III.

Over the centuries, a great war erupted in the heart of the Nine Realms, which came to be known as the Æsir–Vanir War. The two mighty groups of gods clashed, fighting for the ultimate supremacy over all the worlds that came from Yggdrasil. All who fought in the war agreed that the instigator was Freyja, but their reasons for her involvement varied. Some said she had grown tired of playing the part of Odin's vassal in Vanaheimr, merely receiving the souls that Odin had rejected and caring for them in the meadows of Fólkvangr like an affectionate mother. Others claimed the war was a consequence of Odin's rage, for his beautiful cousin consorted with the dwarves without shame and bore one of their leaders, Iwaldi, a bastard child, despite owing her fidelity to her husband Odr.

The truth lay in both speculations.

The war was loud and intense, and while it raged, all the worlds were covered in rain and thunder. Midgardians, ever so ready to believe in a new apocalypse, were, once again, certain that the end of their world was nigh, and their prayers and ritual sacrifices had never been greater, much to the amusement of some of the Æsir and Vanir, among which was Loki Odinson, who entertained himself during the idle hours between the battles by further fuelling their fears as he was creating his own kind of mischief among them. The mortals would never cease to amaze him, and in this, Thor was his conspirator, much to Sif's dismay. She had never imagined she would one day feel disappointment for both the brothers.

Yet Sif did not complain, for at least the brothers appeared to be friends once more. After Loki's short, yet shameful imprisonment, Loki had grown entirely impenetrable and for a while, quite impossible to be had in company. He would either tease them all with hateful, poisonous cynicism, or not show himself for days, worrying Frigga and angering Odin. He was even lost to Heimdall's all-seeing gaze during those periods of strange and suspicious absences, but no matter how much the All-Father raged and threatened the mysterious prince of Asgard, Loki would not tell where he had been.

Furthermore, during those dark times for Loki and all those in his black-humoured orbit, Loki freely ignored Thor, and the hurt that his behaviour inspired within Thor pushed the warrior of thunder into a similarly foul mood. During those painful months of grudge, hatred and spite, Asgard was not a happy place for Sif. She was clever enough to avoid the company of both brothers, for she knew that had she chosen one of them, or tried to be near them both, she would have been sucked into their venomous vortex herself and Sif did not want that. She was angry with both of them for not seeing that they were brothers and that they should love each other. She almost hated Odin for having started the terrible problem with his decision to punish Loki with humiliation, and she wanted to flog Loki many a time for simply hating so much.

She wanted to flog and hate Loki not only because she missed Thor's cheerful company and attention that had grown into a kind of affection only a short while after Loki's imprisonment.

She wanted to hate Loki because she missed his company, too.

He was destroying everything, and in a way, Sif felt that he was destroying her. She began to hope for a miracle desperately and to her immense surprise, it came to them in the form of the Great War that united the brothers at long last, even if in mischief directed at the fearing, trembling Midgardians. Odin's family was consolidated again, Loki's behaviour was forgiven and forgotten, and in Asgard, all was well again, apart from the raging war.

Once more, Sif fought by Thor's side, which gave her great joy, that privilege to have him as her general and great friend once more. But now, she fought by Loki's side as well and as she watched him slice at the enemies, subduing them with his daggers and magic, then turning to her and sending her a fleeting, fatigued smile, Sif found, for the first time in her long existence, that she possessed some sort of deep affection for Loki. It was not the same kind of affection that she felt for Thor, for she loved and admired the warrior of thunder and at times believed that she might even be in love with him. But Sif knew, and this time without shame, that if Loki came to be in danger in this great war of gods, she would try to save him, even if it meant her death.

Her loyalty had always belonged to the house of Odin and it now included Loki Odinson.

She consoled herself that she would feel differently after the battle, that to her, Loki would once more become the terrible, envious man with whom she shared a strange sort of friendship that was challenging and awkward at the best of times. When the brothers began to play unseemly games with Midgardians and Sif felt disappointment for the first time in her life, she was actually relieved by the sentiment, for it was easier to feel disappointed in Loki than hold him in such high regard so suddenly.

Sif could not predict how her conflicting sentiments would soon be tested.

Just as the war began, it also ended. Odin was victorious and Freyja, clever enough to see an opportunity in her defeat, offered to seal the new and still fragile truce with a bond that could never be undone, unless Odin so willed it, and which would forever guarantee the peace between the warring gods.

Her offering came in the form of her bastard daughter, an exquisite maiden of great, enchanting beauty, with long, golden, flowing hair and a smile that had the potential of bewitching any man that she chose to bewitch.

The maiden's name was Sigyn and Odin, to the surprise of many an Asgardian, acquiesced that the lady Sigyn should become one of his sons' wife.

xxx

The banquet attended by the Æsir and the Vanir was a monumental event, as well as a sight to behold, for only gods could prepare such a luxurious feast in the ornate palace of Asgard.

Loki was not impressed by the grandeur, for grandeur was something a prince was used to having in his life since infancy. He was not one to overly enjoy himself in a large crowd of noble revellers. He performed his duties as was required of him. He stood by his father's left side, Thor on Odin's right, as the All-Father welcomed the defeated, yet smiling and ever-enchanting Freyja and her numerous retinue in Asgard. Loki bowed to the mistress of Vanaheimr, bending his thin and lean frame at a perfect angle, and suppressed a scoffing glance at Thor as the eldest prince, although – Loki had to admit – every bit the future king of Asgard in appearance and bearing, attempted to return Freyja's innate elegant gestures with slightly awkward grace.

When Freyja's bastard daughter was presented to Loki, Odin was eyeing him warily and, composing himself, Loki followed Thor's gestures, bowing over the lady Sigyn's proffered hand and kissing the warm skin softly. Grudgingly, he thought that, in that instance, Thor's performance had been much more charming, yet that did not bother Loki so much because he had no desire to have the bastard lady grow fond of him even a little and choose him as her husband. The final decision would still fall to Odin, but it had been implied that she would be given to the prince towards whom she would show a sort of inclination.

As Loki met Sigyn's impossibly blue eyes that suited her renowned beauty, she offered him a wide smile and suddenly, Loki was worried. Odin had told his sons that they should entertain the lady Sigyn as best as they could and make her feel welcome in Asgard, for it would become her home in the future. Loki wanted to protest, for he had no wish to wed a woman he had never seen in his life and he knew that Thor shared in his sentiment. After the great victory of the Æsir, the arranged marriage seemed unnecessary and even humiliating, for the princes of Asgard should have the privilege of choosing their own brides. Loki had no interest in marriage and Thor, despite his age, was not yet mature enough to be king, let alone a husband, which should be the first step in man's maturity.

Sigyn was a creature of great beauty and Loki saw that Thor was quite impressed by her, but that signified nothing as of yet. Loki was not a blind man, nor was he a fool, and he acknowledged Sigyn's striking features himself, her alabaster skin, her cherry lips and her gem-like eyes that made everyone forget she was the sinful product of her mother's scandalous liaison with a dwarf. The only tell-tale signs of her father's blood in her were Sigyn's delicately pointed ears that only served to enhance the appeal of her presence. Her voice was warm honey and her laughter a song. It seemed she had already captured the attention of every Asgardian and it was no wonder she should have done so.

For a short moment, even Loki was struck by her beauteousness. He talked to her, he appeared politely interested and he accompanied her to the great table shivering under the weight of delicious food and mead. Yet he shirked the rest of his duties, for Sigyn meant only a duty to him and not a privilege. Even her fairness could not convince him otherwise.

He freely let her dance with Thor. He preferred to remain seated and observe the guests, carefully noting their gestures and manners of speaking. A wise ruler was attentive, and although he knew the truth and hated it – the truth that he would never be king – he behaved as if kinghood would one day be his lot. Observation was what Loki was truly good at, and he could never trade it for action.

As he observed, his eyes fell on Sif at the far end of the table, engaged in conversation with Freyr, Freya's illustrious and charming brother. Normally, Loki masked any sort of emotion, for he was good at hiding and deceit. They suited him and made existence much easier. His quiet ways made others wary of him and whisper behind his back, for it almost drove people into anger that they did not know what lay in Loki's thoughts. Since the shameful imprisonment, he found it even more important to become a closed casket in public, never fully revealing his true self.

Yet tonight, at the banquet, as he watched Sif talk and smile, with her black hair pulled back and decorated with tiny white flowers, his breath stopped for a moment and a smile twitched at the corners of his lips. It was a moment of a careless display of his sentiments, sentiments he did not wish to name for they had not appeared inside him in the longest time. Suppression of emotions was another talent at which Loki excelled. But his momentary indiscretion did not go unnoticed.

"Ask her for a dance," Frigga whispered into his ear, startling Loki.

He recovered his composure quickly, conjuring up an impersonal smile. "Sigyn, mother? Perhaps later. She is currently twirling on the dance floor in Thor's company."

Frigga shook her head and looked at him knowingly. "Sif, Loki. I meant Sif, and do not deny it. I am your mother and there are certain things that mothers simply know."

He felt as if someone had poured ice over him and he tried to feign indifference. "I do not..." He did not know how to continue. I do not like Sif? Love Sif? He did not, but he also did not know what he had been feeling all these years. He did not like to think about her, yet his mother's comment, her keen sense of observation, rattled him and made him wonder about things about which he did not wish to wonder.

Finally, he settled for an answer, focusing on trying to find fault with Thor's dancing in his mind.

"Sif is engaged in conversation with Freyr. Besides," he added playfully, "will she not marry Thor one day, if Sigyn doesn't lay claim on him first?" He chuckled. "Sif should dance with him, lest she loses him to a bastard princess."

"Loki," Frigga scolded, her voice severe and reproachful. Then, she shook her head and replied, "Oh, my dear boy... Sometimes, you think too much, my son." She looked at him fondly. "Sif is a lot like you, I find. She is dedicated to what she loves and like yourself – and you cannot hide it from me – she never wishes to marry. Yet someone may change her mind one day. Someone may change your mind, for I would dearly like to see you wed and...calmer."

Loki was trembling inside. Frigga was going too far for his comfort. "Mother, I do not – "

Frigga shook her head vigorously, interrupting him. "Sif has intimated to me that she is contemplating becoming a valkyrie, and you know what this means."

Loki stared at his mother, his mouth dry. He knew. Oh, he knew. If Sif became a valkyrie, she would be lost to them forever, for she would be bound to care for the souls of the mightiest warriors and remove herself to Valhalla. She would only be seen rarely, for it was seldom that the valkyries showed themself to anyone outside of Valhalla, only to entice new brave warrior maidens to join their glorious ranks. Until Ragnarök, for one day the end of all time would come to pass, she would only be a memory and nothing more.

He wanted to ask his mother why, why trying to push him towards her, even when he might well end up wedding Sigyn, although this was the last thing he wanted; but he could not ask her. He was surprised by how much the news concerning Sif shook him.

"I believe she would make a wonderful valkyrie, for she is a great warrior and only the best of our warrior maidens may join their hallowed ranks," Frigga continued, "but I am a selfish woman. I love Sif as if she were my own daughter and I'd rather keep her by my side."

Did Frigga mean...? Whatever was in Odin's mind was soon known to his wife and queen. Could it mean that it was already decided Sigyn should be Thor's? Normally, he would have protested and become prey to the green monster that was his jealousy. Normally, he would chafe against the fact that something was given to Thor before it was given to him, but not this time. Perhaps, Thor would be Sigyn's husband, for he was the firstborn and should be the one to give himself to Odin's will first. And if so, Sif would be –

Loki's.

The very idea was so overwhelming that it seemed almost too ludicrous to contemplate. It was the first time his betrothal was mentioned and although it was too soon for confirmation, it was beyond belief that it should be Sif who –

No, their so-called friendship was strange as it was. To turn it into marriage would be very wrong.

"I cannot," he said, struggling with words.

Frigga sighed. "Why do you enjoy giving yourself such a hard time, Loki? Or myself, for that matter?"

"That's not true, mother," he retorted.

"Then ask her and make your mother happy for a few minutes."

Loki swallowed, grasping at elusive excuses. "She will say no. Sif and I prefer to bicker, rather than dance." He masked his tension with false gaiety.

Frigga touched his shoulder lightly. "Ask her," she concluded softly and turned to the guests.

When Loki stood up, he told himself he was only doing this to spare himself any further badgering from his mother, for Frigga was a very determined woman, used to being obeyed. But that was not true.

Loki found that he wanted to dance with Sif, only once, and then never again. Just this once. He suppressed every thought and feeling and walked towards her, the current emptiness inside him deceptively reassuring.

He could regret this later, but for now, he thought, To Hel with this.

Tonight, and only this once, he would dance with the feisty lady Sif.

xxx

Sif had never imagined she could be so happy to see Loki. He came to her rescue, by coincidence, when she most needed to be rescued. On the battlefield, Sif was anything but a damsel in distress. When being charmed by a man who wanted to sneak his way into her bedchamber by way of seductive smiles and words, she was exactly that.

Freyr, famous for his love of women and his numerous conquests, asked her to dance and she was terrified that she would have to comply with his wish, for the banquet was not the time to insult any of the Vanir. In any other circumstance, she would have easily rejected him, for she despised the kind of man that he was, but she did not have that luxury tonight. And then, before she was forced to give her positive reply, she saw Loki sauntering towards them, his facial features impenetrable stone, but his eyes sparkling with amusement.

"I am so sorry," she began, the idea completely spontaneous, "but I am promised to my lord Loki as his dancing partner tonight," she lied through her teeth, her heart beating fast, lest her deception be discovered by Freyr.

Freyr gave her one his wolfish grins. "Oh, he has claimed you, then, beautiful lady?"

Sif swallowed the onslaught of rage at his remark and forced herself to smile politely, while she only wanted to hit him in the face. "Yes, but not in the way you think, my lord. No one claims me."

She stood up with swift elegance and looked at Loki, who had just joined her side. "Ah, here you are, my lord," she addressed him with rare formality. "I promised to be your dancing partner tonight, didn't I?"

Before Loki could say anything and reveal her lie to Freyr, she took him by one hand and dragged him behind her towards the dance floor, knowing that she might well regret giving herself to Loki's mercy later, but for now, she only wanted to escape Freyr's insulting presence.

"Why Sif," she heard Loki's smooth, teasing voice, "I did not know you wanted to dance with me so badly."

She stopped at the edge of the dance floor and glared at him. "I don't, but I needed someone to rescue me from that...that leech, and you came at the perfect moment."

Loki quirked his eyebrows. "Oh, so you don't actually want to dance with me? You only need a favour from me? You wound me," he mocked her, turned around and began to walk away, chuckling.

"Oh, Hel, Loki," she spoke, gritting her teeth. She hurried after him and grabbed his arm. "Loki, please, will you dance with me? I invite you, nicely. Sincerely, if you will."

She hated herself for actually pleading with Loki to dance with her, but then, to be fair, she much preferred Loki's company to Freyr's.

"Please," she repeated. "I will owe you a favour," she added grudgingly.

The new music began to play and Sif was feeling desperate. Loki heaved a sigh and turned to her.

"For this, you will owe me a favour, dear Sif." He chuckled. "But I must confess that I shall not dance with you to save you from Freyr, for the chance of seeing you dance at all is far too amusing for me to pass."

Sif wanted to roll her eyes and possibly tell him to take himself and his sarcasm to Hel, for the truth was that she was not a particularly fine dancer. Instead, she bowed her head in gratitude and followed him to the end of the line that other dancer had formed. She could always feign perfect awkwardness and get her little revenge for his teasing by stepping on his feet a few times.

She had never been fond of dancing, and she suspected that her dancing experience with Loki might just finally make the decision for her to never dance again.

As he smiled at her with amusement and mischief imprinted on his face, Sif was already regretting her decision to choose him as her rescuer. She could hardly focus on her steps in her anger and they were not even touching yet. Oh, he would taunt her about this for many days to come, wouldn't he? Weeks, if Loki could help it. Oh, he would and she would hate every moment of it.

Then, the steps required Loki to glide to her left side, which he did with feline grace, and as he put his right hand just above her right hip and claimed her left hand with the fingers of his own left hand, the intimacy of the manoeuvre startled Sif. She looked up at him in confusion, but he was staring blankly ahead, moving them forward, unperturbed. She had never felt Loki before. She had touched him numerous times; mostly in mock battles and whenever she slapped his hands to punish him for his teasing, but tonight was different. Tonight, as he was pushing her forward on the dance floor and her back could occasionally touch his chest if she faltered in her steps, something was markedly different. Her feelings were in dichotomy, sending her both sensations of warm comfort and extreme discomfort.

As they stopped and turned towards each other, lifting their hands to the level of their eyes and he pressing his palms against hers as they walked in a circle, Sif found that she could not even look at Loki. She was blushing. Perhaps, she should have blamed the fact that this was the first time since her girlhood that she was dancing with a man that was not her dancing instructor. Perhaps, it was the heat and the strong wine she had allowed herself to taste. But the nearness of Loki was, suddenly, strangely vivid and intense, and as they stopped walking in a circle, her head was spinning.

She dared herself to look at Loki and she did not like the smile resting serenely on his thin lips.

"Worry not, I believe you are doing just fine, Sif," Loki spoke as if to reassure her. "No one is staring at us."

"I am not worried," she retorted and looked away, trying to find Thor in the crowd of dancers, as if the sight of him might calm her and stop whatever it was that she was feeling in Loki's deft arms, for he surely was an adept dancer.

"Are you certain?" he asked her with a light-hearted tone in his voice, "Because you are blushing quite profusely."

She met his gaze and knew that he was taunting her, but he chose a very wrong moment to mock her.

"I am not worried," she repeated coldly, glaring at him, "merely hot."

And confused, she added in her thoughts. So confused, and I cannot tell why.

Loki stepped behind her, snaking one arm around her waist, and he lifted her from the ground a little, making another circle with her nestled between his arm and chest. Every other man did so with his own dancer, but the gesture sent a strange surge of energy through Sif's entire body and she genuinely believed that everyone could see how another one of Loki's touches pumped more blood through her cheeks. She was not used to such intimacy with anyone, and that she should experience it with Loki, enjoying it, even, worried her. When she was in Loki's arms, she felt as if he had control over her and she did not like it, especially because his closeness did affect her despite herself.

She had been so used to resenting him and fighting him with words that she did not even know how to handle her new feelings; feelings that she did not know how to name.

Her head did not stop spinning. There is so much walking in circles and lifting in this dance, she thought frantically and as soon as Loki set her back on the ground, she pushed herself away from him, making him frown at her in bewilderment that he either could not or did not bother to disguise.

"I need air," she explained weakly and left him in the middle of the dance floor, not caring how slighted or insulted he might feel. She only knew she had to get away from him, the music and the world. She felt a great need to clear her head and sleep, to awake refreshed and empty of her newly-developed confusion that had everything to do with Loki Odinson.

It should have been Thor, she thought to herself. It should have been Thor. Another thought jeered at her. Why Thor? Why not Loki?

She left the banqueting hall and ran into the garden, growling in her frustration. She hit the bark of a small tree with her palms angrily.

To her dismay, she heard light footsteps behind her and she turned around to see Loki following her.

She sighed. "Why did you come after me? I need to be alone."

Her words made him pause and he looked at her with slight resentment. "I was worried that you might be ill, but I see I shouldn't have been." His voice could turn into cold silver so easily. His silver tongue always had a reply to offer and it often stang.

"I am fine." She did not even understand why he should worry over her health. Their race was a stranger to sickness and diseases.

Suddenly, he struck at her with words, his face screwed into an angry grimace "Was that your plan, then? To humiliate me in public? For I assure you Sif, this time they did stare!"

Towards the end of his accusation, his voice began to rise in volume and Sif thought that he might begin to scream, but he stopped himself. He stared at her with rage and such resentment that she believed he might be hating her. It surprised her that she did not want him to hate her; not tonight, or tomorrow, or any other day.

"I am sorry... " she began, taking a step toward him.

He smirked. "No, you are not."

"I am!" she countered. "I am not you. I do not hurt anyone for pleasure. I certainly had no intention of hurting you and as I see that I did, albeit unintentionally, I am sorry for it."

He stared at her, unblinking. "You think I enjoy hurting others?" He was half whispering, his voice a peculiar rasping sound.

She crossed her arms across her chest. "Don't you?"

"You would like to think that you understand me, Sif, but you do not understand me. You certainly don't and you have never bothered to do so."

She opened her mouth to speak, but he lifted his hand to silence her. "Don't. I do not wish you to say another word." He smiled through his anger, a perfect, condescending smile.

Suddenly, as she was looking at Loki, really looking at him, Sif knew what she wanted to do and it frightened her. It terrified her, and as terrifying as it was, it was also mortifying. She could despise herself for even thinking it, but the thought began to bloom into bigger proportions, seizing her mind.

"I want to be cured of this madness," she said.

At first, she thought that she said the words only in her mind, but she realised that she had actually said them out loud when Loki frowned at her and answered her with a terse "What?"

Perhaps, the cure was in the malady itself and in all honesty, Sif was too bewildered and too tired from feeling so many contradictory things that she lost her will to fight them.

She dared not – or did she? Sif liked to pride herself on her bravery. If she wanted something, she took it. Should she even question her desire? Surely she did not need to appease her wish with valid reasons. She was Sif, one of the fiercest warriors in all of Asgard. And yet, he was Loki, the lord of mischief.

"Oh, have you nothing to add?" Loki spoke. "Of course, you wouldn't. You got what you wanted, but I assure you, Sif, I shall not forget that insult," he was saying as he walked over to her, pointing one long, thin finger at her.

"I did not seek your humiliation," she replied firmly.

"Then what did you want? What do you want from me?" he demanded hotly and Sif swallowed.

"Loki, I would ask you for one more favour and I will owe you two in return, which you can claim whenever you wish and I shall not complain. I give you my solemn word." She spoke the words half in a daze, willing her heart to stop beating so fast, but it did not heed her plea.

"No. You do not deserve my favours, Sif."

He turned on his heels and began to walk away.

On an impulse, she called after him, revealing the worm that was gnawing on her thoughts so insistently.

"Not even a kiss that would mean nothing because it would be only a kiss, a mere impersonal act that would appease curiosity?"

Loki stopped abruptly and looked at her with narrowed eyes, stalking back to her like a predator ready to attack.

"I think you should shut your insulting mouth now," he answered her, half snarling out the words. Sif saw green venom in his eyes and she did not yield.

"I think you should learn to be more courteous when a lady wants something from you, Loki Odinson."

"You're either drunk or mad, I see no other alternative," he offered.

In answer, Sif approached her face dangerously close to his, freeing herself of all regret and doubt. She had to know. She had to solve the confusion in her head.

"The rest is up to you," she said, her warm breath swirling across his lips.

Suddenly, she was afraid of rejection. He would reject her, of course he would not wish to kiss her. He hated her because she had wronged him too many times, and she often hated him for the same reason.

She was wrong. They should not kiss. She should never have humiliated herself by even suggesting such an absurdity.

But tonight, the man who was always in control yielded to her.

When Loki kissed Sif, she knew that she wanted him and her fear increased. Yet they both had something in common. They had denied themselves to feel for too long and it seemed that now, neither was able to stop. Sif, always ready to take the lead, followed her newly found passion with greater ease and, unashamed, she pushed Loki against the nearest tree. He chuckled and she saw marvel in his eyes. He leaned down to kiss her again, he, Loki, who had never shown interest in any woman, and Sif felt empowered. But he was stopped.

They were both stopped by a group of revellers exiting the banqueting hall and the stolen moment was entirely destroyed in one single second.

Sif looked at Loki in horror and he turned away, raking his fingers through his hair. She had never seen him do that before.

Sif ran away.

xxx

Sif never asked Loki to kiss her again.

Loki never tried to claim another kiss from her.

From that day on, they were comfortable avoiding each other.

But Loki did not forget, and neither did she.

xxx

On the fifth day after the banquet, the lady Sigyn showed obvious preference for Loki Odinson. To please his father, he had been friendly towards Sigyn. She rewarded his formal politeness by intimating to her mother that she would like to marry Odin's second-born.

To Loki, her preference for him was a curse and a punishment.

He had no say in the matter. Soon, he found himself betrothed to Sigyn of Vanaheimr and he could hardly stand the sight of her.

As Odin told him the news, Loki forced himself to remain calm, even when his soul protested inside him with all its might. He nodded tersely and walked away, every muscle in his body taut, avoiding the curious eyes of his brother who was there to witness what the All-Father had to say to his second-born.

"Loki," Odin's voice commanded and Loki stopped, turning around.

"Do not concern yourself, father. I will do as you ask."

Resentment and scorn were dripping from his mouth.

Loki would have to do as Odin had decided, but his hand in marriage was the only thing Sigyn would ever get from Loki Odinson.

On the way to the library, he met Sif. They both halted their steps, assessing each other warily.

He tilted his head in greeting, averting his eyes away from hers. "Sif."

He did not see her jerky nod, her bewildered eyes. She said nothing.

Loki turned around as he heard Thor's heavy steps approaching.

"Oh, come, Loki," Thor was already saying, yet unaware of Sif's presence, "you are going to marry Sigyn, a great beauty. Surely marriage to her won't be as bad as you imagine it to be."

Loki glowered at his brother's indiscretion. "Thor. Don't."

He looked over his shoulder in Sif's direction, almost afraid to see her now, but she was not there anymore.

Sif had disappeared stealthily, leaving him to guess, always guess.

"What?" Thor said, concern showing on his face. "Loki, speak to me."

Loki shook his head. "I can't talk to anyone. I need to be alone."

xxx

It was decided that the betrothal of Loki and Sigyn should be long, for Freyja wanted to prepare her daughter according to the old traditions that she wanted to revive.

The postponement was only delaying the inevitable, but Loki was assuredly not going to complain about this delightful procrastination, as he called it in his mind. For a while longer, he would be a free man, before Sigyn would be sent to the court of Asgard to acquaint herself with her duties and then chain Loki to herself.

What surprised Loki, more than anyone in the realm, was Odin's decision to abdicate the throne of Asgard in favour of his first-born, Thor. Thor was well loved and all of Asgard cheered for him, happy that Odin would leave them with such a fine and brave warrior that could summon thunder.

All of Asgard, apart from Loki.

He had been expecting the news since his childhood, but only now had the idea become real and its actuality, its irrevocability, came as an unexpected shock. He should have been ready for this moment, for he had been preparing himself for it all his existence, but when the moment came, he was not ready by far.

Loki had never felt so slighted in his entire life, not even when he was imprisoned. He had known all along that the throne would never be his, but now that the truth became official, the green beast of envy fully awakened and began to tear at him.

He had been ignored all of his existence. He was once imprisoned by his own father. He had been mocked for his skills at magic by arrogant warriors who only swore to the sword and nothing else. He was forced into a betrothal to a bastard princess, for a true princess was not good enough for Odin's second-born, was she? And now, his father showed such faith in the mighty Thor that he was willing to crown his first-born long before that was necessary.

Odin had never put such faith and trust in his second son and it was the lack of a father's absolute devotion to his son, the sort of devotion that Odin displayed for Thor, that truly burned at Loki. For Loki knew that, had he never been born, Odin would not want for another son, for there was Thor.

When Loki was made aware of the news, he sought the solitude of the vast library and, for the first time in his existence, screamed at the top of his lungs. He was fuelled by sheer rage and he did not care to stop himself. He felt the urge to destroy, but he knew he could not afford to lash out. He had done it once and the deed landed him in prison, stripping him of integrity and respect that should be his lot, but apparently, he was not worthy because of the magic inside him.

The worst of all was the fact that Loki loved his father, and the green-eyed sorcerer loved his brother more dearly than anyone, which only laced his plight with guilt. Sentiment was his weakness, but if he ever wanted to become worthy and a winner, the weakness would have to stop. It was time to stop it now.

He had not been given what he most desired.

Appreciation. Respect. Equality.

Sif.

The last thought he chose to ignore, for encumbering himself with another weakness would serve no purpose.

After all the losses, Loki was decided that he should never lose again. Measures had to be taken, even if it meant turning against his own brother.

Loki was ready to sin.

He was ready to betray.

xxx

Heimdall, the possessor of foreknowledge and the keenest eye-sight in all the Nine Realms, knew of every nook and cranny in the Worlds. He saw everything, knew of everything and nothing, or no-one, could escape his golden eyes.

But there were crevices, anomalies in time and space, created by careless dark magic eons ago, hidden and undetected even by the all-seeing eye of Asgard's gate-keeper. Only one with magic could sense them and a few of them had been Loki's secret for many years. He had never known what to do with his knowledge of the crevices, but he had tested them and knew which way every one of them led.

One of them led to Jötunheimr and hidden by the shade of a magic spell, Loki stepped into one of them, its vortex taking him into the land of blue ice and eternal snow.

xxx

He had never planned Thor's banishment. He only wanted to ruin the coronation, postpone it for quite a while longer, for with the threat of the frost giants returned to Asgard, no one could consider making Thor king just yet.

It shocked him, as it did everyone else, that the All-Father punished Thor's rashness so severely, but he did not have the time and will to care and wonder about his brother, for something he did not understand had happened to him in Jötunheimr.

No. He was clever; he suspected, but he did not wish to understand. It made no sense.

Loki grabbed the Casket of Ancient Winters with both hands and as he did so, he immediately felt a tingling spreading across his skin, crawling through his veins, cold and sharp. His pulse quickening, he lifted the casket, half tempted to crush it between his fingers, had he possessed Thor's strength. In the back of his head, an unwanted realisation was dawning.

I am not of Asgard.

There could be no other explanation for the sudden blue tint settling on the surface of his normally pallid skin, feeling comfortable and natural. He had not known how empty he had been until the moment the casket was in his hands and made him feel whole and true.

It cannot be...

His interior began to ripple with unrest and hurt, a myriad of questions forming in his mind. Frigga could not have been unfaithful in the arms of an ice monster, and Odin, surely, would not have betrayed her in turn, especially not with the enemy.

He did not want this. He was Loki of Asgard. He loved Asgard with his entire being. He did not want this.

"Stop!" Odin's voice resounded and Loki knew it was time, hoping, truly hoping he was cursed, and not... not... not one of the monsters he had been raised to hate.

Loki demanded and he listened, absorbing every word, realising that everything he had thought himself to be had been a wicked, elaborate lie. He did not know himself anymore, but all he knew for certain was that he was a monster; born a monster; rejected by a monster for having been born too small and frail; saved and accepted by another man, only to be taught to hate the very thing he had truly been all this time.

"I was born to be king and you robbed me of my right," Loki said, his voice thin and cold, his eyes accusing. "I was born as Thor's equal, your equal, yet you never afforded me the equality, the respect I deserved. Even when you banished Thor, you threw the hammer after him, not including me. And you...lied."

"No, you have always misunderstood. By instinct, you have felt out place, but your mother and I have always loved you as our own, as for all intents and purposes, you are our own. You are worthy, Loki, but you are determined to be stubborn."

Loki had never wished anything so much as he now did to be Odin's son, but he wasn't. He never was, and Thor had never been his brother. He had no right to love Asgard, to be of Asgard, to be with... her. He was a stranger; even worse – an intruder. Not Loki Odinson, but Loki Laufeyson, shunned by one father and betrayed by another. He belonged nowhere. He let the tears fall, for he did not care anymore. Nothing mattered anymore; there was only blackness in him and around him.

"Why did you take me?" he asked, anger boiling in his voice.

He wished he hadn't asked, for he only learned that he had been taken by Odin to serve as a means to an end. Odin did not love him; he was only protecting his pawn. Odin lied that he only wanted to spare him the hurt by keeping away the truth of his true parentage, but Loki was convinced that the only one who had been spared anything was Thor, for luckily the warrior of thunder did not know that his false brother was a monster present in the stories told by caring parents to warn their children of a cold malice residing in Jötunheimr.

"You knew who I am," Loki spoke, walking towards Odin, "yet you fed me with stories about the ice giants, the monsters from the North. You have always called them monsters. Is that what I am to you, then...Odin? A monster you have to keep locked up until you might have use of me?"

He had been torn apart and he did not know whether the pieces of him, scattered and lost, could ever be made whole again.

"No," Odin denied vehemently, "you are my son, and I am sorry I have caused you pain. It was unconsciously done."

Loki laughed through the tears, unable to believe the ridiculous words that were coming from Odin's mouth.

"It all makes sense now, why you favoured Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claimed to love me, you could not have a cursed jötunn sitting on the throne of Asgard!"

He screamed out the words, allowing the rage to consume him, and Odin fell prostrate on the ground, slipping into oblivion.

Loki grew scared in an instant, for no matter the anger, no matter the grave betrayal committed against him, Odin had been the only father he had known and Loki still loved him, wishing that love could be easily plucked from one's heart and tossed away like a rotten apple.

As Odin was being taken away, Loki knew that the hatred of the moment directed at the All-Father could not last. He despised himself for it, but then, he remembered that Odin, despite the ulterior and dishonourable motives, saved him from the temple where his true father, Laufey of Jötunheimr, had left him to die.

The future was uncertain, but Loki knew that one day, he would win Odin's respect and his rightful place in Asgard, and one day, not so distant, Laufey would pay for his crime. The blow would be delivered by a son of Odin.

Loki swore to himself that he would do anything, absolutely anything, no matter the cost, to remain in Asgard and prove to all that he was, indeed, worthy – a worthy son, and worthy to love the golden city where he had been raised.

No one mattered anymore, not even Thor, and not even Sif. She couldn't matter, even if she should.

He managed to chuckle.

"Anything," he whispered to himself.

xxx

Sif did not yet know of the All-Father's Odinsleep when she was searching for the Warriors Three to gather them and convince them to accompany her to the throne room and plead for Thor's return.

With Thor gone and lost in a strange place Odin had chosen for his punishment, she felt forlorn and confused, a warrior without her leader, a ship without sails. She worried about him so much that she almost cried, but Sif did not cry easily and she abstained herself from giving into the temptation of shedding tears, difficult as that might have been. The sorrow inside her, caused by the loss of Thor, had a companion in anger. Loki should have been fighting for his brother this very moment, but he had disappeared, leaving them with the knowledge that, perhaps, Thor should remain in exile for while. How could he, Thor's own brother? And to think that she gave in to a moment of weakness with Loki! She thought she saw something different inside him that night, a vulnerability that appealed to her in its honesty, but she was wrong.

Loki could never be seen in a different light. He was the man she had always been convinced that he was; selfish, envious, uncaring. Cold. She would never trust him. If he would abandon Thor, then he was not her friend; never had been, and never would be. Sif was loyal and she knew that her place would always be by Thor's side, for Thor was direct and always spoke his mind. Loki, however, consisted of shadows and mysteries, and she did not have the patience to forever pick them apart to try and understand them.

Shadows made her feel uneasy. Sif liked to know what she was dealing with. She feared that which she did not know.

As she turned a corner and entered a wide hallway leading to one of the gardens, she paused her quick steps and her heartbeat quickened. There was Loki, leaning against the wall with his back, lost in serious contemplation. His eyes were shut and he was biting his lip, something she had never seen him do before. The sight of him thus puzzled her, especially the fact that he looked almost broken. Yet Sif did not care to spare her sympathy for the man who swore to mischief and deceit.

"Have you seen the Warriors Three?" she asked coldly. It was the first time since that strange evening that she spoke to him directly.

He opened his eyes slowly and, looking at the wall opposite him, answered her with a tired voice. "No."

She sighed impatiently. "No matter. In fact, you of all people should accompany me to the throne room and ask your father to end Thor's banishment. Do you not think this is exactly what you should do, Loki?" she asked, challenging him with a narrowed gaze.

He looked at her, his face becoming familiar to her again. The emotions he allowed to show dissipated in an instant, replaced by the cold calm so typical of him.

"Sadly, I can't, and perhaps, Thor's absence is for the best until the matter of the... frost giants is resolved with satisfaction."

Sif stared at him. She was disappointed in him. She did not know him anymore. There was no hope for Loki. "How can you say it? He is your brother."

In reply, Loki merely sniggered and pushed himself from the wall, sauntering towards Sif. Now, she was shaking with fury.

"And why, pray tell, will you not see your father for Thor's sake?"

"I cannot because fath..." He stopped and a flash of sadness crossed his features, but it was so brief that Sif did not believe it. "Odin is – "

"You will not," she interrupted him, "because Thor's banishment suits you perfectly, does it not?"

She squared her jaw at him, her eyes sparking with angry fire. Now, his were doing the same.

"You, Sif, have no idea how much more complicated this truly is." He was breathing heavily. "You only care about Thor and you are so blindly loyal to him that – "

"Never blindly," she interrupted him again, severely. "I will always choose Thor, over anyone, and in view of the recent circumstances, especially over you."

For a moment, she regretted her words, but it was too late. The words were spoken and she meant them.

Loki tilted his head and the green in his eyes flashed. "That is very good to know, Sif," he spoke with gruff coldness and turned on his heels.

As he was walking away, Sif realised that she had just lost him, and for good. It surprised her that she actually cared, for in her anger, she thought she did not care for Loki or what happened to him at all.

She gnashed her teeth as she understood that her heart had just been broken a little and she had no one to blame but herself.

"Damn you," she whispered after him and turned the other way.

xxx

"The line of succession falls to you," Frigga declared. "Until Odin awakens, Asgard is yours." She smiled. "My king."

At first, Gungnir felt foreign in his hands. He had never expected to hold it; he had never dreamed that he would actually be king one day. He was born to be king, but not of Asgard, as he now knew. Yet still, knowing who he was, Frigga willingly entrusted the throne and herself, with all of Asgard, into his hands. The sensation of power was overwhelming and the look of pride in Frigga's – his mother's – eyes disarming.

Loki knew that he was of Asgard, and no one must ever know of his dark secret, the shame of his true parentage. He had vowed to himself to do anything to remain in Asgard, worthy and respected; anything to win his father's favour; and now, anything to bury his secret forever.

For that, he suddenly understood that he was willing to shed blood.

He was willing to destroy the whole of Jötunheimr. He had never cared for it, and now he hated it for rejecting him.

Asgard was his home and he would defend it. Now that he was king, he decided that he should punish everyone who had ever wronged him. Even her.

Luckily, she broke the fantasy only a few moments ago, choosing where her allegiance lay. Whatever regret he may have felt before was now completely gone. He had a greater purpose now and everything else was only insignificant triviality.

Boy became man, and man became king. Everything was clear.

Loki of Asgard was king.

And now – kneel, or die.


A/N: THE END. I'm sorry the update took so sinfully long. I would say life happened, but the truth is that new fandoms happened. They always do.

I borrowed material from the Norse mythology, the comic books and the deleted scenes from the movie Thor. I changed some things for a more dramatic effect.

Thank you all so very much for reading the story and for your reviews! You have been amazing! THANK YOU. It's always the readers and their reviews that fuel me to try harder and do better. This story is very special to me, so thank you for taking the time to read it and leaving a few thoughts about the chapters. Truly, thank you, guys.

Sincerely,

Lorien Urbani