Disclaimer: I do not own the movie and/or the characters. I wish I owned Tom Hiddleston, but alas, I don't.

Only one of you can ascend to the throne, but both of you were born to be kings.

It was the coward's way out, no matter how noble his father was. It was the only way of escaping an unpleasant situation without being forced to take a stand, to make a choice, to hurt someone. Loki might have been fooled as a young boy, but his naivety was quick to disappear as the years passed and he grew up to be a man.

There was a silent agreement between the three of them, a pact which implied everything and explicated nothing, a condition which allowed both he and his brother to dream until the decision of their father was made public. One could hope, but as time went by, it was more about delusion than hope itself. Loki knew that he would not be king of Asgard since the first day of his adolescence, and his belief never waned as he kept both eyes open in observation of what was shown, but not said, between his father and Thor.

Loki did not show, nor said. He kept everything he was concerned with concealed inside him, where no one could spy him or question him. His aptitude for lying became his best talent, and for a long time he exhibited a face that was hardly his own, he wore a mask so perfectly constructed that it aroused no scruples.

At first it was dissatisfaction with himself. He was not up to everyone's – his father's – expectations. He was different, he was a disappointment, he was unable to understand the requirements of the average Asgardian – or of a son of Odin.

Frustration followed. He tried to make an effort, to be better, without being conscious of what being better truly meant, without being conscious that there was nothing about him that he should improve, without being conscious that he was not the only flawed being in Asgard.

Then it turned into jealousy, as green-eyed as he was, silent and well-masked, aimed at his older brother. Thor had everything and more: he was their father's favourite, the future king of Asgard, the perfect warrior. His arrogance and foolishness went unnoticed when he came back from battle, once again victorious – and Loki began to question himself about whether the Asgardians knew what perfection was, and what it encompassed.

That was what Asgard was all about – perfection. A constant climb upwards to reach an objective which, once obtained, erased preoccupation and guaranteed respect and loyalty from everyone. An ideal which fooled every Asgardian, which infused them with hopes for a better, flawless future. And Loki, as the Asgardian he thought he was, had been led to believe that getting to perfection should be his sole aim.

It had not taken him long to realise that there was no such thing as perfection, and that Asgardians were fooling themselves with fake promises and purposeless ideals. But for a while, just for a little while, Loki had believed in perfection, he had believed it existed – he was convinced he had seen it.

She was flawless, and even when he tried to convince himself that there must have been something she lacked, she surprised him with how perfect she was. He realised that one was born with perfection, it was not something that could be achieved in due time. And of all the people he had met in Asgard, Loki was convinced that she was the only one whose perfection was undeniable.

She was one and needed no others. She had shown she was capable of going against formal conventions, fearless of the consequences – and for her, there were no consequences. She was untouchable. Unreachable. She was perfection incarnate.

He knew he could not have her, but he was fine with it, because no one could. For once, there was no one to be jealous of.

Or so he thought.

It is forbidden to desire what you cannot have, his father used to say, and Loki was well aware of that. Everything he desired was something he could not have. It was also ironic, how everything he desired somehow ended up in the hands of his older brother.

The day Sif directed her eyes to Thor for the first time – Thor, not the warrior she was accustomed to fight with, not her fearless comrade, Thor, his brother – was placid and luminous, but for all Loki knew, the weather might as well have been thunderous.

Something cracked – inside, outside.

He assumed it was in his head, because nobody else heard it.

xx

Loki and Thor grew up to become the opposite ends of the same spectrum. Everybody in Asgard looked at them and saw the sons of Odin, the sons of the king, but they were just two immature boys whose stark contrast did not arouse the questions which, to Loki, seemed just spontaneous and logical.

On one side, there was Thor: the impulsive warrior, born with no self-control, bound to make great things, to fight great battles, to defeat obscure threats. His hair was golden, his eyes blue like the sky over Asgard; his laughter roared across the halls, his presence was always announced.

On the other, Loki: the quiet strategist, who always had a plan nobody was expecting, who was always ready to whisper clever words of advice, who would rather talk his way out of brawls instead of opting for a physical strength he had not been training. He was tall and lean and dark, his voice so low that, at times, it could barely be heard.

Thor was always acting; Loki was always thinking.

It was around their adolescent days that the difference between them grew more evident. Thor started dedicating himself to his meaningless fights everyday, supervised by their father as he lifted heavy swords and axes and tried to strike one defenceless soldier or the other.

At Odin's side, Loki would sit and watch, drifting into boredom as the moments passed, and eventually ask for permission to leave. It was during his long strolls around Asgard that he discovered that his hands could be put at a better use than wielding a sword. And as his older brother defeated one man after the other, Loki learned how to make things appear from out of nowhere, and how to make them vanish into thin air. By the time Thor became one of the greatest warriors in Asgard, Loki had mastered the art of how to make himself disappear.

His mother was glad that at least one of her sons was not prone to battle; she would smile at Thor's face when food disappeared from his plate as he was too busy boasting about the day's conquests, she would smile when her oldest son threatened her youngest – Loki, stop doing that, if you don't give me my food back I will…

That was usually when his father would stop them; his one-eyed glance would put Thor at rest, and Loki would abandon his magic tricks. Odin was supportive of his youngest son's talent, but his warnings not to abuse of sorcery were frequent; afterwards, it was clear to Loki that his father had always been wary of what those powers could lead to, and had wished to keep them under control.

It took him long to gain full control of his powers, but he got used to them very fast. Every day, he would accompany his brother to his training, spend ten minutes observing him with fake interest, and then disappear somewhere quieter, where he could practice his own skills.

A group of young aspiring warriors would usually gather around the training grounds and watch Thor as he practiced with the soldiers of Odin's army – if they felt bold, they would even ask him if they could join the training. Few of them had proved to be worthy of an eventual alliance in battle, but there were some who had managed to survive the fights with just a scratch or two.

The more crowded the grounds were, the sooner Loki would leave. The chaotic cackling of the men and the clash of the warriors' weapons were distracting enough for him – on that day, however, he found a single detail, far from the crowd but not too far from the grounds, which was interesting enough to induce him to stay.

She was doing her best to go unnoticed, to hide behind the yellows and greens of the garden, but it was easy for him to spot her – she stood out like a flower in Jotunheim. A woman in the training grounds was too much of an oxymoron to be accepted.

She was young, younger than him, and the white dress she wore clashed with the dark colour of her long hair. The moment she turned her head towards him, a pair of big eyes – so unlikely for an Asgardian, and yet their darker colour was much more enthralling than the usual pale blue – met Loki's.

She had been discovered; her secret was out. A young maiden near the training grounds, where most adult men gathered to show their strength and engage in combat? It was indecorous, it was outrageous, it was strange, and it was interesting.

Loki was surprised by how quick she was to run away, but by that time, so many books had been piled up in his chambers that he had learned how to master his teleporting skills well; or at least, well enough to be behind her before she could even choose which way to turn.

'Stop.'

His voice, so low and cold and close, startled her. She spun around, but did not take a step back; instead, she faced Loki with her eyes staring deep into his, her lips pressed together in a thin line. Loose strands of hair fell on her forehead; she was quick to tuck them behind her ear.

'Don't touch me,' she said, without lowering her eyes.

A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. Either she was of the foolish, impulsive kind, or she had no idea of who he was – but in any case, she was brave. He raised both hands in a sign of peace, and took a tentative step forwards. The fingers of her left hand curled up into a closed fist.

'I am not going to,' he said.

'Then what do you want?'

He smirked. 'I could ask you the same question.'

She was caught off-guard by his response, as if she had expected him to say something entirely different. Her gaze lowered for a moment, but she was fast to look up again. 'I am lost.'

'Oh. Really?' He snickered, and turned away, folding his arms across his chest. 'You got lost in the Palace gardens and accidentally ended up by the training grounds? How, if I may inquire?'

'How?'

'Yes. How.' Loki turned to the girl again, amused by the puzzlement which threatened to break the fierceness on her face. 'Nobody but the warriors and those belonging to the house of the Allfather have access to the gardens, and even then, girls are not allowed to be near the training grounds.'

He had seen the look in her eyes as she spied on the warriors; it was not the look of a blushing maiden who had come to watch the dashing heroes, dreaming that one day she would marry one of them. It was the look of a woman who felt deprived of a chance she would never have, a pair of eyes staring at the combat to see who would be the first to fall on the hard ground.

And still, her reaction surprised him. A flash of pale pink darted before his eyes, and a moment later her strong knuckles collided onto his cheek, and her open palm pushed him down on the floor. Green eyes, wide open, met dark blue pools. For the first time, she smiled, blowing a strand of her hair away from her forehead as she hovered over his long frame, her hand still pressed on his chest.

'You're not a warrior,' she said.

He rested his head against the ground; a loud sigh escaped his mouth in the form of a chuckle as he looked up at her.

'No, I am not.'

The smile vanished from her face as quickly as it appeared on his. She stood up and took a few steps back, eyes wide and lips slightly parted as realisation dawned upon her beautiful face. Loki propped up on his elbows, then sat up, dusting the fragments of cracked leaves and the specks of dirt off his shirt. The flesh of his skin was still hot and pulsating where she had struck him, but he refused to raise a hand and touch the injured spot.

They stared at each other in silence: Loki waiting for her to say something, the young girl speechless – or not sure of what to say. He crossed his legs, never breaking the eye-contact; finally, she bit her lower lip, and brought her hands to her hips.

'You're Thor's brother.' It was a statement, not a question; as much as she had seemed ignorant of his identity before, she now knew who he was, without the tiniest hint of doubt.

'How would you be sure of that?'

'My mother told me that the princes of Asgard are opposites. I have seen Thor many times, in the training grounds,' she said, tilting her head to the side before smiling again; the boldness shining in her eyes was unexpected, uncharacteristic for a girl of her age – especially if in the presence of one of the heirs to the throne of Asgard. 'You look nothing like him.'

She was not going to apologise for striking the youngest son of Odin with her unusually strong fist, Loki realised; she would not bow. Moments after they had met, her inappropriate presence in such a place and her irreverence at the sight of a prince of Asgard were only minuscule hints at her complexity.

He stood up, smiling – more at himself than at her. 'You are peculiar.'

Her brow furrowed as she waited for an explanation that never came. At last, words of impatience escaped her lips. 'Is it because I showed no intimidation in your regards?'

'I hardly think I possess the power to intimidate,' Loki said, running a hair through his black hair, slicking it back into place.

'Is it because I hit you?'

'Perhaps.'

'You did not think a woman could fight.'

'I mentioned that the presence of a girl near the training grounds is inappropriate and that it is forbidden; I never said it is wrong for you to be here.' Loki traced the line of his cheekbone with one of his long fingers. 'Who knows, perhaps here is where you should be, if you are willing to take the risk.'

'I am.' A triumphant smile was drawn across the features of her face. 'I caught a prince off-guard.'

Loki snickered. 'This is not the prince you should worry about.' He gestured towards a narrow pathway, immersed in the green. 'If you keep walking down that road, you will find the perfect spot. You can watch all you want, without being seen.'

Her gaze ran to the path, then back to him. 'Will you be quiet about me?'

'Will you give me a name for the girl who spies on warriors?' Loki asked, letting his curiosity glimmer in the green of his eyes.

'Sif,' she said, as simple as it was, but she did not let him go until she had added, 'And I'm not a girl, I'm a woman.'

He bowed in mockery, repressing a smirk which menaced to twist the corners of his lips. 'Your secret is safe with me, Lady Sif. Do not get lost in the gardens again, or your secret might be revealed.'

He turned to walk away, but her voice called him back.

'Loki?'

He had expected her to know it, and yet the sound of his name on her mouth confused him with a sensation he could not quite identify. Loki turned to her, but did not look.

'How did you do that?' he heard her ask.

'I do not understand what you are speaking of, I'm afraid.'

'When I saw you in the distance, I feared that you would alert someone of my presence, and I ran. After nothing but an instant, you were behind my back,' she said. 'How is that possible?'

He smiled, once again, more to himself than to his new acquaintance.

'I am confused. You must have been dreaming,' he said, 'That is very ladylike of you.'

Loki could think of nothing and no one but Sif for the next three, four, five days. When he whispered in Thor's ear that someone was watching him as he fought, and she was dragged out of her safe hiding place, the look in her eyes was fiery and indignant.

When a young girl was discovered as she spied on the warriors by the training grounds, Odin was as perplexed as anyone else.

Frigg's suggestion was for the young maiden to be invited to dinner.

xx

'I know it was you.'

Loki would have recognised her voice even if it had been a whisper in the distance, but he kept his glance down until he had finished the paragraph he was reading. It was only then that he closed the book, and allowed his green eyes to look up at her.

'You say that as if I had wronged you in some way,' he said.

Thor had taken an immediate interest in Sif, much like Loki, but their interests were of a different nature. Thor had seen in her an unusual challenge, a woman who wanted to be a warrior, perhaps a new companion in the battlefield. He had spent dinner trying to ask her questions about her experience in fighting, questions to which she had felt too intimidated to answer in front of the King and Queen of Asgard.

Loki could not say what his interest was determined by.

'You could have!'

'But I did not.' He smiled, resting the book on his lap. 'So what sense does it make to talk about what could have been?'

'What if they had banished me from the palace? What if they had decided that what I did was disrespectful and…'

He had not expected his laughter to break out so suddenly, but it did, uncontrolled. Sif's cheeks flushed and she looked away, but still held her chin up. He saw her fingers twitching; had he been at reach, she would have probably punched him again.

'Banished? For spying on the warriors?'

'You said a girl was not allowed to the training grounds!' she protested, turning to him again.

'You said you're not a girl,' he retorted, 'If I remember correctly.'

She looked like she had a lot to say, and yet she kept quiet. Fighting the urge of shouting at him, Loki thought, must have been difficult. And frustrating. He pressed his lips together, ignoring the shadow of the smirk which threatened to appear on his face.

'Don't twist my words to your advantage,' Sif said. 'Thor warned me about that, he says you do it all the time.'

Loki smiled; whether it was with pride, or with simple amusement, he did not know. 'He would know about that. Have you become the best of friends already?'

'Do not joke,' she said, outraged, perhaps embarrassed. 'I cannot be friends with a prince of Asgard.'

'But you can punch one?' Loki grinned. 'Yours is a very interesting logic, Lady Sif.'

Even if the light was dim and her figure was cloaked in shadows, just like his, Loki could see her bite down on her lower lip not to grin. The fact that she had struck him made her more proud than he had thought.

'I guess,' she said, searching for measured words but eventually giving up, 'we… get along.'

'You are both of the same kind.'

He said that without believing it. They might have both enjoyed playing with swords, but Thor and Sif were not alike. Not just because Sif was a woman – she had an aura about her, something he could not understand nor decipher, something he had never seen before, something he was not accustomed to.

They looked at each other for what might have been just a moment, but seemed like an eternity; she pursed her lips, one habit of hers that Loki had already started to get used to. Then, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear, she smiled.

'Thank you.'

She had the last word; he did not respond. He stared, just for a moment, and as much as he tried not to let his countenance falter, he felt his eyes widen; his gaze was once again focused on the cover of his book in no time.

He barely heard her step away when she left.

The day Sif entered the training grounds as a warrior for the first time, Loki took a seat next to Thor, and for once he did not leave.

xx

Sif fought with men, but that did not detract from her femininity. She was fierce and beautiful and she was the exception to the rule, the only one who made everyone turn around – and as much as he hated it, Loki was always the first to turn her way.

The day came when Odin decreed that Loki needed to learn how to fight; the Allfather did not say it, but Loki was sure the true purpose of his training was to try to make him more similar to every other Asgardian.

His first day of training was humiliating and it frustrated him, and yet his brother finally gave him credit, and he could catch the glimpse of pride that glistened in his father's eye, like the constellations on the dark cloak of the night in Asgard.

Loki would not admit it later, but for once, he felt accepted – and it was her smiling face he looked for in the crowd of warriors, after Thor had pulled him up from the rocky ground.

Sif had become a woman all of a sudden, and he only wished he were the only observer of that change. Words of her are on the mouth of every young Asgardian; even Fandral had become bold, even more so than he usually was, to no avail. Thor turned his head, once or twice, to look, but Loki doubted he ever saw anything he liked.

Sif was a goddess. Her hair grew long and untamed, it cascaded down her back and became the haunting of his every dream. Her form changed; she was not the girl who came to spy the warriors by the training grounds anymore. She had a silent awareness, Loki was sure, of how her looks affected men, but she used that to her favour and she was always the first to strike a warrior, were he to look elsewhere in combat.

At the sumptuous banquets she wore long dresses which grazed her soft skin and accompanied the shapes of her femininity. Whenever he looked at her, Loki thought the warrior was gone; but a wry, cocky comment from any of her comrades was always sufficient to awaken the Amazon in her.

Loki did not know what he was supposed to be to her – another comrade, a friend, the third wheel of the Thor brigade. There was a bond between them that had been born the day they had met, and had never vanished; she looked up at him and smiled, her eyes smiled, grateful, knowing that she would not have been there, had it not been for him.

Time changed them.

When he looked at Sif, he made her uncomfortable. He could sense it, as much as she tried to hide it; she was not at ease. Loki would look for her and find her, one face standing out of a million, and Sif would look back – only for a moment. May it be because she turned to laugh with Volstagg, or to punch Fandral's arm in mockery, Sif always found a way to escape his stare.

She resorted to combat to shield herself from what she did not know – from what might have hurt her.

'Have you seen Thor?'

He was aware of her presence long before she spoke. Unlike him, she was not a friend of the silence; agility and speed were on her side, but there was little she could do to go unnoticed when she was not engaged in combat. Her boots were heavy on the floor and her shield was dropped with a clattering sound; still, Loki had heard her since she had pushed the door open.

'The training grounds?'

'That is the first place I went to. And before you suggest so, I have already asked Fandral and Hogun. Volstagg… I do not know where he is.' Sif sat, leaning against the back of her chair, and looked up at him from across the room.

Loki did not look at Sif. Over the years, he had discovered infinite ways to make her lose her patience very quickly; the first rule one had to be aware of when around Sif was that she did not like to be ignored.

'Then I do not know what to suggest,' he said.

'He's your brother, Loki, you must know where he is.'

'I do. He is somewhere.' Loki smirked; he knew of the impatience in her eyes even if he was not looking at her. 'What's the urgency?'

'He cannot disappear in the middle of nowhere and then come back whenever he likes,' she said. 'We leave for the battlefield tomorrow. His presence is requested here.'

Loki's stomach clenched. Another battle. Another fight to the death whose result was uncertain. Another pointless confrontation which would, maybe, see his brother come back victorious, accompanied by his trustful warriors. He took a deep sigh, and his green eyes finally met hers.

He wondered if Sif knew about the effect she had on him. If she did know, she hid it well.

'Why did you come to ask me, Lady Sif?'

She was used to hearing people call her a lady, that was the custom in Asgard – but when the word came from him, she always pursed her lips and remained in silence for a moment, as if that could trigger some sense of guilt inside him.

It did not.

'Because, Loki, I know that you know where Thor is,' she said. 'And that not telling me is just one of your ways of entertaining yourself, one of your tricks to see how quickly I get the impulse of punching you.'

'To be exact, I am trying to see how long it takes you to actually punch me,' he sneered. 'Your reflexes have become slower since the first time we met.'

She stood up in a flash, and slammed the palms of both hands on the surface of the table; the thud echoed in the hall, but Loki did not flinch. He was expecting her reaction; he knew that critiquing her skills in combat was the quickest way to anger Sif.

Infuriating Sif had become one of his favourite pastimes, but if he thought about it, it was a need rather than a hobby. When the Lady Sif was angry at him, she would stare straight into his green eyes and never look away until she had the upper hand in the argument – she never did.

Arguments with her were vital to him.

Her eyes wandered in one direction only, and it was not towards Loki.

Thor was oblivious of her attentions, or perhaps he was just playing along without realising what it meant – Loki did not know. All he knew was that Sif craved his brother's glances as much as he longed for hers. It pained him and it shut him out again, out of that world he had thought to be a part of. Every time his eyes did not meet hers, something inside him shattered and vanished, never to be recovered.

'Where is Thor, Loki?'

It was not a question, it was a request.

The sound of his name on her mouth was excruciating.

'With Father.'

Silence took control of the room; Loki knew she would be the first to break it. Sif hated the quiet; it made her more uncomfortable than his looks did. She did not know that it had the opposite effect on him.

He wondered if Sif knew about the effect she had on him. If she did know, she hid it well.

'I assume I will see you upon your return from the battlefield,' he said, as he stood up.

For the first time, Loki was the one who broke the silence. She did not expect that; her lips parted as she was about to speak, but the words died on her lips and slowly, as he waited for her to respond, Sif looked away.

He lowered his gaze to his feet and left the loud silence of the room.

xx

Loki was the youngest son of Odin, the dark and silent and cold one, the one who was rarely seen smiling and whose voice was calm and low, the one who did not go to battle because his training as a warrior was insufficient. There was something wrong about him and his parents had managed to hide it very well during his younger years, but he had grown clever and there was no way to conceal his difference anymore.

From the balcony in the palace he saw everything and everyone. When the guard came to announce that Thor and his warriors were coming back, he wanted to jump up from his seat and run outside to see – but he did not move a muscle, his green eyes ignoring the tall figure who had brought the good news to his mother. She was the first to stand up, and he followed after several instants.

He looked down and saw her there, behind his brother, and a low, almost imperceptible sigh escaped his lips; his eyes did not look as he felt his mother's gaze, warm on his face.

The Queen of Asgard had always known more than she showed.

'Have you considered, Loki,' she said, 'that perhaps forcing everything inside like you do is not the way to obtain something that you want?'

He stood silent; bit his lower lip. 'What if there is no way to obtain something I want?'

Frigg's fingers reached for his cheek, and Loki turned to look at her. 'I see the yearning in your glances when you look at her. Why do you stay silent?'

His eyes glanced down again, immediately spotted her in the distance. Loki looked back at his mother. 'I am unwanted.'

His mother's hand rested on his shoulder; the smile on her face did not vanish. 'That is what you say. But is that what she says?'

Loki's gaze drifted down to the crowd again.

'I am too afraid to ask.'

xx

Sif might have tried as hard as it was in her possession, but she was still a woman, and she was hurt.

Loki was surprised at how hard she tried not to expose herself, not to show her weaknesses. People would have ignored any displays of emotions on her part; she was a woman. Women were supposed to show their feelings, at least from time to time. She did not.

Loki thought that in a way, Sif was like him.

She spent her life trying to be a warrior, until she became one. And even when she did, there were always scornful comments and suppressed laughter behind her back. Loki bet she could hear deriding voices even when there were not any.

Just like he did.

Thor had always had the most complete faith in Sif, had always supported her, had always believed in her – to his eyes, she was his equal. A warrior he could rely on, someone who would watch his back during combat.

To the only person she was willing to show her real self to, she was nothing more than that.

At the latest feast, she was serious and did not touch any food. Thor laughed at Volstagg's account of the last battle, and joined Fandral in correcting the much exaggerated report of their comrade and friend. And then, only then, Loki's brother stopped to look at Sif, and announce to the people surrounding him what a brilliant warrior she was, and how decisive her intervention in the battle had been.

Sif's radiant smile blinded the warriors; even from the other side of the table, Loki could see that her lower lip was twitching. Not long passed before she asked to be excused for a moment.

Nobody at the table paid any attention to how quickly the smile faded from her beautiful face as soon as she had stood up and turned away; nobody questioned the reason of her sudden wish to leave, even if just for a moment.

Nobody saw him leave the table, mere instants later.

Sif might have tried as hard as it was in her possession, but she was a woman and her heart was broken. She sat in the shadows; tears streamed down her face. Loki knew that she was alone because she did not want to be seen, but he also knew that deep down, being alone was not what she wanted now.

She had grown accustomed to the spectre of silence that accompanied him wherever he went, so it was no surprise to him that Sif turned her head as soon as he appeared near her.

Her eyes were deep blue and wide and so unlike every other Asgardian's; they glimmered in the darkness with the shadow of her tears, and looked up to meet his tall and lean figure. Her hands were quick to run to her face and hide it.

'Don't look at me.' Her voice was low at first, but increased in volume as he did not move. 'Don't look at me!'

Loki had been taught, many years before, that sometimes silence was the best answer. However, it was not, he expected, the answer Sif wanted to hear. He took a few steps towards and sat down next to her, waiting for the hand that, just moments later, tried to push him away.

'You are no one to give orders to a prince of Asgard, Lady Sif,' he said, wrapping his fingers around her wrist before she could push him again.

She freed herself from his light grip. 'Go away.'

'Do I need to repeat myself?'

There was a loud sniff, then her hand darted towards his shoulder again, fingers pressing against his skin through his shirt. Loki lowered his hand on hers once again, holding it down on his arm.

Sif resorted to combat to shield herself from what she did not know – from what might have hurt her.

'I see you have made a rather bad habit out of your amusement in striking the sons of Odin,' he said, his voice low and calm.

Sif laughed; quietly at first, then laughter rose clear from her throat. Loki kept his eyes on her, silent and still, his lips pressed together in a thin line. Teardrops never stopped trickling down her cheeks, not even after she had wiped them off her face with an abrupt gesture of her free hand; her other still lay against his arm.

'I never understood you,' she said; she bit her lip to repress a giggle. 'Never. From the first day I looked at you, I did not understand what your intentions were. I could swear you had revealed where I was hiding just to amuse yourself, but…'

She looked up at him, and shook her head. 'There is something in your eyes that makes me uncomfortable. I don't know what it is. Sometimes I just want to punch you and see if it will go away.' There was a pause; another sniff. 'It makes me feel guilty.'

'If it will save my face from your irritation, I will close my eyes,' he said, his lips curved in a small smile.

Sif laughed again. Her chest heaved as her breath grew quicker; then the clear sound of her voice vanished in the air, and her smile faded.

'He…' Loki felt her fingers grasp his upper arm. 'He doesn't understand, Loki.'

She bit her lower lip to prevent it from trembling, but it was to no avail; her shoulders shook and her grip on his arm tightened, and tears filled her blue eyes again. Before he could speak, Sif leaned forwards and buried her face in his chest.

Her cry was as silent as her laughter was loud; had he not felt both of her hands clinging to his arm, had he not seen her shoulder heaving and felt her breath almost on the skin of his neck, he would not have thought the same woman he was looking at was the Lady Sif, the girl who used to spy on the warriors, the woman who had punched him in the face upon their first encounter.

Loki took a deep breath in. 'I know.'

'He doesn't look, Loki, he…' The sob that interrupted her was never heard. 'He doesn't see me.'

'I know, Sif,' he repeated; his hand reached for a strand of her hair and tucked it behind her ear, and his fingers brushed against her cheek. 'But I do.'

Her shoulders stopped shaking, and the grip of her fingers loosened around his arm. Still curled up against his body, Sif looked up; their eyes met.

She did not look away.

Loki thought he was unwanted, but he had never heard it from her. He was still too afraid to ask, but maybe he did not need to.

Sif's lips were warm and wet with salty teardrops, and soft and gentle and full against his mouth. His hands brushed her shoulders and ran up her neck to cup her face; he closed his eyes. Her fingers lay against his chest; she clasped the fabric of his shirt and pulled him closer.

The background noise of the feast sounded muffled and distant, and the shadows were a shield that protected them from the outer world. Sif pulled away, and as they stared into each other's eyes – she did not look away – the only sound he could hear was the rhythmic whisper of her breath.

In the dark, she traced the side of his face with two fingers, lingering on the same spot where, years ago, she had hit him. Their noses brushed against each other before their lips touched again.

In the dark, Loki could swear he felt her smile against his mouth.

In the dark, the shadows were a shield that protected them from the outer world; nobody saw.

xx

She asked him not to tell anyone. It was a mistake and she apologised; she had no intention of hurting him.

Loki did not say anything; he nodded in the silence and stared straight into her deep blue eyes. She looked away. He did, too.

He woke up at night dreaming of her and of what had been, and what would never be again. He saw the dashing smile, he saw the cascade of dark hair and her warm skin, he saw her tears and heard her sighs, he heard her laughter and her cry.

xx

xx

It is forbidden to desire what you cannot have.

Those were the words that Sif's father had pronounced after she had been found in the training grounds for the first time, after she had yelled for countless moments that she wanted to be a warrior, it was her wish and her desire. Throughout her life, Sif had learned how to ignore her father's words and take what she wanted.

She had never stopped once to think about what she wanted. She doubted she had ever known what she really desired. She thought it would be Thor, with his broad shoulders, golden hair and sky-blue eyes, she thought it would be the warrior every woman in Asgard wished to marry.

She had ignored the course of events until it had hit her in the face, a cold blow she doubted she would ever forget, that left a wound which would never heal.

There was celebration in the room, voices roared with laughter and faces shone with smiles. Sif smiled, too, but she was pretending – she wondered if she had learned that from him.

The hall was crowded and warm, and it felt empty and cold. She would turn around, every now and then, and expect him to make a late appearance – then realisation dawned on her, and she looked back at her plate, touched no food, drank no wine.

He had never been late, anyway.

Sif escaped the festivities and she could not help recalling the first time she had done that; nobody would follow her into the shadows now. Thor had detached himself from the celebration, too: he had a lover to find, and a brother to mourn.

Sif knew she could not have Thor, but she was not sure he was who she had always been looking for, not anymore. It was too late to change her mind.

She wondered how Frigg managed to keep her composure at such hard times. She admired her Queen and looked up at her; she did not show her burdens and was able to keep all appearances for her people.

'My Queen, I am so sorry for your loss.' That was all she could say; no further words were able to sneak past the lump that obstructed her throat.

Frigg raised a hand to touch her arm, light, soft, comforting. The grief in her eyes disappeared for a brief moment, and Sif saw compassion, warmth, and understanding; then she looked away.

The Queen of Asgard had always known more than she showed.


a/n: Loki/Sif because... there was chemistry and if there wasn't, then it's my usual way of seeing things that aren't there and you can call this crack. Tom Hiddleston and Jaimie Alexander were both great in their roles and if I was inspired to write this is thanks to their performances. This has nothing to do with the comic book (which I regrettably have little to no knowledge of), it is only based on the movie.

On a final, but not less important note: thanks to HoistTheColours for the title (my hatred for coming up with titles will never die) and the endless support as a friend and as a fellow writer. If you're a fan of the Nolanverse Batman fandom, a visit to her page is due - she's an amazing writer.

Lastly: I think this story happened due to my overexposure to the song 'Honeythief' by Halou, which I recommend because it's brilliant. Secondarily, the lyrics of the song 'Strange and Beautiful' by Aqualung were scarily similar to the concept of this story - again, thanks to HTC for making me notice that.

Oh, and also (these author's notes are long, which is why they're at the end and not at the beginning…): if a real life friend of mine whose name I shall not mention happens to pass by and see this, I want to thank her too for sharing an insane and unhealthy obsession with Kenneth Branagh's Thor. I have two words for you: LOL. And Valhalla. (And a third word: hammer.)