So, since Lorelei technically hasn't appeared in the "Thor" movies yet, this is technically a crossover with Agents of SHIELD.

Anyway, this is a fic written in response to a very disturbing realization I had. That being that "Yes Men", while being otherwise a great episode...really seemed to drop the ball on the fact that Lorelei? Is a goddamn rapist. By design. I was disappointed with how that really didn't seem to go properly acknowledged. As far as I can tell, the reason it didn't go properly acknowledged was because the ones being raped were men, and men are "weak".

Since we got all those hints during the episode about her having gotten her hands on Thor sometime in the past, I found myself wondering what Loki must have been doing during that whole mess. I know it's standard protocol in Marvel that she and Loki have a Thing, which I figured probably couldn't happen if Loki wasn't at least partially immune to her abilities. But how much good can "partially" immune do, in a situation like that?

I have no idea how this turned into a Sifki fic. But I'm glad it did. This fic got way more political and socially comentary-like than I'm used to. Given the subject matter that spawned it, however, that's probably only to be expected.

Loki had insisted that he be the one to go and scout out Lorelei's castle.

The problems with such a plan were obvious, of course. Many of Asgard's bravest, mightiest warriors had already fallen under the witch's enchantment, including Thor himself. That, Sif knew, was the reason Loki was so intent on going. For all that they fought, she knew Loki missed and worried about his brother as much as his parents did. As much as they all did.

Sometimes, Sif thought that Loki's loyalty to Thor, bordering on devotion, was the only positive trait he had left.

"I can resist her voice," he insisted to his somber-faced parents. "And that's more than any other man here can claim by now. I won't let her touch me. The truth is that we can't spare any of the shield maidens or Valkyries. We'll need every one of them for the invasion. I can find out where we need to invade."

"Be that as it may, even if your frankly high esteem of your abilities is accurate…" Odin began, ignoring the sharp look his wife shot him before she spoke up.

"…we cannot risk it," Frigga finished, sad but grim as she looked back to her youngest son. "We cannot risk you, Loki."

"If it should reach the worst with Thor…if this witch's spell proves too hard to break…Asgard needs an heir. Asgard needs a prince, and we will not lose another son to her."

Sif, who was watching all of this unfold in the throne room with the other guards, could see Loki winding up to fight even harder at this. After all, Loki already wasn't good at letting insults to his pride pass unchallenged, and here were his parents outright contradicting his opinion of his abilities. Sif knew they were right, of course, and doing the only sensible thing to protect their remaining child. The Warriors Three had spent days in the healing chambers recovering from their unsuccessful attempt to bring Thor back to his senses.

Something in his parent's eyes must have communicated as much to Loki, however. He was still all but vibrating with indignant, helpless rage, an energy Sif knew all too well. However, rather than arguing further, his intelligence seemed to win out against his pride just this once. He merely bowed to them both and said, in a voice tight with control, "I see. I understand. My apologies, for wasting your time, your majesties."

Then he turned on his heel and stalked from the hall without another word, without waiting for either of them to say another word, and without looking back.

Really, Sif thought she should have known from the start that it was only the calm before the storm. They all should have, knowing Loki as well and as long as they had. Although, of course, there was the question of just how well anyone could know Loki. All the same, it was only wishful thinking and the stress of Asgard's looming but inevitable war with its own soldiers that led any of them to really believe that Loki had really conceded the point. That, and the sounds of subdued but present life they heard coming from the door to his rooms for two days after. If the doors were locked to any and all attempts to enter or speak with him, Sif put it down to sulking and Frigga put it down to grief.

It was Frigga, however, who put an end to that. Frigga who recognized the deception springing from the very tricks she'd taught her son. Sif only looked into his room later to wonder how he'd done it, and found the answer in the form of a small, glowing orb hovering in the middle of the room, playing back the sounds they'd been hearing. Heimdall swore on his life that he hadn't let Loki past him and had no idea how he'd managed it, which was an explanation everyone accepted because Loki had been doing some very heavy research into very obscure magic as of late, and desperation could drive a man to dangerous lengths.

And there was no going after him, not without tipping their hand and perhaps putting Loki himself in even more danger. Loki's little stunt changed nothing, in truth, beyond possibly giving their enemy another pawn on their side.

Sif still worried about him, beneath her habitual frustration. Sif still hoped he would come back, even if he came back alone. Loki had his faults – very many faults, in her opinion – but he'd been her friend since they were children. Besides, just this once, she trusted that his intentions were unreservedly good. If she'd thought that haring off alone to Lorelei's stronghold was the only way of helping Thor, Sif couldn't be sure she wouldn't have done the same.

Deep down, she knew that her frustration at him was at least in part because Loki had gone off alone. He could have asked for her help, after all.

Loki returned home two days later, in the dead of night, and he returned home alone. He was forced to creep back into the castle past the remaining loyal Asgardian soldiers marshalling in courtyard, city, and tavern. It wasn't that he really feared being seen by them, of course. Yes, he'd acted in defiance of Asgard's sovereign rulers, but he'd done so to try and save Asgard's best beloved son, and he was returning with both valuable information and his mind very much still his own. Perhaps even more than when he'd left, and when – oh, Norns, let it be when – a call went out for an executioner to take Lorelei's head, Loki would fight to be first in line.

He gritted his teeth and shook his head, trying to shove the red hot, pulsing rage aside, or at least deeper down into the dark. Don't be a fool. Get a hold of yourself. The entire endeavor had gone as well as he could have possibly expected, after all. He'd gotten away, and like a man who's fever was finally breaking, Loki knew that he wouldn't fall prey to that particular strain of infection ever again. He'd gotten away, and he'd managed it mostly unharmed, except for the marks left by the cuffs on his wrists, ankles, and throat. Except for the lingering burn between his legs, echo of a fire that had nearly consumed him.

Compared to how bad it could have been, however, he was fine. He should be proud. He should be swaggering through the marshaled ranks with his head held high. His admittedly stupid, desperate plan had worked.

So why did he mostly feel the overpowering need to hide in a bath and scour himself until his skin forgot the memory of her touch?

It was true that Loki could still feel her, even with his clothes back on. They were a slight but reassuring weight, a barrier between him and the rest of the world and the very possibility of being touched and bound like that ever again. No one could touch him like that, now.

Loki stopped, leaning against a shadowy corner on the right side of the palace walls. He felt a bit better, with them looming between himself and the outside world, but not much. The feeling of filth didn't dissipate, especially now that a bath seemed like a genuine possibility. He closed his eyes, hands moving to massage his temples, and then opened them sharply as her gaze, her smile, confronted him from the blackness behind his eyes. Loki gritted his teeth, screwed up his face, castigated himself for this weakness. He couldn't report back to Mother and Father like this, couldn't face them like this, cringing and stumbling and violated.

Stop that. You're fine. You have no reason to feel this way, she only…

Maybe a bath was in order.

He could scrub these idiot thoughts out of his head. So resolved, Loki went to work creeping back into the palace, and towards the palace public baths.

Unfortunately, not every Asgardian was quite as lost in anticipation in their own heads as he'd hoped, even now on the eve of battle.

"You!" Sif hissed, seeing right through his admittedly shaking glamour and stalking right towards him down the hall, the light of murder in her eyes.

"Me," Loki admitted dully, letting the spell drop and not even trying to duck away. It would only cause more fuss. He only hoped he could talk her into leaving him alone, at least long enough to scour himself.

"I should call the guards and have them toss you safely in a cell right now, traitor!" She drew near – too near – and jabbed him forcibly in the chest. "Why has your mistrss sent you back here, Silvertongue? To gloat? Sabotage? Assassin…"

"Lorelei is a black-hearted, soulless wench, and being strung up as food for crows by her own entrails would be far too kind a fate."

That brought Sif up short – Loki reflected that she'd always been the brightest of Thor's friends. Her eyes remained narrowed in suspicion, but she didn't call the guards. "She could have told you to say that."

Loki smiled, although the expression hurt. "She might have. But come now, Sif, you've met her, if blessedly briefly. Do you truly think she would have? I'll add, if you're still concerned, that she is a hideously ugly hag who couldn't find attention on the darkest corners of the Medina streets."

Sif snorted, the corners of her mouth twitching upwards ever so briefly. She relaxed, however, the whipcord tension leaving her stance, and Loki did as well. No fuss, then. That was good.

It was even okay when she reached out to clap him rather too heavily on the shoulder. Gestures like that were familiar. Thor, especially, enjoyed manhandling him like that. Gestures of, yes, call it "affection" like that were like claps of lightning, brief and bright and too sudden to do anything about. Not like those touches that crept up over you like snakes looking for soft flesh to bite.

"I'm glad you're back," Sif said, grudgingly. Even Loki managed a smile when she added, rather less grudgingly. "After all, I wouldn't have held back if we'd found you defending her."

"Nor would I have expected you to."

"I suppose you're off to report?"

"In a while. Kings and Queens need their rest just as much as anyone else, after all." At the skeptical look on Sif's face, Loki waved a hand dismissively. "The news will keep for an hour. It's not as though you even know where to go. But I have come a very long way, and I believe the least I am owed is a bath as a result."

Without waiting for a reply – if she was going to call the guards anyway, there was clearly nothing he could do about it – Loki brushed past her and continued on towards his destination. For a moment, no footsteps followed him, and Loki let himself relax.

"We do know where to go."

And then he stopped dead, the sounds of his last few footsteps still echoing in the hallway.

Sif, to her credit, was obviously aware of just how particularly distressing this news was. Her voice was not unsympathetic as she added: "The Queen knew what you were up to. Fortunately for us all, you went into Lorelei's domain far less warded against scrying than Lorelei herself. By tracking you, the Queen was able to find her. We march the morning after next."

"I see." Loki swallowed, his throat suddenly almost impossibly dry. He wondered, wildly, just how much Frigga had seen in tracking him, but no, that was stupid. He knew the spells she used because she'd taught them to him. Of course, he only knew the spells she'd taught, what if she'd used something else, something more detailed, to keep an eye on her other straying son?


He jerked in surprise to realize that Sif had crept nearer until she was scarcely two paces behind him, and he could feel her gaze burning the back of his neck. With a growl, he tugged his coat a little more firmly about himself, hopefully so that the collar of it hid the collar marks around his neck. He wasn't sure if he'd moved in time, however.

"Then there is even less reason for me to repot in right away, and all the more reason to clean myself up," he snapped without looking back, sure that his voice was betraying him far more than was acceptable but unsure if he could stop it. "Good night, Sif."

Sif, however, soon proved to be having none of that. "A bath sounds like a marvelous idea. I'll join you."

Of course she didn't actually trust him. Not enough to leave him alone. He'd been a fool to think otherwise. Of course, he was acting harmless now – because he was – but if she let him go and he really had been deceiving her, whatever havoc he worked on Asgard would be on her head.

No, Loki didn't foresee getting much time to himself at all, until the problem of Lorelei was resolved. All the more reason to do whatever he could to see it done.

And he couldn't complain, or shove her aside, because that would make her all the more suspicious. He couldn't say that he wanted to bathe alone, because the six of them had bathed together countless times before after returning from one of Thor's mad adventures. He couldn't say anything of what he was really feeling, because it would only make her suspicious, and the fact that he was feeling this way at all was idiotic. Sif didn't need any more reasons to think he was weak than she already had, not when he'd finally managed to give even the faintest possibility that he could be strong, even stronger than Thor.

"Don't let me stop you," was all Loki said out loud, and he let her follow him to the baths.

Sif told Loki to wait at the doors. That was all she said, and Loki raised his eyebrows but said nothing and did so. Sif, in turn, slipped inside to check, and was relieved to find the baths empty – Loki had returned at that strange time where late at night became early morning, and so everyone who wasn't already hard at work with something was still asleep. So she opened the doors for him, and locked them behind him, staring blankly back at Loki when he stared questioningly at her until he sighed and gave up the unspoken question.

They undressed in silence, and without looking at one another. Loki undressed quickly, as well – he was in the baths before Sif was halfway bare, having already grabbed a scrubbing rag from the basins by the walls. Sif followed more slowly, taking her time, and waiting until Loki had his back to her to take in the state of him. Loki might have obviously wished to hide, but like this, he couldn't.

Like this, she could clearly see the marks around his throat, and the welts around his wrists, and the long red scratches along his back. She could certainly see the way he was washing forcibly as though he were coated in mud, despite the fact that his skin was clean that she could see. They were marks that told a story, and not a pleasant one. She'd had her suspicions, but Sif had genuinely hoped she was wrong.

"See something you like?" Loki growled, half turning to glower back at her. Sif started, mentally kicking herself, and then looked away.

"So," she said, keeping her voice as light as she could. "You escaped."


"Did you see her?"

Again, Loki looked back at her, eyes narrowed in suspicion. He clearly knew she had a point to this line of questioning, but to ask what it was would be to tip his hand. "No. Fortunately not."

To anyone else, it might have been a good enough lie. After all, if Loki had encountered Lorelei, he would doubtless have fallen to her spell. Even Sif was surprised that his magic had apparently spared him that fate, because Loki had encountered Lorelei. Far more closely than he should have. Even if he'd spoken of her with derision, however, that derision had come with at least some familiarity, a secret shared rather than a story made up. She knew the difference in tone that came with each.

"Then what happened to you?" Sif asked quietly, nodding at his wounds. She couldn't see Loki's face, but she saw the way he ducked his head, how the muscles in his shoulders visibly tensed.

"While I was fortunate enough to avoid the wench herself, a few of her hired hands did discover me. With most of Asgard's secrets and techniques, not to mention some stolen equipment in their grasp, they managed to bind me quite handily, for a time. Not, however, long enough for their mistress to deign to attend to me before I affected an escape."

"I see."

Loki sighed, long and tired, and Sif felt guilt twisting at her stomach. What was she doing? Trying to help Loki, of course, but how much good could she really do if Loki didn't want to be helped? And was it really concern driving her on, or simply morbid curiosity?

"Just come out and say it, Sif. You don't believe me."

"Should I?"

"Call for the guards if you're going to. I imagine most of them would leap at the chance to have me where they could keep an eye on me for a while."

"I don't want to do that, Loki. I just…" Sif bit her lip, allowing herself a moment of weakness since he refused to look at her and therefore take advantage of it, before she ventured on, more hesitantly than she liked. "I want to know what you're so afraid of."

She might as well have slapped him. The water sloshed as Loki visibly flinched away from her, before turning to face her at last. His arms were wrapped tightly around himself as though to ward off the world, and he watched her as though he were a dog and she were winding up for another kick. He smiled, but the expression put her in mind of nothing so much as broken glass, over-bright and full of sharp edges to cut at the unwary. "Afraid? What could I possibly be afraid of, Sif? When I've accomplished what everyone said was impossible? Crossed Lorelei, the bane of all men, and returned with my mind my own?"

"I thought you said you never saw her?"

She knew she was being deliberately dense, but if that was what it took to batter Loki's lies to bits, then so be it. This time, it worked. It wasn't fair, not really – his lies weren't bad ones, she just knew him a bit too well, enough to spot the inconsistencies in his tone rather than his words. She saw it in the way Loki bared his teeth in frustration even as he broke their locked gazes, pretending to busy himself with washing still further. Not that he needed it. The skin of his arms and chest were already pink, all the more noticeable for how pale he usually was.

"And if your mission was such a success," said Sif quietly, watching him even as he tried to pretend she was no longer there. "Why are you so intent on scouring yourself?" Carefully, she reached out to catch hold of his wrist. From the way his fingers flexed beneath her grip, Sif was momentarily afraid that he was going to claw at her. He didn't, however, and for that she was grateful.

They stood there, neither looking at one another, for several long seconds broken only by the ripple of water and the sound of their breathing. Sif finally broke the standoff by releasing his wrist. Loki, as expected, promptly took a step back. He stared at the rag in his hands, sopping with soap, and Sif could only look long enough to see that his fingers were shaking before she had to look away as well.

"She fucked me, all right?" Loki said, very quietly, just as she'd at last given up hope on him saying anything at all. The rag dribbled water and suds into the bath as his fist closed around it, his eyes screwed up shut. "Is that what you wanted to hear, Sif?"

No, it wasn't. The fact that it was the truth that she'd been trying to coax him to say didn't change that fact. Sif let out her breath in a long, tired sigh, shaking her head. "I wanted you to say it," she corrected him, as gently as she was capable of. "So you knew it was nothing to be ashamed of."

Loki threw the rag in her face. Sif caught it neatly, but by the time her eyes found him again, it was to find Loki already moving to get out of the bath. Making a frustrated sound in her throat, Sif moved without thinking, reaching out now to grab his wrist once more. "Loki, wait…"

This time, he did slap her hand away. While he didn't get out of the pool, the way he looked at her as he turned back to face her, back pressed up against the wall, almost made her wish he would. Loki looked trapped, cornered, and she didn't want that. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Loki tremble. "I don't need you to mock me," he snarled. "If you think I'm not piercingly aware of my own failures, you are sorely mistaken, Sif."

"What failures?" Sif demanded, challenging him and hoping that Loki's pride would do the rest. "Loki, you should know that I of all people would never let you escape or lie your way out of a failure! But you are here, you are yourself, which is more than any man can say." She swallowed, and while it was hard for Sif to add what she did next, she forced herself to say it: "Even Thor."

"Only after I let her touch me," Loki replied, his voice dripping disgust and self-recrimination. He took a deep, shuddering breath, closing his eyes for a moment, and then opening them in the manner of a child plagued by nightmares. "Touched me and didn't stop and I wanted it, Sif. Just like all of her mewling, pathetic thralls."

Sif did her best to stay calm. It was, perversely, easier with Loki falling apart like this. That was a horrible thing to think, but true. It was easier, now, to deal with, he was easier to deal with, now that he'd admitted it and now that she could offer what help she was capable of without having to disguise the admittedly ugly issue. "You couldn't really want anything, Loki. Not for yourself. Not if she had you bewitched."

"Don't you think I know that?!" She wasn't sure he did, truth be told, but then Loki pressed on. "She asked. Before she touched me. She asked if she could. And I said yes. I let her. I gave in to that very same weakness I thought myself better than."

"What would she have done if you said 'no'?"

For a moment, just a moment, genuine confusion replaced helpless, frustrated rage. Loki stared at her as though she'd suddenly started speaking another language. "What in all the Realms does that matter? I didn't."

"Humor me, Loki. Please."

She could see, in this moment of utter vulnerability born of desperation, misery, and shame, that he wanted to say. He wanted the out, the excuse, the absolution to what he perceived to be his weakness. Sif was ready to give it to him, but even now, she was having to battle Loki's stubborn pride to do so.

But Lorelei had already taken his pride, taken it and torn it to pieces and left him with tattered fragments of what he'd used to be. Loki swallowed, visibly steeled himself, and said: "Left me to the two who found me."

"She threatened you," said Sif, leaping on the admission.

"That shouldn't have mattered."

"Why not?"

"Because I still should have said no."

"You should have done whatever it took to survive without going over to her side like too many of our other warriors have, and that's exactly what you did."

He was running out of excuses. Sif could see it, could tell by the way he didn't have a rejoinder ready, and she was glad of it. Enough to offer him a triumphant smile, an expression that said "So there" that she had long practice in using on him and Thor both.

"I mean what I said," Loki finally managed, after a while, his voice a little more level and calm. "I could resist her voice well enough, if not her threats. But while we were…I could feel myself succumbing. I nearly lost control. But when I awoke afterwards, I was myself entirely once more. I suppose the best possible comparison is fighting off an infection – perhaps I had to lose to her to make certain I never lost again."

It sounded like another excuse, another attempt to damn himself, but Sif let it slide. After all, she didn't know as much about magic as some, certainly not as much as Loki had learned at his mother's side. Maybe that really was how it could work.

She hoped that was how it worked, if only so Loki could have come away from this entire mess with some power regained. He wasn't the most physical of beings at the best of times, yet another way he was so very unlike his brother. She'd seen that he sometimes enjoyed flirting, teasing, toying, but even in that, he was far inferior to Fandral at least in part because he almost never followed up. He found the very idea of physical proximity from most disquieting and uncomfortable. Thor was a constant exception, for all that he would protest otherwise. Sif was an occasional one.

She knew that she was because, as far as Sif knew, she was the only woman that Loki had ever willingly slept with. She did know Loki better than most, probably better than anyone outside his family. Time was a powerful force in a relationship, after all, and they really had known one another a very long time. That was probably why they'd slept together, why Loki had asked and she'd agreed. There hadn't been anything more than biting affection to it. They'd just been two awkward, out of place adolescents sick of their lovesick peers swooning over one another and mutually determined to just "get it over with" so they'd stop getting teased for not being able to attract anyone else. That wasn't a good reason, of course, but they'd been much younger, then, and it hadn't been bad. Not astonishingly good, but not terrible, and they'd lain in bed for a while afterwards, content and satisfied and grown temporarily closer just from mutual embarrassment.

"But when you think about it…did that really count?" Loki asked, idly twirling strands of her hair between his fingers.

"What do you mean? Of course it counted!"Sif rolled over just enough to give his shoulder a shove. "What do you call all of that if it didn't count?"

"No, no, no! Hear me out!" He held up a hand, grinning at her, and despite herself, despite the warm languidness still lighting up every muscle, that grin still had her stomach doing a couple of flips. "What do you say when you've slept with someone for the first time?"

"I say 'don't you start'!" She thought she knew what he was getting at, but Sif still took a light swat at him with a pillow anyway.

Loki only laughed, stumbling on bravely. "You say they've 'made a man out of you' or 'made a woman out of you', am I wrong?"

Sif had indeed heard it phrased that way, and a great many other, far more crude ways as well. She gave Loki a pass for not delving into them, even to embarrass her, perhaps because she'd sometimes gotten the impression that he was equally uncomfortable with them. Well, Fandral, if you're only sleeping with flowers, I suppose that explains a great deal about your idea of wooing fair maidens, and similar. "You are not," was all she said aloud, biting her cheek to hide a smile at the memory. Loki seemed almost drunk, and she wasn't sure if she'd ever seen him this way before. The sight was bizarrely charming, endearing, even as it was utterly bizarre.

"But if neither of us are a man or a woman, how could we have made a man or a woman out of one another?"

Sif couldn't help but laugh. It wasn't remotely funny, but it was an interesting bit of verbal play and she was feeling lighthearted and generous. All the same, she gave him a light shove to punctuate her point."That's not what it means!"

"But that's what it says," Loki insisted gamely, even as his eyes sparkled and she could tell he was trying not to laugh as well. After a moment, however, the light in his expression faltered just enough for Sif to be worried, and he offered her a half-shrug. "So, Sif, much as I must thank you for a truly memorable evening, if nothing else, I don't think I can actually offer you what you were after. Are you certain Thor wouldn't be amenable? I happen to know he's been made a man of a great many times, because he won't shut up about it."

Sif stared into his eyes – deep green, alive, at peace, content, affectionate. Looking at her as she'd never been looked at before, as though she were special and wonderful for being who and what she was rather than gangling and awkward and plain. She was looking at him as though she'd never seen him before, either, but Loki clearly didn't see that same light in her eyes.

Well, he'd always been a bit dense. Always liked to pretend he was so perceptive and smart when the simplest things could go right over his head. Sif knew she'd have to be a bit more direct to get through his remarkably thick skull.

He didn't resist when she rolled him over onto his back, moving to straddle him. He just looked up at her, curious but not on guard, the way he always seemed to be otherwise.

Sif leaned in close, resting her arms on either side of his head. She looked deep into his eyes and said, very quietly and seriously, "Shut up, Loki."

Then she kissed him. She'd just had a lot of practice, lately, and so thought she must have gotten better at it. Loki certainly didn't seem to have any complaints.

"Why do you care?"

They were older, now, and Loki's voice drew her out of the recollection. Sif looked him over to find that he still seemed calmer, and that was good. His shoulders weren't quite as hunched, and the angry red cast to his skin was already starting to fade with him leaving off the scrubbing. Maybe he was just worn out, but that was fine. Everyone needed their rest, and Loki had never been good at it.

When Sif snorted, rolled her eyes, took a spot against the rim of the pool next to him with her arms folded, he didn't protest. "Do you really think you're the first man this has happened to?" she asked him, trying to disguise her impatience. Loki usually warranted that, but not tonight. Even if the way he shrugged his shoulders, gaze sliding to the left and away from her, meant on some level that he had.

"Every man that Lorelei has before we bring her to heel will have gone through the same thing you have, Loki. Even if they don't escape her spell quite as quickly to realize it."

Thor. Sif swallowed, throat suddenly dry and heart hurting all over again. If – when – they got Thor back, would he react to such a violation any better than Loki had? She would have to have this entire conversation all over again, and all the hurt that went with it on both sides.

Not that this wasn't a talk she'd already had before.

"And do you think I haven't overheard women in the barracks confessing to suffering the same?" She saw Loki bristling, opening his mouth for the obvious reply, and spoke over him. "To say nothing of the women who boast of inflicting the same on men?"

Loki's mouth closed so forcibly that she heard his teeth click together. Under other circumstances, it might have been satisfying. As it was, she was just glad he wasn't pressing the point. Much as she sometimes wished she didn't, Sif knew what she was talking about, perhaps more than most. Maybe even most of the healers. How many women had sworn that they would rather die of shame than reveal that this had been done to them, or laughed that the men they'd hurt would do the same?

Sif loved Asgard more than her own life, but there was no denying that there was a rot that ran through the undercurrent of this country like barnacles scraping against the hull of the strongest warship. That was why she knew that fighting to protect this land would truly be a job that cost her the rest of her days…but, for love of country, and some of the admittedly oafish people who lived here, she wouldn't have had it any other way.

"Don't hurt yourself over this," she finished quietly. "The pain will fade. You'll move on. As any warrior does from any wound."

"No matter the scars?" Loki asked. The smile that tugged at his lips was one of the most miserable and exhausted expressions she had ever seen.

"They are a sign of your survival. And your strength. No matter the scars."

She chose the word deliberately, because she knew him, and despite everything cared for him. It was the shame of being made subordinate, weak, and uncontrolled that had nearly crippled Loki. It was the promise that he could still be strong that would save him.

That, and getting to see the woman responsible kneeling on the block. Sif, however, saw absolutely nothing wrong with seeing that done.

She found herself, there and then, with a mad urge to kiss him. As they had once, when young and innocent, and hadn't since. Maybe in the hopes of reminding him that not all touches and not all women were like Lorelei. Maybe just to make him be quiet so she could be sure he was listening for once.

Either way, she didn't. He would recover from this, of that Sif had faith. Faith, however, was no reason to go tearing open wounds that were still fresh and raw. Instead, she merely clapped him heavily on the shoulder – easy, familiar affection, the sort he was used to batting away without a second thought even if he didn't know. He didn't flinch away, and this time, his almost-smile was a little less grim. "Report what you've learned to the Queen, and get some sleep," Sif said gruffly, moving to get out of the bath. So endeth the lesson. "We all have miles to go in the days to come."

"Of course."

Sif watched him carefully out of the corner of her eye as she dressed, waiting for any sign that he was still in a state to try and injure himself as punishment. For the moment, however, it seemed like that particular danger had passed, and she couldn't hover just to make sure it stayed that way. She had to trust him to work through the rest.

Trust, to say the least, was not easy to give Loki, because he did so little to earn it in turn. Sif, however, found it easier than most. Maybe that made her a fool, just like Thor. In her experience, however, Loki usually came through in the end, no matter what twisting path he had to take to get there.

She had to trust that he would be fine, and turn her attention to seeing that all of Asgard's other lost warriors would be as well. Thor especially, perhaps, but there were others she called friends, too, others that it would kill her bit by bit inside to see so wounded. She would still give them all she had by way of help, advice, guidance, comfort. Anything else was unthinkable and unworthy.

It was a heavy burden she bore on her shoulders as Sif returned to her rooms that night, but she bore it gladly, because she bore it for the sake of Asgard and the sometimes-admittedly oafish people who lived here. Especially the ones who couldn't defend themselves or didn't think they were worth the effort. Especially the ones who didn't see the way she looked at them, no matter how hard she tried.