answer, instead uses his free hand to tilt her chin up and claim her mouth, steal from her a swift kiss – though in truth it can’t be called stealing, not really, for her hands come up to catch his jaw and her lips seize his own and she presses herself against him as if to reclaim the kiss and the air in his lungs along with it.

When they part, she lingers no more than a breath away, her hands resting on his lapels and her chest – oh, he can feel her heartbeat through her skin, a staccato echo of his own, and he curls an arm about her waist as if to pull her closer (though there’s no space between them, no more distance to cross).

“You know, I quite like this custom,” she murmurs against his mouth.