"bid the soldiers shoot"
Genre: Drama, Romance
Time Frame: Future Fic
Characters: Sif/Loki, Thor/Jane Foster, Ensemble Cast
Summary: He approaches her as if still waiting for the axe to fall.
Notes: And here we have a fix-it fic for my fix-it fic. This was written as a sequel for "steel in your hand", although it can be read on its own – only a few references will go unexplained. Either way, I do hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed penning it. :)
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.
"bid the soldiers shoot"
It was cold this far north on Midgard; but not nearly as cold as other places she had been to.
The roads were few and far between this far out. The trails that did exist were muddied things that only those who knew where to look for them traveled. The harshness of the wilderness mattered little to Sif and her fellow Aesir, who had all transversed more unfriendly terrain than Midgard could ever think to offer. But, the one they tracked was adept at not leaving tracks for them to follow.
The hunt was a violent thing in the deep part of her, curving her fingers over the hilt of her sword and straightening her spine as if her alertness could better aid her in hearing the sounds of the woodlife around her. Her breathing echoed in her ears as frozen drops of rain started to fall around them, their frozen dance a symphony of droplets on the dense underbrush of the forest floor.
They had already been on Midgard for near a fortnight awaiting their target. Those long days ago, Frigg had come to her only son with a request on her tongue and a shadow to her eyes. For the Queen's visions had given them a time and a place where her lost son would be (and such things were never shared, never revealed, but the look on Frigg's face had been something like desperation . . . absolution, perhaps), and they had been long set in the realm of Yukon, Canada awaiting him as such. Doctor Selvig had rented a cabin not twenty miles from Dawson, and everyone had tagged along on Thor's self proclaimed mission in order to see it through to the end. It was for the best; for the whole of their small group was as needful of the respite, and the wild lands were a peace to the soul as much as they were a hope for the future.
It was the height of autumn when they found him. Nearly winter. It was a fitting time for such things, Sif thought.
The hunter's trails were wet and grey in the night, hard to pass from the icy fall of rain above. The mud clung to her boots, sucking upon each of her steps. Thor's eyes glinted with lightning in their depths, and Sif wished that he could contain himself enough to keep the storms at bay. The skies above answered their prince, and none below escaped his mark.
The leather encasing her body squeaked with her every movement; her boots slid against the slick ground. And still Thor marched on, she a shadow to his side as he called out between the trees: "Brother, you do not have to hide any longer."
Ahead, the shadows flickered. Her eyes were sharp and long adept at picking out his mark amongst the natural darkness. The foliage retreated in places, leaving deep black stains of color. Above, the moonlight shone through in stubborn patterns, as if not completely ready to leave the night to the dark.
There was a snapped branch from a careless foot, and amongst the shadows she could see an unnatural flash of green – eyes, blinking, before they too disappeared.
"Brother, please," Thor bid, his voice gentle. "Show yourself."
If he could of kept himself hidden, she believed that he would have. Loki was weary, and the spells at his fingertips were sluggish things in response. His body flickered before them, like a flame, trying to extinguish itself. He as a ghost before them, something half seen and hazy to the eyes, as illusive as forest shadow.
Sif tried not to stare, but stare she did. The figure before her was thin and wane, mud smeared across the pale slash of his face, and his eyes so incredibly green in the twilight. His hair was longer than she remembered it being, hanging wetly down the center of his back and gathered into a tail at the base of his neck. The queue had loosened, the tie falling to slip past his shoulders. Strands escaped their bounds, hanging messily in front of his face, as if he could hide behind them. The sight of them annoyed Sif – clawed at her, even, knowing that he had passed so long away from home in order to let himself waste away so.
She had dreamed, so long ago now. And even then she had . . .
But no. She let the thought fall away, knowing that it was better left unexamined.
Thor had yet to draw a weapon. His hands were held out and open before him rather than fisted, as if he were entreating a wounded bird nearer rather than facing off against a raptor with talons. Sif herself kept her hand upon the hilt of her sword, not nearly as trusting as Thor. She had forgone her glaive entirely, and in its place, her shield at her back was a calming weight. The dead metal sang the moment the Trickster showed himself, a tremble against her spine so close to the one who had begotten it.
But Loki read into threats more so than most, and automatically he lifted his hands up in a defensive gesture. Sif remembered the day that the Masters had taught them all that particular stance; feet braced a shoulder's width apart, ready for speed rather than brute strength. It was a poor stance, she immediately thought, for the ground was too wet to support such quick footwork.
Thor took a step closer, his hands palm off before him. "Brother . . ."
Sif watched as Loki stiffened; watched as he kept his gaze fixedly on Thor. He still had yet to turn her way.
"We've looked for you a long time, brother," Thor said.
"Stop," Loki hissed. The command was more a plea than anything else. His voice was ragged, as if someone had taken a dagger to his throat. "Stop calling me that."
Thor raised a brow. "But, you are." It had always been that simple for Thor.
"I can think of more fitting appellations," the words slipped from Loki's tongue, a jumble of syllables. "Traitor, criminal, Jötunn, monster-"
" - brother," Thor interrupted, firmly. "First, and always."
Sif had yet to look away from his eyes; and he had yet to look at her. Her words were caught in her throat, but she did not try to cough them up. She had spoken her piece already, in that time before – before his fall and then after when she had first walked the ways to Midgard. Words were powerful, and Loki had not a shield against them. She watched him now rather than speak, watched the rain catch in the hollows of his face, shadowed and starved. If she wished too, she could place her palm behind the dent of his cheekbone. He was silent against Thor's words . . . perhaps his speech was lost next to hers.
Thor took another step forward, and this time Loki did not take one back. "Brother," he bid once more, his words a blow, pummeling. "Stop running."
Loki did not answer, did not say a word; but he did not fight them, and he did not run.
The cabin was warm when they returned, and Jane had already put on coffee, sagely predicting a long night ahead.
Loki was like a puppet, strung along by his brother's shadow. He followed Thor inside, and did not move towards the warm cast of the fire in the hearth until Thor pushed him there. Very stiffly, he sat down in one of the armchairs, an odd sight against the antler horns of the chair and the backdrop of the Mexican quilt that Darcy had brought with them.
Indoors, with the forest not there to shadow him, the differences between the man before her now and the man she had known were even more stark. He was pale, as if he had gone days concealed in the shadows, with none of the sun to touch him; and the flickering flames before him played with the hollows of his figure – emphasizing how much weight he had lost in the days since he had been one of Asgard's sons. It had always been hard to tell when he had faced them on the battlefield, for his armor hid much, and his illusions were always strong enough to present whatever face he so wished to.
Now, there was no illusions; just a slip of a man that the light had forgotten, blue shadowing the corners of him, stronger than the fire's glow.
Thor spoke first, his voice a pleased and warm thing even where his eyes betrayed the depth of his feeling, his concern. "Jane, Darcy, Erik – may I present my brother to you."
"We've met before," Jane said softly, her smile welcoming. She held a mug in her hands which she walked over to the fire's side. Loki took the warm drink from her with a slight incline of his head – acknowledging her pleasantries without moving to invite more. His fingers were very stiff over the ceramic, ill at ease in a room full of people he had fought against so many times before.
A part of Sif was ready to remember the times before when he had fought alongside him; but the ease of those memories returning did not depend on her.
"So . . . this is the guy that had the Avengers assembling every five minutes for the last year?" Darcy said dubiously from behind the lowered sweep of her glasses, her sharp humor long used to put many at ease. She had known the demi-God simply as a nerdy scientist who had had to be reminded to eat – Luke Olson, who had been Jane's sanity and muse in those early months so long ago where they had worked at repairing the bifröst.
"And that was all child's play for him, I can assure you," Thor told her, his voice a boast if his eyes would lend credence to the gesture. "If he were truly trying to kill us, I doubt we would not be standing now."
Loki turned away at that, a flinch; and Darcy shrugged, "Here man, you look like you need these." She tossed him her bag of marshmallows – seeing as how her Phase II of showing the Aesir how awesome the earthling invention of s'mores was to be moved to another night.
The hunched figure before the fire caught them without looking up; noiseless in contrast to the crinkle of plastic in his hand.
On the edge of the room, Sif stayed standing with the Warriors Three – all of which whom looked the returned Trickster with dubious gazes. There was something sympathetic about Volstagg's gaze though, and something almost eager about Fandral's gaze – who had always been light of heart and high of humor. There was nothing upon Hogun's face, but that was not so far outside the norm for him. His hand was at his side, not upon one of his daggers, but close enough to draw a weapon should it so be needed.
She herself transferred her weight from foot to foot, still strangely restless. For while they had brought Frigg's vision to fruition, the hunt still echoed in her veins, knowing as she knew that her quarry was not completely caught. It was a wounded animal before her, with not a leg to stand upon – and if it waited to fight or flee she still knew not.
Overhead, the sky rumbled with thunder, an exclamation point to her thoughts. The rain still struck against the window panes beyond, as restless as she.
Jane looked up at the same time Thor did, and she asked, "One of yours?"
Thor shook his head. In the seat before the fire, Loki was even stiller than before, as if carved from stone.
"The Allfather approaches," Sif announced upon feeling the ancient sweep of power that came with the next peal of thunder, her words sticking in the back of her throat. The line of Thor's mouth was grim at her announcement. And still before them, Loki was silent and unblinking.
The northern sky echoed with an unnatural thunder; rendering apart the thick bands of lights that were the Aurelia Borealis. The thick curtains of light shone brilliantly upon the land below, but their splendor was nothing as compared to the flare of the Allfather's might, burning upon the horizon. In the morning, the locals would speak of oddities in the weather, the divine appearance nothing more than an interesting piece of gossip to the mortals of Midgard who did not have eyes to see the things higher than themselves. Sightless in the night, the wolf packs who roamed the slopes howled out their welcome to the things greater than their realm; the ancient sorts of wisdom not yet lost to them.
Odin Allfather had a son to speak to, and under him the earth shuddered in reply.
The Aesir in the cabin dropped to one knee, their eyes downcast, and their fists covering their hearts out of respect for their sovereign. The humans lobbed graceless bows, holding them awkwardly upon seeing that their companions did not rise as the King past them all, bringing the winter with him into the cabin.
Thor stood with his back straight, his head held high. Between the Allfather and his brother, he was an unmovable thing, not yet welcoming.
And Odin smiled an old and tired smile, waving his hand. "Be at peace."
Loki stood, letting Darcy's bag of marshmallows fall to the seat he had vacated. He came to stand besides Thor, and upon seeing that his brother would not move – would not let Odin near him, he placed a simple hand against his arm. Thor looked down, and then stepped just over, his eyes hard. Past his brother, Loki walked to the sovereign of Asgard with a careful step, as if ready to flee as soon as Odin cast an unfavorable gaze upon him.
He held his head up high – almost arrogantly so, his eyes unblinking - until he was right before the Allfather. And then, he dropped to one knee. He inclined his head, but he did not put his hand to his heart. He would not mock such a vow, or swear it when it wasn't true. But he would bow; would form obeisance to the man who had at one time been the all and whole of his aspirations and goals.
"Allfather," he greeted, the title tripping from his tongue. He did not say Father, his father.
Sif held an uncomfortable breath, watching; waiting. Against her back, her shield was a heavy, pulsing thing.
Odin was silent for a long moment; the air around them was charged, the room unable to hold so much together. Finally, he reached out a heavy hand to clasp Loki's shoulder, bidding him to rise. "My son," he said simply, his voice heavy.
A shudder ran through Loki, like a wind that echoed in a canyon, violent and sweeping. His throat worked, but no sound came out.
He rose, long and slow, and then Odin moved with his two sons to one of the smaller rooms to where they would have a semblance of privacy to speak.
They ended up speaking long into the night, the father and his sons, and their words were not any that Sif was privy to – instead she sat out in the great room with the others, watching with sharp eyes as the fire dwindled down into embers and then ash. She covered Darcy with a thick quilt when she finally succumbed to sleep, and Jane, in turn, kept her mug filled with tea throughout the late hours. They did not speak – not much, at any rate, for Sif's mind was far away on far off things, and Jane's mind was consumed with concern for her own
In her hands, she had a strong piece of oak and a very sharp blade – a wheedling knife that she used to carve away from the wood. Darcy had pronounced her fascination with the totems they had passed earlier that day, the remnants of an ancient way that had been swallowed by Midgard's ever changing face. Sif had found an affinity in the deity's likeness, and before her she now sought to capture them.
Beyond them, she heard the rumble of an enraged voice. Thor.
Her blade struck deep.
She heard a voice like a blade's crack, striking and merciless. Odin.
Her knife dug into the rut she was creating, hollowing it.
She heard soft words spoken, past her ability to decipher words. Loki.
Her blade stilled for a heartbeat. Her breath was an awkward thing in her throat which refused to aide her.
Near morning, the cabin shuddered as if releasing a great cry of air – the flames leapt from their still embers, and the tastelessly decorated antler light fixtures rattled within their coils upon the walls. Magic stank on the air – the metallic twang of blood, and the heralding scent of heating ozone combined to fill her nose, taunting her.
Sif tensed, every nerve on edge, but she could not tell if the spike of power was from Odin or from his stolen son. In a coward's moment, she did not want to know.
When silence reigned, and there was nothing for her ears to strain to hear, Sif placed down her blade and the little totem pole she had carved, and put her head back against the chair's cushions. She did not think that sleep would come, but it had been many days since she had rested properly, and as soon as she closed her eyes she knew little else.
When the sun was just starting to touch the mountains beyond them with her first light, Sif awakened from the fitful sleep she had managed to doze off into. She had not slept for long, and her limbs were restless as soon as she opened her eyes – as if she had never partaken of rest to begin with. The blood within her was a moving thing, bidding that she do so as well. With a sigh, Sif inclined her head with a thought for Sól and the sun beyond, and then got to her feet.
Darcy and Jane were still fast asleep on the sofa, while the Warriors Three had fallen into an ungracious collection of limbs by the fire waiting for their sovereigns to emerge. The house had lost a pull to it, and Sif would wager that Odin had already returned to Asgard. The Allfather's presence was not one that was easy to ignore, and he was ill inclined to hide it as so.
It would be dawn soon, and the mortals – and Thor – would desire coffee.
Sif picked up her mug from the night before, and then, carefully, she stepped around her friends, a hunter's step to her stride as she padded into the kitchen. She felt for the light switch, and then thumbed it on, letting a soft golden light fill the room, brighter than the threat of the sunrise beyond them.
The shadows jumped away from the invasion, but there was one who remained. In the silence of the morning, Loki was leaning against the counter – the coffee brewing behind him while he turned to press a pair of pastries into the toaster.
The image before her eyes was an odd one at first, for she had forgotten just how much time he had spent on Midgard, while she . . .
That mattered no longer.
Her mug from last night was cold in her hands, and her limbs were tense. For a moment she considered chucking her mug at his head, for she was never above throwing things at him in order to voice her displeasure before. A part of her knew he'd only catch it, infuriating man that he was; and that too, was a knowing that was lost to the vague concept of before.
Carefully, she placed her mug down on the counter. She ordered her head to pick itself up, for her eyes to stay level upon his. Last night, he would not meet her gaze; now, he was bold with his stare. She had forgotten, a small part of her remarked, how very green his eyes were. It was a detail she at one time thought she would have been able to hold onto no matter what.
Unsettled, she said: "Darcy does not take kindly to those who steal her pop tarts, unless they are the blueberry ones which Erik buys her purposefully."
"I know," Loki's voice was a whisper. "This was for her."
The little consideration stung, just slightly. How long had he worked with Jane under a human's guise before Sif had found her way to Midgard? How long had she mourned while he moved on?
She bit her lip. "Thor likes his coffee with four sugars, no cream." That was something he would not know, she thought, almost viciously. "Apparently he is determined to see how quickly he can rot his teeth out."
His throat worked like he would speak to that, but she did not stay to hear his words. Instead, she turned on her heel and left, insisting that the restless energy within her limbs was not a tremble. Behind her, she felt his stare between her shoulderblades, and at that too, she swore that she felt nothing.
Sif spent most of the morning out of doors, using the early hours to stalk along the mountain trails for game to feed their group that evening. While Jane was content going into town to buy all they needed, Sif had no wish for the mortals to have keep up with the appetites of the Aesir – especially of Volstagg and Thor when they were determined to best one another – when there were alternate, and easier, ways to keep up with supplies. On a baser level, Sif appreciated the excuse for blood under her fingernails, taking from the Earth as a daughter the souls that Fjörgyn had given them all as gifts.
She had a doe she had tracked for the better part of an hour, but in the end, she was strangely slow to take the life when the moment came. The doe had stayed perfectly still in the clearing, her eyes wide as if in knowing, and Sif sheathed her blade, and bowed her head to the animal; knowing as she did about the spirits who took such forms. Perhaps, one day, the soul would return to bless her.
Before returning to the cabin, she gave her hunter's prayers over the smaller game she had felled, and cleaned the meat before coming near the others. While Jane would cook whatever they killed, she was still fair at the sight of blood. Thor, she thought, found that endearing.
It was after lunch by the time she had finished, and when she appeared back by the cabin, Darcy brought her out a sandwich – boasting of her skills, being Chicago born and all. The reference was lost on Sif, but she thanked her for the meal anyway.
After lunch, she joined Darcy and Jane when they did go into town in order to get groceries for the vegetarian of their group. Darcy's opinion on the very hearty appetites of the Aesir were very loud and vocally known, but Sif could imagine that any reason for them to get away from the highly stressed atmosphere of the cabin a valid one for the two mortal women. Jane's hands on the steering wheel were white knuckled the whole of the drive, but she managed to get them to town and back without hitting any pedestrians.
The sun was staring to fall from its high cradle in the sky when they returned, and rather than join the others inside, Sif took an axe to the wood waiting out behind the cabin, reasoning that Volstagg had done so the last evening, and Thor the evening before that, and so it was her turn. After a quarter hour by herself, Thor came out with her as well, but he bored quickly in splitting the logs with her. His limbs were restless, but he needed more to distract him – Sif, with her silences and her relentless attacks against the wood was not what he was looking for. Still, his heavy hand against her shoulder was a comfort which she had not known she needed, and his half a smile against her was sorely welcomed. He did not speak of what the Allfather had decided during the night, and Sif did not ask.
In the end, the pile of wood she had when she was finished would last them another week; if they stayed that long. A part of her wished she had more of the boughs to split; anything to keep her restless limbs moving.
Sif was placing her last log upon the chopping block when she heard the telltale sound of boots crunching against the snow. The sound was slight, slipping with the ice rather than breaking it; and instantly, her hands over her axe clenched, as if in readiness. In her small little cove behind the cabin, the shadows shifted, as if leaning closer to the one who joined her.
"You are late, if you wished to offer assistance," she let her voice ring out coldly, acknowledging his presence before he could think to leave her once more. Throughout the day she had imagined his shadow beyond her, an ever close thing that did not cross the lines of light to come to her.
"So it would seem," Loki's voice was soft, and upon speaking, his breath on the cold air came in puffs of vapor. It would snow soon, Sif imagined. She could feel the grasp of winter behind her bones, pulling at her lips. Her tongue was thick in her mouth, as if she had gone the whole day through without water.
Even still, he placed a hand on the axe that Thor had abandoned. The grip of it was made cold by the oncoming night, and when he yanked it free from the stump, the skin at his hand flushed a pale shade of blue in welcome to the cold. He did not wear gloves – like her, and he had his sleeves rolled up as if to dare the chill in the air closer.
Her eyes lingered on the webbing of color that spoke more tellingly about his control than anything else. His mind was not wrapped around his magic – and the spells that were second nature to him now required conscious thought. At the thought, Sif bit her lip, and turned away.
"I am sorry for that," Loki mumbled, and the telling flush of color disappeared from him.
She sucked in an annoyed breath from between her teeth at him misinterpreting her so, but didn't bother to counter him. If he still felt like he had to hide around her . . . she let the thought hang, open within her mind before drawing her own axe down. The wood splintered with a satisfying sound, an unfortunate casualty of her anger.
Loki raised a brow at her show of violence, but wisely said nothing when she stuck her axe deep into the stump before her, done for the evening. Red had shadowed his gaze in response to the chill in the air, making the green in his eyes extraordinarily bright. At his neck, his tie had come loose throughout the day, and long strands of his hair had freed themselves. They were very black against the pale skin at his neck, and she had the irrational urge to push them aside for him, to let her touch linger at his pulse. She remembered the taste that rested there; remembered the play of his hair against her fingers. She remembered, and closed her fists as if to keep her touch from seeking out new memories; to reawaken old senses that had laid dormant since his fall.
In the end, all she would let herself say was: "Your hair looks ridiculous."
He raised a brow at the unexpected statement, but did not say anything as she brushed past him and beyond him. He did not reach out a hand to stop her, and she did not yet know if she wanted him to.
The sun was going down when he found her again.
There was a barn on the edge of the property, a decaying structure that was reclaimed by the vines of the forest and open to the snow which fell from the white sky above. The temperature had fallen during the day, and the icy grey rain of the earlier storms had given to the frost's breath. Sif rubbed at the fur at her neck, wishing for the warmth to more quickly permeate her skin.
"You're not dressed warmly enough," his voice was lazy, drifting over to her alongside the fat flakes of snow that had started to dot the air.
"I have passed the day with movement," she whispered though chapped lips. "I've not needed the layers until now."
There was a shifting from the shadows behind her; the ruffling of a long fall of cloth. She did not look behind her to where he was, but she did look up when his cloak was held next to and before her – an invitation.
"Here," he bid. "It makes no sense to stay out here shivering when your stubbornness keeps you from being indoors."
"I do not need the charity," she said, her voice blank; her eyes narrowed in a warning that he, of all people, should have known well.
"I do not offer it as such," he returned, ever easy with his words. "I do not need it – the cold rarely effects me now, but it does you. It's simple mathematics, really."
She held his gaze before reaching out to take the cloak from him. The fabric was unnaturally warm; charmed, it would seem, and she said nothing to the enchantment as she wrapped the cloth about her shoulders. There was somewhat of a white flag in the offering . . . in the acceptance, as well, and at it he carefully sat down next to her, looking for a sign of displeasure at his presence. He folded himself easily, sitting crosslegged where she hung her feet over the lip of the loft. She could still smell straw in the air over the wild scent of the wilderness, and she concentrated on both rather than the smell of him that came along with the cloak she wrapped about her shoulders. Him . . . like the pines that grew in the deep part of the wilderness, and candle smoke from the shadows of the library. Lightning too, she could smell – the stain of magic that had always been apart of him for as long as she had known him.
The next breath she took shuddered deep in her lungs, and she swore it was from the cold around her.
"Why are you here?" she finally asked, pulling the cloak more secure about her arms. Her eyes spied out shapes in the forest beyond, and with her words she tasted the cold flavor of the snow against her tongue. Upon both of those senses she concentrated - anything to ignore the fact that his hand on the wood between their bodies was a scant few inches from her own. At one time, it would have been so easy to lean against him, she knew.
"Here with you, or here in general?" he asked for a clarification, and she sighed, suddenly weary.
"Just here," she afforded him no insight, simply wishing to hear what he would tell her.
He was silent a moment. When he spoke, the syllables of his speech slipped between the snowflakes. "My brother was blocking the path, and the way was too steep to get around him."
The teasing line in his voice prickled at her skin, the call to arms a familiar one to her. "I wished for you to speak truly," she said simply, not taking up her tongue against his.
"And that was the truth," he returned; ever insufferable.
Her fingers clenched over the fabric swathing her, white knuckled. She was silent as to his words, not deigning to speak to him until he gave her true words to respond to. Beyond them, the lines in the evergreens shifted. Her eyes narrowed, wondering if it was the doe she had spied earlier on her hunt. The wolf packs had been ever close the whole day, as well, and she wondered if they watched her now, the hunters to the huntress.
Beside her, Loki sighed. "Then you wish to know why I am here now, with you?" he questioned. She still stared straight ahead; silent.
He broke into her vigil by presenting her with a dagger as his answer. Curious, and hating herself for it, she slanted her eyes to the side to see the weapon he held. Easily – too easily, she recognized the shape of it – the steel of it.
"You still have this old thing?" she said, her voice was weighed with emotions she'd rather not share, but the smile she held was not one she could so easily tuck away.
Sif took the blade from him then – a dagger, silver and elegant, sharp enough for the finest of tasks. She remembered a clearing in the words, back at home. Remembered the green spill of his cloak as strands of her then blonde hair fell down to cover them. Remembered being young, so incredibly young – young enough to not recognize the thrill of his hands in her hair, freeing her of her burden. Young enough to take the light in his eyes as that of a friend as around them their glade swallowed their secrets – the first of many.
Around her, the air was cold, and she wished for the peace of their small grotto once more.
"Call me nostalgic, but it served me well once before, and it seemed unwise to part with it."
"And what would you have me do with it now?" she asked carefully, running a finger over the blade's edge; it was a sharp kiss upon her skin – the knowledge of how easily it could break in and take what it wanted from her. Once was, it was the same blade that had taken her hair from her – the mark of a defiant child who wished to be a woman, and a warrior at that – and the indulgence of a friend who understood more than she had wanted to think of at the time. More than she still found it comfortable to consider.
"The same as it once was used for," Loki said simply.
Sif raised a brow, understanding coming slowly to her. "Do you jest with me? If you do so, it is in poor taste."
She would not have that memory sullied, above all else . . .
Loki's eyes darkened, and she heard the you know me better than that that stuck to his tongue. But it did not pass his lips. For he was not who he once was, and she was unsure of who exactly he was now trying to be.
"You said it offended you," he said easily, but his throat still worked wordlessly after his speech past. He swallowed long and slow. "So aide me in removing it."
Sif tightened her fingers about the hilt of the dagger as Loki undid the tie that held his hair. The tresses fell like a spill of ink down his back, drawing her eye. It was a stranger who wore his hair so to her, and to return him to the man she had once known . . . Her throat was suddenly very tight, her hand slick upon the leather handle of the blade.
He turned, just slightly, and without registering her movements, she moved to settle herself behind him. It would be easy for her to turn his own blade upon him from this point – and it was a brave man who would expose himself to War when War had much to see atoned for . . .
"You trust me enough to put a blade in my hand?" she questioned as the thought crossed her mind. She leaned in very close to say so - her mouth brushing against his ear with the sharpest of her syllables. She pressed the flat of the blade against the back of his neck to emphasize her words, and imagined that his skin flushed a telling blue that sang out just how uneasy his control truly was to her.
"A man would risk much to be such in your hand," he said simply, riddles falling more easily from him than truths. She could feel his weight as he leaned back against the blade, welcoming it against his skin.
And she . . . she had never found him to be too hard of a riddle to unwrap, even when he would bid himself shrouded and concealed from every eye about him.
"Once, there was no risk," she let herself whisper, drawing the flat of the blade down his skin.
"Once," he echoed, the word a far off thing. "Once . . . there was everything to risk."
And he had done so, and lost. And now . . .
Her voice was caught in her throat. Her eyes stung, and she hated the back and forth and echo of so many useless things within her mind. And so, as she always did with a situation that confronted her so boldly, she struck back in return and tenfold – and as such, the first swipe of the blade though his hair was a violent thing. She tugged at him until he gave, and the hiss he took in through his nose resounded in the deep of her. She grinned a dangerous grin, the edges of it sharp enough to cut.
Her next strike was gentler, and at the cut, long strands of his hair fluttered down to cover them both. The snow was bright around them, playing a counterpoint to the black of his falling hair. The black of their shadows, of the inky pool of his cloak all around her. The blade in her hand became more careful once the bulk of his burden was gone; the violence in her veins ebbing as she sought to recreate the man before her as the one in her memory.
He was leaning into her touch – whether that of her hands against him, or her steel; both were the same to him. Behind him, her body was his shadow, and she leaned closer still; remembering the curve of him where her mind would bid her not to. Skin on behalf of skin, and all . . .
"Will you take it all, milady?" his words were only half in jest as her hands stayed, debating what to do next.
"Would you wish me to?" she paused, trying to spy out uneven tips for while there was a grace to be had with a blade, this was a particular skill that she had never had need of. And so her work was sloppy, unkempt. It burned at her. But, if he had wanted a clean cut, he would have asked Fandral to aide him, and be done with it.
His head bowed. "I am steel in your hand; do with me as you wish."
A moment of thought, and then that was all. Carefully, Sif placed the blade down at her side. Almost tentatively, she reached forward to run her bare fingers through his hair, starting at his scalp and working her way outwards to the ends. The shorn strands reached the base of his skull now, teasing at his jaw bone; it gave her just enough to sink her hands into, but not enough to tangle. The memory of it was an aching thing; and she remembered fondly what it felt like to tug at it in her pique, or to tease him when the warm weather came, knowing his displeasure when it would start to curl . . .
"I always did like your hair," Sif finally let herself whisper. Somewhere in the fondness, there was absolution if he chose to take it.
She bit her lip, tense as she waited for what he would say. In the end he did not speak so much as unwound – his body lost its stiffness, and as if a great wind was stolen from him, his next breath shuddered in his mouth, trapped.
Her hands stayed at the base of his neck, coming down to brace against where his shoulders started. Slowly, he reached up a hand to cover her own, holding her in place. His touch was as cool as the winter air around them – one and the same. Beneath her hands, she could feel the long lines of his neck move, and she leaned in closer, knowing the signs of words long since needing to be spoken.
"I am sorry," was all that he whispered. He offered no explanations where such explanations had already been given; and she would give him no barbed words where she had already heaped so many harshly spoken upon his ears.
She merely wished to heal now.
"Will you stay?" she settled for asking rather than responding. Her hands tightened about him – an absolution more tangible than any words she could offer. Her tongue was between her teeth as she waited for his answer; and she hated the note of wanting that had crept in there. Lost and airy - like a child uncertain of a parent's affection.
"Would you have me stay?" he returned, voice soft. He turned his neck so that he could look at her, and finally she let herself meet his eyes without having to conceal steel in her gaze.
"What I want is not important," she said.
"Yes . . . yes it is."
She would have no more of the apology in his voice, she thought, turning her body so that he could face her fully. He indulged her, turning as well until they both were kneeling before the other. "What do you want?" she asked, the weight of her world in her words.
He paused, considering as if the thought was a fascination to him. "What I want . . ." he merely echoed, words lost for an answer.
"Is it so hard a question?" she pressed. Between them, he had once again taken her hands in his, tracing patterns over her palm as if it were a thing of utmost fascination.
"As of late?" he muttered. "Yes. I have tried many times to define an answer since . . . Since I fell, and each time I settled upon a path it was the wrong one time and time again. This is the closest thing to peace I have felt since long before ruining Thor's coronation, and I would not see it ruined so quickly again . . ."
She tightened her hands about his, knowing of the past's weight upon him. But pasts were nothing more than the structure of the future, and the future always had a curious way of being defined and redefined once again.
"Asgard is closed to me," he finally said after a handful of heartbeats. "For the time being, at any rate. Thor forgives much, and while Father may as well, in time, justice is first to him. And I have much to atone for . . . For now, there is a fight to be fought on Midgard. Thor has made these people his own, and I . . . I will earn his forgiveness until he has no need to give it."
Sif felt something tighten within her; like a beast who had slept through winter to suddenly have found that spring had reappeared.
"And you?" he asked her, eyes slanting over to meet her gaze. "What do you want?"
What did she want?
Did she want what they once were? An ill defined thing that was not publicly seen or publicly expected – just an attachment that defined the whole of her. Did she want a comrade, a friend, a spouse, even – for she had tried, oh she had tried – to see if she could hold another as she once held him, and each embrace had been a fleeting thing . . . She knew, at least, that she wanted him in her life. She wanted forged steel where she had known iron, rusted down to the bared hilt.
She wanted so much in that moment, but she said: "My place will always be by the side of the son of Odin."
Her meaning was not lost upon him; and in her eyes she liked to imagine that he read all else still. At her words, he leaned against her, spent completely, and she held him as easily as if she had never left his arms to begin with. Wordlessly, she settled back into the shadow of him like a warm thing, feeling the chill of ice as his hand brushed her skin; and welcoming the touch as it traced over her like a traveler returning home, feet having never forgotten the steps to begin with.
Behind them, their shadows were long and twisting things against the snow; and she took comfort in the simple fact that there was not one shadow to follow her – but two.
The next morning she awakened early, more refreshed than she had been in longer than she cared to think on.
The fire still echoed in the hearth – for there had been many words to say long into the night – between all of them. The humans, as well as the Aesir, had had many ties to forge over and strengthen anew, and for as many honest words spoken – those both harsh, betrayed, and hopeful – there had been those light and fond. There was camaraderie there for any who would see it so defined.
She took Loki's cloak from the back of the chair in her room, and drew it tight across her as she padded out to the kitchen, the warmth of it permeating through to the very fiber of her.
In the kitchen, Loki once again had her beat; the coffee ready and pastries in the toaster – the ingredients out and needed to cook the others breakfast ready as well – for Volstagg was not one to suffer pop tarts alone two mornings in a row.
"Two cream, two sugar," Loki said softly upon seeing her, holding out a mug for her to take.
"How did you know?" she questioned, her smile wry as she took the cup from him.
"I watch," he said simply. "And you are easy for me to see."
The simplest of words threatened to unravel her once more. Placing the mug down on the counter, she slipped into his arms, an easy sort of contentment filling her as he returned her embrace, rubbing easy patterns on her back; completely silent, still.
She turned with him, and together they watched the sun lift itself to touch the horizon beyond.