Oh, my dear friends, who have made writing this such a joy and a delight—this is the last chapter. I have truly cherished bringing a story to all of you that caused you to smile and enjoy yourselves. I treasure all of your valuable words of encouragement. This chapter is particularly dedicated to those who picked this story up from the first chapter and stayed with it until the end. Thank you so much.
During this section, I listened to "Jurassic Park Theme (Long Version)". Trust me—it's gorgeous. You may have to turn it up a little in the beginning, as it's kind of soft.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
"When brothers agree,
No fortress is so strong as their common life."
Loki stepped out onto the vast balcony that adjoined the great feasting hall. Night wind rustled his long green cape, and moonlight glinted against his breastplate. He took a deep breath and approached the railing, gazing out over the twinkling windows of Asgard, and beyond that, at the sweeping sea, the glowing, winking stars and planets high above—
And the soft white light that sat on the edge of the water.
Sighing, he reached up and pulled off his helmet, and held it in front of him for a moment, studying its lines and figure, and the way it gleamed anew. Then, he set it down on the stone railing.
"You're taking that off already?"
Loki turned to see Thor, dressed in his shining silver-and-scarlet finest—minus his helmet—stride out of the glow of the feasting hall and up next to him. Loki reached up and ran a hand through his black hair and winced.
"It scrambles my brains," he confessed.
"Yes, but it looks so splendid on you," Thor folded his arms and grinned.
"Better than yours looks on you," Loki muttered.
"Ha! Shut up."
For a moment, the two of them stood in companionable silence, gazing out at the horizon.
"So…" Thor took a breath. "You are married." He shook his head. "Too strange."
Loki's brow furrowed as he glanced at him. Thor's lion-like face betrayed nothing but thoughtful amusement.
"Strange?" Loki repeated. "Why?"
"Because I am the eldest!" Thor burst out, gesturing to himself. "I should be getting married first, not you."
"Actually, neither of us knows who is older," Loki pointed out.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Thor held out his hands. "Everyone knows I am more mature."
Loki snorted and pressed a hand to his side.
"Don't make me laugh—it hurts my ribs."
"How long are you going to keep complaining about that?" Thor asked indignantly.
"Oh, at least for another couple centuries," Loki assured him.
"See? Proof." Thor pointed at him. "You are clearly the baby."
Loki did laugh now, and it did not hurt—and Thor's deep, rumbling chuckle joined in. For a while longer, neither of them spoke, and their gazes were drawn upward, past the horizon, to the vast heavens above. Fondly, Loki traced the constellations he had known since birth, naming them each silently—marveling at how they seemed a little strange to him now, since he had spent so many nights gazing up at the constellations above Midgard.
"There was a time, when you were gone," Thor said quietly—and Loki instantly sensed the change in his mood. Loki glanced downward, listening, but not turning toward his brother.
"There was a time when we thought you were lost," Thor said. "We doubted that you had been killed—but of course we were not sure—and yet, we daily considered the idea that we may never see you again."
Loki did not move. Thor took a breath.
"So I feel I ought to tell you how unhappy I was during those days," Thor stated. "And how happy I was today, watching my brother get married in the throne room of Asgard."
Loki finally turned his eyes to his brother—who was smiling at him with soft sincerity. Gradually, Loki answered the smile, then reached out and grabbed his brother by the elbow, squeezed it once, then let go.
"I also wanted to tell you," Thor went on. "That Father and I—wait, did he have a chance to tell you about our discussion this morning?"
Loki gave him a look.
"I've been a little busy."
"Right," Thor nodded. He took a deep breath. "Well, Father believes I am soon to be king. He is getting tired, and he thinks I am ready. Well, more ready than I was before. And I told him…" Thor cleared his throat, then turned to Loki. "I want an advisor. I want an advisor whose heart I can trust as well as his brain—to give me the council I need to rule as justly as I can." Thor paused. "Would you consider it?"
Loki studied him a long time, then raised his eyebrow.
"Thor," he said slowly. "I have been trying to do that all your life."
"Then here is my promise to listen to you from now on," Thor laughed, extending his hand. He lifted his eyebrows. "Rule beside me, brother? Asgard shan't be safe otherwise."
Loki searched his brother's face. And he could sense—without any doubt—that while Thor spoke with levity, he meant it.
And so Loki took his brother's hand.
Thor grinned, and slapped Loki on the shoulder.
Again, they returned to silence, but this time Loki turned and leaned his elbow on the railing, facing Thor. Thor did the same, mirroring him.
"Something troubling you?" Thor asked.
"Well, if I may…" Loki said, glancing down. "I'd like to exercise the privilege you just gave me."
"Go ahead," Thor said, eyes on him.
"What do you plan to do with the tesseract?" Loki asked, keenly watching the other man.
Thor glanced out over the water.
"Father is hesitant to let anyone use it—he does not even want to touch it himself."
"What do you think?" Loki asked. Thor met his eyes.
"That is what I wanted to ask you."
Again, Loki's eyes were drawn to the silvery light out on the water.
"There was a time when I would have said that there is no urgency—that we ought to take time to study the tesseract before attempting to rebuild the Bifrost." Loki took a breath. "But now…Now I worry for Midgard."
"Became a little attached?" Thor teased. Loki almost smiled.
"I became aware," he said. "Midgard has changed. They're not just throwing sticks and stones at each other anymore. Their technology has advanced enough that we ought to pay attention."
"Yes, what are those machines they get inside and drive around?" Thor asked.
Loki glanced at him.
"Yes." Thor pointed at him seriously. "Those are dangerous."
Loki grinned crookedly.
"They are indeed."
Loki fell silent for a moment, and his eyes unfocused as he gazed far away.
"You should have seen him, Thor. This Midgardian who fought me. He had the tesseract. He had it. And though he was not as clever as I am, he was just as strong." He arched an eyebrow. "And heartless. He would have killed Jane without a thought." Loki took a tight breath. "And…I am not certain he is dead."
Thor was listening intently now, and Loki finally turned toward him again.
"But even if he is—he cannot be the only one. In fact, I am certain he is not."
Thor's brow furrowed.
"How do you know?"
"I spoke to a clan called SHIELD, and their leaders Nick Fury and Coulson—"
"Ah, Son of Coul!" Thor cut in. "Yes, I know him."
"He said you did," Loki acknowledged. "And he also said that he and their number have been fighting numerous threats all over the realm."
"I don't know this Nick Fury," Thor said. Loki shrugged.
"He is an abrasive, straightforward fellow," he said. "I am not too fond of him, nor of the others he keeps company with." Loki straightened and snapped his fingers. "Oh, but there is one man I want you to meet. I think you two would catch on like a house fire."
"Who?" Thor wondered. Loki gave him a look out of the corner of his eye and smiled.
"His name is Tony Stark. He is a genius."
"You mean for a Midgardian," Thor assumed. Loki shook his head.
"No. I mean for anyone."
Thor looked confused.
"Then what in the realms do you think I would have in common with him?"
"Oh, I forgot to mention he has a suit," Loki said lightly. "A metal suit that is nearly indestructible, possesses cannons that can level buildings, and can carry him through the sky at a speed faster than sound." Loki flashed his eyebrows at his brother, halfway smiling. "He says he doesn't believe you could catch him."
Thor stared at him a moment.
Then, he swiftly turned toward the sea.
"That's it—we are going to Midgard."
Loki laughed and rolled his eyes, knowing his brother's heart. His knowledge was confirmed when Thor sighed.
"I did promise to be their ally," he said. "And they behaved as if they needed one. Besides which, we owe them a debt. We both came crashing down on them, powerless and injured, and they saved us."
"Jane saved us," Loki corrected, gazing downward, then lifting his eyes to his brother's. Thor looked back at him, then nodded once.
"Yes," he said. "Jane saved us."
The two of them quieted. The light on the water again called Loki's attention, and he studied it as it flickered against the distant sea.
"Boys?" a woman's voice called.
Their heads came around as their mother stepped out toward them from the feasting hall. She smiled at them, and beckoned.
"Come inside!" she urged. "The musicians are getting set, and the ladies are coming in."
"Ah, and now you get to dance," Thor taunted, throwing an arm around Loki's shoulders as the two strode back toward the golden hall.
"So do you," Loki shot back.
"I refuse," Thor said. "I'll not dance a single step. Never. No."
Loki just grinned, and stayed silent.
Together, the two of them followed their mother back into the light and sound of the feasting hall—which had been cleared of its tables to open up the vast floor. Lit lamps hung throughout the room at various heights, filling the space with soft, rich golden light. Courtiers—mostly men—milled around the edges of the room, and out in the wide hallway past the open double doors. Odin sat in a throne at the far end beside a smaller throne meant for his queen, and Fandral, Hogun and Volstaag laughed with him.
"Ah," Frigg said, clasping her hands and facing the open doors. "I believe they're coming down now."
"I don't understand why all the women had to take time to change clothes," Thor grumbled, taking his arm down from Loki's shoulders. Frigg gave him a look.
"It's because the gowns they wore to the wedding are much too long for dancing."
Thor rolled his eyes. Loki fought to keep stifling his smirk.
"Go find your wife," Thor pushed lightly on Loki's back. "I'm going to sit with Father."
Frigg watched him go, and sighed. But then she caught the look on Loki's face, and her eyes narrowed.
"What are you up to?"
"Nothing," he shook his head, and strode past her. As he walked, he reached up and dusted the armor off his arms and shoulders—with a soft jingling, it unconjured, and he was left with his softer, finest deep-green dress clothes. He strode through the doors into a vast entryway of dark wood and black stone, and paused at the foot of a grand, sweeping bronze-and-marble staircase.
The ladies of the court, like flower petals drifting down through the air, gracefully descended the stairs, laughing together, amiably joining hands, and sparkling like jewels. Loki's gaze flitted over them, searching their faces. And then he was caught by a figure at the very top—and everything in his being suspended.
She paused a moment, as if frozen in time—a painting on a wall. She wore a flowing ivory dress that wrapped around her graceful form and left her lovely arms bare. Half of her hair had been done up to twist around a small, glittering diadem filled with emeralds, and the rest of her hair tumbled down around her shoulders. Around her neck hung a silver chain, and upon her pale breastbone rested the shimmering Lokistone in her grandmother's setting. Her face was flushed prettily, her features as flawless as the first time he saw her, her brown eyes brilliant and her skin radiant with the after-effects of eating one of the life-giving Golden Apples of Idunn during the wedding ceremony. Her long-lashed eyes glanced around the entryway, and then settled upon Loki.
A shaft went straight through his heart.
Her lovely mouth formed a beaming smile, and she swiftly stepped down the stairs.
"I hope I didn't take too long," she said as she hopped down the last step. "I wasn't sure where—"
Loki took hold of her shoulders and pressed his lips to hers three times, leaning in deeper each time and bringing his hands up to caress her face.
Jane put her hand on his chest and gently pushed him back, and when their mouths came apart and his eyes could focus again, he saw she was blushing, though her bashful eyes sparkled up at him.
"What was that all about?" she wanted to know. He raised his eyebrows.
"You cannot expect me to be able to restrain myself when you come out looking like this," he said.
"Well, you have to," she teased, tilting her face up toward his. "There are other people here, you know."
"Where?" he said wolfishly, and kissed her intensely again, so he felt her swoon, and he had to slide his arm around her waist as she weakened. She broke the kiss and pulled back, blinking.
"That is not fair," she gasped. He grinned wickedly.
"Loki!" Frigg called. Loki sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Mother calls," he muttered. Jane straightened, her gaze sharpening again. Her brow furrowed.
"Have you seen Sif?" she asked, glancing up at him, then into the hall. "Has she come down yet? I'm anxious to see if your spell worked."
"Sif?" Loki looked at her blankly. "Sif who? All I remember is you walking down those stairs. Did something happen before that?"
She canted her head at him and gave him a saucy smile.
"I hope you'll be this sweet a hundred years from now."
"I'm not being sweet," he said. "I'm being sincere."
She looked up at him and met his eyes, and for a moment neither spoke. Then, she reached up and brushed a strand of hair away from his brow—and both smiled.
"Shall we?" he said, turning and offering her his arm. Her smile broadened, and she took it. Then, together, they strode into the hall.
Loud cheering greeted them, and both ducked their heads, though they exchanged warm glances with their friends and family.
And the moment their feet touched the dance floor, the musicians struck up a lively, swaying tune. Loki turned Jane toward him, and she inclined her head to him. He did the same, though his heart began to pound.
"All right," Loki took a deep breath. "Just as we practiced this afternoon."
"Right," Jane nodded—and they stepped toward each other. He slid his arm around her slender waist, she slipped her delicate hand into his, and immediately they began to step in time with the music. He whirled her around once, twice, three times, until the colorful room was all a blur. He could feel the others watching them, intrigued and eager to join in once they had fathomed the rhythm and steps.
"This is quite a dance," Loki commented. "It makes me dizzy. Did you invent it?"
"Ha, no," Jane laughed, shaking her head, then gazing up at him. "It's a waltz—it's been around on Midgard for a couple hundred years." Her aspect quieted. "My parents danced it at their wedding."
Loki felt her frame soften in his arms, and his brows came together as she glanced away.
"I'm so sorry they could not be here," he murmured. She glanced up at him—her eyes sparkled with tears.
"Me, too," she nodded, then she pressed her forehead to his chest and took a deep, shaky breath of him. He wrapped his arm tighter around her and leaned his head down against hers.
But within moments, she lifted her face, leaned up and kissed him on the throat, where his pulse beat. And when he looked down at her again, her eyes were bright and she beamed at him.
"They would have liked you very much."
Loki's heart suddenly swelled to bursting, and he almost stopped dancing altogether—his eyes could see nothing but her. She gazed warmly back at him for a long moment, then something caught her attention past him.
"Oh," she blinked, then her smile changed. "It looks like our evil plan has begun."
Loki and Jane kept dancing, but Loki risked a subtle glance over his shoulder to where Jane looked—
To see Sif walk in.
She wore a deep blue, floor-length, form-fitting gown, and a choker of diamonds. Light blue, sparkling hues of makeup surrounded her dark, vibrant eyes. But it was something else about Sif—something else that made Loki smirk in satisfaction.
Her midnight hair tumbled loose—not braided or twisted in any fashion. And within each river-like tress, there glittered hundreds of little, pinpoints of light. Lights that twinkled softly, moving as she moved, some dimming down to nothing, others flashing like jewels caught in the light. It was a spell—a temporary spell of Loki's making—and it made Sif look like a goddess of the night sky.
The men nearest her stopped whatever they were doing or saying, and stared at her. Loki could tell by their stunned faces that they thought they recognized her, but they did not believe their eyes.
"You outdid yourself," Jane whispered to him as Sif paused near the doorway and glanced around.
"Yes, but has he noticed?" Loki murmured back—and gracefully kept time with the music, whirled around and glanced at Thor…
Who was talking and gesturing animatedly with Odin.
"Oh, for crying out…" Jane exclaimed through her teeth. She looked up and raised her eyebrows at Loki. "We'll just have to go through with it, then," she sighed.
"I am afraid you're right," Loki replied. He twirled Jane out—her skirt flared like a lily in full bloom—and then he pulled her back in, spun with her twice, and they gracefully halted in front of Odin, Frigg and Thor's chairs. Those three glanced up, as did Fandral, Hogun and Volstaag who stood nearby. Loki turned to Odin.
"Father," he said, inclining his head. "Would you do me the honor of dancing with my bride?"
Odin, resplendent in gold, gave Loki a knowing look, and raised himself to his feet.
"I will," he agreed, bowing to Jane. "If she will do me the honor of teaching me how."
Jane smiled brilliantly at him and curtseyed, then offered him her hand. He took it, and stepped out onto the floor with her.
"If you would, All-Father, place your hand on my waist here," Jane instructed. "Then take my hand and I'll put my other hand on your shoulder…"
Loki backed away from them, watching in pleasure. And then he noticed the other male members of the court asking their ladies to dance, and leading them out beside the All-Father and Jane. Loki turned and glanced back toward the double doors. Sif stood alone where she was—gorgeous, but apparently still terrifying. Loki suppressed a smile, stepped nimbly through the swaying crowd, and straight up to her. He bowed at the waist, then straightened and gazed at her.
"May I say, Lady Sif, that you look absolutely stunning," he said.
She blushed, and looked away, wrapping her arms around herself.
"You're the only man who has noticed—and you don't count anymore," she muttered. Loki still tried not to smile and glanced around.
"Oh, I am not the only one, I assure you," he promised. He held out his hand to her. "Care to dance with an old, married man?"
Sif's eyes flew to his. And Loki finally allowed himself to smile—and he winked at her.
Her cheeks flamed and her eyes went wide.
"Jane…Jane said she had a plan," she stammered. "That if you arranged for…then I must…"
"Come, Sif," he said quietly, his hand still extended. "You look too beautiful to be standing in this corner."
She hesitated for a long time, staring at his hand, then into his eyes. Finally, she reached out and grasped his fingers. Her hands were like ice. He pulled her toward him, toward the other dancers, then firmly drew her close and eased her into the music.
As they spun, her hair glittered and twinkled, casting a glow around her head and shoulders that looked like moonlight. Loki couldn't keep the smile from his face—though he did manage to keep it subtle.
"What are you grinning at?" Sif asked, preoccupied with the steps.
"My handiwork," he replied. "I cannot believe how utterly lovely I've made you look."
"Oh, you are taking all the credit?" she shot him a glare. His smile broadened. He spun her, and glanced over his shoulder…
To watch as Odin, right on cue, declared he was tired, and ordered Thor to take over dancing with Jane. Loki slowed their steps as he observed his family through the motion of several other dancers. And he smiled wickedly again.
Jane performed beautifully—she gave Thor her most charming smile, and tilted her head in the most demure, enchanting way—Thor could hardly refuse. So he stood up and, towering over her, began to dance with her. Loki watched as Jane taught him, and Thor—a natural athlete—caught on quickly, and was soon leading her through the steps.
Sif's hand tightened on his. Loki turned to her. She looked pale, and was gazing across the way at Thor and Jane.
"Loki…I am not sure about this…"
"Sif," Loki said. "Concentrate on learning the dance, first. You don't want to be distracted later by worrying about stumbling."
He spun her again, away from the other pair, and gazed fixedly at her, commanding her attention. Finally, she gave it to him, and the two danced quite flawlessly for several minutes. Loki heard Thor laugh—it rang through the room. Loki glanced over—and saw Jane lean around Thor and give Loki a quick, conspiratorial glance.
"It's time," Loki decided.
Sif really clamped down on him now.
"Loki," she gasped, her brow twisting as her eyes closed. "I don't…I can't…"
"Sif," Loki said, stopping their dancing and touching her chin with his forefinger. "Look at me."
She forced her eyes open, and stared back at him.
"Jane told me something you said—something very wise," Loki murmured. "'You cannot fathom how quickly this could all slip away from you—leaving you with an eternity of regret.'"
She stopped breathing. He gave her a pointed look.
"You can do this," he said. "You are the bravest lady I know."
She swallowed hard, almost said something, then gave him a little smile. He nodded at her.
"Come." He took her hand, squeezed it, and led her straight over to where Jane and Thor were dancing.
"Brother," Loki said, slapping his hand down on Thor's shoulder. "If you don't mind, I'd like to have my wife back."
"Ha! I suppose you do have a claim on her, now," Thor chuckled, turning to face him. "Though I…"
Thor's whole expression changed in an instant. His eyes fell upon Sif, and he stopped moving.
"Also," Loki went on, as if nothing had happened. "I wish that you'd see to it that Lady Sif is comfortable for the rest of the evening. She's helped Jane so much—putting this wedding together in a single day was no easy task. She deserves to enjoy herself." Loki pulled Sif up to stand before his older brother. Thor still had not looked away from her face, and Sif gazed just as steadily back at him.
"Of course," Thor managed. He cleared his throat. "Um…Of course I will. Shall…Shall we?"
Sif only nodded. Loki stepped back, feeling Jane slide her hand into his and ease closer to him. Awkwardly, Thor reached out and put his hand around Sif's waist, and she held her right hand up for him to take—which he did. And then, slowly, stiffly, they began to dance.
Loki backed up, pulling Jane with him, toward the balcony. As they slipped away, subtle as shadows, Jane covered her mouth to suppress a giggle.
"Ssshhh," Loki warned, though he was trying not to laugh himself. They stopped by a pillar, half in moonlight half in torchlight, and Loki leaned back against it, drawing Jane in so that she lay against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, she circled his waist with hers and rested his head on his chest, and the two of them turned their heads to keep watching the swirling dancers—fixing their attention on Thor and Sif.
They were gazing at each other. At first, Sif often glanced away, but eventually looked back up at him. Thor never looked away from her, and his expression was most serious. Loki felt Jane's arms tighten around him.
"Come on, Sif…" she whispered.
Thor and Sif slowed down, their eyes locked. Everyone danced all around them. Loki held his breath. Sif and Thor stopped, and just stood. Jane's fingers curled through the back of Loki's shirt.
Sif ducked her head. She turned her head away. She pulled back—she stepped away from Thor.
"No," Jane gasped.
Thor caught Sif's hand. He said her name. She turned back to him.
And Thor stepped in, took her by the waist, and kissed her.
He bent her back, enveloping her in his arms.
Jane yelped, and pulled one arm loose of Loki to clap a hand over her mouth.
The whole court stopped and stared.
Sif encircled Thor's neck with her arms and leaned her mouth into his. They gradually straightened, their kiss deepening, intensifying, and Thor laced his fingers through her long, ebony hair.
"I think I'm blushing," Loki muttered. "Should we be watching this?"
Jane flicked his chest and he chuckled.
Thor set Sif back on her feet. Their lips parted. They stared at each other, flushed.
Then, the whole court erupted in cheering. Loki and Jane laughed out loud.
"That was too easy!" Jane cried.
"Oh, I doubt it," Loki shook his head, readjusting his soft grip on her. "I'm sure there will be a few more mishaps and misunderstandings before we hear wedding bells again. Those two are infinitely fun to play with—you will see."
"I'm sure I will."
Loki glanced down at Jane—and then paused. Her face was tilted up toward his, and her eyes and face bathed by both the glow of the room and the shimmer of the moonlight. The smile faded from Loki's face.
She shifted, scooting up so that he bore more of her weight, and her face was closer to his. He leaned down toward her.
"I have an idea," she said, glancing down at the embroidery on his shirt. "We ought to start a tradition."
"What kind of tradition?" Loki asked. She lifted her eyes to his.
"Every day—and I mean every day—we need to come up with some way to say 'I love you,' to each other," she suggested. "People can forget that, you know."
"They can?" Loki murmured, barely breathing. Jane shrugged and nodded.
"Besides, it's nice to hear it," she said. "You go first."
"I have to come up with a way to say it?" Loki asked.
"Whatever way you want," Jane said, tilting her head. "But don't think too long—I'm waiting."
"Then I'll settle for this," Loki said—and looked her straight in the eyes. He brought his left hand up, and pressed it gently to her cheek, and stroked his thumb from the side of her nose across her cheekbone. "Until the stars fall down on Asgard," he whispered. "I will love you, Jane Foster."
Her eyes flickered—then filled with tears.
"How was that?" Loki asked, searching her features.
She desperately pulled her arms loose from his waist, wrapped them tight around his neck, closed the distance between their faces and pressed her lips against his. White hot flame shot right through the center of his soul. He enfolded her in his arms and answered her, savoring her mouth as passionately and gently as she tasted his.
The music and dancing and laughter, and the glow of the hall surrounded them—and out above them, the night sky over Asgard twinkled and winked, as the second son of Odin and his bride exchanged sweet kisses, the warm Lokistone pressed between their hearts.
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—
Loved for ourselves,
Loved in spite of ourselves."
Review, dear hearts! And have a listen to the Gladiator Soundtrack "Now We Are Free" while you dry your tears, haha—I did!
Also, remember to check out my newest novel "Bauldr's Tears: A Retelling of Loki's Fate" on Amazon!