"at the gallows, an about face"

Genre: Angst, Romance
Rating: PG
Time Frame: Missing Scene, My 'Steel Verse'
Characters: Sif/Loki, Thor

Summary: She does not shed a tear when Thor tells her of his brother's fall. She merely locks her jaw, and sets her eyes stonily ahead.

Notes: This was a scene that I was originally going to have included in "steel in your hand", but it ended up getting too long, and so I cut it. But, I was re-reading it the other day, and decided that it could stand alone as a missing scene to the film quite well. So, I polished it up, and now here it is for your reading enjoyment.

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.

"at the gallows, an about face"
by Mira_Jade

They settle the watchman in with Eir, while around them Asgard thunders.

They could all feel the magic in the air. Eir's normally warm eyes were cool and deep, a shade of sepia reflecting a power dark and old. Heimdall's unblinking gaze was frostbitten – the eyes that Sif had remembered as flaming since her very first memories were now as chilled as gold in the winter.

Beyond them, the skies rippled. The wind was thrown about as if exhaled by some ancient monster – a scream, loud and torn from the universe's throat. The sea surrounding Asgard thundered in its cradle, the waves rolling and hollering to match the sky above – smothering all those caught between the grasp of land and sea. Between both, the bifröst trembled. The ways between the realms shook. Magic raced. The elements tangled about them and all around.

And at Sif's back, her shield was restless; angry. The enchantments that were forged into the steel burned, sharing the same turmoil of the land around them.

In the Halls of Eir, she didn't dare take the shield from her back to further examine it. Instead, she could only bite her lip, and close her bruised fists. The warm glow of the healing house was an odd counterpoint to the turbulence around them. Eir's voice, normally so warm and soothing was troubled as she treated the Gatekeeper. Frostbite, she said in a low voice, an injury she was used to treating after the warriors of Asgard returned from Jötunnheimr, but never upon Asgard's soil. Sif could taste blood at her lip upon hearing so from where her teeth bit too deep.

. . . By the Allfather's ravens, but just what had Loki done?

A low moan filled the palace walls then, sweeping and haunting – an ancient sound of pain. The moan rose until it was a scream, and suddenly all came to a crescendo. Sif saw white before her gaze – a blast of the elemental powers so bright and fervent that her eyes could not handle seeing such a thing. She wrenched her eyes shut, was forced to one knee as the blast overtook her – overtook them all. Within the core of her, the spark that she and every one of the Aesir carried flickered.

And then all was silent.

The great sea stilled. The night sky calmed, allowing the stars to once more shine through. The taste of magic in the air faded, until all that Sif could smell was Eir's incense, cloyingly sweet and soothing.

Time passed, and Eir worked in silence. When Heimdall did open his eyes (and had she ever seen her brother blink before?), his gaze found hers, and Sif could not interpret the knowing which she found there. Her own mind saw a rebuke where there was none, and once more she suffered the burden of having so close a soul in her bloodline that saw and knew all.

Her hands were dirty – battlefield scrapped and bloody, but she still took Heimdall's massive hand in her own. An apology. Later, he would have questions, and she would have to surrender the answers that she had refused for years . . .

Not long later, Thor came in with the Allfather. Thor had one of his father's arms about his shoulders, helping Odin stand when the other was still weary after awaking from his slumber. Eir sucked in a breath upon seeing that her sovereign had awakened, and the healer slanted her eyes as she ordered Odin over to her so that she could ascertain his health for herself. Odin submitted to Eir's command with a grace that conveyed his humor, and Sif would have smiled at the scene at any other day – any other time when the king's eye was not shadowed so horribly . . .

Thor did not smile at all. His skin was scrapped and scuffed, and he bore the burns of magic upon him. A charred scent clung to him – like lightening, brightening the sky. Sif felt something heavy in her throat as she took in the absence besides him. His shadow was only his own, and the one who had always dwelt there was nowhere to be seen.

She held a prayer in the back of her mouth as her mind took off for the worst. Something she could not name clawed high at her throat until her breath came unevenly to her, hesitant to aide her as she asked the question whose answer she feared to hear.

"Where is your brother?" the words fell off of her tongue, a clatter of steel against the ground.

The Three quieted at her question. Odin fell silent in his words with Eir. And Thor let out a breath that was drawn from the deep parts of him.

All waited.

And Thor said in a trembling voice, "He . . . he fell."

Sif's fingers clenched over her shield, bloodless and iron spun. The metal beneath her touch was silent, so very silent and still.

When he continued, Thor's voice was a terrible echo of its normal warmth and depth – hollow. "He . . . he corrupted the power from the Yggdrasil that gave life to the bifröst, and opened the Way to Jötunnheimr. He was . . . he was going to destroy their world."

At his words, Sif remembered frosted skin and crimson eyes, desperate to erase their stain. She did not breathe.

"I . . . I could not let him do so, and so I shattered the bridge. The bifröst fell into the abyss, and opened up a vortex of energy . . . I know not what one would dub it." That would have been his brother's role in such debriefings. But no more - not any longer. "The blast from the bridge falling threw us both – and Father awakened from his Sleep in order to catch us over the lip. I held Father's hand, and Loki held onto Gungnir's staff." Thor's eyes looked over to Odin, hesitant for a heartbeat. Sif could not interpret the silence that passed there.

"And then he fell. The vortex swallowed him, and we saw him no more."

There was silence following his words, and Sif hated the shape of it – as if the words were those all had expected to someday hear, and felt little surprise upon their utterance. Her skin was itching over the formation of her, and her thoughts – normally a straight cast within her mind – swirled drunkenly. When she steadied herself, she was surprised to find that it was not the room about her that had spun – but her own self that was betraying her.

Thor, everything about him speaking of a defeat that few would ever understand, found her gaze when she finally looked up. Sif could read his grief there – could see within it a reflection of her own. But rather than let herself feel the kindred emotion and anchor herself upon it, Sif merely locked her jaw, and set her eyes stonily ahead.

In the end, she stayed with Eir only until the healer pronounced that Heimdall would be well – he would sleep now, and take the rest he denied himself as Guardian. Hopefully, doing so would repair the damage that the severed bridge had done to the core of him. Sif herself let the healer look to the cuts and bruises that decorated her, but she could honestly say that she felt not of their sting. They afforded her no pain.

The whole of the time, her shield was a dead weight next to her. Cold, intended only for its original purpose . . . and Sif hated it.

When she finally left Eir's hall, she did so with a quick stride. The scent of mint and juniper clung to her, and incense was still thick in her nose, smothering her.

When she left, Thor followed her.

"Sif," his voice halted her. She tripped upon hearing it, staying her feet as he reached out to take her hand. Her fingers were very small in his massive grip, just as they always had been.

When Thor spoke, his voice was a rush of syllables. "I did not know how to say this earlier, not with Father right there. And the Three . . . But . . . he let go, Sif. My brother, he let go - he did not fall." Thor's tongue twisted over the title of brother, and she wondered if the Allfather had told him of his deceit all of those years ago. There was no blood tying the two any more – only the memory of a lifetime spent as siblings.

She bit her lip, and slanted her eyes away from the prince's gaze, for she was never one to hold onto empty expectations. "My shield . . . it is dead, Thor. There is no magic within it."

Thor's gaze flickered. "It could merely be latent again." As it once was.

"If he did let go – he chose his own death rather than be subjected to the justice of Asgard," even as she spoke, the words rang false. For how many times had the second son raised his head and shouldered the weight of his mischief? She remembered plying bloody twine from a mouth sewn shut, and passing fingers over his ruined skin as an apology. He still had scars from that particular punishment, and he exerted his magic to daily charm it away.

Sif's nails bit into her palm as she thought of what else he found new to hide. The room was threatening to spin around her. And so she clenched her fists tighter, scented the copper of blood as her nails pierced skin.

She tried to push past Thor, but he would not let her. "You know, better than most, that Loki would not jump unless he found himself certain of his landing," Thor insisted, his voice almost desperate – as if he needed just one other to reach out and share his hope. His pain. His betrayal.

She squared her jaw, hated the earnestness in Thor's voice even as she hated the thick smog of memories that clung to her. Loki, with the green cast of magic over his hands as he tricked them all out of their victories in the practice rings. Loki, with his silver toned tongue as he talked her rage out of its reason, and her sanity into circles. Loki, with his clever fingers and his never ending stories, and the promise of magic and mischief and . . .

Her eyes burned. She hated the weakness of it – like rusting armor.

"Your brother," and she said the words as if she were an archer, taking aim. "Took his stand against us, and then took his leave from all of us – whether as an escape, or an uncertain death, it matters not." He left me, a soft part of her – normally so shielded and kept in the very corners of her being – shouted. The voice keened, and Sif had no way to silence its cry. Her very being seemed to ache with the force of it. He left, he left, he left . . . and he had promised. But he had promised . . .

This time, when she tried to push past Thor, he let her. Later, when she had swallowed her grief away, and locked it only for the high morning hours when she could take it out and examine it under her own strength and will, she would return to the first prince – the only prince, now. He had lost much in the last day – more than most, and she would not let him be without a shield at his back, protecting his weakest areas. His heart . . . how quickly and easily Thor had always loved.

. . . how he even continued to do so astounded her.

For now, she could not even seem to guard her own thoughts, her own feelings, without reasonably being expected to repair and nurture her friends.

The palace was suddenly smothering, every inch of it cast with memories she would sooner see put aside. She needed air – needed the wild cast of shadow and forest musk. And so she walked out of Asgard's halls without knowing where her feet were carrying her – only knowing that it was away. She was still covered in dessert dust - the sweat had dried on the back of her neck, and her cuts had started to scab over with blood. The Destroyer had been a formidable foe, summoned so by Loki's hand to battle them . . . The thought made bile reach the back of her throat, held in by sheer will power alone.

Her feet took her to a familiar clearing in the woods. She stopped, and stood up straight from her defeated posture once she realized where she was.

In the centuries of their childhood, the second prince had discovered many places in Asgard to slip away to. And while most of them were shadowed corners, not permitted to any other, it was this grotto that he shared with her. Here the brook widened – a small stream that fed the great sea beyond - dipping into a small pond, deep enough for swimming, but small enough that the massive trees above still shadowed it. Hardly any sunlight made it through here, and the golden bugs who glowed over the rocks were the only light afforded to them. The clearing was verdant and rich with magic – the core of the place had always been soothing to Loki in their younger years, when the spells at his fingers had been uncontrollable things. In the years after, it held many memories more to keep it an often visited place between them.

Finally, Sif let herself enter. Her foot slipped softly across pine needles and fertile soil. Steps from her, massive stones rose from the giving ground to shield the pool of water.

Almost hesitantly, she touched the where her blades had scared the rock in the years spent practicing arms before. The stone warmed at her touch, and she remembered summer sun and enchanted books. She remembered her golden hair falling, severed from her shoulders as the boy besides her aided her in her recklessness. She remembered when they were older, Loki retreating to this place when Odin's disapproval fell heavy on his shoulders; and she finding their grotto when her wounds from battle were deep and she wished to let none see her weakness. They had always been a strength to each other here.

. . . and then she remembered not too long ago still, stealing kisses in the forest shadows around them. She remembered mossy stone at her back, and laughter in her throat as mischievous fingers found the fall of her hair for quite a different purpose than in years before.

She shook at the memory. A shriek was in the back of her throat, one which she would not give voice to. She wanted movement, but she was not quite sure how to move. She was trembling. Adrenaline kept her from feeling pain, but she was not quite sure where the pain was coming from – she had no gaping wound to treat. No injury to heal.

With trembling hands, she reached to undo the straps that kept her shield on her back.

Almost desperately, she willed the metal to life as she placed the shield down on the rocks by the water. She knelt down before it – as if in prayer, and bowed her head. Her hair had fallen from her tail high atop her head, and the long strands of it brushed the surface of the steel.

"Come on now, wake up," she bid it, quietly cross, as she would Loki after one of his pranks. Only, there was no half a smile in her eyes as she spoke. There was no smirk held opposite at the tone, and there was no promise of words returned and misdeeds turned over.

The shield was silent before her - dead. The magic that had long governed it was not to her eyes to be seen.

She slapped it then. Her palm smarted, but the metal showed no note of her blow. Normally, such a strike would have it glowing gold, ready to aid her – to defend her. Loki had enchanted the shield for the protection of her, and it had never failed in its task before. Only . . . once fighting the Destroyer, the spells had failed (and if she paused to think of the implications of that she would surely come undone), but even then, she could still feel the magic deep within it, waiting to be used.

Now . . .

"Come on, you thrice cursed piece of steel!" she finally shouted. She struck it harder.

Live, she willed into it. Just let me know you live . . . She could suffer any betrayal, just as long as he was alive somewhere, cradled in the universe's shadow. He couldn't have lost himself so easily . . .

The metal stayed silent. Stubbornly keeping its secrets.

"Damn you, wake up!" she exclaimed. This time she struck it twice. Slapped it with her left hand and hit it with a right closed fist. Her knuckles threatened to bleed. She bared her teeth, her eyes narrowed, and still the shield was silent. It would answer no call. The metal was cold to the touch.

Her hands trembled when she picked the abused weapon up. She cradled it – holding close the memory of it. Even with a tender touch, it was a dead weight in her hands. The magic in it had gone with its creator.

And finally, she let herself weep; the slow flow of tears at her eyes a trickle where inside her, she was sure that a dam had been punctured – fit to burst. But, alone now, she had no idea how to stem the tide; and so, brokenly, she just let it flow until there was nothing left to give.