vi.

Since he was a very small child, Loki had prided himself on his composure. Self-control was important as well, of course, but Loki had always found that even when he was at his most frayed, a calm demeanor worked well both for his mental state and, usually, towards whatever it was he was trying to accomplish. Furthermore, though he had encountered a fair number of things that tested his self-control, he had never encountered an occasion during which he could not maintain at least the appearance of poise.

Of course, Loki had never before been caught in the middle of taking the son of Odin on an illicit trip to another realm and subsequently been snatched up to Asgard by their nigh omniscient Gatekeeper whose maiden sister he'd just so happened to be trysting with at the time.

They appeared in Heimdall's observatory in a flash of light and Loki stood, slack-jawed, gaping, and breathing far more heavily than normal. Thor looked caught between irritation and mild embarrassment, and Sif, clever, beautiful, radiant Sif, made a show of stumbling in surprise so as to put just a bit more respectful distance between herself and Loki. Up on the dais, Heimdall stared; beyond it, Odin and Frigg stood. Loki closed his mouth.

His heart was still beating at an abnormal clip and, if he was honest, a good portion of his mental acuity was completely inaccessible, still subsumed in Sif and Sif's hot, wet mouth, and Sif's thick, silky hair, and Sif's lean, strong body. He'd thought before that she consumed him, but this was wholly different. She'd ruled his thoughts, his hopes, his fears, his desires, guilty and otherwise, but now it was matched with a throbbing need that pounded through him and made it near impossible to think about anything else. He wondered if this was how other people felt and, if so, how they ever got anything accomplished.

Sif's hair was mussed, the braids and flowers wild. Her mouth was still flushed and swollen. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and Loki forced his eyes away. He closed them briefly, grasping for calm. He did not quite achieve it, but when he opened his eyes again, he was sure he looked more the part than he had.

In front of them, Odin was the picture of fury.

"What were you thinking?" he roared as he marched towards them.

"It was nothing, Father," Thor said.

"Nothing?" Odin's eye flashed, his shoulders quaked with his rage. "You disappeared, without warning, without word, in the middle of Jötunheimr! Do you know what you nearly did- what you nearly caused?"

Heimdall stood, still, immobile, but Loki thought he saw his golden eyes flicker to Sif. She stood, her back as straight as her brother's, bearing up under her king's rage. It was not Sif that was being watched, or not only, but Thor. Of course. Loki'd not bothered to think of it before, but it was obvious. They could barter all of Jötunheimr away and still Odin would never afford them his trust. What Odin implied meant that Loki's parents too would be angrier than anticipated. That or they would be pleased that he managed to so vex the Allfather.

"I'm fine!" Thor replied, his anger rising in response to his father's. "And clearly nothing has been done or caused!"

"How did you do it?" Odin asked as if Thor had not spoken. "How was it even possible for you to-"

Thor's brow was furrowing, stubborn, but this wasn't a fight Loki wanted his friend to take up on his behalf.

"I did it," Loki said. Odin turned his gaze on Loki, who did not flinch. "It was my idea and I took them both, Thor and Sif. They didn't even know where we were going until we got there."

At this, Heimdall too looked on Loki and even Frigg appeared startled.

"They trusted me," he added.

"By what method did you," a mere boy, a mere jötunn, Loki could not decide which lived in the pause, "manage to achieve this?" Odin asked — demanded.

"The universe is a very big place," Loki said. "There are many methods by which to achieve most things. A wise man never assumes his is the only way."

Odin exhaled heavily, refusing to be baited.

"You have not answered my question," he said.

"My apologies, esteemed Allfather," Loki said, unblinking. "Not being one of your subjects, I was not under the impression that I was beholden to do so."

This time, it was more effective.

"You listen to me-" he began, but Loki was not deterred.

"Am I to understand that you don't wish for me to answer you then?"

Odin stared and Loki took the opening.

"In the interest of friendship and cooperation, I'm choosing to answer you," Loki clarified. "There is a path to Midgard, ancient and tiny, in a particular place in Jötunheimr. I found it some time ago, and I used it. Midgard holds very little of interest, as I'm sure you're well aware, so it was only for my entertainment, which, of course, is why I shared it with my friends."

More questions hung there, about what other paths Loki had walked, could walk, but it was clear to all present that he had no intention of answering those. Before Odin could pose them anyway, Frigg spoke.

"Well, now we know what happened and why," she said. "A youthful indiscretion at best, and certainly far from the worst thing they could have done."

She glided forward and placed a gentle hand on Odin's forearm.

"I think the children should go to the palace and get some sleep, so that they can return to Jötunheimr in the morning."

A look passed between she and Odin at this, but Loki could not decipher it. Whatever it was, Odin turned and walked out of the observatory, and Frigg smiled at Thor, Sif, and Loki before waving them forth to follow her back to the palace.

The servants had clearly rushed to prepare Loki's normal room; it lacked its usual meticulous attention to detail. Loki was unconcerned. He counted out minutes after he'd been left there alone, then folded space about himself and traveled the reduced distance to Sif's bedroom. He stepped into her room out of a shadow near her dressing table. She sat cross-legged on her bed, elbow on her knee and chin on her palm. Loki wasn't certain whether she was waiting for him to come to her or waiting for the path to clear so that she could go to him, but as soon as she saw him, it didn't matter.

She darted up from the bed and into him, her kiss fierce and hot. He returned it, his blood racing at the way she sucked at his tongue, his hands resting at the curve of her waist. She broke away with a pleased, little noise. He'd never thought Sif capable of making such a noise, but now he felt like he might need it to survive.

She laced her fingers together at his nape, smiling up at him. He toyed with her hair, where she'd begun to unravel one of the braids.

"This isn't exactly how I planned," Loki said, "but I find I have few complaints."

"You had plans?" Sif asked, grinning, and he could already see the teasing light in her eyes.

"Numerous," Loki admitted.

"Given how poorly you'd been doing, they must have been terrible."

His eyes slipped shut as she ran her fingernails lightly along his hairline at the back of his neck.

"No," he said. "I think they would have resolved themselves in much the same way."

Her fingers stopped, and when he opened his eyes, her expression was serious.

"And how has it resolved itself?" she asked, and he saw on her face what he knew as well: beyond the circle of their embrace, absolutely nothing was resolved at all.

"If you feel," Loki began, and even now, the words were still so hard, "the same way that I feel, then we will find a solution."

Her eyes were wide and warm, so warm, like every other part of her.

"And how is that you feel, exactly," she asked, her mouth bowing only just, "so that I can be certain?"

"You're very full of questions all of a sudden," Loki groused, reaching into his pocket. Then he gently unwound her arms from about him and pressed what he had taken into her palm.

She stared down at it — the little pearl in its silver fixture — uncomprehending, then realization dawned on her face.

"This is my button," she said, "the button from my red jacket. The one I wore-" Her eyes narrowed.

"You stole my button?" she asked, incredulous and frighteningly delighted.

"I didn't steal it," Loki protested. "It came off on its own and I picked it up so that it wouldn't be lost."

"And then you kept it. For years." Her smile could outshine both of Asgard's suns. "Did you hold it and quietly stroke it at night? Whisper poetry to it?"

"You kept the wreath I gave you!" Loki said, though he was more flustered by the look on her face and the lilt in her voice than her accusations.

"Because you gave it to me," she countered easily. "I didn't break into your room and steal it."

"Neither did I," he said.

"That time," Sif said.

"You're making it very difficult for me to remember why I'm so fond of you."

She moved closer, resting her forearms on his shoulders.

"But you do remember," Sif said, confident.

"Yes," he confessed. She kissed him, a response and a promise.

"No one has to know," Loki said then, imbuing his tone with all the elegance of a simple solution. Not so simple, but more so than any other.

"Do you honestly think that will work?" He couldn't tell whether she more wanted him to say yes or no.

"I'm a very good liar," he said instead.

"Not to me," Sif said.

"Not to you," Loki agreed.

They kissed again, and Loki marveled at it, at how quickly it was becoming familiar, the way she moved, pressed into him, how he bent, was drawn, into her. Familiar, but no less world-shaking.

"Would you like a better token?" she asked, lips at his chin. It was soft and utterly sincere.

Loki's response matched it. His fingers glided across the sharp angles of her face, dipped into the hollow of her cheek. He tucked a kiss away, just by her temple.

"I don't need one anymore."